Category Archives: Journal

Lesson From Littlefinger

If you are not caught up on Game of Thrones, stop reading. If you don’t care about Game of Thrones or are all caught up, keep reading.

 

Littlefinger, aka Lord Petyr Baelish, is tied for my favorite character on Game of Thrones. Part of the purpose of this essay is to examine why I like him so much and what aspects of his character arch and character development I can incorporate into my storytelling.

 

 

Character Summary

 

For those not so well-versed, I’ll give a summary of who he is, what his back story is, and his relationship to the Game of Thrones. Most of this can be found on the Wiki of Ice and Fire. The Baelish family were relatively new landed lords, given scrub land in a region known as The Fingers, which were located in the kingdom of The Vale in Westeros. In fact, Petyr’s father is the first member of this minor lordship and his family was impoverished.

At the age of 8, Petyr took all he owned and moved to capital of the neighboring kingdom, Riverrun in The Riverlands. There he befriended the children of the most powerful lordly house, the Tully’s, who were Edmure, Catelyn and Lysa Tully. It was Edmure Tully who gave him the nickname “Littlefinger” due to his frail stature and insignificant nobility.

As they grew up together, a system of one-way affections developed. Lysa loved Petyr, but Petyr loved Catelyn, yet Catelyn did not return his affection, and so on. When Catelyn was to be married to Lord Stark of Winterfell, heir to the Kingdom of the North and one of the most important lords on the entire continent of Westeros, Petyr challenged Lord Stark to a duel. Littlefinger lost, and would have been killed had Catelyn not interceded. It was here that Littlefinger was at his lowest point and his true quest for power begins.

Catelyn married Lord Stark and Lysa married Lord Arryn of The Vale, which is the most powerful house in the kingdom where Baelish fiefdom was located. Littlefinger befriended Lord Arryn and became appointed as the custom’s officer of Gulltown, where he started to accumulate his fortune. His skills at money management lead to a 10-fold increase in revenues. After the success of Robert’s Rebellion, Lord Arryn becomes Prime Minister of the continent of Westeros, a position known as “Hand of the King.” Because of Littlefinger’s managerial success, Lord Arryn appoints Littlefinger as “Master of Coin,” or chief tax collector. As is remarked later in the series, “When Jon Arryn named you Master of Coin, nobody cared. It’s always been a grubby job. Why not let a grubby man do it?”

There is power to be had in the gutter and power to be obtained through money. This is what Littlefinger establishes throughout his career. He opens a chain of brothels in the capital and begins catering to the whims and vices of all the noble lords. As a result, he develops the skills of a spymaster and ingratiates himself to many a nobleman, yet allies himself with few. As he would remark in the series, “Information is power,” only to be reminded by the queen that power is power.

Even though this is a bit of a spoiler, Littlefinger is the one who convinces Lysa to murder her husband which ignites The Game of Thrones series. Through a series of negotiations and betrayals, Littlefinger deftly maneuvers himself to more powerful positions. He successfully dispatches Lord Stark by entrapping him in a feud with the royal family, freeing himself to try to win the hand of Catelyn, who rebuffs him again.

During the War of the Five Kings, Littlefinger successfully negotiates an alliance between the royal family and another powerful house, the Tyrells: Margaery Tyrell is to marry King Joffrey. Littlefinger is granted Castle Harrenhal as a reward for the alliance. At the wedding, Littlefinger oversees the poisoning of the king at the request of the Tyrells. (Fans rejoice; King Joffrey is one of the most despicable characters of the show)

Unfortunately, Catelyn’s daughter’s husband is framed for the murder. Catelyn’s daughter’s name is Sansa. Littlefinger smuggles Sansa out of the capital and they return to his home kingdom of The Vale. Once there, Littlefinger and Lysa marry and Littlefinger ascends to becoming one of the most powerful lords in The Vale. However, the marriage is a sham. Littlefinger falls in love with Sansa. When Lysa finds out, she becomes enraged and tries to murder Sansa by casting her through “The Moon Door,” which is a false door that plummets a person to the cliffs below. Littlefinger intercedes and throws Lysa through the Moon Door. When Littlefinger and Sansa undergo an inquest by the other lords, they cover for eachother and are acquitted of the murder.

Once acquitted of one murder, it is important not to forget that Sansa is still wanted for the murder of the king. Littlefinger negotiates a marriage between Sansa Stark and Ramsey Bolton. Earlier, the Boltons betrayed the Starks to seize control of The North, so Sansa is less than enthusiastic for a marriage to one of her enemies. I will return to this later to examine the reasons behind this marriage.

Unsurprisingly, the marriage to Ramsey Bolton turns out badly for Sansa. Ramsey is a sadistic bastard who derives great pleasure from the torturing of others. Ramsey murders his father to become the supreme lord of the North. Sansa’s bastard brother, Jon Snow, Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, supports a rival King, King Stannis, who marches on Winterfell only to lose to the Boltons. During the battle, Sansa escapes and travels north to gain protection from her brother. Ramsey finds another Stark brother and holds him hostage and demands that Jon Snow return his wife and swear fealty to him. Instead, Jon Snow marches his armies south to Winterfell, where The Battle of the Bastards takes place. The deciding moment of the battle occurs when Littlefinger leads his army of mounted knights to aid Jon Snow.

Following the battle, Jon Snow is named King of The North. Littlefinger supports Sansa as leader over her brother and reveals to her his aims to become king and his vision of her to become queen by his side. Foreign affairs force King Snow to leave Winterfell, where he leaves Sansa in charge. More Stark children appear out of hiding and settle in Winterfell: Brandon Stark, who has enhanced powers to see past and present, and Arya Stark, who is a practiced assassin.

Littlefinger sees all these variables as competing factions for leadership of the north, and he sets about using his spycraft and behind-the-scenes machinations to try and sever the relationships between the Starks while, at the same time, trying to befriend them individually. His tricks ultimately prove unsuccessful for, in the season finale, he is confronted in open court for his murders and his treason by Sansa, with Brandon Stark presenting evidence. There is no escape and Littlefinger is executed by Arya in front of everyone in the Great Hall of Winterfell.

 

 

Character Analysis

 

So why is a sleazy, power-hungry, little man my favorite character on Game of Thrones? There are several reasons. First of all, unlike all of the other characters in the show, he was not born into power. He earned it through cunning and intellect. He represents a bourgeoisie element in a show mostly dedicated to battlefield prowess and noble birth. Since George R.R. Martin drew inspiration for Game of Thrones from history, the Middle Ages, and specifically, The War of the Roses, I think the character of Littlefinger is best represented by the historical figure Cosimo de Medici, the founder of the Medici power in Florence. Both Littlefinger and Medici share a common backstory and used similar methods to gain power.

Second, his background of powerlessness feeds his quest for power. He knows he can not compete on the battlefield, as was made manifest by the duel against Lord Stark. This leads to the development of other, novel skills which he uses to find a way to dispatch his enemies by using other players on the board. He develops an ability to out think his adversaries, making them unable to see the trap until it is too late.

Nevertheless, he is a flawed, malevolent character. His unrequited love for Catelyn leads him to become cynical, and his ability to manipulate Lysa makes him develop sociopathic tendencies. His financial acumen reduces everything to numbers and his ownership of brothels and human trafficking reduces people to objects and pieces on a gameboard. Even as he develops his powers of thinking, planning, secrecy, scheming, he loses almost all compassion. His sense of the people he cares for becomes twisted.

While many fans are repulsed by Littlefinger’s love for Sansa, the reaction surprises me when compared to other deviant sexual behavior that occurs throughout the show, including incest, homosexuality and sadism. Given the supposed time period, the middle ages, it was common for older men to marry younger women. Still, that doesn’t excuse the fact that transference of affection from mother to sister to niece/daughter is pretty disturbing.

 

So what led to Littlefinger’s downfall? From my reckoning, Littlefinger’s downfall was a lack of due diligence and a failure to solidify his powerbase. The peak of Littlefinger’s power occurred with his marriage to Lysa, but his marriage was so short that his lordship over The Vale was tenuous. He has to convince Lysa’s son to support him through bribery and he forces the other noble lords to support him through blackmail.

Simultaneously, his chain of brothels were destroyed by religious fanatics (The Sparrows) and there was no retribution or effort to rebuild on Littlefinger’s part. This likely led to a reduced information flow. Littlefinger himself admitted that he knew nothing of Ramsey Bolton, to whom Sansa was supposed to marry.

With regards to Sansa’s arranged marriage to Ramsey, I give the following reasons. First, Littlefinger was eager to restore Sansa to The North, no matter the cost, thinking that her nobility would protect her and give her power over that kingdom. Once in power, Littlefinger hoped to parley his relationship with Sansa toward higher goals, ultimately leading to the throne. Second, Littlefinger also believed that King Stannis would be successful in capturing Winterfell from the Boltons. Should the marriage of Sansa and Ramsey not work out, Stannis and Littlefinger would come to the rescue. These turned out to be poorly placed bets, forcing Littlefinger to take command of the army to rescue Sansa.

Even though Littlefinger is a crafty schemer and thinker, he had a limited imagination. He remained tethered to his landholdings in the Vale and was obsessed with becoming warden of the North, which he intended to use to eventually seize the crown. Had he engaged with lords from other kingdoms, or used his money to hire more mercenaries (like Medici would’ve done), he might have avoided the trap of being cornered in Winterfell.

 

Finally, what I think I liked most about Littlefinger is how the heroic flaws of detachment and secrecy, which allowed him to succeed in the capital of King’s Landing, were the very things that led to his demise in Winterfell. It was ironic to watch the man who trusted no one, trust his protégé and aspiring lover, only to be executed for treason in open court. Love proved to be his ultimate undoing. That is the lesson I take away from Littlefinger – The things we are good at are not always good for us.

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The Junkyard

I came home from a movie and it was before my bedtime. I have the house to myself and I feel no great urge to watch television. I powered up my internet machine and proceeded to entrap myself in the worldwide web. When I turned on the computer, I wanted to play online poker, but once the computer was on, I wanted to play Monopoly online. Alas, my online Monopoly account isn’t working. I didn’t want to check e-mail and I felt poker would be a waste of time. Facebook is tiresome and its content, albeit from my friends, is unrewarding. I decided I would rather read a few blogs on WordPress and blolirt (blog-flirt).

 

I travelled down the tunnel of topics. I chose dating, because I was curious to see how frustratingly pointless other people find the activity. Perhaps I would find some nuggets of truth? A hidden suggestion I had heretofore never considered?

My mind wandered separately from my eyes as I clicked from blog to blog. I began to think of a junkyard. Stacks and stacks of crushed cars. Cars that were once cared for and loved by their owners. Cars which were the object of optimism and aspiration. “Some day, if I work hard enough and save, I will have this car,” the dough-eyed youngster pined.

But then the car rolled off the lot and depreciation began. Time and use caused one component after another to fail. Or else, some critical user error caused the car to become destroyed beyond repair in an automobile accident. Perhaps the initial owner loved the car, but had to sell and subsequent owners became less and less kind, until ultimately a thoughtless youngster beat it into the ground. Or perhaps the car was sold to a rental agency, becoming a whore to any person with a credit card and a driver’s license.

My point is, a question began to form in my mind: to what extent has online dating become a stroll through the junkyard? Especially for a man my age. Nothing is pure or innocent anymore. Everything has been discovered. There is no frontier, no manifest destiny. There are only broken families and broken hearts that despair at the thought of being alone. They wish that help was on the way.

So if I’m strolling through the junkyard, what am I really looking for? Parts for other cars? Or am I fascinated by the great rusting hulks, contemplating what could have been? Or do I observe the damage and imagine what might have happened?

Believe it or not, there are actually some worthwhile things in the junkyard. There are cars, whose body is horribly mangled, yet the engine is in perfect working order. There are other cars where the axel snapped and the tires rolled away, but the body is pristine and flawless. All it really needs is some tires, right?

 

I think it really is a matter of attitude. I need to separate this defeatist mentality that online dating is like a job interview for romance. I think I wanted to come on to WordPress because I wanted to get away from the Instagram pictures and the slutty, duckfaced poses and read some real words; listen to some real thoughts. Tonight, I have not been disappointed.

I would rather read some honest things that someone has written than waste my hours sending pointless, “Hey” and “How are you doing?” messages. Even worse, committing the fallacious sin of sending a structured, meaningful message to an online picture of a supposed human being using the Hi-Observation/Compliment-Personal Connective Sentence-Question format, which is my usual online messaging habit.

The only fish in the sea are the robots beckoning me to their online webcams so they can infect my computer with viruses. Why not just skip the physical contact and contract an internet STD instead?

 

Oh man, I’ve travelled to a dark place. I had better leave this junkyard and return to the dealership showroom floor.

Meeting George Winston

Friday evening, I went to the best concert of my life. Since then, I have been struggling to describe the experience, but I will attempt to do so here. When asked by a friend, I described it as “Greatness in many dimensions.”

I watched one of my great musical inspirations, George Winston, perform at a community college in Brainerd, MN. I’ve been listening to his music since infancy. My mom used to put on a George Winston record to get me to go to sleep at bedtime. He is a master pianist who is able to conjure sounds from the instrument that you would never have believed possible. He does more than create and compose music – he commands the soundspace like no other performer. His tones and melodies are sublime and masterful.

 

Who I Thought He Was

 

Until this year, when I actually looked him up online and met him in person, I had always assumed that he was a concert pianist, complete with tuxedo, coat tails and white gloves, who had studied under the European masters, received multiple doctorates and had become well recognized in the classical music realm. After collecting his vast accolades, he embarked on a quest to push the boundaries of the piano instrument. As a result of his intensive studies, he composed and recorded his “Autumn” and “Winter Into Spring” albums in the 1980s, creating a new genre of piano music – the new age/impressionist movement. I thought that he had taken a similar route as Rachmaninoff or Leonard Bernstein.

Another musician I looked up to from the classical realm was Valdimir Horowitz. My mom had a video recording of “Horowitz In Moscow” that I would watch all the time as a tot. The “Horowitz In Moscow” record tied with Winston’s “Winter Into Spring” as my top requested bedtime music. Horowitz died in 1989.

Actually, I began my internet search of Winston because I was wondering what became of my other favorite pianist. Not only did I discover that George Winston was still alive, but that he was still performing live in concert. I was shocked to discover that he would be coming to Minnesota. But performing in Brainerd? Such a titan of music belonged in the big city venues of Orchestra Hall or the Ordway!

 

The Concert

 

Believe it or not, I’m not a super-duper fan of concerts. Yes, I enjoy seeing the band and hearing the songs, but oftentimes the songs are performed differently live. The bands tend to try too hard, or not hard enough, to perform the songs as they were recorded for the audience. I love hearing the songs on CD, but I am often disappointed when songs are performed live. Many times the acoustic subtleties are lost and I’m left wishing for more. Typically, this is compensated by the performer/audience relationship that develops over the course of the concert.

George Winston is aware of the acoustic loss and understands that live music can not compare to the technical perfection that recording provides. Instead of retreating with his music, he boldly changed the songs that I had memorized so well. He kept the basic shapes and forms of the song, a core melody with a flourish for instance, but he ventured out with each song to create something unique and new. After becoming acquainted with the space, he would use the space to control his sound. He uses both sound and quiet, loud and soft, harsh, percussive key banging and soft, gentle plucks of the strings. The audience respected his use of silence and space and held their applause until he signaled he was done.

Even though he is a master pianist, he brought other instruments with him. He played one song on the harmonica. My jaw dropped when I saw that his skills carried over to that instrument as well. He used a technique I had never heard or seen before: he played chords on a harmonica and melody simultaneously! The other instrument he played was a slack-key guitar. His fingering was very precise so as to control the overtones that the instrument generated from the strums and plucks. It was subtle and elegant.

Not only did he perform his impressionist work, but he also opened up his range with some blues and an older form of ragtime piano called stride piano, where the left hand plays the bass line and chord in an “oom-cha, oom-cha” sort of way. His first song was a warm up song in the stride style, a song of many repetitions to warm up the fingers, and my mom said that his warm up song could have been used as a finale!

I was very lucky in where I sat. My mom found tickets in the front row, stage left, where I could watch his hands strike the keys. During the concert, I practiced some of the moves I was watching. It was very educational. For instance, I had heard his piece “Woods” and I always assumed he stretched and lifted with his pinkies to reach the high and low notes. In reality, he actually uses his right hand to cross over his left to achieve all of the sounds and notes.

 

Who George Winston Really Is

 

As it turns out, George Winston is even better than the person that I envisioned. He is left-handed, for starters. Instead of being classically trained in Europe, he lives in Montana and studied jazz down in Florida and Louisiana before beginning on the piano. He is a man who has many musical heroes. The program lists at least 32 musicians that he models himself after. He performs in his socks so that he has better control over the pedals at the piano and he has a landing pad to place his heels so that his feet do not interfere with his sound.

Throughout the performance, we noticed that his glasses hung loose on the side of his head. Before the intermission, I thought this was just the eccentricities of genius. What my mom and I discovered was that he had no right ear! It makes me awestruck to believe that this genius who mastered the waves of sound only has a single ear. The things he can hear with his ear! It is just amazing. It made me think back to an old dilemma. If you had to lose your sense of sight or your sense of hearing, which would you lose? My choice would be to keep my sense of hearing and lose my sight.

George Winston is a cat person. He is also a very kind person. The proceeds from his CD sales and his concert were going to a local food shelf to help the hungry. He dedicates his CDs to causes, such as helping after Hurricane Katrina, benefiting 9/11 victims or protecting the Louisiana wetlands.

 

After The Concert

 

Mom and I stayed after the concert was over and waited by the stage to meet George Winston. I was in shock after this performance. There was a young woman named Lora who was also stunned, but she was as hyper as a puppy to meet Mr. Winston. She was expressing on the outside what I was feeling on the inside. The patrons of the performance were also there with their families and grandchildren. There was a couple who were positively geeky for him. There was also a young man who asked very technical questions. Finally, the owner of one of the major local resorts, Craguns, was there.

Mr. Winston was very humble, patient and gracious. He told some jokes and answered some questions. When he heard that my mom and I travelled were from the twin cities to see him, he said, “Oh! Mini Apple Sauce? I’m going there on December 22.”

Lora was very hyper and wanted to share her life story. Her favorite bands were Tool, Metalica and George Winston. She has been engaged for 10 years, but she offered to marry Mr. Winston that night. She had a gift on her phone, but it was dead. She asked if I could take her picture, which I did and I e-mailed it to her. She inadvertently wanted to monopolize the time with Mr. Winston, but my mom and I helped occupy her to help free up Mr. Winston to make the rounds.

The geeky couple gave him a gift of a Grumpy Cat doll. They also filmed him with their giant iPad. “What is that?” George Winston asked, “It has a big apple on the back.” When told it was an iPad, he responded, “I don’t really watch TV, use computers or the internet. My assistant wants me to use Facebook more, but I’d rather do other things. I prefer talking to people in person.”

The young man asked what sorts of things he places on the strings of the piano, and Mr. Winston said, “Just my hand tonight.” He also asked how he could create such soft and beautiful sounds from the piano, but Mr. Winston responded, “The piano is not a soft instrument. It is a percussion instrument that has to be beaten to get the sound out of it. You have to press down on the keys to make the hammers strike the strings.” It was a profound observation from a composing master known for his subtlety.

Immediately after the concert, my mom asked me how I enjoyed it. I said, “This was amazing. The best concert of my life. I’m still trying to process it right now. Remember Vladimir Horowitz? How he was my favorite? Well, I may never see him perform, but I got to see my #2 favorite perform tonight.”

Silly mom repeated what I had said to George Winston. I was so embarrassed. He laughed and said, “I’d rather be where I am today than where Vladimir Horowitz is today.” It was an amazing save! My mom and I got along so well with George Winston that people thought that we were family.

The owner of Craguns offered to buy him dinner at Perkins (one of the only places open), but he turned it down. He wanted to stay up and work on more music. In the end, the theater manager walked up to George Winston and asked, “You know how to turn off the lights, right?” I got my picture and autograph. My mom gave him her information. When we left, the only people there were Mr. Winston and Lora. My mom wonders what became of Lora.

 

Buying CDs

 

Mom and I bought 3 CDs: Forest, Night Divides the Day – The Music of the Doors, and Gulf Coast Blues & Impressions 2. The thing that captures my attention about the CDs is that they are designed in such as way so as you feel like you’re listening to a record with a front side and a back side; an A-side and a B-side. On the drive back, we listed to Forest and Night Divides the Day and I remained in awe of his technical skill with the piano. This was the most inspiration concert of my life. I learned so much and I have an understanding of how to develop my skills further.

My one regret is that I didn’t buy his harmonica CD. I had an opportunity at the intermission, but I just stood in front of my chair in shock for most of the intermission, processing everything I had heard. I finally went to the bathroom, but I nearly missed the chance to get back in the theater, because they were closing the doors when I got out. Had I been more alert, I could have purchased the harmonica CD.

 

Final Reflections

 

I think the thing that inspires me the most from meeting George Winston is how similar we are. We both hail from the jazz background. His view of music goes beyond the notes on the page. We share the “mistakes make masterpieces” philosophy.

One thing I could learn from him is to find more artists to inspire me. He listed over 32 musicians on his program. When my mom told him that I also play piano, bass and flute, he recommended that I look into Jimmy Smith to develop my talents. I can only imagine what George Winston’s record collection looks like.

 

I came home Friday evening from a full day of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day to a picture message from my mom. She had found a dog for me. I was very hesitant and gave a soft “no.” Nevertheless, she said that I should come by the pet store Saturday afternoon when they were showing her again and I said I would be there.

The pup’s name is Harley. She is a German Shepherd/Golden Retriever mix. I was very sad to say no, but I did. Mom persisted and told me that Harley was a rescue and, that if things didn’t work out, I could return her in a week. She had all her shots and was healthy, except for some ear irritation that she was being treated for once a day with drops. Mom would pay for everything. Ultimately, it was the ability to return her that convinced me to take her home.

 

About a year ago, I had a horrible experience with a husky named Tonka, whom I was asked to adopt from my brother’s girlfriend at the time. I had such high hopes because I haven’t had a pet since childhood and have fond memories of having dogs. Tonka only lasted a week and it was one of the longest weeks of my life. Tonka was so destructive, jumping and chewing on furniture, peeing and pooping all over the house, and spreading garbage everywhere. I even had to leave work several times to stop the destruction. I moved him to the garage, but after a couple of days, he nearly broke down the garage door. I chained him outside, but that did not stop the destruction of everything in all directions. When I took him on walks, he would strain on the leash and attack other dogs. It was a very scarring experience.

Harley is the exact opposite of Tonka. She is a total lapdog. She acts like a 7 or 8 year old dog even though she is a puppy at 1 year old. She is so calm. She doesn’t really bark or whine. She hasn’t peed in the house once. She keeps your pace when walking and naturally heels. She doesn’t jump on the furniture unless invited. She has a kennel that she is willing to spend time in while I’m away. For a 1 year old dog, she is very low energy and is content to lay on the floor next to you while you watch TV or play games.

 

Just as I suspect Harley is doing right now, I find myself thinking about her here at work. Harley came from a family who had to move and couldn’t take her with them. She had other dog and cat companions. While at the pet store, I found that she was drawn to cats. I wonder how she will handle being the only pet in the house?

Harley reminds me of my first dog Spottie, who I’m pretty sure had depression. Harley hasn’t eaten much since she first arrived. She is fairly clingy, but I can understand that. Being adopted must be a very jarring experience and memories of old friends and family must still be fresh. She seems to like it at my house and my roommates like having her around. The only person who hasn’t liked her yet is my Dad, but he’s just a grumpy-grump.

 

I think Harley was named after Harley-Davidson, because she has similar colors. But I like to think of her like Harley Quinn – Medicine Dog. If I were to name her, I would give her a similar sounding name: Nellie. Long name: Arenal – The Volcanic Princess, named after the Arenal volcano of Costa Rica that I visited as a boy. But Harley has the opposite of a volcanic personality and I see no reason why I should confuse her by changing her name. Harley – Medicine Dog will do just fine, because she is very therapeutic and healing.

The Revolution Will Be Built With Questions

These are ______ times. Some of my friends are filled with joy and optimism, while aggravated by the dire apocalyptic prophecy and protest of the majority of the rest of my friends. It is very polarizing with neutrality, consensus and dialogue being hard to come by.

 

I share in the belief that we are entering an apocalyptic period for mankind, where our environmental protections are dismantled, our ability to collectively work for the benefit of our families and community will be hampered, our education and economic power will be stripped from us by those entrenched in power, and everything we hope to accomplish and work hard towards will be dashed to pieces by great forces beyond our control, such as our government or the changing climate. For the first time since I was a toddler, we could have nuclear war. Woe upon us all.

I discovered my own powerlessness when I protested against the impending Iraq War back in 2003, knowing that the evidence for war was falsified and that the wool was being pulled over the eyes of the nation and that global sympathy for 9/11 was going to be squandered pointlessly for a personal vendetta in the middle east. A new generation is just now coming to this realization as the United States swings back the pendulum to, whatever this is. This is their Iraq War moment and they are just now coming to terms with their own powerlessness, whether it was the loss of Bernie Sanders or the election of Donald Trump as the leader of the world.

 

Powerless does not mean hopeless. Donald Trump won because he saw and understood things differently from how urban liberals do, myself included. The institutions that we established to understand and manage the world are disintegrating, the founding premises forgotten and challenged. Donald Trump is the wind that knocks down the sheds, scattering tools, debris and seed across the farm in the aftermath of a political tornado.

 

If protest doesn’t work and political engagement doesn’t work, what is left?

 

Let me take you back to a similar time – the 5th Century BCE in Athens. Athens was an amazing city and had successfully defeated the armies of Persia with the help of other Greek city states, such as Sparta. However, after the successful defense against Persia, Athens was defeated by Sparta, leading to significant political upheaval. Not to give away any spoilers for those of you who haven’t read Plato, but there is this guy named Socrates and he asks a lot of questions. Ultimately, in the end, Socrates starts a movement and ends up being brought on trial for “corrupting the city’s youth” with his teachings. He is condemned to death, which turns him into a martyr and modern philosophy, knowledge and, eventually, science is born. One could draw parallels between the Peloponnesian War and the cold war; the defeat of Athens by Sparta to the War on Terror.

 

Where am I going with this? My point is that the best challenge to our current period of facts, alternative facts and fake news is to ask questions. It is really easy to declare something wrong, whip up a bunch of emotion and move on, but the real trick isn’t convincing yourself or your disciples that you are right. You need to convince your opponent. In order to do that, you need to embark on the premise that your opponent believes what they say. Next, draw them out with questions. Break things down to smaller pieces or take the factoid on a journey and see if you arrive at similar conclusions. Ask the why, what, who and how.

In reading Plato, you discover that Socrates uses his question as a tool. He doesn’t just say, “You’re wrong,” but asks, “What do you mean by that? Is that like this other thing?” and so forth. You can guide your questions to a conclusion. Leading questions. Direct examination questions. Cross-examination questions. True or false questions. This forces all involved to look closer at what is going on and arrive at better knowledge. So spend more time asking questions once you get tired of protesting and advocating.

 

As an aside: When I first read Plato, I didn’t like Socrates. I thought he was a jerk. He just kept destroying people and they things they believed in. Nevertheless, Socrates definitely opened my eyes to the power of his tool – the question.

Enthusiasm and Confidenc

I made a personal discovery last night. Last night, I decided to play soccer after work with the Meetup group that I’m a part of. When I played last week, I did well. I even scored a goal. But last night, for the first half of play, I was bad. I didn’t warm up, I was sluggish, and my heart wasn’t in it. I lacked confidence. My play improved in the second half after I gained some confidence by completing passes and moving around better with the ball.

I like to analyze myself after soccer – think about what went well and what could be improved. This issue of confidence was something that turned itself over and over again in my mind until I struck upon the solution. I did not enter the field with the same level of enthusiasm as I have on previous occasions. All day long, I was on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to go or stay home. I’m glad I went.

 

I hate the word “confidence.” I hate it because people have talked to me about my confidence from time to time. I’ve been told on multiple occasions that I have low confidence. I think that’s bullshit because I have very high self-esteem. Back in the ‘80s and ‘90s, it was all about self-esteem: practice, discipline, achievement. To be told that I lack confidence to achieve what I want makes me angry. I see confidence as something that people ascribe to you rather than something which you control. So to me, it becomes all about gaming the “confidence” concept, which I neither have neither the tolerance nor patience to deal with.

I’m trying to break “confidence” down to other skills, skills which you can practice. Things like boldness and talkativeness. After last night, I’m going to add enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is contagious. If you want to do it, you get excited about it, and when you’re excited for it, you get other people excited and they want to join. BOOM – Confidence.

 

It is 2017 and it has been a long time since I have been enthusiastic for anything. I can count on one hand the things I was excited for in 2016. I can probably say the same thing for 2015. 2013 and 2014 were exciting years. I need to build the enthusiasm and raise the energy level. I’ve been a passive observer, biding my time, for long enough. I’m not getting any younger. Time to get excited again!

2017 Resolution

One of my resolutions this year is to do more journaling. Specifically, I want to post more to WordPress and explore some of the other bloggers on this site.

 

In reflecting back on the past, I have discovered that the catalyst of my social success was blogging and commenting on other people’s sites. The voice I developed online translated to a voice I spoke in real life. Sadly, I’ve noticed in recent years that I do not say much anymore. I mistakenly thought that it was because I had nothing valuable to say. I kept thinking of one of Dave Walker’s “Dullest Blog In The World” entries from March 11, 2003 –

 

“Not Saying Anything

I was at a meeting and became aware that I had nothing of any interest to add to the discussion. So I said nothing, and the discussion continued.”

 

My life was gradually becoming more and more passive, imperceptible at first, like gaining weight, but then one day you wake up and realize, for better or worse, this is who you are. If you want to change it, you need to take steps to change it. Start with small changes and watch the small changes grow.

 

Thus, I’m returning to blogging so that I can exercise my voice, set a place for my opinions, and receive feedback from strangers. Personally, I happen to enjoy hearing what other people have to say, positive or not. We are our own worst critics, so I doubt internet words can hurt me (a very conceited and self-centered viewpoint, but this is my blog and what did you expect?).

I don’t take the internet seriously at all. I’m rarely online, and when I am, I’m bored easily. I’ll scroll down the feed on Facebook for a total of 3 swipes, eliminate the notifications I get, and give up. I’ll check my dating apps to force myself to send a message or 2 and give up. It is all so blasé. I miss the dynamism I once had for the internet, the thrill of getting a new comment or response, and I think blogging will rekindle that.

 

So that’s my resolution for 2017 – More Blogging.