Friday, July 31, 2009

For Want of a Modem

This morning my computer's modem burned out, and I panicked. No internet access?! Cut off from the entire world! Isolated! Alone! No Twitter! No Facebook! No MySpace! No way of reaching out to the 243 sites and groups and untold numbers of people-I-have-never-met-and-never-will-meet but who have become integral parts of my daily existence. The end of the world! The end of civilization as we know it! How would I survive? Could life possibly be worth living without the internet?

Uh, well, after slapping myself sharply across the face, grabbing my own shoulders and shaking myself violently while yelling "Get a Grip!" the thought entered my mind that 30 years ago, I had never heard of a personal computer, let alone the internet. And I still have absolutely no idea of what real, practical purpose iPods and iPhones and Blackberries and texting and 3G and all those other things without which an increasing percentage of the world's population cannot apparently survive. I manage very well, thank you.

I do have a cell phone, because it is practical. I cannot send text messages, or take photos, or surf the web, or listen to music, or play games or read books with it, and I really don't want to. Oh, I know, I know....I might as well wear a sign around my neck saying what I already know: "Me Neanderthal. Me stupid."

And yet now I have become astonishingly dependent on my computer, not only for its primary (to me) purpose of making it far easier to write books, but as a way to try to convince large numbers of people to buy them once they are written, and to keep in almost instantaneous personal touch with friends around the world. Who takes the time to write letters anymore? (And no, we will not go into my opinion of the U.S. Postal Service.)

Before I got my first computer, I was perfectly happy with my IBM Selectric II, and before that with the portable little typewriter in its own little case my folks got me before I went off to college. They each had their own minor inconveniences and considerable advantages, and life went along very nicely with them. It all boils down to the fact that we don't miss what we don't even know exists. The mind boggles to consider all the toys and gadgets and utterly invaluable-to-existence devices are off there in the light fog of the future waiting to lure us further into technology's maw.

Why should kids learn to count? As long as they have access to a calculator, they don't need to. Of course, it did present certain problems, as in making change at the cash register at MacDonald's, but then computerized cash registers eliminated even that terribly difficult task. The horrifying fact is that technology, the purpose of which is to make our lives easier, is increasingly contributing to our stupefaction. The more technology does for us, the more we rely on it and the less we have to actually know ourselves. All we have to know is which buttons to push, rather like the chimps at the zoo who learn which lever to pull to get them a banana. What went into creating the machine which delivers the bananas, or how it really operates, or what the chimp might possibly do if the banana supply runs out is not something they need to bother their pretty little heads with.

There will always be people curious enough to want to know how things work, and why. But the vast majority of the population is more than happy to take the path of least resistance. Who cares where Ohio is? All I have to do is ask my GPS device to get me there. Sudan? Is that a country? Where is it? Who cares? I can look on Google for anything I might ever need to know about it.

A clip from the Jay Leno show had Jay asking a young man: "Who wrote Handel's Messiah?" The young man replied: "I don't read books." But you can bet your bottom dollar he can text 240 truncated words a minute on his Blackberry.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Herd

I am frequently dismayed by seeing/hearing so many stories of passengers on a bus just sitting there while another passenger is attacked, or of someone being robbed or beaten on a crowded street while no one lifts a finger to help.

And yet, in a natural disaster, acts of incredible bravery and self sacrifice are common. How can we reconcile these two disparate reactions? Why, for all the many noble traits we possess as human beings, will we go out of our way to attempt to rescue someone from a burning building, or a natural disaster, yet refuse to come to the aid of someone threatened by other members of our own species? I would be fascinated to know why we react differently to dangers imposed by nature and those imposed by others of our own kind.

I think much of it has its roots in Man's earliest times on earth, when survival was everything, and on the fact that Man is indeed biologically as much an animal as is a Wildebeast or antelope. And just as the herd instinct is a protective reflex for them, so is it for us. Actually, when you think about it, it's very simple and very logical. The herd provides safety. Acting and reacting exactly the same as those around you make you less likely to be spotted by predators. The less distinguishable you are from those around you, and the closer you can get to the center of the herd, the safer you are. Conversely, the more you stand out, the more likely you are to be spotted by predators, and the greater potential danger you are in.

That primal part of our brain sees the person instigating an attack on another in a subway as a predator, which triggers the herd instinct: do not call attention to yourself. But in natural disasters, although the dangers to ourselves may be equally great, the fact that there is no identifiable predator to trigger the herd instinct allows our more noble motivations to prevail.

The herd instinct is not limited to obvious or direct threats, however. I did a blog not long ago comparing people who, for whatever reason, refuse to object to the objectionable to sheep, who are herd animals. They simply follow other sheep because it is both safer and easier than not doing it.

While it may be unkind of me to say, I have come to the conclusion that most people (thee and me excluded, of course) are sheep. Even with no threat of predators, they timidly stick together, follow wherever they are led, never ask questions, and have a very narrow range of interests or goals—and even their goals seem to come in neat, pre-packaged cubes. They live in pens with walls they have been told are there and therefore utterly believe in, though they cannot see them. They recognize doors, but if the doors are closed, assume they are closed for a reason and have little or no curiosity about what lies beyond, or any interest in making the effort to find out.

All human children are born children, not sheep. Yet is it coincidental that children are called “little lambs”? Children soon learn that to survive, to have friends, to be accepted by their peers, they must behave like everyone else behaves, believe what everyone else believes. And gradually they turn from human children into sheep, as their parents and relatives did before them. To be different is very unsheeplike, and punishable in any number of subtle and not-so-subtle ways, none of which is pleasant.

And of course, there are always predators. Human wolves lurk in the fields and forests of the internet as spam messages, as letters from Nigerian Barristers, as wonderfully unreal offers for wonderful things, and because sheep simply accept what they are told, it never occurs to them that the wolf even exists, or that they are the wolf’s next meal. Human wolves rob and lie and cheat with impunity because almost none of the sheep realizes what’s happening until it is too late, and those few who do realize something isn’t quite right are too…what word do I want?…oh, yes: sheepish…to do anything about it.

And what is the answer to the problem? How do we move away from the herd without being immediately attacked by predators? The first step lies in not only realizing but acting on the fact that while Man is an animal, he is not a sheep.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, July 27, 2009

Ben and Cleo

While I was never blessed with Narcissus's beauty, we do share an overwhelming element of self-absorption. I never cease to be amazed by me and by why I am the way I am, or why I see life the way I do.

I take inordinate delight in little things which would either go largely unnoticed by anyone else, or just accepted and forgotten.

This morning, for those reasons known only to but never explained by my mind, I started thinking of little tidbits of pure delight I've picked up while attending movies, though not necessarily from the screen. My very favorite of these, which I keep carefully wrapped in imaginary tissue paper in a little equally-imaginary box on the top shelf of the closet of my mind is one I never tire of retelling. If you have heard it, as well you might if you've been following these blogs for very long, please just skip the next four paragraphs.

I went to see the movie "Ben Hur" when it first opened. It was a megabuck production starring Charlton Heston as Ben, and in the course of the movie, set in the time of Jesus, Jesus himself appears two or three times, though his name is never mentioned and, as was the unwritten law of Hollywood until only recently, Jesus' face was not allowed to be shown. His arrival on the scene would be preceded with a welling tsunami of music befitting the Son of God. And, because his face could not be shown, he was always photographed from behind....flowing white robe, long, perfectly-brushed straight blond hair of the color and style apparently worn by most Jewish men of the time.

At one point, Ben is being dragged across the sand dunes by those nasty Romans, his face drawn, lips cracked from thirst. At last, he collapses, unable to go on. And suddenly, the music wells up to the point of shaking the plaster from the theater ceiling, and a hand, arm covered in a pure white robe without a speck of sand on it, reaches down with a cup of water. Ben looks up, awe and reverence on his face, takes the cup, and drinks.

The next scene is a long-distance, low-level shot across the dunes to show Ben, outlined against the clear blue sky, being dragged off again by the Romans, looking back toward the camera and the back-shot figure in the white gown with the long, flowing hair.

At this point, a little old lady seated directly in front of me turned to her friend and said, "Who IS she?"

I loved going to the movies with my best friend Russ, a schoolteacher who looked like everyone's idea of a Catholic priest. He had a brilliant wit, and had the tendency to say things which would send me into hysterical laughter at the most inappropriate times.

We went to see the movie "Cleopatra", the Liz Taylor/Richard Burton no-expense-spared extravaganza, the highlight of which was Cleopatra's arrival in Rome to be presented to Caesar. The scene required tens of thousands of extras, a couple hundred elephants, phalanxes of Roman soldiers, nubian slaves, trumpeteers, drummers, ornate gold-covered carts, long, long shots down a reconstructed Roman boulevard lined with temples and obelisks and pedestaled statues, crammed on both sides with toga-d Romans cheering and shouting and waving banners and...well, you get the picture. This scene dragged on for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, her silk-draped golden litter is set down in front of Caesar and Liz/Cleo steps out and approaches the emperor.

At this point Russ turned to me and said: "If he says 'How was the trip?,' I'm leaving."

You had to be there.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, July 24, 2009


After watching an interview with Susan Boyle the other night, I went back to YouTube and watched, for the umpteenth time, her one-moment-in-a-lifetime rendition of "I dreamed a dream" on Britain's Got Talent. As often as I've seen it, it never fails to grab me by the heart, and I didn't have to think too hard to figure out why.

Susan Boyle, 48 years old, plain as a potato chip, born after a difficult delivery during which her brain was deprived of oxygen resulting in a mild degree of learning difficulties in later life, teased in school for being "different," one of ten children, who devoted her life to caring for her mother until the older woman died two years ago, then living alone in a very small village with her cat....this common, ordinary woman walked onto a huge stage wearing a simple yellow dress she'd bought for one of her nephews' wedding, to face a cruelly snickering audience and the barely-concealed scorn of the show's judges, and opened her mouth to sing.

At that instant, Susan Boyle became me, and ten million other plain, ordinary, looked-past/looked-through men and women of any and all ages who long to be more than they are. And she sang. And she picked us all up, almost bodily, and carried us to a special place we are seldom privileged to visit. In that instant, Susan Boyle was the personification of Hope, and we felt that if she could do something so wonderful, perhaps we all might have it within ourselves to do something equally worthy and uplifting. Even her choice of song was perfection: who among us has not "dreamed a dream"?

I feared when she next appeared on stage that she might have set herself up for a fall...not through anything she might do, but simply because her first appearance was one of those brief moments of wonder that could never possibly be repeated. Just as Neil Armstrong could never take another first step on the moon, so even Susan could not hope to exceed what she accomplished that night.

There are many "impact moments" in history...moments burned into our psyche, and most of them, unfortunately, are of unspeakable horror and sadness. The fall of the World Trade Center was the emotional equivalent of being hit head-on by a speeding train. It shattered us, not only as individuals but as a nation. The deaths of public figures we feel we have come to know personally have a great effect on many people. We are constantly assailed by negativity which only reinforces our sense of being powerless and hopeless.

But there are moments when, in the deathly silence of a burned-over forest, a bird sings; when ordinary people under terrible situations do marvelous things which show us that there is indeed hope for humanity. Goodness and beauty often rise from tragedy.

But for an ordinary woman, on an ordinary stage of an ordinary television program, on an ordinary day not clouded by tragedy or despair, to be able to sing for us all and give us all hope is simply extraordinary and never to be forgotten.

Thank you, Susan.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Monday, July 20, 2009

1 March, 1956

I find myself, every now and then, going back in time via the letters I wrote my parents while I was in the Navy so very long ago, and which I have put into my aptly-named blog, "A World Ago" ( I look at myself through the long lens of time and realize I was still pretty much just a kid, and the fact that it is not so much a matter of youth being "wasted on the young" as it is in the fact that it is taken away from us far too soon.

At the time of the letter below, I was aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Ticonderoga, to which I had been assigned after being dropped from the Naval Aviation Cadet program. We were, at the time of this writing, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea and at the height of the Cold War. The threats and dangers of a cataclysmic war were very real to us, and while we didn't dwell on it, it was never far from our minds. So here we are, in the Commissary Office of the Ti, writing yet another letter to my far-away parents.

1 March 1956

Dear Folks
Just been talking over “old times” with a kid who wants to join the NavCads. I have an awful lot to be proud of—things most other guys would never dream of doing. Up to the point, that is, where they ask, “Well how come you quit?”

In my locker I still have a box of stationery from Pensacola and in it an unfinished letter saying I didn’t think I’d be with the NavCads very long.

I hope you’ve received the two large envelopes I sent yesterday and the day before. You know, at times I think: “Now suppose you got off the boat at Fleet Landing and there were Mom & Dad.” Then I think of all the things I’d show you and everything we could do and wonder if you’d be as thrilled with it all as I’d want you to be.

Let’s face it, parents—you have a weird son. But personally, I’d be bored green to be average.

Chief Sewell and I spent a good two hours today hotly debating whether, if war came and we were cut off in the Mediterranean (it would be very easy—there are only two ways out—Gibraltar and the Suez), and if we had expended our bombs, planes, fuel, whether we would surrender the ship or scuttle. I claimed that rather give the enemy a potential weapon to be used against us somewhere else, we would most definitely sink ourselves. The Chief contended that we wouldn’t dare sink $200,000,000 of the taxpayer’s money—that we should put into port and surrender, having first disabled all our guns and instruments, in hopes that we’d be able to take the ship back by force or sit in port till the American armies (victorious as ever) should come and recapture it. He claimed I was very stubborn because I couldn’t agree. What do you think?

“What in hell good reason would we have for sinking it?”

“So they couldn’t get it.”

“There are 3,000 men on this thing—what are they supposed to do?”

“We have lifeboats & life jackets.”

“You know how long they’d last in that water? We haven’t got that many lifeboats to begin with.”

“So you’d going to sail blissfully into port and say: ‘Here we are, take us’? Oh, no, Chief. If you were kicking me in the face, I wouldn’t offer you my shoes.”

And so on into the night. We finally agreed that we would make a run for it, even if we knew we could never make it, and go down fighting.

The United States Sixth Fleet—consisting entirely of thirty-five ships, including two submarines and two aircraft carriers, is right now in the awkward position of being a sacrificial lamb.

But we only have 107 days until we get back to the good old U.S.; and only 163 until I get out.



New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Son of Spam

I'm beginning to think of myself as a seagull in the great garbage dump which is internet spam, eagerly looking for tasty tidbits down upon which I may swoop and carry off to feed my blogs.

The following post somehow escaped my usually efficient spam filter and wound up in my "In" box. But it is such an classic example of the art of spamming, aimed at those incapable of or unwilling, in their gullibility or greed, to employ even the most basic logic that I felt obliged to reprint it verbatim here.

"Typers Wanted, Make $12,000 - $30,000/Month. 2 people needed immediately..I guarantee YOU will earn $12,000 every month!!

"YES that's RIGHT.....I guarantee YOU will $12,000 every month if YOU signup 2 personal members. Just think all YOU have too do is simply signup and recruit 2 Distributors. Then train and help these 2 Distributors too purchase $69 of products for personal use each month as YOU and your 2 Distributors continue too signup and recruit 2 Distributors each and so on and so on YOUR commission checks will grow and grow and YOU will earn $12,000 every month GUARANTEED!!"

I give whoever posted this one credit: they didn't exactly lie. They laid it all out, obviously assuming that you are too stupid or too greedy to do the math, or to have ever heard the term "pyramid scheme."

Other classic tidbits from my Spam folder--and my knee-jerk reaction to them--include the following:

"Pay few buck and feel happy. --Get to know how to become more masculine..." (Right! Like I'm eager to learn anything at all from someone who doesn't know how to speak English. ....Do women get crap like this?)

"Received empty mail." (Spooky, huh? It sure as hell wasn't from me. "Yesterday, upon the stair,...etc.")

"You have to read it." (Uh, no, I don't. And no, I won't.)

"I saw you today." (Really? I didn't see you. Let's keep it that way.)

"Click or get ill." (Right...threats always encourage me to open spam.)

"Christian Group: Internet Extreme Wealth Machine!" (Or "how to bilk the unsuspecting by setting up your own on-line ministry.")

"Where are your friends?" (More importantly, as a spammer, where are yours?)

"Good advice--You girl will be amazed. Ten years of history among men...." (Well, first off, don't call me "girl", but if you're going to, put commas around it.)

"earn money typeing from home--Start Making $250-$2500+ per Day! Work At Home only 30 minutes per day...." (Obviously a spin-off of our lead item. Well, anybody who can't recognize the misspelling of "typing" obviously can't be expected to grasp the concepts of logic or math.)

"Code Invalid, New Code" (or "Scam Invalid, New Scam")

"You are the winner of 750,000 euros ****Congratulations****" (Oh thank you! Thank you! I am stunned! Hold on a moment while I alert the media!)

"Can't update page." (How truly sad. I hope you're not thinking I'll wonder what you're talking about, or that I might care even if I did.)

"You are under investigation!" (I am? Oh, dear Lord, what have I done now? I am beside myself with worry, concern, angst, and ennui.)

Ronda: "Hi--crag rase. bipod any annul. bedlam pencil rife rase?" (Guards! Shoot that woman!)

I do wish this would be the last spam-based blog I will ever do. But I doubt it.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. Your comments are always welcome. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Slow Dancing

As so often happens, yesterday I heard a song from the late 70's/early 80's which swooped down, picked me up, and all but bodily threw me back in time to my early days in Los Angeles, and in a heartbeat I was in the Canyon Club, dancing with my friend Larry Couch.

It's kind of a convoluted story, so if you'd just as soon skip it, I'll understand, but I feel like telling it, so....

Los Angeles at the time was a very different city for gays and lesbians. We had our own bars and restaurants, but they were subject to frequent, random, and unprovoked harassment under the cold, beady eyes of our rabidly homophobic police chief. As I've reported in another blog, the massive (and often mass) arrest of gays for various trumped up charges--most often "lewd and lascivious conduct" was a lucrative source of income for the city and did not end until a gay man was beaten to death by the police in a bar raid.

One of the things gays were forbidden to do was to touch while dancing. I don't mean "grope" or "fondle"...I mean touch. We were allowed to disco (only in our own bars, of course), but slow dancing would result in arrest. As a result I and several of my friends joined the Canyon Club...a members-only club located 15 or so miles from my home, high up in a remote and rugged canyon, and reached only by a narrow, winding road. That more people were not killed coming down from the club after Last Call was a miracle.

The club was owned by a former L.A. policeman confined to a wheelchair for some reason, who disliked gays but overlooked his prejudice because of the money he made from us. It was a large, sprawling place with a couple of bars, a huge dance floor, and a swimming pool open only during the day on weekends. You entered the club through a small vestibule, where you showed your membership at the desk, and were then buzzed through a locked door into the club itself.

As part of the police department's equal-opportunity discrimination policy, not even the Canyon Club was safe from occasional harassment, but because the owner was an ex-cop, it was more for show than anything else. Whenever the police would arrive, the person at the reception desk would press a button which flashed a red light throughout the interior of the club. Immediately, dancing gay and lesbian couples would switch partners with their opposite-sex counterparts, and by the time the police meandered through the door to look around, all they saw was men dancing with women. I somehow suspect they were not fooled, but they had done their duty in letting the faggots and dykes know who had the power. 'Ya gotta let those queers and perverts know who's boss, 'ya know.

But the Canyon Club, whatever its inconveniences, was a safe place for us to go, and to be able to actually touch one another while dancing. I am a lousy dancer, and always avoid it whenever possible, but I would try it at the Canyon Club, especially with my friend Larry Couch, who always let me lead. I always had a crush on Larry, but because his partner, Arnold, was also my close friend, holding him while dancing was about as close as I could hope to get.

I'm not quite sure whatever happened to the Canyon Club--I believe it closed when the owner died, but I still have fond memories of it and the warm California nights I spent there, and the friends who still hold a special place in my heart. I've sadly lost touch with most of my once-close L.A. friends, though I kept in touch with both Arnold and Larry after they broke up and I moved from Los Angeles, and still hear from Arnold from time to time. Larry died of a heart attack three or four years ago, and I miss him. What I wouldn't give for one more slow dance at the Canyon Club.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Friday, July 03, 2009

Visiting the Dead

(Here's another page from the journal kept during my odyssey following the death of my mother some 38 years ago. 38 years? Dear Lord!)

60th day. Mobile, Alabama. 12:40 p.m.

Cemeteries—real cemeteries, not those modern supermarkets of the dead—have always held a special fascination for me. There are few places more peaceful, generally more quiet, and more awe inspiring. I feel something of an obligation, a willing duty, to walk among the graves reading the tombstones and thereby performing the function for which the tombstones were erected: to remember the dead, and to know they once lived.

The Church Street Graveyard was founded originally as a burial place for Mobile’s yellow fever victims. The headstones, grave covers, sarcophagi, monoliths, and markers are marvelously varied. The words carved on them, unfortunately, are fast becoming illegible—many are already gone, with only the barest outline of words, and names, and dates remaining.

But to those, like me, who read cemeteries (a much more solid bit of literature than a beach, which is perhaps more mystical and philosophical) find in them a fascinating chronicle of an era.

The most striking characteristic, other than the visual effect, of the Church Street Graveyard, is how young most of its inhabitants were when they died. (Though there is one old gentleman who was 105 when he died in the mid 1830s). It strikingly illustrates the fact that in the 1800s, life was short. The average age of Church Street’s residents cannot possibly be over 35. (“In Memory of Elizabeth, Wife of Matthew McCartney, who departed this life Dec. the 11th, 1834 in the 17th year of her age.”)

There is the fine print of history: (“In memory of Stephen Hopkins Clarke, son of John H. Clarke of Providence, Rhode Island, who died in Florida in July 1837 in the 22nd year of his age. As a Volunteer, he was engaged in a skirmish with the Indians, and received a wound which shortly proved mortal. Thus at once the high hopes of youth and the expectations of Friends were blasted forever.” ) There is a deep-seated comfort in the fact that had he lived a full, full life, he would still be dead today; and those who mourned so sincerely and deeply at his passing are now themselves long dead. There is, incidentally, more to Stephen Clarke’s story, engraved on four sides of a squat pillar. “Erected in 1845 as a memorial of his love for a dutiful and affectionate son. From the rude sepulcher to which he was consigned by his commander, his remains were transferred to this spot by an affectionate Brother. It is consecrated by the warmest recollections of all who knew the integrity and manliness of his character.”

And so Stephen Hopkiins Clarke still lives.

How much better than two of ten thousand identical brass plates (flush with the ground for easier mowing) saying “Frank G. Margason 1911-1968" and “Odrae L. Margason 1909-1971" How much of them is there?

One can read, too, the history of an entire family, with microcosmic hints of many sorrows and lost causes.

A low brick wall topped by an ornate green iron fence proclaims the square to be occupied by the family of I.D. Spear. In it is a tall stone pylon, & two lesser headstones. To the distant sound of drums, we read on one side of the pylon: “In memory of Frank M. B., son of Isaac D. & Sarah B. Spear. He was born in Louisville, KY on 22nd of September 1843 and was killed in the battle of Shiloh on the 6th of April 1862, aged 18 years, 6 months, and 11 days. An early Christian, he died with the bravest, fighting for his country’s independence.”

Could a more succinct resume of the Civil War and its tragedy be found? Who can read it without wanting young Frank back again, to hold him and console him for all his lost years.

The rest of his family? We know his mother died first, for the other side of the pylon reads: “Sacred to the memory of Sarah B., wife of Isaac D. Spear, who was born in Mobile on the 31st of January 1822 and died on the 14th of February 1860, aged 38 years and 17 days.

Frank was not quite 16 when she died. There were two infant children who died almost without having lived, but their birth dates and deaths are not recorded. Only, on a small stone (in the best condition of the three): “Daisy, Infant daughter of I.D. and S.B. Spear, aged 6 months, and Ikie, aged 7 days.”

And then we have the third stone; the most badly eroded of the three, a rounded slab. Probably the younger brother of I.D. Spear, though no relationship is mentioined.. “In memory of Nicholas M. Spear (Illegible) of New York, who was drowned in Mobile Bay June 7, 1857, aged 25 years, 4 months.'

Of I.D. Spear himself, there is no trace. If Frank were his only surviving son at the time he marched off to Shiloh, then perhaps Isaac had no one left to bury him, or provide a memorial.

Nicholas, too, died very young and one wonders about him. Did he die while out for a swim, or fishing, or on one of the numerous accidents which apparently were so common (two other gravestones in Church Street comment on their occupants’ deaths in two separate steamer explosions. We cannot know, but we can care).

But who will stop at Dad’s grave, or Mother’s, and wonder who they were and what their lives may have been? Who can envision them walking and laughing and talking with friends, or going shopping, or arguing over the gas bill? How inhuman we are becoming, when our dead are allowed to die.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Were I God

If the title of this blog entry caused a sharply in-drawn breath and a muttered "Sacrilege!" you probably won't be reading this. Too bad. It is not intended as disrespect to Whomever holds the post now, but merely a few observations on how I might run things had I the opportunity.

I got to thinking about the prospect when I was looking, once again, with dismay and anger at my Spam inbox and plotting what I would love to do to those who prey upon the gullible. Gullibility, like so many human traits, can be charming in moderation and dangerous in excess. We all want things we do not and probably can never have. We all want to feel that we are, somehow, wise and admired and somehow special. And too often we are tricked by predators into assuming that what we are told is the truth.

There is nothing more loathsome or utterly beneath contempt than those who knowingly, deliberately, and consistently take advantage of others, from Bernie Madhoff on down (if there is in fact anything lower than Bernie Madhoff).

Were I God, I would of course be a beneficent deity and resist the strong temptation to submerge these sub-humans slowly in boiling oil. No, I'd simply have every one of them, after a full and rewarding day of scheming, cheating, lying, and debasing others, simply go peacefully to sleep and never wake up.

I would strictly enforce the Golden Rule. I'm sure the current title holder is as utterly flummoxed as I as to how people simply don't get it. It's the ultimate "What part of 'no' don't you understand?"

Bigots would be forced to spend six months as a member of the group against whom their hatred is directed. If six months is not enough, the sentence would repeated once more and then become permanent.

Everyone in possession of more than $500,000 they did not earn through their own labor would be temporarily stripped of all their possessions and forced to live on the equivalent of the average social security check for the period of one year. Depending on the circumstances, some would be denied even that small financial assistance and be given a cardboard box and pointed to the nearest freeway underpass.

I would rather strongly consider reinstating the "an eye for an eye" principle of criminal justice, except for sadomasochists.

Those who deny common courtesy to others would be assigned a constant robot companion carrying a frying pan. At every transgression of basic courtesy, the robot would tap them on the head with the frying pan. The force of the tap would increase with every violation until the offender either sees the error of his/her ways, or is admitted to the emergency room. (Upon release therefrom, the robot would again appear at their side.)

Those who discriminate against others solely on the basis of looks or physical disability will, after each transgression, be struck blind for a period of ten minutes for the first event, and longer with each succeeding one.

Anyone who presumed to speak for me in my role of God would be stricken mute. Anyone who sought personal financial gain by invoking my name would be forced to return every penny, stripped of all their remaining worldly goods and sent into permanent exile in Somalia, Ethiopia, or Darfur.

And what of those many people who already live by the Golden Rule, who are courteous and considerate of others, and realize the world is far larger than themselves? Don't they deserve some sot of reward? The fact is that they already have it. They are already members of a very small and exclusive club: true human beings, and the current supreme being is proud of them. As am I.

New entries are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please come back...and bring a friend. And you're invited to stop by my website at, or drop me a note at