Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Yes Virginia, There Is A Debt Crisis

Watched the Pres last night, followed by Speaker Boehner.  And dang, that caused me to miss Rey Mysterio winning the new WWE World Championship from The Miz.  I think the right guy won the match, and though I'm not sure about the specific details, it's almost a certainty how it ended.  The Miz is great on the mic, which carries a lot of weight in the wrestling world, as it should.  But lets face it, I love that masked wrestler and his patented, if vaguely superficial, 619 finishing move. 

Anyway, with the remaining wrestling matches on the tube, I looked on the web to see how the public took the political speeches.  MSNBC asked who we thought won their point; I was slightly surprised to find a great majority felt Obama made the best argument.  I would have guessed a fair split, but it was roughly 60-30-10.  I myself voted neither won, because I found flaws in both presentations, and this put me in the 10% group.  The story's online comments were divided by how one voted, and I looked up some of the comments of those who voted with me.  I agreed with the one who said Obama's was better, but both are guilty of "politics as usual."
What was troubling about these presentations was how they both made it clear that they agree disaster looms.  But at the same time, and much more importantly, it is the other side who is pushing us to the brink; and the other side that must move on their position.  Message decoded: we are very possibly going to default, and each party is snug (and smug) in the conviction it will be the others fault.  Almost like magic, the very thing most people agree must not happen, will happen, and no one will be to blame!  This is just preposterous.

To be sure, there are those who think this will not be a disaster, and apparently they are the Tea Partiers.  Do I detect a little "This is all alarmist crap.  It isn't the big deal the Pres says it is.  But, if default is really bad, it will serve those Democrats right for pushing us to this point."  If you tea-baggers really believe this, then you are nothing more than little kids playing with matches in the fertilizer shed.  It's one thing to burn yourselves; quite another to blow up the whole damn farm.

Let me tell you what's really going to happen.  I finally saw some numbers, and here they are:  $203 billion in receipts for August, $363 billion in obligations.  Wait a minute... WTF?  We're only going to take in about 56% of what we need to pay out?  Uh-oh...  since we're not going to print more money, SOMEBODY is not going to get paid...

Nobody knows for sure who doesn't get paid, but everything I've read says we'll pay debt interest first, to salvage our already suspicious credit standing with all our creditors.  The question is how to divide the remainder amongst the rest.  Who are the rest?  Well, anybody getting a check from Uncle.  Including all government contractors, those on Social Security, government salary, government retirement, medicaid, medicare, and so on.  Putting aside the absolutely astonishing and appalling thought that our all volunteer force servicemen and women currently at war might not get paid, let's just look at retirees. I am among these, and figure we are somewhat farther down the ladder.  I am already figuring how to cover next month's rent. 

If I can make the rent, I will be one of the lucky ones who was not living paycheck to paycheck, as so many are.  A lot of rent and mortgage payments are at risk, which puts banks at risk, which tightens credit, which stops growth and puts businesses already on the edge in a deeper fix, and so on.  So much of our economy rides on consumer confidence, and an intangible faith that there will be bread on the store shelf when we are ready to buy it.

So, what didn't I like about each speech?  Well the Pres seems hooked on this "we must tax the rich and corporations" thing.  Though I tend to agree with him (because I don't think that not raising their taxes will create more jobs; at least, it hasn't worked for the last 12 years), the actual increased revenue numbers appear to be a drop in the bucket; i.e., it's more symbolic than anything else.  President Obama, are you using this to to get working class America behind you and the Democratic platform for future elections?  Should it really be the deal-breaker?  It's true, businesses getting a tax break on a corporate jet is irksome.  But at least Americans built that jet.

And Speaker Boehner, you were almost folksy in your presentation.  You made it sound matter-of-fact that this is where we should draw the line on Big Government's excessive spending.  You spoke to us like you were one of us, and sir, you plainly are not.  You are in a position of great power, and have been for a long time.  It's hard to believe you or any of congress will be affected to the same extent, if any, as the rest of us if the default happens.  If you were Joe Anyguy, you'd sit down with the President, agree on the numbers being tossed around, agree on a general game plan and quit worrying about that 2% of people whose taxes would be raised if you acceded to the President's tax proposal.

In short, both of you failed to make this a de-politicized issue.  At least the President wants to raise the ceiling high enough so it won't come back again as a political football in 2012, which seems to me like a party-neutral position.  The Republicans have set their proposal's timing to appear to make spending authority a reward for cutting costs, but you can't ignore the fact it makes another heated debate come due at a critical time.  Nevertheless, shame on you both.

And finally, I'm thinking I can't forgive you guys for upsetting me so that I got distracted and missed out on John Cena beating Mysterio just a little later on the same night that Rey had just got the title.  It changed hands twice!  And Heck, I'm still processing that, then CM Punk comes out and... never mind.  Just get this debt business settled before next Monday Night RAW, because if I miss any more wrestling drama, I'm going to scream, and default on my rent.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Problem with Rocket Science and the Economy

So we have this cliche, "it's not rocket science."   When we use it, it can be a little bit pejorative.  It can be a combination put-down of a person and whatever they're trying to understand, while at the same time entrenching the idea that rocket science is so unintelligible that who the hell normal people would understand it anyway?  So the convenience is that it quickly imparts the idea of complexity.  Now we can divide the world into things that are like, or are not like, rocket science.  And if it's like rocket science, you can be forgiven for not understanding it, because, well, you're normal.

Let's consider the U.S. economy and its relationship to the federal budget.  Is it rocket science?  Hell yes, and also, not exactly.  On one hand, we've been doing this economy thing for hundreds of years, and our very best minds STILL can't agree on what works, and what doesn't.  Tax rates, interest rates, incentives, tariffs, what's the balance?  And apparently all the historical evidence we have supports all viewpoints, at some time or other.

On the other hand, if you look at just some small pieces, it's pretty simple.  Like, should we raise the national debt limit?  At this particular point in time, sadly, yes.  To not do so would be an order of magnitude worse than "Epic Fail."   But, as the clock ticks toward August 2nd, we find we may have already done significant damage to the long term economic standing of the United States.  I find this intuitive, but a much better explanation than I could give is in this link:


We're teasing the dragon here.  Why hasn't congress acted?  It's complicated, because we have a budget crisis during a recession (depression?) with an election coming up.  We have borrowed an historic amount of money at a huge premium against the future, we have neither plan nor mandate to balance our budget and we can't agree on taxes and spending cuts.  Possibly the most damning: apparently the exact details on a budget compromise will be the "decider" of which party will be best positioned for the 2012 Presidential election.  OMG, we've got to: A. Stay in power, or B. Get more power.  I could say simply it's time to be Americans, not Republicans or Democrats, and do the right thing for the country.  But when has that call really worked?  Even entering WWII there was dissent, and we were attacked, dammit.

The Dems have got to accept spending cuts, and they have--not enough to satisfy the GOP, and not enough to really address the problem.  However, addressing serious spending cuts means going after entitlements, and there is precious little time to tame that beast.  They also want to get back to old taxation rates (not raise taxes, restore them to pre-Bush tax cut levels) or at the very least, restore tax levels for the people who can best afford to pay the old rates.  Raising taxes gets people's attention quick, not for the better.

The Republicans are at risk of fragmentation (think Tea Party).  Working a true compromise seems fatal to their ability to keep a united front.  So apparently rather than mediate the amount of a cut, or even consider taxes, their compromise is to "allow" the debt ceiling to be raised if they get significant spending reductions without raising taxes.  That's not a compromise position, since they have not agreed on what can be haggled.  It's really more like demanding a ransom--most of our congressmen already know we must raise the ceiling.

On a pragmatic level, it seems to me we must do all of it.  Reduce spending, increase taxes (a little?) and dedicate ourselves to fiscal responsibility, i.e. balanced budget.  Something will have to be done to the sacred cow of entitlements; for example, we can't ignore the demographics of a smaller generation's burden from the larger, longer-lived baby boomers.  Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Government retirement; all will have to be reconsidered.  Unfair to those who paid into these things, and made lifelong decisions based on promises?  Absolutely.  Unmanageable burden for some?  Sadly yes.  Charity and sacrifice are not two sides of the same coin.  We may have been charitable with our surplus, but we are about to have to sacrifice from our current standard of living.  Such is the risk of embracing an economy primarily dependent upon growth, because that is never a guarantee. 

All the signs are there.  The world looks to us to keep things steady, and that's not a position we have tried to avoid--we have proudly taken center stage on world affairs for nearly a century.  Portugal, Greece and some other countries are about to find out what it means to default.  What will they cut?  Inability to provide basic government services is a path to anarchy.  At the very least, they face a significant downturn in their prosperity.  What does it mean when the standard of living declines, after so many years of improvement?  We'll find out soon it seems.

The very first savings investment I ever made was a US Savings Bond, "backed by the full faith and credit of the US Government."  When I asked an investment counselor if it was a good investment, he said "the yield is very low, but there is no safer investment in the world."  Then he added, "but it boils down to being a promise we have no choice in--because nothing else matters if our own government's money is no good.  It's not rocket science."

Monday, July 11, 2011

Our Story Thus Far...

  Evil Professor Exodus has repaired the damaged Tectonic Fromambulator, and is threatening the entire continent with catastrophic destruction in the next 10 minutes.  Our heroes, Jim Ed and Scooter, are lost in a maze beneath the Professor's lab, only steps ahead of the giant mutant guard dogs.  Meanwhile, unknown to the President, General Packard has ordered a nuclear air strike on Exodus' fortress, while his daughter Trudy begs him to give Jim Ed and Scooter just a few more minutes to stop the madman...

  Will the Professor carry out his vile plan?  Can Jim Ed and Scooter escape the maze in time?  Who the hell told General Packard he could launch the fleet???  These questions and more will be answered next time, in Chapter 6 of "Cold Hard Revenge of the Moon Men from Mars!!!"

  Ah, serials.  I just watched an old movie serial called "King of the Rocket Men" on Netflix.  It was in 12 parts and the production value was surprisingly good, especially for 1949.  A funny thing, the good guys win of course, but not before Manhattan is utterly destroyed and millions die.  Still, after the destruction they get the bad guy and laugh as they pat each other on the back.  Simpler times!  Apparently the producers had stock footage of tsunami damage to a big city from a movie called "Deluge," and it was just too darn good not to use.

  Anyway, it was fun to watch this, and imagine the kids (and adults) who paid 25 cents each Saturday to see a short newsreel, a 12-minute serial, and a main feature at the local Bijou.  That was back when people were quiet during the show, and never failed to cheer on the hero and applaud the movie when the lights came up.  Oh, and they jeered if the movie stunk, too.  These days you're lucky if people just whisper while they answer their cell phones that they were supposed to turn off.  And even though audiences are still affected by the powerful emotions seen on the screen, they are careful not to show it as they leave the theater.    

  Going to the movies is still a huge treat for me.  I was enthralled by the opening of Star Wars; it began right in the middle of an exciting space battle and never let up til the end, or so it seemed.  That kind of instant immersion was uncommon for the time, and everybody wanted to play light sabers after that movie.  And Alien--how could I forget that the lady next to me left finger bruises in my leg after the alien punched out of John Hurt's chest.  That scene, which was very visceral for the time, still managed to remain a secret to the next audience, much like (I am still grateful) it was with The Sixth Sense.

  Its good that movies are still around, even if I have to sit through commercials and trailers, and pay outrageous prices for snacks.  I don't care at all for 3D, it is quite obviously a rip-off designed to eke out a few more shekels from us for an ineffective gimmick.  I think it will die a merciful death soon enough, even though theaters are retrofitting themselves with the technology. 

  As soon as the local theater re-opens, I am promising myself at least a once a month trip for something.  I will mix it up between comedy and action, and keep my fingers crossed that I'll have another Star Wars moment.  Or maybe two.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

To Die on Mars

  Today was a milestone in the American Space Program, the last launch of the space shuttle.  I think it's a low point.  When Atlantis took off today, I lost my chance for a bucket list item: to witness a shuttle launch in person.  I saw it live on TV, but didn't get to feel the ground shake or witness the near bright-as-the-sun rocket flame.  Well, they say there will be more launches in the future, apparently in the 2020s, but I don't think its a sure thing.  First the Ares program was on, then off, then Orion, sort of; and now, whatever.  The fact remains that thousands of shuttle workers will be fired/furloughed/let go, and with them goes a huge brain trust of experience in the nuances of manned space exploration.  Not everything we know is in books, and lost knowledge can be difficult to recoup.
  Many people are hopeful of commercial enterprises and other countries taking up the challenge, but none of them are working on anything more than satellite and tourist carriers, and low earth orbit cargo vessels.   That's sad.  For a brief time, NASA was working on a plan to re-establish a presence on the moon, and probably use it as a stepping stone to Mars.  Those are still intentional plans, but no hard plan exists to achieve them.  Nor is there any money.
  As a kid I was an astronomy nut, had memorized all the northern hemisphere constellations and the names of many stars.  I knew the distances to the planets, their known moons, and observed as much as I could through my Tasco 100-power telescope.  We already knew that a human trip to Venus was a pointless goal; a trip to Mars, however, was a tantalizingly realistic pursuit.  Consider this; forget about space suits.  On a "hot" martian day (+32 degrees F), with clothing and supplemental oxygen equipment similar to that used by mountain climbers, you could walk the surface of Mars.
  I am reconciled to the fact that no human will walk on Mars in my lifetime.  Surely there are better uses for the money, and so much suffering and uncertainty in the world today begs solutions worthy of the full efforts of our best minds.  But the reality of human existence is that at any given time, all possible endeavors are being explored to some extent by somebody, somewhere.  That includes all the good and ill that we humans are capable of.  What we are not capable of is limiting ourselves to looking either exclusively inward or outward; as a race, we are always doing some of both.  If space exploration can be thought of as part of our efforts to improve ourselves as human beings, then it is never an idle pursuit of the privileged, but instead a noble pursuit of the enlightened.
  Recently I read that a simple paradigm shift of thought would make the trip to Mars vastly easier.  For a moment it shocked me, but here it is: whoever goes there, stays there.  Planning on a one way trip immediately eliminates some difficult logistics problems.  And surprisingly, there would be no lack of volunteers.  I even considered it something I might do had I the chance.  But if I were going, it would have to be with the understanding that I want to explore all over, and not just settle into some bare-bones existence, huddled into a small underground enclosure.  No, they'd have to send a lot of self-sustaining goodies along with me and the crew, and plan on frequent CARE packages.  It's the least they can do if I'm going to die on another planet.  But how cool would that be...

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Best Tax Day EVER!

Nah, that's just sarcasm.  As if there could be a Best Day EVER Tax Day.  Maybe it could be neutral, passing unnoticed, as in you had already filed weeks earlier and settled the debt, or were expecting a refund.  In the latter case, refund day, that could be like the Best Ever April 26, or whatever day the check arrives.  But this year it was almost a catastrophe; April 18 might as well have been my Ides of March.

The problem was twofold.  First, I did not wait till the last day--at least, not on purpose, but it went that way anyhow.  I had prepared the simple no-frills return a week prior and sent it in electronically, but it was not accepted, through 4 more re-sends.  To be fair, the first time I did have a wrong Zip Code for the 1099R.  But it kept telling me the withholding amounts didn't agree on the 1040 and the 1099R, which is crap, there is only one place on each form for that number and it was THE SAME DAMN NUMBER, every time.  Extensive research on the internet revealed I had no recourse but to send it in the mail, which pushed me to the 18th.  Ok, Monday was set to be very busy, including some requirements for both the 11-year old and the bed-patient pending, I knew I needed to get the forms postmarked the 18th, but I could deal.

Then the second issue:  a 4AM wake-up on Monday the 18th with severe pain in my right side, and when I say severe, I'm talking record-setting por moi, as in "just take me now Lord."  Having no idea what it could be, but fearing the appendix, I queried the internet.  Big surprise, researching symptoms on the web can result in a diagnosis of everything from leprosy to belly button lint.  Suffice to say it did nothing to relieve my fear, so I woke up the kid, told him to watch is mom, and drove myself to the ER. It later occurred to me I probably should not have driven myself but calling an ambulance just seemed too much.  Five hours later I was released, a 3mm kidney stone working its way out of my system had made itself known.  With pain meds in hand, there was nothing to do but wait for it to pass. (footnote, as of Thursday the 21st, it has not). 

At least with with the pain meds I was able to get the forms to the Post Office, but I felt out of sorts for the next two days.  I'm still a little off, probably just jitters awaiting "The Passing."

Though not exactly related, I know some of my discontent is due to articles I've read about the debt ceiling and the fact that GE and Google, among others, did not pay any corporate taxes this year.  Also, with high rollers like Gates and Buffett both saying it's time to raise taxes on the very rich, I find it hard to tow the Republican line about extending tax cuts for them.

The truth is, I don't mind paying taxes, doing my part to help fund the government of the country I love.  I see it as one of the sacred duties of citizenship.  But I am troubled by the inability of our elected leaders to reduce spending, raise revenue, and get this country back into prosperity.  Enough already, this will be THE TOPIC I bet for next year's elections...

Thursday, March 3, 2011

FMT 4 --Chappie James at the Gate (I know, it's March; so sue me)

I had a tough week so I am posting the last February Mystery Tour a little late.  This last mystery is about history; Black History to be precise.  February is Black History Month, and, like the Equal Opportunity Program, is a source of controversy and more-than-a-little-shame, mostly because it became necessary to legislate it.  During February we see newspaper articles, TV messages, school emphasis and special events that hi-lite achievements by African-Americans that were often overlooked by history texts.  These things sometimes have a forced feel to them, probably because they are an afterthought to centuries of deliberate absence from mainstream culture.

People of my generation all heard of George Washington Carver in school, but that's about it for black notables.  Perhaps his agricultural contributions were too monumental to omit; but it seems just as likely that text authors felt they had "filled that square" by including him.  The mystery to me is why our culture hasn't caught up to the reality.  When, if ever, will it not be necessary to isolate and commemorate the contributions of any specific real or imagined division of humanity?

Well, enough intro--the real reason I wrote this entry was to tell one of my absolute favorite "war" stories, (and it's a timely one, too!) about General Daniel "Chappie" James Jr.  Gen James was the first African-American Four-Star General.  A Tuskegee Airman, a veteran fighter pilot of WWII, Korea and Viet Nam, his intelligence, wit and charm were accompanied by singular dedication to duty.  He was an inspiring public speaker, and it would surprise most that he spoke eloquently about Americanism and patriotism--particularly considering the obstacles he had to overcome.  If you want to know what his experience must have been like, look at Gen Colin Powell's book "My American Journey."  Powell came along years later than Gen James, and the racism he experienced in a much more modern world is still heartbreaking and maddening.

Ok, the story.  During WWII, the U.S. took over a Nazi air base in Libya near Tripoli.  Named Wheelus AB, it held many different air units over the years, and in August 1969, the Wing Commander was Chappie James.   Just one month after Gen James took command of the base, Libya's King Idris I was overthrown in a military coup led by, you got it, Col Moammar Qaddafi. Since Idris was a friend of the U.S., you can imagine that the coup gathered steam by vilifying America.  In short order, Qaddafi decided to flex his new muscles by personally parading vehicles through Wheelus Base Housing.  What follows is, I believe, the story of what happened in Gen James' own words:

“One day Khadafy ran a column of half tracks through my base—right through the housing area at full speed. I shut the barrier down at the gate and met Khadafy a few yards outside it. He had a fancy gun and a holster and kept his hand on it. I had my .45 in my belt. I told him to move his hand away. If he had pulled that gun, he never would have cleared his holster. They never sent any more half tracks.”

Apparently Qaddafi demanded the U.S. turn over all the facilities (and probably all aircraft and equipment) to him immediately.  Gen James stared him down, and Qaddafi blinked.  The U.S later abandoned the base in its own time, and in orderly fashion, in June 1970.

Years later, we returned to the former Wheelus AB and bombed the daylights out of it during Operation Eldorado Canyon.  For years Qadaffi's regime had been a vocal supporter of every terrorist group from the Red Army Faction to the Irish Republican Army, calling their attacks on all targets, including civilian, "heroic acts." Our operation was in retaliation for a terrorist attack on a German discotheque frequented by American servicemen, linked directly to Libyan agents.

Gen Daniel "Chappie" James suffered a heart attack and died 3 weeks after he retired from Air Force, at the age of 58.  An American original.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

February Mystery Tour 3

A small mystery next--more introspective in nature.  I am wondering about the relationship of this blog to the web.

My very first blog entry in 2008 mentions how my oldest daughter, Katherine put me up to it.  The title is a little play on X-Files' "The Truth is Out There."  At the time I was curious about what stuff I might put into it over the months and, surprisingly, over the years.  Since then I have complained often about some aspect of daily life, written two poems, one (very) short story, and shamefully, embedded you tube videos of music I have enjoyed.  In some I try to be funny; in others, serious; in a couple, introspective.

Though I started this for my kids, I left the blog "public," meaning it is searchable on the web.  I figured over time some stranger might come across it and offer a comment or two.  In fact, this has happened only once, and the anonymous comment was about the blog entry "Put on your big boy pants and deal with it," from all the way back in 2008.  All other comments have been from friend or family.

I recently figured out how to monitor page visits, and said visits are few indeed.  However, I was shocked to find that, almost weekly, people are still visiting "big boy;" almost to the exclusion of all others, even the recent entries!  What, exactly, is the draw of "big boy pants," particularly amongst all the frangible, friable and/or thoroughly forgettable drivel I have posted?

Backing up for a moment, I want to comment on how hard it is to actually find my blog.  Unless you use very specific terms in Google, it is all but impossible.  Even when you type in the exact title of my blog, it is invisible to Yahoo, Ask, and Dogpile.  Likewise, if you search those 3  for "put on your big boy pants and deal with it," you will not find my blog.  You will, however, find Maureen McGowan's blog with an entry entitled "Put on your big girl pants."  What up with that?  (Kath, you might want to check out her site, she is a budding author). This is confusing-- both Maureen and I use blogspot.com for our platform--so how did I get missed?  For those who don't know, Blogger is a Google publishing tool--but why did those others find her and not me?

OK, back to big boy pants.  This is a very old cliche, seems to me it goes back to at least my childhood.  My titled entry was about coping with, and persevering through adversity.  First, it is about recognizing that almost nothing is so bad as it first seems; and second, if something really is that bad, well, buttercup, you'll just have to deal with it.  So the exact wording, if searched in Google, gets me the VERY FIRST ENTRY!!!  How cool is that?  Apparently when people use the old cliche they find themselves at my door.  Sadly, the entry must not be that engaging since no one ever comments; but I'm thinking of doing an update and see if that gets more attention.

There are other, similar euphemisms I can try for titles:
"Don't be a crybaby."
"Cry me a river."
"Are those violins I hear?"
"Suck it up/in."
"Grow a set/pair."
"Man-up, for crying out loud."
"It's better than a stick/poke in the eye."
"Get your head out your butt/a**/rectum."
"You appear to have suffered a cranial-anal inversion."
"Think much?"
"Hello, McFly, Hello?"
"Bueller?  Bueller?"

Um, well, losing the bead there... definitely want to stay away from copyrighted stuff.  Ok, which of these do you think might actually get some hits?  Ah, time will tell...

Friday, February 11, 2011

February Mystery Tour 2

Rhyming riddles are lots of fun,
though it is rare when I solve one.
Below are two on which I thought,
I got one right; the other, naught.

After that I give two more,
so simple, you can raise your score!
I could not make the last two rhyme,
I frankly didn't have the time.

Answers, tomorrow.

1. From Lewis Carroll:

John gave his brother James a box,
About it there were many locks.
James woke and said it gave him pain,
So he gave it back to John again.
The box was not with lid supplied,
Yet caused two lids to open wide.
And all these locks had never a key,
What kind of box, then, could it be?

2. Compliments to Riddles.com:

Four men sat down to play.
They played all night till break of day.
They played for gold and not for fun,
With separate scores for everyone.
When they had come to square accounts,
They all had made quite fair amounts.
Can you the paradox explain,
If no one lost, how all could gain?

Two for the road:

3. Why does the barber in Oatmeal, Nebraska, say he'd rather shave ten skinny men than one fat one?

4. One of the fastest runners alive once claimed he was so fast he could turn off the light in his bedroom and get into his bed before the room went dark.  On one occasion, he proved it.  How?

Saturday, February 5, 2011

February Mystery Tour 1

I've decided I will write at least one blog entry a week in February and dedicate each to some small mystery.  Warning: I make no promise that I will solve the mystery for the curious reader; maybe yes, maybe no.  Have you ever noticed that part of the wonder lies in wondering?

My children routinely amaze me with their dynamically eclectic taste in music.  All three have journeyed all over the musical map, no destination too remote.  This one is for them...

I have two music pieces in mind. Kids, here is proof that I have found and listened to some Indie music all on my own.  What follows is a piece by The Twang.  I love it when people transmit their joy through their music, and these guys just seem to be having a great time, and the crowd too. 

"F*** it all Manchester, I think this is one of the best nights of me life."

Here is a special treat, one you can crank up and float away on.  Let the video mesmerize you, or do something else while you listen, either way it's tough not to be travelling somehow when you hear this song.  Sometimes the You Tube comments tell a neat little story about the vids:

"I went to see Rocky Votolato at a festival on the other side of Washington. Me and my friend found these guys outside of a motel room. We smoked with them and played hacky sack for a while then they gave us a cd and we saw them the next day at the show. I was really surprised whenever I find a band and they give me a cd they usually suck but this band is incredible. "

Just nice.  Here is Mimicking Birds.

"...dark matter and toxic fumes...it's just a dusty interstellar saloon..."

So what's the mystery?  Each of these songs has a particular, special meaning to me; one has very deep, even painful meaning; the other just served to be a pleasant little surprise.  Which is which and why?  Sorry, not telling... 

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Past Speaks in Present Tense

Thursday, January 20, 7:05 AM.

I pull myself out of bed and reach for my cell phone, which is my alarm clock.  Fumble, and turn off the alarm.  I really, really don't want to get up.  Recently I added five minutes to 7AM; what's five more minutes I thought.  Slip on slippers, pull on a shirt and walk, slowly, to the laundry room.  I washed his colors last night, there are clean jeans and and a long-sleeve shirt in the dryer.  As I reach in a thought strikes me, I close the door and start a cycle.  I'll heat them up for him, the house is chilly.  It will only take a couple minutes, but to save time while it heats up I begin the lunch ritual.

I try to keep my reusable grocery bag with me for the odd shopping trip, but failing that, I save and re-use the plastic bags for Jake's lunch.  I take one from the pile on the dryer, and mentally check off the stops as I walk into the kitchen.  Fridge: take the baby carrots, a juice box, and the grape jelly.  Deposit them on the stove, where I will construct the finished product.  To the pantry: for the peanut butter, Pringles and a snack--a cupcake or an oatmeal cookie.  Back to the stove, all now in place.  I turn and wash my hands at the sink, dry off, and take a paper towel to the stove.  The towel is my clean workbench.

Construction order is always: easy first, hard last.  The juice and snack go straight into the bag, already packaged.  A short stack of Pringles goes into a sandwich baggie, then the baby carrots, also into their own little bag.  I vary the number of carrots between 4, 5 and 6, then ask him at the end of the day how many there were as proof that he ate them.  He usually gets it right.  Now I'm down to the sandwich, always PB&J.  Deep sigh.  No, first I'll do the clothes.

I wake him by tossing the shirt and pants on his blanket and say, like always, "Put these on and you can put your head back down for a while."  Not yet old enough to care much about his appearance--I won't let him leave looking shabby, so I orchestrate this.  Back to the kitchen for the toughest task, the PB&J.

So far my actions are mechanical; now I have to wake up completely.  The PB&J requires careful thought, more than the rest combined.  Spread the PB so as to get the corners; spread the jelly the same way, but thinly (he once complained I put it on too thick!--I didn't think that was possible).  Don't rip the soft bread, and cut it carefully to get it into the baggie cleanly, or else there'll be a mess when he takes it out. Yes, I could do all this the night before, but there is something lacking in an "old" PB&J from the fridge.

As I do this for my stepson, I think back to the same actions I took for my own children.  I wonder if they knew I took the same care when I made their sandwiches, many years ago.  Then as now, I felt love when I made their lunches, and wonder if they knew that.  I wonder if they thought "my dad made this" and "he must love me" as they tore into it.  Probably not; school lunch for me was all about where you sat, and with whom.  Not saying it didn't happen, but I can't recall ever being thanked for filling those little lunch boxes.  Did I ever thank my mom?  Are thanks called for for even the mundane, repetitive tasks?

It is at this point I remember something long forgotten, and completely out of the blue.  Grandma once told me I was severely pigeon-toed as a toddler; doctors said my legs would have to be surgically broken to fix this, but mom and dad didn't buy it.  They kept looking until they found one who said braces could gradually turn my feet outward.  I told my grandma I didn't recall any braces--she said they were so painful, and I fussed so much, that my parents waited until I slept each night to put them on, then took them off in the morning--and this went on for many months.  Suddenly one of my earliest memories came back, constantly being told to point my feet outward, not inward!  I remembered it was a big deal to everybody, but I didn't know why.

As I reflect on this at the stove, I know that love is shown through actions, especially the tough ones, even more especially, the little ones.  And I realize, I never thanked my parents for the patience, the determination, and the love that went into those braces.  Maybe they just thought of it as a burden of parenting, but I know what it really was.  "You'll understand when you have your own children."  That's all that need be said. 

On this day, Thursday the 20th of January, I understand.  Love is a chain of understanding that links the generations forwards and backwards.   My love for my parents and my children are both give and take; both reverent service and grateful thanks.  Part of a chain that, I am certain, will one day link my children with theirs, and with their mom and me.  The love with which a task is performed is its own thanks. Knowing this, and having what I have, I am such a lucky man.