Tuesday, April 15, 2014

In God We Justify

Easter, the Christian observance of the death and resurrection of Jesus, takes place this week.  Given that my last entry was about hedonism, I wanted to address religion during this week of holy reflection.

Religious Symbols
Title: Religious Symbols | Date: 07/26/2006 | Artist: Szczepan1990 | The copyright holder of this work, releases this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.
That being said, I had no desire to preach to anyone or dissuade anyone from believing in their personal view of God, or the universe.  That's not my place.

Personally, I believe God walked the Earth as Christ to make our redemption possible. That being said, if a person can find their way to compassion and tolerance, then they're my friend, and I don't give a rip if they read the Bible, the Tora, the Tao Te Ching, the Quran, the Vedas, the Book of Shadows, or the complete works of Stephen Hawking.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about religion until I heard two stories on the news.

First, a hate monger chose to go on a Jew killing spree, in Kansas City, right before Passover, a commemoration of their liberation by God from slavery, over 3,300 years ago.  Two Jewish male victims, identified as 14 year old Reat Griffin Underwood and his grandfather, were shot in the parking lot outside the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park, where auditions for a musical were taking place. The shooter shouted, "Heil Hitler," then drove a mile away to Village Shalom Hebrew Retirement Community, where he shot and killed an elderly woman.

In other news, St. Alban's Episcopal, in Davidson, N.C., is displaying a statue depicting Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench.  People are objecting to the statue, only identifiable as Christ by his stigmata wounds, saying the art piece insults Christ by associating him with the homeless.  (The pictures of the piece are copywritten, thus I can't display them.  However, you can view the statue on NPR's site.) 

While the two stories seem dissimilar, they both reflect narrow concepts of religion.

Violence in the name of God is nothing new.  From the Crusades to 9/11, and beyond, people have been killing in God's name.  I read my Bible on a regular basis though, and I can't find the passage which recommends the murder of Jews during a community audition.

Granted, anti-semites point to Titus 1:10-11 ~ "For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision: whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.”

However, the verse in question chronicles Paul chastising false prophets who are teaching bogus doctrine in Christ's name.  The quote is meant to be an indictment of heretics, not an entire race.

As for the statue protesters, it's true that many of us Calvinistically link holiness with prosperity in the back of our minds.  However, whether one believes Christ was God, or not, the undeniable fact is the Jesus of scripture associated HIMSELF with the homeless.

Luke 18:35-43 ~ "As he drew near to Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. And hearing a crowd going by, he inquired what this meant. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” And he cried out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And those who were in front rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stopped and commanded him to be brought to him. And when he came near, he asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, let me recover my sight.” And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him, glorifying God. And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God. 

Scripturally speaking, it's completely appropriate to depict Jesus as living among the poor.   He walked from city to city, mingled with vagrants and prostitutes, and taught the word of God.  Yet, many of us don't enjoy being reminded of the less fortunate, so we try to hide reminders of their plight.  Therefore, many people, especially the affluent, want depictions of God/Christ to be white robed and clean.

In the end, I don't think religion divides people, as much as people try to use religion to justify the divisions we create among ourselves.  By my way of thinking, religion, Christian or otherwise, serves humanity best as an apparatus to bring people together, rather than as a wedge to drive us apart.  Perhaps faith, genuine faith, lies within the ability to accept people for what they believe, and trust that God/the universe will sort it out in the end.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Happy Hedonists

Spa Massage
Title: Spa Massage | Date: 07/2011 | Photographer: IQP | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
1:  the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the sole or chief good in life
2:  a way of life based on or suggesting the principles of hedonism
Hedonism - Definition from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I'm an avid Facebook user.  The site is practically my virtual version of Cheers, a "place" where everybody knows my name.

Recently, my friend L.A. started a Facebook page called Mostly Unrepentant Hedonists.  Upon being invited, I began using the page which mostly consists of cocktail recipes, risque humor, and sex tips.  Mostly interested in the cocktail recipes, I'd drop in for a few minutes a day to see what was new and to share my two bits.

A few days after working this habit into my daily routine, I caught an episode of Saturday Night Live featuring musical guest Pharrell Williams.  During the show, he sang his flagship song "Happy," the chorus of which is:

Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like a room without a roof
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you
Because I’m happy
Clap along if you feel like that’s what you wanna do.

The song, and the frequent visits to L.A.'s page, got me thinking about the concepts of happiness, pleasure, and hedonism.

The philosophically astute will point out that, on the deepest level, happiness and pleasure are separate ideas, one being physical and the other being spiritual.  While such people are on solid academic ground, I prefer to think of the two terms as synonyms; what makes us happy gives us pleasure, and inversely, what gives us pleasure makes us happy.

Of course, the third term, hedonism, often gets a bad rap, typically is thought of as the quest for pleasure at the expense of others.  Conjuring images of Romans feasting and fornicating as slaves fight for their amusement, hedonism is considered, by many, to be a primary motivation for evil.  By my way of thinking, it doesn't have to carry an evil overtone though.

Certainly, if enslaving three girls for eleven years is what makes you happy and gives you pleasure, that's undeniably evil.  Sickness aside though, many things, apart from stiff drinks and unique positions, can give pleasure and make someone happy.

  • A good meal can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • A walk on the beach can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • A good book or movie can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Playing poker can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Taking the grand kids for pizza & smoothies can give pleasure and make someone happy.
  • Watching sports, listening to music, and a plethora of other positive things can all give pleasure and make someone happy. 
This being the case, then can't we say, "hedonism is merely the quest for happiness?"  If so, aren't we all hedonists?

Monday, March 31, 2014

Beware Half-Truths

P.T. Barnum once bought a load of white salmon and found them to be unsellable. Buyers were used to pink salmon. He sold the fish by canning the meat and printing, "Guaranteed not to turn pink in the can," on each can. The statement was 100% true, but completely irrelevant. Pinkness isn't a sign the fish has gone bad, it's merely a different species. Nevertheless, the implication was enough to depopularize pink salmon and create a demand for white salmon.

In November and December of1946, sponsor Kellogg's kicked off chapters of the Superman radio story, "The Secret Letter," by promoting their Kellogg's Pep Cereal with the inclusion of a comic themed pinback button in each box. They promised that characters such as Superman, Orphan Annie, and Moon Mullins would, "...look as real on the button as they did in the funny papers." The implication was that the characters would look "real." However, because it was worded with their appearance in the newspapers as the standard, the buttons only had to display the same simple art for the promise to be true.

Title: Salt | Date: 01/21/2011 | Photographer: Drtony999 | This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Today, foods containing "sea salt" are being marketed to health oriented shoppers. First of all, mined salt is only underground because that ground was once under the sea. Thus it's all "sea salt." Labeling salt "sea salt" is like saying white salmon won't turn pink in the can. It's 100% true but completely irrelevant.

As for the idea that sea salt has some kind of benefit, salt marketed as "sea salt" is coarse, like Kosher salt, and isn't quite as processed as table salt. However, sea salt & table salt have the same basic nutritional value, despite the fact that sea salt is often promoted as being healthier. Sea salt and table salt contain comparable amounts of sodium by weight. If a buyer tastes a difference & buys it for taste that's valid, but buyers shouldn't think of it as more or less healthy than typical salt.

My point is, we’re surrounded by falsehoods nestled inside half truths and misconstrued  statements of fact.  Facts, when presented with a particular slant, CAN lie.

Always question statements such as:
  • Priced as low as - The term "as low as" means it's the very least  buyer will pay for something, most buyers will pay more.
  • Free - One can bet good money companies aren't shelling out good money for advertising in order to give away FREE goods & services.  Odds are, there will be a cost to the consumer somewhere along the line,
  • All Natural - The Food and Drug Administration doesn’t define it, although food makers won’t get in trouble as long as so-labeled food doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors, or “synthetic substances.”   That means there’s room for interpretation.  So a food labeled natural may contain preservatives or be injected with sodium.
  • Light - To be considered a "light" product, the fat content has to be 50% less than the amount found in comparable products, but manufacturers have been known to use the term to refer to the flavor rather than the fat content.
  • Nothing works better - This doesn't mean the product in question is the best, many such products may be equally effective.
There  are many other examples of misleading, if technically true, statements.  Bottom line, one should consider every possible angle before accepting anything as truthful.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Where Did The Boxing Fans Go?

Being a child of the 70s, I grew up during one of the golden ages of boxing.  Yes, there have always been boxing fans who could spout round by round stats of the Max Bear vs. James Braddock fight.  Boxing will ALWAYS have those fans.

Beyond that though, boxing held a healthy presence within mainstream pop culture.  Fight results were on the evening news, and were discussed around the water cooler.  Plus, any Jane or Joe could tell you who "the champ" was.
In 1971, Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier both had justifiable claims to the World Heavyweight Championship Title. An undefeated Ali had won the title from Sonny Liston
Muhammad Ali during a Boxing Match in Washington
Title: Muhammad Ali during a Boxing Match in Washington | This image was taken from Flickr's The Commons. The uploading organization may have various reasons for determining that no known copyright restrictions exist.
in Miami Beach in 1964.  Ali successfully defended his belt up until he had the title stripped from him, for dodging the Viet Nam draft, for spiritual reasons, in 1967.

During Ali's incarceration, the undefeated Frazier won two championship titles by knocking out Buster Mathis and Jimmy Ellis.

Once Ali gained his freedom, he challenged Frazier, who was now recognized by boxing authorities as the World's Champion.

The fight was an event.  New Yorkers protested ticket prices which ranged from $20 for a balcony seat to $150 for ringside.  Celebrities such as Lorne Greene and Burt Lancaster donned formal attire to attend the fight.  Locations across the U.S. and Canada screened the fight on closed circuit television to fans paying $5 to $15.

As I said, the bout was more than a boxing match, it was an event.  People cared about the outcome, it was what was happening at the moment.  Three years later, the world was captivated again by Ali's & Foreman's Rumble In The Jungle.
Today's bouts aren't awarded the same level of fanfare.  Sure, hardcore fans keep boxing alive on TV and keep Pay-Per-Views profitable for HBO & Showtime.  However, boxing isn't the water cooler topic it once was, and boxers are no longer house hold names.  I can't even remember the last time I saw a boxing result being reported on the evening news.

In Rocky III, Mickey told Rocky, "...the worst thing happened to you, that could happen to any fighter. You got civilized."  One might argue that the mainstream populace, "got civilized," and have outgrown violence as entertainment.

To that, I say, "poppy cock!"  If we'd outgrown violence, MMA & WWE, which is a faux sport at best, wouldn't be as popular as they are.   No, I think the reason for the decline in popularity may lie in the fact that championship fights are too common.

In the old days, there were eight weight classes...,
  • Flyweight: 8 st (50,802 Kg / 112 lbs)
  • Bantamweight: 8 st 6 lbs (53,525 kg / 118 lbs)
  • Featherweight: 9 st (57,153 kg / 126 lbs)
  • Lightweight: 9 st 9 lbs (61,235 kg / 135 lbs)
  • Welterweight: 10½ st (66,678 kg / 147 lbs)
  • Middleweight: 11 st 6 lbs (72,574 kg / 160 lbs)
  • Light Heavyweight: 12½ st (79,378 kg / 175 lbs)
  • Heavyweight: (unlimited)
...and one champion per weight class.  Today we have multiple weight classes, some with more than one name, and different sanctioning bodies recognize different champions for each weight class.  Below are listed the weight classes' main champions for the three top sanctioning bodies.
Title                   WBA                 WBC                 IBF      

HEAVYWEIGHT             Wladimir            VACANT              Wladimir
(unlimited)             Klitschko                               Klitschko
                        61-3 (51)                               61-3 (51)

CRUISERWEIGHT           Denis               Krzysztof           Yoan Pablo
(190 pounds)            Lebedev             Wlodarczyk          Hernandez
                        25-2 (19)           49-2 (35)           28-1 (14)

LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT       Beibut              Adonis              Bernard
(175 pounds)            Shumenov            Stevenson           Hopkins
                        14-1 (9)            23-1 (20)           54-6 (32)

SUPER MIDDLEWEIGHT      Andre               Sakio               Carl
(168 pounds)            Ward                Bika                Froch
                        27-0 (14)           32-5 (21)           32-2 (23)

MIDDLEWEIGHT            Gennady             Sergio              Felix
(160 pounds)            Golovkin            Martinez            Sturm
                        29-0 (26)           51-2 (28)           39-3 (18)

JUNIOR MIDDLEWEIGHT     Floyd               Floyd               Carlos
SUPER WELTERWEIGHT      Mayweather Jr.      Mayweather Jr.      Molina
(154 pounds)            45-0 (26)           45-0 (26)           22-5 (6)

WELTERWEIGHT            Marcos Rene         Floyd               Shawn
(147 pounds)            Maidana             Mayweather Jr.      Porter
                        35-3 (31)           45-0 (26)           23-0 (14)

LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT      Danny               Danny               Lamont
SUPER LIGHTWEIGHT       Garcia              Garcia              Peterson
(140 pounds)            28-0 (16)           28-0 (16)           32-2 (16)

LIGHTWEIGHT             Richard             Omar                Miguel
(135 pounds)            Abril               Figueroa            Vazquez
                        18-3 (8)            22-0 (17)           34-3 (13)

JUNIOR FLYWEIGHT        Takashi             Takashi             Argenis
LIGHT FLYWEIGHT         Uchiyama            Miura               Mendez
(108 pounds)            21-0 (17)           27-2 (20)           21-2 (11)

JUNIOR LIGHTWEIGHT      Simpiwe             Jhonny              Evgeny
SUPER FEATHERWEIGHT     Vetyeka             Gonzalez            Gradovich
(130 pounds)            26-2 (16)           55-8 (47)           18-0 (9)

FEATHERWEIGHT           Guillermo           Leo                 Kiko
(126 pounds)            Rigondeaux          Santa Cruz          Martinez
                        13-0 (8)            27-0 (15)           30-4 (22)

JR FEATHERWEIGHT        Anselmo             Shinsuke            Stuart
SUPER BANTAMWEIGHT      Moreno              Yamanaka            Hall
(122 pounds)            34-2 (12)           20-0 (15)           16-2 (7)

BANTAMWEIGHT            VACANT              Srisaket            Daiki
(118 pounds)                                Sor Rungvisai       Kameda
                                            26-3 (24)           29-4 (18)

JR BANTAMWEIGHT         Juan Francisco      Akira               Amnat
SUPER FLYWEIGHT         Estrada             Yaegashi            Ruenroeng
(115 pounds)            25-2 (18)           19-3 (9)            12-0 (5)

FLYWEIGHT               VACANT              Adrian              Jhonreil
(112 pounds)                                Hernandez           Casimero
                                            29-2 (18)           19-2 (11)

MINIMUMWEIGHT           Hekkie              Oswaldo             Katsunari
STRAWWEIGHT             Budler              Novoa               Takayama
(105 pounds)            25-1 (8)            13-4 (8)            26-6 (10)
I say, "main champions," since many weight classes now have interim belts, which have bizarrely been made permanent. This, coupled with the fact I didn't even have room to list the WBO's title holders, means viewers can watch a "title fight" almost every week.  The commonality of such fights have removed them from the realm of the special event, and plopped them into the realm of the mundane common occurrence.

Equally problematic is the fact that such bouts aren't hard for fighters to get.  In the old days, fighters had to have forty to sixty wins, against mostly top ranked opponents, before the were even offered a shot at a title.  Today, Boxers with less than twenty professional fights under their belts, have been given title shots and hold titles. 

There's no way champions such as strawweight champion Oswaldo Novoa (13-4),  light heavyweight champion Beibut Shumenov (14-1), and jr. bantamweight champion Amnat Ruenroeng (12-0) have fought enough tough fighters to work themselves up to the championship level.

Additionally, we have famous champions such as heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko (61-3) and super welterweight/welterweight champion (even though it's technically illegal to be champion of two weights at the same time) Floyd Mayweather Jr. (45-0) who fight like slow plodding robots and are boring to watch.

The results of these factors are a plethora of title fights, in name only, featuring  participants the average viewer can't get behind as a hero, the way they got behind Joe Louis, James Braddock, and Muhammad Ali.

The sad part is, there ARE hero caliber fighters out there who could rally the masses.  Gennady Golovkin, Canelo Alvarez, and Arthur Abraham are action fighters who are very entertaining to watch.  The problem is that only hard core boxing fan know about these fighters.  Their promoters aren't reaching the average Joe and creating hype among the masses.

Bottom line, boxing won't work itself back into the mainstream until it can furnish fans with a single dynamic champion, whom the masses can root for with a fervor.
Championship chart prints as page 3, at 80% magnification, for your files or bulletin board.