Why I Don’t Delete

The other day on Facebook I posted a picture of someone dressed rather nerdy, with a comment that he might just be going in to see The Dark Knight Rises.  One of my friends made a pretty tasteless joke referring to the shooting in Aurora, Colorado.  When she saw that, my wife was incensed at the post and was amazed I did not delete it.  I know a lot of people would have done that.  I didn’t even find it all that funny, but I left it up there, and other people commented on his remark as well.

I think I can count on one hand the number of comments I have deleted off of FB, or any of my blogs, and still have enough fingers left to play the bass line for “Crazy Train”.  I just don’t do it, generally.  I believe that people either write something for a reason and I should not delete them just because I disagree with them, or they posted something that might deserve some sort of public discussion or ridicule, as the case may be.

The main reason, though, is I just do not believe in that sort of thing on my page.  If someone posts something or makes a comment, I would like to think people know I am not the one doing that, and I always reserve the right to disagree and argue.  Obviously there are exceptions, something obscene, disgustingly racist or illegal will get the boot.  But I really do believe that it’s not my job to save me from your opinions, or save you from yourself.  I’ve said some really stupid things before, it happens.

It goes beyond that too, though.  I honestly believe in the Wild West approach to the internet.  While it’s really handy to be able to sit on a bench in a park, and order new shoes, a couple of pounds of bacon, and a groupon deal for podiatry, the real power of the internet is connecting people to ideas outside their own.  Whatever anyone has to say, they have the ability to say it to potentially billions of people.  This sort of interaction has proven to be an amazing tool, using the Arab Spring as a great example.  Not that I am comparing my Facebook feed or this blog to any of that, but the point remains that whether it’s a goofy gamer nerd from Boston or a parts salesman in Islamabad, there is the ability to connect to everyone in a way never before seen.

Any and all information should be free and available. Not in the “screw copyright” sense, but freely accessible by anyone anywhere.  This also includes the awful stuff too.  White supremacists, anti-semites, Scientologists and Republicans all have a place on the internet, and it’s vitally important to a free and open society that they are out there.  If they are pushed off to the dark corners where people cannot see them for what they are, that allows them to fester and become even worse, only coming to the surface when they become the next Ruby Ridge.

I truly believe there should be no censorship of the internet.  Maybe I could be convinced that there needs to be some sort of filtering to keep kids from pornography, but I would rather that be taken care of by parents and responsible adults, instead of relying on censorship and institutionalized filters.  Overall though, it’s important for anyone to have access to this sort of information system, but learn how to use it and know there are consequences for certain actions and opinions.

So given that stance, it would be very hypocritical of me to delete comments and posts made on my feed or sites.  If people find things offensive, I apologize, but there is no freedom from being offended guaranteed anywhere.  I don’t have many standards or principles, but this is definitely one of them.

Thoughts at 43

So another year is behind me, and I am typing out a blog entry on the iPad I received as a gift this year. It has been about 35 years or so since the first time I ever used a computer, my earliest recollection of technology was going to my father’s office and playing Spacewar on the mainframe console in the giant computer room. In a room roughly the size of my old high school cafeteria, rows of cabinets contained the mainframe infrastructure for the Massachusetts State College Computer Network, providing a network for all the colleges in the state, with a crew of people maintaining it and operating all the different functions around the clock.

I also remember sitting at the desk next to my dad’s office, right by where his secretary sat, and doodling on a pad of paper. It has not escaped me that the mainframe that took up so much room is not as powerful a computer as the device I am using to type this now, which is about the same size as the doodle pad I used back then.

While it may be very stereotypical to talk about the changes in technology over the span of my lifetime, I cannot help but look at my sons and wonder what the dramatic changes they will see over that same span. When I was in eighth grade, I remember talking to one of the kids in my class at a small parochial school about connecting my computer at home through a phone line to computers all over the country, if I wanted. Between the state college system and the beginning of BBSes, I was reading info and playing games on the computer in our house along with people all around the world. There was a girl who was sitting nearby who kinda turned her nose up at me (something that happened a lot, she really did not like me, being all nerdy and not really into the social crap) and said that was impossible, and such a waste of time. She then went back to talking to another girl and they kinda laughed at me being such a nerd. I don’t know whatever became of either of them, and frankly could not care any less, but I like to think about karma every now and then, and entertain the thought that they received some sort of comeuppance in some sort of Revenge Of The Nerds style way.

I look at my boys, however, as yesterday they huddled together watching videos on my wife’s iPhone, and compare their worldview to mine, and I wonder what sort of thing that they dream of experiencing that would be laughed off as impossible now will be ubiquitous in thirty years. Hopefully I will get to see it too, but it still won’t be the same, I will be like my grandmother was, seeing the introduction of radio, tv, space exploration, the Internet, medical science going from discovering penicillin to somehow allowing a baby born at 26 weeks gestational age to survive and now be taller than most of his family. I will be the guy telling my grand kids about tumble tuners, rabbit ears, rotary dial phones, and having to plug a wire into the back of my computer to connect to broadband.

I’m 43 now. I have a job that still makes me shake my head and wonder how the hell I ended up in something so unique and amazing. I have a family of my own, and two kids that amaze me with not only their minds and personalities and potential, but just by their very existence. I have friends that I would never want to replace, both locally and around the world. That greasy-haired hyper-shy 8th grader is long dead, as people find it unbelievable now that he even existed,not having known me then. There have been many bumps on the way, some events and decisions for good or ill that will haunt me for the rest of my life. But also moments of great joy. I also know there are more of all of these things ahead of me.

I am ok with that. And really, that’s the main thought I have at 43. Change happens, life moves forward, and it’s going to be great at times, suck at others. I am prepared to be amazed at technology and science. Disappointed by a lot of the rest of humanity. But overall I still have a hopeful outlook and look forward to seeing how it all plays out.

Also, we better have some friggin jet packs soon.

My travel in time to 2004

So back in 2004, I worked at a company that decided to have a St Patrick’s Day party that was meant to be fun during a stressful work cycle, but all it did was serve to really tick me off. So I wrote a blog entry about it, venting about the things that really got under my skin about St Patrick’s Day as a person of proud Irish heritage. Somehow it got discovered by an Irish cultural blog, was linked to and reposted a few places, and suddenly I had what would be the second-biggest influx to my blog in its history.  Several thousand people read the entry, and probably even more at the places that reposted it.

Unfortunately, I unexpectedly lost the domain the entry lived at a couple of years ago, and going through a database backup is a pain in the neck for both me and my hosting provider, so I hadn’t been able to find that entry for a long time.  Thanks, however, to the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, I was able to find a good copy of the the entry, and I think it is a good thing to repost here at Pog Mo Thoin.  I have mellowed a little over the past eight years, but not a lot.  And the final sentence is still as true as ever.


Beannachtai na Féile Pádraig oraibh!

March 17, 2004

I started my St Patrick’s Day off right, by shoveling my car out after we got seven or eight inches of sneachta overnight. This put me in the exact frame of mind to post a little diatribe called “Why I Hate Saint Patrick’s Day”.

My office is having a mini celebration including a “Who Can Wear The Most Green” contest, a “Guess The Number Of Gold Coins In The Pot Of Gold” thing, and I’m sure there will be drinking. In the past fifteen years, I have had exactly one alcoholic beverage on March 17th, and that was a pint of plain at a pub listening to some traditional Irish pub music. There are a number of different reasons I don’t drink on this day, and actually a fair number of them have nothing to do with St Patrick’s Day, at least not directly. But nothing gets under my skin faster than seeing a bunch of people wearing god-awful green outfits and buttons and flowers and plastic hats and drinking green beer, getting shitfaced, and calling that “celebrating the Irish”. A friend of mine told me that one of his co-workers was planning to do a pub crawl starting at 6 this morning. And of course, the ever-popular “Kiss me, I’m Irish, As Long As You’re Straight, Otherwise Get The Fook Out Of Our Parades.”

So as a good Irishman, I’m proposing the following: during events we import from other cultures, I’m going to commemorate the occasion by celebrating those cultures.

February is Black History Month. I’m going to wear a bunch of minstrel show blackface, eat a lot of watermelon, fried chicken and wash it down with a 40 ounce Colt 45.

Octoberfest? I’m going to wear a military uniform, beat up some Jewish people, and maybe invade the local Polish neighborhood.

Bastille Day? Striped shirt, beret, wine, condescending attitude, and I think I’ll cower in fear at anyone that even looks at me menacingly.

Rosh Hashannah? That one’s tricky, but I think I’ll grow those cool curls at my temples, wear a big fake nose, complain about how badly the world treats me, and raise your interest rate.

Anyhow, instead of going out and just getting shitfaced while wearing a shirt featuring a mooning leprechaun, take a little time and learn about the history and culture of Ireland. Read about Cúchulainn,Brian Barou, and Easter 1916. Find out why 1847 has such a perky nickname in Ireland. Hell, go watch Michael Collins.

Oh, and if I catch you drinking a green beer, I’m knocking your ass down.

2011 is gone. Then why not 2012?

It’s after New Year’s, and finally we have come to the end of a long, grueling period of time where we are barraged with some of the most annoying things on earth, Year-In-Review lists.  From Top Ten News Stories Of 2011 and Top Ten Viral Videos Of 2011 to The List Of The Top Lists Of 2011, the last week of December is rife with everyone in the media coming up with the most ridiculous retrospectives, just to fill the time left by shows in rerun state, or being put on temporary hiatus because people actually like it and the network doesn’t know how to handle that. (Yes I am still angry at NBC about this Community bullshit)

We all do it, though.  I’ve been going over this past year myself, it’s been tumultuous, crazy, and full of ups and downs that rival the worst roller coasters.  I see on Facebook how people are going over the past year, happy and sad moments, and talking about them.  Personally, I’m happy to see this year in the rear-view mirror, but the whole concept of a year is an arbitrary convention that we use that has no real bearing in the way things happen, so really, I guess I am just glad I have this marker tonight to be able to remind myself it’s all in the past now.  Of course, the pessimistic cynic in me also assumes that this year will be just as chock-full of sucky moments, and hopes for at least some positive wins to help balance it off.

I dislike the whole concept of resolutions, both on philosophical and practical grounds.  The idea of making these resolutions based on the new date does not really show a desire to commit to something like that, generally, because you KNOW that the things you resolve to do or not do are for your own improvement, and should be doing it already.  Just, maybe, not doing it well.

So instead of resolutions, I have decided to set a few goals for myself this year, and see if I can’t make the time we have left until the Mayangeddon in December hits.

  1. Work a little harder at being more active.  I am not foolish enough to think I will go to a gym or anything with any regularity, but at least walk more, climb stairs instead of elevators when there are only a floor or two to go up, that sort of thing.  I might not lose a lot of weight just doing that, but it can’t hurt and is a place to start.
  2. (NOTE: This is probably the only time I will ever talk about my work here) Do my damnedest to improve myself professionally to run my team better and do my part in the re-election effort.  Seriously, this is a big deal for me, and a unique opportunity that fate has delivered, I really want to make the most of it.  It’s not every day you get to be a part of something historic like this.
  3. Write more.
  4. Figure out what I want to do when I grow up.  This is still up in the air.
See, reasonable goals for myself, not resolutions, because I do not have that ability, and I think they are silly anyhow.  You want to quit smoking?  Just friggin do it.  Hell, my mother just up and decided to quit one day, went cold turkey and stayed that way.  Don’t wait for New Year’s Day.
What I think I would like most of all, though, is to have the same number of people in my family and friends at the end of the year as the beginning.  2011 saw an unacceptable decline, and I would prefer the trend reverse itself.

It’s a damned waffle maker. Sit and eat your leftovers instead.

By now everyone has seen the video of the waffle maker bruhaha at  Walmart somewhere “in one of those sister-marrying states,” as was so eloquently described by a commenter on Reddit.  Of particular value to that video is the obese woman who was less concerned about her pants falling off and more concerned with throwing elbows to make sure she got four of the waflle makers, adding a ready-made metaphor to an already accurate representation of one of the most disappointing facets of our national nature.

This has gone viral, and is being touted as an example of American consumerism, and people are shocked by this.  I’m not sure why, though.  This is nothing new.  Boston residents have long watched The Running Of The Brides with amusement, going back to the late 40s.  Cabbage Patch Dolls, Tickle Me Elmos, Wii Game Systems, all have storied histories of having fights break out during the Christmas shopping season.  A couple of years ago in two different places people died in stampedes on Black Friday.  When I worked in retail during and immediately following college, I worked a couple of Black Fridays that completely disgusted me and after that I always found a way to avoid working those days after that.

I am the last person to criticize mindless consumerism, I have my own issues with impulse buying in certain areas.  That said, however, I don’t get the whole concept of fighting crowds and adding stress and aggravation to shopping just to get a few deals.  A friend of mine has a system, where she gets her entire season’s shopping done early in the morning, bribing clerks with candy bars, and getting up at the crack of dawn to brave the crowds for the bargains.  Another friend makes a day of it with her mom, spending the morning in a familial bonding tradition that I can respect but not understand.

It’s nothing new, and that’s fine.  I’ve never been a huge shopper anyhow, I generally don’t care for wandering and browsing stores, I have a goal for shopping, I go to the store, I get what I need, and will occasionally look at something for a bit of my eye gets caught, but I can’t take time “to just go look”.  The one exception to this was my brother and I used to take a list of people to buy gifts for, and spend a late December Saturday at the mall finding items in a collaborative manner for each person on the list.  That was not out of a desire to do it that way, it was more a result of procrastination.

It is just not worth it to me.  Granted, I am already very jaded and cynical about the holidays anyhow, I honestly can not remember the last time I was actually excited about the approach of the Christmas holiday season.  I think it may have been the year I got a Big Trak. So, maybe 1980?  Maybe my disillusionment with the holiday has a lot to do with it, I dunno.

But now, this idea of starting this shopping frenzy at midnight on Thanksgiving night, the one end-of-the-year holiday I have always enjoyed, really gets under my skin.  I have a good-sized family, and we’ve always been fairly close, so it makes sense that Thanksgiving has meant more to me.  While the extravagance of the meal is a bit of an indulgence, the day is not tied to reckless consumerism the same way Christmas has become.  It’s a day when families get together, enjoy a nice meal, and have a day where you enjoy each other’s company without having to worry about making sure you got Aunt Catherine the right size sweater, or getting annoyed because your sister got a nicer gift from your grandmother than you did.

Growing up, we used to go to my grandparent’s house, and got together with my aunts and uncles on my mom’s side, and had a nice day watching football, eating turkey, avoiding my uncle napping on the floor of the family room after dinner, and when my cousin Julia got older, we kids would go to a movie.  Usually a Disney-type movie, but one year we did see “Jingle All The Way” and my brother David might get forgiven for that suggestion, probably when his sons are married, however.  The last conversation I ever had with my grandfather was on Thanksgiving, 1999, and he passed away a few weeks later.  This year marked the first Thanksgiving without my grandmother as well, and there was definitely a large hole in the celebration not having her there.

But Thanksgiving also lent a certain perspective as well.  We were fortunate.  So many others were not, and this was a reminder that it was incumbent on us to recognize that, and do our part to try and make the world a little better place for others as well.  When my great-aunt passed away a few years ago, I was (not very) surprised to learn that she would spend Thanksgiving morning helping at Rosie’s Place, a women’s homeless shelter in Boston.  Then she would return home and host a Thanksgiving meal of her own for her family. My senior year in high school and a couple of times after that, I got a great deal of perspective and satisfaction from volunteering at a Pine Street Inn-sponsored Thanksgiving meal at the St Francis Center in Boston.  My high school’s motto, “Men For Others”, was put into practice and added a dimension to my worldview that I had not really appreciated growing up by some of the community service outreach projects I participated in during my time there.  As an unrelated side-note, though, they still had a long way to go as far as universally applying that motto, but that’s a different post altogether.

I look back most, however, on the tough times, when money was tight or non-existent growing up.  The time I spent homeless, crashing on my friend’s spare bed or couch when my parents lost their house and if not for family and friends who knows how my brothers and I would have ended up.  This is why the trend towards putting more emphasis on Black Friday and shopping for Christmas and taking it away from the actual day of Thanksgiving itself is so viscerally offensive to me.  I am thankful for what I have right now, and how lucky I am.  Life is definitely full of adversity, and I have had more than my fair share of it.  I am very fortunate, however, having overcome a great deal, made it through some very difficult times, with the help and support and love of family and friends.  I have a good job,  and while jobs have been tricky to come by, I have been very fortunate even in a tough market, with the longest tenure I have been out of work being four months.

I still have a long way to go before I can actually enjoy the holiday season.  But I do still love Thanksgiving, and it just makes me sad to see these videos, hear about all the excitement over sales and opening the stores at Midnight or even earlier, taking away the purpose of Thanksgiving on a personal level.  We are so driven by this commercial culture and manipulated by corporations who are interested in parting us from our money, and are slowly losing this day that we have institutionalized as a day of thanks and reflection.

We have viral videos of waffleiron riots and people pepper-spraying other shoppers to get these bargains held up as our reflections, instead.

At the end of the line

All say, “How hard it is that we have to die” – a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.  ~Mark Twain


One of the hardest lessons we learn as children is when we are introduced to the concept of mortality.  Sometimes it is a pet, sometimes an older relative, sometimes someone we are close to.  A grandparent, maybe.  But most of us are introduced to it at an age where it is merely a concept, in many ways what higher science becomes to most people, you understand the basic idea, but the actual meaning of it is lost to you.

My earliest recollection was a vague recollection of being told my great-grandmother had died. I was maybe three or four years old, and the total of the memory was that we wouldn’t see her at Christmas anymore.  A couple of years later, I found my kitten, cleverly named “Baby Kitty”, in the backyard, and after an investigation my mother told me she probably fell out of the big tree I found her under.  I do remember crying about that, but that’s about all.

As I grew older, the family cat (and Baby Kitty’s mother) died at age 14 when I was 11 or so, my dog died when I was 15, at nearly the same age, and these deaths really affected me.  I remember coming downstairs and stroking my dog’s fur, saying goodbye to my best friend and constant companion growing up as the Oscars were being awarded on the TV in the next room.  Even now, thinking about it decades later, I still tear up a little bit, and whenever the Oscars are on, I think back to that evening.

I was lucky, though.  I did not lose any people that were close to me until I was well into my teens, when my paternal grandfather passed away my senior year.  The next three years, well, let’s just say it was a crash course as several of my older relatives on my dad’s side all reached that age together and it felt like every couple of months was another funeral.

As I have gone through life since, I have lost friends, relatives, people I have loved, and people who have meant more to me than I truly realized.  Just a few weeks ago, my grandmother passed away at age 91, and I’m still somewhere in the middle stages of dealing with it.  But really, I cannot complain, she lived an amazingly full life, and got to know her five great-grandchildren and took great joy from them, and her life in general.  I was so fortunate to have had both of my grandparents until my thirties, and my grandmother until I was 42, and I am fully aware of how rare that really is.

Tonight, I visited my great-uncle Paul, who has been ill for some time now, and is in the hospital after having a heart attack.   To be frank and blunt, he does not have much time left, but tonight in his room were four of his sons, three of his grandchildren, two of his daughters-in-law, myself, my aunt, and my uncle who is also Paul’s godson.  We sat in his room, visiting with him when he was awake, telling stories, jokes, and reminiscing about times past, much like we did at my grandmother’s house the night she died.

As I drove home tonight, I thought about all of this, and pondered how very Irish this was of us.  There’s an appreciation for a life well-lived, and for what the generation before us gave us.  A bonding and a sharing of comfort during a sad and stressful time, as well as a reflection on your own life and how the person who you no longer have in the circle with you has affected you.  And then it really hit me.

I’m 42 years old, have a family of my own, a career, and supposedly a smart guy.  But after all this time since I was told about my great-grandmother, since I buried pets, relatives, and friends, I realized that I still don’t fully grasp the entirety of death.  Some day there will hopefully be a group of my loved ones sitting around my hospital room, sharing stories and telling jokes as I approach my threshold on that journey at the tender age of 135, and I am willing to bet that even then I won’t have my brain wrapped around it.

This a bit heavier than I had intended for my second post on this site, I was originally mulling over a bit about the Occupy Wall Street events from last night, and complaining that the guy with the guitar at Occupy Boston should not be trying to sing House Of The Rising Sun with rewritten lyrics and somehow managing to have three different keys in there, none of which are the same key being played on the guitar, and even that is not the key the song is supposed to be in.  But that seemed so petty in light of how my day turned out, and how hard it is for my cousins, whose mother suffered with Alzheimer’s for many years before passing away last summer, and is now watching their father in a hospital bed, returning to him a tiny fraction of the love and comfort that he and his wife gave to them growing up.

In any case, I lost the urge to bitch about politics and stuff, and instead just decided to reflect a bit on this journey every single one of us will take one day, and how really lucky I am to have the family I do.  I also came to the conclusion that working for an effort like OWS, political campaigns, social groups, or even just the company you are employed by seems so important, and sometimes is, but it just pales in comparison to being a part of and really appreciating a great family and circle of friends.

Rejoice with your family in the beautiful land of life!  ~Albert Einstein