Thursday, February 22, 2018

It is the little things that matter

 Rocketing through this thing we call life, we often forget to look out the window. We are transfixed on the path we have chosen and ignore the little things that would actually enhance our journey. It's taken me many years and possibly retirement to get a real understanding of this. I've written about this concept a number of times, but please indulge me, as it becomes more precious each time I recognize it.

Whether we are leaving our living room, walking anywhere, or driving, we often spend our entire time immersed in ourselves. Where we are going, what are going to do when we arrive, what's next, and what's in it for me. How long can I stay, What am I going to eat for lunch or supper. Me, me, and yes, me. I've written about slowing things down; throwing out the anchor, and smelling the roses, so there is no sense beating your head against a dead horse.

Due to an incident where 6 "youts" decided to come into my back yard, I had cameras installed all around my house. Since I spend a considerable amount of time working on my computer as well as repairing others, I witness a lot going on, on my street. What I don't see, my neighbor with Asperger's sees all. He and I have daily conversations and seeing he operates on a different plain of logic than I do, sometimes it is enlightening and often a source of humor for both of us. I've known the fellow for over 10 years and watched him go from a kid who hardly talked and wouldn't make eye contact, to a social butterfly who knows everyone who lives near us.

I think he knows everyone on a couple streets in fact. If you are not familiar with Asperger's, they can be a little spooky at first meeting because they basically cannot read expressions. Socially awkward is a good description. For instance, he will occasionally hug me for no apparent reason, or stand uncomfortably close while talking. His choice of clothing is at times bizarre, or he will walk around the neighborhood with no shirt on while it is windy and 50 degrees. Mind you, he is 30 years old and until recently, had a beard. This alone is a bit peculiar and add in the fact that he's often barefooted, it might just raise a few eyebrows.

This morning while working on this column, I observed him pick up and read my newspaper. He made himself comfortable spreading it on my shrubs and took his time reading it. Now before I put the brakes on in my life, I would have yelled at him. Not today. After about 10 minutes, he simply could not roll it back up and put the plastic sleeve over it, so he brought it to the front door. I explained that it is my paper and I pay for it and he shouldn't be reading it.

His answer was typical for someone with his condition. "I know that. I just wanted to read the comics!" I closed the door, as courteous goodbyes are not recognized by him, even though the exchange was friendly. A couple of weeks ago, I asked him if he had observed the lunar eclipse. His answer had me guffawing for a solid minute.

"Yes and I DON'T WANT TO SEE IT AGAIN!" I almost got the vapors I was laughing so hard.  Yesterday, which was Monday, I checked the mailbox about 3 times and each time I did, he watched me. We have a small round table and 2 chairs in a flower bed in our front yard and this attracts him. He often sits in my flower bed, which I do not mind. He is after all, the street observer. I commented to him that the post office is running later than usual.

"Its President's Day, duh!"  I burst into a fit of laughter and asked him why he didn't say something earlier, to which he logically replied, "Didn't you check your calendar?" Any time anyone on the street comes out of their house to was a car, or work on something with the garage door open, it is going to prompt a visit from him and seeing we live across the street from each other, I get the lion's share. Do I mind? No, I do not. He comes and goes and often, when he is done talking, he simply wanders off. He has taught me that its the little things that matter.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The illusion of obviousness alludes

 I remember just last year when the new Kroger opened on Garth Road and I was excited to see they had broken out of the Walmart paradigm of having a less proportionate number of checkers than people trying to check-out. Seriously, it wasn't that bad. Walmart is the world's worst store for checking out due to the many closed counters. When  you shop there, it is akin to going through a cattle chute. I shouldn't even point this out today because it is so obvious to everyone except the store manager.

No, the new Kroger had many open checking stands and a bagger at each one. Now months later, they are facing stiff completion from the new HEB store, so it would seem logical, that they would continue this great level of service, right? Wrong. I stopped in to spend a hundred dollars the other day and only one register with no bagger was available and the checker picked up the phone and paged someone for a price check.

Hark, there was an associate at the far left end where you get the pleasure of self-checkout who hailed me. "I can help someone down here!" I had about 30 or so items, so rather than be third in line, I rolled my buggy on down. She took over and methodically scanned each item and stacked most of them above, rather than bag them and explained she liked to do it that way, because she can then arrange them in the plastic bags more efficiently.  Meanwhile, an elderly couple (they were my age) were having trouble finding the code on a piece of fruit and over her shoulder, she was rattling off numbers for them to punch in (this was unsuccessful) and she kept stopping my scan to help them in the self check line.

I stood and watched this overly energetic lady work her routine with all earnestness (and chipper attitude mind you) while the lady who had been in front of me  - down there, rolled past with her groceries. The aged folks in the line behind me just couldn't get that danged code correct and as soon as my helpful clerk scanned my last item, she departed to get those numbers with a "you got this?". It was logical that the other line needed to purchase their goods in an expedited manner.

I paid my hundred plus bucks electronically, but thankfully, using my special Kroger Plus card, I saved a whole bunch of money and began the process of sacking my own groceries. Foolish me didn't realize that you could spin the bin around until she yelled over her shoulder and pointed out the obvious. In the meantime two more shoppers rolled past me on their way out of the store, carts loaded down with bagged goods. I figure the whole process took 3 times longer than simply being patient and waiting for the single cashier to scan and bag my stuff. Stupid me, it should have been obvious.

I remembered why I shop at Food Town on North Main for most of my groceries. If they ain't scanin', they waitin' to scan. On top of that, they are running some really good deals. Its obvious to me that the store manager realizes there is an HEB in town. Now if we can just get Walmart and Kroger to figure this out, we will have some super stores. Why isn't it obvious to retailers that we live in a 24 hour a day town where time management (excluding Millennial's of course) is paramount to success?
The old days of mom and pop stores where they would let you inside as much as 30 minutes early is gone. Mom and pop wanted to make a sale. They were helpful in that regard. If I go to Walmart at 3am and yes, it is 3:13am as I write this, there will be one lane open and no one at the register. You will stand there and look around and finally someone will come strolling at a painful 1 mile an hour and with no emotion whatsoever check you out. Its Walmart for goodness sake. Honestly, how on earth is this place even in business with this reputation?

Many a time I can have an entire cart full of groceries at Food Town and by the time I place everything on the conveyor, my checker is cheerfully announcing how much I owe and my stuff is already bagged and in the cart ready to go? The manager of that store hovers around like a bird of prey looking for a meal, that's why. This is why I often tip the cashier.

Maybe I am being too harsh on Kroger. Maybe it was shift change. I honestly don't think I could ever be too hard on Walmart. Maybe the Mont Belvieu store is better. I don't know. With the traffic, its a half hour drive from Chaparral Village, but that's obvious.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Hamster Wheel Caching!

"Go, go, go! Hurry and get in! The next cache is .3 miles away and if you punch it right now, we can make the light!" Here is another common scenario: "I ran this macro in GSAK and if we follow it and don't fool around, we can get all the caches in this geotour in less than 3 hours! We won't have to spend a dime and can be home by 5pm!"  One more: "I got 50 geocaches yesterday!" "Did you see anything interesting other than the caches?" "What? Well, we ate at Subway..."

I remember finding my first 100 or so geocaches and what an adventure and how exciting each and every one was. I can still read about them in my profile and describe everything. Sure, we all have total recall on caches, but we do it now at hyper speed. We speed eat and chain smoke our caches, for lack of stating it properly. We have become more focused on our wake than on the pursuit of the adventure. Sure numbers matter, but honestly, is filling in your grid or calendar the 3rd time to qualify for a challenge actually important in the scheme of things? What about the 4th time, because its on the horizon.

Amberita13 & HoustonControl
At one point do we actually take time to savor the game rather than seeing how much we can cram down our throat to get a daily full stomach? Do we really need a power trail to get us excited, or make a run with friends on 59 LPC's taking turns signing the log? I have contended for some time that burdening ourselves with a daily find streak is nothing more than placing a curse on us and takes away from the fun of the game. Why put yourself under something like that?  Why not return to your kindergarten days and just have fun finding caches? Sorry, but your streak means very little to anyone but you and sooner or later, you will fall into failure.

If you think like I do, you set a target of say 500, 750, or 1000 caches a year. If you make it, great. If you don't, well, maybe next year. Seriously, other than numbers, what is the difference if you have 5300 caches and 7100? Or 18000 and 22000? Does it impress anyone to the point that they lose their breath and fan themselves when you arrive? Do you get free 14 ingredient pseudo coffee when you walk into Starbucks because of this amazing accomplishment? Is there shekinah glory surrounding you when you make your appearance at an event with accompanying fireworks and a 5 jet flyover with F-16's?

Make no mistake, I recognize these folks as senior geocachers, but guess what? They have  trouble finding the same caches I do most of the time and the LPC's are just as easy. Truth be told, they far surpass me in experience, so finding lots of caches is a plus, but often people cache in groups and if you phone a friend (PAF), they will confess someone else in the group found it and they can't help you.

A geocacher I admire is skunkonthefog. He only searches for geocaches that interest him. When he finds one, his log reflects the first thing that comes to mind when he puts a pen to it and this is often quite humorous. Another couple is 2katz and KeyResults and they are serious about the game and work it whenever they can into their busy schedules. Both of these geocachers don't have giant numbers, but love the game and play it for the long run. These 3 and many others embody what this game is about and I'm not taking away from those who run the power trails.

What I am saying is, are you on the hamster wheel of caching? If you are, you will never get enough caches to get off it. Never. You are like the billionaire trying to get more money, or the hamster with its cheeks so full of food and trying to stuff in more. The numbers will never satisfy you. The numbers game is addictive and illusionary. It is not the game. The game is fun and savory and log worthy. Remember when you wrote logs? Remember when they weren't rubber stamp copies? Remember when logging your caches was actually fun or logging trackables was specific to the TB or geocoin? I can't either.

"Discovered at blah, blah, event," has become the norm and doesn't say anything about an interaction with you or the TB or coin or your knowledge of its mission. Why? Because we are in a big hurry, that's why. We are on the geocaching hamster wheel, where speed is more important than content. I'm not pointing fingers because I feel it too. Why can't I log 80 caches in a day, or even 40? Its because I am repairing, or replacing the logs to keep the game going. I want the cache to succeed. I want newbies to feel the fire. I want to see the spark.

I'm ready to get off the geocaching hamster wheel and start enjoying this game the way I did when I had 10 caches under my geoname. Who will join me?

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Baytown can still shine like a diamond

Photo credit: Steve Liles - Cedar Bayou at Roseland Park 2017
I feel very optimistic about the city of Baytown. There, I said it. Being a citizen of this town since 1974 and watching it grow, I haven't always felt this way. It helps that I am a member of the Strategic Planning Advisory Committee (SPAC) and had input in which direction the city should take over the next 5 years. Incidentally the city is about 6 months into implementing the changes, so progress is actually happening.

Kingwood Trail
This past week 4 of us intrepid geocachers took our bikes up to Kingwood to geocache and we rode along the numerous Greenbelt trails there. Surprise! They were nothing spectacular. Basically we rode on cement trails along highways with occasional dips behind subdivisions and although there are miles of trails, they are basically just sidewalks in the shallow woods.

Here in Baytown, we don't have the luxury of planning development in this manner for the most part. Sure, when a new subdivision goes in, we will see a retention pond added with a cement walkway around it and sidewalks. There will be cookie-cutter landscape added every so many feet to give the appearance of a perfect place to walk the dog. The pond might even have a token fountain and mail order kids playground. Is this really what we want or need? I am for all of this, but it also should be unique and well thought out.

Houston's Donovan Park
Baytown leaders and planners need to put extra effort into making Baytown's parks and trails different and more interesting than places like Kingwood and The Woodlands. When the 4 of us went geocaching, one was from Webster, another from Sugar Land and Larry Houston and I from Baytown. We spent money there too, because after about 5 hours on our bikes, we were hungry. If we make Baytown unique and capitalize on our concessions, people will come here. Our Texas Avenue venues, our disc golf courses, our trail systems, and our new boat ramps all can be draws.

When the SPAC presented our 5 year plan to the city, my small part was to push the idea of uniqueness. I urged the city leaders to take field trips to look and see what other cities are doing to provide anything other than the "same old stuff". Recently I talked to a young man and he urged me to see if Baytown can install a BMX bike track, similar to the 2 skate parks we have. I urged him to gather a petition I could present to our park planners. He informed me that it would be wildly popular and the surrounding cities have nothing like it. This is what I am stressing. Let's be unique.

Espee BMX Park, Chandler Arizona
I have the highest regard for our Parks department and we are making progress. I would love to see a first class BMX park built here, as well as a certified and clearly marked 5K trail in Jenkins Park. A flyover pedestrian bridge connecting Blue Heron Parkway to Jenkins Park would provide hill training for athletes and connect the 2 trails. It simply takes vision and eventually the money will follow. Yes, I feel optimistic about our city. I hope and pray our next mayor follows in our current mayor's footsteps.

I looked back at one of my columns from 12 years ago and I had the same optimism and boy howdy, we are a completely different town. Many naysayers believe it is always better some place else, but as a person who is always on the move geocaching in the Houston area, I can tell you there is a plainness to many of these "nice" areas that smacks of sameness. There are also parts of this huge metropolis that make Baytown look like a shiny diamond contrary to what some profess. Maybe beauty isn't a good description, as in keep Baytown beautiful and maybe we see what we want to see.

I do know that accepting things the way everyone else does isn't for Baytown. We need innovative parks and great access to our waterways. We need vision. We need more people to step up for litter abatement. We need to recognize that the future of Baytown is everyone's responsibility.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

Start Slow... and Taper off

"As I get older I'm more and more comfortable being alone." This is a quote I came across quite by accident and is attributed to Sienna Miller. She's 36 years old. It is a one line testimony to just how frazzled our world has become. Henry David Thoreau once spent an entire day, from sunrise, to sunset sitting at his doorstep. He never stood to eat, or use the bathroom and later declared it was the most productive day of his life. That left a profound effect on me when I read it years ago.

This coming June, I will enter my 4th year of retirement and still have to remind myself that I can take time to sniff the flowers. I do not have to be almost anywhere other than for appointments. Like Tom Hanks character in the desert island movie, I lived by the clock. Sure, I love to arrive early for everything. Punctuality is a dying practice, but hanging around afterward has never been an option for me. I was always rushing off so  I could "sit on the couch".

JoAn Martin's Tuesday column about 85 year old folks being content gives me hope that not worrying about stuff I can't change is in my future. I sat across from the Sun's managing editor, David Bloom and exclaimed that I would love to write about glitter and unicorn sightings, but there is just so much negative fodder available; I get sucked into writing about it. It's a black hole I simply have trouble avoiding.

Emma's Hugs is staging a fund raising event at McLeod Park in Mont Belvieu February 24th from 4pm to 7pm and I was asked to support it by gathering geocachers there for an event, which I am going to do. Why not? I have time and its a noble cause. This past weekend, SETX geocachers staged 2 trash bash CITO events right here in Baytown, even attending the event set by Baytown Tourism. The rain forecast curtailed their plans and they cancelled, but that didn't stop us from showing up with about 20 people and cleaning Blue Heron Parkway and associated trails.

Like Ms. Miller and Mr. Thoreau, I like my own company, in spite of the fact that I will group up now and again. My dad was the same way and would spend the whole day fishing in his boat far away from other people. He wouldn't even take a radio. I drove down to Galveston Sunday for a geocaching event that got delayed and decided to look for geocaches by myself for the rest of the day. I had a ball and found over 20. I might have turned on the radio though.

Years ago when I was a runner, I learned of the incredible running man, Walt Stack. His motto in his old age was "start slow... and taper off," but he always kept running. From Wikipedia: For 27 years, from 1966 until 1993, Stack persisted in covering a set training route. His highly visible training routine made him a San Francisco institution. "I'm going to do this 'til I get planted," Stack decreed. Starting on his bike, he would ride six hilly miles from his Potrero Hill home to Fisherman's Wharf. Once there, he'd strip off his shirt, displaying tattoos of peacocks, wild horses, and bathing beauties across his broad chest, and then proceed to run a 17-mile route over the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back, after which he would take a one-mile swim in the currents of the San Francisco Bay near Alcatraz Island.

Even with folks in tow, Walt's exercise regimen was a solo sport. He wasn't doing it for anyone but himself and like my dad fishing, or me wandering around Galveston Island geocaching, a great deal of peace and contentment is enjoyed going solo. On top of that, the phase I have entered isn't measured by how fast I can accomplish it. Boy howdy. That is a revelation. I do not have to race.

When I was a runner, I always timed everything and always tried my best to set a new personal best time. Jogging slowed that down a bit, but then I went for longevity. I never stepped out to run, just to run. Now after nearly 4 years, I'm learning I can enjoy life a whole lot more by not racing the clock. When I was a Process Operator, I spent about 90% of my time alone and to this day do not regret it. I would tell people I was social by my own terms. Now that I am retired, I am enjoying people more than ever.

What's more fun than people? Maybe its a balance of them and me.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Where is my slab of pie?

I'm not a fan of sports and I do not watch many games, other than an occasional Astro match-up. Back when my son played for Robert E. Lee, the fam got into the Rocket's play-off frenzy and I knew the players names and reveled with everyone else when they won 2 championships. I remember the big men under the hoop using their elbows to maintain or create their own space and just how brutal that technique could be. Being professionals, they knew exactly what they could get away with and the inherent dangers involved. Unfortunately, modern protestors do not.

Watching the protests, I see this same technique being used verbally and boy, is it ugly. People using vulgar terms as weapons, waving signs with socially taboo writing, and even spitting on anyone who doesn't agree with them is... well, repulsive. They want what they want and they don't care or even tolerate a differing opinion. To be honest, I can't bear to watch the videos of the march for freedom, equality, or whatever it is that is bothering them this week. I do admire their passion, just not their execution.
Watching the videos, I am reminded of the famous question, "You kiss babies with that mouth?" Honest to God, wearing hats resembling a normally private portion of the female anatomy would get their little hiney's spanked by their momma's, but now that they are momma's, it is somehow acceptable. When asked to define their anger, they are cluelessly vague or cookie-cutter acerbic and they simply respond by yelling louder. It is a sickening display of unbridled anger.

My basic instinct whenever I see mass marches is to wonder how many who are involved vote. How many are there only to support a friend, but don't have a horse in the race? How many are there because they want to be part of history? How many because it is hip and cool? How many because their basic nature is rebellion and in this particular case, how many men and women are marching to try and score a quickie after the march?

Watch the videos on youtube and for the most part, you will see people behaving in an embarrassing and disgusting manner. If I were a reporter and someone angrily cursed me and spit in my face, I would not be able to stand there with a microphone in hand, smiling. There is a cloud of strong delusion at work in this country where people abandon logic and reason and get into a berserker frenzy. It is as if they acquired no modus operandi along the way and are looking for someone to follow.

In my opinion only, the #MeToo movement has morphed into the #MeMeMe movement where it is a free for all to use both elbows to knock the teeth out of anyone who even remotely disagrees or has a different opinion. The other movements have welcomed them in with open arms, so now when there is a women's march, it is a hodgepodge of many movements promoting everything from abortion to marijuana for gays. I actually saw one fellow carrying this sign.

The marches have become a freak show circus and a social party, losing all focus and effectiveness. One marcher is spewing non-stop vulgar words against the Republican Party and standing next to them is a woman bashing the very same party with a sign that reads, "Racism and Profanity Don't Make America Great." It would be hilarious if it were not so sad. One Baytown lady summed the march up like this, " The focal point seems to be anti-trump and less pro women... this infuriates me."

Back in the 70's when many smoked pot, one fellow summed it up real well when he said "the worst part of smoking pot is the kind of people you end up associating with." It wasn't even the illegality of it; it was in fact because it was a criminal act, you ended up associating with criminals. The #MeToo movement is now associated with every angry group that marches. A closer examination of the giant crowd would reveal probably 10 movements rolled into this march. Welcome to freedom to protest. It can definitely work against a cause.

One person posted a photo of a woman reading a book and the pages were empty. The caption read, "A complete book of women's rights lost under Donald Trump's administration". In my recollection, Trump is the first President who will fire anyone, male or female, that he believes is not doing their job. No one gets a free ride in his administration and he's proved that many times. He's not anti-female anymore than he's anti-male. You slack and you're out. Like the Capo said, "It isn't personal, it's simply business."

I sincerely believe marches like this last one will not empower anyone. It will simply divide us as a country and that is the last thing any of us want or need.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Sorry, I Didn't Know You Are Unique.

Being unique is a failing art. People wrongly believe to be unique you should get a tattoo or a piercing or a cool car. That doesn't make you anymore peculiar than trying to sound exactly like Beyonce when you sing. Uniqueness is inside you and doesn't need adornment. Being unique is developing your own sense of who you are, even if it doesn't match anyone else's, or is politically correct. Being politically correct should be YOUR choice.

Uniqueness is not bolt-on accessories. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes we should take the freeway; other times the trail, but for sure, you take the path you want to be on. I might add that staying inside the law is a wise choice.

I hate how everyone is supposed to "do the right thing" when it comes to acceptance of things, ideals, or cultures that you don't necessarily agree with. Its better to be called  racist or homophobic, than to be fake. Get educated, make up your own mind, but for god's sake, be real. Freedom of speech is all but dead in this country.

It seems like everyone has tattoos these days. I do not. I don't care one way or the other if they have them. I remember when sailors, bikers, and pirates had tattoos and they actually meant something. These days, at least in my eyes, they mean nothing. They do not make the person unique in my eyes. I forget what their "tat" is one minute after I see it. The same goes for what they are wearing, or what brand of perfume they wear, or their shoes.

What I do remember is their personality and sometimes a casual brush with a person has lasting effects. Sure, some people are visually entertaining and would qualify for a Facebook meme, or a "people of Wal-Mart" youtube video, but that is not the uniqueness I am writing about. I am also not talking about someone everyone necessarily want to be around.

This country was settled by a diversity of colors, customs, nationalities, and people fleeing oppression. It was also settled by renegade extremists who took everything they could. They came to conquer and they didn't care what anyone thought. Years later we have laws which to have peace, we must obey, but that doesn't mean that we all have to think alike. The very fabric of this great country is exemplified by us not being the same. We are not all look alike hamsters or Siamese cats.

However, in our differences, it is imperative that we be tolerant and nonviolent with those who believe differently than us. Civil debate, if we choose to is all but gone and we see evidence of this every day in our government. If there is a difference in opinion, the name calling begins and it doesn't matter one way or the other how trivial the subject. I would rather be in Maine on vacation and a guy tell me he hates all Texans than for him to sarcastically pander. All is well and good between us as long as he doesn't decide to attack me, either physically or verbally. He is welcome to his opinion. I will find someone else to be around.

Frankly, I am sick over the term racist being used for any and every possible use of the word. If it doesn't involve, "prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one's own race is superior," it isn't racism. If I say I don't particularly care for Russians, it is because I am a Cold Warrior and have a certificate of recognition signed by Donald Rumsfeld on my wall. Am I racist? Nope. Being Russian is not a race. Leave me alone. I earned it. By the way, I have a Russian friend. Of course, claiming I have a Russian friend automatically makes me racist.

I knew a man that hated anything Japanese because of what they did in World War Two. He was a veteran and earned his right to think what he did and I can't say I blamed him. Japanese soldiers committed horrendous atrocities. He was a very unique fellow and left an impression on me. Was he out of step with the modern world?  Most likely, but it is what it is.

The bottom line is in this country it should still be okay to think and speak what you want, even if it doesn't fit the mold of someone else. You shouldn't scream what you have to say, or use profanity, but I think you understand my point.

Where's a redneck when you need one?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Culture, Trash, and Crime Connection

I was talking to a retired Indian couple at the gym the other day before spin class started. They are totally pleasant and both have cool Indian names.  His name is Krishna and hers is Geeta. I was explaining to them that I listen to Desi music, which they explained "desi" meant home boy music.  More specifically, Desi is a loose term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent or South Asia and their diaspora, derived from the Ancient Sanskrit meaning Land or Country.

Anything labeled as Desi, basically means you are Indian. I told them my bride finds it peculiar that I listen to this type of music and I've satisfied her curiosity by explaining that I heard it very often during the 2 years I lives in Southeast Asia. To me it is a mystical series of melodies that takes my brain on a magic carpet ride. Krishna is a retired chemist from Bayer and I forget what Geeta did, but their eyes sparkle with intelligence. Over the years I've heard southern Americas declare that the Indian/British accent is confusing, but not so for me. With a few exceptions and those being the British words, I have no trouble.

The two are gentle, cordial, and very humble and on this day, we began to talk about crime here and in the many countries they have visited. On a second note, they declared how clean all these countries have become. I was very surprised at this because my experience 40 years ago was it was almost hopelessly filthy and debris ruled. Trash and litter was a way of life, but not so today. Massive educational campaigns and strict laws have nearly obliterated litter in many countries.

The more we talked, the more I realized that as Americans, some of us just don't get it. Geeta and then Krishna pointed out that crime was almost non-existent in major cities in India and Japan because punishment was so severe. I knew that Singapore was this way and quite surprised. He said you could walk down the darkest alley in India without fear. The United States is almost a criminal's playground in comparison. Our laws and freedoms have all but tied our hands when it comes to criminals taking advantage of us.

For instance, in Singapore, smoking in public, chewing gum, spitting in public, littering, jaywalking have hefty penalties. Its a crime to even sell gum there. Annoying someone with a musical instrument, flying a kite that interferes with public traffic, singing obscene songs in public, selling porn, connecting to someone else's wi-fi without permission, forgetting to flush a public toilet, and feeding pigeons will get you a fine or jail time. Singapore may just be the cleanest and most law-abiding country on earth.

This discussion makes me wonder if there isn't a connection between culture, crime, and litter. Are people who litter criminally minded? Maybe not, but it is certainly a crime to litter and some folks do it daily. They have a culturally anti-social attitude about it too. For most of us reasoning humans, the act of unrolling a car window and throwing trash out is about as likely to happen as winning the Powerball. Is it possible that in 2018 some person doesn't litter intentionally? I don't think so. They may throw that beer can out alongside the road to keep from having an open container in their car or truck, but that just makes them a double criminal. They don't care that society likes a clean appearance over piles of garbage strewn everywhere.

As a unpaid litter abatement specialist, I subject myself to the same punishment as those who are serving community service when I pick up someone else's litter. Believe me when I say I do this almost every day and I am just one of many who carry a trash bag when I walk. A trip into the grocery store from the parking lot allows me to drop in what I pick up after leaving my vehicle. How is it Third World countries can educate their masses to make their country crime and litter free and yet we are almost losing the battle here?

We have educational material available and everyone must attend school of some sort, so how is it some just do not get right from wrong. For instance, take the college basketball players in China who stole. One of them said he just didn't think about it until they were caught. Ten to one the man litters also. Maybe its a stretch on that, but if you can't see that stealing is wrong, what else did you miss?

Thursday, January 04, 2018

The Casual Fun of Trash-Talking in Media

No one should have the right to force anyone to mute moral or social implications of what they say or write in the media, or we defeat freedom of speech, plain and simple. Criticize, yes, but to forcibly stop them from writing or speaking their mind, however misguided you may believe them to be, is crossing the line. Freedom of speech is disappearing and it is a foundational right. However, this is exactly what is happening every single day not only in the free US, but around the world as we become more globalized.

Vitriolic social pressure is stifling free speech. If someone doesn't like something, they just get louder and sometimes physical. In this environment, people not only get confrontational, they feel assaulted and want to press charges. Civil debate is lost. The worst of the worse is the comments section on almost anything on the Internet. Reading peoples juvenile and vicious attacks on what someone wrote, sang, performed, or spoke is akin to a visit to a cesspool for a meal. This is one reason I have all but stopped making a comment on YouTube. It doesn't matter if it is Mother Teresa or Stephen Hawking.  658 people dislike the video and then in the comments section call the sainted woman a tramp and the brilliant Astrophysicist, a &^%$ idiot. 

It would be very easy to exclude ourselves from these folks, but the truth is many of us are guilty on some level. Pick out a popular female pop singer, famous for bawdy performances and then deliberately say something good about her to a friend. Listen to their response. Now what would be your reaction if they did this to you? Your defense is you have higher morals or ethics and you don't associate with "people of her culture." Your intolerance is showing, but you haven't crossed the line and wished her dead, or have you? Never mind that Jesus the Christ regularly rubbed shoulders with sinners and harlots with her same perceived values.

Remember the phrase, "Them's fightin' words!"? There is such a thing as inner service rivalry in the military and it is common among "friends" who have served or are serving, but its important to understand it is amongst friends, or "them's fightin' words" comes into play. This is when a person feels the threat is actually a verbal assault and it gets physical. The person who attacks your branch of service is deliberately provoking a verbal exchange with the implication of backing up what they are asserting.

At my advanced age, this is very rare, but happened to me in the grocery store the other day. I had been to the VA for a physical and was standing in line with my Vietnam Veteran USAF black hat on, when a stranger walked up to me and said, "Air Force, huh? Only the Navy counts." I turned and looked at him in a non-confrontation stare and then turned my back on him. I did 2 tours. This fellow appeared to be maybe 40. I didn't need to justify anything to this man.

He replied to my back, "You aren't going to respond to that?" I turned slowly and said, "No." and turned away. He walked off and the man behind me asked what he said. I told him, "the guy insulted me." and let it go. I posted this on Facebook to gauge reaction and most people saw it as an insult and I acknowledged that the guy was maybe joking. The bottom line was, I think I handled it well. A few years ago, maybe I would have kicked it back at him.

People are losing the ability to civilly debate almost anything and I blame technology for this. They can sit safely away and hammer anyone with anonymity and crude talk and there is no repercussion. They do it in their car too by driving without consideration for those around them. I've often wondered how long they would get away with what they do, if they were standing face to face with those they choose to slander, curse, or wish dead.

I can't change the world, but I can police myself and work on being kinder and more considerate. I can learn to accept that other drivers simply don't get it that their driving puts me and them in danger, but I may have to work extra hard on that one.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

PERCEPTION MANAGEMENT: The Perfection of Propaganda

Until recently, I’d never heard the term Perception Management. The term originated with the U.S. Military after my time. The DOD formally defines it in stilted “Federalese”.

For those unfamiliar with “Federalese”, it is a form of English communication which requires the average person to read the same sentence two or three times, after saying “huh?”, to get the full import or meaning of same. As a matter of fact, I think I did a credible job of imitating Federalese with the first sentence of this paragraph.

Succinctly, I can sum up their 63-word definition in 13 words: Perception Management is how to lay modern, sophisticated “snow jobs” on foreign countries.

At least targeting against foreign countries was its original purpose; sophistication advanced beyond simple, old fashioned propaganda. PM evolved to the selective uses of truth, deception, operational security, psychological manipulation, misinformation and disinformation in such combinations as to get the best “snow job” bang for the buck!

Of utmost and critical importance is hiding or disguising the origins or actual source of generated PM. Even though it is a real weapon, albeit ostensibly non-lethal, any discovery or revelation of source combined with real evidence of intentional PM use would not only be publicly embarrassing, but the virtual end of the source’s credibility.
The way the originators of PM hide themselves is by using many layers of and varied means of communications and filtration methods prior to dispensing or, like biological warfare, dispersing the information they want leaked for successful and untraceable hit pieces or snow jobs. 
We should not care a wit about Perception Management being a military tool or even a government tool used in targeting countries hostile to us, or even those friendly, for that matter, especially when it’s in our national interest. 
What should concern us, personally and with enormity today is that governmental agencies, businesses and more especially, political entities, have wholeheartedly adopted and adapted the DOD/Military Perception Management concepts to domestically weaponize PM to manipulate and deliberately mislead us citizens!

Everyone knows public relations firms have been in existence for a long time to cover stenches with perfumes. But now some of these firms have been converted, co-opted or newly created to provide the Democratic Political Party funded by far-left socialist-billionaires like George Soros, other America-haters and miscellaneous ignoramuses with high-powered PM.

David Brock is one of the kingpins supporting the Democratic Party as their “Joe Goebbels” in charge of PM through a dozen and more political front organizations/PACs co-located in the same building in beautiful downtown Burbank, oops, Washington D.C. 

Though Sharyl Attkisson outed and revealed much of Brock’s dirty works and other’s shenanigans in her outstanding exposes, Stonewalled and Smear, she mostly investigated the who’s, locations and funding operations with some examples of political smears that suggested but did not really amplify the subtleties of malicious PM (e.g., attacks on Trump).

PM is currently doing a bang-up job of persuading people that Trump is evil incarnate, a racist, a dictator and a descendant of Hitler. Look at how successful PM has been in manipulating all those Hollywood intellectuals. What else, with his many successful accomplishments thus far, explain his low poll numbers? Snow Jobs!

Paradoxically as the sophisticated use of PM expands and is refined and redefined, we’ll all someday reach the point where we won’t be able to believe Dan Rather when he admits he’s lying, let alone what mom and dad tell us.

What’s deliciously ironic is that amateurish users of PM such as the New York Times, Washington Post and the other usual suspects we refer to as fake news (including CNN, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, etc.) frequently allow themselves to become easily manipulated pawns of the professionally skilled purveyors of PM because their biases and predilections are well-known and readily exploitable! Often it doesn’t work well since they’ve discredited themselves so much.

For example, the PM pros know that many of the Times and Post reporters are smug, arrogant and complacent egotists who tend to be lazy or purposely careless about fact-checking information, especially when the “information” fed them meshes precisely with their individual ideological and snarky bents.

The internet is now, without doubt, the main conduit or super-highway for the dispersal of PM by absolute professional experts at psychology, believable prevarication, invention of “fictional facts”, and embellishing, modifying and/or distorting truths.

Take a pinch of truth, add a large dollop of conjecture, and garnish with invention/prevarication and there you have a blogger’s dream and The Huffington Post to spew an “anonymous” or “reliable” source for fake news to puke.

Are we out on a limb? Who do we believe, what do we believe? The PM purveyors don’t give a damn about you and me. They are mostly concerned with non-skeptics who are easily manipulatable ideologues, the “What Me Worry?” clones of Alfred E. Neuman, people too busy with living their lives of survival and those closely watching Real Housewives of New Jersey, unconcerned with any realities beyond a cursory glance.

They are the real Perception Management targets because they vastly outnumber the thinkers, skeptics, or those who through osmosis and hard scrabble experience, like me, became Real Cynics from Somewhere.

John C. Frock, Dec., 27th, 2017

A Well Executed Plan

 I was one of 4 airman one cold fall day on the Great Plains of Montana with visions of bagging a number of pheasants. We went down to Recreation Supply and rented four 12 gauge pump shotguns and stopped at a hardware store and bought 4 boxes of shells. We had our licenses and orange vests and were ready. We had a plan... or so we thought. Now contrary to what most people believe, just because you are in the service of our country, doesn't mean you know beans about guns.

I knew a lot, because my dad demanded me practice muzzle control and I got my first 12 gauge at 14 years of age. On one instance a few years earlier, a double barrel shotgun malfunctioned and blasted both shot shells when I closed the breach. My brother Gordon was standing to my right and if I would have carelessly closed the gun without paying attention to where the muzzle was pointed, I would have killed him that day in the woods. It was a real life lesson that to this day comes to mind when I handle a firearm.

The 4 of us piled into my longtime Pineville, La friend Mark Lacroix's car and off we went, driving about 20 miles west of Great Falls. Now out there, you could fire a 7 Mag at a 45 degree angle and it wouldn't hit anything for as far as you could see. That particular rifle has the ability to shoot a bullet about 4.5 miles. There is a reason its called the Great Plains. Let me stress that we did not ride out there with loaded guns. We were driving along and I was in what is called the shotgun position, which means I am not driving, but by the window to the right of the driver and every so often I would spot a covey of quail, or grouse, or partridge hunkered down in the tall grass by the fence row. I would holler to stop and initially we jumped out and loaded the guns.
 The straw grass was tall by the fence, but only about a foot tall for as far as the eye could see. We would walk that fence line and not see a single bird, until I was accused of hallucinating. This happened about 10 times before rounding a bend in the road, we looked up a long swell of land and there must have been 30 pheasants spread out. The second we stopped and got out, they ducked into the foot high straw. We spread out about 50 paces each and slowly walked the 300 yards to the top of the hill and never saw or kicked up a single bird.

Now let me tell you something about upland game and pheasants in particular. They will wait until you almost step on them before they jump straight up in the air and fly off like an F-16. I guess it's possible for a skilled hunter to get a second shot, but most of us get one or none before they are out of range. On top of that, they scare the bejeebers out of you by making this bizarre noise. Again let me stress that we worked out a field of fire before we began because hunters shoot each other chasing flying birds.

We went home safe, but without a single bird. There is an excellent explanation for our failure. We did not know the golden rule of upland game hunting. You don't do it without trained hunting dogs. Our well thought-out plan lacked the necessary ingredient to make us successful. Now on the bright side, we did get a very close look at a red fox, which by the way is orange in color. Our venture was doomed to fail and all because we didn't do enough homework.

Isn't this the reason so many things we attempt fail? We just go at them helter skelter, like a dad trying to put together a 142 piece toy and only resorting to the instructions after a frustrating hour or more. Going through life, we encounter many opportunities which if we simply took the time to make a good plan, we could overcome, or successfully complete. So how many times do we have to fail before we get the hint? One plan every person should have is a whole life insurance policy on your kids. It is so cheap, anyone can afford it. This is one plan, you cannot afford to bungle.

As I write this column, I am speaking to myself. How many things could we do anything right the first time, if we would have simply thought it through and developed a plan? The good news is its not too late to begin.

It is the little things that matter

 Rocketing through this thing we call life, we often forget to look out the window. We are transfixed on the path we have chosen an...