Saturday, December 31, 2016

#218 - A Year To Forget, A Year To Remember

In many ways, I will not be sorry to see the back of 2016. The year got off to a rocky start with the death in January of David Bowie and continued on through the double whammy deaths of Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.

In between, a number of famous and important people left the scene, and a minority of Americans succeeded in handing the keys to the candy store (and the nuclear arsenal) to an rude and overbearing reality TV host. It's as if The Truman Show (the Jim Carrey movie in which his entire life is fodder for reality TV and he's the only one not in on it) has been flipped on its ear, the script pages mixed with those of Panic In The Year Zero (the 1962 Ray Milland film about a family which must learn to survive in the aftermath of nuclear war) to give birth to some sort of Nightmare on Elm Street revision in which the nightmare is all too real.

I have little in the way of expectations for positive change from the incoming administration, and based on some of the names on the transition team and those being bandied about for Cabinet posts, I doubt I'll be pleasantly disappointed.

I am lucky in that I do not expect my life to be negatively impacted much by the Trump presidency. My fear is that millions of others will not be able to say the same.

Based on the rhetoric coming out of Washington since the election, attempts will again be made to balance the budget on the backs of the poor and the elderly. This, even though those two groups make up a smaller portion of federal spending than military spending, federal subsidies, and tax breaks for large corporations.

I expect to see racism become, if not more prevalent, more visible and overt over the next four years. The change is already taking place as evident in the turning of a family's outdoor Menorah display into a swastika. The incoming President may not be a racist, but I believe he is an enabler of such behavior.

This last year, quite frankly, sucked in a lot of ways, and I could continue to lament what happened and outline my fears regarding what lies ahead. Instead, I will hope to be wrong and will hope that in 2017 fewer people than I expect will suffer a rolling back of rights; that fewer people than I expect will be excluded from the safety net that Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security were created to provide; and that more people than I expect will find love in their hearts for people who are different from themselves.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Friday, December 23, 2016

#217 - A Holiday Wish

Just a short post to wish everyone a wonderful holiday season. If you are traveling to visit friends and/or family over Christmas, may your journey be safe and uneventful, and may your visit be filled with wonderful and lasting memories.

It looks like our Christmas may well be a white one. Several inches of snow fell in the Boise area throughout today, much more than that, I'm sure, in the surrounding foothills.

Regardless of your political or religious beliefs, I hope this holiday finds you safe, happy, and healthy. Merry Christmas, Happy Hannukah, Happy Kwanzaa. As is said during the Catholic Mass, Peace be with you.

Friday, December 16, 2016

#216 - Scar Tissue

WARNING: A disturbing scene is described in the post below, and at least one word may not be suitable for sensitive ears.

The other day, I was listening to an interview a friend and former colleague was doing on a New Orleans radio station about a documentary she's been working on for the past decade. (Talk about dedication!) The documentary, titled "Battlefield: Home," is about the battles servicemen and women, along with their families, face when they return home from active duty.

My friend's film has nothing much to do with this post except that it got me thinking about the idea of scar tissue. We usually think of scar tissue in terms of surgical procedures. However, many of us carry around scar tissue of a different nature.

In the case of my friend's parents, that scar tissue was created by supremely traumatic events. My friend's mother was a child survivor of the second atomic blast during World War II, in Nagasaki. Her it father was a survivor of two tours (if I remember correctly) in Vietnam. Those experiences, I'm sure, left emotional scar tissue, something that really never goes away.

As my friend was talking about her parents, I began to think about my own scar tissue. When I was five, my father left for work one day, never to return (something I've posted about on a couple of previous occasions). The story my mother gave me for the rest of her life was that he left because he could not handle having a family. The story I later got from another family member was that my father had a penchant for underage girls. My mother found out and kicked him out. Scar number one.

My mother soon found herself a new beau who would become husband number two. Living in Los Angeles, a bustling metropolis, and having the looks my mother had, she should have had a good chance of landing a Mr. Right type. The man she ended up with turned out to be all wrong.

Husband number two came into my mother's life after a short stint in San Quentin (you know, the other prison Johnny Cash recorded a concert in) for killing another man in a bar fight. When my mother met him, husband number two was working as a truck driver but apparently did not like driving a truck because he promptly quit as soon as they married and moved us to a small town in the Mojave Desert. To the best of my recollection, he never worked again during the five years they were married.

Of course, expecting to feed, clothe, and house a family of five (he had a son and I had a sister) on the income of a waitress would have been hard enough. It turns out the bar fight was not an isolated demonstration of the temper of husband number two.

He was prone to yelling at my mother and not at all reluctant to slap her around from time to time. For the most part, I have blotted the specifics of those years out, but one episode has never left me. So vivid was it at the time that I have never been able to blot it out.

One day, for reasons I don't recall (possibly something to do with an assumption on the part of husband number two that my mother had held back some of her tip money, although he never really seemed to need a reason), husband number two began yelling at and slapping my mother. He ripped off the top half of my mother's clothing and yelled for his son to bring the scissors because he was going to "cut her tits" to teach her a lesson. I was eight. Scar number two.

For several years after my mother and husband number two split (they were married for five years, together for about three years of that time), my mother raised us as a single mother with the help of an elderly couple. My sister and I  slept in a converted chicken coop. The husband was a nice, easy going man. The wife was a fire and brimstone type who continually browbeat and belittled her husband (perhaps my first experience with the idea of a battered husband).

After a few years of this existence, my mother was convinced to move us all back to the Seattle area, where I was born. Along the way (both before and after the move), my mother cycled through a series of boyfriends and lover always searching for Mr. Right and never even finding Mr. Maybe.

Some of these affairs lasted a few months (one was a Vietnam vet with a steel plate in his head, one was a man 15 years her junior, another was about ten years younger). The ones that lasted the longest also seemed to be the ones that did the most damage.

One such affair was, in many ways a reenactment of husband number two. This affair, begun while I was in high school, involved a younger man with a volatile temper who usually just yelled at my mother, sister, and me, though he was not above the occasional slap. (By this time, I had long since learned not to cry when I got in trouble and was whipped with a belt, so I was somewhat numb emotionally.)

One night in December, just after my birthday, boyfriend number whatever came home from work after having gone out for a few drinks, and he was in a foul mood. I don't recall what my mother was supposed to have done, but I do remember that the shouting match that ensued soon became physical, with him slapping her and ripping her top off, exposing her in an eerie reenactment of the episode from nearly a decade before.

By this time, I was 17 and thought I might be able to step in and help protect my mother. I picked up a baseball bat and threatened to bash in his skull if he didn't stop hitting her. He laughed. I froze, unable to follow through. He threw her and us out of the house. (It was snowing, much like it is today, and my mother was half-naked.) When the police came, my mother refused to press charges. The boyfriend later proposed marriage, something I talked my mother out of by threatening to leave for good if she accepted. Scar number three.

Life's experiences help prepare us to survive, and I have survived, though I'm not sure I've really lived. There have been times I'm not sure I wanted to live, even spending time during my colleges years wishing I were dead and thinking about suicide. Like the episode with the baseball bat, though, I was not able to follow through (although I did once attempt an overdose of aspirin, of all things).

Over time, I have developed a thick skin. This has allowed me to endure bullying at school, abuse at home, and other things life has thrown at me along the way. On the other hand, I have encountered road blocks and obstacles made more difficult due to that thick skin which provided a safety layer but kept people at arm's length.

My experiences have made it difficult for me to make friends, love, express myself verbally. They have also led to me developing my own temper, which I am thankfully usually able to keep in check and am (more thankfully) able to keep from escalating into the realm of the physical.

My wife argues that I need to leave the past behind, and she's right as far as that goes. I have managed for the most part to move on from those experiences. Therapy helped some in that regard, though I never felt able to share some of the most traumatic episodes in those sessions.

However, our experiences do shape us, for better and for worse, and the scar tissue each of us develops as the result of our experiences do help to define us or at least create the hurdles we must overcome in order to reach whatever potential we might have.

In some ways, I am who I am because of what I experienced growing up. In other ways, I am who I am in spite of those experiences. Even at this stage of my life, I am still healing. Whatever may have created your scar tissue, I hope you are healing as well.

Monday, December 5, 2016

#215 - Another Day Older

"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"

Today is my birthday. Today, I enter another decade of this chronological journey we call life. A great deal of change has occurred in that time.

When I was born, a lifelong military man was President and just over four years away from warning about the dangers of acquiring unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex and the potential for what he called "the potential rise of misplaced power." Today, it could be argued that those dangers have become reality, although not perhaps in the ways he envisioned.

When I was born, life was for many of us black and white and not simply the way in which we watched television. A large part of the nation was literally divided by the color line, and the differences between good and evil were, we thought, more clearly defined.

Today, many of us no longer watch television, instead getting our entertainment from our phones. That technological change has been accompanied by an apparent attempt to in some ways reclaim the "simplicity" of the decade in which I was born, complete with the calls by some to restore some modern-day equivalent of that "separate but equal" time.

Then, as now, we developed and shared technological advances not always aware of or even thinking about the potential ramifications or dangers for future generations. Then, as now, whole groups of people are fighting for the rights they argue were granted them in the Constitution.

The divisions present when I was born were less visible than they are today. In that sense, that decade was a simpler time. There were not dozens, if not hundreds (even thousands) of places from which to gather information available to the average person.

Today, we have the 24-hour news cycle, bloggers whom some people quote as if they were experts or trained journalists, a massive distrust of the so-called "liberal media" (so called because mainstream media is controlled by a handful of large corporations), and various Internet outlets for "fake news," many of which seem to have no other goal than to create and facilitate dissension and disagreement. (The fact that The Drudge Report is only one letter removed from dredge and rhymes with sludge is not lost on me.)

Some of our most important institutions are amongst the least admired or respected while we seemingly revere sports figures (basically entertainers) who make as much (if not more) money in a single year as many people make in a lifetime. At the same time, the gap between the richest and the poorest of us seems to grow exponentially while the middle gets squeezed even more tightly.

Us baby boomers (those of us born between 1946 and 1964) were dubbed the "Me Generation" in the 1970s. For many, the focus on self-realization and self-fulfillment during our youth has given way to a different kind of focus on difference and a desire to keep those who are not like us out or separate.

Then again, perhaps it has always been like this. When Europeans came to America, they moved to control, eradicate, and segregate Native Americans who wished to hold on to their lands and their traditions. In the decades since I was born, America has attempted to bring (or perhaps impose) our way of life and our values to others who did not ask for it, helping to fuel conflicts in Vietnam and the Middle East in a sort of unholy crusade to impose the modern-day religion of capitalism on unbelievers.

I've lived long enough now to know that one answer does not fit all and to conclude that kneeling at the altar of the almighty dollar has the potential to do more damage than not (forests, waterways, skies have all paid the price).

Socrates once said "All things in moderation, including moderation." We seem to live in a world and a time of extremes (extreme wealth, extreme poverty, extreme politics, extreme religion). Perhaps a little moderation is in order - moderation of political views, of prejudices, of religious views, of greed, of damage to the environment.

While we plan and race to send expeditions to Mars and to the Universe beyond, perhaps we should take a bit more care of the world we currently inhabit. Otherwise, the problems we have failed to deal with and resolve here will be sure to follow us wherever we end up.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

#214 - The End Is In Sight - At Last

We're in the final death throes of yet another ugly Presidential campaign. Since television became the major medium for communicating with the masses, it seems each campaign has tried to outdo its predecessor when it comes to mudslinging, half-truths, and just downright overall nastiness.

It is now six days until we either unleash Armageddon or jettison our remaining American traditions (depending on which candidate you support and assuming the other person gets in). I am discounting all of the third and fourth-party candidates because they, sadly, have no chance of being elected under our current system.

I do not like, admire, or respect Donald Trump. I admit that off the top. (It is difficult for me to respect or admire someone who brags, as Trump does, about avoiding taxes.) Nor do I tend to believe much of what he says. However, in one respect, I think he is right on the money, although not in the way he intends.

Trump has used the word "rigged" on several occasions during this campaign, hinting that the results will be rigged if he fails to win the White House. In that regard, he is mistaken. I do believe that the process is rigged to eliminate consideration of third-party candidates and to ensure that either a Democrat or a Republican is elected.

If memory serves, no third-party candidate has been invited to participate in the Presidential debates since Ross Perot in 1992. That is, in fact, the only time a third-party candidate has ever been invited to participate in a Presidential debate.

I suspect the 1992 election sent shock waves through the corridors of power, seeing how popular Perot's message was, and the money men on both sides of the political divide (despite some gains by women in terms of access to power, I suspect men still pull most of the strings) took steps to ensure no future "fringe" candidate ever got as close as did Perot to the Presidency.

Given the strong feelings against both of the major candidates, this election cycle might well have benefited from the participation of the Green Party"s Jill Stein and the Libertarian Party's Gary Johnson. If nothing else, the answers to some of the debate questions might have had a better chance of staying on-topic.

Every four years, we go through this madness. Every four years, we complain about the candidates, saying this candidate will set back progress in some area 50 years or that candidate will destroy traditional American values. Every four years, we realize it didn't happen because the system is set up to protect the only traditional values that matter to those who actually control such things - power and money. Everything else is just window dressing.

I have no answers, no possible solutions. When I began writing this, I thought perhaps an election system similar to Britain's, in which third parties seem to be more valued, might be a possibility, but I'm not sure it could work here.

Instead, I suspect this "grand experiment," as America was once referred to, is slowly grinding to an end. America could well dissolve in the next few generations into a number of smaller nations based on shared geographic and cultural values. We have simply become more divided than we are united. Perhaps we have always been so and it ha simply become easier to recognize in this always connected world in which we live.

The good news is: the election is almost over. The bad news is: regardless of who wins, the vast divide between the two major political parties will continue to make it all but impossible to accomplish anything. That, and the fact that the next Presidential campaign will likely begin within a week of this election's conclusion.

We have the 24-hour news cycle and the 365-day political cycle. The noise no longer stops; it just becomes a constant hum in the background of our everyday lives.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

#213 - I Tried, Really!

Sunday night, I sat down to watch the second Presidential debate. At least, that was the plan.

I watched in hopes of getting an idea of specific policy points from the candidates, specific arguments in support of their stands on the issues. You know, an actual debate.

What I saw instead was more akin to an elementary schoolyard war of words: "Did not!" "Did too!" "I know I am, but what are you?" "Takes one to know one."

Beyond that, Sunday night's debate seemed an attempt by one candidate to browbeat and bully the other candidate (as well as the moderators) into submission through the use of continued interruption.

After 40-minutes, I'd had enough and could no longer watch. I knew I would get nothing of substance from the debate. Instead, I would only get more of what passes these days for political theater or reality TV. If I wanted either of those, I would watch an episode of Madam Secretary or Survivor. (For the record, I concluded that Clinton's non-answers were closer to being on-topic than were Trump's, as he seemed to only be interested in talking about emails.)

I also had a pretty good sense of how the day-after debate news cycle would run. Trump supporters would declare him yet again as the debate winner while hammering the moderators for being members of the "liberal media" and Clinton supporters, something Trump himself set the stage for when he complained about the debate being "three against one."

From the vantage point of my easy chair, it seemed the moderators were only trying, with limited success, to do their jobs. They have basically four responsibilities: ask questions; try to keep candidates on topic; try to get candidates to keep their answers within predetermined time constraints; and perhaps most importantly, keep candidates from interrupting while another candidate is speaking.

I give the moderators a B-plus for effort and a D-minus for execution, although the lack of execution is not really their fault given that they have no power to truly control the candidates' behavior or actions during the debate.

Donald Trump has taken Teddy Roosevelt's "bully pulpit" and inverted it, turning it into a pulpit from which to bully those who disagree with him. His behavior during the debates seriously suggests Trump would be unable and, perhaps worse, unwilling as President to listen to or consider opposing viewpoints and scenarios from advisers.

A President has to be able to consider all options before becoming locked in on a course of action and must be able to change tactic when a specific action is clearly not working. Trump's actions, words, and behavior during the campaign suggest he would be unable and unwilling to make such changes and would instead "double down" on the action or tactic already shown as not working.

I do not think Trump is capable of or is willing to change his behavior and demeanor before the third Presidential debate in one week's time. At least not without some help in the form of a change to the debate rules.

This leads me to a suggestion I humorously made on Facebook but one which I think deserves some serious consideration. This will require some real strength of spirit on the part of moderator Chris Wallace of Fox News and debate organizers. I don't expect such strength, but in the spirit of hope springing eternal, here goes.

First, enforce the two-minute limit of candidate responses. The two-minute clock located in the candidate's line of sight is clearly not working in and of itself. How to remedy this? At the two-minute mark, the moderator says "fifteen seconds" to give the candidate a chance to wrap up their remarks. At the 2:15 mark, the candidate's microphone is turned off and not turned back on until it is the candidate's turn to respond to another question.

Second, keep candidates on topic. How can a moderator do this, you ask? Especially when candidates seem to think (based on past Presidential debate history) they can simply take any question in whatever direction they want to go? Enter the microphone strategy again.

If/When a candidate begins to veer completely away from a question's topic, the moderator should remind the candidate once to return to topic. If/When that fails, the candidate's microphone should be turned off (I think you're beginning to see a trend here), and the moderator should say, "If you are not going to answer the question, we will move on" to either the other candidate's answer or to another question.

Third, keep candidates from interrupting one another during answers. The first offense should result in the moderator politely asking the offending candidate to refrain until it is his or her turn to respond. The second response should result in a candidate's microphone being turned off, with no further warning, until it is his or her turn to speak. This process should be automatically repeated (i.e., the microphone turned off without warning) for the remainder of the debate whenever a candidate interrupts.

While these proposals are designed specifically with Donald Trump and his verbal-bullying tactics in mind, they should be applied equally to Hillary Clinton should she transgress. I have no hope of these ideas actually being implemented, but they would, even if artificially, restore something sadly lacking in the debates and in the overall campaign, civility. (Of course, they could also result in some truly entertaining political theater should Trump storm off the stage because he isn't being allowed to rampage through the debate like a bull in a china shop.)

Based on the 40-minutes of the debate I watched Sunday night and the numerous Internet memes I've seen on Facebook, I'd say civility is something we are sadly in need of in this election year. However, I think it is safe to say that one has better odds of winning the lottery than of witnessing anything resembling true civil discourse during the remainder of the 2016 Presidential campaign.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#212 - Making The Best of a Bad Situation

I've been thinking about this post off and on for a while, eight weeks to be exact. That's how long it has been since my last post.

Part of that delay is not knowing exactly what to write about. Part of it is due to everyday life getting in the way, but part of it is knowing I needed to write this while dreading it at the same time.

I don't fool myself into thinking that I have many readers of this blog. However, I'm pretty sure that the few readers I do have are not all aligned politically, culturally, religiously, or any other -ly. (Which is why I normally shy away from writing about politics, in particular.) So, I suspect whatever I have to say in the following paragraphs will not be agreed with or appreciated by all.

It has taken me until this day, exactly six weeks before election day to firmly decide which candidate for President would receive my vote. For several months, I had convinced myself that I would vote for one of the third-party candidates, a refusal, if you will, to vote for the lesser of two evils.

Having lived through a number of Presidential elections now, it seems that too many of them have been a choice between the lesser of two evils, regardless of which side of the ideological spectrum you stand on. This coming election may yet be the clearest example of that.

On the one hand, you have Hillary Clinton, the first woman Presidential nominee from a major political party. She is shrewd, clever, intelligent, and also calculating, possibly devious, and perhaps a bit disingenuous. I firmly believe she moved many of her positions to the left because of the candidacy of Bernie Sanders.

I don't really trust Hillary Clinton to do many of the things she says she will, even if Congress were inclined to go along. I suspect she will only do what she thinks she has to do to win and stay in power.

Now, before I am accused of being misogynistic, let me say that two of my favorite bosses during my working career were women. Let also say that, in spite of my misgivings and mistrust of her, I will be voting for Hillary Clinton in November.

The simple reason is that, on the other side of the ticket we have Donald Trump, a man who wouldn't know a fact if it bit him in the ass. Just as I firmly believe that Hillary Clinton is a politician in the worst sense of the word (I know some don't think there is any other), I also believe Donald Trump is a liar and a cheat (his good points) as well as a racist, a bully, and a misogynist. Not to mention a complete and utter egomaniac.

Trump has changed direction on various issues and topics so many times over the years, I'm not sure he could find north on a compass if someone pointed it out to him. (Others have documented some of these reversals and apparent "lapses of memory," so I won't bother here.) He speaks for whites afraid of losing their all out of proportion privilege and power and promises things he knows he can never deliver. (Just how will he "make" Mexico pay for his proposed wall, anyway? Does he plan to declare war on that country?)

Donald Trump is a bit like this century's version of Joseph McCarthy, he of the Communist witch hunt fame from the 1950s. Trump makes wild accusations, which he then fails to back up and says he did and said one thing when the record clearly shows he did and said the exact opposite (President Obama "birther" issue, anyone?).

Donald Trump is like a David Duke wet dream, promising to restore an America that thankfully died long ago, one where white men were in complete control, women knew their place, and minorities were treated as the second-class citizens he seems to believe them to be.

Trump plays upon the fears of whites who see the world changing in ways they don't understand, of gun owners who believe their rights are being taken away (even though that won't happen), of tinfoil hat wearers sure the government is out to get them, of and of individualists who believe we can return to the days of the open West when people were free (supposedly) to do what they wanted and make their own way, including those opposed to federal government regulation of any kind.

This latter group fails to understand that clean air and water are too important to leave to individual states and fails to accept that what one state does can and will impact its neighbor, if not now, somewhere down the line. After all, air and water to not recognize artificial boundaries drawn on a piece of paper.

For some time, I considered voting for Jill Stein of the Green Party. Her views, especially on the environment, align with mine closest of any of the candidates. Since I live in Idaho, I figured my vote would not help elect anyone anyway, especially since I never had any intention of voting for Trump, his numerous robo-calls (especially at meal times) not withstanding.

In the end, however, I decided I would hold my nose and, despite my misgivings about what exactly she stands for, vote for Hillary Clinton. Because, while I'm not sure what Clinton might do as President in terms of policy, I feel confident that I know exactly what a Trump Presidency would lead to, and that vision scares the hell out of me.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

#211 - Pokemon Go Has Got To. Go, That Is

I just realized it has been entirely too long since my last entry (51 days, to be exact). I can only apologize for my laxness and blame it on the fact that I have been camping, singing, writing, and otherwise having fun.

One thing I have noticed people (including my son and a few of my friends) having fun with is Pokemon Go. While they do, I wait for it to go the way of all fads, into oblivion.

I'll be honest, I simply do not see the attraction or the appeal of Pokemon Go, except perhaps for cell phone companies. I'm sure they simply love it. After all, Pokemon Go encourages players to use copious amounts of cell phone data searching for Poke-Stops and various Poke-creatures. I'm sure there hasn't been this much excitement about anything poke (or pokey) since the days of Gumby and his sidekick, Pokey.

There are those who credit Pokemon Go with encouraging people of all ages to exercise, as they walk around in searching of the ever elusive virtual beings. others say the game encourages teamwork. These are, to me, only incidental and accidental side benefits, icing on the cake that is increased profits for cell phone companies and a spike in the net worth of Pokemon's parent company, Nintendo.

I have to wonder how long that financial high can last before it comes crashing to earth just like a person on a sugar high crashes an hour or two after eating that last donut. My guess is that after one or two months of outrageous cell phone bills, a number of parents (and perhaps children who never grew up) will curtail the playing of Pokemon Go.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps enough people have unlimited cell data plans or are already used to high cell phone bills that they won't say no to Go, at least not for that reason.

It may be that safety or crime prevention may hold the key to stopping Go. There have been reports of people trespassing onto the property of others to try and capture a Pokemon and at least one report of someone being shot and killed while playing the game.

Because I don't really pay attention to the game, except to the extent that my son continually talks about Pokemon, I don't know the validity of any of these stories. To me, Pokemon Go sounds like a slow Jamaican in need of a trip to the bathroom.

Thinking about it, though, I guess I can see some appeal. Many of the people who play Pokemon Go are likely also attracted to YouTube, reality television, and videos featuring animals doing something they probably shouldn't be doing or shouldn't be able to do.

There are a number of things I don't understand about Pokemon Go, why people play it simply being the most obvious. For example, although Nintendo's net worth skyrocketed after the game came out, I don't understand how the company makes money off of it, since the game is free to download and play. (I suspect there may have been a licensing fee paid to Nintendo by the game's developer, but that alone cannot justify the increase in net worth.)

I guess I also don't understand how we can hope other alien cultures (if they exist) will see in us signs of intelligent life if we are all convening at Poke-Stops, cell phones in hand, hoping to capture a Poliwhirl, a Charizard, or even a Squirtle. Perhaps that's the ultimate goal of Pokemon Go, to encourage alien cultures to pass us by and see us as no danger to them. At the rate we're going, I suspect the only danger we are going to pose while playing Pokemon Go is to ourselves.

Monday, June 13, 2016

#210 - Pardon Me, Lest I Offend

In the wake of the horrific shooting in Orlando, I have read a plethora of posts on social media ranging from those calling for love in the face of hate to those saying this was God's judgment on a godless America to one from a Facebook friend calling for the use of nuclear weapons on the Middle East in order to wipe ISIS off the face of the earth once and for all.

At some level, I understand the rage and the outrage, the anger and the desire for revenge and retribution. Getting even has been part of the human psyche for as long as there have been humans on the planet. (Cain and Abel, anyone?)

However, I think all of this misses the mark in that the true problem, in my mind, is being overlooked. So, at the risk of offending anyone who happens to stumble across this humble entry, let me tell you what I believe the real problem is. Hint: it isn't radical Muslims, Tea Party Republicans, leftist Democrats and gun control advocates, or President Obama. It is religion.

Many of my friends and family are professed Christians. As such, they might be prone to see other faiths as un-Godly. Some of them believe Muslims should not be allowed in this country. They see the actions of a relative handful of radical Muslims as an indictment of the entire religion and cite Islam's holy book, the Qur'an, in support.

One thing they forget is that at roughly the same stage of Christianity's development, some radical Christians engaged in a little "terrorism" of their own against Muslims (and Jews). You may remember it; it was a little thing we call the Holy Crusades.

Another thing many Christians forget in cherry-picking verses to support their views against this or in favor of that is that the Bible has other verses in support of things like slavery and polygamy and against things such as eating shellfish. Yet, Christianity has evolved to the point where slavery and polygamy are seen as wrong, and it is okay to enjoy a dish featuring your favorite crustacean (as long as you aren't concerned about mercury poisoning). Yet, Christians don't seem willing to allow for that same evolution in another faith.

This is all a roundabout way of getting to the main point I want to try to make. I do believe there is a God or Higher Power. I don't believe any religion has a true handle on that higher power. I think most, if not all faiths have selected aspects of that Higher Power to support whatever agenda was being supported at the time the faith's holy texts were being composed.

In the simplest terms, God is God. Love is love. God is love. There is more than one way to reach the mountaintop, but we need to help one another, Christian or Jew, Muslim or Hindu, to make the climb. Together.

Friday, May 27, 2016

#209 - In Memoriam

Today marks the start of Memorial Day weekend. It is a day and a weekend that is, in many ways, schizophrenic.

On the one hand, the three-day Memorial Day weekend is seen by many as the unofficial start of summer. It means camping, grilling, and drinking (although it could be asked who needs a holiday weekend for that). For those of us with children still in school, it also means we're just about at the start of summer vacation, and for some, the panic as to how to find their child's time.

On the other hand, the holiday itself is a day for remembering and reflecting on the sacrifice of those who gave their lives in the military service of this nation. I suspect for most of us, while this aspect of the holiday is there on the periphery of our consciousness, the thoughts will be more of getting outside and spending time with family.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. (I know I've often had this mindset.) After all, the freedom to do just that is part of what so many men and women fought and died to protect.

It is also true that most of us have never and will never serve in the military. I have never served, although I came close a couple of times. The draft was eliminated the year before I turned 18, although I did still have to register just in case.

Several years later, I considered enlisting in the Navy because my first go-round in college had not gone so well, and I was interested in a career writing, something I was told I could get training for as part of my service. That flirtation with military service ended when I decided not to sign the enlistment papers after it was suggested I not mention any physical ailments and injuries I had.

As a result, I never served. Nor did my father; he was old enough to serve in World War II, but could not pass the physical. While some other members of my family have served in the military, most of them did so either in times of peace or when I was far away from them and unaware.

Perhaps because of that lack of proximity, I and many others tend to forget or at least not fully grasp the true reason for the holiday. Allow me to remedy that now.

To those of you who have served or currently serve in the military, thank you for your service. To those of you with family members who have served or who currently serve in the military, thank you for sharing them with the nation.

Finally, for those of you with family members who paid the ultimate price for our freedom, thank you for their sacrifice. That gratitude seems a small enough price to pay in return for the price they and you have paid. The nation is in your debt.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

#208 - Trump, No Trump

"Publicity can be terrible. But only if you don't have any." - Jane Russell

"There is no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary." - Brendan Behan

"I have bought golden opinions from all sorts of people." - William Shakespeare

This is not actually a political post. Okay, it is. A little. This post is about Donald Trump, but it is not about my views on Trump or his politics. What this post is about is some recent experiences having to do with Donald Trump.

Now that Trump is the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican party, his campaign is swinging into general election mode. (Is it me or does the word "presumptive" sound like something you might associate with a disease such as tuberculosis?) Of course, we all know what that means - talk about the Democrats (or the Republicans depending on which party you are campaigning for), speeches geared more toward winning an election than toward winning a party's nomination, and the dreaded robo-calls.

One day last week, I received four such calls from the Trump campaign in the course of a few hours. Since I hung up on each call after a few seconds, I can only conclude the call-backs were based on an assumption I was having phone trouble and that the campaign never entertained the possibility I was not interested in the message. (My own assumption is that political campaigns often assume political views based on geographical location.)

I have been called by the Trump campaign (or on behalf of it) close to a dozen times now, and each call has started out the exact same way. My assumption is that they want to make sure I hear and understand the first message before additional messages are sent my way, but who knows?

My other recent experience having to do with Donald Trump is more disconcerting or surreal, depending on how you view such things.

This past Friday, we went out to a local restaurant/bar to have a few drinks and listen to some live local music. Behind the bar, big-screen television was playing with no sound. The channel on display was what I must now refer to as The Network Formerly Known As CNN.

During the three hours we were at this local establishment, every story I happened to see displayed on the television screen had to do with Donald Trump in some way, shape, or form: Trump disavowing controversial comments made by his former butler, Trump stating that his call for a ban on travel by Muslims to the United States was "only a suggestion," Trump denying that he once posed as his own publicist in a series of telephone calls to news outlets in the early 1990s.

Okay, perhaps not every story dealt with Trump - one headline did state that Bill Clinton feels Hillary is facing the same kinds of attacks he faced in 1992, and the news ticker underneath did stream a few non-Trump related headlines at a speed few people would read - but you get the general idea.

It reminds me a little of the old joke, "I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out."

I came away from the evening glad that I no longer work in anything remotely related to journalism and also glad that I am more interested these days in music than in politics. I have a much better grip on my own personal sanity and my blood pressure as a result.

I am also forced to conclude that we have helped to create the ineffectual government we complain about by allowing the creation of Super PACs where donors can hide behind a cloak of anonymity; by allowing unlimited spending on political campaigns, thereby forcing our elected officials to spend a disproportionate amount of their time on raising money toward and campaigning for re-election; by replacing true debate on issues with 30-second soundbites and Facebook memes; and by the 24-hour news cycle and the desire to be first.

I decided to close with a quote from Edward R. Murrow, still seen by some in the industry as the patron saint of broadcast journalism. I had a plethora of quotes to choose from, but I'll close with these:

"The speed of communications is wondrous to behold. It is also true that speed can multiply the distribution of information that we know to be untrue."

"We are in the same tent as the clowns and the freaks — that's show business."

Saturday, May 7, 2016

#207 - Another Year Older, Not Deeper In Debt

I'm resisting the temptation to quote from "Sixteen Tons" by Tennessee Ernie Ford, not because I have a remarkable sense of restraint, but because I think I did that very thing in a blog post made in a galaxy far, far away.

My posting frequency to this blog has dropped dramatically in recent months. In part, that's because I have been writing and posting with some frequency to my music/poetry blog, My Wordsmithing. The other reason has been nearly everything I feel compelled to write about is either political or religious, and a part of me thinks there is already too much political and religious noise cluttering up the bandwidth.

Thankfully, in this post I don't have to. You see, yesterday marked the 20th birthday of our son. They have been the most challenging, exasperating, and rewarding years of my life. I'm sure there are some other adjectives I could throw out there, not all of them suitable for family consumption.

These 20 years have been challenging because there have been many times when we have wondered what exactly our autistic son is and will be capable of doing for himself as he transitions into adulthood. The answer, as I have learned, is - more than we think.

As parents of a special needs child, I think the tendency is even greater to want to try and protect them from the outside world. The danger in doing so is that we and they never learn what they are truly capable of doing for themselves. As our son has grown into a young man, I have tried to restrain that urge to overprotect. As a father whose own mother worked a lot of nights and whose father was not around while I was growing up, turning that urge off has been even harder.

These 20 years have been exasperating in part because I have realized I am not that great as a father. I suppose I can blame a large part of that on not having good role models while I was growing up, but the fact remains that I am still learning.

The last seven of those 20 years have been particularly exasperating because our son has been, well, a teenager. Although there are some things other teens can do that our son cannot (such as drive), in many ways, our son has been a typical teenager, often not wanting to do the same things as his parents and often spending large chunks of his time in his bedroom with the door closed. I was prepared to say "doing God knows what," and to anticipate the likely response from readers. In this case, though, I know what he is usually doing - playing video games or watching YouTube videos about playing video games.

I suppose these past 20 years have also been exasperating in that our son often will express an interest in this or that and then do nothing to pursue said interest. I have certainly tried to nudge him in the direction of those interests, but I realize I cannot push too hard because in this respect he is a good deal like me. (For many years, I told anyone who would listen that I one day wanted to write a novel. While I have made a few starts, I realized I don't have the patience or the discipline to sit down and do that.)

These 20 years have also been rewarding. One selfish reason for that is that, unlike my own father, I stuck around. That alone likely moves me near the middle of the pack when it comes to fatherhood rankings.

These past two decades have also be rewarding as we have watched our son continually confound, surprise, and exceed the expectations of the so-called experts on autism. He has long been what I term a square peg trying to fit into a round hole kind of world.

I think, though, perhaps the opposite is true and that he is the round peg trying to fit into the world's square hole. Teachers and other experts have always had a hard time trying to get a handle on our son's interests, capabilities, triggers, and the like.

We have long suspected he was capable of much more than the system asked of him, and the last few years have proven us right. The challenge, however, remains finding the proper outlets and channels for those capabilities and the right people to guide him.

While there will always be some things our son will not be able to do, there are, I suspect, things he will be able to do that others cannot. He just needs a little help, a bit of support, and a gentle nudge now and again.

In a little while, we will sit down to cake and presents and celebrate the fact that our son is now 20. The first 20 years have been a remarkable ride. I suspect the next 20 years will be even more remarkable, and I can't wait to find out what great things we will see along the way. Happy birthday, Christopher!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

#206 - Wow, Has It Really Been A Month?

I knew it had been a while since I last posted anything, but I looked and found out it has been just over a month since my last entry. Much too long.

I suppose one reason for the gap in posts is that I haven't really felt I had anything to say. Every time I thought about making an entry, I shied away. Why? Because the two topics that kept coming to mind, religion and politics, were not something I felt like trying to write about.

It isn't that I don't have strong positions on both subjects; I do. However, I also know that my views in each area put me at odds with, I suspect, most of my family and friends. Not that that alone would stop me. On the other hand, it could be argued that if one is making a noise simply to make a noise, what is the point.

I suppose that also holds for saying something simply to say something, although it could be argued that is exactly what I am doing here. Point taken. So I have chosen not to compound things by adding politics or religion to the mix.

Music or musical tastes might be an equally dangerous topic, but here goes. Last night, the family went to see Elvis Costello and opening act Larkin Poe at the Egyptian Theater, a wonderful art deco style theater in the heart of downtown Boise.

Our son has been exposed to Costello's music off and on throughout his life, but last night was his first live exposure to the man. My wife and I had been lucky enough to see him eleven years previous, and I was interested to see how this show compared aside from the much higher ticket prices.

Both shows were equally good in my mind, yet were night and day to one another. The first show, in 2005, took place in a smaller club and was mainly standing room only. The concert itself was electric and everyone in the crowd, aged 15 to 50 or so, seemed a part of that excitement.

One other thing I remember about that first concert is that Elvis himself did not interact that much with the crowd. He would do three or four songs in a row and not say anything in-between. Not that he was different or impersonal. It was just that the show was completely about the music.

Part of that may also have been due to the fact that he had been briefly hospitalized a few weeks earlier for an illness that had already caused him to postpone this show and led to cancellation of a few other dates. (One thing making the two shows somewhat similar is the fact that Elvis seemed to be fighting a bit of a cold last night.)

Fast forward to 2016. Elvis could now be seen as an elder statesman of rock (he turns 62 this year) and is certainly known and respected by many music lovers for his encyclopedia knowledge of musical styles and artists unknown to casual listeners but who were influential to many performers, including Costello himself.

The 2016 show, even though it took place in a slightly larger venue, was much more intimate in feel. Part of that was no doubt due to the fact that we all had places to sit, helping to make the event feel as if we had all been invited to an informal gathering of friends to laugh and sing a bit.

Also bumping up the intimacy factor was the interspersing of personal stories, anecdotes, and jokes between songs. These drew upon and were an extension of the stories related in last year's wonderful memoir Unfaithful Music & Disappearing Ink. The stories themselves were punctuated by various pictures and graphics displayed behind Elvis on a giant box made to look like a television set from the 1960s.

The third aspect of last night's show that made it seem and feel more intimate is that, aside from the final 30 minutes or so when he performed with his opening act Larkin Poe, the show was a musical monologue, just Elvis and his guitar (or one of the ten or so he had on stage to choose from, most of them acoustic) or piano.

In addition to the pictures of his parents and from his childhood on display, the piano added emphasized the more familial feel of this show, as it belonged to his wife, noted jazz singer and pianist Diana Krall.

Elvis mixed older and newer songs together, giving each a slightly different feel from the original to keep it fresh yet maintaining enough of the original version to make it familiar. On stage, he seemed relaxed and both content and comfortable with his musical legacy (even performing a number from Goodbye Cruel World, an album I believe he once referred to as his worst), a man perhaps finally comfortable in his own skin.

Others may mention that other Elvis, Presley, but to me, this Elvis is still king. Long may he reign.

Monday, March 14, 2016

#205 - A Nation Divided, Part 1

"A house divided against itself cannot stand." - Abraham Lincoln

First, a disclaimer. I pay little attention to the news these days, not because of the "distortion" and "fabrication" of stories in the "liberal media" (sorry, but when a small group of corporations controls nearly all mass media outlets, there is nothing "liberal" about it), but because, after spending more than a decade in broadcast journalism, I no longer need or desire the aggravation, stress, or depressing thoughts that come from watching or reading the news on a regular basis.

I do occasionally scan the headlines, and I read with utter amazement some of the things a handful of my Facebook friends post. As a result, I have come to the conclusion (suggested once before on this blog) that this nation, in its present form, is not long for this world.

We've reduced positions and arguments to their lowest common denominator (perhaps we always have). Serious discussion followed by consensus or compromise no longer exists, and we reduce issues and views to a black and white battle between two opposing sides when, in fact, there are likely a multitude of views and positions between those two polar extremes. Each extreme pushes back against the middle, further polarizing the other and driving the margins further apart.

I was told once by a former friend that as I got older I would become more conservative. That has not happened. Because of what I described in the previous paragraph, I have, if anything, become more progressive or liberal in my views.

For instance, I support Bernie Sanders' call to make college tuition free. Not because I want a lot of "free stuff" (as critics deride this stand) or believe I am "entitled" (another argument used against young people and certain classes of society, neither of which applies to me), but because I believe it is an investment in the future of this nation.

We need more scientists and engineers and doctors and philosophers, and the best way to get them is to make college affordable and available to those who are academically and intellectually able to attend without requiring those students to all but mortgage their futures in order to do so. I believe this country's decision to deregulate student loans (thereby allowing banks to charge higher interest rates and make the ultimate cost of college that much more expensive) was a huge mistake.

I believe affordable access to health care is a basic human right. By this, I don't simply mean access to hospital emergency rooms. I mean maintenance and preventative health care. One way to make and keep health care affordable it to make sure symptoms are treated before they become serious problems and require a hospital visit. A healthy people is a productive people, and I don't believe funneling the sick and the poor into and through overworked and overcrowded hospital emergency rooms is the best solution or the best use of health care resources.

I also believe that everyone working deserves to be paid a living wage. Conservatives will argue that some people work harder and deserve more or that those who want to succeed can. I don't disagree with the first part of that argument but believe the second part becomes less true every day (if it ever was true).

Not everyone can be a millionaire/billionaire and not everyone can own his/her own business. We will always need people to collect our garbage, to serve us in stores and restaurants, to clean in our businesses. Have we decided that these people are less worthwhile, less deserving because of what they do?

We complain about illegal immigration while making certain jobs so low-paying that only illegal immigrants can afford to take them. We believe certain jobs are not worth more than minimum wage and then complain about the service we receive from those workers. We complain about the quality of our education system while at the same time we pull our children out of public schools and put them into private or charter schools.

The very first phrase of the U.S. Constitution reads "We the people of the United States." It doesn't read "some of the people" or "only the people who are like us" or "those people who think like us." To me, "we the people" means all of us, which I believe means we have to do certain things and provide certain services for all of us, not simply those who can afford them. From where I sit, that means access to affordable and quality education and health care.

I've written all of this and realized I did not even touch on the one thing that inspired or provoked this post. I'll save that for another time.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

#204 - Walk a Mile

"Hey, before you abuse, criticize, and accuse, walk a mile in my shoes." - Joe South

In the aftermath of what some have called one of the worst played and most boring Super Bowls ever, I have read with interest and a touch of dismay the steady torrent of criticism and abuse leveled at Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. I have a very slight vested interest because my wife went to Auburn and has converted me into an Auburn Tiger and, in the process, a Cam Newton fan.

This post is not going to be a defense of Cam Newton or attempt to explain what he did or didn't do or say pre, mid, or post-Super Bowl. Instead, I want to discuss this from the angle of being a symptom of a bigger issue.

At first, I jumped in and attempted to stand up for Newton, not that he needs me or anyone else to do so. This morning, though, I had a bit of an epiphany and realized that this situation illustrates a problem we as human being have and had have, perhaps since Adam and Eve walked around in the Garden of Eden.

We as a species are quick to attack, disparage, deny, criticize, and otherwise denigrate that which is different from us or that which we do not understand. Cam Newton's behaviors and reactions are just one example. Other examples include climate change, same-sex marriage, Islam, and in my case, the continuing popularity of Justin Bieber. (Let's not even get into the political arena. We could be here for days.)

Some, perhaps even most of this is no doubt cultural. We grew up white or Southern Baptist or in the 1960s and therefore can't understand the popularity of hip-hop. In some cases, it may be because that thing we speak out against stands in the way of something we support. In the case of Cam Newton, part of that would be because the Carolina Panthers are not your team or they beat your team.

Part of this is perhaps also due to age. Most of the negative comments I've seen regarding Cam Newton seem to come from a certain demographic, the over-40 crowd. As a member of this crowd myself, I can certainly understand. As we age, many of us become even more resistant to change and to that which is different from us.

Yes, there are those of us who seek out new adventures and experiences as we get older, but many of us prefer the familiar or at least seek to filter those new adventures and experiences through something familiar. (An example of this might be finally deciding to travel but going on a cruise or a tour so as to be with other people like you and in somewhat familiar surroundings.)

I don't know that there is an answer or solution short of genetic engineering to make everyone the same in future generations. I also know some reading this will be quick to point out a line later in Joe South's song, so let me save you the trouble:
Now your whole world you see around you is just a reflection, and the law of Karma says you're gonna reap just what you sow.
Those people will say Cam Newton is getting just what he deserves. Perhaps they should read the very next line of the song:
So unless you've live a life of total perfection, you'd better be careful of every stone that you should throw.
Now back to our regularly scheduled stone throwing.

Friday, January 22, 2016

#203 - Movie Night

Tonight at the dinner table, my wife proclaimed that tonight was going to be movie night, and that the three of us were going to be in the same room together and watch a movie. Together.

Now that doesn't sound all that revolutionary or radical. Until, that is, you realize she is often asleep (either in bed or on the couch) by 8 p.m., and our son is a teenager who, I suspect, would sometimes be happier to not admit to having parents that to actually spend time with them. In fact, his first reaction to her pronouncement was to say "I'm not sure I'm up to that."

Nevertheless, the three of us adjourned after dinner to the family room, turned on the television, fired up the Roku, launched Netflix, and promptly stalled trying to decide what to watch. But she was not to be deterred.

Since our son has on occasion voiced an interest in making videos (which more often than not actually means he was to make a video of himself playing a video game as opposed to making an actual movie), my wife decided to launch an episode of Hollywood's Greatest Film Directors featuring Barry Levinson, director of Diner, Bugsy, and Rain Man, amongst others.

We also made it through that episode (which I found very interesting), so we decided to push our luck and try an actual movie. She chose a documentary about young magicians preparing to compete for the title of Teen Champion during the World Magic Seminar in Las Vegas.

Part way through Make Believe (2010), we lost one of the three viewers as my wife dozed off. That is not a commentary on the quality of the film, though. I found it very interesting, and the young magician I was most rooting for actually won.

When you watch a movie on Netflix, after it ends the service provides three other recommendations, one of which usually makes no sense based on the film you've just seen. (I believe in the case of Make Believe, two of the recommendations were other documentaries while the third was for a horror film. Go figure.)

At this point, I guess you could say that our movie night had officially come to an end, as my wife woke long enough to move from the chair in which she had fallen asleep to the couch, where she promptly went back to sleep. Our son decided that was enough togetherness for one night and adjourned to his room to resume his usual routine of playing video games and watching videos about playing video games.

I decided to watch another movie and chose one about one of my all-time favorite comics, Don Rickles. Mr Warmth: The Don Rickles Project (2007) was directed by John Landis (National Lampoon's Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Beverly Hills Cop III, among others) and intersperses pieces of Rickles' Las Vegas act (and other performances) with interview clips from Rickles along with a number of celebrities who know or admire the man: Clint Eastwood, Martin Scorsese, Bob Newhart, Robin Williams, Chris Rock. Hilarious.

While the film didn't really discuss specifics, afterward I realized Rickles was in his 30s before he had any real success as a comic and nearly 40 before he really became a star. As he nears 90, he is still performing.

I hope I have something that continues to fire me up and interests me if I should reach that age.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

#202 - Just Like Herding Cats

For months (maybe even years) Teresa and I have talked about doing various home improvement projects or having them done. Last month, we finally moved from the talking to the doing stage.

We decided to start with our family room and have a gas fireplace installed. Boise is prone to inversions during prime fireplace weather, and during an inversion there is often a ban on wood burning. Hence the decision to go with gas.

We went shopping and found a fireplace we liked. Someone from the dealer was to visit the house before we made the purchase just to check our situation and ensure the model we had chosen would actually work. He never showed up.

That turned out to be a good thing. We had our contractor open up the wall where the fireplace was to go so he and his crew could build the platform for supporting the fireplace. Upon opening the wall, his exact words to me were "the plot thickens."

Here is what the area looked like before the work began. The middle section juts out about eight inches from the two wall areas where the shelves are on either side. When we bought the house in 2003, we were told the house had been "plumbed" for a fireplace but that one had not been installed. We later found a fireplace door in the storage area above the garage. Because of that, we had no reason to suspect that the reality was any different.

However, after the contractor and his crew opened up the wall, we found out the situation was much different. Hence the reason for the ominous statement about the plot thickening.

It turns out there had been a wood-burning fireplace present all the time. Not only that, but at one time the fireplace had been used at least occasionally before the previous (original) owners of the house decided in their infinite wisdom to simply wall over the fireplace. They also decided not to mention it when selling the house. Either through experience of simple dumb luck, the contractor's crew chose the perfect place to cut into the sheet rock if we had decided to stay with the wood fireplace.

Once the existing fireplace was revealed, we decided against a gas fireplace and went with its cousin, a gas fireplace insert that could be installed in the existing fireplace. We placed the order for that on December 8. We then had gas line installed, had that work inspected, and waited for the insert and the special-order surround to arrive.

We are still waiting. When I called the dealer yesterday, I was told the insert and surround had finally arrived, and we set up an appointment to have it installed tomorrow. Maybe.

The workers who put in the gas line also connected a test valve to test pressure in the line. Once the line passed inspection, someone was supposed to come back, remove the valve, and turn on the gas supply to the line. We are still waiting for that as well.

In the meantime, we are also trying to coordinate all of this with having some wiring done so we can place the television above the fireplace (cliché, I know, but it's really the only place in the room the TV works) and having wires run to be able to connect speakers and other entertainment peripherals yet not see all of the wires. Which means running them behind walls or through the ceiling.

We also want to replace the shelves with something more built-in looking, though the options we got for actual built-in cabinets and shelves were not that compelling. They were plenty pricey, though.

We have, I think, decided on some DIY entertainment centers from IKEA for each side topped with bookcases of the same width. The plan is to secure the bookcases to the walls for added stability. Given the way various parts of the house were constructed, it could be as expensive as built-ins once framing and supports are added. We'll see.

The challenge for us is trying to coordinate everything, figuring out what comes next, scheduling, ordering, etc. We've never hired out home improvement before, so what could have been a one-week or two-week job if we'd been able to do it ourselves has now stretched out a month (most of that with no work being done as we wait for various parts, tests, etc.) with more to come.

You see, we haven't actually order the cabinetry yet, and that will likely take several weeks to arrive. On the other hand, we now have a nice pull-down door with ladder access to the storage area above the garage, something we had not even planned on doing at this time. However, since it is thus far the only completed job of this project, it does give us something to feel good about and a reason to think there might be light at the end of the tunnel. Of course, it could simply be an oncoming train.

Monday, January 4, 2016

#201 - Random Thoughts

Hope everyone has recovered from the festivities surrounding the ringing out of 2015 and the ringing in of the new year. I wonder whether the ringing referred to is actually ringing in the ears caused by the fireworks some people insist on setting off to mark the beginning of the year. I do know my dog doesn't care for that tradition in the least.

This weekend, I watched the documentary "Best of Enemies" on Netflix. The film documents the use by ABC News of conservative pundit/commentator/publisher William F. Buckley, Jr. and liberal author/commentator Gore Vidal to help it make its mark during coverage of the 1968 Republican and Democratic Presidential conventions.

"Best of Enemies" does a good job of making the case that ABC's daring decision forever changed the way in which political conventions are covered while also serving as a harbinger for the future of television news and what has come to pass for debate. It goes on to also make the arguement that much of the foundation for today's sharp political divide and the resulting "culture wars" was laid during the 1968 election. Very interesting film.

I also finished reading "Unfaithful Music and Disappearing Ink," the compelling memoir of my favorite singer and songwriter, Elvis Costello. A few people have complained that the book is rambling and indulges itself too much in name-dropping, but I found the book fascinating and the "roaming" style perfectly lent itself to the conversational style of the writing, much in the same way that something said in a conversation might trigger the memory of something else.

In the book, Elvis does not let himself off the hook easily for mistakes made, although he does gloss over a bit the events that led to the demise of his backing band The Attractions and his falling out with original bassist Bruce Thomas. Perhaps that history is covered elsewhere, but hearing it from Elvis' own lips would have been welcome.

Now that the warm glow of holiday joy and half-hearted wishes for peace and love has subsided, I see that Facebook has returned to its usual stream of political bashing, snide remarks, and sophomoric insults that passes for civil discourse and debate in our 21st-century electronic society. I get the sense that some people feel their point is best made by a steady stream of similar posts that bombard the senses rather that a single, well-chosen, articulate post making their point. Debate by sledgehammer, I call it.

While finishing that last paragraph, I happened to glance up at my 2016 Grumpy Cat desk calendar. As is often the case, Grumpy Cat had what seemed to me the perfect way to punctuate my feelings about Facebook these days. From today's calendar entry: "I thought I couldn't be more disappointed. You proved me wrong." Funny, sad, and true all at the same time. You are wise beyond your years, O Grumpy One.

Friday, January 1, 2016

#200 - Turn The Page

First, let me be the 912th person to wish you a Happy New Year. Okay, that's out of the way.

2016 is here and, as is the case with every year, it promises to be filled with ups and downs. New faces will become part of the landscape while familiar names will fade from the scene.

2016 brings with it another Presidential election, and some who are prone to exaggeration and hyperbole are sure the fate of our nation is at stake. For some, the election shapes up as a choice between caring for all of our citizens or caring for the select few. For others, the election is a chance to take back our country from the government and put it back in the hands of its citizenry. The truth, I suspect, is somewhere in-between.

As always, the start of a new year also means a chance for new beginnings. New Year's resolutions will be made - and broken and perhaps re-made and broken again. For years, I religiously made ten resolutions for the coming year. For years, I religiously broke every single one of them. Although I suppose now that is no longer strictly true.

For a number of years, I resolved to do something with and/or about my music. This past year, I finally did. So I guess you can say I'm batting one for 150 or thereabout.

This year, I've decided to make one, all-encompassing resolution. I resolve to do the best I can, to be the best person I can be, to be as happy as I can be on any single given day. I further resolve to worry about tomorrow tomorrow.

Whatever you may resolve for the coming year, I wish you success. Should you stumble and fall, try not to be too hard on yourself. Like me, you're only human.

If your list has room for one more resolution, let it be this. Resolve to be good to yourself in 2016. For if you are not good to yourself, you cannot be good to or be good for others. Happy New Year!