Friday, May 25, 2007

Where Did Our Future Go?

This article originally appeared on April 30th, 2006 in

I don't usually rant and rave when I write. I like to tell a story. That's going to change a little today. Excuse me while I climb upon this soapbox.
I went to high school in the mid seventies. At that time, despite a severe gas shortage and inflation threatening to go out of control, the future held a lot of promise. We Americans seemed to buck up. We took measures to conserve energy. Little signs appeared next to light switches reminding us to turn off lights. We started dumping our huge gas guzzlers in favor of smaller, more gas efficient cars. New technologies became available and began to develop, promising technologies like solar and wind power. Solar panels were even installed on the White House grounds. We were going to beat this oil embargo. We were not only going to shed our dependence on foreign oil, we were going to become independent of oil altogether.
Then something happened. The eighties came along. For various reasons, oil and gas suddenly became cheap once again. We began to burn up oil like there was no tomorrow. We forgot all about conservation and the wonderful new technologies we had been developing.
The nineties started with a bang. That's when we found out all the money that could have been spent on developing clean, reliable, renewable energy had been spent on developing smart weapons and computers. The rest of the decade was spent wallowing in excess. No one seemed to care as we threw the years away and continued to burn up our natural resources.
The new millennium hit. It started on a paranoid note with the Y2K bug that never hit being the biggest threat. The world didn't come to a screeching halt on January 1st, 2000 and we continued to suck down our "cheap" oil. September 11th, 2001, and everything changed. Or did it? We dumped more of our young soldiers and money into foreign conflicts, and for what? To destroy weapons of mass destruction? To liberate a people? To protect ourselves? Do we really need to protect ourselves from third world countries? I no longer believe such propaganda. Everything that's happened has happened to protect the assets of the very rich and powerful. Our future was stolen long ago by some very greedy people who tried to bury it simply because it was a threat to their power. President Bush telling us we're addicted to oil is like the pusher telling his client they're hooked on heroin. He knows it's true, but he doesn't want to do anything to make it change. If the addicts break their addiction, the pusher is out of power. He may have no future, but the addicts suddenly do.
Ok, here's the thing. I want the Earth to be around for quite some time so that my kids can grow up and have kids of their own and they too can grow up and have more kids. I want my progeny to stretch forward into the millennia. I also want them to be able to enjoy the God given freedoms spelled out in our constitution. How can this be achieved? Power. I'm not talking about political power, I'm talking about electrical power.
Here's my idea. Every household needs to start switching over to a mix of solar and wind power. When it's sunny, the solar shingles on our roofs will be generating electricity, powering up rechargeable battery banks which will power our modern conveniences. When it's cloudy and rainy, windmills will supply electricity for those battery banks (which should be big enough to power the household for at least a week without recharging). In addition, we should have electrolyzers set up in our homes to make hydrogen fuels. This hydrogen would be used to power our motor vehicles, which would now be non polluting and environmentally friendly.
I can hear the chorus of groans out there already. Many people are still convinced that such a plan is infeasible, that it is too costly. That's what the oil barons want you to think. Our goals will have a tough time being realized unless this attitude is changed. When I read about a study that shows that the cost of electricity per kilowatt hour using wind or solar is more expensive than using coal, I wonder what kind of math they are using. You can't know what the cost of a kilowatt hour of electricity from a wind generator or solar cell is going to be because that cost is dependent on how long the generator or solar cell lasts. The cost is a one time expense when you buy the unit and then the cost of electricity doesn't go anywhere but down until service is required.
If we couple these two technologies together and start creating power plants in our homes, power plants which can also fuel our cars, many problems will be solved. We can reclaim our future. This is something you, the individual can do. It has become obvious our government will not help and, in fact, seeks to prevent this vision of the future from coming into being. They would rather we burn up all the non-renewable natural resources so they can line their own pockets. The fact is that the ultimate cost of our continuous dependence on fossil fuels could be the collapse of our very civilization. Look into it for yourself. There is available today an amazing variety of alternative power products you can incorporate into your homes. The best way to reclaim our future and our independence is to start utilizing what is available to us. When the consumer markets on these products start to grow, the choices we have will grow and the costs will come down. I pray we still have a bright future. I hope to see you there.
I'll get down off this soapbox now. You can have it back if you want.

Scary Monsters

This article originally appeared on April 26th, 2006 in

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Franklin D. Roosevelt
When I was a child, I was a scared little boy. I mostly have my older brothers to thank for this. As I think back on those foggy memories, I recall that they used to torment me by hiding around corners and jumping out at me or telling me stories constructed for the purpose of eliciting a scream or gasp. They would then laugh in hysterics when I responded as expected and ran off screaming or crying. Many times I would run to my mom or dad for comfort and my brothers would end up getting scolded. Now, I don’t tell you this to blame my brothers for any of my character flaws or to try to make them sound mean or evil. I love my brothers dearly. These are simply memories I have. Such things happen in a large family. We were all immature children and we acted like it.
As it happens, however, these little episodes of terrorizing a little kid did have an affect on me, or so I believe. For one thing it helped to fire up the overactive imagination I spoke of in my last article. Yet they also helped me to differentiate reality from imagination more clearly. They also helped me recognize when I was being fed a story, or in the modern vernacular, when someone was BSing me. I became suspicious of every shadow. I would check around every corner, making sure nothing was lurking there ready to pounce. I believed I was being cautious, but in fact I had learned to fear things I shouldn’t have to fear.
I remember times when fear would take control. I would be afraid of the dark. I’d be afraid to fall asleep. I’d be afraid to go into my room by myself. It didn’t happen all the time, but when it did it was overwhelming. I’d have to muster up a great deal of courage (for a little kid) just to go into my room, turn off the lights, and go to bed on some nights. There would be nights my paranoia would be so great I’d lay in my bed staring into the darkness just waiting for some scary monster to jump out and snack on me. I can still get the willies just thinking about it.
One morning I woke and my eyes fell upon a box in the middle of my messy room. Inside it, I swear I saw an evil goblin or some such mystical creature hiding. I knew it was waiting for me to get up, that it was going to snatch me as I walked by. I quickly hid under the blankets. After a time I peeked out, half expecting to see its face next to mine. I was in luck. It hadn’t moved. Then it occurred to me that it didn’t know I had spotted it. I would turn the tables on it. I would sneak up and pounce on it. I slithered out of the bed onto my stomach and crawled up to the box, keeping an eye on the creature the entire time. I grabbed at the evil being. I found myself grasping an oversized rubber ball. I was confused only for a second before I finally realized I had let my fear get the better of me.
I grew up quite a bit that day. Fear never affected me the same way since. I conquered my childhood fears and today I write horror novels. Not that any of them were ever published, a near impossibility for new authors these days. (In fact, if anyone reading this is a publisher or knows one looking for a good horror novel, drop me an email).
I’ve learned quite a bit about fear in my life. I’ve learned fear can be fun, if we elect to let it entertain us by watching a movie or reading a book. On the other side of the coin, it can be disturbing if it gets out of control. It can take over one’s life rather quickly and make one act irrational. One can use fear to manipulate another. Fear can be quite debilitating when one knows his big brother is trying to scare him.
A number of years ago, when I was a young father, I allowed my oldest daughter to watch a particularly scary movie. She was maybe five at the time. She spent nearly the entire movie with her face buried in my shoulder. I found this amusing. My daughter is twenty one years old now and she reminded me of this episode in a phone conversation we had a week or so ago. She had once again watched this movie a few weeks back. She told me she couldn’t believe I had let her watch that movie at such a tender age. I explained to her that I was a young, inexperienced father at that time and didn’t know what I was doing. She went on to inform me how adversely that event had affected her, that she’d had nightmares about that movie for years and often times couldn’t sleep or suffered from paranoia. I could only apologize to her.
Thinking about this now, it amazes me how scary images flickering across the screen can affect one’s psyche, how scary monsters can attach themselves to one’s imagination and create a minefield of negativity in one’s mind. Couple these images with a frightening story line and it can change one’s outlook on life. It makes one feel vulnerable and insecure. It makes one wonder if an entire nation could be made to feel vulnerable and insecure using such methods. Perhaps it could if the story was believable and the images especially powerful and horrifying.
I have come to the realization that I am no longer a frightened child. I no longer need a big brother to look after me and provide me with security. I refuse to ever let fear dictate to me how I will live. I don’t think anyone should.

Monday, May 21, 2007

God's Whisper, Satan's Laugh

Originally published at on April 24, 2006

I work with an 80 year old man named Valentine. I don’t think he has to work, I think he wants to work. He seems to like working. I think it keeps his mind sharp and active. He only comes in a few hours a week. He and I have deep conversations on politics, the supernatural, morals, society, space, science, you name it. Though we have our disagreements, over the years we have come to agree more often than not.
One day a few months before the war in Iraq started – while there was still much debate over whether we would or should go to war – Valentine brought in an article from the local newspaper to share with me. A woman had written a letter to the editor expressing her gratitude that we, the United States of America, were blessed with a man of God as president. She felt that George W. Bush was going to lead this nation to a great victory over Osama Bin Laden and the evil horde of terrorists amassing in the Middle East to destroy our way of life, or some such thing. I was so intrigued by this letter that I felt compelled to write my own letter to the editor. It was the first time I had ever done such a thing and I was surprised when they actually printed the letter. I kept it short and simple. I merely explained to the woman that Osama Bin Laden also considered himself a man of God and he had done some terrible things in God’s name. I then went on to explain that I wouldn’t want anyone going to war or killing or maiming or doing any such terrible deed in my name. In fact, I’ll reiterate those sentiments here. I don’t ever want anyone to ever kill another, maim, burn, make war upon, or otherwise carry out cruel and unscrupulous deeds in the name of Szandor Blestman. I can think of no circumstance which would justify another making war in my name. That was the first time such an article of mine was published and I still have a copy of it.
Now, I don’t pretend to know the mind of God. I do believe everything (or at least most things) happens for a reason. I also believe God has a plan. I don’t know what it is and I don’t think I want to know. I believe God works in mysterious ways. Those are just a few of my beliefs. Maybe I’m not as cynical as I believe.
Many people have told me I have a great imagination. I believe them. When enough people tell you something, you start to believe it. Even so, it’s hard for me to imagine the mind of God. It’s difficult to imagine what I would do if I were God. I can, however, imagine what I wouldn’t do, assuming of course that the God I’m thinking of is a caring, loving God.
One thing I wouldn’t do is talk to people, at least not in a way where I am perceived as a voice in the head. It seems to me to be a cruel thing to do, to burden a simple human with the will of the Supreme Being. It also seems to me that any thinking human might begin to question his sanity if he believed God was talking directly to him. Also, you’d be tampering with your own rules by influencing free will in such a manner. I don’t imagine God would do such a thing.
I do imagine, however, that I would talk to people in such a manner if I was Satan, or Lucifer, or any of a myriad of lesser yet still powerful demons. I would especially be interested in talking to small minded, easily influenced people, or those that were already delusional. I would speak to them as a voice in their ear and try to convince them that I was God. I would tell them to be stubborn and unwavering in their convictions. I would tell them to do terrible things to their fellow humans and then laugh with glee as I watched. If they were powerful enough I would tell them to make war on each other. I would wallow in the suffering they caused, feeding off the negative energy as demons are wont to do. I would empower such people to be able to convince others their cause is righteous and to enlist them in great armies. I would celebrate as lands were laid to waste and blood flowed freely. I would salivate as societies collapsed. I would feast on the carnage.
It’s a good thing I’m not a supernatural being. I’m just a man with an overactive imagination. I’m glad I’m not Satan. I can’t imagine how he lives with himself.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

On Becoming Father

Originally published April 23rd, 2006 at

Years ago I had an out of body experience, sort of. Not to worry dear, concerned readers, I was no where near death or even close to getting hurt. Needless to say, I hope I still have quite a number of good years left in me. No, nothing quite so dramatic happened to me.
It happened because I was yelling at my kids. I don’t remember what they had done to incur my wrath, or even whether it was one or both of them I was yelling at. It was probably something silly like having the TV up too loud or making too much noise while I was trying to concentrate. You know, they were probably just being kids in the wrong place at the wrong time and that upset me. So, there I was yelling at my kids and I suddenly decide to have this out of body experience. There I am, kind of in two places at once, watching my body yelling at my kids and wondering what they had done that was so wrong and why I was so angry.
Then I had an epiphany. I realized I was becoming my father. I suddenly knew why, at times, he would become so angry with us when we were little. It can be difficult and daunting bringing up children. Sometimes emotions just get the best of you. I also realized that I was doing something that at one point in time I had sworn I would never do. I had sworn I would never lose my temper with my children when I became a father. Granted, I may have sworn it in the naïveté of my childhood, but it was still a promise I had made to myself and I was breaking it. I calmed myself down, apologized to my kids for yelling at them and went back to my business. Later, I called my dad and told him what had happened. I told him I was becoming him and we had a good laugh. I also found out, through conversations with many of my good buddies who are also my age, this is a phenomenon many men experience.
So, here it is years later and I’m still like my father, only maybe a bit more even tempered. Thinking back on this incident, it occurs to me that maybe our country is experiencing something similar. Maybe we are becoming something we never planned on being. Indeed, maybe we are becoming the very thing we swore we never would become. We were born of an imperial monarchy and we swore to ourselves we would never allow that to happen to us. We promised ourselves we’d never allow one branch of government to become more powerful than the others. We wrote a constitution full of checks and balances to ensure future generations would be certain of having the same freedoms and benefits our forefathers had. We gave our citizens rights so that they would be certain to be heard and properly represented in the halls of congress.
Perhaps events have occurred in this country which have caused our emotions to get the best of us. Perhaps we have become a bit too angry. Maybe we should just calm down and allow ourselves to become a little more rational. We should give it some thought before making new laws that restrict our freedoms or go to war with another country that may have had nothing to do with our problems. After all, do we really want to become like the repressive fathers we were conceived from? Do we really want to become like the countries our forefathers fled?

Teach Your Children Not So Well

This was my first article published by last year. Your comments are appreciated.

Hello. Let me introduce myself. I am Szandor Blestman. I am a fort-ysix year old white male living in the far west suburbs of Chicago. I have a wife, three kids and two step kids. Normally, I don't differentiate between my biological children and my step children. I've been with my wife for seventeen years now and my step kids have very little contact with their biological father (by his choice, not theirs), so for all intents and purposes I raised those kids (with much help from their mother) as my own. Ok, I'm dwelling. Time to move on.
I was born in a small town in north central Illinois, in a farming community. We moved while I was still an infant to a near west suburb of Chicago where I grew up. My father was a high school English teacher who drove a school bus, worked as a coach and did whatever the school would let him do to make additional income. My mother was a housewife who later in life worked very hard to improve her standing and ended up becoming a certified financial planner with her own business. I was the sixth of eight children. I tell you all this because I believe it's important to know where a person is coming from and what his background is when assessing the validity of his opinion. Since this is my first attempt at such a piece, I felt it was important for you, the reader, to know some basic information about me.
I had a good childhood. Yes, there were some rough spots, but for the most part I was happy. I had a wonderful loving, caring family. My parents taught me to be hard working and honest. They taught me that if I was hard working and honest I would be successful in life. Now that I have children of my own I try to teach them the same things. I try to provide for them a loving and caring home. I try to teach them to be hard working and honest. I try to teach them that if they are hard working and honest they will be successful.
Lately, I wonder if I'm wrong, at least about the honesty part.
I look around the world today, I look at the successful people, and I notice that many of them are dishonest in one way or another, some in more subtler ways than others. I see corruption everywhere. It's in our business dealings. It's in our justice system. It's in our mass media. It's especially in our politics. Corruption has become so pervasive we have come to accept it as a fact of life. Even those who get caught and convicted can still be considered successful. Sure, they may have to pay tens of millions in fines and spend some time in a country club federal pen, but they will still most likely be worth hundreds of millions when they get out. They will never know want or need or what it's like to live from paycheck to paycheck and will live out the rest of their days in the lap of luxury. Why? Because they learned how to be dishonest, and most of them get away with it. We have simply built a society that rewards dishonesty and punishes honesty.
In the meantime, I look at my own life. I go to work forty hours a week, as does my wife, and we still can't make ends meet. Yes, we live fairly well, but sometimes I feel I have more debt than the federal government. All my hard earned cash goes to the banks to pay the ungodly (and in my opinion dishonest) interest rates they charge. I'm seriously considering getting a second job, if I can find one. I struggle because I don't know how to be dishonest, how to steal the money I need from hard working people so I can live in the lap of luxury.
I watch the struggles of my adult daughter and her husband also. I see them in the same boat as I, only maybe a little deeper in the water. They are also hard working, honest people trying to make a life for themselves. It's tough for them to find work that pays a decent wage. They are having trouble financing their educations. I'm amazed they have enough to pay for their electricity every month. I watch them and I shake my head. I wish there was more I could do for them.
I wish there was something more I could have done for her.
I wish I could have taught her to be dishonest and successful. Maybe I still can do that for my two younger children. I wish I knew how.