Archive for January, 2010

climbing out of winter

It’s the last day of January. The days are getting slightly longer, enough so that it is noticeable. Even though we have February ahead of us and the temperatures are anything but balmy, at least there is the sense that spring will be coming. It is always easier to be optimistic about spring when the days are sunny, as yesterday and today have been. Let’s hope the weather will be milder the rest of this winter. Temperatures no lower than the middle twenties will be fine with me, thank you.

Now, wasn’t that a most enlightening post? A bunch of words about nothing. That pretty much sums up most of my posts, I guess. It’s hard to be interesting or witty when your life is pretty much just an empty hole. I just didn’t want the end of the month to go by without another post. So there. It’s done. Good night.

to do – again

Ah, “to do” lists – things of wonder and amazement. I sat down last Saturday (click to read that post) and made up my list. Want to know what I discovered? If you don’t get anything on the list done then you don’t need to make up a new list the next week! Actually, I got a couple of the things on my list partially done, so I did make a little headway, so I guess the list helped a little bit. Let’s see what I can finish this weekend.

to do

I have always hated – well, strongly disliked – “to do” lists. I suspect that part of the reason for this is that my wife would create lists so long that only Santa Claus could possibly complete every item on the list in the time allotted. Such lists were more an exercise in frustration than in organization.

Today, however, I woke up thinking, “I should make a ‘to do’ list for this weekend.” Huh!?! Me? A “to do list?” The world is obviously about to come to an end. Well, before panic set in, I started making the list up in my head, and guess what? Even thinking about making a list up helped me organize my weekend.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know – that’s what lists are supposed to do. Big revelation, eh? Maybe not, but only because I realized that I don’t have to list every little thing in minute detail, nor do I have to expect to get them all done within a certain time frame. The trick is prioritizing, and then not getting sidetracked (or, if you do get sidetracked, figure out if that should have been on your list in the first place and then reevaluate your list). So, first order of business today after I write this post is to make my list, which will largely be just writing down what is in my head and sorting out what comes first and what can slide until next week or next weekend.

Of course, this all depends on being in the proper frame of mind, which is actually 95% of the trick to properly using a “to do” list. If you decide that all you want to do today is sit on your ass in front of the television (and that’s not on your list) then the system is going to go all to hell in a hurry. However, today feels good, so on with the list, and best wishes to you this weekend as you work through your list. You do have one, don’t you?

connecting the dots

I generally liked what President Obama said today about the national security problems brought to light by the failure to prevent a terrorist attack on one of our aircraft. I think that it was perhaps the strongest statement of his position on the subject since his election. However, there are two issues with which I take exception.

The first item is the general position that there is essentially no one to blame for the failure to “connect the dots.” I’m sorry, but there is. At the time of 9/11 we had agencies (the CIA and FBI, at least) who were not communicating with each other on matters of national security, though not necessarily through any fault of their own given the legal constraints that had been put on the agencies earlier. The Department of Homeland Security was formed specifically because of this situation and was given the mission of coordinating this information. There can be no denial that the failure to “connect the dots” was the responsibility of the Department of Homeland Security, and that the head of that department failed in her duty. There is someone to blame but there is no will to place that blame where it belongs.

Make no mistake about it, the Christmas Day terrorist attack was not an attempted attack, it was a successful attack, ameliorated only by dumb luck. People in the Obama administration should be held just as accountable as if the three hundred people on that flight had lost their lives.

I am glad to see that President Obama did not avoid the use of the word terrorist in his speech, but he studiously avoided the phrase “war on terror.” I would have loved to have seen the reaction of his supporters if he had used that Bush-ian term, but the fact is that what we are in is a war on terrorism, not just, as Obama claimed, a war on al Qaeda. While there is no doubt that al Qaeda is the biggest and most visible Muslim terrorist organization plotting against the U.S., it is not the sole combatant on the other side of the war.

Not all radical Muslims belong to al Qaeda. Nidal Hasan, the Fort Hood shooter, is not known to have any direct ties to al Qaeda nor was he operating under their instructions, but he is the type of domestic terrorist with whom we are also at war. Al Qaeda is not the only terrorist faction worthy of our security efforts and President Obama would be well advised to broaden his definition of the war on terrorism. Let’s hope that there is no need in the near future to again try to “connect the dots” of failures in our security agencies.

an observation

I like to think of myself as a rational, thinking, reality-based human being. I don’t believe in effects without cause. I believe in personal responsibility. I believe in solving a problem using hard science based on hard evidence. I believe that society is best served with that kind of thinking. Somehow, though, all that goes out the window when it comes to running my own life.

As a rule, a living organism does whatever it can to assure survival. That is the first order of business for all life because without making that effort, life would cease to exist. Much of the effort made to survive is a based on the pain/pleasure, stimulus/response cycle. If you are in pain you do whatever you can to alleviate that pain. If you are a hungry lion, you go find an antelope to kill and eat. If you are an antelope, you look out for lions because being eaten is painful, to say the least.

Human beings aren’t wired quite as tightly as most other creatures on this earth. Oh sure, if we stick our hand into a fire the pain will cause us to pull it out, but we are also capable of pouring gasoline over ourselves and lighting ourselves on fire. Surely a lion or an antelope would watch that and think, “What the hell?”

So it is with our personal health – both physical and mental. In spite of hard evidence and painful personal experience, we can somehow ignore it all and continue behaving in a way that will only lead to self destruction. It truly is amazing that we have that capability. More than amazing, it is distressing. It calls into question our real capacity for rational thought, and I have to admit that I find myself in that situation.

There is no one that can grow old and retain one-hundred percent of their youthful bodily capacities. Given that obvious fact, would it also not be obvious that we should do everything that we can to delay the onset of any physical disability? Obvious, yes, but far from enabling, as I can personally attest. With old knees that have worn out, an aching back and rapidly vanishing strength and flexibility, you would think that weight loss and physical conditioning would be a priority. Well, the human brain inside my head doesn’t seem to be able to act on that.

It’s not a matter of rational thinking or lack of knowledge. I know what I should be doing and I know the consequences of not doing it, but somehow I cannot motivate myself to act. You would think that the pain that results from not acting would be sufficient to stimulate the response that would go far in relieving that pain, but once again, the human mind is capable of pitting the human body against itself.

Perhaps it is a matter of warring factions. While my body says, “Hey! Take better care of me. Lose some weight, get some exercise, eat better,” my mind is saying, “Hey, you’re depressed about your life, go ahead and eat what you want and blank out your emotions by mindlessly planting yourself in front of the television. Who needs exercise?” I’m afraid my mind has been winning.

The truth is that I’m sick of this war, but I can’t seem to facilitate a truce between the factions. Is this to be a war to the death? Well, technically, yes – I can’t get around that. The real question is how much more quickly that death will come without finding a reasonable compromise between my mind and my body. On the other hand, I have always found that in a conflict, compromise almost always means that both sides have lost, and I know that my body should not give up the fight for health, in spite of all the propaganda my mind throws at it.

I really do not want to spend the rest of my life, however much time that might be, in physical pain and suffering because of the frailties of my mind. Whether I can allow my mind to let go of the many issues that drive it close to the edge of insanity is questionable, but the results of not doing so are inevitable. In the end, as is usually the case, my life is pretty much in my own hands. What a sorry place for it to be.

a pickle

It would seem that President Obama is in a bit of a pickle. As most people know by now (and if you don’t, what rock have you been hiding under?), there was a terrorist attempt to blow up an airplane flying into Detroit on Christmas Day. There is no doubt that this was a terrorist action, with information clearly indicating that this was a plot facilitated by al-Qaeda. The terrorist himself – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab – has claimed that he is only one of many who are planning the same type of attack on American targets.

It is only by a stroke off dumb luck that the Obama administration didn’t have a full blown terrorist catastrophe on its hands. However, having dodged that bullet, and having knowledge that other attacks are in the planning, what has Obama decided to do? As of now, it is being handled in our normal judicial system, with the terrorist being given all the rights and privileges due an American citizen (which he is not).

Why, you might ask, isn’t this terrorist being interrogated using all available means to find out everything he knows? Why is this not be a top priority, seeing that another attack of which he may have knowledge could occur at any moment? Why? Because Obama is stuck between being President of the United States and protector of it’s people, and the rhetoric of the left to which he has subscribed that says that such interrogation is criminal.

It’s a tough spot to be in, and I wouldn’t want to be him. Coerce this terrorist to spill his guts using every available legal mean and you run afoul of your political base. Don’t do everything you can to get this information and have another attack succeed and you are toast as the leader of our country and are directly responsible for deaths that occur as a result.

It all seems so simple and easy when you don’t have a real world situation to deal with. Now President Obama does. It seems that al-Qaeda is more than willing to teach Obama the lessons he needs to learn. Too bad it will be the citizens of this country that will pay the price of his education.

happy new year

It’s a new year, another beginning. It is, as the saying goes, the first day of the rest of your life, as is every day of your life. Despite that fact, we put much more significance on the first day of each new year, resolving to make changes in this new year that will correct our failures in the past.

Once upon a time I used to do that. I would spend part of January 1st writing down the things that I hoped to accomplish during the next year, including changing certain undesirable habits. Of course, I failed in my undertakings within the first few weeks and never attempted them again during the year, or at least not with any more success than that achieved on the first attempt. Since that time I have not bothered to set myself up to fail in my resolutions. I have enough failure issues without having to create more at the beginning of each year.

While I no longer make New Year’s resolutions, I have always comforted myself with the fact that I could make changes at any time. If I failed now, I could pick up the mantle later and carry on from that point. There was always the possibility that I could make changes in the future. Suddenly, I find that possibility dwindling down to zero. The old saying, “Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today,” has taken on a new meaning. No longer is it about procrastination, but about actually having the ability to do something today that you will not be able to do tomorrow.

For example, no matter the resolution you make, if your old knees make it a chore to walk fifty feet there is no way that you are going to be doing the hiking that you have always wanted to do. That carpentry job that you would now like to explore is beyond your physical limits, and building your own house is so far fetched as to be laughable. Those cigarettes you’ve been smoking for the last forty-five years have made it next to impossible to travel much, having to lug an oxygen tank around everywhere you go.

When you hit this point you realize that there are a limited number of “the first days of the rest of your life” left, and that each of those days will bring more limits to what you can do with them. I imagine that at some point in time one just decides that there’s no point in making any plans. Then again, that’s probably just the pessimist in me exposing himself. He likes to do that. It’s the only thrill he gets nowadays.