Saturday, August 29, 2009

Whoops, didn't mean to do that

There is a little irony in life most folks don't consider or simply never realize. It is the 'Law of Unintended Consequences'. It's sort of like Murphy's Law; no matter what bad things happen.

The amazing thing about this law is that it can happen not only on a personal level but can also be counted on to intrude into every one's life on the grandest of scales. If you've ever heard someone utter 'didn't see that one coming', they have just been the victim of unintended consequences. Some are fairly obvious to others and you wonder how in the world did they not understand what would happen? If you've ever watched 'America's Funniest Videos' you know what I mean. Anything that involves a roof and a trampoline, well you get the point. Most of those do seem to come out of the Appalachian highlands.

But on a grander scale and over time not everything can be accounted for. Some problems may take years to develop. I have a friend who worked for a company doing environmental cleanup way back in the eighties. The first job he worked was to cover two near mountains of asbestos outside of a small town. The mountains were built over decades; I'm not sure why. He said the towns folk would actually sled down them as if they were covered in snow. Then, by gosh, all of a sudden it's a hazard and it needs to be cleaned up for the good of the town. Unintended consequences. Initially short term fixes are what generally leads to long term problems. The 'if it feels good do it' mentality is the mantra for unintended consequences.

But not everything can be measured by that philosophy. We are told much of the global weather issues are a direct result of man's influence on the planet. To some extent I may agree we play a part but I am not convinced we are the sole diabolical reason for the planet's upheaval. Since the late 1800's the industrial revolution has poured billions of tons of CO2 and other pollutants into the air. It has taken a century for man to realize what may be happening on such a scale. Again, unintended consequences. But the earth has a remarkable ability to heal itself and with our help I believe we will be able to live in a rather stable environment.

With our current technology we are able only to discern parts of trends on our globe. Are we so sure the world is warming due to our inability to control ourselves when just thirty years ago we discovered the El Nino currents in the Pacific Ocean? (These are currents within the ocean far off the coast of South America that periodically change direction and effect weather all over the globe). It was several years after that we discovered La Nina which is a similar event. We are told the temperatures are rising. Are we really sure the temperature 100 years ago in Iowa was accurately measured?

Our planet has been in a constant flux since it formed. Yes, we have contributed some hazards and it is our responsibility to keep it clean. But the planet will never stop evolving on it's own. It will get hotter, it will get colder, but mostly we're just along for the ride. Perhaps we should just buckle our seat belts.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Cough cough, wheez wheez, oh please

It is by the nature of my business to see a large group of people each and every day. And as it goes I see many of their automobiles as I either walk past them in the parking lot or help them load their purchases. This has been one of my duties for many years in retail. What astounds me to this day is how people treat their cars. Quite frankly most are rolling garbage heaps.

Day by day I walk past vehicles littered with stuff. I understand those that must work out of their cars if it is their profession. There are careers that it is a necessity to drag your office with you, salesmen (used as a gender neutral word), nurses, insurance and the like. But that does not exclude the rest of the population from at least attempting to keep their cars clean.

And I don't mean a french fry or a gum wrapper dropped on the floorboards. I'm talking about unadulterated filth, garbage piled so high it reaches the back windows. This is only a small percentage RT, you say. No no no, I counter. Car after car is nothing more than a small version of a Waste Management truck. I can't fathom those that would pay twenty or thirty thousand dollars for a vehicle and turn it into nothing more than a big ashtray. There are people I have had to wait literally ten minutes for them to find space to put their bags. I for one would be embarrassed.

If I had to guess I would reason that 75 percent of them I would not want to ride in. I'm not a clean freak but I do at least want sanitary conditions, not my feet stuck to the floor. Many years ago I rode to the bank with a woman that worked for me. That's how it was done before the wide-spread adoption of armored car service. She had so many Burger King bags piled in the back seat I thought the king himself would come busting out in song. Needless to say I never rode in that vehicle again.

My neighbor the inimitable Mr. Doogles is quite the opposite. His favorite thing to do is to wash his cars. For his birthday present I am going to let him wash mine. I think it's something he would enjoy. For the rest of you at least take some pride in what you own or close the windows so the flies don't get out.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Norther of 50

On this most momentous day, August 26, in the year of Our Lord 2009, North of 50 takes another step up the mountain and becomes norther of 50. I would guess his AARP card is beginning wear a bit thin. I shall here offer to laminate it that he could shove it in that wallet of his that is the size of a steamer trunk and shoved into his left hip pocket. I suppose that is why he has a conservative leaning as he actually physically leans to the right every time he sits down.

My Bro an I ben tight all these years!

Happy Birthday to my senior blogger.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Smoke 'em if ya got 'em

I read an article in the paper this morning concerning yet another lawsuit verdict against a tobacco company. As a smoker for twenty-five years (I quit over seven years ago), I believe that gives me full license to comment on such stories.

It was a verdict in Los Angeles that awarded the daughter of a smoker who died eight years ago. The initial plaintiff was asking for over 13 million dollars in damages. The panel came back with that award plus a punitive damages award of 28 billion dollars. No, I did not type that incorrectly. That's 'B' as in billion. Fortunately a judge reduced it to 28 million and has ordered a new trial.

The tobacco companies had rule over the public and congress for decades. As the medical establishment finally educated us all and the evils of the weed became known, tobacco companies have gotten their comeuppance. They have now lost verdict after verdict and the money loss is staggering. I suppose they deserved it but enough is enough. By this point in time if you as a smoker are still smoking you have no one to blame but yourself.

This type of verdict justifies my lack of faith in both the judicial system for civil matters and again my thought that common sense is not very common. The monies awarded by juries is monopoly money. They are awards so high that no company whether justified or not could afford to pay it. The persons serving on these juries have no conception of what 28 million or billion dollars is. Most are not able to distinguish it from 10 million. They (as I) have never had it so the value has no meaning. Companies that prey on the public should be penalized and I agree the public should be made whole. The problem we now have is every company that makes a mistake or has an accident with a product is shoveled into the same heap as predatory companies.

Those who are damaged by predatory businesses should be compensated and those companies should be disbanded. But to award damages in the billions of dollars to a small group or an individual is just as much a predatory practice.

I think I'm special, but I'm not $28 billion special.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

You want the truth? You can't handle the truth!

Two years ago a Wisconsinite (by way of Mississippi) told the breathless media hordes that, sniff, wipe tears, snuffle, sigh, that he was, gulp, swallow, wipe tears, retiring from the game of pro football. This was, of course, after delaying and dawdling and diddling around for months on end whilst leaving his team twisting in the wind over his "fate", causing endless fevered speculation about whether or not that maybe, just maybe, he might really decide to return for another season as the QB for his "beloved" Green Bay Packers. The team was left hanging effectively without a QB, and they eventually decided to name his backup as the new starter, thus "dissing" the 16-year vet by "forcing his hand".

He was told that he could come to camp and compete for the job if he so desired. Fresh off this "insult", the Wisconsippian up and bolted to the New York Jets to play for them, but not after trying everything he could think of in order to get the Packers to trade him to their bitter divisional rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. The Southern-born fellow played well for about half the season before tailing off his production, partly due to injury.

Following the seaso this man of hod, cement and edifices dillied and dallied and engaged in all sorts of hand wringing about whether or not he would return to the Jets, who had paid him handsomely. Finally, after consulting the moon and stars he announced (again) quite tearfully, at least in his mind, that, yes, he was done with football, and retired from the game for the second time.

Immediately, the worshipful but mainly skeptical media began to speculate about whether or not this "future Hall of Famer" would somehow manage to un-retire and sign with his old rivals, the Vikings.

Our intrepid Mississippinite held talks with members of the Vikings and gave them indications that he would, indeed, join their team. He then had surgery on his throwing arm, and, after working out following rehab, and extending his self-imposed deadline several times, tearfully (we suppose) told everyone that he had at last decided to retire from pro football, as he did not believe he could perform at the level to which he was accustomed.

Immediately, the now-somewhat-less-than-worshipful but no less skeptical media brgan to speculate about how soon the retired blue jeans-wearing gentleman would join the Vikings. It certainly did not take long, as two Vikings QBs suffered some injuries, and, as quick as you please the ex-Packer, a demi-god among his fans in Green Bay, at least until he left the team with bad feelings, joined the Vikings.

At the press conference this now-happy fellow told all that his signing was not about "revenge" on his former team, but while he really wanted to play, he mainly wanted to miss the grinding work of training camp at his advanced age. He's 37 or so this year.

Skipping training camp is the best way I know of to let everyone know you are a leader and a team player, and that the universe does not revolve around you. If he wins games, however, no one will likely care much.

The truth is, sir, you love the limelight, the attention, the adoration, the fans chanting your name while wearing your jersey, and most of all, a chance to stick it to your former team, the one that you "loved" but whom you believed insulted you when they asked you to let them know if they could count on you for the upcoming season. You are a media whore who feels incomplete without the spotlight shining on you, and even though Minnesota may not be the media capitol of the world, it is a far sight closer to it than Hattiesburg, Mississippi, from whence you sprang.

As the late, great Paul Harvey was wont to say, "He would want me to mention his name."

Good day!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Signing bonus or bust

The Washington Nationals (that's baseball, folks, unless you have actually watched them play) signed their number one draft pick yesterday for 15 million dollas! That's a lot of gazpacho! I don't think I can imagine what that much money is actually worth. What would I do with it?

The next question is why is that player worth it? He has never set foot in a major league dugout or played in a pro game. He is straight out of either college or high school. The same goes for the Detroit Lions who drafted their quarterback and paid 45 million to him. Both these deals were records. Who is to blame?

It's obvious, the owners. The owners can't get out of their own way in making these deals then complaint about the rising costs of running their teams. Who pays? The fans pay. Although jealous, I can't blame the players for the money. Who would turn down a raise if your boss came through and said, here's a big pile of money even though the company is tanking. Go on, take it, it's not your fault the rest of us can't do our jobs.

Time after time we see a player sign a big contract and fall flat on their face. Yes, out of the league in a year but still has enough money that if they invested properly wouldn't have to work a day the rest of their lives. I have an idea for ownership; make the player pay it back. The idea of a contract is to live up to the terms of it which is success at some level on their part. If you can't even make the team or never rise above the level of AA ball, I don't consider that fulfilling the contract.

That would actually be a win-win situation for all. The owners know the player is invested in success and it makes them accountable for the money. Where in the paperwork does it state sign on the dotted line and sit on your butt. No need to run right out and buy a bunch of useless crap. Save your money because it might not be yours in two years. After two to three seasons if success is earned, the money is all yours!

Still, if my boss comes through the door with a big pile, I'm all hands! That's real-world money, not cartoon money.

Friday, August 14, 2009

My Cathedral

I attended yet another funeral this morning. The father of one of my oldest friends passed at 84 years. It gives a sense of pause, my friends are in their fifties as well as I and most have now lost one or both of their parents. There will be few of these to attend in the future.

It was a nice little gathering. Big Bill (father of the Wis) was a very uncomplicated man who gave of himself to others, the poor and his church. I know he will be sorely missed by all. He was a large, lumbering man who in his time was all of a firefighter and an engineer. He possessed a silent intellect and he looked more like the kind of engineer that should be driving a locomotive. I am not large of stature but throughout my life he was the only man that ever made me feel small in his presence. And that was not by intent. He was a big, open-hearted gentleman who loved to talk to everyone he met. I never figured out why I felt this way around him. Perhaps I never will.

Although this is a sad time in the life of a child it also can be the final send-off into life. You now are truly on your own, so to speak. Having attended many of these over the years, I think one of the things about the Catholic faith that is nurturing is the ceremony and rituals played out at these events. It gives the family structure in an unstructured environment. Other Christian faiths have little or no ceremony or rituals and I think that is sad. If provides continuity and a starting place to help move forward.

Big Bill was interred two sections over from my parents. After the graveside service I took a stroll over to St. Mark's section to say hello. I stated in a letter to my sister-in-law several years ago upon the death of her mother that this is not an end to their relationship. The only place I am ever truly at peace is this cemetery, it is 'my cathedral', the place where my parents rest. When I am there I am at peace like no other place in the world. It is quiet and calm, usually a gently breeze blowing through the nearby trees. It was a busy day there as two other funerals were taking place. As I spoke to my parents the soft sound of bagpipes hung in the air. I love the sound of them. It made my day.

I say goodbye to Big Bill and know someday I will join him and again be able to shake his hand. Perhaps I won't feel so small next to him then.

And at MY funeral I only want Christmas music and Ave Maria no matter what time of year it is.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Blathering idiots

I have been contemplating a ramble on this subject for quite some time. It is something that has long annoyed me in it's various aspects of use. It, quite frankly is phone usage. I am not one to talk on the phone much, a quick and succinct message or conversation is about all I'm good for. My family knows this and with my unending gratitude do not force me to drone on about nothing on a phone be it landline or cellular. Get me in person and that is an entirely different ballgame.

I suppose I think of the phone in it's many forms as a utilitarian tool. Call someone or send a message when it is important. Is there an emergency? I'm leaving work and will be home in 30 minutes (this is my usual daily call to My Beloved), after I tell her I love her, conversation over. I need help; car broke down, sick or some such message. I roll my eyes on nearly an hourly basis at the useless drivel forced upon these devices. Day after day I overhear others babble on inanely about absolutely nothing. And I mean nothing.

Has it ever occurred to you you could be waisting someones time? Of course if they are on the phone to you all the while I assume they have nothing better to do with their life either. If life ever creeps up and you continually find you don't have enough time in the day to get things done, get off the phone, off the text, off the even stupider Twitter and get on with things. I tend to find the people that get the least done are those constantly babbling about something to someone else on a phone or using another device such as email.

I performed an impromptu study a year past while driving to work. I wanted to see who talked on the phone the most while driving. I set a goal of first to reach 100, men vs women, would win, or lose depending on your point of view. It was no contest. I quit the experiment when the score was women 67, men 32. It was a trouncing of monumental proportions. Women would most likely explain they are communicating as they are wont to do as it is always assumed men are non-communicational and closed up. Bull****! Mindless babble has nothing to do with communication. If you ever wanted to know why men talk less it is because they are placing a barrier between themselves and the white noise of mind-numbing chatter. And the number of times I have had to avoid drivers who aren't paying attention to the road probably numbers in the hundreds.

The expense we now pay for worthless chatter runs in the billions of dollars. We text and Twitter and chat changing phones nearly as often as we shower. And this disease runs along all social classes. The wealthy need it for business and the poor who can't afford to feed themselves or find a job have to have one as a social statement. Are you using it to better yourself or find a job? Hardly.

I lay out a challenge for all: find somethng productive to do and throw away the phone. There is opportunity and beauty in the world and you won't find it texting your fingers into a nub. One probably won't find it blogging too much either but that is a seperate ramble.

So Many Books, So Little Time

I have been an avid reader since the time I was able to make sense of the printed word as a child. Sainted Mother, an old-fashioned (nowadays) stay-at-home Mom most of the time, was the catalyst for this passion, reading to us and encouraging us to read books ourselves, beginning with simple picture books and gradually increasing the difficulty of the books.

She also took us to the library on a regular basis, and I was always excited to make that trip. Seeing so many books in one place was a thrill, and choosing which ones to read always took time, but it was a pleasant experience nonetheless.

My favorite book as a child was Rabbit and Skunk and the Scary Rock, and I later moved on to those young boy classics, the Hardy Boys adventures, along with the Rick Brandt Science Adventure series, a few Tom Swift books, and some of the Yankee Flier series, about American pilots who fought in World War II. In each of those stories you knew that the fight between Good and Evil would eventually resolve itself with Good managing to triumph. A good story is what we all seek in a book, whether it is fiction or non-fiction. It is always a disappointment when I start a book only to find the author has been unable to communicate the story to me in an interesting manner. This is particularly so when the book is non-fiction. I have lost count of the number of books I have returned unfinished despite the potential of the subject matter. It is difficult to find well-written and interesting books on science, political thought, history, or current events, but I keep trying.

I have been through many "periods" in my readings, starting with fantasy/Sci-Fi because of the works of JRR Tolkien and Fritz Leiber, which I devoured. I read these types almost exclusively before suffering from genre burnout.

My next big "period" was World War II, and I even joined the Military Book Club for several years. Between the book club and the library I read so many books on the topic that I began to see the same stories repeated regularly, and I have only recently ventured back into WWII books.

I have spent the past 20+ years happily ensconced in my favorite genre, historical fiction/mystery, with my general self-imposed "limits" of ancient times through roughly 1400 AD. It began with volume I of the Brother Cadfael series, about a 12th Century monk who had a knack for solving mysteries. I then came across a volume edited by Mike Ashley, The Mammoth Book of Historical Mysteries, in which he collected a number of short stories in the genre, and gave information about the authors and their related works. This gave me access to a whole new group of authors, many of whom I continue to read to this day. I never suspected there were so many books featuring characters from Ancient Greece and Rome, Egypt, pre-Medieval Ireland, and the Medieval period in Europe. many feature fictional characters interacting with well-known historical figures.

I have collected a number of websites that direct me to new releases, and I regularly check my favorite site, Fantastic Fiction for updates on books from over 30 of my favorite authors, as well as over 25,000 authors and 300,000 other books. This site allows me to set my page preferences to UK-published books, as they come out well ahead of when they eventually appear in the US, and many of the writers I read are British.

On my WorldCat online list are currently 160 books I hope to read.

As I said in the title, so many books, so little time!

That was also a phrase on a sweatshirt Sainted Mother gave me; alas, I outgrew a size medium.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Missing manners

I accidentally gave My Beloved an incorrect phone number the other day. I don't know my son's home phone number by heart as I usually talk to him on his cell. I looked the home number up and was off by a digit. We dialed and the voice heard on the answering machine sounded like his girlfriend. The message was fairly rude (I think they were trying to be funny). We didn't like it and I was going to have a conversation with them about it.

A few minutes later we received a call from a woman asking who we were and why was our number on their caller ID? Still thinking we had dialed the correct number we explained we weren't sure but we did not call that number. After a rude hang-up we sluffed it off. About ten minutes later we received a second call, this time from a male voice asking who we were and why we called his phone number. He had a deep voice and was rude to My Beloved.

Often in the daily happenings of life there are simple mistakes that happen. Everyone makes them at some time. You acknowledge them for what they are and move on. They are the type that hurts no one. Why is it then the social misfits always think such things are a slight to them, they don't get no respect, are rude and crude to nearly everyone around them?

If you are insulted by a wrong number you have greater challenges in life. If you think you have to be a 'hard-ass' to get respect you never will. Respect is not about being tough and trying to intimidate others in every aspect of your life. Respect is earned through hard work, helping others and carrying yourself with manners and dignity.

You, mister call-back I get no respect be angry at the world are just an ignorant tool who will still be angrily calling back wrong numbers when you are seventy. If you don't want a wrong number on your caller ID, get rid of your phone...meathead!