Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Take a step to the left, Take a step to the right...

Every four years the political theater known as presidential elections fascinates me.  Using deception and distraction the politicians on either side divide our already overly polarized country even further than it already is.  In this endeavor media is complicit whether it be the stories they choose to tell or focus on or how they spin those stories they drive the wedge that separates us from one another even deeper.

The thing is we Americans have more in common with one another than the media or our politicians would like to admit.  Whether your politics lie to the left or right end of the political spectrum they are rooted in distrust.  Those on the left distrust corporate America-- the big money that oils the machine that runs our country.  Given the events of 2008, I honestly can't say that I disagree.  They see big money as taking more and more of the pie and leaving less and less for them.  Those on the right distrust the government.  They see every expansion of government-- even if those expansion are to their benefit in some way as encroachments of their individual freedoms.  They resent a government that claims it knows better what is best for them than they know what is best for themselves.

Each side claims they are the true Americans that uphold the ideals of the Founding Fathers.  Those on the Left see their challenging of authority to be reminiscent of how our Founding Fathers challenged the authority of the British Crown when they declared Independence.  Those on the Right see the Founding Fathers distrust of a government from afar seeking to rule and tax them unfairly as being reminiscent of their own distrust of government today.

Those on the Right and Left also share a desire for fairness... They just have very different ideas of what "fair" means.  Those on the Left feel it's unfair that some are rich, while others struggle to make ends meet, or are even homeless... that there's enough wealth to go around.  Those on the right feel that wealth is earned, it is the fruit of their hard labors and re-distributing what they have worked hard to earn to those who did not work for it is unfair.  There's some legitimacy to both claims of fairness.

In the end, as Americans, we all want what is best for this country.  That is something we share.  Where we differ in are our definitions and views of what actually IS best for this country.  Our President, regardless of party affiliation has an incredibly difficult and often thankless job and no matter what a given president does he/she is going to piss off about half the country.  Both Presidents I have liked and presidents I did not care for have wanted what is best for this country.  They have had varied styles of leadership and I believe even when some of them were in the wrong they believed they were doing what they were doing for the right reasons.

The issues aren't all us vs. them...  That is a construct of the media and those that are in power for themselves and know the only way to hold onto that power is to pit us against one another.  In the age of social media we are drawn like magnets to our differences, to the things that separate us and continue to polarize us.  As a country we used to look for our similarities first, it caused us to see each other as people, as fellow humans.  It gave us empathy for one another through shared experience.  If we watched the same TV shows, listened to some of the same music, shared at least some common interests it made it harder for us to hate or dislike one another.  However, now we label one another.  As soon as one identifies himself/herself as a Liberal or a Conservative, as a Republican or Democrat-- the rest of that person's personality, worldview, etc. is assumed.  They are instantly identified as either a potential friend or adversary.  But the fact remains that there are both good and bad people at each end of the political spectrum.  A political affiliation does not define you-- it's not who you are, it's merely a small part of a greater whole.  There's more to all of us than our political views.  To make assumptions based on whether one carries the banner of the Elephant or of the Donkey is an act of laziness, an unwillingness to take the time to get to know one another better.  It's difficult enough in non-election years.  In election years battle lines get drawn and our differences are magnified and drive us farther apart.

I'm saying this as nothing more than a friendly reminder in an election year-- the time when the inertia of the divisiveness of the election cycle makes it increasingly more difficult to remember this; we're ALL Americans, we ALL want what is best for this country.  Rather than focusing on our differences, why not put forth the effort to find our common ground?  Why not start in the middle-- find our similarities, our commonalities, all of the things that we share and start from a place of agreement?

Wednesday, December 16, 2015


I had a rather sad epiphany last night. I don't think I've ever voted FOR a candidate. The closest I can come to an exception is Obama in 2008. But even then that was more a vote against McCain/Palin than a vote for Obama. McCain had been my absolute last choice in the whole GOP field for the duration of the primaries. Even before he chose Palin as his running mate I felt I'd be quite a hypocrite voting for the one guy I didn't even want to get the GOP nomination. Choosing Palin didn't change my mind so much as convince me I was making the right choice by jumping party lines. That being said I was still largely ideologically at odds with Obama on fiscal issues and marginally at odds on some social issues.

The last candidate the GOP had that actually inspired that enthusiasm was Reagan and both of his terms were up long before I was of legal voting age, so I missed that boat completely. Since 1996, the first presidential election I was legally able to vote in, the candidate I supported in the GOP primaries did not get the nomination (I supported Steve Forbes in '96 and '00 over Dole and Bush respectively). Heck in 2004 I voted Libertarian because ideologically I had disagreements with both Bush and Kerry. I wasn't voting so much FOR the Libertarian candidate as I was casting a vote for "None of the Above."

In the current election, the only candidate at all I see the public having any POSITIVE enthusiasm for is Bernie Sanders. Even though Hillary leads in the polls by a large margin and is the presumptive nominee, I don't see the enthusiasm for her from her supporters that was there when she went up against Obama in 2008. And the enthusiasm for Trump... It's based on negativity-- not on hope but on fear, paranoia and hate.

The only GOP candidates I can bring myself to support are John Kasich, Rand Paul, or Chris Christie. All are fiscal conservatives and in varying degrees-- social moderates (at least compared to the rest of the GOP field) and honestly I'm hoping the GOP voters will come to their senses when the primaries begin and move to the middle a bit more. I realize it's a somewhat unrealistic hope. Even if they come to their senses about Trump... I fear they'll throw their lot in with someone like Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or Marco Rubio and not with the more moderate Kasich, Christie, or Paul. And Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina... Well I don't think they have a snowball's chance. Jeb is saddled with having a brother and a father who already took up residence at the White House and an American public who is now quite wary of the Bush name and Fiorina has the weight of her failures at HP hanging around her neck... The perception (rightly or wrongly) that if she ran HP into the ground why would we trust her to run our country? The only viable female leader the GOP has that would have the potential of getting elected is smart enough to know she wants nothing to do with the job and refused to run, Condi Rice.

In a word I guess that means I'm more than a little "disenfranchised."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

On Changing Musical Perspectives

I was watching Chicago Live in Japan 1993 last night with my daughter. I used to dig that set. Heck I used to eat, sleep, and breathe Chicago's music. I don't know if I've been spoiled or what but for some reason it just wasn't grabbing me like it used to. I got to thinking about it and for a large chunk of my life I've listened to a substantial share of Chicago and related music and back when I was younger it was almost exclusively Chicago at the expense of a lot of other bands. I lacked perspective. It's almost like a deaf person getting their hearing back for the first time. Back when I loved absolutely everything the band touched and believed they could do no wrong I didn't listen to anything else or didn't listen to enough of anything else to have any sense of musical perspective. It wasn't until I started opening my ears outside my comfort zone that my ears grew a bit more discerning and objective.

I listen to Toto Live in Poland and I not only hear the music... I feel it. I listen to stuff like Nathan East's latest solo album, or Steve Hackett's "Out of the Tunnel's Mouth", or The Weather Report's "Heavy Weather" and I'm WoWed! and then I go back and try to listen to Chicago... and I just don't feel it the way I once used to. Bill Champlin's vocal chemistry with Peter Cetera was the reason I became a fan of Chicago-- It wasn't Peter's voice alone and it wasn't Bill's voice alone it's the way their voices came together so perfectly. When Bill was fired back in 2009 my enjoyment of the band took a serious hit even though I will concede towards the end of his tenure in the band Bill was oversinging the hell out of everything and it generally didn't sound that good any more. He was still a link to that golden vocal chemistry of the early 80s. Once that link was gone along with it was a substantial chunk of my enjoyment of Chicago.

My father and I went to see Chicago live in Latham, NY in 1993 and 1994. It was a 3 hour drive each way. I was a teenager (16 and 17 respectively) but those were the first 2 times I saw Chicago live and even though I saw them another 7 times or so after that, those first 2 concerts I look back at the most fondly because of who I shared those experiences with. I know I'll always have THAT. And for that reason I know that even after Chicago eventually bids their final adieu (although coming up on their 50th anniversary, God only knows when that will happen) I'll still have those special memories of seeing them live with my Dad... Those long drives on the Northway (the stretch of I-87 North of Albany, NY) to and from Latham. I'll always hold those memories very close in my heart.

So last night when I tried to share that experience with my daughter... albeit on video instead of live, the odd thing was, it was almost jarring to me. This music which once gave me so much enjoyment and such a staple of my life, that was a constant at times in my life when nothing else was, that was my security blanket, that was what I clung to when times were tough because for better or worse it always reminded me that when I was muddling through some of life's muckier mires that times had been better in the past and that they would get better once again... But now some of this music which has been such a staple of my life has started falling flat with me. The love of this music that I wanted to pass along to my children, I really can't, with that same level of conviction because my heart's not in it the way it once was.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Stirring up a hornet's nest

Apparently Candace Cameraon Bure has unleashed a firestorm of criticism for certain comments she made in her recent book; Balancing It All:My Story of Juggling Priorities and Purpose.

The passage in particular that these ladies are referencing is:
My husband is a natural-born leader. I quickly learned that I had to find a way of honoring his take-charge personality and not get frustrated about his desire to have the final decision on just about everything. I am not a passive person, but I chose to fall into a more submissive role in our relationship because I wanted to do everything in my power to make my marriage and family work.
Maybe because I'm a conservative male I'm missing something but I read this a testament of what SHE does to make HER marriage work. She wrote a book. The book can be purchased for money... or not. To my knowledge no women in America are being forced at gunpoint or threat of incarceration to read this book. Contrary to what at least one of the panelists in the clip above is insinuating, Ms. Bure is not FORCING her view of her particular role in her marriage on ANYONE. She did NOT say:
And maybe this is just me being a brain-dead conservative male again... but I thought the feminist movement wasn't JUST about empowering women, equal pay for equal work and all that... I thought it was also about women having that choice... It wasn't about women entering the work force... it was about women finally having that as an option.  Some women are career minded and choose to enter the work force and remain in it after having kids.  Some women, CHOOSE to stay at home after having kids, it's a different role.  It's not inherently bad or unequal... it's what works for those particular women.

Maybe it's just me but most of the arguing on this issue seems to be between women.  There aren't many knuckle-dragging neanderthal men who still believe a woman's place is barefoot and in the kitchen with an infant suckling at each breast left in this country... not saying they don't exist, just that such men are an ever-shrinking minority.

Most of the guys I know (and if any of you disagree with me, feel free to tell me so) are focused on the marriage/relationship they're in and making it work.  We love and respect the women we're with and consider them to be partners.  We learn our roles in our respective relationships and those roles tend to evolve with our marriages and relationships.  Because we love and respect the women in our lives we support them in whatever decision they choose to make... if they want to stay at home with the kids, that's great, we'll figure out a way to make it work.  If they want to go back to work after having kids, that's great too, we'll work together and make that happen.  We respect our women to support them in the life path they choose and we're willing to work with them as partners in following their path as they work with us in following ours.

To the ladies who continue to make an issue of this...  What works for you might not work for others.  Make your own way, your own choices and respect other women enough to let them do the same.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Global Warming

Since even before Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth there was discussion of Earth entering a period of Global Warming.  Climate scientists were making claims about how man's adverse effect on the environment was driving the planet down a road to imminent demise... But it wasn't/isn't too late to change course...

I'm not saying I agree or don't agree about global warming.  And if the Earth is warming, I'm not certain of the extent to which we, as humans, can be blamed.  I'm not trying to be difficult, I'm not trying to deny it... I'm putting another idea out there...  Isn't it possible that it's still too early to tell whether or not we're entering a dangerous period of global warming, let alone determine how much we, as humans, are contributing to that warming?

Maybe the Earth is warming, and maybe we as humans are at least partially responsible for it.  But maybe we're not.

The age of the Earth is 4.54 ± 0.05 billion years.  Humans have been inhabiting the Earth for about 200,000 years.  Not to make anyone feel insignificant, but that means we've been inhabiting the planet for less than half of percent of the planet's entire existence.

Using a very liberal consideration of the origins of the science of climatology there was a Chinese scientist, Shen Kuo, in the 11th century that inferred that climates shift over a very large span of time.  Using Shen Kuo's climatological's inferences as an origin point, the science of Climatology has only existed as a science for about 900-950 years.  That works out to less than half a percent of the amount of time humans have inhabited the Earth.

Humans have inhabited the planet for less than half a percent of the Earth's existence, and using generously liberal estimates climatology has only existed as a science for less than half of a percentage of the amount of time that humans have inhabited the Earth.

Given the insignificant amount of time that we've inhabited the Earth and the even more insignificant amount of time that humans have been studying climatology, I submit there's a bit of hubris... a human conceit if you will when it comes to the Sciences in general, and in recent years this has been particularly true of climatology.

I'll concede that our climatologists (and for that matter our paleo-climatologists) have been learning about the climate at exponential rates over the past few decades.  We know far more about climate now than we did even as recently as 10 or 15 years ago.  But that being said, the Earth was around for literally BILLIONS of years before we were and I wouldn't be surprised if its around for billions of years after we're extinct.

Remember during the Cold War when there were all the fears of a Nuclear holocaust wiping out the planet...  Well such an event WOULD very likely have wiped out humankind and would also have had a substantial impact on the environment in the short term (and the amount of time it would have taken the radiation from fall-out to wear off would have been a drop in the bucket on a macro scale of the overall planetary lifespan) but, while we as humans would have been done as a species had such an event occurred, the plant would eventually have recovered and eventually all traces of our existence would have disappeared.

To put it into further perspective, let's say the Earth is a living organism, that would basically make us its "cells."  And while cells can have an adverse effect on the body as a whole, I submit our impact on the climate is more akin to a scraped knee than it is to cancer.  Yes we have the capacity to cause visible and real damage, but in the grand scheme of things that damage is largely superficial.  The damage doesn't run deep... we aren't significant enough to cause any macro-level long term damage.

I'd further contend these changes in lifestyle, economy, and general culture we're making to "go green" have minimal impact at best and are completely insignificant at worst.  I bring this up because, unfortunately, the politics of environmentalism and climatology tend to lose any sense of real perspective and often get blown out of proportion.

We as humans have also historically had a bad habit of acting on impulse and generally forgetting or ignoring the "law of unintended consequences."  That is to say, we tend to unleash a greater wrath upon ourselves through the unanticipated and unintended consequences of the actions we take to repair or fix things (including the environment) than we did in messing things up in the first place.  We act on what we THINK we know, and then we get more data and find out that the opposite of what we "knew" is true.

Science isn't about questions and answers, it's ever evolving.  Science is about the new questions we end up having to ask once we get the answers to the questions we initially asked.  Science is questions answered with more questions.  It's the evolution of not just learning what we didn't know before, but also about learning about what we didn't even realize that we didn't know before (or as our former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld worded it, the "known and unknown unknowns").

So let's shed the intellectual human conceit, regain a bit of perspective and start discussing this issue a bit more rationally.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Maybe we're not as different as we think we are...

Maybe we're not as different as we think we are.

I'd even go so far as to say we have more in common than any of us even realize any more.  We live in a culture of increased comfort, increased choices, and increased convenience.  While these are all benefits they all have come at some rather hefty opportunity costs-- the largest of these I'd argue are increased divisiveness and seclusion.  The technology that has brought the world closer to us is also the world that is de-humanizing our neighbors, its driving wedges between us.

Think about it...  Before cable there were 3 major networks, PBS, and a handful of "superstations" (WPIX and WWOR out of NYC and WGN out of Chicago for example) broadcasting out of major urban areas.  Most people who owned TVs, if they were lucky, got maybe 10-12 channels.  Many only got the 3 major networks and a nearby PBS affiliate... 4 channels.  That means the chances that we and our neighbors were watching the same show on any given night was substantially greater than it is today.  That created a commonality of experience and that commonality of experience was a uniting force of sorts.  Who cares if our neighbor's politics differed from ours, we both watched M*A*S*H* the night before or maybe we both caught that Dallas season finale cliff-hanger.  It was something to discuss that wasn't politics, it was something that brought people together... rather than tore them apart.  A "commonality of experience" serves to humanize others in our eyes... it's a lot harder to actively dislike someone (no matter how different that person's politics might be from ours) when we have other things in common with that person.  This commonality of experience made for a substantially less divisive culture.

I grew up going on long road trips with my parents.  We'd listen to the radio together, we'd talk, we'd play "car games"... We interacted with each other.  Yeah sometimes I'd pop on headphones and listen to music, sometimes I'd get lost in a book for awhile... but that wouldn't occupy an entire trip.  It would be a brief distraction (there is such a thing as "too much togetherness" after all).

Today many cars have DVD players on the seat backs so the kids in the back seat can watch TV or DVDs to keep them distracted...  So Dad's driving and listening to the radio, Mom is checking her texts on her cell phone, the kids are in the backseat with headphones on watching a movie (or possibly even 2 separate movies)... What aren't they doing?  Communicating with each other.  Dad doesn't have to stop and get out of the car to actually interact with someone else to ask for directions because his Garmin or TomTom is there guiding the way the whole trip.  These conveniences that distract us, also serve to isolate us.  In our isolation our fellow humans-- friends and family included lose a bit of that humanity to us.  Over time we've started to shed our social graces that made us considerably more civil with one another.  When we aren't even communicating properly with our own families, how can we be expected to communicate civilly and respectfully with the strangers we come into contact with on a daily basis?

These new technologies aren't the cause of divide, they are merely enablers.  We live in a culture of excess.  We've long forgotten how to keep things small or simple...  everything is to the extreme.  So, while these new technologies in moderation provide wonderful new conveniences in excess they drive wedges between us, our friends, and our neighbors.  They isolate us from one another and they've caused us to, over time, forget our civility towards one another.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fatherhood again

I'm going to be a Dad again... I've known this for awhile.  For whatever reason it's only started to become real to me over the course of the final trimester of my wife's pregnancy.  Over the first two trimesters it all seemed more abstract or possibly surreal.

They say each pregnancy is different and while our experiences with our daughter the first time around will serve as guidelines, I've also heard from other parents of two (or more) that we may as well forget what we learned the first time around as much of that will not end up being true with our son.

With our daughter we were surprised.  We didn't find out until the day she was born that we were having a little girl.  We had narrowed the possible names down to 2 possible boy names and 2 possible girl names.  This time around we opted to find out.  In August we learned we're having a boy.  We've got a name picked out (with 2 possible back-ups just in case we don't think our name fits him).  Our daughter has already started referring to him as "Alex" so I'm pretty sure we're having a little Alexander.

For some reason I feel more nervous this time around.  I'm experiencing the difference between "unknown unknowns" (with my daughter) and "known unknowns" (with my son).  One would think that knowing how much my life is about to change (having been through it before) would make things easier but for some reason I think it's given me a worse case of nerves.  I think it's due to the reality of how much my life changed when my daughter was born far exceeding my imagination.

As the father of a little girl, I've felt like not just a parent but a protector and a benchmark.  I try to treat my wife how I would want my daughter's eventual husband/partner to treat her.  I want to be a positive male presence in her life.  
I know I'm not supposed to, but with a son I take the "benchmark" portion more seriously.  I am the man my son will likely try to emulate.  I'm no longer merely the benchmark for some stranger my daughter probably hasn't even met yet and likely won't meet for several years, I'm going to be the example that will guide my son's behavior.

I'm also wary of how my relationship with my son will change my relationship with my daughter.  I've got a great relationship with my little "Daddy's Girl."  I don't want that to change...  Any opportunity my wife has given us for daddy/daughter time I've taken her up on and treasured every moment.  My wife & I have both said we're going to give each other plenty of opportunities for one on one time with both of our kids.  I don't want to deprive my son of the same one on one time that his sister has enjoyed over the past 3 and a half years, but at the same time I don't want to short change my daughter.  She's had me wrapped around her little finger from the moment she was born and while she knows she's about to have a baby brother, I seriously doubt she fully understands the implications.  I want to make this as smooth a transition for her as possible.