Wednesday, April 25, 2012

They're Not on the Level

I want to originate a new word. I think I still have the right to do that in this country. Try though they do, the forces of dictatorship have not yet completely suspended my right of free speech.

When I taught junior high English, I wanted the students to understand the difference between denotation versus connotation, because dictators are clever in the way they initiate a bloodless coup: They can simply insist that a word’s connotation becomes its denotation.

Denotation is the real or literal meaning of a word: “Charles, oldest son of the Queen of England, is a prince.” The word “prince” is denoting his royal title, so it’s literally true.

If, on the other hand I said, “My grandfather was a real prince,” I’d be using the connotation of the word prince, meaning my grandfather was a nice guy, since he held no royal title.

But the new word I want to introduce is fallotation, meaning, the exact opposite of what a word or phrase truly implies. Nothing symbolic; nothing literal. Actually, just a plain lie! Ergo, a fallacious statement.

What entices me to inaugurate this new word is the popularity of the phrase, “Level the playing field.” How many times have you heard someone say that in an attempt to gain an advantage for themselves?

Do they really want the playing field leveled, that is, their opponent starting from the same position as they do, running through the same barriers, overcoming the same obstacles?

Actually, they do not. What they actually want is an advantage. They want to be running downhill while their opponent runs uphill. So they don’t want the playing field level—they want the opposite—they want the playing field skewed or slanted in their favor.

And whenever I hear anyone use that phrase—level the playing field—I assume that they just could not compete on a level playing field. That’s why they want (or need) the field slanted in their favor. They don’t want it level at all. They want it skewed.

So in my new definition, when someone says they want the playing field leveled, they don’t mean the denotation or literal meaning of that phrase. Nor do they want a symbolic image of a level, therefore impartial playing field, which would be the connotation of the phrase.

No, they want the fallotation of the phrase—the reverse; the lie: the fallacious meaning—a skewed playing field.

But when you skew the playing field in anyone’s favor—everyone then loses. And what they lose first is the truth. And I mean truth in the literal sense—not it’s connotation, and certainly not it’s fallotation, but its denotation.

                So the next time you hear someone say, “Let’s level the playing field,” ask them if that’s what they really want—for everyone to start from the same position. My bet is they’re looking for an advantage.

                They’re not on the level.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

It’s a Religion—Naturally!

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
—1st Amendment to the Constitution (1791)

I don’t like my religion being made fun off, and I certainly don’t want to be persecuted for worshiping differently than others.

I celebrate Christmas, Easter, family birthdays, and Christ’s divinity every time I attend Church. I even celebrated the Phillies’ 1980 and 2008 World Series victories.

But I don’t celebrate Earth Day.

I guess it stems from my upbringing. I’m a product of people who grew up during the Great Depression, and matured during World War II.

That sculptured their value system. They wasted nothing. Threw very little away. They certainly reused everything they could. They did it out of necessity and common sense. It wasn’t called recycling in those days. It was called “scrapping,” and it was a trait they insisted their children practice.

Once a week we would load up our wagons with old newspapers and take them to the scrapyard. At less than a penny a pound, it still added up to serious spending money.

Milk was consumed from bottles, and the empties were refilled and reused. Ditto soda bottles—another great source of revenue for us kids. Two cents for every 12-ounce bottle returned, and a whopping nickel for a quart bottle.

Aside from bottles and paper, we recycled rags, metal (lead and copper were particularly profitable), and of course, clothing.

Shoes were re-soled and re-heeled when they wore down. (The poorer kids’ fathers would reverse the heels on his family’s shoes, so when one side was worn down, you could then get similar wear out of the other side.)

Perhaps the most virulent philosophy adopted by that WW II generation was the emphatic resolution that their children should never have to go through what they had. Consequently, their kids were given more education, more privilege, more opportunity, more money, more license.

America’s evolution into a “throw-away” society didn’t begin in earnest until the 1960s, when teens everywhere tried to throw away everything their parents’ generation had held to be precious—especially their value system, and that system was deeply rooted in the Western tradition of Christian religious principles.

Recently, the Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia had to announce the closing of some schools. I just believe that was in large measure caused by a re-directing of adoration.

Where their parents and grandparents adored a resurrected savior, many of the post-WW II children today direct their adoration toward Mother Nature—for some, the only true deity. And that goddess is placed on a plane well above saints, angels, and certainly above a historical carpenter from the Holy Land.

You can see this preference in the elevation of animals to the level of a human being (higher by some organizations), and in the defacto demonization of anything that does not adhere to the precepts of the church of naturalism.

And make no mistake; naturalism is a church, every bit as much as is Lutheranism, Catholicism, or Judaism. The tree supplants the crucifix and the Star of David as their concrete symbol of professed principles. It’s a wonder the ACLU hasn’t figured this out yet.

What irritates most of all is the presumptuous attitude of this congregation. Isn’t this the generation that loaded up our landfills with disposable diapers? Plastic water bottles? Designer sneakers?

Their predecessors washed cloth diapers, drank from glass bottles, and their sneakers were so worn down when they were replaced, there was scant material left for the landfill.

Now naturalists moan about “my planet,” and celebrate special days to illustrate how much they care, and—what’s more annoying—how much those who do not fall into lockstep with their commandments, don’t care.

I don’t maliciously pollute this world; never did.

I don’t waste resources; could never afford to.

I don’t like the idea of knocking down woods to build more condos and strip malls; never made much sense to me, especially when established malls remain partially empty.

But I don’t need a “day” to celebrate the fact that the sensible thing to do is not to be wasteful, clean up after myself, and enjoy more of the great outdoors and less of the great lineup on cable.

As a kid, when I lived in the inner city, we played ball on the street. When I lived in the suburbs, we spent our days exploring the woods, and usually there was a dog or two on safari with us.

We may not have venerated trees, but we knew their worth. There was nothing like sitting in the shade of a big old weeping willow during a warm summer afternoon. We didn’t need a “day” to convince us that this earth was something we should hold on to.

We worshiped neither our pets nor the landscape, but treated both with respect. We didn’t do it so we could be categorized as “green.” It wasn’t our religion; it was just how we were raised. It was our value system.

It’s a shame that the people who started to reject those values 50 years ago now think it’s obligatory to tell their kids that a special day is compulsory to reinforce what was second nature to their ancestors. And they do so with a dangerously sanctimonious zeal.

Disagree with their mandates and they assail with the fervor of a 21st century Torquemada. (How many Earth Day organizers will tell their young charges about one of their religion’s founders: Ira Einhorn—the activist who claimed to have started Earth Day in the early 1970s. Einhorn murdered his girlfriend (not, reportedly, over Earth Day), stuffed her body in a trunk, and then ran away to avoid prosecution in 1981. He is now serving a life sentence for murder.)

I intend to worship the God of my faith. You can worship whatever god you wish. Our individual right is guaranteed constitutionally.

There is, however, no law (yet) against having a sense of humor. So I can only ask that you not make light of the way I attend church on Sunday.

And I’ll try not to laugh when you venerate a tree.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A Proud member of the U.S Hair Force

I’ve been in the company of women most of my adult life…and I don’t mean just dating them.

I was one of the first supervisors in the Philadelphia Police Department to have women assigned to me, and I was one of only eight male supervisors to be called as a witness in the federal trial regarding women in the police department.

When I retired and became a teacher, I was the only male on faculty at a small grammar school in south Jersey.

These things all require some degree of adjustment, but the biggest transformation I had to go through was when I married my wife, Barbara.

When I met Barbara, she was a widow with four daughters—all of whom were still in school. Me? I was a carefree bachelor living with my father.

Can you imagine his reaction when I told him that Barbara and I intended to wed? Just let me say that my dad was a first generation Italian-American with very old-World philosophies. So he expressed some…objection.

But that objection was short-lived, as he soon saw the wisdom of my selection, and, to those who knew my dad intimately, it was obvious that Barbara was the only person who could tell him exactly what she thought without provoking his ire. And believe me, that’s something neither I nor any of my three siblings ever accomplished.

Being a bachelor one day, then the father of four the next, does take a bit of emotional fine-tuning. It also takes something else far more tangible—your own bathroom! That was the only prerequisite I insisted upon before our nuptials.

A friend who had several daughters of his own advised me to simply ignore the fact that I was outnumbered five-to-one. So I tried that…until I awoke one weekday morning believing that I was no longer a cop, but was back in the Air Force. Really!

I had been on the four-to-midnight shift and was sound asleep when I was yanked out of my slumber by the sound of aircraft taxying on the runway—a sound all too familiar to me from my years at an airbase that had its bomber flight line in close proximity to our barracks.

I jumped out of bed thinking I had to get to the flight line before takeoff. It took me less than a minute to realize I had been out of the Air Force for 12 years.

As I walked through the house, I found that all three bathrooms and two of the bedrooms housed the motors that had awakened me; since every female in the house—all five—were simultaneously blow-drying their hair!

My wife and oldest daughter were getting ready for work, and the three younger ones were primping for school. So what I thought was a B-52 getting ready to launch, was something far more powerful—five women getting equipped to face the day.

I quietly went back to bed. I counted myself lucky, because I could never do that in the Air Force.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

It Wasn't My Fault!

As a kid, St. Patrick’s Day was a kind of a semi-holiday and—being Catholic—it was also a semi-holyday. Even those of us who had no Irish blood would grab some green garb (say that fast five times) and for that day, yes, we would all be a little Irish.

Legend says that St. Patrick lived to the age of 108, but he more likely died around the age of 75.

Back in 1982, one of my subordinates asked if he could come in a little later in the morning because it was his policy to attend Mass every day throughout the Lenten season. Well, we made some flex-time arrangements and everything worked out fine.

And I admired him for observing Lent in this way. So much so, that I longed to do something myself and renew that dedication that I had as a youngster when I always gave up something for Lent. So I looked around, and found out that many of the Catholics I worked with did still practice this virtue of abstaining for Lent.

One of my colleagues gave up beer, and since I liked to have an ale or two every day upon returning home from work, I adopted that practice. This year is the 31st Lenten season that I will have avoided my regular ration of grog, and in truth, it gets a little easier every year.

One year, however, I didn’t make it, and that’s understandable, because although Lent is movable, St. Patrick’s Day is not, and you need only check the calendar to discover that St. Paddy’s Day always falls within the 40-plus days of Lent.

But it wasn’t my fault. Actually, it was my wife’s fault. Just like Eve talked Adam into his apple, Barbara talked Jim into his ale.

I was at a St. Paddy’s Day banquet and one of guys at our table (who knew I liked ale, but didn’t know about my Lenten leanings) surprised me by placing a six-pack of my favorite on the table and announcing that he brought it solely for me, since he knew how much I liked a good ale, and of course, there was only beer at the banquet.

I whispered to my wife, “What am I going to do about this?”

“You can’t embarrass him,” she almost scolded.  “It would be ignorant to refuse his generosity in front of everyone.”

So that year—and only that year—I deviated from my Lenten fast. All through the other intervening 30 years, I’ve held my fast faithfully. And this year, I’ve little doubt I’ll make it through another Lenten drought. Noon Holy Saturday is less than a week away.

(A lot of Catholics seem to be unfamiliar with when Lent officially ends. It ends at noon on Holy Saturday, as far as the Lenten fast is concerned—not Holy Thursday.)

As for that one unsuccessful year, I figure God—and St. Patrick—both understand. I just hope the Almighty doesn’t come down too severely on Eve…er…Barbara…for her part in all this.