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It took me a while to get in the Christmas spirit this year.  It’s not that I was down, or reluctant; I’ve just had a lot going on and it seemed like all of the build up evaporated before I hardly had a chance to acknowledge it.

We put up the tree a week later than usual, so that didn’t help (yes, it’s artificial and just the right size for our little house).  And we’ve been in such a “doing” mode all fall, it kind of perpetuated into the holidays and didn’t leave us much time for sipping cocoa (with Bailey’s) and singing carols in the living room.

The sad thing is, I recall having the same notion last year, that Christmas kind of snuck up on me, and quite possibly the year before that. I’m not certain, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That made me wonder if this is now going to be the norm.

I mean, ten years ago, the month between Thanksgiving and Christmas felt much longer. And thirty years ago it felt like an absolute eternity, sprawled out like an endless barrier between me and a host of irresistible presents sure to ceaselessly delight and entertain me for the rest of eternity, if only I could ever reach them.

As I’ve grown older my perception of the passage of time, of course, has sped up, as I’m sure will continue to be the case. But in regard to the month of December, it seems it has doubly so. No sooner has the last piece of pumpkin pie made it into my belly, than I am thawing the Christmas kringle to greet us on the morning of the 25th. Thrift! Thrift, Santa Claus! The Thanksgiving-baked meats do coldly furnish forth the yuletide tables. Read the rest of this entry »

I’m going to tread on dangerous ground today. It’s likely to garner more dissension than anything I have posted about heretofore. Mired in controversy and known to provoke extremely emotional responses, I am already bracing myself for the backlash that will likely result from this post, and others to follow on this same, touchy subject.

It’s not abortion, nor same-sex marriage. Nor is it school prayer or the role of government in society. No, this is something much more polarizing and tempestuous. Today I’m posting about Star Wars.

Interestingly, I actually was going to publish a post on the current status of gun control; but Star Wars, I fear, will produce even more vitriol and ire, into which I shall now dive.

Here it is: Simply put, the Star Wars Prequels suck.

And I don’t just mean they’re bad, I’m mean they are so tremendously horrible that they have now successfully poisoned my 35-year enjoyment of the Original Trilogy (Episodes 4-6).

There! I said it. God that feels good! Why, now, am I making this proclamation? Glad you asked. Read the rest of this entry »

As I have said before, I really love Christmas. Unlike so many Americans, however, it isn’t the gifts or food that warm my heart; nor is it the religious origin of the Christmas holiday, the birth of Jesus and the mythology that now surrounds it. Sacrilegious, I know, but over the last couple of centuries the culture of Christmas has evolved to carry a message entirely its own.

In my heart and mind, I have come to appreciate my own definition of “the true meaning of Christmas,” a meaning with which I am certain you are already familiar. I casually refer to this as “the Scrooge lesson,” or the “Dickensian Christmas Spirit.”

I love “A Christmas Carol.” It has such great characters, images, and lessons to appreciate and it never, ever gets old. And what I consistently take away from it are the very themes that a sorrowful Jacob Marley desperately urges his old partner Ebenezer to embrace: the common welfare, charity, mercy, kindness, forbearance, and benevolence. I also receive the lesson in Scrooge choosing to dine with the friends of his nephew Fred—sharing warmth in the company of others to thankfully appreciate the blessings of fine food, drink, and camaraderie.

Perhaps most importantly, and more subtle, is the general theme of A Christmas Carol that, in addition to charity and revelry, Christmas should also be a time of self-reflection, a time to ponder our lives and how we choose to live them. In Scrooge’s own vein, Read the rest of this entry »

The first four years draw to a close. And between a fractured and disjointed Democratic minority, obstructionist Republican lawmakers, and a campaign year of gridlock and Executive foot-dragging on long-since approved regulation, we don’t really have a lot to show for them.

Sure, one of the big cuffs has now been taken off—reelection—but the truth is, what we’ve seen from our “golden prophet” isn’t anything less than we should have expected. After all, the Left has been so hell-bent on finding a figurehead for the Progressive Cause, we kind of didn’t bother to firm up our identity, develop sound policy, or decide how best to disseminate it.

In other words, we found our spokesperson long before we had a product to sell, much less a path to market.

The Right, however, doesn’t have this problem. If there is one thing we know for sure, it is what plans and machinations will be cultivated when the Right plows in a new field of political power, be it Executive, Legislative, or Judicial. We all know what the platform of the Republican party is: supply side philosophy, tax cuts (with the bulk of the benefit going to corporations and the top 1%), deregulation of corporations and industry, reducing the scope and life of social programs, weakening environmental and consumer protections, and finding a way to manipulate policy for their own political gain. Why is it any surprise to us that policy on all of these fronts is already waiting in the hopper and springs to life the day they take office?

Take Wisconsin, for example. After winning the election, yet before taking office, the Walker administration Read the rest of this entry »

Recently, I talked with a friend about behaving responsibly.

As the years have piled on, I continue to focus on responsible behavior. I readily see the link between making “poor” choices (perhaps “immediate” is better) and the extension of those choices delaying, prohibiting, or outright negating the possibility of me attaining certain goals: health, financial independence, physical fitness, harmony with nature, and so on.

Each year, each month, each day, I consider and eventually enact changes in my behaviors that propel me towards these simple-yet-lofty goals. After all, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world,” and I’ll even add, “in yourself.”

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You see I really love cookies. I mean, LOVE them. To emphasize, my first word in this life was “cookie.” Previously, my personal performance of the bedtime routine opened with a few (sometimes more) cookies and a glass of milk, followed by a fervent tooth brushing and the inevitable slumber. I firmly believe that warm cookies and cold milk are good for the soul. So much pleasure and joy is contained within those crude little discs of love, how can they not be?

But recognizing their empty-caloric nature and my languishing metabolism as I age, I’ve been actively suppressing my desires, breaking with my evening custom, and oft replacing my beloved baked goods with less-than-sufficient celery and peanut butter, or worse, nothing. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday is the 42nd anniversary of the creation of Earth Day, a remarkable movement founded in Madison, WI by then US Senator and former Governor, Gaylord Nelson.

Earth Day has one central purpose: to encourage people to consider humanity’s impact on the environment and act in ways that reduce the negative effects on all ecosystems and species.

It is a simple goal, but has far-reaching implications and can be summed up in their most-recognized slogan, “Think Globally. Act Locally.” It was Senator Nelson who coined this idea, insisting that local action and education be the central method of Earth Day rather than protests and sit-ins.

“Act Locally” does not just mean in counties or municipalities, it means in our homes and businesses, and most importantly, our lives. Sure it means big things like urging local, state, and federal governments to pass laws that protect our environment, but it also means smaller things like being realistic about what we need to consume, Read the rest of this entry »

I find myself disgruntled lately.

Shocked? I’m sure not, if you’ve read most of my other posts. But you’re probably asking, “What’s got you this time?” So here it is: our ridiculous two-party system of government.

I’m sick of Democrats. I’m sick of Republicans. I’m sick of party politics constantly trumping public policy. I’m sick of bickering, and empty promises. I’m sick of gerrymandering, and stalwart tactics, and of the threat of filibuster (because they don’t actually filibuster anymore you know). I’m sick of misleading 8-second sound bites by majority/minority leaders that exemplify denial and puerility more than reason and cooperation (of course, our attention spans and inane media have a lot to do with that – but that’s for another time).

On issue after issue, threat after threat, problem after problem, the whole idea of passing laws and enacting public policy expeditiously is secondary, if not tertiary, to protecting “The Party” and weakening the opposition. Read the rest of this entry »

Congratulations, President Obama, you finally found your Presidential voice! Such a shame that it came so late.

It was a great speech-probably your best SOTU-employing powerful, statesmanlike language and stroking progressive ideals to the brink of political orgasm. Yes, it was a terrific speech; and it should be because the way things are looking, it’s likely to be your last.

This year, it’s easy to throw out a bunch of great ideas and bold initiatives, backed with powerful rhetoric; you’re talking to a congress that has already vowed to do nothing. But beyond the applause and standing O’s, past the bright Source4 spotlights and television cameras, there are legions of lamenting liberals, a plethora of pissed-off progressives, and an assload of angry Americans who are having trouble pairing the leadership in your language with the awkwardness of your administration.

For three years you’ve portrayed yourself as stumbling buffoons, unsure of your agenda. Your message has been fragmented and murky. Your communications have been guarded and timid. Your domestic policy wandering and perfunctory. We have come to expect very little from you in terms of actual leadership, and it shows in how easily Republicans have been able to effectively frame every – single – issue, successfully derailing your game plan before you’ve even left the huddle. Read the rest of this entry »

It seems we’re looking at yet another legislative session, in both state legislatures and congress, where partisan gridlock will be preventing any effective, relevant, or necessary legislation from passing. Just read about what’s going on in Wisconsin, Colorado, and the upcoming congress (here and here).

Most Americans have been screaming for three years for our legislatures to do something to help us, the common citizen. And despite hollow promises of “a laser-focus on jobs” and “reaching across the aisle” from legislators, it seems all of their time is spent arguing over non-job-related bills with obvious political motivations and assurances of furthering our political and ideological divide.

Naturally, this has me frustrated, pensive, and reflecting back on a different time.

There have always been political and ideological divides, to be sure. But at a time of such crises, with such a struggle occurring in so many households across the country, one might think that a few, maybe even a small majority of lawmakers, could actually push aside the inflexible and overbearing will of their parties and simply start to do something.

Perusing recent legislative history, bipartisanship seemed to be more commonplace. Look at Nixon’s Impeachment, the Reagan-O’Neill cooperation, the bipartisan vote to censure President Clinton, or the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (McCain-Feingold).

We’ve worked together before, even amidst other bitter ideological divides. So why can’t we seem to do it now, especially in light of the dire circumstances of so many Americans? Read the rest of this entry »

Yesterday, the Montana Supreme Court upheld a century-old law banning corporate spending in state and local political campaigns, thereby ignoring the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling from almost two years ago.

This is a remarkable ruling by the Montana High Court (a 5-2 decision in a conservative state, no less), and it lends credence to the arguments against Citizens United that have been made by the majority of Americans, legal scholars, and many members of both parties for the last year.

It will likely be overturned, of course. If the plaintiffs appeal, the US Supreme Court naturally will simply rescind this ruling, likely with another 5-4 majority decision. But for the first time, a notable panel of jurists has openly written in a majority opinion that the US Supreme Court’s ruling last year was, in essence, a steaming pile of feces artfully molded to appear as though it stood on legal grounds.

The Montana Court’s decision is useful and important, but not really a surprise to us, right? I mean we, the uneducated masses and wanna-be lawyers of the nation who love to wax legal on the weekends, have been calling “Bullshit” on Citizens United for two years! Read the rest of this entry »

Ever since my youth, when I began to define my moral, ethical, and political philosophies, there has been an aspect of conservatism that I’ve never understood and have yet to hear a reasonable, rational explanation in its defense. It is, in essence, a fallacy and a blatant refusal to accept the reality of life.

The aspect of conservatism to which I am referring is the notion of adhering to tradition, of keeping things back, of holding on to “the way things were.”

**NEWSFLASH** – There is but one constant throughout history, and that is Change.

I cannot think of a single incidence in history where any attempt, by any entity, at holding firmly to a traditional practice, belief, or ideology succeeded in keeping change at bay forever. It may take longer, it may be more difficult or even violent in process, but in the end change always occurs, whether those in power like it or not. Read the rest of this entry »

It takes a certain fortitude to enlist in the military.  A fortitude that, I am not ashamed to admit, I never had.

Despite a deep respect for those in my family who served in the armed forces and a lifelong fascination with all things military, at a young age I knew in my heart that I didn’t have what it takes. Be it a disinclination to take orders without question, fear of a painful death, or a reluctance to kill others in the name of possibly misguided policy, I was fully aware then and now that I would not have made a good soldier, sailor, or marine.

It is this same awareness that makes me so grateful for the men and women who have and continue to serve our nation.  Fortunately not everyone has the same hang-ups and hesitancy that I had as a youth, and because of that I am blessed with the privilege of liberty and the honor of holding our veterans in the absolute highest regard, honoring them, and thanking them as often as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s true. We need oil.

In the short-term our entire infrastructure is dependent on oil. Since it is used to make gasoline, diesel, kerosene, natural gas, propane, plastic, heating oil, and industrial fuel, it is obvious that we can’t simply stop using it tomorrow. This is a fact and to ignore it and think otherwise is both ignorant and futile.

However, here is another fact. Oil is finite. Someday we will run out, plain and simple. The length of time before that happens may be disputed, but nonetheless, we will run out one day. And there’s no making more of it. It took hundreds of millions of years to make the batch we’re blowing through. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.

That being said, assuming an extended existence of humankind (a significant assumption, mind you) and therefore its need for energy, one must logically conclude that we will need another source of energy at some point. Personally, I would argue that we need it quickly, now, while we still have oil to burn in the interim. We should be using our quick and easy fossil fuels not for individual and corporate profit but for collective betterment and for producing better ways to harness infinite and renewable sources of energy such as wind, solar, geothermal, and hydroelectric.

Here’s another fact: the world’s need for energy is growing. With the population over 7 billion people, and more and more of those people (and their economies) becoming dependent on oil, it isn’t simply a matter of sustaining our oil production to satiate our current thirst. Rather, we must continue to increase production in order to keep up with the growing demand. Read the rest of this entry »

As I have said, I am a sap when it comes to dogs.

Recently I read about Rufus, Target, and Sasha, three stray dogs who together saved the lives of up to 50 US soldiers in Afghanistan when they prevented a suicide bomber from entering a barracks on base. The bomber got the door open but Rufus and Target had latched on to his legs, preventing him from entering. Sasha was barking wildly, alerting her friend, Sgt. Chris Duke, to the danger. When the bomber realized he could go no further, he detonated his vest.

Sasha, the smallest of the three, was injured so badly that she had to be put down. Rufus and Target were both horribly burned over the majority of their bodies. Thanks to the soldiers, they were nursed back to health and survived the attack. This Reader’s Digest article has the whole story.

Keep in mind that these dogs were only curs. They aren’t purebreds, or show dogs. They were simply mutts, strays from a war-ravaged country who, despite having no reason to care about humans, acted out of instinct and loyalty to the soldiers they had befriended. Even though they probably did not know their lives were in danger, their acts were still, by all accounts, heroic. They selflessly put themselves between their friends and danger, giving fur, skin, and blood in the process and, in Sasha’s case, the ultimate sacrifice.

Can you blame me for being a sap over dogs, when I see what three strays are capable of?

Unfortunately, this post is not about dog heroism. Rather, it is about human incompetence, selfishness, and cruelty. Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve had a bad customer service week. Actually, a bad couple of months. And by “bad customer service” I mean that I have been treated poorly by an awful lot of “customer service” representatives working for a wide swath of different types of companies.

To be short, this really irks me; not just because it is totally infuriating to be treated rudely by someone who is supposed to help you, nor because these representatives are often our only conduit to address our grievance with a company, nor because they are often powerless to do anything to help us or correct a problem, citing “company policy,” “lack of power”, or the all-too-common “that’s not my job.”

No, the trend I have witnessed irks me because for every bad customer service rep out there, there is a manager who isn’t managing, a company that isn’t sending the right message to its employees, and usually a business owner or executive who is too far removed or is too restrictive to make it possible to provide good customer service.

When a customer is treated poorly, sure, there is a low-level employee we can blame, and even fire, for the transgression. But the fact that it happened at all suggests that the employee may be unhappy, or was never trained properly, or that management hasn’t emphasized customer service. There is plenty of blame to go around and it almost never stops with the person who actually deals with the customer. Read the rest of this entry »

Great news!

According to the United Nations’ recent estimate, the world’s human population will hit 7,000,000,000 late next month.

Considering that the human population was only 2 billion as recently as 1925, we have perfected a truly remarkable model of steady gains. I mean, 350% growth in only 86 years? Amazing!

Why, in just the last 50 years we went from a measly 3 billion to 7 billion; I think we really have done something exceptional.

CONGRATULATIONS, HUMANS!

What special bonuses do we have as a result of our inability to prevent unwanted pregnancies (despite having the knowledge and methods to easily do so)?

Well take a look at some of these fabulous prizes Read the rest of this entry »

In case you hadn’t heard, the US Congressional approval rating just hit an all-time low. According to a recent NBC poll, the country’s approval rating of Congress just dropped again, to a measly 12%. It’s amazing that so few Americans have confidence in what the founding fathers had intended to be the most powerful branch of the US government.

Even more amazing, however, are the re-election rates of those very same members of Congress. Historically, congressional re-election rates are quite high. Normally hovering around 95% in fact.

What can we glean from this inconsistency? It appears that while the vast majority of people disapprove of Congress as a whole, an even larger majority doesn’t believe their representative is part of the problem. I know I don’t. My representative is ethical, responsive, resistant to special interests, and generally an all-around good public servant in my opinion. Perfect by no means, but acceptable in most ways. Or so I believe.

Nonetheless, Congress stinks. I know it; you know it; we see it every day in headlines and sound bites. Problems are either addressed too late, poorly, or left ignored altogether. It seems that the issues – OUR problems – are nothing more than opportunities for political jockeying by the key players in both power parties. When things like humans-Americans-losing their homes, their jobs, or their health insurance are used as nothing more than chances for politicians to display their political ideology, something is seriously wrong.

Well, I have a solution. What if we fired them all? What if every two years we fired each and every one of them? That’s right, 100% turnover in every congressional election. Read the rest of this entry »

I have a lot of very smart friends. I don’t just mean educated, or witty, or well-read either. I mean they speak well, think critically, make good choices, can challenge themselves, are curious and self-motivated…I’m talking all-around S-M-A-R-T.

I’m not bragging either; I mean, who brags about how smart their friends are? As if that is some sort of accomplishment. That’s just dumb. No, this isn’t bragging; it’s actually a confession.

Yes, compared to my friends I am, in fact, an idiot. And that’s how I want it.

I choose to surround myself with smart people. Always have. No, not so I could feel important or copy their homework (even though it was occasionally relieving to have that option). I do it because A) it keeps me humble, B) it introduces me to new ideas, and C) it challenges me.

The anti-intellectualism that seems to be gripping a large swath of our society, propelled by mainstream media, conservative ideologues, and a growing un- and under-educated populace, is more than disturbing. It is downright offensive. As though dismissing – nay – refusing to even be exposed to facts and educated opinions, is somehow going to improve things. As though ignoring or attacking intelligent people, especially those that challenge or contradict what you believe, will magically make the truth disappear.

Face it, if you only hang out with dweebs, losers, and jerk-offs, what are you really doing to yourself? Congratulations! You’ve now crowned yourself King of the Crackpots, Despot of the Doomed, Monarch of the Mediocre. No doubt your reign will be lackluster and depreciating.

But when you are beset on all sides by minds and personalities who know more, think better, and have different experiences than you it does your psyche a world of good. It makes you think before you speak, because if what you say is weak, they’ll call you on it. It makes you listen more, because whether you admit it or not, while they speak you know that they are imparting knowledge to which you have not been exposed. If it’s a good in-depth conversation, it can propel you and sustain you on a train of thought long after you’ve parted ways. It can drive you to extend yourself, seeking information about topics you had no idea about, opinions you’ve never considered, facts you’ve never been exposed to. All with hopeful spirit (futile though it may be) that the next time the two of you converse, you’ll at least be able to speak intelligently about that topic, and perhaps something more.

Surround yourself with smart people, especially ones that challenge you, that think differently than you, that can (and will) disagree with you. Immerse yourself in a sea of  intimidating IQs, exceptional egos, and admirable acumen. Grow yourself through the minds and experiences of others you respect. Get yourself a smart blanket and wrap up tight! You’ll be better off for it. We all will.

Many people are full of shit. To define the colloquialism I’ll restate in more literary terms: they talk out of their ass. They make stuff up, state it emphatically, and expect you to believe it. And if it’s done well enough, it works. After all, that’s how wives tales, urban legends, and cultural myths get started.

This is even true with people who are typically honest, forthright, and trustworthy, which is what makes it all the more difficult to detect. Close friends, whom I know and trust, have used this very tactic in the heat of a discussion and I have acquiesced in the face of their sureness and confidence. Then later I do a little research and find out…it was their ass talking. And that’s fine, because in the end it didn’t really matter what the two of us were arguing about anyway. Nonetheless, I love…LOVE…that instead of having to go to the library, and pore over periodicals and reference materials in hopes of finding something to disprove the BS, I can sit down at my computer, in my PJs if I want, and do the same-if not more-research on any issue and detect the BS from the comfort of my own home, and in less time!

It’s even better when discussions like the one mentioned above happen within range of an internet-connected device! There they are, spewing fecal rhetoric with no regard for the fact that their own shame is only a couple of feet and a few short keystrokes away. It’s like they are daring you to reach over and prove them wrong, only they already know that you will. I’ve seen their faces droop the second I open a web browser. They shuffle their feet, they backtrack and say things like, “That’s what I heard,” or “I think that’s right,” or “so-and-so told me” to shift the blame. Really? You know, 10 seconds ago you wanted to bet $1000 on it, hoping I would yield, and now you “might be wrong?”

Mind you, this isn’t about proving someone wrong. It’s about holding someone accountable for their actions. If they heard it elsewhere, did they verify it before they repeated it? If they’re willing to get all huffy about something they only heard from someone else, why don’t they do a little research first to make sure it’s worth all of the vim and vigor? Read the rest of this entry »

I work with a lot of self-proclaimed “liberals.”

I use quotation marks because, as I have gotten to know these specific people over the years, I have found that to them, “liberal” apparently means simply voting for democrats and bitching about whatever the republicans are doing. I, being an avoider of adhering to labels, am perplexed by this because if that’s really all it takes to be what they claim, then perhaps they should identify themselves as “anti-Republicans.”

To me, claiming to be a liberal suggests perhaps embracing some life habits that coincide with your liberal ideology. You know, walking the walk while talking the talk. In other words, putting your money where your mouth is. Read the rest of this entry »

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