last named storm

it is amazing how,
in the end, we thought about it,
so little – we were
…too busy reading
tawdry paper-backs on
hot summer afternoons…
lounging by the pool,
on powder blue,
chaise lounge chairs,
the ones you bought from TropiBreez
for $499 ea. Plus shipping,
and slathering each other with sunscreen,
…too busy sipping
pineapple rum,
and too busy playing old
vinyl, Joni Mitchell albums,
on your 1968 stereo,
and playing board games,
at the clubhouse on Tuesday afternoons,
to hear November sneaking up,
to care about November sneaking up,
behind us — like a Brooklyn wharf rat,
we — too self absorbed to care,
thinking that if we quit smoking,
and stocked up on drug-store vitamins,
and cast a vote for president,
we’d be fine until the next decade,
but then it was November,
all of a sudden,
…bleached out, rung out,
dried out…November,
let’s drink one more
let’s toast the passing,
of the last named storm.

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Cold night in South Florida

I had only been up for about an hour today when I heard the news. I was sitting on my couch at about half past five, lights low, laptop humming on the coffee table, our golden retriever Bailey resting his head on my knee. I had both hands wrapped around my first mug of coffee, trying to steel myself for a day that would not see temperatures climb out of the  high 60s.  I had just turned the TV on to NBC 6 Miami, and I was waiting anxiously for local weather guy, Ryan Phillips,  to give me the ‘down low’ on the Polar Vortex. I always trust Ryan. He’s a native Midwesterner (Ohio) and he did three years as a weatherman in Nebraska. Those qualifications are enough for me.  If anybody can tell me when the Polar Vortex is going shift north of the Georgia border, it’s Ryan. (And to all of you reading in frigid northern climates, I know what you want to say to me. You want to tell me that it is 49 degrees below zero outside your house in Ice Slide Minnesota, and we whimpering Florida pansies don’t know what real cold is!!  Ha… to you I say, you don’t live in houses with heating systems that consist of two Yankee Candles and a wool scarf.)

So there I was…Bailey and I in front of the tube…when I heard that Justin Bieber had been arrested in Miami. The nineteen year old Biebs was arrested at about 4:09 AM (roughly the time I get up), drag racing down Pine Tree Drive in a yellow Lamborghini (great color choice when you’re trying to stay low key). By now it is old news that the inebriated Bieber was on an all day bender, smoking weed, drinking, taking prescription meds, and it is a testament to his age that he was still functioning at that late  hour, as I doubt that I should be in any condition to drag race at 4AM after a day like that, but that’s another matter.

Bieber has been cruising for trouble since he arrived in Florida. His controversial unauthorized escort from Opa-loka airport after his plane landed their earlier this week is being investigated, with local law enforcement officers likely to face disciplinary action. Then he shows up at a local strip joint, tossing around (allegedly) 75 grand in cash. Partying all night in South Beach clubs. Then, finally blocking off the streets for a drag race.

“What the f*** did I do? Why did you stop me?” he asked the first officer on the scene.

The profanity continues, no doubt exacerbated by the alcohol and drugs that the young man consumed in the hours leading up to his arrest. Alcohol and drugs do that to you. And you will be seeing more of Justin Bieber as time goes on. Already, local television has preempted late morning shows to provide live coverage of his arrival at the county courthouse. A mugshot of a smiling Bieber was released to the press and has certainly made its way around the world a dozen times by now. Not to be fooled by smiling celeb mugshots. Most of them are aware that their photos are going to live in infamy so they often make an extra attempt to look nonchalant, even happy. It is often not a sign of raw, finger in the air, arrogance.  In Justin Bieber’s case, however, it may actually be raw, finger in the air, arrogance.

But it will go on ad nauseum.  The tabloids are undoubtedly scandalizing the story further with possibly “Biebs Miami Meltdown” headlines to soon appear.  The requisite analysis, interviews, speculation and condemnation will begin.

Bieber’s bond has already been set at $2500. He should have little trouble raising it (the Lamborghini rented for about $1800/day), and already fabled super-lawyer Roy Black is on the case. Black, who has defended William Kennedy Smith, Rush Limbaugh, Dennis Rodman, Marv Alpert and Carmen Electra, to  name only a few, is a legal magician extraordinaire, so I am guessing that Bieber’s Dade County charges are well on the way to the legal dustbin — after all, what can they do to him? He’s unlikely to receive jail time, any financial implications are paltry to say the most, and even though he will likely face suspension of his driving privileges, it’s not like he’s going to lose his job at Radio Shack or WalMart because they aren’t on the bus line.

Still…this isn’t L.A. The mighty have come here and gone, some never to return. Britney and Lindsey and Paris partied here, and the list of celebrity DUIs, car crashes and arrests would fill a phone directory (if anyone remembers what one of those is).  And don’t forget that The Juice came here – and left. And now sits in a Nevada prison waiting for the end. Justice can be slow coming, and it comes much slower for the powerful than for the rest of us. Yet it does come.

Tonight though, Justin Bieber is scheduled to attend the Los Angeles Lakers, Miami Heat game at American Airlines Arena.

In Pursuit of Completion – Reflections on NaNoWriMo

Ernest Hemingway

You just  have to go on when it is worst and most helpless–there is only one thing to do with a novel and that is to go straight to the end of the damn thing.

–Ernest Hemingway

I was not going to write anything about NaNoWriMo this year. I told myself that a month ago, as the November 1st kickoff date for the event loomed. After all, the blogosphere is filled with commentary about NaNoWriMo, which for those of you who don’t know of it, is an acronym that refers (awkwardly) to National Novel Writing Month, and it takes place in November of each year – all 30 days of it. I was all set to move on to other topics, ignoring NaNoWriMo entirely, until I ran across the above quote from Hemingway. The quote is an excerpt from a letter that Old Hem wrote to Scott Fitzgerald back in 1929, presumably to prod his friend on to literary success (it obviously worked). And, since nothing inspires me to put fingers to keyboard more than a quote from Papa, and this one seems so perfectly tailored as an intro to a NaNoWriMo blog, here goes…

First off, NaNoWriMo is a challenge in which participants attempt to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. To get some idea of the size of a 50,000 word novel, think The Great Gatsby at 47,180 words, or Slaughterhouse-Five which clocks in at some 49,459 words. In both cases, Fitzgerald and Vonnegut (respectively), would have needed to beef up a couple of chapters in order to complete NaNoWriMo successfully. Conversely, Faulkner would have handily picked up his NaNoWriMo award had he uploaded his 56,787 word manuscript, As I Lay Dying, to the NaNoWriMo server prior to the November 30th midnight deadline.

So, considering how large a 50,000 word manuscript really is, it is easy to see why completing such a large amount of work in such a short time period is a daunting task to say the least. It requires dedication, perseverance, and above all, hours of hard damned work. But the world has no shortage of aspiring writers. According to the NaNoWriMo website, the 2012 competition attracted 341,375 participants, and since its humble beginnings in 1999, 250 novels, birthed in NaNoWriMo have been traditionally published. I would venture to say that many, most, or all, of these novels would have found their way to publication without NaNoWriMo, but I can’t say for sure. Most were probably planned well before November, fleshed out during the competition, and then subjected to endless edits post-NaNoWriMo. But that’s just my feeling, so if you have taken a novel all the way to traditional publication and attribute your success entirely to NaNoWriMo (Jeez, one blogger is right, that acronym is damned annoying to type), then please feel free to comment here and flame the hell out of me.

There you have it. If you are ready to get your novel down on paper, or in the electronic can, head on over and sign up – just be aware that in order to complete NaNoWriMo, you’ll have to write a consistent minimum of 1667 words per day – 7 days per week, each day of the entire month. So what could possibly be controversial about a quarter million people or more, spending time writing novels? Seems like an innocent pursuit, right. Well, there are a good many people out there who do not share the love when it comes to NaNoWriMo.

Do a Google search for ‘nanowrimo sucks’, or ‘i hate nanowrimo’ and you will see what I mean. NaNoWriMo has haters. And many of them make very good points, one point being that the competition is totally about word count and finishing the work in the allotted 30 day period with total disregard to quality. Technically, Jack Torrence, Stephen King’s tortured writer in The Shining, could have submitted his ersatz manuscript wherein the words, “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” are repeated endlessly, filling each page from margin to margin.  As long as Jack’s manuscript reaches the 50,000 work mark (and he has an electronic copy available for upload), he can walk away with a certificate of NaNoWriMo completion. This rankles some writers who believe that the world needs far fewer bad novels, and far more good novel readers  – a point that I feel has great merit, but not enough for me to come down hard on NaNoWriMo. I think that the advantages of competing in a challenge that encourages finishing a project to be admirable, and I have no unkind words for NaNoWriMo participants.

And will I be participating in this year’s competition?  No, I will not. This year I’ve other priorities. But I shall be thinking of you all as the clock approaches midnight on Thursday evening, and I shall see you in my minds eye with nervous fingers tapping the keyboard waiting for the race to begin…good luck to all.

Page count in the age of Obamacare

Some years ago, I prepared a computer programming book for a demanding IT manager. The manager insisted that the book must not exceed 500 pages. For an entire weekend I toiled over the electronic copy, squeezing, tweaking, compressing, rearranging – using every trick that I knew of to get that book cut down to a size that my client would accept. When I left the office late on Sunday afternoon, I was frustrated and exhausted, but I had managed to hammer the animal into what I had hoped would be an acceptable 502 pages. On Monday, the manager came to work early and had already performed his review before I arrived. I found the draft manuscript on my desk with a yellow sticky note attached: “This is looking great! Cut 3 more pages and ship.” That is how much of a stickler he was about page count.

As a technical writer I think a lot about page count, usually in the context of “are there too many”. Overly written technical documentation is often as useless to an end user as inadequate or erroneous documentation. Over explain a topic and valuable information may be lost in text. Under explain a topic and the product user may not be able to perform his or her task. In either case, poorly written documentation will always result in the inaccurate depiction of a product, a product that might in all other ways be perfectly wonderful. In extreme cases, erroneous technical documentation has contributed to the injury, or even death of a user (a technical writer’s absolute worst nightmare).

Unfortunately, clear, concise, tightly written, documentation is not the province of legal and legislative documents, which tend to suppose an audience comprised primarily of ivory tower law professors, and the occasional political science PhD. Perhaps used as a tool to control the masses by the educated few, legislative documents are always a chore to read – especially by we laypeople to whom the phrase, ‘passing the bar’, means missing the entrance to O’Grady’s Pub.

All of which brings me to the subject of the Affordable Care Act, or if you prefer, Obamacare. The number of pages in this famed document has been bantered about for the past two years, by the network talking heads, radio talk show hosts (and their callers), in the halls of Congress, and on the Presidential campaign trail. Once purported to exceed 20,000 pages, or a stack of paper 7 feet tall, the document today is nowhere close to that size, but it is still a hefty piece of work. And why not. It covers a lot of ground.

But the frantic hand wringing over the size of the Affordable Care Act document is, I believe, somewhat exaggerated. The point of such hand wringing being:

A.  The document is so long that it is probably filled with all kinds of legal double-speak that is designed to bamboozle us into thinking that it is something that it isn’t, and…

B. Who the  hell could ever slosh through that many pages, and…

C. Short and simple always trumps long and complex. When it comes down to what is good for the common man or woman on the street, Dr. Seuss is always better than Marcel Proust…right? Or so it seems.

Curious as to the size of the Affordable Healthcare Act document, I went looking for it, and I found it quickly. A quick Google search followed by two mouse clicks was all that was required to call up this important piece of legislation that is impacting us all. For your convenience, I shall post a link to the document here.

Officially known as Public Law 111-148, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is available to anyone with a computer, and I urge everyone (well, at least those of us here in the U.S. where the crap is really hitting the fan right now), to bookmark the document and peruse parts of it at your leisure.

Should you be endowed with an endless supply of printer ink, paper, and time, the printed version of the Affordable Care Act will run a printer-over-heating, 906 pages. A big document to be sure, but far short of a 2000 page document that one hears mentioned on TV and radio all the time, and not even close to the 20,000 page behemoth it was touted to be a year and a half ago.

Over the past several days, I have made several visits to the online version of the Affordable Healthcare Act document. No, I have not read it all, not even close. But I do have two initial impressions that I will pass on here.

First, it would not be impossible to read this thing in its entirety, and I assure you that it has been read by many. The legalese language makes for a difficult slosh, but it could be done. Comprehension of the material it contains is another matter, but I feel I might have a better chance with this document than perhaps the U.S. tax code document which I understand exceeds 13,000 pages.

Second, understanding the contents of this document is not as exceedingly difficult as we have been led to believe, and some parts are downright interesting.

So, if your copy of Infinite Jest, or Atlas Shrugged is waiting for you on your nightstand, and you are planning on starting one of these doorstop tomes this evening so as to be able to remove them from your extreme-reading list, I urge you to lay such copies aside for a few days so that you may focus on the Affordable Healthcare Act document. There is no time like now.

In so doing you will not only become a more informed consumer (and voter), but you will come away with a feeling of great accomplishment.

In any case, think of how you will feel at the next cocktail party, or backyard Bar-B-Q when that loudmouth from Purchasing denounces the Obamacare legislation as being overly complex, and put together at the behest of a far-left, Nazi, Communist, Moslem, President who cannot prove beyond a shadow of doubt that he is a U.S. citizen…yes that President. You will want to say something, but don’t…not yet…wait for it. Wait until he gets to the part where he asks with that smug look on his face, “well…have YOU read it?”

At which time you may step boldly forth, perhaps quoting from section  6114, titled: “National demonstration projects on culture change and use of information technology in nursing homes.”

Then you may watch his jaw drop…

Tight lines…

–Ed

Six things I won’t live to see

As I am now some months into my fifty ninth ride around The Star, I find myself now, more than ever, soberly aware of my role of passenger on this ride, and try as I might, I know that I shall never be the Captain of the ship. With this realization I have not become cynical (as many of my fellow passengers have), but I have become more pragmatic. I have come to realize that there are some things that I shall never see within my lifetime. I have compiled a short list of them here:

 1. Sub-$3.00 per gallon gas – Last week, as I was driving to work, a newscaster on the Miami radio station that I was listening to said that the price of gasoline in our area had dropped 2 -3 cents gallon. The newscaster went on to attribute this drop in price to the fact that local fuel distributors had switched to their ‘winter-blend’, which is (apparently) somewhat cheaper than the ‘summer-blend’. Well, I thought to myself – it’s high time. Since it is mid-September and temps are already plummeting into the mid-70s overnight, I damn well want that winter blend in my old truck. In this part of the country, where summer runs until – well – New Years Eve, having winter-blend fuel in your vehicle is essential. My point in this short, cynical, rant being that the price of gasoline is, and always has been, manipulated by a few. We are now headed for the days of $4 per gallon fuel, and nothing that we passengers can do (or are likely to do) can change that.

2. Return of the electric car – Back in 1888, when the world’s first electric vehicle, the German Flocken Elektrogwagen took to the street, inventor Andreas Flocken probably felt that he was looking at the future of personal transport. He probably dreamed of a traffic jam of electrically powered carriages rattling across Europe on a cobblestone, 19th century, Autobahn. Actually, by the early years of the 20th century, electric vehicles had become very popular in both Europe and the U.S. Early models were easier to start, ran cleaner and were so popular with women that they became known as ‘women’s vehicles’ – so much so that manufacturers had to install fake radiators on the cars to attract male customers. In any case, we have made little progress in the past 125 years in making electrically powered vehicles available to the general public.

Oh I know all the arguments against electric vehicles: the batteries don’t last, charging stations are expensive to maintain, the power-plants needed to generate electricity dump tons of emissions into the atmosphere too…I have heard all of it, and I don’t buy into it. Each day I watch literally hundreds of gasoline powered postal vehicles take to the streets of my city, puttering from mailbox to mailbox, all of them spewing carbon emissions into the air. Later a UPS truck pulls up to my house in a cloud of diesel smoke. The mission: to pick up an envelope at my house for overnight delivery…see my point. Even if we had encouraged development of electric vehicles for commercial purposes (as they did in Europe for many years), we might well be on our way to breaking the stranglehold that the oil companies have on us all.

Without going into greater detail, the movie “Who Killed the Electric Car” does a much better job describing “what the hell happened” than I can. If you want the short version, see item 1 above in my list.

3. Who killed JFK –   I am convinced I shall never know exactly who killed John F. Kennedy. No, I don’t buy into every conspiracy theory that comes along, but I have never bought into the Warren Commission report either. I do not believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating Kennedy in Dallas back in November of 1963. There…I said it. A few days after the assassination, when I was nine years old, I watched (on black and white TV of course), Jack Ruby step from a crowd in the basement of the Dallas Police Headquarters, pull a pistol, and kill Oswald on national television. I smelled a rat then, and I still smell one fifty years later. But, I am certain that we will never know exactly what happened. Too many of the principals have passed away and barring a deathbed confession from Fidel Castro, or the resurrection of Jimmy Hoffa from whatever block of concrete he is encased in, the truth has already gone to someone’s grave and the paper trail shredded and cold.

4. The truth about Area 51 – Note those readers who know where I live: Do not send the padded van. Also, no need to call to ask if I am feeling okay, I’m fine. I just think that denying the existence of a super secret, military testing installation, for sixty years, and then suddenly announcing its existence is suspicious. Nothing to see here…keep it moving. Of course it was there all along…That’s what our government is telling us now.

Area 51 was, and still is, a top-secret military installation located in the Groom Lake area in the desert north of Las Vegas, Nevada. It was never a real secret. I mean you could drive out there — until they stopped you. For years we’ve heard about the plain white passenger jet that left each morning from McCarran airport, returning each evening – the Area 51 shuttle.

Those of us who have studied the area for decades have no doubt that the area is a super secret seedbed for advanced avionics programs. Programs that were born out of competition with the Soviets during the Cold War. But in the wake of a very suspicious crash of an airborne vehicle in Roswell, New Mexico in July of 1947, it is small wonder that rumors soon spread that the U.S. Government was involved in the secret back-engineering project of a craft that might have come from another world. Some people, like airline pilots, U.S. astronauts, scientists and thousands of others around the world, myself included, have seen things in the night sky that we know are not errant weather balloons or swamp gas. We also know that the same government that has purposefully denied the existence of Area 51 knows more about this phenomenon than they are saying, and they are likely to maintain this silence in the foreseeable future.

5. Travel to the moon – We are not going back to the moon. When Eugene Cernan departed the moon at 5:40 GMT on December 14, 1972, it marked the last time that man will set foot on that celestial rock for many, many more years to come. We shall continue to make noise about returning to the moon, spouting nonsense about man’s inherent need to explore the unknown, citing perhaps Magellan’s desire to circumnavigate the earth, or Columbus’ drive to find a passage to the East – but these guys had air to breathe and they were motivated by the dream of great wealth in undiscovered lands. Plus they didn’t know how heavily the odds were stacked against them. We will not return to the moon in my lifetime because: a) It is simply too dangerous to send a human there, and b) there is nothing there. Unless we discover oil on the moon, we will never travel there in the foreseeable future (notice I keep using the word ‘forseeable’. I am not a big believer in the word ‘never’).

Similarly, we will not send a human to Mars, even if we could actually find sane people willing to give up a decade of their lives to a cause that will likely result in their deaths. We will not go to Mars because: a) It is simply too dangerous to send a human there, and b) there is nothing there. Unless we discover oil on Mars, we will never travel there in the foreseeable future.

6. Rational gun control in the United States – We will not institute any significant gun control legislation in the United States for a very, very, long time – if ever. Today, as I watch members of the Florida Chapter of the Armed Citizens Project offer up free shotguns to Florida citizens as a way to protect themselves against crime (this in the wake of the D.C. Navy Yard massacre by a demented young man armed with a shotgun), I am now more than ever convinced that we are too far gone. We are destined to go from one shootout to the next, with the same scenario playing out each time. We shall see the innocent brutally gunned down by the deranged. The NRA will remain respectfully silent for a few days. After that, the cry will go out to arm the citizenry in greater numbers so as to reduce the risk of the innocent being brutally gunned down by the deranged. The way to ‘stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun’…blah, blah, we blather on.

And so we shall continue – sitting in class with our bullet proof backpacks at the ready, casting a wary eye over our shoulder as we shop at the mall, planning an escape route as we sit at out desks at work, and hoping that the terror that we experience at the movie theatre occurs only on-screen.

But we shall go on.

So that’s it…I gotta go…

My tinfoil hat is smoking…

Mahalo,

–Ed

You never know…

Ed’s Note: For my EEOTPB readers who do not reside in the U.S. (and there are several of you), the Powerball is a shared, multi-state lottery. Due to the large number of participants, coupled with the astronomical odds against winning, the jackpots often reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars. Lottery Fever usually hits at around half a billion bucks – that’s when it really gets out of control.

 *

Lotto tixAs the Powerball jackpot once again inches toward the half-a-billion mark ($400,000 tonight, but who is counting at this point), I find myself drawn into the great lotto abyss from which there is no return (financial return that is). As I have watched lottery jackpots grow over the years, from pathetic little jackpots intended to give the average person with fifty cents or a dollar, a chance to win a couple hundred thousand, or even a million dollars, into the huge mega-bucks income generating machines that they are today, I can only wonder, what the hell happened? What has happened to the U.S.A? Have we all become so disillusioned with the American Dream (if there ever was a real American Dream), that now we stake our last shot, or at least our last $2 on what I call “the longest of long shots”…a bet on not just the three legged horse in the race, but the dead horse.

Several years ago, I was traveling through inner-city Philadelphia. Some days before, I’d read an editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer that called out the tobacco and liquor industries for preying on the poor by shamelessly erecting billboards advertising cigarettes (billboard advertising of tobacco has since been banned), and top shelf liquor in low-income (impoverished) neighborhoods. As I drove through this area, I saw those same billboards, and I thought, “I cannot not agree more” – until I also happened to notice similar signage inviting participation in the state run lottery. Apparently, the State fleecing of the poor is not recognized as being in the same category of ‘fleecing’ as selling tobacco and alcohol to people who can ill afford it.

Granted, lottery tickets do not cause cancer, and they do not cause the array of social, as well as health problems that alcohol causes – but encouraging poor people to spend their meager funds on lottery tickets, is at best a social sin, inflicted upon them by what can only be called a greedy government.

Or so it seems to me.

*

 So, I went searching for the odds of my winning tonight’s Powerball drawing. It was not hard to find: 1 in 175 million. That means little to me. Why…because I am not a big statistics guy. I’ve always  had trouble with statistics, probably because I never did well in math in general, but I do respect statistics. I just always need a math whiz to interpret them for me. Therefore,  because I am statistics challenged,  I went searching for a way for me to get my arms around this big lotto stat. I found my answer. I had to look no further than Professor Robert Williams. Professor Williams is a professor of health sciences at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada. He is an expert in all forms of gambling, but most importantly, he is able, as few others can, to put 1 in 175 million into layman’s terms.

According to Professor Williams, if I walk into my local convenience store, and pick up a Powerball number selection card, I should be able to select six, random numbers, in about 10 seconds (I have tried it, and it does take about ten seconds). Those numbers will give me the 1 in 175,000,000 shot at the big jackpot. Now, if I want to increase my odds to that of a coin flip (even I know that is 50/50), here is what I have to do: I must continue to fill out six digit lotto cards every ten seconds 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year for the next 55 years. Provided I could afford to do so, I would greatly increase my odds of winning Powerball. Or, I might win tonight with my measly little $6 ticket…as they say…

“You never know…”

“You can’t win if you don’t play…”

“Somebody wins…”

“The odds go out the window when you hold the winning ticket…”

Mahalo,

–Ed

Driving fast with guns

I don’t get a lot of satisfaction in seeing people fall, even people who I think deserve to fall. For some reason, I’d rather see people redeem themselves in some small way, but almost always I am let down. One person who I was certain was NOT going to redeem himself in any way was George Zimmerman. Mr. Zimmerman seems to have taken his place as Florida celebrity du-jour when it comes to extending his middle finger to the world after beating a murder rap in an Orlando courtroom last July. Believe me, I use the word celebrity loosely here. A man whose only claim to fame is shooting an unarmed teenager to death is hardly a celebrity, but as our own adopted O.J. Simpson cools his heels in a Nevada pen, and Casey Anthony seems to have faded into deserved obscurity, all eyes are on faux-celebrity Mr. Zimmerman, and apparently there is much to watch.

Since being found innocent back on July 17th, Mr. Zimmerman has assisted at a traffic accident (a good thing, if we believe it really went down the way it was reported, although it seemed as if he went from ‘assisting’ as first reported, to  ‘rescuing’ people as later reported), and he has been stopped for speeding twice – once in Texas while on a cross-country trip, and once in his home state of Florida (doing 60 in a 45 – okay, not death penalty stuff, but you’d think he’d show more respect for the law) .  More recently, he has been accused of attacking his father in law (although evidence seems to say otherwise), and threatening his estranged wife, ostensibly with a gun.  So, does the man brandish a pistol at the slightest provocation? Is he as trigger happy as he seems to be? Is he a lose cannon waiting to go off when it’s least expected? The answers to such questions appear murky at best. Even the police seem to be at odds with initial reports from his wife.

I’m certainly not an expert on marital discord. Within any marriage, my own included, there are only two people who know exactly what is going on. But when a person seems to have repeated contact with the law, one has to look toward a common denominator. I see guns.

I am thinking of the days immediately after Mr. Zimmerman’s acquittal when an absurd call went out for money to help Mr. Zimmerman purchase replacement weapons. Insanity once again trumping prudence.

This is all I can say today on this important topic. I will close here by saying that I am certain that we have not heard the last of Mr. Zimmerman. I only hope that I am not describing the fate of an innocent victim the next time I mention his name.

Mahalo,

–Ed

Boots on the ground

A cranky old friend of mine told me the other day, that the older he became, the more certain phrases annoyed him. He told me that one expression that he was tired of, was the overused expression, “back in the day”.

“That expression really rankles me,” he said.

“That expression rankles you?” I said fumbling through my mental dictionary for a definition of ‘rankles’.

“Yeah,” he went on, “like back in WHAT day. Why can’t people just say something like, you know, in 1967 we didn’t have any frigging internet so we had to get all of our news from Walter Cronkite on the black and white Philco at 7PM sharp! There…saying something like that should make you sound old, and curmudgeonly enough, without saying, back in the day all we had was Walter f___ing Cronkite to tell us what was going on in the world!”

This somewhat bizarre exchange occurred in the break room at the office where I work, and I took a quick step backward as my crotchety coworker brushed past me to thrust his dry Florida Panther’s mug beneath the water cooler spigot. Never get between a hard-core hockey fan and a water cooler.

I walked away shaking my head, hoping that a cool mug of Zephyrhills would return my friend’s blood pressure to at least the high side of normal, and planning a blog-post about the small annoyances that we humans choose to clutter up our lives. Such annoyances cause us to waste precious time on this planet, which could be better spent on more productive pursuits. I was planning on kind of a Zen blog about how we are all killing ourselves by focusing on the minutiae – the trivial. Then I heard President Obama (a President that I have voted for twice by the way), say the following, right there on my old Philco (okay, my 42 inch flat screen), regarding proposed and almost certainly upcoming military action in Syria:

“We’re not considering any open commitment. We’re not considering a boots on the ground approach.”

And there it was: “boots on the ground”. I was suddenly rankled. Since rankled is not a word that one uses, or even sees every day, I shall post the definition here:

to continue to cause keen irritation or bitter resentment within the mind; fester; be painful.

That describes my feeling toward “boots on the ground”, a catch phrase which, of course, refers to launching a real, full-fledged, military operation on foreign soil by sending in soldiers (who usually wear boots), and usually indicates that we, as a Nation, are ready to make a long-term commitment to a country or region, based upon real, though often fabricated evidence. Evidence that is more times than not spoon fed through the media to the general public. In order to keep the boots off of the ground we often instead, launch an air strike.  An airborne attack has the advantage of inflicting massive damage  (shock and awe), while making certain that NO boots touch the ground – supposedly.

Boots on WHAT ground, I always want to say when I hear that tired expression circa. 2002. We have boots on the ground in the desert outside of Las Vegas launching drone attacks in Afghanistan, while we have had boots on the ground for the past decade in the desert in Iraq – fighting in a war that was started on some very shaky, if not downright underhanded pretenses.

So don’t get my meaning wrong  here. I am not saying that there is never a time for “boots on the ground”, and I certainly mean no disrespect to those wearing the boots (anyone who reads my work knows that I am committed to the cause of better treatment for our veterans), but I fear that this Syrian mess is not one of those times, or so it seems to me, and unless I have been inhaling too much Florida swamp gas, it will soon prove itself to be just that.

bootsThis is a debacle in sheep’s clothing and I hope that we discover that before the first boots hit the ground.

Mahalo,

–Ed

All in the family

This summer, the Emmy Award winning daytime drama (soap opera) General Hospital has been airing a subplot in which young Michael Corinthos Jr. (played by Chad Duell),  the son of local mob boss Sonny Corinthos, falls in love with his half-brother’s girlfriend, Kiki Jerome (played by Kristen Alderson). In typical soap fashion, happiness and joy will not last long for these two young lovers. Michael and Kiki’s romance soon sours when it is discovered that they are, in fact, first cousins.

Since I seem to recall that real life mob-boss, Carlo Gambino, was married to his first cousin, I wondered why in fictitious Port Charles, New York, such a taboo existed. If such a relationship didn’t stop the Boss of Bosses from achieving matrimonial bliss with a not-too-distant relative, then why should it short circuit young Michael and Kiki’s plans? I mean, there are lots of other notable first cousin unions, notably Edgar Allan Poe who married his first cousin, Virginia Clemm, H.G. Wells who married cousin Isabelle, and Jesse James (the frontier outlaw, not the biker-reality-tv-star), who married first cousin Zerelda Mimms.

The list of cousin couplings goes on and on, and includes none other than Albert Einstein who married first cousin Elsa and of course, Jerry Lee Lewis who married first cousin, once removed, Myra Gayle Brown. Perhaps the most fascinating union, to me anyway, is the that of Charles Darwin who married first cousin Emma Wedgewood. Darwin it seems, was not too keen on the idea of marriage to anyone, and apparently weighed his options carefully before finally taking a walk down the aisle back in 1839. The Darwins went on to have ten children, three of which died in infancy. His other children went on to live out perfectly normal lives with three being knighted by Queen Victoria.

With a little further research into the topic of first cousin marriage, I was able to unearth the fact that while first cousin unions are allowed in 26 of our 50 U.S. states (some with restrictions), such marriages are legal in all European nations, Canada and Mexico. Here in the U.S., about 1 in every 1000 marriages is a first cousin marriage, while in Japan the ration is about 4 in every 1000.

These figures become more shocking when one considers that by some estimates, 80 percent of all marriages throughout history have been cousin marriages! And more shocking yet when one considers that all of us on planet earth are no more distantly related than 50th cousins.

So that’s it. We are just one big, largely dysfunctional family, here on this rock riding around the sun. I will remember that the next time someone – a stranger – cuts me off, rips me off, or in some other way pisses me off. I shall do my best to remember that he/she is just a wayward relative behaving badly, like Cousin Jake who has a way of offending nearly everyone at the Thanksgiving Day dinner table, but gets invited back year after year because – he’s family.

I am thinking of family now, as I hear the war drums pounding, way off in the distance. Members of this human family are at it again, killing other family members in very inhumane ways in a country halfway around the world. Here in the U.S. political leaders seem to be trying their best to rally support for an attack – an attack on something, or someone. Support for an attack is slow to gather among the populace. A poll in today’s Washington Post indicates that six in ten Americans want no part of another military action in the Middle East – probably because we have been lied to about the reasons for past military interventions.

We can  hope that this one isn’t another in a long line.

 

Mahalo,

-Ed

Thoughts on Greenland

A commercial airline pilot I know, who flies regularly between New York and Amsterdam, told me the other day that he had been watching the Greenland ice cap disappear for the past decade.

“Greenland,” I said. “Now there is a place I haven’t thought about in a long, long time.”  I had probably not given Greenland a second thought since the sixth grade when I was awarded a gold star in Ms. Ogelthorpe’s geography class for correctly naming Godthab as its capital, and largest city. And I do recall my uncle telling stories about Thule Air Base, that dated back to his days in the Army Air Corps during and shortly after WWII, but that’s about it for me and Greenland.

Of course, we all know Greenland – it is that white and icy looking projectile dangling at the top of the Mercator Projection maps that hang upon the wall of every classroom throughout the world. But few of us have ever traveled there (although after doing some research, and seeing the incredible beauty of the place, I am almost ready to run out and book a flight to Godthab, or Nuuk, as the capital is now called). In any event, there is a lot more going on up in Greenland than one would think, and some of it is not pretty.

For starters, how many of us here in the U.S. know that back in April, British amateur explorer Philip Goodeve-Docker, 31, died in a storm on the ice cap while participating in a 30 day, 400 mile, trans-Greenland trek. Mr. Goodeve-Docker and two companions were participating in an unsanctioned charity event to raise funds for the Queen’s Nursing Institute, when a fierce storm called a Piteraq descended upon the party. These storms originate out on the ice cap and sweep down the eastern coast of Greenland, often with winds in the 50 to 80 mph range. In the case of the storm that descended upon Mr. Goodeve-Docker’s party, the wind speed reached 160 mph. In the face of such wind, and with temperatures in the neighborhood of -4 F, rescue by helicopter was impossible. Mr. Goodeve-Docker was able to put in a last call to his parents in Britain via satellite phone, and a rescue effort was mounted. Unfortunately not in time.

In what can only be termed an understatement, North East Hampshire coroner, Andrew Bradley, recorded Mr. Goodeve-Docker’s cause of death, as “death by misadventure”.

But back to my point about the Greenland ice cap and how this whole thing might relate to climate change. In July, an iceberg twice the size of Manhattan has broken off from Greenland. This huge ice chunk has dislodged from the Petermann Glacier. You can read this here too. As noted in this article (for those of you who do not care for links), the University of Cambridge has determined that the rate at which these Greenland glaciers are melting has doubled over the past ten years – confirming what my airline pilot acquaintance tells me (not that I doubted the guy, if you can’t trust a pilot who can you trust).

Another ‘non-alarmist’ article, a link to which I shall post here, describes the sudden ice melt that NASA satellites have observed, with even the coldest locales experiencing a bit of a melt-down. The article goes on to say that the scientists are unable to determine whether or not the melting of the ice is due to global climate change, or due to natural causes.

So there you have it. Just a bit of news about somewhere you probably have not thought of in a long time. Perhaps we shall wish we had paid a bit more attention to far off Greenland when the Florida peninsula disappears underwater, and the date palms are sprouting just outside of Bridgeport.

Mahalo

Ed