# Phones on planes

We are approaching a very telling moment in society. Perhaps a tipping point in civilization. From this point, history will show that we either grew into a benevolent society that takes care of itself, or descended into the rabble of anarchy. From this point forward, we will know who rules, who determines our direction.

This is not a battle between the Socialists and the Capitalists, this is not a political decision of Left or Right. This decision will not be based on religious beliefs or wealth. It’s more serious than the living versus the zombies.

It is time for the decisive battle against the wankers.

The FAA has banned the use of electronic devices on aircraft in flight since 1991, because there is the off chance that they might disrupt controls. But it was so important to play with an ipad in flight that they recently backed down and will allow their use except during take off and landing, when controls are critically important. I mean, they never actually proved that any crashes were caused by use of electronic devices, and isn’t keeping up with Farmville more important?

Now the FAA is considering allowing the use of cell phones. Send in the wankers.

You may have noticed that many people forget they are no longer in the privacy of their homes when they speak on a cell phone. I’m annoyed enough at loud conversations about aunt Mabel’s hemorrhoids, but hearing some moron’s idea of pillow talk while I’m trapped in the elevator with him is too much. Worse is the fights. I had the opportunity, along with the rest of the inhabitants on a train home one evening, to hear about the infidelities of my fellow passenger’s girlfriend Charlene with his brother. Not only was Charlene and our fellow traveler’ sibling performing acts that are illegal in some states, but apparently they were engaging in said acts in his home, where fellow traveler was heading with the intent of performing some rather gruesome work with not only his bare hands but also every loose item he could get hold of.

If you’ve never seen an entire passenger train full of commuters vigorously inspecting their shoes, you might not understand how uncomfortable it is to have someone go completely non-linear in the same enclosed space you are trapped in. In the last few years, most lines have “quiet cars”, in which the use of cell phones is prohibited.

Unlike the rush to allow other electronic devices. the FAA and some airlines are in no rush to allow cell phone use. The director of the FAA is saying he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, and the flight attendants union has come out strongly against in flight cell phone use. Most sane people are against it, one survey indicated the availability of cell phone use would have a negative impact on choosing an airline. Can you hear me now?

Remember when there were smoking sections on planes? Sitting one row away from a smoker really didn’t work any better than sitting a cabin away from a screaming baby. “No calling” sections aren’t going to work, although “Step out on the wing to make a call” sounds fine to me. Charging for access to an airborne cell will only weed out cheap wankers, there are no doubt plenty of people willing to pay a premium to be a jerk. Or might someone think I should pay extra for a “No cell phones” flight?

My guess is that airline executives will decide that phones on planes are as welcome as snakes. Unless they’re snakes themselves. In that case the wankers might win.

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# Traditions

There are an incredible variety of Thanksgiving traditions. Many are centered on football (the pointy ended American kind), the Dallas Cowboys play every Thanksgiving, so in my family dinner was arranged around the game, as we moved around the country dinner time changed to facilitate watching the game. Last year Lieve and I were in Dallas so she was able to witness the event with my extended family, complete with the unspoken wagers on who would pass out on the floor first, my nephew Kirk won, dead to the world only minutes after dinner.

In High School, Thanksgiving meant the homecoming game against Summit. Wonderful memories of buying two cups of coffee just to keep my hands warm, and a drumstick cracking on the downbeat as we marched onto the frozen field. My first Thanksgiving after High School the holiday completely skipped my mind. I called a friend to hear a band at a bar, and didn’t understand why she had the family over for dinner on a Thursday.

There are movies that are family viewing traditions, for some reason “E.T.” has become a tradition in some families, I seem to remember watching “Wizard of Oz” every year at some point. I picked up the habit of sharing “WKRP in Cincinnati”s “Turkey Drop” episode with my friends. It seems even more appropriate now that I’m a vegetarian.

When I moved to Philadelphia, I found one radio DJ, Pierre Robert, would play “Alice’s Restaurant” every Thanksgiving, which seemed a perfect occasion, so I picked up that tradition. It’s the source of numerous lines I use in everyday conversation (Of course WKRP’s “Thanks for that on the spot report” ranks high as well). My favorite is “If you want to end the war and stuff you have to sing loud“. There have been a few revisions over the years, but the original is the best, capturing a Thanksgiving that can’t be beat, and the world before “don’t ask don’t tell”.

# The Holiday Feast

Thanksgiving is unique as an American holiday. Every other holiday is centered on consumerism, usually masked as giving to others. Well, maybe not Halloween but it’s not really a “Holiday”. Thanksgiving is centered on giving to others, but masked as consumption.  We talk about being thankful, but the thing most people are thankful for is a good parking space at the shopping mall. We talk about giving to others, but we focus on stuffing our faces.

Other cultures have rich food traditions around holidays, but in America, other than hot dogs on the fourth of July, the Thanksgiving Turkey Dinner is our only food holiday. Turkey Day.

Benjamin Franklin had suggested the turkey as our national bird. Not because of his resemblance to a turkey, but because the wild turkey is a very clever animal, just ask any turkey hunter. They are aware of their surroundings and difficult to sneak up on, they spook easily so hunting requires lying perfectly still in wait and hoping one walks in front of your shotgun. The wild turkey displays our national colors, red, white and blue. Unbeknownst to Franklin, the turkey would be bred domestically into one of the stupidest animals on the planet, one that can starve to death if its food trough is moved to far, or drown if it feels a rain drop on its head and looks up to see what’s happening. Maybe the turkey was a better choice than Ben had realized.

Being a vegetarian at Thanksgiving gives one a wonderful perspective. In the same way that many people now do not know where milk comes from, they also fail to remember what vegetables are. The other symbol of Thanksgiving, the cornucopia, is filled with vegetables. The only meat at the table is the centerpiece bird, yet having a vegetarian to dinner causes panic. “What can you eat?” Everything except that big dead bird.

Roasted by a vegetarian

I don’t mind handling meat, in fact last year I roasted a turkey breast for my step son, wrapped in a bacon lattice. Our first Thanksgiving we spent with friends, and there was a glimmer of disappointment when our host remembered that we were vegetarians, and then that flash of panic as he tried to think what he could make for us at the last minute. He didn’t need to make anything, all the other dishes were vegetables.

This year we’ll be having dinner with friends again, but last night I made a specifically vegetarian dish that anyone can enjoy, and I’ll share it with you here. Portabello and caramelized onion lasagna. It takes a few hours to put together, I’m very sensitive to slicing onions so that’s the longest part for me. Here’s what you’ll need:

Lasagna pasta (I prefer the “ready for oven” type”)

Olive oil

3 large onions, thinly sliced (I use a mix, one red, two yellow)

4 portobello mushroom caps, gills removed, diced (you can go with 5 medium or 4 large)

one half cup red wine (that’s one glass, drink the rest of the bottle with dinner)

salt

four cups baby spinach

two cups ricotta cheese

one cup basil (I get the live plants in the grocery store, it’s about every leaf from a good sized plant)

three tablespoons flour

two cups milk

two ounces of Gorgonzola cheese crumbled

one third cup crushed walnuts

fresh ground pepper

any extra basil for finishing

If you’re not using oven ready lasagne pasta, cook the pasta first. Cook a few minutes less than the package instructions, drain, and keep in the covered pot you cooked them in.

Heat the oven to 375F.

In a large pot heat three tablespoons of olive oil, then add the onions. stir them every few minutes as you’re preparing everything else. You’re going for a caramelized browning, this should take close to half an hour. Add the mushrooms, cook for a few minutes until they soften then add the wine and a little salt and cook a few more minutes until everything appears uniform, add a few grinds of pepper, then remove from heat.

In a food processor, place the spinach, then the ricotta, then the basil, an a pinch of salt. process until smooth.

In a medium saucepan, heat two or three tablespoons of olive oil (depending on what kind of flour you’re using), and whisk in the flour until it bubbles. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly. Cook for a minute or two, then slowly add the Gorgonzola while still gently whisking. Once the cheese is melted and blended, remove from heat.

Assembling the Lasagna

Oil a 13 X 9 baking dish, then cover the bottom with one half cup of the cheese sauce. My ladle is exactly one half cup. Place a layer of lasagna pasta over the sauce, spread half of the spinach mixture over the pasta, and top that with one third of the onion/portobello mixture. Spread another ladle of cheese sauce over the onion/portobello mixture.

Apply another layer of pasta, the remaining spinach mixture, and half of the remaining onion/portobello, then top with half the remaining cheese sauce. Then finish with another layer of pasta, the remaining onion/portobello mixture, and the remaining cheese sauce. I use a slotted spoon for this last bit of cheese sauce, letting it drip evenly over the onion/portobello mix.

Sprinkle with the walnuts and any remaining basil, cover the pan with foil. Bake for twenty minutes, remove the foil, and bake another fifteen minutes. Let stand for at least five minutes before serving.

Caramelized onion and portobello mushroom lasagna

If you want to add a holiday element, make cranberry sauce! Put one cup water, one cup sugar, a cinnamon stick, and an orange cut into eighths (cut in half, then quarter the halves) and bring to a boil. Remove the cinnamon and orange pieces and add one package of cranberries. Return to a low boil. the cranberries will macerate and and the skins will break in about ten minutes. Once the sauce begins to thicken, reduce the heat and add one quarter cup Grand Marnier (or more). When the sauce is a little thinner than you want, remove from heat. It will thicken as it cools, which may take a couple of hours depending on the ambient temperature.

The basil stays bright green

# Motives

I try to be an open minded, understanding person. Really, I do. I’ve found that understanding someone’s motives can be instrumental in accepting their actions. Not forgiving or endorsing, but at least understanding well enough to follow the logic back to its source.

I find myself looking at both sides of an issue, which tends to allow me to be more fair in my appraisals. On the other hand, I also tend to expect the same balance in others, and have to soften my judgements of people with little or no insight. I’ve operated a business, so to me some functions appear obvious. A manager is responsible for his employees, therefore he should be interested in hiring people who can accomplish their jobs, which makes him look good to his managers, because he has proven himself to be a good judge of character, hiring people who assist in the business’s growth. It’s fairly obvious this is an outdated notion, operations continue to function with the absolute minimum of competence.

Society seems to be grinding down to its lowest common denominator, standards are lowered, making any drive for excellence whither. It’s disturbing and depressing, and the fact nothing can be done to change it makes it more so.  There is no way to change the tide.

We started with “Nobody’s perfect” and found we could justify any behavior with the phrase. No, nobody is perfect. But there are a lot of people who are ninety nine percent perfect, even more that are ninety five percent. When we start excusing the failures of people who are fifty one percent perfect by saying “Nobody’s perfect”, we fail to motivate those people to become fifty two percent.

It’s not just the people who think they should earn a “living wage” working at McDonald’s that fail to see a need to do better, it is seen in every strata of society.

There was a segment on the news last night about healthcare. As you probably know, hospitals bill ridiculous amounts. The reporter was shown on the phone with the hospital, trying to negotiate a bill, and said “who is looking out for these people?”. What is wrong with this picture? When did we become so feeble that we need to have someone looking out for us? Isn’t that entire “American Dream” concept centered on self reliance? Does thinking for yourself hurt so much that you just refuse to do it?

What comes from this? A government of the people, by the people, and for the people is driven by people who are either clever and trying to take advantage, or stupid and incapable. The trouble is telling them apart.

Ken Burns, the academy award winning producer of documentaries about America, is working on a project about the Gettysburg Address. Every American child memorized this speech in grade school, so we all know the words. It is a wonderful project, one of the more interesting components is a “mash-up“, a collage of different speakers reciting the Address. A grand show of unity.

“Unifying” is not the effect this project has had. In recording different celebrities, Burns allowed different versions of the well known speech to be used. In reality, the speech was given once, and the words were captured by journalists on the scene and transcribed in the New York Times. The words are engraved on the Lincoln Memorial. But due to the lack of photocopiers, Lincoln wrote the speech down on paper five times. There are differences in all five, the words “Under God” appearing in only three of them. The words “Under God” were spoken in Gettysburg, included in the transcript in the New York Times, engraved in stone in the Lincoln Memorial, memorized by every schoolchild, and included in Ken Burns’ “mash-up”, but for some reason the president of the United States decided to read a version that did not contain those words.

What was he thinking?

Immediately, right wing groups jumped on the omission as proof of his godless agenda. I personally don’t care if Obama is a closet Muslim, but last I checked they believe in God. Left wing groups defended Obama saying Ken Burns had specifically requested he read this version. Yes, he may be the president, but if Ken Burns asks…

What I know for certain is that more people have visited the project website, and learned about the Gettysburg Address, than ever would have without all the press the controversy has brought.

Clinton got away with playing stupid for eight years, Obama has worn the card thin in just five years. The latest play has been the suggestion that Edward Snowden should not be prosecuted, because without his information leaks Obama would have never known what the NSA was doing. He didn’t know what the IRS was doing, even after they admitted it. He didn’t know that you can’t build a website coordinating every branch of government with multiple private industries on a political timetable.

With his popularity at an all time low, and worse, his unpopularity at an all time high, it’s time to get serious. The flocks of Obama Zombies are thinning out, and although he won’t face another election, there will be other members of his party running for office in the future. In order for his programs to survive, Democrats will need to maintain at least a presence in Washington for the next decade, so if he wants a legacy other than “biggest fool on the hill”, someone needs to start thinking, no matter how much it hurts.

# Medical costs

As most of the nation argues about Obamacare, a fair number of people are still getting sick. They still see a doctor and they still go to the hospital. Fewer people have insurance, with millions of policies cancelled only a few hundred thousand have been able to sign up for insurance through state exchanges and the national program.

Beyond all the discussion about what Obamacare might have done, there are a number of things it was never supposed to do. All Obamacare was supposed to do, if the dust ever settles, was to make insurance available. The point that gets argued is whether that insurance will actually be “affordable”, not whether it will cover all medical expenses.

Sure, these new insurance plans will have to cover you if you have a pre-existing condition, and they’ll cover a minimum of basic services, and with any luck, premiums will go down because everyone will be required to have insurance. The math doesn’t work, the influx of newly insured could never have offset all the new required coverage, but that’s how it was sold. Caveat emptor.

Anyone who’s ever had an insurance claim knows that insurance doesn’t pay for everything. Anyone who’s ever dealt with a government program knows that they never deliver what’s promised. So it appears that the great issue in Obamacare is expectations versus reality. Most of us know there is no way these new plans are going to do what they’re expected to do, and that we’ll be paying for the expectations of people who didn’t have insurance before, while risking the benefits we have today.

Presently, no one can be turned away from an emergency room due to lack of insurance, so that won’t be changing. Presently, some people don’t access healthcare as much as they should, that will change for a while. Until the bills start showing up. So for a while, emergency rooms and doctors offices will be packed, because nothing in Obamacare provides for more medical professionals.

I suspect there will be a large number of angry people, who, having spent hours waiting to see a physician, will not understand why they receive a bill. The concepts of deductibles and co-insurance will need to be absorbed by a large sector of society who have never heard of them before.

Nothing will change about billing procedures. An aspirin will still cost $125.00, a bed for the night$8,000, in addition to all those little extras like nurses and doctors, bandages, imaging, tests, and one use medical equipment like an IV, tubing, needle, tape to hold it in place, and a specialist to start the IV. And of course, the non-existent extras. When my daughter was four years old and needed a CT scan, the bill included $400.00 for a “prep and shave kit”. Emma’s bills were high, but my insurance covered almost all of it. The hospital had procedures to make sure they collected as much as they could anyway. A week after Emma was diagnosed, we received a call from the billing department offering to assist us in applying for welfare. Not that welfare would have covered anything, but we would need to show that we had been turned down when we applied for bankruptcy. They had done this before and knew which boxes to check. The bill for Emma’s first stay in the hospital came to$30,000.00. Two nights. That was just the hospital. Over the next few months we received bills from various departments, all based on that stay. That was one of the more annoying tasks, coordinating all the bills for the days of service. In just over one year, the total amount billed by the hospital was in excess of two million dollars.

The “incentive pay” for the CEO of the hospital was slightly more than that amount that year. This is another thing that will not change under Obamacare, and what I believe is the driver of excessive medical costs. Executive pay. Switzerland has just voted on a law that will limit the pay of executives to twelve times that of the lowest payed worker. The CEO can’t make more in a month than the lowest paid worker makes in a year (A CEO with employees earning $8.25/hr is limited to$198k a year). I’m sure that the lowest paid worker in the hospital made much less than a quarter of a million dollars that year.

Of our two million dollar bill, insurance paid about half a million dollars. I paid about ten thousand. The rest was written off. So the next time you hear about hospitals losing hundreds of millions of dollars each year to unpaid bills, remember that number is “potential” income, what the hospitals would make if bills were actually paid in full.

I can’t feel too bad for the healthcare industry, whose CEO compensation rates have risen more rapidly that healthcare costs. While the CEO of Emma’s hospital only made just over three million, the CEO of the insurance company made over twelve. Quite a few healthcare CEOs are in the top ten highest compensated, with the number one spot held by John H. Hammergren of McKesson, who made over one hundred thirty one million dollars in one year. Under Swiss law his lowest paid employee would earn almost eleven million dollars a year. Four times as much as the Hospital CEO.

Our “Health Care Reform”, AKA “Obamacare”, AKA “The affordable care act”, just gave these people millions of new customers. We are required by law to give them money, and they in turn are required to take it.

If we really want to reform healthcare, perhaps we should start a program like the Swiss. Of course there’s no way we could do it overnight, but maybe sliding introduction. Start with not for profit entities, like hospitals, and make insurance companies not for profits, maybe start out with a fifty two to one ratio rather than twelve to one, so that the CEO can’t make more in a week than his lowest paid employee makes in a year. That would still put the CEO of an operation that had minimum wage employees at around a million a year.

Capitalist that I am, I just can’t justify the individual incomes at the top of the scale. The contributions these people make to society don’t justify them and our economy can’t justify either. This is a cost we can address that will have direct impact on all the other costs down the line.

# Choosing a religion

A Methodist minister from Pennsylvania has been suspended pending being defrocked for presiding over a gay marriage. This article is not about gay marriage, or gay rights, in any way. This article is about playing by the rules.

The Methodist church does not excommunicate gay members, but it does not allow them to be members of the clergy, and it does not allow its clergy to preside over gay marriages. A minister in Pennsylvania decided to preside over his son’s marriage to another man in Massachusetts, where gay marriages are legal. Members of the minister’s congregation became aware of the issue and complained to the church council, who held a hearing and found the minister guilty of not following church doctrine. The minister was suspended for thirty days, during which time he will be allowed to reflect and repent, meaning promise to never preside over another gay marriage. The minister has stated he has no intention of repenting, because three of his four children are gay.

There are many denominations of Christians, and some will preside over gay marriages. Some will ordain gay ministers. But not the Methodists.

I can understand this minister’s desire to follow his beliefs. I can understand why the church will remove him from their clergy.

This country was founded on the principle of religious freedom. This means we each have the right to practice whatever religion we choose. It does not mean that we have the right to force a religion to follow us. I could understand if this minister was in a country with only one religion, and wanted to rebel, but at any time he could have said “Well, if you don’t believe what I believe, I’ll go somewhere else“.

I once dated a woman who was Catholic. She followed the rules she wanted to follow, and ignored the rules she wanted to ignore, all the time telling me that she was a good Catholic. When I suggested she convert to a religion that believed in the same things that she did, she said “You can’t just pick and choose what you believe in!”, and yet that was what she was doing. The relationship lasted two years five months and twenty six days. I know, because she told me after we broke up. Odd how people can focus on some details and not others.

In America, you are free to pursue whatever beliefs you wish. The Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could not exist in any other country. Within Christianity, people with different interpretations of the words of Christ form different churches. There are several scriptures which support this practice, one being Matthew 18:19.There are core beliefs that once discarded cause churches to be referred to as “sects” or “cults” rather than denominations. Most people don’t believe that the Westboro Baptist Church is a Christian organization, some people don’t feel Catholics are Christians. God will make the final determination, in the meantime, we are free to join a different church.

I can’t speak for God, but it would seem that belonging to any church and following its beliefs is better than belonging to any church and not following its beliefs. I don’t understand what is happening in the mind of a person who is trying to get others to join a church in which they themselves do not follow the beliefs.

# Oh, you’re from Dallas?

I used to live in Dallas, Texas. For a few years as a child, and then again as a young adult, and yes, I lived there on that day.

I was just five years old, but I do have a few clear memories of the day, and days afterward. In the years that followed, I got plenty of strange looks, many less than intellectual types blamed every citizen in Texas, and Dallas in particular, for the assassination of a president who was at the lowest point of approval in his career.

It helped me realize, later in life, that all Japanese people were not responsible for Pearl Harbor or the horrible conditions in Japanese POW camps. All Germans were not responsible for the Holocaust, all Muslims not responsible for 9/11. Through the years I found myself attracted to friendships outside my normal circles. I learned to appreciate and respect cultures foreign to my own.

My family moved to the bay area, just in time for me to witness the summer of love, then down to Orange County California so I wasn’t far fro Robert Kennedy’s assassination. I was in Ventura, California during the Sylmar earhquake, and I wasn’t far from Three Mile Island when they injected the word “meltdown” into the vocabulary. On 9/11 I was well up one of Philadelphia’s “twin towers”, and watched the horror from a hundred miles away.

The one thing that really stuck with me as a prejudice was when John Lennon was murdered. Manhattan had been a playground during High School, it wasn’t uncommon to skip school and take the train in. I loved driving in the city, and navigated the streets with joy. After 8 December 1980, I didn’t enter Manhattan again for over twenty years.

In 1980 I was living in the Poconos. Devon was just a year old, we had built a house on the mountainside overlooking the Susquehanna river. I’ve never been that much into football so I hadn’t seen the game the night before, when Howard Cosell told the world. I went out on the morning of 9 December to warm the car, I would back out of the garage and listen to an AM station from Nova Scotia while the car warmed. That’s how I heard, in the cold dark morning.

I was never really a New York guy in the sense that was popular, the glitzy club type. I liked the earthiness of the village, some of the more honest aspects of city life. I blamed New York City for John Lennon’s death, even though the city had nothing to do with it. I needed an object for my anger, much like the nation blamed Dallas for Kennedy’s death.

It wasn’t Dallas, it wasn’t some vast conspiracy, it was one man on his way to meet his maker. It wasn’t New York City, it was man on his way to an asylum.

When we remember their names we make them more than what they were, but it is important to remember they were alone.

# He didn’t seem like the type…

Take yourself to the generic news story following an act of violence. You can write it out as a script, the people interviewed always say the same things.

“I can’t believe this kind of thing happened in this neighborhood”

“He always kept to himself, never caused any trouble”

“He was always very quiet”

“He didn’t seem like the type of person who would do a thing like this”

Really? What kind of person usually does something like this? Isn’t it usually a quiet guy who kept to himself, not attracting attention, living in a quiet neighborhood?

Not that it never happens, but how often have you seen someone say “Oh yeah, this kind of stuff happens all the time around here, we were all just waiting for him to go off”?

When I worked in Animal Control, there was a guy who did stand out. He appeared to be running for “Least likely to be missed” in his neighborhood. He had two nasty shepherd mix dogs that were the focus of numerous complaints, either for running loose or attacking other animals. He was surly and threatening to anyone who complained, and threatened me with a firearm. One night after he beat up his girlfriend, the police got involved.

As the police climbed the steps, one of his dogs came charging towards them. The officer shot the dog. The nasty guy was arrested, drugs were found in his apartment, the girlfriend taken to the hospital.

The next day I was deluged in calls, complaining about the officer shooting the dog. The very people who had complained about these vicious animals were the first to come to their defense. They called the media, and took donations to care for the surviving animal, and tried to find a home for the poor sweet thing. None of them volunteered to take it in.

A few years ago, a spy cell was uncovered. A total of nine people living in suburbia were exposed as deep cover Russian spies. This time, when the neighbors said “I can’t believe it happened in this neighborhood, they always kept to themselves, never caused any trouble, they were always very quiet, they didn’t seem like the type of people who would do a thing like this” it fit. Sure, everyone knows that the best way to maintain a cover story of being locals is to fly a Russian flag and wear a black trench-coat at all times. Speaking with a heavy accent and screaming at neighborhood children rarely draws unwanted attention, so of course that would be what to expect from spies.

Most of this I write off to the general cluelessness of society. The kid torturing cats for years was screaming “I’m going to be trouble” at the top of his lungs. The kid who was a loner and never made any friends was screaming “I’m working on a heavy-duty anti-social personality”. These are not terribly subtle signs. When it comes to spies in the neighborhood, you weren’t supposed to suspect them. That’s because they were spies.

The difficult part of all this is when you see such clueless behavior in people close to you. One of my kids recently stated that I never made much money, because their mother was always broke. I’m not sure how they thought their mother went directly from social housing to a two story house on a fairly large lot, while attending nursing school, or how their mother hid her various substance abuses all that time, but the conclusion that she was “broke” befuddles me the most. It’s not the only breakdown, it’s just difficult acknowledging your children are as confused as their mother.

But really, what did I expect?

# Closed Captions

We watch television with closed captions. In part it is due to our impaired hearing, but there is also the benefit of being able to follow a program without the volume interfering in other activities. Lieve is quite used to it, in Europe almost everything is subtitled, due to the multiple languages in use. I have found it helpful in learning Flemish, watching films in Dutch with English subtitles, and in English with Dutch subtitles.

It works very well with films, television programs are hit and miss. Live television, such as the evening news, makes me cherish my hearing. Misspellings and flat out wrong words are common, and often distract us from the storyline, as we laugh about the failures of the writer of captions. “The Daily Show” with John Stewart would be incomprehensible to someone who was actually deaf, the dialogue is rooted in double entendre and puns,  missed words destroy a joke. sometime the captions fall behind the dialogue, and the writer will just skip segments to catch up.

Were we to depend on captions in the news, we would be even more confused than we already are about why a story is broadcast.

“More on the polar plunge” is about a weather story, I’m not sure what “Maureen the polar plunge” means, the meteorologist’s name is Cecily. “Trailers perpetrators” didn’t mean the police were trailing the perpetrator’s trailers. My favorite is “yxxzztqpp@zzx” which I think means the person writing captions has spilled their coffee on the keyboard.

As more of us reap the “benefits” of our proximity to amplifiers in our youth, closed captions will become more necessary than ever, I certainly hope they work out the glitches.

# The Gods of spin

You may never have seen a person who had contracted meningitis. It’s curable, but the symptoms in humans are similar to rabies. It’s a scary disease, with a mortality rate of about 11%, with about 20% of survivors suffering long term damage, from hearing loss to brain damage.

About 1500 people in America contract meningitis every year. That’s about one out of every two hundred and eight thousand people. When five students at Princeton University (student population 7,912) contracted meningitis last Spring, the University responded by handing out party cups with measuring markers on them, emblazoned “Mine, not Yours”. The idea was to prevent the spread of meningitis through shared cups, but no where in the design was a place to personalize the cups. The issue that the rate of meningitis at Princeton University was one hundred thirty times the national average wasn’t mentioned.

It is, unfortunately, common for schools to hide health and safety issues. It is not unusual for colleges and universities to investigate crimes internally so levels of violence do not make it into the papers. Bad for enrollment you know. In this way Princeton is not terribly different than other schools. With a campus safely away from metropolitan centers, it can hide a great deal of what happens. With a local presence that overwhelms small time politicians, Princeton University’s control of local politics and media is probably quite normal.

The University showed its ability to spin a few years back when they built a parking garage with no entrance. No problem, tear out the train tracks. Oh, some people like to take the train. So they called the project to reduce public transportation the “Arts and Transit center”. Without transit. Or Arts. But there will be a restaurant. Without a liquor license. Until they can find a way around that.

Some things cannot be hidden, like deadly communicable diseases. After seven confirmed cases of meningitis (bringing the University’s rate of infection to 1:1750, or almost 200 times the national rate) the New Jersey Board of Health declared an outbreak.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, essentially “the National Board of Health”, took the extraordinary measure of obtaining permission from the Food and Drug Administration to import a vaccine not presently available in America.

Princeton University agreed to discuss the issue. Wouldn’t want to be hasty, you know. There are still freshmen choosing schools.

So despite a precedent setting move by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the students of Princeton University and everyone in close proximity to them may remain in danger of contracting a lethal disease.

Last minute update, the Gods of spin have spoken. “Princeton University will make a vaccine available”. In the local news story, one interviewed student was unaware of the meningitis outbreak, but was thankful to the university for “looking out for the students”. Another story carried the headline “Princeton University takes the extraordinary step of making an unapproved vaccine available”.

Well played Princeton.

# Getting the band together

Did you know that a group of Gorillas is called a band? So this is a better title than “Gorillas revisited”.

Today let’s consider the eight hundred pound gorilla wearing yoga pants.

Not a pretty sight. Which is only one reason gorillas don’t wear yoga pants. Among other reasons is the fact that gorillas rarely practice yoga.

No gorillas in sight

Lululemon, a brand of clothing marketed to practitioners of yoga, makes clothing that fits the typical person who practices yoga. There have been some complaints about this from, of all people, folks who think a downward facing dog is something to run away from.

Apparently, the news has broken that small clothes do not look good on large people. Anyone who has walked through Center City Philadelphia on the first warm day of Spring could have told you the same thing, but as we all had guessed, some people do not routinely look in mirrors.

Before I go any further, let me make one thing as clear as a pair of Lululemon pants stretched over a size twenty two gluteus maximus. My personal tastes in female bodies tends towards fuller figures. I find nothing attractive about women who have been “starved to near perfection”.

Chip Wilson, the CEO of Lululemon, responded to complaints that his products were too sheer when stretched and “pilled” (the fabric surface forms small pellets). He suggested that if the pants don’t fit, don’t wear them. The pants were not meant to be stretched beyond their suggested size, and pilling occurs when the fabric rubs against itself, as it might if trapped between two large thighs.  Many fat people took this as “shaming fat women”.

The truth would be, if you’re not happy with how you look, you’re ashamed of yourself. I’m sorry no one ever saw whatever beauty resides within you, but perhaps there is none. Telling you your clothes don’t fit is not shaming you for being overweight, it’s shaming you for having poor fashion sense. If you think you’re going to make a stir by not buying clothes that don’t fit you, you could be right. People might notice how nice you appear when you’re not trying to look like someone you’re not. The folks at Lululemon will certainly appreciate it, if they wanted their clothes displayed stretched out of shape, they would use gorillas as mannequins.

Now Chip has apologized once again. Not to the people complaining, but to his employees, for having to put up with them. What a guy.

The next time you think you’re unattractive, look around you. Have your friends and family ostracized you? (Gosh I hope not, why are they your friends?). What are you unhappy about? If your lover and the people you care about think you’re beautiful, you are. There is no need to strive for someone else’s standard, and if you feel you must, just putting on the clothes of the person you want to look like will not make you look like them. Be happy with who you are, and more of the people you’re trying to please will be happy with you.

# Unexpected consequences

Romans chapter 8, verse 28, reads “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

What do you see? Do you read this as only those who believe in God reap the benefits of his works? Do you read that because of God only good things happen?

Try it this way. “Those who believe can see the good in all things”.

A friend tried to point out that if there was a God, he would not have allowed the typhoon to destroy so much of the Philippines. Really? God would prevent weather? Without the typhoon, many people would never have the opportunity to display what they were made of. This can be both good and bad. Without God, maybe the effects would have been worse.

My cousin said he felt he wasn’t allowed to be what he should have been because he wasn’t able to serve in the military. Really? He’s a very good husband and father, his parents think he’s a good son, his sister thinks he’s a good brother, his nieces think he’s a good uncle, I think he’s a good cousin, countless people think he’s a good friend. Maybe that’s what he was supposed to be. Maybe serving in the military would have prevented all or some of that.

Lieve wanted to be an architect, but she did poorly in math the year she was to decide on her scholastic path. She decided to go into arts instead, and in photography had to study physics, in which she did very well. She wonders what would have happened if she had gone ahead and gone for architecture, since she obviously could handle the math. I would like to thank her math teacher. If he had been able to connect and teach this student, her life would have taken a different path, and I probably would have never met her.

Loving God means accepting the fact that his purposes are not always what we might want for our lives. Loving God means letting go of personal desires and trusting our creator. Being able to say ” It doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live – a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will”. You recognize those words, right? Being “to the mountaintop” is one way of saying you understand God’s vision is different than your own, and accepting it.

We don’t always see the consequences of our actions. We don’t always understand them. Some people only see the horror of the typhoon. My cousin saw that he couldn’t do what he had wanted to do. Lieve’s teacher may have thought he failed to teach his student mathematics.

It works the way we want it when we acknowledge we want whatever God wants. Listen, not just to what you want to hear, but to the message that keeps coming to you in different ways. Follow that path.

# Gelukkige Verjaardag aan mij

Today I am closer to sixty than fifty. The cynical young man some of you never knew rarely peeks out anymore, it’s the amused fatalist who drives this ship most days. I’ve made my mark on the world, but unlike Hunter S. Thompson I haven’t stopped finding the world remarkably fun. There are dark days, but there is always the promise of sunshine ahead.

I have found that the way to keep laughing is to find the humor which clings to every event. I know that sounds cliche, but just like silver linings there is something to laugh about in every disaster. Of course, people will think you’re unbalanced, but the truth is balance is in seeing the light in the dark.

Today we’re going to MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, to see an exhibition of the artwork of René Magritte. Magritte’s “realistic surrealism” has always been a source of joy for me. More so than the work of Salvador Dali, Magritte is subtle. From my point of view, life is surreal, with subtle touches of realism providing anchors to reality.

Magritte’s mermaid

This is the world I would portray when I would sit in on my girlfriend’s art class. Her teacher would insist that I create as long as I was there, so I would draw a landscape with a few odd features, such as a light bulb instead of the Sun. Mr. Czajkowski said I’d never be an artist, which any artist would find hilarious in itself. I found it difficult not to laugh out loud as he tried to emulate Pollock by pouring paint from a six foot ladder, insisting on reverent silence during his “artistic moment”.

I received an email from Godiva wishing me a happy birthday, if you’ve been following my rants about Godiva’s “ghost store” at Quakerbridge Mall you’ll know why this one made me laugh. I’ve printed out the email and will either be using it at Quakerbridge or I’ll be taping it on the window if the store which was supposed to open in October is still not open.

There is always something to laugh about. A number of friends with Multiple Sclerosis have adopted the motto “You can either laugh or cry in response to any situation, I prefer to laugh”. I’m not talking about pseudobulbar affect, I’m talking about making the conscious decision to laugh at life’s circumstances. It’s not difficult to do, and it helps growing up with Ed Wynn.

# The gorilla in the room

Rated PG-13 for frankness

Gorilla, Elephant, Ass, whatever

You may be familiar with the term “Eight hundred pound Gorilla in the room” used as a simile. Maybe not, literacy is rapidly decreasing, and common phrases are often mangled beyond recognition. I have seen the words “It’s not rocket scientist” in writing, making it clear that the writer was indeed not a rocket scientist nor capable of rocket science, or even forming a grammatically correct sentence.

There is an alternate term about an elephant in the room. If you’ve been in a doctor’s waiting room you no doubt have seen the cover of the latest issue of Time magazine in which they used the simile to represent New Jersey governor Chris Christie.

Almost funny, certainly derogatory

Time magazine lost most of its credibility when it joined Warner Communications in 1989, subscriptions have dropped steadily since then as it has become a pretentious version of “People“. Vying for readership in waiting rooms across the country with such journalistic titans as “Highlights“, Time has come to depend on striking cover images to attract readers.

Cute, right? The elephant as a symbol of the Republican party, Christie as a poster child for morbid obesity, its all in fun, because of course no one takes Time seriously. Remember this cover?

Time for double standards

Of course not. Calling Obama a jackass would be disrespectful. Which brings us back to the gorilla.

How much time do you expect it would take the NAACP to don its hoods and robes and burn every document within Time Warner Communications if Obama was depicted as a gorilla? I seem to remember a fair amount of outrage when the simile was made of Rodney King.

The elephant, gorilla, jackass, or iceberg in the room is the double standards applied to journalistic integrity. In fact, the term “double standards” infers that there are standards, so let’s just cut through the bullshit here. Sycophancy hasn’t been so popular since brown shirts were in vogue.

Do not mistake the object of my disgust as being its propagators. When a society accepts, endorses, and makes profitable the unrelenting hypocrisy which twists the mores they claim to uphold into apologies for the willful disregard of basic human decency, that society is no longer a consumer of such trash, it is the manufacturer.

I present to you this example. Are you able to laugh at yourself?

There is a satirical news program, “The Daily Show“. The host, John Stewart, pokes holes in the rhetoric of groups all over the political spectrum. It is the one program I can laugh about every night. Segments of the program are routinely held up by the side that was not satirized. They routinely miss the point that both sides were satirized, seeing only what they want to see.

When “The Daily Show” covered the topic of this Time magazine cover, the story started with poking fun at Christie, displaying an “alternate cover” with the words “The elephant in the room” replaced with the words “The Fat Fuck in the room”. I’m willing to bet Christie found that hilarious, I certainly did. As the story progressed, Stewart delved into the disingenuous explanation by Time editors, claiming that the headline wasn’t insulting because it’s a common expression.Continuing with the editor’s logic, Stewart presented a cover of Time magazine showing a pile of dog feces, with the headline “Time is a steaming pile of shit”, saying “see, it’s just a common expression, I don’t really mean anything by it”. Equally hilarious.

People who chose to hold up only one of those “alternate covers” as some sort of evidence of their views being supported by “The Daily Show” miss the point. Yes, Chris Christie is overweight, but that has no more to do with his ability to govern than the color of his skin. Yes, Time magazine is a parody of a once great publication, but they are in no way unique.

If we cannot discuss our differences without being insulted or insulting each other, we will just remain different and insulted. If you can’t support your opinion, it really isn’t your opinion then, is it? So don’t be a jackass, ignorance is nothing to be proud of.

Dutch political poster. “Believe no poster. Inform Yourself”

# The center of the world

Voyage au centre de la terre by Édouard Riou for Jules Verne’s novel of the same name.

After yesterday’s contemplation of up and down, I found myself facing the date, and considering the location of the center of the world.

The date was, in American notation, November 12, 2013, or 11/12/13. The next to last “consecutive” date this century according to several sources (the last being next year, on 12/13/14). This would be true if we all notated dates in the same manner.

Seeing that we can’t all agree what the numeric representation for the year should be, I found the concept that there might be a “right” way of expressing the date rather humorous. In the course of researching which standard is considered correct, I couldn’t help laughing out loud when I found the description of ISO 8601 referred to as “big-endian“. My thoughts had started with the Lilliput vs. Blefuscu approach, each side seeing itself as the center of the world, and here was a reference in “serious” papers.

In ISO 8601, dates are properly referred to with the year, then month, then day, YYYY-MM-DD, ignoring the American model (MM-DD-YYYY) and the “European” model (DD-MM-YYYY). The combined populations of Europe and America is roughly one billion people, there are at least twice as many computers in the world, and they find it easier to sort dates if the most significant number is first (year). There are six billion other people, some using different calendars, but it is “Europe” and America that bicker about which is the center of the world.

ISO 8601 still supports that the Royal Greenwich Observatory is the center of the universe, The time zone once referred to as Greenwich Mean Time is now “Universal Time” so when it’s tea time in London it really is tea time on Uranus. The Americans managed to get one final dig in on the Brits. Contrary to the notation of twenty four hour time, in which Midnight is 0000, the “Prime Meridian” is the last of the twenty four zones, noted Z or phonetically “Zulu”.

In ISO 8601 notation, there are no “consecutive” dates, as the limits on number of months and number of days does not fit the format, but if you ignore zeroes, the six digits 23-04-05 in 2023, or the eight digit 2345-06-07 in 2345 will be the next. Our last would have been in 2012, 12-03-04 or in the thirteenth century on 1234-05-06.

In life, time and space go on inside and outside of you, or within you and without you depending on your choice of words. When you’ve seen beyond yourself then you may find peace of mind is waiting there.

# The world turned upside down

When I travel, I often think of my place on the planet in terms of “The Little Prince”. Speaking with friends on other continents I see us as two large figures on a small planet.

Being from the Northern hemisphere, it seems natural to picture myself standing atop the planet. I wonder how people in the Southern hemisphere would picture it. There is no “up” and “down” in space, so our view of Earth is influenced by our interpretation of “North” and “South”. Approaching Earth from a different star system, how would we orient ourselves?

Add to this the fact that such measurements as magnetic poles change over time, and you see the lack of meaning in words like “upside down”. The magnetic poles of the Sun, a measurement we might use to determine how to view our solar system and thus Earth, flip every eleven years, so the “top” surface of the plane of the solar system has changed five times in my life.

But it takes something truly amazing to realize that the world has turned upside down. Like the Russians presenting themselves before the United Nations as champions of democracy.

Raised in the KGB, Vladimir Putin understands how a good dictatorship works. It’s a cushy job to control other people. It’s also quite obvious when someone else starts pulling the strings. The global warming scam was acceptable propaganda when Russia was racking up carbon credits. But when the Conference of Parties decided that Russia was being given an economic advantage based on the Kyoto protocols prejudice towards underdeveloped nations, they decided to change the terms.

The irony in all of this is incredible.

A consensus of propaganda

For any great propaganda campaign to be successful, reality must be altered. The lie becomes believable when the language is changed in such a way that misinformation can pass as information. The key to the global warming scam has been altering the understanding of the term “consensus”.

Reality is not democratic. Six hundred years ago, scientific consensus held that the earth was flat, and the Sun orbited the Earth. In a world of populist movements, it is important to remember that it doesn’t matter how many people think something, it matters how many people who know what they’re talking about think something. Survival in the academic world means toeing the line, much as it did in Galileo’s day.

Despite evidence that the much celebrated “consensus of climatologists” is a fabrication, The propaganda machine rolls on. When the only papers being allowed publication agree with the “consensus”, the belief that a consensus exists continues. Simple facts such as observations not matching projections are dismissed. Attributing every major event to global warming continues, but actual scientists are starting to publicly back away, realizing that one day credibility will come back into vogue.

So back to the Russians. Happy to accept carbon credits based on the “consensus” that global warming exists, and the “consensus” that it is caused by humans burning fossil fuels (but not by biofuels), they’re not too happy with a consensus they have received an “unfair” advantage. Now they want to see democratic, transparent procedures followed. In English, we say “You’ve made your bed, now you must lie on it”.

The world cannot turn upside down, because there is no such thing as “up”. It is hilarious listening to everyone talk about the sky falling.

# Veterans Day

You may be reading this at home today. It is Veterans Day, a day of gratitude to those who have served their nations. It began with the armistice ending hostilities in what was then called “The Great War”, and “The War to End All Wars”, before we started numbering them.

Wars begin and end on official dates, but the eternal vigilance provided by those who serve does not ease in times of “peace”. Lately I have heard complaints from some who entered the military to pay for college but “didn’t expect” a war. Nobody “expects” war, and quite frankly, I’d rather not serve with someone who is surprised at being required to do their job.

While Veterans Day is routinely considered a day to recognize military service, I certainly recognize the service to country provided by those who choose other paths. A veteran makes a special sacrifice, essentially writing a blank check to their country for any amount up to and including their own life. It is due to this level of commitment that veterans honor each other without regard to allegiance. Enemies in battle are brothers in peacetime.

I would like to take this time to introduce you to a veteran. Frederick “Fred” Dewitt Turnbull II, Capt. USN retired (deceased) was one incredible human being. I met Fred in the seventies. He was my next door neighbor, an always friendly guy whose son dated and then married my mother after her divorce from my father. After the two divorced, Fred stayed in our lives, he didn’t allow other relationships to interfere with his own. He was supportive and helpful in my military career years later. It wasn’t until then that I studied his history, and was astounded I could call this man a friend.

Frederick Dewitt Turnbull, Capt USN retired

Fred was a man of small stature, at age twelve I was taller than he was. In his retirement he became rather round, so when I learned he had been not only a fighter pilot, but a flying ace in both WWII and Korea I was rather amazed. But it was the story of his time as a prisoner of war that thoroughly moved me. To see this through my eyes, you must remember that Fred was the nice little bald guy next door, who drove a Jaguar sedan and a Datsun 240Z. He had three kids, Rick who married my mother (no editorial from me about that), Steve, a long haired wild artistic type who influenced my musical interests, and Debbie, who was occasionally a babysitter. Fred was light-hearted and easy going, I don’t believe I ever heard him raise his voice. This same man had been tortured by the Japanese, snuck out of camp nightly to forage for food, possessed his own death certificate, stating he had died of pneumonia just days after his repatriation (his execution was scheduled but not carried out), and testified in the war crimes trials of his captors.

It is all too common for us to display the wounds we have suffered, as we recognize the delayed effects of stress, and I am not in any way suggesting that Fred was stronger than others, Fred was just amazing. In the eighties his work as a consultant took him to Kuwait, where he made many strong friendships. In the early days of Iraq’s invasion, Fred vanished from his home in Seal Beach, later we heard rumors of his activities, extracting his friends across the desert. It would be impossible to imagine if your only knowledge of the man was as that roly-poly neighbor.

At Fred’s funeral, a storm was off in the distance as the bugler played taps, but the rain held off until the ceremony was finished. Helen, his wife of sixty years, had a stroke while packing and was unable to make the trip to Arlington,  but listened over a cell phone connection that my sister (his grand daughter) Stasia held at graveside, and Debbie held in California,  during the service. Helen joined Fred a few days later.

Storm clouds over the Pentagon

Fred would tell you that he wasn’t any different than every other veteran. In the sense of weathering the storm and accepting the circumstances he was presented with he would be right. To have survive with his level of grace  is a goal for all of us.

# Creation

A couple of conversations brought my thoughts to this subject this week. I no longer argue the points, if someone wishes to deny the obvious there is no need to bang my head against a wall.

One friend was commenting on the beauty of nature, and the intersection of mathematics. She was fascinated with a broccoflower, the beautiful spiral upon spiral of its form. Marveling at the mathematics behind the spiral sequences (F_n = F_{n-1} + F_{n-2}), the Fibonacci sequence.

Broccoflower

The Fibonacci sequence is a mathematical explanation of perfect spirals, the arc following a pattern in which each segment is equal to the sum of the previous two. 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc. The number of petals on a flower is always a Fibonacci number. Someone entered the conversation with what appeared to be secular point of view after I said “God really likes math”. I didn’t feel like getting into an argument, so I just walked away. His point was “It is not surprising that basic evolutionary paths follow some of the basic mathematical rules. What else could they do?”. Well, what they could do is adapt for each situation depending on the requirements of that environment, which would negate any pattern in global systems. Instead, evolution follows a path opposite the second law of thermodynamics. While the rest of the universe follows a pattern of decay, evolution works towards more complex and specialized systems. By accident.

An article in Scientific American about cosmic dust entering Earth’s atmosphere, and thus being a part of the dust you clear from your windshield, was met with the most nonsensical of comments. It took me a moment to remember that my fellow Scientific American readers are for most part non scientists. The Earth is not separate from the cosmos. The Earth was made from intergalactic dust and continues to accumulate and shed matter.

A third incident occurred during an interview on NPR. The host desperately wanted a number of the planets that would have life on them, and the astrophysicist he was interviewing was very polite in refusing to speculate in any way. The host wanted to validate the Drake equation, the astrophysicist was attempting to point out that the variables are, well, variable.  This is the Drake equation:

$N = R_{\ast} \cdot f_p \cdot n_e \cdot f_{\ell} \cdot f_i \cdot f_c \cdot L$
N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which radio-communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);

and

R* = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy
fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point
fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

The initial problem is that not a single variable can be defined. If life is indeed a random event, what exactly is life? There remains a reasonable debate over whether human beings are the most intelligent form of life on Earth, how do we expect to locate other forms of life if we have no idea what they might look like, or how they might communicate? What scientist in his right mind could approach this equation with a data set of one (Earth)? In creating such an equation, we make the assumption that human beings are the definition of “Life”. It is both egotistical and demeaning to suggest we are the highest expression of life, and our existence is so random we could happen anywhere.

There is no conflict between the belief that God created the universe and our understanding of the mechanics of that creation. There is no reason to not believe that when God said “Let there be light” the next event was “The Big Bang”. There is no reason not to believe that the creation of Earth for the purpose of supporting humans involved several steps, and that evolution is one of the tools used. There is every reason to not believe that life is an accident, yet the same people who think we “just happened” think the exact same events took place on other planets, with absolutely no guidance other than chance.

# Under the covers

Last night, over the credits of “The Sopranos”, the song “If I were a Carpenter” played. A somewhat spooky moment followed, as I discussed the track with Lieve, I had a similar conversation with Emma when the episode first aired in May of 2004.

Back then, I hadn’t known the artist. I enjoy cover versions, and had no idea how many times this track had been covered. It was Bobby Darrin, I was more familiar with the Johnny Cash and June Carter rendition, and didn’t know that Bobby’s version was much more popular. My personal favorite is Leon Russell’s version, from his “Stop all that Jazz” album.

Lieve heard the song begin and said “Isn’t that Tim somebody?”. She typically knows more than me when it comes to music, so we Googled the song and found that indeed, the song had been written by Tim Hardin. “Who?” you may ask (I did), is Tim Hardin? Tim was a singer songwriter in the sixties, and performed “If I were a Carpenter” at Woodstock, backed by Muruga Booker on drums. Oh but that’s not all. Tim wrote several other songs you have heard. He wrote “Reason to Believe”, which you are most likely to recall Rod Stewart turning into a hit. “Don’t make Promises” was covered by Joan Baez as well as a dozen other artists. “Eulogy to Lenny Bruce” was covered by Nico on her debut album. His music is timeless enough to have been covered by Echo and the Bunnymen and The Dream Academy. Tim had one of those interesting careers that began as a “Military adviser” in Vietnam, where he found what would end his life twenty years later at age thirty nine, heroin. He played as a studio musician on Harry Chapin’s first two albums, and appeared on stage with Harry in 1973. And yet I had never even heard of him. Life is like that, big world, too many faces. Tim died in a year of too many musician’s endings, John Bonham, Bon Scott, Ian Curtis, Darby Crash, all overshadowed by John Lennon.

This morning I have been going through the covers by scores of musicians, listening to the originals, getting a feel for his message. I always enjoy covers, reinterpretations and homages. Back in the days of Napster I collected forty seven covers of Jimi Hendix’s “Little Wing“, one nice version by Celtic circle stands out in my mind. A cover reveals not only the composer, but the effect the composer has had on other musicians. James Timothy “Tim” Hardin had an enormous effect on the world of music, and I’m better for knowing of him.

Tim Hardin in 1969

# All or nothing

Driving down the highway yesterday I saw a license plate, “PANTONE”.

It was on a black car. 19-0303 TCX.

Even Black has many shades, multiple pantone expressions.

It brought to mind a segment on “The Daily Show” in which John Stewart explored the limited view presented to the American public. A view even more “Simplisctic-ier” than left/right, liberal/conservative, or Democrat/Republican. Good or Bad. Every issue is broken down to a simple black or white, all or nothing, judgement.

I spent the last few days helping a friend, she’s preparing her house for sale as she gets moved into a new house, all the while helping her mother with her house. Yesterday I raked the leaves at her mother’s house, the day before I helped clean the windows at the old house she’s getting ready to sell. I was there because she’s not comfortable climbing the ladder to clean the outside of the windows on the second floor, otherwise, she would have done it all herself. Did I mention she’s blind?

I can think of very few issues that can be broken down to a simple good or bad judgements, there are always multiple aspects that make a situation good in one way, bad in another. When it comes to a blanket judgement that covers everyone’s experience, I think I’m safe in saying the nothing is simply good or bad.

The trend towards simplification has been troubling me for years, something about removing details and nuances causes reason and logic to atrophy. There are some preposterous concepts occupying space that intelligent debate should inhabit. Worse, the marginally intelligent, due in part to their lack of apathy, embrace an undeserved sense of superiority.

Hans Rosling, a Swedish researcher, developed a test pertaining to population and demographic details. He presented the test, which he titled “The Ignorance Test“, claiming that a cross section of society provides routinely incorrect answers, that is to say scoring worse than if the answers were chosen at random. Adding insult to his existing arrogant view, he used the metaphor of chimps choosing bananas with answers on them for “random”. So if you fail the test, you’re not only ignorant, but you did worse than a chimp. What an ass.

I’d like to devise a test about photo-conductivity and digital copy processes, which any copier technician could pass with flying colors, and see how ignorant Hans is. We all have fields which we excel in, and areas in which we have not studied at all.

If your kid gets arrested for shoplifting, you’re not a lousy parent. If your kid has an arrest record that looks like a first draft of “War and Peace” you probably have some blame to carry with you. On the other hand, your other kids may be Rhodes Scholars, or just average members of society, so you’re still not a “lousy” parent.

My world consists of visualization. I see things, and can manipulate them in my mind. This gives me an incredible memory of details, objects are not a list of components, but a single object, which I can assemble and disassemble in my mind. I don’t think people who can’t do this are stupid, they probably have talents that I don’t. At the same time, I think people who do not have the empathy to accept that we are all different are “stupid”. They are inferior, regardless of how much knowledge they accumulate.

My friend needed her windows clean for other people. It certainly made no difference to her, but in her words “I don’t live in a blind world”. I thought of arguing the point, but I’m trying to be less cynical in public. I’ve asked a few questions about her world, and as far as she is concerned, there is little different about her life than anyone else. Perhaps she sees the world better than I do.

# Quick and easy exotic recipe

Lieve has taken to downloading recipes from Web MD. These are supposed to be healthy, although the caramelized onion, Portobello mushroom, and Gorgonzola cheese lasagne seemed a bit decadent.

This one is savory orange roasted tofu and asparagus. It is rated as one hundred forty calories per serving, nine grams fat, ten grams protein, and zero cholesterol. I’m thinking the sodium rating is mislabeled, 482 grams is a thousand times the recommended minimum daily intake. I’ve written to the people at Web MD, I’ll update this entry if I get an answer. I suspect it’s 482 milligrams.

Savory Orange Roasted Tofu and Asparagus over Cous Cous

The recipe is very easy, one bowl preparation, and very quick to prepare. If you don’t have red miso, it’s in the refrigerated section next to the tofu.

You will need:

One 14 oz package extra firm water packed tofu, rinsed.

Red miso

Balsamic vinegar

Extra virgin olive oil

One pound asparagus

Three tablespoons chopped fresh basil

One teaspoon fresh orange zest

One quarter cup orange juice

one quarter teaspoon salt

Heat the oven to 450° F, I use parchment paper on a baking sheet, or you could use a cooking spray.

Pat the tofu dry and cut into half inch cubes. In your large bowl, place one tablespoon vinegar, two tablespoons oil, and one tablespoon miso. If you do it in that order the miso is less likely to stick to the measuring spoon. Whisk until smooth, then add the tofu and mix with your fingers to coat the tofu. If you try tossing it the tofu ends up out of the bowl, if you try using a spatula you end up breaking the cubes.

Put the cubes on the baking sheet and roast for fifteen minutes.

If you’re serving the dish with rice, this is a good time to start the rice.

Cut the asparagus into one inch pieces, put them in the bowl and stir them around to pick up any remaining miso sauce.

Put one quarter cup orange juice in a measuring cup. Zest the orange, chop the basil, and add one tablespoon vinegar, two tablespoons oil, and one tablespoon miso to the measuring cup, along with the zest and the basil and the quarter teaspoon salt.

When the tofu is ready, add it to the asparagus in the bowl and mix it around a bit. Now you can use a spatula. Then put the asparagus and tofu back on the baking sheet, and back into the oven for ten minutes.

If you’re serving the dish with cous cous, this is a good time to start the cous cous.

Pour the contents of the measuring cup into the bowl, and whisk until smooth. When the asparagus and tofu is ready, put them in the bowl and mix them with the sauce.

Your starch should be ready, dinner is served, there are four one cup servings.

Start to finish just over thirty minutes,

I haven’t heard back about the sodium, but looking at the ingredients it doesn’t seem possible that it’s 482 g. The miso contains in the area of 700 mg, divided into four servings that’s 175 mg each from the miso, which is a high sodium ingredient.

# Discrimination

There was a discussion on the local public radio station about Halloween costumes, or at least it was supposed to be a discussion. The topic was “What is acceptable and what is offensive?”

The origin of the discussion was the Julianne Hough black face incident.

Black face

No, it wasn’t actually what is historically recognized as black face, make up that is considered racist due to its connection with Hollywood’s use of white actors in black roles. She had darkened her skin to appear as a character from a television program, who in reality is a racist stereotype of black people. A more enlightened  audience might see the irony of dressing as a character who many people find offensive drawing more attention than the character herself.

Black face is a symbol of discrimination. We tend to get a little keyed up over symbols. I think it’s because we can’t seem to talk about “touchy” issues without shouting. So we do some incredibly stupid things. We develop “less than lethal” forms of restraint because we using fire hoses to control crowds reminds us of when we used them in the sixties to break up race riots. And of course, anything to do with race riots is racist. So we kill a couple of dozen people each year with mace and tasers and rubber bullets. How civilized.

The discussion didn’t get too far, two “experts” were present, and it didn’t take them long to offend the host. He’s a pretty liberal guy, but when one of the “experts” veered off into a “only black people can be offended” rant, the direction of the interview changed. He facilitated the “experts” in making total asses of themselves.

As more calls were taken, it was evident that they were being filtered to highlight the “experts'” prejudices. Next call “I’m dressing in Indian clothing, mostly because I find the dresses beautiful. I wear Indian dresses at least once a week, but I’ll be going in full dress with a red dot on my forehead”. Expert number one “Well, those people (emphasis mine) dress like that all the time, so it isn’t offensive”. Expert number two ” I agree. Traditional dress isn’t offensive”. Earlier, dressing “gangsta”, pants pulled down and a hoodie were labeled “racist” because they were a negative stereotype. The term “Those people” is clearly a discriminatory term.

Next call “My son is dressing as a Zombie Jesus, I think it may be a little offensive”. Expert number one “I don’t find anything offensive about that at all”. Host breaks in, “What if it were a Zombie Mohammed?”, to which expert number one replies “I’m not religious, so it doesn’t bother me”.

So much for being an expert. Knowing what is offensive to you is not the measure of sensitivity. If we’re discussing “What is offensive” the question is what is offensive to other people. If you don’t realize that Islamic law prohibits the wearing of a Bindi, you don’t know what offends other people. If you don’t know that any portrayal of Mohammed is an offense worthy of riots, you’ve been living in a cave. If you don’t think black people can be racists, you’re an idiot, and probably a racist.

We do seem to have trouble deciding what is appropriate in our society. We use a number of words interchangeably, “Racist”, “Discriminatory”, “Offensive”, “Hate”, “Phobic”. Each of these words have different meanings, and using them carelessly degrades their meanings.

A Racist makes judgements about people based on their race. “Race” can be a moving target, is “Arab” a race? Jew? Pole? White?

Discrimination is to make a choice based on personal preferences. If I hire Bob because he is better qualified, it is still discrimination, if I hire Bob because he’s straight and the other candidate is gay, it is illegal discrimination.

Offensive is what someone else takes offense to. If you’re wearing a white robe and pointed hat to a Klan meeting, no one will find it offensive, but anyone sensitive to the feelings of ten percent of the population would find it offensive.

Hate is a very strong, overused word. I don’t like Telemundo, that doesn’t mean I hate Spanish, or Latinos. Making fun of someone because they’re overweight is insensitive, not hateful.

Phobic denotes a clinical anxiety, not a distaste. Someone who attacks someone is not afraid of them. If Sally uses derogatory terms for homosexuals, she is not homophobic. She probably doesn’t hate gay people, she’s rude.

This isn’t terribly complex. Don’t make it that way. Use the appropriate terms and we can work on the problem instead of the language.

# In all honesty

Our gubernatorial election is on Tuesday. At least, Governor Christie and a large percentage of the population believe it is. Democrat opponent Barbara Buono seems to think that she’s the only one running.  Her ads are quite amazing, unless your question is “How is a Democrat trailing in a traditionally Democratic state by more than thirty points?”.

Politicians are quite used to simply saying things which have no basis in reality. Sometimes it’s purely delusion, sometimes the politician has been misinformed, sometimes it’s just a semantic issue. As in when Obama said “If you’re happy with your healthcare, you can keep it” when what he meant was “If I’m happy with your healthcare, you can keep it”. The truth is, if your healthcare doesn’t meet the standard, you probably weren’t happy with it.

I’ve lost most interest in political speeches. I hear excerpts of the President speaking, saying “I want…” and I wonder if he realizes just how few people care what he wants? When was the last time he asked what I want?

I don’t mean to sound self involved, but there’s a lot going on out here. And the more I know about what’s going on, the more I realize that I just can’t care about everything. I have to prioritize, or my commitment becomes diffuse, and eventually meaningless. I’m approached about animal cruelty at least twice a week, bullying at least once a week, natural disasters happen routinely. Discrimination, Education, The Homeless, Autism, Cancer(s), and Mass Transit all tugging at me, and I’m supposed to care about what the President wants?

I recently saw an article with the headline “Jimmy Carter calls Obama an incompetent president”. I wasn’t a big fan of Carter, so his opinion isn’t that important to me, even if I agree with it. When I checked the article’s source, Carter did not say Obama was incompetent. He had said that Obama’s major accomplishment was Obamacare, and the implementation of Obamacare was “questionable”. I find myself in the uncomfortable position of defending Obama, who is certainly incompetent, but was not called such by an equally incompetent president.

An article in Snopes took apart misquotes of George W. Bush (with an obvious slant). We want to believe things we agree with, but as prominent Climatologist Kerry Emanuel of MIT commented about the false information tying superstorm Sandy to Global Warming, his statements still carried a headline implying that Sandy was the result of Global Warming and more storms of the type would occur. He was saying that false headlines damage credibility. I find myself in discussions with people who believe they are well informed because they read the headline, but having read the article and its sources, I have an opinion opposite of theirs. The false headline clearly damages the credibility of the person who repeats it.

A recent article in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette took an “Emperor’s New Clothes” approach, claiming that Global Warming caused the dull leaf hues this Autumn. The article itself was filled with invalid conclusions and a little bit of absolute nonsense, but what was amazing to me was the online comments. The majority of comments pointed out that the autumn leaves were unusually colorful, and that the paper had in fact predicted brighter colors due to the amount of rain in the spring (which they also had blamed on Global Warming). Moving beyond “anything that happens is because of Global Warming”, they take a “Even if it isn’t happening, we’ll say it is and blame it on Global Warming”.

There was an article in Scientific American, reporting that Public Health England (PHE) had studied fracking and found that public health concerns were minimal if operations are properly run and regulated. Rather than embrace the study as evidence of negligence in the situations in which fracking has resulted in pollution, the article was attacked, with many suggesting that Scientific American should be banned. Could it be any more clear that some people have absolutely no interest in the truth? Have we reached the point where we just can’t do anything right, so we should stop doing anything at all? Public opinion says that nukes are unsafe, fossil fuels are either going to pollute us to death or run out within our lifetime, carcinogens are a byproduct of solar panels, wind power endangers wildlife, bio fuels require an unhealthy diet of deep fried foods, and we need to consume almost nineteen trillion Kwh of electricity every year.

We have to make some important decisions in life. We can’t make those decisions in an intelligent manner if the information we receive isn’t presented honestly, and we are hopeless if we can’t be honest with ourselves.

# Who hath ears to hear, let him hear

We are surrounded by information. Breaking it down is the challenge.

In Matthew 13 we are faced with the parable within a parable. First, Jesus presents a parable, then he says “Who hath ears to hear, let him hear”. Translate that to “get it?”. The disciples ask him “Why do you speak to them in parables?”, and his response is to explain the very parable he just used to the disciples, then saying “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand“. In that, I see an insult to the disciples, something of a “You don’t ‘get it’ either”.

As I was thinking about all of this, it of course occurred to me that I was the one who didn’t get it, particularly while pondering verses 27-30 “27 So the servants of the householder came and said unto him, Sir, didst not thou sow good seed in thy field? from whence then hath it tares?28 He said unto them, An enemy hath done this. The servants said unto him, Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up?29 But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.30 Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn.” Am I a tare, allowed to grow in the wheat until harvest time?

Much of this chapter has to do with interpretation, yet there is no clear guidance as to which interpretations are correct. What I gather is that the lesson is, once again, to not judge the interpretations of others, for judgement will come to all eventually. Verses 47-48 “47 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:48 Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away“.

Jesus spoke in parables because, in the words of Jack Nicholson “You can’t handle the truth”. The chapter ends “54 And when he was come into his own country, he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?55 Is not this the carpenter’s son? is not his mother called Mary? and his brethren, James, and Joses, and Simon, and Judas?56 And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence then hath this man all these things?57 And they were offended in him. But Jesus said unto them, A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country, and in his own house.58 And he did not many mighty works there because of their unbelief”.

I tend to speak in parables, allegory, analogies. People listen. They make their own conclusions, see their own truth. When I was a technician, I grew a patch of facial hair (the only white hair I have), so that customers would see that I was indeed elderly and not just some kid from nowhere. It is impossible to impart knowledge to an unreceptive audience, but it is also impossible to impart knowledge without sharing a message.

The problem in my case is that I never know if I have been understood, sure, everyone nods their heads and says “yes, I get it”, but do they? I believe the answer may be “It doesn’t matter“. We each do our best, and in the end, perhaps that is our measure. How have we have done compared to the best we are capable of doing.

# The misinformation superhighway

Lou Reed died last week. Really.

I mean, it’s not an incredible shock that a seventy one year old ex heroin user who had a kidney transplant last year would die, it’s just shocking that he died on Sunday, 27 October. Because on Saturday, 26 October, his agent had confirmed that Lou was alive, after an internet hoax spread the rumor of his death the week before. He had flown away from the dirty disinformation boulevard, just to be run down on the misinformation superhighway. Ambiguous in life, ambiguous in death.

I spent a bit of time trying to figure out if he was still with us or not. Rolling Stone and the New York Times were running the story. The story. As I checked various “sources”, I found the same story, word for word, published by every news agency. Does the story take on more credibility when both Rolling Stone and the New York Times cut and paste the same piece?

Despite all the amputations, you know you could just

Journalism seems to have sunk to the level of telephone tag. As I and others were trying to separate fact from fiction, one perfectly reasonable issue was raised. If the article doesn’t mention the hoax from the week before, it’s less credible. Unfortunately, Lou was dead, and he hadn’t made many friends in the press, so either they were lousy journalists or just weren’t aware of the hoax. More than likely both.

It is harder and harder to verify information, because a good deal of it is just re-posted with the primary source uncredited. When it is also re-posted without a date, old rumors can become new again. Even people who think they’ve avoided a hoax still manage to propagate one, as happened a few weeks ago when I received an email warning about a new Christmas stamp honoring Muslims. At the bottom of the email was a link to Snopes.com, which shows the information in the email to be false. I’m guessing not many people click on links, they just see “and assume that the link confirms the email. I’m sure some people see EID and fail to recognize it means “Festival” in Arabic, perhaps confusing it with I.E.D.

Most hoaxes can be dispelled by taking a deep breath and counting to ten. How likely is it that Obama has a staff of twenty secret service agents to polish his golf clubs? Wouldn’t you have heard something about it over the last four years? Isn’t that website a source of satire? Does the fact that the author’s last credit was “Twenty four ways to vulcanize a chicken” suggest that he may not have the background to be reporting this information? Is the person who sent you this email the same person who told you that the Earth’s magnetic field was about to reverse?

The internet is filled with information. Information is not facts. Facts are not “the truth”. The truth is not the story. Example: Information “There are fourteen million child brides every year worldwide” (Defined as bride under eighteen years of age). Fact The legal age for marriage is under eighteen in much of the world (The lowest legal age in the world is New Hampshire, USA, at thirteen, and Yemen, where there is no limit on age for marriage, but intercourse is not legal until “the indefinite time they are suitable for sexual intercourse”). The truth early marriages affect both men and women, both positively and negatively.  The Story Young women are often forced into servitude under the guise of marriage.

Don’t miss the forest, don’t miss the trees.