What Caused World War Two?

The cause of the Second World War is something that is hard to talk about. It is something that, if one thinks they know the answer, they will not listen to any new evidence. As you read this, you no doubt have already thought of how World War II started: German aggression, Hitler, Pearl Harbor, Japanese aggression, the Tripartite Pact. While they are all true, some more than others, one must first start a little further back in history. Before the Third Reich, before the Japanese Empire began it’s war march, before Hitler. Lets begin with the accumulation of industrial colonial powers that led to the First World War.

The beginning of World War One is attributed to the web of alliances and influences across Europe set afire with one assassination. First, Arch Duke Ferdinand was assassinated by a disgruntled Serbian in 1914. In a flash of rage, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war against the tiny Serbian nation. The Russian Empire, looking for influence in the region had promised to protect Serbia and declared war against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Austrio-Hungarian Germanic brothers, the newly formed German Empire, took up arms against the Russians. The French were allies with the Russian Empire and declared war against the Germans. The Germans declared was against Belgium to go around France and attack at a better point. Belgium fell quickly but pulled Great Britain into the fray. Later, the Americans were provoked when they intercepted a German sub trying to bring Mexico into a war to retake their lost land from the United States. Yes, it is a bit confusing and I admit I simplified it tremendously. It helps of you drew a map of the conflict but keep in mind there are many other players in the war (The Ottomans, Italians, Japan, and others).

After years of fighting, the First World War came to a bloody and depressing stalemate – the very first large scale trench war. The European fighters were relieved when the United States came into the war forcing the Germans into an unconditional surrender. Peace treaties now a days are relatively forgiving compared to the peace treaty for World War I. Every nation on every side was mad, weary, and bitter. There were one million British dead, one million seven hundred thousands Frenchmen gone, four hundred sixty thousand Italians gone, and over one million seven hundred thousands Russians and Turks dead – making it far too easy for revenge to seep it’s way into the peace treaty – the dreaded Treaty of Versailles.

Although the Treaty of Versailles ended the First World War, it brought an unsettled fire to Germany – one that will be stoked and used by Adolf Hitler to come to power. It was not the aggression by Hitler or the authoritarian dictators across the world that started the war – it was the brutal Treaty of Versailles. And many historians are slowly coming to the same conclusion. A.J.P. Taylor claimed that, “If this [German problem] were settled, everything would be settled; if it remained unsolved, Europe would not know peace” The only thing the treaty accomplished was a short-term relief to the Allies, and a podium for Hitler and Nazi Germany to rise to power.

The Treaty reduced the German army to no larger than one hundred thousand men, eliminated their air force, submarines, and most heavy surface vehicles, stripped Germany of Alsace-Lorraine, Danzig, and other territorial land  – but even with this castration of the once proud German people – the most outrageous and suppressing part of the treaty was Article 231, also known as the war guilt clause which stated

“The Allied and Associated Governments affirm and Germany accepts the responsibility of Germany and her allies for causing all the loss and damage to which that Allies and Associated Governments and their nationals have been subjected as a consequence of the war imposed upon them by the aggression of Germany and her allies”

It held Germany completely responsible for the war, the war damages, and deaths from the first catastrophic war – but because the Germans suffered over two million deaths and were completely stretched thin – the German leaders bit their lip and signed the Treaty. Signing the treaty then was completely pointless because the Allies already negotiated the Treaty on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – and signed it without any German representative. In the aftermath of the war, Former Chancellor of Germany, Franz von Papen, captured the feelings of all Germans saying, “The grave errors and injustices contained in the Versailles treaty can only be explained by the state of hysteria engendered in the Allied Powers by years of hate-filled and untrue propaganda.” There were a good amount of Allies who thought the same thing. Winston Churchill remarked, “All sorts of races who counted for nothing, or stood aside from, or were protected in the dire struggle of the world, hurried up with their pretensions while the great combatants la gasping. Them came the period which was easy to predict, when the victors forgot and the vanquished remembered”

So, the Germans lay in defeat and stripped of any real power. The reparations they owed to the Allies kept them suppressed and unable to gain any sort of power. The decades of poverty only resulted in Hitler’s claim to power – which he got legally. He was voted into power because the German people were looking for any hope – hope that they would not find abroad. Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Lloyd George, expressed the attitude of the victors by suggesting they, ” Squeeze Germany until the pips squeak”. And the Allies meant it – Germany didn’t pay off their massive debt until October of 2010. The fuel for the fire – the Rage of the Reich – is used by Adolf Hitler over and over to rally the German people who, desperate for relief, carried Hitler’s banner. Hitler denounced all debt from the Treaty of Versailles in 1933 declaring this ghastly statement

“It is not wise to deprive a people of the economic resources necessary for its existence without taking into consideration the fact that the population dependent on them are bound to the soil and will have to be fed. The idea that the economic extermination of a nation of sixty-five millions would be of service to other nations is absurd. Any people inclined to follow such a line of thought would, under the law of cause and effect, soon experience that the doom which they were preparing for another nation would swiftly overtake them. The very idea of reparations and the way in which they were enforced will become a classic example in the history of the nations of how seriously international welfare can be damaged by hasty and unconsidered action…

What is Populism?

Populism. It is everywhere in the news right now and it is one of those words that have so many vague meanings and yet describes itself so well. Populism is simply the revolt of the people against the political machine. With that said, the word perfectly matches what Trump supporters and haters think of Trump’s new Republican party. He won with the party and with the nation despite being resented by the Republican leaders and Washington elite. But where did the name Populist come from?

In  the late 1800’s, the southern and western farmers were struggling due to the industrialization and reconstruction after the Civil War. The changing international markets, national banks, railroad companies made agricultural commerce difficult even though the farms still worked and produced goods. Those complications combined with the southern dissent from the Civil War accumulated to the Populist movement. The movement was slow-moving but started with the Patrons of Husbandry or the “Grange”. This group was more of a union of farmers that pooled money together to buy equipment and sway political power. There was even a Colored Farmers Alliance organization that branched off of the Grange. The organization brought poor farmers together: they did not represent the Democrats or the Republicans, they represented the marginalized farmers. Thus, the Populist movement was born.

The Populist Party tried to gather some sort of political power in 1896 – but since they were outnumbered and out financed, they decided to join forces with the Democratic nominee William Jennings Bryan. This gave the Democrats a chance to finally win back the White House from the North and for the common man. Bryan seemed almost like Bernie Sanders when he speaks about the oppression of he rich, “You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold!” Of course, Bryan did lose to McKinley, but the idea of the Populist movement was a live and well throughout the 1920’s – as well as, some would argue – today with Donald Trump’s Republican Party.

At the North American leader’s summit, President Obama did not seem to approve of people calling Trump a Populist, “That’s nativism. Or Xenophobia, or worse. Or it’s just cynicism”. Yes, there are some Trump supporters who would subscribe to the nativism and xenophobia – but not most. I say also say the say about Populism. Michael Kazin describes Populism in his book “The Populist Persuasion” as, “a language whose speakers conceive of ordinary people as a noble assemblage not bounded narrowly by class, view their elite opponents as self-serving and undemocratic, and seek to mobilize the former against the latter”.

So on it’s face, yes Trump does aim to be a Populist. But is this a good thing? Populists are sometimes know as being anti- science and anti-progressive. Although they seem to be very opposed to change, Populists do represent a class that is usually overlooked. In the end, words are just words – lets wait until Trump gets into office before we really start labeling the President Elect.

The Republic [Abridged Book Review]

[NOTE: Originally written in college, this paper weighed in at 10 pages long. I decided to post it, but post an abridged version to spare the reader. The original date is July 14, 2012]

Throughout history, art of all forms have shaped every society in our world. Art has a major influence on people – especially the youth. In order to ensure a better future the youth of a civilization must be raised correctly by their society with good influences. Plato’s book The Republic, in a line of dialogue between Socrates and other men depicts the best ideals that would make the perfect society. In these discussions, Socrates addresses quickly what is wrong with education and what should be acceptable considered acceptable education standards to prepare societies youth to live in his Republic – but he also speaks on a more sensitive issue. Socrates addresses the control of art in this Republic to better the citizens within it. It maybe because Socrates has not lived through communism or nationalism, but one must admit: he is far ahead of his time. Although Socrates proves successful in pointing out flaws in poetry, drama, and all art – he fails to provide a realistic solution to the problems. He foretells and answers artistic flaws within the dialogue, but gives possible solutions as opposed to a plausible solutions.

Beginning in “Book II” of The Republic, Plato begins to write the discussion explaining how important it is to raise children correctly because they are so very impressionable. Socrates begins this discussion asking, “Shall we begin the education with music, and go to gymnastics afterwards?” – showing that the education he is referring to is younger education at an elementary base. He describes these children as young and tender things impressionable to the world in danger of misinterpretation to the stories that are told to them. One immediately begin to think about the crazy things children are exposed to – any reader can agree that the youth are impressionable and need some kind of direction in their education to insure they are raised to be their best. Imagine, for example, that every child is raised in something crazy such as Scientology. Socrates deserves credit for bringing this to the discussion because this will be a problem debated for thousands of years to come.

Even today, parents, scholars, and politicians fight over what children of today can see, hear, and do. Socrates makes the point that society cannot, “just carelessly allow children to hear any casual tales which may be devised by casual persons and to receive into their minds ideas for the most part the very opposite of those which we should wish them to have when they grow up”. Religion comes to mind. Every parent, religious or not, wants their child exposed to the ‘right’ religion and protected from the wrong one. Keep in mind that Socrates was eventually put to death for corrupting the youth and questioning the gods. This could be where that claim against Socrates starts.

The fear is a primal one: that someone or something my corrupt one’s child and ruin them for life. The 20th century children comes to mind as the struggle for artistic freedom in the 1960’s and 1970’s anti-war movement. The sort of art brought rebellion against the state and its efforts ultimately leading to the failure of the Vietnam war. But this cultural revolution not only brought about a split in loyalty in the State but also brought changes that shocked parents with drug use, violence, and a chaotic society. This sort of change is exactly what Socrates is warning against. The dangers of the arts and allowing art to run free is considered anarchy  for the State and its children. Now, our idea of the individual didn’t really come around until the 1700’s with Hobbes, Locke, and the American and French Revolution – so what Socrates is explaining was not so crazy – for the time. But these relatively recent individual liberty liberties is what Socrates would call a big lie, “A fault which is most serious, I said: the fault of telling a lie, and, what is more, a bad lie”. All things considered, Socrates is correct for his concern for youth’s influences within a society when one thinks about the vast amounts of misinformation and propaganda within our society today. Socrates provides the reader a legitimate problem that will reoccur for thousands of years. The solution for this problem is simply censorship. Today, we understand man’s ability for discretion, but Socrates’ plan is centered toward iron fisted censorship, “the first things will be to establish a censorship of writers of fiction and let the censors receive any tale of fiction with is good and reject the bad”. This solution is possible – but not plausible. Simply think of any number of authoritarian dictatorships throughout history. Even if the reader assumes that the censorship of writers is possible and can function flawlessly, the people of the State would never allow it. Think of the resistance in Nazi Germany to receive foreign radio, in the Soviet Union to receive books, in Communist China to write whatever you want, even North Korea where the largest illegal imports are films. Even though Socrates’ goal is a good one and means well, it would be too hard on a nation and it’s people to enforce it – and we are not even talking about the intellectual depression a nation will face with censorship.

 

In Book III and Book IV, Socrates begins to again attack art but this time at its core. Socrates is mostly concerned with productivity of the Republic as it is most important for the State and its people, “the arts of measuring and numbering and weighing come to the rescue of the human understanding – there is the beauty of them”. This aspect of Socrates’ discussion is very insightful and well thought. If there were a type of Utopia attainable, it would need constant intellectual support from it’s people mainly presiding in something more useful such as math, science, and other trades – not art. Plus if these trades are necessary for the growth of the state then the time and skill of the citizens cannot be wasted on such useless trades such as art, “one man can only do one thing well, and not many; and that if he attempt many, he will altogether fail of gaining much reputation in any.” Socrates would have loved – or be completely horrified by our Utopian books such as George Orwell’s 1984 or Ayn Rand’s Anthem. Perhaps he would have changed his mind about the individual’s place within the State. He does, however grim, provides an explanation of human nature and if a perfect society needed trades from it’s people, they would need to be as productive as possible.

After the production of society is handled, Socrates then moves onto the influences of art and recognizes that art influences every single person in society indiscriminately. Whether is is from television, music, theater or painting, there is no avoiding some form of art. And if that was true in Classical Greece, imagine Socrates if he saw how much we are exposed to! Socrates points out that it is not stories citizen’s should be concerned with, but rather good people with a good character, “if they imitate at all, they should imitate from youth upward only those characters which are suitable to their professions- the courageous, temperate, holy, free, and the like; but they should not depict or be skillful at imitation of any kind of illiberality or baseness”. Not only does Socrates suggest censoring people’s work, but the State should also provide examples for it’s people – propaganda. Yes, there is such a thing as unhealthy exposures to our children, but it is not up to the State to decide the ideal citizen.

As a mindful reader, one should realize that Socrates has not experienced the libertarian movements we take for granted nor has he seen the horrors of fascist and communist dictatorships. With that being said, The Republic is still a classic thought provoking book that forces to reader to think about how society should run. The fight for liberty is unfortunately one that has to be fought in every generation. Though this book describes a authoritarian utopia – it is still a necessary book for us to read, wonder, and debate about.

Fact Checking – The Newest Trend

Keeping in mind that the internet is a relatively new invention for us. People are constantly becoming more and more connected and sharing information at a pace never before seen on Earth. But in a billboard-like way, news articles are trying to get attention anyway possible. Social Networking sites like Facebook do not help by condensing facts and stories down to a few sentences. The connectivity of the world and the need for quick and easy information has finally accumulated to a new type of propaganda – and we are finally fighting back.

It seems most have heard about fact checking articles and people in the 2016 presidential debate when Hillary Clinton imitated a crow and barking, “fact checkers!” every 5 minutes. And although we need to fact check everything, many use “fact check” as an argument – because no one will fact check it. It is far too hard to continuously fact check and research statements and studies. How would one know if they can even trust a new article anymore? There was a journalist who, when asked why he became a journalist, responded, “So I don’t have to rely on others for news”. A good response – but the average person does not have time to fact check, research, interpenetrate, and respond – until now!

There are plenty of fact checking sites that have always been around, but with the recent fake news, has been becoming more and more popular. because fake news articles have a propaganda-esc feel to them, the respond to clicks and clicks are because of fear and anger. Such has happened last week when Edgar Maddison opened gun fire at a Comet Ping Pong pizzaaria because of a fake news article. (1) Yes, people actually died! What was the fake article? It’s called Pizzagate (2).Pizzagate alledges that there are a number of pizzarias in Washington D.C. that are secretly a part of a child sex ring. The sex ring is used by big-wig Democrats and apparently set up by Hillary Clinton herself. The fake news has already been debunked by multiple organizations – but if one simple used a second of critical thinking, you too could debunk it.

I appeal to the fair mindedness of my readers and assume little credulity. But, with social networking, one comes across plenty of brain-rotting articles that you know are false but need some links to prove it. Here are my favorite fact-checking sites. A fact is the strongest weapon against our gullible comrades.

Snopes

Founded in 1995, snopes.com handles the most common myths as well as social media myths. The way it works is that people send in rumors or myths and the team there researches it. The result is a concise and fact-heavy article with a clear True/ False/ or Nor Verifiable

FactCheck

Factcheck.org is a project created by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. This site focuses around claims made by politicians, their speeches, and even TV ads. Their goal is to “apply the best practices of both journalism and scholarship, and to increase public knowledge and understanding”

Politifact

Politifact is an older but an increasingly popular site which won the Pulitzer Prize for researching 750 claims during the 2008 election. This site fact checks almost any political claims from politicians to advocacy groups. The results of their research results in a Truth-O-Meter rating that reads Truth, Mostly true, half True, False, and Pants on Fire.

But the best source is your own brain! Of course, these fake articles and myths appeal to our human flaws, but there is a tool you can use to investigate any claim and get a feel for its accuracy. It is called the Baloney Detection Kit: A 10-point checklist used by truth seeking organizations such as the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, Skeptic Magazine, and even the Daily Skeptic Blog! The check list, as shared by Skeptic Society found, Michael Shermer, is as follows:

Baloney Detection Kit

  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by someone else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

The sharper minds already have examples in mind that could be debunked by this checklist – maybe Scientology, near-death experiences, luck, pseudoscience, or anything on Facebook to name a few. The point is, humans always have had to hear stories or myths and determine True or False on their own. The only difference now is that we hear and read stories on such a massive scale, it is hard to sift through it all. Most probably don’t want to investigate every claim they hear anyways — and with these new tools, they don’t have to.

 

The Little Skeptic: My Favorite Skeptic Children’s Books

Among the millennials, there seems to be a trend towards a child-free life. The baffling part about this, they seem to be proud of it! I know, they are free to do, think, say anything they want, but it is important to be mindful about the skeptical movement as a whole. If one wanted to make a difference – raising one of your own is the best way. And while I respect a child-free life style because it is a lot of responsibility and take a lot of resources away from you (See The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins) – but I beg my comrades to consider the incredible work secular couples are ding for the future. Plus, the world seems far too full of credulous parents anyways.

I recently had my first child – a happy baby girl. It is true what Christopher Hitchens said about his, “…three delightful children who are everything to me and who are my only chance of even a glimpse of a second life, let alone an immortal one…” This little girl is more important to me than anything I could ever imagine. I still get that cold shiver when I hold back tears imaging the infinite amounts of opportunists that are available for my little girl. The rest of Hitchen’s quote begs to be said, “…and I’ll tell you something: if I was told to sacrifice them to prove my devotion to God, if I was told to do what all monotheists are told to do and admire the man who said, ‘Yes, I’ll gut my kid to show my love of God,’ I’d say, ‘No. Fuck you.'”  Needless to say, no rational parent would admit to be like Abraham, but alas, there are an abundance of irrational parents. We are surrounded by them – and surrounded by propaganda aimed toward children. Realizing this, I wanted to select my own propaganda that aims my baby towards open mindedness, skepticism, and happiness. In the Secular social network site, the secularnest.com, I have seen people trying to find acceptable baby books. Here is a list of my favorite baby so far!

1. What do you do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada

Like all children’s books, What do you do with an Idea include incredibly beautiful pieces of art to accompany the protagonist’s journey about dealing with an idea. At first, our hero finds a little egg with small feet and a golden crown. The hero wonders about the idea and decides to ignore it – but the idea persists and he finally accepts the idea. he decides to hid the idea

“I worried what others would think. What would people say about my idea?”

Our young hero grew closer to his idea and began playing with it. The idea is seen growing larger and larger. The heart breaking moment of the book is when the reader sees the child standing in front of a large group of adults. The reader is probably reminded of moments where they are scolded by parents or teachers. Like a child waiting at a bus stop on the first day of school, our hero presents his idea

“I showed it to other people even though I was afraid of what they would say. I was afraid they would laugh at it. I was afraid they would think it was silly. And many of them did. They said it was no good. They said it was too weird. They said it was a waste of time and that it would never become anything.”

The solemn depiction of the child walking away from his now large idea is shown. Any parent will feel daggers in their hearts when the hero says

“And, at first, I believed them. I actually thought about giving up on my idea. I almost listened to them”

The child realizes that the adults really don’t know what they are talking about and tends to his idea. The Idea teaches him to dream, to think bigger, and how to see things differently. The book comes to a close as the idea becomes so big it bursts and fills the page with warm colors. And the book ends in the most beautiful way possible: the boy learns that

“[The Idea] wasn’t just a part of me anymore. It was now a part of everything. And then I realized what you do with an idea: You change the world”

See the book here

2. I Wonder by Annaka Harris

Yes, that is Harris as in neuroscience, skeptic, and secular extraordinaire: Sam Harris. And just like Sam Harris, I Wonder is filled with beautiful lessons about admitting sometimes you don’t know the answer, but that allows you to wonder about it and grow – not knowing even provides the rich opportunity in the background of all human advancements: the opportunity to wonder together with each other.

In the book, the little girl – who’s name is coincidentally close to my own daughter’s name – walks with her mother at night and questions many amazing questions: life cycles, gravity, and the vastness of the cosmos to name a few. But the daughter learns to most important lesson of all: sometimes you (or adults for that matter) knows the answer to something. And that is a great thing

“The moon looks so beautiful in the sky. How do you think it follows us, Eva?

Eva thinks about it, but she just can’t figure it out. “It’s okay to say, I don’t know,” says her mother. When we don’t know something, we get to wonder about it!”

Though the story is beautiful and the illustrations illuminating, the real meat of the purpose is found in the author’s note where the reader can see some of her husband in her:

“We live in a society where people are uncomfortable with not knowing. Children aren’t taught to say ‘I don’t know’ and honesty in this form is rarely modeled for them, They too often see adults avoiding the questions and fabricating the answers, out of either embarrassment or rear, and this comes at a price.”

See the book here

3. Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos by Stephanie Roth Sisson

This book is actually about the late scientist Carl Sagan and follows his own eyeopening adventure to wonder. Star Stuff starts with a young Carl Sagan watching the stars from his bedroom window and wondering one of the oldest questions in human history: What are they? The lesson and the hopes of this book is to encourage your child to never stop questioning.

The book opens to a beautiful Milky Way and begins to put the cosmos into prospective. This is just one way the book forces the parent and child to begin discussing the vast cosmos. The possibilities are endless for a young mind. In fact, I still remember reading a book about space with my father. We sat down and read Exploring the Night Sky: The Equinox Astronomy Guide for Beginners by Terence Dickinson – It lead me to question what we were reading and interact with my dad. A more sweet moment from the book is when I did not believe light was the fastest in the Universe (I was pretty young). To prove it, my dad stood at one end of our apartment and flicked the lights on and I was to try and”beat” the light to the other end of the hallway. Although I tired several times, I couldn’t beat it. Star Stuff is aimed towards younger children than Exploring the Night Sky, but it begs the same interaction between the parent and child. I can’t wait to re-read this to my little girl and have those same mind-expanding moments with her.

Just as wondrous as staring at the stars, the reader is left to wonder: what if everyone wondered without ceasing? How many problems would be solved? How much more happiness could we obtain be grasping at real answers rather than settling with credulous beliefs? And then one remembers that your child is growing and wondering. I makes my mission so much more profound. Never stop wondering.

See the book here

4. The Giving Tree

The very first comedy I read was Shel Silverstein books such as A light in the Attic and Where the Sidewalk Ends. But I have neglected his most famous book of all – the 1964 classic The Giving Tree. I finally read it and was moved by the story but could not really place my finger on what was so touching.

For those who haven’t read it, the story is there is “the Boy” and “the Tree” who, in the Boy’s youth, were best friends. The boy played on the Tree and ate her apples and enjoyed himself. Soon, the Boy begins to grow and becomes interest in girls and money. The Boy starts to go to the Tree and asks for material things. First, The Boy asks for money, and the Tree offers all her apples so he can sell them. He does so, does not thank the tree, and after each deed, the Tree is happy. Next, The Boy needs a house for his wife and child, so the Tree gives him her branches to build the house. Then, the boy is much older and seemingly retired – desires to get away. The Tree gives him her entire trunk to make a canoe to sail around the world in. One cannot soon forget the sight of that page where the tree is now bear down to the stump leaving only the “Boy + T” heart carved into the tree. Finally, the Boy, now a hobbling old man, comes back and the Tree proudly offers the stump as a place to sit.

What could all of this mean? Being such an old book, there are vast amounts of theories online. The most apparent one that comes to me is Man’s relationship with Nature. In our infancy, we have a mutual relationship – but quickly drift away to more material things while taking from Nature. This seems a bit obvious to me – but then again, the book was written in the 60’s. A popular alternative is that The Giving Tree is about the beauty of generosity with a twist of dark ungratefulness. It is often thought that children get there morals from their parents, teachers, religion, or friends. Luckily, this is not the case. Like survival, social and mathematics skills, children are shown to be born with an innaite sense of morality and this book provides a story of giving and loss to expose children to this evolutionary trait. Elissa Straus of The Week explains this perfectly:

“It’s the misguided belief that children can’t recognize the sadness or the darkness behind the caregiver relationship that pushes many to misread this story as a happy one. But children can.”

See the book here

That is all I have for now. Keep in mind, my daughter is a newborn and cannot really absorb the invaluable lessons in these books, but I read anyway to bond with her and for her to hear my voice. Because hearing parent’s voices is so valuable to newborns, I suggest reading as soon as possible. It can even be adult books! If I find anymore astounding children’s books and if this post does well, I may post more books. Until then, feel free to leave a comment recommending any other like-minded books for me.

The Good and the Bad: Donald Trump so Far

At least half of the country would feel a small twitch of frustration when they see “good” and “Trump” in the same sentence. Donald Trump has defiantly ruffed some feathers and caused some stress in our country lately – even in me! I did not vote for the man, but I am please (so far) with what I have seen. Remember: Trump isn’t even president yet and he is doing far more than any other president-elect, creating a hopeful future for his administration.  Whether you like him or not, credit should be recognized where it is due, and for someone I previously described as a “complete buffoon”, Trump has impressed me. I hope two things: Americans keep an open mind to his work and that Trump stays this busy to avoid any foot-in-mouth situations.

The biggest surprise to me is the eye-opening Carrier deal. When I saw the news that Donald Trump made a deal with the air conditioning country, I had to verify it and found it was true! Of course, some may say “he did not save all jobs at Carrier” – but those same people refuse to acknowledge that Trump is not president. He has no commitment to get to work already. Note that it is President Obama’s job to try and save these jobs. Trump’s loud speeches about negotiation trade deals seems to have some substance – but something else begs attention about this accomplishment: Trump isn’t the brainless, flamboyant, tough-guy we thought he was. Trump is honestly taking this job seriously.

The next impressive move from Donald Trump is the active communication with foreign leaders. Obama did extend a hand (or, at times, bowed) to foreign leaders when he entered office – but again: that is when he was already on the payroll. The first, and probably most well thought out protest to this action is that Trump has not been briefed by the State Department yet. This protocol is followed so that the President knows the world affairs more thoroughly that the average citizen. Although it is hard to tell what they are discussing, we can assume that is has to do with negotiations and relations. So far, Donald Trump has called, visited, or spoke with:

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Australian PM Malcolm Turnbull, Irish PM Enda Kenny, Japanese PM Shinzo Abe, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, Saudi Arabian King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud,  and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (on the first day as President Elect)

Since day one, Trump has also come in contact with:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian PM Matteo Renzi, British PM Theresa May, S. Korean President Park Geun-hye, French President Francois Hollande, Chinese President Xi Jinping, Argintinan Presdient Mauricio Macri, Russian President Vladimir Putin (first time meeting him), Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, and Dannish PM Lars Lokke Rasmussen to name a few. The meetings have not stopped except to save jobs, but that factor has been overlooked. It is important for anti-Trumpers to realize: yes, call him out on his deplorable comments, but use some critical thinking – Trump is in fact doing good and this communication is a unique Trump characteristic that hints at a very productive administration.

This communication has already seen some benefits. Japanese business man Masayoshi Son has met with Donald Trump and negotiated a deal in which Son and his company SoftBank will invest $50 billion in the United Sates with the objective to create 50,000 new jobs. The details are few but so is anxiety that Trump will some how make himself a debtor to foreign countries. Mana Nakazora, the chief credit analyst echos other’s concerns, “I think Son must have thought how to use Trump and this opportunity”. Yes, it is fair to wonder what this deal entails, but it is also reasonable to think that Trump is not afraid to dump anyone who think thy can get a favor from Trump. Election year 2016 – need I say more? The deal does speak volumes toward Trumps supposed negotiation skills, “Masa said he would never do this had we (Trump) not won the election!”

Finally, there is the stock market: the lifeline of the economy. The more poetic business writers describe the bulls and bears of Wall Street as the heartbeat of the country. Following that relationship, the shock of election day reflects the people’s shell shock response to Trump. Note that stock market shocks on election day are common and Trump’s was not as bad as his predecessors. MSNBC and CNN Money have both echoed other declarations that a Trump win would devastate the economy. The warmest predictions have shown at least, “ an 8% fall in the U.S. A new paper out Friday from the Brookings Institute projects a 10% to 15% nosedive” These predictions and many others, though semi-rational due to Trump’s air of uncertainty, are probably the most laughable of all. In fact, the DOW Jones Average broke all time records by breaking the 19000 mark and even close to 20,000. This reaction is not directly Trump, but is the confidence of Trump perceived by the public. If that is the case, we have little to fear.

There are more dissenter than fans of Trump in the media, and they have so far ignored the accomplishments while working overtime to try and find some negatives about Trump. Those negatives have not changed since election day. In The Slates “230 Things Donald Trump Has Said and Done That Make Him Unfit to Be President”, one can see that there is little substance in the case against Donald Trump other than his rhetoric – which is a definite issue. But the feelings of Hillary supporter’s should not have any bearing on Trump’s actions. When someone barks, “that’s offensive!” the rational minded replies, “I am still waiting to hear your point” Actions speak louder than words, and although it is hard to imagine anything being louder than Trump’s words, his actions provide solid evidence for a much better president than I or most American’s could have expected. Yes, he seems to have stirred the already tense racial and socioeconomic conditions. But, when one studies the recent #notmypresident protests, the real cause for tensions become apparent.

My advice: take a breath, have a drink, and do some research – the future is no as bleak as we are lead to believe.

The Jedi Legacy

The Daily Skeptic Blog has been far from “daily” as of late – the main reason is that I started a new job and had my first baby. While I settle into the new life as a proud daddy, please bear with me as I post non-news essays about various topics.

In case you haven’t notice, the Skeptic Blog has been leaning more and more toward personal liberty and individualist-type as those characteristics are necessary to achieve a skeptical mind-set. Here is an essay I wrote for fun back in January in 2016 about the Jedi morals from the Star Wars saga. Having have been a big Star Wars fan (movies and the now obsolete extended universe, of course), I kept finding deep anti-democratic, anti-liberty, anti-individualist sentiment within the Jedi order – I saw this attitude so often within the original, prequel, and books, it seems almost like a theme for the Jedi. When one sees the immoral, irrational Jedi within this light, I think it brings more rationality to Anakin’s fall away from the Order and more beauty to Luke’s own reformation to the Order. Enjoy my early writing, I will be posting more of these.

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The Jedi Legacy

In Defense of the Sith

It is not long after one begins the Star Wars trilogy, either in the films or the books, does one face the dark side of the force, the dreaded Sith Lords. Consistently the antagonists throughout the epic story, the Siths are users of the force just like the Jedi and yet the Siths are seen as being ‘the bad guys’ always hidden in the shadows in defiance against the Jedi’s fight for peace and justice in the galaxy. Because it is easy to label the Jedi as the heroes they appear to be, I run the obvious risk of sounding like a crazy contrarian seeking to critique any aspect of popular opinion. That maybe the case, but I aim to dissect the Jedi order in comparison to the Sith order to reveal that even the Jedi and Sith cannot be taken at face value. Bear with me as I daringly seek to shine new light on the Dark Side of the force.

As any novice Star Wars fan knows, there is the Force controlling and guiding every living thing in the universe, “it’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together” as Obi Wan so poetically puts it in Star Wars: A New Hope.  Throughout the galaxy there are some who possess the ability to control and manipulate the Force, and based on the individual’s character, intensions, and emotions they use either the light side or the dark side of the force. Almost immediately, as if run by a totalitarian censorship, the two sides of control is painted as good and bad – please remain skeptical of this assumption (but if you don’t, I will do that work for you). The light side of the force is how the Jedi are supposed to use it and is routinely characterized as being compassionate, mindful, and just. The dark side of the force however, is reserved for passion, hate, and fear; characteristics we associate with evil actions but – may I remind the reader – these characteristics are all too human. They are built within us and are a part of any emotional human being.

I must digress. The Jedi have helped the galaxy keep peace for over 50,000 years by using these powers. It isn’t until a rouge Jedi, leaving the order to collect followers and colonizes natives of Korriban, who from the inhabitants name sake, they coin the phrase “Sith”. These Force manipulators, with an imbedded hatred for the Jedi, spark many wars and because of their short lived passion, lacks of numbers, and lack of unity, are beaten by the Jedi. The main actors in these first encounters with the Jedi order are not important up until 1,000 B.B.Y.  as far as the Sith philosophy goes. I am putting myself in an uncomfortable firing zone with the Sith lore fans, so I must clarify: these Sith Lords, between the time they left the Jedi and until 1000 years before A New Hope, are interesting in their own respects while they pave the way for the most recent Siths and they deserve investigation from those truly interested in them. But, for the sake of reviewing the core Sith philosophy, they can be ignored for now.

In the movies, there is a prophesy continuously, yet vaguely, brought up by the Jedi that someone from their ranks are supposed to rise up and bring balance to the force; the character in question in Anakin Skywalker who, after becoming frustrated with the Jedi Order, is lead to the dark side where he assists Darth Plagues in exterminating the Jedi. An unimaginable and dramatic feat leads the Jedi survivors to believe Anakin was not the person in the prophesy. Just as Greek mythology is based on assumptions and misunderstandings, so is the Jedi interpretation of their fate. It is released to the audience in Return of the Jedi, that Anakin really is the one who balances the force by killing Darth Plagues. A point that seems to be missed is that Anakin whipped out the Jedi and the Sith parties. The importance of the actions of Anakin is not just to purge the Jedi (which the audience sees as a great tragedy), but to destroy both parties from the galaxy and thus balancing the force.  The Force, constantly and unbiasly guiding the universe, could not have balanced itself out without first purging the Jedi in genocide; which leads to my main argument: the Jedi were tainted by backwards hypocritical dogma in which a balanced force could not be realized.

Little known to the movie goers, the Sith also have their own prophesy that is much more honest and brutal than the Jedi one. The prophesy says that there will be a Sith (titled Sith’ari), who will be so strong they will purge the ranks of the Sith and through the strongest will continue to rule the galaxy. Again, this prophesy is sometimes misinterpreted as being false. But young Darth Bane, rising through the Sith Academy in a Jedi-Sith war 1,000 B.B.Y., destroys the Sith Lords in battle and begins his reign with the Rule of Two which sets the rule for the Siths from then on: only two Sith could exist at any given time. A Dark Lord of the Sith to embody power, and an apprentice to crave it. For the next 1,000 years, the Siths remained in hiding following this rule while also gaining power, money, and knowledge all without the attention of the aloof Jedi.

The successful completion of the Sith prophesy is needed in order for the completion of the Jedi prophesy. Both – and I mean both – factions must be eliminated to balance the galaxy. Some may ask why the Jedi needed to be purged, and I am glad they asked. The Jedi, even when compared to the Sith are a force for evil in that galaxy while hiding behind an ever distorted mask of morality and justice. To continue, a comparison must be made between the two parties philosophy. Luckily, we have been given two “codes” for the Sith and Jedi. The Jedi Code is as follows:

There is no emotion, there is peace
There is no ignorance, there is knowledge
There is no passion, there is serenity
There is no chaos, there is harmony
There is no death, there is the Force

The common Star Wars fan should have no problem with this code as it reflects exactly what is intended. Meek and mild Jedi: out to save the day in a peaceful and mindful way. The skeptic of readers should be able to pick out one or two contradictions in this code as well as in the Jedi actions including but absolutely not limited to the restriction of knowledge, eager war mongering, and child abduction to name a few. Before I get started ranting about the Jedi order and risk losing myself, let me now present the Sith code:

Peace is a lie, there is only passion.
Through passion, I gain strength.
Through strength, I gain power.
Through power, I gain victory.
Through victory, my chains are broken.
The Force shall free me.

The Sith code, being modeled purposely after the Jedi code, states more clearly that the Sith realize that the human passion guides everything. This passion, whether it be hatred, fear, love, or even happiness will bring about strength to obtain the power that is their victory. My first argument in defense of the Sith is that they are human. They realize that they must use their unrelenting human emotions that are undeniably apart of everyone in every way the Jedi code is not.

As the code suggests, the Jedi are supposed to be protectors of peace and justice throughout the galaxy and just like the guards in Plato’s The Republic are supposed to be the humble protectors of the Republic, the Jedi are to be examples of morality. It is this sense of morality the Jedi use to cling to the ledge of power within the galaxy. The Galactic Republic seem to be able to hold their own against the various wars and yet the Jedi are always there ready to attack. Wars such as the Mandalorian wars, in which the Jedi provoked and slaughter the Mandalorian race, and in the Clone Wars the Jedi’s were all too ready to abandon their sense of peace to send their Jedi into battle. If the Jedi were as peaceful as their code suggests, they may have given into some debate as to if they should involve themselves. Maybe the authoritarian Jedi Counsel may have attempted more diplomacy before the genocide they have committed.

Almost just as war hungry, Yoda and Mace Windu, in their Clone Wars, show that the Order has not changed and will not change when their power is threatened. Instead, they have undemocratically sealed their fate by throwing all Jedi into the fray forcing their fighters (and child soldiers) to fight in a war that does not involve them. If more democracy was used to make decisions, there would be no doubt to think Anakin would have sided with the Jedi. The same hypocritical peacefulness can be seen throughout history with figures like Gandhi and Muhammad who seem peaceful, lead their numbers to death for their own selfish cause.

Another crime with which the Jedi Order fortunately escapes scrutiny is their African war lord-like child abduction. Throughout the tens of thousands of years, the Jedi have no problem exclusively recruiting child warriors with or without the consent of the parents. The children are taken at such a young age, they cannot remember their family lest they grow attachment to them which is against the Jedi Code.  Yoda seems to attribute Anakin’s falling away to his relationship with his mother. Remember, the Jedi are the good guys. Whether or not the child agrees to be brain washed and mercilessly trained and molded into the perfect Jedi warrior, they are expected to learn the ways of the Force day in and day out. All for the sake of peace and justice in the Galaxy, these child warriors may die for their moral cause. An army Koni must have idolized this use of child warriors if he has seen it.

Luke Skywalker is a huge agent for the Jedi cause, but the same train of thought should be focused on his actions in respects to the Force as a whole. Remember, both the Jedi and Sith had to be purged and in the time of Luke, there were only two Jedi masters left: Obi Wan Kenobi and Yoda both of whom Luke seemed to constantly butt heads with. Usually attributed to the master-apprentice relationship, the frustration grows. In the book, Luke completes a very difficult day-long task while Yoda narrates and criticizes. Finally, Luke, filled with joy, completed the task but is soon let down to hear from Yoda that yes, he completed the task, but he used his frustration to complete it. A back handed remark that reminds us the out dated Jedi mind set is still with the remaining Jedi.

The Empire Strikes Back is usually proclaimed as the best film. For Luke, it is the most important as he begins his more serious Jedi training but also begins the path away from the Jedi ways. First, when worried for his friends and in a storm of loyalty, passion, and urgency tells Yoda and Kenobi he has to pause his training save his friends. The old masters, worried for his safety and the future of their ways, strongly advised against it. Not only are they opposed to Luke’s sense of loyalty and compassion, are also spiteful towards his free spirited individualism. These are of the dark side! We may quickly be reminded that the dark side is the human side and respects loyalty and compassion. But Yoda and Kenobi abandon this moral attribute for the sake of their philosophy (which, it has to be said, the only ones who truly want the Jedi order to return are the two surviving Jedi. If their plan to train Luke and pitch him against the Sith Lords fails, no one would know or care). The final objection to Luke’s journey is from Obi Wan who threatens to not assist Luke if Luke gets into trouble. A life threatening claim is fulfilled when, faced with death, had to be saved in return by his friends. Kenobi would rather let Luke die than to put aside his Jedi code. Seems like even the Jedi trophy boy cannot trust in the Jedi assistance. This is seen in comparison where the Sith are seen to stop at nothing to step in to help friends and loved ones. Who would have thought the dark side has such a soft side. Please remember that Anakin’s flight to the dark side was to save his wife and Reven’s excommunication from the Jedi order was so that he could get married.

Luke stays vigilant to his own sense of morality by allowing marriage, free access to library archives, and a choice to join the order or not. It is out of the very idea of liberty and free thought that Luke integrated the best aspects of love, loyalty, and knowledge into his new Jedi order. Knowledge, being the biggest ideal in their code having been listed second, was ignored before Luke. The vast library the Jedi possessed was not available to everyone – and more seriously – not available to the lesser Jedi members. The oligarchy of the high Jedi masters reserved the right to restrict certain books and monitor the user’s browsing. This is obviously another hypocritical condition of the Jedi and provides little room for any moral argument.

The Jedi, then, finishes the stripping of any individuality but outlawing emotions. How totalitarian can one get and still be the protagonists in a series? It would seem musolini and Franco have some work to do to catch up to the Jedi in that respect. The only thing the Order is missing is thought crime – but ha! Mind control. Who else but the Jedi would be able to read and control minds?  Maybe the definition of knowledge isn’t the spread of knowledge but the control of it. Rightly parallel to the Sith, who have no mention of knowledge in their code, strive for knowledge. It is widly known that the Sith Lords, in an attempt to escape death, create hollocrons which are used to store all that they have learned. The quest is dangerous and is always shared with their apprentice, and in the case of the early Sith, shared with the students of the Jedi order.

In respects to liberty, love, emotions altogether, loyalty, censorship, and knowledge the Jedi stand with those such as Kim Jun-il, Joseph Stalin, and Adolf Hitler (especially in regards to genocide). Some readers maybe reduced to the last argument to be made of the Jedi: that the Sith are obviously bad, why not just side with the Jedi? The last speck of the irrational mind pulls the viewer to think “at least they are trying to do what’s best”. Maybe one can see where Im going. The noble actions of many who appear or proclaim to be just have always doomed human history. Can we be reminded of the Nazi SS in this case? If I could dissect what little emotion the SS barbarians have, then we could begin seeing the foundation of the Jedi. Holy missions, such as the crusades and the Spanish Inquisition, have also used these arguments to justify their backward thinking. I beg you to always be vigilant when you meet a faction who claims to have all the answers, because the Jedi looms behind this fantastic idea of a utopia. At least the Sith actually follow up with their promises.

It is absolutely silly to use this much effort and apply this much time to analyzing a fictional order like the Jedi, but I strongly believe that, out of human nature, we assume too much in peoples’ characteristics. We jump to conclusions and assume the Jedi are ideal. This cannot be further from the case! It is of a health mind to question these things, for fun or for the protection of the truth. I challenge the reader the exercise and appeal to this natural contrarian thought process.