Monday, June 29, 2009

Of Gods and Kings

There is much in the news this week concerning the unexpected death of Michael Jackson. Although we are the same age, having grown up through the sixties and seventies, understanding the culture as we aged, we have virtually nothing in common. I have never been much of a follower be it music or anything else. I am not a member of a particular organization or group that I patron on a regular basis. I do not keep up with news of celebrity although I do follow current events. I keep a close circle of friends, a wider circle of acquaintances and maintain a strong bond with family.

Allowing for all of that, one phenomenon that has always flummoxed me is the irrational outpouring of emotion for the death of a national celebrity. This is not about Michael Jackson so much as it is about any celebrity that dies. The general public has no ties with that person short of listening to their music or watching a film, etc. When there is an unexpected celebrity death or one such as Farah Fawcett who had been in ill health for many years, my reaction is generally, 'that's too bad'. I am saddened but never have I been overwhelmed.

Growing up and coming from a very large extended family (as I generally count aunts and uncles near forty) it was not uncommon to attend several funerals per year due to the death of a family member. Perhaps I have developed a slight immunity over the years though I have shed tears at three such events, two of which were my parents and all involved family. I could understand this phenomenon more if it were for a revered leader such as FDR or Winston Churchill who led nations through war or some similar figure. I cannot fathom the hysterical nature of fans and others upon the deaths of celebrity figures. Michael Jackson was an entertainer, nothing more. I was not particularly a fan of his music though I don't denigrate those who are. He was not overly philanthropic that I am aware of and had his share of 'off the stage' problems, but no one is perfect. Still, the mass of pictures and flowers piled at his house, outside the hospital or anywhere else just mystifies me.

Growing up I was a fan of John Wayne, Johnny Carson and just a few others. Ronald Reagan is the man I would call 'my president' yet even for these men though saddened upon their deaths I could not envision myself having uncontrolled fits of weeping, chest-pounding or other hysterical acts. Do others have so little to fulfill their lives they must live through the antics and status of celebrities?

Love those who are close to you and have impact upon your own life. It's their deaths that will have the most meaning. Ask yourself this; how sincere are you if you show more emotion on the death of a celebrity you never met than that a family member?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The taxpayers aching back

I watched a recent interview on one of my local news channels the other night concerning those who rely on food kitchens and pantries for their meals. They interviewed a director of a food bank. While I applaud them for their charity work for it is a job most are not interested in performing, I take issue with one of the director's statements.

It is indeed a hard time for those who try to feed the homeless, cloth the needy and give any and all services to the poor. In this economic climate more and more of us are simply looking out for ourselves as funding from government levels are beginning to dry up. Many of these groups also rely on grocery companies for donations. These donations are down as well. She made a statement saying the government should not balance their budgets on the backs of the hungry. (That is not a direct quote however it conveys the correct message). I understand completely that all groups that rely on government funding must convey a message that their cause will be devastated if funding dries up. Government should cut elsewhere and save their cause. She is in essence a lobbyist for her cause but her logic is flawed.

The poor, the needy, the hungry all suffer effects of budget cuts but so does everyone else. It is the taxpayer that must shoulder the burden and thus bear the brunt of funding cuts. Those who only consume the resources of government spending and do not contribute shoulder none of the burden. As a taxpayer I don't expect much from local government other than to keep the infrastructure reasonably reliable and safe, establish law and order and fire protection. At the moment, newspapers are rife with stories about the coming of tax hikes and finding new sources of income, ie, new taxes. Guess who will be paying for these taxes. It won't be the poor and the hungry, it will be the rest of us who are all worried about keeping our own jobs.

There are those who must rely on government as their sole source of support. Those who are disabled or the mentally ill should never suffer for a lack of funding. I would even throw senior citizens into that group as they have no other means of supplementing their incomes in many situations. A ninety-year old does not have reasonable expectation of gainful employment. Other than that, most should learn to rely on themselves and not government handouts on a life-long basis.

I wish charity workers well in their profession but it is time they learn to help those who truly need help and not those who only want their help. The difference between those groups is cavernous.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Still Rambling on after Fifty

As the light from this Monday fades and twilight hastens the day toward night, I cross a personal terminal shock as midnight reveals a new day. I turn the dramatic '51' and officially enter the second half of my first century of life. I know, technically '50' is the end of the 50th year and the first day after that begins my 51st year. But until one hits the mark one is not seen as being in the latter half.

So what does one do now that he, or she has entered this unknown realm. As I have only known the prior half I will need guidance. Fortunately for me I have several experienced voices to call upon. Graybeard leads the way and doubtless has thoughts on the subject, some of which may even be fit to print. The Stache has his own thought process which I have never always completely understood. Needless to say he is experienced and a right bright fellow but a little shy on advise. North of 50 while similar in temperament and thought is dipping his toes in a nearby vacation watering hole and is unavailable for public comment. I guess that leaves me on my own to venture forth into this brave new world.

As this year I have started this 'ramble' I suppose it shall be the vehicle of my discovery. I shall lean on My Beloved as I progress and so it shall be she will undoubtedly have her own thoughts on my experiences to come. To that end we, My Beloved and I have made a pact to be together until we are at least 92 years of age. It just seemed like a nice round number. Perhaps we will see triple digits.

To that end I will continue this nonsense of rambling, accounting my life experiences and random thoughts along the way. So rest assured, Rambling50 will be not be renamed for at least nine more years.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Nose Knows Best

A few of the things that please my olfactory system:

A new-mown lawn
Fresh-cut wood
Pine trees
Hot buttered popcorn
A campfire/fireplace in use
"Catholic Church incense"
Baking cookies/bread/brownies
Pizza/Any Italian dinner made with tomato sauce
Old Spice
A good cigar
Russian Sage

It is said that the sense of smell is so powerful that it can trigger long-forgotten memories when we catch a whiff of something, good or bad. Each of the above items has a place reserved in my memory banks that I hope never goes away.

A new-mown lawn reminds me of the countless times I have cut the grass over the years, something that has rarely been a chore. I am either singing along out of tune with my Ipod, listening to the radio, or just letting my imagination run wild while running the mower. It also recalls for me the sight and smell of a golf course in the early morning, the dew upon the grass, the sun beginning to shine, the air crisp and clean. I also picture a well-kept baseball diamond before the players come out onto the field.

Fresh-cut wood reminds me of when we built what was to become our second house. Knowing that the wood being cut was to be used to construct a home for our family was a nice thought. I cut a number of boards as a kid, never straight, just to feel the saw going through the wood so I could smell that fresh-cut smell. A pile of sawdust can trigger similar recollections.

Pine trees are Christmas, of course! We grew up with Scotch Pines as our yearly tree, prickly though they can be, and no matter when we would pick it out, Beloved Father always let it sit in the basement for a few days before allowing us to put it up and decorate it. After Christmas we would go through the neighborhood collecting the trees that had been tossed out, using them to build forts or pile them up to play King of the Hill, or just jump on them because we could. It was wonderful smelling like Christmas trees by the time we were finished. Although I do not know the year, I can recall the last time I did the collecting and realizing I was getting to old to do it, and I felt saddened. A part of my childhood had passed away.

I had White Pines in my yard for a number of years before they fell victim to strong winds or disease. I liked the scents, and you didn't get pricked when you worked around them; you get a bit of sap sometimes, but that was better than a sharp needle. We have used Canaan Firs, Douglas Firs, and Fraser Firs over the years, each one having a pleasing scent of its own. Canaan Firs smell like oranges.

Hot buttered theater popcorn; who doesn't love that smell? There is probably someone, somewhere, who doesn't, but they likely had a troubled childhood or something. The theater popcorn we ate as children was made with coconut oil, which has been discontinued because some busybody worry-wart decided it was bad and should be banned. I also recall the times at football and basketball games, waiting on the concession stand popcorn popper to finish a new batch. That aroma was heavenly! Even day-old popcorn from a ballgame or a theater was still great the next day.

I only went on one campout as a Boy Scout; it was freezing, with several inches of snow, and the campfire was not very effective warming our feet as we slept in the shelter, but the smell was nice. The closest I get to a campfire these days is toasting marshmallows at Indian Lake or poolside at Robert T's fire pit. The breeze always seems to shift the smoke toward my Wonderful Wife. Alas, She Who Loves Me has allergies, and we now burn pressed newspaper logs in our fireplace. They are fine to watch, but afterward there is always a lingering odor that detracts from the memory.

For lack of a better term, "Catholic Church incense" is what I label the scent from deep in my childhood, recalling the majesty and awe of the liturgical ceremonies we experienced in those days. Many were in Latin, which we children did not speak, other than during these rites. The incense used, sparingly, these days, is the same, but because the churches are built differently and the rites are in English, it does not have the same power it used to have. A church that echoed to the vaulted ceiling with a chorus of Latin prayers, chants and hymns had a power that today's churches lack. Most are like those all-purpose stadiums built in the 70s, bland but functional at best. Think Riverfront in Cincinnati, Three Rivers in Pittsburgh, and Busch in St. Louis.

Baking bread/brownies/cookies are warm, almost loving, aromas. Sainted Mother did not do a lot of traet baking (if any?), but Lovely Wife and Wonderful Daughter do their fair share of it. The bread aromas arise mainly when I use the bread machine, but I have experienced the mouth-watering aroma of bread baking in the oven; that rivals the hot buttered popcorn aroma for intensity with me. Brownies and chocolate chip cookies are the mainstays of Lovely Wife's baking treats, and I have even been known to do it myself. The house is pleasingly filled with smells that mean my diet is about to take another hit, but it is worth the price, in moderation (when I can limit myself!).

I do not eat tomatoes, generally, unless they are petite diced and used as an ingredient in a recipe, but hot Italian foods made with a tomato sauce are usually enough to make me wish I was eating Italian at that meal, instead of what I had brought along (at work), or to keep me from eating something else I had had my mind set on before I arrived at the restaurant. Robert T is particularly vulnerable to the Italian Urge when he dines out.

Beloved Father was a daily splasher-onner of Old Spice after his morning shave with razor, shaving soap, brush, and mug. It was a scent that has stayed with me lo these many years after his passing. Every once in a while I pop the top off an Old Spice container in the grocery store and renew my whiff of Dad. The manly scent of Old Spice was more pleasing than that of the main competitor at the time, Aqua Velva. I am still able to hum and occasionally whistle the tune for the Old Spice jingle today.

when I was a lad, the smell of what was likely cheap cigars at a Jets baseball game was one I liked, compared to the cigarettes Beloved Father and Sainted Mother smoked all the time. Nowadays, a cheap cigar smells almost as bad as a cigarette, but I have never minded if someone nearby was smoking a good-smelling cigar. Other than the aroma there is really no difference to me between cigars and cigarettes, but irrationally I do not mind the former. I can sniff out a whiff of cigarette smoke no matter from whence it comes, and wrinkle my nose in disgust, but the same person smoking a god cigar will not get the same reaction from me.

Finally, Russian Sage is a plant I have in one of my back gardens; I purchased the first one from Robert T's hardware store because I liked the smell of the plant. I now have two of them, and they have been thriving in the garden that was Dearest Kelley's idea almost 10 years ago. She only saw the beginnings of the design of the garden, but I have continued to maintain it as well as expanding the gardens around the house as a tribute to her and the idea she came up with. Russian Sage has tiny, delicate flowers on long, wispy stems, and brushing up against them will give off a pleasent scent which lingers on the skin or clothes for several minutes. They stay fragrant and keep their color through the winter, and are a nice contrast to the often gloomy winter landscape.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Don't let your standards get in the way

I, as many other men love to watch football. I prefer college over the pros, however if a great game is on the horizon I'll try to catch a glimpse of it if I can. I try not to get too caught up in the X's and O's because I would likely make myself crazy. It is a game played by others for my enjoyment and I have a rooting interest in several teams both college and pro. I try not to criticize TOO much as the skill level on the field and the sidelines is much higher than I would ever be able to match (although we all know how wonderful we are as Monday morning quarterbacks).

The chalkline is where my lack of criticism ends. I am utterly dumbfounded seemingly year after year when it comes to the powers that be in sports whether it is professional or college. The men who run and own pro sports teams are obviously those who have built huge careers and have tremendous power within the worlds of their chosen professions. How is it then they continue to be dunderheads when it comes to the sports world?

For the NFL draft college players undergo a plethora of testing, prodding, poking and skills tests as they are evaluated by each of the thirty-two teams. The dreaded Wonderlick Test is used to evaluate players mental capacities and thought processes. You hear the stories and interviews after the fact. "It was grueling, hard," etc. All this is done to weed out the weak and frail as well as those who would just be a bad fit for the organization. If you do poorly as a prospective draftee, you don't have a career in the NFL.

How is it then those same talented leaders time after time keep making the same mistakes with the same players over and over again? The same standards used to evaluate draft prospects should be used to evaluate current players. Michael Vick for instance is a near sociopath and I am sure there are more than several teams that would like to have him on their rosters come fall. I'm all for second chances but that should mean a second chance in life, not necessarily on the football field. If a college player displayed that type of contempt for life he would never see the inside of an NFL locker room. If a prospective candidate interviewed for a job and had a record like Michael Vick would he be hired at any of an owner's other businesses? I think not. And it's just not Michael Vick. The same teams keep making the same mistakes over and over again. It's no wonder the Bengals, Raiders and others are a continual freeway pileup. You don't see those problems at the Patriots or Steelers because they don't take big gambles with athletes that have more than questionable character traits.

Ask yourself, would Michael Vick or any of the other athletes who are a continual train-wreck be asked to work at the other businesses these owners run? I doubt it; then why should we as sports fans be subject to their middle finger season after season.

Owners, if you want them that badly, put them on your board of directors where I don't have to watch them week after week. You can do that for us.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Flag Day thoughts

Today, June 14, is the commemoration of Flag Day, in which we specifically honor the flag of the United States of America. Various communities in the 19th Century held ceremonies to mark this observance, many of them on June 14, when the first, unofficial Flag Day was commemorated. It was not until 1949 that Congress officially designated June 14 as Flag Day.

I flew my flag today, and I fly it often. The location on the pillar of my front porch is such that it can be subjected to strong gusts of wind, so I do not normally fly the flag when winds are expected, as I do not want to find the flag on the ground, ripped from the bracket.

I am of an age to recall when days such as Flag Day were commemorated with ceremonies, although I have never attended one; my contribution to this observance has always been to fly the flag. The newspapers used to have stories on Flag Day and the following day, ones which told about the flag and the ceremonies. Nowadays, it is usually mentioned in passing, if at all.

I am also one who is not ashamed to say I still get chills upon hearing the National Anthem, America the Beautiful, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and other patriotic songs. Quite often these songs bring tears to my eyes as I remember the lessons I was taught as a child about what freedom truly meant, and remembering those who fought and died for this country and the freedoms we still enjoy.

When those occasions arise, I also quietly give thanks to Beloved Father for his service in the U.S. Army during World War II.

Thank you, Dad, and every other member of the United States Armed Forces who proudly served this country in the past, as well as those who are doing so today. We would not be the nation we are if not for you.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It's over!

It's over! Thank God in heaven the day of digital television has arrived. Shout it from the mountain tops, let the digital converter boxes sing!

It has been nearly two years in the making to get the good old USA converted to digital television. Two years of constant nagging by crawlers across the bottom of your television screens, on newscasts and countless newspaper articles. You'd think we just won WWII again. The transition should have been completed on February seventeenth. Somehow that didn't work out. I think I know why.

Our government, in it's infinite wisdom decided to put the date of reckoning off five months. Heaven forbid someone would miss out on another episode of The Simpsons. I'm all for helping those of little means but it's television. When did TV become a birthright in the land of the free? This delay was caused by those that are too lazy to get the information they needed or were waiting on another handout from someone else so they didn't have to do any of the work. On this evening's local newscast the anchor hooked up a digital converter box to a television to show us all how it's done. It amazes me that took two years for people to figure out. They didn't figure it out because they didn't want to. Every electronic device someone has an interest in they quickly learn, cell phones, Ipods and everything else. Nope, not digital converter boxes.

I understand for some TV is their window on the world; but come on, it's television, get over it.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Cheater, cheater, cheater!

A recent cheating scandal has hit a high school in Ohio. The graduating class of Centerburg High School has ninety-seven graduates. Hooray for them. It is an accomplishment. Unfortunately it has been reported that up to half either knew of or were involved in a cheating scandal.

One of the students broke into the school's computer and was able to download tests. These reportedly were then distributed around the school. This happened months ago and it was deemed no one in particular could be held responsible. In the last week of school the school board cancelled graduation for all involved. It has become an outrage in the town. So much so that the town held their own graduation ceremony for the students in a public park. They took matters into their own hands and celebrated with the kids.

The school board held their first open meeting the other day since the cancelling of the graduation. Although it was not violent (they were prepared with deputies), the school board and the principle took their lumps from those attending. There were some supporters but most unleashed their fury on the board with calls for them not to be re-elected for the next term. They were told the board brought disgrace on this class and the community.

Ahem, let me enlighten the parents. Initially on the surface I was surprised the ceremony was cancelled. My thoughts were, how could they punish the entire class for the actions of just a few? If the board knew of this for months, why is it that this was not brought out sooner? It is obvious they were not able to track down the actual student who did the deed and it seems it was a wide-ranging coverup by the students.

On second thought, I applaud the board for doing what they did. I heard the parent's comments on the news and they were not pleasant. My question for you is where were you when your son or daughter didn't come forth and own up. The board did not bring this down on the students, the students did this to themselves. If I were part of this class I would be furious with my fellow students. Don't blame the board, blame the students and blame the parents for not digging deeper into this themselves. Children of that age aren't going to tattle on their fellow students. It isn't in their makeup. They are slaves to peer-pressure. I blame the parents for not pushing this forward. Why did you not demand answers before?

For those who blame the school board for this, you've just told them to ignore the next scandal that comes around. You left the dirty work for someone else to do and then complained about it. You can't have it both ways. Think that will make Centerburg look great in the news?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Up, down, unlock, click...nope!

I am, by unanimous acclamation the repairman, builder and general overall tool man in my family. It is always something I have loved to do. When Beloved Father was dismantling something in the garage, I was there to hand him the proper tool. When he paneled the basement in glorious faux-wood 1970's paneling, I was there to hold the board while the electric saw sailed swiftly through the wood.

In contrast, my three brothers, Larry, Curly and Moe couldn't drive a nail with a Buick. Although they are generally three of the most intelligent men I know, they completely lack the 'tool' gene. Fortunately for Baby Sis (although an engineer herself) she married Mr. Krinkles who is also a whiz at anything mechanical. The talents of Brother 5 are still under scrutiny at the moment.

I took this love of building into school and applied it to architecture for three years before running out of money. Hence the retail career. I have always strived to learn more along the way including playing with electricity and plumbing, sometimes to My Beloved's dismay. But never-the-less, I could still build a house for you.

Even in my early years of driving I would do most of the repairs on my fine Torino by myself with advise along the way from Father and the auto-parts store clerks. I gave that up when engines became so complicated you couldn't get your hand into anything and you had to take off five pieces to get to the spark plugs. Sometimes you just have to let the pros do it. Fortunately my son is a mechanic.

So what is the point of all this, you ask? Namely, the person who invented the damned 'pack-and-play' should be shot, drawn-and-quartered then drug out to a field and beaten with a hose! I hate the thing! It doesn't work! UP, down, spin, lock, unlock and clip...aaaarrrrrrgggggg! The sides don't latch, they buckle, the ends lock but the sides don't then the sides lock and the ends don't!


Wow, I feel somehow better now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What to do with Cooperstown

I listened to a debate this morning on the radio about baseball and how players from different eras should be viewed. It will likely always be an ongoing argument with no one making the definitive decision as to how players should be elected to the hall. As it is, major league baseball doesn't actually control the Baseball Hall of Fame nor make very many good decisions on virtually anything. As I see it, Cooperstown should not only be that, a hall of fame but should also encompass all of baseball history. It should be more than just a row of players with their plaques on the wall.

Baseball needs to show it's history through the development of the country, the good and the bad. It should include the 'live ball and dead ball' eras, high mound and low mound, segregation and the Negro leagues as well as the 'war years'. Because of how different players can be from decade to decade there is no actual way to compare Bob Gibson to Tom Glavine to Ty Cobb. Babe Ruth was an imposing presence in his day at six-foot two and 215 pounds, but compared to today's athlete he would be very, very average. I would guess he would average about .260 and hit 15 home runs per year. Those numbers help you make your way around the league as a journey-man or get you sent back to triple A.

The current debate concerns the players in the 'steroid era'. Actually, under the rules for many of those years the players were not breaking any of the rules set out by baseball and the collective bargaining agreement. If that's the case, let them all in. Mark McGwire should take his place right next to Johnny Bench. And yet, each era should be marked with the qualifiers to those eras and how they should be viewed in context. Cooperstown is more of a museum and should be treated as such. Put in the good with the bad but make it known, Black-Sox scandal and all.

But let's make no mistake, a hall of fame should contain the best players and should not be a popularity contest by baseball writers. Any writer who arbitrarily does not vote for someone on the first ballot just because they believe no one should be elected on the first ballot (or any other highly biased view) should have their voting privilege terminated.

Even Pete Rose deserves his spotlight in the hall whether you like him or not. He had the most hits in baseball history and if that stat doesn't get you in the hall you might as well tear it down. Perhaps they could bronze an ace of spades next to his name. It's all to be viewed in context.