Monday, August 31, 2009

Hare Style

You have left me no choice. Just remember before you start to grouse that you brought this upon your own heads. I must channel Barry Gibb!

When the feelings gone and you can't go on
It's tragedy
When the morning cries and you don't know why
It's hard to bear
With noone to love you you're
Goin' nowhere
When you lose control and you got no soul
It's tragedy

No soul indeed. I gaze out at the field of beautiful flowers, I let their gentle scent pull me in and fill my imagination with harmonious thoughts and happy images. However, these pleasant thoughts and images are a falsehood. The field of flowers is cruelly dying one by one. Everyone is just watching this happen month after heart-breaking month. All the polyester disco suits in the world cannot hold back the flood of self-inflicted death, and Barry Gibb is getting up there in years. So, it is up to you and me to ensure that the great watering can in the sky is filled with only the life-giving and life-affirming nourishing waters of purity and love. Tragedy indeed.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Grind My Gears VII

I did not know true arrogance until I looked into the eyes of a mature Canadian goose. In fact, these geese really grind my gears. To be more specific, it's not just their I'll-get-out-of-the-middle-of-the-road-when-I'm-good-and-ready attitudes, it's that they feel compelled to leave their poo all over every square foot of sidewalk at the place where I work. If I could get from building to building by gently hovering 6 inches above the ground, that would be just fine. However, this is not the reality I know; I actually have to make periodic contact with the ground. These silly geese seem to have poo'ed in a carefully considered pattern such that only those with advanced degrees in the art of the dance, can pass along the sidewalks without coming into direct contact with goose droppings. It's almost as if they are trying to get us to walk through their filth. This is a clear indication of their poor attitude. Something must be done, and must be done now. I have been pondering multiple solutions to this problem, but none of them, as yet, are legal in the state of Virginia. You are not allowed to run them over with your car. You cannot and would not want to eat them. You can't take them out with semi-automatic weaponry or ground-to-goose missiles. Perhaps we could drive them off our site by speaking rudely of the RCMP or have open discussions about how silly Canada is for having major cities named Moosejaw and Regina. At the least, we could place small porcelain bowls around our work site, along with little rolls of toilet paper and small newspapers, to drop strong hints that pooing wherever your little goosey heart desires is just not acceptable in polite society.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Chicken Parts

When I was meeting with orthopedic doctors on a seemingly daily basis last year due to severe problems with my knees, one of the treatment options that was brought up was to inject me full of chicken parts. Really. Sometimes I think that doctor's make "recommendations" like these just to gauge how silly and sheeplike their patients actually are. After we agree to have them inject various syringes of goop and chemicals into our bodies, they hang around the coffee pot and exchange stories and laughs.

Doctor #1: "Hey Bob, I had this one patient who was so gullible, he allowed me to squirt Chicken McNuggets with barbeque sauce directly into his body."

Doctor #2: "Wait, I thought you were Bob. Anyway, you must realize that your story is only hilarious if the treatment is covered by insurance. Now, let's go play golf."

It seems to be the case, however, that somewhere, somehow, somebody figured out that injecting processed rooster combs into your knees can act to reduce the painful symptoms associated with osteoarthritis. I don't know about you, but I really have to wonder how anybody might come up with this idea for patient treatment. I have this picture in my mind of the Far Side cartoon where several egghead-type scientists in lab coats are standing around a table with a duck on it. They are about to pour a beaker of liquid on its back. On the chalkboard behind them are results of previous experiments of this sort: "Like acid off a duck's back" (crossed off), "Like syrup off a duck's back" (crossed off). Do scientists just sit in their labs all day sucking in huge government grants and trying one random thing after another until they stumble across something and hail it as the next great breakthrough? Perhaps. I either can't say or I won't say, after all, I am a scientist myself and I must keep certain things in the strictest confidence.

All of this made me remember a plot line from Star Trek - The Next Generation where due to some freak accident involving a ripening rutabaga, Captain Picard and Dr. Crusher could communicate to each other without words; their minds were somehow merged together so that they shared every thought. Well, they were walking along a path and came to a fork in the road. Dr. Crusher asked aloud, "Which way should we go?". Picard responded quickly and forcefully, "This way. (pointing to the left)" Dr. Crusher looked at Picard and said "You don't really know, do you? I mean, you're acting like you know exactly which way to go, but you're only guessing. Do you do this all the time?". Picard then said something to the effect of "If I just speak with assurance and confidence, everyone assumes that I know what I'm talking about." Ahhh, this is all starting to make sense.

Doctor: Do you want me to put hunks of ground up poultry into your body in an expensive, uncomfortable, and highly dubious procedure?

Patient: My, you speak with assurance and confidence! Hook me up.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Razor Stubble

Hey, so what's the deal with shaving? ... Sounds like the beginning of an old Seinfeld monologue. Truthfully though, what is the deal with shaving? I think that I shave in the same rational manner each morning, going over the appropriate areas of my face with care and attention. Heck, most mornings I even take the time to look in the mirror after I am done to be sure that I have not missed anything. However, I have noticed that every once in a while I can find a bit later in the day that I seem to have missed huge sections of my cheeks or neck or chin. Wait, wait, wait! This is not possible. I distinctly remember going over these various and sundry areas with great care. Is it possible that I am losing my mind? Did I have a sudden beard hair growth spurt in isolated areas of my face? No, certainly not. Did I forget to turn my razor on? Of course not you lug nut, I use a disposable razor that indeed is "Good News". Maybe I used the wrong end of the razor or was holding the razor backwards or forgot to take off the miniature sneeze guard on the twin-blade. These suggestions are absurd, do you take me for a turnip?

I can't help but wondering what other people think when they look at my face when this sort of follicular incident happens. They see something about me that is quite obvious to everyone, but it is something I have missed entirely. This notion resonated with me as I have recently been talking with folks in my Waters Edge Church Community Group about having people in your life to whom you can be accountable. Folks who know what is going on with you, with whom you can share your deepest thoughts and concerns and problems and anxieties, and can give you Godly advice and feedback. Folks who can call you out when they see you heading for trouble. They can see danger signs and warnings that we may have missed entirely. If you don't have one or two of these folks in your life, it is imperative that you find them. Funny how a little bit of razor stubble can get the gears to turning in your mind.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Phase Change

The other day I stumbled across a recent online photograph of someone that I have not seen since high school. This person was once a good friend of mine, somebody that I really cared about. When I think of her I remember a bubbly, playful, young girl. However, the person that looked back at me from my computer screen was now nearly 25 years older, approaching mid-life. I searched her face for recognition and it took me quite some time before I found the subtle signs of the girl I once knew. Of course I was not around her to notice the subtle aging and changes to her appearance that we are typically oblivious to when we interact with someone on a day-to-day basis. It can be quite shocking to see a completely different person than the one who is locked in the time capsule of your mind. It is a reminder of the relentless passage of time and the unchanging current of life.

This experience got me to thinking about phase changes in my own life. Sure there are big ones like going off to college, leaving the carefree life of a child behind. I still vividly remember the strange ache as I watched my parents drive away after dropping me off at college. In a moment, I was suddenly on my own. There was also marriage, a metamorphosis from one into two. No longer would my concerns be the only ones that mattered. In a moment, I was no longer the center of my universe. Certainly there was also the moment when I held my newborn daughter for the first time. In a moment you suddenly understand the notion of agape love and you feel a strange new sense of responsibility. I am sure with a few additional moments of thought, I could list some other major phase changes that are typical in most people's lives. However, in thinking about this post over the past several days, I recognized another, perhaps subtle, phase change that occurred in my life. In the back of my closet was a pair of sneakers that I purchased nearly 15 years ago. They are still white and pristine, like new. I used to wear sneakers every single day. For many years, I did not own any other kind of footwear. However, somewhere along the way, I made the change from wearing sneakers to wearing grown-up shoes. I am sure that initially my trusty old sneakers laid on the floor out in the open. Eventually they were moved to the corner, out of the way. Finally, they were retired to the back of the closet where they now sit, collecting dust and waiting. I think the time when I stopped wearing my sneakers marked another phase change in my life, the change once and for all from a kid to a grown-up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Curious Good Looks

The words we use to describe each other can impart so much visual imagery, so much detail, intended or unintended. Consider the following bit of Seinfeldian dialog:

Jerry: She had man hands.

Elaine: Man hands?

Jerry: The hands of a man. It's like a creature out of Greek mytholoogy, I mean, she was like part woman, part horrible beast.

Now, doesn't that paint a picture? Can't you just see that woman wrapping her hands around the tail end of a lobster and ripping it off with ease? Some folks have a real knack for painting a picture. The words they use can encapsulate someone so perfectly, so completely. A word or two can sometimes fill our head with such a vision, it's almost as if you were staring at a photograph.

I remember back in college that I was fumbling to describe one of our staff workers to a colleague. I came up with a description that I thought was accurate and complete. I uttered words to the effect of "He had two eyes, and a mouth right beneath his nose." I got a blank stare. Then my colleague kind of shook his head at me in disbelief. I then saw a light go on in his eyes and he said, "Oh, you mean the man with the angular features." I was blown away. What a choice of words. I would have never have come up with this on my own, but it was the perfect word to describe who I was talking about. Around this same time, I was reading an article about the lead singer of the band Duran Duran (boy they were uber-cool back in the day). The journalist described the lead singer Simon LeBon as having "curious good looks". What a turn of phrase. I am not even really sure what they were implying or intending, but this phrase kind of stuck with me. Somehow it seemed to fit. But I must give one word of caution. I have known folks who attempt to describe a woman as "handsome". In my mind this describes a she-beast. A woman can be beautiful, hot, pretty, voluptuous, gorgeous, seductive, ..., but handsome is a word that describes a young Sean Connery, Brad Pitt, or Weird Al Yankovitch.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Context Baby

I was doing a bit of study on the danger of taking things out of context. Words and advice prescribed and provided for the ears of someone that another has interpreted in a manner in which it was not intended. However, taking something out of context is not necessarily something that is done with malevelous intent. Sometimes we don't appreciate the circumstances in which certain words were uttered. Sometimes we don't understand the historical background or the applicable customs. Sometimes there is enough ambiguity after a superficial reading that we are desparate enough to take things out of context to justify our own actions. Careful reading and thought is, of course, the remedy in such situations. However, I did not want to stop there. I wanted to flesh this idea out by eavesdropping on several "conversations" to see if I could get into any trouble. I have carefully placed quotation marks about the word conversations, because these weren't actual real conversations between people. I listened to 15 second long "dialogs" between "actors" on "television" and scanned through "10" random "channels". Here is what I listened to in a matter of a couple of minutes:
  • Hand-tossed in our signature buffalo sauce.
  • Math is for ugly people.
  • How does he govern his own garden?
  • We checked for the fat drippings.
  • Which sport produces the smelliest athlete?
  • If you can deal with the nerdiness of Star Trek, let me channel Spock.
  • Here is an orb of spewing vomit.
  • It's kind of like the miracle of birth, only hotter.
  • Now vibration changes everything.
  • You are blessed to be watching this program.
It's kind of amusing to think about the different contexts in which these words were uttered. Wonder what kind of trouble I can get into applying these time-worn principles and sayings without appreciating the associated context?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Faded Symbol

On my way into work this morning, I passed by a symbol. Something that people would purchase to announce to the world that they had "made it". By driving such a vehicle, it would be clear to the others in the neighborhood, the country club, the office, that this person was successful and had taste and prestige. They enjoyed the finer things that life could provide. The car that I passed by was a Lincoln Town Car circa 1980. Back in the day, this paradigm of luxury had a sticker price of about $25,000. I'm quite sure that when people drove by this signature vehicle, they took a second look, maybe even pictured themselves behind the wheel, or perhaps better still, sitting in the back seat dressed in their finest, while a uniformed coachmen took them to the premiere or the gala or the opening night. However, one day's symbol of refinement and style and panache, can be another day's tasteless oddity and eyesore. The 1980 Town Car looks today like a huge metal box with jarring, sharp angles and hard lines. The exterior seems plain and coarse. It speaks nothing of life's luxuries. Nothing of refinement. A symbol has been pulled down from its once lofty position. Reduced to a beat up rust bucket grinding out its last workhorse miles before its inevitable condemnation to the junk yard or the back of the shed. An inglorious and dishonorable ending for a symbol that once led us to dream and to salivate and to live vicariously in others, if only for a brief moment.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Dregs of Humanity III

A dirty, shaggy person with a plastic cup huddles in the cold, looking for handouts. They are viewed as the dregs of humanity by those fortunates who pass by. Who will come to their rescue and what does this say about us?

Now I must confess, whenever I drive past one of these unfortunate souls, I have no idea what to do. I try to distract myself so that I don't have to think about them or their situation. I don't want this image burned into my mind, to flash back into my consciousness at a later moment to make me feel guilty or anxious. In a different set of circumstances, could this be me? Several times I have had to stop at the red light at their intersection. Dang, why couldn't those other drivers hurry up so that I could get through? I felt so awkward. I sensed that they could interpret my thoughts and turmoil. I tried to seem busy, maybe playing with the radio knobs or fiddling with the papers in my briefcase. The instant in their presence just seemed to drag on and I was burning to just get out of there. One time the folks in the car in front of me offered a few dollars to one of them, but the light had turned green and they were holding up the line of traffic behind them. I know that I was grumbling to just get moving. Anywhere but here. Please let me escape this torture. I wish I knew the right thing to do. I remember that when I got home, I spent some time in prayer for the person and also some time thinking about my own shameful behavior. I felt tortured? Really? What about their existence? Now that's the real tortune. That's the real pity.

Sometimes I think to myself that I don't need to worry about giving to different causes because I already give to my church. I know they help support some local charities. In fact, I know that I have purposefully not considered giving directly to the homeless because I reason to myself that I already give to the church or that dealing directly when them is not a safe thing to do. Perhaps the real truth is that I don't want to give directly to those out on the street because I don't want to get too close to them, to face them, to experience them, to catch what they have. Giving to the church and rationalizing is so much cleaner and easier. No awkward moments and, ultimately, no real effort or danger. The words of scripture from Matthew 7:2 read "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." I have a long way to go so that when God calls me to step up and help others with joy and enthusiasm and generosity, I can be like Abraham and say "Lord, Here I am." A wonderful posting on urges us:

So I exhort you now, while there is time, to plan for good memories, to store up treasures for yourself in heaven, by serving the beggars whom Jesus sent as your teachers, so that when that inevitable day arrives, the angels will exalt as you ascend. And Jesus will greet you, saying "Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter in the joy of your master."

(Part 3 of 3)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dregs of Humanity II

A dirty, shaggy person with a plastic cup huddles in the cold, looking for handouts. They are viewed as the dregs of humanity by those fortunates who pass by. Who will come to their rescue and what does this say about us?

Years ago I was walking through Washington D.C. with a colleague when a beggar approached us for some change. He aggressively talked our ears off for almost two full city blocks. He seemed confident and, strangely enough, almost happy, like he was fully content and enjoying himself. The person I was with finally turned to him and said "Why don't you get a job you bum." Eventually he saw that he would get nothing from us and he moved on to another and started into his routine anew. I saw several more just like this one. At the time, although I didn't think about it for too long, I probably would have agreed with the sentiment of my colleague. These were reasonably young and able-bodied individuals that had learned to live the street life. Maybe they were homeless, maybe they didn't have "real" jobs, maybe they earned enough by begging to get by and had grown accustomed to this way of life. I cannot say, but I do remember that I did not feel sorry for these people. However, I do remember the disgust I felt for them when everything in the metro smelled of urine. I thought to myself "why don't the police make them go somewhere else?"

Somehow the silent, desparate forms that I have seen around town lately are different. They look like they have run out of options, like they finally had to tear down any last remaining barrier of privacy and shame that separated them from the outside world. In some ways, the cardboard signs around their necks represent the scarlet letter of shame and humiliation that they must wear, just like Hester Prynne. Where do you go when you have nowhere to go? I wonder how things got to this point. Was their current circumstance their own doing or an unfortunate occurrence out of their control? Did they once have a life with contentment and happiness and friendship? I guess maybe none of this really matters. They are not some socialological thought experiment. They are not zoo animals to be gawked at. They are human beings, like you and me. Like you. Like me. Still I can't help but wonder in some detached way, are they too far gone to even be able to return to normal existence?

(Part 2 of 3)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Dregs of Humanity I

A dirty, shaggy person with a plastic cup huddles in the cold, looking for handouts. They are viewed as the dregs of humanity by those fortunates who pass by. Who will come to their rescue and what does this say about us?

A man stands by the side of the road near the traffic light. The full sum of his worldly possessions he carries in a small trash bag that is slung over his shoulder. His hands and face and hair are covered with dirt and grime and neglect. His shirt is so weathered and threadbare that you can no longer make out the once distinct pattern. A small stub of a previously discarded cigarette hangs on his lip. He doesn't make eye contact with any of the motorists in the passing cars. He has long since become immune to the frequent insults that are thrown his way. To the stares and finger pointing. To the humiliation and shame. He wears a makeshift cardboard sign around his neck, stating in bold letters that he has no job and nobody to take care of him. He is looking for a handout. Something, anything. This has gone on for so long that he wishes he could just disappear. He just aches for the pain to be over. There is no reason for him to be here anymore, and certainly nobody will miss him when he's gone. His eyes are glazed over and he is completely dead on the inside.

This poor, pathetic man is not alone. Over the past several years, these shadows have been appearing at more and more intersections. Some of them can be seen at the same place for several weeks before they are noticeably absent. Part of me hopes that maybe they have found a place to stay and get some food and a hot shower, perhaps someone to care for them and to look after them and talk with them. I truly hope that they can find that opportunity that will give them some semblance of a normal life. More likely than that, I suspect that they have just moved on to another place. At one intersection in town, a seemingly young woman had appeared. The same description of the man would be just as suited to her. She was a constant presence for a few weeks, and then she disappeared. I shudder to think where she ended up, what she gave up just to survive.

(Part 1 of 3)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sound and Fury

"... Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more: it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5)

Shakespeare was a master of words. The great bard had the ability to capture completely a mood or a sense in such few words, with majesty and grace and passion. The above lines from Macbeth stirred through my thoughts the other day as I was driving along a fairly busy highway. I was in the inside lane (i.e. the slow lane) and there was a 5-foot wide paved shoulder beside me. Traffic was moving along at about 35 mph and there was about 1 or 2 car lengths between each vehicle. A few hundred feet in front of me, a lone racoon comes out of the woods and begins a slow movement to cross the highway. His instinct was to get his hackles up, and slowly, almost menacingly, approach the thin white line that separated the shoulder from the inside lane. He was moving purposefully and steadily. As I passed his location, he was about 2 feet from the white line and still moving. I lost sight of him as I went around the nearby bend in the road, but his demise was inevitable. This stretch of road is littered with the carcasses of other brave but foolish creatures who thought that they could threaten and bully everyone into clearing a path for them. To the rest of the world they were a gnat, a nuisance that was so outmatched that they never even got a second notice. The epitomy of sound and fury signifying nothing.

How often in life do we posture and strut, thinking how everyone should take notice of us and our work and our reputations? We are so puffed up with pride that we have totally deluded ourselves into believing that we are so important and necessary that everyone had better take notice of us and get out of the way. A poor player indeed.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Writing the Story

Here's a story that my daughter relates to me all the time. "Once upon a time, the end." Kind of short and sweet. Not a lot of character development. No pesky loose ends that need tying up. The important thing to keep in mind is that the real story in our lives is one that we get to fill in. How good or bad it is, how much joy and laughter there is, how rich and satisfying it is, is, in large measure, up to us. Certainly there are many things that we cannot control, after all, life can sometimes deal us a seemingly losing hand, or even a larger than normal number of bad breaks, but we get to determine who we are and what defines us. We are able to control how we will interact with the people and situations we encounter. We get to determine if we are a source of light in the world or a source of darkness. These words are true regardless of whether you are employed or unemployed, wealthy or poor, beautiful or homely, fortunate or unfortunate, exceptional or average. Instead of bemoaning your lot in life, wailing and despairing and worrying, move to set these aside and invest in things that will move the dark rain clouds away and bring in the sun. Plant the seeds of today that will become the harvest and sustenance of tomorrow and beyond. The light has great and incalculable healing powers. (Note to self, read the following blog that you just wrote and fully process its message.)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chasing the Wind

... He runs and runs but never catches up to his quarry - it remains fully unseen, although he apparently believes that it is just barely out in front of him. He lunges and grasps with assurance, but his hands only find the shadows. Sometimes he senses that he can almost taste success, but his meals are the bland stuff of too late and wasted effort and reliance on some distant experiences from a different world and a different time. Another day passes without success toward making progress, but he continues to fool himself with detailed planning and distorted visions for the next day. But the pattern will repeat, again and again.

His sleep is always restless and his mind is never at ease, even in the best of moments. He just doesn't get the fact that his work is for the wrong reasons and completely misdirected, although oftentimes he can fool himself into believing he is on the right track and if he just keeps at it, he will find what he is searching for. I suspect that he has been adrift for so long that he has no idea what he is really after. He owns a huge home in an affluent neighborhood, drives a new car, makes lots of money, belongs to a great church, has a job that he is perfect for, and has a daughter who is a sweet and wonderful person. Yet I sense that he believes he is lacking something, something so fundamental to what drives him and brings him joy, that none of the other things will ever fully satiate him. What is his white whale? You can try to ask him, but you won't get a clear answer. There is such turmoil in his spirit that he doesn't seem to be the same person that I knew years ago. I wish I could help him, but I have no idea what to do or what to say or what to offer, except perhaps a simple word from scripture:

Better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind., Ecclesiates 4:6

Perhaps one day he will find a place that brings rest to his spirit.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Old Photographs

Most people love capturing those special memories on film (or flash card). Endearing images of Rockwell-esque family moments - birthdays, holidays, graduations, notable "firsts" - or good times with friends that we care about and with whom we share our lives - holiday parties, cookouts, goofing around - or snapshots of vacation moments - panoramas, hotels, eateries, views, vistas. Once the photographs are taken, they are placed into old shoe boxes or organized into albums that are then stored away in closets or on shelves, waiting for the occasional times when they are taken out and passed around. Folks can rekindle moments in time and, in a manner of speaking, relive them.

You know what, I have never been a fan of pictures. For one thing, being the person "stuck" with the camera or video recorder can really get in the way of just enjoying the moment. You miss the laughter and spontaneity and wonder and surprise. You concentrate much more on issues like lighting and movement and framing and f-stop settings. Can you recall a time when you missed the big moment because you were fussing with the camera or video equipment? I know I can. You can really miss out on the important moments if you are focussed on the wrong things. Kind of sounds like an important life lesson.

However, a bigger issue regarding the taking of photographs, at least for me, is that they always stir up intense feelings of melancholy when I look at them down the road. My little one's first birthday, early pictures of my fiancee wrapped tightly in my arms, playful poses of departed family pets. Frozen moments in time that have since disappeared into the aether, never to come back around and be tasted and savored again. Never again will we have those moments back before us. Photographs serve to me as too strong of a reminder of the passage of time and things lost.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Fact or Fiction

I want to put you all to the test, to gauge your ability to separate fact from fiction. Do you have what it takes? Much rests on your ability to answer the question that I am about to put to you. Is the following T.V. show plot line fact or fiction? Weigh in with your guesses.

A man called the Guinness record folks as he believes he has passed the world's biggest poo (B.M.) (of course his wife is mortified). They direct him to Zürich's European Fecal Standards and Measurements Institute (EFSMI), where it is verified that his B.M. is indeed the biggest. However, something is not quite right. There is a strange vibe in the air. During the man's award ceremony, a video of Bono (lead singer of U2) interrupts the festivities. Bono, who it turns out was the previous record holder, claims he has just reset the record and his claim is accepted based on a sketchy poo photo. The man is devastated. He goes into a deep depression because he feels worthless that his B.M., of which he was so proud, was the only thing that he ever produced that was any good, and now it has been rejected.

The man has a loyal boy who goes to personally visit Bono at his mansion to plead with him to relinquish the record as his dad has never won anything and Bono has so much. The boy earnestly asks Bono to be satisfied with being "number two". Bono goes into a wild rage and threatens the boy and kicks him out of his mansion. As the boy is leaving with his heart in his hand, apparently failing in his quest, Bono's butler seeks him out and tells him that Bono set the original record for the largest B.M. in 1960, the year of his birth! Thus it seems that Bono is not the record holder, he is the record, i.e. Bono is that original recording-setting B.M..

In Zürich, the EFSMI society leader, who has acted suspiciously since the initial claim of the man, explains that he took the world's biggest B.M. in 1960 and was so proud, he raised it as his own. With the passage of time, the poo grew into Bono. This helps us to understand why Bono is ashamed and upset at being referred to as "number two" and will go to any length to prove that he is number one. As all of this comes out into the open, Bono becomes inconsolable until his dad offers him his teat to comfort him. In the mean time, the man, who was convinced by his friends to train to set a new record by eating exclusively at P.F. Changs, takes a B.M. that is so grand, he is lifted 10 feet in the air and reclaims the record. This feat is viewed as so important and so spectacular, the man is awarded an Emmy.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Vive la Différence

"With the vanilla batter in the cake pan, place a few spoonfuls of the chocolate batter on top. Using the end of a wooden spoon, gently draw swirls through the batter to marbleize it. Don't overmix or you won't have that wonderful swirled look to the finished cake."

I've grown concerned lately that we have over-stirred the batter, ignoring the instructions and warning on the back of the box. The result is that the desired colorful and unique effect has been replaced instead with a homogenized, bland, and unappealing form. A warning must be sounded to embrace the beautiful uniqueness that each of us possesses. The true joys of life are the different colors and textures and cultures and palettes and sensory experiences. If everyone is cut out of the same mold, hewn from the same tree, only a single note will be heard to what should be a great and varied symphony.

Several years ago at an Open House gathering in our department, one of the graduate students from India volunteered to perform a few traditional dances from her homeland. She wore a beautiful dress that her family had given to her when she came to the United States that befitted the scene perfectly. She took such pride in her presentation and music and choreography and storytelling. Ultimately, she gave us a cultural gift that we would never have received if we had mixed the batter too many times. Vive la différence.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fun with Meat

Don't get me wrong, I am all for the entrepreneurial spirit. Clever people, coming up with intriguing, fresh, and useful ideas and/or gadgets that they can put into the marketplace, make a buck or two, and finally be able to afford a big american car with tail fins. I am sure, however, that the tone of today's blog might appear to belie my opening statement. However, if you think about my words, I mean really rub them all over the roof of your mouth, I am certain that you will ultimately agree with me, unless you are some sort of bed-wetting anarchist.

Let me get into what set me off. I was listening to the radio the other day on my way into work and came across a man who was putting his financial future on the line for what may be the stupidest idea ever dreamed up by man, or maybe more appropriately, the stupidest idea ever dreamed up by a man. Straight from his web site I quote:

Meat Cards: Business cards made from meat and lasers!

Their web site goes on to claim that "unlike other business cards, meat cards will retain value after the econpocalypse. Hoard and barter your calorie-rich, life-sustaining cards" and "their deliciousness cannot be contained by a Rolodex". When it was pointed out on the air that the whole point of business cards is to have some sort of lasting contact information for future reference, the plucky inventor shrugged this off. He stated (in a rather laid back manner) that nobody keeps standard business cards anyway, at least with a meat card, they will have something to remember you by, err, unless they eat your information as a snack. My friends, is this the sort of idea for which people should be able to profit? If this is a meat-tastic success, what's next? Tax forms printed on bread? Furniture made from pizza? Sponsorship labels on racing cars? Please, for the sake of all of our collective sanity, do not get the itch for this sort of product by specifically avoiding the meat cards website.

Monday, August 10, 2009

New Rule

My young daughter loves to make games up during our play time together. What can start as a simple way to pass the time, such as hitting a balloon back and forth as we sit on the couch, can quickly turn into a major event with boundary markers, an elaborate scoring system, and a detailed set of rules written in such a manner as to make a lawyer proud. As I master the new activity and start to dominate, invariably my little one will call out "New rule" and my advantage is quickly neutralized. In the pool the other day, we were hitting a beach ball back and forth, and a sort of modified volley ball game developed. In the span of about 2 minutes, she called out "New rule" about half a dozen times. Of course this got me thinking about applications to the real world. What if we had the ability to call out "New rule" whenever we sensed that we did not have an advantage or whenever the tide started to turn against us? Can't you just picture how delicious this would be?

Scene 1: We are in an assignment meeting at work with our co-workers and boss. Your boss is just about to hand you the big labor-intensive task that brings with it no possibility of glory or recognition. All you have to do is called out "New rule - I cannot be given work that I don't want to do." Problem solved.

Scene 2: Dinner at the family table. Your ogre-ish parents are trying to force you to consume the vile weed known as brocolli. Threats abound about no dessert and no T.V.. All you have to do is bellow "New rule - I don't have to eat any sketchy looking, shrub-like vegetables." Problem solved.

Scene 3: You're a new crew person on the starship Enterprise. You are asked to beam down to the planet with the captain and they hand you a red tunic for the trip. All you need to do is declare "New rule - I get to wear the blue shirt." Poof, problem solved.

Oh what fun! What a great way to avoid the little and the big problems in life. What a way to ensure that we get what we want and that nothing bad or undesireable ever happens to us. Trouble is though, this is not reality. This can only happen in a child's play world. The truth is, and I think most would ultimately agree with me, that the positives cannot be tasted without the negatives to provide a reference. The fruit eaten every day is not as sweet and appreciated as that eaten only on occasion. The hard reality of life is that we must lose from time to time so that we can ultimately enjoy the victory.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Not Responsible!

Folks, how about you simply stand up and admit when you are at fault? How about you then take all necessary steps to make things right? This is the only way for us to move forward as a civilization, to grow and mature to the level that we humans should naturally strive to reach. Too many people believe that no matter what chaos, pain, damage, or ruin they cause, they should be immune from penalty or rebuke. Taking personal responsibility for our mistakes, being held accountable for circumstances that we caused, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is such a rare occurrence these days, that we are totally shocked and awed when someone actually does the right thing. A prime example of my point today occurred back in 1989 when the Exxon oil tanker Valdez hit a reef and spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William's Sound. The evidence showed that the company was at fault for destroying an entire ecosystem in what is considered the largest ecological disaster in the history of the United States. Instead of stepping up and taking responsibility when quick action was essential to minimize damage to the area, the company tried to distance itself from their mistake. They only provided funds to help with the clean up after a lengthy period of litigation. Their behavior was the epitome of conceit, evasion, dishonesty, lack of morals, and irresponsibility. Today's rant came to me as I was following behind a dump truck. Painted on the tail gate in big letters was the statement "Not responsible for damage caused by items ejected from this truck". Well I guess it must be the case because they painted such nice letters on their vehicle. Man, people need to step up and assume responsibility for the problems that they cause.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Race in America III

Based on a recent story reported in the news, I found myself doing a bit of self exploration concerning racism. Obviously this is a very emotional and personal issue with many people, both the protagonists and the antagonists. Opinions and feelings run deep. I wanted to spend some time wading in with a few thoughts of my own.

We are not born with these feelings or beliefs, but the racial indoctrination and divide starts young in our upbringing. A friend and I went to a wedding some years ago and arrived at the neighborhood church a bit early. We sat on the steps of a house across the street and were chatting to pass the time. Two young black children walked passed us. They were probably about 6 or 8 years old. We said hello to them as they passed and they nodded their heads. Once they went around the corner and out of sight, they began yelling "Honky, honky, honky". At the time it made me laugh. Now I shutter to think how these innocent minds are polluted and turned at such a young age. It makes me sad and makes me worry about our future and the direction that we are headed in.

Now I must own up. I myself am not immune to racist thoughts. I grew up in a household where racism lived. Any voice against it was met with ridicule and intolerance and absurd rationalizations. Try as I might to distance myself from this sickness, I look at non-caucasions with suspicion more often than I would like. This negativity is not even at a conscious level, and when it surfaces I must actively work to rebuke myself and acknowledge the truth. Sometimes I wonder if we throw out racist words because we know that they will most effectively wound others; perhaps we need to feel better about ourselves or the group that we are in, and we just repeat the consciousness of the collective to which we belong. There are, I am sure, many reasons why we harbor such hateful words or hateful beliefs or hateful ideas. My views on the subject are naturally distorted and biased, and perhaps irrelevant, because of my race. However, I understand that there are no simple explanations or simple fixes. I also must be extremely cautious not to minimize the real problem or to dismiss the situation as overblown.

So, what can be done about the problem? I don't believe that the answer will come from pamphlets, or litigation, or government mandates, or educational television. Sadly, my guess is that the only solution is the passage of time. With each new generation, racism in our society seems to diminish, to slowly dissipate. I can only hope that over the years this trend will continue, that our world will develop to go well beyond just mere tolerance, beyond mere acceptance, to a full embrace of all people, whatever their race.

(Part 3 of a 3 part series)

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Race in America II

Based on a recent story reported in the news, I found myself doing a bit of self exploration concerning racism. Obviously this is a very emotional and personal issue with many people, both the protagonists and the antagonists. Opinions and feelings run deep. I wanted to spend some time wading in with a few thoughts of my own.

It seems to me that too many people are far too quick to raise the racism flag. They believe that behind every uttered word that they disagree with, even to the slightest degree, stands a raving, rabid racist. I suspect that many people who feel held back, or haven't been successful, or haven't achieved their goals, are looking for someone else to blame for their lot in life. In some cases, racism may have played a role, but in many others, it had absolutely zero impact in their current situations. In short, I think people too often use racism as a protective shield from reality. The problem is that when it happens to one person in one particular situation, many others grab hold and go along for the ride. It wasn't my fault. It wasn't my doing. I am not responsible. Those other people are just prejudiced against me. Maybe my explanation has some merit, but I am reluctant to say this is the whole story.

I have known many people over the years who seemed to be genuinely good and decent people but who held that they were superior because of their race. I have had some of these folks try to argue that the ideas behind a stereotype are basically accurate, otherwise there wouldn't be a stereotype.
  • All jews are cheap;
  • All black people are illiterate criminals;
  • All muslims are terrorists;
  • All hispanics are gang members;
  • All italians are mafia hoodlums;
  • All asians are bad drivers.
So, where do we go from here?

(Part 2 of a 3 part series)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Race in America I

Based on a recent story reported in the news, I found myself doing a bit of self exploration concerning racism. Obviously this is a very emotional and personal issue with many people, both the protagonists and the antagonists. Opinions and feelings run deep. I wanted to spend some time wading in with a few thoughts of my own.

In an episode that repeats itself time and again, a celebrity or politician or public figure makes a blatantly racist statement and when that statement surfaces in public, they then immediately act to distance themselves from their own words. Typically the first level of defense is the trite explanation designed to deflect any spotlight of negativity, "I am not a racist". Many examples can be given.

Justin Barrett (police officer) : Referred to a black Harvard University professor as a "banana-eating jungle monkey" followed by "I am not a racist. I did not intend any racial bigotry, harm or prejudice in my words.".

Mel Gibson (actor) : During a DUI arrest he said to the officer "F**king Jews ... Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?". Apologies and excuses ensued.

Michael Richards (actor) : Talking to a black man that heckled him "Shut up! 50 years ago we'd have you upside down with a f**cking fork up your ass." Followed by "I'm not a racist, that's what so insane about this."

So, where do we go from here?

(Part 1 of a 3 part series)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Grind My Gears VI

I was working in the yard the other day, taking care of business as it were. I was keeping to myself, not hurting anyone. It was peaceful and quiet, with a nice breeze coming, I believe, out of the northwest. The dew point was rising and my moon was rising in the house of Jupiter. It was a peaceful moment right out of a freakin' Hallmark card. It didn't last. Out of nowhere the attack began. The frustrating thing is that I didn't know what was happening until it was too late. An angry swarm of mosquitos came at me and devowered my succulent ankles. The itching was off-the-charts intense. I screamed out in my pain and my frustration. I hopped around scratching and grumbling like some sort of wack-job. Oh I am sure that the neighbors loved this scence and will be telling their grandchildren about it. Mosquitos and bugs in general really grind my gears. Who gave them the right to suck the blood right out of my body, right out of my body? Nasty, horrible, little critters. I seem to remember that when I was a youngin' that these wretching parasites would at least buzz past your ear first or dance around on your forearm like a dog spinning in circles several times before it finally settles down for a nap. This was a courtesy so that you could swat them flat before they could do their damage. My how times have changed. I am feasted on like a Christmas goose and I neither hear these wee beasties nor see them. Somehow they have changed up their attack strategies. Perhaps they have been studying the approaches and tactics of the great generals like Dwight Eisenhower, Douglas MacArthur, George Patton, and Bea Arthur. Well, two can play at that game my friend. Perhaps I will coat my body with an inch-thick layer of shellack - let's see the enemy penetrate that defense. Maybe I will only go outside armed with a flame thrower - burn baby burn. Alas, perhaps I will go find the bottle of calamine lotion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sound of Your Voice

I was having a rough day. Pressure building up on an assignment at work. Unexpected bills arriving in the mail. The deafening sound of emptiness echoing throughout the house was building. I was deflating quickly. The confining fog of the usual was starting to settle in around me. On the coffee table, my phone sat mocking me in its silence. Dang, not another evening like this. I didn't have the energy or the willpower to consider even making dinner or turning on the TV. It was then that the silence and the routine was unexpectedly broken - broken by a sound that I had to think about for a moment. The playful tune, accompanied by a flashing light, betrayed an incoming call on my phone. I jumped to pick it up before the caller changed their mind or figured that I was not home. Recognizing the number on the caller I.D. I answered and heard the giggly squeal of my little one. "Daddy! I was thinking of you today." Oh how that brief conversation turned my evening around. Suddenly, I was smiling and laughing and alive. The troubles of the day quickly melted away into the aether and were replaced by excited planning of what adventures we would go on tomorrow. As I hung up the phone, I was totally renewed. I made dinner, did some yard work, and even tidied the house up a bit before going to exercise. Wow, the power of love and the sound of your voice.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Hare Cut

So cunning, so industrious, so clever. Why spend two when you only have to spend one? A single lettuce-nibbling voice cries out, if only briefly, and is then silent forever. The surrounding trees reflect in a small pool of crimson. Is this how you want it to be? Is this what you really want? ... Wait, is that I snicker I just heard out there, a stifled te-hee, when I am trying to develop some pathos? That my friend is exactly why this continues to happen, month after month. I just hope that you can live with yourself.