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Archive for December, 2015

Sounds

Clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack.

Sometimes I can’t tell whether it’s the dribbling of rain against the cleaned-out gutters or the far away sound of the local train going through. It’s really quite relaxing, whatever it happens to be; some might even call it hypnotic.

Funny what sounds do to us. We can hear one thing and it arouses memories of sadness and sorrow, and we don’t even know why. Other sounds fill us with joy and gladness and those, too, are strangers to our ears but something about them just triggers the giddiness of something pleasant.

I will always associate the sound of a train clickety-clacking along the rails with a trip that I took over half a century ago. We were driving through Nebraska, on our way to Spokane, Washington. On our right were hills that rose higher than I ever thought could be found in the Cornhusker State, but there they were. On our left were train tracks and a rushing river. At one point in the journey, the longest freight train I had ever seen came rambling down those tracks. It came and it came and it came; yep, longest damn train I ever saw. This was a sunny day in early August, so our windows were down. That train kept on going by us, freight car after freight car; clickety-clack, clickety-clack, clickety-clack. It must have taken a full ten minutes before the last car went by, but that noise continued far off into the distance. When the noise finally faded, the only sound was the hum of the tires on the asphalt. Strange how things like that stick in your head like that, more than a half century later.

Just as the sounds of a train bring back fond memories of yesterday, there are other sounds that can evoke other memories. Last week, as I was sitting at this very computer, I heard a noise that sent tremors of fear along my spine and made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up. A neighbor was testing his snowblower, powering it up for what we all know is to come sometime after the calendar turns to 2016. The old man with the scythe who was 2015 has almost been forgiven for last February and March, but if this little 2016 child, with his top hat askew, a twinkle in his eye, and those damnable diapers does the damage his predecessor did, he will not be welcome at my house for a glass of New Year’s champagne. The only sound worse than a snowblower being tested is the sound of one actually being used.

Back in the days of my youth, when I was teaching high school math and a few other things, I had no compunctions whatsoever about running my fingernails down a blackboard. That sound never bothered me, but what it does to others can be paralyzing. In today’s schools, I suppose that white boards have replaced the old slate so I’d probably have to resort to my referee’s whistle to bring a class to order.

There is one sound, however, with which all of us are very familiar. It seems to occur sometime around the third week in December each and every year. No matter how old, how cynical, how jaded we are, the sound brings out the child in each and every one of us. Of course, I’m speaking of “the prancing and pawing of each little hoof,” as we hear the sleigh arrive on our roof.  We may never hear the “Ho, Ho, Ho” of the jolly fat man (who has put away his pipe over health concerns), but if we all listen very carefully, we will, at some point, hear another sound…Merry Christmas to All and to All, a Good Night.

Merry Christmas, my friends, and may the New Year bring you much Health and Happiness.

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My computer sits on a desk specifically designed as a piece of computer furniture.

Juli’s computer is a laptop that she can carry around and operate from her lap. For some reason, that just isn’t my thing. It’s probably the kind of mouse she has. I never could operate one of those square insets that has to be moved by gently touching the damned thing. It irritates me to no end. She’s just as skillful as zipping around the screen as she is at everything else…grrrr!

My larger than life screen, however, (ynah, ynah, she doesn’t have one of those…so there) sits under a shelf on this desk specifically designed as a piece of computer furniture…it’s really quite grand, you know. There are many little cubbies on this specifically designed piece of computer furniture (okay, that’s the last time I’ll say it) in which I keep all sorts of things. There are pads of paper, packages of special photo paper in case…well, you know. Standing in the bottom cubby is a book, “The Portable Curmudgeon,” given to me nine years ago by my friend, Ron ‘Rip’ Rybniker. At the very back of this cubby, I discovered recently, there are some pens. There are projector pens, Sharpie pens, more projector pens, Uniball pens, and Pilot G2 premium gel roller pens.  In all, there are 34 pens, most still in their original packaging. Why is it then, that I am always searching for a @#$%& pen and finding only those that are out of ink as I stumble through the house, attempting to remember a telephone number, piece of paper in hand, and searching for a &%$#@ pen. Of course, by the time I find a working pen, I will have forgotten this number which is, at this moment, particularly critical to me. If I wait an hour or so, the number will no longer be critical or I will have forgotten where I put the paper on which I embossed the number with a non-ink-filled pen.

Having now discovered my 34 pens and not wanting to clutter the top of the desk, I will place them back in their original position and remember that that is where they are stored. Okay, let’s be honest here; if I place them back in the cubby – oops, just found four more – within a day or so, I will be scrounging for a pen and not remember where these nearly 40 writing implements are located. To ensure that I know where they are, I will put a post-it note on my computer. It will say something like “pens in cubby.” By the time I remember I need a pen, the computer will be covered with post-it reminders of this and that and, in all probability, the “pens in cubby” post-it will be covered by several others…plus I won’t remember that I put a post-it-there to remind me. I would probably have to live to be about 250 if I ever intended to use the dozen square post-it notes that sit amongst some other god-only-knows-what in one of those cubbies…although I know understand that I can refer to them as ‘pigeon holes’’’ no self-respecting pigeon would live in such a small space.

Oh, I should also note that in one of the smaller cubbies is a nip of Jack Daniels and a nip of Goldschlager. Why they are there is beyond me, but there they sit. That’s not quite true; I think I remember – a sure sign of old age; we remember what happened half a century ago, but we cannot tell you what we had for dinner last night – I remember that the bourbon was given to me by Howard Goff of the Class of 1949 at Babson. Howard was a trustee at one time and he gave me the nip on the occasion of the birth of his first grandchild. Since I don’t drink bourbon, there it will sit until I die or until someone comes over who’d like a drink of Jack. The other bottle has drinkable gold flakes in it, but that would be all I need…”Yep, he choked to death on his own gold…damned fool,” and they’d be right of course.

One of these days I’ll get around to exploring the other cubbies and pigeon holes in other pieces of furniture. There are a couple of desks downstairs that I swear have some secrets they’re hiding. Sorry, have to run; I’m watching National Treasure again, and I see secrets everywhere.

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It’s difficult to understand why law enforcement, city, state, and federal, as well as the President of the United States, took so long to state the obvious about San Bernadino. I just don’t comprehend what is so difficult about seeing this couple, dressed as they were, not being immediately identified as ‘terrorists.’ However you wish to slice it, this was a terrorist act. It certainly terrified the crap out of the people who were being shot and those ducking for cover. With the discovery of the ammunition and pipe bombs in the house occupied by that couple and their baby would indicate preparation for a ‘terrorist’ attack. So we’re at war. Is there anyone in the USA who doesn’t understand that? Are there actually people whose heads are stuck so far up…in the sand that they aren’t aware that Americans are considered by some people who actually live and work here, as the enemy. Take a look at Dylan Roof who thought that blacks were taking over America. Can you understand why an ignoramus like that would think such a thing? Who does he see on television when the President speaks? Who does he see when the Director of Homeland Security speaks? Granted, the kid is probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but he’s probably just a wee bit prejudiced against black folks in the first place. Someone said to me the other day, “I saw a family of Muslims in traditional dress coming in the store and I didn’t panic,” as though that was a major friggin’ achievement. It’s clue time…this country is filled with all sorts of people; some came here to escape terrorism and want to live peaceful lives. Others are here but are nothing but crazy fucking assholes who are influenced by other crazy fucking assholes and who will go out and kill anybody they see who is not dressed or look exactly as they do. They do have sufficient smarts to make certain they kill at a gathering…just walking up and down the street is not going to give one maximum exposure nor maximize your kill rate…riiiight!

To top off our understanding that we are at war, we have public panic purveyors like Donald “I-can-fix-everything-but-I-won’t-tell-you-how-because-I don’t-really-know-what-to-do” Trump. I find it truly difficult to understand how this man became a billionaire. The only thing I can think of is that he bullied his way to riches; he was the loudest shouter in the room; his face got so red, his opponents thought he was going to literally explode and shit would be flying everywhere since he was so full of it, so they gave in. It’s all I can think of. He speaks such ridiculous bullshit that no one in their right minds could possibly believe what he says. And yet, what is he doing? He’s appealing to the frightened, the uninformed, people who don’t know, or care to know, understand or care to understand other cultures. These are the folks who believe that blacks eat only fried chicken and watermelon; they may see hummus in the store so that’s what “they’ eat; Asians eat only fish and seaweed or some other shit like that. They don’t know, and one who preys on their fears such as Trump becomes their hero. The media is proving to be just as gullible. Trump speaks; it’s a sound byte they have to get on the air before the competition. Don’t react; don’t cover, and see how long Trump stays in this race. The media are “feeding Seymour” and he continues to grow. If the media ignore him, Trump will be within his rights to demand an equal amount of time as is given to other candidates; that is his right. However, the minute his talk becomes inflammatory, as it has been through most of his campaign, cut off the microphone; he has overstepped his bounds.

On November 8, 2016, America will go to the polls to elect a new President. That is eleven months from this very day. Should this country, in its ultimate stupidity, elect Donald Trump, I will make every effort to move to Nova Scotia and to renounce my American citizenship. I have little doubt that the world will become a nuclear wasteland before his term of office has ended.

Lone wolf terrorists on American streets will become more identifiable and stopped as we move along in our war. At some point, they will be identified before they enter the country. ISIS or some offspring of it will continue to function in the Middle East. It is only when America says, “Enough, solve your own problems,” that we will be able to breathe easily again. If “secure the homeland” is a dirty turn of phrase, forgive me. However, I don’t want to see more gold star flags hanging in more windows than are already there. We can “preserve, protect, and defend” the United States of America by putting our own nation first and let other nations solve their own problems.

The United Nations appears to be a useless group of foreign representatives suckling at the American teat and little else. Let us move their headquarters to someplace like Belgium, Luxemburg, or Lichtenstein, and see how quickly they dissolve or get their collective acts together to solve the world’s problems. America is too rich and too developed a nation to be playing host to a bunch of spies and neer-do-wells. Is this laissez-faire attitude going to work? No, because it will never receive bi-partisan support, nor will Wall Street allow it to happen. It would be nice to give it an honest try; to attempt to make other nations wholly responsible for their actions. We can’t; we’re America. We’re the supposed 800-pound gorilla in the room. That’s why poor families raise cannon fodder and we cry crocodile tears when they’re blown to pieces. If we really cared about our young men and women, we’d be expanding our efforts to keep them out of harm’s way rather than putting them directly in its path.

We have a great many problems in our own country that are in dire need of solutions. We need solutions to our problem of poverty. We need solutions to our problem of racial injustice and profiling. We need a unified, national police force that is fully trained and fairly paid. We need to stop teaching our children to pass some damned standardized test and teach them what it means to be a citizen of this country. We need more, better trained, and again, fairly paid, teachers. We need term limits for members of Congress to weed out the do-nothings, hangers-on, and radical assholes who somehow find their way into Congressional seats every now and then. We don’t need equalization of wealth, because if you’ve got the brains and ideas, God Bless You for making the money you’ve made, but we do need workers who are paid above a poverty level to build what you’ve designed or to sell what you have made. We need equal pay for equal work. We need to stop treating women like second-class citizens by telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies. Our problems are tremendous; they’re hard to solve and they will continue to get harder until and unless we take some positive steps to address them. However, remember this: Over half of the Pilgrims who made the voyage on the Mayflower died before a year had passed – OVER HALF – yet the rest didn’t just lay down and die. Seventy-five thousand colonists died in the Revolutionary War; that’s 1 in 20 what we now call Americans. Yet, the men who signed the Constitution didn’t give up and say, “Screw this; take it back England.” No, the problems of their day were no more or less complex than the problems we face today. Sure, the world’s a smaller place, and the problems are terrifying. Problems of the magnitude facing the Pilgrims and the colonials and that guy who lives down the street from you today are daunting, but they can be solved. That’s our job – yours and mine – to chip in and ask what we can do to help solve those problems. No, I won’t give you the Jack Kennedy tag line; you can do that for yourself. I will say a couple of things: “If you see something, say something,” and “Don’t listen to fear-mongers and loud mouthed know-nothings like Donald Trump, because he’s not worth your time.”

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What a piece of work is man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a God!                                                                                                             William Shakespeare

This will be my 1,000th post on this blog.

Several thoughts come immediately to mind: First and foremost, “What a mouthy bastard!” More polite and I hope more important, “He’s had some interesting things to say.” That sounds a great deal like ego talking and, I suppose it is. However, I admit that I did have a very real purpose in starting this blog. Quite simply, it was to get readers to think. Did it work? Yeah, sometimes it did. I could always count on people like Jerry Burke, Mark Ford, Patti Cahill, Jim Gaudet, Georgia Patterson, Bill Mahoney, and a few other friends to either argue vehemently with me or even back me up on occasion. Once in a while, a few people I didn’t know would made a comment, some good; some bad, but they did comment.

I didn’t want this post to be dull and boring, but it sure looks like it’s started that way. Politics is always a good topic but it just tends to piss some people off while others yell, “Right on, babe; go get ‘em,” and besides, I’ve just about ridden this political horse until it’s ready to drop, ergo, that one heads almost immediately into the trash bin. The do-nothing Congress is also fodder for my keyboard but I tell ya, they aren’t worth the key strokes to criticize them. I swear ISIS accomplishes more in a day than our Congress can accomplish in eight years…useless; just absolutely useless.

I’ve considered doing some follow-up pieces on law enforcement versus the black community. I read where a Washington Post reporter went to Chicago to examine exactly what the problem is in that city; he came away, if I’m not mistaken, with the impression that the biggest ‘gang’ in the windy city is actually the police department itself. It may very well be true in a number of large cities, particularly those that don’t understand where and when to place what officers in what districts. In addition, it’s not always the easiest thing to recruit minority officers, whether they are black, Latino, or Asian. Of course that’s not a problem unique to law enforcement. When I was working at Northeastern University, I remember the head of the history department complaining that he couldn’t land a black Ph.D. because Northeastern couldn’t afford to pay the person what he could get from the “richer” schools, At that time, any minority with a terminal degree was actively recruited and could pretty much name their own terms. Fortunately, today, there are more and more non-whites with doctorates…unfortunately, they still don’t gravitate toward academia as much as I’d personally like to see.

Racial problems, government problems, poverty problems, pharmaceutical problems, a myriad of problems confront both the United States and the world. Is that what I really want this brief essay to discuss? What do we do about the gang violence that is on the increase in cities, towns, and sometimes villages across the US? What can China, the US, and India, among others, do to reduce pollution and their country’s contribution to global warming? How do we stop the increase in national poverty levels around the world…and the US is just as guilty as many of the nations we speak of with a degree of disgust?  How do we ensure that individuals and pharmaceutical companies become more altruistic when it comes to saving lives, particularly the lives of America’s veterans…they put it all on the line for us; unfortunately, the pharmaceuticals see profits and not people as their bottom line.

It seems that a world without problems is the ultimate impossible dream…that and the Cubs winning the World Series, despite all of the nasty things that happen, somehow, this old planet seems to limp along. There is a whale of a lot of good being done, some of it by people with resources sufficient to make their contributions newsworthy, people like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg; some of it by people without the proverbial pot but who are willing to give of their time and effort to help others. Perhaps I’m prejudiced but I’ve never seen as dedicated a group of volunteers as I find at the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge each year. They may not ride a bicycle or raise a pile of money for the Dana Farber Cancer Center, but the hours and hours of time given by those volunteers does this old man’s heart good. That just happens to be one organization with which I’m familiar. Multiply that by the tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of volunteers in this country and abroad and it’s very easy to see that for all of the bad we read about and watch on TV, there’s an equal amount of good that never makes it to the headlines.

As I finish this up on Thursday, the day after the San Bernadino massacre, I have to pause and think about the comments I’ve been hearing on television. “How do you feel, knowing that your wife will survive?” is about as asinine a question as could have been asked. Almost as stupid was Paul Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, insinuating that these shootings are mental health issues. That is making an excuse for people who are actually evil. That’s right, evil. If evil is a mental condition, then I’m Howdy Doody on puppet strings. Can’t anyone get it through their heads that evil exists in the world and that this is merely another manifestation of it? Perhaps mental health legislation is in need of revision; I won’t doubt that for a moment. Legislation regarding the payment to our military is also in need of serious adjustment. Legislation regarding who is able to purchase guns is in need of serious adjustment. A great deal of legislation is in need of serious study and adjustment, but please, please, please don’t try to blame all of these shooting on mental health issues. There is evil in this world and we are sticking our collective heads in the sand if we don’t believe that the bulk of these mass killings are merely evil in nature.

I hope to be able to write another thousand essays before I day. A while ago, I said, “This is it; I’m done.” However, that was the coward’s way out. I will continue to write about topics that interest me; sometimes they’ll be happy and (I hope) a little humorous; others will attempt to get readers thinking about what they can do to make a positive difference in this world of ours. ‘Til  next time, be well.

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