Friday, January 27, 2006

My Neighbor

I have become friends with my neighbor, Ernie, over the last 3 or 4 years since he and his wife moved in. We both are gardeners. He is far more experienced and accomplished than I, but we enjoy discussing our veggies, flowers and lawns.

Recently his wife, Susie had been having back problems, and it was determined that she should have surgery to repair it. Prior to the operation, however, a pre-surgical ex-ray revealed spots on a breast. A biopsy revealed cancer, which necessitated a single mastectomy. After some recovery time, she and Ernie took a trip to Florida to relax and kind of chill out. Four days into their trip Susy suffered a serious stroke. After the first day or so she seemed to be recovering. Then, she had an additional episode, and it was determined that it would be necessary to remove a portion of her skull to relieve pressure. Subsequently, they removed another section of her skull. Now, apparently a significant portion of her brain is effectively gone. Should she survive, she will likely be totally paralyzed. She is 53 years old. If she hadn't had bad luck over the last few weeks, she wouldn't have had any.

I can't say that I know Susie well. She has always been pleasant. She and Ernie have been consistently hard workers. When they moved into their home, it was not in good shape. It had been repossessed and left vacant for several months. The former owners had been a young couple with 2 young children, who also, as it happened, had a thriving drug franchise. A true cottage industry. It's hard to keep up the mortgage payments from jail. Ernie and Susie have made a world of difference next door. Ernie's efforts in their yard have rendered it into a sort of small park. It includes a pond, new perennials, shrubs, fruit and other trees, and the aforementioned veggie garden. They are, by any measure, good neighbors. Ernie is diabetic. I have spotted him lying face up in his back yard a couple of times, when he had worked too hard in the hot sun, and was overcome with out of control sugar levels. Ernie is about 59.

I won't make any "god" comments here, although I'm tempted.

I know Susie has a really rough road ahead of her. I wish her the best. The same for Ernie, and of course, their families.

Get well, Susie.


Thursday, January 26, 2006


Jazzy made a post a few days ago regarding marriage. More specifically, same sex marriage. She's not for it.

The first thing that comes to mind is why does anyone care? Why is this an issue? Now, my being an non-believer, the issue of "marriage" in the religious sense is of little importance to me. As to the "legal" status of same sex couples, it's just not anyone's business. Certainly not the state's.

When people (or a cat) state that the proper home for a child has a mother and father, a woman and a man, and that 2 women or 2 men cannot provide a proper home is just too broad a statement. And often incorrect.

I know a few same sex couples. One of these couples, 2 men, has a daughter. I suppose she's about 8 or 9 by now. Both of these men are well educated. They both hold positions of responsibility in highly visible organizations in Indianapolis. They are, to say the least, doting parents. Their daughter, by any measure I can muster, appears to be very happy and well adjusted. As I understand, she does well in school and has a number of friends. Any problems she has or may encounter owing to her situation at home are more likely to come from without than from within.

What is significant about the above is that it is not a unique situation. Most same sex couples have proven to be at least average, and in many cases well above average parents. I suppose it at least sometimes may be owing to their understanding of the situation as regards the adverse opinions they and their children may encounter from society at large. People of all ages can be, and often are, quite cruel. There are far more examples of abuse and neglect of children of hetero couples.

But Jazzy insists on citing biblical passages to support male/female marriages. I kind of go crazy with that as I think that the bible is irrevelant.

Why do people of faith feel compelled to get involved in other people's private lives? Religious faith, or the lack of it is in my mind a totally personal thing. Each of us has a natural right to make choices about who we love, who we live with, and with whom we chose to couple. How do the sexual proclivities of one person affect anyone else? Again, I believe that it has little to do with altruism. It has nothing to do with concern for the souls of people who choose to go their own way. It has to do with fear. Allowing such behavior in others might reflect badly on the faithful. It may hurt their chances of getting through the pearly gates. I find it difficult to believe otherwise as the response to homosexuality is so often angry and hateful. It is wrong minded to believe that gays are misguided or mentally ill. Hey, if god exists, and he/she/it doesn't like homosexuality, let him/her/it deal with it.

I am not gay. I can't say that I understand the nature of homosexuality. But, I do not believe for a moment that being "gay" is an illness or that it is born of evil. It is simply people who love each other. For whatever reasons, they find fulfillment and/or happiness in relationships, sexual or otherwise, with people of the same sex. I am probably oversimplifying all this, and, perhaps, missing the mark. Someone who is gay could write this much better than I. Suffice it to say, that I believe that anyone should have the right to create a legal and, if it is important to them, a spiritual union with each other. Again, if you don't like the notion of having an intimate relationship with anyone of the same sex, don't have one.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Other Blogs?

I started blogging because I started reading a very popular blog created by my nephew. He lives in NYC and has been writing his blog for over a year. It is often very entertaining and at times informative. He is a good writer. He enjoys an average of over 200 visits a day, and any number of comments left on his various postings. Of course he is 30 something and lives the life of a younger generation. Many of his contemporaries are companion bloggers.
Check it out at

I, on the other hand, am on the verge of fogeyhood. I started this site a couple of months ago, and so far I've had only a few more total visits than the number my nephew averages daily.

Considering the subject matter that I generally deal with herein, I certainly didn't think I would build a following anything like my nephew has. I am truly grateful for Jazzy Cat's visits and involvement in this effort. I have endeavored to return the favor.

But, jeez!

Isn't there anyone else who has stumbled in here who has any interest in any of this, or who has any opinions to offer? Is it all just too boooooorrrrrrring? Would it help if I dealt with pop culture, or if I shared my Ipod downloads? (Just for the record, I don't actually own an Ipod.)
Obviously, I just don't get it. I suppose it was predictible that I would make a post venting my frustration. There are millions of bloggers. My son just shakes his head. "What did you expect?" says he.

Actually, I enjoy doing this regardless of the fact that I am largely talking to myself. It has, as I mentioned to Jazzy Cat, got me writing, thinking and writing. Just sitting down here and organizing my thoughts on any given topic, writing it all down, and going back to edit, is kind of exciting. But I do have enough of an ego that it would be gratifying if a few people acknowledged their presence.

I will strive on regardless. Jazzy Cat and I have gotten some momentum in our discussions.
My lithe fingers will continue to caress the keys of my Dell making magic at the flick of a word.


Any one know where the statue pictured above is located? It depicts a legendary story teller, but not one you would likely have heard of.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

More Hate Crime Stuff

At left is a photo of unblind justice, a statue at the entrance of the municipal courts building in Ulm, Germany. Neat, huh?

It is my understanding of our legal system that motives for crimes are often taken into consideration when determining charges, trying cases and in the sentencing process.

Jazzy Cat suggests that hate itself will become a crime. That people will be brought to justice for spouting hate speech. Of course, I suppose such a danger exists.

What I find amusing here is that Jazzy's concern puts her in agreement with the hated ACLU. It was, in fact, the ACLU which defended the Klan back in (I believe) 1978 and their right to march in heavily jewish Skokie, IL. The ACLU has aided in the defence of individuals and groups from all points on the political spectrum over the years when it appeared that their rights of free speech and/or their right to assemble were being infringed.

While I admit that we are edging onto dangerous ground, I don't believe that it is logical to assume that hate, itself, will become unlawful. It is, however, true that what is considered to be PC in any given environment can have repurcussions in the work place or in society in general. Oddly, there were faculty at a number of universities who were censured or even fired for speaking out either in support of or against the Iraq war. The response was dependent upon the political stance of the respective institutions. Believe it or not, there are a number of conservative universities out there. Not all are bastions of liberalism.

Jazzy states that it is assumed that "to be against same sex marriage is to hate homosexuals." Well, of course, that's not too much of a stretch. But laws pertaining to hate crimes does not extend to those who voice opposition to such unions. However, these laws do pertain to physical violence done to homosexuals or their supporters, if it can be determined that the violence was perpetrated in response to the issue of homosexuality.

Jazzy, how would you respond if you woke in the morning to find that there was suddenly a swell of hate which included a number of verbal and physical attacks on, say, Baptists, or Nazarenes? And these attacks were made simply because the victims were Baptists or Nazarenes? How do you suppose Afro-Americans feel? What went through the minds of European jews in the 1930s and 40s? Do you suppose that they felt that they were victims of hate? Look what those hate crimes wrought.

By the way, the photo in the previous post is of the Holacaust memorial in Berlin. It is built directly over hitler's bunker.


P.S. Jazzy, I still like your pics. I do have more snowy scenes, I suppose, owing to my living in a somewhat more temperate climate than you. But you've got some great mountain and aerial shots which do have snow in them. Actually, I'm not a big fan of snow, or winter for that matter. My job includes working outside to some extent. When the weather is good, not too hot, cold or wet, it's pretty good. But when we get hit with the extremes that sometimes come our way, I can't say that I enjoy it much. The worst in my opinion is wind and rain with temps in the upper 30s or low 40s. That is the pits. I'd rather it be, say, 25 degrees and snowing (sans wind.) At least I don't get rain down the back of my neck, or all over my trusty clipboard.


Hate Crimes

Jazzy Cat made a recent post regarding hate crime laws. Jazzy doesn't care for them. Regards them as laws which make thought a crime. I believe Jazzy is mistaken.

It is in fact the thought behind the crime which is targeted by such laws. It defines the nature of the crime. Hate is at its core. The motive of such crimes is not robbery, or passion as in domestic violence. Most hate crimes are committed against people unknown to the perpetrater(s.) The only motive is hate. Hate for the victim's race, religion, sexual preference, or whatever.

One cannot be arrested for hating others. But one can be held accountable for violent actions born of hate. It is proper for our legal system to recognize this distinction. People have been obsessed with race since before our country's beginning. White people began enslaving native Americans shortly after Columbus first dropped anchor. Soon after, red people were joined in servitude by black people. We made concerted efforts to complete our genocide against native Americans but fell short. The Emancipation Proclamation put an official (if not actual) end to slavery. But the hate has lived on.

Over the last 25 or 30 years targets of hate crimes have come to include homosexuals. More recently still, the polarization of the country into conservative and liberal camps has spawned new, almost equally virulent hatred. Legislation concerning crimes motivated by hate is both proper and necessary.

What is seen in the above image?


Saturday, January 21, 2006


One might assume that being a "bleeding heart" liberal, that I would fall in line with the likes of the Animal and Earth Liberation Fronts. Well --- no.

Members of ALF, ELF, PITA, Greenpeace and others of that ilk are a bunch of self-righteous, sanctimonious assholes. As virtually all of these groups have taken to wanton destruction and violence, they are no better than any other terrorists.

They don't allow for the possiblility that they could be wrong about anything. They have decided how everyone should live, what we should eat, what we should wear. Again, it's either you are for us, or you're against us. One must agree with them whole heartedly, or be considered the enemy. I suspect that most of these people are essentially "true believers" as Eric Hoffer described them. The particular cause is not as important to them as it is to just be a believer. If they weren't in, say, Greenpeace, they would attach themselves to some other cause celeb. These are militant people, radicals. Regardless of the cause, they have the same mind set as neo-nazis or klanners. They are, in effect, environmental nazis. They have to have somebody to hate.

While, generally, I don't support the positions of these groups for a variety of reasons, I am more strenuously opposed to their tactics. Their view is born of sanctimonious sophestry.
I eat meat. It is my right to do so. If they find being carnivorous objectionable, no one is forcing them to order the prime rib. It is within their rights to make their case in the media and through government. They are free to run for public office. If their position is not accepted by the majority, so be it. They do not have the right to destroy my property or do harm to me or those around me. Such people have pretty much the same aversion to modern science as do many religious fundamentalists. These are nutballs who likely are also conspiracy theorists apt to make a mountain out of any mole hill.

Groups opposed to the creation and use of genetically altered grain and other products are, at best, mis-guided. They assume, with the aid of no proof whatsoever, that such products are inherently bad. This position is uninformed and just stupid. Knuckle dragging stupid.

The aim of most genetically altered grains is to feed millions of starving people. The idiots against these products actually went to heads of state in third world countries where seed grain is most needed, and persuaded them to ban their importation or use within their borders. These altered grains were mutated in such a way as to make them viable in less than ideal climatic conditions - that they might grow and produce in harshly arid regions, in less than ideally fertile soil.

How many people are alive and healthy today due to the efforts of medical research using lab animals? I agree it is not pretty. I understand that it is likely that millions of animals of all types have suffered greatly at the hands of some of these researchers. This knowledge is not pleasant to live with. But, who would you rather see survive? Your own children, or a bunch of lab rats, or monkeys, or dogs, or cats? To abandon such research would be no better than radical christians who eschew doctors and hospitals in their insistance that god alone will heal their sick. It's unfortunate, but we must make a choice. However difficult it may be, this is part of the burden we must carry as sentient beings. We can't absolve ourselves from having to make value judgements. Someday, technology may advance to a level where using lab animals in the development of new medicines or procedures will no longer be necessary. But, until such advances are made, the current system is the best we've got. Or, we could just abandon all of it and take our chances with the plague. Would that be preferable?

Penn and Teller make an excellent case against these groups on one of their Bullshit installments on Showtime.

I am no apologist for corporate america. I believe that greed, corruption and ignorance run rampant in many large corporations, and much of it is likely in league with government at all levels. I don't, however, look upon this as some kind of monolithic conspiracy. Rather, it is more likely individual cases of opportunism and corruption.

I do believe that the likes of Carl Rove and other Bushites have sold social conservatives a bill of goods. It has proven convenient and very useful for them to align with and support religious fundamentalists so long as it doesn't interfere with corporate profits. Just as the Raptiles are willing to use Jews and others in their war against whatever the current enemy is perceived to be, only to abandon them to eternal damnation in the end (unless they make that all important switch to jesus) , so too, the political conservatives will continue to make use of the religious right so long as it serves their purpose.

I am not a conspiracy wonk, but I am, rather, a hardened skeptic. I believe, for instance, that compassionate conservative is a contradiction of terms.

Anyone not happy in this technological society are certainly free to distance themselves from it. . Get yourself a buggy and become amish. If you have a lot of money, create your own little self-sustaining community apart from the rest of society as was depicted in that ridiculous film, The Village.

Don't eat meat. Be a vegan. Grow only organic food. Don't wear fur or leather. Get your own whale and save it. Write books. Give speeches. As I suggested above, get elected. State your case. But understand that not everyone will agree with you. Perhaps someday, if you persist in such efforts, the majority will see the light. But you can't shove it down our throats by destroying property, harming or killing people. You have no right to force us to live by your rules.

Once you are born, the only absolute is death. Everything else is relative. See a shrink. Get some Prosac. Lighten up.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

Walking & Talking

I am pushing 60. Two years ago, I walked in the 500 Mini-Marathon. Last year, I got fat again and didn't do the Mini. Once again, I am on the trail. Prior to the Mini 2 years ago, I had lost just over 50 pounds. I walked the walk - the last 3 miles seemed like a death march - but I finished. Then I stopped. I guess I felt that, hey - been there, done that. Over the next year I managed to find more than 30 of the pounds I had lost.

I signed up for this spring's Mini, and I am determined to not stop there. I have begun a regimen of walking either out amongst the elements or inside on a treadmill. My biggest problem seems to be with my knees. They just don't care for the abuse. I walked just over 5 miles this afternoon. It was somewhat of a struggle. With my knees complaining, it seemed that most of today's walk was uphill.

I usually walk the neighborhood. Occasionally, I walk on a quarter mile track at a nearby school. Some people don't care for a track as they claim that it becomes boring. I really don't mind it. The best thing about it is that you know specifically how far you've walked, you don't have to worry about vehicular traffic, irregular surfaces, hills, dogs, and so on.

But walking in a residential neighborhood can be interesting. I tend to wave or say hi to most people I encounter. Most respond. A few ignore me. Don't know what their problem is.

I noticed that while in Germany, very few people returned a nod, or a wave. I think this was especially true when we were in former East German cities - Leipzig, Halle, etc. It occured to me that most of these people are still relatively new to living in a free society. It's only been 15 years or so since the "wall" came down. Younger people seemed to be more responsive than adults - especially older folks. I guess if you have lived most of your life under the thumb of the Stasi, scared shitless about who might be spying on you, your instinct would likely be to not make eye contact, or otherwise communicate with people on the street.

It has been my experience that the farther south one goes in the USA, the more responsive people tend to be. In New York City, where I lived for a couple of years, it was rare to make any contact with anyone on the street. Of course, when you are walking down a sidewalk with quite literally thousands of people, you'd go crazy trying to say "hey" to everyone.

I live in central Indiana. Here, I guess most people will give a return wave unless your downtown, where urban rules apply. A good reason for this is that making contact with someone on a city street is very likely to result in some guy with really bad b.o. approaching you asking for change or, whatever. Most Hoosiers will wave if you're out in the country, say passing a farmer coming up the road driving their harvester, or some such.

I spent 2 glorious years of my life during the mid 60s at Ft. Hood, Texas while serving our country. (Imagine me protecting you?) A number of my friends and I rented houses first in neighboring Killeen and later out in the little town of Belton (home of Mary Harding Baylor College - all girls.) Just about everybody goes out of their way to say "Hey, how ya doin'?"

I guess I shouldn't try to analyze this phenomenon too deeply. Urban life is far removed from the more bucolic environs of the mid-west or the south. Generally, one must be more guarded in the city than when in smaller, more relaxed small towns and rural areas.

I'm not sure what sent me off on this track. This country just seems so polarized. The message seems to be that you are either with us or you're against us. Suspicion of others is epidemic. We have lived in our neighborhood for over 10 years. I only know the names of 2 or 3 people on our street. I have struck up a pleasant relationship with our immediate neighbor, Ernie, and a more tentative one with a fellow two doors down. Otherwise, we really know no one. Neighbors aren't very neighborly. Nor, I guess, are we. Our former next door neighbors were drug dealers. A happy young couple with 2 little kids and a thriving home business. It occured to me that the people pulling up in their drive at midnight were not likely to be buying Tupperware. A woman who lived a few doors down was having an affair with a deputy sheriff who ultimately beat her up. Another fellow down the street is a biker who has many colorful guests. This is not a "bad" neighborhood as those things go. It's a typical, if somewhat older, area of moderate sized, generally well kept, ranch & split level homes. We just don't generally feel comfortable opening up to many of the people around here. I guess that is sad, but what are ya gonna do?


Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Tony Dungy, Peyton Manning & The Colts

All kinds of analysis of the Colt's crash & burn against the Steelers is whirling around Indy. Well, here's my 2 cents worth.

Tony Dungy by any standard it would seem, is a good man. He obviously has a great mind for football. The latter can apparently be said of offensive coordinator, Tom Moore as well. Not ever having heard Tom Moore so much as say boo, I can't vouch for his character. I don't think he's been thrown in jail or accused of beating his dog or anything.

When things are going well for Peyton Manning on the field, when he has enough time to find his receivers, he is often brilliant.


A couple of years ago Mike Vanderjagt, our "liquored up kicker," made an accusation against Dungy and Manning regarding their apparent lack of emotion. Of course everyone from here to Tampa lambasted Vanderjagt for such an outrageous statement. Was he wrong? Given the Colt's poor showing in the playoffs the last 3 years, I'd have to concede that perhaps Vandy had a point. What has been missing in the 3 most recent of the Colt's miserable playoff losses? Perhaps it has been, after all, a lack of passion and emotion. In all 3 of those games, they were outhustled and outplayed. The Colts responded like a deer in headlights.

The Colt's arguably have as much or more talent on their roster across the board as any team in the league, certainly at the so called "skill" positions. And yet, come the playoffs, they haven't managed to be competitive. (Take away the improperly overturned interception, and last Sunday's game would have likely ended at no better than 21-3 and could have been worse.) Are we to believe that Pittsburgh or even New England are or were that much more talented than the Colts? I don't think so. In my humble opinion the difference lay wholly on mental and emotional preparedness. That is the job of the coaching staff.

I believe that coaching changes - mainly Dungy and Moore - should be seriously considered. The brain trust at Tampa Bay apparently realized that Dungy could not take them to the next level. Enter John Gruden. Further, it is possible that Moore and Manning are just too comfortable with each other. Perhaps Manning is given too much responsibility. Let the coaches coach and the players play. Manning has made what appear to be poor choices in play calling in crucial situations.

Given Bill Polian's 0-4 Super Bowl record at Buffalo, the ongoing playoff failures here in Indy, coupled with Dungy's and Manning's past failures in "the big ones." (remember, Manning never won any significant championships at Tennessee either,) shaking things up might ultimately be the best thing that could happen to this team.


Sunday, January 15, 2006

Another Playoff Loss

Woe is us! The Colts stymied again. What is it gonna take to get them to be mentally ready to play at the next level? The fact that they almost pulled it off through a series of bizarre plays and rulings late in the game are of little comfort. The Steelers simply out played and out hustled them. You gotta give credit where it's due.

While the photo at left has no connection with the above, I thought I'd throw it in here because its a pretty good shot. (It is a photo of the main walkway leading to the Belvedere Palace in Vienna taken in December of 1999.) Much better to look at this than to think about the coming year living with yet another failed NFL season. (I know, I should get a life. I have one, but well, it's a guy thing, I guess.)

It looks as if the Pacers are pretty much out of the mix as well. Ron Artest has now, single handedly, sabotoged 2 consecutive Pacer seasons. While a good trade might help salvage things, it seems more likely that it will end in another frustrated effort. I'm usually not so much of a pessimist, but, perhaps, the Pacers could use a good house cleaning. I just don't think they have the chemistry or the mind-set of a championship team. I don't think people, myself included, understood how much Reggie Miller meant to this team. Reggie was accurate when he pointed out that the Pacers still had chemistry problems at the beginning of the season. Without Artest, they just don't have the horses to compete at the top level of the league. I certainly don't subscribe to bringing him back to the fold. He is, in a word, nuts. He's several minutes short of an hour. Frankly, I think any team who takes him will ultimately regret it. He is one hell of a player, but he is, to be kind, mentally unstable. He will crash and burn again, whether it's in Indy or anywhere else.

Indianapolis could use a championship of some kind. Other than a couple of championships by our triple A baseball team, the Indians, over the years, you would have to go back to IU's 1987 NCAA championship for any solace. It's been a long drought. The old ABA Pacers won a couple of championships, but that goes back to the 70s.

Well, now they can get the RCA Dome ready for tractor pulls and dirt bike races. Yeehaw!


The Book of Daniel - Puleeeeze!

I have suffered through about one and a half episodes of NBC's The Book of Daniel. I couldn't make it through the second installment.

What a load of crap!

Let's get this straight. We have an Episcopal priest, Aiden Quinn, who routinely pops a copious amount of pills. His wife is a borderline alcoholic. His daughter is a drug dealer and inveterate liar. His son is gay. His adoptive Asian son is having sex with a 15 year old girl. (This girl's mother is a racial bigot.) His boss, Ellen Burstyn, the bishop, is having an affair with his still married father who is also a bishop. His mother has altheimers. His brother in-law stole over 3 million dollars of the church's money, but is now dead. The brother in-law's wife is a nut case and is having an affair with the woman who may have killed her husband, presumably for the money. Oh, yeah - this priest has regular conversations with jesus, who appears as a slightly emaciated, fair haired, anglo properly attired in white robes.

There is also an Italian catholic priest who, predictably, has mob connections. It goes on.

Gag! The whole premise is - to say the least - absurd. This priest has little business offering unction to anyone. Blowing his brains out would be the most merciful action to take. This series has taken prime time soap opera to yet a new, lower level. Added to all this is the fact that it is, at best, poorly written. The characters are predictable and all too familiar. I suppose that this is NBC's answer to Desparate Housewives. Each new round of such shows simply attempts to push the envelope just far enough to (lightly) shock and titillate without taking it so far as to insult or otherwise repel potential viewers. The press this show got before its debut guaranteed strong viewer numbers - at least for a few episodes. Our local NBC affiliate even had a group of clergymen (and woman) view the first episode and respond to it after. None seemed to be particularly upset about the show from a religious standpoint.

Obviously, my only complaint about its religious content is that it has any at all. Of all the programs in recent years having some kind of religious theme or which dealt in any way concerning the existence of god or an afterlife, the only one I found palatible was Showtime's Dead Like Me which was an irreverent take on the whole death thing. It really dealt more with life - specifically the life of Georgia Lass, a teenager, who is suddenly killed by a toilet seat falling out of the sky from the Russian Mir Space Station. She is recruited to be a Grim Reaper - one who prepares the way for others when meeting death. It, too, is ultimately absurd, but the writing was great and the humor hip and sardonic. Unfortunately, Showtime cancelled it after only a couple of seasons.

I don't much care whether The Book of Daniel succeeds or not. It will do what it does. If it makes money for those involved, then it will have done its job, I guess. But, I won't be going along for the ride.


Friday, January 13, 2006

Molly Ivins

I just finished listening to Molly Ivins' Who Let the Dogs In? In it she skewers about everyone to the right of Lenin. Ya gotta' love it. I listened to her read her tome, Bushwhacked a few months ago. She is an intelligent, sincere lady who, I believe is an honest to goodness gracious American in the truest sense. She is a liberal. Yes the "L" word, but not that of Showtime infamy. A bleeding heart liberal. And proud of it! That she hails from Texas, just makes it sweeter. While she often approaches American politics with tongue firmly in cheek, at heart she is in earnest. She recognizes the absurdity of much of what goes on in government at all levels. But she also recognizes that governance is not a game. Government affects virtually every aspect of our lives. She knows, that as ridiculous as some politicos' antics often are, these people are powerful and can, through their maneuvers in smoke filled rooms and their votes, give us the ability to stay in the round, or send us crashing to the mat. If you haven't had the pleasure, listen to, or read either or both of these books. You'll be glad you did.


Thursday, January 12, 2006

On Death

I recently finished reading Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking. It covers a one year period which began with her daughter's being admitted to a hospital seriously ill and comatose and the sudden death of her husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, of a heart attack as they sat down to dinner just a few evenings later. They had been married over 40 years. It is a painful but rather exquisite journey with Ms. Didion reflecting on her loss, mourning and grief.

I am 60 years old. I lost my father in 1978 to colon and liver cancer. He was 74. My eldest brother died in 1989 of a heart attack at age 60. My mother was 92 at her death, finally succumbing to, I guess, just being old. I have seen both my father and mother in-law pass, several of my wife's uncles as well as her youngest brother and sister. My wife is the oldest of eight.

Death is, perhaps, the most difficult of life's changes with which we must deal. It is so absolute. Absolutely permanent. No recourse. Regardless Ms. Didion recounts how she continued certain routines and resisted changing things regarding her husband on the notion that, somehow, he might yet come back. That there might have been some kind of mistake. He still might need his slippers, or he wouldn't like finding his desk in disarray. He had projects to finish.

Although my father has been gone the longest, I miss him the most. I can't say we were close. He was a difficult man. An alcoholic by any standard. He was bitter and had a foul temper, especially when drunk. But, underneath that, he was a man of intelligence and good humor. While he never rose much above working class wages, he provided well for my mother. She never wanted for anything materially.

I often wonder what it would have been like if, instead, he had outlived my mother. I'm sure it would have been difficult. He had pretty well estranged both of my brothers, who had little use for him. Oddly, my wife loved him. She saw the good natured rascality in him that was too often obscured by his drinking. She saw him as a victim of a cloying, judgmental wife. He was profoundly lonely and alone. My wife knew he was no saint, but she also understood that we, as a family, had badly misjudged him. Sadly, I didn't really see it until after he was gone. Now, I wish I could bring him back. He never knew my kids. (The day of visitation for my dad's funeral was also the day my wife discovered that she was pregnant with our older son.) I believe he would have liked them. They are both intelligent, good humored and strong willed. That last -much more so than any of my dad's children, including yours truly.

So, where am I going with this little lament? Of course, there is the usual warning sign: Don't wait to make a connection with someone. Once they are gone, the opportunity dies with them. All that may be left to you is regret.

As to this topic's connection with the stated theme of my blog site, I suppose it may seem not an altogether smooth segue, but generally our feelings about death are bound to our belief, or lack thereof, in a life beyond. Obviously, I fall in the latter category. A belief in eternal life - a life in another realm sans our physicality - is based on exactly no evidence beyond fantasy. It is truly irrational. Near death experiences offer no proof of anything beyond. The "white light" and other sights and sounds experienced when one has a brush with death, no matter how visceral are simply manifestations of the brain. It is what the brain "does" in those instances. The brain is "programmed" if you will, to protect us from emotional trauma when it can.

The horrors the world is being subjected to, mainly by Islamist extremists and our response to it, are directly connected to their unbending belief in a glorious, eternal life beyond as martyrs at the foot of Allah. Regardless of what tradition one follows, a belief in a life beyond, and the consequent devaluation of our earthly existence is contrary to reality and to progress. If the masses believed that this life is all there is, the value of it would soar. Wasted, aimless effort would likely diminish (not disappear, of course - we would still be human, and fallible, after all.) We could certainly better focus our attention on the here and now, on improving our earthly existence. We could make greater strides against ignorance and disease. We could reduce suffering, and, perhaps, extend our lives by years, maybe decades. Such efforts are ongoing, but often are stifled by those who position themselves against science and against the intellect.

Unfortunately, such people remain in power, although the recent mid-term elections provide some hope for the near future. However, the administration remains in control of the purse strings of much scientific research, and they are niggardly in their support of it. It has been suggested by some in government and even moreso from the pulpit that scientific research, the quality of the environment, and so on are of no particular concern owing to the coming Rapture. Those who remain on earth will be doomed to hell in any case, so why be concerned for their brief existence on a ravaged planet? When God deems it appropriate to return the "Raptiles" to an earthly existence, he will, it is said, rid the planet of pollutants and ugliness, so his ardent flock will not be offended by the offal of the damned.

Believing that my death totally and unequivocally ends my existence is not a particularly happy prospect. It is certainly attractive to imagine that the essence of "me-ness" could live on for eternity. But, as I have stated repeatedly, such a notion is nothing more than a human conceit. We find it hard, nearly impossible, to accept that we are of no more importance to the universe than our brief stay on this little planet. We, in our fantasies, dreams and nightmares can imagine a vast array of life, and after-life scenarios. We are free to believe these phantoms, or dismiss them as we choose. I once believed in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. But, alas, I came to the unavoidable conclusion that they are simply attractive myths (although I must admit to a couple of appearances as the Jolly Old Elf on a couple of occasions.)

I remember being fascinated by the writings of Carlos Casteneda which provided a whole new universe of spiritual awareness. Attention was brought to them initially due to their involvement with hallucinogenic drugs, mescaline and the like. The first one or two books, as I remember, were actually a part of Casteneda's doctoral thesis in anthropology or ethnography. For several years, a number of mainly younger "hippy" folks believed these books to be factual accounts of Casteneda's spiritual journey under the tutelage of a Yaqui brujo or sorcerer known as Don Juan. More recently, this notion has been thrown into serious doubt. However, if taken as fiction, these works are at least highly imaginative and wonderfully written. His books have sold millions. Whether or not the man, Don Juan, actually did or does now exist is largely beside the point, as some have claimed regarding Jesus. Someone, whether it be the likes of Don Juan or Carlos Casteneda, did manage to recount or create a truly intriguing series of books which examine many levels of human consciousness. There are, of course, a number of web sites dedicated to Carlos Casteneda and his work.

But, do I believe in the otherworldly aspects of his work? Do I believe that "Death" is always with us, sitting on our left shoulder, just waiting for the proper moment to strike? No. I believe that it amounts only to Don Juan's or, more likely, Casteneda's artful myth making. The world Casteneda created in his books is thought provoking, at times frightening and often, fascinating. But, ultimately, I believe it to be a fiction.

How to end this? I'm not sure. As I will no doubt be dealing with most of these issues in the future, I don't feel the need to "wrap it all up." in one summarizing paragraph. Rather, I will just leave off here in the hope or expectation that I will be inspired to further this discussion as time and the desire to do so permits.

I do recommend both the Didion book and any or all of Casteneda's work for anyone's perusal. The former is both informative and moving. The latter are, if nothing more, great reads.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Inter Blog Response

I have been having a prolonged discussion with another blogger, one concerning left and right wing issues on which we generally differ widely. I have been posting long winded responses on jazzycat's blog. It occured to me that I am depleting my already skimpy supply of energy and time leaving me little or none to use on this site. So, in the future, I will normally post any responses to jazzycat here. Actually, it matters little as it's possible that jazzycat is the only other human or, er, feline, who has spent any time here. Well, that's all right. Who knows, some other unsuspecting soul might stumble in here unawares and suddenly find him or herself enmeshed in this nasty web of bantering.

As an acknowledgement of Jazzycat's contributions herein I offer the above photo. My eldest brother, who passed away back in 1989, was the pastor of this little church in rural Indiana. I took this pic on a January day while enroute to his funeral service which was to be held at the church.

Now, as to Jazzycat. For a cat, she has a lot of opinions. She has lumped the media - the mainstream media down to just MSM. I suppose that is not original with her, but it tends to make the assumption that all the media - Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, etc., excepted - is a monolith of left wing agendas. Anytime the media questions, say, the Bush administration, or is otherwise critical of it, the assumption is made that it comes from left leaning media mopes.

Doesn't any sitting president, simply by virtue of his (or, perhaps someday, her) position expect to take hits from all sides? Did the media play hands off with regards to Bill Clinton and his oval office forays? Hardly. It was, however, strangely mum on Newt Gingrich's affair with a younger woman while he was still married. Gingrich, was the fellow who announced how he was going to put right all the moral wrongs which, as he put it, grew out of the 60s counter culture and LBJs "great society."

Jazzycat states that the entertainment media has an agenda. What I have come to understand about the entertainment media, their only agenda of significance is the bottom line. It is an integral part of corporate America. It exists to make money. The entertainment media sways with the political winds. Ten or twelve years ago a show like Touched by an Angel could not have gotten air time, not on a major network, anyhow. Since its success, any number of similar spiritually related dramatic series have come along (and in most cases, thankfully, gone.)

It is my position that government has no business legislating morality. I find it so confounding how right wing moralists have no problem with laws controling what a person does in the privacy of his or her bedroom, denying individuals the right to create a legal union with whoever they wish, regardless of sex, denying women the right to abortion, etc. while they demand that government stay out of their business, and out of their pockets.

If you are opposed to abortion, don't have one. If you find homosexuality offensive, don't be or associate with one. Live your life as you wish. Don't expect to have the right to force others to live by your rules. They do you no harm. This insistence on legislating how people should live smacks me of ultimate selfishness. The concern is not with the offenders. It is rather the fear that by allowing such behavior in others they may somehow hurt their chances of getting into paradise. Guilt by association. This is just another instance when I wonder just what kind of god is this? People are far more capable of discerning who may be guilty, of what, and how. Our jurisprudence does not recognize guilt by association. But, god is not capable of this? Hmmm.

Of course, I am not indicating that homosexuals or those seeking or obtaining abortions, are guilty of anything. The accusers, however, do. I know that bible thumpers love to point out that homosexuality is an abomination. That man lying with man (or by extension, woman lying with woman) is an abominable act punishable by death. However, a number of other heinous acts are also sited in the same bible with like punishments including the mixing of cotton and wool. (The thought just curdles my blood.) I think a number of designers and untold numbers of textile workers are in line for eternal damnation.

It has been suggested (by whom, I admit to not remembering) that the Puritans did not come to the new world so much to escape religious persecution, but, rather, to escape a climate in which they were denied the right to persecute others. I can't really make an informed comment on that, but given their track record of disdaining our worldly existence and consequent disapproval of earthly joy, the spector of the Salem witch trials, and other similar persecutions, it is little wonder that such sanctimonious self righteousness lingers with us to this day as our moralistic heritage.

Jazzycat. Are you the pilot of the plane in your photos? Years ago I had the pleasure of working for Teeny Weeny Airlines (otherwise known as TWA.) I took flying lessons during that time in Beechcraft Musketeers. I only accumulated around 50 hours or so, and never obtained a license, but I did have the opportunity to do a few short cross country solos. It was great. I hoped to get my private license, but I moved to NYC before I could take the written, and finish up in the air. I went out to Teeterboro Airport in NJ to see if I could continue lessons there. They said" "Sure. All you have to do is buy one of our planes." Well, I didn't have enough on me (or anywhere else, for that matter) to make a Musketeer my own. I haven't piloted since.

On a related note, any of you all who have had the opportunity to fly overseas, know what a pleasure it is, especially in these post 9-11 days. When boarding the AA 777, I observed that they had first class seating, business class seating and, for us, no class seating. We were sardined into seats obviously designed by the likes of Twiggy for our 8+ hour journey. That was, of course mitigated by the fact that the movies offered were, to be kind, awful, and the food served was uh, well . . . it sucked. I will note that a small personal pizza served as a snack late in our return flight didn't quite "suck." It wasn't good, but neither was it altogether bad. Maybe it had more to do with the realization that this "snack" being served marked the last hour of our journey back to Chicago.

By the way, London's Heathrow Airport also sucks. It's huge, and it sucks. It is not a pleasant place to go through. I don't know if it's any better at, say Orly, or perhaps Brussels. (I can say that while it, too, is quite large, the Amsterdam airport is relatively pleasant, open and modern - at least those areas we found ourselves in on our trip to and from Vienna just prior to the millenium.) Franz Joseph Airport outside Munich is also rather nice.

As I mentioned above, I worked for an airline several years ago, well before Ronnie's deregulation of the industry and the rise of terrorism. Flying was an adventure then. It was, for the most part, fun. Passengers were treated like customers, not threats. It was during my tenure with TWA that the first political hijacking of an airliner took place - with a Cuban dissident demanding that the plane land in Havana (or was it Miami or Ogden, Utah?)
It seemed unreal. How could anyone do such a thing? It was uncivilized. Well, civilization has continued to plummet since. The Cubans largely gave up the practice a few decades ago. But the palestinians and other islamists have more than taken up the slack since. All in the name of allah - of god. Is allah any less able to fight his own battles than our good old, all powerful, christian god, our lord of lords? Why don't the two of them just square off. The best god wins. Wins what, I don't know. Some kind of celestial trophy, perhaps. Or front row seats (for god and his #1 archangel, Kenny) at an Oprah taping. Of course, such a contest could never be put together as each god (or their devotees at any rate) denies the existence of the other - you know - one god and all. Maybe one of them would agree to a trade including Ron Artest. He is, after all, a self-proclaimed "Lord of the Court." (I know, this makes no sense and is pretty much a non-sequitur- but, what the hell, I'm running out of gas, and it just came to me.)

Gotta go.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Back in the USA

Been back from Germany a couple of days now. It's good to be home, to sleep in our own bed. But the trip was great, if exhausting. We briefly toured sites in Ulm, Halle (en Salle,) Leipzig, Berlin and Munich. Ulm is a beautiful little town. Feels very Bavarian. There is apparently money in this town. Despite its relatively small size, it sports Rolex and Prada stores among other rather toney outlets.

We met my son's girl friend's family - her mother, brother, sister and her mother's boyfriend. They are good people. Her Mutter is a great cook and they have a wonderful home. We had a christmas gift exchange alongside a (real) tree bedecked with lighted candles. My son's girl friend and her sister entertained us with a violin and piano duet, and all of us sang carols in both Deutsche and English.

It snowed from the time we landed at the Munich airport until late the next day. I took the above photo from our bedroom window at their house at about 3:00AM. Pretty artsy, eh?

We stayed in Ulm a couple of days, and then, using her Mutter's car, a Ford Focus wagon, the five of us with all of our luggage drove north to Halle. This was my first adventure driving on the autobahn. They do move right along. It began snowing again during our drive making the trip a little dicey. We arrived in Halle around 5:00PM, after dark.

Halle is the birthplace of Handel. As I mentioned, my son is a singer. He has sung a lot of Handel over the last 2 or 3 years. He has the Messiah nailed.

I won't bore anyone reading this further with the minutiae of our travels. While we went to many interesting, and often historical places, the best part of the trip was seeing our son and his girl friend; being with them for several days. It was great fun.

We did eat some wonderful food. Probably the best was at a restaurant in Berlin called Bangin'. It's located across the street from a restaurant at which Bill Clinton and Gerhardt Schroeder supposedly ate together some years ago. We intended to go there, but it was rather pricey and, oddly, nearly empty. We looked across the street at Bangin'. It was busy and somewhat less expensive. No brainer. The food was great. A friend of my son's, a pianist, met us earlier and acted as a tour guide for us. He is an impressive young man.

More later.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Going Abroad and The Continuingly Stupid Pat Robertson

Well, I'm sure all of my loyal readers (and that means both of you) have been waiting with baited breath for my return to the blog wars.

I have spent the last several days with my family in Germany. In short, Germany is a beautiful country with warm, highly accomplished, and talented people who are nevertheless shackled with a horrific past which still lingers over them like a heavy cloud cover. As the days unfold, I hope to post some reflections on our trip. Suffice it to say, we had a great time, visiting with my son, who I hadn't seen in nearly a year, and getting to see both old and new Germany.

On another front.

Pat Robertson is a mind-numbingly stupid man. He gives religion a bad name. One can only hope that god visits his wrath on him for being an example of the walking brain dead. It's simply beyond belief that someone so utterly out of touch with being human could have attained such prominence.

I am not a particular fan of Ariel Sharon, although I do applaud his efforts in attempting to end the ongoing slaughter between his people and the Palestinians. But. Robertson's suggestion that god has vented his wrath against Sharon for his concessions to the Palestinians in returning land to them in Gaza and the West Bank, is not only stupid, but presumptive and insulting. Robertson presumes to have an inside track to the mind of his god. Sadly, all too many people believe that to be true. Given the realm within which Robertson lives and works, suggesting that Sharon brought his condition on himself is the ultimate insult.

Considering Robertson's previous invocations, one can only conclude that he is a complete ass. Why so many people suffer this man's stupidity is beyond me.

Reading suggestion: Perhaps the best book I have read is also the most recent. Sam Harris' The End of Faith is the most insightful and realistic look into the devastating effect that religion has and continues to have on humanity. Mr. Harris has written what may be the most important book in years regarding the peril that religion places on our future. It is most harsh, and rightly so, on islam, but ultimately inclusive of all the world's religions. He also looks at the nature of consciousness and its relationship to a belief in god and its being the ultimate definer of humanity itself. That last is a bit difficult to follow, but well worth the trip.