Humans Are Amazing…and a shout out to Louis

I know I haven’t been writing lately but that’s because I have been DOING a lot of thinking. I am excited to report that the recent months have fully restored my faith in humanity! I mean, all you have to do is attend a Hands On (insert city) volunteer orientation to see that people are enthusiastic to help. Often you have to wait for months to get into an orientation, they are so packed! The world is really full of well-intended, compassionate, caring, unselfish people. I mean, sure, it is true that most people who attend volunteer orientations either never actually end up volunteering or slowly drop off the face of the earth. But life happens. Things get in the way. You are busy surviving or just being an awesome human being. Or maybe during orientation you discovered the kind of volunteering available doesn’t really meet YOUR needs. I mean we ALL go into volunteering with hope, dreams and fantasies of saving a life, of becoming someone’s idol/role model, of gaining the admiration, love and affection of thousands of abandoned and abused animals, of gaining the admiration of our family and friends “Wow, look at what he/she is doing. What a noble human!” So I completely understand why, when The Humane Society calls and asks you to help with returning phone calls and scheduling appointments, you respectfully decline and hold out for the “cool” stuff like dog behavior training.

I mean really, what’s in it for you? Your time is VERY valuable and can be better spent doing more productive things like:

making money

socializing (read: drinking with your buddies and/or acquaintances and/or alone)

shopping for new shoes

watching The Real Housewives

uploading cat videos on youtube

I mean, what’s the point of doing anything if you can’t do your FAVORITE thing??!!






Wealthy, Posh & Bored…REALLY???

“Is it possible that no amount of money can ever truly replace the power of being able to connect with a fellow human being?”

Culture Monk

day 3

by Kenneth Justice

~ “My father basically got bored of living in the West Indies so he came back home to Wales” he said

Last night I hung out at a cool little restaurant bar alongside the ocean here in Manuel Antonio where I met a mid-30ish Welsh guy who is here on holiday.

I happened to find an unexpected sum of money in my bank account a couple weeks ago so I decided to come to Costa Rica to visit an American friend of mine who is living here” he told me.

If you’re wondering how someone happens to find ‘an unexpected sum of money’ in their  bank account…so was I, “Well, let me put it this way” he said, “I am posh“….and according to the Welsh dude, “posh” means he is bloody stinking rich. His father was…

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Your T-Shirt Travels To Africa…And a Shout Out to Gabi.

Ever wondered what happens to those clothes you donated to Goodwill last year? You may have never been to Africa but chances are, your clothes will.


In Dec 2013, NPR published a story titled The Afterlife of American Clothes. Clothes donated by European and American charities end up in Gikosh, the most popular 2nd-hand clothes market in Kenya, where you can “kit yourself out on the cheap without looking cheap.”

According to an article published on This Is Africa, “practically everyone from Nairobi’s ghettos go to the middle of the Majengo slum, where the clothes are still “in fashion”, thus the market is is influential in dictating the latest fashion trends.”

One shopper says “The world is changing and the people living in the ghetto should not be left behind. The fact that they cannot afford expensive stuff doesn’t mean they can’t dress to impress too.”

After the story was published, the internet help reunite a woman with her 20-year old T-shirt. Why is this Kenian man holding a batmitzvah shirt from 1993?


Apprently,  textile recycling is a pretty big deal. 

Robert Goode, the owner of Mac Recycling in Baltimore, says textile recycling is a huge international industry. His small warehouse alone ships about 80 tons of clothes each week to buyers throughout the world, including in Central America, South America, Asia, Africa and Europe.  “Pretty much you can pick any country and there’s a market for these items,” he says.

Including Albania.

In Albania, the Gabi is quite an interesting phenomenon. Laura, from Blue(r) Highways, who is a Peace Corp Volunteer in Albania, calls it The Glorious Gabi.

 “…it seems like someone took all the vintage and used clothing gold out of all the Goodwills and Salvation Army’s of the world and somehow it ended up in Albania. It’s amazing what you can find, but you really have to dig.”

It’s perplexing to her.

“How are these large gabis possibly supported? …I’m in a country that is so focused on appearances and dressing up and having “new” clothes but where do people actually shop? This focus on appearances also carries over to a worry about never being seen doing things that are shameful (or “turp” in Shqip). This leads to the question of the Gabi as “turp.” Is it acceptable for people of a certain social standing (for example, the people I work with at the Bashkia) to shop at the Gabi?”

My parents, who live in Albania, admittingly shop there. My dad loves it but my mother is a highly socialized human (which means she REALLY cares about what people think) so for her it’s a harder pill to swallow. Occasionally she will say “We have a daughter in the US but we shop at Gabi” with slight disappointment and shame (turp). She would love nothing more than for me to ship her a giant package of new, brand name clothes, shoes (those I get her on the regular), hand bags, accessories…but I digress.

So next time you think your action (or inaction) couldn’t possibly affect people living thousands of miles away in a foreign land, think again.

We are more connected than you know.

P.S. Care packages to my mother are welcome 🙂


7 Historical Facts That Completely Challenge What You Think You Know About The World

Just when you think you understand how the world works, you learn…

1. The swastika was actually a symbol of good — until the Nazis got ahold of it.

The swastika has been around for over 3,000 years and commonly symbolized goodness and luck, up until its use by the Nazis in Germany. The now reviled image was used by cultures all over the world, including early Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and even Native Americans.

In more recent history, the swastika was still prominent just before the rise of the Nazi party. A few American uniforms featured the symbol in World War I, Coca Colaused it in advertising and, as seen above in this picture of the Edmonton Swastikas,sports teams even took its name. The Nazis deeply complicated the swastika’s long existence as a symbol for good, and looking back upon its thousands of years of prominence in cultural history can yield some results that appear incredibly strangewith contemporary eyes. To salvage the image, it has been proposed that the clockwise version of the swastika should represent evil while counterclockwise would represent goodness.
2. Drunk debates were once a key aspect of any important decision-making process.

drunk debate

Perhaps you don’t have to be Don Draper to believe in the necessity of alcohol at the work place. When famous Greek historian Herodotus, travelled to Persia around 450 B.C., he found a culture that deeply valued the wisdom that comes while being drunk. The Persians he encountered would make sure that particularly important arguments were debated both while sober and drunk, as only ideas that made sense in both states were truly worthwhile. This process went both ways: Arguments originally had while drunk would be debated again the next day in soberness, and dry arguments would be followed up with discussions over wine.

C.S. Lewis expanded upon this idea in his “Letters to Malcolm,” when he wrote:

I know this is the opposite of what is often said about the necessity of keeping all emotion out of our intellectual processes – ‘you can’t think straight unless you are cool.’ But then neither can you think deep if you are. I suppose one must try every problem in both states. You remember that the ancient Persians debated everything twice: once when they were drunk and once when they were sober.

Image: WikiCommons
3. The Olympic Games used to award medals for art.


Maybe artists deserve varsity jackets, too. From 1912 to 1948, the Olympics heldcompetitions in the fine arts, with medals being awarded for architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture. The art produced was required to be Olympics-themed, so gold-winning pieces had names like, “Knockdown” and “Étude de Sport.” The first winning work of literature was actually written by the founder of the modern Olympics, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, who supposedly wrote the piece, “Ode to Sport,” under a pseudonym.

According to Frédy, adding an arts component to the modern Olympics was necessary because the ancient Greeks used to hold art festivals alongside the games. Over the years, dancing, film, photography and theatre were all proposed as additional events, but none of these ever became medal categories. In total, 151 medals were awarded before the Olympics removed the art competitions in favor of requiring host cities to provide cultural events to accompany the games.

Image: WikiCommons
4. Pink wasn’t always a girl’s color and blue a boy’s color — in fact, it was once the other way around.

pink girl blue boy

The distinction of blue for boys and pink for girls didn’t take full hold until the middle of the 20th century. Many people already know that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt wore dresses as a child, but this was common practice for the time. Children would wear gender neutral, mostly white clothing that was easy to bleach clean, and wouldn’t get haircuts until around the age of six or seven. It wasn’t until department stores started marketing gender-specific colors that parents began to worry about making sure their children were wearing the “right” outfits.

Even when mass marketing began, the messages were mixed. The trade publication “Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department” featured an article suggesting, “the generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”
5. English was once a language for “commoners,” while the British elites spoke French.


Despite the severity with which some contemporary English-speakers vehemently attack “incorrect” uses of the language, English used to belong to the people. In the formative years of the language, it was only spoken by “commoners,” while the English courts and aristocracy mostly spoke in French. This was due to the Norman Invasion of 1066 and caused years of division between the “gentlemen” who had adopted the Anglo-Norman French and those who only spoke English. Even the famed King Richard the Lionheart was actually primarily referred to in French, asRichard “Coeur de Lion.”

To further mess with your preconceptions about the English language, the “British accent” was actually created after the Revolutionary War, meaning contemporary Americans sound more like the colonists and British soldiers of the 18th century than contemporary Brits. Of course, accents vary greatly by region, but the “BBC English”or public school English accent (which sounds like Austin Powers) didn’t come about until the 19th century and was originally adopted by people who wanted to sound fancier.
6. Money was once designed to discourage people from having too much of it.


Perhaps having quick and easy money isn’t truly in our best interests. According to Greek historian Plutarch, in his “Life of Lycurgus,” the Spartans used long and heavyiron rods as their currency in hopes that it would discourage them from pursuing large amounts of wealth. This unusual currency was called “obeloi” and was supposedly so cumbersome that carrying multiple rods would require oxen.

A couple other things that might change the way you think about contemporary money: American presidents weren’t originally supposed to be on the nation’s currency, as that was seen as a practice of monarchies. Also, the idea civilizations relied on established barter systems before the rise of physical currency is probably incorrect. People may have traded things, but one of the only well-known bartering practices was more of a bonding and sex ritual between tribes in Northern Australia called the dzamalag.

7. A good night of sleep used to mean waking up sometime in the middle.


Are we sleeping all wrong? According to growing research about sleeping habitsbefore the 20th century, people didn’t always sleep in one long block, but would briefly wake up in the middle to split the slumber into two sessions. During this time, people would reportedly engage in all sorts of activities, with the more scholarly using the time to read and write, while couples might spend the break having sex.

The two-part sleeping pattern was the product of people going to bed much earlier before the invention of electricity, which meant the world actually went dark when the sun set. For those who assumed candles were regularly lit at night before electric lights, historian Craig Koslofsky points out in his book, “Evening’s Empire,” that we tend to overestimate their importance. He writes, “even the wealthy, who could afford candlelight, had better things to spend their money on. There was no prestige or social value associated with staying up all night.”

Contemporary society seems to have adjusted to the single session of sleep, but that doesn’t mean the transition has been entirely smooth. It has been suggested that those who consistently wake up in the middle of the night and have trouble falling back asleep, may simply have bodies that yearn for the way we used to operate.
Bonus Legend: Tickling may have been used as torture.

TK TK gifshan dynasty

This one may be more of a legend, but still, tickling is not funny, dammit! It was apparently used as a form of torture during the Han Dynasty, as captives would recover quickly and no physical signs of abuse were left on the body. The ancient Romans may have also used tickle torture, where a goat would be brought in to lick the captive’s feet.

Although there is only shaky evidence that either of these modes of torture were actually employed, there appear to have been cases in which severe tickling was deemed abuse in more contemporary times.


Being friends with people at the bottom…REALLY???

I have come to believe that the best way to connect with others is to forget about what divides us.

Culture Monk

polar plunge 7

By Kenneth Justice

~ Yesterday at coffee a friend of mine was telling me that he’s never made the right kind of connections in life, “I’ve never been good at playing the game and schmoozing with the big dogs” he said, “I’ve always been more likely to become good friends with the janitors and coffee barista’s then with the CEO’s or General Manager’s” he said

My friend was implying that this was a short-coming on his part; because he’s never developed the knack for rubbing shoulders with ‘important people’ he somehow felt that this was something to be sorrowful over,

But dude” I said, “You’ve got a Master’s Degree from the University of Michigan, you’re fairly accomplished in your profession, and in my eyes you are one of the important people; you’re humble, laid back, you’ve been a faithful friend to me, and…

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Elephants can recognise the gender and ethnicity of human voices


The animals can even tell an adult from a child just by hearing their voice

Wild elephants can recognise the gender and ethnicity of a person just by listening to the sound of their voice, a new study has found.

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Sussex found the animals demonstrated more fear when they heard the voices of adult Masai men, compared to Kamba men.

Karen McComb, a professor of animal behaviour and cognition at the University of Sussex, and her colleagues at the University went to Amboseli National Park in Kenya, where hundreds of wild elephants live among humans.

“Basically they have developed this very rich knowledge of the humans that they share their habitat with,” Prof McComb explained.

The scientists used voice recordings of Maasai men, who on occasion come into conflict with elephants, and Kamba men, who are less of a threat to the animals.

The recordings contained the same phrase in two different languages: “Look over there. A group of elephants is coming.”

The elephants reacted more defensively by retreating and gathering in a bunch to the Maasai language recording because it was associated with the more threatening human tribe, according to the study co-author Graeme Shannon, of Colorado State University.

“They are making such a fine-level discrimination using human language skills,” Mr Shannon said. “They’re able to acquire quite detailed knowledge. The only way of doing this is with an exceptionally large brain.”

They repeated the experiment with recordings of Maasai men and women. Since women rarely spear elephants, the animals reacted less to the women’s voices. The same thing happened when they substituted their voices with the voices of young boys.

“Making this kind of fine distinctions in human voice patterns is quite remarkable,” said Emory University animal cognition expert Frans de Waal, who was not part of the study.


Homeless Jesus, the Internet…and Comment Of The Year Award.


Last week I watched a you tube video of Rahat (from Magic of Rahat) giving $1000 to a homeless man by pretending he won the lottery. Homeless lotto winner brought everyone to tears last week when he said “I would like to share it” after he couldn’t believe he just “won” $1000. Over the weekend, the internet has decided to reward him for restoring faith in humanity and to date $35,150 have been raised for Eric, the homeless man who just wanted to share his earnings with his benefactor. “Pay it forward” the internet is saying. One donor commented “Eric – Pay it forward. I lost my job. But you deserve this more.” Another said “Let’s hope together we can change your life. Your integrity touched me.”

The idea is clear. Eric is not just homeless. He is deserving.

He is not the only one. Homeless jesuses live amongst us. In fact, I’m convinced that people who have less and struggle more are more willing to give to others. They know what it’s like.

In Feb 2014, the news broke out about a recovering alcoholic, homeless hungarian man who won £1.7m. ‘I have become rich but I have not become a different person,’ he said. A large portion of the cash was to be used to set up a foundation for addicts and women abused by their husbands. He had already proven his generosity as the win (which happened in September 2013) remained a secret until he made a sizeable donation to a hostel for the homeless in February 2014. And get this, the story was so inspiring that  human rights activists organised a wave of protests worldwide against a new Hungarian law that bans sleeping rough, in a country that has 30,000 homeless people. Demonstrations were held in front of Hungarian embassies and consulates in London, Paris, New York, Vienna, Lisbon, Dublin, Brussels, Essen and Istanbul. A Hungarian NGO run by homeless people, A Város Mindenkié (The City is for All), staged protests in Budapest against the law, which threatens those living on the streets with a fine or imprisonment.

In Sep ’13 Dennis Mahurin a 58 year old homeless man who has been living in a tent in Bloomington, Illinois, since 1978 won $50,000 in scratch off ticket. Despite his win, he had no intention on moving elsewhere. His plan, buy a new tent and give $100 to each homeless guy camped out around him. He said “I always knew God had a plan for me, I just didn’t know. Now the door is starting to open. I’m paying it forward.”

Last year, through the internet raised $150K for a homeless man who return a woman’s lost engagment ring. The story was big and a lot of people were talking about. Many didn’t agree with giving a homeless man money. “That won’t solve his problems” they said.

“Why do people love forking over money for this kind of crap but hate paying taxes?” one said.

Another person added: “He kinda said it himself.”What I actually feel like is, ‘what has the world come to when a person who returns something that doesn’t belong to him and all this happens?It’s like people are saying that every other homeless person would have pawned the ring. Like he’s doing something so out of character that he deserves a reward.””

Another comment pretty much sums up how I personally feel about the issue: 

“Yes!” exclaimed Joe Q. Public, leaping from the couch so quickly his bowl of Cheetos exploded on the floor, “another homeless man to fulfill my Weekend Warrior needs! Quickly, to The Internet! I shall donate to this man ten dollars!”

He sat down and furiously typed away at the keyboard.

“Dad,” his small child said “why are you so excited about this, dad?”

The father smiled and lifted his child onto his knee, even the room seemed to grow quiet awaiting the sage words from this wizened man.

“You see son,” the father began, “donating money to this homeless man allows me to feel like I’m doing something useful while simultaneously pretending that homelessness isn’t an actual problem. This lets me throw money at an individual man, while ignoring and not doing anything to solve the root causes of homelessness itself. It lets me pretend I solved a problem while doing nothing to ensure the root causes don’t continue to be a problem.”

The child wrinkles his nose in though. “So that’s like all those soup kitchens and battered women’s homes and shivering people in blankets on the side of the road we ignore on our way to church instead of stopping to help? Because we say that we’ll pray for them later?”

“It’s exactly like that, son.” His father said, emphasizing it with a tap to his child’s nose. “You see, actually solving big problems like this requires work, and effort and a lot of time. Time your father doesn’t have because I have a job. Also the new season of American Idol is starting, and we’ll need to watch that, so you see why we can’t do more. Even though we totally want to of course.” He added the last almost as an afterthought.

“That’s why things like this are so good for us, son. Stories like this, and that New York cop late last year who bought shoes for the homeless man. We get to share these stories on facebook, or tell our friends we donated when it comes up and this sort of self-praise really pushes away the fact that nothing was ever even remotely accomplished. ”

“And to top it all off, I’m actually going to vote for a politician in the next election who’s platform and policies actually make life more difficult for the needy. Thus, ensuring things like this continue to happen.”

“Wow dad! I can’t wait to be a Weekend Warrior just like you!” the child said, his eyes filled with wonder and excitement.

The father smiled and pulled his wallet from his pants, fishing for cash behind his seven credit cards.

“Well let’s get you started son. I’m going to give you a $50 bill and a $1 bill, and the next time you see those Salvation Army Santas ringing the bell outside the shopping mall where you’re going to buy your new Xbox, You open that wallet with pride, you think to yourself ‘gosh I wish I had something bigger’ and you give them that $1 bill with your head held high.”

“Because you just saved the world, son.”

Why Preschoolers Can Outsmart College Students

Simple test of logic produces surprising win for 4 and 5-year-olds over college students.


Preschoolers can outsmart college students because they are less biased and more flexible than adults, a new study finds.

The conclusion comes from research published in the journal, Cognition, which put 170 college undergrads up against 106 four and five-year-olds in a test of learning and reasoning (Lucas et al., 2014).

Both groups had to try and figure out a game called ‘Blickets’, which was invented for the study.

The game was simple enough for the preschoolers to understand and only involved watching researchers put simple clay objects, like cylinders, pyramids and cubes, onto a box.

Then the box either lit up and played some music or didn’t.

From the object, or combination of objects, that were put on the box, participants had to work out which objects were ‘blickets’: in other words which objects or combinations had the power to make the box light up.

Open to new ideas

The difference between the young adults and the preschoolers was that young children were quicker to pick up on changing evidence.

Preschoolers were much more likely to notice that sometimes unusual combinations of objects would make the box light up.

One of the study’s authors, Alison Gopnik writes:

“The kids got it. They figured out that the machine might work in this unusual way and so that you should put both blocks on together. But the best and brightest students acted as if the machine would always follow the common and obvious rule, even when we showed them that it might work differently.”

Unlike preschoolers, even the smartest young adults were less likely to entertain new theories, even in the face of new evidence.

In contrast, the young children unconsciously followed a model of statistical reasoning called Bayesian logic, which is all about updating predictions on the basis of new data.

Flexible learners

The question now is: how come children are such flexible learners and how can we learn from how they learn?

The researchers conclude that:

“The very fact that children know less to begin with may, paradoxically, make them better, or at least more open-minded, learners. The plasticity of early beliefs may help to explain the bold exploration and breathtaking innovation that characterizes children’s learning.” (Lucas et al., 2014).

The following video from UC Berkeley shows the study in action and Alison Gopnik explaining the results:

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