Sunday, September 30, 2012

How Many Times

Do you like movies? Do you see your favorite movies more than once? How man y times have you seen your favorite movie?

My all-time favorite film is Casablanca. I lost count after seeing it 25 times. I own two copies of it, one on VHS and another on DVD. Funny how I haven’t watched in at least five years. Where is that DVD? I need to see this again.

I thought about this over the weekend as I watched Independence Day for the … hmmmm … 10th time? Maybe 15th? Movies that are regularly on TV don’t actually fit into my ‘how many times’ category because it is easy to see parts of them. I’ve probably seen Independence Day all the way through at least ten times, but parts of it at least another ten. Maybe more.

Lethal Weapon (all of them) are on my high count list if you include seeing them in parts. I’ve seen each of the series all the way through only once, but each in pieces several dozen times. Same with the Die Hard bunch and Terminator.

For movies of substance I prefer to watch them all the way through, from start to finish. Good movies have a beginning-to-end narrative and utilize various techniques to make various points along the way. I look for the story, the characterizations and the techniques. Lethal Weapon, Die Hard and Terminator are all very interesting but I would not call any of them movies of substance. They’re just fun to watch.

Casablanca is very rich, in my opinion. The story is compelling and the acting is good. The balance of intrigue, politics, danger, unpredictability, music, romance and humor is outstanding. Plot flaws can be excused when you consider is came out in 1942.

Independence Day is not necessarily deep but is has enough substance to satisfy my interest. It too has a good balance of politics, danger, unpredictability, romance and humor, plus science fiction.

Another favorite of mine is Cool Hand Luke. It came out in the mid 1960s, a turbulent time in our country, but was set many decades earlier. The movie style of the time included plots that did not resolve into neat happy endings. Although I like that movie very much I have only seen it all the way through two or three times.

Sharing a secret: I watch It’s A Wonderful Life every year. I’m probably up to twenty or more times on that one. I won’t share my reason for watching it every year.

I am way behind on my movie viewing. I probably haven’t seen ten new movies in the past ten years, a situation I intend to correct very soon. But I have seen many classics, including 65 of the AFI Top 100. Some of my most memorable on that list: The Godfather, Citizen Kane, The Wizard of Oz, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, several Hitchcock movies, several with Humphrey Bogart (including Casablanca, of course), Unforgiven (my favorite Clint Eastwood movie), Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, Dances With Wolves and The Silence of the Lambs. Some on that list that I have yet to see include Schindler’s List, On the Waterfront and Amadeus.

So what about you? What are your favorite movies and how many times have you seen them?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Odd Dreams

Dreams, the kind you have when you sleep, are amusing to me. I don’t believe they mean much but I know sometimes they connect things that are already in your brain. In my case, they connect very odd things in very odd ways.

The one I remember from the other night was really strange, however, and included nobody I know. First, some background … I interview community leaders and representatives from non-profit organizations for a radio show. Usually I ask questions and they answer them. Sometimes rather than simply ask a question, I will start a sentence to lead the guest to finish it. A second piece of background … our studios have a light outside the door that reads “On Air”; that means the microphone is on and a recording or live show is in progress so if you see that light, do not enter the room.

This dream featured me interviewing a guest. He was not anybody I know but he looked a little like an actor named Richard Schiff (pictured here) and he never smiled. One thing I remember from the dream is that I started a sentence to get him to finish it and he gave me a blank stare. So I just asked the questions. That happened a few times in the dream. By the way, most guests understand what I’m doing when I just start a sentence, but he just looked at me waiting for a specific question.

The other thing I remember is that two interns just walked into the studio while I was recording, ignoring the On Air light, and they were having a conversation, which then interrupted the interview. Both interns appeared too old to be college students. Both were male. One was several inches taller than me, with very long blond hair. He looked rather intimidating but I walked right up to him and pointed out that he had just walked into the studio during a recording. He and the other guy looked at me, then at the guest, then they walked out.

That’s the whole dream. None of the players looked like anyone I know and nothing like that has ever happened to me. How does my brain do that? And why?

Another odd thing about my dreams is that if I am an observer in the dream, I am in fairly shallow sleep. If I am a character in the dream and am moving around with the other characters, then I am in deep sleep. This one was deep sleep.

I rarely see people I actually know in my dreams and when I do, it seems they do not behave as the people they appear to be. My dreams also tend to have move conversation than action. Actually my life is a lot like that. Hmmm.

Anyway, I had nothing else to write about tonight, so there you have it. What are your dreams like?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Viva Las Money

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas. The place oozes decadence. It is bright, glitzy, sexy, noisy and intense. I love visiting because for that few days I am on another planet. I could never live there. I probably couldn’t go there if my employer wasn’t picking up most of the tab.

The reason for my visit was the iHeart Radio Music Festival. Part of my job is producing promos for the event; part of my payment is the trip to the event. Awesome music, including Jason Aldean and Bon Jovi (and 18 others plus celebrity surprises). Did some gambling … well, I played a few dollars in slot machines. My strategy is to decide in advance how much I am willing to lose. I lost it all. Spent some time with co-workers, introduced myself to the guy who runs the entire company.

I’d tell you more but like I said in yesterday’s post, I am busy. And tonight I’m tired. But I wanted to mention the trip a little. And show you a couple of pictures. More later. Thanks for visiting.



Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Busy Busy Busy

Busy busy busy busy beyond belief busy.  But I did have a few days off the busy stuff in Vegas recently.  I have random observations to make about that and even a couple of pictures.  But not tonight.  Too busy busy busy.

More coming.  Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Off the Cuff

Any candidate for President can make mistakes during speeches or interviews. Campaigning is stressful and challenging for anyone. But sometimes these mistakes show the ‘real’ candidate and not the ‘image’ candidate.

The rich, uncaring, out of touch man the Republicans have chosen to represent them in the upcoming Presidential election, the man who has nearly a 50-50 chance of actually becoming the leader of our country, certainly revealed a part of his attitude you might not have seen otherwise, unless you were at the $50,000 a plate fundraising dinner in Florida back in May.

Quoting an Associated Press story this week:

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what," Romney is shown saying in the video of a May 17 fundraiser in Boca Raton, Fla. "There are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you name it."

Romney said in the video that his role "is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

WHAT??

Polls show that approximately 47% of Americans prefer Obama and about that same amount prefer Romney; the rest haven’t decided yet. So what Romney is saying is that the 47% of Americans who support the President are “dependent upon government” and don’t want to “take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”

And this asshole wants to be our President???!?

I prefer Obama. I voted for Obama last time and will do so again this time. I have a three-decade-long career that I have struggled to develop and currently I am very successful. During those developmental years I lost three jobs and each time I applied for received unemployment benefits. I pay taxes to help fund those benefits. So does every working American. Even the 47% who support Romney pay into it and they are ‘entitled’ to those government benefits. To receive those benefits I had to demonstrate that I was actively seeking another job; I could not sit on my ass and wait for the checks. I hated the fact that I had to ask for those benefits but those benefits, which I helped fund, helped me during a specifically limited amount of time. I took personal responsibility. I was not a victim. I am not the only person who can make those same statements.

"There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what,"
Yes. And I am one of them!

Wait, there’s more. The most devastating job loss I experienced happened at a time when I had recently purchased my first home. By the way the interest rate was 12.8%, three times the current rate, and the President at the time was a Republican. Should I blame him?

Anyway, during the six months after losing that job, I began to collect unemployment benefits (for about two months) which did not even cover my extremely modest mortgage payment, I began to search for a job, applied for dozens of jobs in and out of my chosen field, interviewed for four jobs, had phone interviews for two more, flew halfway across the country for a job interview even though taking that job would have meant completely uprooting my life, turned down that job for that reason, attempted to start two different businesses with absolutely no money (both failed), accepted a neighbor’s offer to hire me for a construction crew for a week (even though I had little experience doing that), took a part time minimum-wage job vaguely connected with my normal line of work (it lasted three weeks), completely lost confidence in myself and my abilities, completely ran out of money, got behind on every bill including the mortgage, called that ‘across the country’ job back to see if it was still open, it was, and I accepted that job … which meant I had to sell my house in a hurry, use the modest profit to pay off all the other debts, leave my fiancĂ© at the time and move from Texas to Maryland and eventually lost the fiancĂ©.

Re-read the last two paragraphs and tell me if I took responsibility. Tell me if I felt like I was a victim. Tell me I was looking for a handout from the government.

Now let me repeat … I am in the 47% who will vote to re-elect Obama. How dare Romney tell me I am a victim dependent on the government because I chose to vote the way I chose to vote.

Neither candidate can single-handedly fix the economy. If either of them really had all the answers the choice would be clear and a vast majority of the electorate would be favoring one or the other of them. Right now it’s still half and half.

But MY choice is clear!!! I have taken my responsibility to research the candidates and have made my choice.

Romney says his comments were ‘off the cuff’ … and like I said at the beginning of this post, any candidate can slip up. But he repeated his position several times during that presentation, thinking his remarks wouldn’t leave the room. I wonder how much the cuff links on his cuff cost. Personally I hope they cost him the election.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Middle of History

Sometimes I forget that I live in the middle of history. When I look out my front door, past neighborhood rooftops, I can see the top of South Mountain, the site of a Civil War battle. Just a little further west lays Antietam Creek and the town of Sharpsburg, site of the bloodiest single day battle in American history. Between 5:30 am and 5:30 pm on September 17, 1862 the Battle of Antietam (also known as the Battle of Sharpsburg) claimed 23,000 casualties (3600 killed, the rest injured, captured or missing).

That was the first major Civil War battle fought on Union soil and many historians consider it a turning point in the war. The North won, sort of, and Lee’s Southern forces retreated, sort of. Union forces failed to pursue Confederate troops, which disappointed many in the North, including President Lincoln, but the battle did stop Lee’s advances.

Another ‘turning point’ aspect of that battle is this: it was the first time an American battlefield was photographed before the dead had been buried. Up to that point, citizens who did not actually fight in wars really didn’t realize the full impact of the fighting. Some Civil War battles were even spectator events, with finely dressed men and women setting up picnic lunches on hillsides to watch the battles from a distance. Photographer Andrew Gardner’s published photographs of the bloody, mangled bodies of dead soldiers in the roads, ditches and fields near Sharpsburg changed forever the public image of warfare.

This battle and photography are an interesting connection for me, partly because of my interest in photography and partly because the first pictures I shot with my first high quality digital camera were taken at the Antietam National Battlefield. A few days after buying my Nikon in April 2008, I decided to find a nearby outdoor landscape site to field test it. I saw the Antietam site on a map and decided to visit. Prior to that day I knew little of the battle and nothing of its role in photographic history.

Here is one of my shots from that day. Click here to see more on the first page of the photo blog I started soon after that day.




Another connection in this story is nearby Middletown, the central theme of another photo blog I started around that time. As I wandered around town over the next few years reading historic markers I learned that the churches in Middletown served as hospitals for wounded on both sides of the battle. During Middletown Heritage Day each September, one of the churches sets up a simulation of those activities.


I’ll be moving away from Middletown soon and I will miss the proximity to this history. Fortunately I’ll only be an hour away.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Eleven

It is hard to believe that the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened eleven years ago today. I have so much to say but I don’t even know where to start. I’ll just write a few random thoughts.

I remember that day like it was yesterday. It was 9 am on a sunny Tuesday. I was stuck in a traffic jam in suburban DC, heading to a doctor’s office for a physical and some tests. The DJs on my radio station were chattering about upcoming songs when one of them stopped mid-sentence and said “oh my God!” He explained the breaking news flash he had just seen on the TV in the studio. All of this flashed back in my head at 9am this morning as I was stuck in a traffic jam on the same highway listening to the same radio station, only this time I was listening to a ‘moment of silence’ audio piece I produce for playback at appropriate times every 9/11.

I left the doctor’s office around noon, exiting the parking lot into the massive traffic jam caused by the evacuation of DC. It took two hours to drive the usual twenty minutes to my office. By that time the towers had collapsed, a plane had hit the Pentagon, all non-military aircraft were being ordered down and for the first time in my life I felt I understood what real terror felt like … the uncertainty, the rumors, the fear that more was coming. That was certainly what the cowards who caused this shit wanted.

Some people I know want to forget all of this and move on. Others want to remember every last detail. Both are coping mechanisms and ways of dealing with grief and loss. I am in the ‘remember every detail’ camp. That works for me. I don’t ever want to forget the fear and outrage. I also don’t ever want to forget the way people came together to help each other out.

As I write this I am watching that History Channel documentary … the one made up entirely of archive footage shot that day by a variety of people including news crews, fire and rescue and random citizens with camcorders. There is no narrator. The audio includes random people describing what they are seeing, excerpts from fire fighter communications and emergency dispatchers, assorted radio and TV reports in the background, people screaming as they run away from the debris. The video includes close-ups from nearly the foot of the towers as well as shorts from across the river in New Jersey, close-ups of flames shooting out of the building, close-ups of people hanging out of windows waving things screaming for help, debris falling from the towers, people falling from the towers, the towers collapsing. Every few minutes a running digital clock is shown on the screen. This is as real as it gets. Hard to watch but maybe the most compelling thing I have ever seen on television. I watched plenty of it last year too. I cannot watch the whole thing.

I have more to say but I think I’ll stop now, except to say our country survived this and many of the terrorists did not. Terrorism still exists and we are still vulnerable, but we are also stronger and safer than this day eleven years ago. God bless America.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Political Discourse and Stupid Arguments

This Presidential election season is turning into one of the ugliest in my lifetime and I don’t like it. I have witnessed and engaged in some ridiculous political discussions during the past few weeks. On Friday someone who I consider to be very intelligent told me he believes the world will end within five years if Obama is reelected. He really believes this. WTF?! I have also heard predictions of dire consequences if Romney becomes President.

My fellow Americans … this is NOT a dictatorship. No one American, even the President of the United States, has that much power. The world will not end on Inauguration Day next January, regardless of who takes the Oath of Office. The Mayan calendar says it will end this December. So there! Actually recent studies indicate that the Mayan calendar ends in December 2012 because they ran out of room on their tablets. Hey, just trying to lighten the mood.

One of the arguments I was in with a co-worker centered on past President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic convention last week. I thought it was a great speech. I did wonder about some of his facts, however, but that wasn’t of much concern because I believe the “facts” on all sides of the arguments are flawed in some way. This co-worker tends to lean right in the way I tend to lead left … we’re neither Liberal nor Conservative on every issue. He and I have had some interesting conversations about politics and economics over the years we’ve worked together. So I asked him if saw the Clinton speech. He did and immediately said it was the worst he had ever seen and that the facts were all lies. Funny thing is that just an hour before our conversation I read a reputable news article which claimed that most of his facts checked out. There was some exaggeration in the speech but the facts were mostly correct. According to this article. My co-worker said the article he read said just the opposite, that the facts were incorrect.

And that’s my point … ‘facts’ aren’t always facts. It is easy to make statistics back up different sides of a the same argument and it is also easy to pull a sentence out of context and make it say something different than the writer/speaker intended.

What bothers me the most is the arrogance on both sides of so many political arguments. Some people think their way is the only way and those who disagree are in some way less intelligent or less patriotic. Stop the bullshit! NOBODY has all the answers!!

FACTS prove that we are better off than we were four years ago. By an inch or two. Not enough to make either side of that political argument a clear choice.

FACTS prove the economy is improving. By a little. Very little. It is hard for the average American to feel it. Too early to tell if it’s a trend. None of this leads to a clear choice. All of it backs up each of our choices for the election.

A great case can be made for making a change in leadership. An equally great case can be made for giving the incumbent more time to finish what he started. I think the poll I saw today said Obama is at 46.8% right now. Romney is at 46.8% right now too. That tells me a few things: the choice is NOT clear, NOBODY has all the answers, the best way forward is for both sides to start working with each other for the common good.

Whichever Republican leader said last year that their number one goal is to prevent Obama from having a second term clearly proves my point that they don’t give a shit about fixing problems and they were determined to reject anything and everything in the name of making the President look bad. And our tax dollars pay this guy’s salary? THAT’S the problem! Conversely, a Democratic leader a few years ago (Pelosi) was equally arrogant and unwilling to work toward fixing problems and I have just as much negative feeling toward her.

The thing that scares me more than which candidates win which races is the attitude individual people have toward others with differing opinions. I have several bumper stickers on my car, mostly displaying musicians and towns I like. I want to add an Obama sticker to the collection, but I live in a county populated by right wing conservatives and I actually worry that harm will come to me or my car if I slap that sticker on. The sad part is that the harm would likely come from a coward who instead of looking me in the eye and saying “I disagree” he or she would just damage my car instead. That, of course, is the same kind of unrealistic paranoia that leads to the ‘end of the world’ fear I referenced in the first paragraph.

Every American has the right to believe what they want. Political discourse can lead to effective solutions to difficult problems. Stupid arguments only add to the divide. As we approach the anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks I wish we could all remember what it felt like that day … we were UNITED in the name of helping each other get through an attack on our country. We were UNITED in our nation’s resolve to find the people behind the attacks and bring them to justice. And we did. It is time we remember we are the UNITED States of America.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Perspective Perspective

The illustration below is blunt, somewhat unfair and, well, true. Before you scroll down to see it and react to it or what I just said, let me point out that my circle of friends is fairly evenly divided among Democrats, Republicans, Independents and WTFs. Most of my Republican friends are intelligent and sincere; we just usually disagree on many issues.

That said, I have to think that many Republicans are wondering what happened to their party.

Look at this for a minute. The three Presidents pictured below were all Republican and are among the greatest leaders in the history of our country.



Let me site just one example related to each, purely from my basic knowledge based on things I read.


Abraham Lincoln – Ended slavery and enabled the United States of America to remain united as ONE country, not two or more.

Teddy Roosevelt – His numerous and diverse accomplishments include curbing the power of large corporations, advocating more pay and shorter hours for workers, banning misleading food labels and he was an outspoken conservationist and created the original National Park system.

Dwight Eisenhower – In my view, his single greatest achievement as President is our Interstate Highway system. It was designed to improve national security by enabling efficient and safe movement of military troops and supplies but had the side benefit of getting Americans to explore our great country .

Those milestones I mentioned were huge federal projects that many people in each time period claimed were examples of too much government interference in people’s lives and stepped on state’s rights. How dare anyone tell a Mississippi cotton grower he can’t own slaves? What do you mean a developer can’t build houses and hotels on every square foot of the Shenandoah Mountains? A network of wide, expansive and expensive highways connecting a hundred cities and each state has to pay a portion of the cost?

Those were huge, costly and controversial issues that ultimately happened because elected officials of multiple political parties found a way to agree, led by the big vision of the top guy in the party of small government. What happened? Where did that go? If you are a Republican, do you dare compare Romney or either Bush to the guys in the top row of the picture above?

Over that same 150-year period in American history, there are a few standout Democrats too, of course.

Franklin Roosevelt – got the country out of the worst depression in its history; kept us out of a world war till it stepped on our turf, then mobilized us into the greatest nation on the planet.

John Kennedy – kept us from a third world war and launched the dream of landing a human on the moon, which advanced the cause of science and technology in ways we benefit from to this day (such as the computer you’re reading this on with eyesight improved by lasik surgery).

Lyndon Johnson – Made basic human and civil rights the law and began federal government projects that we take for granted today (Medicare, for example).

Those too were huge, costly and controversial issues that ultimately happened because elected officials of multiple political parties found a way to agree.

By the way, each example I mentioned resulted in true job creation and economic stimulus, improved the quality of life of nearly all citizens and ultimately made us a better country.

The perspective I’ve shared in this post is not a condemnation of any political party. Democrats and Republicans can take great pride in these accomplishments and also share some of the shame of the other bad things caused by both parties. My point is that when we reduce partisan politics and increase cooperation, great things can happen.

Vision and cooperation wins the day. The rest is crap.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Exploring

Where have you been? Are you fortunate enough to have travelled? Do you live near where you were born or have you moved around?

The travel bug bit me at a fairly young age. My family took an annual summer road trip from the time I was ten years old. Those first trips were only a few hundred miles from our home in New Orleans. We went ‘all the way to Biloxi’ on one of them. Those two whole hours on a highway were pretty exciting to a ten-year-old and that was the first time I saw a beach. As my sister and I grew older and as Dad bought better cars, our travel expanded to places like Florida, Arkansas, Washington DC, Texas and New Mexico.

As an adult I added a few more places to my list. I have now visited forty of the fifty states and three nearby countries and have lived in five different states. I am very lucky and don’t take any of this for granted. But there are so many more places I want to visit and a few I want to revisit.

Two Travel Channel programs triggered these thoughts today. They are part of a project done in conjunction with the National Parks Foundation. One explored the area around Mt. Rushmore and the other covered the Colorado River through places like Arches, Canyonlands and the Grand Canyon. I’ll get back to that in a minute.


Arches National Park
  Think about trips you have taken. What were your favorites? Are there any places you would go back to? What is on your destination wish list for the future?

Three states I have returned to many times are North Carolina, Florida and Louisiana. My favorite places in NC are the mountain areas to the west (Asheville area) and the beaches to the east (Outer Banks). I love vast horizontal vista views, hiking on wooded trails and sandy ocean fronts and spending time in quirky towns with quirky residents. I have also visited Raleigh and Chapel Hill many times each but those places are less interesting to me now. I used to visit the beaches three or four times a year and plan to start doing that again next year. I visit Asheville three or four times a year and will continue that.

Florida … I lost count how many times I’ve been to the Orlando area, specifically to visit the various Disney properties. I love the whole idea. I would like to revisit some places from my youth and college years, however, like Pensacola, Jacksonville and St. Augustine. Future spots I’ve never seen but would like to: Key West, the Everglades and the Kennedy Space Center.

Louisiana … I grew up there and always love visiting but I mostly keep returning to New Orleans. I really want to re-explore some of the bayou country on a future trip. And ride in an air boat; I’ve never done that.

Out of the country … I’ve been to Mexico and Jamaica. I have great stories to tell about each but no interest at all to revisit. I’ve also been to Canada … crossed the border, drove in for thirty miles, came back, all so I could say I’ve been there. I would like to take a real vacation there someday, but it’s lower on the priority list than many other spots. Top of the list? Italy! There are way too many interesting destinations there to take them all in on one trip, so my priority is the Tuscany area (and Venice and Florence). I’d also like to visit Switzerland and England.

In the USA? I want to visit the ten states I haven’t seen, of course. Top of that list would be Washington state, Oregon and Alaska. Wyoming holds some interest too.



Grand Canyon

Of all the travel I have done and the exploring I’ve only dreamed about, the place my heart and eyes want to visit the most … revisit, actually … is Arizona and Utah, specifically the parts near the Colorado River. That is what hit me as I watched those TV shows I mentioned. The single most memorable vacation of my life was a trip I took there more than ten years ago. I have wanted to go back ever since, but other things got in the way.

My travel partner packed too many stops into that adventure but I’ll give her credit for picking a few I might not have known about. My hot spots for a fantasy revisit include Arches, Canyonlands, the city of Moab, Monument Valley, Navajo Nation, the city of Flagstaff and the North Rim and South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Believe it or not, the earlier trip I mentioned included all of those places and five or six more, all in one week.

I’ve been a photo enthusiast since childhood and I shot hundreds of pictures on that trip … all on slide film. I don’t have a slide scanner (yet) so I can’t share them with you in this post, but they are the best photographs I have ever taken and sometime soon I will scan them and do a brag post about them. My favorites? Arches, Monument Valley (many John Wayne films were shot there) and both rims of the Grand Canyon. I still remember the moment I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time; I nearly cried. There is no way to adequately describe in words or pictures the feeling you get when you step out to the edge and actually see it. North Rim, the less visited rim, impressed me even more than South Rim but both are beyond description. “Grand” is not nearly a big enough word.

Other memories: shooting a sunset at North Rim, then turning around and shooting a full moon moonrise … driving my rented SUV on a 17-mile off road trail near Canyonlands … an incredible meal at a restaurant in Moab (I don’t remember which restaurant but I can still taste the butternut squash soup) … walking along a short stretch of the old Route 66 in Flagstaff … waking up to the site of deer on the side of a meadow outside a hotel near North Rim … hiking a mile into Grand Canyon down a steep trail near the South Rim … shooting sunrises and sunsets in Monument Valley … trying to find the best photo angles in Arches.


Monument Valley

That whole area was more than just a jaw-dropping viewing experience. There is some kind of spirit there. You FEEL the place as much as see it. It is no surprise to me that Navajo, Hopi and Anasazi Indians worshiped the land, water and sky they lived on. That has to be God’s back yard. I want to go back there. Who wants to come with me?

Meanwhile, I have other priorities and my exploring will be limited to the web sites I’ve linked here and my search for the photos I took. But every time I see TV programs like the one that inspired this post and every time I talk about my past travel, I get another step closer to the future adventures. You too, I hope. Maybe you’ll be standing next to me, camera in hand, silently soaking in the indescribable.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Understanding It All

I don’t believe the average American understands politics. I pay more attention to politics than the average American because knowing about it is one part of my job, yet I don’t understand it either.

Government basics were (and hopefully still are) taught in school in classes called Civics or Political Science. We learned about the three branches of government, executive (the President, the cabinet, etc.), legislative (the Senate and the House) and judicial (Supreme Court, federal courts). By the way, I had to look it up to make sure I got the correct names. We have fifty states and several territories, each with its own governments; some laws and policies are at the state level and can vary from state to state, and some laws and policies are federal.

Most Americans know that much. Do you know any additional details? Each state has two Senators and each state has a number or representatives determined by the state’s population. At present, that means we have 50 Senators and 435 Representatives. I knew those numbers without looking them up; yes, I am showing off now.

But what do you know beyond those facts? What do I know beyond those facts? Those are the most basic details, but are really just the tip of the iceberg. Other more complex details involve who is in charge of what, who enforces laws, who makes what laws, etc. At the state level it gets even more complicated. Each state has similar branches of government but some go by different names and shoulder different responsibilities. Even states have different designations … most are called ‘states’ but Virginia and Massachusetts are ‘commonwealths’. Forty-nine states have counties, but Louisiana has parishes.

Our government was founded more than 235 years ago and the basic original principles and forms of governing are still essentially the same. That says a lot about our ‘founding fathers’ … they had vision and what they designed worked and still works, with appropriate updating. But people today often hold onto original ideas even in the face of possible contemporary improvements. Best example? The Electoral College. In the 1700s, this body was formed as a compromise between the idea of Congress electing the President and citizens electing the President. Basically we vote for our ‘electors’ and they vote for the President. Each state gets electors totaling the numbers of Representatives plus the number of Senators. Most states have a ‘winner takes all’ policy, meaning whatever Presidential candidate gets the majority of votes gets all of the Electoral Colleges votes for that state. But states being independent states, some states allocate their ‘electors’ based on a proportion of voting results. (Yes, I had to look all of that up). What this means is that it is possible for one candidate to win the most votes but the other candidate can still become President. Al Gore beat George Bush in the popular vote in 2000, but the race was very close and Bush ended up with more Electoral College votes and became President. I am still pissed off about that.

Do you understand that whole last paragraph?

My point is that politics is a very complicated thing which is difficult for most citizens to understand. Yet we all have the right and responsibility to control our government. It is complicated and flawed in some ways, but I believe it is still the best one on the planet. It is out of control in many ways but it is still ours. Most people, regardless of political affiliation, believe government should be smaller. The difficulty, or course, is we don’t all agree on how to make it smaller. What should be cut and what should stay.

One additional point … no matter how complicated politics may be, don’t just ignore it. With our right to vote comes our responsibility to vote. Research the issues that are important to you and vote for candidates who you think will support your views on those issues.

I’ll close with this odd but interesting observation on why each of our votes DOES count. In the Presidential election of 2000, 105 million people voted. Al Gore got 500,000 more votes than George Bush but because of winner-take-all policies in most states, Bush got more votes in the Electoral College. A candidate needs 270 to win and Bush got 271. ONE vote in the Electoral College changed the outcome of history! There were just under 185,000 polling places in the United States on that Election Day. If just two (or maybe even just one) voter at each polling place who didn’t vote had voted for Gore, the outcome could have been completely different. By the way, I did not vote in that election and after that I vowed to never skip a Presidential election again for the rest of my life.

Obama and Romney are in a statistical tie right now and chances are the election this year will be close, maybe as close as it was in 2000. Staunch supporters of each candidate think their guy can walk on water and fix everything that’s wrong; and if we believe that, we’re all full of shit. But both of these guys have leadership abilities and both believe in their plans. Regardless of how complicated politics is, regardless of how difficult it is to understand, we each have a right and an obligation to pay attention to issues that are important to us and to vote for the candidate we feel can best address those issues.

Every vote counts. Put November 6th on all of your calendars now!

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Who Really Knows You?

What do you share with people who are close to you? Do you tell close friends or siblings how you feel? What topics do you discuss and what topics are off limits? Do you share everything with your spouse?

I am deeply curious about people. I want to know what they think, how they feel, what leads them to do or not do what they do or don’t do. I do not have any hidden agenda; I am just curious.

Do you have deep conversations about sensitive issues? Who do you share with?

Mid boomers like me grew up in a time when established norms were questioned. Marriage, war, sex, drugs, race, money, politics and religion were all up for discussion and were all subject to challenges. We were the rebels; we didn’t take anything at face value. We wanted to decide for ourselves if beliefs and behaviors should continue as they always seemed to be or if we should change everything.

Attitudes like this could sometimes lead to deep thought and discussion, although I only remember one friend through my teens and twenties that I had deep conversations with. He and I were very good friends and shared some early growing up experiences together, things like discovering girls, hating school, military service, rejecting religion. We would double date, then after dropping off our dates, he and I would sit in his car parked in front of my house and talk for another hour or two. We were sure we had all the answers, or at the very least we asked all the right questions. We probably revealed some personal feelings to each other, partly because we had nobody else who would listen and partly because we trusted each other with privacy. We instinctively created a safety zone for each other.

We are still in touch, but our lives took radically different paths and the connection we had changed to the point where we no longer have that ‘deep thought’ ability. I have certainly had many friends over the decades since but I rarely have been able to have those kinds of deep conversations with anyone. I miss that.

There are two or three friends in my current circle who have the potential to have a connection like that with me. In each case we have shared thoughts and feelings that might usually be off limits with other people, but we have provided at least a partial safety zone, making it possible to share like that.

But what are the real limits to sharing?

My idealistic side tells me it is possible to uncloak nearly all levels of privacy with at least one or two people in one’s life. Experience tells me that is not possible. It seems a spouse should be that kind of confidant, but I have multiple examples to disprove that.

I am curious about deeply held thoughts and feelings about sensitive, personal issues. Random examples of questions I would ask: religion (Is there a God? Do you pray? What do you pray for?), politics (What party? How do you feel about abortion, immigration, war, government regulations?), sex (What turns you on? What was your first time like? Are you adventurous? Confident?), self-image (How do you feel about your body image, health, intelligence, the future? Do you think you are appealing?)

Each of these questions naturally leads to requests for more details, digging deeper and pealing back more layers. I have asked a few select friends similar questions over the years; some even answered them. However, on the surface this kind of probing seems to cross a privacy line so I usually don’t ask. And my closest friends are women, adding to the complexity of this whole line of thought. But how do people really know each other without doing a little digging?

Is there anybody in your life who knows you really well? Anyone in your life who would answer those questions and more? Anyone in your life you’d answer those questions for if asked?

The odd part to all of this is I am not sure if I would answer those questions about myself. I think I would but I don’t know because I have rarely been asked. I have had deep and sometimes sensitive conversations with the two or three friends I mentioned but I have to admit there is a line. I have occasionally crossed it and I respect the boundaries. None of that stops my curiosity though. I don’t think anyone has ever crossed my line.

Maybe instead of asking “who really knows you?” I should ask “should anyone know you that well?” Maybe that much emotional or intellectual intimacy is inappropriate. Maybe I am still questioning the established norms.




Seven

I am struggling with a few things this week. For one, I can’t believe August is already over; what happened to June and July? For another I had a ten-hour work day yesterday, which mostly consisted of finishing projects that were all overdue; I hate missing deadlines. And of course the week was filled with concerns about Hurricane Isaac. As far as I know, all of my friends and family in the New Orleans area got through the storm with little or no damage.

And I miss Mom.

I can’t believe it has been seven years already since she died. That week was filled with repeated attempts to get in touch with my sister, who had evacuated in advance of Hurricane Katrina. Phone service was sketchy and it took several days to get reach her by phone. Those same days were filled with repeated attempts to find out what happened to my Mom and the other residents of the nursing home where she lived. That facility was in the suburbs of New Orleans and did not face the same serious flooding issues, but they did have water in the building after the storm. They had NOT evacuated, so now they were dealing with loss of electricity, lack of fuel for a generator and no way to adequately feed or treat the residents.

The nursing home moved their residents across the street to a hospital for a few days but that wasn’t working out very well either, so they put some of them, including my Mother, in “transport” and moved them to another facility in the northern part of Louisiana. I learned all of this via a chat room on a New Orleans TV station web site and finally found a phone number at the new location. Late in the morning of September 1st, after hitting redial hundreds of times, I was able to get through at which time I learned Mom had died a few hours earlier.

Mom was a remarkable woman and I know I did not appreciate that when she was alive. She was very independent but followed the expected path of her generation. She quit her job when she was six months pregnant with me and never returned to work. If she was of my generation I know she would have reentered the work force. She and my Dad were not exact yet they were completely in sync with each other. They respected each other, even when disagreeing. They loved each other till the end and showed it in little ways like holding hands and just spending quiet time together.

They both liked travel, but Mom was more adventurous. On one of their ‘senior bus trips’ Dad stayed on the bus while Mom joined several passengers on a short walk onto a glacier, just to say she did it. Mom was a story-teller and I’ve said many times that she was the inspiration for my storytelling habit. She was curious, opinionated and tolerant. She was in some ways horrified by parts of my life and would give me her opinion about them, but she accepted it all.

Mom was also a great role model for creative aging. She took art classes in her 60s and more at a senior center in her 70s. I have two of the only five of her paintings not destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. She kept up with current events by reading the daily newspaper as long as she could. She loved being around people and did her best to talk with other residents and staff at the nursing home.

If you are a regular visitor to this blog you have probably seen the next part, but I think it is worh repeating. I delivered this short eulogy at her funeral. My sister and I decided to make that ceremony a celebration of her life, and it pretty much sums it up.

When we met with Father Ralph a few days ago, he pointed us in a wonderful direction for today. He said this should be a celebration of your Mother’s life.

My sister and I are so lucky to have had her as our mother, and there are so many things we could say about her. But in my mind, four things stand out above the rest:

1) She had a great sense of humor …. She loved a good laugh. One of my sister’s last memories of her was a few days before Katrina. Mom was sitting there at the nursing home laughing. My sister doesn’t really know what she was laughing at, but she was having a good ole laugh.

2) Mom loved to travel. And with the evacuation to north Louisiana and her return here in this casket, she traveled more during her last three days of life and the weeks since her death than she had traveled in decades. She is probably having a good laugh about that right now.

3) Mom paid me and my sister the greatest compliment a mother could pay a child … many times. She married late in life, especially for her generation, at age 39. She told us many times that her life really didn’t begin till she was in her 40s, when she had us.

4) One of the most important things in life is family. Up until the last year or so, she kept up with what was going on in your lives … the cousins, your kids, your grandkids. The Mary Kay sisters, the red car ... she even got to ride in the red Mary Kay car and she was aware of things that day.

And it means a lot to my sister and I that you are here sharing this day with us.

Mom, we love you.