Monthly Archives: September 2015

Achieving immortality

It seems like a lot of people these days are very concerned about leaving their mark on the world.  They want to make sure that when their time is done they’ll have LIVED!!!  They’ll have made a difference and the world will be a better place for them having been here.  Certainly, no one wants to shuffle off this mortal coil without leaving some evidence that they’ve existed.

Personally, I applaud this attitude.  It encourages people to push their boundaries and explore and experience new things…which hopefully has the added benefit of opening their minds and souls to the wonder around them.  Too many people don’t open themselves up to new experiences and ideas – often through fear or apathy.  The end result is that they don’t expand their minds, don’t see new things, don’t think new thoughts and end up living worthless, pre-packaged lives circling the drain of their own fears and prejudices.

The thing is, everyone wants to be the next George Washington…or Sally Ride…or Leif Eriksson or <insert name of your personal hero here>.  They want to live life bigger and grander and have adventures and become someone who will be a household name.  Someone who will be remembered.  Someone who made a difference.

But living your life with that attitude is completely forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that fame and historical significance was not necessarily something those people sought out.  In many cases it was something that they didn’t want but that was thrust upon them by a world hungry for the next big thing…or person.

It also ignores the fact that fame is fleeting and a very fickle bitch.  It’s actually not that hard to be famous.  It’s much more difficult to be famous for something good.  And it’s even more difficult to stay famous for something good.  Today’s  great adventurer is tomorrow’s mass murderer and slaver.  Today’s great athlete is tomorrow’s cheating drug user.  Today’s TV Star is tomorrow’s washed up loser.  Then there’s all the people who go out to leave their mark and vanish without a trace.  I can’t tell you about them because the only evidence they ever existed is the shattered lives of the family they leave behind.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not saying you should never go out and do something adventurous or even dangerous or that you shouldn’t try to leave your mark on the world.  But go do it for the right reasons.  It should be an accent to your life, not a substitute for it – the cherry on top of the cake, not the cake itself.

Let’s say you enjoy rock climbing.  You’re out every weekend climbing bigger, more difficult rock faces.  You decide that you want to climb El Capitan.  Go for it!  Practice, expand your skills, push yourself and when you’re ready, go climb it!  But if you’ve never climbed anything harder than the stairs in your house, deciding to climb El Capitan is at best, stupid…at worst, suicidal.

Of course, there’s another way you can leave your mark, achieve immortality and never be forgotten.  It’s very simple, absolutely fool-proof and anyone can do it.  One catch most simple things it’s very difficult.  All you have to do is be the best you that you can be.

I know what you’re thinking, “But that’s so boring!  I want to explore, climb, fly, do…exciting things!  I don’t want to just be another <insert job title here>!”  Yeah, right.  You and everybody else.  But everybody can’t be the best exciting thing doer.  There can only be one “Best”.  That’s kinda what Best means.

But there’s only one of you.  And if you resolve to be the best you possible, you can do great things.  Abraham Lincoln once said, “I never had a policy; I have just tried to do my very best each and every day.”  He succeeded.  But you don’t even have to be Abraham Lincoln.  You just have to be you.  The best you.

My Father-in-Law was a meat cutter.  Not a Butcher.  A meat cutter.  Butcher was too fancy a word for him.  He worked almost every day of his life.  He married, had two kids, supported his family, paid his bills, raised his kids, worked more, paid more bills, lost his vision to glaucoma and still worked and finally died, just as he had lived, with quite, uncomplaining dignity.

Oh, he didn’t do it alone.  His wife was there by his side the entire way, sticking with him through thick and thicker.  But those few lines describes his life.  Except that they don’t.  Not.  Even.  Close.  There is so much more there than I could ever write down.  But he was at heart just a simple meat cutter from West Virginia.  A simple man from a small town…who was so respected that his funeral was almost standing room only.  Who was so loved that his family still talks about him and thinks about him almost daily.  So much so that sometimes it feels like he’s just stepped out of the room and will be back any minute.  That is achieving immortality.

And you can do it, too…from the comfort of your own living room.  Just be the best you possible.  Live, don’t exist.  Find someone to share your life with that loves you as much as you love them.  Do your job the best way you know how.  Have children.  Raise them to be better people than you are.  Don’t expect them to be clones or follow in your footsteps.  Expect them to be the best them that they can be and to find their own path.  And, most importantly, love.  Love your partner, love your children, love your life…and don’t forget to love yourself.

See, it’s simple.  And the hardest, most difficult, most challenging, most rewarding, most fun thing you can ever do.  But if you do it, you’ll make a mark.  You’ll make a difference and you’ll be remembered after you’re gone.  Do it and you’ll be immortal.

Hindsight may be 20/20 but memory is blind

Oh, the Good Ole Days.  Wasn’t it great back when a loaf of bread cost .20¢ and a gallon of gas cost .25¢?  When a new car cost less than $2500.00 and a gallon of milk cost about a buck?

That was 1960.  The year I was born.  “My Three Sons”, “The Flintstones” and “The Andy Griffith Show” all debuted that year.  Chubby Checker was doing “The Twist” and Elvis was asking “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”.  The Pirates beat the Yankees in the World Series and Floyd Patterson was the Heavy Weight Champ.  Looking back on it now – through “Wonder Years” re-runs if nothing else – it was a Golden Age.

This is the idealized image a lot of the Conservative Right holds out as how things ought to be now.  Dad coming home from his job.  Mom putting dinner on the table.  The kids playing outside with the other neighborhood kids.  A car in every garage and a chicken in every pot.  Life was simple.  Every family was a cross between Leave it to Beaver and Donna Reed.  Every dinner was a Norman Rockwell moment.

This is what the hard core Conservatives and the Tea Party say we need to get back to.  Except…

While bread cost .20¢ and gas cost .25¢ the average household income was only $5200.00/year.  So that $2500 car still cost almost half a year’s salary and a home cost around 2 1/2 years salary at $12,700.  And while Andy and Opie were goin’ fishin’, five US Soldiers were dying in a far off place called Vietnam.  5…a number that would grow to over 58,000 before everything was said and done.

The Unemployment Rate is 1960 was 7.1%.  As I write this, it’s 5.1%.  Martin Luther King, Jr. hadn’t marched on Washington yet and segregation was the rule of the day in the south.  The Bay of Pigs invasion was one year away; The Cuban Missile Crisis was two.  Oddly enough, by current standards the Middle East was actually fairly quiet and peaceful.

Single women could be refused a Credit Card by their bank although a married women could get one…if her husband cosigned for her.  In many states, women couldn’t serve on a jury because their main job was to be homemakers.  Also, women were considered too delicate to hear the more grisly parts of some court cases and it was feared that their natural sympathies would keep them from being objective in the jury room.

If a woman wanted an Ivy League education she was out of luck.  Most of the Ivy League Schools wouldn’t even admit women as students.  If a woman did get an education and got out into the work force, she generally got paid .59¢ for every $1.00 a man got paid…assuming she was white.  If she was black, take everything I just recounted and turn it up to 11….maybe 12.

Yep,the Good Ole Days.  When we had good old fashioned values like rampant sexual and racial discrimination.  And old fashioned economic times when the cost of living was, percentage wise, about the same as now.  Stronger Foreign Policy times when we were getting involved in a war that would kill more Americans that both Gulf Wars combined.  A time with the Cold Ware was in full swing and school kids watched films teaching them to duck and cover if the Commies dropped the bomb.

OK, so the 60’s weren’t all that great.  But what about the’50s!  Now there was a real Golden Age.  No hippies, no drugs, no Vietnam.  It was great!  Sure, it was.  Instead of hippies we had beatnicks.  Drugs were already a problem but hadn’t made it into the papers yet and instead of Vietnam we had Korea with 33,000+ caualties (1.2 million if you include North and South Koreans and Chinese).  Blacks and women didn’t have even the rights they had in 1960 and McCarthyism was in full swing.  What’s not to like?

Mind you, there’s a lot about the 60’s (my childhood) that I miss.  Lazy afternoons playing with my friends, long summer evenings chasing fireflies. sledding on snowy winter days and coming home to my Mom’s hot cocoa.  The thing that was so much better about that time compared to now is that I was a kid.  I didn’t have any idea about bills or unemployment or foreign policy.

It wasn’t that that stuff didn’t exist.  It just didn’t exist for me.  I was a kid.  But it did exist for my Dad and Mom.  They worried about it, lost sleep about it, prayed about it – the same way that I worry and lose sleep and pray about things now.  So, to me and other people of my generation it WAS a golden time.  But that’s the problem with getting nostalgic about the past.  You’re usually getting all misty eyed about a ‘good parts’ version and ignoring the bad stuff.

George Santayana is credited with saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  Learn your history…all of it and not just the ‘good parts’ or the parts that cater to your own fears and prejudices.  And when the fear mongers and hate mongers talk about going back to a simpler time, remind them about 1 Corinthians 13:11.  “When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” and tell them it’s time to grow up.

Geography, Economics and why the Middle East is such a pain in the ass

The Middle East is in the news again…or maybe I should say it’s in the news still.  It seems to be a constant thing…probably because it is.  And it has been for a good portion of recorded history.  Take a look at this map…

That’s Russia at the top of the map, China on the right edge and France on the left edge. All that in an area roughly equivalent to North America.  Look at all the different countries, cultures and histories involved.  Now think back to High School World History and Sunday School and remember what you learned about:

Marco Polo
The Old Testament
The New Testament
The Spice and Silk Caravan routes
The Crusades
The Roman Empire
The Empire of Alexander the Great
The Persian Empire
The Mongol Empire
The Ottoman Empire

What do they all have in common? They all either happened in the Middle East or passed through there on their way to somewhere else. Simply put, up until fairly recently, a big, damn portion of Human History happened in or around the Middle East.

OK.  Fine.  But that’s all ancient history, right?  Nope.  The Ottoman Empire didn’t end until 1922.  That happened in part because they were pushed out by the British Empire during World War I.  And let’s not forget the discovery of oil in the region in 1908.

OK.  But that’s still a long time ago.  So what?  Well, then there’s World War II.  A big portion of that happened in and around the Middle East. That makes it a bit more recent.  Take the Cold War into consideration and we’re up to the 50’s and 60’s.

The oil and the Cold War were what really brought the U.S. into the Middle East.  We need oil to run our economy so we couldn’t let Communism win in the region.  Looking at things from the point of view of someone native to the area, the U.S. and the Soviet Union (and now Russia) are just the latest in a long, long, long history of people NOT from there screwing around with the people that ARE from there.

Maybe I should correct what I said earlier.  Simply put, a big, damn portion of Human History happened (and is still happening) in or around the Middle East.  Geography made the area important.  It was the natural cross-roads for caravan routes in the ancient world and that’s been continued with more modern innovations like the Suez Canal.

But the reason for all the traveling through, fighting over and drilling for oil beneath boils down to one thing.  Money.  More money has been generated in the Middle East than just about any other region on the planet.  That’s the real reason the Middle East has always been so important.

However, the game has changed.  Instead of just being pawns in someone else’s game, the locals have gotten rich enough (again) to start playing in the game themselves…and a lot of them are pissed off about how they’ve been treated throughout history and are still being treated.  This means that along with the locals trying to direct their own lives there are people that have decided that they want to direct other people’s lives as well…the same way others have been trying to direct their’s and their ancestors since time out of mind.

The thing is, they’re taking a more direct approach.  They’re trying to enforce their will on others through violence…and again, there are historical precedents whether you’re talking about the actions of Europeans and Muslims during the Crusades or the tactics of the Jewish Sicarii during the Roman Empire or the actions of the Barbary Pirates that led to the formation of the United States Navy in 1794.

But just because somebody was a murdering, thieving asshole a long time ago is no excuse for someone else to be one.  I’m not surprised some of them are pissed about how things are and have been in the Middle East.  I would be if it was me.  So would most Americans.  Imagine how we’d feel if all that fighting, looting, killing, etc was happening in the Midwest instead of the Middle East.  But nothing…NOTHING…justifies terrorism and only cowards murder innocents and unarmed civilians.  Dress it up in whatever religious or moral rhetoric you choose.  It’s still murder and the perpetrators are still cowards.

So how do we fix the problem?  At this particular point in time, the big attraction in the Middle East isn’t trade routes, it’s oil.  The locals have gotten rich selling it to the rest of the world and all the trouble makers are using some of that money to buy the weapons and cause trouble.  So to fix the problem you need to find a substitute for oil that doesn’t come from the Middle East.  Cut off the money supply and that tree with wither and die.

The only problem with that solution is that we don’t have an oil alternative.  So we need to do what the United States does better than anyone else.  Innovate and invent one.  Whether it’s bio-diesel from algae or alcohol from corn or  unobtanium from whatever-the-hell, we need it.  And we need it now!  And once we have it we need to sell the product…not the process…to the rest of the world for LESS than an equivalent amount of oil.

It won’t be easy and it wont’ be cheap but it’s the best long-term strategy for this country to fix the problem with the Middle East.  And it’ll work…until the next problem crops up there.  Sooner or later, it will.  History says so.

Sanctimony, Hypocrisy and Cherry Picking the Bible

If you’ve been anywhere near any news anything lately you’ve seen, heard or otherwise been subjected to the ongoing saga of Kim Davis.  She’s the County Clerk from Kentucky who has recently been in the news, been arrested and been released because she won’t issue Marriage Licenses to same sex couples.

Ms. Davis has taken her stand because of her religious beliefs.  Basically, she considers same sex marriage a sin and won’t issue a marriage license for it.  She’s been told that she has to by pretty much everyone up to and including the Supreme Court but By God (literally) she’s going to stand her ground and not do the job she was elected to do.

If I did that – refused to do my job whatever the reason – I’d be fired….and rightfully so.  Because I’m paid to do X and if I refuse to do X because I’ve found religion or smoked too much dope or decided that I just don’t want to, then I should be fired.  Why?  Because I’m not doing the job I was hired to do.  You know…like Kim Davis.

As an Elected Official, Davis can’t be fired.  However, the good people of Rowan County might want to consider a recall election or impeachment.  Whatever recourse the local laws make available, she should be brought to task and relieved of her position because she is refusing to do her job.  Period.  End of statement.

“But wait!”, you cry.  “What about her religious freedom?”  What about it?  Her religious freedom is NOT BEING INFRINGED UPON!!!!!  She’s free to believe anything she wants.  However, she is NOT free to impose her religious beliefs on anyone else.  That is a violation of the other persons Constitutional Rights because she is imposing her religion and beliefs on them.  So the person who is violating the 1st Amendment is…Kim Davis.

Of course, the thing that really pisses me off is that Kim Davis and everyone else who is losing their collective shit about same sex marriage uses the Bible to justify their prejudice…and they do it by being very selective on which Bible verses they quote.

Leviticus 20:13 says, “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death. Their blood guiltiness is upon them.”

Of course, they seem to miss some other verses like…

Romans 7:2-3 which says, “For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.”

Did I mention that Kim Davis has been divorced three times?

Then, of course, there’s Exodus 20:14  which states, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”

Did I mention that Kim Davis conceived twins out of wedlock?  With her fourth husband?  While married to her first husband?

Davis and her supporters seem to be okay with all of that but they don’t like same sex marriage?  People who live in glass houses…nope, never mind.  I don’t want to get into that whole ‘stoning harlots’ thing.  Better if we just let that one go.

I’m reminded of something my father told me.  Dad was a Lay Minister in the United Methodist Church.  At the time I’m talking about he was also a Regional Sales Manager for an Encyclopedia company.  Along with running his Region and training the new sales people Dad made his own sales calls.

One day he made a call at the home of a small, back-country preacher.  While talking the Preacher’s wife, Dad mentioned that he was a Lay Minister.  The wife was very disappointed that her husband wasn’t home because he was such a great Biblical Scholar – entirely self taught.  Apparently he could prove using Scripture from the Bible that Heaven was located at the North Pole.

When Dad related this story to the rest of the family at dinner he said, “You can prove anything with the Bible if you’re willing to quote scripture out of context.”  Dad wasn’t wrong.  I’ve seen it done over and over.  But he missed something.  You can also justify any prejudice using the exact same technique.

Livin’ the Life

Wow!  Almost three years gone since the last time I posted anything.  It’s been a busy time.  Nothing earth-shattering has happened.  Just life.  Kinda keeps you busy if you’re not careful to keep on top of it.

And it has been busy.  Sean graduated college and moved to Pittsburgh.  James has started his Senior year of college and has moved out for all intents and purposes.  At this point, Tami and I can consider ourselves empty nesters…and we’re OK with that.

We’ve raised our sons and done a fairly good job of it – especially when you consider how unprepared we were for the whole parenthood thing.  Anyway, the boys aren’t boys anymore.  They’re men.  And pretty damn fine men if I do say so myself.  That’s not paternal pride talking by the way.  That’s a cold, balanced analysis of the facts completely unbiased by any hint of fatherly affection…and if you believe that I have a bridge I want to sell you.  Yes, I’m so proud of them it hurts sometimes.

But where was I?  Oh, yeah.  Empy nesters.  The fact is, Tami and I are really looking forward to it.  We love seeing the boys and having them visit (did I mention I was proud of them?) but we’re just fine when it’s just the two of us.  I think one of the smartest things we did was wait to have kids until we were a bit older.  It meant we were a bit more mature and better able to handle the stress of new parenthood (HAH!  see my earlier comments on belief and bridges).  It also meant that we had a chance to get to know each other and live as just us two for a while.

There’s an old saying that you marry a stranger.  And like a lot of old sayings, it’s survived because it’s true.  Tami and I have known each other since High School.  We met up again through a mutual friend a few years after graduation (Thanks, Jeff.  We owe you big!), started dating, got engaged and got married.  And neither of us had any frickin’ clue who the other person was.  Waiting a few years before we had kids helped us get over that and it’s paying off big time now.

I know couples who got married and had kids nine months later…sometimes eight or seven months.  Regardless, they jumped or were pushed right into parenthood and never got a chance to know who their partner was one-on-one.  When the kids grew up and moved out some of them were just fine.  Other got a big surprise when they found out that they didn’t have a lot in common with their partner.  It’s not an insurmountable problem but Tami and I got it out of the way years ago.  We’re just going back to how it used to be, not figuring out something new when we’re in our fifties.

So now here we are, Livin’ La Vida … whatever you call it … and enjoying the hell out of it.  We still have jobs and bills and all that but we also have each other to lean against, worry with, laugh with (and at) and most especially to love.  Life is good.