Only way to get there is to keep on goin'.

Road to Riches


Well, that’s a bit over the top.

Give us a little push, please?

That sounds better.

What we’re asking for is a couple minutes of your time to help advance a guaranteed absolutely fool-proof never-fail sure-to-make-us-all-rich plan.

Sounds too good to be true?

Of course it is.

Still, it might turn a dollar or two. And provide a few moments of amusement along the way.

What we’d like you to do is sign up for Quirky, and then vote in favor of Mysquitoasis. That’s what we’re calling the design for a two-person mosquito-proof outfit for the back yard or picnics or the beach or a sporting event.

Quirky is an on-line gadget developer. If enough folks vote yes on Mysquitoasis in the next seven days — before June 22 — the idea will go to a panel of experts who could approve it for real-life development.

And if that happens, we will get a small percentage of any profit on the idea, and people who vote for it may get a teensy percentage of any profit. With no risk to anyone if the whole thing goes belly-up in the market.

Worth a shot, no? You can sign up at Quirky, using an e-mail address or a FaceBook connection. Take a look at the Mysquitoasis design/plan, vote for it, then sit back and wait for money to come rolling in.

Or not. Nothing guaranteed but a few moments of good cheer.

Required Reading

I’ve been advising you for years to read Tom Englehardt’s stuff. Now I’m ordering you to read it, read his latest report (Warning: he severely criticizes our longest-held and most-determinedly-supported misconception.) Here’s the core of his argument.

So here are five straightforward lessons — none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country — that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

  1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn’t work. Ever.
  2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn’t solve them. Never.
  3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to “stabilize” or “protect” or “liberate” countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.
  4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its “warriors,” the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.
  5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is “the finest fighting force in history,” the evidence is in: it isn’t.

It is of a piece with several other articles which take note of — and point to the dangers of — what is often called “American Exceptionalism.” I may have even my very own self, a time or two, made a similar observation.

If, on the other hand, you disagree, if you find Englehardt’s essay discomfiting, or unworthy, or even seditious, you have compadres galore. All you need do to find them is search on-line for the phrase, “American exceptionalism.” I hope you will be just a tiny bit unsettled by the vigor and determination of those who support such a concept.

Shinseki, Obama, and the VA

[Bloviation alert – what follows here builds on speculation, average knowledge of politics, slightly-above-average knowledge of the military, and stuff picked up along the way in nearly eighty years of scavenging.]

I’ll start with Erik Shinseki, who wound up in a pile of crap not of his own making. For honesty and decent intentions, his record suggests he’s head and shoulders above everyone else in the mess.

For political skullduggery, maybe not.

Look. He’s a career military man. What he knows is how military units operate. You trust junior officers will follow orders and report honestly. They know you’ll kick ass if they don’t. It can be a matter of real life or death. Themselves and a thousand other folks.

I’m guessing that, among Shinseki’s troubles has been a belief that the VA also worked that way. But the VA, despite its name, is not military. It’s civilian. Political. His juniors were insulated by their contracts and connections. The worst that could happen? They’d have to take early retirement.

Next we come to Obama, the commander in chief. He said Shinseki had become “a distraction,” and had to go.

A distraction? A distraction? WTF is that supposed to mean? A distraction diverts attention from the topic at hand. The topic at hand was incompetence and corruption in the VA system.

So the head of the VA is a distraction?

No. What you do is, you say, “Erik old boy, you have trusted your juniors, believed what they told you. But a few of them are lying bastards. Jump in. Clean house. Any complaints, tell them to see to me. I’ll really kick their asses.”

Instead, it’s “Haul ass, Erik. You’re a distraction.”

This next bit seems like a distraction. It is, however, absolutely to the point.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies I worked in the news departments at two Detroit TV stations. One of the best-known and most respected journalists in town was J. F. terHorst, Washington bureau chief of The Detroit News.

In August of 1974, President Nixon resigned in disgrace, and his Vice-President, Gerald Ford, moved into the White House. One of Ford’s first moves was to appoint terHorst as his Press Secretary.

A month later, Ford issued a presidential pardon. Nixon was forever in the clear. No way he could be held accountable for anything he did or allowed to happen.

At that point, terHorst – who had been a personal friend of President Ford – resigned in protest, saying he could not in good conscience support that action 1.

Back to the present day. Shortly after announcing the “resignation” of Shinseki, President Obama interrupted a press conference to announce that Jay Carney, his Press Secretary, was resigning. Now.

Make of it what you will. I’m hoping to hear an echo of terHorst in Carney. It could be the high point – ironically – of the Obama Administration.

  1. Quote from his letter of resignation: “As your spokesman, I do not know how I could credibly defend that action in the absence of a like decision to grant absolute pardon to the young men who evaded Vietnam military service as a matter of conscience and the absence of pardons for former aides and associates of Mr. Nixon who have been charged with crimes — and imprisoned — stemming from the same Watergate situation.”  ↩

Getting Old(er)

The pleasures of age are closer to what I hoped for than I expected they would be, including, in no particular order,

  • decent red wine
  • free time
  • contact with loved ones
  • a sense of calm and forbearance
  • pain which is controllable
  • bodily disorder short of malfunction

If the last two seem to be non- or even anti-pleasure, consider that they are under control, are not incapacitating.

Naturally, my mind — memory, to be specific — is less sharp; this dullness manifests itself primarily with words, not only names and the names of things, but other parts of speech as well. I am more comfortable among verbs now than among nouns; I also retain a hold on adjectives. But nouns, alas, no. Although, be it noted, while I will fumble for the name of a movie or a book or an animal or even the friend to whom I am speaking, the difficulty is less when I am writing, particularly as now, when I am literally “writing” on paper with a pen(1). To end the thought, I seem to retain some nimbleness among numbers(2).

One reason — it may be the reason — I find words faster(3) when writing than when speaking is that there is more time to plan ahead, to work in context for many seconds, rather than needing the right word, or a pretty close one, instantly. This point seems to be emphasized — the point about speed of access — by a better grasp of words when writing by hand — and as I get older, perhaps, ever more slowly — than when typing on a keyboard. Still, it may have to do with greater comfort, for most of my life, as a writer than as a speaker.

I have no explanation for continued facility — basic functions, that is — with numbers. I practice now and then, but not as much as I practice talking and writing.

Could be I talk and write too much.

  1. This is being copied into the computer from a genuine notebook.  ↩

  2. Anyone know if statistics are available on this?  ↩

  3. More easily and more accurately, at any rate. And yes, “at any rate” is a deliberate pun.  ↩

Our melting pot

One of the most annoying things about the political right wing these days is an underlying assumption that our identity — we Americans — is forged and polished, noble and immutable. The Pilgrims, the Founding Fathers, USA! USA!, and so on.

Face it. We live in a chaotic world. Things change, and often as not, in unpredictable ways at unexpected times. What’s more, those changes are not necessarily bad. We are not only who we have been. We are that, and who we are now, and who we shall become.

Our world dominance — if that’s the correct image — is based not on superior intellect or greater wisdom or finer art or more noble aspirations. It is based on stacks of nuclear weapons, an arrogant legislature prodding a reluctant military machine, and a series of highly-paid stooges in critical regions of the planet.

If there is any hope for us to continue — whether at the top of the pile or somewhere in the middle — it rests on our ability to grow, to expand, to become inclusive rather than exclusive.

Which is why I take particular comfort in the winners of this year’s Spelling Bee. These are some of the faces of our future.

One from a big city in Texas, and one from a small town in New York.

One from a big city in Texas, and one from a small town in New York.

Click on the image for the full NPR story.

In Praise of Local Hardware Stores

Too bad I didn’t have a Martini when the window broke. It wouldn’t have saved the window, but it would have saved time and trouble. See, I had the wrench in my right hand and could have held the Martini in my left. Then I’d have thought about the local hardware store right away.  

Maybe I better explain.  

The wrench was what I used to break the window.(1) Besides, I don’t even like Martinis. But with a Martini in one hand and a wrench in the other, I’d have been sure to remember my father coming home for supper, which would have reminded me of his workshop, and that would have made me think about the local hardware store.  

Dad came home from his engineering office, weary but cheerful, every afternoon at five-thirty. Mother always had a Martini waiting for him. He always put down his brief case, took off his coat and tie, sat in his overstuffed brown chair, grabbed the afternoon paper and that Martini, and relaxed.  

Well, not quite always. About once every two weeks he’d come home at five-forty-five and, brief case in hand, head directly to his cellar workshop. My mother would look at me, smile, and say, “Dad’s been to the hardware store again.”  

He had been to the hardware store where he’d bought a new tool or maybe an attachment for an old tool, something useful, not too expensive, and small enough to fit in his brief case. He’d stash it in a box or a drawer, then come back up to the living room, set his brief case in the corner, take off his coat and tie, and relax with his paper and his Martini.  

As it happened, however, I did not have a Martini in hand, which is why I didn’t think about a hardware store when the window broke. I went instead to the nearest do-it-yourself home-improvement haven, and asked the man at the door where the window glass department was.  

I might as well have asked where the unicorns were. He shrugged and aimed me at the service desk.  

The manager at the service desk did understand what I wanted. Problem was, he said, they didn’t stock window glass. Only glass they had was to thin, too fragile to use in windows. “We can sell it to you,” he said, “but I’d strongly advise against putting it in a window.”  

I thanked him for his courtesy and honesty, and asked where else, on a bright sunny Saturday afternoon in May, I might find window glass. “Just up the road, less than a mile,” he said. “On the left. Can’t miss it.”  

He was right. Less than a mile. On the left. Couldn’t miss it. Big neon sign in the window: “OPEN.” Pulled in and walked up to the door. Little paper sign on the door: “closed.”  

At that point, senescence stepped aside. Nostalgia took over. I finally remembered. Hardware stores. Hardware stores used to carry window glass. Perhaps they still do.  

Another mile and a half up the road was a hardware store. The manager said hello and asked what I wanted. I told him I needed a piece of window glass, eight and quarter by thirteen and an eighth.  

“Okay,” he said. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.” Four minutes later he returned with a piece of glass, wrapped it securely in heavy paper, and asked what else I needed.  

If my father were still around, he’d have thought of something else he needed. I thought for a minute, recalled the ancient can of window putty in the basement, certain by now to be rock-solid. “A can of putty,” I said.  

Naturally, he had that as well. I thanked him, took the glass and putty home, fixed the window. Nothing more needed doing. It was time to relax.  

As I said, I’m not much for Martinis. And there’s no gin in the house anyway. But there is a bottle of Jameson. I sat down with a bit of ice and a bit of Irish, and drank a toast to my father and to local hardware stores.  

  1. (Don’t ask.) ↩