Word from Bird 2014 Archives

December 2014

Toys your kids will probably never see

As Christmas draws near, I find myself wandering store aisles looking for presents for my nephews. And as I peruse the selection of action figures, toy guns and board games – I can’t help but notice the huge warning labels most of them sport these days.

I’m all for keeping my nephews, and all children, safe, but where were these warnings when I was a kid?

One of my favorite toys of imminent destruction was the good old wood burning kit.

For those of you who were born after 1980, you may not know what a wood burning kit is – but for children of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, these toys were a must-have for kids.

The kits comprised of several balsa wood sheets with designs outlined on them and a wood burner. The burner was a simple metal rod that heated up to about 900 degrees when plugged into an outlet. The tip of the rod was angled like a chisel and you pressed it into the wood to etch the design into the wood by burning it.

I can’t tell you how many times I burnt myself on the red-hot engraving tip, whether accidentally or on purpose (Hey, I had to see how hot it was for myself didn’t I?). And I know that the carpet in my bedroom had more scorch marks than the floor of a saloon.

Of course arts and crafts were lost on a 10-year-old, so once I finished with all the horses and cacti included with the kit, I looked for other things to “engrave.”

Baseboards, walls, furniture, basically anything that would burn would soon bear some form of “personalization” from me. Fortunately, the novelty wore off before I burned down the house.

Another favorite pastime was making model cars and airplanes… and then blowing them up.

Back in the day toy companies apparently didn’t care about substance abuse because the model glue and paint we used to put together our ’74 Chevy Impala had some curious side effects to them. When working on our models, usually in our bedrooms, we would often get a nice “dizzy” feeling from the chemicals in the paint and glue.

But Once we woke up from our “Testors” coma, we would admire our creation for about a minute before figuring out ways to destroy them.

My friends and I would often create battle scenes with our new creations. Some would get soaked in gasoline and set ablaze (we didn’t care that the ensuing black smoke was toxic). The fighter planes produced a nice trail of smoke when an engine was set on fire and tossed across the yard. Or we would pack fire crackers and bottle rockets into the model, light the fuses, and watch as plastic shrapnel rained everywhere.

I strongly advise against trying this today. It is very dangerous, and I have to wonder what we were thinking. But the models you can buy these days are built to withstand that type of abuse now.

I won’t even begin to go into a popular summer-time weapon, I mean toy, the lawn dart. All I will say is that we never lost a neighborhood kid to an accidental impaling, no matter how hard we tried.

Compared to the safety regulations surrounding toys these days, it’s a wonder that any of us managed to make it to adulthood.

Shopping Trama

Christmas is a very difficult holiday for me. Not due to any psychological trauma or deep seated fear of fat men in red suits, but just the fact that I am the worst gift giver in the history of humankind.

I am terrible when it comes to choosing a gift. I have no imagination, it seems, when trying to find something suitable to give to somebody. “Is it too much? Too little? Will they like it?” Those questions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the thoughts running through my mind while shopping. Call me insecure, but it really bugs me to buy gifts.

And don’t bother asking me what I want as a present. I have no idea. If I go shopping for myself, I know what I am looking for and I can get in and get out of the store in less than half an hour, but as soon as I start looking for something to buy for someone else… vapor lock of the brain. It’s not as if I don’t care, I just don’t function well in a store if I have no idea what I am shopping for.

All this talk about presents did get me to thinking of some of the great presents I got when I was younger. Some of you might remember these fondly while, no doubt, some of you may not have the slightest idea of what I am talking about.

One of my favorite toys growing up was Lego Building Blocks. These wonderful things supplanted Lincoln Logs as the choice in build-your-own toys. My friends and I would sit for hours just creating different vehicles and structures, it seemed we never actually played with them, just built stuff. I can still remember my first kit, the rescue helicopter. I spent hours and hours building and rebuilding those 30 or so pieces into every imaginable shape. Back then they were cheap too. You could get a small kit for less than $3 and a big one for about $20, so it wasn’t long before the basement was filled with little Lego land mines that dad would inevitably step on. 20 years later, I still am finding pieces of Lego in my things.

Another of my favorite gifts that I ever got was the Evel Knievel Stunt Motorcycle. It was so cool. You got a 12” fully poseable Evel Knievel  action figure, a really neat motorcycle the figure sat on and a ramp that powered the whole thing. The idea was simple, place the action figure on the bike; put the bike on the ramp; turn the handle to rev the engine and the bike would speed off the ramp and do incredible stunts. The problem was, even when the ramp was working, (I broke mine within a week), the bike would either tip over from the weight of the rider or veer off course and crash into the living room wall, leaving a little smudge of paint about 6 inches from the floor where Evel’s face would inevitably smash. (Helmets? We don’t need no stinkin’ helmets).

Oh, there are a lot more neat ones. BB guns, tape recorders, remote control cars and games. But there were a lot of disappointing things as well; things that if I were to receive them today wouldn’t bother me. Like clothes. Didn’t you hate opening that big box from grandma and finding a big sweater? We all did, but today, I think, “Hey, it looks warm, now I don’t need to buy one for my self. Now, let’s see if there’s any underwear in here.”


We’re going to Mars!

I haven’t been this excited by a boring news conference in quite a long time.
This week NASA unveiled plans for an eventual mission to Mars within the next three decades. Within my lifetime we could very well land a human being on another planet!
This is huge news for a space geek like me.
I always have been a big proponent of space exploration. I was born not long before we first landed on the moon, and must have been infected by the space virus because I can’t get enough of it.
I remember as a child reading everything I could on the moon missions, and later the space shuttle. One of my prized possessions was an issue of National Geographic detailing one of the moon landings. The magazine literally disintegrated from my repeated flipping of the pages.
The Orion capsule will get an unmanned test flight this week when it is launched on a two-orbit mission around the Earth, rising to high orbit of more than 3,600 miles above ground– far higher than the International Space Station – where it will then plummet at 20,000 miles per hour through the atmosphere and (hopefully) land safely in the ocean.
If successful, the plan is to send the capsule on a mission around the moon and back in just a couple years.
This will pave the way for manned missions, where astronauts will once again fly to the moon like they did in NASA’s heyday in the 60’s.
Sometime within the next 15 years, if funding is continued and everything goes to plan, the spacecraft will eventually take astronauts to an asteroid where they will study it.
Then, in the 2030’s we will go to Mars.
Funding with NASA is always an issue, but it is one area of government spending where I am in favor of spending big bucks. Congress has been stingy lately, but they did tell NASA that they better put up or shut up. After the last budget was passed, NASA was told to develop a “road map to Mars” and it seems they have done just that.
It is exploration of outer space that will drive humanity forward. I don’t think we will encounter new life forms in the near future, but the discoveries we make exploring other planets and celestial bodies could one day cure disease, end poverty and allow human life to exist away from our home planet.
The Orion capsule is just the first piece of the puzzle, however. We still have to design a living module for the astronauts to live in during the multi-year journey through space. A lander, that can take those explorers to the surface and back again will be essential. As well as a better rocket that can lift the heavy payload off the ground without exploding.
But all that is in the works. And I can not wait until I can look in the night sky and know that we are out there.

 
 

 

November 2014

When I was your age Greg

There is an old adage that begins, “when I was your age.” While I don’t know exactly when my day was, I do know things were different.

Watching children play these days is a learning experience. When I was a kid, not so long ago mind you, everything seemed more simple and peaceful. The world was a lot different than it is today and I sometimes wonder if it is for the better.

I grew up in a fairly large city. Not a bustling metropolis like New York or Los Angeles, more like Lexington. But even in a city, we weren’t afraid to walk the streets at night and we could leave our doors unlocked while we slept. It was safe enough for me to walk to school, over a mile away, with my friends in the morning and home again in the afternoon.

These days, even in the sleepiest community, that practice is almost unheard of. Abductions, crime, traffic, all are a potential threat to our children’s existence. Most are real, but I sometimes wonder if the threats are imagined or exaggerated.

As little as fifteen years ago, the world was much larger. Before CNN, HNN, the Internet and satellite television, our only source of information was the morning paper and the evening news broadcast. Today, information flows so rapidly you can find out what the California legislature is doing with a click of a mouse.

With the proliferation of up-to-the-minute news updates, the large media conglomerates trip over themselves to present the news they believe you want to hear in order to get ratings. Geraldo Rivera once said something to the effect, “you don’t report about the house that isn’t burning.”

Despite all Geraldo’s flaws, he was right about that. What he meant was, the national news outlets, and even to some degree, local outlets (not to the same degree of course), look for the negatives.

Consider all the news coming out of the Middle East these days. Every day you hear about bombings and attacks that injure or kill civilians.

While all this is major news, what gets lost in the shuffle are the positive things that are going on all over this planet.

Sure there are bad things in the world, there always had been. It is just now that these things are brought into closer focus. It is getting to the point where we are only happy behind closed doors, not even getting to know our neighbors.

Kids don’t play the same anymore. Instead of Kick the Can, Hide and Seek and even the old staple of Cowboys and Indians have almost become extinct. Video games, cell phones and the electronic babysitter occupy most of their free time.

It’s not too late to give our children a childhood like we had. Sure it is dangerous out there, but if we pay attention and keep an eye on the kids instead of the TV, there may be hope for the world yet.

 

Charge it up

Wouldn’t life be simpler if everything used the same charger? Greg

It sounds utopian, I know, but just think how much having a single charger for every electronic device you own would be.

In doing a quick mental inventory between my home and office, I counted no less than six devices I use on a regular basis that each require a separate charger.

And since I am so far behind the times technology-wise, I know that is a conservative figure compared to a lot of people.

Cell phones, digital music players, portable data assistants, GPS units, recorders, cameras… the list is seemingly endless.

Until they get around to inventing the ultimate multi-tasker, that combines all these functions into one, easy to afford unit, there will always be a need to power these devices. And none of the manufacturers can seem to come up with one cord to do the job.

My new cell phone was the same model as my old one, just a newer version. So why do I need to have an entirely different charger?

There must be a lot of money to be made in the charger business, for that can be the only reason everything requires a different cord. Plus, you are going to need a separate one for your car and home… and probably it wouldn’t hurt to keep one at work. So that is three cords for one device right there!

And that brings up another problem: when I purchase a new electronic gizmo, I am stuck with yet another charger. Compounding this problem, I have a severe aversion to throwing anything away so I have a box filled with a rat’s nest of tangled chargers and useless devices.

I found five different remote controls from VCRs and DVD players that have long since ceased to function. No less than 12 chargers from old cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players. Others belong to some item that I can no longer remember, let alone find.

Yet, rather than tossing them all into the garbage, they went back into the box with the fanciful belief that they may all be useful again one day.

What is wrong with me? I can’t even toss out an old charge cord. I wish there was an easy way to recycle them, and I don’t think there is a market for them since you could go to your local electronics store and buy a new charger for about $15.

I imagine that I could list them on an auction site, since there has to be someone looking for a power cord to a Commodore 64 computer out there, but I don’t think that is worth the effort.

I am not one to ask for congressional assistance, what with all the other “important problems” they are already working on (sarcasm), but there should be a law that all rechargeable devices should have a universal charge port so that a single cord could power them all.

  

Cold Snap

I’m not a big fan of the cold weather we have been experiencing this past week. I grew upGreg with much worse and moved to warmer climates just to get away from the face-numbing cold.
When it is so cold outside that any moisture in your nose instantly freezes, there aren’t a whole lot of reasons to step out the door. Unless you are a kid.
Kids used to love days like these because they got out of school and had a free day to do whatever they could, cold be darned.
But today, you are hard-pressed to spot a child outside on days like this.
When I was a kid, winter days like this were either spent outside freezing, or in the basement being bored out of my mind.
I grew up in Wisconsin so there was always snow on the ground and we lived less than a block away from the local sledding hill.
After a warm breakfast and about an hour spend putting on long johns, snow pants, three sweaters, gloves, mittens, hats and boots, my friends and I would trundle up the street with our plastic sleds in tow to the hill where we would jostle with the hundreds of other kids who thought it would be fun to sled that day as well.
The hill had several different runs, ranging from the basic straight downhill segments, to the dangerous “trench” that featured twists and turns and emptied out into a small grove of trees to add the extra element of peril.
If you were brave enough to take a try at the “trench” your manhood was measured at how close you got to the trees before bailing out of your sled before the inevitable crash.
There was something about the exhilarating day spent at the sledding hill that allowed you to ignore the sub-zero temperatures.
But, once you packed it in for the day, that cold grabbed you like a vice and it seemed to take hours to thaw out again.
If you didn’t want to go sledding or play in the snow, your only other option was to stay inside and find something else to do.
There was nothing extraordinary about a snow day back then. We didn’t have computers, Nintendo, DVD’s or even VCR’s so the entertainment was purely self-created.
We also didn’t have hundreds of television channels to choose from. We were stuck with game shows or soap operas, not exactly the type of entertainment a 10-year-old home from school was longing for.
While we did have plenty of toys to play with, there just wasn’t the same enjoyment to be had in playing with them as a last resort.
There are only so many pillow forts and toy soldier wars you can cram into a snow day before you start thinking about what you would be playing at recess with your friends back in school.
There is something about playing outside when it is freezing that builds character, I just don’t know what kind of character it builds.

 

Families gather throughout the land
For time for 
Thanksgiving is now at hand
We come together and count our blessings
As we fill our bellies with turkey and 
dressings
But as we chow down and clean off our plates
Let us remember why the day is so great
We live in a land where we can be free
And follow our path however we please
As we give thanks for our health and our love
Pause and think of those not as fortunate as us 
Offer up a prayer, or best make it two
That the spirit of Thanksgiving visits them too
I don’t know why I thought I could write verse
But the idea was good and I could have done worse
So a final thought before my food I do gobble
Don’t eat too much so your legs start to wobble
Happy Thanksgiving to you all
 
 

 

 

 

October 2014

Toys your kids will probably never see

Sometimes I long for the good old days when we let kids be kids.

Today’s world is rife with warning labels, product recalls and advocacy groups calling for outright bans of dangerous products.

Today, every child’s toy needs to tested to make sure no kid could ever, possibly hurt themselves playing with it, but if I know kids – they will find a way despite the warnings.

I’m all for keeping my nephews, and all children, safe, but where were these warnings when I was a kid?

One of my favorite toys of imminent destruction was the gold old wood burning kit.

For those of you who were born after 1980, you may not know what a wood burning kit is – but for children of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, these toys were a must-have for kids.

The kits comprised of several balsa wood sheets with designs outlined on them and a wood burner. The burner was a simple metal rod that heated up to about 900 degrees when plugged into an outlet. The tip of the rod was angled like a chisel and you pressed it into the wood to etch the design into the wood by burning it.

I can’t tell you how many times I burnt myself on the red-hot engraving tip, whether accidentally or on purpose (Hey, I had to see how hot it was for myself didn’t I?). And I know that the carpet in my bedroom had more scorch marks than the floor of a saloon.

Of course arts and crafts were lost on a 10-year-old, so once I finished with all the horses and cacti included with the kit, I looked for other things to “engrave.”

Baseboards, walls, furniture, basically anything that would burn would soon bear some form of “personalization” from me. Fortunately, the novelty wore off before I burned down the house.

Another favorite pastime was making model cars and airplanes… and then blowing them up.

Back in the day toy companies apparently didn’t care about substance abuse because the model glue and paint we used to put together our ’74 Chevy Impala had some curious side effects to them. When working on our models, usually in our bedrooms, we would often get a nice “dizzy” feeling from the chemicals in the paint and glue.

But Once we woke up from our “Testors” coma, we would admire our creation for about a minute before figuring out ways to destroy them.

My friends and I would often create battle scenes with our new creations. Some would get soaked in gasoline and set ablaze (we didn’t care that the ensuing black smoke was toxic). The fighter planes produced a nice trail of smoke when an engine was set on fire and tossed across the yard. Or we would pack fire crackers and bottle rockets into the model, light the fuses, and watch as plastic shrapnel rained everywhere.

I strongly advise against trying this today. It is very dangerous, and I have to wonder what we were thinking. But the models you can buy these days are built to withstand that type of abuse now.

I won’t even begin to go into a popular summer-time weapon, I mean toy, the lawn dart. All I will say is that we never lost a neighborhood kid to an accidental impaling, no matter how hard we tried.

Compared to the safety regulations surrounding toys these days, it’s a wonder that any of us managed to make it to adulthood.


Item 64

When I was a lot younger, and inherently more stupid, my friends and I would act like normal teenagers and try to find things to amuse us. The problem usually was we didn’t have a lot of money so it was typically left it up to our own imaginations to come up with something to keep us occupied.

One of our favorite activities was organizing scavenger hunts.

These were no ordinary, namby-pamby hunts. Oh no – they were epic, 24-hour marathons that usually involved a few deeds of questionable legality.

We would have 20 to 40 people participating, organized in teams of 4-5 players.

While I don’t condone anyone following our example, I do have to admit that these hunts were epic in proportion and everyone involved had a great deal of fun.

The concept was simple: A small group of us would get together and create a list of items, assigning point values based on their difficulty in obtaining.

Some were simple, such as a bucket of air, while others required a little planning and originality. One of my favorites was collecting $33,000 in Monopoly money, since it required combining the cash from three sets of the classic board game.

Other items were impossible, like the 1-to-1 scale map of the United States, and were just put in to confuse the teams and provide a bit of levity. I will admit that some of the things on the list were dangerous or downright illegal to obtain, but we didn’t expect anyone to actually try and collect these items. In full disclosure I can say that the worst legal trouble any team got in to was a speeding ticket (worth 50 points by the way.)

Typically ranging between 200-500 items the lists ensured that teams would have to examine them thoroughly and develop a plan of action. Some members would hurry to grab as many of the small-point items while their teammates tackled the more rare items in an effort to raise their standings.

Since the sheer number of items collected was too much to conveniently store in the back of a car for a full day, we would hold several check-ins where teams could collect their points and empty out their vehicles before setting forth to begin the search anew.

The end of the hunt was almost anti-climactic. After a full day, and night, of scouring the county for rare and obscure items, everyone was pretty exhausted. Plus, the prize for winning was just a small trinket, not a lot of worth for all the effort everyone had to put in. But the bragging rights were the real prize.

As the hunt grew in size and reputation, the honor gained from winning was impressive – at least to those who knew what was going on.

The annual Scavenger Hunt ran for four years before most of us began to move away due to college, military or other adult-life demands. But in the era of these monstrous undertakings they were certainly highly anticipated and attended.

I may have to dig out an old list and see what I can find for old times sake


Get fit, or get out

Obesity is at an all-time high in America and some medical professionals areworried about the potential health risks involved such as diabetes and heart disease.There are plenty of Americans who could stand to drop a few pounds, myself included, but, for the most part, we know the risks and it is up to us to correct the problem. This, of course has led to high insurance premiums and people not going to the doctor because they can’t afford it.

But it could be worse; we could live in Japan.

Yes, the Land of the rising Sun has undertaken an aggressive measure to combat adult obesity.

The government sponsored program requires businesses and local governments to measure the waistlines of all citizens between the ages of 40 and 74 as part of their annual checkups as part of a national goal to shrink, literally and figuratively, the overweight population by 10 percent over the next four years.

Every person that falls into those age groups must, and I stress must, submit to a government flunky wrapping a measuring tape around their waist. The government has set a limit of 33.5 inches for men and 35.4 inches for women, and those exceeding the limit will be given a three-month grace period to lose the weight on their own. After that they will be offered dieting guidance for the next three months. After that, and this is where is becomes scary, they will be steered toward “further re-education.”

Wow, sounds Orwellian doesn’t it?

After reading the article, my co-workers and I took out a tape measure, and following the guidelines, measured our waistlines. If I lived in Japan I would have to lose more than five inches off my waistline. While I could stand to drop about 30 pounds, it would be hard with my 6’3” frame to get my gut down that far. I haven’t worn size 32 pants since I was 12 years old.

Now Japanese culture is pretty different than ours. We have all seen videos of employees lining up for company sponsored morning exercises and there is a growing stigma attached to such things like smoking and “metabo” or obesity.

And since most Japanese are covered by public health care or company policies, the burden has fallen to the state to curb the problem.

While on one hand I can applaud the concept of wanting your citizens to be healthy and productive, I do get a little shudder of concern when I hear that the government is imposing fines on companies that fail to reduce obesity in their workforce.

What happened to personal responsibility? What happened to personal freedom? If some Japanese people want to put on a few extra pounds and grab an extra tuna roll at the Sushi Bar why should the government penalize them?

Yes, obesity is a huge problem, no pun intended, in the “industrialized world” as technology allows us more and more leisure time, but I believe that when the government starts to get involved in such personal matters like how thick we are around the middle – Big Brother isn’t far behind.


The mighty Kahn

 

Noted novelist George Santayana famously said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and I’m a firm believer in that statement.

I have always enjoyed history. To read about ancient peoples and cultures opens up new windows of understanding. Studying how civilizations hundreds and thousands of years ago operated, what they believed in, who they interacted with and why they fought wars can shed insight on how we are today.

I recently spent a lot of time learning about the ancient Mongol civilization, and was surprised to learn what a huge impact they had on the world in their heyday.

Most people hear the name Genghis Khan and conjure up a mental picture of a bloodthirsty barbarian riding a horse and burning villages.

That isn’t too far from the truth, but there is a lot more to the story.

Around 1200 A.D. Genghis took the reins of a nomadic tribe of people living in poverty in the steppes of western Asia. Through his will, he molded the scattered bands of horsemen into the most feared military force the world had ever seen to that point.

Under Genghis, the Mongols rained terror across Asia, the Middle East, Russia and even Europe. His army of warriors showed no mercy to enemies, and committed atrocities that are reminiscent of Stalin, Hitler and other reviled leaders.

But, one thing that is lost is the fact that Genghis, and his hand-chosen successor Ogedei, ruled the largest empire in the world.

Their territories, at the height of the Mongolian power, stretched from the Pacific Ocean in the west all the way to the Baltic Sea in the East. All of China, Russia, Eastern Europe and most of the Middle East were under the rule of the mighty Khan.

Only the death of Ogedei prevented the Horde from steamrolling over the rest of Europe. At the time of his death in 1241, the Mongols were fresh off victories in Hungary, and were poised to roll through the rest of the continent.

Rulers of the unconquered lands were scared to death of the coming storm because the Mongols barely broke a sweat defeating every army that was pitted against them.

But, when Ogedei died, the Mongols fell victim to internal struggles. Brother was pitted against brother in the fight to take command of the mighty empire. Soon the armies that were ready to march into France were pulled back to fight against their own kin.

This was the end of the Mighty Mongol Empire. Soon, fractured and weakened by their own bitterness, the once conquered nations rose up and regained their independence, leaving the Mongols to become what they started out as – nomads without a country.

In learning about the history of the bitter infighting that doomed the Mongols, I cannot stop and see the parallels that they seem to share with us.

We are a divided nation. We spend so much energy fighting amongst ourselves about who is to lead us. We are so concerned with who we want to take charge, we lose sight of where we want to go.

I’m afraid that if we don’t learn to come together as a people, we may not survive as a nation, and become just another footnote in history – like Genghis Khan.

 


Random thoughts Part VII

It’s time for me to clean out the little notebook I keep for column ideas. Most of these thoughts were interesting enough for me to write them down, but not enough to do a whole article on. So I decided to share them with you in one fell swoop.

When I am on the phone in my living room, why do I feel the need to stand up and pace about the room?

Nothing is more awkward than attempting to take off a coat or a sweater when seated in a car.

I hate when I have an interesting thought but I can’t remember if I’ve already said it out loud.

Few things bring about more self-doubt than seeing that the pictures of yourself look a whole lot uglier than what you saw in the mirror.

And am I the only person who hate to hear the sound of their own voice recorded and played back. I can’t believe I sound like that. It makes me want to stop speaking all together.

I really hate when I hear an interesting song on the TV and realize it is in a commercial. There should be a law that all commercials should print the title of whatever song they’re playing.

Whenever I print out directions to a place I am going to visit off the Internet, why does it insist on wasting five lines on getting out of Whitley City? I’m pretty sure I know the first few miles at least.

And when it lists an estimated travel time, why do I see that as “Time to beat?”

How are you supposed to fold a fitted sheet?

The worst thing about seeing a creepy bug crawling across the room; is not finding it after getting up to kill it.

Is it lazy that I would rather try to carry 10 plastic grocery bags in each hand than take two trips to bring my groceries in the house?

Why is it that before a meeting, when the whole room has to go around and say their name and where they are from, I get so incredibly nervous? I know my name. I know where I’m from. This shouldn’t be a problem.

How come if I am writing with a pen and it stops work that I make a scribble somewhere else it instantly starts working again?

Don’t you hate it when you subscribe to a magazine just to get the free gift they offer for buying? 99 times out of 100 the gift is worthless and sits in a closet for years until you finally give up and throw it away.

I feel guilty when I cook a meal and there isn’t enough left over for lunch the next day. I actually debate with myself if I should just go ahead and finish it all, no matter how full I am, or if I should wrap it up and leave it in the fridge for three weeks until it smells bad enough to throw it away.

 

 

 

September 2014

News…or entertainment?

 

What has happened to the once-powerful 24-hour news coverage we used to have on television? CNN used to boast about bringing all the news of the world in 30 minutes, but the media juggernaut has succumbed to the same “style over substance” disease that has befallen their comrades in broadcast journalism.

The major news networks have become more about the network personalities who deliver the story, rather than the story itself.

Back when CNN was cutting its teeth, Wolf Blitzer was a trusted newsman who would go anywhere for a story. Today, every network has four or five “Blitzers” who travel the world and broadcast for an hour each day in their own segments.

The news has taken a back seat to the people like Bill O’Rilley, Stewart Shepherd, Tucker Carlson, Greta Van Susteren and my personal favorite the whiskey voiced Rita Cosby.

Larry King set the stage for having an in-studio interview about the day’s major topic, and he did a good job with it. It was nice to tune in after the day’s coverage and get a more in-depth look at whatever the big story was.

But today, the networks think that their talking heads, and whatever “experts” they can drum up to be on camera so they can give us all the “details” while ignoring the story.

I am not even talking about the perceived media bias that anyone can plainly see by flipping through the channels. What bothers me is the networks seem to think the American public needs to be told what to think about a topic so they beat the topic into the ground every hour throughout the day. The same network will even present contradictory analysis from their anchors as the day goes on.

And how do they decide what is news anymore? Rather than boil several stories down into easily digestible nuggets, they jump on one topic and ride it for all they are worth.

A good example is the mess in Furguson these past few weeks. The networks were tripping over each other to get the “story” while other important events were happening everywhere.

The shooting, while dreadful, dominated the news cycle for days on end, but no one seemed to offer facts, just opinions.

I think the internet has had a negative impact on broadcast news. It is so easy for a common person to find everything they want about a fire in Indonesia or a riot in Detroit, so the networks have to compete for viewers.

Fearing they are losing their audience, the executives that make the decisions have abandoned the traditional style of reporting and installed a new, entertainment-style of journalism in its place.

As for me, I get most of my news from two of the most trusted sources around today, the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Despite the fact these shows appear on Comedy Central and have a strong humorous aspect to them, they seem to be beating the networks at their own game. It seems I can learn more about a topic from watching John Stewart or Steven Colbert than Britt Hume.


Numb. 

In honor of the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, we are reprinting the Word FromBird that appeared in the Voice on September 13, 2011.

No other word best describes what I am feeling right now. Like many Americans, I spent today watching the news broadcasts and listening to the radio reports from Washington D.C. and New York City as the horrible events of the day unfolded. The reality of this day has yet to fully sink in.

In my lifetime, I have never experienced such strong emotions that I am feeling now. As the day went on, the scale of these deplorable acts slowly began to sink in. No American born after World War Two has been subject to such an attack. An attack not only on our own soil, but an attack on the ideals of America itself.

In the coming days and weeks, as numbers and facts emerge, one thing will stand out. The strength and determination of the American People. We were bloodied but not beaten, down but not out, shaken but our will is resolute. We will come out of this stronger, determined and whole. This act has ripped out a part of our National Being, and that wound will never fully heal.

But it is that wound that we will suffer with pride, for it is in the face of this, the greatest of tragedies, that the spirit of America and all it stands for will continue.

My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families of these horrible events of this day. I cannot begin to imagine what they are feeling today, and I truly hope myself, or any one else will never have to go through the suffering and loss that these families are experiencing. All the brave rescue workers and civilians that risked their life to attempt to give aid deserve the highest of praise.

It is these people, and people like them, which exemplify the resolve of our Nation. We need to rally around the examples that these courageous individuals are setting through their selflessness.

The time for retribution will come. Vengeance will be brought against the people responsible for the heinous actions of this day. But let us first turn our focus inward. I am sure that most Americans have the same feeling of fear that grips me tonight. The very idea that this could happen sends shivers down my spine. It is like something out of a movie or novel. In fact my first thoughts when I heard about this act was to remember a Tom Clancy novel where something similar occurred.

Our government must set forth on the task of calming our fears. It must set the tone for our healing. Already it is beginning this job. The President is back at the White House, Congress is at the Capital and the business of running the country will go on. That is the best thing that could come from this. Terrorists main goal is to disrupt and destroy it’s target nations’ ability to govern. By resuming a sense of normality, President Bush and the members of both Houses of Congress send a clear message to those who would do us harm. “We will NOT be intimidated or bullied into compromising our ideals.”

Today marked a turning point in the history of the United States and the world. Nothing will ever be the same again. It will take a long time for anyone to fully come to grips with the enormity of the events of this day and their aftermath.

I am confident that, like the mythological phoenix, we will rise from the ashes and carry on. We will never take anything like air travel and national security for granted again. Instead of turning our eyes inward, we will watch beyond our borders with new, penetrating eyes. We, and other nations like us, will strive even harder for peace and a world where something like this can never happen again.

For this I pray. God Bless America.

9-11-01

 

Grounded

Sometimes the anticipation of the consequences of an action is worse than the actual punishment… especially when you’re a kid facing being grounded.

I remember once when I was about 15 years old, and my parents had gone out of town for the day one weekend, trusting me to behave on my own.

Well, that particular day, my friends stopped by to shoot some hoops. The only problem was, one of my dad’s work trucks was blocking the driveway. Just learning to drive, I figured I could get in and back it up enough for us to get a game in.

My well thought plan had one serious flaw – the truck was a stick shift, and I had no idea what I was doing, but it didn’t stop me.

I grabbed the keys, hopped in the truck and actually got it started. But when I attempted to shift it in reverse, it lurched and sputtered before a loud grinding noise came from under the hood. I finally got it stopped with the back end hanging out in the road, but there was nothing I could do to get it started again and started to panic.

My friends and I finally managed to push it back into the drive before it caused an accident, but we all knew something was terribly wrong with the truck.

Like all good teenaged friends, they abandoned me to anguish while waiting for my dad to come home.

I sat alone in the house for the next few hours with a sick feeling in my gut. I had no idea what was wrong with the truck, and anticipated it would cost thousands of dollars to repair.

Finally, when my parents came home, I blurted out right away what I had done. Dad took me outside to examine the damage. It turned out I had burnt out the clutch, but it wasn’t all my fault. It had been getting ready to go, and needed to be replaced anyway, so I was off the hook for any serious punishment.

I still got grounded, of course, but the day spent worrying about the punishment was worse than anything I could have got.

Is grounding kids effective anymore?

I don’t know the answer, because I don’t have any kids of my own, but I expect the answer to be no.

When I was growing up, the threat of being grounded and sent to my room was the end-all of punishments. Just the thought of being sent off in isolation made me toe the line on more than one occasion.

Today, with nearly every kid having a computer with internet access or a cell phone, I don’t see that as enough of a threat to deter misbehavior.

Heck, I’ll bet most kids these days never come out of their room most days except to raid the refrigerator.

Perhaps the more effective threat of punishment would be to have to spend time with the rest of the family.

Chasing the set

I finally tracked down the final four cards I needed to finish my 1986 ToppsBaseball Card set. It isn’t much of an achievement, but for nearly 30 years that gap has bothered me to no end. The cards aren’t even worth the effort I put in to getting them, but the satisfaction is enough for me.

I have collected cards since 1975 when packs cost less than a quarter for 25 cards and there was only one company that produced them. Today a dollar might buy you six cards and you could go crazy keeping track of all the different sets.

Not so long ago, there were no limited edition parallel cards, no short-prints, no game-used jersey or bat cards, just the simple satisfaction of buying cards a pack at a time in hopes of getting a card you don’t have to finish the set.

That is the thrill of collecting for me, getting all the cards.

Sure, it’s easier today when I have more disposable income, but buying in larger quantities doesn’t equate to getting the cards you need when there are more sub-sets and chase cards included.

The baseball card market blew up in the late 80’s and early 90’s. There were over 100 different sets that collectors could choose from. That is when the fun hobby for millions of children grew into a big business that focused on the big spenders and left many casual collectors in the dust.

The focus went from filling a set, to getting the ultra rare cards randomly packaged in the packs. Serious, big-money collectors would tear open packs and discard the regular cards just to get at the inset.

This lead to a huge drop in value for most card sets and traumatized the industry.

The monthly Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide was a valuable tool to any collector. I would scan the pages each month to see what my cards were worth, knowing deep down, that I would never sell them.

But times have changed. With the glut of “regular” cards on the market to the scarcity of some of the rare inserts, the value of most of my cards from the last two decades has plummeted to barely pennies on the dollar to what I spent on them.

But I still am a collector today.

After flirting with trying to keep up with the myriad of choices offered by card companies, I quickly discovered that I didn’t have the time or financial ability to keep up.

So I focused on one set for each year. My old favorite, Topps.

The regular Topps set is pure vanilla. There are very few “bells and whistles” included, but there are more than enough.

I miss the days of saving up my allowance to run to the store and buy a pack of cards and tearing through it to see if I was fortunate to get the one card I needed to fill the set.

Today, I could just order a complete, factory filled set off the internet, but I still prefer getting them one pack at a time.

 

 

 

August 2014

Up, up and away

Almost every American kid in the past 50 years has, undoubtedly at one point or another, pretended he or she was a superhero. Since the 1950’s, comic books have been a part of our culture in one form or another. The appearance of Superman in 1934 and Batman a few years later began what is now a billion dollar a year industry. Since what is called the “golden age” of comic books in the 50’s the number of costumed heroes has risen exponentially. It was a favorite play-time fantasy of my friends and I to pretend we were superheroes. We would make capes out of bath towels and clothespins and run around the back yard beating up imaginary villains and saving the world for certain doom. Back then, there were only a few heroes well-known enough to us to portray. Inevitably a squabble would break out as to who was going to be Superman. Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Wonder Woman (if there was a girl present) and the Flash would fill out the ranks. Aquaman would sometimes fall to the youngest kid, since his powers would be of little help since talking to fish didn’t seem that impressive. In the past decade or so the kids have more choices with the proliferation of movies and marketing of the characters. This past Halloween alone, I saw several Hulks, Spidermen, X-men, Power Rangers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles getting candy. I believe you can tell a lot about a person by who is their favorite super hero. It’s kind of like asking if someone is either a Beatles fan or Elvis. To me, Batman is the man. Throw away all the dark, morose images that accompany the “Dark Knight,” and you are left with someone who fights crime without the benefit of extra powers. He relies on training, natural ability and specially designed tools to get the job done. Now there is on tough crime fighter. Conversely, Superman is my least favorite hero. Even though he is an icon to millions of fans, to me he is the Bill Gates of the super heroes. Here is a guy that can fly, is super strong, has x-ray and heat vision, super cold breath and on top of all that, he can’t get hurt, except by a rare chunk of rock. Yet for all his powers, it always seems that he gets knocked around like a rag doll until the last possible minute when he uses one of his powers to save the day. Talk about your drama queen! Playing Superman to me was always a cop-out. It took no imagination. Tie him up? He’d just shrug his shoulders and break the ropes. Drop a mountain on him? One grunt later the entire pile of rocks is tossed away. Shoot at him? Please. Today there are more and more heroes that run around back yards and play grounds. If you take the time to watch these kids play at saving the world, you might be able to discern what kind of kid they are.


 

 The Benefit of Youth Sports

I grew up in a community that had a lot athletic programs for the children. There was T-ball, little league, Pop Warner Football, bowling and swimming, to name just a few. There were also special activities like the Punt, Pass and Kick competition every year. There was never a shortage of things to do for us kids. During the school year there were school -sponsored athletics and during the summer we had several independent club sports to choose from.

I played them all at one time or another. I never was a stand out at any of them, but I was good enough that I could play any thing I wanted (except hockey, I never could master ice skating). It is because of my involvement in youth sports, that I am the well-rounded person I am today.

Youth sports are more than just a way to get the kids out of the house for a few hours, they are an important character building tool for building better men and women. Youth sports teach so much more than how to win or lose, they teach everything from teamwork to how to handle failure.

Several communities across the country, including McCreary County, do not have access to a lot of youth sports, or are struggling due to the expenses involved.

Around here it is hard for families to afford the costs involved with independent programs, so much of the burden falls on school-sponsored sports, which have their own financial difficulties.

Youth sports also offer an opportunity for children to excel. Sports may be a confidence builder for underachievers, a creative outlet for troubled children or just a way for a child from a disadvantaged family to get ahead.

It is for these children that we need to support youth sports. From a six year old just learning the basics of the game to a high school senior competing for a scholarship, the level of support should be equal from a community.

When a child starts out in a program that is supported and coached properly, and that child continues with the sport as they get older, by the time they reach the higher levels of that sport, both the child and the sport itself will be better off.

By teaching and encouraging the young athletes, we foster in them the proper attitudes and ethics involved in a successful athletic career. Additionally, in starting at the bottom and working our way up, we are strengthening all of our programs, providing better teams and healthier competition.

Sure, most kids who play youth sports do not grow up to be multi million dollar sports stars, only a very, very small percentage can ever expect to reach the highest levels. But the experience they gain by at least participating is worth so much more, both to them and to the rest of the world.

 

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