Archive for May, 2013

Fast forward thru the boring parts

My niece and a friend just completed a coast-to-coast drive (little car, big highways) from Sunny Seattle (GF in BC can relate) to, um, Fayetteville, North Carolina – 13 states in four days (some 2,900 miles). My niece wanted to sightsee, her fellow traveler (and, owner of the car) wanted to get to Ft Bragg as soon as possible because her new husband was waiting. While my niece got an appreciation of this country that you can get only by driving it, I came to appreciate the updates in Facebook (frankly, I don’t know why I have bothered with it – I seem to spend more time clicking “Hide” than anything else – for once, tho, I really did want to know all about “Chicago Pizza pot pies” and how they are more “real” than “real food”).

I was also reminded of all the “summer vacations” my family took while us kids were growing up. Not too long ago I needed a reality check, so I asked my Mom if we did, in fact, take a trip EVERY summer – like I remembered. Yep, sure did. Every summer, my Dad took his two weeks of annual vacation, we all piled in the car (a station wagon w/o seatbelts) and spent two weeks getting from Point A to Point B, so we could turn around and reverse the process. We always stayed with family. I know now, that I did not appreciate the gift at the time. Later in life, I got to see Mt Rushmore and the embryonic Crazy Horse again; now my niece has. I hope to show them to my wife someday….

While talking about teens with a neighbor today, he recalled Mark Twain’s quip about how smart his father got in just the few years between age 14 and 21. All I could do is nod my head and hope. And wonder why each and every generation has to discover (sometimes called “growing up”) for themselves what every previous generation has already spent time and tears learning. With all the toys at hand, will the current crop of youngsters shorten Twain’s seven years? Or, will their obsession with talking with everyone who is NOT present in the room delay their development? In any event, I’m glad I grew up with rock-n-roll and not rap.

Finally (for this post has rambled on long enough), I have been notified by email that I now have a “follower”. OH! The Pressure! Dunno if “follower” is just the New Age term for “critic” and I should be worried about being responsible, or if I can continue to write just because I feel the need to express myself. Not to be dismissive, but what I really feel the need for is coffee and chocolate 😉

I’m glad I was sitting down when I read this

A co-worker sent an email to all of us hapless souls last week; here are a few excerpts:

“sitting more than six hours in a day can increase your risk of dying by 54 percent”
“Women who sat for more than six hours a day were 40 percent more likely to die. And men increased their risk by 20 percent.”

Which is worse: that someone wrote this trash, or that an otherwise halfway intelligent person bought into it (and felt compelled to share it)? Basically, the gist of the article is that if you never sit down, you’re never going to die. Fabulous thot, eh? But, the end of all this joy is one of the greatest gifts I can think of. Ok, so name one person you know who is, say 90 years old, or even 80 years old, that is having the time of his/her life. Find a really old fart who is in the pink of health (you might have to go down to the 40-somethings for this one). I had two cousins who probably died of agoraphobia, neither all that old, as far as candles on the cake is concerned. But, as sure as Death, afraid of Life.

I couldn’t have said it better. The point is, this fun ride we’re on has a price. Oh? and you think it doesn’t? How do you connect the dots? Absolutely everything you do in This Life has a price, but the sum total of the days of your life don’t? You spend your days, five out of seven, I’ll wager, trading the minutes and hours of your life for fun tokens that you then exchange for, well, I guess it’s called “fun”. Either “fun”, or “stuff”; in any event the same fluff. And that “stuff” is mostly the Madison Avenue definition; for if it had a meaningful definition, you wouldn’t be so eager to chase after the next fashionable bit of “fun”. But, no one ever says the car, the house, the dream vacation were “free”. Nobody with two cents to rub together.

I thought it was all about “immediate gratification” – that was last week. Now, I think it is all about the lack of accountability. Getting something for nothing. Enjoying the ride w/o buying a ticket. Somehow being the one bloke who’s figured out how to cheat the system – w/o getting caught, of course.

It all adds up to the same: a distraction. This Life is not the sum total of all the little activities that most people fill it with. Or, let’s hope not. How many episodes of “Wheel of Fortune” make a life? (thank you, Charlie Babbitt) Most definitely not the real thing. The distraction is buying into the idea that death can be avoided. Hell, you think taxes are inevitable? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet! Tell ya what, let’s thaw out James Hiram Bedford and listen to his first words. Nope: no one cheats Death.

Why persist then? Why continue running the race? Well, even if you’re in last place rounding the final turn, the fat lady hasn’t sung yet (only in America? Not!). No one asked you to lace up your spikes, no one forced you into the starting blocks, but there you are: in the race of (for?) your life. Gotta finish it. Euthanasia is just another name for loser. Quitters got to what circle of Dante’s Inferno?

Yeah, This Life is an every day sort of thing. Every day. Every day you put your gloves on and enter the ring. Or, you sit in the first row and get sweat and other body fluids showered down on you. Or, maybe you’re up in the nose-bleed section? Or, still outside trying to decide whether to buy tickets? News Flash: Life ain’t about the tailgate party. Participate or spectate – your choice.

But, you better choose, and choose soon: no telling how much time you’re going to need. No way to know if just this last straightaway is going to be long enough. Wanna bet you really do need more than one more round or inning?

‘Course, you can take the position that there is no final reckoning. This Life is all there is. Some live charmed lives and some don’t live a life at all. Some get all the breaks, and all the wrong people die young or live long. So, what difference does it make? There is no one to pay, anyway. I thank God for people like you: you are something else I don’t want any part of.

Memorial Day 2013

I’m still in shock to see people at the recent Rolling Thunder rally in DC that are neither citizens, nor “legal” visitors. Not that I don’t want THEM there, rather, that there aren’t more of “us” there. You know “us”: those born in this country, or naturalized citizens who are just too busy reaching for the next shiny thing to show any sort of gratitude to those who have served, and on this day, those who have fallen.

No surprise at all to see my left wing “friends” (using the word in the Facebook sort of way) completely blowing off the one thing – the one and only thing – that gives them the freedom to utter (or, not) the most senseless bilgewater (if you think bullshit is bad, you ain’t been aboard ship). I’ll betcha there weren’t any Volvos or Suzukis with bikeracks and Obama stickers at the rally.

Memorial Day is a day to be aware of our roots. Oh yeah, the Fourth of July is fine, but it’s supposed to be a party – it’s a birthday for heaven’s sake. Party hearty, Marty. But, Memorial Day, and Veterans’ Day are our opportunity to take a minute out of our self-indulgent lives and look to the contributions that others have made to our way of life. It is no wonder there are no “policitians’ day” – esp considering the present incumbent of the White House.

I fly my flag every day. When it looks tired and torn, it gets replaced; I’m averaging one a year hanging from the front of my house (the worn ones line the walls of my garage). I have a 12 inch Marine Corps sticker on the back of my jeep; if my spare tire was larger, I’d find a larger sticker.

I salute those that I knew. May 26 is the day a horrendous crash occurred on the USS Nimitz; a crash that took 14 lives, and “gave” me a berth on that cruise. Several more, including my best friend on board, would pay with their lives before that cruise was over. Several more have not returned from patrol since then.

I am not an “ex-Marine”; I am not a “former Marine”. I am a “Marine no longer on active duty”. Those who put on the uniform write a blank check to John and Jane Doe, and we have to be satisfied with that. That we are willing to give our all for a largely ungrateful nation and a hostile world. Because we are willing to die – and to kill – to protect a way of life that is the envy of the rest of the world. If you think the US sucks, then you haven’t been out of Kansas.

To all those who gave, to all those who didn’t come back: Semper Fi. We will never forget. Well, some of us, anyway….

Say wha?

I recently received the newsletter (old fashion PAPER-type newspaper – didn’t know they made these anymore) from the “Regional Fire Authority” that I happen (thru no fault of my own) to live in. Two items caught my eye:

1. We now have “traffic calming interventions”. It’s been a few days, and I still have no idea why anyone would think that communication and not confusion has occurred. I am usually able to “tune out” (can we still say that?) gobbledegook, but I just could not shake this one off. Like a smidge of honey (or something else) that seems to get transplanted onto absolutely everything, this “traffic calming” phenom has stuck with me all week. Fortunately, the article gave an example: speed bumps. I suppose there are other “interventions,” but I really – no, really – don’t want to know. In any event, I have never found speed bumps to be particularly “calming” – “infuriating” is the first word that usually penetrates my thick brain. And, “intervention” sounds like there is something terribly wrong that, if left to itself, will result in the destruction of the known universe (the destruction of the unknown being somewhat hard to document, you understand?).

2. Not to be outdone, in the same newspaper, was the shocking statistic that “36% of all pedestrians killed in traffic crashes were legally drunk….” Clearly, when drunk (if that is not an oxymoron, it does not belong in the “Regional Fire Authority” newspaper), one should not walk. Clearly, walking drunk carries with it a 1 in 3 chance of being killed. Clearly, the only alternative is to drive – there was no mention in the newspaper about driving while drunk, so that must be much safer. It only stands to reason.

3. However, in an effort to prove that “Dilbert” is a documentary, the work-group to which I belong issued an email (no paper, here) that included the statement that “leadership” (obviously a very loose use of the term) was “engaged in the process and very excited by its ability to provide transparency.” Of course, one is nothing these days if one is not engaged, to someone (gender de jour) or something, so it goes without saying that leadership is engaged. Slightly more difficult to comprehend would be the prospect that leadership is excited about anything, other than preserving their own little fiefdoms. But, to note that the possibility of “transparency” might exist is truly noteworthy! I am ever so grateful that I was sitting down when I read that. I shudder to think how my world will change, knowing that the powers-that-be are excited about transparency! Also, they intend to keep a record of all decisions; truly a short treatise, that.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
Lewis Carroll

Zach Sobiech

‘Nuf said.

+++

I had something else in mind for today’s post; but a friend posted this video on his Facebook, and I went there (you can trust friends). You can go to YouTube and find “My Last Days” as well as Zach’s song, “Clouds”. Not only did Zach teach us – those willing to listen – perspective, but also attitude. I can only imagine what it must have been like to know him personally; but, I am sure I have missed someone. Thank you, Zach. In your short 17 years here, you made this world a better place. I will try not to disappoint you. God bless.

It’s not a possession, it possesses you.

This is the tag line associated with the current marketing campaign of an “American built” (whatever that means) luxury automobile. Apparently, cars are no longer just possessions – things that we bring into our lives, keep in our lives, and presumably throw out someday. Things that affect our lives, and, we hope, make our lives somehow better. Things we control – things that are under our control.

I’m pretty comfortable with the concept of things I control (I do so love my illusions). Things that are mine, if only for a little while. Maybe I have exchanged a fair number of days of toil as a wage-slave for the thing; an exchange that I do “all the time” and often without thinking (as if my life were worth nothing at all). Maybe, a huge number of the hours of my life (a frightening number if I would allow myself to actually count the hours). And, hand-in-glove, my investment gives me ownership: that thing is mine to control, not someone else’s. I am the one – not somebody else – who decides where that thing is and who uses it and, well, you know.

So, I buy a car – sorry, automobile. I drive it home and park it in my driveway for all my neighbors to see (I can’t hide it in my garage, to protect it from those less than neighborly, because, well, I have too many other things in my garage – or, “stuff” as George Carlin would say). I might even call some friends…no, that is so old school. I’d take a photo (if not a video) with my smart-phone and post it on my very own page (“wall” if you will) at (in?) my social networking website (if I could ever figure out how). I can just see my banker and my insurance agent getting out the travel brochures.

I might even just sit in it and feel the fine Corinthian leather – oops, wrong car (and era, too).

But, I think I might be gobsmacked (I just love how John Malkovich said that) to hear my neighbors snickering about how my brand-new, shiny automobile possessed me. Gobsmacked because I just know – I just know – they are all filled with envy at my new…

Now wait a doggone minute. Let me get this straight: it is, undoubtedly my acquisition, right? I mean, I worked for the money that the dealer took in exchange; and it’s sitting in my driveway; and I’m paying the insurance; and the title has my name on it; and a whole host of other metrics we might apply to define who acquired what. But, while it is my acquisition, it possesses me? That doesn’t sound right. It – this car, this thing – controls me? Owns me? Determines what I can do and what I can’t do? You mean, I can’t just leave the keys on the dash and walk away? (Not sure cars have keys anymore, or dashboards for that matter.)

Why, in the name of everything holy (or, not holy if you’re into that sort of thing) would I want to be possessed by a car? Sounds like the plot of a movie I wish I could forget. I can think of lots of things I do want to be possessed by, but a car just ain’t on the list. Not no way, not no how.

Food

Almost all animals, making a mistake of any sort, very quickly become an entrée. They get one shot. They make a boo-boo, they become food. For them, instinct is what stands between them and soup and salad. And looking around, clearly it works for them. Most of the time. (Then there’s the opossum: I guess if you’re that ugly, you got short-changed on instincts, too?)

Sadly for most humans, relying on instinct just won’t get you very far. Think of the last thing that goes through a mosquito’s brain when he hits your windshield. Some argue that we don’t have any instincts at all, beyond our infant years. Maybe, but as we get older, we seem to go out of our way to prove the point.

I just don’t understand why it is we insist – we will cut off our nose to spite our face – on making the same mistakes others have already made. Are we afraid there are a finite number of mistakes in the universe, and with all the people on the planet, we might run out of the really good mistakes? News Flash: the “Darwin Awards” are supposed to be funny! So, we settle for the brainless ones? Why, in our efforts to be different (while being part of the crowd – go figure) do we work so hard, move mountains, jump hurdles, take long and tiring detours just to make the same mistakes we have seen others make?

For too many years I told myself that the younger generation was smarter than I was. Maybe I, too, was seduced by the toys they have. I went to college with a slide rule. When I taught college, the students used calculators. Now, first graders are issued laptops. Surely, with all that computing power, they must be smarter? Surely. (Yeah, I know: stop calling you Shirley.)

I have been disabused of that illusion. I am now convinced they are dumber for all their gadgets, internet, chat, Facebook, instant messaging, blogs (I had to add that before one of my faithful readers took me to task). I remember life before the internet. I remember when it was being introduced to the public and we all wondered what it meant (well, almost all: I think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had vision while the rest of us were wearing bifocals). I remember when “64 k was all anyone would ever need”. (I think my watch has more than 64 kilobytes of memory – a digital watch that simulates an analog display! Ludicrous!) To what use is the internet put to? It ain’t about making the world a better place, it’s primarily used to objectify women and prey on the weak. Yes, there is good stuff on the internet, some of it, anyway. Damned little; but, I am glad to have it.

The younger generation, those graduating from high school now (say, 2013, plus or minus five years), have no knowledge (that will have any worth outside of the classroom), no experience (part-time job? Ha!), and no interest in learning how the world works. Certainly no idea that the world doesn’t look kindly upon mistakes.

As the song says: “Only losers do time.” (apologies for not being able to credit the artist)

Yes there is. No, there isn’t.

For you, maybe it is a point of debate. Maybe you don’t care enough to debate. That’s your thing. I believe, so: Yes there is. Yes there is a God. Frankly, it doesn’t matter at all to Him what you call Him, just as long as you do. This is not a semantics exercise.

For those that don’t believe there is a God. For those that don’t believe there is anything in store for us after this life. For those who don’t see any point, rhyme or reason to this life. For those who are too interested in accumulating the most toys, using the most things, exploiting the most situations, abusing the most people, I wish you the best. No, I really do. But, I am not like you and I don’t want to be like you.

Because I believe in God, I believe there is a life after this one, and it will last a lot longer than this one. It will also not be comparable to this one. So, whether you’re into Fires of Eternal Damnation (in Dante’s Inferno, the Devil was not surrounded by fire; did he know something, or was he just being Italian?), or Streets of Gold and Fountains of Milk and Honey, well, guess again.

I also believe in Judgment. As in a Final Judgment. As in “sheep you come here and goats you go there”. I am no Biblical scholar (unfortunately, one of the many available gifts that were not sitting on the shelf when I was conceived), but in my reading, I have not be able to avoid Judgment throughout the Bible – it is a recurrent theme. It is what makes Mercy possible (The Major Theme of the Bible, aka Jesus Christ). No Judgment, no Mercy. But, if we’re all saved, then what is the point of Judgment; what was the point of Jesus; why did he say the things He did? Nope, in my cosmology, there is God, there is Eternal Life, there is Heaven and there is Hell. And, since the Catholics have had more time than most to think about it, we have come up with Purgatory (cf 2 Machabees 12, 40-46). I think it was Avery Cardinal Dulles who quipped: “Believe in Purgatory? I’m depending on it!” That is good enough for me.

Begs the question, tho, doesn’t it? To wit: Am I saved? We certainly all have that opportunity – the offer is there, the door (gate) is there – all we have to do is choose. Yep, that’s it: free will, free choice. Unfortunately, this free will thing is also our greatest enemy. Pogo was right: the enemy is us. But, am I saved? Certainly a possibility – all things are possible under God. Also equally possible that I won’t see the gilt streets, maybe ever, maybe for a very long time (enter Purgatory). Can I earn salvation? Nope, no way. But I can prevent my own salvation. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humor?

Ultimately, of course, This Life is just preparation for the Next Life. This Life is not the end-all and be-all; it is just a dress rehearsal. What we do now will follow us. Isn’t that a pleasant thought? How many people do we know that we’d rather not see in Heaven? They’re probably thinking the same about us. Did Groucho have it right: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member”?

But, whichever side of the fence you are on, you should live this life congruent with your beliefs. That might be called “integrity” which is in very short supply these days for obvious reasons. As my good friend Andy Dufresne said: “Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.” (How do you spell “Zihuatanejo,” anyway?)

Stupid is as stupid does

St Peter: “You look surprised to be standing here.”
Me: “Well, I didn’t think suicides got this far.”
St Peter: “Suicides don’t. But all you’re guilty of is extreme stupidity.”
Me: “That’s it? Just stupidity? Any one act, or a whole life time?”
St Peter: “You do seem to have been ‘challenged’ on more than one occasion; but it was that last thing, the one with the flying suit, that pretty much took the prize.”
Me: “Oh, yeah? So that was ‘stupid’ and not, a, um, successful ‘death wish’?”
St Peter: “Oh? Death wish, was it? That does change things a bit.”
Me: “No, I meant that as a figure of speech. Just an expression.”
St Peter: “You’ve no doubt heard the expression, ‘be careful what you wish for’?”
Me: “Well, yeah; but, I figured it was just that: an expression, like ‘no one expects the Spanish Inquisition’.”
St Peter: “That one caught me, too.”
Me: “You – of all people – were surprised by the Spanish Inquisition?”
St Peter: “No, Monty Python. Always loved Monty Python.”
Me: “I don’t suppose ‘God has a sense of humor’ is just an expression, too?”
St Peter: “That’s one’s true, sure. Quite the kidder, is the Old Man.”
Me: “I’m sorry to interrupt. And I do appreciate that time is meaningless in Eternity. But, the suspense is killing me. You know, so to speak.”
St Peter: “Oh, yes: back to business. Let’s see here: for such extreme stupidity – “
Me: “I’m sorry, again. But, which part was the ‘extremely’ stupid?”
St Peter: “Degrees of stupid? I suppose that’s true. How about we just say ignoring the ‘don’t try this at home’ part and leave it at that?”
Me: “Ok. But, I liked the “professional flyers” part, myself.”
St Peter: “Good point.”
pause
St Peter: “You still here?”
Me: “I’m new at this, but I think ‘dispatch’ is your department?”
St Peter: “Yes, quite right. ‘Extreme stupidity’… yes, here we are: you get to relive your teenage years.”
Me: “I thought that was a one-time thing?”
St Peter: “All things are possible under God.”
Me: “Unquestionably.”
St Peter: “But, not as a teenager.”
Me: “That’s a relief.”
St Peter: “Be careful what-“
Me: “’I wish for.’ I know.”
St Peter: “No, you get to go back and be the parent of a teenager.”
Me: “I thought that was what Hell would look like.”
St Peter: “You’re right, there’s not much difference; except that in Hell, the teenagers never grow up and they never move out.”
Me: “I see your point.”
St Peter: “Was there every any doubt?”
Me: “Absolutely not; but I am here for stupidity. And extreme, at that.”
St Peter: “Who would have thought you’d get so smart just standing here?”
Me: “Just the stupid thing, nothing else? Wow! I guess God is merciful!”
St Peter: “Oh, this is just the first round.”
Me: “The first round? You mean I gotta come back? I thought there was only one judgment?”
St Peter: “Only one judgment per sin. And, I see you have racked-up quite a list. Hindus may be on to something.”
Me: “Do I get a preview?”
St Peter: “Yeah, we can ease your pain a little bit. What’s next? Oh, after the teenage parent experience – how’d you avoid that, oh, here it is: yes, ‘mid-life crisis’ – you will be due for, um, ego-centricity.”
Me: “I don’t even know what that means; how could I have had too much, or is it too little?”
St Peter: “In a nutshell –“
Me: “I’m in no hurry.”
St Peter: “It is a long line behind you and there are no toilet facilities, you know?”
Me: “Toilet facilities? I didn’t think the dead needed those.”
St Peter: “A little heavenly humor. Sorry for the digression.”
Me: “Back to the, um….”
St Peter: “Eating too much – gluttony, exercising too little – sloth, playing too hard – hedonism, not praying enough – that’s really stupid. The usual, considering your circumstances.”
Me: “That would seem to be pretty much what everybody else did; so, does everyone have to answer for all that?”
St Peter: “Yep.”
Me: “I don’t get any consideration as a product of my culture?”
St Peter: “You were stupid, not ignorant.”
Me: “And the difference would be?”
St Peter: “What was it Forrest Gump said?”
Me: “Stupid is as stupid does?”
St Peter: “Yeah, that’s it. And the ignorant part was that you did know better and you chose not to use the stuff between your ears.”
Me: “Ok, when do I get started?”
St Peter: “Well, just stand over there and listen to these next few – they’re doozies.”
Me: “I get to listen to others confess their sins?”
St Peter: “Why not? They have all heard yours.”
Me: “Now you tell me?”
St Peter: “You were stupid, not –“
Me: “Ignorant. Yeah, I know.”

Is anybody home?

Are there even any lights on? Well, yes: but the “light” seems to be coming from a very large, very thin, flat-panel “tv” (can we still call these things “tv”? they don’t seem to have much at all in common with my parents’ old Magnavox, or was it a Zenith?). In other words, although there must surely be human beings inside the house (unless Felix and Fido are the only ones vegging), there don’t seem to be any thinking creatures about the place.

No, not just the “what’s for lunch?” kind of thinking; but critical thinking. Or, is critical thinking like the bus that got us this far and dropped us off at the end of the line and has left us scratching some part of our anatomy?

How did we get to this point where anyone – let alone the president of the United States – can use the works “God bless” and “Planned Parenthood” in the same sentence, and no one seems to care? No, that’s not it: It’s not that no one seems to care, but rather that everybody cares about something else. We are not talking about a dichotomy: we are talking about a proper dog’s breakfast in critical thinking. No surprise that it has come out of the present incumbent of the White House. What is a surprise is that there is no hue and cry from those who have knuckled under to what John Stuart Mill called the despotism of conformism.

While the prevailing winds tend to blow toward the theory that life here on earth has no intrinsic meaning, and human beings have no intrinsic value, I don’t believe we are passionately apathetic. Quite the contrary, I believe we do care, and care very intently. About only ourselves and no one else. Um, no, that’s not it, either. How about we care only about ourselves and only about today? Yes, that is closer to the mark.

Look around you at the most basic attributes; start with diet. Americans obviously consume more calories than any society in the history of human kind. Furthermore, Americans are the most well informed, the most highly educated (after a fashion) of any culture, and yet the most obese. And, we still smoke. And, we still drive while drunk. We care passionately about our right to choose; and you and tomorrow be damned.

So, while we have been, well, consumed with consumption, we have let ourselves and our culture go to, ok, I’ll say it: pot. We spend billions on putting lipstick on the pig. We spend further billions in gym memberships while we pay “illegals” to cut our grass and babysit our kids. We spend untold billions buying little (well, lately, getting bigger and bigger) machines to cart our ponderous bulks around, while complaining about the price of gas, the dirty air, and the taxes to pay for “defense” (against whom? Saudi Arabian born terrorists, or China?).

Connect the dots, people! Don’t bother to believe in religion – God forbid! Don’t concern yourself with any kind of life after this one, but try to think about tomorrow – if not your kids and grandchildren, then your pension. Maybe your heart, too.

Don’t obsess about the messenger, but you might do yourself the honor of considering the message:

It’s later than you think.