Archive for June, 2013

I love this country

Where else in the world, if not the galaxy, can you have a single person talk for hours and hours (apparently broadcast live – if that is not a prime candidate for “Get a Life”, I don’t know what is), to prevent a vote on a bill, and then – and then – the talker says something like “Today was democracy in action.” No, Ms (didn’t that “ms” used to stand for “manuscript”?) Davis, what you exhibited was despotism – Uncle Joe would have been proud of you. (One website characterized her performance as a “one-woman effort.” Ya think?) And this got a lot of ink (ok, not really “ink”) on the airwaves (well, the internet, anyway). It was all the buzz, or twitter or something.

Maybe there was a reason she had to stand alone?

Hand-in-glove of course were the rulings by SCOTUS. Funny how people who don’t give the Supreme Court of the United States a first thought, let alone a second thought, are all of a sudden, experts on their rulings. Wendy Davis reminds me a lot of Sarah Palin: they are both quick studies (not that they, apparently did much of that). SCOTUS, on the other hand is in another galaxy; go to their website, read what they have written – I dare ya. Deep? The Marianas Trench ain’t in it. So, how anyone can crow about how wonderful SCOTUS is, just by reading one headline is beyond me (I mean, knowledgeably; baring that, how about with a modicum of understanding?).

Don’t get me wrong: I applaud the overturning of DOMA. Some 1,100 federal laws are affected. No, and it’s not because I’ve never liked Slick Willy. Asking if marriage needs to be defended or not is asking the wrong question. But, all the back slapping about the end of that (questionable) law is superficial and superfluous.

SCOTUS also opined on the Voting Rights Act. Everything I’ve read shows that the issue discussed was entirely missed: that of using demographic data that is 40 years old. As Chief Justice John G. Roberts put it: “In 1965, the states could be divided into two groups: those with a recent history of voting tests and low voter registration and turnout, and those without those characteristics. Congress based its coverage formula on that distinction. Today the nation is no longer divided along those lines, yet the Voting Rights Act continues to treat is as if it were.” Basically, for those who can’t be bothered with a little research: this country has changed just a tad since 1965. If you don’t believe me, I guess you weren’t around in the 60s. The complaint that neither Texas nor Virginia can implement their own state voting laws because the feds have yet to approve them flies in the face of Davis’ filibuster.

Sadly, the one bit of news that should have been discussed was the execution of yet another convict in Texas – its 500th since 1982. While the Me-Me-Me crowd was applauding the Davis hijacking of the Texas senate, not a word was said about Texas leading the country with about 40 percent of the 1,300 executions held nationally.

Oh, that convict was a black woman. Let’s hear it for equal rights.


Faces of Global Terrorism

Oh, puh-leez. These are faces of KNOWN, not imaginary, or hoped-for terrorists. It’s not “profiling”, it’s acknowledgement, U.S. Rep Jim McDermott of Seattle. There’s a reason your face is not in the line-up, for that matter, neither is a woman’s face in the rogues’ gallery emblazoned on Seattle’s buses: (a) you are not a known terrorist (while being really stupid is frightening, it’s not a crime…yet), and (b) known terrorists don’t look like you. Maybe you’re just jealous that your face isn’t displayed as a public-service announcement?

Let me put this another way: yes, if a 77-year old, white male moves in next door, I will think different thoughts than if I saw anyone looking like those 16.

But, this is Seattle, so what we really need is a poster with faces of women, 16 different (obviously different) ethnic groups, and some children. In other words, assume EVERYONE is a terrorist. Too hard?

Ok, try this: stick your head in the sand and pretend.

It’s not “fair”? How many dead and maimed at Boston would think what happened to their lives was “fair”?

How about photos of missing kids on milk cartons? Don’t like that either, huh? Obviously, most missing children tend to, um, well I guess they pretty much don’t resemble you, do they? Probably look rather much younger? Ah, but isn’t that profiling?

I suppose advertising needs to be more sensitive, too? I mean, how many cars or boxes of laundry detergent would get sold if the models looked like those 16? You’re right, it’s not fair that no one who looks like a known terrorist is depicted driving a, a what? Makes you want to rush right out and buy one, doesn’t it?

Well, ok, so posters on the sides of buses and in post offices is too much “in your face.” I understand: it makes you uncomfortable, it makes you doubt the “not in my backyard – never happen to me” attitude you cherish. I see your point. So maybe you shouldn’t stop there? Maybe you should tell Robert Mueller, Director of the FBI, that you don’t like his website with information a lot more detailed than just a mug shot and a name (check it out: You can even print a PDF poster of these most wanted, so you can paper your bathroom.

But, back to your “profiling” thing. Look on the FBI website: not a single name like “Bill Smith,” or “John/Jane Doe”. Jim, nobody on that website looks like you, or has a name like yours – so, why would I ever give you a second glance??? And, it appears that there is only one woman, and (are you sitting down?) no children.

Some say that the bus posters are “fear mongering.” I agree. I am very afraid. Very afraid people like you, in such heavy denial about the state the world is in will convince people who think that the world is flat, the moon is made of cheese, and life is “fair.”

New technology, new questions

Usta be, you didn’t wanna be found, you didn’t give anyone your address or phone number. And that was that. Now? It ain’t upta you.

When I was living in Europe, I had to do the usual things, like open up bank accounts, get telephones, the usual hassles that I never got used to, but were part and parcel of my life. One of the things I discovered there, thinking one bank branch was as good as another was that it wasn’t. Why? Simple: your personal information belonged to you, not the bank. So Branch A couldn’t do business with you, even tho the name on the door was the same as Branch B. Really? Back in the Good Ol’ US of A, everybody knew more about you than you did. Why? In this country, the person does not own his personally identifiable information, somebody else does, and that somebody else can buy and sell it – but you can’t.

So, now, you can’t hide – unless you’re “off the grid” as they say (I have no idea who “they” are, but I hear this a lot so, there must be a huge group of “they”). But, if you are incognito (maybe “incommunicado” is the right word there?), then you’re not reading this blog and a few other joys of modern life (I mean this blog is a joy, not the inability to read it – but you knew that, right?).

I have finally succumbed to new technology, and I am very much “on the grid”; and spend an awful lot of time “housekeeping” all of this wonderful “connectedness.” I think I might have finally gotten to the point where I am pretty much up-to-date on things, and I went looking for old friends. Just curious, y’know?

And I found an old “flame”. Pretty hot flame for a short time, too. But, that was then and this is now. Great, so now I’ve found her, what to do?

Like I said at the beginning (I’ll wait while you look back at those unforgettable words), it is pretty difficult to hide these days, and since “networking” has become synonymous with the internet (this blog being just one miniscule example), if you value your career, you hafta be on the grid. Why? ‘Cause that’s where people look, that’s why. And you want them to look. Look, look, look.

Maybe. Unless it’s an old flame. Then, maybe not.

Thus the quandary: Do I take full advantage of the technology to say “How ya doin’?” or do I keep my distance. After all, since I’m on the grid, she could find me (maybe already has) if she wanted. So, since I haven’t heard from her, she obviously doesn’t want to resume any sort of contact (hell, she was great friend – she’s the reason I passed my accounting classes when we were both studying for our MBAs – “left drawer assets, right drawer debits” – or was it the other way round?)

What I don’t need is another Facebook Friend to tell me what they had for lunch, or how long they slept last night. What I would like is a friend of the old-fashioned persuasion: somebody to talk with. Yep, that’s it.

I know, I know: what’s the worst that can happen? It’s not like I can damage a relationship that no longer exists. But, I am “traditional” enough to respect her right to her privacy; after all, I’m not selling vinyl siding (or whatever the daily phone calls from Area Code 702 are about – I don’t even know anybody in Las Vegas).

Tobacco-use verification

The Very Large Company that I work for has just put this on the employee website:

New this year! Tobacco-use verification
To avoid paying an additional $50 per person each month for 2014 medical plan benefits, you need to verify by Dec. 3, 2013, that you and/or your covered spouse or eligible domestic partner does not use tobacco products. If you verify that you and/or your covered spouse or eligible domestic partner has used tobacco products in the past six months, and do not satisfy a reasonable alternative or receive a physician waiver by Dec. 3, 2013, you will pay an additional $50 monthly per person contribution for 2014 medical benefits. To complete the tobacco-use verification and to learn more, visit the Your Benefits Resources website.

Since I have never smoked (or used any tobacco product in any way) I simply don’t understand why anyone would smoke. However, just running the hard numbers:

$50 per month, times 12 months per year, comes out to, um, 600 bucks, right? Oh, if you have a properly registered significant other, another 600 bucks could be coming out of your pocket. Potentially, $1200 per year. I don’t have a figure on how much the average smoker spends a year on his “coffin nails,” but I have seen advertisements for a carton of cigs in the neighborhood of $70 – would that be about a month’s worth?

There’s also a “health assessment” screening, that will cost $20/month/person if you don’t participate in it. That would be upwards of $480/yr for the typical employee for not filling in the form. So, for being really stupid, you could give the company nearly $1700/yr. Do people really do this? Wouldn’t it be a whole lot more fun to take that $1700 to the mall?

Add the $50/month we are already paying for health insurance, and that looks like another $1200/year (no choice there, however; thank you Obamacare).

Then I went to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Big mistake. Besides the billions of dollars that the industry is paying for advertising ($8.37 billion in 2011), “in 2013, states will collect $25.7 billion from tobacco taxes and legal settlements….” Are we talking real money, yet?

Quality of life? Forgetaboutit!

Great, a whole lot smarter and a whole lot dumber at the same time. Now I know some numbers, and now I am even more in the dark about why people smoke.

Temple Grandin – Connection

She seemed to relate to – understand, feel comfortable with – cows better than people; and I am sure that seems strange to most “normal folk”. She didn’t seem to have a close, personal relationship with anyone; and this seems to be a characteristic of autistics. But, I’m not so sure it isn’t also a characteristic of this modern technological age.

This technology that is said to bring people closer together. Really? Walk into a restaurant and observe how many people are on their “device” (I guess “cell phone” is already passé?). Maybe it’s the ability to be physically close to someone at the table, and “electronically close” to someone who isn’t? Is this the much touted closeness? Close to everybody, so close to nobody. What kind of connection is that? A distant one, at best.

Some people I know seem to be happiest when they are merely around other people, like at a shopping mall, a bar, even at a church service (see my posting, “The Edmonds Group”). And the corollary is also true: these same people can’t stand to be by themselves. So, they absolutely love the toys that keep them “front and center” (now, that term is passé), or “in the face” (a little more current, eh?) of others. It is no longer a matter of having only six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon (“Taking Chance” is one of my most favorite movies); it is, rather, a matter of how many “Facebook Friends” you have, or how people you follow on Twitter.

Do I need to say that I wish my cell phone did only three things? One, make and receive phone calls (the call screening ability I absolutely love). Two, send and receive text messages. Three, serve as my alarm clock (I wish I could program more than six alarms). No graphics, no internet, no photos, no games. And, I probably use the “silence” switch more than anything else.

My wife no longer asks how a certain feature works on her iPhone because she is tired of hearing me say, “I don’t know and I don’t care. It’s your phone, you figure it out.” I think she has the local Apple Store on speed dial.

In other words, what does “connect” or “connection” mean, in this modern social context? What value are hundreds, if not thousands of names stored in some computer? Will any of them care when you no longer answer your phone? Will any of them even notice?

In “It’s a Wonderful Life” (those of you who know me, knew this was coming), James Stewart discovers at the very end of the movie that, for the most part, everyone in the town of Bedford Falls was willing to dig into their pockets for whatever they could give him. Now, THOSE are connections worth having (and in the days of wall-mounted, hand-crank telephones, too).

I am halfway through the Patrick O’Brian series on Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin – the second time. The first time I read the 21 volumes, I just enjoyed the story. This time, I am trying to understand what it is about Jack and Stephen that I find so attractive. Since I have served on slightly more modern naval vessels (and the USS Nimitz is slightly bigger than anything Jack was in), I know in my soul-of-souls that I am most grateful for the, shall we say, “amenities” of ships today. So, it’s not that I wish I had been born in 18th century England (or, the US). Socially, I would have been one of those we now call “cannon fodder”; which is not very attractive, either.

What I believe makes me want to read the roughly 6,000 pages (twice) is the friendship that they enjoyed. I cannot think of any other characters, anywhere in literature, who connected so well. I know I have certainly not connected with anyone so well. While the story is a historical novel, perhaps the friendship is also fiction? Of course. But, is it also possible?

Temple Grandin didn’t seem to care whether she connected with people or not (please note that everything I know about Dr Grandin I know from the HBO movie, and her website). Do others more in the “mainstream” of society actually connect any better, or are they merely fooling themselves by accumulating connections (oops, contacts).

Yep, human beings are social animals, but then, so are cows. Do we, as a species, actually form bonds any more significant than other mammals? (Ask your cat – not your dog. You know the joke about shutting your dog in a closet for three days, or shutting your wife in a closet for three days? Which one will be happy to see you?) The need for social interaction is in our DNA, but I don’t think we’re very good at it. More toys don’t seem to be helping us connect.

In boca al lupo

Rivaling Rocky Balboa, is this next installment of “An Innocent Abroad.” Now, I know some of you have been rather smug, thinking the ordeal of being assaulted by my miscellaneous musings had died a deserving, if not peaceful death. But, proof that no good deed goes unpunished, I am back….

Chapter One: It’s not called that for nothing

For those of you who never opened your history book in school, Rome has been called the “Eternal City,” among other things. I can attest to the veracity of that moniker: new residents (the legal kind) are supposed to register with the local police (“questura”) within eight days of setting foot on this peninsula. We have been here four months, and I am the only one who has had the dubious privilege of having had my fingerprints taken twice (once digitally – so to speak, and once the old-fashioned, ink-on-everything way). Lest you think that four months is just special treatment, I would point out to you, Gentle Reader, that it took nearly a year for us to get the visas to come here in the first place. Rome is called the Eternal City because it takes forever to get anything done.

But, I am getting ahead of myself….

Chapter Two: All Roads Lead to Rome, even the very long ones

When I was told that my services were no longer required in Budapest, I was not also given any idea of what the day after looked like. What was after Budapest? Well, it seemed that it was time to brush off the resume and start knocking on doors; which was part of the rationale behind the visit to Seattle over The Holidays in 2006. However, the phone rang on December 13, telling me that my application to the rep’s position in the Rome Field Service office had been accepted, and that I should start the process of applying for visas and plan on arriving June 1, 2007.

Talk about a Merry Christmas! After having read Latin in high school and learning more than Russell Crowe about Roman generals, I have dreamed of Italy. The Marine Corps, in its infinite wisdom saw to it that I spent a considerable time on terra firma during my Med Cruise of 1981. Yeah, it was all true; especially the food. Then, years of famine. Years of dreams and no action, despite being in Norway for three years, then Hungary….

Hungary? Yep, I spent forty-four months in Budapest after Beijing, Shenyang, and Ulaanbaatar – which was after Bucharest, and “Drum Bum” which started this travelogue. Some of you will recall my missives from Mongolia. Nope, no correspondence from China, so you didn’t miss anything. I finally landed in Budapest in January 2004; and, when I left, I shook the dust off my feet.

Where was I?

Oh yeah: So, Nara and I spent Christmas 2006 in Seattle (didn’t need to look for a job, after all), and then two weeks in January in Miami (777 school) – damn the bad luck, and then two weeks in Tulsa (MD-80 school) – talk about payback! Back in Budapest, we started the visa application process.

Could there be anything more painful? Maybe passing a kidney stone the size of a basketball. The visa service hired by my employer never did figure out that Nara and Anuka were Mongolians, not Chinese. Of course, their confusion was understandable since we had to go to Beijing to get the Italian visas. Uh huh, right. But, that was after they insisted that the three of us stay in Budapest until the visas were issued; somehow conveniently forgetting that the Hungarians never did grant Anuka a visa, and so she wasn’t with Nara and me. Did I mention that our Hungarian residence permits expired the end of September? Oh, sorry, minor detail.

There we are: we can’t stay in Hungary, we can’t go to Italy. We could have gone to the States (Nara got a ten-year visa about four years ago), but Anuka didn’t have a visa. For those of you that can read faster than I can type, you’ve already guessed we went to Ulaanbaatar – which actually makes perfect sense (well, in this saga, “anything goes” pretty well became the theme).

Chapter Three: Back in the USSR

No, not really; but, the official language of Mongolia is written with a version of the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet. Although the city of Ulaanbaatar has really grown over the years since I lived there, it is still a hard place to live, and there we sat until the Italians issued the summons to apply for Nara’s and Anuka’s visa. I kept busy rewiring Nara’s mother’s clinic, building shelves, and generally trying to keep away from the table. Nara was enjoying her family (of course). And Anuka was trying to figure out who I am (still is, but at thirteen years old, she’s only just embarked on that journey – UPDATE: she’s 18 now, has graduated from high school, and has absolutely no use for me; i.e., a typical teenager). And sat. And sat. Longer than the rains fell on Noah’s pate we sat. No, not until the cows came home; just until the snow began to fall.

Met a wonderful Roman Catholic priest there, so the time wasn’t a total loss.

Chapter Four: The Road to Rome goes through Beijing

The Italians don’t have a diplomatic mission in Mongolia, so their embassy/consulate in Beijing handles visa applications for Mongolians. But, while staying in Mongolia was free (with Nara’s family), staying in Beijing in a hotel was not (can we say, “ka-ching”?). Eventually, we got the magic piece of paper, and booked a flight to Peking (or, Beijing – just wondering if you were still paying attention). Of course, we couldn’t have a flight just into the PRC; they (and everybody else) frowns on people with one-way tickets, so I had to guess how long the actual processing in Beijing would take, and decide on when the flight from Beijing to Rome should be. In the year this whole thing took, that was the one choice that was pretty well spot on: nine days. Great, tickets in hand (ULN-PEK-FCO), we embarked.

My long time (long-suffering?) readers will be scratching their heads thinking this all sounds so deja-vu-all-over-again. While I was scratching another part of my corpus, this did seem like a replay of the first time I left UB, back in 2003 – on my way to Europe that time, too. Even to staying in the Holiday Inn Lido Hotel (I never have figured out where in Beijing the hotel is located). Unfortunately, the Holiday Inn got rid of the cute little “Italian” restaurant in the interim; but, we had more than one meal at “Texan” – you can guess the cuisine.

I was afraid we’d have to settle for Peking Duck for Thanksgiving (seems so un-American, doesn’t it?), but the hotel came through with…well, not honestly sure; but, there was lots of it (no, I did not notice a sudden absence of cats and dogs on the city streets). Remember that we were supposed to have been in Rome by June 1? At this point, “Christmas in China” was looking like a distinct possibility.

Chapter Five: Your Papers are not in Order

Sorry, I skipped a little something. Documentation. Well, not a “little” thing. Not really.

You see, in order to apply for the Italian family visa, we needed a few pieces of paper. We needed all documents notarized and translated into Italian. Or, was that “translated into Italian, and then notarized”? That depends on whether you’re standing on your left leg or your right. And, of course, not just anybody would do either. No, that would have been far too simple.

The Italian consulate was resolute: not just anybody could translate the marriage and birth and adoption certificates. Oh no. Only one company in UB could do that. UB? You mean the company in Budapest – the one and only company in all of Hungary that was permitted to do this sort of thing – couldn’t manage that? Nope. No sirree. Keeping in character, the visa service that was “in charge” (it pains me to put “visa service” and “in charge” in the same sentence – it implies competence), somehow neglected to get the name of the one – the one and only – company in all of UB that the Italians in Beijing would accept a translation from.

Yes Virginia, finding out that the translations had to be done in UB came after we had already had the translations and the notarizations done in Budapest. The Hungarians do a really fine job of making pretty documents, though; thinking of framing them and hanging them on the living room wall. Worthless, but pretty.

So, in May, Nara flew back to UB, had the Mongolian Ministry of Foreign Affairs notarize the three documents, then had them translated into Italian, then flew to Beijing and had the Mongolian Consulate notarize them, then had the Italian consulate take a look. Then, she flew back to Budapest – after a month in Seattle for my annual Home Leave. Did I forget Anuka? Nope: I had to fly to UB to apply for a US visa for her (yes, I had to be physically present at the US Consulate in UB to apply for her visa; what a crock) – for her first ever trip out of Mongolia; but, that’s a different story.

Chapter Six: “I’m confused: your wife and daughter don’t have US passports.”

You know I’m not making this up: I’m an engineer with a severe case of The Knack. We finally get to the Italian consulate in Beijing (after going to the wrong building to apply for the family visa – courtesy of the visa service which ‘was in charge’) where the consular officer (clerk?) didn’t understand why Nara and Anuka didn’t have US passports, since the computer showed them to be US citizens. Huh? Would we be in Beijing if they were? No, we’d already be in Italy.

Way back, months ago, like, I don’t know, April, May, something, some clerk in Italy gave Nara and Anuka US citizenship. How the clerk did that, looking at copies of Mongolian passports, I really don’t want to try to guess. Nara’s name was spelled correctly, but not her nationality (and nobody is going to believe there is a statistical possibility of spelling “Narangerel” correctly). But, The Computer in Beijing said they were US citizens, and all the paperwork in our possession to the contrary couldn’t persuade the clerk otherwise (including the actual Mongolian passports).

The consular officer, however, did believe us – maybe it was the deer-in-the-headlights look of utter disbelief – apparently believed Nara and Anuka really were Mongolian citizens; but, you know, The Computer said…. What to do? Contact Alitalia and have them contact the Italian police and have them make the correction. Contact Alitalia? That’s like grabbing on to the anchor of a sinking ship (at that time Italy’s flag carrier had about three weeks of cash left). How long will it take? Days, weeks, months. What should we do? Go back to Mongolia and wait.

“Our” plane to Rome left two days later. Yes, we were on it.

By the way, “In boca al lupo” is the Italian version of “good luck.”

(The above was originally written in April, 2008 – before I had even heard about “blogs”.)

Temple Grandin – Vision

She sees the world in ways others can’t. Simple, succinct and seminal. Well, the first two for sure; only time will tell how seminal her story will be for me.

Another thing I got out of the movie was that of “connection”.

Already, I have too much for one posting; and what I learned about my daughter who just graduated from high school is yet another story. So this might be a multi-part posting; I’m sure my loyal readers will humor me?

We all see the world in a unique way – our own way; unfortunately, for the most part, we want others to see it the way we do. This is self-defeating for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it shows that we persist in living in our own illusions, for the simple fact that we want everyone to see what we see – this, all-by-itself is an illusion. We give ourselves the mantle of being “special” and “unique” but expect others to give up their own and worship ours.

According to the movie, Temple had difficulty with roommates in college. I can imagine myself in a close, daily relationship with someone who had pretty much no social skills at all. Maybe that would work because I don’t have much use for people, either (and I know I’m not autistic, for I am brilliant at absolutely nothing at all: “hopelessly average” as my sister has put it). But, she finally got a roommate who was blind. Two things there: One, the blind roommate spent her whole life being different and living in a world that was not the least bit accommodating to her “other than ‘normal’ needs”. And two, the roommate “saw” the world in voices and sounds – not really so much different from how Temple said she saw the world, tho for her, in pictures.

So, first “a-ha moment”: How do I see the world, and how can I appreciate how others see it? I’ll go way out on a limb here and propose that we, each and every one of us, want to make the world fit our perception, our mold, our “reality”. But, if we stand back a minute, be the director and not one of the actors on the stage, we will quickly come to the realization that the world is bigger than us, and has been and will be, around longer than each of us, and that we need to fit the world. In my previous life of being a military aviator, we used to say “strap on the airplane”; and I had some brilliant colleagues (I hope they don’t mind me calling them colleagues) who seemed to become another entity entirely – a good thing when coming aboard a pitching deck at night (NORDO, too). Yes, I am a tailhooker (and proud of it). The actor lives on the stage, the aviator lives in the sky, but with its own – inviolate – rules (actors can “break a leg” and return; military aviation is less forgiving).

While Temple (and “all” austistics?) can’t understand why we “normal” folk can’t see the world as they do, can we, at the very least, give up our illusions? Maybe Temple could never learn how to hug; can I? She certainly understood how necessary some sort of hug was; just not from people, thank-you-very-much. Give up that First Illusion; that the world is as we see it. As we see it, not as how others see it; and finally, not how it really is.

Second, try to see the world as others see it. Well, maybe appreciate that they do see it differently; then move on to “walking a mile in their shoes”. Crawl, then walk, then run. First, aim, then shoot. Engage my brain before I open my mouth (conveniently ignoring that, often, there aren’t any brain cells to engage).

I earn a paycheck from a company that espouses “diversity”. Recently, it hijacked that term – formerly used for ethnic diversity – and has promulgated “geographical diversity” (what do you expect from a huge engineering company?). During a recent “webcast” (I suppose that term makes as much sense as “broadcast”?) five executives explained their new corporate strategy. All five were: white, male and middle-aged. Three of the five were grossly obese. I am white and male, which I can’t change, and wouldn’t change, even if I could. And, I am past middle-age; not much I can do about that, either. The obese is entirely w/n my control. That said, I am reminded of Groucho Marx’s famous: “I would never join a club that would have me as a member.” Temple Grandin is probably as brilliant as all five of those stuffed-shirts put together; but she would never be allowed into that club; and thankfully, most likely couldn’t care less. And the company I work for is less for the incest.

Food for thought, Temple: how do I see the world, and how do others see it?

Thanks to Claire Danes for her portrayal in the HBO movie. Dr Temple Grandin is on the web; well worth your time to look her up (I guess I should say “Google her”, shouldn’t I?).

A tough nut to crack

Actually, reading ALL of Pope Benedict’s “Regensburg Lecture” (2006 Sep 12), and not just the quote that Muslims chose to hear (“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.” Manuel II Paliologos, 14th century), I can find no fault. Almost seven years later, observing the behavior of the Muslim world, I’d have to say that Benedict was too kind by far.

Our current pope, Francis, when he was Archbishop of Buenos Aires, apparently thought Benedict destroyed 20 years of Pope John Paul II’s efforts in 20 seconds. I’m not sure the Muslim world paid that much attention to JP2.

Has there been a day go by when you’ve seen any kind of sign (literal or figurative) that seems to originate from any Muslim of any stripe that promotes peace with anyone? Starting with Muslims of different stripes, continuing to the secular world, and on to the Christian sphere. It goes w/o saying that Islam will never stop its unilateral war with Jews.

So, now we have the diplomatic envoy to the grand imam of Al-Azhar asking (demanding – do Muslims ever “ask”?) that Francis declare Islam a peaceful religion. What is this guy smoking? How about Islam doing something – Dear God (Allah) ANYTHING – that might be remotely construed (confused?) as peaceful? How about walking the talk?

There is no doubt that the Catholic Church wielded the sword plenty – in the past. That was then and that is to be regretted. However, Muslims still go out of their way to kill, maim, destroy. This is now. Thank God the Catholic Church has put the sword where it belongs (yeah: about time); I just don’t see Islam doing the same.

I look around me and I can only conclude that Manuel II’s words have proven timeless.

Malachite – Chapter 3 – Outward Bound

A modern Christopher Columbus? Gulliver? I hope the natives are friendly. He shuddered again: from what he had read, there wouldn’t be any “natives,” and if there was anything On Top, whatever it was wouldn’t be friendly – that’s why he grew up underground, that’s why everyone he knew had been born underground, lived underground, and died underground. Nothing On Top was friendly. Good to remember.

He started digging in the stinking mud, fashioning a shallow grave. Finally, content that it was deep enough – Surely this is deep enough? – he lay down and pulled the piles of mud on top of his shoes, his legs, his torso. So, what do I do about my face? Good question. He sat up, and pulled his t-shirt off. Lying back down, he made a tent over his face by holding the thin material just off his face. Feels like I’m finally going to drown. He took one last look at the river, and closed his eyes. Did the girls make it this far? And what happened to them – what was the noise that made them split up? Do I try to return? And how do I do that? Do I sit here? And for how long, a week? Do I try to find The City, and Jade? Well, that’s why this journey began, right? Had he been able to stay awake, he might have come up with some very discouraging answers.

As the sun went down, the drop in temperature woke him. Trying to move, he discovered that the t-shirt had been baked solid and his arms had gone numb. He also discovered that he had pointed his feet facing the rising sun, so his head faced the setting sun; his right arm, therefore, pointed south. And nobody around to notice how clever I am. Pushing up the hard shell of the t-shirt, he tried to sit up. Not so fast! He beat the baked clay that covered his body into shards and looked south and found a landmark – a knob of a hill on a ridge in the distance was still visible in the twilight. Twilight? I guess I have survived my First Day on the surface? He looked around. Well, I’m here, I might as well get on with it. He began walking. He started to shiver. Wow! Not used to this cold! To where, he could not guess; but there was no shelter here on this flood plain. Dunno what I’m going to do when the sun comes back up.

He walked all night. He couldn’t navigate by the stars because, not ever having seen stars before, he didn’t know how. At least, for his subterranean eyes, the night didn’t get all that dark. Piss poor planning, pal. And he was thirsty. He walked and walked – for hours and hours – and it just now hit him that he had no water and no food. Great: no water. So, I guess I have about a week, tops, before I go nuts and die. Might as well enjoy the sights while I can. He looked around for a place to lie down for awhile. His best traveling would be at night. At night, when he could use his eyes without having to squint and shield them. At night, when he could use his ears. At night, when smells were sharpest. At least he was dry; that was something.


He laid down and tried to make himself a little comfortable on the rocky soil. It wasn’t really sand; rather, very small stones. But, he managed. He stared up at the last of the stars in the pre-dawn sky and eventually closed his eyes. And dreamed. Dreamed of a scene from a movie. Must have been from a movie, for he dreamed of a very large, gray ship pulling away from a dock. On board was a young man in a military uniform, on the dock was a young woman holding a very young girl in her arms. Clearly from a movie; but which one, and why, and why now?

Malachite had survived his first day and night in this new world on the surface of the venerable old globe of the Earth.

Again, the sky began to lighten, over there – and he was out in the open. Keep the morning sun on my left? Well, why not? He had nothing else to go on. He had to find shelter – any kind of shelter. I should not be out here in the sun! I should be hiding from it! He quickly became warm, then hot. Wish I had some clothes on. A lot of clothes. As the mud flaked off, he noticed that it had stained his skin. Maybe a good thing? There were people in the settlement whose blood was definitely from darker stock, maybe they would fare better up here? Didn’t much matter now: his skin was so white it was almost pink. And, if he didn’t get out of the sun, and very soon, he would go blind – if his skin didn’t peel off, first. But, the further away from the river that he walked in search of shelter, the further away from drinking water he got. It was a toss-up: die from the sun, or die from thirst. He had no idea which was better.

The climbing sun, forced him to trade the “too cold” of night for the “too hot” of day. Too hot and too bright. He stood still and closed his eyes. Still too bright. He covered his eyes with his hands and

felt the sun attack the skin on the back of his hands and arms. Definitely damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Opening his eyes beneath his hands, he began walking again. Eyes that could penetrate the eternal darkness of the subterranean world he lived in. Had lived in. Eyes that could not possibly handle the sun’s brightness, even on a cloudy day. So, he searched for shelter; he felt instinctively that, as useless as eyes were down below, they were absolutely essential here on top.

He had walked far enough away from the river to see some sort of plants (or what he thought must be plants) in the distance. He couldn’t stay where he was, as the sun rose higher and higher against a brilliant blue sky. So, he noted where the sun had come from, rotated his head 90 degrees and found a landmark in the distance. I guess that’s south? He found himself scratching the spots on his skin that the sun was not so slowly destroying.

How far have I gone? Does it matter? Where am I, anyway? Or, am I someplace at all? Without any hope of surviving, he was really more of a tourist, looking at all the strange and mysterious sights; for everything he could see was new to him. In fact, everything he could see would have been new to anybody who might have also been walking there. In fact, he was the first human being to walk there in a hundred years. Native or otherwise.

He made the scrub brush, about waist high, as the sun was setting. A brilliant sunset with every hue in the red end of the spectrum. His first, vibrant, painfully vibrant colors. Down there – what used to be home – there were no colors, not really. Just various shades of gray. And not many of those. His growling stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten anything since, since when? And, he was already getting cold again.

There is nothing new under the sun?

Really? Whoever said that* hasn’t seen the latest to come out of Hollywood.

I can’t say that I cared about either entertainers or pianos when I was growing up; I was mostly into whatever my parents chose for evening tv. Having been out of my parents’ house for ages now, I not only don’t watch tv, I seldom go to movies, and I certainly have never given Liberace a second thought.

So, I really don’t care about the new movie about him. I would not likely have wasted any time at all watching it, even if the actors weren’t no-names, which they now are in my book.

But, while other institutions, like the military and universities and large corporations have had to implement a governmental policy that their composition reflect that of society (can you tell I grew up during the 60s?), Hollywood (specifically the film industry, but also the entertainment industry in general) has pretty much gone its own way. Until recently, when it became popular to pay attention to what the celebrities were saying. Now, thanks to the crowing of actors of every stripe (most abysmally bad at their chosen professions), society has adopted a policy of reflecting Hollywood’s values. If there was ever a more blatant example of the tail wagging the dog, I cannot, at the moment, think of it.

Consequently, the irony of the film studios refusing to distribute this movie in the USA about a ho-hum piano player because the movie portrays a lifestyle that really is not palatable to the 97% of us that might buy tickets, is, as the title of this commentary suggests, something that really is new.

What is also new is that internet technology provides a lot more entertainment than Hollywood ever did. Oh, Hollywood has always been very good at cranking out movies, as a one-time movie theater projectionist (back in the days of carbon rods and changing reels), I saw more than my fair share of pure, unadulterated crap. Far more than my fair share. But, if you wanted the movie experience, you were at the mercy of what the local theater was showing. And, growing up in the Midwest, there was precious little else available.

Of course, now, you can have a “tv” screen in your living room that your neighbors can easily watch from across the street, and the programming is beyond comprehension. A sign of the times: “How do you know when you have enough channels? When you can’t find anything to watch.” Har-dee-har-har-har. The joke may be on John and Jane Doe; but they are not spending their dollars on Hollywood entertainment, they are spending it elsewhere. They have options, and they are taking full advantage of them.

I used to know people who went to the movies “all the time”; for a few, it was a weekly ritual. I don’t know anybody now who goes to the theater without first going on line to see what’s playing and where and what the ticket price is. When I do see a movie, it is at a $3 theater, and it is a movie I have researched; sometimes for hours. As to my home video library, I have such titles as “The Way” and “For Greater Glory” and “Taking Chance” (none of those were produced and distributed by a major Hollywood studio).

As far as I’m concerned, most of the film coming out of Hollywood should have stayed on the cutting room floor.

* Ecclesiastes 1:9