Monday, October 30, 2006

Mister Paranoid Goes Flying

Wednesday I take off for California on one of our major airlines. I get to change planes once each way. Terrific, four take-offs and landings over the next week. I will do anything to visit Mom.

Actually, I'm not really paranoid about flying. I cannot change anything about getting on a vehicle that weighs tons and takes off into the air with no visible means of support. Except, perhaps, changing my attitude about flying, and that ain't gonna happen. No, paranoid fits the description of me facing any bureaucratic authority. I just don't get along with my fellow citizens who are acting in that capacity.

What's there to worry about, you ask? Everything. While going through all those screenings, something about my baggage or pocket contents, or socks after I remove my shoes, is going to tip off one of those highly trained, sharp-eyed, and suspicious guardians of my safety to single me out. From there it goes down hill. Questioning, strip searches and further degradations will be heaped on me. And then, after I'm found to be innocent, (see, officer, I told you my cough drops are not explosive devices.) I have missed my flight, lost my money, and am stranded in the airport, while my clothes and cell phone wing it across the country to Fullerton. Who's going to tell my Mom?

When I was younger and much more naive, I liked to fly. I even liked the air trips back and forth across the Pacific when I was in the Army. I've flown on DC-6Bs, DC-8s, 707s, 747s, 727s and other Boeing products. In the military I flew on Beavers, Otters, Caribous, C-130s, CH-47s. They all carried me safely. There is no one event that changed my mind about flying. Call it an evolution of an attitude, if you will.

The first time flying freaked me out was in 1992 when the whole BRB family, all five of us, flew from Toronto to L.A. One crash would wipe out the whole clan. But of course, me being me, I kept it in and was the bold, intrepid father. Not only that, but planes had gone no smoking that year, and Ms BRB and I tried really hard not to freak during the five and a half hour flights. So next time on a flight to L.A. I had a two hour lay-over in Houston. No smoking on the plane, and the whole freaking airport had gone "smoke free." Smoke free if one didn't count the exhaust fumes that swept into the terminal from all the standing, idling vehicles just outside the entrances. Flying was no longer fun. And there were lots of bureaucratic authority around to enforce being smoke free, right down to the bartender who told one commercial traveler, put it out lady, this is a smoke free airport. Isn't this a goddamned bar? she replied.

Now that sounds as if I have tied flying fun to smoking. Anyone with an addiction that cannot be satisfied when the internal alarm goes off tends to blame the conditions that prevent the satisfying of the craving. But now, smoking is no longer an issue. I still no longer view flying as fun. At least smoking or not smoking isn't an issue.

Also, my family tells me I tend to over react in certain situations. I guess this is where the paranoia comes in. I will honk my horn and wave the appropriate number of fingers at drivers who cause a near miss. I rail at injustice; I bristle at insults, perceived or actual; I suspect EVERY bureaucrat of trying to thwart my needs and wishes. What a way to live.

I know that flying is the safest means of transportation in this country. But one is so much at the mercy of things one cannot control. At least driving gives me the illusion that I am in control. Besides, one can see much more of this great country even from the interstate than one can from thirty thousand feet.

So off I go on Wednesday. I feel much better now.

Did I ever mention the seventh sense? Perhaps it's not a sense like ESP, but more of a collective will. The only reason planes stay in the air is the collective will of all the folks on board to keep it flying. Aerodynamics is a scientific myth. Think about it.

BRB is Write (and calm)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

On Becoming Older

Let me direct you to a very thoughtful essay on Acceptance. I think Lewis has it together on this. It isn't rolling over and taking what comes. It's recognizing the truth in the old prayer: "Lord let me have the strength to change what I can, acceptance of what I cannot, and the wisdom to know the difference."

In the essay he asks why life is so hard for some, and nothing seems to happen to others. I have just a few thoughts on that. Many people try to shelter themselves from life, from it's hardships and from it's risks. They shelter their kids: no playground equipment, soccer instead of hockey, disinfectant instead of letting anibodies develop. They live in gated enclaves or "safe" neighborhoods. You get the picture. Many of these folk miss out on a lot of tragedy because of their carefulness, and for many life still bites them in the ass.

At the same time, many of these sheltered beings miss out on a lot of life. Risk-taking is not in their lexicon. We have taken a lot of risks in our lives, and life hasn't bitten too hard. Chasing dreams may seem irrational to some, but essential to others. We have chased dreams that never resolved into reality, and had some come true. All of them took a lot of sweat and faith. They didn't always work out, but the effort was fun, engaging, and at times risky.

Sometimes I envy those who took the straight road: education, business or career, retirement planning, retirement. No, envy is not right. It is admiration. I never had the discipline or the inclination for that path. I always wondered What if? What's that like? Can I make a difference there? What's over that hill? We who do that pay a price, but we are also rewarded with riches that the safe, rich folk cannot buy.

So acceptance is not giving up. It is recognizing where you are and what you can change.

BRB is Write (and has much trouble accepting anything)

Monday, October 23, 2006

Pondering Begging

I think fundraising has sunk to, descended to, fallen to creative begging. People seem to want you to donate funds to their causes by doing nothing to provide even a semblance of earning the money.

What prompts this pondering is the practice of having gangs of beggars swarm around cars at busy intersections. Now these folk claim to be raising funds for various youth groups, churches, cheerleaders, bands, etc.; some have on roadworker vests; some have white shirts and ties; some hand out leaflets; some hand out candy. All of them have buckets with slots in the lids and they shake them at stopped cars, dodging in and out of stopped traffic in a weird dance to collect funds. I put up the windows and lock the doors.

There is no opportunity to engage them face to face in any kind of dialogue. It's take the money and run. Now, the VFW and KoC also beg, but they are outside stores and don't shake buckets at you. They are there in person to talk with anyone curious enough to ask about their programs.

But this new process of collecting from those stopped in traffic I find repulsive. What are the kids supposed to think? All we have to do is to go out into traffic, shake buckets at drivers, and get the money we need for our cause? It's not a lesson these adult leaders need to teach. How about having them earn their way to camp, or band uniforms, or the state finals?

At the great risk of causing much moaning and groaning among my younger reader(s), in my day, in times past, we raised money by selling something, or providing a service. How about a carwash? I said I wasn't much of a joiner anymore, but years ago I was heavily involved in church youth groups, scouting YMCA, ball teams. We put on breakfasts, and got the food donated, and helped cook it. We washed cars, sold peanuts door to door, had bake sales, and auctioned off our time to bidders who put us to work for a day. We raised money and didn't beg for it.

One year I was a student intern at a UCC church in Reading, PA. Student interns always got the youth group to lead. We planned some activities that would take money to accomplish. One suggestion from the kids was that we have a No-Bake bake sale. I was so naive. What is that, I asked? You just ask those in the congregation to donate whatever they would spend on ingredients for baking goods for the sale to us. Then they don't have to bake, and we don't have to man tables selling the stuff. I said that sounds like begging. We did it last year, they replied. Not this year, I said. We got people to bake; we did a little publicity; we staffed the tables with kids; and made more than twice what they made begging. The kids also got to meet a lot of church members they otherwise never would have. The church members got to see their youth working and not begging. Working for money works.

Some final ponderings: I guess these corner beggars have learned a few things from the homeless that used to frequent the same intersections. Where have the homeless gone? I used to see the same guy several times a month at the same intersection. I never locked my doors when I saw him. Did the bucket shakers run him off, or scare him or crowd him out? Maybe he got a bucket and joined them.

BRB is Write

Friday, October 20, 2006

Why Am I Doing This?

As many of you know, I got my butt drafted into the Army in Sept '67. It was one of the low points in my life; at the time it was the very worst thing that had happened to me. I went. I had used up all my deferments, and jail or Canada were not options for various reasons. So I went.

This is not a recap of my Army career. I met a lot of really great guys. Two of them in particular, Gary Morris and Jerry Cochran, I spent my whole enlistment with. Together, we were at Ft Ord, CA for basic, Ft Rucker AL for aircraft mechanic training, and the 73rd SAC in Vung Tau for the Viet-Nam tour. We went home together, same day, same plane. We saw each other one more time a few months later, and then never again.

So a few years ago, bored in front of the computer, I Googled my old Viet-Nam unit just to see, and by God there was a web site. It had photos, a guest book and a history. There were a few names I remembered in the guest book (not Gary and Jerry, though). I fired off e-mails to several. I never heard from any of them. I sent e-mails to several that I didn't know, but were there at the same time. One, I have corresponded with for almost a year, and I'm glad we do. But our tours overlapped only by a few months, and we had never met.

I should explain about the 73rd. The company was fairly large and roughly divided into those who flew, and those who kept the planes flying. I was in the latter group, and most of the guest book entries are by those who flew, pilots and observers. There was another group that interpreted the film and other data that was collected by the radar and infrared cameras. These guys tended to be included with the observers who were all enlisted.

So here I am trying to find someone who clearly remembers me. I have sent 3 e-mails to the officer who was my boss in the parts supply area. Never got an answer. I have sent e-mails to the web master of the 73rd site, because I am convinced that we shared a barracks for over 8 months. No response from him either.

I have left messages on several other vet sites including Guest Book for Vung-Tau and Lost and Found. I have never heard from any that knew me. Perhaps, as I have mentioned elsewhere, I was a bigger idiot than I thought, and no one wants to remember me.

There is a Mohawk Association web site that I check from time to time, but they want dues, and I'm not much of a joiner. However they have reunions of Mohawk units each year, and let the public view the pictures. The last set of pictures from this year's reunion have many photos of past Mohawkers and no identifying captions. Two guys in some of the pictures I think I recognize, but who can be sure after forty years?

Months ago, I decided to hell with all this crap of trying to reach people who may remember me in the army. I was checking e-mail several times a day, and getting depressed when I got none. So to hell with them all.

Then I had another dream about getting drafted into the army. I have had this dream on and off for the last 10 years. In the dream, I am my current age and get drafted, and tell every one that I have done my duty, I'm 52 years old and what the hell is going on. I am in uniform and explaining to the kids in the unit what the army is all about. I hadn't had one of these for several years, until this week.

The twist in this one is that now I am 60 (which I am), I am in uniform, and I'm telling every one that this is just like a dream I have had for the past ten years. What the hell is going on?

So what do I do? I go to the Mohawk site and fire off an e-mail to one of the directors, identifying myself and asking about guys in the reunion photos. I can't seem to leave it alone. Do I need validation? Do I need justification? In a previous post "Looking back" I approached the question. Apparently I haven't answered anything. If it's an addiction, I have acknowledged it.

What now? I have an e-mail out there and I'll be waiting for the non-response. I'm off to the dump. I wish the refuse in my head was as easily disposed of as that in the house.

BRB is Write (and confused)

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Minor Stuff

We had an earthquake this morning according to the local fish-wrap's web site. What quake? My cat (he is large!) registers more on the BRB scale when he hits the ground running than the 2.6 registered on the Richter scale just NE of our town. The Richter scale is a log scale, like sound intensity (decibels), and an earthquake of 3.6 is ten times as intense as our puny 2.6. In SoCal, where some of us are from, anything under 4.5 is never mentioned and everyone yawns at anything under 6.0. Get a grip hyphen town!

The beer blogs continue. Check out PDB and Tam for insight and comments on beer as drink and beer as taste experience. For me, if it says beer on the label, if it was never flavored, if it doesn't look like coke, if it doesn't bite back, and if I can have more than one pint without feeling bloated, it's for me. 'nuf said on beer.

I like cooked meat. I shop for raw meat at the local "sad meat bin." (Thanks to unix_jedi for that term) The only problem is elbowing out of the way all the rude seniors and stay-at-home moms for the good stuff. Never mind that I'm (at the moment) stay-at-home spouse. A good steak, ribeye, NY strip and the like are still $6-8/lb. But they are well aged. Cook 'em or freeze 'em I grab what I can. Just stay away from my elbows.

After blogger ate some of my best prose, and then lost it's connection, and then refused to give back what I had written, I now save as draft (another beer reference) each precious paragraph. Just write it again, you say? Among other things baby boomers tend to loose is short-term memory along with car keys, glasses, and what name belongs to which pet and what child.

BRB is Write (and looking forward to his next draught)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Be a Coward or Be a Man

First, read PDB's post on this subject, and the comments. I'm not sure if the issue is be a man or be a coward. I think it's more like do what you can with what you have at the time.

Anyway, long ago, in a country far away the BRB family was returning home from a day with friends. All five of us were crammed into a 2-door Volvo about 15 years old. The youngest was 2 and the other offspring in elementary school.

We were just entering the residential areas, down a long hill. I could see up a side street on the right several houses. In front of the second house I saw a women bolt from a Camero chased by two men. As we passed the intersection all three were throwing punches and kicks; the woman was getting the worst.

That was the situation. What does a man do? At the time, I was in stature Mr. Average, 5'10" and 160 lbs. Even the woman was larger. I had my whole family with me.

Here's what happened. I stopped the car just past the intersection and started to run to the fight. I hadn't a clue what I would do when I got there, and all sorts of bad things flashed past my mind. But I shouted and tried to distract the men and attract attention to the fight. They probably laughed at super-hero approaching them. At the same time, an EMS vehicle pulled up. In Canada they were called St. John's EMS and hired big, hulking drivers and attendants. They took over the situation. The men fled, and St. John's guys took care of the woman. I walked back to my family and tried to keep from hyper-ventilating.

That was the last time I faced anything calling for more courage than confronting everyday problems like tailgaters and cranky bosses. In PDB's blog, he has a plan; commentors have plans; others get paid to react properly. I cannot comment on that. I think we just do what we need to do given the circumstances and our abilities. I would fight to defend my family. If I had to fight, I would fight to win, damn the consequences. If all I could do was to call 911, that's what I would do. But we don't know what we would do until we are confronted with the choice.

I have finally realized that it can be an evil world out there. Those of us safely enclosed in our protective enclaves may be confronted by that evil; I would not even predict how we would respond to physical threats.

One does what one does.

BRB is Write (Don't Tread on Me)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Real American?

I keep hearing this term. It has even been applied to me.

So, just what is a real American? I mean, all sorts of absurdities occur to me. Is it one who was here originally and almost got wiped out by the late-comers? That's gonna exclude a whole bunch of people, and besides, I have heard the term applied to many who are obviously not aboriginal.

Perhaps immigrants are real Americans. Perhaps it's a process, a becoming, an elevation to real American status. I'm not sure. And if there are real Americans, there must be real non-Americans, or virtual Americans, or traitorous Americans.

It might be a mind-set: Real Americans think this and do that. For example, I am an unrepentant hippie-liberal to many. But when I reveal that I am a Viet-nam vet, all that previous hippie stuff is forgiven, and I become a real American. Real Americans serve in the armed forces, virtual Americans dodged the draft. Not-quite-real Americans make movies and spout liberal politics. I am so confused. If we only count real Americans as deserving of citizenship, we have increased the illegal population ten-fold. Did I mention absurdities in the first paragraph?

You, dear reader, should know by now that I hate labels when applied to people. Try and stick one on me. I support all sorts of liberal ideas such as collective bargaining, no capital punishment, make love not war. I have a feeling that other real Americans support these issues, also. However, I also support all my gun-toting neighbors and relatives. Capitalism works. I support our soldiers and those that were troops (veterans) much better than all the chicken hawks in Congress. Give this site a read, and you will realize that all the vets we have honored are getting screwed by the bureaucracy (Veterans' Administration) and our elected representatives. It's called the RAO Bulletin Update. It's a lot to wade through, and AOL regards it as a non-computer friendly site (AOL blocks it through its spam and pop-up blocker). If you want to know how your representative votes on vet issues, this site will tell you how to check.

Perhaps being a real American depends only on how others perceive you. Do you go around thumping your chest, touting real Americanism? (not even sure Americanism is a real word) Do real Americans realize what they really are?

As I said at the begining: Absurdities abound; one could even dance to various tunes of real Americanism. Do you know a real American when you see one? Has this term ever been applied to a woman?

BRB is Write (and is real)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Koran or Quran

Okay, you journalists, when did ya'all start the PC spelling and pronunciation of this book that we all have called the Koran since forever? Even Mark Steyn uses Quran in his latest screed about the terrorists' treatment at Gitmo.

My American Heritage Dictionary fourth edition, lists Koran first, and Quran as a variant from Arabic. If we don't give them creedence anyway, as they are murdering cowards, why be PC about it?

As Steyn writes: "It seems to me that one sign this war is over is when Muslims are grown-up enough not to go to full-blown baklava nuts over other folks touching their Qurans." Exactly. It ain't gonna happen, Mark. Please go back to Koran.

BRB is Write(Koran is good enough for me)
Simple-Minded Solutions

You have to read this story in a South Carolina newspaper. (PDB has supplied the impetus for this whole posting, so go read his posting on the same topic.)

In essence, a local politician calls for sterilization of parents of misbehaving children. I stand corrected; he only singled out mothers for "spaying" if they cannot control their offspring. Let the deadbeat dads go on searching for fertile women. I'm not sure why he left out the male parent. Perhaps the thought of nipping gonads cuts a little too close.

The other simple-minded solution from another local politician was to provide some recreational equipment and programs for the poor little bastards out of taxpayer funds.

Guess which side of the political spectrum each dope is from. Generally, I can tell who is who by their proposed solutions to complex problems. The conservative answer is usually simple and cheap:

"We pick up stray animals and spay them," Larry Shirley said in a story published Saturday by The Post and Courier of Charleston. "These mothers need to be spayed if they can't take care of theirs. Once they have a child and it's running the street, to let them continue to have children is totally unacceptable."

Now, equal time for the dope on the left:

State Sen. Robert Ford, a Charleston Democrat, agreed that the crime highlights a societal problem but dismissed Shirley's suggestion to sterilize people as "crazy."

"What Larry Shirley needs to talk about is getting City Council to provide some recreational facilities and activities for these kids and creating an atmosphere conducive to a normal society," said Ford, also a former councilman

What both sides are missing is the realization that no amount of "good" parenting or government programs will correct a bad kid. For whatever reason, some kids are just plain rotten. We all have known them. I don't know the reason, but here is some speculation. The child doesn't feel loved for whatever reason. The child has a genetic defect. The child's environment sucks. Too much TV, video games, advertising have all been blamed. Check out this book for a most thoroughly researched, and exhaustively explored thesis on bad kids: A is for ox : the collapse of literacy and the rise of violence in an electronic age / Barry Sanders. You can find it at any Major University Library. He offers no solutions, just causes. Most seem just as reasonable or as looney as others who have written on the subject.

Back to tell who's conservative and who's liberal. In general, conservatives have simple solutions for complex problems, and liberals have complex solutions for simple problems. The guys in the above story cut true to form, and both are equally as stupid as their solutions.

BRB is Write(and has spoken)