Asking the Hard Question

A few days ago, I called my friend Randy, and he asked me if I had watched the news yet. Since it was not quite 11:00 in the morning, my response was “of course not.” I typically watch the noon news about 15 minutes for the weather forecast and to watch Mr. Food (a quick recipe program from my youth…carried on after the death of the creator by his director), and turn the TV back off before the “pet of the day” feature comes on. In fact, if my set is on at all during the day, it’s either a weekend and I’m watching some sport event or it’s running a music app (Calm Radio or my Amazon Music subscription). I will watch the local news from 6-6:30 evenings, and (possibly, but not likely) the national news feed for 5-30 minutes. After that, there’s not much I watch, music (again) or some video game playing into the evening (Destiny has eaten many nights lately). But, to WATCH TV, in general that doesn’t happen.

Randy has committed a fair chunk of his life to following the news (I don’t remember his kitchen set displaying anything else…) and told me about the Las Vegas shooting. After another 10 minutes of talk, we said goodbye and I fired up the set…and lost 2 hours. Later another 45 minutes of focused attention directed at other peoples horror and shattered lives disappeared. Since then, I have listened to various sources (radio, mostly) of speculation, interviews, and commentary on what happened, why, and what could be done to prevent similar events in the future.

Much (if not most) of what I heard was predicable, and in the long run, pointless, as they were discussing answers to the wrong question. The bulk was (probably) well meaning, “considered” opinions intended to address concerns, solve problems and fix situations.

There was the call for stricter gun laws. Bans for assault rifles, wholesale removal of personal weapons from the hands of people in general. Others questioned what could be done to increase safety of the people attending events.

My dad had a habit of saying “locks only keep out honest people” and this concept applies in this situation. Legal restrictions only apply effectively to the people that are willing to follow such restrictions. In other words, a rule to make [insert position desired here] illegal/immoral/undesirable will not be obeyed by the very people it is aimed at, those who want to [insert position desired here]. The percentage of people committing crimes with legally obtained, licensed and registered firearms is ridiculously small. Making purchase, possession and use of an addictive (or simply desirable) substance illegal works mostly for the people that don’t want it in the first place. (In college I wrote a position paper making drug use legal with serious restrictions, including a lifetime agreement that getting a licence to consume would permanently make the user ineligible for ANY public assistance—unemployment, welfare, food stamps, medical assistance, the whole works—thus placing full acceptance of the individuals responsibility for consequences on his shoulders. I was the only person in the class of 30 that took a pro side…) Locks and laws.

But, fully automatic weapons are already illegal. Restricting hand guns would have no effect in this situation as they would only have been effective in the hands of a person in proximity to the shooter…in the hotel room (or possibly passing by and taking decisive action to break into a crime scene with the sound of massive firepower already taking place. Screening attendees or scanning crowds attending, again, is pointless, as the crime was not committed on the scene. Requiring armed snipers for every event scheduled everywhere “just in case” is insane.

“What could have been done, and/or what could be done in the future to prevent this from happening again” is the questions that are being asked, along with “WHY” but this is, I contend, the wrong question(s).

Ultimately, the question that HAS to be asked is: “What price are you willing to pay for prevention going forward?” How much of your life are you willing to change, what freedoms are you happy to give away to prevent this kind of event from happening.

The shooter broke out a couple of windows to provide a firing lane. Are you willing to pay $500+ more a night to stay in a building that has unbreakable windows, or built without windows at all so this cannot happen? The shooter (apparently) transported the weapons in his private vehicle and carried them into the hotel. Are you willing to give up private ownership of transportation, relying perhaps on a publicly owned pool of cars constantly monitored to prevent transport of “improper” materials? Willing to give up private ownership of almost everything so as to keep the world safe (I’m somewhat surprised there has not been a drone bomb attack yet at some large gathering of people, but then drones cost more than pressure cookers)? Ready to sign on for a national passport and checkpoints to do random inspections (if you think racial profiling is bad now, just wait…) without warning to keep the greater good safe from the actions of an independent madman?

The sorry truth is it is impossible to protect anything against the committed actions of an individual, one that is willing to pay whatever cost is deemed necessary to accomplish a sufficiently significant goal. Just ask any self-bomber, oh wait, you can’t… Assassinations, overthrows, even the most determined dictator can be targeted by a person “crazy” enough to do whatever it takes.

It hurts seriously to be writing this post. My heart goes out to the victims and families of the same. I am spending more time than I want meditating and praying for large groups of people I don’t know, and will (probably) never meet, but whose lives have been shattered by circumstances and events outside their control (including, but not limited to, earthquakes, hurricanes, wildfires, drive-by shootings, bombs, knives, guns, drunk/impaired/distracted drivers, prescription/illicit drug use, difference of opinion, [insert cause here]). I don’t want to be here, doing this. I’d rather be on the couch, reading a book and listening to music. But I feel compelled to ask the right question, and giving a personal answer, too.

I’m not willing to live in a North Korean kind of governmental enclave to assume some vision of protectionism. I hope I never have to find out personally what it means to experience the horrors of the full measure of evil mankind can generate against man. I fervently hope that, if the ultimate test case comes to pass, that I am able to rise to the occasion and be a part of the solution.

The world needs heroes, always has, always will. May we all be found worthy when our test comes…



Post 80 of n


Wide World Of Sports (As Of Today)

Initial Disclaimer: I know where this posting starts from, I don’t know where it is going (which makes it pretty much a typical rant).

I am a spectator in the game of life. Last night, I watched “my” team’s kickball game at the park. Delta Force won their first game of the season (Go Delta!), despite the fact that they only had about two-thirds of their normal squad. Fact was they only had 10 players (the normal amount on the field at any time) evenly divided between men and women (a mixed couple team layout, each team required to put roughly half of each on a game’s lineup). They played their best game of the season winning 5-2.

One of the principle players absent last evening was watching his daughter’s last lacrosse game (I think she’s in middle school, but I get confused about kid ages…). Also in the park were a couple of adult softball leagues (the park has 6 diamonds). The city of Lansing also has a class A Minor League baseball team affiliated with the Toronto Blue Jays and nearby an American Professional Soccer team (designated a Tier 4 league, for whatever that means). Michigan State University is here (technically in East Lansing, but it meets CEFGW* standards) to provide Big 10 level excitement. There’s dozens of high schools in the area, each with the normal regimen of sport teams. And each of the dozens of golf courses and bowling alleys in the area have their allotment of leagues, bringing together testosterone, alcohol, and competition nightly.

So, on any given day, I have dozens of choices where to go to witness competition in the realm of physical battle. From the youngest T-Ball game to the highest echelon of college/semi-pro sports I can spectate to the point of exhaustion. (Please note, I do not consider myself a “fan” as I don’t have a close enough relationship with any of the teams to generate the rabid, zealous devotion that the shortened form of the word “fanatic” requires. Thus the term spectator.)

So, has it always been this way, or am I just more sensitive to the multiplex draws of sports participation in my waning years? Thinking back to my childhood, it was typical (expected?) for young boys to play little-league baseball. High school sports involved baseball, football, track and field, wrestling, and (in the larger schools) swimming. (Oh, yeah, there was basketball, too, but I have a serious aversion to the game so it slipped my mind there for a moment.) My mom’s family were avid bowlers so she was on a league and my dad played golf weekly on a team with a couple of co-workers. Flint (a city about 40 miles away from home) had a minor league hockey team and some of my dad’s friends played “slow-puck” hockey (no serious violence allowed, as the average player age was 40ish), but apart from these examples following sports was done on the radio, listening to teams far away.

A common complaint heard frequently in my circle of influence is “we can’t attend the [INSERT MEETING NAME HERE] because [INSERT CHILD NAME HERE] has a [INSERT SPORT EVENT HERE] game…” followed by a sigh. These people don’t (necessarily) have substantially more children than the families in my youth, but it appears there are SIGNIFICANTLY more opportunities for participation than ever before. I suspect the reason our economy is as robust as it appears to be is simply the result of purchasing vehicles for transporting kids to and from their sporting activities (and the resultant petrol purchases propelling these mini-vans). As I recall, I only had two games a week and maybe as many practices, but I rode my bicycle to and from these events. Twice a season my parents would come to see a game (was OK with that, as I was a horrible player overall, but the team ice cream cone treat afterward made it worth while).

Raising my son in the 90’s was trips to the swim meets, but since practice was at the school and he was there daily anyway there was no extra involvement. It didn’t feel substantially more excessive than my youth. Apparently that changed with the incoming new millennium…

With my disability/mobility issues there are really few options available to me at this time to “participate” in sports, so I am content to spectate. I just need to figure out how to assess and prioritize which events I will be attending to capitalize on my limited resources. Usually, I decline most offers to attend (which frees up about 22 evening hours a week) but have accepted the role of nominal mascot for the kickball team.

There’s really not anything on TV on Wednesday nights anyway….


post 72 of n

(*Close Enough For Government Work)

A Single Serving Of Alphabet Soup

Our government is great when it comes to making acronyms. I use a few myself, mostly caryover from my time in the Navy (CEFGW meaning “Close Enough For Government Work,”  as in “this bolt meets CEFGW standards” and DORD for “Department Of Redundancy Department,” where we actually had a rubber stamp made for our fun). There’s a couple I’ve been considering lately that I want to comment on: WMD and MAD.

Weapons of Mass Destruction is fairly recent (at least in general usage) being invoked in the interest of finding nuclear weapon development in the middle east. The concept, of course, goes back a long time and has been used in nearly every world war. Not limited to atomic weapons (although they provide the biggest “bang for the buck”), air-fuel bombs, white phosphorus weapons, jellied petroleum devices (NAPALM) and even the “carpet bombing” runs of conventional weapons could be considered WMDs based upon the level of destruction resulting from their use.

As terrible as these weapons are, I am actually more concerned in massively constructed weapons causing minimal (or no) destruction while causing extensive personnel casualties. Weapons in this category might allow an attacking force to take possession of a local essentially intact after taking out combatants and civilians in the area. Most of these weapons would fall into the CBW class (Chemical / Biological Weapon) of producing death. Toxic nerve agents, for example, could be dispersed and make an area impassable without total protection for weeks to months. Simply walking to your mailbox a week after surviving an attack could be lethal. Biological weapons may be slower but perhaps more insidious, as the amount of global travel could spread a pandemic weapon far beyond the initial deployment area. Again, going to the market to replenish supplies could bring home a bigger package than what has been purchased.

Switching gears for a moment to consider the idea of MAD. Mutually Assured Destruction was the principle device used in the cold war against Russia to prevent nuclear war. The basic idea was to provide a “second strike” capability such that when an enemy launched an initial attack, there would be (more than) enough weapons available to launch a counter-strike that would cause at least as much damage to the aggressor. The concept was to “persuade” a potential foe launching a preemptive strike would be futile as the resulting devastation from the counter attack would not be worth the projected gain.

Growing up in the 1960’s with the mandatory air-raid alerts and practice drills in the school hallways was a quarterly (occasionally monthly) reminder we were only a moment from horrific death from above.  That the launch never occurred is a (kind of) proof of the validity of the concept.

Today, I fear the concept no longer is valid. To have an effective projection of MAD requires both sufficient weaponry (and it’s staging) to make such an attack feasible, in fact virtually certain) and the determination of the highest members of government to make the call. I suspect America in 2015 fails on both accounts. The military has been substantially gutted in its size and power, and our leadership has given little encouragement to suppose a willingness to “pull the trigger” to deliver a knock-out blow to any conceivable enemy. Even a couple of decades ago we projected enough power to give any potential attacker pause, but today….

Even more disconcerting is the rise of terrorist attacks independent of an official nation-state sponsor. Should a massive attack occur (say, in September?) when there is no clearly defined enemy, where would we focus the MAD counterstrike? Even if there is a hypothetical devastating nuclear attack against a single target (the most likely terror strike) and the country of origin could be positively identified, what would be a “correct” response? Would it be rational to wipe a nation from the face of the Earth to retaliate against a single loss? Does a “tit for tat” destruction of one of their cities give a large enough incentive to cease forever making foolish decisions? Would 3 cities, or 10% of their population, or 30% of their national resource production capability? And would the powers that be make the decision?

I don’t know. I doubt if anyone does. But the concern of a WMD without the balancing effects of MAD lead ultimately to a WTF realization.

World Terrifyingly Frightening.


post 58 of n

Today’s Forecast: There Is A 100% Chance Of Weather

It is the third week of April in mid-Michigan and we are being “blessed” with congealed precipitation this morning. Making my way to my car to commute to the bi-weekly writing session with John, I noticed there were small chunks of icy crud on the wiper blades and in a crevice at the edge of the windshield. The sky was about half overcast and half deep blue, deceptive in it’s partially jovial appearance. Clear areas were breathtakingly beautiful, hinting at the delight of sunshine and short sleeved outerwear. The cloud covered segments of the sky were ominous, dreadfully reminiscent of the darkness of November, falling leaves guiding temperatures down to the cold, barren ground. Starting the car it was not apparent which segment of the sky would prevail.

Two hours have passed, It is time to declare the winner: ick. Either I overslept last night by about seven and a half months, or daylight saving time has expanded to move the clocks by seasons rather than hours. The sky is a mottled grey, darker where the daemons of despair have determined to drop daggers of dismay. Doh!

Somewhere there is a climatologist that will claim the late spring snow is a direct result of man-made global warming. Right…. Listening to the NOAA weather radio while in the shower, I could possibly accept some correlation for the lower than normal precipitation for the year (we are about 2.5 inches below the “average” for this year) but our local area is apparently not any warmer than usual. The accumulation of Cooling Degree Days (a measure of when the daily average temperature exceeds 65 degrees Fahrenheit) from the daily broadcast suggests we are 1 unit below the normal for this date. So we are actually cooler than “normal” this year.

The local TV stations compete for my attention when it comes to the weather forecast. There are two to choose from (there are about 6 local stations, but for some reason most of them piggyback on the two main reports), channel 6 and channel 10. Each has a staff including a senior forecaster and others to provide additional faces for the remainder of the broadcast day. Both stations claim to have the latest in Doppler radar and fancy doohickeys to help them provide the “most accurate forecast” ever. They are always similar, but hardly ever identical.

We have a weather station at the airport that reports to the national weather service. I can go to the National Weather Service web site and (in theory) get the same information available to the pros. There is radar, satellite images, hourly and daily forecast discussions and charts, and more data to download than I have storage space to hold.

So, if we are all playing with the same cards, why is there a difference in the information provided? One station might show the expected low tonight to be a couple of degrees warmer that the competitor while the other gives a slightly greater precipitation chance. Even the “current” temperature is often different. If they are using their local station sensors for the numbers a difference would be understandable (the stations are a couple of miles apart). But, when they show the values for around the state, they should both be showing the same data from the same sites, so they should match.

I have been to the airport in Charlotte (a small village south of Lansing and not the similar location several states away) and know exactly where the NWS station is collecting the data. So they should show the temp at the airport and it should match. Usually it does, but occasionally not.

Perhaps the weavers of the modern fiction that is the news broadcast really DO participate in the global conspiracy of spin, to present information filtered through the demands of the shadow government so we see the world as it is supposed to be rather than how it actually is. If this voice suddenly disappears you will understand why.

Newspeak declares rain to be white and crystalline in structure during certain months of the year. Welcome to Spring in [REDACTED].


post 52 of n

Patching Potholes On The Highway To Hell

I am fond of using phrases and proverbs incorrectly, usually with some kind of kink. For example, I am often heard referring to someone “running around like a head with their chicken cut off.” Proverbial phrases often carry a some kind of pithy saying that has a general or universal application or meaning. This post’s title comes (indirectly) from the saying “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I suspect that, with all the traffic on that road, there are a lot of potholes to fill.

One saying that bothers me is “it’s not the gift but the thought that counts.” The thought may have been intended, but the lack of thought is what’s visible. Buying a peanut butter ice cream cake for the birthday of my son (who has life threatening allergies to both peanuts and dairy) would not be a “nice thought” but about as stupid an action as it is possible to conceive. Administering epinepherine while driving him to the hospital might actually be a thoughtful intent after carrying out such a blunder.

The phrase that I find myself using more and more often these days (and it might be original, since I don’t remember ever hearing it in the distant past) is “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” Most commonly it in in some interpersonal relationship context where a story is being told about an action taken by a third party (not currently present) having ongoing consequences that were unexpected or undesired. Often it involves one (or more) of the three drivers of rock and roll: sex, drugs, and rebellion against authority (or one of the country and western parallel vices: adultery, alcohol, or agitation directed against law enforcement).

I could say a lot more about this but…


post 49 of n

[settings] Fog_Of_Life_Enabled=True

I am something of a game collector. (People that know me say this is something of an understatement, as I own several hundred board games.) While my collection has suffered greatly over the last decade (a foreclosure and divorce along the way), there still remains a wide variety of genres, styles, and mechanics of play. I collect mostly board games and tend to stay away from what a typical American would immediately think of (monopoly, life, sorry, other family games), leaning rather toward games with complex rules and interactions, requiring longer time to explain and teach others to play (which is a primary reason most are shelved and collecting dust). Pretty much if I find a game at a grunge shop that I neither have nor have heard of, it tends to leap into my cart for further research.

This morning I was awakened from a dream where I was playing a board game. I don’t remember too much about it, but the significant elements involved taking my turn. I was moving a piece and sort of understood what I needed to do, but the rest of the map/board was devoid of pieces. When I said I needed to know where the pieces to collect were, another person added a couple of tokens on the board. I also mentioned that I needed to know where the other people’s pieces were, to plan how to avoid their influence. Another person got the rules and read all player’s pieces were to be removed from the board after each turn. I complained that I had a short-term memory problem and that it wasn’t fair to play that way, then I woke up in a poor mood.

The concept of masking the information of other players (or areas you are not currently located in) is referred to as the “fog of war” and is common in video (and computer) games. The idea is you can only know what you have experienced and many games will have map information fade away over time if you move away, hiding changes occurring while you are absent. Significantly, any enemies entering the area after you make life “interesting” when you return. Especially true if you presume the world to be the same as when you left it. Generally speaking, I do less well in this setup than games where I can see the whole world all of the time. My memory condition mentioned above (perhaps I wasn’t dropped on my head enough times to make things stick?) means enabling fog increases a game’s difficulty for me (probably more than for others), and I usually don’t get additional credit or experience for playing at this “level of difficulty.

Truth is, though, there is a “fog of life” that works essentially the same way in the “real” world. I went to visit my mom last week and drove through a neighborhood I lived in a couple of decades ago. While most of the places aligned with the images in my memories, there were other areas where changes occurred under the mask of fog. Some buildings changed colours (owners paint or stain since my last transit). Others had additions built on or were torn down totally, a couple being replaced by vacant lots, others by parks or businesses. Most notably was the business district, where the buildings were essentially the same, but the products or services were wildly different. Furniture replaced by food, carpet by insurance. The old hardware store does tanning and nails. Business was still business, but not MY business.

The old stomping grounds are old still, and there’s ground there, but the idea of stomping there would never occur to me. The trees (the ones still there, anyway) don’t lend themselves to climbing, nor do the bushes work for hiding anymore. One extreme example was a place we used to sled in the winter. There was a steep, seldom used street that would attract kids to slide down most of the winter. After a period of time covered in the Fog of Life I came back to discover the road was just gone! It’s now a tree covered hillside and the Texaco gas station at the base transformed to an ice cream parlor (closed in the winter).

I understand (intellectually, anyway) that time changes things and “you can never go home” really means that today is different than yesterday, but it’s not fair. I don’t have a lot of memories of times past, but to find there is increasingly little to verify what was real and what was an (semi-overactive) imaginary dream scape is hardly reassuring. What is to prevent coming back from church or the store only to find an amusement park covering the lot where my apartment was just a (perceived) few hours earlier? Or to find my keys won’t open my car (at least it’s where I parked “my” car)? As far as I can tell, I am correctly oriented in 3-space, but if a tesseract opens and I move sideways through space-time into a parallel universe that is hauntingly similar to (but not the same) as I remember, how could I tell? Others argue this is the way things always were. Who’s perception is “correct?”

Maybe this is the actual cause of Alzheimer’s….


post 43 of n

Q&A: What Do Girl Scout Cookies Have In Common With Viagra?

I failed my first business in 1993. I was in a partnership providing small and medium businesses with computerized accounting software products and services. We did serious research and provided a couple of marvelous products to our clients. We did sales, setup, and training, and were able to assist companies in making intelligent decisions regarding their needs and how to address and meet them.  It only took us 6 months to drain our resources to the point where the partnership required dissolution and we went our separate ways.

What went wrong was we failed to adequately market our product. We did not generate enough sales to maintain our business (wonderful as it was) and we died from insufficient cash flow. About 9 of every 10 new businesses travel down a similar pathway within the first three years of operation. In a small business seminar I attended (a couple of years before my fiasco) the idea was presented most small businesses are made of two people coming together: someone that knows how to do/make something, and someone that knows how to sell something. Unfortunately for these people, there needs to be a third person that knows how to run a business (specifically how to manage the money, both incoming and outgoing).

We (probably) should have known better, but failed none the less. We knew how to sell and how to use the product. We didn’t know how to market it (well enough). If we had been better at marketing we would have had a larger group of people to provide goods and services for, and then we would have had a larger group of people to shower us with money…

It was shortly after this trauma in my (business) life that I came to despise the Girl Scouts. Not the individual participants, they were still cute and adorable, but rather the devious and insidious marketing methods of the parent organization. Specifically, the cookie sales machine. My ex-sister-in-law was involved in the supply channel of cookie distribution and it came to light the $5.00 box of cookies would net less than 75 cents for the local group (and that did not include the copious amount of money spent on gasoline to haul the cookies from distribution center to troop home and again to the various sucker’s customer’s location). Shame on you, Mr. Ouaker!

It quickly became known in every office I worked in I was the curmudgeon to avoid like the plague when it came to kid-based fund-raising activities. Band-based citrus fruit, troop centered candy bar sales, pack pitched popcorn tins, in general any and every possible method of squeezing cash from the associates of parental units was utilized in my various workplace locations. In every case, I was identified as the LAST person to ask as it would invoke a ten-minute rant about the evils of “guilt-driven” marketing practices and when (read:if) the victim was able to escape they would be wiser next time. The number of such encounters decreased in frequency quite quickly (to the relief of co-workers in adjacent cubicles, being subjected to the anti-sales pitch several times in any given time period), eventually diminishing to winning lottery ticket occurrence regularity.

It was even worse when my son reached marketable age. I explained to his band director in person that he would not be productive in the fund raising activity of mercilessly pleading with family to buy endless quantities of needless materials thereby  funding the parent company (less a trickle for the local school system). I said I would rather write a check to the band (where every penny was given to the project) than spend (read: waste) my money buying an inflated product, only a mere pittance of which would befall upon the needy students involved.  I was not very popular in several circles (other parents, their kids, or my son himself) but I was confident I had secured the moral high ground.

So, how does this rant connect to the “little blue pill?”  There is a great similarity in the current marketing procedure for pharmaceuticals presented on television and in magazines to the little-league candy bar sales of old. Rather than putting in the required effort to market and sell your product yourself, you enlist the efforts of grossly underpaid amateur staff to hawk your wares to the general public. In the fund raising process, it is the children (or more often in my experience, their parents) plying on the associated guilt of “I need you to buy this in order for me to be able to: go to camp/win a bicycle/get a t-shirt/keep from being beaten up by my peers….” In the slick multimedia marketing presentation from the drug companies, it is the patient (or rather the customer) plying on the associated guilt of “I need you to prescribe this in order for me to be able to: avoid searching for bathrooms/obtain and maintain an erection/lower my cholesterol/eliminate frequent heartburn/help me breath easier/eliminate painful intercourse/reduce bladder leakage….” In essence, the patient has become the unpaid sale representative of the drug companies.

In the past, agents would be sent to the doctor’s office to provide samples and encourage physicians to prescribe a companies products. Now, (potential) customers are encouraged to pester their doctors for prescriptions to relieve conditions they were not aware they “were suffering from” until watching the TV. And if you act quickly you might be able to get your “first” prescription/month’s prescription/year’s prescription free (or at reduced cost). Why pay for an employee to distribute your wares when you can have the snake-oil purchasers do it for you (for free)?

At least the cookies came directly to your door….


post 39 of n

Name Calling In Soda Culture

I have come to understand where I am changes what I get when I ask for something from a “native.” I have lived most of my life in Michigan, apart from a brief stint in the Navy where I spent a half year north of Chicago and a year in California. So I was under the (mistaken) understanding that everyone did things the right way (that is, the way WE did things). HAHAHAHA!, What a foolish idea.

Take tho process of ordering a beverage with your meal. Here we drink pop, defined as a sweetened, bubbly drink usually served over ice. Different flavors exist and each restaurant usually only serves options from one of the major brand suppliers. So if you chose a cola, root beer, lemon-lime, orange, or a citrus flavored beverage at one establishment you get a Pepsi, Mug, 7-Up, Crush, or Mountain Dew. At the eatery next door your beverage is a Coke, Barqs, Sprite, Fanta, or Mellow Yellow. Purchase a ginger ale beverage and you get a Vernors. Iced tea comes straight up (although you can have a sliver of lemon added if you ask) and unsweetened (the way nature intended). Simple and straight forward.

Except for most of the other 49 states and hundreds of other countries on the globe. Ask for a pop some places gets you a bloody nose or the senior male member of the family. A soda comes without ice cream (my first real job was as a soda-jerk in a soft serve ice cream stand… and I was the only employee other than the owner that could make a proper soda, according to a number of loyal customers) and results in one of the (again, brand specific) beverages listed above. To make things even more confusing I have been in places where asking for a coke evokes the question “what flavor?” (and they don’t mean plain or cherry). Apparently in Canada and the southern US diabetics order iced tea at their peril (my first adult trip to Toronto involved a shocking slurp of tea-flavored sugar syrup from a fast food establishment… most of which ended up on the windshield).

The year in California was one spent in a wasteland without Lay’s potato chips, Kogel’s hot dogs, or Miracle Whip salad dressing (this was in 1976, things have changed since then, but the trauma remains). I have never been inside of a Waffle House, being forced to take starch-based breakfast food at the International House of Pancakes instead.

So many names for the same products (or maybe a variety of products with the same name… confusion reigns in either case). There is indeed a strong sense of culture shock when you move beyond the hundred-acre woods for the first time.  Usually there is enough information exchanged eventually to place an acceptable order. Using the worst-case scenario, pointing at the menu and asking for “one of these” will allow for an unexpected adventure not (necessarily) soon to be forgotten (a favorite ploy at establishments offering world cuisine not commonly found in rural mid-Michigan). I keep Maalox in the glovebox just in case…

So when I travel (not all that often, nor all that far anymore, I must sadly confess) I have learned to accept (if not embrace) the challenge of dealing with nomenclature regarding the local “pop” culture. To make life easier, I eventually just end up with a glass of ice water with my meal, and a cup of coffee with desert (I like pie). But I am reasonably sure of one thing.

Ordering a caffeine-laced-carbonated-soda-beverage in most places results in a blank stare.


post 38 of n

Fear And Loathing In The Driver’s Seat

OK, just to be clear: I am NOT a Luddite. I happen to like a lot of what passes as technology these days. I had a picture of an “etch-a-stone” with the caption “to show the grand-kids what we played with when we were young. It was a piece of granite with a chisel and hammer in a plastic frame. I enjoy having electricity (less so on the 21st of the month when the bill is due) and eating food that is caught and cleaned for me. And (perhaps the most important element of all time ) PLEASE don’t take my spell checker away (although the grammar checker is over rated). But there are limits to my credibility and tolerance for making life “easier” unnecessarily.

My most vehement protest involves the movement to make driving a car “safer” by making it (the car, that is) more intelligent. Frankly, I think this will ultimately prove to be a bad idea, because there will be the inevitable corollary that the driver will become more stupid. I am not sure how this is possible in many (perhaps most) cases but I continue to be amazed at human ingenuity, so I’m pretty sure people will figure something out. I am convinced that global intelligence is a constant…

A perfect example is the movement by car makers to include high(er) tech gadgets to “improve the driving experience.” In Michigan, it is against the law to text on your phone or tablet while driving. So why does the car designers think installing a tablet as the primary device controller will be a good idea? In every single car I have ever owned I could control the radio, heater and air-conditioner, lights and wipers by feel (usually within a couple of hours of driving). I never had to take my eyes from the road to turn the radio to another station after turning the defrosters on. Each device has its own knob or slider switch that was in a fixed position and had a specific shape. I worked by feel. “Advanced” cars have a single interactive touch display to handle navigation, entertainment, climate control, and personal communication. All at the touch/swipe of the screen. In the dark without looking, ALL controls feel exactly the same…like the surface of the mirror over my bathroom sink. I must look at the dashboard to see which icon I need to touch to bring up another screen with additional controls. Will someone please tell me HOW (and WHY) this is a good idea?

Even more scary in the long run is the intrinsic intelligence that is being added to high-end vehicles (and will eventually trickle down to the rest of the market). The cars of tomorrow (later today, actually) have sensors that look out for and announce if there is a car in your blind spot, if you are drifting out of your lane, even apply the brakes automatically if you don’t react in time to avoid an accident with an obstruction in front of your car. (In fairness, the rear-view camera is a pretty good idea as even with the best of mirrors it can be hard to see directly behind your vehicle, and the self-parallel parking car feature in a couple of models is a feature I would engage in a heart beat…I haven’t parallel parked by car in several years unless I could pull in at either end. I would rather walk several blocks than risk a stress-induced heart attack.)

Ultimately, the end result of making the car safer and easier to drive is for drivers to become less attentive and more distracted than they already are. The last thing we need is drivers paying less attention to their surroundings and other vehicles than are out here already. As a former biker and truck driver you come to realize that you need to drive every car on the road, not just yours. You really have to exercise defensive driving when you are either driving a bomb (propane truck) or are surrounded by nature rather than several thousand pounds of metal (motorcycle and bicycle). You have to anticipate the actions of everyone else around you and prepare to take evasive actions at a moments notice. (From experience, I would rather drive behind a drunk driver than one possessing a cell phone. At least I can predict what the reaction of the drunk will be…a distracted phone user is totally random.)

Now the last and ultimate direction this will go is the vehicle that you don’t have to drive at all. Google is working on self-driving cars that will be able (?) to compete with human-directed missiles. I have serious doubts about the wisdom of this as I currently live in one of the most dangerous locales on the planet. I have seen more vehicles run red lights here in [REDACTED] than driving in vastly larger metropolitan cities like Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, and San Francisco/Oakland. Waiting less than 5 seconds after the light changes to green in your direction is a modern form of Russian Roulette. To place enough computational power in a car to safely transit our roads without an organic brain in control seems highly unlikely anytime soon (say, in MY lifetime…or what is left of it). And besides, Google is too late, anyway. They already make vehicles you don’t have to drive.

They are called taxi’s.


post 35 of n

Cross Your Ladders And Knock On A Black Cat

Friday was the second thirteenth of the year (yes, this post is late. It’s my fault I have been sick and the official “blame someone else day” occurs on the FIRST FTT of the year) and for many people it is a day of consternation and concern. Stevie Wonder music not withstanding, many (perhaps most) people manifest symptoms of superstition.

It is the season of beards (hockey playoffs start shortly) and “lucky socks” (and other articles of clothing). March Madness brackets are out so there are thousands of supporters performing the magical actions needed to insure their team is victorious. Players slap the appropriate spot on the trip from the locker room to the field, cryptic incantations invoke the proper deities of the opposing teams for good and for evil. Scantily clad supplicants gyrate before the masses to build up the required frenzy for the coming slaughter…er, game.

Triskaidekaphobics have their own cause for concern. Just surviving the day will be challenging enough. And November has that whole election thing disrupting their lives, not just the usual Friday fright. Broken mirrors, ominous odors and malevolent observations cascading together to bring horror to the susceptible.

What many (perhaps most) fail to understand is that because events occur in sequence does not necessarily mean they are related in a causal relationship. If the sun rises on the same day you are involved in a car accident, it is (probably) not reasonable to assert the sunrise caused the accident (especially if it happened on the way home near midnight). Cause and effect is vastly more difficult to connect than simply observing my team wins more often if I neglect to brush my teeth on game days. (Both events might occur concurrently, but it is unreasonable to assert causality!)  There has to be a reason.

“Do you know,” said Prak, “the story of the Reason?”
Arthur said that he didn’t, and Prak said that he knew that he didn’t
He told it.
One night, he said, a spaceship appeared in the sky of a planet which had never seen one before. The planet was Dalforsas, the ship was this one. It appeared as a brilliant new star moving silently across the heavens.
Primitive tribesmen who were sitting huddled on the Cold Hillsides looked up from their steaming night-drinks and pointed with trembling fingers, swearing that they had seen a sign, a sign from their gods which meant that they must now arise at last and go and slay the evil Princes of the Plains.
In the high turrets of their palaces, the Princes of the Plains looked up and saw the shining star, and received it unmistakably as a sign from their gods that they must now go and set about the accursed Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides.
And between them, the Dwellers in the Forest looked up into the sky and saw the sigh of the new star, and saw it with fear and apprehension, for though they had never seen anything like it before, they too knew precisely what it foreshadowed, and they bowed their heads in despair.
They knew that when the rains came, it was a sign.
When the rains departed, it was a sign.
When the winds rose, it was a sign.
When the winds fell, it was a sign.
When in the land there was born at midnight of a full moon a goat with three heads, that was a sign.
When in the land there was born at some time in the afternoon a perfectly normal cat or pig with no birth complications at all, or even just a child with a retrousse nose, that too would often be taken as a sign.
So there was no doubt at all that a new star in the sky was a sign of a particularly spectacular order.
And each new sign signified the same thing – that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides were about to beat the hell out of each other again.
This in itself wouldn’t be so bad, except that the Princes of the Plains and the Tribesmen of the Cold Hillsides always elected to beat the hell out of each other in the Forest, and it was always the Dwellers in the Forest who came off worst in these exchanges, though as far as they could see it never had anything to do with them.
      Douglas Adams, Life, the Universe, and Everything, Chapter 34

Many (perhaps most) should know better. Especially with the explosion of information and technology, we should be beyond whistling in the dark to keep evil away, pronouncing blessing after a sneeze to prevent the person’s soul from escaping, and performing ritualistic actions of knocking on wood, crossing fingers, or fondling dead animal limbs to influence the world to form more to our liking. We might not know everything (like Prak) but we certainly know more than our unenlightened ancestors did. We can use our wisdom to overcome the blind adherence to ancient ways of thinking. Prak was spot on regarding one thing…

Most of the good bits were about frogs.


Post 33 of n