Close Encounters of the Cultural Kind

I have returned from my trip to Thailand, which I make every 2 years, whether I am ready or not.  Sometimes it is really tough to break away from work. I am married to a charming Thai woman (she charmed me anyway), and we have long ago agreed that I would go with her to Thailand every 2 years or so. She goes every 6 months, if we can afford it. We have built a house in her hometown, and she loves staying in it and working on it. Every trip, she has some project that she does, to repair or improve the house. When I go, I am impressed by what she has done, for she has good taste and is very practical, for the most part. We now have a house that is the talk of the town (or our part of town anyway). When the Thai folks talk about it, they call it the American house (bahn falang), and they ask each other, “have you been INSIDE?”, meaning inside the compound walls to see what we have done lately.

(NOTE–  click on each picture to see an enlarged version)

 Once I have seen what my wife has done to the house, given it my approval, and rested from the long flight, we venture out into Thai society, visiting friends, conducting business, going to the store, and going on little trips to other places in Thailand. Two years ago, we went to Phuket, the exotic tropical island, and stayed in a hotel that had 3 meters of water in the lobby during the tsunami of 2004. Upon learning this, I got a room on the top floor. This year, we went to Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, with mountains. This is my favorite part of Thailand. Mountains excite me, they thrill me, they inspire me. Also, they provide some relief from the heat and humidity of Thailand. Also, they are safe from tsunamis.

 Every time I go to Thailand, I have to relearn the language and the culture. I know that everyone is watching me, and I don’t want to be thought of as “the dumb American”. I try to act according to Thai customs, and give them some insight into American customs, at the same time. I have many encounters with Thais and Thai culture, which are fascinating and charming. “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was a popular sci-fi movie which took you through alien encounters of the first, second, and third categories, climaxing with a personal encounter with alien beings face-to-face. Traveling to Thailand reminds me of that. Thailand is so different in environment, language, customs, religion, and values, that it seems like an alien encounter.

  Let me describe one of these encounters for you:

In beautiful Chiang Mai, in the mountains, we have been staying at our hotel, the Riverside Diamond, for 2 days. In the parking lot of our hotel, we are approached by a charming girl / woman (in Thailand it is hard to tell between girls and women… they all look young and pretty). She is carrying a large dish or platter, on which are arranged some cute little hand-made bamboo containers. You might assume the containers contain food for sale, but as the woman gets closer, you hear the chatter of birds, and you realize the bamboo containers are cages, laying on a bed of bird seed. They are of slightly different sizes, but about the size of two fists put together. If you look closely through the bamboo lattice, you might see that the tiny birds are common sparrows, just like the ones flitting about in the trees nearby. The ones in the cages are also flitting about, or trying to, probably beating themselves senseless against the cage and each other.

 You might try to tell the woman “we don’t want to buy any birds”, but if you do, you are just exposing yourself as a dumb American (or falang as they call us). Hopefully you have a Thai friend present who will explain that the woman is not selling the birds exactly, she just wants money so that you can have the privilege of letting the birds go free. “Oh” you may ask, “and then she goes and catches them again, or catches other birds like them? What is the point of that?” Your Thai friend will explain that letting the birds go free is like a good deed, which the Thai people call boon or in English, “merit”. More than that, as I have read, it is a religious obligation to Buddhists, which is deeply woven into Thai culture. Their saying is tam boon, dai boon, which means “do merit, receive merit”. This is popularized in English as “make merit.” Good Buddhists are constantly trying to “make merit” (which erases bad karma or builds up good karma) by doing good deeds to people or in this case, to birds. It seems that the spending of money for a good purpose gets you some moral credit or merit (just as it does in any culture). So this woman is offering you the chance to “make merit” for the good of your soul, or actually getting you closer to losing your soul in Nirvana. From my wide readings, I know that in Buddhism, Nirvana = putting out the flame = final enlightenment = dissolution of self.  Buddha was all about erasing himself and us, as individuals, from the universe (an idea I find to be disturbing and illogical). But I doubt that this woman really understands that. She is just trying to make some easy money from tourists, to make a living in a tough world.

 Now that you are duly enlightened about these pitiful birds and their plight, you might feel like going along and making some merit. So next you ask the price. Your Thai friend translates that one cage with 4 or 5 sparrows is 100 baht, or 3 dollars. There are some slightly larger cages with 8 or 9 sparrows, and those go for 200 baht, or 6 dollars. Now, that is pretty steep, if you know that the average Thai construction worker makes all of 10 dollars per day, or less. But most falang don’t know that, and their pockets are full of money itching to be spent.

 Getting back to the parking lot, my Thai friend, who in this case is my wife, informs me that she wants both of us to release a cage of 9 birds, so I should pay the lady 400 baht, or 12 dollars!! That is more than most Thais make in a whole day!! I attempt a protest, but it does no good, as I am informed that we can certainly afford 12 dollars worth of merit. This puzzles me at first, because usually my wife will haggle the price of anything, anywhere.  But not for this, the purchase of merit. OK, I get it.  Next, the lady says she doesn’t have 2 cages with 9 birds each, so we wait while she carefully cracks open a small cage and a large cage, puts the openings together, and tries to blow some birds from the small cage to the large cage. This whips the birds into a greater frenzy, and feathers fly. I can imagine eyes being pecked out by wayward beaks, as the birds careen into each other, but no birds move into the larger cage.  So the lady crams her hand into the small cage, grabs a frantic bird, crams it into the large cage, and repeats this process until she has 9 birds in the large cage. How she can count them is beyond me, for they are a whirring blur of poor panicked sparrows.

 This process disturbs me, but I could justify it by considering that my merit is increasing, the more tormented the poor sparrows, who are about to be released from their pretty but cruel tormentor. All my Thai companions seem undisturbed, so they must be thinking the same thing, right?

 Thailand trip 2012 bird release lateI give my camera to Yong, a Thai friend / employee, and he prepares to snap a picture of us releasing the birds. We have to pry the cages open, and I am taking too long, so my wife released her birds, grabs my cage and releases mine, and somehow Yong is slow on the trigger, and snaps the picture one second after all the birds have flown the coop. So I got plenty of merit from releasing tormented birds, but no good picture. Oh well.

 I handed the lady the merit / ransom money, and I had my wife ask her “will the birds come back to you?”, for at least she did have lots of seeds under the cages for the birds to eat, if they could take a break from their frenzy. The lady exclaimed “Oh no, I have to go to the forest and catch more.” Good for the released birds….. Hopefully these particular birds have learned their lesson, and will not enter the same bird trap twice. But that is not what I have read. Many of these merit-selling bird catchers feed the birds marijuana seeds, so that the birds will get hooked on it and return to them, to be easily caught. Addicted birds are just as foolish as addicted humans. Also, I have been told that some kidnappers clip feathers from the wings, so the birds can hardly fly. Then they can catch the same birds over and over again, which probably become accustomed to their peculiar fate. Well, at least the birds are being fed, I guess.

 One wonders if the kidnappers themselves are making any merit, by kidnapping and mistreating small animals for a living. I would think their merit account is being depleted, wouldn’t you? But somehow, they justify what they are doing as acceptable. It is a good thing for them that there is no PETA chapter in Thailand. But on the other hand, perhaps the small animals are lucky that they are just being kidnapped, and not eaten. The Thais eat just about everything, including some disgusting insects. But it is interesting….. I don’t see any insects being kidnapped for ransom. They might be easier to catch, but I guess it would be less appealing to release a plastic bag full of scorpions, or large stinging ants, or cockroaches, or mosquitoes. Don’t mosquitoes deserve their freedom, too? Or how about blood-sucking leeches? Somehow, I cannot imagine my wife saying, “ooooohhhhh, look at the poor leeches, let’s pay money to let them go!” When my wife worked in the flooded rice fields of Thailand as a young girl, she was often attacked by blood-sucking leeches, big ugly squishy ones, which she had to pull off of her skin. When she got them off, she smashed them with a stick.  I don’t think she would pay money to release a bag full of  leeches. But she might pay money to buy a bag full of leeches, and smash them one by one, with a brick.

 This enterprising, charming young lady, kidnapper of birds, approached us at our hotel. But usually, these merit-selling kidnappers of birds operate around popular temples, where the making of merit is more on the minds of the visitors. At the temples, there are also kidnappers of turtles and fish and eels and snails, which are displayed in buckets or plastic bags half-full of water. The plastic bags are tied up, with no food visible, and no visible means of charging the bags with oxygen. The animals in buckets are crowded–  just look at the bucket of eels below. The release of each different animal brings a different karmic reward.  For example, releasing a turtle back into the river will bring you long life. Releasing a catfish means you won’t have competition in business. Eels bring money, work and prosperity (things will go smoothly and slippery).  Releasing tiny fresh water snails brings happiness in love.







These hapless creatures near the temples are caught over and over again, to be sold to the next sucker, er, I mean, pilgrim seeking to “make merit.” Kidnapping small animals and charging ransom money to let them go, is big business at temples all over Thailand. I wonder what the monks think of this kidnapping business that they allow at their temples. I would ask them, but I would need my wife to translate, and she would say it is rude, and refuse to ask them – – –  NOTE TO SELF: If I die and am reincarnated in Thailand, put in request NOT to be reincarnated as a small animal near a Thai temple!!! – – –  I am partial to the birds, because they not as messy, and they are easier to let go. I have ransomed many pitiful kidnapped birds in my trips to Thailand, so I guess I have a little merit built up by now, if anyone is counting.

 I may need it, because I may have angered some spirits on this trip. My wife built a “spirit house” when we built our house. This is a small doll-house-like, religious-looking structure that Thais buy and put next any house that they build. It is supposed to provide a symbolic dwelling place for the spirits of the land and the air, who are disturbed or displaced by the construction of a new house. This is not from Buddhism, it is a much more ancient tradition from animism, the belief of spirits in nature. In Thailand, animism has merged with Buddhism, or Buddhism has embraced animism. Thailand’s popular religion is called Buddhism, but I think if Buddha was alive today, he might disagree. For example, he would have no part of kidnapping small animals for ransom at temples. He might react to that in the same way that Jesus reacted to the sale of animals at the temple in Jerusalem. And I don’t think he would sanction spirit houses, either.

But today, Thailand’s popular religion is an interesting mix of animism, Hinduism, and Buddhism, with a hierarchy of Buddhist monks presiding over the mix. It is more like popular culture, than pure religion. Building spirit houses is the custom, and people feel cultural peer pressure to follow the practice. Everyone else does it, so my wife did it too. Years ago, only one spirit house was required, but then the head monks somewhere decided that you needed a low spirit house and a high spirit house… good news for the spirit-house merchants… it doubled their business!

So when my wife heard about this, and saw other people doing it,  she added a second spirit house, and expanded the concrete platform that they stand on. The platform is in a bad place where she put it, blocking part of the driveway. I almost hit the corner of the platform, while backing the car out of the garage. My wife and I had a fight about this. She didn’t want to change it, and I said the platform was way too big, we could cut it in half, and that I would cut it in half myself if I had to. She said that if I did, I could go back to Texas by myself (this is a punishment?), and that the spirits might cut me in half!  Wow, talk about touching a nerve….. but soon she relented and agreed to cut the corner of the platform off. Which her brother-in-law Dang proceeded to do the next day. Dang claimed that the spirits pulled his necklace off and dropped it on the ground, and that it has never come off like that before. He also claimed that something pulled on his legs while he was asleep that night, and then he couldn’t get his breath. I told him don’t worry, if the spirits are good spirits, then they should be happy that we can use our driveway safer now, without running into their little house with a car.

 I paid Dang well, about twice the normal rate of Thai workers, same as we paid the other 5 people working for us. We also gave them gifts from the US (shirts, perfume, pocketknives, flashlights). We also threw a party and gave away 10 bags with gifts and money in them. We also fed them for free while we were there. These people are dirt-poor, so they were very grateful for our generosity. In recent years, we built a new house for a neighbor whose old wood house was falling down. We spent about $7G to help this woman and her family. Hopefully this makes more merit than releasing kidnapped birds…..

We also had our house blessed, which was a side benefit of the memorial ceremony my wife has done for her departed mother, every time I go to Thailand. This ceremony is quite an event, with much preparation and much ritual. Nine monks and a layman “deacon” from the local temple come to the house. A room must be prepared for them, with enough space for the monks to sit cross-legged side-by-side on floor mats. The wall behind them is draped with a large colored sheet. Electric fans are brought in. A microphone is provided. Food is prepared to feed the monks after their ritual….. this is the only food they will eat that day. The monks file in and take their places. The deacon, also sitting on the floor, takes the microphone and talks or chants for about 10 minutes, with some of the observers repeating his chants. The observers, including me, are also sitting on the hard tile floor, with legs folded under us. This becomes uncomfortable for me in about 5 minutes, painful in 6 minutes, and the Thais are probably amused watching the American squirm and shift about. The deacon finishes his part, and then the monks start their chant, with the head monk leading them.

 This long chant, composed of several different chants, which I can hear stop and start, lasts about 30 minutes. My wife has mercy on me and says I can get up and leave during the chanting. So I excuse myself to the other house and observe the folks (including friends and neighbors who have come for the ceremony) getting the food ready for the monks. They start taking the food in to the house where the monks are.

 The chanting stops, and I am summoned back to the ceremony. There is a little more chanting, in which I hear the names of departed family members, including my wife’s mother, father, and sister. This is a memorial ceremony for them. Then,  I participate in formally presenting the food to the monks. I can directly hand the food dishes to the monks, but women are not allowed to do that. The monk places his ceremonial cloth on the floor in front of him, and the woman places the food dish on the cloth. The monk cannot touch the dish until the woman’s hands are off of it. I guess they think dishes conduct sexual energy or something.

 The head monk with this group is a new one, and he is careful to perform all his duties. After the food is presented, he grabs his bundle of tied bamboo sticks, dips it into his bowl of holy water, and sprinkles all of us. I seem to get wetter than the others. I don’t know if this is because I paid for the whole thing, or if he thought the falang was a bigger sinner. No matter, I will take all the blessings I can get!! Finally, I get to retire to the other house. But soon, I see that the head monk followed behind me, with a young monk carrying the holy water bowl, and he is drenching everyone and everything in sight with holy water. UH OH, I think, and I rush ahead to my desk in the back room, which has many papers and books on it, that don’t really need to get wet. I worry about the finish on the desk, but there is nothing I can do about that. I sweep the papers and books into the chair, and push the chair under the desk just in time, and the head monk sweeps into the room, dousing everything with holy water, including me again. Like I said, I will take all the blessings I can get!! At least I kept my papers from getting wet, which was a small blessing in itself. After the monk left the room, I retrieved some toilet paper from the bathroom and wiped the water off the desk.

 On this trip, we were able to attend a Sunday service at the Chachaengsao Baptist Church in the next town. I am intrigued by these people, who embrace a foreign religion in their own country. They are very friendly, and want to get to know us, but my wife is reluctant. I know of a few Christian missionary groups in Thailand, and I see some Christian offices fleetingly, as we pass by in our car. Crosses are rare in Thailand, and they catch my attention. I have not established a relationship with the Baptist Church yet, but I plan to in future years. Or perhaps with the Catholic Church in my wife’s hometown. Or perhaps both.

 My trips to Thailand are full of cultural encounters like this. I have gotten used to most of them, but it is a chore to remember what to do, and what not to do, when I only go every 2 years or so. I spend much of my trip relearning the language, and remembering the do’s and don’t’s of this charming, exotic culture. But I try to introduce the Thais to some American culture at the same time. This trip, I spent some money introducing the dirt-poor Thai folks to some car racing in two forms, and they loved it, but that is another story. Maybe for the next article.  Sawa-dee-kop until then…..

Fast forward five years…..  here are some photos from a trip to visit my wife’s Thai cousin,  who lives in Fort Worth,  Texas.  It was a very interesting trip:

Old temple gate and new Indian templeInside Indian templeBass Hall Angels 1Bass Hall Angels 3New Indian temple full shotTarrant County Courthouse




Philosophy in Motion (On 2 Wheels)….. with GREAT VIDEOS


They say a picture is worth a thousand words.  So I would say that a video is worth a million words.  And so a good video with good music is “priceless”, as the commercial says.  So here are some videos for your entertainment.  They have entertained me immensely, and I recommend all of them to you.  They show people, most of them just regular people, doing amazing things on bicycles and motorcycles, that very few people are capable of doing.  I know, because I have tried to do some of these things, and I cannot.  These feats require superb balance (which I do not have), dedication, discipline, devotion, and lots of hard work and practice.  And for what?  Not for money.  Some of them get paid,  but these guys do this for the sheer enjoyment of doing something very difficult very well.  Just to prove to themselves that they can do it.  And with these videos, they prove it to the entire world.   I salute all of the people in these videos, and their awesome accomplishments.  Most of them get no formal recognition or award, but they deserve to be recognized as a cut above the rest of us, for what they are doing in these videos.  And also for what they are not doing… they are not causing any trouble, not harming anyone, not bothering anyone, not breaking any laws (well, maybe one guy is).  They are just following their passion, following their joy, with extreme dedication and discipline.   They truly could be described as philosophy in motion. Pick one or all, and enjoy!!!……  I certainly did……  so sit back and enjoy the cutting edge of skill on 2 wheels….. oh,  and turn up the volume on your computer speakers….. except on the last video, where you should turn them off, because of a totally disgusting song…..

There is an impressive photo of me about 50 videos down….. look for it!!!

First, here is a cool video about the awesome dirt-bike riding in “Skyfall”, the latest James Bond flick.  Robbie Maddison, dirt-bike jumper extraordinaire,  did the hard riding for Daniel Craig,  but Craig did do some riding himself:

Second, let me introduce a new Rube Goldberg video.  It was done very recently (November) by the extreme geniuses and tinkerers at RED BULL (energy drink), and it already has over 12 million views.  RED BULL sponsors an army of athletes of many different types, and they brought them in to do this delightful video.  Two of the extreme athletes are Danny MacCaskill, with cat-like abilities on a bicycle, and Robbie Maddison, dirt-bike jumper extraordinaire.  RED BULL calls this video “The Athlete Machine”,  which does not begin to do it any justice.  So enjoy:

As the helicopter lifts off, we must assume that the “kluge” continues on the ski slopes, in the next video?


Let’s go do some night riding….. LIKE THIS!!!


Here is a cool video of the “Isle of Man TT”,  which uses existing streets and roads.  It is perhaps the most interesting and challenging road race in the world, on any number of wheels.  These racers pass within inches of death many times on every lap.  I salute them, and greatly respect them for their skills.  This video has a GREAT song too.   I watch this video and turn up the volume whenever I am beat down by the world,  and needing a lift of the spirit.   This WILL get your heartbeat racing,   especially if you watch it in full screen:


Here is another great  TT video, of the race in Ulster.  It shows much more of the racing action between riders,  scraping and bumping and knocking each other off the track.  These racers put it all on the line to win, including their health and their lives.  This video shows 201 MPH in the dry, and 190 MPH in the rain.  Again, you should watch it in full screen:


This is not on 2 wheels, but it is so much better….. have you ever dreamed of flying….. these guys are doing it for real….. I want a wingsuit!!!

Here is a great video of the German round of the 2011 World Trials Championship….. some make it, some don’t. I wonder if we have a round of this in the USA? I would definitely go watch it!

I went riding with a friend and his son, who was on a BMX bike with no brakes, and bragging about his riding skills. I am going to send my friend this video, which shows stupid kids doing very dangerous things with absolutely NO PROTECTION…. no helmet, no pads, no common sense. If your kids ride, you should show them this. There is blood, and probably broken bones…..

The next video is one of the funniest motorcycle videos I have ever seen, but I feel so sorry for the poor riders whose bikes got tangled up and damaged by a freak accident….. but at least no one got hurt.  These riders were in 3rd and 4th place in a race in France.  This should be a classic and one-of-a-kind video, because this kind of crash will probably never happen again…..

This was in a news article about the “ambush” of a mountain biker in Africa, so I went to the video on Youtube, so I could put it here. This poor rider is incredibly unlucky to be clobbered by an antelope, but then again, the antelope could have been a HUNGRY LION!

That reminds me of the time I was in a hare scrambles race in West Texas, and a full-curl ram (about a third the size of that antelope) ran full-speed out of the brush, into the side of the motorcycle in front of me, which I was trying to pass. If I had passed, the ram would have hit me. Sometimes, holding back can be a good thing…..

Here is something I have been searching for….. a heed-to-head comparison of a trials bicycle and trials motorcycle:

And here is a head-to-head comparison that is even better, I especially like them riding on a jumble of boulders at waterside. It is AMAZING, but I suspect that they may have gotten wet a few seconds after some of the clips:

This video is a teaser for a production that will come out in 2012, claiming to show the origins of mountain bicycle riding. A team of professional bicycle riders travel to the Gobi Desert, placing them in either China or Mongolia. They do some incredible riding there, blazing their own trails. One segment, filmed from a helicopter at altitude, shows a tiny rider blazing his way down a desert mountain. The rider is a dot on the screen, and all you can really  see is his distant dust plume going down the slope. This is in stark contrast to the usual close-ups, zooms, and HD videos that put you in the rider’s lap. This video appealed to my sense of adventure and innovation. I would love to do something like this, but  I never will. But at least  I can watch someone else do what I can only dream of doing…..

I have been looking for decent urban motorcycle trials videos, and finally found one:

Here is video of young pros who talk about broken collarbones as if they were nothing, joking about a patch or a gum to prevent the problem….. but what if they had a real job in the real world, with no sponsor and no sugardaddy, and a family hostile to riding,  and then they broke their collarbone….. it would be a disaster….. like it was for me….. but these young pros took it in stride and kept their riding careers….. like I would have in their shoes….. but would they survive in my shoes….. I don’t know….. I raced motorcycles for 40 years without a broken bone….. that is the direct result of my own discipline and discretion….. and raised a family and ran a business….. and then broke a collarbone (no big deal, right?)….. and suffered the condemnation of my own family…..  and  had to sacrifice my racing….. so who is the wiser rider…. you make the call….. I don’t think these boys would have  made it with the restrictions of my life…. still, I salute them and wish them the best…. but the more bones they break, the more they will regret it when the arthritis sets in…..

A friend of mine found this new video of Danny MacAskill turning an industrial graveyard into his personal playground. This incredible rider does things no one else does. He has the balance of a cat, or better than a cat. I feel like an earthworm, or a mouse compared to these human cats who seem to defy gravity…..

Just for some perspective near the beginning of these videos, THIS IS MORE LIKE WHAT MOST PEOPLE ON THIS PLANET THINK IS EXCITING. Good for them, they have the right idea, but they have a long way to go.  Please join me in prayer for them:

Sorry about that. It was instructive, but  it was actually painful for me to watch (it did have a great view, though). I kept wanting to pour some oil on the slide in front of the lady, and then give her a hard push.  Now, back to the truly exceptional and inspiring things that people can do, on 2 wheels, near the limits of the laws of physics, instead of sliding slowly on their butts:

Here is a different video of a downhill bicycle race….. in a shopping mall!!! In Budapest. Would a shopping mall in the US do this? I doubt it. We can’t let people have fun….. some fool might get hurt and sue the mall….. then the stupid judge or jury might award the fool millions of dollars….. only in America. But in Budapest, these guys are having a blast, riding down escalators, going through a subway train car, and finally jumping down a floor onto a ramp. It reminds me of a fun video game, Mario Kart….. now they need to do this in the mall with dirt bikes, or pit bikes…..

This looks like a great pump track….. similar to our Walnut Creek pump track….. why didn’t we have these tracks, and the bicycles to ride them, when I was  a kid? My parents got me a banana-seat bicycle, I rode it around the street,  I said “this sucks”, and started riding dirt bikes. If I had a pump track to ride a bicycle on, things would have been very different…..

Here is another urban bicycle riding video, no race, but more freewheeling, doing some pretty amazing things…..

Here is another reward for checking back in….. the more complete video of Danny MacAskill riding that 1-inch fence….. he had some problems before he made it…..

HERE IS A VIDEO OF THE ALMOST UNRIDEABLE TRAIL….. do you think you could ride it without crashing……. I don’t think so……

If you liked the last video, you will love this one………. I call it “THE DANCE OF THE RAG DOLLS”….. or ….. “THE WALTZ OF THE CRASH DUMMIES”….. this is how NOT to ride a bicycle…..

This one is an on-board video from an interesting perspective….. I think the camera is on the rider’s chest….. he must be wearing a chest protector….. good for him…..

This video has another great song: DO YOU WANT THAT LOVE?? (did you marry a woman like this?) ….. and some great BMX tricks too, by regular guys…..

Added July 5….. I found another gem. This one is mostly in slow motion, so you can pick up details, and it has classical music….. finally a video with some class….. AND a double back flip too…..

Added June 10. Much of this one is “rogue” video. DO NOT TRY THIS ON PUBLIC ROADS IN TRAFFIC!!!

This one is a trials motorcycle playing in the city, doing awesome things we all wish we could do….. and with a cool song too…..

The next video is by far the most interesting to me. It was made somewhere in Eastern Europe by 2 good friends with trials bicycles. This by itself is exceptional, that 2 men would share such a rare sport. They probably practiced together, sharing an unusual passion for extreme bicycle riding, and they became very good at it. This is even more noteworthy. Then they got ahold of a video camera, and took turns taking video of each other doing their best tricks, which are completely incredible, though the video quality is poor. They posted their video somewhere on the Internet. Then someone else found their video, appreciated it for the gem that it is, added the soundtrack of a very provocative song in America, and posted it on Youtube.  So here it is, this amazing product of starkly different cultures. The amazing bicyclists in Europe have nothing in common with the American song that plays while they perform, and the American musicians who performed the “nigger” song have no link to the European bicyclists. But they are forced together by some unknown producer, to bring us this excellent video, for free. The video action and the music are both radical, for entirely different reasons. They clash, because both of them demand our attention, one distracting us from the other. Plus, it has some funny bloopers at the end, to show that they did not make it every time. They are tearing up their bikes….. which are old…..  too bad we cannot contribute to buy them some new ones….. I gladly would….. now enjoy their AWESOME RIDING and THE NIGGER SONG…..

In this next video, the amazing Jar returns, but this time on a bicycle, instead of a street motorcycle…..

This next video has become my favorite. It chronicles the love of riding of 4 kids in British Columbia, Canada. They take to the forest, fashion an incredible track with their own hands, and then show us their amazing skills, in a free video that anyone can watch. This is pure passion, pure love of performance on 2 wheels, shared by 4 friends. This video is unique in that regard, showing a collective effort of 4 friends of like mind, who did far more than one man could do by himself. They put in hundreds of man-hours of work on these ramps and trails, and then they show us 4 minutes of the rewards of their work. And the music flows with the video. (“Young Lovers” by Love Grenade) Very cool….. “let’s do this right”….. and they did…..

This is the one with the disgusting song….. but awesome riding…..

And now,  after all these incredible videos of incredible people doing incredible things on 2 wheels, THIS is what happens to me when I tried to do a little radical trail-riding today ….. there was this incredibly tiny squeezed-down trail on a rock cliff above Barton Creek, but 4 other guys had just made it, so I thought I could too….. WRONG….. I already told you my balance sucks, and my pedal scraped the cliff….. so there was this big SPLASH of about 220 combined pounds of rider, backpack, and bicycle hitting the water upside-down…..

But it cooled me off, I discovered that my bicycle floats but I do not, I was able to swim back to the cliff and my buddies helped me out of the creek, and this was the “coolest” trail ride of my life, so far….. there will be many more, God willing!!! Go forth now, and have your own 2-wheeled adventure. It is the most fun a human being can have, with your clothes still on.

I just  found a new video worthy of posting here. It shows a sport I knew nothing about, until 5 minutes ago. But now I love it. Urban Downhill….. what a concept!!!

And of course, not to be outdone, dirt bikers have their own distorted ideas of urban competition….. not content with existing streets, stairways, bridge arches, and retaining walls, they have to bring in logs and tires and boulders, and dump them on the street….. I think they could have found existing urban obstacles that are far more interesting….. but this is great fun to watch….. how would YOU ride this?

And here is a much better one…..

And here is a BMX video suggested by a good buddy, from an event that happened last weekend, in Austin, Texas:

The next video talks about the incredible drive, the incredible quest of the best riders in the world….. to do something that no one else has done before….. for this caliber of rider, their best ride of the moment is truly NEVER ENOUGH….. they must constantly hone their skills and do the next “impossible” thing….. it is NEVER ENOUGH for them….. and they will never cease to amaze the rest of us…..

And finally, here is the absolute best bicycle crash video I have found, to show what happens most of the time, when you try to get too fancy. This one features the freestyle riding and jumping that has become so popular. This shows how NOT to do it!  Try it at your own risk!! Or better yet, don’t try it at all!!! Lots of skin is lost in this video…..

Bin Laden, Seal Team 6, and The Greatest Problem in the Universe

 And now, ladies and gentlemen, it is time to take a break from current events.  We have the body of Osama Bin Laden chilled in the freezing depths of the Arabian Sea, where the fish and crabs can dine on him at their leisure, and we all should be celebrating that.  Osama Bin Laden is now Osama Bin Khilled.  The terrorists are all scurrying like cockroaches, wondering if we have their names, phone numbers, and addresses in the “small college library’s” worth of information that we collected at the great Sheik Osama’s humble abode, a millionaire’s mansion that few of his followers could afford.  His comrades in terror will try to avenge his death, but it will probably take them a little while to get new cell phones, steal new cars, get new fake identities and passports, new email addresses, new credit cards, and pack their bombs and prayer rugs into suitcases to move to new apartments.  (UPDATE– sadly, the Pakistani Taliban quickly found 2 suicide bombers willing to attack a Pakistani military base, killing 80 and wounding 120 people. But at least, that is 2 less terrorists for us to find and kill.) 

 So, it is time for something a little different in this blog, and that is pure philosophy, or at least as pure as I can write it.  I wrote the following piece a few years ago, except for a few words of it.  So it is not current events, but a great thing about philosophy is that it has a shelf life of a few thousand years.  We are still discussing and arguing the ideas of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle (circa 300 B.C.), not to mention the philosophical ideas of the founders of all the major religions, from Abraham to Zoroaster, through  Buddha and Jesus, to Mohammed and Joseph Smith.  Philosophy can reach across thousands of years, and dictate how we use the latest technological advancements today.  Osama Bin Laden represented the darkest part of the religious philosophy of Mohammed, founder of Islam, circa 650 A.D., but he was using cell phones, computers, and thumb drives to run his terror organization.  These modern marvels are a result of his enemy’s philosophy and culture, as were the airplanes he guided into the World Trade Center towers, but he used them anyway, because his philosophy and culture can’t produce anything of note except fine Persian rugs, Arabian race horses, and the widespread abuse of women.  Have you ever seen a fine Arabian car, an Egyptian-produced airplane, or an Iranian-produced computer?  Of course not, because they do not exist!!  Pakistan is an ominous exception to the rule, making their own nuclear weapons, and Iran will soon have some, too.  Dubai is a delightful exception, producing the amazing Burj Al Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world, loaded with advanced features.  But as a general rule, the Arab/Muslim culture is not capable of technological advance. In fact, the widespread Wahhabi movement is hostile to it. The internet is rife with glowing info on Muslim discoveries, inventions, and innovations that “shaped the modern world”….. about 1000 years ago!! Here is a good article about it What has the Arab/Muslim philosophy and culture invented in the past few hundred years….. nothing!!

Here is a photo claimed to be the members of Navy Seal Team 6 who went on the mission to kill Osama Bin Laden.  It is also counter-claimed to be a photo of 1/6 scale toy action figures (note the plastic-looking arm on the far right).  If so, it is still very realistic.  It represents the latest in American military technology.

 In stark contrast to Arab/Muslim culture, The U.S. military personnel who killed Osama represented part of Judeo/Greco/Christian philosophy and culture, which became a coherent force circa 325 A.D. in the Roman Empire.  Osama was using our old technology to watch himself on TV, but our warriors were using the latest secret Western technology, which we developed for ourselves, and we should be damn proud of that.  The world was shocked to see the tidbit of cutting-edge American technology left behind at Osama’s compound… a stealth helicopter tail never seen before by the public.   If the Muslims want to compete with us or oppose us, they have to use our own stuff against us!!  (Or move into our countries and have more babies than we do… that is the real threat.)   Our philosophy has resulted in a great victory, for the moment.  My point is– philosophy has a hand in what we think, what we do, what we invent.  Philosophy affects everything.  We are all philosophers in our own right, whether we realize it or not.  That is why I like studying philosophy, and why I like trying my hand at writing it.  So I hope you enjoy this article, which I call:

The Greatest Problem in the Universe

             It takes years of experience and great skill to create a fine work of art…..

            It takes one zealot with a hammer or knife one minute to destroy it.

            It takes a lifetime to accumulate wisdom and to share it with others…..

            It takes one bullet one second to stop the wise man in his tracks.

                        — Original to this work

 I just finished reading an excellent book “Trinity, Time & Eternity” (2002) by L. Ralph Rohr, M.D.  In the book, Rohr keeps a very scientific tone and tries to link Christian doctrine to the latest science of light, electromagnetism and quantum physics, and he does a good job of that.  But like all religious arguments, he also tries to link reality doctrine to morality doctrine.  Not only must we accept the religion’s view of cosmic reality, we must also accept the religion’s view of moral principle.  While Rohr is arguing, to good effect, that God could be an entity of intense light energy with unlimited power at a wavelength we will never be able to measure, he also argues all the pacifist morality of the New Testament.  All through the book, Rohr follows the old doctrinal line of  “God is love”, “Love your enemies”, “Love conquers all”, etc., etc.  This drives me to distraction!  In the Old Testament, Jehovah or Yahweh killed all the first-born males of Egypt, and commanded the Hebrews to kill their enemies in Canaan to the last man, woman, and child.  But this is the same God who came later in human form as Jesus Christ, preaching unlimited forgiveness.  God is not all peace and love, all the time.  There is a proper time and place for all things, except pure evil.  God and all agents of goodness must have options of force open to them at all times, because love has it limitations.  Love cannot defeat hate.  Love can conquer no person who does not submit to it by choice.  But when people choose hate over love, we are told to just suffer and take it, and leave judgment to God.  This does not work, and it allows hate to destroy love;  evil to destroy good.   It can also be argued to be bad doctrine;  a manipulative doctrine that misinterprets scripture.  The religious packaging of reality doctrine with morality doctrine is not the greatest problem in the universe;  it is just a pet peeve of mine, which I had to mention.  But it does lead us to the greatest problem in the universe, as we will now see.

 I think the extreme pacifist moral doctrine of Christianity and other religions is an age-old misinterpretation of love and goodness, that people tend to fall into.  Its emotional appeal is strong, it has become a mantra, and people recite it without thinking:  love your enemies, turn the other cheek, do not resist evil, do unto others as you would have them do unto you.  BUT, love and goodness are worthless unless they produce justice, and justice is worthless without the means to enforce it upon the unjust. The unjust will dominate, unless justice is forced upon them in some way.  That is the greatest problem of life, and not just human life.  On this planet, we are living out the greatest problem in the universe.  It is the question of the enforcement of justice.  And we are in constant conflict between two major factions on the side of goodness.  On one hand, we have those practical people who have worked out the real solution  (refuse to be a victim, identify your enemies and oppose them, defend and enforce moral values in society, defend good people under violent attack with all means, including violence, to achieve Justice).  On the other hand, we have those pacifist religious extremists or liberal extremists who BELIEVE they have the solution  (be a willing victim, turn the other cheek, recognize no enemies, oppose no enemies, do not enforce moral values in society, ban personal weapons, leave Justice to God or government)  but who are tragically, hopelessly wrong.  Another distinction is that the first group accepts the personal responsibility to achieve Justice, but the second group shirks that responsibility, pushing it as far away from themselves as they can.  This aggravates all the other problems in society, but I am trying to focus here on the “greatest” problem.

 Here is the greatest problem in the universe, in the simplest terms, for intelligent forms of life (that would be most of us humans) trying to live a decent moral life.  It is also the greatest problem for any benevolent superior entities who care about us, up to and including God.  The problem is two-fold:

 Pleasure CANNOT be forced upon anyone,  at any time.

Pain CAN be forced upon anyone,  at any time.

 By “pleasure” I do not mean the sensual pleasures that immediately come to mind  (good food, drink, music, games, sex, entertainment, parties).  Those are temporary physical or social pleasures with little or no real moral value.   By “pleasure” I mean all wholesome positive experiences or assets in life, such as love, good humor, virtue, the accumulation of wisdom, the learning of skills, the building of friendship, family, and so on.  These are the lasting spiritual pleasures that make our lives worthwhile.   No one can be forced to experience these spiritual pleasures; no one can be given these virtues.  If we try to give these virtues to someone who is not ready for them, it is like casting pearls before swine, and we will get trampled in the mud along with the pearls of wisdom that we offered to the filthy pigs.  In my youth, I was that stupid pig who was given pearls of wisdom or friendship, that I trampled into the mud.  I was not ready for the virtue that was offered to me.  I think perhaps I am more ready now.

 By “pain” I mean all mental, emotional and physical pain, up to and including death.  We all know people who seem to enjoy inflicting mental and emotional pain on others.  Most of us are lucky enough NOT to know people who enjoy inflicting physical pain on others,  but this is common enough,  in abusive families and in the predatory backwaters of society,  such as gangs or organized crime.  It is very common in countries with dictatorships and tyrannies.  All types of pain can be forced upon anyone, at any time.  Even our friends and family will sometimes try to inflict emotional pain with the expertise of an engineer.  Those who know us the best, can hurt us the most, if they want to.

 Good people seek the lasting spiritual pleasures or virtues,  and try to influence others to seek them.  Though pain is usually experienced in seeking these pleasures,  good people will not use the option of forcing pain upon others to make their point,  but on the other hand, they will not protect others from the pains of making mistakes and learning.  If they are left alone, good people will form ethical and productive groups and societies.  Left alone, in a concept similar to that of Heaven,  their leaders or their God will conduct a glorious symphony of positive attitudes and constructive behavior.  As a group, they will continue to learn, grow and prosper.  They will only have to contend with the odd stray note, or a few choir members singing off-key.

 The eternal, universal trouble is that good people are not left alone to learn, grow and prosper.  They never will be left alone, as long as God deems not to separate good people from evil people, as long as the moral laws of life remain constant  (intelligence and self-awareness produce moral autonomy).  Moral autonomy means the absolute ability to choose one’s morals or ethics for oneself.  No matter how much we cherish peace, no matter what philosophy of love or goodness we construct, no matter what rules of reason we establish to follow that philosophy, there will be predatory people who ignore the rules and force their ill will upon us.  They do this by forcing pain upon us, in the most basic and brutal terms, or the threat of pain.  It is unfashionable these days to talk about force, but force is the trump card in the game of life, as anyone who has experienced it will understand.  When love fails to calm the aggressor and reason fails to stop him, force is the only thing left to prevent the aggressor from imposing his will upon us.  When necessary, we must return pain for pain, in order to stop the ORIGINAL and unjustified source of the pain.  This is the only way to enforce moral values upon those who flagrantly violate them.

This principle is sanctioned by Bible scripture, when God is speaking to Noah, after the great Flood, about how people are to conduct their lives, as they re-populate the Earth.  As the story goes, God had just killed millions with a flood, because they had become too evil.  The vast majority of humanity was genetically and morally corrupted, beyond saving.  To prevent this from happening again, God gives a stern command.  In Genesis 9:5-7,  God says “…At the hand of every man’s brother will I require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed:  for in the image of God he made man.”  This tells us that when a human has become so evil that he or she becomes a murderer, unjustly taking the life of another precious human, made in the image of God, then the murderer is to be killed also.  This tells us that once a human has become a murderer, there is no way to reform the murderer, and he or she deserves only death, for he or she is already dead to God and goodness.  Those humans who carry out the death sentence are not murderers, but are merely agents of justice, carrying out the will and command of God, with heavy hearts for the lost soul.  Unjust violence must eventually be answered with justified violence.  Nothing else will enforce moral values upon those who flagrantly violate them, and who are unwilling to change their ways.  

 To drive this point home, imagine with me a historic conference arranged by God.  The conference is a divine experiment, which God seems to indulge in from time to time.  For example, the Book of Job in the Bible tells of a divine experiment, in which God allows Satan to wreck the life of Job.  Poor Job loses his possessions, his house, his family and his health, to see if he will lose his faith in God.  Job was all but destroyed, and he cried out in excruciating pain and misery, but he did not give up his faith.  So God restored to him all that he had in his former life.

 My proposed experiment is an attempt to demonstrate the superiority or desirability of goodness over evil.  The conference will be attended by the most famous and infamous people in history, to represent the struggle between good and evil.  The conference will continue, and the attendees will not be let out, until one side convinces the other of their error.  The attendees will be required to appear in physically embodied forms, that are capable of experiencing pain and death.  We can have no wild cards of spirits, angels, wraiths, demons, or sublime shining orbs of life energy.  This will represent the struggle of flesh and blood in the physical world, not the metaphysical.  But if someone is killed in the conference, they will be resurrected to continue the struggle, until one side converts to the other. 

 We need famous people for this conference, strong-willed people who have dedicated their lives to their creed, or who have died following that creed.  Hopefully, they would consent to return to the earthly plane for this historic conference.  On the side of goodness we could have Moses, Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, and perhaps even the famous atheist pacifist Bertrand Russell.  We need a great statesman, so invite George Washington, the great general and first President, the greatest founder of America.  We need a great philosopher, so invite Socrates or Aristotle or Immanuel Kant, or all three.  We could even have God the Father leading the good guys in a separate incarnation from Jesus, if Russell didn’t object too much.  On the side of evil, we could have Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden, perhaps with a minor murderer like Charles Manson thrown in  (oh that’s right, he is not dead yet, but let him come anyway, for he is as good as dead).  Satan could lead the dark side in some incarnation, with his admirer Saul Alinsky tagging along.  The German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche could argue his doctrine of “might makes right.”  I would invite Mohammed, founder of Islam, but I am not sure which side he would be on.  Of all the founders of religions, he was by far the most violent.  So let him come and choose his own side.  Once we have this fabulous forum of good and evil assembled and locked in to a conference center somewhere, complete with a support staff to provide all their physical needs, the greatest moral debate in history will begin.  And of course, as the greatest reality TV you could possibly imagine, it must be televised.  So we would all be watching.  Unless historical events bore you, and you would rather watch Southpark, The Family Guy, soap operas or sports.

 The debate will have no rules save those rules that either side can establish to follow as a team.  But neither team is bound by the rules of the other team.  This is the essence of God-granted freedom of will.  This is also the way humanity is organized on this planet, in real conflicts of good and evil, so let’s keep it realistic in that sense.  This is not a friendly sports match with rules that all the players must follow.  Also being realistic, no miracles are allowed, but teaching materials, tools and weapons are allowed.  No expense will be spared to provide the attendees with whatever physical resources they may require.  For this would be a contest to finally determine the superiority of goodness or evil, in the physical realm. 

 Who would be the winners, you may ask?  I don’t know, but I do know it would be a long, epic struggle.  Can anyone doubt the progression of such a conference?  It would start in peace, but end in violence.  Most likely, physical force would determine the outcome of this debate in a physical arena, with no metaphysical elements allowed.  It may not start out that way.  The side of goodness would negotiate and debate better than any earthly politician;  they would apply the principles of “conflict resolution” better than any earthly professor;  they would preach love and peace with great wisdom and eloquence like the saints they are, worthy to fill the pages of a new Bible.  Like some modern philosophers from Earth, they might argue that evil people can be “disarmed by love,”  if only their victims and the rest of us would love them enough.

But even these, the greatest saints in history, could not force the evil ones to accept the “pleasures” of morality, love, peace and wisdom.  Their efforts of love might succeed in a spiritual environment with errant souls, where the saints cannot be harmed;  but not in a physical environment,  where the saints have bones that break,  skin that can be pierced,  and blood that spills.  In a spiritual or metaphysical environment, love may have the advantage.  But on Earth, love is ground under the heels of tyrants, or manipulated to serve them.  Love is literally “out of its element” on our harsh and brutal planet.  Here, love withers like a water lily in the desert, without strong protection and shelter.  In any severe conflict, the side that is the most evil, that is the most willing to use lying, threats, force, violence and killing to win the conflict, has a tactical advantage,  and if they are not engaged in battle and stopped,  they will win.

This premise does not support the brute Nietzsche philosophy of  “might makes right” or “might becomes right.”  It simply means that any good philosophy or good spiritual morality MUST be supported by strong means of physical protection and enforcement, or it will lose in any conflict with a better-physically-supported philosophy or morality,  regardless of which one is right or wrong.  Instead of “might makes right,”  this could be expressed as “might helps right” or “might helps right to survive, long enough to make a difference.”  Money and resources also greatly help.  A strong military is necessary to protect a strong democracy.  This is an obvious moral principle, that should not even be necessary to stress here.  But the extreme modern pacifists in our culture, politics and religion do make it necessary to stress here,  because those extremists label ALL violence as evil.  They even condemn simple forcefulness, or strength of character, or wealth, especially when it comes from a male.

The evil ones may actually listen to the saints’ wise and wonderful arguments.  They may pretend to agree.  The good guys may even convince one or two of the dictators of their evil and win them over to goodness.  But as long as the good guys denounce force, refusing to use their weapons, and as long as JUST ONE dictator remained predatory, using his weapons, the side of goodness would be doomed.  Sooner or later, the predatory dictator(s) would grow tired of debate, and would do what they do best, dictate, and use force to impose their will on the other side.  They would inflict pain and death upon the emissaries of goodness.  If Jesus spoke out against the dictators,  he would likely be killed once again,  and for what good?  But if he used force to defeat the dictators,  it seems he would violate everything he taught us to do.  Regardless of the apparent double standards,  He would have to act with force to stop the dictators,  when words failed to do so.  This would be an ideal time for the forceful policies of Jehovah,  from the Old Testament.  Remember that God told us:  “Whoever sheds man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed:  for in the image of God he made man.”  (Genesis 9:5-6)  The moral teachings of the Old Testament and New Testament are equally valid.  It is up to us to have the wisdom to learn when to apply them.

 In this conference, contrary to the peaceful teachings of Jesus,  Buddha and the rest of the good guys,  the only way these emissaries of goodness could prevail over the angry dictators would be by force.  No miracles or lightning bolts are allowed,  so they would have to use physical restraints or weapons.  They would first have to use force to defend themselves from the inevitable first attack of the dictators, then the second attack, then the third, and so on.  They would eventually have to use pre-emptive force offensively to physically stop the dictators from attacking anymore, to somehow immobilize or subdue them.  If they can do this, their act of force might convince the dictators of the superiority of goodness, where negotiation and love and suffering failed.  Perhaps General Washington could train the Greek philosophers and Gandhi in the use of brute force.  Perhaps Buddha could learn some Kung Fu.  If the good guys cannot subdue the dictators, then they will be silenced, hurt, or killed themselves.  If the dictators are subdued, but remain dedicated to evil and cannot be converted to goodness, then the good guys will never be safe until they kill the dictators, for as long as they are alive they will be a threat.  And if they are resurrected, they will be a threat forever, until they personally choose to stop being predators.  That could take a long, long time.

 I don’t know who would win the debate, but I think it would finally depend on who best used weapons rather than words.  With the resurrection feature in play,  it would become a game of the bad guys crippling and silencing the good guys,  but being careful not to kill them.  Rip out their tongues, as Saddam Hussein did to some of his victims, but then bring in the doctors to stop the bleeding.  It would be very hard for the saints to debate the virtues of goodness with no tongues.  How long would it take for the bad guys to tire of this game?  A very long time, I think.  I fear that the bad guys would try to turn the conference into a perpetual hell for the good guys, reminiscent of a Nazi concentration camp.  For if they could dominate and abuse these greatest saints in history, it would demonstrate to the rest of us that evil is truly superior.  They would try to turn God’s experiment against him.  How long would it take for the good guys to tire of being crippled and silenced, but not killed?  Also a very long time.  Good guys tend to put up with suffering and sacrifice a lot better than bad guys.  I seem to have this tendency myself,  but I am beginning to think that it is not such a good idea as it is presented to be.

I think that sooner or later, in the conference, the saints and heroes of human history would come to the same conclusion.  They would have to use physical force and violence to subdue the bad guys, even killing them, until the bad guys truly saw the evil of their ways, and converted to goodness.  But this could take years, decades, or centuries.  I am confident that there is already a spiritual, metaphysical system set up and operating to handle evil people,  though it may take even longer to see any true conversion from evil to good.  It may take many lifetimes.  Meanwhile, we all suffer at their hands.

 If the universe were merely physical, limited to what we can see, touch, and hear, it seems that evil predators would dominate us all.  With no ethics, they have unlimited options—whatever it takes to win, they will do, including lying, stealing, betrayal, torture, murder, and genocide.  But the universe may be mostly metaphysical, or non-physical, which gives goodness the upper hand.  We are all eternal spirits occupying temporary bodies, and spiritual virtues will always trump physical capabilities.  Physical pain is temporary, while spiritual virtue is eternal.  The forces of goodness will eventually prevail,  on a universal scale.

 But that does not help us much here on Earth,  where the most evil human predators can create a prolonged, terrifying hell for their hapless victims, who can number in the billions.  

 In my fantasy conference, I think the greatest problem in the universe would become the greatest problem in the conference.  The good guys could not force the spiritual “pleasure” of virtue or ethics onto the bad guys, but the bad guys could force pain and abuse onto the good guys, shifting the focus from debate to domination.  This is what happens everywhere on this Earth, when serious conflicts arise.

 The same principle applies to all our lives, though physical force is rarely needed.  Instead, in our normal relationships, we can use words to good effect, also actions, labor and money.  We can choose who to support and who not to support.  But when we speak or act to demonstrate goodness, there will always be those who ignore our message and take advantage of our good will, for their own gain.  Whether the predator is a spouse, a parent, a child, a relative, a friend, a co-worker, or a stranger, a predator will show up to ruin our day or ruin our life.

 We urge mutual tolerance, but they demand submission (as our spouse sometimes does).  We advise open-mindedness, but they jump to conclusions (as political factions always do).  We support them, but they condemn us (as our kids sometimes do).  We preach morality, but they laugh at us and do as they please (as our kids sometimes do).  We tell the truth, but they use the lie as their main strategy (every family has such a troublemaker).  We give, but they only take, no matter how sweetly they may talk.  The sweeter they talk, the more we should be on guard.

 You have these predators in your life.  Everyone does, unless you are extremely lucky.  Even if you are a predator yourself, there are stronger or smarter predators preying on you.  Someday, when you decide to end the predation, conflict resolution skills or kind words of peace and love will not do the job.  A predator does not stop being a predator, just because his/her victims have become enlightened!  A predator does not stop being a predator, just because you are trying to “love” him or her through greater effort and sacrifice.  Even Jesus said we shouldn’t throw those pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).  You have to stop being a willing victim  (but that is what most religion teaches, to be a willing victim).

 You must either separate yourself from the predator (the weak solution),  or you engage the predator in conflict (the strong solution).  Whether you disengage or engage, you should stop being a willing victim.  If you want to preach, you must hold your moral ground, and do your preaching from a standing position.  Do not preach from the prone position, with the predator’s foot on your chest.  Do not preach while nailed to a cross.  Jesus already did that, and most of the world knows about it, so what good would that do?  Jesus made his historic impact by being crucified and resurrected, but he claimed to be the Son of God.  Thus he claimed to be divine, and had a divine mission to accomplish.  You and I are not divine.  If you or I are nailed to a cross, we have obviously lost the battle with whatever evil we were fighting.  Any preaching we choose to do, would be interpreted by most people as the preaching of a loser.

 Apparently in the afterlife,  with the loss of physical bodies,  the threat of physical pain and physical death is removed,  which would be a fundamental game-changer in our relationships. Pains of the soul would still exist, such as fear, dread, guilt, regret, humiliation, depression, isolation, and these might be forced upon us.  But without physical bodies, no one could kill us or cripple us.  However, until we die, we must consider the formidable threats of physical pain and death, in almost everything we do.  It is true that many things are worth dying for, if we must.  But it is even better to escape death and live for those things as long as we can.  

 So, do not preach from a cross, and do not preach while accepting abuse, with the predator’s leash on your neck, or his/her hand in your wallet or purse! Try to speak or write from a position of strength and dignity, have the intelligence to figure out if you are being preyed upon or not, and have the courage to back up your words with action.  For as we all teach our kids, actions speak much louder than words.  To paraphrase Mark Twain, “I cannot hear what you are saying, because your actions deafen me!”  Words can be very powerful, but only if people heed them.  The power of words must be shared equally by the speaker and the listener.  But only a fool will continue to speak in words only, when his/her tormentor is speaking with actions.  The language of action trumps the language of words;  action renders words powerless.  When predators force pain upon us, action is the only language of salvation.

 My solution to the great storm of confusion regarding moral conflict and enforcement of justice can be reduced to the following simple bullet points:

1.       There really are good guys and bad guys.

2.       The bad guys really do know that they are bad.

3.       The bad guys are doing damage and crimes every day, to take what they want.

4.       The bad guys try to hide their badness, or act like good guys, to escape detection. 

5.       The good guys must try to detect the bad guys.

6.       The good guys must try to stop the bad guys before they commit their crimes.

7.       The good guys must try to catch the bad guys after they commit their crimes.

8.       The good guys will not have any peace until they accomplish 5, 6, and 7.

 We, the good guys and gals, just accomplished bullet point 7 with Osama Bin Laden, and this was a great victory for goodness.  Dozens of books have probably been written about every bullet point above, in agreement or in argument.  But even if everyone agreed with my bullet points, the bad guys would still be bad, engaging in predatory abuse, and it would still be hard to detect them and stop them.

 We can never solve the greatest problem in the universe, because we can never force virtue on anyone, or prevent someone from forcing pain on us.  But we can certainly reduce its impact.  We can continue to try to act in virtuous ways, so that others can choose to support us and join us.  We must also try to change the widespread pacifist misinterpretation of love and goodness.  Pacifism is a simplistic philosophical and moral concept that is basically good, but woefully incomplete.  I will next explain how I think it is incomplete.

Or perhaps not.  My next philosophical topic is The Golden Rule, but I do not want to burden my friends in this world with things that do not interest them.  I do not know if this is worth your time and thoughts, or not.  If you want more of this, let me know.  If I get no comments, I will return to the simplistic refuge of current events, or cool videos, or music.  Philosophy is both exhilarating and exhausting for me,  but I am trying to write it to reach out to my friends and neighbors in this world.  You don’t have to agree with my points.  Probably about half would generally agree with me, and half would disagree.  But if no one is wanting it, then my effort is wasted and I will move on to other things that need doing, like fixing that leaky faucet I hear dripping in the kitchen.  There should be a “like this” button somewhere near the bottom of this article, and maybe a “don’t like this” button to click.  For the next article, current events and YouTube videos are a lot easier to deal with than the universal questions of our existence.  So let me know, if you want more of this.  If not, I am going dirt-bike riding.