Friday, July 29, 2005

Taking Tech for Granted

I got some lunch downtown a little while ago, enjoying the sultry weather our town is so well known for during the summertime (if you call just-this-side of triple-digits, so humid you could steam Chinese dumplings without a pot sultry). I'd decided to try out a new coffee-house, now ensconsed in an infamous former gay bar/dance club and take my chances that no one from my office was driving by, seeing me walk in and forgetting that it has new, less-controversial owners these days. The food was pretty good; white bean soup with what I presumed was Cuban bread slices liberally doused in garlic and mashed flat as a piece of paper and toasted. I watched the flat-screen LCD TV on the wall after having paid for things with my debit card.

On the walk back I must have passed five different ATMs within a block and a half of each other (with at least two or three more down the side streets). I remembered when the old bank I used to work in, sold many times over and folded into some multi-state monstrosity by now, installed its first ATM years ago. It had a single-line screen to read instructions with and would certainly look like the financial equivalent of a Model T now, but it sure was cool when it first came out. It made me think about how quickly we become accustomed to advances in techology, to the point that we forget what life was like without them.

When I was a freshman in college, there was a "computer room" one could go to in the University Union to take advantage of some of the newest big-iron technology (i.e., a mainframe computer with dumb terminals and punch-card programs). I'd seen the latest and greatest in video games earlier that year (PONG) and looked forward to trying out some of the games that were for public use. Lunar Lander and Cannon were my favorites; pure command line enjoyment. I did get to try Star Trek one time; they'd cautioned that it was probably a one-time only exercise because the program was such a memory hog. It was fun, but I got hammered pretty good in the first few minutes by the Klingons and, when I tried to reboot, it crashed. Now my kids complain when our by-now archaic 900 mhz clunker takes a while (seconds) to load something up. Speed kills, as the fighter pilots say, and speed in computers becomes addictive; you can't go back to old, slow PCs. You've always gotta have the fastest one out there, even if you don't need it.

Take the Internet for example. I first saw the Internet on a dial-up connection we had in our office sometime in 1993, I think, maybe early 1994. I got to see the coffee pot that students at Oxford had set up one of the early webcams on so they could see if any coffee was made before going down the hallway to get some. One of our former employees, now an appellate judge somewhere, looked up a porn site (ah, for the good old days of innocence! Now he'd be taken out and shot). Our computer guru, a friend for a while by this point, who'd helped to get our office on the nearly cutting edge of technology since the mid-Eighties, looked at me and said, "What good is the Internet, anyway?". Now we've gotten rid of our dial-up connection at home and gotten a broadband hookup (more expensive, naturally); I had to use dial-up on my recent vacation and had forgotten how slowly (relatively speaking) graphics and text load up. I had to remind myself that our first modem in the old days transmitted at speeds that allowed you to literally see one letter at a time popping up on the screen. A short memo took HOURS to view.

My youngest daughter likes to refer to "old" technology as "ghetto". She called my wife's first cellphone the "ghetto" phone because the screen was hard to read, it barely got reception in most places and it was a real handful to hold. I didn't have the heart to tell her about our first real cellphone, purchased in response to our old Gran Prix cutting out on the interstate one day with my wife and the two girls while I was in Court. A kind fellow in a Mercedes stopped and let her call our office with HIS cellphone and waited around until I showed up to take them on to our in-laws and call for a wrecker from their place (since I didn't a cellphone either). Our first one had to plug into the cigarette lighter and was about half the size of a briefcase. It worked, don't laugh. The youngest now has her OWN cellphone, a slider with a huge color screen and a digital camera built into it.

ATM machines, which started this off, was an amazing advance for us on vacations when they first came out. We'd gone to Nashville one summer for a vacation, with our then two year old eldest in tow. We were getting a little light in the cash department after visiting the Grand Ole Opry and, upon leaving the town, headed towards the nearest ATM that would work with my debit card from my credit union--it was in Smyrna, where Toyota had a truck plant (and where my father was stationed for a while upon his return from Italy, working on B-24s and B-17s at the training base there). Now my card works just about everywhere in the U.S.A. and probably in various countries around the globe (assuming I can ever get to any of them). In Chicago a couple of summers ago, I was amazed to see a Citibank ATM with all sorts of graphics and easy to understand instructions, better than anything I've seen in our little backwater yet (still, you have to wonder why they put braille instructions on ATM machines in drive-throughs!).

I grew up in a house with no air-conditioning, where the height of technology was the rotary dial telephone, connected to old Ma Bell. We did have a console TV/record player/radio (made by Curtis Mathes and "darn well worth it", according to the ads) and I eventually got a reel-to-reel tape recorder (with Add-A-Track technology) to record some of my piano playing. I got a clock radio sometime in my high school years (with numbers that flipped down with the counting minutes and hours) that I used to listen to "Radio Free Tampa" from USF along with the classical music they played at nights. Those were simpler times, I suppose, and you learned to get along without technology when disasters happened, because you really didn't have any technology to depend on for the most part. We didn't worry about the cable going out and depriving us of MTV since cable was for the rich and we got our programming through the air and captured by our antenna (and who could have possibly imagined MTV in the 1960's?).

I don't have any idea what my girls would do without the modern conveniences we have. Florida would be a ghost town if all air conditioning disappeared tomorrow. All the snow birds and Yankees would wilt and go home. The whiners would move back to more temperate climes and Disney World and Busch Gardens would probably be reclaimed by nature and the remaining humans would move slower and be more at peace with themselves, not constantly in contact with stress-inducing catastrophes and family disasters and problems through the Internet and over cellphones. Maybe that's not such a bad idea after all?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Back to the Salt Mines

My vacation is over and I'm back, slogging away at my job.

What is it about employment that as soon as you return from a long weekend or a vacation it seems as if you've never been away? Malaise? I just know that it seems to be a settled rule of life that having money is great fun; making money is usually a pain in the rear end, even if you really enjoy what you do.

It isn't that I don't like being a lawyer, or more specifically, a prosecutor. Actually, it's a much better job than I ever would have thought myself capable of when I was in high school. My wife has a lot to do with me being here; I'd graduated with what was essentially a dual major in History and Government in 1977 and had a job for a while at a local bank. I was working in the collections end of things (and I do mean END; it is the crappy side of banking, believe me) on probationary status and got canned finally because I was too nice to those who owed the bank money. I was unemployed for a while, started working day jobs to make money to live on, then got a job with the State of Florida as a secretary in a unit that handled the bed spaces for the various psychiatric facilities run by the State. I did that for a while, then got on with another State Agency that was doing data entry for the old CETA program (a joint Federal/State grant-based mess). That job at least put a few beans on the table, but by then I was going steady with my girlfriend and she knew that at least ONE of us had to have a decent job if we were ever going to get married. One Thanksgiving she told me that she was thinking about going to the local law school, since her career in Special Education had been driving her slowly insane; I figured, "Gee, if she can do it, maybe I can!" and I promptly spent time at my increasingly dead-end-and-soon-to-be-cancelled-by-the-Reagan Administration job studying for the exam to test my ability to reason (which, considering my life choices during the preceeding couple of decades, was rather suspect). I got in and soon realized that my girlfriend wasn't following me into the hallowed halls of legal education; she'd attained her goal of getting me to aim a little higher.

I soon discovered that many of my fellow law school-attendees were in the same boat; having earned a perfectly good, but rather useless degree in college and unwilling to continue uttering the time-honored phrase, "Would you like fries with that, Sir?", we had set out to learn another language and another way of thinking. There's something to be said for legal training (besides the oft-quoted line from Shakespeare, and probably wrongly so by those who hate the legal profession,"First, let's kill all the lawyers"), as it does help you see the world in a different light. Instead of the chaos one sees in the news, you now see potential clients and new realms of practice.

I also discovered that law school was NOT like what I saw in the movie/TV show, "Paper Chase"; there was no Professor Kingsley around to torture the prospective JDs with sharp questioning in the Socratic method (at least most of the time), usually it was just one burned out lawyer from the private sector after another who'd gotten tired of paying malpractice insurance and chasing after clients, who'd figured out that teaching two or three classes a week, publishing a few times a year and getting a State Pension at the end of it all was, if not more lucrative than their prior professional life, at least a lot less stress-inducing. One professor would just come into class and babble about his having a skybox with season tickets for a professional football team because he'd done good legal work for them in years past. Another tortured my classmates and I by making us read Kafka short stories and assigning us to then somehow, someway, write a major paper worth a good portion of our grade, tying that tortured soul's ideas to Administrative Law (though, having practiced law now for twenty-one years, I'm finally beginning to see some of the parallels).

I got married at the end of my second year in law school and my wife and I moved into the married students' housing (aka "The Village"). I did an internship during my last year with the local prosecutor's office and enjoyed my semester there more than the previous two and a half years of school put together. I managed to graduate (NOT in the upper half of my class, mind you) and even more amazingly, managed to pass the Bar Exam the first time (which some in the upper half of the class DIDN'T). Then I tried to get a job with my newly minted sheepskin. I went to a Job Fair at an Annual Bar Meeting; no one sounded too interested in my qualifications. I interviewed at a Job Fair at the Law School; no one had any openings. I drove to a small town in Central Florida for what ended up being a fifteen-minute interview and no interest on the side of either party involved. I finally interviewed in the prosecutor's office in my Sun Coast hometown and was hired; a week later, in the midst of planning to move, I ran into one of the guys who'd supervised me as an intern in the local office at lunch and he told me they had an opening. I called, got the job ($500.00 less per year than the job I'd already been offered) and stayed.

After I passed the Bar Exam, I got put in our office's version of Siberia. Only one prosecutor worked in that area (with five secretaries) and the office was literally across the street in a storefront (because our main office didn't have the room for all the files at the time). I ended up moving offices four times after that until we all ended up at the new Courthouse, built in 1989. Our offices are already too small and I don't have one of the coveted window offices (coveted until you move into one and realize that the sun coming through the windows creates an oven-like atmosphere in your office), but I've been here a lot longer than most of the folks who've come through in the interim. I've outlived a few of them too.

It's not the greatest paying job in the world, but it's put enough beans on the table to raise two daughters and allow us to take a vacation every year. I'll have a full pension in six and a quarter years (an even better one, assuming the Big Elephant-types who run things in Florida these days don't wake up and kill the supplementary work-while-technically-still-retired program, in eleven and a quarter). Yes, I dream about winning the lottery and yes, I think that things could be better, but unless I wanted to chuck it all and go into my profession of the heart (Historian) and be willing to starve for the rest of my life until the partial pension kicks in (or I win the Lottery), I'll stay in the legal profession and put up with the pay, the whiners (victims and defendants), the political nature of things and the revolving door secretarial staff until I retire or, like a public defender friend of mine a couple of years back, they carry me out on my shield.

So, while I do complain and moan and groan, mostly to myself, occasionally to my dog and cat, other times to my wife, working in the figurative salt mines is preferable to shaking out the byproduct of the real thing on deep-fried spuds at the local burger-haus. Now, if I could only win the Lottery...

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Secret Me

If you've read any of my earlier posts, you'll notice that I seem to be a bit obsessive about the idea of self-perception versus the perception of yourself by others. I guess I'm fascinated by this concept because it goes to the very roots of who and what we are as individuals. But if you think about it carefully, there are really TWO of each of us. The first is the individual WE think we are; the other is the person OTHERS think we are. Unfortunately, the two individuals that are each of us are rarely compatible and that leads to a lot of conflict.

I know myself better than anyone (at least that's what I tell myself). YOU know the other me, the me that is secret from myself. I don't think I'm a bad person; in fact, I think my motives for my actions and words are generally pretty good, pretty well-thought out and rational . YOU may think that I'm rude, obnoxious, self-centered and unfriendly. There may be truth in both versions, but getting you to see the me I know is pretty tough. If I babble on incessantly about my inner views, then I'm obsessive about myself; on the other hand, if I don't talk about my feelings and inner views, then I'm secretive and self-centered.

It reminds me of a line out of Kurt Vonnegut's great book, Mother Night. For those of you who've never read it, Mother Night basically involves an American whose parents moved to Germany in the post-WWI period for business purposes, so the boy is raised in German culture, marries a German woman and becomes a well-known playwright of light romantic stage works that become popular with the Nazi heirarchy. Just before the outbreak of WWII, the protagonist is recruited by an American intelligence agent to transmit information in codes during his weekly radio broadcasts; the only problem is that he can never tell anyone that he was working for the Allies and Uncle Sam will always disavow him, a situation that leads to personal tragedy. Anyway, there's a point where the protagonist, writing from an Israeli prison cell, awaiting his execution as a war criminal, says that he basically got along with the Nazi leaders pretty well--he saw them as regular guys for the most part--and only saw them in retrospect as trailing slime beind them.

I think that's why there's so much conflict on an interpersonal basis; we don't see ourselves as trailing slime behind us when we do something stupid or evil. That's usually left up to others to see and comment upon, usually to our consternation and dispute. That's why Robbie Burns, the Scottish poet, wanted a mirror to see himself as others did. Every once in a while we get that flash of insight that tells us more about ourselves than we really want to know and we hate it, since we don't want to see ourselves as anything but respectable. The insight usually comes from people we can't stand or from those who are closest to us, but the sting from the blow is just as painful either way.

Does this mean that the real ME is the one everyone sees and comments upon? No, no more so than the ME I see in the mirror, whose thoughts circulate around every action like a whirlpool, is the total person either. I think the person we are is an amalgam of the two individuals, the inner ME and the outward ME, and our lives are always going to be in a constant state of flux to get those two individuals to coordinate somehow, to help others see our thoughts and actions for what we intended them to be and to see the perceptions of those same thoughts and actions in the eyes of others.

Makes me just want to go home and have a cold beer for myself; the other me wants a shot of bourbon.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

It Ain't the Fall that Kills You...

I'm on the tail end of a two week vacation from work. The original plan was to go to my hometown of Sarasota for a day or two, then to a conference in Marco Island and then go to a place in Central Florida that has a lot of old airplanes on display. Unfortunately, Hurricane Dennis interrupted those plans at the last minute. We'd already left and were about half way to the turpentine paradise of Perry when I called my office and discovered that the powers-that-be had cancelled things in the face of 130+ MPH winds. Wimps.

Anyway, we went back home and rode out the rain and winds we got from the fringes of Dennis. Nothing bad, until the late afternoon when a cherry tree limb fell in the yard. It didn't damage anything, but had to be disposed of, so the next day I got out my trusty electric chainsaw and started making a big pile out of the big limb. When I was nearly done with the cherry limb, my wife reminded me that she really wanted a couple of old crepe myrtles taken down as well, so I worked on those as well. Yup, we'll have lots of firewood this winter.

The next day, Tuesday, I went out and around doing some more chores. I'd decided that there was too much pine straw on the roof of our utility building, so I got out the aluminum extention ladder and a rake to clear the needles away. It was then time to work on the roof of our house, so I set up the ladder on the back porch eave, climbed up and swept things off. I was feeling pretty good about my labors and proceeded to dismount myself from the roof; I got my feet on the ladder rung and began to turn around to climb down when I heard the rattle of the aluminum and realized that the ladder was moving left and, like a cartoon character on TV, I found myself exiting Stage Right.

This business of people saying that your whole life flashes in front of you in situations like mine is a bunch of hooey; about all I had time for was to go "Oh CRAP!" and realize that my legs were still tied up in the ladder rungs and that I was about to be well educated in the Law of Gravity. The fall was probably about eight feet and I landed on my right side, mostly on my shoulder and hip. Oddly enough, the best description of the landing, besides PAIN, was a feeling of gray. What the heck is "gray"? I don't know, but I really don't want to experience it again. I didn't black out (almost wish I had before the impact) but it was like a big gray thing moved from the point of impact upwards. It didn't last long and was replaced by the sharp twinges of pain from all sorts of places. Nothing snapped, popped or cracked and I was still breathing, no bright light beckoning me to a better place, so I figured I'd managed to avoid the Grim Reaper this time.

I was wondering if anyone had seen me take the big fall. My youngest daughter was on the computer with a window directly facing my position and my wife was doing some art work at the kitchen table not too far from the area either, but for those few seconds I was thinking that I was going to have to make my way into the house on my own. Soon enough, however, my wife, daughter and Emily (the dog) came out to see what I'd done to myself and to see if I was OK (actually, Emily probably came out to see if there was fresh meat to be had and if the position of Alpha Dog had been suddenly vacated). Of course, my wife's first words to were wonder what the hell I'd been thinking, getting up on the roof on a ladder without someone to spot for me, a sentiment that, by then, I'd been thinking a lot myself.

I slowly got up off of the ground (at least I'd had the good sense to test Galileo's theories by choosing the relatively soft earth versus the unyielding concrete of the front driveway or the rough concrete pavers that were a couple of feet to the left of where I fell). Did I mention that the electric chainsaw was on the pavers about two feet to the left of my crater as well? That would've been a lot of fun to fall on. Everything worked, but everything hurt. That evening and the next day found me mostly in bed on in a chair with an ice pack and taking ibuprofen.

During this time we'd been coming up with alternative plans for a vacation. Now that I was much too sore to do yard or house work for a while, the planning became in earnest. We finally ended up with Charleston, SC. My wife drove our van to the Palmetto State while I kept ice on all my sensitive areas. The next day or so in the hotel we stayed in, I began to notice a lot of delayed-action bruises coming up. My right thigh had a couple of big knots in it, the right side of my ribcage had a nice long yellow and purple one, the inside of my right leg below the knee also had a good one from the left knee hitting it and my right buttock had (and still has) a really wonderful fist-sized one the color of a ripe eggplant. My shoulder, while it worked, hurt to move in certain directions.

Our vacation was wonderful, despite my injuries. I think the humidity and heat of Charleston acted like a giant heating pad, bathing the sore areas with a soothing comfort. Even the pool of our hotel had water about the temperature of a hot bath, so the aches and pains weren't so obvious. The bed in our room was about as firm as a marshmallow, but that also worked to my advantage, since returning home last night to our more firm mattress exposed the pain in my shoulder more than the other one did all week.

Like the old saying goes, it ain't the fall that kills you. The fall wasn't so bad, just my hurried panic at realizing that I'd done a really stupid thing and the quick anticipation of what might have killed me--that sudden stop at the end. There's an old photo in Life Magazine from many years ago of a very lovely young woman, dressed to the nines in heels and pearls, lying on the roof of a car, which you notice is smashed in the shape of her body. The caption told you that she was an aspiring model who'd gone to the Big City in search of a career, but that in the meanwhile she'd been working as a secretary. Apparently things hadn't gone very well, either in her career aspirations or possibly her love life, and she'd decided to dress up and jump out of a very high building, landing on the roof of someone's car many floors below. The fall hadn't disfigured her face or body, at least not what you could see from the photograph. She just looked like a beautiful young thing who'd gotten tired and decided to climb on top of someone's car in the middle of a major metropolitan complex for a nap. I've always wondered what SHE thought about during the fall; she sure had a lot more time than I had during my comparatively short drop to think about what it was going to be like when the final judgment of the law of gravity was carried out.

So, am I sitting around the house for my last few days of vacation comtemplating the direction of my life and making plans for some big changes? Nah, I'd have to be really busted up to do that, a few bruises and sore spots aren't enough to make me think about dropping everything to become a monk or perhaps go into realty. Actually, Charleston did give me one idea that, while I doubt it'll take place, was tantallizing for a time: GELATO. We had gelato in Charleston, the Italian version of ice cream and even the Dairy Queen vanilla cone I had on the way back just wasn't the same. Gelato is denser and had a much more wonderful set of flavors than anything I've ever had before in any other shop. I now imagine buying some high-end gelato machines and renting a store front to sell gelato, making my fortune in spreading the gospel of tasty frozen treats in the relative backwater of our State Capital. I'd probably have to call it "Luigi's Gelato" or something similar, since no one thinks an old Anglo-Saxon like me would know anything about making Italian ice cream. Then maybe I could franchise, spead it out over the Southern States like Krispy-Kreme and make a fortune during the IPO, then have a big scandal when the investors all lose their shirts. Nope, I'll just enjoy my last few days out of the office and try to figure out how to get over my newly-discovered phobia of ladders to paint the house.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Will Tom Cruise EVER Shut Up?

I've been watching, with some odd mixture of fascination, horror and amusement, the media coverage of Tom Cruise, one of the better-liked actors of our generation, who's rarely made much of a misstep in his career, well at least until the last couple of years. We all used to like the boyish, handsome little fella because he was charming, because we knew of his dyslexia and because of his storybook romance with the lovely Aussie, Nicole Kidman. Then, seemingly all of a sudden, Tom goes nuts, divorces Nicole and eventually gets engaged to little Katie Holmes. He's figuratively opened a hole in his brain and is letting everything hang out on various TV shows, telling us how much HE knows and how little the rest of US know about various topics ranging from post-partum depression, chemical imbalances of the mind and aliens in outer space. In short, we're seeing a real-life version of the movie "Being John Malkovich", in which someone figures out how to enter some weird portal into the brain of the real actor, John Malkovich, and lives his life through his eyes, only this time we're being force-fed Tom's rather bizarre views, tinged as they are by Scientology and the corrupting influence of being a celebrity in the United States.

What makes someone like Cruise babble away on national TV about things he so obviously knows absolutely NOTHING about? Did he forget that he's dyslexic? Maybe he's seeing everything in a mixed-up manner and thinks that everyone else is seeing it in that way as well? I'd say, who knows and who cares, but obviously someone cares or at least our national media THINKS we care, enough to run Tom twenty-four hours a day and put him on front covers as he slobbers all over Katie, his apparent beloved (I don't know about you, but I'm a little creeped out by the fact that Katie has spoken about how she had a poster of Tom in her bedroom when she was in ELEMENTARY SCHOOL! That this doesn't seem to bother the significantly older Tom is exceedingly troubling to me, if for nothing else than to know that the sweet-little thang he's going to marry had a crush on him when she was still learning to read and write.).

What makes guys like ME write in blogs, babbling about thoughts we have that'll never make the nightly news or the front page of the newspaper? Most of this stuff I write about would probably bore the tears out of a bartender in a corner dive during an evening bender, but I can get away with it to some degree in a blog because you, dear reader, can take it or leave it. I'm not the subject of national obsessions and therefore forced on you during every waking hour. Maybe Tom and I do have something in common; the desire to be known somehow for who we really are.

The big problem with letting people know who we really are, what we really think, is that, most of the time, what we are and think is probably incredibly boring to others, who are also want to believe that what THEY are and what THEY think should be known by others. Shelby Foote, one of my heros, who wrote a three-volume history of the Civil War (and who, sadly, died this week at 88), hated going to parties and once said that, "Truth be known, most people are incredible bores.". I know that's rather cynical, but it is true once you realize that the people who are truly fascinating, who really are interesting, are the people who aren't trying to be known, but who are trying to get to know YOU. They are the ones who are giving of themselves, who try to support you and try to find out how to satisfy your needs somehow, the givers, the sacrificers. That's the ultimate contradiction in life; in trying to be known, we can bore the hell out of everyone else, but in getting to know others, we can become absolutely fascinating.

Think about the people who have our interest most of the time; they aren't the ones seeking publicity, they are the ones who shun it. Greta Garbo, who famously said in a movie that she just wanted to be left alone, did just that for decades and probably became more famous for that than any of her movie roles. The portrait of Mona Lisa, with that wry smile, intrigues us because we don't know what's going on in her thoughts, but we'd love to know and never will. That's the secret, folks; keep some mystery about yourself and people will flock to you. Babble on and on about yourself and everyone will get bored awfully quickly and, even if you discover the cure for cancer or the common cold, eventually everyone will take a hike to someone with a bit more enigma about themselves. I can't just watch Tom Cruise in a movie anymore and enjoy his performance for what it is; now I see all his thoughts, misshapen and wacky as they may be, behind those lady-killer eyes and realize that I really, really don't want to know much about him anymore.

The moral of the story, dear reader? Shut up and look for the mysteries; they'll find you soon enough.

Friday, July 01, 2005

On Being Short-Sighted

I've been short-sighted since around the eighth grade, when my piano teacher, Mrs. Lamont, noticed that I was having to squint a lot to see the notes during my practice sessions. I wish I had the vision now that I had then; I could probably get along pretty well now with my vision from those days. My vision now is pretty bad and getting worse. I can barely see things up close without having to take my glasses off, even with graduated lenses (a fancy version of bifocals). It's a pain, though during Christmas the view of a Christmas tree without my glasses is pretty nice; little lights become huge puff-balls of color, but that's pretty much the highlight of having degenerating sight.

As time has gone along, my prescriptions have gotten stronger and stronger, though luckily technology has kept up to some degree. The newer plastic lenses are lighter and much thinner than comparative glass lenses would have been and the new titanium-alloy "memory" frames are wonderful. The biggest thing I have to worry about now is keeping the lenses clean, since if I just wipe them off with any old thing sitting around, a tissue or shirt, the various non-glare, UV-resistant coatings will scratch off. I have to use a cleaning solution and a microfiber cloth to keep the lenses in good shape from year to year. The optical health policy I have through the State allows an examination every year, new lenses once a year and new frames every two years. I've managed to get a pair of prescription sunglasses and a pair of regular glasses in the deal and trade off on the new lenses every year. The frames I have now will last me a while, I think, and are worth the extra money I have to pay to get them over and above the policy allowance (the standard pair probably look like the ones the military hands out to privates in boot camp).

I'm more worried about the short-sightedness I'm seeing in our county nowadays, however. We seem to be so foolish and thinking only about the hear and now, not what'll happen ten, fifteen or thirty years down the road. Oil prices, race relations, educational costs and foreign policy matters all seem to be headed down paths that, while not bad now, will be terrible in the future. I hate to think what life will be like for my daughters when they are my age if things keep going the way they are.

I suppose the short-sightedness on the national level is a reflection of our personal myopia. I deal with criminals (and people who, for whatever reason, commit crimes; for the record, there IS a difference between someone who is occasionally stupid and someone who commits crimes for a living) and am constantly amazed at the disconnect in a person's brain between their actions and the resultant consequences. Yes, committing crimes USUALLY does result in being arrested or having to appear in court and getting sentenced to pay money, do time in jail or in some other fashion having your liberties curtailed, but this fact doesn't seem to register on the folks I have to deal with.

It gets worse; why do you think there's rampant sexually transmitted diseases out there? Why do you think people don't invest for emergencies or for their retirement and get surprised by having to eat Alpo when bad things happen? Why did a lot of people only invest in Enron? Why do people smoke, drink alcohol to excess and do drugs, illegal or not? Because they aren't seeing much beyond the end of their nose philosophically; they are taking the quick and easy route, the road that they can't see ends up going off the sheer cliff of disaster.

Sometimes, such myoptic behavior patterns stem from desperation, when people take the first rope handed to them from the other side of the cliff, not realizing that the rope leads to the OTHER side of the cliff and equally dire consequences. Those folks I have a little bit better regards for, since they are dancing as fast as they can. It's the people that keep making bad decisions because they won't stop to think before they leap over the cliff that drive me crazy; they should be able to see the rocks and broken glass on the other side, but something else is driving them to do the stupid thing. I wish I knew what it was, since at least it would keep my frustration level down a bit when I have to deal with them.

I know that emotion carries some of the blame for our actions, when we haven't trained ourselves to think before jumping into the abyss. I've cut loose sometimes with family and others when I shouldn't have and been immediately sorry. Sometimes it is only with twenty-twenty hindsight that we see where we screwed up. Too bad they can't make corrective lenses for THAT.