Friday, December 20, 2013

Shadows of Love

Love can inspire us to see beauty, and also to seek it in those around us...and, sometimes, in those who are gone. And if God is love, then perhaps we can understand where many of our most touching thoughts and ideas come from.
 
 
In 2009, a... man and the woman he loved took some wedding photos in the empty house they hoped to live in forever.  Two years later, as she lay dying from a rare form of cancer, her greatest fear was that her baby daughter would never remember her. And so, to reunite the two of them...and show their little girl what Mommy was like on the happiest day of her life. And so, as he was leaving a house once filled with so many dreams for the last time, a still-grieving father managed to give his wife a last present, and his daughter something to treasure for the rest of her life.

Mom's Memory Lives On...

Love endures...joyous, sometimes bittersweet...but always heartfelt.  And wherever it appears, the Universe smiles.

Source: Melanie Tracy Pace / Loft3 Photography

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Lessons Unlearned

"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
 
George Santayana, The Life of Reason
 
 
I think many of the political problems we seem to be having these days stems from our differing perspectives on human history and experience:
 
In the main, whether by dint of personality or education, conservatives tend to show more respect for tradition and institutions.  This stems from a reading of History that shows (a) most innovation leads to failure or disaster; (b) there are few things new under the sun; (c) most "innovations" have already been tried...and were discarded for a good reason; (d) there are some human values that we simply have to accept a priori, since applying sterile logic to the human condition leads to a sterile and withering nihilism that is not conducive to human growth; (e) as our capacity for unintended consequences appears to know no limits, we need to be very careful when making changes; (f) a page of history being worth a volume of logic, experience will be a better guide for us than abstract logic; and, therefore, (g) small, incremental changes are likely to lead to better results than grand plans based on the hope that we can remake the world to our liking.
 
It seems to me that modern-day liberals (as opposed to Classical Liberals, who would likely be described as "conservatives" in today's political climate) tend to scoff at tradition, and set their sights on remaking the world into something better.  This, in turn, leads to (a) a rejection of History as a guide to the future; (b) the belief that Man is infinitely malleable; (c) the belief that one can devise solutions to problems through the use of logic, rather than practical experimentation; and, as a consequence (d) the conviction that the "masses" must be led to the future, since they are incapable of knowing what's best for them; and (e) the conclusion that ultimate wisdom is to be found in educated elites, rather than History, Experience, or Tradition.
 
Personally, I think we're far better off muddling through as best we can and tinkering at the margins to make things better, than we are trying to devise "grand plans" to solve all our problems in one fell swoop.  Evidence for this abounds, even if we limit our search to the last Century:
 
Exhibit A:  Soviet Russia
Exhibit B: The War on Poverty
Exhibit C: Modern Feminism, and the entire PC movement
Exhibit D: Obamacare
 
It is all well and good to be a dreamer and idealist, and to devise grand notions for making the world a better place.  But as tradition notes, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, and it's usually unwise to fix something that isn't broken.  The conceit that humans can foresee all the consequences of what they're doing leads us to farce and tragedy; and I suspect that our descendants will be looking back on our Age of Folly and shaking their heads...wondering how their ancestors could have been so stupid.
 
Of course, that may not prevent them from making their own stupid mistakes.  But it seems to me that one benefit of looking at the past is to see and learn from the mistakes of others --- including the conceit that "Our Era" has the answers to problems that have plagued Mankind since the beginning, and that human folly is limited to the past.
 
I hope one day, humanity can master this lesson; it's one that our generation seems never to have learned.


JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago

On the Friday before my twelfth birthday, I went to school looking forward to the weekend.  I'd hoped to get my first record player as a birthday present, and since next week was Thanksgiving, I had a shortened week of school ahead of me as well.

The day went ahead largely as planned, although I wasn't looking forward to a math test in Mrs. Albee's class at the end of the day.  But I sailed through my morning classes, and after gym class proceeded to my science class, still dreading my upcoming math test the next hour, but starting to get excited about the weekend ahead.

As we settled into our seats, a teacher from down the hall came to the door, and whispered something to Mrs. Jewell, the nice old lady who was our science teacher.  I caught a whiff of what he'd said --- "Kennedy's been shot" --- and a cold shiver ran down my spine.  Mrs. Jewell calmly relayed the news, and none of us paid much attention to the rest of class.

Next hour, Mrs. Albee told us that the President had died, and our principal made the announcement over the speaker.  I still had to take the math test, and then faced a long walk home; there, my mother was in tears:  Kennedy was a hero in our house; and those tears lasted for a long time.

President Kennedy embodied the hopes and dreams of an entire generation, and symbolized a country brimming with confidence and idealism, committed to freedom and liberty, and ready to make the world a better place.  Those dreams were shattered on the streets of Dallas that day --- November 22, 1963 --- and the country has never been the same.

In some ways, the country is a better place today.  In many ways, it is not:  in those days, the president rode in an open-topped car, to be closer to the people; the streets of Washington were lined with open monuments to democracy, rather than barricades against terrorists; we didn't need to be searched before boarding an airplane; and we were filled with hope and optimism about the future.

Time marches on; and fifty years later, America is not the same place.  Every year, the shadow of a small boy eagerly awaiting a birthday feels his heart being ripped out.  And the dreams that died with President Kennedy in Dallas continue to haunt us.

But after fifty years, the torch has been passed...and, sadly, it's time to move on. Memories fade, the human spirit heals, and life goes on.


JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.  
 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Modern Fables: Tool Maintenance

One day, after a long day of shopping with her friend Joanne, Ethyl came home and was horrified to find her husband, Frank, in bed with a gorgeous younger woman.

After hurling objects of various size and breakability at him, she turned to storm out of the house and head off to Joanna’s house, when she was stopped at the door by her husband, clad in his oversized terrycloth bathrobe.

Turning angrily, Frank managed to deflect her fist and, holding her tightly to minimize the danger to himself, he insisted on explaining what he described as a big misunderstanding.

“It’s actually kind of funny, if your really think about it,” Frank said, keeping a tight hold on Ethyl’s fist. “But when I was driving home I saw this young girl --- looking all poor and tired --- so I offered her a ride. And as we drove, she told me she was hungry, so I brought her home and fed her some of the roast you had forgotten about in the refrigerator.

“Well, her shoes were worn out so I gave her a pair of your shoes you never wear because you don’t like them. You know, the red high heels I gave you for your Christmas last year --- the ones you insist make your legs look fat?

“Anyway, she was also cold, so I gave her that new birthday sweater you refused to wear because the color clashed with your eyes. And her slacks were worn out so I gave her a pair of yours that haven’t worn in five years. You know, the black ones that you keep saying are too tight.”

“That doesn’t explain what she was doing in bed with you!” Ethyl hollered.

“Well,” Frank said sheepishly, “as she was about to leave the house, she paused and asked, 'Is there anything else that your wife doesn't use anymore?

“And, so here we are….”

And of course, the moral of this story is:

Since tools can turn rusty from disuse, wise owners will clean and polish them regularly.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher. His series on "Modern Fables" are adapted from a variety of sources...from Aesop to the Interet...and retold in what he intends to be an engaging and humorous manner.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Confronting Radical Extremism, or The Curse of Interesting Times

Unfortunately, life is not all black and white, but varying shades of gray...with all shadings of color thrown in for people who aren't color blind. This holds true whether we’re dealing with the temper tantrums of our kids, the petty squabbles that infect most workplaces, or the life-and-death struggles that confront us around the world.

Many people seek to divide the world into pigeon-holes of “us” and “them.” This approach often finds spectacular success in the world of politics --- as well as any other form or marketing --- where the success of the “pitchman” often depends on striking resonant chords with his audience. But when we turn from the pettiness of our personal lives to the dangerous world around us, and “us” versus “them” seems to become a question of survival, our emotional reactions often trap us into a false dichotomy of choices: either waging total war, reflecting our instinct for survival, or a passive idealism that stems from our hopes for a better world than the one we find around us. Unfortunately, both approaches have flaws that prevent them from attaining our goals; and in the context of our current troubles with Muslim extremists throughout the world, we’ve seen both approaches lead us to grief.

Since survival is our most visceral instinct, any world defined by “us” and them” will lead us to seek “them” as the enemy; and a group feeling itself under attack will do whatever it takes to respond to the threat. It may be tempting to think in terms of all-out war, or expelling any member of "their" group to protect ourselves, but the modern world is more complex than the jungle our ancestors inhabited. In the end that approach betrays our ideals, and is something that will bring shame to us in the long run.

In the 1800s, we responded to raids on our settlements by some Indian tribes by (a) targeting all Indians, and (b) forcing them into the 19th Century equivalent of concentration camps. Ayone who has forgotten this sordid chapter of our past, need only read about our treatment of Black Kettle, including the massacre of the women and children of his tribe at Sand Creek, and the later massacre what was left of his tribe on the Washita River by Custer and his men to see what happens when you target whole groups, rather than those who mean you harm.

I don't think that the current schism between peaceful and radical elements of Islam is terribly different than the same schism between different elements of Christianity a few centuries ago. The only differences seem to be that one is occurring now while the other occurred in the dim, distant past, and that the West passed through the rationality of the Enlightenment Era, while the Middle East is still struggling to catch up.

I suppose we could simply treat them all as enemies, and wipe them from the face of the Earth. History, however, wouldn't be kind to us --- although, like the rabid Indian fighters of 150 years ago, we won't be around to hear it. And I don't think any of us would really want to be a part of that kind of war of extermination.

I think our "response", if it's to be that of civilized men and women, has to be to recognize that life is imperfect, and that while some people are evil, others are not. So, we resist evil --- and move to wipe it out where we can --- and try to do our best not to descend into barbarism. That's been the challenge facing Man ever since we evolved as a species, and we probably won't ever get it right. That doesn't mean we simply surrender to our coarser instincts and emotions; it means we learn from the past, try not to make the same mistakes, and keep trying.

Of course, this won't eliminate the problem: given the Era we're living through, we'll probably keep facing extremists, and hate-inspired killings and attacks will still go on. But if we wiped the Muslim world off the face of the Earth, we'd still face the same problems. We'd still have hatred; there would still be extremists who think that they have all the answers --- and that anyone who disagrees with them needs to be dealt with severely; and we'd still have lunatics massacring and killing innocents. It's part of the curse of the human race: as imperfect creatures, we're left to grope our way through life. But responding to lunatics by engaging in blood feuds is a tribal response, and will leave us at each others' throats forever. It may well be that our limitations as a species will eventually lead us back to that kind of life --- the life of the jungle --- but I'm not willing to give up my hopes for us yet. And it suggests that our proper course is to keep trying to distinguish our enemies from our potential friends...helping those with "civilized" instincts and behaviors resist and cope with the lunatics in their midst...and hoping that eventually we'll be able to overcome our barbaric instincts.

In the book The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond explores the difference between the modern, Western world and the tribal world that we came from. Among his insights is that while we've made remarkable strides, and our societies have evolved to perform what our ancestors would have regarded as miracles, we're basically the same people we've always been...but that what works for small-scale societies often doesn't work well for larger ones. I don't think we should allow what our emotional response would be to having someone we love murdered by fanatics guide us, since those responses would probably involve tearing the offenders limb from limb; while personal vengeance might work in a tribal setting, we need to have cooler heads, taking a longer view, deciding what to do. Otherwise, we never escape the cycle of violence, and we're left with no more than one of our feet sticking out of the jungle.

In the end, I think the approaches of both Bush and Obama were simplistic and naive: Bush's was naive in conception, and clumsy in execution; Obama's strives to take a broader perspective, but mistakes idealism for sophistication, and has been crippled by a lack of understanding of the real world around us. In the end, I think a targeted approach --- in identifying both the enemy, and our friends --- will prove more productive than lashing out blindly. But it will be neither easy nor pretty...since there are no easy answers, and all the pretty rhetoric in the world is no match for determined evil. And it's likely to take a century or so, before the current wave of fanaticism plays itself out...unless we simply decide to conquer the world and exterminate anyone who opposes us. But then, that will be even uglier, and leave us with a whole raft of other problems to deal with.

So, welcome to the 21st Century. It's likely to give renewed meaning to the ancient Chinese curse: "May you live in interesting times."

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Modern Fables: The Barber and the Cowboy

One day, a grizzled old cowboy walked into the local barbershop. Plopping himself down into the barber’s chair, he tossed his hat onto the hat rack by the door and aimed his wad of tobacco at the spittoon sitting on the floor beside his seat.

“What can I do for you today?” asked the barber, as he reached for his mop to clean the floor near the spittoon.

“Well, tarnation!” exclaimed the old timer. “Cain’t you see fer yerse’f? Been needin’ me a haircut these past cuppla weeks. An’ I ain’t had a decent shave in well nigh onto forever.”

“Is that so?” the barber replied. His cleanup finished, he flapped a (towel???) crisply, and laid it across the cowboys chest.

“I reckon my ol’ cheeks is too plumb wrinkled to get more’n half my whiskers off. So I’m consid’rin’ just gittin’ my hair cut from now on. And as fer the whiskers, why I’m all but decided to lettin’em fill out an’ be done with it.”

“Well,” said the barber, mulling over the problem as he trimmed the old man’s hair, “I think I have a solution. If you really want the shave, that is.”

“Well, that’s what I come fer.”

When he’d finished the haircut, the barber went to his shelf and returned with a handful of small marbles, which he gave the the old cowboy.

“What’s these fer?”

“Just put them inside your cheek and hold them there. They’ll spread out your skin, and it should eliminate those pesky wrinkles.”

The cowboy did as he was told and the barber went to work. Soon, the old cowboy was rubbing his cheek and marveling at the result. He spit out the marbles into a pot the barber gave him, and flashed a beaming smile at the handsome fellow staring back at him in the mirror.

“Dangnation, but if that isn’t the closest shave I’ve had in years!”
“I told you,” smiled the barber, whisking away his [barber bib] and leading his customer to the cash register. “It works every time.”

“Just one thing,” said the cowboy sheepishly, as reached for his wallet. “What happens if it turns out I done swallered a few of them little marbles?”

“Nothing to worry about,” the barber said blandly, as he rang up the sale. “Just eat plenty of fiber…then, in a few days, go on and rinse’em off and bring’em back. That’s what everyone else does.”

The moral of the story is:

It often pays to consider the matter from all angles before blindly swallowing whatever an expert hands you.

JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Modern Fables: The Pastor's Ass

One day the pastor of a small rural church saw a donkey staggering along the road leading into to town. The lost animal could barely walk and it looked starved, its ribs nearly poking through its sides. Taking pity on the poor creature, the Pastor brought it back to his church, where the nuns and children of the parish lovingly adopted the animal, and nursed it back to health. Soon it was romping freely around the grounds of the parish, delighting in giving rides to the children and relishing the attention it received from everyone.

A few weeks later, the Pastor watched the donkey as it raced from one end of the church grounds to the other, and was amazed at how fast the creature could run. And so the following week he entered the animal in the donkey race at the Town Fair. As he and his parishioners cheered him on, the donkey won easily, braying merrily at all the attention.

Everyone was so pleased that the next month, the Pastor entered the donkey in the race at the County Fair. Once again, their donkey easily beat all comers, and the following day an article in the local paper read: “PASTOR'S ASS BEATS ALL.”

Reading the paper over breakfast, the Bishop was so shocked that he sputtered coffee all over his tea and toast. By lunchtime, he’d become so upset with this kind of publicity that he ordered the Pastor not to enter the donkey the race at the State Fair. And so the next day the headline in the local paper read: “BISHOP SCRATCHES PASTOR’S ASS."

This was too much for the Bishop, so he ordered the Pastor to get rid of the donkey. Tearfully, the Pastor gave his beloved animal to a nun in a nearby convent. The local paper, hearing of the news, posted the following headline the next day: “NUN HAS BEST ASS IN TOWN.”

The Bishop fainted and, upon recovering, the Bishop ordered the nun to get rid of the donkey, and so she sold it to a farmer for the nominal sum of $1.

The next day the headline read: “NUN SELLS ASS FOR A DOLLAR.”

This was too much for the Bishop, and so he ordered the nun to buy back the donkey and lead it to the plains, where it could run to its heart’s content, and no longer be an embarrassment to the Church. And the next day the headline read: “NUN’S ASS NOW WILD AND FREE.

The Bishop was buried the following day; and two days later, the donkey returned to its home in the parish, where it remains to this day.

The moral of the story is . . .

Being concerned about what everyone else thinks can bring you much grief and misery…and maybe even shorten your life.

So stop worrying about everyone else's ass: you’ll be a lot happier, and maybe live longer.

Just be yourself, and enjoy life.


JEFFREY CAMINSKY, a retired public prosecutor from Michigan, writes on a wide range of topics. His books include the Guardians of Peace-tm science fiction adventure series, The Sonnets of William Shakespeare, and the acclaimed Referee’s Survival Guide, a book on soccer officiating. All are published by New Alexandria Press, and are available on Amazon, as well as directly from the publisher.