08052012 The Drug War

In case I skip this topic, I am almost entirely against “the drug war,” as understood generally.

Before further comment, I’d like to point out that I have never even smoked marijuana, much less injected anything or snorted. I don’t have to worry about someone coming out of the woodwork alleging that I secretly used drugs – it’s never happened. In the interest of fairness, I had wanted to try marijuana, but couldn’t find the right circumstances. The potential risk of being tested after trying it were too great for me. I doubt that my employer would believe that I had done it just once to see what all the fuss was about. While it would be true, people who use drugs once are lumped together with hardcore users.

Many of our freedoms have been eroded by pushing them under the banner of drug eradication. Asset forfeiture is a great example of this type of lunacy. Imprisoning such a large potion of our population is another.

For addicts, focus and money should be on treatment, not punitive consequences, including jail.

Jailing someone for no “crime” other than using a banned substance serves no societal good, other than to condition the criminal mindset, build more jails, etc. Again, I am NOT advocating no consequences for drug-related crimes, just not for the drugs themselves. I’ve got the same mentality for gun-related crime, terror-related crime, etc – they are all crimes, regardless of their associations. Crimes should be judged based on their harm to other people.

Yes, we should pay for the treatment. All of it. To argue that we can’t or shouldn’t denies the cost we are supporting now. It’s ridiculous.

If a person is using an illegal substance (whatever that is) and there are no substantial consequences to other people, we need to stay out of their business. However, if you are driving and impaired, the legal consequences should be equal to those of alcohol, which I’m not too sympathetic toward.

I can understand the need for many people to want to punish drug users. But it serves no greater good. Not everyone who wants punishment for drug users is motivated out of self-righteous – but some are.

If your drug habit is leading you to further crime, yes you should be held accountable for the crime independently of the drugs. And treated. But drug use shouldn’t be permitted as a method to reduce your accountability.

And I can be quite often wrong.

 

04012014 People Who Make Opinion Certainty

In the Aug 13th, 2011 Scott Adams blog (Dilbert), Scott asks the following:
“…When you hear an argument about a complex issue presented as a certainty, do you reflexively downgrade its value? Or does the certainty mixed with a credible source make it more persuasive to you?…”

To answer the first part, I HATE when someone presents an idea, especially one not demonstrated, as certainty. I can’t stand the type of person who presents the world as a cut-and-dry interpretation. It tends to be about a subject that largely subjective to begin with. Politics, religions, sports – all of these tend to be the largest offenders.

As for the “credible” source part, it does make a difference. I will at least THINK about the idea or opinion if it is from someone who normally seems to be rational and responsible. But if Brad Pitt spouts off about the efficiency of a supply-side economic principle, I’m not listening.

Or if a friend/family member who has never been able to balance a checkbook starts pontificating about what’s wrong with the economy… Of if someone I know who is kind of an ass and preaches anything religious, my eyes roll over.

As I like to remind myself, on any given subject…If countless people smarter than me, some of who have spent their entire lives studying a subject, can’t agree, chances are great that no one can be sure and that it’s mostly opinion.

Discovering Beliefs


“The art of writing is the art of discovering what you believe.”
Gustave Flaubert

I can’t testify about other people in this regard. However, I personally sit at idle in regards to many ideas. If something isn’t in my field of vision or life, it either lingers in the background or never penetrates my consciousness. That’s a good thing. Having a selective filter keeps me happier.

When I sit down to attempt to discuss or elaborate on my opinions, I find myself going down blind alleys and considering strange alternatives to what I had previously thought. I enjoy that feeling, even if it makes me think that perhaps I’m not as logical as I would have hoped.

Every once and a while, I find myself changing what I believe based on my attempt to write about it. I wonder how often this occurs with other writers.

11252014 Likes and Dislikes

It is tough to admit to a “dislike.” especially when it’s something you once “liked.” It’s like character assassination upon yourself. All your friends and family know you by your likes and dislikes. By changing them, you’ve changed who you are. People don’t respond well to change, especially when you’ve pulled the rug out from under their understanding of the world. It’s one of the reason people get antsy when you lose a lot of weight, stop drinking, start going to church, or just do anything differently.

Try giving up on a TV show! Whether you’ve watched 2 shows or 2 seasons, it is almost impossible to stop watching. More accurately, it’s impossible to ADMIT you’ve stopped. If you’ve seen the first 3 installments of the horrible Harry Potter movies, it is basically a federal law that you must watch all of them into infinity. Are you tired to the same stupid plot and antics in “Warehouse 13?” Too bad – you are doomed to watch every single barking episode or until the planet explodes.

Are you tired of eating your “favorite” pizza? Does the idea of eating another slice make you look around for shards of glass with which to exsanguinate yourself? Better start grabbing the broken glass, as suicide would be easier to explain than detailing WHY you dislike your once-favorite food.

In a similar vein, do you find yourself enjoying things you once didn’t? For example, you might have thought that country music or opera was akin to listening to retarded cats fight. Now, without even a head injury to explain your sudden bad taste, you would rather listen to opera or Brad Paisley butcher otherwise good melodies. Where looking at horseradish once evoked an intense physical need to vomit, now you feel euphoric and joyous and the chance to eat yet more of this stuff.

Advice: if you don’t like something anymore, stop: stop eating it, watching it, doing it. Like a band-aid, rip it off, so to speak. Be honest, the sooner the better. If your tastes have changed and you like something that was previously hideous, start eating it, watching it, doing it. Without apology – unless it’s illegal or stupid. If unsure, you can ask me. : )

If your wife likes opera and you honestly hate it, go every great once in a while to show your wife that you love her – but don’t pretend to like any aspect of opera just because your wife does. If Seinfeld is like a show about vomit to you, don’t pretend it’s funny. Your friends will be buying you boxed sets for Xmas. Don’t like family members buying you clothes? Tell them nicely to stop. If they persist, set them on fire – the clothes, not the family members – unless they don’t understand the subtle hint of burning clothes.

So, pay attention to your real likes and dislikes. And be prepared to change them as your tastes do.

05212014 Car Conceitedness

Faith In Humanity:   1 point
Car Conceitedness:   0 point

Two or three mornings ago, I was exiting the grocery store. Evidently, I had just missed witnessing an accident in the parking lot. A younger female employee from the store had backed into the side and rear end of an elderly gentleman’s car as he drove through.

Although the gentleman’s car was already scratched and dented some, the woman’s car was less damaged. There was slight damage to both cars from bumping. Both drivers exited their vehicles. Much to my pleasure and hopes, after a few exchanged pleasantries, both got back into their respective vehicles and went about their business. 

This is exactly how many of these encounters should end – but we’ve seen most of them morph into tedious bureaucratic wastes of time.

I wish that we weren’t so focused on the small stuff about our vehicles. They should be primarily to transport us safely and comfortably from place to place, rather than be worried about so much. A few dents and scratches are normal for a car well used.

Not only would our insurance be lower if more people stopped worrying about the lesser cosmetic defects on their vehicles, but it might make some people happier.

04042014 Reusing Greeting Cards / Using the “Wrong” Card on Purpose

For this card, I bought a random category and then put my cousin’s picture on the front, drawing a low-tech beard, then scribbling out the words as needed on the inside.

For most of my adult life, I have tried to be goofy with greeting cards. Sometimes, I have inadvertently shown bad taste doing this but since I’ve never been known as someone with great taste, I don’t think I’ve damaged my reputation too much.

First, if you want to have a little fun, you should deliberately buy the wrong occasion card for someone. For instance, instead of a birthday card, send a sympathy card. Instead of a graduation card, send a bar mitzvah card. After a couple of times doing this, people will either laugh at your efforts or start expecting it. Many times, the crazy card that doesn’t conform will be the one remembered. Cards are usually so quickly forgotten that anything memorable about them is quite a feat.

Fifth, you should consider changing the words already written inside or on the card. Subtle changes can have a huge, humorous impact on the card’s intended meaning.

Second, if you are going to write a message, write it on the front of the card where people are reluctant to write – or on the back. Even better, write your message upside or wrapped around the edge between front and back – or any combination thereof for maximum effect.

First, write a totally wrong name on the card and/or envelope.

Third, write messages from people who don’t exist. Sign their name, too, make up fake shared experiences, or write a message as if you are a famous historical person. Write the message as if you are either totally serious or mentally deranged.

Another easy and creative way to personalize a boring card is to print a picture of the person and tape, glue or include it in or on the card. People get caught off guard when this happens and usually appreciate the little touch. If it is someone’s birthday, put a picture of them when they were very young. On the other hand, put someone a picture of a total stranger in the card to bewilder both the recipient and anyone else looking at the card.

While it is true that greeting cards can be quite boring, the reality is that is our own fault that they lack any spark or zest. With just a little creativity, greeting cards can be fun and interesting.

(I know I didn’t enumerate the points correctly, in order, or well. Gotcha! )

Let’s Obsess Over Our Vehicles, Shall We?

I’ve written before the issue of acceptance of the deterioration of ‘things.’ No matter how cool and interesting your new thing is, time and entropy rules over it.

You’ve also been subjected to my dumb personal opinion about the obsession with personal vehicles. I don’t understand the “pride in ownership” argument in regards to cars. All I want is something that is reliable and comfortable. If it were zero emissions and sustainable, that would be pretty nifty, too. If someone offered to sell me a perfectly reliable car at 1/2 price, yet insist on spray painting it 16 crazy colors, I would not care. Wheel covers don’t match? Don’t care. Seats are all different? Doesn’t bother me. Not only would it be easier to locate in the parking lot amidst all the pristine, over-priced cars, but I could paint over a scratch at almost zero cost, put any part on it yet still claim that it matches, and have something interesting to look at.

Most people who seem to love their cars don’t take a  minute to think about the fact that a million other people have cars exactly like theirs, down to the leather seats, alloy wheels, and sunroof. Exact matches. Yet their specific car, the one which looks like most other cars on the road, somehow adds a special zest to their life? Hmmm… People get mad at me when I talk this to. If I ever thought to myself “Man, I need to go wax my car,” I might decide instead to drive it into the river.

I don’t care if it hails or storms unexpectedly, especially since my ability to control the weather is not one of my skills. I’d prefer to not have windows shattered or get hurt when it hails. But I would never lose my mental stability simply because ice falls from the sky and damages my personal vehicle. For all of you who are normal and disagree with me, come walk on the dark side with me.  Your day can be ruined without notice. You can worry about going on with your life for fear of your car being damaged by something totally out of your control. A stray shopping cart can roll across the parking lot and mar your immaculate baby blue paint job or scratch the trunk of your vehicle. You drive around, searching for at least minimal coverage for your car, instead of hopping out and getting to your destination. You move your vehicle four times to gain optimal protection from the potential of damage.

And then a tornado, flood, fire, thief, careless driver, or falling tree reminds you that your vehicle is just a thing, designed for a specific purpose. All your obsession has done is expose you to loss. Yes, a car can be interesting to look at. But I think our world will be a better place when people stop concerning themselves with their personal vehicles. We’ll be able to live more cheaply, pay less insurance, and focus on living and doing, rather than protecting stuff.

Before the crazies stretch my argument, I’m not advocating letting everything look like garbage. Quite the contrary. Nor do I want people to be slovenly. But when I see or hear someone obsessing over physical details of their personal vehicles, I wonder to myself if they know there is another way to look at it. Usually, the answer is “no.”

I know I probably bug people with my contrary attitude. All I see if a means of transportation. I don’t think my car reflects on me as a person, whether it is a BMW or ’76 Pinto.

 

A Car is Just a Better Way to Travel

I still am missing the male gene that requires any member of the human race who also has facial hair to be concerned about his vehicle. (Which might include the occasional female or flannel-wearing member of our species.) This includes the size of the engine, whether it can traverse a 20-foot deep water-filled ravine in mid-December, and how new the model is. I don’t care. Does it accelerate decently without using more gasoline than a 20 year-old arsonist? If so, I’m fine. If it has good air conditioning and a radio, even better.

I would give up ALL aesthetics of my automobiles in exchange for reliability. All of it. It could be the ugliest monstrosity this side of Wyoming and as long as it afforded better mechanical reliability, I would welcome it. Being able to easily find parts and mechanics is of greater practicality to me.

I’ve never been one to care much about cars, nor about upgrading and tricking them out. If it has the modern conveniences and decent gas mileage, all else is irrelevant. I had thought that aging might perhaps bring out the macho concern in me, but it hasn’t. When I’m working around younger men, it still amuses me to hear them talk about variations on their self worth being tied to the desirability of their vehicles.

Imagine if we had 5 or 6 varieties of vehicles. Not based on model or brand; rather, based on utility. Most of us simply need an affordable sedan with good gas mileage. All else is secondary and drives up the cost. The super rich could then just have their vehicles specifically made, leaving us boring folk to take advantage of the reduced costs associated with having fewer vehicles.

As for vanity modifications such as pin stripes, wheels larger than a small house, chrome bumpers, or canopy running lights, just tax those. I can see my plan being very popular with those who enjoy flying a rebel flag on the front porch.

While I can appreciate a nice vehicle, our obsession with cars is one of the reasons our society is so complicated and expensive. Yes, I’m trying to make a minimalism point here. My car doesn’t reflect on who I am. It doesn’t “give me pride,” a phrase I loathe hearing about vehicles.

But if you have 24″ tires or more than 2 square feet of chrome in unusual places on your mode of transportation, you probably disagree with me.

01012014 Disco Inferno and Please Cremate Me

Although not considered a joyous topic, everyone who knows me should know that I want to be cremated. Preferably once I’m dead, in case someone wants to get things out of their proper order. Like most people, I have a few detractors who would gladly reverse the order. Were I born a few centuries ago, I would have been one of those heretics burned at the stake, saving several intermediary steps.

Somewhere around 100,000,000,000 people have lived and died on the planet, with around 7 billion now walking gleefully about. Imagine all those graves! Imagine our population growth and the future acreage that would be needed if we were to continue to bury people individually in plots, as we do now. There are websites you can visit which will visually demonstrate the size of cemeteries for one billion people – it is surprising. Assuming no other alterations to our world population, it is a certainty that burial will not be possible at some point in the future.  Being buried is another one of those bizarre things to me. Taking up valuable real estate when I die is not my idea of sensible. Even being buried in an allegedly impenetrable concrete (or steel) vault only slows the inevitable fact that one’s body will turn into sludge and decompose.

If you want to amuse yourself when I’m gone, definitely bury me intact. If there is the remotest chance of me haunting you after death, such a decision will guarantee that I visit you with evil intent after my passing.

Paying for all the extra pomp and circumstance is eliminated with cremation as well. The cost is not the bigger issue to me – it’s the attempt to conserve what must decompose. No matter how much effort we expend to memorialize someone we love, time will erase all of our vestiges of honor. I think it’s more important to celebrate our time here while we can and preserve the memories and mementos of the people we love. If we are careful and do it in a loving way, such archived memories can easily survive forever. Human flesh and even stone all succumb to time.No matter how mammoth your memorial, it will disappear in time.

Once cremated, place the ashes in a simple box and scatter the ashes. Putting ashes of a loved one in an urn is better than burial but still strange for me. Spending lavish amounts of money on an eye-catching urn doesn’t indicate a greater love for your lost loved one, just a larger bank account. No matter how much you treasure the ashes, you will then worry about who will care for the ashes once you’ve passed. Each thing that must be treasured weighs down those who follow us.

Embalming is another anachronistic relic leftover from earlier times. By avoiding burial, embalming is eliminated as well. Less chemicals, contamination, etc. Even if I were okay with being buried, I could care less about being embalmed. Wrap the body in a sheet and plant it, without all the intermediate materials, processes, chemicals and hassle.

That custom here dictates that we almost must use a casket is another weird thing to me. The casket, too, will decompose. Its alleged beauty is for the brief interlude between your death and burial. Putting a perfectly good quantity of metal, wood, and artwork in the dirt for no good reason is just weird to me. Paying thousands of dollars for the privilege of seeing it for a couple of days is absurd. Save your money and leave it to a friend or family member – or a charity. Or give it to the IRS – anyone other than planting it in the dirt.

I’ve found that a lot of people have never had a comfortable conversation with anyone about this type of topic. True, they might have had a quick, inadvertent talk with someone at a funeral, or done so while making funeral arrangements, but most people simply haven’t examined why they do things the way they do in relation to death.Many people will only look at death through the squinted corners of their eyes, as if contemplation of its shadow in their own lives will hasten its arrival. It’s an anachronistic viewpoint. This tendency leads to much family discord and financial issues that should easily be sidestepped.

From a very early age, burial seemed bizarre to me. When my grandpa Cook died is the when it really hit me that pretty much everyone else didn’t mind going along with tradition. His death was the first that clicked with me mentally and that we were putting people’s bodies in the ground. I had walked around the White Cemetery in Monroe County when I was young. Grandpa showed me several graves and told me stories – none of which do I remember. I do remember him reminding me that there was nothing to fear there. It was a common theme for him when he was talking to me, that men were the problem in most cases, not unseen ghosts or forces.

(Sidenote: my dad did not want to be buried. But he was. The well-meaning family members exacted their revenge by doing the opposite of what he wanted. They justified their decision in several ways, not the least of which was their views on cremation versus burial and the resurrection. Despite his constant reminders about not wanting to be planted in the ground, his desire to never be buried was wiped away with the idea that “he didn’t mean it.” While it is true that a lot of dad’s insistence about his views on burial happened while he was drinking, I would argue that much of his life in general was spent that way. Again, though, their revisions to history have been so constant that even they fight any mention of the truth. The problem is, though, that I know they they did the wrong thing in this regard. The month before Dad died when I visited him, he asked me about how I felt about church, god, and things like that. These were not normal topics of conversation for dad and me. He was pretty clear about what he believed – and what he didn’t. But each of us holds our own ideas who people are – sometimes these perceptions and filters cloud our judgement. They affect me, too, as much as I would like to believe otherwise.)

As far as I’m concerned, regardless of the circumstances of my death, if you would rather wrap me in dynamite and detonate it, that too would be okay with me. Especially if it’s on the internet. And you can sell the fuse lighting privilege to one of my detractors. Make even more money from the event.
 

Writing Advice #45

Before asking “Who is this idiot?” please remember that most people can’t write significantly better than you or me. When you factor in that many funny and insightful people can barely write at all, the issue becomes less important.

I’m no Pat Conroy, nor do I aspire to be. But at least I don’t have ‘blank page syndrome’ like almost everyone I know. It’s easier to say nothing and hope no one notices you in your dusty corner of the world.

Are we afraid that people will ridicule us? Don’t they already? And the ones who are most likely to ridicule are people that are just plain annoying anyway.

Is someone a writer when they are paid to do it? Only when they are paid or when they earn most of their living doing it?

Most people aren’t smarter than you or me, either. They probably are REALLY smart about a subject but this specific education doesn’t translate into unilateral respectability. Everyone seems markedly smarter than us – but it’s not true. I’m still finding out that most people I think are geniuses secretly believe in some crazy stuff like paranormal hauntings, aliens, or religious dogma involving magic underwear, transmutation, etc.

For the record, being well-versed in sports trivia is a mark against you. Sorry, but it’s true.

Start writing blogs or important emails with no intention of polishing or “perfecting” the content.

Get your basic idea across and then stop worrying about filling in the cracks. You are going to be misunderstood anyway. Just like in real life.