The state funeral…

When you look for pomp and ceremony, there are few who do it better than the British. They make state occasions look easy – the opening of Parliament, the sovereign’s birthday, and other moments of ceremony go on as if nothing could be more natural. Maybe that’s to be expected in a country that celebrates a monarchy stretching back a thousand years. 

State occasions are different here in our young republic. They tend to be more subdued and perhaps more egalitarian than those carried out by our cousins across the sea. The exception to America’s tendency towards more low key affairs, is the state funeral. It’s the one state occasion when our long ties back to the old world are most on display – and it’s a thing of real beauty. 

From the Old Guard flanking the horse-drawn caisson in procession along Pennsylvania Avenue, to the riderless horse with boots reversed in the stirrups, and the muffled roll of the drums if it doesn’t make your breath catch, are you even really alive? The casket, lain on the Lincoln catafalque, in state beneath the arching dome of the Capitol, with average Americans shuffling past, unnaturally quiet in such a massive space, is one of those sights and moments that you never forget. 

If you happen to be in the DC are over the next couple of days, do yourself a favor and go observe some of these moments – watch the procession to the Capital, wait for a bit in line to pass through the Rotunda and pay your respects. Even if you had political differences with the departed, its an American experience you owe yourself. 

Give a little…

It’s Giving Tuesday and despite my well-earned reputation as a Grinch among men, there are causes I feel strongly enough about to break open my wallet. You won’t find any namby pamby feed the starving or house the poor tomfoolery here, though. In keeping with my basic life philosophy that people are generally awful, but animals are amazing, this year’s donations have gone to:

Cecil County Animal Services – Though minimally staffed as an arm of county government, CCAS does phenomenal work as an open-admission shelter. They aggressively pursue partnership opportunities with local rescue organizations and businesses and are supported by a small, but faithful group of volunteers. I haven’t found a way to “just send cash” as this is a government operation, but they maintain an extensive Amazon Wishlist of things the animals in their care need to thrive. This one has a special spot on the list because one of my own herd got his start with them as a failure to thrive medical emergency kitten. 

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) – IFAW operates here in the US and in countries around the world, intervening to protect habitat and assist animals in need. In their own words, “Our vision is a world where animals are respected and protected. With offices in 15 countries and projects in more than 40 countries, we rescue individual animals, safeguard populations, preserve habitat, and advocate for a better future.” 

Chesapeake Bay Foundation – Chesapeake Bay and its watershed is probably the single geographic element that most defines my beloved home state of Maryland. If you’ve never watched the sun come up over the salt marsh, or spent a summer morning working a trotline for blue crabs, or seen a flight of migrating waterfowl drop down on the water, you’re missing out on some of life’s great pleasures that are all too easy to take for granted as a native son. The Chesapeake Bay Foundation describes their work as: “Serving as a watchdog, we fight for effective, science-based solutions to the pollution degrading the Chesapeake Bay and its rivers and streams. Our motto, “Save the Bay,” is a regional rallying cry for pollution reduction throughout the Chesapeake’s six-state, 64,000-square-mile watershed, which is home to more than 18 million people and 3,000 species of plants and animals.”

Plumpton Park Zoo – Yes, yes. I know places like zoos and aquariums are controversial. True-believer rabid conservationists will insist wild animals should only be in the wild. That’s a fine theory and if places like Plumpton were sending out expeditions to acquire new exhibits from the four corners of the globe, I’d agree. The fact is, most of the animals in a place like this have never set foot in the part of the world where “they’re supposed to be” and can never be reintroduced to that world. They’re here, now. They need supporters and advocates here, now. In a part of the world where most people will only ever see run of the mill domestic animals and pets, places like Plumpton Park play a key role in exposing a population to animals that they will never see outside of a television program. If we can use that as a base to instill an interest in wildlife and wild places, not supporting them would be irresponsible. 

There are a number of other organizations that I like to donate to throughout the year – as specific needs arise in their programs. Those are usually more targeted donations, aimed at helping one particular animal or program along the way. The point isn’t just to single these four out so much as it is to encourage you to find a cause you can get behind – whether that’s with your time, your money, or you social media platform.

There’s no lack of worthy causes, so what are you waiting for?

Smart…

I saw an article this afternoon calling for the development of a “smart toilet.” Let me leave you with that thought for a moment. A. Smart. Toilet.

It’s not enough that the modern toilet needs to have a heated seat, LED mood lights in the bowl, UV self-disinfecting lamps, and a spritz of water up your backside to give you that perfectly fresh feeling. Now we can apparently look forward to an internet-of-things connected loo that evaluates our leavings. I suppose since it’s wi-fi enabled it can communicate with the web-enabled refrigerator and make sure we’re getting more roughage added to the grocery list. It beggars imagination to figure out why a toilet needs to know when, precisely I get up in the middle of the night to take a leak. But there is is, the future out there just waiting for us to catch up.

When I was a kid the old outhouse still stood on the family homestead. Sure, it was being used to store rakes and shovels, but the building itself was still there. It was young enough not to have been rotted away by time and weather. Jump now 30 years later and we’ve technologized even the simple concept of the indoor toilet.

There is an almost endless array of reasons I find the 21st century largely stupid and abhorrent. That this smart toilet is a thing that could even exist has now rocketed to the top of that list.

I seriously can’t get to my little cabin in the woods fast enough.

Joy suckers…

I was served up an article today listing the “10 costumes you must never ever wear for Halloween” unless you want to risk being branded a privileged cultural appropriating racist. Having worn a few of those costumes as a kid, I can only say I’m incredibly thankful to have grown up before everyone started being offended by everything and all dissent can be silenced by simply branding the other person racist. The ideological lock step with which certain segments of the population seem to believe must be adhered to without question or deviation is chilling. Especially when you remember a time when that same group rallied regularly in support of radical free expression in the arts, in public forums, and on the airwaves. Then again, perhaps that really just meant freedom for those enunciating approved, doctrinaire ideas.

Here’s the neat thing about being a grown ass adult: I’m old enough to not have to ask anyone’s permission before wearing anything, especially not when the point of the day is to dress up in such a way as to come as you aren’t. I’m also old enough to remember when the ending of a popular children’s poem was “But names will never hurt me,” though that’s probably a topic for a different post. In any case, I heartily thank the gods I haven’t gotten a cease and desist letter from the punk rockers, or the new wave kids, or the grunge bands demanding that I give up my beloved Doc 1640s. Surely, based on how the idea of cultural appropriation is being applied in the early 21st century, I’m guilty of absconding with late 20th century English heritage, no?

Maybe you won’t hear it anywhere else this year, but you’ll hear it from me – if you want to dress as a samurai, bandit, cowboy, cop, biker, construction worker, sailor, Indian chief, or whatever else happens to tickle your happy place, go forth as you will and enjoy your Halloween festivities. My advice to you is to not let the fact that some small segment of the population wants to act as judge and jury of a self-appointed inquisitorial hurt feelings goon squad get in the way of your enjoying the day. They’ve clearly managed to suck the joy our of their own lives already and you’d be well served not to let them do the same to yours.

Not a sermon, just a thought.

Most problems in the world come down to people…

One of the things I’m not is an expert on the causes and tactics of terrorism. With that said, randomly blowing up people and/or things has never struck me as a particularly effective method of delivering a message or winning converts to your cause. Of course that’s relevant only if your intention isn’t to just get a little mayhem and chaos going for the hell of it.

We’ve got a bit of a history with sending bombs to our political “enemies” here in the States. Some few of you will remember names like Ted Kaczynski, Timothy McVeigh, the Weathermen from “recent” American history. There are others stretching back well into the 19th century and earlier depending on how far you’re welling to stretch certain definitions.

My point is, if you want to be involved in the process, be involved. The kid knocking on doors and handing out flyers in my neighborhood last night was involved. Want to make a difference? Do something that contributes. Want to be slowly be forgotten by history as a crackpot sociopath worthy mostly of being drug out into the street and shot like a rabid animal, drop a few pipe bombs in the mail and hope for the best.

100% American…

Look, so here’s the thing about Senator Warren and President Trump… I just don’t care. Arguing the finer points of an Ancestry.com DNA test makes you both look even more ridiculous than usual. That’s no small task given the two pols in question and yet the two of them have managed to yet again exceed exceptions… or is it that they found a way to nudge the bar just a little bit lower?

It doesn’t matter a lick to me if you’re 1/2 Sub-Saharan African, or 1/3 Anglo-Saxon, or 1/4 Pacific Islander, or 1/1024 Native American. Sure, I guess those are all fun factoids to trot out at parties but beyond that they’re mostly irrelevant. It’s the kind of differentiation that feeds into my general eye-rolling when someone defines themselves as Irish-American, or African-American, or Japanese-American. While interesting from the historian’s perspective, or for those who study mass migration, knowing where your 12x great grandparents came from is largely a “so what” kind of declaration. Congrats, your ancestors were Welsh shepherds. Here’s a cookie.

If you say you want to live in a country where people don’t judge or make assumptions based on your background, heritage, skin color, or ancestral place of origin, trying being “just” a plain old American. No hyphen needed. No percentage necessary. Just tell me you are an American and that’s all I need to know.

On a future without the car…

I read an article today that prognosticated the death of personally owned vehicles and the internal combustion engine within the next 20 years. It made many fine points projecting how much safer, more convenient, less expensive, and environmentally conscience eliminating the traditional family car would be. We could all hail them like an Uber, let them drive us to our destination while sleeping or fidgeting with our spinner, and paying a “nominal tax” for the maintenance and upkeep of this new and exciting public service.

It’s an interesting concept, to be sure. Then, of course I look at how well we’ve managed to maintain the current generation of public infrastructure and wonder what madman would willingly give up his clean and well maintained personal vehicle in perpetuity for the joys of the sights, smells, and sounds of public transportation in automobile-sized formats? I’m thinking of the guys I’ve seen taking a leak on the DC Metro and the noxious mix of whatever it is that makes taxi floors so disgustingly odoriferous. Add in the part that one of these marvelous transportation pods might not be available when and where you need one, and it sounds like a real winner of a plan to me.

Look, maybe it’s the kind of thing that would make some flavor sense for someone living in a dense urban environment or those consciously deciding to forgo privately owning a vehicle – a group that already seems largely served by things like trains, buses, taxis, and ride sharing schemes. For those of us who made the conscious decision to live in a rural part of the country, I have no idea how something like this makes sense. The density of pods needed just to get people in my rural county to and from work would seem to be prohibitive at first blush. Then add in the times you need to have something like a pickup truck to haul trash, or furniture, or firewood, or just to make a trip to the garden center and the plan frays even further around the edges. Are there going to be special freight pods that come with even less unit density than the normal passenger pods and how much inconvenience are people as a group going to tolerate to make this concept work?

It’s an interesting notion, but for the foreseeable future is going to be a hard no from me. I like knowing I have a machine only a few feet away that I can climb into and, with a reasonable amount of maintenance and upkeep, transport myself anywhere on the continent at the time and route of my own choosing. I have no intention of giving that up that level of freedom and convenience to feed someone’s nightmare hellscape dream of a “future without cars.”