Liberals and conservatives and…what else?

In America today, all we debate is the schism between Liberals and Conservatives. Whether on the nightly news, the national or local newspapers, online, or at the coffee shop. All we speak about is how far left or how far right politicians, politics, leaders, and common opinions slide along the scale. It’s both frustrating and infuriating! Personally, I want to be able to talk about issues and make belief statements that don’t begin to define what camp I’m in; rather, I’d like it to lead to meaningful dialog between rational people.

And the labels are another thing. What I believe and why I believe it is not something that makes me liberal or conservative. In fact, here’s an example illustrating why I don’t like the labels. If I were conservative, I’d also be tentative. The very definition means “to hold back; to conserve.” That’s not the way I want to live my life, nor is it the way I want our society to evolve. We need to constantly liberate ourselves from old ideas and ideologies. We need to evolve, to gain ground, to search, and discover. These are not conservative actions or strategies.

I also want to be “liberal” without needing everything to be free for everyone in America paid for by everybody else in America. I want to live in a society where I can build personal wealth without it being taxed away, but I also want to able to give it away if I choose.

I want to live in a society that has respect for people and their views. I want to stop legislating for every eventuality. I want to own a gun and have a place to shoot it and for other people to stop being scared that I do. I want people to have rights about their own bodies; rights to live and to die and for those choices to be made by families and the people who love them. I want to be free to read, and to write, and to travel, and to absorb cultures.

Thomas Paine said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” Why, when that was a founding principle around which our government was built, is my liberty under constant threat by my fellow Americans?

photo credit: “Argument” by Poppetcloset, Flickr Creative Commons. No changes made.

Figurine Credit: Gary Taxali


Good or Bad? A conversation.

Is Good the Absence of Bad?

So, the question was, “How was your day?” This is such a benign question, often asked as a place holder before, “What do you want for dinner?” It’s also a short greeting between friends used as a conversation starter rather than a genuine interest in what happened to that person on that particular day. In fact, I’d go so far as to say most people don’t really want to know how your day went. Often, it’s just too much information, especially at the end of the day. I think if someone was honestly interested in what kind of day you’re experiencing, they’d call during the day and ask, “How is your day going?”

Now, I know that kind of interaction would be an imposition in most cases, but at least it would show concern for their experience and give you a chance to help shape the final outcome of their day rather than just hearing about how it went.

Maybe that’s just my brain. My brain likes information and it likes to act on information. It’s not looking for an emotional connection to the information nor to the person giving the information, necessarily. It’s just looking for input to work on until it can gather enough to work on something else.

So, in answer to the question posed, I answered, “Fine, I guess.”

“What does that mean, exactly?” he asked.

“Well, nothing went wrong,” I said, thinking back to the events of the day, “I guess you could say that was good,” was my response. I looked at his expression and I could tell he didn’t get the nuanced variation in my use of the word good.

“Look,” I said, “there are two ways to look at good. Either something good actually happened, or nothing bad happened, which defaulted to good. So without getting into detail about either, the neutral ‘I guess so’ should suffice.”

Again, a puzzled expression appeared on his face.

“Imagine you’re walking home,” I continued, “and you find a ten dollar bill on the ground. Nobody is around so nobody can claim it. It’s just free money. You pick it up and put it into your pocket. Would you say you had a good day?” I asked.

“I suppose,” was the response. “I guess it depends.”

“Depends?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he said. If you really needed the money then it would be a great day. If it was just money I didn’t have and didn’t need because I was wealthy, it would just be a fortunate occurrence; not necessarily good. More like okay. It might be dictated by my mood at the time. For example, what if my dog died that day and I was walking back from burying my longest living companion. I wouldn’t call that a good day, even if I’d tripped over a bag full of ten dollar bills.”

“I’ll give you that,” I relented, “but let’s put all the depends on the back burner for this example and just tell me if you think free money is a good indicator you’re having a good day. A stroke of good luck that brightens your day, even.”

“Okay, then yes. That would be a good day.”

Emboldened, I continued, “now, what if you’re ten years old and you regularly got mugged for your lunch money on your way to school and today no one stopped and mugged you for your lunch money,” I continued, “would you say it was a good day because you didn’t get mugged?”

“Well, there’s a lot of day felt to turn sour, but it sounds like I got a pretty good start,” he said.

“So then, it is possible or permissible to define the absence of bad, as good?” was the question I posed.

There was a long pause.

“I guess it all depends on how hard you look for good. Are you finding good in all that you see, regardless of circumstances? And if you are, does that mean you’re a positive person naturally and trying to always see the good around you, or does it mean your life is fraught with sadness and you must look deeper into each circumstance if you are to find any joy at all?” he said.

I continued my point, “St. Augustine of Hippo wrote that it is only in comparison against evil that we enjoy and admire good even more when we experience it. He was speaking more to the philosophical notion of the absence of good, rather than evil itself. It’s called prevatio boni, in Latin. I merely pose the question in reverse order. If there is no bad for comparison’s sake, can that inherently be called good?”

We both sat in silence, each consider not only our own thoughts on the matter, but trying to digest the argument being presented, perhaps not in opposition, but in inquiry.

Finally breaking the silence, I finally asked, “Are you in a good mood?”

“Right now?” he said.

“Yeah, right now,” I replied.

“I’m not in a bad one,” he said.

“To me, that answer only denotes neutrality. I wonder, as humans, do we interpret neutrality as inherently weighted, however slightly, toward good rather than bad? Do we ever take that statement to mean, ‘I’m on the verge of being in a bad mood, so watch what you say from here on.“

“If it is the former, and you always see goodness, then are you more vulnerable to those circumstances in which evil creeps into your view of the world? Are you less able to demonstrate steadfastness in the face of adversity, whereas those around you, who appear more nonchalant by the realities of the world, continue to function, seemingly without effort or agony? Ultimately, which would you rather be and which would you rather be with?” I asked.


Who are You and Who do you Prefer to Be?


“Kurt Vonnegut is quoted as saying ‘people are who they pretend to be, so be careful9 who you pretend to be.’ As you think about answering that question, ask yourself if your answer is who you really are, or who you’d pretend to be given the situation or circumstance,” I said.

“I’m glad you made that distinction,” he started, “because I think the majority of us give the answer that makes them look the best in the daily face of adversity. So, to be honest, I’d have to be in the situation to know what I’d do exactly. What about you? Who are you?”

I thought for a long moment as if deciding which I am or which I’d like to pretend to be, but in reality I was trying to determine how best to present the answer I knew to be the truth without seeming overly heroic, because that’s not how I’d like to portray myself.

Tools are just tools

With the anticipation of the Dark Tower stories coming to a theater near you, I was reminded of a quote by the Gunslinger, and I am going to paraphrase (with respect to Mr. King): I do not aim with my hand, I aim with my eye. I do not shoot with my hand, I shoot with my eye. I do not kill with my gun, I kill with my heart.

(If I may have one brief comment, I’d like to say that I’m a big fan of Mr. King and have been since childhood. The way he crafts stories and paints my imagination is wonderfully amazing. Movies are great, but his printed words are genius.)

Now, back to the post. Folks who read my all-to-lazy blog know that I don’t have any issues with guns. I like them. I use them. I shoot them. I’m not political and don’t get into heated debates about their use, or their very existence. Of course, I have my opinions regarding all manner of public debate, but I’m not the kind of person that feels compelled to express them openly. We can talk, if you want. But it’s not a subject I’m going to bring up over coffee just because I don’t have another topic on hand.

That being said, I think this quote by Mr. King expresses what I think about gun violence. The people who commits acts of violence only use guns as tools. They could easily use other tools to commit the terrible acts they intend to. Guns are just the means. Folks who have already committed the act with their mind and their heart, only need to choose their tool.

I am saddened when someone has come to the point in their relationships with fellow humans that they choose to kill with their heart. That’s a sad place to be.

Just Pens and Pencils

Writing instruments are to some, an extension of their personality and to others, an extension of their hands. For those who have professions or hobbies that bring them into contact with particular instruments in a use other than jotting meeting notes or writing checks, they tend toward finding something they like and sticking with it. Still, there are people walking around in the world today that have no regard for what they write with. I find that idea strange because I belong to the world of the former, rather than the latter. I have a preference for even the common #2 pencil (Dixon Ticonderoga, but only to a certain length). I also find a preference for common writing instruments as well as expensive one. I have a favorite marker (Sharpie) and a favorite disposable pen (Uniball Signo). I have a preferred lead softness (depending on the activity) and size (also dependent on the activity).

There are things to consider like the paper used (vellum, cotton, muslin, recycled and virgin content), the tooth of the paper (rough, medium, and fine), the type of writing engagement (dipped nib, converted nib, ballpoint, roller ball, technical lead, sharpened lead), the size of the engagement (Parker makes twelve different nib sizes), the angle of engagement (some nibs are custom ground), the type of ink used or the softness of lead preferred (vehicle, pigment, binders, additives, 2B, B, HB, H, 2H, 4H), and the activity being performed (writing, drawing, sketching, technical drafting, calligraphy).

I have used several technical pens and pencils during my time. I enjoy precision so venture into script using fountain pens was a stretch for me. In time, I grew to enjoy feeling the paper beneath my nib. Knowing when my thought weren’t flowing because my pen wasn’t either. I’ve also become enamored with with the technical nature of caring for the fountain pen. Disassembling, cleaning, reassembling, and loading the converter is a welcome and enjoyable aspect to ownership. The same is true of technical pens and pencils. After use, they are cleaned and put away rather than just set aside. The better the equipment, the better the maintenance, the better the experience.

Use is another important factor to consider. I enjoy rolling a technical pencil in my fingers as I draw the line, striving to keep the tip of the lead as evenly worn all around the edge, thereby drawing the perfect line weight stroke after stroke. Equally, I enjoy chiseling the point to make sure some lines are thin while other enjoy the broadness of graphite on paper. These are all aspects to using the writing instrument as you like, bending the tool to meet your expressive needs.

Sometimes we gravitate toward expensive instruments with particular a build list for use with expert, as well as everyday, tasks. Sometimes not. It’s really individual. The next time you pick up a common writing instrument, feel the weight in your hand. Spin it in your fingers to acquaint yourself with its physicality’s. It could change the way you live (or, at least, the way you write about living)!

Image by Kamujp, Flickr Creative Commons, No alterations.


Many people around the world, who don’t have gun rights or property rights or public lands, don’t understand the American gun culture. They always ask why the per capita gun ownership numbers are so high. How is it that America is in love with the gun? That’s because they don’t stop to consider the context.

I can’t speak for the whole of America, and certainly never having lived in the giant cities of the United States, I can’t give any insight, but in the Great Plains and the American West, we have a lot of land. When I say that, I mean that we live in places where our neighbors live miles (kilometers) away. Aussie’s and people living in Africa probably understand what I mean. Because we have so much room, and that room is occupied by many game animals and few humans, we have a history and culture dating back more than 100 years (that’s old for us) where we actively hunt. Today, some hunt for trophies, but most hunt for food. It’s not that we need to, necessarily, although I suppose there are probably some that still do. We enjoy the sport and the meat. We plan to fill our freezers two or three times a season. We like the idea and practice of self-sufficiency. We like free food. We like feeding our family.

To that end, everyone in our families knows how to operate guns. We shoot shotguns and rifles, and we’re familiar with all manner of handguns. My grandmother carried a .38 caliber revolver in her car to shoot rattlesnakes around the house in south Texas. She was protecting her children, not her second amendment rights! But without that right, she would not be able to do that without breaking the law. Could she have killed it with a hoe? Sure! But who wants to get within five feet (1.5m) of a seven foot (2.1m) snake?

Yesterday, I went shooting with my son. Since the age of seven, he’s been shooting guns. He enjoys the plinking of a .22 caliber rifle, but as pulled the trigger on a 5.56 x 45 NATO and a 7.62 x 51 NATO. He likes small-framed pistols but has shot a 9mm, .40 cal and a .45 caliber handgun. All of this is to say that we Americans (at least the ones I hang around with) don’t have guns because we’re crazy. We have them because we like them. We like to shoot them, clean them, operate on them. We like to participate in competitions with them. We like to hunt with them. We have guns that perform different tasks. Could we own just one? Sure. But why? We could also only have one car or one child. But why? We have the means to have more than just one, so why stop at one? Some people have more than one house. Why would a family need more than one house? Because they want another one and they can afford another one.

So, yes. America has a gun culture and there are many people who have and use guns regularly who don’t also carry out nefarious deeds in the dead of night. Therefore, next time there’s some school shooting or bell tower incident in the States. Remember, we’re not all crazy; just that one person was. They intended to inflict harm. They had purpose. and unfortunately, they used a gun to commit horrible acts of violence.

Photo by John Reece. No alterations.

People We Know (but really don’t)

Every day for the past five or six years, I have visited the blog of Mr. Steve Tilford. He was born into a regular family in Topeka, Kansas in the 1960’s. Through good genetics and  a willful spirit, he began spending his time and childhood energy enjoying the outdoors and riding his bicycle. It was because of this that he found his way into bicycle racing and soon became a young professional athlete.

He traveled the nation, the continent, and the world racing bicycles for various teams, and when he retired from the professional world with a list of palmarés in road biking, mountain biking (including an induction into the mountain bike hall of fame), and cyclocross (Masters World Champion), he continually repeated it all for fun. There are many people who have stories to share about their experiences meeting and racing with Steve.

The word “stories” is a good segue into Steve’s blog, Not only did he invite you into his daily life, which was filled with traveling, riding, skiing, and racing, he also shared how something that day reminded him of the days when he was in this race or that, a ride here or there, or something he’d learned from one of the vast array of American professional riders in many disciplines. His head was filled with remarkable stories for those of us who read it daily and only wished to be on the fringes of competitive racing that so many of us either enjoy or aspire to. Many times, folks would ask him to write down this vast array of stories and publish a book; they wished he would capture both the narrative of a first-hand account of some historic race, or to impart the lessons learned, knowledge gained, and wisdom accrued from living such a life.

When I opened my browser this morning, I found a post from Steve telling us that he and his good friend Vincent, were driving from Utah where they’d been mountain biking the past week, back to Vincent’s house where they would plan their next adventure. Sadly, and that is the word that sparked this entry, when I opened my browser this evening I saw a post from Vincent: Steve and Vincent and Steve’s dog Tucker, were involved in a late-night auto accident and Steve lost his life in western Colorado.

When I read that my jaw hung open and I genuinely felt sad. Yes, I have personally met, talked with, and raced against Steve Tilford. But like so many other that can say the same thing, I didn’t know him. Today, I am sad that a person I never really knew, but kept track of daily for the past half decade, lost his life. I have lost a daily honorific ritual. The cycling community has lost a wealth of knowledge. For all close to Steve, I send my most heartfelt condolences. For me…I think I’ll go ride.

R.I.P. Steve Tilford

American Bison

Bison are primarily prehistoric creatures. They have not been bred and manipulated to meet industry or customer demands. Instead, they have been left to live as wild a life as elk or deer, moose or caribou. Not even nature has changed the design since we only have two varieties alive in the world today, the European Bison and the American Bison.

When the land masses were connected, bison freely moved between the Asian and North American continents numbering in the millions of animals. Before the age of the modern guns, herds in the five and sometimes six digit size, were commonplace on the plains of USA and Canada (before they were nations). They ranged from just below the Arctic Circle to present-day Mexico. Today, they live on public lands and as part of private herds.

While they have never been truly domesticated, they have been managed. Separated from the commercial cattle herds for health reasons, some ranchers today raise them to market for the niche meat industry. People who want to witness these massive animals must visit zoological gardens or nature preserves because of their scarcity. But specifically because they have not been commercialized to the same degree as American meat cattle varieties, (and since they were nearly hunted to extinction in the 19th century) they have become rare.

To me, it is tragic that an animal that so symbolized America and the American West that it once graced the U.S nickel, would today be relegated to history and lore. I find these animals to be both brilliant and beautiful. Not brilliant in the sense that they are smart or clever, but that they survive the harshest climates and continue to survive as a species for thousands of years.

As exciting as seeing roadside wildlife, spotting a herd of bison always compels me to stop and draw in the wonderment of our past pioneer spirit of freedom and tenacity, as embodied in the American Bison. I’m glad they’re mostly still living a free life. To think that such an animal should be owned is almost a criminal thought. The American Bison is truly an awesome spectacle!


Books and Reading

I’m reading a good book right now. I haven’t finished it so there are no spoilers in case you’re reading it, too. And, I won’t be reviewing it until much later, either. It’s called Tales From the Radiation Age by Jason Sheehan. It’s an entertaining story set in an apocalyptic future. It mixes science and fantasy, and the author uses almost every creative muscle in his body to describe the masses of imaginary creatures and situations that the main character encounters.

The reason I’m writing about it today is because I recognized something about my reading style  that I sort-of knew, but now only proudly declare: I like reading out loud!

When we’re children learning to read, we are asked to read aloud to allow the instructor to know we’re actually reading and we’re pronouncing the words correctly. That’s the technical aspect of reading.

What some people develop is a cadence to reading aloud. They are practiced enough to know how to add inflection and feeling, to take dramatic pauses and add make the story more enjoyable for the audience. I’m sure that’s what voice actors do for a living. Well, I like to do this, too. And, I’m fairly good at it, if you don’t mind me saying so.

I’d like to think I started getting good when I read to my son when he was little. But what I suspect happened transpired when I was still in university. I would read aloud to myself while pacing up and down academic corridors late at night in an effort to understand, and sometimes memorize, material and information. I chalked it up to being an aural learner. Perhaps I am, but now I’m finding I enjoy pleasurable reading in an auditory way. That is to say, I like reading to myself. Now here’s the tricky part; I don’t listen to audiobooks!

It’s not that I don’t like them or have some artisanal need to smell the pages of a new paperback. Nor do I eschew technology. I simply like to see, process, and speak the written word. If you haven’t read out loud in a while, try it. Are you any good at it? Were you ever? Practice a little and see what happens. Who knows? Perhaps we’re both voice actors with unfound careers awaiting us!

Photo from Flickr Creative Commons: Boston Public Library. No modifications.


There’s a lot to unpack in that word. It can mean a thousand things in a thousand different contexts, but for me, it’s life. During the economic depression of the 2008 housing crisis in America, thousands of people were laid off from their jobs and forced to find work elsewhere. Many tried to stay in their fields and some were able to do that. Many, however, were forced to try their hands at something new. Something they were capable of, and perhaps even trained for, but hadn’t explored until then.

Skills are important in any life. We gather them through schooling, work, and life experiences. Some are innate in our personalities and we need only recognize and cultivate them to add them to our list of useful tools. What makes skills particularly useful in life is the part they play in reinvention. What happens to a person who decides to reinvent?

I have read and heard stories of people who move through life being unsettled. They seek more and different opportunities that are both within and outside their spheres of influence and understanding. Many go back to school to learn new skills and trades; some opt to move into another employment opportunity and explore it manually. But the underlying question I struggle with, and it’s the same one that some teenagers face when graduating from high school, is what do I want to do? Perhaps the difference between me and high school grads, is my accumulation of knowledge and experience. Those things help me differentiate between what I think I can do and what I know I can or can’t do.

But maybe that’s the hitch! Grads often see the world wide open without borders or constraints. They see their opportunities as vast and endless and only seek to explore what catches their eyes and interests, not what fits neatly into their toolbox of skills and abilities. Perhaps the difference is rhyme versus reason. What do my dreams say and what does my mind accept? Isn’t this the age-old question? Do we not all struggle with this very question at least once in our lives? Sometimes the question is as simple as deciding whether we want that Snickers and whether it’s better for our diet if we don’t. Other times it’s pausing to consider how fun the Corvette would be to own, on our way to purchasing that used pickup that fits our budget and our needs. Heart versus logic.

But how does this question get answered at the life-level? Differently for everyone, is the obvious answer. I love questions like this and the only thing that makes them more enjoyable is when there’s more at stake than a Snickers. I don’t mean that I crave the unknown and the risky. Not at all. What I mean is that, when decisions have magnitude and one has time to ponder the eventualities, it’s a real treat to entertain.

So, what life-changing decisions are you thinking about?

Photo by Flickr user Morgan. No modifications made.