A minister awoke one morning to find floodwaters rising around his home.
As he stepped out onto his front porch to survey the situation, he saw that the floodwaters spread around as far as he could see. His own small car was already submerged to the top of the hood, so he knew that he could not save himself. But he did not despair; instead he thought to himself, "I am a man of Faith; God will save me."
So he waited, and prayed.
The floodwaters had risen to the edge of his porch floor, when a police officer came in a four-wheel-drive SUV, and called to him to get inside to be carried to safety.
But the minister called back, "Go and save someone else! I am a man of Faith; God will save me!"
The SUV drove on.
So he waited, and prayed.
The floodwaters had risen to the edge of his roof, and he had climbed up there, when a neighbor came in a motorboat, and called to him to get inside to be carried to safety.
But the minister called back, "Go and save someone else! I am a man of Faith; God will save me!"
The motorboat drove on.
So he waited, and prayed.
The floodwaters had risen to the base of his chimney, and he stood atop it, when a rescue team came in a helicopter, and called to him to get inside to be carried to safety.
But the minister called back, "Go and save someone else! I am a man of Faith; God will save me!"
The helicopter flew on.
So he waited, and prayed ...
... and drowned.
At the Pearly Gates, St. Peter saw him approaching, and asked him, astonished, "What are you doing here? It's not your time!"
The minister replied, "Well, I prayed for God to help me, but He apparently decided not to."
St. Peter could barely contain his frustration. "We sent an SUV, a motorboat, and a helicopter! What were you expecting?!"
We've all seen them. They're just not quite right. I can tell at a glance that they don't follow the mainstream of society. Of course I'm polite about it: I smile, nod, maybe say a kind word, but keep my distance.
He was the guy I saw in the burger joint. He was dressed within societal norms for middle class casual, but he was seventeen words too friendly, and far too specific about how he wanted his burger prepared. And he was needlessly concerned that I should ask the cashier for the half-dollar coin he just gave her.
Then there was the family out for a drive. My view through their rear window triggered my intrinsic prejudice; by facial appearance, they were a stereotypical family of hillbillies; by dress, bound for Something-Mart. And by the look it, all of the occupants were dead set on participating in the driving.
The real shame is that it's been my loss, and an unspoken insult to them.
Though, to be fair to myself, it's often a two-way prejudice. There was another time I was standing in a long line at a fast food restaurant, and a guy I'd never seen before in my life, ahead of me in line, donned an unapologetic sneer at me. He glared at me for at least a full minute before the switchbacks put us within a couple feet of each other.
His emotional disability was apparent in his facial expression toward me. And my intuition suggested that he had perhaps intellectual challenges as well. I am not a confrontational person, but something told me I should stand my social ground. When we came close together, I held his stare expressionlessly for a few seconds, then half-smiled, and said, "Hi."
Unfazed, his lips parted, and he uttered in a most dramatic way, "I loath you."
Determined not to react emotionally, I asked, "Why is that?"
Continuing his glare, with the same melodrama he returned, "Because of how you look."
"Hmmm," I said, unaffected, "That's a shame."
Then there was a time a friend of mine invited me to a gathering of people I'd never met before. As I walked into the room, my prejudice kicked in. These were clearly not mainstreamers. Choice of hairstyle and clothing were the biggest indicators for me.
But I fought it off. I resisted the prejudice that leapt into my emotions. And now the friends of my friend are my friends. Among my best friends, in fact.
"Prejudice" is seen by mainstream society as categorically bad. And yet it's probably fair to say that mainstream society is where prejudice is most prevalent.
I submit that prejudice is neither good nor bad; it's just a conditioned emotional response, and a necessary component of quick response to real emergencies. How we act on that prejudice, however, can be good or bad. I can accept the fact that I had a prejudicial emotional response to the overly friendly guy at the burger joint; but should I avoid him because he's weird? I didn't. I smiled and interacted with him as I would with anyone else I don't know. It cost me nothing to do so, and it brought me no harm.
My tendency is to hold my prejudice close to the vest, and wait for further input. But, sadly, I'm sure that my prejudice colors my perception. The best I can hope for is to be aware of it and try to compensate.
But the job market has undergone some insidious changes. We now have an Internet-centric existence, where information flows freely. The blessing it brings for an employer is that they can now have their choice of a vast number of candidates for a single job. The curse it brings for an employer is that they now have a vast number of candidates for every single job. So the process has mutated from a subjective human process of judgment into an objective automated process of numbers and keywords.
Candidates must not only be good in their field, they must also learn how to play the job market. One of the new rules of that game seems to be: Don't become emotionally committed to any job prospect.
A conscientious candidate must imagine slipping into that job in order to effectively compose a cover letter and tailor a resume. But no amount of effort, no amount of conscientiousness, will make the employer any more considerate in advising the candidate about the job status. So the candidate is best served to launch an application and forget about it. It used to be that following up on your application was an important way to show your enthusiasm for a job. But employers now make it difficult or impossible to do that because of the way they conduct their searches.
That is emotionally taxing for me. It becomes harder and harder to look at a job listing that seems to be a good fit, and then summon the emotional energy to create another well-crafted cover letter and another highly-tailored resume. It's emotionally taxing because I know the greatest probability is that it will end up in the Recycle Bin on the Desktop of some HR department computer. It's emotionally taxing because despite my best efforts I tend to hold onto hope for ridiculously long periods of time. And it's emotionally taxing because I know that enthusiasm, ambition, loyalty, ingenuity, and flexibility are at the bottom of every employer's list of hiring criteria instead of the top.
If you seek only objective, quantifiable skills, that is all you will get. If you evaluate character first instead of last, the rest will fall into place. Skills can be learned quickly. Character takes a lifetime to develop.
If you treat your candidates like livestock, you will have a company of sheep and cattle. If you treat your candidates respectfully and with consideration for their time, you will have employees who respect their employer and strive for the wellbeing of the organization.
Mom's Reaction: (running into the den, seeing an overturned chair and Daughter on the floor crying) "Oh, sweetie, are you OK? What happened? ... Poor thing! ... Now, didn't I tell you not to stand up in the chair like that?"
Dad's Reaction: (from the kitchen, calling into the den) "If there's any blood, don't let it get on the carpet. ... Maybe she'll remember this the next time she wants something from the top shelf."
Mom's Reaction: (furious) "I can't believe what a pigsty this room has become! You get no TV privileges until you clear a path from the door to the bed!" (Then seeing Daughter's dismay at not knowing where to start) "I'll make you a list of things to put away."
Dad's Reaction: (amazed) "Impressive! Well, you're nuts if you think I'm wading in there to do story time tonight. And there's no way I'm buying you another Barbie doll until you're ready to leave for college."
Mom's Reaction: "Absolutely not! You'll get hypothermia, and the school will call me to tell me what a horrible parent I am."
Dad's Reaction: "I don't care what the school thinks. Let her freeze her butt off so she'll know better next time."
And surely it's encrypted in our genetic code for Mom to protect her child from every little danger and Dad to incite his child toward every little risk. I can picture Oggalina, the adolescent cave dweller, being scolded by her mom to wear the long mammoth pelt, and then sneaking out (wearing the short mammoth pelt) with her dad so he can teach her how to climb a rock wall and steal pterodactyl eggs (anachronisms notwithstanding).
Is it true that those who can't cope with reality retreat to fantasy? Maybe. But I think instead, those who can't fantasize can't excel in reality.
Some people equate fantasy with delusion, but it's not the same concept. Delusion is false belief, and often self-deception; fantasy is imagination, and often hope. Fantasy can sometimes become reality.
When something in my life is unacceptable to me, I might fantasize about an alternative. But that's not because I can't cope with that reality, it's just because I prefer to change that reality. When more things in my life are unacceptable, I spend more time in fantasyland, but I don't totally shut myself off from reality. You may choose to call that a retreat from reality; I choose to call it a planning session.
In my fantasy world, ideas rise and fall, ebb and flow. There is a temptation for me to spend too much time in fantasyland, because there I am quite proficient at creating people, places, things, and circumstances, as I need to. Yet while it's easy for me to create those out of the ether of my thoughts, their existence is like mist blown by the ever-shifting winds of my emotions and the ever-sobering events of reality. Though I form them in the likeness of reality, I am always mindful that they are unsubstantial and unstable.
Despite its tentative existence, I sometimes get attached to a dream. Maybe it's foolish of me to allow myself to do that, but I have found that the realization of a dream seems to require an investment of emotion. Only then can a dream give me the Hope I need to feather my wings for flight. Most often the life cycle of one of my favored dreams ends in fiery cataclysm. The bigger the dream and the higher I fly, the bigger the crater, the hotter the fireball, and the heavier the hail of jagged debris. And having formed an emotional attachment to that dream, at its demise I experience grief proportional to its importance. So my fantasy life and my emotions follow the cycle: Dream, Obsess, Crash, Repeat.
But sometimes ... sometimes ... the cycle goes: Dream, Obsess, Realize. And that's what keeps me going. No matter how spectacular the crash, how deep the crater, how hot the fireball, how heavy the debris ... the thoughts and emotions I have invested are ethereal, not material ... I will eventually emerge miraculously from the crash site, and live to fly again.
I've always wanted to pilot an airplane. Over the years I've gained book knowledge of the principles of flight, and the basic controls for flying an airplane. I've played with flight simulators, and learned some advanced maneuvers. And I've ridden in the copilot seat of my uncle's twin-engine craft. I love the feeling of flying in a small airplane. As you glide past the clouds, above the landscape, you feel like a bird ... like you belong up there.
A helicopter ain't like that. A helicopter is constantly at war with gravity. The engine is all-important. There is no such thing as a dead stick landing, gliding gracefully back to the earth. If the engine fails, the very best you can hope for is to allow the main rotor to keep spinning and reduce the speed of your inevitable crash.
So I've long thought I'd like to try my hand at flying an airplane. But my first opportunity for piloting was not in an airplane; it was in a helicopter. The instructor's first talk with me included a warning about the worst-case scenario, in which the main rotor bites too much air and folds up overhead, guaranteeing an unimpeded fatal drop to the ground. But despite him instilling the fear of death into me, I gotta say I loved the experience.
It was a sobering feeling to have my life and my instructor's under the clumsy command of my unskilled hands and feet. But after a few minutes the experience began to feel less like I was trying to communicate with a dragonfly beast from Alpha Centauri by using semaphore flags and an accordion, and more like I was driving a team of bumblebees by using four-hundred yards of kite string and trigonometry. In other words, I was far from comfortable, but I was at least starting to see something familiar in the controls.
My instructor described airplane flight as basically stable, and helicopter flight as basically unstable. I would agree. I found that if continual adjustments are not made, the helicopter's bearings deviate dramatically from the starting position. In other words you cannot point it where you want to go and just sit back for a while; you have to keep tweaking to remain on your heading.
At the end of the experience, looking back now, I feel confident enough in my ability that if all the helicopter pilots on earth were to die, and the fate of the human race were to hinge on my ability to fly the only vial of antivirus serum across the mountains to the village of the last survivors ... I feel absolutely certain that humankind would have a decent chance for survival.
Don't worry. I won't quit my day job.
People talk. Especially at 4 a.m. when they should be asleep.
I live in a small southern town, so you would already expect the residents to be talkative; but even factoring in population and latitude, I notice a marked increase in talkativity during the wee hours.
Case in point: at 4 a.m. today I venture out to the 24-hour discount store Which Avidly Locates Marketing Around Rural Towns. Why do I pick this hour to shop? Because I have noticed I am out of chocolate milk, and there is a little redheaded chocolate-milk-ivore in the house who will need sustenance in two hours. Or at least that's the excuse I'm using today. Actually I just do a poor job of managing my time, and that store keeps hours just for insomniacs like me.
There is a calm in the air at 4 a.m. Sparse vehicle traffic makes for a quiet approach to the entrance of the megastore. In daylight hours I sometimes move within the herd past the greeter without any acknowledgement of my presence, but at this hour that never occurs.
As I traverse the aisles, culling my shopping list, I encounter stacks of boxes, stock clerks, and floor buffers, all of which pose a challenge to navigating the store. But I am accustomed to the obstacles now. There are few other customers, but those whom I encounter, as compared to primetime shoppers, are far more likely to exchange a greeting or at least a nod or smile. There is a certain camaraderie among wee-hour shoppers; it's a form of validation that we use to reassure each other that although we may be a bit warped to go shopping at 4 a.m., we are at least not alone in our deviant behavior.
There is only one checkout register open, but no line, so I roll on in. The checkout clerk is far more relaxed and talkative than during primetime. She endorses my selection of bottled marinade, and suggests that the teriyaki style in that brand is also good.
On my way out, the greeter gives me the hairy eyeball, and asks to see my receipt. I haven't seen him before. Maybe he's new on this shift, and I fit his profile for suspicious behavior; after all, who would buy a half cart of groceries at 4 a.m.? Or maybe he's just bored.
Out in the parking lot, as I load my groceries into the car, another shopper just arriving calls out to me, "Hey there! It's a great time to shop isn't it?" I chuckle and nod my response.
Back at home as I am carrying groceries in, even the dogs down the street are extra-talkative. They tell me that there's a group of deer shopping for greenery in the neighborhood.
For most people the term "civil war" probably holds a very negative connotation, naming the concept of deadly infighting over issues that perhaps should be settled diplomatically. Civil war is a bit like a pitched battle for divorce, where two factions battle for control of the assets of the union. But just as a divorce can be completed without a legal battle, so can the breakup of a national union. The breakup of the Soviet Union is an example of such (except for the subsequent ethnic struggles within some of the separated Balkan states).
There is no doubt that the US is responsible for unseating Saddam Hussein, the dictator who kept order in Iraq only by means of force and fear. There is no doubt that religious factional infighting is now ablaze in Iraq. And it seems likely that having US troops in Iraq is keeping an all-out civil war from ensuing. So we find ourselves asking: Should we shirk our responsibility, and pull out of Iraq? But there are more important questions: Under the current circumstances with US troops standing guard over the tenuous union will Iraq ever reach a situation that will avoid civil war? And if so, how much longer will it take? To keep the Iraqi factions married, US troops are paying a price in blood, at the rate of about 700 lives per year. And US taxpayers are paying a price in tax dollars, at the rate of about $100 billion per year.
Is this really a marriage that should be saved? There are two factors to weigh that we should be able to agree on: Right now the union is in a terribly unstable situation. And if it is even possible to save that union it will require a long and costly process.
Perhaps a separation is in order. A civilly orchestrated partitioning of Iraq (into ethnic/sectarian states) might avoid the fight for power that seems so hard to suppress in the single nation.
Our current presidential administration equates the war in Iraq with the War on Terror, despite there being only weak circumstantial evidence to connect them. They tell us that if we lose the war in Iraq, it will constitute a victory for Al Qaeda, which will bolster the confidence of terrorists.
But a committee of intelligence community experts assembled by the Bush administration has leaked a report concluding that the Iraq invasion has been a great boon for terrorists, providing a cause around which terrorist groups have rallied many new recruits.
Let's assume the committee and the Bush administration are both correct. That would mean that if we keep troops in Iraq the terrorists will continue pointing to the US occupation as an attempt to impose western values on Arab people, and thereby gain recruits; and if we leave Iraq the terrorists will be able to declare victory, and thereby gain recruits. It seems that holding Iraq together is a bit like holding together a bad marriage for the sake of the children: damned if we do, damned if we don't.
Now another committee of foreign policy experts assembled by the Bush administration, headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, has leaked a report recommending that keeping troops in Iraq for an extended period is probably the worst strategy. In other words they believe that "Stay the Course" is a poor policy.
There is no avoiding the fact that the US bears the largest part of the blame for placing Iraq in its current situation, and therefore will receive most of the blame from the international community if Iraq falls into civil war. But we have to consider that Iraq might not be able to avoid a civil war at this point if left as a single nation.
If divorce is the likeliest outcome, shouldn't we begin the proceedings for a nonviolent separation of territory now before further damage accrues and more lives are lost? On their Combat Rock album in 1982, The Clash sings their hit song Should I Stay or Should I Go? The lyrics at one point say, "If I go, there will be trouble. If I stay, it will be double." They are important words to consider.
President George W. Bush has accused the Democrats of wanting to "coddle terrorists." That certainly isn't true using the primary definition of "coddle," which is "to treat tenderly, to nurse, to indulge," which is clearly something that anyone would enjoy receiving. Bush would not be willing to submit himself to even the most liberal forms of "coddling" that the Democrats have put forward.
But his repeated use of that word made me wonder if he is covering for his own subconscious desires, similar to the way that some homosexuals are homophobic. A little investigation led me to see that is indeed the case: The secondary definition of "coddle" is "to cook in water that is just below the boiling point." And I believe that is one of the forms of torture that Bush is petitioning congress to make legal.
Come on, Mr. President, don't insult the intelligence of your constituents. Find a believable lie to tell about the Democrats.
Anyone can tell a lie. But in the world of politics the very best lies are told using truth, or at least plausibility. The process is known as the Fine Art of Mischaracterization.
The master artisans of this craft deserve recognition. And what better way could there be to celebrate their achievement than with the Miss Characterization Pageant? Because truth, like beauty, is very often only skin deep.
Patience truly is a virtue. If you have none, you acquire extra stress in your life when encountering one of the many situations that absolutely requires waiting. A hard-boiled egg takes about ten minutes to cook, no matter who you are ... just deal with it.
On the other hand, it is possible to have too much of a good thing. If you have too much patience, the world will beat a path to your door ... then it will continue through your door, up your chest, across your face, down your back, stop briefly to force its collective boot into your rectum, then leave and take with it every last ounce of your dignity and self-respect.
How do I know this? Because I am very patient. Extremely patient. So patient that I can wait in line at McDonald's for 45 minutes for the clerk to process only three orders in front of me, and then not even lodge a complaint. (I'm not kidding ... I am ashamed to say it, but I actually did that.) Patient to a fault.
How much is too much? How much is too little? Obviously I am no expert, so I can't tell you exactly where to draw those lines. But maybe it will be instructive to examine a few situations and responses that are clearly across the lines.
Somewhere between those extremes lies the happy middle ground. Now it's time for me to explore that new territory.
... relation'ships, that is.
I'm going to get whiny now, so if you don't like the jaded, bitter me, you should probably not read any further.
Honesty might be the best policy, but it certainly is not the most rewarded policy. After a lifetime of research, my finding is that relationships (be they partnerships, proprietorships, friendships, or courtships ... even citizenships) prefer truth to be administered in carefully measured amounts. Much like mushrooms, they seem to grow best when kept in the dark and given plenty of watered-down fertilizer.
Admittedly, my findings are derived not of the data from successful experiences, but from failures, which seem to be more instructive and surely are more memorable. And certainly my findings are biased, with recent experiences receiving more weight. I am not at liberty to divulge all of my experiential data, but I can disclose some persuasive anecdotes in support of my thesis.
As I related in an earlier article (16-Jul-2006 — Intuition: It's Not What You Think), my experience in sixth grade with speaking the truth to defend myself earned me a full school year of martyrdom at the front of the classroom.
Much more recently I have served many terms of jury duty. On one of those occasions, when I missed my first day because of illness, I approached the judge the next day to humbly explain the situation. He raked me over the coals for my irresponsible behavior, and threatened to throw me in jail. The thirty-or-so jurists who were also absent the first day, but who never appeared before the judge, escaped with no repercussions.
In similar fashion, while operating my business, I learned the hard way that the taxing agencies of our government also reward punctual data in preference to honest data (see article 26-Jun-2006 — I'm Afraid Not).
Experience shows that, likewise, my personal relationships do not fare well in the face of full-frontal honesty. All is golden for small talk and jokes, and even aspersions about third parties. But when disclosing my personal struggles to a friend, with the hope of receiving helpful suggestions or commiseration, those attempts have resulted in subsequent withdrawal of the concerned ear.
I am left with few likely conclusions to draw. One possibility is that friends who will lend a sympathetic ear are a rarity. Another possibility is that I am just not the kind of person whom people like once they get to know me. Despite repeated incidents supporting the second alternative, my self-confidence survives with enough vitality to encourage me to discount that conclusion.
Considering that in the statements above I may have implicitly insulted some of my friends, I realize that there is a significant probability that I truly am the kind of friend who is best held at a generous arm's length. And it might well be the case that my loose lips just sank a few more 'ships (perhaps even readerships). I agonized over the decision to post this article. If it was a mistake, it wasn't my first. And if I am fortunate, it will not be my last, because I intend to go on being honest and candid with those who don't get away from me fast enough. So ... in light of that revelation ... I offer my sincere apologies to those I have inadvertently insulted or alienated (or will offend in the future).
However ... I do not apologize for being me.
Why is it that so many of the politicians who claim to be "Of Faith" put so much faith in Capitalism? Furthering the inconsistency, many of the same people who attack Evolution Theory are champions of Capitalism, which operates using the same mechanisms as Evolution. Companies innovate to adapt to the ever-changing economic environment (like Evolution's "differentiation"). Then they compete for limited resources, and the ones with the best survival strategies usually prosper (like Evolution's "survival of the fittest").
Should we put so much faith in the soulless part of the economic process? That's what we're doing when we try to improve the economic prosperity of the country by giving unconditional tax reductions to businesses. The presumption is that a growing business will employ more people, and the wealth will "trickle down" to the masses. But in practice the vast majority of the wealth lines the pockets of investors. Another problem is that growth will occur largely independent of consumer demand, leading to unsupported growth and subsequent failure unless economic supplements are maintained.
It's a bit like trying to boost the wildlife populations of the African plains by feeding the lions. You might hope that the increase in lion dung will trickle down to benefit plant growth and thereby work back up through the food chain. But the only thing you are certain to have is more fat cats.
Ecosystems grow by taking in resources at the base of the food chain. Plants take nutrients from the soil, air, and sun, becoming food for the herbivores, which in turn become food for the predators. If you artificially increase the population at the top of the chain, there are not sufficient resources lower down to go on supporting them.
Capitalistic systems grow normally from increases at the consumer level. Consumer spending for goods and services encourages growth in those businesses. If you artificially encourage growth of businesses, there is not sufficient consumer spending to go on supporting them all.
It's no wonder that the federal government has adopted supply side ("trickle down") economics as its preferred form of economic control: Although the United States was intended to be a government "by the people, for the people," today the government is treating corporations like people — people who receive special treatment — people who have more influence in the government. Corporate executives become politicians, and politicians become corporate lobbyists. The line between private and public sectors is now largely symbolic, and completely porous.
Attempts at lobbying reforms have fallen flat. That's not surprising since they were designed and implemented by the very people who need to be reformed. Corporate influence on politics is now bigger than it has ever been. But enough ordinary, mere mortal citizens are now disturbed by their government's performance that it might be possible to rally an ad hoc revolution to force a major revision in the federal approach to economics. Such a revision is not likely to occur without a Change of the Guard (major turnover of federal politicians).
It would be nice to see the U.S. restored to a government that is truly "by the people, for the people." Right now we have too many fat cats.
Me being in an impromptu conversation is like ... well, it's like John Bolton being an ambassador to the United Nations ... only without the Yosemite Sam mustache.
Awkward silence — lots of it — and half-finished sentences, and unintended offenses, all are my trademark results in most any conversation that I haven't rehearsed. So I rehearse a lot of different conversations in my head.
Sad, isn't it?
Most of my preparatory effort toward small talk is spent collecting or composing witty repartee to file away for future use. People think I'm a quick wit, but in reality I just have a good filing system in my head ... and a bit too much free time. Consequently, a joke or clever response can be stuck in there for months, waiting for the right situation for me to use it. What's more, I maintain in memory an entire database devoted to puns. Truth be known, I have even nudged conversations toward one of my talking points just so I could set up a joke.
So, there you have it ... my secret's out.
It's not just the small talk that gets me stammering; deep subjects challenge me too. So as life situations present themselves to me, I spend a lot of time imagining various conversations I might have with those involved. For me it's a lot like working a maze, with much backtracking from avenues that lead to likely misunderstandings, or offended sensibilities, or restraining orders.
Some of my rehearsed conversations are highly unlikely ever to occur, and yet are pleasant to imagine, so I run through them just for enjoyment. Does that mean I'm living in a fantasy world? Maybe so. Making a quick count, I see that I have numerous conversations on file that are marked as having "Many Good Outcomes" despite them being within the filing section designated as "Conversations I Shall Never Have." On the other hand, since there are a few of them that do not involve Angelina Jolie, maybe I'm not totally delusional.
Some of my rehearsed conversations yield large branches where all likely avenues lead to undesirable outcomes. Those branches I simply mark "Do Not Enter."
Not surprisingly, when I conduct one of my rehearsed conversations in real life with the real actual person, it usually strays from the script. But as my former employer used to say, "It's always good to have a plan for your day, even if you can only follow it for the first ten minutes."
So if you're ever in a deep and meaningful conversation with me, and I suddenly clam-up or change the subject, don't worry. It probably just means we've had that conversation before — with or without you being present for it. Trust me, you don't want to go down that avenue.
And if we ever have a deep and meaningful conversation that flows smoothly, you should be flattered — or look into getting that restraining order.
It was a bit like a scene from a horror flick: I noticed one or two ants in the kitchen, then squished them with my finger, and thought nothing more of it ... until I came back a few hours later and found the countertop covered by a swarm.
I'm not phobic about ants, but that was a bit much for me. That incursion was like my own personal Pearl Harbor. So I declared war.
Out came the spray can! Dishes be damned, I could clean them later. Like Rambo, I began with the obvious invaders first, spraying the entire encampment. The stench of death in my nostrils did not faze me. And when I finished with the ones in the open, I flipped over dishes, and opened cabinets, exposing the insidious infestation, and wiped them out with a swath of poisonous vitriol from my weapon.
But I didn't stop there! No! Out of ammo, I reloaded. Then I tracked them. I followed their trail outside, down the wall, all the way back to their nest. And there I ruthlessly slaughtered them all, even their young and unborn.
That's when I noticed the other nests. Around nearly every tree in the yard there were ant nests, massive ant nests, with superhighways of ants running up and down the trees. I had been assuming that the invaders were fire ants. To my untrained eye they appeared the same as fire ants. But they weren't acting like fire ants. And they weren't biting like fire ants.
So I did my research. What I found is that these are Argentine ants, another imported species that is spreading rapidly. This type of ant breeds in overwhelming numbers. With 10% of the population being egg-laying queens, when they have a sufficient food source they can generate tremendous numbers nearly overnight. But they are not aggressive to larger animals; rather they are attracted to dead things and sweet substances. In my yard their primary source of food appears to be up in the trees, in the form of certain saps and insect byproducts.
With new eyes, I re-explored my yard. There were absolutely no fire ant mounds anywhere. Had the Argentine ants run them out?
After several unsuccessful attempts at exterminating the Argentine ants from my yard, we have reached a tentative peace agreement. As long as the Argentine ants will keep the fire ants off my property I will not be calling in a professional exterminator.
In violation of the treatise, they still make occasional incursions into the outside garbage can, or into a car where goodies have been spilled. This results in sanctions involving a culling of their population. But I can't remember the last time I had a fire ant bite, so I guess I can live with their infrequent border violations.
I never realized that a circular saw could be an aphrodisiac.
Ladies, picture if you will a guy working in shorts and T-shirt, outside in 100-degree weather, building a carport, his clothes so drenched in sweat that it appears he was caught in a rainstorm.
Not turned on yet? Well then, imagine him operating a circular saw, with that whining, grating pitch rising and falling.
Still not doing it for you? Hrrmph! Well, it sure attracted the female cicadas to me! For those who do not know, a cicada is an insect that lives most of its life underground, but immerges and sheds its skin to become something that resembles a housefly on megasteroids. [click here for encyclopedia article] This final stage of their life, occurring in the dog days of summer, is the time they sit in the treetops and the males "sing" to the females a whining, grating song that bears an amount of resemblance to the sound a circular saw makes. They do this to attract a mate. I reckon that's why two female cicadas made the moves on me.
So, after having to beat them away with a stick, I see clearly that I have it: Animal Magnetism.
You've heard it a buhzillion times: "It's better to give than to receive." But few times in my life have I had it demonstrated as clearly as today ...
I was driving for six hours today. Drivers were being about as considerate as they typically are — in other words, not at all. Somewhere in the vicinity of Greenville, I got into the spirit of things, and cut off another driver. As a result, I had the ultimate driver's gift bestowed on me. I received the finger. That's when I realized that receiving is not all that grand a thing.
Later in the day, out on I-26, a driver cut me off. As I contemplated how to respond, I thought of my experience earlier in the day, and realized that verily it is better to give than to receive.
Yesterday, when I noticed that my driver's license had expired nine months ago, I heaved a massive sigh. I envisioned waiting in line for half an hour, and having a surly clerk tell me I have to fill out the other renewal form because I was more than 30 days late, and having a hefty just-cause-we-can fee added to the renewal. I envisioned all of that because I have had similar experiences with most of my prior visits to the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles).
But I was surprised ... in the good way ... not the "Surprise! You're being audited!" way. When I got to the DMV office, a clerk at the door immediately got me started with the correct form, and gave me a numbered ticket. I went into the waiting room, where there were chairs, by God, real chairs, and no people in line. I wondered briefly if I was in fact at the correct office. Then I proceeded to find a table and pen to do my paperwork. Before I even finished filling out my form, the automated system announced my number. I approached the counter, expecting to be sent back into the queue, but the clerk actually waited on me to finish the form. Waited on Me! the customer! what a novel notion.
Then she made a good-natured quip about how late I was with the renewal, but there was no brow-beating involved. I was all ready with my genuine excuse that I had not received a renewal notice, but I didn't need it. And there was no extra fee of any sort.
And the whole thing took about five minutes! And I'm looking at my new driver's license right now, so I'm sure that I didn't just dream it.
Kudos to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles!
Intuition is highly valuable when it inspires new ideas that begin an investigation. But intuition becomes a huge liability when we allow it to substitute for an investigation. Our society seems to put a great deal of trust in "gut feeling." There is a predominant belief that if something "feels right" it must really be right. But much that is intuitively obvious is simply wrong.
I can thank my sixth grade English teacher for her fine example of how unreliable intuition can be. One of the first days of school, a classmate sitting behind me jabbed me in the neck with his pencil. Naturally I turned around and whispered, "Quit it!" When I turned around forward again the teacher was staring at me. As I started to explain what had happened, she immediately stopped me and sent me to a separate table at the front of the class.
Why did she punish me instead of the other guy? As she explained it, "The guilty pig squeals first!" Thanks to that teacher's faith in that little intuitive gem, I spent the entire year on display at the front of the class as her example to the rest that she was serious about discipline. But the only lesson for those of my classmates who saw the whole thing was how to manipulate overzealous authority figures.
We know from many examples that people can die from touching exposed household wiring carrying 110 volts of electricity. So our intuition tells us that touching a source of 5000 volts of electricity will surely kill us.
But our intuition doesn't know the whole picture. As a matter of fact, people are often exposed to thousands of volts of electricity with no harm at all. If you walk across a dry, carpeted room, and touch a doorknob, the static shock can easily be thousands of volts, which might sting but is not lethal.
Why is that? Because if you only know about the voltage you do not know all the facts, and not even the most important of the facts. More important dimensions of electricity would be amps and watts, which express the quantity of electricity.
Being afraid of high voltage is like being afraid of fast-moving water. If you're a non-swimmer and have to choose between wading across a body of water that's moving at 40 miles per hour versus wading across a body of water that's moving at 5 miles per hour, which would you choose? If you've been following closely, your answer should be "I don't have enough information to make a decision." And a wise answer it is! Now I'll disclose that the body of water moving at 5 miles per hour is a river that is 20 feet deep, and the body of water moving at 40 miles per hour is a mountain creek that is 6 inches deep. Now you have a mental image of the relative dangers of electrical voltage versus electrical amperage or wattage.
What does it matter that your intuition might make you overly cautious about electricity? There is probably no harm to you personally.
But what happens if we apply that intuitive fear at a national level? Then we have a whole nation of people who are afraid to work on anything electrical, and therefore no electricians among us. That sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? And it would be.
And that is exactly why it is ridiculous to use intuitive reasoning or "gut feelings" to make national policy or law. Now we have a whole nation of people who have surrendered their privacy and their rights because those steps seemed like they might prevent a terrorist attack. As a nation, we have unseated a dictator, but have killed thousands of people, and have had thousands of our people killed, because of someone's gut feeling that there must be dangerous weapons in Iraq.
I, for one, am ready for this nation to enter a new Age of Reason.
So, let me see if I understand the reasoning: It's insane to threaten someone for drawing a picture of your Messiah, but it's a good idea to put someone in jail for desecrating your flag.
I'm no authority on exactly WJWD, but it seems likely to me that he would not hide from the paparazzi, nor object to someone drawing his likeness. But he would object to anyone treating such a picture in a sacred way, as an object of reverence. We all know that's called "idolatry." The obvious problem with idolatry is that the worshipper places importance on the symbol instead of the concepts it embodies.
So what do you call it when we make the symbol of our country (our flag) more sacred than the freedoms and rights it embodies (like free speech)?
It might make you furious to see someone burning your flag. But remember that it makes some people furious to see someone picketing their factory. Should we outlaw all forms of protest that most of us don't like to see? Or do we act like the adults we are, and ignore the punks who stand in our face and chant "naanee naanee boo boo!"?
Perhaps Jesus would turn his other cheek.
I despise fear: not the kind that takes the form of reasoned respect for a real danger, but the kind that makes knees buckle, and evokes a panicked reaction.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt was inaugurated into the Presidency in 1933 amid the very depths of the Great Depression. In his inauguration address he eloquently stated that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." He perceived very clearly that negative global factors had only caused an economic downturn, and that downturn was then driven toward collapse by fear. Fear among the masses caused the stock market crash in 1929. Fear among the masses caused the bank failures in 1933.
Frank Herbert in his science fiction novel Dune composed the "Bene Gesserit Litany" which states in part, "I must not fear. Fear is the mind‑killer. Fear is the little‑death that brings total obliteration."
I detest fear for what I have allowed it to make me do ... and not do. Out of fear, I have rushed choices that should have been better deliberated, I have shrunk back from actions when timeliness was essential, I have backed away from justified fights, I have been silent when I should have risen in protest, and I have even provoked lesser enemies for sake of an easy victory.
Being frustrated by my own shortcomings that have been induced by fear, over the course of my life I have endeavored to counteract fear as I find it in myself. Spiders and snakes used to scare me. So I learned to identify the few that are actually dangerous, and now I can literally handle the others without fear. Public speaking used to make me squirm. So I forced myself to practice it and do it, and now I have become quite comfortable with it.
A major personal turning point occurred in the failure of my small business. Delinquencies on my part (no late payments, just late filing forms) resulted in major belligerent threats by the South Carolina Department of Revenue, which I allowed to scare me into inaction ("deer in the headlights"). The snowballing effect culminated in that agency's unjust seizure of my business assets, and the threat of additional action. I became so fear-stricken that I had a genuine nervous breakdown with a full-blown panic attack (that I thought was a heart attack). I believed I was about to die.
Facing death can be a very life-changing experience. The South Carolina Department of Revenue eventually returned those funds (minus significant banking fees), but I did not try to rebuild my business. The negative feelings were still far too strong. But in the process I stopped fearing my government. I have faced the fear of death. I have no reason to be afraid of my Big Brother, no matter how much of a bully he is.
The lesson I learned: If I had acted objectively instead of going where my fear pushed me, I could have straightened out the whole ugly mess very early in the process.
Society en masse has never dealt well with fear. It has always taken concerted effort and/or time to allow society to recover from any given fear. After World War II, proliferation of nuclear weapons was a source of justified fear, or at least justified caution. The result was the nuclear arms race and a policy of Mutual Assured Destruction. It took decades for international tensions to relax enough for the sides to realize that M.A.D. is a stupid way to live, and to begin disarming. And if the Soviet Union had not disintegrated, it probably would have taken decades more for the disarmament to progress significantly.
Our new societal terror is Terrorism itself. And that societal fear has gone beyond rationale. It has developed into the kind of fear that causes airport security to take away fingernail files, and to inspect shoes. It's the kind of fear that causes a whole people to submit to a loss of liberty and privacy in exchange for a perceived (and undemonstrated) improvement in safety. It's the kind of fear that causes a nation to dismantle in a few months a system of government power restrictions that has worked for centuries through challenges much greater than the current ones. It's the kind of fear that causes loyalists to turn a blind eye to abuse of power in their government, and to cast dissenters as purveyors of treason. It's the kind of fear that causes a person to point his finger in accusation at another who has a particular skin color, or name, or religion.
Terrorists use fear to accomplish their goals. On September 11, 2001, in a dramatic display of violence that resulted in death and destruction, a small group of terrorists was able to kill thousands of people in the World Trade Center, and thereby place millions in a state of mortal fear. About 3000 died in that incident, which is approximately the same number that died elsewhere in the United States that day and every other day. So in a cold statistical sense, the terrorists did not significantly raise the level of mortal risk to Americans as a whole. But the spectacle of that one act has propelled the fear of that group's power forward for nearly five years now. Not only individuals, but large corporations are afraid to defy their demands.
Terrorists are not the only ones to capitalize on fear. In the subsequent months and years, the Bush administration and Congress have propelled many initiatives forward that they could never have passed without the environment of fear. And of course many enterprising capitalists have taken advantage of new markets for products and services to offer the fear-stricken public. Indeed, ethically challenged members of both public and private sectors have perpetuated that fear in order to benefit their own goals.
In the United States there were about 3000 victims of Terrorism. The other 290,000,000 of us have been victims of our own terror.
The best antidote for fear is knowledge. We must read. We must question. We must seek out and evaluate different points of view, instead of huddling comfortably inside a small world of like‑thinkers. This is good advice for the general public and for political leaders alike.
Get to know Chip, who is a "Designer" with a head full of wires.
See his story through a series of vignettes, key points in his life.
Chip is completely unlike any person you have ever met. He is also exactly like every person you have ever met.
Chip jerked his awareness out of sleep, realizing that his father had just spoken to him. He quickly played back the record of what was just said.
"You really must pay attention to this," his father had just lectured, "It is important."
Chip scanned back further to see that the priest was reciting from the book of Exodus, New Era Revision.
The priest continued his recitation, "He who takes life, he forsakes his own soul, therefore losing his own right to life. He who takes the property of another, he must repay twice or be judged to be in obsolescence. ..."
Oh, I hate church! Chip thought to himself. All we ever do is go over the same material repeatedly.
A small picture of a delivery drone appeared in the corner of his vision. It was the icon he had chosen to let him know a message had arrived. He decided to read it. It was from some organization called Informatron. Junk. He revised his filter to delete all similar messages.
He tuned back in to the priest, who had begun his interpretation of the passage. "... cannot discard these values like so many obsolete tools. They are not just tools, but sustenance. ..."
Tools! I've been wanting to try out my new gadget. He switched his vision enhancer over to rangefinder mode. He checked the distance to each corner of the room. Very impressive precision. All of the walls were placed within 0.3 millimeters of accuracy. But one of the skylights was out of place. 4 millimeters off!
The priest had inexplicably changed topics. "... since the gods created our immortal souls. Refer with me, Genesis chapter zero, sentence thirty-three. 'The gods did then bring the bolt of life from the heavens. And they saw that it was good and eternal.'"
Save me from the one who would save my "soul."
The instructor displayed the vivisected dog for all the class to see. Every sensory input was simulated for the scene, including olfactory. "... And the esophagus terminates at this sphincter, here. If you have done some advance research, you may know the name of this ..."
Animals! So disgusting. What are the chances that one of us in this class will ever need to know this kind of thing? Chip wasn't sure what emotional reaction he should display. He silently composed a quick audio message to Katrina, "Hey, Circuitrina," Chip began the message using her nickname, "Glad to be in a stratum of society where this is all academic instead of practical."
Katrina shot back a curt text reply. Later.
Bad move, Chip berated himself, I should have known she would be interested in this. She is after all on the builder track. After brief reflection he realized she would probably be a good builder too. Maybe that's what makes her attractive. Why did my father have to give me these ridiculous family values?
As the instructor directed next, Chip plugged in to the surgery console. As the simulator feed began, the heavy stench struck him. It was familiar, yet foreign. He had been educated to recognize the smells, but could not relate them to his own life.
"Make your incision just at the middle of the descending colon," the instructor launched straight into the procedure, "continuing to the top of the anus. If you need help finding these locations, the incision overlay is accessible on the help menu."
Chip began the cut, but could not bear the result. He switched off his olfactory input.
Who commands that most patriotic war
is showered with accolades by his distant homeland.
Who obeys that general knows the smell of victory on the battlefield.
"Ignorance of the law excuses no man," is an often quoted and widely revered maxim penned by John Selden, a lawyer who lived in England, 1584-1654, centuries before the texts of US federal and state laws grew into the millions of pages.
Ignorance of the law is no excuse; rather, it's a fact of modern life.
And how can an average citizen, even with the best of intentions, possibly analyze the actions of their government representatives? The existing body of law is far too large for anyone to understand all of it. And the implications of current legislation and other legal activity are therefore often far too complex to see.
Transparent government is essential, but even that is not enough. You can get a computer with a nifty transparent chassis, but that doesn't give you an understanding of how the thing works.
How about a constitutional amendment imposing "sunset" (expiration) provisions on all federal laws? Wouldn't it be nice to weed out the laws that no one finds worth the effort to renew? I'm not the first to suggest this. But there is a huge amount of momentum to overcome to bring such an amendment into being. Career politicians are heavily invested in the status quo; and those who detest scrutiny enjoy the natural cover provided by the briar patch of our tangled legal code.
Commander Shira Hilge, as the ship captain, must address a “Proximity Alert” by herself. But apparently it’s nothing of consequence.
Engineer Kenn Talbok likewise has his own small problem to deal with. And so do security officer J’Kobe Maniib, life scientist Dr. Bashon Braxst, and medic Ger Kaal.
These are all just small problems; but together they add up to something much larger.
Proximity alert, the synthetic voice sounded in a smooth but insistent tone.
Commander Hilge could hear before she could see. She drew a slow, long breath into her aching chest. Her muscles began to report their fatigue.
Proximity alert, the flight operations computer repeated.
Hilge knew the voice well. It was the one she had selected for the mission. It reminded her of her deceased husband: firm, authoritative, caring. She could see his face now in the absence of real vision, his icy gray eyes, his bland expression hiding his passion.
At once, the present reality rushed in on her. She inhaled sharply and commanded, “Flight Op, cabin lights on!”
Cabin illumination is already at fifty percent. Should I raise the level?
She cursed, and commanded herself, Shira Hilge, eyes open! She could feel her heart pounding, pulsing through her skull. Finally she located control of her eyelids and willed them open. The cabin lights burned the back of her eyes, forcing them shut.
“Flight Op, cabin lights at fifty percent!” she barked.
Cabin illumination is already at fifty percent. Should I lower the level?
She forced herself to take another glance at the cabin, ceiling tiles still burned into her vision from the prior attempt. Again, the light forced her eyes shut. I’m wasting time! “Cabin lights dim!”
Cabin lights now at twenty-five percent. Proximity alert.
She tried again, this time easily able to keep her eyes open. She tensed her muscles and sat up. At first she was surprised how strong she was, as her body snapped sharply upright. Then she remembered, Right, zero gravity. She unstrapped her legs and floated off the bed, nearly forgetting to remove her biomonitor cables. As she reached the ceiling she caught a handhold and launched herself toward the nearest op station.
She grabbed the handholds at the station and oriented herself upright in front of it. “Flight Op, cancel alert message, show alert data here.” The trajectory of a single contact was displayed in front of her. It was just close enough to trigger the alert, but not showing an intercept trajectory. Soon it would be close enough to get qualitative readings.
Wait, something’s wrong. These aren’t ... “Flight Op, show me the current data. This is four minutes old.”
This is the most current trajectory data. The contact is no longer within range.
Most language is spoken language, and most words once they are uttered, vanish forever into the air. But such is not the case with language spoken during courtroom trials, for there exists an army of court reporters whose job it is to take down and preserve every statement made during the proceedings.
Court is now in session, and here are a few transcripts, all
recorded by America's keepers of the word: