You Gotta Have Heart

Today’s most interesting news, some of which is partially true:

Former Vice President Dick Cheney told reporters today that the U.S. should withdraw all troops from the Middle East immediately, wealthy Americans should share their money with the poor, and pink is the best color for “world peace” posters, if they also have little yellow flowers on them. Doctors are checking on the identity of the donor for Cheney’s recently transplanted heart.

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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that Congress may lawfully order all Americans to buy broccoli, but they don’t have to eat it. First Lady Michele Obama criticized the decision, saying, “What’s the point of paying for something you don’t use?”

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Rats larger than your average house cat are invading the Florida Keys. The Gambian pouched rat is a giant African rodent accidentally introduced into the area by a local exotic animal breeder. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at least a few dozen are running wild. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said, “Oohh, mommy, can I have one? Pretty please?”

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The jackpot in Friday’s Mega Millions lottery drawing has risen to an estimated $500 million, the largest in the game’s history, after Tuesday night’s drawing produced no jackpot-winning ticket. Congress voted Wednesday to confiscate the entire jackpot under authority of the “commerce clause” and spend it on a blue-ribbon panel to study how to lower the national deficit.

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The National Security Agency’s new, $2 billion cyberspying facility in Bluffdale, Utah, will be able to intercept every phone conversation, every email, every internet search, every tweet, and every word whispered during pillow talk from every American everywhere. Former Vice President Dick Cheney said, “Stop bothering me, I’m watching Dancing with the Stars.”

 

Inner Peace = World Peace?

In observance of the 2012 Apocalypse predicted by the Mayans, I offer the following updated selection from my co-authored book, “Travel Within: The 7 Steps to Wisdom and Inner Peace.”  It’s one of the few blogging times I don’t bother trying to find humor in the situation…

The “Doomsday Clock,” as estimated by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, stands at five minutes to midnight, which suggests that nuclear Armageddon is not far off.

The good news is that the Doomsday Clock doesn’t always tick in the same direction. We can force it backward. In 1953, after the U.S. and Soviet Union both tested thermonuclear devices within a nine-month span, the Doomsday Clock stood at 11:58 p.m., leaving us just two “minutes” from annihilation. In subsequent years, events like the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty earned us 10 extra “minutes” of breathing room.

The Doomsday Clock was adjusted forward after the attacks of 9/11/01, and we clicked one minute closer to death again in January, due to instability in Iran and North Korea. By whatever system of measurement you choose, we’re running out of time. Something must change at the fundamental level of human nature if we are to survive.

Shi’ite creed anticipates the return of the 12th Imam, known as the Mahdi, the righteous descendant of the Prophet Muhammad. His return is expected to be preceded by cosmic chaos, war, bloodshed and pestilence. After this cataclysmic confrontation between the forces of good and evil, the Mahdi is supposed to lead the world into an era of universal peace.

Christians tell a similar story in different terms: the Second Coming of Jesus, the End of Time and Judgment Day. Different sects believe different versions. Latter-Day Saints, for example, are convinced that we have already entered our “last days.”

Do we really need to find ourselves up to our knees in blood before salvation arrives? And is it really necessary for us to rely on an outside power to save us, like Jesus, Buddha or the 12th Imam?

What if the answer were actually within ourselves? What if the physical and metaphysical paths of inquiry – science and faith – led to the same place? What if God, love, heart, brain, man, woman, animal, vegetable, mineral, matter and void were really all just different expressions of the same force?

You could call that force anything you like – energy, God, the Tao, Allah or, as George Lucas did in his “Star Wars” movies, simply “the Force.” I believe this force exists and connects us to everything else in the universe as a common family. We’re all parts of the same whole.

More importantly, I believe this force is driven by a natural tendency to balance itself. The simplest demonstration of this is the way a spinning object “insists” on becoming a sphere.

Physicists have determined that planets, stars and galaxies form when particles of matter, driven by basic physical forces, naturally coalesce into spinning objects. These objects may start out lumpy and oblong, but the longer they spin, the more balanced they become.

Your perception of the Earth may be one of rugged terrain, tall mountains, deep oceans and vast deserts. Not a perfect sphere by any means, is it? But it’s all a matter of perception. If the Earth were shrunk to the size of a billiard ball and placed in your hand, its surface would look as smooth as a real billiard ball. That’s how insignificant Mount Everest is, in the grand scheme.

We are spinning toward balance and perfection, both as a planet and as a species. It is our natural tendency.

But that doesn’t mean we’ll reach our destination. Galaxies and solar systems can collide and destroy each other. So can civilizations.

No one will ever write a book capable of stopping an asteroid from smashing into our planet and triggering our extinction. But perhaps someone can write a book that will stop us from smashing into each other and triggering our own extinction.

We must take hope wherever we can find it. If we can build a rocket capable of destroying or diverting a “doomsday asteroid” so it doesn’t annihilate us, we must do so. And if we can build peace – personal, inner peace that leads to peace between neighbors, tribes, nations and religions – we must do so.

Taliban to U.S.: You Guys Are Scary

On Thursday, monkeys fell out of the sky, the Obama Administration balanced its federal budget, and the Taliban broke off peace talks with the U.S. because WE’RE “shaky, erratic and vague.”

OK, only one of those things is true.

The Taliban — the guys who brought you civilian massacres, terrorist bombings and horrific oppression of women, not to mention opium and human trafficking — might be telling us, “Sorry, but you Americans are WAY too violent for us.”

We have met the enemy, and it is …?

In the wake of a U.S. Army sergeant’s mass murder of 16 Afghan villagers, Taliban leaders announced they have suspended preliminary peace negotiations with the United States. President Hamid Karzai is urging NATO troops to leave Afghan villages, while the BBC reporrts, “U.S. officials deny any major rift.”

U.S. officials seem to be involved in a lot of denial lately.

Ron Paul, a presidential candidate whose views on foreign policy are often viewed from both the right and left as dangerous and naive, recently made these observations: “We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke … We’re there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves.

“We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there? So I would (favor) a foreign policy that takes care of our national defense, that (says) we’re willing to get along with people and trade with people, as the founders advised. There’s no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world.”

U.S. officials deny any major rift.

“Could You Upchuck the Carrot, Please?”

True story from guest blogger:

After attempting to give blood — which results in cold sweats and that woozy feeling — I stop at Safeway on the way home. While rushing through the produce aisle, I grab a carrot to boost my blood sugar, and I eat it while continuing to shop. I put the stub of the carrot in the bag with my leaf lettuce.

I tell the cashier about the carrot. He says he has to weigh the carrot so he can charge me for it.

“I ate the carrot,”  I explain helpfully.

“I have to charge you for the carrot,” he insists.

“I ate the carrot.”

“But I have to charge you for the carrot.”

“That’s fine, but how can you weigh a carrot that I just ate?”

“Miss, I must charge you for the carrot.”

I turn from the cashier and look at man behind me in line in hopes he can act as a translator. He rolls his eyes.

I excuse myself from the line and return to the produce department. I find two carrots that appear to be the same weight as the one in my stomach and return to the Carrot Nazi.

“It was about this size. I’ll pay for them all.” He rings me up for 22 cents.

Moral: Eat your carrots … but not in the supermarket.

The Birth of the Blog

I Facebooked for 7 years without ever posting an actual word myself. Then I was told that makes me a Lurker. Oooh, sounds icky. I just prefer listening to talking. Never learned a thing when I was talking. I’d rather see what you have to say.

But I began posting a bit, just to soothe the finger-pointers. Then I realized, hey, I’m a writer. Been writing professionally since I was 16, way before you were born. Maybe I should start a blog.

At first, the false humility in me said, “Nobody cares what you think about anything.” Then I thought, “Sober up. You’re a veteran human being, You’ve interviewed U.S. Presidents, traveled the world, talked with newsmakers and criminals from Muhammad Ali to O.J. Simpson to Frank Sinatra to Bill Clinton. Surely you must’ve learned something  worthwhile in the last five decades as a journalist, father, husband, brother, friend, actor, artist, drummer and ink-stained wretch.”

Yes. I’ve learned that must’ve isn’t a proper contraction, but if you write like (or perhaps as) people really talk, it’s easier to read and more folksy.

Hence, The Blog in two folksy categories: “Diary” (in hopes you will find common threads within your own life), and “Commentary” (my take on news, entertainment, sports and anything else that bites me). I will also be posting reviews.

I hope it doesn’t bite.

Did a Solar Flare Crash the Internet?

The Mayan Apocalypse End of Days Armageddon 2012 began with an internet crash Thursday morning caused by a ginormous solar flare that bombarded Earth. Or not.

John Cusak isn’t rushing to the giant ark-ships hidden in China just yet. But there WAS a vibration … a solar flare that bathed you and me and everyone else in bursts of charged particles known as “coronal mass ejections,” which doesn’t sound like it’s good for you.

And the internet DID crash for about two hours, at least here in northwest Washington. And this is exactly what “they” are afraid of. “They” (and you know who you are) have been preparing for an astronomical solar event that will leave “large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year,” said Daniel Baker of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years.”

My internet goes dark for two hours and I momentarily feel lost, but I can read a book (which is what I did) or watch TV or go to the store. But if the sun (or aliens or a Chinese  hacker) crashes the entire power grid, how long would it be before we’re back in the Stone Age? Right. About 19 seconds.

“The sun has an activity cycle, much like hurricane season,” Tom Bogan, director of the U.S. Space Weather Prediction Center, told National Geographic. After “hibernating for four or five years, not doing much of anything,” the sun began waking up about a year ago, Bogdan said. Astronomers, communications companies, governments and “they” are watching very carefully.

The Obama Administration is believed to be ramping up a program to issue free, human-sized condoms that everyone can roll down over their heads and bodies to shield them from the “coronal mass ejections.” It would be funded by the Catholic Church’s insurance company.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-unemployed), quoted out of context, said, “Look, this is simply someone trying to impose their values on somebody else, with the arm of the government doing so. That should offend everybody. I mean, coronal mass ejections? Come on. That’s a matter for the private sector.”

Review: 5-star Book Light

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Mighty Bright Blue Xtraflex 2 LED Book Light

Good, versatile light, March 3, 2012

I’ve bought four of these so far, my whole family likes them. The price is right.

Pro: it can clip to a Kindle or any e-reader, as well as any size book. The flex neck lets you put the light exactly where you want it. It has 2 bulbs and you can turn on one or both, which is like adjusting the brightness to your liking. I normally need just one bulb lit, even in a completely dark room, but when the batteries grow weak, turning on both bulbs gives me more hours of readable light before the batteries go dead. The LED lights allegedly will last a lifetime. I also use this as a mini-flashlight sometimes.

Con: Batteries must be replaced. I tried the Mighty Bright light that comes with an AC Adapter, which didn’t work quite right and I returned it, but I also realized that being plugged into a wall isn’t always practical when you’re reading in bed, or anywhere else for that matter. The battery version is better. I seem to get a lot of reading hours before having to change batteries, so it’s a minor quibble.

Review: 5-star Blu-Ray Player

Panasonic DMP-BDT210 Integrated-Wi-Fi 3D Blu-ray DVD Player

It’s Getting Better All the Time, March 3, 2012

This is my first Blu-Ray player, just stepped up from an Oppo standard DVD upconverter which was outstanding, but this is even better, and not just because of Blu-Ray. “Avatar” looks and sounds amazing on this, played on a 65-inch Panasonic plasma. I got the DMP-BDT210 because (a) the price was right, (b) it ranks high in most pro ratings and reviews, and (c) if I decide to go 3D with my TV, I’m ready.

Meanwhile, I’m playing lots of standard DVD’s on this, and they look near-HD quality. I’ve also upgraded some of my favorite standard DVD movies to Blu-Ray versions and done comparisons of the picture quality. Blu-Ray is of course superior, but the difference between my standard-def “Matrix” and “Star Wars” movies and the Blu-Ray versions is not dramatic enough to make me want to replace my other DVDs with Blu-Ray. I’m sure it’s because the DMP-BDT210 does such a good job of upconverting.

I’m also enjoying the wireless Internet feature. I used YouTube to watch an entire BBC series on the big-screen TV in our media room on a La-Z-Boy recliner, and I could never sit for that long in my desk chair watching video on a small computer screen.

Review: 4-star DVD, “Core Stability Training”

Core Stability Training

Strong training, weak presentation, March 3, 2012

This DVD offers important training guidance for everybody, whether you have low-back issues (as I do) or not. It’s like having a good, sound physical therapy program on DVD, ready when you are. The exercises and stretches are clearly demonstrated, and the emphasis on proper technique is excellent; I realized I’ve been doing some of these exercises wrong. A strong core will improve anybody’s fitness, health, energy and quality of life. My only quibble is that DVD menus and presentation are low-tech and a bit unfocused, as if Liebenson didn’t put a lot of thought, time or money into it … yet he charges $27 for the DVD. It would be a good deal at about half that price.

 

Review: 5-star Book, “Imperfect: An Improbable Life”

Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Damn near perfect, March 2, 2012

A captivating, inspirational memoir by one of the finest human beings I’ve ever met. I was a beat writer covering the Angels during Jim Abbott’s career and found him humble, kind, honest and classy — four traits very rare among the pro athletes I knew during 30 years as a sportswriter. His book reflects all those qualities and more, and co-author Tim Brown crafts the material with skill. Alternating chapters move us from a blow-by-blow account of Abbott’s no-hitter with the Yankees to his remarkable life story. Without that no-hitter, Abbott’s fame might not warrant a best-selling memoir, yet I found the game recap boring compared with his life saga. Abbott tells his story warts and all, without self-promotion. It’s not a gossipy insider’s tale, more like G-rated truth. But it sings with pathos and passion. You don’t need to love baseball to love this book. It ought to be No. 1.