Offensive

A while back I had a key break while at my day job. Not a big deal. Go to management and have it replaced. I was told it would be ready the next day. Easily acceptable. The following day I walked into the front office, approached the member of management necessary with a very simple request: “Do you have the key ready yet?”

Her response utterly confused me. “And?” When I didn’t respond she went on. “And ‘please’.”

She was demanding a courtesy from me. And yet, in all the time we had worked together, that word had never passed her lips. At least, not in my hearing range. Was she trying to remind me subtly that she was management and I was figuratively beneath her, owing her courtesy? Or was it something not quite so personal, a cry for respect that a lot of people seem to feel as the years mount up behind them? Or had some disaster fractured her ego and it was demanding to be soothed. While all of these thoughts passed through my head that writer part of my mind was pondering the question of who was ruder, the person who failed to offer courtesy or the person demanding it.

I got the replacement key and went on my way. But it did get me to thinking. What’s happened to courtesy these days? I can’t recall the last time someone said “please” to me. “Thank you” is still out there, but it’s getting rarer all the time. I’d swear a clerk was totally surprised when, after getting my change, I said “have a nice day”.
The saying goes “spare the rod and spoil the child”. Now the eighties and nineties children are growing up. Kids who’ve heard repeatedly, “don’t spank the youngsters, you’ll crush their egos”. “Follow your dreams, they’re more real than reality.” “There are people who can defend you from your parents.” Minds that absorbed through countless cartoons, movies, and video games that it was possible for them to change the world.

Back when I was young, if you didn’t like some- one or place, you steered clear of it. It was that simple. When I entered the work force the lesson was clear – you put up with the people who’d been there longer because they knew their business and they were training you to do the job right. You’d get your turn, assuming you could keep up the pace. They had to retire sometime. And eventually I learned a very simple lesson – something only bothers me if I let it. Otherwise it’s all so much noise.

But times have changed. People wear their hearts on their sleeves where that purple dinosaur says they should be, exposed and waiting for someone to step on them. And when someone does they’ll do everything in their power to change their little corner of the world. Whether it’s a lawsuit, complaining to, or even complaining about management, the evil villain will be put down, preferably non-violently. (Everybody knows violence is politically incorrect. Manipulation is okay, violence bad. Unless you happen to be the government, and then it’s not really violence or a war, but a police action.)

The possibility of litigation has some companies so scared they’re afraid to tell their employees to get to work. And yet, with schools teaching to a minimum standard, young workers are expecting more guidelines than ever. Granted those naive individuals goal is do the bare minimum necessary to meet those rules.

And yes ladies, let’s not forget about the search for the sensitive man. Feel better that he’s available. Or more accurately children wearing adult bodies are everywhere waiting to be offended by a passing comment.

At home we can let our tongues wag, and our pants hang down. We can do whatever we like, save that it doesn’t do direct harm. But when we leave our homes there’s a subtler courtesy than “Please” and “Thank you”, one that’s a necessity if people are to get along. It’s what I’ve also thought of as “shared space courtesy”. It’s a good habit for the workplace, or walking down the street. It’s that desire not to do anything to terribly offensive, lest you put a damper on someone else’s day.  And there’s the gray area in this particular topic. What’s “too offensive”?

Transgender is the buzzing topic right now. Let’s use that for an example. Why someone would want to dress up as, or become the opposite sex, has me totally baffled. But here’s the bottom line – nobody is asking me to do it. And I’m not about to tell someone else they shouldn’t do it because it causes no harm, except maybe a bit of confusion. It might make me a bit uncomfortable when I try to explain to my grandchildren, but I’ve been in uncomfortable situations before.

Are there some things that should offend everyone? Certainly, things like anything BDSM. Oh, wait. Men and women of a certain caliber happen to enjoy this. So who am I to tell them they shouldn’t practice these things? And that is really what it boils down to. Offensive generally means “you’re not doing things my way therefore you’re doing wrong”. As an even more generalized statement offensive often equates to confusion, or misunderstanding.

If that’s too complicated, let me explain it like this – if you expect the world to always do things your way, you’re in for a lot of disappointment.

Ourselves

Somebody else can save us from black knights, invading aliens, or even time warping transvestites. It’s a big universe out there. Everybody needs a helping hand occasionally. Some more than others, but that’s beside the point. There’s only one thing someone else can’t rescue us from – ourselves.

We’re our own best friend and worst enemy. We relate best to us because we know all the gory details, the strength of every emotion, the true meaning of every thought we’ve ever had. And the only person we must live with our entire lives. (Technically that’s not absolutely true since Multiple Personality Disorder is on the rise.)

The only battlefield we’ll find ourselves on for all eternity is the one in which we struggle against ourselves. I’ll be the first to admit that finding balance between my needs, responsibilities, and entertainment is a struggle. Is it any wonder we seem a bit selfish when we introduce others into the formula?

And there’s yet another thing that we must find balance with – our inner and outer worlds. We all participate in this perpetual juggling act whether we’re aware of it or not. It’s the balance between these opposing forces that makes us who we are. And the evidence of those opposing forces is prevalent in everything we do.

There’s an old Chinese curse: may you get exactly what you wish for. It took me a long time to wrap my head around that one. A wish is useless without a plan on how to get there. It’s a pointless gesture unless you’re willing to put out the effort to make your wish a reality. That’s a failing a lot of us have. We spend our time wishing instead of making our dreams come true. Our real, heartfelt wishes, are reflected in our everyday life.

A modern interoperation of that ancient curse might be phrased: may you get exactly what you deserve. Ironically it’s a curse that perpetually comes true whether we want it to or not. The steps we take in our lives lead inexorably to where we are. The amount of effort we put into that journey is reflected in where we’re at.

One of the most obvious aspects of family is that they set the starting gate of our lives. Whatever our family does, they give us an edge in that particular aspect. Some families offer more advantages than others. Some more disadvantages. In the end, what counts is the direction we go after leaving that starting gate, where we put our effort decides our fate.

Accidents happen. Plans derail. Life throw’s us curves. But the only one who can set our course is ourself. We can take the advice of another, or strike out on our own. We can even chose to take no responsibility at all. But like Rush said in their song Freewill, “If you chose not to decide, you’ve still made a choice.” We, each individual, must live with the choices we’ve made. In the end, the responsibility, consequences, and benefits are ours.

Trump

I normally shy away from politics. It’s one of the topics guaranteed to start a fight. But with all the fanfare about our new president, one can’t help but notice.

My most immediate reaction is to wonder if the old theory about our leader-and-chief’s real job is accurate. The notion that his task is to distract the public from what’s really going on in Washington. If that’s the case, the real powers of Washington couldn’t have picked a better candidate. The eyes of the world are on Donald Trump, and maybe not where they should be.

But sleight of hand aside I started to wonder how Trump managed to get elected. Instead of spewing hate like people in and out of the Trump party are doing, I decided to listen. Logic would suggest there’s a reason why our new president managed to get elected, how the dark horse managed, not only to finish the race, but win.

On the other side of the aisle was Hilary Clinton. She was suspected of hiring assassins, payoffs, bartering her position for gain and facing yet another Judicial Inquiry. In short, she was politics as usual. Her campaign was based on trying to make everything seem okay, like the conniving, underhanded, shady politics of the past sixty years were all we had a choice of.

Donald Trump is the antithesis of that. He’s honest about what he thinks, forward in his views, unhindered by the press. He’s brash, he’s loud and arrogant. He’s as politically correct as Howard Stern, the radio personality, ever was.

Analysis’s agree here. Trump’s campaign wasn’t based on the normal politics of appealing to minority blocks. Instead he appealed to the majority. What several reporters referred to as the “unintelligent masses.” I’m not sure how being part of the bulk of the population automatically makes me stupid, but I’ll leave that for other people to ponder. I know what I am.

The new president is the latter of the two candidates. The voice of the American people has been heard. Bold beat out standard politics. The message is loud and clear for anyone who cares to listen. Politics as usual doesn’t work anymore. Politically correctness is on the way out. Honesty is preferably to the bland pap that Washington’s been selling since Kennedy. Minority rule of the White House is under question. Let’s hope upcoming candidates hear this message and modify their behavior accordingly.

However, like any action, there are consequences. The result of America delivering their message is that Trump is our elected president. He may not be what our nation needs, but he’s there none the less. Eventually he may do something stupid enough to be impeached. Until then the White House will have to tolerate his presence. If nothing else we’ll learn which politicians will sell their soul for their job. So there might be advantages in the new president after all.

Eternal Conflicts – Form vs Substance

I don’t post often to this site for two reasons. The first is rather simple. I have a day job. As much as I would like to write full time it doesn’t pay the bills. The other is equally straightforward – I prefer substance to form. What do I mean by that?

It’s been said that to garner the proper attention. One should post, whether to Face Book or to a site like this one, a minimum of three times a week. This is so that when someone visits there’s always new content for them to pursue, keeping interest in the site. The results are often banal, repetitive, and disappointing blogs. But they’re right in there with firm, they’ve met the criteria. And I think one of the most depressing things is that it actually works.

What’s another good example? Anyone who’s ever gone into a bookstore knows this one. When someone picks up a book they look first at the title. If that’s caught their eye, then the cover. If those two things aren’t interesting they lay it down again. They’ve examined the form and found it wanting.  Or, if the title and cover is interesting, maybe they’ll read the back. And, having thoroughly examined the outside, maybe they’ll open it to read a snippet out of the book, usually the first page or two. A glittering form has caught their eye and they want to check and see if it’s gold.

And this method of examination applies to people as well. It’s a well-established fact that beauty is nothing more than symmetrical – of good form. Pictures were taken of the same person, alterations made that were too subtle to be consciously recognized. And when asked test subjects invariably said the more even they were, ears the same height, same size eyes, even teeth, smile, and hairline, the more beautiful a person is. Form.

I’ll be the first to admit, I like talking to pretty women. And here is where I apparently differ from most. As a general rule I’ll talk briefly with the beautiful people. They tend to be vain, shallow, and self-centered. Without substance.

Ultimately each person must decide what substance is. Most will agree it’s some version of ethics, what a person is and does as opposed to what (s)he looks like. But if that’s truly the case I have to wonder why we look first at form. I remember well the first time a woman told me I was too short to consider dating. While I have to give her points for honesty and the courage to say it out loud, I have to deduct points for shallow reasoning. It’s not like I can control how tall I am. But ultimately her reasoning was a moot point, form rather than substance. The substance of the conversation was her negative response.

Even this blog post is an exercise in form. I try to make it pleasing to the ear, eye, and mind. But I also try to add substance. In truth one cannot exist without the other. But when did we start concentrating more on form than substance? Sometimes I wonder if TV isn’t to blame. We look in on that world and they’re all beautiful people. And then we go back to our lives and we don’t live in such a pretty and clean world. (If you want to know how much substance there is to your favorite actor read up on what (s)he’s been doing off the set.)

In the end I guess I’m somewhat middle if the road. Nice packaging is certainly a plus, but I’ll take a minimum of it for something inside. And that’s no matter what we’re talking about. Is a seat warmer in the car really that important? Not if the car won’t get me where I need to go. Is beauty helpful in a relationship? Not if (s)he bolts at the first sign of difficulty.

Friends

Back in the days when I was young, friends were the people who told me the truth. They listened to my drama, and then they told me where I screwed up. Of course the other person was the biggest wrongdoer, but push comes to shove they were in my corner no matter if I was right or not. And in return for this magnificent gift, I was there for them.

But these days, as I talk to various people, it seems like friends are “yes (wo)men”. Those people who simply agree no matter what. And more often than not are nowhere to be seen when push comes to shove.

God forbid one of their friends might actually suggest that they might have strayed a bit too close to the edge. Or *gasp* might even suggest they had crossed a line and been in the wrong. Or that there might be another way of looking at things. And if somebody says it out loud, why that’s grounds for cutting the “friend” completely out of their life.

Maybe that’s why I’ve never had many friends. I’m not a “yes man”. I’ll never agree with anything absolutely. And I do have a bad habit of asking people “What’s your take away from this, what did you learn? Could it have been prevented?” I’ve never needed my ego massaged, but occasionally I have needed a reality check.

The short version of all that is people, it seems to me, don’t want friends, they want sycophants. And what’s even worse is they want their minions to always be right, to be utterly perfect, even if they themselves do get to make the occasional mistake. And that leaves me out yet again. I’ve never been perfect, don’t plan on starting now. Look at what happened to the last perfect guy. (For those who don’t get the joke, his initials are J.C.)

Personally, I blame Hollywood for most of it. After all, we’re the stars of our lives, right? We should come and go as we please, and get to do what we want. It’ll all work out in the end, right? It always does on the screen.

When I outlined this blog to a friend he suggested it’s due to the Politically Correct movement standard about protecting feelings. Of course, protecting feelings also means not teaching people, or asking them to grow up. Then we started sharing horror stories about “safe places” on college campuses and “time out” cards in boot camp. If you don’t understand why this is absurd, give it twenty years when we have emotional ten year olds on the highway. Or military commanders who want a time out.

But all hope isn’t lost. On the Words from a Bitch Facebook page I found this:

Appreciate your rude/blunt friend … They’re always the realist.

Truth

Webster’s Dictionary (Dictionary.com) defines truth as “the true or actual state of a matter”. The problem is, after a certain point, there is no “truth”. A simple example is the towel that sits on the counter in my kitchen. If you were to ask me, I would tell you it’s blue. Ask my roommate and he will assuredly tell you it’s sapphire. Not a lot of difference, is there? In the long run both of those statements are different ways of saying “approximately a specific color or shade of color”.

Evidence can go a long way toward determining the “true state of a matter”. But even evidence can be spun, distorting the angle it is viewed at, and in turn changing “truth”. For example, when Bill Clinton stood before congress and declared that he “did not have sex with that woman”. America was surprised to learn a blow job really wasn’t sex. A different approach might have been for Clinton to stand up and reply: “There are only three people that should be concerned with who I had sex with – me, my wife, and the person with whom I allegedly had relations with.” I maintain that if Clinton had said just that, at the time, Congress would have nodded their head and agreed, leading the way for the rest of America to agree. Making the truth irrelevant.

The amazing thing is, truth varies with the listener. A while back I heard a story about a couple, let’s call them Husband and Wife, and someone Wife knew. Let’s call him Number Two. In the summer Husband and Wife had an argument, and Wife started seeing Number Two. As I understand the story, Wife told Number Two she had left Husband. So it wasn’t exactly an appropriate relationship, but it really wasn’t illicit either.

According to Number Two the couple did a lot more than kiss. That there were times when Wife told him he would have to wait until the kids were asleep. He didn’t realize it at the time, but “the kids” also included Husband. Supposedly there were times when Wife stayed at a friend’s, and Number Two met her there. Ultimately, according to Number Two, he realized Husband was still at the house and ended the relationship. He claims that’s when Wife got pissed and told Husband a half-truth. He maintains Husband is a coward, and Wife is a liar, and they deserve each other.

Wife works in a public place. She claims they were only friends, and he often came to see her at work. She claims that one day he got carried away and tried to kiss her. She, being the dutiful wife, told her husband and Husband got pissed. What’s not explained is how Number Two knows her phone number, where she lives, and several other intimate details about her life that a “dutiful wife” wouldn’t give a stranger.

Husband, naturally enough, believes Wife’s version of events and is very upset about this masher. He also claims that Number Two never offered to meet him at any time or place of Husband’s choosing so they could “discuss” events.

So where’s the truth in that story?

Depends on who you want to listen to.

Is the War of the Sexs Dead?

This is the actual dialog from a Microsoft commercial that (as far as I know) aired August 2015.

 

Who knows?

One of these kids might just be the one.

The one to find a cure.

To clean the oceans.

Lead a country.

Bring water to their village.

Write the next masterpiece.

Or open a school.

Explore a new planet.

Or be the next Davinci.

It may not be obvious, but one of these kids are going to change the world.

We don’t know who it is.

We just need to make sure…

She has what she needs.

Welcome to Windows 10.

The future starts now…

For all of us.

As a side note to Microsoft—get your English correct. You’re talking about a single child changing the world. Therefore the correct statement is “but one of these kids is going to change the world.” But what the hell. Why should programmers making hundreds of thousands of dollars a year worry about correct grammar.

It’s that fourth line from the bottom that really caught my attention. It comes at a point that ninety percent of adults have already tuned out the message. It is only a commercial, after all. But in that one sentence it managed to cut out over half the population in everything that came before. It manages to assure the world that the next person to change the world will be a female. In fairness, it might be. It might not, too.

It can be argued this commercial was set up this way because most ads are aimed at females. Over eighty percent, in fact. That’s because, in most households, it’s left to the woman to work out the budgetary requirements of the home. Aside from a few man-toys a male doesn’t really care where the money goes so long as the bills get paid on time and there are no major bumps.

Even our entertainment is starting to cater to the female. As little as twenty years ago the lead in a film was almost universally male. And then writers realized that a male/female joint lead attracted a much wider audience. And today, how many films have a female lead with a male co-star? What will it be like in another twenty years? Will the pendulum continue to swing, or will it come back the other way?

There was a time when the War of the Sexes was centered directly on simple issues like equal rights. But then again, a woman once told me that she wanted to be paid the same, have the same opportunities, responsibilities, etc. And that I am all for. But when she went on to say that she still wanted men to hold the door and put her up on a pedestal, I started to wonder if what she wanted was equal rights, or a new brand of servant.

Don’t get me wrong there. I, for one, would love to find some wealthy woman who’s willing to go off to work and leave me at home. I would gladly clean house, go grocery shopping, take care of the kids and write in my free time if it meant not being in the work force. (Then again, as a general rule, I’m not real fond of people as a whole.)

In fact, some experts are claiming that the Sex Wars are over. Many sociological groups are taking huge steps in the right directions. Right now there are still a vast number of shortfalls, but some people are saying that in as little as fifty years the winner will be clear. Why fifty years? Because the snowball is rolling, and once started it’s going to be hard to stop.

Some SF writers feel strongly about that point. They tend to believe that any technologically advanced civilization must be a matriarchy. The reasons vary but, in general, it comes down to women being more social and less inclined to a club. I’ll agree there. Women don’t beat an enemy into submission. They tend to go for poison.

So, is the War of the Sexes over? It is for my generation. They’ve figured out they need each other. But the funny thing about that, there’s a whole new generation right behind mine who apparently has to figure it out all over again.

 

Engage Warp Drive

I’ll always love science fiction, if for no other reason than so much of yesterday’s SF becomes today’s science fact. By this time everybody knows the story of Gene Roddenberry’s legendary Star Trek series, communicators and cell phones. (For those that don’t, Mr. Roddenberry put forth the concept of being able to communicate with anyone anywhere on a planet with a small device. Thirty years later we have cell phones.)

There’s another science fact that is hard to get around – the speed of light. Einstein made it clear. Any object exceeding the speed of light becomes energy. Which really doesn’t sound very healthy for us corporeal creatures, since there is no formula to convert that energy back to solid form and maintain the pattern it existed in previously. Unfortunately, with that speed limit space travel becomes ponderous. The nearest planet, Mars, is something like three years away. The nearest galaxy is literally decades away. Any significant space exploration would take centuries.

But Mr. Roddenberry thought about that, too. He put forth the concept of a warp bubble, a sphere of energy that could travel faster than the speed of light. The nice thing about this sphere is it could exceed the galactic speed limit while all the objects inside maintained their integrity since they weren’t. Imagine it like being on a train. While it might be traveling at 60 mph, everything inside the cars isn’t. They’re still traveling at people speed.

Another one of my favorite authors is Author C. Clarke, whom I believe was the first person to put forth the idea of an electromagnetic drive (EMD) in SF, a brilliant concept. Take a magnet and wave it over a piece of metal. If the magnet is larger and stronger the metal comes to it, if the reverse is true the magnet holds to the metal. For a good example go look at your refrigerator. If it’s like mine, there are plenty of magnets hanging off it.

But what would happen if we took a stick and put it between the magnet and the piece of metal? On Earth there would be no visible effect because of that pesky gravity thing. But get away from that, virtually anywhere in space, and the magnet will push the bar forward, pushing the piece of metal away that the magnetic is trying to get to. Now imagine that the bar is your space ship. Poof, you have instant forward momentum with no moving parts to replace.

And here’s the part that I’ve been trying to get to. I read an article not too long ago that said NASA was testing an EMD, and some of the particles it was emitting were traveling faster than light. They theorize the EMD might have been trying to put forth a warp bubble. They did go on to caution that further testing outside of Earth’s atmosphere would be necessary to make sure.

But if they’re right, the sky is no longer the limit. The great exodus that’s so popular in SF where mankind spreads outward across the galaxy can begin. Humanity’s destruction because of a little thing like the world blowing up is no longer assured. And going to Mars could be where you plan that summer vacation.

 

Time

Not to long ago I was at my day job, and something interesting happened. There was a young woman doing a fairly mindless task. She looked up at me and sighed. “Surely my time is more important than this.”

I have to admit to some surprise. It wasn’t her time. It had been bought and paid for. Or would be paid for. Whatever the set up, when she made the agreement to work, she sold her time to the boss. How he used it was entirely up to him.

But time is a funny thing anyway. We know it exists, but its so fundamental to existence science can find no way to provide evidence of it. What one point it was thought to be a figment of the human mind, a way to organize perception so that reality can be dealt with.  (I think) the current theory is that time is a temporal dimension, something like, and as fundamental as, height, width, and depth.

But regardless of what sort of thing time really is, there is one thing it definitely isn’t – a renewable resource. It’s amazing how many things are. When we run low on money, we work to get more. Sunlight can provide nearly infinite electricity. An abundance of plants can provide clean, fresh air. If you stop and think about it there’s very little in our lives that is not a renewable resource. Except for time.

No matter how much we would like to, we don’t get a redo for any given moment. Nor has anyone figured out how to get more than their allotted amount. Because it is not renewable, time is perhaps the singular most valuable resource we have.

Which brings us back around to the young woman who thought her time was so precious she sold it to someone else. Maybe there was something better she could be doing. Maybe it was wrong that someone was wasting her time.

 

 

Half Full

There’s an old, old question that gets asked a lot – is the glass half full or half empty? A rather intellectual joke offers an interesting solution to that question. The joke goes: Question – What did the engineer say when he was asked if the glass is half full or half empty? Answer: Your glass is the wrong size. Thereafter is a long and involved explanation of why the engineer would answer in such a fashion.

At the time I heard it I was nonplussed. There was truth to the statement, but funny? Eh. But at odd times I would find myself thinking about the joke, like there was something that I wasn’t understanding. Eventually it dawned on me the engineer was right. But in order to understand the answer, first you have to understand the question.

Is the glass half full or half empty? Theoretically an optimist would say it’s half full, a pessimist the opposite. Generally, I tend to say it’s halfway. But that really doesn’t answer the most basic question – glass of what? Psychologically speaking it’s a glass of everything. To put it more simply, let’s consider it a measure of what we have versus what we expect to get.

If the glass is half full, is that really expecting too much? Shouldn’t we have goals and be reaching past what we already have to bigger and better heights? Yes. Absolutely. We should have goals, and be reaching beyond ourselves to new things.

At the same time, if we expect to double everything we already have, maybe we’re setting the bar a little high. And in doing so we’re setting ourselves up for assured disappointment, never quite reaching that miracle mark. We might be able to double our current situation, but it’s never going to happen in a single step. Thus we’re doomed to have a black cloud looming over us constantly.

This is what I found worked for me – I changed the size of the glass. Little steps. I went from wanting to have X number of books under my belt, to simply doing the best I can on the one I’m working on. I went from a standard of blogging once a week, to finding something I wanted to blog about. And now my glass is three quarters full, and I’m much happier for it.

Sometimes my wishes do get carried away, and I find my glass getting bigger. As a consequence the level starts dropping. I get carried away with the things that it would be nice to have. When I do I have to remind myself – little steps.