Thursday, April 25, 2013

Shoot the Messenger

In the last week, ever since the Boston bombing suspects were identified, I've noticed several lengthy messages being shared and liked on Facebook and Twitter. The gist of these messages goes something like this:

I don't want to hear anything about the suspects! I don't want to know who they are, or why they did what they did, or how they planned the bombings, or how the aftermath affects their families! Execute the one that survived the Watertown shoot out and bury their remains in unmarked graves somewhere no one will ever find them!

I understand the emotions and frustrations behind these kinds of comments. In a free society, we should be safe from terrorists, be they homegrown or trained on foreign lands. Our government should protect us from potential threats. Innocent children, women and men should not be blown up, gunned down or cut through by malcontents, zealots, psychopaths or sociopaths.

Yet no matter how hard we might try to wish away irrational behavior and hate, the reality is they will always exist. Society and culture can, at times when the collective will is strong enough, turn away from them or push them to the side. Unfortunately, in the land of the truly free we must allow space for individuals who believe what we find unfathomable and groups that practice what we detest, providing those practices do not bring harm to others.

The crime isn't allowing these people to exist. They already exist, whether or not we want them to. The crime would be closing our ears and shouting like children to drown them out. A wish and a prayer are sweet sentiments, but they aren't practical choices in the face of ignorance. Just take a look at that couple facing criminal charges for the death of a second child because they chose to pray for God's healing instead of bringing their children to a doctor. You think any amount of wishing away their irrationality will change their belief structure?

The way I see it, the real problem is not that the world is a more violent place than ever before. Go back just 70 years and you'll find that World War II was responsible for the death of approximately 2.5% of the world's population at that time, or roughly 60 million people. According to the CDC, in 2010 homicides accounted for a total of 16,000 deaths, or 0.005% of the nation's population that year. Tragic, but a far cry from the worst this world has seen.

Don't get me wrong. In the case of the Boston bombings, I want justice served. I believe in the death penalty and firmly believe it would be appropriately handed down to someone who can come across a young boy eating ice cream with his family and calmly murder him. There are depths of hell not deep enough for some of the twisted souls allowed to crawl the surface of this earth. But I also want to know who they are, why they did what they did, and how they did it, because it's the best way to understand what went wrong with these two men and, hopefully, prevent others from following in their footsteps. All of us need to understand, so we can carry a measure of that understanding and awareness into the communities in which we live. If it takes a village to raise a child, then surely it must also take a village to maintain civility, rationality and order.

What I don't want, or need, is twenty-four-hour media coverage from people with no immediate knowledge of the events. I don't want talking heads on television, enhanced by animated graphics and dramatic musical intros, talking endlessly despite the fact they have no new information to offer. I don't want newspapers so desperate for a scoop to prove their validity in a digital age that they disregard traditional sourcing of information, ruining lives in the process. And I certainly don't want online would-be news sources replacing static informative articles with meaningless Twitter feeds just so some schmuck in Abilene with PhotoShop can pretend he's an extra in "All the President's Men."

In the rush to be first and loudest to scream the latest developments of a disaster from the rooftops, the news media belittle the gravity and meaning of such a situation by turning it into a relentless audio-visual circus that offers plenty of noise and practically no content.

On the other hand, the media is only giving us what we've proven by our viewing habits we want. Maybe if we stop tuning in, the message would change and we'd feel less inclined to shoot the messenger.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Friday, April 19, 2013

Honey Roasted Heaven

Have you ever tried eating natural peanut butter?

It's a lot like lining your mouth with day-old wallpaper paste, only less satisfying. And you don't need much more than dab of it to permanently glue your tongue to the roof of your mouth. You can smack, and sneer, and contort your face all you want, but only time and a raging flood of fluids from your salivary glands will make it go away.

Then there's that great natural taste.

All those preservatives and chemicals found in commercially processed peanut butter that tree-hugging, healthy-living people are trying avoid must be delicious, because commercially processed peanut butter is insanely tasty while natural peanut butter tastes like pre-licked stamps, which leads one to conclude that true peanut butter flavor as we've come to know it results from ingredients ending in "dextrose" and "glutimate."

And I'd like to know how anyone can take peanuts, which are supremely delectable, even when not salted, and grind them into a spread with no discernible odor and a flavor profile that matches elementary school art class paste. When the dog gives you that "are you kidding me?" look when you offer it a lick, you know there's a fundamental flaw with the product.

We even tried natural almond butter once. I wouldn't have thought it possible to find anything more bland and unfulfilling than natural peanut butter, but we managed.

It's like the development teams of the two products challenged each other one day to see which could develop the worst spreadable product for general sale. Almond butter takes the prize, but only because natural peanut butter tastes like something. A bad something, but something nonetheless. Natural almond butter's complete lack of flavor is what makes it the more disturbing of the two to eat because, apart from the fact your cheeks have suddenly adhered to the sides of your teeth, you can't be sure you're actually eating anything.

So, when My Lovely Wife entered my office the other day with yet another jar of preservative-free, all-natural, freshly-ground something-or-other, I was leery. A tiny scoop on the end of a spoon was all I took. Then I went back for more and haven't come up for air since.

It had flavor. It was sweet. It had moisture. It was ground honey-roasted peanuts.

Whoever was the man or woman that thought to throw honey-roasted peanuts into a grinder ought to be knighted and given the Pulitzer. It took sheer genius to discover that a little honey and some salt -- and whatever dextroses and glutimates are involved in the honey-roasting process -- could help peanuts grind down into a sweet, salty, slightly crunchy mixture that, so far, has been blue heaven on everything we've chosen to spread it over.

Now the only problem we have is when we open the pantry to find the container empty.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Friday, April 12, 2013

The Chocolate Deficit

Stop the presses!

Call nine-one-one!!

Get FEMA on the phone and tell them to alert the nation about the most distressing national disaster of all time!!!

Worse than a tornado! More terrifying than an earthquake! As devastating, if not more so, than the impending zombie apocalypse (scary fast-moving zombies, not the slow "I can't believe I can't outrun them" zombies). What's the dilemma, you ask? The chocolate in our kids' leftover Easter candy bags is disappearing!

Every Easter, when that stupid rabbit breaks-and-enters our house with his paganistic eggs and candy and fills our kids' baskets to the point of bursting, you'll find me lurking in a corner, rubbing my hands together and snickering like Snidely Whiplash. For the next few weeks, I lay in wait, plotting and planning and scheming endless ways to separate foil-wrapped chocolates from their respective rightful owners.

Our Daughter never used to eat any of her candy. Out of sight, out of mind seemed to be her modus operandi. That made her candy easier pickings than a pocket-protector nerd in a dodgeball game.

The Italian never liked peanut butter chocolate eggs, so those were the first to go from his bag, one by one, wrapper by empty wrapper hidden in the kitchen trash can. Like magic the peanut butter chocolate eggs vanished. The German never liked those crunchy chocolate bars with the puffed rice inside of them, so those were next on the hit list. Unwrap it, sweep it through the five-pound container of peanut butter in the pantry, and down they go.

When it comes to chocolate, to call my craving a sweet tooth does not do it justice. Too limiting. Mine is more like a sweet limb, or even an entire quadrant of the body. The fact our kids hardly ever ate their holiday candy simply meant more for me.

Christmas? Stocking candy!

Halloween? Random sampler stranger candy!!

Easter? Holy crap it's time to buy a girdle candy!!!

But this year, something strange happened. I'm suddenly living in some bizarro alternate universe in which children eat candy. And not just the good candy, either. Not only are the Snickers and Milky Ways and Hershey's solid milk chocolate bunnies wrapped to look like Star Wars stormtroopers being eaten, even the jelly beans and faux marshmallows in the shape of cartoon foods that typically spend their days collecting lint and wrapper shrapnel at the bottom of the bag are disappearing. What does that leave for me? Nothing.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Dude, you're forty-five years old and can go buy all the chocolate and candy you could ever want, eat it 'til you puke, and go back for more."

That's true. I can, and I probably have, but it isn't the same. The expression "easy as taking candy from a baby" came about not only because it satisfactorily expresses the ease of accomplishing a task, but also because taking candy from babies is fun and gratifying, especially when those babies are yours and they don't even realize they're missing out on a good thing when you take their candy.

Maybe, if I'm lucky, this trend will reverse itself before Halloween.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Word Count Envy

[I try hard to keep my fiction writing hobby from spilling into this blog too much, but from time to time I figure "what the heck?" Here is a recent post from my author site (Books by Feggeler) that I felt like sharing here.]

I'm not one of those fortunate few able to spend countless hours each day writing to my heart's content. When I see comments by authors on blogs or in group discussion threads wherein they refer to writing two thousand words a day, or eight thousand words during the course of a weekend, a fleeting sense of envy does surge through me.

Imagine my output of published (albeit self-published) works were I capable of dedicating similar quantities of time to writing. The remaining eight books of "The Psi Squad" series would be finished by the end of 2013. And those two murder mysteries I've outlined? I'd be celebrating their sales by this time next year!

Instead, I'm lucky to manage three thousand good words a week. Why?

Well, let's see. Among the things getting in the way of daily writing are: cycling class, breakfast, bringing the boys to school (sometimes), bringing my daughter to school (sometimes), work (and that handy thing called a salary that comes along with work), business travel, meetings, phone calls, laundry, lunch, more work, picking the boys up from school (sometimes), picking my daughter up from school (sometimes), dinner, helping with homework and projects, dance, hockey, church, church youth group, marching band boosters, band concerts, after school meetings, and sleep. Oh, yes, don't forget that every now and then I wouldn't mind spending quality down time with my wife and children, which is why I don't even think about writing on weekends.

It seems my problem stems from not being able, or willing, to give any of that up. All that stuff makes up my life, such as it is at the moment, and it's all meaningful and rewarding. My resulting writing time consists of a maximum of two, maybe three, hours wrenched in bits and pieces from each busy week, but that's okay.

If nothing else, I've discovered a slow pace forces me to think more about what I'm writing than I otherwise might have. It allows me to fully consider the seven-hundred words for the new murder mystery (working title "RevPAR") and the four-hundred words for the second "Psi Squad" book I cranked out in an hour early Tuesday morning before I advance to the next scenes. All that time for extra thinking helps me catch plot holes and fix mistakes before I get too far ahead of myself.

You other writers go ahead and write your two thousand words a day, if only because some oft-quoted remark from Stephen King has you believing you're not a serious writer if you don't achieve that daily goal. Go ahead and celebrate NaNoWriMo by cramming during the month of November to complete an entire novel in thirty days. I did enough last-minute, panic-fueled, late-night writing during college to last me a lifetime, thank you very much. If self-imposed deadlines and massive word-count goals are the things that feed your passion for writing, then God bless and best of luck.

I'll continue to envy your production levels, but I'm not interested in trading places with any of you.

© 2013 Mark Feggeler