Latest entries

Eyes convey wordless messages when others seem to disappear

by David McElroy

Eyes

As I walked down a crowded hallway Friday afternoon, I saw a very attractive young woman coming toward me. Our eyes met for what had to have been a fraction of a second, but in that moment, time slowed down and there didn’t seem to be anybody else in the hallway other than the two of us.

Her blue eyes were warm, intelligent and open. In some way that I can’t explain, I knew what she was unconsciously communicating: “I’m interested in you. I’d like to talk with you.”

The moment was gone as quickly as it arrived, and we were going in opposite directions. The encounter left me slightly shaken and wanting to understand what had just happened.

I was inside a very busy large hospital in downtown Birmingham — it was UAB for any local people who are curious — and I was looking for a specific place where some information was supposed to have been posted. The instructions I had been given were very vague, so I had stopped several times to ask for help from employees.

I put the woman out of my mind and continued looking for what I’d come to find. The odds of me ever seeing her again — just a random stranger among thousands in a hospital — were tiny. So I moved on and figured I’d think about it later. I went back to a lounge next to a cafeteria on the second floor, where I’d been told I’d find what I was looking for.

I suddenly saw her standing alone in that lounge. She was looking at her phone, but she glanced at me several times from across the room.

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As childhood heroes grow old and die, it’s a reminder of our mortality

by David McElroy

Nimoy and Shatner

I’ve known for a long time that the people who played the crew of the starship Enterprise when I was a small child are getting old, but it still caught me by surprise Monday night to see a picture of a very old-looking Leonard Nimoy with the news that he has been hospitalized for severe chest pain.

When the celebrities of our youth grow old and start dying, we feel pangs of something. Is it regret? sadness? or something else? I’m not sure what to call it, but the feelings are ultimately about ourselves, not about the people who are dying.

James Doohan (Scotty) and DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) are already gone. Nimoy (Spock) and William Shatner (Capt. Kirk) are old men. What does this say about me?

I know it sounds selfish to interpret someone else’s problems this way, but isn’t that natural? I didn’t know any of these people except as actors whose faces and voices were burned into my child brain. They only have meaning as reminders of the little boy who wanted to join them in space — away from the reality that seemed so unhappy down here.

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Why are we uncomfortable when other people aren’t much like us?

by David McElroy

A different drummer

At a gym where I go, there’s another member who makes me very uncomfortable.

The guy is about 30 years old and he has no apparent understanding of social boundaries. He talks to everybody in intrusive ways. He’s constantly repeating things that don’t seem appropriate to be talking about in public. He’s been known to open curtains in the showers to randomly talk with people.

Employees at the place tell me that people have complained about him and his family has been warned that people find him creepy and intrusive. He makes me very uncomfortable.

After he came through the locker room when I was in there Thursday morning — stopping to talk with people as though each were a trusted old friend — I found myself talking to a couple of guys after he was gone. We were speculating about what his issue might be — something on the autism spectrum was our best guess — and one of the guys mentioned that he had grown up across the street from him. He said the guy’s parents were strange, so maybe it was some sort of family lunacy.

After that brief chat, I walked into the shower feeling a deep sense of relief. I was surprised to realize that I felt relieved simply because I’d had another conversation with people who validated my feelings about the guy. The unspoken subtext of the conversation was, “That guy is weird. He’s not normal like we are. There’s something wrong with him. We’re the ones who are OK.”

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The real crime is how CNN is trying to manipulate what you believe

by David McElroy

CNN headline about murdered students

 

When three college students in North Carolina were murdered Tuesday night, it was a tragic story for their families and friends. Now CNN is throwing its resources into turning these murders into “hate crimes.” If there are any honest journalists left who work for CNN, I hope they’re still self-aware enough to be ashamed of their employer tonight.

This is a screenshot of the lead story on CNN’s website for most of the day Wednesday. (Click it for a full-size version.) I’m so disgusted by the manipulation and poor ethics of this graphic that it’s hard to know where to start. But let’s look at it quickly anyway.

We’ll start with the hammer head above the photo: “A hate crime?” Most of the time, when a news story has a question mark, it means, “This is what we want to believe, but we don’t have the facts to say it, so we’re just going to imply it.” In an opinion piece, there’s nothing wrong with it. Even in some news stories in which there’s legitimate mystery, it might be acceptable. But it is always a violation of ethics to place your own unsupported agenda into a headline and then use a question mark to weasel out of taking responsibility for what you’re claiming.

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Goodbye, William (1999-2015)

by David McElroy

William-Jan. 26, 2015

He was named for William the Conqueror. He came into a home with five dogs and six cats and let everybody know that he was now in charge. He was supremely confident as a kitten — you might say arrogant — and he conquered every room he entered.

Mostly, though, he conquered my heart.

It was my ex-wife who found him and brought him home in 1999. I can’t say that I was thrilled to add another animal to the menagerie, but there was something about him that was impossible to say no to.

So he became the seventh and youngest cat in the household, but there never seemed to be a moment when he wasn’t in charge.

Eventually, all the others died of old age or disease. At 16 years old, William was the oldest — the unquestioned king of his domain.

Just about 10 days ago, he started acting lethargic. After a few more days, he had little interest in food. Early last week, a trip to the vet confirmed my worst fear. My little friend was very sick.

William had a tumor the size of a lemon in his abdomen. There were signs that it was attached to something related to his gastrointestinal system. His age and his condition meant that surgery wasn’t an option. All we could do is put him on steroids and try to “jump start” his appetite. If he would start eating again, he might have many months of quality of life left. But if he wouldn’t start eating, he had no chance.

Just five days after that diagnosis, William died Sunday morning about 9 a.m. He never seemed to be in pain. His cancer-ravaged body simply shut down as I held him. All of a sudden, he was gone — and his battle with the cancer was over.

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Dead man’s watch always there to remind me of my own mortality

by David McElroy

Watch-closeup

When I was about 10 years old, I saw a dead man right after his car had been hit by a train. It happened near where we lived at the time in Anniston, Ala. I’ve never gotten that image out of my head.

We lived away from the city and suburbs, out in a little community called Choccolocco. At the turnoff from the main road to get to our house, there was a railroad crossing. We came upon it one afternoon after an accident had happened. We had never before stopped at an accident, as far as I remember, but since my father worked for the safety department of Southern Railway, he had a reason to check it out. And I think he also wanted my sisters and me to be very aware of the danger of being unsafe around trains.

I still remember the unnatural stillness of the accident scene. Even though there were people standing around watching, everyone seemed dead silent. The man’s body was placed onto a stretcher to be taken away.

As the ambulance attendants walked the body toward a waiting vehicle, they had to pass within inches of where I stood. I could have reached out and touched the body. Right as they passed, the body shifted slightly and the dead man’s arm dangled off the stretcher — right in front of me. On the dead, hairy arm was a watch.

In the surreal vision of my mind’s eye, the arm dangled in front of me for what seemed like an eternity. I saw the second hand still moving on that watch and it’s an image I’ve never gotten out of my head.

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I’ll make fun of your Super Bowl, but you can’t make fun of my Spock ears

by David McElroy

Grumpy Cat-Super BowlI won’t be watching the Super Bowl today. I doubt Grumpy Cat will be watching, either, despite someone decking him out in a Seattle logo here. I figure he wants both teams to lose.

I enjoy football, but I’m a college football fan. The pro game bores me. I don’t have an attachment to any of the professional teams, so I just don’t care one way or the other who wins.

I get tired of the rabid obsession that seems to descend upon the United States on the day of this game. It seems excessive to me, and I’m sure it’s easier for me to see it that way since I’m outside of the mass of participants.

But despite my disinterest and my discomfort at the obsession, I’m getting increasingly uncomfortable with the backlash against it. I’m afraid that those of us who don’t care about the game have become a bit elitist and arrogant.

I see non-football fans competing with each other to see who can care the least about the game. I see people condescendingly saying that if others would just care about the things they care about — whatever they happen to be — the world’s problems would be fixed. I see people looking down their noses at others simply because they enjoy a game that doesn’t matter to the first group.

In a lot of ways, it’s just another manifestation of something that keeps troubling me. It’s just another form of people saying, “Why aren’t you people more like me?

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How should we react when a man says he molested his own daughter?

by David McElroy

Man behind bars

Is there any crime worse than molesting a child? How about if it’s your own child?

Just before 6:30 p.m. Thursday, a friend of mine posted a public confession on Facebook that he molested his own young daughter 11 years ago. His post said that he was going to find a police officer right after posting the confession. He’s decided it’s time to admit to his crime and face the punishment.

I was stunned and I’m still processing the news. I only know Brad Spangler casually and only as a Facebook friend. He’s one of hundreds of people with whom I’ve connected but never really gotten to know well. From his posts, I know him only as a brilliant left-leaning anarchist/libertarian who wrote well and seemed very thoughtful and well-meaning. I knew he had personal problems — including health issues — but nothing prepared me for this.

“During a particularly bad period in 2004, I molested my young daughter,” Spangler wrote. “I did not do so forcibly, but the betrayal of trust and resulting potential emotional fallout for her has weighed heavily on my conscience ever since, to the point of doubting my sanity and refusing to believe I had, or even could have, done such a thing.”

He assured his friends that he didn’t plan to harm himself or anyone else.

“I think what I’m going to do immediately after making this post, though, is see about peaceably turning myself in to the Kansas City Police Department, confirming this confession, refusing any potential bond and facing accountability in court,” he wrote. “While there are lots of impersonal topics I can rationally discuss, the truth is that I have not been emotionally well for a long time, if ever.”

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Without empathy and persistence, high IQ is just a cheap parlor trick

by David McElroy

Knowledge vs insight

When I was young, I believed that intelligence was more important than anything else. I saw it as a trump card that allowed a person to come out on top every time in life. And I was arrogant enough to almost always believe I was the smartest person in the room.

Nobody ever quite told me that intelligence was more important than anything, but the subtle message I got was that a high IQ was a golden ticket for life. I was praised for being smart and clever, so I wanted to be seen as intelligent. It became my identity.

As an adult, I’ve done pretty well on IQ tests. Most of the ones I’ve taken put me between 155 and 165. That’s not enough to get me into any record books, but it’s nice.

I’ve always questioned myself, though. What if I weren’t as smart as people said I was? What if I were nothing but a fraud who took tests well? And what if I suddenly quit doing well on the tests? Would I still have the same value?

Over the past 10 or 15 years, I’ve realized something scary — at least for someone who came to identify with intelligence as much as I did. Being smart — having a high IQ — is fairly meaningless. It might make someone clever. It might mean a person can figure things out — and have quick insights about other things — that other people struggle with.

But high intelligence doesn’t make someone successful. It doesn’t make him a decent person. And it definitely doesn’t make him happy.

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Would you secretly kill someone to get the things you want the most?

by David McElroy

Push the red button

Are you a good person? Or a bad person? Are you capable of theft? Deception? Murder? Is it a black-and-white question? Or is the answer a lot more gray — for all of us?

One of my favorite podcasts of 2014 was a spinoff of This American Life called Serial. In 12 episodes, the show explored a 15-year-old murder case, seeking to answer the question of whether the right man is in prison for the crime. (If you haven’t heard the show, I recommend it.)

In one of the final episodes of the season, the reporter spent a tremendous amount of time going over and over the question of whether the guy in prison seems like a killer or not. She seemed tormented by the need to know whether the man she had been interviewing could possibly have committed the murder.

She seemed obsessed with answering that question. Was this guy capable of murder?

I think she was asking the wrong question, so let me set it up in a different way. Let’s talk about you instead of the man sitting in prison for a murder which I suspect he didn’t commit.

Let’s say there’s something you want badly. I don’t just mean a new television or a boat or even a fancy house. I’m talking about something you’re emotionally committed to. Maybe it’s a woman who you’re in love with. (Or a man.) Maybe it’s some money that you think is rightfully yours. Maybe it’s some position of prestige or power that you believe should be yours.

With all of those things, let’s say that you want the person or thing, but there’s one other person standing in your way. Would you kill that person to get what you desperately want?

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Start over here

When this site launched in 2011, it was intended as a way to find others who were sick of partisan politics and wanted to connect with like-minded people who were ready to go beyond politics and find ways of escaping. It has shifted focus in ways that reflect my own shifting thinking. I’m less interested in politics and more interested in looking at the things that make life worth living, such as love, creation, self-understanding and connecting with others. Every article I have posted since 2011 is still in my archives, but everything I write is a reflection of my current thinking. Sometimes I’m wrong — and that’s fine with me — and I don’t always end up agreeing with what I wrote five years ago. For now, you can still read what I wrote about the site’s purpose in 2011, but I should rewrite this. Read more.

Contact David

David likes email, but can’t reply to every message. I get a surprisingly large number of requests for relationship advice — seriously — but I don’t always have the time to respond. Besides, with my own romantic track record, maybe my advice isn’t worth taking. I’d like to find a wife one of these days, so maybe I should add an “application.”
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