Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Hire me to tear down your swing set

If you have an old backyard play set with ladders, fort, slide and swings I will disassemble it for you. That way you won’t have to hear the wees and squeals and laughter that comes with every crack of a board or breaking of a beam. For you, no memories of pirate ships, space stations, and shops that sold you rocks claiming to be ice cream. The best kind of ice cream. The kind that never melts. You won't recall a little one swinging higher than safe, sliding faster than wise, trampling mud where you wanted to grow grass and now don’t care. Nope. Hire me. I work cheap. In fact, I’ll work for nothing. I’ll tear down your old swing set for free if you might tear down mine.

Thursday, June 16, 2022

This podcast will make you feel better

It is customary at the gym to pay no attention to the other attendees. We're all in various stages of wellness. Thank goodness. Anyone who by chance, or flouting custom, noticed me today would have thought either 1.) this guy can't handle what he's doing or 2.) he is listening to the audio version of The Notebook. I was listening to a podcast.

Teresa Teuscher at T3fitt got my wife Sarah and our friend Jan to talk about the work they do as World Spine Outreach. They don't like to talk about it. Partly because they are shy, partly because they don't want to be the focus - its about the kids. Mostly, I think now, because the story is very, very moving.

WSO helps children with spine problems, mostly scoliosis. Every year WSO puts together millions of dollars in donations  - medical supplies and time and skill - and uses those resources to make lives better. All of it. No overhead, no salaries. You will not find another charity that passes donations through to those in need with less friction. It's an ongoing miracle. 

Ironically, one of the reasons this operation works so well is the selflessness. Which means Sarah and Jan, the founders, never boast or brag. Almost to a fault. Singer, songwriter, and scoliosis warrior Tina Parol convinced them that a tiny toot of the horn might help WSO help even more people. T3fitt agrees.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Guns, cars, armories, solutions

I like guns. I’m attracted to all things mechanical. I like helicopters, tractors, Roombas, catapults, pianos, and, most of all – the automobile. The coolest and fastest of which I am not allowed to drive. I do not have a racing license and these cars are not street legal. They are not meant for the roads we all share. They are wondrously powerful and therefore reserved for the trained and for competition. Like most car enthusiasts I put up with this. I understand that cool as it would be to drive a single-seat, opened wheeled racecar up and down Elmwood on a Friday night, it’s not exactly safe for anyone, me included. Headlights (at least 22 inches off the ground), some distance between my car and the pavement, an exhaust system that doesn’t blowout windows as I drive by, bumpers, flaps and fenders, etc. I can buy one. I’m allowed to own a racecar; I’m just not allowed to use it unless I go to a closed course.

That was the way with guns.

Whenever I hear people talk about not needing an assault rifle to hunt deer, I shake my head a little bit. No one knows this fact better than your average gun enthusiast. There are varmint guns, hunting guns, home protection weapons . . . and then there’s the assault rifle. It is designed, and people own them to, combat a serious aggressor. Like the government.

This was always this way with guns.

Which is why the Second Amendment of the US Constitution says, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The Founders had just formed a shaky state, by cutting themselves off from a tyrant. The militia is an important – and now often overlooked – part of that sentence. The early United States militias were like volunteer fire companies. They gathered regularly. Trained and drank beer. They built and maintained community arsenals to store their powder and lead and firearms. Maybe even canon. Which weren’t, you know, street legal. Some things are not supposed to be just out there for anyone, no matter how cool.

During the Civil War, America’s relationship with militias and their munitions magazines changed. The militias became more formal, morphing into National Guard. The arsenals became armories, and for the most part, the doors closed to the club.

We should reopen those doors. If we are going to stick with the current Second Amendment, we should go all in. Local, and I mean local, brigades, with local arsenals. Free and open to anyone who wants to train. Just like volunteer fire companies. We can maintain a defense against any aggressor, foreign or domestic, while also keeping continuous checks on the members.

Sure you can own an assault rifle, but you’ll need to keep it at the armory. Where you can train with it, learn how best to use it, and prepare for whatever kind of threat you fear. But leave it there. Like a closed course and car that isn’t street legal.

It’s a not a loss of liberty, it’s a way to help ensure liberty for everyone.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Billsism’s Cathedral

Consternation over a new stadium for the Buffalo Bills is understandable. In fact, it’s almost mandatory, because most people do not fully understand that the Bills are neither a sports team nor a business. The Bills are a religion.

I’m kind of not joking. Religion is a slippery concept. It does not require a deity. There are a number of nontheistic religions, include Buddhism, which is practiced by about seven percent of the world’s population, making it the fourth most practiced religion in the world. It is not an outlier.

At its most basic, the term religion can be any system of beliefs and practices. Devotion to the Buffalo Bills gets past those markers. Though most people would agree that a religion should reach for the large, the spiritual. Billsism does that too.

Billieve is plastered on billboards and bumper-stickers all over the region (if not all over the world.) We are encouraged to support the team’s actions and goals pretty much on faith. That faith has been tested in saint-like trails over the years. They went 1 and 13 in 1971. They went to four super bowls in a row, 1990-1993, losing all four. Snowstorms, below zero temperatures, traffic, flaming folding tables – through it all, fans are asked to endure, focus and Billieve. And so we watch every game, shaping our lives around game times. We read newspapers. We listen to AM radio. Am, people. We participate in endless discussions of possibilities, hopes and torments. There are Bills-specific phrases, like wide-right. While general football fans understand the denotation, Bills followers have a much more moribund connation: We have lost at the moment of triumph. It ties into one of the many Bills parables and acolytes. Where would you rather be than right here, right now?

The most critical aspect of a religion has, with regard to the stadium conversation, become the most impactful. Like most religions, Billsism defies common logic. People outside the faith cannot be expected to fully comprehend the need for a place of worship. Mesoamerican pyramids ate up unimaginable resources for those civilizations. What kind of people started Notre Dame de Paris in 1163, with no cranes or bulldozers or nail guns? Or nails that weren’t hammered out individually, by hand? Those people were Bills fans . . . the equivalent there of.

Understanding that fact can help us understand why there will never be a consensus on how best to build a new stadium. The Buffalo Bills is a private company, making substantial profits. There is no reason to support that endeavor with public funds. Yep. They should build exactly what they need to better their business goals and keep the government out of it.

Or the Buffalo Bills are an ever-changing pantheon of near deific heroes worthy of a Parthenon. Also yep. Let’s create an architectural miracle that exemplifies our love and devotion, as well as the profound abilities and stature of our community.

Compromising those positions gets you a large bowl surrounded by acers of nothing eighteen miles from the center of this civilization. No retractable roof, with very little utility beyond a dozen or so games a year - three percent of the year - placed conveniently next to the previous, now empty and crumbling billion-dollar bowl. Future archeologists will look back on us and write papers trying to discern why.

Thursday, March 31, 2022

The Oppenheimer Alternative

Robert J. Sawyer's book is not what you think and I think more books should be that way. At first it feels like historical fiction - exceptionally thorough and well-researched. Then it bends a bit, giving us the alternative hinted at the title. By the end, though, the book is something else all together. I will give nothing away, other than my admiration. This novel is like a painting that you first encounter three inches from your nose. You can't fully appreciate it until you've backed up. Or, in this case, read through to the end. Loved it.

I read the electronic version, not that the method matters much, other than the ability to search things, which came in handy.

The Oppenheimer Alternative, by Robert J. Sawyer.


Thursday, March 24, 2022

Tom Mullen Talks Freedom

Tom Mullen Talks Freedom Podcast
Like a straight guy going to a gay bar, but a safe one. Maybe you're a marathon runner who wants to try a cigar - take a puff of this. I have a new podcast on rotation. Tom is a capital-friendly libertarian, but rational and reasonable. So I get to listen to someone outside of my echo chamber without a blood pressure cuff  and a tin of pills. His topics include democracy as a value, the American empire, and a recent spat of Ukraine-related topics that might help round out your world view. If you're a Volvo-driving, Picpoul-drinking, NPR listener who thinks AOC should be POTUS, this is your chance to hear how others think. 
Tom Mullen Talks Freedom

Friday, February 11, 2022

Kingo is real

Eternals, ChloĆ© Zhao’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, was not the best reviewed movie of the 27-feature film set. It is not the worst. And ranking them at all is pointless. Movies are not horses in a race. I can love or hate many films simultaneously. Or, as in the case of Eternals, land somewhere in the middle, and curious as to why.

I love all Marvel movies without shame or irony. Zhao’s take on the superhero world is lovable and laudable, though it didn’t fill me with glee as did almost every other movie and TV show set in this world. It gave me a fair amount of glee - perhaps 80% the norm – but it didn’t top me off. I just watched it again to figure out why. And one of the reasons is Kingo.

If you have not seen this movie, you should stop here and go read other things I’ve written. Most are better than this post anyway.

As you may or may not remember, Kingo is part of a band of superbeings sent to protect humanity from Deviants. Sort of like angels sent by God to keep demons at bay. Kingo can shoot blasts of energy from his hands. He is played by Kumail Nanjiani, who is absolutely not my problem with the character. Nope. Nanjiani’s performance is delightful – funny, touching, heroic from a place of reluctance (which is hard to pull off in a movie dealing eleven other major characters) and most of all, real.

That last adjective is the problem. In the lead up the climax, Zhao has Kingo exit. He leaves before the big fight. I fully expected him to return at a critical moment. Yes, a plot device we’ve seen done to death, but hey, it’s common because it generally works. Zhao never takes that tool out of the drawer and it’s brave, artistic, original and so un-superhero like that it bothered me.

At the end of the second act, Kingo is given a choice: He can side with the Eternals that want the Earth to crack like a big egg releasing a being that will help save the universe, or he can side the Eternals that want to stave off the cracking and save humanity. Tough choice, really. The people you see versus the multitude you do not. The tangible versus the hypothetical. Now v. future.

Kingo doesn’t choose. He picks door number three. He walks away, leaving this philosophical mess to the others. It’s a crazy choice for a Marvel superhero. It’s also crazy realistic. Most of us don’t know what to do in an emergency. We like to think we do but faced with completely new and unpredicted situations most of us – most, I stress – hesitate and contemplate. It’s why first-responders train. It’s why pilots, Navy SEALS and surgeons train. Practice mitigates chaos. We find people who can handle chaos heroic because they react like we all want to react.

Regardless of his training – or programming or whatever Eternals go through – Kingo acts like a common human. It’s a bold move in a world of Captain Americas, Iron people and Asgardians. I respect about as much as it disturbed me. I read comic books and watch superhero movies to break these human boundaries. Sure, there’s plenty of other characters in this movie who serve as heroic ideals. One dissenter should not have marred the effect. And yet it did.

The movie is about order’s never-ending fight with chaos. The Eternals exist to dispel the Deviants because they deviated from their orders. The Eternals were created by Celestials, who’s purpose in the universe is to reduce entropy. They will destroy Earth and all of us who live here to hold off disorder. Kingo found this fight unwinnable and unnecessary and went home to chillax and accept the inevitable. Even though some of his family brought forth a stay of execution for humanity, they did not change the second law of thermodynamics. Entropy always increases with time.

Kingo will be right, eventually. A real hero.