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. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Into the "Stretchy Part"!

And onto the bus stormed five little kids, all probably the same age, I'd guess five or maybe six years old. Behind that bundle of energy was their caretaker - by my guess -  parent to none of them.

They all immediately sat down in and amongst already seated passengers. Overjoyed to be here, sitting here. Their joy erupted again when one of them realized that the seats on the turntable where the bus hinges - they called it the "stretchy part" we're still available.  There was implied disbelief that all these silly adults would choose to sit anywhere else but in the stretchy part.

The collective conscience of the five sprung into action as they jumped into the aisle on their way to the stretchy part of the bus. The woman sitting across from me joined eyes with me and we shared a smile, basking in the sudden joy blizzard that had just passed us by on their way to these premier, yet magically vacant seats.

Unfortunately, their joy seemed to interfere with the very serious work of two adults who had boarded behind them. One was probably 30 and whatever was going on in his phone required his full and undivided attention. He he rolled his eyes to the roof of the bus. Maybe there was a fly up there.

The other serious adult was wearing garb from a casino, and I couldn't help but wonder how adult games seem so soul-sucking in the light of the luck of these five stretchy-seated five year olds.

Monday, September 21, 2015

God Granted...

Do you know what this is? 

O thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war's desolation.
Blest with vict'ry and peace, may the Heav'n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

Its the third verse of the "Defence of Fort McHenry", written in 1814 during the War of 1812.  A little later, it got a title change to "The Star Spangled Banner" after it had been set to (interestingly enough, 50 year old British) music and then and a little expos-facto, was made the national anthem in 1931.

"Heaven" and "the Power"  clearly wanted the United States to exist, just the way it is.  It was born and lived its run-up to anthemhood in the days of "Manifest Destiny".  You could call this a real boom that swept the nation - and for right reason.  That American were bound to take over all of the continent/west and make it just like Europe was - to restore civility to the wild west.

I wonder if God had called us to greater things, if we would have heard him over our own hubris?

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Thing is Never the Thing

Have you ever gotten involved in a conversation, only to realize that the conversation itself was meant to serve as a distraction from a larger question?

I think of the infamous Christian discussions about how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.  If you're busy discussing the nature of a thing, you will probably fail entirely to question its existence in the first place.

This happens when people make mistakes, too.  Rather than apologizing and moving on, they create drama.  This dramapology is not one of my shortcomings, but I can see it and it is quite ubiquitous.  If we worry about why the e-mail didn't go or was lost or not received, then we don't need to talk about what the e-mail actually said, do we?  A little shit-storm about tangential events can certainly allow us - if we all want - to brush the real thing under the rug.

But then sometimes its serious.  Expressing "I hate you" when what is really meant is "I hate me" and nobody moves toward wholeness.   Worrying about the doctor being unpleasant sure can help us forget that dad is dying.  In both cases, pain is distributed rather than lived.

The problem, I guess with the thing not always being the thing is that we might often be better off if the thing actually was the thing every then and again.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Lamenting the Demise of Irreverence

Every year on September 11,  I try to listen to Imus in the Morning. This year, his audience has shrunk from a national television and radio audience to a local, radio-only audience. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, I am streaming Imus in the Morning this morning on WABC in New York. Unfortunately, they're playing a "best of" show, which is good, I guess.

I was a devout Imus listener at the time of September 11, 2001.  I remember being glued to the radio listing to the show produced and aired on the fly, with no commercials and no breaks.  It was then and still is one of the very best coverages of any unplanned event that I have ever heard.

This day always makes me miss Imus.  Missing Imus makes me miss the America in which we could be irreverent without being insulting.

Granted, he was both and he’s run afoul with several people and groups because of it, but I would argue that his irreverence and humor didn’t really change much over the years.  As a matter of fact, I might say that he toned things down a bit as he went from a local to a national celebrity.

The change that Imus either missed or attempted to challenge is our collective definition of and threshold for discomfort. Something that was irreverent and funny years ago is now personally insulting. The avoidance of pain is fast becoming the primary concern amongst us.

Our inability to laugh at ourselves and more importantly, to laugh with someone as they laugh at themselves has devolved into laughing at and feeling indignant at being laughed at.

That sensitivity is coming from somewhere.  What has happened along the way?  Was it economic?  Was it social?

Across America right now, churches of my faith have put up “Black Lives Matter” banners, only to have them defaced, stolen or ruined.  Just the other day, one of the leading candidates for the Presidency commented that another contender would not make a good President because of the way she looked.  I like to think that these things would not have happened thirty years ago, and if they did happen, they would have met with a stiff rebuke because they were uncivil and outside of the social conventions that defined interpersonal relationships.

Sure, we called Jimmy Carter a "peanut farmer" to demean him and laughed at the travails of his brother Billy and maybe I'm just being nostalgic, but it seemed different.

The civil discourse and mutual understanding that comes from having a good laugh at yourself or with others laughing at themselves - from really getting to know one and other - has largely vanished. It has been replaced with self-defensive posturing (even being self-defensive to ourselves) that robs from us the opportunity to engage people on a whole hearted basis and band together on the road to solidarity.  We make friends by laughing together so that when the tough times come and disagreement is real, we can still hold our communities together.

I lament that loss when I hear Imus.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Happy Labor Day

Happy Labor day.

On this day, I would like to remember those who died to move the balance between the capital class and the working class.  There were "riots", murders, outright assassinations and many were put at physical danger.

In 1884, police tried to dissipate a peaceful meeting of striking workers in Chicago's Haymarket area, killing two striking workers.  The next day, a homemade bomb went off in a crowd of policeman as they approached the re-gathered striking workers.  Twelve policemen were killed.  What followed was a trial so rickety that just a couple years later, the next Governor of Illinois commuted the sentence of four of those convicted. Four others and already been hung and one more had committed suicide en lieu of the hanging.

So, twelve police, two striking workers and the five convicted all died.  All members of the working class.  Zero members of the capital class were affected.

It took a while, but eventually, with widespread prosperity, the United States caught up by moving the balance through legislative actions.

1935 - Right to Collective Bargaining
1935 - Social Security Act
1938 - Federal Minimum Wage Laws
1940 - 40 Hour Work Week
1940 - Child Labor Restrictions
1965 - Medicare
2010 - Affordable Care Act

All of the above faced battles in the Supreme Court.  None of those laws we now hold so dearly were the first of their kind in the world.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Great Binding Law

In a recent discussion about all the pain and fear currently on display in our country and elsewhere, I was asked what I thought was "wrong with the world" these days.

I don't necessarily think anything is wrong with the world, its just that we are afraid.  We're afraid of the world and each other, in varying degrees and at varying times.  It seems to have come around again to be all about money and power. Power seems to have devolved into equal parts self-reciprocating machismo (women not immune), blind arrogance and willful indifference.  

I spend a lot of time working with companies and it seems that these days, shareholders demand so much from companies that the individuals who run them scurry around to avoid failure.  

These three elements are requisites to success.  We reward this psychotic behavior with huge paydays.  Seven Generations?  We are incented to look out seven days, weeks maybe, maybe just maybe seven months. 

The Great Binding Law (of Peace) of the Iroquois Nations (circa 1451 CE) in #28 demands of leaders a personal fidelity to the nation (which means removing self-interest), present and future. 

The Great Binding Law of the United States (1787) says nothing about personal accountability of leaders.

Maybe it all really does start at the top. Maybe its just a timing thing.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Worst Projects

The worst projects are not the ones that seem insurmountable.  Not the ones that will take a herculean, all-hands-on-deck effort.  Those can actually be wonderful, they can pull a community together to make something better than can be shared.

Even when the too-big-to-succeed projects are not about community, they're still not all that bad because when they're done, you can still have a sense of accomplishment.  Like Charlie Brown used to say, it's like peeing in a dark suit, you feel better and nobody notices.

The worst projects are like peeing in a dark suit, but you don't feel better.  They're the projects that you have to stop everything you're doing to get done and all they do is reset you back to ground zero.  Three days worth of work to unscramble an egg, only to have someone say "see, there is the egg, I told you it was right there".

Effort into the hands of the unappreciative, or the ungrateful, or the jaded or the entitled.  Those are the worst projects, regardless of how much effort they take or how you feel about your effort afterwards.