Friday, January 29, 2010
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Sunday, January 24, 2010
line, type in $0.00 and hit 'enter.' All the free books will come up.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
We are immersed in Success--mostly that of others--and I wonder if it's good for us.
On a daily basis the accomplishments of perfect strangers are shoved down our throats. Every media available depicts the fame, fortune and bad-taste-bling of people most of us would not invite over for dinner, and at probably no other time in history has this sense of m'as tu vu (French for 'look at me') been as prevalent as it is today. It's odd. A friend says it's not so much a question of envy as of head-shaking disgust with what is seen as going way over the top, repeatedly.
A good example are the MacMansions that have taken over my neighborhood. These houses have nothing of the singular or stylish to them. They are cookie-cutter homes and not built as well as my Korean War-era GI Bill special. They have no yards, but all have three- or four-car garages. One gets the impression that they were put together to last 10 to 15 years, and will certainly never be a part of anyone's inheritance. According to another acquaintance in the building trade, the coming thing in such homes will be minimally sized kitchenettes, since an entire generation of people now refuses to cook anything more meaningful than popcorn. They occupy space, are sold for four times their building costs to people who often can’t afford them. I was in one recently. There was no furniture in the living room save an old sofa and a state of the art home entertainment system. Classy…
High end cars are much the same. Talk to anyone with a knowledge of exotics such as Ferraris and Lamborghinis--once the possessions of the very upper class--and they will tell you that the newer cars can't hold a candle to the ones fabricated even 20 years ago. Recent models are shoddily built and designed to be traded in at incredibly diminished values within a year or two. Basically, these once proud marques have become m'as tu vu cars.
Thirty years ago, the word 'bourgeois' intimated everything people detested about a consumer-oriented society, and a musical on Broadway had a song titled "F*ck the Bourgeoisie." Today it seems as if there really is no upper class to speak of and the bourgeoisie now comes in several tiers: lower lower, lower-middle, upper-middle and so on, until we reach high ostentatious.
I wonder what this does, subliminally, to our collective egos? Of course there have always been the haves, the have-less and the have-nots and certainly in the
Basically, money no longer has the relevance it once had. It has become a cheap commodity, and that perception is going to be a hard one to change, if indeed it can be changed. Money without real value--now that's one hell of a concept!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Sunday breakfast, rainy day, cleverly disguised coffeehouse on the street level of an expensive condo in an expensive small town near
We've all been reading the papers and watching the news, amazed at the ongoing dance of organizations, leaders and countries great and small who remain obstinately unwilling to be held accountable for the miscreants in their ranks.
First and foremost is the Muslim world, numbering between 1.6 and 1.8 billion. Active within this number, much like a cancerous virus, are some 10,000 terrorists who, as terrorists do, are perfectly willing to sacrifice life and limb to their varying causes. The leaders of nations harboring the terrorists maintain that these criminals are beyond their controls, unreachable and beyond the arm of the law. This, of course, is poppycocks, as our British friends say. Closer to the truth is that the terrorists serve a purpose. The leaders get a great deal of money from other nations to deal with the problem. The more terrorists there are, the more anti-terrorist money flows into the leaders' coffers. Additionally, the leaders are seldom on sure footing, so it is better to be pals with the bad guys than not. Lastly, many such leaders are already in the terrorists' pockets. So they claim a powerlessness to remedy the situation. Call this a variation of the 12-step mantra that we are all powerless over people, places and things. But as anyone actively involved in any twelve-step program knows, powerlessness and helplessness are not synonymous.
Part of the social contract discussed by John Locke and later Jean-Jacques Rousseau some three centuries ago establishes that humans have made a deal with governments, and that within the context of the agreement, government and people have distinct roles. Humans contribute to society and government, and the government in turn provides a social structure and, most important, protection. This has seen some serious erosion in the past 20 years as governments allow groups of individuals to practice a form of natural law, that is to say live in a natural state permitting actions harmful to the group. This, in a nutshell, is what terrorism is all about--the abrogation of rule to meet an end.
In essence, the world is being held hostage by some 10,000 ruffians. That's roughly the population of
All this because a few nations have decided to allow lawlessness to thrive within their borders and plead outraged innocence at the results of their choices. The Saudis are a good example: we have a tendency to forget that the perpetrators of 9/11 were Saudis, that al Qeda's leadership is Saudi, that
Here are two brand new words--I just made them up this morning and I'm throwing it out there hoping it will become part of the lingua
Pat Robertson immediately comes mind. The Fatuous One recently opined that the earthquakes that ravaged
Theodiocy is practiced by anyone who claims to have a direct line to a higher power's musings. Popes have been theodiotics for centuries--nay, millenia. Insufferable folks of any stripe who maintain their god is better than yours are theodiotics. Terrorists, naturally, occupy the very top rung of theodiocy. Theodiots are easy to spot. They do not talk, they testify. Their prayers are louder than anyone else's in the room. They claim not to proselytize but do so without respite. They are generally very, very boring.
So, go out there, enjoy employ the new words freely. Ideally, I'd like them to show up in a year or so in a New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, but I'll settle for the Washington Post. Or Webster's.
Saturday, January 16, 2010
who had bad feet, bad eyes, depression, insomnia, hemorrhoids, carpal tunnel syndrome, clenched jaw syndrome, lousy ankles, freezing extremities and a host of additional ailments minor and major. She survived on Butterfingers, PMSed three-and-a-half weeks a month, and was, as it turns out, sleeping with another man. She was the writer of two published novels and she lived with an almost-dead cat in a grand old house that was filthy beyond description, a haven for cat hair and dustballs the size of a toddler's head. But she had great cheekbones and spoke passable French, she knew of a great restaurant for steak pommes frites, she was an adamant carnivore and she had interesting friends who seemed to like me.
There was something initially charming about the intellectual chaos that surrounded her, the stacks of unread books everywhere, the broken-legged sofa covered with a Hopi blanket from New Mexico, even the clothing closet I'd been asked to straighten up, only to discover a ludicrous photo of her other lover on a sailboat, shielding his privates with a sailor's cap. She liked talking about her exes, prided herself on the fact that many were still friends who would come and spend the night in the guestroom when they were in town. She taught writing, wrote book reviews for major newspapers and was regularly published in the better short-story magazines. She was constantly overworked, exhausted, on the edge of a major breakdown.
Her depression surfaced like a U-boat whenever we fought which, towards the end, was often. I would drive 90 minutes to see her and find her in tears over a comment made by an illiterate freshman student, or by a neighbor, a store clerk, a colleague. She would lock herself into her room, demand that she not be disturbed. I would go to the local eatery, order a slice of pizza and a diet Coke and wonder about the meaning of life.
My picker, as they say in the rooms, is often broken. I have a tendency to forge relationships with people who are, for one reason or another, largely unavailable. I am not the only one with this ailment, witness the growing ranks of Al Anon attendees, and judging from what I hear there, I wonder if broken pickers aren't more likely to be poorly built pickers. Most people I know who find themselves in untenable situations with friends or significant others come from families where the exact same scenario existed a generation earlier. Alcoholic mothers and absent fathers, poverty or over-wealth, haphazard lifestyles that did little or nothing to engender an environment of warmth and safety.
I have a friend, a woman who has been counseling other women for years and has a respected and thriving practice, who's persuaded that at the core of any alcoholic woman's issues is a thread--or rope--of sexual abuse. I those cases, she believes, addiction serves to mask the unspeakable. In men the antecedents are different, I'm sure, and I don't know what they are. Overbearing mother? Bullying siblings? Poor male role models? I have no idea... I do know that as many men get into impossible relationships as do women, though not necessarily to each other. It's a vast and confusing world out there, and, as we know--or should know--all relationships, even the best ones, end in tragedy. There are no survivors.
I often wonder about the few couple I know--older folks for the most part--who've had marriages lasting several decades. They've often been separated for months or years by war or work, and if anything the separations have made them stronger.
Maybe that's the problem; we have it too easy nowadays.
Wednesday, January 13, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Monday, January 4, 2010
I've been fortunate health-wise. No major illnesses (aside from addiction, which I suppose is pretty major) in my lifetime. I have friends who are not so lucky. Hepatitis, muscular sclerosis, renal failure, agonizing spinal issues, and other insidious maladies have laid them low. I watch and admire their courage and wonder whether I would have it were I in their shoes, because here's the thing: my family has been riddled with cancer. Both my oldest sister and my mother succumbed to it. My father when he was in his sixties had a terrible bout with The Big C and a large part of his colon was removed. He survived but was never the same. So every time I get ill, even if it's minor, I wonder if it might not somehow mutate into something far worst and deadly.
Certainly there have been major discoveries in the nature of the disease, and these have increased the survival rate, but as any medical school hopeful learns early on, there are only a handful of illnesses we can cure; mostly, we deal with pain and symptom management. And in any case, treatments that work--that is to say very expensive treatments--are beyond the reach of most. Survival is--and always has been--a rich person's game.
I stopped smoking about 13 years ago, stopped drinking and drugging even before that. I gave up caffeine, mostly, and try to eat well. In short, I am generally pretty healthy and better prepared in many ways than most of the people I know. My will is current, as are instructions not to prolong life unnecessarily. This being said, I'm pretty certain cancer will get me. How I'll react to the inevitable, though, is still up in the air. I hope it's with dignity. But just in case, in a few years I will have "Do Not Resuscitate" tattooed on my chest, if only to make sure.