Chanticleer Calls #1

I do not propose to write an ode to dejection, but to brag as lustily as chanticleer in the morning, standing on his roost, if only to wake my neighbors up. 

Henry David Thoreau


September 1, 1999

Welcome to this first edition of “Chanticleer* Calls”, a twice-monthly newsletter for discriminating readers, thinkers, feelers, speakers, listeners, and cogitators.


Good questions. First, you’ve received this email for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. you and I are related by means of genetic happenstance (i.e., “family”);
  2. you and I are related because we have worked together in the past;
  3. you and I are related because we have studied together in the past;
  4. you and I are related due to shared interests;
  5. you and I are not related, but I’ve got your email address.

Regarding what this is about … this is about me collecting various personal observations, insights, opinions, anecdotes, jokes, quotes, aphorisms, etc., and attempting to package them twice a month into a message which entertains, enlightens, and provokes. The guiding principle which inspires this effort, and which will fuel it in the weeks and months ahead, can be expressed simply as:

This Is Not That : Implications of the Obvious


What makes an expert an “expert”?

In addition to attributes like knowledge, skills, experience, etc. – I’ll add one that you might not so quickly recognize. Experts can make fine distinctions which you and I “non-experts” cannot, or do not, make.

For example, once every four years I’ll watch the Olympic ice skating competition on TV. To me, unless a skater falls or makes obvious mistakes, one skater looks about as good as the other. However, the “expert” commentators on television can point out subtle, or not so subtle, flaws in a particular move or spin or jump as each skater skates – flaws which I just cannot see.

Sure enough, when they replay the routine in super slow motion, I can detect the dip, the hesitation, the loss of balance, that the commentator pointed out. The “expert” can see differences that I can’t.

Some of these differences don’t make a difference. For me, the fact that I cannot differentiate a 9.5 triple salchow from one scoring 7.5 does not much affect how I live my daily life.

However, some differences DO make a difference – sometimes huge differences.  Some differences can insidiously appear as similarities if we’re not careful. When we fail to properly detect these differences – when we act as if “this is just like that” instead of recognizing that “this is NOT that”, we many times create troubles for ourselves.

So is about pointing out examples of how we fail to recognize differences which can make a difference in how we respond and react to what goes on around us.


Many of you know I recently embarked on a new career. Depending on your perspective (or vocabulary), my new career path is either unemployed or self-employed. I choose the latter since I enjoy being my own boss.

My first decision as boss was to give all my employees two weeks vacation, which I (the self-employee) have used to do some painting around the house. I painted my bedroom a nice green hue, and after I finished I stood back with hands on hips admiring my brush work and congratulating myself on a good job.

But then as I replaced the light switches and outlets, I noticed some small spots which didn’t get covered. I got my utility light out and inspected for more missed spots. I found them, so I got the paint back out and did some touch-up. The next day I moved furniture around, and again, I found more very small spots.
My self-proclaimed  “good job” on Wednesday had become, by Friday, my “what-was-I-thinking-about-while-I-was-doing-this?” job.

This (my Friday evaluation) was not that (my Wednesday evaluation).

General lesson: Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there to be seen.

“We tend to discriminate against people to the degree we fail to distinguish between them.” – Irving J. Lee


I’ve been treating myself in the afternoons to a frozen yogurt at the local Braum’s store. The other day I walked in and noticed a man at the order counter, with his middle-aged daughter and about six young children, some of whom I assumed were his grandchildren. As I stood next to the man and the mother, most of the kids were running wild in the seating area.  The counter staff did not immediately come wait on us, and after a few minutes the man said in a loud, agitated, impatient voice to his daughter, “Well, if anybody’s ever going to wait on us…

I got my yogurt and sat down while the man and his daughter continued ordering meals for the brood. The man, still apparently agitated, walked to the seating area where some of the kids had planted. He noticed an ash tray on the table, then the sign that advised that they were in the designated smoking area.

Even though no one else sat in the store other than me (sitting, as luck would have it, in the non-smoking section), the man asked the kids, “Why are you sitting in the smoking area? We don’t want to sit here.” He continued to nervously look around, and up, as if he expected tar and nicotine clouds to descend from the ceiling at any moment. But the kids ignored him and kept playing and talking and trying to spin the seats off their supports.

Still searching for the smoke-to-come, he sat down and realized that the air conditioning wasn’t working properly. He started fidgeting, looking around, looking up at the ceiling fans, tried to loosen his collar, caught my eye for a second and muttered – I couldn’t tell if he was talking to me or himself – “Isn’t it kinda warm in here?” Meanwhile, the kids kept playing, oblivious to their grandfather’s discomfort.

Once his daughter arrived with the meals, he upped everybody off of their seats and herded them down to my end of the seating area, since “this is the no smoking area and I think it’s cooler down here.” Of course, he hadn’t actually been in that area, but I guess to some people, hope sometimes expediently become experience.

It struck me that the kids had not yet ‘learned’ how to be uncomfortable in all the ways that the man had learned. The kids played and laughed and cut up without regard for how long it took to place an order, what the signs on the wall said, or that the inside temperature was only 25 degrees cooler than outside, instead of 30 degrees cooler. But I’m sure with repeated exposure to the behaviors ‘taught’ by the man, the kids will eventually learn their lessons well.

Our behaviors have implications.


Former Senator Bill Bradley, a potential candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination, in a response to reporters’ badgering questions about whether he was a “left-leaning progressive” or “more moderate than Mr. Gore”: “I’m not helping you at all. It’s too simplistic to put somebody into a particular mold when the person has a heart beating and a brain functioning.

You go, Bill! Don’t forget the wise counsel of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who anticipated these image-is-everything and political-platform-by-polls sentiments 160 years ago:

“The other terror that scares us from self-trust is our consistency; a reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loth to disappoint them. … A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.”

This (label) is not that (person). This (today’s position based on today’s facts) is not that (yesterday’s position based on yesterday’s facts.

And then on the other side of the aisle, of course, there’s George W., Jr., who’s campaign short-hand isn’t “24/7”, but “not in 7/25.” (Personally, I’m kinda tickled to learn, after several years of wondering, that, yes, he actually HAS done something.)

With the beginning of a new year in Texas public schools, annual pleas for instituting prayer in schools made the news again.

In the Katy Independent School District (ISD) near Houston, there’s a move to allow students to vote on allowing “solemnization” ceremonies that could lead to prayer. A high school senior is quoted as saying, “We should at least be able to vote. Majority rules. That’s the way our U.S. Senate and everything runs.

Maybe his Civics class doesn’t cover the Bill of Rights until second semester. Let’s hope.

Personally, I’d like for the state legislature to pass a law requiring all those who insist on interjecting their own religion into the public schools to have mandatory prayer with their children each morning before school, in their most innermost bedroom closet. Failure to comply would be punishable by placing bumper stickers on the parents’ cars which read, “My child’s parents are hypocrites in the _____ ISD”.

Some actions and behaviors make a difference; others do not. But they all have consequences.

The city of Irving is opening something called a Youth Action Center, which will “give teens a place to call their own.” And it will give those adults who are concerned about gangs a false sense of security that they’ve done something to address the problem.

The chairwoman of the Center stated, “It will be similar in a way to a senior citizen center, except that it will be for teens.

Oh. Okay, similar to a senior citizen center … but for teens. Of course – teenagers aren’t anything more than senior-citizens-in-waiting who haven’t started to shrink!

The Center will have ping pong and pool tables and “in addition, a computer room will have Internet access for research or homework.

Yup, I can see this … “Mom, I’m going to the YAC with Billy to access the Internet for my non-homework-related research project.

Coincidentally, in the same paper adjacent to the YAC article, there’s news that the Irving ISD is installing surveillance cameras on some campuses.

The Columbine shootings really brought it home for us,” said the Assistant Superintendent for Support Services. (This title is much too long for a door name plate, so I assume it’s abbreviated to ASSS.) “We saw the need to move forward quickly to prevent something like that from happening here.

As if.

This (reacting to an incident) is not necessarilythat (preventing an incident).

So is it just me, or does anybody else detect conflicting messages to teenagers here? The school district wants to surveil them, while the city wants to herd them into an institutional “place they can call their own.”

Wouldn’t it be nice if the schools were actually a place the kids could call their own?

The kids at Braum’s will learn how to become like their fidgety, discomfited grandfather. And the Irving teenagers will learn how to solve problems like their city fathers and school district administrators. Because our attitudes and actions result in consequences, sometimes beyond those we anticipate.


I heard a radio commercial today for pre-owned (I prefer “used”) Lexus cars. The voice, presumably a recent purchaser (or “post-pre-owner”) stated, “It’s good for my ego.

Think about that.

Let’s accept the dictionary definition of “ego” as “the part of the psyche that is conscious, most directly controls thought and behavior, and is most aware of external reality.”  This says our ego “controls thought and behavior.”

Hmmm. I wonder, then … who controls the controller – what controls the ego?

It’s good for my ego” = “This car helps me control my thought and behavior, and makes me more aware of external reality.

A car?

Oh, but wait – here’s another part of the definition of ego: “an exaggerated sense of self-importance.

It’s good for my ego” = “It’s good for my exaggerated sense of self-importance.

Okay, finally – truth in advertising!  Yeah, baby …. YEAH!