Thursday, December 31, 2015

#199 - One To Go

The title of this entry has a dual meaning. The first, perhaps more obvious meaning. refers to the fact that I write this on the last day of 2015. Hence the "one to go."

The other meaning refers to the number given this entry and the fact that I need one more post to reach 200 on this blog. Given that I began this blog in 2009, that is not a great deal of entries, especially when I intended several times to post more frequently.

However, those intentions never came to pass, either because I didn't have anything to say or because I didn't feel like it or I was simply too lazy. I've no illusions that will suddenly change in the coming year, but you never know.

2015 turned out to be a more eventful and event-filled years than someone of my advancing years might have any right or reason to expect. The year was a watershed for me musically as I got the opportunity to perform my songs publicly for the first time anywhere ouside of a couple of weddings more than 20 years earlier.

That came about thanks to the help of my talented wife Teresa, without whom my songs would simply be bad poems. With her help, I also recorded my first CD to send out to friends and family. (I say that as if there will be many more instead of it being perhaps my only CD, but who knows?) I still have roughly 50 copies if anyone wants to buy one.

In 2015, we also bought our first motorhome, a 2005 model that quickly became a home on wheels for us and something we hope to use even more in the coming year. Once the weather warms, that is.

Perhaps the biggest event of 2015 was our trip to Washington, DC with our son to celebrate his recognition as one of eight national winners of a playwriting competition sponsored by a division of the Kennedy Center. It was a whirlwind weekend that yielded material for a couple of songs, a couple of proud parents, and a lifetime of memories.

One of my Facebooks friends (and a former colleague/boss from my television days) shared a post that 2016 is going to be an amazing year. I hope it is, but it will have to go some to come close to, let alone top the amazing year that was 2015.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

#198 - A Merry Christmas Wish

Just a short post as I know most of us are busy with last-minute Christmas preparations.

'Tis the day before Christmas; the shopping is done.
The meal is in progress; the cooking's begun.
The family is gathered; they're all of good cheer.
Joyful and laughing now Christmas is here.
The presents are ready; the stockings are filled
The spirits are ready; the bubbly is chilled
All finished braving the crowds at the mall
One thing to say - Merry Christmas to all!

May your Christmas be filled with light and love and peace. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 4, 2015

#197 - Another Year In The Books

"St. Peter, don't you call me 'cause I can't go. I owe my soul to the company store."
Tennessee Ernie Ford, "Sixteen Tons"

Fortunately, as I prepare to turn the calendar on another year, I do not owe my soul to the company store or to any other store for that matter. I might owe myself an apology, though.

As I prepare to celebrate another year, I realize that in many ways my life is more fulfilling than ever. I am writing songs I am proud of and actually getting to share some of them with the outside world instead of keeping them hidden away. I only wish I'd done so sooner.

I've written songs now in five different decades. However, for most of that time, I lacked the courage and self-confidence to try to do anything with them. The up side is that I wrote most of my horrendous songs before I ever had the nerve to publicly share anything. The down side is that I let a lot of years go by before doing so.

On the other hand, I am finally sharing some of my songs, and the songs I am sharing are some of the best I've ever written. While I could wish I'd started sooner so as to maybe have a larger audience, the fact that any of my songs have had any audience at all is still very gratifying.

I think I'm learning that my time frames and my pace of life and doing things don't necessarily match up with how the rest of the world operates. Then again, I suspect I've really known that all along.

I am also coming to terms with and learning to accept the fact that I will never be mistaken for a bodybuilder or someone like Jack LaLanne. I like to eat; I like to drink; I don't like to exercise. I think that combination pretty much guarantees that I will look more like Mr. Potato Head than Mr. Universe.

It has taken a while, but I am learning that I have little power over the prejudice, the shortsightedness, or the narrow-mindedness of others. Nor do my shortcomings in various areas help to balance the scales.

I have learned that Facebook is not the place for serious discussion of issues. Nor is it the place to change minds or sway opinions. People will share what they believe and block what they don't, and seldom do the opposing views interact in any meaningful or civilized way.

In conjunction with that, I have learned that "social media," while sounding like a platform for people all over the world to come together and share thoughts, opinions, and ideas, is basically only a place for people to say hello, share recipes, post cat pictures, and express political half-truths. Once I realized these things, I became less frustrated with social media.

There is one other thing I've learned. In spite of the events of the past year, I remain an optimist and an idealist where the world is concerned. As John Lennon once sang, "You might say I'm a dreamer." Some might call me naive and foolish. So be it. I'd rather be naive and foolish and believe in the prospects for a better and more united world than to accept the alternative.

The way I see it, as look as I'm still dreaming, I'm still living. I've learned in the past year that dreams can come true even if not quite in the way originally imagined. So I'll keep on dreaming. Because every once in a while, the dream becomes reality. I hope you keep on dreaming as well.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

#196 - And The Beat Goes On

Those of you under a certain age likely won't recognize the title of this post as the title of a big 1960s hit by husband and wife singing duo Sonny and Cher. Some of a certain age may remember Cher from some of her music videos in the 1980s and 1990s where she seemed determined to find out just how few clothes she could get away with not wearing. Fewer still may remember that Sonny later went on to become mayor of Palm Springs, California and a conservative Republican Congressman. (I'm still not sure where he took a wrong turn.)

Although all of that is, perhaps, mildly informative, it has nothing to do with the subject of this post. (Aren't you glad you read this far? I know I am.) In a sense, this blog post is really about nothing. Which also means it is about everything.

If you are anything like me (and for your sake, I hope you aren't), you might reasonably expect that once you reach a certain age, life might begin to slow down a bit, and you can finally take time to stop and smell the roses. Except that life really hasn't slowed down much, if at all.

Even though our son is now 19 and could, perhaps, be expected to be out on his own or at least fend for himself a bit more, it seems we are busier than ever with him. And when we aren't, we're busy with our own activities. He always has something going on. Or we do.

The fact that our son is autistic necessitates some of our involvement, even as he resists and struggles to assert his independence, a very normal step to take once you turn 19. For us, the challenge is trying to allow him to assert that independence while also trying to teach him and guide him so that he can be more independent even as we try to direct him. It's all very catch-22.

At the same time, I am entering almost a personal Golden Age of lyric writing, writing some of the best things I've ever written at an age when many songwriters are either resting on their laurels or struggling to find things to write about. (Since I have no laurels to rest on, that is not an issue.)

On Saturday, I move another year closer to traditional rocking chair age. Yet in many ways, I'm probably more alive than I've ever been. With my wife's help, I've been able to take some of my songs from simply lyrics and a melody destined to be lost (because I don't actually write/annotate music) to actual song status and then performed them for live audiences. It has been both nerve wracking and perhaps the greatest thrill of my life.

While I may never be like Mel Brooks and be able to say "It's good to be the king," I can say it's a good time to be alive, despite all the craziness around the world. Desperate people resort to desperate acts. I choose not to reward or respond to their desperation. Despite their efforts, despite their anger, despite their desperation, life goes on for me. I hope it goes on for you as well and that you can find little things in which to anchor your piece (and peace) of the world.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

#195 - I Got Nothing

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, I've read a number of posts on Facebook that strike me personally as prejudiced, bigoted, hate-filled, and simply misguided. I thought to respond to those posts, but I have come to realize and accept that my words would make no difference, would convince no one, would cause no one to reconsider their views.

In trying to respond on a post-by-post basis, I feel the lump developing in the pit of my stomach, a lump of despair for humanity. It weighs me down and wears me down and nearly brings me to tears. As I close in on another birthday, I've decided I can't do it anymore. I'm too old and too tired to tilt as these ideological windmills any longer.

The terrorists have won. They have succeeded in filling the minds of millions of people with hate for all that is different or other. In the face of all of that, I got nothing.

Monday, November 9, 2015

#194 - Let's Play A Game Of Musical Chairs

I don't know whether it is a shared restless spirit or spirit of adventure or simply a function of human nature, but every so often we decide to change things up a bit in our house. Of course, sometimes these changes arise out of necessity, such as painting the exterior or putting on a new roof. At other times, it might happen simply because one or both of us gets a burr in our behind.

Such was the case this weekend when my wife and I decided to swap offices — again. We live with one child in a four-bedroom house. Because we have so few visitors (perhaps a half-dozen in the 12-plus years we've lived here) we decided to convert two of the bedrooms into personal offices.

During our time in this house, each of the three non-master bedrooms has been utilized as an office. This time, rather than involve our son in this musical chairs routine, we simply flip-flopped the two existing offices.

Fortunately, we decided to swap desks as well, which made the switch a little easier. Still, changing offices is a chore. There are seemingly hundreds of bits and pieces to move, not to mention a dog who likes to be in the thick of the action. I'm sure he thinks he's supervising.

Each time we attempt something like this, we try to look at it as an opportunity to weed out things and papers we no longer need or want. It is also a good opportunity for cleaning and dusting, two activities I'm sure rank high on most people's lists of things to do.

Needless to say, when you have two independent thinking people going through the same bits and pieces, finding agreement is sometimes easier said than done. Emotional attachments, fear of being audited, a certainty that one of us will use that thingamajig one day. All of these come into play.

As I write this, I'd estimate the level of completion at somewhere between 60 and 70-percent. The computers and desk chairs have been swapped, along with most pictures and a few of the knick-knacks. Papers and assorted bits and bobs remain to be moved, plus there is still the process of getting things organized, put away, set up, thrown away, given away, etc.

Right now, we have things organized enough for us to each use our computers, which is a sort of moral victory in and of itself. I suspect the rest of the process will take longer, simply because there are so many little things to move and deal with but also because next up on the project list is organizing our son's bedroom, a task I would not wish on my worst enemy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

#193 - Something Else That Starts Much Too Soon

In my last blog post, I wrote in response to my local newspaper's posing of the question "What are your thoughts about whether the Christmas/Holiday Season starts too early these days?" My answer was, as I suspect it is for anyone over 30 or 35, "Yes." In fact, the only other thing I can think of that starts much too soon is the Presidential campaign we must endure every four (or perhaps it's now only two) years.

By the time the 2016 race for the White House ends, we will have been subjected to more than 18 months of half-truths, innuendos, accusations, bold promises, temper tantrums, ego-stroking, and braggadocio. And that's all from one candidate. (I'll let you guess which one.)

I'll make no secret of the fact that I support Bernie Sanders for President. Opponents ridicule his ideas for expanding Medicare and offering free college tuition as giveaways. I prefer to think of them as investments in the true infrastructure of America, its people.

However, this is not a post about Sanders or any other specific candidate. It is, instead, about the interminable length of the Presidential race, the duration of which makes it impossible for anyone without access to tens of millions (likely to so be hundreds of millions) to run for the office. From where I sit, this seems to ensure that the political process will continue to be controlled by the wealthiest of Americans for decades to come.

Regardless of which candidate you support (please tell me it isn't Mike Huckabee), I think most of us - with the possible exception of comedians and late night talk show hosts who benefit from months of material without really having to work hard for it - can agree that the process starts much too soon and lasts much too long.

I'm not entirely convinced that this is simply due to the evolution of or the complexity of the political process. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think this is some sort of insidious plot by those who wish to control the process.

Somewhere in some smoke-filled room (cliche, I know, but isn't that where these kinds of things get done?) someone or some group of people came up with the idea of extending the Presidential election process to the point where it becomes almost like "white noise" and gets tuned out by the majority of the electorate. How else would you explain the continuing decline in voter turnout in many areas? (I'm sorry, but quality of candidates is too easy an answer.)

The added benefit for these puppet masters is that this "white noise" filters down below the Presidential level to state and local races, reducing voter interest and turnout, making it easier for the candidates they support to win election and re-election time and again. For me, at least, this is the only way I can explain poor people in Kentucky voting to elect a governor who openly promised to end the one program that gave them access to affordable health insurance. (Your mileage may vary.)

The political process has reached the point where the joke is that a newly elected official must begin work toward getting reelected the day after getting elected in the first place. Running for election is all but a full-time job in and of itself. I think it is safe to say that the only thing with a longer shelf life than the electoral process is fruitcake, and I'm not sure we want anything competing with that.

Friday, November 6, 2015

#192 - Yes, The Holiday Season Starts Much Too Soon

As is my custom, upon getting up in the morning, I make my wife's lunch, put on a pot of coffee, check e-mail, and quickly peruse some of the posts on my Facebook feed. This morning, I came across a question posed by my local newspaper.

The paper asks the question: "What are your thoughts about whether the Christmas/Holiday Season starts too early these days?" To me, the fact that the paper feels the need to even ask this question indicates that we have a problem.

It is said that the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. For me, the problem became clear when we began giving names to specific shopping days. The day after Thanksgiving was no longer a satisfactory identifier; we now call it Black Friday.

On the other hand, I suppose Black Friday is an apt moniker for this day as it shows the blackest, most base aspects of human nature. On what other day of the year could someone get trampled to death or beaten to a pulp all because of the competition for a $199 television or some $50 toy just out in time for Christmas and have the reaction almost be one of "Ho-hum, another typical Black Friday?"

Of course, online retailers don't want to get left out of this madness, so they have their own day. Cyber Monday sounds likes some sort of organized online protest or day-long computer code writing event, but no, it's simply another day with a name aimed at getting people to buy stuff for a few dollars less than they can get it for any other day of the year.

Less than a week after Halloween, the holidays ads have already begun, beginning with more general ads (such as the one I saw last night for Toys "R" Us) and ramping up toward more specific product ads as we approach Christmas. The Black Friday ads appealing to the inhumanity and insanity of shoppers should start hitting radio and television airwaves within a couple of weeks.

Of course, many of these ads are aimed at the youngest consumers, who have yet to learn that with the accumulation of stuff comes the need for a place in which to store said stuff. The more stuff we accumulate, the larger the place we need for storing those items.

As I write this, it occurs to me that shopping "holidays" such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, while perhaps essential to the bottom lines of most retailers, have enabled and even encouraged many of us to become pack rats, as last year's hot item gets pushed into a dark corner of a closet to be replaced with this year's must-have new gadget.

I have noticed this in our own home. My son, has a robotic toy dog that he asked for and got for Christmas several years ago. He hasn't played with it for at least five years, except on those rare occasions when we come across it while trying to clean out his closet.

Our two-car garage is crammed so full of stuff we don't use (and don't need) that we can only park one car in it. That actually puts us ahead of many people who can't even get one car in their two or three-car garage. In the future, I suspect real estate listings will not mention garages at all. Instead, they will be featured as a "large on-site storage facility."

As I wrote earlier in this post, the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem. So let me be the first. I have a problem. I have too much stuff. What I am not sure of is the next step in the recovery process.

Friday, October 23, 2015

#191 - Falling Deep Into Autumn

Now that we are into the home stretch of October, fall has hit the area like a sledgehammer. A few weeks ago, temperatures pushed into the mid-80s; as I write this on a Friday morning, the temperature outside is a balmy 35-degrees.

If I have to pick a favorite season, I suppose fall/autumn is it, at least until it gets closer to the start of winter. Daytime temperatures are usually comfortable, mid to upper-70s, allowing a wide ranging of clothing options, while mornings are crisp but not frigid.

In addition, the color palette chosen by the Master Artist for autumn is, to me, the most vibrant of that used in any of the four seasons. Reds and golds and greens and browns all compete for place of prominence on the earthly canvas, while the skies above stake their claim with a mixture of vibrant blues and dazzling whites, mixed with the occasional gray tones.

Autumn is also in many ways the most complete season in terms of the cycle of life. Even as leaves give up their tenuous hold on life and flutter noiselessly to the ground, new life begins its uncertain journey as seeds fall and blow on the capricious wind to who knows where, and those amongst us with green thumbs plant fall bulbs in hopes of seeing springtime flowers.

Fall has it all, life and death, endings and new beginnings, a microcosm of existence played out upon this natural stage. Mother Earth gives and she takes back, autumn being the season of tallying and re-balancing the eternal equation.

This, even more than the traditional travel season of summer, is the time of year when I most think about being on the road. Autumn is when the nomadic pull in me is strongest. I long to be on the road to somewhere, anywhere, to see new things, new people, new places. This is the time of year I think about places like New Mexico, Arizona, southwest Texas, Maine, the Carolinas. This really is the time of year when I am going to Carolina in my mind (apologies to James Taylor).

Of course, the trade-off to the richness of the autumnal color palette is, as Dylan Thomas might put it, the dying of the light, as days get shorter. Soon, many of us will settle in for our long winter's naps, going through the motions of getting through each winter's day in a form of semi-hibernation, as we wait for the coming of spring and the beginning of another cycle, another chance to dance.

What is your favorite season and why? Please leave me a comment below.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

#190 - Football, Flag Waving, and Facebook

A discussion on Facebook with a family member about Monday night's football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Detroit Lions got me to thinking, and that thought process led to this post. (Warning: Some may feel insulted or slighted by this post. That is not my intent. I am merely sharing my own imperfect observations.)

The vast majority of my family are devout, even fanatic Seahawk fans. Based on some of their Facebook posts, I suspect they think every announcer and every referee is biased against their team. I know of no empirical evidence to support or refute such a stand, but based on my game day Facebook News Feed, I have to conclude that is the general consensus of at least my more vocal family members.

The discussion about Monday night's game centered on the announcers post-game discussion of a controversial non-call near the end of the game. (The level of controversy no doubt depends on whether you are a Seahawks fan, a Lions fan, or a somewhat neutral observer.) The non-call centered around the apparent batting out of the football out of the back of the end zone by a Seahawk after it had been knocked loose from a Lions receiver.

According to the rules, deliberately batting the ball out of the end zone is supposed to be penalized, in this case by giving the ball back to the Lions and penalizing the Seahawks half the distance to the goal. That was not done, even though the NFL's own Vice-President of Officiating later said it should have been.

Because the announcers (with the help of a former NFL official) discussed the rule and the non-call, they were seen by some in my family as biased. However, being a fan by definition means that you are biased, so I suspect that filter would affect any interpretation of views being expressed (i.e., an announcer biased in favor of your team might be interpreted as being non-biased, and so on).

Our discussion (and the flavor of a political discussion it began to take on) got me to thinking again about Facebook in general. As I always have, I continue to have mixed feelings about Facebook.

On one hand, I think Facebook has been one of the great technological developments of the last 25 years. It has allowed me to stay in touch with family, find kindred spirits (in terms of my views), and reconnect with many of the people who have been a part of my life throughout the years (people I worked with and went to school with who are now scattered across the country). In this respect, Facebook has been a Godsend and perhaps even a life saver.

On the other hand, I think Facebook has been one of the worst or most dangerous technological developments of the last 25 years. It has made it even easier for us to speak without consideration or thought and, based on some of the hateful posts I've read, say things we likely would never have said in the days before Facebook to another person's face.

Facebook has helped to enable and embolden us to say things and express thoughts we would have previously kept to ourselves. Some might say Facebook has allowed people to be more honest and true to themselves, which may be true. At the same time, I believe it has allowed and even encouraged us to say things without thinking them through, things we might not even believe once we really examine them. It then all but forces us to defend those thoughts once someone responds.

So, football got me to thinking about Facebook, which got me to thinking about the political discussions, stories, posts, and feeble attempts at humor I see on Facebook. I think what I find particularly insulting is what I call "flag-waving" (so-called patriotic posts) from my conservative friends that insult moderates, liberals, and progressives and seem to imply that only conservatives are patriotic and that anyone else is a communist who hates America.

A number of these posts and shares involves some Internet meme that later turns out to be false, but because one person posted it and others shared it, it takes on the power of fact. It reminds me of the quote toward the end of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, when the newspaper editor says to the Jimmy Stewart character, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." One of the good and bad things about technology is that, once something is said, once it is out there, it is out there forever and cannot be unsaid.

Some time ago, I made the argument that Facebook is not the place for serious, thoughtful discussion. I find that still to be true. Although I have seen and been able to take part in some serious and thoughtful political discussions on Facebook, for the most part, I find the conversation to be more often than not talking at one another at best and talking past one another at worst.

Insults and name-calling seems to be the norm rather than the exception, and as we get closer to 2016, I suspect it is going to get worse. Our nation is devolving into one of extremes. As the extreme right gets louder, it pushes many others further to the left. The middle, once squeezed out by the two ends of the political spectrum, now seems somewhat vacant (much like the vanishing middle class). The result is a black or white divide where no gray area is allowed to exist.

One area where this divide is most evident is in the controversial arena of gun control. Calls for stronger background checks and better regulation of gun shows are interpreted as the government coming to take one's guns. People who own guns (or at least who own more than one) are increasingly seen by some as fanatical and dangerous.

I am somewhere in the middle on gun control, as I suspect most Americans are. If we could remove the National Rifle Association's hype machine from the equation, I suspect most Americans could have a rational conversation about guns and regulation. I do believe stronger background checks are needed, and I don't believe gun shows should get a pass. I believe private sales should be reported so that some kind of check might be possible. On the other hand, while I don't always understand the need or desire to own guns (especially more than one or two), I have no desire to outlaw gun ownership entirely. I do question the need to own certain types of guns, but I believe that is and should be a separate discussion to background checks.

One thing I do find ludicrous is the continuing argument from some conservative gun owners that regulating guns means that only criminals will have guns. By that logic, we should eliminate speeding laws and speed limits, auto insurance requirements, driver's licensing, and building regulations. None of these things prevents bad or even criminal behavior, but they increase the possibility that only qualified people are allowed to participate in these activities. They are there for protection and guidance as well as prevention, and while they are not 100% effective, I do think they beat total anarchy, which is the alternative.

My own conclusion based on what I see and read on the Internet? Where we were once a nation where two sides compromised to get things done, we are now a nation where two extremes prevent things from getting done. As the right has moved further right and become more strident, I have moved further left. Others, I suspect, refuse to be aligned with either side and have dropped out altogether. Based on what I sometimes read on Facebook, it is tempting to join them.

Friday, September 18, 2015

#189 - Looking Back, Looking Forward

On this day, 22 years ago, my wife Teresa became my wife. I remember it was a warm, sunny day, with only a smattering of clouds in the skies above the church in Madison, Alabama. Though there have been clouds from time to time, I'd like to think our 22 years have been mostly sunny.

We were married on a day which almost straddled the end of summer and the beginning of autumn. Just as one season was preparing to transition into another, so were the two of us preparing to transition from one way of life into another.

Looking back, the scattered clouds dotting the sunny skies above us that day seem appropriate as indicators that not everything would go smoothly. We both entered marriage after the age of 30, meaning we'd had plenty of time to develop bad habits and become used to certain ways of living and of doing things.

We also had to learn to merge two different ways of thinking and of approaching things. Teresa is often more of a planner. I joke that the she has a spreadsheet for everything, even a spreadsheet to list all of her spreadsheets. She doesn't like to be caught off-guard or unprepared.

Me, I tend to be a bit more spur of the moment. An idea pops into my head, and I instantly want to act on it. It is the way I write, and it tends to carry over into other aspects of my life. The problem comes when I act without saying anything to Teresa. When that happens, our two approaches clash, and clouds form overhead.

Over time, I think a little of my approach has rubbed off on Teresa, and vice versa. We still have our moments, often caused by what the Strother Martin character in Cool Hand Luke would call "a failure to communicate." Our marriage (and I suspect most others) is nothing like what you would observe in a Lifetime Movie or a Harlequin romance, but it has been life changing. And life affirming.

When we were planning our wedding way back in the spring of 1993, we jokingly (I think) agreed that we would try out being married to one another for 40 years, after which we could call it off. Now that we are more than half way through our "trial" marriage, I am hopeful that once those 40 years are up Teresa will decide to renew the option for another 40 years.

While I suspect there are times when she might think I've made her life a living hell or at least more difficult than it needed to be, I can say that Teresa has made life for me possible. Although I can't say I've accomplished a great deal in my life, I can say I would have accomplished even less without her encouragement and stubborn insistence. For that, I say thank you.

The song itself is not fitting of the situation, but the opening lines of the Little River Band song seem appropriate: "Happy anniversary, baby. Got you on my mind."

Sunday, August 23, 2015

#188 - Is Stupid Stamped on My Forehead?

It's been a while between posts, but life has a habit of getting in the way. It has been a very busy summer working with our son, working around the house, running errands. You know, living.

Recently, though, I had a few episodes that got me to wondering about the state of the world we live in and helped me, perhaps, to understand some of the stereotypes we as Americans, generally speaking, tend to use to describe people from other nations and other cultures.

First, let me explain that I am of an age (albeit still at the lower end of that age range) that puts me in a group susceptible to "unscrupulous" people seeking to separate me from my money. Yes, I am a member of the AARP crowd.

Within the space of a few days, I had not one, not two, but three different calls from "agencies" calling me to discuss my "problem," with which they were familiar. All three calls came from people who were either calling from India (or that general region) or were originally from that part of the world.

The first call was from a "pharmaceutical" company calling about my medications. Fair enough, except for the fact that I do not take any medications outside of an over-the-counter allergy pill. Click.

The second call was from a "help desk" calling me about the problems I was having with Windows on my computer. Just one problem. I do not use Windows on my computer; I use Linux. Another click.

The third call in as many days came from "(inaudible) Home Security." While I want my home to be at least as secure as the next person's, I also prefer to be the one to initiate any inquiry into home security systems. Needless to say, I hadn't. So my only response was "No" followed by hanging up yet again. Third click.

While I know anyone can be duped by a scam that seems straightforward and legitimate at the onset, it seems that scammers have a lower opinion of the over-50 crowd than they do of other age groups. Either that, or they think I'm even older than I am. Or maybe they simply think I'm stupid.

I also know I am not the only person ever to receive such calls, but it seems with every year that I age, the number of such calls I receive increases exponentially. Oddly enough, they nearly all seem to come people with an accent resembling that of someone from India.

I say oddly enough because my admittedly limited knowledge of that part of the world includes an understanding that elders in general and the elderly in particular are revered and cared for. Perhaps these people never learned that. Perhaps their elders are long gone. Or perhaps it is simply that they figure since America tends not to revere its elders the way other cultures do those people are "fair game."

Maybe someone saw my wife and I out while she was wearing an "I'm With Stupid -----> T-shirt. Who knows? All I know is that the word stupid is not stamped on my forehead. At least it wasn't the last time I checked. Perhaps I'd better take another look.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

#187 - Blood, Sweat, and Fears

It is said that blood is thicker than water. Having seen both, I would agree. What blood does not appear to be thicker than is politics and emotions.

I recently returned from a family gathering from which a number of family members were missing. I don't know and don't care to know the particulars, but it is safe to say that something got said and some feelings got hurt, to the point that said family members decided not to attend an even that has been going on for seven years now.

I won't speak for the host, but I will say I missed their presence, although no enough to keep me from having a good time. If anything, I would argue they were the ones who missed out. But that is neither here nor there. I have not been asked to take sides and at this point don't plan to. (For some reason, I am suddenly reminded of the old adage, "be careful what you wish for.")

Perhaps it is because I live a fair distance from most of my family, but I have never caused or been the recipient of that level of animosity where family members are concerned. Perhaps it's because I haven't cared enough or worried enough about what they thought.

Until I was almost 12 years of age, I didn't even know I had aunts, uncles, and cousins. We became close for a time, drifted apart for a time, and then came back together to some extent. Perhaps that puts me in a good place as far as balancing family goes. I don't know.

I do know that I have received some push back from family on occasion because of my political views, which admittedly do not line up with the majority of my family. Said push back has, in my case, been temporary. I suspect that my family, being what it is, will find some way to come back together before this time next year. Unless it doesn't. We are, as those who know us will attest, a proud and stubborn clan.

What is interesting to me these days is that the people I felt closest to in my teens are people I sometimes am not really sure I know. At least they are people I don't often talk with, while a cousin I hardly knew growing up has been the family member I perhaps most relate to and have the most in common with.

It's funny sometimes how life works out.

Friday, June 26, 2015

#186 - Marriage, God, and the Supreme Court

As I type this, pundits, analysts, naysayers, and average citizens are discussing the 5-to-4 ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage. My only regret about this decision is that the vote was not unanimously in favor.

As I see it, this issue was and is a matter of civil rights an equality under the law, not a religious, spiritual, or moral issue, even though many have tried to paint it using those colors. However, if the constitution precludes the establishment of a national religion, as it does, then it must also preclude using religion when making such a ruling.

A number of the posts opposing this ruling have used God and God's Word as a justification for their opposition. I assume many of them are using the King James Bible as their moral foundation. But who decided that version (or even any version of the Bible) should be the "official" word of God?

Every version of the Bible with which I am familiar is a translation. Or, more accurately, a translation of a translation of perhaps yet another translation. I am assuming that most people do not have access to the original Hebrew and Greek texts, and even those were written down mostly by people who were told something by someone else who may or may not have been around at the time the events were said to have occurred.

Also, many versions of the Bible are translated in such a way as to support and reinforce the philosophy of the church for which the version is being produced. For instance, the King James Bible was produced based on instructions from King James that the translation uphold the theology of the Church of England, which placed the monarch at the head of the church, unlike the Catholic Church, where the Pope is the head.

In addition, there are many who would argue that nearly all (if not all) translations were produced in such a way as to support the power structure of the church in place at the time (ordained clergy, the placement of men in positions of theological power, the subordination of women, etc.). Perhaps even the original scriptures were written in this way.

People are wont to cite the Word of God whenever stating an opinion on something they seem as a moral issue, forgetting that all of these texts were actually written by men. Humans are not perfect beings and are sometimes prone to error, misinterpretation, and even willful disregard of the truth. I think it is highly likely that at least some writers of the Bible were trying to cement their positions within the then fledgling church and wrote their sections in such a way as to do so.

I think those who wish to use their version of the Bible as moral guide to how they should live should be perfectly free to do so - as long as they recognize that other deeply spiritual people may not agree with their views or interpretation of God's Word.

Personally, the God I believe in is much bigger and much greater than any book purporting to be God's Word can represent. The God I believe in is one of love, not of judgment. If, as 1 John 4:18 states: "God is love," how could God be opposed to the Supreme Court ruling or, for that matter, anything that furthers the cause and the expression of love?

The Supreme Court decision will not end the debate, but I believe it is a step in the right direction. To quote from an old Pablo Cruise song, "love will find a way." Today, it did.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

#185 - The Dog Days of Summer Come Early

I know the so-called dog days of summer don't really hit until August, and summer doesn't officially start for another two weeks, but I think I'm justified in saying that this summer has been a real dog so far. Literally.

This past week, I took our ten-year old Beagle to the vet to have what was apparently a harmless growth on his back left leg removed. I say apparently harmless because the rate at which it grew in the previous seven day would have made the growth a prime target for the upcoming NBA draft.

The situation with our dog was only the latest in what has already been an expensive summer. In the last two-plus weeks we've had the air conditioner on our fifth-wheel replaced, the rear differential fluid and one of the two batteries on our F-350 truck replaced, and we are now waiting for the motor on the black tank valve to be replaced.

This latter repair, the cost of which is still unknown, caused me to cancel a planned two-week trip to Utah with my son to go visit a friend I haven't seen in six years. So the cost has not been simply financial. Hopefully I can make the trip next year.

On the bright side, Teresa and I will have more time to practice for what I hope will be another performance at this month's Idaho Songwriters Association forum. However, I won't find out if we're guaranteed a slot until the middle of the month. Fingers crossed!

At this stage of my life, I have no illusions of anything approaching stardom, but it is fun to get some of my music out there and to have it well received. I would be able to do neither without Teresa's help and encouragement. I guess she can add arranger and accompanist to her resume.

One thing I think I am learning is that, while dreams may have to change or be reshaped a bit, growing older does not mean an end to dreams or to dreaming. Nor does it mean one has to completely abandon the dreams of youth. My musical dreams began when I was 18, but I lacked the confidence, the courage, and probably the ability to pursue them at that time. 40 years later, those dreams have been modified a bit, but they are coming true. So keep dreaming!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

#184 - The Circus is Back in Town

(imagine calliope music in the background)

Step right up folks! See the amazing tap dancing presidential candidates. Watch in wonder as they spout platitudes and verbally slam one another with half-baked innuendo and overwrought criticism.

Yes, the political circus is back in towns all across America as the political machine gears up for the 2016 presidential campaign. Yes, I know the election itself is not for another 18 months or so, but the pollsters, strategy architects, and political pundits have to justify their existence somehow.

So far, the race is shaping up to be some Republican against Democrat Hillary Clinton, a polarizing figure even to many in her own party. Not that any of the GOP candidates so far are great unifiers.

Entered into the fray thus far for the Republicans: Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, who is categorized as pro-life, anti-same-sex marriage (leaving it to the states to decide), anti-gun control, against the Affordable Care Act, anti-IRS, pro-Israel, and anti-net neutrality. Cruz is also widely seen as one of the main forces behind the 2013 government shutdown, in large part because of his efforts to include de-funding and removal of the authorization for the Affordable Care Act in any stop-gap funding measure. He also support abolition of the IRS and believes in climate change, though not in the role of humanity in global warming.

We also have Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky, a pseudo-libertarian who nonetheless wants to restrict a woman's right to an abortion (something of an oxymoron there, someone who wants to reduce the influence and reach of government yet wants to increase it, at least in this area). He has also proposed gutting the Department of Education and eliminating the Department of Housing and Urban Development, played a leading role in blocking a treaty with Switzerland that would have allowed the IRS to conduct tax evasion probes, and been accused on a number of occasions of plagiarizing speech and article material from other sources. Like Cruz, he is opposed to gay marriage but would leave the issue to individual states to decide, and he is against all forms of gun control.

Then we have Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Like Cruz and Paul, he is pro-life. He also supports raising the age for Social Security benefits eligibility and opposes same-sex marriage, suggesting (like Cruz and Paul) that it be left to individual states to decide. He supports extension of the Bush tax cuts as well as elimination of both capital gains taxes and the estate tax. Unlike the other two announced GOP candidates, Rubio held elected office prior to becoming a U.S. Senator, serving nine years in the Florida House of Representatives.

These are the three GOP candidates announced so far. They have one thing in common aside from many of their political views - they are all considered Tea Party activists. Both Cruz and Rubio are under age 45.

Other likely and potential Republican candidates include retired surgeon Ben Carson (expected to announce May 4), largely identified as a conservative who opposes same-sex marriage and does not believe in evolution but who at one time stated that for-profit insurance companies should be eliminated and has said that semi-automatic weapons should be better regulated in large cities and high-crime areas.

The GOP field could become even more crowded if former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, current New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorino, U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker decide to run.

Then there are the usual Republican suspects, who have run before and could decide to run again: former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, and business magnate Donald Trump of New York.

So far, the circus is primarily restricted to the GOP, as the Democrats have only one announced serious candidate to date: former Secretary of State, U.S. Senator, and First Lady Hillary Clinton. Unlike her GOP counterparts, who appear to have always been politically conservative, Clinton was not always a liberal. She campaigned for Barry Goldwater in 1964 and was president of the Young Republicans for a time while a student at Wellesley College. At the time, she was a moderate Republican but left the GOP after the 1968 national convention.

Clinton has supported repeal of the Bush tax cuts (announced as temporary when first enacted), release of oil reserves, exploration into alternative energy sources, including hydrogen-powered vehicles (along with tepid support for nuclear power), campaign finance reform, and a retention of the Social Security tax cap (unlike many of her fellow Democrats), and health care reform somewhat similar to the Affordable Care Act.

She has also faced criticism for her role as an advisor to her husband while he was president (perhaps an argument by some that a First Lady, much like a child, should be seen and not heard) and for sitting on the Board of Directors of Wal-Mart. Unlike her GOP challengers, Clinton is identified as pro-choice. While initially opposed to same-sex marriage (but in favor of civil unions), Clinton appears to have changed her view over time. She also supports net neutrality.

I'm not going to get into the entire Benghazi thing as that has been beaten to death by so many others and will no doubt come up again during any presidential campaign.

It is still possible that Clinton could face challengers for Democratic nomination. Former Rhode Island Governor (and Republican U.S. Senator) Lincoln Chafee, former Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, and former U.S. Senator (and former U.S. Navy Secretary) Jim Webb of Virginia (another former Republican) are all said to be exploring a possible run.

Other possible candidates who have expressed interest or who have been speculated about include: current Vice President Joe Biden, Senator Bernie Sanders (who runs as an independent), former Vice President Al Gore, former Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, current Delaware Governor Jack Markell, and current U.S. Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut.

All in all, it promises to be another overwrought, over-analyzed, over-advertised, overreaching, over-attacking, over-criticizing campaign, generally lacking in substance from either the candidates or those who report on them. In the end, the nominations and ultimately the general election itself will likely be decided by which candidate wins the most favor with the Super PACs and garners the most money in campaign contributions from said shadowy political organizations. This truism is perhaps never more true than when it comes to political campaigns; "money talks."

Thursday, April 2, 2015

#183 - Moving Toward a Post-Christian World

I have debated writing this post for some time because I suspected I might disappoint some of my friends or cause them to distance themselves from me. However, in light of recent events and discussions, I've decided to no longer worry about that.

A number of my friends identify themselves as Christian, (Many of them go further and also identify themselves as Catholic.) I used to be one of them. I am no longer.

I was baptised a Catholic at Easter, 1984. For 20-some years, I tried to be a good Catholic. Yet something about the Catholic Church did not feel right.

So I tried other churches, but I always came back. If nothing else, the rituals of the Catholic Church felt safe. And yet, something did not quite seem to fit.

Something about the Catholic Church in particular and about Christianity in general struck me as contradictory. I had trouble identifying it an making sense of it until I began reading the Conversations With God series of books by Neale Donald Walsch.

I can't pinpoint it specifically, but something in Neale's depiction of God resonated with me. After reading several of his spiritual books, I concluded that none of the faiths with which I was familiar truly understood the nature of God. Many of them had some aspect of God, but none was complete.

I have also come to realize than many so-called Christians cherry-pick Bible verses to fit their faith's view (and by extension, their view) of the world, all the while forgetting that the Bible was written or related by one group of men (mostly), translated by another group of men (mostly), and interpreted and explained by yet another group of men.

In the last several years, I have come to the conclusion that all religious groups may have some understanding of God, but no religious group can claim to be The Way. Not Judaism, not Christianity, not Islam. Each has at least one fatal flaw.

That fatal flaw is that each kills in the name of God. Yet Christianity says "Thou shalt not kill" and claims that the ways of God are not the ways of man. By extension, that would seem to imply that Christians do not understand God since they kill in God's name. (The same could certainly be said for many of the other major faiths.)

Reading through a number of books of Neale Donald Walsch, I feel I have come to a better understanding of God and of the contradictions inherent in many of the organized religions now in existence. For instance, it never made sense to me that we would be called upon by the Bible to love our neighbor as ourselves even as we are trying to bomb them into oblivion.

Another contradiction is the call to love God and fear God at the same time. One cannot fear and love together; they are mutually exclusive.

I'm sure there are some who will begin praying for my soul or will begin worrying that I am headed to Hell. Don't. I truly believe God is bigger and is more than any faith can express. Because of that, I don't believe any faith does God justice. I don't think any organized faith can.

Monday, March 9, 2015

#182 - Taking Chances, New Toys, and Other Random Thoughts

Several days ago, I wrote a little something about technology, touching on a few good and bad points from my vantage point as a Baby Boomer miles away from friends and family. As I recall, that was the first post I had ever written and published from my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 tablet. This will be the second.

One thing has changed for me technologically since that prior entry. I have now paired my tablet with a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard. The keyboard, while a bit smaller in overall size than a traditional computer keyboard, has close to normal sized keys, meaning that even someone as fat-fingered as I can be is able to type without too much frustration.

The keyboard was fairly easy to pair with my tablet. Within about 30 seconds, I was up and typing. In fact, the hardest part of getting the keyboard up and running for me was finding the two AAA batteries needed to power the keyboard.

The keyboard itself is about eleven inches wide, so it is a little wider than my table in widescreen mode. However, both are small enough and easy enough to balance that I can write a blog entry from an easy chair, as I am doing here.

Obviously, Android and Bluetooth have been around long enough that choosing to use either technology or both is not a great leap of faith. Enough people have come before that new users are unlikely to face any insurmountable hurdles when adopting these technologies for the first time.

Technology is certainly one area where early adopters at least are asked to take a chance on new devices, new programs, or new ways of doing things. As with anything new, there is always the risk of failure or at least the chance that things will not go as expected, as hoped, or as planned.

Of course, this is the case with any new venture, activity, or risk taken. I experienced those fears, as well as the relief when the worst did not come to pass, when I ventured onto the stage of the monthly Idaho Songwriters Association Forum the last Tuesday of February. The forum is an opportunity for Idaho songwriters, young and old, experienced or just beginning, to try out material before an actual audience.

My wife and I attended our first forum in November, and I came away thinking I could be up there and thinking I'd like to try it at least once. For me, the biggest problem was not a lack of material; I've been writing for 40 years. The biggest obstacle is the fact that I don't really write music. Thanks to my wife's help, I was able to get something I'd written into presentable form and was able to offer it up for public consumption. Thankfully, it was well received, although you never know how people will respond until you put something out there. The reception was positive enough that I am now working up a few other songs for future forums.

It is now several days later. The earlier material has just been left dormant, in some sort of electronic limbo, waiting for me to decide how or whether to finish the entry. I guess I've decided to finish it.

This morning, I went to start up my laptop only to find that, while the hard drive would spin up and the laptop would make all of the normal noises of booting, it was for all practical purposes a paperweight, simply because I could see nothing but a dark screen. Preliminary research indicates the CPU may have gone bad. Oh, joy!

My laptop is by no means new; I bought it about four years ago, but I had hoped it might last another year or so. The challenge for me in finding a new laptop, aside from not really wanting to spend any money, is the fact that I do not run Windows; I run Linux and have done so for more than a decade.

Unfortunately, it is hard sometimes to find a machine that is fully Linux compatible, a task made slightly more difficult with the advent of Secure Boot and UEFI-compliant BIOS. Don't ask me what either means or adds to a machine. All I know is that it make the challenge of a Linux user when selecting a new machine that much more difficult.

Sitting here thinking about the challenge ahead in terms of finding a new computer, I am reminded slightly of the ongoing Net Neutrality debate and of the old adage "Knowledge is Power." There are those who think knowledge and technology should be accessible to all people equally and those who believe those willing to pay more should get more Perhaps an oversimplification, but you get the point. As a Linux user, I guess I would fall into the equal accessibility camp, which is why I am not a big fan of Secure Boot or UEFI.

Perhaps there is a bit of Don Quixote in me wen it comes to such things, especially as I have neither political clout or big bucks to pump into any PR campaign. However, I have hope that a majority of people will reach the conclusion that equal access to information and technology is in everyone's best interests just as I have hope that I will not have too much trouble finding a new computer on which to run Linux. To quote the old reporting cliche, something we were advised as reporters never to say, time will tell.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

#181 - Technology - For Better or Worse

After breakfast this morning, our son starting talking (yet again) about some particular figure he wanted to get for his Wii U console. I then tried to have a conversation with him about spending so much money on these things and the fact that Nintendo would probably not make these figures (known as Amibos) or the games forever, especially given that the Wii U is a distant third in the video game arena behind XBOX 360 and Play Station 4.

That got me to thinking about technology, both the good and bad. Developers are always coming up with some new way to do things. Often, the new way is an improvement. However, there are times when perhaps the better technology loses out to a lesser technology simpler because the marketing and PR effort was not as strong.

Anyone remember the Beta vs. VHS wars back in the 1980s? I came down on the Beta side since, working in television as I did at the time, I was convinced Beta was a better recording technology. Many experts and reviewers agreed. However, VHS had a bigger and better marketing push behind it, and Beta recording technology became but a footnote.

I suspect my son must somewhere possess a fondness for underdog technology, something he must get from me. Stored in a closet in one of our bedrooms now used as office space we have an old Iomega Zip drive (remember those?) and about a dozen Zip disks. They were going to replace floppy disks (yes, we also have working external floppy drive) for users who needed more storage space than a floppy could offer. That lasted a few months until writable CDs hit the market. Another technological footnote.

However, not all of our technology is stuck in the past. I am typing this blog entry on my Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 using a stylus and the on-screen keyboard. If I get the hang of this, I may get a Bluetooth keyboard to make this progress even easier. At that point, my tablet may relate my four-year old laptop for many of my everyday technology needs. It also looks like Android is big enough and ubiquitous enough that it is not destined to become a technological footnote anytime soon. Thank goodness.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

#180 - It's The Little Things

It's a Sunday morning, and I'm waiting for the day's NFL playoff games to begin. At the moment, I'm sitting at my desk and looking around at stuff, lots of stuff and clutter. It seems there is no end to all of the stuff we possess.

Several months ago, we began trying to de-clutter and downsize. We made some progress, but it seems for every thing we get rid of we obtain two or find two that we can't yet part with. On my desk are 3.5-inch floppy disks (anyone remember those?) from 15 years ago, dozens of them. The plan is to dispose of all of them, but I first have to go through them one by one to see if there are any files we need to keep or want to save. No wonder we can't ever seem to make much headway.

My son like to make things out of paper and draw different things on paper. From time to time, we have made him go through his collection and get rid of some of his creations. We've tried to put in place a rule that each time he makes something new he must dispose of something he'd made previously. That effort has met with limited success, and I suspect if I were to look in his bedroom closet I would find shelves filled with his paper creations.

My wife has a box of textbooks from her college days years ago, and I have numerous books I've acquired over the years, many of which I will likely never get around to reading. Yet I have kept them - just in case. Over the past few years, we have disposed of perhaps a few hundred books, yet it seems new ones grow to take their place. It's as if the old books left seeds behind from which new books sprouted.

Aside from a few hundred albums (remember those?) and the necessary stereo on which to play them, I didn't have a lot of stuff as an adolescent or a young adult. Perhaps that is why it later became so hard for me to get rid of things or why I began to accumulate so much. Then again, perhaps that is the true definition of "the American way."

We work hard to make money to buy stuff which we then trade in for newer stuff, bigger stuff, more expensive stuff. Many of us immediately had to have the new iPhone 6 when it came out, even though our iPhone 5 was still perfectly serviceable and likely better than most other cell phones available. Or maybe it was a need to replace a perfectly nice 42-inch television with a 60 or 72-inch screen because we bought into the marketing that says bigger and newer is better.

The indoctrination process began early for most of us, with commercials on Saturday morning television and colorful Sunday newspaper advertising inserts. Those who are much younger may have escaped some of that but were instead influenced by ads on websites, by their friends, and perhaps worst of all, by their own parents who rushed out to buy the latest in technology, home entertainment, transportation, fashion, etc.

Children do indeed learn from their parents, but what are we actually teaching them? In many cases, we are teaching them to be good and dutiful consumers, which no doubt is exactly with the marketing people want us to teach. What do we want?

As we get older, it gets ever harder to get off the consumption train, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. I am not suggesting people stop buying stuff, but perhaps we can learn to be more discerning in our purchases and even learn not to throw away things every time a new version comes out. The environment will no doubt stay cleaner; our landfills will last much longer; and who knows, our children might one day thank us.