Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Mini-Post: More Swimming Kittens

So how's she doing, you might want to know.  Is she any closer to 20 miles in the pool?  Well, yes and no.  It's been a mixed bag this year.  For one thing, I've had some completely awesome meter counts.  More than half my swims so far this month have been 1800 meters or higher.  On Sunday, I logged 1900 meters, and Monday I logged an almost-unheard-of 2000 meters.  That's 1 1/4 mile, in case you want to know.

However, my overall meter count is a little disappointing.  I'm at 15,300 as of yesterday which is 9.5 miles.  A little less than halfway there.  I was hoping I'd be more than halfway and on the downside by now.  But:  I have approximately 8 swims left this month (maybe 9, if I can cram in an extra someplace).  One of them is also a "power swim," which lasts an hour and a half and is totally uninterrupted, so I can see that leading to some serious meterage.  If I continue cranking out 1800 to 1900 meters per swim, I should at least hit 19 miles and maybe have a shot at 20.

In anticipation, then, of something at least approaching 20 miles, I would like to post these pictures of kittens being cute.  Because who doesn't need a cute kitten or two in the middle of the work day?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Swimming Kittens

So I've done another painting.  Looking at it from this perspective, it actually looks better than it did sitting on my kitchen table.  Or else I photograph really well.  This is our kitten, Artemis, looking out the back door, which is one of her favorite things to do in the morning.  I'm calling it  "K.O.P." - Kitten On Patrol.

I was going to call this a partial fail, owing to the kitten, but in retrospect I think I'll keep it anyway.  The screen door, anyway, looks rather amazingly like our actual screen door.  The kitten needs some work.  How do you make something look fluffy?  And don't tell me oil paints.  I'm sure that's probably the answer but there are reasons I don't use oil paints and they are big, messy, flammable reasons.  But hey, Michaelangelo didn't learn this stuff in a day, or anything.  And the next thing I want to do is an abstract, anyway.  Just playing around with colors and shapes and such.  Namely bright red squares.  I've been kind of enamored of bright red squares lately.

Meanwhile, the whole month of June just kind of flew by.  There was that trial in the middle of it (and that's a whole nother blog post), which helped to speed things along, but have you guys noticed how the older you get, the faster time seems to go by?  I could swear this time last year it was only about April.  I blinked and it was July.  Then I blinked again and it was the Fourth of July, and I had a day off work in the middle of the week. Which was, you gotta admit, kind of cool.

Holy cow, it's frick'n the 6th of July already and I haven't said one word about Swim for Distance Month!  Yep, it is that time again.  If you've hung around here for a while, you know that every July, my swim team sets out to outdo itself by swimming as far as humanly possible over 30 days.  Well, I am not off to a very good start, but part of that's the weather's fault.  I logged a very darn respectable 1800 meters on July 3, and then things sort of went downhill.  July 4's swim was canceled due to, uh, lightning, around which you really don't want to be in the water anyway.  Then that night we went out to see fireworks, of course, so I got home about 11 and getting up 6 hours later to do a swim just kind of did not happen.  So the next day I can get back into the pool is Friday, which is the 7th.  Again, not a great start.

But, have no fear. If I swim Friday, Saturday and Sunday I'll still have nabbed four swims for the week.  (And yes, I can do that.)  The minimum for Swim for Distance Month is 16 days of swimming, and if I keep to my regular schedule I'll get at least 17.  If I throw in Sundays, and I probably will, I could easily end up with 20 days.  That could very well lead to 22 miles.  Now, there are guys on this swim team who easily knock off two miles in a practice and more.  They're the fast, skinny Olympian types with the big hands and the long arms.  I am neither skinny nor in possession of long arms, but I like swimming anyway and I'm aiming for 20. 20 is a good number.  It is, in fact, the number of dollars in a $20 bill.  And...

(Oh no. She's going to start shilling for charity.)

Yep, I'm going to start shilling for charity!  I am once again asking y'all to please pledge me by the day, or by the mile (1600 meters = 1 mile, and most swims I'm averaging 17-1800 meters) to raise money for the charity of your choice.  Last year we got ourselves a water buffalo from Heifer, International, which was grand, but I'm not that organized this year so I'm just asking folks to pick a charity they like and part with $20 for it by the end of the month (provided I knock out the 20 miles).  I personally am going with the North Texas Food Bank.  If you can't think of a charity and you wanna be part of this anyway, you can send me your $20 at the end of the month and I'll send it to North Texas Food Bank along with mine.  Hey, I get the exercise, you get to feel good about doing something to help the less fortunate and a bunch of charities get some extra dough. Win win win.

Maybe for my next painting I'll paint myself swimming.  Wait.  That might be kind of hard.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Freaky Friday

No, Jodie Foster does not appear in this blog post. Though it'd be really cool if she did.  I mentioned Annie Lennox once and got something like a thousand hits, which considering this blog is read by maybe two or three people is just amazing. So mentioning Annie Lennox and Jodie Foster in the same blog post might just break the Internet.  No, I'm talking about last Friday, during which a storm of Biblical proportions hit Dallas right around rush hour and lightning hit my building (!!).

 I've had at least one close encounter with lightning before, that I can remember.  I was driving on a Sunday and the hair started to stand up on the back of my neck and then lightning hit the building I was driving past.  It was loud and scary, but I was moving so there really wasn't a lot of danger.  I mean, even God has trouble hitting a moving target.  Ask those bagpipers who played while marching up and down the beach on D-Day and tell me if I'm wrong.

Anyway, I was at my desk on the second floor.  Minding my own business.  Typing away.  The thunderstorm is pounding overhead.  Then suddenly the brightest light I've ever seen in my life comes screaming through the windows.  You know those big spotlights they use to advertise theme parks and attractions and whatnot?  Well, it was like somebody pointed two or three of those babies right in the window. My hand was out, and I was looking at it, and I could see the bones inside my hand.  Like in an X-ray.  And my first thought, even before the What is that bright light? and the And holy crap, what's that noise?! was how little they are.  I mean, finger bones are just tiny.  They're like less than a third the width of the actual finger.  I mean, I know there's connective tissue and muscles and stuff like that all around them, and skin overtop, but seriously, they just seemed so small.  How do they hold together and keep your hand from, I dunno, just falling apart?

Oh, and here's an interesting detail.  I had on fingernail polish, like I usually do.  And on the longest ends of the fingers, where the fingernails were, I couldn't see the bones.  Just below that and extending back into the hand.  It was like the fingernail polish made the fingers opaque.

Did I mention the noise?  I mean, we've all heard thunderclaps, and they can be loud, but this sound sounded like the world splitting open about an inch from my ear.  I think it was the sound of the actual air being ripped apart to make way for the lightning bolt, which was of course miles long, and then slamming back together again a nanosecond later. I probably jumped two feet.  My ears rang for 10-15 minutes afterward.  Loudest sound I've ever heard in my life.  Definitely it was move over, Manowar.  But it only lasted, again, about a nanosecond.  Then the thunderclap.  Which was also pretty damn loud.

The power was knocked out immediately.  Everything went dark.  (And I was right in the middle of an email, and now I can't remember who it was to, or why I was writing it.  Hope it wasn't important.)  When it seemed safe to stand up I made my way to the stairs and down to the lobby.  The receptionist yelled at me to come over to where she was.  I did, and she pointed out the front door to the crack in the pavement next to the metal bench, from which small tendrils of smoke were still rising.  She'd actually seen the thing hit about 10-15 feet away.

Well, after about 15 minutes of everyone standing around in the lobby and several cell phone calls to the power company, the manager announced that it'd be 7 or 8 in the evening before we got power back, and that was only if the fuse box was still intact.  (It was.)  So the group began to dissipate.  I made my way out into amazing traffic, crawling through puddles of two-foot-deep water to get downtown to pick Joan up from the library.  My recently-electrified status does not seem to have affected my driving. I still won't go over 40 mph on wet pavement, much to the dismay of people behind me. (The problem with Texas freeways is having to share them with other Texans.)

So anyway, that's my hit-by-lightning story.  I'm glad the bolt didn't actually pass through me, because I did some research afterward about lightning-related injuries and it doesn't sound fun.  Besides, I was accidentally electrocuted as a kid (house current levels) and that wasn't fun either.   Remember, without eternal vigilance, this could happen to you.  Oh, and here's a link to a company I have no relationship with whatever, that claims it can install a house size surge protector to protect your electronic equipment from a lightning strike.  I have no idea if it actually works, but for $200 to $500 it's probably worth trying. Cheers, all.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Mini-Post: Follow-Up to The Great Divide

Okay, I'm gonna go off my nut here and post an article from The Federalist.  Yeah, that The Federalist.  What's more, it's an article written by a man, a conservative man, and it's about abortion, for God's sake.  But I think you guys should read it if you have the time.  Why?  Because this guy is bearing out exactly what I talked about last blog post.  The radical idea that by listening to people who disagree with you, you can maybe learn something.  Now, it happens to be that this guy learned something about one of the hot-button issues of our time, never mind the one issue that I simply can't seem to be rational about no matter what I do.  But don't let that stop you.  Here's a guy who came in with his mind made up and left with some things to think about.  If more people did things like this, then it's possible that a lot of these intractable problems we have wouldn't be so intractable and for that matter, might not even be problems anymore.  So do give him a read.  Here's the article:

Sunday, May 21, 2017

The Great Divide

--Here comes the great divide.
I walk the slide
That only killers should fear.
Here comes the great divide
I walk the slide
I hope I never fall.

--Stuart Adamson

A while ago Joan installed a "podcast app" on my new cell phone. (I had to get a new cell phone because my old cell phone was flipping into "airplane mode" by itself, and at odd times.  A real problem if, say, my boss wanted to call me.  Naturally, T-Mobile couldn't fix it and gently "suggested" that I get a new phone.)  If you're not familiar with "podcasts," all I can say is, check a few out.  They're like radio programs, usually about half an hour long, recorded by regular people, some with agendas and some who just have a topic they like to talk about and educate other people about.  You download them from the Internet and you can listen to them on your computer, or through your tablet or cell phone or what have you.  Because my cell phone talks to my car somehow (I still think this is magic, or else the little guys inside my cell phone talk to the little guys inside my car dashboard and tell them what to say), I can now listen to "podcasts" while I'm driving to and from work, and in rich, stereo sound, too.  This was a revelation.  Imagine; all this time I could have been learning something instead of bouncing around at intersections and belting out the lyrics to "Come On, Eileen" for the 9,827th time.

Anyway, one of my favorite podcasters is Dan Carlin.  He's a political commentator, in a sense, but he approaches U.S. politics as though he's a space alien who has just come to Earth and is starting to learn a little bit about human society.  He's neither conservative nor liberal but kind of a maddening mix of both, which is what makes him so interesting.  Mr. Carlin has two main podcasts; "Common Sense", which is about politics, and "Hardcore History", which is also about politics but in the context of what happened during, say, World War I or the Holy Roman Empire.  (We interrupt this blog post for a quick plug: Although the podcast about World War I was six episodes long and each episode ran about three hours, it was totally and completely worth the time spent and you should go download all six episodes from his web site right now, while they're still free.)

Up until just before The Election, Dan Carlin was saying in his "Common Sense" podcast that he thought the biggest problem we face as Americans is corruption in government.  What, you might ask, did he think the solution was?  Well, he thought we should vote in an outsider who would do things in a way nobody's ever done them before.  So we did that, and, uh, guess what happened.  Now Dan Carlin is saying no, I was wrong; the biggest problem we face as Americans is not corruption in government, nor Donald Trump, as you might expect, but the fact that a large chunk of our population hates another large chunk of our population.  And the reverse.  Which is where Donald Trump came from.  And there are smaller groups that hate other smaller groups, and those smaller groups hate lots of other small groups, and primarily it's just a great big hatefest out there, and if we're not careful, the whole country is going to break up into a bunch of nationalistic, nuclear, surly little rocks.  Sort of like the Soviet Union did--oops, I'm getting ahead of myself.

 See, back in the 1960s, and even probably up until maybe ten or twenty years ago, if you told somebody the United States might break up, their likely initial reaction would be, "Oh no!  What can we do to preserve the Union?"  Nowadays, the reaction's a lot more likely to be, "Good.  I don't want to live with those people anymore."  Whoever those people may be.  The Jews.  The blacks.  The gays.  The conservatives.  The liberals.  The Society of Left-Handed Spanish-Speaking Librarians Without Tonsils.*  Pick your label.  Depending on who you talk to, you'd be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that in the very near future, you'll have your choice of Californiastan, Texasberg, the Kingdom of Washoregon, Utahsville,  New Yorkguay and the Republic of Gilead--oops, I mean the Confederate States.  (Maine, of course, will make like a tree and join Canada.) Presumably they'll all have separate currencies and you'll need a passport to travel from one to another. What's more, you'll have to pass an ideology check. No one beyond this point may openly advocate interracial marriage, for example.

So what can we do about this?

Maybe nothing.  Maybe us fragmenting and falling apart would be for the best.  We are using 25% of the planet's resources, after all, which is all the more shocking when you know that we only have 5% of the world's population.  We export our environmental damage by buying lumber from countries that don't have sustainable forests, messily manufacturing our products in countries that don't have air pollution controls, and overfish oceans that aren't subject to our environmental laws.  Breaking us up might be good for the world.  I think it'd be just terrible for us, though.  For all kinds of reasons. I mean, we've been a country for a long time.  It'd be kind of cool if we could keep on being one.

Dan Carlin isn't sure what to do, but I have a suggestion. It's kind of Buddhist-y, but here it is: Let's try actually listening to each other, instead of just seeing who can shout the loudest.  Let's get to know some of our neighbors who think differently than we do. And more to the point, find out why they think differently than we do.  How they came to those conclusions.  What pieces of information they considered.  And whether or not they're convinced of the truth of those pieces of information and, if they're not, if they've ever considered any other pieces of information that might point to a different conclusion. And (here's the hard part) let them get to know the same things about us.  And give us the same pieces of information.  After all, we might be wrong about a thing.  It's not unheard of.

In Buddhism we have this thing called "nonattachment to views."  About which there have been lots of words written, but what it basically boils down to is, "I might be wrong.  Therefore I'll listen and see if I can learn something."

How important is nonattachment to views?  Well, Right View is one of the eight things on the Eightfold Path that leads to enlightenment.  And I quote:  "“Right View” is also called “right perspective”, “right vision” or “right understanding.”...You need to see the world and yourself as they truly are, not what you have been conditioned to see."  And nonattachment to views is a big part of this.  In short, if you've grown up, say, in a country that has a dominant religion, and you and your family are of a different religion, you could perhaps be forgiven (at least for a while) for thinking that people of the dominant religion are inherently bad, evil, or otherwise nasty--especially if people of the dominant religion went out of their way to harass, repress and terrorize you.  (And I have no experience with this whatsoever, as I'm sure you know.)  But, once you got out there in the world and met some of the people of this dominant religion, you might learn that they have the same dreams, aspirations and ambitions as you do, that they want all the same things you want, and that just because they believe something other than what you believe, they're all individuals and it's unfair to paint them all with the same bad/evil/nasty brush.  Even if they've done the same to you.  Which, let's face it, a lot of them have.

We have so many choices anymore for our sources of information, and it's easy to get stuck in a bubble by turning only to those sources of information that support things we've already made our minds up about anyway.  Like, say, watching only Fox News, logging in only to Breitbart, and hanging around only with the #tcots on Twitter.  Conversely, you might watch nothing but CNN, log in only to The Daily KOS and hang around only with--with--I'm not sure there's an opposite label from #tcot.  But if there is one, that's the one I mean.

So what am I suggesting, you may ask.  Am I suggesting you watch Fox News for ten minutes a day?  Follow Karl Rove on Twitter? Log in to LifeSite News, for crying out loud?!  Well, yes, sort of, but more to the point, I'm suggesting you actually talk to people.  People people.  Human beings people. People who think differently than you do.  Find out why they think differently.  Ask them what they believe.  Here's a thing--people love talking about what they believe.  Get them started and you probably won't have to say a word for ten minutes or more.  Excellent tip for cocktail parties where you don't know anybody and you're only there to be arm candy for your wife.

And if you can, without being obvious, ask people why they believe what they believe.  And don't take "Because that's what it says in the Bible" as your answer.  Come back with "Okay, but you decided to believe that the Bible is true. When did you decide to do that?  What happened?"  And maybe the person had a born-again experience when he was fourteen or maybe he was in a terrible accident and almost died and thinks that God saved him or maybe he hasn't a clue when he made that decision or why.

Ah, now you are getting somewhere.  You have, after all, just learned something about this person that you didn't know before.  Maybe it will be enough to alter your view of him.  Maybe not, but more to the point, he's learned something too.  About himself as well as about you. If nothing else, he now knows that you're a good listener.  And what's more, you want to learn things.  Curiosity may have killed some feline back 70,000 years ago, but trust me, intellectual curiosity is about the best asset a human being can have.  Besides being a good listener.  I really think that trumps just about everything.

So that's my suggestion.  Maybe it'll work and maybe it won't, but it's certainly worth a try, isn't it? Because breaking up the country isn't only stupid, it would be really expensive.  You think taxes are high now?  Buddy, just wait until Utahville figures out it needs to host the Olympics again  You ain't seen nothin' yet.

*Not a real political action committee, but wouldn't it be interesting if it were.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Random Ramblings

Item:  Getting a state ID card is just as hard, and in this case more so, than getting a driver's license.  The state of Texas is a little confused that you'd give up a license in favor of getting an ID card instead, so they made it super complex.  At least, I think that is the reason. Next...

Item:  I am now the sole driver in the family.  Insurance rates have gone down appreciably, though not as much as you might think. Next...

Item: It's Joan's birthday.  Happy birthday, Joan!!  Next...

Item: This means it will soon be my birthday too.  Joan and I have birthdays exactly one month, one day and one decade apart.  Next...

Item:  We settled the Big Case at my office, finally.  So no Big Trial and there will be some money.  So I asked for a raise and was told "not sure where our cash flow is at this point...want to do something for my people but I don't know what...I'll think about it."  Which was more or less exactly what I thought they'd say.  At least they didn't say, "No, because we don't like you," which is what I always think they're going to say.  Next...

Item: Having more or less successfully painted this here iris, I'm now painting a pic of our kitten, Artemis, looking out the back door.  Wish me luck, this painting involves actual geometry and, you know, math.  Next...

Item:  You can look up how to contact your senator here.  Since the Senate will be debating a bill that will be stripping affordable health insurance away from anyone who has ever sneezed and can't get insurance from an employer, you might want to say a word or two to that person.  Next...

Item:  I have once again figured out that it is a mistake to keep ice cream in the house.  I don't know why I have to find this out over and over again, but I do.  Next...

Item:  I fired our process server, or rather, I'm not sending our process server any more work, which is the same thing as firing him.  Getting permission to fire him, on the other hand, took four months of screw-ups and noncommunication, as well as several meetings and court hearings, and it was like pulling teeth the whole time.  He still owes me two affidavits that I'm probably never going to see. Cautionary advice: DO NOT HIRE FRIENDS TO DO THINGS FOR YOUR BUSINESS.  It makes it hard to fire them if they do a bad job and it drives. your. paralegal. crazy. Next...

Item:  The Alarm is on tour this summer and will be coming to Dallas, Austin and Houston.  I'm very, very tempted to repeat the Epic Big Country Road Trip of 2013 but I probably won't, that was pretty exhausting and I'm driving to Kansas City to see the eclipse a few weeks after that anyway.  Still, it was a lot of fun, and you can check the Alarm tour dates here.  Next...

Item: By the way, there's a total eclipse of the sun on August 21.  If you've never seen such a thing, I suggest you get yourself into the path of totality forthwith.  I have never seen such a thing, but I understand it's pretty awesome and you kind of get why more primitive men thought the moon might be devouring the sun.

And that's how things are going, for the most part.  Updates to follow. Cheers!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Work In Progress

I have this bad habit of starting blog posts and then not finishing them.  Last week I got into full-on rant mode about a letter to Dear Carolyn, where this lady’s husband was disabled (as in, on disability/SSI and unable to work) and her family not only didn’t believe he was disabled, but kept asking him when he was going to get off his lazy ass and get a job.  I mean, excuse me?  They don’t just put you on disability if you walk with a limp, you know.  You have to apply (often more than once) and there are hearings and doctors are called in to testify and, you know, it’s kind of a big deal.

Mind you, the closest I’ve ever come to that situation is where I had sprained my ankle really bad and was limping around on crutches, and I went with my family to dinner and the bartender (really no idea what prompted this) suddenly yelled, “Faker!  She’s faking!” for the whole restaurant to hear.  He’s lucky I didn’t sail a crutch right into his wall of nicely decorated bottles.  I can’t imagine having to deal with that kind of cr@p every DAY.  Much less from family members.  So I got all into a rant about it, but I fizzled out two paragraphs in. I kind of Didn’t Know Where To Go With That. So that was it for that blog post.

Another time I started a blog post about the Buddhist Five Precepts and how they did and didn’t relate to the Ten Commandments and Thich Nhat Hanh’s Five Mindfulness Trainings, but that was just a tiny bit esoteric and it was so boring it put my teeth to sleep.  So that one didn’t get published either.  I don’t think this sort of thing is unique to me; I’ll bet Stephen King has lots of stuff he started writing and then bailed on when he realized he was never going to be able to hook the monster up with the protagonist without a lot of mental gymnastics and an apologetic phone call to Bram Stoker.  (Incidentally, did Bram Stoker answer the phone? Because THAT would make a really good Stephen King story.)

Let’s take painting, for example.  I was just at an art museum a few days ago, and whenever I go to an art museum I invariably want to go home and paint.  I’m working on a picture of an iris (the flower, not the eyeball) and it’s not going to be great; it’s still kind of a work in progress but I can tell that nobody’s ever gonna pay $1.4 million for it at a Sotheby’s auction.  That’s okay, though.  I like painting, it’s fun and I’ve done lots worse.  Once I was taking a class and we had a nude model come in and pose for us.  I was so embarrassed that there was a naked woman in the room that I couldn’t do much more than peek at her every ten minutes or so, and what I painted ended up looking kind of like a gargoyle with a bad case of mange. You can bet that one got gessoed over really fast.  Years from now, after I die, they’ll X-ray my copy of The Beheading of St. John the Baptist by Rubens and find this really bad nude underneath it and wonder what I was thinking. I was probably thinking about how much I wished the model was wearing a dress.  (And speaking of John the Baptist’s head, I did Salome’s nose so many times trying to get it right that she looked like Michael Jackson.  My instructor had to come over and fix it for me.  Imagine, getting a nose job from a painting instructor.)  

The thing about failed first attempts at anything is, you tried it, right?  Lots of people don't bother trying anything (and criticize those who do, for reasons I'm a little unclear on.)  If your first knitted square looks like something the cat threw up, or your first silver white cake collapses in the middle, or your first painting looks like, well, a gargoyle with mange, there's no need to freak out or even show it to anybody.  (Sometimes failed first attempts are good for getting a laugh, though.)  The point is, you did it.  Maybe the next attempt will come out better.  Maybe there won't be a next attempt, because you figured out you never really wanted to learn how to knit in the first place.  But you won't know that unless you give it a try.  I didn't want to write a blog post tonight, for example, but darned if I haven't done one anyway.  Which is a good thing.  And now I'm going back to my painting.  Cheers, all.