Mom, I Turned Out Awesome!

From time to time, like pretty much everyone on the planet, I reminisce about my family, the experiences we shared growing up together and the evolution of our family’s story. Comparatively speaking, I’ve rarely written about them, mostly just a few honorable mentions to make my blog more family-friendly. There was, however, that one time that I blogged about my sister Cindy and how her move to California reminded me of the song Hotel California. Oh yeah, I wrote the blog about my sister Lisa and how I ate her box of Coco Puffs when she was pregnant with Lauren.

I’ve actually written quite a lot about my brother Mike. His downward spiraling journey into mental-illness resulted in an unfortunate decision to end his own life. Writing about Mike not only helped me to come to terms with his death, it also helped me to better understand the lives of so many other of our mentally vulnerable. Now that I think about it, I really should take the time to introduce everyone to the precocious older brother I grew up with before war, biology and the stresses of life happened to him. Soon maybe.

I’ve also written a blog about my wife Emily. A favorite of mine is a blog I wrote about my cousin David White after he suddenly passed from a heart attack a few years back. I think, over time and during rare moments of lucidity, I may attempt to honor my favorite things about everyone I care about. Not necessarily because I want to kiss anyone’s butt, but mainly because I think it’s important that my feelings about those around me are known and properly memorialized.

Quite a while ago, I decided that I would write and create my own birthday cards. Occasionally I’ve made quite elaborate ones. I don’t do it for everyone but I always make them for Emily and I’ve made a few for my son. My thoughts on the matter were that if I can do it, I should do it. I recognize that I’m not the most overtly expressive person on the planet, I don’t communicate my emotions all that well, but I do have the ability to write about them – so I do what I can do.

For whatever reason, my conservative exterior becomes nearly invisible when I’m writing. My belief is that the shorter attention span of today’s society is far too inadequate for people like me to properly convey a serious thought. I use far more words in my sentences than most people are prepared to hear because I abhor being misunderstood. Said differently, the way I speak bores some people. Getting cut off or ignored has, over time, led me to become less verbally communicative overall.

Writing allows me to say things the way I want to say them. I can write fully and expressively; I can write about things in ways that better explain my thought processes without being cut off in mid-sentence. My mother seems to love everything about my writings. She prints and saves every single blog I create. She even printed copies of the papers I wrote in college. Mom does this even though I seldom have ever mentioned her in any of my blogs. It makes me wonder if she’s been patiently expecting to read something about herself, waiting to finally be recognized.

mom sayshi

I’m finally doing mom. I finally decided to brave the unknown and attempt to summarize the most complex personality on the planet in a few pathetic paragraphs. I will probably fail miserably but it’s all admiration, not admonition, which is inspiring me.

I feel a deep and unimaginable sorrow for people who were not blessed with a good mother. A mother who thinks everything you do is great. I could literally have been the most disgusting bastard ever delivered from human flesh and yet my mother would probably still think I’m wonderful. Ironically, if any other disgusting bastard came her way, my mother would not hesitate to call him or her a disgusting bastard – or maybe not.

I have the kind of mom who might hold her tongue if she thinks she might cause drama down the road. My siblings and I think she very likely could have solved a great deal of the problems we faced as young adults, through marriages and divorce, raising kids, etc., had she only shared her personal thoughts with us. But, our mom understood the potential perils of getting involved in our personal affairs. So, nothing; nada; silence.

I also have the kind of mom who might say exactly what’s on her mind. She weighs the consequences carefully on subjects that come up along the way and if she thinks it doesn’t matter, she fires with both barrels. Our mom can be quite the provocateur. One never really knows which mama you’re gonna get until surprised with an impromptu and sometimes indelicate remark.

mom baby

Did I mention that I am the baby of the family? No, ok; I probably shouldn’t have left that part out of the story. My sisters are firmly convinced that I am my mother’s favorite child. She’s never officially confirmed it but since I turned out so well it might actually be true.

I’m joking of course but I certainly won’t mind admitting that the thought of it has probably encouraged me to try and make better decisions in my life than any other factor. If your mom is always watching, you never want to disappoint her; right? There’s definitely something to be said about the positive power of influence from something as simple as just being loved unconditionally.

Yes, I’ve made a few bad choices too, some I’d never admit, but I’ve decided at least for now to blame the really bad ones that everyone already knows about on my rebel-rousing Scottish ancestry. If I decide later to write about my dad, I might have to amend my thoughts slightly in order to pay my proper respects. Right now, let’s just focus on my regal Welsh ancestry.

momThe_Battle_of_Culloden

I think that the reason I’ve been reluctant to blog about my mother is that she’s very much like me. She’s difficult to know. She’s a loving and nurturing enigma. My mom does not fit the paradigm of typical moms.

When I stop to make notes about the way I’m articulating this blog, it forces me to recognize that what I would normally be writing about is my relationship with my mom, not necessarily my mom. To actually write about Shirley Ragland, I’m forced to dig deep because nothing about my mom is obvious except of course her natural beauty.

But the older I get, the more similarities I find between the two of us. Part of that discovery comforts me and part of it scares me. My life literally began with waking up and loving my mother’s face. And in some ways, I feel that it’s been the same for her. But our relationship is more kinetic and intuitive than necessarily vocal. The resultant man I’ve grown to become is also intuitive and less vocal.

My wife has often told me that I’m unapproachable to most people. I’ve actually heard her telling people, “Chris is very hard of hearing so he didn’t know you were trying to talk to him.” What she was saying was true in that instance but a big part of the equation with me and why I might seem unapproachable to some people is that it’s not natural for me to reach out to people or attempt to make friends. I can when I want, but more often than not, I don’t.

good-moms-let-their-kids-lick-the-beaters-great-moms-turn-the-mixer-off-first-89183

I’m very lucky to have the great friends that I have. But I give all the credit to being married to a social butterfly. My wife pushes me to be more socially active and my life is far more socially fulfilling because of her influences.

Lately, I’ve noticed the similarities between me and my mom. When she has active friendships, she usually has very supportive and reciprocal relationships. But, she doesn’t have a great deal of friends and I’ve never really known her to be socially active except for rare occurrences when she was ballroom dancing or when her and her husband were traveling to and from cowboy action shooting events.

Why? I can only assume that, like me, she rarely finds the necessity to share herself with the world. My mind is perpetually illuminated with thoughts, such as the one’s I like to blog about, and knowing her to be a sharper cookie than myself, I can only venture to guess that she keeps herself entertained with an active mind.

Obviously, my natural communication skills lacking, I long to be different. I recognize that my wife and son and extended family want and need to really know me and I’m not all that good at expressing myself. After my son was born, I suddenly and overwhelmingly understood the concept of instantaneous love. The same forgiving and acceptance that my mother must feel for me. My blogging and writing provides me with a method of conveying those feelings without having to rely on the same type of intrinsic relationship that I share with my mother.

momMjAxMy0zNDg4YjMxZmYwN2Q3N2Rh

As a child, my mother was always in the picture. She was my protector and my emotional barometer. Part of being the baby of any family is that you’re always the perpetual victim. My siblings know well how I played that part. One story Lisa was telling about me when we were traveling in England was about a time when my brother Mike bloodied my nose while our parents were at work. I sat at the kitchen table, head forward so more blood would come out, and waited hours on my mom to come home from work so she could find me in my bloodied and gruesome condition.

But that was our relationship; my mom was my protector. I’m confident now that the dried blood probably gave my intentions away but she never undermined my condition. She knew I needed to be the center of her attention and she gave me that without any judgement. My mom doesn’t say a lot, the Ragland’s in general aren’t known for spilling their secrets. But, despite her complexity and inability to openly emote, she feels and loves and hurts more deeply than most anyone else I know – she just does it silently.

The biggest gift my mom ever gave to me is peace of mind. My mom has tremendous coping skills; something she had to learn growing up in a household filled with division. I think that a great deal of people move about in this world never realizing where they learned the skills they possess. Perhaps they think they just learned them on their own. I feel lucky because not only do I have the self-awareness to know where I got my sense of humor or my rationalization skills, I also have memories of my mother displaying specific examples of those influences – which has given me a context and texture of her character and of her superior intellect.

For most of her life, my mom was a working mother. A term that seems redundant in this day and age but accurate nonetheless. Knowing her, she’s probably reading this right now hoping that you’ve confused the two terms working mother and working girl. For clarity, she’s never been a prostitute as far as I know. My mom had four kids in five years, working most of that time. She took a few years off work after I was born but returned to work when I was five years old. She continued working until she was 70 years old.

The mother I know is intelligent beyond the norm, reliable and sensible. To say that my mom is just a strong woman undermines the depth of the words resilience, capability and adaptability. My mom is all those things and more. I honestly cannot find a word or group of words that could paint an accurate picture of her. Whatever I could say will be utterly inadequate.

In television terms, my mom is definitely more of a Mary Tyler Moore than a June Cleaver. Whatever she did, she excelled at; my mom kicked in doors, broke invisible barriers and hammered away at glass ceilings before those terms were ever associated with women in the work place.

It’s pitiful on my part but I’m finally starting to recognize that my mom is growing old. She’s 75 so it’s taken me a while. With her age and a few spinal surgeries, she’s had to get used to some diminished physical abilities which have hindered her ability to get out and take on those challenges and obstacles that I’m confident exist inside her mind.

I know my mom pretty well and I’m completely confident that her physical limitations have made her bored out of her ever-lovin’ mind. Retirement for some people is great but retirement for people like my mother is probably closer to hell than heaven. With her, it’s a simple case of carrying around an over-achieving blob of brain cells that are being held back by an uncooperative body. I guess that happens to us all eventually but I think it’s particularly difficult for her.

What strikes me hardest right now is that while writing this blog, I recognize that I won’t have her in my life forever. So while I’d love to encourage her to use all that intellectual energy to reach out and develop more meaningful relationships with grandkids and such – I recognize that despite all those deep emotions kept inside, converting those emotions to words aren’t the easiest things to do. I just feel selfish sometimes knowing that Cindy, Lisa and I are the only ones in the family who get to really know who my mother is.

While I have an opportunity, I want my mom to know that there’s a two-way street between a mother and a son when it comes to love; it need not be re-acquired; it need not be indulged; it need not be deserved, and it need not be spoken about. The love and respect I have for my mother is an unspoken and unbroken simple peace of mind, like a blessing from above, it is just there, and it always will be there.

Inspirational mom birthday card ideas pattern best birthday quirky mother birthday card ideas

The tools she gave me have not only kept me alive all these years but they’ve influenced people around me, moved projects forward, solved problems and developed ideas. I am who I am because of my incredibly special mother. I see the world the way I see it because of her. I love the things I love because of her.

I write the things I write about because my mother gave me a love for words and made it ok for me to think out loud. She allowed me to be me and supported me in every step and misstep. My mother is an awesome mom and I’m eternally grateful for the many blessings I’ve had and will continue to have because of my mother’s unconditional love and support.

Happy Mother’s Day Mom

Advertisements

You Say Baath; I Say Bath.

ex·pec·ta·tion: a strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future; a belief that someone will or should achieve something.

A persons expectations can be the key to enjoyment or the riposte to disappointment. If you project your ideas too low then no one gets interested; if you tout too high, no one ever feels quite appeased. It could be said then that managing people’s expectations is one of the principle secrets to success.

You might surmise then that McDonalds has done a great job of it. They’ve demonstrated expertise at branding their burger chain as being the best deal in town, not necessarily the best burger. This despite the fact that their entire identity is built around hamburgers.

What does all this have to do with traveling to Bath, England you say? For starters, I’m writing to you about my personal observations of Bath; Bath through the eyes of Chris. I’m hoping to help you discover things about Bath that go well beyond the scope of what you might expect to find in Bath. So, while others may focus on its most obvious attributes such as the Roman Baths, I wanted to better illuminate Bath’s more obscure but interesting facts, history and architectural features.

The Roman baths are indeed amazingly well-preserved and definitely worthy of explanation; so, I will do my best to describe them for you in as descriptively visual terms as I’m capable. But, when I drove away from that uniquely singular place, my first thoughts were of how challenging it may be, given my limited writing skills, to convince vacationing travelers to look more deeply at Bath, to peel back the layers, and to venture outside the city center to discover its other gems.

A gem in and of itself is the scenic drive into Bath. Bath sits at the southern edge of the Cotswolds, a range of limestone hills and valleys designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The limestone quarried from there is particularly unique and has this creamy honey golden color. The stone is known world-wide as Bath Stone. Every house, cottage, mansion or castle in the vicinity is constructed from this beautifully rich and distinctive stone. While there, I learned that one of the zoning restrictions for all new construction inside the city of Bath requires builders to use this same stone on the façade to ensure that modern buildings pay homage to the city’s 18th century heritage.

Bath has long been an ancient borough with high status. First, with its close proximity to Stonehenge and its Neolithic/early Celtic Briton inhabitants. Afterwards, its Roman occupants constructed spa’s and baths around the first century AD where it became a well-known Roman vacation destination. After the fall of the Roman Empire it remained as a rare gem for the Kingdom of Mercia until the year 878 when it became a royal borough of Alfred the Great when it was ceded to the Kingdom of Wessex. If you’re a King Arthur fan, it is believed that Bath may have been the site of the Battle of Badon (c 500 AD) in which King Arthur is said to have defeated the Anglo-Saxons.

Despite the city name and its historical changing of landlords, Bath continued to be an important place. The Roman baths and impressive stone infrastructures continued to serve whomever claimed it. By the 18th century, Bath evolved into a posh village for Britain’s elite. Its hot mineral baths were advertised as having curative properties so people migrated from far away to find respite for whatever ailments they suffered. If you had any sort of illness from leprosy to acne, and also had money, you were definitely moving to Bath. It all sounds great until you find yourself in a hot bath tub with a leper. But despite my negative thinking, Bath is now one of the best preserved 18th century cities in the world; designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.

In fact, the famous 18th century author/novelist Jane Austen lived in Bath for many years. You might have read a few of her famous novels such as Pride and Prejudice, or Sense and Sensibility. If you read them deeply, you will find traces of Bath scattered throughout her writings. An example would be Bath’s Holburne Museum of Art – The impressive creamy gold Bath Stone façade mansion housing today’s museum. The manor and its grounds were a favorite walk for Jane Austen while she lived in Bath, she thus set part of her novel “Northanger Abbey” across from the Holburne Mansion.

1280px-The_Holburne_Museum,_July_2016

Today, the impressive manor home houses the late Sir William Holburne’s collection of fine and decorative arts. Some of the artists represented inside will include Gainsborough, Guardi, Stubbs, Ramsay and Zoffany. The manor home has also been used for filming numerous movies such as Persuasion (1994), The Duchess (2008) staring Keira Knightley, Vanity Fair (2004) with Reese Witherspoon, as well as numerous other foreign films.

By far, one of the most impressive things I visited in Bath was the Royal Crescent. The Crescent is a 500-foot-long row of Georgian styled terraced houses laid out in a sweeping crescent. Designed by the famed architect John Wood-the Younger and built between 1767 and 1774, the Royal Crescent is among the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be found in the United Kingdom. It boasts over one hundred Ionic columns on its first floors with an entablature in a Palladian style above.

Architect John Wood-the Elder, father of the Crescent’s architecthad earlier designed the Bath Circus in 1754 which is also regarded as a preeminent example of Georgian architecture. The name comes from the Latin word ‘circus’ which means a ring, oval or circle. The Circus is essentially an incredibly fancy roundabout divided into three segments of equal length with a lawn in the center and Georgian styled buildings at its perimeters. Each of the three building segments faces one of the three entrances to the roundabout, ensuring a classical façade is always presented straight ahead. After my left-handed, standard shift, two-day drive in Wales, I decided that I don’t particularly like roundabouts anymore, but this one is very special.

The senior Wood, as its architect, was convinced that Bath was historically the principle center of Druid activity in Britain so he studied nearby Stonehenge to ensure that his Circus design would pay homage to what most people believed to be an ancient Druid ceremonial ground (There are some different ideas about Stonehenge today). Three classical orders (Doric, Roman/Composite, and Corinthian) are used, one above the other, in the elegant curved facades. The frieze of the Doric entablature is decorated with altering triglyphs and pictorial emblems. One very interesting fact is that when viewed from the air, the Circus, along with Queens Square and the adjoining Gay Street, form a key shape, which is a masonic symbol found frequently in many of Wood’s other building designs.

My wife and I particularly enjoy visiting impressive cathedrals and abbey’s when traveling and Bath Abbey was one of those sites on my bucket list. Particularly because of its unique vaulted ceiling. Founded in the 7th century, reorganized in the 10th century and rebuilt in the 12th and 16th centuries, Bath Abbey is one of the largest examples of Perpendicular Gothic architecture in the West. It’s most unique feature, in my opinion, is its notable fan vaulting. We actually know that brothers Robert and William Vertue, architects and stone masons for King Henry VII, were the designers and builders of this particular fan vault. They not only built Bath Abbey’s fan vault, they also built the vaulted ceilings inside the Tower of London, King’s College Chapel in Cambridge and Henry VII’s chapel at Westminster.

Our hotel in Bath, the Hilton Bath City, was located just a block from the extraordinary Pulteney Bridge. This interesting bridge crossing the river Avon, is reminiscent of the Ponte Vecchio Bridge we saw while traveling in Florence, Italy. I say this essentially because it is a bridge with shops built across its full span on both sides. The bridge was built in 1774 in the Palladian style by Robert Adam. My wife, my sister and I not only walked along the bridge visiting the shops but we also found a stone path and stairway that led us to the river’s edge so that we could snap a few glamor shots of the bridge from below.

Something I hadn’t mentioned before is that I had accidently forgotten my razor when packing for the trip. That led to the obvious annoyances to both Emily and I, but alas, my stroll to the Pulteney Bridge allowed me to discover a cool little barber shop along the way called New Saville Row. I made the proper arrangements with the gentleman who told me that although they were about to close, that I could return in 30 minutes and he’d give me a shave. Thirty minutes later I was comfortably laid back in an old style barber chair with a hot towel on my face about to embark on my very first professional straight razor shave. I had no idea what I’d been missing all these years. These guys were unbelievably courteous to stay open for me and it was an experience I won’t soon forget.

Barber Shop Bath

Jane Austen wrote, in her 1811 novel Sense and Sensibility, “I come here with no expectations, only to profess, now that I am at liberty to do so, that my heart is and always will be yours.” Bath is certainly much more than it was when Jane Austen lived there. Although it is now a very modern city with both a professional Rugby team and Football club, two universities and nearly one hundred-thousand people, it is still very much still trapped in the wrinkled skin of its 18th century past. In my book, its a hard act to follow, even for a very cool and mostly intact two thousand year old Roman bath.

1280px-Roman_Baths_c1900_2

I can’t say for sure what my expectations actually were when I arrived in Bath but what I can say without any pause is that Bath exceeded, no a better word might be trounced, any notion of what I had first imagined it to be. The name is Bath and of course there are Roman baths there so I guess that was where my mind was initially. But Bath is far more than just its namesake. If you decide to be one of the three million annual visitors of Bath in the near future, and I hope you are, don’t just tour the baths and the abbey and leave. Bath is far more than that. If you stay long enough, you might even start pronouncing it Baath.

Penny Lane On A Budget

For some curious reason, of which I am completely ignorant, I have always thought of Liverpool, England as being this quaint little working-class English village. As you will soon learn, it is anything but quaint.

If you’re like me and over fifty, you’ll instantly recognize the name Liverpool and with whom the city-name is most famously associated. That would of course be the Beatles.

I personally found Liverpool to be an amazingly vibrant city with an incredible night life where people speak, straight face, with an incomprehensible pirate-like, half English/half Irish brogue. I, of course, say this in full self-realization that my own southern (a la redneck) accent is likely and equally incomprehensible to the typical Liverpudlian or Scouse.

But without any exaggeration whatsoever, and despite the fact that you cannot understand what people are saying (except of course the occasional “Arrhh”), I say that Liverpool is an architectural gem, worthy of exploration despite any Beatles connection.

In Liverpool’s core are fantastic 19th century Greek and Romanesque public structures that tell all its visitors of an important and strategic historical presence. Its outer perimeter boasts a number of quaint and quiet villages; exactly reminiscent of the sort of place I’d once thought about when trying to visualize the supposed working-class city where our fab-four incubated their talent for what was to become legendary transformations to music itself.

Driving into the outskirts of Liverpool from its southeastern side through a quiet little borough of the city called Woolton, the very first thing we consciously encountered was the famous Penny Lane. This literally happened like twenty-seconds after I mentally penned the cutesy title of this blog.

Yes, the street name is real along with the bank (no-mac banker now missing), the barber shop (photographs still ever present on its walls), and the curious bus transfer station in the center of the roundabout – all mentioned in the famous lyrics to which we’ve all sang along.

1024px-PennyLane-BarberShop

Now, as fate and a love for travel would have it, Penny Lane has become equally real to me. It is indelibly imprinted “in my ears and in my eyes”, just as vividly as it was for young Paul McCartney as he reminisced about taking the bus to the Penny Lane roundabout to attend St. Barnabas Church as a young choir altar boy.

While in discovery mode, we drove up Menlove Street passing John Lennon’s boyhood home along the way to Beaconsfield Road where the gates to “Strawberry Fields” still lie in a state of hopelessness. Meanwhile,
I’m looking up at Liverpool’s “blue suburban skies” not yet knowing what other treasures await me and my traveling companions.

800px-Strawberryfieldgate

To my surprise and delight, Liverpool is infinitely more. A person can learn a great deal about a population by observing its churches. In that light, Liverpool has one of the largest Protestant churches in the entire world – too large in fact to fit the entire thing in my camera lens from 2500 feet away. Liverpool also has one of the most unique Catholic Churches in the world. The striking architecture and multi-spire tower was designed in-the-round so that the congregation can completely surround the pulpit.

1024px-LIVERPOOL_ANGLICAN_CATHEDRAL_SEP2012_(7916053494)

What might also be of anecdotal interest to my American friends living in the South, is that when the war of Northern Aggression broke out, Liverpool became a genuine hotbed of international political intrigue. Cotton was an enormous import to Liverpool, its shipping industry was entirely propped up on the African slave trade, and the shipbuilding industry (prevalent in Liverpool) was mutually important to all parties. In the words of the famous historian Sven Beckert, Liverpool was “the most pro-Confederate place in the world outside the Confederacy itself.”

In fact, the Confederate Navy ship, CSS Alabama, was built at Birkenhead (across the river) on the Mersey River in Liverpool. And in an odd twist I’d never before heard about, the CSS Shenandoah actually surrendered at the Liverpool Salt House Docks (being the final surrender and official end of the Civil War) a full three months after the whole Appomattox affair – being the last holdout of the American civil war.

In a related and controversial side-note, you may find it interesting that Penny Lane itself has been under attack by local social re-constructionists who’d very much like to change its iconic name. It seems that the famous roadway took its name from George Penny who made his fortune in the sugar and slave trade back during the height of that awful period of the histories perpetrated by the entire Western hemisphere.

The sugar industry was quite dependent upon slave labor. As a result, and fully reminiscent of similar movements back home in America, there’s a powerfully convincing movement in Liverpool to eliminate all remnants of bigotry and racism brought about by humming the street names of people known to have contributed to that horrible past. I can’t say that I agree with whitewashing any history, good or bad, but I can fully empathize with their motives. I’m just thankful that Lennon and McCartney didn’t write ditties about Jefferson or Washington.

Did you know that both companies Cunard and White Star, ship builders of insignificant little boats such as the Titanic and Queen Elizabeth II, once had their corporate headquarters located in Liverpool? The docks area along the Mersey is conspicuously littered with impressive Victorian skyscrapers including the buildings that once served these two famous companies. Liverpool has done a fabulous job of re-purposing some of these older structures and the area around those docks is quite impressive for dining or shopping and for just walking around snapping interesting architectural photographs.

liverpool_building_aw201007_111

This port suburban city of nearly one half-million people is not only known for its architecture but also for its abundant green space. There are loads of parks throughout the city. One interesting thing I’ve noticed in Liverpool, as well as in other places scattered throughout Greater Britain, are the public green spaces used as free gardening spots.

While some of our more urban cities in the United States have been starting similar projects, I found that these in particular all suffer from the same sort of conundrum – acceptable blight. I do like the idea as a whole but what I don’t like is the thought that we should be promoting irresponsibility of the environment at the expense of simultaneous generosity to our less fortunate. Not when we penalize others for the same thing. It’s kind of like a prosecutor trying a case against Joe Schmo for gambling after he stops at a convenient store to buy his weekly budgeted lotto ticket.

What I’m referring to are green spaces that are no longer green; loaded up with hundreds of miniature home-made shanties for gardening tools with tiny plots of gardens inside little squares – collectively inside bigger squares. The little crude shelters are built by people with no tools, no skill, and no otherwise acceptable building materials. Each square of dirt is fenced uniquely using whatever can be found in someone else’s trash. They’re designed using the theory that “necessity breeds ingenuity” except that “ingenuity” generally means desperation and “desperation” generally translates to “old shower curtain”.

Enough about blighted gardens or inappropriate comic relief as I’m so famous for perfecting. I think I’ve made my case that Liverpool is much more interesting than my rants about greenspaces gone wrong. I do sincerely hope that you find the right opportunity to explore this amazing city for yourself. Perhaps you can walk the dark-steps downward into the famous Cavern Club where the Beatles played their first big gigs and buy a tee shirt like I did or explore the narrow streets of the city proper looking for the perfect “four of fish” or even a “finger pie” if you’re single and adventurous.

Pennylane2

What happened to the CSS Shenandoah you ask? Well, its battle flag eventually made its way back home and now rests peacefully in a museum in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The ship itself was sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar where it later sunk off the East African coast during a Hurricane. How can you not believe in Karma when a former confederate states ship ends up being owned by an African country (Tanzania) where so many of its people lost their entire and future identities in the lands represented by the ships namesake?

What happened to poor Eleanor Rigby? Well, her bronze twin sits quietly on a bench on Stanley Street in Liverpool, not far from her burial place, where it was appropriately dedicated to “all the lonely people”.

What will happen to our beloved Penny Lane, I don’t exactly know. Maybe you should weigh in on the matter electronically if you feel a powerful urge to voice your support for either side.

What about Strawberry Field? If you’re at all curious as to what Lennon was writing about it, or how you can be a part of his story too, visit the website http://www.strawberryfieldliverpool.com. Maybe you could even start a GoFundMe campaign to support it. McCartney and Lennon have brought pieces of Liverpool to your ears, now it’s up to you to hop on a plane and let your eyes share in the experience.

An Enigma, Wrapped in a Mystery, All Inside a Tasty Little Cookie

I was dining last week with Emily at a Japanese steak house nearby and discovered a fairly evocative fortune inside my cookie that I just had to write something about. It’s not often that I feel inspiration from a fortune cookie but this one immediately aroused a common theme in which I’m always a sucker for writing about – advice. Probably 75% of my blogs are related to life-advice. People close to me, pretty much my whole life, have told me that I’m a decent giver of advice, so I’ve become sort of a reluctant incompetently competent supplier of advice – of which I have no paying customers.

Although I’m comfortable to offer advice on some subjects, I’m also keenly aware that giving advice can be a dangerous thing to do. To presume that I should be telling people what to do with their own lives implies something very close to egomania, a condition in which I pray never takes me over. That said, I think that my inclination to write forces me to place what little intellect I have on the line whether I like it or not. Otherwise, what would I write about, ugh, maybe fortune cookies?

It’s actually kind of funny to me that while you can get these advice-wrapped fortune cookies pretty much anywhere in the developed world, you won’t find them at all in China or Japan – the places you’d expect to see them most. What does that say about America – or Asia? Is the Chinese Buffet some sort of hidden metaphor – maybe that we should be ‘getting our fair share in life’? The Chinese have discovered that Americans love getting unsolicited advice so much that they created a plain Jane cookie that draws us in like flies to their restaurants.

Regardless of any of that, we ‘Mericans’ love things to be simple, including our life paths. Just give me my high school diploma, a $50,000 a year job, and a cool house then leave me alone. Simple! But simple rarely gets us where we’d really like to be and life generally sucks a little while before you finally bite into to the piece of chocolate with the hazelnut on the inside. And, in many cases, success has as much to do with attitude as it does aptitude.

In the likely event that all four of you readers are wondering… my fortune cookie says, “Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” I don’t know who to attribute that quote to because the cookie didn’t provide a bibliography so I hope the blog police aren’t paying any attention. All jokes aside, just let that statement percolate for a minute or two. What statement could be truer than this one?

IMG_3621

I say this because no matter how great a job we have or how much money we’re able to bring home, nothing in my life thus far has ever trumped the joy I’ve experienced in meeting an important goal or achieving an important victory. That joy only amplified when my own creativity contributed to the success of the overall project.

A good example is this blog. No one is paying me to spend my free time writing my thoughts down; my pay comes from the personal satisfaction I experience of completing an endeavor I feel passionate about or that someone I love might benefit one day from my insanity. It’s just something I like doing – made sweeter with the idea that anyone else may find it entertaining or insightful.

In the scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter if anyone else finds that same value, although I love it when they do, it only matters that I entered into a personal creative process from which there derived something tangible and meaningful. When folks are solving big problems, the last thing they’re thinking about at the moment is how much they’re getting paid.

If all of the above is true, then our goal in life might be to play, play, play, work, work, work at something – anything, until such time as we are better able to figure out just what it may be that we most enjoy and that we’re naturally good at doing. Hopefully, a few years of toiling away at crappy jobs while making new acquaintances and conversing about life, one begins to start assessing where he/she is and where he/she may like to go or what job or career may better fit their personality or push certain peculiar buttons that need to be pushed.

Obviously, not everyone throws caution into the wind to see where things land before picking a career path. Some of us plan out our professional aspirations at dreadfully young ages. Some people are just natural born planners and organizers. I’m not really writing about those people because those kinds of people don’t really notice people like us, people who start off adulthood without plans. Those other smarter and more organized people suck.

Planner types don’t have time to worry about us because they, still, are too busy organizing their calendars for what’s happening this afternoon, tomorrow morning and next week. This particular blog/rant is really speaking to the folks out there who may be struggling emotionally because they’re stuck in a rut not knowing what they should do with the rest of their lives or even the right direction their ship should be oriented.

Obviously, we are not all alike. While some of us have no problem fixating on a goal then working to achieve it, others of us find it difficult to even pick a goal. I personally think it is an unspoken tragedy of life that we most often seek to understand the goal and not the self. We try to adjust ourselves to the demands of a theory when we might be better off adjusting ourselves to a congruence with our own personal identity. We should never strive necessarily to be a banker, a teacher, a pilot or a policeman. We should strive first to be ourselves.

gangsta rap cookie

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be a banker, pilot or policeman – what I am saying is that I think we are better off making our goals conform to our identity rather than mold our identity to conform to a goal. In each of us, DNA, environment, socio-economic forces, family values, etc., have all combined to produce a person with certain desires and aptitude, including a profound and deeply ingrained desire to have a life that is meaningful. We all find meaning and purpose in different ways. For some it’s children, or a great career. For others it may be shiny aluminum wheels or a mink coat.

So, as I see it, we need not dedicate our entire lives to achieving any pre-defined goal, but instead choose a life we know we will enjoy. Goals are absolutely secondary: it is our functioning toward the goal which is perhaps most important. Allowing another person to define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes us all individuals.

In short, the formula is as follows: we must choose a path which will let us use our natural abilities, which lets us function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of our personal desires, and in so doing we fulfill a need for expressing our identity and avoid frustrating our potentiality and the fear of watching our goals disappear or gradually lose the charm they once held.

Because, after all, every single day we view those original goals from an entirely different angle. As we evolve, those once powerfully attractive goals may lose some of their glitter. If we’ve dedicated our entire lives to achieving a goal which no longer seems appropriate for us; then what? Once I thought about becoming an attorney. Then I met attorneys and realized that they work all day and do homework every night. My perspective changed by means of experience and insight.

Our perspective on life and goals will change. It is not the pilot or the banker that changes, it is us. Each of us are the sum total of our reactions to different experiences. As those experiences multiply, we change – we’re evolving into different men and women. Because we’re different, our perspective changes. Alternatively, if we wait long enough – if procrastination becomes the goal, then it will be circumstance that makes our decisions for us.

So, in essence, we shouldn’t just throw caution into the wind as I was saying earlier. Metamorphoses shouldn’t necessarily be completely organic. You can and should read and listen and expose yourself to as many different ideas as possible. Every nowhere job you’ll ever have will expose you to new ideas and new situations and new people, all of which provide lots of life-lessons. Those absurd and gross people you despise may offer you one little gem of genius that completely transforms the way you think about something unrelated but important to you. Wisdom is everywhere, even in assholes. Your greatest inspirations for obtaining the perfect ‘you-job’ will come from having lots of crappy jobs.

But, all the wisdom you’re accumulating while you are “doing” will give you the tools you need to eventually make big life decisions. Regardless of everything I’ve said about honoring the soul inside the worker, you still always have the goal of creating and achieving because that is something instinctive that must be nourished. We continually do that with information and knowledge that our experiences turn into wisdom. Wisdom of things and life and self.

Today, unlike the many generations before you, we live in a world overflowing with superfluous information. And yet, with such an abundance of information and data at our fingertips, what we seem to be experiencing is a growing scarcity of wisdom. I think it is very easy to confuse the two (very different) things.

Wisdom-Quote-10

Many of us think that by having access to more information we can produce more knowledge, which automatically results in more wisdom. The reality is that the opposite is true. The reason I say this is because when a person inundates themselves with more and more data without the proper context, it only jumbles our understanding of the world rather than elevating it.

I see real life examples of this all the time at work. Someone is assigned to lead a task; the leader is naturally a person who lives and breathes those types of issues and thus is highly knowledgeable about the subject matter. Bureaucrats who are intelligent but not experienced in the subject matter quickly digest information from the task leader, along with information found by way of Google, as well as a few phone calls and all of the sudden they become experts themselves, regurgitating lines back to the leader that they learned from him/her not 10 days prior, no longer needing and many times rejecting the wisdom of the task leader because that wisdom and experience doesn’t align with Google’s version nor their own political agenda.

It happens all the time. What is lost is the deeper understanding of experience which can predict and help you avoid pitfalls that 40 hour experts will rarely ever see. Our society has become overly dependent and unconsciously confident because we all have a smart phone and Google to answer every question one could possible present. Oh, if I had just had access to Google when I was a teenager, instead of the 1964 Encyclopedia Britannica, I could have been overwhelmingly smarter than my parents (just kidding mom).

There is a stepladder of understanding that takes a logical path from gaining information to achieving wisdom. At the bottom is a piece of information which basically tells us some small fact about the world. Just above that step is knowledge. Knowledge is the understanding of how different little morsels of information all fit together to disclose some particular certainty about the world. Knowledge hinges on an act of association and clarification – it puts the information into its proper perspective.

Pigeon Poop cookie

At the very top of this stepladder is finally wisdom. Wisdom is not just a deep knowledge (i.e., I read those crib assembly instructions ten freakin times and called two buddies about it), wisdom combines a moral component to knowledge. It is the application of information that is worth remembering and knowledge that matters to the understanding of not just how our world works, but also how it should work. Trump haters know all about this concept.

To have true wisdom, one requires a moral structure of what should and shouldn’t matter, as well as an idyllic vision of the world at its highest potentiality. And once you’ve achieved some wisdom, you must convince your ego that whatever wisdom you may have acquired, it is only wisdom about that one subject under that one set of circumstances. Throughout your life, there will be lots more work to do and many more subjects and circumstances to tackle.

Not chicken cookie

So while the fortune cookie, in its most basic form, can provide us with all the spiritual and motivational insights as our tummies and our appetite for Moo Goo Gai Pan can endure; the magical tickertape stuffed inside those cookies cannot by themselves offer us the true wisdom we all seek or need. It takes a lot of effort, a good heart, and the shedding of our narcissistic tendencies in order to recognize the depth of all that lie before us.

And sometimes, what we have before us are just ordinary people – people with unique experiences and information and failures and successes which are all different from our own. Yes, sometimes we are not allowed to have wisdom in certain areas because we can’t have experience in every area. In those cases, our wisdom comes from recognizing the value of other human beings around us.

Wisdom allows us the capacity to understand that mastery over any subject is outdated the very moment one achieves it. True wisdom is completely void of any independent identity. It is never about any one person or one group. It only exists in the collective because each of us contributes to the evolution of it every single day. Wisdom follows the doctrine of universal responsibility. It is akin to saying that every part of our body longs for our eyes, our lungs, our legs to be healthy; if one part suffers, we all suffer.

Work and living and parenting and every other important aspect of our lives are most positively affected by just being real. Being true to yourself in your profession, in your relationships, etc., allows you to function at your highest possible levels. Your wisdom will come from expending your energies and experiencing your world with a clear mind and an unambiguous path not littered by obstacles and chaos created by unrealistic expectations.

Lastly, I am no expert. I’m just a 53 year old husband and a hopelessly paternal dad, a placeholder of my job and a life-long old guy who loves to write about advice that I wish I could have ignored when I was young. My greatest achievement in life is that as my son gets older and more experienced, he is finally coming to realize that I may not have been as ignorant as I may have seemed. That means that I can be now be as crappy as I want and still exceed all expectations.

News Makes You Fat

In my lifetime, I’ve been forced to painfully recognize a few of the hazards of living with this so called American overabundance of things. We don’t always recognize it because it’s our ‘normal’, but we’re a very fortunate bunch of people in the big scheme of things. We’re the biggest exporter of food in the world, exporting enormous quantities of corn and wheat and meat; “feeding the world” we like to say. We’re also over-stuffing our own pie-holes as well which is why we are also leading the world in obesity and diabetes. With the advent of social media and news-on-the-go, we’ve simultaneously become the leading consumers of information which has led to all sorts of unintended outcomes.

Most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what GooGoo’s are to the body. News can be very addictive and super easy to digest, like Chinese food, leaving us hungry for more in an hour. The media feeds us small tasty morsels of trivial matter, snippets, and tidbits that have little or nothing to do with our daily lives and which require absolutely no brain power to process at all. Unlike reading books and magazine articles which require thinking, we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes or political innuendo, which are like bright-colored candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to toxic news and information that we faced 20 years ago with regard to food. We are just now beginning to recognize the real toxicity of news.


News misleads, oftentimes intentionally but most often as a result of confirmation biases and group think. We watch the news stations that we know up-front will most likely present or frame their stories in ways that agree with our own views and opinions such that all of the information we consume does nothing but to confirm what we already believe. From the perspectives of someone whose job it is to deliver our news, they know their audiences and work hard to creatively frame their reporting in ways that are congruent with the expectations of their audiences. It’s entertainment, not news.

Actor Denzel Washington recently summed it up for us after the media ran a “fake news” story on him falsely claiming that he switched political support from Hillary Clinton to Donald Trump. “If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed. So what a responsibility you all have — to tell the truth.” Washington exclaimed to the rabid pack of reporters gathered on the red carpet. “In our society, now it’s just who’s first — who cares, get it out there. We don’t care who it hurts. We don’t care who we destroy. We don’t care if it’s true, just say it, sell it. Anything you practice you’ll get good at — including BS.”

We as a society are not rational enough to be exposed to this modern psychology-driven press. Most of us grew up with responsible news anchormen like Walter Cronkite who was touted as being the most trusted man on television. In my childhood, I learned that nightly television news was where I could get my daily doses of reality. But Walter is dead and so is unbiased news. Thus we are woefully unprepared from a psychological sense to qualitatively analyze and filter out the kinds of biases that are common in news reporting today. Today’s news is designed to get ratings, not to educate or inform. 


Watching an airplane crash on television is going to change your attitude toward that risk, regardless of its real statistical probability. If you think you can compensate with the strength of your own inner contemplation, you would be sadly mistaken. Bankers and economists – who have enormously powerful incentives to compensate for news-borne hazards – have historically shown us that they cannot. The only solution: cut yourself off from news consumption entirely.

News today is mostly irrelevant. Out of the approximately 10,000 news stories you may have read or watched in the last 12 months, name one story that – because you consumed it – allowed you to make a better decision about a serious matter affecting your life, your career or your business. The point is: the consumption of modern news is totally irrelevant to you aside from an Amber Alert. But most of us find it very difficult to recognize what is and isn’t relevant.

It’s much easier to recognize what’s new. The relevant versus the new is the fundamental battle of the current age. Media organizations want you to believe that news offers you some sort of a competitive cerebral advantage. Many of us totally fall for that as it appeals to our egos. Some actually get anxious when they’re cut off from the constant flow of news – unable to enjoy a dinner or social situation without constant manipulations of their iPhones. In reality, news consumption is a huge competitive disadvantage. The less news you consume, the bigger life advantage you have.

News has absolutely zero real explanatory power. News items are mere bubbles of air popping on the undulating surface of a much deeper and complex world. Will accumulating tons of news-facts help you better understand our world? Sadly, no. The relationship is inverted. The important stories are non-stories: slow, powerful movements that develop below shock-journalists’ radar but have a transformative effect like Rock and Roll, hippies or frozen food.

The more “news factoids” you digest, the less of the big picture you will understand. If more news information leads one to higher economic success, we’d expect journalists to be at the top of the economic pyramid. That’s not generally the case except for the journalists who tease our imaginations with fantastic works of fiction like Harry Potter or Star Wars.


News can also be toxic to our bodies. It constantly triggers the human limbic system. Shocking stories spur the immense releases of cortisol. This deregulates your immune system and inhibits the release of growth hormones. In other words, your body finds itself in a state of chronic stress. High cortisol levels cause impaired digestion, lack of growth (cell, hair, bone), nervousness and susceptibility to infections. The other potential side-effects include fear, aggression, tunnel-vision, desensitization and weight gain. Now you know; it’s amazingly unfair to be forced into watching sexy news anchors on television with perfect bodies who’s job it is to make us bald and fat by force-feeding us sugar-coated stress balls.

News also increases cognitive errors. News feeds the mother of all cognitive errors: confirmation bias. In the words of Warren Buffett: “What the human being is best at doing is interpreting all new information so that their prior conclusions remain intact.” News exacerbates this flaw of humanity. We become prone to overconfidence, take stupid risks and misjudge opportunities.

It also exacerbates another cognitive error: the story bias. Our brains crave stories that make sense – even if they don’t correspond to reality. Today’s journalism proposes simplistic answers for complex situations. There’s no time to explain, it’s just easier to offer us viewers whatever explanations that both entertain us and fit the agenda.

News actually inhibits normal thinking. Thinking requires concentration. Concentration requires uninterrupted time. News pieces are specifically engineered to interrupt you. They are like viruses that steal attention for their own purposes. News makes us shallow thinkers. But it’s worse than that. News severely affects memory.

There are two types of memory, long-term and short-term memory. Our long-term memory’s capacity is nearly infinite, but working memory is limited to a certain amount of slippery data. The path from short-term to long-term memory is directly through a sort of narrow choke-point in the brain, but anything you want to fully understand must pass through it. If this passageway is disrupted, nothing gets through.


Because news disrupts our concentration, it weakens overall comprehension. Online news has an even worse impact. In a 2001 study, two scholars in Canada showed that comprehension declines as the number of hyperlinks in a document increases. Why? Because whenever a link appears, your brain has to at least make the choice not to click, which in itself is distracting. News is an intentional interruption system. News works much like a drug. As stories develop, we want to know how they continue and end. With hundreds of arbitrary storylines in our heads, this craving is increasingly compelling and hard to ignore.

Most news consumers – even if they used to be avid book readers – have lost the ability to absorb lengthy articles or books. After reading four or five pages they get tired, their concentration vanishes, and they become restless. It’s not because they got older or their schedules became more onerous. It’s because the physical structure of their brains has changed. This phenomenon is constantly proven every time I write a blog that is more than two pages long. Information is no longer a scarce commodity; attention is.

News kills creativity. This is one reason that mathematicians, novelists, composers and entrepreneurs often produce their most creative works at a young age. Their brains enjoy a wide, uninhabited space that emboldens them to come up with and pursue novel ideas. I don’t know a single truly creative mind who is a news junkie – not a writer, not a composer, mathematician, physician, scientist, musician, designer, architect or painter. My own sister, an accomplished artist and creativity sensei, could care less about news. She inspires me to un-clutter my mind all the time. On the other hand, I know a bunch of boring and non-creative minds who consume news like meth-addicts.

Society needs journalism – but in a different way than we’re getting it. Investigative journalism is always relevant. We need reporting that polices our institutions and uncovers truth. We need warnings of relevant danger and notices of pertinent  information like obituaries and 10 mile-long yard sales. But important findings don’t have to arrive in the form of news. Long journal articles and in-depth books are good, too.


News only shows the exception to the rule, never the rule itself. An example might be the Michael Brown/Ferguson, Missouri news story. How many people have been hurt, cops killed, stores looted, cars set on fire and collective property damage calculated as a result of a reputed criminal who robbed a store and died while trying to kill a police officer? The toxic ratings-oriented news of today exacerbates ones feelings of institutional racism and disillusionment with government because its profitable to report the news that way. It doesn’t “pay” these days to report facts.

A car drives across a bridge, and suddenly the bridge collapses. What does modern news media focus on? The car. What direction it was traveling. The driver. Where he came from. Where he was headed. How he survived his near-death experience, his many struggles to cope with his new physical limitations, and frustrated attempts to walk unsupported at his September wedding.

But that is all completely irrelevant. What is relevant? The structural stability of that dang bridge! That’s the underlying risk that has been lurking, and could lurk in other bridges, right? But the car is flashy, it’s dramatic, the injured person is entertaining and it’s news that’s cheap to produce. News leads us to walk around with the completely wrong risk-map in our heads.

No news is actually good news. Perhaps it’s time to hit the scales because you just gained 4 pounds reading this blog.

The Vegetarian Catleman

How many vegetarians does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
I don’t know, but where do you get your protein!?

So, what’s up with all my blog peeps? Sorry for the long delay in writing stupid stories. I was ignoring my diabetes and being ignorant which caused my sugar to spike which caused some neuropathy in my hands, legs and spine, which resulted in some middle-aged fear of death that all culminated in some wild experimentations with multiple types of insulin in large doses that caused me to gain weight. That weight gain gave me an extreme case of sleep apnea and exhaustion that caused me to fall asleep every time I sat down to write my stories. So I stopped for a while. This is an attempt to redeem myself.

I was eating lunch with my regular lunch crew not too awfully long ago when Phil proclaimed that he was considering doing a 28-day colon cleanse in order to lose a few pounds, maybe get a bit more healthy. There’s nothing quite as effective at losing weight as when you’re eyeing a plate of “Phat Si-Lo” at your local Thai restaurant and someone starts talking about all the junk that comes out of your butt when you do a colon cleanse. Yummm! All I could think about were those little cashews nestled among Curt’s “Kung Pao Chicken” and wondering what it is that makes peanuts digest differently than cashews.

Anyway, after hearing all about Phil’s colon, I was suddenly stricken with this idea that I was going to have to make some radical change in my eating habits or I may never be able to lose this stupid weight. Then, as if my old friend Murphy was listening to that entire disgusting conversation, a nice lady named Carol came into my office after lunch wanting my advice on zoning a large piece of property for a “vegetarians retreat”. Of course, my selfish instincts instantly piqued.

To make a long story less painful to read, Carol gave me some web sites to study and some reading materials along with some advice and challenged me to go 30 days without eating any meat. The theory is that eating red meat in particular causes your body to be more insulin resistant. I’m not even going to try to explain about the quality of gut bacteria to help maintain your health or about maintaining a healthy intestinal barrier to prevent toxins from entering your bloodstream. That attempt would be pretentious at best. But apparently bad gut bacteria actually form new toxins from processed meats, and increase their ability to enter your body, making your body more insulin resistant and causing your pancreas to release less insulin simultaneously.

Apparently, nitrates in red meat, especially processed meat and bacon, get a lot of this negative attention. Although processed meat contains up to 50% more nitrate than unprocessed meat, nitrates themselves are only a problem when you have bad gut bacteria – which I was certain to have with all the crazy things I was eating. With an imbalanced gut flora, most diabetes experts say that nitrates lessen the release of insulin, which reduces glucose tolerance and increases our risk of developing type II diabetes which is the exact type of diabetes I and most diabetics have. This negative effect on glucose levels helps explain why Harvard researchers found that eating just one serving a day of processed meats (i.e. two slices of salami or a hot dog) was linked to a 20% increase in risk for diabetes.

I had no idea. In fact I have been a poster-boy for Oscar Myer bologna since before I was doing commercials for them in the 70’s. By the way, to answer the riddle at the very beginning of this blog – beans are how you get your protein – lots ‘o’ beans. I said I had been eating vegetarian earlier but I was actually challenged to eat vegan for thirty days to see what effects it would have on my diabetes. Weight loss was not the goal. I thought to myself, I can do anything for thirty days, right?

It’s kind of funny but I always wondered what a vegan really was and I remember that as a young fella I associated the word vegan with outer space. Kind of like those weird space aliens on Star Trek called Ferengi with the enormous ear thingee’s and British dental work.

startrek-ferengi

But what I actually learned over the past couple months is that vegan’s aren’t aliens at all…they just attract aliens with their chemtrails. You know, when you become a vegan, even if it is short-lived, you must learn the secret handshakes, take the herbal supplements, and subscribe to weird people’s blogs. What I actually learned is kind of scary actually. Buckle up pilgrims.

Laura Eisenhower, great-granddaughter of President Eisenhower, is an expert on Vegan’s (notice I’m beginning to capitalize the word “Vegan”) and she’s also a medical astrologist, global chemist, and a cosmic mythologist (fancy way of saying airline hair-dresser) and she warns us that there are nanoparticles in chemtrails that we are absorbing into our bodies and the danger is that these particles will link up to an artificial intelligence system. That if we expand our consciousness, we can work with different physics and therefore transcend to create alchemy (golden turds). It is all a matter of paying special attention to our frequency and vibration so we can assimilate and alchemize the toxic energies. According to her, we can combat this stuff if we support Gaia: whatever in the hell that is.

But, it may be helpful to know that her routine breakfast for supporting Gaia is an Ezekiel tortilla with eggs and potatoes with kombucha tea and alkaline water which makes a very healthy gut flora and immunizes her immune system with high vibrations. Tumeric is good for that too as well as raw cabbage, she says.

9153767970_48c1659806_o

One of the great things about being vegan for the past 2 months is that it’s provided me with a whole new source of procrastination. I generally don’t plan my meals, I just go to any ole restaurant and play it by ear – focusing my attention on anything that looks like a bean and ordering two of them. Bean burritos, bean burgers, and black bean salsa have been the go-to items to keep me satisfied. In case you have a difficult time figuring out what you can eat, just look at the things that don’t taste good and you’ve got it.

Of course I did have a 30-day anniversary weekend where I got to enjoy a real steak and meatloaf and other sundry carnivorous items. Oh yeah, and then there was Easter lunch – I did sin a lot on Easter. But now I’m back on my track but switched gears toward vegetarian and away from vegan. I can’t help it, I just don’t want any part of an alien visit and Emily got tired of washing my underwear with chemtrails on them and no one was appreciating all the high-vibrations.

All that said, I did lose about 20 pounds pretty quick but now it is slow go with the weight. The good news is that I have reduced the amount of insulin I take to about 50% of what I was taking. So, all in all, it does appear that a reduction in meat eating does make you less insulin resistant. Screw Wikipedia and all of the studies that no one ever reads – my results have been very good so I intend to keep up my vegetarian façade and only eat meat one weekend a month. That way, I can still support the beef industry and help my diabetes all at the same time.

fast_food_signs_02

A missionary was taking a walk in the African jungle when he heard the ominous sound of a lion behind him. “Oh Lord,” prayed the devout missionary, “Grant in Thy goodness that the lion stalking me is a good Christian vegetarian lion.” And then, in the silence that followed, the missionary heard the lion praying too: “Oh Lord,” he prayed, “We thank Thee for the food for which we are about to receive.”

The Psychology Of Police Misconduct 

Television media has become obsessed with reporting the failures of law enforcement lately. As much as I want to believe that the media is cultivating this anti-police sentiment, law enforcement officers across this country continue to surprise me with growing numbers of critical incidents where innocent civilians, sometimes children, die at the hands of men and women hired and trained to protect them. In responding especially to incidents with men and boys of color, many mistakes continue to be made which convolute and confuse those of us who believe in our men and women in blue.

These are different times we now live in. The majority of people today are carrying around high-definition video cameras in their pockets. Civil litigation against our police doesn’t really punish bad cops, it punishes taxpayers. Video recordings mean that no longer will our cops get that benefit of doubt in court; no longer will they get those second career-chances when chaos and confusion result in the death of an innocent person.

It has become abundantly clear to me that many of our nation’s police officers fundamentally lack the emotional aptitude required to manage the tumultuous circumstances facing the 21st century police officer. Everyone agrees that something needs to be done, but what would that be? As a former law enforcement officer, having worked in uniformed patrol, undercover drug, violent crimes, investigations and in senior management, I have, of course, very strong feelings regarding what’s been happening.

I just heard yesterday that the family of Tamir Rice, a twelve year old black boy in Cleveland, Ohio, received a settlement of Six Million Dollars from the City of Cleveland for the shooting death of their young son back in 2014. A rookie Cleveland police officer shot and killed him after finding him in possession of a pellet pistol. We could say that it was a lack of training that caused the rookie police officer to fire his weapon so quickly but I believe, more than anything else, it is emotional aptitude that essentially decides the fate of persons entering a law enforcement career path.

The overall professionalism of law enforcement has definitely increased over the previous 30 years and most people in the profession believe that it is low salaries that prevent local and state governments from attracting and acquiring better police candidates. In no way could anyone deny that low salaries do have a detrimental effect on police recruitment efforts. I would think that all college graduates and high-aptitude individuals, who are otherwise non-degree’d, look first at potential pay in their principle decisions over a career path.

That said, I have personally known and worked with police officers who held advanced degrees, a few from Ivy-League institutions, who were willing to do the sometimes rewarding work because of a higher calling or intense personal interest in the humanitarian work police officers can and often do. Working against all of us, however, is this unexplained magnetism that many people have with a career in law enforcement that draws in both the brightest among us who believe it to be a perfect platform to do good as well as equally high numbers of others who are less-evolved, insecure, have emotional, psychological and social problems, and in some cases may even have diagnosable mental disorders.

Fortunately some 28 states, including my own state of Tennessee, have standards, training commissions and state laws that explicitly mandate that a licensed psychologist administer a mental and physical health evaluation as a minimum qualification for potential police recruits. That’s great for those 28 states but there’s still a major problem in that most of these states have exceptionally vague language in their law statutes requiring only that a police candidate “be free from any impairment, as set forth in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)” that would, in the professional judgement of the examiner, affect an applicant’s ability to perform any essential function of the job“. In the end, it’s completely up to the examiner to make that determination. If their particular arsenal of diagnostic tools is limited, so then will the ability of the psychologist to make sound and consistent judgement’s on these men and women who are trusted with the authority, dictated by their own judgement, to stop us; to detain us; to arrest us; or, to kill us.

There is really no consistency among psychologists who perform these pre-employment psychological evaluations for police officers. In one particular police job I worked, the requirement was for me to show up at a Psychiatrist’s office for four days straight whereby the psychiatrist asked me to perform a battery of different styled tests that were designed to examine not only my personality but also my IQ, my hand-eye coordination, and my observational skills. These were all culminated by a three-hour interview with the physician to ensure that my test results weren’t in some way skewed by unknown factors. In other police jobs, mostly in rural jurisdictions where budget is always a concern, I was merely asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI – MMPI²) test then interview with a psychologist and answer questions for 30 minutes. For another job, a psychologist simply interviewed me for an hour then cleared me to be hired.

The MMPI test is by-far the most widely used diagnostic tool trusted by psychologists to determine whether personality disorders might exist with police recruits but the laws governing mandatory testing are so vaguely written that unscrupulous psychologists can and do make judgments from time-to-time that are more consistent with how a Sheriff or Police Chief may view the candidate than with how the candidate fared with the diagnostic test results. I’ve personally seen incidences where police candidates who were personally known and favored for employment by a Sheriff but who could not get an acceptable psyche report from the contracted psychologist were quickly sent to another more agreeable psychologist in order to obtain a guaranteed opposite result. If any Sheriff really wants to hire his deranged fire-starting grandson then he can do it because there’s not enough specificity in these laws to set parameters whereby psychologists can’t easily circumnavigate.

Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loop holes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings.

These psychological evaluations are the last line of defense for keeping individuals out of law enforcement who have the potential of causing great harm to others and to the national trust of government and police work in general. Good law enforcement officers across this country are getting proverbial black eyes from the idiots out there who have no business whatsoever wearing a badge. Not only should we be looking at changing our laws and policies that would eliminate the loop holes in our police hiring practices, we should also be examining and modernizing those important diagnostic tests in order to keep up with trending psychological shortcomings. The tests should be modernized and improved and the laws should be amended to create some real and measurable level of consistency across the country.

But even when candidates are selected who do possess all of the “suitable” characteristics for a good cop, the stressful job duties performed by cops with regularity can impart deep psychological consequences for the individual officer over time. The culture of law enforcement, which is unique to them, makes it very difficult for any police officer to willingly admit when they are over-stressed. The legal requirement for psychological wellness puts an added level of anxiety on police officers who may be experiencing psychological trauma. This is because police officers fear job termination if they expose themselves to having psychological problems.

The other factor that no one is willing to openly discuss is the fact that these situations where police officers typically fail are extraordinarily intense and psychologically demanding. Until you’ve stood in front of a mob while attempting to arrest someone who is not willing to be peacefully arrested, carrying on your side a weapon that could potentially be used against you should you end up in a physical altercation with the suspect, then you really can’t comprehend how difficult it is to be a cop. What is it like to be in that scenario? These “powers” cops have can and do cut in both directions.

How would you feel if that mob was cursing at you, insulting you, and yelling at you while you’re trying to arrest a suspect who is fighting with you? That angry mob is encroaching on you and your suspect in a threatening manner attempting to free your suspect with whatever means; you want to just leave but you’re simultaneously trying to live up to the culture standards of policing which denies you the option of leaving without arresting the suspect, then suddenly feeling what may be an imminent fear of serious bodily injury or death by otherwise unarmed people? If you’re not holding your gun yourself, you’re basically just a holster for an attacker to kill you with your own gun. But you can’t effectively fight with a gun in your hand, and if you kill an unarmed attacker, even if he’s going for your gun, then your life will be changed forever.

What about that rookie cop in Cleveland who made that famed two-second judgement before killing that child? The gun did look like a real gun. If you’re the cop, do you wait till a person is threatening and points the gun at you, putting you in an un-winnable defensive situation or do you take an offensive position and just shoot to stop the potential threat? If you have never been in that kind of situation then it is impossible for you to judge anyone, no matter how egregious their acts may seem. How can anyone make a fair assessment of whether this officer was acting appropriately or inappropriately if we didn’t see what he saw?

If an officer is working in a high-crime neighborhood with an unusually high number of any one race of residents and he himself is not a member of that same racial background and that same officer is constantly involved in numerous altercations where he is physically threatened by large scary groups of protesting persons, then of course that officer can easily develop latent feelings of bigotry toward that race group. That would be a very natural and human reaction, albeit indefensible.

It would be difficult for anyone not to develop an emotional connection similar to that of being a victim of crime when you’ve attempted to act within the law and peacefully make arrests then be systematically accosted by large threatening movements of angry mobs intentionally trying to disrupt your otherwise lawful acts and threaten your life and safety in the process. When you’re the cop in that situation, it doesn’t feel like a validated social awareness movement, it just feels threatening; it makes you angry, puts you in fear, and it compounds the issues of race and crime with yet more fear and more distrust.

These so called victims’ rights advocates don’t just show up and protest when police have acted foolishly. They also rally together with the intent of interfering with active arrests, physically attacking police officers as they are trying to make other arrests. They’re constantly challenging the authority of law enforcement in general. Some of these groups are more akin to terrorist groups than victims’ rights advocates – not only advocating for the rights of individuals who’ve been wronged by government but also for people who clearly were arrested or killed for committing serious crimes or even trying to kill the police such as in the Ferguson, Missouri Brown case – a case still often cited by the media as a legitimate antecedent for the Black Lives Matter movement.

All police officers know that their weapons can easily be grabbed by an attacker then used against them – giving everyone in arms-reach the potential to kill a cop, not just the obviously armed individuals. It’s not necessarily the obvious situations that threaten or kill cops. Michael Brown had his hand on that officer’s gun and had broken some bones in the officer’s face in an attempt to take possession of that gun, ultimately with the intent to kill that officer. But the media focused only on the fact that he wasn’t armed when he approached the cruiser.

If you have your hand on my gun then you’re armed; period! The media takes advantage of situations like this in order to fuel interest in their stories, knowing that law enforcement officials can’t immediately defend themselves through the media as they will later have to do so in court when the family files suit against them for wrongful death. It becomes a political blood bath, fueled by a greedy media then exacerbated by stoic and quiet police officers unwilling and ordered not to talk about it. But statistics tell us that many of the officers who commit the most egregious of these acts are doing so because of severe emotional instability during the event, not bigotry or a lack of experience as many believe.

While 28 states do mandate some sort of psychological testing requirement, there are still a whopping 22 states that do not mandate any psychological assessments. Not only should these psychological inventory’s be required for pre-employment, they should also be highly considered for police officers who have served at least ten years or who have experienced severe traumatic circumstances such as a fatal officer-involved shooting. The psychological health of anyone working in such a fatalistic environment evolves over time. Tests such as these should not be used to help departments terminate tenured officers but instead to determine if corrective or restorative treatments should be made available for those officers who are on a dangerous path of sacrificing their own mental health for their careers.

The unusually alarming statistics for police officer suicides, divorce, and spousal abuse, only touch the surface in illuminating the long-term detrimental effects of working in such a profoundly negative environment. Diagnostic tools should be made available and potentially required by police departments that keep these citizen soldiers mentally healthy throughout their careers. One such thing being talked about lately is the requirement for police officers to undergo systematic counseling, to help officers cope with the stressor’s of police work and as an early detection system for cops who might be troubled.

Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland, Ohio police officer who shot and killed 12-year old Tamir Rice in November 2014, was just such an officer who’d been previously deemed “unfit” for police duty by his deputy chief in late 2012, after having served only six months as a police officer with the Independence Police Department in Ohio. Then later in March 2014, he managed to get another police job in Cleveland – where he would then go on to shoot Rice within two seconds of arriving on scene to investigate a complaint regarding a boy carrying what turned out to be a harmless pellet pistol.

Loehmann, according to internal records, was also found to have failed the Cuyahoga County Sheriff’s Department’s written cognitive entrance exam when he applied for a deputy sheriff position there in September of 2013. He also couldn’t make the cut at police departments in Akron, Euclid, or Parma Heights, failing similar exams. But despite his previous failures, there was one assessment Loehmann did pass during his brief tenure with the Independence Police Department: his psychological evaluation. Another thing about Loehmann which provides some illumination on many police recruits, he was absolutely determined to be a police officer. Interesting too is that personalities who typically don’t do well on these psychological screenings are the ones who try hardest to land jobs in policing.

Once upon a time I had a friend who’d bent over backwards to get my attention and win my friendship. He also had numerous other cop friends, surrounding himself with associates who carried guns and badges. He’d also applied to be a police officer earlier but failed his psychological. So instead he became a reserve police officer which allowed him to have a badge and a commission card but gave him no particular responsibilities. His motivations for his involvement were completely suspect and selfish, having an intense desire to be respected and an overwhelming want of power over others. This was clearly such a case where the MMPI saved the day but the loop-hole of reserve policing still gave him a way inside. New rules in my state now thankfully require that reserve officers submit to the same psychological tests that full-time officers are required to take.

Loehmann’s psychological assessment, which also evaluated his personality type and behavior, determined him to be fit for the job prior to his hiring. Just a few months later, Independence Deputy Chief Jim Polak recommended Loehmann be terminated, writing that Loehmann was “not mature enough in his accepting of responsibility or his understanding the severity of his loss of control” after he had multiple emotional breakdowns during training. Loehmann was allowed to resign. I don’t know if he took the MMPI or one of the other diagnostic tests but the inconsistent end-results from multiple departments is revealing of the insufficiency in Ohio laws.

Dr. Thurston Cosner, the licensed psychologist who oversaw Loehmann’s psychological evaluation at Independence, noted that Loehmann “seems fairly rigid and perhaps has some dogmatic attitudes that could be problematic in police work” – surprisingly Cosner still recommended his hiring. Dr. Cosner also emphasized that Loehmann “appeared particularly stiff and naïve during his evaluation, which had been expedited to meet a July 2012 hiring date, according to internal emails obtained by Cleveland Scene. Of course he was stiff during his evaluation, he knew from experience that there was a high likelihood that he’d fail.

The revelations of Loehmann’s previous shortcomings have focused a national spotlight on the need for stricter background investigations of police recruits, but less attention has been paid to the question of whether Loehmann’s psychological screening should have determined him unsuitable for the job, even before his post-hire training – and nothing is being said about forcing departments, by statute, to use specific validated testing or to set parameters by measurable standards that automatically disqualify police applicants, despite whether a licensed psychologist is willing to sign off on a recruit or not. I personally don’t see the Police Chief’s and Sheriff’s association lobbyists allowing that to happen.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

This case, however, does two things for us. First, it proves just how important mandatory psychological testing is for police candidates. Second, it vividly demonstrates the shortcomings in the actual test and the process by which a psychologist can recommend candidates even when their personality tests deem them to be wholly unsuitable for such a psychologically intense profession.

We must be cognizant of the fact that we citizens give up our individual freedoms to law enforcement officers who have power over us in order for them to safely conduct their difficult tasks. Officers who understand the significance of this and who respect the rule of law do well with that power and mostly do not abuse it. Individuals who are emotionally unsuited for this kind of power use it as a tool for personal satisfaction, irrespective of the rights of citizens.

Laws dictate what authority police officers have and case-law guides them to make good judgments but in the end, it’s a personal opinion made quickly which ultimately decide the actions of a police officer – and police officers often make judgement calls outside the envelope of acceptability. If mistakes weren’t being made daily, our courts wouldn’t continue to create new case law on police misconduct on a daily basis.

The point behind such psychological evaluations isn’t solely to determine whether an applicant has a diagnosable mental disorder, but also to flag potential recruits whose personality types and behavior are unsuited for a job in which sound judgment, cool temperament, and the ability to make rational quick decisions is key, as is emotional stability in tense situations. It’s a determination that plays a substantial role in keeping potentially bad cops from ever soiling the good reputations of good cops – and thus keeping more innocent people alive. It also keeps otherwise decent people from entering a profession in which they are not psychologically well-suited – allowing them an opportunity to ruin their own lives by making judgement calls they’re not qualified to make.

When law enforcement agencies forgo psychological screenings, the result is often violence, some of which results in police brutality litigation. Many of the officers involved in police misconduct cases are known to have either not been given a psychological evaluation during their hiring process or were pushed through the process using inferior testing measures. Consistency is paramount but we cannot have consistency without governmental oversight or a change in the laws of every state. Commissions, such as what we have here in Tennessee, can promulgate rules that have the effect of law, and do some of the things I’ve discussed in this blog.

In my opinion, the problem of low wages only exacerbates the difficulties with hiring unqualified people because the more highly evolved individuals among us are not particularly interested in jobs with low pay, making it very difficult to attract and retain good candidates. The types of people who are naturally attracted to law enforcement can either be idealistic, desiring to do something positive for society or alternatively they may have authoritarian or worse instincts. Maybe they’re just lazy and want a government job with retirement and insurance without having to get sweaty. How would you know the difference without valid testing?

The field and practice of police psychology is still a relatively new and emerging specialization in psychology, officially recognized only recently by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2013. The APA’s committee on professional practices and standards for police psychology is currently in the process of drafting guidelines for all mandated assessments. But guidelines such as these are only a suggestion and licensed police psychologists, as with Cosner in his evaluation of Loehmann, must often conduct their screenings in a rush to meet official hire dates.

A big problem is that psychologists can choose whatever personality inventories they prefer to use and can do whatever other tests they might want to do, all within what the departments are willing to pay for, which creates an inconsistent, unstable protocol for doing psychological police evaluations. These inconsistencies lend themselves to a kind of loophole in which one psychologist may determine that an applicant is unsuitable, but another, using a different set of assessment tools, may determine just the opposite, potentially allowing applicants with violent tendencies into police ranks.

Furthermore, the personality assessments routinely used by psychologists vary greatly in their design, predictive validity, and what traits and behaviors are actually measured. Not every test used is specifically designed with the police applicant in mind or are designed to identify traits such as aggression in police candidates. As previously stated, the most common test used for law enforcement candidates is the MMPI which has proven to be problematic in several aspects, possibly even discriminatory. It has been reported by some psychiatrists that the test’s normative data for police officers under-represents women and minorities; elicits responses weighted toward sexual orientation, sexual deviance, and religious attitudes; but, fails to measure conscientiousness. Who cares if a local cop is gay, there are far more important things to assess than sexual orientation.

However relevant the MMPI test may or may not be, it was certainly designed to be used in conjunction with other assessments and tools, such as interviews and background information, to paint a more comprehensive picture of the candidate. While the MMPI may be really good at identifying individuals who actually suffer from a personality disorder, it does nothing to recognize whether or not a person has the proper personality traits to be a good police officer.

The MMPI essentially screens-out unfavorable profiles instead of screening-in resilient, stable, and conscientious personalities less-likely to abuse the powers of their badge. There remains no consensus as to the ideal personality profile for potential new police recruits and even if one existed, there are no laws that would guarantee that states, counties or municipalities would employ those tests. Also, even if such a test is required for initial screening, the arrest powers and authority that applicant gains upon hire, and the nature of police work itself, is widely accepted by researchers to affect the personality and psychology of experienced police officers throughout his or her career.

A person’s behavior is determined to a large extent by the situations and contexts in which they find themselves – cementing the notion that abusive behavior cannot always be found in a person’s pre-existing characteristics. Without thorough tests designed to eliminate poor police candidates, the incidence of diagnosable mental disorders in police departments will statistically mirror what’s found in the general population which is about 3 to 5 percent. That said, police work often puts officers in situations where, despite the officers intentions, they must exercise power over individuals, frequently in harmful or violent ways, just to do their job. Despite the particular merits that an individual officer may possess, abuse is often part of the job description, thus can expose the officer to a change in psychology that could be emotionally detrimental to that officer over time.

Studies reveal that police officers often experience cognitive dissonance when performing duties that are contrary to their personal beliefs or internalized attitudes. Conflicting social roles can lend themselves toward more fixed attitudes to police work over time, as officers seek to rationalize internal conflicts. Officers can cognitively restructure unethical behaviors in ways that make them seem more socially acceptable, thereby allowing themselves to behave immorally while preserving their self-image as ethically good people. I believe that police officers should be routinely offered counseling, perhaps annually, instead of waiting for them to be reprimanded for bad behavior or found dead by a suicide.

We are asking a great deal of our police officers. We put them in nearly unwinnable situations and ask that they perform those dangerous duties in ways that won’t look so violent when played on television. The problem is that those duties are incredibly violent and it is difficult to make a violent arrest look non-violent on television at any angle. When a person forcefully resists being arrested then the cop has to react with a greater force in order to not only protect himself but also to effect that arrest – that stuff is uncomfortable to watch because you can’t feel what they are feeling or experience what they are experiencing.

Fighting cannot be made to look peaceable no matter how many sophisticated acronyms you can come up with to describe it – and fighting is part of the job description. Over the span of their careers, we teach our cops that violence is ok, speeding is ok, breaking in houses is ok, and whatever it takes to get evidence or get the job done is ok, so long as it is within the boundaries of the law and in an effort to do good. Over time, even the brightest and most responsible among us can lose sight of what all that really means. Can we fix this problem? I honestly don’t know.