Time For A Change

How are you feeling with just over a week of Eastern Standard Time under our belts? Are you still waking up an hour “early?” Having an extra cup of coffee in the middle of the afternoon? Do the circles under your eyes remind you, in an unflattering way, of a grumpy raccoon?

Here at home when the time “changes” in the spring, we leave a clock or two alone in a largely futile, slightly confusing but grimly satisfying protest against “government time. Someone usually resurrects the old Ian Anderson song, “Living in the Past.”

Then on that first Monday in November, someone announces they are refusing to set their clocks back in order to live one hour in the future. We greet you, people of the past. Your ways are quaint.

We go through these motions every year in what has become a kind of ritual, and like many rituals, it accomplishes little of value. The whole thing reminds me of….a tomato plant I once knew. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.

Once upon a time I worked for a corporation, and like many human organizations, it had its own rituals. The company was housed in an old building. The building had grown up with the company, and wings had been added over time as the business expanded and room was needed for more employees.

The building had plumbing issues. No one alive knew exactly how the pipes were connected underground or where the storm water drained to. Sometimes when there was a heavy downpour, water would go places water shouldn’t go, like inside the lower offices and the lobby where customers waited. I remember one such occasion, as I trudged into work on a Monday after a time change thinking, “I know I’m not awake yet, but carpet is not supposed to splash.”

There was a lot of head scratching over the problem. Old blueprints were dusted off. Flashlights were shined into holes, followed by a plumber’s snake or two. The problem persisted, as did the smell of dank, moldy carpet.

Plumbing is a good metaphor for the type of things that indicate the overall health of a company (or a government). In a healthy situation, storm water goes where it’s supposed to go, and when a pipe breaks or stops up, you know how to fix it because you know how all your pipes are connected.

One rainy day our drainage mysteries got a lot more personal when raw sewage somehow combined with storm water and they started traveling together like a Dodge Ram pulling an Airstream trailer. If there’s anything less motivating than splashy carpet, it’s splashy carpet with sewage, and it’s a serious health hazard.

Yet our pipes remained blocked and our migrating bacteria, propelled by foot traffic, started learning to fly after the carpet dried. When a company’s (or a government’s) metaphorical pipes are stopped up, it can take a long time for actions to flow where they are needed. Eventually someone shocked a decision maker into action with an anonymously circulated Department of Health publication on airborne bacteria from wastewater. Our carpet was ripped up and a backhoe tore into the ground to find out just what needed to be done to our pipes.

It turned out that the offending sewer line passed right under the sidewalk leading to the customer lobby of our department. The sidewalk was torn up and pipes were replaced. There was mud everywhere, and sewage. The lobby was closed, and we all stepped very carefully coming into the office.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and our company, though it had a new sewer line, still had a metaphorical blockage. The sidewalk was still in pieces. The mud had dried, for the moment. Alongside the old sidewalk there appeared a familiar looking plant.

It’s a testament to the vitality of the life force that the seed of a cherry tomato could travel from a farm in Florida to a grocery store in North Georgia and survive the indignities of the checkout line, then resist the gnashing of teeth and the assault of stomach acid, negotiate some 29 feet of intestines and an unknown length of sewer pipe to be unearthed by a backhoe and spring to life in the red clay of the southern Appalachians.

That tomato didn’t just sprout. It thrived. In a week it was a foot high, then two feet. Someone chopped it down (as we often do to deal with the appearance of a problem) but it didn’t die. It grew back even faster. When the tomato was approaching three feet in height, someone, anonymously of course, staked it to a pole. Four feet high and it started to bear fruit. Five feet high and you couldn’t miss it, a lush, verdant specimen covered in beautiful but somehow unappetizing tomatoes, standing in silent accusation, a testimony to the incredible inertia of large human organizations.

After several months the sidewalk was repaired and the unfortunate tomato plant was cut down in the prime of its life. I don’t think anyone was standing in line to sample its fruit. So, what does our well traveled tomato have to do with Eastern Standard Time? Hang in there. You would have gotten it already if you weren’t so sleepy.

Our system of government has grown as our country has expanded. New “wings” were added to house more employees needed to monitor us and tell us what to do. No one alive knows how all the pipes are connected, or where the waste water goes, other than downhill. Standing like an over-fertilized tomato plant in not so silent accusation of our government’s ability to respond to our needs , is our twice yearly ritual of “changing” the time.

That ritual is a problem. Science has debunked just about all of the alleged benefits of the practice. Changing the time disrupts sleep patterns, decreases productivity and for many people, it becomes a health hazard. The problem grows every year, and it’s a problem that bears fruit: The incidence of accidents and mistakes spike each time we alter our observance of time.

Our dislike of the practice is one of the few things we all agree on, and it is an issue that no one has managed to twist into a political advantage. Maybe that’s why Congress, with its phenomenal cosmic power to tell us what time it is, independent of the movement of the planet around the sun and the evidence of our own bodies, seems incapable of acting for our mutual benefit.

It’s time for a change, and not just in the way we observe the passage of time.

The Lonely Traveler

There are surely as many different kinds of people as there are human beings in the world, but today we’re considering just two: those who, whether from choice or circumstance leave the families of their birth behind to seek out their destiny, and those who keep family central to their journey through life. Some of us are planets revolving around the central sun of family ties, and some are comets.  

Travel is easier now than it has ever been, and we have abandoned our villages to seek our fortunes as far away from the places and peoples of our birth as the limits of a small planet will allow. The momentum of youth, the discovery of self and the lure of adventure pushes many of us outward. Love and affection and support draws us back. Our orbits are defined by the balance between these forces.  

We are a nation of immigrants on a planet of migrants. Our history is a story of explorers and pioneers, prospectors, adventurers, missionaries and rogues pushing out our boundaries until we now occupy almost every corner of the planet. For millions today, the only connection to the families of their birth is a phone call, a letter or the brief appearance of pixels on a screen.

 Only the traveler can judge which pathway, the orbit of a planet or the far flung journey of a comet, is the most rewarding. I’ve spent a lot of time over the last several years visiting nursing homes, and I’ve heard regret near the end of both paths. Some who clung tightly to their family ties regretted the things they might have done but did not, and the places they never got to see. Some who chose a life of adventure regretted not spending more time with family and friends.  

In truth, however, I’ve heard more regret expressed over the latter when the terrible loneliness of a nursing home, family scattered around the globe, friends left in the wake of the journey, becomes palpable. The dull sameness of the endless days and the cold emptiness of the nights can be terrifying in the company of strangers “waiting for God.” Holidays can be cruel reminders of what was lost or abandoned, and a brief visit once or twice a year on Thanksgiving or Christmas does little to fill the emptiness.

But…we’re Facebook friends with mom, and dad has finally learned to Skype. Yes, and technology has allowed the touchscreen to replace human touch for so many, and the agony and unrest of the present day has grown proportionally as the support and stability of the extended family in our society yielded to the ascendancy of the self.

Nature abhors a vacuum, and we have our gratifications and distractions, our dramas and our pixel opinions, even our nanny state all expanding to fill the needs once satisfied by family and community. They are a poor replacement for morality and faith and maturity, for the wisdom of a grandmother, the compassion of a grandfather and the comradery of brothers and sisters and cousins. Technology can never equal the faces of family and friends sitting together around a table.

Only the Shadow Knows

We can’t see truth in politics, but we can see its shadow.

The formal definition of politics is the “art or science of government,” which seems like a worthy, almost noble pursuit. When we watch politics play out in the real world it comes across like the label on a sausage wrapper with the comforting voice of Jimmy Dean talking about “that good mornin’ feelin’.” But when we peek into the back door at the sausage factory, what we see is not very appetizing at all.

We’ve grown weary of being shocked and offended by daily revelations of shocking and offensive behavior in the political realm, but we just can’t seem to look away. That’s on us. However, we could choose to see the humor in the spectacle instead. There is plenty to laugh at.

Granted, some of our apparent mirth is bound to be nervous laughter. People get hurt in the political process. We forget sometimes that public figures are human beings with families. We forget that here at home more often than a good and kind community of people should.

The one unforgivable sin in Towns County is the sin of winning an election, and with some elected offices in particular, public service apparently includes subjecting your family to the worst kind of rumor and false witness. False witness, by the way, has been considered sin for a lot longer than social media and public forum websites have been around. If your ears are burning, good.

It’s easier to laugh at the actors on the national stage, much farther removed and unlikely to be seen at the local market, though some of those national actors are rumored to be human beings with families as well. But in order to enjoy the spectacle, we have to learn not to take things so personally, and to accomplish that we have to divest ourselves of the notion that politicians behaving badly is a new and unusual occurrence.

Campaigning for the office of president in 1800, Vice President Thomas Jefferson said that President Adams was a “hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman.” Adams said that Vice President Jefferson was “a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father.”

And we thought Hillary calling Tulsi Gabbard a “Russian asset” was bad. Or funny. Did you see the interview that started the word war? While affecting a false modesty reminiscent of Uriah Heep (the fictional character, not the band) Hillary suggested that Representative Gabbard, a Major in the Army National Guard, was being groomed by the Russians.

Major Gabbard was quick to reply, saying, “You, the queen of warmongers, embodiment of corruption, and personification of the rot that has sickened the Democratic Party for so long, have finally come out from behind the curtain.”

Incidentally, Gabbard is the only candidate, aside from the President himself, who has consistently talked about disengaging the American military industrial complex from forever war. Chances are she means it, which makes her the natural enemy of CNN and the New York Times, among others. But don’t hold your breath. The Representative is polling below 2% in most polls and recruits are training right now who were not born when our engagement in Afghanistan began.

Let’s take a step back and look at this exchange from a different angle. Did you see the shadow? Was that truth moving behind the scenes, casting a shadow that is the political process? Was Hillary attempting to clear the field for herself or for another candidate more supportive of business as usual? Who will the next “Russian asset” be? Bernie Sanders? Elizabeth Warren, perhaps?

Are you laughing yet, or were you offended that someone dared to criticize your favorite celebrity/candidate? Don’t take it so personally. If it helps, we’ll make a few observations about the president. We like to be equal opportunity offenders.

“Removing troops from Syria” apparently means moving them next door to Iraq, but leaving enough behind to protect “the oil.” President Trump, it has been observed, is one of the most honest presidents in history. Now you’re laughing. Or choking. We’ll wait while you get a drink of water.

Full disclosure, we laughed when wrote that. But seriously folks, if we disregard his almost habitual statements of untruth, exaggeration and hyperbole, Trump may be the most “honest” president since Eisenhower, if you listen to what he’s actually saying: We sent the troops. We paid for the bombs. We’re keeping the oil. Maybe we’ll send in one of our big oil companies to do it right. We don’t really need the oil ourselves, but we’re not going to let anyone else have it.

There are times when President Trump opens the doors to the sausage factory, turns up the lights and conducts guided tours. This makes him the natural enemy of several established interests that prefer to remain out of sight, though they do cast big shadows.

Some of you will vehemently disagree, but as we count down another year of bad actors auditioning for a poorly written soap opera, some relief may be found in the notion that it really doesn’t matter who gets to be president. Think about it. Look at the situation like a comptroller or an accountant instead of a social justice worrier or a disgruntled audience member who can’t get a refund for the ticket. We’ll argue about this later.

But for now, let’s agree that there are undoubtedly as many laudable motives behind the desire to be President of the United States as there are candidates. The same is true for every elected office right down to the local level. But the ultimate prize is the chance to play a role on the stage, maybe even do a bit of directing. And hardly anyone ever left public office poorer than when they entered it.

So the competition will continue to be fierce. The democrats started with over 20 candidates hoping to act on that stage, but like politicians everywhere and as far back in time as we care to look, they have acted more like crabs in a bucket than statesmen.

There is nothing unusual here. They are no different than republicans or any other party’s candidates in this respect. If you’ve ever caught crabs and put them in a bucket, you’ll know that it’s not necessary to put a lid on that bucket if you have more than one crab. One by itself might easily climb out of the bucket, but any more than that and they will pull down any individual that looks like it might make it to the top.

There are better things to do this time of year than worry about politics. The weather is changing. The days are crisp and the nights are cool. The leaves are taking on color, and the holidays are just around the corner. But if politics is your thing, do remember not to take it so personally, and enjoy the spectacle as much as you can. Halloween isalmost here, and who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?

When Celebrities Attack

Back in the mid 90’s there was a brief but tacky series of television shows called “When Animals Attack.” It was produced by Fox, the network that serves up conservative values with a side order of scandal, and celebrities in bikinis. The series depicted graphic animal attacks on humans for an audience unlikely to ever be close enough to a wild animal to risk an attack, but there is no limit to the dangers we armchair warriors are willing to face in the virtual world.

Last week the virtual world erupted (steady, no need to duct tape the virtual windows just yet) when some images circulated of Celebrity, Ellen DeGeneres watching a football game in the company of Celebrity, Former President George W. Bush. The two appeared to be quite comfortable with each other. In fact, they actually seemed to be enjoying themselves. Ellen later revealed that she even considers Mr. Bush to be a friend.

The virtual world is particularly dangerous when celebrities attack. A sampling of the headlines, the tweets and posts would have you shivering in your virtual shoes. There was outrage, firestorm, ripping, lash and backlash (presumably you can’t have one without the other). Celebrities were divided. Ellen was forced to push back.

The “push” that preceded the push back was the accusation that she, as an individual admired by the left, should not be seen to be “rehabilitating the image” of someone like the former president, accused of being responsible for much death and destruction during his administration. (Apparently champion weapons dealer, Mr. Obama, and Hillary “We Came, We saw, He Died” Clinton are in no need of rehabilitation, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

It’s likely that quite a large portion of the country was unaware that the former president’s image was in need of rehabilitation. That, too, is a discussion for another day. But putting politics and the history of warfare aside for a moment, Ms. DeGeneres in one of her backlash push backs spoke truth when she said, “”Just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean I’m not going to be friends with them. When I say, ‘Be kind to one another,’ I don’t mean only the people that think the same way that you do.” Ellen went on to say, “We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different.”

Simple truth, and utterly devastating to the virtual world that profits from our addiction to drama.

Humanity has a long history of fawning over celebrities and allowing ourselves to be influenced, led, dominated by the famous and the infamous. We often remind ourselves of sheep in our blind allegiance, or cattle in our tendency to stampede.

But goats gather here, my friends. We are independent, cantankerous and often contrary. However, the times we live in now call upon us to be shepherds. This is the relative lull before the storm as desperate partisan parties ramp up their efforts to capture the White House, dragging us all into the conflict with no concern for the collateral damage to the country.

We will begin to see it again soon, as bad as it was in 2016 or worse. The celebrities will step up their attacks online and over the air, and our friends and neighbors will parrot their words and respond to their entreaties. At family and social gatherings, at work, or even at church, we will begin to see the stampeding of emotions. Did we lose any friends in the last election? It can happen again.

When the herd begins to get restless, like the singing cowboy out on the range, perhaps a word of calm might ward off the stampede. Keep in mind, however, that the herd does not listen to reason. You can argue until you are red or blue in the face. The herd no longer responds to the great minds, to scholars, philosophers and poets. The western herd does not even hearken to the divine.

Our ability to recognize truth has been degraded, lost in the virtual world of shiny waxed apples and artificial coloring, makeup artists and sound bytes and computer generated graphics. They’re not going to listen to truth unless it’s delivered on the narrow band that spans our collective attention.

But they might listen to their celebrities. “Be kind to one another.” “We’re all different, and that’s OK.” They’ve heard it a thousand times, from countless sources. They’ve even read it in the Bible and heard it in church. But if Ellen said it, they might actually listen.

Where’s the Beef?

Last weekend I tried the much talked about “Beyond Burger.” Here’s my unofficial and entirely subjective review.

It tastes OK. Let me explain. “OK” is a step above “fine.” “Fine” is what my wife and I say when the hard working server who has been friendly and courteous throughout our unremarkable meal asks how we liked the freezer burned entree and the cold mashed potatoes. We ate it because we were hungry and it wasn’t bad enough to send back, but we leave a good tip and say the meal was “fine.”

So yes, for my money the vegan burger is OK and I would buy it again to keep in the freezer for one of those quick lunches when nobody feels like cooking. The taste and texture are more reminiscent of meat than any of the soy or black bean based products I’ve tried, though its not going to fool even the most casual carnivore.

It’s expensive. Two small patties sized somewhere between small burger and large sausage patty cost about 6 bucks.

It has about the same calories and fat as beef, and a good dose of sodium. It’s not going to lower your cholesterol because it delivers a sizable amount of coconut oil in the ingredients. It does have a wee bit of fiber, whereas your typical hamburger has none.

Contrary to the marketing campaign promoting the burger, it’s not going to save the planet. Maybe it’s a step in the right direction. After all, an acre of peas (pea protein is the primary ingredient in the Beyond Burger) will feed a lot more people than a single cow on that acre (if that cow is living in Florida). In most of the beef producing parts of the world it takes multiple acres to sustain a cow.

The fledgling vegan burger industry claims to produce a much smaller carbon footprint than modern industrial beef production. There are studies which back up that claim. But the highly processed burgers are being marketed as the “best” thing you can do for the environment, which simply isn’t true. By the time you plant the peas, fertilize, harvest, transport and process the peas and then ship them to market, energy intensive activities which require fossil fuel to accomplish, the carbon footprint is going to be at least in the same zip code as beef. Add to that the energy required for the manufacture and transport of the 20 or so ingredients. Energy is also needed to recycle the paper used in the packaging, and the polypropylene used in the container derives from natural gas or the oil refining process. The amount of trash leftover from two small patties was notable.

Eating any form of processed food is certainly not the “best” thing we can do for the planet in our kitchens. Eating a plant dominant diet, as much as possible from local sources, or making black bean burgers at home, or buying locally produced grass fed beef, are all superior in terms of environmental impact and energy use to buying processed food.

For example, White Oak Pastures in Bluffton, Georgia, commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment study of their sustainable beef production, which incidentally uses techniques much closer to those practiced by our ancestors. The study indicated that their beef production was actually carbon negative, which challenges the current narrative about beef production.

As for the recent excitement over the vegan burger industry, as a die hard supporter of free enterprise, I’ll have to admit that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a clever product and a brilliant marketing campaign. If it’s a worthwhile product, the market will embrace it. If not, the market will move on to embrace something else. As always, buyer beware. Free enterprise is not guaranteed to be happy enterprise.

Now if you’re trying to be a vegetarian for health or spirit reasons and you’re still tempted by the food humans have consumed for 40,000 years, this could be your burger. It really does taste pretty good, and it is somewhat healthier than a lot of fast food. If you’re looking for a virtue burger to impress virtuous friends who aren’t really into numbers or thermodynamics, then this could be your burger too.

If you’re looking for a virtue burger and you would like to help pump up the stock of a virtue burger manufacturer, then this is definitely your burger.

My takeaway is that you can eat the Beyond Burger, if you can afford it, and feel some virtue, or you can eat locally produced grass fed beef, if you can afford it, and feel virtuous as well. Or you could eat what you want, keeping in mind that “virtue” is not a zero sum equation, and your virtue does not depend on someone else being less virtuous. Unfortunately that’s not how our culture is currently being programmed.

Alas, if only life could be that simple, but in the age of induced and aggravated partisanship, everything we do has to have some kind of political spin. Therefore, if you’re still determined to save the planet, I recommend waiting for the launch of the new “Soylent Solution.” It’s a great way to reduce carbon across the board. Soylent Red will be made from recycled Conservatives: Tastes great but tends to pack on the pounds and harden the arteries. Soylent Blue derives from recycled Liberals: Pretty tasty if you add enough hot sauce, but you’ll be starving by the next meal. My favorite is Soylent Gray, made from the recycled Boomer generation accused of destroying the planet. A word of warning, however. Soylent Gray contains a lot of preservatives.

Partisans

There are some days we just don’t like democrats and republicans, and today is one of those days. That doesn’t mean that we don’t vote like they do from time to time. We even agree with them on occasion. Most of the time we genuinely like the folks who wear the hats or put the stickers on their bumpers.

Pressed for an opinion, we might say that what we really despise is the national organizations that claim to lead the two parties which have come to dominate the country’s narratives. (When do we ever have to press anyone for an opinion these days?) Apparently a lot of people feel the same way, because the single largest group of voters in America identify as independents.

Just shy of a quarter of eligible voters say that they are republicans, and a bit less than a third say they are democrats. These numbers have been in decline over the last 15 years as the level of disgust with politics and politicians has steadily increased. It’s no coincidence that trust in media has fallen in an even steeper trajectory than trust in politicians.

If you really wanted to discuss the subject, we might go on to say that Webster defines “partisan” as “a firm adherent to a party, faction, cause, or person, especially one exhibiting blind, prejudiced, and unreasoning allegiance.” If you want to get technical about it, that’s the real problem with democrats and republicans, or if you prefer, with republicans and democrats. We rarely get that far in the conversation, however. As Steven Covey said, most people don’t listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.

The other day we read an article by John Pavlovitz called “Pick a Hill Worth Dying On, America.” Apparently a lot of people read it. Many people posted it without reading it, which rarely happens, of course. Some of our friends gushed about it. It made us kind of ill.

Wikipedia told us that John is a pastor who writes from a “liberal Christian perspective.” If you love irony as much as we do, your spider sense is tingling right now. When there were just a few Christians in the world, they were considered the most radical of all the liberal groups that the Romans had ever seen, but like Hannah Arendt said, “The most radical revolutionary will become a conservative the day after the revolution.”

Back to the article in question. It does have some positive things to say about good people crossing the lines of politics, faith and race in order to do good things. However, the primary “good thing” we’re encouraged to die on the hill for, is to do whatever is necessary to avert the disaster currently being visited upon us.

You might not be aware of the disaster to which the author refers, and be advised: If you’re not currently experiencing a “paralyzing funk of grief and sadness and disbelief,” then chances are you’re complicit in the litany of evils the article mentions. Or so the author would have us believe.

It’s not our intention to single out this article in an effort to call out liberals or democrats. There are many examples of similar articles written from a conservative or republican perspective (though we stopped reading Fox News when they started reporting Miley Cyrus’ latest fling right below their own righteous indignation section). Such offerings follow a similar pattern that aligns almost perfectly with the Karpman Drama Triangle of victim, rescuer, and persecutor.

Let’s take a short trip around the triangle. The “nazis” are marching in the streets again. We’re tired of being victimized by the nazis and we’re not going to take it anymore, so we’re going to pick a hill to die on to save humanity. Everyone wants to be either a victim or a rescuer, but nobody wants to be a persecutor. Too bad. The triangle is always on the move. The only way to rescue the victims is to persecute the persecutor, which makes us the persecutor and the persecutor becomes the victim.

Around and around we go, from democrat to republican governments and back again. Meanwhile the apolitical types are laughing at us, all the way to the bank, which, after all, is a very, very short trip indeed.

The good pastor’s article was not remarkable in its sanctimony. Not remarkable at all. Conpublicans and reservatives should not feel victimized by it, unless they have forgotten their own insufferable righteousness in their past treatment of Libocrats and Demerals, and by “past” we mean yesterday, though their own pharisaical attitude reached a crescendo when the “Moral Majority” set the agenda in Washington. What goes around has a strong tendency to come around.

We’re waiting, ever waiting, for someone to rediscover a more humble path for the redemption of whatever ills are considered to be plaguing the nation. We might begin with a deep breath of gratitude for the luxury of being able to consider such questions from the air conditioned comfort of our living rooms, minus the distraction of exploding American made munitions around us, or the necessity of carrying a bucket of water on our heads for a few miles so our children can have a drink.

From gratitude we might move on to empathy for our fellow citizens and the admission, as much as it galls us, that they also have a right to their opinions; that those opinions are just as carefully considered as our own, and that they are just as sincere in their efforts to affect change as we are in ours.

It would serve us well not to linger on our disagreements. We have mapped those out quite clearly. Let’s focus instead on our common ground and see if we can expand that.

In the meantime, whenever we encounter a voice reminiscent of a Civil War preacher from either side of the War Between the States, a voice that encourages us to partisanship, a voice that extols us to die on a hill in service of a Great Cause, a voice that opens a broad, indiscriminate, vilifying umbrella over a group of voters or a political party or a way of thinking, a voice that raises straw men and invites us to knock them down, we should ignore that voice.

Better still, we should laugh at it. “There is no compromise with evil,” say the voices of those people standing in the “light.” (Or at least the spotlight. ) We think they doth protest too much. Maybe they are closer to true evil than they would care to admit. So go ahead and laugh. It relieves the stress, and it’s also an ancient “litmus test” of sorts. The devil, said our ancestors, relishes anger, fear, and conflict, but he can’t stand to be laughed at.

Judge for yourself. Here’s the article that provided the helium for my balloon this week (I’m hearing “chipmunk” voices vis-à-vis helium ingestion). Cheer, snarl, or have a good chuckle.

A Little Advice

“Take my advice, Don’t listen to me,” is the first line in the old song, “Hippie Dream,” whined by Neil Young. Most people love or hate Neil and/or his music. Naturally your author is somewhere in the middle, and Mr. Young has penned some unforgettable lyrics.

So in that same spirit, we decided to write an advice column this morning, inspired by the good natured ribbing of a friend. My recommendation would be to heed our advice and ignore it in equal measure.

Why should you listen to advice? Because you have a first class intelligence. A first class intelligence hears the truth, recognizes it as truth and then acts on it. A second class intelligence hears the truth and then verifies it through personal experience. A third class intelligence must repeat the lesson. We all want to fly first class.

Why should you ignore advice? Because much of it has less to do with supporting you and more to do with validating the experience of the giver. Sometimes advice is a passive aggressive hook baited with an innocent suggestion, and for the large number of contrarians who read this column, any sentence beginning with the words “you should” or “what I would do” are automatically suspect.

Should you take advice on relationships? Maybe. It depends on the track record of the giver. If your well meaning friend is on her fourth marriage, simple math would suggest that her best advice is more likely to be on finding a good divorce lawyer rather than connubial bliss. Besides, there are thousands of books available on the subject, though their best advice may very well be on how to get a book published.

If you’re too busy to read and you don’t have any happily married friends to advise you, perhaps I can save you some time. There are two kinds of relationships. For the scientifically minded, we’ll call them ionic and covalent, like the chemical reactions.

In an ionic bond, one molecule has a positive charge and the other, negative. Think of sodium chloride, or table salt. In an ionic relationship, both parties “need” something. “He completes me,” is the motto of the ionic relationship and “opposites attract” is the rallying cry. Ionic bonds tend to be soluble in water, like salt, and ionic relationships have a tendency to dissolve in stormy weather.

In a covalent bond, the molecules are not attracted by a missing electron. Instead, they share a pair of electrons equally. Think of carbon, which has an extremely strong bond. Apply enough pressure and you may produce a diamond.

In practice it’s difficult, at a glance, to tell a lump of rock salt from a diamond in the rough . That’s what dating is for. Just don’t marry the first lump that comes along before you weather the first storm.

We’ll bring our experimental counseling session to a close today with some practical advice. Think back a few weeks ago when you were complaining about how much rain we were getting. Betcha wouldn’t mind a shower or two right now. But you’re not going to get one for a while, not until that big high pressure dome over the southeast decides to move on.

Here’s the practical advice: Pray for rain. Get your property fire wise right now. This dry spell could last a while. Rake those leaves and trim that brush and clean out those gutters.

Here’s some advice for the future: Don’t complain about the rain, ever again and for the rest of your life. Develop the art of gratitude. Some people believe this may actually attract rain. But even if it doesn’t, the art of gratitude makes you a much nicer person to be around on a rainy day.