Friday, December 30, 2011

What's So Bad About Being "Godless"?

This is more of a rant, so be warned:

I saw an article about abortion (the details don't matter in this context, suffice to say it was about abortion).  I skimmed the article.  Given the state of American journalism today (bought and paid for by corporate interests), there's not much point in buying into what you read in the news.  I skimmed down to the comments section - this, to me, is the real meat and potatoes of the news: not the facts themselves, but how the facts are understood by the people.  You gotta love America.

Naturally, the comments section was full of indignant opinions, howling about the horrible state of the nation, that we would allow abortion at all.  You know, because life is precious or something.  I'm not saying life isn't good, but it seems to me that a nation dedicated to the concept of life being sacred wouldn't have spent as much money as we have on nuclear weaponry.  It seems like in a nation where life is supposed to be precious, the NRA would be considered a terrorist organization, akin with the Klan or jihadists.  In a nation where life is supposed to be precious, the death penalty would be rejected out of hand, regardless of the circumstances.  In a nation dedicated to the concept of life being sacred, war would be unheard of. 

But I digress.

One comment that stuck out to me was this person lamenting our "godlessness" as a nation.  My first reaction was "if you want to live in a nation where religion calls the shots, bop on over to Iran or Saudi Arabia.  They love that stuff there."

Yes, as a nation we are godless.  And that is not new.  It is not a liberal plot, foisted on an unsuspecting populace by sinister ACLU no-goodniks.  We are godless by design.  When the Constitution was written, great steps were taken to distance us from being affiliated with any one religion.  The framers of the Constitution, in an act of epic wisdom, understood that a theocratic state is not the path to freedom.  We are, as a nation, dedicated above all to the notion of freedom above all.  How many times have you heard the phrase "it's a free country"?  When it comes to religion, this is especially true.

You are free, as an individual, to make up your own mind about God.  Is there one?  What's God like?  Is God a "He" or a "She"?  Is there only one god?  Does God love you?  Does God hate anyone?  You're utterly free to call the shots, belief-wise.  No government agency can knock on your door to conduct inspections to make sure you've got the requisite Bibles, Qu'rans, Torahs or Pagan spellbooks handy.  You are not required to pray in public.  Similarly, if you choose to believe in any particular religion, you cannot be harrassed or jailed for it.  You have absolute autonomy over your own individual spiritual destiny here in America.  If there is a heaven and hell, they won't be checking your passports and directing you to one or the other based on your citizenship.

So yes, we are by definition a "godless nation".  And if you ask me, people damn well need to be reminded of it.  It's true, Christianity is the most commonly professed religion in America.  I say "professed" because it's easy to claim it, and it's understandable to want to fit in.  But based on how we treat the poor, the sick and the old in this country, based on our love affair with war and our tendencies to end half of our marriages in divorce, based on our obsession with money and materialism, I'd say the average American wouldn't know real Christianity if it bit them on the ass.

I've read history.  I've seen what religious fanatacism brings: crusades, witch trials, holy wars, genocide, persecutions, jihad, and so on.  Read the Malleus Maleficarum to get a sense of the joys of living in a church state.

So believe whatever you want about abortion.  I honestly don't care, because your beliefs don't apply to me.  It's the law applies to me, for as long as I choose to live here.  That's the beauty of living in a godless nation.  Your point of view, and the religion that precedes it have nothing to do with me.  I can pray to a different god (or none at all), believe something entirely different about abortion as a result and it doesn't affect your life in any way.  Out of respect for you and your likely different perspective, I'll do you the favor of keeping my views to myself and not insisting you abide by my god's laws. 

A godless nation does not mean that the population is all godless.  It just means that the government is, and the people have the right to be godless (or not) if they choose it with no penalties.  I say, hooray for godless nations, and the freedom they represent!  Hooray for my rights, and hooray for yours!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Field Starts to Take Shape

With a mere 14 months and change remaining, the Republicans are starting to take position for their 2012 effort to dethrone Barack Obama and take back the White House (making it, to the delight of Tea Partiers, white once again).

I have to say, right up front, that I suspect this whole thing is pointless. Obama will be re-elected. Sure, the economy is still in the crapper, but Osama bin Laden is dead, we've seen healthcare reform passed, we no longer ban stem cell research, and Don’t Ask Don’t Tell is over with. For a more comprehensive list, visit

I could go on, but I think that in the end, the American people will do the right thing, even if it means choosing the lesser of two evils next November, as we did in 2008. Which brings me to the current crop of challengers:

• Mitt Romney: So far, the heir apparent. He's experienced, well-known, handsome. Will he get the nomination? His chances are better than average. Will he unseat Obama? Not a chance, and here's why. Ultimately, hardcore conservative Christians, which make up the GOP these days, will not be able to hold their noses and pull the lever for Romney. While he was governor in Massachusetts, they adopted universal healthcare and legalized gay marriage. Oh, and he's Mormon. Those three things will ultimately doom his chances of being elected by the modern-day GOP. Ironically, he's also the least objectionable of the lot.

• Michele Bachmann: Again, well-known, experienced, and familiar with the workings of Washington. This makes her a credible contender for the GOP nomination. She’s done a good job cozying up the born-again and the Tea Party crowds. But she’s got two weak spots: she’s insane (like, one medication dose short of eating her own feces crazy) and many of the things she claims she’s against, she takes part in – things like government subsidies for farmers, Medicare, Freddy Mac, and government-sponsored healthcare. Not to mention, she married a huge closet case.

• Jon Huntsman: Who? Seriously, the guy has no game. None.

• The rest: Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Donald Trump, David Duke, Rick Santorum. The mere fact the these names are being seriously considered in any sphere apart from a reality show about train wrecks is just more proof to me that the GOP isn’t taking this seriously.

There are only a handful of explanations here to explain the field as it stands: One possibility is that they’ve become so detached from reality that these names actually seem worth supporting. In other words, the lunatics have taken over the asylum. But I think the more likely explanation is that the GOP knows that they are doomed to sit through a full eight years of President Obama.

The wounds inflicted by the previous eight years of George W. Bush provide a dubious track record to run on, and they know it. They can complain all they want about Obama, the liberals, the deficit (which they totally participated in creating), but when the average voter says to them “okay, what do you plan to do about it, and why would we take your word for it?” they have nothing.

They have no real idea how to fix the economy, their idea of foreign relations is enough to make you sympathetic to al Qaeda, and their attacks on teachers, nurses, unions and the middle class in general are proof positive that the only people who stand to gain from a Republican in the White House are arms dealers, oil companies and billionaires in general.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Peace in Our Time

I've got it.  I can't believe it took me this long.  I've got the secret to achieving Peace in Our Time.  And best of all, it reflects true democracy.

It started when I saw an article on the Huffington Post about how our wars over the last decade have so far costs us $3.7 trillion.  In the last year or two I have read lots of articles about de-funding Planned Parenthood, ACRON, NRP, the National Endowment for the Arts, Social Security, etc.  And it occurred to me that I really didn't mind seeing my tax dollars go to partially fund those things, but I minded like hell that a much larger chuck of my tax dollars went to support war.  I'm not a fan of war, and I am a fan of us taking care of our own. 

This government is supposed to be "of the people, by the people and for the people", and yet despite public support for the wars waning steadily over the last few years, Congress seems oblivious to the turning tide, and continue to rubber stamp their approvals all over wasteful spending on dubious project.  And as if that's not enough of a kick in the teeth, they have the temerity to bicker among themselves about debt and spending.  Are they assuming we can't see this?  We're broke, war is expensive, peace is cheap.  Do the math.  If you added up all the money we've spent over the past ten years on Social Security, Medicare, social welfare programs and all the funding that ACORN, NPR, and Planned Parenthood have gotten, I would bet that our spending on wars amounts to a lot more.  Gutting the funding we give to all of those programs while continuing to fund an expensive war campaign that nobody wants is not the path to fiscal solvency, ladies and gentlemen.

Anyway, back to Peace in Our Time.

The House of Representatives has 435 members, and the Senate 100.  These men and women are in office because we voted them into office, with the assumption that they were going to go to Washington and represent us and our interests.  My Congressman, Adam Schiff, does a pretty good job of consistently voting in ways I agree with.  I get the feeling that on a national level, I am outnumbered in that opinion.  What I am suggesting is this: when it comes to spending taxpayers' money on projects, whether it be war or public housing, that the Representatives go to their respective constituencies and get a sense of how best to vote.  And here's the kicker: if Congressperson "A" votes in favor of a war and Congressperson "B" votes against it (assuming they are representing their constituents), and that motion to go to war passes, the costs associated with that war be shouldered only by the taxpayers in Congressperson "A"'s district.  In other words, I don't have to pay for a war out of my taxes if my elected representative voted against the idea.  If Congress voted to fund subsidies to NPR, ACORN, or Planned Parenthood, and my representative voted yes, my tax dollars will get used for that.

This idea completely solves the problem of having one's tax dollars going to fund ideas, campaigns or projects that they disapprove of.  I would love the idea of paying my taxes and knowing it goes to support the things I think Congress should be doing.

Now to the naysayers I say, yes, some people's taxes will be higher than others.  But don't complain to me about that.  Complain to your elected representatives, your Senators and Congressmen and women.  They're going to be the ones committing your tax dollars.  If you don't like they way they vote to spend your taxes, you can do one of two things:  either vote them out of office or move to another district.  I have to wonder, having written that, how many people who can't be bothered to vote would sooner move than get involved in their own democracy.

As an example of how this would work: if your representatives vote "no" on fixing road and bridges at your direction, and the bill passes anyway, your disctrict won't get any help fixing the roads and bridges from the Feds.  You had the chance to accept the help and you said "no".  Happy motoring!

If your representatives vote "yes" on funding PBS and NPR and the measures pass, you don't have to worry about your district's PBS and NPR stations doing their annual fundraisers.  To the rest of you, enjoy the marathon fund raisers!

So there it is: Peace In Our Time.  When our representatives are sticking the small minority of the population who support the idea of war with the $3.7 trillion bill, I am guessing that we'll be more willing to explore non-military solutions to our international problems.  I'm guessing that we'll see some real fiscal conservancy, once taxpayers understand the relationship between their votes and their taxes.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Why the Death Penalty Makes No Sense to Me

From the Huffington Post today: "Thirty-five years after the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated capital punishment and approved new sentencing criteria to make it less random, a new report has found that receiving the death penalty is still as arbitrary and unfair as being 'struck by lightning.'"

I am against the death penalty, but not for the reasons you may expect.  I am not the guy saying "have mercy on the criminal".  I'm not the one telling you that it's cruel and unusual punishment.  I leave that to the Constitutional scholars out there. 

The fact is, there are some true bastards out there.  There are folks who rape and kill.  There are people who will burn down homes just to see the pretty colors.  There are mommies who will drive a minivan full of kids into a river, or stick a baby in a microwave.

Are these people insane?  I would think so, but what do I know?  I'm no psychiatrist, I'm not fit to say who is sane or insane.  But it seems to me that anyone who decides at some point that any of that behavior is acceptable has snapped on some level.  And frankly I don't care if they spend the rest of their natural lives in a prison or a psych ward, just so long as they're removed from the general populace.

When I tell people I'm against the death penalty, I invariably get asked how I would feel if my wife and family were murdered.  If I got to choose their killer's fate, would I still be against the death penalty.  And while that's certainly a stimulating argument, I would say that in that case, I'm the last person anyone should ask.  I would not have it in me to think rationally or objectively.  I might agree, in that moment, to torture and kill the bastard as slowly and as painfully as science would allow.  Which is exactly why I should not be in charge of making the decision.

There is talk of justice, but there is no justice when someone gets killed.  Killing their killers will not bring back their victims.  It's just another hole we have to dig. 

Which brings me to my first reason for opposing the death penalty: it is not an effective deterrent to violent crime.  In states where the death penalty is an option, violent crime and other execution-earning crimes are no less common.  If you could say that there was a significant drop in violent crimes in states that offer the death penalty, you might be able to make the case that executing criminals serves some sense of the Greater Good.  But this is not the case.  Besides, most death-penalty-earning crime is committed because the person is either batshit crazy for life, or else caught up in a moment of passion - or as some phrase it, "temporary insanity".  To those people, the ones who are either temporarily or permanently nuts, they're not going to say to themselves "gosh I'd better not kill this hooker - I don't want to go to the gas chamber".

The next reason is strictly a practical one, from the financial perspective: it is cheaper to let them rot in jail for life than it is to execute them.  People sentenced to death are often kept in jail for years, sometimes decades, going through the appeals process.  And I'm not saying that they shouldn't be allowed to appeal - I've heard of many cases where a death row inmate was freed decades after being sentenced when somebody ran a DNA test that actually proved they were innocent all along.  Inmates on Death Row have a better chance of dying of old age that dying in the execution chamber.  And all that appealling costs the states money and diverts resources.

My final reason for opposing the death penalty could be taken as sadistic, but here it goes: prison sucks.  In prison, you lose your identity.  You rarely see the sky.  Nobody bakes you a cake on your birthday, you never have a chance to get promoted or be anything other than what you are: an inmate.  You get a number, a uniform, and if you're very lucky, a cellmate that doesn't think you have a pretty mouth.  You eat bad food, sleep on a steel bed, wear the same clothes every day and the only new people you ever get to meet are the new inmates.  The best you can hope for is that the guards and inmates don't think beating you is a fun way to pass the time.  There is no future, and every day is the same as the last.  And that's your life.  Forever.  Unless you do manage to get out years later, in which case you're screwed again: you will completely lost all your skills for living in a non-prison world, and your odds of getting a house or a job or ever being accepted back into mainstream society are slim.  This is why a lot of people released from prison invariably pull some stunt shortly after being released that gets them back in prison.

At one point in the 90's, I fell behind on the child support I was paying, and the Sherriff's deputies came to my home and arrested me.  I spent five days in the couty jail.  Let me tell you, it was no picnic.  And that was just county jail, not a state or a federal prison.  County jails are usually for people waiting to make bail or else serving a short term sentence (less than a year).  You have an assortment of drunk drivers, wife beaters, and general no-goodniks.  I had nightmares about that experience for years afterwards.  And if I committed some heinous crime and the prosection offered me the chioce of life in prison without the possibility of parole or the death penalty, there would no question in my mind: kill me now.  So when we have someone who has committed some atrocious crime and we scratch our collective heads and wonder "how can we really make this bastard suffer", I say killing them is not the best answer. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Mind Your Own Business

Way back in 1928, Supreme court Justice Louis Brandeis referred to "the right to be let alone" as "the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men".  I agree.  We have, and ought to have, the right to be left alone - by the media, the government, and nosy people in general.

Of course, this right is not absolute.  I should not have the right to be left alone to beat my wife, molest little kids, start a dog fighting ring or other crimes that involve the direct harming of others.  But whatever I do that I want to keep to myself, that doesn't involve me hurting others, ought to be left up to me, without the interference of nosey parties.

With that said, we are a society obsessed with other people's lives.  When Charlie Sheen announced his mid-life crisis and desired to have endless coke parties with porn stars, the media couldn't get enough.  I addressed it myself on this blog, but mostly just to say nobody should care.  This isn't news, a rich middle aged guy having a very expensive midlife crisis. 

A few weeks ago, several of Sarah Palin's emails were made public.  Rather than hanging our heads in shame over this invasion of privacy, we celebrated it on TV and on the Internet.  I'm no fan of Mrs. Palin, but even the jerks in our society should have the right to reasonably expect some measure of privacy.  Unless her emails have her confessing to crimes, I'm not interested.

More recently, Congressman Anthony Weiner's private life of sexy text messages and PG-13 pictures sent to various women has come to light, and the predictable media feeding frenzy has engaged.  Arnold Schwarzenegger’s many mistresses and love children became public shortly after he left office, and we all dove into the buffet at the never ending trough of public shame.

The Washington versions of our obsession with all things private is just one chapter in our saga.  Visit sites like TMZ, PerezHilton, or scan the magazines at the checkout stands anywhere in America, and you will see two things: a society obsessed with other people's private lives, and an well-funded industry dedicated to enabling this addiction.  I don't find Anthony Weiner's activities nearly as obscene as our general attitude that we are entitled to know the details.  It has been suggested that we should find better ways to spend our time, both individually and collectively.  Will it happen, though?  Of course not. 

Like Pavlov's dogs, we have been conditioned to respond to the stimuli our masters have chosen.  How much weight has Kirstie Allie lost and/or gained back?  Do Tom Cruise and Katey Holmes have a happy marriage?  What about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie? What are the stars of "Harry Potter" and "Twilight" doing off-camera?  What is the private life of your favorite celebrity really like?

I have to admit that I find myself cheering every time some celebrity beats the hell out of someone in the paparazzi for taking pictures of their kids or crowding them out so they can't successfully walk to their cars when they leave restaurants.  Without the paparazzi and the tabloids, we would have lost track of Lindsay Lohan and the Olson twins, and we probably would have no idea who Paris Hilton is at all.  And to me, those are good things.  In a perfect world, or at least a self-respecting one, we wouldn't bother to care.

Our obsession does not end with the private side of celebrity.  Our government makes it a policy to wage war waged on harmless stoners, under the flimsy pretext of a "war on drugs".  Tactically, financially, morally, our war on drugs is a colossal failure and needs to end.  And since I'm one of the people funding it through my tax dollars, I feel that I should get a say in this.  But to admit defeat in the war on drugs would be to acknowledge that it's okay to leave people alone sometimes.  And that is not a message that we as a society are ready to accept.

Ask people whether two gay people they don’t even know should have the right to marry, and suddenly everyone has an opinion.  Ask them if a gay couple who they’ve never met is fit to adopt and raise a child, and you’ll get even stronger opinions.  Whatever happened to “none of your business”?  Whatever happened to minding our own business?

I've said it before and I’ll say it again: we ought to have the absolute right to be left alone, provided we are not actively engaged in harming others.  But in agreeing to our own right to be left alone, we must also stipulate that right for everyone else as well.  And that means the end of tabloids, scandals involving politicians’ sex lives, and the right to decide on the validity of other people’s marriages.  What ever shall we discuss now?

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dear Charlie Sheen:

Shut up.

Seriously, man, just pipe down.  We get it.  You're rich.  You like hot young women.  You like to party.  We get it.  There is no need to go on national media and announce it. 

When this happens to regular (as in, not celebrity) men in their 40's and 50's, it's called a mid-life crisis.  We get toupees, buy a convertible, chase 20-something girls and generally try to convince ourselves that the best is yet to come. 

You have five kids, the youngest of which were taken from you by law enforcement recently.  This should be a wake-up call to most dads to tone down the partying.  I hope it is for you as well.  There have been a lot of red flags in your life in recent weeks, though, and none of them have seemed to slow you down.

There is nothing the media in America love than a good public trainwreck, and you seem to be feeding right into that.  You have forsaken your privacy, and your dignity in the process.  And what's worse, you sent the media the message that all celebrities' private lives are meant to be a public forum.  You are an enabler of the worst kind of journalism - the paparazzi.  They feel entitled to know every little thing about your private life, and you're not the one to tell them differently, it seems.  You seem to delight in taking us all on your wild ride toward self-destruction.

The best may yet be to come for you, Mr. Sheen.  I can't tell you what the future holds.  But you are not a rock star.  Just accept it.  You're an actor, and a dad in his mid-40's.  Find a way to enjoy your life that doesn't make you look like a high school kid whose parents went on vacation without him and left him the credit cards and the key to the liquor cabinet.

And above all, try telling the paparazzi that it's none of their goddamn business.  They need to hear that once in a while.

Friday, February 18, 2011

They Shoot Canadians, Don’t They?

I’ve often joked that if I ever travel abroad in a non-English speaking country, the first phrase I want to master in that country’s language is “don’t shoot, I’m Canadian”.

With other countries wearing their disdain for all things American on their sleeves, pretending to be Canadian while traveling seems smart.  It seems like the easiest way to get out of all sorts of unpleasant scenarios while traveling, from snobbish waiters to bloodthirsty mobs. We Americans look the same as our Canadian brethren (albeit tanner), we dress pretty much the same (maybe a little less flannel), and apart from a slight difference in our accents, it’s a deception we might just be able to pull off. Plus, I remember just enough of my high school French to make the story seem plausible.

Some of my fellow Americans might take issue with my plan. These are the same folks who will tell you that America is the greatest country on earth, bar none. Parenthetically speaking, it’s always interesting to note how many of those uber-patriots have never traveled abroad. They seem to view their neighbors to the north with a mixture of envy and disdain. They’ve got that health care system that supposedly puts ours to shame, for one. About 90% of the Canadian population lived within an hour’s drive of the U.S. border, so they’ve viewed as Fred and Ethel to America’s Ricky and Lucy: familiar, but not always welcome.

Canadians aren’t lightweights, to be sure. First off, they’re in Canada, one of the coldest countries in the world. That’s pretty badass right there. These folks host the Yukon, for crying out loud. So I have a ton of respect for them just for that. I’m nowhere near as tough. I’ll take the freeway debacle that is southern California, earthquakes and all, if it means never having to shovel snow again. Also, these guys love beer and hockey. You can call these folks a lot of things, maybe, but “wussies” is not on that list. This is a hardy bunch of folks.

As far as how I’m viewed by others when traveling abroad, I worry that whatever faults people in other countries would have with America, they would see personified in me. Americans traveling abroad have the stereotype of being loud, rude, and generally ignorant of other cultures. We almost never learn the languages of the countries we visit in advance, insisting that they all should speak English to us. And to our detriment, they agree. But that doesn’t mean I want to be beheaded because of my country’s foreign policies. It’s not like they ever consulted me.

One of the big differences between Canada and the United States (and there are many, to be sure) is that their government doesn’t seem to go around upsetting other countries. Canada may be far from perfect, depending on how you define the word. But can you name any countries Canada has invaded? They’re a democracy too, but they don’t feel the need to defend democracy in other countries, just their own.

It’s not that Canada doesn’t have an army or a Navy – they do. How do they compare to the U.S.’s army and navy? Well as an American I’m conditioned to believe that our armed forces are the best in the world, so maybe I’m not the right person to ask. In truth, I don’t know because I’ve never seen the Canadian military in action. The send in troops for U.N. stuff, but in general terms their military seems content to stay home and defend its own country. Easy work, too: I’m not aware of any country planning a full-scale invasion of Canada.

As a result, the world’s terrorist organizations seem to leave Canada pretty much alone. Seriously, when was the last time saw al Qaeda or any other group on TV marching in the street chanting “death to Canadians”? It’s not that Canada hasn’t had its brushes with terrorists: I looked it up, and in the last 25 years, four people were attacked and two killed by foreign terror groups, and there were seven attacks (mostly firebombs) attributed to domestic terrorists organizations and individuals. There are rumors of terrorist groups are lurking in Canada. But based on what we’ve seen, it’s more likely that they’re just trying to get close to America. I mean, really, why attack Canada? To what end?

So what I’m saying is, there seems to be a direct correlation between Canada’s foreign policies (live and let live, basically), and how their people are treated while traveling abroad. All things considered, if I make any trips to the Holy Land, Egypt, or anywhere else that they’re burning effigies of Uncle Sam in the streets, I’ll be sure to pepper my speeches with “eh?” at the end, just to throw them off the scent.

Monday, January 17, 2011


I love to complain.  I really do.  I’m good at it.  It’s one of the few talents I have.  I can rant and rave, whine, mutter, grumble, and rage with the best of them.  I’ve been trained well by my movies, TV programs, and songs.   I watch the news, and it seems only the bad things ever get our attention.  I watch stand-up comedians, who teach us to laugh at their grumblings over life’s little inconsistencies and letdowns.  Commercials teach us to be discontent with our lives to the degree that we buy whatever solutions they peddle.  All around us, resentments abound.

So when you start talking about gratitude, it usually gets relegated to Thanksgiving.  I like Thanksgiving because it forces us to quit our incessant whining.  We have one day where it’s just not cool to complain.  But carrying that attitude past the point of turkey leftovers is a challenge.

Recently I was stuck in traffic.  In L.A. this is no rare thing.  Traffic was backed up for what seemed like miles.  And like most of us, I had somewhere to be.  So there I sat, pondering the injustice of it all, and basically thinking what everyone else was thinking: “why does this happen to me?”  Eventually, the traffic crawled along to the point where we could see what the problem was: a terrible traffic accident.  On the shoulder of the road, crews were doing their best to handle two crumpled cars.  No sign of crumpled bodies, but you just knew that whoever had been in those cars was having a worse day than me by now.  As I passed by in my non-crumpled car, enjoying the climate-controlled air and free to go about my business, I was humbled.  Here I had been whining this whole time about “why do bad things happen to me”.  I had myself convinced that I was the victim.  But would I trade my car for theirs?  Would I trade my physical condition for theirs?  Would I trade my eventual insurance rates for theirs?  Would I trade the rest of my day for the rest of theirs?  In a word, no.  Chastened, I sped along to my appointment and on with my life.

Based on this, I had an epiphany: anything you can complain about, you can find a reason to be grateful for, too.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Now, this is a challenge, and it takes some practice.  Let me give you some examples:
  • “I have to work today” or “I hate my job” becomes “I have a job, and others are not so lucky”.
  • “I’m fat” becomes “I live in a country where food is abundant”.
  • “My car sucks” becomes “I have a car”.
  • “My parents/kids/spouse/in-laws/family are jerks” becomes “I have a family”.
And so on.  The common thread here is that it could be worse, and you need to see that. 

I learned something else that was nice: whenever you’re feeling cranky, irritable, or put upon buy life’s little injustices, a good exercise is to start making a list of things you have to be grateful for.  And I’m not talking about the big, platitude-sounding stuff, like “I live in a free country” or “God loves me”.  If you are willing to sift through the details, you can probably come up with a few things at any given moment.

Here’s mine:
  • Today, I got to work on time, or close enough that no one complained.
  • The weather today is gorgeous.  Here it is, mid-January, and I’m wearing a short sleeved short outside with no jacket.
  • I just finished a week-long cleanse diet with almost no cheating, and I think I dropped a few pounds without suffering.
  • During my diet, I developed a taste for tea without sugar.  This is a good thing.
  • As this week-long diet is over, I can have a nice lunch.
  • My work day is halfway through, and I have no plans after work.
Thinking about what doesn’t suck in my life helps me to take what does suck and see it in perspective.  It helps me see that when I choose to dwell on the constant stream of negativity in my life, I’ll never take the time to see what is good, what is working, and what could be worse.

I’m just saying, it could be worse.  My challenge is to see it, recognize it, and live as though I understood it.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Year's Resolutions

Like most of us, I'm not big on New Year's resolutions.  I mean, I get the reasoning behind it: New Year's falls just a few days after Christmas.  At Christmas time, we all pretend to be a little bit more decent to one another, and we get all optimistic.  Then we got our presents and think about all the stuff we should have asked for instead.  The end of a year has many of us looking back with regrets over missed opportunities and "what might have been", which inevitably leads us to resolutions to correct whatever mistakes we've made in the last twelve months.  "This year", we tell ourselves "things are going to be different".

We promise ourselves we're going to lose weight, start exercising, quit eating junk food, watch less TV, quit smoking, you name it.  And based on the statistics related to America's growing epidemic of obesity, I'd say we're having a hard time following through on those resolutions, no matter how well-intended or medically necessary they may be.

But I have to say, my 2010 hasn't left me with too many feelings of remorse.  Could I have done things better?  Probably.  Could I have tried harder?  Certainly.  But would I trade my 2010 for some of my previous years, or for anyone else's 2010?  Probably not.

I am still married, and happily so.  I moved into a bigger, nicer place.  I got a good job this year that I like doing, with co-workers I don't feel like punching.  I'm still pretty healthy, albeit a little fat.  I have good friends.  My life does not suck as badly as many others, and nowhere near as bad as it used to.  Believe me when I tell you, these are huge gains for me. 

It has been suggested that happiness is not necessarily having what you want in life, but rather wanting what you already have.  With that in mind, I hereby resolve for 2011:
  • Not to screw it all up too badly, if I can help it.
  • To tell my wife I love her every day, even when I'm grumpy.
  • To let my friends know that they're important to me.
  • To not do anything too terribly self-destructive.
  • To appreciate what I've got, while I've still got it.
  • To try to be more aware of the fact that I've got it pretty good.
  • To try to take care of what I have.  It was not earned easily.
  • To take criticisms with grace and humility, and to criticize other less.
  • To distance myself from anything ugly, pointless, or draining.
  • To make efforts to fix the things in my life that are broken, or at least not make them any worse.
That's my list.  I'll probably stay fat, so why make promises to the contrary?  I'll still yell at the jerks on the freeway to whom merging is a foreign concept.  I'll still put off things that I really should have done yesterday.  I'm not proud of these things, but then again I'm not going to make a list of promises that I have no intention of keeping, to myself or anyone else.  That's just bad karma.

I hope to end 2011 as I ended 2010: not completely smug and satisfied, but not prostrate with regret and guilt either.  I did the best I could (usually), and the results speak for themselves.  Here's hoping your 2011 doesn't suck either.