System of a Downer


It was 9:00 PM and I needed to go for a walk. This is a relatively new thing for me. I have taken to night walking – it relaxes me – clears my head – puts my spirit at peace for 30 minutes. Sometimes I start out with my dog Walter in tow, then I swing back by the house to drop him off and continue on my own – alone with the night – and my iPod. Before heading out on this particular night I made a point of re-synching my iPod, because somehow I inherited 23 “System of a Down” songs from my son’s playlist.

Here’s a truism: There few things in life more abrasive than having System of a Down pumped into your head unexpectedly at full volume. It’s happened to me on several occasions and the experience has literally shaken my faith in humanity.

40 percent chance of rain, 95 percent chance of extinction


I was sitting on the couch – my son across the room with his smart phone in hand – head tilted downward.

Without lifting his head he flatly stated that there is a 95 percent chance that the human race will be extinct in 9000 years. I immediately thought this was an opening argument for why my wife and I should spring for his school field trip to France. But not a single syllable followed. Apparently he just wanted to share a little sunshine.

It’s a scary thing


It’s a scary thing when you realize while brushing your teeth, getting ready for bed, and approaching 50 years old, that what you do, and what you have done for 8 to 12 hours a day, for the past 27 years, you do not because you enjoy it, but because you have a deep-seeded  fear of failure and a strong desire to be liked – and it just-so-happened that you ended up as a software technical writer – and the desire to be liked and that fear of failure, rather than your love of the job, is what fuels you every day, and with watery tooth paste running down your chin, and a tired expression looking back at you from the mirror, you imagine, just for a split second, that you see your father’s face, a slight smile that is both wry and full of regret, and as this moment of clarity extends a little bit longer, you realize how much time you’ve wasted and that the time laid out before you has a thick visible horizon that is a little too close for comfort and you begin to drift, and wander, and suddenly realize the profound affect your family dynamic from childhood has had on all of the decisions that you’ve made right up to this toothpaste moment, from choosing your spouse, to taking your first technical writing job, to not taking risks, to blindly putting your nose to the grindstone for so long you may have missed a true calling and to the heart-sinking realization that so many of your decisions were totally unguided, that you made them with little forethought and as a result you became a cork in a rapidly rolling river, and now, as you approach your 50th year, you’ve been granted time to pause in front of your bathroom mirror at 11:45PM on a Sunday night, as if the river has taken sympathy on your plight and dumped you momentarily into an inlet where you can see shadowy opportunities swaying on the shore, and a murmur of a thought bubbles up from a thick murky place in your brain about how good it would feel to take control of your life while you still have the chance, before that river pulls you back into the current and you drift ever more swiftly from the shore and resign yourself to the river’s plan, which you know ends with you being dumped unceremoniously into the Ocean – which is of course  a metaphor for the end – and you start to wonder about your kids, and the role you’ve played in their family dynamic and what effect you’ve have had on their formative years, and although you know with absolute certainty that you love them more than life, you still wonder about the messages conveyed simply by you going through your daily, weekly, monthly, yearly routine and you wonder if there is anything positive, if there is a scintilla of good that might have seeped into their subconscious, and you understand that your kids are in a sense passive participants in your life,  and you begin to worry that they learn through observational osmosis and therefore are in a sense doomed to repeat the mistakes of their parents, and you start to think that the best thing you can do for your kids would be to get out of that god damn river and set your own course, because by staying in that river you are basically telling your kids that life controls you rather than the other way around, and that is probably the worst thing to tell anyone,  let alone your own kids, who still have so many decisions to make and so much time ahead of them – so you start to clear 50 years of brush from your mind in hopes that you will be able to find your life’s passion, while at the same time you question the logic of  having to search for one’ passion, shouldn’t passion come from within? If you have to search for your passion, are you not saying that, at least for the moment, that you don’t have a passion, and let’s face it, all of this means starting over again and you begin to sink into your sink at the thought of that, and then you  start to rationalize by telling yourself about the importance of setting a good example and providing for your family and its approaching midnight and tomorrow is a work day and you are so far behind on your work, so you press-down and twist the top off your bottle of Ambien and fumble for one of the pills and turn off the bathroom light and walk away, your Father’s reflection remains in the mirror, all the wryness in his expression has melted away, replaced with just sorrow and regret.

When imagining is not enough


“Imagine there’s no heaven

It’s easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

Imagine all the people living for today” – John Lennon

I love the song. I love the sentiment. But we need to take it to the next level, because imagining it just isn’t enough.

If we want things to improve on this little planet of ours, the first step is to get people to understand, that this little planet of ours is not a stepping stone.

If we truly want the world to be as one, let’s begin by swinging the wrecking ball of reality at all organized religions and knock down the walls that divide us. In fact, let’s demolish the myth of heaven and hell altogether, not just because it’s bullshit – but because embracing the concept of one life, one planet puts the focus on the here and now.

More in a little bit. . .

Extremists and laughter


If we could just get these people to laugh – I think that could turn things around.

To have them catch themselves laughing joyfully about something that does not involve mass calamity, blown up buildings, or dead hostages.

Rather than drone strikes, I think we should try a different approach. Let’s kidnap extremist leaders and force them to watch a few episodes of Everyone Loves Raymond, or The King of Queens, or The Office. Or at least lobby our representatives to dump some defense dollars into researching what tickles the funny bone of an extremist?.

Because laughter allows us to forget our troubles (if only for a moment) – it is a uniquely human ability (sorry, I do not think those Hyenas are actually laughing) – and genuine laughter is one of the few human experiences that provides “oneness with the moment”.

And let’s be honest, if it’s a really, really, really good laugh, one of those so-hard-you cried-and-could-not-catch-your-breath laughs, you remember it forever. It gets stored in the laugh reservoir portion of our brain, so that we can draw upon this reservoir during those times when we’re stuck in the desolation desert.

I think extremists spend their entire existence in the desolation desert and their laugh reservoirs are a big sandy pit.

If you know any extremists, tell them a joke, try to get them to giggle (do not try to tickle them – that could be dangerous).

Tolerance is a flower that is slow to bloom

Fill in the blank:

“The majority of Muslims _________________________”

are peaceful

are rational

are fond of Americans

want more freedom

Americans have been told over and over that the majority of Muslims are all of these things. And most Americans want to believe this to be true, if only to convince ourselves that the act of flying planes into buildings was an aberration of Islam, rather than the normality of it.

But watch the news this week and all you see are Muslim mobs, heaving with hatred, burning American flags and storming our embassies. Cable news network’s provide us with 24/7 coverage complete with expert analysts – most of whom labor to explain that the protesters represent a small percentage of the overall population, and that fringe elements were exploiting a situation (the posting of an inflammatory video about Islam) as an excuse for perpetrating violence against the west.
Although I believe there was an element of truth to the analysis – the most important lesson to learn from this week’s violence is this:

In Islamic nations, when it comes to blasphemy, almost all Muslims are in agreement. In other words, no one is free to speak out against the teachings of Mohammed. And if they do, violent retribution is deemed (in the hearts of many Muslims) an appropriate reaction that is in accordance with their teachings and belief system.

The idea of “I hate what he said, but I will defend his right to say it” is uniquely western. I think American’s forget, or get lost in the rhetoric about God given rights and American exceptionalism, that our ideas about freedom cannot be applied uniformly to all cultures. This is especially true of nations where Islam is the rule of law.

I am not saying that America should stop promoting western values like freedom and democracy, or not strongly condemn the violence that occurred this week.

I am saying that one of these values, the freedom of speech, have limitations (right or wrong), in countries ruled by Islamic law.

In America we have a saying that freedom of speech “does not give one the right to yell FIRE” in a crowded theater. I would argue that our world, made smaller by technology, has become a crowded theater – and that “FIRE!” is not the only word or phrase that can result in calamity.

So, how to coexist in this rapidly shrinking world of ours? Well first, all nations need to embrace tolerance and promote education about each other’s culture. Although this sounds simple and logical, tolerance is a flower that is slow to bloom

We sometimes hear from our own citizens that America is intolerant, but I think most of us recognize that America cultivates tolerance – providing a fertile environment where tolerance can take hold, grow, and spread. But here’s the hard reality; such an environment does not exist in nations ruled by Islamic law. Because this is the case, we should not expect tolerance to take hold, grow, and spread at the same rate in Egypt as it does in America. That would be like expecting corn to grow at the same rate in Antarctica as it does in Iowa. That said, we should resign ourselves to the fact that in Islamic nations, it could take generations before we see any significant changes.

President Obama was right when he said he did not know if Egypt and Libya were allies of America. Both these countries have governments newly born out of the Arab spring. Our alliances with these new governments will be formed (or not formed) based in part on how they respond to situations like this week’s outbreak of violence – only then will we know if they are truly allies of America.

The United States government should do everything in its power to persuade these governments to change. This includes putting conditions on the aid we send them. It is fair and appropriate to ask in exchange for our aide, that these governments commit to cultivating an environment in which tolerance can  prosper. Without such commitments, the violence will never end.

“And it’s not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy toward people who aren’t like them”


I remember how those words, spoken by then candidate Barack Obama, caused such and an up-roar in America.

Yesterday, as violent uprisings spread throughout the Arab world, I thought to myself these same exact words, used to describe attitudes of Americans in small midwestern towns, could also be used to describe the  Islamists storming our embassy in Egypt and Libya.

What does it mean to “cling” to one’s religion? Well obviously it’s not a flattering comment (that’s why so many people got pissed). It’s kind of the opposite of saying people are getting strength from their religion. It conjured up images of angry, white (only because a black man said it); uneducated families huddled around their own prejudiced thoughts while holding a bible in one hand and shotgun in the other.

What Barack Obama was saying was that when times are tough, especially economically, people grab onto these two things (religion and guns), not as a means to get them through difficult times, but as a way of nullifying what they believe to be socio-economic injustice. I may not have all that you have, but I have Jesus Christ and a semi-automatic hand gun – and that trumps everything!

Those extremists storming our embassy have been on jelly-side down side of the socioeconomic sandwich for generations – for many of them, the only thing they have is their God and their religion.

Insult that, or demean it in any way, and they see it as an attempt to take away the one thing they believe they have that is superior to all things material, their God.