Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Yes. You can.

I don’t much like excuses.  Explanations I can deal with.  Excuses pretty much turn me off.  I bring this up because lately it seems like excuses are coming out of the woodwork.  There’s two excuses in particular that move right to the top of my “peeve list”.  The first one is, “I just don’t have the time”.  What?  How can you not have the time?  Unless you’re dead you have exactly the same amount of time everyone else in the world has.  You have 60 minutes in an hour, 24 hours in a day, 7 days in a week, 52 weeks in a year. If you can’t bring me some evidence that you were born with a congenital time deficiency which causes you to only have 50 minutes in an hour, I’m afraid I’m going to have to call you what you are.  A liar.  Yeah, it’s a little “white lie”, but what you’re really saying is, “This just isn’t that important to me to spend time on it”.  And that’s OK.  We all have to make choices.  There’s a ton of things I choose not to spend time on.  So admit it.  Don’t tell me you don’t have the time.  It’s insulting.  I know better.

The second excuse I’ve heard goes something along the lines of “Well I just don’t have the education”.  That may be true.  I won’t call you a liar on this one.  But where my peeve comes in is that an education is available.  All you have to do is reach out and take it.  Now I’m not talking about going back to school.  Sure, that’s great if you can, and if you have the time and resources you should definitely do it.  What I’m talking about is the same thing that Thomas Jefferson was talking about when he wrote to his college-age nephew, Thomas Mann Randolph, Jr., “…you can proceed by yourself in a regular series of historical reading.  It would be a waste of time to attend a professor of this.  It is to be acquired from books…”

Yep, books.  Reading.  You don’t have to be a graduate from high school, or college to do it.  Louis L’Amour, the prolific writer (over 100 novels), and historian, was entirely self-educated.  He left high school during the Depression to provide some income for his family, and never went back to school.  Yet he became recognized as one of the most educated men of our time, and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, an honor reserved for those who make extraordinary contributions to our nation.  How did he do it?  Simple.  He read.  And thought about what he had read.  (Read his story for yourself.  You’ll find it in his book The Education of a Wandering Man.)

He’s not the only one.  ABC News reporter and anchorman, Peter Jennings did the same thing.  Or how about Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s restaurants?  OK, Bill Gates did graduate from high school, but not from college.  I think you get my point.  So…

READ.  Several years ago this simple word was used on posters and billboards by a literacy activist group to encourage people to…READ.  I think this advice may now be more important than ever.  Even though the “futurists” among us are convinced that reading will be replaced by television, DVDs, iPODs, and technologies we haven’t heard of yet, I still believe that reading, and more importantly, the ability to read, will remain a significant factor between those who achieve success in this world, and those who don’t.

READ.  So why are so many people so reluctant to do it?  In times past, what we would call “classical” schoolmasters divided learning into three stages called “the trivium”.  The first stage was called the “grammar” stage.  (Hence our grammar or elementary schools).  This stage focused on memorization.  The idea was to gather information---C A T spells Cat, or 2 X 4 = 8.  The goal being to acquire a certain amount of knowledge.  The second stage was called the “logic” stage.  It required that the student start thinking at this point.  Evaluate.  Is this information correct or not correct?  Is this a cause or an effect?  The final stage was called the“rhetoric” stage.  Remember the first time you were asked to write an essay?  This is rhetoric; learning to construct your own opinions based on the facts you have accumulated.  The classical educators knew that this pattern—learn facts, analyze those facts, and develop opinions about those facts—is the basis for life-long learning.

Unfortunately, educators started to skip the first two steps and started asking first graders how they feel about what they’re learning before they’ve even had a chance to learn it yet.  This “short cut” is now ingrained for many.  They go right to the opinion making, before they’ve even learned the facts.  (Don’t believe me?  Just listen to talk radio for about 5 minutes, or review those Facebook posts from your friends.)  As Susan Wise Bauer points out in her book, The Well-Educated Mind, “Like badly taught six-year-olds, we are too quick to go straight to opinion making without the intermediate steps of understanding and evaluation.”  And a formal education does not make you immune.  I’ve known Harvard grads to jump right to stage three without ever pausing to gather a fact, while the old Oklahoma farmers I grew up with wouldn’t make a move without “studyin’ up” on a subject first.

So what’s the hardest thing about reading?  Making the time.  As Susan Wise Bauer notes:  “The first task of self-education is not the reading of Plato, but the finding of twenty minutes in which you can devote yourself to thought, rather than to activity.”  Taking care of the kids, getting ready for work, fixing supper, paying bills, checking email, answering the cell phone, all these things push at us.  And we bosses don’t help.  “You don’t have anything to do, well come see me, I’ll give you something to do.”  And I’m willing to bet you’ve never heard, “Why don’t you just go back to your desk and spend the rest of the afternoon reading and thinking.”   We both know that ain’t gonna happen, but I sometimes wonder what great things we might accomplish if it did.

And no, I don’t think you only have to read “The Great Books”—you know, Plato, Shakespeare, Homer.  You can learn a lot from reading well-written novels.  Nora Roberts’ books can take you traveling around the world; Louis L’Amour will take you back to the frontier and steep you in the values of that era.  Tom Clancy will take you into the depths of military technology and current politics.  Reading can be fun.  If you haven’t been reading for a while this is how you should start.  The brain is an organ and it has to be exercised to stay in shape.  Just as you wouldn’t think about running a marathon without training for it, neither should you just jump into a schedule that calls for two hours a day of difficult study.  You won’t stick with it.  So start easy, and build up to it.

Having said that, if it’s a broader education you want, at some point you will have to take the plunge and begin to delve deeper.  History, biography, philosophy, economics, politics, theology.  And even here, you don’t have to devour everything you run across.  As the sixteenth century philosopher, Francis Bacon, has pointed out:  “Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”  Find a menu that appeals to you, and systematically, and methodically, go through it.

In the meantime, it doesn’t matter where you are in your life right now.  If you want an education it’s there for the taking.  And you can do it in thirty minutes a day.  Get up thirty minutes earlier.  Watch thirty less minutes TV.  Surely there’s thirty minutes that aren’t absolutely “must see”.  (Personally I can give up the thirty minutes for “Two Broke Girls”, just don’t ask me to give up “Big Bang Theory”).  Especially if you haven’t read for a while, thirty minutes is plenty to start.  Much longer than that and you likely won’t stick with it.  As your brain expands you may find your time spent reading expands too.  That’s fine.  Let it happen naturally.

Don’t get caught up in the excuses.  You do have the time.  It’s your choice how to use it.  You can get an education if you really want one.  It’s not up to a school.  It’s up to you.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

This was my first post about the World Cup.  It was eight years ago.

The tension just continues to build, and by this weekend it’ll explode.  No, I’m not talking about work.  I’m talking about FOOTBALL!  “Yeah right”, you say.  “Nobody plays football in July.”  Well, actually they do, it’s just that we in the US tend to ignore them.  “Soccer” is just not “our” sport. 

That’s true, so far as it goes.  But this is true too:  There is not other sporting event in the world like the World Cup.  Nothing compares to it.  More than a billion (with a “B”) fans worldwide will watch France play Italy for the World Championship.  And, yes, I will be one of them.  I hope some of you will be watching also.  (ABC Sports 1:30pm Eastern).

Admittedly, I haven’t got to see as many of the matches as I would like.  Most of the matches have been shown on ESPN or ESPN2, and living in the sticks as we do, we don’t get cable.  We can’t get satellite Direct TV either.

Dear Mr. Horner,

There are a few places in the world, of which “the sticks” of Wyandotte, Oklahoma is not one of them, which do not get satellite TV.  However, you are correct when you say that you can’t get Direct TV.  The solution to this is quite simple:  Pay your bill!  

Sincerely,
The Collections Department, Direct TV and Dish Network

OK.  They may have a point, but they’re leaving out the “rest of the story”.  However, I digress.  Bottom line is that I have to go to my daughter’s house to watch the big matches with her and her husband.  Fortunately for me, I have a great son-in-law, who either doesn’t mind the intrusion, or is at least polite enough to remain quiet about it.  Besides, their TV is bigger than mine. 

Really it’s only fair.  I blame my kids anyway.  When they were growing up, I made the same mistake young parents often make—I agreed to coach my son’s soccer team.  He’d been playing for a couple of years, but was right at the age when they are supposed to cease chasing after the ball like a flock of young geese, and start learning to play “positions”.  Coaching in this environment is not easy.  You could get the girls to stay put, usually by ignoring the fact that they stayed in place so they could look for four-leaf clovers, but getting the boys to wait for the ball to be passed to them instead of just going and kicking it was an uphill battle.  You might as well wait for hell to freeze over.  It wasn’t happening.  So I spent most of my time running along the touch line hollering uselessly.  Of course, this was back in the days of “non-competitive” soccer.  We didn’t keep score so we could encourage the kids just to go play and have fun.  This didn’t work either.  At the end of the game my son would walk off the pitch and say, “We beat them 12 to 9”.  “How do you know”, I’d ask, “we don’t keep score”.  To which he’d reply:  “Maybe you grown-ups don’t, but we do.  We know who wins”.  And so they did.   

Anyway, part of the reason the World Cup is so big is that it only occurs once every four years.  Sure we have our Super Bowl, but it’s every year.  It’s a pretty big show as it is.  Imagine if we only played the Playoffs and Super Bowl every four years.  It’d be over the top.  And so it is with the World Cup.  From 1958 until 2002, it has been played every other time in Europe or the Americas.  In 2002, it was held in Asia (South Korea and Japan shared the venues) for the first time. 

I’ve noticed that most of those in the US who don’t like soccer complain that the game is too slow.  What they mean is that it is by nature a low scoring game, and doesn’t have touchdowns, homeruns, or slam dunks.  Yet, the same people who tell you that soccer is boring will sit in front of the TV watching the US Open and tell you to “Shhhh.  Mickelson’s putting for a birdie”.  Give me a break!  How can you compare the athletes who run, jostle, trip and tackle without ceasing for two 45 minute halves, plus another two 15 minute overtime periods if required, with a bunch of guys who walk around whaling on a little white ball with a bunch of sticks?  And these guys don’t even carry their own sticks!  Tell you what.  I don’t think I’m the one who doesn’t get it.

Naturally, I’m disappointed that Germany didn’t make it to the final, but I’m delighted that they played as well as they did.  Having lived in Germany for three years, and hosted two German exchange students while my kids were in high school, I have a soft spot for the Black, Red, and Yellow.  Even though Germany is the host country, the “Deutsche Fussballnationalmannschaft”, wasn’t supposed to even make it to the quarter-finals.  They made it all the way to the semi-finals only to lose an overtime heartbreaker to Italy in the last two minutes.  They play great attacking football and hopefully will prevail over Portugal to take third place.  (Saturday on ESPN if you’re interested.  Yes, I’ll be at my daughter’s.  Don’t call.)

But go ahead.  Have a relaxing weekend if you want.  Just chill out by the pool with a daiquiri or two, and catch some rays.  Not me.  My adrenaline is pumping already.  I can barely sit still.  Two days of watching THE BEST football players in the world awaits.  Not for another four years will you have a chance to see this level of skill and talent come together on the same field.  It’s an event not to be missed.  Besides, what will you do Monday when 1.5 Billion of us just want to talk about
 “THE GAME”?

Friday, May 24, 2013

“Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain…”

Normally the wind sweeps out here.  Occasionally it wafts, or meanders.  Almost never is it still.  This is especially true along the Indian Meridian which bisects the state into Range East and Range West.  The wind is so pervasive throughout this region that the story goes that people are so used to leaning into the wind that one day when it did not blow everyone fell down. 

But sometimes the wind gets angry.  Last Monday it got very angry.  Perhaps as angry as it has even been.  And it went on an out-of-control, blind mad, raging stampede right through the Sergeant Major’s hometown of Moore.  When it finished, 24 people were dead, thousands of homes were destroyed or damaged, and two elementary schools were wiped out.  The Sergeant Major’s elementary school was one of them.  Seven children died there.

By the next morning the area had been hit again with another tornado.  This one was made up of first responders, law enforcement officials, good Samaritans, politicians, and, of course, the media.  Most came to do good, a few just to watch, and a few more to prey on the raw emotions of the townspeople.  It was the outsiders though, even the ones who had come to do good, who most often asked the question, “You guys know the wind gets very angry out here.  Why do you stay?”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot, and so too have many of my fellow Oklahomans.  We like to tell people it’s because we’re different.  We don’t “put on airs”.  To meet us is to know us.  Our Governor even told one journalist, that “if you’re going to have a tragedy in your life you want it to be in Oklahoma”. We care about our families, our communities, and our state.  And all of that is true I think, but I wonder why.  Other people have families, communities, and states too.  What is it about Oklahoma?

Perhaps it’s because we’re still somewhat new.  We’ve only been a state a little over a hundred years.  The shine hasn’t completely worn off yet.  That’s a part of it, but I suspect there’s something more.  Something we don’t think of very often, if at all. 

Oklahoma started from nothing.  Nobody wanted this particular piece of ground.  It was considered “uninhabitable”.  The Indians didn’t want it.  They were forced out here at gunpoint by soldiers.  Settlers didn’t want it.  They passed right by it on their way West.  It was populated only after there was absolutely nowhere else to go…and mostly by people no one else wanted living next door to them. 

So the people who made it here were tough.  People that the venerable New York Times once called “ragtag”.  A disparate conglomeration of cowboys, Indians, farmers, freed slaves, oil field workers, and other groups of migrants who settled down and told themselves, “This is it.  We make it here or we don’t make it”.  So they got busy trying to make it.  There just wasn’t time to do anything else.  They taught their kids and grandkids that, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”.  And so we do.  Somehow we’ve managed not to lose that. 

Moore is a town chock full of people who simply got busy trying to make it.  I know them.  As I said, the Sergeant Major grew up there.  And if there is anyone I know in the world that pushed all the excuses aside and simply got busy trying to make it, it’s her.  Married at 19.  Living in a foreign country with a new born and an often absent husband at 20.  Three kids at 25.  College graduate at 40.  Horse breeder, trainer, homemaker, artist, gardener, builder, engineer, and all-purpose handyman today.  No, she doesn’t know Toby Keith, but she knows the work ethic.  And she reminds our grandson regularly that, “Grandma’s house is a ‘No Whine Zone’”.

But it’s an outsider turned insider who might have summed it up best.  Sam Presti, General Manager of the Oklahoma City Thunder, was born and raised in Massachusetts.  Since he brought the Thunder here five years ago, he’s seen first-hand what Oklahomans can do when they put their minds to it. He makes every new Thunder player visit the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum before they report to work.  He says he wants them to understand the kind of people who live here, the kind of people they’ll be playing for.  In the aftermath of the tornado, he and several of the Thunder players toured the destruction.  They went to encourage, but returned having been themselves encouraged.  Sam said, “It’s clear that the resolve, the resiliency and the faith of the people that have had to endure this is infinitely stronger than that of what has taken place.”  And then he said of his recently adopted home, “There’s a sense of purpose that exists in Oklahoma that makes all of us proud to call it home”.  He’s even got a name for it.  He calls it,  “the Oklahoma Standard”.

No, we’re not leaving.  Moore will rebuild, albeit with more storm shelters for next time.  And yes, we all know, there will be a next time.  And a next time after that too.  But we’ll still be here, staying busy trying to make it.  After all, we have a Standard to uphold.

"And when we say Yeeow!  Ayipioeeay!
We’re only sayin’ you’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! O.K."

Sunday, March 17, 2013


“When Irish eyes are smiling,
Sure ‘tis like the morn in Spring…”

Sure it is.  Cloudy.  Cold.  With just a hint of the bitter wind of Winter still in the air.  Wait a minute.  That’s my eyes I’m talking about.  Sorry, I guess I got confused again.  Oh, I’m Irish alright, but most of you probably wouldn’t accuse my eyes of smiling a lot.  I’m more like Eeyore, “And a good day to you too.  If it is a good day.  Which I doubt”.

 But all that aside, I really am Irish.  My Great-grandfather Horner was born in County Armagh in the North.  He was the patriarch of an extended family who settled in the “Cherokee Strip” in Oklahoma Territory in 1894.  My Great-grandfather Dunlavy arrived here much earlier and settled his family in the Stephen F. Austin Colony in Texas sometime around 1832.  So being solidly descended from the “Wild Geese,” today is a good day for me without doubt.  Even though here in Wyandotte it’s cloudy, cold, a mist in the air with that subtle hint that Winter isn’t quite gone yet, my Irish eyes are smiling anyway. 

Thanks to the large emigration of brothers, cousins, and countless friends from Ireland to the US in the 1800’s, today—Saint Patrick’s Day—is still one of the more joyful holidays we celebrate.  It’s known for parades, parties, corned beef and cabbage, and of course, green beer.  (Unfortunately I’ve reached an age where green beer doesn’t sit that well with me, but the Sergeant Major just told me she thinks there’s some green bologna in the back of the fridge somewhere.)

 St Patrick, though, was actually British.  He was born to Roman parents in the vicinity of the England/Scotland border.  While in his teens, he was kidnapped and taken to Ireland by Niall of the Nine Hostages.  (What a great name for a terrorist, huh?) Anyway, Niall sold him for a few bucks, and his new owner put him to work as a shepherd.  For six years he lived alone with only his sheep for company.  Not much else is known of this period of his life, as even then, people did not find it comfortable to talk about lonely teenage boys and their sheep.  But at some point, he began to hear a voice from God.  Go figure. 

 Anyway, the voice told him that the time had come for him to escape, “See, your ship is ready”.  Patrick looked down the mountain but couldn’t see any ship.  He couldn’t even see the sea for that matter, so he started walking.  Some 200 miles later he came to the sea, and sure enough there was a ship.  He got on it, and sailed back to Briton where he was immediately captured by another band of terrorists and sold back into slavery.  The voice in his head told him just to go with it for a couple of months and it would be OK.  And so it was.

He spent the next seven years just banging around Europe trying to figure out what he wanted to do with his life.  After getting his fill of German beer, French cheese, and Italian spaghetti, he decided that he would become a true servant of God.  He entered a monastery to study, and eventually returned to England as a priest. 

 Meanwhile, back in Ireland, the few Christians who were there were really having a bad time of it at the hands of the Druids.  It seems these Druids could really hit the “threes”, and the Christians just weren’t able to get it through the hoop.  (Hey, it’s March, right?)  So they called back to the Pope to see if he had anybody on the bench who might be able to contribute. The Pope calls out Patrick, makes him a Bishop, and sends him into the game. 

 They had a little success then, converting Dichu, a major landowner, to the Christian side, and they played defense OK, but the offense just couldn’t seem to get untracked.  Around Easter time, they decided to let it all hang out, and built a large bonfire in honor of Easter.  Now, this may not sound like much, except that the Druids reserved the lighting of the first bonfire of Spring for their High King, a guy named Laoghaire.  To say they were some kind of pissed off is to put it mildly.  Things really got physical then, but Patrick kept his cool, impressing the King, who gave him a chance to speak. 

 Patrick explained to the King, that unlike the Druids who believed that there were many gods in nature, the Christians only believed in one God who had three personalities—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Well, the Druids just fell out.  They were standing there laughing their asses off, when Patrick quickly reached down to the ground and pulled up a sprig of clover.  He pointed out to Laoghaire:  “Here.  There is one stem, but there are three leaves on it.  So it is with the Blessed Trinity.  There is one God, but three persons stemming from the same divinity”. 

 Laoghaire was mightily impressed, and didn’t even ask what Patrick would have done if he’d grabbed a four-leaf clover instead.  So he gave Patrick permission to travel throughout Ireland preaching the gospel of Christ.  He did indeed win many converts, the Dunlavy’s among them, and legend has it that God granted him his one request—that the Irish would keep their faith for all time and that they be spared the horrors of Judgment Day.  When that day comes it will be Saint Patrick himself who will judge us.  (Now you know why I made such a big deal of establishing my Irish bona fides.)

The story ends on this day—March 17—in the year 461 AD.  Patrick went to be with his Lord, and we Irish choose this day to honor his life. 

 May the road rise up to meet you.                                           
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face.
May the rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.”
--Old Irish Blessing

Monday, March 4, 2013

“You can’t hide your lyin’ eyes,
And your smile is a thin disguise.”

Back in the day, honesty was a quality much admired.  To be thought of as a liar was to be avoided at all costs.  To be called a liar was to invite a fight.  With fists, and right now.  It grew out of the need for survival in a hostile wilderness.  When news of the day was carried by word of mouth, those mouths had better be accurate, or people could literally die.  When life and death decisions were made every day based on the word of a stranger, honesty took a prominent role in the preservation of the society.
But that was then, and this is now as they say.  Lying has been raised to new heights.  It has become even fashionable.  Misrepresenting who you are is now an art form no longer confined to the actors on a stage.  We’ve finally reached the era of Mr. Shakespeare’s prediction:  “All the world is a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”  Yeah.  We’re there.  What role do you want to play today?
Perhaps you want to overcome cancer and win the Tour de France more than once.  Just do it dishonestly and lie about it.  What’s the worst that can happen?  You get caught and invited to star on Oprah! ?  Could be worse. 
Get good enough at it and you can get elected to important government posts where you have access to other people’s money.  Lots of other people’s money.  When you can get a Senator from your own party to tell the voting public that you are “an unusually good liar” they’ll hand you a second term on a platter.  After all, we expect our Presidents to be “unusually good”.  Run-of-the-mill is not nearly good enough for us. 
But it gets better.  The practice of lying has become an art form in the Congress of the United States.  It reaches its zenith with the naming of the bills they pass into law.  A recent favorite is “The American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012”.  This Act raised income taxes on the “rich”, and payroll taxes on everyone else.  Some “relief”. 
Dear Cowboy:
We appreciate your command of the English language, so let us point out that you are simply using the wrong interpretation of the word “relief”.  To provide “relief” you must merely “relieve” them of some burden which they are carrying.  Our Act simply “relieves” people of the excess cash that they so carelessly carry around in their pockets. 
Sincerely,
The Select Committee for the Careful Naming of Bills in the Congress of the United States

I guess they have a point.  I mean, what might have happened if all that cash started burning holes in people’s pockets all at once?  We don’t have enough firefighters to prevent  a serious catastrophe.  So, I guess it really is a relief that someone was thinking ahead.

It’s bad enough that distrust and deliberate dishonesty are eroding our social contracts.  Equally concerning is our investigation of our own universe.  It was still early in my grade school career that I was taught “the scientific method”.  This was the approach that scientists used to discover the truth about the world around us.  Simply put it taught us to: “Ask questions.  Research.  Determine the facts.  Draw conclusions”.  It resulted in the elimination of polio as a significant threat.  It got men to the Moon and back safely.  It created technological and medical advances that have made us the richest and healthiest people to ever live on this planet.  But it too is falling victim to the lie.  The new version of the method says:  “Here is the conclusion.  Research and see what facts you can find to support it.  Don’t ask any questions”.  Fundamental dishonesty.  And it limits our advancement.

We hear lots of complaints these days about the “decline of society”, and dozens of reasons from video games to single parent families to Hollywood.  But the root cause is based in a simple question and answer:
Q:  “Can I trust you?”

A:  “Probably not.”

From celebrated sports heroes to false parish priests to lying politicians to pseudo-scientists who manipulate the “facts”, we’ve come to distrust almost everyone, and almost every institution.  The devolution will continue until we start back on the road to being honest.  “Yes”, means “yes”.  “No” means “no”.  And we quit arguing about what “is” is.

“A commentary on the times is that the word 'honesty' is now preceded by 'old-fashioned'”.
--Larry Wolters

Sunday, February 10, 2013


“Because something is happening here and you don’t know what it is,
Do you, Mr. Jones…”

 I was watching a piece on “CBS Sunday Morning” regarding the use of drones to target and kill known and suspected terrorists.  The interviewer was talking with a law professor about the ethics of such killings when he made the statement that “only 50 people, just 2% of those killed, were actual terrorists.”  He then went on to imply that 98% of those killed in these attacks were innocent bystanders.  Were what the CIA would call “collateral damage” I guess.  I’m always skeptical of these kinds of statistics.  Where do they come from?  Who compiled them?  How did they collect the information to begin with?  If true, this means we’ve killed some 2500 people to get at just 50.  Obviously a disturbing thought. 

 But what struck me was that I had no way of knowing the answers.  No way of knowing the truth of the matter.  Certainly the CIA is not to be trusted.  Any agency whose very mission is based on deception is not going to be very forthcoming.  And CBS has proven time and again that they will fabricate, manipulate, and manufacture whatever “facts” happen to fit their narrative for the day.

 Can we ever get to the truth then? I’m not sure. Sometimes I think we get there, but other times I fear we are far off the mark. Philosophers, theologians, scientists, artists, engineers, and poets have tried. We’ve all heard otherwise intelligent people say that “Truth is relative”, or “That may be your truth, but it’s not mine”. How can that be? Can truth really change with circumstances?

The big problem I see with this is that if everyone creates their own truth, then no one’s ideas are any better than anyone else’s ideas. All ideas are equal. But if all ideas are equal why research anything? Why, for example, should we spend billions of dollars and countless hours researching cancer? If there’s no truth, what the heck are we looking for?

What would you say if I told you that all those hours and all those dollars are wasted because I know the cure for cancer? Actually, I don’t know the cure for all cancers, but I do know that if you take a live chicken, cut it in two, and place the pieces immediately on the patient’s chest, the chicken blood will draw the cancer from the lungs. Why are you laughing? The answer, of course, is that you know it isn’t true. But that’s my point. If you know that something is not true, then it must logically follow that something is true. Truth does exist. It is absolute. It is not relative to something else. It’s the reality of the matter, not necessarily what we believe, or wish to believe. You laughed because you instinctively realized that truth cannot be created. Just because I might be heavily invested in chickens, and would benefit greatly from the increased demand, does not mean I can create a “truth” that works to my advantage.

But people never cease to try.  In the early days of flight an inventor was firmly convinced that the proper way for man to fly was to imitate the flight mechanics of a Canadian goose. He formed a company, and sold stock. Thousands of dollars were sunk into this company which designed and built a flying machine which imitated the flight mechanics of a goose. Yep. It didn’t work. The inventor simply could not create his own truth no matter how much he believed in it. The laws of aerodynamics simply didn’t care what he believed.

“So”, you say, “truth does change. I’ve seen it happen”. Not so. It is not subject to our beliefs even though it seems to be. In the early 1980’s marine biologists discovered an unknown species of fish deep in the Pacific. We didn’t believe that such fish existed so the truth of the matter is we created it just by looking at it right? Of course not. The truth hadn’t changed. All that had changed was our knowledge of it. Truth is revealed, not created. Right now, the hot topic is “Global warming”, but when I was in college everybody “knew” that the next Ice Age was almost upon us. Had the truth changed while I wasn’t looking? I don’t think so. The truth exists on this matter, but it just hasn’t been revealed yet.  No matter which position you take on the subject, we don’t know the truth.  It has not yet been revealed.

“Wait a minute”, I hear you say. “I have a right to my opinion!” Yes you do. But that doesn’t mean your opinion is right. The very word opinion means two different things. It can be an expression of taste, or it can be an expression of judgment. If you tell me, “I won’t drive anything but a Chevy”, I know that you prefer Chevys. But if you tell me, “Chevys are just built better than Fords”, you are making a statement which claims to be the truth. It is your “judgment” that having studied the matter thoroughly, you have concluded beyond any shadow of a doubt, that Chevrolet in actuality makes a better product than Ford does. Hmmmm. Do you suppose there’s just a hint of “taste” showing through here?

Here are a couple of key questions to ask yourself next time you’re about to anoint someone with your opinion.

1.      Is this an informed opinion?

2.      Do I know enough about this subject to make a statement of judgment, or am I just expressing my personal preferences? 


The good thing about this is that later, when more of the facts are sorted out, you can say to yourself, “Boy, am I glad I kept my mouth shut!” Over time you’ll notice that people begin to listen more carefully when you speak. They will even seek you out to get your opinion because they know it will be well thought out. One of the consequences of this is that you gain more control over your environment. And control is key to mental health. But that’s a whole different post.

Bottom line: Truth cannot be created or changed. It is not relative to a given situation. It is what it is. As we carefully gather the data, and the facts of the matter, the truth can sometimes be revealed.

If you still don’t believe me then let me leave you with this challenge. The next time you fly in a plane, or ride a motorcycle, or get up on a ladder to take down the Christmas lights, just deny the “truth” of gravity. Better yet, create your own “truth” about gravity. Have it be whatever you want it to be. Just don’t call me to pick up the pieces.

 “Beauty I’d always missed, with these eyes before,
Just what the Truth is, I can’t say anymore...”

Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Random thoughts…

 “Without the capacity to provide its own information, the mind drifts into randomness.”
--Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

§  The Sergeant Major and I have enjoyed the British television series “Downton Abbey”.  We were late to the party so we watched Season 1 via streaming Netflix.  We await the arrival of the CD’s of Season 2, although we were able to catch Episode 1 on Amazon Prime.  We’ve closed our eyes to Season 3 so far.
A number of pundits and critics have agonized over why this series has become so popular.  I think part of the reason is what I call the “Back in the Box” syndrome.  We’ve been exhorted to “Think Outside the Box” for so long we’re weary of it.  All it seems to have produced is economic hardship, barbaric behavior—tattoos and piercings run amok, bipolarization of our society, and this feeling of apprehension about what disaster lies in wait.  We just want to get “back in the box” of order, civility, manners.  No, the world of Downton Abbey is not a perfect world—war, betrayal, blackmail, social unrest—all exist.  But people don’t seem to use it as an excuse to abandon all the rules at once, and start running around like chickens with their heads cut off.  Decorum still counts.

 §  Speaking of rules, we now know for certain that Lance Armstrong broke them.  And lied about it.  That’s what bothers me the most I think.  Perhaps it’s time to look at the rules.  Is blood doping in order to enhance physical performance any worse than the improvements nutrition, diet, and vitamin and mineral supplements have brought us?  Maybe if we didn’t have the obsession of comparing today’s performances with those of the past we wouldn’t be quite so righteous.  I don’t think it’s fair to compare today’s hitters to Babe Ruth.  Did he have the benefit of Nutrition and Strength coaches paid for by the team?  Perhaps he did.  Sorry.  I’m thinking outside the box already. 

§  Monday was a holiday for me so I got to spend some time on my new hobby—cooking.  My five-year old grandson took his nap on the couch while I went to the kitchen.  When he awoke his Mom was home and they began to chat.  I was only half listening until I heard this:

Grandson:           “Where’s Grandpa?”

Daughter:            “He’s in the kitchen cooking supper.”

SILENCE

Daughter (laughing):  “What do you think?  Should we be worried?”

Grandson:           “No…let’s just be confused.”

Good advice.  No more worries for me either.  Better to just stay confused.  Healthier anyway.

 §  Today’s news story about a middle school teacher facing termination in Ohio has me both worried and confused.  Apparently she gave one of her students some duct tape to fix her binder.  The student then shared the duct tape with several other students who each put a strip across their mouths and asked the teacher to take a picture.  She did so, and later posted it as a joke on Facebook.  (Yes, I know, no social media allowed).  This upset the Board of Education badly.  But the best line in the article was the Board President asking the questions:  “Why was there duct tape in the classroom?  How did they [the students] come to have access to it?”
I have several grandchildren in school and this raises lots of questions:  Are my grandchildren really safe from duct tape?  How do I talk to them about duct tape?  What if another child’s parents allow him access to duct tape?  How can I stop them from sharing?  What if a stranger offers them duct tape?  What should they do if they are accidentally exposed to duct tape?  I could go on but I won’t.  I could say it’s because of the idiots who run the schools these days, but that’s not entirely fair.  Truth be told, I thought the folks who ran things when I was in school were idiots too.

 §  Back to cooking.  I really am enjoying it.  It has helped me focus.  I’ve been a little bit better in other facets of my life, including cleaning the kitchen.  You want to say, “I wish I’d done this before”, but that’s a waste of time.  If I should have done it before, I would have done it before.  As the Zen saying goes, “When the student is ready, the teacher will come”.  You have to be ready, or it won’t make sense.

 §  Speaking of ready.  I’ve reached that magic age where I’ve begun to think about all the things that went into arriving at this point, and all the things I want to do before I hear the final whistle.  Much of what I want to do yet is what I loved to do when my world was young.  Reading, writing, studying something new.  Theaters, museums, libraries.  Music, Art, Dance, Literature.  These were my first loves, and I want them with me at the end.  I’m content with the things I’ve done in between—farmer, soldier, businessman.  But now I’m of a mind to go back to the beginning.

 “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you.  And all you can do is to go where they can find you.” 
--Winnie the Pooh