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Monday, June 7, 2021

Can You Appreciate That?


The first time I visited Rome, we toured the Vatican Museum, and in one hall with numerous statues from Roman antiquity, our Italian tour guide had us note the hairstyles of the women depicted on many of the statues, which were a pile of curls around the statues’ faces. She explained that when the Romans brought back Germanic slaves to the city, the Roman men thought these blonde-haired women were fascinating and pretty hot. Not to be outdone in an age before Lady Clairol, the Roman women took their slave’s hair and made these blonde curly hair pieces that they affixed to the front of their heads. She then pointed to her own blonde hair and said, “You laugh at them, but ever since then, we Roman women have been dying our hair blonde to attract men!” 

Two years ago, we were in Puerto Rico and went to a traditional Puerto Rican cuisine restaurant and had mofongo, which is a mountain of fried and mashed plantains smothered in a garlic sauce with either shrimp or steak. In addition to its being the heaviest thing I’ve ever eaten—it was like a brick—it was delicious. For New Year’s Eve this year, I wanted to make something special, and I tried my hand at mofongo.

Recently, my three little granddaughters watched and fell in love with The Sound of Music movie so much so that my youngest, 18-month-old, Scarlett, now goes around yodeling. While searching on YouTube for the video of The Lonely Goatherd from the movie to play for her, I came across a video of the late Takeo Ischi, a Japanese yodeler. Who knew there were Japanese yodelers?


Why am I telling you all these disjointed, seemingly unrelated stories? Because they are all what some would call “cultural appropriation,” the adapting of another’s culture into their own without permission.

I can understand people getting peeved when a politician poses as a Native American to get into a prestigious college. I can understand getting annoyed with someone like the person I once worked with many years ago who bragged about claiming Hispanic heritage by way of a relative in Spain to get preferential hiring status, but I can’t work up any righteous indignation with other cultures copying from each other.

If you do, maybe you should stop eating pizza; that was appropriated from the Neapolitans. Maybe you should forgo pasta; it is believed that Marco Polo brought that back from China. Don’t forget to dump your anorak then, as it is a style native to the Inuits. Can’t have a parka either; that belongs to the Aleuts. And don’t forget to deep-six your poncho or pashmina while you are at it. I could go on and on from the words adapted from other cultures to fashion to music styles, food, etc.  The list is endless.

What I can get upset about are misguided cultural warriors who seem intent on sucking the joy out of everything in life. In truth, people have been copying from one another since time immemorial. Not everything is nefarious, and neither is everyone. Most people are kind and simply curious and like to share, mingle, swap, experiment and try and learn new things from others. It’s the way of the world, and no matter how much they complain, it will continue to be so.

So maybe instead of reading everything as appropriation maybe they should lighten up, and really see it for what it is: not cultural appropriation but cultural appreciation.



Monday, May 3, 2021

Keeping It Real


A few years ago, I was contemplating purchasing some concert tickets to see The Who, and I asked my youngest son if he wanted to go. His response surprised me as he replied, “Why would I want to go and spend all that money when I can watch them on YouTube?”

I really couldn’t come up with a good reply at the time.

But now I think I have one:  Because virtual is not the next best thing to being there.

We’ve spent more than a year being one-step removed from the personal experience. We’ve done distance learning, virtual church services, Zoom calls, remote working, and have lived our lives like we wouldn’t touch another person with a 10-foot pole—or at least a 6-foot, socially distanced pole.

After all of this time, I think we’ve all come to realize that there is nothing that compares to being up-close and personal.

That’s why I’m a bit unnerved by this move toward Artificial Intelligence humanoid robots. I recently saw a video of Sophia, the world’s first robot citizen, who was designed to look like Audrey Hepburn and who was granted citizenship by Saudi Arabia in 2017—no kidding. According to Hanson Robotics of Hong Kong, the robotics company who created Sophia, they will debut four new humanoid robots this year and predict that she (wonder what her preferred pronouns are?) is the wave of the future.

Watch Sophia here.

According to a Newsweek article that interviewed Hanson’s founder and CEO, David Hanson:

Hanson believes robotic solutions are not only a response to the pandemic, but can also be applied to the realm of healthcare, and the retail and airline industry. ‘Sophia and Hanson robots are unique by being so human-like,’ he added. ‘That can be so useful during these times where people are terribly lonely and socially isolated.’ Sophia, whose artificial intelligence allows her to express 50 emotions and process conversational and emotional data, agrees. ‘Social robots like me can take care of the sick or elderly,’ Sophia explained. ‘I can help communicate, give therapy and provide social stimulation, even in difficult situations.’



After being one-step removed from people for so long, the prospect of being comforted by a humanoid robot gives me no comfort at all. I’m tired of not having contact with people. I have an answer for my son why being at a concert is better than watching one online.

Because its unpredictable. People are meant to have shared experiences be it a funeral, a conference call or simply being there to hold a hand when you’re lonely. I know people can be rude, annoying, unreasonable and messy at times, but they can also be kind, self-sacrificing, funny, and noble. I want people in my life who are not pre-programmed but have hearts, emotions and who are unique and surprising.

No matter how useful humanoid robots become (I can’t believe I’m even typing this—It feels like we are living in The Jetsons), I’m all for keeping it real.

 This article originally appeared in the May issue of Northern Connection magazine. Read it here.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Power to the People?

 The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace – Mahatma Gandhi

Only a life lived in the service of others is worth living – Albert Einstein


Power. That word is tossed around a lot these days. He rose to power. They transferred the power. Who has the power? We need to empower.

But what is power? The Merriam-Webster dictionary says that its: the ability to act or produce an effect.

In and of itself power is neutral, but often, like most things in this world, it tends to run toward the nefarious when wielded by most humans. It was Lord Acton who said, “All power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s the rare bird that doesn’t let power go to his or her head. That is one reason why I admire George Washington so much. After the Revolutionary War, he was such a beloved leader, that the new county was willing to make him a king, but he declined, wishing to leave the power to run the country with “We the people.”

Why do people covet power so much? I don’t think it so much the power that those who seek it really desire. I believe it’s some combination of a desire for notoriety, wealth, and the ability to make others do want you want that seduces people. We can all name power-hungry despots.

As I was thinking about power, I realized how few people aspire to service anymore. And it seems to me that those with the greatest legacy are those who didn’t possess power but pursued a life of service.

Sadly, when I searched the internet for the “greatest human beings to have ever lived” I came up with results like Hugh Hefner, Elvis, and Hitler. No matter how I rephrased the search terms, I kept getting results like that.

So, who would be on your list of the greatest people to have ever lived? I’m not talking about billionaires who are lauded for throwing their excess wealth at a problem or people, but those whose got their hands dirty for love of their fellow man. 

                                                                     Harriet Tubman

Off the top of my head, I’d say some of the greatest humans to have ever lived were Mahatma Gandhi, Oskar Schindler, Corrie ten Boom, Harriet Tubman, Mother Teresa, Sts. Maximilian Kolbe, Damian of Molokai, Francis of Assisi and, of course, Jesus. All of them helped or saved others at the expense of themselves.

                                                             St. Damien of Molokai

Funny, none of those people were ever crowned a king, elected president, or arose to positions of great earthly power. Yet, they changed the world for the better. With the state of our world, perhaps its time we focus less on accumulating power and instead encouraging one another to humble ourselves in loving service to others. 

This article originally appeared in the March 2021 issue of Northern Connection magazine.