Fifteenkey

A place to indulge my narcissism... and write stuff...

Improvement on many Levels

With the year winding down I took a (short) stroll down (play)blog memory lane to see what I’ve been compelled to write about, and I found the pursuit of happiness has been the year’s theme. That mind-bending effort began in January, followed by body-bending a millimeter at a time in March. Improvements have been slow but steady for both and seem more sustainable because of the gradual pacing. In hindsight I should have added weight-loss to the mix, but as the Meat sang, “two out of three ain’t bad.”

Looking back, 2016 has been a year of overcoming disappointments, welcoming opportunities, and continuously working on improving at this thing called life. I’m happy with the progress and will just keep swimming.

Peace, Love and Death

Yesterday was as relaxing a day as I’ve had in a long time. Not an email was stirring, that needed my mouse. The children were also tucked away for the day with a relation, and I was free to do whatever I wanted. So naturally I went to the liquor store. Well wait. I went there to buy wine to bring to a friend’s house and a nice port to bring to a Christmas party today, although I may audible at the line of scrimmage into a nice Chardonnay.

Anyway, the relaxation was assisted by a quiet morning sit (look it up), some yoga for my old back and hips, and a trip to the gym where the Black Card I got to take Kyle with me also entitles a “massage chair” which is better than a not massage chair.

I’m jumping around, but as I was reminded in “Arrival,” time is relative. That’s a fine film by the way with a cool twist on time and the old cinematic technique of the flashback. That’s all I’m going to say, but one exchange that is sticking with me is:

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams): “If you could see your life from start to finish, would you change things?”
Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner): “Maybe I would say what I felt more often. I don’t know.”

Going back in time, morning shower time had a Band of Horses mix from Spotify as a soundtrack, including The Funeral. Shortly after the music died down and I was ready to go out, I received an email from an old friend titled “mom.” That’s all I needed to read to understand the sadness inside.

Thankfully Behind the Waterfall

behind-the-waterfall“You should try meditation.” That statement is usually met with a hesitant acknowledgement, and I can tell the receiver is dismissing the idea. For most, meditation is somewhere in the mental card catalog between LSD and “Séance.” It’s too “out there” and something only weirdos do. I wish Donald Trump would meditate. If he did, he wouldn’t be sending out angry tweets at 3AM.

My journey for the last year or so has been toward “happiness.” Well, that’s what I set the GPS for, but getting to a place of contentment isn’t via highway, it’s typically found with the setting that avoids interstates and tolls. It’s a slower, rural route, but the scenery is beautiful. That’s the point. How many times have you driven somewhere and not really “seen” anything on the trip? How about every day commuting? How much of our lives are spent completely unaware of what’s happening right in front of us? Our minds take over with a torrent of thoughts either reliving the past (depression) or worrying about the future (anxiety). Meanwhile whatever peace and beauty might be in the present moment is swept away by the tsunami of thought.

Meditation is like going to the gym for your mind. It’s training that helps you recognize when the waterfall of thoughts is flowing so you can simply acknowledge them and step back into a quieter space. This training pays off when life’s adversity hits. It could be in work, in personal relationships, or in traffic when somebody cuts you off. Instead of reacting from the sudden rush of emotional water, you can step back to the calmer place, take a breath and respond. Not always, of course. After all, we’re human and who the hell does that guy thing he is?!

Anyway, here’s a great 2-minute primer if you’d like to try meditation. I promise you, a year from now you’ll be thankful you did.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Can You Hear Me Now?

You really can’t hear the voices of most people until they vote. This election is a perfect example. What I (and obviously millions of others) didn’t hear from the electorate that became Trump voters were stories like, “I lost my job in the (pick one – auto plant, coal mine, appliance factory) in (pick one – 1984, 1992, 2009) because of (pick one – offshoring, regulation, automation) and in the years since, politicians from both parties have promised to help me, but no one ever has.”

Those voters spoke loudly on Tuesday night. They certainly weren’t all racists, xenophobes, or misogynists. I believe most were not any of those things. I have to believe that. I have friends and family that supported Mr. Trump. If you supported Mrs. Clinton, you likely have those friends and family too. Speaking of Mrs. Clinton, I think she would have made a fine president, and I do believe she got badly slandered by the right-wing press, but ultimately her “qualifications” were a turnoff to Trump voters. She’s been a “Washington politician” for 25 years, and a big majority of Trump voters see politicians as a group that did not hear them or help them. The Democratic Party had a candidate with a message to help many of the very same people who voted for Donald Trump. Bernie was my candidate, but the DNC denied him. How’d that work out?

On election night, well, morning really around 4:30AM, after seeing the supposed “blue wall” of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin crumble red, I realized that I didn’t know anything about those “disaffected voters” that elected Donald Trump. I’m a white (somewhat) educated male living in Massachusetts who has enjoyed almost 33 consecutive years of career progress and great jobs in high-tech. I’ve been lucky and very fortunate to have no idea what financial pain and insecurity and hopelessness is all about.

Those good people in the “rust belt” – by the way, do you think they like that quaint name? It comes from the image of empty factories literally rusting away in their towns, a reminder of a past when America was great for them. Many of them have little left and less hope. “Hope and change” sounded great to me, but what real change did it deliver to them?

So along came Donald Trump. They knew him from TV. He was a billionaire and he promised to “Make America Great Again.” He told them he’d change the trade deals and get tough with Mexico and China. He promised to bring those jobs back. Those people aren’t stupid. They’ve heard the jobs promises from candidates over the years, but maybe this time would be different. Donald Trump had many successful businesses and he wasn’t a politician. He wasn’t taking donations from big donors and corporations, either. Just small ones from people like them.

On Tuesday, these people who worked hard until the work was denied them walked into polling places all over the country and they spoke. They didn’t like his behavior toward women or his mistreatment of that Muslim Gold Star family or his making fun of a handicapped man, but they saw him as their last chance to have a voice so they held their noses and cast their votes. And they were heard.

I don’t think Donald Trump is nearly as bad as the liberal press makes him out to be. Yeah, he’s a chauvinist and being inarticulate has got him in some trouble, especially when insensitive comments are amplified through the liberal echo chamber. I know. I’m in it. The problems he faces are complex and won’t be solved with slogans. “Repeal Obamacare?” Good luck telling those health insurance companies you’re ripping millions of customers from their income statements. None of it is going to be easy.

Finally, I’ve witnessed a real freak out from some of my fellow liberals who came out on the losing end in the election. Please, as Samuel L. Jackson might say, “calm the fuck down.” “If you supported Trump, please defriend me?” C’mon! (Full disclosure – a Facebook friend – more of an acquaintance came at me gloating Tuesday night… Poof.) Hey, our system of democracy worked and our girl lost. Get a grip. Plus, I don’t think Mr. Trump really has passion for the social issues like some of the social conservative nuts in the Republican party. I know… Mike Pence is pretty whacked out on choice and LGBT rights, but those things have already been sustained through a conservative Supreme Court, and again, I just don’t think Trump’s agenda is social. All that said, if some crazy shit gets proposed, and it will – we fight it.

My hope is that the president-elect stays true to his promise to help the middle-class people who got him elected. If he does, we’ll all benefit.  In the meantime, I think my liberal friends should walk the talk of peace, love, tolerance and acceptance.

The Hillary Hate

Son Kyle and I cast our votes on Friday afternoon, so in spite of all your efforts to convince me Hillary Clinton is the devil, she got our vote, but I’m really worried about you. I know that many of you want real change in this country, but the fact that you can somehow rationalize the racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic behaviors of Donald Trump and accept his complete lack of substance on the issues makes me have real doubts about your judgment.

trump-baseThe Trump supporters I know are white and blue collar. How can you support a man that has stiffed working people like you throughout his career by simply not paying them? He also refuses to show his tax returns, a tradition of presidential candidates for 40 years. He likely hasn’t paid much if anything in taxes, but you have, right? If you’re concerned about your jobs being taken by foreign workers, both here and abroad, how can you support a man whose clothing line is manufactured in China and the steel he uses to erect phallic monuments to himself is imported from there?

If you’re a “family values” voter, how is it you can support the man who said “You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”

In the debate that followed this revelation, he denied ever doing the thing he bragged about. Then multiple women came forward to claim he had, in fact done it to them. Oh, and he also thought walking into a dressing room of partially clad Miss Teen USA contestants was OK, too. He bragged about that to Howard Stern, “I’ll tell you the funniest is that I’ll go backstage before a show and everyone’s getting dressed. No men are anywhere, and I’m allowed to go in, because I’m the owner of the pageant and therefore I’m inspecting it. … ‘Is everyone OK?’ You know, they’re standing there with no clothes. ‘Is everybody OK?’ And you see these incredible-looking women, and so I sort of get away with things like that.”

Oh, and if you’re, you know, a “decent human being” voter, The Donald also mocked a reporter with a disability.

OK, so now let’s look at your case against Hillary. I’ll go with the ones that I read over and over and over and over on Facebook:

  1. She lied to the families of Benghazi victims by telling them the attack was the result of a cartoon Muslims found offensive.
    Some of the family members claim this while others, including the family of Ambassador Stevens say they never heard it.
  2. The email server – The claim is she mishandled classified material and should be jailed for it.
    I’m going to quote Facebook friend Chris Harvey on his thoughtful response to this “scandal:”
    “HRC sent a few emails which were classified, but did not have the proper classified header in the email..i.e. “Top Secret, Classified, Etc”. The header was not present on any of these emails and when she sent them she was sending them to people with security clearance. She did not know they were classified when she sent them. So she isn’t lying when she said she didn’t send any classified emails…because she didn’t know they were…after the fact it has been revealed that a few were classified without the header. This whole email ‘scandal’ is ridiculous. Let’s say every one of her emails were classified…she was sending them to people with security clearance! The horror! There is no indication that any of these emails were ever hacked and it is even likely that her private email server was just as secure as the general email used by the Dept of State. Any classified emails/correspondence is handled on a separate more secure system at Dept of State. Also, I know you, FOX propaganda (I won’t call it news) Giuliani and Trump want to think there is something nefarious about these 33k deleted emails….but you know what…the FBI knows what was on most of those emails…how? Because they were sent to other people at DoS…every email sent by Hillary to someone…so when they did they investigation that got tens of thousands of the other side of the conversation emails. Unless you think she was emailing Putin…there is nothing to this ‘scandal’.”
  3. The Clinton Foundation
    There has been no evidence of any explicit quid pro quo of Hillary Clinton influencing State Department policy as a result of donations by individuals, companies or governments, and the foundation has announced that if she becomes president it will stop taking new contributions from foreign and corporate donors. Oh, and the Clinton Foundation is rated a 94.74 out of 100 by independent charity rating organization, Charity Navigator, and they report 86.9% of the money the Clinton Foundation raises actually goes to charity.

Here’s what I think. I think much of Trump’s support is the last gasp of maintaining a system of white privilege in this country, and the slogan “Make America Great Again” refers to a time like the 1950’s when blacks had to sit in the back of public buses, Latinos were primarily south of the border, and women were home in the kitchen. And that’s where the hate for Hillary Clinton comes from. In a 1992 interview during the Democratic primary, Hillary Clinton made a statement that set the tone for the hatred of her by a large base of Trump supporters now some 24 years later…

“I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas. But what I decided to do was pursue my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life.”

Some people just aren’t comfortable with strong women who make no apologies about it.

Did you lose your ticket?

jasonWalking around the front of the Lowell Memorial Auditorium last night wasn’t producing, and I couldn’t bring myself to the Boston Garden refrain of “WHO’S LOOKING FOR TICKETS,” so I gave up on selling the extra I had to Jason Isbell and headed in. Off to the left part of the lobby is an ATM, and as I was paying $3.50 for the privilege of using it, I saw a somewhat disheveled woman sitting on the floor with the entire contents of her purse and wallet strewn about her. A real Costanza wallet image. A ticket taker hovered over her. “Did you lose your ticket?” I asked. “Yeah,” she said listlessly. I handed her my second ticket. “It’s a good one. Enjoy the show.”

Sitting in back for opener Josh Ritter, his unfamiliar music was nonthreatening country rock. Toward the end of his set I walked down to my 7th row seat and met Sarah (I think). We chatted a bit through the show. Her son is schizophrenic and went to court today for something.

It was the 3rd time I’d seen Jason Isbell this year, and he never disappoints. Five songs in I heard the line that I was there to hear.

I’m doin’ what I’m on this earth to do

About a month ago my son Kyle came to live with me full time. There’s a story to that, but not for here. He’s where he needs to be and I’m well, you read the line.

Now about that lost ticket. Do you ever feel like you’ve lost your ticket in life? Not me. I feel like I go through life with one of those winning chocolate tickets, but I see so many people looking like life’s just beating them down. Like Sarah. She was pretty down about her son, but really into Jason and called out for one song a few times during the night.  We all have songs we really relate to, and I wondered if she felt like the woman in the song that she wanted to hear so badly. During the encore as the band cranked out “Don’t wanna die in a Super 8 motel,” I headed for the exit. This morning I read the setlist. Sarah got to hear her song. I hope things went OK for her child.

Honoring the victims of 9/11

When thinking back to 9/11 and its aftermath, what I choose to focus on is the humanity we showed each other in the days, weeks, and months that followed, regardless of our race, religion, or politics. Sadly that mutual respect has faded, and we’re more polarized than ever. If we’re ever going to solve the problems we face as a nation, we need to get that civility back, one person at a time. So if we want to pay tribute to the victims of that day, let’s be respectful to each other, in spite of our differences. I’m sure they would if they could.

What are the odds of you?

“That you sit down, and you feel everything. And I cry in these moments. I have this urge of crying, but not crying for joy, not crying for sadness, no reason for crying — crying of being amazed for being alive.” – Paulo Coelho, author of many books including The Alchemist

2001 babyIt took some digging to find this, and I have absolutely no idea of the veracity of the numbers, but one guy calculated the probability of Earth forming in its present life-sustaining state to be less than 1 in 10282(million trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion), but let’s not bicker over a couple a few trillion trillion.

So there’s that.

The article above gets into some of the events that have had to happen to make life possible on our third rock from the sun, like:

  • At 93,000,000 miles, it’s just the right distance from the sun
  • Its molten core generates a magnetic fields protecting us from things called “solar coronal mass ejections” that could kill us, or at least fry our electric grid, then we’d kill each other over no wi-fi
  • Our moon creates life-sustaining tides
  • Oh, and Jupiter and Saturn? Their gravitation pull sucks in many a stray asteroid that could otherwise make us dinosaurs

Speaking of dinosaurs, this BBC article reminds us that it’s unlikely we’d be here if the dinosaurs were not wiped out by an asteroid 65 million years ago, or if some frozen comets didn’t deliver water to the planet 4 billion years ago, or if a smaller rogue planet passed on a cosmic slam dance with us, resulting in its bouncing off and becoming our moon…

So there you go. We have a life sustaining planet with a very photogenic moon for romance, but how did we get here, and more specifically, how did you get here?

Well, another guy, Ali Binazir works that out for us. Of course, there are some suppositions here too, but again, let’s not quibble over a few quadrillion. Here’s how Mr. Binazir arrives at the probability of that romantic moon resulting in you or me existing:

  • Probability of your parents meeting: 1 in 20,000
  • They actually talk and have a child: 1 in 2000. (Obviously they did more than talk, but you really don’t need that image, do you?)
  • Probability of the exact swimmer meeting your sperms better half egg needed to produce you: 1 in 400 quadrillion.

At this point, you have to ask yourself just one question: Do you feel lucky?

Of course before Mr. Sperm and Ms. Egg improbably met, all of your ancestors would have had to do their wild thing successfully. The probability of that: 1 in 1045,000.  Ah, but then again we have to do the right sperm/right egg thing for every ancestor in your lineage or you wouldn’t be you… And there’s a 1 in 102,640,000 chance of that. OK, you’re probably not doing math in your head right now, but when you do, the final tally for you existing is 1 in 102,685,000.  You know, ten to the two million, six-hundred and eighty-five thousandth power. Or as Mr. Binazir puts it, “That’s a ten followed by 2,685,000 zeroes.”  Yeah, pretty freakin’ remote.

So when you combine the odds of the planet existing to accommodate all the heroic sex that resulted in you winning the human lottery, you’ve got to be wondering if you’re really taking advantage of this near infinitely improbable gift you’ve been given.

I know I am.

Donald Trump Is the Gift to Liberals That Keeps On Giving

The Election

A little artwork I did last weekend to illustrate the Donald effect. Thanks to Time magazine for the meltdown headshot.

I find it ironic that 8 years of Republican hatred toward Barack Obama (and even longer toward the Clinton’s) has resulted in the nomination of the wholly unfit Donald Trump, who is succeeding in destroying the Republican brand AND putting Hillary Clinton in the White House.

I get some of the frustration. The remnants of what we used to call the middle class have watched their jobs go overseas and to robots, they’ve seen the obscene accumulation of wealth at the very top of our American economic pyramid, and they’ve seen their impotent government doing nothing about it. They’ve also seen the rise of radical Islamic terrorism (I said it!), and they’ve been told by Fox News that it’s the black guys (and now of course Hillary’s) fault.  Hey, Rudy “9/11!” Giuliani recently said there were no Islamic terrorist attacks until Obama became president! Is it in this alternate realty that you support Mr. Trump?

So now we have Donald Trump who has promised to “Make America (White?) Great Again” by building a wall, deporting 12 million brown people, and not allowing other brown people into the country who don’t worship the right god. I’m surprised he’s not proposing shipping all African Americans back to their continent, but given his ambivalence toward David Duke, maybe that’s in the long-term plan. Anyway, for my friends that support the Donald, I’m disappointed that the support of your candidate by a white supremacist and Trump’s tacit acceptance of it wasn’t enough for you to rethink your candidate.  So as a public service, here are a few more reasons for you to reject Trump… What about:

  • His Attack on ex-Vietnam POW, Senator John McCain, in spite of…
  • His dodging of the draft during Vietnam
  • His mocking New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski for a disability
  • His shallow judgment of women (Carly Fiorina, Heidi Cruz, Megyn Kelly)
  • His racist attack on an American Judge of Mexican descent, Judge Curiel
  • His tendency to encourage violence (“Nominate me or there could be riots.”)
  • His conspiracy theory mindset (Ted Cruz’ father involved in JFK assassination, birtherism, election rigged)
  • His admiration of dictators like Vladimir Putin
  • His six bankruptcies
  • His three divorces
  • His refusal to release his tax returns
  • His re-tweeting a white supremacist meme of the Star of David
  • His support of torture like waterboarding and killing terrorist’s families
  • His tendency toward knee-jerk, angry reaction to any perceived slight

I’m sure there are more, but damn, for those of you supporting the Donald, when will your love of country finally trump your Fox-fueled hatred of Hillary Clinton so that this man is denied the power he seeks?  I know none of this will change your minds, but  I had to try.

Every Day can be Music Tuesday Friday

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Pearl Jam at Fenway Park August 7, 2016

For years, new records would be released on a Tuesday.* For example, Pearl Jam’s “Ten” was released on Tuesday, August 27, 1991, nearly 25 years ago… In 2009, the band released a “Deluxe Edition” of “Ten” including a demo cut from 1991 of “State of Love and Trust,” a song I’d never heard. On Saturday I was working in the yard shuffling the band on Spotify to prep for their Sunday evening gig at Fenway Park when the song began pummeling my cochlea. At about the 2:30 mark, I dropped the heavy rake and just listened. You should, too. No matter when it was recorded, you can discover new (and old) music that just lights you any day of the week. Get busy.

* That changed to Friday in 2015

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