Checking In

Just checking in here.

I know it’s been a while since I’ve written. There have been any number of posts I’ve thought about writing, some of which I’ve actually started, but they all just fell by the wayside.

This has been a difficult year for my psyche. It’s still hard to wrap my head around the way the 2016 election turned out. And when I begin to accept that, it’s with hope that maybe the new president won’t be as bad as he promised during the campaign. Then all too often, he turns out to be worse.

The country’s in a bad place now. And the enormity of it is hard to fit it into a few hundred words in a blog post. Meanwhile, the political space seems to be pretty well filled these days; there’s no shortage of people writing about that, so the world doesn’t really need my political pontifications.

So maybe I’ll just ignore the political situation all together. I’ve probably lost enough friends anyway.

Meanwhile, Shoulblog turned 7 last week. Mardi Gras is the official anniversary of this blog (even though the exact date changes from year to year). In the past I’ve often done anniversary posts, but like Mardi Gras in general, this year I just let it slide by, barely noticed.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop my head in here for a bit to let you know that I’m still around, I’ll be writing more soon. Keep those checks coming.

Thanks,

-J

16 In ’16

Many people I know would say that 2016 was the worst year ever.

For me, personally, though, it was a pretty darn good year.

Here are 16 things I did in 2016: And yes, like two years ago, there’s one extra thing on this list, one that I didn’t actually do. But I’m not telling you which one it is, allowing me to preserve deniability for everything on the list.

  • Held a one-day-old baby.
  • With Jean, celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. 
  • Got a new sewer lateral, a new roof and two new cars. Oh yeah, and a new mortgage.
  • Discovered that, after all these years, I can still do a damn good flip turn. I actually did quite a bit of swimming in the first half of the year, but then fell away from it as I remembered how time-consuming it is, relative to, say, running. I ended up dropping my new YMCA membership and now I’m just trying to stay in shape through dry-land exercise. Those flip turns, though—I don’t mind saying, I rocked.
  • Hiked through a “slot canyon.” It was fun, I thought. It was excruciating, Jean thought.
  • Ate chocolate ice cream with chili peppers in it. Better than you might think, but probably not for everybody.
  • Became an empty-nester.
  • Reached a quarter-century of tenure in my current job. Is that long enough? “Well, maybe so,” I said. “No way,” said my financial advisor.
  • Attended the christening of a 9,000 horsepower towboat.
  • Rode the Monongahela Incline up Mt. Washington in Pittsburgh, and the tramway to the top of Sandia Peak in Albuquerque.
  • Swam in Lake Michigan in October. Well, waded in up to my knees, anyway, and yeah, it was like the first day of October. But still, I was in, and it was October.
  • Went to eight Cardinals games, including six against the eventual World Series champion Cubs. My record was a dismal 2-6 (2-4 vs. the Cubs). 2017 will be better.
  • Became married to a retiree. This was probably the best development of the year.
  • Rode my bike naked through the streets of downtown St. Louis. Nobody believed I did this two years ago, so I’m using it again here.
  • Became a “great uncle” (or grand-uncle if you prefer) for the first time—and second time, and third time, and fourth time! The next generation is quickly populating itself.
  • Ran in exactly one race. I think it’s quite possible that I won’t run in any in 2017.
  • Gained/lost exactly 0.0 pounds. Yep, I weighed exactly as much a year ago as I do today. Of course, it fluctuated in a range of about 15 pounds during the year, but in this way, at least, I wound up the year right where I started.

Happy New Year from Shoulblog!

End Of An Era

For 20+ years and through three kids, we’ve had a minivan in our family. I can’t remember when we got our first one, but it was probably back in the early 1990s—a Plymouth Voyager, I think. One of the old ones, with a passenger door only on the right side. We went through a few more over the years, and they served us well, carting around not only three kids and their car seats their friends and their stuff, but a lot of other things as well.

Now, though, the boys have moved on, with cars of their own to haul their own “stuff.” We’re basically empty-nesters now, and don’t really have any need for a big vehicle any more. So this week we did some shopping, and yesterday we bought Jean a little slice of tomorrow.

It’s a tricked out 2017 Toyota Rav4, with all kinds of cool technology, including a little drone that flies above it and takes top-down pictures so you can see who’s close to you (OK, that’s not true, but the car has a feature that makes it LOOK like there’s a drone.) This is Jean’s new chariot, and she’ll be driving it into our smaller, less-cluttered future.

A 9/11 Conspiracy Theory

tribute_in_light_air_force_2
source: Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Air Force

I saw a link today to an amazing Washington Post story that I missed when it was published five years ago: two Air Force pilots who scrambled on the morning of 9/11 in an effort to intercept the fourth hijacked airliner, in what was basically going to be a suicide mission.

Over the years, I’ve read a lot about 9/11, and I’ve even followed—with amusement or maybe bemusement—some of the nutcase “conspiracy theories” that claim that the U.S. government plotted and carried out the attacks. (For an idea of what that’s all about, take a deep breath and click here. 9/11 “truthers” are a strange breed and you sometimes wonder whether they’re seriously deluded or just yanking our collective chains.)

The only such conspiracy theory I ever gave any consideration to dealt with that fourth plane: right after 9/11, I thought it was possible—maybe even likely—that the U.S. military had shot down Flight 93 to protect the Capitol or whatever its target was. My feeling at the time was that the government would want to keep the shootdown a secret, for obvious reasons. But of course it’s laughable to think that governments can keep secrets like that for long, and after a few months I accepted the reality of the passengers on that flight having taken matters into their own hands.

Also, such a mission, even though it would have involved shooting down a commercial airliner, would ultimately have been seen as heroic so the military wouldn’t have needed to cover it up.

We now know that the Air Force really did try to take down Flight 93, albeit with unarmed jets, because there wasn’t time to load missiles on the planes. Here’s another article about the same mission.

It was truly a remarkable day; I previously wrote about it, six years ago, in this post.

I’d Like A Different “Like”

FB-LikesFacebook recently added some new ways to “like” your friends’ posts. Now, instead of a simple like or share on a post, you can also “love” it, you can laugh at it, you can be angry or sad about it, or you can say “wow!”

The problem with all if them, though, is Facebook lets all your friends know if you react to a post, even if it’s a post of someone you don’t know.”So-and-so liked this,” or “So-and-so reacted to this video.” Similarly, you get to see all of your friends’ likes and reactions. In effect, “liking” something on Facebook is pretty close to “sharing” it, in that it goes on all your friends’ news feeds; the only difference is that it doesn’t get put on your permanent timeline.

The result is that your news feed gets filled up with stuff that other people “like” (along with all of the sponsored and “suggested” posts—don’t get me started on those), and you end up missing your friends’ posts, which is what you’re really there for in the first place.

I have fewer than 250 Facebook friends (this being a presidential election year, I wouldn’t be surprised if that number goes down before the year’s over), and I still struggle to get through my news feed most days. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have two or three or four times that many friends. I know people who have more than 1,000 friends there, and I don’t see how they ever keep up. (Personally, I’m not sure I’ve even met 1,000 people in my life.)

So, it’s hard enough to keep up with your friends’ posts, but its doubly hard if you have to wade through all of the “likes.” Particularly when so many of them are snarky political hate-posts, crap that people wouldn’t think of sharing on their own timelines, but it gets plastered all over when people “like” it on someone else’s.

By the way, you may not think you are posting political stuff, but when you “like” a bunch of those memes that make fun of the other candidates, they get sent back out under your name, and your friends will think you’re just a political hack, even though you didn’t originate or “share” the meme.

Sure, Facebook’s goal is to keep you on the site as long as possible; the longer you’re there, the more likely you are to click on one of the ads they so helpfully provide for you. So it’s in Facebook’s interest to clog your newsfeed as much as possible. I’m not optimistic that this will change.

But if it were up to me, Facebook would have a different kind of “like.” One that says, “Hey, kudos on your post; I really like it,” but doesn’t multiply the post to all your friends’ news feeds. They can even make cute little icons to denote things like “That one made me laugh out loud, just not loud enough to share it.” Or, “Way to go, you really nailed the grammar on that post.” Or, “Wow, you convinced me that [Candidate X] is doing the devil’s work!” Or even, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, but it’s a cute picture.” It’s all about sending positive feedback to the originator, without spreading the post all over creation.

That way, a “like” is better differentiated from a “share,” and we can all get more work done.

 

Reading List, July 2016: My Last (And Next) Five Books

What are you reading? It’s one of my favorite questions. Here’s a list of the books I’ve read recently, along with my best guess at the next few. I do this every once in a while on Shoulblog: previous posts are here and here and here and here and here and here.

This time, it’s a pretty good group of books. These are listed in reverse order: i.e., most recent first.

(And by the way, here’s another reminder: if you’d like, you can friend me up on Goodreads, and that way you can follow along in near-real time, and I can see what you’re reading too!)

51UbMPz9x5L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_1) Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann. Several people have recommended this book to me over the last few years, and man, were they right. This novel revolves around a a real event: a tightrope walker who stretched a wire between the twin towers of the World Trade Center and walked across in 1974. The book follows several characters who were indirectly affected by that event. Just stellar writing and characterization throughout; definitely the best book I’ve read in a while.

61mTY9T9xBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_2) It Happened In Wisconsin, by Ken Moraff. An allegory about a barnstorming, socialist, Depression-era baseball team that gets trapped in a Wisconsin hotel with a capitalist provocateur. A fun read.

I try to read at least one baseball book each summer, and I guess this one will fulfill that role, but I’m always open to reading more, if y’all have any suggestions.

51L5cGs+4jL._SX314_BO1,204,203,200_3) Long, Quiet Highway: Waking Up In America, by Natalie Goldberg. Goldberg is is the author of one of my favorite writing books, Writing Down The Bones: Freeing The Writer Within; I’ve read it a couple of times, and it definitely colors the way I feel about writing.

Long, Quiet Highway is an autobiographical story of her spiritual journey in Zen Buddhism, a journey that coincided with the development of Writing Down the Bones and other books of hers that I’ve read, so it was interesting to see how those stories came together.

41-ZKdTxiRL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_4) Wall Of Glass, by Walter Satterthwait. I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but this one popped up on one of my bargain Kindle-books sites, and since it was set in Santa Fe, N.M., I snapped it up. I’ve been to Santa Fe a couple of times and am planning to go back later this year, because I simply can’t get enough of New Mexico. This one definitely captured a lot of the northern New Mexico flavor that I’ve been craving.

I say I don’t read a lot of mysteries, but I think I’ll be reading more: when well done, they can be quick, fun reads, and I’m all about that.

41c6I2lIMDL._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_5) Swimming Studies, by Leanne Shapton. A book of short essays about a life in swimming by a former competitive swimmer whose career reached the Canadian Olympic Trials. Funny, insightful and, to the limits of my own swimming experience, accurate.

By the way, Natalie Goldberg in No. 3 wrote about Zen and writing, but for me, I think swimming is more of a Zen experience. But then again, I’m pretty new to this Zen thing.

And now, here’s a guess, just a guess, at the next five books I’ll read

High Season, by Jon Loomis. Picked this up at a bargain-book sale somewhere. It’s another mystery, set in Provincetown, Mass. See, I pick my mysteries based on the setting. Since I’m currently on a beach vacation—but not in Provincetown, alas—I figured this would be a good one to read; I started it yesterday.

Saving Capitalism: For The Many, Not The Few, by Robert Reich. I recently received this as a gift, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the former Labor secretary has to say.

The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver. This one’s been on my to-read list for a while. At the beginning of this year, I moved it to my must-read-this-year list (along with Let The Great World Spin). I read Flight Behavior a couple of years ago, and always wanted to read this one.

Salvage The Bones, by Jesmyn Ward. Another well-reviewed book that has always piqued my interest.

Death Comes For The Archbishop, by Willa Cather. A New Mexico classic.

Thanks for playing along, and hey, maybe I’ll see you on Goodreads!