The Thinker

Rant of the month

I haven’t had a rant all month, but it’s not from lack of opportunities. There is so much political craziness going on before midterm elections next week that it’s hard to choose what to rant about. Then I read this today and it managed to ring all my bells:

Republicans are calling on Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu to apologize after she suggested Thursday that President Barack Obama’s deep unpopularity in the South is partly tied to race.

What did this senator in a very uphill battle to retain her U.S. senate seat actually say?

I’ll be very, very honest with you. The South has not always been the friendliest place for African-Americans. It’s been a difficult time for the president to present himself in a very positive light as a leader.

To her credit, Mary Landrieu is not walking her comments back. But why on earth should she? What could possibly be more obvious than the truth of her statement? Of course historically the bulk of slavery in the United States occurred in the southern states. What could be unfriendlier to blacks than being enslaved? We fought a civil war principally so blacks could enjoy freedoms, freedoms that were subsequently largely taken away from them, if not by regular lynchings, then by Jim Crow laws that set up poll taxes to keep blacks from voting.

But even if you selectively forget all that arguably dated history, upon hearing Landrieu’s remarks the only thing you can really say is, “Well, duh!” It’s been decades since a black has been lynched in the south, thank goodness, but it’s quite obvious that blacks in the south are still being discriminated against and harassed every damned day because of the color of their skin. That Republicans reacted so vociferously clearly indicates that they are sensitive to the issue. And that’s because it’s so obviously true.

I know I would be much happier if they would simply come out and admit they are a party principally full of racists that are out to promote racial inequality. Most of their anger is still directed against blacks, but of course it’s not just blacks, just principally blacks. They don’t much like Hispanics, at least the “illegal” ones, as if a person can be illegal. And of course they are working actively to make sure anyone they don’t like (principally blacks of course) can’t vote. This is not the least bit American, of course, but they have zero qualms about doing anything they can get away with to disenfranchise those they don’t like.

Let us count just a few of ways blacks in particular feel unfriendly behavior from those in charge in the south:

  • They are stopped and questioned by police in greatly disproportionate numbers compared with whites
  • They form a majority of the prison population in the south despite being in the minority
  • They are the ones who are shot and/or killed most often, principally by whites, who feel threatened by them, even when no crime has been committed. Trayvon Martin is the obvious example here, although there are plenty of others that did not make the papers. It’s okay for whites to shoot blacks to “stand their ground”. If a black did the same to a white, does anyone in the south honestly think the black would get off?
  • Their states disproportionately have onerous voter ID laws, often requiring only certain picture IDs in order to vote, pictures that are hard to attain and cost money to acquire
  • These same states have cut back or eliminated early voting or mail in voting, making it harder for these people who often work two or more jobs to vote affecting, of course, principally blacks
  • If blacks can make it to vote on Election Day, they tend to wait in longer lines, discouraging them from casting a vote, because they get fewer voting machines per voter than more well moneyed and whiter precincts
  • Whites at polling sites question their right to vote harass many of them. Some take pictures and engage in other forms of harassment.
  • They often get misleading robocalls about voting on or before Election Day, sending them to wrong precincts, providing them with bogus information on credentials they will need or telling them they are not allowed to vote
  • Since blacks form the bulk of the prison population, and many are convicted of felonies, they often lose voting privileges for life
  • Just today we have a story of a Texas judge caught on tape saying he doesn’t want blacks to vote.

As for President Obama, he’s hardly the first Democratic president to get a hard time south of the Mason-Dixon Line. John F. Kennedy died from the bullet of a redneck in Dallas. Even fifty years ago they were hostile to liberal Democrats in the south. But anyone who doesn’t think that Obama’s race isn’t a huge factor in the way he is loathed by Republicans in the South clearly isn’t looking very hard:

  • There have been numerous examples in the south where Obama has been hung in effigy, often with accompanying racist signs and slogans.
  • It doesn’t take much looking to find racists signs about Obama in the south. Often you just look at the bumper of the car ahead of you.
  • Upon his election as president, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared it would be his mission to completely undermine Obama’s agenda. This included filibustering all judicial appointments, a policy that would still be ongoing had not Senate Democrats changed the rules after the start of the last Congress.
  • The language used by Republicans about Obama is frequently racist.
  • So many of them believe he is a secret Muslim and was born in Kenya, and promote it on news outlets
  • So many of them don’t believe his birth certificate is legitimate

Of course there are reasons for Republicans not to like President Obama that are not racist, but no modern Democratic president, even Bill Clinton, has come close to getting the complete obfuscation and stonewalling that President Obama has gotten. Rather than simply oppose him, Republicans have proven they will shutdown the government in order to get their way, and stonewall his appointees when they can to keep him from governing. They will put party before country.

This response was knee jerk and predictable, but no one, especially those who are protesting Landrieu’s remarks, believes their remarks were sincere. Their actions speak louder than words. Just a couple of the items I documented above would be plenty of evidence of overt and damning racism.

Republicans are a party consisting mostly of racists unwilling to compromise on pretty much anything. They are spoiled and pigheaded brats. It’s hard to think of anything Landrieu could have said that was milder in acknowledging the obvious problem of racism in the south today.

 
The Thinker

The joys, glee and occasional giddiness of virtualization

We are living increasingly virtualized lives. From posting about our lives in Facebook, to wearing Google Glass, to playing games online where we don alter egos, most of us mask ourselves behind walls of electronic processors, networks and software. I’m typical. As for me, aside from Facebook there is this blog, which is not quite a true representation of me. Rather it is a projection of some part of me, perhaps my ego that I choose to share with the world. Most of you don’t know who I really am, which is by design. I go so far as to hide my domain details behind a proxy.

But there are other meanings to virtualization. In the computer world, virtualization is running a computer inside a computer. In my case, I am running Windows inside my iMac. It used to be I had separate machines, and the Windows box was a laptop provided courtesy of my employer. When I retired, I turned in the laptop, leaving me Windows-less. This normally would not be a problem, unless you need to teach a class where students will be doing work on Windows. That’s when I decided that rather than buy a new computer just to run Windows I would cheat. I would run Windows virtually inside my iMac instead.

There are a couple of ways to do this. The cheapest (free) way is actually to use Bootcamp. This allows you to boot to a Windows partition when you start your iMac. This works fine but is inconvenient. You must shut down Windows and go back to Bootcamp to boot your computer as a Mac. What I really want it to run is Windows and the Mac operating system at the same time and be able to share content between them. In short, I needed virtualization software.

Ah, but how to do it on the cheap? Windows computers aren’t that expensive, after all, so a virtualization solution would have to be cheap. It helps to be teaching a class, because I qualify for software at an academic price, roughly half the retail cost. That’s how I acquired Parallels, neat virtualization software that allows me to run Windows (and lots of other operating systems) virtually on my iMac. With discount it cost me just under $40. The only downside was I had to wait a couple of days for the USB drive with the software to arrive in the mail.

There was also the question of how to get a cheap license for the Windows operating system, as I didn’t have one lying around. Fortunately, the college where I teach has an agreement with Microsoft, which it uses on its desktop computers, wherein we teachers could install a free Windows license at home so we could do our work without having to come to campus. If you already have a license for Windows, you could install it in a virtual instance too. And after installing Windows, that’s where I stopped. I did not feel the need for a license for the Microsoft Office suite for Windows. I already have one for the Mac. Frankly, Microsoft Office is becoming obsolete. My needs are modest. I can generally do what I need using Google’s free tools, and they have the bonus of being easily sharable not to mention accessible in the cloud pretty much anywhere.

I did wonder if virtualization technology really would be reliable. I thought there must be some Windows software that simply cannot work in a virtualized environment. And there may be, but I haven’t encountered it yet. It all works perfectly fine. On my spiffy new iMac it runs at least as fast as it would if I had a dedicated Windows box.

Why bother in the first place? It’s not like I like Windows. For the class I teach, the students install a “lite” version of Oracle, Oracle 11g Express Edition, and it’s available for Windows and Linux, but students will install it on Windows. Even in a “lite” version, Oracle is a CPU and memory hog, so I was skeptical it could be run virtually, but it worked fine.

There was some puzzling installing Windows in a virtualized environment. I needed a Windows image file, which I got from the college. Since Parallels is a virtual wrapper around Windows it is software too, specifically it is a hypervisor. This is software that oversees virtual operating systems. In principle, a virtual operating system instance runs in its own little sandbox and cannot harm my iMac’s operating system. In practice though, the Windows instance may be virtual but it is still susceptible to viruses like a non-virtualized operating system, so I loaded the free Avast antivirus to keep it safe.

Aside from my needs for Windows for teaching, I have found it’s useful for other purposes. In retirement I earn income from consulting. Since I am doing web work, it helps to have web environments to do work in. Over the weekend I was involved in a hairy upgrade of a very large forum (about 670,000 posts) from phpBB 2 to phpBB 3. I tried it a number of times on my client’s shared hosting, and it kept failing. I ended up downloading both the programs and the database to my machine. I placed it in my virtual machine and converted it there. While it’s possible to install web server environments on the Mac, it’s more of a hassle. There are turnkey solutions for Windows web server environments, like XAMPP that I am using, that are so much faster to install and maintain. On my machine of course I did not have the limitations of a shared server and I was able to convert the forum.

There are some things that are just done better or more elegantly on Windows. Obviously, if you do any work for a business, they are likely using Windows, so having a Windows environment may be necessary. But there are some programs for Windows that are so nifty that there really is no equivalent for the Mac. Winmerge comes to mind and it is also free. I do have DeltaWalker for the iMac, but it is much harder to use. I have a version of Quicken for the Mac. The Windows version is much better. At some point I may move my Quicken files into my Windows virtual machine and take advantage of all these new features.

Beyond Windows, all sorts of virtual machines can be created using Parallels. I don’t have much need to install versions of Linux like Debian, but I can install it rather easily if needed and still have my iMac purring away. Parallels is also smart enough to allow copying and pasting rather easily between operating systems. In the Windows world, copy and paste is done with CTRL-C and CTRL-V. In Parallels, it will recognize the Mac’s CMD-C and CMD-V, which is more intuitive. Sharing files is more problematic. There are ways to do it, but so far I’ve been moving files on flash drives.

Overall, I am impressed by the ease of the Parallels virtualization technology. I effectively got a Windows machine without having to buy any hardware. With a free Windows license, my only real cost was the cost of the Parallels software. I have the benefits of both a Windows and a Mac without a lot of Windows hassles. I can do eighty percent or more of my work in the Mac operating system, but when I need Windows it is there reliably and transparently. Should I choose to get rid of Windows, it could not be simpler. I simply tell Parallels to remove my Windows virtual instance. Bing! Done!

So my computing life is good. I feel like I won the lottery. Among all the other benefits, virtualization technology is also environmentally friendly because I am running one physical computer instead of two. In short, it’s a slick and easy to use solution. Don’t be afraid to virtualize this aspect of your life.

 
The Thinker

Ten years later

One of the benefits of writing a blog that’s been around a really long time (this one started in December 2002) is that you occasionally get to go back and look at posts made a long time ago and compare it to where you are in the present. In July 2005 I tried imagining my life in 2015, then ten years in the future. I did it as part of a topic discussed by my covenant group. At the time, the exercise had me breaking out in a cold sweat. Then, at age 48, the idea of being 58 seemed pretty scary.

It’s not quite ten years later but it is more than nine years later. So it’s time to see how good a prognosticator I was back then.

  • I wanted to be in good health at age 58. I have subsequently learned that good health is relative. In some ways I was in worse health in 2005. I did not know I had sleep apnea back then, and even back then my sciatica was starting to make my life miserable. I’m surely no younger; in fact I am about a decade older. I take medications I never took then, but overall I am in less pain and healthier, much of it due to modern medicine. However, most of my chronic problems, like sciatica and sleep apnea, were problems that I had to figure out. No physician had diagnosed them. I had to persist and keep trying. So you can be in better health as you age, but you have to take ownership of your health and you must make it a priority. Don’t assume doctors can figure it all out for you. At best they see your problems through a gauzy curtain.
  • I wondered if I would be retired. The answer is yes; I retired in August. Back then retirement seemed very scary. How could I feel good about myself if I wasn’t doing something I felt was important to society? It turns out at least so far it’s not an issue. I am just as busy, if not more so, being retired and I have much less stress. Jobs can kill you particularly those jobs that come with lots of responsibility. A well-planned retirement where you keep engaged in stuff you like is a great blessing. I am fortunate to have started mine comfortably and long before most people do.
  • I thought if I were retired I might take up something like golf. I still have no desire to do so, in part because age has not made me more agile. But this is also because I did not expect to be so busy in retirement. That may change after we relocate. I still have goals to do more physical activity. So far in retirement that hasn’t been the case, but I have been actively fixing my house. I don’t sit in a chair as much and move around. As for golf, I’d prefer to take up mini-golf instead.
  • Would my Mr. Hyde come out? Would I do something perverted or weird like exposing myself on street corners? I’m not sure where this fear came from. The answer of course is no. In many ways the lower testosterone levels that come with age in men is a blessing. It makes it easier to stay rational and stay out of newspapers and jail cells.
  • I was worried about losing my youth. Well, you either lose it or you die. Given the alternative, losing your youth is pretty good. I didn’t have youth at 48 and I have less of it at 57. The funny thing about aging, at least for me, is you age so slowly that it doesn’t bother you very much. I still think I look pretty youthful, at least for my age. I realize it is part self-deception, or maybe even total self-deception, but as long as you think it’s true you can get through life more happily. I obviously am not attracting any younger babes, but I wasn’t at age 48 either.
  • I thought both my parents would be deceased. Thankfully, my father is still alive. My mother, however, died some months after I wrote the original post. My dad is 88. He might make it to 98. I know he wants to. Both of us aren’t counting on it. But life will go on, assuming I survive to 67, even with the passing of my father. Death is not so scary anymore; it is a path I am becoming familiar with.
  • I wondered if at 25 my daughter would be out of the house. The answer is (as of today) no. As of tomorrow: yes. The movers come tomorrow and we’ll be official empty nesters. More about that, probably, in a subsequent post.
  • I figured there was a good probability that some sort of calamity would affect me. This was in part due to witnessing 9/11 as I worked in Washington when it happened. No nuclear bombs have gone off unexpectedly near me. I may be unduly paranoid, but I still think Washington will suffer something like this in my lifetime. But experience with real life suggests I worry too much. Overall society works, just imperfectly much of the time. Bad stuff happens but a lot of good stuff that doesn’t make the press often does too. More good stuff than bad stuff must be happening, because we are still here, the money is still green and I am in a retirement zone.
  • I was worried I’d end up hating my job. That did not happen, but it did wear me out. I felt like a juggler with one too many balls in the air wondering how long it would be before I dropped one. Things changed, it got increasingly stressful and I realized I didn’t want to do it anymore. Today, I am glad I retired and happy that someone likely younger and more agile will pick up the work and probably do a better job than I did. I also realize I did quite a good job overall considering the minimal resources I was given.
  • I was worried about insolvency. It’s curious what happens when we worry about the things that bug us the most. I took a lot of steps to make sure it didn’t happen, and mitigated a lot of risk through various insurance policies, including an umbrella insurance policy. It also helped to move into my peak earning years. When my daughter got out of college, I could finally save gobs of money. I can’t see insolvency happening unless there is some widespread breakdown of society. And if it happens, we’ll do better than most.

Overall, there was value in thinking about things that made me break out in a cold sweat back in 2005. Instead of fearing them, I was drawn to grapple with them. Fears and reflecting on them made me think through what is really important to me. In that sense, the exercise was valuable and it succeeded.

Life at 57 for me is quite sweet. Life at 58 I expect will be even sweeter.

 
The Thinker

Lessons in campaign histrionics

I am politically active so I contribute to political campaigns. I don’t contribute a whole lot of money, particularly now that I am retired. During a given election cycle I try to at least throw a few hundred dollars toward worthy candidates. I must say though that I don’t enjoy it very much. This is because once you give you will be petitioned ceaselessly to give more. Worse, once you are on one mailing list your email address will be shamelessly sold or given away to others. The result is a predictable avalanche of emails in my inbox from all sorts of Democratic candidates and progressive causes pleading for money.

Pleading for money is to put it mildly. Pleading implies maybe a little humility and supplication. Not for these campaign managers. I wish I could turn them off but simply cannot. I occasionally go on unsubscribe binges but it never does more than reduce the volume of pleas a bit. My email address simply gets passed around or the candidate will conveniently forget I unsubscribed, particularly as a particular FEC reporting deadline nears.

If I had been more proactive I would have created a junk email account for this sort of mail. I don’t know why, but when I started out giving email to campaigns I sort of assumed that people of a better sort populated them. Apparently they are recruited from hucksters outside carnival sideshows.

Since I don’t have a whole lot of money to give, I have to be very selective about which candidates get my money. Fortunately, I spend a significant part of my day reading about politics, so I feel I am well informed. Most recently I gave these donations:

  • $10 to Jim Mowrer. Jim is running for Iowa’s 4th congressional district. He’s trying to win in bat shit crazy Steve King’s district. How crazy is Steve King? Well, he’s an open racist and xenophobe. He wants an electrified fence on the border with Mexico and he complains that drug smugglers crossing the border on foot have calves the size of cantaloupes from hauling drugs on their backs. Iowans are supposed to be sensible people, but those in this district have yet to prove it because they keep reelecting this clown. I hope my modest donation to Jim might help knock some common sense into these voters. But probably not.
  • $25 to Michele Nunn. She’s the Democrat running for Senate in Georgia. Polling suggests she has a better than even chance to change the seat from red to blue. Her opponent, David Purdue, is the worst sort of Republican, bragging about his ability to outsource jobs. Georgia is slowly swinging blue anyhow, and the Nunn brand carries some traction in the state. Giving to Nunn is an excellent use of my money and recent polls suggest she has a better than even chance of winning.
  • $25 to John Foust. This genuinely open seat is in my district, Virginia’s 10th, which has been filled by Republican Frank Wolf the whole time I’ve been in it. He’s retiring but the Republican candidate Barbara Comstock is trying to convince voters that she’s a moderate while voting for infuriating stuff like transvaginal ultrasounds while in the Virginia legislature. Comstock will probably win this slightly red district, as it stretches all the way to Winchester, but probably only for two years as it keeps getting bluer. Still, it’s worth a donation to see if I can live in a blue district for however short a time before we relocate.
  • $25 to Mark Warner. He is running for reelection against Ed Gillespie and is virtually certain to win. Ordinarily I would not give Mark any money, as he is quite popular and suspiciously moderate. But lately I’ve decided the dynamics in Congress won’t change unless we have more moderates, so I’m giving Warner money. I don’t always agree with him, but he’s a good guy.
  • $25 to Bruce Braley, running to keep retiring Tom Harkin’s Iowa senate seat blue. He’s running against a kind of crazy Tea Party type, Joni Ernst. She’ll probably win despite her crazy views, simply because of Obama fatigue and Republicans are chomping the bit to vote, while Democrats will probably fail to engage during midterms, as usual. But maybe a little nudge from me we can keep the seat blue.
  • $25 to Mary Landrieu. She’s got a tough challenge retaining her seat in the red state of Louisiana, but her opponent Bill Cassidy is as usual pretty extreme, and maybe too extreme for Louisiana, but probably not. I disagree with her on lots of stuff, but I’d rather have her on team blue.

I’m not sure how much more I will give, but one thing’s for sure. Apparently there is no chance of Democrats winning at all unless I give great gobs of money every day to all sorts of candidates. At least that’s pretty much the crux of all the emails coming into my email box: it’s a few seconds before a nuclear winter. Most of these are beyond ludicrous and have recently reached the frighteningly embarrassing stage. Here are some from my recent emails:

  • John Foust, or at least his campaign manager says, “we’re going home” because they can’t compete against a $1M ad buy from one of John Boehner’s PACs. But there are links to instantly give them anywhere from $5 to $250 immediately in the email anyhow.
  • Mark Warner, or rather his campaign manager, says this multimillionaire needs more money in spite of being more than ten points ahead of Ed Gillespie in lots of polls. He says Ed Gillespie just bought $400,000 in TV ads, but that’s not true. Gillespie just canceled his advertising, basically understanding he doesn’t have a chance.
  • Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader of course, says disaster is imminent for Democrats, but maybe not if I cough up some money. Democrats are going to lose house seats this cycle but there was no chance they would regain the majority anyhow. Losses though should be minimal. That’s the upside of all these highly gerrymandered districts. Nancy could work on recruiting better candidates for those few districts that are open. In any event, to really change the dynamics in the House we have to work at getting a majority of Democratic governors and legislatures in place for 2020, when the legislative districts will be drawn. That’s a better use of my money.
  • There were no less than four emails from Brad Schneider’s campaign in the last twenty-four hours, which is surprising because I have no idea who he is. For some reason he thinks were BFFs.

Negative ads seem to be effective in persuading voters. Apparently campaign managers believe that histrionic emails are the only way to effectively shake the donation tree these days. Issue them frequently and the scarier they sound the more effective they believe they will be.

Whereas the truth is all of us donors are suffering from extreme campaign fundraising email fatigue. A recent shrill email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, where I actually worked in the 1980s had me composing a reply:

“You know, I get conservatively 25 pitches like this a day. If I gave $25 to each plea, I would be donating $625 a day or over $225,000 a year. That’s more than double what I earn every year! Stop it! Just stop it! I’ll contribute when I can afford it to the candidates I feel deserve my hard earned money.”

Of course I followed the unsubscribe link. Unsurprisingly, the DCCC never replied back. And within days, new solicitations from the DCCC were filling up my inbox.

Perhaps a good use of my time in retirement would be to set up a donation site where donations are given anonymously, or at least not shared with candidate organizations. Donors deserve some respect, not this relentless email harassment. In any other context, it would be illegal. Yet there is no equivalent to mass opt out list like there is for telephone solicitations. In fact, everyone in Congress would be hostile to the very idea. They depend on the money tree.

I wish they would give me some peace. For a few days after the election, I may get some. But I am sure it will quickly restart.

 
The Thinker

Death by religion

Some years back I wrote about Ayn Rand’s philosophy of Objectivism, and how I thought it was not only so much crap but dangerous and thoroughly discredited crap as well. It received some modest attention and still gets regular hits.

There are actually a lot of these addictive ideas that are killing us. Arguably capitalism is one of them but there are many others, including communism, fascism, socialism (in its pure form) and today’s topic: religion. Lots of people, mostly atheists, have been saying for a very long time that religion is harmful. They have lots of history to prove them right, as so many wars and so many millions of people have died because of religious conflicts.

Two related stories in Sunday’s Washington Post brought this home to me. One was the influx of foreign fighters into the conflict in Syria and Iraq, including hundreds of people here in America, to fight a religious war. Related to it was a disturbing article about Anjem Choudary, a Muslim cleric based in London who is a propagandist for the Islamic State. This “state” of course is busy overrunning much of Syria and Iraq not to mention beheading people and selling women into slavery. I zeroed in on this part:

Iraq and Syria, Anjem Choudary says confidently, are only the beginning. The Islamic State’s signature black flag will fly over 10 Downing Street, not to mention the White House. And it won’t happen peacefully, but only after a great battle that is now underway.

“We believe there will be complete domination of the world by Islam,” says the 47-year-old, calmly sipping tea and looking none the worse for having been swept up in a police raid just days earlier. “That may sound like some kind of James Bond movie — you know, Dr. No and world domination and all that. But we believe it.”

In other words, none of this peaceful persuasion that Islam is the true faith crap, but lots of war, death and mayhem to make sure we are all compelled to believe his version of the truth. Christians shouldn’t feel so smug, after numerous crusades not to mention the Spanish Inquisition in which we tried (and failed) to make the infidels (read: Muslims) believe our version of religious truth.

There is not a major religion out there, including Buddhism that has not killed to promote its values, despite doing so is arguably the greatest hypocrisy against their religion possible. All these centuries later, despite our vast knowledge and understanding of history, despite technology and the Internet, large numbers of us are utterly convinced that only their religion is correct. They are so vested in it that they will wreak literally holy mayhem to make sure their religion, and only their religion is the only one anyone is allowed to believe and practice.

It’s quite clear what people like Choudary would do to those of us unenlightened enough not to become Muslims: lop off our heads like they are doing to infidels in Iraq and Syria right now or, if a woman, sell her into slavery. This is, by the way, quite similar to what Columbus did to the natives of Hispaniola shortly after discovering America in 1492, and what Cortez and many other conquerors did to the unenlightened natives of South and Central America as well. Killing infidels with the sword often had the desired effect. The natives were soon proclaiming to believe in Jesus Christ while also working as slaves for their enlightened conquerors. Infidels are going to hell anyhow for refusing to be enlightened, so they might as well be dead, is what passed for their rationalization. Choudary doubtless agrees but worse is working to facilitate the transfer of fighters into Iraq and Syria to spread this sort of enlightenment.

It doesn’t seem to matter much what the form of religion is. They all seem to have this fatal flaw, which allows zero uncertainty to come between their religion and their actions. I believe this is because the human species is hardwired toward addiction to memes. And the religious meme is a powerful one: it promises us eternal paradise and the absence of all suffering, forever, in the glory of God if we just do precisely what some people say God wants us to do. People like Moner Mohammad Abusalha, a Florida native, who on May 25 became an American suicide bomber for the cause of Islam. He blew himself up in a Syrian café frequented by Syria soldiers. In his farewell video, Abusalha says:

“You think you are safe where you are in America,” he said, threatening his own country and a half-dozen others. “You are not safe.”

Doubtless he is enjoying paradise now with his 72 virgins. That should satisfy his sexual desires for a while. Or, much more likely, he is simply dead, another pawn cruelly used in a much larger game of pointless chess. Chess is a game and on some horrific level these religious crusades are games too. Games may be won, but winning them doesn’t really change anything. Thanks to conquerors like Cortez and the missionaries that followed him, South and Central America today is suitably enlightened, with Roman Catholicism dominating society there. But it is still as infected with evils as any other religiously “enlightened” state. If you need a recent example, try this one. Or this one.

No religion, no matter how universal, will change the fundamental nature of man. It never has and never will. Choudary and Abusalha are ultimately playing the parts of fools, helping to feed chain reactions of generational war, death, trauma and suffering wholly at odds with the religion they proclaim will solve these problems. The religious meme – the notion that one size of religion can and must fit all – that has been proven over and over and over almost to the point where you can’t count anymore as fundamentally false and destructive. Religion in this incarnation is harmful to man, creates chaos and retards the enlightenment these people profess it will bring.

I speak as a cautiously religious man. My own religion, Unitarian Universalism, is creedless so perhaps we have earned an escape clause as a toxic religion. Still, my denomination is hardly free of its own very human evils. A previous minister of my church, for example, was sexually involved with a number of women in our congregation (while married), a scandal some thirty years in our past that still affects our behavior. But Unitarian Universalism at least does not proselytize. We don’t assume our religion is the only correct one. This will occasionally drive others nuts. It resulted in some deaths some years back in a congregation in Tennessee, and more recently a very disturbing takeover of a service in Louisiana by some local antiabortion nuts.

So here’s my new rules on religion and I hope it is a new meme we can spread:

  • I will not consider believing in any religion that assumes it has all the answers about the nature of God and how humans must behave
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that thinks has succeeded when everyone is believing in its version of truth
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that cannot peacefully co-exist with other different faiths
  • I will not consider believing in any religion that has at any time in its past caused religious warfare
  • I will actively do all I can to civilly and peacefully undermine any religion that promotes any of the above
  • I will encourage everyone, including you, who may belong to such a faith to leave it

Such faiths are not worthy of the God you claim to worship and are ultimately far more destructive than helpful. Reflect on it. Pray on it. God will tell you it’s true.

 

 
The Thinker

The meat of Meat Loaf

You miss a lot during your busy years. There are so many things I just gave up when real life consumed me. This included most television, most leisure reading, lots of movies and music. Now that I’m retired I’m trying to catch up on a lot of stuff that I missed. I’ll never catch up, of course, so it’s kind of futile to try, but I am trying to catch up on Meat Loaf.

His record Bat out of Hell soared to the top of the charts in 1977 and sold more copies than Sergeant Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. In the world of rock music it was something of a nuclear warhead, flattening the competition for months. The album’s success was in part aided by the cover’s outrageously clever artwork. Still, I just had not gotten around to ever listening to it. 37 years later in semi-retirement, I found the time.

There were certainly many in the hard rock genre at the time. All sorts of artists were trying for the loudest and most outrageous acts on stage. We were looking for spectacle. We were looking for our eardrums to be pierced by music. In that sense, the artist formally known as Michael Lee Aday was just another screaming head. Still, when I finally got around to listening to the title track all these years later, I felt that he must have the loudest and certainly the most convincing of the bunch. Ably assisted by songwriter Jim Steinman, it’s not surprising that this album sold like gangbusters.

For a fat guy, Meat Loaf has had a remarkable career. Big fat guys aren’t supposed to be this talented, and if they are they are supposed to be spurned by the skinnier set. Meat Loaf was the exception but you can tell that his fellow artists begrudged his rise to success. Starting with a part in the rock opera Hair, not to mention a role on The Rocky Horror Picture Show, this accidental artist somehow dramatically beat the odds against him. Listening to Bat out of Hell, not to mention two sequel albums also enabled by Jim Steinman, it’s clear to me what makes him different. It comes down to one thing: authenticity.

Meat Loaf is a talented singer and performer, even when he did not have Jim Steinman’s songwriting talents to draw on. For artists like Alice Cooper or Gene Simmons though, music is just an act. For Meat Loaf, singing is a projection of the person he actually is. Consequently he brings a loud but honest sincerity to his singing that makes him unique. It was this I think that people latched onto, and why his album went nuclear. His songs were quite good, but they were by themselves no better than similar songs of his era. The reason they shown was simply because he puts one hundred percent of who he really is into them. Every word overflows with emotion.

Most big fat boys who grow up to be men are going to have issues. Meat had many, as will be clear if you read his biography. It would be hard to find an issue he didn’t have, but certainly they included the ones that usually bedeviled rock stars of his time, including drugs and booze. In his case it also included a dysfunctional family, something he sings about candidly in Bat out of Hell II, in the song “Objects in the Rear View Mirror May Appear Closer Than They Are”. As Steinman wrote the song, I assumed it was fictional. However, if you take the time to hear his story, this is not fictional at all. Meat’s drunken father did actually tried to kill him with a knife. Meat suffered the discrimination common to boys who did not fit in. It was these taunting boys and his father that gave him the name “Meat Loaf”.

So it turns out that spinning through Meat Loaf’s albums is a heady and enjoyable experience, if you don’t mind hearing pain leach out of his voice so frequently. He eloquently connects many of us to painful periods in our own past. You might say he is a grounded artist, both in real life and in his work. Unlike most artists who make a one hit wonder, he was able to resurrect himself. Bat out of Hell II was released in 1993, sixteen years after the first album’s debut and inexplicably moved his career out of the toilet and back into the stratosphere. Having heard all three Bat albums, the second is actually better than the first, and longer as well. It is also more personal.

The third Bat album was released in 2006. Steinman was the sole songwriter for the first two albums and contributed to the third album, with other songs contributed by Desmond Child, who also produced the record. The success of the Bat albums, all of which went gold, triggered disagreements and lawsuits between Meat Loaf and Steinman. Nonetheless, when their collaboration worked, it was to both their benefits. Steinman tried to put out some albums of his own, but he simply isn’t gifted with Meat Loaf’s voice, so they floundered.

Music is supposed to affect you. Sometimes music will touch you. Very rarely sometimes music will grip you tightly and rattle you with its power. Not all of Meat Loaf’s music qualified in the latter, but some of it, particularly many of the songs on his Bat out of Hell albums have that rare magic. Some of them can make you cry in spite of their loudness.

It took 37 years, but I’m glad I took these albums for a virtual spin. It’s curious that Meat Loaf has not yet been invested in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Let’s hope it’s not a snub, because he should be in its gilded ranks.

 
The Thinker

Our Wild, Wild Universe – Part Two

I don’t often write about the universe. It’s been ten years since I wrote about the physicist Brian Greene’s book The Fabric of the Universe. It seems that I cannot get enough of the story, at least when it can be brought down to the terms a layman like me can understand. Some months back Cosmos returned to television, a sort of sequel to the series of the same name hosted by the late astronomer Carl Sagan broadcast on public TV in 1980. This series is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson and showed up, curiously enough, on the Fox Network, a network known more for its lowbrow entertainment than this nerdy stuff.

I’m catching up on the series now on Netflix. I find it compelling in a strange way, so compelling that I am putting aside other really compelling shows like House of Cards and Ken Burns’ documentary The Roosevelts to give it precedence. It tickles my curiosity and sense of wonder. The more you explore what we know about the universe, the more wondrous it becomes. deGrasse Tyson does a great job of conveying the immensity and the wonder of our universe. The series is aided by wondrous CGI as well, the sort that was simply unavailable when Carl Sagan hosted the series (although for the time his CGI was quite sophisticated). The combination of CGI, storytelling and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s infectious way of story telling makes it a very compelling series.

It brings out the natural pantheist in me. Natural pantheism is sort of a religion that simply expresses reverence for our universe the way it is. As you finish episodes of this version of Cosmos, you should feel the pull of natural pantheism too. Most of us who are religious tend to appreciate the faiths that we have been brought up in, in part perhaps because its message is much simpler to grasp than the amazing immensity and complexity of the cosmos, to the extent that we can understand it. Traditional religions also tend to concentrate on people and our needs, aspirations and questions. They are human centric. Studying the cosmos as it is, is not human centric at all except of course that we are self-aware creatures. We also have developed a scientific method that allows us to continually gain in understanding of the cosmos and our part in it.

deGrasse Tyson does a great job of explaining how we came to understand how the universe actually works. This too is a compelling story. In it certain scientists like Newton, Faraday and Einstein become something like secular saints, because they each solve great mysteries. In the process they reveal not just what is, but how the master clock works and sometimes how we can work it to our advantage. It’s a story of great detective work spanning thousands of years.

The series is spawning new thoughts within me, particularly in the area of evolution. It is clear to me that evolution does not exist merely here on Earth, but across the universe as well. The universe evolves too, creating more and more complex elements that make life possible. Is there life in the universe, aside from our planet, of course? Now the answer seems simple: yes. Life doubtless exists elsewhere, in many forms. In fact it probably permeates our galaxy and much of the evolved universe. This is because all the building blocks are there, particularly carbon and heat, which is hardly unique to the Earth. In addition, as deGrasse Tyson points out in Episode 11, it is probable that microbial life travels between planets and between solar systems, seeding life itself across the galaxy and the universe. It just happens so slowly and over so many millions of years it is hard for us to see.

To me it gets much simpler. The universe itself is a living creature. The universe does not necessarily think or breathe, attributes that we associate with life but at least to our understanding is something done very quickly. But it is clearly evolving and becoming more complex with time. It is unfolding and through nuclear processes and gravity it is creating the complex, like carbon molecules, from the simple: the collapse of hydrogen gases by gravity into stars and their subsequent explosion. And like all living things, the universe seems destined to die. Like our body though it does not all die at once. It will take billions of years to die as the forces of the big bang move objects further and further from each other. The universe will catch a bad case of pneumonia and then pass on. With the big bang so powerful that no contraction of the universe seems possible, its energy will dwindle out, much like a firework. Whatever happens after that takes us to realms beyond the known laws of physics.

So yes, the universe is alive and it is also a vast system. Systems by nature are complex entities, and the universe is complex almost beyond our fathoming. Systems imply rules and order and some understanding, which if you believe in God suggests your belief is not unfounded. Systems also are comprised of many pieces that interrelate with one another. Our universe interrelates with itself. Forces like the nuclear forces and gravity are the means that enforce an interrelationship. It also means that everything is connected to everything else. We sometimes suffer the illusion that we are alone. We may feel lonely, but we are never alone. We are always intimately connected with everything else simply because we are all a part of everything else.

It is individuality that is an illusion, although as deGrasse Tyson points out not only are we part of a universe so immense that few of us can understand it, there is also a universe within ourselves. Within a breath of air that we inhale, there are more atoms inhaled than there are stars in the universe. If there is a miracle, it is that we have evolved to self-awareness. We have a pretty good idea how it all fits together now, and our part in it.

With life must come death. On the universal level, our life is like the lifespan of a bacterium on a bar of soap: very short indeed. By nature we cannot maintain such complexity for that long and even if we could the universe will shift in ways that would kill us. It’s no wonder then that universe seems cold, heartless and unfathomable. We are destined to die, and die very quickly on a universal time scale. However, we remain part of the fabric of something far more immense and alive: the universe itself.

We are a part of something immensely grand and complex indeed, with our part to play. We have the privilege, thanks to shows like Cosmos, to understand our what it is and our part in it. And that is awe-inspiring and for this agnostic a fitting and satisfying part to play.

 
The Thinker

Craigslist casual encounter weirdness: October 2014 edition

And we’re back! It’s officially autumn and perhaps that means some cooling of the libidos of my neighbors. The only way to know is to scan the Craigslist Northern Virginia Casual Encounters ads. I prefer to do this scanning on the first Friday of the month (which today is) because it’s the start of the weekend. People often have great expectations for their weekends. Let’s see if that’s true by scanning today’s ads.

But first, a few statistics. Google Analytics counted at least 242 hits for my Craigslist posts in September, about average, which comprises about 13% of my total web page views, also about average. What’s not average are the expectations of my fellow hormonally stressed neighbors, particularly, of course, the men. On the first page of posts I find:

  • 31 men looking for women
  • 44 men looking for men
  • 6 men looking for a couple (man/woman)
  • 3 men looking for a transvestite/transsexual
  • 6 women looking for men
  • 1 woman looking for a woman
  • 2 women looking for multiple men
  • 8 transsexuals/transvestites looking for men
  • 1 group of men looking for a woman

Let’s indulge our prurient or bizarre interests:

  • For the third month in a row, she’s back! At least she appears to be the same woman, always looking for another woman for breast play. It’s hard to say for sure, but she claims to be 27, African American and from Alexandria. Maybe she’s getting pickier. In previous postings she was looking for beyond enormous boobs. She still likes big breasts, but not big women, at least not more than size 12. She won’t host but is open to car play.
  • It’s not just women who like their men big. Some men do as well. This man is not looking for length but for girth. And he is not just into oral sex but mostly anal sex, this weekend with himself as the recipient. Race doesn’t matter but girth does. You do have to like older men because he is 49.
  • Here’s an ad from ten guys who think there is power in numbers. What randy woman would not like parallel sex as opposed to one at a time sex, i.e. a gangbang or group sex where you are the star attraction? There are up to ten of them you can have all at once although I suspect more than three at once is actually physically impossible. Not one of them is older than 38 and they all come equipped with more than six inches of masculinity. They say they are respectful, if there is anyway to have respectful group sex, and they are happy to meet at hotels. I assume they pay for the room, which makes for a cheap date if you think about it. (I try not to think about this too much.) Anyhow, this sounds kind of what this woman is looking for. She’s 28 but has a unique requirement: all her men must be Marines. Here’s hoping at least some of this group of ten qualify. Failing that, hang outside the gate of the Quantico Marine base and send come hither looks.
  • Here’s a guy looking for a male tattoo artist. He has an explicit picture of his joystick, but apparently he wants the tattoo to go on his back not on his joystick. It’s unclear whether he is genuinely gay or simply wants a free tattoo. It’s kind of weird in any event.
  • Men, do you prefer sleek and skinny black women in gowns? She looks like she is dressing for the prom, but she claims to be 29. I hope you are reading this shortly after I post it because she is only available until 6 PM. She has tons of pictures. I’ll bet your Visa or Mastercard will be required to gain admittance, but I must confess if I were tempted to pay for the privilege she would make an excellent choice.
  • Men: are you obese and gay? It’s your lucky day, providing you want oral sex only because this guy from Alexandria will happily suck away. Curiously, he does not want you to return the pleasure or for that matter do anything else sexual with you, perhaps because you are obese and gay.
  • It’s tough if you are a guy looking for a woman, particularly an older guy looking for a younger woman. Which is why this guy is going for the daddy/daughter angle. It’s unlikely to work but at least you put some different bait as lure on your fishing line.
  • Sometimes it’s good to be a guy and still have pimples. You can’t be older than 20 to qualify for this opportunity to go “bareback” with this husband’s wife and multiple other young and horny guys. It shouldn’t be difficult to find these guys. It would take an exceptionally ugly woman for any heterosexual guy at that age to say no. It’s still not the least bit safe, so apparently some lapse of judgment may be part of his reasoning for this age requirement.
  • He’s a 25 year old guy from Sterling with his own African American submissive “slut”. He’s looking for a dominant woman to help abuse her sometime after 5 PM today. Ladies, you can see most of the woman you are supposed to help humiliate in the ad.
  • I still don’t understand the whole “I am gay and married” thing. Why the hell did you get married? You would think the two would be mutually exclusive. (This being Virginia, you know his spouse is a woman.) What I understand even less is why this gay and married guy would like to have you fill up some of his orifices and he thinks you might want some of his wife’s used panties. Curiously this 50-year-old man from Vienna’s post is right next to this one from a 30-year-old man from Woodbridge who is looking to buy any used panties you ladies have to sell. I guess he can’t get these on eBay?
  • Are you a white Latin Asian man? I would think these would be mutually exclusive, but not to this 54 year old “dad”. If you are, apply here.
  • Ladies, do you like your men tall and muscular? This 6’7” French guy looks fresh out of a gym with Arnold Schwarzenegger. You might be literally carried away if you hook up with him. Prepare to swoon.
  • She needs an arrangement. She needs an older man (read: someone who has money) to eat and go shopping. It may have something to do with the fact that she is lactating and pregnant. Old Country Buffet may be her idea of a great dinner date, and it won’t cost too much.
  • Guys, watch out for this 42-year-old woman who looks more like 62. She will grab you for sure, but what she will grab will be your wallet. Picture if interested.
  • A couple in Warrenton is looking for a sperm donor. There is no indication whether this 32-year-old woman wants you to make a personal deposit or to leave a sample. Whatever, it sounds creepy. Haven’t they ever heard of sperm banks?
  • There are a number of role-play ads on Craigslist today, but this is perhaps the most unusual and wordy: a woman in Tysons looking for “gyno” role-play and she’s got a very specific scenario she wants to try. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a real gynecologist, but it probably doesn’t hurt because it’s hard to rent a stirrup set. You can’t be more than 35 and must be at least six feet tall.

More next month.

 
The Thinker

Not a saint, but saintly

When I entered his hospital room, I had this strange feeling of déjà vu.

It was not so surprising. I had been here before, but it was in 2004 when my mother was in intensive care. I even blogged about it. And here it was ten years later and I was back wandering the halls of Holy Cross Hospital, in Silver Spring, Maryland. In September 2004, I was there to witness the shocking decline of my mother. She had congestive heart failure at the time and was delusional.

Ten years later it was my father in a bed at Holy Cross Hospital. At least he wasn’t delusional, as congestive heart failure is not his issue. No, it was simple pneumonia that put my father in the hospital this time, simple except he is almost 88 years old and is suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, which is slowly eating away his lungs. I blogged about that just two posts ago. Two posts ago my Dad was healthy, and just about ready to take a cross-country trip on an airplane to see his mentally slipping sister. I worried he’d catch pneumonia but he came back a week ago all upbeat and chipper. I congratulated him for not catching anything and reveled in having him in such high spirits in my living room at his age. My congratulations were premature.

Who knows where he got the infection that caused this pneumonia? The airplane is a likely suspect, as they are known for nasty viruses they carry including, most recently, the Ebola Virus. If so he likely had caught it on the way back east because it took a few days before symptoms appeared. It wasn’t until last night that he finally went into the hospital. It took my sister talking to him on the phone to figure out something major was going on. Words were slurred. Thoughts were expressed incoherently. There was that and that he could barely walk. The paramedics thought he’d be okay overnight. By Monday though he was wheeled by ambulance to Holy Cross Hospital and by evening he was in a room, oxygen tubes up his nose, IVs in his arms and periodic masks placed over his face forcing a vaporous mist of medicine into his lungs. The last thing his diminished lungs needed was to be clogged with more mucus. No wonder: he wasn’t getting enough oxygen and making so little sense.

Last night another sister paid a visit to him in the hospital. She reported he made sense only about half the time. He was confusing dates and facts. And it being pneumonia, he was coughing and eating very little. The good son (me) was elsewhere. I was teaching last night. It was hard to assess these events from afar but I made the calculated decision that my students should not skip class for an emergency visit from me. It worked out last night, but one of these days I feel my luck will run out.

What I did not expect when I saw him this morning was the wispy ghost of a man I found in the hospital bed. He looked half mummified. He was gaunt with a face was so white it was hard to distinguish it from his hair, or what was left of it, which was also snow white. He seemed shriveled.

It was shocking because a week earlier after returning from the west coast I enjoyed a lively conversation with a far different man. He now seemed fundamentally changed, not just a senior citizen, but elderly. No, not elderly, but ancient with skin that was no longer elastic and full of large and reddened age spots over his arms and legs. The image that came to my mind was that of the last days of my mother nine years ago. It was an image that recalled someone not just on the precipice of death, but someone who had teetered off the precipice and had begun the fall. In 2005 my mother looked much like my father did today: ghostly white, and with her dark hair all a sickly greyish white. Given this is at least my father’s third bout with pneumonia, it was hard not to project that maybe his time had come too.

To my great relief, he was at least rested and back to his usual mental sharpness. The more time I spent with him, be more color returned to his pallid face. Still, there was no masking his gauntness or his disinterest in the food in front of him. I even brought brownies. Chocolate is his primary weakness but today he expressed no particular interest in the brownies. Most of his breakfast had been left untouched.

Health care professionals shuffled in and out as did clergy. The first clergy member was actually a Methodist minister, not quite what the spiritual doctor would order for this devout Catholic. A few hours later a priest showed up and prayed with him and gave him a blessing for the sick, which he surely was.

My father could look more ghostly than human but his personality was still there. He likes to hand out complements lavishly and started handing them to me. He is such a gentle and good man, but not all complements he hands out are necessarily correct. He may be shriveled, but I am but a shadow of the man that he is. My father instinctively finds some good in everyone, something I have a hard time doing. He believes we are all kind and loving people by nature, despite obvious indications that we are not. He may not be a saint. I have not seen him perform any miracles. But he is saintly, and a near perfect role model of a human being, even in the hospital with tubes running in and out of him, even with his body a mess and his lungs slowly deteriorating. My father’s essence shines out no matter how bleak the circumstances.

In a few days he will likely be released. There is physical therapy in his future, and something new: a walker with wheels. The physicians are worried he might fall although he has no history of falling. I have not heard that his COPD has reached the stage where he needs supplemental oxygen, but if I were his physician I would order it. It was his incoherence and blue fingernails that cued us into the severity of the problem. It was this and that he could barely make it between his bed and his water closet.

So maybe his 88th birthday party will go on as scheduled on Saturday. We can only wait and see. I do hope his appetite has returned by then. There were signs that it was coming back to him when I left today. And if my stepmother is as perceptive as I expect her to be, the party will end with a birthday cake. I t better have plenty of chocolate in it.

 
The Thinker

It’s not easy being clean

I am becoming convinced that only sociopaths truly need to have everything in their house clean and orderly.

Last month I lamented that I am busy turning my home into a house. That process is well underway with no end in sight. It is, frankly, a bit overwhelming. It feels overwhelming despite the evidence that our house was in pretty good shape to sell even before I retired. Most of our rooms are recently painted. There are no major construction projects still needing to be done. Mechanically, things are in working order and seem to be working optimally. After twenty-one years of living in our home, it was finally the sort of house we wanted to live in. So of course we must put it on the market, move somewhere else and start the whole process again!

Since last month there have been all sorts of changes, mostly superficial. It’s mostly superficial because mostly what we have been doing is cleaning, sorting and disposing. The guy at Goodwill receiving is starting to recognize my face. Our trashcan typically overflows on collection day.

But there have been other changes of a more substantive nature. The bathroom in the basement has a new floor, and the sink was ripped out and a new pedestal sink was put in its place. The project included disposing of a dead mouse found in the old vanity and adding new baseboards, not to mention spending about a thousand dollars for a floor guy, plumber and various materials. The exterior of our house, which included significant dirt and mildew, is freshly power washed and shiny. It’s the first time I sprung for such a luxury, and I probably never would have done it had we not planned to sell the house. There is mulch around the trees and bushes for the first time in years. The garden is weeded and mulched as well. We’re creating curb appeal.

As for the inside, much work remains. The ugly carpet in the basement, dirty in spite of a recent professional cleaning and impossible to get out rust stains, will form the pad for the new carpet when it gets installed in during November. First our daughter has to vacate. Her college furniture takes up the family room in the basement, so new carpet must wait. However, the estimator warned us that the new carpet wouldn’t fit under the doors in our basement. Suddenly there was a new project: shaving the underside of ten doors in the basement. This was very daunting without the circular saw I didn’t have. Fortunately, my ex-boss came to the rescue and loaned me her circular saw. Over five hours, with the smoke detector frequently chirping because of all the sawdust in the air, I cleanly trimmed three quarters of an inch off the bottoms of all of them.

All the above though is easy compared with the cleaning kitchen project. We’ve been plugging away at it off and on and every time we thought it was done there turns out to be more to do. I also realized to my embarrassment that in the fifteen years since it was remodeled, we had never really cleaned it, although the floor has been replaced twice.

Oh, the floors, cabinets and countertops have been swept, washed and sanitized many times. But the cabinets were stuffed with crap that had been shoved in them over the years. The refrigerator was rarely cleaned and the coils on the back even more rarely dusted. Our goal was to have a truly clean and decluttered kitchen. After about four weeks of work, it’s nearing that stage. Some touch up items like painting the windowsills will have to wait.

Cleaning the kitchen was at times a truly disgusting experience. Waste goes into a hidden kitchen trashcan you pull out, but of course stuff spills out. Fluids leach down the inside of the cabinet and all sort of crumbs and crap make their way to the back of the cabinet which are hard to see even with the kitchen lights on. There are shelves of stained plastic ware, most that don’t match anything. In them we found sipper cups our daughter used more than twenty years ago and a plate celebrating the bicentennial in 1976.

Cleaning out the pantry was another archeological expedition. It’s amazing how much shelf space you have if you take the time to read the box to see if the product expired. There were items purchased in 2000 still sitting in the pantry! And when was the last time we had cleaned the pantry shelves themselves? That would be never, not once in twenty-one years. Everything came out, was inspected and much of it was discarded. Heavy detergents attempted to clean the shelves and walls. There were ten-year-old ant traps in the corners and small blocks of drywall where someone had snaked telephone wire.

We recently acquired a probably illegal recording of the first episode of the new season of Downton Abbey. Much of life in the abbey centers on the kitchen where the cooking and cleaning never stop. That’s pretty much the way it has to be if you want a truly clean kitchen. Someone could be in our kitchen twenty-four hours a day endlessly sweeping, cleaning, disinfecting and sorting and it would never actually be clean and orderly. At best you create the illusion.

The kitchen is the most egregious example, but each room is similar to it, just smaller in magnitude of effort. It all must be made to look, well, unlived in, so we can present it to some prospects and convince them to take out a thirty-year mortgage to acquire it. That’s so we can pocket the equity in the house and use much of it to buy another one. I can say from experience that whoever cares for this house after we leave will definitely find it both a second job and like having a second child. Keeping it clean, or even just picked up, will be a never-ending task. Good luck with that.

All these years we squirreled away stuff to give our house the appearance of looking reasonably orderly, but it was all just a façade. The engineer in me though likes the idea of complete cleanliness and orderliness. I like a place for everything and everything in its place. In retirement, I thought, I’d finally have the time!

It was my delusion. I hope our house sells quickly and I hope our new home quickly acquires that lived in, somewhat cluttered look quickly. While I dislike the idea it’s apparently what I am capable of. Only the very rich with a large full time staff like those on Downton Abbey can actually live this reality. For the rest of us, it’s best to face it: there is not the time in the day, even in retirement, to maintain this level of orderliness.

 

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