The Thinker by Rodin

Merry Christmas to you! Are you saved? If you are saved then praise be to Jesus Christ, Amen! If you aren’t saved and haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Personal Lord and Savior ™ — well then it’s time to get on the stick and get saved as soon as you can. Armageddon is almost here.

How do we know this? Why because of all the “Swept Away” books cluttering bookshelves and supermarket aisles, you doofus! The day of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ is bound to happen any day now. You, the unsaved, may be under the impression that God and Jesus are all about unconditional love. If so you are wrong. God only lets into the afterlife those who worship him utterly. So if you don’t worship the One and Only True Christian God ™ and don’t find God through his personal emissary Jesus Christ ™, sorry, but you’re damned. That goes for all you Muslims too, and yes, of course you misguided “chosen people”, not to mention you vile Hindus, Buddhists, Taoists, pagans, Wiccans and most contemptible of all, you Unitarian Universalists. Yes, on that Final Judgment Day ™ you along with all the other damned get to begin an eternity of torment. So says your just and loving One True Christian God.

But you won’t be going straight to Hell, no! Before you are sent down the chute to Satan’s minions, first you must be shown the error of your ways. We, The Saved ™ will be watching you from the peanut gallery in St. Peter’s Heavenly Coliseum. God will be the matador, you will be the bull and in this game God always wins. In will go the knife of justice into your flawed and perturbed soul. You will realize what a stupid and contemptible piece of filth you were for all that whoring or practicing dangerous secular humanism. You should have been attending Bible study class instead, brother! A tiny tear of sadness may escape from us elect watching you bemoan your fate. You will despair that you had so many chances to come to Jesus Christ ™ but didn’t. We will be sad that you chose eternity in torment. But we will also glad that the likes of you aren’t fouling up the serene peace of the Heaven. It’s an exclusive neighborhood you see, and the covenants are real strict. Out forthwith, you heathens, to your perpetual ghetto! We, the saved, will be so rapturous being in heaven and all, and hanging around God, JC and the Holy Spirit ™ will be such a high that we will soon forget about you. Because we were saved! Saved! Yippee! And there’s nothing that gives us more pleasure than to spend eternity telling the God Trio™ what great guys they are. The afterlife will be all Bible Study and harp playing all the time and it will never get dull, brother! Alleluia!

Okay, I know I said in this entry that I didn’t really care what your religion is. And really I don’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t find religions that say you either accept my religion or you’ll end up in Hell very contemptible. By inference then perhaps I feel that all the adherents who believe in this to be contemptible too. That’s not true. But if there is a Hell, then perhaps God will reserve some small part of it for these sanctimonious authors raking in millions in royalties for these novels. Elmer Gantry and the Landover Baptist Church would be proud.

As a Unitarian Universalist I am clearly on the damned path. We have a history of engaging in dangerous secular humanism. In fact we have the audacity to call the place we congregate a “Church” even though there is no requirement of anyone to accept Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior or even be a Christian! If you can imagine, we don’t care what anyone believes or doesn’t believe. Our mission is simply to help each other discover what it is they believe. Along the way we get involved in vile social action projects like feeding and sheltering the homeless, standing up for the rights of the poor and disenfranchised, encouraging democracy and protecting civil rights. We even welcome (Warning: sit down now!) gays, lesbians and the transgender community. And we don’t even try to convert them! Yup, on judgment day we UUs will doubtless be the first ones dispatched into Hell, post haste. Imagine the confusion of people when we, the heathen and unsaved, try to make the world a better place instead of telling others about God and Jesus. What a waste of our time and money!

I am, it appears, unsaved and perhaps irredeemable at this point. Because I’m afraid the missionaries could be lined up at my door stretching to the moon and not one of them will get me to buy into this saved stuff. My mind appears to be shut to them. While I am not sure what I truly believe about spirituality, what I tend to believe changes over time as I learn and experience more of life. This Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior stuff just makes me shake my head. Pity me, those of you among The Saved ™. I actually believe the Universalist notion. It states that if Jesus really did come down to earth to save us from our sins, he did so for everyone, for all time, with no strings attached. Because, you see, this to me is the highest expression of love. I can’t imagine any entity claiming to come from God, the source of unconditional love saying in effect “I’ve saved you all, but first you have to sign and adhere to this contract.”

So while I am skeptical about the afterlife in general I don’t give it too much concern because I figure I’m already saved. If I have a philosophy of life, I like the one expressed by J.R.R. Tolkien though his character Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings”: “All you have to do is decide what to do with the time given to you.” For that I will let my heart and my conscience be my guide.

For those of you convinced that the only way to salvation is through Jesus, peace to you. But know this: I know in my heart that if God exists, he is not a jealous god, or a god that sets preconditions. Many Christians see Jesus the way fat people see diet doctors. Whether it’s Atkins or Pritikin, when you diet the goal is weight loss, not the means. If the afterlife or spiritual growth is the goal then the messenger doesn’t matter. If reading your Bible and attending services is your way to spirituality I think that’s great. Jesus is your means of getting there. But try to open your heart and your head to the notion that there are many ways to God. The ways of the Buddhist or the Muslim way may be just as valid as your way. Don’t confuse the medium (Jesus, the Bible) with the result (becoming a more spiritual person). Every human is unique. If there is a God it is clear that God designed us this way — we need only examine our own DNA for proof. I believe there is no one size fits all suit to spirituality. There are infinite suits to try on, and infinite paths. We are all spiritual creatures on our own unique spiritual journeys. Jesus hinted as much, by suggesting praying in your closet might work out better than in a house of worship. Try it for a year or so and let me know how it goes. And try this one for size: we the Unsaved deserve the dignity and respect for making our own choices on this matter, not your pity because we don’t share your particular brand of spirituality. You can start by not buying any more of those contemptible “Swept Away” books.

Some Thoughts on Love

The Thinker by Rodin

All we need is love, the Beatles told us. But in my experience giving and receiving the quality of love we desire is a darned hard thing. Why is that?

Perhaps it is because to get the love we need we have to honestly present ourselves to the world. How can someone give you the kind of love you need if you present a false picture of yourself to them? If you can’t show the world who you truly are then all you can do is hope that someone will provide the kind of love you need by accident. Consequently the quality of love you receive may directly correlate to your ability to be vulnerable with other people.

And of course it is darned hard to be vulnerable. Most of us arrived as adults by becoming actors of our own lives. It often reaches the point where even we get confused and find it difficult to tell if the version of ourselves that we present to the world is fake or the genuine article. I see this in myself. In the business world I play the role of a hard working, no nonsense type of employee. I sometimes feel I am this way, but I’m not sure it is genuine. I think it is driven by fear: fear of being unemployed. I have known the depths of unemployment and low wages, and it is a miserable experience I do not want to recur. So I have learned to survive by projecting the values I think other people expect to see. Doing so on a daily basis and so routinely often makes me think I really am this person.

But this is probably just one aspect of me. I also find myself wanting to goof off more and more as I age, and it’s harder and harder to play this role unless I feel engaged in the part with the other actors in my life. On some level I sense we are all faking it. My boss and his boss are projecting values that they are committed to their careers, but on another level I sense it is bogus. They too are wearing masks. We are all wearing masks. We are all imposters.

And I’m clearly not all that great at being vulnerable. This is an aspect of myself I continue to work on, but with only limited success. I have learned that being vulnerable means you are easily open to assault. And emotional assault can be the worst form of assault.

I feel I lavish love on my wife and daughter, but I also often feel like I am not doing it right. One should give out love with no expectation of return, but it often feels like I give out way more than I receive in return. I think the kind of love I try to give them is what they want to receive, but I often feel uncertain. As my daughter matures she doesn’t need the father who read to her every evening any more. As my wife ages it often appears that she gets the kind of love, or at least appreciation, that she desires more from her friends than from me. I often feel like they understand her a lot better than I do and perhaps that’s why she spends so much time with them.

On the other hand I also have assumed that to truly love someone you want what is best for them. So if my wife gets a lot of the attention she needs from her friends, providing this is the kind of attention she needs rather than wants, I don’t feel terribly upset. I’ve never believed that one should get love only from one source. But I do wonder sometimes if I truly love my wife, as I do, why others appear to be so much better at tickling her fancy than me. Why can’t I see, integrate and respond to those aspects of her that others seem to be able to do so easily?

I have a friend who shall remain anonymous (but she knows who she is) who wants someone find someone that totally “gets” her. Some part of me thinks that waiting around for this person is a lot like waiting for Godot. At best you can hope that some combination of people will “get” you in divergent ways where you feel this appreciation and love. But sometimes I run across couples who truly seem to me to be so well integrated that I tend to put aside my skepticism and think “These two people are soul mates. They were meant to be together.” I get that feeling about my sister Lee Ann and her husband Rick. I can’t imagine two people who complete each other better. I can’t imagine them divorced. Neither, as best I can tell, was totally the person they were meant to be until they found each other and fell in love. Now they are so integrated they truly seem one entity sometimes. It’s no longer Lee Ann and Rick, it’s Rick/LA.

I dearly love my wife and daughter but when I look at Lee Ann and Rick I feel they have set a standard I will never be able to achieve in my marriage. I give myself some solace by wondering if such utter integration with each other is unhealthy. I know on an instinctive level though that I will never realize what they have for each other in my own marriage. I am more than a little bit envious. But I wonder: do they really feel complete? Or is something missing? Is it perhaps because they live life with such modest expectations that their relationship succeeds so well? Have I set for myself a standard of love so high that no one could possibly meet it quite the way I want?

I don’t know. But it seems a standard devoutly to be desired.

I have had two occasions in my life where I felt someone “got” me in a special and unique way. One happened seven Christmases ago when I opened a present from my wife and there was a first edition Palm PDA handheld computer. I kept up on technology and had some idea of what these things did, but I had never used one and didn’t even know I would want one of these things. I took it out of its box, started playing with it and within a couple days I was so utterly tickled by the present that to this day I doubt Terri will ever be able to give me a gift that will touch me quite the way that little electronic gizmo did. Was it just a hunch that she had, or did she really know me THAT well? Maybe I don’t want to know. But it was a home run outside of the park sort of present.

Another occasion happened about four years ago when I finally connected with an online friend in real life. Among other things we both had a passion for theater, musicals in particular, and we connected on a shared interest in the musical Les Miserables. She gave me with a CD of her favorite musical, The Secret Garden. Okay I thought, I’m sure it must be good if it comes on her recommendation. But I had seen the movie on TV and it didn’t do much for me. I remember taking it to work a couple days later and putting it on for a spin while I worked on some boring documents. It wasn’t very long before I was closing the door to my office. Tears were actually streaming down my face. There are lots of wonderful musicals out there, of course, but for whatever reason this one totally knocked me for a loop the first time I heard it. Maybe it was coincidence, maybe not, but I felt touched in a way I have only felt a few times in my life. It is still difficult to listen to it without tearing up. I’m not entirely sure why it affects me this way but it clearly touched something in my inner core.

I’d like more experiences like these two in my life, but they are by their nature few and far between. I can’t help but think though, wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if we could all feel this kind of special touch from not just our intimates but the world at large. I have nary a clue, though, on how to get there from here.

Continue reading “Some Thoughts on Love”

Review: The Return of the King

The Thinker by Rodin

The new movie The Return of the King (RotK) is a satisfying conclusion to Peter Jackson’s movie trilogy. At three hours and twenty minutes it seems odd to say it is too short, but it is too short. Each of the movies leaves out parts of the book we Tolkien aficionados considered essential. If you are a fan of the book you will be shaking your heads over parts omitted. One wonders, for example, how Peter Jackson (the director) could possibly leave out Gandalf’s key scene at the gates of Minas Tirith with the Witch King. One can only pray the scene was filmed and will be shown in the extended DVD. But there are other bizarre parts that ended up on the editing floor such as Sam’s using the ring. Eomer never gets a chance to grieve over the body of King Theoden. Jackson’s choices for what were important were often debatable. Gone are the Houses of Healing, gone is the romance between Faramir and Eowyn. We never see ancillary characters like Beregond and Prince Imrahil. The time between the Battle of Pelennor Fields and the final encounter at the Black Gate is incredibly squeezed, as is Sam and Frodo’s journey through Mordor. And of course Jackson never bothered to film the scouring of the Shire, considering that part simply boring. We can only hope that most of these omissions end up in the extended DVD.

Other things seem kind of strange compared to the book. The ruined city of Osgiliath appears to be a mile or so away from the gates of Minas Tirith instead of a day’s ride away. Indeed from the perspective of Minas Tirith, Mordor seems so close that it practically hovers over the city. One wonders how the people of Gondor kept their city from being overrun for so long since the distance between good and evil seems so collapsed.

Of course some plot points were changed, but none seriously. Merry ends up with Pippin going to the Black Gate (I guess his wounds weren’t too bad.) Elrond makes an unexpected appearance in Rohan to give Aragon his sword Anduril. (Why couldn’t he have gotten it back in Rivendell like in the book? What was the point of waiting through two movies?)

But really these are fairly minor nits because if you liked the first two movies you won’t be disappointed this conclusion. Some parts simply take your breath away, often at unexpected times. The lighting of the beacon at Minas Tirith and the scenes of the beacons being lit on the mountaintops across Anorien make the heart stop. The Battle of Pennelor Fields is as spectacular as you would expect. The scene where Eowyn kills the Witch King was the emotional highlight of the film for me. People worried about the final scene at the Cracks of Doom need not worry; Jackson kept to the dogma brilliantly.

The audience was a little confused about when the movie ended. Once Aragorn was crowned king and the screen faded to white some thought the movie was over. There were other opportunities to get confused about when the movie ended. But I didn’t feel that the number of “goodbyes” was overstated at all. The whole chapter in the book “Many Partings” was basically cut out. In takes less than a minute to move the reader from Gondor back to the Shire.

Some random thoughts and observations:

– Liv Tyler actually acts pretty well this time, unlike in the first two movies. I had a feeling Jackson reshot these scenes because Tyler wasn’t very convincing at all in the first two movies. In fact she annoyed me. I didn’t believe her at all. I believed her in this movie.
– Do elves have superglue on the pads of their feet? How can Legolas possibly keep his balance as he climbs the oliphant to bring it down?
– Miranda Otto more than fills Eowyn’s shoes. My wife is very upset that this was done so well. She has always disliked the character because she comes across as a stereotype in Tolkien’s books. Not so in the movie.
– Why didn’t the muster of Rohan take the enemy by surprise? In the book it was because they acted like cavalry that they were so successful.
– It’s nice to see Billy Boyd provide something beyond comic relief. He gets his moments to shine in this movie.
– Shelob was worth the wait. She is disgusting beyond imagination.
– As a local reviewer also noted, the dead that Aragorn encounters look more like ghosts from Pirates of the Caribbean, and wouldn’t scare me too much. I’m wondering why the orcs were so afraid.

Naturally I’ll be back in the theater to see it again and again. There is a long holiday period coming up. But until the extended DVD arrives a year from now in my mind it won’t really be over. There is too much that needs to be added. This feels like a Reader’s Digest condensed version of the movie.

As a footnote I learned that the book was so named only at the insistence of Tolkien’s publisher. Tolkien had wanted to name the third volume “The War of the Rings” but was overruled. In the 1950s I guess Tolkien felt fortunate enough to be published at all and didn’t feel in a position to argue.

One Year of Blogging

The Thinker by Rodin

My first blog entry was a little over a year ago: December 14, 2002. Since that time I have posted 103 entries. 57 people out there left comments for me to ponder. (Actually there were more than that, but I had to get rid of a lot of spam comments.)

My friend Lisa who still keeps her own active blog inspired me to create my own blog. It was not a difficult thing for me to do because I had already helped her set up her blog, or at least helped her move it from Greymatter to Moveable Type. Setting my blog up was easy; but it did take a few days to purchase a domain name and to park it in my real domain. In actuality this blog rests inside my potomactavern.org domain. It’s cheaper that way.

Every blog has a style and it took me a while for me to develop mine. Most blogs I read are streams of consciousness blogs. In these blogs entries are posted daily, sometimes many times a day, and contain a lot of the random thoughts and minutia that daily happen to a person. Such detail about my life would put me to sleep; on a daily basis my life is not all that interesting. I suspect it would put my readers to sleep too, so I’ve largely avoided it. Rather I’ve focused my blog on content. My mind often races with thoughts and perspectives on issues that I consider profound and different, but I also believe are usually dead on. I often feel like I am a pretty good prognosticator of future events from present day patterns, and just putting them out there makes me feel better. I feel good, for example, about predicting our country’s debacle in Iraq before it happened. Now I have a place to put these thoughts. They exist not so much to share it with the world as to act as a sort of living memory.

Most blog have limits. I sometimes wish I had a blog where my real identity was not out there for all to see. Like everyone I struggle with issues that I don’t necessarily want people to tie directly to me. It would be nice to capture these issues and insecurities somewhere, but I won’t do it here. I doubt my wife would like our lives quite that exposed, and I don’t want to expose voyeuristic details of my life to the world at large anyhow. I’ve already gotten some feedback that this journal is a little too personal. I’ve written about my daughter’s sexuality and the problems of neighbors on the street. I skirt boundaries of propriety from time to time, but so far I do not feel ashamed or think any of the content here is inappropriate. Life as we all know is messy from time to time, so why not expose some of that mess to the rest of the world? Readers can infer the rest. My personal life is messy too; so is yours.

I started this journal hoping that perhaps it would be more widely read. I fancy myself something of a writer. I’m no Sinclair Lewis but I am probably a better writer than most out here in blogland. If I were to judge by comments left here, not a whole lot of people read this blog. But I also can look at statistics provided by my web host and I do get hits on this site. Of those who bother to rate me on bloghop.com, over half rate my site as either “Good” or “Love It!” 31% don’t like this site and rate it as “Sucks” and “Hate it”. Well, there’s no accounting for taste and I don’t lose sleep if it turns some people off. But blogging is very “in” at the moment and it seems like it has moved from the avant garde to the masses. Because there are so many blogs out there mine won’t draw any special attention. Unlike, say, DailyKOS there is no theme to my blog to suck in a particular community, although I tend to dwell on politics quite a bit.

I have found that I can’t write briefly. I find if something is worth saying, it is worth saying well and fully. I compose my entries in Microsoft Word and carefully edit them; nonetheless it is a rare entry that is less than two pages long. I sometimes wonder how many people make it to the end of an entry.

I also blog, I think, because some part of me misses writing. I did so much of it in my youth and it energized me. Since then I haven’t really had the time. A blog gives me an excuse to focus on my thoughts and feelings by writing about them, and it gives me a place to share them with the world. Occasionally though I write on something that piques the interest of a number of strangers. A good political entry will usually generate a comment or two. The most passionate comments came from my entry about how I have lost interest in Star Trek. I was also surprised to find some passionate comments when I discussed the situation of a neighbor of ours.

There is something existential about my blog. It seems to mean as much as I wish it to mean. No one would miss it if I dropped it tomorrow. I wouldn’t miss it that much either. I sometimes force myself to sit down a couple times a week and write about something even though my life is already plenty busy. If nothing else it provides a means for me to reflect on my life and this world I inhabit. Actually writing about some of these things requires me to put my thoughts done concretely and to think through my own opinions and issues.

So I intend to keep the blog going. It is getting harder to think of fresh things to post here. However I have surprised myself so far. This blog is a lot denser and more alive with meaningful content than I expected. And it is good to know that people I care about actually read my blog from time to time. I know my wife stops here occasionally, and some of her friends have stumbled on my blog through her and read it. My two favorite Toms, my brother Tom and my long time friend Tom Cheevers read my blog. And hopefully the lady who turned me onto blogging, Lisa is still coming here regularly. If nothing else I will show up. If I keep conversation with no one but myself, at least it is a sign that I am alive, I am thinking through issues and I am marking the passages in my life.

My Altered State Experience

The Thinker by Rodin

I’ve been getting a lot less sleep than normal over the last two weeks. Our daughter Rosie has a substantial part in a local production of the musical Scrooge. This has meant lots of weeknight rehearsals for her ending late. Unfortunately I still had to work, which meant getting her home between 10 and 11 p.m., making sure she took a bath and got all her medicine, putting myself to bed, then getting up at 5 a.m. the following morning. For some people five hours of so of a restless sleep a night is plenty. It’s not enough for me apparently. I’ve felt like a dead man walking a lot recently.

Yesterday though was one of my earned days off. (I get one every two weeks by working an extra hour a day.) I looked forward to having some downtime. Instead of getting up at 5 a.m. though I got up at 6 a.m. Someone had to insure that my indefatigable daughter also got up and shuffled off to school. Terri usually does this but since I was home I felt it was my turn. Once I’m up I can’t usually go back to sleep, but yesterday morning was different. I couldn’t keep my eyes open. So after Rosie was off for her bus and after my wife left for work I slipped under the covers again hoping for sleep but not expecting to get any. To improve the odds (I am very light and sound sensitive) I tightly closed the curtains, put on a pair of night blinders and pulled the covers up over me.

I reached a certain point where I was nearly asleep when I realized I still needed to get up in a couple hours to meet a friend for lunch, and I hadn’t set the alarm. Unable to summon the will to set it I put in a mental wakeup call to myself. And then amazingly I did drift off.

I wasn’t sure how long I was slept. I don’t remember dreaming a thing but my little mental alarm clock went off. It was time to get up, or at least check the clock. I issued instructions to my body to get myself up. I thought I pushed myself up in bed and grabbed my night blinders … but I was not up and I couldn’t see a thing!

What the hell was going on? This was very bizarre and had never happened to me before. I tried again. I told my body “I got to get up RIGHT NOW! Muscles, swing into action!” But nothing happened.

I felt very creeped out at this point. I went through this scenario several times. I felt myself getting up. I felt myself removing my night blinders. But nothing was happening. I was not up at all. I could see nothing.

Now I was not just feeling creepy, I was getting more than a little scared. Just what kind of state was I in? Was I dead? I could see nothing. I could feel nothing. I couldn’t move a muscle. All I knew was I wanted to do something and I couldn’t get my body to respond. I couldn’t even feel my body.

I kept trying over and over again: get up and remove the blinders! After a half dozen attempts or so finally something happened and I was sitting up in bed and really pulling my blinders off. My heart was racing. About ninety minutes had passed. I stumbled into the bathroom.

What the hell had just happened? I still have no idea. My wife says it was just a dream. But it was more than that. At least it felt like it was more than that. I really felt like I was in some sort of altered state.

If this has ever happened to you, please let me know!

My nemesis the cat

The Thinker by Rodin

I must be a very bad pet owner.

We have two rather geriatric cats. They recently turned seventeen years old. They were purchased in early 1987 as something of a house warming present for ourselves. We had purchased our town house six months earlier and weren’t planning children any time soon.

We had managed to find another home for a rather neurotic cat left over from my wife’s single days and were petless. Dixie, the previous cat, was a very large, extremely beautiful but very neurotic cat. She insisted on sleeping with us (because my wife let him), in the process usually taking up most of my side of the bed. I’ve noticed extremely beautiful people tend to be self centered and neurotic but was surprised that the same seemed to be true of gorgeous cats. This was a cat who was either asleep or licking itself. No one could see Dixie without being immediately drawn to him. This factor worked in our favor when we wanted to find him a new home: he was snapped up by the first person who came over to check him out.

But my wife was used to having furry things around the house and after a couple months she was desperate to have another cat. How could I tell? Perhaps it was because she was wandering around the house saying “Got to have a cat!” all the time. I got the message. This time though she wanted to start with a kitten. The only problem was there were no kittens available and she couldn’t wait. We eventually found some kittens at a Doctors Pet Center in Tysons Corner: three kittens from the same litter. It was pretty much take it or leave it.

Sprite, the good cat
I noticed Sprite right away: a lovely grey and white cat that even at 10 weeks old had a sweet and mellow disposition. Terri noticed Squeaky, the girl cat in the litter. I wasn’t wild about Squeaky but I naively thought two cats from the same litter could become playmates and they would be happier that way.

Clearly I didn’t have much experience with cats! Except for a parakeet, I came from a petless household. I have since learned to never project this feeling on a cat: cats don’t particularly want other cats around. In retrospect we all agreed it would have been better to have gone home with just Sprite. I think Squeaky too would have been much happier. But we were young and foolish so both of them came home.

Squeaky was originally named Pixel. Pixel and Sprite were both computer graphics terms, and I owned a Commodore 64 at the time, so it seemed appropriate. Squeaky’s true personality asserted itself immediately. She is a “never shut up” sort of cat, and she sounded exactly like a door pivoting on a rusty hinge. So Squeaky she became. She answered to it; she never responded to Pixel.

During those brief weeks when they actually seemed like kittens it was Squeaky who was aloof. She wanted nothing to do with us humans. So I kept picking up and playing with Sprite instead and Squeaky went into the corner and ignored us, except at dinner time, or when she wanted to bellow, which was most of the time. We’re not sure why she bellowed. She bellowed at the moon. She bellowed at a fleck of dust. She bellowed I believe because she missed the sound of her own bellowing. After we brought our baby Rosie home from the hospital Squeaky decided that getting up four times a night was simply not enough, and made sure to bellow outside our bedroom door the rest of the time. (We agreed not to let them sleep with us. We still throw them out at night.) Sprite however turned into a sweet, lovey-dovey cat who liked nothing more than to sit forever on your lap while you gently stroked him and he dug his claws into your legs. (I learned to wear heavy jeans most of the time.)

Squeaky, the act from Hell

After a year or two though Squeaky began to figure out that being aloof wasn’t quite what she wanted. She wasn’t the center of attention. So she inserted herself into our lives. We tried our hardest to be nice to her and to pet her and to give her positive attention. But she has always been a nervous Nellie. She was incapable of relaxing. If you put her on your lap she would immediately shift, and shift, and shift, and get up, and yell in your face, and shift … you get the idea. She had to be IN YOUR FACE. Eventually we couldn’t take it anymore so we threw her off our laps. No matter. She’d immediately jump up on our laps again. We’d throw her off. On and off. So it went on this endless round robin and eventually we were yelling at her and she was yelling at us and we entered into classic dysfunctional relationship. It seemed unlikely Squeaky would be amenable to therapy.

Squeaky cannot be satisfied. Ten minutes of lap sitting and she wants twenty. Twenty and she wants forty. Two hours and she won’t be satisfied by four. I have repeatedly tried to figure out if there was any end to the amount of attention she craved. All my experiments have demonstrated it is bottomless. And now it is all these years later and she is still the same way, except she is much older and is now thin as a rail and bulimic. Much of her life, when she isn’t yelling at us, involves eating food and immediately throwing up. I’d think she had some sort of terrible condition, but she’s been doing this for many years.

I make sporadic attempts to be nice to her hoping that maybe her brain will finally reprogram itself. I don’t want to have two to four incidents of daily cat gorp to clean up. I try to put her on my lap and I won’t let her move hoping she’d figure out she needs to sit still if she wants to be on my lap. Immediately she starts moving around and twitching. Sometimes it works for a little while, but thirty minutes later old patterns reassert themselves and she is howling and demanding attention again.

Squeaky has become our nemesis. I open the front door and she is there at the crack yelling at me. Invited or not she follows me around the house. I only feed her in the morning but no matter if I am in the kitchen she figures I must be getting ready to feed her and will follow me around yelling at me seemingly upset that I’m not dishing out kitty caviar. She is always underfoot. We’ve all tripped over her innumerable times. We don’t know how she has survived this long. We don’t know how we have managed to restrain ourselves from kitty homicide. We’ve offered her to all our friends and even strangers. No one will take this cat. She is psycho-kitty.

The stress is too much for Squeaky. She engages in nervous habits. She repeatedly licks her fur near her tail and manages to lick most of it off. She won’t take care of herself. She looks awful. I know I must be a bad pet owner but I can’t think of what else I am supposed to do about her. At this point I think just letting her live is a supreme gesture of humanity on my part, but maybe she’d actually prefer to be put down. I doubt most pet owners would last a year with this cat.

Sprite meanwhile remains the perfect cat. He never demands attention, he only gently inquires. He is content to sit on my lap for hours and gently be stroked. Squeaky observes us with great jealousy but never figures out it that if she were to emulate her brother’s behavior she would be treated the same way.

If ever there were a case for putting a cat on Prozac, Squeaky would be it. So far we haven’t gone that route but even her vet has suggested it as a possibility. Maybe it has come to that. This is a cat that deserves some peace. Apparently no one can give it to her, so keeping her medicated all the time may be a blessing to all of us.

It is now many years later that I realize both cats were misnamed. If I had to do it over again Sprite, the good lap kitty would be named Jeckyl. Squeaky of course would be Hyde.

Over the intervening years Terri has learned that she allergic to cats. We don’t have the heart to get rid of them so she takes lots of antihistamines to deal with it. Both cats are strictly indoor cats, but they must be reaching the end of their natural lifespans. I’ll miss Sprite dreadfully when he dies. I never bonded so well with an animal before. But try as I might I’ll never forget Squeaky. She is one of these unforgettable characters who should be written up in Readers’ Digest. I’ll probably just be relieved when she passes into kitty heaven. I might even sing “Ding, dong the wicked witch is dead!”

Scrooge is alive: Wal-Mart is evil

The Thinker by Rodin

Can a company be evil? I think so. Wal-Mart is an evil company.

I have decided I will have nothing to do with Wal-Mart. Granted I was not exactly one of their major customers. I bought some paint there once, only because it got a Consumer Reports recommendation. And I purchased a set of prescription glasses there a few years back. I might have bought a couple other things over the years but that’s about it. That’s all it’s going to be unless Wal-Mart reforms its ways. I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. See, first Wal-Mart has to get a conscience. It has none. Tolkien’s evil Lord Sauron looks good in comparison.

Admittedly I find its stores to be incredibly easy to hate. I hate the phony Wal-Mart greeter at the door. I hate the narrow aisles with products stuffed to the ceilings. I hate not being able to find anything quickly in the store. I hate the hugeness of the place. I don’t hate its customers, but they don’t appeal to me a whole lot. They make me itchy. I know I paint with a wide brush here (and I’m certainly not saying that all their customers are this way) but they seem to me to be a lot of overweight and over-hassled looking people. They seem to disproportionately represent the lower middle class. I don’t hold it against them for shopping there. If I were living from paycheck to paycheck I might be shopping there too.

I don’t hate its employees either because I was like them once. For about two years in my early 20s I worked as a wage slave for the now defunct Montgomery Ward corporation. It had a lot of the same attributes of Wal-Mart, but it just wasn’t as successful. What can I say: the economy was bad in 1979, even worse than it was today. I was a newly minted college graduate with a liberal arts degree and no place to use it. I worked at Wards to survive. I survived most of the time at or a little above the minimum wage (then in the $3-$4 an hour range). I did earn a commission of sorts for every lawn and garden sale I made, but all of it was against a draw. Lots of times I couldn’t earn my draw (i.e. earn the minimum wage based on my sales). (This wasn’t from lack of effort, just lack of customers.) I still got the minimum wage in these cases, but they were forever threatening to fire me and hire someone else if I couldn’t “earn” my draw.

Surviving was tough. I was fortunate to be young and in good health. Wards did offer some sort of health insurance plan but I couldn’t begin to afford it. Imagine trying to live on $4 an hour. If you can find a place to flop and put food in your mouth you are doing okay at those wages, even in 1979. I couldn’t afford a car — the one I brought from Florida gave out and I had no money to fix it. Purchase health insurance on my salary? The idea was laughable. The same is true with current Wal-Mart workers, which, like Wards, does actually offer something they call “health insurance”. Those of us who have real health insurance wouldn’t recognize it. The Wal-Mart basic health insurance plan costs $10 a week but is limited to paying out no more than $1000 a year in benefits! In my family we spend three or four times that a year on prescription drugs alone! Wal-Mart health insurance is, in short, mostly a waste of money, which is probably why so few Wal-Mart employees bother to get it in the first place.

McDonalds (another evil corporation) calls its jobs “opportunities”. I doubt Wal-Mart workers really believe their dead end jobs are opportunities. Here in Northern Virginia the local Wal-Mart seems to hire a lot of people who must have just recently gotten their green cards. Most don’t appear to be American citizens. I see lots of people who appear to be part time workers of Indian or Pakistani descent. When I was working for Wards I could afford (barely) to share a cheap apartment with another guy. I doubt they can manage even this. I imagine their Wal-Mart job is probably a second, third or fourth job and whatever miserly income they make helps support an extended family living in densities greater than their local housing officials would approve.

Scrooge lives folks, but he is now incorporated and he runs Wal-Mart. This Scrooge though squeezes everyone: suppliers and employees alike. He is ruthless in increasing profits and driving the competition out of business. If that means doubling imports from China and putting Americans out of work, it’s not a problem. This Scrooge is not immoral; he is amoral. He simply doesn’t care if his actions put Americans out of work, or results in depressed wages across the country. He doesn’t care if his store is tended to by legions of Bob Crachits. Scrooge begrudged giving Crachit Christmas Day off, but at least he did it out of some feeling of shame. Wal-Mart employees, as has been amply documented in the media, often are forced to book unpaid overtime. Its cleaning contractors hire illegal aliens at rates below the minimum wage that at least in some cases never get a day off. Scrooge grins and looks the other ways. The stockholders are pleased, as long as it doesn’t go public. Oops.

People like me with consciences need to know which companies treat their employees fairly and provide them with decent benefits. We need to know so we can patronize these companies. I wish there were more people like me. But Republicanism apparently has turned us into an amoral nation. We simply don’t give a damn about Wal-Mart workers and all the companies like Wal-Mart. All we care about is low prices and reckless consumerism. We don’t care if these people get sick. We can’t even see the connection when they show up at emergency rooms and their costs are passed on to us in the form of higher premiums. Skeptical? Believe it! Health insurance costs don’t go up twenty to thirty percent a year for years on end solely because new miracle drugs come on the market. They go up also because Wal-Mart workers and workers like them can’t get preventive medicine and instead get “free” but transitory treatment at our public emergency rooms at your expense.

I won’t patronize companies like Wal-Mart anymore. We need to grade corporations on how well they treat their employees and their business partners. They need score cards that are released with their quarterly balance sheets. We need to know who these corporate Scrooges are. We need to change our laws to ensure the lowest paid workers in this country are still paid decently and can actually survive on their wages. Until then those of us with consciences must just say no and refuse to patronize these places. Wal-Mart is the easy target. But if we can get Wal-Mart to cave in, the rest might too. Then perhaps there will be fewer stories in the paper like this one.

Continue reading “Scrooge is alive: Wal-Mart is evil”

A Neighbor in Hell, Part Three

The Thinker by Rodin

I have written three entries (here, here and here) about a neighbor down the street and her personal hell. I haven’t written about her situation since March. I wish I could report that she is at least ascending into a higher level of Dante’s Hell, but that is not the case. Things have gone from really, really bad to even worse. After last night I feel I simply must write about it again, hopefully to purge it from my system. I hope no one in the neighborhood reads this weblog because it will be pretty obvious who I am writing about.

When last we left C and her daughter B, B was in and out of psychiatric institutions and making sporadic efforts to return to her middle school. After months of work C managed to get her daughter admitted to a full time mental health facility and boarding school for emotionally disturbed children near Leesburg, Virginia. She detailed this whole journey for us a few months back when we invited her over for dinner. Needless to say everyone in the approval process went out of their way to keep this child, who desperately needed help, from getting it. C’s husband D has been unemployed for over a year so they are living off her income but apparently it was too much for her to get public mental health services, even though of course they were exhausting savings and 401-K’s right and left. Keeping up their house payments seemed increasingly doubtful. Anyhow, B finally got admitted and has been in this institution for more than six months now. It is only recently that she has been allowed to come home for a few hours for very well chaperoned visits. How much longer she will stay in this institution is unknown, but thank goodness she is getting full time psychiatric care at last. B is making progress.

Little details about B’s life keep leaking out from time to time. As you may recall C’s husband D is a drunk. I should not have been surprised to learn that B had been hitting Daddy’s hooch. I never had a clue, but I’ve heard that alcoholics are really good at hiding their habit. B told our daughter Rosie that she recently had been clean and sober for a whole year. This is also good news. I hope she can always be that way. This makes me wonder what other bad stuff she had been getting into. We have heard rumors that she had been using marijuana, but now I’m wondering if she got to harder stuff. Perhaps I will find out in time.

No, the real problem is no longer B but husband D. Since his unemployment it has been all downhill. To start off with, he’s had knee surgery to correct some major problems. Apparently he had a lot of pain from it and he’s been on pain killers. Somehow, and I doubt it was something given to him in the hospital, he found a doctor to write him prescriptions for Oxycontin. So he’s been mainlining Oxycontin, along with of course continuing to drink almost all the time. The doctor, we learned, had no idea he was also an alcoholic, although how he could miss it we don’t understand. The rest of us could tell he was a drunk from a hundred paces.

D of course remains in denial about his drinking. C eventually figured out that she had to get him out of the house. He and his drinking gave B opportunities for her steady and disastrous decline. Apparently if two people are married one can’t force the other to get out of the house and he wasn’t leaving. He had no place to go and no money to live anywhere anyhow. He lived off C’s salary. That left C with few alternatives. One was to find an apartment and move there with her son E. The other was to find D an apartment and convince him to move there.

She eventually succeeded in the latter and found him an apartment with a six month lease a few miles away. (Naturally, she has to pay his rent.) Of course D didn’t seem to like the new situation and petitioned to get back in to the house. And C, for reasons I don’t understand, didn’t bother to change the locks.

So a few weeks ago B came home for a supervised visit and there was her drunk father, who she should not see. C talks him into going into the basement, but it isn’t long before reputedly he is cussing up a blue streak at her daughter and blaming her for all of his problems. But there is more. For weeks the man is growing more and more psychotic. He’s had my wife come over to check his computer because he believes that agents are breaking into his computer. Later, it’s not just agents; it’s none other than al Qaeda itself! Yes, Osama bin Laden apparently is targeting D’s computer! Terri, of course, finds nothing wrong with his computer. She should know; she does this stuff for a living but D is not convinced.

We go as a family to see a movie and were to run Rosie by B’s house for a brief visit afterwards before B had to go back to the institution. Rosie and my wife Terri knock on their door. No one answers, but B should not have left yet and the light is on in her bedroom. My wife calls from their driveway using her cell phone. D picks up the phone and goes into a rambling and high pitched dialog about people trying to get him and then the phone goes dead. She tries again; the phone is picked up but there is no answer.

She comes back to our house and we call the police. They come by and ask us questions. We try to reach B’s institution to find out if she arrived back there early. They can’t tell us. We try to reach C but don’t have her cell phone number. Eventually the police go to his house and knock on the door. We don’t know what happened but a little while later an ambulance quietly goes down our street and silently exits some time later.

Much later in the evening we get a call from C. Thankfully B was safe and C had taken her back earlier than we expected. But there is no one at home, the police won’t tell us what happened and C has no idea where her husband is. Later in the week we learn that D was taken to Fairfax Hospital. Apparently he had a massive infection in his knees. He’s been in the hospital since that time. Two weeks of intravenous antibiotics seem to have finally brought the infection under control. We learn that the infection was very advanced and that D was actually pretty close to death. My wife’s concern and our calling the police may well have saved his life!

Now apparently D is close to being released from the hospital. Why we’re not sure, because he still thinks al Qaeda is out to get him. But of course he wants to return home, not go back to his apartment. C, of course, does not want him home. D says there is no bed in his apartment. C decides she will move the futon into his apartment so he can’t use that excuse. I volunteer to help her.

So last night we struggle to get the thing into her minivan and I, and her son E (who is in fourth grade) go to his apartment to deliver it. C brings cleaning supplies with her because the management is upset about the condition of the place.

We enter but can barely get in the door because of all the crap all over the place. I have never seen such a god-awful mess, and believe me I’ve seen a few. I can only begin to describe it. Furniture is tipped over. Birdseed is all over the place. The refrigerator is open and unplugged. The burners on the stove have been removed. The washing machine and dryer have been pulled out. Aluminum foil is strung out everywhere and taped across walls (to confuse al Qaeda apparently). I find a whole mess of pills in the pantry of unknown type and lots of alcohol swabs in the bathroom. How long had he been in the apartment? Only two weeks! Oh. My. God.

We eventually clear a path so we can bring in the futon and we furiously begin picking up crap, vacuuming, sweeping and cleaning counters and floors. Eventually though I have to leave C to finish, but I take her son E back to our place, help him with his homework and let him zone out on video games. C keeps cleaning and doesn’t come by until nearly 11 PM. She had no choice. She has to get the management to get the heat back on tomorrow in case D comes home, and they won’t do it until the place is cleaned.

D has family in New Mexico who sound like they can be arm twisted to let him “come home”. C is hoping that will happen soon. Then perhaps she can get that divorce and reorder her life. Her daughter B would be more than enough of a problem for any parent. Just managing her, if she can get rid of hubby, will be an enormous relief.

We’ll see. I hope this is their nadir as a family, but so far every time I think things can’t possibly get worse they do. To whatever God or gods are out their directing their fate: enough! No one deserves his level of hell. It’s time for this family to heal and move on.

Goodbye Smoke Filled Room

The Thinker by Rodin

Politics in America is undergoing a fundamental change. Say goodbye to smoke filled rooms and party directed elections. Say hello to true grass roots democracy.

For the most part the powers that be haven’t caught on yet. The Republicans in particular don’t get it. They raise money the old fashioned way: through fundraiser dinners where wealthy patrons write very large checks. Admittedly this is a pretty effective way of raising money, but the supply of wealthy Americans able to drop two thousand dollars at a fundraiser is a relatively small. Even with innovative techniques like “pioneers” and “rangers” that work their network of friends to bundle larger sums of money there is a limit to the amount of money even Bush can raise through this process.

The Democratic leadership isn’t much more innovative. Most presidential candidates are working the phones talking to wealthy donors and are speaking at rubber chicken fundraisers in order to fund their campaigns.

Both parties have in place national, congressional, senatorial and state campaign committees which depend on a core network of committed activists willing to tow the party line. One gets in power by working within the existing power structure and by being willing to compromise your political principles for the greater good. Effecting political change is almost an afterthought; getting and retaining power is the primary focus of political parties.

Increasingly this is not a game many of the disenfranchised grass roots want to play. They’ve seen the results, and what usually happens is that whoever gets in charge becomes disconnected from the real needs of the people, and spends time pandering to their base. As a result tax dollars are squandered toward those who keep politicians in power. I witnessed this in the 1980s working for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. While hundred dollar checks were appreciated, the focus was large contributions. This was done through means like “The Speaker’s Club” that allowed wealthy contributors to have face time with top congressional leaders. While this was the way the game had been played for years it was very disillusioning to actually see it in practice. I felt kind of dirty facilitating the process through information technology.

The internet has changed things. Since the cost of connecting with like minded people is dramatically lower, those with good technological and organizational skills can use the internet to find people of a similar political persuasion. Most Americans can afford an AOL account. The internet also allows for collaboration among communities that would otherwise be discouraged from coming together due to geography or time. Those with the most to gain from using these new tools were the first to leverage them. Consequently while Republican donors kept writing large checks, insurgent candidates who spoke to the common man like Howard Dean found a way to network those people. And these people found they could afford to send Howard $50 a month. It was a revelation that a whole lot of small contributions equaled or trumped the effects of $2000 contributions from the fundraiser circuit.

Last quarter Howard Dean raised nearly $15M, mostly from supporters primarily using the internet. When the Democratic National Committee tried a similar strategy by contrast it raised a couple hundred thousand dollars. This should tell the DNC something. But I’m not sure they are getting the message. The message is the Democratic Leadership is out of touch and estranged from its base. The Democratic Party is being taken over by its grass roots. I personally think this is a great thing, and I hope fervently that in the process we truly end up with a party that represents those who voted for it.

The energy I feel at the monthly Dean Meetups is palpable. These are people who are determined to win this election and take back the country. We are talking to our friends, our neighbors, our coworkers and we are investing significant amounts of our time, energy and money to make it happen. We are empowering ourselves. This is the most amazing aspect of the Dean campaign: it is decentralized. We don’t wait for someone to tell us what to do. We will certainly listen to direction if Joe Trippi, the campaign manager, says we need to write letters to uncommitted voters in Iowa and New Hampshire. But others are networking with senior citizens, or are talking with veterans, or are reaching out to African Americans. We are effecting real change, and we don’t have to curry favor with some party hack in order to do it.

It remains to be seen how far this phenomenon goes. Clearly most Americans have tuned out politics and are more concerned about making a mortgage payment or having time with family. But organizations like MoveOn.org have proven there is a committed base of people who, through small donations and by targeted phone calls and key moments can change policy. It was MoveOn.org’s members, for example, that raised holy hell about the FCC’s change of policy on media ownership rules. This caused the Bush Administration to back down. Instead of 45% ownership of a media market that Chairman Michael Powell pushed through the FCC it looks like it will be raised slightly from 35% to 39%. Even with all branches of government controlled by the Republicans, MoveOn.Com members got it done. Bush’s veto threat apparently was toothless.

Such victories only embolden us to work harder. Howard Dean calls his campaign special interest free. It is not just words. It is a fact. If Howard Dean wins the nomination and the election he may well be the first president elected accountable to no one but the people. Rather than the faux Republican revolution we’ve been experiencing, we might well get that government of the people and by the people that we’ve claimed to have.

Let’s make it so.

Modern Technological Miracles

The Thinker by Rodin

I am in Michigan again, but this time my wife Terri and daughter Rosie came with me. (You may recall that last month I came up here by myself to help nurse my Mom through a difficult hospitalization and recovery.) We plan to sit down tonight with my parents and my aunt and uncle for a traditional Thanksgiving meal.

We drove to Midland from our home near Washington DC in about ten hours over two days. We’ve done this trip many times before since my parents moved to Midland in 1989. But I was struck by how the drive was both the same but so much different this time, thanks to technology.

For one thing, we never owned a laptop computer before, so we never had one to bring with us. Terri used most of her bonus money to purchase a laptop computer. It’s a neat computer which suffers from one fatal flaw: it appears to be defective. But she so wanted to bring a computer with her to Michigan that she delayed returning it for a defect free computer until we got home from this visit. Since the problem was that it was hard to get it to turn on sometimes, she has basically left it on all the time. It was the last thing to be put in our minivan for the trip north.

In the past the ten hours of driving would have been very tedious. When Rosie was really young it was especially a challenge to keep her amused. She quickly got bored with the books and games we provided. It meant lots of rest stops to give her a chance to run around. Now that she is 14 her tastes are somewhat different. A laptop computer in the car provided her a perfect entertainment device. Built into the computer was a DVD drive, so any of our many DVDs could be played. Her mother and I didn’t have to listen to the noise either because she had headphones that plugged into a port on the computer. She watched a number of movies on the way up, and we didn’t have to entertain her at all. She kept herself amused. When she wasn’t watching movies on the laptop, she could work on her writing with it, or listen to her music that she had copied to the laptop.

When she got bored with the laptop I had an opportunity to play with it myself. One of our projects for the trip was to work on our Christmas cards. What better opportunity to put together a family newsletter than while rushing up I-75.

Battery life would normally be a constraint for a laptop, but was no problem on this trip because of a power converter we purchased that that plugged into our otherwise unused cigarette lighter. Except when the car decelerated or wasn’t producing enough RPMs, the laptop ran off the car’s alternator. In fact it fully charged the battery before we arrived at our hotel near Pittsburgh.

Business men and women have been using laptops on the road for years, but we haven’t used one before. Our hotel offered high speed internet for $10 a night. We declined that option, but did use the phone in the room to dial up to a local Earthlink number and connect to the internet. So a few hours after leaving home I was able to check my email and surf my favorite sites from our hotel room.

Cell phones are another technology we have finally adopted. Both Terri and I have prepaid cell phones that we otherwise rarely use. Both came with us. I realized that our cat sitter didn’t really need to know the hotel we were staying at. It was simply a matter of making sure she had our cell phone numbers and we were instantly available. It is true that my phone for some reason could not pick up a signal where we stayed near the Pittsburgh airport, but Terri’s phone worked fine. All along the turnpike and into Michigan our cell phone signal was strong. While passing through Toledo I took advantage of it to call my parents to let them know when they could expect our arrival. A concern about getting a prescription refilled was speedily answered when my Dad called me back on my cell phone with a list of potential pharmacies at which we could stop.

All of this is really not that remarkable these days, but from my perspective it all seems both magical and amazing. One of the reasons I didn’t like driving long distances was my fear of getting stuck on the road in the middle of nowhere. With a cell phone this fear has largely receded. We can get help conveniently should we need it from the safety of our car.

As I noted there were a few technology glitches. Terri’s new laptop is defective and will have to be replaced, but it was functional in a marginal sort of way for this trip. The power converter from our engine to the laptop made annoying sounds when it wasn’t getting enough current. But traveling by car with a family doesn’t have to be a chore anymore. We are enjoying the fruit of twenty years of steady progress in the personal computer and electronics revolution. These really are modern day miracles, but most of us don’t appreciate them.

It occurred to me while driving that within a few years it will be not only possible, but affordable to travel and always be online. With increasing numbers of high speed wireless internet providers out there, and with options like Wi-Fi hot spots we should be able to find a last minute deal on a hotel reservation as we approach a city, determine if there are traffic delays on the Pennsylvania Turnpike in real time, or even do something as mundane as read our email while in the car. In Rosie’s case she could stay on AOL Instant Messenger while chugging down the thruway.

We’ll be always connected all the time. I guess this is a good thing and if it isn’t hopefully we will always have off buttons on these devices. When we were in Yellowstone National Park in August I was struck by how inaccessible the park was, both geographically and electronically. Most cell phones did not work in the park because there were no cellular phone towers. If you needed to make a call you usually had to queue up at the pay phone in the lodge. But even when I was in range I noticed that my cell phone was very smart, and noticed that I was in a different time zone and changed the time accordingly.

As Paul Simon sang, “These are the days of miracles and wonders.” I am enchanted.