Happy Birthday Wolfgang

On this date in history, January 27th, my favorite composer of all time was born in Salzburg, Austria. If he were alive today, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart would be 258 years old. Mozart, who began playing musical instruments when he was just 6 years old, is said to have composed his first symphony at age 8. From then onward, until his death from a mysterious fever at age 35, the Great One churned out more than 600 musical compositions. By my calculation, that averages out to roughly 22 compositions per year, or 2 per month for each month of his life — prolific composing to say the least.

That said,  in addition to recognizing the birthday of Johannes Chrisostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart (the name on Mozart’s certificate of birth), I think that this is as good of a time as any to mention the firestorm of controversy that has erupted in the blogosphere, in the wake of free-lance writer, Mark Vanhoenacker’s piece in Slate magazine announcing the death of classical music.  (Click here to read.)  To quote Mr. Vanhoenacker:

“When it comes to classical music and American culture, the fat lady hasn’t just sung. Brunnhilde has packed her bags and moved to Boca Raton.”

 While I can say that so far, I have not spotted Brunnhilde on the streets here in Boca Raton, Vahhoenacker does present some interesting data regarding the current state of, and the future of, classical music. For those of you who do not like to click links, one very telling example he cites is that “Symphony Hall”, one of the only two remaining Classical channels offered by Sirius XM radio, has 3500 Facebook likes, while the All-Pearl-Jam channel has 11000.  He also points to the fact that in 1937, the average age of Los Angeles orchestra concert attendees was a baby faced, 28. Suffice to say that the average age of today’s concert going audience is significantly older. He goes on to present further evidence of classical music’s death, which I shall not detail here. Simply stated, however, the reasons for classical music’s demise are many and varied, ranging from its becoming lost amid the plethora of popular music available to today’s youth who find it boorish and uninteresting, as well the lack of government funding for the arts in general, and perhaps an all around perception that classical music is the province of the overly educated elite, or formally schooled musicians, and without a degree from Julliard one has little chance of understanding its complicated compositions.

In any case, the reaction to Mr. Vanhoenacker’s piece has been especially heated, with classical music lovers going on the attack. In response to his detractors, Vanhoenacker granted an interview, which was published on New York’s classical station WQXR’s website. (Click here to read.) In this interview, Vanhoenacker defends himself by saying that much of the vitriol sent his way by angered classical music lovers is misdirected, and that he is, in fact, a classical music fan. He goes on to explain that the title of the article “Classical music in America is dead” was composed not by him, but by an editor. So in a sense, Mr. Vanhoenacker seems to be saying that he’s only the messenger, so please don’t shoot.

Personally, I enjoy classical music for the simple reason I can work to it. When I am writing, I can’t work in total silence, but I can’t work to the right-wing talkers that dominate the airwaves either,  or to rock, country, R&B, hip-hop, bluegrass, or jazz. I found out years ago that playing classical music when I work improves my focus and helps me to ignore background distractions. And understand that I have little in the way of  musical education, so I am far from being an elitist music snob. I simply find the strains of Mozart, Brahms and Haydn uplifting, and when I find myself in need of inspiration I turn to some of the selections I keep on my iPod, or I stream one of the (few) classical radio stations that remain on the air.

In the end, I imagine that Vanhoenacker’s dire predictions shall prove true, as few radio stations, even public radio stations, can afford to play classical. Government support of any substance is unlikely to rescue them from their fate, and their once hardcore benefactors are aging and fading from the scene.

I hope that I am wrong.

Happy Birthday Wolfgang.

Advertisements

Considering Facebook

A colleague of mine, a very technically savvy guy, a gentleman some years younger than myself, told me last week that he did not have, nor had he ever had, a Facebook account. Even though his own wife, his 75 year old mother, and his two teenage daughters, all had Facebook accounts, he was resistant, and when I pressed him for why he’d never opted for an account, he told me he didn’t have time for such foolishness. What I wanted to say was, why is your time so much more valuable than that of your wife, your mother and your very own offspring, but before I could say that, he was gone, leaving me standing in the proverbial dust contemplating my own relationship with social media, Facebook in particular.

Having been a semi-faithful user of Facebook, almost from the start, I confess to having a love/hate relationship with it. Actually, love/hate is far too strong of a term to attribute to an online social networking service – maybe “like/don’t care so much for it” is better. Best not to give too much power to the relatively insignificant. In any event, for those readers who happen to have come of age after Al Gore laid down the information superhighway, let me briefly outline the way life was for us before we all became so interconnected.

During our elementary/high school/college years, and on into the work world, we made friends (or we tried to make friends). Sometimes we made friends that we stayed in touch with for the remainder of our adult lives, and in some cases we even married our friends, but in many cases, we lost touch with them. Upon parting with our friends, we would exchange telephone numbers and addresses, and say to one another that we would write and call, but lots of times that never ever happened. Life became hectic. People moved, and telephone numbers changed. Sometimes a letter to an old friend would be returned as undeliverable, or a call to an old friend would be made to a disconnected telephone.

As years ground on, with no word from our old friends, we would reminisce about them over coffee, or cocktails. We would think about so-and-so, and we would wonder if she ever made it into medical school, or if he ever wrote that novel, or if she ever opened that organic restaurant in the Catskills, or if he/she had really ever married that guy/girl that he/she dumped us for…

We would wonder such things, and occasionally we would find out the answers. Sometimes, we would get a card around the holidays from an old friend who had somehow unearthed our address. Or, perhaps late at night, we would get a call from the truck stop up on the Interstate. An old friend, having recognized the exit for our town had pulled off the road, and after finding our number in the local telephone directory (the one that was bolted and chained to the phone booth), had called us and we’d chatted for fifteen or twenty minutes about old times until he/she ran out of change.

Old Friends From Out Of The Blue (OFFOOTB), that’s what I called them. And on the flip side of it, we too were OFFOOTB to others, dropping in and out of old friends lives sporadically and when we did so, we were always on our best behavior, always wanting to put our best foot forward.

In those days, the following conversation would NEVER have occurred:

Phone rings. I answer.

“Hi Ed!”

“Hi.”

“It’s me, Ralph. Ralph Thornwhistle.”

“Oh, hi,” I say, trying to remember if I owe anybody named Ralph any money.

“You remember me, right? From Mr. Bricker’s 3rd period biology class – 10th grade.”

“Oh hi Ralph. What’s it been, 42, 43 years now?”

“More like 45 old pal. Hey – do you want to hear the top ten reasons why Obamacare sucks…”

Ok, so maybe my example is a little extreme, but similar encounters seem to happen often online. I mention it here to illustrate how I am starting to view Facebook – I now know far too much about people that I’d almost forgotten about. And it’s not that I don’t care about maintaining contact with friends and family scattered afar, because I do. If there is one thing that Facebook, as well as other social media like Twitter and LinkedIn are doing very well, it is changing the entire dynamic of how we interact with each other on a long term basis. And if I had, in fact, stayed in contact with (fictitious) Ralph Thornwhistle for the past 45 years, I probably would not be as put off by his political views as I would be if they were suddenly dropped on me from out of nowhere, after accepting him as a Facebook friend. If he and I had kept up with each other over the years, maybe we would be friends in spite of our differences (always the best), or perhaps not.

Marriage counselors, family therapists, as well as pastors, priests, rabbis and anyone else who is in the business of listening to peoples marital woes report a surge in infidelity brought on by people who have hooked up with old lovers thanks to Facebook. And I suppose there is something to that, as it is hard to hook up with those we can’t locate, and Facebook has changed that. I know of two marriages that ended due to cheating spouses who ‘found ex-lovers’ on Facebook. Personally, I feel it is unfair to blame an online social networking service for marital discord. After all, people tempted to cheat have been doing so for…maybe 10,000 years.

But sometimes I do find that I would rather have just remembered some friends the way that I remember them, and not as I find them today. I also imagine that some of them feel the same about me.

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

Disappearing fishing tackle sparks my short rant on Wal-Mart…

So there I was, last week, at my local sports equipment store. It is a chain store near my house that I go to on a regular basis, although I don’t need much of what they sell there. I don’t golf, my bad knees forced me off of the running circuit years ago, and I am far too old to need football pads, or baseball cleats. I go to this particular store for one thing only – fishing tackle. And they stock lots of it, or at least they did. That is why I was so surprised when I stopped by the other day to replenish my supply of 2 ounce pyramid sinkers, and found their once packed shelves were nearly empty…devoid of tackle.

Frustrated, I  hailed a young store employee to find out what was going on with the fishing tackle.

“We’re not stocking ‘fishing stuff’ any more,” he said, sounding almost happy about it. Then he waved his hand at the few rods that were still standing in their vertical holders, and the nearly empty racks where lures and spoons and hooks were once displayed, and the empty shelves that once held a multitude of tackle boxes, bait bubblers and sand flea rakes.

“Why would you get rid of the fishing tackle?” I asked.

He shot me one of those, isn’t-it-obvious looks, and then he replied. “We need more room for the Lacrosse gear.”

“Lacrosse gear,” I snorted, “you’re kidding me. This is South Florida – sport fishing capital of the world. The Fishing Hall of Fame is a few miles down the road. And you’re clearing out the fishing equipment to make room for Lacrosse gear? Where are we supposed to go now for rods and tackle?”

“Try Wal-Mart,” he said over his shoulder as he walked away, “they have about everything we have.”

“Wal-Mart,” I said. “I never shop at…,” but the young sales associate was long gone.

Of course I was about to ask him why a seemingly bright young man like himself, would possibly direct a customer to Wal-Mart. Didn’t he realize that as goes the fishing gear, so go the propane stoves, tents, and overpriced sneakers? The golf clubs, weight sets and treadmills will soon follow. In another year he’ll be directing disillusioned young lacrosse players to the Wal-Mart Super Store two miles up the highway, and shortly after that he may find himself filling out an employment application at aforementioned store…doesn’t he know that!

Wal-Mart, with roughly 2,200,000 employees (2011 figures), is the number one private employer in not only the United States, but the entire world. And frankly, I could care less if they had ten million workers, as long as they made some halfhearted attempt to pay them better. Their anti-worker message is articulated clearly in the recent events going on up in our nation’s capital. Scheduled to open six new stores in D.C., Wal-Mart axed plans to open three of them based upon the D.C. City Council’s elevation of the minimum wage to $12.50 per hour for so called ‘big box’ stores. Big box stores being defined as those stores with floor space in excess of 75,000 square feet and annual revenues of over 1 billion dollars.

Since by some estimates, each Wal-Mart worker displaces 1.4 local workers it only seems right to me that they pay their workers a livable wage, whether $12.50 per hour is a livable wage in the D.C. metro area is debatable.

In vast areas of the United States, especially in the rural areas of the Midwest, Rocky Mountain West and South, the appearance of a Wal-Mart Super Center is viewed with the same tepid enthusiasm that accompanies news that a new prison is coming to town. It may not be exactly the industry that they want, but at least it will bring jobs. At least their young people will have somewhere to go to earn a paycheck…you know those young people, the ones that for a multitude of reasons are unable to pack up and leave for greener pastures as a good Republican friend of mine suggested to me recently.

And bring jobs it shall, and they shall be derived from the displaced workers that once owned and staffed local businesses.

Or so this seems to me.

Not much sun in the Sunshine State

For many of us, life is a set of mundane daily activities that distract us from world events. We trudge through our days, thinking that in the end our efforts will be rewarded. We think that our good deeds will bear fruit. Similarly, we believe that misdeeds will result in some sort of punishment. I’d like to think that the terrible person in the white Nissan that cut me off yesterday on I-95 will somehow suffer for this affront by having something bad happen to him, or her (nothing really bad, like an accident or anything, but something sort of bad like getting stuck in the drive-up at the bank for 45 minutes). But then something will happen that reminds me that this may not happen, because the world is not a fair place to live. The driver of the white Nissan may be, at this very moment, cashing in a winning lottery ticket

Saturday was one of those days for me – a day that something happened to remind me of how unfair the world can be. Here in South Florida the weather was miserable. Tropical storm Chantral had fizzled off of the coast, and was crawling northward. By mid morning, heavy storm clouds had gathered, as if to foretell events unfolding in a courtroom in Central Florida (okay, so now you know where this blog post is going). By mid-morning I had cancelled my outdoor activities, as lightning crackled across the sky in one menacing bolt after another. The Weather Channel said that the front would pass by 1 PM, but that didn’t happen, and by 3 the rain was coming down in torrents. Around 4, an explosion not unlike an artillery round being fired went off behind my house, and the power for half of the neighborhood went down as lightning struck a nearby transformer.

By six, after my wife finished her workday, we sloshed off to the bar at Cafe Med, a little place near the Deerfield Beach fishing pier, a block off of the water. Yup, you guessed it, not lots of people at the beach. The place was nearly empty. A few tourists (don’t ask me who vacations in Florida in July) were at the bar, and from the sounds of things they had been there for quite some time. A couple of locals sat at the bar staring grimly at the TV, which was tuned to live coverage of the George Zimmerman trial going on up in Orlando. The volume was muted so everyone was carefully monitoring the closed captions scrolling past.

At that time, the jury of six (Florida felony trials require only a jury of six), had asked for clarification of what constituted ‘manslaughter’.

“They are going to find him guilty of manslaughter,” said my wife. “That’s all he’s going to get, I just feel it.”

“I dunno,” I said. “I think he’ll walk.”

“No,” said my wife. “He killed that kid…that unarmed kid…he can’t just walk away free…can he?”

By the time we got home later in the evening, the rain had subsided, although sheet lightning flashed in skies over Miami forty miles to the south. Eventually, a Florida Power and Light crew arrived to fix the power problem, so for a bit we were distracted from the Zimmerman trial, as we watched a power company worker reset a giant transformer fuse while standing on the ground using a 35 foot pole – ah modern technology.

Sometime around 11, my wife received a text message from her sister in Philadelphia.

“Oh no,” she said. “It can’t be true – he’s been found innocent!”

And so it goes here in the Sunshine State. The predicted riots that would erupt in the wake of an acquittal did not occur, although today there are some reports of riots in Los Angeles. Locally though, there were protests, and lots of tears, but they were peaceful protests, as the reality of what had happened began to sink in.

Today, conservative rock star, gun advocate Ted Nugent has weighed in with a predictable comment, calling Zimmerman’s action “the purest form of self-defense there is“.  Really Ted? Shooting an unarmed man is pure now?

The talking heads on the morning shows still speculate on the verdict, and today the first juror has spoken. There will probably be an upcoming civil trial, and George Zimmerman will undoubtedly wish that he were somewhere else that night of February 26, 2012. Trayvon Martin would certainly wish the same – if he only could.

As time goes on, we will discover more about the jury’s reasoning in finding Zimmerman not guilty. I imagine that Florida’s controversial ‘stand your ground law’, which pretty much makes it possible to gun down anyone whenever you feel threatened, is to blame. That, a six member jury, and some very good lawyering on the part of the defense probably were responsible for Zimmerman’s leaving the courthouse a free man.

To all, stay safe, and to my fellow Floridians, keep our laws in mind when your ire is roused by errant drivers, or that rude guy who edges his cart ahead of you at Publix. Remember the fine line that we have drawn in our sand – we might be but one altercation away from finding ourselves in Trayvon Martin’s shoes.

Mahalo

–Ed