Monday, December 03, 2007

Same age? Don't bother me.

I don't much like being around people my own age. They make me feel old. I didn't attend my high school class 50th anniversary reunion in Indiana and can't recognize those old people in the fuzzy group picture they sent me. At my school I'm used to being around younger people, and it feels just fine. Folks in nursing homes make me feel young and fortunate. My family are all at least ten years younger. But people my own age--especially men--make me feel old. I must see myself in their appearance, and I don't like the way we look: old as sin and twice as ugly.

Over Thanksgiving break our fam all went to Publix for a few groceries, and while the rest cruised the aisles, I went out front to a bench to wait. Pretty soon an old guy wobbled his bike up to my bench, dismounted awkwardly and tumbled himself down on the bench next to me. "Howdy," he greeted. I could smell the liquor on his breath like a slap in the face. He pulled out a 12-pack of Bud Light from a fridge pack and popped open a can. "Hey, I'm Jimmy. Have a drink. You're an old man, I'm an old man. Let's enjoy the day." He took a deep swig. "No thanks," I smiled. When he lit a cigarette, I'd had enough and got up. "Better find my family," I said. Jimmy took umbrage. "What? Well, do what'cha want," he piped after me indignantly, "but I'd advise ya to pull yer pants up."

He was right. My jeans were sagging down again, and I hitched them up. Damned if I wanted to look like Jimmy. It's one thing to be old, quite another to be reminded of it. I try to avoid situations like that.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Methinks they doth protest too much

"Kill her!" screamed Islamic protestors in the Sudan, marching and waving machetes and knives, "No mercy!" Her unspeakably heinous offense? Letting Islamic schoolchildren name a teddy bear "Mohammed." Apparently it's okay to name many males after the Prophet, but to name a toy so was taken as an unforgivable insult to Islam and sufficient cause for execution. Only international pressure reduced her punishment to a few days' arrest and deportation.

Good grief. I've noticed that the more wrong and unreasonable people are, the louder they carry on. It's as if notching up their grimaces, their volume, and their violent gestures justifies their position. These protests everywhere in the name of this or that cause--sometimes I think the protesters themselves may not even know what they're shouting against but just like a good communal vent--are beginning to sound to me like a child's tantrum. Like children, they don't seem to know how to advance their position by any reasonable or peaceful means, so they just scream till they get their way. And if people try to ignore them or reason with them or calm them down, they just scream all the louder.

It seems like people make the biggest fuss to defend their position when they're dead wrong. When they're right, they don't have to state it hysterically, for it is usually evident. And I know of no instance when people in general have become convinced of the rightness of a cause just because it's been passionately screamed and menaced at them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Lord, Marvin, Get on the Beat!

We saw Marvin Hamlisch in concert last night at Ft. Lauderdale's Parker Playhouse. We were both excited about the chance to actually watch one of our favorite entertainers live. We'd played his "I Love A Piano" ragtime cd, and the cassette tape before that, going back to the early '80's on all our family vacation travels and often at home as well. Here was the composer of "A Chorus Line," "The Sting," "The Way We Were," and many other hits--an oscar winner and winner of several emmys, composer of over forty film scores.

I didn't know if he would bring a band with him, or at least a bass and drums, but he worked solo onstage at the Steinway and Sons concert grand. He did bring Stephen Lehan, a very fine tenor who sang several numbers for variety.

But the big surprise of the evening for Barb and me was Marvin's piano performance itself. From the first notes to the final ones some ninety minutes later, he rushed through song after song with no rhythm, no discernible beat, no chance to hum along in his crabbed-motion flurries, and it was a challenge to even recognize "Night and Day" and other standards in his frenetic renditions. Only on a few occasions did he fall into any meter--notably when he accompanied Lehan. It would have been impossible for any singer to sing along with the way he murdered everything else. It was a huge disappointment, partly saved only by his extensive and witty comments between the songs.

Why, Marvin, why would anyone with such obvious musical capabilities and talents do such a thing? It was baffling. After ten seconds everyone in the theatre was looking around at others helplessly, nervously, just as confused as we were. I wondered if several who left discreetly at the first chance couldn't take it anymore. It reminded me of the 1913 Paris premiere of Stravinsky's revolutionary ballet, The Rite of Spring (Le Sacre du Printemps) when the audience, accustomed to traditional tonal melodies, meters and comfortingly predictable harmonic progressions, actually rioted and threw seats and trash, stopping the debut performance, because they felt so assaulted by the polymetric, dissonant strained music they couldn't get ahold of any beat, anything familiar. That's what Marvin's jumble of notes and chords sounded like. Barb looked at me and scowled.

He's a composer, I said. He's not a musician, not a pianist. He's a Juilliard-educated, classically trained composer, and like many composers from Moussorgsky to Irving Berlin, that's how they often play. It's like they have this fabulous store of musical ideas that just spills out faster than they can control. It's the way the late George Burns used to scatter a song lyric at breakneck speed before returning to a puff on his ubiquitous cigars. There's no way anyone could sing along, with Burns or with Hamlisch--unless he deliberately imposed a meter on his musical rant, which he apparently didn't wish to do very often. For the first few bars of "The Way We Were" he actually did, but then sped ahead through the rest of it, leaving us all grasping at wisps of the famous melody he wrote for Streisand in his vortex. He knows how to play to the audience, but prefers not to. Why?

His selections had no titles; the program said he'd annouce them from the stage. They included a "Tribute to Richard Rogers," a "Tribute to Cole Porter," another to Scott Joplin, and music from Chorus Line and The Way we Were, which he composed. I'm wondering if his stylings and quotes, taking swipes at these songs rather than playing them straight, might have been for legal considerations and copyright/royalty performance requirements rather than due to his choice--though I think it unlikely. He did the same treatment to his own compositions as well.

Despite my disillusionment and initial disappointment at the program, however, I was still very glad to see and hear one of my musical idols live, in my lifetime. It in no way diminished the great regard I hold for his talents and works. As a former club keyboard performer myself, one who picks up the melody and harmony of most tunes after only one or two hearings as easily as breathing, I spent quite a bit of time trying to work through the harmonies of "One Singular Sensation" from A Chorus Line. I even bought the cd and marvelled at his virtuoso skills as a composer and librettist. The guy's clearly a genius. But I have to say, as a soloist performing the American Songbook, his renditions are almost unlistenable--extremely eccentric and discomforting. Like most genius, he has some glaring gaps in his musical psyche.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Comfortable with it, thank you

As James Brown sang, "Ifeeeel good/Like Iknew I would." Here it is in the early throes of the holiday crazies already, and we're luvin' it. Just got a call from the Geek Squad, "Saving the universe, one PC at a time," as they bragged. Ha. Well, for a service they're set up pretty well, and they do show up when they say they will. Though they couldn't save me from my PC follies, their suggestions sent me to another solution that worked, which I wouldn't likely have thought of otherwise.

Re: my previous blog, how do I feel about it? [the not knowing]--hey, I'm not Faust. I'm content with my ignorance, if not blissful, and comfortable accepting my limits. It relieves me of the existential responsibility some feel when they sense they must achieve their "destiny." At some point in everyone's life he either accepts constraints or launches mighty battles to do more, be more, have more, know more, etc. As for myself, I made my peace at about age twenty-one when I sensed I probably wasn't going to set the world on fire, despite some talents and aptitudes in my favor. I simply didn't love money that much, or fame, or public admiration, and didn't have the drive it takes to reach great heights as defined by others. So I decided a nice family campfire would generate about the right amount of light and heat for my resume. Don't get me wrong; I still admire those who achieve great things by public definition, but I don't desire to be like them. One of my colleagues told me they thought I was "self-actualized."

My perspective wasn't shaped by accident. I've had a lot of help. Literature, the most formative area of my education, art, music, philosophy, history, and religion have all shaped it dramatically, as have life experiences, love, family, friends, travel, and a wide variety of careers. In a way I actually pity the doctors, lawyers, moguls and movers and shakers who never had the chance to step off their breakneck-speed success tracks and look around. I tend to most enjoy the chance to sit on a rock and think (and join my sons for late-hour bull sessions we call patio parties--did you know a hippopotamus has twenty-four teeth?}
"I've been around the world/From London to the Bay-- ".

Friday, October 19, 2007

Yes, I know?

I'm afraid I don't know very much, despite the advantages I've had in education and experience. I've learned a lot of names of things and read a lot of books, but the things I feel I know best aren't the things my head has learned. They are the things my heart has learned. I trust my reason most of the time, but I probably trust my feelings more when it comes to knowledge of things that reason or science hasn't yet proven.

It is said that man's distinct advantage over other animals is language, yet many animals have complex communication skills like us (whales, dolphins, even ants and bees, for example). It is also said that man alone can reason. Well, maybe. We can try to confirm our hunches and to avoid known fallacies through Greek logic, inductive and deductive (and I don't think whales and dolphins, ants and bees have had the pleasure). But what is invented by man to try to organize our thoughts logically is, well, still invented by man, isn't it. It's not really knowing.

The Eastern mind relies much less on rational thought and much more on intuitive grasp, on perceptive rather than reasoned truth. In that sense, Zen and Tao are much closer to what I mean by "knowing" things with my heart, or "trusting my feelings." As creatures we can reason, but we can also feel. Surely there is a function for each faculty as part of our biological and survival equipment; neither ought to be totally suppressed by the other.

But again it is said, reason must ultimately be the master over feeling, for the latter can mislead. Our feelings are after all based on our perceptions, which can be faulty--even dead wrong. To follow our feelings blindly can lead to disastrous actions. Well, maybe that's true. Many's the time I've found out my "take" on a situation was really wrong, especially when I thought I knew someone's intentions or motives but totally misread them. And the most insidious thing about strong feelings is that they tend to be self-justifying: "I feel so strongly that such and such is true, so it surely must be so." That's when reason and evidence needs to assert itself. Feelings are the result of what we interpret to be true, not the evidence, and not the cause. But reason, similarly, can be incomplete or faulted. It is at least limited, for all our faith in it. I suspect we as creatures simply cannot really Know much of anything, absolutely.

Since neither reason nor feelings are totally reliable all the time. I guess each has to be tempered with the other, and if reasons can't always be found for feeling a certain way, it doesn't mean they don't exist, only that they're not yet discovered. Similarly, if reasons or evidence for a certain conclusion aren't supported with the feelings of the heart, it doesn't mean that the heart's response isn't valid, only that caution is needed. The important thing, I think, is to try to keep the mind--and the heart--open to change, and to recognize that what we think we know isn't always the full story. We all see through a glass darkly. And when we close the circle on truth and don't permit change, that's when we get into trouble.

Monday, October 08, 2007

and on the seventh day...

Even God got to rest after creating the world for six days. Not me. I've been going nonstop for nearly two weeks now trying to reconfigure and reinstall tons of hardware and software on these blankety-blank computers trying to fight every verschnizle the hackers and their corporate counterparts throw at me in their ever-more-Byzantine OS's.

It began when my cams server went down and I couldn't get a reinstall to fix it, even after reinstalling Windows. So I went deeper to a clean reformat as is my wont, foolish though it may be. And the further I scrubbed the hard drive clean, the more problems I created. Since that time I have simultaneously tried to piece that functionality together on three different machines, all with the same negative results.

So far I've bought a new cheap-o E-Machines desktop, failed to get past the Vista blockages, failed to get my video capture program to run, and taken it back. I've also tried to resurrect the old Dell by reinstalling XP and still failed to make my program run. Tried a new video capture card and many reinstallations, user forum advice, attempted fixes from far and wide, to no avail.

Ah, the hapless consumers. We're caught in the middle of a war of cataclysmic proportions. The virus-creators and trojan-mutators vs. the frantic attempts to keep them out of our computers by the security police, aka hardware and software engineers.

How much operating system code is commandeered for this battle, I wonder? It's got to be over half the total, and every new version that comes out ups the ante. What's it all for? So one side or the other can play "gotcha!"? Is it really all about security, or is it maybe about ego as well? Who's da Ubergeek? It all reminds me of the endless military weapons escalation, the perfect armor-piercing bullet, cyber-speaking, vs. the perfect tank armor to stop it.

I've never been able to understand what is the "rush" for some sick mind who's compelled to design a computer virus. There's no money motive, usually, but the perp must get something out of it. Is it just a sophisticated version of cow-tipping, window-soaping, or other juvenilia of less technological days? Is it just for the private chortle? Maybe it's just for the sake of the game; I can defeat your best attempts to stop me. Oh no you can't.

Of course in the middle of all the fuss, I lost my access to my school email. It seems they glitzed up the website and moved some things around, and in the process required that we all reset our passwords. And how did they notify us what they were doing? With emails, of course. And who couldn't get the word because he couldn't access his email? I think it's called Catch-22. It's also called the modern world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lost Honor

Character, it is said, is what you do when you think you won't get caught. In light of the New England Patriots' alleged electronic spying and dirty tricks against opponents such as secretly videoing opponents' signs, jamming coach-to-quarterback frequencies, planting spies in locker rooms and stealing blackboard plays, keeping a library on each defensive coordinator's playbook actions, etc., I am reminded that honor is a concept being widely ignored today and readily sacrificed in favor of winning, bottom line success, and public perception.

In sports, winning is everything. Players are evaluated, rewarded and punished based primarily on their records, not whether they beat their wives at home, take steroids and other performance enhancers, or get arrested for barroom brawls or drug possession. Coaches' jobs are almost exclusively judged on their won-lost records, regardless of their demeanor, their player relations, or their practises.

In the business sector, profit seems to be the only measure that counts as well, and corporate dirty tricks are well documented. Nothing else matters unless you get caught and bring disgrace upon your firm. And when cheating is discovered, as in the lead-laden paint on millions of toys made in China, then the bottom line suffers and high level executives, borrowing from Japanese tradional honor perceptions, commit hari-kari--but only because the scandal is revealed, not because the practise was wrong or shameful to begin with.

I wonder how much we are willing to sell out our personal honor for the new public definition of success. Maybe it's easier to live with a less-than-honorable guilt if one has a big house and a fat bank account, easier for coaches and players to live with misdeeds they got away with if it resulted in winning. And the excuse offered widely that "everyone else does this all the time" seems really empty.

Life has rules, but there will always be those who find ways to get around them in the pursuit of some goal. The real issue, to me, isn't whether people can cheat and get away with it but whether they hold their honor dear. It seems many today, sadly, do not. And when honor is sacrificed, there's not much difference from stealing or lying or any other injury to our fellow men we choose to commit to achieve our goals.

When I began teaching college around the mid-1960's, there was a lot of talk about situational ethics and moral relativism. Whether something was right or wrong, it was thought then by many, depended on who got hurt and the situation, not any absolute measure. I fear that attitude may be returning today.

My father told me when I was a boy that right was right and wrong was wrong, that things couldn't be "a little wrong" or "a little right" but were right or wrong, period. He wouldn't have had much regard for situation ethics or moral relativism. I think some "wrong" things have fewer or worse consequences than others, or may be mitigated by circumstances, but they are all equally wrong. Otherwise it would be very hard for me to believe in a God-defined good or evil, and I could only look at social consequences to define them. I happen to believe man doesn't define right and wrong. It's too bad that he is so vain that he insists on interpreting it based on his personal preferences.

No, I agree with my dad, right is right and wrong is wrong. It doesn't "depend" on anything, not whether others do the same thing or whether you can get away with it or whether no one gets hurt or lots of people may even benefit. Avoiding an act that is wrong because you know it is wrong, regardless of whether you might get away with it, is a matter of honor.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Simple Pleasures

When Barb and I married, our big Friday Night in the City was to cross the street to the bait shop, purchase a bottle of pepsi to split between us while we played a few games of pinball, then head back across the street to the trailer and call it a night. That's if we were flush with a couple of dollars between us after we paid the bills. If not, we probably couldn't splurge on more than one or two games of pinball and we'd take turns with each ball.

Although a lot has changed in the thirty-nine years since then--now we go to Disney Quest in Orlando with our sons and grandchildren for our pinball fix, where we can bang away on several dazzling-lighted, blazing-action boxes to our hearts' content, game after game for free--other than the hundred-dollar year's pass each, of course--we're still kindred souls in our love for simple, sometimes silly, usually cheap pleasures.

This morning we both had the day off so I took her to the Hess station for coffee. It happens that there's an extensive, sit-down Dunkin' Donuts in the west room, offering a full breakfast menu, but we'd never been there and it was fun. Since she'd come with me at my urging with no questions asked and fair's fair, I then followed her directions up to a different part of town and parked in a shopping center lot. She led me into a store neither of us had been in before nor had any idea what was sold.

It turned out to be quite a surprising array of sundry things, similar in some ways to a Dollar General store but with much greater variety, and pretty high prices. This was not a bargain store, though the bare-rack grab-bins and askew boxes of bric-a-brac seemed like it should have been deep-discounted. They had a lot of seconds and junk, frankly, but they had also a lot of electronics that kept my attention. Some imports, some lamps and furniture, rugs and barstools, laundry baskets and mirrors, framed prints and small appliances, paper items and eyeglasses we might have expected. But then I spotted a flute. A real, honest-to-gosh band flute ("beginner's", it said) in a hard, cushioned case, for $99. In another shelf I found the ultimate gadgeteer's delight: a mirror ("fog-proof", it claimed) for the shower, with a built-in am-fm radio with stereo speakers (about a half-inch each) and a digital clock (less than an inch across the lcd) under the oval reflector. All for $9.99. How could I resist? But I did.

I never could figure out their pricing. Any given item's cost seemed based on whether the stock boy thought it looked classy or common. So a wrought-iron grate might cost $20, but a gleaming, brass, free-standing toilet tissue valet might go for $99. Barb bought a new fry pan. Ours are getting the teflon wearing thin and starting to stick the eggs and stir-fry stuff to them. Though we walked all the aisles, we left wondering if we'd missed some unusual, hard-to-find treasure buried amongst all the motley piles and high-stacked shelves. I thought it had the feel of a garage sale.

"Well, what did you think?" Barb asked.
"Hey, that was different," I dodged. "Unique."
On the way out I learned the store wasn't unique at all but part of a national franchise. I guess lots of people must like to just shop for whatever surprises they can discover. But the point was, we had fun, did some different things for a couple of hours on a day off, and didn't spend much. We had our big spree in the city, our pepsi and pinball as it were.

We're lucky both of us seem to enjoy simple pleasures. Maybe it's our shared small-town upbringing.

Monday, September 10, 2007

I'll watch but not listen

I have trouble finding my caring or not caring balance when it comes to supporting my sports teams. So much so, in fact, that I've taken to muting the tv volume when my teams are playing badly, as if I could handle bad play watching but not listening also. Radio can be pure hell for me, but I'll just lower the volume. It seems the only way I can hang onto my sometimes tenuous grip on the real world and things that really matter to me and still follow the ups and downs of the game. As with dramas, I can follow a story with sound only much better than with visuals only. Sound is the real narrator, so my only option short of turning off the game altogether and wondering what's happening--unacceptable, if I can get the game at all--is to lower or mute the volume.

Generally I begin by watching and listening, but if things go south I turn things down. Usually this happens when my team goes on defense. I can stand to watch my team's offense not make running yards or muff passes, even get intercepted or fumble. But defensively I can't stand to see the other guys run through my team's line like butter and scamper past my flailing linemen and linebackers, blow by would-be tacklers and scamper through the last defenders, break tackles and catch passes away from futile-grasping corners and safeties. When the offense stalls, I blame poor playcalling. But when the defense crumbles, I blame the players.

Both of these things happened this weekend as I listened to my Gators rack up a big first half lead against Troy, then crumble on defense in the last half and all but quit scoring while Troy completed pass after pass, scoring every few minutes and darned near getting close to making a possible upset akin to the Appalachian State/Michigan debacle, had not time mercifully run out. I couldn't get the game on tv and was too cheap to order pay-per-view, so I suffered through the radio broadcast the final half helplessly. Next day I watched the first half's delayed telecast, but I wouldn't watch the second.

Sunday afternoon I watched my Dolphins bumble their way through the season opener and lose to the Redskins in overtime, 16-13. So much for our big hopes with a new offense-minded coach and rebuilt line. The South Florida press builds up such a great picture of the newly-minted team each spring and summer with player drafts and interviews that they sound invincible, then every fall we get our bubbles burst with lacklustre preseason losses and opening games hitting us with the reality: our team isn't bound for the Super Bowl again. Probably our team isn't even playoff caliber potential this season.

I was so disgusted from the first batted down passes and three-and-out possessions that I turned the volume off. I could still watch the inept lack of a running game, the collapsing inept offensive line, the butterfingered receivers the press had touted so highly all summer drop pass after pass, but I couldn't bear to listen as well. The announcers are so deflating to my tribal ego with their derisive but deserved comments, (which I notice are subject to instant revision the moment things change on the field, so they always look like fortunetellers) that they echo my own dark thoughts too closely. I don't need their excited confirmations that my team sucks. I can see it all too plainly for myself.

Clearly the sports fan in me is demented. I just hope the dementia hasn't spread to the rest of my mindset, but I have decided it's just something I have to work on each fall. I can't just give up on being a football fan and trying to care about my teams' fortunes altogether and not watch the games on tv or live when I have the chance, or listen on the internet radio (which is far superior, by the way, than broadcast radio--thanks, Barb!) That would be giving away a major chunk of my autumn recreation and entertainment! Come fall, I look forward to the college and pro games very eagerly. But I have to work on being able to stand the disappointments if I hope to savor the victories.

I think what I have to remember is that no matter what the play and what the outcomes, these are games, not reality, and in the end it makes no difference at all who wins or loses. As fans we watch an artificial, surrogate contest we have created to mirror the real-life struggles we all face, but it's just a game after all. We have to stop short of believing that somehow we win or we lose. We don't do either; our teams do. Similarly, when a great season shapes up and a particular city's Mighty Marauders or certain university's Fighting Woodchucks win a national championship and its citizens or students celebrate their victory and the community posts highway signs with pride for being the "home of the champions," it does not mean that that college or that community is somehow better in any way from their vanquished opponent's city or university, or that their supporters should be envied and admired more than the losing supporters. None of the above had anything to do with it, other than hoot and holler, and there's no glory in any of it, really.

Sports are just organized, artificial contests we set up to challenge our wits and test our mettle and cleverness against each other, war games which we have invented and nurtured to try to sharpen how we should deal with real struggles that do matter in our actual lives. Ideally they should teach us how we should best approach our own tasks and confront our obstacles, deal with gains and adversities, handle our own victories and defeats as we move toward our actual goals.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

President Who

What is that saying about it being better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt? That seems apt as the political season picks up steam and candidates attempt, or are forced, to speak their minds on every issue under the sun, more or less spontaneously. The debates and unrehearsed interviews interest me more by far than the planned speeches we hear later on, which are meticulously crafted by wily folks to bump up the polls. Candidates find themselves often speaking off the cuff, and that's when, to me, they are apt to let slip what they really think, under pressure of the moment.

So who looks good to me so far? Probably on the Democratic side, surprisingly, Hillary Clinton. I like the way she has come across as much more levelheaded, knowledgable, and sensible in fielding questions and dodging bullets than most of her male counterparts, and I find it refreshing that she isn't easily flustered or phony, not given to empty platitudes or sure-to-please slogans. She has stood by her record unapologetically and refused to resort to cosmetic backpedaling, even when it has cost her in the polls. I think she's head and shoulders better prepared for the office than the others, in experience, temperament, and character. And she has, again surprising to me, the ability to recognize her own foibles and even poke fun at them with us. That's something John F. Kennedy had, and we called it grace. Best of all, I think she understands the complexity of issues and people and sees the world realistically. I disagree with her basic liberal positions often, but respect her reasons to hold them. On the minus side, I don't believe she is the best public speaker running. She often comes across as strident and too full of herself, whining this and that at too high and pompous a timbre. Ted Kennedy couldn't avoid the same problem when he tried to run and couldn't avoid the solemn vapors when he got going good, and pretty soon here came the vibrato and tremulous thunders no one wanted. Hillary should learn from her husband's masterful soft delivery. The content carries its own weight, if it's good. It only gets weakened by getting louder and begins to sound like hysteria, the last thing she needs.

Barack O'Bama has been the most impressive candidate in convention speeches and as a spokesmen for liberal causes. He doesn't quite have the lyric poetry of a Jesse Jackson or the clever wit of an Al Sharpton, but he can be a stemwinder nonetheless. Where he breaks down is in his one-on-one interviews and unrehearsed question and answer sessions, because unfortunately he doesn't have good answers, and he's not yet knowledgeable enough or sure enough of his convictions to supply them. Further, I think his vision is somewhat limited to social issues he understands from his experience, and he doesn't understand enough of foreign policy or economics to be an effective President. He is, however, shrewd and astute as a fundraiser and effective organizer. I don't yet sense whether he's a good judge of human nature, but if he is, he could be an effective arm-twister in the mold of Lyndon Johnson in moving legislation forward as a vice-president.

John Edwards seems stronger right now than O'Bama to me, and better experienced for having run in '04. He's an effective speaker and champion of social liberalism, and labor especially should love him. He seems so passionately anti-big business, however, that I don't think he's electable in critical borderline states. His mission is to fight for fairness, for justice, and a break for the little guy, and he does that very well. But I don't think he has the gravitas or understanding to be a world leader. I like his refreshing honesty, keen sense of irony and quick wit though, and I'd like to know more about his positions on economic and world issues before I make up my mind about him.

Chris Dodd, Dennis Kucinic, and other democratic contenders are worth further attention as the debates heat up, all practised and experienced politicians, each with some impressive strengths but not front-runners at this point. However, I am reminded of what happened to the Kerry campaign early on, when he as a dark horse seemed on the point of collapse then won big in later primaries and pulled it out, almost taking the general election. It could happen again for one of these candidates, but it would take the right external events occuring that played to their strengths to give them a catapulting issue.

On the Republican side, I like Rudy Guiliani best right now. He might not get husband- or father-of-the-year honors or the Firemen's Hero award, but in terms of what a President needs, I think he's probably the best bet. He's a proven leader and pragmatic politician, not so full of himself that he's blinded to needs and realities, self-deprecating enough and even-tempered enough to run a steady ship of state despite criticism. I'm a little disappointed Michael Bloomberg is sitting this one out, though. I think he has an even better presidential character and judgement than Rudy.

I find John McCain to be the most honest and realistic candidate running, sticking by his convictions and statements regardless of popularity or unpopularity with any constituency and polls be damned, and most capable of understanding the complexities of the world and a brilliant student of human nature. Unfortunately, he is also the most thin-skinned and volatile, and perhaps the least politically effective candidate running in either party, I'm afraid. He isn't a good administrator, can't manage even his campaign finances, and is prone to self-destructive candor and offhand gaffes and attacks that can destroy his support from independents, conservatives, and liberals alike, his only hope of nomination as he seeks to build a center coalition. I would miss him, but I think he'll do a fast fade after disappointing early primaries this time around.

Mitt Romney is a candidate I'll have to learn more about before I'll be ready to pass judgement. I like some of the things he's said but wonder if he has thick enough, or slick enough, skin to stay compatible with the press or the critics, or would he become another Nixon, battling the fifth estate to the death--his. And I wonder if he has the political skills to build consensus for his vision, and for that matter, wonder what exactly his vision is. I see him right now as kind of a John Edwards of the G.O.P.--likely as a vice presidential pick but not having the character or convictions to garner the trust needed from enough segments of society to win the nomination or general election.

Fred Thompson entering the race this week, I think, will be interesting. I don't know a lot about his views and don't watch Law and Order, but I believe he is viewed as a Reagan Republican here to save the day. He will be embraced like no other candidate by the right wing conservatives, but I think their influence in the '08 race will be far less than it was in either of the past two elections. Silent majorities are silent for a reason: they prefer to remain in the background unless they perceive the country going to the dogs in a fit of hedonistic liberalism. I think even the most staunchly conservative of voters are prepared to shift more to the center this time around, after the scandals of corporate executive misdeeds, massive financial bailouts, badly bungled adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, and several cycles of big oil profiteering at public expense. There is after all such a thing as excess, be it to the right or to the left, and we've all seen what can happen when it things tilt too far either way. Though I'm open to being convinced otherwise, I'm afraid Thompson's simply running at the wrong time of history.

What I look forward to most in the upcoming debates is revealing the candidate with the best grip on present realities as well as the best vision for the future. If I perceive that he (or she) has the character, skill, and experience to lead effectively as well, I'll certainly vote for that person regardless of party or gender. After all, despite my conservative leanings, I'm still a registered Independent.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

What's a Turk?

Ah, August, when we men sometimes grease up our faces and hairy chests in our team colors, don wigs and masks worthy of the most elaborate African tribal traditions, attach various rubber and plastic animal parts around our heads, and head for the stadium, the favorite sports bar, or only the TV of our choice to whoop and bellow and support our team in the preseason games, renew our word by word attention to the slightest mutterings of coaches and players in the sports pages, and generally gloat that "our time" of the year, as real men, has arrived at last.

"It's that time of preseason in the NFL again, time for a visit from the Turk," the sports reporter glibly announced on Channel six, NBC's local channel. "Ah, the dreaded Turk," I echoed knowingly.

"What's a Turk?" my better half asked innocently. "He's the guy who comes around to tell a player he's being cut," I said, through a covert "Duh." Everyone knew who The Turk was, at least every sports fan.

"Why is he called 'The Turk'"? she persisted. "Where did they get that name? How do they designate who's going to be The Turk?"

"Well, em, r--, dunno," I had to admit ala Harry Potter, influenced by just having finished reading his final novel. Who cares? It wasn't my job to bring my wife, who originally thought the football-shaped "C"'s on Chicago Bears' helmets were supposed to be Teddy Bear ears, up to speed on my fraternity of real men's sportslore gained over many seasons. If she really cared, she could learn all those things herself. Hoo hoo, I pounded my chest and dismissed the questions out of hand.

Then I thought about it, and realized I might not know as much as I assumed I did. I looked up "The Turk" origins on the internet and found rather little to explain its origins or mechanics, other than each NFL team designated someone, often an assistant coach or other assistant, to knock on a player's door and ask for his playbook, and tell him the coach wants to see him--in other words, he's been cut from the roster. The Turk is therefore aka as The Grim Reaper of the team at issue. "Why doesn't the coach do it himself?" "You tell me." Where did the name arise? Ditto. What other esoterica is there to be known about the term? Ditto again. Like most slang, having shortcut standard dictions and meanings, it doesn't stand up to much logical scrutiny.

Gradually it dawned on me that not only didn't I know much about The Turk, but also I didn't know squat about terms like "weak side/ strong side," the difference, really, between a corner back and a safety, "the ole' hook n' ladder har-har"--always muttered in tandem-- or even why someone needs to be designated as a "franchise player." "Aren't they all franchise players?" "No." "Well why not?"

"M, er, duhnno." It's embarrassing to be exposed as a know-nothing by the innocent quizzing of a non-sportsfan.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pottered and Planted

I'm the last in my family to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, but once I began reading, I finished in under three days, straight through. I was amazed how quickly it read, since I'm a rather slow reader usually. Perhaps I'd overheard enough chatter among the rest of my family that I had a pretty good idea of what I would find. But still, it really read quickly and seemed to flow well, with chapter breaks about every 25 pages or so.

J.K. Rowling seems to have done a really good job with her final Potter book of the series, I think. She managed to tie up all the loose ends of previous ambiguities of characters and still write a childrens' story. I especially appreciated the flashbacks explaining the motivations and passions as well as foibles of Dumbledore and Snape, the most complex of Rowling's protagonists. And she managed to weave in a masterful, totally unexpected but plausible surprise re: true ownership of the elder wand. Without giving anything away, I was a little bored with some of the episodic near-certain-death escapes and deux ex mechina devices which seemed at times a little too glib for my tastes. Whenever J.K. appeared to be writing herself into a corner, it was just too easy to press the vanish button and have the terrific trio suddenly rematerialize at a safe new location somewhere, or if in hostile traffic, duck under the invisibility cloak. But I was very glad for the rising action and final battles which rose and fell then rose again before the real climax, and the epilog chapter of the new generation of wizards and families. Over the course of so many novels she had quite a task making so many subplots and characters come to a head in a coherent way, but she did it up right, and with grace, humor, suspense till the very end, and a lot of style.

For me, it was a good way to end the summer break, and got me used to reading lots of words again after a summer of more physical than intellectual pursuits before I begin teaching again next week.

Thursday, August 16, 2007


There are times when we do whatever just to get through the day. We're waiting for something to change externally, some new opportunity to appear, perhaps, or a shift in the many patterns which play out in our lives. We know we're not moving toward anything important in any dramatic way, but at the same time we're doing useful things so we don't feel the time is wasted. We're waiting. And I imagine we do it a lot.

This week--actually this month-- has been like that, at least most of it. No major epiphanies of thought, no breakthroughs of understanding or accomplishment. But I've kept myself busy during each day by doing something I knew needed to get done: tending to the lawn, trimming the back ficus bushes so they don't get out of control again like they did when we had Wilma roar through and topple and uproot several, costing me a couple of thousand dollars to remove.

Today I tuned my ten dollar piano. I call it that because that's all the lady I got it from wanted, just to get it out of her hurricane-drenched second floor apartment with mold all over the walls. She had tried to protect the Kimball spinet with a tarp, but it still got soaked pretty well. I reglued several felts and tuned it several times, and eventually it dried out enough that we can play it normally. But every piano needs to be tuned, especially with the changing seasons and humidity levels here in south Florida. We have a 5-watt damp-chaser plugged in that keeps the soundboard air ambience reasonably dry, but it still gets out of tune over several months. Anyway, it was worth doing, and went well.

But it was something I did while I waited, and I knew it as I did it, just like I knew mowing and trimming the property, fixing the various things that needed fixing, and busying myself with self-assigned tasks each day that I was basically waiting. What I don't know is what I am waiting for.

I assumed I was waiting for was my fall semester to start so I could get into my class routine. Barb went back to her media center each day this week, and her students return next Monday. I have the NFL preseason games to look forward to now nearly five of seven days per week, and enjoy those, but I don't watch as many as I thought I would. The college games will explode all over Saturday within a week and we'll be swamped with that scene, always a kick for me. But those things aren't what I'm waiting for. At least I don't think they are.

Am I waiting for Godot? Waiting for the A Train? Waiting for the hurricanes to come at us from Cape Verde like a big hooking bowling ball across the Atlantic and wonder if each will hit us, in the head pin position, sticking out six hundred miles toward doomsday into the ocean? Hurricane Dean was born today, three-fourths of the way to us, but it looks like he will bowl by as a gutter ball to our south and smack the Yucatan. I'm pretty sure he's not the last, just the first this season. Dr. William Gray has been so wrong so often in his predictions of hurricanes during the past several years that I have little credence in them, and no one else's predictions either. No, I'm not waiting for the weather drama. It will happen or not soon enough.

Maybe I'm waiting for that "great idea," like Hjalmer Ekdol in Ibsen's "The Wild Duck" who would undertake no tasks or necessities which might distract him from the Great Idea if it came. I think most writers suffer from that delusion, that they always need more space or time or fewer things to do so thay can get inspired better. But no, I'm not waiting for inspiration. I've found that comes best when I'm busy as hell at something else anyway. It never comes from invitation or meditation.

Truth is, I don't know what I'm waiting for. That's the problem I have when things are basically going so well that I don't have much I need to do. Normally, we feel like we're running behind the curve, that there just aren't enough hours in the day to get done those things we need to attend to. But what about those rare times when it feels like the reverse is true? That we're actually ahead of the game?

Then we wait. Wait for the universe to catch up with us. Wait for our dreams and goals to clarify. Wait till the stores open (since when did everyone start opening at 10:30 or 11:00 am?). Wait for the eggs to fry. Wait for the mailman to bring the junk and bills. Wait for the wagon. Wait for morning. Wait for night. Wait for rain. Wait for the sun. We're ahead of them all sometimes, and we must wait.

I don't know which is harder, to wait or to try to catch up. But I suspect waiting is harder, because it's the negative, the non-action, the grinding halt. Our dreams outrace our means. It's why we can't get to sleep at night. If we're behind, at least we can act to try to catch up, and that's positive, purposeful, rewarding even if we don't quite finish all we tried to or even if our labor makes us tired. Rest comes sweet to the weary--not so to the waiters. Yes, I think waiting is the hardest part.

Monday, August 06, 2007

This trip was about family most of all

The big Ritz trip was everything we had hoped for. We returned Saturday after 19 days and nearly 4,500 miles that took us to Nashville, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, and Gatlinburg, and the only casualty the Ritz RV suffered was it took a round from a truck tire's stoneshooter treads, right in the windshield. They're replacing it tomorrow.

During those days we saw a Nashville Nights show, met Cousin Bob and Nancy, saw the folks and visited Aunt Lillian and Ellen in Huntington, and went to the 4-H fair twice. We met Mark in New York and got to tour where he works his magic sounds at Heavy Melody and play with some of their stress-reliever toys like Guitar Hero. And we saw his apartment for the first time live, and went to the piers for a sail he'd given Barb as a Christmas gift, but got rained out. Even so, it was great to visit him in our Ritz, and he came out to the campground with us for two days and nights of cookout camping and the good life.

When we left New York for a surprise rendezvous with first-born son Dr. Stephen and his beautiful, charming wife who remains forever young, Rhonda the Great (knew you'd read it, R.) in Gatlinburg, they took us up to their mountaintop rental cabin retreat. And up. And up. And around. And how that vertical trail could be driven up without a funicular or cable car I'll never know. Egad, what a grade! I thought San Francisco had steep hills for driving, but it was no contest compared to the Smokies.

We did Dollywood with our grandson and granddaughter the next day and had a wonderful time. And we began and ended our trip with a night at Scott's Kissimmee apartment, which was a great way to ease into our trip and ease out of it. One big advantage of his living in Kissimmee is that they have a fabulous Camping Center full of goodies we need and want, like some drawer latches that broke from the pounding our unit took from the buckled, pothole-ridden interstates of Illinois and New York. But if the latches couldn't hold the drawers shut, good old duct tape could. We were very comfortable throughout our trip, both travelling and stopped. And we really enjoyed "pimping our ride" with lights and doodads and little niceties that are probably silly to everyone but trailer trash. Like the 6'x9' astroturf mat for outside the door. Okay, so we're giddy with our personalizing our ride, but darn it, it's ours. And if we want to put the Florida Gator magnet on the door, we can.

This trip was, looking back on it, about family. We got to see all of ours, going as we did basically where they each now live, and even got to expand our family contacts by meeting my newfound first cousin Bob Kauffman of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, who has written a great book on our Kauffman ancestry and geneology that he gave me copies of for each of my sons. On this trip I got to give those copies to each of my three sons. Mom and Dad are nursing-home-bound and not alert most of the time now, but at least we got to see them and be with them again. And Aunt Lillian, who never ages, is busy as usual, this time quilting gift quilts for three graduating grandchildren. We got to take her out for a root beer at the drive-in in our Ritz, which she seemed to really enjoy. And we got to do the 4-H fair with Uncle Steve and Thi-Thi, who hadn't been to one for many years.

Yes, it was the family time I enjoyed most. And I appreciate our good fortune in getting a good RV that managed even the most strenuous roads with relative ease, and our good health throughout the journey. We both used muscles setting up and tearing down that we didn't even know we had, and by the last few days we remarked that we were getting things down into a routine. Whatever came up, we found a way to deal with and resolve, and I guess that's part of the fun of it.

When we finally came home Barb cleaned the Ritz in and out, top to bottom, and I caulked up the few leaks over the shower and lined up a windshield replacement for the errant truck tire slingshot that pinged me. Now we're getting back to "normal," whatever that is.

Barb said it best, I think: "Life is problem-solving." One damned thing after another, I believe Mark Twain remarked of it, but I like Barb's conciseness. If you want to visit her trip journal with some neat pix, go here. Nice going, Sweetheart.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

RV There Yet?

I swear, trying to launch an rv trip is like trying to launch a space shuttle. There's a big checklist to go through, seemingly endless scheduling delays, unexpected repairs and adjustments, crew training and practise, bottomless tank fueling to feed the mighty engine, systems trials and initializations, supplies loading, an anxious countdown at just the right phase of the moon when all systems are go, and finally...
Posted by Picasa

Monday, July 09, 2007

Gypsy's gone but not forgotten

Today our cat, Gypsy, died. Just a couple of weeks ago she was chasing lizards and leaping up on the outside bar to drink out of a glass of water we put there to throw at T.C., her nemesis tabby, who as an outdoor cat must remain away from the screen room. Gypsy drank from it leisurely to spite T.C. and loved to do it when the latter sat on a rock and watched enviously.

It was so strange how this very smart tortoise cat, so fit and trim, a great leaper and very playful to the end, met her demise. One day about two weeks ago we noticed her left eye was completely dilated, though the right eye was fine. Then she began pawing at the top of her head and shaking her head from side to side like she was trying to bat something off. But it wasn't on her head; it was in it. It was a brain tumor, and in cats they grow on the brain surface and crowd down, shutting down senses (the dilated eye, then the other dilated also, blinding her for the most part), making her unable to walk, jump, balance, and ultimately even eat or drink water. She kept her purr to the end, though, and loved to be petted and brushed.

We tried steroids the vet gave us, and it seemed to help briefly, but the tumor progressed. Only brain surgery might have helped, but it would have had to be done much earlier and would have been prohibitively expensive and unlikely to prolong her life more than a few months. All we could do, this week, was try to keep her hydrated and eating, and when that stopped, we couldn't help at all. Last week went by and she stopped eating and drinking her water, and each day she moved around less and less, sometimes just staring at a wall or wandering from room to room, and finally just laying for hours and hours and barely breathing. Then the weekend came. I had already asked for another appointment Friday to see if she would be well enough to board. Saturday and Sunday were agonizing as she got weaker and weaker. By then we were trying to force water into her mouth with a medicine dropper. Finally the vet opened early this morning and we rushed her there. We were going to insist on ending her suffering, which we both felt terrible over. But she spared us the guilt; she breathed a few heavy, rattled breaths as we pulled into the parking lot, then no more. She was gone when we opened the office door.

I still can't believe she's gone. She was my constant shadow at home, spending all fourteen years in our house since she was eight weeks old. Whatever I did, my "little furry girl" was by my side, putting away the clothes (she always jumped in the basket), packing (jumped in our suitcase), typing (stretched out on the keyboard), trying to write checks (she would bat at the pen), whatever I did, she usually got in the way, wanting me to pet her, and I always did. At seven every morning she stomped all over us to get up. By ten every evening she led us to get ready for bed. And often she would just stare back, and purr, and come over for a nice confirming pat or stroke.

Sometimes I thought she was just a pain in the you-know-what, but it was always because she wanted to be noticed and involved in whatever we did, and now I see her everywhere and miss all of it. Oh, and did I mention she was my number one fan when I played the piano in the living room? She loved to get up on top of the studio spinet and look down at my hands on the keys, and seemed to love to listen and feel the music's vibrations. I've long known that animals respond to music, often seeming to enjoy it. Even with her eyesight gone and no taste or smell, seemingly, she could still hear. Last night after brushing her, with her nearby on the rug, I played a set of tunes just for her. As usual, she seemed to like it--but I'm probably just wishful thinking. There wasn't anything else I could do. I knew it would be the last time, and I'm glad I did.

Oh, how attached we got to our kitty, especially as our sons moved out to begin their own homes. Despite all the problems she caused breaking out of the screen room many, many times and forcing us to install reinforcing barriers. Despite her feral ways smashing into the front windows in the middle of the night and screeching like a fight trying attack T.C., and scaring us to death from our sound sleep. (We had to put up big corrugated cardboard screens so she couldn't see outside before she would settle down.) Gypsy was not always an easy cat to live with, but she mellowed the past few years and became fiercely loyal, friendly, obedient and adorable, with those soulful eyes that followed us everywhere. And she seemed very happy, contented in her home, so long as we always came back before we were gone too long. Funny how big I thought she was, but how small she looked sitting there waiting when we returned.

We always get cats that show some spunk, that like to play, that are most likely to drive us nuts. We don't prefer the calm ones, it seems, no matter how pretty they are. I don't know what that says about us. But we got the spunkiest cat we ever had, the wildest and most feral, in Gypsy Rose. And ironically, she turned out to be the most loving and fun of them all, and the best companion for us all these years--and we've enjoyed several for over 16 years on average. We're good to our cats and they live a long time, usually. They fill a need in our lives and bring us joy. We'll get another when we get back from our traveling. We'll love raising a new kitten and watching her (him?) grow and adapt to us and our household and our ways. But I just hope it's half the pet our Gypsy was. She raised the standard.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

This Is My Front Porch Now

This is my front porch now: this couch, this lamp, this view outside. Here, mostly, I read, and write, and journal and blog, and watch tv and study and grade when I have those things to do.
There was another porch, fronting against my childhood Indiana home. And in it, a cushioned glider, an art deco floor lamp, the view of the front sidewalk and street shaded by the big maple tree.

The sights and sounds of the front street world I now get electronically, through the tv and radio and housecam monitors (my actual view looks through the patio to the back yard, canal bushes and western sky, but I like to see what's happening "out front.")

It's a busy street here for a residence, as it was there on my former porch. Lots of cars and trucks go by, and people walking and jogging, exercising their dogs, riding bikes and skating (but now on rollerblades, with helmets and knee protectors). I never knew who might be coming down the street, and the same happens here.

Service trucks, vendors, delivery vans roar by, lawn trimmers and roof cleaners, an occasional patrol car or code enforcement troll parks and scrutinizes the property--. The world goes by, life goes by. From my front porch I see what I see, hear what I hear. But I never cease to wonder what's next, as I did six decades ago on the former porch.

And I note the hour and the day, the changing air, the angle of the summer sun, and wonder at the constant flux and variety. And as then, I have so many questions and so few answers. As then, I have so much to learn. What is? What should be? And why?

So many things to consider, plans to plan, dreams to dream--a whole life ahead of me, and a whole life behind me. A whole family gone now, and another whole new family emerging. Wondrous, wonderful things to marvel and appreciate.

I think most people have a favorite place, a favorite chair perhaps, from which they like to cast their gaze upon the world. I think every soul has a home. Perhaps mine is here, as it was there some sixty years ago.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Endearing Artifacts

Vestiges of our family-raising days are still around to remind us how reluctant we are to accept the empty nest left by our three sons years ago. We still find the golf clubs in the closet, the Ninja Turtles and Castle Grayskull in another bedroom, the cd's and records that got out of date and not taken in any moves, and the drawers full of old trumpet music and old class notes and texts. And in the garage we still shift around old fishing tackle boxes and piecemeal casting rods, an old skateboard or volleyball knee protectors, an old baseball and first baseman's mitt, an abandoned foot-operated air pump or bicycle tire repair kit.

In another bedroom remains a boombox that still works despite a broken plastic dial cover, and stuffed away in the closets are old band hats and trophies, certificates and yearbooks, loads of old toys and models, computer peripherals and disks, old electronics galore: cd players, walkmans, tape players, storage crates, and desktop miniatures. We still have Transformers and Super Heroes! I found Buzzoff! Remember him from the old Super Heroes action figures? Bet he'd be worth something on E-bay. Only last year did we finally get rid of the bowling ball and bag we kept kicking around in the garage, and the last of the kids' old bicycles finally got picked up by the curb a couple of years ago.

So why do we have these vestiges, these artifacts of our child-rearing days? When a son or daughter moves out, to go to college or try living in a different neighborhood or city, or heads off to military service or whatever makes them leave the homestead, they usually can't take everything they've collected or amassed, all their personal paraphrenalia and clothes, furniture, gifts, purchases, and effects of a lifetime with them to their new digs. There isn't room. And they're not usually prone to toss out or otherwise dispose of the things they probably will never touch again, just in order to clear out their former rooms and closets. They like to leave things they don't want to clutter their new place at home in their room. (They still consider the room they occupied in their parents' house as their room, more or less forever.) If they get married and raise a family of their own, it's still their old room to them. And they feel justified in leaving their stuff there forever as well. The parents didn't need the space when they lived there, so they surely son't need it now.

But it's not just our children that perpetuate these vestiges of former times. We, the parents, are just as reluctant to change a single thing, most of us. We say we'll make a son's or daughter's room a sewing room now, or a perfect den or workroom, or some such claim; but it seldom happens. More likely we try to keep it just as it was, right down to dresser-top items just so and the same pictures and posters on the walls. We'll need it, we say, when they come back to visit, and at holidays, for a guest room. The worst of us try to build a shrine out of the child's room and never move the least item from the way we remember it when the child occupied it. Maybe it's our way of coping with the empty nest, or keeping our children close to us psychologically, by keeping their possessions close to us. We couldn't wait till they grew up and moved out. But then we couldn't really let go of them, either. In keeping these vestiges, we keep them close to our hearts and don't really mind it, despite our churlish occasional complaining about them, because we need to. They're still our children, no matter how old they get, and always will be.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Summertime...And the Livin' Is Easy

It's summertime. In South Florida, that would seem to be anytime, but it's not. There's a different feeling in the air--more tropical. It's the same kind of air mass that breeds hurricanes, unfortunately, but it is mostly just very humid, usually sunny, tropical air, coming up often from the south.

It begins to settle over us about the first of June and lasts well into October, with showers and thunderstorms people can set their watches by, beginning about 3:00 p.m., usually firing up from the west, and ending by 3:30. The rain soaks into the sandy soil like a sponge, and things dry off quickly as the sunshines returns.

Visitors are often surprised to find how local and defined these downpours can be, literally raining hard on one side of a street and remaining dry and sunny on the other. Down here, one can actually see a curtain of a rain coming down the block, then get soaked a few minutes later as it reaches the observer.

As for discomfort in the South Florida heat, the objection one hears "It's not the heat, it's the humidity," is true. Having lived here since 1976, I am still amazed at how quickly the beads of sweat form when I'm outside doing the least little bit of work or activity. Even my morning walk of a few blocks leaves me soaked by the time I return home, and I have to change clothes.

But what can one expect, living on the tip of a peninsula that juts out six hundred miles into the Atlantic Ocean? We're going to get some rain, to put it mildly. The fact that we haven't had enough of it this whole year has left us in a severe drought that threatens our drinking supply and shuts down our lawn watering despite the fact that we're two weeks into our "rainy season," but I have no doubt that the wetness will return as we cycle through.

Despite the extremes of humidity and drought, heat and hurricanes, lightning (Florida is the lightning capital of the world most years) and other phenomena, however, I think our climate to be much easier to live in than many other parts of the country. I remember Indiana heat waves that had us melting and Chicago and New York heat waves that actually killed many of those unfortunate enough not to have air conditioning. And every summer, as high pressure domes of heat park over the midwest and cities from Dallas to Clevelend just broil in 100-plus degrees that lasts for days or weeks with no relief, I thank my lucky stars I'm in the mid-eighties and lower nineties here in South Florida in the summertime.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Post or Perish? It Depends

I'd like to post a few thoughts about the ups and downs of blogging, particularly to the new blogger. And I'm not exactly an old-timer at this subject, but I've posted a few hundred times on about two dozen blogs I've started and stopped, amassed a few thousand visits and some interesting comments from fellow bloggers over a three-year period since I began this one, and remain committed primarily to the power of words to entertain, inform, and stimulate the mind and heart every bit as much as the ubiquitous digital photo or video or sound clip does on so-called "blogs" elsewhere. I'm a word blogger. I like the challenge of trying to create pictures and sounds in the imagination, and I leave the digital pictures and sounds to others. I'm a Greek, not a Roman, and I seek thought, not spectacle.

Blogging, in its simplest form, is so easy that anyone can do it. But that's not to say that anyone can attract growing numbers of visitors. It's a maxim for new bloggers that the best way to attract attention is to post readable, topical entries and post them frequently, tagged with keywords on interesting subjects, then follow up by reading other's blogs and commenting on them when you have something to say and inviting those writers to visit your site at their convenience as well. Make links available to your blog and invite subscribers. Then contact the search engines and wait for their spiders to crawl your entries, usually within a few days or weeks.

But even if you do all these things faithfully and begin to build visitors of a few per day or week, then a few more, chances are that if you do not keep posting, your stats will quickly level out and stagnate until they get "fed" again with a new post or three from you. This is because the engines and watchers that are keeping an eye on you as well as nearly countless other new blogs hitting the internet every day are waiting to see how you do, waiting to see if your blog has the power to pull a visitor with increasing frequency, to draw a subscription link without resorting to buying one, in effect, from many sites who will gladly sell you their admiration and promise to splash your blog title all over Google's masthead as Number One in the Universe--for a fee of course.

And if you don't post for a few days or a few weeks, it tells the watchers that you may be among the unwashed multitudes who just like to set up a site then abandon it in a few days. These "been there, done that" bloggers are the curse of every host, wasting bandwidth and refusing to "improve the land" in any way, till they're finally cleaned out of the hosts' servers at no small bother.

So if you don't want the world to think you're another dilettante blogger just passing through the fickle attention span of cyberspace, post regularly. You don't have to post every day or every hour, but post at least every several days to a week, at least once. This applies especially to new blogs. If you do not, if you want to rest on your initial fit of inspiration that filled up a couple of pages, then sit back and see who visits, be prepared to see goose eggs on your statcounters after the initially curious pass by.

However, if you do post regularly, it will trigger the quicker visits of the search engine spiders, the links you need to build your rank, and within a few months you may reach a few hundered to a few thousand visits from all over the world, and that is very satisfying. Then, having reached a certain "critical mass," you may be surprised and gratified to find that you do not really have to post as often to keep growing, and your visitors will continue to increase without daily need for attention on your part.

I think the biggest problem for new bloggers is the unrealistic expectation that the whole world is waiting with bated breath to hear their immortal thoughts via a new blog, and when they don't see a thousand visits the first day, the next day they quit. It needs to be understood that just because the internet is free and open to all readers, and your blog can be read around the globe the instant you hit "publish," it doesn't mean that everyone on the internet knows or cares that your words are there at "," or would rush right over to read you even if they did.

Think of it as if there were a book, a hard copy, published tomorrow bearing your same immortal thoughts, and that one copy were sent, somehow, to every bookstore in the world at the same time. Now, who would happen upon it? And if a few did pick it up, who would read it? And if a few did read it, who would discuss it? Comment on it? To whom? Until someone reviewed your book, discussed your book, assigned your book or created some buzz somewhere about your book, chances are it's not bound for the New York Times Bestseller List, right?

The internet is no different when it comes to the need to market your product. But it's done electronically now, through search engines, keywords, comments, and the same hard scrabble work that print marketing requires. You have to be patient, and you have to pay your dues and build up a few readers who want to follow your ideas as you offer them, then if you're lucky, in time there will be some buzz generated, and voila! one day you get the shock of your life that 48 people read something you posted, all at once, and pretty soon you're hearing from the host of your blog nagging you to consider selling ad space and other corruptions so he can cash in on your emerging authorship fame as well!

That happened to me, once, so I know it can. (Didn't sell the adspace, though; I hate ads on blogs. It's so crass.)

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Write to Say It (or to Sing It)

Inner Elves is up and running, my "other voices" blogsite offering about 80 posts so far, although I still have about 35 stories, poems, and miscellaneous items I'll probably post, including some I like the best. I have to do them a few at a time so the servers don't have a hissy fit and make me validate myself with "qzieh" or "foziyuts" in order to publish my own post. Actually, it's a good feature in helping to keep out machine spam.

I want to especially thank Rhononymous for suggesting I indicate when I wrote each piece. I've put the year at the end of each and grouped them above the archives. Good idea, R!

So I've syndicated through all the search engines, who will in time now send their little arachnids to crawl inside my head--they enter through the ear, you know--and index the elves' works. I've chosen a serviceable template for starting up, and configured in some pingers and statkeepers and other feedback widgets, so I am quickly approaching the end of the startup.

Now I just hope somebody reads some of these. In any case, I'm glad I put them out there where anyone who wishes can access them instead of letting them continue languishing unread in computer files and mss on my stack, or stuck away in ringbinders.

Creative writings are meant to be read. Maybe nonfiction thoughts can benefit from being set down in journals and diaries and kept private, or blogged about, if the writer wants to communicate them; but creative writings--stories, poems, sketches and other forms from the imagination--definitely are meant to be read. It's a shame when they are kept hidden, for whatever reason.

So now I have this blog for my rant and the other for my rave. I'm looking forward to writing in each mode, expository and creative, and being able to share on both venues. But I still have my journal, and that's just for talking to myself. Its pages are legion. I'll never stop journaling, above all. It keeps me sane. (?)

Friday, May 04, 2007

One new blog, One refurbished blog, and Two dead blogs

I'm making some big changes in my blogs overall: a new look here, with updated links, and a whole new Blogger blog I'm really excited about: inner elves I call it, and invite everyone to check it out. It's where I've decided to post my more creative fiction, nonfiction, and poetry from most of my manuscripts going back over fifty years but just gathering dust. I decided I never was going to try to market them and they'd just get tossed if I didn't do a vanity collection (which would also gather dust in the copies I would spend a lot to publish and I wouldn't sell anyway). The more I thought about it, putting them out to the world in their own new blog here made a lot of sense. And I'm having a lot of fun putting it together.

Furthermore, it also makes a lot of sense to me that I didn't need two other blogs I've posted to in the past besides this one: nbknotes and nbk2. Those were languishing without new posts for many moons, so I deleted them today. Two blogs will be fine, because I basically have two selves in my writing : my creative side and my expository side, each looking for expression. In the past, I've found they don't mix very well for me in the same venue, so now each has its own.

Good Lord, what have I done! each screams at me. Oh well, too late now. (Besides, I saved all the stuff from the other now-defunct blogs as .xml's and will edit them into the one or the other new ones. There. I think that's going to work just fine.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

On the brighter side

I just noticed my recent blogs are pretty intense. Think I got caught up in the war, the shootings, bad student (and other) behavior in the schools, and the horrible things in the news generally and was trying to make sense of them in my mind. But not to be negative, I want to sign on to my blog and see something a little more positive, without being Pollyanna about it.

So here goes. It's a beautiful day, just great. And I just finished classes for the spring semester and have the grades all ready to submit. The students overall did themselves proud on the papers and last test, and for the first semester in a while I was pretty impressed with their efforts. It's good to feel like I made a difference in their lives and learning. I'm teaching summer session and already have nine or ten enrolled, so it will "make," and we'll get a nice start on our vacation budget.

And things seem to be falling into place. Our youngest sons are touring Europe in June, and it looks like Barb will get the foot surgery she needs by early June and be ambulatory by the time we can head out. We've mitigated some of the big doubling of our property insurance by taking higher non-hurricance deductible and getting a very favorable insurance inspection that should bring us closer to a mortgage payment we can live with, and if it doesn't, we've gotten an alternative quote lined up that will.

Everyone is busy and healthy, I already have my classes lined up for fall teaching, and if we can just get some rain to fall down here before we all have to ride camels in the South Florida Desert, we should be in good shape for a rewarding and full summer.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Cynicism's Dark Quicksand

President John F. Kennedy hated cynicism and frequently chided the complainers in his administration. His mother, Rose, had read to him as a child of knights and heroes and brave deeds in the face of adversity. He grew to manhood believing that if one didn't like the way things were, he should try to do something about them rather than just complain. As a public servant he wrote the Pulitzer-winning Profiles in Courage to inspire others to act for change, not to simply accept the slings and arrows life's outrageous fortunes fling at everyone.

And it struck me today as amazing what one individual can do when one takes hold of almost any issue. I admit that much in our lives seems to visit things upon us we'd rather not face, and sometimes it's tempting to feel we really don't have much control over events and outcomes. But it's very rare that something happens that we really can't do anything about at all. When those things do happen, St. Francis of Assissi had the best response in his famous prayer, "Give us the courage to change what we can, and the strength to accept what we cannot."

The psychologist Robert Butler wrote that the human mind is programmed to think toward one goal, and that is to act. "The end of all thought is action," I read from him as an undergraduate, and it rings still in my ear today. Every thought tries to move toward a response, not just an acceptance of a status quo. It is ingrained in the species and is an imperative for survival. The mind of man is not given its intelligence, its reasoning abilities, its many faculties of memory and imagination, insight and intuition simply to mull things over and over and never conclude anything, or to wallow in self-pity, bitterness, or a sense of despair or helplessness. To do so, to harbor and cultivate resentments against others instead of trying to take positive steps to correct perceived wrongs, to the point of delusion and paranoia, is the quiet prelude to tragedy, as happened at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and countless other sad events of our times.

No one should allow himself to feel helpless in the face of life's challenges or victimized by circumstances, because no one can control what will challenge him each day. What we can do, however, is control how we respond to those challenges, and in those choices become not victims of fate but the masters of our own destinies. Someone once said, if you believe you can do something, you may be right; but if you believe you cannot, you are right. So long as you choose to feel that way, you are a victim. But it is your choice whether you accept it and remain so. As JFK said, if you don't like something, try to change it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Killer Within

Cho Seung-Hui, the South Korean senior English major who methodically and calmly executed thirty-two of his fellow students and teachers at Virginia Tech University Monday morning before killing himself, is a compelling study in evil hatred, depression, depravity, and horror of the human mind utterly disintegrated. Some students trapped in his killing rooms described his icy calm and coldblooded silence. Others spoke of his maniacal laughter as he fed upon the slaughter, returning again and again. His obscene and violent writings scared his instructors into warning others who might have intervened earlier in his silent rage, but their hands were tied because he made no overt threats, spoke to no one. He hated so many so blindly that he was convinced all hated him, and he became so paranoid that he acted out the rage within. In hindsight, his bloodbath was probably predictable, but perhaps not as preventable, for the killer in Cho Seung-Hui is, frighteningly, in each of us.

Nearly all of us control our killer rage all our lives, but some do not, and the killers capture and destroy the names of the individuals they feed upon, and blight their names and memories in infamy: the road ragers who pull their guns from their glove compartments and fire into another car, the suicide bombers whose killers within surrender their hosts to fanatic, senseless, indiscriminate murder of as many innocents as possible in the name of some misguided cause or movement, and all the rampaging, sick killers who have come to hate this world and its people beyond endurance, including themselves, and have determined to quit their human participation and break the social contract that binds us all: to live, to somehow live together, and always to respect human life.

So abhorent was Cho's hatred and so terrifying to contemplate Monday, that it was an uplifting, beautiful thing to find, as that day went on into Tuesday and into today, that Cho's legacy of hatred and death was more than matched and completely overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and healing at the candlelight vigil, at the memorial convocation, at the arrival of thousands of messages of sympathy and comfort. His infliction of pain and suffering for moments of a few dozen and of a lifetime of pain and loss for many hundreds more was more than matched by the heroism of so many at the scene and in the hospitals, the law enforcement communities, the entire campus and town which came together as one to grieve and support each other, by the shock of an entire nation who responded with messages of support and offers of help. I first felt Cho's hatred and the horror of evil, then felt the surging power of love and the healing peace and joy of goodness. It is the way humans are. In tragedy, grief and despair, we comfort and reach out to one another.

What I did not feel, I was amazed to realize, was hatred for Cho Seung-Hui. Not in the victim's friends and families' remarks, not in the officials' and authorities' remarks, not in the remarks of fellow students and professors he sought to destroy. It was so ironic that he felt everyone hated him, because he hated them. That they wanted to kill him, because he wanted to kill them. And that instead of destroying others, he could not destroy who they were in the hearts of those who knew them, could not sully their memories or recast them as the villains he saw in his sick mind and wrote of in his obscene, violent plays, but rather elevated their memories to the status of heroes cut down by senseless evil, to be remembered and honored as are fallen warriors and the victims of 9/11 and others.

Cho Seung-Hui sought to weaken and destroy his world. Instead he only brought it closer together and made it stronger. I have sensed that instead of a desire by anyone to destroy him, there is and will remain simply a profound sadness for him, a profound regret that no one could act to save him from his killer within. I think we realize that he, as the others who died, are in some way in us as well.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


As so many of us part-time college instructors have found, night teaching is often more rewarding than day because the higher motivated, working students seeking career advancement opportunities tend to pay attention and get their work done on time, and are less likely to cheat or plagiarize, I suspect, as well.

Carol Anne has written an excellent blog on the subject at It's Five O'Clock Somewhere, but the part that really hit home for me was her frustrations not only with some unruly afternoon students who were disruptive, but the administration's hogtying of her hands to deal with it. When did the teacher's authority get so usurped by politically correct rules that took away any ability the teacher had to maintain order and accountability in her or his classroom? I've been victimized by it myself, and I've blogged about it before here (February 14: "The Most for the Least"). I think it's even worse now than in the free-for-all '70's counterculture days. No one seems willing to recognize that within a classroom, the teacher's authority must be respected--and backed up by the administration, even if it is unpopular with parents, politicians, or school boards of the system. It doesn't take very long for students to sense when the instructor's hands have been tied, and to act accordingly.

Society tends to ultimately get what it wants. If it wants its educational system to succeed in teaching its students effectively, it must support its teachers' authority with policies and procedures that engender respect. Anything less continues the mediocre, expediency-driven weakening of certifications and degrees, to the point that society, which wants college degrees and certifications to mean something, can no longer believe those degrees have any merit.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Hey guys, mind if I use my own computer?

These constant updates every time I turn on my computer are making me wonder whose machine it is anyway. Microsoft, Java, Real, Macaffee, HP, Apple, and half a dozen other denizens of cyberspace want to grab hold of my operating system every time I log on and tell me new updates are ready to download or install. I can only stall them off from their nagging for so long. I don't want most of them, and they all use the security scare to try to frighten me into letting them do whatever they want, for as long as they want, while I twiddle my thumbs or plod along side-by-side with my slowed-down system trying to do what I wanted to do when I logged on, while they tinker under the radar.

It's a little like driving with your hood up while your mechanic fiddles around in the engine compartment and won't ever let you start or operate your vehicle without him reaching back in to adjust some little frammis or kree. I hate it. I especially hate it when I'm trying to get on the net for some information, and here comes the danged popup nags again, despite my having turned off every automatic update option I can find. And when I do try to turn off any of the "security essentials" they have defined, ooh-ooh--ooh, can't do that! your computer may be at risk! flash-flash-flash.

So eventually I do take a look at what these guys want to install to make it all better, and often it's not that altruistic. Often it's a self-serving update for the company instead of something I need, like Microsoft's latest gimmick that they just want to check to make sure I'm running a genuine Windows operating system--are there non-genuine ones? What the heck else is there that could have taken over my XP I've run since I bought the machine, pray tell. Or Mcaffee insisting I "validate" my antivirus software or I can't use it till I do. Who do they think is using it, since I bought and paid for it, if not me?

Moreover, I've found that most of these wonderful free update packs come with clever little things attached that I have to opt out of manually or they'll install automatically alongside what I maybe do want. One package wanted to install a Google Toolbar in my browser, for instance. Phooey. I don't want another menu bar under everything else crowding my main window space even more like a permanent popup ad. When I want to use Google or Yahoo, I'll go to Google or Yahoo fast enough. I don't want them "available" staring at me in my Word screens or my Internet Explorer or Firefox screens or my media player screens too.

The latest Microsoft "update" wanted to put in their latest browser, which I don't want, and didn't make much announcement about their intentions. It just came through the same pipe as the little "Security Updates" that never seem to end--you know, the ones that scroll down page after page in your control panel's "installed programs" screens after the "real" software list?--, only this one was a mega-megabyte, fullfledged new edition of Internet Explorer that took over everything I was doing for about a half-hour while it infiltrated every aspect of my machine, putting in a browser with tabs that I found anything but intuitive. I had one heluva time pulling that one all out.

Maybe I have a distorted view of what I as an end user of software and hardware I purchase gives me the right to do. I like to think I can control what I do with my own stuff, and when I do it. They, on the other hand, seem to believe they still own everything and control everything forever, and I have only leased the right to use what they have licensed me to use under certain conditions, the main one being when they don't want to mess around with it. Whatever I want to do with it, as far as they're concerned, can wait. I understand their right to nag me till I buy their product for its full price, but after that, go nag someone else. I'll take my chances with the gremlins you keep trying to scare me will take over. They can't be any more bothersome than you have become.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Don't Overlook the Obvious

I once read a news item about the struggle a moving company had physically moving a big two-story house across a city to a new location. They got it up on big cushy wheels okay and through the streets and down to a bridge. But then they ran into a problem: the house wouldn't clear the height of the bridge by four or so inches. The workers struggled for some time wondering whether to weaken the bridge structure by trying to remove trusses temporarily or weaken the house by trying to lower its roof crown, and things were at a standstill till one of the workers heard a boy, watching nearby from his bicycle, say, "why don't you just let some air out of the tires?" They did, and the house slid through nicely. In their zeal to attend to details, they had overlooked the obvious.

I tend to do the same thing. A born worrier, I try to imagine whatever surprises Murphy has in store for most projects I undertake and prepare to deal with them. When we got our new refrigerator I went over and over checking with both yardsticks and tape measures the height to clear the overhead shelves, the width and depth, and cleared thoroughly the path through the garage into the house, making sure the car was parked tight against the wall to make a wide run for the refrigerator applaince dolly. We got our automated call Wednesday night that they'd deliver it Thursday morning between nine and eleven. I knew I'd be working at school; Barb would have to handle whatever came up. But I had confidence we'd done all we needed to prepare. I'd brought in cooler chests and storage bins sufficient to receive the food. I worked the icemaker faucet back and forth a few times to be sure it wouldn't stick, and taped the excess line coiled against the back of the old unit so they wouldn't run over it. I'd protected some security cam wires where they'd be run over, possibly, by creating a valley for them between two lengths of yardstick and taped everything down good. I was sure I'd thought of everything.

But when I turned on my internet quad picture of my house cams between classes, I was appalled to see one cam, the one on my front door, askew viewing the blank door jam, instead of the cul-de-sac and house across the street. I knew immediately what had happened: the delivery men had brought the fridge through the double front doors instead of through the garage. Aargh! That meant they'd probably sever my through-the-door wiring and mess up my new door cam against the house, and I'd have to repair or replace about a hundred dollars worth of equipment. I called Barb. Yes, they came in and out of the front double doors.

Well of course they would, I realized. It was obvious--the easiest way to deliver the item and remove the old unit. But in my obsession with details, I had overlooked the obvious.

Probably the worst non compis mentis I ever committed was when I once made breakfast in my Chicago near north side apartment one morning. I was trying to make up some orange juice from concentrate, and in my still-half-asleep fog I couldn't get the frozen concentrate to shake out of the large-size cardboard cylinder even after I pried off its metal lid. So I ran some warm water around it and shook it again. The vacuum was too great on the bottom; it wouldn't come out. So I had a can punch in my hand and--you guessed it. Holding the cannister upside-down over the floor, I punched a nice triangular hole in the bottom. That worked. With the vacuum broken, the entire cylinder of frozen Del Monte Premium 100% Orange Juice concentrate fell to the floor with a squishy thud. I had overlooked the obvious.

But wait, there's more! After gathering up what I could of the orange juice glob and spooning it into the pitcher, I went for the necessary can of waterto the kitchen sink and--you guessed it--filled my big cannister to the brim with cold water, crossed the kitchen to the pitcher on the table, and poured in the few drops left in the cannister which had not streamed out the triangular hole I'd made in the bottom all across the kitchen floor. Twice in two minutes I had again overlooked the obvious.

With a Ph.D. and sixty-seven years of life experience, I would like to believe I'm not just plain stupid, but sometimes it's hard to be convinced. If I've learned to respect one thing, it's that all the expertise in the world, or the intellectual accuity, or the experience, or the wisdom, or attention to details, is no substitute for the best of all smarts: what they used to call "common sense." I think maybe it's the sense nature programmed in us that enables the human race to survive, despite all the warped, airy thinking we too often, in our folly, embrace instead.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Overcoming our comfort zones

In the late '60's the Information Age which continues to explode today had already begun, and Alvin Toeffler wrote Future Shock prognosticating what might happen to us as we became increasingly drenched and bombarded with information of all kinds from all media: our beliefs would be fragmented and fractured, our puny human brains couldn't handle it all, we wouldn't be able to recognize what to embrace from what to reject, to separate the important from the unimportant. We would generally be overwhelmed and shocked by the future we created.

Nearly a half-century has elapsed since that vision, and it seems to me Toeffler was right. We can't handle all the information we are exposed to each day--at least not in the way we used to. Our emails alone number in the hundreds for many, and we've all learned to speedread and scan most of our reading, toss out the spam and the mailbox crammed with ads and junk mail, speedflip through the hundreds of channels the tv tries to wedge into our heads, and so forth. Our mode of discriminating what to keep from what to toss, what to focus on from what to ignore, has become faster and faster, and less and less considered, mulled over, than ever before. We realize we still ought to think critically, but every pressure is instead to think automatically and efficiently in our high-speed sort of the information flood. We are riding the crest of the information tidal wave on a very short board, and trying to keep our balance however we may.

So how do we cope with the dilemma of too much information and too little time to consider it critically, assuming none of us wants to fall prey to the ostrich response and simply ignore the problem? The answer varies, often by generation and circumstance. The tendency of many seniors like me may be to turn to the past for our familiar ideas and cling tenaciously to our outmoded but comfortable ways. Our comfort zones become our Capuccin monastaries, our protected enclaves of the spirit, where the confusing, fast-paced world outside our needs won't bother our tranquility. The cost, of course, is that we sacrifice living in it, growing, and experiencing more than we had.

Surprisingly, the tendency of young adults is somewhat similar in insulating the psyche from the perils to the mind and spirit which the information flood threatens. I've noticed as a college teacher, that students are blissfully unaware of most current events, prefer not to worry about the world very much, to not make commitments which are far-reaching and to instead be very flexible to change, to not hold onto much of anything very long if it becomes inconvenient. They will sign up for yearbook or newspaper staffs, dramatic productions and other activities, then think nothing of simply not showing up before the first edition. I've seen cast quit at the dress rehearsal--just not interested anymore. This establishes a comfort zone that protects itself against consequences by evading the need to accept responsibility.

The entertainments of the young are typically to accept the sensational and spectacular and loud over anything of substance or subtlety or depth, to settle for the Wikipedia summary of an idea, to avoid complexity or extended study of almost anything, and to ride that wave forward in such a way that leaves all problems and troublesome issues behind, including conscience, mistakes, morality, social responsibility--troublesome issues all that are best left unconsidered.

I asked a colleague, reading the morning paper in our coffee lounge, if he read the paper and followed current events when he was in college. No, not at all, he answered. Did I? No, I realized, I didn't care about the world beyond my family and the campus till much later--except for the big headline events like President Kennedy's assassination that had everyone shouting on the streets. But not issues. Not trends. Not opinions or ideas. If it wasn't required in a course and I didn't have to be tested on it or write a paper about it, I didn't want to know it. My head was being rewired by my professors and friends enough, then.

So when, I wondered, do we begin to care about what's happening in the world at large, if not by college? Perhaps it changes when we get out on our own, into our jobs and careers, and begin to navigate our own lives. For the first time, probably, what to do next isn't always clear, and we realize we have to make decisions that will have consequences for quite a while, and we gradually realize that what's been happening "out there" in the big, scary world has importance for us to know in order to make those decisions intelligently and from an informed perspective.

From then on, we are forced to expand our comfort zones. Reality demands it. And we begin to voluntarily change some of the ideas we used to cling to for the sake of seeing things as clearly as we can. Today's vast communications explosion has made ignoring inconvenient new truths and living in a bubble of comfortable ideas much more difficult than before the information age began, but the fact of it has created an imperative, I think, to accept that things are not so fixed and knowable in many cases, that life is change and flux, that there is seldom certainties that we should try to cling to at all costs for the sake of validating our preferred beliefs, if new evidence suggests we should adapt and change. If we accept that imperative, perhaps, accept change and do not fear its challenge, we will probably be more comfortable in the long run.