Thursday, September 29, 2005

What Does the Future Hold?

There's a job out there that I'd love to have and cannot, for the life of me, understand how someone gets: Futurist. These are folks who peer into a crystal ball of some sort and look for social, political and technological trends and what they might morph into ten, twenty or thirty years down the road. The big problem is that years later, when someone rereads those predictions, sometimes the Futurist ends up looking like a real idiot when history takes a right when he took a left.

It's got to be a tough job, trying to pull the future out of current trends. I find myself amused at sci-fi shows from the 1960s, like the original "Star Trek", talking about advanced space travel happening in the 1990s, when we're having trouble keeping the Space Shuttle fleet operating halfway through the first decade of the 21st century. I doubt that anyone foresaw the changes that the personal computer and cellphones would have on our world when they were first introduced. When the Internet was first installed in our office in the very early Nineties, everyone looked at it with great curiosity and wondered what in the world we'd ever do with it; now we look up Driver's Licenses, addresses and telephone numbers of long-lost defendants and grind out letters to them on our desktops to remind them of old obligations. I never thought that I'd be lugging around a cellphone everyday when I got my first one years ago; it would have required a shoulder strap to carry around and I'd probably be glowing in the dark now from all the radiation that thing emitted. Now I clip my new Sanyo phone to my belt every morning and await the world's interest in all things Blue (usually just my wife calling to check on my day or my daughters bugging me about something).

Unfortunately, my view of the future isn't real optimistic. It isn't because our technology won't advance, because it will; it isn't because answers to society's problems and ills aren't available, because they are; no, I'm not optimistic because of basic human nature. "Star Trek" has it all wrong--one of the movies had Captain Picard talking about how we'd managed to advance beyond greed and avarice and become more noble in our treatment of each other and other species--but I haven't really seen any indication that we're moving in that direction. If anything, it looks like we're moving backwards, though I honestly think we're in a state of stagnation. Our mistreatment of others continues (think Hitler was the last guy to act on "ethnic cleansing"? Just look at the old Yugoslavia with its struggles between "Christians" and "Muslims" or Chad, where apparently the Muslim government is trying to wipe out the Christian minority. In Zimbabwe, President Mugabe is working hard to make life untenable for white settlers and farmers, to supposedly give the land back to the native Africans, though his main success so far has been to destroy one of the few prosperous economies in that continent) and we've managed to keep destroying the natural habitat that keeps us alive in order to maintain our comfortable lifestyles.

What about God's Chosen Country, the U.S. of A? Well, the latest hurricanes have shown that the poor, even in emergencies, get quickly forgotten about until a TV camera shows the disparity for the world to see. The religious right and the Big Elephant neo-cons have worked hard to begin to turn our country into a theocracy, run by those who KNOW better than the rest of us, those to whom God continually speaks and shares his wisdom with (like the old slave-owners of the South, who saw in the Old Testament His Wisdom in keeping the child-like and barbaric black race of Africa in chains). We're seeing gangs forming all the time, living for power and violence with a sense of togetherness, rejecting the enlightenment of education because it might make them "too white". We're losing our natural resources because we cannot bear to be without our monster SUVs and power-sucking 50" plasma TVs. Our attention spans have been fractionalized by remote controls and television shows that are 50% commercials, encouraging us to flip, flip, flip to the next bit of sensory overload.

Maybe in twenty years I'll look back at this blog and laugh, wondering how I could have been so short sighted. Maybe I'll read it in my little corner of the American Gulag, established for those who rejected the dictates of God's Chosen leaders and wonder why I didn't do more to stop it.

No, I'm Not a Lyric-Listener

My wife and I had a curious discussion the other day about whether or not I listen to the lyrics of songs on the radio. As a matter of fact, I rarely actually listen to lyrics these days, mostly because I have a difficult time with the way most so-called "singers" manage to butcher their deliveries. Apparently most either are screaming the lyrics or cannot manage to maintain a note longer than a millisecond before smearing the one-syllable word across the chromatic horizon into five or six portions. I thought that I was somehow unusual in that characteristic until I heard a portion of a great NPR show last Saturday called "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" in which a female rocker told the interviewer that she didn't worry about what her husband and kids thought of her sometimes suggestive lyrics because "they aren't lyric-listeners".

As someone who studied classical piano in his youth and who still listens to that genre predominantly, most lyrics don't interest me nearly as much as the melody and the harmony. If it is a good or even great piece of music, I couldn't care less what the words are. I remember in college, during my senior year, my preacher-in-training roommate got furious with me for not listening to the words of a song on the radio that were particularly suggestive; of course, his admonition caused me to listen to the words for probably the first time and I finally figured out what the all the hubbub was about.

Nope, give me melody, give me harmony, give me something I can tap my feet to, something I can be inspired by, weep over, let my mind soar to the heavens with while my body is mired in the mundane. Listening to Chopin is like drinking a great dry white wine; Beethoven is like eating a great meal in a five-star restaurant.

Now, once in a while I do like lyrics, but usually when they are witty or humorous. One of my first CDs was a greatest hits of Spike Jones, the 1940's band leader with wonderful, farsical stuff that made me laugh and still does. The Bob and Tom radio show has lots of comedians who use music to express their sense of humor; the old Eagles' song "Fly Like an Eagle" became "Fry Me an Eagle" in someone's hands and I still laugh out loud when I think of it.

I have to listen to stuff my kids (and wife) prefer to classical when we're taking trips together and so far cannot say that my opinion has changed much over the years. Most of the songs are quickly forgettable. Besides, I'm getting too much stuff crammed into my ever-increasingly fewer brain cells to have to remember to worry about listening to and retaining dime-a-dozen lyrics by a one or two hit wonder.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

On Being Pin-Headed

As I was growing up in Sarasota, I was both a Cub Scout and a Boy Scout. The first Boy Scout troop I belonged to was in the south part of town, meeting at a church quite far away from my home, but my then-best friend belonged to it, so I joined it as well. They "didn't believe" in tent camping, so our camping trips out in the nether regions of Sarasota County were spent in lean-tos, open to the elements and, needless to say, to what some say should be Florida's State Bird, the mosquito. Some of the most miserable nights I've ever spent under the stars were with clouds of skeeters buzzing around my head while I tried to keep a very inadequate netting from letting the little buggers drain me of blood. It's surprising that more of us didn't develop encephalitis.

My friend eventually left the troop and I stayed in, though it wasn't the same. I became an Assistant Patrol leader in my little group and, because the Patrol Leader couldn't attend a camping trip one weekend, I became the Acting Patrol Leader, with all the privileges thereunto appertaining (to lapse into lawyer-speak). I pretty soon figured out that the position wasn't exactly all it was cracked up to be (adolescent boys, even in the Scouts, not being amenable to taking orders, even those that made sense). It got worse in the night, when I was laying down in my lean-to and overheard some of my erstwhile charges talking about the "pin-headed patrol leader".

A few months later I was called during a troop meeting into a little conference with one of the adult leaders; he asked me a few questions about what I thought about the troop and my experiences (which naturally I sugar-coated a bit), then proceeded to tell me that he thought it would be better for all concerned if I left the troop. So, here I was, all-around nice guy, being asked to leave a Boy Scout troop! It was a pretty shocking experience for me and it really hurt my feelings. I eventually joined another troop, one much closer to home, with boys that I saw in school everyday. My time in that troop had its moments as well, but at least I remember the names of a lot of those guys and attended a reunion a few years ago with the remaining leaders and some of the now-grown up boys and their families.

Ever since then, I've hated the idea of people talking about me behind my back. It isn't that I'm paranoid (although I'm really getting tired of those aliens sending me messages through my fillings), but it seems to happen on a pretty regular basis. When I was clerking at a State agency during my last year of law school, I found out that my supervisor was saying some pretty ugly things about me behind my back. When I went to him to see what the trouble was, all was sweetness and light. No wonder all of us referred to him (behind HIS back, naturally) with a pun for a lunchmeat based on his name.

When I worked at a small, two-theater mall cinema in high school and during my first summer back from college, I noticed that some of the old-timers there (remember, this was Sarasota, second only to St. Pete in Florida as a retirement town) got downright odd around me at times. I finally overheard one old doorman talking to the much-younger manager one day about me, with the manager making it sound like it was SO hard to get help that he HAD to keep me on, despite some unnamed shortcomings. I never really figured that one out; I was a bargain at $1.10 per hour, popping the best popcorn in Sarasota in pure coconut oil and the finest artificial flavorings and I could change a roadway sign in the middle of a thunderstorm with the best of them.

My church days were always full of fun and excitement, particularly when one of the "older" brothers told you what was wrong with you. At least they were being honest, in a biblical sort of way, about it. I did find out one time that one of the respected couples of the church saw me go into a liquor store and apparently felt compelled to share that with everyone but me (not that there was anything unbiblical about the liquor store itself, but rather the "impression" I would have given to others, saved or not, about me).

Even now I sometimes wonder what's being said about me when I'm not around. Perhaps that begs the question of what it is that I'm doing (or not doing) that leads others to talk about me. Maybe I worry about it too much, that talking about others behind their backs is a time-honored tradition, a way of blowing off steam or expressing frustration that doesn't necessarily mean that they truly think ill of you. Sure, and that's probably what Abraham Lincoln was thinking at Ford's Theater that fateful night in 1865 when John Wilkes Booth so rudely interrupted his enjoyment of "Our American Cousin".

Maybe being a pin-head has its advantages. I suppose those folks who think that I'm a pin-head, who talk behind my back, think that I never notice or don't care. Maybe they feel superior to me in their criticism, running me down so that they'll feel better about themselves. Maybe they think I'll never do anything about it.

All I have to say is this: I know where you live and you've GOT to go to sleep sometime.

I'm stocking up on Ben-Gay, Super-Glue and indelible dye packs.

Sleep well!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Slogging Through Quicksand

I have a nightmare that reoccurs rather frequently; I'm running as fast as I can from something or someone, but making very little forward progress. It's as if my limbs are made of concrete or I'm running in something thick, like quicksand. I never find out what happens to me when whatever it is that's after me catches up.

There are days when I feel like I'm slogging through quicksand. Everything is passing me by. Life's problems just cannot be outrun on days like that and the old "fight or flight" instinct that's hotwired inside my genetic structure is pretty much limited to the "fight" option, as flight has been eliminated. My dream is probably my subconscious' way of dealing with the frustration of days when I can't run away from the problems that face me.

Our society seems to run on pressure. Europeans look at us like we're crazy, while many of their countries have legislated vacations for their people. Sure, we're more productive than they are in terms of industry and business and we're busy policing the world from bad guys, but are we happier? We're becoming a county of short attention spans and an addiction to quick fixes and adrenalin rushes in everything from entertainment to religion, but the frustration of trying to keep ahead of the next guy, the next disaster or the next family crisis keeps us unfulfilled.

Supposedly big disasters cause us to "reexamine" our lives and priorties. There was a lot of talk about concentrating on what was "important" after 9/11 and we'll probably hear a lot of it in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I'm not dismissing that idea, since Socrates said that the unexamined life wasn't worth living, but we Americans rarely look beyond the surface of issues anymore, choosing rather to polish over the readily viewed imperfections in our society and in our personal lives. When someone calls on us to do so, as did Jimmy Carter with his so-called "Malaise" address to the county, still reeling from Watergate, Nixon's resignation and the aftermath of Vietnam, he was lambasted by many on the Right as a defeatist, leading to Reagan's election and a "New Dawn" in America. All Ronnie did, as far as I could ever tell, was run up a big deficit and tell us that we were the greatest country on earth; he never really addressed the core problems that Carter was trying to get us to see.

Oh well, that's the American Way. Shoot the messenger and ask questions later.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Writer's Block

I haven't written for a while and I'm not really sure why.

It isn't that I haven't anything to say. As I said in an earlier blog, I've got opinions out the wazoo, but the trouble is figuring out what to say that might be interesting to you, the reader, as opposed to me, the writer. Maybe that's why I don't get "modern" art; the artist sees something in what they've slapped down on canvas, but when I look at it, all I see is a bunch of squiggles. I have this sneaking suspicion that all some of you see when you read some of my musings are my mental squiggles.

Political topics are always a fertile source of writing material, but just about everyone in the blogworld seems to write about politics from the Right, the Left and every other conceivable angle and my two cents worth are worth just about that much. I probably tend to ramble on with political ranting more than I should anyway.

On the other hand, I sometimes think that my navel-gazing essays are, well, just that; navel-gazing, and we all know how fascinating it is to watch someone else doing that all the time. Somehow, someway, there are those fortunate folks who get someone else to actually buy a book or article in which navel-gazing is the primary component. Most autobiographies are probably in that category, but my life story will probably never make the best-seller list anytime soon.

Nope, between work and relatively tiny family issues, I just haven't felt much like writing. I cannot even imagine what a professional writer goes through on a daily basis trying to grind out something that everyone, or at least a majority of their audience, will find worth reading.

Gotta go get my youngest daughter from Borders, where she's been going after school a lot lately to "work" on school projects. She's getting ready to turn sixteen next month (two days before I hit the big Five Oh) and is getting more and more antsy to be out of the house and with friends, particularly boys.

That'll give me something to write; my "You toucha my daughter, I breaka you face" lecture. I'll have fun with that one.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Like I Care...

About Brad and Angelina--There's still stuff in tabloids, newspapers and television "entertainment" shows about what's going on with these two morons, juxtaposed against the horrific scenes from the Gulf Coast of corpses rotting on sidewalks and overpasses and survivors quickly descending into Stone Age conditions.

About Brad and Jen--Enough about each one "telling their story" in the media already. Divorces happen all too often in the country as it is and to keep hearing two spoiled, incredibly rich beyond belief, who probably never should have gotten married in the first place "actors" whining every other day in the media has gotten boring, particularly juxtaposed...well, you get the drift.

About College and Pro Football Season--I'm sorry, it's just hard to get really excited about seeing thousands of fans and dozens of monsterously large football players in stadiums when there are tens of thousands of refugees who are slowly dying in stadiums and arenas around the Gulf Coast. I'm all for cancelling at least the early part of the season and using a Federal State of Emergency to take over all the enclosed stadiums and use them for temporary housing. ESPN be damned.

About the fingerpointing--Yep, it's already started. I suspect we'll hear on Rush Limbaugh that it was those sorry Democrats who caused Katrina and Howard Dean will fire back that it has to be all the hot air eminating from the Republicans that caused it all. Katie Couric was roasting the head of FEMA this morning on "Today", asking why the levees hadn't been updated, why earlier plans for dealing with a Cat 3 hurricane hadn't been used, why food and water wasn't getting to New Orleans faster, etc. The mayor of New Orleans has been on radio and TV complaining about everything and everybody. Look, there will be plenty of time later for recriminations and hearings to make everyone involved look stupid. Now is the time for everyone to work together and make sacrifices to help out our fellow citizens.

About "stars" doing televised benefits--Not that doing benefits itself is bad, but more of the well-to-do should follow Harry Connick, Jr.'s example. He's been down in New Orleans for days, actually going down to some of the worst places, like the Convention Center (which, by all accounts, is something like the Black Hole of Calcutta, only on a much larger scale), taking his life and livelihood in his hands and distributing water, food and supplies that he's brought in himself. A "Today" interview this morning with him on the scene revealed a guy who has obviously gone without sleep, who's talked himself hoarse and looks about ready to keel over. Him, I respect.

About people like me who get antsy when their gas gauge gets around 3/4s full--Yep, I sat in line last night in one of the few gas stations open, waiting to get my Camry filled up because I'd used all of a quarter-tank since the beginning of the week getting to work and running errands. I complain about hoarders, but I went out filling up the tanks in all three of our cars before the big price increases and the shortages made themselves evident. At least I'm better than those guys and gals driving around in their big SUVs and trucks, sucking up all the available gas (with apologies to some of my relatives who bought such monstrosities when gas was still below $1.20 a gallon). We've got air conditioning, fresh food and water and enough gas to get us around; practically paradise compared to a few hundred miles to the west of us down I-10.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Turning Points

Life allows us to make changes from time to time and, fortunately, the decision to change in most of those circumstances is voluntary. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina has probably imposed an involuntary turning point upon our country that will be felt for many years to come.

We've gotten used to cheap gas, long vacations with hotels and restaurants alongside massive Interstates. Food and supplies have been trucked all over the country so that we could have produce out of season and inexpensive products from all over the world in our malls. We've enjoyed driving big SUVs and cars to allow us to stretch out in comfort so we wouldn't have to be cramped while making a trip to the local grocery store for that forgotten item for supper. We've had it good for fifty years or so.

However, our long summer of national indulgence may be turning into the fall of fuel shortages, power outages and then into the winter of discontent. We've probably forgotton how to live with less and to make do with what we have; some of our older generation remembers rationing for food, gas and other essentials during World War II and us younger types may have to get familiar with their experiences from then in the here and now.

Katrina will force this country to start making some hard decisions on the governmental, business and personal levels. Will our government, at all levels, begin to make decisions that will reduce our national dependance on oil? Will businesses, particularly the auto industry, quit telling us in advertising that we MUST have the biggest and most energy-hogging appliances and cars? Will we as individuals cut back on our driving and our consumption of increasingly scarce resources? Or will we listen to naysayers like Rush Limbaugh, who on the radio the other day said that there's PLENTY of oil, that higher gas prices are the fault solely of the futures marketeers and that we've got nothing to worry about?

Our county is at a turning point. We don't have the option anymore to think about making changes; the changes are being forced upon us. Had we started making changes on the national level back in the early 1970s during the Arab Oil Embargo, things might have been very different in the post-Katrina world. The loss of oil from the Gulf wells and refineries might have simply been a blip in the national scene as we dealt with the massive human tragedy on the coast. Cars running on non-petroleum fuels might have been developed and in garages by now, fuel-cell technologies might be providing our local energy needs along with solar, wind, biomass fuels and other renewable resources. But no, we were too short-sighted, too addicted to our lifestyles, too afraid of what it would cost to switch over and as a result, here we are in the opening decade of the 21st-century, going through the withdrawals of going cold turkey from oil because of a natural disaster.

I hate to be a pessimist, but we're going to have to get used to things being in short supply and being more expensive. I just wish we had the leadership in this country to acknowledge the current reality and that they were willing to push our economy and our attitudes in the right direction. Unfortunately, we'll probably get more "We're the best county on earth", "We're fighting a war on terrorism, so that's where the money is going" and "There's plenty of oil to go around" instead.