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Jan
20

Best Friends Or Adios Forever?

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How painful is it to accept never seeing another person again?

How painful is it to accept never seeing another person again?

When I was in grade school, possibly all the way up into high school, the custom was to have your fellow students sign your yearbook at the end of the academic year. This is a quite interesting concept if what people wrote in your yearbook ingenuously captured the relationship between the two of you at the time.

I briefly re-read some of the signatures on a trip back to my father’s recently. They read like this: “To Doug, a person in my social studies class.” “Thanks for the fun and the stories.”  “Good luck. See you next year.”

Harlequin romances make better reading.

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remembering memories

The longer you live, the more compressed the past becomes

Every year, around New Year’s Eve, I make my brain run through an exercise. How many prior New Year’s Eves can I remember? The advancing of a year’s number on January 1 is, we all know, an arbitrary distinction. Other cultures have a different system to designate the date and, therefore, a different New Year’s Day. Today is 12 Yi-Chou 4712 (the 12th month)  on the Chinese calendar and 11 Shevat 5775 (11th month) on the Jewish one.  The Chinese New Year occurs next month. The Jewish New Year was about four months ago.

A twelve-month calendar is common across most cultures, and once the full number of days in their particular year pass, the cycle begins again with one added to the previous year.  Increasingly, the Gregorian calendar is observed around the world while the alternate calendars are employed to observe specific cultural holidays.

It doesn’t really matter how we categorize our time. A year can be referred to as 2015 or, in Thailand, 2558.  Same difference.  Some of us don’t recall incidents by calendar years anyway. We do so by chronological years. We remember when we were 8 years old. If our birthday falls on June 1, then the year we were 8 straddles two different calendar years, effectively running from June 1 of one year to May 31 of the next.

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forgiveness

Most meaningfully enjoyed under a limited redemption period

The concept of forgiveness has endless quotations to go along with it. “Forgiveness is the best form of love. It takes a strong person to say sorry and an ever stronger person to forgive. How about “Forgiveness is not something we do for other people. We do it for ourselves.” Gandhi offered, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

We all make mistakes. I make them every day, several times of day. I err as reliably as my digital clocks keep time – and probably on the hour as well. A big mistake maker like myself should probably empathize well with other mistake makers. If it were only that easy. To err is human, sure. To think the rules don’t apply to you is also quite human.

We live in what I call a reality lag. I can recall incidents in my past where my father condemned me for doing something stupid. Were my actions actually stupid? Absolutely. As it happened, I didn’t usually grasp how insipid my behavior was, but you have to cut me some slack. I was but a young teen at the time. Now that I have a son who’s thirteen and I witness many of the nonsensical and idiotic things he does, the reality of what my own father saw decades ago fully sinks in. Now I’ve grasped it.  I really was stupid, and what my son is doing, most of the time, is even more stupid.

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Oct
02

Who’s The Fairest Of Us All?

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If you're looking for fairness, don't look in the mirror for an example

We’ve all complained about life and screamed, for parents and spouses to hear, that life just isn’t fair. More than two centuries ago,

Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that men are “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Jefferson wasn’t an idiot. He never guaranteed happiness, only the pursuit of it; and as all of us know who’ve gone after the prettiest girls in high school or the biggest spending potential clients, pursuit of something hardly guarantees you’ll actually get it. 

Some of us are born rich, some poor. Some of us are born in so-called free countries, others in dictatorships. Some in seemingly good health, some with congenital heart defects, and others as Siammese twins connected on the ass. Recently, my father sent me a video link of an Australian man with no arms or legs This man learned how to’walk’ and swim and become a motivational speaker. Inspirational, sure, but fair?

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Follow the right steps and you can get away with murder!

This week I just finished watching an excellent six part series, Evidence of Revision, covering various conspiracy theories. Profiled are assassinations of John F. Kennedy in 1963, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968, and the Jonestown Guyana suicides of 1978.

A conspiracy, as defined in the dictionary, is “an evil, unlawful, treacherous, or surreptitious plan formulated in secret by two or more persons.” A conspiracy, by definition, needs at least two people. A wrongdoer cannot conspire by himself.  A conspiracy theory, by extension, is a posited story about such an unlawful or treacherous plan.

The official stories explaining John F. Kennedy’s, Robert Kennedy’s, and Martin Luther King’s assassinations and the Jonestown residents’ mass suicide are, therefore, not conspiracies at all, because each of these atrocities can be pinned to one man working solo. Lee Harvey Oswald,, Sirhan Sirhan, and James Earl Ray, by official accounts, were the lone gunmen responsible for JFK’s, RFK’s, and King’s deaths, respectively. Jim Jones, as the hypnotic leader of the Peoples Temple, apparently convinced his flock to follow him over to the Other Side after he had a visiting congressman and several others killed.

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Feb
25

Which Universe Is The Best One?

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Science fiction has a field day inventing plots with alternate universes. The terribly written show Sliders did this in the 1990’s (I couldn’t watch beyond 3 episodes, the writing was so weak) and the better scribed but not superb Fringe explores this now. Sliders embraced the concept of an infinite number of alternate universes. Fringe practices the “keep it simple, stupid” mantra, pulling any science it can from dubious Wikipedia articles, and limits the number of universes to two.

I first remember encountering the alternate universe concept in 1987 when I read the book Timescape. A scientist from 1962 receives interference signals from 1998, warning the past of impending ecological disaster. The scientist from 1962 acts on these findings and changes the future. His 1998 will wind up very differently from the 1998 sending back the messages. That the messages were sent from somewhere means that there are at least two universes; and if there can be two universes based on group choices, there can be an infinite number based on an infinite number of choices made by the billions of people occupying this planet.

Alternative universes offer an explanation for the infamous Grandfather Paradox. If I am able to journey back in time and murder by grand daddy, how then can I be born? Well, I can’t — not on that timeline. By killing my grandfather, I’ve created an alternate universe in which my father could never be born to ever marry mother. The original universe, the one in which I was born, continues to exist in parallel with the alternate one(s).

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Jun
15

Survival Of The Unfittest

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Which of these two military lightweights would kick (or slightly skin) the other’s arse?


I think I’ve discovered the reasons Iran is so focused on its uranium enrichment program.   It’s too worried about getting shown up by Canada and Australia.  In 2009, Iran spent $6.5bn on defense.  Canada and Australia, who together have less than three-quarters Iran’s population, each spent almost triple – Canada outlaid $19.2bn and Australia $19bn.   This reminds me of a question I once drunkenly posed in a Laotian bar in 2005.  Which of the two countries, Canada or Australia, would win in a war against the other?  Never mind Iran for now.  The United Nations can worry about that one.


On the face, it’s an absurd question.   Both countries are constitutional monarchies with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II as the head of state.  The two nations have deep historical ties and have fought side-by-side when the set never set on the British Empire and, more recently, in the Korean War, the Gulf War, and the war in Afghanistan.   There’s no reason Canada and Australia would ever really get into a fight.    This question is a hypothetical one and asked as much as an exercise in critical thinking as because no immediately obvious answer comes to mind.


A distance of around 7,500 miles (12,000 km) separates Canada’s western coast from Australia’s eastern one.   That’s a fair distance.   As ridiculous a notion as it is that Canada and Australia would wage war on each other, it’s even more ridiculous to imagine one transporting troops and materiel to the other for the purposes of war.  The two would have endless arguments beforehand deciding who gets to host the fight.  To lead this thought experiment along a fruitful path of discovery, it’s necessary to set up a few ground rules first.


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Mar
07

The Typecasting Society

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The price of notoriety: the more notable you are at something, the less you’ll be trusted to do anything else

Every Harry Potter fan knows about the Killing, Babbling, and Conjunctivitis Curses.   However, they may not be aware of a more insidious curse, one that really exists, called the Typecasting Curse.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard actors discuss being struck by this spell.   An actor appears in a role in a successful series.  When the show is finally canceled, the actor either finds


*  he can’t get further work because the public can only see him or her in that one role or


*  the only work s/he can get is playing an almost identical role in a usually inferior vehicle


It’s almost a joke to recite examples, there’re so many of them.   Jason Alexander wows audiences as the neurotic and self-loathing George Costanza in Seinfeld for 9 years.   Afterwards, the Costanza character is recycled in other forms for Alexander in two extremely mediocre shows, Bob Patterson and Listen Up. Neither made it beyond a single season.   Alexander’s cast mate, Michael Richards, goes from playing Kramer in a winner to playing Vic Nardozza in a loser, The Michael Richards Show.   Ken Osmond, Eddie Haskell on Leave It To Beaver from 1957 to 1963, is forced to become a Los Angeles motorcycle cop after the show is cancelled.  Few casting directors could see him play anyone but Eddie.   Paul Petersen plays clean-cut Jeff Stone on The Donna Reed Show up until 1966 and becomes stereotyped for this all-American teen role when the era of drugs, love-ins, and protests takes root in the late Sixties.  The result is the end of his acting career.


Any actor or actress so closely associated with a particular role will find it difficult, maybe impossible, to escape from it unless years have passed and a new generation of viewers don’t remember the actor in his hallmark role.   From a producer’s perspective, it makes perfect sense to cast actors in modified versions of their previous successful roles.   New television series are designed around them, shows which have to play to their known strengths.  Producers would consider those strengths in light of what each person brought to their prior series.


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Nov
24

Like Father, Like Son

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What constitutes a healthy father-son relationship?

What constitutes a healthy father-son relationship?

Baseball games in the park.   Trips to the amusement park.   Camping vacations by tranquil lakes.  Swimming games in the local pool.

Take a deep breath.  Now imagine marijuana joints passed around by the campfire.  The toasting of two beer mugs during a night of intoxification.   Two women – a middle-age one and her twentysomething daughter – being led arm in arm back to two adjoining hotel rooms.

Which father-son images would you rather have in your memory banks?  (Or, if a woman, what mother-daughter images?)

I take it for granted that most of us have been raised with or at least been fed as the ideal the first set.    Our parents were authority figures.  They set boundaries.  We both admired and feared them.  They rewarded us when we did good and punished us when we didn’t.

As children, we actually want boundaries.  We may beg our parents to stay up late and consume junk food in humungous quantities and be disappointed when they refuse our every demand, but deep down, we secretly want them to draw lines in the sand beyond which we cannot cross.   If they did not, we would feel like we were growing up without a guide.

There is no one universal parenting method, no absolutely correct way for a parent to raise a child.  I would take for granted that most readers had father-son (or mother-daughter) relationships which more closely resembled baseball games in the park than discussions about life over freebase cocaine.  But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve observed more and more unusual father-son relationships, with the son looking no worse for wear for it.

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Nov
20

The Mating Or The Baiting Game

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True love sounds so great that entire industries are built around it.  Does the dating industry really help us find it?

True love sounds so great that entire industries are built around it. Does the dating industry really help us find it?

Back in my parents’ generation, a person graduated college and then marched down the aisle without too much delay.  It was common to marry a childhood or college sweetheart or get set up on a blind date, always wide open to the possibility of it leading to a trip to the altar in the not-too-distant future.

Since 1900, the average age at marriage has risen for both sexes, in the United States and in most other industrialized countries.  It has not been a steady rise.   In 1900, our man at the altar would have averaged 25.9; his bride-to-be, 22.  From 1910 to 1960, the average age for men actually fell,  to 22.8 years.  From the 1970’s onwards, the average age for both sexes has increased, but not by much when you compare those ages to the 1900 figures.   Men today are, on average, 26.8 years old, and the women 25.1.

The idea of eternal love and marrying for it has been tossed around in songs and movies for eternity.  Were the couples of 1960 so much more attuned to love than the couples of today to find true love at younger ages?

Stats on eternal love are hard to come by, if they exist.  We’ll leave that debate for another day.  Let’s look at what we can examine.  If people are marrying later than they did in 1960, then they’re probably dating more partners beforehand; and if they’re dating more partners beforehand, their experience should be broader and their choices sounder.

Back in 1960, there wasn’t a dating industry.   You didn’t need an industry when you probably married a person from college or a friend of a friend.  But today, people don’t usually marry out of college.  I remember thinking it unusual that geeky (and probably virginal) Alan Scheinbaum was going to be marrying his college dreamboat a few weeks after graduation.  It was behavior from another era, like opening up a car door for a girl: it might look chivalrous, but it also seems old-fashioned.   And since people no longer feel restricted to attend a college and settle down in the locales where they’ve grown up, their friendship network can change radically, so radically that none of us really expect a buddy to set us up on a blind date that can lead to marriage.    Anyway, it’s the Information Age now, and all of us expect lots of choices at our fingertips.  Why rely on your pals to set you up when there’s an industry in place that will gladly do it for you?

The match up protocols haven’t fundamentally changed since the matchmakers of Eastern Europe paired up children from families of similar backgrounds.  It’s just gotten more efficient.  Anonymous dating usually involves filling out some kind of detailed questionnaire about your interests, hobbies, and physical attributes.  Video profiling became common in the 1980’s.  Someone seeking a potential date could view videotapes of potential prospects.  Today, with the ubiquity of the internet, the date seeker can skim through hundreds of profiles while sitting on his coach potato behind at home until s/he finds one that appears suitable.

I can see the appeal of online dating.   If given the choice of finding a boy- or girlfriend by visiting a smoky bar or discotheque and trying to chat with him/her over loud music vs skimming a profile while lying on the couch drinking a fine wine, who wouldn’t opt for the latter?  A month’s subscription at one of the most popular sites, Match.com, costs $30, less than half the money I spent bar hopping in Perth one night on watered-down cocktails and meeting women I wouldn’t want to ever see again.   There’s just one major problem with these online dating sites.  

Members draft their own profiles.

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