Christmas Group Study

Merry Christmas - Red Bulbs in Snow

I put together a study of the Christmas story for the married couples group that my wife and I attend on Thursday nights. It might be a good discussion for a family or other group as Christmas approaches. I hope you find it enjoyable and helpful. If you use it, I’d be interested to hear how it goes in the comments.

Getting Happierr

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Are people happy when they go to happy hour? Or do they hope to get happy by going to happy hour?

Are you happy?

Am I happy? 

Yeah, I’m fairly happy. I guess. Most of the time. But I could be happier. Selfishly, it’s probably what I want second-most of all. It’s a close second – almost a tie – with immortality.

The Declaration of Independence of the United States of America talks a bit about happiness. Mostly, it makes a case for the necessity of government – as well as it’s overthrow. The people can — and should — usurp a government that is no longer protecting their Creator-bestowed, unalienable rights. According to this founding document, you have a right to Life. You have a right to Liberty. And you have a right to the Pursuit of Happiness.

Not to happiness itself. You don’t have that right. You only have the right to pursue it. Attaining it is up to you – and maybe fate or the Creator or both.


We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Declaration of Independence  — July 4, 1776

This blog is called Happy Hourr because I hope it helps to make us all a bit happier. I hope it provides some motivation for the pursuit.

And I liked the Double-R play on my last name, too. Plus, happyhour.com was already taken.

You probably won’t find drink recipes here. Well, not usually. Maybe once in awhile.

And I don’t expect this to be a place to hook-up, although if you find someone here, that’s a happy bonus.

The focus will be on topics that make me happy. Like philosophical discussions about life, God, and the oxford comma. Nerdy ideas like artificial intelligence, asteroid mining, superhero movies, rubber-band machine guns, and home pizza crafting. And other random stuff like Vikings football and Crunchy Mint M&Ms.

Family and friends make me extremely happy. So I’ll probably be bragging on them and our exploits together from time to time.

Finally, writing and crafting an essay or a story makes me happy. It’s also painfully challenging and creates, at times, lots of self-doubt and questioning of my life choices. But that’s during the process. A completed project usually brings an exhausted contentment and brain euphoria, like a good cardio workout.

Write while getting your cardio in. A workout for your mind and body at the same time. Finish absolutely exhausted, but fulfilled!

I hope Happy Hourr helps you on your pursuit of happiness, too. I’d like to gather here with you often and pursue it together. See you soon. It’s five o’clock somewhere.

Will We Ever Be Superhuman?: The Limits of Our Knowing

When I was a kid, I could swim five lengths of our backyard pool underwater without taking a breath. Almost six. Let’s call it five-and-two-thirds. I thought that was pretty cool, almost Olympian. When my friends and I competed in Hold-Your-Breath-Underwater contests, I usually won. I had a superpower.

Maybe at my best it was something over a minute. Which is nothing. Stay under for another minute and you start to breathe water into your lungs. A little bit longer and you’re unconscious. In something well short of five minutes, you’re dead.

It’s a tight limit on the fragility of the human body. Just a top-of-the-hour television commercial break without oxygen and you pass on.

That got dark quickly. Sorry about getting into mortality so quickly. That’s not really where I’m going.

Instead, I’m more interested in thinking about the limits on our human condition. Not just oxygen, but other limits as well. Discussing human limits is still a sobering topic, but hopefully not entirely macabre. While some may seem obvious or ridiculous, here’s a quick list for consideration:

  • existence in three dimensions
  • sensory input: binocular vision, binaural hearing, limited smell, taste, touch
  • one brain with two hemispheres and limited (if any) multitasking capabilities
  • one life in a fragile body – soft tissue, multiple major blood vessels capable of puncture or injury, skeletal frame unable to withstand fall of more than a few feet
  • land animal – no wings, unable to breathe oxygen in water
  • food, water and sleep requirements (fuel)
  • excretion requirements (urine, feces, sweat)
  • environmental restrictions (pressure, temperature, gravity)
  • can you think of others? leave a comment

Creatures exist in our world that are generally better than humanity in almost all of these areas. Fish survive underwater, some sea creatures withstand enormous pressure at deep ocean depths. Birds and insects fly effortlessly far over our heads, breathing thin air in a less dense atmosphere. There are animals that have better senses, survive longer with sustenance, and never sweat.

All creatures seem to exist in three dimensions. That we know of.

The one area where we seem to have all other creatures beat is the brain. We have the upper hand on gray matter. And so we consider ourselves intelligent life, the superior species, homo sapiens, and the top of the food chain.

That we know of.

Because of our vast intellect, we seldom pause to consider just how stupid and limited we might be. Sure, compared to all of the other creatures that we encounter, we are the grandmasters, the valedictorians in a world full of short-bus species. It’s easy to take for granted our status and assume that our brain capacities already define the upper limit.

But what if they don’t? What if they don’t even come close?

Isn’t it possible that, combined with our limited senses, we are bereft of the capacity to fathom more than a small percentage of the information around us? What if we just don’t have the right inputs, or the computing power, or the right processing units to fully understand what’s going on all around us all the time?

What if our intellectual limits have us drowning in a foggy reality where we can only be informed by similar cognitions of the same fog? In other words, the blind leading the blind, to the best of our sightless ability, through a multi-faceted and truth-filled world where we are only catching hazy glimpses.

We think we’re so smart. Almost Olympian. But what if our human limits set an upper boundary to understanding? Will we ever be superheroes?

My Dog is Throwing Up Water and I’m in an Existential Crisis

My dog is throwing up water. He can’t seem to keep it down. He’s a 14-year-old Shih Tzu named Jack. He’s always had a sensitive stomach. But now he laps up an entire bowl of water, walks around a bit, and spontaneously vomits, sometimes in mid-stride. When it comes back up, it’s still clear, but it’s no longer water-as-we-know-it. It’s mucus-y and thick – mixed with stomach bile, petroleum jelly, or some alien plasma goo, I don’t know.

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I don’t want to dehydrate him. So, I give him tiny bowls of water. It kinda works. The vomit piles get tinier, too.

It seems to be better if he eats first. But he’s been getting pickier and grumpier about what he eats. Part of the problem is that I’ve spoiled him. At times, he’s had lean white chicken, sweet potato, and other goodies in his bowl. Now, in his mind, this is no longer the treat, but the expectation.

So I did some research online. Not very helpful. The gulping water and vomiting thing might be:

  • empty upset stomach
  • something he ate doesn’t agree with him
  • anxiety
  • thyroid problem
  • cancer
  • the breed and old age (Shih Tzus just do this kind of thing, I guess)

So, since he’s not communicating very well, I’m left with some choices. I can:

  • keep experimenting with mixtures of food, water, amounts, times of day
  • not care, just keep cleaning up clear vomit goo
  • take him to the vet
  • put him down (not seriously considering this, but c’mon, it IS an option)

If it’s a thyroid problem or cancer, he should probably see a vet and get some help. But that’s probably not going to happen. I know; I’m awful. But in my defense,

  1. vets are expensive,
  2. it’s probably not either of those things; he seems perfectly fine otherwise, and
  3. I never said I was a role model.

But it does make me question myself a bit. After all, I took on the responsibility of the dog. This creature depends on me for care and health. There’s a contract of sorts between us. Am I shirking my end of the deal?

He has it pretty good really. We don’t buy the cheap dog food. Or the cheap treats. A lot of protein, real meat, and, as I mentioned, occasional real food as well.  He gets groomed every six weeks or so. Like a spoiled child, he’ll whine about something and, like a helicopter parent, I generally hop up and try to figure out what’s bothering the stupid mute dog.

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But I’m not always happy about it. So is that the problem? Do I make him anxious? He does seem a bit nervous. And as he’s gotten older, his eyesight and hearing are failing. I can pretty much sneak up on him and scare the bejeebers out of him. It’s hilarious. (Reminder: not a role model.)

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Mainly I believe I’m just cheap. And I’m not interested in putting more money into this thing. Especially at 14 years old which, according to this chart, means he’s about 78 years old in human age equivalency. I’m thinking DNI/DNR orders are appropriate. He’s had a good life.

I know a lot of people that treat their pets like family members and would take every life-saving measure possible for their cat, dog, iguana, ferret, or pot-bellied pig (Hopefully not fish. Please don’t waste money trying to save your fish. Flush and refresh.). And no judgment here; you do you. In fact, I’m questioning if maybe I shouldn’t be a little more like you. Willing to do what it takes to protect this animal in my care. And what does it say about me that I’m not? I could get quite introspective here, plunge into a deep existential crisis about self-actualization, life’s meaning, and the point of it all. But it’s just a dog.

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I do care about the dog. I clean his eyes and ears daily. We go for walks. I throw pieces of banana down to him when he unrelentingly stares at me with that pleading look. And I clean up his goo indoors, and outside, the firmer expulsions from his other end.

But I just don’t have it in me to go to extreme measures. And I guess I’m just going to have to accept that about myself. Though I do hope my children treat me better.

It’s Time to Admit We Need a New Space Opera

On American Idol, whenever a contestant sings a song like Last Dance, it is usually prophetic — he’s going home. So it’s no surprise that the last installment of the Star Wars franchise is subtitled, The Last Jedi. It’s time to wrap this thing up, too.

We’ve suffered through Ewoks, stilted dialogue, hammy acting, and Jar-Jar Binks. From a mile-high view, the story is tragic, dreadful, and even involves the slaughter of dozens of children. The religious cults of Jedi and Sith battle each other mercilessly, with the “light” side, time and again, failing to convince its pupils not to go “dark.” Yet we sell stuffed Chewie toys in the preschool aisle.

WARNING — SPOILERS AHEAD — WARNING — SPOILERS AHEAD — WARNING

And now, with The Last Jedi, we have porgs. While it appears porgs have existed in Star Wars literature for a few years now, their appearance in this movie is window dressing. At least the Ewoks joined in the battle. The porgs don’t do anything other than look cute, add a bit of comic relief, and sell merchandise.

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But that’s not the main problem at all. The movie is a failure about failure. Commander Poe Dameron defies orders to bomb a Dreadnought. Never mind that the bombs fall in space, the entire Rebel bomber fleet is destroyed in the process. Poe’s hubris causes a breakdown in communication between Poe and Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo leading to Poe’s defiance of her orders and his instigation of a plan to save the rebels that winds up getting the bulk of them killed. Some have labeled Poe the real villain of The Last Jedi. But he’s not purposeful, like a villain would be; he’s just stupid, proud and brash.

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So certainly Poe is a failure. But Holdo and General Leia Organa keep Captain Poe Dameron (he gets demoted) in the dark about their own plans. When he finally hears their plan, Poe quickly admits that it could work and gets behind it. So what was their reluctance? Chain of command? Then why didn’t it flow down the chain? Need to know? What was so secret? No, it was just another failure, another prideful power play costing rebel lives.

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Holdo dies in an incredible moment of self-sacrifice, beautiful and stunning in its visual and aural production. And while her act allows the rebels to escape temporarily, it introduces a weird question, “If a small ship can ram a destroyer at lightspeed and cause its destruction, why haven’t we used this tactic more often?” I mean, put a bunch of C-3POs at the wheels of freighters and cut the entire First Order fleet in half. (And why couldn’t Holdo have put a drone at the helm?)

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Luke is a whiny failure. He makes a big deal about not coming to help. Finally does as a hologram. Makes a big deal about fooling Kylo Ren, outlives Ren’s laser cannon and light saber assaults on him. And then just dies anyway. Lame. And he whines the whole time about the Jedis and, channeling Greta Garbo, he just wants to be let alone. The great Luke Skywalker becomes an old miserable bitch. And then dies.

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Yoda, precious Yoda, appears as a Force Ghost but is able to summon real lightning to destroy a stone temple and some books. Why not use that lightning on the First Order? There are probably rules, I suppose. But still, seems like you could be a little more helpful there, Master Y.

Even though the rebels make an escape, their numbers are decimated, the Last Jedi is gone, and they are on the run from a force that appears to be much better equipped. The “good news” is that there are miserable failures on both sides.

Emperor Snoke of the First Order is all talk and very little power. His own lightsaber, with crystals that are presumably attuned through the Force to his own nature, is wielded against him by Kylo Ren, his snively student.

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General Hux is an idiot. It’s played for some comic relief, I guess. But it’s hard to suspend all reason when bombers are approaching your new beast Dreadnought and you have Star Destroyers standing idly by. Or you’re chasing a slow-moving rebel ship through space and you ‘can’t catch up.’ Like, hyperjump in front of them, call in another ship, how fast can the Tie Fighters fly? Or when all these escape pods are flying around and you have a super-magnifying glass but somehow they all evade you. And finally, you’ve been given orders for ‘no survivors’ yet two people, one badly injured, walk unharmed across red-footprint-marked terrain that took speeders minutes to cross. It’s not funny anymore, it’s failure.

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I don’t quite know who we are supposed to cheer for. Rey might be the one shining light in the universe. But her best bet might be to lightspeed somewhere else, where folks show a little more common sense.

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The better option would be to let this whole thing go. It’s run its course – right into the belly of a sarlacc. Time for some intrepid science fiction writer to begin a whole new universe/franchise. But for this Star Wars space opera, the fat lady is singing. And she’s singing “Last Dance.”

Don’t Listen to Your Brain

I’m going to read a book about the brain. I’m intrigued by the title, What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite.
Here’s what I understand about DiSalvo’s thesis: Your brain likes routine. It likes safe. It likes known people, environments, and responsibilities. The brain is “happy” when it gets what it likes, but when it’s asked to change, try something new, step into the unknown, or learn, it reacts.

That reaction can alter brain chemistry and create fight-or-flight responses that tend to make us either run away from the moment or get angry and emotional, possibly even sabotaging the opportunity so that we can return to “safety.”

In the days of early humans, these brain reactions made some sense. It worked almost like a “spidey-sense” warning of possible danger — I’ve never been here before. This might be where the T.Rex lives! — and preparing the cave-dweller to either run away from the T.Rex or pick up a rock and get ready to aim for a soft spot (and then probably run).

But in a society where basic needs for safety and sustenance are generally met, the need for these brain responses has decreased dramatically. In fact, the brain’s “happiness” can interfere in our digital age with adaptation to technologies and innovation. Other human needs further up the hierarchy require introspection and the formation of new habits and practices — things the brain hates! — in order to form effective societies, develop lasting relationships, earn esteem, and reach peaks of actualization and transcendence.

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By FireflySixtySeven using Inkscape, based on Maslow’s paper, A Theory of Human Motivation., CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

It sounds like we’d all be better off if we stopped making our brains so happy. So, my first step: I’m going to read the book. My brain won’t like it one bit. I hope to really teach it a lesson.