Orange is the New . . . WHAT, exactly?

Eventually we are going to have to deal with this, you know!

I’m not talking about global warming, or the earth’s diminishing supply of fossil fuels. And I am not referring to overpopulation, the reemerging fear of potential nuclear conflict, or a myriad of other topics over which we obsess nowadays.

But I am talking about erosion. Or at least a type of erosion.

Folks were reeling weeks ago over Brock Turner’s rape of a young woman, his conviction, and subsequent “soft” sentence (six months in prison). The young woman’s intimate multi-page description of the assault has engendered a public outcry on her behalf and fueled an angry response directed at the criminal justice system.

But wait just a minute . . . .

What are we so upset about?

The young man SAID he made a mistake under the influence of alcohol, and that his victim did the same. What more can we want from him?

Increasingly, our social duplicity is starting to show.

A couple of years ago I wrote an unpublished page in response to the news of Apple‘s CEO, Tim Cook, and his “coming out.” In it I opted for adding a new letter to the LGBT community acronym; this was long before Q came into common use, of course. I was opting for adding the letter A to the acronym, resulting in LGBTA.

The A was supposed to stand for adulterer. And I think I can make a pretty fair case that one is “wired” for that sexual tendency, and finds it “natural” to them. [BTW, no, I don’t think this is going to catch on, so don’t be looking for it in printed materials, or in newscasts any time in the next millennium or so].

I mention that only because the laws in the countries of this globe on which we reside reflect the moral fiber and basic understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable in our world. That almost goes without saying.

Almost.

But erosion changes things, doesn’t it?

Sometimes the changes are good, we think. Sometimes we release unfair and unjust rules in order to replace them with a new found idea of what is good and right and just. Is it possible, however, that sometimes we release the wrong things, and replace them with rules and concepts that undermine the very soil upon which we stand?

Weeks ago, a small hole in my yard caught my attention as I mowed. I assumed it was a hole made by a ground squirrel or something like that, but as I poked at it the ground surrounding it began to cave in. Finally I had a hole in the dirt that could easily turn or break an ankle. I filled it in and covered it to indicate the danger.

I know there are various points of view and strong passionate opinions about the subject matter in question. And my intent in this blog entry is not to bog down in that mire. Rather, my intent is simply to ask you to consider how things have changed with regard to one social rule: adultery.

Once punishable by death in certain countries it is now not even against the law in Europe, or most of Latin America. And where it is still on the books in the United States the execution of a penalty for it is almost nonexistent. Why is that?

Truthfully, our society no longer tends to see adultery as a very wrong thing. In fact, we are so accustomed to it that we often celebrate it in our entertainment, and we fumigate any residual negatives about it by adding the unquestioned component of “love” into the mix.

My point is this: we can react passionately to the injustice of the rape of a young woman and at the same time accept the sometimes cavalier attitude of the adulterer, defending his/her actions as understandable. [Some would even go far as to say the rape was understandable, too, in light of the alcohol abuse].

Our sexual moorings are in transition, aren’t they? And who is to say how much slack can be allowed in our moral rope before we hang ourselves; before the proverbial ground we are standing on caves in under us and we collapse much to our chagrin?

We are the “frog in the kettle,” (thank you, George Barna) slowly being warmed to a murderous boil, unaware of our coming demise, basking in the freedom of love, acceptance of new ideas and moral codes, and the pride and assurance that comes from being so well informed.

We have been delivered from the burdensome chains of antiquated morality, and have now evolved into a society that is progressive, up-to-date, and not held down by the defunct mores of the misty past. Aren’t you glad?

Orange may indeed be the new black. And it takes no rocket scientist to see that the colors of the jumpsuits are not all that is “new.”

Do you like the change?

Well, buckle up!

It is time to pay the piper.

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“May I Please Use the Rest Room?”

“May I please use the rest room?” Oh, the countless times I heard this request as a school teacher in decades gone by. I’m certain I uttered it myself as a student on many occasions, too, my bladder yearning for relief from the building pressure.

One ashen-faced high school student voiced the same request to me one afternoon just before the bell, then proceeded to regurgitate his lunch all over the classroom floor. Unforgettable moments.

We are a delicate society in many respects, I suppose. Most kids my age did not grow up on a farm, so we were unaware of many of nature’s surprises until a late age, e.g. how babies are made, etc. We were taught to keep “private parts” private, and to “do our business” without an audience. Those who did not do so were considered crude and inappropriate, and were often punished for it by parents and school officials.

I’m not sure we are always better off as a society with our niceties; in fact, I could easily make the case (I think) that our ignorance of natural things has often intensified and abetted an unnatural interest in things natural. But . . . that is a separate discussion.

Growing up in my generation the boys were always intrigued and fascinated by the difference between them and the girls. We all wondered what it was like in the girl’s restroom, and in what way it might be different. The mysteries that surrounded sexuality fueled the quest and fanned the flame. On occasion, some boy willing to risk behaving inappropriately would venture into a girl’s bathroom in an attempt to rend the curtain of privacy and mystery. But that was rare.

Kids in school today live in a very different world than the one I just described. One has only to go to the internet to see in HD quality what it looks like for a man and a woman to engage in sexual intercourse. Or to watch two gay men having anal sex. Or to watch two lesbians imitating vaginal intercourse. One can see shemales on the internet. One can watch what used to be called “bestiality,” too.

In fact, on the internet ABSOLUTELY NOTHING is taboo. You can watch people as their throats are cut, and see them as they expire; watch people blown up in explosions and see the aftermath.

The problem now is not the sheltering of children as they mature; rather, the absence of any shelter at all. Presidential candidates insulting one another, insinuating that the size of the others’ penis is small. We certainly aren’t called “the land of the free” for nothing, are we? We have become so free we almost no longer have any constraints at all.

There is no mystery any longer.

There is no surprise.

But instead of experiencing relief due to this knowledge of all things natural, instead of awareness defusing unstable and explosive intrigue, we have exacerbated the problems of maturing, and have created expectations as unlikely as a siting of Sasquatch.

We have learned to prefer the counterfeit to the real; the imaginary to the factual. That is “how we roll,” as we now say. We are taught how life is to be lived by watching any one of a number of countless TV channels, or by streaming video on the internet, not by the wisdom of those in our family who have lived it before us. [I say that, but realize that now we are fast approaching a time when many of those who have gone before us have indeed tried to live life by what they saw on their electronic devices].

But now our issues are more complex than just male and female, boy and girl. Our sexual identities, we are told, can be different from our physically determined genders. So, we might be male physically, but female in our sexual identity. Or we might be female physically, but male in our sexual identity. Or we might be male physically, and male in our sexual identity, but we prefer male sexual relationships. Or we might be female physically, and female in our sexual identity, but we prefer female sexual partners. Or we might be either male or female physically, and male or female in our sexual identity, and prefer both male and female sexual relationships. Or . . . .

Can the list go on, perhaps? I think it can.

You see, things have gotten very complex.

Now, when a student says, “May I please use the rest room?” the teacher can’t really be sure which rest room the student wishes to use. Why does it matter? When I was teaching I was encouraged to be careful not to allow two students in the same bathroom at the same time (to help make sure the bathroom request was legitimate, and not just an effort for two students to skip class together).

Granted, the more crafty boys and girls could ask to use the bathroom around the same time, and thereby create a time to rendezvous as a couple. But now the situation is much more complex. Because the teacher doesn’t know if it’s a boy wanting to go into the same restroom as a girl . . . or a boy wanting to go into the same restroom as another boy . . . or a transgender person wanting . . . .

Does anyone just go to the bathroom anymore? Or does it ALL have a sexual undertone?

I had a psychology teacher in high school who used to begin class by individually asking students, “Who are you?” Once a response was given, he would rapidly ask the same student again, “Who are you?” He would do this several times, undoubtedly in an effort to peal back layers of identity, for no one gave the same answer twice.

Identity is an odd, yet many-splendored thing.

But it must surely be determined before one chooses which bathroom to use.

Or maybe . . . that can be just as changeable as the weather. And why not? Who’s to say it can’t be, or shouldn’t be? Who, indeed?

The United States government is suing the State of North Carolina because it has allegedly violated the U.S. Constitution by discriminating against transgender persons, and North Carolina is suing the U.S. government over the effect of its new and unique interpretation of discrimination with regard to “sex” (i.e. to include chosen sexual identity) and the resulting legal action. This conundrum is a proverbial Gordian Knot.

Corporate business in a number of sectors is taking sides, and the public at large is doing so as well. Our country is splintering.

So, let’s just take the name MEN and WOMEN, or BOYS and GIRLS off the doors of our restrooms. It just doesn’t matter anymore. I came out of a MEN’S bathroom at a coffee shop a couple of weeks ago, only to trade places with a WOMAN. And I have seen MEN coming out of WOMEN’S restrooms at my place of work, too. Maybe we should just make all public restrooms with a single toilet and a lock on the door. Would that take care of the issue?

And, more importantly, all the while we are wrestling over the sociopolitical issues and implications of this dilemma there is a more serious issue facing us, much like the oft mentioned nine-tenths of an iceberg that sits below the surface of the frigid water.

Not only are our CORE VALUES changing as a society (being brought more up-to-date, in the opinion of many), but there is no longer any agreement as to the SOURCE of our core values. It’s as if we’re flying by the seat of our pants . . . and the pant material is getting dangerously thin.

We are flying the massive 747 Airplane of LIFE with a Cessna engine. And friends, I don’t care how plush it is in the passenger area right now – THIS PLANE IS GONNA CRASH!

I was listening to NPR the other day and was struck by a couple of topics that were paramount that day; one will suffice for this blog entry. The discussion was over the rising problem of female sexual assault on college campuses, and the expert being interviewed was harping on the injustice that would be exacted on any perpetrator whose record of college sexual assault was made public. The expert explained that type of “branding” would potentially stick with a student for the rest of his life. And that would be –  unacceptable, of course. No case was made for the victim’s branding, or the injustice done to her.

Has our social focus changed so radically that we are passionately motivated to protect the reputation of those who violate others?

Yes. Such is the measure of our moral resolve these days.

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Flounder, anyone?

As a young boy growing up in Chattanooga, I was not particularly fond of fish. My father seemed to be enthralled with eating trout, flounder, and other fish wherein navigating fish bones was an accepted part of the process.

I was not the least bit intrigued with fish bones.

Boneless fish fillets were not as common in the 1950s as they are today. I suppose grocers believed the hungry public to be more robust in those days. I say this tongue-in-cheek, of course (or it could merely be a cantankerous fish bone my tongue is wrestling).

As an adult I have learned to enjoy fish of many kinds: salmon, white perch, swordfish, tuna, sea bass, flounder, mahi mahi, etc., but . . . ALWAYS ones that have had the bones removed. Of course, on occasion you will find a nasty bone or two even in the best of fillets, but thankfully that is the exception.

Flounder is an interesting word, isn’t it?

Some think it is a variation of “founder,” and others find it to be a combination of terms. Of course, flounder is not just about a type of fish. More often than not it is used to refer to a clumsy struggle, a helpless stumbling; faltering, wavering, muddling.

Early roots of the word suggest the flopping about of a fish out-of-water. Truly, that is an apt description of what happens when someone flounders, don’t you think? Picture the scaly creature flailing about, desperately attempting to move in hopes that movement of some kind will bring relief.

I see a great deal of floundering these days. I see floundering in the economic community, floundering in the public governance community, floundering in the social service community, floundering in the academic community, floundering in the religious community, etc.

Political officials are making decisions and establishing laws that are polarizing members of the public. Lines are being drawn, but unlike previous eras when a majority of people seemed to agree on the parameters, there exists now a preponderance of varying points of view, often classified by race, gender, sex, or sexual orientation.

We are losing (or have lost) the cohesive nature of our society. We are coming unglued.

From the Panama Papers to the current candidates for President, from Wall Street to the $15 minimum wage, from the controversy over possible LGBTQ discrimination to the assertion that all citizens have a right to affordable health care . . . our melting pot society is approaching a melting point.

We cannot seem to make up our minds on who we are.

Our diversity (which we often applaud), and our open mindedness (which we laud) have made us something like the chameleon; our colors are changeable at will. We have been taught the mantra of tolerance, inclusion, acceptance and openness. And we have become so proud of our assumed “love” for all things human that we no longer have a way to define right and wrong, good and evil, moral and immoral.

We are like the children in the 1989 movie, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids,”  hiking in the tall grass and weeds of our own backyard, running for our lives from the small insects that have now been elevated to a position of power heretofore unknown.

Our efforts to follow the new mantra, to embrace the new morality, have weakened the very foundations of our society. And . . . there will be a price. There will be a consequence.

Photo by Chris Drumm
Photo by Chris Drumm

Those who reject Divine Revelation and see all religion as antiquated at best (and downright devilish at worst) are convinced that Mankind itself is fully capable of governing itself, establishing a functional moral code of ethics, and exacting proper punishment on those who do not comply.

And yet . . . in the next breath those very same individuals will observe the governance of our country’s legislators and posit that we obviously don’t have the capability to govern our own selves with any sense of fairness or justice.

Recently the State of South Carolina has come under fire for passing laws that give businesses the right to deny services to persons on the basis of sexual orientation, etc. The uproar this has created in many tech companies across the country is formidable. In fact, some states who are opposed to this legislation have requested that persons intending to visit South Carolina not do so. And businesses (the film industry, and others) are plotting ways to withhold work from this state to punish it and apply economic pressure.

It may just be me, but – it sounds like opponents to South Carolina’s discriminatory decision are requesting that citizens use discrimination against South Carolina to coerce them to comply with them.

Odd, isn’t it?

Unless there is a respected standard of behavior to which citizens adhere there will be no end to the social floundering ahead for us. When each man does “what is right in his own eyes” disaster isn’t far away.

When the Magna Carta was issued in 1215 A.D. the intent was to limit King John’s powers and protect the church and the barons from tyrants. Its influence can be seen in the Constitution of the United States as well as the law codes of various nations. It was preceded, of course, by a number of even more ancient law codes; the concept of laws for the masses is as old as civilization.

But what appears to be happening now in our society is a gradual relaxation of certain laws, specifically laws and customs which govern acceptable social behavior, heretofore thought of as morals.

Morality is approaching a point now where the worst abuse of it is to define it.

We are quickly becoming afraid to pronounce a behavior as “right” or “wrong.” That’s because the only thing we are confident in condemning as WRONG is the audacious and narrow minded remark that something might be “right” or “wrong.”

We are lost in a forest of our own making, surrounded by oaks that tower over us and obfuscate the horizon that could serve to guide us in our journey, oaks that once were small plants, and then saplings.

Unaware of our plight we flail about, positing our political points of view, angered by the narrow mindedness around us, and puzzled that others do not share our point of view which clearly is not only sensible but correct, and humane.

We flounder now. But soon we will lie still. Bones all removed. We are a fillet waiting to be fried to a deep golden brown.

I think we need to refer to the cookbook. Because on our own we are bound for the very demise we so earnestly and passionately seek to avoid.

Some say, “there is no cookbook.” Well, if that is so . . . we must be our own rescuers.

Oh dear!

In that case . . . we are doomed!

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What’s Trump?

When I was a boy we played games in my family; it was one of our main sources of entertainment. My father was eager to teach my brother and I how to play chess, and we actually became pretty good, too. One game in which we included Mother, too, was Rook.

I didn’t know until many years later that we weren’t actually playing Rook, at least not in the strictest sense. My first clue was the fact that we never used the Rook Bird Card when hands were dealt. There are a number of games in the Parker Brothers rules wherein the Rook card is not used; we must have learned one of them, I suppose.

At any rate, bids are made after hands are dealt, and if there are four players you can play with two sets of partners. I actually have a sheet of paper where team mates are listed (my father and brother; mother and me) in pencil, bids are recorded, and final scores. [By the way, mother and I got beaten pretty badly in that particular game, and the scoring is left for all posterity to see].

Players bid based on how many points they think they can score with the hand they are dealt. Once bidding begins players must either exceed the bid of the previous player or “pass.” The highest bidder gets to choose the trump color. Of course, this gives you an advantage if you have lots of cards with that color; no face card is greater than the trump color.

If anyone besides my father won the bid, I remember he would immediately utter the question, “What’s trump?”

Lately, I have been reminded of our family games. If you listen to the news on the radio or watch it on TV or on the internet you have no doubt had the same word in mind that I have had: Trump.

Trump is an electric word, isn’t it? There is no neutrality for hearers of that word, today. Our Rook games at home elicited a similar response: when someone revealed the color of trump there was often a sigh of pain or anguish. Only the highest bidder who named trump rejoiced. And that person was left with the task of making sure they earned a minimum of the points they had bid, otherwise they would experience “setback.”

The question, “What’s trump?” could yield one of four responses: (1) red; (2) green; (3) yellow; (4) black. Responses to the way the word is used today are not so simple, although they are usually quite colorful.

I am not a terribly political person (although some would say I am a terrible political person, if you get my drift), but I find myself asking my Dad’s question these days, i.e. “What’s Trump?”

No one seems to know for certain. But he appears to be the most powerful color in the political deck of cards. Trump trumps every opponent he faces, if not with reason then certainly with bravado.

I do not know who I will vote for in November 2016, although I most certainly will vote. But I hope by that point in time I will have the answer to the question so many are asking, i.e. “What’s Trump?”

And I also hope when a player chooses trump he/she will pick a color I can live with.

Shakespeare said, “All the world’s a stage . . . and all the men and women are merely players.”

I would agree. However, life is a show from which you cannot retire and simply go to your home; it is not mere entertainment. The “players,” both men and women, play for keeps.

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Leap Year 2016

Well, it sneaked up on me several weeks ago. How about you?

The desk calendar I use for work had a Monday, February 29 on it. And of course, my initial reaction to that is always . . . disbelief. You mean to tell me that four years have already gone by since the last Leap Year?

I suppose so.

I learned the rhyme in school probably 55 years or more ago, and it is stuck in my head as deeply as Columbus and ocean blue: “Thirty days hath September, April, June, and November. All the rest have thirty-one except February, with twenty-eight so fine, and every four years gets one more to make twenty-nine.”

Some think this rhyme dates back to at least the 16th century. It’s a dandy, and I use it all the time, and have done so all my life. Useful stuff, huh?

But I never seem to be able to keep up with the four year anomaly well enough to know when the next one will occur. They sneak up on me every time. I have met a handful of people whose birthday is February 29 (the chance of this happening is 1 in 1500 I have read), so I suppose they might be able to keep track of it better, but . . . I can’t for the life of me figure out how they celebrate the other three years in between their real birthdays!

Leap Year! This is where we try to correlate our Gregorian calendar with the solar calendar. It’s not an exact science of course, but it is an improvement over the old Julian calendar, they say.

It happens that this particular Leap Year will have special significance to me.

Words are “a many splendored thing” (to borrow a phrase from a movie that was popular when I was a senior in high school), they denote, connote, and often come to be representative of quite complex life situations or events.

In 1970 I was a senior in high school in Tucson, Arizona. I had my first real girl friend. My father quit smoking sometime that year. I lost my voice totally with what the gruff ENT doctor said was “acute rhinosinusitis with pharengo laryngotracheitis” (I asked the nurse to write it down for me and I’ve never forgotten it).

It wasn’t technically a “leap year” in 1970, but it was a Leap Year in my life: I was about to embark on my adult journey into life, choosing a direction in college to fashion a career. Lo and behold, Dad decided (after we had long since given up persuading him) that the Surgeon General of the United States and his warnings about cigarette smoking and cancer were to be heeded (although Dad never actually said why he quit, that I recall). Big changes in my life were afoot; that much is clear.

I actually married my wife of now 40 years (come next month) in a Leap Year (1976). And if marriage isn’t a “leap” I don’t know what is!

We speak of “leaps” of faith in life. And we usually are making reference to decisions for which the outcomes are unknown, or shadowy at best. And this year . . . 2016 . . . in a true leap year, I am about to “leap” (stumble, or trip might be more appropriate at this age) into some uncharted life territory. It is veiled in shadow and uncertainty; the unknown.

As many of you know I have held a number of jobs in my life. That’s not how I planned it. But that is how it has been. [See the collection of my wisdom or lack thereof on the subject at http://heartdepot.org/career-junction/]

But the job that has been my mainstay for almost 22 years is about to end in mid-May. It became part-time about 12 years ago (when I thought I was going to go another direction), and I have had to cobble together several jobs at a time to make ends meet, but . . . it has remained my main income and it has been irreplaceable.

Till now, that is.

Because in just 2 1/2 months it will be over. And I will be taking a metaphorical leap, indeed. Well . . . I say “metaphorical.” The leap will be quite real, quite tangible, but the “leaping” metaphor seems to capture the essence. You understand.

Questions abound. Retire early? Draw social security before age 66 and supplement it with one or more part-time jobs? We are praying, deliberating, considering the options at hand, and exploring other job ideas, of course.

But what we will do will become part of our story, and it will be but a page in the saga of our lives. This leap will not define us. Oh, it may set a direction, a course that appears immutable. But that is an illusion. Few things are truly unchangeable.

I struggle over what to decide, of course. Because I don’t want to make a decision that is wrong, or unwise, or less wise than it could be, or . . . . I want to make the perfect choice, arrive at the perfect solution. In short, I want to change the “leap” into a “step.”

But that is not possible with a leap. It is either a leap, or it is not. And a true leap implies risk, possible danger, possible ecstasy, and definite change.

All we have to decide is what to do with time that is given us.”
(Gandalf to Frodo, The Fellowship of the Ring)

There are a great many things in life I do not get to choose: the time and place of my birth, for example. But I do get to decide what to do with the time I am given. And one of those decisions is whether or not to leap.

My father’s leap probably added untold years to his life; he lost something he thought he needed, but . . . he gained something invaluable in its place. The marriage leap I made 40 years ago has brought me love and personal growth beyond my wildest dreams.

I have no reason to expect that this coming LEAP will be any different, do I? In fact, I began this job with a leap, too.

Risk? Resounding Yes!

Uncertainty? Undoubtedly!

“I have had many troubles in my life. But most of them never happened.”
(Mark Twain)

So, bring it on, I say! Come what may. I am lacing up my shoes for the Big Jump, The Leap of faith.

It will be exciting to see where we land.

Photo by Chris Brooks

Photo by Chris Brooks

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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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