Statistics: the Truth about US

A number of years ago I was driving down the road listening to the radio when I heard an astounding statement come over the air waves. After thorough research, scientists had concluded that children learn more effectively in smaller classrooms, i.e. in settings where the ratio of students to teachers is smallest.

I wondered if I had missed something. Or if, perhaps, I was so exceptionally brilliant that I already knew this even though no one else did. But then I remembered that my wife (a former school teacher) was one of the first persons I had heard discussing this concept. And then there were countless others who had mentioned it in passing as if it was a known fact. I was just one smart guy in a crowd of smart guys, right?

Astounding, right?

The things we give graduate students to “prove” in their respective theses! And maybe, of course, the point is to teach research skills, not necessarily to evaluate some new concept (especially in master’s level degrees).

Since that day in the car I have been more aware of research comments, statistical insights, and our sometimes blind acceptance of anything boasting high percentages to make a point.

Not that numbers don’t matter. Because they often do.

And not that statistics aren’t helpful. Because they often are.

But statements using statistics can not only be apparent proofs for the things we already know instinctively or from experience; they can also be misleading, agenda-driven, narrow assertions that occlude the truth. And therein lies my concern.

What toothpaste is recommended by the largest percentage of dentists? Which pain reliever is most often prescribed by doctors? Which dog food or cat food satisfies the most pets?

Of course, the marketing and advertising industry has been employing statistics in this fashion for decades. They want to sell products. And they know each of us listening to or watching their ads will be influenced by statistics a minimum of 65% of the time (sorry, I couldn’t resist creating a statistic there).

The “truth” with a capital T on a given subject (we often assume) is necessarily supported by the majority of people who “ought to know” about that given subject. And so those of us who aren’t experts in a given field of study rely on those persons we perceive to be experts in that field. Thus, we buy the aspirin, purchase the toothpaste, take the vitamin, eat the celery, drink the Kool-Aid (so to speak).

But what if the experts polled in a given field, whose opinions are reflected in the statistics of a given ad, are not representative of experts in that field. Or (we shudder to think), what if they are representative, but the majority of experts are ill-informed?

The ramifications are a bit scary, right?

It’s in the details, isn’t it, the proverbial “devil” as well as the facts?

I remember being floored when I heard how books, for instance, make the famed “Best Seller” list. It was when I had finished reading one of the most difficult books ever (The Closing of the American Mind, by Allan Bloom, 1987), and I was marveling that it was on the New York Times Best Seller list. I thought to myself, “A lot of people may have bought this book, but they certainly have not done the arduous (albeit rewarding) work of actually reading it.” Then I mused, “But why would they buy it? Status? Ha!”

No. Books, I came to learn, are put on the Best Seller list because bookstores have been convinced by great book salesmen and marketers to purchase large quantities of the book. The “sales” are sometimes counted over a few select days (the sale of any would-be competing classic literature is not included in this count BTW), and publishers sometimes use the briefly created best seller status to promote the book even further. And you know how we ALL respond to statistics that reflect SUCCESS. We buy more books! No one wants to miss the bandwagon. Right?

Fear of terrorism has been the topic of discussion over the air waves lately; ISIS, and what to do with Syrian refugees has launched us into a debate that includes (but it not limited to) the closing of our borders to Muslims and/or any others who seem to pose a threat.

As a result many have wished to erase the Statue of Liberty’s invitation: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shores . . . .” Some wager she no longer wants to lift her lamp “beside the golden door.”

And, of course, the argument to the contrary includes (wouldn’t you know it) . . . statistics. Yes, the percentage of Muslim terrorists in this country who are involved in mass shootings. They say the number is very low.

The same thing happens with black/white racial issues, police brutality, racial profiling and the like. Almost every social argument you hear for or against a thing involves Statistics, Numbers, Percentages, Probabilities.

What is the likelihood that a given individual who enters AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and gets sober will stay sober? Less than 50%?

What is the likelihood that two persons who marry will stay married? One in two? Or that rainfall will occur on this date in north Georgia? That an individual will be involved in a serious traffic accident before he/she is 30 years old? Or that persons with high fat intake will get cancer?

The percentage of children in the U.S.A. who will be diagnosed with autism by their third birthday? Your chances of being struck by lightning? How often the stock market experiences a downturn after a global catastrophe? Which vacuum is listed as having the fewest number of complaints in Consumer Reports?

We start our day with statistics that inform us about what weather to expect that day, and we dress accordingly. We drive in ours cars with the aid of a GPS device that tells us approximately how many minutes our trip will take given the volume of traffic. We eat a lunch of our choosing based upon how likely we are to suffer a heart attack as a result.

We are an information-driven society enamored with statistics, clamoring for the latest poll numbers, and pillowing our heads at night on a mattress that promises to give at least 20% better rest than its competitors.

Trouble is, not everyone is telling the truth. Or, they may be telling a truth, but not the whole truth. “The truth,” says Obi-Wan Kenobi, “from a certain point of view.” But how aware are we of the point of view that serves as the basis for these multifarious “truths” that guide our actions, purchases, and opinions each and every day?

It has been said that “numbers cannot lie.” They are what they are. Nevertheless, these pure, true numbers can also be used to buttress a point of view that is just plain wrong.

So, where are we left with it all? We are part of a society bent on constant evaluation, where products are constantly shifting in rank due to statistics. There are good statistics, and there are bad statistics. There are statistics that illuminate the truth, and there are statistics that occlude the truth.

We are left to decide which is which.

Rest assured, we will make decisions on how to live and treat others based on what we decide.

And so . . . how will YOU choose?

P.S. An unprecedented 85.2% of persons who read and comment on this blog will have a better life.

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The Lyin’ in Winter

To write or not to write; that is the question. “Whether it is nobler in the mind . . . .”

Okay! I know I am not very original, but there are worse things I could be, right? Besides, Shakespeare doesn’t have a monopoly on that dilemma, and Hamlet won’t mind having his private thoughts quoted.

Winter is here in earnest. Well, as earnest as it gets in this part of Georgia. We toy with winter weather all through November, December, January, February and March. Colder parts of the country scoff at our mild winters, so we have little to say to those folks during these months. When summer comes we will talk nonstop about our heat and humidity.

Until then, we will lay low (as they say), and hope that no ice or snow inundation brings us into the national spotlight, thereby exposing us to ridicule from the Winter Warriors who are accustomed to braving harsh elements unimaginable to us southerners. We don’t like being a laughingstock for the northerners who think of our winter as something approximating their spring.

A New Year has begun, of course.

If you are a resolution maker you have no doubt already formed Your Ten Commandments and subsequently broken at least one of them within the first weeks of the term. Setting goals is difficult enough (for many of us); indefatigably working toward them is on a whole other level.

But one of my goals is to continue to write . . . “in season and out of season” (to borrow a phrase). That is, when I want to and when I don’t.

The Lion in Winter, of course, was a 1966 play written by James Goldman, popularized even more by the 1968 film starring Peter O’Toole and Katherine Hepburn. It is set in 12th century England and chronicles some of the exploits (some fictional, some not) of Henry II.

Among the themes one could use to describe this play the theme of pervasive prevarication is appropriate. Lying.

This is the year for another presidential election in the United States. And so, we have all prepared ourselves to hear a great deal of lying this winter and in the months to come. I’m not sure there is more lying in the months leading up to an election, just that we tend to be more keenly aware of it because potential candidates try to bring it to light.

It is easy to look for inconsistencies in the statements of presidential candidates, even fun to point out possible prevarication. There must be something of the aspiring-word-detective in all of us; we do get a bit of satisfaction from noting the fallacies. We like to think we cannot be fooled, and we like others to think it about us, too.

What we definitively DO NOT like, however, is to closely monitor OUR OWN prevaricating. THAT . . . we will tolerate to no end. We resolve, and then we give up; we set goals, and then we abandon them; we dream dreams, but we never wake up in them.

There is little growth. Little change. Little improvement. Precious little transformation.

We talk. But we do not take ourselves seriously. We do not even listen to what we say.

The very real danger is that we will create a society or a culture where a man or woman’s word is no longer his/her bond, where one cannot be trusted to fulfill his/her obligations, where government can just as easily be expected to cheat or lie as any individual, and where child behavior and education are stymied by the prevailing looseness we endure under the rubric of “freedom.”

I will observe the various presidential candidates as they parade about this year, and I will vote on November 8, 2016, making the most responsible decision I can muster. I hope you will do the same. It makes a great deal of difference in our nation.

But far beyond the importance of the presidential election and the trustworthiness of the candidate who is chosen for that position for the next four years . . . is the surpassing importance of your trustworthiness and mine.

I am, in fact, the most significant force to influence the integrity of my family, those closest to me. And so:

  1. I will take my promises seriously.
  2. I will avoid making glib remarks.
  3. I will admit when I have failed to keep numbers 1 & 2.

No matter how outlandish Donald Trump sounds, no matter how deceptive Hillary Clinton appears, no matter what any persons in high positions espouse, my main focus this winter and in the months to come will be on my own words. My own goals. My own resolutions.

Unlike Henry II.

Unlike anyone around me who is content to live in a world of pretense, and who does all he/she can to create a following, an entourage of the misinformed.

I will write. And I will tell the truth.

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Merry Xmas from Georgia, 2015

Xmas in Georgia 2015

We have been bemoaning our fate these past few days, grumbling over the fact that on Christmas Day the temperature might be 77ºF (a possible new record will be set), and there will likely be thunderstorms. And we’ve been asking odd questions like, “Will we have to run the air conditioner when we bake?” Wasn’t it 28ºF just a few mornings ago, ice covering the roof of our house; there were windshields to scrape. Was I dreaming?

Georgia’s weather is odd on a regular basis. But this . . . is a bit unusual even for us. It reminds me of Tucson, Arizona at Christmas, except this year they will be about 10 degrees colder than Atlanta.

I stepped outside this morning and took a picture of a pink rose bud forming. Nature is pretty savvy most of the time, but it can get thrown for a loop, too, on occasion. This is one of those times.

Topsy turvy.

I think it is safe to say I like things to be predictable. Oh, I love a good surprise as much as the next guy . . . as long as it falls into some pretty sane and predictable boundaries, that is.

But when something gets turned on its head . . . .

When your world is topsy turvy (so to speak), when the element of surprise becomes the norm, and disorder becomes the new order – that does not particularly appeal to me. At least, not without some counseling.

Reflecting on that this morning I was reminded – that is what this season is all about.

No matter your beliefs (or lack of beliefs) on the subject, you must admit that the Christmas story is topsy turvy in nature, anomalous at best. Consider this:

  • A baby (ostensibly illegitimate) born to a young woman in less-than-humble circumstances is actually the savior of the world
  • A small insignificant town is his designated birthplace
  • His arrival is apparent to just a few persons, and they are the social outcasts

The Christmas story is like a rose in winter, or like streams in a desert. It is like the anomalous springtime in Georgia this December, 2015. Odd. Out of place. Nevertheless, from this moment on it will be in the record books.

I always find it interesting when the TV weatherman reveals record temperatures or statistics about other natural phenomena: the Little Ice Age of 1887-1888, the winter of 1935-1936, the flood of my wife’s hometown (Portsmouth, OH) in the winter of 1937. Often severe winters are preceded by an unusually warm winter.

[Ivan Doig’s classic book, Dancing at the Rascal Fair, recounts the plight of immigrants coming to Montana during a record breaking brutal winter; it is well worth the read]

Maybe you’re not curious (or self-absorbed) like me, but I have always been interested in knowing what the weather was like the day I was born. The day I was born the temperature in Chattanooga, TN had a wider range than normal; the low was 28ºF and the high was 66ºF. (I was premature, so I had to live in an incubator for a few days. The weather inside there was pretty consistent as I recall).

Clearly, my premature birth (4 to 7 weeks) was not something my parents had planned. My brother was a January baby, and I guess, had I gestated to term, I might have been one, too. Mother had to leave the hospital without me. Again, not according to plan.

In a very real sense when we celebrate Christmas (or Xmas if you prefer the abbreviated version which uses the first Greek letter χ for the word Christ) we remember, and pay homage to, the unpredictability of our lives. And I do not mean this in a negative sense; rather, the converse.

If you go to a 12 Step meeting like AA (or any number of others) you will eventually hear someone say, “My best plans and intentions got me here.” Or “my best thinking got me here.” It is, of course, an admission that often our attempts to plan, control, navigate, and lord over our lives ends in confusion. Persons are hurt, relationships are damaged, and our vision of how life ought to be just seems to crumble into the proverbial dust, much to our chagrin.

The Christmas story is all about good coming out of apparent ill, great coming out of exceedingly small, inexpressible joy being born from the sad and lowly, the proverbial beauty from ashes.

It went down in the record books, of course, as you know. We date our calendars by it in the Western World. And in a very real sense . . . nothing will ever be the same because of it. Countless persons have experienced life changing events because that baby was born.

Rather than see this year’s weather as an anomaly that feels less than Xmas, or as the result of an El Niño, I can’t help but see it as a reminder that what I can’t predict is often the very thing that saves me, that thwarted plans are very often the opportunity for a better-than-imaginable result to reveal itself.

And no, this is not just wishful thinking, not just the power of positive thinking; rather, it is the humble admission that I am not as powerful as I think I am, that sometimes a rose can bloom in winter, and that when it “rains on my parade” it is not necessarily a bad day.

This Christmas will go down in the record books, record temperatures will be put into computer data bases all across the country. And in the future you will occasionally hear a reference to the oddity of this winter. But this anomalous winter will change very little in our world. We will remark about it this year, and possibly the next, then it will only be referenced in passing.

But the first Christmas . . . . Well, that is another story altogether. Unpredictable. Unprecedented. Unending in its effects.

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It Seems to Me . . .

Okay, okay! Bring on the hate mail.

I try very hard not to be offensive to those who are kind enough to read one or more of my blogs, but as comedian Brian Regan says (after making a similar disclaimer): “Here we go.”

We have succeeded in training a whole generation [shall we call this group “millennials”?] to: wear their feelings on their sleeve, be vigilant in watching for subtle racial innuendos, always be on guard for any hint of an ethnic or sexist remark, and react in the extreme when they encounter anything that smacks of exclusivity.

As a result we have women in combat, persons in large corporations promoted to positions beyond their capabilities simply because of their race, unisex bathrooms in some high schools, felons convicted of murder, rape, etc. who feel unfairly treated because they were tried in the adult criminal justice system when they were still just juveniles (allegedly unable to make adult decisions or understand the legal nomenclature of the courtroom), and health insurance companies unable to keep up with the nuances of our redefinitions of human sexuality, gender identification, and the resultant ramifications.

We have created a society whose undercurrent of sensitivity is so vast we scarcely know how to function. We fear litigation at every turn, and so we are first-and-foremost in the business of protecting ourselves against possible objections, even fortuitous ones.

Television shows like The Office make light of our dilemma by showing the office manager (Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell) being anything BUT sensitive as he manages a failing paper company, and sets the tone for the group of misfits in his Scranton office.

Of course, we laugh. Not only because the situations depicted are so uncomfortable, but also because the office misfits are so believable to us. Exaggerated, yes. But close enough to the real thing that we experience identification.

But in our real worlds . . . we no longer know how to laugh about these things.

And so, when a supposed expert was asked (in a recent NPR interview) about the racial discrimination that exists currently even on Ivy League college campuses, he cited as one example (and he said there were more than one hundred) a situation where a college professor is discussing poverty and/or the ghetto, and he automatically looks to the African-American students for personal insights on the subject.

Granted, the chances these students have experienced that to which he refers is very small. But the fact that he seems to look to them reveals his own prejudices and misinformation. If that is all the prejudice and misinformation experienced by students in that classroom in a semester, then I say they are very fortunate.

What is just as likely, however, is that someone reading this blog might criticize me for suggesting the professor is a “he” and not a “she.” That is the extent to which we have become infected by this insistence and obsession on equality.

We have produced a generation of thin-skinned, militaristic, passionately misdirected persons who have embraced a watchword that unifies them: social justice. Of course, in and of itself this theme is admirable. But the proverbial “devil is in the details.”

And now this point of view has spilled over into older generations, too. We are fast becoming a society quick to take offense, our fists poised to fight, guns drawn, feet planted, ready to charge ahead with our sword out of its scabbard. That may seem appropriate in our current terrorist climate, but it is way out of place when the only terror we experience is someone else’s ignorance or lack of understanding.

You will never legislate that out of existence.

When I was in college I was part of a group of students that tried to oust a professor; we had decided he was “too liberal” to be teaching us. He was a fine man. He just had a bit more “open” view of things than a number of us. We decided that the proverbial “tail” ought to be able to “wag the dog.” I no longer recall what happened to him now.

What I do know is that in years to come I far surpassed the liberalism of the ideas he espoused. But in those early years I had put myself in a position to critique and expose someone from whom I should have listened, learned, and considered.

It seems to me that the current social dilemma we are in encourages the ones who ought to be learning to instead be judge and jury for those who ought to be instructing. And in the midst of this upheaval an atmosphere of injustice has been spawned; a doctrine that purports unity, equality, and fairness has instead birthed a bastard whose heart and soul is all about highlighting the differences between races, ethnicities, and genders.

Of course, I am a white, southern born, middle-class male in my sixties. So, my point of view should be discounted, I suppose. But it seems to me we have empowered the bullies, coddled the criminals, and created a society that waves the flag of freedom while simultaneously controlling every move its patrons make.

Well, if you have read this far . . . Thanks! I needed to get that off my chest.

I know there are persons who have been badly hurt in this world, minorities that have experienced painful discrimination I can never hope to comprehend. And our country has made some horrible mistakes in its history, sometimes with full intent. But the way we sometimes seek to heal the wounds is not productive at all.

And I fear the misguided attitudes that power our attempts at social therapy will inadvertently produce citizens who only understand the pronouns “we” and “us” as they are juxtaposed with a “them.”

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Helicopter vs. Free-Range Parenting

I recently listened to a National Public Radio interview where the miseries caused by “helicopter parenting” were enumerated. The discussion featured a prominent scholar/author on the subject, as well as a Kennesaw State University counselor. It was quite interesting.

Evidently, emotional immaturity is on-the-rise on college campuses, and the occurrence of emotional breakdowns over minor challenges and struggles is commonplace.

The culprit?

Helicopter parenting. A term coined in the late 1960s (Haim Ginott, 1969) that has become representative of overprotective, over involved, smothering parents, more recently described as drones.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is what has been called “free-range parenting” (Lenore Skenazy, 2009). This approach encourages children to be age-appropriately-independent, and develop their personal potential in situations that are not risk free. Some have criticized this approach, saying it is simply what used to be called “parenting.”

There has always been disagreement with regard to child parenting and child education methods: too lenient, too disciplined; too amorphous, too structured. And like the pendulum, we tend to vacillate between the extremes, possibly because that makes it easier for us to see the difference between the points being debated.

Some tend to balk at positions that bear too much similarity; they get lost in the minutiae. In addition, many carry the old “if a little is good, more is better” approach, so they are more comfortable migrating toward one extreme or the other. Our sociopolitical postures seem to bear this out as well.

The permissiveness of the 1960s ushered in an approach to living, child rearing, education, religion, etc. that has had half a century to ferment. Dr. Spock notwithstanding, so-called “conservative” approaches to child rearing have remained, but I think it is safe to say that the general tenor of American society (not to mention many other developed societies) still embraces the so-called “freedoms” espoused by the activists of the 1960s; we are the most “tolerant” we have ever been. And some would argue, the most unhappy.

As I listened to the aforementioned interview I was intrigued when the scholar/author denigrated the “helicopter” parents, saying that children must be allowed to interact with one another without parental supervision, thereby helping them to discover on their own how to function as an adult, and gain the strength of character only attained through personal, unaided interaction with the environment.

My mind immediately went back to a book I read in school many years ago: Lord of the Flies (William Golding, 1954), which illustrates what happens when children are allowed to freely arrive at their own rules of behavior when there is no adult supervision. If it is true that Golding’s book was a direct reaction to the 1858 classic, The Coral Island, by R.M. Ballantyne, then it illustrates our current situation precisely, and gives a bit of history to the swinging pendulum of moral sophistication.

My wife and I chose to home school our two children. Now I know that immediately makes us suspect to some readers. Be that as it may, we discovered in our research (prior to embarking on this “risky” endeavor) that parenting methods and influences of the past changed radically when children left life “in the country” where they worked alongside their parents; they exchanged relationships with adults, siblings and neighbors for relationships primarily with friends at school. [See Raising Children for Success, by H. Stephen Glenn, with Jane Nelsen, 1987]

Close relationships between children and parents soon became an anomaly, and the norm was represented by the proverbial rift between the two. Parents would more often than not roll their eyes and say, “Just wait until you have teenagers.” And their children would never dream of sharing their deepest feelings with their parental nemeses; and they do their share of eye-rolling, too.

I tell young parents just the opposite: “Don’t buy into the lie that your children will be your enemies, and that you will lose their love, respect, and intimacy when they reach their teen years.” It is simply not true.

But, of course, that depends, in part, on how you approach your parenting. Smothering can foment rebellion, but unbridled freedom can do the same.

We may be at a point in our society where we are approaching “the perfect storm.” Our worship of “tolerance” has all but caused us to lose our identity as a society. Somehow many have come up with the notion that we are becoming more and more civilized with each generation, and that we are on a path toward equality and social awareness. We fancy ourselves defenders of the less fortunate and the downtrodden, and we applaud those who propound extremist views and aberrant ideologies (unless they are terrorists – we are not that open minded).

Paranoia has a strangle hold on us, and every hint of racial injustice that is communicated through the plethora of social media outlets exacerbates it. Difficult times are ahead, and our children may not be up to the task that awaits them.

Granted, I am no expert on education or child rearing. I taught high school (and some junior high school) for 10 years in Tennessee; my wife taught about the same length of time in Ohio and Tennessee. We raised two children and we were, at times, overprotective – especially as compared with the rearing of some of their contemporaries. There is no perfect balance, at least not one that is attainable.

But perfection is hardly the point. Both extremes appear wrong: helicoptering and free-ranging. But there is a far more important question that must be answered. For the truth is that each set of parents will lean toward one extreme or the other. And both can train children who are successful people in our society, able to contribute valiantly in the trying times ahead.

The real question is whether or not parents will embrace the responsibility to invest in their children (no matter the style), guide them, and nurture them, or whether they will assume that the children can raise themselves either by individual personal direction or in the crucible of their herd.

When I was 10 years old my father decided that my older brother and I should “have it out,” i.e. fight. This was his attempt (I believe) to settle a score he never got to settle with his own older brother. Trouble is, my brother is almost 3 years older than me, and he easily beat me up. Undoubtedly, my father envisioned it going another way, but it was his attempt to bow out of the fracas he typically had with my brother, and allow me to defend myself (on his behalf). I lost miserably.

Some might suggest I learned something important in that bout, but I think I just got a bloody nose and avoided my brother’s fists. Actually, I already knew about the latter danger, so that lesson was somewhat redundant.

In certain segments of our current society it appears we have embraced the notion that children can raise themselves, and we are experiencing the detrimental effects of that ideology.

Children learn how to be adults by modeling their adult model’s behavior, not by modeling the behaviors and attitudes of other children who are as clueless as they are about what this thing called “life” is all about. Parents must gladly embrace this modeling role and bring their children alongside them in a variety of situations so that when they are absent the child will know how to interact with others.

My hope is that we rethink the notion that children are best raised when they raise themselves, and rethink it quickly. To do so will require that we go against the grain of popular thought and cutting-edge educational theory. It will require a metamorphosis of sorts.

To refuse this change will result in something more Kafkaesque than we can imagine.

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Ganesh in Georgia

Ganesh is the Hindu god responsible for controlling life obstacles and providing wisdom. His image, popular and unmistakable, is characterized by the head of an elephant.

The annual celebration, featuring brightly colored figurines of this god (ranging in size from mere inches to 70 feet in height), can be seen all over the world, generally falling in the time period between August and September.

Near the conclusion of the festivities the figurines are immersed in water. Many years ago they were made of clay, and the materials the idol was made of returned to earth without damaging the environment; however, that is no longer usually the case (they are often made of plaster now).

I was a witness to the vast number of people who turned out for this year’s celebration on the Georgia coast, faces painted with red, large groups of men carrying massive idols on bases, making their way through the sand and headed toward a predetermined spot on South Tybee Island. Throngs of men, women, children; families dressed in a variety of colors, pouring their way toward a spot of worship. There were literally hundreds who passed the house where we were.

We had planned to have a family portrait taken out by the shoreline, and it just so happened the place the crowd was headed was exactly where we had planned to shoot the picture. Oh well, we laughed . . . and adjusted our plans; we could find an alternate spot.

We could have no inkling of what was in store that evening, Sunday, September 27, 2015.

We made our way to the edge of the rising tide, north and east of the large throng of people who had gathered. We had to be photogenic quickly, because the tide was moving in, encroaching on about three feet of shoreline with each wash of the waves. My four-year-old grandson was in and out of the water, but managed some great pictures. My almost-one-year-old granddaughter stayed in her father’s arms; the rest of us did our best to look good, but the strong wind was wreaking havoc on our adult coiffures.

After having to relocate the tripod and other photographic paraphernalia several times to avoid the rising tide . . . we were finally done. But as we milled about, enjoying the last bits of evening before returning indoors, the intoxicating cadence of the waves was interrupted by sirens. Soon lifeguards zoomed past with vehicle light bars lit, heading for the spot where the Hindu ceremony was being held.

In just moments two vehicles returned the way they had come; we saw two lifeless men in the back (one in each vehicle) with lifeguards performing CPR as they sped past us. Police began to appear, and soon the Coast Guard employed a rescue helicopter to search for what was clearly a missing person or persons in the water. Rescue efforts were being made with the use of kayaks and and jet skis as well.

We were witnessing the truth of the South Tybee warnings about rip currents in that exact area. It appears that five persons had been swept away in the channel between the shore and the sandbar near Little Tybee. Four were taken to the hospital, two survived. A fifth was missing, and the search continued until just after 10:00 AM on Tuesday, Sept. 29, when the body was found. The deceased Indian men were ages 36, 39, and 41 according to news reports.

Water weighs 65 pounds per cubic foot, a sizable amount. And a rip current utilizes that weight to move objects even in shallow water. You cannot defeat it; rather, you must swim with it or allow it to take you out away from the shore until it releases you. Calmness is important in this scenario, but I am not sure I would be up to it, personally.

In 2013 there were 17 who were swept away in the Yamuna river in New Delhi as they celebrated this same event on Indian soil. What a tragedy.

I have an iPhone picture of the Hindu men unloading two large idols of the elephant god off a red truck and trailer just below the house where we were staying. We watched as they struggled to lift the objects of devotion and maneuvered their way up, then down the wooden boardwalk and across the sand, preceded and followed by throngs of worshipers.

Ganesh Mahotsav 2015

Ganesh Mahotsav 2015

There was a festive spirit in the air, a contagious joy. Nothing could have prepared them for the darkness that was coming.

Life is precious.

As my son-in-law said to me later that evening, human beings are unbelievably resilient and amazingly fragile at the same time. How true that is.

Our devastation that night was like a pall cast over us. Of course, nothing to compare with the families of those lost that day. But that is their story. We were left with our own story.

And our story moved on the next day to: watching a man right beside us catch a small shark (about 4 feet long) with a fishing rod, bring it up in a fishing net, and release it from the pier; an interesting, interactive, kid-friendly, sea life museum; the wonderful Georgia State Railroad Museum in downtown Savannah; Chik-fil-a lunch-on-the-run; and then a longer-than-necessary ride back home (that story is for another time).

We are tired from our weekend trip, but back home. Nothing earth-shattering has been altered in our lives. I cannot say that for the families of the victims of that accident on South Tybee Island. We may all remember September 2015 at Tybee Island. But not with the same intensity.

Nevertheless, I am left with a feeling . . . one that remains quite deep in me . . . a realization that my life intersected with the lives of persons I may never meet again, in a place I may never see again; the intersection was brief . . . but monumental.

My wife said she saw a young boy, about ten years old, with tears in his eyes, and his father asked him what was wrong. He said, “Are they gonna be all right?” His father responded, “You don’t have to cry. They’re all going to be all right. But that’s why I don’t want you going out too deep into the water . . . .”

They were not all right, of course.

Each of us has an “end” to face. For some it may come in their sleep and without pain. For others it may come at the conclusion of a long, pain-filled bout with some disease. Still others may come to a sudden, dramatic, tragic end. But rest assured – there will be an end.

One day some blogger may sit and write about my final moments. He or she may say, “I didn’t know him, but it was a terrible . . . .” Or they just might write about you.

No matter. The intersections will occur again and again. Persons unknown to you will be present right along with family when you pass, most likely. The intersection will happen. Some will notice it. Others may not.

I choose to notice it. I cannot escape it.

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Truth, or Falsies?

It was just a few days ago that I heard it for the first time: the word “falsies.”

Actually, it wasn’t the very first time I’d heard the word; rather, it was the first time I had heard it used to refer to something other than that to which I had first heard it used.

Okay. Okay. I am back pedaling, aren’t I?

Bosom pads for breasts. Falsies. We talked about them in junior high school in the 1960s when our hormones were kicking in. Of course, nowadays kids are probably talking about them in elementary school. Kindergarten, perhaps? Is there no innocence?

BUT . . . the way I heard it used the other day . . . it made reference to mascara, a Maybelline makeup product. That one was new to me.

The subject of cleavage enhancement has a long history, dating back to the Victorian era. Evidently we aren’t the first folks to engage in serious image management. We human beings aren’t comfortable with “the naked truth,” as a quote I often employ says. It continues: “so we want to cover it up just a little bit.”

The word “false” originally carried with it the notion of “fake” or even “deceitful.” We seldom think of it that way when we answer a bunch of True/False questions; we tend to think more along the lines of Right/Wrong, or Correct/Incorrect.

But when we use the word “falsies” we readily understand that fakery and deceit are implied, even when we may have no intent to do harm with that deceit.

Which brings me to the reason I thought about writing this blog entry to begin with (I know, some of you are thinking, “why doesn’t he just get ON with it?”). Sorry! The writer’s mind is a complex and confusing arena filled with hungry lions and unwitting gazelles.

I have a false tooth.

There! Are you satisfied now?

Several weeks ago I was eating a quick lunch before hurrying off to one of my part-time jobs. I was eating and talking, and . . . crunch! All of a sudden I bit down on my metal fork, and it felt like my bottom front teeth collapsed beneath it. When I looked for the damage in the mirror . . . there was nothing.

The tooth in question continued to hurt; it was somewhat loose, too. I knew I was in for a dental visit but I put it off for another day, and went on in to work.

The next morning I sat in my dentist’s chair awaiting the official verdict. I could see the X-ray for myself on the computer screen nearby – it looked like the internal resorption I had experienced a few years ago. The roots of the tooth were just a dark mass. Ugh!

A trip to the endodontist made it clear that a root canal and subsequent crowning would not work on this tooth. So, I returned to my dentist for an extraction. I was informed that replacing the tooth with an implant (if it was even feasible in that spot) would cost about $5,000.00. So, I asked for the cheapest option, and agreed to it post haste.

Goop was stuck in my mouth, it hardened quickly so that a mold was formed, and then someone in a distant location created an appliance with ONE TOOTH on it. Tailor made for my mouth. How flattering!

My family has enjoyed fits of laughter over this, of course. They liken me to my wife’s parents (who haven’t hardly had any teeth for 40 years); they soak their false teeth in a container every night (at least I HOPE they do), so if you speak to them just before they retire at night you may engage in a brief conversation with a toothless elder.


I have a false tooth.

It is still hard for me to conceive of it as I sit here in this bookstore and write. I am currently not wearing it, so my tongue regularly visits the space between my bottom front teeth and says, “hello.”

When I am wearing it, the appliance (which fits nicely over my gums and is secured by eye teeth) makes me salivate, or at least it causes saliva to collect in large amounts in places it did not collect previously. As a result I talk kind of funny now. I don’t think I would ever try to sing with this thing in for fear of drowning as I took a breath for a long note.

It is difficult to eat with the false tooth in, too. It isn’t really made to tackle steak or anything challenging like that, and even when chewing with my “true” (real) teeth, particles of food get stuck beneath the appliance and play tricks of their own on me.

I am officially old, I guess. In two months I will be a mere 62, but . . . clearly I am old. False teeth DO NOT LIE! They always tell the TRUTH.

Part of what makes this difficult is that my parents (who both lived into their late 80s) never had to have false teeth. Sure, they had crowns, bridges, etc.

But nothing FALSE.

Am I being deceitful when I wear my deceitful tooth? Am I a fake?

That question is one for those who deal in metaphysics, I suppose. Not for those of us who simply want to appear to have a full set of teeth.

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