Friday, January 29, 2010

A Spam Epiphany

Oh, dear Lord! I've finally figured it out! My Spam folder is in fact the cyberspace equivalent of a group home for the obscenely greedy and the hopelessly insane. How else can one possibly explain the huge piles of infuriating blather deposited in my Spam folder every day? The pure idiocy of the opening words of these messages, quoted below--as always, exactly as received--prove it beyond any doubt. It is a source of endless frustration to me to acknowledge that I am utterly incapable of simply ignoring them without some sort of response.

"Forgot about his mistress? - Good day, I accidentally found a letter from you, I remember how we communicated with..." (Oh, right. You're that homeless guy with the pet rat who's been rummaging through my garbage. I really must get a paper shredder.)

(unknown sender): "You can trust us your health, we know how to improve it." (Well of course I can trust you my health. I always have total trust in anyone who isn't even willing to identify themselves. See that donut over there? Why don't you go take a flying.....well, never mind.)

"You could make 24,000 dollar in 24 hours" (Of course I could. I could do in five minutes were it not for those pesky surveillance cameras and those irritating laws about bank robbery.)

"boiled and cut fine. The force-meat must be used sparing! He egg and oil you have already mixed, in place of...." (Right. And you can bet I'm going to be eager to lift the toilet seat to see the rest of your message.)

"You gf hot pics - for carnal victories" ("Carnal victories?" What in the HELL are you talking about? Never mind...I really, really don't want to know.)

Galipeau "t, the Popes were th - Ndations on which his scheme rested. For law substitute Christianity, for social union spiritual....." (Aren't you running for Congress?)

"What's your coming time? Get stiff tonight...." (I can't give you a coming time without knowing where I'm going. And if I have to get drunk, I'll probably be late anyway.)

"FROM THE DESK OF MR.FRANCIS ALIU Director Auditing and Accounting Department Bank of Africa...." (Uh-huh.)

"You're Hired! Make $250+ a Day" (And all I have to do to "get started" is to sign a contract full of the world's smallest type committing me to buy $1,000 of your worthless product per month and that I will have to pay all costs involved in selling the crap? Wow! Sign me up!)

"Your gf caught on camera!" (Gee, if I had a gf, maybe I might give a crap....Oh, wait. No, I wouldn't.)

"You Have Been Chose to Receive 2 jetBlue Airways Tickets Survey!" (I'm so happy to have been chose! Do they fly to English speaking countries? And exactly what is a"2 jetBlueAirways Tickets Survey"?)

"Change your soft destiny-If you're excited by this girl and your male schlong is still downwards, you need this...." (Oh, dear Lord, there is so much wrong with this picture I don't know where to begin. 1. What is a "soft destiny", exactly? 2. By what stupefying gall do you dare to assume I would be excited by a "girl"? 3. My "male schlong?" Is there a "female schlong"?)

Enough for now! I grow faint (and nauseous). I was raised to believe that all men are created equal and that no human being is superior to any other. But messages like the above give me serious pause. I again wish I could say that I will never again compile such a list. But we both know I'd be wrong.

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, January 27, 2010


I love aphorisms. I probably could have done quite well had I gone into the fortune cookie business. Since I somewhat reluctantly began using Twitter (the cuteness of that name still revolts me) I find myself using them frequently. And since, as you know, I hate losing a single word I've written, I've started collecting some I've posted there. Some may arguably not be aphorisms, but then not all small insects found on pepper plants are aphids. (I have no idea where that came from.) Here are a few:

Every new day is a blank page in the story of our lives. Write clearly, write large...and use crayons.

Life is a burning building, and I am frantically trying to save as much of myself as I can through my words.

Why are those who preach so fervently about the glories of heaven not in more of a hurry to get there?

Readers are to writers what rainfall is to a drought.

The mark of a true friend is one with whom, after not being in contact for several years, you can pick up a conversation in mid sentence.

Communication rests not so much on conveying information as on being able to understand what is being conveyed.

Always remember: Silence is not golden; silence equals consent. If we do not speak out against an offense, we deserve what we get.

Having a good friend is a matter of luck; being a good friend requires effort.

There is a great difference between growing older and growing old.

Good writing is like making good've got to be sure to get all the lumps out.

Life is a game of Russian roulette, and the older one gets, the more bullets are put in the chamber.

When an ad says "No Reasonable Offer Refused," guess who determines what is reasonable?

It is generally easier to point someone in the right direction than to try to drag them.

Have you ever noticed that good advice is easier given than taken?

Humans seem incapable of appreciating what they have until it is gone forever.

Anyone who follows others without question is a sheep, and has no right to complain when they're fleeced.

The primary purpose of any bureaucracy is to propagate itself and its power.

The problem with "passing time" is that you don't pass passes you.

Why is it that proselytizers, in their zeal to convert you to their way of thinking, have no interest whatever in what you currently think?

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, January 25, 2010


Gratitude is something far more commonly felt than expressed. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that the words "Thank you"--the two words most used to express gratitude--are an automatic social and cultural response to even the smallest favor, from a "gesundheit" to being handed a receipt at a check-out stand, and often seem inadequate.

"Thank you" is just the thinnest surface layer of gratitude. Under "Thank you" lie an infinite number of layers, depending on the degree of gratitude felt, and the deepest layers of gratitude can never be adequately expressed.

Gratitude is a tree which grows from the seeds of kindness, and kindness is freely given without thought of repayment. But I consider gratitude to be a form of acquired debt which must be repaid. Far too many people, if the concept of gratitude being a debt even occurs to them, repay it with I.O.U.s or promissory notes.

I realize that I do far more bitching and moaning and complaining than is warranted by circumstance. I talk endlessly about what is wrong with the world (and there is much to talk about), yet very seldom express my equally boundless gratitude for the positive things in my life and in the world.

First and foremost, my gratitude for having been given, and still having, the gift of life cannot possibly be put into words. That gratitude is followed closely by my gratitude for my relative good mental and physical health. Despite my share of physical problems, I realize that compared to what others go through, mine, as Humphrey Bogart says in "Casablanca", don't amount to a hill of beans. Which doesn't stop me from complaining anyway. I am what I am.

I am also infinitely grateful to having been born into the family I was. There are no words or combination of words capable of conveying my gratitude to my parents. How could there possibly be, when I owe them so much? Every member of my family, from my grandparents through my aunts, uncles, and cousins, have never been anything but completely loving and supportive, and I realize that there are, tragically, many people who cannot say the same. And though my parents and most of my immediate family are now gone, my gratitude to them for having them to enrich my life remains undiminished.

Beyond the circle of immediate family is another circle, of friends. I am grateful to have been blessed with an extended family of wonderful friends who shore up my fragile ego and are unfailingly there when I need them. That they also put up with my...shall we say, "minor eccentricities"...and constant complaining is proof positive of the incalculable value of friendship.

One problem with expressing gratitude is, in fact, in finding how to do it properly and proportionately. Too-frequent and too-effusive expressions of gratitude soon lose their effectiveness and become the equivalent of a "thank you" given someone who holds a door open.

I've come to the conclusion that perhaps the best way to express gratitude is not through words but actions. Small gestures: a phone call, a sincere compliment, an invitation to coffee or a movie or dinner can speak more clearly than words. Something so small as being willing and making yourself available to listen to problems which may not directly concern you.

Gratitude is too often overlooked as a real and valid emotion, yet it, our individual awareness of it, and how we each respond to it, help to shape and define us as human beings.

And in case you were wondering, I'm grateful to you for reading my blogs.

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, January 22, 2010


"Pet" is one of the few English words which is not only both a noun and a verb, but its own definition, like "fly"...a fly is what it is called, and fly is what it does. A pet is what it is called and also its primary purpose: to be petted.

Pets--primarily dogs and cats--have been mankind's companions for a couple of millennia now. Countless books have been written on our inter-species relationship, its role in our society and in our individual lives. Pets are not human, but our emotional bonds to them can often rival that of all but the very closest of our human relationships.

While comparing cats and dogs is like comparing tangerines and tangelos, they both fulfill basic human needs. Dogs provide around the clock unconditional love. Any time we need, or the dog senses we need, affection, it is right there to provide it. And while cats can also be great sources of comfort and affection it is far more frequently given on the cat's terms, not the human's. Call a dog, and it is immediately at your side. Call a cat and 9 times out of 10 it will just stare at you, if it deigns to look in your direction at all. It's just their nature. Dogs are and have since their first bonding with humans thousands of years ago been "pack" animals. They consider man to be just another member of the pack.
Cats are, by their genetic nature, far more "loners" than dogs. Being part of a group is not nearly as important to them as it is to dogs.

In my life, I have had innumerable pets...probably more cats than dogs, yet it seems on reflection that I am basically more a "dog person" than a "cat person." The first family pet I can really remember was a doberman pincer named Kaiser. Dobermans have the reputation of being a one-person dog, and my dad was that person. Kaiser tolerated my mother and me, but it was to my dad that he was totally devoted. Kaiser once got up on the dining room table when no one was around and ate an entire cake my mother had baked for some special occasion. If mother was not Kaiser's favorite person, he was not her favorite dog.

The first dog I remember distinctly as being my own was Lucky, a black mutt who my dad found one day and brought home. Lucky was my dog, and I loved him almost on the same par as I loved my parents. I'm not sure how long we had him, but when we moved into a new home, my dad said we couldn't have a dog there, and gave Lucky to my grandfather, who lived on a farm. It broke my heart, but Dad was adamant, and that was the last I ever saw of Lucky. Grandpa reported that he had run away. And within two weeks of moving into the new house, Dad bought me a boxer pup, Stormy. I never forgave him for taking Lucky from me, and I have never, after all these years, stopped grieving for him.

I of course eventually grew to love Stormy, who we had from the time I lost Lucky to after my two years in the Navy and completion of college. I forget just how Stormy died, and I don't want to remember. When I moved to Chicago, I got another boxer, Thor, who had very serious mental problems as a result of inbreeding. He became impossible to keep in our apartment, so I gave him to my aunt, who had a large yard. Thor tried jumping over her chain link fence while wearing his leash and hanged himself. I felt terrible, but it was not the depth of sorrow I felt over Lucky

When I moved to L.A., I had Cindy, a German shepard, and Boy, a wonderfully loving large mutt, both of whom died of old age at my home. Overlapping Cindy and Boy was Sammy, another mutt who strongly resembled Toto from the Wizard of Oz. Sammy was a total delight and lived to be 15 or so. She moved with me from L.A. to northern Wisconsin, and died of old age while I was on a trip to L.A.
Bozo, a huge golden retriever, was surely one of the most loving dogs I have ever had. He loved to sit at my feet, with his head on my lap while I was watching TV, waiting for me to feed him popcorn, a kernel at a time. One day I let him out and he did not come back. I found him dead by the side of the road. For months after, I could not eat popcorn without crying.

My last dog was Duchess, a beautiful pure-white Samoyed I found on the street and who no one claimed even after I put an ad in the paper. Duchess was my only "outside" dog in that she loved winter; the colder the better. I built her a large doghouse attached to my garden shed, and filled it with bales of straw. And then one harsh winter I noticed her drinking a lot more than normal. I thought it was because the water in her bowl had frozen, so I brought her fresh water more often. She couldn't seem to get enough, and I noticed she was getting thin. I will never forgive myself for not taking her to the vet immediately. When I did, I was told she had severe diabetes. I hadn't even known dogs could get diabetes. The vet said they would keep her overnight to see what could be done. When I called the next day, I was told she had died during the night. Is it any wonder I think so little of myself?

I now live in an apartment and having a dog is out of the question, so now I just have my cat, Spirit.
And I see that I have rambled on and on and have not yet even mentioned the cats in my life, some of which were, like my dogs, memorable.

Well, another time, if you're interested.

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, January 20, 2010

Worst Enemies

"Beat me! Beat me!" cried the masochist. "No," replied the sadist.

The concept of sadism, or of physical masochism, is utterly beyond my comprehension. To take pleasure from inflicting or seeking out physical pain is inconceivable to me. However, when it comes to mental masochism--to the constant and merciless berating of one's self--I have been a lifelong practitioner, and I simply cannot break myself of it.

The origins of my mental masochism I'm convinced lie in my compulsion to be so very much more than I am or could ever possibly be. I began pointing out my flaws at an early age, as a rather warped means of beating other people to the punch. Rather than wait for someone else to say, as they inevitably would: "Jeezus, Margason, you suck!" I step right in and say it before they get the chance. I won't give them the satisfaction of thinking I am not already aware of my shortcomings.

And over time this self-deprecation became a way of life. Unfortunately, running myself down as a form of preemptive strike has, not surprisingly, been counterproductive. I've often told the story (and why wouldn't I? It's self-deprecatory) of seeing a letter one of my best friends in college had written another. In it, in mentioning me, he said, "You know, Roger keeps on telling everyone how worthless he is until eventually you begin to believe him." That should have been a wake-up call. It wasn't. More than 50 years later, I'm still doing it. How I have managed to get this far in life without an ulcer is a miracle.

I'm not sure whether it could be called ironic, or perverse, or perversely ironic, but I see my self-loathing, as indicated above, as a form of reverse narcissism. I demand far, far more of myself than I expect of anyone else because...well, because I'm me! I am fascinated by--and take what, despite all my vehement protests to the contrary, has to be a...well, masochistic...delight in--my own flaws and failings. I am not fishing for denials whenever I say that I am incompetent; I truly and completely believe it, and past experience offers solid proof. Given 10,000 opportunities to do something right or to do it wrong--especially if the task involves anything with moving parts, electricity, or the internet, the odds are that I will do it wrong 9,955 times out of the 10,000. And that is a conservative figure. It is also irrefutable fact. I don't like it, but that's the way it is.

We live in an increasingly technological world. Yet when, after countless failed attempts to do something technological, someone (usually a long-suffering friend) takes me by the hand and baby-steps me to the point where I finally do it right, the chances are 9,999 to 1 that the next time I need to do exactly the same thing, I will have forgotten how to do it or, doing it exactly the way I did it before, it will not work. In fact, it is quite common for me to do even a simple task I have done without problem innumerable times before--press key A and then key B to get result C, for example. Suddenly, with absolutely no change in the way I have always done it, I will press key A and then key B and get result Z, H, R, or K...sometimes in combination. Despite the kindness of people who assure me I exaggerate my inability to comprehend the simplest of instructions, the fact is that they know not whereof they speak simply because they are not me.

While it is sometimes difficult for most people to separate hyperbole from fact, I like to believe that I have raised incompetence to a new level...a statement perfectly demonstrating what I mean by reverse narcissism. "Nonsense," my friends will tell me. "Everyone makes mistakes." Yes, but the entire point of this blog is that they are allowed--even expected--to make mistakes. I am not. What I readily accept in them, I refuse to allow in myself. They are mere mortals, whereas I, while not sufficiently narcissistic to deny being mortal, am somehow....more. And if one's value can be measured by the number of one's flaws, I am "more," indeed.

So go ahead, take a look at your own flaws and failings, but don't even try to compare them to mine: you haven't the chance of a snowball in hell of winning.

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, January 18, 2010

On Thinking

I do an awful lot of thinking. ... No, let me rephrase that: my mind is always racing full-speed, like a car engine in neutral with the gas pedal pushed to the floor. Or, to put it another way, what I do is as directly related to thinking as a table full of baking ingredients is to a pie. Two sentences into this blog and already I'm galloping wildly off in all directions. Actually grabbing any single thought and holding onto it long enough to do anything of value with it is nearly impossible for me. It's like trying to hold on to a greased pig. (As the use of three totally unrelated analogies/similies in the space of one short paragraph amply verifies. Typical.)

This blog was begun with the idea that it would deal with the various aspects of thinking. I was going to delve into the subject at some depth...or what passes for depth with me. Here is how it originally began:

"We think from the day we are born. Even before there is what might be considered rational thought, babies begin thinking and learning how to use their bodies, familiarizing themselves first with the fascination of fingers and toes and the sound and faces of their parents, and exploring the senses--taste being the first. Then rationality and logical thought slowly enter the equation, and from that point mind and body begin a long (with luck) parallel journey."

And at that point, I found myself veering off course with the following:

"The mind is the driver, the body the car." And we're off on another analogy. "But eventually the there comes the point where the body reaches the peak of its abilities and, like a car, begins a slow but inevitable decline. It's not pleasant, being out there on the freeway of life" (and one metaphor) "and despite all the thinking in the world the body/car finds itself being increasingly overtaken and passed by sleek, newer models with shinier paint and more highly polished chrome, being forced into the slow lane when the driver/mind wants to stay in the fast lane."

I have no doubt that I will be hearing from someone on the proper definitions of and uses of metaphors and similies and analogies ("Oh My!"). How and why I go wandering off into analogies involving cars and drivers, I have no idea, other than that digressions are obviously one sign of an overactive mind.

So I tried to pull myself back to the theme on which I'd started: "On Thinking".

"I've always wondered why, since thinking is one of the greatest of all the unique gifts bestowed upon Mankind, so many people don't seem to bother with using it, and are content to let other people do their thinking for them."

Well, I only got one sentence there before another digression/analogy barged in, presenting me with the mental image of a nest of baby birds, mouths agape, waiting for their parents to regurgitate nourishment. Too many people never get beyond the baby-bird stage. They willingly swallow anything they're fed/accept anything they're told. Pat Robertson says the Haiti earthquake was God's retribution for the Haitian people's having made a pact with the devil a couple hundred years ago? Really? Gee, that sounds terrible. But I'm not going to spend any time thinking about it for myself, or wondering why God waited a couple hundred years before expressing His displeasure (hey, He's pretty busy). If Pat says it, that's proof enough for me. I'll just go along with whatever Pat...or you...or anybody says.

Then a very brief return to the main track for:

"I can't help but wonder how much of the anger and hostility sweeping the nation today is based on thought and how much on sheer, unreasoning emotion engendered by total lack of thinking."

And at that point I realized that at the rate I was going, this particular blog was going to be only a few pages shorter than The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and decided to call it a day. Maybe I'll try to talk about thinking again sometime. But, you know, it's kind of like....

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, January 15, 2010


You may have noticed that I’m rather fond of similes and metaphors for life and the human condition. They are constantly bubbling to the surface of my mind, unbidden.

Some time ago, I posted a blog comparing life to a leaky little boat, with each of us bailing frantically to stay afloat. Today, perhaps more inspired by my Navy videos than the leaky boats blog, another bubble broke the surface. I suddenly found myself envisioning stock footage from a WWII era newsreel, looking down through the clouds on a huge flotilla of naval ships. Carriers, destroyers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, battleships, support vessels of every description, tankers, troop ships…hundreds of them, spread over miles and miles of the ocean’s surface, each individual vessel moving in the same direction and at the same speed, toward the same destination with the same goal. It was also one of those optical illusions where one moment you see it as a unit (the flotilla), and the next you see the individual ships which constitute it.

And that, I thought, is a pretty good analogy for how humanity works. We are as diverse as the ships of the fleet, yet are all sailing through the sometimes stormy sea of life, each one a totally unique individual, operating both individually and as part of a vastly larger whole.

In a wartime flotilla every ship subject to attack and sinking by the equivalent of unseen submarines or air strikes. And when one ship is stricken, the others steam on, not oblivious, but unable to do anything. In the each-of-us-a-ship analogy, however, we sail together toward a horizon which none of us--no matter how big or small--will ever reach. As those who have sailed beside or at various distances from us for years slip beneath the waves, we sail on because we have no other choice than but to do so. And as we ourselves are torpedoed and sink, as inevitably must happen, the rest of the fleet continues on, our place in the flotilla taken up by another ship.

I’d like to think of myself as a carrier, of course…a proud, awe-inspiring, majestic flagship of one of the many battle groups of the fleet. But I am probably, in reality, a little grey destroyer paroling the perimeter of the fleet, cutting resolutely through the turbulent seas, plunging headlong into gigantic waves only to rise up in a huge spray of water washing over my bow.

There are, both in naval fleets and in life, priorities--probably more clear in ships than in people. In the navies of the world, it is the carriers which must be protected at all costs. The rest of the fleet is expendable. In human terms, world leaders…rightly or wrongly…are the carriers: the people they lead are the rest of the fleet. But regardless of our designation, place, rank, or role in the fleet, the important thing is to recognize that we each do have one, and each of us has a purpose it is our responsibility to fulfill with dignity and honor.

Damn the torpedos! Full speed ahead!

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, January 13, 2010

The Center of the Universe

Every child is wrapped in a cocoon of absolute, unquestioning certainty that he or she is the center of the universe. Most of us, through increasing awareness of reality, grow out of that notion. Some of us do not, and I am one of the latter group.

The fact is that each of usis,in fact, the center of our own universe which, while existing within the infinitely larger framework of time, eternity, and the cosmos, is sadly finite. Our individual universe ends when we end. We are aware, of course, that there are an infinite number of things going on out there in the world around us, most of which have absolutely no direct influence on us, and that there are an infinite number of things which do influence us over which we have absolutely no control. But we....each of the only thing we can be absolutely sure of. Our own reality is the only reality which matters.

The center-of-the-universe assumption is common among megalomaniacs, and I've always found it fascinating that there are far, far more male megalomaniacs than female. I must have a talk with my friend Dr. Freud about that....I'm sure he'd have some interesting observations.

That relatively few people give their actual position in the overall scheme of things much thought is natural. It's one of those things which, even if pondered at great depth, cannot be resolved or changed. I think one criterion for holding to the conviction of being the center of the universe stems from one's reluctance or, as in my case, absolute refusal, to let go of the sense of wonder and awe given all children and taken away far too soon and often too cruelly by reality. I take a perverse pride in never having outgrown my childhood and, in fact, cling to it fiercely. Perhaps it is my way of trying to play King Canute and hold the rising tide of time at bay.

We witness and react (to one degree or another) to others largely depending on their closeness, both emotionally and geographically, to ourselves. And of those two factors, emotional and geographical, the emotional closeness is the dominant one. The death of a close friend affects us far more directly and deeply than the deaths of 200,000 people in a disaster on the other side of the world--in large part, I suspect, to the fact that they are closer to US and therefore closer to the center of the universe.

Yet given everything just stated above it is paradoxical that I should strive so constantly and so diligently to prove to you that [i]I am the center of the universe--which relegates you to...what? (Well, you can take smug comfort in the knowledge that it is you who is the center of the universe, and I am merely a deluded wannabe.)

Being the center of the universe holds the danger of becoming not unlike a black hole: sucking everything into the gaping maw of me, until not even light can escape it. There are, throughout history, people like that. Yet it has been theorized that the big bang which created our known universe took place when an inconceivably huge black hole compressed into itself to the point where it exploded outward.

I stand in awe of so many things, not the least of which is that while there are, and have been throughout history, individuals who have set themselves out to be humanity's black holes, there are also those rare individuals whose lives have been similar to the big bang: everything goes out from them rather than being taken into themselves. And I, who still see myself as an optimist, look upon this comparison with hope.

For all my posturing, I sincerely doubt I could ever be sufficiently self centered to become a black hole, but if I did become one, there would always be the hope of someday going in a nano-second's nano second from being an infinitely small, black speck to the stuff of which stars are made. In the world of my fantasies, worse things could happen.

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, January 11, 2010

Simple Rules

It somehow always comes as something of a surprise every time I'm faced with the fact that life ain't easy, and the passage through it is frequently chaotic. To bring some semblance of order, rules were invented, both societal and personal. Since life is a cumulative learning experience, the rules each person sets up for himself/herself tend to be far more varied and flexible than societal rules. I have come up with a few simple rules to help my passage as smooth as possible.

Many of my own rules are in response to the fact that I've always been excruciatingly aware that life is far too short under the best of circumstances to meekly accept those wrongs and unnecessary injustices over which I have any small degree of control.

In no particular order of importance, here are a few of them:

1) Never vote for any politician who spends all his campaign money hurling mud at his opponent. I want to hear what he's for, not what he's against, and if he hasn't any positive, constructive things to say about what he plans to do with the office, he doesn't deserve to hold it.

2) Refuse to buy any product whose ads include the words "for well-qualified buyers" (which is a subtle way of saying "not you") or "emerging science suggests" (I don't want "maybe in the future," I want "now").

3) Never tolerate rudeness or neglect from anyone I am paying to perform a service for me. I do not hesitate one second in asking to speak to the person's supervisor and relating my unhappiness. (Often, in restaurants and retail establishments, the manager is not aware of the employees' actions unless told.)

4) Do not subject myself to any situation/play/movie/book in which I know I will find myself uncomfortable or upset simply because someone says I should. I witness and experience enough sorrow, trauma, and injustice in the day-to-day world without willingly exposing myself to more--and I certainly should not have to pay for the privilege.

5) In any disagreement, decide if winning is worth the effort put into it, and at the point where it is not, simply walk away.

6) Do not hesitate in defending those who cannot defend themselves.

7) Refuse to spend time in the presence of bigots and proselytizers.

8) Know the difference between ignorance and stupidity, and act accordingly.

9) Though it is often not easy, try to see both sides of every issue.

10) Never, ever, under any circumstances, be suckered into opening any message in my spam folder unless I recognize the sender's name and know that it got there by mistake.

11) Do my very best...though I often live by the golden rule.

12) Avoid like the plague anything I am assured that "everyone is talking about". If I'm not talking about it, it doesn't matter.

13) Even in those times when I am depressed or enraged by my own stupidity, never, ever take myself too seriously.

14) Listen to what others say, respect their right to say it, but only do what my mind and heart tell me to do.

As indicated in some of the rules above, I don't always succeed, but that doesn't mean I don't try.

Now, sit down and make a list of your own rules. You may find it very interesting.

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, January 08, 2010

Titan Arum

There is a rare plant, a native of Sumatra, called the Titan Arum. It can grow in excess of five feet high, is shaped very much like a phallus, and emits an odor like rotting flesh, which has given it the common and charmingly appropriate name of "corpse plant." It is both fascinating and repulsive, and I have decided to launch a campaign to rename it the "spam plant" for its strong similarity to the endless stream of effluvia clogging the in-box of nearly every computer on earth. Like the spores of a plant is carried by the wind, internet spam is carried on the winds of cyberspace to every corner of the world.

And yet, as utterly repulsed as I am by this internet effluvia, I cannot resist reading the opening words of each message as it appears on my monitor, and reacting like one of Pavlov's dogs. The following examples are reprinted exactly as received, and followed by my "Dear Lord, I can't help myself" responses.

"Put your donut in her oven" (Excuse me? If you are making an oh-so-subtle and clever titter-hee-hee-smirk reference to intercourse, may I point out that donuts are round; the penis--like the Titan Arum--is tubular. And donuts are cooked in hot oil, not baked. But what in hell did I expect from a spam message?)

"How please knocking-out hottie" (How learn speaking English?)

"Little humble Celanding - Beggard and outragedMany hearts deplord...." (Well, that certainly convinces me you're a totally above-board representative of an august and respected company. Send me a dozen of whatever in the hell it is.)

vivatcell: "Like a drilling machine in pants - Wanna act best with your wife...."
justin: "Fill rod with power - Wanna act best with your wife...." (Justin, meet Vivatcell. The answer to your identical question is a resounding "NO!," and I consider you both to be seedlings of the Titan Arum.)

"Give more banging to your beloved." (What a charming, charming sentiment. I thought for a moment I was reading a Hallmark card.)

"Lose 49lbs Obeying 1 Rule" (Yeah: don't eat.)

"Your Email Won £1,000,000 Pounds!" (Of course it did! And as King of Romania, I shall distribute it among all my worthy subjects.)

"Do you have a flare for designing?" (No, I usually use flares to attract passing ships at night when I'm lost at sea. But I do have a flair for spotting ignorance.)

neilread 07 "Wrong - Hello. My name is Victoria. It's about you or no?" (You're absolutely right: you're wrong. 1. Your name is not Victoria, it's Neil. 2. Your 'question' makes no sense--not that I expected it to--and 3. You're definitely wrong if you think I have any interest in whatever you're pitching.)

"Cheap women's clothes!" (My first reaction was that they were hoping to attract the Chippy/Bimbo crowd, but then realized they were undoubtedly using "Cheap" to describe the quality.)

"Russian wives. Are you ok?" (I'm fine, thanks. What the hell are you talking about?--Not that I have any intention of opening your toxic waste email to find out.)

WESTERN UNION TRANSFE (no subject) - "My associate has helped me to send your first payment of $7500 to you as instructed by Mr......" (Western Union's sending money by email now? Please tell your associate it has not arrived. Perhaps Mr......stole it. I wouldn't put it past him.)

Breathe deep.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010


I spend a great deal of time--probably too much--trying to understand my compulsion to constantly dissect myself in these blogs--to tell you more than you can possibly want to know. I seem driven to examine in minute (and possibly, to others, embarrassing) detail things that are no one else's business, and of very little if any interest to anyone but myself. I justify it with the rationale that I cannot be the only one so utterly fascinated with all the things which make up an individual human being, and while I am only one individual among billions, perhaps those things I find within myself can also be found in others...specifically, since you are the one reading this, in you.

This utter self-absorption comes, of course, at a considerable price. It too often gets in the way of simply living life. Looking too much inward prevents one from looking outward, and it is only by looking outward that the vast landscape of the real world can be seen. Constantly trying to resolve the mystery of oneself is inevitably isolating.

We humans seem to need to find some comfort in the assurance that we are not as alone as we sometimes think we are. I am, and have all my life been, on an eternal and generally elusive quest for validation; for a sense that I really do matter, to myself if not to others. And if others...if you...can see parts of yourself in me, then perhaps these egocentric ramblings may not be a total waste of time.

I stand in awe of those who simply accept themselves as they are without question. I do wish I were one of them.

Our mastery of science and technology has changed and continues to change our very concept of "worth" and our collective progress as a society has been at the expense of our sense of worth as individuals. Today "worth" is far more often equated with finances than with the qualities which make us human. We have increasingly lost our sense control over our own individual destiny. We have created a society to serve us, and it has turned from servant to master.

Technology and "the bottom line" steadily push aside human values, and our individual sense of worth is devalued even further. It is the corporation, the bureaucracy, the tax return, the media which set the standards of worth. It is the blond, buxom bimbo with one hand on thrust-forward hip staring at us from the glossy pages of fan magazines and slinking across our TV screen who has real value--and by clear implication, tells us what our own individual value is. The average-looking mom with four kids holding down two jobs while trying to make ends meet? Who the hell cares about her? She's nothing. The people who volunteer at soup kitchens or take elderly neighbors shopping, or never forget to send a birthday or anniversary card, or who always smile and are polite? What a bunch of losers! How much money do they have?

Ironically, we are in large part complicit in our own perceived lack of self-worth. We let an increasingly dysfunctional society over which we have less and less control dictate to us about what is important, and what we must be and do (or not be and do) in order to have worth. And since each of us, as an individual, is outnumbered seven billion to one, the natural assumption is that society must be right and we are wrong--and if we are wrong, we therefore have little worth to society or to ourselves.

The important thing we must learn--and it is not an easy lesson--is that rather than trying to do a "Where's Waldo" search of the vast panorama society has painted for us, we must look into our own mirror to recognize ourselves for who we truly are. Each of us is, it is true, part of society, but no one individual is society any more than an individual cherry is a pie. Our worth comes from within, it is not something which can be imposed upon us from the outside.

And in the meantime, I will continue to put out these inner workings of one man's mind in my eternal quest to convince you that you are not alone, and that at least one person other than yourself realizes that your worth cannot be weighed on anyone else's scale but your own.

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, January 04, 2010

Compared to What?

I've always loved, and often quoted, the anonymous (to me, anyway) bit of wisdom: "When people tell me 'Life is hard', I'm always tempted to ask, 'Compared to what?'" Life, and our reaction to it, is inevitably one endless string of comparisons. We are constantly weighing ourselves on some sort of ethereal balance with the things and people around us.

Depending on one's emotional makeup, this can either be a healthy and constructive way of judging and adjusting to our position in life, or a constant reminder of our own failings and shortcomings, real or imagined. It will come as no great surprise to anyone who has followed these blogs for any length of time to learn I tend strongly toward the latter view.

I spend a great deal of time being angry with myself, and for my narcissistic insistence that I am alone in the world when it comes to feelings of falling short in nearly every comparison challenge. I seem to insist upon finding the bruised banana in every bunch. And I also have a tendency to be somewhat selective in those individuals and situations I compare myself to--invariably, it is to people/things I envy or want. I don't usually compare myself with those who might objectively be considered to be my peers. (Perhaps this may be due in part to the fact that I have always felt myself so apart from others that the very concept of having peers is a little foreign to me.)

That I am not the only person to have difficulty with comparisons, or who always feels at the short end of the stick is hardly surprising. The fact of the matter is that few people have or take the time to consider things outside themselves and their own realm of existence. They still constantly compare themselves to others in a million different, wages, possessions ("Keeping up with the Joneses" is a classic way to describe it)...without really considering what they're doing.

Eastern cultures are not nearly so concerned with the need for constant comparison; their philosophical bases are very different from ours. They tend to see the world as a level playing table. Western cultures are more likely to see the world as a ladder. It's in our nature to look up the ladder to the next rung. Whatever we have, there's somebody who has more: more money, more talent, more possessions, more power. And we're never happy until we have it, too. (And then when we get it, the cycle repeats itself endlessly.) Comparisons, by their very nature, lead to dissatisfaction.

Our society is pretty firmly rooted in greed, and as a result, the deck is stacked against the person doing the comparing. We seldom compare ourselves, or even give any consideration to--though we should--people who are a few rungs beneath us on the ladder. For far too many people, it's not what we have, it's what we want.

When it comes to comparisons and the resultant problems of low self esteem, the negative power of television has no equal. Everyone on television--both women and men--is young and beautiful, and rich, and knows exactly what to wear and how to act in any given situation. Stare at any primetime soap opera for an hour and then take a look in the mirror. Recent studies have shown--stop the presses!--that low self esteem and many of the serious problems affecting young women , from anorexia to bolemia and on down, can be traced to the false ideals of "attractiveness" they're constantly exposed to on TV. Wow! Talk about an "I didn't see that one coming" revelation!

And men are not immune. Why do you think spammers make fortunes on products guaranteed to "make her scream with pleasure" (pardon me while I projectile-vomit)? That men love porn is hardly a revelation, yet even though the men in porn movies are not the intended focus of attention, they always seem to be far above average in the "endowment" department. How can poor Sam Schlub, after watching a porn flic, expect to compete?

Comparisons are an integral and important part of life...they act as a sort of compass guiding us through existence. But it is time we began putting things in perspective. We can start with the simple realization that each of us is only one human being trying to measure ourselves against nearly seven billion others. And with those odds, there's absolutely no contest: you're gonna lose. A little more self-acceptance would vastly relieve all the unnecessary grief we put ourselves through every day, and greatly simplify our lives. Then we can switch our attention to things that really matter, like whether Tiger Woods will reconcile with his wife, or whether Paris Hilton will survive her brave battle with her most recent hangnail.

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, January 01, 2010

Resolutions Redux

I never make New Year’s resolutions. Never have. I’ve never understood why people even bother: ninety-nine percent of resolutions made on New Year’s Eve have been broken by 2 p.m New Year’s Day…and that’s only if the person making them has slept in. I consider them yet another exercise in futility, and there are already more than enough of those. But humans are very fond of trying to deceive themselves, and are for the most part very good at it.

So while I’ve not made any resolutions for this year, there were a couple I momentarily toyed with.

1) If resolutions were as easy to implement as they are to make, I would resolve to reverse the aging process and keep going backwards until I reach the age of, say, twenty-one…an age chosen only since it is the age of majority and I’d legally be an adult and able to make my own decisions.

2) I would resolve to be more organized. I am quite capable of returning to my apartment, using my key to open the door, walking directly to my computer, sitting down, getting back up to leave the apartment again, and discover that I have lost my key. It’s a gift.

3) I really wish it were possible to become a better person simply by resolving to be one. To be less time-obsessed, more considerate of others, more giving, not quite such a pain in the patoot to my friends requires not only resolving to do it, but to actually work toward that end,, and this is where the resolution process falls apart. I would love to be far more well-read than I currently am. But mostly, I would pledge to be kinder to myself…to be far less quick to fly into rages over my failure to have everything come out the way I want it to on the first, or fifth, try. I would resolve to learn patience.

4) And I definitely would resolve to stop spending so much time bewailing what I have lost and what my physical limitations are, and concentrate on being grateful for what is still left to me, and the fact that those things I have lost were ever part of my life at all.

5) I would resolve to be less dismissive of people whose opinions differ from my own—but only on the condition that they make the same resolution, so I’m pretty safe on not having to make that one.

6) I would resolve to do more than pay lip service to my altruism, and become much more active in the real world and what happens in it. I would resolve to write my elected representatives (of course I would first have to take the time to be sure I knew who they were) frequently, and volunteer for any number of truly worthy causes devoted to stopping global warming and the destruction of the rain forests and end world hunger.

But one resolution I would not make, at any time or under any circumstances, would be to be more accommodating to reality. I have fought it all my life, and will continue to fight it now and forever. I have no illusions as to in any battle between reality and dreamers, which will win in the end. But thoughts are not bound by physical reality, and even after I am gone, as long as my words are stored somewhere, I’ll continue, if only figuratively, to thumb my nose at it.

Actually, many of the things mentioned above are really very good ideas, and I know I would indeed be a better person for them. So I’ll think about it for a while and, though it’s too late for 2010, maybe next year.

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