Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend

Edwin Starr asked the first question in today’s menu roughly 40 years ago. We’ve been arguing this question for as long as there have been people, and it will probably be argued long after humans have gone extinct.Photo source: B&S Online

Once again, I am posting Food for Thought late—and for the same reason: job business. That’s a good thing.

Since this is Memorial Day weekend, I’ve been thinking about service and sacrifice lately. Not the happiest of thoughts, but sometimes necessary. The first question was written by modern thinker and soul singer Edwin Starr.

Appetizer: War: what is it good for?
In a perfect world, I would agree with Starr’s answer. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world. It is occasionally necessary to fight, even to the death. It is not necessary anywhere near as often as we do it. War should be the diplomatic tool of last resort, not of first choice.
Soup: Whom do you honor on Memorial Day?
First, my son. Trackgrease volunteered to serve and stayed in the Reserves for eight years after he left active duty. My brother Edwin was a paratrooper during the Korean conflict. My brother Jim served in the Army during Viet Nam, luckily in Germany. My brother Bill, also served. My uncle Carol was in the Navy during WWII. My father tried to enlist but was turned away because he was unable to turn his wrist to the correct angle to “properly” hold a rifle—never mind that he could light a match with a bullet.
All of these survived their service.
Salad: Has there ever been a draft evader in your family?
My great grandfather came to the United States to avoid serving in the Kaiser’s army. Technically, I was a draft evader for 1o days. The law requiring us to register for the draft expired 10 days after my deadline for registration. A friend of mine went to register a couple of days before my deadline, and they just laughed at him for bothering. So I didn’t bother.
Entré: If so, do you support that decision?
Well, given the fact that I wouldn’t have been here if he had stayed in Germany, the self-serving answer is, “Of course I do!”
Dessert: Why do we continue to go to war?
The reasons for war are too numerous to list, but they always boil down to greed. Sometimes the greed is on both sides. Sometimes, only on one side.
I wish nations would follow the Taoist protocols, which have their parallels in most modern religions:
    • Avoid rather than hurt.
    • Hurt rather than maim.
    • Maim rather than kill.
    • Kill rather than be killed.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Music This Weekend

I don’t have a picture of Rebecca’s recital, but here she is conducting our choir a couple of weeks ago. We are so blessed to have her.Photo by John Phelps

There was a lot of music this weekend, starting with a rehearsal on Saturday morning at the church. Jan, Jo, and I ran through a rather drab piece called “Bittersweet.” J&J are big fans of playing what is written, and swing doesn’t really swing that way. Well, I wouldn’t really call “Bittersweet” swing. It’t more like someone who has never had the blues trying to transcribe a blues piece.

We performed this piece Sunday morning. Nobody died, but it was not my proudest moment as a musician. Luckily, we have a very kind congregation, and many of them were congratulatory. Jan was honest when she said that it had a few “rough spots.”

That afternoon the choir director gave a piano recital. She opened with “French Suite #2” by JS Bach, then moved on to Beethoven. She concluded with a Chopin piano concerto. (I lost the program, so these are mostly guesses based on a failing memory.) Rebbecca played really well and raised a little money for the Bill Sauber Memorial Fund, which supports music infrastructure at the church.

Finally, I went to jam with the new rock band I’m kinda playing with. It was our first practice with a new guitarist after the guy who asked me to join left. The singer was out of town, so the new guitarist and I faked our way through the songs we do. And I have to say we rocked. It was a great time, and I think will shape my mood for the week. I love playing loud and strong music with a deep pocket.

Although I wasn’t that into it at the time, I have come to think of Jailbreak as one of the best rock albums ever. Just driving, good-time music that’s as fun to play as it is to listen to.Photo source: Rock God Cred

If you can play rock music and stand still, you ain’t doing it right. If you do it right, it’s a fun way to get a decent cardiovascular workout.

So that’s what I’m grateful for this week: music, especially rock music. Give me a deep, throbbing bass line and a wall of sound. Give me a good drummer and a strong beat. That makes me too happy to stand still! Like the song says:

Roll me over and turn me around.
Let me keep spinnin’ ’till I hit the ground.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Makes You Stronger?

Kevin Sorbo played the title role in the 1990s TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys Photo source: Oak Leaf Collectibles
What doesn’t kill you:
  • Makes you stronger
  • Makes you wish it had

This set of questions derives from a comparison Howard Thurman made of humans to jack pines, a tree species that usually requires a forest fire to free its seeds from cones. From the destruction, a new stand of trees arises phoenix-like. So here we go.

Appetizer: What did you think of the Hercules TV series?
The 1960s cartoon series was one of my favorites. I watched it almost every morning before school on Channel 13. The 1990s live action series was OK. Not one of my favorites, but it had the advantage of airing adjacent to Xena: Warrior Princess.
Soup: Are you generally more optimistic or pessimistic?
I vacillate. I believe we have to take the bad with the good, so we might as well get the most out of it. I also believe we need negative experience to appreciate (or even comprehend) positive experience. Life is like a black and white photo; without contrast, everything is indistinguishable. So, I guess I have optimistic tendencies. I believe that everything always works out for the best—even if we can’t see it at the time. Regardless, it all contributes to who we are. If things happened differently, we would be different people.
I would much rather be writing about this guy, who watched me take a walk around campus at lunch the other day.
Salad: Which event in your life made you stronger or a better person for having survived it?
So many to choose from! Each one was incredibly painful and yet shaped who I am today. So, I’ll talk about the death of my brother Bill. It was traumatic for my family. He was younger than I am today, still in his prime. You don’t ever recover from that, but you can assimilate the experience, embrace the pain, and move forward.
Bill’s death shocked me out of my complacency. It freed me from a need to keep climbing the corporate ladder and pursue money and power. Until then I thought that if I just had more, I would be happier. I worked insane hours, and I neglected my family and my own health. There would be time in the future for happiness.
I awoke to the reality of my own mortality. I eventually left the corporate culture that was killing me. I took a job at a university to wind down. It paid barely enough to survive, but it was enough for awhile. A friend once asked me what I had planned for the day. I said I was going to hang out at the lake and then go into work. “Don’t you have chores?” she asked. I nodded. “The lake will be there tomorrow,” she chided. “But I might not be.”
I make more money than I did then, but I believe my work is about more than making money. While I still help big companies make more money, I also help the people who work for them do their jobs better. I know that in some cases, the training I designed has helped people keep their jobs and provide for their families. I have found a balance that I might not have found if my brother’s death hadn’t forced me to reassess what was important to me.
Entré: Given the choice, would you skip it if you had a “do over”?
I would rather have all of my siblings be alive and healthy and with me. I don’t know what the consequences of that might be. Perhaps I would have been the one to go first. I am also really annoyed at myself for writing this question. I don’t believe in “do overs.” We are who we are because of our experiences. Change the experiences and we change who we are.
Still, I miss Bill. And Edwin. And Mom.
Dammit! Now I’m all teary. Human beings aren’t a fire species. We’re just all fucked up, born to suffer. And we try to justify it by saying it makes us better. Even if it does, it still sucks.
Dessert: Does adversity build character or reveal it?
I believe adversity builds character only if the foundation is already there. But I also believe that we can go through our whole lives without knowing what we are capable of if nothing ever tests our mettle. Wouldn’t that be nice?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Are Humans a “Fire Species?”

The jack pine must be destroyed by fire to reproduce.Photo source: Global Forrest Science

At today’s Men’s Linguistic Society meeting, we focused on another Howard Thurman sermon. This one compared the human spirit to the jack pine of the norther US and Canada. The jack pine is a fire species. It grows in dense stands that are demolished by forest fires. But the fire prepares the soil for a new stand and releases the seeds from the cones. The seeds remain dormant but viable in the cones for years, waiting on a catastrophic fire to release and activate them.

Chuck’s question was, “Will the current economic crisis act as a catalyst to bring about significant improvements in the economic system and prepare the soil for a new stand of sustainable prosperity?” We were divided in our opinions. Some were optimistic, others cynical. I sat firmly on the fence.

I believe we will devise new safeguards for the economy to prevent this crisis from recurring from the same causes. If we survive, the economy will be leaner and stronger, and, perhaps, it will be driven by something other than consumption, which (like the disease) eventually consumes its host.

On the other hand, I also believe that humans cannot devise a system that humans cannot corrupt. As Benjamin Franklin said, “The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” The price of economic security is balancing between freedom and regulation. Too much of either is a dangerous thing.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thanks, Dad

Dad at Texas Roadhouse

This week’s Grateful Monday is short. I’m grateful to have my dad hanging around, farming, and generally being obnoxious at 86. It may not be all that unusual for someone in their 50s to still enjoy the company of their parents, but consider that Dad and Mom were both in their mid-30s when I was born.

I lost Mom almost a decade ago. I want Dad to be around for a long, long time. I’m greedy that way.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Movie Review: Star Trek (2009)

Black holes and planets don’t mix.

Photo source: Star Trek

We all went to see the new Star Trek movie last night. Suna and I both approached it as Trekkies from the sixties. That is, we were optimistic but ready to be disappointed, especially after the last few movies. TubaBoy was seeing for the second time in two nights. Beccano seemed eager to see it for the first time.

I was not disappointed. The movie was a success on all accounts. The least entertaining point was the long expository sequence where Spock recounts the events leading up to the history-changing battle that opens the movie. Other than that, it certainly did not seem as if we were in the theater anywhere near as long as we were. We even watched the credits for a while—something we almost never do.

I used the phrase “history-changing” rather than “historic” or “history-making” for a reason. The movie has been called a “reset.” It’s like when we were kids. It’s a “do over” more than a remake.

Forget any current theories of black holes or wormholes. Science is not one of the strengths of this movie. Hopefully, that will come back in future installments.

Using a fourth-grader’s understanding of physics, Director J.J. Abrams wipes the slate clean and allows these young actors to reshape our favorite characters in their own ways. None of the events that shaped the characters we have cherished for decades ever happened except in some alternate history, as Uhura noted.

Abram walked a tightrope with this movie. While remaining true to the spirit of the original, he set the stage for a new new generation—or is that a new first generation?—to go boldly where no human has gone before, again. It will be interesting to see where they go.

Mother’s Day, Birds, and Flowers

Dad’s newest calf

We got up early (for us, late for Dad) this morning and drove into town for donuts and coffee—the most nutritious of all breakfasts. We sat around the Donut Palace, watching the head server call out people’s orders to them as they came through the door and wondering how cool/boring it must be to know everyone in town that well.

After breakfast as we trolled the streets of Yorktown trying to figure out what to do next, we came upon Uncle Carol working in his yard. So we stopped and bothered him and Aunt Kathy for awhile.

We mostly sat in the back yard talking and petting the neighborhood dog, but we were really bird watching. They have a bird feeder built to look like an Old West hotel and painted with Bed and Breakfast. Even the tiniest birds couldn't fit inside to see if there was a bed, but they all seemed to enjoy their breakfast. Among the visitors to the feeder were:

Suna sits in a field of wild flowers at the intersection of US-87 and FM1116.

Then we drove around the countryside talking about nothing. Back at the farm, we walked around—looking at the flowers and cows, mostly just enjoying being outside together.

Too soon, it was time to leave. We took the scenic route home so we could enjoy the wild flowers running amock across the countryside. Dad said there weren’t to many around his place, but we found them. I think he just looks for other things and misses the beauty around him. We found one spectacular field at the intersection of US87 and FM1116.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Dad's Birthday a Day Late

Dad at his farm

Yesterday was Dad’s 86th birthday. I called to wish him the best, but I couldn’t get ahold of him because he was out looking at the full moon. I knew it was a full moon, and I knew he does that. So I had asked Sweetness to let him know Suna and I would make the trek to see him today. She had shipped him a bunch of candy and was going to keep calling until he answered.

This morning we headed out. We arrived to find him napping with his cows. We talked awhile, played him the CD of the church choir singing the Schubert Mass in G, then drove him into Victoria for a birthday bash at Texas Roadhouse. He ate almost all of his catfish.

After “supper” [dinner for most of us], we stopped in to visit some old friends from church who up and moved to Victoria last year. We all had a good time.

Back at the farm, we watch the moonrise. Then we talked until well past Dad’s bedtime.

Photos and copy editing to come later.

5/10/2009 Update: Added picture and edited.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Food for Thought #12: 100 Days

Barack Obama:
Not on His 100th Day in Office

Photo source: Macrobuddies

Sorry I haven’t posted for awhile and fallen down on my weekly Food for Thought obligations. I’ve been on deadline at work. Something about writing for 10-12 hours a day greatly reduces the inclination to blog.

So in my absences, I missed commenting on the great press hoopla over Barack Obama’s 100th day in office. Not being one to pay that much attention to time except when someone makes me, today’s FFT celebrates that occassion a little late. It derives from a question Jeff Zeleny of the New York Times now famously asked the President.

Appetizer: During the last 100 days, what most surprised you?
How well the church choir pulled of Franz Schubert’s Mass in G. Even the morning of the performance, we sounded flat (dynamics, not pitch). But when we sang for real, there was some kind of magic transformation. We sounded bigger and better than we actually are.
Soup: What most befuddled you?
I don’t know for sure, but I sure seem to have been fuddled. My brain seemed clouded most of the time, as if it were operating at 75% efficiency or something. Lack of sleep contributed, but I’m sure that wasn’t the whole problem.
Salad: What most uplifted you?
Seeing how happy TrackGrease and his beloved looked in pictures of their wedding.
Entré: What most troubled you?
The crisis mentality that sprung up around my project as the deadline neared. Really, the project made things easier. Was the crisis just so that we could solve it?
Dessert: What most enchanted you?
All the pictures of puppies that Suna keeps showing me.