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Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why We Remember

Well, it’s time for another blog entry and with Memorial Day upon us, I thought I’d provide my usual unusual spin on usual events.  Memorial Day is supposed to be a day to remember all those who have fallen in battle defending our…wait a doggone minute.  What were they defending?  I suppose it depends on who you ask and what, specifically, you ask them about.  Inevitably, we’re talking about war here.

People die in battle because someone started a war.  Yes, I said “some-one” started a war.  It’s always one asshole whose mother didn’t love him enough when he was a child that gets things rolling.  Okay, I confess that I’m no expert on war, but I’ve been in lots of meetings.  Meetings are where wars get started.  A bunch of men (and maybe one or two women) get in a room and try to answer the question, “what are we going to do about those bastards?”  Their choices:

1. Wait them out
2. Talk to them some more
3. Try to isolate them and make their lives painful
4. Kill them

    Sometimes, the men have tried 1-3 and they haven’t worked...yet.  They could go back and try this “diplomatic crap” some more or they could adopt the posture of the ornery buzzard who said, “patience my ass, I’m gonna kill something.”  Usually, there’s one MF in the room that is lobbying hard for option #4.  He’s the one with the bad mother.  I’ve never met Dick Cheney’s mom, but she should be ashamed of herself.  She and Donald Rumsfeld’s mom must have shared a lot of notes.

    So, I think we should remember the fallen on Memorial Day.  We should remember the fallen moms and dads whose wonderful offspring decided it was a good idea to send other parents’ offspring to some foreign country to die.  The other parents went to all the trouble to raise up dutiful good little sheep, only to have them led by bad wolves to an untimely death.

    Sometimes a bad actor gets control of a war machine and the rest of us need to stop him.  But, sadly, we get the government we deserve, so any country that allows a bad actor like that come to power, probably deserves to have their cities destroyed.  We elected Cheney and we were fortunate enough to escape with the loss of only three buildings.  Sad as the event was, it probably could have been worse.  Actually, it’s not really over yet, so maybe it will be worse.  They’re still killing our people on account of the events of 9/11.

    I know what you’re thinking.  “Tom, how can you possibly blame US (take it any way you want) for that?”  Answer:  our enemies hate us.  They need us to be evil in order to show their allies that we must be stopped.  When a couple evil dudes like Cheney and Rumsfeld (not to mention Rove, Crystal and Wolf) come to power, it’s like ringing the war dinner bell.  Any fool with a plan knows that any provocation is going to be responded to with plenty of bombs and troupe movements.  I’m no soothsayer, but when Cheney got elected, my very first thought was, “okay, when’s the war?”  You had to know there’d be one.  These guys live for it.

    Clinton was a pot smoking hippy.  He actually stopped a war that two other madmen were waging.  If you ask me, we could use a few more pot smoking hippies in power.  Or, women.  Have you ever heard of a woman starting a war?  I’m not saying that a few didn’t get talked into it by their male advisors.  Imagine this scene:  a room full of men and one woman.  She happens to be the one in charge.  We’ll call her Margret.  All the men are saying, “Maggie, don’t do this, we haven’t exhausted all diplomatic measures yet.  Give it more time.”

    Maggie: “Fuck time.  I want those sons ‘o bitches dead! Now go start a war.”

    I doubt it.  Oh well, until the world is run by hippies and women, we’ll probably have plenty of new heroes to remember next year and next year and next…

    Enjoy the cookout! 

    Tuesday, May 25, 2010


    I’ve been thinking a lot about energy lately.  My chronic neck pain was being more…well…chronic than usual.   I happened to be going to see my doctor anyway so I asked him what I should do.  I should explain that my doctor is no ordinary licensed drug pusher.  He is a certified homoeopathist, which means that he much more apt to offer an herbal remedy rather than a pharmaceutical one.  Moreover, he’s more likely to order some diet or lifestyle change that anything.  I think most of his patients ignore him when he does this, because he always seems a bit surprised when I follow his advice.
    Back to my back.  So, I wanted to address my pain and I asked him if I should see a chiropractor, acupuncturist or a masseuse.  He suggested the masseuse, which seemed like a win for me because I love a good massage.  It so happened that of one of the two people he recommended I had already sampled the work on one of them.  She does Shiatsu massage, which (near as I can tell) means that she combines the concept of acupuncture with massage.  What the hell does that mean?

    The Chinese have the theory that there are energy lines that run through the body.  These lines deliver information of a sort to the cells that control body functions.  Sometimes, these energy lines get blocked.  They can be blocked by emotional issues, physical conditions or even spiritual distress.  Basically, if your life gets out of balance in any way, you can suffer energy blockage.  When this happens, bad things happen:  illness, pain, stress, emotional discomfort.  Chiropractors, acupuncturists and masseuses all use different techniques to free trapped energy.

    The western medical world has heretofore considered energy medicine quackery.  In the last 10 years, the evidence has been mounting against this view.  The tide is beginning to turn.  Energy medicine is on the rise.  What will it all mean?  People figured out how to manipulate the body’s energy along time ago, but they have never really understood what’s going on at the cellular level.  Now, for the first time, we are exploring all the scientific nuances of the nature of energy’s role in bodily function.

    It’s hard to imagine what we will ultimately learn about the body’s energy.  Is there just one type of energy in our bodies or are their multiple types?  If we manage to develop equipment that measures one or more types of energy in the body, will we be able to use it to measure that same type of energy elsewhere in the universe?  If we can, where will it show up?  Will this open the door for understanding the fundamental nature of energy any better than we do now?

    Our first experience with energy was fire: fire from the Sun and fire from the Earth’s core.  Our science is pretty advanced when it comes to thermodynamics.  But, are there other, non-thermal, types of energy out there?  Our sense of touch allows us to sense thermal energy, but what if there are other types of energy that our five senses don’t offer any access to?  How can we experience anything in the universe for which we have no sensory apparatus from which to extend our perception?

    Some people claim to be able to see auras around people’s bodies.  Maybe our brains have untapped sensory capabilities.  The good news is that we seem to be on the path to discovery.  Hopefully, it’s just a matter of time before we find something.  How exciting would it be to live in a time when the fundamental nature of the universe exposed and the very foundation of our beliefs were altered?  I hope I last that long.  That’s why I’m going to let energy medicine practitioners help me along – however primitive their craft.

    Postscript: I am finishing this blog at 2 am in the morning because we lost energy in the house and I had to get up to switch us to our backup power.  Oh well.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Whitehall Weekend

    Last weekend, we stayed at the White Swan Inn bed and breakfast in Whitehall, Michigan. It told our hostess, Cathy, that I would blog about it. I usually don’t carry on in my blog about my every day experiences because…because I want my blog to be different than all those other blogs that carry on about every day experiences. So, I’m not going to ramble on about what we did or how crappy the weather was on Saturday. It’s not my style.

    Instead, I’m going to talk about passion. There is nothing finer in life than crossing paths with someone who is doing what they are passionate about. I don’t care if it’s a hardware guy, like my friend Mike at Stadium Hardware in Ann Arbor, who is the greatest hardware man I’ve ever met, or Cathy at White Swan Inn, who has spent god knows how many years collecting lamps and paintings, and umbrellas and…well whatever she can find that has a white swan on it. These people love what they do and they pour themselves into it in a way that can’t help but create some enthusiasm within the people they cross paths with.

    I’m not sure that Capt’n Ron, Cathy’s husband is all that passionate about the B&B business, but he sure is passionate about boats. He’s launching a new career (pun – as usual – intended) as a charter boat captain. But, his passion for boats is clearly not new. I saw some of his handiwork making model boats around the house. They were quite remarkable. I asked him if he had ever had a commission and said as a matter of fact, he is working on one right now. He disappeared into the basement and returned with printouts and plans and the hull of an unfinished work. He explained his process and how he only builds models of real boats that have some history. He had an article about the boat he is currently building. He didn’t know if we wanted the level of detail he offered of how he makes boats or not. I don’t think he cared. As it turns out, we probably didn’t need the details, but I did enjoy his passion.

    I enjoyed watching Capt’n Ron enjoy sharing his passion. I think it is infectious. As a business person, I think that companies run by leaders with passion, tend to seek out employees with passion. This creates companies like I wrote about in my Small Giants post. When I need services, I always look for people who are passionate about what they do. They just seem to do it better than people who aren’t. Even if they don’t, I still like the idea that they care more about it.

    Cathy asked me if we had any dietary restrictions when I made the reservations. I told her that Susan is mostly vegan and that I need to keep an eye on my cholesterol. She made a special breakfast the first day that addressed both of our concerns. That day, Susan mentioned in passing that she likes beans for breakfast. Next morning – you guessed it – we had beans on the menu. That’s not just customer service – that’s passion.

    Thursday, May 06, 2010

    David Sedaris, Are You Out There?

    David Sedaris is one of my favorite living humorists now that Douglas Adams is dead. Good humor is like good scotch. It has a little burn and a subtle complexity that makes it great without hitting you over the head. David understands this. The first book of his that I read was “Me Talk Pretty One Day.” I had already heard his pieces on NPR and was a big fan, so when I saw the book on sale at Borders, I jumped at it. I was not disappointed.

    I won’t bore you with my rendition of what is so funny about his books; just buy your own copy…if you can. Oh, for you luddites, buying a copy of Sedaris’ books should be easy. Hell, you can find them in any second rate bookstore. But, god help you if you want to get a copy for your non-Kindle ereader. I’ve got Mobi Reader on my Blackberry. I’ve read a number of books entirely on that little screen that everyone says I’m crazy for using to read books. Hey, my eyes suck and I don’t have a problem with it, so get off my back!

    The Mobipocket eBookstore is very easy to use and your books are always right there (unless you delete the wrong file off your Blackberry and then you seem to be screwed). So, there I was, clicking the Buy button on When You Are Engulfed in Flames. The screen tells me that I already bought the book and that’s why they are charging my credit card $0. I’m thinking, “Bonus, a free book!” Then, it asks if I want to download it and I’m thinking, “hot damn, here it comes!” I’m thinking wrong. Nothing comes, except a message telling me the book is not actually in my library like that lying sonofabitch screen I saw before.

    No worries, I spend the 20 minutes hunting through the site for a way to complain for help and send a message to the support center. Two days later, I get a response from Amazon. Seems they bought Mobipocket eBookstore. The email says (I’m paraphrasing here), “you stupid idiot. You obviously don’t know how to use a computer or do something so simple as to log into the correct account to order a lousy ebook.” I emailed them back to tell them that I only have one account, so I don’t know how I could have gotten the wrong one, but they must not have liked my tone, because I never heard back from them. A couple weeks later, after they cooled off, I emailed again and explained in minute detail everything they needed to know to conclude that I wasn’t a stupid idiot after all. They responded that the $0 thing was their way of saying, “even though the book is listed as in stock on our site and you can download the demo to preview the book, we don’t actually sell it.” Great.

    No worries, my Mobi Reader supports many bookstores. Turns out has When You Are Engulfed in Flames on their site. So, I bought it. It cost $20, but, hey David, you’re worth it. After an hour of struggling with some really bad instructions and unintuitive interfaces, I finally got a message on the screen telling me that that I had an Error -1: Retailer not authorized. Hmmm…they took my money…they said I bought the book, but I couldn’t download it. Maybe, in the end, I am a stupid idiot. So, I humbled myself and emailed for support. After two days (this seems to be the ebook industry’s idea of “acceptable support turnaround”) I received a reply (paraphrasing again), “geez we are so sorry, but we don’t really sell this book, but don’t worry. We’ll give you your money back in a week or two.”

    So, David, I know you hate technology and you’re probably behind this evil plot to rid the world of “e” versions of your book, but c’mon, give us technogeeks a break. Some of us actually have a sense of humor – or at least appreciate a good one when we see it. Lighten up!

    Wednesday, May 05, 2010

    Goodbye Ernie

    I’m sure there are a lot of folks blogging about Ernie Harwell today. Millions of people knew Ernie. Most of them thought they just knew him from his work because they had never met him in person.  They were wrong.  I started my adult life in the radio business. I did some time at WPON in Pontiac. My desk was at the front door, so I was the person who greeted anyone that showed up.

    One day Ernie and George Kell came in as guests for one of our talk shows. While they were waiting to go on the air, Ernie started up a conversation with me. He asked me what I did at the station and how I liked it. He told me a story about his early days in radio. To be honest, I can’t remember the story. I was mesmerized by how exactly like the Ernie Harwell I knew from the Tiger broadcasts he was like in person. I couldn’t believe that a man could project himself so accurately while doing play by play and talking shop about baseball on the air.

    If you didn’t meet him, you’ll have to take my word for it – he was the friendliest, kindest man I ever knew for five minutes. Yesterday was the bottom of the ninth of the last game of the last season for Ernie. The planet is a little darker for his passing. So long, Ernie.

    Sunday, May 02, 2010

    One Foot Out of the Jungle

    We like to think we’re a species that has evolved beyond the others in the animal kingdom.  I was watching The Day the Earth Stood Still (the remake) last night and it reminded me of the general lack of social evolution that has gone along with our incredible rise in technical progress.  Michio Kaku talks about the four stages of development that a civilization can pass through on their way towards omnipotence.  He says we’re part way through stage zero, the first.

    The key measure of development, according to Kaku is the amount of power per person that is available.  By this standard, we have made great strides in the last 100 years.  But, giving people more power for personal use could result in a lot of destruction when people are not evolved enough to be nice to each other.  Fast forward another 100 years and imagine that each person has access to enough power to destroy the planet.  In our current state of development, what are the odds that some emotionally disturbed individual will take advantage of the opportunity?  Further, what are the odds that our emotional development as a species will advance significantly in the next couple generations?

    Our future is pretty bleak when you look at it this way.  We still need violence.  Most people enjoy watching “other” people go at it.  There are many among us that like to “go at it” themselves.  Whether it’s a good game of tennis or a boxing match, the object is the same – to beat your opponent.  Why do we need it?  We are designed to deal with threats.  Fight or flight strategies are hardwired into our old brain.  Excluding the last couple thousand years, most of our existence has been spent dealing with daily threats.  Our ancestors had environmental, animal and competitor attacks on a continual basis.  Their adrenaline was flowing on a daily basis.

    Now, we hardly ever have these types of threats.  So, we need a way to create the situations that our bodies crave.  We take our violent pleasure from video games, movies, sports or just good old fashioned beating the crap out of each other.  It’s hard to see where it ends.  Some people reject violence.  They’re in good company with people like Mohandas Gandhi and Nelson Mandela to name as comrades.  Maybe the fact that we celebrate people that have stood up against violence and hatred is a good sign.  Maybe we can pull back from the brink before our power gets the worst of us.