Monday, February 29, 2016

The Leap Day post

It's February 29th today, that Leap Day we get every 4 years because it squares the calendar to the Earth's orbit so that the seasons remain consistent. Of course, every hundred years there is no Leap Day. Except every 400 years, that is, in which there is one. That is meant to counterbalance the over time which occurs because of Leap Days after 400 years. So 2000 was a Leap Year, and 2100 will not be. All of that makes sense somehow.

So what to do with the extra blog this year? I thought about looking up what's happened on Leap Days in the past. But there being so few of them nothing really exciting appears to have happened on them. Well, Davy Jones of the Monkees died suddenly on Leap Day 2012. That, however, simply doesn't seem exciting. It's rather sad really. Plus, I've used the what happened today gimmick often enough that it's kinda stale.

I should write something witty and erudite. Yet nothing really comes to mind this minute, and I'm burning daylight. Maybe something profound?

Nope. I got nuthin'.

Of course, the Detroit Tigers open spring baseball with their annual game against Florida Southern University this afternoon. That's enough to make today special for all us Tiger fans. Am I right, Samantha?

Of course, if I run on long enough I'll have enough of a post to decently fill a daily blog. I think I've met that requirement.

So there: what did I do with my Leap Day blog? Wasted it on a stream of consciousness ramble, that's what. But watch for February 29, 2020. I'll have a dandy then. I promise.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Texas no-limit poker the Marty way

I've been playing a lot of online poker the last few years. I've yet to play for money, though. The idea of actually risking anything beyond the penny ante simply doesn't appeal to me. Still, I like the game enough to play even for pretend stakes. And even then, I think it should be played seriously. Why? Because one day you might want to try playing with real cash, and if you play poorly in practice, you'll play poorly for real. Yes, that's a dad saying. But like most of what our dads have said, there's a lot of truth to it. They do get smarter as we get older.

So here's a few tips which I find useful when playing. They're from an amateur, me, and I'm sure many of the pros would not endorse them. But I feel I've done well playing Texas Hold 'em the Marty way.

It's almost always bad to go all in on the first two cards. You should only do it with a pair of Aces, or with Jacks or better when you hold the fewest chips at the table. The game changes too much over five shared cards, and you lose often even starting with that pair of Aces. Generally speaking, don't go all in on two.

You will lose more hands than you win. That's the nature of the game. So while it's okay to be aggressive, and you do have to be a bit of a bully to play well, the cards will be against you more often than for you. Be selective with your aggressive play, and remember there's a fine line between aggressive and foolish.

If after the turn you need two cards to earn a decent hand, play conservative and be ready to fold quickly. The numbers are against you; you aren't likely to get both cards.

Bet from strength. If you have a hand which, in studying the cards, less than 4 can beat you, be aggressive.

I do not like the bluff. It's too dangerous. Still, you should make small bets or make small calls often enough even with lesser hands to keep your opponents unsure of your tactics. Part of the game is creating uncertainty about your motives when at the table.

Beware the wild bettor. He's either very aggressive or very stupid. Don't get into raise wars with them. They're depending on luck and, I mention again, the cards are generally against you. Let the others at the table deal with those players. They'll usually burn themselves out within a few hands.

Don't call a high raise unless you know you've got the cards to beat it. I know, you can never really 'know'. But a clear headed study of your hole cards against the common ones will usually give you all the information you need.

I think that's all for now, although I believe I'll share more tips later. But I can't give away too much, of course. I may play you one day.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Protesting Joe Cosgriff

As I made mention yesterday, me Grandpa Joe rented welding equipment. As I made mention also yesterday, in so very many words, me Uncle John toiled for him. So too did me old dad.

Detroit, being a union town (to its debit or credit however ya happen ta see the question) required some soul with a union card on any job requirin' such which, in the humble opinion of the union, a not rather humble opinion if I may say, union affiliation there, me Grandpa had an issue. Still, he could not rent his wares on a union site without a union guy on hand. So he pays me father's dues to the Teamsters, so's that a union guy might magically appear on a job site where his equipment may happen to be, to satisfy those certain requirements.

Now, I'm not recalling something here to provoke a fight about unionism. Truly I'm not. But what I found fascinating about the whole hullabaloo was in seein' the business agent from Teamsters Local 247 comin' out every three years t' negotiate with me Grandad me Pops' own contract. They, the Teamsters, held this general contract ye see with all companies in their realm, the generalities within all companies bein' applied to all, with the particulars up for debate. Joe and me Pops fell in between such lines.

O'course, Pops and Joe always agreed on them particulars. Yet me, I always imagined me old Dad marchin' along 12th Street in Detroit with a sign assertin', JOE COSGRIFF UNFAIR. It woulda been a sight.

It woulda been a sight. From this distance, I think them boys may have agreed on the lunacy. Them boys bein' Grandpa Joe and me Pops. Because Joe Cosgriff, he woulda' never been unfair to me Pops. They loved each other too much to have allowed that.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

The customer is always shocked

One of the fascinating things about repairing drain cables and equipment are the the laments which I hear along the way. At times I wonder if people ever actually think about what they say.

Broken cables always just break. The operator never ever put too much pressure on it. Never ever. They were simply feeding it into the drain line and it broke. One fella even claimed, I am not making this up, that he just looked at his machine and the cable snapped. Of course, he was kinda ugly...but the point is that most cable breakages supposedly occur though absolutely no fault of the operator. Right.

A favorite of mine is the question, why did my machine break? It is often asked with incredulity. My answer is, I think, obvious. Everything is subject to break. Nothing made by human hands lasts forever. Your equipment, your cars, your refrigerator; they all break, and sometimes we just don't know why. How can you be shocked by that?

Then there's the equally incredulous, it was working and then it just stopped! Again, why are you surprised? Everything works until it doesn't. Sometimes I just sigh about it. Other times I blog about it. Today is your lucky day.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

An uncle joke

For about 45 years, my grandfather rented welding equipment. This included arc welders which had either 4 or 6 cylinder gasoline engines hooked onto generators to create the heat needed for making a weld. They were portable; they could be towed behind a car or truck from job to job on tires similar to what you find on cars and small trucks. You've probably seen them and mistaken them for air compressors.

One day my Uncle John was towing one of them back to grandpa's shop. He had just noticed a vibration when his pickup ground to a halt. A wheel bearing had gone bad and a tire came off the axle of the welder. This made the machine drop to one side and act as an anchor, which stopped the truck quickly and suddenly. Uncle John looked in the rear view mirror, helplessly watching the disconnected tire bounce across 4 lanes of traffic until it slammed against a parked car, severely damaging it. He knew he would have to go find the owner and do what he could to get the guy's car fixed.

About then the owner ran from his house waving his arms and vigorously exercising his vocal cords, obviously and understandably upset at the incident. But all my Uncle could think was, "You picked a fine time to leave me loose wheel."

Good, huh?

Monday, February 22, 2016

Marty beats parking technology

Technology is supposed to help, and generally it does. But while it did inadvertently help me this past Saturday morning, it did its boss no favors.

I spent most of last week at a trade show and was trying to get out of the parking structure at my hotel a little before 6 on Saturday morning. There was no attendant, but I had the pasteboard ticket a machine had issued to me on Wednesday when I parked. The rate was $22 per day so I had $66 ready, and there was a self pay mechanism at the exit. So I slid the ticket into the machine. It's almost immediately spit back out at me, like when a Coke machine won't take your single, and a shrill mechanical voice says, "This card is unreadable."

Heck, what do I do? I check to see that there are no creases or blemishes on the card and try it again. "This card is unreadable", I am then again told. Shoot, what to do now?

I see a button on the touch screen which instructs me to push for help. So I push it; several minutes pass, but no response. I push it once more. Another several minutes, and still no one responds to me.

I really wanted to get going. It was the last day of the show and I wanted to park as close as possible to the convention center so I could leave as quickly as possible when it ended. But after a third attempt at hailing some actual human being to come help me I was ready to bust through the gate.

Then I saw a button which said, lost ticket. It'll probably cost me an arm and a leg I thought, but figured I could fight that battle later. I simply wanted to leave. So I press it.

After a series of gentle humming and hawing the screen says: Total $33 dollars. So I take two twenties and feed them into the bill slot; the machine spews seven bucks back at me and the gate opens. I'm on my merry way, finally. But my question is, do I contact the garage company to tell them their own technology and lack of customer service cost them thirty three dollars, or just figure I'm up on them and it's their own damn fault?

Yep, I'm leaning towards the latter. What would you do?

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Cicero makes a point

True law is right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting.

- Cicero

Right wingers and Christians are two groups of folk who are almost universally derided for daring to suggest that there is something such as the Natural Law. They are scorned when asserting that some things are congruent with nature and others less so, if at all. They are mocked because of the idea they espouse which says that certain acts are really right, and others really wrong. In the end, they are scolded for the presumably arrogant belief that our laws must reflect this, because, of course, nothing is right on its own terms and how dare anyone try to force their morality on another. Simple and stupid consensus will take care of that.

So imagine the joy which one put upon by society in such a manner might have when they discover an old pagan who says exactly what they do. A pagan who speaks of virtue and discipline as though they were ideals to strive for rather than ancient old abstractions of which some people simply will not let go. A pagan who insists there is a God who is the source of all of our law, and that we must adhere to the commands of that being. In the end, Cicero teaches, our laws must reflect that eternal and unchanging law on which any and all good laws are based.

Right Reason is that which is in league with nature and nature's God. All that we do which is to be of any good use must reflect that sense. When we do that, we create justice on Earth. When we do not, when we do as we please with no regard for ultimate and final right and wrong, we invite chaos and anarchy. To quote Cicero once more:

...if the principle of justice were founded on the decrees of peoples, the edicts of princes, or the decision of judges, then justice would sanction robbery and adultery and the forging of wills, in case these acts were approved by the votes or decrees of the populace. (For if a human law)...can make Justice out of injustice, can it not also make good out of bad?

Indeed it can. It is good to hear such a question voiced by someone not, ahem, tainted by modern religion. Those who dismiss religious sentiment and insist that it cannot be applied to lawmaking need a good dose of the old Roman orator if they are to see things in the right light. For Christianity per se has no hold on the eternal. The truth and beauty of that belongs to all who are willing to seek it. Our laws would be truer and more beautiful as well, should we create them justly.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Spring training 2016

Spring training has begun for most if not all major league baseball teams. This is the first sign of spring's coming more than anything else. The coldness of winter must soon abate.

Isn't it wonderful?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Tolerance of diversity

We have pointed out many times the number of empty words, words often used without real meaning such as peace, freedom, and education. There are also words used with very definite intentions even though they appear to be innocuous. Perhaps first and foremost among them are 'diversity' and tolerance'.

We are told that we ought to embrace diversity and that we ought to be tolerant. Interestingly enough, the very first problem with these term is no different than testing the use of calls for education or peace or freedom. When someone asks us to accept diversity and become tolerant, we must ask: tolerate what? Tolerate it why? Accept what diversity by what reason? All of it, or only parts of it? For of course all that diversity really means is that A is different from B, and all tolerance means is allowing something to happen or be. It is only through the answers to these question that we can really know what the person is talking about or what they want us to do.

To actually understand what the preachers of tolerance and diversity want we find ourselves in the same boat as our friends who preach freedom and all: once we begin the discussion in detail, we aren't talking about toleration or diversity. We're talking about, at the least, acceptable personal and social behavior, and, at the most, good old right and wrong. For surely in asking those necessary questions we aim to draw conclusions about propriety or morals. Indeed, even the person asking for tolerance must mean that they want you to accept what they support as right and true. If your compliance didn't matter to them, they wouldn't make any demands upon you. They don't want tolerance from you: they want you to accept their view. That's not necessarily bad. But it is also not tolerance as such.

Another and better question to ask is, if all it's really about is accepting people as they are (which, you may notice, in itself only begs the same questions as the other descriptive words and phrases I mention do) then why don't you tolerate me? I'm diverse. All right, so maybe I am intolerant of your creed. Well, then. Put that in your pipe and smoke it too, if it's all about tolerance.

But, again, it isn't about tolerance and diversity. It's about making the more conservative among us accept what we cannot. The fact of the matter is they surely do not appreciate our diverse opinions; they most certainly do not wish to tolerate us. And why? Simply because we disagree with them, and have the audacity to say so.

That leaves us with one final question. Who between us is truly audacious?

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Remembering Antonin Scalia

Just. Don't.

A good man just died. Give him the moment his legacy, no matter what you feel, deserves.

Just. Don't.

It can sound like a mere political opinion expressing itself. Maybe it is. But just don't make it that.

This isn't a victory for liberals who want a better justice (to their opinion) on the United States Supreme Court. It isn't a time for conservatives (to their opinion) to make a plea for a deserving replacement. This isn't a time for making something, someone, a political football.

This is a time to mourn. This is a time to remember someone who had a chance to affect American history and did what he could for it. His opinions aren't in the lawyer's books for nothing. They're there because they're worth hearing.

Don't make this about politics. Remember his family. Remember his words. Remember his person.

Remember Antonin Scalia. Just. Do. That.

St. Valentine's Day 2016

Today is Valentine's Day. It was once St. Valentine's Day. But as with all secularized religious holidays, we have to drop the saint in order to be politically correct. And, of course, to use it for commercial purposes without hurting anyone's feelings. That might drive down sales, you know.

What we have here is another instance of the broader society wanting to ignore religion while still wishing to use it for its own selfish will. It is a rather galling practice, yet one which simply cannot be ignored and, to be fair, isn't entirely wrong. Still, I find it aggravating and just a bit insulting that Christians are generally expected to leave their religious attitudes at the door while nonetheless allowing them to be used for economic gain when the secularists want it. Further, and this surely applies even outside of religious considerations, I wonder why anyone ought to let society dictate when they should show generosity and kindness to their loved ones. Shouldn't we be doing that all the time? Why must it only be done only on the capitalist's schedule? A good man does it day in and day out. Or at least he should, and while expecting no added obligations when society may want him to help fill their coffers.

Of course, no one is discouraging a general kindness towards others. I simply don't like the dual attitude towards religious belief which Christmas, Easter, and now lesser days such as Valetine's Day now are expected to display. It is as though society feels that it can use religion when and as it wants to, but wants to stifle religious sentiment when it runs counter to what the people want.

In the end, I don't like it. It's disrespectful and that's that. God should never be used as a trumpet for Hallmark.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Yarn Carnage

Dad really loved this story. When I first told it to him, he laughed in that hearty guffaw of his which I loved to hear. Still hear, in my fond memories. Of course, I didn't tell him the tale until 25 years after the fact, well after the parental statute of limitations on schoolboy mischief had expired.

Back at good old St. Hedwig on Detroit's southwest side, this was in the 1977-1978 school year, there were I think 26 of us Senior boys who had not earned the 1/2 credit of Art required for graduation. Someone in the administration had developed, or perhaps the course already existed for exactly such contingencies, something called Art Appreciation. It was kind of an Art class, though we didn't do much real Art. We read about artists, did reports on styles and types of Art, and made the occasional stab at what might in a stretch be called Art. Those projects were not much if any better than first grade macaroni art, but it got us guys off the hook for that precious half credit so we could graduate.

The instructor, who'm I'll call Miss Smith, had a large box full of yarn for use in classes where actual artistic endeavors were attempted. One day, she left the room for whatever purpose, and one of us yoyos (not me, honest!) opened the box and began throwing balls of yarn at the rest of the class. What followed was the delightful chaos of less than mature schoolboys hurling yarn at each other, bouncing each skein off one another's heads and laughing like idiots. Fortunately, someone was wise enough to act as lookout. With the cry, "Smith's coming!" someone held the box open and we tossed the yarn back in as quickly as possible. By the time she was back in class we were all back at our seats apparently doing our work.

This happened another time or two, with the same face saving result. The time after however, the guy tossing the yarn from the box took the tape off the end of each ball as he distributed them to the class. Miss Smith had taped the ends of the yarn to the skeins to know where they were, and of course to keep the yarn in order.

It goes without saying that Senior boys doing mischief cared little for such particulars. We threw the balls of yarn at each other anyway, ignoring that they were unraveling as we smacked one another in the head. This went on for about five minutes until the lookout yelled, "Smith's coming!"

We immediately froze, all stuck in place either while picking up a ball to throw, in the act of follow through after a delivery, or right before letting one fly. Only our eyes moved, roaming between each other and the massive yarn tangle we had inflicted upon the art room. Then, all of us, as if one thought, began frantically trying to roll up all that yarn; there were dozens of skeins worth strewn about. Very quickly realizing the futility of the exercise, we abandoned our cause, and stupidly jumped to our seats and went back to the pencil drawings we were supposed to be working on.

Miss Smith returned to spy the most magnificent display of yarn carnage imaginable. Lines of color, from pastel to primary, were strewn everywhere and in every hue: over the tops of cabinets, across her desk, even over the shoulders and under the feet of all of us students. I might go so far as to say it was a work of Art itself; you know, maybe we ought to have gotten assignment credit for it, now that I think about it. But we sat there working as though nothing was out of the ordinary.

"Would someone care to tell me what's going on?" Smith asked.

Can't you see? We're working on our pencil drawings. Practicing shading, just like you taught us.

Giving the silence a few seconds to itself she finally asked, "Is no one going to tell me what happened here?" What's to tell? We're doing our Art.

Seeing the futility of her situation, she calmly went and called for Sister Principal.

Now, Sister Principal was a old line, strict, authoritarian nun. She had to be, to deal with miscreants such as we senior boys. She entered the room and repeated both of Miss Smith's questions, with no further insight into the situation. She began slowly pacing the room, glaring in turn at every one of us. She intended to make someone crack.

You need to know here that I had kept myself pretty clean in high school. No detentions, no mischief, and I had decent enough grades. I was no goody two shoes, no brown nose who would rat anyone out either. I just stayed clean. I got along with everyone so far as I remember, with no real incidents. But I was fully participating in this fiasco. Willingly, I confess.

Sister continued around the room; we kept at our work, even subtly brushing strings of yarn off our sketch pads as we scratched at them. She wasn't going to break; neither would we.

The dismissal bell rang. We all started to put away our stuff and gather our backpacks to leave. Sister sternly announced, "No one is going anywhere until we get to the bottom of this. If no one speaks up, you'll all get two detentions: one for this, and one for being tardy to your next class." We slumped down into our chairs. This was going to take awhile, until Sister decided that the inevitable detentions were her only recourse.

Sister Principal continued her slow tour. She came around the table where I sat with about 7 other guys, giving the deep glare all around, stopping directly behind me. I knew it, I thought. I'm the first to be grilled.

The deafening silence seemed to take forever though it was actually mere seconds. Then I actually heard her open her mouth: here it comes. I'm on the spot. But she said, "You may go to your next class, Mr. Cosgriff. We all know that you would never participate in such nonsense."

What could I do? I wasn't about to rat the guys out, nor confess my guilt either. I slowly gathered my things, mumbled a quiet, "Thank you, Sister Principal," and went to my next class.

So my official record stayed clean. To be sure, there is a part of me who feels sheepish to this day. But the imp on my other shoulder does smile about it. And Pops thought it was a great story.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Ash Wednesday 2016

Today is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent for Christianity in general, and Catholics in particular. It is a time of penance, something we all need. We all need to atone for our failures, for our sins.

Humanity is fallen; the world around us is fallen. That's why people do wrong, and genes mutate into cancers and such. Nothing in our universe is perfect, but there is a difference between we humans and the lower animals and inanimate things nearby. We can choose. We can decide whether to do well or ill. It is what makes us special, and separates us from all else.

But surely these next few weeks aren't for Christians alone? It would seem that no matter what you believe, or whether you believe anything at all, you would still think it a good idea to improve yourself, or to do good things for those in need around you. Even if you cannot bring yourself to believe in something beyond humanity or beyond the universe itself, you can still make the effort to make yourself a better person and enrich the lives of those whom you come in contact with day in and day out. It's the one area where the seriously religious and the secularists can surely agree with each other, don't you think?

So try to become a better person this Lenten season. Smile, help people, discipline yourself in the positive habits of mind and body. You might be pleasantly surprised as the good habits formed become a part of you. The folks around you may be downright shocked. And we'll all be the better for it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Praying at the altar of science

We overvalue science in our modern world. We truly do. Oh, this isn't to belittle the great engineering feats which science has made possible, nor the advances in medicine which make our lives longer and healthier, nor even things such as television or the Internet which offer the possibility of making our mental lives better, even when they merely entertain. All of that is well and good, so far as they go. The trouble lies in the attitude that science makes us better simply because it's science. We act as though science has value, or gives virtue.

Not necessarily, if at all, can science do that. It may offer the opportunity to be a better, more virtuous people. But it does only that, and we are speaking somewhat anthropormorphically in attributing that much to it really.

Can science define or defend the value of a human life? Can it teach us that stealing is wrong; indeed, can it define theft? Can it say anything about our responsibility towards the environment or, more importantly, one another?

Obviously not. To be sure, it may tell us that if we continue on such and such a road we might drive ourselves into extinction. But that's all it can do. Whether we ought to do such and such else so that we will not become extinct is a question of value. Science only tells us what will happen should we construct a building without the proper strengths, or perhaps even what may happen if we continue on a certain course with no variation. It does not, will not, and cannot tell us what we should do with the information it supplies.

People make those judgments, and they are not argued in the realm of science. They're argued in the realm of philosophy, the realm where we might actually be able, by conscious debate and a reasoned consideration of who we are rather than merely that we are, conclude what are and are not good things to do. Science provides facts; however useful they may be, they are ultimately very rote and, by themselves, without meaning. We provide value and virtue. We are above science.

Science by itself lacks virtue. Those who pray at its altar pray to a valueless void.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Sunday Catholic Rant

I long ago came to the conclusion that Vatican II was ill advised. I will not do what some of my traditionalist brethren have and call it a mistake; at some point Faith must direct to us that God would not lead His Church into serious error. That does not, however, mean that She will not occasionally employ less than ideal judgment.

The liberalizing effect of Vatican II has not been without noticeable waves of trouble. It does not seem coincidental that the drop in vocations began in earnest after the Council; The Dominican nun who was the counselor at my son's school has told me that the in the very first year after the changes of the Council went into effect candidates for the sisterhood in her Mother House dropped by well over three-quarters. Further, Mass attendance has slipped so far that many churches have closed. The question is, why?

Though there are other pertinent factors, I rather believe that it lies to a degree in the loss of the spiritual aspect of Catholic religious practice. We don't appear so interested in saving souls as we are in social justice (whatever that means) and just getting along. Not that justice and Christian charity are unimportant values. It's just that, social justice (if you simply must force an arguably pointless adjective in there) without regard for the soul is an empty vessel. Feeding the hungry is one of the key callings of our faith. Yet to feed only their bellies cannot nourish them in the wonders of Heaven or necessarily set them on the road to a fruitful relationship with God. It only maintains a body which, on its own, will eventually rot, and nothing more.

I attended a Tridentine Mass for the first time awhile ago and was struck by the the mysticism of it. It was as though something magical was happening: bread and wine became the body and blood of our Lord. It wasn't just Christ sharing a meal with his friends, as some Vatican II supporters seem to feel of it. It was a true miracle in action. Similarly, there was the Divine Mercy chaplet and exposition of the Blessed Sacrament after Mass yesterday in my parish. I felt that same profound mystery as I did at the Latin Mass.

So I'm thinking we ought to get back to a greater emphasis on tradition rather than appeals to modernism and being relevant to this age (whatever that means), and I am seeing signs of just that. Latin is creeping back into our services, and Catholic prelates are calling out Catholic politicians who don't act Catholic. We are not far removed from the pontificate of John Paul the Great, who had encouraged a return to the old values and norms while working for meaningful dialogue among faiths and nations, an ideal Benedict XIV built upon and which Francis I, despite media insistence otherwise, supports himself. There are even indications that vocations are slowly rebounding.

The future, then, is not so bleak as it may seem to a few of my fellows. We simply must get back to the old idea that if you want people to sacrifice you've got to give them something worth the sacrifice. If you want people in the pews you must appeal to their sense of the spirit. Even if all you want is an end to hunger and have decent shelter and health care for all, you need an appeal to the eternal aimed properly at both the servants of the poor and the poor themselves. You must speak to the soul. The rest will take of itself.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A little Cherry Chocolate Chip for Breakfast will do well

February is almost anything month. Of course all months are these days, as everyone it seems tries to get this or that cause which is precious to them somehow highlighted. To be sure, I'm not saying that any of this is wrong. But it does seem to have, perhaps, the tendency for all these causes to be drowned out in the din of competing virtues.

In February, the big ones still get their due. Valentine's Day has been around awhile, as have Washington and Lincoln's Birthdays (boiled down to a bland President's Day as it is) and Black History Month. Nothing really wrong with any of that. Then Groundhog Day has cut a niche for itself in February 2, though it's an admittedly tongue in cheek, uh, holiday. It's all in good fun.

But can these more established ritual dates compete with the likes of Create a Vacuum Day? Or how about Ferris Wheel Day? Then there's what may be my favorite, Do a Grouch a Favor Day. It's February 16; I expect many favors.

If you're so inclined, you can view a fuller list of February remembrances here:

Why read the list? Because who would want to miss Hoodie Hoo Day, or Public Sleeping Day?

Yet my favorite February day could actually be today: Eat Ice Cream For Breakfast Day. So I'm off to breakfast. So long!

But get your kites ready. Monday is Kite Flying Day. Honest.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Ben's Gamble

Now Ben, he was a true son of the South, being born in Alabam awhile back. He was lanky; he was several hands high as horses be measured, a tall drink of water in the local tongue of the American South. Like many sons of Dixie, he came north after the War, seekin' work in the Northern Industry which at the time prospered. In his case, fortune led him to Detroit, Michigan, to a job at one of the now Big Three auto makers. That was a blessing for him, as in the quick years after his arrival he had acquired a family, a wife and three kids as I recall, which he needed to manage through his labor. He had also acquired some 60 year ago as a friend me Pops, Bill Cosgriff.

Now the economy, it likes to act on its own every so often. When that happens it puts a hurt on industry, the car makers so much as anyone else. So his company, they go and lay him off. Tell him the layoff is for about three, four months. Look for a letter they say, to tell him when he might return to his toil.

Now Ben, he figures he and his blessings might as well spend their downtime with kin in Alabam. Makes sense, of course: might as well show off the family by being with them, you know, for a minute. So he packs up everyone in the old sedan and goes south.

That were no easy trip by car back then. Two, likely three days, depending on a lot of unforeseen factors. They was the roads, many two lane blacktop and of dubious quality, and there was the cities and towns which one had to plow through, there being no superhighways as we are all familiar with these days. And unknown backups delaying traffic. And car troubles; there was no 80,000 mile guaranteed tires in 1955. And you slept in your car to save money on motels. It was a journey in them days, a true journey.

Yet they make it, and they settle in with family grateful to see them. Then in six weeks a letter arrives, demanding Ben get back to Detroit straight away, as his job had returned to necessity.

The two, three day journey begins again. They arrive safely in Detroit. Ben finds lodging in me Grandpa Joe's rooming houses, good enough for a short spell until Ben's income allows them to stay in a home. Ben dutifully reports to work on Monday morning. But the line foreman, he has no clue to what he's to do with Ben. He sends him to his supervisor.

That man, he has no clue either. So he recommends Ben up the next step of the ladder, who himself has no clue. He says Ben ought to commute with the shop foreman, who sends him to an assistant plant manager, who sends him to the plant manager. Who after due consideration with the proper authority grants him a new layoff notice.

So Ben proceeds this time down the ladder of authority, telling each and every one of them effectively and emphatically what he thinks of his treatment in this debacle. He causes them each to understand exactly how wrong his situation was and how deeply he did not appreciate it. He imparts upon them how truly in the wrong they all were with him and his situation.

"Bill', he says to me Pops after regaling him with his tale of woe, 'When I was done tellin' each and every one of them how I felt, I was paid off, laid off, told off and run off. That was how complete my damage was."

But that is the damage you must complete against the devil, lest someone misunderstand your plaint. Ben, he got that satisfaction. And may the Lord bless him for it.

Hell and the petty bureaucrat

"Who can endure a doctrine which would allow only dentists to say whether our teeth were aching, only cobblers to say whether our shoes hurt us, and only governments to tell us whether we were being well governed?" -C. S. Lewis

This isn't the quote we were seeking. Yet it will have to do, and is a decent enough lead in to the subject we wish to address today. The quote we wanted, and we confess right off that this will be a horrible paraphrase of it, dealt with Lewis, speaking through his famous character Screwtape, on the power of bureaucracy. Lewis seems to fear not the Hitlers of the world, but the mousey little bureaucrats who actually run so much of it. He despises the small, well manicured, spectacled man in an office who will not allow another man, a fellow citizen, the right to chop down a tree on his own land to make boards to fix his own steps (or outbuilding or some such) without the proper permits and permissions.

Such folk can so easily be made to appear comic; indeed, Douglas Adams (if we may cross reference the views of a devout Christian with those of a rabid atheist) makes light of them rather well in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Unfortunately, such an interpretation isn't so useful as that of Mr. Lewis. The bureaucrat is far more dangerous than funny. And the government is brimming with them.

We have witnessed both attempts and triumphs by similar elected politicians (and all too often merely appointed civil servants) to force people to drink no more than 16 ounces of a soft drink at a time. We see leaders who don't want to find any trans fats in our food. We find officials who don't want us mowing our lawns or filling our cars with gas on ozone action days. And you don't even have to go to the newest suburbs to hear wails against urban sprawl. Yet what might these all have in common with Hitler?

Only the simple fact that they're all arguably tyrannical people committing arguably tyrannical actions.

Liberals cannot, or choose not, to see this. Overt and powerful evil, yes, they recognize quite readily. But who wouldn't? Hitler, Mao, Stalin; only a true fool could not see the threats they were. Yet our leftist friends do not see the petty tyrant. The truth is, they encourage him. Or her, lest the speakers of the v-word be insulted by a mere masculine reference made with no intention to offend.

To be sure, any one of these actions seen by itself doesn't seem so bad. Some of them indeed may not be bad. Any one by itself might even simply be a misplaced emphasis, may only be mere stupidity, or may even be honest good intention. It is all too easy to say of any individual person or instance, they mean well. Still, the question rarely asked is whether any of them ought to be the province or persons of government and the bureaucracy at all, and if so, which ones really.

What is also overlooked is that no matter what they mean, they may be a symptom of a greater disease. Every petty action by every petty official seen against the big picture demonstrates that small evils may lead to larger ones. Little Hitlers may one day become big Hitlers. It may well be, it likely as not is, that not a one of these people understand that their little sin against their fellow man can lead to far worse sins against him or the world.

Skin cancers by and large are the most curable of cancers. Yet if one ignores the blemish on their arm, thinking that it's nothing and could not possibly come to harm and thus pays it no mind, what will happen? Several years later doctors will be telling him that they can do nothing for him. But if he had done something about it when he first noticed it...

This is not to say that every bureaucrat or indeed every liberal thinker (in the modern American sense of the term anyway) is an evil person, or that every act of theirs must lead to tyranny. But it is meant to caution us that sometimes things do go in directions which we cannot immediately envision, that we are responsible not only for the direct effects of our actions but also for the sometimes unpredictable consequences of them, and that the road to Hell is indeed paved with the best of intentions.

None of that will matter when and if an American or Canadian or British Hitler rises to power. Yet the truly sad thing is, should that actually happen, no one will claim to have seen it coming. They will be all too correct.