Monday, December 06, 2010

I have a theory...

There are actually 8 theories about leaders and leadership according to Kendra Cherry, but I'm going to focus on these three:

1. Great Man theory- Great leaders are born, not made.... They're heroic, mythic, and destined to rise to leadership when needed.

2. Trait Theory- People inherit certain qualities and traits that make them better suited for leadership.

3. Behavioral theory- Belief that great leaders are made, not born. People can learn to become leaders through teaching and observation.

That's nice.

Over the years I've given a lot of thought to the Great Man theory, and the Alexander the Great's and King Arthur's of history, legend and lore, and one thing that surrounds every "great man" story is that:

1. he believed himself to be destined for greatness, and

2. others around him believed it too.

There is no mystical book that gives us a list of great men that we're supposed to believe in and rally behind... yet we make leaders to follow, including sports heroes like Michael Jordan and pop stars like Michael Jackson. Why? Because someone else believed in them first.

Maybe it started with their parents, then they believed in themselves, and later they grew their talent so big until others couldn't help but notice, but no great person was truly picked out from nothing and told they were now great... they began with some trait, some talent that caught the attention of another.

That seems to go hand in hand with trait theory... but I don't believe that traits are inherited -- that seems predestined -- but rather that they are learned and honed into skills. And that becomes the behavior theory... they learn to become leaders. In many ways, and depending on how it's interpreted, these three theories are just redundant spins on the same basic principle: that leaders lead.

Guess what that means for those that aren't leaders?

It means you're following.

Choose your leaders well.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Cultural individualism and hand-picking traditions

Perhaps you've heard about the 10 year old that recently gave birth in Spain. If not, check out the link, or take in on faith when I tell you that she is Roma (Romanian gypsy), the father was 13, and they are no longer together.

In the Roma tradition, young women are "married off" to slightly older young men as soon as they hit puberty. Although the practice is not recognized nor condoned by the government, it is still an active cultural tradition for the roughly 1.5 million Roma.

People in Spain (and on facebook) are outraged that this ten year old gave birth. They are outraged that her mother is happy for her. Well, opinions are free and we can all have several if we like.

Some of the cultural traditions that Americans enjoy as a society include: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Cinco de Mayo, Black History Month, Breast Cancer Awareness month (and purchases of pink products), the 4th of July, baseball, football, and Mom's Apple Pie. Some less iconic cultural traditions include getting drunk on a 21st birthday, getting a driver's license at 16 (or 18 in some states), the high school prom, elaborate weddings with brides in virginal white dresses, regardless of whether or not they're actually virgins, frat parties, bachelor parties, and cars reflecting status. Some of those traditions don't really make a lot of sense -- such as getting slobbering drunk on a 21st birthday -- but it's a rite of passage in our culture, and who can tell us differently? No one, in part because we would pitch a hissy fit if anyone tried. The same goes for white wedding dresses. Have you ever heard a bride say "I can't wear white because I'm not a virgin!" Nope, although you might hear a very adamant and vocal defense of wearing white even though she bears little resemblance to Queen Victoria when the queen wore white. It's just one more detail that is part of our current culture that we cling to.

I'm not advocating ten year olds having sex and giving birth. But I am stating that if you accept cultural individualism then you need to accept all cultures, whether you agree with them or not. This ten year old was not raped, had consensual sex with someone close to her age, and was acting within the bounds of her culture and culture identity. Who are we to get outraged because we don't like those traditions! Maybe some Europeans think our mandated drinking age is ridiculous and that we should ditch the arbitrary age of 21, so that we might enjoy less drunk driving and less drunkenness in general. (They would have a point worth discussing, too). But before I take off on tangents about Prohibition and alcohol in this country, let's get back to the point.

Standing on a pedestal does not secure one's position nor superiority; the pedestal can be knocked out from underneath, or one can simply be knocked off.

Judging another culture for a human rights violation? That's understandable and worth investigating. Condemning one for traditions you don't agree with? That's a double-edged sword that can cut both ways. Next time you celebrate your traditions, ask yourself how you would feel if your neighbor told you you were wrong and tried to forcibly have your practices stopped.

Cultural individualism = what is right for a culture is indisputably right for that culture.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Trout a la Penzoil

Who loves fishing? Who loves tinkering with their car in the backyard? Who loves Jiffy Lube so they don't have to change their own oil? Gimme a hoo-yeah!

Economic rationalism believes that if we divvied up the land and gave everyone an equal stake in it, that they'd take care of the land and its resources because they've be personally vested. Lemme ask you, is your neighbor as interested in taking care of his front yard (or side, or backyard) as you are? If the answer is "no ma'am, my neighbor don't take care of nuthin'!" then please be patient with me while we talk a little about the Utopia economic rationalists live in.

Economic rationalism assumes too much in the way of individual persons accepting adequate responsibility for the land. Some people have standards that would be considered "sub par" and their interests in the land may or may not include antifreeze and old engine oil seeping into the soil after a Saturday spent in the backyard several months ago.

In fact, I know a mechanic that runs his business out of his home, and all his work surfaces are dirt, and there is no collection practice in place for various car lubricants that drip or spill out of the vehicles he works on. He also lives just up the hill from an all-weather creek that is used to water horses downstream, and eventually feeds into a major fishing river. Yummy yummy, trout with a touch of Penzoil. Now, he's a nice man, and he's very smart about how an engine works, but he may not know so much about how ecosystems work, and he may not care. It costs money to collect all those fluids and tote them twenty miles into the nearest town to dispose of them properly, and pay someone to dispose of them for him at that; this is where economy and ecology are at odds. It's hard to wanna do something good for the fish down the river when it directly affects how much milk a person has in their fridge, or whether or not they can pay the electric bill and have a fridge at all!

Now, I wanna make a statement here about Earth. It's the Axiom*, folks. We can't send a shuttle to Mars for more coal or clean water. Whatever is on this planet is all we've got. When it's gone, it's gone. The idea, therefore, is to find a way to work with the Earth, not against it, for survival and thriving of us all -- humans, animals, and plants alike. We even need insects; they're part of the ecosystem. I'm okay with killer bees staying in their native environments, though. No need spreading them around outside their indigenous zones....

I'm not the greenest person on the planet. I drive a car that runs on fossil fuels. I light my home with CFL's and run the AC like my comfort is all that matters to me. I try to avoid using paper for anything, I reuse shopping bags, and I try not to purchase something with the intent of throwing it away, with the exception of stuff like toilet paper. I like my vegetables with a side of chicken or cow, and I understand that there is a need for farm-raised meats and a place for leather goods. I like my seal-skinned boots; they keep my feet warm and dry in the snow. I'm what Ed Begley Jr. would consider a travesty to conservation everywhere, but Ted Nugent and I could agree on a thing or two.

I do "get it" though. I don't necessarily agree with the melodramatic "doom and gloom" approach to conservation and the finite resources of the environment, but I do get it. We need to realize that we are part of the ecosystem, not in control of it. Ask any natural disaster survivor how much control they had at the moment they went through that disaster, and that's us folks, all of us, every day. We can no more control Mother Nature than we can understand where she'll rage next. But we can learn to accept that we are a part of her, and we can work with her. Course, that's something everyone is gonna have to decide for themselves. We can't mandate or legislate giving a damn into anyone. But maybe if we chose to give a damn, we could minimize legislation, and find something that works more practically than economic rationalism.

*the space ship in Disney's WALL-E

Monday, June 07, 2010

Results may vary

Sometimes it doesn't pay to get out of bed. Sometimes, it pays to stay in bed. Just think, you too can be your own boss of your self-generating web site that auto ships your products to your customers! You too can receive checks in the thousands every single Friday!! Just pay $2.95* (*recurring billing is $49.95 a month after 14 days) and you'll have access to all the tools you need, plus 24/7 customer support that even builds your website for you! Get your own check just like I did!

Oh please. If it actually worked like that -- if the "results [didn't] vary" -- then no one would go to work at the ole nine-to-five.

Sometimes I wish I had a time machine. I'd like to know what the world was like pre-McDonald's. How did society deal with the grind of patience, before the drive-thru, before fast-food, when families cooked meals from scratch instead of out of boxes and cans, when instant gratification wasn't so instant. When microwaves weren't kitchen staples.

Our living history gets older every day. People who remember the Great Depression, remember WWII, remember JFK and MLK and the civil rights' movement of the 60's... remember McCarthyism and the Cold War and the Bay of Pigs... they're all getting older and that history is slipping away from the oral tradition into the pigeon hole of written tradition. Myself, I have no grandparents left to tell me stories; I lost them all before I was old enough to appreciate them. And it seems that we're so consumed by the pop culture of the moment that by and large, those stories aren't getting told like they once were. Perhaps I'm jaded in this opinion, but that's to be expected** (**see blog title).

I think it would be incredibly interesting and poignant if a grandparent somewhere created a series of you tube postings telling stories. Stories about outhouses and the use of a JC Penney catalog in the mid-twentieth-century Midwest. Stories about growing cotton and what "fair to middlin'" really means. Stories about how their family got through the Great Depression. Of course, results would vary, but then, that's the point! To record for history more than the text books ever will, to talk about things that were never interesting enough to get written about in newspapers, to give that slice of life that means something when front-porch sitting and drinking tea. To pass on life lessons in the oral tradition.

Nostalgia is in many ways the greatest history we have, with 20/20 vision and wisdom and romanticism that nothing else can touch or replicate. The real color of life is in the details, and the details are often opinionated. No reporter can ever accurately give us the color of life, as they're trying too hard to be objective to the point of monochromatic grey. No flavor, no color. "Just the facts, ma'am." No, I want the color, the flavor, the aromas, the sights, the feel of history. I want what only our eldest generation can give to the rest of us, and moreover, I want it to be desired by us all. Cue the coca-cola jingle "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony...."

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Aiiiyyaaareeeeevaaaah! Or, "Let's dance!"

The border issue between the U.S. and Mexico is a hot debate, particularly in places like California and Arizona right now. So I did some brainstorming, and have come up with as viable solution as anyone has offered about handling the issue:

Perhaps the problem is not any more difficult that "party envy" or "fiesta envy" if you prefer. If it's one thing we Americans have learned how to do, it's throw a good party. From tailgating to fraternity parties to Mardi Gras, we know how to really live it up. I think, in part, that's why Cinco de Mayo is so celebrated here; for one, it's another excuse to drink and have fun, and secondly, it's how we show other cultures we appreciate their customs -- by adopting* them and making them our own (*read "stealing" if you prefer). But even if you think we hi-jacked Cinco de Mayo, at least we kept the name, which gives credit back to Mexico. And Ford has recently reintroduced the Fiesta, so isn't that another great American display of brotherhood? But I digress....

Let's take the party back to Mexico! Not just any party, either, one that really lends itself to supporting economic and cultural expansion. Let's open a string of strip clubs!

Why strip clubs? Well, let's look at two of the (stereo)typical types of strippers: drug users and young women/mothers trying to pay their way through college to get better educations. As for the drug users, well, we're just taking the demands back to the supply. Think of all the issues that will be solved if Mexican drug lords don't have to worry nearly as much about all that interstate/international commerce. Not to mention, prices can be cut or profits can be increased by simply removing some of the travel currently involved. Moving on.

As for the women who are dancing for their education, I say we partner these strip clubs with U.S. and Mexican universities, where these women (and men, if you want to expand as such) can work as exchange students, stripping for their schooling, but also immersing themselves in the Mexican culture and language. Think of it as supporting the arts and education at the same time.

Now this all may seem a little cheesy, but let's think outside the box. With these new strip clubs, we create jobs in Mexico such as bouncers, DJ's, bartenders, cocktail waitresses/waiters, and club management openings. With bouncing and bartending, opportunities for education open up, including trade schools related to both jobs. That would produce a demand for educators in bartending and in crowd control/self defense. The increase in bouncers alone could stimulate entertainment sales, with everyone purchasing a Mexican dubbed version of "Road House" to learn how to be Swayze cool on the job! Not to mention that with the demand for house music and DJ's comes the opportunity to give play to an untold number of currently popular and yet to be "found" musicians, with no preference to nationality! Can you imagine the artistic expansion of salsa into a stripper routine? Well, try for a moment. It's like breaking down a cultural Berlin Wall! (ok, not really). But with all this expansion in entertainment, there will be a need for an increase in public works and government employees (trash removal, police -- don't get me started on the current system, and this is my Utopia here), all night diners would have a place, thus creating a new demand for Denny's, IHOP, or something else in their place. That means cooks' jobs, waitress jobs... pretty soon Mexico starts looking like downtown L.A. or the Vegas strip, depending on how it's all planned out, and then WHAM! no one cares about the border, because the party is in full swing in Mexico and it's Fiesta all the time! and suddenly Arizona goes back to making headlines for golf courses and Maricopa County and North America collectively drinks a margarita and says "thanks for the great advice!"

**This is meant to be read tongue-in-cheek for all those that do not recognize my brilliance, and is meant to cause laughter in everyone else. If neither of these options fits you, oh well.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Teaching lessons revisited

"The English did to us what we did to the Indians, and the Americans did to the English what the English did to us. I demanded revenge for everyone. I saw cities burning, I saw movies falling into blackness. I saw the maize on fire. I saw the Jesuits punished. I saw the trees taking back the long-house roofs. I saw the shy deer murdering to get their dresses back. I saw the Indians punished. I saw chaos eat the gold roof of Parliament. I saw water dissolve the hoofs of drinking animals. I saw the bonfires covered with urine, and the gas stations swallowed up entire, highway after highway falling into the wild swamps."

--Cohen, Leonard, 1966. Beautiful Losers. Pg. 187

I did to my friend what my enemy did to me, and her best friend did it to her. We all wanted revenge, none of us deserved retribution, but we sought it because we were angry. We were angry because we were insecure, selfish, full of pride and envy. We were full of pride and envy because we were immature and didn't know any better, hadn't been taught any better. We weren't taught any better because the knowledge was lost in translation; our parents didn't listen, or had forgotten, or their parents didn't know.

We pass on the history we learn, the history we memorize, remember, care about. We ignore the rest. We pretend it doesn't pertain to us because culturally or religiously it cannot apply to our system of beliefs. We pretend it doesn't affect us because we weren't directly affected by the missing bits. We pretend we are wiser for forgetting or ignoring what we didn't care about. We lie, shuffling our feet, and try to excuse our ignorance as simply incomplete education, because we "haven't gotten around to learning that yet" or "didn't have very good teachers."

Poor us. Poor you; poor me. Full of excuses and bloated on ignorance, forgetful and feigning amnesia, we blunder through daily life, making up stories as to why we parent the way we do, why we keep the prejudices we have, why we like or dislike an ideology, a political platform, a geographical region. Do we even tell ourselves -- in our deepest darkest nights -- what our rawest truths are, or do we cling to our illusions like Linus to his blanket?

Monday, May 17, 2010

European mirrors

I just finished writing a research paper about the unification of Eastern and Western European countries since the fall of the Berlin Wall. I will not bore you with the 10 pages of quotes from 7 authoritative sources, but I will share some of my own observations by extrapolation.

For starters, the same obstacles that face the EU since its current configuration beginning in 1992 are the same obstacles that have faced all of us -- persons and countries alike -- since the beginning of time: money and power. In the case of the Eastern European countries, I mean the financial instability of their new post-soviet independence, and the political power that those fledgling countries strove to build out of the ashes of their former U.S.S.R.-military-backed selves.

In short, one of the largest problems was that the dream of having the democratic advantages of the Western European countries was far less complicated than transforming that dream into reality.

The Western European countries, for their part, were a bit skeptical to quickly admit the Eastern ones into the EU, and take responsibility for the financial ramifications of the fledgling nations. Can you blame them? Think about the current debate over Puerto Rico becoming the 51st state, if you need a current reference.

But back to Europe. Ideally, the fall of the Berlin Wall represented hope for all of Europe to be united as one continent, one smorgasbord of peoples, one allied group of nations. Realistically, there were not only financial obstacles to overcome with the Eastern countries disparity troubles, but also political corruption in the new countries, where emergent governments were still rising in their own yeast. Trust had to be built -- trust in one's own country, trust in neighboring countries, trust in the EU... trust everywhere! Trade had to be established, commerce had to begin and then begin making a profit. No longer was the statist government going to do it all for you, so there were even some bootstraps that had to be pulled up.

Nostalgia set in. "Oh, for the good ole days when the government just told us what to do and we did it." Now it's "work work work, and there's no guarantee at the end of the day."

Ah, capitalism, how comfortable you are to me. Risk and reward, ventures gained, ventures lost; opportunity abounds regardless. But not everyone thinks as I do, which is fortunate, because then the choir would be singing and I'd just sit down from my pulpit bored with the sound of my own voice.

So these fledgling countries finally got the chance to graze in that greener pasture of the Western European countries that they had so longed to graze in and found out that it takes work to move from one patch of grass to the next. They floundered, they scraped by, they fought with themselves, they argued with the EU, they whined, they picked themselves up, they cried blood and shed their own skin and they redefined themselves in spite of, if not because of themselves. Hoorah! Possibility can begin to become probability and even fact. History evolves before our very eyes, and fiercely we charge into the future.

So what? So what! You tell me. There is a mirror before you. Do you dare look at it?

Monday, May 03, 2010


Comments I've been privvy to recently: "the world would be a much better place if everyone was color blind," "it breaks my heart seeing all the innocent animals that are washing up dead or covered in oil along the gulf coast" (referring to the recent oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico), and "[she] has a low tolerance for scripted puns and allegedly witty repartee from news anchors." I'd like to comment on that last one only because I sympathize, and could have quite a bit of fun with that one, but it will have to wait.

Now, I've opined extensively on racial arguments, including an anthropological stance that all humans evolved from Africa and are all one race. And it is heart breaking to see man err so gravely that innocent duckies suffer. Forget the fact that 5,000 barrels of crude oil are pouring into the gulf because of complications in sealing off a broken pipeline, forget the economic implications of not only the loss of the crude, the loss of the rig, but also the side effect to the Obama administration and their approach to future drilling. For now, let's just forget that anything has any importance beyond how we feel about the devastation to the innocent wildlife.

Would we feel any better if it were man-eating tigers and killer grisly bears covered in oil? Would we sleep better at night if the destruction eradicated any of the millions of unwanted nutria rats in Louisiana?

I don't think so. I think it's nothing more than pseudo-political dribble meant to make people look far more compassionate than they are at their hearts. Honestly, how many of us want to load up our cars, drive to the coast, forgo our jobs, our families, our mortgage payments, and go volunteer all our efforts to bathe and save every single oil-soaked animal we can find? That's right, virtually none of us want to do that. Some of us soothe our wounded hearts by donating money to organizations that help out. Others bake cookies, let the kids sell them for 50 cents a piece, and mail the money to Red Cross. Some of us simply go about our lives while saying things like "poor innocent creatures... they didn't do anything to anybody."

I feel the same way about the race card. "It would be better if the world were color blind." Really? So if we just couldn't see the changes in pigmentation of the skin, then we'd all get along? Would monochromatic greyscale actually accomplish that? No, it wouldn't. The eye is too highly sensitive to see subtle changes in skin tone and shade for it to be that simple. And really, color blindness, per se, is not the problem. The problem is that once again, people need something to unite and divide them by. How do you know that you have friends if you have no enemies?, one might philosophize. We are naturally divided by family, by neighborhood, by city, state, country. We are divided by beliefs, cultural norms, by religious practices, celebrations, festivals, by burial traditions, wedding traditions. We are divided by child-rearing approaches, by the side of the street we drive on, and by the colors in our flags. We are divided by damned near everything you can mention, and we are united only by sharing interests in some of the aforementioned divisors.

It has nothing to do with color of the skin. It has to do with culture.

If we sit around the camp fire singing Kumbahyah and other such songs, then all we did was breathe carbon dioxide into the trees and pat ourselves on the back for giving a damn about something. Well, at least there's no accountability in feeling bad for innocent animals and wanting a colorblind world. There's only accountability in doing something about it.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Holy Roman Church, Batman!

Recently someone said to me that they believed that of all the churches, that the Roman Catholic Church would not have need to standardize itself in order to safeguard themselves against a downturn in religious interest.

Obviously they don't know me very well.

Seriously? The Roman Catholic Church? The very same church that took the practice of sprinkling (as opposed to immersion baptism) from the zealousness of Constantine? The very same church that promoted the Holy Roman Crusades in an effort to spread Christianity by killing off those that wouldn't convert to it? The same church that uses iconography as a religion unto itself -- what with putting The Blessed Virgin Mary up there between us poor sinners and God, instead of letting us talk to God Himself. Please, let me stop now, before I continue to go on and mention pagan rituals taken from various solstices, equinoxes, rituals and celebrations -- including Ishtar -- and before I go on a soap box rant about saints and martyrdom and the Roman Catholic Church owning more land, titles, money, and gold than any other entity on the planet. Not to mention its extensive library of works kept so closely guarded that even most priests in the church never get access to such a body of literature.

And lets not forget the selecting of the Canons, and thus the setting aside of some "biblical" works, because they weren't holy enough, or something, that resulted in the Gnostic bible. And there was that Protestant business, when an entire faction broke off, rebelled, and started a new system of worshiping God, because the Catholic way was offensive to that many people. And then there's the argument that it's really the Catholic Church at the original complaint with the whole "church and state" argument. Sure, the Catholic Church is obviously so pure an entity as to need not bother with wondering for its own survival. Surely the rest of the heathen of the earth will simply catch fire and burn up if they attempt to overthrow such a righteous institution.

If you are Catholic, dear reader, then let any offense you take to this post only anger you into researching my claims. Of course, don't ask your priest... that's not researching anything, that's being too lazy and too spoon-fed to bother to do your homework. If you're amused, as I am, as to the claim of the infallibility of the Catholic church, then laugh with me, and understand that the laughter is empty so long as people are still so undereducated as to not know our own world history.

One day we will see hot dog vendors selling high school and undergraduate degrees at sporting events. You wait and see. "Get your ice cold bachelors in world religions right here!" "How much?" "Five dollas!" "Mmm, too rich for my blood. You got a hot dog instead?"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

the way we were

Growing up as a child of the 80's, I am familiar with excess, luxury as commonplace, and the outdated idea that if you just put in 40 years with the same company, you can retire with a gold watch and a nice pension.

The beginning of the 20th century wasn't so spoiled as the end was.

It wasn't until the 20th century that a pension or a retirement age even existed. "In 1881, 3/4 of men in Britain over 65 were still working. It was only in 1898 that the British civil service began to enforce a retirement age*." The average life span changed dramatically in a short amount of time as well. "For a French person born in 1820... the average life expectancy was 40; in 1900 is was 47, and in 1992, 77.... The prospect of a sustained span of life in retirement also focused attention on pensions and savings. Out of this attention, government-backed pension and insurance plans came into being*."

Another fun fact is that unskilled labor is not a new issue. In short, people went where the jobs were, and before WWI, there was much demographic shifting in Europe as persons and families moved from country to country in search of work, and before immigration laws really cut out much of that movement. "Migrants tended to move into low-paid unskilled jobs, often ones which locals no longer wished to perform*." I know I remember hearing something quite similar to that about United Stated agriculture jobs....

In my relatively short lifetime, I've heard a lot of whining about not being able to find a good job, not being able to have the job security to earn a pension, not having enough life insurance, not having enough leisure time, having to work too many years to be able to retire... it seems that someone is available to whine about any and everything.

A mere one hundred years ago, pensions were virtually non-existent, insurance plans unheard of, retirement ages didn't exist -- you merely worked till you died. And on top of all of that, if you didn't save your own money, then you had no savings, simple as that.

Today, we suckle at the government teat for everything, complain it's not enough, and bitch that the government is too involved in our personal lives and wallets. Well, what is it? What it is, is that we are spoiled. We are the fatted cow, ready for the slaughter; too drunk on our own excess to notice that we haven't learned from our past, don't even know our history!, and are blindly willing to follow the best sounding politicians down whatever road they lead us. How hard is it to take charge of one's own financial responsibilities and hold no other accountable for one's own life? Hard, apparently. For all the higher education we seek, we don't bother to learn basic fundamentals of accounting -- where you spend less than you earn, and put some back into savings for a rainy day and retirement.

*James, H, 2003. Europe Reborn: a history, 1914-2000. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow, Essex. Pgs 31-35.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Returning with a Flourish

It's been a long time since I wrote here. Let me say now that it's not for a lack of things to say, rather it has been a question of focus as well as some forces beyond my control.

To that end, I'm part zombie now. More specifically, I've undergone a reconstructive surgery that put cadaver parts in me; apparently my own parts were too broken to be useful. At this moment, I'm in-between surgeries, while I await further zombie transformation into the person I've never been before. Wanna guess what I'm going to be for Halloween this year? You guessed it; I'm going as Bill Murray*.

For the last 8 months or so, I've watched the world whirl by with as much a keen eye as a blind one. There have been moments when I've wondered what we've gotten ourselves into and moments when I've known with a shudder. After some good conversation and imbibing with friends, what I really don't want to do is turn this blog into a political rant (very often, anyway). I'm at a place in my life where I can't say I believe that the 1st amendment protects the rights of any basic citizen to free speech, and my reason for coming to this conclusion is long and mostly boring. Since I'm not part of the free press and I'm not a politician, and since therefore my rights at free speech aren't really rights anymore, merely ghosts of privileges, I'm going to protect myself and keep my mouth shut instead of sporting my foot in it.

To the end that even the blogosphere is becoming an opportunity for the political monitoring of ideas and thoughts in awareness of the grass roots mindset, if not in any appreciation for it, I cry for the broken notions that once established this nation under an ideology that reminds me of Atlantis: completely missing and buried in time and under water.

Young girls in America have been raised for decades to believe in princesses and white knights -- at least for their wedding day -- and many have had those dreams smashed at the altar and other places. Me, I dream of the next Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock... of all the flawed and brilliant men brave enough to demand better than they had, and with the foresight to set up a model that was as scientifically brilliant as any experiment in that it was repeatable. What did we do with our social contract over the last 150 years to use our Constitution as metaphorical toilet paper? Even more importantly, who's figurative asses do we wipe with it now?

But I digress into a disappointment that bends towards anger. Politics is what it is, and I am no politician. Journalism is what it is, and I am no journalist. I am something (in my own mind) far better than both, because I've been bought by no man to spin any tale.

And so it is a jaded return indeed!

*An homage to Zombieland, starring Woody Harrelson and with a hilarious cameo appearance by Bill Murray.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The truth in the lie

For my birthday, a very intelligent and thoughtful friend of mine gave me the book Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine. I suggest it to anyone that wants to read a non-partisan opinion about our state of affairs.

Something that has been brought to my attention lately (not by Mr. Beck), is regarding finding the truth in the lie that has been told. In this case, the truth is that our country is not in trouble because of flat screen tv's, economic disparity between the classes, or any single politician. The truth is that the underlying reasons behind such effects (as to why people go into debt for material possessions, why some people strive to work hard while others beg for handouts and freebies, and why our leaders have taken America down a road we did not entrust them to go) have far more to do with where we are today than do the effects themselves. Finger-pointing doesn't fix anything, and it often doesn't even illuminate much if anything. It just avoids getting down to the real business of fixing what we broke.

We need to stop pointing fingers. Yes, taxation is strangling us (the taxpayers), debt spending is crippling us, our foreign policies can be compared to a circus, our leaders are selfish and do not often work for the benefit of anyone but themselves. The lie is that knowing all that stuff is enough to do anything about it. The truth is that we need to take a hard look at insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. It is insane for anyone currently holding office at the national level to get another crack at the job they're doing. Show me a congressman (or congresswoman, for you P.C. types) standing up and standing out trying to change the partisan bickering and actually writing bills that address the real needs of the taxpaying, law abiding citizens of this country, and I'll show you a con-artist.

When we quit voting for people's character, we quit voting for morality. When we made excuses for our elected leader's personal behavior, we quit holding ourselves to any standard. How can we expect someone to go in and "clean up Capital Hill" when we overlook the fact that they have been accused of tax evasion, racketeering, insider trading.... If we turn a blind eye to our elected leaders' criminal activities, how can we be angry at them for turning blind eyes to corruption around them? The truth is that we can't.

We tolerate things from our elected public servants that we would never tolerate from our kids or even our next door neighbors. Why? Because we believed the lie when we were told it didn't matter.

So the question becomes, what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Get over yourself Ma'am

Senator Boxer* would like it if you would remember her station in life. In short, she got offended that an Army Brigadier General called her "Ma'am" instead of "Senator". The article goes on to explain in brief the Army protocol for referring to pretty much everyone as "sir" or "ma'am".

So let's look at what "ma'am" means:
I'm not sure how anyone can see any of those definitions as anything other than respectful, but that's not good enough for Senator Boxer.

"You know, do me a favor," an irritated Boxer said. "Could say 'senator' instead of 'ma'am?'"

She didn't say "You know, General, do me a favor". She spoke to a military general as if he was some punk kid disrupting class, and she demanded that he show her respect through her title, because his actions and words weren't respectful enough.

I am offended at her littleness. This is arrogant and ridiculous, and all because "ma'am" does not defer enough authority to her. Please. One day she'll just be a has-been, once-was ex-senator, and then she'll just be a "ma'am" again, unless of course she's in the company of the general public, where she'll be lucky to get that.

I did enjoy Gen. Walsh's response to her request:

"Yes ma'am."

Hooah, Sir.

*read the whole article.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

All the things we carry

The average civilian carries around not only the trappings of their profession -- briefcase, laptop, purse, diaperbag -- but also the trappings of their mind -- worry, stress, guilt, shame. This is called "normalcy", despite a growing belief that such weights can be regulated in anti-depressants and vacations to Cabo or Maui. Each of us individually drags around our respective weights, and while what we carry is uniquely ours, it is by no means unique. Forgetting that we share the common bond of suffering is the most dangerous step towards apathy as well as cultural elitism. But today my focus is on the stuff we carry, not the effects of humping it around.

Tim O'Brien was a soldier and then an award-winning author. He wrote about his experiences as a soldier. His work of fiction "The Things They Carried" does a great job of putting a fine point on an often intangible thought process with regards to the Vietnam War. In the following excerpt, there is the burden on the reader of thinking about all that he says and all that he writes between the lines. Carry this around for a bit:

"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool-Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water. Together, these items weighed between 15 and 20 pounds....

What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty.

As a first lieutenant and platoon leader, Jimmy Cross carried a compass, maps, code books, binoculars, and a .45-caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds fully loaded. He carried a strobe light and the responsibility for the lives of his men....

As a medic, Rat Kiley carried a canvas satchel filled with morphine and plasma and malaria tablets and surgical tape and comic books and all the things a medic must carry, including M&M's for especially bad wounds, for a total weight of nearly 20 pounds....

As PFC's or Spec 4s, most of them were common grunts and carried the standard M-16 gas-operated assault ifle. The weapon weighed 7.5 pounds unloaded, 8.2 pounds with its fulll 20-round magazine.... The riflemen carried anywhere from 12 to 20 magazines, usually in cloth bandoliers, adding on another 8.4 pounds at minimum, 14 pounds at maximum....

In addition to the three standard weapons -- the M-60, the M-16, and the M-79 -- they carried whatever presented itself, or whatever seemed appropriate as a means of killing or staying alive.... They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

They carried USO stationery and pencils and pens. They carried Sterno, safety pins, trip flares, signal flares, spools of wire, razor blades, chewing tobacco.... Taking turns, they carried the big PRC-77 scrambler radio, which weighed 30 pounds with its battery. They shared the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infections.... They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery..... They carried the land itself -- Vietnam, the place, the soil -- a powdery orange-red dust that covered their boots and fatigues and faces.... They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous.... And for all the ambiguities of Vietnam, all the mysteries and unknowns, there was at least the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry."

Tim O'Brien carries the reader into his memories with this short story, and asks the reader to carry his burden with him for a few pages. Put down your Blackberries and your Mac's, push aside your mocha lattes and your Coldstone ice cream, and be quiet about your own complainings long enough to listen to someone else unload their burden for a bit.

We don't even have to walk a mile in someone else's shoes. We just need to carry his literal and metaphorical backpack around for a while.