Friday, August 31, 2012

Fool Me Once, Shame On You.....

Yesterday's blog was written when I was feeling a bit depressed, admittedly. Things have not been going very well these last few weeks, and perhaps the frustrations that I've been feeling were betrayed, and spilled out a bit in my writings.

I started writing that piece without knowing exactly what I was going to write about. I was tired, and not entirely well focused. Not at all confident about what I'd write about and, admittedly, not very confident that whatever it as that I would write would be of even halfway decent quality.

Yet, when I started getting going, it started to feel like a more and more meaningful piece. There has been an episode with someone who really is an insignificant aspect of my life usually, someone that was more or less just a background person, for the most part. If my present life was a movie, this guy (and his bitchy wife) most likely would not have even necessarily qualified as extras. But, unfortunately, they recently took on a much more prominent role - although they tried to hide it.

That was sneaky. Devious and underhanded, to be sure. Also, unexpected, on my end.

I will not say that I particularly liked these people. In fact, I actually rather had a distaste for them, but it was more at a distance. Now, I understand quite a bit more with them, and know to be on my guard with them, and never to trust them.

They reminded me of neighbors that my family had when we were younger. Neighbors who, for whatever the reason, took a disliking towards us and, instead of just leaving it at that, decided to try and force our family out by interfering in our business and doing small, petty things as displays of their dislike.

When I was growing up, my parents tended to bounce around quite a bit, from one place to the other. My mother is American, and my father is French. How they met might be a nice story for this blog, sometime, actually. But that is for another time.

In any case, we moved around a lot. At least we did early on in my life, and a bit before I was born. They met in the late 1960's here in the United States, and then moved to France, where they had my brother. They moved back to the United States for a few years, to the Bronx, where they had me. Then the family moved back to France for four years, roughly, before moving back to the United States on a more permanent level.

At first, they moved us to Liberty, New York - to the home of my mother's parents, or my grandparents. That lasted for about a year, and then they managed to find a place in Lodi, New Jersey. We stayed there for a couple of years, and that was where I attended school for first and second grade. My brother was a couple of grade ahead of me, but he had some tough friends that tended to be trouble makers. My parents had begun to worry about the company that he kept, and assumed that I might be the same, if we stayed in town. Lodi was a bit tougher then than it seems now, perhaps.

So, they saved up their money for a few years. My mom commuted to the city everyday, which was already a tiring  But she did what she had to do, and the commute to the big city from suburban Lodi was perhaps not too bad. She was fairly young then, to boot.

My father, in the meantime, had started his own business. He was a house painter and, despite not speaking many words of English, he slowly built the business up. I still remember the motto that he used: A Touch of France in Your Home. It was usually just him, and the only help that he ever got was when he had my brother and/or I work alongside of him -with generous wages, I must say. That would come later on, though.

He knew what he was doing, too. He painted, sure. But he did it right, with primer, then first and second coats. He also knew how to do wallpapering, which is a skill that is significantly more difficult than painting. He had gone to school in France for that, dropping out of regular school. In Europe, in general, there are specialty schools for such trades, although most people here in the United States assumed that it was something that anyone could do, and usually, they tried to pay him with this assumption in mind. He later  expressed some measure of regret at having chosen painting, in particular. But that, too, is another story for some other time.

In any case, they worked hard and saved up some money. Eventually, they could entertain the possibility of moving somewhere new, and looked around. One of the places they visited was a very quiet, borderline rural town in northwestern New Jersey. It was a small starter house, and they were impressed with the surrounding area, which was studded with wooded foothills. The whole place felt more country, more healthy. It seemed like a more promising place to raise their children, and that meant my brother and myself. They decided to give it a shot.

I even vaguely remember the first time that we visited the house, I think. I ran out of the car, and remember being impressed by a neighbor's flower bed, of sorts. The house is on a hill, and I remember that, kind of vaguely. These are memories that now go back decades (hate to admit that, but there you have it).

So, it seemed promising. A new life awaited us, new opportunities. But there were some complications.

First of all, the French family wanted to visit the United States. At first, it was supposed to be a couple of people. As it turned out, it was eight people, and they came almost all at once, en masse. It was too much, and forced my brother and I out pretty much right away for that summer. We stayed at my grandparent's place instead, while the French family stayed in what would be our room. I cannot say for sure, but I strongly suspect that this must have been the real beginning of the problems that we had with the neighbors.

Which brings me the second problem, of course. It was also the most serious problem: the specifics of the problems with the neighbors. There were tensions of some sort, although I was too young to notice or really pay attention to that sort of stuff. But on some level, I understood.

When summer melted away to fall, my brother and I went to school. Things went along normally, and then came the winter. Specifically, there was an enormous snow storm like no other one that I have seen in my lifetime. In a matter of hours, there were two to three feet of snow on the ground, in a single afternoon. My brother and I were home from school, but my mom was in the city, and my father was working. They both got caught in the storm. My father picked my mom up, and they drive home, but it took a very long time, understandably. By the time that they got home, it was something like 9pm. Our neighbors, now seemingly enemies, reported that my brother and I had been left alone for hours during the snow storm, and my parents were forced to spend money to get us a babysitter. It was the first of many such episodes, where they would take actions against our family, almost always entirely unwarranted. There are ways of approaching people, certain standards of decency and understanding. In such unusual circumstances, there could have been more understanding, and certainly better ways of dealing with such a situation. But all that these neighbors saw was an opportunity to hurt our family, with what seems to have been a desire to see us go, to not make it, and to give up and move.

My parents still live there to this day. After decades of hostility underneath the surface, these neighbors finally have begun to warm a little now to the family. All it took was thirty years, or so.

I do not want to get into the details of what these people in my present life, who truly had remained exclusively in the background up until very recently, did. But I know that there are ways of doing things without making a point of disrupting people's lives. They have a history of being like that, i discovered recently, so I know that they are more than capable of such petty actions.

In any case, I guess I just needed to vent out my frustrations, and did so in my writings - both yesterday and today. There is still some work that I need to do to remedy this, but that is for me to worry about. It comes at a particularly bad time in some other respects, as well, because a lot has been going on in my life. A little too much all at once. That is why I expressed that sentiment about how sometimes, it feels that you are all alone, and everywhere you look, all you can see are problems lining up to take their best shot at you, try and knock you down. Perhaps these are the hidden tests in life, to prove your own worth, your character. I hope that I pass mine, but we shall see soon enough, one way or the other.

All of that said, I have some awesome and supportive people in my life, and that is something that I am not blind to, or unappreciative of. In fact, it is a huge help to have that, and not feel so all alone at times like these.

These have been stressful times, the last few weeks. I have made some mistakes, and of course, I have to won up to that. There are things that I need to do, and I will have to figure out exactly what my approach will be. Two things in particular that are very important should come to a head by mid-September, two weeks or so away. After that, things will hopefully calm down, and I will be able to breathe a bit easier.

So, let's see what happens. But I am thankful again for those wonderful people in my life - including my family, my son, Sebastien, and my girlfriend, Basia. Your presence and support is most certainly appreciated!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Childhood Seen Through the Eyes of an Adult

There are times when it feels like you are all alone, and the problems and frustrations that life has to offer seem to be lining up, waiting patiently to take their best sot at you. Times when it seems that the world is almost ganging up around you, trying to hurt you.

Indeed, there seems to be some truth to that. As the saying goes, this is a dog eat dog world. You find some astonishingly petty people at times. People that will try to make a point to go out of their way to disrupt your life.

I have a little son. Six years old. I watch him, look in his eyes. He is usually just a happy boy. When he is displeased, it is pretty transparent. When he's upset or in pain, there are tears. But usually, there is happiness in those eyes, and often, there is that trademark, little boy mischief kind of look in his eyes. He has boundless energy, so much that you wonder where it all comes from. That last sentence makes me feel old, because it is precisely what adults used to say about me when younger. But the truth is, it really is curious, how such a little body that seemingly does not eat right still nonetheless has so much energy, and manages to grow as big and as strong as it has thus far.

Even more remarkable, perhaps, is just how easy happiness comes to him. It does not take much to make the boy happy. If I try to do something funny, something goofy, he gets this kind of a smile, like he understands that this is a light moment designed for his entertainment. Suddenly, he has a play buddy, and it seems like nothing makes him happier. He goes with it, and completely submerges himself in the moment.

That is, of course, what little kids do. They live in the moment. I try to do that, but it does not work so easily these days. I remember doing it all the time when younger, but alas, I am a grown man nowadays. I know a bit more about the world, about other people. I know about responsibilities, about how much I am valued. You get phone calls, and it's someone trying to solicit money from you. You get mail, and it's either bills (which is to say, people demanding money from you), or junk mail, with people trying to solicit something from you - mostly money. You work hard, you work long hours. You learn exhaustion, and you learn, inevitably, to be on your guard against people, because they have their own agenda.

No wonder adults grow more cynical with age.

When you are a child, you are able to lose yourself. You can afford to, and it's the only time in your life that you can do so. You instinctively trust the adults in your life (in normal cases, anyway). They will never hurt you, they will protect you. You are small, and you are growing. But you are exploring, curious about the world. Everything is a source of endless fascination. The world is a wonder, and so you ask questions, and take a closer look. Your enthusiasm for this world just seems boundless.

Of course, you can afford to, because adults are taking care of you. Behind the scenes, without you quite realizing it, they are doing the things that they need to, putting things in place to help allow you to succeed in life. They know things that you do not know, and that is what they are trying to protect you against.

When you are a kid, you may even be resentful of this. You know that you are small, and that you have not gained that precious status in the world. A big deal is made when you get a piece of mail, like a relative sending you a birthday or holiday card. Much is made when someone wants to talk to you on the phone. You know it's going to be someone friendly. You might not like the person as much as you should, but it is nice, nonetheless. Nice to know that people are happy to see you, to hear from you.

Again, it is the only time, seemingly, that this happens in life. At least, without specific qualifications, in any case.

There is a mysterious quality to adulthood as seen from the eyes of a child. Children see what they want to see, and they easily dismiss what they don't understand. When I was a child, my views were probably rather typical. Adults were bigger, stronger. More independent. Adults were infinitely more complicated, more experienced. They seemed to know things, to have this deep well of knowledge, from which I was excluded.

The worst thing would be when they would tell me not to grow up too quickly, to enjoy childhood while it lasts, because once it's gone, it's gone. But I only knew what it was like to be small, to be insignificant. To be little, to be overlooked. I only knew what it was like to be a child, you see. I was too young to appreciate it. Most of us are, I think. All I saw were the positives of adulthood. Being smarter, being stronger. Having more freedom. I could stay up all hours if I wanted to, I could go out and stay out all hours. If I felt like going to the store and picking something up at three in the morning, I could do that, too. I could watch any movie or television program that I wanted. Buy any album or book, or whatever. When I got big, I was going to be free, and important.

Yet, when you are an adult, you generally speaking learn the meaning of cynicism. It might not happen right away, and in fact, more often than not, it does not. Because there are different times and levels of adulthood, as well. When you first enter adulthood, and begin to work, or go to school, people tend to still cut you some breaks. Expectations are not too high yet, and that means, also, the pressures have not mounted too much, as of yet. Plus, you probably still have retained that youthful energy, as well as the looks, that separate you from other adults. You are at the peak of your life, if you will. Young enough to enjoy life freely, but old enough to be big and important - or at least to get a taste of it. This is the romantic period, and you are exploring the other sex (or perhaps, the same sex). One way or the other, you feel good about life still, and with good reason.

But that begins to whither away, as well. Slowly but surely, you watch yourself deteriorate every time you look in the mirror. You feel your energy being sapped more and more, and sometimes, it is truly astonishing how tired you get, and how quickly you get there. Life starts to be less fun, and in fact, the world seems to have a mean streak. Your eyes are opening, but you just want to close them again. As they popular, perhaps emerging, saying goes, "Shit just got real". Now, you know why those adults in your past were warning you not to grow up too quickly, but of course it's too late. And really, why wouldn't it be? When you are a kid, times moves so slowly, that the very notion of becoming an adult seems like a myth. A farce, even. It does not seem real. On some level, you know it is not, and that the law of averages necessitates that, at some point, your time will come. You, too, will be an adult, eventually, against all probability. It seems so attractive at the time, doesn't it? How are you to know it's a trap, a one-way street towards a dead end?

I think it helps to keep you fresh, to keep you anchored, for that matter, when you have a kid. You see the child going through all of those things that you yourself went through. In a strange way, you get to experience childhood all over again - but this time, from the outside. Now, you are the one the child trusts without reservation, and knows that you will protect him or her. They trust you to help set up a brighter future, even to push them into it if and when reluctant. That's part of parenting, too. It is not just about walking with a baby stroller early on, and getting all sorts of attention among admirers of babies. Kids grow up, and adults begin to notice them a little less. They are still noticed, and people still indulge them. But a little less. That's the beginning of growing up, of course. It's the start of it, and of course, you wear it like a badge of honor. it's a sign that you are growing up, growing bigger, more important. A sign that you are no longer a baby, or a tiny and relatively helpless child.

You watch all of this, and you know, because indeed, you have been through all of this already. Watching a child grow up can be like a play. Parts of it make you smile, and you feel what the actor is going through. it hurts to watch the child in pain, learning some cruel reality about the world that will likely never be unlearned.  Each new painful revelation brings them that much closer to adulthood.

One thing that you eventually will run into, of course, consists of a lesson. You learn just how petty some adults can be, how entirely untrustworthy. How conniving, scheming. How petty. How childish. You may encounter this early on, or maybe you may not. Maybe, you just were not paying attention yet. But eventually, you will encounter it, and when you do, it will merely serve to take away more of your energy, to eat away at your rapidly diminishing faith in the world. Here are overgrown children, who never apparently matured enough in this world to realize that the world does not revolve around them. They imagine the world to be a certain way, and imagine themselves to be entitled to something that, they believe, will make them happy. They lack the maturity to understand any better, or perhaps they lack the will or resolve to do that last bit of growing up required to actually be adults about things. They can be dangerous, because they so easily and lightly aim to do things that disrupt the lives of others. It's enough to make you reluctant to get out of bed in the morning.

But then you look into the eyes of a child, perhaps even look at the child's closed eyes during a peaceful night's sleep, and hopefully, your faith is restored. You remember being that age, and you remember that adults back at that time did what you are doing now. That you are, in many respects, paying for it, if you will. It's cruel, on some levels, that you enter this world, without asking for it to your knowledge, and right way, you owe people, without quite realizing it. But that appears to be how it works, generation after generation. You do what you have to do. Enjoy childhood while it lasts, and then help someone else enjoy their childhood, while you work to protect, to safeguard that childhood. You know the conclusion will be sad on some levels. You are proud of them, and feel vindication when they show signs of growing up. You perhaps rightly feel entitled to some of the credit, as well, so it might make you happy. Yet, still, there is an aspect of sadness to it, because you know what growing up can mean. Will mean.

But you do what you have to do, and make sure that child does the same.

Yes, life may seem cruel at times. Heartless, even. Having a child can help keep you centered, and with a sense of purpose that, once that child is in your life, you cannot possibly imagine doing without anymore. it is the end of the carefree days, and yet, in another sense, it is just the beginning. They say life is cyclical, and maybe they were right, hmm?

So, although life can be tough, and make you feel deflated and defeated and unfit to the challenge, you sometimes just need to take a look into a child's eye, and it feels like you are inhaling, taking a deep breath, and remembering what is truly important in this world. Perhaps, in the process, you can find some contentment in reliving a previously long lost childhood that you can remember in your own right. If you're really lucky, maybe you can outright lose yourself like a child, like you used to do. Of course, it comes much more naturally to the child, because we as adults have unlearned this skill of completely immersing yourself in the moment, living in the moment. Go to the spirituality section of your local bookstore or library, or go to the self-help section, and you will find no shortage of books  urging you to do exactly that, to live for the moment. But out modern adult lives demand of us nothing less than to forget how to do that, so it is not easy to relearn what you once thoroughly forgot. What you were urged to forget.

To my knowledge, having a child, or being around children, is far and away the best way to remember that, and to find the most meaning and joy in this cruel and harsh world of adult realities and adult responsibilities. It might be scary, and you may get your heart broken in varying degrees, from time to time. But there is no better way that I am aware of to achieving happiness than to try and allow a child to enjoy childhood, while also doing what you can to pave the way towards a bright future, hopefully. There are certainly worse things that you can do with your life.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Hurricane Isaac Threatens Louisiana Again

I have heard some conflicting reports thus far about Hurricane Isaac.

On the one hand, many were quick to point out that the hurricane is "only" a category one, and that it will leave only limited damage in it's wake.

On the other hand, this is evidently a very slow moving storm, and it seems to be hovering right over New Orleans, of all places. That is the one place that could really still use a break from the devestation of that last, epic hurrican, which hit the crescent city seven years ago on this day.

That said, I heard someone else today on NPR, and he was mentioning that the water has already spilled over the levees (although they did not break, as they did seven years ago with the infamous Hurricane Katrina. This guy was saying that the water levels were so high, that the only place that people could actually stand were on top of the levees.

That was the only really horrible news that I specifically heard about, but it would stand to reason that if things really are that bad down there, we'll be hearing about it in the very near future. I will keep up with the news, with the hope that it will not be as bad as all of that, although time will tell.

I have always wanted to visit New Orleans. It is the only city with a European district (an old town in the Old World style, that is) in the United States (although there are some in Canada). The city has a rich history, and much cultural diversity.

Lousisiana overall is a bit different than many other states. It is a southern state, and even a part of the Deep South. It guards the mouth of the mighty Mississippi River, and thus, was a very important and attractive location. At points in it's history, after it had long been home to natives, it was taken over by various powers, including Spain, France, and the United States. Thomas Jefferson was the President when Napoleon, who was busy with the wars in Europe, decided to sell it, and Jefferson jumped on the opportunity. The Louisiana Purchase was the largest peacetime transfer of land in history, although it should be noted that it was not technically legal on a couple of levels. Firstly, the French had been essenially borrowing the land from Spain, so did not own the land outright. Also, Jefferson did not possess the authority to buy this land, and the purchase was, in some respects, a breach of the Constitution. Jefferson violated some of the same laws that he had helped to devise in the first place. Still, it went through, and the Louisiana Territory became a part of the United States. In the State of Louisiana, the legal system still is the Napoleonic Code, the only state in the Union where that is true.

Louisiana's Cajun country also makes it stand out as unique, and this, of course, includes New Orleans. It is a large part of the draw of the place. They have their own distinct way of living, and it is also well known for the cooking and the music. In a land where uniformity and conformity are often seen as strong virtues, having a place that is so different spices things up, literally and figuratively. There are traditions here that are of another era, and might remind people of the Old World. It certainly stands out within the United States, and that is a strong measure of it's charm.

New Orleans, of course, is the most famous place in Louisiana, and has a distinct history itself. It was the site of a battle during the War of 1812, when Andrew Jackson drove the invading British away. Technically, the two nations had already signed a peace treaty, and so this being the final battle of the war, it left the impression among many Americans that they had won the war (although on many levels, this was not, in fact, the truth).

Yet, New Orleans was often viewed by many Southerners as the city of sin - although it remained a popular tourist destination for a long, long time now.

As I said earlier, I have long wanted to visit New Orleans, but that pleasure has not been mine yet. I still hope to get the chance to go there someday.

In the meantime, I do wish the place well. It has already been the site of some horrific and unprecedented devestation following a storm, and it would really be tragic to see it happen here again, of all places. Especially so soon after the last time. We all remember the aftermath of Katrina.

So, although not the most religious man out there, I will keep the city and region in my thoughts, and hope you do the same.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Movie Rental Review: Cruel Intentions

I had never seen this movie before, and truth be told, had never really even heard about it, either. It rang a vague bell when I heard the name, but I could not quite place it. Plus, the description made it sound rather like what is commonly called a "chick flick", so I approached with caution.

But it was actually a pretty good movie, once I finally saw it.

There is this guy, named Sebastian (played capably by Ryan Phillippe), is essentially a very highly successful young man, but he is very immature, making a sport of conquering as many women as he can. This behavior has become such a pattern, such a routine, that he thinks nothing of it, and schemes for more conquests without so much as a pause for thought as to how it might be affecting others.

He makes a bet with his sister by marriage, Kathryn (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar, who was very good in the role), who has watched all of this with a passing interest, almost with a sense of competition, since she is largely doing the same thing in her own life. She decides to make a bet with her semi brother, Sebastian, a kind of indecent proposal, if you will. He has to conquer the consumate good girl, an avid Christian by the name of Annette Hargrove (played very nicely by Reese Witherspoon, who lends the character the right kind of innocent feel).

The prize for her, if he fails, is his 1956 Jaguar XK140, a very valuable car, and his pride and joy. If Sebastian wins, she promises to have sex with him, knowing that she is especially enticing to him because she is the one thing that he cannot have. She promises that he can have her, or do her, any way that he wants to, and wherever he wants to. Full access, if you will.

So, he plays his smooth game, trying to win her trust, and acting shocked -shocked! - when she mentions that his reputation is that of a player, for all intents and purposes.

He is convincing and, little by little, he does indeed break down the barriers she has placed in relation to him, and she begins to trust him more, and eventually, of course, to fall for him.

From that point onward, he is consumed by a struggle within himself. In pursuing Annette so vigorously, he in fact falls in love with her. He has the opportunity to go the distance with her and win his bet, yet cannot bring himself to do it.

In the meantime, Kathryn not only observes and understands all of this but, she reveals, has planned all of this. She seems to have known exactly what would happen, and there is a sense that she has been the driving force of everything that happens behind the scenes. By the time that she reveals all of this to Sebastian, he is going crazy. He feels strongly enough about her to warn her away from him, revealing that he is, indeed, not someone that she can ever trust. Clearly used to conquests of women before, he obviously never expected to fall for "the one", or that "the one" might end up being Annette.

Despite how torn up he is by all of this, Kathryn views it all with humor. While Sebastian is initially seen as the immature womanizer who does not understand the full extent of the pain he is causing people, we find that it is Kathryn who is more like that than anybody else.

Sebastian, in the meantime, struggles and tries to come to terms with his feelings, playing it off as just another girl that he has conquered, but he has pushed her away, and now cannot deny that he loves her. He does things that are ill-advised, constantly trying to get in contact with her (but her friends protect her, and do not allow this guy who has caused her so much pain to go anywhere near her). Increasingly desperate, he then hovers around her apartment, and she finally notices just as he walks away. She goes out and follows him toward the park, but he is confronted by one of the guys that he has used in one of his little schemes, and a physical fight breaks out between the two of them.

She runs to intervene, to break up the fight, and in the process of trying, she is thrown in the middle of the road nearby. Sebastian sees this, sees the car approach, and throws himself in the street, getting her safely out of the way, but sacrificing himself in the process, getting struck by the car and receiving wounds that will prove fatal.

It is then that Annette finally avenges Kathryn by revealing the book of private thoughts of Sebastian's during his funeral. Kathryn was giving a speech at the time, and is surprised by the reaction, or rather the lack of reaction, which is clearly not what she expects. When everyone starts walking out right in the middle of her speech, she goes outside and follows them, and it is there that she finds out that the book of Sebastian's, where Kathryn is portrayed as essentially an evil schemer, is now widely circulated, so that everyone present has a copy, and knows all of the unsavory details about Kathryn. She even has cocaine inside of her necklace.

This is a good movie, and kind of draws you in. It came on television the first time that I saw any of it, and it seemed like a chick flick, and I was about to turn it off. Yet, somehow, I kept it on, but hardly paid attention to it. But little by little, I found myself watching it more and more, and paying attention. When I got the chance to see it more fully, and uncensored and without commercials to boot, it was even more addictive.

It is a comedy, although there are points where it becomes a serious movie. it is also quite sexy, without being over the top with it, like some other movies. Done in good taste, but being weighed down by overly serious pretensions, or anything. A fun movie that might even be seen as a tear jerker towards the end. But a good movie, all in all, and I recommend it.

Monday, August 27, 2012

That Southern Feel...

It occurs to me that maybe I should elaborate a bit on what I meant about that Southern feel of the place, when I said that the Cincinnati area, and southern Ohio overall, had a more Southern feel to it than expected.

It was more than just merely the accent, although that was a large part of it. But I remember spending time in York, Pennsylvania in 1996 for Habitat for Humanity, and hearing that Southern drawl there, back then. I have heard it even in New England, and that's hardly  "the South", right?

On the way down, in rural farmland, I saw some religious signs on the side of the road of the fire and brimstone variety, urging people to believe. That type of stuff is not exactly unheard of in areas that I have been to before, but they are not commonplace. But that, mixed with a lot of country and Jesus stations on the radio (and not much else), mixed with a huge Confederate flag painted onto the roof of a farmhouse or barn off the side of the road on Route 71 northbound, gave the place a very Southern feel, as well. Suddenly, I could see why Ohio is a battleground state, and sometimes becomes a red state.

It just was not what I was expecting, but I don't necessarily mean that in a bad way. In fact, it made the trip feel very different than any of the other domestic trips that I have taken before, because of the distinctly Southern feel.

I'm not complainin', y'all!

A Little Note About Florence, Kentucky...

          Just found out that the NFL's Shaun Alexander, a former star running back with the Seattle Seahawks, is from Florence, Kentucky. Also, it is well known for a water tower with a message reading:
            It was originally supposed to advertise the then up and coming Florence Mall, but once that was delayed, they painted the Y and apostrophe, and people just took quite a liking to it, and so it stayed.
            I cannot say that I remember seeing the water tower on this trip, however.

Back From Vacation

Okay, so, I am back from vacation.

Quite a trip! It was more busy than anything else! My son and I spanned quite a bit of the map in the few days that we were gone - from Kentucky and the greater Cincinnati area, than to Cleveland and up Lake Erie way to Buffalo, crossing the border into Canada to get a great view of the always beautiful Niagara Falls, which were spectacular as always. We also went up to Lake Ontario, although it was so hazy, that we could not make anything out. There was not enough time to really pay Toronto a visit, but I had been hoping for a glimpse. But all weekend long, there seemed to be advisory boards warning about the poor quality of air, and that may have had something to do with it.

Still, no tragedy. It was a very good trip, and besides, my son and I already have been to Toronto numerous times.

I will say that I was quite surprised with the distinctly Southern feel of Cincinnati. We actually stayed across the river, on the Kentucky side, so that was a bit less surprising than the city itself. Yet, still, I will admit that I was expecting it to be a bit like the only other former Confederate/Jim Crow state that I had been to - Virginia. I have never really been farther south than northern Virginia (at least on the East Coast), and that was part of the greater Washington D.C. area. It has more of a northern feel than anything else, and I guess the expectation was that the Cincinnati area would have a more Northern feel than anything else. After all, this was Ohio, right?

But it had a more Southern feel than anything. If northern Virginia seemed to be overwhelmed by the Northern influence of Washington D.C. and the areas above it, Cincinnati seemed to be a bit overwhelmed by the presence of Kentucky and the Southern states below it. I was taken a bit by surprise.

Yet, it gave the trip a very distinctive, unique feel. Again, I have never really been far south, so this really made quite an impression on me. Hearing waitresses refer to Sebastien and I as "y'all", and hearing the thick, Southern drawl. Our hotel was in Florence, Kentucky. On many levels, this just made the trip very memorable, and unique. I have long wanted to take a tour of the South, and this gave me a bit of a taste of it. It was nothing that I had ever really experienced before.

Otherwise, there was the first morning, as well. I left later than I had wanted to, and so found myself trying to make up for lost time on Wednesday evening. I got to the Ohio border, and suddenly, felt much better. Drove perhaps for an hour more, before finding a quiet and relatively dark rest area. Too tired to go on safely, I decided to get a bit of shut eye, and it worked well. My back was not even really sore afterwards!

Woke up early the next morning, before the break of day, and after a bathroom break, we headed on our way. We saw the day slowly take over, and at some point, I took an exit and found a little side road by some farm area, and pulled over, so that we could watch the sunrise. It was only the second time that my son  had ever seen the sun rise, and it was my first time in a long time. It was beautiful, as the sun was a pinkish gold disk rising first through the break of the foliage of the trees, then rising above, and eventually breaking a strong and sunny day outright. It was a very nice way to begin the trip!

Of course, Niagara Falls was a highlight, and I always also love the Great Lakes, which are so vast, that they almost have a feel like an ocean, although they are not in fact that big.

All in all, a very cool trip, although now, I will have to try and catch up on some rest. It really was a lot of running around!

Hope all was well on your end during that time as well, dear reader!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Going on Vacation

Okay, well, it's that time. I will be going on vacation, and heading out to the Great Lakes area later today with my son. I sure hope that we have a good time, and maybe I'll keep my legions of fans (I think there's one or two of you out there, right?) posted.

But in the meantime, being the poor boy that I am, I will not have the ability to visit the internet much these next few days, most likely. So, I am forced to take a break from the blog, but will return, if all goes according to plan, on the 27th. I hope to resume regular blog entries then.

 In the meantime, I wish you the best, and hope that we meet again in this way....

Tom Morello Rages Against the Machine That Is Paul Ryan

I know that I'll be dating myself here, but I remember the year 1984. I was in fourth grade in the first half of it, and then in the fifth grade in the second half. The Boston Celtics were the NBA Champions, and Larry Bird was already well on his way to becoming Larry Legend. In hockey, the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders would meet again in the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Oilers exacting a measure of revenge for the previous loss to the Islanders by defeating them soundly in 1984. Young Wayne Grezsky and Mark Messier finally had their first championship. The Raiders, who at the time were the Los Angeles Raiders,  shocked the mighty Washington Redskins, the defending champions and a team that looked the part of the league's powerhouse team, scoring early and often en route to a 38-9 romp. In the 1984 regular season, the Dolphins started the season 11-0 with explosive young quarterback Dan Marino at the helm, en route to a 14-2 regular season record and a Super Bowl berth. The 49ers would go 15-1 and also would reach the Super Bowl, yet many felt the Dolphins to be the team of destiny, and that Dan Marino was the new breed of quarterback. Montana had enjoyed his Super Bowl run, but nobody could keep up with Marino. Early in the Super Bowl, they seemed to be following that script, more or less. But then the 49ers took over the game, and left the Dolphins in the dust. Despite having a stellar career, Marino and the Dolphins would never make it back to the Super Bowl. For the San Fransisco 49ers, on the other hand, this was their second Super Bowl victory in four seasons, and they would go on to win two more back-to-back later in the decade behind Joe Montana, who nowadays is widely considered to have been the greatest quarterback in history.

The Transformers were the latest and greatest toys to have come out, capturing the imagination of many little boys - and that includes a younger version of me. True, the Gobots came first, but they were really geared for little kids. The Transformers tended to be a lot cooler, frankly. The toys were quite popular, and so was the television series. They had a fairly successful run with comic books, as well. It seemed just so cool, having two toys in one. The idea that you could get a car or a jet or a gun or a tape player/recorder toy to transform into another toy seemed so new, and a truly novel idea!

There were other popular toys of the time, as well. GI Joe was on the rise, and in fact, there were strong enough parallels that existed between GI Joe and the Transformers, that there would be collaborations later on - particularly with Marvel comics. While the Gobots and the Transformers were really cool for the novelty of to different toys at once, something with a similar idea, although not precisely the same, was enjoying some strong success as well. There were three different versions of Voltron, but the most popular one was the five lions that combined into one giant and all-powerful robot, Voltron. There was another version that made the air waves, as well, and it consisted of fifteen vehicles that assembled into yet another Voltron. I even remember a third version of Voltron, but the toys were never available, and neither were the commercials. Can't even say much about it now, in fact, because I can hardly remember that other, obscure Voltron. Even the second one that I mentioned, the one with fifteen vehicles, I can only remember as if through a haze. It was not as popular as the wildly popular version with the five lions. In the meantime, Star Wars, while still popular, was beginning to fall, at least in terms of the popularity of the Kenner toy line. Yet, it proved to have a longer lasting success waiting for it - but that would come later on.

In the world of American politics, Ronald Reagan was king. It was an election year, and Reagan dominated the election like very, very few ever do. He won 49 of the fifty states, leaving only Minnesota to vote for their hometown Democrat, Walter Mondale, the former Vice President during the Presidential Administration of Jimmy Carter.

And that will be my rather long segue into the point of this piece. You see, there was a kind of "misunderstanding", if you will, involving the Reagan campaign, and someone else who was on top of the world at the time in his own field - Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen was enjoying some phenomenal success in 1984, particularly with his latest hit, "Born in the USA". This song became hugely popular, and it was used by the Reagan campaign, even. But Springsteen took exception, and told Reagan and his campaign point blank not to use the song again.

You see, Reagan used it in a jingoistic manner, turning it into a mindless, patriotic anthem. In reality, the song and the lyrics suggest a deeper meaning, one quite a bit more cerebral than mindless beating of the chest. It is actually quite critical of the United States, but it takes a more serious reading into the lyrics and the meaning of the lyrics and the context of the song to understand that, and that was something that Reagan and his supporters did not apparently understand. Springsteen had been highly critical of "Reaganomics", of course, and was livid when his own work was utilized by Reagan to support policies and an overall ideology that Springsteen simply could never agree with, and was, in fact, vehemently opposed to.

That was a famous little incident, but it is not even close to being the only time that politicians have used popular music and culture without apparently taking a closer look, to perhaps see if there were not any glaring contradictions between the artists and their work on the one hand, and the politician and the policies and ideology that he or she supports, on the other.

Springsteen was involved in another such episode more recently, although he himself had little to do with it. This involved Chris Christie, our beloved and soft-hearted governor here in New Jersey. He attended a concert himself, seeing Bruce in the flesh. But at one point, he seemed to have fallen asleep. He retorted by claiming that he was contemplating, thinking about the song being played - I forget what song it was. But it looked like he was asleep in the middle of the concert. Of course, the fact that Bruce is also opposed to Christie and his policies and approach was lost on Christie himself. Either that, or conveniently ignored.

But politicians have proven quite adept at ignoring such things. Four years ago, the Republicans introduced Sarah Palin to the world, and tried to portray her as a witty and capable candidate with a very bright future. It had been a gamble by the McCain campaign to pick her as his running mate, but the convention speech went well enough. She was amazing, all the Republicans could have asked for - at least for that one night. There were comparisons to Ronald Reagan, by now long the demigod of the faux conservative cause here in America. It was eventually revealed that she had had the nickname "Barricuda" when younger, and sure enough, they played "Barricuda" by Heart. For a short while, it seemed like the unofficial anthem for Sarah Palin, until the news broke out that Heart themselves did not appreciate Palin's using their song to endorse ideas that they themselves were opposed to. Eventually, Palin & Co. did desist. Also, in due time, it was revealed to the world that, while Sarah Palin played the part of a capable young candidate on the rise perfectly during the 2008 Republican Convention, in real life, she was not that strong and, in fact, would prove to be a liability. She could not name any newspapers that she read when asked to do so, and could not even show an understanding of the Bush Doctrine. Things like that seem, for some mysterious reason, pretty important to a good number of people when you are running for a very high public office, and she was going to be a heartbeat away from the Presidency.

Now, very recently, there was yet another awkward situation involving yet another Republican Vice Presidential candidate. This time, it is Paul Ryan, who became Romney's controversial pick for his running mate. Perhaps Romney picked him to reenergize a campaign that had experienced difficulty in getting people enthused to begin with, as few faux conservatives even seemed to like Romney much. Plus, he was taking an absolute beating by the Obama campaign, that relentlessly hounded Romney's financially elite status, and the fact that he had offshore accounts, and refused to release his tax documents to the general public. Romney needed some kind of change in momentum and a new focus. He wanted something more positive, and his pick of Ryan as running mate seemed to many to be just that.

Paul Ryan is a young candidate who is often seen as the brains behind the Republican Congress these days. He is an ideologue in a way that Palin never could be. His approach is more engaging, and he is willing to debate based on the merits, or the lack thereof, of his ideas. Palin was never like that, and she proved to be a liability to the McCain campaign. Ryan, in the meantime, seemed to be a boost, and to hold promise for the Romney campaign. Of course, time will tell.

But Paul Ryan recently revealed that his favorite band is Rage Against the Machine. That was reminiscent on many levels of Reagan using Springsteen in his campaign, or Christie being a fan of "The Boss", and Palin's use of the Heart song, "Barricuda".

You see, Rage is one of the most politically conscious bands out there. They were angry and protesting, at a time when that was, pardon the pun, not all the rage. It was their political outrage that informed them, and they utilized their angry music as a form of protest against the political establishment. Anyone who really knows anything about the band knows that much.

Which is why it was so puzzling to see Ryan mention that this was his favorite band, because one cannot simply divorce the music and the band from the politics that all of that revolve around. Politics is not just an aside with this band, it is perhaps the most crucial part of their identity. And the fact that Paul Ryan cited them as his favorite band thus proved quite ironic.

Tom Morello called Ryan's love for his band "amusing", and railed against the GOP Vice Presidential candidate. He said, "Ryan claims that he likes Rage's sound, but not the lyrics. Well, I don't care for Paul Ryan's sound or his lyrics. He can like whatever band he wants, but his guiding vision of shifting of shifting revenue more radically to the one percent is antithetical to the message of Rage."

"I clearly see that Ryan has a whole lotta "rage" in him: a rage against women, a rage against immigrants, a rage against workers, a rage against gays, a rage against the poor, a rage against the environment. Basically, the one thing he's not raging against is the privileged elite he's groveling in front of for campaign contributions."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, is it? Apparently, Ryan's love of "Rage" is not being reciprocated.

Morello continues:

"My hope is that maybe Paul Ryan is a mole. Maybe Rage did plant some sensible ideas in the extreme fringe right wing nut job. But I'm not betting on it."

To sum up, Morello dismissed Ryan and his declared love of Morello's band, claiming that "he is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades."

I just wonder why it is that politicians, and particularly right wing candidates, always seem to feel so comfortable wearing their preferred musical tastes on their sleeve, when it is so often performed by people that stand in complete opposition to what the right wingers stand for in the first place. I am guessing (but it is only a guess) that he was trying to appeal to younger voters, to show that he is just a normal guy, with normal tastes that fit in perfectly with this day and age, in this country. But these are not normal times, and a large part of the reason for that is Ryan's crusade of "rage" against everybody but the most privileged among us. Morello hit the nail right on the head. Just don't bet on the message being hammered home to Ryan. He is a career politician, after all, and is likely to continue ignoring the transparent contradictions between what he stands for, and what he claims that he listens to, supposedly. Clearly, he is not listening closely enough.

Here is Morello's article directly:

Here is a related article, one of quite a few that you can find on any search engine, if you want to read more on the subject matter:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Privileged Sons Play the Trump Card

I recently shared a picture on Facebook. In it, Donald Trump's son stands before a fallen elephant, holding the tail that he just presumably cut off.

It is one that one of my Facebook friends claimed was a fraud, and was probably photoshopped, he suggested.

Another friend of mine responded with an article, with a video link attached. That original friend took it back, albeit rather reluctantly.

Admittedly, I am not a fan of the Donald, so perhaps I am not being fair in what I am about to say here. So, if you are a fan of Donald Trump, then figuratively plug your ears. Or don't. Read on, and perhaps comment, challenge me. I want to encourage good, healthy debate.

Donald Trump always irritated me, ever since I first remember hearing about him when I was a kid. he just seems to be the picture of the arrogant, out of touch, excessively self-indulging rich man with a sense of entitlement. I mean, the man has one skill that is undeniable: he knows how to make money. Perhaps I should add a second skill here: he is flashy about his money making.

I mean, really! Who the hell builds one towering skyscraper after another, and puts up his own name in bright letters on the top of them? There's the Trump Tower, Trump's Taj Majal, Trump Palace, etc. Trump this, Trump that. Trump everywhere.

Everywhere? Yup, pretty much everywhere. He has office buildings throughout the United States, from coast to coast. He also has buildings, or has buildings in the planning stages,  in Israel, the Dominican Republic, in Canada, South Korea, Dubai, The Grenadines (in the Caribbean), and in Panama.

Now, here is a man who knows how to advertise himself, right? Plus, of course, he became a well known personality, a veritable celebrity. He even got his own television show, and was, for a while, highly successful in that.

People liked him. God knows why.

Well, actually, hold off on that doubt. I know why. Everybody knows why. It's because of his specialty, which is making money and advertising himself (rather shamelessly). It's because those are the things that Americans tend to admire, and envy, the most. Everyone wished they could be the Donald. Everyone wished they could sit in that high back leather chair, with cold, scrutinizing, judge's eyes, and fire people using supposed straight talk, not pulling punches. He embodied the cut throat, shamelessly individualistic, cold, calculating hunt to get to the top of the business world. For that, he became more popular than ever. Suddenly, everyone's favorite phrase of the moment was, "You're fired!" One almost expected Trump to buy the rights to the phrase, although it obviously has been around a lot longer than he has. Judging from his past actions, it would not be all that surprising if he wanted to get credit for it, nonetheless.

Here was a man with slicked back hair, and a way of doing business that essentially allowed him to gain money by increasing his own personal interest and finances, while simultaneously devaluing whatever it was that he was buying. Here was the real life Gordon Gekko. At last, that is who the character always reminded me of, although the actual inspiration for the character, to my understanding, was not Trump, but rather Ivan Boesky, of whom I am not all that familiar.

All the same, they still remind me of one another.

So entitled is "The Donald", that he entertained running for the Presidency. For once, a venture of his failed, and maybe he really was not trying to become the next President. But he certainly was vocal in his criticism of sitting President Obama, and particularly went after the whole birth certificate thing. Now, don't get me wrong: i am not a big fan of Obama. I was skeptical of him before his administration, and if anything, after four years, I am more skeptical of him than ever before. It is sometimes difficult to tell the difference between Obama and his predecessor.

But that said, when people fixate on superficial things, like his birth certificate, it becomes a distraction issue, and Trump was best known for this, while he flirted with politics. He addressed a conservative audience and won cheap applause with such attacks, never really showing a strand of original thought or criticism, much less any real ideas of his own to put forth. He did what he does best: attack. That is his secret, after all, for making money.

Now, I know that is what America prizes at the moment, more than anything else. Money, money, money. There is nothing more American than money, and a love


of money. We take it to an extreme here. But Donald Trump seems to be all about money, and nothing else but money. I had never seen before a television personality with absolutely no personality. This guy is all business, all of the time. But not just business. Sleezy business. Business under the mode of attacking, with an approach towards completely destroying your competitor, if this can even be said to be a competition. I am not entirely convinced that it can be. it's more like the business world's equivalent of the food chain, with the top dog managing to gobble up everything smaller than him.

It just seemed amazing to me that this man, who seemed so intensely unlikable, nonetheless thought that he could possibly win the Presidency. But it was not a laughable notion. People really do like him, and admire him. Hell, I even know a guy who openly said that he was supporting Trump for President. That old business model working for the country, for the government thing again.

Yet another one size fits all solution. yet another "I know best" high profile rich guy assuming that people should listen to him because, after all, he is just better. I mean, he has way more money than you and me, and everyone that we know, all put together, right? Probably by far, too. But his assumptions were not that far off. A part of me even could imagine him making a serious run at the White House, and possibly even gaining it. Maybe then, it would be reduced to just being another Trump label. Maybe the Trump White House. It would have cheapened the whole deal, and the nation would have been the worse off for it.

There are few people who are as shallow and egotistical on such a mega scale as this man. But these are the values that we, as a nation, espouse, and he is one of the most successful men of these times. So, it is fitting.

Now, his sons? Well, they seem to feel pretty entitled, too. Don't get me wrong, I do not like Trump (that should be obvious by now, right?). But at the very least, he is on some levels a self-made man. True, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. But the empire that is Trump was something unique to him. He made the bulk of that money, and that image, doing what he knows best - making money.

His sons? They just seem entitled, without having proven just yet the same talent for money making and utilizing this to promote an image.

They went on a hunting trip in Africa, and as it turns out, the picture of Trump, Jr. by the fallen elephant, holding the severed tail, is in fact, real. It was not the only thing that they killed, of course, but it was the most symbolic. Given that Daddy Trump has joined the Republican Party, it is perhaps symbolic that his own sons are in a picture next to a real-life elephant, the symbol of the Republican party, and yet not native to the United States at all, having killed it and then severed body parts. Maybe they did learn something from their father's approach, after all.

When responding to the outpouring of criticism, Trump Jr. took the high road (or tried to).He refuses to apologize for being a hunter. And really, he does not have to, I don't think, as that is not wrong, per se. However, I think that he can be criticized for making a sport of hunting, because that is a whole new ball game altogether.

In his own defense, he mentioned that his killing the elephant brought joy to a local village, that otherwise would have been starving.

"I can assure you it was not wasteful the villagers were so happy for the meat which they don't often get to eat."

Be that as it may, but that is not why the overgrown brat went to Africa. He was there hunting, killing an elephant, among other creatures, merely for sport. Sure, he tried to make the argument that it was feeding people, a village in need, and seemed to insinuate that they were very thankful to him. But that is not why he was there.

But he was not finished. He went on, talking about the principle of the thing, at least according to him. When it is a Trump that is trying to get to the core issue, you can bet he is talking about money, and Trump, Jr. does not disappoint, going straight for the purse strings:

"Bottom line without hunters $ there wouldn't be much left of africa. Eco is nice but no $."

Now, that I am not so sure about. Many parts of Africa are not yet developed largely because the resources that would have done so just were not there. But many species are endangered and on the brink of extinction, and some have even gone extinct, because of hunters. That's not the fault of the Trumps, of course. But it is a counter to what he is arguing, which is largely false. Since he relies, predictably, on the money factor, let us be clear: it is the pursuit of money and the privileges that it brings that is largely responsible for the endangered species of Africa and elsewhere around the world. Therefore, we do not need to thank the Trumps for preserving what wilderness still exists in Africa. Far from it.

Also, if you are going to make a serious defense, why not use proper English, and not bunched up text speak? But I digress...

I have not heard much of the Trump sons up to this point. I just hope that this is not the big introduction, where we begin to have to hear about them, as well. I am not a fan of the Donald, but compared with them, he seems downright likable, from what I can tell. They make him look like the humanitarian of the year, by way of comparison.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Let's Try To Forget Joe The Plumber

It just occurred to me that Joe the Plumber made those asinine comments about building the "damn fence" and then to start shooting after the recent shooting incidents that have garnered so much attention and controversy these last few weeks.

Maybe I'm crazy in thinking that he should have a little more sensitivity before just shooting off his mouth about unthinkingly promoting shooting people. He mentioned at some point in the past that, in his feeling, gun control laws in Nazi Germany most likely led to the extent of the tragedy of the Holocaust.

Yet, his solution to the problems regarding illegal aliens is to build a fence and start shooting - presumably many of those that would be shot at are unarmed.

By being a public figure these days, and making such mindless, knee jerk reaction statements, there is a risk that some people just might take him seriously, that it provides a green light and a voice of support to take matters into one's own hands. Given our history with shootings, I cannot help but wonder if this was an irresponsible thing to say.

For a while there in 2008, everybody wanted to know what Joe the Plumber thought and had to say about American politics. Now, in 2012, he himself is running for office, and he discredits himself when he makes idiotic and irresponsible statements such as this. Yes, indeed, four years ago, everybody was asking him what he thought, and his situation and opinion even made it to the Presidential debates. Now, he has voiced his opinion repeatedly, and maybe it's time to finally forget about Joe the Plumber, realize that his fifteen minutes are up, and that stumbling on political relevancy does not make him an authority on anything. Using him as an example was a political ploy to begin with, and one that seems now to have backfired quite a bit, since now, he is utilizing the platform he was given to voice his idiotic and prejudiced opinions.

Maybe what would be best is to wish him the best, and forget about him, relegate him to a one election wonder who happened to garner a lot of attention, but who also does not have much of intelligence to say about the state of things today. This man is not the one we should turn to in order to inform the public about what the nation is all about, or the direction we should be heading in, and he seems intent on proving it when he gets the chance to open his big mouth and voice his opinion. Let's ignore him, and not egg him on into discrediting himself and making even more of a fool of himself than he already has done.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Clarifying My Place in a Highly Technologically Advanced World

My most recent blog entry prior to this one was all about how I feel sometimes out of place, or rather out of date, when faced with the impressive technological advancements that are regularly being introduced into the public market, and into the lives of many Americans. 
        While I do not subscribe to this sense of having to get the newest, latest and greatest big thing to come out, I nonetheless do enjoy many facets of modern technology. I did not want to come across as some computerphobe, or that I somehow live in the past, and have not embraced the future. In fact, this is far from being the case. I rarely buy a newspaper or magazine these days, because you can pretty much guarantee that much of that type of news and other stuff are readily available online. Yes, I get most of my news online these days, and also have gotten into the habit of perusing through some blogs as well. I enjoy sports, yet most of the time, I follow the headlines and scores online, and check the standings, and so on and so forth, instead of religiously watching the games or listening to sports talk on the radio every day or week. For that matter, I have most of that other stuff that people have, including an email address (several, in fact), a Facebook account, an Ebay account, and have made some purchases through Amazon and Kobo. I have downloaded movies and music online, and regularly watch some things on Youtube. Plus, of course, there’s this blog of mine that you are reading right now. 
        So, yes, I am a modern man, and have adapted to these technological realities of the present age. 
        Yet, I have been on this earth long enough to have seen that when you add something, you lose something. It might not be immediately apparent, and in fact, it might take a great deal of time for you to understand, much less acknowledge, that what is missing is, in fact, an actual loss. 
        Let me illustrate this point with an example: in modern America, we have a strong network of highways and such, and much of these are lined with industry and warehouses and strip malls, and other places of commercial use.  This was a goal that would have seemed desirable in the entrepreneurial spirit of the past, and some do indeed enjoy it now. However, many people have bgun to understand that there was a price to all of this, that we lost something. We lost many of our open spaces, and that is not a minor loss. Also, with these highways and strip malls, we began to see the rise of superstores, like Kmart and Sears at first, and later, places that did it even better, like Walmart and Target and Home Depot and Lowe’s. But in the process, we happened to lose the American downtown, often referred to as Main Street, USA. There were advantages to having a rich downtown, particularly with the sense of community, and the little, everyday social interactions that people used to have. Given that specialty superstores allow you the convenience of going in, getting what you want, and going out, easy and efficiently, and with a minimum of human interaction or meaningful conversation, and that the internet allows us to indulge in things in an even more exclusively private manner than that, our collective social skills have fallen out of whack. No wonder we are so divided and high strung these days. We just cannot find the time or patience to deal with people not in our inner circles, and that never used to be the case before. The loss of everyday human interaction on a small-scale, local level was indeed of tremendous value, and we are, collectively, the worse of in the absence of this. Perhaps we are only beginning to understand this, but likely, we will understand it more and more over time. 
        So, while it may have been puzzling to some readers, why I would have added places like Walmart and McDonald’s and such commercial places of business, to reflections on modern technology, it is because, the way I see it, they are linked, and cannot be separated. These places, like our modern technological conveniences, are designed to make our lives, and options, more convenient. But there are complications in each case, and these are not minor. In fact, they just might be affecting our lives adversely, contributing to a lesser quality of life. Computers and super stores may be making us less sociable. Super stores like Walmart tend to eliminate local businesses, and also have an adverse effect on our social interactions. Superstores and food chains offer cheap comforts, but they do so by choking off their smaller competitors, and they also have a destructive presence globally. 
        Yes, undeniably, technology has some great assets to offer. But there are side effects that make you wonder whether technology is a cure to many of our ills, a pacebo that allows us the escapism that we have come to desire so much that it feels like it is a need, or if all this high end technology is, in fact, perhaps a major contributing factor to the illness so readily apparent in our modern-day society. 
        What is has done is made this society appear ever more complicated, and also quite a bit more diverse. Just about everyone has a computer, or access to one. We do our work on them, we perhaps punch in on them. We take care of our personal business on them, check our various accounts, and so on. We keep our calendars and important appointments on them. All the details of our life. Those who come form another culture, or are interested in other cultures, can now better keep in contact with that culture. It allows us to indulge in our own unique, peculiar interests. There are advantages, undeniably. But there are aspects that perhaps are not, that in fact, muddy the previously clear waters. 
Everything is so much more complicated, so much more involved and detailed, than it used to be. Funny, but I think that older generations used to feel that way about the times back when I was a kind in the eighties. Kids today will likely be expressing those same sentiments some decades in the future, while guys like me may be setting themselves up to look like the old, doddering fools that are forever hopelessly far behind.  These things seem to run cyclically, after all. 
        But that said, it really does seem like things are happening at a very fast rate. Much of history seems to be speeding up as we go along. The rise and fall of the American Empire, a subject that is often spoken of and debated, seems to have happened, or to be happening, as a modern day equivalent to the rise and fall of Rome, although the events that led to both the rise and fall of the empire here in America occurred at a much quicker pace. Much like the technological advances that seem to come incredible fast, events seem to come very fast these days, as well. These days, history in general seems to move fast. 
        Still, the only permanent thing in this world would be change. Things always change. That is the way things have always been, and always will be. And it is also as it should be. As such, I try my best to embrace it. 
        So, while I may joke about being technologically impaired, I am, in fact, more addicted to some aspects of our modern society and technology as the next guy. Plus, the tablet will probably bring me one or two steps closer towards catching up with the remaining deficiencies as far as modern consumer technology is concerned. I’m not there, yet. But I am getting there, albeit at a slower pace than the rapid clip of change in our world today. That’s my older upbringing talking now.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Taking My Place in a Highly Technologically Advanced World?

So, I am not exactly what anyone would call technologically savvy.
Still, it seemed like a good idea to get one of these computer tablets, particularly the ones where you can download and store books on it, and ultimately build a library.
You see, I enjoy reading, and love books. It was something that, I think, my grandfather actually really got me into. He was a learned man, in his own, quiet way. He loved chess, had a wonderful stamp collection (both things that he got me into – and he also got me into American football), and also enjoyed books. His personal library was quite large, and with a relatively diverse range of books and subject matter. It should be noted that these were during the days before the internet and easily getting the best price for whatever book you want. This was before they ever heard of such a thing as downloading books. So, to have such a collection was impressive. It would be impressive today, even. But for back then, he really had an extensive personal library, for someone of relatively modest means.
I knew that I wanted to be like that when I grew up. I wanted a rich personal library, like his.
And I got it.
The thing is, it was so much simpler for me. So much easier, that it really was not even funny. There are more stores in general these days then there were back then. Particularly, there were tons of used bookstores in the 1980's and 1990's. I tended to focus on discounted books and used books (although not exclusively), and by the time I was an older teenager, I already had a lot of books. Not enough to rival his, or anything. But a lot of books, nonetheless. I was beginning to learn some things, and not always what you might expect. I will expand on that a bit later.
By the late eighties, my book collection was large, although I was still just a kid, and had never really worked a real job or anything. I was a teenager, and with limited means. Still, I seemed to have a knack for being able to collect these things.
Onto the nineties. I could drive and get around. I started to have jobs, and thus, income of my own. That means money, and money to spend. Not least of all, I had the desire. So, I started frequenting certain bookstores, with a particular emphasis on used bookstores, and found some books, obviously. Some were real treasures, and looking back, they were books with great interest, and in great shape (at least some of the ones that are coming to mind presently). I began to have some favorite authors and genres (particularly Stephen King). I expanded it to French book (just in case any readers don't yet know, I am a Franco-American, a dual citizen of both the United States and France). By the end of the nineties, I actually had what could rightly be called a personal library.
Into the 2000's. My collection continued to grow. By now, of course, I started to use the internet to get books that were more specific to my interests. My collection, which was already fairly sizeable, now became huge, and I began to be able to afford being more discriminatory with buying books. I began to utilize library services much more, and borrowed books from friends and family much more to satisfy my desire to read, and to slake my thirst.
Still, my collection was starting to get huge.
Now, it's the 2010's. It's easier than ever now to amass a library, if you so desire. Of course, there are the old ways. Go to a normal bookstore, or perhaps go to a quaint little used bookshop with some character. That requires you getting up and going out, though, which also likely means spending money on gas. But these days, you don't have to do that, and are able to search for books (among many other things) from the comfort of home. Check Amazon or numerous other websites, including Ebay. You will instantly not only likely get the book that you want available for purchase, but you can see the prices, the condition of the book, the rating of the seller, and so on and so forth. These days, you likely can find your book for quite cheap, and there's a good chance, if it's a few years old, that you can get it used. If you have interest in foreign books that are traditionally more difficult to find, then the internet is incredibly useful in this regard, as well. It has become amazingly easy to get such things, and of course it's not just restricted to books, of course. Perhaps, it's a little too easy.
I know that I fell into the trap of temptation to build a huge library. There came a point, this would have been in the late part of the last decade or so, in the late 2000's, where I knew I had to begin to restrict purchase of books. That was the other thing that I had learned from collecting books. At some point, you start to have too many. It seems an obvious lesson, of course.
Yet, you might be surprised how easily you can dismiss such things. But there came a point when I looked, and saw that many of the books were not really necessary at all. Books that I had tried to read and just could not get through, or books that I really only had to read once, and never really referred to again. Books, in other words, that essentially took up precious space, and do little else.
Very soon, you begin to understand, as I have come to understand, that you must be much more selective with the books that you buy. That you need to think about space, not to mention the money that you can save by not actually buying the book or books, but by borrowing them. Not that I completely abstain from getting books. I still do get new books from my favorite authors, at least the ones that I care enough about to think that it would be worth it. Also, I still enjoy perusing through a used book store with character, and even still enjoy picking up a good book, particularly if it has some kind of special value to it. I enjoy antique books, for example. It is just that I have learned, out of necessity, to be much more selective over time, in the interests of money and space.
Which is where the tablet comes in. Because, in this day of such incredible technological advances and little gizmos, this one is a pretty impressive consumer item.
I usually have been able to resist the temptations of modern technology. It took me forever to get a steady cell phone. I experimented with one in 2002, and did not get a steady cell phone again for the greater part of the next decade (I have a cheap, prepaid one now, that cost me all of fifteen dollars, and has none of the really cool apps and such that people generally want in their cell phone these days. I am not interested in getting blu-ray, and have successfully resisted so far, because I assume that this is simply a money making machine, just another way for you, the consumer, to be pulled into spending more money to "update" your collection into this cool new Blu-Ray technology. Years ago, before this became a household name kind of a thing, I met a few people who owned these, and they were, in effect, showing these things off to me ("Look at what I have, and you don't have!:"). I just have not been interested in getting Blu-Ray, even though it seems to clearly be replacing DVD's. I resisted DVD's, and they still feel pretty cool and new, although now they are already seen as outdated (although not quite as outdated as what they replaced, VHS tapes, which really are rather outdated in this day and age). I resisted cd's as well, at least initially. All of these things I resisted, and mostly because of price. When I began to come around, was when the prices began to normalize, when these things stopped being exclusive, and super expensive. Once they were not cost prohibitive, then I began to get some of those things.
I resist the new and improved supserstores to an extent, particularly Walmart (although I still do shop at Target). I try and avoid the major megastores that have become monsters that put local businesses out of business. How can little Mom and Pop stores compete with the huge places with the enormous selections and rock bottom prices, such as Walmart, or Home Depot, or Barnes & Noble, just to name a few? Now, with online sites, it's even easier, with Amazon  and such. When I can, I try to emphasize buying local, although I have a thin wallet at times, too, and have given into temptation at times, admittedly. But I try to be cognizant of that, and resist these places to the extent possible.
Same with food places. I like no name shops. I remember working right next to a little deli, that was right next to a Dunkin' Donuts. I wanted coffee, and walked past a line that literally went right to the edge of the sidewalk – a very long line! –waiting for their Dunkin Donuts. But the little deli was virtually empty, and I got my cup of coffee quickly and easily, paid, and walked out. The same people on line had not moved, but the line had grown longer. I wondered what the hell was happening to our society, with these addictions of ours? I resist getting a lot of fast food, and have long done so, now (as long as Walmart). I don't go to McDonald's or Burger king or KFC or Taco Bell or numerous other such chains. When I can, I like trying new places, preferably some on a smaller scale. Local places, owned by real people who live and belong in the community. It's so much more interesting, with food that is not, in effect, manufactured, and a label and product with copyrights intellectual property, or whatever other legal webbing that they protect their brands with, and all. I do admittedly take my son to Wendy's every now and then, but even there, I try not to, if at all possible. This may not seem like it belongs in this discussion about new and technological gizmos, but these things are definitely part of the culture of the new and convenient things offered to the consumer en masse. That is something that I find a mixed blessing at best, and more likely a veritable Trojan Horse within our society, destroying the fabric of that very same society, at worse. Even on a global level, the so-called globalization. Yes, I try to resist.
I'm even skeptical of getting EZ Pass, and much of it, admittedly, was initial skepticism that they used such stuff against you – gave you a speeding ticket if they recorded times between tolls that would indicate that you must have been speeding. That sounded sneaky, and I did not like the idea. But I briefly dated a girl who worked as a toll collector, and she urged me not to get EZ Passs for an entirely different reason – it took jobs away from real life human beings, who were replaced by computers. How can they compete, after all? Funny, but at that point, I had been tempted to finally get the EZ Pass. But that renewed my determination to resist, although it is, admittedly, far more convenient.
I only had a lap top once, and it was a gift. There are tons of cool, impressive computer ware and such, really awesome looking or sounding apps that a lot of people around me had, but which I continued to resist. Perhaps, I took it to the extreme, who knows? But I know I don't just hop onto the next big thing like that. Never did care for fashion, and never did care for things to show off to all my friends and neighbors. Always tried to be conscious about refusing a lifestyle where I would subscribe to the mentality keeping up with the Joneses.
But lately, it began to feel like a real option, some of these things. The little tablet that allows you to read books from a computer, essentially. And it does not even hurt your eyes, but reads like an actual book! Now, that's something.
For that matter, I'm starting to think about buying a digital camera, so when I take a trip with my son later this month, I can snap some really cool snapshots (hopefully), and then download them, save them perhaps in my email or computer, and post them on Facebook, or something (yes, I do have an account there).
Hell, my brother got me a GPS for Christmas, and when I finally did get the chance to use it, it was amazing just how smart that little computer is.
So, I have given in. No, I am not about to start shopping at Walmart or eating McDonald's. But perhaps I am yielding on some things. At least a little ibt, yes. Particularly, really, with books (of which I have too many), and cameras. Digital cameras really are cool, from what I can tell about them – although I have never owned one thus far. But that might just change very soon. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Joe the Plumber Is At It Again

Remember "Joe the Plumber"?

Yeah, that was the guy who had received his fifteen minutes of fame during the last Presidential election in 2008. He was mentioned by Republican nominee John McCain, and then became a household name when both McCain and Obama vied for his sympathies, and seemed to be promising to look out for his best interests.

Well, Joe the Plumber is back. Apparently, he was into satisfied with having fifteen minutes of fame.

He has made news recently, once again. It is the 2012 election, and I guess he feels that each candidate should bend over backwards to accommodate him, like they did in the last election. He is speaking out again, making his opinions heard.

Only this time, it is on a fiery subject. Also, this time, both candidates are probably going to have raised eyebrows, and try to distance themselves from good 'ol Joe the Plumber.

Speaking about the border with Mexico, Joe vocally supported a "damn fence" to seal off the border, and also added that it was time to bring guns "and start shooting".

Joe the Plumber, who's real name is actually Joe Wurzelbacher, is an Ohio Republican candidate for Congress. he prides himself on being outspoken, and politically incorrect.

Could have fooled us, Joe!

Maybe we would have been better off not getting to know Joe the Plumber at all. Fifteen minutes is far more than he deserves.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Fatigue

There are times when you just feel too tired to really be able to do something effectively. That is the way I feel right now. Exhausted. The traditional "overworked and underpaid" sentiments seem to fit right about now. I feel utterly exhausted, deprived of energy.

I have been working some extra hours lately, which is not exactly overtime, since it comes in my part-time job. Still, I welcomed it, because since I have no vacation hours there as a part-timer, then any shifts I take off for are simply days I don't get paid for. So, working a few extra days and shifts seemed like a good opportunity.

But this is the time when you pay for such decisions. My eyes are heavy, my eyelids keep wanting to close. Wakefulness is a memory, and has been for a while now. It would be nice if tomorrow was a restful day, but it will be worse than today, as far as that goes.

There have been a few potential entries that I have been working on lately. Both are on books. One is Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, and the other is Lord of the Flies, by William Golding. These are both excellent books, although they are radically different from one another. They deserve to be read and understood. Both have something to say about our present age, albeit from different standing points.

So, yes, I am working on these, yet progress has been slower than expected. The fatigue has been affecting my writing, and so I have not exactly been on fire. I thought I would be done with one, if not both, of these pieces by now, but that has not been the case. Apologies. But we all have our good and bad days, don't we?

I will be going on vacation soon. In less than a week, in fact. Perhaps my tone of fatigue is transparent in this blog. Perhaps I sound like I could use a vacation?

Frankly, I'm just looking forward to being able to sleep in for a few days in a row. It will be a refreshing change from the usual grind. My normal schedule is quite tiring, but just lately, with the extra hours, it's been rather ridiculous. I can feel it in the weighted down feel of my eyelids, and how I keep struggling to not fall asleep.

This is a fairly lame attempt at a blog, simply because, right at the moment, I just did not have the energy or focus to do much of anything  I will be back, and with a bit more momentum, in the near future.

In the meantime, I wish any and all who peruse this blog, whomever you might be, those legions of dedicated fans and readers, the very best. Summer here in the northeast is coming to a quick end, and soon, we will invite cool and windy, crisp autumn days with the brilliant colors of fall foliage. That is a very enjoyable time of the year, but why rush things? Summer is here, and the time for outdoor barbecues, for swimming, for vacation (for most people, anyway), for all manner of outdoor activities in general, is just about over. But we had better enjoy what's left of it, before it goes away for a good, long while!