Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Who Are You to Judge?

A few words of wisdom as you pass judgement on Tiger Woods:

John 8:7(Holy Bible: King James Version. 2000)

"...He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."

The Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 7 (The Holy Bible: King James Version. 2000)

1. Judge not, that ye be not judged.

2. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

3. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

4. Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

5. Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

6. Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Petition This!

It seems everybody wants me to sign a petition. I've certainly signed my share of petitions in this lifetime, so many, in fact, that if the FBI doesn't have a file on me by now I will have to consider mine a life not well lived. Petitions are perfect for arm chair activists such as myself: they allow me to have a say without really committing myself to anything.

The problem is, petitions don't wield near the power they once did. The Web has made them a dime a dozen, saturated the market, so to speak. If it's an online petition, almost anyone can sign it, there are no age or residency requirements, and it can often be signed more than once by the same person by simply using a different email address. Any self-respecting government official, religious leader, or company CEO that is the target of a petition campaign knows that a web-based petition carries very little weight.

I'm constantly sending emails to congressional representatives, government agency heads, and corporate presidents; I have a growing list of companies and industries that I boycott; and I routinely make financial donations to select causes and organizations. I almost never sign petitions. I wonder which of Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue's staffers is the poor soul that gets to respond to my emails. Should get a raise.

Anyway, I recently came across and was particularly struck (annoyed) by the urgent plea to sign a petition against Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. Now, I've followed the actions of Mugabe for years, and he truly is a bad man, one that should have come to a timely end years ago. But as so often happens in Africa, the US, South Africa, and most of the "free world" simply looked the other way. I'm all for making the man's existence as hard as possible, but, come on, a petition?! Do you really think a dictator like Mugabe is going to be stopped by a petition signed by a bunch of nosey foreigners? Will countries supporting the Kimberley Process really be persuaded by a petition signed by some American in Atlanta, GA, whose wife doesn't list the diamond as one of her best friends? Perhaps if 200,000 people in the diamond industry signed the petition, there might be some hope, but a petition "signed" by 200,000 well-meaning global nobodies will fall on deaf ears. I mean, hurrah! for Avaaz for trying, for believing that we can make a difference, but the approach is truly a lost cause.

The petition as a force of global change is dead. It still has local and regional power, but nationally, it's power has waned, too. We weren't all made to be waging whale wars or breaking Starbuck's windows during G8 summits or going vegan or even walking from door to door gathering signatures - trust me, I'm not made of that material - so if all you can or want to do is sign an online petition, then by all means do. But know it will do very little to help the people of Zimbabwe or harp seals near Canada or indiginous tribes in South America or women in Saudi Arabia.

I recently sent an email to the president of the University of Nevada at Reno asking him to halt the practice of purchasing cats and dogs from Class B dealers for animal experiments. President Glick replied back from his own email account letting me know in no uncertain terms that his institution no longer uses cats and dogs in animal experiments. Now, about those rats and mice UNR is using...

Monday, November 16, 2009

A Library Closes

I heard it said that when a person dies a library dies with them. Our family recently lost an immense library when my uncle died unexpectedly. His library of thoughts, experiences, knowledge, feelings, and ideas will be missed just as much as his physical person. We all learned from and enjoyed his library, whether it was sitting around the Thanksgiving table, walking along the beach, watching a Broncos game or huddled together in a tiny mountain cabin. He loaned to us freely: no use restrictions, no due dates, no copyright laws. His life was a library we visited many times, one that I myself spent 40 years in. It was a good library.

We are all libraries. Our lives are books of non-fiction that read like novels. We are collections of short stories; anthologies of poetry; tales of mystery and romance; dramas, comedies and tragedies; scientific texts; philosophical treatise; and spiritual meditations. The depth and nature of our collection is up to us; as long as we keep on living life, our collection keeps on growing.

My uncle's library is closed now, but he left us priceless works that we will continue to reflect upon and enjoy until that time when our own libraries close.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Hating the Yankees

I have an unyielding belief in the importance of being a good sport. I expect it of winners and losers, players and coaches, owners and fans. If you can't handle winning or losing gracefully, then you are nothing short of a bad sport. It has nothing to do with being "competitive" but it has everything to do with showing some class.

When the Yankees won the World Series last night, I was hoping that the self-described Yankee Haters out there would display some measure of good sportsmanship. Apparently that was too much for them, and they simply continue to voice their hate. No acknowledgement of it having been a good series; no recognition of Matsui's (yes, there are other players on the team) play; no appreciation for beating a solid Phillies team. No, all that Yankee Haters can apparently do is fume, boil, stew, and spew.

I don't know the hate they harbor. Certainly if the Yankees caused them some personal harm (it's not their fault you bet the house on the losing team) then I would hear them out, but the sad thing is they all give the same reasons for their hatred. First, they don't like that the Yankee players shave and actually cut their hair. One Yankee Hater told me the clean-cut look reminded him of corporate America. Now, really, if you're that frickin' superficial, then, please, just get away from me. To hate a baseball team because their organization requires that the players maintain a certain level of grooming is idiotic and subsequently means you should hate every person of every organization that has a dress code, including me.

Second, Yankee Haters like to hate the Steinbrenners. Yet another superficial reason to hate an entire team, but one that I can somewhat relate to. See, I won't eat Domino's Pizza because the company supports pro-life groups. It's not that the pizza is especially bad or I got bad service once or that I hated the Noid. No, the only reason I don't buy their pizza is because I don't agree with their politics. The difference between me and the Yankee Haters is that I don't hate the pizza, I just don't buy it. Yankee Haters hate the Steinbrenners so much they end up hating the team. I think they call that transference in the psychiatric circles. Grow up or seek counseling.

The third and biggest reason Yankee Haters like to hate the Yankees is that they complain that the organization "buys" championships by paying enormous amounts of money to get the best players in baseball. There's no doubt the Yankees have money to spend and they spend it. And why not? What's wrong with trying to get the best players to help your organization win the World Series? Do Yankee Haters really believe that the Red Sox or Cubs or Rockies or Astros or any team in MLB wouldn't do the same if they had the means? Of course they would! The Red Sox outbid even the Yankees to get Daisuke Matsuzaka (over $51 million), so don't try and tell me it's only the Yankees throwing money around to get the best. And what do Yankee Haters have to say about the fact that only three Yankee players are among the top 10 highest paid players in MLB? The Yankees do have more money than other teams and they spend it, but I'm willing to bet there isn't a team (and it's fans) out there that wouldn't trade banking accounts with them in a heartbeat.

I would understand if Yankee Haters hated the team because they won all the time (and they don't) or out of grudging respect. I "hate" Tom Brady because he is the best quarterback playing, and I know that you never count him out. The man is ice. If your team beats the Patriots, you have to breathe a sigh of relief because you just beat the NFL's best QB. My hate of Brady is really fear of his prowess and respect for what he has, can and will do, and I'm willing to admit that. Yankee Haters won't admit that the team that won last night was the better team; they won't admit that Mariano Rivera is the most feared closer in MLB history; they won't admit that Pettitte closed down the Phillies; they won't even admit that A-Rod and Jeter are actually great baseball players.

Yankee Haters are simply poor sports.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

This is Quality Health Care?

Critics of health care reform often cite the potential for a loss in the quality of health care as a reason (or scare tactic) for not pursuing reform. If the quality of health care is so good now then explain to me how waiting 30-40 minutes to see a doctor for five minutes is a quality visit. Now, I've had really good health care coverage for the past ten years, and yet, I can think of only one instance, just one, where I didn't wait an inordinate amount of time to see the doctor and then was unable to get a word in edgewise as the doctor spent five, sometimes ten minutes telling me what is or is not wrong, stood up, shook my hand, and left the room. When I do get a chance to ask a question, I'm brushed off as ignorant and disrespectful, and it's clear to me the doctor thinks I'm wasting his/her time. I'm really not exaggerating here. From the point of view of someone fortunate enough to have health insurance, I think the quality of health care NOW is awful. I can only imagine how bad it is for those without coverage.

Sure, I get cheap prescriptions, unlimited visits to the cognitive therapist, a choice of doctors, Flexible Spending Plan, and so on, but what's the point if the doctor doesn't listen? Where's the quality in a five-ten minute visit that I waited 30-40 minutes for and took half a day off of work to make? Maybe the health care bill being passed around will make it worse, I don't know. But to criticize changes to the system on the basis of "quality" tells me those critics haven't spent much time in a waiting room lately. They clearly can afford the quality of care they expect, while I would just like to find a doctor now that isn't holding the folder of his next patient when he finally finds time for me.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ode to the Mosquito

I see thee, tiny Mosquito,
Buzzing up on high
Diving down to puncture my thigh
To drain the blood within
And leave me scratchin'
Again and again.

What is thy worldly purpose?
How is it you came to be?
Did God not know the misery
You would bring
When from Earth you did spring
To fly, buzz and sting?

I loathe thee, little pest!
You who will not let me lie
In a hammock and gaze at the sky.
You show no mercy, no fear
Relentlessly buzzing, always drawing near
To pierce a foot, elbow or molest an ear.

I shake my fist at thee,
Tiny devil spawn.
Rising in early dawn
To search for skin left bare
Whether human, canine, elk or hare.
Indiscriminate, dogged, ruthlessly fair.

There is no relief
From your predations, no respite
Other than to take flight
Behind doors locked and windows sealed.
Waiting, waiting for an icy shield
To blanket lake, swamp, puddle and field.

The spider is an artist
Stout laborers are the ant and bee
You, my friend, are an enemy
To those that walk, graze and soar.
I will fight thee from shore to shore
Quothe me, forever more.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Made in China

I believe in free trade. Free trade is a major tenet of capitalism, the very system that makes the "American way of life" possible, and though I have plenty of issues with that way of life (and capitalism), I've clearly benefited from it. I oppose protectionist measures such as the tariffs the Obama administration has levied on tires from China, and I'm even more opposed to industry subsidies, such as those we dole out to the agricultural industry. Why do we pay farmers to grow corn that we then buy from them at the store? Why pay them twice?! If your industry is competitive, it shouldn't need government subsidies or tariffs to succeed. If it can't compete against China or Ethiopia or France and is in peril of going under and putting thousands of Americans out of work, well, that's capitalism at its finest. I don't mean to be heartless, but if you want to reap the benefits of a capitalistic society, then you have to accept that failure is a possibility, too.

It probably won't surprise you then to learn that I am also a proponent of globalization. It has its drawbacks, namely environmental degradation and human rights abuses, such as the sweat shops that Nike and Wal-Mart like to think don't exist; still, overall, globalization has the ability to increase the quality of life of millions of people worldwide. Many Americans don't like the offshoring (otherwise, but incorrectly, known as "outsourcing") of jobs that has been a result of globalization, but it doesn't bother me too much. I mean, if I owned a business and some American union demanded that I pay my employees twice what I would have to pay employees in Mexico, I'd just have to tell that union "adios." Capitalism. It's the American way.

I am, however, bothered by the fact that I can't find "Americana" that isn't made in China. Once in Monterey, CA, I went looking for a gift that was representative of the area, and I quickly learned two lessons: 1) if I wanted an affordable gift, it would have to be something made in China; and 2) the only gifts I could find that were made locally were in pricey galleries. I settled on a hand-crafted, wooden sea otter that was made in Mexico, which, I reasoned with myself, was OK since Mexico is closer to Monterey than China. My biggest beef is with holiday ornaments. Those really are products that should be made in the U.S. A few years back, I came across some nice Pilgrim figurines in a local shop, but to my chagrin they had been made in China. Pilgrims made in China? That ain't right. Every Christmas season, I go on a quest to find ornaments or decorations not made in China. I might as well be searching for the Holy Grail! I wonder what the Chinese think about Santa and Frosty and Rudolph. Next Fourth of July, I encourge you to take a look at the American flags and patriotic paper- and plasticwares that you buy at Wal-Mart to see where they were made. Bet you it won't be Dayton. Alas, that's capitalism.

It's our fault, of course. When we shop at places like Wal-Mart, we increase the demand for cheap products from China and other countries. Our lust for low prices encourages U.S.-based companies to take their plants and products overseas, and then we have the gall to get all upset about offshoring. American-made products are generally more expensive and of inferior quality than their imported counterparts, and truly free trade would force American producers and manufacturers to get with it or go under. It's sad that many U.S. industries are afraid to compete fairly in the open market. But it's also sad that I can't seem to find a manger scene that's not made in China.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Apparently support for the war in Afghanistan is ebbing. I, however, support the war in Afghanistan. I didn't support us going there in the first place, but now that we're there, I think it's incumbent upon us not to run away.

How quickly the American public forgets its country's own follies. The U.S. invaded Afghanistan as we sought revenge against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Once we ousted the Taliban and sent Al Qaeda to live pretty much untouched with our ally, Pakistan, there was a time, albeit short, when the U.S. could have made progress in Afghanistan. Success got to the heads of our leaders, though, and they got greedy and went after Iraq, effectively leaving Afghanistan to fester and stew under the ineffective leadership of Hamid Karzai, our puppet president-cum-dictator. Our very neglect of the situation in Afghanistan led to the resurgence of the Taliban (that's who we're fighting now in Afghanistan, by the way, not bin Laden or Al Qaeda). Our almost remorseless killing of thousands of civilians by errant and purposeful bombs and bullets all in the name of the "War on Terror" did nothing but instill terror in the hearts and minds of the Afghan population. Rightfully so, they don't see us as the saviors we like to think we are.

If we leave Afghanistan like we did when the Russians pulled out in 1990 (I think it was 1990 - someone check Wikipedia for me!), then we just set the entire country and the region up for more radicalism and civil war. Perhaps you remember what that led to? We can't just go into a country and wreck havoc for our own purposes and then when satisfied or losing (as the case is now) decide it's not worth it and leave. Just because we're the United States doesn't mean we can have our cake and eat it, too. We're not THAT exceptional. I'm not a foreign policy expert, so I can't tell you the strategic implications for staying in Afghanistan, but I'm smart enough and informed enough (for beginners, read this article and join me in reading this book) to believe with a degree of confidence that if we don't stay, we, the U.S., will pay a much heavier price for it in the end.

The U.S. has a moral obligation to those who have died in Afghanistan, soldier and civilian alike, to not cut and run. We have a moral obligation to the Afghan people to leave them a better place than that Hell which we helped to create. And the American public needs to look-up the definition of "commitment."

Thursday, September 10, 2009

On Being a Parent

I'd planned to rail on a bit about the indoctrination of America's oh-so-impressionable youth (not by the president but by parents), but decided to take a moment to talk about our children. What?! That's right, we, too, have children...just not the human kind. Our little family currently consists of two humans, four cats, and a dog, and when one of them gets sick, like Boo is with heartworms, we take it every bit as seriously as you more traditional parents do when your kids get sick. We worry and fret. We begin to figure out how to rearrange our schedules to accommodate visits to the vet and treatment. We adjust our sleeping arrangements and our daily routines. We take it all very seriously.

When the vet came back with an estimate of about $700 for the "Gold Standard" treatment, we just said okay. There goes our dreams of a high-end TV, but that's alright. And it may mean that we won't get to use our free AMEX travel voucher after all because we won't have enough money to buy one ticket, but, again, that's fine. Wouldn't you sacrifice the same for a member of your family? It's all just stuff, and Boo is, well, he's Boo.

We don't normally refer to Boo, Jackson, Lucy, Algebra, and Beanie as "our kids." That's what crazy animal lovers do. We know they aren't "real" children like you probably have running around the house right now. But they might as well be. We don't just care for them; we center our lives around them. The nice, social times we spend in Peachtree City are always cut short because we have to get home to feed and go for walks. I have no idea what percentage of our monthly income goes towards pet food alone, but it's significant. Like you (I hope), we don't feed our kids crap. We break up fights, soothe tempers, enforce manners, teach, reward, discipline, and play. I know you're thinking there's much more to being a human parent than what it takes to "parent" a dog or cat, and perhaps so, but that's not my point. Don't be so dense.

We only just learned that Boo was diagnosed with heartworms even before we adopted him, but no one told us. We still would've adopted him, though, because we knew he was the one. He can be a pain in the ass (and so can your kid; just ask any restaurant employee) and sometimes it's hard deal with him. He's a dog; it's not like he understands me when I try and reason with him. Still, I try. Boo got his first shot today and gets his second tomorrow, and then for six weeks he has to be confined to one level of the house with only minimal exercise. It won't be easy and will pretty much suck most of the time, but it's what you do for those you care for, for those who depend on you, for your kids, for your family.

Go Boo.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Cats & Dogs

I like cats more than I like dogs. There, I said it. Note that I didn't say that I don't like dogs, because I love them to death. A person who doesn't like dogs wouldn't have spent every weekend one summer in Chicago working at a doggie day care and boarding. There are certain breeds of dog that I like more than others, such as hounds and working dogs, and my least favorite has to be standard poodles. No particular reason why the standard poodle made my least favorite list; I mean, John Steinbeck's Charlie was a standard poodle and who's ever said a bad thing about Steinbeck? Dogs are good; I just like cats more, that's all.

Monday, August 24, 2009

What To Be or Not to Be

I've been an librarian for 10 years now. That's the longest I've done any one thing in my entire life besides breathe. I know that I'll never be on the Librarian All-Star Team or make the Librarian Hall of Fame. I seriously doubt I'll leave any mark whatsoever on the profession. Librarianship just doesn't move me, there is no fire in my belly for what I do. When the work day ends, you won't find me reading, writing, talking or even thinking about anything library-related. I believe I have the best job in the profession, but even then I'm just not into being a librarian. I mean, being cooped up inside all day, smothered by air conditioning, facing a godless computer (well, Google is sort of like a kind and benevolent God), and helping people? Ugh. Add to that the fact that I lack THE librarian requirement: a love of reading. No, librarianship is just not what I saw myself doing.

Forest Fire Fighter: A life-long fascination with and appreciation of fire led me to believe I could spend my life fighting it. I'd get to be outdoors, work hard and live life on the edge. I was smart enough, however, to realize that seasonal work has limited benefits. Besides, the legally blind shouldn't be allowed to fight fires. Can you imagine my fate if I'd lost a contact lens? Reason won out on that one.

Pool Player: I'd have dropped out of college and hit the pool circuit had I been good enough. I just love to play pool. Who knows, maybe with time and practice my game could've had tournament potential. There was one major obstacle to my pool hall dreams, though: beer. I drank beer better than I shot pool and since the two go hand-in-hand in my world, you can see why I didn't get very far in that endeavor.

Flower Shop Owner: I like flowers. I imagined "Thad's Flower Shoppe" somewhere in NYC. Turns out the entrepreneurial spirit is not strong in this soul. Other small business ideas included Thad's Maple Syrup (patent still pending) and a fleet of garbage trucks.

Religious Studies Professor: This was doomed from the start, but it was strong enough of an idea to move me from OR to TX. I am not a leader of men nor am I a molder of minds. It's important to know who you are.

Journalist: It's why I went to college to begin with, and yet I never took a single journalism class. Piss poor advising and misplaced principle on my part (I blamed the media for Gary Hart's political fall) led me to the English department. Maybe I, too, could've been an loud-mouthed ignoramous hosting a talk show on Fox, CNN, or MSNBC. That's the state of "journalism" these days.

Veterinarian: Looking back on missed callings, this is the one that hurts the most. Early on, I was inspired by James Herriot's books. I even kept a little notebook of diseases that I came across in his stories that I then researched in Collier's Encyclopedia in the event I was ever called upon to diagnose hoof-and-mouth disease amongst all those bovines roaming suburban Aurora. But I lacked (and still lack) the mental acuity and discipline to pursue anything scientific or medical. I ended up in the humanities, which naturally led me to many years in food service and, ultimately, to libraries. Librarianship is a far cry from the good I could've done.

Lament as I might my ultimate choice of professions, I have no regrets. Had I taken any other path than that which I took, I wouldn't have the life I have now, and I have a pretty good life. I'll probably retire as a librarian and shelve books on a volunteer basis well into my golden years. Eh, so be it.

Then again, maybe someday you'll find Thad's Maple Syrup sitting next to Mrs. Butterworth's and Log Cabin. Organized by bar code, of course.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Sometimes I like to listen to Cat Stevens on my way to work. His music is simple and soothing to my racing and perturbed mind and has been known to help me be less critical of my fellow man. Some hippie girl I knew in high school said one should listen to Cat Stevens while watching the sunrise and drinking a cup of coffee. I chuckled because I figured someone with with a name like that had to be a black blues guitarist and that just isn't good waking up music. That girl never had much to do with me after that.

So, yeah, I've listened to Cat Stevens for a long time. I like 10,000 Maniacs, too, and as you might know they removed their version of Stevens' "Peace Train" from an album after he (then and now known as Yusof Islam) didn't denounce the fatwa against Salman Rushdie for The Satanic Verses. I didn't think much of it then and I don't think much of it now other than occasionally wondering if they, 10,000 Maniacs, have gotten over their indignation. It just seems silly to me. The artist known as Cat Stevens has a whole body of work that actually transcends the artist himself, even to the point where what that artist subsequently says, does, sings, or writes can't blemish what he's already created. To me, his work is that good, and I would've hoped the members of 10,000 Maniacs (OK, just Natalie Merchant) would have realized that it is the music and the words that count, not the man who penned them. "Peace Train" is a good song, regardless of the fatwa. I think it was the royalties that moved them more than the principle.

I feel the same way about Michael Richards, aka, Kramer, from "Seinfeld." The man gave life to one of pop culture's all-time great characters, and yet because of something he did years after the show was over, many people refuse to watch "Seinfeld" reruns. That's so juvenile. I don't condone his onstage rant, but I'm not going to stop watching and laughing at the character he inhabited for so long and made so great. "Kramer" transcends the fallible human who gave him life.

And, yes, the same is true for Mel Gibson. If you let it, art can transcend the anti-Semitic. I don't think bigotry should be a career-ending offense. I mean, if you've ever laughed at a joke that starts "A rabbi, priest, and ..." then you, too, are a bigot; should you lose your career because of that? I think the drinking and driving was worse than any filth that came from his mouth (and, yes, it was filth). But should we never hear from Mel again, I'll always have Mad Max and "Signs." Sure he's done better work, but I like those two a lot.

But going back Cat, I really like "The Wind." It goes like this:

I listen to the Wind
To the wind of my soul
Where I'll end up well, I think
Only God really Knows

I've sat upon the setting sun
But never never never
I never wanted water once
No never never never

I listen to my words
But they fall far below
I let my music take me
Where my heart wants to go

I've swam upon the devil's lake
But never never never
I'll never make the same mistake
No never never never.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Health Care Reform

The day started pretty much the same way it started all days that June in 1992: I got on my bike to ride to campus for summer school. This time I wasn't able to make it to campus, though, as after the first hill I had to stop. I was dizzy, short of breath, and my heart was beating like mad. I coasted into The James, my favorite watering hole and my then place of employment, to rest before trying again. I didn't get to the end of the block. I called a cab and went to the hospital.

I told the woman at Reception that my heart was beating very quickly and that I was dizzy. She asked for my insurance card, and I told her I didn't have insurance. She told me they only took people with health insurance. So, I went to the lobby pay-phone (early 90's, no cell phones), looked up hospitals in the Yellow Pages (no Google) and began calling around to see who would take me. A nurse who'd been near Reception came up to me while I was on the phone, took my wrist and felt my pulse. Within seconds she was leading me into a room. I said I didn't have insurance and she said they'd worry about that later. The vacant room was soon filled with dreamy medical types and tubes and wires. I remember looking at the white tiled ceiling and wondering if I was going to die. I didn't but it was a close call.

The doctor told me that my heart had jumped to 220 beats a minute and that had I not been young and physically active, I could have died. Heart Arrhythmia. Said I had a good heart. A cardiologist would later explain that these things sometimes happen to young men and that he saw no reason for me to expect it to happen again. As such, he recommended that I never disclose this incident on any medical forms because it would be seen as a heart-related pre-existing condition and no insurance company would take me. The only thing worse to them would be cancer, he said.

Almost two months later I would crash on my bicycle one night and wake up in the hospital to a nurse picking gravel out of my arm and hands. I broke my arm, wrist, and a finger. To this day, I still don't know what happened and I only have limited use of my arm. In any event the resulting medical bills were too much for an uninsured student to handle, so I moved back home. The James employees had a fundraiser that paid for the ambulance bill. They were good folk.

I don't know the specifics of the proposed health care reform legislation because I don't base my knowledge of issues on what FOX News or Sarah "Hotty Moose Killer" Palin have to say. Nor has anyone consulted me. All I know is that my experience tells me what we have doesn't work and our health care system needs a major overhaul. I have employer-sponsored health care now, but there are millions who aren't so lucky. That ain't right. I'm willing to pay a bit more if it means my neighbor's kids can get medical attention when they need it. As a society, we have a responsibility not only to ourselves and our families but also to those less fortunate. At one point in my life, I was one of those less fortunates and had it not been for one nurse who basically said, "Fuck it," who knows if I'd been writing this today.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What's the Matter Here?

If you've been paying attention to the news, then you must have heard about the woman who was killed and her 8 month old fetus cut from her body. If not, you can find the story here.

The whole thing is appalling, of course, but this is the tidbit that caught my eye:
"'We used to hear her crying and screaming but no one ever really did anything,' Toledo said, adding that neighbors did not want to get involved (emphasis added)."

What's wrong with people? Time and time and time again you hear tragic stories that might have been prevented had people gotten involved. Granted this woman wasn't killed by her ex-boyfriend, but had her neighbors done the right thing to begin with and called the police then maybe, just maybe, she might be alive today. Cowards.

I spend a lot of time watching our neighbors. Ida says I'm like the nosey neighbor on "Bewitched." I want to know what they're up to so that if something out of the ordinary happens, I'll know it's out of the ordinary and can take action either for our or their own good. I don't police my neighbors but if I saw two men trying to break into a house (even if one was a Harvard professor), I'd call the cops; if I heard a woman scream, I'd call the cops; if I knew or suspected a child was being abused, I'd call the cops; if someone was abusing their pets, that's right, I'd call the cops. I'm going to get involved by getting the police involved.

It's not as though I want to get involved; in fact, I prefer to be left alone by my neighbors. I'm nice and polite and talk to them if they talk to me, but I don't go out of my way to make conversation or befriend them. Still, I watch out for them because it's the right thing to do on every level. This world isn't about me or you or them; it's about us, and if we aren't willing to risk intervening when someone or something is in danger, then we're as worthless as the person(s) who killed that woman.

I love the lyrics from the 10,000 Maniacs' song "What's the Matter Here?" and this refrain sort of sums up how I feel:

I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses,
He's their kid I stay out of it,
But who gave you the right to do this?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guns All Around Me

Due to Obama being elected and Sotomayor's hearings, it can't be helped that there's been a lot of talk lately about gun control, especially south of the Mason-Dixon line. Bow howdy! The National Rifle Association is on the prowl, sniffing out the tiniest mention of gun control, and, of course, the Democrats get all defensive and flustered and usually blow the opportunity to state a coherent case.

For the record, I'm pro-gun ownership. When I was growing up there always seemed to be guns around, even in our basement. I like to shoot guns. Christmas break occasionally found us shooting at bottles and cans. In college a friend got a semi-automatic handgun just before they were banned by Clinton, and we'd go to the firing range and shoot off a few rounds. As a child, there always seemed to be a new toy gun under the Christmas tree each year, and I was annoyed to no end when years later I tried to find a toy gun for my nephew and none of the toy stores sold them. Granted, I was in hippie Boulder and should have known better but it still made me mad. I probably wrote a letter to my congressman, my standard response to societal ills. So, yeah, I don't have a problem with guns.

That being said, I'm an ardent proponent of gun control. I think the waiting period is a great idea (think Homer Simpson: "But I'm angry now!") as is requiring trigger locks. Concealed weapons laws are an invitation for some stupid drunk to shoot someone in a theater, restaurant, or, if some yahoos in Georgia get their way, while you're waiting at your gate at the airport. I know the arguments against gun control and they aren't without merit. Maybe if one or two students at Virginia Tech had been carrying a firearm less people would have died that day. That assumes a lot, though. And come on: what private citizen needs to own an AK-47 or any automatic rifle?! They should only be in the hands of the military and the police. If you think the government is the menace then you have more problems then I care to address.

One of the many things that annoy me about groups like the NRA is that they get all hot and bothered about their right to bear arms being restricted, and yet they are often the same people pushing for things like Internet filters in public libraries and book bans, basic infringements on free speech. People like that expect you to honor their constitutional rights but have no qualms in trying to limit yours.

Everyone has the right to bear arms, but that doesn't mean everyone should bear them. There's a difference. Owing a gun should be more like driving: a privilege that can be taken away.

Monday, June 22, 2009

A thought or two on Iran

If you're at all familiar with "Star Trek: The Next Generation" then you know about the Prime Directive. For those who missed out, it basically expounds a theory and practice of noninterference in the internal affairs of other civilizations. Now, I don't want to make light of the current events in Iran, but I really do feel this is a good time to invoke the Prime Objective.

We don't have to like the results of the Iranian election, but that fact is, it was their election and not ours, so we need to just stay out of it. I don't care if "American interests" are at stake; this was not our election, it was Iran's. I don't care if the election was rigged because it wasn't my election, it was Iran's. I do care that the Iranian government is being too heavy-handed in their crackdown on protesters, but it doesn't matter whether or not I care because it was Iran's election and not ours. We, the United States, need to just let things unfold as they will, as unappealing and un-American as those "things" may be, and let Iran work this out itself. Obama's approach so far has been spot on, he sees the larger picture and knows that if we meddle now then we lose the hope of future ties with Iran. I just hope he doesn't break and succumb to GOP and popular rhetoric. During the whole Gore-Bush election debacle, I don't recall Iran trying to meddle in our affairs.

If we are so concerned with the democratic process, then where were we all those times Mugabe rigged and stole elections in Zimbabwe? Or how is that we can say we respect the democratic process when after Hamas won a few years ago, the US refused to accept the results? Is it that we only accept the results of elections when the person or party we want to win does in fact win? Certainly appears that way. You can't want other countries to have democracy and then turn your back on them when they use the democratic process to elect someone we don't like. It smacks of poor sportsmanship, of wanting that proverbial cake and eating it, too.

I've watched the uncensored video of the woman, Neda, dying several times, and it makes me mad that there are many places in this world where people can't protest without fear of physical violence and even death. But I also hate the idea of an Americanized world. I love knowing there are people in this world who don't think like me, who's values, moral and beliefs aren't mine, places where people live lives so unlike my own. I believe in a strong foreign policy and in engaging other countries; I just don't believe in trying to make those countries do things the way we do things in the U.S.

Hope for the Iranian opposition protesters, even pray for them if that's something you do. Hope that the Iranian government eases up and lets some of its people vent their frustrations. And hope that we don't f*ck everything up by getting involved in something that doesn't involve us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Father's Day

There seems to be a lot of energy this year surrounding Father's Day. Maybe it's the recession and the "changing gender roles of America." Maybe dads have a lobby in DC now pushing for more recognition. Mothers are important and all but last I knew a woman can't become a mother without a man's contribution, so perhaps Mother's Day and Father's Day should get equal billing. I'm just saying.

A drunk driver saw to it that we wouldn't celebrate many Father's Days. I was four when it happened so I assume we had three celebrations, but, of course, I wouldn't remember them if we did so they don't really count. Ever since then Father's Day has been a non-day, it didn't exist except as a day on the calendar. I don't really even think about it, the notable exception being my wedding, which was on a Father's Day (but I'm told that it doesn't mean our anniversary is every Father's Day, so now I have to remember an actual date).

My mom clearly did an excellent job raising us on her own, but through no fault of her own there were things she couldn't teach me, namely how to do some of those things men are "supposed" to know how to do. I say "supposed" because they are those things stereotypically attributed to men and by which men are judged by a lot of other men and women. Fixing cars is one example. Men are "supposed" to know how to fix and maintain a car, and, well, that's not me. I have jumper cables but don't know how to use them; I know where the oil is but don't know how to change it; I've never replaced a fuse; and I only learned how to drive a standard in 1998 (thanks Darcy and Ashley). There was no one to teach me those things when I was growing up, and when I took auto mechanics in high school I think I eked out a B.

Using power tools and building things are also areas in which I am far behind my peers. When a windstorm recently blew down a tree in our yard, did I go and get my chainsaw and start sawing away? No, I called the second cousin of the husband of the niece of the best friend of the uncle of the sister of the husband who lives next door to us, and he came over and sawed up that tree and removed it for $500. I don't own a chainsaw and have never used one, but if I had, if someone along the way had taught me how, it might've saved us $500. Our outside motion detector hasn't worked for over a year, and it's because I can't figure out how to open and fix the damn thing. I once hauled out the 25 ft. ladder, climbed to the top and while bugs and bees zipped about my face I tried to open it but couldn't, so I gave up and we adopted a dog and bought a security system.

Here's what I do know how to do really well: clean. You might think you can clean but you can't touch me. I mow and rake lawns pretty well, too, but as my Peachtree City friend noted, I'm not all that handy with an edger. But let's be honest: as important as they are, neither cleaning or mowing or raking are going to impress the neighbors, most of whom drive trucks, speak Spanish, and can fix anything. Being a librarian doesn't help either. You might say I could've taught myself and there's some truth to that. Through trial and lots of error, I did learn how to fix my bicycle, so I'm not completely incompetent. Still, it's not like those other opportunities have presented themselves on a regular basis throughout my life: I didn't own a car until I was 30; there's not a great demand for chainsaws in the food service industry; and up until three years ago, I rented.

The point is, there are things a dad generally teaches a boy and I missed out on many of those things. I did a lot of learning in school, but college in general doesn't teach you those things. Power Tools 101 would have served me better than all my classes at CU and UT, save art history (seriously, art history was the most practical and worthwhile subject I studied). I don't feel sorry for myself, but I do get frustrated when I'm at Home Depot and have to call Ida and ask her what type of circular saw we need. Her dad taught her how to do a lot of those things I should've been taught, too.

Today's man, today's dad, obviously should be more than just someone who can fix and build things. He needs to be both dad and mom, just as mom needs to be both mom and dad. Those old gender roles are just that, old, old and useless. That being said, if you have a boy make sure he knows how to do a lot of those things a man is "supposed" to do. Trust me: he'll thank you for it some Father's Day.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Bumper Sticker Tirade

I'd like to comment on several bumper stickers I'm forced to endure on a seemingly daily basis:

Hey, bicyclists, if you want me to share the road with you then you need to follow the same rules of the road as I do with my car. That includes not shooting through stop signs and red lights, riding single-file (I mean, we learned that in elementary school!) and using hand signals when you plan to turn or cut into the other lane. When I was riding all over Austin (one of the least bicycle-friendly cities around; trust me, the streets of Chicago are safer!) I took the time to actually read what my rights were as a bicyclist, and the law was quite clear: follow the rules of the road. And that's what I did. I stopped at every stop sign, waited for the light to turn green, rode in single-file, and made it abundantly clear when I planned to shoot over to the turn lane. Sure, I still got hit by a car, twice, but the law was on my side in each case. When you ignore the rules of the road, you ruin it for the rest of us by creating an image, a stereotype, for which many motorists have only contempt. I mean, why should the SUV soccer mom "share the road" with someone she thinks isn't going to follow the same rules?

And you motorcyclists on your Harleys and crotch rockets, if you want me to look twice to save a life then I suggest you try going the speed limit, quit weaving between cars and stop riding the shoulder in traffic jams. I'm happy to look twice, but that doesn't give you the liberty to put me in a position that jeopardizes our lives. I once spent a night in jail and lost my driver's license for drinking and driving on a scooter (yes, only in Boulder). When I told Officer Bill Palmer that it was just a scooter and that my big, rusty 1976 Chevy Blazer with its "Your taxes pay for rape, torture and murder in Central America" and "I [heart] golf" bumper stickers was parked safely at home, he said, "It's a motor vehicle, son." If that 50cc Honda Spree Scooter can be considered a motor vehicle then I suspect your motorcycle can be, too, so treat it like such, and I'll do my best to look twice to save your life.

No, freedom is not free; however, it's been proven that the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan were not started in defense of American freedoms. What happens in Kabul has no impact on our freedoms, unless, of course you take into account the loss of our civil liberties that were imposed upon us not by the enemy but by our own politicians, such as wiretapping and the Patriot Act. In fact, no modern war was fought because our freedoms were actually in peril. We only got into WWII after Pearl Harbor and there was no way Japan or Germany could invade the US. Korea and Vietnam were ideological wars: stop Communisim at all costs! And the Gulf War did nothing to secure my freedom of speech or press, although it did help to secure access to oil in the Middle East so American car companies could continue to make gas guzzlers. Oh, and it angered a certain Osama bin Laden. What happened on 9/11 did require a military response but at no time were our freedoms in actual jeopardy. You're right, freedom is not free, but there is a huge difference between protecting freedoms and protecting American interests, which is what all our modern wars have been about.

I suppose you're right in claiming that Jesus does save, although I have my doubts sometimes. Thing is, isn't there something about not using His name in vain and still you stick a gaudy sticker on a car bumper with His name on it? Come on now, show the man a little respect! Do you seriously think a sinner such as myself is going to be driving behind you, read that sticker and think, "You know, you got something there. I mean, if it's on a bumper sticker than it must be true! Hallelujah!"? If you want to get The Word out, try doing good works, living a good life, and if you have them, teaching your children the same. Earn my respect for your beliefs; don't sully the man and His message by sticking tacky stickers on your car.

And as for visualizing world peace: visualizing whirled peas is more realistic.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Second Chance for Vick?

Anyone who knows me and/or pays any attention to my Facebook posts knows that I'm rather fond of animals. So it might surprise you that I think the loathsome thug that is Michael Vick should get a second chance in the NFL.

Let me be clear: I hate what he did. I get really angry when I think about the animals that suffered because of him. I reveled in his fall from grace, and if I could keep him behind bars for the rest of his life, I probably would. The animal-lover in me wants to throw him in a pit with a few fighting dogs and close the door. That is my gut feeling.

But the rational me knows the man deserves a second chance in life. He was found guilty of his crimes and took the punishment the law imposed on him, and when his sentence is over he has the right to start over. Some say his punishment wasn't hard enough, that even though he's done his time he still shouldn't be given the chance to play football again and make millions. That's crazy, animal-fanatic talk. Michael Vick is forever tainted and he will never be able to erase from our collective memory the brutal and savage nature of his crimes, no matter how many good deeds he does or how successful he might once again become. We will always be able to point out his scarlet letter. But the law says he's paid his debt to society and now it's society's responsibility to leave him alone to let him live his life.

Word has it he'll be working with the Humane Society of the United States to educate kids about dogfighting, and who better to do that? Kids, especially teenage boys, will listen to him before they listen to Anne Marie Lucas or some irrelevant (but well-intentioned) animal rights celeb, like Chrissie Hynde or Brigitte Bardot. He could potentially take the fight against dog fighting to a whole new level, and that is something we should hope for and embrace.

I'll be happy each time he gets sacked or intercepted. I'll be happy if he never gets a starting job. He has a right to fight for that starting job, though. He has a right to try and rebuild, to make himself a better person than he was before. He has a right to a second chance.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Kudos to Big Brother

By now you've probably heard about the parents who are refusing to get their son treatment for his cancer (you can read the full story here). There are many aspects of this story that make me literally shake with anger: parental neglect, religious indoctrination, selfishness, and plain stupidity. But it's this quote that caught my eye: "I feel it's a blow to families," he said. "It marginalizes the decisions that parents face every day in regard to their children's medical care. It really affirms the role that big government is better at making our decisions for us." All I can say is, hooray for big government!

In these situations, I'm glad we have a government that does on occasion stick its nose into our personal business. I respect an individual's decision to refuse medical treatment for him or herself for any reason. However, when it comes to parents subjecting their children to those same beliefs without that child really knowing the alternatives (in this case, life and death), I'm all for government, big or small, intervening and saying, "You're wrong."

The government IS often better at making decisions for us. Individuals are motivated by self-interest so they can't always be trusted to make the right decisions for someone else, even their children. Add the cloud of irrationality that is religion and you get people who need the cold, emotionless rule of law to keep them in check. Otherwise they end up hurting themselves and others.

I believe in my government, and I'm glad to have it looking out for me and for the children of whackos. It doesn't always do the right thing, it can be corrupted, and on more than one occasion I've tossed my hands up in despair of it. In the end, however, I know it's good, and in this particular case, I couldn't be more proud of it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Passing

Last week I learned of the death of a former middle and high school classmate. My first reaction was the typical shock, but as the days passed I realized that I really didn't feel much at all; I was indifferent. I don't mean to sound callous or to be insensitive to any of his friends who might read this, but I'm not saddened by his death.

When I was a teenager, I'm sure there were times when I wished him dead. In those pre-Columbine days when bullying was an accepted part of growing up, D.S. was my bully. He wasn't a physical bully; instead, he used words and his celebrated wit to make my life fairly miserable. He knew I was weak, sensitive and insignificant, and he used my weakness, sensitivity and insignificance for his amusement. We barely even knew each other and yet he taunted and labeled me. I used to have a 10-speed bicycle that my uncle had built for me. It was big, heavy, and blue, and I loved it. One day the recently deceased asked me if he could take a ride on my bike. Knowing him to be a big cyclist even then and me wanting desperately to be accepted, I let him. He returned to tell me that my bike was nothing short of a piece of junk. It may sound trivial now but then it was huge to me, and I was crushed. From 8th-12th grade, he found many moments to cut me down, to make me doubt and hate myself. He was just plain mean to me, and I hated him.

That's how I remember D. Part of me says I should forgive and forget, but the other part says it's more complicated than that. Even if it has been over 20 years, why should I forgive him? I mean, have you ever been bullied over a period of years? And because that bully is now dead and because of the manner of his death, I should set aside the pain and anger he caused me and honor his memory? While living, he showed me no compassion and so I'm finding it hard to show compassion for him in his death. I didn't know D. the man, only the teenager, and perhaps he'd grown to be a better man than he was a teenage boy. Perhaps if we had met again years later he would have expressed remorse, maybe even ask for forgiveness, and if he had I think I would've forgiven him. But that didn't happen, and I'm not feeling compelled to forgive him today.

There is for me a certain poetic justice in his death. On more than one occasion his bullying contributed to my adolescent suicidal thoughts, and yet it was D. who was unable to deal with the pain in his life and step back from the ledge. I take no joy in knowing that he was suffering. I am proud, however, that even in the most vulnerable time of my life, when D. and people like him mocked and ridiculed me for no other reason than that they could, I did not break and was able to keep moving forward. He broke.

I do hope he is in a better place, at peace. I feel sympathy for his family and friends, but I do not grieve or pity or feel sorry for him. I will not miss D.S., but I'll never forget him. What does make me a bit sad is that I won't remember him for the good things I'm sure he did in his life or the happiness I'm sure he brought to those he loved because the only memories he left me are memories I'd rather forget.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Do the Right Thing

I'm tired of doing the right thing. I want to do the wrong thing.

I want to be the person you flip off as I drive to the front of the line of cars and cut in. I want to be the a**hole talking loudly on his cell phone while you try to read. I want to be the mother who treats the restaurant as if it's her child's day care center. I want you to "shhhh" me as I talk during the movie. I want to be the neighbor who burns yard waste on Sundays and violates water restrictions. I yearn to be the person who doesn't pay for trash service and instead throws a diaper-laden bag in the middle of a busy street. I want to be the person who lets his dog run off leash and then leaves its sh*t on the path. I want to get out of my seat before the plane comes to a complete stop. I want to stand at the front of the bus instead of moving back to let other people get on. I want my bags to occupy the seat you could be sitting in. I want to have more than 10 items in the express checkout lane...and then write a check. I want to find a wallet with lots of money in it and keep it. I want to be the one who doesn't flush the toilet in the mall restroom. I want to yell at the person behind the counter just so that I can get my way. I want to dump my ash tray in the parking lot, flick cigarette butts on others' lawns, and leave trash from McDonald's in the gutter. I want to store both carry-ons in the overhead bin.

But I won't. I won't do any of that because it wouldn't be the right thing to do.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Triple Crown

Like I do every year, I watched the Kentucky Derby this weekend. I don't bet on the horses, could care less about the hats and who's in attendance, and I'm not all that interested in the lives of the jockeys, trainers, and owners. Sometimes I choose a favorite based on the horse's name or its appearance, but generally speaking it doesn't matter to me who wins, just as long as I get to see the race. I simply love to see horses run. I can watch Secretariat's win at the Belmont in 1973 over and over again.

I've occasionally wondered whether my love of horse racing undermines my animal activism. Not really. For starters, I'm an arm-chair activist: I donate money and send emails and that's about it. I don't go to rallies or demonstrations or canvass neighborhoods for support. I know which of my friends are sympathetic to my "causes" and I don't force my views on the others (posting on Facebook is not forcing - you can choose not to read my posts!). So to call me an activist is a bit of a stretch. Second, thoroughbred horses are big investments (Mind That Bird, the newest Derby winner, was bought for a measly $9,500) and are overwhelmingly treated very well by their owners. I do have issues with what happens to those horses that don't get to spend their retirement as studs but until I stop eating beef, chicken, pork and lamb, my argument is is lacking.

PETA would certainly say that horse racing is unethical as it exploits horses for our entertainment, and I don't disagree. It is exploitation...but it's an exploitation with which I am comfortable. I'm not comfortable with dog fighting, cock fights, bear baiting, hunting with dogs, zoos, aquariums, animal testing, snake hunts, prairie dog shoots, and circuses, to name just a few of the human activities where animals are exploited for entertainment. Perhaps my fondness for horse-related sports (racing, equestrian events and rodeos) makes me a hypocrite. So be it. Must be the "liberal" in me.

I'll watch the Preakness and the Belmont, too, and once again be awed by the power, grace, and beauty of the horses and the thrill of the race. If you haven't before, you really should sacrifice the 2-3 minutes it takes to watch those races. The Triple Crown isn't the Super Bowl, Wimbledon, The Master's, Final Four, World Series, or Stanley Cup. It's better.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Miss Ida & Old Man Dickinson

Our neighborhood kids, or "the kids" as we call them, clearly prefer Ida to me. It's not like I yell at them to get off the lawn or to turn that racket down or to stay out of the flower beds. I'm just not very warm towards them, cautious.

When Ida's home they can usually expect some sort of treat, perhaps gum or popcorn; a glass of water or milk; and occasionally she lets them play video games on the PlayStation. When she takes Boo for a walk, the kids sometimes follow her on their bikes or scooters. They all call her Miss Ida.

Enter me. Last week the kids came bounding up the stairs and rang the doorbell. Neither one of us wanted to deal, so we didn't answer the door. The doorbell rang again. Then they knocked on the door. Then they started ringing the doorbell in rapid succession. I went to the door, yanked it open, and before they could finish asking, "Can we play with Boo?", I said "Not today." They're kids; I figured I didn't need to give them an explanation. "Sorry, not today." They looked at me rather stunned-like and then ran down the stairs and across the yard. I felt good.

The other day I was mowing the front lawn, and when I stopped to empty the bag, I hear someone yell "Is Boo home?" I told them he was but that I was kind of busy at the moment. I started the mower up and soon they were on the lawn, so I stopped the mower. "Is Miss Ida home?" No, and I'm not sure she'll have time when she does get home. Start the mower again. A kid comes to my side; I shut the mower off again. "Can we play in the front (meaning on the driveway)?" Fine. I start blowing leaves and grass when a kid comes towards me. I try to ignore him, but have to shut the blower off. "Can we play with the rockets?" Rockets? What rockets? I don't know what your talking about. Kid leaves and comes back with a squash racket. "You mean racket." Fine, I tell him, but don't lose the ball.

I finish with the front and tell them we can now go in the back to play with Boo. The kids go running towards the back door. Don't open the door, I tell them, I'll get it. They try opening the door. One of them tries to go in through the dog door. Don't go in the house, I repeat; I'll get Boo. They back off while I open the door and close it behind me to get Boo.

Then I was watering the area where I'm trying to grow some grass. The kids tell me they're thirsty and want to go inside for a glass of water. I tell them they can drink out of the hose. They say they want glasses. I tell them they can drink out of the hose. They line up and I let them drink out of the hose. One kid tells me it was the best water he ever tasted. One kid says he has to go to the bathroom. I ignore him.

Later, they're sitting in the chairs on the deck and want to know if they can play video games. I say no. One kids tells me Miss Ida lets them, and I'll tell him she's nicer than I am. He doesn't argue. Then he says he has to go to the bathroom. I give him that 'Yeah, right" stare, and he says, "No, really." I say fine but they're using the bathroom and that's it. I leave the backdoor open. We're back outside. One kid says he hears a car, that Miss Ida is home. Thank God. They run to her. I return to the yard.

Nowadays it's not wise for a man to be alone in a house with neighbor kids, and so I don't put myself in that position. That's why I left the door open. It's OK for Miss Ida to give them candy and cake since she's a woman. How would it look if they told their parents I was giving them candy and cake when Miss Ida wasn't home? You have to think about these things. So, it's not so much that I'm a grumpy old man as it is I'm protecting myself. But if those kids keep throwing rocks at my new fence, Miss Ida will soon be protecting them from the wrath of Old Man Dickinson!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Got credit?

You know those commercials that portray people with credit card debt as victims of unscrupulous and mean credit card companies? The one's that imply it's not your fault for being in debt? Well, I once got a credit card statement that ran something like this:

Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Boulder Yellow Cab
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor
Boulder Yellow Cab
Baseline Liquor
Baseline Liquor

It went on like that for at least one page (consistency is my trademark). True story. It was my first credit card and with it came a $500 credit limit, giving me a freedom I'd never known before. I told my roommates I wouldn't max it out and they laughed at me. To my credit (pun intended), I never maxed it out...but I took it to $495. After many years of brewing lattes for Boulder's pseudo-hippies, emptying bus tubs, cleaning deep friers, and eeking out tips, I paid that card off.

Here are a few things I would like to tell those who complain about credit card fees, interest rates, and creditors:

1) It's not your money and it never was; you borrowed it. In fact, you applied for a line of credit and said you were good for it.
2) When you borrow money, you're supposed to pay it back. That's how it works. Ever seen an episode of The Sopranos?
3) If you don't like the fees or the interest rates, then, well, perhaps you shouldn't have applied for the credit card.
4) If you were irresponsible enough to get into debt to the point where you can't pay it back without cutting back, then, again, maybe you shouldn't have applied for the credit in the first place.
5) Did you even read the terms of agreement?

As evidenced by the above confession, I wasn't exactly born a financial advisor. Before that first card, I knew nothing about interest rates, finance charges, or credit histories. I routinely skipped payments and often paid less than the minimum when I did decide to pay. I knew I had to pay the money back, but I was ignorant of the details. Two things saved me from Credit Card Hell: knowledge and lifestyle. My roommate, John, explained to me how it all worked. To this day, I still heed his advice: at the very least, always pay the minimum plus the finance charge. The second thing to save me was how I lived back then: I strove on every level and in everything that I did to "simplify, simplify, simplify". Most of my clothes came from friends' Goodwill piles, I didn't own a car, and prior to 2002 the single biggest purchase of my life had been a bicycle, around $500. Instead of nice things, I bought good times: Mexican food, pitchers of beers, pizza, hours of pool, concert tickets, shots, and, apparently, many twelve packs and cab rides. Memories, even when blurred and slurred, were cheaper than things, so I have a lot of memories and not a lot of things.

I wouldn't be where I am now if not for a credit card. What separates me from the "victims" of credit card companies, however, is that I never played the victim. Every charge on that balance statement I incurred and I did so for my own or someone else's amusement or benefit. Debt happens; it's the "I'm the victim" attitude that bothers me. You're not entitled to someone else's money, and when you signed that credit card application, you said you would pay it back. So, how about you quit complaining and pay it back.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

An Earth Day Suggestion

So, Earth Day is upon us. I like the fact that there is a designated Earth Day and that it gets more and more attention each year. But sadly, like Easter, once it's over people forget about it until next April.

There are many ways to make every day Earth Day, and one is being aware of and choosy about the seafood you buy and eat. The oceans are being ravaged - and I don't use that term lightly - by overfishing. Don't just take my word for it (I was born and raised in a land-locked state) and take a look at or read this special report by The Economist (don't miss the the sections under "In this special report").

The Monterey Bay Aquarium also has good information, including handy little seafood buying guides. Boycotting Red Lobster is a start.

Be a conscious consumer of seafood and make Earth Day last beyond April 22.

Oh, and while I have you here: support these restaurants and grocery stores in boycotting Canadian seafood until the Canadian government ends the seal hunts.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You Throw Like a Girl

The other day four neighborhood kids came over to play with Boo, and eventually we got to throwing and catching a softball (or a tennis ball when Boo wasn't running away with the softball in his mouth). Two of the boys, brothers, had evidently never been taught how to throw a ball; they threw girls. They were having a lot of fun, but I felt sorry for them. You see, there are just some things in life that a boy needs to know how to do and one is knowing how to throw a a boy.

Family lore tells of a very young Thad pinning several older kids against the side of a house with an arm cocked and ready to hurl a dirty, metal Tonka truck at any one of them. As I grew older I was told time and again I had a "great arm" and was a "dead shot" with a ball, rock or snowball. If that was indeed the case, I don't know where it came from. Being fatherless from age four, I had to learn a lot about being a boy on my own. For example, I taught myself how to throw a curve ball from Collier's Encyclopedia (what else!) and my mom had to replace a lot of broken windows. No one, parent or child, questioned my ability to throw. Perhaps it was my one "God-given talent" that I never developed and, thus, now live a life of not-so-quite desperation as a librarian. I'll never know.

But I do know this: there's no greater insult, no greater playground taunt than for a boy to be told he throws like a girl. Other kids may call him four-eyes or a geek; make fun of his momma; give him wedgies; point out how fat he is; pull his sister's hair; or even say his dog is ugly and dumb. All very hurtful things to say, even to an adult. But to a boy they are all like water over a stone compared to being told he throws like a girl. For a boy the ability or inability to throw impacts his confidence in gym class; how high or low he gets picked when teams are being chosen, whether he plays in the grassy areas or sandy part of the playground. It impacts his social standing: boys and girls alike will snicker.

Of course, you could send him to one of those schools that banned games such as dodge ball (or bombardment) and don't allow kids to even high-five each other (see the latest Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel) and really set him up for a life of misery.

I'm not saying he has to have a great, Tonka truck throwing arm. He doesn't have to be the pitcher or the quarterback - I certainly never was. Most likely he won't make his way in life off his ability to throw, which is why he should spend far more time on academics or theater or music or other sports. Nonetheless the ability to throw a ball is a lifelong skill that will serve him well at company picnics, on the intramural softball team, as his daughter's t-ball coach, and in a park when a ball comes rolling up to him and someone yells "A little help, please!"

Teaching your son how to throw a ball may just be the single greatest thing you can do for him. As for the neighborhood kids, I guess it's time we practice throwing. Better board up the windows, Ida.

Taxes & Tea Parties

Few things get my blood pressure boiling as much as people who complain about taxes. I don't mind paying taxes because I know that without taxes so much of what we take for granted would not exist. So, if you think paying taxes is un-American, fine, then don't pay them. But then you don't deserve and cannot use or enjoy the following: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, public schools, the interstate highway system, the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, habeus corpus, national parks, clean water, clean air, the right to vote in national elections, Pell Grants, homeland security, the military, and so on and so forth. Without taxes you don't have a nation. It's called looking beyond your own selfish interests and supporting the greater good.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Act of God

An "Act of God" split one of our trees in the front yard yesterday and sent it crashing to within mere inches of our neighbor's house. Another one of God's acts brought a huge limb crashing down onto our new fence. Seems to me that if God wanted my attention, He could've done it in a much subtler fashion. As it is, we're $500 poorer, our neighbors have no electricity, and I'm none the wiser.

Monday, April 13, 2009


Yes, PETA's European cohort did suggest to the Pet Shop Boys that they change their name to "Rescue Shelter Boys." The band didn't, of course, but they apparently added something to their website in support of PETA Europe (I don't know for sure because I can't do it, I can't bring myself to visit the Pet Shop Boys' website!). Knowing my PETA sympathies a friend asked me about it and I responded: PETA is crazy.

I was once a proud, card-carrying PETA supporter. I still support the idea of PETA, and I'm willing to bet that the majority of those in this country do support the ethical treatment of animals. PETA's undercover work exposing inhumane and often barbaric treatment of animals is excellent and I hope it continues. What I wish wouldn't continue are these ridiculous marketing/awareness campaigns. They simply go too far. Instead of bringing more people to the fold I'm convinced they actually do the opposite and push potential supporters away. PETA comes across as extremist (and they are) and instead of making people aware of really valid issues involving animal cruelty, they end up looking foolish. Rush Limbaugh and is ilk call PETA and other animal rights organizations "terrorists", which they clearly are not, no more than the NRA, at least. But PETA just gives him more and more reason to say such things and people believe him.

PETA is only preaching to the choir with their antics. Far-left, vegan activists love that stuff. If PETA wants to make real progress, however, they need to tone it down. Instead of shock and awe, try awareness programs that schools can actually enage in; work with local animal shelters, not against them; market to the middle, not the left (you already have their support); and quit doing and saying things that make fools of themselves and people and organizations that having nothing to do with PETA but because they care about the same things are vilified by association.

PETA has my moral support and that's about it.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Today is Easter. When we were kids, we'd wake up to a living room visited by the Easter Bunny. Candy on window sills, in plants, tucked inside vases. Chocolate eggs and bunnies littered the floor. Unlike Santa who placed gifts in one spot - under a tree - this rabbit saw fit to scatter the evidence of his visit. To this day, my favorite candy is the little bird's nests: chocolate-covered nests made of coconut with three jelly beans as eggs.

Of course, Easter was also about going to church. Just as with Christmas, we were hauled away to Episcopalian and Catholic services. I understood why we went to church; I may not have got past Noah's Ark in Bible School but I knew enough about why we were there to show adequate reverence. Going to church wasn't an option. I couldn't say that I'd rather stay home and organize my candy. Attendance was mandatory. Easter and Christmas really were the only days of the year that we went to church.

I distrust people who only go to church on Easter and Christmas. True believers either go - religiously - or they choose not to go at all. I am of the latter group: I choose not to attend, even on the most important days in the Christian calendar. My reasons are two-fold: 1) attending church is not, I believe, needed for my salvation, and 2) going to worship only twice a year makes a mockery of God. If you're going to say you're a "good" Christian, then you should go to church every Sunday, at least. If you don't and still claim to be a good Christian and then go to church on Easter and Christmas, you're basically telling God that you'll do what you're supposed to do when it's convenient for you. And then you ask for salvation, to win the lottery, and judge me for not going to church at all. Fair weather Christians indeed. I think you will be judged more harshly then those of us who are at least honest with ourselves and our God(s).

I'm going to go mow the lawn now and paint birdhouses. That's how I observe Easter.