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Posts Tagged ‘Life’

Friends, I am a skeptical guy and proud of it. It pays to be skeptical.

I also have a healthy BS detector. BS detection is an essential ability.

Together, my skepticism and BS detector help me avoid being relieved of money by those looking to profit at my expense, whether illegally or by selling me something I don’t need.

The key in this respect is simple: just remember that no business or institution will offer a product or service unless they will derive an acceptable profit from the transaction. Period.

My mortgage company, for example, constantly reminds me that refinancing my mortgage, or taking out a second mortgage, will solve all my problems and improve my life immeasurably. It will be quick and easy. Give us a call.

Translation: borrow more money from us so we can collect more interest.

Another example is a relatively new entry in the insurance business: car repair insurance, aka mechanical breakdown insurance. It applies to repairs that are not accident-related and thus are not covered by your regular auto insurance. You’re probably familiar with ads for CarShield and others.

The fact is, most people never use the coverage — which is quite limited, not to mention saddled with deductibles. Ergo, repair insurance is a guaranteed money-maker for the providers.

And finally, my favorite: a truly artful scam, Medicare Part C.

Medicare Parts A and B provide basic, legitimate coverage from Uncle Sam. Part C consists of “Medicare Advantage” plans from private insurance companies. The idea was invented back in the 1990s by the Republicans under the second George Bush as a way for private industry to get on the Medicare bandwagon and make money.

In coverage as well as cost, Part C plans vary with the provider. The complexity is intentional. It creates a smokescreen that makes the cost and coverage unclear. Clarity does not serve the interests of the insurance provider.

Think about the barrage of advertising and mass mailings unleashed each year during the Part C enrollment period. The insurance industry would never, ever work so feverishly to sell Part C unless it yielded significant profits.

In reality, very few individuals benefit from buying Part C coverage. Experts say it may — may — benefit people who struggle to pay for real Medicare coverage under Parts A and B. Beyond that, Part C is a cash cow for the insurance companies.

I could go on, but you get the idea.

My advice: remember the key to skepticism and BS detection: no individual or entity will offer a product or service unless they will derive an acceptable profit from the transaction.

Period.

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Last month, I wrote a post entitled “Going Places” that underscored the atypical nature of my childhood. I’d like to elaborate on that.

One of the main reasons I turned out the way I did — which, in my opinion, is pretty okay — was growing up as a military brat. In my case, an Air Force brat.

A brat in this sense is a child raised by a parent or parents serving in the armed forces. It’s a term of endearment, not a pejorative.

Because military service involves frequent reassignments, brats rarely live in one place for very long. Thus, sociologists describe them as a “modern nomadic subculture.”

Today, according to the Department of Defense, about 15 million Americans — out of a population of 330 million — are current or former military brats. They range in age from infancy to the 90s.

Brat life bears little resemblance to civilian life, and it is rarely seen by the civilian world. Let me give you a peek behind the curtain.

Naturally, the overriding factor in the brat world is the military connection. The military mission is of paramount importance. Military rituals dominate. Military slang permeates the language.

Further, every military installation has areas that are off limits and protected for security reasons, such as flight lines and weapons armories. Armed guards and surveillance are part of life.

I’ve already mentioned the constant mobility. When a military parent is transferred to a new assignment — usually every few years, sometimes more often — the family packs up and moves. All around you, on a regular basis, friends and neighbors are departing and being replaced.

Like many brats, I was born in a military hospital. When I was new to the world, my family moved so often that I literally have no hometown.

Another big factor in brat life is housing. Depending on circumstances, a military family will be either assigned to on-base housing or given a stipend to live in a nearby town. Either way, family life is closely tied to the base because of the services provided. Virtually all military installations have their own facilities for shopping, dining, recreation, and, when you live overseas, schools.

The odds are high that you will live outside the US. One study found that over 90 percent of brats have lived in one foreign country, over 60 percent have lived in two, and over 30 percent have lived in three. Me, I spent a total of five years in Japan, France, and Germany.

The overseas experience, psychologists say, leaves the average brat more adaptable, more accepting of other people and other lifestyles, and with a more realistic worldview. I’ll buy that.

Further, brats have been shown to have lower delinquency rates, higher scores on standardized tests, and higher IQs than their civilian counterparts. Whereas 24 percent of civilians have college degrees, 60 percent of brats do.

The brat life does have negative aspects. Brats regularly leave friends behind, knowing they may never see them again. This is the reality, and a brat learns to let go of the past and embrace the present and the future.

Another negative I always found troubling is the military system of strict segregation by rank. According to military theory, this is necessary to maintain unit discipline. But the system seems unnecessarily draconian.

Classism manifests throughout the military world. In the military, you are required to be deferential to anyone of higher rank. The system is so strict that for an officer to “fraternize” with an enlisted person is illegal under military law.

For years, it was common on military installations for the families of officers and enlisted people to have separate seating in base chapels and movie theaters. That practice mercifully was ended. Likewise, the system of separate and unequal officers clubs and enlisted clubs is fading out.

But the inequality in housing remains. Housing for officers is always superior to that of enlisted personnel. And housing for generals and admirals is always the most lavish of all.

Overseas, the US military maintains school systems for American dependents, but the children of officers and enlisted personnel attend the same schools.

From my experience, it was rare for brats to judge their peers by the rank of their parents. To our credit, we usually formed our social groups for positive reasons, not based on the military caste system.

Even so, I can remember a few classmates, mostly the children of higher-ranking officers, who were too full of themselves. Jerks are everywhere, and these were immature, teenage jerks. Like bullies, most were not tolerated well socially.

So, growing up as a military brat was a unique adventure and a life-changing experience.

The brat life made me who I am. And, hey — I like who I am.

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The Questions…

1. What are the names of the three Rice Krispies elves?

2. What is the most valuable residence on earth?

3. Anne Frank and her family were in hiding from 1942 to 1944 in what city?

4. What is the strongest muscle in the human body?

5. What was the duration of the age of the dinosaurs, aka the Mesozoic Era, aka the Age of Reptiles?

The Answers…

1. Snap, Crackle, and Pop.

2. Buckingham Palace in London, which is worth about $5 billion. The palace has been the official royal residence since 1837, when Queen Victoria moved in.

3. Amsterdam.

4. The jaw muscle.

5. Between 150 and 200 million years. The earliest ancestors of humans appeared only six million years ago.

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Several decades ago, I met a man in Buford, Georgia, born and raised there, who had never been to Atlanta. Atlanta is a mere 35 miles from Buford via Interstate 85.

In fairness, he avoided Atlanta because he considered it an evil place full of crime and villainy.

But in addition, he had never set foot out of Georgia. He was in his 40s, an auto mechanic, married with kids. He was content and saw nothing unusual about his situation.

I, on the other hand, found it mind-boggling. Having been to, and lived in, so many different places in my life, I simply was astounded.

When I was a kid, my dad was in the Air Force, and we moved often. Very often. Growing up, I lived in Macon, Jacksonville, Savannah, Japan, Virginia, Florida, France, and Germany, in that order.

During our two years in Japan, we traveled the islands regularly. During our three years in Europe, we visited Spain, Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, England, Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

When we returned to the US in 1960, I spent the next four years at the University of Georgia in Athens. It was the longest I’d lived in one place in my life.

On the About Mr. Write page on this blog, I describe myself as a frequent road-tripper. I mean that literally.

Since 1992, when I finally began documenting my travels, I have taken 134 multiple-day trips somewhere around the country. That’s about four trips annually. In other words, for the last 30 years, I’ve hit the road every three months.

I have visited every state in the US except Alaska. Especially after my divorce, I made it a point to seek out new places, just to see, explore, and experience.

As you may know, I have a special affinity for the Southwest, and Grand Canyon is my go-to vacation spot. As I am quick to note, I’ve been to Grand Canyon 28 times in the last 28 years.

I’ve probably driven every paved road in Arizona, New Mexico, and the southern halves of Utah and Colorado.

At some point, I began taking trips to fill in the blanks, going to New England, the Great Lakes region, the Pacific Northwest, the Gulf coast, the Appalachians, Montana, and so on.

Lately, COVID has cramped my style a bit. Age and arthritis have slowed me down, too. I don’t think my traveling days are over quite yet, but when they are, I’ll be content because of the memories.

Stored in my head are decades of superlative memories, many of them documented by the thousands of transparencies, prints, and digital images I’ve amassed — and which, I assure you, are carefully preserved and organized.

Like all of us, I am a walking memory vault of my unique experiences.

I am blessed to be a son, brother, nephew, cousin, father, and grandfather. Family memories will mean the most, always. But the memories of my travels and adventures on the road are in a special category.

I thank God I’m not the Buford mechanic.

Recently, on a travel website, I read an article entitled, “The 16 Most Beautiful Places in the US.”

Listed were Acadia, Antelope Canyon, Badlands, Everglades, Florida Keys, Grand Canyon, Grand Teton, Great Smoky Mountains, Horseshoe Bend, Mammoth Cave, Monument Valley, Niagara Falls, Shoshone Falls, White Sands, Yellowstone, and Zion.

A fine selection. But they should have made it 17 and included Yosemite. For the record, I’ve visited all 17.

Okay, that said, I am compelled to include some photos…


The trail to the top of Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah, follows that ridge.

A black bear and her cub, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia.
In the village of Supai in Havasu Canyon, Arizona, few dogs are house pets. Most live free-range and are cared for informally by the community.

The French Quarter, New Orleans.

A boy swimming nose to nose with a manatee in the city of Crystal River, Florida. Up to 1,000 manatees winter there because the water in the bay is warmer than the Gulf.

A nice Monet in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC.
A row of seastacks on the Pacific coast.

Native Americans sell their art daily at the Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Hermit Rapid on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. When the sediment levels from upstream tributaries are low, the water is emerald green.

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Thoughts du Jour

Nope

Recently, just for something different, I bought a copy of Mother Earth News, a how-to magazine about sustainable farming, natural gardening, simple living, etc. Among the articles was a story by a woman who raises Guinea Hogs, a breed of small black pigs.

The author described the animals as intelligent, friendly, and gentle. She said one of her females, Louise, enjoys belly rubs, ear scratches, and going to the park on Saturday to listen to banjo music. Guinea Hogs are “full of personality,” she wrote. “They’re easy to love and easy to handle.”

She then added, “They also provide delicious pork and lard.”

People, I am as carnivorous as the next guy, but killing and eating animals that literally live as pets — that’s just wrong. Don’t lovingly raise animals you plan to murder and consume. Don’t name your pig Louise and take her to the park and then execute her for bacon. Jeez Louise.

The Miracle

In 1954, I was a 12-year-old 7th-grader living in Panama City, Florida. On one memorable spring Saturday, Mom and Dad took us kids to the Bay County Fair, which, incidentally, dates back to 1945 and still operates today.

In those days, children rarely were supervised. If you were old enough to take care of yourself, you were chased from the house and told to “go play” and stay out of trouble until suppertime. Thus, when we got to the fair, I was given a dollar and set loose to have fun, stay out of trouble, and return at a specified time.

Rides at the fair cost about 25 cents, drinks and snacks about 10 cents. I was delighted to have that dollar, but I knew it wouldn’t go far. I would need to spend it wisely.

Then, a miracle happened.

Something on the ground a few steps ahead caught my eye. I approached. To my utter astonishment, it was — gasp — a federal reserve note — the beautiful, unmistakable green of cash money. I picked it up, heart pounding.

Holy mother of God, it was a five-dollar bill!

Five dollars! I was rich! In my sheer ecstasy, I nearly fainted.

How I spent my riches at the fair that day, I don’t recall. But I spent every glorious penny of it.

For the record, I did not tell Mom and Dad about my good fortune. They would have made me save some of it or share it with my brothers.

As if.

Hoarding

We common folk justifiably get steamed at how the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. And usually, most of the ire is aimed at billionaires — Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — because it gives you a face you despise and want to punch.

But there are institutional targets that deserve the vitriol even more. Take, for example, the obscenely wealthy churches of the world. Organized religion is, after all, simply a type of business enterprise — exempt from taxation, mind you — designed to make a profit.

The Mormon Church is worth a whopping $100 billion, which is amazing for its relatively small size. The Catholic Church no doubt has a net worth of many times that, but its wealth is off the scale to such a degree — vast gold deposits, extensive physical assets, webs of investments, priceless works of art — that the Holy See itself likely doesn’t know its own value.

Speaking of value, you may not be aware that the British royal family is worth $88 billion. And that the Kuwaiti royal family is worth $360 billion. And that the Saudi royal family is worth $1.4 trillion.

All that wealth, hoarded to no real purpose, when a small percentage of it would lift all eight billion souls on this planet out of poverty.

As if.

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Groundhogs

This hillside behind the Jefferson Civic Center is home to a sizable colony of groundhogs. Now that spring is here, I’m beginning to see the little guys peeking out of their hidey-holes.

In the photo above, the brownish spots are entrances to their burrow. Sentries are posted here and there to keep an eye out for perils such as me, Jake, cats, hawks, etc.

The critters are Marmota monax, aka groundhogs, aka woodchucks, which are burrowing rodents of the marmot family. They are said to be quite intelligent and have a complex social order that includes whistling to warn the colony of threats.

The hillside is about 15 feet high, providing an excellent view of the area, and some 200 yards long, almost all of it pocked with holes. A sizable colony, it seems.

I’m certainly not a threat to them, and Jake is on a leash, but they don’t know that.

The Rio Grande Rift

You may be aware that the Rio Grande flows down the center of New Mexico, dividing the state neatly in half. But did you know that the river follows a fault that began forming about 30 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau uplifted itself from the rest of the continent?

The Rio Grande Rift runs from southern Colorado to northern Mexico. Below El Paso, the rift continues south into Mexico, but the river turns east there and flows to the Gulf of Mexico as the border between Mexico and the US.

Although classified as a “narrow” rift, the fault averages about 180 miles wide. Geologists say it is expanding at a rate of about two millimeters per year.

Out of Sight

On weekends, Jake and I usually take our morning walk at one of the local schools. No people, no traffic, and Jake can go off-leash.

He doesn’t stray far, but occasionally he disappears from view for a moment, which can be worrisome. One Saturday recently at Jefferson Academy, when he was 30-40 feet ahead of me, he turned a corner, and I lost sight of him. I walked faster to catch up.

A few seconds later, I found him — surrounded by, and being petted by, a group of kids whose basketball game he had interrupted. Jake was gloriously happy.

If reincarnation turns out to be real, I want to come back as a dog.

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A question that has long bedeviled theologians and philosophers is the “problem of evil.”

Namely, how does the concept of an omnipotent, benevolent God square with the existence of a world awash in pain and suffering. If God is good and all-powerful, why are people saddled with sickness, crime, war, suffering, and pain?

It doesn’t pay to pursue the issue very far, because it’s a philosophical rabbit hole. The question is unanswerable.

But deep thinkers throughout history have tried their best. One popular solution is to blame mankind itself. In other words, bad things happen because of our assorted misdeeds, which usually include the sin of impiety. The deity? Blameless and absolved.

Typically, myths, fables, and allegories have been used to sell the “it’s your own fault” message to the common folk. One example is the story of Pandora from Greek mythology. Pandora was the first mortal woman, created by order of Zeus, the king of the gods.

According to the mythology, humanity back then was a society of immortal males enjoying a Golden Age. Life was good. The guys worked hard and, of course, showed the gods appropriate reverence.

But things fell apart when Prometheus, one of the senior gods, gave the gift of fire to the mortals, an act that was strictly forbidden. For this transgression, Zeus had Prometheus strapped to a rock, and an eagle was dispatched to eat his liver. Every day, the liver grew back, only to be eaten again, ad infinitum.

As for the humans, Zeus punished them by creating Pandora, who, according to authority figures over the centuries, not only was hauntingly beautiful, but also was endowed with feminine wiles designed to make life miserable for the men.

The myth said she had a “shameless mind,” a “deceitful nature,” and the ability to wield “lies and crafty words.” She was “sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.” Take that, females.

In addition, Pandora possessed a mysterious jar given to her by the gods with a warning not to open it. Naturally, curiosity led her to take a peek, thus releasing into the world a host of evils and diseases from which humans previously had been spared.

(FYI, the popular term Pandora’s Box is a misnomer. It surfaced around the time of Homer when the poet Hesiod mistranslated an old manuscript. The container was not a box, but an urn or jar.)

So anyway, the Pandora myth is how the ancient Greeks explained away the “problem of evil.” They simply claimed that we deserve to suffer because we defied the gods. Vindicate the deity, blame the mortals.

That, and the mythmakers apparently couldn’t resist a chance to take cheap shots at women.

Pandora About to Open her Box” (her urn) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1881.

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