Words to live by...
(The right to looseness has been officially given)
"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."
Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Ok, maybe that's a little extreme. But some words are difficult to pronounce when you first see them because of accepted spellings. Some of this is due to the fact that the English language absorbs words from other languages. Some of it is due to the retention of traditional spelling for a word.
When I was a lad in school (during the Dark Ages, I believe), first learning to read and write, we did use phonetics. The teacher would encourage us to "sound it out." We didn't need to spell words like telephone yet so it worked most of the time.
Well, except for counting...
One (pronounced "wun")
Two (pronounced "too")
Eight (pronounced "ait" or "ate")
Only one of those three has a rule involved. 'i' before 'e' except after 'c' or when sounding like 'ay' as in 'neighbor' or 'weigh'.
I am often surprised I remember that. I think that is because I wondered about the 'gh'. It could be an "ff" sound in some words and a silent "y" in others. It's a good thing we were so young. It's easy to tell a small child that it's "just the way it is... remember it."
They gave us a few rules for spelling that helped but most of the hard words required that you to just remember how something was spelled.
Hmmm... if you recall something it's called "remembering", if you forget it it, is it "dismembering"? Wait, that falls under vocabulary, not spelling.
People think it is just English but it happens in other languages. It just happens English is the only one I know well enough to converse in.
And now texting is tossing out all the rules...
Monday, June 29, 2009
I was raised to not look for others to extricate me from my problems. the constant refrain was "Don't come to me with your problems." Since most, if not all, my problems were of my own making, it was up to me to work through them. That did not mean I could not seek advice or counsel; that I could not learn from others. It simply meant that I was the one who had to make the decisions and determine my own course.
Not that I was very good at it, mind you. I often found myself in deeper muck than when I started. Some say that it's the best way to learn... by making mistakes. I am not so sure.
Still, I never became much of a follower.
When I was still working, we were given a new Operations Manager. He was a former Ford engineer of some sort where he was likely just another cog in the machine and AT&T gave him the opportunity to be a bit more. To wit, run our office. If he did well, he'd be on his way... if he didn't he'd be sent on his way... if you get my drift.
In any event, when he came to our office he held one of those meetings where we would get to know him and he could size us up as we sized him up. Fairly fresh from getting his MBA, he had all the buzzwords and managing techniques fresh in his mind. He still believed in them as he hadn't had a chance to actually try them out in the Real World.
He asked us all, in turn, "Who do you work for?"
The answer to this would give him, I suppose, some idea of how we viewed our place in the scheme of things. We were expected to rattle off our immediate supervisors whereupon he would make some pitch about how we worked for the company and/or the customer, yadda, yadda, yadda.
So I said "Myself."
After a second or two of silence while he placed me in the "this guy is gonna be trouble" category, he encouraged me to elaborate.
It is simple... I am a harder taskmaster for myself than any boss I ever had. I get paid by the company and they assign me work but I am the one who decides how I go about it.
This has always been my way. It has made me a poor team member at times. It makes me a rotten follower. It does not make me a good leader either.
It also raises the question of why do we, as a species, seek out leaders? Many times in our collective history, following a leader has been the poor decision to make. Consider Germany and Italy in the 30's. Blindly following the Emperor in Japan didn't turn out too well either.
Julius Caesar set a standard for Rome in terms of how it was to be run. From a republic to a dictatorship. Some of the emperors were good, some were bad. People tend to forget that Rome lasted another 400 years after Caesar's assassination.
The problem of inadvertently selecting a bad leader is eased a bit by democratic governments with regular plebiscites. After all, the problem can be corrected at the next election. Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Much depends upon the quality of the candidate opposing the incumbent leader.
Still, I see way too many people in this world all too willing to elect (and re-elect) "strongmen" to lead them. They are also all too willing to follow the lead of someone who is a disaster for the society. We do not seem to learn from history.
Those of us who eschew leaders will always be puzzled by those who do not.
Thomas Paine once said:
"Lead, follow, or get out of the way."
I prefer to get out of the way.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Regardless, I am here. I didn't choose to be here, so far as I know. Based on what I know about who I am, I would not have willingly chose to be me. I would have been someone more notable, more heroic, more famous (but not too... I like my privacy), definitely more wealthy, and probably a babe magnet. Also a better golfer. Oh, and just a bit taller.
Obviously, I had no choice in the matter.
The very concept of self is a mystery I lack the tools to solve. I don't think I am alone in this. Otherwise we would not have numerous philosphies and religions. We'd all agree about what, or who, we are and why we exist at all.
I came to this conclusion after years of wondering why I was born into the family in which I grew up. I cannot recall ever being happy that I was a part of that family. I often wished I had been born in someone else's. Most of my friends' families seemed better, though not all.
This means I had a fairly miserable childhood. Well, maybe not all that miserable. Certainly, others had it much worse than I did. After all, I was fed regularly, not beaten or sexually abused by a parent (or any other relative), adequately clothed, and always had a roof over my head. Instead of miserable, let's just say I could have been happier.
I just never felt like I was an essential part of it. My family, that is. I always felt like an outsider.
Which might explain my general uneasiness about being a human being. I have never felt that I was an essential part of that family either.
Sometimes, I play with the idea that we are some kind of entities that manifest ourselves wherever (and whenever) we like. We try out different lives as entertainment. Except why just as humans? Why not as animals too? But then there are insects (not to mention microscopic life forms). This would mean we exist outside of life as we know it. Between lives, that is. And that there is an ether in which we sit back (metaphorically speaking, of course... we may not "sit" at all in that form) and muse over what we experienced.
And then I go back to that whole "obscure part of the universe" thing.
And I once postulated that reality is simply a fantasy playing out in the mind of some creature lying somewhere in a comatose state. But what happens if he wakes up?
Or maybe it would be worse if he didn't?
Saturday, June 27, 2009
I should have written about this yesterday (actually, I did, I'm just posting today). My excuse is that I had already posted what I didn't have to write about yesterday before I saw this in a Rasmussen Reports update email...
Here's the important snippet...
A letter from the FDA to General Mills, the makers of Cheerios, said the company's advertising makes "unauthorized health claims" which means the cereal should be regulated as a drug. As a result, the FDA declared that Cheerios "may not be legally marketed with the above claims in the United States without an approved new drug application." The government agency added that "enforcement action may include seizure of violative products and/or injunction against the manufacturers and distributors of violative products."
Obviously, we must be careful about these cereals. the next thing you know, your ten year old will be snorting Kix... (wait a minute, I think I did do that when I was ten). I can see them now, passing little baggies full of contraband Capn Crunch in exchange for $20 bills.
This could just a be a marketing ploy. I mean, General Mills (sounds a bit militaristic, if you ask me) could have bribed someone at the FDA to send that letter so people would think eating Cheerios would be an act of defiance against an autocratic and oppressive government. They're not stupid, they saw how the AK-47 sales leaped when the Assault Weapons Ban went into effect in the 90's.
I think I am hungry...
Friday, June 26, 2009
I get this way after visiting with my aunt. She's 92 (a fact she brings up as often as possible) and she's very independent. Except when realizes she is all alone and no one has been visiting and my sister (who is allegedly watching over her but cannot right now due to the fact that she's laid up for a few weeks). So I get a call the other day from Aunt Grace. She's worried, she says, because two elderly women living alone nearby have recently been murdered. She wants a ride back to her old home in Naples (more on this home later).
Never mind that no one in Sebring has been murdered in several months. Possibly not in the last year, I am not sure. In any case, I checked. I searched news reports for any killings of any kind. And found, of course, nothing. I knew my sister was laid up so it was obviously up to me to go ease her concerns. I said I would get back with her.
I called my sister and let her know about the situation. With great concern in her voice, she whined about her own problems and thought perhaps Grace's county nurse friend in Naples would come up and get her. Though, of course, she had not ever actually contacted Kitty (this is the Nurse's name... really) about this.
I would have loved to take her to Naples to live in her old house... except it really is an old house. It is practically falling down. I am not sure it has water. I know the roof was leaking at one time. There are windows that are broken, screens that are torn, and trash throughout the house. There are peacocks, wild ones, that have taken up residence in the (formerly) screened front porch. They could probably get into the house but likely choose not to.
I would not allow my worst enemy to live in that house. Ever.
So, I contacted Kitty and discussed the prospect with her. Explained about my sister's incapacity. Did she have someplace for Grace to stay? I knew Kitty had some apartments she rented out. I knew that Kitty seemed to like Grace. I knew that Grace did like Kitty.
Kitty will be up Sunday to take Grace to Naples. It will be for the best. In the meantime, I will visit Grace each day and see that she has at least breakfast or lunch. I will listen to her tell me about her late son, her super-intelligent late husband, how my sister is laid up and cannot visit and how alone she feels and scared that she's been abandoned.
So, you can see that I have nothing to write about and too much to do.
Thursday, June 25, 2009
I understand affairs. But there is something that bothers me about the inevitable explanations we get subjected to once they are revealed. It's always "it just happened", "we never intended to hurt anyone", blah, blah, blah.
What is the word that comes to mind when I hear these stories? Oh yeah, it's Bull! (to be polite, I have only provided half the actual word)
You see, sex does not happen by accident. Two people do not just happen to find themselves naked in a motel room somewhere. When one or both are married, more than circumstance is involved. There is planning that must be done. Intricate and complex planning. It is difficult enough for the average mundane husband or wife to engineer multiple tryst sessions without arousing suspicion, just imagine if you are a governor and you have a full staff doing legitimate day to day scheduling being done for you.
I mean a spouse might find a way to start an argument so he or she can storm out and get a few unexplained hours in which to "cool down" or "think things over." How do you do that as a governor? Obviously, you don't. There are no unexplained hours. You live in a fishbowl, for Pete's sake! Planning must be done and eventually the planning will fail. Which says that the politicians we vote in nowhere near as bright as their campaigns would have us believe.
Maybe it's a form of insanity. Maybe they are deluded in thinking no one will ever catch them. Your spouse may choose to refuse to believe the truth of the matter but the press?
Regardless of the logistics involved, there is another problem I have with these "it just happened" excuses. It doesn't just happen. Both must make a conscious decision to engage in these things. And then make the effort to act on those decisions.
C'mon folks, do you really think anyone wakes up next to someone, naked and drenched in sweat, and say "Wow! How did that happen?"
I don't think so.
Am I being too judgmental?
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Here's a sampling...
Few organisms are more exotic than tropical pitcher plants.
Many species survive by consuming ants and other insects that fall into their liquid-filled bowls, where they drown and are digested. But Nepethes lowii, a species of pitcher plant found in Borneo, is maybe the weirdest of all: It gets its nutrients not from insects, but from passing tree shrews who use the plant's bowl as a toilet.[from June 22, 2009]
Today's is about numbers, called (strangely enough) Number Sense
The first line is:
You have to count to one thousand to use the letter A in the English language to spell a whole number.
The opening line grabbed me by the eyeballs and inserted tentacles into my brain like some alien creature. I was helpless to resist. I found myself counting to twenty to see if it was true. The pitcher plant lines conjured up a disturbing image in my mind that I am still having trouble banishing.
This guy has a penchant for examining the weird and strange. I like that.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
There is the San Andreas Fault, of course. But there's more to it. California is above the eastern side of the Pacific Ring of Fire.
It also involves something called Plate Tectonics. You see, the earth is not nearly so solid, in geologic terms, as one might think. The surface plates (the lithosphere) "float" upon the asthenosphere like a fine crust of dirt layer on a thick mud. These plates butt up against each other along these fault zones. This exerts enormous pressure which eventually gets released and, thus, we get earthquakes.
Ok, that is a very simple explanation. And maybe only partially correct. But it will do for now. A couple of years ago, I noticed there was an increase in activity along the Ring so I went looking around in the internet for more information. And there I found earthquake.usgs.gov which has a nice little alert feature. They will send you emails triggered by quakes in the areas you interested in when they are of a magnitude you set as a threshold. So of course I signed up.
I noticed another uptick of activity recently and went to the site and found something of interest...
This is a map showing activity of a magnitude of 4.5 or greater for the past 7 days. Notice the Aleutian Islands and the cluster in California.
I am not trying to spread fear here, I just find it curious.
Monday, June 22, 2009
Yes, I played quite poorly today. Then I came home, collapsed on the couch and started watching the U.S. Open on my DVR while replenishing my liquids. I had no energy to do anything else. My brain wasn't functioning very well either.
And these are my excuses for not writing a clever and witty post about something or other.
I also watched the rather interesting reports of the events in Iran in the past week. I was transported back in time to 1979. Back to when the people of Iran revolted against the Shah. That revolution produced something much more oppressive and ugly. What will this one leave in its wake?
North Korea is threatening to attack South Korea if we, the Americans, intercept a ship which could be carrying an illicit cargo of materials for WMD. It is also threatening to "test" a missile by sending it toward Hawaii. Everyone in our government says they couldn't reach Hawaii with that missile which I am sure assuages any concerns on the part of the people living in the Hawaiian Islands.
I have this feeling we are living under the Chinese curse of...
May you live in interesting times.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
He was, to us, the grumpy man who showed up around suppertime. He was stern and non-talkative. He was the one to be dreaded ("Just wait till your father gets home!"), to be feared. He seemed to have no bright side. He didn't play catch or teach me to ride a bicycle (only how they work and how to work on them).
He was a giant to me, a tall man (6'4") with a long stride who rarely waited for me. On the rare occasion when he would lift me onto his shoulders, it seemed like I could see for miles. A good dad to have at a parade.
We never talked about anything unless I was getting a lecture or being given instructions about a chore I was to do. I had no idea what his dreams were or how he viewed the world. But he was never wrong about anything, it seemed.
The "fun" times were when he would take us to Carvel for a treat. This was rare, maybe once a month in summer and quite an irregular event at that. Wherever we went as a family, we kids were to be behaved and quiet. We weren't, I suppose, because I do recall an angry look and a warning at times. That was plenty to shut us down immediately.
As I got older and more independent, we drifted even further apart. I was not alone, he and my brother were also estranged. Only my sister acted like he was a wonderful dad or seemed to feel close to him. She seemed to get a kick out of making him feel uncomfortable. He didn't like to be hugged.
My parents were close. As I grew older, I realized how devoted they were to each other. I was close to my mother but my father was a stranger to me. My mother once told me that he loved us but that he was uncomfortable around children. That once they learned to talk, once they learned the word "no", he was at a loss on how to deal with them. This seemed odd since "no" was not a word to use in response to any order from him. There were no requests, only orders, even if phrased as a question. If he asked, "Would you mow the lawn tomorrow?", it really meant "You will mow the lawn tomorrow!"
As a result, I never learned to relax around him. Even as an adult with a wife and son, he intimidated me. I never felt I measured up. We still never discussed things. The few times we tried deteriorated quickly. You did not get to have a valid opinion that opposed his. He didn't argue, just shut down the discussion at the point you disagreed.
Most of my adult life was spent far away from the rest of the family. I lived on the other coast much of the time. I rarely visited. When I did, I spent more time around my mother than anyone else. Only my mother came to see us while I was living in San Diego.
When my first marriage broke up and I transferred out to West Palm Beach, I borrowed some money from my father and mother to put down on a house. When I transferred back, I sold the house and paid him back with 10% interest. He tried to refuse the interest but I insisted. I paid my mother's half back in two payments over several years.
It was only in his later years, his 70s, that I tried to get to know him better, to chat with him. We had similar interests in photography and in knowing how things worked. We were both cynical about the world and politics. But we still had a strained, distant, relationship.
Faye and I had finally moved back into the same area in which my parents lived, though still some 35 miles away. I began to take them to dinner every couple of weeks or so. When his health began to get bad, I would come down to mow the lawn or do some chores which needed to be done. My father and I began to talk a little more.
I still never learned what his dreams might have been, what his joys and disappointments were. But I began to understand him just a little better. He became less of a mystery to me. But still remained a a stranger, distant and a little grumpy.
I was very surprised when he took me aside one day and asked me to promise him something. He asked me to look after my mother if anything happened to him. For him to bring this up meant that he knew something would, possibly soon. I, of course, immediately promised I would... that it went without saying that I would see to Mom's needs. And to his, if that ever became necessary.
I asked him why he brought this up at this time but he wouldn't talk. He got his promise, the conversation was over.
Over the next three years, many changes came about. They could no longer care for their home. My mother's Alzheimer's grew worse and my father less able to cope with it all. His own physical health was deteriorating. His heart was failing, he was growing weaker all the time. He to have a Pacemaker put in but it only postponed the inevitable.They had to move out of their home of 35 years and into assisted living.
This was a terrible blow to my father. This strong, independent, man was reduced to near helplessness. He had "lost" his home, he could no longer take care of his wife, he must depend on others for the first time since he was a child. It crushed his spirit.
For the next two years, he moped. He drifted. And he complained. Not about his care, not about the people who watched over him. But about still being alive. My mother said it best one day...
"He just sits around, waiting to die."
And, then, one day I got a call from my sister. My father had been rushed to the hospital, I needed to come down right away. When I arrived at the hospital, I found him on a respirator. The ugly monstrosity forcing air into lungs that did not want it. He groaned involuntarily with each breath, it seemed. He was unconscious, unable to breathe on his own. In spite of his DNR order, the EMTs had resuscitated him and the doctors were obliged to put him on the respirator when he arrived.
I showed the doctor my medical Power of Attorney, I explained about the DNR. He was sympathetic. He knew Dad would not make it but he advised that I should leave him as he was for 24 hours. That maybe, just maybe, he would start breathing on his own. I should return the next day and maybe I wouldn't have a decision to make.
He was wrong. I had to sign the order to remove him from the respirator. It was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Three days later, Dad passed away quietly in his bed in the Hospice ward on the 4th floor.
I never really got to know him.
Saturday, June 20, 2009
Into the bowl would go a can of tuna (in oil), salt and pepper, ground oregano, and several large spoonfuls of Miracle Whip. On the stove, two boxes of elbow macaroni have been boiling in water for the 10-12 minutes it would take to get to the right consistency. A touch beyond al dente.
A bit of an aside here... tuna used to come packed in fish oil. But the Powers That Be thought, at some point, that this was bad for you. So they forced a change to "spring water" and "vegetable oil", neither of which is nearly so tasty. Fish oil, they have since found, is actually good for you (think Omega-3) but they have not returned to the old practice.
The macaroni would be dumped in the spaghetti strainer (colander) which sat waiting in the sink. Cold water would be run, the macaroni noodles would be blanched so they would be cool and ready.
The macaroni would then be dumped into the large bowl with the tuna and Miracle Whip and the stirring and mixing would begin. Sometimes, she would dice some celery to toss in, and maybe cube some tomato too. She'd also dice some onion but this would go in a small dessert dish for use by those who liked onion. That was a favor to me, who didn't.
Once the concoction was thoroughly mixed, she'd bring it to the table and we'd all come and grab a dish. After we had all eaten, there was always a half bowl left. Mom would sit there, reading the Sunday paper, and dipping her fork into the bowl... eating one noodle,or very small forkfuls, at a time. She wouldn't get up until the bowl was empty.
It was the most delicious meal I ate in those days. A dish that took no great culinary skills at all but which never failed to tickle the taste buds.
When I was in the Navy (and after I got out) and had an apartment, I would rely on that dish to to get me through the week without exhausting my food budget. If you cover the bowl (or better, use a Tupperware type bowl with a "burpable" lid), the dish will keep for three days. All you have to do is stir in a soup spoonful or two of Miracle Whip to refresh it before serving.
I still make the dish from time to time. I have added diced Dill pickle and changed the pepper to lemon (and sometimes lime) pepper to the recipe. I also throw in some grated cheese (usually sharp cheddar) and diced celery (if I have some) for extra flavor. You can also add chopped hard boiled egg (sans shell, of course) and just about anything. Diced red and/or green pepper. Switch from tuna to grilled chicken. Or salmon, if you prefer. Use penne or spiral or any kind of pasta in place of the elbow macaroni (though I would advise against orzo, linguine, spaghetti, or lasagna noodles.
Each time I make it, I can see Mom sitting at the table, poring over the paper, dipping her fork into the bowl. And all is right with the world.
It never lasts more than a day anymore.
Drat! I'm out of tuna!
Friday, June 19, 2009
"I've always believed in writing without a collaborator, because where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties." 
No great mystery in that concept.
"I always wrote with the idea that what I put out there is going to stay there. Once I publish something, it has been published. I've never deleted more than one or two posts from my site. I don't think that there are takebacks. I don't feel right about it." 
Odd... I have never deleted any posts... yet
"Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it." 
After I have written something, I always find someone who has said it better.
"Not every story has explosions and car chases. That's why they have nudity and espionage." 
The four basic 'food groups' of screenplays
"Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self." 
Why is it always 'either/or'?
"A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?" 
So that is why I get nowhere much of the time!
"I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear." 
Me too... so why do I get so few answers?
"I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again." 
Exactly why I hate to proofread my work.
"Read over your compositions, and wherever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." 
I would do that but the voices in my head threaten to strike me out.
"Any word you have to hunt for in a thesaurus is the wrong word. There are no exceptions to this rule." 
What's another word for 'thesaurus'?
 Agatha Christie
 Alison Headley
 C. S. Lewis
 Bill Barnes and Gene Ambaum
 Cyril Connolly
 George Orwell
 Joan Didion
 Oscar Wilde
 Samuel Johnson
 Stephen King
Thursday, June 18, 2009
As you know, I play golf. Twice a week these days, Mondays and Fridays. We, the poorly attired and motley-looking, gather in the parking lot of a local golf course on these mornings in hopes of a few hours of enjoyment and fine companionship. We rarely attain either, it seems. But close... close enough to bring us back again for the next time.
We are all of a certain age. Retirement. A few of us still work, either out of boredom or mild necessity (food and lodging being somewhat important) but we are all either retired or old enough to have done so.
A precious few of us can actually play the game reasonably well. Another few have a reasonable number of good shots each round that we can modestly brag about at the end. Yet another few are well beaten most every time. We all return again, it seems, regardless of the last game's outcome.
Life is similar. Some of us play it well enough (those who excel at it are often placed on pedestals as examples of greatness), some of us have moments of satisfaction and even exhilaration, and some struggle with it every day. Only a relative handful give it up out of frustration. The rest of us keep playing... even in the rain.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
It's not an evil kind of jealous. It's not resentful. It's more a "why can't I be liked as much?" sort of thing. Jealousy, envy, of that sort is turned inward. It should drive you to work a little harder, do a little more, dig a little deeper for that spark , that certain something, which will shine a little brighter, draw a tad more attention to you.
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players"
(read all of the piece at http://www.artofeurope.com/shakespeare/sha9.htm)*
Ah, Shakespeare... the man was a master of wordplay. Imagine the power of his blog if he was alive today. Assuming he would bother with such trifles. Which he probably would. Because genius seems to be prolific by nature. It doesn't allow itself to be hidden or restricted. It seeks every avenue of expression.
Maybe. Or maybe it doesn't. Maybe only genius coupled with ego does that. And there is a competitiveness involved. It drives people to be in the public eye, to seek awards (so they can humbly accept them), to win acclaim.
When I was in junior high, I took a speech and drama class. I quickly found I hated to make speeches. It was not so much having to stand up in front of the class and speak as it was to assemble the speech and then give it that bothered me. If I could recite a speech or poem or short story someone else wrote, I had little trouble. My mouth was not so dry, my hands not so shaky, my words not so faltering as they tumbled from my lips..
That class also allowed me to experience acting. My memory was excellent then so remembering my lines was no problem and I had no fear of forgetting them. The lines were written by someone else so all I had to do was recite them... with the proper feeling... and fit them into the tempo of the lines of the other players...
As I recall, I did that well enough. I don't recall much, if any, stage fright the two evenings we performed the play. Oddly, I don't recall anything about the plot or story beyond the fact that it took place at a summer camp and I was a supporting player, "Jokey Stephen".
But I got a taste of what it is like to get applause, or laughs, from strangers that you cannot see. Whose eyes you cannot look into.
And isn't that what drives actors, writers, singers, all entertainers? Aren't they really there for the applause?
Isn't that what comments are?
* The Shakespeare monologue from "As You Like It" really isn't about my subject so much as it is about the seven stages of a man's life.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Each day, I try to think of something to write about. I am not always successful. Let me rephrase that, I am not always successful in writing about what I think up. More often than not, I get a brilliant idea and then I forget it because I fail to write it down or start it before I forget what it was that was so brilliant. Even if I do manage to retain it long enough to start a blog post, I somehow lose the train of thought that it must carry with it.
I didn't used to be this way. I used to be able to keep these things in my head for days. I could conjure up an idea, flesh it out over several days, and then write it down. Of course, while writing it down, almost everything about the initial concept would get changed.
Let me digress a bit... When I say "write down", I really mean type it into (using the 4 to 5 finger poke method) a word processor. Well, not a real word processor, I use WordPad. Don't groan, don't pity, don't try to sell me on something else. It is simple, it is uncluttered, and I don't need all the features of a full blown word processor.
Now, I think of something, and if it gets written down at all, it usually gets a paragraph (maybe two) before the mental thread snaps.
"Define, explain, rationalize the illusion of sanity."
" I notice some things seem to have the opposite effect than what was intended. When I was a teen, I found that dates with girls whose parents were strict and watched over them like hawks was likely to be the most enjoyable. These girls were screaming to do the things their parents said were "wrong." And I was very willing to assist them in their goals."
"The computer wars. They're not like The Terminator movies. No, instead of giant, complex, cyborgs with incredible weapons, it's hordes of geeks glaring at each other and bragging about their computers. It's a bit like arguing about religion or politics. Except those don't leave nearly the animosity and anger behind."
" There are times in one's life where hard decisions, unwanted decisions, have to be made. I went through that period some years ago. It was a period of two years in which I was faced with a number of decisions that I did not want to make."
" It started out, as most catastrophes do, as a great idea. We had developed computer systems to make or operate almost all our machinery. I blame IBM. No, perhaps the Greeks or, even further back, the Sumerians who gave us the abacus. It doesn't matter, the pebble was pushed down the mountain long ago and we are buried under the landslide."
There are plenty more. Sometimes I get much further along than just a paragraph (in fact, a few of the above have three or four paragraphs) but the concept changes while I am fleshing them out and I don't like where they are headed. It's like one of those dates that just go all wrong. They start out full of hope and promise and then, the next thing you know, she's calling a cab (or worse, her rather large brother), and you are left all alone and lying in a gutter somewhere.
Today is one of those days.
Monday, June 15, 2009
I have a confession to make. I am Rightist. I am incredibly uncomfortable around left-handed people. I realize they are a minority population and the world does not recognize their special needs (just try using a pair of scissors left-handed, for example). But I cannot work up too much sympathy, let alone any empathy.
Even though they are less than 10% of the general population, they are over represented in various fields. Eight of the 44 presidents of the U.S. have been left-handed (18%), just to give you an idea. Look at actors, it seems like every other one is left-handed.
Even though they have had to cope with a right-side oriented world all their lives, they have managed to excel in almost every area of note. It's not just that most tools are designed for right-handedness, there are subtle prejudices involved in things as seemingly minor as penmanship (lefties have a tendency to use a backhand script). There is also an historical bias against left handedness.
The technical term for left-handedness is sinistrality, the root word being sinestra. The root word once only meant "left" but took on meanings of "evil" and/or "unlucky". Somewhere along the way, the left side became associated with the devil and evil. It has also been tagged to clumsiness. Think of having "two left feet". A common European expression is "have two left hands", meaning to be clumsy. And it isn't just just western culture, the Chinese have a similar tradition of the left being the bad side. Not to mention the left handed compliment.
Computer mice are often ergonomically designed for right-handers (and default is the Left button), scissors (as I said earlier), and the vast majority of cars are designed for right-handedness. Even knife blades can be biased to the right.
Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are left-handed. I have had good friends throughout my life that happened to be left-handed. My sister-in-law is left-handed. But I cringe whenever she wields a knife, it just seems so awkward. I can't help it. I try, I don't believe I'm a bad person, but I can't overcome my Rightist nature. I have tried.
When I was in my teens, I tried to learn to write with my left hand, to throw with my left, to bat from the left. Failed miserably at all of these. My handwriting, poor as it was (still is) with my right hand, was completely unreadable when the left hand was used. Two year olds make more legible scribbles. I throw like a girl (forgive the sexism) from the left. And while I am a poor batter even from the right, I am atrocious from the left.
The Lefties are well aware of the discrimination imposed on them by the rest of us, by our cultures, by our technology.
And I suspect they are not happy.
Maybe I should get some sensitivity training... But I am afraid the counselor will be left-handed.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
There is a series of credit card commercials which use a tagline of "What's in your wallet?" The title's question is slightly different and isn't asked in order to sell you anything.
We all have different realities, don't we? And we have, I think, several realities each. Though I don't think we see them that way. We see our various realities as One Big Reality. I suppose that's the best way since they are all related and we don't like to see ourselves as anything other than a single entity. After all, our reality is pretty much who we are. That is, how we view and interact with the world around us is both our personalities and our realities.
But are our personalities singular things? We have good sides and bad and a multitude in between. I once had a vision of sorts. I'd say it was a dream but I wasn't sleeping at the time but I really wasn't awake either. I was... well, it really doesn't matter what I was or what it was. In this vision, I was part of a group of people in charge of various departments. I was also each department head at the same time.
It took me a short while before I realized these were all facets of me. These were separate parts of my personality. There was the aggressive, the shy, the dogged (stubborn), the artistic, the klutz, and so on. Each had a part to play, a function to perform when called on. And, hopefully, only when called on.
Each of these "people" saw the world in a slightly different way. So each reacted to it in a different way. I realized that I hadn't considered this before. I began to get an understanding of my moods. The idea was to gain control over them and use them at the appropriate times.
One of the reasons for writing this blog is to revisit that understanding, re-examine my moods, get in touch with the various personalities within my personality.
And maybe understand my own reality.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
When I was 15 and had been smoking for 3 years, I began having debates with The Cigarette. I did this because it was how I coped with mental conflicts. Some children and teens talk to a parent, or a close friend, or a sibling. I didn't. I was very insecure and was afraid of ridicule for my innermost thoughts. Instead of just talking to myself, I projected a persona onto an inanimate object (which would often represent the opposing view) and talk with it.
The Cigarette and I had many conversations over the years. And, instead of being a mentor or confidant, he was an opponent. He thought he was my Master, actually. And, in truth, he was. He was wily, confident, smug, and clever. I was a mere boy. And I had a firm habit of smoking by then.
The Surgeon General's report which announced a causal link between smoking and certain diseases was still 4 years away. But no one rationally doubted that smoking was bad for you. Cigarettes had the nickname of "coffin nails" for a reason. It was common sense. In 1947, a heavy smoking country singer-songwriter released a song that pretty much said it all.
From the New York Times, Oct. 13, 1985
Country-western songwriter and entertainer Sollie "Tex" Williams, a heavy smoker best known for his tune, "Smoke, Smoke, Smoke That Cigarette," died after a year-long battle with cancer, his daughter said. . . . her father, who was diagnosed a year ago as having cancer, smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, dropping to about a pack a day before he died. "He tried to quit, but he couldn't," she said.
I don't know if the following is true (so many things on the internet are made up) but I thought you might like it:
Huron Indian myth has it that in ancient times, when the land was barren and the people were starving, the Great Spirit sent forth a woman to save humanity. As she traveled over the world, everywhere her right hand touched the soil, there grew potatoes. And everywhere her left hand touched the soil, there grew corn. And when the world was rich and fertile, she sat down and rested. When she arose, there grew tobacco . . .
I suspect that this "myth" was made up by someone other than the Huron. Or, perhaps, misunderstood.
Cigarettes weren't invented until the early 1800s. They quickly became popular. Easier to carry than a pipe or cigars, easier to light, convenient. Before that, cigars, pipes, snuff, and chewing were the common uses. But there was already a concerted effort to restrict smoking.
As far back as 1858, the British medical journal Lancet published a debate over the unhealthiness of tobacco use.
So, it is not a matter of lack of knowledge that tobacco is bad for one's health that permits a person to take up smoking. We didn't need the Surgeon General's report in 1964 to tell us.
No, the reason we take up smoking is usually a form of peer pressure. More accurately defined, it is a desire to be like someone you admire. We humans seem to have an innate desire to emulate. The advertising industry has used this since its inception (I believe it is the third oldest profession, right after prostitution and politics). It's a very strong motivation. One we deny and encourage simultaneously.
This emulation desire is perfectly suited to developing habits. It is at the heart of fashion trends, idol worship (in the old and modern senses), political parties, cliques and coteries, gangs, and is at work even in families. Like most things human it is used for both good and evil.
I am getting rather long winded here so I will try to get to the point quickly. This emulation desire, this socialization of the habit of smoking, is why smoking is so difficult a habit to break. It is not the nicotine need so much (that is simply a reinforcer, an excuse) because that is completely out of the body after three days of not smoking. No, it is the psychological addiction that must be conquered.
First, the need to smoke by the individual must be understood. What makes a particular person smoke? What triggers the urge to light up? Once you begin to analyze your own smoking habit, you realize that there are many triggers involved. Another person lighting a cigarette. Having a drink. A cup of coffee. A meal is finished. The afterglow of sex. A close call. Being alone and sad, contemplative, maybe. Each of these triggered my urge to smoke. And I had to deconstruct them, peer into them, understand them before I could effectively fight them.
At 15, I didn't have an atheist's prayer.
Friday, June 12, 2009
But that's just the cynic in me talking.
I used to smoke. Back when I was young. I started smoking when I was 12, emulating my idiot older brother. Within a very short time, I was smoking a pack a day. I never went above that, on average, that whole period in my life when I smoked.
Why did I smoke? The rebel image, I suppose, was the primary reason. Wanting to be cool or, at least, look that way. Actually, nothing is less cool looking than a skinny little kid with a cigarette dangling from his lips.
When you are young, and reasonably healthy, you can easily mask the short term effects of smoking. I had plenty of lung power and stamina. I was not easily winded. I was very active, ran a lot (well, it was mostly from the police but...), and stayed in shape just by being an active teen. Could I have been healthier if I hadn't smoked? Debatable. We cannot know what might have been.
I started thinking about quitting when I was 15. Not because I felt it was doing me a lot of harm but because I did not like being less than in maximum control of my life. Yeah, I was fooling myself that I had much control over my life at that age but that's a teenager for you.
I had long philosophical discussions with The Cigarette. Yes, I talked to inanimate objects then. Still do. Most of my best debates are with inanimate objects.. They don't interrupt, they don't get insulted or angry, and they hardly ever make a valid point.
Except, as often as I would win those debates with The Cigarette, I would still continue smoking. I might win the battles but I was definitely not winning the war. After awhile, I gave up giving up. By 18, I wasn't even pretending to try anymore. The best I could do was maintain the level at a pack a day.
I'd like to say I was a polite smoker but that isn't true. There is no such thing. Oh sure, as a smoker, I thought I was polite and courteous around non-smokers. I thought I was considerate. I was fooling myself. All smokers do. The polite ones were the non-smokers.
Even as I asked if anyone minded if I smoked, I was usually just about to light up or already had. I always assumed I would be granted permission. Because I almost always was. I relied on their acquiescence, on their tendency to be polite.
The dirty little secret is that all smokers do.
It was only when the smoker runs into a born again non-smoker, the former smoker, does he get refused that permission.
If I may digress a moment (and I may... since it is my blog), I recall one incident where a salesman was at my house trying to sell me and my then wife (The Ex) on an addition, a back porch. Everything was going fine, we had wanted a back porch, we could afford it, and we should have been an easy sell. Then he lit up a cigarette. He didn't ask, he didn't think about it, he just lit it up.
It was only when he had a fair sized ash on that cigarette that he realized that he might have committed a faux pas. As he looked about for an ash tray, it dawned on him that there were none to be found. Even though my wife smoked, she did not smoke in the house. She only smoked at work and in her car. Once she arrived home, no tobacco. So there were no ash trays. He looked almost sheepish when he asked for one and was told "we don't smoke in this house." And he went to the front door and dropped the ash and his cigarette outside.
Along with his sale.
I rarely enjoyed smoking, only the ones after a meal, the one after sex (if I didn't fall asleep right away), and the one after a big scare. Smoking was mostly about staving off boredom.
I tried to quit smoking just before leaving the Navy. I had a financial incentive. Cigarettes were cheap in the service. Especially out at sea; ten cents a pack (twenty in port). Potato chips were more expensive. But all of a sudden, it would be thirty five cents a pack (hey, we're talking 1969 here). And I am a cheapskate.
I did pretty good for a few months limiting myself to just smoking on the weekends. Then I was about to get married. In the month before that date, I went back to a pack a day. It took me some time to get back to my weekend routine.
I was just fooling myself. I was pretending that I was in control. And then came the night my son was born. That was the night I smoked my last cigarette.
That was almost 39 years ago. And way down deep, back in the ugliest recesses of my mind, the twinge of an urge still lingers.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
We have a process in this country wherein the Senate gets to examine our president's nominees for certain positions, such as cabinet posts and judges. Few are seen as more important than US Supreme Court nominees. There are several reasons for this:
1. The nominee, if approved, gets a lifetime appointment to the position.
2. The position is only one of nine.
3. Once on the bench, the opinions of the person can have a great impact on policy and the direction the country takes.
4. The Supreme Court is the only court which can override itself (and seldom does it do this).
5. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of issues of law in this country.
It's also a great opportunity for senators to play politics and get their names and pictures blasted all over the media. But that is the essence of politics, I suppose.
In any event, when a person is nominated to such an important position, the public gets quite a show. Having watched a few of these shows over the years, I note that certain things seem to happen repeatedly.
At first, there is almost unanimous praise for the nominee. This comes from both the president's party and the opposition party (or parties). This is echoed in the media, for the most part, though there is some questioning from the media representing the opposition party (or parties). The nominee's approval is considered a foregone conclusion.
After a (very) short period, and as more is learned about the nominee, louder criticism begins to appear. This starts on the fringes but rapidly grows into the mainstream. Even so, constant predictions of approval by the senate continue.
As more of the nominee's past and opinions become known to the public, more criticism is voiced and the overall tone begins to get a bit ugly. Accusations start to fly about the nominee and his/her supporters and detractors.
Throughout all this, the nominee tries to appear to be what the supporters praise while not to be what the detractors accuse.
In the end, the nominee is approved and the public is left further divided.
Isn't America great?
But let me leave you with some homework about our latest nominee.
The above link offers quotes regarding three subjects:
Empathy on the part of a judge
Temperament of a judge
I found only one position to be troubling to me. And only because it was brought up. I refer, of course, to the first one: empathy. In her interview, she states that she is empathetic. She also states that, while it has no impact on her rulings, she thinks it is important to be empathetic as a judge. Try as I might not to, I see that as a flaw for a judge. Especially one whose job is to examine issues solely on the basis of law and Constitutionality. At some point, and without the constraints of having to be approved again (at the polls or through re-appointment to another term), could this trait begin to affect her rulings?
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Those of you who are not adherents to the Theory of Evolution will possibly not like the read. You have to be willing to accept the premise that chimpanzees, monkeys, and apes are all distant cousins of Man. Or, at least, willing to suspend disbelief for the sake of a book. It's not that Mr. Morris is such a great author but he does have a way of comparing human and animal behavior that is intriguing and gives one pause. And I like to pause.
When I read something like this, analysis of human behavior, I tend to examine my own behavior and behavior I have observed. We are a communal animal, we form family units, cliques (small tribes), communities (large tribes), and nations (really large tribes). Within each of these, we follow certain rules of behavior for interactions. Morris does a very good job of reducing our rules of etiquette to simple instinctual behavior patterns. These patterns have some value in allowing us to flourish, or at least avoid constant conflict.
One of these behavior patterns is called "grooming" when it is applied to animals. It means the interaction between two or more animals wherein the fur is examined and cleaned of detritus, various parasites, and the bits of dirt which accumulate. This grooming serves a couple of purposes; the obvious cleaning which helps keep the body healthy and the less obvious social comfort of contact with another of the community.
Though we have little fur to groom, we also perform these rituals. Of course, they are not easily recognizable as such because we have been conditioned to see them in a different way. Morris looks at them from a zoologist's perspective and sees the similarities with our simian cousins. Instead of the social grooming the chimps do, we have light conversations where we compliment each other on our choice of, or taste in, clothes. Our "fur" grooming has been specialized and turned over to barbers and hair stylists (see my post on the barber shop). But the purpose of social grooming is still to maintain cohesiveness of the group, maintain the connections between members.
This social grooming is much more marked among family members and, there, still closely resembles the rituals of the other primates. Watch a mother with her child sometime, especially a small child. Close friends often engage in this. The sharing of clothes, the inspection of each other before entering a gathering (like a party or dance or nightclub), girls who do each others' hair, or share makeup tips. It seems more pronounced, to me, in the female of our species but men do it also... only without the touching (except for the "butt slap", the "chest bump", the high and low "fives" after some well performed activity and, of course, the routine handshake). These rituals establish or clarify a hierarchy within our groupings as well and this helps maintain an order.
The process of becoming civilized has masked these rituals so that we do not think of them as instinctual behaviors. Morris makes you reconsider this. He makes you begin to wonder just how advanced we are as animals. Maybe we aren't so different after all.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Golfers do not just make their golfing mistakes on the golf course. Oh no... we make them in golf shops and at home, too. Mostly in golf purchases. One of the more clever marketing schemes began when some bright entrepreneur realized that men not only would debase themselves (and pay for the privilege) playing golf but that they would also buy just about any gadget that promised to "improve" their games without a lot of practice and effort.
Even the lowly tee was brought into being because of this combination of poor play and love of gadgetry. Before someone (two someones, actually) invented the tee, golfers used to pile a little sand to place the ball upon before striking it (mostly ineffectually) down the fairway. The first tee did not look like the little wooden (and plastic) ones we have today so it has also been subjected to the whims of gadgetry over the years.
The main area of technical evolution in golf has been with clubs and balls. Early on, this was done in a sincere effort to improve the game and help the golfer without breaking the rules. Let me digress a bit here (no, I am not going to go into detail about the similarities to sex) for some background. There are two powerful forces involved in the evolution of golf:
1. Man's desire to do more with less.
2. Guys who insist on rules and don't want to change them.
The first are the golfers. These are people who recognize the physical limitations of the human being. They know that even if they have great inherent talent, practice diligently, take constant lessons, and keep fit, they will never attain perfection. In fact, they cannot even agree on what "perfection" means in terms of golf. In most cases, they even call shots which do not end up in the hole "perfect" if they end up very close. These people realize that the only way they will improve is through the advancement in technical aspects of the game. A ball that travels farther, clubs that improve the opportunities to hit the ball properly (or, better yet, still go in the desired direction and distance if not struck "perfectly").
The second group, let's call them the "RuleMakers", consists of the United States Golf Association and the Royal and Ancient. The latter was once called the "Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews" but has been shortened due to changes in makeup in 2004. These two entities make the rules of the game and are the final arbiters on how the rules are to be interpreted. It is a bit like having the Supreme Court and the Congress as one body. In any event, these two do their best to retain the original purpose and essence of the game (as they define it) by fighting technical change that might violate the traditions (as they see them).
Golf equipment manufacturers (let's call them "Big Golf") are like lawyers who pursue civil cases. They never met a rule they couldn't bend in pursuit of sales. The Rulemakers have a constant battle preventing Big Golf from destroying the essence and traditions of The Game. The pressure from the average (and even above average but definitely from us below average) golfers has allowed many useful improvements through. Design and form of the clubs and balls, the materials used in each, even the kind of turf used on golf courses. Recently, the use of GPS to replace the stalwart caddy's knowledge (we already replaced his physical presence by the use of carts) of the course has been approved.
And now, dear reader, we reach the point of all this. I have drowned my caddy. It was unintentional, I assure you. More like manslaughter, I suppose, if one wanted to use an appropriate analogy. I came home yesterday soaked to the skin because a rainstorm that attacked (yes, I said "attacked") us on the last hole. And, because we golfers are not bright enough to come in out of the rain, we played through it. But that is not how I drowned my "caddy". No, as I said, I came home and got out of my sopping wet clothes. I then turned them over to Faye who was about to start the wash. I had removed the wallet, the loose cash, the car keys, and such from my shorts before handing her these but did not realize that I had left my golf GPS unit in one of the auxiliary pockets.
I am pretty sure he didn't survive. Though I still have hope.
Monday, June 8, 2009
The sky is blue (except in Los Angeles) but what shade of blue? Cobalt? Azure? Robin's egg?
"Let's go out to eat."
"Fine, I'd like that. Where?"
"That shirt is nice and so are those pants... but not together."
(Speaking of which, why are pants plural but bra is singular?)
And those are differences that are unlikely to start a war. Trivial ones. And they start enough arguments on their own. Which can lead to divorces... which are like wars fought with lawyers where all but the lawyers lose.
Mostly, we appreciate fine perception. The artist who sees fine detail and can render it in his paintings, for example. The photographer who manages to find that clever juxtaposition of images within his focus.
But only if we agree with them, isn't that so?
Headlines create images in my mind which sometimes seem impossible. For instance, this recent one:
Investigators comb ocean for Air France evidence
Are they going to change the waves any? Where would they get a comb big enough to do the job? Will they offer a trim and perhaps a tint?
I often dislike my perception since it seems a bit twisted. I want things to be literal, clear, well defined. And life just isn't that way. So I distort what I see and hear even more just to amuse myself.
Sometimes I do not have to do anything... just wait as facts emerge. As in David Carradine's untimely death. I always enjoyed his acting and his choice of movies (mostly 'B' types). I would rather he had had a heart attack or stroke or something and died peacefully in his sleep, however.
Sotomayor Breaks Her Ankle
She apparently sustained a small fracture when stumbling while hurrying to her plane which took her to D.C. for meetings with senators. Excuse me? Aren't we supposed to arrive early so we can get through security? Wouldn't you expect a Supreme Court Justice to be cautious and careful in everything he or she does?
It's an absurd world.
* The English language sometimes annoys me because it has no singular pronoun for male and female... like "herm". That would work because the only other use for it is a hardly used nickname for Herman and for cults related to Hermes.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
All human beings, regardless of culture, appear to have certain facial expressions and communication sounds with gestures in common. Tears, moans, whimpers, screams all mean the same everywhere.
We, as a species, have facial expressions that mean the same no matter where you are or what spoken language is used:
For examples... There are others and there are many variations, subtle and not so subtle, of all of these.
According to those who are supposed to know these things, we begin smiling just a few weeks after birth. But these smiles are reactions to non-specific stimuli rather than a means of communication ("I think it's just gas, honey"). It is only after about 3 months, when we begin to recognize people (mother, primarily), that the smile becomes a form of communicating something to a certain person. Direct communication. We cannot talk and tell them we are glad to see them but we can smile. And, the person invariably smiles in return. That is the very essence of communication, is it not?
As we mature, we learn there are many kinds of smiles. Each expresses something different; sometimes subtly different, sometimes wildly different.
What is a leer if not a smile with a specific intent? Wry smiles, crooked smiles, quick smiles, broad grins, evil grins, etc. Each expresses a different message but one which is easily interpreted by anyone, usually, whether they speak the same language or not.
And we can usually tell a fake smile. Though some are very good at smiling no matter what they are really feeling. Used car salesmen, for example. Or ex-girlfriends. We know the dancer in the chorus line has no cheer behind his or her smile. Nor does the skater. If you are close enough, you realize they are fixed, almost a grimace, which is what they often hide. They are for show.
We greet each other with smiles. We greet strangers with smiles, often, so they will see us as a non-threat. We gauge the smile we get in return, if any, to assess if they represent a danger to us.
If I may digress a bit here... I learned when I was 5 or 6 that to a monkey, a smile is not a friendly expression. It is a threat. I smiled at a small monkey and he attacked me. The lower animals generally bare their teeth only to express danger to an approaching animal. (Teeth are weapons) Only humans bare them to show friendliness. Well, maybe domesticated canines also. But I think that's because we've warped them psychologically. They even have the facial expression of guilt down pat. And cats have mastered the bored look... or maybe they really are.
Never smile at a crocodile
No, you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his welcome grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin
[From Disney's Peter Pan]
So smile and the world smiles with you. Except maybe for monkeys. And crocodiles.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
I grew up in the 50s when most dads were also vets of WWII. I grew up in places where there was always an Army & Navy surplus store. These stores gave us belts, canteens, knapsacks, helmets (liners actually) which we used to play "war" where we'd pretend to be heroes and die in a hail of imaginary bullets trying to take an imaginary machine gun nest. We would always get up afterward and go home for lunch or dinner. So many of those who went to that war did not and never would have lunch or dinner with their families again. As a child, I never thought much about that, it was just play. An adventure for an hour, something to do on a summer's afternoon. As an adult, and a veteran of the Vietnam War, my view of war has changed. I have studied, in recent years, events of World War II. I have watched old newsreels and battlefield films and pictures. I have read books and queried those mostly silent vets of the WWII era trying to understand how they managed to get through it. Mr. Brokaw calls them the Greatest Generation. That is a good description. Though even that seems to fall short. But I do not think they feel, or felt, that way about themselves. They went off to that war with fear and hope in their hearts, they went enthusiastically and reluctantly, they were cautious and reckless, brave and afraid, they were wounded and killed and had narrow escapes, and they watched friends die. They saw horrors we cannot imagine and they accomplished something that had to be accomplished. I shudder to think what this world would be like today if they had not succeeded. I wonder if any generation since, the ones who have benefited from their sacrifice, could have done as well.
We cannot thank them enough.
I wrote the above as a comment in response to Tom Brokaw's opinion piece in the Wall St Journal. I urge you to read his piece also.
Friday, June 5, 2009
It was a little bit after midnight, maybe a little after 1 AM. I had been to Santa Monica to see John Mayall perform his new album "Turning Point". I had ridden my motorcycle, alone because none of my friends were available to go or were as enthusiastic about Mayall's music. I had gotten in not long before, a bit chilled. I was relaxing, smoking a joint, drinking a glass of cheap wine (Red Mountain Vin Rose, $1.50 a gallon) when the posters began floating down off the walls.
I had dropped a half tab of acid about a hour before the concert, just before I left home, but it hadn't kicked in the whole night. I had written it off as the wrong half some hours before. It happens, this stuff is not made by Pfizer. I was wrong. It was just delayed. Very delayed. I was listening to KPPC out of Pasadena, an underground rock station that played just about anything available. No rules, few commercial interruptions, and those often somewhat off the wall and entertaining. I think the Who had been playing. I don't know. I had turned down the stereo to barely audible because my landlady would kill the power if I kept her awake or woke her up. Oddly, your sense of hearing adjusts until you can hear every note clearly.
I curled into a little ball as the familiar clammy feeling and goose bumps crawled across my skin. My nose felt like it was running and I sniffled. My eyes were runny. It was like having the flu but no fever. In fact, I was oddly comfortable and feeling sick simultaneously. The "speed" effect is my term for it. My mind wandered, came back, wandered again. I would shiver from time to time.
I went through a couple of glasses of wine. These were not little glasses. I listened to the radio. The music drew me in, picked me up and carried me to places I had been and places I had never seen.
The wallpaper is alive
I questioned my sanity. And got no answers. I went out to the kitchen and got deeply involved in the ivy wallpaper pattern. The vines and leaves twisted and turned on the wall. They glowed faintly. I made coffee. I had an old stove that needed matches to light the burners.I am always amazed that I never burned the place down when I did this under these conditions. Or scalded myself. Or set myself on fire.
I sat on the landing at the top of the stairs that led up to the apartment I rented from Mrs. Badger and gazed out at the lights of L.A. to the north until the sun came up.
I was content to be there at this stage in my life, drifting, making minimum wage. Going nowhere at all.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
We are wandering off, as humans are wont to do, into a briar patch while attempting to escape the swamp.
Diversity is a wonderful thing. It is not, however, the only thing. It is also no better a motive for discrimination than homogeneity was. We once discriminated against the powerless (and, therefore, kept them that way) by prizing homogeneity. That is, it was nice to have everyone in a workplace look alike, gender and skin color -wise. Of course, it wasn't nice for those who did not fit in. It excluded people simply because of their skin color or gender (or both at times) even though they were perfectly capable of doing the job and, in fact, were nice people who would get along great with all the other workers (or, at least, most of them).
Fortunately, we began to move away from that as we became aware of something called civil rights. First, we began to change how we treated people under the law and then we extended that to the workplace. No more separate but equal (which was really only separate). But, as humans often do, we decided to right some wrongs of the past.
However good intentioned we were, we managed to continue to do the same things only now in a different direction. Instead of discriminating against certain groups, we began discriminating in favor of certain groups. There is an old saying that goes "Two wrongs do not make a right." Still, that's exactly what we have done in trying to remedy past discrimination.
Regardless of the rightness of intent, we can still do harm. And we have and are continuing to do so.
When you have two applicants for a job and both are well qualified, you are caught in a quandary. Which to choose? Well, I would choose based on personality. If applicant A is friendly, outgoing, and pleasant and the job entails working with others (and maybe the public) and applicant B is dour , withdrawn, and unpleasant so then guess which one I would hire. No problem there, right?
Wrong. What if applicant A is of a gender or ethnicity that is, shall we say, over represented in my workplace? What if applicant B is of a gender or ethnicity that is under represented? Now who do I choose?
And who is harmed if I choose B? My workplace, my business, my employees and A.
Who is harmed if I choose A? B, of course.
So, because the law is involved, because I fear a lawsuit and bad publicity which might damage my business, I choose B.
And nothing has changed in society. We have merely changed who we discriminate against. We have not put an end to discrimination, we have not even made a dent in it. We have reinforced the idea that skin color, or gender, or some other thing is more important than who a person is inside.
And all because we want to do what's right...
Everyday People (Sly and The Family Stone)
Sometimes I'm right, but I can be wrong
My own beliefs are in my song
The butcher, the baker, the drummer and then
Makes no difference what group I'm in
I am everyday people
There is a blue one who can't accept the green one
For living with a fat one trying to be a skinny one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on, and so on and scooby-dooby-doo
Ooh, sha, sha
We got to live together
I am no better, and neither are you
We are the same, whatever we do
You love me, you hate me, you know me and then
You can't figure out the bag I'm in
I am everyday people
There is a long hair that doesn't like the short hair
For being such a rich one that will not help the poor one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on and so on and scooby-dooby-doo
Ooh, sha, sha
We got to live together
There is a yellow one that won't accept the black one
That won't accept the red one that won't accept the white one
Different strokes for different folks
And so on, and so on and scooby-dooby-doo
Ooh, sha, sha
I am everyday people
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
More times than I care to acknowledge, I was in that crowd. Like the rest, I did nothing to break up the action. I was rarely in the center, either as antagonist or antagonee (is that a word? Well, it should be). My friends were usually the ones who were the aggressors so it was extremely rare that I might be antagonee.
Most of the kids would bypass these gatherings. They had better things to do, some had experienced them and wanted to avoid any future chances at being at the center of attention, and a rare few would go report them to the school authorities (if on school grounds).
Why do I bring this up? It's simple. I just read the following piece from the U.K. Telegraph:
I will sum it up for those of you who don't want (or wish to bother) to read it:
Susan Boyle, frumpy and drab singing sensation on Britain's Got Talent has had a bit of a meltdown after losing the finals. It is, therefore, all "our" fault. "We" encouraged her, "we" built her up, and "we" set her up for this fall from grace.
Happiness doesn't come in the slip-stream of instant fame. There are no magic wands in life, and the story of Susan Boyle, which was sold to us as a fairytale come true, now reads like a lesson in sadness and shame. Her sadness and our shame.
Pretty much says it all, doesn't it?
Except it's wrong. What this column does is blame the general public for what a few did and ignores what the reality is about a reality show.
Overall viewership of TV is down. But among the small minority that watches prime time TV, the more popular shows are the reality shows and the talent shows. My son and his family are addicted to them, for instance. I have, on the other hand, not bothered with any of them. The media plays them up, they jumped on Susan Boyle's story like ants on a crumb, they splashed it all over the news and talk shows, they played the YouTube clip repeatedly, and they oohed and aahhed over her (actually fair) talent. But the real "reality" of it was that there was beauty in the beast. Our entertainers normally look like entertainers these days. They are beautiful, trim and sexy, and dressed in the latest fashion (they often create the latest fashions just by wearing them).
The YouTube clip of her first appearance before the panel revealed the truth, though. There were the bullies (the panel), the victim (Susan Boyle), and the rubberneckers (the audience) egging on the bullies. But the victim fought back, blackened a couple of eyes, and shamed the bullies. The crowd switched sides immediately. They cheered on the underdog (please forgive the use of the word "dog" in this instance, no offense intended to dowdy middle-aged women).
And that, my friends, sums up what reality shows are all about. They are that entertainment at the center of the noisy crowd on the playground or empty lot.
And it isn't "we" that is at fault. Because "we" didn't watch. "We" did not participate in any way. Most of us were busy elsewhere and do not understand or wish to be a part of a bullying crowd who laughs at the victims and cheers on the bullies and feels somehow better for taking sides. That is a small portion of the general population. And, as one of the vast majority of people who were never a part of it, I take umbrage at the idea that I should feel any shame at all.
One final note:
I feel very little sympathy for Susan Boyle beyond what I would have for any person who had a sad. or tough or both, life and then made it to #2 in a talent show and became world famous. No one sought her out, dragging her into an audition for the show, shoved her up on stage, and forced her to sing. She willingly stepped into the middle of that crowd and took on the bullies. As anyone who ever got into a fight knows, even if you win, you are going to end up with some bruises.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Today, readers, I would like to talk about the wonderful changes coming to America. On Monday morning, General Motors entered into bankruptcy (or announced they will) and the US Government took over 60% ownership. I am hoping that does not mean that we, the taxpayers, have purchased a company that is about to go under. I say "we" but I do not mean that. I had no say in the purchase nor did any of you... unless you happen to be the president or one of his close advisors.
This was done reluctantly, we are told, and who would not believe a politician? It must be true. I cannot think of any politicians who ever thought they knew better than a private citizen how to run a business. I am almost guffawing at the prospect of such nonsense as thinking any politician would. So I am sure that GM is in safe hands now, with the certainly temporary comfort of being held (and helped) by the folks in D.C.
All you have to do is look at all the success stories government intervention or control has had. From the US Postal Service to AmTrak to Medicare to Social Security, nothing but records of fiscal responsibility and outstanding results. I won't mention the War on Poverty or the War on Drugs, though both are noteworthy successes also.
Yes, we can rest easy now since GM has become a ward of the government. I can see the enlightened hand of Uncle Sam now... Gently guiding one of the most revered icons of the American auto industry through its toughest times.
Monday, June 1, 2009
Humans appear to be the only species that has developed a fluid language. It is possible, of course, that we think that only because we have no ability to understand the language of other species. It may be that we don't have the capacity to understand all the nuances of bird languages, for instance. We might need a different kind of hearing, or eyesight, or some ability we do not recognize as an ability. We might need a higher intelligence than we have now. (On that note, I think we are fooling ourselves about our intelligence level)
We assume, for example, that sound must be used to have a language. Hah! Tell that to the millions of totally deaf people who communicate readily enough through sign language. Never mind, they won't hear you. On that note, I have wondered how a person born both deaf and blind could possibly reach more than a rudimentary understanding of the world around him or her. Yet they do. (Helen Keller comes to mind) And now I wonder how much richer their world might be than my own. After all, I am limited to one language and greatly dependent upon my sight and hearing.
I began thinking about words one evening after reading some of Odd Hours. Dean Koontz, the author, is a master of descriptive prose. He is also wonderful at expressing how someone, or some thing, might perceive the world. It isn't the first time I have considered words and the expression they allow. I often think about them. It doesn't help because I still cannot master them.
And now I am re-reading The Naked Ape by Desmond Morris. It is a great read. If for nothing other than the chapter called Sex. Mr Morris has a way of making the evolution of human beings something to chuckle about. If you do not accept evolution as a viable theory, however, you might not get the joke. At least not the way one would think. I am re-reading it because I happen to agree with Mr. Morris that we haven't really advanced all that much in non-material ways. It keeps me humble.
[Because I am the owner of this blog, and because I almost always leave something out, I am adding a link to a true wordsmith]
Go read this!