Thursday, June 4, 2020

Evolution of Society's Behavior


I appreciate the many advances in technology we've made over the years. Life is certainly more convenient than ever before. I'm glad we no longer have to deal with rotary phones, taking your film to Fotomat to get pictures developed, use dial up internet, card catalogs, or VHS tapes.

We get things much faster today and that includes the news which runs 24/7. We hear opinions on sports, news, politics, and everything else. A big segment of entertainment these days consists of critics who share their opinion, pontificate, mock, or question others.Not only do we have an abundance of actual news, but everyone has turned into a news commentator with social media. There are many different viewpoints and even the experts frequently contradict each other about any given subject.

As much as I appreciate the abundance of news at times, I have noticed a negative side effect from it. We have lost our ability to be patient and think before we react. We jump to conclusions too quickly. I've seen friends argue about articles they post online when they haven't even read them and just assume they know a person's position from a headline. There is so much sensationalism and frequently an agenda or bias behind the media we take in. I despise how everything turns political so fast. People regularly get offended and outraged when someone expresses a different point of view.

I was surprised how quickly the Covid-19 panndemic quickly turned political and divided people into different camps. If you thought the government over reacted in their response and did more harm than good, then you are an insensitive, selfish, conspiracy theorist, that doesn't care if people die. If you were concerned and wanted people to wear masks and social distance then you were in favor of  Totalitarian dictators, willing to give up your freedom for security, and just following with all the other scared sheeple.

The truth of the matter is most of us were feeling bi-polar about the whole thing. I kept going back and forth between these two extremes as did many others, but I think most people could relate to both sides. It is possible to be concerned about everyone's health while at the same time being concerned about your constitutional rights and quality of life. Lives and livelihood are both important.

Last week when I saw the footage of the cop kneeling on a incapacitated George Floyd's neck I was sickened and outraged. Over the last several days my anger has only grown as I watch people assault, rob, vandalize, and create chaos all around the country. Knee jerk reactions and people giving in to their anger has only escalated tension and amplified the problem.

Once again we are encountering people being painted into the two extreme sides of the issue. If you criticize people rioting and looting, then you are told you must agree with systemic racism. If you say most police officers are good people who serve their community, then you are a racist and part of the problem.

Again we are coming back to the us vs. them mentality. "You are either with us or against us." Maybe I'm with both of you and maybe I'm not with either of you! People are more complex than being divided into two groups or given a simple label when it comes to every issue.

They say hindsight is 20/20. When we look back on troubled issues of the past it is easier to make sense of why things happened and what would have been the best way to deal with them after we have gotten all the facts, but unfortunately that takes time. Nobody is willing to be patient and discuss things civilly when they are like powder kegs just waiting to explode. I've found myself guilty of this too recently. I felt my blood boiling this week after watching several different video clips of violence and injustices done to a variety of people as a result of all this anger.

We currently have the perfect storm that cultivates fear and anger. We live in such a polarizing and divisive society and the speed in which we get information and the poor quality of that information is a real problem.  Political narratives, speculative and biased news stories, partial truths, denial, conspiracy theories, ignorance, and prejudices all muddy the water and our ability to see clearly.

If someone has a different opinion or viewpoint than you, that does not mean that they hate you or are attacking you. I appreciate it when I see civil debates between adults who may disagree with each other but do so amicably and respectfully. That is so rare these days since most people go ballistic as soon as they realize you don't agree with them and resort to name calling and labeling others.

The only way to fix our problems is to take a step back, take some deep breaths and then change our energy. We have to lose the anger and cultivate more love and respect for each other. I only see things getting better when we can focus on and put more attention on all of our similarities as opposed to our differences. That goes for every group, not just black/white, Republican/Democrat, Christians/Muslims, and Ford/Chevy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Cultural Appropriation

As hard as I try to keep my blog from offending anyone, there are times I have to take a stand and express my thoughts. It's amazing how easily people can get offended by the smallest things these days. I'm surprised being offended is not an Olympic sport yet.

When I watch movies from the past it is obvious that our society has changed. When I think back about comedies from the 70's and 80's certain words, attitudes, and references jump out at me that would just not fly today. Blazing Saddles, Sixteen Candles, Soul Man, Airplane, and The Jerk would all offend audiences today for a variety of reasons.

I agree that there are many offensive things in those movies, especially for those looking to be offended. We've made progress as a society when it comes to being more sensitive about certain subjects but, at the same time, we are also walking on egg shells and taking ourselves too seriously.

One of the ways some people are easily offended is "cultural appropriation." They are essentially saying you should not adopt parts of other cultures you are not a member of. People now get offended by Halloween costumes, prom dresses, hairstyles, and much more.

So does this mean eating Italian, Mexican, or Chinese food can be deemed cultural appropriation for me. I'm certain if I tried to use chopsticks that would definitely be appropriation, but luckily for me I like the food too much to waste my time playing with it. I am of English/Scottish descent so should I  be eating boiled meat, Haggis, and tea? I'm pretty sure that last comment was a rude, insensitive stereotype of my ancestors but odds are they wouldn't be offended.

I certainly understand someone being upset if somebody is mocking or diminishing aspects of other people's cultures or religious beliefs. I think the Haka war dance is a cool feature to Maori culture. The BYU football team usually has a high percentage of Polynesian players each year and in the past they would perform the Haka before a game. I'm actually glad they recently stopped that pre-game tradition. Something just didn't look right seeing some of the skinny Caucasian receivers trying to perform it with their Polynesian teammates.

I've seen people express their displeasure when white people wear dreadlocks or cornrows, but they don't seem to mind if Niki Minaj or Beyonce wear their hair blond and straighten it to look like they are Swedish. For the record, I think black women with blond hair look better than most white people with cornrows but that's not the point. It's the double standard.

We have lived in Ghana for the last three years. My wife's wardrobe has changed drastically since she loves African fabric, patterns, colors and styles of dress. We've never had any Africans express displeasure when we've worn traditional African clothes, in fact they are usually pleased to see us embracing their culture.

I frequently do yoga stretches but I'm not from India. Will it trigger someone if they see me doing Child's Pose or Pigeon Stretch after I go running?

I named my daughter Carmen because it's a beautiful name, but she is not Hispanic. Lo siento.

If you drink alcohol, can only Mexicans drink Tequila, Russians Vodka, and Japanese Saki?
Speaking of drinking, Cinco de Mayo, St. Patricks Day, and Oktoberfest may have specific origins but today they are celebrated by people of all cultures (especially those looking for an excuse to get plastered.)

If you are a woke person who is super sensitive to appropriation, then maybe Che Guavera shirts should only be worn by college students if they are from Argentina. By the way, did Che appropriate that cool beret look from Europeans?

At first I thought cultural appropriation just meant using elements from someone else's culture, but the actual definition is "the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society."

That "typically more dominant" qualifier is basically code for white people. So this practice apparently is only offensive when it is done by white people. America is a melting pot of people from all around the world and from a variety of cultures. While I believe it is important to respect other cultures, we should also relax a little bit and not be so hypersensitive and ready to take offense. It is natural to utilize and celebrate the best things we enjoy and appreciate from every culture around the world.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

Recycling and The Environment

Earth day was last week so I've decided to share some thoughts about the environment. I am concerned about the environment but I don't consider myself to be a stereotypical environmentalist. I'm not a fan of  the whole climate change agenda. I acknowledge that the climate is always changing but I think we attribute too much to our ability to control it. I am also turned off by those who are overly political about the environment, especially when there is so much hypocrisy from the very same politicians and celebrities preaching that we need to reduce our carbon footprint.

That being said, I believe we need to be good stewards of our environment. I hate driving behind vehicles that are billowing out smoke from their exhaust or seeing trash on hiking trails or anywhere else for that matter. I like clean air and water as much as anyone else and would prefer to live in a healthy, clean, and beautiful environment. I try to take the simplified mentality of just being responsible enough to clean up after ourselves.

Recycling seems like one common sense approach to the problem. I have always paid a little extra in order to have a separate recycle dumpster. A couple years ago a friend told me he was taking a load of garbage to the dump. While he was unloading it he noticed a recycling garbage truck drive into the same bay and unload plastic, paper, and cardboard into the same landfill with all the other garbage. He said that was the last day he made any attempt to recycle. I hope that was just a fluke incident but it made me wonder how effective some recycling efforts really are once they drive away with your trash.

Some of the countries with the best reputations for recycling include Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria, Iceland, and South Korea. The United States needs to do much better when it comes to recycling. Side note- The U. S. takes a lot of blame on the world stage when it comes to pollution (especially emissions) but China, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Russia, Nigeria, and many others are also prolific polluters but for some reason they don't seem to be held accountable by the world for their negligence.

Since I moved to Ghana I have been much more aware and concerned about the environment. The reason for this is because back in the states trash is usually out of sight and out of mind but sanitation services here are limited so many people just make a pile of garbage on their property and light it on fire every so often. Public littering is also very common here. I regularly see adults throw empty containers and bags on the ground while out in public.There are plastic bags, bottles, and packages everywhere. As we've been gardening and landscaping recently, I've been shocked at how much buried garbage we have unearthed in our yard from the prior residents.

A roadside trash pile I encountered in Kenya last month

I have also become more aware of how much unnecessary packaging there is whenever you buy something. This is obvious whenever you buy an appliance or something packed in styrofoam and big boxes, but it's also a problem with smaller purchases too. Whenever I buy a small ice cream treat from a street vendor, they always insist on putting it in a clear plastic bag and then within another little black plastic bag. These are the same bags you see blowing all over the streets and piled up in gutters. I have started the habit of taking my own bags when I buy certain things, especially fruit. I actually prefer using my own bags because unlike the plastic ones, they are strong enough to hold several pineapples or even a watermelon and I can wash them when they get dirty.

In an effort to cut down our trash disposal costs and to keep our dumpster from filling up so quickly I started composting yard waste, organic debris, and food scraps. We then use the composted soil when it's had time to decompose into nice gardening dirt. I know these are just small efforts but I hate contributing to excess trash that has to end up somewhere.

I know the environment can be a volatile subject with many people due to the extremes on each side of the spectrum. Some minimize ore even turn a blind eye to it while others become militant about wanting to outlaw straws. I'm sure there is some common sense middle ground that most people would agree on. Regardless of our political affiliations or your beliefs on the subject, we can all do a better job of cleaning up after ourselves.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Ghana vs. Kenya

I've been living in Ghana for nearly 3 years now but recently took a trip to Kenya and really enjoyed it. I thought it would be fun to write a brief post highlighting some of the differences between these two countries. I admit my observations are superficial and that they are just generalizations due to the limited amount of  time I spent there, but here are some of the insights that stood out to me.

Country size and population- Kenya is located in East Africa and has approximately twice the land mass of Ghana in the West. Kenya has about 50 million residents compared to Ghana with around 29 million.

Weather- I've grown accustomed to dry season weather in Ghana over the last 5 months. The dust from the Harmattan has limited visibility and air quality. East Africa is not affected by this. When I arrived in Kenya it was a good 10-15 degrees cooler, the skies were blue and clear, and it was not nearly as humid. It was a wonderful change. I did not sweat nearly as much there and it felt much more like being home in Utah.

Picnic during our safari
Wildlife- Ghana has several monkey sanctuaries and a Mole Safari park in the far north, but Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa have claim to some of Africa's greatest safaris. I felt like I was watching The Lion King as our Jeep passed Elephants, Giraffes, Lions, Ostriches, Zebras, Water Buffalo, Gazelles, Hippos, Baboons, etc. I was really impressed with the Masaai Mara but it is much more expensive to vacation there than Ghana, especially if you stay at any of the nice lodges within the Park.

I know donkeys are not considered exotic animals, but I was surprised to see so many of them in Kenya pulling carts around. I've only seen a handful of donkeys in Ghana.

Food- The food I ate was much less spicy than many of the traditional Ghanaian dishes. Some of the dishes were also eaten with their hands like here in Ghana. I really liked the Kenyan food. There appeared to be an abundance of cheese and milk in Kenya so those particular foods were cheaper than they are in Ghana.

Health- Both countries have a similar life expectancy numbers but there is a higher prevalence of AIDS in Kenya. People are also less likely to be obese in Kenya. There were many more people in Kenya with thin builds.

Sanitation- There is plenty of garbage in the streets in both countries, but Kenya recently outlawed plastic bags. There was trash in the busy streets of Nairobi but elsewhere I didn't see nearly as many empty water sachets or black plastic bags in gutters or blowing around like I do in Ghana.

Public transportation- Many of the vans, buses, and motorcycles in Kenya had fancy paint jobs on them. I was surprised to see so many vehicles decorated with a variety of themes. I saw an NBA bus, Money heist motorcycle painted with characters and sayings from the show. There were church, and many movie themed buses too. It's looked like graffiti artists had decorated many of the vehicles. The vans I saw and rode in appeared to be in slightly better repair than many of the tro-tros and taxis I use in Ghana. Most of their motorcycles also had weird shaped windshields on them.

example of artwork on vehicles.
Housing- The homes I visited in Kenya all had unique metal front doors with a small opening that just your hand can fit through to unlock the lock on the inside. I guess this prevents someone with bolt cutters from accessing the lock on your home when you leave and lock up. I also didn't notice many homes under various states of construction. In Ghana there are many homes in a partial state of completion with piles of sand, gravel, and bricks, piled up in the front yards.

Vendors- I did not see vendors walking up and down the roads selling goods on their heads like you experience in Ghana. I kind of missed being able to just get a fan ice,  plantain chips, or a loaf of bread at any intersection.

Police- I only saw one police vehicle during my entire week in Kenya. That is not to say they don't have a sufficient police force, but it was nice not having to experience any police stops at road blocks. This week I drove from Accra to Kumasi and was pulled over at 5 different police stops. I also did not encounter any toll stations on the roads we traveled in Kenya. Both countries do however, have an abundance of speed bumps on many of their roads. It seems you can only drive at a decent speed for so long before you have to slow down to a near stop to avoid damaging your car on these bumps.

Capital City- I went to some nice places in the city but did not enjoy downtown Nairobi. It was so crowded and dark and dirty. The country was beautiful once you get out of the big city though. When it comes to safety, I'd feel much more comfortable in downtown Accra than Nairobi, especially at night. I'm not sure if that's due to familiarity or the massive numbers of people there.

I like both countries but I'd really like to go back to Kenya again sometime.

Sunday, February 23, 2020

For Those Who Despise Haggling

I have never cared for the practice of bartering or haggling when one is trying to purchase something. Some people love the rush they get as they put their negotiating skills to the test and demonstrate their business savvy. I am not one of those people. Maybe I'm a wuss, but I tend to avoid any unnecessary confrontational interactions and I just can't stand the inefficiency and repetitive nature of bartering.

I'd like to first clarify that I don't think there is anything wrong with getting a bargain or being good with money. It's been said "a fool and his money are soon parted." I also understand that there are times and places when you don't have a choice but to bargain, but why would you do it if you didn't need to? I would describe haggling as an unnecessary extra step, a waste of your time, and an exercise in inefficiency. I don't like having to employ acting skills and excessive dialogue in order to purchase something at a fair price.

My first encounter with this came as a teenager when I went to Tijuana with some friends. As soon as we crossed the border we were swarmed by salespeople trying to sell their goods. If you wanted to buy a blanket, hammock, jewelry, or any souvenir, you had to go through the process of listening to the vendor tell you how much they wanted for it which was usually 5 times too much. Then you countered their offer by saying you would pay far less than the item was worth. You did this back and forth multiple times as each party slowly gave in and got more reasonable. By the end of the process you pretended to be uninterested and walk away until they finally ran up to you and agreed upon the appropriate price both parties were okay with. This is the real price you could have just bought it for in the begin without all the theatrics. Even buying an inexpensive thing like a can of soda involved going through this ridiculous routine!

I would rather pay more for almost anything than have to play this silly game and waste my time when I buy something from a street vendor.  Since I moved to Africa a couple years ago I have been forced to barter and bargain more than I like. Taxis are notorious for making you haggle. Many taxi drivers here typically ask 3 to 4 times the going rate when I need a ride. I just feel it is insulting to my intelligence to have to play this game. That is one reason I love Uber. I know what the price is before the driver even shows up and it is usually a third of what the taxi drivers demand. I don't have to spend any time or energy arguing because the decision is made in a split second on the app. If the quote is too high, I simply don't proceed.

One exception where I can accept this type of negotiating is when you are making a large purchase like a home. It doesn't seem quite as annoying when people are dealing with large sums of money and are submitting written offers and counter offers with a deadline while their offers are being entertained. At least this only happens for most  people a handful of times in a lifetime.

If you disagree with me, just think what your shopping experience would be like if the next time you went to Costco or a grocery store the person in front of you with a large cart of groceries haggled with the clerk over every item they purchased.



After writing this post I was looking online for a picture for haggling and came across this video clip. I feel vindicated if Monty Python is also making fun of this topic. Just because I hate bartering doesn't mean I'm better than those who do enjoy playing this game... it only means I have more common sense than them.😄

Monday, February 17, 2020

Controlling Governments

I haven't given much thought to communism over the years, but with the recent Coronavirus outbreak. I've had some interesting insights and reminders about controlling governments. It has been interesting to see how slow the Chinese government was to admit that they had a serious health crisis on their hands. They even criticized other countries that had issued warnings to their citizens about travelling to China saying they were over-reacting and promoting needless fear. It's also been disturbing to see Chinese citizens, reporters, and bloggers attempting to tell the world about the actual severity of the problem be censored, jailed, or just simply disappear. On the bright side, a controlling government made it much easier to shut down and quarantine a city with twice the population of Los Angeles. That would be much harder to do in the US where people are accustomed to going wherever and whenever they want.

I've noticed a similar patterns in other countries over the years. The citizens of North Korea are only allowed access to media that is provided by their government. There is no social media or interaction with other countries. All the movies made in North Korea are produced by the government and this propaganda paints their leader as a man who is approaching deity. Their starving citizens are taught to fear the rest of the world and are constantly being told how well they have it. The last thing their leaders want is for their citizens to have their eyes opened to how the rest of the world is living and to the freedoms they do not enjoy. In a way it seems like North Korea is pulling a massive Truman Show prank on 25 million people.

Speaking of the Coronavirus, it might not spread into North Korea as quickly as other countries since it is so isolated with travel restrictions for visitors, however; if it ever did infect North Korean citizens, I doubt their government would ever be willing to acknowledge it.

North Korea keeps it's citizens in the dark "literally"

In 1986 I remember learning of the nuclear power plant disaster at Chernobyl. The Soviet Union downplayed the severity of that situation and their state controlled media tried to cover up and minimize what had happened. It seems in many of these communist countries the image a country is trying to project for the rest of the world is valued more than the safety and well being of it's citizens. These countries are frequently too proud to admit the truth about many issues if it does not line up with the propaganda they have been promoting to their citizens and the rest of the world.

Going back even further to the late 70's I remember visiting Germany when the Berlin wall was still up. This was during the days of East and West Berlin and the difference between the two was shocking. I will never forget visiting the Check Point Charlie museum as a young kid and seeing how those in the East would risk their lives to try and get to the other side in order to flee their government.

Reviewing these examples of repressive governments makes me grateful for the freedom I have. My country is not perfect and I admit it has many problems. Ironically, I know this due to the fact that we have freedom of speech and the press. I don't think I could handle living in a world where my mail, phone conversations, and e-mails were monitored and censored. I complain enough as it is about my entertainment options but I'd go crazy if I could only watch government approved programs and was told what kind of music, clothes, and hairstyle I could enjoy. Freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly, and the right to bear arms are things we can easily take for granted.

I am not anti-government. Governments play an important role in bringing order to society. I also understand that many bad things can happen within a country when it gives it's citizens so much freedom but when you weigh the problems of a free society versus the problems of a society where government controls every aspect of your life, I will always choose freedom. Many young people today believe in a Utopian form of government that will take care of all of their wants and needs and solve all their problems. I would suggest they have probably not been around the world or studied history enough to see what happens to your standard of living when you relinquish your freedoms over time to a government for the promise of future benefits.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Too Many Holidays

I'm surprised at how frequently I keep hearing that regular days carry some kind of  significance and have been designated as minor holidays or commemorative days. I 'm cool with the usual big holidays like Mothers Day, Fathers Day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Days for one's country, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, but there are just way too many supposedly special days.

If you look up unofficial holidays or awareness days you will see there is a special day every single day of the year which basically cheapens any legitimate holiday. So here is my opinion on some of these other holidays or "fun days."

I'll be the first to admit that some of these holidays are kind of lame but I can go along with them since most of them are a great excuse to justify eating food or treats. Some that fall in this category include:

Feb 14- Valentines Day- A day people do something for their significant other out of obligation and peer pressure. Also a day many restaurants increase their dinner menu prices by 25%.

Apr 1- April Fools Day- A day for kids and immature adults to do pranks and mess with people.

May 4th- National Star Wars Day- "May the Forth Be With You" It was destiny and I like puns so you will have no complaints from this Jedi Knight.

May 5- Cinco Dey Mayo- This is not Mexico's Independence day but commemorates a military victory over the French. Many people know this is a great excuse for Gringos to enjoy Mexican food and beer.


National Donut day and World Chocolate Day- If you insist it is appropriate to eat chocolate or donuts on these days I'm not going to fight you.

Then there are some special awareness days that are not as well known as big holidays but I feel they are worthy of taking note. I'm sure there are many more but I'm too lazy to look them up. These would also include religious holidays from a wide variety of religions that followers choose to observe.

Jan 11- National Human Trafficking Awareness Day
Jan 27- International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Mar 2- Employee Appreciation Day
Aug 21-World Senior Citizen Day

My final category includes holidays or special days that I think are just plain dumb. I love science fiction, Nutella, and cinnamon rolls, but I don't need an official day designated to enjoy them.

Jan 2- National Science Fiction Day

Feb 2- Groundhog Day- Who benefits from this? I am as sick of this mindless tradition as Bill Murray was in the movie.

Feb 5- World Nutella Day

June 24- Take Your Dog to Work Day

Oct. 4th- Cinnamon Roll Day

Nov 15- Day of Imprisoned Writer- Yes this is a thing. This day commemorates the serious topic of human rights and those who have been repressed but it sure sounds odd. How many imprisoned writers are there? The first one that always comes to mind is ironically Hitler writing Mein Kampf.

Others special days that are just plain silly include static electricity day, national gorilla suit day, no pants day, monkey day, talk like a pirate day, etc. Sometimes there are the special commemorative dates that a State or City might choose to observe. I love the Utah Jazz but was shocked to see our State declare February 29, 2012 as Jeremy Evans day after he won the NBA slam dunk contest. Wouldn't it make more sense to just congratulate him?

Anyway, I hope I haven't stepped on too many toes. If your family gets excited for Apricot Day each January 9th then go for it. I hope you enjoy celebrating your favorite holidays but I think I'm going to start making up my own because I'm pretty sure I could do much better than most of these.