Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Episode 68: Shut Down the Shutdown

So the government has shut down. Well, more accurately, those who govern have shut down all productive work directly funded by the federal government. Ah, if only a government shutdown actually meant those who govern would have to do without pay until they fixed what they have broken. It occurred to me today to wonder what exactly politicians do to earn their $174,000 or more salaries. As near as I can figure it, they wander from meeting to meeting arguing with each other and bashing each other to the press, but only when they are not trying to cover up some scandalous habit or behavior.

Whatever they do must be important, because they wear suits and have to go to important parties and such. Only important people do those sorts of things, because only important people can afford to do those things, because only important people have money. At least that's what I get from my very impartial and comprehensive research and observations.

What does that mean for the rest of us? Well, what it seems to mean is we are in the middle of a tug-o-war between political parties, and they would mostly rather pull our arms off and watch us bleed out than stop tugging. You see, the thing in the middle of a tug-o-war is merely a tool, a means to victory over the opponent on the other side. What happens to it is not really as important as making sure your opponent doesn't win.

What we have on our little playground are a few hundred bullies on one side, a few hundred bullies on the other, and just over 300 million wide-eyed victims in the middle. Welcome to the government shutdown my fellow Americans. May you keep at least some of your limbs until the tugging stops.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Episode 68: Anonymous Sources of Good Character

I have noticed a trend in news stories in which something sensational happened and in which the government or big corporations are involved. My scientific research reveals that several to many times, sources referenced by reporters "spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak."

I'm actually really not sure where to go with this now because my brain gets stuck in an endless loop of illogical irrationality every time I see that statement.

As near as I can figure, what it means is as long as no one knows who did it, it is ok to do something you are not supposed to do. "I did it, but I'm not telling you who I am, because I wasn't supposed to do it." My kids are very familiar with this logic, as are most kids, which is why kids have parents, to debunk such irrational and irresponsible unreasoning. It would seem that reporter school is taught by children.

Try to apply this reporter logic to other areas of life. Go ahead, it will be fun. For example, what if the greedy bankers partly responsible for all the crazy economic woes used reporter logic? Some bankers took the hard-earned money you were planning on using for stupid things like your retirement and your children's education and spent it on important things like yachts, exotic sports cars, European vacation homes, and cocaine, but it was on the condition of anonymity because they weren't actually authorized to do so. Well, that changes everything, doesn't it. Now I guess we shouldn't hold them accountable, because they tried to be anonymous about it, they really did. Don't we all?

Isn't that kind of the rational we all use when we are trying to get away with doing something we are not supposed to do because it negatively affects someone else, even though it is for the great reason of positively affecting us in some usually insignificant and temporary way? Except we used to say, "it's okay unless you get caught." The anonymity thing does sound better if we are trying to maintain good character while doing things we are not supposed to be doing, so I can see why we have started using it, because character is important.

I'm going to try this character-saving reporter logic on the cops next time I get pulled over. "Officer, can't you just write down in your little book that you couldn't give me a ticket because I was speeding on the condition of anonymity because I was not authorized to speed?" If that doesn't work, I will just argue that I was authorized to speed but I cannot reveal the source of my authorization. I'll let you know how it goes, with my one phone call.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Episode 67: Magic Boxes and Crazies

I did a crazy thing today, so crazy I almost don't want to admit it, not so much because it was insanely crazy itself, but rather because it is ridiculous that I thought it was crazy. It could be that I was just drunk on a heady cocktail of Rob Bell, Donald Miller, and Anne Lamott. My desk is littered with the evidence of a recent reading binge on those three, and they make you think about thinking about wanting to do and say and think and ask crazy things, like people who do not live in suburbs do.

In any case, this morning I went out, in the car, to at least two different places, without the one thing with which everyone on planet Earth must have. Yup, I actually went outside my house, not just in the yard out of my house, but at least 3 to 5 miles out of my house, without taking my mobile phone. I have to admit, I nearly had a panic attack when I thought of all the horrible things that could happen. What if someone tried to call me, or updated a Facebook status, or worse yet, what if I got a flat tire!? How did people deal with such things before? It was nerve-wracking, but I made it back without incident and only missed one call and no useful Facebook updates. What a crazy thing it is that these little magic boxes have gone from novelty to ubiquity to I-cannot-breathe-without-it-y in such a short time.

According to actual statistics, not just numbers I made up, there are around 6 billion active mobile phone subscriptions in a world of about 7 billion people. Not surprisingly, there are more mobile phones than people in the U.S. I started trying to think of people I know who don't have a mobile phone. The best I could come up with are a couple friends who keep their mobile phones in drawers instead of attached to their persons at all times and don't have unlimited texting.

My kids don't have phones yet, well, not exactly. The truth is they have my wife's old iPhone, but it is not actually active as a phone, so it doesn't count.

My parents used to give us their old phones too. We pretended to call people on them, or sometimes hit each other with them, or tied people up with the curly handset cords. So far, that is not what our kids do with the old iPhone, mostly because it has no cord, would break if they hit each other with it, and has so many games and Apps it is hardly recognizable as a phone at all.

The little magic boxes we call phones probably spend most of their time wondering what they have in common with some wrinkled dusty old antique device that only had one function, even though it was ten times their size. Life used to be so much simpler. People walked to places, talked to each other in person, spent time outside, and generally has less stressful lives. On the other hand, they couldn't play Angry Birds and look up interesting facts on the internet while stuck in a boring phone conversation, so life wasn't all rose petals and gummy worms for them either.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Episode 66: Big Game Hunting

So, I met a South African who is into hunting big game. Where I grew up, hunters hunted things like deer, rabbits, squirrels, and the occasional mailbox. None of those things qualifies as big game. From what I gather, big game is anything that is just as likely to kill you as you are to kill it. In fact, if you don't have a rather large gun, and you find yourself out in the African bush facing any one of the many big game animals, your chances of survival are only slightly better than the next slowest person in your party.

Hunting, as I remember it growing up, involved trying to sneak up on or chase animals that ran away as soon as they saw, smelled, or heard you. Hunting in the big game world involves hunting animals that very well may be hunting you at the same time. This sounds rather insane, so I figured I should read up on big game hunting.

Well, I am through the Lion, Elephant, Leopard, and Cape Buffalo chapters of Death in the Long Grass, by Peter Capstick and have learned it is even more insane than you would think if you weren't sure exactly what to think about big game hunting, because you don't know exactly what it is. 

Capstick was a big game hunter back in the 1960s and 1970s, and he has all kinds of gruesome stories, because it seems lots of big game hunting involves being so close to the animals that if you miss your first shot, you will very likely end up in a mouth, on a tusk, under a gigantic foot, or hurtling through the air before ending up in a mouth, on a tusk, or under a gigantic foot. A 1-pound kitten can scratch me to bits, so I have no desire to be a scratching post for a 450-pound angry lion, or even a playful lion for that matter, or even a 160-pound leopard. Actually, I really don't like sharp-clawed kitten attacks either. I probably do not have a future in big game hunting.

It's not just danger from being attacked by the wild animals you have to consider. You might also get shot by another hunter, like the guy who accidentally shot his son-in-law's hand to bits. Granted, the hand was in a lion's mouth at the moment and the guy was just shooting at sounds because he couldn't see on account of the skin of his head being flapped over his eyes and his hands being broken after being attacked himself by the lion only moments before. I'm sure that affects your aim, even if you are an experienced hunter.

I tell you all this because I am very often amazed at how different life is depending on where you live. As I write this, my arms are itching and smarting a bit from being scratched by aggressive twigs in my back yard as I wrestled them into the trash can. They put up as much fight as they could, but I persevered. There's a guy out there who survived having his hand shot while it was being chomped on by a lion! He probably hangs out in a bar with a bunch of other guys who have scars on various appendages that have been in the mouths of various big game animals and talks about the guys who didn't get their appendages back out again. The other night I hung out in a basement with a few guys and talked about how I hurt my back, and I am not even sure how.

Alright, back to the Hippos chapter for more on the photographer who survived having his leg chomped by a curious and rather aggressive hippo. Well, maybe a break first to walk around because I think my butt is numb from sitting, and I won't even have to worry about any big game hunting me, although sometimes I don't see my kids coming, and that can hurt. Very different lives indeed.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Episode 65: The Worst that Could Happen...

I realized today that people are not overly creative when they ask the question, "Well, what's the worst that could happen?" They always seem to have their own answer to their own question, but it very often reveals a very optimistic and naive lack of cerebral effort. Usually, the worst thing that could happen is assumed to be directly related to the topic of conversation at the time.

For instance, two people are standing on a rock only 10 feet above a body of water that is plenty deep enough for diving. "Well, what's the worst that could happen? You might accidentally do a belly flop and that would probably sting a bit, so go ahead and jump."

Good heavens! What sort of modern education system churns out such blathering idiots? That is not even close to the worst thing that could happen in that particular situation, let alone the worst thing in general at that given moment in time for those two people.

The water could be infested with goldfish that have evolved into giant man-eating terrors after being heartlessly flushed down toilets somewhere in New Jersey. The rock itself could suddenly open its mouth (having just sprouted one due to instantaneous evolutionary processes set in motion, quite accidentally, by toddler aliens playing with their toys many light years away) and swallow them whole, or chew them up first, depending on the size of its mouth and whether it had teeth. Gravity could suddenly reverse itself just as they jumped and they could end up hopelessly floating around the dark and fathomless void of infinite space. Those are just a few things that could be worse than "the worst that could happen" to those poor dimwitted divers.

I think you see my point, which is great, because I've gone off and left and can no longer see it myself, so I'm glad to know someone is looking after it. Our education system has failed us and is failing us, and we lack the creative prowess even to speculate on the worst thing that could happen if our education system failed us.

Also, you should not have such discussions with 8-year-olds who already have numerous irrational fears.

One more thing, if you write when you are hungry, you will invariably include bits about things eating other things, so if you would rather avoid such references, it is probably best to write on a full stomach.