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Dec 18, 2010

True Gifts

It is Christmas time and the time of gift exchanges. For some it is an opportunity to take a moment to express the love and appreciation they have for those in their lives. For others it becomes more of a social obligation. This time of year often makes me consider the motivation behind our gift-giving.
While many do take the time to find the expression or token that fits to the individual, there is a stigma which is carried in the air. Often the gift-giving becomes an unspoken and subtle competition. Sadly, many gifs this season will not be given freely, but there will be spider-web strings attached, where the giver hopes to be buying something. I say “spider-web” because unlike the classic “strings attached” idiom, this is more of a clandestine expectation akin to brown-nosing the boss, incentivizing the reciprocation of feelings, or emotional blackmail of a child’s behavior.
“Did he really just say that?” some readers will probably say. Yes, yes I did. And I think it happens more often than we would like to admit.
Giving gifts is wonderful. I am not discouraging this tradition at all. However, I would ask that as you do so, please be sure your heart is in the proper place. I’ve had to do so this year especially when deciding what to get for a few particular people in my life.
This is especially true when so many of my friends don’t really have “needs” they can’t or don’t fulfill on their own. This doesn’t discount the special tokens that spark personal memories of a shared trip or common interest. A replacement for something dear that was lost or other emotional memorials express the bonds of friendship and love.
However, sometimes there just hasn’t been “a moment” over the past year – and my friend doesn’t really need anything. At these times, I would like to suggest that exchanging giving to a charity in the other person’s name, something you know he or she supports. For the past three years, I’ve been asking my friends to donate to the Rwanda Clean Water Project, if they can’t think of an appropriate gift. Also, I tell family that if they want to give me money, know that it will be turned around and sent to this charity. It’s just what I do for the Holidays.
I hope you will consider doing something similar. Gift-giving is not bad; however, Americans spend over four-hundred billion dollars on Holiday gifts for one another. If even 10% are poorly motivated or “unneeded” – that could be forty billion dollars that would be given for charitable means. I just ask that you think about it.

Nov 28, 2010

…And Don’t Call Me Shirley

I read the sad news tonight that Leslie Nielsen has passed away. This really plucked at my heart strings a bit more than expected – perhaps because I have no unhappy memory of him. Even now when I see him in a serious role, such as the captain in The Poseidon Adventure, it still makes me laugh just because it’s so difficult not to think of his slapstick while he’s playing a dramatic part.
So, in the spur of the moment, I decided I must have a “watch memorial” for Mr. Nielsen. However, with IMDB listing him in 239 titles, I will have to limit what to watch. Thus, I’ve decided it will be a 5-movie viewing, not necessarily consecutively…but you never know.
So, I must pick my personal Top 5 Best Funnyman Films. Also, I’m limiting this to movies. Nielsen appeared in an impressive number of TV series, such as The Fugitive, Peyton’s Place, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., M*A*S*H and was the narrator for Walt Disney’s Wonderful World for ten year. However, I accept the challenge to honor this somehow with my five movie titles.
Below are what I’ve chosen and the explanation why:
 This is a seemingly odd pick for several reasons. The movie is several short stories of which he only appears in one. However, this is a tribute his transition from serious actor who loved to play “the heavy” to his light-hearted slapstick roles. His appearance in Creepshow torturing Ted Danson is a throwback to his evil character days, while oddly carrying a presence of humor in this short act.
#4Wrongfully Accused
 A wonderful spoof of The Fugitive, which ties links him back into the TV series in which he made an appearance two times.
#3Dracula: Dead and Loving It
 A Mel Brooks film where Nielsen is alongside not only Brooks but also Harvey Korman. This film has a few odd tie-ins to reciprocate Nielsen’s career. Co-star Chuck McCann, the innkeeper, is the voice of DuckTale’s Duckworth which gives a link to Disney. And in a weird duck segue, Steven Weber was in Duckman; however, that doesn’t really tie back except perhaps as an A.D.D. reference. But Weber appeared in a Kojak movie and Nielsen starred in one episode of the original Kojak series.
#2The Naked Gun
 You knew Frank Drebin would have to appear. The TV show Police Squad, although lasting only 6 episodes, changed everything for Nielsen and gave us his most recognizable character. It also allows me to detail many cop-references for the funnyman. He appeared in S.W.A.T., Columbo, Cannon, Hawaii Five-O (original), Streets of San Francisco, Barnaby Jones, The F.B.I. and The Bold Ones.

…..and finally….
 How can this not be top pick? “It’s a big building with patients in it, but that’s not important right now.” Or “Yes, I had lasagna.” This is the film the introduced us to his delivery – and we all loved it. Leaving us with his most famous: “I am serious…and don’t call me Shirley.”

Nov 15, 2010

Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen

This weekend my daughter had to complete her Science Fair project. It was a fascinating but frustrating and expensive project, where she tested the effectiveness of different levels of SPF in sunscreen.
This was done by masking off four sections on a clear-plastic folder, applying the different SPF formulas to each section, leaving one blank as the the control of course. Then a piece of photo-developing paper was slipped into the folder and exposed to the sunlight. After five minutes, the photo-paper was brought inside and placed in a photo-fixing wash to stop the “development” and observe the variances.
Of course a big display had to be built as well, showing methods, charts and data. Finally it came time to “name the project.” This was both a bit more fun and somewhat inspirational. We settled on the title Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen.
You may recall a little over a decade ago, when Vitamin-C released their one-hit wonder, Graduation Song, another MP3 made its way around Napster. It was advice put to music by Baz Luhrmann. Rumors had it that this was an actual Commencement Speech given by Kurt Vonnegut at MIT. However, the truth is this advice was never given in a speech at all, but rather was a 1997-column of the Chicago Tribune by Mary Schmich.
Although few know the story behind the song, many recognize Everybody's Free To Wear Sunscreen instantly. And unlike many “viral” items that traverse the internet to be forgotten after a few weeks, this “speech” made a lasting impression on nearly all who heard it – for it is inspiration, witty and just good advice. It serves to remind us of what is truly important in this life, which ironically turns out not to be sunscreen – although there are benefits from it as well.
So in honor of this memory and song, rediscovered through science, I offer a link to a YouTube video for any who wish to listen to the song. Below the link are Mary Schmich’s words for those who prefer to simply read it.
Advice, like youth, probably just wasted on the young
June 1, 1997; Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune

Inside every adult lurks a graduation speaker dying to get out, some world-weary pundit eager to pontificate on life to young people who'd rather be Rollerblading. Most of us, alas, will never be invited to sow our words of wisdom among an audience of caps and gowns, but there's no reason we can't entertain ourselves by composing a Guide to Life for Graduates.
I encourage anyone over 26 to try this and thank you for indulging my attempt. Ladies and gentlemen of the class of '97:
Wear sunscreen.
If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it. The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.
Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you imagine.
Don't worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 p.m. on some idle Tuesday.
Do one thing every day that scares you.
Don't be reckless with other people's hearts. Don't put up with people who are reckless with yours.
Don't waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you're ahead, sometimes you're behind. The race is long and, in the end, it's only with yourself.
Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.
Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.
Don't feel guilty if you don't know what you want to do with your life. The most interesting people I know didn't know at 22 what they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting 40-year-olds I know still don't.
Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You'll miss them when they're gone.
Maybe you'll marry, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll have children, maybe you won't. Maybe you'll divorce at 40, maybe you'll dance the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you do, don't congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either. Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else's.
Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it. It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own.
Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.
Read the directions, even if you don't follow them.
Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.
Get to know your parents. You never know when they'll be gone for good. Be nice to your siblings. They're your best link to your past and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.
Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people who knew you when you were young.
Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft. Travel.
Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you'll fantasize that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were noble and children respected their elders.
Respect your elders.
Don't expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund. Maybe you'll have a wealthy spouse. But you never know when either one might run out.
Don't mess too much with your hair or by the time you're 40 it will look 85.
Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it's worth.
But trust me on the sunscreen.

Nov 11, 2010

Something Google This Way Comes

Recently, the internet mega-giant Google has gotten a bad reputation. And in many ways, it seems they’ve given it to themselves. They “accidentally” stole personal data while driving around taking pictures of your house. The whole “Street-View” question pushes the envelope for public information. And Eric Schmidt, the company’s CEO, has made some of the most bizarre and draconian statements over the last year.
While many recent stories of Google have people questioning if they should change their motto from “Don’t be evil” to “Don’t be stupid” – today I felt compelled to draw attention to a noble gesture. Also, it is one they often get accused of “never doing.” Today, they posted an image honoring veterans with an American flag.
While their reputation in the past has been to be “un-American” or “unpatriotic” and while we can’t know how they will continue in the future – today they got it right. I thought it was important to positively reinforce their good act (not that anyone at Google reads my blog) and also to remind those who oppose Google’s “bias” that the company really does recognize and acknowledge America.

Sep 18, 2010

Total Care Part 2

This is a reminder to all who live within Oklahoma City that the deadline to opt-out for next year's tax for on ambulance service is now. September is the only month that residents are allowed to opt out. I'm curious how this works if you move in and establish new service during a month other than September. But that's a question for another time.
For my full rant and explanation of why I suggest 98% of all residents should opt-out, see my original post: EMSA Total Care.
Here are the steps to opt-out:
1) Go to the City's web page for TotalCare, which is
2) On that page, it gives a link to follow or says you can call 405-297-2833. However, I'm not sure what kind of hoops one would have to jump through to opt-out. I'd like to think it would be easier, but my guess is it's not. So, I'll click the link (and the rest of the instructions are for opting out from the internet).
3) Of course, you must have an online account already set-up. If not you must do so from here. To validate a new account you will have to have a copy of your latest bill.
4) Login to your account.
5) Select "I want to opt out of the medical service program" and click "Continue With Update" - however, I'm taking a screenshot of this page, just in case.
6) It then takes you to a page, where you must actually tell you that you meant to opt-out. Select "I want to opt out of the EMSA program" and not the changed-my-mind option. Then click "Submit Changes" - oh, a screenshot here too would be wise.
7) Finally, you get the confirmation page, of which I took a screenshot too. It is interesting because I'm not sure it is a real confirmation considering the veriage of the page: "Your request has been submitted successfully. If you have any questions please call Utilities Customer Services at (405)297-2833." - So, I requested to opt-out, but the way this is phrased, it implies that it might be denied and that no final decision has been made nor confirmation given. Great!
As I have said before, the collusion of the City government with a private business entity to extract money from the residents in a psuedo-taxlike way is corrupt and wrong. But at least this month you can do something to save yourself from it. And the steps above should work. If I get charged next month, you know I'll tell the tale.
Good luck and tell everyone you know. It's $43 per year for something you likely will never use or even qualify for. That may not sound like much, but if everyone pays, that equates to nearly ten million dollars fleeced from the citizenry with no public audit or accountability for how it's used.

Aug 27, 2010

That Sounds Logical

I find how the human brain works, or perhaps doesn't work, fascinating. Today I heard the Chinese proverb about getting knocked down seven times and standing up eight. Then I realized that this is mathematically incorrect. If someone were knocked down only once, they couldn't stand back up twice; there is no one-extra time to stand up. Then I read about the rope breaking nine times and mending it ten. Same problem.
I suppose it is the Gestalt process of the brain which tries to understand intent rather than meaning. Also, unexaggerated truth doesn't have the same emphasis. After all, "knocked down seven times, stand up seven" just doesn't mean as much.
Also, our brains often try to apply logic in problem-solving but comes to an incorrect conclusion. A classic story problem demonstrates this: You must take three pills, one every thirty minutes; how much time will be required to take all the pills? Our first impulse is to say 90 minutes because 3 x 30 = 90. However, you take the first pill immediately, the second 30 minutes later, and finally only an hour passes when you take the third pill. But our brains don't go there naturally; it takes pause, ponder and reason to find the answer.
All of that aside, it makes me wonder how often we assimilate information that sounds reasonable but is in fact factually or logically flawed. How often do we see the "obvious logic" which is actually incorrect, but still hold it true. This could range from the products we buy, to the people we befriend, to the decisions of our personal life philosophy.
I suppose we must stop and take inventory of our thoughts and beliefs from time to time. It is not only acceptable, but important, to take time out to question our own beliefs, to test them again, to remember why we hold things true. This mental analysis is not blasphemy, not weakness. Instead, it is an assurance that we haven't lost our way. Perhaps this is why Socrates said the unexamined life is not worth living.
Ok, deep enough for today. Take this for what it is. I just found it curious and thought I'd share. That explanation sounds reasonable; right?

Aug 21, 2010

Licensing Religion

The other day I had a discussion with a fellow who proposed an interesting idea. Now, I don’t think it would ever be accepted, and I am certainly not going to try to push any new public policy. Moreover, it suffers from the “genie is out of the bottle” problem, but nonetheless, I thought it was interesting enough to share.
He said that no government, not Federal nor State, should issue marriage licenses or make laws that address or recognize marital status. His argument is that marriage is a religious ceremony and the State governing it is as ludicrous as administering secular baptisms.
Wow – this is a pretty radical thought. Well, let’s slow down. Is it really that crazy?
After 3000 years of marital tradition, the first real secular ruling about marriage came from a King in England who defied the authority of the Pope. He justified his decision on fairly selfish reasoning, not because he wanted to improve the institution of marriage. That established, despite some pretty upsetting changes in Church organization, it didn’t really impact the practice of marriages being sanctioned religious covenants. However, it did set a precedent, but one that would not be acted upon for nearly another 350 years.
There were virtually no legal statutes addressing marriage in Europe and early America. There were no tax breaks, no secular registers, no blood tests. Marriage was a religious function, something to be kept separate from the State …until the Civil War. After the Fourteenth Amendment, the secular, governmental, legal processing of marriage came to be in full force. Why? Mainly to prevent blacks from marrying whites now that the former slaves were legal citizens.
Governmental authority over marriage continued into a fight between State and Federal control. A hundred years later, Civil Rights and the supremacy clause would overtake these Jim Crow laws. However, all this did was to give more control over marriage to the State and basically strip away the church tradition, making it meaningless and unnecessary. Marriage is now a legal status and function – and no longer a religious one.
My friend’s argument stated the removal of the Jim Crow laws about marriage was correct but methodically flawed. Rather than over-ruling them with more secular law, they should have been struck down under separation of Church and State. The justification for their removal should not have been based on Civil Rights, but rather marriage was a religious area where government has virtually no authority.
He further explained that this approach of letting religious groups control and sanction marriage would solve most of the social issues surrounding it today. If gays wanted to marry and found a religious group to sanction it, then so be it. If atheists wanted to “live in sin” without marrying, then fine; they don’t believe in sin anyway. The church leaders would be accountable to God, their tenants or whatever, but not to the State.
This is quite different than how we currently think. I further admit that this would radically change how divorce, child support, alimony and inheritance would be handled; however, without knowing what solutions would manifest for these issues in a governmentless marriage scenario, I can’t say whether that would be better or worse. I would imagine they would be more private and personally-tailored, though.
So as I close down this post, I want to remind everyone this is merely a hypothetical proposal of how it should be, not a political push to change the system. I don’t believe this model will happen, but it is an interesting and unusual way of looking at our modern issues of marriage. While I doubt it could solve every social problem revolving around marriage, I must consider that this seemingly radical idea is not only reasonable but it also preserves the original meaning and tradition of marriage.

Aug 9, 2010

Karaoke Lessons

The other day I sang a duet with someone. It was Picture by Sheryl Crow and Kid Rock. Of course, we did a fabulous job; thank you for asking.
However, as I sang the line, “I wish I had a good girl to miss me,” I was reminded of a past conversation. An acquaintance of mine once tried to convince me that if he could just find a good woman, then he’d have a reason to change his ways and straighten his life around.
I remember thinking about his argument and even debating with him that he should do these things for himself, not rely on the existence of another person to make them manifest. I held the position that if he wouldn’t do this for himself, then his effort would be good at first but eventually, after the novelty and chivalry had worn off, he would revert back to who he wanted to be for himself – and if that wasn’t “the straightened out person” then he would go back to his old bad habits.
I thought about myself after singing the song – clearly with the memory of the above-stated conversation fresh on my mind. How often do I hope for another person or a particular event to occur to excuse fixing things I know I should? And while using an excuse to start isn’t necessarily bad, the action and desire must be for me to improve who I am – not to provide an appearance nor to be for a temporary duration.
As most nutritionist tell us: It is not a diet but rather a life-style change. If we diet, then we shed the unwanted weight for a while, but it comes back. If we change how we eat routinely, then the weight is more likely to stay off.
So it must be the same in our personal lives, work habits, moral practice and emotional decisions; otherwise, the weight and burdens return. We must satisfy that one person we are guaranteed to live with for our entire lives: our own self. Any other reason is denial.
Ironically, the next song for me to sing was I Can't Get No Satisfaction by the Rolling Stones.

Aug 4, 2010

A Tear In My Beer

Perhaps a bit intoxified, but these words must be written now before I forget the impression that was made upon me tonight.
Yes, I went to a bar on a Tuesday night. Yes, I had a few beers. I met a small group of interesting people and had a very fine time. However, two heart-breaking stories sat before me tonight and for very different reasons.
One woman was there drinking her sorrows because she had suspected her fiancé of over a year to be cheating on her. Tonight she confirmed that. She was a mature and beautiful woman, who had much going for her. It was unbelievable that any man could not find this amazing graceful splendor enough to satisfy him. She dealt with the situation with unbelievable grace despite masking the serious pain she felt deep within her soul.
The other story was an angst-ridden young woman who thought her world was horrid. She too was quite striking in appearance, and on the surface she was to be desired by many in the establishment. However, within just seconds of conversation, the scene from Shallow Hal where the nurse comes to berate the helpers came to mind. She was so angry and ugly, and with little cause. Obviously there was much hidden to her story, but what she revealed for the purpose of gaining sympathy did not merit any excuses for her retched behavior.
At one point, I violated the trust of the first woman – because everyone who had been paying attention knew. I told the younger that the woman next to her was suffering worse than she. What I witnessed next was both pathetic and appalling. The younger started to lecture the graceful woman about how “he” wasn’t worth it, blah, blah, blah – but instantly, it turned to her own examples and her own pain – and without any compassion, the consoling became a personal pity party for the younger woman. It was both sickening and difficult to watch.
I watched the mature woman handle the conversation with dignity and never retaliated. I saw the annoyance and sorrow paint itself across her face. The younger woman’s help was causing much damage, and youth didn’t even know it.
Then, an epiphany struck me. I questioned – how often am I that younger woman, pretending to console another person when really I am just expressing my own pain. I act like I can draw on some great well of wisdom from my personal experiences, while in reality I am simply turning the conference into what matters to me!
I hope to never forget this. I hope to remember it when I am called to be the listening ear to someone in pain. I hope to recall that I am there to listen – not preach, teach or leech.

Jul 14, 2010

EMSA TotalCare

Paying some bills, I noticed that I am being charged $3.65 per month on my OKC utilities bill for a line item which reads, “EMSA TOTALCARE.” There is absolutely no mention of this on the backside of the bill, where they place the fine print. Going to the city website, I found no mention of it whatsoever.
For those not in my local area, EMSA is the ambulance service. However, it is a private company and not a governmental service. This begs the question: why is it on my City bill?
So, on EMSA’s website, I found some answers. I also found the link to the city’s explanation, which apparently can’t be navigated to from the city's top level (or at least not logically).
What happened is the City and EMSA struck a deal last October, with nearly no announcement to the public, to bill city residents for a privatized insurance plan to cover the expense for ambulance trips to a hospital in life-threatening circumstances. While this may be a reasonable deal, I had to examine what it does and does not include.
First, it only covers should the ambulance be called directly to your residence. If you are elsewhere or in a car wreck, this insurance does not apply. Further, it only covers permanent residents of your home, no visitors, relatives or guests. Even children who are in shared custody may not be covered because only one home can be considered a permanent residence for the child. Finally, this program still collects from the recipient’s insurance, Medicare or Medicaid for the applicable fee and then waives the left-over.
So, what do we have? A person must have a life-threatening condition in their own home for this program to apply. Even then – that person will still be billed at the full rate so that insurance or other coverage will pay. They will receive bills during the interim of the insurance processing and after it is paid. The recipient must then request to apply the program waiver or they are responsible for the remainder of the bill.
What are the odds of that? Well, for some – maybe they have enough risk, but to me it sounds a bit like a city-company collaborative scam to get an extra $43 per residence in the coffers. By the way, if no one opted-out (which you can), that would bring in an extra $9.6 million for the two to split however they will.
While programs like this are valuable for some, most residents do not need it. Moreover, it seems a bit dubious that a government and private company would collaborate to do this and sneak it in under the radar, making everyone automatically enrolled and billed. I recall a similar if-you-don’t-reply-you’ll-be-billed method was used on students when I was in college. I found myself on television and the outcry against such unscrupulous tactics caused a reversal of the billing for everyone. I doubt that happens this time, as this city hall is bigger and the “students” aren’t listening.
Anyway, for those who are listening – if you want to keep it, no problem; do nothing. However, if you’d like opt out, follow this link. You will have to create an account, wait for an email to validate your account, log in, and verify your account number and last billing amount. After all this, you can have the option to opt out of this program for the address of that address. If you have multiple residences, then you have to opt out for each. It’s not easy – which is the point. Oh, one more thing – you can only opt out during the month of September each year.
Good luck. I will post a reminder here – and I may buy an ad in the paper. I’m quite disgusted with my local government. Look for a big MAPS or other municipal project to keep you distracted. Aaargh!

Jul 4, 2010


It is still popular to poke fun at the misuse of words of our former President. And I admit, he often twisted his words to be confusing to even Dan Quayle.
Despite what many believe, I disagreed with leader number 43 quite often. While I believe that governmental authority trickles up and economic security trickles down, I doubt I can be considered a rank-and-file conservative.
However, I still admire the man because he took it, the ridicule and the embarrassments – and he had the pride and the strength to do what he believed to be right. He didn’t blame, point fingers or excuse things. He took every hit squarely on the chin, because that was his role and what was best for the country. And I think he knew it, accepted the mockery with a great sense of dignity that most overlooked.
So with that, I’d like to offer a quote, a Bushism, that is not remembered, but in the very principle of tolerance that he was so often accused of not having. “Of course, there's disagreement...We're watching a political process unfold, a process that has encouraged debate and compromise -- a constitution that was written in a society in which people recognize that there had to be give and take.”
If you think this post is about waving the banner of George Bush, then you have missed the point. It is about the great country in which we live – where disagreement is possible, where we live free to be dissenters, where oppression does not crush those who don’t always do as they’re told. Civil disobedience, not criminal behavior, is an important factor in our society and helps us find the missing justice when we stray from our principles.
You may not share my appreciation of our former President. This is fine. But I hope you love that we live in a place where you don’t have to – and that we all remember this Bushism as we move forward into America’s future.
God Bless – and Happy Birthday, America!