Friday, February 27, 2015

If You Like Your Internet, You Can Keep Your Internet

Did you see the “net neutrality” news story on Feb. 26? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to take over the Internet and regulate it as a public utility. It’s a classic case of “I’m from the Government, and I’m here to help.” Ugh!

How soon before the Internet operates with all the speed and efficiency of Amtrak or the Postal Service? I can’t wait.

One of the FCC Commissioners who did not vote for this naked power-grab, Ajit Pai, said that so-called net neutrality is “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Here are some other observations, culled from various Internet chatter over the last few days (and by the way, how long before such open and honest chatter is labeled as hate speech and shut down????).

“The administration that couldn’t run a health care website just took over the Internet! What could possibly go wrong?”

“If the IRS can be used to target political opponents, why not the FCC?”

“I’m not sure what the ‘net neutrality’ thing is all about, but if the Obama Administration and George Soros are for it, I’m against it!”

“So if I understand it correctly, the only thing the Democrat Party doesn’t want to regulate is abortion.”

“The government has to break the Internet before it can fix it.”

“How long before you have to register your website with the government? How long before bureaucrats regulate what you can say on your website?”

“Get ready to pay a tax on every email you send.”

Cue Don McLean: “The day…the Internet…died”

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Hygiene Is Over-Rated

A few weeks ago I went on a business trip to Chicago, and while I was there —

What’s that? I already wrote about my Chicago trip in the last two columns? Yeah, so? You don’t think I’m capable of milking another essay out of that trip? O ye of little faith. Haven’t you figured out yet how this humor column works? I take an insignificant little idea, and then expand that insignificant idea into a rambling 600-word insignificant discussion. Easy peasy. I could write weekly columns for the next six months about my Chicago trip, and it wasn’t even that exciting of a trip. But for your sake this will be the last one — maybe.

Anyway, I was stranded in Chicago for two extra days because a blizzard in the Northeast cancelled all the flights home. Once I booked another flight home and got the hotel to extend my stay, I still faced a problem: how to make three days’ worth of clean clothes last five days?

Now wait a minute, before you tell me about the service most hotels offer to launder clothes, which is why they have those plastic bags hanging in the closet, let me stop you right there and say no, that was never an option. I was not about to give my dirty socks and pungent BVDs to a total stranger. Who knows when or even if I’d get them back? I’m sorry, but I only give my dirty socks and pungent BVDs to people I love, such as my mother and my wife. Dirty socks and pungent BVDs are way too important to leave in the hands of unreliable strangers.

However, I remembered an important lesson I first learned in college: if you take a shower and then put on yesterday’s clothing, you are clean. Or at least clean enough. I learned this lesson my freshman year when I went the entire fall semester and only did laundry twice — and one of those times was when I brought a 90-pound duffle bag of dirty clothes home for Thanksgiving, which my mom happily washed for me. Additionally, since I was spending all my time in Chicago hanging out with other guys from the heating and air conditioning industry, my definition of “clean enough” was PLENTY clean enough.

Also, do Google searches for the phrases “Americans shower too often” and “Americans wash clothes too often.” You’ll find a lot of interesting articles, the gist of which is that Americans are overly obsessed with cleanliness, far more than we need to be. Granted, some of the Internet articles are authored by ultra-wacky tree huggers who won’t be happy until we’re all living like cavemen (or I suppose they would say “cave-persons”), but some of the information seemed credible. For example, the American norm of showering each day is very bad for our skin. And washing shirts and pants after only one wearing wastes water and energy, and causes the clothing to wear out much sooner than necessary.

Pretty interesting, huh? I certainly learned a lot after being forced to wear the same dirty socks and pungent BVDs multiple days in a row. I now realize that hygiene is overrated. From now on I’m going to bathe periodically at best, and wash my clothes once every fortnight or so. (Wow, after 20 years of writing this column, I finally got the opportunity to use the word “fortnight.”)

My wife is glad that I won’t be wasting water and energy anymore, but for some reason she insists that I have to sleep in the garage with the raccoons. Hey, did I tell you about the raccoons in Chicago? Maybe in next week’s column.

(This humor column, "A Matter of Laugh or Death," appears each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, Conn.)

Monday, February 23, 2015

Why Should We Pray?

Throughout the Bible, believers are commanded to pray. Many years ago, when our kids were little, one of my daughters asked, “Why should we pray?”

Caught off guard, I employed a variation of my favorite answer to my children (which is, “Cuz I said so, that’s why!”) by replying, “Cuz Jesus said so, that’s why.”

Trying to make prayer seem more attractive to my young daughter, I added that it’s a wonderful way to ask God for the things we need and want. Unfortunately, after a while I think she got the impression that God is no more than a cosmic Santa Claus: we rattle off our list, and then sit back impatiently waiting for Him to deliver the loot.

I finally changed the subject, fearful my daughter would turn into Sally from the Charlie Brown Christmas special: “Make it easy on yourself, God, just send money. How about tens and twenties?”

One view of prayer is portrayed in the movie “Shadowlands,” a biography of the famous Christian author C.S. Lewis. During a crisis in his life, Lewis explained to a friend why he was praying so fervently. He said (and I paraphrase because I haven’t seen the film in many years), “I don’t pray so God will want to do my will; I pray so I will want to do His.”

When you think about it, God is indeed sovereign and omniscient; He is outside of time; He already knows every single event of our lives—past, present, and future. It would be futile for us to beg God to do one thing when He’s already ordained that something else is going to happen in our lives.

But is that the only purpose of prayer, to ask for the strength to accept our inevitable fate? In the gospels Jesus makes it clear that we SHOULD ask God for the stuff we need and want, and our prayers CAN change God’s mind.

For example, a Canaanite woman came to Jesus in desperation, begging Him to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus completely ignored her. But she simply would not take no for an answer. Finally, Jesus exclaimed, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And He healed her daughter.

And don’t forget the famous episode during the wedding feast at Cana. When the party ran out of wine, Jesus’ mother Mary went to Him and explained the embarrassing problem. Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

Mary just smiled at Jesus, like only a mother can. Jesus finally relented and performed the miracle of changing water into wine. It’s very clear from the biblical account that Jesus had no intention of performing His first miracle at that wedding feast, but because of a sincere request, He changed His mind.

So, is God sovereign and omniscient? Yes. Does He already know every single event of our lives—even our future? Yes. Is it futile to try to change God’s mind? Definitely NO!

Jesus tells us we must have childlike faith. God is our father and we are His children. We should approach Him as a child approaches a loving parent, filled with trust. So maybe our prayers should have two components: we should ask for the grace to handle the trials and tribulations of life. But we also should ask for what we truly want and desire, knowing that God delights in answering our persistent, sincere, and faithful prayers. And however things turn out, we should rejoice knowing it is God’s will for us.

(But just to be safe, we probably should not ask for tens and twenties—nor fifties and hundreds.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

More Uncertainty, Part 2

Last week I discussed my inability to relax when things are uncertain. I was preparing to travel to Chicago on business, but it was snowing hard on the Saturday I was scheduled to leave, and my over-active imagination envisioned all sorts of dire situations that would thwart my plans to arrive safely in the Windy City.

As it turned out, I made it to Chicago without a problem — no delays, no lost hotel reservations, and no hungry raccoons. (See last week’s column for an explanation, sort of.)

On the snowy Saturday when I flew out of Connecticut, the 5-day weather forecast indicated a chance of flurries on Tuesday, my return date. But by the time I arrived in Chicago, the forecast had been slightly revised, and now they were predicting Tuesday would see the most catastrophic blizzard the Northeast had ever seen in world history — or at least since the last heavy snow storm a couple years ago.

So I expended all that energy needlessly worrying about the uncertainties of getting to Chicago safely, and it turned out I should’ve been focusing all my anxiety on the return trip home! Sheesh, I hate it when I worry about the wrong irrational fears.

On Monday morning I received a notice on my cell phone that my Tuesday afternoon flight home was cancelled. There were instructions to go to the airline website and book another flight for later in the week.

I immediately excused myself from the meeting I was in, and went out in the hallway and began frantically searching for a flight using my phone. I repeatedly got this message from the airline website: “Heavy volume of traffic right now. Try again later.” Oh great. So I then phoned my hotel and tried to extend my stay for another night. I was told, “I’m sorry but we’re completely full Tuesday night. But things often change, so try again later.”

Uh oh. I wasn’t sure how I would get home. And I wasn’t sure where I would sleep on Tuesday night. Other than that, everything was fine. I calmly told myself, “No problem, Bill. You’ll figure this out. You always handle uncertainty with grace and aplomb, except of course, when you’re not sure what’s going to happen next.”

I returned to the meeting and tried to pay attention, but when the other people spoke, my ears only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher (“Wah-wah, blah-blah”). I didn’t comprehend a single word that was uttered, because my mind was too busy dwelling on these questions:

  • What if everyone on my cancelled flight gets on the airline website ahead of me, and by the time I get through, the only available flight isn’t until next week? Or next month?

  • Will I be able to book another hotel, or will I spend my nights out on the sidewalk, no doubt battling vicious raccoons and Midwestern badgers?

  • What if the blizzard causes a power outage back home and the pipes freeze and burst?

  • What if my wife, in an attempt to keep the furnace running and prevent frozen pipes, tries to start the generator, which I never showed her how to use, and the house burns down?

  • What if I’m stuck in Chicago forever?

  • What if someone asks me a question during this meeting and the only reply I am able to offer is, “Huh?”

Eventually I booked a flight and my hotel did find a room for me. So it turned out the greatest uncertainty I faced was how to make three days’ worth of clean clothes last five days. No problem for someone like me who handles stress with grace and aplomb — and a lot of extra deodorant.