Monday, January 26, 2009

Using Your Brain is Not a Team Sport

Okay, here's how this works: I look at patterns. I see stuff happening, and I tell you - all of my friends and companions - what I see coming. Then you get to behave in a mocking, name-calling, or patronizing manner until I turn out to be right...then, it all starts over again.

For example: 20 years ago, I was a Star Trek geek marveling at the cool tech that I saw coming (cell phones, laptops, CDs/mp3s, GPS, etc.) ... and I earned the scorn and derision of my peers and adults for believing that these things would eventually get here. Many wedgies - few dates. And yet, here we are approaching 2010, and a lot of the stuff I was mocked for believing in is being sold at WalMart for under $400. But I'm still considered a geek.

I accept that there will always be naysayers. "That'll always be too expensive." Or "There will never be a market for that." But I've been right often enough about the conclusions I draw from what I see going on in the world that it gets old. And the truly distressing thing to me is that the things I am predicting - things I hope will happen soon enough to make a difference - have been given some unfortunate political stigmas.

Now, for many of you, politics is just another team sport. You have your favorite team, and you tend to let your thinking drift along the direction that your "coaches" tell you it should drift. Anyone disagreeing with you is either biased or misinformed, because your team is the best. And Heaven Forbid that anyone imply that YOU are biased or misinformed, because then the blood will flow!

Well, I don't have a team. I'm not vain enough to think of myself as a "referee", even for the sake of this lame analogy; and really, I'm not even a fan of the sport. I don't really care what political labels you associate with various issues.

Instead, I look at patterns; I see which way the wind blows, and I see the shadows that indicate rocks under the water. When you ask me - either directly, or by making observations of your own in my "hearing" - I will gladly share my opinions with you. All I ask in return is that you accept that I'm not stumping an "agenda" or trying to give some meaningless victory to the "other team".

After 9/11, a lot of people asked me "Why do people hate Americans?" Maybe it was insensitive of me to do so, but I answered that question honestly: "We are seen as too fat, too arrogant, and too powerful. We bully the world into doing things our way, and leave them the scraps. Most people resent that, and some feel moved to blow themselves up to teach us a lesson."

The response I got was not what I expected. I hoped for at least, "Gosh, how can we show people we aren't all like that?" What I got was, "Why do YOU hate America?"

I'm still pretty ticked off by that reaction. It's that "shoot the messenger", "for us or against us" mentality that made the last 8 years a frustrating slog. And it was that mentality that turned me off to candidate after candidate, until I was left with the one that showed some faith in an America that could handle constructive criticism.

It was hard for me to decide to support Barack Obama - not because he was black, or because he was young, or because I disagreed with his ideas. It was hard because he is part of a particular "team", and I knew that supporting him would identify me with that team.

But in the end, it was more important to me to be true to the objective decision that I had to make. It was more important to ask hard questions of those who insist that they have a lock on common sense. I have found that those who bray the loudest about their common sense have trouble answering those questions. Here are a small handful of them:

Question 1: Why is it okay to spend a trillion dollars, taking money out of the pockets of good, hard-working Americans and saddling our children with a nearly insurmountable financial burden to send our troops to Iraq... but it's NOT okay to spend a trillion dollars, taking money out of the pockets of good, hard-working Americans and saddling our children with a nearly insurmountable financial burden to fix all of the stuff that's broken because the last administration was preoccupied with invading other countries?

Question 2: Why do you argue that I can't have electric cars or solar powered houses because "there isn't a market for it", even though there are apparently markets for:

*a tobacco industry that sells an otherwise useless weed to people who then die from the effects of using the product
*a food industry manufacturing nutrition-free crap that contributes directly to our growing heart problems, diabetes, and obesity?
*oh, and don't forget those low-mileage, high capacity SUVs and trucks that are used as commuter cars - there is apparently a market for those, too.

Question 3: Why are we "a Christian nation with Christian values" until someone points out that Jesus said the opposite of whatever argument you're making... and then suddenly you're an "independent pragmatist and non-religious free-thinker"?

Question 4: Can you tell me the difference between "creating a large bureaucracy to suck TAXES out of our pockets to pay for health care for poor people", and "creating a large bureaucracy to suck PREMIUMS out of our pockets to pay for health care for poor people... after paying for bonuses for corporate executives"? (Hint: both suck.)

I don't believe that any one person or group of people has all the right answers. I expect that the team I've given my support to this year will make some mistakes. When they do, I'll call them on it.

But the other team has had the ball since 1994, and the patterns they've created lead to some pretty unpleasant conclusions. Before you sneer at me and dismiss my opinions, I need you to recognize that I have a pretty good track record, and the patterns are there for everyone to see.

And much like me, the patterns don't care what team you're on.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fashion (non) Sense

There is a little girl crying in the room above me because I won't let her go to First Grade looking like a refugee from Cyndi Lauper's closet.

Considering my own "fashion history", and my generally laissez faire attitude to childrens' sense of stylistic expression, this really shouldn't be an issue. I really, REALLY don't care what anyone wears, as a rule, as long as no one gets arrested. If it was really my call, I'd say "whatever" without blinking.

But I have learned that this is not acceptable.

See, I let it go when Boy#1 decided to wear a green cammo turtle neck and grey cammo pants... with a red sweater vest emblazoned with a dragon. I also let it go when Boy#2 wore an over-sized T-shirt tucked into his baseball pants... which were pulled up to his armpits, by the way. And I frequently let it go when the eldest (the Tween, the middle schooler) wears a t-shirt and jeans (the fashionable, butt-cleavage revealing jeans)... and my Air Force BDU cap.

And my lovely bride never fails to mock me for allowing this to happen.

I have fought the battle with her many times.

"They are covered, they are warm/cool enough for the season, and it's all clean."

"But they look like idiots."

"That's apparently okay with them."

"Then *I* look like an idiot for allowing them to look like idiots."

"But it's obviously *my* fault, because I dropped them off."

"Then YOU are an idiot!"

So, when Cyndi Lou Who came downstairs to tell me she's Good Enough to go to school, I told the little Goonie to go change. I realize that Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, but I would really like to have a chance to have a pleasant conversation with her mother after school that doesn't involve my lack of fashion sense.

Time After Time, I went back to check on her progress, and she was still wailing at the unfairness of the universe. Her True Colors (pink, green, orange, and yellow) still clash from her ruffled mini and her tights to her nauseatingly striped shirt.

Then, just when I think I'm going to have to Drive All Night just to win this argument, the lovely bride calls to caution me that it's FAR too cold for them to go out in anything less than full Antarctic gear. Which means the tights must go. Which news the little girl takes with nary a blink, and toddles off to change into jeans.


If God had meant for us to be naked, we'd have been born that way.
-Mark Twain

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Friends of Karen: What It's All About

If you've been reading my blog for very long, you might remember one post entitled A Friend Indeed. I changed the names, and waxed poetic about some details, but that is essentially the story of my college-era friend, Karen.

I met Karen in the GCC Concert Choir in 1990, and over the next couple of years, she became an important part of my circle of friends. Every group seems to have a center, and Karen was ours. We all took for granted that she was going to finish her degree and start helping people, while the rest of us tried to figure out our place in the world.

Unfortunately, Karen began to suffer from chronic fatigue, which turned out to be caused by something far more serious. By 1995 she was confined to her bed, and her condition has continued to deteriorate over the years. Her mother, Patsy, is a retired school teacher, and she has been taking care of Karen for the last 16 years.

Meanwhile, that circle of friends had dispersed, as such circles do, and all we could do from a distance was send cards at holidays and birthdays, and pray. Some of us can't even offer prayer. Kids, careers, and all the things that come along with a life seem to carry us away and we can't always keep up with our past. But that doesn't mean we don't care.

We've all been marveling about how the internet has changed in the last few years. Equipment prices have come down, technology has improved, and we've seen an explosion in sites like Facebook and YouTube that make it so easy to reconnect with old friends, and be involved in their lives again. Of all the people I have known who could benefit from being online, it is a crying shame that Karen has not been able to take advantage of all of this technology.

I've started the paperwork to form a charitable organization, and have set up a website (see below) for collecting donations. What I'd like to be able to do is collect enough to buy a computer for Karen, and find one of our friends in her area (the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area) to help set it up and make sure she has everything she needs to get online and communicate with us.

I don't expect everyone to chip in, but if you'd like to help, you can donate through the website at I've started a cause, "Friends of Karen", on Facebook to keep everyone posted on our progress and to discuss developments (such as, "What kind of computer should we get?").