Monthly Archives: July 2016

Words to Live By

The words of David’s son, Qoheleth, king in Jerusalem: Vanity of vanities, says Qoheleth, vanity of vanities! All things are vanity!
What profit have we from all the toil which we toil at under the sun?

One generation departs and another generation comes, but the world forever stays.

 

Coincidentally, this was today’s first reading at Mass; this same day, my father-in-law, Dan died. He and his wife had been living near us for the past year and a half. My wife wanted them to have the best quality of life they could, and she devoted time and energy to medical appointments, prescriptions, and whatever else contributed to their lives. Dan bundled up and sat in the stands to watch soccer games. We had cookouts. He watched LSU football (on tleveision) with us. He loved opera, and we shared performances.

 

I think Qoheleth (whoever he was—some believe it was Solomon) was pretty much correct, but not perfect. It’s not the world that stays forever, but us. We move from this life into the next, and long after the world is gone, we continue.

 

So, to Qoheleth I say, thank you, but remember also, “Where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Our toil under the sun isn’t wasted if it is to serve God and others. My treasure is my God, my faith, my family, and my values—and that’s where my heart is.

Peopled Out

Like most introverts, from time to time I get peopled out, and for introverts “people” includes pets—after all, we count them as family, so they’re pseudo-people.

Regardless of what we introverts do for a living, there’s a huge difference between what we do, and who we are. There are the roles that we play to earn a paycheck—doctor, lawyer, assistant manager at Radio Shack or whatever. We interact with others according to the expectations of the job. However, at the end of the day, in order to recharge, we introverts withdraw and seek solitude.

I don’t see any reason that actors can’t be introverts, although since I don’t know any actors, I can’t prove that.

Simon and Garfunkel sang, “I have my books and my poetry to protect me.” In my case, it’s technical articles and a soldering iron.

Oddly, there seems to be a heightened chance of being peopled out around the time of the political conventions, but it’s probably coincidental.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got nothing against people, in fact, some of my best friends are people. However, people like me better when I’m recharged.

I’m going rename my office/radio room/workbench as my laboratory. So, if you’ll excuse me, I shall now retire to my laboratory. Alone. To recharge.

Questions Worth Asking

One thing that the internet provides is personal commentary, much of it in the form of questions:

What if Japan had won World War Two?

How deadly are slingers, archers, and infantry with shields and swords?

These are all great questions if you’re going to write a novel, but of what I’ve seen, the question is raised, someone with a background in that area provides a logical answer, and the discussion is over.

On the other hand, when Ray Damadian asked, “What if you built a huge magnet, big enough for a person to fit inside, then aimed radio waves at them; could you produce an image?” it led to MRI scanners.

Look what happened when Einstein asked, “How do space, time, and energy fit together?”

How do we determine which questions will lead to the future, while others can be answered by quoting the past?

We don’t—and can’t—know until after the question is asked. The trick is to keep questioning, then question the answers.

Sorry, it’s not very profound. However, when you keep asking questions, sooner or later you’ll hit upon one that can’t be answered and must be explored. That is what leads us to the future. Who knows, if you ask the right question, you might be considered a genius.

To the Moon, Alice!

It was a gag line spoken by Jackie Gleason on “The Honeymooners” in 1955-56. Who knew that about 14 years later, we’d be there?

Then, like the family dog after it’s chased the squirrel from the back yard, we got bored. Time to eat and take a nap—a nap of Rip van Winkle proportions.

This date in 1969—nearly a half century ago—men walked on the moon. Talk about “standing on the shoulders of giants.” Wow!

If those who are wasting their time figuring out how to create some new financial derivative that no one can decipher were focusing instead on “Space, the final frontier,” where might we be?

There are a few—Musk, Branson, and Rutan, for example, who see the future, but too many only see the next fiscal quarter or the next election cycle.

Yawn.

No one knows or even cares about the bean counter who handled the financing for Christopher Columbus’s three ships sailing to west, but we know Columbus.

Who financed Samuel F.B. Morse, Alexander Bell, or Thomas Edison? Who signed Albert Einstein’s paychecks? What about Marie Curie or Hedy Lamarr (without whom you wouldn’t have cell phone technology—and yes THAT Hedy Lamarr).

We don’t care.

But we do remember and revere the accomplishments of these explorers, scientists, and inventors.

So, where are you headed?

Violent Extremists

Who are these people?

Pathetic little nobodies who are unable to succeed at anything of consequence; they lack critical thinking skills, so they are easily swayed by others. Their personalities are seriously warped—sociopaths who are unable to perceive the value of others, especially women. Many are either not employed or in a near-minimum-wage job.

Losers.

But if they commit a horrific act, they will be on the front page of every newspaper, and plastered all over the internet news sites. Their names will be read and heard around the world along with every picture the media can find. Their wife, ex-wives, mistresses, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, and anyone else who knew them will be interviewed and will tell, “He was a quiet man. This is most surprising.” I suspect that statements like, “He was an absolute idiot without a brain in his head and he had terrible personal hygiene so he stunk all the time,” get edited out.

It’s a fool’s dream to think that the media will change, so this craziness will continu.

But what if, think about it, what if the headlines read 84 Killed in Nice France by an Insignificant Loser?

Hate is Easy

Hate is easy; fear is easy.

If you believe in the devil or any other inclinations toward evil, today there are great tools for them. Start with ignorance, and build on emotions and shallow thoughts. The next thing you know, someone has done something stupid and it’s the top headline.

I wrote the other day about pigeonholing people. Pigeonholing is a great foundation for hate and fear; if you never see anyone as an individual, but always as a member of some cliché, then it’s easy to react—especially if you’re an idiot. Those whites! Those blacks! Those cops! Those millionaires! Those immigrants!

I’m going to get pretty direct, so if your ego is fragile, maybe you’d better change web pages.

My father was a police officer for over twenty years—retired as a lieutenant; he didn’t talk about it beyond close family, but even though he was required to carry a weapon on duty and off, he was proud—yes PROUD—that he had NEVER fired his weapon except at the target range throughout his entire career. Never.

That is the attitude we need. My father had his biases and flaws—as do we all—but they were never expressed through a weapon. When he shared that with me, I was awestruck. He’s a hero, at least to me.

On the other hand, if your ego is so fragile that an insult makes you respond with gunfire—you’re a wimp; you’re a pathetic, insignificant little wimp.

How do the rest of us move forward? We need to present ourselves as civilized, responsible citizens. We need to act without fear. Why? First, it’s the right thing to do. Second, it’s who we are. Third, it’s being recorded on video somewhere by someone and will be on the internet ten minutes from now.

Yes, some of us will get screwed. Rosa Parks got screwed. Dr. Martin Luther King got screwed. Emmett Till got screwed. The Jews, Romas, and a variety of others during the Nazi regime got screwed. Mahatma Gandhi got screwed. Malcolm X got screwed. Caesar Chavez got screwed. If you or I get screwed, what a great team to join!

So, how do we avoid getting screwed? Let us all commit to seeing every other human as an individual, every day. Let us try to accept that individual as they are; if we cannot we will not ascribe their attributes to others who share some random similarity.

Today, we need to draw the line. Like the movie “Network,” we need to say, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Then we need to reach out to one another and build on what we have in common—what binds us. That is what makes us strong.

Are You in Your “Right” Mind?

In our never ending desire to pigeonhole people, we’ve passed the stages of skin color, heritage, and choice of coffee vendor. Today we pigeonhole people according to the manner in which they mentally process data. By the way, most manners of processing information are signs of mental pathology.

Don’t forget—we’re all victims.

People who are aware of everything happening around them are obviously attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.

People over fifty who forget things are either suffering from early Alzheimer’s or early dementia.

Everybody who has mood swings is bipolar.

And those who have the ability to acutely focus on one thing in great detail once suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, but now are considered within the autism spectrum.

I do not mean to minimize any challenges that people face. However, I wonder if some of these afflictions are really not afflictions or defects after all.

My Medicare card is on the way, and I lose my train of thought, forget my keys, etc. Is it some terrible affliction, or just the fact that I’ve got six decades of schooling, experience, happiness, and heartache crammed into the same size brain I had when I was six? Teenagers, and the parents of teenagers are expected to display bipolar tendencies. Finally, is it really ADHD or just the ability to stop and smell the roses amidst the hectic pace of life?

On Elementary, a CBS interpretation of Sherlock Holmes, there is a character named Fiona Helbron who is a brilliant computer programmer. She is also autistic, although she prefers to describe herself as “Neuro-atypical.” Would a neuro-typical individual be as brilliant—probably not. Would she want to be “cured?” I hope not. And what, after all, is “neuro-typical?”

None of us are the same when it comes to mental state—thank God. Some of us need a lot of help coping and functioning. Every one of us needs some help. None of us are normal. Let’s stop the stereotyping, help one another when needed, and cheer one another when there’s a success.

And, by the way, “Normal” is nothing more than a setting on the clothes dryer.

The Decision and the Declaration

Today, on July 4th, we celebrate the Independence Day, when the Declaration of Independence was approved by the Continental Congress in 1776.

However, history is more interesting than just the event and the date.

On June 7, 1776, the senior Virginia member of Congress, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution stating:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

Congress adopted the Virginia motion on July 2, 1776, thereby refuting our status as a colony; this is why John Adams believed that we would celebrate our independence on July second, the date of the decision.

The Declaration of Independence was approved two days later, on July 4, 1776.

While the Declaration of Independence is a masterpiece, and I recommend that everyone read it today, it was not the decision, but merely the explanation to the world as to why the decision had been made. Although we have seen many portrayals of all the Founding Fathers assembled together in Independence Hall to sign the document on the fourth of July, most, but not all, signed on August second; one signer, who was not a member of the congress until later in the year, signed in November.

As is often the case, history is more complex, and far more interesting than the snapshot presented in civics class.

* Thanks, once again to Wikipedia. If you use it, kick in a donation—even a dollar helps.

 

July 4

When I was young, many of my peers’ grandfathers were veterans of World War I; most of the dads were veterans of World War II, and older brothers were serving in Japan, Korea and Germany. There were even a few individual who claimed to be Civil War veterans—supposedly drummer boys and buglers who had served quite young. Most of those were proven untrue, although there were widows of Civil War veterans; some veterans in their alter years married teenage brides. See Wikipedia’s story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maudie_Hopkins. Now, all of the veterans of the wars before before World War II are gone, and those veterans, “the greatest generation” are fast disappearing.

July marks Independence Day, of course, but also the Battle of Gettysburg. I’ve already discussed how that one battle was pivotal in changing so many things and ultimately resulted in the United States becoming a world power—and I’m sure I shall again.

As a child I wanted to see the Gettysburg battlefield (I have, many times, but never enough). I wanted to see Halley’s Comet (a major disappointment; instead of the terrifying manifestation of the past, it was a fuzzy little dot you had to drive out to the country to see). And, after reading about the centennial celebrations of Independence Day, I wanted to experience the bicentennial.

John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day—the fiftieth anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, making it halfway to the centennial. Between the 150th anniversary and the 200th, the country was torn apart and patched back together.

The bicentennial for me was a combination of the enthusiasm and idealism of young adulthood, disappointment in the government for Vietnam and Watergate, yet I still had great hope for the future of the nation. I had no idea that such a future would include me.

I spent July 4, 1976 with my family at my sister’s place, which included a fair amount of land. We shot off enough fireworks to approximate the Confederate attack and Colonel Joshua Chamberlain’s defense of the Union’s west flank at Gettysburg. The smoke took hours to clear and the only casualty was one lawn chair that had suffered from the backflash of a series of roman candles.

I had my bicentennial.

Today I find it incredibly hard to believe that it was forty years ago. That since then I took an oath and served in two wars; that I served like my father and his father before him. That I have a son now serving.

My children and my grandchildren may get to see the tri-centennial. I hope it’s a wondrous celebration.