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The Element of Texture…

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“The photographer has almost as much control over his subject matter as a painter. He can control light and shade, form and space, pattern and texture, motion and mood, everything except composition.” ~Andreas Feininger

Due to foul weather (yep it snows every once in a while in Buffalo) the opening has been changed to Friday March 23.

Here’s a last minute plug for a group show I’m part of, which opens this evening. I’m one of, I believe, eight artists. I’ve seen some of the work of the other artists and it is going to be a really interesting group of art. The show, which is part of the First Friday Gallery Walk, is at Parables Gallery on Elmwood Avenue (click here for a map to the location). The show focuses on the elements of texture; the two photos pictured are two of seven or eight of mine that will be hanging in the gallery. The above photo is of Little Italy, NYC, and the below photo is of my neighborhood just after a heavy snow a couple weeks ago (click either photo for a slightly larger view). The show is up for the entire month of March, but the opening is tonight from 7pm-9pm. Here’s a link with additional info provided by the gallery owner. I hope to see you there.

 

Urban Simplicity.

This is Bill, or Muhammad, and His Beautiful Dog…

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 “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
― Søren Kierkegaard

As I exited the subway station today after work today I saw Bill and his dog crossing the street. I thought I knew most eccentrics in the neighborhood but had never seen him before. Both of them–he and his dog–walked in a graceful manner as they crossed the street. So as I approached them I asked if I could take their photo, to which he replied a matter of factly, “Sure, why not?” When asked his name he told me it was “Bill or Muhammad,” whichever I preferred. He used them both but not at the same time. He told me his dog’s name but it really long and one I cannot remember. I asked if he were Muslim, and he said, yes and that it saved his life about 20 years ago. I also asked him about the iPhone hanging around his neck…the camera was open and facing outward (see below), I could see myself as I spoke to him. “Oh that,” he replied, “I just like the world to reflect back on people.” We talked for a few more minutes and then we parted. But before we did, I commented that a lot of people must say that he looks like Abraham Lincoln. He responded plainly, “It must be the hat.”

Urban Simplicity.

This is Rich.

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Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

~Romans 12:13 


This is Rich. Even before he asked me the question I knew that he would. I could tell the way he surveyed the parking lot as I walked up to the coffee shop. And as suspected, when I got close enough he solicited me for change. But I’m jumping ahead.

I walked to the coffee shop today instead of riding my bike…a night of sloppy, heavy snow has made the streets also sloppy. So I walked. This is the time of year when the incessant grey starts to bring me down. And as I walked I was thinking about a class in which I am currently enrolled, Western Civilization and Human Progress. This is why I was heading to the coffee shop, to do some work. In the class right now we are discussing whether we as humans have actually made any progress by comparing some events to those of the Middle Ages, and also reading texts such as the Bible and the Confessions of St. Augustine. This is what was going through my head as I approached the parking lot.


Anyhow, as I approached Rich, even before he asked me, I noticed the cross dangling prominently from his neck. Someone from St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy gave it to him, he told me, sometimes he sleeps there. It was a nice cross. As we talked I found out that Rich hasn’t worked “in a while” because of a bad back, a broken knee, and colon cancer. 

He wanted money for a coffee. I actually thought about inviting him in and purchasing his coffee but didn’t for a couple reasons. The first being that I had my laptop and books with me and needed to get work done, and the second is that Rich told me he wanted the money for coffee across the street because he’s not allowed in this shop. So I gave him one of the two dollars in my wallet then asked if I could take his photo. Straightening up the best he could, he said sure and had a twinkle in his eye. After talking some more he asked me for another dollar, so I gave him the remaining one in my wallet (I knew that I had plenty of credit on my phone app for the coffee shop).


So did Rich use the money for coffee? I don’t know, I hope so, but maybe not. Maybe he used it for alcohol (though he was sober when I talked to him), and I’ll likely be spending money on alcohol for myself this evening. My point is this…I saw this guy who needed a couple bucks and I had a couple bucks. Giving them away probably helped him more than it hurt me. No one aspires to grow up and be homeless. I can’t imagine how degrading it must feel to ask strangers for money. And I’ll be honest, talking with Rich today was a really nice conversation, we were just two humans talking on a grey snowy day in the parking lot of a coffee shop. I hope he stays warm and safe.


Urban Simplicity

A bag is a bag is a bag…

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Bags. Maybe it’s finally time for men to start carrying them. And not just to work. A bag to the coffee shop. To the bar. To the ballgame and the cage-fighting extravaganza and a bag to the monster truck show.

~Douglas J. Brown

File this post under “every day things.” I’ve been a “bag guy” pretty much my entire life; I’ve carried some sort of bag since my teens. Be it a backpack, briefcase, shoulder bag, or camera bag, I often have one with me. I don’t think much of it until every once in a while someone references it as a purse, or even worse, a “man-bag.” To me it’s just a bag. Anyhow, someone at a coffee shop this morning referred to it as such…”don’t forget your man-bag.” All I could do is smile. But then as I sat there I started thinking how it–and its contents–are really representative of me, or at least a slice of my daily life and things that interest me. One of the bags that I often carry these days is a small messenger bag which is designed specifically to hold a mirrorless camera (among other things), it’s this one. And when I sat there looking at it, it really was like looking at a day in my life through it’s contents, it contained the following…a camera, an extra lens, a journal, a pen and pencil for writing and drawing in the journal, a pocket-sized New Testament with psalms and proverbs, a slim book on mindfulness, an extra battery for the camera (wrapped in plastic), a culinary memoir, which I am reading for a class I am currently enrolled, and a rain pouch for the bag in the event weather turnes foul while on a bike. What’s in your bag?

Matters at Hand (a New Year Reflection)

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“Fork in the Road”

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
~ Matthew 18:3

So here it is, the first day of the new year. So much anticipation. The above bible verse came to me last evening while contemplating the prospects of all the possibilities of the new year ahead, like a blank page waiting to be written. A clean slate.

I personally have found that in order to make changes in my life I not only have to make changes in my habits but also myself as well. Like the old Buddhist saying goes, “change comes from within.”

The above passage is interesting to me for a number of reasons, especially when thought of in metaphorical terms (which is basically how I treat most of the bible). This said, let’s look at this in a sort of deconstruction, or in sections.

In the first portion of the passage Jesus tells his disciples that unless they change, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. This is from the New International Version, but in other versions the word “change” may be translated as “turn around” or “convert.” Interestingly, the word repent comes from Greek and one of it’s means is to “turn around” or to “change one’s way of thinking.” I bring this up to counter the negative connotations the word repent often conjures. And also (along these same lines) when John was in the desert baptizing and preaching he would cry out, “Repent, for the kingdom is at hand” (Matthew 3:2). This is also one of the first quotes of Jesus when he began his public ministry (Matthew 4:17). Think about this sentence in this way… Repent (think differently or change your ways) because the kingdom is at hand (or the kingdom is right in front of you). This is spelled out explicitly in the Gospel of Thomas (saying 113), “the kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and people do not see it.

So then, how do we do this? How do we see/enter the kingdom in this life? Well, we are told clearly to “become like little children.” But what does that mean? Are we supposed to act like imbeciles or babies? No, I don’t think so. I’ll give my thoughts on what this means with a brief story.

Recently I was at the local Jewish Community Center where I swim. I had just arrived and was locking up my bike when a father and his young daughter exited the building. It was snowing big fat flakes; they slowly cascaded down to earth. Upon seeing this, the young girl spreads her arms wide, lifts her face skyward and shrieks, “Daddy, it’s snowing.” She then stuck out her tongue and gleefully caught flakes on it as the walked. The father, seeing me, sighed in a low voice, “Yes, it is snowing…again.” The difference is obvious. The young girl was so excited and in awe that in some ways she was experiencing her own slice of heaven right there in the JCC parking lot. Her father, on the other hand, was not; he was miserable.

So my thought on this is that if we change (mostly our thinking) then we too can have what the little girl had, or at least glimpses of it. What the bible passage is saying, I believe, is that we should attempt to be in awe of everyday events, everyday miracles. When we were children everything was new and interesting and innocent, but then somewhere along the way as we grew into adults we began acting like adults, stifling our sense of awe in the everyday activities. When I think about it, I feel as though I should be in awe at the very fact that I awake every morning, at the miracle of this living body that I currently inhabit.

This year I want to return to awe, that sense of innocence. It will not be easy, and it will take work and conscious effort, but I do think it is possible. This, after all, is what we’ve been told for more than two millennia. Even longer if you look at other traditions. To put this in Buddhist terms, this could be compared to being present, or mindful; seeing and appreciating what is right in front of us at this very moment. Walking the middle path. After all, the past is history and the future is just a dream at this point. All we have is the moment in which we live. All we have is now.

Lake Effect!

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Snowflakes are one of nature’s most fragile things, but just look what they can do when they stick together.”
― Vesta M. Kelly

 So the other day it snowed. Hard. Lake effect snow. I had the day off so I went for a walk and took a few pictures. If you have never been to the east of any of the Great Lakes during the winter, or you are not familiar with the term “lake effect,” this page can explain it. Anyhow, click any picture for a slightly larger image.

Urban Simplicity.

Discourse on the Concourse (on Christmas Day)

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“Every one of us is, in the cosmic perspective, precious. If a human disagrees with you, let him live. In a hundred billion galaxies, you will not find another.” ~ Carl Sagan

I had just arrived at the subway station, the UB South Campus Station (University at Buffalo). It was the evening of Christmas Day, I was on my way home from one of my sister’s house and was surprised how many people were in the station. I had never taken public transport on Christmas, at least not since I was a little kid when our entire family used it. But I’m jumping ahead, here’s a bit of the back story.

A few weeks ago I reserved a ZipCar which was close to where I live, just a couple blocks away. I needed the car because my sister lives about 25 miles from me. Then, on the morning of Christmas Eve, I was awakened by the buzz of my cellphone, I had gotten a text. Looking at it I see that because of “unexpected circumstances” they had changed my reservation. Now, instead of the reserved car being just a couple blocks from my house, the new car was in a parking lot at UB South Campus, about 6 miles from my house. I called ZipCar but to no avail; the car I had originally reserved had a problem and, being a holiday, the only available car was at the new location. On the way to my sister’s house, my son gave me a lift to the car, but returning the car that evening I had to take the subway the remainder of the way. This is how I found myself at the UB South Campus station on the evening of Christmas Day.

So there I was, standing at the ticket machine fumbling for my wallet with two pizza pans and a bag of Christmas cookies under one arm. Then I heard him, and he was a bit too close, I didn’t see him walk up, “Excuse me sir, can I have a dollar?” No, I told him, as I slid a dollar into the slot of the machine; it was wrinkled and the machine spit it back out. “Please,” he pleaded, “it’s Christmas.” Still without looking at him as I was fumbling with the machine, I simply said no, that I couldn’t. The dollar was refused again. I knew what I had in my wallet, a $20 and two singles. The subway cost $2 so I needed the two singles, and I wasn’t going to give away my only $20 even on Christmas. The irony, I suppose, is that I couldn’t get the singles “to work,” at least not the wrinkled one.

“Do you believe in Jesus,” the man now asked? What, I questioned, as the first wrinkled bill was finally accepted. He repeated it again. It’s complicated, I told him. So he asked again, “Sir, do you believe in Jesus?” Now, frustrated, but at the same time the second bill was accepted into the machine and my ticket administered to me, I finally looked at him and snapped, Yes I believe in Jesus for Christ’ sake, and I realized how silly that sounded as the words left my mouth.

When I looked at him I was astounded. He was cold, that’s for sure, but he was also younger than his appearance seemed. He looked tired. He looked old. It showed in his eyes the most. If you’ve been to this blog before you know that I am not immune to giving money to the poor and homeless, even a $20 on a rare occasion, but I knew that giving this guy money would only be feeding his habit, whatever that was. Now facing each other, he pleaded again, “Mister, I am cold and hungry, can’t you please give me some money. It’s Christmas.” He was pulling at my heart strings and he knew it. So many biblical passages were going through my head regarding helping the poor, but still I couldn’t do it. Look, I finally told him, I am not going to give you any money, and I am really sorry. I could still hear him pleading as I descended the escalator to the subway platform.

When the train arrived I was surprised how warm it was inside, I was cold, but now thankful. There was a mother and young daughter sitting across from my. The girl was snuggled into her mother with her baby doll, likely a Christmas gift, I thought. The mother and daughter looked so content I would have liked to take their picture. And as the subway rumbled along I couldn’t help but think of the various worlds we all inhabit. A half-hour earlier I was safely ensconced in my sister’s warm home in a Rockwellesque Christmas setting, then my world collided with the young desperate man at the station. Different worlds, I thought. One is not better than the other (maybe more appealing, but not “better”). And then there was the mother and daughter across from me. When I looked at them I felt peace. Christmas peace. I could have ridden the subway all night. But my stop came a few minutes later, and I was once again thrust out into the cold blustery night. As I leaned into the sharp wind on my short walk home I wondered where that man would sleep tonight. I also wondered if I shouldn’t have given him some money.

When I arrived home I shivered as my two dogs greeted me as if I were gone for weeks. There were a few glowing embers left in the wood stove so I put a log on them. As the first flames licked at the log, I looked around at my humble little and disheveled home, and I felt grateful. And as I watched the fire grow and could feel it’s warmth, I pet my dogs and said a prayer for the man I met, but the prayer then became directed at all of us. 

The Future is Unwritten

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John Graham Mellor (Joe Strummer)

21 August 1952 – 22 December 2002 

Fifteen years ago today Joe Strummer made his sudden and untimely transition. His words and music have had, and still, have, a huge impact on my life. I took the below photo in the spring of 2012 (I think). It was a mural on the side of a bar, Niagara, at the corner of East 7th and Avenue A in NYC’s East Village. In 2003 graffiti artists Zephyr and Dr. Revolt paid homage to Joe a few months after his death. Someone told me that they came back every year to touch it up. But then, a few years ago, the wall had to be repaired so it was removed, much to the dismay of pretty much everyone. Since then there is a new version of it up, though I still prefer the original which is pictured. Anyhow, at the bottom of this post is a truly moving video of the artists painting the mural while Joe Strummer sings his rendition of Redemption song as a backdrop. What is interesting is that at one point, towards the beginning, the filmmaker puts a clip of Joe Strummer in the crowd as if he was watching it being painted. Anyhow, if you have a few minutes I hope you’ll watch it. The music alone is worth the watch, but seeing the faces of the people watching is really moving. Turn it up.

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-GL_gXSOhuwA/UWNrDzx_LlI/AAAAAAAANCA/wtpZApCvGI4/s1600/Joe+Strummer+(small).jpg

“And so now I’d like to say – people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks – I am one of them. But we’ve all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything – this is something that I’m beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That’s because they’ve been dehumanised. It’s time to take the humanity back into the center of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain’t going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you’re nothing. That’s my spiel.”

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“Authority is supposedly grounded in wisdom, but I could see from a very early age that authority was only a system of control and it didn’t have any inherent wisdom. I quickly realised that you either became a power or you were crushed”

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“The future is unwritten.”

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“Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. There is nothing more common then unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world if full of educated derelicts. Persistence and Determination alone are Omnipotent.”

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“Everybody has a story to tell.”

More in the Five Quotes series.

Fingerling Potatoes, Salmon, and One More Thing…

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“Rational habits permit of discarding nothing left over, and the use to which leftovers (and their economic allies, the wild things of nature) are put is often at the heart of a cooking’s character.”

~Richard Olney 

So first a couple things. This post is about this recipe, of course, but it’s also about not using recipes at all. Adapting to what one has on hand. What I had for dinner last night, and then lunch this after noon is an example of this. Let’s first talk about the meal pictured above, last night’s dinner.

This is a simple stove-top skillet-roast meal that can be made out of nearly anything. The main thing is to add the ingredients in proper succession…the longest cooking, heartier items first, the more delicate quick cooking items later. The whole process takes about 10 minutes. Here’s how I made this.

I first heated a large cast iron skillet with enough olive oil to glaze the bottom. When it was hot, I added a handful of whole fingerling potatoes, covered the skillet with a lid, then turned the flame down, giving the pan a shake every minute or so for a few minutes. After removing lid I added a handful of large diced onion, the replaced the lid. After shaking the pan a few more times I removed the lid; the onions were just beginning to brown. Then I added a couple diced salmon fillets, a few broccoli florets, a pinch each of whole fennel seed, crushed hot pepper, and sea salt. After replacing the lid I let the pan rest over the low flame while the fish caramelized, the broccoli steamed and the spices perfumed everything. After a few minutes I removed the lid for the last time and added a couple tablespoons of lemon juice, just enough to “loosen everything.” The juice evaporated almost immediately, and after a couple quick shakes of the pan I quickly transferred everything to a large plate.

Mhm…you bet, yes it was delicious. Simple, nutritious, and delicious. But as is my way, I made more than I could eat in one sitting, so this brings me to today’s lunch. 

Some people find leftovers unappetizing, I don’t. Normally I’ll reheat last night’s meal for today’s lunch or another dinner without issue. But when I looked at least night’s dinner in the fridge the first thing that came to mind was pancakes. So that’s what I did. 

I placed the ingredients in a food processor, pulsed them coarse, then transferred it to a bowl and kneaded in a couple eggs and a few tablespoons whole wheat flour. No seasoning was needed as it was already well seasoned. Anyhow, After pan-frying them in olive oil, I ate them with sliced avocado, and a couple tablespoons mayonnaise which I mixed with sriracha; a sliced apple rounded out the lunch. Not bad for leftovers.

Urban Simplicity.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#728)…

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A pug!

This is Maxwell, one of the pugs that owns me. He is relieved as we were on our way home from the groomer and having painful ingrown dew claws dealt with. He’s resting now with his new rawhide chew-toy.

Things that can be carried on a bike (#727)…

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On the bike:

A small backpack containing wet gym clothes, about $25 in groceries and sundries, and a small Charlie Brown-Style Christmas Tree.

But Who Is My Neighbor?

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When you’re kind to people, and you pay attention, you make a field of comfort around them, and you get it back—the Golden Rule meets the Law of Karma meets Murphy’s Law.
― Anne Lamott


At the outset of this paper which is focusing on the ethics of how we, as humans, treat and interact with each other, I’ll begin with a story which I feel is an excellent example of human kindness. I also have to qualify this paper in that while this is for an ethics class in philosophy, I am working towards a dual degree in philosophy and religious studies, thus there is overt religious language ahead.

January 2014 I was in Manhattan taking seminary classes. As is the norm, January in New York was cold. I had just had lunch with a few classmates and was out for a brisk walk then a coffee before returning to class. As I approached the Starbucks on the corner of 35th and 6th I saw a man that was often just outside the front door. He sat on the sidewalk on a piece of cardboard staring straight ahead with a small plastic bucket in front of him and another piece of cardboard written as a sign asking for money. As I approached the door I reached into my pocket and put whatever change I had into the bucket. He looked up at me and said thank you. Our eyes met and for a brief moment time had stopped. We were just two people—humans on planet earth—both of us God’s children trying to make it through this life. “I hope you have a good day,” I told him, he replied “Thank you; God bless you.”

After getting my coffee I looked around and saw that the only available spot was the counter, a shelf really, which is in the window facing 6th Avenue. And as I stood there sipping my two dollar cup of coffee, which cost more than what I put in the man’s bucket, it felt odd; I felt a little guilty. With his back to me, this man was sitting on the sidewalk directly in front of me and the only thing separating us was a thin pane of glass. Yet I was on the inside and he was out in the cold. The biblical passage where Jesus was instructing his disciples how to treat strangers (and how they unknowingly treated him) came to mind, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Matthew 25:35-36, NIV).

There was a food cart on the corner of the street, and as I looked out the window sipping my coffee I could see another man talking with the vendor and also looking over at the man on the sidewalk. A minute later he walked over to the guy sitting on sidewalk, and in his hands were hot dogs and sodas, but what happened next brought tears to my eyes. At first I thought he was simply buying food for the guy, but what he did then really amazed me. He sort of knelt down and said something to the man; I of course couldn’t hear him as I was safely ensconced on the “inside.” Then, after a moment, he sat down next to the guy and they both ate their hot dogs together, right there on the cold sidewalk. He did more than simply feed him, he sat with him, saw him as an equal, and gave him dignity.

There are more than 1.6 million people living on Manhattan Island but on that day I saw these two lives converge, and it was beautiful. In a way they were communing together as two souls; the bread they broke were the hot dogs, the wine they drank was soda, and the altar was the cold New York Street.

I wanted to tell this story because I feel what I really saw that day was love in action, and that’s what life is really about isn’t it? Connecting with one another and taking care of each other. The writer and philosopher, Peter Singer, argues that this is not something that is a casual occurrence, but that it is our duty as fellow humans, “Effective altruism is based on a very simple idea: we should do the most we can. Obeying the usual rules about not stealing, cheating, hurting, and killing is not enough, or at least not enough for those who have the great good fortune to live in material comfort, who can feed, house, and clothe ourselves and our families, and still have money or time left to spare. Living a minimally acceptable ethical life involves using a substantial part of our spare resources to make the world a better place. Living an ethical life involves doing the most good we can” (Singer, 2016).

Correct me if I’m wrong, but nowhere in any sacred or philosophical text from any tradition does it say “every person for themselves.” I’ve never heard of a great sage, philosopher, or mystic say to “take what you can because you deserve it,” nor have I heard, “the person who dies with the most stuff wins.” It’s just the opposite. What I’m talking about, of course, is the Golden Rule. This is something that I truly believe is written on each one of our hearts, and deep down each one of us knows it. There are versions of this in every faith tradition, but they all say the same thing. Here are a few examples:

Judaism: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (The Bible, New International Version, 2011).

Hinduism: Do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Taoism: The sage does not dwell on his own problems. He is aware of the needs of others. (Tao Te Ching, 2017)

Islam: None of you has faith until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. (Sacred-texts.com, 2017)

My favorite version of this comes from the Christian text in the tenth chapter of Luke, which is the introduction to the parable of the Good Samaritan. A lawyer quizzes Jesus; he inquires, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus, being clever as he was, answered the lawyer’s question with a question, “What is written in the law? What do you read there?” The lawyer being an educated man smartly rattles off the answer, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” To which Jesus replies, “You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:25-28, NIV). Now just for a minute, let the tail end of this statement sink in…“do this and you will live.”

The lawyer must have thought for a moment, and realized that it would be easy for him to love God with everything he’s got so long as he doesn’t have to love all of his neighbors. So just to be perfectly clear, he asks Jesus his final question, “and who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29, NIV) to which Jesus replies by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, which of course is the story of a stranger helping a stranger, and also another excellent example of human kindness, but even more importantly an example of how we should live.

We as a species are hardwired to be caring and want to make a connection with one another. Scientists using advanced imaging technology to study brain function have found that the human brain is wired to reward activities such as caring for each other, cooperation, and service.  Merely thinking about another person experiencing harm triggers the same reaction in our brain as when a mother sees distress in her baby’s face. But the act of helping another person triggers the brain’s pleasure center (Greater Good, 2017).

In an age where sensationalism sells and good news doesn’t always make the news, the media likes to portray the world as a dangerous self-serving place, but this is not necessarily the case. “If the world seems to be a more violent and dangerous place than ever before, however, this impression is an artifact of the media. There are plenty of violent people, but for any randomly selected person today the chances of meeting a violent death at the hands of his fellow humans is lower now than it has ever been in history (Singer, 2016). Good still abounds all around us, sometimes we just have to look for it.

That same cold winter in New York much of the country had a cold snap, even in unlikely places such as Georgia, and that’s where Dr. Zenko Hrynkiw was at the time. He is an accomplished brain surgeon and was at Brookwood Medical Center and had to travel to Trinity Medical Center, six miles away, to perform an emergency operation…but then the snow hit and Georgia was declared a state of emergency.

The doctor knew that getting to the other hospital by car was not an option. He also knew that his patient had taken a turn for the worse and if he didn’t get to them soon and perform the operation they would die. Dr. Hrynkiw is not a spry 20 or 30 something, he’s not even 40 or 50; he’s in his 60’s. But knowing the facts at hand he didn’t hesitate. He did, what I believe is within each one of us; he set out to help. He walked the six miles with an overcoat covering his surgical scrubs, and booties still on his feet, and made it in time to perform the surgery and save the patient. Later, when asked to be interviewed he commented “he didn’t know what the big deal was, he only did what anyone would have” (NPR.org, 2017).

So I ask again, who are our neighbors? Is it the person living in the next apartment, just beyond a thin wall? Sure, of course. But who else. How about the person you meet on the street? Or a co-worker. Dr. Hrynkiw certainly knew, and deep down so do we. I truly believe this.

I recently finished reading an inspirational travel book by the journalist Mike McIntyre, The Kindness of Strangers, Penniless Across America. The gist of the book is the that author walked and hitchhiked from his comfortable home in San Francisco to the east coast. He did not bring a cent with him and would not accept money, nor would he ask for food or lodging. As the title suggests he was literally relying on the kindness of strangers. During his journey he found that most people just wanted to help one another, “Once again I am amazed at how often it’s the ones with little to eat who are quick to share their food” (McIntyre, 2014).

A couple years ago I was working as chef at a private city club, “the second oldest club of it’s kind in the country,” its members like to proclaim. I would serve the “upper crust” of society while much of the kitchen staff was paid below living wages. Saw Tin was one such person, he was a dishwasher at the time, but prior to fleeing his native Burma he was an engineer. Though with little English skills this was the work he could find in America. I do not speak Burmese so we spent a lot of time pantomiming. He is about my age and was working to save enough money to bring his wife and adult daughter here.

On one Monday morning he came to me with a wallet he had found on his way to work; it was on the sidewalk, he motioned. When I opened it, it contained more than $100 in cash and 10 credit cards. We turned the wallet over to the police who then contacted the owner. When she came to retrieve it she commented that everything was intact; nothing was missing. Saw Tin had full opportunity to take the cash and credit cards without anyone finding out, but he didn’t. The women asked to meet him so she could thank him. When they met, Saw Tin greeted her with clasped hands, a brief bow, and a soft namaste. Namaste is a Sanskrit phrase which loosely translates as, “my soul recognizes your soul” (Geno, 2017).

But who is my neighbor? Saw Tin knew. Acts of kindness, big or small, can really make a huge impact on a person’s life.

The basis of what the philosophers, especially Immanuel Kant, refer to as moral philosophy is moral action, and if I’m reading this correctly, this is how a person responds to the world. Kant also argued that the basis for morality is freedom (Palmquist, 2008). If this is true then we have the freedom to choose good action from bad. What I find interesting, and even a bit contradicting, in Kant’s theory is that while he was not necessarily a proponent of compassion (Greater Good, 2017), he also suggested that we listen to the small voice within each of us (Palmquist, 2008). To the philosopher this small voice may be the voice of reason, but to me I truly believe this to be the voice of compassion.

The Epistle of James, which is one of the oldest books of the New Testament and is said to have been penned by James, the brother of Jesus, is really a small book of Christian ethics. Some say it is a blueprint for the way a Christian should live, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you claim to have faith but have no deeds? Can such faith save you? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes or daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:14-17, NIV).

Richard Taylor in his book, Restoring Pride, suggests this inner knowing and selfless service are a sort rule of manners, and even though he writes of pride, he also argues that this is not pride but refers to it as considerateness, “Thus, the rule of considerateness has no connection with pride, but is a practical rule of manners. It guides you unerringly in your relationships to all other persons, whether they be friends, kin, or total strangers” (Talyor, 1996).

By now you’ve likely gathered that I like to use stories, everyday events, as ways to illustrate my point. Well I’d be remiss if I didn’t comment on something that just happened. I was about halfway through writing this paper at a local coffee shop. My head was down and I was “in the zone” typing so I didn’t see the man approach until I heard his scraggly voice say “excuse me.” I looked up and there was a man in front of me who was not pleasant to look at. He was older, looked physically unclean, had a runny nose, and a small open wound on his face. He was asking for money. Here I am writing a paper about the Golden Rule, quoting Jesus and other sacred texts, and there is Christmas music playing in the background. Is this some sort of a test, I thought?

I often give the homeless spare change, and stop and talk with them, but for some reason I was put off by how I was approached; he had a sort of aggressive manner. My first inclination was to say no I can’t. But then I thought to myself (the small voice within), can’t or won’t. I felt my pocket and there was no change, so I reached for my wallet and handed him a dollar. Seeing the loose bills in my wallet he asked if he could have another, I handed him another and as I did an employee came by and shuffled him out. I realized then that his aggressive behavior was likely that he knew he only had a brief moment before he was kicked out, time was of the essence. On their way back in the employee stopped by my table to apologize…apologizing for another human being. Who is my neighbor, I thought to myself?

Philosophy, and even religion for that matter, in many ways seems to be about asking questions, and not necessarily having the answers. Plato, I think, sums this up articulately in his famous but simple statement in his Apology, where Sacrates proclaims “An unexamined life is not worth living” (Plato, n.d.), because I believe with self-examination comes growth, and with growth one realizes that they are not they only person that counts.

There are so many questions which I do not have an answer, but there is one that I do: Who is my neighbor? The answer is everyone, but the difficult part is remembering this and treating each and every person the way that I would like to be treated. But this, I suppose, is what makes us human.

In conclusion, I’ll finish with an eloquent quote from the stoic philosopher, Epictetus, from his slim but inspirational volume, The Art of Living, which I feel summarizes the entire premise of the Golden Rule: “One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our contact is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well-educated, but to all our human brethren. View yourself as a citizen of a worldwide community and act accordingly” (Epictetus and Lebell, 2007).

Works Cited

Epictetus and Lebell, S. (2007). The art of living. New York: HarperOne.
Geno, R. (2017). The Meaning of “Namaste”. [online] Yoga Journal. Available at: https://www.yogajournal.com/practice/the-meaning-of-quot-namaste-quot [Accessed 25 Nov. 2017].

Greater Good. (2017). The Compassionate Instinct. [online] Available at: https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/the_compassionate_instinct [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

The Holy Bible, New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Bible Publishers.

McIntyre, M. (2014). The kindness of strangers. [Charleston, SC]: CreatSpace.

NPR.org. (2017). Brain Surgeon Walks 6 Miles Through Storm To Save Patient. [online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2014/01/31/269380564/brain-surgeon-walks-six-miles-through-storm-to-save-patient [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Palmquist, S. (2008, November 8). The Tree of philosophy. Retrieved November 21, 2017, from http://staffweb.hkbu.edu.hk/ppp/tp4/

Plato. The Apology. Retrieved November 20, 2017, from The Internet Classics, http://classics.mit.edu/Plato/apology.html

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). 1:12: Anas: The Prophet said, None of you will have faith till he wishes for his …. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-    texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh1/bh1_11.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Sacred-Texts: Hinduism. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/hin/maha/ [Accessed 21 Nov. 2017].

Sacred-texts.com. (2017). Introduction and Preface. [online] Available at: http://www.sacred-texts.com/tantra/maha/maha00.htm [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Tao Te Ching. Acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu. (2017). Tao Te Ching. [online] Available at: http://acc6.its.brooklyn.cuny.edu/~phalsall/texts/taote-v3.html [Accessed 23 Nov. 2017].

Taylor, R. (1996). Restoring pride: the lost virtue of our age. New York: Prometheus Books. 

Things that can be carried on a bike (#726)…

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“The bicycle, the bicycle surely, should always be the vehicle of novelists and poets.”
― Christopher Morley

On the bike…a new 6′ metal shelf still in its packaging. 

 

Freedom Machines and the Ethics of Transportation

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The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man. Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart.”

~Iris Mudoch

It’s 5:45 am and still dark, the air is chilly but not cold. I straddle my bike and check the sky for rain clouds, the crescent moon is just setting. The morning air brushes against my face as I pedal silently down the darkened street and am chilled only briefly, much in the same way a swimmer is chilled for just the first lap. I pedal and coast through Buffalo’s East Side, which is one of our city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, and I think of an interview I recently read of Reverend Laura Everett, a Boston area pastor, cyclist, and author of the book, Holy Spokes: The Search for Urban Spirituality on Two Wheels, “Bicycles are remarkable because you can go almost anywhere with them—on dirt roads, on gravel, on concrete, over grass. But to ride through the city means that you ride in places that are not glorious but sad and tragic, and have been for a long time. That’s the spiritual life, too” (Faithandleadership.com, 2017).

 

On my 5 ½ mile commute to work I have a unique vantage point. The streets are still dark, some of the house lights are just coming on, and on some mornings I see wildlife, even in the city: raccoon, skunk, rabbits, and even deer that live near the railroad tracks. I arrive at work on time and invigorated, albeit a bit sweaty.

 

This is the second of three papers for an Intro to Ethics class regarding ethics in everyday life. The first paper focused on ethical food choices, mainly: Is it ethical to eat meat in modern society? This paper will focus on transportation choices.

 

While I’ll touch on the detrimental effects of cars on ourselves and our planet, this paper is really about bicycles, which some consider to be the most efficient transportation machine ever built; the rider is both the engine and the cargo (Exploratorium, 2017). I’d also like to add at the onset, that this paper is not about pointing fingers at cars, though I will state some facts, but more so this is about showing how one person can live without a car—by choice—in a car centric society. This said, I should also disclose that I am not a twenty-something, or even forty-something, I am a middle-aged guy in my mid-fifties with creaky knees and reoccurring back problems, but living without a car is still possible.

 

This being said, I also realize that living car-free is not possible for everyone, indeed for many it may be impossible. I choose to live in the inner city where it is relatively easy to get around—mostly I use a bicycle, public transportation, or walk—often a bicycle is quicker than a car for short trips. Walk-Score rates my neighborhood at 93 points, which they consider a “walker’s paradise” (Walk Score, 2017).   I am fully aware that if one resides in the suburbs or a rural area it would be next to impossible to survive without a car.

 

The earliest version of what we now know as a bicycle was invented in Germany around 1817, by Baron Karl von Drais (Burgwardt, 2001). The contraption had no pedals or chain drive, the rider would simply straddle the machine and push and coast their way along. These early contraptions began to be replicated elsewhere and became known as hobby-horses or dandy-horses (Burgwardt, 2001). There were other versions and types of bicycles that followed but the next big change came in the 1870’s with the invention of the “ordinary” bicycle, this is the one that you see in old photos or period movies, it’s the bicycle with the really large wheel in front and the small one in back. This is also the first bicycle to become readily available to the public. The reason this is so significant is that for the first time people had another option besides a horse or their own two feet for personal transportation. Carl F. Burwardt states in his book, Buffalo’s Bicycles, Reflections on Buffalo’s Colossal and Overlooked Bicycle Heritage,

“Mastering it [the bicycle] gave us our first taste of independence and mobility. It gave us the opportunity to travel beyond the limited world of one’s own backyard and neighborhood to find a bigger world where we discovered and acquired a new responsibility for ourselves. Before 1890 most people had been limited to the traditional personal transportation provided by a horse or other animal power. The result was that by 1875 a completely different design of bicycle had been perfected and was now in common use by thousands of people who soon preferred the bicycle to the horse for their  personal transport” (Burgwardt, 2001).

It’s interesting to note that the first gas powered autos were being developed during this same period. While they had predecessors, Karl Benz and Gottlieb Daimler, both of Germany, are most often credited as being the most important pioneers in the early development of the gas powered automobile (Alvord, 2000). Benze ran his car for the first time in 1885 and Daimler ran his in 1886 (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2017) , though it was Benz who attempted to show that the car could be used for everyday personal travel. Katie Alvord writes in her book, Divorce Your Car, Ending the Love Affair with the Automobile, “1888 Berta Benz (wife of Karl) and sons make the first motorcar trip (62 miles) pushing the car up hills and stopping for several repairs—among them, Berta clears the fuel line with her hairpin and fixes an electrical short using her garters as insulating tape” (Alvord, 2000).

 

Then came the most significant development in the early history of the bicycle, the “ordinary bicycle” was replaced by the safety bicycle. This ordinary resembled those we ride today, two medium sized wheels and chain driven. It was also safer to ride than the tall ordinary, thus the name safety.

 

By the 1890s, the bicycle was the most sought after form of personal transport, and it’s interesting to note that better road condition, such as paving, and in fact the very rules of the road came about not because of the automobile but the bicycle, “The active, popular, and common use of the bicycle by the 1890s created a need for riding rules of the roads now crowded with bicyclists. These regulations became our present driving rules of the road. More and more cyclists were now traveling farther from home and needed traveling directions. This created the need for erecting road signs and printing road maps for the cyclists” (Burgwardt, 2001).

 

The roads themselves were in such bad shape, if existent at all, and were often nothing but muddy, ruddy paths. In response to this a movement began with a push to improve the roads, which was spearheaded by the newly formed bicycle advocacy group, The League of American Wheelmen, known currently as The League of American Bicyclists. This movement became known as the Good Roads Movement, and the person mostly credited with it’s foresight, and who became known as the “Father of Good Roads,” is Horatio Earle (En.wikipedia.org, 2017). As quoted from his 1929 autobiography, The Autobiography of “By Gum” Earle, “I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country. The League fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of highways and streets” (Google Books, 2017). It’s interesting to note, that because of this movement, to this day in NY State (and most states) the bicycle has the same road rights as a car (NY DOT, 2017).

 

This background information is simply to illustrate that the development of the bicycle and car occurred nearly simultaneously, and how both vehicles had a great impact on our society. But one of them had and continues to have detrimental effects, not just on or planet, but also our cities, and even us as individuals.

 

As I commute to work each morning I cross a bridge that crosses the Kensington Expressway, also known locally as “the 33,” named after its route number. This is a classic example of a highway that runs from the inner city to the first or second ring suburbs. Its sole reason for being built was to transport people quickly from the city to the suburbs, and it does this quite efficiently. The problem is that it literally cut the city into two, destroying neighborhoods along the way. This is not unique to Buffalo, of course. Katie Alvord writes, “In the 1960s, only 40 percent of U.S. city dwellers owned cars. Interstates took homes from these residents, ruining neighborhood businesses on which they relied and favoring chain stores, which could afford the high price of locating near freeway exits” (Alvord, 2000).

 

It’s also worthy to note that many of these highways that slash through cities often do so in African American neighborhoods, “U.S. interstate construction leveled so many African-American homes for highways that interstates were called white roads through black bedrooms” (Alvord, 2000). This migration of white families to the suburbs became known as the “white flight.”

 

I first learned to ride a bike when I was quite young, maybe 7 or 8 years old, and I did so in the housing project where I spent my youth, which resides directly next to the Kensington Expressway. At that time—in the 1960s—the expressway was being built. Friends and I would ride down the unopened highway for fun. A few years later, when my family purchased our first car, we too became part of the white flight and moved to the suburbs, the American dream.

 

The proliferation of the car also shaped outlying towns and villages and re-shaped cities. In the suburbs, for example, more often than not, houses are built with large attached garages, usually a front feature of the house, with plenty of driveway space for vehicles. Shopping malls and suburban plazas are fronted or surrounded by acres of parking space. In cities, besides the aforementioned urban to suburban highways, there had to be plenty of parking. This sometimes takes shape as older buildings are leveled to accommodate the inundating automobile.

 

On my way home from work recently, and thinking about this paper, I stopped my bike on the bridge that crosses the 33. It was rush hour and as I peered down at the slow moving vehicles I counted, took a casual toll at what I saw. What I was counting was how many vehicles had more than one person in them. I counted for just a few minutes, but on average there was more than one person in every 12th vehicle, the others had only the driver. American cars, while more efficient than they used to be, are actually heavier than they used to be also (Lowrey, 2017). Today the average American vehicle tops 4000 pounds. Two tons of metal, plastic, and rubber to carry a single rider to and from work. Despite the movement of families to downsize to one car or to go car free, the amount of cars that Americans own still continues to rise. Last year there were 261 million cars registered in America, it is projected that this year the number will jump to nearly 270 million (H and Company, 2017) .

 

Given the sheer number of cars on the road there are bound to be accidents, lots of them. Cars crash into things, hit each other, hit bicyclists, and pedestrians. The first casualty recorded, as being hit by a car, was in 1896; Bridget Driscoll was a pedestrian in London when she was hit and killed.

 

People sometimes comment or question me if I am not afraid to ride a bike in the city, and that they could never do it. Yes, I tell them, it can be harrowing at times, but it is still far more dangerous to be in a car. According to the US Department of Transportation more than 37,000 people died from automobile related accidents in 2016, this is a 5.6 percent increase from the previous year (US DOT, 2017)  some sources claim the number to be more than 40,000 fatalities (Nsc.org, 2017).  Inversely, the website of the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center tells us that 818 people were killed while riding a bicycle in 2015, the figure was expected to rise the following year (Pedbikeinfo.org, 2017). Simple math will yield that there are 40-50 times more automobile fatalities each year than there with bicycles.

 

I’d be remiss in writing this paper if I didn’t comment on the stark contrast to the health befits to riding a bicycle to the detrimental effects autos have on our environment. The many health benefits of riding a bike for transportation are mostly obvious, and the website of the Harvard Medical School lists five of them: It is easy on your joints, provides an aerobic workout, builds muscle, helps with balancing, and builds bone strength (Harvard Publishing, 2017). I’d like to add to this list, burns calories and helps with mental health. Nowhere, of course, is there any information claiming the bicycle bad for our environment or contributing to climate change.

 

A recent NY Times article, citing it’s contradictory stance to the Trump administration’s position on climate change, states via an exhaustive report that it is unquestionable that cars are a continuing factor to the health of our climate, “Over the past 115 years global average temperatures have increased 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, leading to record-breaking weather events and temperature extremes. The global long term warming trend is unambiguous, and there is no convincing alternative explanation that anything other than humans—the cars we drive, the power plants we operate, the forests we destroy—are to blame.”

 

I could, of course, carry on for many more pages with this discourse citing examples of the negative affects of cars on us personally and our planet. While this may seem in some ways a long rant against the car it isn’t. I don’t think it is practical that we do not have cars on the road, just that they aren’t used to often or mindlessly. Indeed I am very thankful that our police, ambulance, and fire departments have powerful vehicles. But my argument, which is really the entire gist of this paper, is that I believe people should consider transportation alternatives. Is it possible to use your gas-powered vehicle less? Can you take public transportation sometimes? How about car-pooling/ride-sharing? Personally, the cost of car ownership—which most sources cite at between $8000 and $10,000 per year—is enough for me to reconsider transportation alternatives (NBC4 Washington, 2017). Or, if I wanted to display the confident arrogance that I believe Richard Taylor states throughout his book, Restoring Pride: The Lost Virtue of Our Age (Taylor, 1996), I could say simply and straightforwardly that there is so much evidence on the negative affects of cars on ourselves and our planet there is no reason we should each individually own one and drive one solo each day.

 

Though because I wrote this and spewed out a few facts does not make me perfectly ethical in regards to my transport. I do belong to a car share program where there is a car available if I need it, which I do use a few times a year. I do ride bicycles year round, yes even in Buffalo’s winters, but thanks to climate change, which is likely at least partly due to human activity, such as driving too many gas-powered vehicles, winters are no longer as severe as they once were.

 

To get a bit philosophical regarding bicycles, they are to me more than simply getting from point A to point B. When I am on a bike I am not enclosed in the climate controlled capsule of a car but am an active part of my environment, and I’m keenly aware of my surroundings. I am also often aware and appreciative of my body, especially as I get older, that my body is the engine with food as it’s fuel, this is also true of when I walk. I am very grateful that I am able to transport myself, even with my creaky knees and sometimes painful back. In many ways riding a bike for me is a form of meditation and even prayer, especially in the early pre-dawn hours.

 

In my kitchen at home I have a small framed print by the cartoonist Andy Singer. In it there are two frames, one has a cartoon of a man in a car stuck in a traffic who is screaming into a cell phone, and above it there is the title, “Successful Man.” The frame below shows a man walking, carrying nothing, just simply walking. He has a blissful look on his face; the title for this frame is “Unsuccessful Man.” These, I think are the norms that our society sees.

 

By riding a bike, or more specifically by not owning and driving a car every day, is in many ways living outside what our society thinks of as normal. When I accepted my current employment, about 6 months ago, my daily commute went from being about 2 miles each way to slightly more than 5 miles each way. People asked if I were going to get a car, some suggested that I do. Instead I got a better bike, and take public transportation when it rains. For me living without a car is normal. I really believe that I am a better person because of it. And If it makes me a better person to myself then it is only natural that I can be a better person to those around me and in society in general. I am also very concerned about the planet we leave for our children and children’s children. These things alone, I think makes it worth it.

 

This said, I’ll finish with a quote from Reverend Everett as I believe she sums up my sentiments nicely, “My life is better. My world is bigger. My friends are more diverse. My city is better-known to me on a bicycle. Part of what a bicycle gives is a sense of urgency and freedom. I can move of my own accord, and I’m not an especially fit person. I’m not dependent upon a car or the timetable of a bus line. When bicycles were first introduced to commercial markets, some ads called them “freedom machines” (Faithandleadership.com, 2017).

Works and Sites Cited:

Alvord, K. (2000). Divorce your car!. Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society Publishers.

Burgwardt, C. (2001). Buffalo’s bicycles. Orchard Park, N.Y.: Pedaling History Bicycle Museum.

Encyclopedia Britannica. (2017). automobile – History of the automobile. [online] Available at:     https://www.britannica.com/technology/automobile/History-of-the-automobile

[Accessed 5 Nov. 2017].

En.wikipedia.org. (2017). Good Roads Movement. [online] Available at:     https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Roads_Movement [Accessed 6 Nov. 2017].

Exploratorium: the museum of science, art and human perception. (2017). Science of Cycling:     Human Power | Exploratorium. [online] Available at:     https://www.exploratorium.edu/cycling/humanpower1.html [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].

Faithandleadership.com. (2017). Laura Everett: Riding my bicycle is a sp iritual discipline |     Faith and Leadership. [online] Available at: https://www.faithandleadership.com/laura-    everett-riding-my-bicycle-spiritual-discipline [Accessed 4 Nov. 2017].

Google Books. (2017). The Autobiography of “By Gum” Earle. [online] Available at:

https://books.google.com/books?id=433hAAAAMAAJ&q=inauthor:

%22Horatio+Sawyer+Earle%22&dq=inauthor:%22Horatio+Sawyer+Earle    %22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjV4c21mbDXAhWKxlQKHVYCDa8Q6AEIJjAA     [Accessed 7 Nov. 2017].

H. and Company (2017). US VIO Vehicle Registration Data Statistics, Fast Quote on Car,     Motorycle and Light Truck Stats. [online] Hedges & Company. Available at:     https://hedgescompany.com/automotive-market-research-statistics/auto-mailing-lists-and-    marketing [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Harvard Publishing (2017). The top 5 benefits of cycling – Harvard Health. [online] Harvard     Health. Available at: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-top-5-benefits-    of-cycling [Accessed 9 Nov. 2017].

Lowrey, A. (2017). American cars are getting heavier and heavier. Is that dangerous?. [online]     Slate Magazine. Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/business/

moneybox/2011/06/your_big_car_is_killing_me.html [Accessed 1 Nov. 2017].

NBC4 Washington. (2017). AAA Study: True Cost of Car Ownership in 2017. [online] Available     at: https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/business/AAA-Study-True-Cost-of-Car-    Ownership-2017–441519803.html [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].

Nsc.org. (2017). Motor Vehicle Deaths in 2016 Estimated to be Highest in Nine Years – NSC     News Releases. [online] Available at:     http://www.nsc.org/Connect/NSCNewsReleases/Lists/Posts/Post.aspx?ID=180 [Accessed     7 Nov. 2017].

NY DOT, (2017). [online] Available at:     https://www.dot.ny.gov/display/programs/bicycle/safety_laws/laws#1231

[Accessed 30 Oct. 2017].

Pedbikeinfo.org. (2017). Pedestrian & Bicycle Information Center. [online] Available at:     http://www.pedbikeinfo.org/data/factsheet_crash.cfm [Accessed 2 Nov. 2017].

Taylor, R. (1996). Restoring pride: the lost virtue of our age. New York: Prometheus Books.

US DOT (2017). USDOT Releases 2016 Fatal Traffic Crash Data. [online] NHTSA. Available     at: https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/usdot-releases-2016-fatal-traffic-crash-data     [Accessed 29 Oct. 2017].

Walk Score. (2017). Find Apartments for Rent and Rentals – Get Your Walk Score. [online]     Available at: https://www.walkscore.com/ [Accessed 2 Nov. 2017].

Five or Eight Quotes from Howard Thurman…

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November 18, 1899 – April 10, 1981

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

 “There is something in every one of you that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself. It is the only true guide you will ever have. And if you cannot hear it, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls.” 

“During times of war, hatred becomes quite respectable, even though it has to masquerade often under the guise of patriotism.” 

“It is very easy to sit in judgement upon the behavior of others, but often difficult to realize that every judgement is a self-judgement.”

“Often, to be free means the ability to deal with the realities of one’s own situation so as not to be overcome by them.” 

“And this is the strangest of all paradoxes of the human adventure; we live inside all experience, but we are permitted to bear witness only to the outside. Such is the riddle of life and the story of the passing of our days.”

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”

 

“There must be always remaining in every life, some place for the singing of angels, some place for that which in itself is breathless and beautiful.”

More in the Five Quotes series.

Fifty Six Autumns…

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“Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.”

~Albert Camus

Fifty Six Autumns.

That’s how many I’ve seen. Of course I don’t remember them all, especially the earliest ones. But it was on this day fifty six years ago that I came into the world, whether I wanted to or not. Though if I am to believe the mystics (and I do), it was my choice to enter into this particular life…this time, my family, the circumstances that make up my life. All of it. And it’s interesting to think how at the turn of a new year—which for many can be an introspective time—we do it collectively. Though a birthday, which for me is also introspective, is done at a personal level, or usually with just a few. At a new year many people make resolutions, myself included, and most are unsustainable. I also do this at birthdays, but rather than calling them resolutions, which sounds so formal, I refer to them as goals. While still rather lofty, they seem more attainable. But if I stumble, that’s okay, too. I’ll begin again, that’s all I can do. And that is actually my first goal for this next birthday year…to go easy on myself; cut myself some slack. Here’s a few others that come to mind, in no particular order…

Attend church regularly.

Meditate daily (if even for just a few minutes) .

Pray often (be grateful and in the moment).

Blog, journal, and write more.

Facebook less.

Do more push-ups.

Practice simple yoga (stretch!)

Reduce expenses.

Care more.

Connect.

Do more art.

I could go on, but this is a good start. It’s a fluid list. If I do all or at least some of these things even somewhat regularly I truly believe that I will continue to grow and be a better person, which will naturally lead to being of greater service in this world. Thank you for letting me be part of yours. Now to get started…

New Orleans in the Summertime (notes on a show)

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Red, White, Blue, and Pink

 

She had understood before she had ever dreamed of a city such as this, where every texture, every color, leapt out at you, where every fragrance was a drug, and the air itself was something alive and breathing.

~Anne Rice, The Witching Hour

So here’s some info, and a last plug, regarding a photo showing of my New Orleans portfolio. The show is at a small gallery at 1027 Elmwood Avenue called Parables Gallery and Gifts. It’s a cozy little gallery with a gift shop in front and small gallery space in the back. It’s between Potomac and Bird on the east side of the street, here’s a map.

 

The photos will be up and for sale the entire month of November, but the opening is Friday, November 2nd and is part of the First Friday Gallery Walk from 7-9pm.

All of the photos that are hung are brand new and have never been on display or for sale before (albeit, a bit of shameless self-promotion on social media). What’s different this time, and this really makes sense to me, is that the photos are matted but not framed. By doing this I am able to cut the cost of the selling prices by two-thirds. The photos are 11 x 14 and matted to 16 x 20. They are all selling for $50 each, if framed they sell for three times this. (You are not obligated to purchase anything as I would simply love to see you and for you to see me and view my photos, but of course sales are nice). This way, if you were to purchase photos, you simply purchase a frame that speaks to you and slip it in. The gallery owner will have a limited supply of very simple frames available.

There will be wine and non-alcoholic beverages available as well as Gumbo Z’Herbes (super-delicious vegetarian gumbo), and a few other things to snack on.

Anyhow, I hope to see you there.

Peace,

Joe

A Poll About Transportation…

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Q Train at Coney Island, Summer 2016

 

So the next paper I am currently working on for an ethics class is regarding transportation. Please, if you wouldn’t mind, take the poll to the left of this post. It is anonymous (I cannot see who clicked the boxes). No judgement, just research. I am very grateful you’ve taken the time to not only to read this post but also to click the boxes. Click as many that apply to you, if you’d like to add comments do so in this post. Thanks again. Peace.

(Unfortunately, the poll will not show in this blog, which is the mirror blog of Urban Simplicity. To go to that site and take the poll, click here. Thank you!)

Things that can be carried on a bike (#725)…

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$52 in groceries, $47 in office supplies, two bottles of red wine, a camera, and a backpack containing a change of clothes from the gym.

Exploring The Morals and Ethics of Eating Animals

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“People often say that humans have always eaten animals, as if this is a justification for continuing the practice. According to this logic, we should not try to prevent people from murdering other people, since this has also been done since the earliest of times.”

~ Isaac Bashevis Singer (née, Izaak Zynger)

This is the first of three papers written as a project for Intro to Ethics class. I’ve chosen to investigate and research what it means to live ethically and how our actions affect others. In this preliminary paper I’m exploring ethical eating, mainly: Is it ethical to consume meat in our modern society?

It is no surprise that when reading The Craftsmen, by Richard Sennett,  I was drawn to the chapter, Expressive Instructions (Sennett, 2009). In this chapter Sennett profiles the work of not only some of my favorite food writers but also those that have influenced me the most. When I was a young chef fresh out of culinary school I was enamored with French cuisine and collected cookbooks the way a sports fan may collect baseball cards. When I traveled I would seek out bookstores that had great cookbook sections. What really interested me were the food writers that didn’t simply publish recipe books, but those who wrote about food. So it’s easy to see how I would have been attracted to such luminaries as Child, Olney, and David.

Once, when in a used bookstore in Fort Erie, Ontario, I came upon a second edition of the two-volume set, Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Child et al., 1963). Wrapped in brown paper, the way Canadian bookstores once did, I carried them the two mile walk home and across an international border like sacred texts; the customs officer at the Peace Bridge jokingly asked if they were bibles.

Richard Olney’s recipe for Gigot D’Agneau a la Sept Heures (Seven Hour Leg of Lamb) was often on menus at restaurants at which I presided the stoves (Olney, 1985). It was Elizabeth David’s books that influence me most as I began to write about food. I have every book she has written but it is the first that I came upon which still influences me to this day, A Book of Mediterranean Cuisine (David, 1968).  She writes both with ease and also authority. This is apparent in the very beginning of the book, “The cooking of the Mediterranean shores, endowed with all the natural resources, the colour and flavour of the South, is a blend of tradition and brilliant improvisation. The Latin genius flashes in the pan” (David, 1968).

It’s also interesting that Sennett cites the work of Antonin Carême, whose recipe in the book is the focus of the writers that follow in the chapter. Carême, of course, is the chef who is credited with codifying modern French cuisine; he was also the predecessor of Auguste Escoffier, who streamlined Carême’s methods further and developed the brigade system in the kitchen, which was the forerunner to what we now call “line cooking.”  Escoffier was also the author of a few books, including the seminal, Le Guide Culinaire (The Culinary Guide), in which he devotes no less than fifteen pages at the very beginning of the book to fonds de viande (meat stock). He put them in the beginning because he felt it was the very foundation (fond) of cooking (Escoffier, 1941).  Le Guide Culinaire was bedtime reading for me while in culinary school.

Some years ago while on sojourn in Paris, I enrolled in a four-day class at Le Cordon Bleu. On the first day I remember watching the chef as he slipped slivers of truffles and cold butter under the skin of a Bresse chicken with the tip of his small knife with such articulate precision the accompanying translator was not needed.

So, what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with ethics? The correlation is not only to the books which we are reading, regarding pride and craftsmanship, but also with the subject of the recipes themselves: Meat.

While I have flirted with vegetarianism for years, I have to qualify that I am not a vegetarian. Though I do plan on abstaining from meat for the duration of this course and likely thereafter. When thinking about ethical and altruistic living, this is one of the first areas that comes to mind. The world has changed since the I first read the aforementioned books, and in many ways I have also.

It’s interesting that when I read the recipes in Sennett’s book, whereas once I would have been smitten by them, they now seem more like the description of a surgical procedure, “Sever the attachment of each shoulder blade at the wing joint and, holding it firmly between the thumb and the forefinger of the left hand, pull it out of the flesh with the other…Force the flesh loose from the breastbone, working along the crest with the tip of a knife and forcing that at the sides loose with fingertips” (Sennett, 2009).

Now I’ll get straight to the point: There is no reason we need to eat meat, we can easily consume all of our nutritional requirements with a plant based diet. We simply eat meat for our own pleasure, and in doing so we kill a living animal which was likely raised in horrendous conditions for its entire life.

According to Peter Singer in his book, The Most Good You Can Do, How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas About Living Ethically, in 2012 there were 164 million dogs and cats as pets in American households (Singer, 2016).  I personally am a dog lover, and have been my entire life. Currently two beautiful pugs cohabit my home with me. I bring this up because it was while thinking of my pets that that I first began to correlate the absurdity of eating some animals but not others. I was on a silent retreat at a center in the Hudson Valley and they raised animals. Passing the animals one day little piglets came rushing up to the fence to greet me. I was struck at how much they resembled my pugs.


Singer goes on to say that the amount of personal pets in the United States is dwarfed by the number of animals that were raised and then slaughtered as food; in 2012 this number was 9.1 billion (Sennett, 2009). Mylan Engel Jr., in his paper, Between the Species, The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism, states that not only is the number of animals raised and slaughtered in the US closer to 10 million, he also goes into detail of the horrific lives 95% of them lived, from birth to slaughter (Engel, 2017). While the images I’ve read about how the animals are kept is terrible enough, it’s the descriptions of the slaughterhouse that are straight from a horror film.

“Once inside the slaughter house the animals are hung upside down [pigs, cattle, and sheep     are suspended by one hind leg which often breaks] and are brought via conveyor to the  slaughterer who slits their throats and severs their arteries and jugular veins. In theory, animals covered by the Federal Humane Slaughter Act are to be rendered unconscious by electric current or by captive bolt pistol (a pneumatic gun which, aimed properly, renders  the animal unconscious by firing an 8-inch pin into the animal’s skull). Chickens, turkeys, ducks, and geese are not considered animals under the Act and receive no protection at all. In practice, the Act is not enforced, and as a result, many slaughterhouses elect not to use the captive bolt pistol in the interest of cost efficiency. A consequence of the lax of  enforcement of the Federal Humane Slaughter Act is that in many cases (and all kosher cases), the animals are conscious throughout the throat-slitting ordeal” (Engel, 2017).

If this weren’t enough, Peter Singer states that hundreds of millions of animals never even make it to the slaughterhouse because they simply suffer to death (Singer, 2016).  In other words, there are multitudes of animals that do not get the “benefit” of humane slaughter because they parish before it is granted. Some succumb to there own species aggressive behavior, which is likely the result to their captivity, others (chickens mostly) are said to collapse under their own weight because they were bred to grow so quickly that their immature legs cannot support their full-grown bodies, others unable to reach their feed in the overcrowded conditions simply die from starvation or thirst. Many more parish en-route to the slaughterhouse because of the magnified conditions they’re exposed to during travel.

So with the above graphic descriptions, this question is the elephant in the room: If we could not consider our own pets enduring this horror how do we justify it to other animals simply for our own satisfaction? At this point I have to reiterate that while I haven’t eaten meat in a couple weeks I do not consider myself a vegetarian, so I ask myself the question just posed.

If you’ve ever had a beloved pet injured in most cases you would do anything to alleviate their suffering. Peter singer takes this to the next level and equates animal suffering with human suffering, “In Animal Liberation (Singer, 2009) I argue that to give less consideration to the interests of non-human animals, merely because they are not members of our species, is speciesism and is wrong in much the same way that the crudest forms of racism and sexism are wrong” (Singer, 2016).

It’s easy to disassociate the meat that you cook with the living animal it once was, to forget that the neatly wrapped cellophane packages in the supermarket were once sentient beings. Here’s where my own ethical dilemma comes into play. Even if I don’t eat meat I still cook it every day, my occupation dictates that I must. For decades I have worked as a cook or chef, and currently as a supervisor in the commissary kitchen of a school district in the second largest city in New York State. I see the end result of factory farming everyday as chicken nuggets, beef riblets, and cooked ground beef comes through the back door by the truckload. Sometimes I’ll look at a pallet of cases of pre-breaded and fried chicken legs and try to imaging the room full of live chickens they once were. At the very least, I’ll say a silent prayer, both for them for them and me. Until I choose another occupation or find work in a vegetarian restaurant, this is my cross.

There are, of course, many arguments against vegetarianism. One of the most common is that we as a species have always eaten meat. I’ve heard people cite passages in the bible where there are descriptions of slaughtering meat for food.  There’s also the argument that not all animals are factory farmed, that some are raised in humane conditions and “slaughtered humanely.” My response to the historical aspects of humans being carnivores is this: It’s only been in the past century (or less) that there have been large supermarkets packed to the hilt with foods. In ancient times, such as those biblical, eating was a very different thing; people ate what they raised, including meat. Likely it was considered sacred and a gift from God. In regards to the argument of animals being raised/slaughtered humanely: Yes, this is better, but in my view their humanly lived lives still ended with their throats being slit simply for our dining pleasure.

There’s yet another, if not extreme, side to this argument as well: That plants themselves are sentient. According to Andrew Smith, assistant professor of English and philosophy at Drexel University, this is true. In an interview at the website, Munchies, he discusses his book, A Critique of the Moral Defense of Vegetarianism (Swerdloff, 2017). When asked if he felt why there was a disconnect between plant-based life and sentience, he responded:

“There are historical reasons, cultural reasons, and philosophical reasons that go all the way back to philosophers like Plato and Aristotle—particularly the way they classified animals, plants, humans, and the gods. Today, that still reverberates. We look at the grass of our lawn and the trees outside our windows and we see beings that are clearly alive, but passive and largely inert. That’s simply not the case. These beings are aware and very active in their environment. In some respects, they are far more aware of their surroundings than animals are.”

Despite his critique,  professor Smith has been a vegetarian for more than two decades and a vegan for more than 6 years. His reasons, he says, are complex but largely philosophical and emotional (Swerdloff, 2017).

Another argument against vegetarianism is that it is elitist and arrogant. Examples are that, according to the website of World Hunger, of the 7 billion people of the world 800 million, or 11 percent of the world’s population, is hungry (World Hunger, 2017). On a smaller scale, there are food deserts in every major American city where the residents of such neighborhoods do not have access to fresh produce (American Nutrition Association, 2017). Yet, I can pick-and-choose as to what I want to eat.

In this paper I’ve attempted to cite arguments for and against vegetarianism, but I would be remiss if I didn’t admit I am more than slightly biased for a plant-based diet. My views can be mostly summarized by the Russian writer-philosopher, Leo Tolstoy, “A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat, he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral” (Tolstoy, 1987).

In conclusion, more questions arise: Will I continue to abstain from meat? If so, why? And also, how will I reconcile the fact that I cook it daily on the job. To this, I respond yes, I plan on abstaining from meat consumption, for ethical, philosophical, but also very personal reasons. As far as cooking it as a source of employment? This will be an ongoing struggle, and one to which I currently have no answer.

Peter Singer, in his paper, Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism, published in Philosophy & Public Affairs, offers another view of this quandary, “The utilitarian vegetarian is on strong ground in arguing that factory farming and other cruelties involved in large scale commercial animal production should end. The final problem is to establish the link between this goal and the obligation to become a vegetarian” (Singer, 1980).

This said, I’ll finish with a simple recipe for a delicious meal which can be made in minutes and does not harm any animals. This is my “go-to” recipe for a quick and nutritious meal and can be made with nearly any vegetable. Though I have to admit, after reading Andrew Smith’s view of sentience, I’ll never look at a stalk of broccoli the same again.


A Recipe for Spaghetti with Broccoli, Garlic, and Olive Oil

For a recipe to serve two people you will need the following ingredients: One head of broccoli which was grown in your garden, or lacking this, sourced locally from a farmer’s market or food co-op. Two cloves of garlic (or more if you’d like), which is neither too green nor too dry. Three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with an acidity level no higher than 3%. An couple ounces of Parmigiano Reggiano, which should be hand-grated just before this preparation. One-quarter teaspoon each of gray sea salt and crushed hot pepper. A half-cup of vegetable broth or, lacking this, a half-cup of water reserved from cooking the pasta. And lastly, 4 ounces of whole wheat spaghetti which contains one ingredient: whole wheat flour.

Begin the recipe by preparing the ingredients: wash the broccoli and cut it into florets, peel and mince the garlic, boil and strain the pasta (reserving ½ cup broth if needed).

Pour the oil into a cold skillet and add the minced garlic and hot pepper. This is an uncharacteristic way to begin a recipe (in a cold skillet), but there is a specific reason for this: To slowly draw the flavors out of the garlic and hot pepper rather than sear them in.

Place the cold skillet over a medium flame. Wait a minute or two until you notice movement in the pan as the garlic begins to sizzle. Slowly swirl the pan with one hand while stirring with a wooden spoon in the other. When the garlic is light golden, and the aroma of it and the olive oil perfumes the air while the hot pepper tickles your nostrils, add the broccoli and stir it into the oil. After just a few seconds add the vegetable broth or pasta water, which will release a puff of steam and also act as a vehicle of flavor. Add first the salt and then the cooked spaghetti. Stir it until is is hot but not over cooked, then remove the pan from the heat. Add the cheese to the pan, stirring and tossing all of the ingredients.

Serve while hot or at room temperature.

Works Cited
American Nutrition Association. (2017). USDA Defines Food Deserts | American Nutrition Association. [online] Available at: http://americannutritionassociation.org/newsletter/usda-defines-food-deserts [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017].

Child, J., Bertholle, L., Beck, S. and Coryn, S. (1963). Mastering the art of French cooking.
2nd ed. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

David, E. and David, E. (1968). A book of Mediterranean food. London: Cookery Book Club.

Engel, M. (2017). “The Commonsense Case for Ethical Vegetarianism” by Mylan Engel Jr.. [online] Digitalcommons.calpoly.edu. Available at: http://digitalcommons.calpoly.edu/bts/vol19/iss1/1/ [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Escoffier, A. (1941). The Escoffier Cook Book. New York: Crown.

Olney, R. (1985). The French menu cookbook. Boston: D.R. Godine.

Sennett, R. (2009). The craftsman. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Singer, P. (1980). Utilitarianism and Vegetarianism. Philosophy and Public Affairs, [online] 9(4), pp.325-335. Available at: https://www.jstor.org/stable/2265002? seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents [Accessed 17 Oct. 2017].

Singer, P. (2009). Animal liberation. New York, N.Y: HarperCollins.

Singer, P. (2016). Most good you can do. New Haven and London: Yale Univ Press.

Swerdloff, A. (2017). This Vegan Professor Says There’s No Such Thing as Real Vegetarians. [online] Munchies. Available at: https://munchies.vice.com/en_us/article/jpkk4d/this-vegan-professor-says-theres-no-such-thing-as-real-vegetarians [Accessed 18 Oct. 2017].

Tolstoy, L. (1987). Writings on civil disobedience and nonviolence. Philadelphia, PA: New Society Publishers.

World Hunger (2017). How many people are hungry in the world? – World Hunger News. [online] World Hunger News. Available at: http://www.worldhunger.org/hunger-    quiz/how-many-people-are-hungry-in-the-world/ [Accessed 20 Oct. 2017]. 


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