Monday, August 27, 2018

One Sunday morning, not too long ago, on my way to church I stopped through the Dunkin Donuts drive through for a cup of coffee (don't judge me!)

Waiting my turn in a line of about three cars, I happened to notice the person in the car behind mine.   This person was on the phone.  Their arms were moving about and there was clearly an exhaustive search for something going on.   

I noted the difference between what was happening in my car - listening to 1970's classics on the radio and thinking I have more than enough time to get my coffee and saunter my way to church and still be early.  It was quite nice, actually.  On the other hand, the car behind me was all movement and action.  Looking for this.  Talking about this - and not just talking - talking with gusto. 

I thought to myself how lucky I was versus that poor, multi-tasking soul.  But then my mind moved to intent.  "You know;" I thought.  "I could be on the phone all urgent too.  I could be looking for whatever it is.  I clearly don't know where all my sh!t is at this moment either."  But I'm not.  And I thought to myself:  "Why would I intentionally bring all that frantic into the life of someone I know well enough to be on the phone with on a Sunday morning? -  Why would I want to do that someone?"

My mind went to my phone.  Where was my phone?  Crap.  Did I leave it at home AGAIN?   No.  It was there.  Sitting in the passenger seat, dutifully sucking power from the car and doing its best impression of a really expensive paperweight.

In that moment, I was able to articulate something that had bothered me for quite some time.  I put it together that the phones have had an unintended (or, at least I assume it was unintended) effect on our society.  When the phones first came out, it was 100, 200 maybe 500 minutes of talk per month.  Text didn't exist.  So we were frugal with our word lest we "pay overages".  Now, you almost can't get an "unlimited" plan.  Talking has become like eating Sunday Brunch from the buffet.  We're confused by this whole "unlimited" thing.  We think "unlimited" and "all you can eat" are good things.  They're not.  Just because you can eat or talk all you want doesn't mean you should.    

This ability to talk or text any time we want has lead us to have an inflated sense of worth of what we have to say.  Just because you can say something doesn't mean you should.   This whole elevated sense of value of our own thoughts leads us to not really do a great job hearing what others are saying.   Self-importance skyrockets at the expense of mutuality.

I don't know what the conversation was in the car behind me, but I can only imagine that it couldn't possibly have merited the gusto with which it was being carried out.  Its Sunday morning and you're on line at Dunkin Donuts.  Shut the hell up, turn on the radio and relax.  You owe that level of maturity to whoever is on the other end of your phone.
Teen agers and young adults will regularly thousands of text per month.   The average in the US is 32 texts per day, per person with a phone.  
The average US mobile phone owner talks 15 minutes per day on their mobile phone. 

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Three Buttons

There is a button on my internet browser labeled “Favorites”.
It’s where I keep links to websites I use a lot.  Of course, this is a good idea because it saves me from having to re-type the whole website address thing.  I know it’s a good idea because I use it often.
I do, however object to the label “Favorites”.  I actively dislike some of the websites I visit often.  I wish there could be two buttons – “Favorites” and “Often Used”.
On “Favorites”, I would keep links to baseball scores in the summer and basketball and hockey scores in the winter and movie times and my church and YouTube videos of Carlin, Hedberg, Rock and TED talks.
On “Often Used” I would keep my bank and Amazon and a “news” feed or two and the stock market stuff.
I just feel it a sacrilege for all that to be jumbled up in something called “Favorites”.  Seems wrong.  “Favorites” seems too welcoming - even inviting.  It make it out like those sites are good old friends or a comfortable pair of shoes or the morning music show on ETV Radio.  Whoever named it "Favorites" clearly had a different outlook on the value of browsing the internet than mine. 
Maybe there should be a third button called “Oh, God.  Do I have to?”  That actually seems more appropriate than “Favorites” sometimes.  It would be a place, for example where die-hard Orioles fans could put their memories of this season or the website for my student loans or for that matter anything that mentions our current government.
Three buttons.  “Favorites”.  “Often Used” and “Oh, God.  Do I have to?  Seems about right to me.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Spanish Civil War

Tomorrow is the 82nd anniversary of what is commonly considered the start of the Spanish Civil War.  I read a fantastic book about the Spanish Civil War this spring.  It is called "Spain in Our Hearts" by Adam Hochschild. Mr. Hochschild is a wonderful story teller, but this is a horrible story.

I even studied in Spain at college and I left there not knowing what I now know.

I really find a lot of flaws in the cliché "history repeats itself", but reading this story of this proxy war which turned out to certainly the beginning of the Second World War left me hearing synonyms, equivalents and echoes of what I hear when I listen to the news today.

Contrary to popular belief, I don't think we're more crazy than we had been in the past.   I do think we're more honest about it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Lonley Top Half of the Pole

Its Flag Day this week. June 14. Thursday to be specific. It's also my grandmother's birthday. She would have been 120 years old today.

Not too long ago, I walked into my office building in the morning and noted that the flags were at half-mast.  Again.

Is it me, or are our flags at half-mast a lot more than they were when I was a kid? Maybe I just don't remember - after all I was a kid and probably devoted my energy to other pursuits. It just seems like the flags
are at half-mast an awful lot.

That day, it was in honor of the death of former First Lady, Barbara Bush. Listen. I get our national discomfort with death and dying. I understand that Barbara Bush was a significant historical figure, but she lived a whole life and died - by all accounts - on her terms. By position, flying the flag at half-mast would not be required under the US Flag Code (yup, a real thing), so the order to fly flags at half-mast had to be made by Presidential proclamation.

This isn't about Barbara Bush. It’s about how normal it’s become to see the flag at half-mast. It’s about how I look at the flag half way up its pole and think "Wow, I wonder what shitty thing happened yesterday." Against my own wishes, I feel myself becoming desensitized by our collective sensitivity. My desensitization isn't anything new - for sure. Sex, violence, recreational drugs, conspicuous consumption: I am slowly desensitizing to all of them. But the ease with which I have come to accept the latest awful thing is a problem.

I was uncomfortably relieved to find out that the flags were lowered on that day for Barbara Bush. Walking past them on my way into my office, I just assumed someone had walked into an elementary school or a gay bar or a movie theatre or a bowling alley or a church and killed a bunch of people.

I long for the day when the top half of the pole is more than just ornamental.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

I am Sears (PS....So Are You)

Well, it looks like Sears department store is well into its process of fading into obscurity.  The most recent 6+ years have been declining sales and disappearing profits.

From a high of building the worlds tallest building as its headquarters and store in (what seemed like) every zip code, to "when was the last time I was in a Sears other than because the parking is easiest at the mall".

At varying points, Sears owned and operated a stock brokerage house (Dean Witter), an insurance company (Allstate), a credit card (Discover), a real estate brokerage (Coldwell Banker) several iconic brands (Craftsman, Kenmore, and Lands' End to name just a couple) and a chain of tire stores (National Tire and Battery). 

People's feelings are all over the place:  from lamenting the "Wal-Marting" of Sears to the repurposing of the "survival of the fittest" ideology.  There is also nostalgia and I admit there is some nostalgia for me as well.  Annual trips to buy new toughskins for the coming school year to the only store in town with an escalator.  Even though the boys department was on the first floor (making the escalator unnecessary for my mother's purposes), I still managed to manufacture a meaningful reason to go upstairs at least once. 

The first time I ever saw the demon that was the microwave oven was also at Sears.  What sorcery is this! (All kidding aside, still not a big fan of microwave ovens.)

As I consider its fading away, I wonder what the attraction is to holding onto things from the past.  Why are we so invested in thinking that perpetuity is possible?  Do we need it to be to hold out hope for our own personal perpetuity? 

Let's resist the urge to let our nostalgia blur our 20/20 rear-view mirrors.  Sears was the Wal-Marter of its day, pushing smaller local business out of business.  And lest we lull ourselves into conveniently forgetting, the survival of the fittest is only temporary.  Some might say that Wal-Mart itself is in the process of being Amazoned and one day, Amazon will be replaced by something even better that I quite frankly can't really even imagine yet.  (Will we just think about a new shirt and it will show up on our torso?)

I too will be Wal-Marted by a fitter person. One who can do things better than I can.  I'm getting to the age where I'll be replaced for cheaper labor and what I make up for with skill and experience will begin to be blurred by the cost savings of a hungry 30 something with a mortgage and two kids and pockets full of student loans.  I've probably already met my own Amazon, who will one day meet his or her own whatever-comes-next.

The secret, I suppose is to plan for it.  Sort of like fastening your seatbelts.  Maybe never get in that crash, but what's the harm in getting ready?  But getting ready seems a lot like giving up and giving up seems a lot like walking away from things I care about and things I've worked for.   But on the other hand, fighting it seems a little like Ted William's kids freeze-drying their dad's head.

In the end, it seems that one day, I  - like Sears marriage to K-Mart - will find an uncomfortable balance. The question is not whether that day is coming, but what influence I can manage to have on designing a balance that provides an environment for my own contentment.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Aquila Non Capit Muscas

I just heard this very interesting latin phrase for the first time.

I was looking up de minimis which is a phrase I just cannot for the life of me seem to remember how to spell. De minimis means "dealing with little things". Its used in accounting and business when what we want to say is that "We are going to mail you a check for $0.03 because that would be stupid."

 Aquila Non Capit Muscas is a more colorful way of saying the same thing. Literally, it means "Eagles don't catch flies". The inference being that whoever says it is claiming that the matter being discussed is below them, or not worthy of their effort.

What clocked me over the head was exactly how much time I spend catching flies in the pursuit of whatever it is

I'm pursuing - or maybe its pursuing me.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Unexpected Consequences

I have an acquaintance who is slow to ask for help.

I’m understating that purposefully for the purpose of effect. This person will never, ever ask for help and I have come to understand that not as a reflection of our relationship, but a rather consistent pattern for her.

The thing I’m realizing is that her discomfort with asking for help changes the way I deal with her. I am reluctant to ask her for help. There is this wall between us that I put up.

I realized this the other day for the first time. Why didn’t I ask her for help just then? Ah. That’s why. She doesn’t like getting help, so I suppose I just assumed that she also doesn’t like giving it. I felt a little closed off in a way I hadn’t recognized before. Its too bad.

Myself, I have average skills when it comes to asking for help. Sometimes I’m good. Sometimes I’m not. It never dawned on me how much that has to do with me and how much it has to do with the other person. It really didn’t dawn on me until just now how much it says about me to the other person. I never considered being asked for help to be a compliment, but that’s really what it is – isn’t it?

Friday, April 20, 2018

Earth Day, 2018

Its Earth Day again.  Earth Day is the celebration of what crappy stewards of our planet we are. 

I remember the television commercials when I was a kid in the 1970's of the actor portraying the American Indian crying over all the trash all over the place. 

We've certainly made strides.  The river in my home town was so awful that we dreaded getting stuck in a red light while on the bridge due to the smell. 

Litter and pollution are, at their most honest, financial issues.  Sure, its not right for you and I to pass our problem forward by failing to put the stuff we no longer need in a trash bin, but you and I dropping a bottle on the street are the tip of the iceberg.

Jimmy Buffet's song "The Prince of Tides" (which comes from the title of a book by his friend, Pat Conroy) has this verse in it that I think sums up the rest of the iceberg.
One night they put a price on the sunset
and that got the whole earth shakin'
They rose from the grave both the weak and the brave
'cause history was there for the makin'
And the winos surrounded the condos
forming a frail human fence
And they shouted out loud to the roar of the crowd
"Same old story, more dollars than sense"
If we really want to improve the earth, if we really want to be stewards, we don't need a holiday, we need policy. We need it to be as expensive, as risky, and as realistic to the people who put a price on the sunset as it is for the people forming the frail, human fence.  Until that can happen, it's Happy Earth Day.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Passwords, Airports and Risk

The super-passwords thing is getting a little crazy.  12 characters, one capital, one lower case, one number, but not more than 4 numbers in a row, one character, but not a @ or a ! - all to secure my access to a website about basketball?

It’s the same as the TSA having you take your shoes off at the airport.  George Carlin called it the largest industry in the United States: the manufacture, packaging and distribution of bullshit.

The stronger and stronger passwords aren’t going to save us from having our personal information become known to undesirables.  It’s systematically bringing a butter knife to a gun fight.  If stronger passwords actually worked, then why do they need to keep getting “stronger”?  On top of that, the reality is that as we’ve found out with recent revelations from Apple and Facebook, the people setting the password requirements often times ARE the very undesirables from whom we’re trying to protect ourselves by having the password in the first place!

The entire purpose for the stronger and stronger passwords and the more and more expensive TSA equipment is to provide the illusion of security.   We spent billions of dollars on specialized security in computers and yet financial and personal accounts are still pried open by undesirables.  We now have an entire insurance industry to answer that specific risk and a huge portion of the information technology industry is dedicated to that risk.

When it comes to the airports, we spent billions of dollars on specialized monitoring devices and yet, we still need to take our shoes off and buy tiny packages of under arm deodorant.  If these machines were as awesome as their cost would imply, why can’t they tell the difference between a pair of Chuck Taylors and a freaking bomb?  I can, and I’m an idiot.  And why, after I pass through the machine, do I still need to be frisked to discover that the wadded up napkin in my pocket is, in fact, not a threat to national security?  If a normal sized package of under arm deodorant is going to be our downfall, I’m thinking we might already have fallen.

We permit our lives to be disrupted and our costs to soar for the primary purpose of watching the rich get richer by selling us an illusion of security.  Security is a huge industry and we don’t even know we’re paying for it – its buried in the price of the ticket, or the lower interest rate on our savings accounts (remember those?) or the removal of other government services designed to enrich our lives.

I am going to try to figure out how to abandon my desire for security, but I suspect it won’t be easy, or even possible.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Ownership of Work

Karl Marx brought to collective attention the differences - some would say "disparity" - between the risks taken by the two classes in a capitalist system:  the labor class and the capital class.  As part of that discussion, he quite often used the term "owning the means of production".  This was one of the key ways that he separated the capital from labor - the capital class owned the factories and the machines that labor worked to keep running and producing their goods.

The risks of the two capitalist classes can sometimes run together.  For example, if the owned means of production produce something that falls out of favor, both the capital class and labor experience loss; the capital class now owning a valueless asset (a machine that makes something that nobody wants) and labor has a valueless skill (the ability to make things that nobody wants).

However, for the most part and as would be expected, since the industrial revolution the risk has slowly and steadily been diffused from capital to labor.  Capital has learned to "front load" returns such that their risk is largely paper losses.  By this I mean that planning obsolescence into the capitalist structure systematically shifts "real" risk (the risk of going hungry, homeless or broke) from the capital class to labor.

The problem is that it is very difficult to plan the obsolescence of people - "human obsolescence".  American society - often much to the chagrin of the capital class -  has created mechanisms to attempt to diffuse the risk of human obsolescence.  Systemic risk shifters such as the Workers Compensation Insurance system (1917) and the Retirement Income Security (1974) create pools of insurance to attempt to stem the risk of "human obsolescence". 

The real risk is the value of work.  The steady decline of real wages since the 1960's has at its causal roots, efforts from both the capital class to drive down labor costs (an insidiously name concept called "productivity") as well as from the labor class itself with people readily willing to take lower pay and less benefits for the same job to avoid personal financial disaster.

As a result, whereas Marx would have claimed that labor's ownership - not of the means of production, but the production itself; work - would be its advantage or at a minimum a field leveler, really turns out to be structured in a way that also benefits the capital class.  So, even though labor owns the production, you could make a reasonable argument for labor itself being so manipulated and so controlled by capital, that labor itself is "owned" by capital.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Dear High School History Teachers

I am watching a television series on the history channel that talks about the Roman Empire from the perspective of those who resisted it.  The series is called "Barbarians Rising". 

As I'm watching it, I'm having flashbacks to High School History classes.  What I guess I didn't realize at the time was that I was definitely being taught history - or at least this slice of history - from the perspective of the Romans.  The term "barbarians" was used to describe people who were "uncivilized", "disorganized" and generally inferior, with the Romans being painted as superior.

I don't know if its this program's intent, but I think I'm beginning to understand that I might have had that a bit backwards.  I'm wondering if my High School History Teachers also in the backs of their minds thought that they were doing history an injustice by teaching it mostly from the perspective of the strong.

In today's climate of the hyper-valuation of "facts" and the deprioritization of process and the resulting demise of critical thought, I wonder how this will play out in the future.  There have been a lot of "Romes" over time.  [For that matter, I am most certainly a citizen of my generation's Rome.]  Will we be able to discern the myth - even if its called "history" - from the actuality?  Will we even care to try?

Monday, August 14, 2017

Meet Dr. Frank Jobe

Dr. Frank Jobe is probably the most famous doctor you have probably never heard of.

Dr. Jobe developed a surgery sometimes referred to as ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction surgery.

This surgery is known worldwide as "Tommy John Surgery".  The surgery fixes a (normally) repetitive injury in the elbow.  It corrects a very common injury that occurs in baseball pitchers.   About half of the pitchers who undergo the surgery are eventually able to continue a career that would otherwise have ended due to the injury that the surgery corrects.

What this guy basically did was say:  "Hey,  I have an idea.  Why don't we take a tendon from over here, drill a bunch of holes in the elbow and use the tendon to hold the whole thing together."

And for his bother, we named the surgery after the guy on whom it was first performed.

To me, this is sort of like naming a song after the brand of piano its played on. 

I wonder if it pissed him off.  I wonder if it would have pissed me off.

Anyway, even though he died a couple years ago, meet Dr. Frank Jobe.  The most famous doctor you're probably never heard of.

Monday, August 7, 2017

If the Bible Taught Us Anything, #2.

And while we’re on the topic of the Garden of Eden, let’s take a look at the two-trees thing.
One of the most fundamental rules of making things work well is making it difficult – or better, impossible - for the operator to make a mistake. 
Take brakes on your car, for example. They’re very important.  That’s why they’re right there where most people can easily reach them.  Move your foot from the “go” pedal to the “stop” pedal.  Simple, almost intuitive now.  Much more complexity would increase the risk of negative outcomes and cares would have immediately been very out of style.
And then there is the Garden of Eden.  Laid out by god to be all that and a cup of tea for all those who lived in it, including humans.  And right there in the middle were two trees.  Eat from those trees and the whole thing goes to hell in a handbasket.
So, we heard earlier that the writers of Genesis were pretty clear in their belief that god created man in his own image.  If that’s the case, then that’s a confession that they knew that god had to have known that man would have a dickens of a time laying off the trees.  Maybe he could have put the trees out of reach somehow – at the end of some sort of endurance test or at least up a hill.  Or maybe – and I’m just thinking out loud – not had any disaster trees at all.  I mean, was there some sort of rule that said that those trees had to be there?
If you believe that two of the characterizes of most gods are that they generally are all-powerful and all-knowing, then that makes the whole two-trees thing a set-up.  Man was set-up to fail. 
If you also happen to believe in a loving god then you have to consider why the setup.

Monday, July 31, 2017

If the Bible Taught Us Anything, #1

If the Bible taught us anything, it’s that Adam got the best of Eve.

Come back with me to the Garden of Eden.  There, humans had everything they ever wanted, mostly because they hadn't learned to want stuff yet.  All they had to do was not mess it up by eating fruit from one of these two trees.  [This whole two-trees thing is clearly a setup if I’ve ever seen one, but that’s a topic for another time.]

So, the snake (also created by God, as the story goes) convinces the woman to eat the fruit, which she does and then she shares it with the man, who also eats some.  After a while, God finds them out and confronts the man, who blames the woman who in turn, blames the snake.  God punishes the snake for convincing the woman that God was lying to them about the fruit of the trees [which he apparently was, by the way if you read on a bit]. God punishes the woman - but doesn’t tell her why - by making childbirth painful.  Lastly, God punishes the man - for listening to his wife - by making work (specifically farm work) unpleasant.  [If you’re paying attention, contrary to public opinion, nobody was punished for eating the fruit.]

So, how did Adam get the best of Eve?  Simple.  It’s possible for a woman to be a farmer, but it’s not possible for a man to give birth.  It’s kind of like when you were a kid and you and your sister both got sent to your bedrooms for a time out, but one of you had a TV or a radio in your bedroom and the other one didn’t.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Such a small difference

Have you ever considered just how dissimilar "care for" and "care about" really can be?

We tend to use them interchangeably, but they're really, really different when you think about it.

And then, there is a rather old fashioned use of "care for" - normally in the negative.  Relatives of my past generation would say "I don't care for [...]" when they were trying to soften "I don't like [...]".   That really confuses things.

Sometimes, "caring about" someone means NOT "caring for" them, meaning, not doing stuff they can do for themselves.  Sometimes both caring for and caring about mean doing stuff for people.

We'll even use "care about" as an excuse for bad behavior:  "I did it because I care about you and I thought you would like it/it would be good for you."  [PS: if you really cared for me, maybe you would have asked me first....]

I watched a movie recently that basically boiled down to:  "Because I care about you, I can't be around you anymore".  And it made perfect sense.  I care about you, so I've tried to care for you and you rejected me over and over so, because I care about you, I'm going to leave you alone. 

And some times "caring about" someone happens in a situation in which expressing that has some real barriers to its expression.  In those cases, we can accidentally morph "caring about" into a less productive version of "caring for".

Monday, July 10, 2017

We need so many words...

English needs a lot more words.

Take the word "love", for example.  Its quite the overused word, asked to fill in for a rainbow of feelings.  I love my dogs in a way that's very different from the way I love, say scotch.

And when it comes to people, well, now love becomes more of a timebomb.  A nuclear ka-boom!  Take a long term relationship.  It is highly improbable that you "love" your newborn baby and that same child at the age of twenty in the same way, but there we are, English sticks us with only that one lackluster word.

I guess what I'm saying is that there is a long way between "like" and "love", like the distance between purple and red in a rainbow, but we're stuck with only these two words, "like" which is anemic and powerless and "love" which is super-charged and loaded up with baggage like the Beverly Hillbillies.

I have a further problem. I use the word "like" a lot - probably too much. I have come to learn that some people will only use it toward people who have passed some sort of vetting process. "Yea, I like him." means that they have judged him to be worth of their attention. That's not the way I use it. I use "like" to mean that I find no reason to dislike someone. Like is an "opt out" for me, but for many people, liking someone is an "opt-in" activity.

Where it really gets sticky for me, personally is that I also use the word "love" on an "opt-out" basis. I've learned through some rather odd experiences to stop According to computer people, there are 16 million colors. We don't have words for each of them (or at least I don't think we have words for each of them.) But we also don't have just purple and red, either. I would think that expressing feelings should be at least as worthy of a few useful words as expressing the difference between "teal" and "cyan".

Monday, July 3, 2017

Saint Independence Day

Its Saint Independence day again.

Over the years, I have grown to honestly dislike Saint Independence day. 

It has been - and still is - a day on which we commemorate our violent separation from our mother land, simultaneously both matter-of-factly and oddly defensively recalling all our justifications for doing so.  In today's climate, infected with rabid tribalism, it also commemorates our growing lack of interdependence on the rest of the world.

American flags fly like a combination of victory flag and trademark to freedom.  A symbolism of  a memory of days gone by.  Days that really sucked for most Americans. The War for American Independence - like most wars - sucked for most of the people fighting it.  We look back into history and we can remember the ones that had enough time and money to write letters. [Histories of this era are built largely out of self-documentation.]  We document our past by their past.  We teach our children [who have not been left behind] that their past is linked to the past of these wealthy white people and that those same letter-writing, self-documentors deserve our reverence for having freed us from those other wealthy white people who so unfairly governed us.

But when we're honest about things, their past really wasn't our past.   Their past was the past of those people owning vast acres of land or industry.   The history of the common worker is tallied in the part of the story that mentions how many people died at this or that battle.   With the deaths of their husbands and brothers and sons, women most often lost their farm to the bank for non-payment of leins.   If you really want to know how the War for American Independence effected your ancestors, start by looking in the records of the churchs and the banks.

We are certainly free from something.   When you figure out what that is, you let me know.

PS1...In full disclosure, none of my family was in the American Colonies at the time of the War for American Independence, so my references to "our" are current-day.

PS2...For that matter, none of my family was ever in any war for independence.  My ancestors had left France for Canada before the French Revolution and the Canadians haven't had a revolution [yet].

PS3...Maybe next year I'll skip Saint Independence Day.

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

Free Breakfast Eggs

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.