Review

I’ve been doing some cleaning, physically and metaphorically. Sam is moving in, so I am making space for her, and as I do so, I find myself making space in my mind.

Today, I started organizing the “cat room,” a large walk in closet in the hallway which holds Autumn’s food, water, and litter box. It has a great deal of storage space, which has never been wonderfully organized, and after I changed bedrooms last year it failed to miraculously arrange itself. So far I have combined the contents of two shelves into one full shelf, one empty shelf, and a full recycling bin. Three shelves and a four by six floor to go.

Some of the items that made it to the recycling bin were my collection of Belgian beer bottles, which I had already been feeling rather foolish about. It started a few years ago and spread to cover every windowsill in my bedroom, but was really the domain of a teenager. I wasn’t bothered at first, convincing myself it was a sign of rebellion, not acting my age, but in reality it was silly.

I threw out my retirement notebook with all my 401k statements, it was rather depressing to see how much money I had when I retired, and the memories of where it went. I’ve been shuffling off my memories of Lieve and her children over the last few months, forgiving them for their behavior, this was a good physical act to remove reminders. It has been an interesting exercise, and I am fairly certain I understand the events better than when I was living them.

Two large packages were paperwork from Emma. All sorts of things I shouldn’t have, she saved everything. I have her documents safe, in these packages were her previous marriage certificates, and Death certificates from her husbands and father. Pay stubs and IRS returns from before I met her, photographs of her father and mafia elite, a lithograph her father had purchased for his grandson which no one ever wanted to retrieve. There were some things I kept, pictures of her in grade school, cards I had given her, and the silliest picture of her on a tractor which her first husband had adored; it makes me happy to think of them together now.

I’ve been moving around a number of “feelings” lately. I have chosen to walk away from a few friendships with people with myopic views of the presidential election rather than argue. Some were so vehement in their passions I actually found it necessary to block them. Oddly, this space has allowed me to make new friends, they share the beliefs of my old friends but feel no need to bring it up in every conversation. This is not a unique situation, Lieve and I were visiting one of her friends back in 2013 and said “We brought you something you’ll like.” She responded “Dick Cheney’s head on a platter?” This was four years after Cheney had left office, but he was still on the top of her mind, probably dying of loneliness.

I settled my feelings about a woman I cared for deeply who had brain damage. It saddens me that I needed to experience it to understand it. I had known she was fragile and was exceptionally gentle with her, but my fortune was to know her during a remission of symptoms, I was not responsible for her relapse.

A friend called last week, in panic. She had overstepped her morality, and was filled with shame and embarrassment. I understand how that works, but I don’t truly understand the feeling. I was quite impressed she turned to me, I know I’m a warm and understanding person, but my morals have been questioned repeatedly. We share the experience of losing a spouse, so I suppose that is why she trusted me. My brother (yes, I am accepting that I have a male sibling) once told me I had no morals (I did, they just were not his), I could never tell if he was serious or jealous. Most likely he was just judgemental, which I increasingly am not. It is pleasing to know that I am seen as non-judgemental and egalitarian.

I am doing better with the analysis of my thoughts and motives, and although this gives me insights into the thoughts and motives of others, I dare not reveal what they show me. In a conversation about an article in Pravda about unrest in America, one person suggested the use of water cannons to disrupt protests. This sparked a discussion on why water cannons are not used in America, with someone insisting that water cannons and mace are still used in America, which turned into an argument about the difference between “mace brand” and “MACE.”  Yes, the conversation about a Pravda article claiming that Americans will argue about anything devolved into an argument about anything other than the subject of the article. I watched helplessly as any possibility to share information vanished. One person stepped in and made the point I was trying to reveal, they were ignored as the argument carried forward; the initial discussion completely forgotten. This is why I am shying away from discussion, most people only want to argue. I do not. I want to exchange ideas, which does not happen on one way streets.

I am finding peace in stepping away from disruption. This may result in life as a hermit, everything has a price. I still believe the tide is turning, I’m just in no condition to surf.

 

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Man of mystery

From what I hear, I am improving rapidly. I don’t see the improvements themselves, but I see the results of the improvements. I have learned a good deal through this brain injury, one more counter intuitive duality of TBI.

I am more thoughtful, slowly forming opinions about everything. Being less sure of reality has benefits. I am not certain of my own history, so I am a man of mystery to myself. I have far more memories than should fit into a normal life, but most of them suggest my life was anything but normal. The ones I can verify are less concrete than the ones I cannot, so I lean toward believing all of them. My sense of caution tells me not to discuss a past I cannot verify, so for the most part I’m sticking with my cover story.

I know I am impaired, but impairment is relative. I would ever so much like to accept my present condition, there is no reason to believe I will be who I once was (whoever that may be), and frustration over my loss is allegedly  detrimental to progress. Of late my frustration has been over recognizing my disability. I am better than I was a few months ago, I may be better than the average person, but I am still not functioning as I once did, so people who expect that level of performance become frustrated with me, and in turn I become frustrated. I am the one with the brain injury, yet I am the one who is supposed to be understanding of others.

I received a letter from Social Security telling me I have been approved for Disability payments. Page two lists the amount of the past due payments, and the percentage that will be paid to my attorney. Page six states I have no past due benefits. I called the attorney for clarification, but they had not received the letter. I emailed a copy of the letter, and their response was “You have been approved for disability.” I knew that. No response to my question about past due benefits. But I’m the one with the brain injury. Apparently they finally received the letter, and I received a letter from the attorney, which included “I feel you should have received your past due benefits by now, if you have not, please contact the office.”  I contacted the office again, and was told I have been approved for disability payments and the letter from the attorney was a form letter. Thank you for keeping me in the loop. But I’m the one with the brain injury and all these wacky ideas about proper communication.

I feel compelled to meet new people, but my old habits of closing bars do not fit my current abilities. I can still drink more than the average American, but even sober I am uncomfortable driving in the dark. At Samantha’s suggestion, I have become involved in a couple of “Meetup” groups, and created a profile on OKCupid. A friend, who “tunes” dating profiles professionally asked if I was ready to date. I had not given it a thought, so I guess the fearlessness is returning, I may be the only person who values that return. I’m ready to be rejected again, and opening more of myself to attack. In one of my Meetup groups, “Beer Fridays,” I met a woman who does not drink beer. She wasn’t sure what the group was about. But I’m the one with the brain injury.

I have noticed a peculiar group developing. There is a small number of people who wish to overthrow the recent election. At first I thought they were Democrats, but I have friends who are Democrats, and these folks have little in common with polite society. A few of them have asked to be friends, which at first I found admirable. My heart remains open, I still enjoy intelligent discussion with those of opposing views. Apparently, I’m pretty gullible, they had no interest in conversation, only in someone to spew their hatred towards. Their aims seem to aligned with Daesh, the Intel specialist in me is a bit alarmed. I hope they learned, from my polite goodbyes, that grace is an admirable quality, but I strongly doubt it. This is one in which I can say “Yes, you do have a brain injury. Be careful, the world is not filled with nice people.”

Today, my Tecfidera, the medicine I take for Multiple Sclerosis, was delivered four days late, by United Parcel Service. My door is not easy to find, but that was not the problem as the driver left notes on my door. Right under the heavy knocker which he must have thought was ornamental, and across from the doorbell which eluded him. I’ve worked around UPS drivers in the past and know to require a signature on deliveries, their “loss” rate is phenomenal. I saw the truck pulling away, and went out to find another note. No contact information on the note, they really don’t want you to call. Sam found a way to contact them, and they sent him back; she went to the door when I saw the truck pulling in. He said to her “Well, if you’re going to have an attitude, I won’t deliver here anymore.” I cannot imagine why I was charged extra to have a driver come to my door and insult me, apparently that is the point of the notes, to avoid the driver. I know these drivers are under immense pressure, I saw one crack over a wrong address when I worked at the Police Station. This incident was inexcusable. I got a call from the local office wondering why I didn’t just go to their office and pick the package up. Apparently they only drive the trucks around as advertising. They said they would talk to the driver and get back to me. In the 90s I watched a driver walk through security at a UPS hub smoking a joint, the security guard just said “you’re not supposed to smoke in here.” You were not supposed to smoke in the entire multi building facility, and they allegedly had routine drug tests.  I will be specifying FedEx for future deliveries, and will lobby to drop UPS from the preferred carriers list, but I’m just an unreasonable crank. That guy with the brain injury.

Part of the difficulty in finding who I am is discovering what planet I am on. I have memories of a place where people strove to communicate with each other. It would be easy, and from what I have read from other TBI survivors quite common, to feel alienated. I am either an alien or severely confused about proper behavior, are these memories of a civil society false? When I was told that people with brain injuries often are irritable and cranky, I thought it was frustration about inabilities. Then I thought it was from frustration about the processes we have to go through, with a brain injury, to be accepted as having a disability. At this point, as I become increasingly irritable and cranky, I can see it is due to frustration about the inabilities of the world in general.

I have a brain injury, and am keenly aware of my impairments. I may even overcompensate in order to appear “normal.” The more I interact with people, the more I realize I’m trying too hard. “Normal” is nothing to be proud of. I am a stranger to this world, and rather happy to discover that fact. It is kind of cool being a Man of Mystery.

Real World Problems

I have been attempting to put my personal issues into perspective, recognizing that my impairment is not the end of the world. In the meantime, the world ended.

I was once a fairly sharp analyst, at least two sets of memories indicate this to be true. One of the main reasons I had wanted to emigrate to Belgium was to miss the presidential election in America. As it worked out, the woman who left me behind returned in time to vote with her fresh citizenship. Had I been with her perhaps she would have stayed in Belgium, the equation is too difficult to approach.

So here I am, unable to endorse either major party candidate. I would like to make a change in our lexicon, changing the word “vote” to “endorse.” I suspect people would have an easier time accepting their role in the process if they realized the position was not solely their decision. My personal choice was Gary Johnson, the Libertarian candidate, largely because I overestimated the American voters, and thought all the folks who were upset about Bernie Sanders being cheated out of the Democratic nomination would actually vote for a third party candidate like they said they would. All that would have been required would have been for a third party to receive 5% of the vote, but that did not happen. They were all demanding honesty but couldn’t come up with any of their own.

Wednesday morning I woke to the news Trump had won, I had pretty much figured it out before I googled for the results, there was no “We Won!” fanfare from the liberals. I also had some messages from Belgium, one right wing politician was rather snippy about me and “my kind,” had I been in Belgium she might have figured out who me and my kind are. I was called a racist and a homophobe before I left for therapy, and couldn’t bear the wailing and gnashing of teeth on the radio so I put on something more comforting. I found that the bass tones on Courtney Love’s album “Live Through This” match my hearing disturbance and were quite soothing at high volume. “Asking For It” almost put me to sleep.

So there I am, at the Brain Trauma unit, and of course the elephant in the room was unavoidable. We work on mindfulness and cognitive therapies, ignoring reality is frowned upon. As I spoke with my therapists and other patients, I heard the phrase “You’re the most sensible person I’ve heard from all day” a couple of times. I have come to expect it from the other patients, coming from a therapist it was a bit unusual. Me, the guy with a brain injury, was the most sensible person she had heard from all day.

I remain impaired, plagued with neural fatigue after something as simple as a Lumosity session, as well as losses in processing speed and memory. I have regained my sense of humor, and the bloodwork indicates my hormones are once again balanced, but there has been no physical or emotional confirmation. I consider myself “better” because I can recognize I am unemployable. My neuro-psychologist says that high functioning brain injury survivors take the most therapy, because we have so much difficulty accepting our limitations. I understand, that is to say I know what is holding me back, and for the first time in my life I can’t conquer it. The astrategies which worked in the past, denial, working through pain, only make the problems worse and slows any actual recovery. Punching my way out only leaves me with bloody knuckles.

I can’t really ponder my future, fortunately I don’t care. I know I can’t sustain my lifestyle, I can’t even manage to make it to my friend’s gigs; last week I couldn’t accomplish a day trip to see the “Monkeemobile” at a local shop. I feel more isolated, but the physical isolation doesn’t trouble me. The mental isolation does, if you will excuse the comment I feel like the smartest kid on the short bus. It is all perspective. I do not expect to be taken seriously, I expect that anything controversial I say will be responded to with “Well you know, he has brain damage.”

In a society which so easily dismisses complaints as “first world problems” I try to point out the human element, the issues we all face. The turbulence following the election shows us pervasive arrogance and violence, which are real world problems, reaching across all social and economic barriers. The people claiming to be intellectually superior were suddenly made aware of the electoral college, one person standing on her degree in history claiming it had only been used five times previously (she did not realize it has been the method of election in all of the sixty previous elections, yet considers herself politically informed). I live in the Northeast, every year people forget how to deal with snow, I suspect some forget what snow is. After a lifetime of ambiguous sexuality and taunts of “faggot,” I was called a homophobe because I didn’t vote for Hillary. The problem is a failure of perspective, people who protest in the name of tolerance acting with no tolerance. It would be easy to blame this on a lack of education, but most of these people will tell you how educated they are, largely because they never bothered with the definition of education. To them it means they attended a particular institution, not that they learned anything useful. Someone told them they were educated, they never realized that the truly educated never stop learning.  They feel they are compassionate because they have seen compassionate people and it made them feel good, as they drove past. I cannot argue with such arrogance, it would be the equivalent of trying to convince a crazy person they were not sane.

I recognize I am probably not completely sane. Which in a counter intuitive way validates my sanity. I listen to people who do not listen to themselves. I guess I’m asking for it.

 

 

 

Running on Empty

I believe I have always been a gentleman, as well as a gentle man. That may be nearing an end. I am increasingly frustrated and irritable. I am not happy with the person I am becoming, but I see no way out, and I am looking hard.

I pictured it last night as a four engine aircraft running on three engines. Looks easy, but that is not how it was designed, that fourth engine had a purpose. The twin engines are fine with only two engines, there are plenty of single engine craft and helicopters. I should be happy with three engines, but I know I used to have four.

I attended a gathering last night, my big night out this week, and ran into someone I saw a few months ago. He remembered my name, we had met at a gathering of a related group which had been both of our first group forays. Of course I didn’t remember his name, and probably wouldn’t have without the injury. I was never good at names. After a while something happened which caused Sam to mention my brain injury, and he said “But you look okay.”

Yes, I look okay. Because what is wrong is something you cannot see. I falter, walk with a cane, am hard of hearing, can’t see very well, but those issues are common in people of my age. I have adapted. I smile, ask people to repeat what they have said or to speak more slowly, I have a beautiful cane, I connect abstract ideas on occasion, I dress well, I fit in. I can remember trivial events, which covers for the fact I forget what I am saying mid sentence. Writing does the same, you don’t stop every few words as you read this, you don’t know how much I struggle with each sentence.

A relative called the other night. I suspect he meant well, but there is enough of me left to feel critical of his aloofness. I can remember telling him about what I am doing, he acted as if he did not. He made some insulting comments, which I am sure he did not realize were insulting. When Emma was fighting cancer, another relative felt the need to casually insult the profession of restaurant server. When I reminded him that Emma had been a server most of her career, he doubled down, directly insulting my dying wife. Both of these people are related to me, not many of my close friends can believe it. I wanted to hang up, but I am too nice. I shook until I fell asleep, and slept poorly. The next morning when I could collect my thoughts I wrote him an email, explaining the pain he had caused. I knew better, nothing was going to change. He wrote back, I couldn’t bring myself to read his email. I asked Sam to read it, just to tell me if there were any questions to which I should respond. She said it wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be, but she hadn’t read my letter to him, so I let her read the email I had written. Her opinion changed, so I am glad I did not read his email. My words did not merit his response, which I had expected. This has nothing to do with my injury, it’s just a reminder of a disappointing relationship at time I need a more supportive one.

There are these kind of issues, the untangling of issues. I run into it with physicians, who try to separate my multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and advancing age rather than just treating the symptoms.  Insurance is even more frustrating, because it’s just a faceless voice on the telephone, giving their personal interpretation; if I call back I get another faceless voice with their own interpretation. Social Security Disability is scary, because from what I can gather it is a monolith, the unimpeachable opinion of one person determining my future, and that person has no medical training upon which to form this opinion. Personal interactions are the worst, everyone intends empathy, and I can finally understand the meaning of “You don’t know how I feel.” Depression is present, but I actually have brain damage. I can’t just think of things another way. I want to be gracious, but I don’t believe I can keep up the facade much longer. I don’t know how well I’ve kept it up so far, people have been falling away from me, no one has visited, I have received very little support from my fundraising attempts.

A few years ago, I visited Lieve’s brother in Belgium. She was never precise about his disability, but he was in his forties, living in an institution, wheelchair bound. He cannot speak, but he recognized me from a previous visit. We all had lunch in the day room, with the other patients. This was a residential care facility, there were no white coats, and most interactions were in Flemish. An hour or so in, I realized I could not tell the patients from the staff, and they probably felt the same of me. I was pleasant, attentive, but my English just sounded like gibberish, my Flemish was broken. I feel the same now, my adaptations and eloquence make me appear to be “normal,” I carry no physical scars, I look okay, but I am not.

I am scared. Not as much by my crumbling finances as my crumbling brain. I may end up homeless, if things continue the way they are certainly by this time next year, perhaps much sooner. I had once thought losing one’s mind would be peaceful, a gentle descent into forgetfulness. Sad that one of the last things I am to learn is the solitude of a broken mind.

 

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I always thought of myself as a warrior. I’m losing this battle.

 

 

 

 

 

Who am I now?

 

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There are things I do remember, among them a love of quantum mechanics. Of late I have been running reality checks on life.

Of the things I know, my name has always been a problem. My Birth Certificate says Kenneth Blake Cash. but my parents never mentioned Kenneth was my name until after that first day in Kindergarten where the teacher called me by the “wrong” name. Turns out they wanted to name me James but didn’t want people to call me Jimmy, so they named me Kenneth and called me Blake. It made just as much sense then as it does now, so I am not questioning my ability to process that information. I have had identity issues all my life, so I should be well equipped to handle them now. I just can’t find my equipment.

I hear on a routine basis that I need to accept who I am now. Usually unspoken is “because you are not who you were,” sometimes with lovely imagery about being a new person every sunrise. Yeah, right. This is not a glorious dawn.

I am not precisely starting afresh every day, but more so than before, as far as I can tell. My short term memory is failing, I compensate by taking notes (when possible) and telling people I have difficulty  processing information due to a brain injury. This is supposed to be a good sign, I am accepting what I am not “allowed” to acknowledge. I am not supposed to say I am damaged, or that the efforts I make are unsatisfactory.  See, in what is left of my mind, being unhappy with a failure is a positive move towards self improvement, but I am not supposed to damage my own self-esteem. Hard to have self-esteem when you don’t have a self.

Who I am is based on what I recall about how I got here. Even the things I remember I don’t feel a part of, making it difficult to distinguish between memory and dreams. Last week I had a strong memory of flying a C-130, I could feel the trembling and see the ground falling away. Trouble is, I have no memory of attending flight school, and the possibility I actually piloted a C-130 is remote. This scared me deeply. How many of the unlikely things in my past did not happen? My “sense of self” is exceptionally weak.

As far as I know, I do not suffer hallucinations. I am considering verifying the presence of new people, and if I am ever aware a hallucination has taken place I will.

Most of my “feelings” are vacant, I have little emotion, and I am not chasing their return. I see enough people adamant about untruths and fierce about mistaken beliefs centered around the election, I don’t want that to be my life. Some of my facilities are returning, although their return can be fleeting; I am told they are an indication of “higher executive functions.” I have a sense of sarcasm, and I’m fairly certain that I can be humorous and people are not laughing at me (today). I am aware that testosterone is missing, and I am scheduled to see an endocrinologist to measure pituitary function, these would seem to be affecting my drive and will. Frustration occurs when I know I should accomplish something and just can not begin the project. I also have read that my serotonin levels should be addressed, but I doubt my own medical skills enough to leave the dosaging of SSRIs to professionals. Again, I know (or think I know) enough to see my primary physician is less than skilled in the administration of SSRIs, so for this and other reasons I am seeking out a psychiatrist.

I know I am not who I was, but I am not certain exactly who I was. This appears to be the perfect opportunity to redefine myself, but I know I will have no past. Seems like it was interesting, I hate to let it go.

I have read through my articles since the accident, I can identify a spirit believing it is healing. That spirit no longer exists, which in a way is odd; from what I am told, recognizing my deficits is an improvement over not recognizing them. So I’m better because I know I’m worse. You should not be surprised at my confusion. Expect incredulous questions about the election.

My desire at this point is to record these facets of brain injury, so that one day I will be able to collect and edit them into a book. What I am most aware of is I may not feel this way in the future. I certainly don’t feel as I did nine, six, or even three months ago. Writing is what I can do, and apparently I am a fairly good writer, although it does not feel that way now. I know I was married to a woman named Emma, and I blogged through her fight with pancreatic cancer, and I turned that into a book. I know this because I looked it up. It is nice having things written down.

My ability to see the future is on par with my ability to see the past, I have no way of knowing this will ever turn into a book, it is a dream, and I am told it is useful to have goals. One goal is to financially survive until Social Security approves my disability claim, I’ve been selling what assets I can on Ebay, and I have started a charity fundraising web page on “YouCaring.”  Please consider donating a few dollars, the theory is it all adds up.

For now, I am Blake to my friends, Kenneth to my ever growing army of doctors, K. Blake Cash to my readers, and KB to my social media contacts and grandson (he says “kib”). The man behind the name is developing, trying to establish an identity with a foggy history. I think he will be KB, my grandfathers were known by their initials, I am now the age they were when they met Blake, now Blake can meet KB.

The construction of KB will be on a foundation of those memories he can verify, woven with the beliefs which resonate with his presence. I can remember every printer I ever touched and long to take apart new ones (the psychiatrist has a Toshiba, cognitive therapist a Konica Minolta, Neurologist Kyocera Mita). I recall an astounding array of songs. I have a couple of bass guitars but I can’t get my fingers to where they are trying to go. I know it is acceptable to end a sentence with a preposition. I have a drum, and I know how to use it.

In just over a month I will have my 58th birthday, I don’t know who will be there.

 

 

 

 

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The war to end all wars

One hundred and two years ago, in July of 1914, the first tendrils of the flame which would become known as The War to End All Wars were sprouting. It was not an accurate name, later it was referred to as the first World War, even before we started numbering them, because it was recognized the world was at war. About 4600 years earlier, the first recorded war, the Battle of Ur, involved the world of the time. There is little doubt there were wars before that, the desire to write was never as strong as the desire to kill.

Humans have always been at war with each other, there have been more than one hundred major conflicts since the War to End All Wars. It can be difficult to tell when one ends and another begins, the “first World War” began as a conflict between Serbia and Croatia, which continues today despite numerous “peace treaties.” The latest spark being when the cases each had against the other for genocide were dismissed in February 2015. The Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), in his book On War, calls war “a continuation of politics carried on by other means;” the Serbians and Croates always seem to find those means so something should be happening over there soon. And in Syria, The Ukraine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Israel, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, and The United States of America.

Yes, I am hearing the call here in the states. Credible calls which I shall not spread less I be accused of sedition. Hatred and mistrust is at an all time high in the states, look at a political candidate, the one who you won’t vote for, and realize that person’s supporters feel the same way as you. Their candidate has been unfairly vilified, the process was rigged against them, there are multiple conspiracies against them, and the other (your) candidate is the worst being to ever cobble together 46 chromosomes.

I am quite accustomed to hearing young people talk about revolution. I refrain from laughing out loud, they are often passionate, but direct action has no safe spaces.  When our forefathers signed the Declaration of Independence, they said “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” They understood the meaning of their words, they had lives, fortunes, and honor to pledge. The rumblings I am hearing today come from such people.

Recent events have been disturbing. Using a variety of ruses, the Bill of Rights has been under attack. In California, a law criminalizing speaking against climate change failed to pass, but the Department of Justice is considering civil actions to bypass the first amendment. The second amendment is dying the death of a thousand infringements. The third amendment, prohibiting forced quartering of soldiers, is in question in a case arguing that forcing land owners to allow government designated endangered species habitat is a violation. The fourth amendment has been all but overruled by the NSA. The fifth and sixth amendments, guaranteeing due process and listing rules of evidence and testimony, have been bypassed not only with drone strikes enforcing the death penalty against uncharged American citizens, but also in calls to use “no fly lists,” secret documents compiled without evidence, as reasons to deny second amendment rights. The seventh amendment, guaranteeing a speedy trial by jury, has not applied to the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay or victims of countless other renditions, both within the continental United States and elsewhere. The eighth amendment, protecting against cruel and unusual punishment, was saved by a filibuster, narrowly preventing drone strikes on American soil. They are currently used on foreign soil to avoid renditions, which can cause bad public relations; better to kill than imprison. The ninth and tenth amendments have simply been ignored, as the federal government created new rights, sometimes (as in the case of Same sex marriage) overruling the voice of the people who passed contradicting laws by referendum. The president has scoffed at separation of powers with his statements of “I have a phone and a pen,” essentially saying “I can do whatever I want, nah nah nah.” The corruption revealed in the FBI and DOJ deny our intrinsic faith in the rule of law, and in any power the Constitution might still hold. Rules are meaningless without enforcement.

The calls for rebellion have many sources, the tinder already glowing. The first war encompassing the world started with a botched assassination in Sarajevo, the American revolution was sparked by a tax on a breakfast beverage.

The horns are blowing with the winds of change.

 

 

 

Poseurs

My first exposure to the word “Poseur” was from a friend (the Suicide Bomber) when he explained why he no longer wore earrings. “They used to mean you were a bit radical, now they mean you’re a poseur.” Other than my tragus piercing, I don’t wear earrings myself anymore, and poseurs have created an entire movement, going beyond trying to be “cool” by dressing like those of us who are, they tried to simply redefine “cool” by creating the ultimate poseur lifestyle, the “hipster.”

The scope has widened, and now poseurs infiltrate all walks of life. I’m sure this has always been true to some extent, but the definition “Poseur is a pejorative term, often used in the punk, heavy metal, hip hop, and goth subcultures, or the skateboarding, surfing and jazz communities, to refer to a person who copies the dress, speech, and/or mannerisms of a group or subculture, generally for attaining acceptability within the group or for popularity among various other groups, yet who is deemed not to share or understand the values or philosophy of the subculture.” no longer applies to a subculture phenomena, it is seen everywhere, as self identification has become popular. People simply say they are something, much like my old manager said his degree was in engineering in the days before the internet. He was an English major who had dropped out, but he got the job because no one checked.

My ex-wife, as the first example, continues to say she is a “good-person,” despite her self admitted anti social behavior and absolutely evil things she has done to me and other people who cared about her.  Lieve doesn’t remember having to repack the boxes for Belgium to remove my things, or that I learned Flemish and obtained the paperwork to become a Belgian citizen or that on our last visit we spoke to officials at the town hall in Leuven. She just says we never planned to move to Belgium together. She’s going with the “It doesn’t matter, I’m a good person because…I believe I’m a good person” line of reasoning. She poses as a “good person” rather well, until you have the opportunity to see behind the curtain.

My second example springs from that experience. Tired of being lied to I decided to look into an open relationship. Ethical non-monogamy or Polyamory. Not promiscuity or swinging, just open honesty between committed partners. My partner is free to do whatever she wants, and there is nothing to lie about so no need to lie. I’ve really come to detest lying, probably because I was blamed for causing my next girlfriend’s seizure, because he couldn’t handle the stress of lying to me. Polyamorists tend to over explain, and tell what some might consider too much. Polyamory is fairly popular in certain circles, and attracts the same predators as monogamy. There are a lot of guys who say “I’m polyamorous, my wife is okay with me dating” when in fact the wife thinks he’s out with the guys. Low lifes will use whatever tools are available. We started getting involved in discussion groups and found a large number of those kind of guys and girls, predominantly the younger ones. One person started a discussion aimed at people over forty, looking for more mature responses, and a fair number of people tried to join in with such statements as “I’m mature for my age.” They were not, having just “gotten engaged” to someone they met on line and would most likely never meet in person. Another said “I’m old, I’m twenty three.”  Well, we had said nothing about being “old,” and twenty three is far less than forty so the reading comprehension that comes with maturity was clearly missing. We eventually started a separate group, with Sam and I moderating, for people over forty and still had requests to join by people in relationships with partners who were over forty. I had to explain their partner was welcome, but they would have to wait. Who would have thought being older would be so fascinating? They have been posing as mature so long they believe it themselves.

Next I want to discuss education. I know many highly educated people, some of whom attended prestigious universities and have advanced degrees, others who obtained their education through life experience. None of them speak about how educated they are, they simply use the education to prove it. Maybe it is because it is an election year, and so many people are questioning the intelligence of their opponents rather than debating the issues themselves, but I am hearing a lot of people talking about how educated they are. Someone talking about how educated they are is similar to someone driving a Prius shouting to a person driving a Ferrari about how fast they can drive; if your Prius is up to it step on the gas and show me.

Most recently, an old acquaintance picked up the habit of starting statements with “My education tells me…” I know about his education, and his character, neither of which are anything to be proud of, but like many acquaintances I’ve known a long time there are sentimental reasons to maintain the relationship. His field of study was hospitality services, and while he never learned about being hospitable, he still feels confident in posing as educated. What troubles me, more than having an arrogant and ignorant acquaintance, is the growing prevalence of considering an education as something derived from being in the proximity of famous buildings. Students at my neighborhood university (Princeton) are under the impression they are all knowing merely because they were accepted as students. Even the university itself leans on the reputation of Albert Einstein, despite the fact his only association was teaching a preceptorial course (he didn’t even give the lecture) while he was a professor at the nearby Institute for Advanced Study. In the real world, an education is a reflection of the individual, not the institution they attended. 

We presently have a couple of candidates for President of the United States, both posing as civilized human beings. If you so much as scratch either of their veneers, you can see they are only posing, but oddly, only the Democrats can see the Republican for what he is, and only Republicans can see the Democrat for what she is. Just because you can each fool some of the people doesn’t mean they are all the same people, but it will be enough people to elect one of these clowns, because personal responsibility has been so degraded the thought there might be someone else qualified for the position has not occurred to an adequate number of voters.

Brian Williams, who spoke about the helicopter he was in being hit over Afghanistan, only to be corrected by other passengers that the other helicopter with them was hit, then brushed off his bald faced lie characterizing it as “mis-remembering due to the fog of war.” Poseurs are accepted by society. Okay, Brian lost his job, but Hillary was made Secretary of State after “mis-remembering” taking sniper fire in Bosnia.

When we don’t stand up for the truth, the truth dies. Do not be an accessory to murder.

 

 

God the Father

Father’s day is celebrated around the world, in various ways and with various spellings. The relationship each of us have with our own father is unique, for many reasons. We each define who our father is, what his duties as a father are, and how well he fulfills those duties. Some people spend time reflecting on their own responsibilities as children, and factor themselves into the equation. This all falls under the umbrella of understanding our father, fatherhood, and ourselves. Considering that at least one quarter of Americans have sought Mental Health assistance and folks most in need of help never seek it, I believe it is safe to say in general we do not know the participants in the father/child relationship well enough to make many judgements.

I know my children do not think I am a good father. I know many of the reasons why they think so, and the level of maturity they possessed when they made the decision, as well as the level of maturity I had hoped would reverse the impression. They haven’t gotten there yet, so I can only assume the situation is permanent. My relationship with my own father has changed a number of times over the years, which may indicate I am more flexible than my children (my impression), that they are emotionally damaged (a strong possibility), or maybe I am not a good father (always worth considering). The most definite pieces of information are they do not know me, and have made no attempt to know me, yet they harbor strong feelings about who I am (provided by their mother).

So earlier this week, when a dear friend made a statement about God, portraying it in a “paternal” image, in conjunction with the approaching holiday, my thoughts drifted to children and their illusions about fathers. The statement had been in the context of gun control, and he had said “every time it works, God smiles.” My God supports free will rather than denying it, so I don’t see God smiling in such an instance, and I started to wonder what made our perceptions about God so different.

The first thought was that the all powerful creator of the universe really doesn’t give a damn if you buy a gun or go bowling. Then I realized I was thinking of my God. I realized we all have different Gods, everyone sitting in the pew at church believes in a different God, because despite the holy texts, we each have to read and understand what we have read. We carry a banner (“Christian” in my case) but we have different beliefs, in some cases radically different. From what I’ve read, God wants us to live our lives according to his directions, and when we die we get to find out if we correctly interpreted the directions and how to follow them. Not before.

Some religions clearly don’t hold this view. Some people misunderstand their religion, and believe they are supposed to enforce God’s directions on Earth, even when the texts clearly state otherwise. Some people are just doing whatever they want, and waving a banner because it gives them a sense of authority. Problems arise from confusing terms, which inhibit communication. “God” is a concept, so when I say “God” it means the being that I imagine God to be, when Benjamin Netanyahu says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be, and when the leader of Daesh says “God” it means the being he imagines God to be. My theological mind argues we are all speaking of the same God, my psychological mind knows we are speaking about three different Gods, because we believe they are different, having in our minds created God and the differences between the Gods. We all believe God is greatest, if we speak Arabic we say Allahu Akbar.

I can be fairly annoying in arguments, because I tend to coach my opponents to make better arguments, I see all the sides.

I believe a part of my vision of God is based on my view of what a father should be, and my impression of myself as a father makes me believe I am doing it right. My children are each successful in their chosen fields. They are strong willed and independent. They don’t always do the things I would want them to do, but guess what? I didn’t do everything they wanted me to do. That doesn’t make them “bad children” any more than it makes me a “bad father,”  but they have placed themselves in judgement of my activities (which had nothing to do with them, particularly the ones that took place before they were born), so you might see how I can compare the relationship to that of God and Humans. They don’t know who I am now, how could they know anything about who I was then?

I consider the Christian Bible to be God’s word. I am fully aware the words themselves were written by human beings, and translated several times to accommodate various languages and ages. The Aramaic of 30 B.C. is unrecognizable to Arabs today, the English of 1611 would be unintelligible to an English subject today, Modern English is largely unintelligible to Americans. Many thoughts are ascribed to God in the Bible, they represent the message of the moment, not different Gods. The messages of the Old Testament are different from the messages of the New Testament. I suspect the punishment for arguing the order in which to prioritize its words would be similar to the punishment I meted out to my children when they brought up things I had said prior to their existence, it has nothing to do with the discussion at hand.

My beliefs have led me to understand God placed us on Earth to learn. Learning means making mistakes, and learning from them. There are sects which believe intent is an equal failure,  it may be, but I believe overcoming desire is the extenuating circumstance God will consider when it makes judgement. Jimmy Carter thought it was a sin to lust in your heart, but I believe acting on that lust is the sin God prohibited. Denying the opportunity prevents the sinner from making the decision to act. Allowing the opportunity gives the sinner the ability to redeem their heart. The same holds true in the gun analogy, Omar Mateen may have hated gay people, or just Americans, but had we prevented him from purchasing the guns, would it have pleased God? Would it not want Omar to have the opportunity to decide not to pull the trigger? Is it sad because you responded to Omar’s decision by arguing over his motives and methods rather than reaching out to his victims?

So on Father’s Day, which in America is celebrated on Sunday, considered to be “The Lord’s Day” by most Christians, get to know your father. Your father on Earth, and your father in Heaven. They both spent a good deal of effort on telling you who they are, but have no control over how you interpreted what they told you.

Get it right this time. It really is for your own good.

Terror

On the eve of the second world war, with no idea of the horrors to come, a new president was inaugurated. In hindsight, we see his words as brave, while the story behind them had nothing to do with world war and more to do with his personal and hidden war. He spoke of the economic troubles following the Great Depression, yet he was unable to reveal his own infirmity. Near the beginning of his inaugural speech he said “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Fear is winning.

Today in America, college students are terrorized by the words “Trump 2016” written in chalk. People are scared, genuinely frightened, by food. Ingredients they are not even sensitive to, but they believe they are “dangerous” because they read somewhere they are “bad for you.” Yes, education has failed, they thought “bad for you” was directed at them, not just people who are sensitive to the ingredient.

What do they do when they see something designed to be dangerous and scary? I’m not doing their laundry, but I have a suspicion.

There was an horrific massacre at a club in Orlando Florida last Saturday. Rather than express sympathy for the victims or offer assistance to the survivors, Americans jumped at the opportunity to create political arguments, using the most ferocious weapon available, fear.

Within minutes of the massacre, 0600 EST, I happened to turn on the televised news and hear the initial reports. With twenty confirmed dead it was being called “the worst terrorist attack since 9/11.” I waited to gather a few reports. It had been reported the shooter had an Arabic name and used an AR-15 rifle, referred to as an “assault rifle.” He had allegedly called 911 and pledged allegiance to ISIS. The death toll (by 0700) remained stable.

I penned a short lament to the death of journalism. An Arabic name does not imply terrorism, an AR-15 is not an assault rifle, twenty casualties is not the worst attack since 9/11. It was a gay club, so I asked if gay lives matter more, making this attack “worse.”  Using the definition of terrorism “creating terror,” more were killed at an elementary school in Connecticut.

As the hours went by, more details came in. The death toll rose to fifty, making it the worst attack since 9/11, but the language changed to “worst attack ever.” Well, now the word games begin. In 1890, the federal government attacked the Sioux Indians of Wounded Knee, killing over one hundred fifty Americans.  With the assault weapons of the day. Under the auspices of gun control. There were twenty Medals of Honor awarded for that massacre of women and children. In 1993 the federal government murdered fifty two Americans and twenty four British citizens in a full on military assault in Waco, Texas. In an unthinkable turn of language, the Attorney General later said the massacre was carried out “for the children,” twenty five of which were victims of the government assault.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on how horrible the attack was historically rather than the actual victims.

Another victim of the media was the motivation, because it is so much easier to spread fear if you have  big scary assailant. I believe there would be fewer conspiracy theories surrounding President Kennedy’s assassination if Lee Harvey Oswald wasn’t such a wimp.

As it turned out, Omar Wateen was indeed a Muslim. Not a good Muslim, but the guys who flew the planes on 9/11 allegedly hung out drinking at strip clubs when they were in flight training. He had called 911 and “pledged allegiance to ISIS,” and Daesh had in fact issued a warning of a Florida attack, along with a “kill list.” No one on the kill list was at a gay bar in Orlando at 0200, but speculation continued the massacre was influenced by Daesh. More digging revealed that in addition to pledging allegiance to ISIS, Omar also claimed to be a member of Al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. ISIS and Al-Qaeda are conflicting groups, and Hezbollah, being a Sunni Muslim group, is at war with both of them.

It also turned out that Omar, who was married, had beaten his wife and frequented gay dating sites, visiting the club he attacked several times. His father was derogatory towards him and had a history of having a bad relationship. My initial theory, that the shooter was upset over a failed love interest, began to gain some credence.

The argument over whether it was a terrorist act or a hate crime made no difference to the dead.

Oh yeah, and fifty people happened to be dead, but let’s focus on the motivation for the attack rather than the actual victims.

The overwhelming number of  arguments, involved gun control. Being a political year, all the candidates came forth with their well uninformed opinions, and the generally uninformed public rose to the fight, fueled by the uninformed media. Bernie Sanders went as far as to say he would demand a ban on automatic weapons, and had been fighting for a ban on automatic weapons for twenty five years.

Automatic weapons were all  but banned by the Firearms Control Act of 1968 (forty eight years ago), restricting them so severely they are figuratively illegal. I have seen two in civilian hands in my life, and I’ve seen a lot of civilians with guns.

The rifle used by Omar was a Sig Sauer MCX. To this hour, three days later, some media outlets are still calling it an AR-15 and an assault weapon.

The second rifle from the left could be an AR-15

The second rifle from the left (AK-47) could be an AR-15

 

I could debate this issue all day long, what is an assault rifle, what is a military weapon, what is an automatic weapon, what is a high powered weapon, why do vegetarians eat fish, but there is a larger issue.

 Fifty people happen to be dead, but let’s focus on the weapon rather than the actual victims.

The fear of guns has ignited, once again, the gun control “debate.” Debating has gone the way of journalism unfortunately. Both sides tend to be misinformed, on a scale of one to ten I would rate the credibility of pro-gun types to be seven, anti-gun types run close to zero. It is merely a shouting match. Nothing is going to change, and both sides are filled with fear.

Gun control legislation tends to have a reverse effect. The Gun Control Act of 1968 was aimed at removing “Saturday Night Specials,” cheap revolvers purchased on impulse, from the streets. That part worked. In the vacuum rose semi-automatic weapons, primarily of larger calibers. Police found themselves outgunned and created SWAT teams, drive by shootings became rampant, more people died. “Collateral” victims, who might have survived a missed shot from a small caliber (less than .38) pistol with only six rounds, were more likely to be killed by a larger caliber pistol fired sixteen times, or a rifle fired thirty times.

When there is a major shooting incident, two things happen. One group screams for gun control, another buys more guns. Gun purchases hit record highs following every massacre, the desire for self protection beats the desire for social controls every time. And the guns they buy? The scariest looking ones on the shelf, often called “assault weapons,” despite the fact they only look like assault weapons. The shape of the gun has no effect on the impact of the bullet.

I have one thing to say to those demanding gun bans. Following the lesson of the Gun Control Act of 1968, were firearms to ever be banned effectively, overturning the second amendment, the next available weapon would become popular. People are not going to stop killing each other because they don’t have guns, Cain used a rock. Knives might be scary, but a taste for mass killings has become popular among the fringe group that decided shooting up the school is better than slashing the principals tires. Explosives are already showing up.

In 1927, Andrew Kehoe, upset with the expense of a new school, blew it up, killing forty five, including thirty eight children. In 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a right wing anarchist, detonated a rental truck filled with home made explosives, killing one hundred sixty eight, including nineteen children at a daycare in the Murrah Federal Building. Getting rid of firearms will not decrease the bloodshed.

And in case you were distracted, fifty people are dead in Orlando. 

 

 

 

Sexuality

I was involved in a conversation the other day about sexuality, this one focused on the term “Sapiosexual.”

 The definition of sapiosexual is “a person who finds intelligence to be the most sexually attractive characteristic of another person.” Let me say “A” definition rather than “The” definition, as definitions themselves were a large and contentious part of the conversation. I did learn a new term, “SJW” or Social Justice Warrior, which I will define as “pretentious self-involved wanker with no experience, who tells others how to navigate society. No social skills, justice skills, or warrior skills required.” Apparently, my definitions are whatever I want them to be,  your definitions are whatever you want them to be, and as long as one of us is offended (how could we possibly avoid that?) the other is a racist.

.

 

Without offense to anyone who identifies as a pussy

Without offense intended to anyone who identifies as a pussy

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 This conversation took place within a group of people who pride themselves on being intelligent and open-minded. Afterward it occurred to me, “who does not take pride in themselves as being intelligent and open-minded?” After all, we live in a world in which seventy six percent of people surveyed believe they are above average. I have actually heard that statement defended, based on the idea we all have an above average number of limbs. Most people have four, but some people do not, making average slightly less than four. That’s not how this works.
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Several years back, I overheard a conversation on the train into work. Two young ladies were discussing language, “what language do you dream in?” and such. One said “I do mathematics in German. I don’t know why, it just works for me.” I shared the experience with a coworker, who asked what the young ladies looked like. I said I didn’t know, I had not turned around to look, I just found the conversation attractive. He said, “Yeah, brains are sexy.”
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 A number of slow realizations have explained the labels I use to describe my sexuality, I now recognize this as the point I identified as a sapiosexual. It had always been there, this is when I embraced it, about fifteen years ago. Other aspects of my sexuality have been more, or less, obvious; certainly to look at my last three relationships you might doubt my attraction to intelligence, which is what makes discussions such as this so difficult.
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 There are many definitions and measurements of intelligence. There are probably more definitions of sexy, but we usually don’t cringe when someone says “She’s sexy,” even when the person being described is as far from sexy (to us) as we can imagine. We tend to recognize the subjective nature of attraction. The conversation I was having seemed to focus on the oppressive, and yes the adjective “racist” was used, nature of being sapiosexual. As a sapiosexual I have never felt so oppressed. This might be because this group is otherwise very sexually open and accepting, they might even find the word “tolerant” negatively prejudicial. There was no delay or shortage of the abuse placed on sapiosexuals, with “pretentious” being the very mildest insult.
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 I’ve dealt with this all my life. I can get along with anybody, but once I am “outed” as being what is now referred to as “gifted,” everything changes. I maintained a B average through school, so the only scorn I received was from parents and teachers who would say “You’re not performing at your potential,” and “I know you can do better than this so I’m dropping your grade.” I saw it in my eldest son, who was routinely beaten up at school, because not only was he intelligent, he told everyone about it. Being a child of the sixties it was easy to deny accomplishment and gravitate towards an earthier, grittier existence (not that the two are mutually exclusive). I recognized what other sapiosexuals recognize, intelligence isn’t about a number on an IQ test, it has more to do with understanding and wisdom. Funny how you can be respected as “wise” without being labeled “intelligent.” I want to believe this is because deep down folks can recognize intelligence has many presentations, even when they don’t admit it out loud.
 .
 I will agree that many who claim to be sapiosexual are pretentious, either seeking someone to compensate for their shortcomings, or attempting to compensate by the claim. In the arena of sexual preferences this is often the case, but this conversation went much farther than attacking pretensions, which although uncommon is not unheard of in this group. Portions of the conversation actually attacked intelligence itself, some were careful enough to attack the measures of intelligence as oppressively used by European males. Perhaps my judgement is off since the TBI, but I had absolutely no trouble seeing intentional offense. As disgusted as I felt, there was a certain sense of fraternity, humans tend to have the same frailty of hypocrisy, the most sensitive can still be aggressively offensive.
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There are many attitudes I do not have but can sympathize with, but I will never sympathize with the hatred for those who are different. I understand it, I know it takes place, but I have no sympathy. The only words I can come up with to describe the attitude are negative, there is no compassionate way to speak of it. Oddly, the majority of hatred for those who are different appears to originate from those who accuse others of prejudices, of disliking those who are different. The same people who are so very diligent about properly labeling everyone tend to use labels to segregate and negatively discriminate. I would say they must not be very smart, and some of them are not, but some are, which makes them evil.
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Our world is not binary, black or white. Being attracted to intelligence does not make the lack of intelligence disgusting. If you were to believe such, any statement of preference would also be a statement of prejudice against whatever would be opposite.
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I think we are all intelligent enough to see that.

Social Therapy

The therapies I have participated in since my accident have attempted to bring me back to a functional state. I was never merely functional, but they need a target.

Occupational Therapy has been trying to get my elbow and wrist to function in ways conducive to performing in an occupation. My mind is a bit fuzzy (more on that later) but I do not recall being asked which occupation I should be prepared for. My last position was in a warehouse, preparing shipments of fifty pound boxes of cosmetics. Prior to that I have done many things, both as vocations and avocations. Presently I can write, but I have never made much money writing (You could buy my book if you want to help). As much praise as I receive for my progress, I am nowhere near ready to pick and ship boxes heavier than three pounds. The other day one of the therapists was saying how well I am doing, I can touch my shoulder. I told her I really wanted my arms to match, and she asked what I could do. I wasn’t in the mood to show off, but I took my left arm, extended it to perfectly straight in front of me, lifted my arm straight up, brought my palm to the back of my head, and rotated my wrist clockwise and then counterclockwise, ending each twist with the back of my hand on the back of my head. These movements were based on the extrapolated extremes of the exercises I had been doing for my right arm.

Apparently this was not the goal they had in mind, as none of the therapists could reproduce the movement.

My Physical Therapy has been trying to get me to walk smoothly, without falling. I am not progressing quite as well here, I’ve always been a little wobbly and my gait can best be described as a controlled fall. I make them nervous, they keep thinking I’ll fall, but I saw there was a wall there and managed to bounce off of it. My days of ballet, or even expressive dance, are no doubt behind me. Yoga is still on my list, I can see it as a life long physical therapy project. If I’m lucky I will find a way for medicaid to pay for it.

My Cognitive therapy is as broken as I am. I have my first evaluation next week, and my comprehensive evaluation has yet to be scheduled. Parts of my brain are healing, enough that I am aware that things are missing. The entire months of December and January are now a mystery, and November and February are not as clear as they should be. In the interim I am taking the Lumosity training, and after a month my scores are as high as the fifty seventh percentile. I am well aware my mental acuity was previously in the ninety ninth percentile for some tasks, never below the ninetieth. There are languages in which I once could speak fluently and no longer can count to ten. I know what belongs in the kitchen but can’t think of how to put it together into an interesting meal. Emotionally, I am vacant, yet for some reason I feel an attraction to a woman who I had the police remove from my house last year.

My vision issues are slowly being narrowed down to the correct ophthalmologist, and my hearing tests have resulted in a “well that’s unusual” response from my doctors.

The most satisfying therapy I have tried has been “Social Therapy.” Spending time doing the things I am accustomed to, with people I am accustomed to. I hope I am progressing well, but my friends are not therapists, they may not be telling me about my failures.

I started out slowly, catching my friend’s “British Invasion” show, a chronological performance of the music of the 60s and 70s. They even had actors doing introductory skits, the opening had a great twist on “Who’s on First” substituting The Guess Who, The Who, and Yes as the acts of a concert.

Sam and I had a nice evening discovering garlic fries and I shot some video for the band. It was a good “first night out,” not too crowded or loud, and loads of memory laden music.

The next week we returned to see  my friend Buddy Cash play with his band and a couple of the guys from the band Squeeze. Buddy always packs the house, it was a busy and loud night, but it was great to see everyone again. Squeeze covered a lot of Led Zeppelin, which was an odd turn but interesting. With Buddy and two former bassists from Squeeze there was a plethora of bass players, unfortunately I didn’t shoot any video that night.

A few days later I met some friends from school I had not seen in decades.

Blake, Mike, and Kati

Blake, Mike, and Kati

My friend Michael Montgomery is a magician, he lives magic, always prepared for an illusion. It was amazing to watch him seamlessly flow from conversation to magic. Kati (Karena Walker) is a yoga teacher and singing bowl practitioner.  I attended a healing circle Kati and another yoga teacher put together a few months ago (although in my mind it is presently a fact and not a memory), it was exceptionally soothing. We had not all been together in nearly forty years, we met at Michael’s house, met his wife Paula, and had a wonderful evening rekindling memories. This is something I must do again, I carried a smile for days.

Tonight I’ll be seeing another friend, Ritchie DeCarlo, play with one of his bands, The Prussia Kings, at a club not far from Sam’s house (fortuitous planning). Ritchie’s musical directions are always interesting, and the club carries Chimay Premiere, so the evening is promising.

My friend Tribbee returns from Scotland this week, the Vernal Equinox arrives with Sunday,  April brings the Punk Rock Flea Market and Record Store Day. All of these things engage and stimulate my brain, providing much needed social therapy.

The road ahead is long and mysterious, much like my journey with multiple sclerosis I have no idea what to expect. I do know, at least I feel, I must regain my memories, exercise my brain, regain my mental acuity. I may appear to have recovered from the accident, but there remains a long, largely invisible, recovery ahead. Sam has said being with me is like being with my twin bother, we look the same and have similar characteristics, but we are not the same person.

I really want to be me again.

Perception

Our perceptions, the way in which we understand things, shape the things we see. I see myself as a rock and roll type of guy with a punker edge, and carry the attitude through many aspects of my life. As the years have gone by and my hair has thinned I no longer have the beautiful flowing locks of my youth, but in my mind I still see the young man I was, and I have difficulty understanding why he is pushing a walker in his Doc Martens. I suspect most of us have delusions about ourselves to some degree, yet we tend to forget we have even more mistaken impressions about other people.

God is good to me, it shows me my faults by displaying them in other people. I see the behavior and realize it exists within myself, allowing me to forgive myself as human, forgiving the others while still correcting the behavior in myself.

Recently a friend died. I met her forty years ago, and the subtle lessons she taught me back then served me through my life. You know a lesson is valuable when you find yourself sharing it with others, I have shared Connie’s lessons repeatedly, and her most meaningful lesson she repeated from beyond.

Connie and I were seventeen years old, taking “Introduction to Psychology” at New Providence High School. The teacher was Coach Furey, a young teacher with longish hair and a beard. He wanted to be “the cool teacher” and allowed us to have a coffee pot in the room because first period was early even for him. The coffee debacle contained a lesson of its own, as a section of the class became “the coffee klatch;” there were others as the young teacher stumbled through the year, but my favorite was when we discussed dreams.

Connie didn’t walk, for many in the class she was the first experience with a peer in a wheelchair. Someone asked her how she saw herself in dreams, whether in a wheelchair or walking. A level of tension was evident, even forty years ago referring to someone’s abilities was considered taboo.

Connie displayed no discomfort at the questions, answering calmly and honestly. She had never walked, she did not miss walking or picture herself walking. The wheelchair was not part of her any more than our school desks were part of us. Her vision in dreams included the movement she was accustomed to, and on the occasions she saw herself in dreams she was floating, moving without making contact with the ground.

This was a powerful lesson in perception, one that has been borne out by research. People do not miss what they have not experienced, their life is all they know. Ask a twin what it is like to have a twin, and they might ask you what it is like to not have a twin. Some examples of our misconceptions about our own perceptions can be found in the wonderful book by Daniel Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness,” and throughout the writings of Oliver Sacks, whose book “Seeing Voices” details his experiences at Gallaudet.

One of the more demonstrative communities to address the issue of insulated perceptions is the Deaf. Suggesting a person suffers from deafness may result in an argument, as he tries to convince you that you suffer from hearing. A growing movement within the community sees deafness as a defining element of belonging to their culture. Other groups, born differently, follow the same logic. This is how God made you, it does not need to be “fixed.”

Reflect upon this. Consider the definition of “normal,” as Merriam Webster states “usual or ordinary : not strange,” and “according with, constituting, or not deviating from a norm, rule, or principle.” Now consider the definition found in Urban Dictionary, “A word made up by this corrupt society so they could single out and attack those who are different.” The Urban Dictionary definition is directly implied by the definition in Merriam Webster, “not strange.” I find some comfort in being called “weird,” which I suppose is weird in itself. Many people wish to be accepted by society, being told they are not normal sets them apart; human beings have a long history of xenophobia, parents have killed children with minor deformities. The stigma of being different can be a life or death matter.

A few weeks ago Connie made a generous donation to my own GoFundMe website, and had written a very touching response to the thank you note I sent to her. A few years ago she had participated in “The Ice Bucket Challenge,” using ice and not water so her power chair would not “short out and blow up” as she put it.

 

 

Connie developed a sore on her leg which became infected, she went to the hospital and had a fatal heart attack the next morning. I found the reactions to Connie’s death mildly disturbing, as people said things such as “Now she is walking” and “she will be perfect.”

Connie was always perfect. It is those of us who judge others by our own standards who are less than perfect. It takes a person like Connie to reveal my own imperfections, as she did so gently, with no malice.

 

 

Unknown Territory

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

A dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind

 

I have been writing in this blog for almost three years, daily at first, slowing to a more random pace, trying to settle on no less than once a week. Three hundred and eighty articles in and I am on target. I’ve covered topics from Quantum Physics through Astrophysics, Cosmology through the End of the World, Religions, Politics, a little Sex, and a good helping of Music. In short, the things I think about. This last year has been increasingly personal, and this article may wander into the most personal dimension, not the thoughts in my mind but the matrix of my mind itself.

I have always had a strong memory, recalling the quantity and quality of the events I have witnessed with speed and precision. I have been told I possess a keen intellect, absorbing and analyzing information, then communicating said information in easily understandable terms to any audience. I tell you these things because I remember them, not because I am aware of their presence now. I am reticent to comment on the world today, as I am not secure my analysis stands on the same foundations I have relied upon in the past.

Imagine the way you think. The complex layers of a memory, the data from all of your senses wrapped in your intellectual perception connecting every fraction of a second. I have been told a human may only experience one sensation at a time, one sound, smell, touch, emotion. The brain switches between inputs so rapidly it appears all these things are happening simultaneously, yet even more is taking place outside of awareness. We possess filters, our vision shifts our perception of colors to believe light is white; try on some tinted lenses and see for yourself. We can hear a melody through static, separating out what we want to hear; the same can be true with words in a conversation, consider a single political speech as heard by one thousand different voters, each hearing what they want to hear. We have each had enough tactile experience to know physical sensations are relative. Emotions exist in a dimension of their own, no adjectives are adequate. Tuned by all these factors our memories reside not only in the instant they were formed but also in the moment they are recalled. A word describes this, it is originally Sanskrit. The word is māyā (माया), and in a sense we refer to as “poetic” it has multiple meanings, most commonly considered to be “The illusion of reality” in the sense reality is an illusion. It is “that which exists, but is constantly changing and thus is spiritually unreal”, and the “power or the principle that conceals the true character of spiritual reality.”

With this fabulous brain creating reality from our sensory inputs, it can be difficult to determine if one of the inputs is faulty, and often difficult to explain. Verbally explaining a vision issue to an ophthalmologist is near impossible, you don’t speak their language; twice in my life I have had to resort to visual aids, a smear on the lenses of the first, using my hands to represent my eyes to the second, and this because I had diagnosed the problem and needed them to confirm and treat it. They had been pursuing (and ruling out) a different diagnosis, and were not on the path to the problem with my vision. How do you determine if the fault is in your brain? The stimuli has passed through several filters, are you certain the processor is to blame? Are you likely to ever suspect the processor, as it creates the filters and references you use to judge reality?

So I find myself today. I know one of the functions which takes place in my brain is malfunctioning. I don’t know if this is affecting other functions, or if those are malfunctioning on their own, or if everything is fine outside of one malfunctioning segment.

I have always been an emotional person. I feel deeply, I am passionate both verbally and physically. When I got out of the hospital last month, once I started remembering things, I found myself surrounded by reminders of Emma. My grief was overwhelming, I cried so much I would leave the room so I could scream in the pain which was tearing me to shreds. Then I stopped. I didn’t feel anything. I felt no passion or desire for Sam, and although I knew I should have some level of emotion directed towards the woman who leapt from open relationship partner to full time caregiver while waiting for the ambulance, even the apparent emptiness of my soul only troubled me on an intellectual level. Nothing affected me, I used to cry over commercials, dance to rhythms of the road, laugh at inappropriate moments,  and suddenly I was flat.

I do not think it requires a leap of logic to suspect the remainder of your mental facilities when one function of the brain isn’t working properly following a concussion, and I don’t remember much of the week following the accident. This just seems to be a reasonable precaution, along with avoiding heavy machinery.

I am not sure in which way or ways I should approach the question; how to elicit an answer (tests), how to measure and interpret any results. My mind is a carnival, every barking dog and stick of candy floss an important part of the tapestry, which is the gold thread and which the brass ring?

Lacking any formal training, and allowing any lapses in judgement, it appears I will need to reconcile every item I find, taking inventory of what holds me together, should I care for that revealed or not. I should enlist assistance for the task, and a brief perusal of psychiatrists who accept Medicaid produced zero results within the state. I feel rather strongly no shortcuts should be taken, the blossoming questions rise as a cloud from a bonfire off in the field, drifting across the moonlight as it paints the faces awaiting the carnival’s fireworks display.

And I can’t tell if this prose is an elegant indication of wellness, or an abstruse intimation of infirmity.

 

 

I will be waiting a few more weeks for cognitive therapy, it seems odd to me there are so few therapists available, the need appears overwhelming. So many unconscious sufferers wandering aimlessly. I joined Luminosity at the suggestion of my neurosurgeon, at least I will be exercising my neural net, keeping blood and electrons flowing. The other practice I have been applying in trying to find my emotional base has been following “inspirational” web pages, reassuring thoughts and mantras usually presented as memes. The greatest power I realize from these memes is the recognition I am not alone, someone else has produced the same thoughts I am pondering.

 

"Soul Speaking" Inspirational page

Soul Speaking” Inspirational page

 

The eventual remedy lays in memory, remembering who I am, verifying the memory represents reality, and living the life of the man who not only has been this person in the past, but is this person today. Social therapy, spending time with people who know me, can only provide the strength to separate the music from the static, provide reminders of laughter and passions. When I find I can dance to the music I have uncovered, there will be reason to believe I am on the right path toward experiencing passions again. I can acknowledge the possibilities are endless, opening my mind to the breadth of the spectrum, but only one wavelength belongs to me. I think it is just about 400 nano meters.

 

 

It’s a wonderful carnival, I’m staying all night.

 

My Last Political Article

There is little doubt I will write about the effects political decisions have on society, or that I will mention politicians, but my relationship with politics has evolved; I expect this to be my last article on American national politics, specifically the 2016 elections.

I write to encourage thought, despite which there appears to be a shortage of thought in the political theater of today. Politics have moved into the space once inhabited by bitter hate-filled arguments. Agreements are not reached, they are forced, during the process redefining “agreement.” The meaning of the word “consensus” has come to be “shouted the loudest.”

There does not appear to be much interest in “leading” as an elected official. “Leadership” is another of those words lacking a meaning, what we used to call “managing” has taken leadership’s place, although I would like to believe even that concept is due for redefinition, managers once were required to demonstrate positive results. The driving force among politicians appears to be “getting elected,” which may at first sound like a simplistic statement. Of course they want to get elected, my issue is that is all they want. At first. Then it changes to “getting re-elected.” The accomplishment most desired while holding an elected position appears to be “creating a legacy.”

A legacy. Something tangible by which to be remembered. Left by someone who spent their life trying to distort reality.

If you have been following this blog, you are aware I intended to leave America a few years ago. One of the many reasons for leaving was to miss the election. I could see a wave of conservatism growing that would overwhelm liberal candidates. I happen to lean towards the conservative point of view myself, but this was destined to be mean spirited, with an ugliness of revenge not seen since Clinton vacated the White House in 2001.

This year’s unpleasantness has not been created by a party unwilling to leave power (yet), but by the all but presumptive winning party. Consider that fact, along with one of the recent quotes from the clown leading in the Republican primary polls, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and not lose any voters.” The acknowledgement his words and actions are inconsequential to voters could not be more clear.

A bad joke never becomes funny

A bad joke never becomes funny

Perhaps this should have been “The Sign.” The omen which revealed the onset of the apocalypse. The moment the New York Daily News told a joke with a punchline of reality pointing its finger at us and laughing.

The field turned out to be as many as twelve candidates and one rabid dog. At a moment more sober minds looked forward to unity following eight years of blatant divisiveness, one candidate leapt to the lead due to a history of graffiti; writing his name on buildings provided name recognition, and to connect the name to a face he ran before the cameras and insulted everyone he could. He started by attacking our neighbors to the South, then when a respected former prisoner of war defended them against his tirade the prisoner found himself under attack, called a “dummy,” and accused, despite his years in the “Hanoi Hilton,” of not being a war hero because he had been captured.

Typically, this type of behavior would draw a campaign to an end, but we do not live in typical times. With a wide and diverse field of candidates, the aberrant clown stood out from the sober, qualified contenders. Any threat to his name recognition lead was seen as a personal attack, to which he responded with vicious and vile ad hominem attacks.  His popularity grew as he attacked a debate moderator and eventually the entire debate process when his documented misogyny was questioned, then he demonstrated his misogyny by attacking a female candidate. He mocked a reporter with  physical disabilities. His personal attacks on other candidates intensified, but simply insulting his peers did not generate adequate press for this narcissistic ego.

Ignoring the first amendment of the constitution he was vying to uphold, Trump expressed a desire to ban an entire religion from America. In a nation living in fear of terrorism, he painted all Muslims as terrorists, be they refugees, immigrants, or native born citizens. Following terrorist attacks in other countries, he vilified the victim countries, not only France, but also the United Kingdom and Belgium. This is the man a majority of Americans feel should represent them in the theater of international diplomacy.

I am baffled. The same Americans who bemoaned Obama’s cult like following now abandon independent thought to join the Trump goose step.  I expected the worst the population had to offer, democracy is merely mob rule constrained by civility, and America has been proudly rejecting civilized behavior for decades, but the embrace of fascism shocks me. Some of my best friends support and defend Trump, refusing to see the hate he spreads like fertilizer for his campaign; so I have decided, in the same way I did in 2008, to step away from commenting.

Emma voted for Obama, and while I had found him interesting at first, I voted for McCain. We were able to discuss our differences without raised voices. Several other friends were incensed and insulting towards me because I didn’t vote for Obama, some of those friendships ended. A year after the election, Emma and a few of my friends found themselves regretting their votes and publicly renounced their former support. I do not believe there are the quantity of people capable of admitting they were wrong as there was back then.

There is no reason for anyone to suffer from hurt feelings because I don’t agree with their choice of candidate, we will all live with the consequences of the election.

 

 

 

 

My New Year

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

2015 ends

 

As years go 2015 was certainly a mix.

There were several ups and or downs on several fronts; as with any year simply immeasurable as a whole. It was a year. As someone who lives with their heart on their sleeve, my love life has been a tumultuous fiery carnival, which is normally an overall “Good” observation.

Wonderful lessons learned; the wife who broke my heart ended up being a decent human being, the woman who came after her proved that to be true by being less than decent, and the woman who came after her proved just how lousy human beings can be by stealing two thousand dollars. Good thing she only stole money and not my heart. The carnival provides perspective.

Near the end of the year, no longer interested in “relationships,” with their expectations and impossible to meet prejudices (“you’re just like…”), but still desiring companionship, I looked into an alternative to traditional couplings. Winter was on it’s way, there would be parties and social events, and days snowed in around the fireplace. No point in missing an opportunity to share joy.

I found a woman on line who fit my desired parameters. She appears to know not only what she wants, but also who she is. She grasps the frailty of relationships and seeks the companionship of a kindred spirit. She is sharp, and despite my opinion of myself there are moments I am not sure if I meet her criteria. It’s early, I’m still not certain. We have found peace with each other, a comfort of mind that presents itself at the physical level, and oddly enough some of the things we both desired no longer appear quite as important. As I prepared to write this, and about her for the first time, we discussed our “relationship” and my writing. It’s still early, neither of us are certain, but we are happy to have laid this foundation.

Enough about how we met and who we are, her name is Sam, for Samantha, and we had a wonderful evening New Year’s Eve, Then we came home to meet my neighbors for the midnight celebration. Then the new year began.

Blair had left her glasses, so I headed upstairs to return them. No one is quite sure what happened next, but Sam found me at the bottom of my steps in a pool of blood, wearing Blair’s glasses and holding mine.

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

My entry, three steps down, stone floor

 

From all accounts this was horrible. I remember nothing, but Sam says I was asking her to help me to bed. The first memory I have is in imaging at the hospital, being asked about my body piercings. Docs were able to remove the Tragus, I somehow took out the Dydoe. Somehow. Shattered right Ulna and Radius at elbow, shattered right orbit, subdural and subarachnoid bleeds, related blood loss.

I spent five days in the hospital (the Flemish word “ziekenhuis” kept floating through my head) as doctors decided what could be rebuilt. Elbow surgery was postponed while waiting for parts, when they arrived I had healed enough to not need all of them. Oddly, Sam and I had attended the same “Elbow” concert a few years earlier, unbeknownst to each other at the time. There was no cranial surgery, my eyes appear to have found the same plane but my new phrase is “It’s early.” I had no seizures, completing the anti-seizure meds the other day (seven day protocol) and aced my cognitive test by naming animals (took a walk through the zoo in my mind). I still can’t move my right arm usefully (post op splint) and my teeth feel like strangers in my jaw, the “bump” on my head has shrunken to egg size with only a line of dried blood and I can move around the house. Now doctors of no less than five disciplines would like to see me over the next few weeks, I am available for house calls…

Sam has been with me the entire time, far more than I could ask of someone who has known me so briefly. Her presence in the hospital was critical to my recovery, her cooking once home has lifted  my spirits above the pain my body is experiencing. This began when she rode in the ambulance with me to Princeton-Plainsboro Hospital (Dr. House long gone, I was shortly transferred to the trauma center at Robert Wood Johnson Hospital). I don’t recall our early conversations, but she has said I seemed to do better when she was there. Did I mention my appreciation of her perception?

Blair and Malcolm visited me in the hospital, on their way to Germany and to visit Tribbee in Scotland.

Throughout all this I have missed quite a bit. My ex-wife had been visiting from Belgium, we had been scheduled to see each other 2 January. Sam helped me contact everyone to explain my absence. My brain is still a touch fuzzy, I am not entirely certain of who I have spoken with, or what I have said. Sam helped me get settled at home, finding clothes that fit over the splint and wrapping it so I could shower, even taking me on an outing to her place. I may be unemployed, it will be difficult to work for a while, but prospects look encouraging.

My New Year?

It’s early…

Us and Them

 

Let me start with a simple question. After 9/11, when you all met Osama bin Laden, who said “I guess he’s right, let’s give him what he wants.”? Anyone? If anyone wants to contact me through the comments but does not want their name published, I will update this, but my thoughts are no one was convinced of his position by his ability to kill three thousand people.

So when we blow up a village chasing a terrorist, how many of the relatives of the dead or injured villagers do you think are going to congratulate us on a job well done? Far more likely, they will hate us and support further terrorism against us.

This is not a war with fronts and battle lines with soldiers lined up shooting at each other. This is a war where all those things we thought only happened to other people can happen to us, are happening to us. That is the lesson. We are all other people in the eyes of other people, if you see “us” as humanity, it was never happening to others, it has always been happening to us, we are doing it to ourselves. When we turn away refugees because they happen to be of the same religion professed by terrorists, we have have lost sight of that which makes us different from the terrorists.

I’m not saying I don’t want terrorists eliminated. As far as I am concerned they have violated their contract with humanity and invoked the most prejudicial Golden Rule, but killing innocent people has never won anyone any friends. This is a war of intelligence, and although as a former member of the intelligence community I made jokes about the oxymoron of military intelligence I can say in all seriousness we are woefully unarmed as a species. A terrorist is far less likely to spend two years being processed as a refugee in order to enter America than he would be to simply walk across the border with the other illegal immigrants.

If you are not familiar with the term “Daesh” please become so. It is a pejorative term in Arabic for those terrorists who no one can agree on a name for. IS, ISIL, ISIS, Those bloodthirsty motherfuckers, whatever, they don’t like Daesh. Kind of like when Bush 41 referred to Saddam Hussien as “Saddem” a word meaning “shoe shine boy.” This is one of your weapons, perhaps your only weapon, the ability to deny the terrorists access to your terror. Very much as when dealing with animals, show no fear. You should certainly take prudent precautions, but should the feces strike the oscillating rotary device, laugh in their faces.

 

Remember that stuff about turning the other cheek? Which part did you think was negotiable? Here is your biblical lesson for today. The punishment for any transgression was once death. There was no measure, only one response to bad behavior. God spoke to Moses, providing the concept of measure; an eye for an eye, then Jesus brought us to the next level, teaching that our Earthly existence was of little importance. As a species we are not moving in the right direction, death for any transgression seems to be returning to popularity, when we should be ready to move to a level beyond turning the other cheek. Look into your soul, are you prepared to evolve towards Homo Sapiens Supra, or are you among those left behind, as Homo Sapiens Sapiens left Homo sapiens neanderthalensis behind?

I do not make these statements based only on Daesh and the responses to their war on everyone. You had to realize they were just plain old crazy when even Al Qaeda rejected them as “too extreme,” they are not representative of any religion, or any thought process for that matter. Extreme is becoming normal, tolerance is increasingly vilified as weak or even subversive. Tolerance is not the goal of extremists, obliteration of opposing viewpoints is their goal. Turn that around as well, those who seek to obliterate opposing points of view are terrorists. This applies not only to Daesh and Al Qaeda, it applies to anyone who seeks to silence (and at its most severe, destroy) anyone in disagreement.

In the same sense all Muslims are not terrorists, all white people are not racists, and all racists are not white. You might think after a century and a half of racial awareness in America we would make some progress. We did, now we have slid back down from the mountaintop. “Students,” more appropriately “professional activists,” have started a wave of protests at universities across America, using the arguments of their grandparents against the reality their grandparents forged. Demanding, among other things, a return to segregation, a group of privileged students calling themselves the “Black Justice League” occupied offices at Princeton University. “Jim Crow” is invoked in some twisted argument for a “blacks only” space. In the Twilight Zone episode in my mind, these children are slapped into unconsciousness by their grandparents over Thanksgiving dinner, and wake up to face actual racism, so they might understand the words they are using.

We have seen tolerance and sensitivity turned upside down. Rather than seeking knowledge, the “prize” today appears to be offense. Free Yoga classes for disabled students have ended due to complaints of “cultural appropriation.”  Following this line of reasoning, it would be inappropriate to learn a language other than that of your nation of birth, listening to music from other cultures would be banned. How do these practices bring us together as a species?

They do not. They splinter us, until we are seven billion distinct cultures, churches of self, paranoid of the knowledge other churches even exist. A recent Pew Research poll found forty percent of Millennials support censorship under certain circumstances (no one seems to be in favor of censoring themselves, regardless of how offensive I might find them). Suppressing the expression of unpopular ideas does not make them go away, and as Larry Flynt said, “Freedom of speech doesn’t protect speech you like, it protects speech you don’t like.” More golden rule stuff here, give my thoughts the respect you seek for your own, you don’t need to agree or even listen, but allow my words to exist if you expect me to allow yours to exist.

The United States of America is an idea. An idea forged from the oppression of our founders. The rights specified in our constitution were not theories, they are rights which had been denied. Denying those rights today is anti-American and unpatriotic, regardless of the number of flags on your pick up truck. I don’t care if we lead the world or if we just follow along, but if we continue to move backwards, against our principles, we deserve to be left behind with the terrorists by people more civilized than us.

Socially unconscious

The Holidays are upon us. You know, the Winter Solstice, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the biggest of all, Santa Claus Day. But something is wrong…

Imagine the horror of the orthodox consumer, sipping his five dollar cup of flavored hot water in the temple of bucks to the stars, out of a simple red cup!

star2015

 

This may be the greatest blow pseudo Christianity has ever suffered. In the midst of the wailing and gnashing of teeth, the most amazing suggestion was made to soothe the pseudo Christian who feels Santa Claus Day has been ignored by the Church of Consumerism. “Why not find the holiday spirit by buying a cup of Starbucks Coffee for a homeless person?”

“Let them eat cake” seemed so cliche.

These Holidays just cause so much stress, the decision of which offense to celebrate can be the hardest. One chain of shopping malls has eschewed traditional Christmas designs, hoping not to offend any consumers during the Santa Claus Day shopping season.

image (4)

Warm and cuddly memories Inc.

 

I actually prefer the idea of a photo of the grandchildren and Santa on the deck of the Starship Enterprise. Why confuse Christmas with Santa Claus Day? The celebration of consumerism can be enjoyed by members of any faith, particularly because those glaring symbols of Christianity like pine trees and snowflakes have been removed.

In other parts of the world, the two holidays are separate, Santa Claus Day being celebrated on 6 December, the Feast of Saint Nicholas. Even that holiday is having trouble not offending anyone. Somehow being tolerant of minorities implies to some people they should be intolerant of the majority, thus this week’s title.

Being socially unconscious has become a national pastime of sorts. People focus on an issue and nothing else matters, least of all any meaningful conversation on the topic. One friend, for whom I maintain a level of respect, is often reduced to sound bites in a discussion, responding with slogans rather than thoughts. I wonder if he feels the same frustration I do, he is clearly banging his head against a wall, expecting meaningless phrases to express his thoughts on complex issues. On the other hand, he is a Buddhist, and firmly believes in the power of chanting.

I was recently invited to take part in a drum circle. Images of a communal moment piqued my curiosity. It seemed a perfect way to spend the evening, I have always been a percussionist, drumming is the simplest form of communication, we still express pleasure with applause. With visions of Richard Feynman in my head I drove down to Maryland.

What a disappointment. It had escaped me that people celebrating the simplest form of communication might not be capable of any higher forms. They had replaced the communal spirituality with the ritual, there was no heart, just props. Although not included in the conversations of other participants, I did overhear them. The pettiness among these “free spirits” was astounding. How did they expect to experience any sense of community when they were so wrapped up in themselves? This was, of course, one experience, one circle, I’m sure there must be some folks who actually get the rhythm going. I’ll try again some day, somewhere else.

The entire experience left me feeling much as I did when a friend of my first wife spent an evening insulting our lifestyle back in the eighties. She was a vegan, a fairly new at the time offshoot of vegetarianism. Any interaction with animals was, to her, abuse. She went on for over an hour telling us how horrible we were for eating meat and cheese, in her thigh high leather boots. She knew what to say, but not what to do. It never occurred to her she was wearing nearly half a cow’s hide.

The most depressing thing lately, the thing which nags at me to leave this world behind, is the open, ignorant hypocrisy displayed by the majority of people, paired with the exhausted acceptance by the remainder. Does no one see this is the theme in several high profile issues?

Black Lives Matter. So much so the Black Lives Matter organization is comfortable calling for the deaths of Police Officers. And no one bats an eye.

Gay people should have the right to marry. And you should attend the wedding and bring a gift, regardless of your personal feelings. Unless you’re Muslim, in which case we do not want to offend you.

Abortion is Murder. Agreed, but if murder is a bad thing killing abortionists is not the answer. Perhaps you feel killing can be justified, which means you have something in common with the abortionist.

The puppets chanting the global warming mantra are perhaps the most disheartening. All the empirical evidence disproves every prediction they have made, yet they are so locked into their beliefs they can’t see they are being used. They make claims using disproven theories claiming to embrace science while working full force against science. They exist as puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy, and accuse their detractors of being puppets of an elite group attempting to manipulate the economy.

Don’t even get me started on the occupy crowd.

There have always been, and there should always be, fringe groups. But they’re supposed to be the fringe, not the main stream.

Recently I read an article with the title “Even Cities That Can’t Go Car Free Should Have To.” That about sums it up. Even if you can’t, you have to. Coexistence be damned, let’s just force people to do what we want. But who are “we?”

“We,” more often than not, are a group of spoiled children. Why do you think Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Have you watched an eight year old boy lately? “I’m the best, he’s the worst, I can do anything, he can’t do a thing.” This is the peak in America today, the finest example of what it means to be an American, the person who should represent us to the world.

I am tired. I truly wish to know what others are thinking, yet far too often it turns out they aren’t thinking at all.

 

 

 

 

 

Implausible deniability

Many of you are aware I used to work for Amazon. While it was a fascinating experience, it is not one I would ever repeat.

Recently the New York Times published an article about the workplace culture at Amazon. For some reason, Jeff Bezos, founder and chief executive of Amazon took exception to the descriptions of the treatment of employees saying “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know.” I am not surprised. Not because there is anything untrue in the New York Times article, but because Jeff Bezos is a lying asshole. I just wanted to get any inappropriate presumptions of my appraisal of Amazon out of the way as quickly as possible.

Bezos doesn’t particularly care for the press outside of advertising. He appears to have a disdain for the written word, and after a year of trying to figure out why so little is written down at Amazon (word of mouth being the preferred method of communication) it became apparent. Written documents create a chain of evidence. It becomes difficult to keep saying “I never heard that before” when there are a stack of memos alerting you to the situation. And this is what Bezos is doing with his statement. “I’ve never heard any complaints because anyone who complains is marginalized and shown the door” doesn’t make as good of a press release. His denial is implausible.

The article described the culture at the Seattle headquarters of Amazon, focusing on the white collar workers there. I have no experience at that facility, but the reporting came as no surprise. I left Amazon amid complaints about the “sociological snake pit” at the Robbinsville, New Jersey facility (EWR4). My complaints. I could see how the process was flawed and self perpetuating, I was at the time too naive to realize this was the design. For some reason I wanted to believe the hype, I wanted to believe Amazon treated its employees with twenty first century sensibilities, what I found was the Simon Legree school of management, with enough Orwellian overtones to bring a physical chill when considered. I was alarmed the management failures were creating a hostile work environment, without realizing it was business as usual. The fact that one manager had been successfully sued for sexual harassment three times, and rather than be fired (zero tolerance was allegedly the policy) he had been promoted should have told me everything I needed to know. Much like the Catholic Church, every time this guy was sued they just moved him to another location.

EWR4 is almost entirely blue collar, a new facility built to utilize Kiva technology, robot assisted inventory. Amazon purchased Kiva systems in 2012, an attempt to monopolize use of the warehouse robotics. Amazon isn’t really interested in free market principles, it prefers to own its competition and when that is not possible it blocks access to innovations that would allow competition. The facility opened in July of 2014, I was there the first day. As we developed into our roles, it was immediately apparent these Amazon folks had no idea what they were doing. There were teams from different facilities which were supposed to be training the new hires, but when your company doesn’t commit anything to writing (or bother to bring trainers who are familiar with the subject which they will be training), each “trainer” has his own way of doing things (We later found that being a trainer was a perk, an ability to go on “vacation,” and assignments were based on connections rather than skills). Some of the trainers had come from facilities that didn’t even have the Kiva robots, and tried to show us how to do things “their way.” Six months later we were still trying to figure out the processes, each new manager having his own idea of what the jobs we were trying to accomplish consisted of, and how to accomplish them. Among a shrinking group of associates who were actual critical thinkers, the joke was “Well, this startup wasn’t too bad, considering this is the very first time they have opened a fulfillment center.” There are one hundred and fifty one,  sarcasm was salvation.

Although there were a handful of managers who had transferred to the location for startup, none agreed on anything. A question could have six different answers, and any answer different from the one the manager speaking was giving you was wrong. Bob might tell you to do something one way, then Jim would discipline you the next day for not doing it the way he wanted (but had never actually told you about). Standards for discipline were elusive, a theoretical performance goal became the minimum accepted productivity. Associates were encouraged to apply for lower management positions, so of course the rabble of incompetents jumped for the openings. You no doubt have a job. You have worked with other people. You may have management skills. If you do, you know that “wanting to tell other people what to do” is not a management quality. Yet those were the people “promoted” first. I did not apply for management positions, it was made clear early on (the day our interview became our orientation) skills and experience were meaningless. A promotion to a managing position might take you to a department in which you had never worked, where you would have the opportunity to tell people who had actually been doing the job how to do it better, even though you had never done it at all. Oh, there’s this story about how every manager is exposed to all the facets of the facility. I once sat in the pilot’s seat of a jet fighter, but I would have no idea how to fly the thing and would never presume to correct a trained pilot.

There is a lot of talk about leadership at Amazon. I never saw any, but I heard the words and saw them written on the walls. The “Leadership principles” are printed throughout the building (often misspelled). All that was missing was a big “Big Brother Loves You.” The frustrating thing for those of us who opened the facility was the leadership principles are rarely followed. I speak of those of us who started last year, a cross section of the unemployed in Central New Jersey. We showed up for our interviews and found we were at orientation, this is presented as a big happy surprise to new hires. If you only hire simpletons it will be a big happy surprise, but when you hire blindly across the the pool of available talent a few intelligent people slip in. We found it rather off putting our first interaction with the company was basically a lie. Far from “hiring the best” as Amazon chants, it is “hire the available.” By Christmas it appeared the recruiters were scouring homeless shelters, and the work environment reflected such. I was called “gay” by one group of young ladies, it doesn’t bother me but seemed to get under the skin of my girlfriend, who couldn’t fathom the ignorance in the question “Where is your gay boyfriend?” She was attacked with racial slurs because she wasn’t black. That was the cumulative total of reasons to call her a “Cracker ass cracker.” When she complained to HR her complaint was shredded. Yep, months later when she referred to the complaint because the situation had only gotten worse, the manager in question admitted to shredding the complaint. The examples of improper and even illegal procedures administered by HR is a chapter of its own. This is the standard of leadership Amazon promotes. And this is just a tiny part of Bezos’ insulation from reality.

Most of the more productive workers burned out under the badgering method of management. The goal might be 400 units per hour, but realistically, doing the job the way it is supposed to be done, 300 units per hour would be sterling. Nonetheless, were you to be stowing cases of CDs you might hit 350 or even 390. The manager doesn’t say “good job,” she says “if you can do that you can do 450.” Then she rolls over a cart of large or single items with no available bins, and your rate drops to 100. Careful, you may not be working there tomorrow. Rates are calculated minute by minute, rather than average rates to compensate for the multitudes of variables in a day, the worker is judged by his lowest rate of the day. If you “cheated”, ignoring the quality and safety standards, you could make the numbers, and management only cared about numbers (I actually knew a person who, in the same conversation with a manager, received a perk for having the highest rate in her section that morning, and a write up for falling below this manager’s standard at another point the same day). Morale among the honest people working there was the lowest.  When I left, just a year after starting, there were less than two dozen people still there who had started with me, out of a population of about one thousand employees. When I had mentioned the turnover rate to management I was met with dismay. Now I realize they were not surprised by the rate, they were surprised I took issue with it.

I was fortunate. I had an “indirect task,” so I wasn’t measured by piecemeal rates. I had the opportunity to work with other facilities across the country. Perhaps my managers felt this would soften my view of their performance, giving me the knowledge it wasn’t just them, it was this bad or worse everywhere else. I suspect my managers were not intelligent enough to plan such a strategic move, just about every positive event at Amazon happens by accident. When I found one facility was habitually misstating the contents of their internal shipments, I mentioned it to my manager. He shrugged it off. After a few months, conversations with other facilities who were having the same issue with this one facility, and what is most likely to amount to millions of dollars in “lost” merchandise each year, I found the root of the symptom. Without going into too much detail, they were doing it wrong, using a system no shipper on the planet uses. When I explained it to my manager I got “Well, someone is going to have to go out there and show them how to do it right, and it isn’t going to be me.” In my mind this problem is solved with a single phone call, firing the shipping manager and replacing him with someone who has worked in the industry someplace on the planet Earth, but at Amazon everything is face to face. When I suggested the only logical reason to do things the way they were being done at this facility was to cover enormous routine theft, I was placed under investigation.

I could go on, but I don’t intend to write a book about it. Speaking of books, Amazon started as a book seller, and books continue to be a large portion of its business. Being the only game in town they treat authors much as they do their other employees. Big surprise there.

I was disappointed by Amazon. They came in with a good reputation and talked a good game. Most successful cons work that way. The environment was worse than a sandbox, I would say High School but I actually had a good time in High School. I mentioned to one manager in training there are many examples of successful companies that do not bully their employees, he smiled and said “but this way is more fun.” I’m sure he’s on his way to a career of new facilities, as he stays one step ahead of the harassment lawsuits. His comment had the tacit approval of the HR manager, she didn’t bat an eye when I mentioned it to her.

Amazon is a corporation. It is just another store, and you can buy almost anything through them. Or you can choose not to contribute to their profits and market share. At an all hands meeting last Spring, the General Manager of EWR4 said in a statement to the gathered employees, “You are not people, you are only numbers to me.” This is the general manager of Amazon’s largest facility (he has since been promoted and oversees two plantations facilities). Yet this isn’t the Amazon Jeff Bezos sees.

That would suggest Jeff is either incompetent, blind, or lying. I don’t really care which. I won’t patronize companies that abuse their workers, so Amazon is off my list of preferred vendors.

 

Choosing a wolf

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It’s getting to be that time again, the presidential election season. I have a love/hate relationship with the event. I love the idea of an informed electorate choosing the best leader. I hate the reality of an ignorant and uneducated electorate being herded like sheep.

It gets worse than that of course, civil discourse having fallen out of favor, most political “discussions” consist of two uninformed people on different sides of an issue telling each other how stupid they are. Neither actually understands the topic, they just repeat unverified statements, calling them “the truth” or “the facts,” because the statements reflect their opinion.  Mastery of this form of debate is judged by memorizing the best sound bites. I particularly like “you are not entitled to your own facts,” a partial quote of Danial Patrick Moynihan, recently co-opted by the sitting president. Mr. Moynihan was pointing out the difference between opinion and fact, his actual statement being “You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts.”

I had someone say “you are not entitled to your own facts” to me the other day. This was in response to my providing references for my side of the discussion. He did not care for reality, so he chose to deny it. So yes, I guess I am entitled to my own facts, the facts, as no one else is using them. This is the root of my frustration, beliefs trump reality these days.

I noticed this a few cycles ago, maybe 2004, when “Factcheck” became popular. It didn’t appear to matter that many of these verification services were merely political fronts, the word “fact” was in the title. Republicans had their facts, and Democrats had their facts. How long would it be before the word “fact” became meaningless? Depends on who you are. If you think critically and are capable of objectively evaluating your own research, you cringe when some bozo shouts out his set of facts, which have already been dis-proven so widely the cat knows the truth (“Maak dat de kat wijs just fit perfectly there), on the other hand, if you believe scientific truths are determined by consensus, “fact” is already beyond your capacity for comprehension.

This last week in a discussion of homosexuality, one person said “There are no moral consequences to homosexuality, it is activity between two consenting adults.” It was immediately obvious this person did not understand the difference between legal consequences and moral consequences. Moral consequences depend on your own particular set of morals, legal consequences are derived from law. If you are homosexual, you may believe you are morally free to practice your desires, or you may be crushed by a lifetime of believing homosexuality is wrong. Take note I am aligning with neither position. I suffer no moral consequences if you decide to marry a goat, even if the goat is not in full agreement with the situation. I deal with the moral consequences of my own decisions, your decisions are yours to deal with. Nonetheless, there are indeed moral consequences to every decision we make, but if you do not understand what morals or moral consequences are, there is no point in discussing them with you. The discussion raged on without me, people who were morally outraged trying to explain to a person with a radically different set of morals what their consequences would be.

I do not use the phrase “no morals.” I was accused of having no morals at one point in time, when the truth was I had different morals than the accuser. His God will determine if he was in any position to judge my choices, I certainly have no respect for his judgement, my God told me he (God) is the only judge I need to face.

More and more words are being left to the definition of the speaker. “Facts,” truth,” “morals,” were easy ones to join “right” and “wrong.” Bill Clinton is famous for redefining two words, his definition of “having sex” has done a great deal towards propagating sexually transmitted diseases, but it was his parsing of the word “is” which has had a greater impact on society. In a country in which only thirteen percent of the adult population is considered “proficiently literate,” he hinged a defense on the tense of a copula (keep this issue in mind, his wife is taking an identical defense in the Department of Justice criminal probe into her mishandling of classified material).

Words mean whatever the speaker wants them to mean, which is just perfect if the speaker is only speaking to himself. The point of election campaigns is to inform the electorate, yet more and more the point appears to be to mislead the electorate. You know this is true when you look at the popularity of Donald Trump. “He tells it like it is!” say his supporters. Well, in a sense that is true. He has yet to say anything of substance, instead engaging in personal attacks, so yes, that is how Donald Trump is. I don’t see it as even remotely presidential, although the screaming match between him and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei might be fascinating to watch from the safe distance of another planet.

In one discussion thread about Carly Fiorina, it was mentioned she had stated “Islamic civilization is the greatest in the world.” No, she didn’t say that. She said Islam had created what was once the greatest civilization in the world, which is true. Some folks just have no interest in the truth, usually people with limited capacity for imagination (or limited reading skills). They pick up a hook and run with it. The rumor she is “an Islamist” will likely hold on for a while. She had also made a fairly thoughtful statement on child vaccinations which received some questions. She said it is ultimately the parents decision whether or not to vaccinate, and it is the public schools responsibility to deny admittance to unvaccinated children. Wowie, she’s not going anywhere with this personal responsibility theme. Either you force people to protect their children against communicable and deadly diseases, or you allow preventable diseases to be spread through required contact, none of this taking responsibility for your actions stuff among the “Conservatives,” thank you very much. The sheep need to be told what to do, they will tell you they are thinking for themselves, but minor observation reveals thinking is not an event on the agenda.

I was married once to a woman who genuinely considers herself to be “a good person.” I willingly recuse myself from that debate, my evidence suggests otherwise, but my bias is obvious. Her “evidence?” Because she believes so. Such is the state of discussion in America, or perhaps the entire world, today. Actual evidence, objects that may be touched, events that have been recorded, are unimportant. All that carries any weight is that which is believed. Perversely, a solid segment of people who subscribe to this philosophy routinely belittle those who posses religious faith, yet there is far more physical evidence Jesus is the Son of God than there is evidence of Anthropomorphic Global Warming. But as I said, facts no longer matter. In fact, this ex wife said “I don’t want to hear it” (actually putting her hands over her ears more than once) when presented with evidence contrary to her beliefs. Several times in our relationship she said “well, I haven’t done the research you have, but I still believe this” and would continue repeating her “point” despite the knowledge it was not true (or at very least, questionable).

As you approach the elections, oh for crying out loud as you go through your daily life, defend your beliefs. Look deeper than the press releases and buzz. Know what you are talking about and if it turns out you were wrong, adjust. I had argued abortions contribute to cancer rates for years, then one day I was challenged on the statement and researched it. I was wrong, it is only a cancer of the soul that is caused by abortion. I don’t use that argument anymore. You become a better person when you can acknowledge your mistakes.

This can be a wonderful experience. We have the opportunity to evaluate the beliefs and positions of the people who wish to be our next president. It’s a fairly important job, conduct your interview thoughtfully. Arm yourself with the facts, and convince a majority to elect your desired candidate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What matters

Life.

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These cells happen to contain all the information required to build a human being. From these few cells will grow all the facilities required, blood, bones, intellect. Can you see that person in your mind? What sex is it? What color is it? Because even though such information exists within these cells, right now they look exactly the same as eight cells from a chicken embryo. Don’t get me wrong, chicken lives matter too.

All life matters. I am unable to connect my world to that of the Snail Darter, but I hate to say goodbye, even though I am fully aware species come and go, our own debut just a few hundred thousand years past. Homo Sapiens Sapiens will pass, perhaps evolving towards another species, perhaps simply disappearing. The rock we inhabit will last longer than we will, rocks don’t die, despite all the pleas to save the Earth, the Earth doesn’t need you. The Earth doesn’t care any more than Mars or Pluto cares, rocks lack consciousness.

You may frame your compassion for life with a variety of points of view. The Hindu philosophy, Ahimsa, is “do no harm” to any living creature. This quality of compassion is reserved for humans, who may decide in which ways to provide stewardship for the Earth. The overwhelming majority of living creatures are not allowed such choices, to survive requires ending the life of whatever is available to provide nutrition.

This is “The Break.” The separation of “Man” from “Nature.” Nature simply is. Man has the ability to be what he wishes. Man has the ability to dream of a better world, to step beyond immediate personal needs and act as a member of a society.

Those eight cells up top, will they become a world leader or a serial killer? As grand as the capacity to hold up his fellow man may be, Man also has the capacity to hold down his peers. He is a complex organism, intellect, compassion, and survival, all wrestling for dominance. Each of us maintaining our own balance, holding to faith we all pursue the same goals. We do not.

Are there “essential human values” shared by all humans? Just one; self preservation. We may hold up construction of our monuments to progress for decades as we argue the impact to the environment, then spread depleted uranium throughout our battlefields. In the name of “the Right to Life,” we may murder physicians. We may choose to kill in the name of an all powerful God who we believe does not have the power to inflict his will on our neighbors. All that is just the work of individuals, put us in a crowd and we can really get rowdy.

An unruly mob chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “Death to Cops” burns its own neighborhood. It has never occurred there may be Black Cops? Much of our view of the world is formed by our immediate environment, those we routinely defer to as “enlightened” are thought to have a broader view. The people in the mob either know no black cops, or they see the black cops they know as either “not black” because they are cops or “not cops” because they are black.

Such myopia is not limited to some “lesser” segment of society. A friend, who holds a couple of Ph.D.s, several Master’s degrees, and lives in Arizona, stated this morning “English is already the official national language so that is moot and frankly stupid.” Other than remind her America has no official language I did not engage in conversation. Intellect is measured in many ways, an outright denial of the reality existing just a few meters outside the gates of your ivory tower puts you in the category of people my mother told me not to argue with. It certainly damages the credibility of anything else you have to say. This is the problem of dealing with the myopic. They did not reach their point of view by being open minded, they reached it through isolation. Logic other than their own is “frankly stupid.” A sense of elitism is unavoidable.

That elitism runs through all segments of society, the idea “I know better than you.”  It runs through the terrorist who destroys the infidels for their own good, it runs through the politicians who manipulate society to their own ends.

Some people have a genuine desire to improve the world, such as Margaret Sangar, a nurse in the early twentieth century who sought to heal the social and economic problems of the world. She saw a solution in reducing the birthrate, and founded Planned Parenthood, reducing the numbers of poor and uneducated by simply not allowing them to reproduce. A tough sell, but it was after all for our own good. The sales pitch has been modified through the years, “empowering women” was not her aim when she wrote “No woman shall have the legal right to bear a child” or “Birth control clinics shall be permitted to function as services of city, county, or state health departments.” Her idea of birth control was control by the state. She aligned herself with the eugenics movement, Adolf Hitler’s pursuit of a “Master Race,” and the KKK. An uninformed person would not be aware of this, as she knew as far back as 1922. “We should hire three or four colored ministers, preferably with social-service backgrounds, and with engaging personalities.  The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” As of 2010, seventy nine percent of Planned Parenthood’s abortion clinics are in minority neighborhoods. Because black lives matter to Planned Parenthood.

A person in the spotlight who has been called the “Smartest Woman on the Planet” has heaped praise on Margaret Sangar, saying she is “in awe” of her. I would presume she knows what she is talking about and is not uninformed. Perhaps she is testing her audience, probing to see just how uninformed and pliable they are. The reaction might have been different had she said “I’m in awe of Adolf Hitler” because most people know who he was. I understand you can tell a great deal about a person by the people they admire.

About two thousand years ago, Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis (Juvenal) wrote “Two things only the people anxiously desirebread and circuses.” Over the years we have chosen to forget the meaning of “circuses” in this context, back then the wild animals ate the slaves for our entertainment. Not terribly different from MSNBC or FOX news, our present day circuses. Not much has changed at all. An observant alien race might not notice the passage of time.

When we choose to say “Life Matters,” we separate ourselves from the animals. When we qualify the statement, “Black Lives Matter,” “My Friend’s Lives Matter,” or even “Human Lives Matter,” we dilute our commitment to life.

 

 

 

 

Why I no longer support Anonymous

Maybe I don’t need any words of explanation at all, just the following image.

 

anonymous

 

This is what makes having friends of various political slants so challenging. I was exceptionally offended by this image, comparing those who gave their lives for their country to a group of criminals, in fact in the accompanying text the hackers of Anonymous were lionized as “true heroes,” the men and women who died in Vietnam were described as being “duped into going,” and lacking “the courage to stand against it.”

I knew people whose names are on that wall. I knew people whose names are on other walls. There is no comparison to people whose pictures are on the Post Office wall, although I’ve known a few of them as well.

 

250px-EdwardleehowardWantedPoster

 

I even have a copy of Lee’s poster, which at one time I had dreamed of getting autographed. Unfortunately he outlived his usefulness and was “retired” by the SVR. No one trusts a traitor. Except “Anonymous,” a misguided group of clueless idealists who believe anything that contradicts authority represents “truth.” One truth is “loose lips sink ships,” ships containing human beings. Another truth is “In order to be an idealist, you must have an idea.”

I suppose the big picture, the reason behind no longer supporting Anonymous or many of the plethora of anarchist groups out there, is because they are not anarchists. The definition “absence of government and absolute freedom of the individual, regarded as a political ideal” has been discarded (maybe because it was written by those in authority?), replaced by an ultra authoritarian philosophy. “Defy the current authority and do precisely what I say” has become the anarchists creed.

If one truly believes in personal freedom, how can they take this view? If one truly believes in freedom of expression, allowing the existence of other points of view would appear to be the the very first commandment. As it is, I face routine discrimination from my anarchist friends, racial slurs and negative stereotypes are applied to me daily. “Racial slurs?” Yep, hate to tell you this folks, but if you truly believed in ending racism you could start by not calling me a “middle aged white guy” in the same tone of voice the people you rail against say “nigger.” Don’t imply I have anything in common with my classmate Andy Fastow while complaining that all police officers judge all black people in the same way. Has it never occurred to you that in making such statements you are revealing you judge people based on a single characteristic, which is what you are complaining police officers and people such as myself do? Am I not your friend because I am different from others of my caste? I’m like these people because I am a middle aged white guy (and of course we are all precisely the same), but we should never judge the black kid hiding in the shadows as being like the other criminals hiding in the shadows? Doesn’t your brain hurt from shifting between forward and reverse without a clutch?

The hypocrisies of Anonymous and 0ther anarchist groups who attempt to align themselves with “The Left” appears to me more egregious than the hypocrisies of alleged “Religious” and “Patriotic” groups that attempt to align themselves with “The Right.” Don’t get me wrong, they all are extremists calling for individuals to participate in a nonexistent “main stream.” The far right groups just don’t camouflage their intents with a false garb of freedom. The extreme right comes right out and says “You should not be allowed to do this,” the extreme left says “You should not be allowed to think this (and I know you already do think this)” while holding banners reading “Freedom” and “Tolerance.”

One person said looters are not protestors, and should be shot on sight. I said I was in partial agreement (still hanging onto the trial by jury concept). The anarchist pops into the conversation with “blah blah blah and so should you idiots!” Thank you, I will take your comment as seriously as you have expressed it.

Freedom requires more than lip service. It requires action, and sometimes blood. Nathan Hale understood this, Edward Snowden does not. Ed, you might want to consider why you feel a country with one of the worst human rights records is a good choice in which to take asylum. You have successfully leapt from the frying pan to the fire. Brilliant display of your superior insights.

As we have seen repeatedly, some people jump on the protest band wagon because they want to raise hell. In doing so, they degrade the effect of a protest movement. It takes time, Watts was in ’65, Boston in 76, and a new generation has allowed peaceful protests to be subverted in Ferguson MO and Baltimore MD in the last year. One lesson I learned fairly early is “The conversation is over when the shooting begins.” The same holds true for burning your neighborhood. If we are going to have a conversation that improves society, we can start as soon as you stop hurting people to get my attention. You have my attention, and all I can see is a rowdy mob bent on destruction. Which ideals are you standing for?

 

Passion is not a substitute for intelligence, neither are the two mutually exclusive. Struggles can only be resolved by integrating the two.

 

 

 

 

 

A Rape

A gang rape has taken place, it was widely reported but the victims will not receive closure and the rapists will not be punished.

I’ll be releasing the name of the victim, I know that does not keep with current practice, but her sister, The Truth, happens to be a fellow victim and feels some sunlight needs to shine on this crime. The victim’s name is Journalism, and the rapists are Sabrina Rubin Erdely (AKA Sabrina Rubin), Will Dana, Jann Wenner, and everyone who spread the lies of “Jackie.” For some reason, “Jackie’s” true identity is still being protected, even though in one of the most bizarre cognitive twists her fellow rapists are now blaming her for their crimes.

I haven’t much cared for Rolling Stone magazine since they started stapling the pages together, a few years back a friend gave me a gift subscription of which I read one issue. Rolling Stone lost its soul at some point, moving its headquarters from San Francisco to New York City. No longer even publishing on newspaper, the glossy ad packed mutant is indistinguishable from the other gossip and fashion magazines.

Even in these days of cut and paste journalism, Erdely’s story raised eyebrows. Other publications did not pick up an otherwise attractive (in the sensationalistic sense) story. Within a week of publication, Richard Bradley published an essay questioning the story, followed by Reason.com’s Robby Soave’s piece calling the initial story a “gigantic hoax.” Jonah Goldberg of The Los Angeles Times said in his op-ed column, “when I say the story is incredible, I mean that in the literal, largely abandoned sense of the word. It is not credible — I don’t believe it.”

If these people could see from the polished, published story enormous holes and leaps of logic, how is it writer Sabrina Rubin Erdely and editor Will Dana missed them? Jann Wenner, who displayed his idea of sensitivity by moving the magazine away from the “cultural backwater” of San Francisco, apparently feels the story fits his masthead of “All the news that fits” as he has no intention of firing either Erdely of Dana.

Rolling Stone has retracted the story, five months after publication. They said they were sorry, even though a simple apology has never been adequate when they have been offended by others. In point of fact Rolling Stone first made the statement “In the face of new information, there now appear to be discrepancies in Jackie’s account, and we have come to the conclusion that our trust in her was misplaced.” just two weeks after publication, blaming what at that time was believed to be a rape victim for their shoddy reporting. Three more apologies were issued before the article was retracted (On Easter Sunday), but most of us know that once a story is out there it develops a life of its own, five months later it has grandchildren.

Still treating “Jackie” as a rape victim, both Rolling Stone and Erdely refuse to identify her, although Erdely continues to blame “Jackie” for Erdely’s failure to do any investigation or even analysis of the raw story. “Jackie” has retained legal counsel, weeks after the story was published, a good move as the fraternity her lies dragged through the mud is now threatening legal action against Rolling Stone, and Rolling Stone has shown no hesitancy in throwing “Jackie” under the bus.

The University of Virginia has made no comment, they lose whatever happens. Option one, a rape culture in fraternities damages enrollment. Option two, a false rape story damages the credibility of actual victims, parents cautious about enrolling daughters. Option three, the university overreacts to a blatantly false rape accusation, parent cautious about enrolling sons. Maybe better to just stay quiet for now.

The absolute and continuing lack of journalistic integrity has even Rolling Stone alumni Hunter S. Thompson spinning in his grave. Those who agree with Jann Wenner’s appraisal of Manhattan’s cultural superiority will continue to purchase the magazine, the opinions of such people are largely unimportant anyway.

As Wenner has refused to take responsibility, it becomes our responsibility to hold him and his magazine to journalistic standards. I begin by calling for a boycott of Rolling Stone, although most of us already have for other reasons. To my colleagues I beg you to never employ Sabrina Rubin Erdely in any capacity other than housekeeping.

We all have a basic responsibility to journalism. As writers we must uphold the standards, as consumers we must demand those standards are met. Anything less results in a meaningless media.

 

Sex

Just in case you had not guessed, there will be “frank” speech is this article

 

Just checking, I knew the title would grab your attention.

A recent article in The Telegraph about Debbie Harry was titled “Debbie Harry on punk, refusing to retire and sex at 69.”  Brilliant. A great article about a punk icon, and feminism in music, but the headline hook of “Sex at 69” drew the most attention, at least the most comments. You cannot look at those words and not imagine Debbie Harry rolling about in your bed.

Outside the author of the article fawning over her, Debbie is quoted once about sex, she speaks of Victorian realities.

The comments, nastiest in misogynistic Britain but repeated in other fora, focus not on her music, but on sex with the elderly, one person stating it’s all over for women once they pass thirty two. I’m guessing the commenter was far from reaching thirty two. I am far more attracted to women my age and older than young women, would it be fair for me to suggest women do not become attractive until they are in their forties? Attraction derives from many factors, probably why there are so many different people. There were a few younger women in my life when I was in my thirties, but I’m pretty sure it has been at least twenty years since I have been with a women younger than thirty two. Okay, on edit, I remembered a few, but not many, and twenty sounds better than seventeen in the phrase.

Young people. So sure they are the only ones who have ever been alive.

Perhaps Star Trek influenced my outlook. Exotic is always alluring. I have known women who turned out to be vapid self-absorbed androids. They remained alluring. In the end, they made excellent examples in the “What to look for if you will never be in this town again” manual. But they are still nice to look at.

 

 

Apparently the fascination with differences is not rare. The subject has enough interest to show up routinely in fiction (and life), which gives me the opportunity to share an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, filmed twenty five years later. This because it has this scene with Bebe Neuwirth, who happens to be from Princeton and is only two weeks younger than me. The bit at 2:15 is elegant in its unspoken acknowledgement.

 

 

The attraction to those who are different is pervasive, as obvious as guys with beer bellies thinking the latest supermodel might be interested in them. So why is it some impenetrable barrier exists at the border of our comfort zones?

A few weeks ago during the “Fifty Shades” buzz (glad that passed quickly), I wrote a simple and straightforward explanation/defense of bondage and domination. A friend was exceptionally offended, and suggested (in public) I seek help. I have no desire to know the details of his love life, but I cannot imagine I would be offended by them. I would never suggest someone seek help unless they were a danger to themselves or others. I have been told the truth is dangerous.

The age thing doesn’t cross all barriers, but it remains a taboo subject. Each generation seems surprised their ancestors procreated. The thought of their parents involved in the act stops most people in their tracks. Why? Did they think they were delivered by storks? Did they think the age would arrive at which they would lose all interest? I pity their partners.

I spent a few years with a woman fifteen years my senior. I did not know until our second date her age, and I was surprised. All of our friends assumed we were the same (my) age. Bodies vary, and age differently. Isn’t this the exotic that we should find alluring?

I don’t know what happens in these peoples lives. If your partner is no longer attractive, what does that say about you? Is this not the person you loved last week? Is there a mirror handy? If you were only attracted to a set combination of features, why not buy a doll?

There is a person in there. It is the person, not the body (but yeah, usually also), you should find attractive. Yes, I know, I said there is a way you should feel. Twice. I could give a couple of dozen other examples but I believe I have conveyed my sentiment.

We are given this universe to experience. Every sense we have is designed to attune to a variety of stimuli. Any logic would bring you to “every stimuli is to be expected.”

There is so much tearing us all apart, do we need to worry about how each of us give and receive pleasure? The fact we do indeed give and receive pleasure should be the emphasis.

Sex should be about rejoicing in another. That joy is tainted if one is distracted by the joy others are experiencing.

 

 

 

 

 

Beauty

Plato said “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” meaning beauty is subjective. We each find different things attractive, but there are some societal standards. Being obese was once a sign of wealth and surplus, today the preferred image is, in Tom Wolfe’s words, “starved to perfection.” One thing I find beautiful is a person who is comfortable with themselves. Confidence is wonderfully sexy.

Men in general find women attractive, the standards are still based in evolutionary values, good mates will make babies. Wider hips for easy birthing and larger breasts implying ample nursing (untrue if you didn’t know, breastmilk quantity is not dependent on the size of the breast). Breast size is almost universally seen as the measure of a woman, even my beloved Emma (who had rather large breasts), would make disparaging remarks about flat chested women.

My own taste in women seeks a different beauty, even though each successive wife has had larger breasts than the last, it was mere coincidence. When I met Lieve on line (without seeing her) she described herself as “ample.” I thought she meant she was heavy. I see a beauty that is not skin deep, in fact having nothing to do with skin. It is the soul which shines through and captures my attention, which is why I have been involved with women of every body type and ethnicity. My “type” is “real.” I may prefer certain noses and shoulders, but the sparkle of a gentle soul is what attracts me.

Two stories captured my attention the other day. A stunning contrast just inches apart on my Facebook page. I will start with the story of a beautiful woman.

I attended High School with Gail Chovan, who survived breast cancer the year before Emma had pancreatic cancer. Photographs of Gail, proudly bald from chemotherapy, helped Emma approach chemo. That is not all of Gail’s story, she carries the soul of a warrior in the body of a ballerina. Her children, the twins Zelda and Creed, were born with congenital toxoplasmosis, and have severe medical issues. Had these children been born in a different home they could not have the resilience growing up with a Mother such as Gail imparts. Last year Zelda was in the hospital again, for about six weeks. When the nurse came into the room and said Zelda would be released that day, Zelda pulled the intubation from her nose and said “Let’s go!”

Recently Gail participated in Lily Mandelbaum and her mother Elisa Goodkind’s “The What’s Underneath Project,” a series of videos focusing on self image. If you are disturbed by mastectomy scars you may want to close your eyes near the end of the video, but you should listen to Gail’s story.

Beauty, strength, and talent all in one body. Precisely what you would expect from Gail. She doesn’t need to meet anyone’s standards, because her standards exceed them.

The other story is about Mayra Hills, who goes by the name “Beshine.” I might find Mayra beautiful, if all I saw was her face. She has a nice nose, deep eyes and pleasant lips. Most people probably don’t notice those features due to her “enhanced” breasts. By enhanced I mean ten litres of saline each, a bra size of 32Y, and she’s planning to increase the size again this year. The only thing of which I am certain is she will be spending more on back surgery than breast implants as she ages. Her first impression fades fast, as she claims in recent interviews to be 27, yet she was born in 1983. I’m not sure why she would choose to lie about her age at 32, it appears she is not happy with who she is. I can’t imagine going through such crippling surgery (she can’t tie her own shoes) for any reason other than she thinks this is beautiful. She certainly elicits a second glance, but usually it is so people can see what they’re laughing about. She says she loves her breasts, but she obviously has some difficulty with reality. I wonder where her real breasts are? Did she start out large and just obsess? There are few career openings for someone with her disability, and the revenue from porn will certainly drop beneath the level of her medical expenses as she continues to remodel herself.

What we find to be beautiful says more about ourselves than the objects of our desire. What a person does to appear beautiful says more about them than the final product.  Gail is beautiful with or without her breasts. Mayra would be vacuous with or without her breasts.

Attraction, were it logical, would be based on characteristics that will last as long as the relationship. Having written that, I can see it is. Gail and Evan are a life match. Mayra’s fans will disappear as she ages, because beauty may not be skin deep, but attraction to that type of beauty is.

 

 

Review

It is that time, the week between Christmas and the New Year, a week designed for introspection.

That is not to say I do not spend time examining every aspect of my own life through the year, in order to understand the universe you must understand yourself, adjusting your measurements for your own biases. This week, balanced between a celebration of life and an acknowledgement of death, is designed to cause even the most narcissistic wanker to examine his path.

The courage to act on such an examination comes from an unexpected place, which may be why such action tends to be rare. In the same way we fill this week with events designed to distract us from introspection, we fill our minds with concepts designed to distract us from taking action.

We call the distraction “maturity.” We believe the child is inferior, and actually exalt “synaptic pruning” as a path to clearer thinking. Machiavelli was a clear thinker, is his the mind you would emulate? It is the child who acts, believing in change, “maturity” is often code for “not making waves.”

In a previous chapter of my life, I was a digital technician. As new products were introduced, I would attend technical classes to learn the intricacies of the product. One year my Senior Technician (Dennis) and I were returning from a class in Maryland, and stopped for lunch at Burger King, which was selling goblets promoting the “Lord of the Rings” film along with children’s meals. The goblets contained an LED and batteries in the base, and lit up with a lovely rose hue. I bought two. Emma and I often drank wine in bed, the light would make the goblet easy to find in the dark.

Dennis was an excellent technician, when he approached a problem he wanted as little information as possible, in order to avoid any preconceptions. He saw the two “toys” and said “Isn’t that just a bit…childish?”

I was surprised, and responded “No Dennis, not childish. Childlike.”

Maybe it is just my brain, my particular collection of synapses, that prefers the wild growth of neural connections; they serve me well. As Multiple Sclerosis does its best to block my neural paths, the ability to reroute the data is invaluable. I am certainly capable of reducing a problem to its simplest elements, but grand, complex solutions require seeing every aspect of the situation. There may be several correct answers, but there is only one best answer. Such an answer is rooted in the balance of every issue involved, such a balance cannot be recognized if those issues have been eliminated in the name of reaching the answer more quickly.

You may think me simple. Perhaps I am. I am a man who has repeatedly accomplished that which was deemed impossible by others, although there have also been a few colossal failures. It remains ever so rare for success to result from a lack of trying.

As I review 2014, I recall hundreds of beautiful moments. I was married to a woman I loved with all my heart. I attended a number of great concerts. I met some wonderful new people, and reconnected with some others from my past. I created a couple of fabulous new recipes. I visited a couple of museums, feeding my mind with visions of beauty created by other artists. I learned a number of things, most notably the lesson Lu Ann tried to give me thirty years ago, love is a second hand emotion, giving love to someone does not create a debt they must repay.

I have seen many of the horrors of inferior intellects, yet I choose to judge humanity by its high points. Individuals reserve the right to prove themselves unworthy, but I still require that proof. I do not mind being slapped on the head and called foolish for believing in the power of love, even when such beliefs fail to achieve the desired results. Being a good person is its own, and sometimes the only, reward.

I enter 2015 with my mind as open as ever. The Dalai Lama is credited with saying “There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.” A friend reminded me the situation is more immediate. All we have is this very moment, there is absolutely no amount of time budgeted for waste.

Be kind, you may never have time to make amends for being less.

The cover of a book

Let us get this out of the way from the beginning. I prefer that my cover tells nothing about the contents. You may assign that trait to any part of my development, then think about it again. I prefer my cover tells nothing about the contents. What you think about the cover is what I find interesting. After you discover the contents your reaction is the very best part. One friend said “It’s not what you think, it’s never what you think.” That said this article is inspired by a shotgun blast of reality today.

I’m fairly complex, as I suspect many people are. I cannot be judged at first glance, so I try not to judge others by the first glance. Nonetheless, many people do. I was talking to a friend today who had made a career choice based on his appearance. He had wanted to be an interpreter of American Sign Language, but he has a less than “usual” appearance, tattoos, ear gauges, that sort of thing. Although Smith has all the qualifications, and the hearing impaired community has few prejudices, the interpreters guild is much more conservative. The guild would have problems with his appearance, but his other career choice would not. The losers? Those of us who need an interpreter for American Sign Language.

My outward appearance has varied, I rather enjoy it when I am not recognized, I’ve even had people tell me stories about myself, not realizing who they were talking to. That is so much better than finding people who only judge the cover, recognizing you are listening to someone who didn’t even get a good look at the cover.

Smith recognized me today, I haven’t seen him in four years, back then I had long hair and was walking with a cane, I wore a nice (not to brag, but $100) tie every day tied with a perfect Full Windsor knot. Today I was far more casual, short hair and a sweater with jeans, walking fine in my Doc Marten’s, beret pulled back to my left. He wasn’t expecting me, but when he saw me he came out from the kitchen and hugged me. I haven’t been touched that deeply in awhile.

He made me a lovely brunch, the atmosphere was very comfortable, relaxed, it suited us both. I invited him and his bride to visit, I love to cook for guests and they really should get out of the city occasionally. Smith hadn’t even seen a tumbleweed in Ft. Worth, but you can see his soul is in tune with the universe. Don’t over think that.

I come home and find as I scan the news sources that racial tensions are at an all time high. Excuse me? How did that happen? How many divisions do we need to create? When do we get to the point of accepting at the most basic level, what makes us the same is the way each and every one of us is different?

I asked Smith’s advice about a piercing, so while I was near South Street I stopped at Infinite Body Piercings. It isn’t a huge community, my first body piercing was done at Infinite. I had a piercing in which I wanted to wear a piece of jewelry that had belonged to Emma. I had taken her ring out, and the hole had shrunk. I started the process of widening the hole, I’ll have her ring in by New Year’s Day. But it’s not like anyone could see it. I have a tattoo, same story. If those decorations were more conspicuous they would be more offensive, why? They would be on parts of my body which by every definition are less intimate.

Kurt Vonnegut had said “Be careful what you pretend to be because you are what you pretend to be.” I pretend to be happy, it usually works. Popeye said “I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” I am in control, I am confident.

Who cares? All some people see is that which they fear. Xenophobia at the pinnacle of its expression.

I am so very very sad.

I expected so much more from humanity. I had not realized the upward swing was that of a pendulum (why does that theme keep occurring?). This is where it gets creepy.

I find it alarming that those so dedicated to natural processes refuse to accept humanity as natural. This is simply the way it is supposed to be. You cannot forestall extinction events, they will depend upon the gene pool. If all traces of civilization are destroyed, how civilized will any survivors be?

You want to know about me? Ask. At the same time I was wearing $100 ties I was wearing $30 shoes. Is who I am based on the altitude of the observer’s gaze? I’ve done some fairly crazy things but most people think I am a conservative. Is who I am based on the fourth dimension of time as it intersects your inspection?

You know that “Judge not, yet ye be judged by the same measure” bit? Matthew 7:1 ? The advice has been out there for over two thousand years. The negative effects of not following that advice have been obvious for far longer. There is no excuse, it all begins with you.

You really can change the world. Just by changing yourself.

And the band played on

Last night, as I entered my usual Monday evening hang-out, there was a chill in the air.

Not the weather, in fact it had been an unusually warm day, with a high of twenty two, freakish relative to tomorrow’s predicted snow and low temperature of one degree below zero.

The normal buzz of the crowd was hushed, and rather than Monday Night Football, the televisions were tuned to CNN. The Grand Jury in St. Louis Missouri was due to return their verdict in the case of Darren Wilson, a police officer who had shot and killed Mike Brown, a teenager, in Ferguson Missouri last August.

The case had drawn a great deal of attention, Wilson and Brown were of different races, so to the smallest of minds the only motivation could have been racial hatred, because racial hatred is all those minds contain. As the prosecutor explained the case and findings, tensions were at their peak, some people traveling hundreds of miles for the opportunity to loot liquor stores and burn businesses as a reaction to the obvious legal conclusion the Grand Jury had no choice but to reach.

It was 2030 in Ferguson as the verdict was read. There was no evidence an indictable offense had taken place. Almost immediately there were police and ambulance sirens fourteen hundred kilometers and one time zone due East, in Wilmington Delaware.

The band continued setting up.

A few hundred people in Ferguson expressed their interest in justice by burning police cars and firing over one hundred and fifty gunshots (Police data indicates no shots fired by officers). Meanwhile, the Earth continued to spin on its axis, the remaining seven billion inhabitants dealt with their own lives. During the four and one half minutes of symbolic silence Mike Brown’s mother had requested before the random violence would begin, eleven hundred babies were born and four hundred fifty people died in the world. Somewhere a couple met and fell in love, somewhere else a relationship ended. People celebrated their good fortune and mourned their losses. Were you to be watching a television, you might think the world was ending, eighty people arrested in Ferguson and thousands across the country, as innocent families watched their livelihoods burn to the ground. In fact more people worldwide were making love at the moment, but that did not make the news.

In one of those moments of synchronicity, I had woken that morning with the song “Under The Milky Way Tonight” by The Church in my head. I had suggested to my friend Buddy his band should perform the song, and Lieve mentioned as we were discussing the arrangement The Church had announced a tour. One stop is in Philadelphia, at one of my favorite venues, and I was able to get tickets, not my favorite seats but one row behind them.

As I watched Ferguson burn out of the corner of my eye, the band played on.

It was a pleasant evening, several guest musicians, a couple of conversations with a few of the other regulars, then I drove home under the clear sky, the Milky Way above me, hidden by the lights of Philadelphia but exposed as I arrived in the darkness of Princeton.

In other times, justice was local. Witch trials and lynch mobs were a horror we told ourselves could not take place in our civilised system of justice, providing more rights to the accused than any other country in the world. Foucault demonstrated the rotation of the Earth using a pendulum, fixing the relationship of the eternal spin of the Earth and the opposing and shifting points of amplitude of the pendulum. Media attention can make a local issue a global one, uninterested professional protestors bear a great resemblance to hooligans, more interested in the fight than the cause. The concept of innocent until proven guilty has given way to trial by uninformed public opinion.

What is important to remember is while hundreds were throwing bricks in Ferguson (where do these people find bricks on city streets?) thousands were making music, hundreds of thousands were dancing, millions were laughing with a friend (a good percentage of which who were of different races).

Rather than focus on a few angry trouble makers, remember the billions of people dedicated to spreading joy and love.

 

День ветеранов

Today marks the cessation of hostilities (for a few decades) on the “Western Front,” between the Allies of  The Great War (later numbered as WW1) and Germany. That armistice began on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, back when we could be poetic about warfare. Hostilities continued on other fronts, this was the beginning of the end of the war.

This year we mark one hundred years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Este, the trigger for the great war. It is ninety six years since the signing of the armistice bringing to an end “The war to end all wars,” and two days ago, 9 November, was the twenty fifth anniversary of the onset of physical demolition of the Berlin wall.

Pronounced "veteran"

Pronounced “veteran”

 

To be a veteran is to be misunderstood by the general public. It is nice to hear “thank you for your service,” although there is often a subtext of “thank you for selling your soul, you heartless murderer.” I would like to hear, just once, “Thank you for doing what I wanted done but didn’t have the fortitude to approach.”

There are as many different feelings about being a veteran as there are veterans, largely because veterans are just people, we’re not some special breed. We have dealt with our lives as other people deal with theirs, sometimes with grace, sometimes with terror. We carry the scars just as you carry yours, some of us are better at it than others. The Soldier (Airman, Seaman, Marine) seeks to avoid conflict. You may call this self preservation if you wish, but most have no desire to end the lives of other human beings who just have a different uniform.

History gives us a series of conflicts, one leads to another. The crushing losses of World War one led to the February Revolution in Russia, which led to the October Revolution. The terms of the armistice of Compiègne set the groundwork for World War two. Defeating the Soviets in Afghanistan  led to the rise of the Taliban. Oppressive regimes fall, and there is always another brutal dictator waiting in the wings. Good people strive for peace, and are outnumbered every time.

The veteran volunteered to play a losing hand. The veteran genuinely believed they could have a positive impact on the conflict in which they are involved, literally changing the world. The veteran risked his or her life and sanity to protect you from having to do so. The veteran respects his or her bothers and sisters in arms, regardless of uniform or victor in the conflict.

In America, there are approximately twenty one million veterans, or roughly one out of every fifteen people. For perspective, there are more than twice as many veterans than there are Jews in America. They inhabit every sector of the socioeconomic spectrum. You know veterans, you are friends with veterans, statistically ten of my American subscribers would be veterans.

Today when you think about veterans, think about how you think about veterans.

 

 

Old friends

I woke up this morning thinking of an old friend. I think of him from time to time, wondering how he’s doing.

I met Smith on my fortieth Birthday (not his real name, but he preferred to be called by his last name, and to be identified as male even though biologically he was female). He (she at the time) was working as a piercer on South Street in Philadelphia, I was having my tragus pierced to celebrate my birthday and some recent life changes.  I noticed his belt buckle, a Texas star, and asked if he was from Texas. He said he was from Euless, a little town between Dallas and Ft. Worth. I had a cousin living in Euless, and friends in the area, and I told him we used to call it “Useless Texas,” to which he said “Why do you think I’m here?”

I saw Smith a couple of times on South Street, when Emma had her first piercing I made sure Smith was her piercer. The shop where Emma and I purchased our wedding rings (and other items through the years) published a monthly newsletter, and it was in the newsletter I first saw Smith dressed as a man, as a participant in a “Drag King” event. When we were ready for some more piercings we found that Smith had stopped working as a piercer and was cooking at a local restaurant.

A few years later I ran into Smith in my neighborhood, he had moved to an apartment a block away from me and was cooking in Fishtown, riding his bike the six miles to work every day. I saw him often, walking his dog “Sookie,” sometimes dressed a little flamboyantly, one particular outfit stands out in my mind, yellow corduroy pants, a green shirt with a purple corduroy suit coat, big black framed round glasses, and a green Hamburg hat. He had shaved his head (which he did from time to time) and you could see the tattoos which adorned his scalp peeking out from under the Hamburg. He didn’t quite fit into the neighborhood, but Emma always made him welcome at the restaurant where she was working at 9th and Jackson, and I know the baker she lived next door to, Joe, was always friendly when we walked by his window.

I saw him last when Emma was ill, he was very kind and displayed the one feminine quality I always loved about him, a concerned look with pursed lips, a soft voice as he said “I’m so sorry” and gave me a hug. With Emma’s treatments I lost track of life in the neighborhood and missed Smith’s departure when he moved closer to work. I found him about a year after Emma died through a mutual acquaintance, we emailed a few times but our lives had gone in different directions.

Yesterday a friend at work commented on my tragus piercing, I wear a diamond there now and it gets noticed once in a while, that’s probably what has me thinking about Smith. He lives not far from a venue Lieve and I have been to a few times, maybe I’ll see him at a concert sometime; we like the same kind of music. I think he enjoyed as much as I the fact we were such friends but led such different lifestyles. Two transplanted Texans trying to make sense of these silly Northerners.

Smith made the choice to present his gender in the same sense that you might choose to wear a tie one day and a sweatshirt the next. His gender perception never came across as an issue of sexuality, in fact I know nothing about his love life, it was simply the way he saw himself. He was the best of what you would want in a human being, a strong woman and a gentle man, more simply a good person.

 

Beware of Darkness

Watch out now, take care
Beware of soft shoe shufflers
Dancing down the sidewalks
As each unconscious sufferer
Wanders aimlessly
Beware of Maya

 

 

This happens to be my favorite recording of this song, Leon Russell’s verse stands out as a life lesson in itself. File this under “Are you listening yet?”

But this article is not about George Harrison or Leon Russell, maybe a little bit about Bangladesh, but not in a direct way. Today I write about Maya, as I do most of the time. The veneer which many accept as reality.

Our National leaders are a measure of the consensus of gullibility. When Obama was elected his charisma was palpable. For those of us who have experienced cult behavior, the parallels of his blind followers and the Jonestown Massacre were frightening. As the years passed, most intelligent people have been able to see him for what he is, a deluded puppet with no understanding of politics, leadership, or the Constitution of the United States. Unfortunately, intelligent people are a minority.

How he was re-elected at the point his approval rating was at an all-time low astounds me, and as polls show his increasing irrelevance (those who “strongly approve” of his performance decreasing while those who “strongly disapprove” rising) they also indicate the polarization he has reintroduced to American society.

For some reason, the adage “Politicians lie” is accepted by an increasing number of people, the more disturbing subtext is the number of people who don’t care that politicians lie. Obama’s inability to accept the responsibilities of the office he holds has me fuming this morning. In two years and four months he’ll be gone, but it appears he intends to do as much damage as possible before he goes.

A man who is so widely accepted by his followers as being incredibly intelligent has been able to use the “I didn’t know about that” defense for years. I take that as an indication that his followers are equally uninformed, as anyone with a passing familiarity of the subjects he has claimed ignorance about knew more than he claimed to know. One would assume that during his daily intelligence briefings he picked up more than golf tips. I guess that’s the down side of having followers who believe anything you say, being honest becomes unnecessary.

In case you’ve been playing golf for the last couple of years, there is a group who call themselves “The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” abbreviated as ISIS, ISIL, IS, and also known as “those freaking bloodthirsty maniacs” by almost everyone else on the planet. When Al Qaeda calls a group “too extreme,” they might be worth tracking. Somehow, a retired intelligence analyst in Princeton NJ is more aware of their threat than the President of the United States. I am certain his sources are better than mine.

He is not. The rise of ISIS, which began in Syria and flowed into Iraq over the last few years, was an absolute surprise to POTUS, the man who actually had wanted to support them over Assad last year. Rather than stating he underestimated them, he blames the intelligence community for not informing him of their fanaticism. He blames the CIA for overestimating the Iraqi army’s ability to fight ISIS. Who would have ever expected the army that surrendered to journalists in both 1991 and 2003 to actually fight radicals? A few lines from the film “Full Metal Jacket,” (Emma’s favorite) comes to mind, “I’ve got some ARVN rifles, never been fired and only dropped once”, and “yeah, I’ve seen plenty of the local troops, most of them were running the other way.”

A leader takes responsibility for his team. Six years into his term he is totally responsible for his advisers, yet he still blames failures on them instead of either admitting he wasn’t paying attention to them or he made poor choices in appointing them. I wish I could feel pity for this pathetic fool but right now all I feel is disgust. If you can’t trust your intelligence, try tuning into BBC, CBC, Al-Jazeera, or even your media pet CNN. How is it that the President of the United States is the only person on the planet that underestimated ISIS, and somehow that is the fault of his intel team?

Okay, maybe it’s a soft spot for me, Clinton decimated the intelligence community and then bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade due to bad targeting intel. The waves from Clinton’s purge still affect us today, it can take decades to build assets in societies that are closed to Westerners. But Bill Clinton did not blame the agency he had torn down for their subsequent failures, personally apologizing to Chinese President Jiang Zemin. Obama misses news that is available on the street corner and blames his intel sources? Is this why intruders keep “slipping by” the Secret Service, gaining access to the White House? Just wondering…

A friend had a saying when the Air Force was undergoing a “management overhaul,” in which officers were promoted based on their management skills. Carl would say “You don’t manage a man into battle, you lead.” Over the years the entire concept of “leadership” has devolved into “management.” I see it everywhere, but when the President stops being a leader and is just another manager, dodging responsibility and stealing the limelight from true achievers, the attitude spreads throughout society’s expectations of their leaders. It seems unlikely that our next President could be worse, but it is altogether possible considering what the American public will settle for.

I was just Skyping with Lieve, and she mentioned an incident in which a two year old ate some mushrooms, and had to be rushed to Lieve’s father with an uneaten mushroom so he could identify the species. The baby had been left under the supervision of his five year old sister, who was being berated for not watching the baby closely enough. If you think it is appropriate to make a five year old a babysitter, is it really the babysitter’s fault if something goes wrong?  Responsibility lies upon the top authority figure, in this case the Father, he made a foolish choice entrusting his baby’s safety to another child.

We, as citizens of the United States, are ultimately responsible for the performance of our elected officials. I didn’t choose Obama, but I accept my responsibility as a member of a democracy to accept his authority. I just wish my fellow Americans could accept their responsibilities in choosing a leader.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Day for Danny

One question often asked is “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I have come to the conclusion that things in and of themselves are neither good or bad. They simply happen, the measure of the person they affect lies in their reaction. Matthew 5:45 states this well, “That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.

We can all be crushed by circumstances beyond our control, rising above our personal pain is what makes us good people. If you have never been tested, you are only potentially a good (or bad) person. One person who is currently being tested is Dan Scimeca, retired Chief of Police from Manasquan New Jersey, and husband of a High School friend of mine, Colleen (Walker) Scimeca. Not that he has not had other tests in life, and proven himself thoroughly, but as “Q” says to Captain Picard in the final episode of Star Trek; The Next Generation, the trial never ends.

Colleen has worked for years raising funds for ALS, being involved with the Valentine Plunge each year. In an amazing twist of irony, Dan was diagnosed with ALS earlier this year. They are both weathering this storm with grace.

Yesterday was a day of that rare event, Karma making itself obvious. Over eight hundred of Colleen and Dan’s friends gathered to raise funds for Dan and others who have ALS, packing Leggetts Sand Bar for “A Day for Danny.” It was quite amazing, the building was overflowing, and despite the great music from Ronnie and The Engineers, far too crowded to dance, or even move through the room. A small group of Colleen’s High School friends managed to stake claim to a table outside, driving in from as far away as Iowa. That’s me in the lower left corner.

 

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

The gang from NPHS, almost forty years in the making

Yes, we had fun, we always do. We are also comfortable supporting friends in need, there is a charitable streak that runs through this group, championed by Tim Sickel (who is not pictured because he took the above photograph).

I don’t know what the final tally for funds raised is, a low estimate would be $40,000, a drop in the bucket when it comes to the special needs of a family dealing with ALS. The love shared is immeasurable, just a wonderful thing to witness.

Your financial situation has nothing to do with your charitable contributions. You may not have money to share, but you have a heart to love others with. If all you can do is smile then do that. Helping a stranger find something in the grocery store doesn’t cost anything, kind words are free, why not share them?

We are all human, we have more in common with each other than we have differences. We are family, lifting up a fallen brother will never cause you to fall.

 

 

 

 

 

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