Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween

Tonight is Halloween, a day that I've come to look forward to more and more as time goes by. I think maybe it's the atmosphere: we simply don't have many days when there is a true party feeling throughout the neighborhood. It comes to life in a manner which simply doesn't happen often.

Oh, they'll be the occasional annoyance, mild pushing and shoving, even an adult or two who want free candy. That last one used to burn at me, but not so much anymore. You can't let the twerps ruin your mood.

My family will take turns passing out goodies and walking around the hood. I'll wander a bit through my mother's yard, where my brother Patrick goes to town with the outdoor decor, and just be happy to be around it. Then when we're done we'll go inside and order the Charlie Brown Halloween special to cap off the night.

Happy Halloween all!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

November just got a lot more interesting

Can our election get any more, oh, I don't know, unusual, fantastic; bizarre? Less than three weeks after an October surprise appeared to doom Donald Trump's campaign, up comes news that the FBI (the Federal Bureau of Investigation) is reopening its examination of Hillary Clinton's e-mails from her tenure as Secretary of State. This mere days after news that Obamacare will go up substantially (59% in Minnesota, and well into double digits elsewhere, if this morning's AOL news feed is to be believed) and as questions about the Clinton Foundation's possible pipeline to government access have grown. None of these three points are good news for the Democratic nominee.

I must confess that I'm happy to see these developments. Quite bluntly, I think the FBI was cowardly not to indict Hillary Clinton months ago, or not at least send the case before a grand jury. I never understood why Director Comey was so hung up back in July on not being able to determine Mrs. Clinton's 'intent' anyway. I've never known that mere intent had any bearing on breaking a law; enforcement officers and agencies are supposed to follow the letter of it and let the jury worry about our if intentions had any bearing on a case at all. I feel more that the lack of indictment in July was more electioneering than yesterday's development. Why reopen the case if there's nothing there, particularly after surrendering it back then?

Trump's deficit jumped from 12% on October 23 to 2% this morning, according to ABC News. This is well within accepted margins of error, which are typically 3-4%. If this is a fair evaluation of a change in the wind (I'm not a fan of polls but accept that they can be insightful) it's too significant to discount. And the Trump campaign seems to be smelling blood: he's actually making campaign stops here in Michigan on Monday and then Pennsylvania, states given up for lost not very long ago. He too has the advantage that his October Surprise is fading in the rear view mirror while Hillary's troubles are closer in the sideview than they appear.

In short, this Presidential election isn't over. If I had to place a bet today, I'd say Clinton would win. But ask me again on Monday.

Friday, October 28, 2016

How you play the game

When we watch others playing games, it's kind of hard not to at least want to tell them what to do. Even when they're playing solitaire.

Klondike solitaire is the game of choice among my family. Grandpa Joe played it often; I remember fondly watching him play as we sat in silence at his kitchen table. Pops played it a lot too, sitting at our kitchen table contentedly reshuffling actual decks of cards for each new game. My 82 year old mother never played it that I know until Dad passed. Now she plays it all the time, I think because it connects her to him. But it's also good intellectual exercise, which is itself a good thing too.

I was visiting her the other day. We were at that same kitchen table where Pops played, and Mom was occupied playing Klondike even as we talked. And she had this four of diamonds which she could play on this five of clubs. Only she wasn't playing it. 'You could play that 4 onto that 5', I thought, but didn't say it out loud.

We went on talking about whatever. She kept on going through her draw cards yet doing nothing with that four of diamonds. Still I thought to myself, ever more insistently, you can play that red four onto that black five. Still also I remained silent.

The conversation went on. The four continued to sit untouched. The thought, 'Come on Ma, play the stupid four' repeated itself over and over in my head. Yet I still said nothing aloud, despite how increasingly anxious I was becoming.

Minutes passed by as we went on conversing. Finally she stopped, looked up from her cards and asked, "Do you want to me play that four?"

"Please, Dear Lord, yes. Would you play that four!" I responded emphatically.

"I knew it was there. We were just talking and I kept forgetting it."

I don't believe that for a minute. She sensed I was getting antsy and was driving that feeling along. Moms.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

We could learn from Old George

And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion...reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

- George Washington, from his Farewell Address

I have said many times that morality, indeed any issues of right and wrong, must have a God of some sort behind them. Without an objective norm to fall back on, any and all questions of good and evil, even issues of simple prudence, are nothing more than your word against mine. In such a case, problems would be resolved only through might makes right, whether at the hand of a single tyrant or that old saw consensus, which is but a name for the tyranny of the majority. We must do right because it is right on its own terms as instituted by the Creator of the natural law.

Consensus cannot make something right. Consensus is merely what the majority of the people at a given time happen to want which they are able to subject upon the minority. I have been told further that morality 'develops' as people 'discover' what works and what does not; that sounds like consensus in a varied form, and little more. Do we honestly believe that such is the best way to create good law and rational public policy?

Obviously it is not. We require a Supreme Being, a supreme and final Law, in order to do well and avoid evil. To those who object, which God?, I say, the one whom philosophy as much as religion insists is there. From that point we can safely speculate on how such a being would expect us to act. It is then when we start to cross into religious principle because at that point we begin to realize that people are special, that doing wrong against them is an evil in itself because it is an affront to their dignity as individuals. A dignity they have by virtue of their humanity, as given them by God. It does not come from them or anything they do.

So there is no reason to base morality and law on anything slippery such as convention, which can and will change as generations do. We need that eternal sense, that eternal reality, if we are to make a good society, and become good people. For any ideal of dignity must come from the religious ideal that everyone deserves proper respect. That cannot come from any simple human act. It can only come from above, overarching each individual. We recognize that and live accordingly, or we slowly perish.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Harvard Business School is wrong

You know, people are stupid. Really, profoundly stupid. I'm learning that more and more with each passing day.

To be sure, there has been ample evidence of it the last thirty years of my life. What does, yet should not astound me, is how I can still be amazed when it happens.

The latest examples come from my sales job. In directing a potential new customer to my store, I cautioned him not to go beyond Warren Avenue here in Detroit; he would have gone too far if he had. An hour later I get a call from the guy's cell. He was more than a mile beyond our place of business. "I saw Warren and never saw you so I kept on going," he explained to me. You saw the street which I told you was too far and KEPT GOING? It never occurred to you to circle around?

My other phone started ringing, so I hung up on him. I employed Red Foreman's favorite phrase as I did.

Another fella called to asked if he could have his snake (slang for the drain cleaning equipment we sell) repaired by us. "Probably, but tell me what you have so that I can tell you if I have access to the parts you might need," I asked.

"A snake," he responds.

"Okay," I said, trying to be patient, "But what type of machine exactly?"

"Uhh, the kind that opens sewers."

I barked, "I need a make and model number."

"Uhhhhhh, y'all worked on it 'bout five years ago..." he began.

Click.

Dang. I hung up on my only customer from 2011. That was such a good year too.

I tell you, the Harvard Business School is dead wrong. The customer isn't always right.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Change? Why?

I see no point in changing anything just to change. It borders on senseless, quite frankly, and is arguably childish.

There's nothing wrong with change per se either, I'll concede. Still, that being the case, why do it at all? is a fair question to ask.

Expand your horizons, perhaps? Well, what if the horizon isn't all that clear? Besides, it becomes fair to ask in answer to that, what's wrong with I'm doing now? I realize that either question calls for a certain amount of extrapolation, as it's ultimately all in the details. But remember the question is, why change simply to change?

When we took the kids out for ice cream I almost always got black cherry. Why? Because I like it. Why try something new when you can get what you know you like?

Am I being obstinate? Perhaps; but aren't you being equally obstinate in ordering me to change? I mean, what's it to you? It's not like I'm doing anything immoral (on the ice cream question, of course). Further, as I have the right in that sphere to order what I want, what argument can you possibly have against me?

It might be nice to change. Okay, but it might be nice to get what I want too. It's almost a moral wash; wait, no it isn't. It's my right to do what I want among legitimate moral choices. What you think I should do merits nothing for your position. It's only you being bossy.

Maybe I should have labeled this becoming a curmudgeon to the nth degreee. But so be it. Leave me alone where I've the right be left alone; that's all I ask.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Come hither?

You see many interesting things when your job involves a lot of driving.

This morning as I was delivering a machine to the Dearborn Sausage company, I glanced over at a pub while stopped at a light. The sign along the parking lot read, good friends, good food, good times. Innocuous enough, right? Only the words good times were highlighted with quote marks. The message read: GOOD FRIENDS, GOOD FOOD, "GOOD TIMES". That leaves me to wonder what such a emphasis is supposed to mean.

Are we too take the words wryly, as in: good times; right. Are we to take them euphemistically, as in, good times (happy sigh). Are we to take them drunkenly, as in: you won't remember anything anyway. Are we to take them as an order, such as 'mandatory fun'? Are we to presume that a reunion of the classic comedy from the 70s is taking place? (Dy-no-mite!) Or should we think, wink wink, as in: Do you want to come upstairs? I mean, really. What are we supposed to take from that?

I certainly don't know. There's really only way to test it, though. Let's go to the pub tonight, and have some "GOOD TIMES". Perhaps we'll remember them in the morning over our aspirin and water.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The pharmacist's revenge

Bush's Pharmacy was across the street from the home where Pops grew up. It was where his family bought all their medicinal wares in the Forties and Fifties, a typical neighborhood drug store. As such, it sold products other than prescription drugs and over the counter remedies for your ills. Among those products were cigarettes. There of course was not the public disdain for smoking as there is now, so it meant nothing that your pharmacist sold smokes.

Late one Sunday a customer walked into the store and asked for a pack of cigarettes. Mr. Bush reached into the display and handed the man a pack, which happened to cost twenty five cents. The guy opened it, took a cigarette out, and lit it; again, it was no faux pas to smoke in a store back then. Next he drew his wallet out of his pocket and offered Mr. Bush a twenty. A Canadian twenty. "It's all I've got," he explained smugly. What he was trying to do was get American money in place of the Canadian without the trouble of going to a bank or currency exchange.

Mr. Bush didn't say anything. He merely reached under the counter, took out an old cigar box, and gave the man $19.75.

Canadian.

It seemed Mr. Bush had accumulated a bit of Canadian cash over the years and had kept it for no particular reason.

But things happen for a reason. In this case, to teach a smart aleck a lesson.

Monday, October 17, 2016

The pursuit of happiness

I've just found another phrase which I will toss atop the dung heap of useless phrases and useless words.

While watching an episode of Last Man Standing, a Tim Allen sitcom of current standing, heh, heh, (I love punny things, even things not actually very punny), I experienced an epiphany. He was explaining in this particular episode, apologizing really, that he only wanted his daughter to be happy. Yet something stuck in my craw.

Despite what his character in fact said, he didn't actually want his daughter happy on open terms. He wanted his daughter happy on more defined terms.

True, he didn't say that. But it was implied quite directly when he asked her to be open to the possibility of a Navy Seal as a husband or boyfriend ahead of her then current choice of boyfriend if one might then appear.

What are we to make of this?

For starters, perhaps, that Tim Allen in his television world is nodding to the PC police. But more than that. Do fathers, should fathers, ever wish for their children mere happiness?

Happiness without reservation is, after all, without meaning. The sadist and the pious are on even terms here. We then begin to beg the question of what, really, should make us happy?

And that is precisely the question which I want my children to ask, answer, and live towards, as they decide what to do with themselves and their lives. I want them to ask, what should make me happy? And I want them to work towards an honest answer to that.

So, should I be asked, do you want you children to be happy, I must answer no. I do indeed want them to want to be happy. But I want for them true happiness, and nothing less will suffice in answer. I should hope all parents want that.

Polka Mass? Really?

I boycotted my Church today.

Hey, now, I still fulfilled my Sunday obligation; Ol' Marty won't not do that. But I did go to a different Church rather than my parish sanctuary. I simply could not go there this week.

You see, they were having a Polka Mass, and I don't care how many reassurances I get about it being all right, it just doesn't feel right to me. I'm not even saying that it's wrong. It's merely beyond my comfort zone. But I am willing to entertain the argument that it's disrespectful.

Now, I like to polka, as ironic as that may sound to those who know how I brag about my Irish heritage. At weddings, I'm one of the first ones on the floor when the accordion sounds. But polka music in Church? I feel like we should be swaying in tune and clanking beer steins rather than singing hymns to the polka beat.

Sorry, folks, but singing a joyful noise just doesn't cut it in defense of such folly. There are too many joyful hymns more in (ahem) tune with worship.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why I cannot vote for Hillary Clinton

I haven't discussed politics much lately, because it's just not as much fun as storytelling. But I am going to revert for one day to a great degree because I have to get my thoughts on the upcoming Presidential election off my chest. I will be terse and clipped, as getting into background reasoning would take forever, and let's be honest: most of us know the backgrounds anyway.

Hillary Clinton is pro-abortion. I cannot vote for a pro-abortion candidate when there's an option short of the anti-Christ. And Donald Trump is no more the anti-Christ than Hillary.

The respective candidates' treatment of women is a moral wash. Trump has said awful things about women; so has Hillary, in defense of her husband. My vote is not affected by this question.

Clinton will try to staff the Supreme Court with liberal justices. Despite popular thought, the America left is a greater threat to individual rights than the American conservative. A liberal Court will hurt, not help, the person.

Hillary will increase the size of government and attempt to raise taxes. I am thoroughly, completely opposed to both concepts. To echo my brief thoughts on the Court, big government and heavy taxation are great threats to individual liberty. Government is too large anyway, and should be cut severely.

Hillary will go farther with health care than Obama has. This will lead to health care questions being decided, eventually, by the Washington. This is not good, and contrary even to the liberal saw that health care should be between the patient and the doctor. With more government intervention, our health care will get worse, not better.

I do support the Second Amendment, and remind people that the right to bear arms is for individuals to protect themselves from others, including their government. Clinton will do what she can to erode this necessary right.

You get the drift. I cannot, in good conscience as an American conservative, vote for someone so totally against what I believe in as Hillary Clinton. And that's all there is to it.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

I'd rather go fast food

Buca di Beppo. The name sounds like a rejected moniker for a long forgotten Marx brother. Beppo Marx; think about it. In reality, it's the name of the restaurant I ate in last night with a group of friends. You know, one of those different things you try just to do something different. The trouble is, I hate different. I don't want to try new things.

The food is served, I think they call it family style, where you order large dishes and share them. It's supposed to be fun. But what's the fun of dinner being ordered by committee? If I had wanted that, I'd have voted for Obama and let him and Congress tell me what to eat like they want to tell me everything else that I need these days.

Yet as with acts of Congress, it took an insane amount of time to get anything done. It took forever to order because everyone had to debate which salad, which sides, which entree, and which style of plates and silverware to use. All right, maybe not that last part, but still. I don't want to eat what the person next to me wants, I want to eat what I want when I'm in a restaurant. This is America, by gum, and I can order my own food. If I want to have dinner family style I'll do the obvious thing and stay at home with my family for dinner. Sure, I may then have to eat what my wife sets in front of me, but hey, at least it came from my own larder. She cooks better than some 19 year old working their way through college anyway.

Then the food finally comes and everyone gets their first helping. After another fifteen minutes, that is. Passing dishes about among ten people squeezed around a tiny restaurant table is more confusing and frustrating than getting home to the suburbs during rush hour. You need an air traffic controller to keep the flying dishes in order. And the food isn't cold by the time you finally get to eat, oh no, sure. Then, since it's served the way it is, there's always those last two pieces of chicken which everyone is being too kind to take in case someone else may want one, when the truth is everyone at the table wants one because they haven't had enough to eat. The remaining veggies remain alone, pleading for attention, but who wants them? Family style without the family style portions, that's what it is. At home, where the real family style is, there's always enough for everyone.

I think that the next time I'm invited to such a place, I'll politely decline and have a beer and burger at home. The drink will be cold, the food hot, and all the atmosphere I need will be supplied by the ball game on the tube. Any new experience will be limited to who the Tigers play next. That's about all the diversity I care for.

Friday, October 7, 2016

I'm so witty, o so witty

My wife puts up a with a lot from me. With my, shall I say, unusual sense of humor, she has to. Or she'd just kill me.

How do I annoy thee? Let me count two ways.

We were driving up north to our place in Michigan's glorious Upper Peninsula when I began singing Johnny Horton's classic Sink the Bismarck, which he wrote for the movie about the Allied pursuit of that famous German battleship from World War II. I sang the first two verses along with the refrain and then stopped, the third verse having slipped my mind.

After a couple of miles she asked, "Well?"

I, having no idea what she was asking about by then, answered, "Well what?"

"Aren't you going to finish the song?"

"Um, I can't. I forgot the third verse," I replied apologetically.

"But I want to know what happened!" she demanded.

"They sank the Bismarck!" I responded incredulously.

My cheek still hurts from the smack it received.

On another occasion, we were at home at the dinner table eating fish patties. For some reason she had the box in her hand, and she read to me, "Do you know that one of these patties has 150 calories?"

"Really?" I asked. "Which one?"

So now you why Groton's is tattoed on my forehead.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Old Charley Hannah

Old Charley Hannah wasn't a bad sort of fellow. I always fancied he thought himself a storyteller. He was more a teller of tall tales, quite frankly, and at the heart of it I think he just loved to hear himself talk. That lead to certain lapses in continuity when he spoke.

He was in the Old Barn one day years ago while Dad was off somewhere. As I worked on his machine and my brother worked nearby Charley remarked, "I bet I'm about as old as your dad."

"Could be, Mr. Hannah," I replied. "Pops was born in 1936."

Old Charley began wistfully, "Nineteen thutty six,' and I felt a story was coming on. He continued, "I was fidteen years old in 1936..."

I don't remember the tale. I spent the whole time thinking, 'But, you said you were Dad's age, but now were 15 when he was born, and that's not that close, so how could you, why would you think...'

About that time Charley finished the story and broke into a laugh. I read the signal and laughed too. But I don't recall a thing about what he told. I only remember my confusion.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

A strange border crossing

A couple of weeks ago I met an old curling friend for golf. After a short discussion we decided to play in Canada. I crossed over the border one Sunday, we played 18 holes, went to a pub and grub for a couple pints and some, well, grub, decided to hit the links again soon, and parted ways.

It was next, in my return to these United States, that the story became in my mind kinda weird.

I stopped at the guard booth and dutifully handed the attendant my enhanced license. "Citizenship?" he asked brusquely.

You just swiped my license, so you know the answer to that, I thought brusquely myself. But I obediently answered, "U.S."

"Purposely of your trip?"

"I was golfing with a Canadian curling friend."

The man turned to look at me and asked, I thought rather harshly, "What have you got against golf in the United States?"

"N, nothing," I heard myself stammer. "We just decided to golf in Canada."

He began staring me down, and I have to admit I was starting to feel intimidated, "Why would you decide that?"

"Well, no big reason. It seemed cheaper for me cross the border and pay in Canadian dollars, that's all."

"So what's your problem with US dollars?" continued the interrogation.

I wasn't sure how to answer that, as I love US dollars as much as anybody. So much so that I get paid in them. I responded meekly, "It just seemed cheaper."

The guard harrumphed, and turned to look at his monitor. "And how did you meet this 'curling friend'?" I swear you could see the quote marks in the air.

I really wasn't sure how to answer that; from his tone it didn't appear as though there was a right answer. "Uh, well, curling?" It even sounded to me like I responded with the lilt of a question. That's not gonna help here, I thought with no small fear.

He asked, "Do you have your clubs with you?"

"Yes. In the back of my van." I stupidly indicated where the back of my van was with a twist of my head. I told you I was golfing; why wouldn't I bring my clubs home?

"What kind are they?" he demanded.

I answered incredulously, "Clevelands." Where's he going with this?

The guard turned again to me, handed me back my license, smiled broadly and said in the happiest tone, "Good choice. Have a nice day!"

I don't know about you, but it struck me a rather bizarre return interview.

Monday, October 3, 2016

The curmudgeon in Marty: don't walk in the middle of the road!

I wish I owned the roads as much as a lot of pedestrians seem to think they do. I am sick and tired of folks walking in the middle of the road, only begrudgingly giving way to vehicular traffic as it approaches. Approaches slowly, mind you, because if Heaven forbid you hit them it's on you, despite the fact that they're where they should not be.

The lack of consideration for drivers as well as their own safety is appalling. This morning two people were blocking the farthest right driving lane walking towards me on a main artery four lanes wide, while the sidewalks alongside had no obstructions whatsoever. I could cut them slack if they were in the curb lane and the walks overrun with snow or debris or what have you, but they were clear and easy to step along. Why were two idiots in the road?

It's actually worse on side streets. I've come along high schoolers walking five abreast in the middle of the road, blocking it completely. Before you dismiss this as simply younger folks not thinking, I've seen it with adults all too often. Then, as I said, they'll only grudgingly part enough for your car, and I mean only just enough for your car to pass by, sneering at you as you do. They act as though you're the one intruding on their space.

I've been offered explanations but, quite frankly, none pan out. A guy told me it was to keep off the walks for safety: someone might run out from between houses and grab or rob them. Sorry, my friends, that's just grasping for justification. Why couldn't someone run from a crouch between cars and get you? Perhaps the walks aren't clear? But we've addressed that: it doesn't wash, either.

The short story is that it's arrogance. They walk in the street because they can, and it's a way of showing they own you. If you have a better explanation, I'm all ears. Until then, I hold that they ought to smacked upside the head and told to be considerate of how the road was intended to be used.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Real love

We are often told that we are expected to love others unconditionally. It is a good and charitable approach to our relationships with God and man. But what does it really mean? How are we expected to use such a doctrine in our daily lives?

For starters, it surely means that we are to love everyone without reservation. We are called to love everyone as though they were ourselves, to paraphrase a great moral teacher. It is a difficult ideal; loving our enemies is not easy, and sometimes loving our friends and family is a challenge as well. Still, we are expected to overcome this obstacle, and find a way to open our hearts to all.

But there is a great misunderstanding to unconditional love, an error in its application which is at least arguably worse than failing to love everyone around us. Many people believe that unconditional love means loving others up to and including their faults. Indeed, it strikes me that we are sometimes expected to embrace those faults.

This cannot be a good and true interpretation of the standard. It cannot be a useful approach towards dealing with others. We can accept that we must love racists and sexists and criminals; but to love their faults? This is insanity on its face. Do we not want to see people become better people? Do we not want to see our children grow into mature adults? Then we should be instructing and cajoling and beseeching those around us, as they should towards us, to do better than they do, and to be better than they are.

When our children become drug addicts or alcoholics, we do what we can to change them. When our neighbors rob and injure others, we enforce laws to stop them. We can and should still love them, but that does not mean we are obliged to tolerate them.

It is more correct to say that unconditional love calls us to love those around us despite their faults. Real love does not embrace error. It understands sins and errors as a part of us which ought to be altered, and wants to see us move away from the lesser aspects of our being and into better men, women, and children. If it does not want that, it is not love. It is something which facilitates bad behavior; it is a cancer of character.