Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Hell with football

I can feel it.

I can smell it.

I can taste it, deeply.

The hell with football. Baseball has the decency to end almost with the start of the new, the real, winter season. Football, American Football, glories only in its shallow self absorption.

We're almost curling. We had our first organizational meeting tonight. That means the season is near. That means we are near to throwing stones, and congratulating even our opponents on a great shot, not arrogantly pounding our chests after an opponent misplays. Not arrogantly applauding ourselves on a great play, but humbly accepting that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

It is that camaraderie which perhaps means the most. This small lot of us, playing the game which only we understand. Unique, unusual; friendly. Isn't that what sports are about? Sports surely aren't about individual grandstanding.

The hell with football. September means curling is near. I'm not sure there's any better feeling.

You need a philosophy

The people who are the most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.

-G. K. Chesterton

Ayn Rand, though a very entertaining author, has her philosophical flaws. But if she is right about anything, she is right about this so far as it goes: you must have a philosophy to live by or you will have no bearings for judging your actions. You will have no way of interpreting what to do or when to do it.

Too many people lack this. Set aside for the moment whether any given philosophy is right. That is surely the next question to ask, but it isn't my point just now. The thrust of today's commentary is that a framework is necessary for us to determine the value of our life's, in fact even of our daily, work. Certain frameworks will prove to be wrong; indeed I suggest that there can only be one right, basic set of guidelines when all is said and done. But again, I am veering from the issue at hand.

Rand says, if I remember her correctly, that if you do not discipline yourself towards thinking about things at the least within a context of ideas which you take as a given, you will eventually merely wander from day to day, from idea to idea, and find yourself eternally at the influence of other forces without regard for what you may actually want or need. You will discover, if the thought ever actually develops in your mind, that you have not become an individual of any value. You will be a sheep. The time of slaughter will one day consume you, and you will have no way of defending yourself from it.

Or something worse will happen. You will become a petty little dictator, self assured that all that you wish do is itself the standard of right and wrong. And why not? You would be at the point where whims and passing fancy will guide you, or, more correctly, you will be the flag proudly fluttering in the wind, too proud to know that it is the air which unfurls you and not your own knowledge or will. As the breeze fades and dies, so do you. And what will be seen of you as you are opened to the world?

So you need a philosophy. You need some way of determining whether the people and events around you are evolving into things useful or things destructive. You need coherency in your life. You need to, in the words of that old saw, stand for something lest you fall for anything. This approach may well leave you standing for the wrong things in the end. Still, it's better than nothing, and indeed your only chance of being found by the just and true lies in the firmness of your stance.

Friday, August 26, 2016

I feel jobbed by playoffs

The Major League Baseball Playoffs begin soon, and indeed it almost feels like they have already, and I don't feel that interested. Lest you think this is Marty backing away from his ardent support of America's Pastime, I will let you know that I haven't watched the last two Super Bowls (and little of the NFL Playoffs leading up to them) nor very much of the last three or four Stanley Cups. The older I get the more I can't help but feel that we, the fans, are getting jobbed by sports playoffs in all their forms.

With the exception of American Football, which is by its own tacit admission too brutal for such tests of endurance, we find long seasons which are supposed to be so important leading into a relative handful of games which actually determine champions. They're just something silly about that, if not downright ridiculous. Play all these games, and if you win a lot of them, well, you have to play just a few more to prove you're really that good. It's simply dumb, the more I think about it.

Make teams do it to show how they perform under pressure? All right, there's something to that. Maybe. But maybe also all it does is allow overall weaker teams to shorten their benches and appear stronger by what is little more than slight of hand. But that hardly strikes me as fair to the better overall teams. And if sports are supposed to be about the best man/woman/team winning, I think playoffs may in fact lead to situations less than ideal for such outcomes. Were the New York Giants really the better team than the New England Patriots the year the Pats went into the Super Bowl 17-0? Nope. Yet they were the NFL Champs.

I realize that without the allure of playoffs many teams and their fans might quit on the seasons without the promise of something more. And I get that, so far as it goes. But I also get that if you can't survive the trial you shouldn't earn a mulligan for it either. Further, a good team ought to be put on the field first if it wants support. It's really no different a concept than expecting a business to put out a good product or service before it merits patronage.

As we all know, it really just comes down to the money. Extended playoffs mean more cash for the games and the industries which surround them. I'll admit up front that there's nothing wrong with that per se. But I also think that an honest assessment of the situation should conclude that it is less than ideal for the integrity of our sports and games as sports and games. It teaches, whether it means to or not, that excitement is more important than the best team winning. Excitement on its own isn't wrong either of course. Yet I just can't help but feel that excitement when it comes more naturally is deeper and more thrilling than when it is manufactured by groups and persons who don't care about my allegiance so much as they do my money. That more than anything else is when I feel jobbed. I think sports fans in general should feel the same way.

To be sure, I'll watch some of the upcoming baseball games as the next few weeks pass. I admit as well that I will watch more ardently if and as the Detroit Tigers are involved. But my attention will only be half present as I do. Sparky Anderson said it best: the best team in baseball in a given year is the team with the best regular season record, not the World Series winner. He's spot on with that assessment, and I wish more sports fans would think so too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ben's layoff gamble

Since we're on the subject of Dad's favorite stories (we are still on that subject, aren't we?) I am reminded of one which centered around his friend Ben. Ben was from Alabama, and like many southerners during the 1940s and 50s had emigrated northward for jobs in the auto industry. He landed at Chrysler himself.

After a few years, there were extended layoffs; Ben was told his would be 3 or 4 months. He decided that, with that much time, he might as well take the family to Alabam for an extended visit. And off they went.

About eight weeks after they had left he was informed his layoff was over. He was to report the next Monday. So he and his wife packed the kids up, and early Saturday morning began the return to Detroit. You must remember that at the time, with no freeways, it was a long two day drive from northern Alabama to Detroit.

They got in late Sunday, and Monday morning Ben reported to the Chrysler plant where he had worked. He was told by a suit to wait a few minutes, and he'd be back with his exact assignment.

A few minutes passed, which became an hour, then two, and finally four. Eventually the suit returned with a new layoff notice for Ben.

Ben proceeded to tell the suit, in marvelously colorful language, that he did not appreciate being called in all the way from Alabama and having put his family through that trauma only to be laid off again right away. He then went to that guy's supervisor and told him in no uncertain terms what he thought of the deal, then to that guy's superior, and finally to one more suit above him. He wanted to make absolutely sure Chrysler understood the depths of his anger.

"Bill,' he said to Pops as he brought his tale to a close, "By the time I was done I was laid off, paid off, told off, and run off!"

But I bet it was worth every word.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Preachers and sewers

"Your men were drinking on the job," the man explained from the other end of the phone. "I thought you'd want to know."

"Waall," drawled the business owner in his West Virginia twang, a plumber who specialized in drain cleaning, "Did they do a good job?"

"Well, yes," answered the customer.

Jim, the plumber, continued, "Did they clean up after themselves?"

The man responded that they did, and very thoroughly.

"Did they cuss yer wife or children? Did they sass you at all?"

"No, no, none of that," the man replied. "I just thought you'd want to know your guys were drinking on the job, that's all."

"Waall," Jim began again, "That's the trouble with the sewer business. I can't get preachers to clean sewers."

I've never really been sure what to think of this story. It's a true tale (I remember fondly the plumber in question myself) and one of Dad's favorites. It's even vaguely charming, in its folksy way. But I do admit a certain sympathy for the caller as it is.

Ah well; there it is for you. Pops liked it, so it's all right by me.

Monday, August 22, 2016

It's a catastastroke

"Don't have a catastastroke." I think it was one of Grandpa Joe's favorite phrases. Yet I'm sure your interest is in the term 'catastastroke' It's so unique that I'm not sure how to spell the word. But Joe used it a lot.

That's kinda ironic really. Those who still remember him no matter how fondly also remember how he could stir up a honest's nest on a dime. He got mad quickly, and often, it seemed, without significant provocation. But when the time was right, he was the first to caution against that catastastroke.

I think I get what he meant. Maybe he didn't live his own words as well as he could have but that can't make his point wrong. We're all hypocrites to one degree or another yet that doesn't condemn the good we do or the best things we say. I think what Grandpa meant was actually fairly simple. Don't make things more than they are, and when things get tough, just relax and deal with it.

So go out there today and deal with your work or your chores or what have you. And if things go poorly, well, deal with it. Don't have a catastastroke.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

What do you mean?

There are many things which no one seems to oppose. We're all for peace, correct? Education? The environment? Observing the Golden Rule, perhaps, if such references are not too religious? Yet so often these claims ring hollow. They must, you see: for peace and education are just words. By themselves, they really mean nothing.

It is critically important that we bring up and discuss the important questions which must follow these words if our actions are to mean anything; indeed, if the words themselves are at some point to be of value, of good use. WE must ask: peace under what circumstances? Peace for whom? Because of course peace in the sense of a lack of war was very useful for Hitler and Stalin yet was a rather poor mantra for Austria or the Communist Bloc.

Simply put, the next time someone asks you if you are for peace, or education, or the environment, ask them relevant questions before you answer. Ask them peace under what conditions? Education to what purpose and in what manner? The environment for whom and how? Before these issues are addressed we have nothing but a shallow and insipid pool of vacuous semi-thought. Yet afterwards, we may actually accomplish things.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

What's in a name?

As we descend (and I mean descend) into the mire of hyper hype that is American Football, there is that one issue which will surely creep back into the radar. It is the question of offensive team names. It will be centered on tribal names of Native Americans, and generally brought up by non-Native Americans.

I wonder who is actually being offensive on such an issue. Catholics do not appear offended by the San Diego Padres logo of a goofy looking monk swinging a baseball bat. Why should they be? It's all in good fun. Are Irish Americans bothered by Notre Dame's Fighting Irish and that mean looking two-fisted leprechaun image with which they proudly adorn themselves? It doesn't seem to be the case. It's not meant to provoke the Irish, and indeed they might rather like the idea that their ancestors from the old sod are seen as rough and tough.

So why should Native Americans be offended by Chiefs or Hurons or Chippewas or Braves or even Indians? I'll wager that a good many aren't, in fact; they may actually like the references along the lines of the Irish and the Catholics. We will concede something on Redskins, to be honest, as that moniker does seem to cross the line in crudity. But then, I'm not saying that all's fair either. Do we really think that a group of citizens are so thin skinned that they can't appreciate a powerful or even playful nod towards their culture? If they are, I humbly suggest, then, that that's their problem.

In short, don't insult or use overtly racist slurs in naming teams and institutions. But don't be a stick in the mud either. It's supposed to be fun, remember?

Or does our increasingly politically correct society wish to ban that too?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

More Marty humor

Remember a few weeks ago, I blogged about the jokes that sometimes just pop into my mind? How some of them were silly, and some actually rather crass, or at least of questionable taste? I've had another crass one I'm afraid.

I was leaving a funeral home yesterday afternoon, to find that an ambulance was sitting in the parking lot, lights flashing. I immediately thought, "Aren't you guys a little late?"

Am I a bad person?

More teachers, more books, more dirty looks

As we approach the beginning of another school year, it might be time to reflect, no, to think about what formal education has come to be in these United States

Why do so many young people feel so uninspired by school? Why do so many adults view their schooling, according to the very underrated education writer Richard Mitchell, as the wasteland of their youth? Don't they know how important it is to their success, towards their reaching their potential? After all, the schools are telling them how very serious a good education can be for them, and who better than a special interest to know how very special of an interest it holds in your well being?

Perhaps that is it. Perhaps the students realize that it is only important because it has been made important by the powers that be. Not to say that a certain amount of training, for that is really what it is, training, a preparation for the life to come in very basic and admittedly necessary ways, isn't good. But once we've learned to speak well and write well and do basic sums, what more is there which is not of a more specialized nature? Why must everybody try to learn everything?

Yet even that really doesn't hit the mark. It has more to do with the fact that our approach to education is all wrong, in its core philosophy. We don't try to teach: we propagandize. We teach politically correct views rather than ways to determine the good from the bad, the well said and done from the ill conceived and ill advised, or the worthwhile from that steaming pile of nonjudgmental judgment (yes, that is an oxymoron, but the school people attempt to practice it anyway) which passes for clear thinking in K-12 buildings across the land.

People by their nature want to know, as Aristotle said so non-politically correctly eons ago. Youth especially wants to know: it seeks order and direction, and the satisfaction which comes from a real and true understanding of things.

We know all we need to know about what's wrong with our schools when they have to sell the public on their worth. It means they have the same core values as the potions and elixirs of 19th Century hucksters had real medicinal effect. Which is to say, fleeting and useless once their wagon has pulled out of town.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

And then there's women

So I was taking my morning walk today (the heavy overnight rains had cleared, doggone it) and there was something I noticed for the first time.

Women.

Okay, okay, okay, relax. I was simply going for the joke. But it did occur to me that I see a lot more women walking or jogging in the morning than men. I mean, by about a 4 to 1 if not higher ratio.

Are women exercising more than men? That's certainly what the non-scientific information I've gathered indicates. There are days where I don't see any guys at all. But there are always women out and about, taking things very seriously. That's not bad, of course. Yet there's only one other guy I notice regularly. I haven't seen any others.

I wonder why. Seriously.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The pursuit of happiness

Does God want us to be happy? The short, quick, and obvious answer is yes. Of course He wants us to be happy. Yet the next question is on us. What should make us happy?

We rarely ask and even more rarely answer that question honestly. We need to ask ourselves what ought to make us happy, and answer accordingly. Indeed we need to ask ourselves what exactly we mean by happiness first. I've been very happy lately with my golf game. But it is a fleeting, vain happiness, if I am to be honest with myself. In fact, it's downright shallow.

Socrates, that old pagan, famously opined that the unexamined life is not worth living. Aristotle taught that happiness is the highest goal, and that the greatest happiness comes from examination of the greatest things. Aquinas expanded on that further by saying that the greatest happiness comes from thinking about God. And I think I'll leave it at that.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Why can't I buy this book?

When my son and I were in Boston last month we stopped by Peacefield, the homestead of American Revolutionary hero and later President John Adams. We just wanted to see it; I'm an admirer of President Adams and we had a few minutes, so Frank looked it up on his smartphone and we found it. Once there, we walked around the open grounds and took some pictures. You know, touristy stuff.

Outside the carriage house we were stopped by a staffer. There was no problem. He just saw us there and asked what he could do. We explained we were just looking around, and he took us inside to tell us about available tours, which began a couple miles away.

As he talked I saw a small display of books and memorabilia, obviously for sale. There was a biography of Abigail Adams, John's wife. I have read several volumes on the President; I thought then I'd buy one on Abigail, to hear more about her and her perspective. "There's plenty of books and such at the visitor's center," I was told. Okay, thank you, I replied, and we left.

That's what happened, in a nutshell. But I wondered then and wonder now why he wouldn't sell me that book. In my mind that conversation went kind of like this:

"I would like to buy this biography of Abigail Adams please."

"Oh, there are plenty of books at the Visitor Center."

"Okay, but I'm here. I would like to buy this book."

"You'll find all kinds of books and gifts at the Visitor Center."

"I'm sure I will. But I'm here and so is this book. May I buy it?"

"Memorabilia, glassware, collectible plates, pictures..."

"Why won't you sell me this book?"

"It only takes about two hours; you'll really enjoy the tour."

"I'm not arguing that. I just want to buy this stupid book, that's all!"

A hush slams upon the room. "I find your lack of respect for one of our nation's finest First Ladies appalling," replies the docent. "Good day." And we leave without the book.

It didn't actually go like that, as I said. But it would have been really easy to sell me that book.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A sense of roadway humor

I have to confess, in fact I quite cheerfully admit, that my sense of humor is subtle and goofball. Do you care for some examples? You don't, I'm sure, but I'll offer them anyway.

I drive a lot for my job so I see many signs for many things. Most are ads, but some are for various attractions and activities. Some of course are just plain old road signs. Take for instance, as my son and I were driving to Boston in the heat of last month (July 2016). As we approached an overpass a yellow sign warned us, Bridge may be icy. And I thought, faux incredulously, what, today?

Many of the recreation signs indicate that after a turn and a mile or two you'll find Rolling Hills golf club or some such. I always think, so I'll go that way and find a five iron on the highway?

At times my internal jokes get borderline crass. Not that that stops me from internally making them, mind you. All around Michigan currently are billboards which assert that 1 in 5 children face hunger. I find myself thinking, so turn that kid around.

Yeah, I know. But you did have to choke back a snicker, didn't you?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

To Paul: my golf game

Ach. I love golf. It still ain't baseball by any stretch of the imagination. But it's got it's proper claims to fame.

The first solid drive I hit today, it was nothin' by golf standards. But for me, it was solid. In exaltation, I threw my club forward a few yards, with a clockwise twist. I couldn't believe I hit it like that. It was in the middle of the fairway, and it felt good.

The next drive a few holes later, phew, it faded right, but it went a long way.

The third, my doubles partner Ron said I would really like. And I tossed my club before he spoke; the ball landed a hundred yards from the pin. I messed up after that, but man, I loved that drive.

The fourth, then the fifth, Ron developed a new golf phrase. It was, 'Don't throw your club'. He thought folks might misunderstand my intent. He thought it was gauche.

Maybe so. But man, I hit those balls. And it felt good every one.

I. Love. Golf.

The Bomb and war

Should we have or should we have not? That is a question which is asked about many things, not the least of which involves what happened 70 years ago today. We have arrived at another anniversary of the atomic age: the first use of an atom bomb, dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, an August 6, 1945.

It is easy to believe that the US should not have dropped the bomb. Many civilians were killed or injured, and civilians are off target according to the Just War theory promoted by the Catholics and many others. It rests on the idea that civilians are noncombatants, innocents, and should be safe from the traumas of war.

Yet William Buckley, the famous conservative writer and himself Catholic, suggested that perhaps that no longer applies. In the modern world with modern warfare, are civilians actually noncombatants? It's simple enough to see that in Imperial Japan during World War II, civilians were often encouraged to participate in the war effort. Some estimates claim that as many as 70% of the civilian population of Okinawa were injured or killed during the 82 day battle where the Allies occupied the island. To be sure, many were pressed into service. But many fought the invaders voluntarily just the same. Either way, they were not innocents.

Buckley's idea hardly singles out Japanese intentions. Across the sphere of total war, can it be argued that those who work in munitions factories are noncombatants? That those who organize and participate in scrap metal and scrap rubber drives are wholly innocent, or even those who merely buy war bonds? Still, there are true innocents involved, mostly the children. Therein we find the greatest tragedy of human warfare: that it has become so terrible that children are involved at all. But worse: that organizations such as Hamas and the Viet Cong, even the Japanese and Germans, have been heinous enough to use them as shields as well as actual fighters. This certainly isn't the fault of the children, but a reality that must be dealt with just the same.

The picture isn't pretty. Yet it seems be the face of modern war, and even though (by and large) the bad guys started the practices, it is still the reality we must live with. It is small comfort but we may just have to content ourselves, so much as we can, that it is not our fault. Even so, we must never forget the cost of war. That it leaves a bad taste, as it should, is a reflection of our humanity.

Friday, August 5, 2016

The daily paper

I'm begining to go old school again. I've found myself buying the morning newspaper on a more and more regular basis rather than catching up on news through my computer. That's not to say I don't use my desktop or laptop for, especially, breaking news. But buying the paper does seem to have its advantages.

It begins with my now routine morning walk. There's a party store/gas station near the end of my usual route. One day at the end of my daily constitutional I just decided I wanted a paper. For a buck a day it's not a bad deal. And other things are at work too.

The newspaper never freezes. It never takes forever to load; if I'm reading and article which concludes on page 3D, I simply turn to page 3D and it's right there. And while there are adds trying top distract me they are easy to ignore. Nothing pops up on my newspaper page forcing me to click it off, nor does my text get shoved downward on the page where I have to scroll to keep up with, or look for that insolent little tiny box with the 'x' to click on, to roll what I'm reading back up. I also get the puzzles for my entertainment, and the comics are found nicely arranged on one page. No going to a couple dozen different web pages for my daily comic fix.

My computer and smart phone will always be available, and I certainly get my use out of them. Still, the morning paper has reacquired for me a certain charm. I read as I want to read, jumping from page to page I feel quicker than my computer sometimes does. It's simply a nice way to ease into my news day.

Wow. I'm loving golf and reading actual newspapers. I am getting old school.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Zeke

Dad called him Zeke. I never heard no explanation, so I thought of him as Zeke, and that's a fact.

I never called him that though. That seemed a familiar between brothers, you see, so I respected so much. He was always Uncle John to me, and I respected that in all our dealings.

But Zeke, he had a way about him. It expressed itself in rage, but more generally in humor. I could never tell a story like Zeke, nope, never. So I'll not do this story justice. Not a chance of that.

I'll tell it anyway.

He had just arrived in Nam, and had a letter in his hands from his sister, who had just had a child. Zeke bet a fellow brother in arms that he'd never guess the child's name.

You gotta play better than that, says the soldier. You gotta give me a clue.

All right, replies Zeke, I'll give ya the first letter of his name. It's T.

His brother pauses a minute, reflects, then asks uncertainly, 'Todd?'.

'Nope. Theodore.' says Zeke without a blink. He says it without reflection, without a thought.

Zeke told me that tale many times. He won five bucks. He granted it was unfair each time he told the tale.

Yet he laughed each and every time he told it. I could tell he liked the tale; I could tell he felt a bit of shame at it too.

My cousin's name is in fact Todd, in case you're wonderin'.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Vote the White Slate?

I did my civic duty today, as a life long citizen of the City of Detroit. I voted in the primary election.

As per usual, I was greeted (at the legally mandated distance from the voting center) by several folks offering brochures and small placards for candidates and millage questions (none of those latter against the renewals by the way). I was even offered, by a very nice young white man, an embossed and glazed card encouraging me to vote for the candidates on the white slate. I thanked him and moved on towards the ballot box.

What's that? You didn't get your white slate laminated card? That's all right, because I didn't get one either. I did however take a laminated card from a very nice young black man who encouraged me to vote for candidates on the black slate. I thanked him and moved on.

My question now is, who's actually the racist here? The admittedly sarcastic (and that's all) middle aged white guy, or the supporter of an obviously racially charged list of candidates?

Answer me. Because myself and all readers of this little missive know that if the firstly mentioned young white guy actually existed he would be the devil of Hell, despite his demeanor, and I the latent (at best, to be hoped) racist voter. Yet the other young man, the one who actually existed, is simply exercising his First Amendment rights it seems.

All. Racism. Is. Wrong. Until we understand and accept that, we will make no progress on race relations in these United States. And I am personally insulted, as a lifelong and dedicated Detroiter, to be lectured however subtly on my presumed attitude. I believe that might be ageism. I think I'll develop a 'Vote the Bitter Old Guy Slate' for the next election.

No more school supply battles

It's August, and that means one thing for parents of school age children: it's time to buy school supplies.

The ads are everywhere, for clothes and backpacks and pencils and notebooks and all those items on all those lists helpfully supplied by our teachers. If you've got one schoolchild it can be a daunting task. If you've got several it can seem too high of a mountain.

I'm past all that and I don't mind at all. Rushing from store to store to get the best prices on different items was simply a chore, especially factoring in all the other parents doing the same thing. It wasn't long before the school supply aisles at Office Depot and K-Mart looked like bombed out cities from the Second World War.

Then there was always that one item which, somehow, became impossible to find. Erasers; I remember one year when we could not find an eraser anywhere. Well, yes, on pencils, but you know how quickly those wear down. You needed actual hand held erasers. Yet there were none, as though the erasers themselves had gathered en masse and decided, nope, we're not having anything to do with this madness this year. You're on you're own; bye!

I don't miss it at all. I pity the folks still dealing with it. I have absolutely no sentimentality for the school day preparation of my children. We ran the race, we fought the fight. And I like the feeling of switching channels the instant a back to school sale commercial appears. It is empowering in ways beside which fighting the crowds at Target pale.