Saturday, April 30, 2005

Odds and Ends

Everyone has commercials they love to hate. Recently, I’ve been hearing a commercial on the radio that I get a kick out of. It’s absurd and it’s corny, which is probably why I like it.

The commercial is for Charmin’s new Mega Roll toilet paper, which, the jingle assures you, comes with enough on each roll for “every bear in the woods” and that “happy cheeks are what it’s all about”.



The fundamentalist outrage over the new adult novelty store in my town continues on. They’ve formed a task force to stamp out other sexually oriented businesses outside city limits as well.

The city council, bowing to pressure, has put a moratorium on granting business licenses to any other adult businesses until they can amend the current law. The proposed amendment would limit such businesses to industrial areas, banning them from close proximity to churches and schools. Any existing businesses operating after such an ordinance passed would be considered nonconforming and given a year to relocate to an approved area.


The other night, a heavy thunderstorm passed through my area. My big, badass tomcat jumped up and hid under the bed until it was all over. The female cat, asleep in the window, didn’t move a muscle.

The female cat loves French fries and goes into ecstasy every time she sees a McDonald’s bag. The male is indifferent to them, but perks up when he sees a bag of Doritos.


There’s a local take out restaurant that asks for your first name when you place an order, in order to call you when the food is ready. This practice instinctively repels me, as I have no interest in pretending a faux friendship, when all they’re interested in is your money. I’m satisfied with the old system of numbers, thank you very much.


Consultant: Someone you go to for advice

Insultant: Someone you go to for abuse

Friday, April 29, 2005


I've noticed while listening to many songs that singers will pronounce words ending in -y with an "eh" sound, instead of "ee", as they would in normal conversation.

Instead of singing "baby, it's not easy", they'll sing, "bay-beh, it's not ea-zeh". Sometimes, they'll even sing "beh-beh".

"Really" typically comes out as "RILL-leh", instead of as the spoken, "ree-lee".

I've heard other words sung with altered pronunciations as well. One I've noticed a lot lately is "miracle", sung as "MEEEER-ih-kul", rather than the spoken "MIH-rih-kul".

What's up with this? Are singers taught to enunciate in this fashion when they take voice lessons or what?

Another quirky thing I've noticed is that British singers lose their accents when they're singing. Is that odd or what?

I've noticed some people talking on radio and TV who pronounce "wh" words such as where, what, whether, which, and so on as if they're spelled hwere, hwat, hwether, hwich, and so on. I looked in the dictionary and, lo and behold, this is considered "proper". What's up with that?

I don't care how proper it may be, it sounds prententiously hoity-toity, and I never hear such enunciations in normal conversations.

I've noticed many female deejays who are obviously speaking in a register lower than what is natural for them. I can only presume they've been taught to speak in this manner. While I agree that there is nothing more irritating than a grown woman with a babytalk voice that sounds as if she's eight years old, trying to sound like Bea Arthur or Lauren Bacall when nature didn't gear you for it is going a tad overboard. Don't get me wrong, I love a woman with a naturally husky voice, but for deejays trying to avoid the babytalk voice, speaking with a medium female pitch is quite sufficient.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Love and Respect

"Men need respect, women need love".

I've heard this assertion from the pop psychologist crowd more times than I'd care to mention. Their underlying point is that men and women differ so profoundly as to be almost two different species.

What a load of BS.

I'm not going to go into a long discussion of sex differences here, as that would take many entries and open a can of worms I'm not willing to attempt to recan at this time, but I'll confine myself to this single assertion.

The above statement is made in the context of intimate personal relationships at a committed level. Though I'm no big expert in committed relationships, to be sure, there are a few things that are fairly obvious to me that conflict with this assertion.

Women do indeed need love in a committed relationship. That is so obvious as to not need mentioning. But what is love without respect? A woman who is loved by a man who doesn't equally respect her is in an unhealthy relationship. Love without respect isn't love at all.

As far as men go, yes, we most definitely need respect. But if I were in a committed relationship, I'd certainly expect to be loved, otherwise, what's the point of the commitment?

I neither expect nor necessarily desire undying love in my many casual relationships, nor is a high level of respect expected. But if I were in a long term commitment where the woman merely respected me without loving me, it might as well be a business relationship.

Love and respect. Two equal sides of the coin. For both men and women.

And, by the way, I am from Earth. I expect my women to be from Earth. To hell with this Mars and Venus shit.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Throw Them In Jail?

After working for nearly a decade as a law enforcement officer, I came away with some changed opinions of the criminal justice system.

I believe that prisons and jails should be reserved for violent criminals only; those who pose a physical danger to the general public. All other criminals should be dealt with by alternative methods.

Keeping a person incarcerated is expensive for the taxpayers, and cheaper, appropriate means of punishment do exist for non violent criminals. Such methods include electronic house arrest, wage garnishment, and the like.

With many money-related crimes, incarceration serves no real purpose for the victim. Punishments which involve the criminal making restitution make better sense.

With some “status offenses”, it serves no useful purpose whatsoever to jail the offender. I remember one time a man was jailed for driving an uninsured vehicle with a suspended driver’s license. His license had been suspended for simple points violations. When arrested, he was not breaking any other traffic laws. For most traffic offenses, an officer may use his own discretion as to whether to jail the offender or simply write a ticket. For the two offenses above, however, the officer was mandated by state law to take the offender into custody.

The man had a pregnant wife close to giving birth. She was having a difficult pregnancy and was unable to work, with him the sole wage earner in the family. The county I live in has no public transportation to speak of, so he did what he had to do to support his family.

When he went to trial, he told the judge about his situation. He didn’t attempt to evade punishment entirely, freely admitting his guilt. He asked if he could do weekend time in the jail, so that he could continue to work and support his wife and soon-to-be child. The judge would have none of it, and sentenced him to 90 straight days in jail, despite the fact he had no criminal record, other than these traffic offenses.

After being taken to jail, the man called his employer to tell him what had happened. The employer immediately fired him.

What was the justice in this? Not only was this man punished for what was essentially a status offense with a punishment that far exceeded the crime, his wife was punished as well.


Thursday, April 21, 2005

More Religious Rumblings

I clicked on my local newspaper's website this morning to find that the town's fundamentalists are still restless about a variety of issues.

First of all, to my satisfaction, there was an editorial supporting the opening of the business mentioned in my post yesterday. The writer pointed out that there are any number of businesses already operating in town that some people might fight objectionable: liquor stores, cash advance stores, stores selling lottery tickets, nightclubs, stores selling cigarettes, and so on, and that this store is no different. This was followed up with a suggestion that people who object should vote with their feet and simply not patronize the business. There was also a blunt suggestion that those exercising themselves about this store might better expend their energies helping the poor, the elderly, and with other worthwhile community activities.

I then clicked on a story about a proposed total abolishment of the county's blue laws. Presently, most stores do not open until 1:30 on Sunday afternoons, and then close promptly again at six. The proposal would allow businesses to decide for themselves when and if to operate on Sundays.

Naturally, this has generated protests from fundamentalists. One pastor said, "The change might be good for our economy, but it’s not good for our community. Blue laws were made at a time when people had reverence for God. We don’t have that now."

Well, if the proliferation of fundamentalism in the last thirty years is any indicator, then there is apparently no lack of "reverence for God". Secondly, it's not a proper function of law to enforce religion; it's a clear violation of the separation of church and state. To have Sunday blue laws favors one religion over others -- I've never seen Saturday blue laws in honor Judaism, nor blue laws for the holy days of other religions.

Next, I moved on to the letters to the editor page, which contained several letters from fundamentalists.

One letter writer railed against the teaching of evolution in the schools, asserting that "evolution is scientifically impossible". He went on to say that "the known 'facts' of science, history and logic are consistent with the Biblical account of creation." Oh, really? The ignorance here is so staggering as to beggar the imagination.

I disagreed with the late Pope John Paul II about many things, but he once made a comment about evolution that made sense. He said that belief in evolution did not necessarily preclude a faith in God; that evolution was true, but that it was God who set it into motion. I'm not sure if this is so, but it makes more sense that the bogus science of "creationism".

Another letter writer took the newspaper to task for having a feature article on the front page about the life of a local atheist. The letter writer said, "It is deeply troubling when a supposedly responsible newspaper believes it reasonable to publish such error on the front page." As fundamentalists have no respect for the separation of church and state, they obviously have no respect for the freedom of the press, either, or that people from all walks of life exist in every community.

Another letter writer ranted, "What ever happened to government 'of the people, for the people, and by the people'? When we were a Christian nation, we had it, imperfect as it may have been. Now that we are becoming a godless socialist pagan nation, we have lost it."

"Christian Nation". Here we go again. The USA was not founded as a sectarian, Christian nation. The majority of our Founding Fathers were Deists and our constitution is a deliberately secular document. The Founding Fathers declined to declare an official "state religion", as they believed that mixing government with religion effectively diluted both. Government was to not establish, facilitate, nor hinder any particular religion. The freedom of religion was guaranteed to all religions as was the freedom from religion. Religious tests for holding office were abolished, as the question of one's religion or lack thereof was considered a wholly private matter which had no bearing on a person's fitness to hold office. Fundamentalists constantly betray a willful ignorance of the basic facts of the history of our nation's founding.

Some fundamentalists believe that they are "in the world, but not of it". In other words, they live separate lives, neither participating in, nor hindering larger society. I think it's high time they got back to it. They are assuredly free to live life as they see fit, but they need to leave the rest of us to do the same.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Fundamentalist Protest

Last week, I read a story in the newspaper announcing the opening of an adult novelty shop that would sell lingerie, "adult novelties", and adult videos in a local strip mall shop.

Yesterday, I read a follow up article about a group of local fundamentalists fighting to keep this new business from opening. They have gained the support of a couple of other business owners in the strip mall. Though the mayor has told the group that it would be difficult to legally prohibit this store from opening, the group is planning to meet with attornies to attempt to find loopholes in the city ordinances, and they've also organized a petition.

"The pursuit of life and liberty does not include wicked things like pornography," the church group's leader asserted. Well, actually, it does, but there's no point in trying to reason with a closed mind.

Though one store owner in the strip mall has said he's glad to see a new business to help the economy and local employment, two other business owners cited safety concerns as the reason why they opposed the new shop. One owner said she is "concerned about the safety of her children and other children who will come with their families to the shopping center. "

Safety?? Do they actually think that sexual predators will be lurking in the shadows of parked cars waiting to pounce on unsuspecting children passing by, simply because someone is selling a few vibrators. Give me a break!

The adult shop's owners have said that no one under 18 will be allowed in the store. They have done their part. Those who are offended by what this store sells can simply avoid visiting it, and not interfere with the right of others to patronize this business.

I can only hope that the city continues to uphold the right of this business to operate and does not cave in to the demands of those who would seek the limit the freedom of others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Odds and Ends

I find myself uninspired for a full length entry today, but I've got a few snippets from my "odds and ends" file to cobble an entry together with.

Many times, I get ideas for writing while going about my business, frequently when driving or showering. It's best if I jot down the key word or idea as quickly as possible, because if my attention moves on to something else, it's quite likely I'll forget it. Sometimes, the idea will come back to me of its own accord, especially if I'm relaxed and don't try to force it, but fairly often, once I forget it, it's gone.

Some might say this is a sign of getting old, which I've heard referred to either as CRS (Can't Remember Shit) or its more serious cousin, CRAFT (Can't Remember a Fucking Thing).

I don't know if it's necessarily a degradation of memory. It seems to me that the longer one lives, the more facts and experiences the brain is hosting as compared to the relatively emptier mind of a younger person, who has far fewer life experiences to keep track of.

My brother stutters. He always has, since my earliest years. It's lessened some as he's gotten older, but he still does it from time to time. I don't know anyone else in the family who does.

While listening to the radio the other day, a public service announcement came on about stuttering, telling people it was a neurological thing having nothing to do with intelligence or being overly nervous.

I'd always known it wasn't related to intelligence because of my brother, who is a skilled surgical nurse, but the common belief in our family was that his stuttering had a psychological component related to the issues he had with our father.

Why is it that when you encounter double glass doors to enter a business, one of them is always locked? What's up with this? Why even have the door if it's always going to be locked?

Some advertising phrases and what they really mean:

Get up to fifty percent off!

You'll get ten percent off. If you were going to get fifty percent off, the modifier "up to" would not be in the sentence.

Pay as low as 99 dollars a month!

Again, if you had a reasonable chance of getting this price, "as low as" would not be part of the sentence.

Pay 99 dollars a month, with approved credit.

....with only .00001% of customers having sufficiently approved credit.

Results not typical

This is a typical disclaimer in weight loss ads, shown at the bottom of the_ page in microscopic letters. So, this means that, even though Ms A lost 100 pounds in six months, your likely weight loss will be about three ounces. And that will be from your wallet.

Books of the Week

I made a library run yesterday and here are the books I chose:

Do You Speak American by Robert MacNeil and William Cran. This is a look at various American dialects and how they've evolved over the years.

The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty by Kitty Kelley. Dishing the dirt on the Bush family.

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson. Recently written bio of one of our Founding Fathers.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

More Insomnia Mind Games

I've been having a bit of insomnia lately, the kind where I sleep for a few hours, then snap awake hours before I'm ready to get up. A few months ago, I wrote about a couple of the mind games I play when my sleeping patterns are disrupted. Here are a few more.

I’ve always had a mental picture of my brain as a huge library. To access my “library” of a brain, I imagine riding up to it in an elevator, as the library is at the top of the building. The library’s lobby is a J shaped room with windows all around looking out at the world.

Memories are files, with similar memories stored in folders, then bound into books. The library consists of several rooms, each containing related books. Each room has large glass windows and a door.

When I remember something, I visualize myself going into one of these rooms, turning on the light and finding the proper book and page. Conversely, when I want to put something out of my mind, I visualize closing the book, turning out the lights as I leave the room, close the blinds on the window, then locking the door. If the memory is persistent, I’ll visualize pulling a large curtain around the entire room, blocking it from view.

Another mind game I play when I can’t sleep is to imagine going back in time and imagining how I prove that I am from the future or how I manage in that time. I’ve imagined showing my car to George Washington for example, or perhaps prove myself by means of something so small as a handheld calculator. A variation on that theme is that I keep my identity secret, but I soon become rich by betting on events that are history to me. If anyone remembers the movie, “The Final Countdown”, a man left behind forty years in a time rift, does exactly this to become rich.

A related mind game is to bring someone forward in time, with them appearing inside my house, Depending on which time period I choose, I mentally list all the things in my house they’d notice that would let them know that they weren’t in their own world anymore. Sometimes I widen the game a bit and take them out for a ride in the car so they can see how much the world has changed.

Think I’ll go back to bed and try to get a nap.

Some Thoughts on Dialect

I was intending to write something else today, but after visiting Crazy Dave's blog and seeing the result of an internet quiz he took about American dialects, I decided to do the same and post my results here. Surprisingly enough, my results were quite accurate:

Your Linguistic Profile:

50% Yankee
40% General American English
10% Dixie
0% Midwestern
0% Upper Midwestern
I was born in Rhode Island and spent the first nine years of my life in New England. When we moved to the Philadelphia area in 1967, I didn't want to go and leave my familiar home and friends behind. So, when we moved to our new home, I was of the mindset to reject anything that was different from what I'd known.

One of those differences was the dialect. Though we'd only moved three hundred miles, the accent was markedly different, as were many common expressions. At the ripe old age of nine, I was adamant that I would not pick up the local accent, which seemed to me to be heavily laden with rrrrrrrrrrrrrr sounds. This was a natural enough conclusion for someone who'd spent his entire life in an r-dropping state.

And I didn't. Here I am, thirty some odd years later, and I still pretty much have that New England sound to my voice. This quiz had me as fifty percent "Yankee", which is the same thing as New England.
But even though I retained the New England accent, I have lived in five states and have picked up expressions from the places I've lived, hence the forty percent "General American".

And after spending a decade in a southern police department, I can "talk the talk" of Dixie when it suits me, though that was rather sparingly during my years on the force. Hence, the ten percent Dixie.

I'll be curious to see how my readers score on this quiz.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

The Customer is Always WRONG!

One of the things I liked best about police work was that the "customer" was always wrong. That is, we didn't have to suck up to the criminals like those working in retail have to do with their frequently moronic customers. We were able to let it all hang out, for the most part, and tell it like it was.

At the booking area of our jail, a large sign was displayed conveying this attitude to all new inmates:

"This is not Burger King. We do not do it your way. You will do it our way".

I remember bringing in a yuppie twerp one time for DUI. As I escorted him into the jail, he looked around in distaste. Finally, he said to the jailer, "I want clean sheets in my cell. RIGHT NOW!"

The jailer and I looked at each other and laughed our asses off. The jailer turned to the little prick and said, "I'm so sorry. The Holiday Inn is just down the road. You missed it."

Another time, I brought in a sloppy female drunk. As the jailer greeted us at the back door, the she-drunk started pointing at me, saying, "He don't give a fuck. He don't give a fuck".

The jailer raised one eyebrow at her and said with a deadpan expression, "That's right! He charges for them!"

That was the one and only time in my entire police career that I ever saw a drunk rendered speechless.

I once saw this "customer is always wrong" sentiment expressed on a T-shirt:

"Take no guff, cut no slack, Hook 'em and book 'em, and don't look back!"

Monday, April 11, 2005

Odds and Ends

Why does the phone company find it necessary to wear your ears out by playing that earsplitting three toned shriek when you’ve “reached a number that is no longer in service”. What’s up with this -- does the phone company have an agreement with Beltone or something?


While out driving this evening, I saw that we had a crescent moon. As I looked up at it, I thought it looked like a huge fingernail clipping.


I’ve become curious as to the origin of a particular pronunciation; what kind of accent it reflects. I’ve recently heard “hurry”, pronounced as “Herrr- ree”, instead of as “Huh-ree”, and “courage” pronounced as “Kerrr-ridge”, instead of as “Kuh-ridge”. What is this -- a Midwestern accent?


On the to be read stack:

“The Fundamentals of Extremism: The Christian Right In America” by Kimberly Blaker. An expose of the Christian Right. I’m in the middle of reading it now. It’s a little over the top in stressing some points, but most of it is right-on.

“The Happy Hookup” by Alexa Sherman and Nicole Tocantins. A how-to guide book for female libertines. I saw this and had to read it to see how it works from the other side. Haven’t started on it yet.


Charles and Camilla are finally wed. I read that there were people who actually filed formal objections to their marriage. The world seems to have an endless supply of people who need to learn to mind their own business and get a life.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Have To?

Have to?

Many people say they "have to" do certain things. As "have to" is another way of saying "must", as in compulsory, I'm thinking that the "have to" card is a bit of an exaggeration.

There are very few things in this world we absolutely "have to" do, where no alternative action exists.

No one "has to" eat at their mother in law's on Saturday night. That is clearly a choice, regardless of whatever hassle that might result from failing to show up.

Most things people claim they "have to" do: make the bed, edge the lawn, go to bed at ten, etc, are simply choices. There's no need to express these choices as immutable obligations.

Granted, there are some things that it's in our better interest to do, regardless of our actual desires, because the results from not doing so can be unwanted or unpleasant. It's in our best interests to work, stay off the golf course during a thunderstorm, and so on, but strictly speaking, we don't "have to" do these things.

From time to time, I've said, "The only thing I have to do is die". Inevitably, someone will immediately say, "And pay taxes."

To which I reply, "No, you don't. You can go to jail, instead. But when it comes your time to die, you can't pick going to jail instead. You have to die."

I wonder how many people would pick going to jail instead of dying if that were possible?

Saturday, April 9, 2005

25 Small Pleasures

While out this morning, enjoying the perfect weather, I got the idea to blog about a few of life's small pleasures.

As I want to maintain the blog's PG-13 rating for this entry, I'll not write about my favorite pleasure of all...

1. Ice cubes cracking in the glass when liquid is poured over them.

2. Rubbing my bare feet on the carpet after a hard day's work

3. Cat in my lap, purring loudly

4. The smell of gasoline

5. Hearing a favorite song on the car radio that I've not heard in a long time

6. Browsing through bookstores, new and used

7. Though I rarely drink coffee, I like coffee and conversation after a good meal

8. An unexpected gift

9. The sound of crickets on a summer's night

10. Getting all green lights

11. The whir of a fan as I'm drifting off to sleep

12. Sleeping late

13. Sitting in front of a fireplace during a snowstorm

14. The roar of the surf at the beach

15. The smell of the ocean

16. Autumn leaves

17. The smell of leather

18. An unexpected day off

19. A hot shower

20. Successfully debating a point

21. The sound of a train passing, late at night

22. Looking up at the stars on a cold, clear night

23. Finding money in a jacket pocket when I first wear it in the fall

24. Back rubs

25. Getting a snail-mail letter

Feel free to add your own in the comments section.

Friday, April 8, 2005

A Mixed Legacy

President George Bush, after attending the Pope's funeral, made a point of publicly disagreeing with former President Clinton's view that the Pope left a mixed legacy.

Clinton, on the flight to Rome earlier this week, had said that John Paul "may have had a mixed legacy," but he called him a man with a great feel for human dignity.

While speaking to reporters after the funeral, Bush said, "I think John Paul II will have a clear legacy of peace, compassion and a strong legacy of setting a clear moral tone."

In my opinion, these statements illustrated how differently these men view the world. Bush is a black and white thinker, where Clinton is more able to see shades of gray. To Bush, the Pope had to have been all good, in order to be viewed as a great, important man. To Clinton, the Pope was a great man, despite being fallible and making mistakes.

While I respected the Pope as a true man of peace in a world that has seen precious little of it in recent decades, I was still able to see where he fell short.

Though large parts of the world are heavily burdened with rampant hunger and crushing poverty, the Pope would not change the Church's long-standing opposition to birth control and abortion. To me, this indicated that he saw the issue of curbing sexuality as more important than ending poverty and hunger. I never could understand the Pope's myopia with this issue.

Though a man concerned with the dignity of humanity, he would not grant that same dignity to homosexuals, who are every bit as human as anyone else.

Though concerned with the welfare of children the world over, he never responded adequately to the widespread problem of pedophile priests. He would never consider the abolition of the celibacy requirement for priests and nuns, which would have no doubt mitigated this problem.

Though women have always been the backbone of Christianity, and particularly the Catholic Church, he never considered them worthy enough to serve the Church as priests.

In a Church with a declining number of new priests, along with the ban on female and homosexual priests, he would not allow married clergy, which was essentially cutting off his nose to spite his face.

But, in the end, Bill Clinton pretty much summed up my feelings about the Pope:

"There will be debates about him. But on balance, he was a man of God, he was a consistent person, he did what he thought was right," Clinton said. "That's about all you can ask of anybody."

Even if I don't agree with a good bit of what he thought was right, I still respect him for his integrity.

Thursday, April 7, 2005

Some Thoughts on Prices

After reading Pimme's post about school lunches and comparing how much they cost from the time I was in high school until she was (40 cents to 95 cents), I got to thinking how much prices have changed for other common items.

Gasoline, of course, is the most obvious and dramatic. I can remember when I was a kid in the sixties, my father would see a station advertising a gallon for 31 cents. He'd say, "I can do better", and drive on. And he could.

When I started to drive in the mid-70s, it was up to around 50 cents a gallon and we thought that was outrageous. I remember in college being able to fill up my tank from almost empty for about five dollars. Gas prices hit a dollar a gallon for the first time around 1979 and stayed pretty much in that neighborhood for about twenty years. Those days are gone forever, I'm thinking.

When I was a lilttle kid, McDonald's had only a very basic menu, and a burger cost fifteen cents; fries and drink, ten. Now, that small burger is a dollar. The Quarter Pounder was introduced when I was junior high age, and I think it cost about 75 cents when it first came out.

My mother used to send me up to the local 7-11 to buy her cigarettes, which they'd sell to kids in those days, and cost 35 cents a pack. I'm thinking that they could raise them to ten dollars a pack, and smokers would keep buying them.

When I was about ten, I remember seeing a magazine ad for a brand new Volkswagen beetle for 1800 bucks. Now, all you can get for that is a worn-out old beater.

I can remember seeing paperback books for $1.95 and hardbacks for around eight dollars. Now, the paperbacks cost eight bucks.

My first apartment in the mid-70s was $199 a month, and it was a decent apartment in a nice neighborhood. You can't rent a phone booth for that now.

Also during my college years, I remember getting five loaves of bread for a dollar. Now, the cheapest white bread is about a dollar for one loaf.

But not all prices go up. The common pattern when new technology is released to consumers is for the price to start high and slowly come down.

I remember when digital watches first came out in the early 70s, you couldn't touch one for under 300 bucks. Now, you can get the same thing in a drug store for 2 dollars.

The first VCRs from the late 70s were big, hunky contraptions that cost over a thousand dollars. The last VCRs before DVDs took over were not only much smaller and streamlined, they could be had for under a hundred bucks as well.

The first monochrome IBM PCs, which came out in the mid-eighties cost about six thousand dollars. Now, I'm seeing cheap computers in Wal Mart for four and five hundred dollars that can run circles around those old dinosaurs.

Somehow, though, I don't think we'll ever get to the point where we see computers sold in drug stores for ten bucks.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

My Religious History

After reading Jane’s excellent post about her thoughts on religion at Coffee and Varnish, I thought I’d share my own religious history.

I was brought up Episcopalian in what Pimme calls an “EC Christian” family. That is, we rarely attended church, but always turned up at Easter and Christmas.

The impression I got from my mother was that church was important, only so far as it was a respectable thing that good families did and that going to church was part of a well-rounded person‘s life. However, I didn’t sense any real personal interest in religion for its own sake from her.

My father’s attitude was that of respectful skepticism. He didn’t attend church with us on the infrequent times we went, nor did he interfere, as he went along with nearly everything my mother wanted. This was quite interesting, in light of the fact that he was raised in a southern fundamentalist family, but I suspect that even during his childhood, he merely went to church to humor his parents. Even in later life, he went to church with his second wife primarily as a way to appease her.

When I was about eleven or twelve, my mother wanted me to be confirmed in the Episcopalian church. I attended several confirmation classes on Saturday afternoons, which consisted of quite a bit of tedious rote learning. However, I managed to pass and was confirmed.

After my mother died, we stopped attending church altogether. One summer, when I was about fourteen, my father’s brother, a Baptist minister, came to visit and dragged us all to a huge Billy Graham appearance. Again, my father humored his brother by going along.

In high school, I fell in with a group of friends who went to a local Baptist youth group on Friday nights. Though I attended for a couple of years, I used it mainly as a place to pick up girls. Often, a group of us would slip out and hang around a liquor store a little ways up the street. We’d wait outside until we found someone a few years older willing to go in to buy beer for us. Because the drinking age was 18 then, this was usually a fairly simple matter. Once we had the beer, we’d drink it in the alley of a strip mall, then would head back to the church in time for the pizza they ordered every week.

To my amazement, the couple who ran the youth group never threw us out, but continued to welcome us each week. In addition to the Friday night meetings, they took us on inner tubing and camping trips, so I accepted the religious discussions as part of the deal in good humor.

I met a girl there once who was serious about her faith, who desperately tried to convert me. I liked her a lot, so I listened to what she had to say and for awhile, I tried to believe it, but couldn’t quite wrap my logic around it and pull it off. Interestingly enough, I still get a Christmas card from her each year.

As an adult, I’ve not attending church but a handful of times. I consider myself an agnostic. I’m not sure whether or not there is a Supreme Being, but I think it would be foolish to totally close and lock the door on it, as there’s really no conclusive proof one way or the other.

I am convinced, however, that if there is a supreme being, it’s much different what has been commonly presented -- God is not a jealous, autocratic white man with a beard, of that much I am certain. The Deist idea of God being found in nature, with the corollary of the universe itself being the Infinite, is an attractive one for me. It’s interesting to note that most of our Founding Fathers were Deists, regardless of claims by the Religious Right that the United States was founded as a Christian nation, which is patently untrue.

My son believes that God and Jesus are aliens who visited our planet long ago, and the miracles described in the Bible are merely examples from an alien technology so advanced to be beyond the ken of ancient humans, so that they interpreted such events as magic or as miracles. This idea was expressed in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Who Watches the Watchers”, where a group of primitive people witnessing the Enterprise’s technology mistake the crew for gods. I’m not sure if my son’s idea is true, but it’s an interesting theory, nonetheless.

As for my own code of ethics, it boils down to two things, the Golden Rule and the Wiccan Rede:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”

“And if it harms none, do what you will.”

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Compassion Starts at Home

Most of us were raised to believe that any sort of self-pity is an emotion that must be avoided like the plague. We were taught that when someone asks, "How are you?", we are to reply "Fine", regardless of our actual circumstances. It didn't matter whether we just lost our job, our mother just died, and our house burned down all in the space of a week; "Fine" was still the only appropriate response.

But why?

Self-pity is merely another way of saying "compassion for the self". It is an understandable emotion when times are tough, especially for a prolonged time, a way of acknowledging that we deserve better. Having to smile, smile, smile in the face of disaster is a form of denial, pollyannaism.

If we can never feel sorry for ourselves, that is, have any compassion for ourselves, then how can we feel it for others? Like charity, compassion begins at home.

Sometimes feeling sorry for ourselves can spur us into a "I'm mad and not going to take it any longer" mode that makes us work to change what we can about our situations. But there are many shitty situations we can't change by ourselves, or at all, and it's unrealistic to expect someone to always feel glad in such an instance.

Of course, when self-pity becomes entrenched and becomes a way of life that immobilizes a person from attempting to help themselves, it has gotten out of hand and should be overcome.

But not all compassion for the self is like this. Most of the time, if a person allows themselves to acknowledge thoughts of self pity, it will eventually run its course and the person will move on.

I imagine I'm going to get hammered on this one, as what I've said goes against conventional wisdom, but this is how I see it.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

My Confederate Ancestor

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I am a direct descendant of a Confederate soldier. The old man pictured above is my great-great grandfather; that is, he's my paternal grandmother's paternal grandfather. This picture was taken in 1896, at his unit's reunion, the 14th SC Regiment, Volunteer Infantry, Company I, "McCalla's Rifles".

Company 'I', 14th SC Volunteers was raised August 1861, in the small village of Lowndesville, SC. There were originally 80 men in the company. At the surrender at Appomattox Courthouse there were only 7 men available for duty.
"McCalla's Rifles" were accompanied by four black cooks. These were free men - not slaves. They were John McCoppin, Sidney Glynn, Alex Stratton, and Samuel Tucker. (Others were possibly Samuel J. Lee and Jim Rouse).
The name "McCalla's Rifles" was in honor of George R. McCalla, who was a farmer in Lowndesville. Mr. McCalla donated the uniforms worn by the soldiers of Company 'I'.

My gggrandad was born in either 1820 or 1825 and lived until 1910, long enough to know my grandmother, who would have turned 100 this year. He was a farmer for most of his life. He was married three times, with his second and third wives being sisters. His three wives presented him with a total of sixteen children. I am descended from the second wife.

By the time he went off to fight the Civil War, he was either in his late 30s or early 40s. He was on his second marriage at the time, with several children from the first two marriages. My great grandfather, who lived long enough to send my father off to the Second World War, was a little boy at the time, having been born in 1859.

His second wife died a few years after the war, after which he married her widowed sister, who lived next door, and adopted her children as well. They only had one child together.

The rest of his life was quiet and uneventful. My grandmother remembered meeting him a few times when she was very young, close to the end of his life.

Friday, April 1, 2005

Villain or Saint?

During the recent Terri Schiavo debacle, the media played up, ad nauseum, the angle of Michael Schiavo as villain, in an attempt to discredit his position in the matter. The unstated assumption was that he could not possibly have cared about Terri, nor had her best interests in mind if he was not totally selfless.

One point in particular that was stressed was the fact that he moved on with his life with a new marriage, in fact if not in law, and started a family. In my mind, it would take someone of saintly proportions to put their lives on hold for fifteen years -- or however many years it would have been -- and exist in celibate martyrdom. I don't know anyone who could have done that for that length of time.

And for what? What earthly benefit would it have been to Terri for him to have been a martyr? Facing the reality that Terri wasn't going to get better and going on with his life did not preclude him from continuing to care about what happened to Terri and her ultimate fate.

On June fifth of last year, I made an entry, In Sickness and In Health, that addressed the dilemma faced by a healthy person married to someone permanently disabled in regards to their sexual needs. In Michael Schiavo's case, this dilemma was further exacerbated by the fact that his marriage died in every way in 1990; sexually, emotionally, mentally, and so on. Him moving on with his life would not have hurt Terri, as she was beyond knowing or caring.

Some would ask why didn't he divorce her. I think the answer is that he knew Terri wouldn't have wanted to live that way and the only way he could act to carry out her wishes was to remain married to her, as he knew her parents wanted her to live, regardless of her condition. It certainly would have been easier for him to have divorced her, washed his hands of the entire situation, and abandoned her to the hell of being trapped for many more years in a useless, ruined body and mind.

That's not to say I think Michael Schiavo is a great guy all around. He's not. I think the way he's treated the Schindlers recently, by not allowing family members in the room as Terri passed on, and insisting upon cremating her, instead of graciously allowing the Schindlers to give her a traditional burial is shitty and petty on his part.

But we only know what the media is telling us, and as a former law enforcement officer, I know that we're only getting the tip of the iceberg with the news coverage of this case. I'm sure there's a lot more to it than what we're reading.

In the end, Michael Schiavo is neither a villain nor a saint. He's just an imperfect human being, like the rest of us, who did what he thought was right.

I hope that in the days ahead, both he and the Schindlers can come to a peaceful closure and get on with their lives.