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caveman using stone tool on rockMost readers of this blog will remember, with only the faintest nostalgia, the following watersheds along the timeline of communication and information dissemination:
・The pencil
・The pen
・Carbon copy paper
・White-out
・Mimeographs
・Postage stamps (these are not relics . . . yet, although I am grateful for them because they helped put food in my belly, clothes on my back, and a roof over my head as a child)

With this small list in mind I offer the state of Arizona kudos for not only embracing some of them still, but also for its impressive efforts to encompass the breadth of human communication forms since chisel was first put to stone.

We are some years along since Al Gore invented the internet, and the web has offered us some disadvantages and some stunning efficiencies. Consider that we can not only download fillable PDF tax return forms but can electronically file those same documents, with no shortage of important personal information on them; in Arizona we can renew our vehicle registrations online, again with all the pertinent personal data in tow; we can manage our financial concerns online; and the whopper–the federal government has mandated that if you don’t have medical insurance you must sign up via the web and get it–this naturally requires a slew of personal information to be divulged.

There are no shortage of entities which can find us when it’s time for jury duty, send us gentle reminders if we miss a payment, or send any other marketing based upon our current residence and/or age.

No secret . . . we are ‘in the system’, each of us a statistical and numerical part of a brain-melting expanse of database.

So, given the aforementioned, I remain perplexed about the process for attaining a copy of ones birth certificate in Arizona.

It begins with a line. This is not unexpected. All state offices enjoy a good line. This line feeds one solitary public servant whose job is to dutifully sit in front of a computer terminal and look us up in ‘the system’. This fact alone should make the process practically state-of-the-art. But that would mean embracing efficiency and giving tradition the cold shoulder, and government loves tradition.

For the sake of tradition, they take my drivers license (another state-issued document with lots of personal data) and use a scanner to read the bar code on the back. Said servant then pulls a paper form and stamps it with the word “COUNTED,” unsettling in itself.

I am asked to fill out the form and wait for my number to be called; I think God does something similar.

Being no stranger to the digital paradigm I don’t carry a pen with me like I used to many (many) years ago. So I ask, “Do you have a pen?” She hands me the form . . . and a pencil. How quaint.

As I entered the building I could see others filling out forms with pencils, which triggered a series of grating texts to a friend:

“2014 and we have to wait in line to manually fill out a form”
“Christ, it’s practically the Stone Age here.”
“Excuse me, could I borrow your chiseled, pointy thing so I may chip out my info on this clay tablet?”
“How much more Cro-magnon could it get?”

“Feel better now?” she asks. Of course not, and I’m fairly certain she knows this and as any good friend would she patronizes me

“I’m wondering,” I begin again, “if I should use Cuneiform or early Arabaic.”
“Surprisingly, they actually use a verbal form of language communication here”
“I think grunts and rough gestures might be more in tune with the overall ambiance”

She’s come along for the ride, I can tell by her next reply. “Maybe you could move kinda ape-like to the window . . . grunting, of course.”

“That’s pretty funny!” I respond, “I’d do it if I didn’t think they’d deny my request.”

I take my early 17th century paper form–and pencil–and drag my knuckles to a table, whereupon the pencil lead actually breaks the moment I set it to paper. Seriously.

The form asks for all the same information on my license, the same info which I know damn well is staring them in the face on that terminal monitor. In addition they require you to actually fill in your credit card info on this form. Surprisingly, they don’t ask for the social security number, probably because they already have it?

I am pleasantly surprised by how short the wait time is until my number is called (not you, God, the vital records clerk). She, too, asks for my drivers license and the credit I want to use to pony up twenty friggin dollars for the copy of the certificate–$20! Perhaps I shouldn’t expect a happy ending, but at least a smile?

I can sense my annoyance meter slowly rising as I dig out the cards. The clerk at the first window already confirmed my identity and ‘counted” me, and my C/C info is on the stupid form. Why the hell do you need to see it, or, conversely, why must we write the number on the form if we’re going to give you the physical card anyway?

F@#!

Okay. Whatever. I dole them over and she does her thing. I sign the credit slip, she staples it to yet another piece of paper and says “Take this to window 4.”

Window 4 is where the duplicate birth certificate is printed, from — wait for it — another computer terminal.

In case you’re wondering, in Arizona you can obtain a duplicate BC via mail, but they require the use of a carrier pigeon.

The American Heartbeat


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The following text is from the body of a letter I sent to my son while in basic training for the Navy. I had been listening to my iPod and an old song titled American Heartbeat played. Something told me to sit down and write about what that meant to me, and it seemed relevant to what he is working for in his naval training. 

transparent div line 

We are not ancient Persia, nor Greece, nor Rome. We are many things: strong and weak, hustling and slack, demonstrative and passive. We are the siphon of human history. 

We have an empire, of sorts, but are not imperialistic. We are decidedly imperfect yet most often choose to pursue what is right rather than not. Say what you will about our character but our collective loyalty is ardent, durable and mighty.

Every civilization in recorded history has struggled with profound scars, has deliberated how best to cope with their weeping wounds in the context of their own times—Madame Blue, she is no exception. Grievous are her transgressions, yet she prefers not to turn her back on them. Her exertions are toward nobility, toward the minimizing of ignobility. 

When we call for help we answer it ourselves. We prefer action over whimpering. Earth rests beneath our feet yet we don’t just think about going to the stars . . .we innovate and then go there. We also sleep beneath the sparkle of heaven making it the province of our dreams.

We are fasces—as many individual reeds we are vulnerable, feeble, hesitant; bound together we are robust, tenacious, enduring.

Our pulse is fast and loud but if we are still for a moment, and truly listen across the chasms and erosion of volubility, we would find one voice, one nation, one majestic heartbeat.

 


American IdiotAs I type this we’re (Dad and I) cruising at approximately 29,000 feet above Oregon on our way to Los Angeles, our stopover before Phoenix. It’s a smaller aircraft, 2 seats per row. I’m obviously not aircraft savvy, but at least I possess a rudimentary knowledge of how our solar system functions—according to a recent survey I’m smarter than 1 out of four of you, and I take no great pride or pleasure in saying so, but more on that in a bit.

Simple probability tells me I am surrounded by a cadre of imbeciles.

I’ll begin my story/rant earlier this morning. Dad and I stopped in Redmond, OR to gorge on a delicious apple pancake–this at 6am local time. After placing our order we both scanned through the news headlines on our phones. Seems newspapers are becoming something of a relic, which is sad.

Anyhoo, he states, all of a sudden, that 1 in 4 Americans believes the Sun revolves around the Earth. As much as I can be at 6am, I’m stunned. But it’s early yet. I haven’t had any sustenance. The brain is consuming somewhere around 23% of my entire available energy just keeping the whole shootin’ match up and running while breakfast goodness bakes.

But the news takes root, like a stinkweed, and begins to fester.

Mom and dad would tell me “Let it go.” They’re right, I know. But I’m not fueled enough at this point to either let it go or truly cogitate upon it. This will happen, however.

Rant trigger: We begin the boarding process, and of course the airline makes the announcement that everybody better than you, those-who-shit-don’t-stink, get primary boarding privileges. Suckers! Once on board this tiny craft you become no more important than the rest of us chaff!

But it irritates me nonetheless. One ‘exceptional’ person boards before everyone else. He seemed a little ashamed, if his body language was any indication.

By this time said pancake and hot tea have had plenty of time to begin digesting and fueling greater bandwidth for irrational though.

We board the plane (fairly quickly, I might add . . . nice job, American!) and as I wait for all the pre-flight stuff to be completed the headline—which I subsequently saw in my own news reader—pops to the fore.

So I pull out the flight magazine and go to the puzzle section, trying to find a mental distraction. I don’t read it in any particular order and I alight upon number 5, on page 55; these puzzles are apparently presented by MENSA. The saving grace here is MENSA members are going to understand the true workings of our solar system, so my beef isn’t with them.

Onward…

Number five reads: “A young childhood rhyme has been put into very fancy language. Can you put it back into everyday English?”

Let’s give this a go . ..

A very young girl with a very common name . . . Okay, I have it already. I’m really not that smart, but it’s a dead giveaway. Perhaps they’re throwing a bone to the one retard who thinks the sun revolves around the Earth.

possessed a rather uncommon pet . . . wow, MENSA has really let themselves go.

with a distinctly pigmented skin covering. This pet followed her on all occasions.

Really? This qualifies as MENSA sanctioned brain exercise? Jesus, I was educated in the Arizona public school system and even I got it! (no offense meant, Arizona, but your system doesn’t exactly rank among the best).

No damn wonder 25% of Americans think the Earth is flat (well, if you think the sun revolves around the Earth, what else am I to think?)

God, or Jesus, or whatever higher power may be reading this as I type, I ask, in advance, for forgiveness for the trespass I am about to commit.

So here’s the ugly but undeniable truth: If you believe the sun revolves around the Earth you are a certified moron. True story.

Look around you (if you’re somewhere other than home). Somebody within your view thinks our solar system is Earth-centric. They wouldn’t admit it of course. But you can probably bet good money they sleep better than you do because emptier heads sleep lighter than useful ones.

I am absurdly hopeful that anyone reading this comprehends words longer than 4 letters, although moron has five letters, I’ll give you that.

If you understood moron, and you believe the Sun revolves around the Earth, then I owe you more credit than I thought. That is impressive, most impressive. But it doesn’t change the fact that you’re a moron.

If I had to guess I’d say such gullibility is due to something Ben Kenobi would appreciate and exploit—a weak mind. You know the type, those who latch onto anything a more powerful mind (or collective body) tells them. I won’t name names, but a certain city-state in the Italian part of Europe comes to mind. Another group would be those who steadfastly believe that ‘teaching to the test’ is the way to a brighter America.

Flat Earth Society, indeed.

I could go on and on and offend more folks, but likely 1 of 4 wouldn’t get it anyway.

Thank God we have the other 3 to properly put planes in the air and make our buildings safe, to create workarounds that save the twenty-five per centers from any truly worthwhile process of thought. Without this demographic the Star and Enquirer would struggle mightily.

But MENSA might have found itself a fresh pool (if shallow) of new members.

A Certain Incompatiblility


Over 900 years ago the Crusades fizzled out . . . well, sorta. The Christians, Muslims, Jews, and whomever else was up for a fight spent a respectable chunk of history killing one another over whose beliefs were better than whose—essentially a playground brawl but with doctrinal rancor.

As I was rereading Ghosts of Vesuvius by Charles Pellegrino I came across this statement from Isaac Asimov: “…religion is incompatible with civilization.” Asimov referenced the Taliban, who, in 2001 came to our shores as if to prove, once and for all, that their beliefs (as Pellegrino points out, “extremist” and “intolerant”) are the gold standard for humanity and America must be the poster child for their modern crusade.

And yet that same idea, the mere thought and words, fly in the face of certain moral intuition. Many an act of kindness—dare I say, of civilization—was borne of these same ideals which organized religion try to espouse.

Clearly, evidence would seem to suggest the very statement “religion is incompatible with civilization” is nothing less than a solid truth. Religious prejudice is no modern phenomenon, history is crystal clear on that point. But even the least educated among us could likely point out examples where people of strong religious convictions have done much to improve civilization around them; again, history illustrates this as well. I could prattle on about hope in its mythological context, or even in the biblical construct, but I think that would belabor the point.

To me this question of incompatibility boils down, as many things do, to the individual. An individual has a choice (at least in a democracy). Not so much in a theocracy, or perhaps any other ‘-cracies’. Reduce this concept down just a little further and see that each of us are born with a moral compass. The flaws of humankind are not small, however, and such a compass is easily corrupted. To wit, James Madison wrote “If men were angels government would not be necessary.”

Though many religions claim to be superior to others, to my knowledge there is no mandate by Providence that man or humankind must accept or affirm any single sort of structured, organizational sense of religion. Sure, certain sects boldly declare that God has, in fact, deemed all prior belief systems bunk and theirs is the chosen group. i still can’t bend my mind around so many sects believing in essentially the same Power of Nature, and yet having the stones to say their belief is the only real way to save ones soul.

Religion, as a system of ritual and communication, has throughout history served as both an emissary of good and a deliverer of unspeakable evil and cruelty. But the conduit for such delivery has always been mankind. If indeed there is a God, the preponderance of historical evidence would suggest that at some point He threw his hands in the air and let us continue to fight it out like tempestuous, argumentative children.

Given religion’s innate inclination to be a force of good, can it actually be said that religion is incompatible with civilization? Perhaps it is simply the other way around.

Twixt The Sky And The Soul


light through forest treesFar above the clouds we’ve seen, beyond the purview of the stratosphere and troposhpere, the cloak of the universe wraps itself around us at a temperature barely above absolute zero Kelvin.

If God is out ‘there’ in a frozen vacuum then perhaps it makes sense that evil chooses to reside alongside us, where flesh is warmed by our nearest star and spilled blood dries and stains the earth it once lived upon.

How could any incarnation of beauty and purity, of salvation and hope, possibly prevent—much less allow—innocent children to be sacrificed as prodigal lambs at the hands of something so vile and inhumane?

Why would our “God,” as Obama said yesterday, “call to him” those twenty innocent children? I believe they will find their own place in heaven, but I can no more supplant iniquity than I can explain why benevolence would decree violence upon children.

Evil, or any other explicate of a dark nature, is not only inherent to Nature itself but necessary; it provides an uneasy balance, a discord which, perhaps, acts to keep our moral compass properly tuned. But unspeakable evil is a matter which the living can only struggle to conceive of . . . unless one is the embodiment of such fathomless depravity.

The breathable atmosphere which we rely upon for our very existence is but roughly 3 miles above our heads, if that. The processes which create clouds and rain, wind and vivid sunsets, are as wondrous as the glorious space that expands forever in all directions above our little shell.

Perhaps up there, out where mankind continues to pursue answers to profound questions, is Paradise. Perhaps this existence is our close brush with Hell. If peace is ever to be achieved then it must be found within . . . not without.

On Being Lyrical


Lyrics, when properly fit to a harmony, moves music from something melodic to something affecting. In my estimation something lyrical possesses a certain beauty, perhaps a subtle poetry about it. But I can’t say I considered my writing “lyrical” in nature, although I have aspired to it.

April Schiff Pohren, at Cafe of Dreams, wrote a review which speaks to the kinds of things one hopes for when you set your words upon the public stage. Something I thought was unique was her inclusion of a couple of favorite passages from the story. She backs up her declarations of “lyrical prose” and “a story knitted together with thick strands of inspiration.”

Take a quick look if you would!

Two-fer, Umm, Wednesday


“Two-fers” should be on Tuesdays, I know, but mine came today. I could have gone with “A Writer’s Winter Wednesday” but it implies two things: a status as a professional writer—which I am not, I don’t get paid for doing what I do; that “winter,” in the classic sense, had arrived in Arizona. It is cooling down, yes, but “winter”?

Really I wanted to share two quick links with you. The first is another (only my second!) review for The Apocalypse of Hagren Roose by Ms. Cheryl Malandrinos at The Book Connection. She called it “powerful, eloquently written . . .” and “a thought-provoking literary work.” Yeah, I’m still trying to absorb such words.

Speaking of words (<– I rather like that) I have another guest post at Miki's Hope.com, The Many Essences of Christmas. Do you remember those fat Christmas tree lights, not like the dinky ones today? How about all the Rankin-Bass Christmas specials? Have a quick look at my guest post to see what else you may remember!

Have a great evening, everyone, and a better tomorrow.

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