Monthly Archives: August 2012

Labor Day

Labor Day weekend is here – the traditional end to summer, even though summer doesn’t officially end until the 22nd of September this year. It used to be that this marked the return to school, and in Virginia it still does; the tourist sites need all those minimum wage high school students to work through the holiday. However, in many areas, the schools have been in full session for two or three weeks.

Oh, and for you sports fans I hear it’s the start of the NFL and college football seasons.

It became a federal holiday after striking workers were killed by federal agents and troops. I guess it was Grover Cleveland’s way of throwing labor a bone. “Sorry about killing those folks. Here’s a holiday. Are we square now?” Think Han Solo tossing the coin to the bartender and saying, “Sorry about the mess.”

WPA Mural
Cincinnati, OH

Having a couple of business administration degrees, I have spent most of my time working in management. The big secret is that it’s management’s job to remove the obstacles that prevent labor from producing products or services. Management doesn’t produce anything of value – it’s labor that does that. If management is not supporting production by labor then it engages in the illusion of production. Meetings are held, reports generated and great thoughts thunk – none of which is for the benefit of the customer. That’s why there isn’t a “Management Day” three day weekend.

So, here’s to labor. I hope everyone enjoys the holiday. Labor earned it (as did good managers.) Celebrate the summer, – not just the end, and toast the working men and women of this country.

Oh, and say a little prayer that by next Labor Day more of us will celebrate as members of the workforce.

 

T’would Be Better If We Made This a Contest

There are thousands of words in the English language. It seems like we get knotted up in the latest buzzwords and abandon words that would be far more fun. I mean, wouldn’t it be a better world if we not only DIDN’T have the word “sexting” but had no need for it?

Is “Wassup!?” really a word? If so, why?

What does it really meant when we say that we’re “networking our paradigm shift in order to create a synergistic outcome?”

 

I say that we should dig out some of the forgotten words and bring them back. Here are a few examples to get us started:

“If you kids don’t settle down I swear I shall come down and smite both of you!”

“They wanted me to join them, but told them I shan’t.”

“My children have changed from Nike to Aeropostale livery.”

“Ann Landers had a particularly good response in today’s agony column.”

“I’d like to stop newspaper delivery as we’ll be on holiday for a fortnight and I don’t wish to alert any of the ne’er-do-wells.”

“When Justin Bieber pointed to her, I swear she was positively consumed by the vapors!”

“Now that the kids are grown we traded in the SUV for a brougham.”

“Bob needs a new suit, so it’s off to the haberdashers.”

“I used to buy her school clothes, but she’s just too persnickety
now.”

“It’s happy hour. If you order one drink you’ll get twain!”

Okay, maybe not.

If you have examples, send them. Best submission gets to pick the next contest.

Hurricanes 101

Hurricanes may seem like “polite” disasters. After all, there is usually advance warning that the hurricane is coming, unlike tornadoes that sometimes erupt suddenly in the middle of the night. For those readers who do not live in coastal areas, believe me when I say this is an illusion. As we watch Isaac hit Louisiana on the anniversary of Katrina, allow me to share my version of “Hurricanes 101.”

Hurricane and typhoon are actually regional names for what is properly termed a tropical cyclone. Cyclone comes from the Greek word for “to rotate.” Because cyclones rotate counterclockwise in the northern hemisphere, cyclonic is sometimes used to describe other entities that rotate counterclockwise. Without getting too technical, when the pressure in one area of the atmosphere drops, Mother Nature tries to add air to bring it back up to average – this causes winds. The earth’s rotation impacts how the winds attempt to fill that low pressure area causing the low pressure area to rotate. Sitting out over the ocean, if the water is warm, this adds energy, which can result in a hurricane. From above the spiral of the hurricane is readily visible with the center of the storm – the “eye” being relatively calm. In the northern hemisphere the front of the hurricane blows more or less east to west followed by the calm eye and the back of the storm is closer to west to east winds.

We have advance warnings about hurricanes because they can be tracked by radar, weather buoys and special aircraft that fly into the hurricane and take pressure, speed and other readings. When a hurricane is being tracked, the process is complicated and not as precise as we would like. The path is impacted by such external factors as wind, high and low pressure systems, and water temperature. A change in direction is not easy to accurately identify. When a hurricane’s course looks as if it will change, meteorologists debate whether it is a real direction change or just a “wobble” in the existing track. They try to err on the side of caution and project whichever path encourages people to prepare for the worst.

If you don’t live in a hurricane area, it might seem that there is always plenty of time to evacuate ahead of the storm. For all intents and purposes, evacuees need to be on the road about 3 days ahead of the hurricane’s eye. Even though they reverse highway lanes so that all traffic is headed away from the coast, traffic tends to be bumper to bumper, stop and go. Since hurricanes tend to occur in warmer weather, people keep their cars running even when stopped to keep the air conditioning running. Inevitably some will run out of gas, further complicating traffic. Those who try to evacuate with less than 3 days head start run a significant risk of getting stuck and trying to ride out the storm inside an automobile. This is one reason why so many people tend to stay at home and “ride out” the storm.

The actual weather associated with a hurricane is experienced well ahead of the hurricane’s eye. The spiral rainbands can extend up to 100 miles ahead of the eye and deliver both significant rain and high winds. Sometimes we’ll see a hurricane “stall” and just keep raining on one area. If part of the storm is over open water, the hurricane can continue to pick up water vapor and immediately dump it on land. While the wind is the most visually impressive, it is actually the tremendous amounts of heavy rain that are dumped on the land referred to as “storm surge”. Add to this the fact that the hurricane’s right side in relation to its direction of travel often spawns tornadoes.

Since hurricanes affect coastal areas, there are additive issues that make them especially deadly. Start with the wind and rain ahead of the eye, add the tornadoes and then factor in tides. The leading edge of an east coast hurricane rotates so that the wind is blowing from the Atlantic toward land. This can keep a high tide from emptying into the ocean such that the next high tide is added to the previous one. Now add the rain from the hurricane itself and the inevitable flooding is the sum of all of these factors. The debris from structures damaged by both wind and water now can be carried by the flood waters and strike other structures with the force of raging flood waters creating even more damage.

Legend has it that early meteorologists used the first names of politicians to name hurricanes alluding to both having lot of hot air and creating a lot of damage. To hide this practice, they switched to the first names of politicians’ wives, which is why for many years hurricanes had female names. This may not be true, but it’s a great story. Today, male and female names are alternated and the names of particularly deadly hurricanes are retired from the list.

For more information, NOAA – the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the agency that includes the National Weather Service has a great site on hurricanes including a free downloadable booklet called “Hurricane Basics.”

A Freshly Pressed Thank You

First, thank you to WordPress for the “Freshly Pressed” honor.

Second, thanks to my regular readers. You’ve kept me encouraged for nearly two years.

Third, thank you to everyone who stopped by today. I’ll try to write something interesting enough often enough to make it worth your while to stop back on a regular basis.

 

Good Bye, Neil Armstrong

Like many other bloggers, I’m just going to offer my thoughts on the passing of Neil Armstrong.

The picture everybody has seen over the past few days.

I like to call it, “A man happy at work.”

He hated to be called a hero – he was humble.

He flew the X-15, a rocket plane dropped from flying bomber. I remember having a Scholastic Book Service book about the X-15 in grade school. The X-15 was the coolest thing in the world until the Mercury program came along.

He was a Naval Aviator, but after three years and the rank of ensign, he moved to NACA, the predecessor to NASA.

He flew in the Gemini program with David Scott. They performed the first space docking with another spacecraft, an Agena test vehicle. This was a critical capability that would be used as part of the Apollo spacecraft on its way to the moon. He was the first American civilian in orbit.

NASA had prepared charts of the moon – laid out in a manner similar to the charts pilots use on earth for the approach to an airport. Neil was supposed to “fly the pattern” with Eagle but there was an obstruction in the way, so he had to alter the approach. It was some impressive flying and almost used up all his fuel. Nobody noticed because they were so focused on the destination. He didn’t seem to mind.

Years later with computerized enhancement, it was decided that in fact he probably did say, “One small step for A man, one giant leap for mankind.” (We ham radio operators understand signal drop out – we call it “QSB”.)

Neil, I’m sure you’ll make your final journey as successfully as your others. Godspeed.

Third Order Effect

Ham radio isn’t a hobby – it’s about 400 hobbies. You can transmit computer signals, text, television, speech and other modes. You can assist in disasters, public service events and talk with the astronauts in the International Space Station. There are satellites that are dedicated to amateur radio, contests and then there are the local repeaters. Repeaters are used to increase the range of small low power transmitters used in cars or that are hand held. Repeaters tend to be like neighborhoods – you find one where you share interests and tend to favor that repeater. Most mornings on my way to work I talk with some of the same folks, which makes the drive much nicer.

The other day we were discussing how years ago there were many mail order electronics companies from whom you could purchase parts at bargain prices. They were kind of like the online computer stores of today, except that they sold resistors, capacitors and such rather than complete computer boards.

When manufacturing jobs left the United States, the people who worked in the factories lost their jobs – the primary effect. The people who worked at the places where these laid-off workers spent their paychecks were also affected – everyone from the restaurant where they ate to the babysitter who watched their kids when they went out. These are the second order effects. We do tend to recognize that these exist. However, what about the ripples that continue from there?

The bags of resistors we could buy by mail were the surplus parts that came from the manufacturers. Perhaps they finished a manufacturing run and no longer needed that specific type of transistor. Maybe the parts were ordered by accident or maybe while awaiting a backorder they placed a second order in order to get delivery in their required time frame. In any case, they ended up with surplus that they sold.

Someone started a business that bought the surplus from the manufacturer and made it available to others by mail. This meant jobs for those who worked for the surplus business, as well as the folks who manufactured the shipping boxes, the postal service and so on. Naturally all of the people in this market used their pay to make other purchases with their own second order effects.

We know that the loss of manufacturing jobs had significant impact on the economy, but here’s another issue. As a youngster, the availability of parts allowed me to experiment – not always successfully, but try things out nevertheless. I wanted to know how and why things worked the way they do. How does a transmitter work? What about a receiver? I remember building a crystal radio and later finding out that in the Second World War soldiers in prisoner of war camps built radios out of a safety pin, wire, a pencil lead and a razor blade. The only commercial item they needed was a set of headphones. How cool was that? How did they do that? That questioning has stayed with me all these years and has helped me immensely.

Compare that to today. With computers in everything from our phones to our automobiles, there’s a wealth of technology. Yet if you ask a teenager today how a video board works, they haven’t a clue. If you ask them how a USB flash drive – one of those key fob memory sticks – works, the same answer. Software? Firmware?

With the loss of manufacturing, with the loss of the “leftovers”, we no longer fuel the imagination in young people. Instead of encouraging them to ask questions and actively seek answers, we instead give them computer games that provide some mental simulation but not the type that will help them in the future.

I guess we gave up a lot more than we thought we did by saving a couple of bucks per product by having it assembled in Mexico, China or wherever.

The Zombie Next Door

The doorbell rang, and I looked at my watch. A little late for UPS and the “No Solicitors” sign was large enough to dissuade almost everyone else. I opened the door to find a thirty-something-ish female. She was casually dressed in jeans and a colorful blouse.

“Hi, I’m Jane,” she began, reaching for a handshake. “My family and I are your new next door neighbors. I registered our daughter for school today and they told me the she and your son will be in the same class. Figured I’d stop by and introduce myself.”

“Nice to meet you, Jane,” I replied, “Won’t you come in?” She came in and sat on the couch. “Can I get you something? Coffee? Soda?”

“No, but thank you. I can’t stay too long. I have to get back to take care of my husband, but I did want to introduce myself.”

“Oh,” I replied, “is he ill?”

“No,” she replied. “He’s a zombie.” That took me by surprise.

“I’m assuming you’re talking figuratively.”

“Oh, no, I mean literally.”

My mind raced. I knew I should have checked out that Center for Disease Control web page that provided guidance for the zombie apocalypse. I wondered if the shotgun shells I bought twenty years ago would be effective on zombies. My mind was racing, but none of it was connected to my speech center. I wasn’t sure what to say at this point.

Jane noticed my concerned look. “Oh, you don’t need to worry,” she assured me. “You probably won’t even see much of him – well not much of what’s left of him.”

“How? What? When?” I stammered.

“Massive heart attack. About three years ago. He had a beautiful funeral. I cried buckets of tears. Just as I was getting used to the idea, he showed up again – all dirty and moldy. Been around ever since.”

“How do you manage?”

“Oh, you make adjustments. He sleeps in the basement. He’s more comfortable sleeping below ground level. I can’t believe I thought he snored loudly when he was alive! In any case, if he sheds, it’s easier to clean up from a concrete floor. I don’t let him do any cooking any more. There’s the germ thing, plus I’m afraid he might be flammable. I buy Fabreze by the case.”

“Somehow I just can’t picture you and a dead guy house hunting together.”

“Bob – that’s his name – Bob never could pick a decent house, so that was always my job even when he was alive. Naturally they don’t write mortgages for dead people, but his life insurance was enough for me to pay cash. In this housing market the prices are good, but offering cash let us get a real good deal.”

I heard a noise somewhere between a growl and a groan coming from next door. Jane looked at her watch. “Oh, my!” she said, “Look at the time! Bob’s wondering where his dinner is. Zombies eat brains, you know.”

“Brains?”

“Oh, they don’t have to be human. I have a standing order with the butcher. To make it easy I told him I teach biology and need cow brains for my students. However, it’s an easy meal – as long as they’re above room temperature, he’s happy. I wish my kids were as easy to please at dinner time; if it’s not pizza or something with French fries, all they do is complain. He prefers beef. I asked him what brains taste like once and he said, ‘Chicken.’ I suspect his taste buds aren’t what they once were, though.” She got up and extended her hand. “Well, it’s been a pleasure.” Wordlessly I walked her to the door.

“Oh by the way,” she offered, “come Halloween, Bob will be the hit of the neighborhood.”

The Seductive Allure of Technology

My background includes two seemingly disparate fields – healthcare and the military. These two professions do tend to have one characteristic in common, when facing a problem, one of the preferred solutions will be technology.

The military’s march through history, at least since the 17th century, includes advances in tactics alternating with advances in technology. The cross bow replaced the long bow; the blunderbuss was next, followed by the musket and the rifle. Sometimes the leap frogging of tactics and technology created huge problems (ignoring the fact that war by its very nature is in itself problematic – at least for the losers.) In the Civil War, the rifle and the minie-ball when combined with massed attacks and counterattacks were so destructive that amputations of limbs that couldn’t be saved were rampant.

Before America entered World War II in 1941 it was heavily reliant on fabric covered biplanes. At the end of the war in 1945, America’s Air Forces were using pressurized high altitude bombers. Radar and sonar allowed the acquisition of an enemy’s position without actually seeing anyone and the computer was used to create mathematical tables essential to more accurate artillery fire. The trend in the military’s leveraging of technology continues to the current day.

In medicine, during the same period, the advances were somewhat slower. They were still bleeding sick people in the 18th century, and the first antibacterial drugs weren’t discovered until 1928. However, we’ve made up for that in the past 30 or 40 years. Although we have had x-rays since 1895, digital dependent modes like CT Scanners, Ultrasound, Nuclear Medicine and MRI Scanners all arrived after 1970. Add to that such exotic technologies as proton beam therapy, robotic assisted surgery and you have to ask why we don’t live forever.

It’s the same reason that we don’t win a war neatly, cleanly and without collateral damage in a short time.

Technology is a multiplier. Take the humans involved and multiply by the technology. Healthcare is easier to understand. Let’s pretend we’re dealing with a fractured femur – the bone between the knee and the pelvis. The patient is assigned a numerical value from 0 – 2 based on their general health and ability to survive 6 months after the surgery. The technology multiplies the effectiveness of the doctor, which then multiplied by the patient’s value

Excellent orthopedic surgeon (2), technologically advanced equipment (3), healthy 18 year old patient (2),         (2 x 3) x 2= 12

Competent orthopedic surgeon (1), technologically advanced equipment (3); middle aged patient in fair health (1),     (1 x 3) x 1 = 3

Incompetent surgeon (0), technologically advanced equipment (3); healthy 18 year old patient (2)             (0 x 3) x 2 = 0

Excellent orthopedic surgeon (2), adequate equipment (1), healthy 18 year old patient (2)                 (2 x 1) x 2 = 4

Excellent orthopedic surgeon (2), technologically advanced equipment (3), elderly patient in poor health (0)         (2 x 3) x 0 = 0

In this example, technology can allow an excellent surgeon to do better, but can’t make up for an incompetent one. Likewise, technology cannot offset the problems associated with a patient who is not a good candidate due to health problems.

The allure is that you can buy technology. Skills must be developed and that takes a certain amount of core ability and a lot of time. However, the technology never replaces the human element.

Maybe that’s why some people enjoy sports so much – it’s dependent upon a rare set of inherent talents that must be perfected by hard work. The right shoes or high tech sports drink is never going to replace those.

 

Aging Benefits

Various web sites are fond of showing “then” and “now” pictures of various celebrities. The perky child star of the 1970’s now looks like (gasp!) a middle aged woman! She certainly didn’t hold together well! Now I’ve written on this before, but I’d like to add a slightly different slant.

I have the advantage in that I was never a “hunk” or any other highly sought after physical specimen in my younger days. Coming from good Polish-German peasant stock I’m short and, shall we say, solidly built. However, in my own defense, unlike most of my more physically appealing high school contemporaries, I was still able to hold my own in body armor and a weapon while in my fifties.

Which, of course, leads me to the subject of hats – which I’ve already written about as well.

(What do you expect; if there are only 8 basic plots for fiction writers, there is bound to be a limit on original ideas for bloggers.)

If I recall, I bemoaned the decline in the variety of hats with baseball caps being the predominate choice, and a commensurate lack of hat manners such as removing them indoors. However, if you’re a regular reader you know I have this annoying habit of always looking for the silver lining.

I found one.

While shopping with my wife earlier in the summer, the tropical shirt display was offset by an inexpensive white canvas fedora. I tried it on, half-jokingly – half hopingly and asked my wife what she thought. Her comment was that it was better than the (wait for it) baseball caps I usually wore. I began to wear the hat with the tropical shirts and claim I was channeling my inner Arlo Guthrie. I waited for the comments to start.

They did.

But instead of deriding comments, I got compliments. It seems that one of the advantages of getting older is that you can adopt the style you couldn’t get away with earlier. Only a very few young guys can wear a fedora – say a young Harry Anderson. The rest of us couldn’t, at least when we were young. But now, the playing field is much more even.

If you’re not sure of what a fedora looks like, think the first two Godfather movies. Almost every man wore a fedora with the occasional bowler thrown in for good measure. Still not sure – Indiana Jones signature hat was a fedora.

My grandfather wore fedoras almost his whole life, but back then, everybody did. When I was a teenager in the 60’s I wouldn’t have figured that I’d follow in his footsteps. But look at what happened.

If the websites had their way, they’d expect me to still wear bell bottom pants with a wide belt and a paisley shirt. I don’t think so. So there’s the silver lining. When you get and look older, you can adopt a style to your own liking.

Comment on News Story Comments

Every once in a while I scroll down too far on a web news story and see the comments.

 

It’s like not watching where you’re going and stepping into dog droppings – every time I do, I wish I hadn’t.

 

The anonymity of the internet certainly lets people display their true colors for all to see. The very nicest thing that can be said about many of them is that they’re sometimes wrong, but never in doubt. And I mean NEVER! I’m sure that if there was a story on Vegetarian Lithuanian Barber Shop Quartets, these same people would have an opinion they would feel compelled to share.

 

The biggest question I have is – who are these people who have the time and the inclination to comment, then comment on others’ comments, then comment on the response to their comments. I have a life, so I have to make time to write this blog – and there are often things that are more important, such as cheering on my daughter this past weekend. I can’t imagine having so much time with nothing to do.

 

I suppose they could be among the idle rich, but if I were independently wealthy, I can guarantee I’d fritter away my time in a much more enjoyable fashion.

 

I know they aren’t students on summer break; 1) they are too busy sleeping, eating, texting and getting together and; 2) they wouldn’t waste their time on the news.

 

If they’re people who have been impacted by the economy and are out of work (been there, done that) wouldn’t the time be better spent in other ways. Go to a job interview with THAT attitude and you’ll remain in the same straits.

 

So, here are my suggestions for alternative uses of the time spent sending acid tongued comments to the masses on the internet news sites:

 

1. Learn to play the guitar – everybody in this country knows someone who has one they’re not using.

2. Read. Start with a book on manners – you’d be amazed at what you’re missing.

3. Read the Bible. If you were amazed by the etiquette book, you’ll be shocked by this.

4. Go for a walk or a bike ride. Using your electric product from the scooter store or a wheel chair counts.

5. Think of something positive and uplifting to write.

 

Okay, I confess – that last one truly was a “bridge too far.”

Soccer Saturday

Soccer teams shifted after the last season. My son got on the team that he wanted and my daughter changed to a different club. This weekend there’s a tournament and she’s playing with a different team within her new club. The first game is over, they won and she scored a goal.

That’s my blog for today and possibly for the weekend. Enjoying my kids’ activities takes priority over many other things that I normally enjoy.

One Thing About Bloggers

I was reading a technical website concerning a piece of software, and there were a number of negative comments. In this case, an individual had written a program that was kind of a “Swiss Army Knife” that did all kinds of neat and useful things. Best of all, he shared it for free. After a number of years, his interests turned toward a different area of the technology and he stopped writing updates for it. In most cases, this would mean that the software die – it would remain at the final version until people stopped using it. Fortunately, this program was so good that a commercial software company purchased the rights and have added a number of improvements. Not surprisingly, they sell it rather than giving it away.

Hence the negative comments.

On the other hand, among the blogs that I frequent, bloggers tend to be collegial with one another. Comments are encouraging or helpful in most cases. Now we may be irreverent with our humor, but we remain courteous to one another.

I like that.

Thank you.

The Curse of the Bell Peppers

There are certain foods that are poisonous if not prepared properly. There’s blowfish, of course, which creates a tingle when eaten – unless the preparer nicks the liver in which case the tingle is followed by a permanent condition – death. Actually there is quite a selection of fruits, vegetables and nuts that have poisonous attributes (an interesting list is available [here].)

Bell peppers are not on the list, although in my opinion they should be. In fact, given sufficient authority, I’d insist that every bell pepper and every dish containing bell peppers would contain a warning notice. Something along the line of, “Contains bell peppers! Destroy before eating! Evacuate this facility immediately and do not return until Haz-Mat teams have adequately decontaminated the area.”

I know there are some relatively normal people who are fond of bell peppers, although for reasons I cannot fathom. If the average person accidentally put a live insect in their mouth, they’d naturally spit it out. On the other hand, some seemingly normal people will put bell peppers in their mouth only to follow with bite after bite.

I have a high sensitivity to bell peppers – if a large pizza has even one piece dropped on it by accident, bell pepper is all I can taste. The same goes for Chinese food – and “eating around the bell peppers” or “picking them off” does no good – the taste of bell pepper remains overpowering and debilitating. (Why doesn’t that happen with chocolate? Have one chocolate item per day and everything else would taste like chocolate. Too bad. That would be a much better situation.)

Cajuns figured out long ago that the only way to handle bell peppers was to cut them into small pieces, mix with celery, onion and garlic and then caramelize the combination. This is the only technique that adequately tames the bell pepper making it more or less civilized.

Lately, restaurants have gone from bad to outrageous in the use of bell peppers. I figure they must be cheap because when I’m dining with others and they order certain dishes that previously contained a garnish of bell peppers, but now the dish arrives with a 3″ foundation of green and red bell peppers. The amount of meat, fish or other items is reduced and replaced by bell peppers on about a 4 to 1 ratio. Bell peppers have been appearing in everything the restaurants can toss it with. Salads, sauces, soups, rice – you name it. I’m surprised you can’t get a bell pepper stuffed deep fried Twinkie at the county fair.

I’m guessing that there are two possibilities for the current state of affairs:

1. People are actually asking for bell peppers. I find this to be not very likely.

2. The food preparers have thousands of these in their kitchens because nobody really likes them, so they’re trying to use them up by slipping some in every dish they serve. This, I suspect, is the real reason.

Hey, Are You Gonna Use That Hyphen?

Because of the coverage of the Olympics in London, I’ve been left with the impression that England has become somewhat of a melting pot in its own right. I love the British accent, but it’s more fun to hear it coming from someone who doesn’t look like they’re a Monty Python character. If you’re not paying attention, you hear the voice and expect to see someone in a proper suit with derby and bumbershoot. You turn to the telly and instead you see a black or an Asian or whatever explaining that there was an issue with “the windscreen of the lorry” or such with that delightful accent.

Interestingly, I didn’t hear any of these individuals describe themselves as “Serbo-English” or “Asian-English.” While this may have been edited out, I prefer to think that the Brits gave up on hyphenated nationalities when they no longer considered themselves Anglo-Saxons. I imagine that it may be the norm in many countries – if you become a citizen or a subject, then you go all-in.

I imagine that if someone wanted to be considered a hyphenated German, it would be firmly explained that none of the paperwork had a box to check for that. You are either German or non-German.

Many of the Balkan countries are complicated enough as it is. Imagine trying to claim to be a Kyrgyzstan-Herzegovinian. It would take too long to spell it out, much less check the spelling.

And France? I wouldn’t even broach the subject with the French.

In America, some people hang onto their hyphens with more vigor than my son holding onto a pizza. You have African-American, Asian-Americans, Hispanic-Americans and whatever-Americans. I know where Africa is, and I can even find Asia on a map, but where’s Hispania? Don’t tell me it includes parts of North America, Central America, South America, the Caribbean Islands, the Leeward Islands, etc. That’s cheating. Sorry, maximum of one continent per hyphen.

My surname is Polish, so I guess I could call myself Polish-American, but based on my parents family trees I’m actually more German than Polish. Besides, Poland has kind of come and gone as a country generally alternating between being invaded by the Germans and Russians. That’s why the German city of Danzig became the Polish city of Gdansk – or was it the other way around. In any case, invasions are interspersed by periods in which the borders with Lithuania, Belarus, the Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and their forebears move around as quickly and unpredictably as preschoolers on a playground.

Should I refer to myself as German-Polish-American or Polish-German-American? To complicate matters, my brother has taken a liking to genealogy and has found that we also have roots in England, Ireland, and I forget where else. So now I’m really confused.

I considered calling myself a “Mongrel-American” but that doesn’t have any pizzazz to it. Besides it sounds like my ancestors rode with Genghis Khan and the Mongol hordes. “Potpourri-American” just doesn’t cut it and I’m sure “Heinz-57 – American” probably violates the copyright of trademarks, service marks and other protected verbiage. Multi-national-American sounds like a military task force.

I suppose we could all just call ourselves “Americans”.

Naaah!

Doonesbury Inspired

I may not agree with everything Garry Trudeau puts into “Doonesbury,” but I do follow it religiously. Today’s strip got me wondering…

If college athletic programs bring in so much money and are so important, why don’t for-profit colleges have football teams?

Or do regular Universities charge the College of Business with doing a little “creative accounting” to justify million dollar stadiums and coaches?

Just wondering.

Miscellaneous Thoughts That Don’t Fit Elsewhere

Far too infrequently a movie comes along that’s just plain fun. Even less frequently is a sequel that works – especially sequels to fun movies. (Movies made from a series of books such as “Harry Potter” or “Lord of the Rings” don’t count.) We watched “Men In Black 3” over the weekend; better than the first sequel and at least as good as the original.

 

If an e-mail starts out with “I checked this out on Snopes, and it’s true!” you can pretty much guarantee they didn’t and it isn’t.

 

Maybe if the employees who have worked the counter at the US Postal Service for the previous 100 years had been nicer to people, we’d be more empathetic to their current plight.

 

There are days when I almost wish that I were as dim and clueless as the parents portrayed on children’s television shows. Whenever they run election advertisements, for example.

 

Speaking of elections, I am one of those people who is willing to go into the polling booth and turn in a blank ballot because none of the clowns was worth voting for. This has been my way of voting for “none of the above.”

 

I wonder what would happen if a majority of people indicated “None of the Above” as a write-in candidate during an election. They still would pick the candidate with the most votes, but he/she couldn’t claim a “mandate from the people!”

 

I enjoy e-books. They’re convenient, they’re easy, I can obtain one in the blink of an eye. However, there’s still something special about reading a newspaper as opposed to the electronic edition – even if I have to tip the newspaper person at Christmas.

 

However, as they make the pages smaller and the comics miniscule, that advantage is disappearing.

 

They say that if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. What about if all you have a torque wrench?

 

Something that happens at the checkout when I have a bouquet of flowers: Periodically someone will ask “Why?” or better yet ask me what I need to apologize for. When I tell them I regularly bring a small bouquet home, they’re surprised; one guy even said, “I wonder why I never thought of that.” I guess he’s not married to the type of person who just plain deserves flowers.

Senses

We generally believe that we have five senses. I say that because we used to believe there were four flavors – salty, sweet, bitter& sour until they added umami as the fifth in about 1908 thanks to Kikunae Ikeda. Of course we westerners didn’ find out about it until about a century later, but that’s to be expected. In any case, we’ll leave the future open to the possibility of more senses.

We rely on sight every day, backed up by hearing and touch. Taste, as mentioned above is also part of our daily life, but more recreational than practical. Smelling is good although we tend to think of that as better developed in other species – the dog being the most obvious, and like taste isn’t seen as practical – with a few exceptions, such as the smell of smoke. Touch we use, but kind of ignore during the workday, at least.

Sorry about the clumsy setup, but I’m actually headed somewhere with this.

We use sight in order to navigate our existence. Sound, along with sight, is how we tend to acquire data. These two seem to be the workhorses in everyday society. Touch is funny because we tend to use it for more subliminal interfaces, yet when we think of sensual (as in related to the senses) it’s touch that comes to mind. Taste and smell seem to go together – when we have a cold, we don’t notice taste because much of taste is connected to smell.

So (stay with me), sight and sound play the biggest role in everyday life.

Yet, it’s smell – usually seen as an also-ran – that trigger memories and feelings. It takes us immediately from this moment to somewhere in the past. It takes us to years ago; a perfume or aftershave that someone special once wore; the smell of baking bread or cookies. These smells can trigger an avalanche of memories and emotions. In our mind’s eye we leave where we are and are suddenly transported to a different time and place.

Songs can do that too, but with music we go through an intellectual process. Something like, “I remember that song. It was popular when I was a junior in high school and I was dating so-and-so but this was playing at the dance when I saw this other person and wanted to dance with them…” Smells on the other hand go from – sniff – chocolate chip cookies – 8 years old at home. Right from the sense to the emotion. Powerful.

There are many things in life that surprise us by their power, such as smell under just the right conditions.

It keeps life interesting.

An Open Letter to LSU’s Les Miles

Regular readers know that I am not much of a fan of sports, but my younger son is. If you averaged his enthusiasm and mine, you’d end up with at least a “rabid” rating. That should tell you something.

Today, LSU cut Tyrann Mathieu, the “Honey Badger” from their team. He’s had suspensions in the past for drug use, so the suspicion is obvious. My son was disappointed, to say the very least; the Honey Badger autographed football we gave him last Christmas sits on the head of his bed. Let’s just say that he had a bad day.

So, here’s what I’d like to say:

Dear Les Miles,

I know it’s tough to cut a team member who is an outstanding athlete but can’t follow the rules. Your decision, based on the information that is available, was the right one, tough though it was. We’ve seen too much damage caused by college athletic programs that turn a blind eye to misbehavior. Thank you for taking the road less travelled – the right road.

Please share the following with your players.

You get a lot of attention because of your talent on the field. Some people even call you heroes, although that is a bit of a stretch. Soldiers are heroes; cops are heroes; firemen and all those who put service to others above self. Nevertheless, people want to be seen with you. People want your autograph. People like to talk about you. Sportswriters like to feature you.

However, this attention and adulation is not a right – it’s a privilege, and with every right or privilege comes a responsibility. Among the responsibilities is the need to follow the rules. Everybody needs to follow the rules, and those who are in the spotlight more than anybody else.

You have no God given right to get a pass if you do drugs, fight dogs, or whatever. You will face the consequences. Among those consequences is the fact that you let your team down, you let your family down and you let your fans down. Most people don’t get to have fans. If it is your desire to be like “most people,” you can make it happen real fast. You can go from the guy people cheered for and had high hopes for to a flat-out disappointment with just a few stupid moves.

John Wayne – if you don’t know who he is, ask your parents or grandparents – summed it up. “Life is tough; it’s tougher if you’re stupid.”

Quick Thought

Spent today writing intently for my real job, so there’s not a lot of muse left.

Today’s my mother’s birthday. Sunday is my older daughter’s birthday. I’m lucky to still have my parents around. My older daughter almost died at birth and is profoundly handicapped, so there have been many times when it was pretty scary, but she’s still with us.

So, take today and if your parent, child, spouse or whatever is nearby, give them a hug. If they’re further away, give them a call. Enjoy the company of the people in your life and let God know how much you appreciate His sharing them.

Wade Michael Page

I’m sure all the readers of this blog figured this out long ago, but…

Wade Michael Page, the nut case who shot up the Sikh Temple in Milwaukee continues to be described as a “veteran.”

Two things to keep in mind:

    1. He left the Army in 1998 – 14 years ago.

    2. He was thrown out of the Army.

What I’ve read is that he received a “General Discharge (Under Honorable Conditions).” The following is from About.com. The highlighting is mine.

“General (Under Honorable Conditions). If a member’s service has been honest and faithful, it is appropriate to characterize that service under honorable conditions. Characterization of service as General (under honorable conditions) is warranted when significant negative aspects of the member’s conduct or performance of duty outweigh positive aspects of the member’s military conduct or performance of duty outweigh positive aspects of the record. A General (under honorable conditions) characterization of discharge may jeopardize a member’s ability to benefit from the Montgomery G.I. Bill if they, in fact, had contributed. Moreover, the member will not normally be allowed to reenlist or enter a different military service.

Yahoo Answers explanation was even better:

“If you get a general discharge from the army under misconduct is that really bad to my future?

Best Answer – Chosen by Voters

Let’s look at it this way. An honorable discharge means, you served out your enlistment and were being released because you fulfilled the terms of your enlistment.

A general discharge means ” You’re fired.”

An honorable discharge speaks for itself., No further explanation required.
A general discharge requires an excuse to explain.”

Again, the highlighting is mine. So bottom line was, yes, he did wear the uniform, however, as the Brits would say, “He was bloody well cashiered.”

Sure wish the people responsible for the news were picked because they studied journalism.