Friday, December 21, 2012

No end in sight

So no matter what time zone you live in and what part of the world, the end of days associated with the Mayan calendar was as anti-climatic as Harold Camping's failed rapture call. So perhaps the end of the world will not come with a bang, but through a slow process of attrition like a river wearing down a rock. The rock doesn't explode. It just wears down.

Many people joked about the end of the world (including me). But I have to wonder if there was this niggling idea in the back of many people's minds wondering "what if?" And I think there may be just a bit of a sense of relief (or disappointment) that nothing happened.

There is a certain "carrot and stick" aspect to human nature. We are motivated by the potential of events happening. We, as a species, seem to need something (positive or negative) to look forward to. It could be as simple as the weekend or as complex as the end of the world. We need something to look forward to in order to escape the mundane.

Perhaps it is how we deal with the inevitability of our own death. It would somehow be easier to accept our own end if everything else was being snuffed out at the same time.

I write this as I watch yet another documentary about the Mayan prediction of the end of the world (or the Western world's interpretation of the Mayan prediction). I suppose it is the last day when they can screen such a documentary. Because tomorrow, it all gets filed as bull shit and we will move on to the next ancient text prediction of the end of the world.

Just please don't let it be Harold Camping who comes up with it.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

It can't rain all the time

In a drought, rain is a blessing. When it never seems to stop, it is a curse. We experienced record days without rain in Seattle during the summer and fall. It is making up for it now.

The consequences include an unplanned indoor swimming pool in my basement, frequent mud slides that have blocked the tracks of the train I normally commute on; and I broke down and purchased a pair of rubber boots that I normally wouldn't be caught dead in.

I attribute the flooded basement to a curse triggered by cutting down our own Christmas tree this year.  You would think I would have learned my lesson about cutting down trees. The contractors are still rooting around (pun intended) trying to find out why the water all of a sudden began flowing into my basement. This was after we had to pay $1000 to have the wet carpet and half of the walls removed and sprayed with chemicals to prevent mold.

So far they have determined that the problem is not with the French drain that already exists in the basement. Before this I didn't even know what a French drain was let alone that I had one. The only way they determined that the French drain was okay was by punching a hole in the cement floor. So now we have a working French drain, but a hole in the floor that matches nicely the demolition motif we've got going down there.

Apparently the problem has now been traced to one of the outlets for the French drain that snakes under our deck and down to the slope that was slipping last winter due to the rain. The retaining wall we had repaired so far appears to be holding despite the efforts of the rain and the mountain beaver to compromise it. I have a hunch the mountain beaver has something to do with the plugged drain outlet as well. We won't know until they rip up some of the deck to get to it.

The irony in this all is that none of the damage or repairs are covered by our homeowner's insurance. There is some clause that doesn't pay out for damage caused by ground water coming into your house. It would be different if a pipe had burst. And the claims adjuster said it wouldn't have been covered by flood insurance because we aren't eligible for flood insurance since we don't live in a flood plain.

And the rain continues. It turned to snow briefly yesterday which added to the fun of my daily commute that used to be a pleasant train ride along the shoreline of the Puget Sound. Now it involves driving to a park-and-ride lot, parking next to a guy who is living in his VW van and catching a packed bus for a 45-minute bus ride into downtown Seattle.

Now is the winter of my discontent.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Maybe absolutely not

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." --Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 One of the things I've learned about my life as I spiral through middle age is that the only people who believe in absolutes are the very young or the very stupid. There is no certainty about anything. It's what makes life frustrating and interesting.

This may be disconcerting to people who seek consistency in a random world. If we believe Darwin, nothing would have evolved for better or worse if everything was consistent and static.

And I'm not just waxing macro philosophic jibba jabba. We start out believing that there are absolutes when we are children. We believe our parents know everything or know nothing. We believe doctors have all of the answers and can cure all. We believe that the next politician really does want to change things for the better. We believe we'll be best friends forever. We believe that the one true religion will save us. We are absolute sure of all of these things until they turn out to be absolutely wrong.

Well, not absolutely wrong, because there are no absolutes. Life is full of footnotes and disclaimers. Your parents don't know everything or nothing. Most doctors are doing the best they can, rolling dice and hoping they don't cut out something you really need. Some politicians really do want to change things until they realize they can't or they meet the right lobbyist. Friends come and go. There is no one true religion.

You feel betrayed when you first start to realize that things aren't always what you believed they were. One of the most idiotic phrase ever uttered is, "That's not fair." Fair to who? Fair by whose rules? Something may suck, but it has nothing to do with not being fair. The zebra may not think it is fair that the lion has chosen him for dinner when he just met the zebra love of his life, but the lion thinks it is pretty darned fair (or fare).

I'm not suggesting that we settle or accept everything under the guise of "Shit happens." I think what makes use strong is the struggle to create the closest thing we can to absolutes in our own lives. The operative statement here is "our own lives." My absolutes are not going to be the same absolutes as someone else. They may come close. But no two people or snow flakes are alike (as far as we know).

My parents didn't know everything but they did the best they could. Doctors are best consulted only if you have a gaping wound that is too big for a bandage you have at home. Never vote for politicians who advocate for change and claim to have been abducted by aliens. Enjoy the friends you have when you have them. As for religion, if you meet the Buddha by the road, kill him.

I'm not absolutely sure about any of this, however.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I would be remiss if I didn't post on the only 12-12-12 date in my lifetime. Not that it truly has any significance since a calendar is as artificial measurement of time as is a clock. I don't imagine nature crosses off the days the way humans do.

The mountain beaver in my backyard probably doesn't know or care that it is 12-12-12. It doesn't wake up, look at a clock and say, "Time to get up and randomly dig through shit. Oh, it's 12-12-12! I should eat some bark and ferns to celebrate."

Not that I think the mountain beaver ever sleeps. It just seems to dig.

I'm digressing again, aren't I?

It just occurred to me that there will never be a 13-13-13. What's that all about? There will be an 11-12-13.  I wonder what the mountain beaver will be doing then? I suppose it depends upon whether world ends when the Mayan calendar winds down.

Oh well. Happy 12-12-12!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I'm not running as fast as I can

I hate running. I used to tell people the only reason to run is if someone is chasing you. I still feel that way, but I have accepted that the only way I can truly keep weight off is by doing the thing I hate.

I know that some people love to run. I have heard about people getting in the zone and the brain releasing chemicals that make them feel euphoric. The only thing my body seems to release when I run is sweat and pain.

Now granted, the only place I normally run is on a treadmill in the gym. And unless I am on a machine with a built in television, boredom adds to my hatred of running. Because the only thing I seem to be able to think about when I run is when I can stop running. And when you want something to pass quickly, it turns into the slow motion sequence from the Bionic Man (for the young and the pop culturally impaired, the Bionic Man was a bad series from the 70s starring Lee Majors as a man who lost several limbs in an accident and had them replaced with super powered bionic he could run and jump at super fast speeds that they always showed in slow motion to avoid having to spend money on better special effects...after all, it was the 70s).

I don't think I really started hating to run until I was in 7th grade PE and had a sadistic PE teacher named Mr. Ackley who would make you run two cross-country's (the equivalent of a mile) if you were the last one to get dressed and stand on your number in the gym before the bell rang. I developed a psychosomatic cough that year due to the stress around running. To add to the stress, I had an English class right before PE with a teacher who wouldn't let anyone leave when the bell rang until everyone was quiet. So we never got released on time. I started wearing sweater vests so that I could unbutton my shirts under the sweater to safe time changing once I got to the locker room.

It didn't help that I was what my mother called "a stocky kid" in grade school and 7th grade. It made running even a single mile agony. But by the time I completed 7th grade I had become borderline anorexic and was as skinny as a rail right up until I approached 40.

Middle age severely impacted my middle. And this was despite years of taking aerobic classes. I just foolishly clung to self-delusion that I could still eat and drink just about anything I wanted. I learned where the old adage "You are what you eat" and "bread basket" came from. My real moment of truth came when I weighed in for a physical to qualify for life insurance after my son was born. I realized then that I was twice the man I used to be--literally.

So I faced the thing I hated the most (right after being fat) -- I added running on the treadmill to my routine.I also turned away from some of the things I liked the most like bread, french fries, and most sugar. I stopped eating out for lunch and reduced my portions. And I weighed myself regularly to avoid self-delusion. Eventually much of the weight was dropped.

The exercise has become more or less second nature and I don't feel like puking after jogging for a mile. I don't think I will ever truly love to run, though. I try to mix it up with elliptical and rowing machines just to cut the boredom. I've managed to maintain my weight for several years now.

But I still sweat like a pig and I curse Mr. Ackley every mile I run.

Friday, December 07, 2012

I am un-a-Mused

At the height of my blogging days (2006), I logged in 292 posts. Six years later, in 2012, I've posted 35 (well 36 after this post). That's an 88 percent drop in the number of posts (you can tell that research is part of my day job). Though in 2009 I only posted 23 times. I think it had something to do with having a baby boy and toddler girl in the house and the distractions of being a new, but pretty old, parent.

I don't know what's wrong with me this year, though. I'm not as amused by my muse anymore. And maybe it is because I've been blogging for more than eight years and it has lost that new blog smell. Now it just smells like stale french fries and coffee.

In 2006, I had a lot more fellow bloggers reading and commenting. It helped feed the muse.Almost all of them have dropped off the radar. The only comments I get anymore are from Baggy over in England (which I appreciate).

I don't know if it is just that blogging has changed and primarily been taken over by business blogs and technical blogs.I don't follow many blogs anymore. I imagine there are still personal bloggers by the millions but I just don't have any desire to hit the "next blog" button and venture into the wasteland to find an interesting one.

I subscribe to marketing guru Seth Godin's blog and screenwriter Kevin Levine's blog (he was one of the writers for Cheers). They are both well-written blogs, but they post everyday (and sometimes twice a day) and frankly I have an aversion to overachievers so I only read them sporadically.

Sometimes I think it is better to just post once or twice a week. Less is often more (more or less). And I know this is just my way of rationalizing why I don't fire out 292 posts like I did in 2006. But hey, if I did, 90 percent of them would probably be about not having anything to write about.


Monday, December 03, 2012

Repent: The end of the 13th b'ak'tun is near

I hate to break it to you, but the end of the 13th b'ak'tun (a cycle from the Mayan calendar) is coming up in just three weeks. And everybody knows that when the calendar ends, so does the world. So come Dec. 21, you won't have to worry about any last minute Christmas shopping.

I haven't seen as much hype about this "end of the world" as there was for Harold Camping's much ballyhooed end of the world and the resulting rapture (not to be confused with the Debby Harry song from the 80s).

BTW, "ballyhooed" is not a word I get to use very much but it just sort of slipped naturally into that last sentence. It refers to sensationalized marketing efforts. Its origins are said to be associated with a mythical creature called the ballyhoo bird that an 1880 Harper's magazine article described as having four wings, two heads and the ability to whistle through one bill while singing through the other.

Which just about describes Harold Camping.

But I digress.

End of the world or not, let's face it, all of our days, like the calendar, are numbered. Everything ends (except for Buddha and Friends reruns). Whether the world ends on Dec. 21, 2012 with a bang, or slowly chokes from Global Warming, it doesn't change the fact of our mortality. If nothing ended, there wouldn't be any room for anything else to begin.

I'm not trying to sound like a Debbie Downer, just realistic. Even if the world ended tomorrow, odds are something new would grow in its place. And down the road that world would grow arrogant about lasting forever and eventually implode or explode as well. It's that cycle of life and death that only Buddha seemed to have overcome.

I suppose it is why mankind invented the afterlife. Because it is a lot easier to face mortality if you know you have somewhere to go after you die. If there is an afterlife, I hope it doesn't involve having to be reunited with all of your dead relatives. Because I have a shitload of them and I really didn't know or particularly like any of them. So being reunited with strangers isn't my idea of paradise. And I would rather not be reincarnated unless I could come back as someone like Brad Pitt (though who knows if he is really happy).

I am actually amazed at the elaborate institutions and complex myths mankind has concocted to stave off ceasing to exist. There seem to be a infinite number of religions claiming to be the one, true path to salvation. And ironically religions are probably the number one cause of people fighting and killing each other.

And where did civilizations like the Egyptians come up with their elaborate rituals and ceremonies that were supposed to guarantee passage to the after world (for those rich and powerful enough to warrant it)? Who is giving these people all of these instructions? As far as I know, the dead still don't have a 4G cell phone plan that includes unlimited calling to this world. The only people I know talking to the dead are those mental midgets on Ghost Adventurers and the only thing the dead seem to be capable of saying are barely audible, garbled words about Zak's bad haircuts.

Oh well, I suppose we will all find out on Dec. 21.

Or not.