Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Daily Routine

One has to be in the same place every day, watch the dawn from the same house, hear the same birds awake each morning, to realize how inexhaustibly rich and different is sameness. -- Taoist philosopher Chuang Tzu   

We humans are habitual.  We perform repetitive routines every day without thinking.  If we had to think about them, we would bury ourselves with detail.  The cognitive part of our brain would overheat. Our focus would ping around our personal space, and we could not get out of our way.  Or move forward. 

We rely on simple algorithms buried in our brains and executed on autopilot. Our parents taught us the steps and we trained for weeks Mom or Dad took their hand off the wheel, we failed a few times, and eventually we memorized. 

Most routines are simple.  The morning rise:  how we brush our teeth, manicure our hair,  hold our breakfast spoon and fork.  The routine in the car: turn a key (or push a button), adjust the mirror, snap the seatbelt, put it in gear.  Write something down:  hold in certain fingers, tilt at certain angle to the paper, push it to form letters. 

After six decades, what if I tried to change a routine?  What if I broke the chain of automated steps and made a cognitive move to alter the steps? What if I snapped one of the brainwaves in mid-route?  Would it matter? 

I remember a scene from the sitcom "All in the Family".  Archie and his son-in-law Mike get into a loud debate about the proper sequence for footware.  Mike dresses one foot with a sock and shoe, and then does the same sequence with the other.  Archie berates him and directs him to do it the right way:  a sock on each foot, then a shoe on each foot.  He explains that if the house caught fire, and Mike was only halfway through with his footware, he would have one totally bare foot when trying to escape. Mike retorts that if it was snowing outside, at least he could hop on one dry foot. [You can find this clip on YouTube; just search 'sock, sock, shoe, shoe' or 'sock, shoe, sock, shoe', whichever you prefer.] 

We all have similar processes we go through each day.  But we probably do them just a little differently. Our habits are individualized.  Humans are one-offs and so are our daily routines. There is no right or wrong, as Mike knew. Our own routines work just fine for us. 

We can also define our habits or routines as rituals.  Rituals reflect deep meaning, even in the smallest of moments.  Our daily walk contains plenty of meaning when we combine the individual steps into a whole Some of that walk may seem the same from day to day because of the sameness of the rituals. The rituals, as a whole, define who we are as people and what we do with our day.  

It is a sameness that can be inexhaustibly rich.  There is nothing mundane about it. 

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Militia of One

Hand grenades are regulated under the National Firearms Act (“NFA”), a federal law first passed in 1934 and amended by the Crime Control Act of 1968. The 1968 amendments made it illegal to possess “destructive devices,” which includes grenades. 

I cannot own a live grenade.  I cannot legally buy one. 

This certainly makes sense.  A single grenade has the power to kill multiple people.  The consequences are deadly. 

So why should it be legal to own an automatic rifle that can kill multiple people in a matter of seconds?  Why should an individual be permitted to own and use a military-style weapon 

Why can an individual accumulate so much weaponry that he becomes a one-man militia? 

The men who carried out the most recent mass murders were sitting on multiple rifles, handguns, automatic pistols, cartridges, and explosives.  They intended to kill as many people as possible in a short burst of violence. The litany of one-person militias is long and violent, with myriad apparent motives: Sandy Hook, Las Vegas, Orlando, Virginia Tech, San Bernadino, Sutherland Springs.

Motives are a factor. Mental health is a factor.  Political extremism and terrorism is a factor. 
No matter how one stands on the Second Amendment to the Constitution, one fact is clear: the United States has  the largest rate of gun ownership in the world, and the highest rate of deaths due to guns in the world.  A recent article describes the data around gun ownership and crime statistics. 

Regardless of how we interpret our right to arms, we are using guns for destruction of life at an incredibly high rate.

Our country has engaged in a 30-year debate over guns, one of the most polarizing conversations in our society.  We interpret the language of the Second Amendment in ways that buttress our own side of the debate.  Every word and comma gets parsed, even to the point of arguing what a word meant in the English language of the 1790s. 

I have friends who collect guns as a reasonable hobby.  I was raised and live in upstate New York, where hunting is a major part of life for many, particularly during fall hunting seasons.  Weaponry is maintained and kept in safe environments.

But there is a large chasm between "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" and the ability of an individual to become a militia-of-one who can destroy many lives in seconds.  Common ground can be found.  We need the political will to find it.

Friday, October 27, 2017

What I Won't Learn from my Incessant Facebook NewsFeed

For most of history, probably more than 90 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty, plunging to fewer than 10 percent today. 

Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read..... 

So let’s pause from our pessimism for a nanosecond of celebration about a world that is actually getting better. The most important historical force in the world today is not President Trump, and it’s not terrorists. Rather, it’s the stunning gains on our watch against extreme poverty, illiteracy and disease; it’s all those 12-year-olds out there who never catch leprosy and instead go to school.  Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, July 1, 2017 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

John Grimes

"Moonlight can take the sordid or the garish and clothe it in majesty.  Sometimes a person with a great soul can come upon a commonplace scene and effect an equal transformation." 

"If you find a mistake in this paper, please consider that it was there for a purpose.  We write something for everyone, including those who are always looking for mistakes." 

These lines are taken from a collection of work entitled "The Best of Grimes", a pamphlet published in the 1960s.  John Grimes served as the editor and publisher of 'The Microphone', the weekly bulletin of the Rotary Club of Oxford, New York.  

"The Best of Grimes" collects material from that weekly bulletin.  My Dad was a stalwart member of the Club, and I found a copy of this little publication while cleaning out my Mom's home after her recent death. 

I have large memories of John Grimes for one reason:  he was our 'shop teacher' in junior high school.  He was soft-spoken, erudite, and quietly humorous.  He was full of pithy sayings.  He was clearly a man who had lived a few different lives, had been through a great deal of travail and travels, and whose experiences lent him an air of life-wisdom to  impart to junior high boys. 

Mr. Grimes had an interesting way of assigning work in his shop.  We were supposed to rotate through different types of projects:  something with wood, something with metal, something electrical.  Problem was, there were more boys than tools.  Plus, Mr. Grimes could clearly recognize who had a modicum of skills with woodworking or metallurgy, and who had three thumbs and were likely to hurt themselves once a week. 

So I became a printer. 

The shop included a manual printing press and an extensive collection of print trays with various fonts and print styles.  We printed bulletins for school sporting events, assemblies, graduations, plays – and the occasional 'contract work' for things like Rotary Club bulletins.  There was no lack of work, thus the need for regular operators in every class. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Grimes would do the other projects for us.  I may have done the last sanding on that baseball bat, but he ran the lathe to make it look like a bat.  I probably ran the wire up the middle section of the lamp that I proudly took home to Mom, but I'm sure he hooked the whole thing together so that it would stand on its own and the bulb would glow when plugged into the socket. 
I had too many printjobs to set to be making bats and lamps.

I enjoyed every minute of it.  To this day, I will gravitate to the printer's building whenever we visit the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown. 

I wasn't the only one to learn this skill under Mr. Grimes' tutelage.  My brother Dennis was a printer.  I'm sure there are other classmates who remember inkstains on their hands while sitting in other classrooms. 

Since those days, I have heard other stories about John Grimes.  One story has him playing baseball in the minor leagues.  Supposedly, he was a teammate and close friend of the Waner brothers, Paul and Lloyd, known as "Big and Little Poison" in the Pirates system. Part of the story is that Grimes played under an alias due to questions about some aspect of his past.   

I have no idea whether this is true.  I do know that John Grimes made a mark on my life (and he would have smiled at the pun), and he left behind many thoughtful words in a Rotary Club bulletin. 

"Some of us find happiness in toil, some in art, some in the open air and the sunshine.  All of us find it in simply being alive.  Life is the gift no creature would part with."