On (not) thinking

For some, thinking is way over-rated, but for many, thinking is what keeps us (out) of trouble. The problem with thinking is clear: the thinker must constantly be examining the moral and ethical problems that assault them on daily, if not hourly, basis. One must always weigh the pro’s and con’s of any particular decision and not blindly follow the orders of those who would make you act badly. This last sentence seems simple enough and most people who agree with it, but following its tenant, that all actions have moral and ethical implications in a wider world, is more difficult than that. How often have we made a stupid mistake, said something foolish, done something idiotic, and said, “What was I thinking?!” You cut yourself will cooking because you were too lazy to get the appropriate knife. The answer to that particular question only too often is, “I wasn’t thinking at all.” This is the problem: thinking takes work, so it necessarily violates my number one rule about human beings: we are lazy to the core. We would rather lie on the sofa eating potato chips and drinking beer and watch reruns of “Friends” than do any actual work of any kind–of any kind at all. Often, it is easier to let others do our thinking for us, but this is problematic for a couple of reasons not the least of which is the question of self-interest, and we don’t ask ourselves a basic question: why does this person want me to adopt their position on any given position? Are my interests exactly the same as the person who is trying to persuade me? More often than not, the answer is “no,” but for many people the work of thinking is just too unbearable, to difficult to do, too complicated. I am often amazed by people who claim to follow a political party without really understanding all of the tenants that such a party might adopt. Yet, this is just a small part of the not thinking problem. Most problems that people face on a daily basis are usually much more complex than they think. In fact, most problems–abortion, immigration, tax reform, gay rights, large government, religious freedom, death penalty, gun rights, free speech–are extremely complex, have multiple sides to each argument, cannot be simplified or reduced in a way that makes them understandable or simple. Complexity, then, is what makes thinking so difficult. Some people resort to a maniqueistic or reductive method of viewing the world which divides everything into a black and white, this is wrong, this okay, world, but the problem with that is that very few ethical problems are that simple. The moment you decide to think about something, you assume an ethical responsibility for it, which forces you to become a part of the solution, which is perhaps a good thing. What thinking will do for you is help create a series of cognitive dissonances that will make your life that much tougher. You will be forced to look at real problems, such as childhood hunger in classrooms, and wonder why our politicians live so high on the hog, but they cannot solve the problem of hungry children. Thinking may also lead you to think that this is a problem that must be solved some other way, leaving politicians out of the loop. Of course, you could also adopt a laissez faire attitude about thinking and turn on the television to watch mindless reruns of mindless shows that would have been better off never having been made in the first place. Thinking is always a choice, an uncomfortable one, but a choice. You can let the talking heads on television fill your mind with hate and venom toward your fellow man, or you might read a book, write a poem, sing a new song, design a new piece of cloth, bake cookies, paint a picture, build a new piece of furniture, plant a garden, clean out the garage, fix a broken switch, or do anything that requires a modicum of thinking. If you think, critically is helpful, and don’t let yourself fall into a passive vegetative state of non-thinking, you may not be happier, but you will be more active in whatever you do. Thinking is not for the weak of heart, or for the followers, but everyone can do it.

On (not) thinking

For some, thinking is way over-rated, but for many, thinking is what keeps us (out) of trouble. The problem with thinking is clear: the thinker must constantly be examining the moral and ethical problems that assault them on daily, if not hourly, basis. One must always weigh the pro’s and con’s of any particular decision and not blindly follow the orders of those who would make you act badly. This last sentence seems simple enough and most people who agree with it, but following its tenant, that all actions have moral and ethical implications in a wider world, is more difficult than that. How often have we made a stupid mistake, said something foolish, done something idiotic, and said, “What was I thinking?!” You cut yourself will cooking because you were too lazy to get the appropriate knife. The answer to that particular question only too often is, “I wasn’t thinking at all.” This is the problem: thinking takes work, so it necessarily violates my number one rule about human beings: we are lazy to the core. We would rather lie on the sofa eating potato chips and drinking beer and watch reruns of “Friends” than do any actual work of any kind–of any kind at all. Often, it is easier to let others do our thinking for us, but this is problematic for a couple of reasons not the least of which is the question of self-interest, and we don’t ask ourselves a basic question: why does this person want me to adopt their position on any given position? Are my interests exactly the same as the person who is trying to persuade me? More often than not, the answer is “no,” but for many people the work of thinking is just too unbearable, to difficult to do, too complicated. I am often amazed by people who claim to follow a political party without really understanding all of the tenants that such a party might adopt. Yet, this is just a small part of the not thinking problem. Most problems that people face on a daily basis are usually much more complex than they think. In fact, most problems–abortion, immigration, tax reform, gay rights, large government, religious freedom, death penalty, gun rights, free speech–are extremely complex, have multiple sides to each argument, cannot be simplified or reduced in a way that makes them understandable or simple. Complexity, then, is what makes thinking so difficult. Some people resort to a maniqueistic or reductive method of viewing the world which divides everything into a black and white, this is wrong, this okay, world, but the problem with that is that very few ethical problems are that simple. The moment you decide to think about something, you assume an ethical responsibility for it, which forces you to become a part of the solution, which is perhaps a good thing. What thinking will do for you is help create a series of cognitive dissonances that will make your life that much tougher. You will be forced to look at real problems, such as childhood hunger in classrooms, and wonder why our politicians live so high on the hog, but they cannot solve the problem of hungry children. Thinking may also lead you to think that this is a problem that must be solved some other way, leaving politicians out of the loop. Of course, you could also adopt a laissez faire attitude about thinking and turn on the television to watch mindless reruns of mindless shows that would have been better off never having been made in the first place. Thinking is always a choice, an uncomfortable one, but a choice. You can let the talking heads on television fill your mind with hate and venom toward your fellow man, or you might read a book, write a poem, sing a new song, design a new piece of cloth, bake cookies, paint a picture, build a new piece of furniture, plant a garden, clean out the garage, fix a broken switch, or do anything that requires a modicum of thinking. If you think, critically is helpful, and don’t let yourself fall into a passive vegetative state of non-thinking, you may not be happier, but you will be more active in whatever you do. Thinking is not for the weak of heart, or for the followers, but everyone can do it.

On onions

Not everyone likes onions, genus Allium. You cut them and they irritate your eyes. The chemical that makes you cry while handling onions is syn-ropanethial-S-oxide (C3H6OS), and organic compound with one sulfur molecule. If you eat them raw, they can really light up your mouth. I think that almost anything worth eating, except maybe chocolate cake, probably has onions in it. I have always pondered the problem of making chicken pot pie without either onions or leeks—a troubling question. Structurally, the circular layers of the onion are an art form unto themselves, making chopping and dicing an interesting exercise in geometry, although I hate to peel off the outside layers to start an onion, always an onerous task. Different cooks will slice an onion different ways, and dicing an onion is a bit of a culinary Roar-shock test–across the middle, creating concentric circles, or up and down, creating half-moon spears? I love to watch a professional chef attack an onion because they seem to take onion slicing very personally. I almost always start by cutting the onion in half so I can create some flat surfaces and a little stability with this round bulb. I’ve only cut myself three times while slicing bits off of a round onion–I have the scars to prove it. Nevertheless, thin slices of onions are what make a regular hamburger a piece of culinary magic. I like to put chopped onion on hotdogs too. I like raw onions in a salad, but cooked onions are good in soups and stews, goulashes and hot-dish. The onion, especially when raw, may be a very unhappy experience for some people. It makes your breath smell bad, irritates the inside of the mouth, and wrecks your taste buds for a little while. Personally, I love taste of fresh, raw onions, but perhaps one must acquire that taste over a period of time. Cooked onions, caramelized onions, are another matter entirely. The taste in much tamer, but it is also sweeter and more subtle. Caramelized onions on top of freshly fried blood sausage are a snack attack that cannot be missed. Some people think that the most magical soup ever is onion soup. Chopped onion goes well in tuna salad, egg salad, and ham salad. No one can make a huge Dagwood sandwich without onions, and I think that most sandwiches are better with onion than without them. I love to eat green onions with almost any meal, and an entire onion which has been cut into rings and deep-fried is finger-licking good. Even people who hate raw onions will eat onion rings. I cannot make gumbo or chili or étouffée or clam chowder or seafood stew or most anything worth eating without dicing up some onions first and cooking them into recipe. Meatballs, spaghetti sauce, tortilla española, potato pancakes, are all great food because of onions. Some foods do not benefit from onions: whipped cream, lemon curds, bananas Foster, chocolate mousse, apple pie, milk shakes, or cherries jubilee. I must admit to a certain fascination with eating a whole onion as if it were an apple, especially if it is a “sweet” onion as opposed to a “strong” onion. The sweet Vidalia onion from Georgia has a particularly spicy flavor which is actually quite pleasing, even when raw. Marinated onions, oil and vinegar, a little salt, pepper, sugar, and cream, are to die for, especially if done in conjunction with fresh cucumbers. Allium cepa, enjoy!

On pockets

I fill my pockets every morning with a strange assortment of objects, devices, and things, for lack of a better word. Every day the wallet goes in the right front pants pocket. Keys in the left. Front shirt pocket takes the Ipod and the phone (I like to keep these devices separate for a couple of personal reasons which are totally irrational). I also clip two fountain pens in with the electronics. I don’t use my back pockets at all, unless it might be a small portable package of tissues, especially if I have a runny nose that day. Change will go in with the wallet. On a cold day, pockets will keep your hands warm. Women don’t have pockets, but they do have purses. When I am in Europe, I still use my pockets for my wallet and passport and keys, but I do find it useful to carry a shoulder satchel, a man purse, a murse. I love digging in the pockets of jackets that have been in the closet for several months. You never know what surprises you might have left in it the last time you wore it. I do not like or eat hot pockets of any kind. My travel backpack has lots of pockets, which is very useful for carrying cameras, cellphones, mp3 players, computers, books, notebooks, spare change of underwear, chocolate (not together–in different pockets), emergency food, flashlight, keys, pens, umbrella, gps device. I like polo shirts that have a front pocket, especially if I am traveling overseas and need to carry my passport. That front pocket is also good for an assortment of sun and reading glasses. Fanny packs, which are a kind of strap-on pocket, seem both awkward and weird. I often leave things in my pockets when they go into the wash: random cough drops, used tissues, pens and pencils, change. I don’t like to walk long distances with lots of stuff in my pants pockets. I have “lost” things by leaving them in a jacket pocket and forgetting about them. Pocket books will not fit in the pocket of my jeans, but they will fit the pocket of my khakis. I love the little extra pocket on my jeans because my Swiss Army Knife will fit there rather nicely. The trouble with pockets? When they have a hole. Favorite pocket quote: “Is that a rabbit in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?”