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stop_sign

 

What do a stop sign, the death of Ferguson’s Michael Brown, the Israeli/Gaza situation, and the price of tea in China have in common?

A Google Earth view of Oz shows that there is not a single stop sign anywhere. And that makes sense since there are no cars in the Land of Oz. However, in the real world in 2009, there were approximately 856,373,373 metal stop signs posted on US roads in the continental USA.

If you’ve ever watched drivers at or approaching a stop sign, you are observing a microcosm of human nature. Some drivers come to a complete stop that lasts a full five or six seconds before proceeding while some sort of stop before stepping on the gas. Then you have drivers who barely slow down before going on their merry way. And of course there are those drivers who totally ignore the stop sign.

Forget the official rules that govern a stop sign. It’s all comes down to perception. And we all know that perception is reality…for most of us.  But I think there’s more to stop signs than just perception.  I think what we think about stopping at a stop sign is an indication of how we think about most things. It’s called rightful thinking which means whatever we think…is right. And the rest of the world be damned.

We apply stop sign-thinking to most everything in life, from the big to the little. Take Ferguson, Missouri’s Michael Brown.  Some people think of him as a tragic victim of racism. Some think of him as another Rosa Park, sparking a revitalized interest in civil rights. Some people, on the other hand, think of him as a troublemaker.

There probably isn’t an American who doesn’t have an opinion on Michael Brown’s death or murder. Most opinions are just that. Opinions. And while there is nothing wrong with opinions…in fact the exchange of differing opinions often leads to a better understanding of a situation…opinions are often a matter of perception. Like stopping at a stop sign.

The same stop sign-thinking can be applied to the world’s opinion on the current fighting going on between Hamas and Israel.  People think that what they think is right…and end of story.

And the price of tea in China? What does that have to do with stop signs, Michael Brown and the current Middle East conflict? Well, consider the etymology of the expression: Usually when someone does not think your current statement has to do with the conversation at hand they can ask, “What does that have to do with the price of tea in China”?

That’s usually what people say without saying those exact words when discussing important issues. People usually think other people’s opinions are either irrelevant or wrong. But how will we ever move forward unless we are all in agreement with the way we come to draw conclusions?* 

Until that happens there will be other Michael Browns, continued fighting in the Middle East and people who carelessly race through stop signs.

* We don’t always have to agree on something, but we do have to agree on how we agree or disagree.

 

TMI on the YBR

TMI

I don’t know how news spread from one part of Oz to another, but I do know that means, modes and methods of communication were quite limited. And while I could go on and on listing the benefits and values of the many forms of communication and social media that we take for granted today, I have this sinking feeling that we are suffering from too much information.

 There was a time before the modern era of mass communication in America when word traveled slowly and newspapers were mostly home grown.  What happened a short hundred miles away happened in a vacuum.  The impact of even “universal” news wasn’t felt in all parts of the country all at once.   Today, if someone sneezes in Riyadh, someone in Sydney is saying “God bless you”  thirty seconds later, and in less than a minute a video is going viral about a contagious disease in Saudi Arabia, and CNN has dispatched a crew to cover the event as it is unfolding.

 I am a firm believer in information and the “proper” spread of it. While I write this blog the small city of Ferguson, Illinois is being literally torn apart over the shooting of a young black man by a white police officer. I will refrain from adding my two cents because then I will be guilty of what I believe it the inherent problem with communication in the Twitted age we live in. I will limit my comments to observations without prejudice.

 Not that the incident doesn’t deserve the attention it is getting, but I fear that the information that is washing over us with the speed of a tsunami, is drowning us in a sea of valid information, misinformation, hearsay, lies, innuendos and most of all biased reporting.

 Information is supposed to provide us with a full understanding of a situation in such a way that we can make “an informed decision.”  Because we only know the end result of what happened we are all guilty of trying to fill in the missing pieces with haphazard guesses based on our own prejudices and points of view.

 No matter how much information is flowing on the Ferguson incident, most of us are really unprepared to make any valid comments. I know I’m in no position to say anything because I not only don’t know all the facts, I don’t know enough of the fiction involved.

 Fiction?  Yes. I believe that fiction is not limited to false information. Fiction is the back story of who we are and why we respond to things we do. Fiction is a result of making up stories to live by. Sometimes they are coping mechanisms, but more often than not, they are excuses and the reasons why we often blame other people for our current condition.

 Facts have a way of playing themselves out. Facts can be turned inside out and upside down. Facts, if they stand the test, can withstand any and all assaults.  But fictions, on the other hand, are slippery. They hide from the light of truth. They often masquerade as facts, but in the end, they are revealed for what they are…the lies we like to tell each other.

 That’s what scares me most about the speed at which facts and fictions fill the air.  We don’t like to face the facts because they challenge the story we have come to believe as truth.

 The wound that was opened in Ferguson this past week will fester and very possibly become infected, thereby setting race relations back 100 years.

 Did I say 100 years?  About a 100 miles away and 106 years ago…in August, Springfield, Illinois was the scene of a race riot that nearly brought the city to its knees.  Two incidents sparked the riots. A black man was arrested for breaking into the house of a white man who pursued the black man only to have his throat slashed. A little over a month later a white woman accused a black man of rape. (The woman eventually retracted her story.)

 The white citizens of Springfield took the law into their own hands and stormed the black sections of the city.  Some 12,000 whites, mostly men, took part in the riots.  Homes were burned, black businesses were destroyed and people were killed. The governor off Illinois had to send in the 5000 militia to restore order.

 In the end, 40 homes and 24 businesses were destroyed. And worse than the loss of property, seven people (five white and two black Americans) were dead.

 Did any good come out of it?  The riot is considered to be the event that led to the formation of the NAACP, an organization created to “to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate racial hatred and racial discrimination”

 The fiction in the Springfield riots of 1908 is the same fiction that is woven into the Ferguson riots of 2014. It is the fiction of a prejudice that is not limited to one race and one race alone. The fact of the matter is that people on both sides of the coin don’t want to face the facts, preferring to believe only what they want to believe.

 And to the millions of people who never gave Ferguson, Illinois a second thought before, are washing their heads with the water polluted by misinformation.

 This whole messy affair leads me to conclude with one comment: Truth is deader than the dinosaur. Tweet that. Post that on Facebook.

vinniebegley:

Although the price of gold has gone up and down…many times…since I first posted this blog a little more than three years ago, I believe, in my humble opinion, a blog worth revisiting.

Originally posted on Along The Yellow Brick Road:

Since the dollar as we know it is no longer worth what it used to be worth, there’s been a lot of press on the value of gold. With the price of gold currently going for $1,500 an ounce, I got to thinking about a 1915 two and a half dollar gold coin I have in my coin collection. It probably weighs about .25 ounces…or a little less, making it worth between $350 and $375. As a coin, however, in fine condition, it would sell for about $285.

The math is simple. My coin is worth more as gold than it is as a coin.

That got me thinking about the concept of value and worth on the YBR. And for the purpose of this “blagh” I’m only using my gold coin as a metaphor for the value and worth of our lives on the YBR.

How much is a…

View original 424 more words

brains

 

The text of the address delivered by the Scarecrow of Oz to the members of the United Nations in the summer 0f 2014

 

Before I begin to insult the intelligence of the people of planet Earth, let me tell you that Oz did have its problems. Once ruled by four witches….two good and two bad…and governed by a humbug, the residents of Oz were not living on the same page. The long-suffering Munchkins, who always believed they got the short end of the stick, were small in number compared to the people of Emerald City who believed they were in charge. The constant feuding between these two peoples made it very difficult for the other inhabitants of Oz to live in harmony. The Winkies, Quadlings, Field Mice and the Porcelain people in the China Country had their differences, but only rarely took up arms to settle their differences. The same can’t be said for the Kalidahs, those monstrous beasts with bodies like bears and heads like tigers, and the Fighting Trees. They shared the same territory but could not live together. Their differences they said were too great so they fought…constantly. And lastly there were the Winged Monkeys, a most maligned people. Having lived under the cruel Wicked Witch of the West, they had no rights. They were forced to do her bidding. But once the Wicked Witch was liquefied, they emerged as the great peacekeepers of Oz, and to this day they continue to fight….using words, not weapons…to help the people of Oz resolve their differences.

Having spent the past two years as a visiting professor at Harvard, and having had the opportunity to travel the world and meet the people of earth, I have to admit that you are an embarrassment. You live on a beautiful planet. You have been blessed beyond belief. But still, after thousands of years you are still uncivilized.  You claim to believe in a God that is all good and all loving, but instead of honoring your God, you make a mockery of this eternal being by shedding blood in his/her name.

The current situation in your Middle East tells me how stupid you people are. A good number of you are siding with the Palestinians…for what you believe are good and just reasons, A good number of you are aligned with Israel….for what you, too, believe are good and just reasons. The Arab and the Jewish people are shedding blood over what…a piece of land in the desert?  The people in the region believe that they are doing God’s bidding. These people are fighting a war that is almost as old as mankind.  And why?  Is it because the Jewish homeland was carved out of that little piece of earth the Palestinian people believed was theirs and theirs alone?  Is it because the State of Israel has mistreated the Palestinians and denied them their basic human rights?

Are you people so blind to your history that you can’t see that it was your greed that caused today’s problems in the Middle East in the first place.  And I say it was greed because after reading your history books that’s all I come away with….greed, with a heavy dose of self-righteousness thrown in there for bad measure.

There is not a place on this earth that has not suffered because of your greed and this belief that one people have a supreme right over other people. You Americans, who fought for independence and in your own words declared that all people are created equal, are the same people that nearly put an end to the people who called your land their home for centuries.  What you did to the members of the hundreds of Native American tribes is unconscionable. You took their land because you wanted it. You made a mockery of their beliefs, destroyed their traditions and inflicted them with diseases that did what your guns couldn’t do.  To make amends you gave these once great people reservations to live out their lives.

Your partition of the United States of America is only one example of how the people of planet earth believe that the earth must be conquered and divided up.  It doesn’t matter that the great shorelines, the mountain ranges and the mighty rivers that you uses as boundaries were never intended to divide you, but rather to join you as one great people.

What happened in the Middle East is the result of your desire to slice up the world and for the most powerful nations to take possession of it, regardless of what people might have called that land their home.  The blame for what is happening today in the Middle East needs to be a shared blame.  It’s far too easy to blame the current parties involved in the conflict because there is a history of blame that needs to be shared by other nations.

(To read the rest of the Scarecrow’s address….)

Scarecrow part two

 

Summer at Jones Beach

Jones Beach, circa 1956, with my sister, Patti, my mother, and the old thermos that weighed about 60 pounds before it was filled with ice and lemonade. My six-pack was a result of lugging that damn jug from the parking lot to the beach.

L. Frank Baum never mentioned seasons in The Wizard of Oz. Save for a brief snowstorm found in the movie, the land of Oz was postcard-perfect with a  bright yellow sun hanging in a bright blue sky. While risking my status as an Ozophile, I suspect it was summer all year long in Oz.

And while I like all the seasons of the year best, I usually like the one I’m in at the moment the best of all.

Even though I “grew up” (and the jury is still out on that one) at a time when home air conditioning was a pipe dream and the single fan we had in our house had been wired by Benjamin Franklin and it  turned every room in our house into a convection oven making it nigh impossible not to wake up in a puddle of sweat, summer was… a season of the mind. And when you’re a kid, summer is a mind-bending experience that might begin on June 20 and end on September 20, but in your mind, summer could not be found on any calendar because it resided in your heart and mind.

Growing up on the south shore of Long Island in what can only be described as the back lot of a 1950’s sit com like Leave It To Beaver or Father Knows Best, childhood was protected under the Constitution in that all kids were created to have endless fun at minimal cost. Back when I was one of the Boys of Summer on Lincoln Street  childhood was a safe place to be. Abductions?  You’ve got to be kidding. The only abductions were those at the hands of the aliens we saw in a matinée at the Bellmore movie theater.

There might have been 24 hours in a day back then, but for us, there were no hands on the clock. In fact there were only four times: breakfast, lunch, dinner and bedtime. In the blink of an eye we would wake up and be out playing baseball in the lot on Clark Street. After playing 37 innings we’d run over to the Whiteman’s house where we’d drink out of the hose and collapse on the front lawn. Two minutes we’d be back to play another 15 innings, much of it arguing whether the ball was fair or foul or if the base runner missed the base…which wasn’t hard to do because the base was usually an old ice cream bar wrapper.

And then it was a mad dash home where we would more than likely slap together a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and meet up at some designated spot where we would plot the rest of our afternoon, making sure we included time to trade baseball cards. One afternoon a week we’d ride our bikes to the library where we would take out four or five books to read in the afternoon under the tree that was part Cronemeyer and part Begley. Back then our reading list more often than not included an ample supply of Hardy Boy books.

With our lunch digested we’d commence to play some form of street ball, stoop ball, tag, red light/green light or statues where the person who was it would take you by the arm, spin you around and then let go, at which time you’d fall and freeze into a statue. (Today that game would be banned by the AMA and most American mothers).

The later part of the afternoon was either taken up with a street softball game in front of the Whiteman’s house on Conway Street, playing a baseball card game or playing the classic game Go to the Head of the Class. Once the games ended it was on our bikes to the candy store for a cherry coke and some pretzels before taking a hike in Takapusha Park.

If time allowed we’d hit the sprinklers because no one had a pool, above ground or built-in. And then like magic we’d all disperse for dinner, only to appear a short while later ready to take on the mysterious part of summer when the sun would slowly set and the moon and stars would appear.  After-dinner activities were usually less structured and most of the time spontaneous. We all thought we had died and gone to heaven when someone in the neighborhood got the delivery of a major appliance because the box it came in amused us for hours, being everything from a fort to a rocket ship, and lasting until we eventually destroyed it by rolling in it.

Sunset meant the start of night games, one of our favorite being an alien based game where we would dive on the lawns to avoid being hit by the beams of a car coming down Lincoln Street.

Exhausted, but totally exhilarated we’d all be called in and the once noisy Lincoln Street would grow silent. In bed I would listen to the sound of crickets and watch the sky fill up with stars and lightning bugs.

And then to sleep and perchance to dream amazing dreams.

The 2014 Lincoln Street Boys of Summer Award: There wasn’t a kid on Lincoln Street who didn’t get the most out of summer, but one boy in p[articular stands out because not only did he squeeze out every last drop of fun from summer, he was the very definition of summer.  Bobby Gardali’s face should be in the dictionary next to the definition of summer.  He was loud, he was brash, and he put his all into everything we did. He was a smart kid. Smart enough to realize who he was and what he wanted and didn’t want out of life.  He took a path less traveled. At an age when most people settle down, he picked up the fiddle and started to learn how to play. He is a life-long learner and there is very little he hasn’t read. And if you like photography, you should see his photos.  He is a real boy of summer.

BSO ACACEMY

I played in a school band/orchestra for nine years before hanging up my clarinet. And while I eventually made it to first chair, neither Benny Goodman nor Artie Shaw have anything to worry about; their reputations as masters of the clarinet are unsullied.

Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw

Unless you’ve ever played in a band or orchestra, your appreciation of the music is actually limited because the average listener largely hears the “whole,” not the “parts.” And by that I mean other than the occasional solo the listener cannot discern the individual pieces that go into making the whole musical piece.

I can remember when we were given the sheet music to a new piece and the conductor would have the different instruments play “their” part of the piece. Taken as is, what the clarinets played was only a small part of the piece. And the same went for the trumpets, flutes, trombones, saxophones, oboes, etc.

And what the third-part clarinets played was not what was played by the second clarinets, and what was played by the first clarinets.

So, where am I going? I’ll tell you. The orchestra is humanity and we are all playing an instrument. The parts we play and the notes on our piece of music are our own. And while we might not believe that the little part we play doesn’t matter, consider this.

Imagine an orchestra playing a magnificent score. And then listen to what happens when one-by-one of the players in a particular section of the orchestra stops playing. First it’s the third part clarinets, and then the second part trumpets, and so on. As each part drops out, the magnificent score becomes less magnificent, until a single player is playing. And then that player puts his/her instrument down…and the music dies.

We need to remember that the “part” we play in the human orchestra does matter. Once we begin to believe that the orchestra can get along without us, the sweetest sounds will be less sweet.

We all have a “part” to play. The notes in our lives only add to the sound the orchestra can make because the whole is only greater when the sum of the parts believe they make a difference.

lawn boy

I remember the summer I graduated from sixth grade at Seaford Manor Elementary School.  I was eleven going on 42. (I was always a little older than my chronological age.) I had been earning money shoveling snow and raking leaves since I was nine. But now I was entering the big time. Having passed the “Lawn Boy mower test,” i.e. my father gave me permission to make money with the family mower. And that’s exactly what I did. I went around the neighborhood and knocked on the doors of only those houses that had no kids….or just very little kids. I gave a little sales pitch and asked if I could become their own lawn boy. I had an idea what the job was worth, depending upon the size of the lawn and how many times a week they wanted their lawn cut.  On average I charged $1.25. (I kept a dollar and used the twenty-five cents to buy gas for the mower.)

That first summer I signed up about six clients. Only two of them had me cut their lawn twice a week.  So my weekly “profit” was $8. Back then…and to me…that was a king’s ransom.

I earned money, but better than that I learned about money. My Lawn Boy mower was not air-conditioned, and if memory serves me, I think the temperature every day that summer had to have been at least 120 degrees (no exaggeration).  It took me anywhere from an hour to two to complete each job. That meant I was “sacrificing” about 12 hours of play time. And here, “sacrifice” is the word, because that’s one of the things I learned cutting lawns on the YBR.  I also learned that doing a better than average job actually paid off because at the end of the summer (well, early fall) when I parked the old Lawn Boy in the garage I made another ten bucks in tips!

I also learned that there’s nothing wrong with sweating your head off (other blogs might refer to another part of the body, but this blog is G rated). I think I weighed about 90 pounds  when summer started that year, and by summer’s end I weighed about 14 pounds.  Add to that, I was allergic to grass. On or about sneeze number 3,472, I couldn’t see a thing because my eyes were filled with more water than Salt Lake.  My hearing was impacted by the roar of the Lawn Boy and my vision was nil.  Little did my clients know that they had hired Helen Keller to cut their lawn.

Again, another lesson learned. I learned that doing a job meant having to deal with some inconveniences.

I also learned something about my work ethic or work style.  I was not suited for repetitious tasks.  I was fully engaged when I cut my first lawn of the day, but by lawn two I was in la la land. I had to do something to take the “tine” out of “routine.”  What did I do? Well, I’ve never told anybody this before, but since my blogship is limited, I have no fear of confessing that when I would cut a lawn I would make believe I was cutting the head of a giant…a giant with green hair.

Another lesson learned.  You need to do whatever keeps you sane when doing a job that could make you insane.

I also learned about saving money that summer.  I think I made close to$150 that summer. I gave myself an allowance of about $1.50 a week…more than enough to go wild…and I banked about $130 that summer. Believe it or not, I started saving for college, and $130 went a long way when you consider tuition and room/board my first year at Marist was $1300.

Another lesson learned. It takes time to buy a dream and time means work.

My Lawn Boy and I worked together for four summers.  I got more lawn jobs (Lesson learned? There’s nothing wrong with a good reputation.) I banked around $900 those four years.

When I turned 15 I took my first pay-check job as a bus boy at Jones Beach. I was earning $1.17 an hour (no tips).The hours were long, the sun was hot and the job was boring…but I continued to learn life lessons.

What I learned working those summers when I was a kid I didn’t learn in school. To those who are members of the Class of 2014 remember that some of the lessons that will stay with you your entire life you learned outside of the classroom.  The best dreams that come true are the result of hard work.

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