Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Thought on Ought

Consider the ought.

When was the last time you saw the word "ought" in print? Myself, I can't recall, but it must have been a long time because, well it looks odd to me. So long in fact that I wasn't sure how to spell it and, hold on to your pippik, I found out you can spell the same word as "aught." How many words do we have two legit spellings for, I wonder. Not a lot, I'm thinking, but that undertaking smells like serious research, so, maybe another time. Back to ought, which I prefer over aught.

This is an auxiliary verb. What? More research. Hmmm, an aux verb (keepin' it short) is a word that helps a main verb. We all know main verbs as those that you can generally put a "to" in front of, such as to fish, to clean, to eat, among thousands of others. So it works like this: ought to fish, ought to clean, ought to eat. Turns out "oughtn't" and "hadn't ought to" are perfectly legitimate uses of the word. And all this time I thought I was cool by slinging southern slang.

Uh-oh, there's more--ought is a modal auxiliary verb, of which there are ten: can, could, may, might, ought, shall, should, will, would, and must. I love this part--they are all called "defective," because as verbs, they can't stand alone. Shoot, if they were people, we'd have to find 6 or 7 words in a phrase to describe this attribute because, well, "defective" is just ugly.

I got to thinking about ought not as a verb but as a synonym for zero, another legit use of the word, because when we enter 2010, we are about to leave the ought-single digit years behind. In 2000 we turned a millennium, but we also entered the special ought years, those with a zero in front of the last digit.

It seems to me this should have been a particularly special decade, like it was for my grandparents. They were born in the 1880's so their wild twenties were spent in 1900 through ought-nine. When they wanted to impress me with hardships, the impossible, the incredible, etc, they'd start out by saying "back in ought-six..." followed by 20 feet of snow or somesuch.

I think they set me up, because I felt like these should have been watershed years by virtue of their "ought" and so far I don't think of them that way. I should have known this would happen though. It started with Prince saying "Party like it's 1999." I didn't see a particularly big deal with that party when it finally came. Prince probably did though, he'd been thinking about it since he wrote that damn song in '82.

To be fair, these years were certainly eventful in a bad way--9/11, tsunami, Afghanistan, Iraq, New Orleans, gas over $4/gallon, and in at least one good way with our first minority president, just to name a few. But correct me if I'm wrong, nobody refers to those events as in ought-one, or ought-seven or ought-eight. If anything, they say oh-one, or oh-seven. That's just not evocative enough, we really need ought.

I take some solace in the fact it's not too late to use ought. Unlike the turn of the previous century, the turn of the millennium will allow us to say ought-ten, ought-eleven, and even ought-thirteen if Nostradamus, the Mayan Calendar and the Discovery Channel are wrong.

So, I'll give this ought thing another look in a few years if I'm still around; I'd hate to think my grandparents snookered me.

Monday, November 30, 2009

My Favorite Aphorisms

Back when I used to speak in public as a part of my job, I became aware of the value of a good quote. So great were some, I occasionally built my comments around them just so I could use them. Over the years I acquired several books of quotes, including Shakespeare and Attila the Hun. There were also some compendiums, but with the advent of the internet I didn't need them anymore. I liked Winston Churchill a lot, what an amazing wordsmith. Knowing how the British Parliament worked, I thought surely he must have had that rowdy bunch spellbound often. It dulled my ardor just a little to learn that, much like our own congress does now, he added many of these comments to the official record while out of session. Nevertheless, powerful stuff. But I am also moved by stuff heard in the course of the day, from everyone from friends to bosses. I wish I could remember all of them, there have been a lot; but memories get fuzzy. Here are a few, unadorned by context--see if you can find your own:

- "When the phone rings, I answer it."
- "Eventually, we must come to the table of reality."
- "Things are rarely perfect, but they are quite often adequate."
- "You pays your money, you takes your chances."
- " 'To each, his own,' the Frenchman said as he kissed the pig's ass."
- "Sometimes, you just gotta say 'Oy.' "
- "Gravity always wins."

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Connectedness again; or Apophenia Part III; or Banks are Evil

PART 1. The other day I read that 74% of all bankruptcies were related to a catastrophic illness in the family, which was not covered all or in part by any insurance. This number is one of the data points used to heighten awareness for the public debate on health care reform, at least in part because of the impact on the economy. Now if this statistic is true, wouldn't you think the banking industry would be pushing congress hard for health care reform? Have you seen any evidence of such? If they are doing so, I haven't seen anything from them on TV or the internet, or on the 2-3 times a week I read the paper. And I watch a lot of TV. Isn't bankruptcy logically connected to the even larger number of sub-prime loan defaults? Shouldn't the banks care???

PART 2. According to Opensecrets.org, a website of the Center for Responsive Politics, there are 904 active lobbyists for the Department of Health and Human Services. It is 4th in rank for registered lobbyists only after both houses of Congress and the DoD. From a cursory review, not one of the 904 was a bank (I checked all the "Bank of..." possibilities, and looked up a couple big names--they weren't on the list). As you might expect, the list is largely pharmaceutical companies and medical profession associations. If the banking interests are hidden by virtue of large holding or parent companies whose names I don't recognize, then my observation is flawed; but I'm betting not. By issue, namely Health, 2,271 lobbyists filed reports with the government in 2009 and again I could find no one from the banking industry among them. Moreover, health care was the number one $$ expenditure by Federal lobbyists this year. Here's a link with more info: http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2009/10/federal-lobbying-boom-continue.html

PART 3. Assuming banks are well aware of the connection, we are left to wonder how seriously bankruptcies actually affect the banking industry. Apparently banks can still see a profit through write-offs. Forget altruism for a moment, if there was a potential profit to be had, or even cost avoidance, shouldn't the banks be more vocal about helping people avoid bankruptcy? So, what does the banking industry lobby for? Well, there was the big change 10 or so years ago that allowed them to enter the mortgage industry--the sub-prime disaster a result of this and poor oversight by our government. But they are keeping busy--these days the banks are hustling to change peoples' charge account terms to beat out the deadline for Pres. Obama's charge card reforms. We've received notices from Citi, HSBC and Capital One telling us what they're going to do. Reining these people in is most welcome, but most importantly, banks are still allowed to charge the highest interest rate to the poorest people under ceretain circumstances.

Few people read this blog, but if anyone can point out to me how these comments are flawed I will gladly print a retraction and sheepishly fold my tent. Takers?

Subnote: Lots of talk about what the President hasn't done that he promised to do pre-election; personally I knew he couldn't close Guantanamo and get us out of SWA immediately and yet I still voted for him. Face it, once you're in the seat you find out a lot more about the wheels within wheels complexities of these issues, and have to deal wisely with all of it. Here's two things he did do: first, the aforementioned credit industry changes, fixing what he characterized as "unfair" but I call downright evil; second, he issued Executive Order 13490, which created new restrictions on former lobbyists appointed to the executive branch. Read this second one as stopping lobbyists who used to be members or have unprecedented access to insider influence with administrations--a direct assault on unfair advantage gained by "insiders." Yay Prez!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Further on musings from Oct 15

When I check for reader comments on a blog, I read and reread my own work to see if it could have been written better, or was worthless altogether. The worthless test may be pointless, since a blog is almost by definition an open diary and therefore its own reason to exist. However, so much has been said about self-absorbed soap-boxers dumbing down the web with worthless dribble, one has to wonder if one's actions add to the pap. Then again, does one really care? Merrily I roll along...

How did I come up with those musings from the 15th? Well, the first one is about food, 'nuff said. Oh for the good old days when so many foods were cooked in animal lard, like bacon grease. Eggs cooked in the leftover bacon grease were great but probably the poster child for a coronary (cholesterol, nitrosamines and fat--the perfect storm). Once upon a time McDonalds fries cooked in lard were far better than they are now, and I think they are currently the best.

On reflection, the comment about the bench car seats may be a bit chauvinist. Certainly the times were more chauvinistic. In this case, were the girlfriend driving (highly unlikely for the times) you would never see the guy squinched up next to her. But the scenario also includes my nostalgia for the concept of a "date." I am told most young people don't go on dates anymore, instead opting for group activities and only pairing up if/when they decide to "hook up." If that's true I think it's really sad, and they are missing out on a very special part of life.

The last two musings are related. The Thai kid, whose first name was Pote (long "O," silent "E"), lived across the street from me. When I was 9 or 10, he and I snuck one of my dad's Camel cigarettes and took a puff--it was my first and last thank God. I got to thinking there were 4 kids from other countries and were friends. One of them, the kid from the UK, played trombone, which was how I met him. He was actually a Scot named Becker, and when I proudly told him I was half Welsh, I found out that, in general, there is no love lost between the Welsh, English and Scots. After that he liked to call me "welshie," and not in a complementary way, which oddly gave me a very mild taste of what racism is like--and I didn't like it. Now that I think about it, he wasn't much of a friend.

Anyway, Becker was a trombonist, actually second trombone in the school band; I was third trombone and my friend who took me to concerts, Bob (he of the cute older sisters), was first. In all honesty, the rankings were accurate because I never practiced at home and it showed. But once upon a time... we had to learn the Welsh National Anthem! Feeling some pride, I practiced that tricky piece til I could play it without the sheet music, and quite well as it happened. Our cantankerous music teacher (putting it nicely, he had a temper) occasionally arranged the musicians by pop tests, and he tested us on this piece. I blasted away both Bob and Becker and became first trombone for quite a while (until the next pop test, that is). Bob was a good friend and his family were good people. I wouldn't mind looking him up one day.

So, to be honest, I am trying to blog more often and therefore topics may be weak. Going back to the question of worthless or not, are each of us worthy of a web-autobigraphy? Apparently, the blogosphere says YES!!!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Things that popped into my head today

I wish I was working again--whether or not I liked what I was doing, it occupied enough of my time so that I really appreciated, and perhaps more efficiently used, "down time." These days I have so much free time, and yet such a small radius of travel. Most everything I dreamed of doing in my retirement is a non-starter because it involved getting out more. So I don't seem to do much of anything. Instead, I find myself musing too much. I really don't like spending too much time in my head, inevitably I drift into the regrets category and where's the fun in that?

And yet, a little mind-wandering brings back the oddest things. Today, I thought of the following random things:

- Dominoes Pizza and Sizzler, Gainesville Florida circa 1975. The pizza cheese in those days was crazy thick, uber-gooey, absolutely delicious and probably heart-stoppingly deadly. Why else would they stop using it? As for Sizzler, when I had the cash I could get sirloin tips and a baked potato with all the trimmings for $1.29. Both establishments were on or near University Ave across from U of F campus.
- Bench-type car seats in the 60's and 70's. You really couldn't beat having your girlfriend squinched-up against you while you were driving. On a date, you knew she liked you when she slid over from leaning out the passenger window.
- Dial telephones. Even before we learned to be ridiculously impatient with electronics, dialing took a maddeningly long time, and if you goofed a number you really got angry at starting over.
- Embassy kids. I was friends with a number of kids whose dads worked in Embassies in D.C., including Thailand, U.K., Australia and New Zealand. Oddly, the Thai kid's family had both French and Thai surnames, depending on the occasion, I guess. The last time I saw the Aussie kid, his eyes were weird and he excitedly told me he had just taken some drug--we were in 9th grade for crying out loud.
- A fellow Junior High-School trombonist whose family gave me rides to school concerts. One time his older sister got tired of watching me fumble with a neck tie, and just came over and tied it without me asking. At that time in my life, it was a very personal and special gesture.

It may be a sign of aging that I reflect more on things from my past; but I'd really rather be engaged in creating more memories, here and now.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

sob... " and she's not even my dog, she's my wife's..."

The internet never fails to surprise and entertain, for good or ill. I don't do as much on it as I used to, but I still check daily for e-mails from various friends, family and acquaintances. The point of most of these mailings is only vaguely to keep in touch--I think it's mostly about that age-old human foible of wanting to be the first one to tell/show your friends something spectacular, outrageous, or scandalous--it's that same trait that makes keeping a secret so very, very hard. Some of them are of the chain variety, beseeching you to send to seven other people for dubious reasons, including:

- proving your love for Jesus/saving your soul,
- saving the world,
- making you wealthy,
- giving someone a laugh,
- showing you have a truly macho set of cajones (be you male or female).

Each of us probably have friends who may appreciate forwarded e-mails, but even so I rarely forward.

Today, for example, I woke up to 4 e-mails that egged me on to forward, for some of the above reasons...but for other reasons, I deleted all and did not forward any.

Here you go:

1. Pix of cute toddlers doing outrageously funny things. I have people who would love some, but not all of these; I am too lazy to purge the ones that might offend.

2. Pix and narrative of an airplane badly damaged in a non-flying ground accident. This story amazed me and because of my background, really caught my interest. Unfortunately, the narrative was an unrepentant ethnic slam on the aircrew, who were 100% at fault and 100% all of the same background. I started to purge the narrative, then got lazy and deleted.

3. Pix of topless women commemorating "National Topless Women's Day." I didn't know we had such a holiday... and right on the heels of Columbus Day! But seriously folks, I don't solicit this stuff nor do I forward, but clearly I am a guy who knows guys who send it. I love a joke as much, maybe more than the next guy; I get lots of funny stuff and sometimes it runs on the ribald side. Though sorely tempted to forward a good joke, I don't promulgate this kind of stuff.

4. A quiz: NFL or NBA? "Which of these organizations is riddled with people guilty of the following outrageous, even illegal behavior? Answer: neither--it's your U.S. Congress!!! It's True!!!" Well, not exactly, as it turns out. There is a good lesson here. We all get e-mails that intend to startle us with some little-known but "indisputable" truth. It pays to check out rumor-ish types of e-mails at one of the debunking sites, like http://www.truthorfiction.com/ or http://www.snopes.com/ before forwarding. I once forwarded an alarming e-mail to many people about the toxic danger of re-using plastic bottles--I later found out it was an urban myth. I sheepishly sent out an apology e-mail to dozens of people. There is also a corollary lesson. I once e-mailed somebody back that "I checked your e-mail and it was a myth"--I was probably perceived as a snobbish boor--they never answered and I haven't heard from them since. Moral: I don't forward these, and neither do I correct them.

So, what, if anything, do I forward? Mostly simple things that strike me hard with some sort of truth. Here are links to two things I would forward:

1. Something that harkens back to a simpler time, when patriotism was about ideals, and not so much sullied by momentary political folly:


2. Something that amazes me, like tying the omniscient to the omnipresent:


That second one really got to me, hence the blog's title. Enjoy!

Monday, October 5, 2009

I'm Back, and Weighing-in on Roman Polanski

Ok, it's embarrassing to write a blog after a 3 month hiatus, which had me thinking maybe I should call it off for good even if I had my reasons. But in deciding whether I ever wanted to blog again I found I had written at least three of them in my head but was too lazy to type them. So, I'll give it another go, and first up is Roman Polanski.

Ah, where to start. First off, let me say what he did was heinous, no excuses, and no mitigation; but I'll come back to that later.

I think what really strikes me about the debate about what should happen next though, such as it is, is that some people on both sides are missing the most salient point at risk here. That point is about the will to pursue the rule of law, for no less a reason than to preserve the civilization we hold so dear.

Justice is not about revenge, punishment, retribution, any of that--not directly. At its root it is about how our society, perhaps even civilization, can survive, progress, and even prosper. Yourdictionary.com says it's the quality of being righteous or fair, and wikipedia appears to borrow the next concept from the same site saying it is "the proper ordering of people and things." Wow! It is a key element of the "thin veneer of civilization." We should work just as hard at enforcing the rule of law as we do security, sovereignty and taxes. Consider then, and appreciate, the cliche "justice delayed is justice denied." We must maintain the will to pursue it regardless of circumstances.

So what are the arguments for mitigation in Polanski's case?
1. His body of work. I dismiss this offhand as ridiculous. Chris Rock put it best: "Even Johnnie Cochran don't have the nerve to go, 'Well, did you see O.J. play against New England?' "
2. It was a different time. Yes, it was. Some people my age seem to think you have to look at it with that perspective. Well, I lived it too, and even then this was wrong wrong wrong. The law was in place and for the record, any illegal acts committed by people under any circumstance are still illegal. As for the times, there is a scene in a '60s movie made by counterculture hero/musician Arlo Guthrie based on his song "Alice's Restaurant," in which Arlo discovers that a groupie who wants to sleep with him is underage. Anti-establishment, dope-smokin', authority flauntin' Arlo does not hesitate to turn her down and immediately makes arrangements to return the waif to her parents. So much for entertainment-business permissiveness in those days.
3. It was statutory rape. Yup, and yet regardless what anyone thinks the age of consent should be, "no" means "no." I have not read the child's testimony but I hear she described every act Polanski performed and prefaced every one with the word "no." It was statutory rape but it was also, first and foremost, rape.
4. The judge was crooked. Supposedly justifies him fleeing. Well, Polanski's money, power and influence bought him a pretty scant deal in the first place. There is every reason to believe it would have gotten sorted out eventually. He could have had all this behind him.
5. The parents dumped her on him with the expectation of her getting the "hopeful starlet treatment." I'm sorry, and bad parenting justifies his behavior, exactly how?
6. It's been 30 years, and he's suffered enough. Well, a lot of anger has been vented on this, but I have no comment on whether he's suffered. It is for a judge to decide, and he needs to stand before the court, justice demands it.

What of the people who want to hide this under the carpet for any of the above reasons? They are deluded, and truly don't realize what's at stake, represented in this one instance. In truth, not all victims get justice, not all guilty are punished, and not all people in prison are guilty. But this is our system, we must see it through, you must "get your day in court." Anything less invites anarchy, chaos, and injustice into our civilization, destabilizing it, even one case at a time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Apophenia Part 2--but I suggest you skip this one

Sorry for the delay in finishing this--I don't think it was worth it...
The reason I started this entry was simple--at the time I read an article complaining yet again about how our rights to privacy were being trampled in the name of national security. Certain decisions can reasonably be traced to likely outcomes, even of a peripheral nature. Specifically, I wanted to say IT IS STUPID TO COMPLAIN ABOUT STUFF WHEN ONE CAN SEE IT COMING, ESPECIALLY IF ONE TACITLY AGREED TO IT, AND EVEN DEMANDED IT.
Case in point: the problem that faced, and ultimately defined, the Presidency of George W. Bush; response to 9-11. True, over his tenure, I became less happy with his leadership, but he took a hit for one thing that he shouldn't have; and that is the assault on our constitutional right to privacy. That's why I opened with the comment about how Clinton ran his presidency by staying on the popular side of public opinion. (I used the "economic boom years" as an example; but there have been articles blaming the current mini-depression on Clinton's decisions to deregulate banking, and counter articles that it was the republican congress to blame for writing the legislation. It could be argued Bush could have done something in his 8 years to stop it, but who knows--certainly not me.)
What was popular opinion after 9-11? Revenge, and concurrently, prevention. It led to two invasions and ultimately, unilateral actions that alienated us from all but our staunchest allies. At the time, everybody here wanted blood, and at the same time, security (meaning no more 9-11s--battlefield homeland was unacceptable). Allowing some of our constitutional freedoms to be bent was, to some, an obvious outcome to the path we were taking, but many others expected complete security without loss of freedom. How naive! You can't have both ultimate security and ultimate freedom--they are not in the least connected.
I guess I'm saying don't shoot the president for something we all wanted. That said, I see it as a see-saw, and it's time to reaffirm our freedoms and accept that there is some risk attached.
Not profound, but hey like I said in the title, you could've skipped this one..

Friday, May 22, 2009

Apophenia, sounds like a Who concert only it isn't

Presidents can sure let you down. I mean, they can be truly great in some ways, yet so terribly flawed in others. Nixon was like that, and to various extents, Kennedy, Carter, Bush, and probably all the rest. No surprise I wasn't a big Bill Clinton fan, along with most of the US military. I felt fully vindicated about those feelings after the whole Lewinsky business; it just seemed like the highest office deserved better than the way he handled that. That said, I had to admire Clinton's record as an administrator, because it seemed to be the best boom in the economy since post WW II; and a budget surplus? Unheard of.

What was his secret? Some say he fanatically used focus groups to stay on the sunnyside. But one aide, I don't recall his name, admired most that Clinton had an uncanny knack for "seeing the connectedness of things." That statement really resonated with me. I've always admired people who could hear about an event, or take some sort of action, and somehow, immediately and accurately know how it would affect, say, the price of carrots. It is particularly impressive if these connections have significant impact on the domestic or world stage.

In my old job, which was largely logistics, the ability to predict the various impacts of a "disturbance in the force" was highly prized and often, the only key to success. Certainly, the golden rule in the military is you must often make significant decisions on courses of action even without adequate information. You can see how recognizing true connectedness would be a godsend. I can't say I was a master at it, but sometimes I saw some angles nobody else did--instant gratification there. A truly great talent would be seeing the patterns in certain activities so as to allow one to predict the future. If I could master that, I'd live in Las Vegas, and quite nicely.

There's a whole realm of math that I don't understand that chases specific outcomes of events (deterministic prediction) and random outcomes (stochastic prediction, an array of outcomes, some more likely than others). But then, there's also apophenia: the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena, or the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none. Maybe that's the line between genius and pure paranoia. But who then is to say that a purported pattern is real or not? In the end, it doesn't matter; if knowing the answer does not result in useful information to optimize things, it just doesn't matter.

Next blog, I'll tell you where I'm going with this...

Monday, May 18, 2009

My best defense for saving "Marriage"

My best defense for saving the "traditional" meaning of the word "marriage" is the story of the word "gay." I'm still pissed about that one. So I guess what I'm saying is I'm really arguing over a stupid word.
I truly believe people of the same sex who proclaim their love for each other should be able to enter a union with the exact same benefits as marriage. I say call it a "civil union," or somesuch, make it legally the same as "marriage" and let them have at it. I guess you could further define the situation as "traditional marriage" and "gay marriage," but the vitriol will still exist in our society, and it will inevitably get shortened to marriage anyway. How about we create a new word, like we did with "Ms." How about "murriage?" It could be for all unions, be they straight or homosexual. You could still use the words "husbands" or "wives" and you haven't re-written anything.
But quit changing the meanings of extant words already! Maybe one can argue that the word "marriage" was never specifically defined as between opposite sexes, but it was assuredly implied as such for millenia. You know, some words have a certain untranslatable meaning for their particular society. The word gay was not the exact same as any other single word, so when our culture changed its meaning, we lost something. Gay used to mean sort of lighthearted-happy-carefree but also carried a hint of the fleetingness or fragility of that state. Well, that one is gone for sure. Let us not sacrifice the meaning of another word to the alter of pop culture. Our language is pretty rich, surely we can expand it a tad further?
Love free speech!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Comment on Mom's Day

It occurred to me there are two kinds of mothers; those who tried to have kids, and those who (for whatever reason) didn't. The interesting thing about this is that the beginning has no reflection whatsoever on the result. I mean, there are "good" and "bad" mothers regardless of the planning factor. Of course, good and bad are kind of relative terms, but who would argue that there aren't a few real monsters out there. I would argue the vast majority aren't monsters, just regular people with a unique relationship to you. People can love you, hate you, surprise you, empower you, forgive you, hurt you, the whole gamut--most come and go. But mom can do all these things and when the sun goes down, she's still mom.
I miss my mom. For all her love, her faults, her strengths, there were always good times mixed with some lows. The good times give me a warm feeling, and the lows don't sting so much anymore. What gives me pause is that with passing time, I understand more about the way things were for her, about the decisions she had to make, because in addition to being a mom, she was a regular person too. I believe the fact that she was my mother does not give me special power to judge her as a person. What I know for certain is she sacrificed a lot for me and my sister, more than any one else I could name.
So, I'm glad there is a Mother's Day. Though I can't do anything special for her now that she's gone, I can reflect on her love, sacrifice, and inevitable human frailty. She was a person, and she was my mom.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Poem

The Lonely Light

The lonely light does not illuminate;
it calmly marks a place
where we will only just observe
a nail in time and space.

The wheels that move us past it
have no thought for human grace;
so in that moment we must imagine,
or it will not have a face.

We may spend days remembering
what we might have seen at night.
Was there love and purpose there,
or just a lonely light?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Missing Man Blog

I have been absent from blogging for almost 2 months and I feel bad about it, but there is a reason. I used to sit in the living room with my laptop and create these things over a long period of time, then the laptop busted and now I rarely go online, except to pay bills. I resolve to change that but it will be easier when the In-laws go back to Tennessee. I will sure miss them, they provided some much needed relief from my usual humdrum day; at the same time they added some expectations for what used to be my free time, and that also has kept me away from the keyboard. They leave in 3 days, and I'm sure I'll have the departure blues. Good thing that always passes and i can get back to routine.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

If I know what it is, I won't eat it.

What are today's school's coming to? Last week, 9-year old Jake's 4th grade class took home permission slips for kids to be able to eat chocolate covered grasshoppers. Apparently, the teacher brought some in and challenged the kids to try it. Of the 20 kids, 19 brought back the slips signed, 10 actually ate them and only one of those suffered the dread projectile vomit. Jake manned-up and ate one, and proved to himself it was no big deal. Sheesh. And yet, Jake turns his nose up at peanut butter.
My dad used to love to throw one thing in my face all the time; it was the simple fact that as a young boy, I loved anchovies on pizza until I found out anchovy was a fish. He said when I was very young I ate all kinds of fish without complaint, but at some point decided I hated fish--this is something that pretty much continues to this day. I still remember the salty, strong and exotic taste anchovy brought to pizza, but I also remember the first time that, knowing it was fish, I really LOOKED at it and wondered exactly what part of the fish it was, etc... That's the problem, aside from stuff that really truly tastes bad, we also get too good at visualizing what we're really eating.
Every kid I've known has had a food phobia of some kind. The list includes green veggies of all kinds, onions, mushrooms; and even hamburgers, which I consider strong proof that aliens are among us. Some kids have grown out of it, some not, or not yet. I used to think "they don't know what they're missing" but I'm past that; each has favorite foods that they dream of in the perfect meal, so the beauty of food is not completely lost on them.
The plain truth is, there are some foods that you just don't want to know what's in it.
Other foods I loved as a child, but then "inexplicably" changed my mind:
Goat's Milk Fudge. I looked forward to road trips to the Smoky Mountains where you could get this until I found out it really does use goat's milk. I thought it was just a name. Like as in hamburger doesn't really use ham, etc. The thought of somebody pulling on those tiny little nipples, getting that "milk?," echhh!
Maypo. This was an early maple-flavored oatmeal and was really OK tasting. The problem was the advertising blitz featured animated spokesman "Marky Maypo." I got mercilously teased by everybody who knew my name. Somehow that changed the taste--it had to go.
Apple Pie. Loved it until I had some in which the cook didn't completely remove the core fiber-skin along with the seeds--the coarse sheath that surrounds the seeds is extremely unpleasant and spoils the texture. I just wrote-off the pie after that.
Bologna. For some reason, I can occasionally "forget" what's in hotdogs and sausage and still enjoy them, but the original discovery of what's in bologna has stayed with me. In a big way.
Tripe. Just kidding, I never, ever liked this--for God's sake, do you know what it is? Dear Lord...
I'm not a complete food snob, I still love a sandwich that never failed to gross out my lunch-mates at elementary school:
Liverwurst, swiss cheese, onion and mustard on dark pumpernickle. It was my Mom's recipe, made as always with love.
These days, I can remember anchovy with nostalgia and less distaste; maybe I'll put it on my bucket list to revisit one last time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I Am Affronted

I thought we, as a society, had moved beyond simplistic blanket statements about race, gender, blondes, and so on. But no, I got a slap in the face while reading the latest issue of AARP magazine (don't laugh, there are some great articles, and most of the pictures are of people so old it makes me feel pretty darn good...). There I was, in my most sacred sanctum, the bathroom/library; when I came across a review of Rachel Getting Married. Not a movie I'd see, except under extreme duress from a female companion; but I do tend to read everything in magazines when I'm "in the zone on the throne," so to speak. This article described a scene-stealing moment by actor Bill Irwin, in which he demonstrates "men's nearly universal preoccupation with the one and only correct way to load a dishwasher."
Again, well.
I speak here for myself, but if I must, I will also stand up for my brethren as I am sure we are all equal in our… affrontedness. There is, in fact, Only One Correct Way To Load A Dishwasher. How, exactly, do I know this? Because I Read The Directions that came with the dishwasher. That's right. I am aware that we, as a gender, are also accused of Never Reading The Directions. I will have you know that on most occasions... OK, sometimes... well, maybe if they are short enough and it's mostly pictures, I do indeed Read The Directions.
But hey, I'm a flexible guy, so let's be clear here, my goal is not rigid conformity--I just want a clean spoon. If you load the spoons down in the silverware tray, they might, well, spoon, and the water and detergent can't clean. There are other corrollaries that apply to plates and tall glasses, but if you, dear reader, insist on poo-pooing The Directions, I will defer and move on.
How about related "baseless" stereotypes?
About Not Reading The Directions. There is a reason we men don't do it: it hurts. That's right, physical pain, of the excruciating variety. But we are stoic and don't want to let on, so we wing it and sometimes get it right without enduring the torture. And by the way, sending warranty cards in is for wimps.
About Not Asking For Directions When Driving. This one is simple, we men know what you women don't--after asking directions, the fellow we asked is snickering. Yes, snickering, which somehow translates into the aforementioned physical pain.
About Not Asking Directions When Shopping. It's a lot like driving, but having worked in a hardware store, I can tell you there is both snickering and mealy-mouthing.
About Our Tendancy To Collect Used Fabric Softener Sheets. You'd best let this one lie, at least I'm doing the laundry.
About Not Going To Chick Flicks. You've got it wrong--men don't mind a chick flick as long as it's a comedy. Take us to a downer and we might cry--'nuff said. And might I add, we need to destroy all copies of "The Notebook" immediately.
I may have to rethink reading the AARP mag if they persist in promoting these hurtful statements! Oh, who am I kidding--the wife won't let me take anything else in the bathroom for fear it will get "spotty," whatever that means. Maybe the next issue will deconstruct the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue to insist on some older models... well, its a thought.
As far as "Rachel Getting Married," now I'll have to see it, just to make sure that guy got the dishwasher right.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A New Standard of Excess

I note there are many comments lately about the woman who had octuplets. I have to say, though I had a sense of awe and wonder over past years with the news of quints, sex- and even sep- tuplets, my immediate thought this time was a kind of disgust. Yes, mom is ecstatic (even though she already has 6 children) and her doctors are quite proud of themselves, but hey! We don't need to explore new territory on human proliferation. We have proven quite adept and successful at it and are in no danger of extinction (at least by procreation).

When I think about the struggle in "third world countries" to control population and thereby improve quality of life, I have to wonder about sloppy or at least careless human husbandry in "first world countries" where families apparently have no limits whatsoever (regardless of means to take care of kids). Ms Suleman, if you really wanted more kids, did you consider adoption? Doctors, if you gave her fertility treatments, can you really say you have no way of controlling or limiting the number of eggs fertilized, or were you literally going for a record? Despicable either way.

As population grows, we face food and water shortages, not to mention the carbon impact on global warming from the rampant growth of energy and resource consumers. More people, more pollution, and in case no one recently mentioned it, we tend to populate arable land, thus removing it from crop productivity. I just can't see any up-side to endless growth, unless it betters our chances of another Einstein--but would that really be worth it?

I'm happy the lady and her children are all well, please believe me. She hasn't broken any laws, legal, moral or ethical, at least as we westerners currently hold. But maybe we'd all do well to stop referring to this as the "Miracle" of childbirth and start calling it the "Inevitability" of childbirth. Maybe then we could look at this reasonably and avoid the population equivalent of global warming.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Nothing New Under the Sun

This blog is open, meaning anybody can find and access it using the right search words if they don't actually have the address. Although only the three of you have the address (and are automatically e-mailed when I post), I eventually got used to the idea of baring my soul a bit and fantasized about some random person seeing it and adding a comment. Actually, looking forward to it, even if it was unflattering or outright profanity. The idea of someone finding this blog out of the millions out there struck me as pretty cool.
The other day I thought I'd see how accessible it really is: I googled the phrase "The Truth Eludes Us" and found millions of hits. After looking through the first ten pages or so, and shooting ahead a few hundred at random, I could not find my blog. More telling, none of the hits I looked at were even part of a blog, let alone the title of one. So I googled the title and the word "blog;" again, I could not find my blog. OK, time to quit fooling around; I googled my blog title and the exact title of one of my posts, which I thought I made-up and was very distinct and original, "The Pavements of Summer," and told google to get the exact phrases. Now it gets interesting--my blog was on page 2, which means an entire page of entries contained these words/phrases and aced-out my blog. Most interesting was an article entitled "The Truth Eludes Us: The Pavements of Summer." It was about nuclear weapons, of all things. I was stunned on several levels:
First, that someone else strung those exact phrases together. Second, I thought I had come up with an original phrase "pavements of summer," I even played with different combinations of words before i decided these best described sidewalks. Last, how in the world do these phrases connect to nukes?
When I used these phrases, was I experiencing some sort of subconscious recall of random terms I came across in the distant past? Or is it possible that in the info age, there is truly nothing new under the sun, as postulated in no less a tome than the biblical book of Ecclesiastes?
There's more evidence of the latter...
--I have a daily e-mail reminder to use the commercial search engine from PCH.com in order to enter in their various sweepstakes. It is puerile, I admit, but it's over quickly and maybe the prize patrol will come to my door and...but I digress. To get it over with, I often type nonsense words or random keyings into the keyboard and always get dozens or more results. The point is, I completely make up words, and they are in the web--try it!
--I use the name "Ambivius" for my blog name; when I created it, it was supposed to be a cutesy fusion of "ambivalent" and "oblivious." Guess what? Ambivius was an actual ancient Roman actor, and he gets 10,000 hits on google. Even if you spell it ambivious, which would have been a more correct fusion of the two words, you still get 139 hits.
--I've googled my name, who hasn't; and though I didn't find me, I really wasn't surprised there are many, many people with my first and last name, though many fewer with my middle initial --and I think I'm alone if I use my full middle name; but when googling my father Roy Austin Stephens, there are at least 6 out there and none of them are him. I mean come on-- ROY+AUSTIN+STEPHENS?
--Suffice to say, all of you, my children, have dopplegangers in the web--and I have found you all at least once among the many--a pleasant surprise!
Have you ever turned on the radio and the exact tune you were thinking about is playing? Or think about someone right before they call you on the phone, or better, pick up the phone before it rings and the person you were going to call is on the other end?
There is a whole school of philosophy whose premise is there are no coincidences, but if so, then what the heck does it all mean when something weird goes down?
I realize all of the above is explainable through finite sets of variables (i.e., name combinations) and vagaries of the mind--in fact, recently scientists have offered a complete, thorough and authoritative explanation for the experience of deja vu. And yet, I can't really accept that somewhere out there, in theory, millions of monkeys are at typewriters randomly key-punching in the exact replica of "War and Peace."