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October 21, 2011

Hope?

Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable... Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

When I was a teenager I loved to debate or spout off or hear myself talk. Not chit-chat but substance, important things. They were dramatic times, before and after 1970. We didn’t have formal debating at my high school like my father did—he told me about his days as captain of the Stockton High debating team—but plenty of schoolyard arguments occurred. Logic and rhetoric pitted against logic and rhetoric in a duel to the death. Yessir.

And one of the major questions we discussed, or that I subjected my friends to was/is: Is humanity progressing? Is society improving? Are all the efforts of good people succeeding? Generations dedicating their lives to making a better world, is it working?

Often it doesn’t seem so. We can see the power of a tiny match to destroy a car, house, city, forest pitted against the slow, hard work of building, planting, nurturing, reaping. The symbol of our times is the suicide bomber. Peace explodes in an instant. Back then it was the atom bomb, which destroys without even going off, except twice.

And I still remember my answer: yes, the world is progressing. And I still remember my supporting evidence: because in the 19th century there was a movement against human slavery, many of my relatives were involved with, and it was finally victorious. Human slavery was abolished, erased from the world, our dark past immorality cancelled to allow a brighter future for all, free and equal!

That was my adolescent argument. Now? Now I wish I still believed that. I need to believe that. Why work if not for a better world? For one’s own belly? To keep trudging along towards the hole you can’t wait to jump into? Why hope for better lives for your children? Is yours better now because of your parents’ and grandparents’ sacrifices? It should be or you’re dishonoring their lives.

There’s bad news. Terrifying news. Human slavery is back. It may even be worse now than the African slavery of the 1700-1800’s because it is worldwide and often sexual. Human trafficking doesn’t just reduce people to machines but reduces the bodies of women and children to scorned objects to use, abuse and toss away. It could involve 30 million slaves. It is a devastating scourge.

I'm sure there are many organizations fighting hard against slavery and some governments that take the problem seriously, though most seem silent, that is, acquiescent. Yet the one that's most visible to me is the CNN Freedom Project. It seems courageous compared to every other network that rarely reports on the topic and then only to say it exists, doing nothing about it. Can a news organization get  involved not only in informing but in contrasting such a horror? Guess so. Good luck to them. Want to help? Check out the website. It's not pleasant viewing, but we need to know and act.

Yeah, but what does that do to my theory of 40 years ago? My symbol of human progress has turned worse than ever in only one generation. Maybe all our other hard fought successes will be brutally overturned and crushed. Smallpox pandemic coming up?

It’s all about quality of life, right? Think yours is high, low, good enough? Overworked, stressed, burnt-out, depressed? What’s the root cause, anyway, of sexual slavery, narcotic drug addiction, war and violence everywhere? Deep down, what’s wrong with us? How did we get to be a world of prostitutes, junkies, and killers? I don’t buy human nature as an answer. We can choose. We can be better. Something in the system has failed.

In Italian the expression is: hope is the last thing to die (la speranza è l’ultima a morire). I’d say if you don’t hope you’re already dead, alive but with nowhere to go. So hope? I hope.

Happy trials, Martin


Mutt: Did you know, my friend, that research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate.
Jeff: For the love of Mike, please practice safe eating.
Mutt: How so?
Jeff: Always use condiments.
Mutt: Did you ever hear of Dijon Vu?
Jeff: No, you?
Mutt: Sure it’s the same mustard as before.
Jeff: And a hangover is the wrath of grapes.
Mutt: And a boiled egg in the morning is hard to beat.
Jeff: And bakers trade bread recipes on a knead-to-know basis.
Mutt: They do, but do you know what is small, red and whispers?
Jeff: ‘Fraid not.
Mutt: A hoarse radish.
Jeff: Do you know what turns without moving?
Mutt: ‘Fraid to ask.
Jeff: Milk. It can turn sour.
Mutt: And where does a jellyfish get its jelly?
Jeff: Go on.
Mutt: From ocean currents.
Jeff: Okay then, what do you call cheese that isn't yours?
Mutt: Give.
Jeff: Nacho Cheese.
Mutt: All right, last one. What kind of coffee was served on the Titanic?
Jeff: Go for it.
Mutt: Sanka.
Jeff: And what kind of lettuce?
Mutt: Uh, oh, uh oh, I can hear it coming … ICEBERG!!!

October 15, 2011

Neal in the Members Only Club

Or ‘Neal Plays the Organ’, ‘Neal Bites the Wienie’, ‘Neal and Little Peter’, et cetera.

This is a true story. It’s embarrassing, like most of Neal’s life, but I think both males and females can relate and empathize. Maybe something similar has happened to you.

Neal was having a birthday Saturday. His girl-friend Mitzy wanted to surprise him. What better than a surprise birthday party with about twenty of their best friends? But Neal would suspect, he’d be on guard all day. Friday he wouldn’t be around all day because he had a seminar at work, one of those boring things where you sit all day and drink coffee while some jerk talks about ‘Toyota-style high-efficiency’--in English ‘working harder’--at the company which just cut your pay by 10% for the second time, so that they could save people from lay-offs during the economic crisis without, naturally, cutting pay or benefits for the owners and stock holders. In sum, a day of unbearable hypocrisy.

So Mitzy’s bright idea was to have the surprise birthday party on Friday night. Sounds pretty good, huh? For someone who doesn’t get bright ideas very often, this was a winner. Neal got up and left for the seminar saying he’d be back around 7 or 8 o’clock, suspecting nothing. Then Mitzy and her friends Babs and Jan went to work. They made a devil’s food cake from scratch about two feet high. They made hors d’oeuvres. They mixed punch and arranged colored napkins in circular patterns. Babs brought Martha Stewart magazines for inspiration. They drank the spiked punch and laughed even when there was no joke. It was a beautiful girls day together waiting for Neal. Pop radio on, dancing in the kitchen.

Excuse me, reader, if I interrupt my own story, but have you ever noticed what you never see in films or on television? Unless they’re European or pornographic? Well, you see almost everything, but you rarely see female nudity, lots of tits and asses but little in the genitalia category. That’s fine. Children and the oversensitive might be shocked. But the male apparatus? Ever seen one outside of “Boogie Nights”? Not often, in any case. The penis is alluded to and suggested, but you don’t actually see one hanging there. So my first answer would be the elusive male member. But there’s something even more secretive, more dirty perhaps. Unimaginable but true. Enough suspense already? Breast-feeding. A human mother suckling her young. What perverted morality finds breast-feeding something to hide? Most actresses have done it in real life, but I’ve never seen them do it in a film. Me never.

In Europe and elsewhere, outside the U.S., women will open their blouses and unhook their bras and offer the teat to their babies with no shame or ill-ease. What is it with America that they hide this most beautiful and natural of operations behind a curtain shield or go into a separate room or feel so horribly uncomfortable? I’ve been to parties here in Sicily with mother and child both doing their thing and smiling. It’s nice. That’s what the mammary gland is really for, you know?

Anyway, I digress. Neal is driving home and realizes that he has an urgent need to urinate. It’s nearly unbearable, and he squeezes his legs together to attempt retardance. He’s afraid when he parks under his apartment that he might lose his bladder control while getting out of the car one leg at a time. He squeezes his pants hard enough to cause pain and then carefully steps out. Then he walks on stiff legs and short strides to the door, but can’t find the key. He finds the key. It won’t go into the lock. “Come on, come on, I gotta pee.” He opens the door and gets into the elevator to go up to the fifth floor. “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta pee BAD!”

Neal attempts mental distraction, but cannot think of anything except relief. He attempts his theory of absorption, which is that you can use mind-power to command the urine to flow backwards, until, to quote his high-school buddies, “your back teeth are whistling ‘Anchors Aweigh’.” Nothing works, it’s so bad it hurts. He suspects permanent penile damage unless the situation is reversed in the next few seconds. He opens his apartment door, saying out loud, “Gotta pee, gotta pee, gotta peeeeee!!!” Neal unzips his trousers to save time as he takes the last twenty steps toward the toilet.

Now, my friend Neal is, um, let’s say, well hung, endowed. He has above average length, quite substantially above average. When we were younger and took showers together at the gym, all the males would marvel in envy and yearning for what was probably our double. Or more. Aw, that’s not important. Forget that.

So Neal is walking through his front room with his extensive penis outside his pants, actually squeezing with thumb and forefinger to prevent premature leakage, when the lights flash on, and Mitzy, his beloved, and twenty of his friends, including some colleagues from work, scream on command: SURPRISE!

Neal stands frozen in space. He looks at them looking at his penis. They are as shocked as he is. Finally, he whispers, “Today’s not my birthday.” And runs.

Whether he made it or not to his final destination is not essential to this tale. The point is that what was seen was what should have been seen and is never seen because deemed obscene. Next, a story about breast-feeding, but, unfortunately, Neal will not be the protagonist.

Happy trials, Martin


Mutt:  I was having dinner with Garry Kasporov (world chess champion) and on the table was a checkered tablecloth. It took him two hours to pass me the salt.
Jeff:  I went to a seafood disco rave last week and pulled a mussel.
Mutt:  I know how Christopher Columbus really financed his trip to America.
Jeff:  How?
Mutt:  With the Discover Card.
Jeff:  If you know so much why is Saudi Arabia free of mental illness?
Mutt:  There are nomad people there.
Jeff:  Okay, which president was least guilty?
Mutt:  Lincoln. He is in a cent.
Jeff:  Well, you know everything. Show me where Stalin's buried …
Mutt:  And I'll show you a communist plot.
Jeff:  Have you heard about the lawyers’ word processor?
Mutt:  Of course. No matter what font you select, everything comes out in fine print.
Jeff:  Have you heard about the pharmaceutical company that developed a new drug which, when administered to women, compels them to go join a convent?
Mutt:  I know all about it; the FDA refused to license it, though. Seems it was habit-forming.
Jeff:  You do know them all.
Mutt:  I wrote them all.

October 5, 2011

Curmudgeon’s Joy

Ranting can be a true source of enjoyment and self-entertainment (you thought I wrote this blog for the readers?). My mother used to call it, ‘getting on your soapbox’, and I never miss a chance.

After ringing phones, what other pet peeves can I go on and on ad nauseam about? Hmm, I know, fireworks. I strongly dislike fireworks. I don’t revile them; I’ve watched fireworks many times and enjoyed them occasionally. They are extremely common here in Messina, almost a nightly, certainly a weekly occurrence. The best fireworks show I ever saw was midsummer in West Yellowstone, Montana, right over the airport where we parked and laid down on the car hood. It seemed like we were part of the explosive color spectacle. It went on and on, wasting money for tourism. The worst was in Hermosillo, Mexico, where they shot them straight up over the crowd of thousands and they came straight down, starting fires and killing people right in front of me.

What is the point of fireworks? Nothing. We shoot rockets that blow up just to watch them. They can be beautiful or terrifying, if, for example, you, like me, saw the Challenger explosion live. Exploding stuff is an extremely popular form of entertainment for most people. Entire films are based on it, mere excuses to blow stuff up.

But not everything that blows up is fun. I was in Zimbabwe during the Civil War, as you can read about if you scan down about a year, and every day we heard bombs going off and machine gun fire, grenades, small arms and land mines, out in the country, over the copse, just outside our compound. On the one hand, I was too young to feel as frightened as I should have, we had assurances from both sides that we were in a safe zone, but, on the other, I got the disturbing sensation of hearing a war being fought within a mile of me every day. It shook the earth.

Then I went to Angola. I didn’t want to, but I had no choice. It was 1975 during the violent transition of power from the Portuguese to the African government. All factions against each other and all against the Portuguese who just picked up and ran. It was bloody chaos.

I was flying from Johannesburg to Rio de Janeiro, and the pilot announced we’d be stopping briefly for humanitarian reasons, to pick up refugees, Portuguese and foreigners escaping for their lives. Flying low over Luanda, we saw fires and battles, smoke and destruction. The city was being rocked and shelled, as were we.

They took us off the plane; we were scared we wouldn’t get back on. I looked out on the runway and saw a man offering a bag of cash to a small plane pilot who had bullet holes all over his plane. In another section of the terminal, thousands of people were pressed to the glass hoping to get onto our plane. We only had about 8 or 10 empty seats. After hours listening to the shelling around us, we got back to our places and took off and flew over the Atlantic. Safely.

Then I was in Israel or Palestine a couple years later, aware of the conflicts without understanding the exact dynamic. I was camping by myself on the Sea of Galilee, not far from the border with Lebanon and somewhere near Syria and Jordan. I slept under a lone tree by the water, knowing there were armed adversaries all around me. In the night, bombs awoke me. This time I was stunned because I didn’t know whether to get out of my sleeping bag and which way to run to get out of the middle of the battle.

Maybe this was the end, I was in or near the middle of a series of explosions I couldn’t identify or understand. It was pitch black. I imagined Israelis and Palestinians shooting machine guns over my head. The bombs or grenades almost blew my ears out. My eyes focused in the dark. I saw a boat on the water near the shore. Coming at me? Are they all trying to kill little ol’ me?

After straining my eyes and sleepy mind, I finally got it. I’d heard about this but never seen it done. The middle-of-the-night fishermen were using dynamite to kill or stun all the fish in the area and scoop them up, easy but disastrous for the future of fishing in that giant lake. Oh man, you guys scared me to death. Damn dynamite. Damn Galilee fishermen.

So, having been in three wars already, without fighting myself, I hear those thuds and booms and am reminded every time of the real thing, not the simulation. Flowers of sparkles in the dark sky is a nice idea, but it is just too similar to the sights and sounds of war, pain, death.

Anything else I can bitch about? I’ll let you know.

Happy trials, Martin


Mutt:  How about this weather we’ve been having?
Jeff:  Everybody complains, but nobody does anything about it.
Mutt:  If a farmer raises wheat in dry weather, what does he raise in wet weather?
Jeff:  An umbrella?
Mutt:  Question: What kind of coat can be put on only when wet? Don’t know? I’ll tell you. A coat of paint.
Jeff:  What do you call a frightened skindiver? I’ll tell you. Chicken of the sea.
Mutt:  Good one. How can a leopard change his spots?
Jeff:  Oh, I don’t know, by moving?
Mutt:  Very good, my man.
Jeff:  My turn. What day of the year is a command to go forward?
Mutt:  Huh?
Jeff:  March 4th.
Mutt:  What did the razor blade say to the razor? No guess? Schick 'em up!
Jeff:  I don’t get it. Uh, what has four wheels and flies?
Mutt: P.U. A garbage truck.
Jeff:  You like the old ones, huh?
Mutt:  Okay, what goes up into the air white and comes down yellow and white?
Jeff:  I know this, but can’t remember.
Mutt:  An egg.
Jeff:  Oh yeah.
Mutt: What four letters could end a game of hide and seek?
Jeff:  O. I. C. U. You still play hide and seek?
Mutt:  With my wife I do. All right, here’s a great one.
Jeff:  Really?
Mutt:  Yeah. What is the difference between a cat and a comma?
Jeff:  No idear.
Mutt:  A cat has claws at the end of its paws, and a comma has a pause at the end of its clause.
Jeff:  Did your English teacher tell you that?
Mutt:  My English teacher has no sense of humor.
Jeff:  They never do.