Ugly Cars

OK, I’ll admit it, sometimes I fall for clickbait. If it’s not clickbait for cats, it’s clickbait for cars. These are the two topics worth wading through disappointing pages that are overloaded with advertising nobody reads.

The clickbait is usually headlined as “The Ten Ugliest Cars of All Time”, “The 25 Absolutely Ugly Cars Ever”, or something similar. If you’re really bored and have a lot of time to wait through page crashing, there are the “100 Absolute Ugliest Cars Ever Built”.

The overabundance of ads is an annoying enough liability of these pages. Once you get past the clutter, then you discover that the people who compiled the lists don’t know the difference between cars and trucks. Rarely do you find one of these lists that exclusively features automobiles.

There are maybe only a few of us who take notes when visiting car clickbait. In doing so, I can attest to the fact that the lists are purely subjective. What looks deplorable to them, isn’t always very ugly, and some of the cars that make my flesh crawl never appear on the lists.

A few vehicles appear on most lists, they include Ford’s Edsel, the AMC Gremlin, AMC Pacer, East Germany’s Trabant, any car built in the former Soviet Union, Chrysler K-Cars, and anything built in France. The Nissan Juke, and the Pontiac Aztek are the most common vehicles on lists that don’t differentiate between cars and SUVs.

There are several cars that rarely, if ever, appear on the lists that really should show their ugly faces. These are mechanically good and honorable cars but are eyesores in the styling department. The Swedes make high quality products, but Saabs and Volvos just look awkward and clumsy. In my opinion, the most horribly styled American cars were any year of the Nash Ambassador. The ugliest Ambassadors are those that look like overturned bathtubs.

There are some borderline cars that I think are actually beautiful in some of their forms. The best example is the full-size 1959 Buick line. They are stunningly beautiful as convertibles and two door hardtops, but nasty looking as sedans and station wagons. Few cars are as ugly as a 1959 Buick that has rotted out.

The one ugly car list inclusion on some lists is the Delorean DMC 12. That seems entirely wrong because the Delorean is a very attractive vehicle. I guess there’s no accounting for taste.


The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes Oscar Wilde. “No object is so beautiful that, under certain conditions, it will not look ugly.”

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Free Expression

It’s time to dip my toe into the waters of controversy over freedom of speech. The topic is hard to ignore because it’s been in the news a lot the past few years. The issues vary from the Citizens United decision to the kerfuffle over athletes “taking the knee” during the playing of the National Anthem at sporting contests.

These two issues illustrate the influence of words, actions, and money regarding the distribution of power in our system of government in the United States. The two issues trigger much heated social debate. The controversy involves what, if any, restrictions we can have without violating the spirit and the letter of the law as set forth in the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

Society understands that freedom of expression is the ability to act, write, speak, or create artistic media without limitation or censorship. Freedom of expression is key to the communication of information and ideas in print media, broadcasting, Internet, advertising, and the arts. Freedom of expression is integral to the ideals of freedom of thought and conscience.

As you may know, in 2010, The Supreme Court handed down their controversial decision on “Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission”. This demolished nearly all the political campaign monetary restrictions. The ruling said that such spending is protected under the First Amendment. The result has given corporations, organizations, and wealthy individuals unfettered power to finance campaigns for political office and political issues. The aftermath has effectively unbalanced the power structure in the United States in favor of the well-to-do and against people of lesser means.

The current issue regarding the US Flag and National Anthem has again resurrected the controversy regarding the right we have not to speak. This issue was decided in the Supreme Court’s 1943 case of “West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette”. This dispute was if we have the right not to salute the flag. The court decided that we do have that right.

There are some legal restrictions on freedom of expression. Some of these restrictions remain highly controversial.

Less controversial is the famous shouting “fire” in a crowded theater. That was prohibited in the 1919 ruling in favor of the government in “Schenck vs. United States”. The decision prohibits inciting actions that harm others.

Much more controversial is the prohibition against the creation and distribution of obscene materials. This was ruled on in the 1957 case of “Roth vs. United States”. The ruling remains controversial because social definitions of obscenity remain subjective, not objective. There is also the very narrow prohibition against the burning of draft cards as an anti-war protest. This happened in the midst of the anti-Vietnam War activity. Draft card burning became illegal in 1968 with “United States vs. O’Brien”.

There are a host of restrictions on free expression directed exclusively at students. One that still raises a lot of ire is the restriction of the printing of student authored articles in school newspapers over the objections of school officials. The decision from “Hazelwood School District vs. Kuhlmeier” seems unfair on its face. However, students can now get around the restrictions of their rights by using non-school media, such as mainstream newspapers, broadcasters, and the Internet.

Freedom of Speech was addressed by two nations in 1789. The French “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” guaranteed free communication of ideas and opinions, including religious views. The United States Bill of Rights was introduced that same year and went into effect in 1791.

In the 1800s, numerous governments passed laws or adopted constitutions guaranteeing freedom of expression to their citizens. Following the second World War, the United Nations adopted the “Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. This proclaims the rights of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience to all people.

The right to freedom of expression not only inspired me to write this blog post, but allows you the right to read it.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes author and jurist Alan Dershowitz. “Freedom of speech means freedom for those who you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.”

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Library Day

A portion of most of my Sunday afternoons is set aside for a weekly visit to the library. This is a really enjoyable way to begin a week. It’s also an integral part of my continuing education. The visits during this time slot began in 2010. Before then visits happened whenever a day off from work came up.

I’ll play the role of community advocate for a paragraph. The Norfolk Public Library is one of the best I’ve visited in Nebraska and elsewhere. In fact, its one of the main bragging rights our town promotes to businesses and people considering relocating to Norfolk, Nebraska. The emphasis on the library is due, in large part, to the importance of education in the community. In addition to our community college, we have a fairly progressive public schools system. Even the religion-based schools are large and prosperous for a town of only 24,000 people.

This spring, visits to the library began to become more interesting and less convenient at the same time. In April, the opening salvos of the major reconstruction of the library were fired. Old trees were felled outdoors. Indoors, staffers began consolidating and moving materials to the south half of the library building.

In May, workers built a temporary wall that divided the building in half. Then demolition began on the north side of the building so crews could pour foundation footings the next month.

This summer, I increased the number of library visits to include a working day. I wanted to keep track of the construction project as it happened. Because the addition will more than double the library space, this is a major project. Lots of activity and work are happening.

There is a deadline to meet, this month. All the materials and services are supposed to be moved into the new addition in November. That means the library will be closed most of that month. We regular patrons will be set adrift for at least three weeks. When we’re able to return, construction activity on the renovation of the old building starts. The fun part for us will be using the new addition for the first time.

After the old building has been redone, we patrons won’t be able to visit for awhile next spring. Some time during the summer the library materials and service areas will be configured for the entire building. I can hardly wait for the grand opening of the new library next summer.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this snippet from author Saul Bellow: “People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”

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What A Pain

A couple of weeks ago, my email account was hacked. At first there were several mails saying messages could not be delivered. These were messages to unfamiliar email addresses. Soon, more of these alerts appeared. When more than 100 at a time were received, my Internet Provider automatically locked my account. It took a few frustrating hours of “chat” and phone calls to finally resolve the issue.

At the same time, hurricane Maria had left apocalyptic devastation in the Caribbean. Puerto Ricans were left to fend for themselves due to the continuing political quagmire in the Executive Branch of the US government and an absurd distraction about professional football and the flag.

In the background was the continuous problem of sabre rattling, terrorism, war, hate crimes, famine, and climate change. All of these, together, prove that life is suffering.

This conclusion is not an expression of pessimism, nor is it an outburst of cynicism. It is an ages old truth that has been observed since prehistory. Sages, and religious leaders have been searching for a solution to this problem throughout humanity’s existence. There are as many prescriptions for the alleviation of suffering as there are religions and political factions. Most often, these solutions only cause more suffering, if not for the original sufferer, but for those who are seen as the sufferer’s adversaries.

There are different levels of suffering. We have the ordinary type that happens if we are harmed. There is the discomfort we feel about change and impermanence. Then there is the matter regarding conditioned states of mind.

The ordinary pain includes physical pain, such as when we accidentally hit our thumb with a hammer or if we receive an insult or threat, or if we experience grief. This is what I felt when my email account was locked.

The discomfort that comes with change or the realization of impermanence comes about when we realize that our successes fade with the passing of time. It also comes about when we find out that the most pure state of spiritual bliss fades or becomes mind-numbing. Nothing whatsoever in the Universe is permanent. That’s a hard pill for us to swallow.

The suffering associated with conditioned states is a little trickier to understand. We need to remember that all phenomena are conditioned. That is, everything in the Universe affects everything else. When an event affects something or someone, another event occurs to something or to that person. These events continue to affect things and people on and on like a chain reaction.

If you feel hunger, you need to feed yourself, which means you must acquire food from somewhere like a supermarket, which means the supermarket must restock its supplies, which means the warehouse must acquire produce, which means that farmers must grow crops, etc.

Conditioned states are revealed in the concepts of hunger. I can experience hunger as do other people and animals everywhere on Earth. If there are tyranny, ambition, and greed in Russia, Nigeria, and the United States, there are tyranny, ambition, and greed in the hearts of individuals everywhere. These conditioned states create imbalance and deep pain. When things don’t go our way, we suffer.

If we can find a way to end these forms of suffering inside, we can affect these forms of suffering outside of ourselves. Observe that there is suffering and do not personalize it. Accept that suffering is universal and takes many forms.

There is no magic pill nor doctrine that will eliminate suffering. We can simply manage our pain and experience it as pain and that it is related to fear. To end fear we must have a clear and simple mind.

I don’t have the answers. These words only reflect my observations. Pay attention to what happens to you and how you react to those events. Really pay attention.

The Blue Jay of Happiness ponders a saying from writer/artist Khalil Gibran. “Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.”

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October Ikebana …Floral Friday

Life has seemed to be much more chaotic than usual lately. To constructively deal with the additional stress, I decided it was time to spend some quality time and practice Ikebana once more.

The art-form is the deliberate use of mindfulness meditation and floral design. It has the look of modernity yet is rooted in tradition. To do Ikebana is to be mentally and spiritually engaged.

The first example is based on the old idea that lines are masculine and curves are feminine. It is coupled with another old concept that odd numbers are male and even numbers are female. In this case we have three linear elements and four circular elements.

The second arrangement balances heaviness with lightness. A physically heavy vintage cast iron container holds a visually heavy sunflower. Grassy stems provide the needed counterpoint.

If there is one theme the third Ikebana demonstrates, that would be freedom. I took three deep, mindful breaths, then began the process of placing elements and only placing elements.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes from Kadensho, Teshigahara’s Diary. “Just as musicians express themselves through the language of music, Ikebana artists must use the language of flowers.”

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Screams Out Of Frustration

Does letting out a loud scream help a person feel better or does that only make one feel worse? I ask that as a rank amateur because I don’t have any psychology credentials nor have I taken any training to be a life coach. Yet, I still sometimes ask myself the question when life gets stressful and frustrating.

One of my acquaintances often “loses it” when minor annoyances trigger her temper. Walking on eggshells is how people must act in order to avoid her wrath. This type of hair-trigger screaming is at one end of the spectrum. The other extreme is when a person holds back his emotions and allows them to “eat up” his insides. This isn’t healthy either.

I wondered if there is such a thing as a happy medium between these two extremes.

To be clear, I’ve performed some layman-type personal experiments on myself during some of those days when nothing seems to go right. When I’ve let out a few full-volume screams into a pillow, there’s been a feeling of release, but the feelings of frustration seem more intense afterwards. If frustration arose in a social situation, I “swallowed” the tension. The negativity resurfaced as a gut-ache, a neck-ache, or a headache. Clearly, neither technique works for me.

I mentioned these experiments to my friend Andy because he is also an “armchair psychologist”. He explained that he has had similar experiences. He recalled an incident when a truck cut him off in traffic. Andy yelled at the top of his lungs. He caught himself getting angrier to the point that he was on the verge of road rage. Andy said that was a major wake up call for him.

Andy and I compared notes on what we have done to get past intense frustration. It turns out that both of us have discovered deep breathing as the best short-term remedy for extreme situations. There have been a few times when Andy had to repeatedly breathe so deeply that he nearly hyperventilated. I told him that has happened to me a few times, too. I’d rather hyperventilate than have my frustration go nuclear.

Both Andy and I have discovered that the deep breathing approach towards frustrating events must be approached in the same way as we build other good habits. Mindfulness comes to the rescue. When we feel anger and frustration building, we acknowledge the emotions. Then we purposely take some deep breaths. This approach works in nearly every crisis.

On the rare occasion that the frustration is still near boiling, I stop what I’m doing and walk away for a mini-meditation. Whenever I’ve been able to put some physical distance between the aggravating person or situation and myself, the frustration level diminishes. This has worked so well that I cannot remember the last time I’ve felt the need to scream.

Of course, the reader must remember that individual results may vary. Some people may find the need to consult a professional counselor.

The Blue Jay of Happiness likes this thought from actor/musician Henry Rollins: “Do you know why Albert Camus was so prolific? He wrote to keep from screaming.”

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The fancy spinning top advertisement caught my eye earlier this summer because it kept showing up on multiple pages on the Web. Saturation advertising is an old, time-tested technique that is quite effective. It worked to lure me to the website for “ForeverSpin”. I was not really in the market for a top; I was merely curious.

The tops are grown-up toys with a pinch of prestige. They’re meant to accent an executive’s desk or to collect. The Canadian company that manufactures the tops, touts them as precision objects. Out of further curiosity I investigated their priciest top. For the tungsten steel model, they charge $195 USD. They have others priced much lower. No, I didn’t order one, but I have dropped a few hints that one would be welcome for the December holidays.

The advertising did trigger fond memories of tops from my childhood. The first one was made of sheet metal and was spun by pumping a screw-type mechanism. It was decorated with a circus theme. The top was noisy, so mom took it away.

Later on, one of my uncles gave me an old-fashioned top that was launched by wrapping a length of string around the top’s equator then whipping the string like that of a yo yo, except horizontally. The technique took awhile to master.

When I wasn’t practicing with the vintage top, there were plenty of plastic freebie tops from boxes of cereal and such to fiddle around with. Those were launched by twisting the stem between the thumb and index finger. They were usually only around for a couple of days before my brother permanently borrowed them.

The memories of the old toy tops put me in the mood to get something that rotates in order to celebrate International Top Spinning Day (today). This weekend, I noticed an endcap display at the local Target store with a variety of “Fidget Spinners” priced very cheap. Now there’s one sitting on the desk next to my laptop.

It is fun to play with the spinning toy. One of the first things I noticed is the gyroscopic force you feel when it’s tilted. That might be one of the secrets behind the fancy acrobatic tricks that kids on YouTube use to their advantage. No, I don’t plan to learn any stunts with my “Fidget Spinner”. It’s just a snack replacement that keeps my fingers busy, at least for now.

Anyway, here’s a salute to one of the world’s oldest toys, the spinning top.

Happy International Top Spinning Day.

The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes singer Don McLean.
“I feel like a spinning top or a Dreidel
The spinning don’t stop when you leave the cradle
You just slow down
Round and around this world you go
Spinning through the lives of the people you know
We all slow down.”

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