Friday, July 31, 2009

Only God can make a weed

When I was a kid, the absolute worst chore my parents could give me (besides “lining” the garbage can) was to pull weeds. Lining the garbage can required my using newspaper to cover the sides and bottom of the garbage can so the inside wouldn’t get dirty… from garbage. There is no logic here so don’t look for it.

Anyway, the worst penance was the assignment of pulling weeds. In the temperate California climate, it was always weed season. Always!

I am an avowed Skeptic and Happy Agnostic; I don’t believe that the Book of Genesis is the recipe God used to bake up the universe as we know it. Our understanding of the mechanisms regarding the world around us is increased with every passing day, with every scientific paper published. We are a reasoning species and seek to comprehend the workings of largest and smallest objects in the universe. Yet there is still that little nagging voice back there that teases us to “believe”.

I hear that voice whenever I pull weeds.

Intelligent Design would have us believe that a universe as complex as ours could never have come into being randomly on its own; the probabilities are far too astounding for that to be possible. (The Anthropic Principle). To underscore the argument, the ID people point to the complexity of the eye (oops, explained by Evolution) … well then, the complexity of the bacteria flagellum (oh, sorry, Evolution explains that too) … Ok, the autoimmune system could never have… (ummm, nope, already well understood through... good guess).

So just where exactly can we find the divine hand of God touching our life on earth? Weeds! Almost every species of weed I have ever laid hands on does everything in its power to avoid being pulled. Weeds are the scourge of plant life put here (by You-Know-Who) to be the bane of mans existence. I will lay out the evidence:

In conditions were most plants won’t grow, weeds thrive. Clay soil, cracks in concrete; they will outperform more desirable plants two to one.

When one tries to extract them they easily snap off at ground level; as if a biological “quick release” mechanism has been built into their tiny stems to keep them snugly in the soil. Carrots don’t do that, Daisies come out of the ground roots an all. But weedy roots tenaciously cling to the bosom of Mother Earth as if they were One.

Lastly, most weeds are stickery; encrusted with little spines and nettles which hurt when touched. Now why would a weed need stickery spines? Edible plants evolved defense mechanisms like thorns to protect them, but what is the evolutionary benefit of nettles to weeds? Nobody eats them, or happily plucks and arranges them in attractive bunches on the breakfast table.

I can come to only one conclusion: God intentionally made weeds to enable Man to suffer. The Garden of Eden, I am most sure, did not grow dandelions, chickweed or crabgrass. No, God created the weed in his Infinite Mercy to force man to his knees the toil painfully in an endless and fruitless task, harvesting a crop of woe and despair. Only God could have come up with weeds. But, God gave Man a mind – and the mind of Man came up with “RoundUp”.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Living Creatively

Creativity is more than being able to paint or sculpt or compose music; it is an inherant element in living a meaningful life. Living creatively means being open to new ides, appreciating the unexpected and seeing the potential to transform the physical world in which we live into a sphere that surrounds us with joy.

I just ran across an wonderful example of living creatively. Enjoy!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Woody: Quit while you are ahead!!

I used to be a big Woody Allen fan. Were I to pick what I believe was his best (meaning, finely crafted film art) it would be Crimes and Misdemeanors, starring Martin Landau. (Rotten Tomatoes gives this one a 92%).

Unfortunately I believe that Woody Allen should have gone the route of cartoonists Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) and Gary Larson (The Far Side) and quit before his creativity ran out. Allen chose not to take this route and released yet another embarrassing film
Whatever Works, starring Larry David.

Now I am a total fan of Larry David. We are deep into catching up on his HBO series “Curb Your Enthusiasm”. However I think David, the creator of the Seinfeld TV comedy, is best when he is performing his own work. Apparently the script for Whatever Works was penned by Allen back in the 1970’s for Zero Mostel, but then shelved when Mostel died before it could be brought to film. After seeing this film I can only assume that Allen did no more than blow the dust off the script and hand it to Larry David.

Perhaps David needed the work or was thrilled to work with the legendary director… I don’t know, but I can’t imagine in his heart of hearts, David doesn’t secretly regret his involvement in this dog.

The whole story line is embarrassingly cliché; older man marries a much younger woman who is attracted to his intellect. A series of unbelievable convolutions occur involving the young bride‘s mother, father and their awakening from small town neieve religious simple folk to uptown New York hipsters. Everyone ends up living happy ever after in the end. Oh please!!

Rotten Tomatoes gave this film a generous (by my standards) 46%. Sometimes I wonder if film reviewers actually watch the films they review or just peek at the trailers.

Woody needs to retire and rest on the reputation for his good works. Larry David needs to keep performing his OWN work. And Whatever Works needs to quickly go to DVD so Target will have something to put in its $3.99 bargain table near the exit.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Upon reaching age 60

I was born sixty years ago today. During my lifetime I have seen some remarkable things: the assination of a much loved president, the enactment of law affording the full rights of citizenship to minorities, and on my birthday in 1969, the first human being set foot on the Moon.

I have often said that best times Man ever has, or ever will have, will have happened during my generation. I still believe that is true. When I look back, I am amazed at how I got here and almost cannot fathom where we are going. My daughters are grown adults and some have brought an even newer generation into the world. My life has been quite remarkable.

I watch on TV the passing of many people who have featured prominently in my life; among these most assuredly, the recent death of Walter Cronkite. His commentary provided the footnotes for the events that defined my generation. I usually do not grieve for celebrities, but I am humbled and saddened by his death. And it reminds me that my life too is finite.

From time to time I think of the film Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut’s story of Billy Pilgrim darting back and forth freely in time; observing his youth, his aging and even his own death. In reality, it would seem we only have the “now” moment, yet I find myself like Billy darting through time re-experiencing moments of my life.

I have come to two conclusions as I reflect on my life so far: One, that I have been extremely lucky; and two, I have gotten everything I have wished for. Everything! As lives go, you can’t do better than that.

I have a defective heart valve which is schedule to be replaced in the near future. If it is successful, I may live a few more years. If the odds are wrong, at some unexpected moment, I might slip into unconsciousness and die; but even should this occur I will be lucky, it will be a quick and painless death.

I am reminded of my friend Jerry Andrus for whom I had the privilege to have crafted a documentary in his memory. The film about Jerry was completed about the time he died. In it we closed with his words: “We’re each a unique mixture of sub-atomic particles. And so the only thing that’s left other than our remains is the effect that we might have had on other people or maybe will have on other people.” In this sense only do we truly see life beyond the grave.

As you walk through the ways of the world, let your feel fall, if you will, on the pathways of wonder. Walk on a trail in the valley of wonder. And there stands that huge tree that started from a tiny seed as even did you and I. Let us remember well that we do live among that wonder and we should cherish it forever until the very day we die. ~ Jerry Andrus

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Medical (Insurance) Malpractice

I have gotten pretty tired of watching that Republican numb-skull Senator John Boehner yammer the party Mind-Speak in opposition to any type of medical insurance reform in this country. I was pretty much ambivalent regarding the increasing cost of health care until a recent incident with Regents Blue Cross Blue Shield pushed me over the edge.

To back up a bit – My wife and I are responsible for paying for our own group coverage through our retirement. Clearly, the health insurance industry as a whole needs to get an an eye exam; they seem to be rather blind regarding recognizing the parallels between what happened to the Housing Bubble and the ever expanding Medical Insurance Bubble.

Let me bring it more in focus with a very personal example -- Our own personal medical insurance premium costs:
  • 2009 1,122.11 13.7% increase
  • 2008 987.98 10.4% increase
  • 2007 894.65
The annual percentage increase rate for medial insurance premiums is roughly what it was for the housing market. We all KNOW what happened when the housing bubble burst. As it stands now, just our medical insurance monthly premiums (not the additional co-pay and uncovered expenses), consumes 36% of our GROSS joint retirement income. And this is for coverage that covers less and less every year – I am paying a higher share of my co-pay for office visits as well as paying more for the insurance itself.
I pay more each year to get less coverage.
Do the CEO’s of Regents and other medical insurance companies really think this trend is sustainable? They’re not stupid –
they are only looking out for their self-interest. They will unfurl their Golden Parachutes and bail when this bubble pops.

Recently Regents notified me that I can no longer take Lipitor to lower my cholesterol. I switched to the generic alternative which caused me to experience… uh, well symptoms akin to having eaten a Tijuana Taco. My request to go back to Lipitor (which had worked well for me for a decade) was refused. The ONLY reason Regents wants me to switch to the generic is to save THEM money! In turn they will charge me MORE in premiums and cover LESS of my visits and procedures.

In the mean time I watch Republican Senator John Boehner (yes, I will pronounce it “boner”) asking at a press conference “do Americans really want Washington-Run Medical?” YES, John – we do! We want the same Washington Run medical care that YOU get.

I am now personally motivated to do whatever I can to completely disassemble the current private medical care system in this country.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fork You !

From our local newspaper, the following entry in the "Crime Reports" section:

Saturday, July 4

MENACING WITH A FORK: 4:55 p.m., 2500 block Southeast Crystal Lake Drive. William Burk Sr. was arrested for menacing after he allegedly waved a long, sharp, two-pronged meat fork toward a woman and said he was going to kill her. The woman was uninjured.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Much of what ordinary people do irritates me. Blogging is my therapy… or is it? Maybe it is really unhealthy self-indulgence; feeding the disdain I have for people who blithely eschew common sense. It’s not just big issues, like why the country has 45 million people without health care – it’s also the “little” things.

Like why do people in my neighborhood walk in the street? I live in a residential neighborhood in the suburbs -- Rows of houses fronting a nicely paved street with concrete sidewalks on both sides. Yet invariably, when people walk by, they are walking in the street, not on the sidewalk!! Whattasamatta... are the batteries low? “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back”?

My friend William has a tree growing in a strip of soil between the street and the sidewalk in front of his house. Over the years, the tree root has pushed up a square of the sidewalk. The City notified him he would have to grind it down or tear it out and pour new concrete. – So people won’t trip on it. What people? Nobody walks on the sidewalk, they’re all walking in the street. Why should he bother?

The next time I am out mowing my lawn and someone walks by in the street I am going to ask them why they don’t walk on the sidewalk? Maybe I should tear up the sidewalk in front of my house and plant roses. I am sure the people walking by in the street would love to stop and smell them.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Strange Passing

Robert “Strange” McNamara died this week (yes, Strange was really his middle name). I cannot imagine that his home or grave will be strewn with piles of flowers the likes of Michael Jackson or Princess Diana. No.

He lived to the ripe old age of 93. Rather ironic that the man whose decisions sent hundreds of 20 year olds to their deaths in Vietnam should himself die of old age.

Yet his longevity gave him the opportunity to reflect on his life and the decisions he had made. In his book, In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam, and later in the Errol Morris film, Fog of War, this very brilliant man did something that people in the public eye seldom do – admit that he was wrong; that he made mistakes; mistakes which yielded dire consequences.

I have always admired people who do the right thing. And even more so, those who have the courage to step outside the protective shell of ego and admit when they are wrong. Robert McNamara had nothing to gain through this admission, other than to urge a cautionary footnote to history; that if we don’t learn by our mistakes, we will be condemned to repeat them.

I am not going to eulogize McNamara here. Rather than toss flowers on his grave, if you have not seen it already, watch the Fog of War. A trailer to the film is included below.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I’m standing there waiting in the grocery checkout line. Perched above the food conveyor is a selection of magazines. There’s “O” magazine with a picture of Oprah, extensively Photoshopped to make her look thinner than she looks (or ever did) in real life. Several of the magazines covers have “teasers” about Jon and Kate. Hmmm, looks like there is a big breakup in the stars for Jon and Kate. I have no f*#king clue who Jon and Kate are.

Ok, familiar face, uh… lips; there’s
Angelina Jolie and Prad Pitt. Ok, I know those guys. But why are they still in the tabloids and, more to the point, why do I care?

Celebrity worship is something I have never understood. First off, these people are out of their minds rich because we (not me, the Moron Majority) think that every aspect of their lives is worth observing, pondering and discussing. But I don’t understand what the payoff is for the worshipper? Do they think the celebri
ty might be their friend? Don’t think so… most celebrities have beefy bodyguards who would knock you on your ass if you ever came near them.

Then there is the Paparazzi element. These guys get paid huge commissions to bring a picture of Angelina eating a taco to a tabloid rag that will have a shelf life of about a week. This I need to figure out, not out of celebrity interest but to determine where the money is in this game.

Most of the people I admired as celebrities are now either dead or out of the media spot light because, well, nobody wants to see them drooling at the Nursing Home of the Stars on ET (Entertainment Tonight). The celebrities I admired who are still working are doing ads for reverse mortgages and denture adhesives. C’mon… do you really need the money that badly Richard Wagner? Where’s your dignity?

Now the celebrity mill is so fast paced that these nobody people will be on some reality TV show for two weeks, be a star for another two and totally forgotten by the time the summer reruns are aired. Oh right, that’s happening now.

When I was a kid, Gene Autry had made about 600 westerns by the mid 1950’s. He took his Hollywood money and invested it in real estate, a major league baseball team and other business ventures. At the time of his death at age 91 he was worth $320 million. I never saw his face on a TV celebrity show or his personal life pasted on a tabloid in the grocery checkout. Gene Autry was famous but he was never a celebrity. As a cowboy, he was just an actor -- but as a man, he was damn real!