MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE: Five Changes You Must Make

When I was a young lawyer, one of my aged partners suggested that our firm should be like the “Athenian youth” and strive to leave the world a better place for our having been here. That is certainly a laudable goal. Who among us doesn’t want to make a difference? Too often, we while away our time on personal, even selfish, pursuits. I hold to the belief that each of us in our own small way can make a positive difference in the world.

You make think it unrealistic to expect to impact the world as whole. You may be right about that. After all, many of us have limited skills and even more limited work ethics. If our efforts require much in the way of ability or effort we likely will fall short. Do not despair. There ways–simple ways, in fact– each of us can make the world a better place. If we can have a positive impact on just one person, we will have made a difference.

The person with whom we should start is me. That’s right. I deserve a better life as much as anyone, maybe more. If you can do even one thing to make my life easier, you will not have lived in vain. You will have helped me. I can think of nothing more commendable.

Here are five things you can do, starting today, to improve my lot in life. Let’s get started

  1. DON’T DRIVE A CAR

The environmental damage from automobiles is well-known. Even electric cars require all manner of minerals for their construction, the mining of which is always controversial. If, like me, this doesn’t persuade you in the slightest to give up your car, consider the effect of your car on me.

Maybe you’re one of those people who always drive 10-15 mph below the speed limit. You’re annoying me. When you look in your rear view mirror and see the line of traffic, just assume I’m in that line. Why inconvenience me? I have to be somewhere–and soon. Besides, the way your drive, you’re close to walking anyway. Just go ahead and hit the pavement.

Even if you drive at normal speeds, you still need to park that car. Traffic stresses me out. I have places to go, things to do. Put bluntly, you’re in my way. Public transportation is perfect for you. Better yet, stay at home. What is so horrible in your home that you are compelled to leave it? Stay there and address your disturbing domestic problems.

Speaking of parking, if you drive you will eventually park somewhere. I need that parking spot.

Of course, some of you drive for your livelihood. By all means, continue to do so. You may be delivering something I need. Plus, someone must provide transportation to those who no longer drive. It certainly won’t be me. I’m busy trying to get somewhere.

2. DON’T PLAY THE LOTTERY

All over our great country, there are outlets available to buy lottery tickets.  PowerBalls, MegaMillions  and other variations beckon. The dizzying selection of scratch off games sit spooled like toilet paper waiting to be ripped loose by cholera-ravaged unfortunates. Riches await. Our nation’s vast network of convenience stores are the prime culprits in separating you from your money.

We all know that the odds winning big in the lottery are astronomical, on par with getting a chance to walk on the moon. Every day, untold thousands of people waste their hard-earned money on these games of chance which amount to nothing so much as a regressive taxation system. (Honestly, I have no problem with a regressive tax. The progressive tax system has never done me any favors. That rant will have to wait for another day.)

These are compelling reasons to avoid the lottery. The most important reason, though, may be less obvious. The next time you are purchasing your tickets turn at look behind you. That is me standing in line. I have patronized this convenience store for–you guessed it–the convenience of it. I know that prices are higher than at the grocery store, often considerably so. I have selected this store for the speed and, again, the convenience of it.

You, guided only by your avarice, have robbed me of the one commodity I value at that moment–convenience (are you sensing the pattern yet?). In fact, there is nothing more inconvenient than to stand in line with a cup of coffee while you negotiate a transaction only slightly less complex than currency arbitrage.

The odds of your winning the lottery are remote, at best. The odds of royally ticking me off, though, are virtually certain. Please, move along.

3. SPREAD THE WORD–SOMEWHERE ELSE

I have no problem with your religion, unless you use it do great harm to others. Even then, my problem is likely to be with how you practice it, not the faith itself. Regardless, I don’t want to hear about it. This comes from someone who has always been fascinated by religion. I’ve studied religion from various perspectives, both the faithful and skeptical. If I’m curious, I’ll get the information.

When you want to tell me about your religion, I’m very likely to be somewhere between disinterested and down right hostile. This is true even if I agree with your views. Why am I so obtuse? Religion (or spirituality, if you prefer) is a matter of faith, not argument or persuasion. Nagging or yammering at someone won’t bring him around to your views. When that someone is me, it may cause the person to adopt contrary beliefs simply to frustrate your efforts.

You might assume that I am directing this solely at Christians. You’re wrong. If, like me, you are an American, you probably live in America where most people claim to be Christian. Naturally, most of our contact is with Christians. Regardless, I implore people of all religions to follow this lead. For example, if you are Hindu do not concern me with your views of Vishnu or Shiva. I know a Buddhist, and I sincerely hope that he does not tell me of the proper path to the Middle Way. I’m comfortable with where I am, leaning much more toward indulgence than asceticism.

Nor are you atheists excluded. As a matter of fact, you’re especially not excluded. I  know you’re proud to be an atheist. Consider me to be on a “need to know” basis. I have no need to know. Here’s idea: Find a vegetarian and you two can “one up” each other on the solid, empirical grounding of your views.

At this point, some readers are preparing comments to enlighten me on why they will not be silent. You’re really missing the point, which is simply to make things easier for me. Your comments won’t do that. Plus, I’m not asking you to be silent. Just be silent around me, and assume that I am always around.

4. VOTE YOUR CONSCIENCE–QUIETLY

Everything I abhor about hearing about your religious views applies with even more force to your politics. Unlike religion which is driven (mostly) by genuine belief, political drivel is often impelled by the desire to be in the know and perhaps a bit smarter than others. These are repellent characteristics. More importantly, they annoy me and can diminish my enjoyment of such important pursuits as surfing the Internet and mindlessly watching television.

I’m well aware that there is only so much I can expect here. Politicians and talking heads are inescapable. But, ask yourself: “With all this political discourse, what could I possibly add to the conversation, given my obvious limitations?” I’m sure you’ll agree that you run a much greater risk of annoying me than contributing anything meaningful.

If you are truly committed to improving my life, you will take this to heart. That door you knock on with a fist full of campaign literature could be mine. It could be me who reads one of your wrong-headed screeds on social media. It’s not that I don’t respect your views (which I may not, of course). It’s just that I don’t care. Isn’t it unfair and more than a tad selfish to inundate me with tripe that only you and others care about it? You’re better than that–or at least you should be.

You’re angry about the state of the world. I get it. If I were you, I’d be angry, too. But I’m not you. I’m me. It does no good to have two of us angry.

5. RAISE YOUR OWN FOOD

Modern agriculture has changed the world. We feed far more people than was thought possible even a generation ago. Our grocery stores brim with foods of all kinds. Sadly, the price we pay is high one.

Additives, preservatives, chemicals and the like endanger our food supply. Our farm animals are fed steroids. Genetic modifications have made many foodstuffs risky. Most important in our daily struggle is the cold, hard fact that I frequently go to the grocery store to buy this stuff.

I like my food chock full of preservatives. I want it preserved as long as possible. Chemicals don’t bother me. I like huge, mutated chickens pumped full of steroids. I want my beef dyed red. I want my fruits and vegetables sprayed down with insecticides. I don’t want to eat bugs. In short, the modern grocery store is exactly what I want. You, on the other hand, need to make changes. Why?

You’re the person with 11 items when the sign plainly limits the checkout lane to TEN FREAKING ITEMS! You position your cart in the aisle where I can’t get by on either side. You pay with checks, like some troglodyte who just emerged from his subterranean lair. Why not see if they’ll take pelts? You use coupons. Think about this: If you need to use all those coupons, isn’t it just possible that you can’t really afford to buy food in a store?

Grow your own food. Raise chickens. Buy a cow. Even a modest quarter acre lot will accommodate at least a couple of cows. Get a hog. Grow something. Your ancestors foraged for their food. Get off your high horse (you can eat those, too, by the way) and quit acting like you’re better than your kinfolk.

Since you won’t be driving a car, raising your own food makes perfect sense. It will be convenient for you and, critically, ME. The world will be a better place–at least for me. 

©www.thetrivialtroll.com 2016

Talking Pointers: Steps to Speaking Good

One of my first blog posts was my seminal piece on the art of small talk. Although no one will admit it, I believe that it has shaped a generation’s approach to mindless nattering with total strangers. Likewise, my tome on the keys to success  swept the nation in the same sort of low-key manner.  As the voice of my generation, I now offer simple steps to effective speaking.

As a lawyer, I speak in public. It neither thrills nor frightens me. It’s just what I have to do on occasion. Sometimes, I speak in court hearings and trials. Occasionally I deliver talks to attorneys or other unfortunates on such topics as legalizing child labor and the law of Internet pornography. Of course, I’m joking–those topics might actually fascinate some people. My topics are more obscure–even arcane. As a result, am I forced to spice up my presentations with such things as this clip for the classic film Road House. You might think that would be difficult to work in to a talk about coal mine safety, but I did it.

You may not have a good speaker voice.  Don’t worry.  I don’t, either.  It’s not necessary to sound like Morgan Freeman.  But, if you do, you don’t need any of these pointers.  People will listen to you just to hear your voice.  The rest of us need help.

What makes a good speaker? I’m not sure that I qualify as one, but I’ve heard some good ones in my time. Beyond my earlier observations on chit-chat, speaking takes many forms–both public and private. Over the years, I have become at least competent in my communication skills. Thus, I want to offer my suggestions and observations.

SPEAK CLEARLY

My wife accuses me of mumbling. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky where mumbling is an accepted form of communication, and I make no apologies for that. I would note that I believe my wife has significant hearing loss, perhaps from stress fractures to the delicate bones in her ears caused by cranial vibration induced by her own shrill screaming. That debate is best left for another forum. However, my father–who was almost completely deaf–always accused my mother of mumbling. So there. Where was I?

You want to speak with a loud, clear voice. If possible, speak louder than everyone else. In this way, you will be authoritative and sound like you are “in the know.” Here is an example:

THEM: I heard that [INSERT NAME OF POLITICIAN].

YOU: HE’S A COMPLETE IDIOT!!!

By subtly insinuating yourself into the discussion, you have commandeered the conversation. Also, your insight will persuade others to join your “side” of the discussion. You come away looking knowledgeable while your unfortunate friend is branded a gadfly or even a simpleton.

This tip is vitally important if you encounter someone who doesn’t speak English. This can happen with no warning–unless you are a bigot engaged in racial profiling. Recently, at a fast food restaurant, I was approached by a young man who addressed me in a language that no sane person could understand. He may have been asking me a question. He could have been cursing God for all I know. I offered this response: “Do you speak English?” He misunderstood and prattled on. I then took control of the conversation by fairly yelling: “DO…YOU…SPEAK…ENGLISH?” He said “No” and walked away. There are two important lessons here: 1) It’s possible that people who don’t speak your native tongue may understand it if your scream it slowly; and 2) No one likes being yelled at, even in a foreign language.

Note, too, that yelling may even work with the deaf. Once, a man handed me a card which read: “I AM DEAF. NEED MONEY FOR FOOD.” I yelled: “SORRY. I CAN’T HELP YOU.” He pointed at his ears and walked away. See, it works.

Most importantly, you might know my wife. She doesn’t like mumbling. You know how she is.

CURSING

Whether it’s called cursing, swearing or potty mouth, foul language has long been condemned by skilled speakers. I once read that repeated cursing chops up one’s message rendering it nothing but a series of short, disconnected thoughts. Your larger message is lost.

To this advice, I say BULLSHIT! Many times, such language is all that can adequately deliver your message. More often, it can set the tone for your entire oratory. Here is an example. Let us suppose that you are asked to give a talk at your church. Naturally, you lack formal religious training. At best, you will make a fool of yourself. At worst, you will offend both the parishioners and God Himself. One approach would be to memorize a few scriptures and meditate upon them in prayer, asking for the right words. Good luck with that. Another approach is to immediately grab your listeners with an opening salvo along these lines:

LISTEN UP, YOU BUNCH OF MOTHER—-ERS!!

The congregation will be rocked by this forceful opening. They will immediately think “There must be a strong message from the Lord to follow.” You can then launch into a recklessly inaccurate sermon peppered with occasional obscenities that will hold the listener’s attention.

This approach works in casual conversation as well. Nothing will impress your friends more than your adroit use of all manner of filth. Let’s say you are in a conversation with someone far more educated than you. You make a casual comment about, say, the invention of the linotype machine, which you foolishly attribute to Grover Cleveland. Your friend says “Well, the linotype was actually invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler.” What do you do now? You could stare at your feet and excuse yourself from the conversation. Here is the better approach: Lock eyes with your friend and declare: “YOU, SIR, ARE GODDAMNED LIAR!!” (be sure to speak loudly as advised above). You have turned the tables on Mr. Know-It-All. Not only have you challenged his assertion, you have done so in a way that calls into question his credibility in general. Bystanders, unconcerned as they might be with the inanity of the topic, will view you as man with whom to be reckoned. You can bet that no one will take exception to you again in a public setting.

KNOW YOUR TOPIC

I can’t stress this one enough. No manner of loud swearing is an adequate substitute for knowing your subject matter. This is especially so if, like me, there are people who actually believe you know about certain things. If you have been in that unenviable position, you know it almost impossible to know enough about anything to intelligently speak for more than 5 minutes or so.

One approach is to research and carefully study your topic. Okay, that will work if you have no life and want to waste what precious time you have on the planet on such endeavors. Another approach is to pay someone who does know about the topic to prepare a PowerPoint presentation for you. Then, you can simply babble from slide to slide until your allotted time has been used up.

Another approach is to simply make up your talk from whole cloth. In the legal profession, this is especially effective. Usually, I speak at continuing legal education seminars where no one listens anyway. I can say anything! Almost no one listens, and the few who do don’t know anymore than I do. If someone asks me a question, I can either make up something or simply fire back “SHUT THE F— UP!”

The same pointers work in casual conversation.  Ignorance has never shut anyone up as far as I know.  As long as you talk incessantly, loudly and obscenely, you’re bound to say something close to accurate.  Again, remember:  Few people listen to you anyway.  Thus, it’s never what you say that matters.  It’s how you say it.

USE AN ACCENT

I have an accent. It’s Eastern Kentucky. Sadly, no matter what I say, to many people it sounds dumb. That’s because they think Eastern Kentuckians are dumb. You probably have an accent, too, unless you are from Nebraska or Kansas or some other accent-less part of the country. If you are a foreigner, you almost certainly have an accent, and it may be a really good one.

If you have a bad one, try another. British always works. Have you ever heard the BBC News? Everything sounds important. The moment the word “schedule” (SHED-yule) slides across your tongue, everything you say will sound authoritative. Consider Madonna. She is from Michigan but speaks with a British accent. How about eccentric actor Johnny Depp? Like me, he is from Kentucky, yet he has a vague, non-specific Euro accent. Neither of these marvelous entertainers is well-educated, but both sound erudite and informed. Isn’t that the whole point of speaking aloud?

There are many other accents available. Spanish, for example, sounds worldly and sophisticated. A word of caution–unless you master it, you may sound like Tony Montana and terrify the listener. This isn’t good unless that’s your goal. There are pluses and minuses of other accents:

Scottish: Kinda British but less understandable. You’ll sound friendly, if a tad odd.

Canadian:  You’ll sound like a plain, white American, except you’ll say “aboot” instead of “about.”  I’m not sure how that will help you.

Irish: Also possibly incomprehensible, plus the listener may believe you to be under the influence of strong drink. Has the plus side of being sort of funny.

German: You will sound commanding and more than a little frightening. Especially effective with curse words. If you actually speak the German language, everything sounds like cursing.

Russian: Extra terrifying. Great if you like to pretend to be spy.

Swedish: Goofy, but good if you don’t want the listener to understand you.

Australian: A rougher form of the British accent. You’ll sound less intelligent but considerably more dangerous.

Asian: Just avoid this one. The prospect of speaking stereotypical pidgin English is too great. Also, if you’re not, in fact, Asian, the listener will simply believe you are odd.

My accent is not always a drawback. The Eastern Kentucky accent adds just the right tone to such rejoinders as “I’ll whip your ass” or “What the hell are you looking at?” No Brit can deliver such messages with the same force.

GRAMMAR

Good grammar is good and important, at least according to my late mother. I don’t really know nothing about that, so I’ll move on.

USE THE RIGHT WORD

Some suggest using simple words. I guess this is good advice if you spend your time speaking to morons who are unlikely to understand anything you say anyway. I suggest using poorly understood words like sardonic, disaffected, nonplussed and irregardless. That way, you appear superior to the listener. Even if you don’t know what these words mean, use them anyway. No one else understands them, either.

You might say of an acquaintance:  “Carl just don’t give a shit about nothing.”  Admittedly, that’s an effective use of an expletive; however, consider this alternative:  “Carl has a disaffected attitude about everything.”  Have you praised or insulted Carl?  It’s hard to say, isn’t it?  The listener can be the judge.

Call someone obsequious or an opsimath. You can refer to this post as an amphigory.  Accuse someone of being an irresponsible jackanapes. I like to call people wastrels, slugabeds and layabouts.  Don’t bother looking up the definitions.  Just use them.

The use of indecipherable language might seem counterintuitive.  It is true that such use is unwise in the rare event that you want to be understood.  If you want to make an impression, though, there is no better way than to talk like you’re smarter than everyone else.  Do you want to be understood by complete idiots or by smart people?

CONCLUSION

Most of us have much to say but lack the skills to say it.  Honing your verbal skills is the key to making yourself heard, if not understood.  Now, go out there and talk to someone.

You may have found my advice inconsistent and even useless.  If so, so be it.  Better yet, JUST SHUT THE… .  You get it.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Are You Mad? The Five Signs of Lunacy

If you’re anything like me, you occasionally wonder if you are going insane or, perhaps, are already there.  “Insane” isn’t really the right word.  That’s actually more of a legal term, requiring some sort of adjudication of your condition. Few of us will ever reach the point that such measures are necessary.   Madness and lunacy are much better terms.  Regardless of whether you call it madness, lunacy, bonkers or just plain crazy, we all think about it from time to time.  (We don’t?  Hmmm.  Maybe it’s just me.  That’s not good at all.)

In any event, I have identified certain markers of madness that may benefit others.  These tell-tale signs should be used as warnings  that we are close to veering off the path of the well-balanced into the median of lunacy.

I have had experience with all of these at various points in my life.  In fact, I’ve had days where I’ve experienced them all.  Those were not particularly good days, by the way.

I must qualify all of this by disclosing that I am NOT a mental health professional.  Indeed, I have no medical or psychological training whatsoever.  I am particularly unqualified to diagnose any condition or to offer any advice regarding appropriate treatment.  So, should you actually be a lunatic, do not contact me for advice.  In fact, don’t contact me at all.  You could be dangerous, you know.

1. YOU ARE VERY IMPORTANT

Have you ever thought that you are a very important person, a VIP as it were?  Now, I’m not talking about being important to your family or friends. Don’t confuse this with being important to your dog, either.  Your dog thinks you are the lead dog.  If you think you are a dog, that’s another set of issues altogether.

I’m talking about general importance.  Your opinions are important, for example.  If people disagree with you, it is an outrage.  They are fools, because you are always correct.  Those who disagree with you are Communists, racists, homophobes, anarchists, ne’er do wells, welfare queens, robber barons or many other such disagreeable sorts, depending upon your particular view of the world.  These people lack your intelligence and insight.  They don’t know as much as you know.  Not only are these people wrong, they–and the rest of us–MUST know your opinion on everything for you are important and must be heard.

Chances are that you are like most us and only want to listen to people with whom you agree.  It’s likely–almost certain, in fact–that the only people who want to listen to you are those who share the same views as you.  Everyone else doesn’t want to listen to it.  Sorry, but that’s how it goes.  If you can’t accept that, madness lurks just around the corner.

Have you ever had the urge to say “Don’t you know who I am?”  I know I have.  Sadly, I’ve even said if before–and not just to myself, either.  Perhaps, if I were–say–George Clooney that would make some sense.  But, if I were George Clooney people would actually know who I am, and I wouldn’t have to say it.  Even thinking that is bad.  Thinking it may be even worse, because you might believe people do know who you are when they really don’t.  Then, you just walk around thinking that you shouldn’t have to stand in lines or wait in traffic or pay your bills or wear pants.  Maybe, we all should say it out loud every now and then just to be reminded that they don’t know who we are and don’t care.

2. YOUR JOB IS REALLY IMPORTANT

This could be a subset of the first sign above.  Your job may actually be important.  If you’re a firefighter, cop, oncologist or teacher you certainly have an important occupation.  People depend on you.  That is a good thing.  Don’t confuse that with your job making you important.

I am a lawyer.  I think that’s an important job.  My clients depend on me to get them the results they want.  Each case I handle is extremely important to those folks.  Many people don’t think much of lawyers.  We rank slightly above crack dealers and slightly below pimps in the public’s view.  Used car dealers and insurance salesman are viewed largely the same.  Yet, we all think we’re important.  The painful truth is that a lot of people can do our jobs just as well–and even better–than we do.

Mathematician/Philosopher and all-round know-it-all Bertrand Russell once said that one of the signs of an impending nervous breakdown is the belief that your job is extremely important.  He was a lot smarter than I am, but I’m not sure that’s correct.  What I am sure of is that the belief that ME doing that job is extremely important is a bad sign.

I’m not irreplaceable.  Neither are you.  If you think you are, try this:  Go in to your place of business and quit.  I did that once.  Guess what?  They were fine without me.  Someone else started doing the stuff I had been doing, and everything continued on as usual.

I’ve worked with people who died unexpectedly.  People were really upset, some because they were human beings and others because death disrupts the workplace, what with the grieving and funerals and what have you.  Soon, though, we were trying to figure out who would get the deceased’s furniture or office.  Some of us were concerned that we might have to do more work.

So, the reality is that if you die at work, someone gets your credenza.  That’s it.

3. YOU HEAR STUFF

We all know that hearing things can be a bad sign.  Auditory hallucinations cause much trouble in the world.  Rarely do we read of “voices” saying things like “Have a good day” or “Be nice to someone.”  Usually, it’s stuff like “Eat that dog” or “Wear her skin as a vest.”  These voices–at least I’ve been told–seem real, so we do as they command.  If you’ve got that going on, for God’s sake, do something about it.

There is other stuff you can hear.  God, for example.  I’m not talking about something like a friend saying “God spoke to my heart.”  That’s a kind of metaphorical observation that means “I got this feeling.”  We’ve all had that.  I mean God actually talking and you possibly talking back.  Think of it like this:  God went silent late in the Old Testament.  Why would He start talking to you?  If it’s because you are really important, re-read my comments above.

Maybe the radio talks to you.  If you’re driving down the road screaming at Sean Hannity, that’s a problem.  He can’t hear you.  Perhaps you think 1970’s singer Dan Hill is crooning to you when you hear Sometimes When We Touch on the Oldies station.  He isn’t.  I used to think Olivia Newton-John was singing to me.  I don’t think that anymore, unless I’m watching Grease.

You may have pets.  You may love your pets more than any human.  Good for you, but they don’t talk.  Even if you talk to them in exaggerated baby talk that would embarrass any self-respecting infant, your dog or cat isn’t talking back.  If they do, just Google “Son of Sam” and stay far away from me.

Oh, don’t confuse this with seeing things.  There many benign explanations for this phenomenon–strong drink, drugs, poor lighting, etc.  Don’t worry about this unless the things you see start talking to you.

4. YOU DON’T TAKE YOUR MEDICATION

There’s nothing wrong with medication, assuming it’s prescribed and you need it.  Cymbalta, Wellbutrin, Zoloft and the like have done a world of good by altering troubling brain chemistry.  If you stop taking it, though, we have a problem.  This is especially true if you’re taking any sort of anti-psychotic medication.

When people start feeling better, they don’t want to take their medication anymore.  They are, in their dysfunctional minds, “cured.”  Here’s what you should do:  The day you stop taking your medication, note that this is the day you start down the road to full-blown lunacy.  You might even want to mark it on your calendar.

5. YOU BELIEVE IN CONSPIRACIES

We don’t need to belabor this point.  Suffice to say that if you believe in any vast conspiracy that has remained secret for many years, you are not firing on all cylinders.  Here is a just sampling of topics about which you may believe a conspiracy exists:

  • The moon landing
  • 9-11
  • Marilyn Monroe’s death
  • Elvis Presley’s death
  • Bob Denver’s death
  • The Kennedy Assassination
  • Barack Obama’s birthplace
  • The firing of the original Darren on Bewitched
  • Anything involving a “New World Order”
  • Area 51
  • Communists
  • Big Foot
  • Yeti
  • The Knicks winning the 1985 NBA Draft Lottery

This list could be 10 times longer, but we’ll stop for brevity’s sake.  There may be conspiracies peculiar to your own circumstances.  For instance, your child may do poorly in school.  You may believe that this is a result of teachers, administrators and fellow students conspiring against your child.  Consider that your child may not be very bright or could be down right lazy.  It happens.

Try this.  Go out and see if you can line up 10 people you know for or against anything.  It ain’t easy.  Imagine now that you were wanting to kill someone with their help.  Not likely.

Just repeat to yourself each day:  There are no conspiracies.  If you hear a voice repeating it back to you, well, you know.

CONCLUSION

These are the five markers of madness.  You’ll notice that I didn’t delve into actual mental illnesses such as bipolar disease, schizophrenia, depression and the like.  Again, I have no medical training.  These specific diagnoses are best left to the professionals or you can easily diagnose yourself by searching on the Internet for your particular symptoms.  Here is an educational video to help you better understand such diseases of the mind.

There is good news.  Any one of these peculiarities, standing alone, is likely no more than a sign that you are weird or–if you are wealthy–eccentric.  Two or more, sadly, point directly to crippling lunacy.  You may be fortunate and become pleasantly mad–like many town characters throughout our great land.

It’s time to stop–at least that’s what the voices are telling me.  You know how pushy they can be.

©thetrivaltroll.wordpress.com 2013

The Flu Blues

I don’t have the flu–at least not yet.  My wife does.  So does my 10-year-old son.  My other sons–17 and 19–also don’t have it.  My 17-year-old rarely leaves the basement and, when he does, it is usually out the back door.  I find this habit both annoying and disquieting, but now I embrace it as preventative health care.  My oldest son is home from college on Christmas break.  If he can avoid the spreading virus for the next 24 hours, he will be on his way back to Pittsburgh.  He attends Carnegie Mellon University, the alma mater of such diverse personalities as Andy Warhol, John Forbes Nash and Lenny and Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  His academic rigors can ill afford to be interrupted by disease.  On my advice, he is staying away from his childhood home except to pack his belongings and flee.

How bad is this flu?  Pretty bad.  My 10-year-old, normally an energetic cuss, has been rendered almost immobile.  My wife, too, has been felled, for the time being at least.  The good news is that the horrid virus has not diminished her ability to bark orders.  Thus, our home will continue to run like a well-oiled machine.

I now face a conundrum. My office is less than two miles from home, making it an oasis from the disease around me.  I must, of course, occasionally visit them while they are sick.  How can I make enough of an appearance to still be engaged as the titular head of the household, yet protect myself as any sane person would?

Before proceeding, you should know that the flu fascinates me a bit.  Several years ago I read The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History by John M. Barry.  It is an excellent book about the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918.  THAT was a bad flu, killing in the neighborhood of 40 million people, including 600,000 in one month in the U.S. Since then, I’ve read a lot of material about the flu.  If I wanted to appear brainy, I could rant about various flu strains, antigen drift, corona virus and other minutia.  But it all comes down to this:  The flu comes in many forms, changes constantly, is highly contagious and incurable.  The good news, as Barry notes in his book, is that–even its deadlier forms–it’s just the flu.  It won’t kill you.  Probably.  Now, if you’re elderly, it can lead to pneumonia which no old person wants.  Bad stuff there.  Much worse than the flu.

How do you know if you have the flu?  Oh, there are many symptoms.  Here is a simple test:  Are you coughing like you have Black Lung and do you feel like crap?  If so, you may have the flu.

Even though I won’t pretend to be a doctor, I do want to clarify something.  There is no stomach flu.  There are viruses which will cause unimaginable gastrointestinal disruption and strip you of your dignity.  You can be like I was about year ago.  Start feeling a little weird in your stomach and then–BOOM!–puking pizza through your nose for an hour.  But, that’s not the flu.  Could be a virus. Maybe it’s bacteria, i.e., food poisoning.  Just don’t call it the flu.  The flu is the flu.  If you say you have the stomach flu, it makes as much sense as saying you have a facial hernia.

Anyway, back to me (as if we ever left that topic to begin with).  Once the disease hit, I had to think fast to protect myself.  I considered several options before settling on one:

RUN LIKE HELL

Like any animal, fight or flight is my reaction to terror.  In this case, flight is the only reasonable option.  My initial plan was to get a room at the Hampton Inn across the highway from my home.  It’s close to my office and home.  I could stay there until the trouble passes, plus feign immediate availability for the sick.

I love Hampton Inn, by the way.  I travel a fair amount for work to many places that don’t have 5 Star Hotels.  Most areas do, however, have a Hampton Inn.  They are all pretty much the same.  Nice, clean rooms, pool, exercise room and free breakfast.  Good deal.

My wife shot down my running away plan.  I simply asked, “How bad would it be if I got me a room over at the Hampton and just brought you all stuff when you need it?”  Her answer:  “Very bad [cough, cough, cough].”

PLAN B

I have a friend who will occasionally come up with an idea for something.  He will call these ideas “Plan Q.”  Why?  I don’t know.  I considered calling this Plan Q, but–while a fine fellow–he is a litigious sort who would likely take umbrage at this.  So, I call this Plan B.

Here are the steps of Plan B:

1.  Wife and Son retreat to the master bedroom of our home on the second floor (now called the “Phlegm Chamber”),  It has a queen-sized bed, television, sofa, ample books and a bathroom.  In keeping with today’s lingo, we will call these wretched souls the “Ratchet.”

2.  Dry foodstuffs, MREs, liquids, medicine and supplies will have been previously stocked in the Phlegm Chamber.  This will include, but not be limited to, Theraflu, Tamiflu, Kleenex, NyQuil, Advil, Tylenol, magazines, newspapers and a legal pad in case they want to draw.

3.  Once the Ratchet are safely ensconced, duct tape will place along the door facing.  This will ensure that the deadly miasma produced by their constant breathing and coughing will remain contained within the Phlegm Chamber, unable to escape to the rest of the house, now known as the “Clean Zone.”

4.  Cell phones will be provided to allow text messaging and limited phone calls to me.  I will guarantee a response within two to three hours of any message left with me, unless I am napping.  In that case, I may respond the next day, if at all.

5.  The Ratchet will not be allowed in the Clean Zone until they have gone 24 hours without a fever.  This is a bit of gamble, because I’m not insane enough to check their temperatures myself.  However, if they venture out while still feverish, I’m sure there’s some app for constantly monitoring a rectal thermometer.  If not, I’ll get my egghead kid at Carnegie Mellon to invent one.

6.  Once the Ratchet are able to leave the Phlegm Chamber, they will immediately visit a doctor to confirm that they are no longer contagious.  Once this is confirmed in writing, they are free to venture about the Clean Zone wearing appropriate surgical masks until all coughing has subsided.  Since the Clean Zone is likely to be a bit messy, the Ratchet are then expected to help straighten up a bit.

The problem with Plan B, despite its ingenious detail, is that it requires cooperation from the Ratchet.  Thus far, that cooperation has been lacking.

HOWARD AND ME

The name Howard Hughes likely doesn’t mean much to young folks.  To people of a certain age, like me, his name conjures up the image of fabulous wealth, daring adventure and, of course, crippling lunacy.

Hughes made fortunes in the tool, film and aviation industries.  He once declared that his goal was to be the greatest golfer, pilot and film maker on Earth and the richest man in the world.  Except for golf, he could at various times have laid claim to all those titles.

When Hughes was in his 50’s, he developed, at the very least, serious obsessive-compulsive disorder.  Eventually, he retreated to one of his hotels, sitting in the dark, naked, watching the film Ice Station Zebra over and over.  He was so obsessed with germs that he wouldn’t wearing clothes or even bathe.  He covered his body in Kleenex and put the empty boxes on his feet.  His hair grew to his shoulders and beard to his chest.  He collected his bodily waste in jars.  He hired a staff of Mormons to serve him, because he believed them to be clean.  He had a good point about that.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes's last days.

A dramatic recreation of Howard Hughes’s last days.

I’ve thought about adopting Hughes’s lifestyle, at least until the plague passes.  But, I’ll have to pass.  First, I’m concerned that I would quickly become enamored of living the life of a billionaire and not be able to return to my Regular Joe existence.  Second, being naked bothers me, especially in front of Mormons.  Finally, although it sounds like it would be effective defense against influenza, I suspect that I might expose myself to other equally deadly germs.

FULL COURT PRESS

I’m left with an all-out defensive effort to protect myself.  Here are my tools:

  • MASKS:  I am wearing a surgical mask at all times.  Two, on occasion.  The downside is that I’ve discovered that I have foul breath.  My breathing also fogs up my reading glasses.
johnboy

Your author fends off sure death.

  • GLOVES:  I’m wearing latex gloves.  That’s right–latex.  I don’t have a latex allergy.  Or a gluten allergy, either.  In fact, if they made latex gloves infused with gluten, I’d wear them just to prove what a bad ass I am.
  • HAND WASHING:  I’m washing my hands every minute or so–even with gloves on.  My skin is now like that of radiation burn victim, but I’m germ free.
  • LOOK, DON’T TOUCH:  This is simple.  Don’t touch anything. If you have to touch, use your elbows or feet.  The one exception is the remote control, of course.  You can scrub it with bleach and it’s as good as new.
  • BOILING:  Boil things.  You’d be surprised at how many things can be boiled.  Food, for example.  Toothbrushes. Shoes.  Some clothes.  Your hands.  When in doubt, boil it.  Caveat: It doesn’t work well with electronic devices.
  • MEDICINE:  Take all manner of medication.  If the Ratchet have prescriptions, take those.  Buy your own.  Just keep taking them.  Yes, the flu is incurable–as far as we know.  You might hit the right combination and win a Nobel Prize to boot.

This last plan, like many good ones, was born of desperation.  Yet, it has been remarkably effective so far.  Of course, the germs are everywhere, stalking me, crawling on me.  I am certain that all of this will ultimately fail me.  What now?  I wonder if Ice Station Zebra is on Blu-Ray?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Try Not to Worry

I tried to follow Alfred E. Newman’s advice–without much luck.

“What–Me Worry?” So says Alfred E. Newman, MAD Magazine’s iconic cover boy.  As a kid I read this as “whatmeworry” not “What?  Me Worry?” as intended.  I loved MAD, by the way.  Nothing thrilled my more than when Dad would pick up a copy for me at the store.  Secretly, Dad loved it, too.  But this post isn’t about MAD, although that would be cool.

I wanted to live by Alfred’s wise words, but I was always a worrier.  Here’s some crappy advice:  Try not to worry.  That just makes me worry about why I can’t not worry.

I was a born worrier.  Maybe it’s because my Mom fell through the back porch when she was 8 months pregnant with me.  I might have started worrying about what the hell was going on out there.  I was born on August 11, 1962 at 6:20 a.m.  I’m sure I worried about being born so earlier in the day. Would coming out this early disrupt my schedule?  It was Summer, too.  Would I be too hot in this new world?  How hard would it be to make friends?

I worried about stuff when I was a kid.  I even worried about other kids.  When I was about 6 or 7, a kid named Dennis Martin disappeared in the Great Smoky Mountains.  He was my age.  He just walked away from the campground and never came back.  I worried about Dennis.  Where was he?  What happened to him?  Would that happen to me?  Every now and then–some 40+ years later–I check the Internet to see if they ever found him.  Nope.  Still missing.

I grew up at Ground Zero for the War on Poverty.  Social workers would come to school and give kids coats.  I worried about the kids who didn’t have coats.  My uncle was a social worker.  He was the “Shoe Man.”  He would come in the class rooms and kids would stick their feet up in the air to show they needed shoes.  Personally, I never saw this, but he talked about it.  He talked, and I worried.

I’ve worried about my health.  Germs, disease, accidents.  Let’s be honest:  A lot of bad crap can happen with your health.  If you live long enough, it will happen, unless you get killed in an accident.  Geez.  Think about all the diseases and accidents that can happen.   This doesn’t even count the chances of running afoul of a serial killer, mass murderer, terrorist or random nut case.  I read a court case about a guy who got killed when one of his co-workers goosed him with a high-pressure air hose.  Blew out his colon.  What are the odds?  Who knows? But I stay the hell away from high-pressure air hoses.

I’ve worried about sports, mostly sports played by other people and over which I have no influence.  I’ve lost sleep over such things–before and after the event.  I’ve worried about whether people would think less of me because I cheered for a team that lost a big game.  Then, I worried about why I would worry about something like that.

I’ve worried about money, even though I’ve been fortunate enough to never have had any serious money problems.  That never stopped me from worrying about it.  Will I have enough to send my kids to college?  To retire?  What if I lose my job?  What if I can’t work?  These questions are all fertile worrying ground.

The good news is that as I’ve aged, I worry less.  I’d like to say that this is because I’m mature or just wiser.  The real reason is that there are fewer things to worry about, because I’ve experienced most of the things I’ve worried about.  That doesn’t stop people from trying to get me to worry about stuff. Nevertheless, it’s obvious–even to a worrier–that most of it isn’t worth the effort.  What it comes down to is “What if…?”  For some reason, I rarely think “What if…everything turns out GREAT?!?”  Fortunately, there are a growing number of things for which “What if…?” just doesn’t matter to me.

With that in mind, here are some things I won’t be worrying about:

  • The Mayan Apocalypse:  Some Mayan made a calendar that stretched out for hundreds of years and just stops on December 21, 2012.  That’s supposed to be the end of the world or so some say.  This discounts the possibility that the guy who made the calendar just got tired and quit or maybe someone killed him or he died of syphilis or something.  If the world ends on the 21st, so be it.  Really, what can I do about it?  It’s the first day of Winter, and Winter sucks.  Plus, Snookie is supposed to have her baby on the 21st of December.  If that’s the end, it’s well-timed.
  • End Times:  This, of course, is related to the Mayans but different.  If the end is near, I can’t stop it.  Every generation thinks the end is near.  One of them will be right.  Maybe it’s us.  If it is–and it’s a God thing–what I am supposed to do about it?  Just roll with it.
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup:  This is supposed to be bad stuff, some sort of deadly poison.  I don’t care.  I’m certain that everything I’ve eaten with high fructose corn syrup in it has been good.  I like it.  Period.
  • Brain Chips:  I’ve had a bunch of emails telling me that Obamacare has a sneaky provision in it requiring everyone to have a tracking chip placed under their hides in March of 2013.  It’s also called a “slave chip.”  This is disconcerting, of course.  It’s also not true, but that doesn’t matter.  I’m willing to assume it’s true. Here’s what the government would find out about me.  I wake up, go to work, go to the gym, go home.  That’s it.
  • Gay People:  There are gay people.  Always have been.  Always will be.  They don’t bother me.  They don’t try to recruit me.  They don’t try to make my gay.  I’m not worried about them getting married or having jobs or being out of the closet or being gay.  No worries here.
  • Tim Tebow:  Hey, Tebow is a nice young man.  Or he seems to be.  By NFL standards, he’s not a very good quarterback, but a lot of my religious friends disagree. They think God makes him play well.  (Somehow, they don’t realize that Tebow’s fellow Gator and Heisman Trophy winner and equally religious and all-round good guy  Danny Wuerffel wasn’t a good quarterback, either).  I think he can be a good player–just not a good quarterback.  I don’t worship Satan, either.  I’m not going to be concerned about Tebow.  If he does well, great.  If not, fine too.  I wish ESPN would quit worrying about him.
  • The Royal Family:  If want to obsess over the lives of ugly, inbred people, I’ll watch Toddlers & Tiaras.  Maybe I should worry about the fact that I occasionally watch Toddlers & Tiaras.  By “occasionally,” I mean “regularly.”
  • Robert Pattinson:  Like most people, I was traumatized to learn that Kristen Stewart (“K-Stew”) cheated on hunkilicious Robert Pattinson.  It took awhile, but I’m over it.  My intuition tells me he’ll be okay.  He might even be able to find a new girlfriend.  I’ll just keep my fingers crossed and no worry about it.  It’ll be tough, but I can do it.  Maybe.
  • Mercury:  I’m talking about the element, not the planet.  No one has urged me to worry about the planet (yet).  The element, however, is all kinds of worrisome.  Deadly.  And everywhere.  In our water, our food, the air.  There’s no escaping it.  I suppose I should read up on it to find out what it’s doing to me.  My high school chemistry teacher had a big plastic jug full of mercury in our classroom.  We’d dump some of it on a table and blow on it to watch it roll around.  We’d even put it in the palms of our hands and play with it.  Now, if a drop of mercury is exposed, the entire school is evacuated and raided by HazMat teams.  I’ve already been exposed to a lot of mercury.  Too late to start worrying about it now.
  • Getting Older:  A lot of people worry about this.  Seems like I would, too, but I don’t.  I like getting older.  It means I’m still here.  I’ve known way too many people who stopped getting older way too soon.  If I get a letter from AARP, it just reminds me that I’ve survived.  I like that.  Another thing is that I’ve progressively gotten older since birth.  I’m used to it.  If you don’t want to get older, you really want to die.  I don’t want to die.  Of course, the older you get, the closer you are to death.  Worrying about death is different from worrying about age.  Plus, I don’t think most of us worry so much about death as about how we die.  Slow, painful death or loathsome disease are what we worry about.  I better stop now, I’m getting concerned.
  • Global Warming:  I’m sure this makes me a horrible person, but it’s just how it is. I love the coal industry and just don’t cotton to crusades to put it out of business.  That’s what the Global Warming is all about.  Second is that I’m just a wee bit too selfish to live by candlelight and ride a bicycle everywhere I go.  I like electricity and the internal combustion engine.  Global warming is the cloth diaper of this generation.  When my first son was born, people said we should use cloth diapers to save the environment and keep our landfills from overflowing with Pampers.  These people either: (1) Never had a baby; or (2) Are just plain odd and don’t mind having piles of cotton cloth soaked with human filth.  Global warming works the same way.  I’m sure there are people who live off the grid, as they say.  I just don’t know any of them.  I’m certainly not going to be one of them.  And I don’t worry about it.  Maybe I’ll wake up one day on the beach in Lexington, Kentucky, fighting off polar bears.  Now, THAT is something I’ll worry about it when it happens.

There you have it.  A small list of things which won’t be on my mind. I’m going to add one more thing to the list every month or so.  Eventually, I’ll run out of things to worry about it.

For now, I’m not worry-free.  I still have plenty of things that are fret-worthy.  I worry about my children, which I guess most people do (I mean worry about their own kids, not mine).  And not just about their safety and futures.  What if they do something stupid?  Doesn’t that make me a bad parent?  Worse yet, won’t people think I’m a bad parent?  I also occasionally think I’m more important than I really am and worry about my job, becoming convinced that every thing I do is a referendum on my worth as a human being.  I still worry about sports for no rational reason.

I also worry that I blog too much.  Maybe it’s a sign of mental illness.  That’s worrisome.

I’d like to be one of those people who say “Everything will be okay.”  Actually, I am one of those people.  What I mean is I’d like to be one of those people who say that and mean it.  What I really mean is “Everything will be.”  And it will.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

Wordsmithery

As a lawyer, I deal in language.  I read, write and speak quite a bit.  I’ve learned that how I say things can be just as important as what I say.  I have to write and speak persuasively.  My job is to persuade or influence someone, be it a judge, jury or opponent, to see my side of things.  To believe me.  I get paid to do this, and try my best.

I am but a mere piker compared to the rest of the world. Some call it spin or wordsmithing.  Regardless, there is one point–everyone wants me to think like they do, believe what they believe.  Most things aren’t really subject to “belief.”   For example, whether I believe that the sun is a giant star is irrelevant.  It is, whether I believe it or not.  I heard a guy say the other day that he doesn’t “believe in food stamps.”  Well, that’s unfortunate, because they exist.

We take language and twist it for our own ends. Over the years, I’ve identified several of these tricks most of which bombard me every day.

WHAT’S THE GOOD WORD?

Sometimes, we can change a few words and change the import of what we say.  Here are a few examples:

Entitlements:  This term is used, mostly by politicians, to describe anything to which the speaker believes folks are not entitled.  It’s a handout.  It’s a pejorative term implying that the recipient believes he or she is entitled to it, like a spoiled child.  On the other hand, the word “benefits” connotes something provided as bonus.  You might deserve a bonus.  You never deserve an entitlement, even if it’s like Social Security which you pay for.

Rain Forest:  I never heard this term when I was young, although I’m sure there were rain forests.  I think they were called jungles back then.  Who in their right mind would want to SAVE THE JUNGLES?  Jungles are dark and scary and filled with dangerous animals, maybe even cannibals.  Rain forests are nice and rainy and full of beautiful foliage and kind woodland creatures.  One can imagine strolling through a rain forest and being in awe of nature.  A jungle, by contrast, could be certain death by deadly insects, natives or wild animals.  Crazed tree monkeys, tigers, tse tse flies–you name it–stand ready to take you down.  None of that could happen in a rain forest.

Undocumented Workers vs. Illegal Aliens:  An undocumented worker isn’t a bad guy.  First, he works, which is always good.  He sounds industrious.  Second, he’s the victim of some paperwork snafu.  That’s happened to all of us at some point.  An illegal alien, by contrast, is bad, maybe even dangerous.  He’s illegal, which means he’s a criminal.  He’s also an alien which is just spooky.  Hard to believe they’re the same thing, huh?  Just this week I heard a new one:  U.S. Born Children of Illegal Aliens.  That’s a mouthful, but it sounds awful.  The translation:  Natural born U.S. citizens.

Climate Change:  This used to be known as Global Warming.  Global Warming just isn’t ominous enough sounding.  Everyone likes warm weather, right?  Plus, when it gets super cold or snows a lot, Global Warming doesn’t make much sense.  Climate Change, on the other hand, could mean anything.  500 degree Winters.  Tornadoes in New York.   You name it, it fits.

Mental Illness:  There was a time when medical professionals used terms such as moron, imbecile and idiot to describe people with various afflictions.  People like my father co-opted these terms and freely applied them to people like me.  Thus, they fell out of favor.  We had lunatic asylums.  Imagine someone directing you to a Lunatic Asylum full of morons, imbeciles and idiots.  Not a very pretty picture.  A hospital for the mentally ill is much better.  We don’t have much patience with idiots, but we do with people who are ill.  That’s a good thing.

Homeless: I’d be willing to bet that if you look at contemporary writings from 40-50 years ago, it would appear that there were no homeless people.  The world had plenty of deadbeats, bums, hobos, drifters and vagrants, though.  Homeless is a better–and more accurate–term.  I know people who have been homeless.  Some of them, no doubt, were bums.  Some weren’t.

Disabled:  Here’s another example of the language adapting to improve.  Remember when people were cripples?  We had hospitals for “crippled children.”  It’s not surprising that folks didn’t like that.  Now, some folks don’t like “disabled.”  I understand, but I can’t think of a better term.  Someone will.

Learning Disability:  Now, this one is interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, it uses “disability” but it’s okay.  In this context, it’s not out of favor, yet.  Second, there is no doubt that we’ve learned that some people have real, identifiable learning disorders which can be treated or at the very least addressed.  I believe that stupidity remains the number 1 learning disorder; however, we no longer accept that.  I once read of a football player in a prominent college whose “disability” was the inability to understand the written word.  He had to have pictures to understand things.  This brings to mind the old adage “I’ll draw you a picture.”  One might suggest that this unfortunate fellow was actually illiterate, which sounds harsh and judgmental.  He was disabled.

The above examples are either politically correct or propaganda, depending on one’s view.   Both are considered bad, of course.  Political correctness denotes simple-minded vacuity, while propaganda is evil conjuring up images of jack-booted Hitler Youth.

Besides trying influence the listener, words are sometimes changed for the most obvious of reasons–to obscure or misrepresent the true meaning.  Here are a few:

WORD OR PHRASE: REAL MEANING:

Visually impaired:  Blind

Scrappy ballplayer:  White ballplayer

Alternative Energy:  Energy which won’t work

Collateral damage:  Dead people

Exotic dancer:  Stripper

Adult cinema:  Porn

Limited potential:  Loser

White trash:  White trash

THE DUBIOUS ATTRIBUTION

An otherwise unimpressive statement can be prefaced or qualified to sound plausible or even authoritative.  Let’s say I make this  inane statement:  “Anthony Weiner should run for President.”  You laugh, as well you should.  Now, let’s put a little different spin on it:

“Many political observers believe that Anthony Weiner could be a viable third party candidate for President.”

Now, this is just as imbecilic as the first statement.   You want to dismiss it out of hand, but you think:  Hmm. What is it about Weiner that makes him a viable candidate? What do these observers know that I don’t?  Of course, this improved statement says nothing of substance.  What does “many” mean?  More than one?  What is an “observer?”  Probably anyone.

My brother had a friend who liked to preface outlandish comments with “Experts has proven…”  That way, he could say something like “Experts has proven that Big Foot lives in Harlan County.”  That sounds plausible.

People say things like “Many economists believe that a 0% tax rate would actually increase government revenue” or “Many economists believe that huge government deficits will result in a strong U.S. economy for years to come.”  They want me to agree with them and their many authorities.  Surely that many economists can’t ALL be wrong?

You might wonder if this isn’t actually a cleaned up version of lying.  Good question.  Perhaps, but no more so than when we cite “they” for some proposition.  They say that dog is man’s best friend.  They say that you can’t serve two masters.  They say that we’re going to have a bad winter.  They say all kinds of things.  They have credibility.

There are many variations of this technique. If you ever want to bolster an otherwise baseless opinion preface it with “Research has shown…”; “Studies reveal…”; “Leading scientists agree…”; or even “Experts has proven…”  Few will dare argue with such authoritative sources.  When desperate, you can even use “According to scripture…” or “I believe it was Paul who said….”  You can think of many more.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

One of the best ways to win folks over to your side is to be sure you or your cause aren’t threatening.  Say that you belong to a group dedicated to the violent overthrow of the government.  Do not name your group something like The Anti-American Anarchy Society.  You’ll be so busy dealing with search warrants that you won’t get anything done.  Try something like The American Society for the Protection of Liberty.  That’s perfect.

The Patriot Act is a great example.  How could anyone oppose an act–regardless of how heinous it might be–that promotes patriotism?  What are you, a communist?  The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act sounds much better than The Government Health Care Act (which is really what it is).  Some groups come up names that make little sense like The Tea Party, evidently named after the Boston Tea Party which dealt with taxation without representation which isn’t a problem now….but I digress.

As a rule of thumb, be suspicious of any group, cause or law which includes one or more of the following in its name:

  • Family
  • Freedom
  • Liberty
  • American
  • Children
  • Patriot

These are but a few examples of the way words fool us.  There are many other tricks out there, such as misquoting, quoting out of context, embellishment and outright lying.  Lying, in particular, can be effective but requires great skill.  It is best left to politicians.

The next time you listen to a talking head on radio or TV or read an article in the paper or on the Internet, remember:  They might be trying to fool you.  Research has shown that as much as 90% of all information we receive is deceptive.  See how easy it is?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

How To Raise Your Children…or Not

Nothing generates more unsolicited advice than children.  Or, I should say “raising” children.  “Raising” connotes that this is a relatively simple task similar to growing tomatoes.  If you’ve ever grown tomatoes you know that they can turn out all kinds of different ways.  Some are big and beautiful and you beam with pride when your neighbors see them.  Others wither on the vine.  The neighbors see those, too, but you’re not so proud of those. Most are just kind of average.  You did your best.  Oh, well.

I have children–three of them, in fact. All boys. I was present at their births.  I’ve stayed up with them at night, fed them bottles, changed their diapers and read books to them.  I’ve played with them outside.  I’ve talked to them and paid great attention to them throughout their lives.  I notice when they grow.  I love them and I think they love me.  All of this qualifies me to advise anyone on how to raise THEIR children.  What?  It doesn’t?  Wait a second.  People have given me all kinds of advice about school, discipline, good manners, sports, and all other aspects of parenting.  You mean they are NOT experts?  Good Lord, why would they feel so free to impose their views on me?  It’s because they have children, and they know what to do.  Or so they say.

I can understand why parents might seek advice.  We all want to raise scholars, saints, athletes and world leaders.  No one intends to end up with Levi Johnston or Snookie.  Also, some children have such profound physical, mental and emotional problems that advice must be sought.  It is those that offer advice that must be ignored, at least by me.

This post will tell you everything you need to know about parenting or, more accurately, parenting advice.  It’s likely to be offensive, but so are my children on many occasions.  What do I know?  As much as you do, it turns out.

CONGRATULATIONS!

You have a child!  It’s a miracle.  It’s a blessing.  It’s a gift from God.  These and many other platitudes are sure to be thrown your way.  We’re all happy for you.  Really.  Good job.

Here’s the deal.  Procreation is not that impressive.  Sorry, but that’s a fact.  Take a look around, folks.  All these people you see got here through roughly the same process.  Oh, now some of us had to work at a little harder and spent time wondering why we had such difficulty doing something which countless teenagers accidentally accomplish everyday. But, by and large, it’s just biology.  Dogs, cats, wolverines, chimps, etc., all reproduce. Maybe that’s miraculous, too.  Possibly, it’s a miracle than anyone reproduced with ME.  I’ll grant you that one.  Overall, it’s just not that big a deal.

Octo-Mom has 14 children. FOURTEEN!  I don’t call that a miracle.  I call that science gone horribly wrong.  Charles Manson’s parents reproduced.  Good job.  So did Charles Manson.  Let’s don’t wear ourselves out patting ourselves on the back.

NOW WHAT?

If you have kids, you know the thrill of a new baby.  It’s just great.  Really.  They’re cute and funny and you just love them.  At some point, though, the work starts.  Usually, right after someone hands you the baby.

We took our first child home and laid him in the floor and just looked at him.  What do we do now?  It’s not a like a car.  They don’t give you an owner’s manual or an 800 number to call if something goes wrong.  They just say:  “Here’s your baby!  It’s a miracle!  Good luck to you.”

One good thing is that babies are tough–a lot tougher than they look.  You can drop them, although I don’t advise testing that theory.  (The second day my oldest son was home I dropped him but caught him by the neck before he hit the floor.  Tough little booger).  You can, like we did, fail to realize that even wet diapers must be promptly changed.  A horrible case of diaper rash will draw your attention to your negligence.  They won’t starve quietly.  So, you’re bound to feed them often.  These basic maintenance issues are much like caring for a pet.  You quickly learned just enough to keep the baby going.  That’s a great first step.

This phase passes quickly. Baby isn’t an “it.” Baby  is a him or her. Baby has a name. Baby has a personality.  Baby is a little person. With a big personality.  He can talk. He has opinions. He schemes. He manipulates. He charms. He lies. He’s a human. Now, the hard part starts…and never ends. This is also when the advice starts. Good luck with that.

IMAGINARY CHILDREN

“If I had a kid…” Say no more. You don’t have a kid. You don’t know what you’d do. Might as well say “If I owned a camel …” or “If I were an astronaut…” You don’t and you’re not. Shut the hell up.

Similar is “If he were my son…” This comes from someone who has a kid and presumes he knows what would help your son. Here’s the deal. He’s NOT your son. You haven’t seen his best and worst. Good days and bad days. You don’t know his strengths and weaknesses.  Clearly, if he were YOUR son, he’d be like you and know everything. Plus, if he were your son, he’d be your problem, and I wouldn’t need to hear about it.

LITTLE ANGELS

I love my kids. I also like them. They’re fun and funny. I like talking to them and hearing about what they’re up to. They often impress me, but they’re not perfect.  They’re  not angels nor do I expect them to be.

Some folks have kids who ARE little angels. They are perfect, at least that’s what their parents say. That may well be true. If so, you can’t help me. My kids are human. They are capable of great things. They can also disappoint me. They don’t take all my advice. They don’t listen. Their judgment is often very poor.  In other words, they are like me.

I suppose some children never disappoint.  That’s probably because their parents have no expectations of them and don’t give a damn about what they do.  The rest of us get frequent reality checks.

Perfect kids don’t do things like back talk, lie, break things, drink alcohol, smoke, curse, have sex, take drugs or just generally annoy their parents.  Their parents will tell you that.  They are the ideal.  They also have parents who apparently aren’t paying much attention to what they are doing.  Lucky dogs.

THE GOOD OLD DAYS

Some folks want things the way they were. “Back in my day….”  Things are better now. They just are.

If you are fond of social media as I am, you’ll see posts like this:

Growing up, I had only one toy, and it was a rock.  I wasn’t allowed in the house and had to play outside all day.  If I spoke at the dinner table, I had to eat with the dogs.  I said “Yes, sir” and “No, sir.”  I was hit in the face if I back talked.  I didn’t make eye contact with adults.  I grew up respectful of everyone and did no wrong ever.  If you had great parents like mine, repost.

Wow.  It sucks to be you.  Oliver Twist had it better.  These kinds of posts are based upon nostalgia.  Webster’s Dictionary defines nostalgia as an “excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition.”  We all believe, on some level, that things were better in the past.  In the parenting advice world, it translates into:  “This is how things used to be.  And they were just better.  If we all acted like this, everything would be better.”

Boy, oh, boy.  This is wrong in so many ways, I don’t know where to start.  First,  if all our parents were so good at raising kids, why have so many of us done so poorly?  Didn’t we learn anything? With such great parents, why do we need any advice at all?  Second, some people have horrible parents.  Maybe you did.  You probably don’t know that because they were the only parents you had.  Third, how’d you turn out?

Folks of my generation largely live in a fantasy world where everyone was raised by Ward and June Cleaver.  Hey, I knew people who had HORRIBLE parents.  Awful people.  These scumbags don’t deserve Father’s Day, Mother’s Day or even their next birthdays.  Here’s some advice that might be helpful:  Tell me how awful your parents were and how you learned from it.  THAT would be impressive.

SPARE THE ROD, PLEASE

If you hit your kids, I guess it’s none of my business unless you hurt them.  In that case, it’s everyone’s business.  It wasn’t always that way, but it is now.  That’s a good thing.  If you hit your kids, just don’t tell me that I need to do that, too.

I’m not perfect.  I’ve swatted my kids on the rear end. I’ve thought about strangling them…just a little bit.  I think that’s why babies are so cute.  Even when I’m enraged at my kids, I remember those little babies.  I wouldn’t strangle them. I’ve just reached the point that I’m sure that hitting my kids will help my relationship with them as much as hitting my wife will help my marriage. Readers of this blog know that I have, in fact, fought a woman, but that wasn’t a domestic dispute.

The few times I’ve spanked my kids I was mad.  This bothers me.  Why?  Because I was mad.  I get mad at many adults and hitting them often seems like a good idea, but I won’t do it.  One, I fear that I’ll be hit back.  Two, I fear I’ll get in trouble.  With kids, I don’t fear that.  That’s nice.  So, it’s okay to hit someone too small to defend himself and too much under my control to get me in trouble?  This isn’t a lesson I want my kids to learn.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child.”  That’s not a Bible verse.  Sorry, but it’s not.  It comes from a 17th century poem called  Hudibras. The Bible actually says “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 13:24.  At best, it’s a metaphor.  It doesn’t say to beat the crap out of your kid with a rod.  Discipline your children.  Simple stuff.  By the way, the Bible also says that if your son is disrespectful you should have him stoned to death.  Let’s take it easy on the ancient parenting suggestions.

We grew up with a kid who was raised by animals.  One day he comes to the house, and his back is covered in bloody welts.  He was beaten with a stick.  I’ll never forget what it looked like.  Now, would it be okay if it didn’t draw blood?  I’d say not.  I’d like to tell you that his story turned out okay, but it didn’t.  You don’t get to choose your parents.

I got spankings and whippings with a belt and a switch.  Why?  Because that’s how my parents were raised, I guess.  Never anything abusive, but it happened.  I guess I don’t trust myself enough to come at a kid with a weapon.  If you do, fine with me.  Just don’t tell me that’s what I need to do.

THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

When I was a kid, here is what I thought of adults:  Most of them seemed unhappy and bitter.  They were overly critical and suspicious and wanted to put an end to any fun I might be having.  Now that I’m 50 and my generation is now the ruling class, here is what I think of adults:  Most of them seem unhappy and bitter.  They are overly critical and suspicious and want to put an end to any fun I might be having. My friends and I vowed to never by like the adults, but we that’s exactly what happened.

Kids today.  Whew.  Listening that awful music.  Look at their clothes!  I wouldn’t have been allowed out of the house like that.  They’re disrespectful, too.  My parents wouldn’t have put with all that back talk.  Irresponsible, too.  We had chores and work to do.  Look at how lazy they are!  Does any of this sound familiar?  Of course, it does.  It’s what we all say now.  It’s also what our parents said about us.

Here’s a little test.  Did you, at any time before adulthood, do any of the following?  Smoke; drink; have sex; curse; lie; cheat; steal; take drugs; skip school.  If so, you were part of the problem.  Consider, too, that you listened to terrible music, dressed like an idiot and were generally a pain in the ass to your parents.  If you didn’t do any of that stuff, congratulations.  I hope you enjoyed those years being chained in your parents’ basement.

Here’s the point.  If any of your advice is founded upon a belief that kids today are so much worse than we were, you’re wrong.  Even my generation, raised by superior parents in superior times did the same stupid things that kids are doing now.  Lighten up.

WHAT NOW?

If you really are a parenting expert, write a book. Better yet, write a book about my kids.  I might even read that one.  It could contain helpful advice. My sons are three different people with three different personalities. Different strengths and weaknesses.  They were all raised the same but didn’t turn out the same. Chances are your book wouldn’t give me a different result.

Here’s MY parenting advice.  Do the best you know how to do at the moment.  Kids and their issues come at you at the speed of light.  Just do something.  Parents are great at acting put upon.  “It’s the toughest job in the world.”  I really doubt that.  Crab fishing looks a lot worse than parenting.  How about the guy who empties porta-potties?  Those jobs would suck.  Parenting is snap compared to that.

I think I had really good parents. They weren’t saints, but they did the  best they knew how to do. My Dad once told me: “Forget all these father-son fantasies.  Find out what your kids like and learn to like it yourself.”  THAT was good advice.

What about my kids?  They’re alright.  The good has far, far outweighed the bad so far.  They say I sound just like my Dad, which I guess is good.  They can aggravate me and disappoint me sometimes.  I’m sure I do the same to them.

So, everyone can (and will) continue to give parenting advice.  I’ll just nod and go on.  Gotta go now.  I’m sure one of my kids is doing something I need to deal with.  I’ll check back if I need any advice.

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