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. 
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.”


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

Friday, January 11, 2013

**We’ve all heard that old saying, “There is no such thing as a dumb question”.

I don’t buy it. Truth be told, I haven’t bought it since I was a kid. There really are dumb questions. The first time this realization hit me was when my father was scolding me for some infraction or other. I gave him an exquisitely beautiful explanation of why I had done what I had done, and he just looked at me and said: “Do I have STUPID written across my forehead?” I immediately realized, “dumb question”. On the one hand, if I’d thought he wouldn’t buy my wonderful story, I wouldn’t have told it. On the other hand, I wasn’t going to be stupid enough to say, “Well, yes. It’s right there just above your eyebrows, and oh, by the way, why do you have that one long eyebrow hair that wants to grow the wrong direction?”

Over the years, I’ve fielded a variety of dumb questions, mostly with a dignity which they did not deserve. One of my favorites was when I used to work in a retail store. People would come up to me frequently and ask, “Excuse me. Do you know where the bathroom is?” And I’d always tell them. What I really wanted to say was, “No. I’ve been holding it in for a year now. If you find it, please let me know.” Or better yet, “No. I just go out in the alley behind the dumpster”.

And of course, there are the cops. Cops have some of the best dumb questions. I was involved in an accident a couple of years ago when a lady ran a stop sign and broadsided me. So I’m sitting there in my truck, which is still in its proper lane, only facing the wrong direction, and the cop comes up:

Cop: “What happened here?”

Me: “I don’t know officer. I just got here myself, but it seems to me that this lady’s Buick tried to mate with my Ford, and things just got a little out of hand. You know how young cars are these days…”

What happened? Seriously? It’s not just a little bit obvious than an accident has occurred? I’d much rather him ask what he’s really thinking, “Just how the hell did you guys manage to do this?”

Or you’ve just been pulled over for speeding. What’s the first dumb question out of his mouth? “Do you know how fast you were going?” If you answered, “Well officer, I’m not sure, but since you managed to stop me, obviously it wasn’t fast enough”, go to the head of the class.

While cop questions can be dangerous, the one I fear most is from my spouse. Guys, you know THE ONE. “Honey, does this dress make me look fat?” Whoa. Dumb question. “Well Lord yes. Where did you get it, Omar the Tentmaker?” NOT. So, depending on the situation, you may or may not lie. She knows that. She knew it before she asked the question. SHE ALREADY KNOWS THE ANSWER. So why does she ask the question? I’ve been married 34 years and haven’t a clue.

But you know trouble is headed your way when someone comes up to you and says, “This may be a dumb question, but…”. Duck. Run. Seek shelter immediately! There are only two reasons people preface their question with this statement, and both of them are bad news for you. The first reason a person prefaces their question with this statement is that they ALREADY THINK THEY KNOW THE ANSWER AND YOU DON’T! They feel certain that you will just be astounded at their insight. “This may be a dumb question, but has anyone thought about charging money for the work we do?” Why no. That’s brilliant. Wherever do you come up with this stuff? Why come on in here right now, and let me put you in charge.

The second, and related, reason they preface their questions with this statement, is that they believe their brain operates on a much higher plane than yours, and if they don’t share their insights you will have no opportunity to glimpse into the higher cosmos. “This may be a dumb question, but have you ever thought what would happen if you won the lottery and the next day space invaders attacked the Earth?” You know what? They are right. My brain doesn’t operate on that level. I can honestly say, “Why no. I never thought of that”. In my case, my brain is so limited it can only grasp the first part of the question, “What would happen if you won the lottery…?” It gets bogged down for hours trying to figure out that one little thing, and just never seems to make the leap to aliens attacking the Earth. I guess it’s just a curse I’ll have to carry.

Seriously though, questions are how we learn. I don’t want you to stop asking them. Albert Einstein once said: “The important thing is not to stop questioning…Never lose a holy curiosity”. But you might want to put a little thought into it as well, and remember to keep in mind what Publius Syrus said around 100 BC, “It is not every question that deserves an answer”.

Anyway, I was thinking, and this may be a dumb question, but…OK. Never mind.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

“At the end of the day you’re another day older…”
Christmas arrived at last.  For the Sergeant Major and me it began with new high tech gadgets, and ended with more satisfying content and substance from 150 years ago.  We found that we both like it that way.
For her, it was the Kindle Fire HD 8.9” tablet from Amazon.  For me it was the Samsung Chromebook.  Two different devices for two different styles.  We like it that way too.  She can sit and read quietly, or play a game, or hold our Grandson in her lap and share a game with him.
I can sit in my chair and read too, but there is a keyboard readily at hand for when I want to talk back.  And I always want to talk back. 
At any rate, the big buzz in the world at large, was the opening on Christmas Day of the movie “Les Miserables”.  Big Budget.  Big Stars.  Big Advertising.  This was the first time someone had really taken on bringing the wildly successful stage musical to the big screen.  Not something I could do, but I really wanted to see how they did it.
So I bestirred myself to drive all the way to town with the Sergeant Major to take in a movie.  At a big complex.  On a big screen.  Neither of us was able to remember how long it had been since we’d done that. We just knew it was back in the old days before Netflix.
I’ll admit that I was hoping it would knock my socks off.  I wanted it to knock my socks off.  And I am delighted to say that it really did knock my socks off. 
Oh, we can quibble about this scene here, or that scene there, but it’s all just nibbling around the edges.  They got it right.  They did nothing to destroy the beauty of the musical play that 60 million of us love so much, and yet they used the power of film to do things you just can’t do on a stage.
Now, some of the “professional critics” are going wild.   I know that.  I’ve read a couple of reviews where the reviewers seemed totally unable to control their emotions.  One of them, after brilliantly, in his mind, explaining to us unenlightened just why the film was no good, suddenly and derisively blurted out, “But the audiences will love it”.  How true.  We “bitter clingers” out here in the wastelands, still clinging to our guns, our religion, and our beloved “Les Mis”.  He actually got that part right.
So why is it that we love “Les Mis” so much?   For me there are two very clear reasons:  The Music, and the Story.  Surprised huh?  I bet you thought there’d be a deeper answer.  Nope.  It’s all in the fundamentals.  Music-Story. 
First, Composer Claude-Michel Schonberg has written a series of beautiful and sometimes painfully haunting songs.  But more importantly he has crafted a melodic theme for each character, and then has carefully woven that character’s theme into the relationship with the other characters.  Sometimes he uses these recurring melodies to build to an intense level of emotion, and sometimes he uses them quietly, to calm us back down, and get us centered again.
Second, is the classic story from Victor Hugo.  Pain and suffering, love and loss, vengeance and forgiveness.  All centered around one man who, in the end, perseveres to the finish and is redeemed. 
So, sockless and all, it seemed right to me to be sitting in a big movie house on a Christmas afternoon, in the company of my beloved Sergeant Major, watching and listening to a story of Redemption.  Understanding in this lesson from 150 years ago that people haven’t really changed much.  For all our preoccupation with the “modern”, and the high tech gadgets and gizmos of our lives, we are still very much human.  We all need to live.  We all need to love and be loved.  And we all need to be forgiven.  Then it becomes our duty to take that forgiveness and let it mold us and fashion us and encourage us to persevere until one day we too, like Jean Valjean, can join those who have been redeemed. 
“Do you hear the people sing, lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people who are climbing to the light.
For the wretched of the Earth there is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end and the Sun will rise. “