Monday, January 30, 2006

State of the Union


Tomorrow night, our nation’s president will be issuing his annual State of the Union Address. It got me to thinking…

Exactly what is the state of our union? See, I don’t really expect the president to answer that question. Not with any real specificity anyway. Oh, sure he’ll give a list of all the great progress we have made in our various and sundry endeavors domestically and around the world, but what is the state of our union at the very local, very personal level?

Of course, that depends on whom you ask. Assessment depends on perspective. It’s how one views the world and how those events affect one in real and abstract terms. If I have loved ones in Iraq then the foreign policy in respect to the “war on terrorism” has a direct and personal impact on my daily life. If I don’t, then it still may have an effect, but in a more abstract way and probably not as a constant presence that I am sure those closer to the conflict feel. The state of the union on this topic may, to some, only be a matter of policy discussion rather than life and death.

Then there is the matter of the Supreme Court. It appears that the court is about to take a tilt towards the right. How does this affect the state of the union? To some, at a very personal level, this shift spells disaster – today! It bears on their every waking moment. I am with those that do not take this recent turn of events as an immediate threat. Besides the total unpredictability of how justices will view cases, the court does not have the power or the inclination to be overturning precedent willy-nilly. Indeed, it is the only branch of government that has adhered to any ethical standards and not been immersed in scandal after scandal after scandal.

How about the economy? There’s an issue that should be near and dear to pretty much everybody. Bush will say that the economy is growing, that so many new jobs have been created, that the tax cuts for the rich and the spending cuts for the poor are working. The vocal rich will agree, the silent poor won’t and those in the middle are just plugging away. The establishment does not pay too much attention to those on the fringe. The victims of Enron, the victims of Katrina and the victims of government are no longer front-page news. If you are not among them, the state of your union is not so bad.

It is true that we get outraged on a regular basis. We cry foul, we stomp our feet and we scream, “No fair!” There is a brief period of intense pressure and then it goes away. The status quo re-asserts itself and we go on about our happy, ignorant lives. Almost all of us. In the wake of these outrages are those left behind. Those whose life savings went into the pockets of those who are using that money to mount multi-million dollar defenses. Those who are making payments on homes that will never be rebuilt. Those who are dying in Iraq. And... those who are paying attention.

So tell me, what is the State of your Union?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Warren's Court


Life and liberty can be as much endangered from illegal methods used to convict those thought to be criminals as from the actual criminals themselves.

Earl Warren

Friday, January 27, 2006

James Frey and the case of The Smoking Gun #2


Now more than famous, the infamous James Frey made another and probably his last appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It is safe to conclude that the love fest is over. Oprah was visibly upset. No – let’s call it what it is – she was pissed. She had to do something she was not used to doing: Admit she was wrong and apologize. Not for her original endorsement, she could have just been a victim like everyone else that believed Frey, but for her defense after the truth was revealed.

It is not unfair to say that Oprah brought this on herself. She could have waited before throwing her considerable clout behind the defense of Mr. Frey and his book. She could have paid attention to the Larry King interview and saw what I believe the rest of the world saw: An author fielding the softest of softball questions and still squirming. Evading questions, answering in ambiguity and playing games with semantics are not the tactics of an honest man.

Oprah claims her judgment was clouded, that she too was swept up by the fervor that she helped create. Perhaps. I happen to have a great deal of respect for what she has done in her life although not necessarily in form, definitely in substance. Thus being the case, I am willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Yes, that means I have doubt. But I feel that she has earned at least one pass, a “get out of jail free card” as it were, a mulligan.

However, granting her the benefit of excuse does not relieve her of the direct consequences of her statement of support. That is to say that there is a penalty for picking a losing horse, but not always one for the negligence in picking it. And Oprah felt a wrath heretofore foreign to her. Many gave her credit for stepping up and doing the right thing. They say it took courage. I don’t know about that. I think she had little choice and indeed it was, in a backhanded way, a boost to an already lofty persona.

Suffice it to say that Oprah took responsibility for a variety of reasons, among then the right ones. And she was tough – and Frey squirmed. He was not having a good time, yet he continued to lie. He has not learned how to tell the truth. He is claiming only what he thinks he has to. He is admitting the bare minimum and it isn’t enough. He makes excuse after excuse after excuse. I guess he wants us to feel sorry for him after all he went through. Spare me!

As I knew from the very first time I got wind of his book, Mr. Frey is not capable of telling the truth. He lied yesterday, the day before and quite probably has been doing it all of his life. In his defense, if he had come clean about everything, there would be scant factual material left. He still should have. He’s already rich; his fame is pretty well established, why not come clean? Maybe he doesn’t think he has to. Perhaps it’s too big a pill to swallow. For whatever reason, it is clear that he intends to hold on to everything he can.

Oprah may have been able to wait for the hoopla to die down. She may have been able to ignore the whole mess and let it die a natural death. However, after her rush to stand behind him live on Larry King, by validating Frey’s “essential” or “emotional” truth, she endorsed dishonesty by default. Although she quite probably could have weathered the criticism leveled at her, it struck at one of her core beliefs and, to her credit and for what I believe are sincere and genuine reasons, felt compelled to set the record straight. She said she was duped. She was not alone. Nevertheless, some of us smelled this rat a mile away.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

State Hornet


I know that I can be a little abrasive at times. I have opinions and sometimes I exhibit little tolerance when expressing them. I was given some sage advice quite sometime ago: Don’t submit anything in writing until I have had a chance to sit on it for a while and read it over. It’s advice that I must admit I rarely follow.

There was a recent feature article in our campus newspaper (The State Hornet) about the many winter activities in the nearby Lake Tahoe area. The article was poorly researched and was obviously written by someone who had no prior knowledge about the area or skiing and snowboarding. There is an opportunity to register comments at the end of any given article on the on-line edition of the paper. I took the opportunity to voice my objections. You can read the article here: NorCal ski, snowboard options are plentiful .

My response was:

Wow, I've been skiing and snowboarding for many years all over the Northern California Sierras, but I must admit this feature article has some facts that I didn't know.

First, I am simply amazed that Squaw Valley at 91 miles away can be 42 miles closer than it's next-door neighbor, Alpine Meadows? News to me!

Sugar Bowl has California's first ski lift. It must be a mighty old lift! I wonder where they find spare parts? (It's long gone with only a very few scattered remnants remaining).

Sierra-at-Tahoe has "46 slopes and trails?" What may I ask, defines a "slope?" Mountains generally don't have any more than 4 slopes... north, south, east and west. A slope and a trail, at least in reference to skiing and snowboarding, are not synonyms.

As close as we are to the snow country and with the vast number of winter sports enthusiasts in the area, it should be no problem for a reporter, even a reporter with limited resources, to obtain accurate information.

Internet research is an important tool in news reporting. It should not be, however, the sole source for a story, even a feature story. Simply looking at a road map would have raised questions regarding the mileage figures given for Squaw and Alpine. (When there is no snow, it is a short hike... a very short hike from one to the other). Imagine that, using a simple map to verify facts.

I am not expecting much, if anything more from the Hornet this semester than it delivered last semester. Nor do I intend to waste my valuable time pointing out its endless foibles. However, fortunately for both of us, it is at this point in the beginning of the semester that I have ample time to provide this service. No, no – no thanks necessary.


It was submitted with my first and last name and my email. I think it is obvious that I had far too much free time. Anyway, when checking for responses to my comment, I found this the next day:

Michael, since your time is so "valuable", perhaps you should spend your it doing something else, rather than bashing journalism students via the internet. If you don't like it, don't read it. Until next time, please, shut your mouth.

First name only, just short of complete anonymity. Well, if there could be anything written more poorly than the original article, this comment was it. Of course, I had to respond:

Kevin (last name and email unknown),

First, I am a journalism student (government-journalism to be precise). I pride myself on my accuracy – if I’m writing about something I know nothing about, I gather all the information available before I write one word – or I won’t write anything. As far as my “bashing” through the Internet (capital “I”, by the way), well you can call it what you want, and perhaps your right. I guess I shouldn’t hurt their feelings. I mean that never happens in the real world. For the record, I’ve been known to “bash” the pros too, although they don’t call it that.

“If you don’t like it, don’t read it. Until next time, please, shut your mouth.”

This is a direct quote Kevin. I keep reading it and reading it and no matter how many times I read it, I can’t quite figure out what you mean. How can I know whether I like it or not if I don’t read it? Although I have yet to use my “mouth,” I’ll assume that is a metaphor for any form of communicating. I get that, but not the until next time part. It’s like saying don’t say anything until you say something. Huh? Like there’s any other option.

Fortunately for both of us, any time I have for future bashing will be limited. I’ll keep my mouth shut until then.


So what do you think? Am I a total a**hole? Could I or should I have tempered my comment and response? I wouldn’t ask if I didn’t care. Any feedback, pro or con, will be considered and appreciated. Thank You.

News From the Front-

Détente is holding. It appears to be more of a border skirmish than a full-blown war. The shaky truce yesterday has become, at least for today, a deeper understanding of each other’s positions. I wonder if it is contagious. I wonder if the governments and peoples of the world will ever be able to achieve a respect and understanding of the cultures of others that will allow for some peace and harmony on the world stage.

I am not talking about just our government. Sure, it has taken plenty of heat and rightly so, but we sure aren't alone in our myopic view of the world. Other countries and governments have been at war or at war simply because of differences between them. And for what, oil, wealth, power? Naw - none of the above. It's fear. Fear of those that are different. My kids yesterday exercised what was for them, full-scale war over nothing. They're kids, we're not.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

And In This Corner...

My heart is still pounding. Not even five minutes ago, I broke up not one, but two knock down, drag out fights between my two youngest sons. They are 16 and 18 and trying to break up a fight between them is like trying to put out a forest fire with a squirt gun. And I’m afraid it is not over… I don’t believe for a moment that anything was settled. Although either of them would claim otherwise, there was no “winner.”

So what’s a father to do? I fear for their safety, as they are quite capable and probably willing to seriously hurt one another. They are kids. They do not consider the consequences of their actions. For now there is a tentative cease-fire; a precarious truce that may not hold without my intervention. I am now wearing the hat of the peacekeeper. However, at the moment, I am the only one who wants peace. The boys are in their neutral corners with fire in their eyes waiting for the bell to ring. My job? Keep that bell from ringing.

Sibling rivalry takes many forms. One thing they all have in common is the angst the parents surely must feel. I love my kids equally and unconditionally and despite recent events, I know they love each other too. They have shown it time and time again. I just wish they could remember some of those times as clearly as I do. It is also clear that the spark that touched all this off has little to nothing to do with the conflict. The pressure has been building for some time.

It is in this light that I can feel some sympathy and regret for the many similar affairs my own parents had to endure. My mother always used to say, “Wait till you have kids of your own.” Yet again, I understand although I am quite sure she has no desire for me to suffer through this as some form of karmic payback. It’s just part of the deal.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Back At It

A promise is a promise. Although I posted yesterday that I would throw out something new today, it was more a promise to myself than anything. Since I value integrity in others, I feel it is important to exhibit it myself. To that end – today’s thoughts:

After the first two days of the new semester at Sac State, I have attended the first session of all five of my classes. They are: Constitutional Law, and California State & Local Government on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and Politics – Opinion & Participation and News Reporting I & II on Tuesday and Thursday. 15 units total. According to the formula of 3 hours homework for every unit I can expect to have 135 hours of work on a weekly basis… in addition to the 15 of class time.

Now, I know that this formula is grossly inflated and that in reality I’ll be spending considerably less time on homework than that. However, in my journalism classes (news reporting I & II, which in reality is one 6 unit class) my professor emphasized that this estimate is dead-on. I have every reason to believe her. My other classes will involve a lot of reading, especially constitutional law where we will be reading many complete Supreme Court cases (not the brief, not the summary, not the majority, concurring or dissenting opinions, but the whole damn case!).

This semester, more than any thus far, is intimidating to put it mildly. Looking at it from two days in is daunting. However, of the many, many lessons I’ve learned through experience is that although it is no illusion – it is a huge amount of work, it doesn’t have to be done all in one day. In other words, my job for today is to today’s work. That’s it. Tomorrow will come soon enough and when it does I’ll deal with it. If I focus on everything I have to do for the next four or five months I’ll be looking at an insurmountable pile of work.

Furthermore, although in retrospect less so, last semester (16 units) looked just as formidable at the beginning. I felt overwhelmed but plugged away day by day and not only survived it in one piece, but did so with a 3.94 GPA (4 As and an A-). So I know I can do it. I know the road looks much longer looking ahead than it will be looking back. I’ve been here before; I know how to do this. And I know that the rewards of work, patience and perseverance will be felt internally in a few short weeks.

Now I gotta git to work…

Monday, January 23, 2006

Hmmm...

God put me on this earth to accomplish a certain number of things. Right now I am so far behind that I will never die.

~Bill Watterson


I'll post something original tomorrow sometime. Promise!

Mike

From the Mouths of Bears


The Bare Necessities

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
Old Mother Nature's recipes
That brings the bare necessities of life

Wherever I wander, wherever I roam
I couldn't be fonder of my big home
The bees are buzzin' in the tree
To make some honey just for me
When you look under the rocks and plants
And take a glance at the fancy ants
Then maybe try a few

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

Look for the bare necessities
The simple bare necessities
Forget about your worries and your strife
I mean the bare necessities
That's why a bear can rest at ease
With just the bare necessities of life

Now when you pick a pawpaw
Or a prickly pear
And you prick a raw paw
Next time beware
Don't pick the prickly pear by the paw
When you pick a pear
Try to use the claw
But you don't need to use the claw
When you pick a pear of the big pawpaw
Have I given you a clue ?

The bare necessities of life will come to you
They'll come to you!

So just try and relax, yeah cool it
Fall apart in my backyard
'Cause let me tell you something little britches
If you act like that bee acts, uh uh
You're working too hard

And don't spend your time lookin' around
For something you want that can't be found
When you find out you can live without it
And go along not thinkin' about it
I'll tell you something true

The bare necessities of life will come to you

-Terry Gilkyson

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Oh!

If 'pro' is the opposite of 'con' what is the opposite of 'progress'?

-Paul Harvey

Inner Peace

I am spending part of my afternoon in my favorite coffee shop just watching the world go by. It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon -if a little breezy and chilly (for Sacramento, chilly is the mid 50s). At the moment, I really don’t have a care in the world. Life is good.

Relaxing has traditionally been a challenge for me. If I wasn’t thinking about what I should be doing, I’d be thinking about what I have done, what I have not done or what I should’ve done. Past, future… never present. So I am grateful just to be able to sit here as the letters cascade onto my iBook’s screen and just be. In reality, I’m not writing about much of anything but rather, just translating what I feel into words.

The path that delivered me to this very spot, this moment was indeed a long and winding road and not without it’s share of bumps, detours and dead-ends. As I review this endeavor which is my life thus far, I do not feel regret. I have been graced with what I may not deserve and been granted mercy in that I did not experience some of which I surely do. Life will again become a very busy place for me very shortly, but for now I can cherish this moment.

As I will the next, for it is all there is to work with. If I am not positively excited about where I am right now, I am only cheating myself. My serenity is my responsibility. This is my obligation to myself, one I did not honor or take seriously at all until I was well into my life. Perhaps it is a function of maturity or that experience at some point will bring about an awakening of the spirit. Somewhere along the way life became worth living, not again, but period.

This may come as a shock to those close to me. In fact, I could see where some may even take offense at this. My family, especially my kids might think to themselves “what am I, chopped liver?” No, you’re not. I just never quite understood what life was all about; never really knew who I was and did what I thought I was supposed to do never really understanding why. It was nobody’s fault and it sure doesn’t minimize one iota what those loved ones mean to me. Actually, my awareness allows me to appreciate them all the more.

The plain and simple fact is just this and nothing more: Unless and until I can know and accept myself in this brief instance in time and cherish it like the once in a lifetime occurrence that it is, I will find no peace. I can’t be ok tomorrow and I can’t change yesterday. But now, right now – I am at peace.

Brand Loyalty


For years and years I used Microsoft based PCs. My first computer was a 286 Widows 2.x machine (actually it was a Commodore 64 a few years earlier, but that has nothing to do with this!). There were DIP switches on all the ad-on boards to set the interrupts and memory locations so that they wouldn’t interfere with one another. A 1 MEG memory module was the biggest available and my machine had four of them. Memory was just about to become a very expensive commodity (about $50 per MEG). The very largest hard drives were measured in megabytes, not gigabytes. At the same time, there was this machine from Apple called a Macintosh.

As the computer industry grew, I leaned much from constantly tinkering on my PC. As components became available, I added them on. Modems, sound cards, CD-ROM drives… I even had one of the first CD writers. As faster processors, improved and larger memory, bigger hard drives, and new operating systems were introduced, I kept up. Everyone came to me with their computer issues. I was the local guru. All the while, this Macintosh thing was building a loyal fan base, but I never paid too much attention.

Eventually, networking became all the rage. Server software from Novell (Netware) and Microsoft (NT) made local area networks accessible to smaller and smaller concerns. The company I worked for at the time was in need of an improved computer system. We had been using an older Netware PC system when we decided to move to Ethernet connectivity (we were on Arc net) and the brand new Windows NT 3.5 Server. At the same time we upgraded the workstations to Windows for Workgroups. Meanwhile, the Macintosh was moving happily along in the artsy and graphics world.

Around this time, the World Wide Web was beginning to really take off. In the early days, it was all pretty much dial-up and oh so very slow. The primary consumer Internet service provider was AOL (there were others such as CompuServe and Prodigy before, but AOL brought user-friendliness to a whole new level). Although I was not much in tune with what was going on in the Mac world, I believe that it was around this time that Apple had fallen upon some hard times and didn’t play a very visible role. Apple did, however, still enjoy a loyal following.

Fast-forward – 2004. By this time I had been tinkering with PCs for a very long time. I had come to a point in my life where I just couldn’t continue to keep up with the technology. Not financially and not professionally. I had by this time received some formal training on the Windows NT 4.x platform and, once again, didn’t do anything with it (read my previous posts). I knew a lot about PCs, but was not working in the field and therefore let the technology leave me in the dust. By the end of 2004, I was constantly battling viruses, spam, pop-ups and spy ware. It was an ongoing battle just to keep my machine well. Meanwhile, the Mac had made a resurgence and I was coming into contact with many users that repeatedly extolled its virtues and I began to wonder, “what if it’s true?”

On the advice of one of his friends, my father purchased a 15” iBook G3 some time in 2003. By the end of 2004, he wanted to be able to burn DVDs and upgraded to a G4. He asked me if I wanted his old G3 and I figured “why not?” I felt that, although I was a PC/Windows devote´, it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. I knew next to nothing about the OS, its conventions or what in the heck was up with a mouse with only one button! I fiddled around with it and taught myself enough to get around and found it fairly simple to get used to. I still relied on my PC, but it was not long before it was relegated to a back-up machine.

And it stayed there until I moved last June. Now it’s in my garage or parted out or maybe thrown away. I’m not real sure what happened to it to be honest. I don’t really care. My Mac (I’m on my second now, I gave the G3 to my son) doesn’t give me a lick of trouble. Pop-ups are almost non-existent. The spam filter (it’s “Junk” on the Mac) is second to none. Viruses? What viruses? And no spy ware. It’s fast, reliable and compatible with everything I do (MS Office mostly). Here’s the kicker – I don’t know nuthin’ about what’s going on under the hood. I am an END-USER! YES!

To be fair, there are some disadvantages. Software availability is not as extensive. They are more expensive. Some hardware is not compatible. These and other drawbacks, in my humble opinion, are a small price to pay for the freedom of being able to turn my machine on – use it – turn it off – and do it again tomorrow day after day after day. No tweaking, maintaining or improving. Ahhhh!

Brand loyalty is a funny thing. Had I been open to anything not Microsoft/PC, I may have discovered the benefits the Mac had to offer long ago. I wasn’t even looking for an answer to the frustrations I was experiencing, I just accepted them. I used to feel the same way about a great many products, services and stores throughout my life. This experience has shown me that there are always options and not to settle for what I knew yesterday.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Familiar Stranger

I read and walked for miles at night along the beach, writing bad blank verse and searching endlessly for someone wonderful who would step out of the darkness and change my life. It never crossed my mind that that person could be me.

- Anna Quindlen

Friday, January 20, 2006

Books and More

I’m sitting in the beautiful park-like setting in the middle of the Sac State campus. Ok, perhaps not as beautiful as say Stanford or Haaaavard or UC San Diego, but for being smack dab in the middle of Sacramento’s urban sprawl, it’s a veritable oasis. One thing that is very cool is that this whole campus is in a wifi hot zone. It’s not free, you have to be enrolled, but it is part of the fees, whether I use it or not. There is something surreal about having broadband access to the world while watching the squirrels scurry about.

School doesn’t start until Monday, but the preliminaries are in full swing. Today, I bought my books (most of them) and my parking pass and parted with about $500.00. I guess that’s ok considering that state and federal grants covered them and my tuition. And the check came yesterday! Judging by the quantity and the girth of my books, it will be a big reading semester.

The campus is relatively empty bright now, parking wasn’t an issue, but come Monday it will be a madhouse. Still I can’t get over or used to the vast difference in age between most of my collegiate peers and myself. It wasn’t like that at the JC (American River College). At the JC, there are many more of my generation that have returned to school to improve their lot in life. I don’t know if their goals end at the associate level, they are there solely for vocational skills or if they found returning to the world of academia too challenging. Perhaps finding the time, what with work, family and all, is too much. I just know they aren’t here.

What is true is that my experience in school today is far different than when I was in my late teens and early 20s. My focus is better and in a huge sense, many of the distractions that garnered my attention are not a factor now. I have no need or desire for the social activities associated with the college experience. What I know from my days at San Diego State is that these activities demand a significant amount of time. Those that can moderate fair much better than those that can’t. It’s a balancing act that left me dizzy. Needless to say, I didn’t succeed.

Perhaps if I had some idea of what I wanted to be when I grew up it would have helped. Don’t get me wrong, part of the college experience is and should be about striking out on one’s own, making adult decisions, lasting friendships and memories. It’s just that, in my case, the primary reason for attending college was largely absent. I guess that since I fulfilled this aspect of college life and because I have a social network of friends and activities already in place, my need for this type of inclusion has not materialized. Still, at times, I find it odd and a little unsettling.

Be that as it may, my path for the immediate future is defined. I am on my way to achieving something that I always knew I was smart enough for, but never thought I would accomplish. I had my doubts whether I had the discipline to stay with a long-term goal. My need for instant gratification had me abandoning most everything before sufficient time or effort had been invested to see any lasting rewards. And, unfortunately, I see me in a few of the kids on campus today.

Just moments ago, a young man that couldn’t have been more than 20 sat down at this very bench and we started talking. He saw my stack of books and asked about my major, how many units, etc. He told me that he took 16 units last semester, but only passed 9 of them (B-, B-, C-). He faired better than I did at SDSU 22 years ago. While we were talking, he was on the phone and was approached by two of his friends. Obviously, his social life was in much better shape than his academic life. And… he looked a little dizzy.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

What It's All About

You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.

- Tom Brokaw

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

James Frey and the case of The Smoking Gun

I am offended. The recent revelations regarding James Frey’s “memoir,” “A Million Little Pieces,” has had me doing back-flips in my head for the past week. I haven’t read the book, nor do I intend to. I don’t need to – my life is far more interesting, inspirational and real than, as it turns out, his is. Telling the truth is IMPORTANT. It is a huge stretch between protecting individuals by changing names places and dates, not remembering specific chronology, specific dialogue, etc. and fabricating events that never occurred. I am offended.

Without going into a lot of details, I knew that many of his claims (from interviews, second hand retellings from his book and reviews) were fabricated. I know this from having experienced many similar events first hand. The little details didn’t add up. To those that have not gone through such situations, these events may seem plausible, even credible. What he has done is akin to plagiarism. He has appropriated other’s experiences and made them his own.

Look, I have many friends who have spent time in prison (state and federal), and many more (myself included) that have done significant time in many local county jails. They are NOT the same world. I am intimately familiar with many of the aspects of day-to-day prison life. I could, if I so desired, write a compelling and believable account of what that is like. Believable to all but those who have been there. Experience cannot be duplicated by proximity.

So I questioned the veracity of Mr. Frey’s accounts long before The Smoking Gun did their first rate expose´ of him. Now more than just a sneaking suspicion or a “feeling,” evidence has my back. Besides discrediting what Mr. Frey claims to be “less than five percent of the book,” it brings the entire book into question. Unfortunately, because many of the witnesses, sources, etc. are conveniently unavailable, these claims will never be subject to objective scrutiny. However, as Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who doesn't take truth seriously in small matters cannot be trusted in large ones either,” it casts reasonable doubt upon everything he says, in or out of his book.

As far as Oprah, Doubleday, Larry King or Frey's blindly devoted fans are concerned, ask yourself whether this is what you expect from non-fiction. If so, perhaps I should choose another genre. When I write, you may count on it being the truth. If non-fiction no longer means truthful, then perhaps I will start a new genre - “honest non-fiction.” And if that becomes tainted, it’ll become “really honest non-fiction, honest.” And so on. I’m sticking by my guns. I firmly believe that if a book is bought under the pretense that it is truthful, it better be just that, no matter what anyone else says.

Mike

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

On Blogging...

I think I like it. Blogging has got me reading more, writing more and thinking more. The feedback so far has been encouraging. I have run across some excellent writing, which gives me inspiration and some hope. Hope that the new illiteracy that is all the rage today is, at least for now, perhaps not the norm. Although I have been journaling for some time, and I am working towards a BA in journalism (government-journalism actually, I’m a glutton for punishment!), blogging is different and quite frankly, refreshing.

When I journal, it is hand-written and primarily documents the events of my day and how I felt about them. It was never meant to be read by anyone else. In fact, I don’t even read it myself. I may publish parts of it if I ever complete my memoir, but in light of recent events regarding the authenticity of memoir, this is not likely to happen anytime soon. Essentially, journaling in this format was a useful tool at a time in my life when I was trying to get my thoughts straight. It is not part of my normal day today.

Most of the other writing I do is for school. As one might expect, I am learning the art of news writing. I am surprised that I find this sort of writing exciting and much more challenging than I thought. Objectivity is not so easy for me and I have found that it requires some skill not only to be truly objective, but also to appear objective. I have also written a number of research papers, essays and the like. Al have been written in the same style - mine - and have received excellent marks.

My favorite format is opinion; I am essentially an essayist. I do not write fiction and only read it occasionally. I enjoy any well thought out opinion, whether or not I agree with it. I can’t stand hyperbole, propaganda, disinformation or the honestly uninformed. Indeed, if argued convincingly, I am not too proud or stubborn to modify my position. A true seeker of knowledge knows that s/he doesn’t know it all. But, I also know BS when I see it; I don’t like having smoke blown up my ass. Do your homework, get your facts straight and most importantly THINK – then we can talk.

All of this brings me to what I had set out to write about this morning. A very flattering comment was made on my last post (Thank you!) and at the end I was asked how I had come across her blog. It took me a few minutes to piece together the chain of links that took me to it. On one of my early posts, someone who was just surfing through blogs randomly found mine and commented on it. I in turn checked hers out and consequently read the comments attached to her posts. I then went to those blogs checked out their posts/comments and so on and continued on my merry way. She found mine the same way I found hers – by following the link from the comments, although I followed hers from someone else’s blog (I think it was Zombieslayer).

Therefore, if I have commented on your blog, I probably found it interesting, informed and well written – and it is bookmarked. If you logged a comment on mine, chances are very good that I have visited your blog and considered what you had to say. If I haven’t commented it doesn’t mean that I think you are dumb or illiterate. I may not have had the time or been sufficiently compelled to respond. However, chances are very good that if I have heard from you, you have heard from me.

The new semester at Sac State starts on Monday. I can’t wait. I don’t know how much time I’ll be able to commit to my newest distraction, put hopefully enough to keep up with my new compadres. At the very least, I am sure I’ll have time to write about the trials and tribulations of a 43 year-old college junior. Truth is always stranger than fiction!

Half Full

I am becoming one of those people I used to despise. People that were eternally positive, always viewed the glass as half-full and were able to be grateful for the mundane used to piss me off. How could they be so happy all the time? I just didn’t get it. To say that I was resentful would be an understatement. It was envy, really, and I masked it with a false sense of superiority – actually looking down upon them for having boring, uneventful lives. In reality, it was I who was missing out on life.

Denial is a dandy defense mechanism. It allowed me to take my lumps and attribute it to my chosen lifestyle of non-conformity, rebelliousness and recklessness. Because I chose to exercise my “freedom” I had an extremely high threshold for pain and took pride in the fact that no mater how bad it got, I could take it. It was only after years of living life on the fringe that the pain (emotional as well as physical) got to a level that some changes began to take place.

I sometimes feel guilty that my life is so good today. Where I once was full of self-pity and would lament “why me,” I ask myself the very same question in absolute amazement. Some exceedingly traumatic events have occurred in my life, and I don’t believe chance had much, if anything to do with them. That means that there was a cause, a reason why these events took place. Part of my changed outlook was in determining what the cause was.

It didn’t happen overnight. It was not a sudden flash of inspiration or insight. It didn’t come to me in one single moment of clarity. I had to get beyond the years of denial I had lived in and see beyond myself to realize that there was one cause and one cause only for my apparent “bad luck.” My disenchantment with life, my disillusionment of what it was supposed to be and my lack of direction, purpose or respect for those that were following the rules and “getting it” all came from the same source: Me.

I have written about this before and will repeat it here again. Entitlement. For some reason, I got it in my head at a very early age that my life was supposed to be good. I’m not sure why, but this was what I thought. I did what I wanted to do and when it came to any sense of responsibility, good enough was good enough. I was never happy, never satisfied, always wanting – no, needing – more. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough. As a result, my expectations were never met.

I took most everything for granted. Everything was based in monetary wealth. I measured myself by the “stuff” I had. No matter how much I had acquired, I always felt deficient. I used to say, half-jokingly, “sure, money can’t buy love, but it can rent it for a while.” The problem is that when it came to love, friendship, personal worth, self esteem, community, etc, I felt that the way to measure the man was to look inside his wallet. I had the best friends money could buy and ironically enough – the true friends were underpaid. Fortunately or not, there weren’t too many of them.

If it sounds like I was a terrible person, I would like to say that perhaps I am being too hard on myself. Oh, sure there are those that may say I am not being hard enough, the point is that although I can look back and see what my life had become, it was not in anyway intentional. I mean, I had no clue as to how, when or why my perspective had become so materialistic. I was not exactly what you would call arrogant nor was I particularly rude or disrespectful. I was simply living by what I thought the rules were and, by and large, associating with those of the same ilk. I knew there were those leading productive, successful lives – I just didn’t think I had it in me.

So things have quite obviously changed. It feels like it has been a very, very long time since I have had a bad day. When in reality not long ago it was difficult to call even part of a day good, this amounts to a monumental change in my life. I have surrendered to listen to what that small inner-voice has to say. That voice is referred to as many things from a conscience to God, but whatever it is (I’ll save my thoughts on that for another time), it only wants the best for me and directs me to that end.

There is, of course, so very much more to it, but boiled down to the essential truth (the real truth, not the truth according to James Frey), this is the foundation of my optimism – and my wealth. The deal is that if I stay present, accountable, speak with honesty and walk with integrity, them I get to live happy, joyous and free. Sign me up!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Fear

It’s overcast, damp and a little chilly – for Sacramento anyway. There’s not too much going on today, my calendar is wide open. School doesn’t start back up until the 23rd. It’s not as though I don’t have anything to do (there’s laundry, vacuuming, writing, reading, etc.), but that I don’t have to do anything. Nothing is due, nothing is pending, there are no deadlines. It is up to me to provide motivation internally – historically a difficult task for me. To that end, I write about it.

It is interesting that, although I enjoy writing, am somewhat adept at it and usually get great insight and perspective from it, I never want to write. Oh, sure if I have an assignment or deadline I’ll usually get right down to it. Whether I want to or not isn’t even a factor, but it is when I’m am writing just for the sake of writing, like now, that I have trouble getting started. However, once the words start to flow, continuing is never an issue. I’ll lose track of time, get lost in my own thoughts and come up with new ideas like they are swept up into the vortex of thoughts created by the flow of words.

On a smaller scale, the same thing often happens when I come to the end of a paragraph, an idea or reach some other “end.” Where to go from here? Perhaps it is the overwhelming number of directions I could explore that keeps me comfortably at square one for so long. After all, isn’t choosing not to choose still making a choice? Perhaps. But it goes deeper than that. I think that at some level there is a paralyzing fear. Fear of failure, not measuring up, looking stupid, not being liked, ad infinitum. Admittedly, I am not driven by these fears as I once was, but I still feel them. Just because I am not frozen in place by them – I can and do walk through them – doesn’t mean they went away. The residual effect is reflected in my reluctance to start anything new.

So have I conquered my fears? I don’t know that I ever can. In a way, they are part of who I am. But these demons do not have to run (or ruin) my life. Instead of being paralyzed by fear, I get to note it, acknowledge it and move through it. Indeed, the only way to guarantee failure is to not try. These irrational fears are all based in ego and have nothing to do with the rational fears that keep me alive. In fact, they damned near killed me. It is an interesting and deadly paradox. Being afraid to act rationally can be just as deadly as ignoring the fear to act irrationally.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Five Years

Five years ago today I was preparing to leave the hospital. It had been my home for the prior three months. I was recovering from massive internal injuries sustained in a head-on collision with a logging truck on October 17, 2000. Although I had made considerable progress, as evidenced by my return home, I was not well. I still had four huge screws extending from my pelvis, large external wounds from my pelvis exploding out of my body and a colostomy. I could not yet walk on my own and would still need home care twice a day for the foreseeable future. I was, in short, a mess.

It should be abundantly clear that this was not a happy period in my life. I still live with some of the ramifications today. This is not, however, a bad thing. And I realize that I am starting in the middle of a complicated an lengthy series of events, but five years is a nice round number and one in which I chose to reflect upon today. Before you go all feeling sorry for me or even pile accolades on me for my bravery in persevering I need to make clear a key factor: This wreck was completely my fault.

My life has been a series of bursts of initiative that indicated great promise. However, nothing ever seemed to work out. There was no reaching of any ultimate goal, no happy endings. It was hype followed by failure time and time again. I really felt, at times, as though I was cursed. I knew that I had some issues with procrastination, laziness, envy, etc., but always felt like I was an essential good person. I always meant well. Eventually, my intentions were not being reflected by my actions, but I didn’t see it until disaster hit me squarely in the face.

Being confined to a hospital bed for three months gave me ample time to think. At first it was just disbelief. Not that I had survived, but how this could happen to me. The magnitude of my injuries, at first, did not fully sink in. Additionally, for the first five weeks (in ICU), I have very little memory so that my initial confusion was considerable. I had a lot to sort out – I didn’t (and still don’t) even remember the crash. I was not exactly what you would call grateful.

That came later, and by the time it was time to go home, I had realized just how lucky I was and that my prognosis had improved remarkably. Still, I couldn’t help thinking “why me?” The answer? I had no business driving that morning. You see, I had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving my then 13 year-old son to school. I was far too tired to be driving and I knew it. (I’ll spare you the suspense, my son walked away with minor injuries – physically anyway). I was endangering not only myself, but also my son and everyone else on the road at the time. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but when it comes right down to it, I am responsible.

As I am for everything else that has gone wrong in my life. Yeah, that’s right, everything. Again, I didn’t intentionally plan for things to go bad, put I also didn’t intentionally plan for them to go right either. I did not take precautions, I did not prepare, I did not work hard, I just expected. Samuel Goldwyn said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” I can’t begin to relate the golden opportunities that have crossed my path. I never appreciated them, never worked to nurture them, always took them for granted. I just deserved it – dammit! And so it should be... right?

My attitude was the problem and that stay in the hospital was a wake-up call. Now five years later, I am 95% back physically and 1000% mentally. I was humbled and given another chance to try it again. I wish I could say that life has been smooth sailing ever since, but this is not the case. It took some more reinforcement or practice of my newfound humility by reverting to my old attitude of entitlement. In other words, I was not quite done self-destructing. However, with each consequent experience came new wisdom and strangely enough – retroactive wisdom. That is, wisdom can still be extracted from my past experience and applied today. Although experience facilitates wisdom, it does not guarantee it.

Life is good today. I sure don’t take it for granted. Indeed, I am grateful every time I take my morning constitutional (no more colostomy!). And that’s just the beginning. It blows my mind that it took half my life to figure all this out, and it’s not like someone could have told me – I’m sure several have tried. I do not regret my past nor do I have to be defined by it. It got me to where I am today and it could have been oh so much worse. The best part? Just as I was responsible for the misery that my life was, so am I the bliss that it is.

Friday, January 06, 2006

All Growed Up?

As I re-read my previous entries, I always feel a little strange when it says “POSTED BY MR. ALTHOUSE.” I never really considered myself a “Mr.” anything. I never really felt like an adult. True, I’ve done all the adult things (married, divorced, kids, etc.), been to the adult places, traveled (even obtained and used a passport), and abused all the privileges that come at (or before) certain ages. And I have paid adult consequences. Although I have been a legal adult for a little over half my life, I just didn’t ever feel like one. At some level, I always felt like I was missing something.

With this feeling came a host of other “feelings” that were so persistent that they became predictable, comfortable and normal to the point that I felt it had to be just me. Somehow, perhaps, my expectations of what life was supposed to deliver or be were too high or maybe skewed. Maybe the familiar discomfort that was present since I was a child was some kind of karmic curse. At any rate, it was easier to ignore (through a wide variety of means) than to address. I mean, who would I tell…how could I explain. Even I thought it was just plain crazy.

I’d see people go to work, be parents, interact with friends and do all the other daily “life” stuff. I did those things too, but it always seemed to me like it wasn’t me, that all I was doing was imitating what was modeled for me. There were times when it was like I was in some kind of control room. I’d be operating this mind, this body, but remotely. There was no soul, no spirit, no... life. There would be no direct feedback; I was disconnected. One result is that I never really, really cared much about much. It was like a defense mechanism that kept me insulated but was in reality suffocating me. Besides, it didn’t work. Even though I didn’t feel it, at some level I was connected, I did care and whenever I experienced a loss, I felt it. I just never saw it coming.

It’s a miracle I got this far. I am still alive. Let me rephrase that: I AM ALIVE! What’s changed? Nothing – and everything. Life has a funny way of giving up clues. These are kinda like signs or indicators as to a direction one could (should?) take. I was extremely good at ignoring these indicators. I don’t want to go into a discussion on spirituality, religion, God(s), higher power, cosmic forces – you get the idea, but if that makes it easier to understand, then use it. My belief in this area is, well – hmmm. Mine and has nothing to do with other beliefs, what has been written or even the truth. It is just my belief.

The key is that I now enjoy life all the time, no matter what. My attitude has changed, I have a sense of purpose, I am present and connected. No longer going through the motions, I am operating in real time. Was this within me all the time? Is it some time generated unlocking of genetic code? Is it a spiritual connection to the universe? I don’t know, it could be all or none of the above. I do have a belief, however. What actually is working for me is irrelevant, a belief that something is, is everything. So I chose this moniker to signify my coming of age. It only took 40+ years, but that’s life. It’s getting less weird…

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Perspectives...

Life is an odd thing. How it is, both qualitatively (how good) as well as quantitatively (how much) is completely dependant upon how it is observed. It always amazes me how certain events repeat themselves – situations, circumstances…whatever that are eerily similar to those that have occurred before. Almost déjà vu, but not quite. Although strange enough left at just that, what is tantalizingly bewildering is how my attitude or perspective in general influences not only how I react, but also how I am affected. It’s as if, when in the right state of mind (i.e. a positive attitude), certain unexpected, unplanned or unwanted turns of events can just pass on by. There is no emotive response. It’s almost like saying to myself, “Oh, so it’s going that way. Now that’s interesting.” And then I just let it go by. No harm, no foul.

It has not always been this way. It used to be that if things didn’t happen as I expected that they should, there was trouble. Ok, maybe not always trouble, but at least I was troubled. It messed with my psyche. An example? One slow driver that I could not get around would ruin an otherwise perfectly good day. My perception or interpretation of such an event would vary anywhere from a personal affront to righteous indignation to feeling like some poor, pitiful, cursed and luckless sap just waiting for his turn to die. The internalization of external events was making my world a living hell. No matter how hard I tried to get everything just right so that it (whatever it was) would work out how I thought it should, something always went awry.

There are a very limited number of variables that are within my control. Period. That means that other things dependent upon those variables, even though they appear to be indirectly within my control, are not. All I really have any control over are my own actions. That would be enough if everyone thought the way I do. However, everyone thinks just a little (or perhaps a lot) differently. Furthermore, others enjoy the same control over their actions as I do over mine. Although yours may influence mine (or visa-versa), they cannot dictate. This is an important distinction that is, in my estimation, always true even in the most extreme of situations. No matter how oppressed, free will always exists.

So what does all this mean? Perhaps not much, but I do get a better perspective on my place in the world. I am not nearly as important as I thought I was. What a relief! The other side of that paradox is also removed in that I am not as worthless as I so often believed either. Furthermore, my perception of what is mine has been re-centered and simplified. All I get is now. The past is gone, spent, done and the future is not mine until it arrives. Anything and everything else is on loan - I won't be taking it with me. Right now, however, is mine to do with whatever I wish. As a result, I am no longer in correction or damage control mode. I don’t have to constantly fix or improve what is already done. I am free to take steps toward a goal without expecting anything more than a new set of steps in the next day, hour, minute…sometimes second.

Nothing is granted. Nothing is guaranteed. The gift is now. Each new moment is a new discovery, a new adventure, a new challenge, a new insight - a new now. I have the humility to know that I am made of the same stuff we all are, indeed that everything is. I just try to do my part and let the rest go. It may sound overly simplistic but maybe it really is that simple. I have a choice about how I proceed through life. I can be this ball of stress, always trying to control the uncontrollable, tame the untamable; or as a humble cog in the great machine that is life – the universe. I don’t know what’s next. I can’t possibly. All I know or ever will is now. And that is plenty.