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.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Telling Our Own Story

A few days ago, we celebrated Earth Day.

A few days before that, I learned that all across this great land of ours, one by one, counties, cities and towns are stopping recycling glass because the cost to handle it and recycle it outweighs the revenue that can be generated from the recycled raw materials.

Did you know this?

I did not.

So, listen; I am not some glass recycling freak, but I am what some might call a fiscal pragmatist.  I get it that if we just throw the glass into the landfill, by the time the landfills become landfulls, I will be dead, long dead.  Presumably in the landfull myself.  The burden of dealing with whatever crap we can imagine AND a whole bunch of crap we can't imagine will fall to our progeny.

Time, you see, does matter.  Accountants look at snapshots...polaroid images of a moment in time. From that image, they determine the accountancy health of a situation.  I have worked with numbers for nearly thirty years.  If you don't want to believe me, look at the financial crisis of the mid 2000's.  If you think numbers tell the story, you're wrong.  They tell the story you want them to tell.

Stopping recycling glass tells the story of us.    It is a story of self-importance.  A story of lack of vision.  A story of a lack of self-awareness.

Its not the only one we have, and I assume that this one will be barely noticeable, but it caught my eye.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Earth Day and Conch Republic Independence Day

This is the week in which celebrations of two holidays:  Earth Day and Independence Day in the Conch Republic (Key West) happen.

Oddly, I have written before about the Conch Republic's Independence day, but I have never before written about Earth Day. 

I think that's because Earth Day can be such a bummer.  It can devolve pretty quickly into moral finger-pointing.  "What do you mean you don't recycle used aluminum foil!  You can just rinse it off!"  Sort of thing that is right, but can teeter on righteous. 

Its not that I don't need a shot of guilt to remind me to more conscious of my actions, but I have trouble considering it a "celebration", and I do think that the earth needs to be celebrated.

Celebrating the earth seems a little off though, right?  It's a lot like celebrating a baby's first birthday.  The baby itself has no idea what in the hell is going on, but it likes the cupcake and being surrounded by people.  Earth is probably unaware that we celebrate it by keeping a day in which we hold up ecological awareness.

So this year, I've decided to let a little bit of Conch Republic Independence Day slip on into Earth Day.  A little bit of the absurd slide into the serious.  There wasn't nothing unserious about the events that led to the Conch Republic seceding from the union on that fateful day of April 23, 1982.  The people recognized that something had to be done.  The same is true for the first Earth Day, first celebrated just 12 years earlier on April 22, 1970.

So, I guess this year, I have chosen to celebrate Earth Day in the spirit of Independence Day.  Some people will rightly find this bothersome.  Hell, even I find it somewhat bothersome.  But on this day, I have decided that both Earth and I need a little break.  Not self-righteous failure to be a good steward to the earth, but celebrating the

Monday, April 11, 2016

Fizzling Neurons and Wide-Brimmed Hats

I was out and about today, going along my merry way when I happened to see a man.  He was standing maybe 40 feet from where I was.  He was tall and thin. He was wearing a dark grey (or maybe it was black) dress coat that went below his knees.  He had a hat on.  The hat was also black and had a wide, flat brim that went all the way around.

He was facing away from me, with his back toward me.  I didn't think much of him.  I noticed him, how tall he was.  How distinguished he looked. Here in South Cakalacky, there are a lot more flip flops and sunglasses than there are wide-brimmed hats with long dark coats on distinctively dressed gentlemen.

When he turned toward me, my neurons fizzled.  There he was, now looking at me.  A tall, thin, distinctive looking gentleman.  He was impeccably groomed.

And, he was black.

Ok, so that in and of itself is not unusual here in South Cakalacky. What is unusual was what made my neurons fizzle was that, unconsciously, without any active thought or really even anything that could be called consideration, I just assumed he was an Hasidic Jew.

What would make me think that?  I haven't lived around an Hasidic Jewish community for more than ten years, and even when I did live around them, it wasn't like they were some active part of my life.  I mean, I'd see them around and even did a small amount of business with them, but for some reason, my brain thought "Hasidic Jew", when it clearly would have made more sense to think "Elegant guy in a wide brimmed hat with a long coat".

Isn't it interesting how your neurons fizzle?

Monday, April 4, 2016

Prince of Tides

So, I've lived in South Carolina now for more than ten years.  They have been busy years, kids, school, job, starting a second career.  So, that busy-ness is sort of my excuse for missing Pat Conroy.

Pat was a writer.  He died just recently.   It was big news here in South Cakalaky.  It was even bigger news for me, because I missed the whole thing entirely.

So, I dug into him a bit.  Turns out, he wrote a book called "Prince of Tides".

"Hey", I said to myself.  "That's a Jimmy Buffet tune.  That's a damn good Jimmy Buffet tune.  And I know it has to do with South Carolina coast and that's what Pat Conroy wrote about."  I wondered if there was a connection.

There was.  As a matter of fact, the connection was reciprocal.  Jimmy Buffet's song, which was influenced by the Pat Conroy book, ends with the line "Beach music, beach music, beach music just plays on".  And Beach Music was the name of Conroy's next novel, influenced by the song which had been influenced by his last book.

I have a lot of reading to catch up on.  Thank you, Mr. Conroy.  I'm sorry I didn't like you before you died.

This whole thing reminds me of T-Bone Wok.  I learned about T-Bone from watching the internet program "Live From Daryl's House", which is a music performance program.  I started watching the program probably in 2012, only to learn while watching a tribute episode for T-Bone that he had died in 2010.  It was weird to not know he was already dead.

I'm hoping I get the same experience with Pat Conroy, only backwards.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Someone recently commented to me that, in retrospect, the moment when President Nixon got on that helicopter with his big smile and his big wave was the moment that the separation between leadership and politics began.

We threw President Carter out of office for suggesting that maybe we should tighten our belts and become more frugal, choosing rather to get what we wanted, when we wanted it by way of 30 years of borrow-it-forward economic policies with no visible out-clause,

I think the divorce was final when President Bush 43 stood on the deck of that air craft carrier in front of that giant banner that read "Mission Accomplished".

Since then, leadership and giving people what they want has merged into a blue-red Venn diagram that's nearly entirely purple. Discussions of policy and philosophy of governance have devolved into the masses simply repeating what political figures say, which is itself repeating what polls say. In the spot where discussion once stood now stands this bizarre ideological feed-back loop.  Most troubling is that the ear-knocking doesn't seem to be bothering most folks.

My friends' FaceBook posts are becoming more distraught and I am right there with the them. I left a group recently because the conversation had spiraled into a meaningless mess of accusations.

If we are to have any hope of regaining our position as world leader, we will need to exchange it for our position as world bully.  Leadership is more than repeating, rewarding and pretending everything is alright.  Leadership means being the first one out the door, and it does start at the top, but it also starts at the bottom.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Spring! (Officially)

Today is the first day of Spring in the northern hemisphere.

My pagan friends would explain the distance from the sun and the tilt of the earth and all that stuff.  Its not that I find that stuff unimportant or disinteresting, its just that I find it a little mechanical.  Knowing how it operates kind of sucks the joy out of the first day of Spring for me.

For me, the first day of Spring is a couple things.  First, my father was born on the first day of Spring, back in 1921.  So for that reason alone, today is a big day for me.  Even though he's been gone for nearly 25 years, I still remember.

Second, its eternally hopeful.  Sure, hope is manifest in St. Groundhog's day. and Imboc and St. Brigid's day (depending on where you happen to be living at the time).  But all of that is really kind of looking forward to the first day of Spring, which is today, which is in turn looking forward to relaxing in the Summer.

So, welcome, Spring.  Good to see ya.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Out of Touch just a Little

Ok.  So, I am out of touch just a little.  I also am pretty sure that I don't feel bad about being out of touch.

Those times I infrequently find myself in a grocery checkout, I look at the faces on the covers of the magazines and quite frankly, there are more I don't know than I do.  I'm only 50 but it seems like all the people I consider stars are dying.

Last year was particularly noticeable for me.  Here is a partial list of celebrities whose death I noticed in 2015:

Toto's Mikey Porcaro, gone at 59 from Lou Gehrig's Disease.
Martin Milner (actor: Adam 12, Route 66)
Tyler Negron (1), (comedian)
Geoffrey Lewis (2), (actor)
Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock)
Cory Wells (3 Dog Night)
Chris Squire (Yes)
Gary Richrath (REO Speedwagon)
Mikey Porcaro (Toto. He had ALS)
Wayne Dyer
John Nash (Beautiful Mind)
Stuart Scott (ESPN, cancer)
Yogi Bera
Ernie Banks (Cubs)
Dean Smith (Basketball Coach)
Dave Henderson (Red Sox, A's)

I particularly noticed Cory Wells, Gary Richrath, Mikey Porcaro and Chris Squire, who are still 25 or 30 years old on my iPod.

All of these folks will be replaced eventually with the people I don't recognize on the covers of the magazines in the check out line.  But I will remain just a bit out of touch with all of that because all of these folks will live on for me in my memories.

I'm OK with that.

(1):  I didn't know this until I read the obituary, but was also the cousin of 3 Dog Night's Chuck Negron.

(2)  I suspect most people won't recognize him, but he played a key role on an episode of the TV program "House" that I consider to be one of the best hours of television ever produced (One Day, One Room. Season 3, episode 12).

Monday, March 7, 2016

These Days

These days, I've got a lot going on. Family stuff, personal stuff, work stuff, school stuff. 

On top of all that, we moved, so I am living amongst the boxes. My wife and daughter seem fine with it. I am not.

I get emotionally tired. I get intellectually tired. I just get tired. Whereas before, I was thriving, these days, I'm getting by. Things are done barely on time. I don't have much enthusiasm for stuff. School stuff is the only thing that really gives me much energy these days, but even that I have to force open sometimes.

And on top of all that, I'm cold. I live in a temperate climate and about as cold as it ever gets is 35 degrees Fahrenheit, but I'm chilled. I can't get warm. Granted, we haven't managed to find all the blankets for the bed yet, but even outside of bed, I'm cold - especially my feet.

I always used to joke that I needed something good to happen that that I needed someone else to make it happen. I don't mind being one of the fonts of change and progress, but sometimes, I need to stand around and watch something happen that is independent of my efforts.

Rollo May said that depression is the inability to form a future - or something like that. I can see his point. I can't hardly imagine a future right now. Tomorrow is about as far out as I care to go. 

These days make me think about other people. People who deal with real or imaginary scenarios like this their whole lives. Mine is temporary - or at least I think it is. Its a couple months of feeling like this. I have such sympathy for people for whom this is the norm.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Leap Year

Today is leap day.

Today really shouldn't exist. Most of the time it doesn't exist.

I'm a little disappointed, actually. I have lived my whole life so far thinking that the once-every-then-and-again appearance of February 29th was no big deal. I think it's because Mr. Gatsas, my 8th grade science teacher explained it to us in class. Couple extra hours each year, bundle them up and turn them into a whole new day every then and again. Got it. I was marginally proficient in math, so I am good.

Today, however, I've come to recognize that I am missing the real meaning of Leap Year.  Its a day that shouldn't happen. How cool is that?  The fact that we can explain it with trips around the sun using our fingers and toes and maybe an abacus or two doesn't change the fact that its completely awesome.

I think it should be a national holiday.  A day to celebrate and recognize surprises and gifts that fall down on us like manna from heaven.

A whole day is way better than some hard to define bread stuff.  I guess if you're hungry, its not, but if you're not hungry, what could be better than a whole day?

This year, it falls on a Monday.  We'll need to talk about that.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Deal me In

Being a parent can seem way to similar at times to being a card dealer. You're kinda simultaneously part of the game and not part of the game.

We card dealers often try to control outcomes by stacking the deck. We use our experience to make sure that the right cards end up our kids' hands.

But really, we'd be better off teaching our kids what to do with the hand their dealt because sooner or later, they'll go to another table where the dealer isn't trying to stack the deck, or worse, actively stacking the deck against them.

But that would require occasionally watching our kids misplay a hand. We can and should provide some shelter for some time, but eventually they will change tables and dealers and our shelter will backfire against them.  

"I think you misplayed that hand, and here's why and here is what I would have done if I were in your shoes..." is much better than "Don't worry. One day you'll fill that inside straight."

But watching it unfold is painful and requires patience and immunity from judgemental and unwavering card stackers.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Believing my own Bullshit

I know that I am responsible for my own thoughts. I can't knowingly be coerced into thinking something. My known thoughts are my own.  I understand that.

But there are times when knowing that and living into it are two wildly different things.  There are times when the joy is sucked out of your soul like when you get the wind knocked out of you. Breathing normally all of a sudden doesn't seem quite as easy as it once did.  You *know* you'll be fine, but that is easier to sell to your body if you could actually breathe.

I have most of the joy knocked out of me right now and I am longing to find some validation that my thoughts are really my own. I want joy, but it is nowhere to be found.  I don't so much want it as I recognize that my joy is in my control, but simultaneously am not sure I believe my own bullshit.

Monday, February 8, 2016

I got one for you.

Here is the scene:  I am having breakfast at a very blue collar place in North Charleston, SC. A very red state. The place is empty but for me and the waitress, who I know from being there often.

As per normal, the TV is on Headline News. Also as per normal, the story of whatever jackass thing the Trump said the night before.

The waitress looks at me and says "Can you believe that?" in a friendly sort of way.

I don't know what to think. Is she agreeing with him or is she questioning him?  As a socialist living and working in a very red state, I have learned over time to tread lightly and go slowly.

I make some neutral comment.

Pretty quickly it's obvious that she thinks he's an idiot. I make a confirming comment.  She expresses that she is worried about our country. I am not sure if I'm on candid camera or not.

So, I say. "What worries me is not that he says what he says, but that so many people take him so seriously."

[And here is the good part] To which, she replies while waving her arms around the empty room as thought the place was full..."Not these people."

I'm shocked. I say, "What do you mean?"

She says, "I overhear them all. Everyone thinks he's a jackass."  Her words...not mine.

He's leading in the polls in SC, but maybe there is a ray of hope.

Monday, February 1, 2016

St. Groundhog's Day

Several years ago, I re-wrote the liturgical calendar to have it make a little more sense for post-agricultural society.

I created a few Saints - Martin Luther King, Jr and the Groundhog for two.

For me - as I pointed out previously - here and here, Saint Groundhog is the patron Saint of Good Things to Come and Patience.

I recently learned, that my own personal religion is not the only adherent to the patron Saint of Good Things to Come or Patience.

Photographed by Arthistorygrrl. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikipedia
Christianity has Saint Brigid, an Irish Saint.  Her Saint's day is celebrated on a pagan celebration of Imbolc, which celebrates the beginning of spring.  She also shares her name with a Celtic Goddess.

Saint Brigid is so well respected amongst feminists that noted feminist artist Judy Chicago set a place for her in her work, The Dinner Party.  How about that for making a lasting impression.

Saint Brigid is not the Patron Saint of Good Things to come, however.  There doesn't seem to be one, which is why I made the Groundhog a Saint.

Monday, January 25, 2016

I Rescind My Lamentation

A friend's husband just died.

He was 42.

He had a relatively crappy life, riddled with health issues that were not going away.  All of a sudden, he had stage four lung cancer and his life went from crappy to over in a matter of weeks.

This, of course came shortly after adopting two children with the love of his life, his high school sweetheart.

I hereby rescind my Facebook post in which I lamented inconvenient hair growth I experience as a 50 year old.

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Problem is a Shortage of Pirates

This week is Gasparilla week in Tampa.  I've never been (drat!) but it has been described to me as a little Mardi-Gras type festival.  Fun, but a little toned down from New Orleans.  One day, I'll have to go.

Every year when Gasparilla comes around it makes me lament the shortage of pirates nowadays. Vikings, for this discussion, fill the same role.  I'm not keen on the raping and pillaging aspects of being a pirate or a Viking.  I'd prefer they find a way to fulfil their economic duties without all the violence, that would be better, I'm not sure how possible that would be, especially nowadays.

The economic duty of the pirate was to level the playing field in a rigged game.  I guess you could say they were the first Non-Governmental Agency (NGO).  Piracy nowadays is limited to mostly the coast of Africa, but in its last glory days, someone with modest means and a lot of brains could strike at the heart of an empire (or at their pockets, hard to tell the difference sometimes).  In the long run, it probably just made the empires more powerful and taught the powerful how to get a firmer grip on their power - how to make it waterproof and bulletproof.

Robin Hood was a pirate too.  Rob from the rich and give to the poor.  That's effectively what pirates did.  They didn't rob from the rich and give to the rich, that's for sure.

It's also MLK day.  He was a different kind of pirate.  He and his crew operated without violence and instead of taking advantage of momentary weaknesses, he exposed huge societal flaws.  He too probably just taught the powerful - taught them to tighten up their game to have the appearance of fairness while minimizing sacrifice.

I am led to understand that pirates and Vikings and Robin Hood were vicious in their means.  I guess you could throw Atilla the Hun in the mix too.  Maybe Genghis Khan (despite the new chain of quick-serve restaurants bizarrely named for him.)  MLK fought viciousness by his means.  I suppose so did pirates and Vikings too  - after all its not like they were stealing cookies from Girl Scout troops.

So, I lament - not the killing or the swashbuckling (whatever that is) - but the lack of a defined method of dealing with an imbalance of power and wealth that pirates provided, if only for short time.

Monday, December 14, 2015


There is entirely too much noise in my life right now.

First, there is actual noise. With improvements in sound distribution technology, it seems like more and more public places are louder and louder. Finding a quiet place to have a beer and a snack, for example, has become nearly impossible.

The other noise isn't so much noise as it is junk. Right now, I have been so busy that I haven't been very good at keeping my e-mail in-box tidy and before I know it, I have 600 unread messages. A quick scan of those messages reveals that all but a couple are meaningless. They're mostly advertising or "affinity groups" wanting to know more about me. I refuse to take another survey unless you pay me.

There is also the stack of - technically, it's mail, but in actuality it's really just personally delivered, long distance recycling. 

No wonder being extreme has become the norm. It's the only way to differentiate yourself above all the noise in people's lives to get their attention. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Good Point

One terrorist leader talking to another one.

1:  Why do we not attack America?  Why France?

2:  There is no point in attacking America.  They’re doing a great job attacking themselves.  All we have to do is sit around and wait. 

1:  Good point.

2:  They’re doing more damage to themselves than our small band could ever hope to do.

1:  Good point.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Wounded Warrior Project

I was listening to Canadian talk radio on my satellite radio the other day.  There were three people on a panel.

I'm a little foggy on all the details, but they were discussing a large donation from a big multi-national corporation to help Canadian war veterans deal with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

The first person who talked was concerned that such a donation might have been made to gain some political favor or advantage.  The second person rebutted, stating that PTSD is too large a problem to turn into a political beanbag.  He stated that "We are not in a position to refuse this donation."

Where it got interesting was the third person.  Rather emphatically, he said "How come?  Why is that that we're not in a position to refuse this donation."  He went on to ask why the government hasn't taken care of this already.

This is a very Canadian response.  Americans are used to their government failing to address important issues and having those issues fall to charity.  Canadians are not.

This says a lot about how we look at the world.  I was telling a friend about my experience listening to this program he looked at me with a sort of fire in his eyes and questioned why, in America, we have something called the "Wounded Warrior Project".  Why is the care for our wounded veterans a matter to be left to the whim of charity?

He has a point.  We've always had a Wounded Warrior Project, I told him.  We just used to call it the Veteran's Administration.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

A day centered around gratitude.  What a wonderful idea.

Gratitude not enough of a word.  There are many kinds of gratitude.

There is the sense of relief gratitude for having dodged some sort of bullet.

There is the "thank heaven that's not me" sense of gratitude.

There is the happiness to be in the right place at the right time sort of gratitude.

There is the sense of reward and fulfillment that maybe you don't think you fully deserve sort of gratitude.

Most of those are what I would call gratitude 101 - beginner's gratitude.

For the next level of gratitude you need to transcend your self.  This usually ends up involving some higher power, like a God, or some magical power like luck or the cosmos or whatever.

For the next level of gratitude, you need to also transcend God.  If God had a role in your positive results, its normally based on your performance to some task.  So, transcending yourself and God is the pathway to true gratitude.

Here is a simple example.  You wake up.  It's a nice day.  You're happy.

First level of gratitude:  Hey.  I'm not dead.  That's awesome.  Many people didn't wake up this morning.

Second level of gratitude:  God gave me this beautiful day to use to do something great.

Third level of gratitude:  Non-verbal warmth.  Smile.  Deep breath.  Exhale.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Truth in Advertising

I love advertising.  I wish I had gone into that line of work, actually.

In the United States, we have "truth in advertising" laws.  These laws basically define what the truth is.  So, when describing a product - let's say hamburger - you can say "Never Frozen" even though the hamburger had actually been frozen.  This is because the word "frozen" is defined by science differently than its defined by law.  When you and I say "frozen", we mean one thing, but advertisers and product labelers are saying something else entirely.

The same goes for a whole string of "bullshit" words.  All Natural.  New.  Improved.  Healthy.  Most of these words have legal definitions that vary from what you and I think when we hear the word. Think about this:  How can something be both "new" and "improved" at the same time?  That really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, does it?

There is one bastion of truth in advertising:  pharmaceutical advertising.  First of all, promoting prescription drugs directly to the general public is fraught with moral landmines.  [The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries on earth that allow direct to consumer marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals.]  The limits imposed in exchange for the ability to advertise have pretty wide ranging effects.  Having to list all those side affects makes for some riveting commercials, [NOT!].  Does anyone know what the "purple pill" does?  They never actually say, but we know it may cause bloody poop.

But when you think about it, these ads are proof that at least someone understands what is really meant by "truth in advertising".  The pharmaceutical ads are required to go beyond truth all the way to disclosure.

What makes them so different from other products or advertising statements?  What if other companies were subject to the same rules as pharmaceuticals? Would they say things like:
Our prices are lower because we buy substandard product from overseas factories which benefit from child labor and then we under pay our employees and use Medicaid as an employee benefit.  All for you!
The meat we use in our food has been processed right up to the point where it is not even considered meat anymore by the USDA.  Then we back it off just a bit.  The enables us to keep our prices low. Come in today and get two for the price of one.
We have improved our product.  Look, its got a new box.  Nice, huh?
This product is all natural.  That's right, even the food coloring, which at one point was determined to be too dangerous to be a prescription drug.  But, don't worry it passed the USDA food safety screens just fine.  It's derived from petroleum by-products from the refining process, and we all know that petroleum comes from the ground, and the ground is natural.
That might make television commercials more interesting, at least.

Monday, November 16, 2015


The follow up meeting to my annual physical...let's just say...didn't go well.

My sedentary lifestyle where most of my physical activity is concentrated on moving my fingers over keyboard keys and making sounds come out of my mouth has finally caught up with me.  Add to sedentary the stress of teen-age transitions into adulthood and increasing job responsibilities that appear to happen in the 50's and you hit the medical trifecta.  Sigh.
So, I am leaving this rather glum meeting and heading to where I am going next and there on the side of the road is a billboard for a large national restaurant chain advertising pancakes.  I thought to my self that we tell young people that they can't smoke cigarettes because its bad for their health and therefore bad for society.  There should be some sort of prohibition against people over 50 eating pancakes.  You'd have to show a card from your doctor or something giving you permission to eat pancakes.

Come to think of it, if advertising cigarettes on billboards is illegal, why is advertising pancakes legal?  According to my doctor, pancakes are as bad for me as cigarettes are for teenagers. 

Come to think of it, if pancakes and cigarettes are so bad, why do we need to have them at all?  Right.  They're very profitable - especially pancakes.

Profit trumps benefit.  That's not really fair because profit is a benefit.  I guess its a matter of perspective.

Thankfully, I don't really even care for pancakes that much.  Some members of my family are pancake fanatics (pan-fan's, I guess). 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

A Prayer for Veteran's Day

Have you ever been to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington?  

I went recently for the second time.  This time, it wasn't the obvious engraved names that caught my attention.  This time, it was me and the trees.

If you ever get another chance to visit, try for a minute to shift your attention from the detail to the big picture.  I got a chance to step back and look at the enormity of the work.  Standing there, I felt the monument's designers tap me on the shoulder, (or maybe slap me upside the head) and show me their message.  There, the names blended into the background of shiny black granite.  Standing on the vein of black stone that snakes through the center of the walkway I was too far away to see each individual name.  What I did see, quite perfectly, was my own reflection, set against the sea of names of the lost.

Then, I looked further down the wall, past the bend of the black granite.  The reflection of the trunks of the trees behind me on the wall seemed to line up perfectly with the crowns of the trees in the distance.  One set of trees links up with another set of trees through a monument to the fallen in a misunderstood war. 

They tell me my ability to stand here and think about this is due in part to the sacrifice of the fallen.  They may be right.  But standing here today, I can’t help but think that the monument designers were trying to tell me and posterity that making sure we don't need any more poignant war memorials begins with me.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Books I Don't Like...

Something oddly unusual is happening to me right now.

Until recently, I could confidently say that I had never finished a book I didn't like.  Of course, there are exceptions for books I am required to read.  Nobody wants to read a book about pension administration, for example.  (Well, actually some people do, but that's for another post).

I do have a book that I do like that I can't finish because it makes my head hurt.  No matter how vehemently I try, I can't get through it and every time I start it back up, I have to backtrack becuase I had trouble retaining what I've read in the past.

Right now, I am reading two books I don't like.  One is a non-fiction (or at least ostensibly non-fiction) for which I am a book group discussion leader, so I suppose you could say that I am required to read that one. [Funny note on that book:  Nobody in the group likes it either.  I'm concerned that my bias maybe has leaked into that group, but it is a pretty disagreeable book.]

The second was suggested by a friend.  It's fiction, and I dislike every single character in the book.  I have never experienced this before.  There have certainly been books I wasn't overly keen on, but I can't say I've ever tripped on a book that I disliked everyone.

In the past, I would not have finished the book.  I would not have said anything to anyone about the book.  If it had come up in conversation at a later date, I probably wouldn't even have remembered having tried to read the book.  I read the bad, one star reviews online with a great deal of contempt.  In my world, what kind of person would a) read an entire book they disliked and b) bother to look it up and write a review on it.(1)

But this on is different.  I will finish.  I don't know why...probably becuase of who referred it to me.

(1)  Ok, in full disclosure, I did that once.  In all my online commentary, I have 1 - count them - 1 one-star book review.  But having read these two books, I may go back and give that old book another star.  At least that one angered me to the point of finishing and writing about it!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Saving America Billions of Dollars in Seven Words

As I get on the hotel elevator, there is a gentleman already on it.  We're both headed down.  I didn't notice it at the time, but he was carrying one of those electric cigarette things.  He turns to me and says:

"I'm an idiot, you know.  I bought this thing so I could smoke in my hotel room, and yet I still go outside to smoke.  I guess it's just habit."

Then, he says the very words that could have saved this country billions of dollars.  He said:

"I really don't want to smoke anymore."

The elevator doors open and we moved toward the lobby door, me on my way to my car and he on his way to a smoke his electric cigarette.

As I passed by the front of the hotel, I saw him sitting there smoking. I waved, but he didn't see me.

We spent billions of corporate and government dollars to engage in a debate about whether or not tobacco was addictive. The debate ran for decades and ended up in front the Supreme Court.  This guy started and ended that debate with a mere seven words.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can Dust Go to Heaven?

I have had the pleasure of being involved in a church book study group to look into the most recent Sam Harris book "Waking Up:  A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion".   As a result of this study, I've spent a lot of the past week considering consciousness.

In our discussion group, we got into conversation about the language around consciousness.   We particularly looked at the word "unconscious".  One of the other participants suggested that what we mean when we say "unconsciousness" is not really the opposite of consciousness, but an "unaware consciousness".  The absence of consciousness, we named aconsciousness.

Using that definition, unconsciousness was much more strongly related to what some call the subconscious than it was to the words apparent implication:  the absence of consciousness.

Someone questioned a comment from the Franciscan Friar (Roman Catholic) Richard Rohr who made a claim that the foundation of consciousness (the seat of the soul) comes from and returns to a collective unconsciousness, which I took to mean not an absence of consciousness, but rather the unaware variety of consciousness.

But then I started to wonder.  The Catholics say "You are dust an and unto dust you shall return."  One might make the presupposition that they do not consider dust to have consciousness the way Buddhists consider ants to have consciousness.  I don't even think the most pious of Buddhists would consider dust to be conscious. 

So, the question remains, is consciousness existentially something different than aconsciousness, or does it all totally flow together. 

Can dust go to heaven?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Exactly How Impatient is God

People seem to think God is eternal. The claim that God transcends time - that time doesn't pertain to God - is not unique to any one theology.

Then, along come Modern man - or should I say, Modern, white man - and starts to kill people in the name of God.  Sure, the crusades and the missionaries and the jihads really weren't 100% about God, but they were at least done in the name of God.

So, people - or should I say, white men - put their timeframe on God.  You must convert and you must convert now.  Now is very important - you know, for the eternal salvation of your soul.  And if you don't, we'll kill you and take all your stuff.

But how do you jive these two thoughts?  That God is at once eternal and time-transcending while simultaneously looking for immediate results.  For a time-transcendent being, trying to make sense of a single human lifespan must seem like trying to pick out a single rose while flying overhead in a commercial passenger plane.  What if that one rose is out the other side of the plane?  God might miss it entirely!  [Note that for God to not run the risk of missing it entirely, one of God's natural states would probably also have to be transcending space, but I don't think that's a standard theological claim.]

Each religion claims to have received emissaries directly from God, urging immediate change.  People have been turned into pillars of salt, for Pete's sake, and there are frogs and locusts involved.  Lots of them.  Time seems to be very, very important to God.

I wonder how I would think about concepts like "now" if time didn't pertain to me.  Lots of very human concepts would become rather useless, I would think.  Planning, for example would seem pointless.  Remembering too. 

Maybe to a being for whom time has no meaning, linear or circular notions of time really don't matter.  Everything must seem to happen all at the same time through every moment.  It must be like watching bazillions of television programs at the same time.  Can God focus on all that stuff all at the same time?

It makes us feel better if we're able to situationally hold God to be both just like us and also very different from us.    It helps suit our needs.

The greatest sin is a sin against yourself.

Monday, October 12, 2015


Why do I love baseball so much? it goes....

I love baseball because it mirrors life.  Most of the time, you do the right thing and you get the desired outcomes - or you do the wrong thing and get undesirable outcomes.  That's kinda the way life goes most of the time.

But sometimes, you do the right thing and get undesirable outcomes - or you completely do the wrong thing and get the desired outcome anyway - despite doing the wrong thing.

The batter can have a string of three at-bats.  In the first two, he swings awkwardly and rolls the ball slowly to the infield and manages somehow to reach base safely - in both cases, managing to just barely hit the top of the ball hard enough to roll it past the pitcher.  On the third at-bat, the same batter swings a textbook-perfect swing and hits the ball perfectly.  The line drive screams toward the right fielder - directly to the right fielder - who catches it without taking a single step and the batter is out.  Two successes on texbook failures, and a failure on a textbook success.  That's the way life goes every then and again.

The same thing can happen with a pitcher, who pitches a masterful game, giving up just one run on just a smattering of hits.  Maybe the only hit was a home run that scored the opposing team's only run of the game - all the other batters fared miserably against the pitcher on this day. His team hits the ball all over the place, but manages to not score any runs in the game.  Despite his masterful performance, the pitcher is recorded as the losing pitcher, despite having technically outpitched the opposing pitcher and his team having outhit the opposing team.

And then, there's the doubly-odd.  One former player (Vladimir Guerrero) was known far and wide as a great "bad pitch" hitter.  He once actually reached base safely by hitting a pitch that had bounced on its way to the plate!  And yet, he managed to go 0/3 in David Cone's 1999 perfect game (which I was in the stands to witness).

Baseball reflects the uncertainty of life. That's why its so wonderful.  All sports do to some extent - if they didn't involve uncertainty, they would be pointless.  If the outcome of a game can be determined without actually playing the game, it makes the whole thing rather stupid.

As I write this, the Chicago Cubs are back in the playoffs.  Last week, the team won its first playoff game since 2003.   That's not even the worst of it.  They had lost nine playoff games in between.  In one of the Back to the Future movies, Marty McFly learns that the 2015 Cubs will win the World Series in a five game sweep of the Miami/Florida Marlins.  Well, the Marlins ended up not making the 2015 playoffs and the movie predicted that they'd win the World Series a week before the actual 2015 World Series would even begin - but that's all just being a factist for me.

The spirit of the game lies is the same spirit that fills life with hope and disappointment.  

Monday, October 5, 2015

Baby Seagulls

Have you evern noticed how rare it is to see a baby seagull?  For that matter, it's really rare to see a dead one, too.  It seems like all the seagulls you ever wanna run into are in the prime of life.  Maybe it just seems that way to me, and its not like I'm an avid seagull enthusiast or anything.

My family has recently been very close to a teenager with a substance reliance problem.  If you were to just look at her circles of friends, it seems like 100% of teenagers have these issues.  Most of them refuse to acknowledge its a problem (mostly becuase its not a problem for them, actually).  It is very painful to all involved.

I happened to be re-reading an employment policy of a company I know.  The policy says that this company is a "drug free workplace".  It goes on to say that:
"The illegal use of drugs is a national problem that seriously affects every American. Drug abuse not only affects individual users and their families, but it also presents new dangers for the workplace." 

So, if this is true, and if its wide spread, where are all these kids with substance reliance issues going to work?  Are there places who consider the illegal use of drugs to be beneficial to the workplace?  Where will they go when they leave the nest?  Many of them are leaving the nest under less than optimal situations.

They're like baby and dead seagulls.  You don't really see them that much, but they're around.