Category Archives: People

D-Day

D-Day. How soon we forget.

To many people, 75 years ago makes something ancient history, but even so, we can–and we need to–learn.

75 years ago kids just out of high school enlisted or were drafted. Basic training turned them into men in a few months. Then these young men faced overwhelming odds landing against withering fire at places with tactical names like Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword Beaches. Others parachuted or crash-landed in gliders behind enemy lines.

Many would never have the chance to be old men, middle aged, or a fathers, or married. Some died for the cause of freedom, but would never live long enough to vote.

2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans claimed territory in France–two and a half feet wide, 8 feet long, and 6 feet deep. Others were never found.

President John F. Kennedy, in his 1961 inaugural speech challenged us–“Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.” That generation, now almost gone, did.

The Play’s the Thing (Complete with Music!)

I’ve decided to write a play specifically designed for off-off-Broadway. I wanted a theme everybody could relate to–something familiar yet somewhat of a challenge. Then the muse hit me–I tried to duck, but she still caught me on the chin.

I realized that no matter what you do, a significant portion of your time will be spent in meetings. It may be called a class, a board, a tiger team, a training session, church, basic training, or whatever–it’s still a meeting. Fortunately, Office Space and The Office have already laid the groundwork. I want to take it one step further and write it as a musical. Imagine——

The stage curtains are closed. The house lights dim and the orchestra begins the overture. [For those of you not musically inclined, overtures are a melodic mashup of the music used throughout the production. Today, we call it recycling.]

SCENE 1: The curtains open to show a conference table with chairs all along the upstage side (a concession to the acoustics in off-off-Broadway facilities). A spotlight is focused on a door, stage right. A man in a suit [the Boss] enters with an armload of papers and breaks into the opening number. “It’s My Meeting So I’m in Control” He dances toward the head of the table, leaving a random portion of the papers in front of each chair, reaches the front empty handed, looks at the various stacks of paper, decides one is slightly taller, dances back to that spot, takes the extras from that stack, dances back to the front of the meeting room and crescendos with the final line, a redux of the first line of “I’m in control.” The spotlight disappears, leaving the stage dark.

SCENE 2: The spotlight, collimated very tightly fades up on a man [the Nerd] with a short sleeved white shirt, out-of-style skinny black necktie, pocket protector, and taped glasses immediately begins singing the second number, “Oh, What I’d Do for a Doughnut!” When he finishes, the stage briefly goes black.

SCENE 3: The lights come up illuminating the table but leaves it dark upstage (behind). The conference table now has people sitting in all but the last chair. The Nerd comes through the door, ignores the looks of derision, grabs a powdered sugar doughnut, leaving a trail of white on people’s clothing. When he sits, the white powder mounds like a snow bank in front of him [special effects, but inexpensive].

The Boss bows and with an exaggerated sweeping gesture points toward the unlit back of the stage. A stern women [Stern Woman] in a business suit emerges from the shadows. As she walks toward the head of the table, with a big smile she begins to sing, “Death by PowerPoint.” The last line, a Capella, is “And My Laser Pointer!”

I don’t have room for everything. Suffice to say, the rest of the play leads to the grand finale with the Stern Woman between the Boss and the Nerd performs a dance number on the conference table surrounded by the entire cast dancing together and singing “Meetings Are Better than Work!

Now, if I can just find a patron.

 

 

Wuttchoo Say???

I like to read, but more than once I’ve been embarrassed when I mispronounced a word that I’d read often but had never spoken before. So, one of the many things in life that befuddles me is how we handle foreign words. It is especially vexing when the word is translated from a phonetic language. Theoretically, since that society has its own written character and does not rely on the English alphabet it would seem that getting the pronunciation–rather than the spelling–right would be important.

For example, the United States has a naval base at Yokosuka, Japan. It’s actually pronounced yuh-KOO-skuh. Why didn’t we spell it phonetically as Yokuska? Japan uses a combination of kanji and kana, which bear no resemblance to the English alphabet. Incidentally, they refer to their home as Nippon, even though we somehow mangled that into Japan.

Not too far from Japan is China, which, based on its size and population is hard to miss. If you forgot, we did not recognize China after World War II until Richard Nixon was President. Its capital is Beijing, but for years (or maybe centuries?), we wrote it as Peking for (pronounced pay KING). Did some cartographer forget that English actually has phonemes for “b” and “j”? I’ve tried saying Beijing many different ways, but no matter what I do, it never sounds like Peking.

The Arabic world has its own form of writing with 28 consonants, no regular vowels (they indicate some vowel sounds by a superscript), AND NO English letters. Nevertheless, when we translate Arabic names to English, we tend complicate them. For example, why did someone plunk an “h” smack dab in the middle Baghdad (the word, not the city)? For years we wrote the name of their sacred scripture as the Koran (which tells you how to say it), but now it is often written as Qur’an. I can pronounce Koran, but if I hadn’t seen that first, I’d be clueless as to how to pronounce Qur’an.

Then of course there’s the Arabian Gulf State of Qatar, which I’ve been told can be pronounced “cutter,” “guitar” or “gutter,” without offending anyone. Somehow I think it would be polite to copy the pronunciation that those who live there use.

Of course, we’re just as imprecise with our own words, which is why Lima is pronounced LIE muh for the city in Ohio, but LEE muh for the city in Peru.

It’s no wonder that many people do not enjoy reading—or should that be
REDD ing, as in Pennsylvania?

It’s Not My Fault That I Wasn’t There!

Always Use a pencil!
(courtesy nytimes.com)

Hi, I’m Steve and I’m temporally challenged.

There, I admitted it. I can’t keep time straight.

If an event, appointment, or whatever is not written down in my Day-Timer, I’m not responsible. I know the rest of the civilized world uses their smartphones, but where I work, electronic devices are not permitted (Don’t ask–it will only make your head hurt), so I rely on paper and pencil.

Unfortunately, however, my analog calendar is defective. I’ve replaced it many times, but it doesn’t help. My calendar says that the first day of summer is June 21st. However, everyone says that summer starts on Memorial Day.

When it’s 90 degrees Fahrenheit outside, I think it’s summer and look for shorts, the stores feature back to school items.

The day after Halloween, everybody is promoting Christmas.

When I need a coat or winter gloves the stores are displaying swimwear.

It’s obvious that my calendar is defective. Unfortunately, there’s no software patch for an analog, cellulose based, paper calendar.

A House Divided

It’s always good to reflect on the thoughts of great philosophers–Socrates, Plato, or Monty Python.

Graham Chapman: I think all right-thinking people in this country are sick and tired of being told that ordinary, decent people are fed up in this country with being sick and tired.
All: Yes, yes…
Graham Chapman: I’m certainly not! And I’m sick and tired of being told that I am.
MC: Mrs. Havoc-Jones?
Mrs. Havoc-Jones: Well, I meet a lot of people and I’m convinced that the vast majority of wrong-thinking people are right.

Since this was performed about fifty years ago, I wonder how they knew.

[There was supposed to be a picture here, but WordPress’s new improved editor wouldn’t accept the upload. Too bad, because it was silly, very silly.]

 

 

(Anti-)Social Media

I was able to get on the Internet in its earliest days. In Cleveland one of the universities had 80 or so phone lines dedicated to dial-in access. It was first come, first served, so busy signal was not uncommon.

There were chat groups for every interest, noble or profane, but people generally interacted with a “live and let live” attitude. Perhaps this was because most users were either certified geeks or geeks-at-heart.

Then the Internet evolved into the World Wide Web (for those who are too young, that’s what the “www” at the beginning of many web addresses means.

As they say, “There goes the neighborhood.”

Now it’s seen as a way to express hatred, to spread falsehoods or half-truths, and–if you’re a malevolent government–a place to promote division and create doubt.

It’s also the avenue for some people to post their suck-in-the-gut,  best-angle, cosmetically enhanced, and Photoshopped virtual reality picture that can cause normal people to despair. Comparing themselves to these phony perfect bodies and faces are believed to have contributed to an increase in suicide among young people.

I suspect that every supermodel, movie hunk, K-Pop Star, or whatever went though awkwardness acne, and/or hating their body during their teen years. The Internet has gotten so huge that we’ll never see an objective, scientific analysis of truth vs. falsehood.

If you have kids, make sure they understand that if it’s on the Internet, it’s not necessarily true.

The Internet was less harmful when only the Geeks knew about it.

 

 

Putting Things in Perspective

University of Virginia Men’s Basketball
2019 Champions

I’ve lived in Virginia for most my younger children’s lives. My older son and his family live in Virginian. My daughter-in-law’s family lives in Virginia. My younger children are fortunate enough to receive their college educations at prestigious Virginia Universities. I love Virginia History from Sir Walter Raleigh, the Powhatan people, Washington, Lee, Jefferson, and NASA mathematician, Kathrine Johnson.

I love that Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary but had his tombstone celebrate:

Author of the Declaration of American Independence
of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia

I consider myself a Virginian.

However, when TV sports experts announced that the recent UVA basketball championship “Will be remembered forever!” I saw a bit of exaggeration. With Americans, we’re talking about people who can’t tell you Virginia’s role in slave trading or why Washington, DC is half its planned size because they returned Virginia’s donation of land.

But they will remember the 2019 Basketball Championship?

 

Space – The Final Frontier

Gene Kranz–THE Flight Director

I grew up during the early days of the space program. At night, when Echo I–a satellite that was essentially a giant, shiny Mylar balloon–passed overhead, the whole family would go outside. A clear sky, the overflight time from the local newspaper, and we’d watch until we saw that tiny speck of light pass overhead.

The Mercury program gave us America’s first manned space flights when I was in grade school. For each launch, someone would bring a transistor radio–the latest thing–and the whole class would listen. Somewhere during the tail end of the Mercury program and the beginning of the Gemini program, the radio was replaced by a television. While most televisions were large and treated as a piece of furniture, some of my classmates had a smaller television that was (barely) light enough to transport to school. The picture was black and white, but then, most televisions were.

When Apollo 11 landed on the moon, I sat on the couch with my girlfriend and watched, transfixed. Apollo 12 didn’t generate as much interest, but when Apollo 13 suffered a near catastrophic explosion, everybody followed coverage until the astronauts were safely home.

Later, when I lived in Florida, along the Space Coast, I could watch launches–including the space shuttles–from my driveway. One time I drove up to Cape Canaveral to watch a shuttle launch up close. First there was the sight of the liftoff, which was followed by the sonic roar and a pressure wave against my chest that attested to the power of the engines.

But, what I remember most fondly, is the final stage of the countdown as the flight director polled each section to ensure that the mission could be successfully launched .
“Medical?” “Go!”
“Range?” “Go!”
“CapCom?” “Go!”
“Flight?” “Go!”

Each function had to make sure their area of responsibility was ready. Each wanted desperately to add their affirmation–to say yes and to agree to move forward.

Contrast that with today when so many people are so eager to say “No.”

Emboldened by the News

Back in the day, one read the daily newspaper to find out about important events around the world, across the country, and in one’s local community. By the 1960’s, the source for news had shifted to the television, primarily because of its coverage of the war in Vietnam. However, newspaper readership was not eviscerated by television. Today, of course, if it’s on the Internet it has to be true and if it’s not on the Internet, well, it virtually doesn’t exist. If it’s on Twitter or Facebook (apparently depending on your age), you can take it to the bank.

Today, I learned the following from a well-known Internet source. (I almost called it “reputable” but I just couldn’t do it):

Katy Perry designs shoes.

Military “Meals Ready-to-Eat” known as MREs have a label which includes a silhouette that reminds people of President Trump.

Hong Kong is being overrun by wild boars.

American tourists do at least 20 things that the world hates.

Thanks to some tiny Pacific Ocean islands, The USA does not have the most obese children in the world.

I could go on, but armed with this knowledge, be assured that I’m much better prepared to face the world.

Superbowl Weekend

As anyone who has read my blog for very long knows that I am the antithesis of a sports fan, so all the hype about the Superbowl doesn’t excite me.

Instead, here are my (naturally) sarcastic comments:

1. Football is a truly American sport. The rest of the world plays a totally different kind of football, which we call soccer. Americans view OUR football to be infinitely superior to that other game.

2. In American football, the players are active for about 30 seconds, then everything stops. If there is a switch between offense and defense the entire team is traded out. If the football is going to be kicked, some of the team is traded out. In soccer, players play for 45 minutes, take a short break, then play for another 45 minutes. Individual players may be exchanged from time to time.

3. In American football, there are automatic timeouts after certain plays and each team has three timeouts per half that can be used at the team’s discretion. In soccer, the only timeouts occur after a serious injury.

4. In American football, players wear equipment roughly equivalent to the body armor used in Operation Desert Storm/Shield. In soccer, the players are protected by shin guards.

5. In spite of all the protective gear, American football players have a high incidence of traumatic brain injury.

6. Tickets for either type of football are expensive; Superbowl tickets are reported to average $4,000 each–and those are the cheap seats.

7. And, finally, as a good old American game, the Superbowl will be played in a stadium with the name of a good old American company–Mercedes Benz.

Hey! Haven’t We Seen Him Before?

reg

Reg Blank, Max Headroom, William Morgan Sheppard, and . . . Sheppard as a Klingon?

Everyone–or at least everyone of my age–has heard of the six degrees of separation (from Kevin Bacon). If you don’t know->click here.

I’ve read some reasonably academic(ish) articles about how people are connected, and in the entertainment world it is not the big-name actors who are the connectors, but the character actors. Why? Sylvester Stalone, Julia Roberts, Reese Witherspoon, or (add your favorite star here) carefully choose the roles they will undertake. John Wayne, for example, was an action figure–a cowboy hero, a military hero, etc.

Character actors, on the other hand, show up in a variety of movies and television shows. They get to play all kinds of roles. They also (probably) get to go to the grocery store without being accosted.

However, character actors still have roles that leave lasting impressions. One great character actor, William Morgan Sheppard, died in early January. You can check him out on IMDB if you wish–you’ll probably find something familiar.

As for me, of all the roles he played, my favorite was on Max Headroom. There was a group of nonconformists who refused to be connected to the computerized network and were not identifiable. To the network, they merely appeared as missing data–blanks–and Blanks were what they called themselves. Sheppard played one of the key blanks who even had his own radio program. His name? Reg Blank.

Great character acting. Great concept. Frighteningly prescient for a Facebook connected world. Here’s a peek.

Bill, if I may, thanks for adding your flavor to the world of entertainment.

 

Uniquely American

papers

I haven’t been writing much lately–well, actually I have, but just not blog entries. I’m mainly working on the story / book / whatever that I mentioned in the past. It’s not quite 200 pages, but still needs a lot of work.

In the meantime, I thought I’d focus on a uniquely American practice that I personally find irritating. I try to support hardcopy publications, such as newspapers and magazines. However, I get very frustrated when I sit down, look at the front page of the local newspaper and see four to six articles, with every single one continued somewhere within the bowels of the newspaper.

Magazines are worse, though, because they don’t number all the pages, and when they do, the page numbers are tiny and use fonts in colors that barely stand out from the background. It’s like holding a conversation with someone who (Continued on Page 6)

Offensive Blog

The most recent reason that I’m offended is that so many people are so easily offended. On the other hand, maybe the media just focuses on offended and offensive people.

I find it all offensive.

In defense of my being offended, I cite several recent examples:

–        I’m offended that a major topic is that the movie Love Actually is not an appropriate Christmas movie, is totally wrong,  and is offensive to some people.

–        I’m offended by the kerfuffle caused when the candy maker Hershey offended so many people because the little curl is no longer at the top of Hershey Kisses.

–        I’m offended that Vladimir Putin thinks that rap music should be guided by the government—and I don’t listen to rap. Nevertheless, it still offends me.

It’s all very offensive that people are so easily offended by minutiae when there are so many major problems in the world. I’m reasonably certain that this will offend you, but I needed to express how offended I am. And if you’re offended by my comments, that offends me.

My New Friend

 

scam

As I got older, my eyes began playing tricks on me. I believe I mentioned a long time ago that I looked at a sign in front of a motel and read, “Congratulations to our ghost of the week.” It actually said “guest,” of course. My eyes’ version is definitely funnier.

Like everyone else, I get an inordinate number of robocalls, and on my cell phone the screen displays, “Scam Likely.” I decided to blame my eyes and tell whoever it interrupted that the call is from my new friend “Stan Liekly.”

The scam-likely warning is better than nothing, but you would think that a nation in which every person under the age of thirty had a cellphone before they were potty trained could figure out how to stop these callers. Unfortunately, not.

I admit, knowing how many billions of dollars these con artists make, I’ve tried to figure out how I’d milk this cash cow. I could robocall millions of people and tell them that I’m an IRS agent holding a Nigerian Prince, and his bag full of money, hostage. Then I’d demand $10,000 in bit coin or I’ll force the Nigerian Prince to infect their computer and erase all their files.

On the other hand, it’s easier and more profitable just to work a legitimate job.

Fair Winds and Following Seas

181204-george-h-w-bush-sully-feature-image

George H. W. Bush’s service dog says goodbye for the final time (N.Y. Times)

I have rarely met high and lofty people, but there have been a few, very few.

During my deployment, which occurred while George W. Bush was President, his father made a trip into theater and shared some impromptu chatter with everyone present in the theater/chapel/auditorium/etc. building. The only specific I remember is that his son, “W,” had switched from jogging to riding a bicycle. He had a habit of, well, trying to be as courteous as possible, succumbing to gravity (i.e., falling down). George senior said that he and Barbara both wished he’d choose a safer physical activity.

After he made his comments from the stage, I saw him outside chatting with a number of the enlisted folks and junior officers (in desert cammies, we all looked pretty much alike). I would have liked to have joined them, but my presence would have distracted from their time with “41,” so I went about my business. He knew where he needed to spend his time and so did I. 

Among those in the Navy, the traditional, final farewell is “Fair winds and following seas.” May the wind fill your sails without threatening your ship and may the tide be favorable to your trip.

Mr. President, you were truly an officer and a gentleman; not perfect, but a very real human being. You are in a better place, with your wife and your daughter, and you deserve to be with the ones you loved.

 

 

Exit Stage Left

The old saying—and the old tee-shirt—that advises that, “He who dies with the most toys wins” is totally wrong.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, my youngest will be off to college, I will retire, and my wife and I plan on moving to a smaller house. So now, I’ve got to figure out what to do with my eclectic, but vast, collection of treasures–before it’s time to move.

A few things have sold on eBay, but eBay has apparently lost its magic. Things either don’t sell, or sell at an embarrassingly low price (i.e., not worth the trouble to list it, pack it up, and ship it). Therefore, Goodwill thinks we’re their very best friends based on the number of donations.

I’m asking the kids what they want (If they don’t want it when you’re alive, why think they’ll want it once you’re dead—or moved?). The rest, that won’t fit into a smaller house, is too good to throw away or donate, but I have absolutely no idea what to do with it.

I’ve contemplated getting a Recreational Vehicle and spending my retirement years driving around the country and having a tag sale at each place where we stop. Another option would be to have an estate sale “due to a death in the family.” While it might seem slightly disingenuous, if I have the dog “play dead” I might be able to claim that it fits through a loophole. He’s family—more or less.

I could get three of those portable storage pods. That would take care of moving into the smaller house. When I actually die, (Heh, heh, heh!) I’d have one delivered to each of my kids’ homes so they would have to figure out what to do with the stuff all the treasures.

If you had ever seen their rooms when they were teenagers, you’d understand the subtle message and irony.

Writing Is Sometimes Work

Writing can be like a partial conversation among friends. Writing can be therapeutic by admitting to things that concern or anger you. Writing can be artistic as you commune with the muse whose job it is to inspire you.

However, writing can also be work.

Lately, I haven’t written much because inspiration has been difficult. As an idealist who likes to believe that by pulling together we can accomplish anything, today’s “I’m right and you’re wrong” attitude is a definite buzzkill.

What’s wrong with “My opinion and your opinion are mutually exclusive and universally exhaustive, but go ahead and tell me about your opinion anyway,”? Nothing, but instead of conversing, we prefer to find an internet site, radio station, organization, or whatever that reinforces our own opinion. It’s easier than critcally thinking.

In 1998, Andrew Wakefield published a flawed–if not faked–study that linked autism to childhood vaccinations. The study was discredited and the former Dr. Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. However, some believed–and continue to believe Wakefield’s tripe.

Right now, in Asheville, North Carolina, 36 children are suffering from chickenpox. While chickenpox may not be fatal–although in some cases it has, it hopefully won’t be for any of these children. Meanwhile, their parents will most likely continue to limit themselves to associating with others who agree with their concerns about vaccinations.

License Agreements

When we download software (since many computers don’t have optical drives anymore) the first thing we see is the licensing agreement, which is very long and complicated. Here’s what all that legalese boils down to:

  1. You are obliged to send us money.
  2. We have the right to keep it.
  3. We are not responsible for the software failing to work, containing malware.
  4. In fact, we are not responsible for anything.
  5. We have the right to sell your personal information to anyone.
  6. We have the right to rewrite the software so you have to buy it again.
  7. We have the right to limit the time you can use the software.
  8. If there is a dispute, you will not sue; the dispute will be settled by arbitration.
  9. We reserve the right to pick someone we like and who likes us to act as arbitrator.
  10. When you lose (and you will), you will be responsible for paying any and all expenses for said arbitration.
  11. We paid one or more lawyers a lot of money to write this agreement, so we have included that cost in the price for this product.

How much money does the software industry spend each year on lawyers? Probably more than they do on software engineers–but tha’s just a guess.

Feel free to add “whereas,” “heretofore,” “hereinafter,” etc., as many times as you like.

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

Whatever Shall Be Will Be

Hurricane Florence is getting closer. The eye of the hurricane will be about 250 miles to the south of where I live, but, it’s not the eye that causes problems.

Hurricanes–cyclones–rotate in a counterclockwise direction. (Cyclonic means counterclockwise.) This means that if one’s location is above the eye, the hurricane is going to push the water in (deja vu–didn’t I say this yesterday????). So being above the eye is not necessarily a good thing.

Florence is now a category 4 hurricane, which means it moves faster and inevitably covers more territory. It may become a category 5. In any case, I’m going to get wet.

My wife, being much smarter than me, is taking our children to safety, far west and uphill from here. After all our years together, she knows that I live to help, so she understands (but does not necessarily give explicit approval) to my plan to stay here and provide emergency communications.

I expect to be successful, but this could be my last rodeo. After this, I may have to hang up the emergency communications hat and satisfy myself with the more sedate aspects of amateur radio; maybe I’ll take an occasional cruise, or whatever.

Actually, I look forward to that.

Major League catchers eventually succumb to their knees. Superstar quarterbacks succumb to traumatic brain injury. I suspect that, after this storm, I’ll succumb to whatever affliction affects disaster junkies.

Maybe I’m due to have some fun instead of a having one more additional fulltime job.

What do you think?