31 January 2009

A Sunday Morning’s Coloring Book: Poor Me, The Ol’ Shuck & Jive, and If I Only Had A Biblical Brain

Oh, poor me. It’s been a tough week and a tough day. Woe. Woe, I say. The morning was spent at church learning the details of this whole deacon routine. It’s much less spiritual than nuts & bolts temporal, but “the observer” phenomenon makes it entertaining: Why we do things is much, much more interesting that what it is we do. How important is the routine, the ceremony, and how isolated can the pointy end of the spear be? For instance, if the baptisee gets dunked and personally experiences the morally cleansing thing, does it matter what words are used, what they wear, and so forth? Absolutely it beats me. Well, that’s been my whole week.

Poor Me

I’m really tempted by the Poor Me’s this week, owing to the usual and the idiosyncratic. I am mindful of the advice of Malcolm Forbes: “If you have a job without aggravations, you don’t have a job.” And we are always reminded that others have it worse. I wonder: How often are air traffic controllers so stressed or peeved that they are tempted to play “connect the dots” on the radar? They must not do it too often – I think we would have heard otherwise.

But then as I am tempted by the “Poor Me’s,” others come along and strut their stuff with the Poor Me, and I see how silly and annoying it can be. I was talking to a 20-something this week who, for very good reasons, needs to get and keep a job. “But if I apply for a job, I won’t get it, you’ll see.” Oh, poor me. Pardner, if you go in with that attitude, guaranteed you won’t get a job. Later in the week, after a couple of days of feeling rather melancholy, I was talking to an individual in genuine need of mental health treatment. S/he was using every excuse and dodge in the book. Well, been there, done that, didn’t buy the crap, and s/he concluded that I am a “cruel s.o.b.” Got it in one, I can live with that. Shut up and go to the doctor.

Is “poor me” some sort of human need? Or some sort of warped need? Do we want attention because we get to be somewhere from poorly functional to non-functional to pathetic to bathetic? For heaven’s sake, give me that camouflaged cabin before you foist a “Poor Me Roger” on people, Lord. They don’t deserve it, and I don’t deserve to watch the indignity of it. At least that’s where I’m at tonight and God willing, I can stay there.

I don’t want to be cross-examined, Poor Me

Ex-governor Blagojevich’s case is a quandry. I would respectfully refer you to Gerry Spence’s blog (link to the right) where he correctly points out that the guy was tried and convicted in the press before there was one damn word said in his defense. That is, indeed, denying him (and the rest of us) the right to a fair trial of a citizen on these charges.

And then in his impeachment trial, he appeared before the Illinois State Senate not to testify, but to give a “closing argument” where he made factual representations – that is, where he testified, not under oath, and not in a manner than anybody could ask him any questions or seek any explanation of the hard-to-explain evidence against him. As to some of the evidence, I can imagine some defenses which are merely immoral and ethically corrupt, not illegal. For instance, saying that someone would not bet Obama’s senate seat “for free” could mean a bag of cash, or it could mean the nod-nod-wink-wink mutual support that has been the coin of politics since 20 minutes after Brutus put the dagger to Julius Caesar. But we don’t know Blago’s story, because he wanted to whine but not reply.

Coincidence? I think not. Poor me.

I get a little daily devotional guide called The Upper Room. It’s inexpensive, understandable, and I have real good intentions to use it daily. Meaning, I get to it when I think of it, and that’s not real regular. In any event, what pierced the melancholy of yesterday was the lesson yesterday, the theme being “Whiners.” I confess to a laugh-out-loud, and a recognition that I am often quite the dumb ass.

Shack attack, Poor me.

I just completed The Shack, by William P. Young. It was first recommended to me by a client, very, very nice and devout lady for whom we did a bit of legal alchemy (converted a bad situation into a good situation). She said that it was totally inspiring. Those who see the physical world bookshelves as well as the cyber-shelves ‘round No. 3 know that I’m not hurting for things to read, but I did go ahead and download it to the Kindle. (Pretty cheap, too.) Then, last week, a very literate friend, Jan Parker, recommended it, and that put it up the priority list far enough that I got to it this week.

I’m really glad that lots of people have found peace and inspiration there. I didn’t, though.

Without giving anything away, a key event in the book is a blot of human evil, and one person’s struggle to deal with that. That presented three issues, the first implied and the others overt.

First, I cannot ignore the event and seek philosophical or theological meaning in it. There is an evil event, terrible unresolved consequences and risk/probability of future events. I want to get into the pit and work on the problems. Contemplation of the problems in a remote sense frustrates me enormously. Perhaps that is a poor way to react, but it is my way.

Second, there is the question of why God, the All-knowing and All-powerful, permits evil in this Universe that He has created. The answer, as I glean it from The Shack, is that this is necessary to give Humans Free Will. Huh? What a fantastic leap of logic! If we are constrained from murder, torture, and such like, we have no free will? Well, that’ll be a real downer to the guys in supermax, won’t it?

And finally, the author deals in the usual fashion that I still don’t understand with the alleged “necessity” for Jesus’ particularly nasty death. The explanation: “Through his death and resurrection, [God] is fully reconciled to the world.” Double, double, toil and trouble. I’m still the same place I have been - I didn’t ask for that, I didn’t demand it, I didn’t want it and as a cornerstone of the Christian faith, it totally baffles me.

And to end with a wry smile:

The Stimulus

This year, taxpayers will receive an Economic Stimulus Payment. This is a very exciting new program that I will explain using the Q and A format:

Q. What is an Economic Stimulus Payment?

A. It is money that the federal government will send to taxpayers.

Q. Where will the government get this money?

A. From taxpayers.

Q. So the government is giving me back my own money?

A. Only a smidgen.

Q. What is the purpose of this payment?

A. The plan is that you will use the money to purchase a high-definition TV set, thus stimulating the economy.

Q. But isn't that stimulating the economy of China ?

A. Shut up.

Pippa passes.


27 January 2009

Up From Mediocrity

Today, I confess that I need to redirect my thoughts into happy things or, at least, into things that are not depressing, hopeless or curmudgeonly. Were I to be triaged this evening, I’d like to be able to volunteer for something other than a black tag. My possibles bag of topics isn’t brimming with such happy thoughts, so I’ll have to stretch a bit.

Coffee, The Culvert & Lunch

For years, I’ve had coffee across the street from the Courthouse with my best friend at 8 AM. Since he’s now not an active judge (between engagements, let’s say, or looking at his options), he doesn’t need to come into town often at all, but nevertheless comes frequently so that we can continue to solve all of the world’s problems over Jeri’s coffee. I appreciate that an awful lot.

Dave was describing his activities planned for today, which included a long walk down the road where he lives, out in the county. The Department of Highways is replacing a culvert out the road, and so he needs to “superintend” the project just a bit. He told me this morning that the property owner where it’s being done (and whose property the project most benefits) arranged a lunch for the DOH crew last week. The owner spread out a picnic table with a soup beans & corn bread dinner for the road crew. In West Virginia, that’s just a nice thing to do. I’m thinking that most other places, that would be an unheard of thing to do, or even a weird thing to do. We are all in this together.

A Gaggle

I was prepping at my desk yesterday afternoon for a high-hostile mediation in a human rights case which was scheduled for this morning. I’ll grant that I was feeling rather low. I looked out the window of my room (it faces roughly south) and saw a “vee” of geese flying directly at me. As they neared, I could hear the honking, what made the Indians around the Cheasapeake call them the “onkor.” Geese can be symbolic of a lot of things in our culture, but the thing that heartens me most is that they are here. After DDT, overharvesting and other manmade stumbles, the population (which had shrunk to zero in West Virginia) is healthy and beautiful.

Handling Sin

Pastor Josh Patty told me Sunday that he has finished my copy of Handling Sin, by Michael Malone. If I were given the near-impossible task of naming “my favorite book,” I think that would be the one. Years ago, I sent a copy of it to my former partner’s daughter in San Francisco. She gave it to a friend whose father was on his deathbed from cancer. She wrote me some weeks later that this was the last thing that he read and that he enjoyed it so thoroughly he was able to forget his troubles for a time. That is power. I think I’ll tell Josh to pass the book on rather than return it.

Look At Me, Ma, I’m a Writer

I write, I like to write, I tell people where to find my blog, and I enjoy sending quirky things to newspapers, magazines, and (especially) Courts. The first thing I had put in a national publication was in the Journal of EMS around 1985. However, everything I’ve ever had published has been done purely gratis. Yesterday, that changed. I received my very first check for writing an article. Mind you, it was not a big check. It was a little check. Hell, it was a puny check. But I just thought it was pretty neat, and I’m all inappropriately giddy tonight.

OK, I’m not what you’d call overjoyed, but I’m better. There is an ice storm outside, and I don’t care. It’s just weather, and I’ve been in weather before.

Pippa passes.


23 January 2009

A Child’s Garden of Candor; Two Views of Brotherhood; OK to Schmaltz

Candor? Honesty? Strange Concepts in Blogging

I am reminded tonight of the appearances we present here. Many blogs are psuedonymous, which gives the writer a lot of leeway. One West Virginia political blog, writer(s) unknown, plants new libel with every other post. (The alternate posts are so stupid that they detract from the truly libelous ones.) But such masking also seems to free people to flights of fancy that we’d otherwise not be privy to. There are exceptions, of course. Friend Doreen Lewis’s blog (link is to the right) is so refreshingly open and un-self-conscious that you must wonder how anyone can be so genuine. And others? Beats me. And me? Honestly, I would have said some months ago that I’m right out there with Doreen, but it ain’t so. I don’t know what you’d call a whole hell of a lot about writing. I’ve heard that there are style manuals, but I’ve yet to consult one. My grammar is somewhat less than flawless. Often I’m told that a preposition is a bad thing to end a sentence with. Well, often, I can’t think of anything else to end it with. So I don’t know why “writers write.” My writing is for me, I think - and I do it in a place where others can look into the window. Sometimes, I’m thinking that it’s that acid washed glass they used on old-time bathrooms, and then I’ll be surprised that some folks see more images than I intend. Well, for those who expect sharp and pithy things from me, please accept this blather without the slightest notion of where it comes from.

The Point of the Spear

The video of that pilot dumping the airliner in the Hudson is remarkable. Pilots commenting on the news say that it was remarkable flying. I’ll take their word for it.

I was struck by the reaction of some of the ferry boat crews. One of the captains was interviewed by CNN. He described his thought process as that of “do this just like it’s a drill.” Does that sound stupid? I hope not. That’s why we drill. By practicing the same thing over and over, we learn routines that we can access and use to fill up the fear and the racing pulses. This is another example of “hidden” public service training paying off. That captain also referred to the other ferry crews as “... all my fellow brothers and sisters . . .” That feeling of connection doesn’t happen often enough. And most of us (me included? Hell, me particularly) are incompetent at developing that and accessing that, and that old Simon & Garfunkel favorite “I Am a Rock” becomes an anthem rather than a joke.

The Banner of the Midnight Brotherhood

I’m reminded tonight also of the old Midnight Brotherhood at our rescue company. This one requires an explanation. The change in gender roles and awareness is astounding over the past 30 years. In the early 70's, our rescue company was in small quarters with a small bunkroom. (Actually, it was a converted garage. In the summer when it got too hot at night, someone would just put up the garage door, but the traffic noise would then get annoying.) Only one bunkroom; guys; some married; there wasn’t any way that the place was going to be co-ed on midnight shift. Flash forward to this century? Nobody cares. Now (as then), you wear something like gym shorts & tee shirts in bed anyway. Now, people give one another respect and space and nobody complains as a rule.

In any event, the boys on the midnight shifts back then felt picked on quite a bit. After a busy shift, if we had a chance to catch a little sleep before work or school, that was a good thing. If the AM crews came in and started making all kinds of racket, that was a bad thing, In some sort of pique, the “Midnight Brotherhood” was formed, which basically provided a forum to bitch and talk in macho ways, and also to have really, really large dinners on some Saturday nights when AJ’s mother would send an astounding amount of pasta and sauce to the station. (Performing CPR, particularly the mouth-to-mouth breathing part, with a full stomach of pasta is a memorable experience.) There was a sort-of business meeting, although there wasn’t much business. But the Banner of the Brotherhood sticks in my mind. In the middle was the company emblem, a Maltese Cross with a smaller red cross on it. (PS, the red cross violated a trademark, but nobody ever complained to us.) Behind the emblem was a Cross on a Hill, with the legend “#1,” because on the midnight shifts, God rode with us on every call, we knew it, and obviously, He’s Number One. And the border, where on most Coats-of-Arms ribbons or garland or ivy goes, was grandly unrolled toilet paper, because we were the ones who cleaned up the worst of the worst, the shit that was spilled in the darkest parts of the night.

I almost said that I didn’t know why this was on my mind tonight. Not true.

Thumbs Up to Schmaltz

Friends always forward touching or cute or religious stuff to me. Keep it up. Our hearts are turned off, and it’s killing our society.

Pippa passes.


19 January 2009

My Home Among the Hills; and other lesser things

My Home Among The Hills

I commented yesterday to Pastor Josh Patty that I wouldn’t walk across the street to attend the Presidential Inauguration. Which is still the case. Josh mentioned that he and a choral group in which he sings, Vocal Tapestry, was singing at the West Virginia Inauguration, which was held today. I wondered idly what they would sing, assumed frankly that it would be something even more schmaltzy than even I would come up with, and forgot about it.

As I trudged up the “grand staircase” of No. 3 after lunch, I heard Chief Justice Benjamin administering oaths to the newly elected justices on JC’s TV, and so remembered that this was going on in Charleston. I turned on the TV in my room for the first time in months. (I had to find the cable and reconnect it.) Just as I did, Josh’s group began to sing my favorite song associated with Mother West Virginia, My Home Among the Hills. Some months ago, I posted a sound file. There is a beautiful descant at the end, and I thought I recognized the voice. This evening, I called Josh, and I was right – it was Susan Woods Coffindaffer, who I knew at Fairmont State and who was in my class at WVU College of Law. She is a really good property lawyer. She and I started work for Furbee Amos the summer following our first year, and she worked there for a time after she graduated.

I don’t know a hell of a lot about music. My voice is trained the same way Jethro Bodine’s mind was: It done graduated the 3rd grade. I can sight-read a little music. So I don’t know the lingo. There is, however, a quality of voice that I call “pure.” I don’t know what musicians call it. People like Olivia & Enya have it. Kim Carnes has the antithesis. Anyway, Susan has the purest voice I can imagine, and the performance was just haunting.

And then my friend Governor Manchin took the oath and made a short, upbeat and pithy speech, and No. 3 returned to its normal programming.

Justice Staggers On

My third trial in two months is tomorrow.

A Good Floor Sweeper

The fawning upon President-elect Obama before he’s done one damn thing is stupid. The season starts tomorrow.

There was a personal appearance/photo op on CNN today that did impress me. He was talking to a bunch of young kids in some sort of job program, and they were sweeping floors. He talked about the dignity of work and the need for those who sweep floors to be good floor sweepers. I really hope that he believes the dignity part. If so, maybe there will be a splinter of change. If not, not a big deal, situation normal.

Pippa passes.


12 January 2009

It’s Late, I Have A Trial In the Morning And I Can’t Sleep . . .

So I have a trio of random observations & questions.

Shit stains

Noble work is that which we are ourselves unwilling to do. There are some really bad things that have to be done in our world. As I have been telling Pastor Josh, you can go to an accident scene with a decapitation, scream, cry, wave your arms, invoke every saint you can think of, rend your garments, and at the end of the day, somebody still has to put the head in the body bag. Son Tim has had to pick up a patient recently who, owing to some extreme medical problems, required everyone on the ambulance to wear air packs (breathing apparatus). You will not find me working in a coal mine or as a steeple jack, but people have to do those jobs. Someone has to prepare bodies. People need to dig trenches and ditches. And when you stay at a hotel, if you have a bowel movement, someone has to clean the shit stain out of the toilet bowl. For some reason in December when I was staying at Oglebay Park in Wheeling, a very nice facility, it struck me that I was capable of cleaning the toilet at least mostly, and that there was something about someone else cleaning up my shit stains that didn’t sit right with me. And it strikes me that I – and lots of us, I guess – fail to make the same connection in our homes and other places where we are more “familiar.” Damn. What morons.

“Off-road,” my ass -

In West Virginia, lots of people have pickup trucks. At least from ads, I guess that they are popular lots of places. On many of them these days, I keep seeing decals touting particular models or “editions” as “off-road,” suggesting that they are bigger and tougher, and that the guy who drives them is more of a macho guy who probably shoes horses and stares at the gathering sunrise through a leathered face (and all that sort of stuff you see described in Western novels). There’s a problem, though. These trucks don’t seem to be fitted out for much “off road” except maybe driving over lawns. As a rule, they don’t have skid plates protecting the engine/oil reservoir. They don’t have oversized suspensions/ shocks/ struts. Nor brush guards. Nor much in the way of lights. Nor winches. Nor anything that anyone who is really going “off-road” might really want.

Sadly, there are so damn many roads, there aren’t many places that most folks want to go which are “off road.” The need for such vehicles is limited, and for the car companies to market them and gullible buyers to purchase them is just another face of the hairpiece-shoelift-girdle-I-wannabe-somebody-else coin. Sad.

It’s a PRAYER. What part of that don’t you people understand?

Reverend Warren (never heard of him til now) has been asked to PRAY a SINGLE PRAYER at the inauguration. The idea of that prayer is a wise thing. When undertaking a monumental task, it is foolish to neglect seeking the blessing of Deity. (For that matter, where America is at now argues in favor of sacrificing a sheep or two at the inauguration, too.) Rev. Warren has political views that are controversial. If he asks Lord Jesus to strike the homos dead in his prayer, then it was a darn bad choice to have him. Why do I think it’ll be a little more generic and upbeat than that?

This is a part of the broader trend to adore being a victim. Please, give me an opportunity to be self-righeous, to be one of the “sat upon, spat upon, ratted on.” (That’s Simon & Garfunkel.) Oh, how can you think of letting someone who disapproves of my marrying who I please pray to GOD? How insensitive? I am so hurt. Whimper. You goofed, you have betrayed us, Mr. President-Elect - you have been on Double Secret Probation, and now we can tell you about the Rule that you have broken.

Give me a break. It’s a PRAYER. It is a HUMBLING thing. It is an admission that we don’t have a CLUE what we are doing, or at least that we cannot or will not read any of the clues with which we are provided. This is another opportunity for us to LISTEN to God. Oh, we won’t really do it in all likelihood, we are too busy giving Him advice, but maybe one person per prayer gets a dose of humility. It won’t happen all at once. So, bow your heads and talk to God yourselves through Rev. Warren. And if he doesn’t pull it off for you, go in your room, close the door, and go at it yourself. What, you think you're going to make things worse???

Pippa passes.


09 January 2009

A Word from a Dad

Son Tim Curry passed his national paramedic exam today. That's a milestone for someone in the emergency services.

I've never "pushed" Tim in that direction (for that matter, he's not a real "pushable" guy), but I'm very proud and pleased that he has chosen this path. If someone is looking for "Easy Street," this ain't it.

I am reminding him, however (and prompting all my old buddies to remind him) that EMS was much tougher 25 years ago "when men were men" and all that sort of balderdash.

Pippa passes.