Monday, June 26, 2017

Life is a series of "normals"

Life is a series of "normals" all packaged up in bundle of "normals".

What's normal for you today? Waking up a certain time. Seeing certain people. Doing certain things.

Sure, but even those move around a bit.  Here's one example:  Where I live, even if I wake up at the same time each day, its perfectly normal for it to be dark when I wake up in the winter, and bright sunshine in the summer.  Two different "normals" within another "normal".

I also hate waking up in the dark, so I look forward to summer, but as fall approaches my attitude toward the transition to the next normal is not super-healthy. My attitude even manages to persist despite my full realization that the transition between the normals doesn't give a wazoo about my attitude toward it. It is going to proceed with or without my approval.

Our culture has developed means of dealing with some of the transitions from one "normal" to the next one. We pretty much have "The Big Five" covered: birth, coming of age, sickness/death, marriage/divorce and job change covered. We probably worked on those because they're obvious, I guess, and to some extent, they happen often enough and affect a larger number of people.

I worry about new normals that are really isolated to just one or two people. Transitions that won't get the same support as the "Big Five". Just because a transition is small and maybe not a "Big Five" doesn't make the transition any less significant. There are times when a new normal is not something someone might want to talk about openly. In those instances, we are left with no support system to make the transition. Sometimes we may even be completely alone.

Just like the timing of the sunrise, the transition will proceed regardless of our attitude toward it and whether or not we are alone or supported by friends. I worry about people in these circumstances because I think that finding a new normal is hard work and best done in company.  I also worry about them because the American mystique of rugged individualism can cause people to affix blame, guilt, shame and draw imaginary causation lines that can impede a path toward a new normal.

The goal of the transitions is for the next normal to be at least as healthy as was the prior one.  That's not hoping for too much, is it?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Don't Look Back

Huey Lewis and the News had a song on their 1991 album "Hard at Play" called "Don't Look Back".

The song was about taking matters into your own hands and not doubting yourself. It wasn't popular, but I liked it. I was young at that point in my life, having not learned about things like patience and relationships, I would hum it as a bit of an anthem toward moving onto the next thing, which in my romanticized thoughts, would always manage to be better than the current thing.

As I've gotten older, the thought of finding something new and (of course, by definition, better) has not left my thought process. However, as I was considering needing to take a next step, the damn song managed to pop up on my music player in the car as I was leaving the tire store with a set of new tires.

I have to say, that it had a whole new meaning for my older, still-free-spirited-but-more-self-aware-self. What I heard it saying to me was that when I do finally move on (and I will eventually move on), it will be not from some sense of freeing myself from the chains that bind me, but rather because where I was right now didn't need me as much as where I was going needs me. I would still "Not look back", but it would be not out of some denial of doubt, but because I was confident that I was exiting a situation that was self-sufficient and set up for success and prosperity without me.

So, besides proving that I was somehow - for better or for worse - different than had been in 1991, it made me realize how much I care about myself and the effect I have on other people. I didn't think of that back in 1991 when I left a situation looking for the next best thing. I guess, looking back, at the time, I considered myself unnecessary, not living up to my potential (whatever the hell that was/is). The people I left were hurt by my decision. Years later, they reminded me of just how hurt they were.

Moving on and changing is perfectly normal and part of life. The condition of the situations and relationship in our past, that - at least to some extent - is up to us.

Monday, June 12, 2017

I Feel Important

I had an experience recently in which someone gave me something that made me change my mind about myself.

This person, in a longer than usual conversation, did three specific things that, when taken together made me reconsider my opinion of myself.

At the end of it all, my big revelation was that I felt important.  Yes.  That's it.  I felt important.  This feeling of importance was anchored not in role I play or a position I hold or anything I said or did. Rather it is a feeling of inherent important.

At the bottom of what happened to me was that at some point, I came to understand that my underlying "big assumption" about myself was that I considered myself to be inherently unimportant. I also realized that this assumption was inherently bullsh!t.

This sudden self-awareness of my own inherent importance didn't come to me from a third party.  It came from me. There was a third party that acted as a catalyst, but "I felt important" is very, very different from "so-and-so made me feel important". I am also pretty sure there was no conscious intention on the part of the third party to act in this role.

I can see how saying something like "I felt important" can sound narcissistic, especially in this age of rampant individualism. How about if I were to phrase it this way: "I realized I wasn't unimportant." Does that calm the bristle of self-praise enough? I think actually that "not unimportant" might actually be closer to what I actually felt.

The colors and smells and flavors of my time are different now.

I wish the same for you.

Monday, June 5, 2017


Someone once told me that they saw life as a series of doors.  Some doors we see and walk through.  Some we see and avoid.  Some we see and are sort of pushed or pulled through.  Then, there are lots and lots we just miss entirely.

Thursdays are normally boring.  That's why television content providers focus so much on that day, because people don't have much to do.  But every then and again, on a particular Thursday a door appears before us.  We actually see it.  The question is do we walk through it?

Those pesky expectations get in the way.  What do we expect there to be on the other side of that door on any particular Thursday.  Those expectations cause risk or elation and we either walk through or we don't.  And then, does what's on the other side of the door on any particular Thursday meet or match our expectations?  The whole time, we are so preoccupied with truing up the reality with the expectations that we miss what is in front of us.

My friend who told me about life as a series of doors did so to communicate to me that walking through them is good, but having expectations about what lies on the other side is bad.  My friend told me that it was hard to reconcile this until you got good at it.  My friend told me that once I finally got good at it, I would forget about whatever it was that kept me on this side of so many doors for so long.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Memorial Day

I have seen war. I have seen war on land and sea. I have seen blood running from the wounded. I have seen men coughing out their gassed lungs. I have seen the dead in the mud. I have seen cities destroyed. I have seen 200 limping, exhausted men come out of line — the survivors of a regiment of 1,000 that went forward 48 hours before. I have seen children starving. I have seen the agony of mothers and wives. I hate war.

FDR, August 14, 1946

Now, it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war. If America's soul becomes totally poisoned, part of the autopsy must read: Vietnam. It can never be saved so long as it destroys the deepest hopes of men the world over.

MLK, April 4, 1967

I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.

Dwight Eisenhower, Undated

War may sometimes be a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary, it is always an evil, never a good. We will not learn how to live together in peace by killing each other's children.

Jimmy Carter, December 10, 2002

Monday, May 22, 2017

Its Graduation Season

So many people are being graduated from high schools and colleges all over the place this year.  I kind of hang out in what might be called "affluent" circles where graduating again and again is kind of the norm.  This year, the graduation bug hit my house.  I am finishing up my (first and probably only) Masters degree.  My wife is finishing a professional degree and our youngest daughter is being graduated from high school. 

And now we move on.  But to where?  My daughter is most likely going to go to college.  My wife I think is done school for a while and ready to implement what she has learned.  For me, its a long-ish path whose end I can't really envision from here.

With growth, there is change.  With change there is loss.  Loss of what is known even if we were "so done" with what had been known.  And our expectations pop up.  "Now that I have this, done, this will happen."  The answer is always the same:  "Maybe, maybe not."  Yup, no matter where you go, no matter what you do, those are always the two choices.
As so many people and families I know are staring at graduation, I take a pause for them.  Ambiguity can be scary for some folks.  I hope they have the strength of community to address them and grow into their new selves.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Have you run into the yellow, egg-like substance served on hotel “free” breakfast bars yet?

Eggs a la 2017
I travel a lot for work, so I stay in a lot of mid-line hotels.  I see this stuff a lot.

What is it, exactly?  From a few feet away, it looks like eggs, but the closer you get to it, the less and less it looks like eggs.  I mean it still looks like eggs, but my bullsh!t sensors go off when I get too close.

There is even a US Egg Product Inspection Act.  It was passed during the Nixon administration, so we have been eating this sh!t for quite some time.

I remember a few months ago there was an accident on our highway when a tanker truck carrying what the news referred to as “processed egg product” overturned causing an egg spill.  We have a mayonnaise plant in town, so I’m assuming that’s where it was going.

At what point does our need to not eat processed egg product supersede our need keep costs down?  Am I the only one who wishes that our government would step up and define what eggs are?

Monday, May 8, 2017

Superman to the rescue!

The United States recently went through a rather abrupt change in leadership when the pre-ordained winner of the presidential election, in fact didn’t defeat the other candidate who was the pre-ordained sacrificial lamb.

The result has been (amongst other things) an equally abrupt redefinition of goals and the way we measure results.  The two candidates were as different from a personality standpoint as their policies, goals and objectives seem to be.

What we see coming from this latest episode of patch-the-dike governance is a “Superman/Lex Luthor Syndrome”.  A condition in which one person is seen as the sole reason why good or ill exists in the world – and/or why good things happen or why bad things happen.

We have enculturated this. We like to quote where the stock market was when a president took office versus where it was when his (so far, they’ve all been men) office ended – insinuating that somehow he single handedly had a role in whatever progress or regression occurred on his watch.
The French national elections happened yesterday and the anti-immigrant candidate lost.  As a result, I saw posts that claimed “and end to xenophobia in France”.  Holy crap, Batman!  The winner isn’t even scheduled to take office for a while and he’s already being credited with ending xenophobia!  If it was that easy, we should have elected him years ago.

Superman/Lex Luthor gives us an out.  If we drag ourselves to the polls once every four years, we can say that we’ve done our part in ending xenophobia, or whatever other ill needed to be ended.  And THAT is one of the big contributors to why nothing ever gets done.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Earth Day, 2017

Hey, Hey, whaddya say?!

It's Earth Day again.

A day set aside by certain of Earth's occupants to worry about the condition of the one planet nearby that can sustain life.

It's not much of a planet, really. According to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, its "an utterly insignificant little blue-green planet far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy". The Guide continues, adding that it circles a sun which can best be described as: "A small, unregarded yellow star in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the galaxy. It is home to a number of planets, including Earth..."

Here's the thing.  The occupants of this shabby little planet vacillate between being utterly preoccupied with the condition of said planet and being quite ambivalent about it. Happily, this week is the day - or maybe, if we're lucky, the week - they are preoccupied by it.

What the occupants - who by comparison would seem to make the planet itself seem quite the keeper - fail to recognize is that the planet itself doesn't give a wahoozie whether they live or die. Some of them are entirely way too worried about causing the destruction of their shabby little home, when in fact they are really just parading around their arrogance when they concoct such stories. The truth is this: the worst - or depending on your viewpoint, the best - possible outcome is that certain occupants would merely make the planet uninhabitable for themselves for a certain number of millennia - say three or ten. Actually, they would probably muck up the whole planet up for all the occupants - even the ones who have nothing at all to gain from the processes that led to the mucking.

Sorry about all the foul language. I know how sensitive we are to everyone's feelings.

Anyway, Happy Earth Day. It's kind of like a baby's first birthday party in which the guest of honor is kind of oblivious to the whole affair.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Don't Buy The Narratives

We like to think we are free. That we have free choice. That God granted us free will. I think we believe this because it makes us feel good. It makes us feel like that American dream is right there, ready for us to take. All we have to do is choose to take it.
But this is only part of the story. We are also subject to our environments. We see what we see, and maybe even more importantly, we don’t see what we don’t see.
Go to school, get a job, get married, buy a house, fill it with stuff, have a family. This is one of the narratives that I think many of us do see. We see it on TV.  We hear it from people who love us.  It is encoded into our society.   However, this narrative is itself wrapped inside other narratives. Its dependent on some things to be true.  It also causes some things to need to be true.  Here are few of those adjoining narratives:
  1. That inequality is virtuous. Winning all of something at the risk of winning all of nothing is inherently unavoidable, but it goes beyond unavoidable - its actually good.  Its good for us.
  2. That there are "haves" and "have-nots" is all part of the game - its unavoidable.
  3. Employment is the path to success and as a result, unemployment is also inherently unavoidable.
  4. That if you just have enough money you can eventually have anything you want.
  5. That wanting things is the first step on a pathway that results in actually having them: Wanting stuff is good.
  6. That competition is better than collaboration in all circumstances.
  7. That participating in the competition is a human right.
  8. The right to compete is inherent to liberty and freedom.
  9. We can't possibly be happy if we eliminate the potential for us each individually to be wealthy - a member of the 1%.
These are some of the narratives under which we are all operating.
Don’t buy them.

Monday, February 27, 2017

What we have here, is a failure to communicate

I have to say that as time goes on, I grow more and more deeply concerned that the big gap affecting our nation is between the "have's" and the "have-nots".  The "having" though, isn't about money, or power or motivation.  What I am concerned with is our ability to communicate.

The vast majority of us really, really do not communicate well anymore.

For Bernie Sanders, the gap was money. I don't disagree with that.

For Ayn Rand, the gap was motivation. I don't disagree with that.

For Me, today, its communication.

Now, I'm not saying that communication trumps motivation or money, they are clearly interrelated. One isn't the king of the other, and so on, although depending on the situation at hand, priority will need to be given to one or the other.

I guess my intention here is to point out what I'm seeing. This week, I had the pleasure of helping a grown professional - older than me - organize his/her thoughts into something that the end user might actually find helpful.

This person actually objected to my comments on his/her original work, even at one point refusing to integrate my comments entirely or refusing to use any communication tool at all.  This "final" version was all jumbled up: Ideas interspersed with facts. Floating facts with no apparent connection to the general conversation. No goals.  No recommendations.  No summary piece.  References listed that weren't actually referenced. On top of that, it was esthetically ugly  The proposed presentation piece was a black print on white paper, two pages with a staple.

That someone would consider this work "final" made me wonder what this person's objectives actually were. This person is reasonably successful professional with a Master's level education and years of experience.

And then to have this person fight back and to defend the work; to insist that a re-work wasn't necessary. And then to position things in such a way that any failure would be mine to take.

It was embarrassing, really.

Maybe I just read into this person's work based on what I am seeing in the greater world. Being stuck on ideology really alleviates the need for communication. Maybe I have that backwards. Maybe our general inability to communicate makes ideology more attractive.

Either way, its no less embarrassing.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"Our" Time

In 1942, while in prison, the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a compelling reflection on the ethical challenges posed by his times. Bonhoeffer is known for addressing the intersections of social action/politics and theology.
At the end of his life he was revising his theology, and provided an outline of a new book focusing on the “real meaning of Christian faith.” His core thesis of this work is:
“Our relation to God is not a ‘religious’ relationship to the highest, most powerful, and best Being imaginable – that is not authentic transcendence – but our relation to God is a new life in ‘existence for others’, through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendental is not infinite and unattainable tasks, but the neighbor who is within reach in any given situation.”
Bonhoeffer was very good at asking penetrating questions about the intersections of trust and optimism, freedom and responsible action, and of the nature of evil and the power of folly.

Whichever way you lean in these times, the tension in the air is hard to miss. Differences seem to be outweighing commonalities and wedges are appearing in places where wedges had previously been rare or non-existent. But, our time is not unique. It is reminiscent of many times in our history. Some of us have lived through one or more of those times, some have only read about them.

It makes me consider where my own theology has evolved during the past three years – or maybe it hasn’t. What does my theology challenge me to do now? How does it comfort me? What does it offer me and others?

I supposed these questions are not tied to this moment in time. They’re maybe not more relevant than they had been, but they seem to seem more relevant, at least to me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Saint Valentine's Day

Today is Saint Valentine's Day.

It's so easy to be cynical about so many things on Saint Valentine's Day.

Well, its easy for me, anyway. Based on the sales numbers of chocolate, flowers, Victoria's Secret and every restaurant in America, I am clearly in the minority.

My oldest child was born on Saint Valentine's day, so at least for the past 20 years, I have been distracted.

I try so hard, really I do. Romantic love is so bought and sold - its tiring. I am pretty sure we'd be much better off without Saint Valentine's Day.

I'm such a downer. I'm sorry. I hope you have fun today. I hope today brings you joy. I hope it brings you chocolate and flowers and a nice dinner with someone you love and sex. I hope it brings you romance. All of those things are so important to us as humans. I wish you luck. And keep in mind, that all of the things of this day (chocolate, flowers, dinner and sex) are available with or without intimate companionship. If nobody is going to make your life brighter, make your own life a little brighter.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Roman Catholic Church

Catholic Church or a derivative of it operates the following institutions in the United States(1):

Elementary Schools:  6,288
Secondary Schools:  1,210
Colleges & Universities:  197
Hospitals:  639
Long Term Care Facilities:  1,400

There are another 1,161 colleges and universities throughout the globe. 

These organizations attended to the following as of their last reporting:

Outpatient Visits:  over 101 Million
Inpatient Admissions:  over 5 Million
Emergency Room visits:  over 20 Million
Elementary Students:  over 1.6 Million
High School Students:  over 638,000
College Students:  950,000

(1) According to Wikipedia, the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and the Catholic Health Association of the United States, as of December 13, 2016.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Saturn and Memory

When I was in Junior High school at Parkside Junior  High  School in Manchester NH, specifically in Mr. Gatsas' science class, I took a quiz on a particular Friday.  The quiz was about the solar system and one of the questions was about the Rings of Saturn.  I took the quiz and went home and that was that.

Over the weekend, scientists reported that it turned out that common understanding about the Rings of Saturn had been wrong.  I don't remember the details, but it had to do with a characteristic of the rings, the number, their composition or something like that.

Well, as it turns out, what had been correct on Friday when I took the quiz was on Monday, quite incorrect.  So, when Mr. Gatsas handed back the quiz with my response marked correct, I questioned him on it, explaining that it had in fact not been correct.  Neither was our beloved and revered textbook.

We resolved to accept the now-incorrect answer as correct because on Friday - when we had taken the quiz - it was correct.  What we knew was what we knew - how were we to know that what we knew was actually wrong.  Plus, as a 13 year old, I was drawing the ire of my classmates.

But the truth is, it was wrong.  What was more bothersome is that what I had been taught just last week was wrong just a couple days later!  I had been sold and bought this school stuff as though it were incontrovertibly true.  How surprised was I to find out that it was, in fact, quite controvertible.

Later on in my undergraduate studies, I wrote a lengthy paper on memory: how it works.  It wasn't so much about memory, but more about recall.  I got a very good grade on it as well and was recommended for publication, etc.

I just got done watching a TED talk about neuro-plasticity:  the flexibility of our brains.  Funny thing.  Turns out all that stuff I had written back there in undergraduate land was also quite controvertible.  Seems that we each learn, remember and recall differently.  There are some similarities, but the truth is, we are all different.  And get this - if our brain should happen to be damaged, we might even be able to move the memories to another part of the brain.

Or at least that's what they kids are learning these days.  I wonder what they'll think of next.

Monday, January 16, 2017

You Can't Hurt Me

The truth of the matter is simple:  You can't hurt me.

You can physically hurt me, sure.  You can break a bone or cut my skin or pull my eye right out of my face.  You can cause me pain.

But hurting me.  Only I can do that.  With words, or even deeds - you are in charge of what you say, or what you do.  But just as you are in charge of what you say or what you do, I am in charge of what I think about what you say or what you do.   My body may direct me to think in a particular way by causing me to feel hurt or injured or harmed in some way, but once I feel that feeling, once I think that though, I am not under any obligation to remain attached to that thought, to that feeling.

Up to and maybe even including killing me, I am capable of being in control of my thoughts.  I am not always in control of my emotions directly, but my thoughts can influence my emotions.  I cannot control my body feeling pain (some say that's not true, you can, but I can't so, I'm leaving it there for now), but I am free to think what I want to think and feel what I want to feel about that pain and about those emotions.

The truth of the matter is this:  You can do physical harm to my body. But you can't hurt me because whether I like it or not, I am in control of what I think and how I feel.

Monday, January 9, 2017

"Safe" Areas

I live about an hour from the North Carolina state line - close enough that I get e-mails from an organization called "Equality NC".  They fight for equal rights for the LGBT community.

Right now, they are fighting this ridiculous HB-2, which makes it officially OK to physically harm someone if you feel threatened by them being in what you consider to be the "wrong" bathroom.  Basically, in NC, its OK to beat up or even kill a trans person if you feel threatened.  Its a ridiculous law, passed in a day (actually, it was less than 12 hours.  Check it out here) by a Republican assembly (the Democrats stormed out in protest - that's some effective leadership there, wouldn't you say?) that preempts local sovereignty (so much for small government) and a variety of federally guaranteed rights - you know in the Constitution and stuff like that.

You can read the whole thing here. This isn't in some third world country.  Not in some banana republic.  Nope. Right here in the US of A.

This isn't new.  So, you're probably wondering why my sudden interest.

This e-mail I just got from Equality NC was asking for LGBT "Safe" areas.  It was asking for allies to the LGBT community to provide safe space.  I do know something about this as an organization with which I am affiliated provides safe space for similarly disenfranchised groups.

Here is what really hit me.  If we need to create LGBT "Safe" Areas, what does that make the rest of our country?  An LGBT Unsafe Zone.  Are we saying effectively that it is unsafe to be LGBT in America?

What about Muslim?  I would think it's OK to discriminate against that group too. 

I'm betting that black folks who tell their sons not to question police when they're stopped think the same thing.

Women have to prove that they weren't "asking for it" when they accuse a man of rape.

Children.  Oh gosh. Let's not even go there.

For whom is America safe? Let's make a list.  Someone grab a piece of paper and pen and start writing.  We'll make a list of everyone for whom America is a safe place.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Notable (to me) 2016 Deaths

For the past couple years, I have found it centering to go through and list the people who died who somehow touched my life and briefly note why here.  Its been quite a year, actually.  Packed house this year. Here is 2016's List (Sorted by last name):

Cassius Clay/Muhammad Ali:  Conscientious objector extraordinaire.  Social Activist.  Oh yea, and boxer, too.
David Bowie:  aka Ziggy Stardust.  He was only 69.  Cancer.
Fidel Castro:  Revolutionist.  America nose-thumber.
Muhammad Ali.  Had trouble picking between this
picture and the one with him standing with
Malcom X.
Leonard Cohen:  Hallelujah.  Singer of his own style.
Natalie Cole:  Singer.  Daughter of Nat King Cole.  She was really sick, generally stemming from drug addiction issues, but heart failure finally got her.
Pat Conroy:  Awesome author from South Carolina who wrote about his screwed up childhood.
Umberto Eco:  Author.
Keith Emerson: in "Emerson, Lake and Palmer."  Not a good year for ELP, see below.
Jose Fernandez:  Young star pitcher and Cuban refugee.  Died doing something stupid.  Very sad.
Glenn Frey:  Lead Singer of the Eagles.  I loved his 1993 Live Album.  He was only 67.  He had a messy death caused by medication to help rheumatoid arthritis.
Ron Glass:  Harris on Barney Miller.  The second Millerite to die this year.  Also famous for other things.
Dan Haggerty:  Actor.  Grizzly Adams.
Pat Harrington:  Actor.  The janitor on One Day At a Time.
Bad-ass white dude
D. A. Henderson:  Bad-ass white dude who didn't do much - oh yea, well there was that whole "eradicate small pox" thing, but aside from that, not much.
Florence Henderson:  Actor.  Mrs. Carol Brady.  Also, Wesson Oil.
Gordie Howe:  Hockey player.  Unfortunately, a Red Wing, but we'll let that slide for now.  Father of Mark Howe, an NHL Hall of Famer as well.
David Huddleston: Actor.  Most notably, the Big Lebowski.
Gwen Ifill:  News person.  Awesome news person.
Sharon Jones:  Singer with a big voice
Paul Kanter:  Founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Jefferson Starship.
Greg Lake: in "Emerson, Lake and Palmer."  Not a good year for ELP, see above.
Garry Marshall:  Creator of just about every sit-com in the 1970's.  Laverne Fazio's fathah.
George Martin:  Produced the Beatles records.
George Michael:  One of several who tried to step in for Freddy Mercury.  One of the more successful attempts.
Bill Nunn:  was an actor who did a lot of work with Denis Leary.  I especially liked his character in the TV show "The Job".
Shimon Peres:  one of the last reasonable Prime Ministers of Isreal
Prince: Also formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.  Also awesome.  Overdose on prescription medication.
Janet Reno:  First female Attorney General, appointed by President Clinton.  Parkinson's disease.
Alan Rickman:  Actor.  Remember that German bastard in Die Hard.  Him.
Doris Roberts:   Actor.  Ray Barone's mother.
Leon Russell:  Singer and songwriter.
Morley Safer:  One of the last old-school reporters.
Maurice White - Earth, Wind and Fire
Antonin Scalia:  Supreme Court Justice.  Died to make way for the even more crazies.
Garry Shandling:  Comedian.  Actor.
Pat Summitt:  Women's Basketball Coach at UT.  Not without her baggage, I just love successful coaches of women's athletics.  Alzheimers.
Abe Vigoda:  Fish on Barney Miller.  Seriously.  Just now.  He was 94.
Elie Wiesel:  Author.  Holocaust survivor.  If you haven't read "Night", you should.
Bernie Worrell:  Member of Parliament and Funkadelic.  Give up the Funk, man.
Maurice White:  Founder of Earth, Wind and Fire.
Gene Wilder:  Actor.   If you don't know who he is, well, I probably can't help you.
Buckwheat Zydeco:  The last professional accordionist, unless you consider Weird Al to be an accordionist.  From a former professional accordionist.

Monday, December 26, 2016

St. Stephen & Miguel Servet

Today is the feast of St. Stephen.

Stephen is known in Christian circles as Christianity's first martyr.

The whole concept of martyrdom is rather confusing, even today.  There is a story in another religion (Unitarianism) about its first (and presumably only) "martyr".  In 1531, a Spanish doctor (Miguel Servet) wrote a book that frustrated the religious authorities.  He quits being a doctor and goes across the continent to engage the powers in discussion.  The powers warn him to shut up and not come back.  He leaves, but fails to shut up and actually returns, which forces the hand of the authorities, and he ends up finding himself executed for his bother.

Martyr or kinda stupid?

Malcom X
Stephen took on the religious powers as well.  Told them that they were missing the whole point of their religion.  Not a good idea.  The Book of Acts tells the story, starting in Chapter 6 and taking up the majority of Chapter 7.  The beginning of Chapter 7 is the tipping point where they say to him:  "What do you have to say for yourself."  He goes on to tell them off and - surprise - gets himself killed for his trouble.

Assuming both Servetus and Stephen were of sound mind, both of these are clearly cases of suicide by authority.  We call them martyrdom because it makes us feel good.

I find it impossible to find any value in suicide by authority.  If someone really was fighting for justice, they would be under moral imperative to live to fight another day. 

St. Stephen and Miguel Servet were not the same as Martin Luther King, Jr., Patrice Lumumba or Malcom X.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tiny Tim Was Asian

Years ago, living in Manchester, NH probably in Junior High School at the time, we all piled onto busses and took the 45 minute or so trip to Lowell, MA to see a play:  Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol". 

I'm pretty sure that we children, most of us from the white, working poor class had never seen an actual play in an actual theatre.  Ok, I know I hadn't.  We even got to go on the nice busses, not those city school busses.

Not the same kid...
Despite our theatrical illiteracy, we all knew the story.  Agitated ghosts, poor family.  Blah, blah, blah.

There in the majesty of my first trip to an actual theatre, the story progressed.  Ebeneezer Scrooge lived up to his name and Bob Cratchit was Bob Cratchit.  When the scene changed to Bob's house, there, standing in the kitchen was the little, crippled Tiny Tim.  And he was Asian.

Yup.  The actor who played Tiny Tim was Asian.  Spoke with a community-theatre English brogue, but he was Asian.

I was so disappointed.  It was all I could fixate on.  Why would they cast an Asian kid to play that role?  Bob Cratchit wasn't Asian.  It made no sense to me.  It was a travesty.  It nearly ruined the play.

Fast-forward what seems like a thousand years and I am on the board of a community theatre.  One of the stars of the theatre is a little 8 year old Asian girl.  And she is a dynamo.  The crowds love her.  We didn't stage that particular play, but had the old, Junior High School me had been on that board, what would I have done with her spark, with her magic?  Could she have been Tiny Tim?  The current day me says "why the hell not." 

Monday, December 12, 2016

Bumper Bowling

For the past few years, I have been challenged to define myself.  This is difficult work if you've ever chosen to undertake it - a lot harder than it sounds.  At first, I tended to adopt other people's ways of defining themselves that sounded cool to me.  That proved to mostly be mostly close, but not really right.

Turns out, the way to self-define is not to know others, but to know yourself.  Knowing myself is not easy.  I have been trained my whole life to know other stuff, like science and history and math and stuff like that.  I know the stuff related to my work very well, for example and for that I am called an "expert".  But knowing myself?  Well, nobody ever actually asked me to do that until 2009.  When it did come up, it was really more of a means to knowing something else.  Recognize how taking a test makes you feel so you can be better at taking tests, for example.

What I have found out about myself is that I tend to see my relationship with others as like those inflatable bumpers in the gutters at the bowling alley.  These are like really long balloons that keep the ball from going into the gutter, which in bowling is a bad thing to have happen.  Nowadays, most of them are metal. 

Adults don't use them because they have been indoctrinated into a rather radical risk/reward culture.  Being punished for being too close to the edges seems perfectly reasonable and acceptable to most of us.

Many of those same adults, however remain sensitive enough to allow kids the "luxury" of having those balloons up to keep them from being disappointed.  Funny how some people see this as being overprotective while others see bowling as being a little too heavy on the punishment.

Anyway, through this nearly ten-year long period of growing self-awareness, I have come to realize that I am not called on to be sure that everything that the folks around me does is "right" [whatever the hell that means], but rather to just be there - kinda like bowling bumpers - to point out what I think might be wrong or a mistake.  

I'm not here to persuade anyone to do the right thing - mostly because that assumes that I have some sort of clairvoyance into what the "right" thing is.  Luckily, the wrong stuff is a lot easier to see.  My love and power comes from pointing out what I'm pretty sure could be wrong.  I don't actually help you by helping you hit the pins.  That's really up to you.  However, I should do what I can to keep you out of the gutter.

As time goes on, I've had wonderful conversations about this.  Have you ever played bowling with the bumpers installed and made a rule that you HAD to hit the bumper?  Ricochet bowling!  Forced risk-taking.  [PS, don't do this with the metal bumpers, you could break them.  Also, don't do this drunk.  Not that I have any experience with this, but I could imagine [ehem] how it might get out of hand.]

I also have found out that I parent this way, too.  This drives other people a little crazy because they get all whipped into a frenzy when my kids do something stupid or dangerous.  We had a two really close calls [so far], for which I was chastised for "not having done enough" [which is remarkably easier to diagnose after all the facts are known, by the way].   So, I am supposed to raise confident, independent adults who are not supposed to make any mistakes along the way and if they do, its because I failed to protect them.  Yea, right.  Good luck with that. Let me know how that works out for you.

I'm that way in most situations, not just parenting.  I apparently believe that I am not being very present for or on "my team" if my role devolves into the person who is disappointed when other people mess up, has shame at messing up my self, or avoids risk altogether.

As long as we're all generally headed in the direction of the pins, detours and all, I'm good with that.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Sin: New and Improved

A Christian minister friend of mine commented on this picture.  He said:  “I know we are all sinners, but let’s do a little better; shall we.”  [PS…the picture referenced a current trend to wear a safety pin as a representation of the wearer’s willingness to provide a safe place for those feeling fear due to currently shifting social paradigms.]
I really like this person, but I was taken aback a bit by the comment.   I had never before seen the concept of sin being so much in the control of the sinner.  For me, sin was always framed as inextricable from the human condition; something that we couldn’t be without and still be human.  I think that’s why I always had such disdain for the concept of sin.  It was such a human construct that humans had built into their own nature to the point that it was inseparable from human nature itself.  This made religion rather pointless for me when I was younger.  As I got older, it made religion all about community, which made religion one of the more important aspects of my humanity.
This sort of “c’mon, man” response took me off guard because it made sin seem very much within our control.  “I know we are all sinners” as my friend used it here more of a confession of voluntary participation in sin, rather than an acknowledgement of the human condition of sin.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but if it is, this is a pretty radical shift for me that I’m not sure I like.
It makes me reconsider the concept of “original sin” (e.g., sin as inseparable from the human condition) as less of a pre-existing curse on humanity and more of an acknowledgement that humans are complex.  It makes the fact that you’re going to sin sort of like death and taxes:  unavoidable.  However, as my friend used it in his comment, it seemed less unavoidable. 

This is going to sound really strange, but I think I liked it better when it was unavoidable.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Our Day of Gratitude

Once again it is the season, or at least day of gratitude. 
A day we set aside to force ourselves to be grateful for stuff.
Sure, I'm being cynical.  So, shoot me.
Like everyone, I am grateful for my family, the blue sky, my friends and whatever good stuff happened to land in my lap this past year.  Everyone is grateful for that stuff.  Stopping there would sound so cliché that I wouldn't blame you if you came away thinking I really didn't know what gratitude really was.  
So, I put a little thought into it this year and would like to itemize the things for which I am grateful which are new to me this year.  Here we go:

1. Malcom X
I've been doing some reading this year about the Civil Rights movement.  I learned that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a real radical who toned it down until he had some power and then ramped it up.  When he started talking about the Vietnam War and economic racism, that's when he got himself killed.
But Malcom X's presence on the scene is what initially gave Dr. King some power.  You see, from the way I can figure it, Malcom X's not-so-non-violent rhetoric made Dr. King's radical non-violence seem pretty appealing to the white power structure.  So, it is indirectly via Malcom X that Dr. King and his organization gained a bit of their swag, and for that, I am thankful.  Malcom X's rhetoric made it OK for America to move forward with many of Dr. King's ideas.

2. 12-Step Programs
This year, my wife and I went through a 12 Step Program to become sponsors of families of addicts [drugs or alcohol].  I found the 12 Step Process to be wonderful.  When I first saw it, I looked at it and sort of thought to myself with all of my seminary experience, that I probably already "got" it.  I didn't. 
Here's the thing.  If you've never done a 12 Step Program because you think they're for addicts, you are wrong.  Even if you're not doing it for a family member, you should do it.  It took most of 2016, one night per week and it wasn't fun, but it was a bell in my life's experience that I will never be able to unring.

3.  Good Whisky
So, after Malcom X and the 12 Step, you might think being grateful for good whiskey seems a little out of place.  [Its not very often that someone is thankful for both 12 Stepping and alcohol, but there is apparently a first time for everything.] It is.  But I don't care.  I am still grateful for it.
I read a 2 books on whisky this year and I have a very good understanding and appreciation.  The problem is, I can now tell the good stuff from the bad stuff and I don't want the bad stuff anymore.  My doctor said (for health reasons) that beer is out for me, so I had to find something new and whisky was my first choice.
Of course, now that I know about Dewar's 12, Dewar's White Label tastes like lighter fluid and Johnny Walker Black is so wonderful, it should be a flavor at Baskin Robbins.

4.  Really Good Historians
I generally don't like history.  Most of it is unrealistically dualistic for me (the good guys did this and the bad guys did that), and people tend to make more of it than it really was.  The whole "knowing history to avoid it repeating itself" is a bunch of bulloney on multiple levels.
This year, however, I read a bunch of really good history books.  The best one for trying to paint things maybe differently than how we had been led to understand things as having happened was Nathanial Phlibrick's Valient Ambition which, in many ways, took the black hat of history off of Benedict Arnold in a lot of ways. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

Happy Birthday

So, Ok.  According to a reliable source (some guy's blog post from 2010), the odds of two people in a group having the same birthdate reach 100% when the group size reaches 366 people.  There is a big fancy math equation which remarkably ends up achieving the same result as the equation:

x = "Days of the [non-leap] Year" + 1

but I am assured that is just a strange mathematical coincidence [by the very people who like math to be complex and mystical].

I would envision 366 to be low because I'm sure that's based on a mathematical presumption of an equal distribution.  If you've ever been in a hospital maternity ward [as an adult] you know that there is no such thing as a true Gaussian curve when it comes to babies being born.  They are all born when the doctors are at home, or playing golf or on a Saturday at two in the morning. 

So, let's just round it up because math ain't the point of where I'm going.  Let's say, just for conversation sake, its 500 people.  That means, if you know 500 people or you pass them in the course of your day or if you add up your facebook friends and people you see when going about your day, just about anyone can get somewhere close to 500.  I work for a company of 2,500 people, so there - boom.  I'm there.  Just for conversation sake, let's assume that 500 is not a stretch for you.

Ergo, if you know 500 people, there is like a 100% chance that today is someone you know's birthday.   Which means that (unless there is a lot of overlap in your 500 person's inventory), it is also probably the birthday of someone you know indirectly, one-step removed.

I don't want to blow your mind, but if you take that out a few more steps, you get to - and I'm rounding it up here - a shit load of people.

Therefore, it is safe to say that we have the birthday thing all wrong.  You see, its not really unusual for it to be someone you know's birthday.  What's unusual is you KNOWING its their birthday.

Therefore, you should CYA and just wish the universe Happy Birthday every morning when you wake up, because if you don't, you're skipping someone.  And we all know how it feels to be skipped on your birthday.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Dear People In Charge of the Republican Party,

Whoa.  You really dodged a bullet there.  Don’t be all like “I knew it would turn out that way.” Because everyone knows damn well you didn’t.  Even your guy was all up in the “its rigged” thing when the polls weren’t going your way.  [Not to say you had much say into what came out of his face, but that’s kinda what this is all about.]
So, here it is.  I have voted Democratic for my whole life – all fifty years of it so far. I am socially and fiscally liberal. I am Keynesian, Great Society thinker.  I know that’s not your cup of tea, but that said, I understand that part of what makes us great as a nation is our ability to dialogue.  Ever since America lost Tip O’Neil, [who I know in public wasn’t your favorite person, but in private you liked him just fine] we haven’t been able to do shit in this country.
Here is what I got to say to y'all right now while you're hiring high paid consultants to figure out what went right:  Don’t think you won.  The Democrats lost and you happened to be the other team playing the game.
I don’t mean to say that you didn’t put up a good fight.  What I mean to say is you’ve got to do better than that.  You’ve got to make sure that the ideals for which the Republican party stands:  Free trade, individual freedoms and opportunity are heard, loud and clear the next time we get to have a national debate – if that ever happens again.  Right now, you can’t make them out over the pussies being grabbed and the walls being built.
See, I know your party has been overrun.  Where are your John Danforth’s?  Where are your Nelson Rockefeller’s?  Where are your Dwight Eisenhower’s?  As a liberal, I don’t mind telling you where I think they are – these days we call them Democrats.  I have to tell you, America needs these people on both sides of the debate.  Without them holding down the middle, all we’re left with is yelling and Ted Cruz.  [Please tell me you secretly hoped he would not win.  Trump has his issues, but compared to Cruz, Trump is like manna from heaven.] 
With the exception of Obama [who twice lit up who you put up there and would have lit up whoever you put up there for as long as he damn well wanted to] the Democrats have managed to run every boring-ass corporate lawyer they could find.  They are off their game and disconnected with their base.  If you think a union shop worker from Detroit or Chicago has the first damn thing in common with John Kerry, you are out of your doggam mind.  Find someone who can add to the national debate without insulting the whole doggam world and you would have won 2:1 over Hillary! Not only that, you would not have to have relied on your weak-ass Trey Gowdy Bengazi e-mail bullshit.  [C’mon.  You knew that was seriously weak shit, right?  Go on.  You can tell me.] 
Romney didn't lose because of that video. He lost because he was completely unapproachable.  McCain: larger than life! Dole:  Was he actually alive the whole time?  Bush:  You got lucky on there.  Twice.  And you know it.
You won 2016 with Donald doggam Trump. You won with an orange manatee. A man who - in public - was condescending, rude and diagnosably antisocial, if not psychotic.  Hell, for all I could tell, that was part of his game plan!  That's who you freaking won with!  You go on and tell me you won and they didn’t lose it for you while you were standing there.  For pete’s sake, people were predicting the death of the republican party:  Death by Marco Rubio and Scott Walker.  [Seriously, you’re not serious about those two, are you?]  Remember that old joke about your stuffed-suit John Ashcroft losing his 2000 US Senate reelection race to a dead opponent?  This was close, man.  Hillary is chronically boring and has like 0% in common with about 99% of ‘Murica.  How embarrassing would that have been?
So, listen.  You've got 3 or so years to dig through your ranks to find someone with whom ‘Murica can relate.  [PS:  You thinkin’ Trump 2.0.  I’m thinking:  maybe, but what could it hurt to have a Plan B, just in case the Democrats accidentally pull someone out of their ass that ‘Murica can actually relate to?]  It’s a tale of two Clintons:  One word (deplorable) can sink one of them, whereas the other one basically admits to smoking pot and having sex in the back of a pickup truck and he blows into office…twice.  [OK, probably not the best choice of words there, but you get the point.  Relax.  It’s not actually that funny and we all know damn that the only reason you’re offended is because you didn’t get any of that.]  Someone with a conviction to actually stand for and a personality that doesn’t make little kids want to point at the TV’s and whisper to their mommies.
Calm your indignant selves down:  I'm not saying Trump won’t make a good president.  He can’t possibly be as “all that” as the candidate Trump.  I have hope that things will slow down a bit and something this side of normal will show up.  Some of his fiscal policies actually have a tinge of collectivism to them that even FDR might have thought were good ideas.  He’s got to work on the interpersonal skills a bit, though and he should just stay away from moral leadership for a while until those nudies of his wife stop circulating around Facebook.
He's just a little too...Don Corleone. A little too Hugh Heffner. A little too Lehman Brothers.  A little too Bernie Madoff. A little too Bill O’Reilly. You know what I mean?  You hear what I'm saying?
Maybe we could find someone a little less Don Corleone and a little more Elliott Ness.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Hugh Heffner and a little more Mister Rogers.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Lehman Brothers and a little more US Coast Guard.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Bernie Madoff and a little more Jackie Robinson.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Bill O’Reilly and a little more Walter Cronkite.
It's a big doggam party. If you look, you'll find him or her. You will. Trust me, you will.  But you have look like you’re thinking you’re going to find him or her – not like when you look for your keys even though you’re absolutely sure your wife took them.  Not that kind of looking.  Really, really looking.
And you have to be ready because when you find him or her, s/he is bound to have a few warts.  You can’t take risk and be unscarred.  That’s just true.   S/he won't pass every sniff test.  That is, assuming you have a sniff test, which is questionable recently.  Have some faith in your people and in your ability to find people in your party.
Good luck.  I’m rootin for ya.  Seriously.  We owe it to our country to be more effective than we are.  Thankfully, we haven’t set the bar too high, lately.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Dear People In Charge of the Democratic Party,

So, here it is.  I have voted Democratic for my whole life – all fifty years of it so far. I am socially and fiscally liberal. I am Keynesian, Great Society thinker.  The candidates I have supported have never made it out of the primary system…but I am used to that.  It’s gotten to the point where I’m more numb than disappointed.
In the general elections during my lifetime, I voted for Clinton, Obama (twice), Gore, Clinton (twice) Dukakis, and Mondale.  I didn't vote for Kerry because he was just too damn boring and uninspiring. [In retrospect, that was probably a mistake.] I didn't support any of these folks in the primary, and that's saying a lot because I'm born and raised in New Hampshire – where we get a heaping helping of presidential primaries.
Here is what I got to say to y'all right now while you're hiring high paid consultants to figure out what went wrong:  Barack Obama broke a string of seriously boring candidates.  Clinton was a return to white bread, corporate-lawyer type candidates. THAT is what happened.
Say what you will about Trump, but the one thing he's not is boring.  He's interesting!  Now, he's probably dangerous and mentally imbalanced - but he's interesting.
Find someone we can stand behind with enthusiasm! Find someone interesting without all the imbalance stuff.  Find someone who is not afraid that every word has to be exactly right. Don't get all bottled up in one word (deplorable) losing the election. You lost the election not because of that one word, but because there was nothing to use to come back from.  Clinton basically admitted to smoking weed and having sex in the back of a pickup truck. People loved it. He wasn't afraid.  He had the courage of his convictions. 
Dukakis didn't lose because of that tank ride. He lost because he was boring.  Mondale: snooze. Gore - for heaven's sake his name even rhymes with "bore". That's almost as bad as that joke about Lou Gehrig not foreseeing himself getting Lou Gehrig's disease!
You lost 2016 to Donald doggam Trump. You lost to an orange manatee. A man who - in public - was condescending, rude and diagnosably antisocial, if not psychotic.  Hell, for all I could tell, that was part of his game plan!  That's who you freaking lost to!  It’s like my Beloved Boston Red Sox losing to the Bad News Doggam Bears.  Remember that old joke about John Ashcroft losing his 2000 US Senate reelection race to a dead opponent?  If I were you, I would stop giggling about that now because Donald Trump just became your Mel Carnahan. [I'm not inferring Trump is dead.  Please, role with a vibe for once in your buttoned up, boring-ass lives!]
So, listen.  You've got 3 or so years to dig through your ranks to find someone with whom ‘Murica can relate.  Someone who can withstand - even laugh off  - a "deplorable" or two. Someone with power of conviction, a powerful persona and a personality. And someone who can do all that and manage and govern like Hillary could have.
Calm your indignant selves down:  I'm not saying Hillary would not have made a good president.  As time went on, I found things I really liked about her.  [But I had to actively try to find them.]  I found her to be a great listener and she didn't turn every moment in front of the cameras into a sound bite. If she was there with you, she was there with you, and that's an admiral quality in a politico these days.  Even Bernie wasn’t as authentic in person as she seemed to be. 
She's just a little too...Yale. A little too Goldman Sachs. A little too Gucci.  A little too Mitt Romney. A little too Bill Moyers. You know what I mean?  You hear what I'm saying?
Maybe we could find someone a little less Yale and a little more "State U".
Maybe we could find someone a little less Goldman Sachs and a little more Chevrolet.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Gucci and a little more Land’s End.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Mitt Romney and a little more Sarah Silverman.
Maybe we could find someone a little less Bill Moyers and a little more Trevor Noah.
It's a big doggam party. If you look, you'll find him or her. You will. Trust me, you will.  But you have look like you’re thinking you’re going to find him or her – not like when you look for your keys even though you’re absolutely sure your wife took them.  Not that kind of looking.  Really, really looking.
And you have to be ready because when you find him or her, s/he is bound to have a few warts.  You can’t take risk and be unscarred.  That’s just true.   S/he won't pass every sniff test.  That’s OK.  Have some faith in your people and in your ability to find people in your party.
Good luck.  I’m rootin for ya.  Seriously.  We owe it to our country to be more effective than we are.  Thankfully, we haven’t set the bar too high, lately.

Monday, September 5, 2016

I am very conflicted on Labor Day. 
My ancestors and extended family for the most part fit into the category of Labor, but I am now technically “Management”, thus separating me from Labor.  This albeit my strong affinity for Labor from a socio-political standpoint and a gnawing feeling that although I am “Management”, I am certainly not a member of the Capital Class and my prospects are much more closely aligned with those of Labor than they are those of what had historically been lumped into the “Management” category of producers.
I also am managed, so I’m labor to someone.  Plus, I get the day off as though I were labor.  But, I suppose the premise there is that days off for “Management” aren’t anything special.  I suppose there is some truth to that.
I remember that for some, being management/labor would be a career goal, and I respect that I am taking up someone’s hallowed ground.  Someone would love to have a position similar to the one I hold.
I will keep this in mind when I celebrate Labor Day.  Not in a big, lurking socio-political, read-about-it-in-the-papers way, but in a personal way.  I will respect the position I hold, know that it is coveted and that I am honored to hold it and that my solidarity needs to extend to those clearly in a labor role on these days.  One person at a time.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pumpkin spice.

It’s pumpkin spice time again.  Pumpkin donuts at Krispy Crème was my first official sighting.  I know the onslaught will begin soon, if it hasn't already.  I don't get out much and when I do, I don't pay that close attention.
Pumpkin spice donuts will be followed by Pumpkin Spice coffee at Dunkin Donuts and probably Pumpkin Spice beer over at Fitzpatrick's.  Who even knows, Pumpkin Spice candles mean that Pumpkin Spice under arm deodorant can’t be far behind.  If someone thinks it can be sold, then it will be made, regardless of the onslaught to our dignity.

Its exhausting me.  Christmas starts before Halloween, Saint Valentine’s day starts before New Year’s Eve.  The commercialism of our lives is exhausting.  A remember a sign somewhere saying “it’s almost Mother’s Day Season”.  Since when did Mother’s Day get a season?  Is that like hunting season?  Do I need some sort of permit?

So, it’s the first day of September and its 95 degrees outside and oh my heaven how we long for the certainty that is Thanksgiving.  There will be turkey, there will be pumpkin pie, spiced, in a way which by Thanksgiving we will be hastening its departure.  Just in time for Holy Friday.  There are two now.  One before Easter and one before Christmas.  I’m not even Christian and it makes me want to puke.  I can only imagine what the Christians think.

Monday, July 4, 2016

America Bashing

Recently, in a discussion held in Grenville, SC regarding some of the racial challenges facing America, one member of the group of about forty stood and challenged the group to stop "America Bashing".  I haven't seen this person again since, but I came to learn that he is a businessman and fairly open minded - after all he was at a group discussion on racial challenges.

He was reacting to several points brought as part of the larger group discussion.  Here are a few that I remember:

  • One person recommended changing names on resume if your name sounded "too black" as a proven successful tactic.
  • One person discussed being called a "nigger lover" for supporting a black political candidate.
  • One person addressed how gas prices are higher in black areas of town.
  • One white person discussed being pulled over in a car with a black man and a Latino and the policeman asking for both of their identifications, but not his.
  • One person discussed that the number of people been killed in America post-9/11 in religiously motivated hate crimes now exceed the number killed in the 9/11 attacks.
  • One person discussed the high risk of being an illegal immigrant as these people voluntarily waive their right to protection under the law due to their illegal status for fear of being deported.
If open, critical thought regarding the standing of our country that centers around its negative attributes can't be seen as anything but "America Bashing" even by educated, caring people, what hope do we really have.

America is broken.  Maybe not for you.  But as long as it is broken for someone, it is broken for everyone.

Monday, May 9, 2016

The Path to Peace

Last week, I heard someone refer to the "path to peace".

My initial reaction to this was that it was a bullshit thing.   As either (or more probably, both) Mahatma Gandhi and Thich Nhat Hanh said:  "There is no path to peace.  Peace is the path."

So, right, that makes sense too:  if you want to have peace, the first thing you should do is live peacefully.  As I've thought about (and written about) before, this is not so easy a thing to do in today's world.  According to Douglas Adams (1), we seem very preoccupied with the happiness of little green pieces of paper, when it doesn't seem that the little green pieces of paper are at all unhappy.

I'm overdosing on teen-ager right now.  Three troubled teens in my life, two of them my own children, making their way in life in a freely self-chosen path of self-destruction, leaving a wake of unintended - and in their case - unrecognized destruction (2). 

As I watch them, trying to steer them from life's unpleasant fringes, I have come to realize that happiness cannot be attained through self-interest. 

So, I stop and look back at Thay and Gandhiji (yes, we are buds), I stop to consider how right and wrong really don't fit.  They were both right, peace is an action, not a noun, but I stop also to consider that there are some things - like self-interest and concern for the happiness of little green slips of paper - that clearly take us off the path.

So, maybe the first step to peace is not so much to live peacefully, but rather to stop living unpeacefully.

(1)  Right!  I know!  Three quotes in the same blog post!  To use a goofy seminary term, I see a lot of intersectionality here.  Don't worry, it won't happen often.

(2) Right!  I know!  Two footnotes in the same blog post!  Don't worry, it won't happen that often.  But here, what I wanted to say was that I use the term "destruction" in a Shiva sort of way.  Destruction not being necessarily bad, but the way of making things clear for the next thing to emerge from Brahma.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Don't Let the Door Hit You on The.....

People on the political edges of extremism from both sides, left and right, are threatening to leave the country and go live in [some other place] if this one or that one is elected President of these United States.

Its a popular position to take - I had taken the position, being one who has become over time firmly planted on one of the politically extreme edges.

And then, I had a conversation with a member of a traditionally marginalized group.  She looked at me and said something along the lines of:
"You know that America has sucked for my people for a long time.  None of us ever had the option to leave.  We stayed - not that we wouldn't have loved to have gone someplace else, but that wasn't an option for us.  So, (and she was very kind, but very blunt), don't give me any crap about how you feel about this one or that one."
She finished it off by (again in a loving, but point-blank manner) telling me that if people like me left at the first moment stuff became sticky for them, she wouldn't be surprised, nor would she be sad to see us go.

Wow. I am a changed man.  I am so happy I get to run into these wonderful people in my life's journey.