Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Political Correctness and Evolution

In my universe, there's been recent and frequent talk about Political Correctness ("PC") and how it's the "ruination of our country".  I'm not saying these things, but people I know are.  And it makes me wonder what is so horrible about taking a few seconds to choose your words so that you don't run the risk of offending someone - anyone - who either has suffered or is currently suffering at the hands of established societal norms.  I don't care for the term 'politically correct' because there is nothing 'political' about having good manners.  In my quest to be an accepting person while attempting to put myself in the shoes of others, my ultimate goal is to just not be an asshole.

First, let me stand on a box and confess out loud that I am not without my prejudices, which almost seem innate.  I can't help the way my mind works but I can re-educate myself and I do have complete control over how my mouth functions, i.e. what I say or not say in the presence of others.  Anyone who has ever spent 10 minutes in my company knows that I am opinionated.  And I own up to the fact that I don't say about 80% of what runs through my brain.  Because back in my childhood, I learned that words can be upsetting, hurtful, insulting, and damaging.  Painful.  And in this day of cyber abuse and bullying, we know all too well that words can also kill.  So what is so hard about having good manners (read: PC) and choosing to not say something that might cause pain to or kill another human being?

The thing about being PC is that you can't pick and choose it.  You have to be all in.  You can't demand PC towards you and not give it back.  Number One: it's not fair, and Number Two: it contradicts the concept of The Golden Rule and ethic reciprocity.

I have a niece with speech development issues and a nephew with autism.  It's only because of PC that the world shouldn't call them "retarded".  I have a father with dementia and it's only because of PC that the world shouldn't call him "insane".  I have female relatives who are full-figured, and it's only because of PC that the world shouldn't call them "fat".  And, also because of PC, every one of them is allowed to live in the world and not be shut up in an asylum - which they would have been as recently as 30 years ago.

We EVOLVE because we MUST.  We are arguably the most intelligent form of life that's ever lived in the universe.  We have adapted our thinking and beliefs over time as we have become more educated and responsible.  It's only been those species that have refused to adapt that have died out.  Thomas Jefferson, the man who authored the Declaration of Independence almost 240 years ago, stated:
"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."
PC is not the ruination of the country, it's its deliverance from harm, ruin and loss.  So whether it's a word (I, myself, grew up being called a "sissy" and a "fag" and there are still people who think I should be put to death) or a symbol (such as a logo, a salute, a hand gesture, and , yes, even a flag) that causes pain to someone, why wouldn't we as an evolved, educated society want its use to stop?!?  Is a word or symbol more sacred than a human life?  If it's TOO hard for you to know what to say, do the entire world and yourself a favor and just say NOTHING.

Most people to whom PC comments are directed are suffering from some kind of societal norm deficit.  So when you think about it, aren't their lives hard enough without us choosing to hurt them unnecessarily?

Thursday, June 18, 2015

2005-2015: How This Blog Has Changed Over 10 Years

In creating something like this - a de facto journal of my life - it's easy to look back as I have been doing to see how I've have changed over the past 10+ years that this blog now covers.  It's not only me who has changed over the years, but also this here blog as well.

First of all, the blog didn't begin as a blog.  I had created a personal website back in 2004 that looked like this:
Not sure why I chose to name every page with an "H" word; I guess I had a reason at the time.  
(Click image to enlarge)
As you can see, I've always had a political bend to my writing and opines.  And it was because of how my site was written, as well as the fact that it was more of an op/ed kinda thing that a friend suggested that I create a blog instead.  I kept the actual website for about a year then just let it disappear.

So the blog was born.  Even the very look of it has changed over the past 10 years.  It's gone through 3 incarnations in the past decade: the first version created in 2005, then an update in 2008, and then the current version in 2013.  The previous two versions looked like this:

2005                                                                                                 2008
(Click image to enlarge)
The blog's actual URL changed, and fairly recently too.  The old address was http://viewfromthejeep.blogspot.com.  But about a year ago, I converted it to just http://www.viewfromthejeep.com.  Nice and simple.  I also no longer maintain a blogroll, which lists other blogs and websites that I follow.  I checked most of the ones listed on the two former versions and none of them work anymore.  I guess not many people keep personal blogs these days.  What can I say - I'm a rebel!

And why "viewfromthejeep" in the first place?  At the time I started the blog, I had my beloved green 1994 Jeep Wrangler.  The picture to the right is of me and the jeep back in June 2001.  I loved that machine.  I thought I would have it forever.  In DC, it became synonymous with me.  People recognized it and knew where I was.  Then one day, it was stolen while parked outside my house in DC.  I never saw it again.  I was crushed.  I kept the blog name as an homage to my identity, in a way.

Driving on...

Statistically, I no longer write posts like it's a part-time job.  Looking back to 2006 and 2007, I was averaging 4 and 5 posts per week.  Today, I dash off maybe 1 post every 2 weeks or so.  I want to write more, but it's sometimes tricky to think up a topic.  I almost always have an opinion on everything, but even that is not always enough to elicit a post.  I used to be rather political in my posts, but that has waned over the years as well.  It could be that I no longer have much to say since Bush left office, or it could be that since I no longer live in DC my interest/passion in politics is not as prevalent.

I also used to publish Monday Eye Candy every Monday morning, which was essentially just a photo of some random guy from the internet that I thought was attractive.  Now and then, I would post a photo of a friend of mine and tout how wonderful of a person he was or give him a shout out if he had something going on to which I wanted to help draw attention.  Mondays were (and still are) difficult days for me to get focused, so MEC was an easy way to post something without really needing to think about it.  My blog traffic was always highest on Mondays.  I guess there are lots of people like me who need some sort of motivation to begin their week.  Here's a lame example:

(Click image to enlarge)
I also used to occasionally pick a random day and go back in time through all my calendars and journals and list what I had done on that very date every year since 1982, when I started keeping calendars and journals.  The first one was created on October 20, 2005, with a few more random dates to follow including one listing out how I celebrated my birthdays from 1984-2007.  The most recent one was written on September 27, 2013.  It's actually a fun exercise.  I should do tit more often.

In the beginning, my blog was also hidden from my family.  Well, not really hidden per se - they just didn't know about it.  I also had not formally come out to my entire family yet, so I didn't want everyone reading and knowing what I was doing in my life.  But now my life is figuratively an open book.  And I know many in my family read it just to stay up to speed with Kevin and my excursions.

Several years ago, I didn't have much of a filter as to what I would write about.  Nothing was off-limits, which I think is still evident in some of the older posts.  I even wrote about my job on my blog until I was asked to stop - not asked to stop writing about my job, but asked to stop writing my blog by my job.  This explains the 4-year gap in posting from 2008-2012. But I'll save that for another, more interesting post.  And it IS interesting.

I also used to sell advertising space on my blog and made a nice chunk of change doing so.  Those ads went away during the break when I didn't write anything.  I'd get a check based on the number of hits my blog would get.  Man, I wish I'd had ad space on it during the Carol Burnett posts!  I could have retired.

So my blog, like me, has gone through some changes over the years.  It celebrates my evolving into the person I am today, and will most likely continue evolving itself over time as I keep it going.  I'm surprised that I have maintained this as I am always quick to delete something or throw something out.  But I like that this is here and remains just sitting out there.  And even if it's ever just me who reads this and no one else, that's fine too.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

2005-2015: A Little Lasting Love

Continuing my celebration of this blog being a decade, I recall the last time I fell in love with someone, albeit even a little bit.  Ten years ago on June 14, 2005, Kevin and I met for the first time.

In Spring 2005, I had been living in Washington, DC for ten years, sharing a house with my best friend, Ashley.  We had both grown a little tired of DC and wanted a change. So when Ash decided to move to Chicago and open Hamburger Mary's with his brother, I decided to tag along too.

As the story goes, Kevin and I were connected by our friend (the newly-married-himself, Chris) on a pre-Facebook social network site called Friendster.  Chris and I had been drinking buddies in DC before he moved to Chicago in 2004 where his old William & Mary classmate, Kevin, also lived.  When I decided to move from DC to Chicago in spring 2005, I sent a message to Kevin hoping to make a new friend in a new city.  We didn’t meet on my first visit in May that year, but we began emailing each other and eventually shifted to phone conversations, which wound up occurring every night.  We got the chance to finally meet during my second visit to Chicago on June 14, 2005.  We met outside Briar Street Theater’s production of Blue Man Group for our first date at Cesar’s Killer Margaritas on Clark Street.

I was so taken with Kevin that two days later, when I returned to DC, I wrote a post about falling a little bit in love.  And I've remained in that state ever since, obviously growing more deeply in love as time passed.  And per the original post 10 years ago, Kevin is also the person with whom I prefer to spend the most amount of my time.  Ten years ago, Kevin "happened" to me.  And I am forever changed and grateful as a result.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Tear Drop National Monument

Ever hear of the Teardrop National Monument

Me either.

It's a national monument given to the U.S. by Russia to honor the victims of the September 11th attacks.  It sits across the harbor from the Statue of Liberty in Bayonne, New Jersey.  The name of each victim is inscribed in the base, much like the Vietnam Memorial Wall in DC.  

Made by Russian artist, Zurab Tsereteli, it stands 100 feet tall with a stainless steel teardop hanging in the middle.  The outside is made of bronze and the base is made of granite. Families of the victims placed stones in the walkway leading to the monument.

The memorial was dedicated in 2006, with little to no media coverage or fanfare.  There are no signs or ads leading to it on the streets of New Jersey.  The monument was and remains the source of many controversies and disputes.  It was originally meant to be erected on the NJ waterfront but officials rejected it.  It was finally placed in Bayonne, facing the New York skyline, but many still complain that this 10-story horror blocks the wonderful view of the city.  It's listed among the Top 5 Worst 9/11 Memorials.

The art community has stated that "it was not just unpleasant, but to the point that it was offensive."  Others have said it looked like a woman's vulva and that it was Russia's indirect way of calling America a pussy . . . . cat.  There is also the fact that the memorial includs huge pictures of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, along with America's all-time worst President:

I personally don't know of anyone who has visited this site.  I imagine it might offer some comfort to the families of the victims.  But beyond that, with so little fanfare and attention, I'm curious what others think about it.

Monday, June 01, 2015

We Bought A House!

I'm a little behind on sharing this information, but - yeah, we kinda bought a house.

For the past 8 years, we've been living (rather comfortably I might add) in our 880 sq ft loft condo in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago.  Our condo was essentially one large room with a 3/4 wall separating the bedroom from the rest of the unit.  Over the years, we had adapted how to make this work for two people.  I think it really taught us how to respect the each other.  You almost always have to consider the other person, regardless of what you are doing, when you are living in a space this size.  But we made it work, and we loved it.  We had talked about buying another condo in another part of the city at some point, but had not made any definite plans.

Most people go through a slump after the holiday season.  That period between Hallowe'en and New Years is an active time for just about everyone - and that's no exception in our home.  Kevin spent most of October creating our Hallowe'en costumes, and then immediately transitioned into making us both "onesies" complete with hoods, zippers, and pockets.  We journeyed to our families for Christmas, then flew out to Napa to celebrate New Year's with friends.  So after all this, Kevin needed a project during the month of January; something to challenge his brain and keep him occupied.

I thought he was going to start sewing again.  But instead, he started house-shopping.  Thus is life with Kevin.

We had talked about eventually moving out of our 880 sq ft loft condo in Uptown.  We'd been living in that space for 8 years (minus the year in Miami).  We loved the place, but it was small; we had become experts on how 2 adults can live in a small space.  And we'd decorated it with style.  But after living in a larger 2-bedroom apartment in Miami, we knew we needed to branch out.  I figured we would move into another condo in a different part of the city.  We'd talked about living in West Loop, South Loop and River North - which made sense since we would both most likely work downtown for most of our careers.

But rather than condos downtown, we shifted our interested to 2- and 3-flats within a mile or so of where we currently lived, staying on the far northside of Chicago.  So we narrowed our search online and enlisted the guidance of our trusted realtor, Susie, and set off one Saturday to look at buildings.  We toured 5 or 6 places, each one with rental capacity to help with our mortgage.  None of them seemed to hit out of the ballpark, though, and it wasn't until that Saturday evening at home when we were debriefing that we both realized the problem:  as much as the additional income would benefit our bottom line, neither of us was too keen on sharing our space with strangers.  For me, I didn't want to have to share my laundry facilities and experience the ire of opening the washer to find someone else's wet clothes sitting inside.  I had enough of that in college; I didn't want to relive that experience 30 years later.

So Round 2 was to look at small single family homes instead.  So the next weekend, off we went with Susie again to look at houses.  And the first one we saw, was IT!  We had been looking at pictures online for the entire week and we both felt good about it, but wanted to keep our options open.  So we looked at a few.  Admittedly, there was a second house that made the decision difficult.  Both had obvious pluses and minuses.  But our favorite house just seemed like "us".  And we knew it in our guts.  So after a little haggling, our offer was accepted the following week.  After a 6-week closing cycle, we took ownership on March 16, 2015.
March 16, 2015
This is definitely a new adventure for both of us, both as individuals and a couple.  And I am sure there will be lots to share as we put our stamp on our cute little house.  Stay tuned for more stories and updates as we launch into our "houseownership".

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Assassin's Escape Route Dud

The other night, we watched a show on Travel Channel that I was initially excited to see.  Going along with the 150th Anniversary of the Lincoln Assassination, an episode of Time Traveling with Brian UngerLincoln's Killer on the Run, was pitched as:
Brian takes locals back to Washington, DC, at the end of the Civil War to follow the escape route of President Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. They hide in a pine thicket, row across the Potomac River, and visit a special group of tennis courts.

The show was only 30 minutes and I initially wondered how they were going to fit a visit to all the places (at least 12 by my count) on Booth and David Herold's (an accomplice) escape route in that short amount of time.  So I eagerly tuned in.  At first I was happy to see that the show began in Baptist Alley, the space behind Ford's Theater where the escape route truly started.

But from there, the tour jumped to Rich Hill, the home of Samuel Cox, which would be Stop #4 if all 12 stops were included.  Admittedly, it was nice to see Rich Hill up close as it is completely off-limits to the public.  But by making this the next stop, the show completely bypassed several rather crucial stops in the escape route:
  1. The 11th Street Bridge. This passageway from DC to Maryland was completely off-limits to the public and guarded by the military.  However, Booth being the consummate actor, somehow managed to smoothly and calmly talk his way across it, despite having just shot the president, jumped to the Ford's Theater stage from the president's theater box and ridden at top speed through the city.
  2. The Surratt Tavern. Booth and Herold stopped here to pick up supplies that had been stored there earlier that day at the request of Mary Surratt.
  3. The home of Dr. Samuel Mudd.  Dr. Mudd was the physician who set Booth's broken leg, which happened either when Booth jumped to the stage or possibly when his horse fell on him during the escape).  There was and continues to be much debate over whether Mudd knew or recognized Booth during the visit.   
Three rather significant stops.  

From Rich Hill, the show then took us to the Potomac Crossing (accurate), discussed the failed first attempt at such and how a 2nd successful attempt was made a few days later (again, accurate), but then the show took us to Peyton House, veering past Booth and Herold's stop at Cleydael and the home of William Lucas.  I thought this was strange, considering the story behind both places.  Cleydael was the stately home of Dr. Richard Stuart, a confederate signal agent from whom Booth expected total support.  Booth thought wrong.  Instead, Stuart sent the men to spend the night at the cabin home of William Lucas, a black man.  Showing his racist sole, Booth made Lucas and his family sleep outside in the dirt so that he and Herold could have the cabin to themselves.

Eventually, the show brings us to the Garrett Farm, the final spot in the escape route, where Booth was gunned down in a burning tobacco barn.  The farm and barn are long since gone so there was really nothing to show.  But the show did take us inside Fort McNair to the site of the conspirators hanging following the trial.  It's the only spot on the trail that I've not been to personally, so I found that to be interesting.

I looked forward to this show and was disappointed.  It missed many opportunities to share the whole truth about the escape, as well as the country's attitude about what Booth had done.  Booth thought he would be praised a hero in the south, but was met with rejection and abandonment just about everywhere he went.  The show didn't really convey that.

Perhaps it's a lot to ask for a 30-minute show.  I liked the show and I think Brian Unger is a fun host (I realy liked him on How The States Got Their Shapes on the History Channel).  But I suggest reading My American Odyssey to learn more about this 12-day event.  It's really quite fascinating.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Starbuck's Don'ts

The 1st Starbuck's, Seattle
Every workday morning, I stop at Starbuck's to get a tea - sadly, not my long-gone beloved Awake tea, but a venti English Breakfast.  The new tea isn't as strong as the Awake, but it will do.  The experience is made better by the fact that there are two baristas at the Merchandise Mart location who know what I get and occasionally have it ready for me by the time I work my way through the cattle line.

But like most things, it's not always a smooth process.  Because tea is made by the baristas at the registers, I don't have to wait down in the mosh pit of yuppies, pining for their caffeine hit.  This means that once I get my tea, I need to navigate my way through a group of people who both individually and collectively don't seem to have any sense of spacial awareness.  Backpacks, large shoulder bags, and yoga mats should all be classified as registered lethal weapons with the FBI.  But even this isn't as tough as the next step: the coffee fixins' bar.

The fixins' bar (or whatever Starbuck's calls the Serengeti watering hole where you spice up your bev with milks, sweeteners and assorted other spices) is the area where my blood pressure raises.  Perhaps it's because folks haven't had their jolt yet that they seem to be mindless of their surroundings, not to mention their actions.  There are lots of lists already online about how to be the worst Starbuck's customer, but the list I created below is how to continue your horrid behavior after you got what you paid for:
  1. Stop dumping out your drink in the trash.  If you need the barista to leave room, just ask.  They're happy to do it.  Dumping out what you just paid for is tantamount to throwing money out the window.  Besides, it's dumb.
  2. For god's sake, put your phone away for the ONE EFFING MINUTE it will take you to add whatever you need to add to your beverage!
  3. Stop with the T-Rex arms.  Put down your bag(s) and enjoy the use of your limbs.
  4. The fixins' bar is not the place for you to get organized.  Don't reassemble the purse, don't switch out phones, and for-the-love-of-all-that's-holy DON"T change out your shoes!
  5. You - the one adding nutmeg to your coffee - I hate you.
  6. Don't talk to me.  I equate fixing my beverage to peeing in a public urinal: no talking, eyes straight ahead, flush when finished.
  7. Put your trash in the trash.  Put your trash in the trash. Put your trash in the trash.
  8. Once you've added everything you need, die.  Or leave.  Either is fine, just move out of the way.  
  9. By the way, have you ever made your own coffee or tea before?  You don't know how much milk or sweetener to put in?  Add a little, taste it, add a little, taste it...  I want to stab you in the eye.
  10. Don't socialize with someone while you are prepping your beverage.  You're not in the club.  Concentrate on your task then get the hell moving.
  11. See that dribble of milk you just spilled?  Yeah you.  Be a big boy, pull a napkin and clean it up.  What must your house look like?  Slob.
  12. Don't hoard the milk carafe.  Take it when you're ready to use it - don't pull it away from everyone and stockpile your supplies.  Share, sweetie.  Share.
  13. Also, if you have to add 16 packets of sugar to your coffee, you don't like coffee.
The key takeaway here is that people (read:me) are waiting.  You have 20 seconds to get in there, do whatever it is you need to do and get out.  Stop ruining my morning.

Friday, May 08, 2015

Pet Peeve #72: Peering Into Windows

And now for some classic Dop...

Window shopping is one thing:  walking by a brightly lit window, stepping in closer to see what's there, keeping a slight distance.  But cupping your eyes and plastering your face against a window to see what's inside is downright intrusive and annoying.  Especially if there is someone just on the other side of the window pane trying to enjoy a meal, a coffee (read: tea), or just hanging with a friend.

I experience this behavior more times than I can admit, most recently yesterday. First really warm day of the year so I leave my office to have lunch at Hannah's Bretzel (mmmm... soft, luscious bretzel).  No seating outside, of course, so I sit at the bar at the window for some much needed natural light therapy.  Attempting to have a quiet lunch, my sunny view is suddenly blocked by a woman pressing her entire body against the glass to see inside the restaurant - despite the fact that the open doorway to the place is just 4 feet to her left.  I shoot her my best WTF look, complete with half a Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon on Wecken (mmm... soft, luscious wecken) hanging out of my mouth.  Oddly, she seems shocked to see me - me, a customer inside a restaurant trying to eat his lunch.  It feels invasive.

Shops and stores typically use non-tinted glass so that you can easily see what's on display in hopes of luring you inside.  Restaurants, to the contrary, tend to use tinted glass to provide some modicum of privacy for their patrons as well as maintaining the mystery of how busy the place may actually be, causing you to actually have to WALK INSIDE to see what's going on.

Is it really so hard to just walk into the store/restaurant/coffee shop to see whatever it is you think you want to see?

Are you giving any thought at all to the possibility that your big face might be disturbing people, or that you resemble some starving Les Miserable urchin knockoff begging for scraps?

Can you just freakin' back that shit up and use a door like a civilized person?

My goal is the next time I am sitting at a window and someone decides to wrap their face in their hands and press it against said window, thus blocking my view and/or invading my space, I will just have to give them a view to remember.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Our Kinda Really First President

We all love the glamour and mythology of George Washington:  General of all the Armies during the Revolution, wealthy landowner, etiquette lover, wooden teeth-wearer, slave owner (yeah, we tend to forget that one), 1st President of the United States, ...

Record scratch

You may not know that America was not originally a constitutional democracy, but a confederation (which meant the states were sovereign entities) from 1776 until the Constitution was ratified in 1789. And while the individual states were free to run things however they chose within their own borders, they still decided that there would be a national one-house ruling body with very limited power called the Congress of the Confederation.

During the eight years that the Congress existed, eight men held the title of President of the Continental Congress - essentially the highest seat in the land - for 1 year each. It wasn’t anywhere near the same thing as the current Presidential office; it was far less powerful and had far different duties.  But it was the closest thing they had to such an office. Thus, the first official “president” of the United States was John Hanson, a delegate from Maryland.  My home state representin'!
Further Presidents of the Continental Congress from 1782 onward were Elias Boudinot, Thomas Mifflin, Richard Henry Lee, John Hancock (yes, that John Hancock), Nathaniel Gorham, Arthur St. Clair, and Cyrus Griffin.

The more you know...

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Wrap Rage

A few weeks ago, I posted the picture at right on my Facebook account, stating that in order to open the package, I clearly needed the scissors inside.  Oh irony!  Funny to readers; not so to me.  
Attempting to unwrap a package that is seemingly impossible to unwrap can be a frustrating problem.  And not just for me - there is actually a diagnosis for the hatred, anger and exasperation one feels when not being able to open packaging:  wrap rage.  You know it's real because it has its own Wikipedia page!  
It's the immense, sweat-inducing fury we've all felt trying to open packages that are simply impossible to open easily: light bulbs, potato chip bags, boxes of cereal, medicines and (10 years ago) CD cases.  Have you ever found yourself standing in your kitchen, unfathomably frustrated — fuming, even — after several attempts to open a bag of something only to realize it’s more secure than Fort Knox?
Manufacturers say that their packaging is simply the safest way to ship and store their products, and ask for "consumer patience" when opening the goods.  Easy to say, impossible to do.  Besides that, it's wasteful.  Nearly 1/3 of American waste is packaging.
I've a longstanding joke about my health that "I've survived a car accident, a stroke, cancer, a heart attack, and open-heart surgery all before the age of 40: which means that one day I will probably choke on an M&M and kill myself".  However, I am going to amend this phrase to add "...if I first don't puncture an artery with a screwdriver trying to open a pack of pens."