Category Archives: People

Positions

No, not that.

There’s a great Monty Python bit in which the suitor is talking to his intended wife’s father. The abbreviated version would go something like this.

Graham Chapman: “Do you have a position?”

Michael Palin: (Snort) “I cleans public lavatories.”

Graham Chapman: “And is there a potential for promotion?”

Michael Palin: “Yeah–after five years they gives me a brush.”

We spend the first quarter of our life preparing to take on a position. The next two quarters of our lives, we define ourselves by our positions. Finally, we learn that our position is what we do, not who we are.

Jackson Browne (with, perhaps some help from his neighbor Don Henley) may have said it best in “Running on Empty”:

Gotta do what you can just to keep your love alive
Trying not to confuse it with what you do to survive

We are who we are and we do what we do–don’t confuse them.

 

Everybody panic! It might snow!

Buffalo, NY 2014 (Courtesy PBS)

Southeast Virginia’s TV meteorologists are in a full-blown tizzy because (gasp!) it looks like it’s going to snow. This is not necessarily bad, because TV meteorologists love to be in a tizzy over any weather event—but if you lived as boring a life as they do, wouldn’t you? The only other excoitement they get is standing outside in a storm on a live broadcast telling everyone else not to go outside.

Our neighboring states average the following annual snowfall:

West Virginia 62″

Delaware and Maryland 20.2″

North Carolina (due south of us) 7.6″

Virginia as a state averages 10.3″ per year, but the southeast (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Hampton, Chesapeake, etc.) averages a paltry 5.8 inches, although eighty years ago, in January 1936, there was a record snowfall of 20 inches. Wow!

So, wish your television weatherman a happy blizzard, but leave quickly or risk having it all explained in great detail to you.

Inspiration from the Movies

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

I love movies, although I no longer have the time to devote to watching as many of them as I’d like. In a few years, when I retire, I hope to correct that problem.

Movies aim to elicit feelings, not thoughts, but sometimes feelings actually lead to critical thoughts. Take, for example, the Indiana Jones movies; while “The Search for the Lost Ark” was wonderful, the “Last Crusade” was important. It touched on some lessons that we don’t teach in schools, but are critical nevertheless.

Indian Jones, a fictional archeologist from the time when archaeologists were more “pot hunters” than scientists, seeks the Holy Grail—the cup Jesus drank from at His last meal. To reach the grail, he must pass three challenges:

  • The Breath of God – “Only the penitent man will pass.”
  • The Word of God – “Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.”
  • The Path of God – “Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.”

    (http://indianajones.wikia.com/wiki/Temple_of_the_Sun)

What can we learn?

“Only the penitent man will pass.”—None of us are perfect, and we must be sorry for how we’ve hurt one another.

“Only in the footsteps of God will he proceed.”—God has given us direction through so many means, all of which come down to, “Love God above all things, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

“Only in the leap from the lion’s head will he prove his worth.”—It takes faith to live, grow, and do good in this world. Logic alone is not enough; logic applies only to this world, while faith touches the next.

God, in his infinite wisdom, touches us through scripture, religious communities, and even the movies. But then, since He is God, why wouldn’t He?

Disaster Communications

This past weekend, amateur (ham) radio operators in the Western Hemisphere participated in an annual emergency exercise called Field Day. In the event of a disaster, regular communications is often disrupted. Not only can cellular equipment be damaged, but the system can be overloaded by increased usage; in some cases, cellular communications can be limited to essential personnel ONLY by FEMA.
Most home telephones (for those who still have them) are not independent circuits, but are part of the house’s internet/cable television system. If power is lost, anyone with a wireless telephone won’t be able to use it.
Handling short range communications via amateur radio is relatively easy. Field Day is to practice as to how long range communications can be ensured without relying on existing systems. Our local club set up seven radio stations at a local park; antennas designed for the various operating frequencies were strung from trees, with the highest being at least 60 feet off the ground. The radios—along with computers, and the all-important coffee maker—were powered by solar cells or generators.
The actual communications portion of Field Day began at 2:00 PM on Saturday and continued around the clock. During that time, over 700 other stations were contacted; most were other stations set up for the drill, but there were amateur operators from around the world that made contact with us as well.
Most of us hope never to have a fire, but we have smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and fire insurance. The few of us that do have a fire are relieved to have the additional protection. The same holds true for amateur radio’s role in communications. It’s not needed every day, but when it is needed, it can be a life saver.
The best part? Hams often arrive with their own equipment and provide the service at for free. THAT is the reason it’s called the Amateur Radio Service; hams cannot be paid for the services they provide.

Elites

While we often talk about elites, we tend not to use that term. Elites are the people in any society who enjoy special privileges.

For a long time, elites were entitled to such status as a birthright, the most obvious example being royalty. If your father was King, it must be God’s will, and therefore the son must be qualified as well. Personally I don’t think God gets involved in politics, but you never know.

John Adams predicted that even though our constitution prohibited titles of royalty there would still be an elite class. He figured that those with educations would prosper, ensuring that their offspring would be afforded education and any wealth that the family had amassed, although in many cases the younger elites ended up with an education and the family debt. Nevertheless, they enjoyed the status.

The American dream is that we’re a meritocracy—anyone can achieve through ability and hard work, and sometimes this works. In fact, there have been periods in our history, such as the 1950s, when this was common, Nevertheless, it is not guaranteed.

Today, many of the elites once again obtain their status by birthright. There are many young men and women as, if not more talented, than the children of Tom Hanks, Will Smith, or the Barrymore family. However, it is the children of the elites who seem to land the acting roles. Is Eddie Van Halen’s son better than the band’s original bassist? Cheap Trick sold many albums with Bun E. Carlos as their drummer, but Rick Nielsen—the guitarist now has his son filling that spot.  Julian Lennon didn’t have to work his way up from playing wedding and bar mitzvah gigs. How many Fords have been senior executives at their namesake auto company?

Do we as a society get our best value from this practice?

Schizophrenia as an Aid to Writing

Writers of fiction need to be a bit schizophrenic; they live partially in this world and partially in the world that doesn’t exist except as printed words. It’s the characters that are to blame. As I’ve mentioned before, when I’m writing, if I know my character—and for clarity’s sake, let’s stick to just a single character—when that character is placed in a certain situation, it’s easy to write, because I know what that character would do. I can even anticipate when that character is going to do the opposite of what would it would normally do.

As a writer I unconsciously develop the character’s back story. In the story I’m working on now, I’ve got a pretty good understanding of what the protagonist’s life has been like up till now. I may not have thought through details, but since I have the overview, the events that led to a particular trait reveal themselves fairly easily when I need them.

I wrote one column for nearly twenty years, and I knew one character intimately. On the other hand, these stories included a narrator—think Dr. Watson to Sherlock Holmes. The difference was that I never really knew who this narrator was. Was it me? Was the narrator male? Female? Caucasian? Ethnic? To this day, almost 33 years after I first began to write that story, I can’t tell you.

Why? I don’t know. Perhaps it encouraged everyone to identify with the narrator. It might have been that as a character, the narrator was merely a mechanism—like the plucky comic relief character in a movie. The narrator might have been the human version of Alfred Hitchcock’s McGuffin. Hitchcock explained that a McGuffin was something like the microfilm that all the characters tried to get; what is on the microfilm is unimportant.

For that matter, the narrator back then might even have been named McGuffin. Who knows?

The Play’s the Thing

We went to The Perfect Crime, which has the Guinness record for the longest running play, with Catherine Russell as the leading lady since the play began in 1987 (she is reported to have missed four performances throughout that entire time).

The plot has so many twists and turns that they give you an answer key after the play so you can clearly understand who killed whom, how, when, etc.

Wouldn’t it be helpful if someone gave each of us an answer key from time to time? Here’s why you changed jobs; this is what your spouse is thinking; or even what your teenagers really mean.

On second thought, maybe it’s best to keep those things as unknowns.crime