About Me

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Husband, father, grandfather, friend...a few of the roles acquired in 62 years of living.  I keep an upbeat attitude, loving humor and the singular freedom of a perfect laugh.  I don't let curmudgeons ruin my day; that only gives them power over me.  Having experienced death once, I no longer fear it, although I am still frightened by the process of dying.  I love to write because it allows me the freedom to vent those complex feelings that bounce restlessly off the walls of my mind; and express the beauty that can only be found within the human heart.

Friday, December 31, 2010

The Creative Power of Optimism*

Popular Mechanics, February 1951
from  http://www.coverbrowser.com/covers/popular-mechanics/14

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
January 9, 2011
as "Optimism out of style, still a priceless tool"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

A few years ago, I came across a stack of old Popular Science and Popular Mechanics magazines from the 1950s and 1960s. The mere sight of those covers took me back to the days of my youth when both magazines would arrive in the mail every month.

Carefully, I opened the cover and flipped through the pages. The insides were literally stuffed with advertising, mainly work-at-home plans. The articles, once you found them, spoke in wondrous terms of advances in science, technology, and manufacturing.

There were also interesting little snippets of information, like “married men driving with their wives break fewer traffic laws than single men.”


Friday, December 24, 2010

Peace On Earth: A Personal Challenge*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
January 2, 2011
as "A Plea For Peace"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

It’s become a running joke. A beauty pageant contestant in a beautiful, if somewhat generic gown stands before a row of penguin-like judges. In a voice ringing with conviction, she declares that, if selected, she would work tirelessly for world peace.


The human race has accomplished much in its relatively short 200,000 years. But despite the highest ideals and sacrifice, nothing has proven more elusive.

As far back as human history has been recorded, there has never been a time when all people lived in perfect harmony. Even when nations weren’t fighting amongst themselves, inside those borders conflicts raged, ranging from all out revolution and insurrection to struggles political and racial. As of this writing, the United Nations says there are 42 major and minor conflicts on planet earth right now. According to the website Global Security, 75% of those killed or wounded in those struggles are non-combatants.

As a young Navy sailor, I once asked a grizzled old Chief Petty Officer if he thought the world might ever find peace. He leaned back in his chair, looking at me with narrowed eyes through a blue cloud of cigar smoke. After a judicious pause, he said, “Nope. ‘Cause there’ll always be at least two guys who wanna fight.”

Decades later, with a degree in Political Science, I recognize the sad truth in the old Chief’s summary judgment.

In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the late and unlamented Soviet Union folded its cards and retired from the geopolitical table. For a few brief moments, there was hope. Then the deep-seated conflicts in the Balkans and the border states, long kept bottled up by the KGB and the Red Army, exploded into violence.

It is abundantly clear that the control and consistent avoidance of transnational conflict lies beyond the abilities of the human race, especially individuals like you and me.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

**The Healthy Pragmatism of Resolutionary Procrastination

The Treadmill: The Rubber-Belted Purgatory

*Chicago Tribune, December 29. 2011
as "Don't dwell on defeats"

*Somerset, PA Daily American
December 30, 2010
as "Don't Dwell On Defeats"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

If we had no winter,
Spring would not be so pleasant.
If we did not sometimes taste of adversity,
Prosperity would not be so welcome.
--Anne Bradstreet

The arrival of the New Year has become a time of reflection and hope for many. It is a moment when people make the effort to put the past behind and dwell on the unspoiled hope of the future.

The turning of the calendar has always been seen as a time of renewal and rebirth; a convenient chronological waypoint where we can rid ourselves of the accumulated baggage of old attitudes and bad habits.

The practice of crafting New Year’s Resolutions is a common, if somewhat cynical event framing the all-too-human practice of dwelling on the negative; namely, our mistakes and errors in judgment. Most resolutions revolve around attempt to fix perceived flaws through such activities as weight loss, or exercise programs. Also, making the effort to reduce or eliminate vices such as smoking, drinking, gambling, and other unhealthy habits.

The unfortunate reality is for us to make these solemn January promises to ourselves, only to see those oaths run out of steam during the February blizzards.

Gym Rats are familiar with the January surge of “Resolutionists” who show up with new memberships, anxious to begin the work of sculpting the “new them.” The club denizens are also familiar with the inevitable ebb of that crowd around mid-February. I’ve gone that route before, unsuccessfully, a casualty of my attitude.

I don’t think there’s anything more boringly soul-crushing than those endless hours on a treadmill. I’m a practical person. If I’m going to walk three miles, I want to see the world go by. Plus, walking outside means I don’t have to wait for someone else to get off the country road before I can start.

Studies indicate that about 50% of us make resolutions, but only 12% succeed. I think part of that has to do with the time of year.

Winter lies too long in country towns;
It hangs on until it is stale and shabby,
Old and sullen.
--Willa Cather

January, February, and at least part of March (months I call “the Long, Dark Tunnel”) are when I am the least motivated to much more than catch up on reading, writing, and contemplation. I do get exercise; you can’t live in an area that gets over 8 feet of snow every year and avoid it. The old instincts for hibernation, buried deep in my DNA, take over, demanding early to bed, fighting early to rise, and attempting to seduce me with afternoon naps.

Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath
for the instinct to be half asleep all winter is so strong in me.
--Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I learned a long time ago that, for me, the best time to make resolutions is in the spring. For me, the return of pleasant weather, green grass, and warm sunshine imparts a surge of energy accompanied by the strong desire to flee the now-claustrophobic house.

"Spring won't let me stay in this house any longer!
I must get out and breathe the air deeply again. "
-- Gustav Mahler

Spring is the time when I’m forced into activity. The grass must be fertilized and mowed. The extensive garden we have requires soil preparation and the planting of annuals. The windows must be washed and flung open to lure the fresh breezes inside, the house must be cleaned and repaired, the boiler put to sleep for the year, and the accumulated layer of winter gunk washed out of the garage.

Then there are the more pleasant aspects, such as getting the motorcycle out of storage and getting it ready for another glorious riding season. We get out the baseball gloves, and carefully loosen up our stiff arms with a soul-satisfying game of catch.

It is a time when many people feel they are coming back to life, and therefore, the logical time to start building the new you. It’s harder to lose momentum in the light of the warm sun, especially where exercise is concerned.

If you feel defeated in February for not carrying out a New Year’s Resolution, don’t beat yourself up. Mentally and spiritually, it’s tough to do anything productive in the middle of winter. Hold off on your personal makeover until the glorious life-giving days of spring. Your success will be far easier to attain.

It is far better to savor victories, than dwell over defeats.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Myth of the Perfect Gift*

*Somerset, PA Daily American
December 18, 2010
as "The Search for the Perfect Gift"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

Well, here it is.  Late December and I still haven't bought my wife's Christmas present. And yes, I'm in deep trouble.

Buying for a female is quite possible the severest challenge that faces a man.  Anything you do for her involves a dangerous trek through an emotional minefield where the slightest misstep results in complete disaster.

With any gift, one has to strike a balance between “not enough,” “too much,” and “just plain wrong.”  Also, the selection of a particular item sends a message, whether intended or not.  A diamond necklace and a mushy card to one’s wife?  Right message.  The same gift to a casual relation-female co-worker?  WRONG message.  A gift card from Victoria’s Secret to your girlfriend?  GOOD message.  The same to your female boss?  Run and hide. 

The goal of every husband’s gift is, of course, to make her cry.  With joy, that is.  I know we already make them cry, but usually for all the wrong reasons.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Perfect Husband

Several men are in the locker room of a golf club. A cell phone on a bench rings and one man turns, reaches down and engages the speakerpnone. Everyone else in the room listens in.

MAN: "Hello"

WOMAN'S VOICE: "Honey, it's me. Are you at the club?"

MAN: "Yes"

WOMAN'S VOICE: "I'm at the mall and found this beautiful leather coat. It's only $1,000.  Is it OK if I buy it?"

MAN: "Sure."

WOMAN'S VOICE: "I also stopped by the Mercedes dealership and saw the one I really liked."

MAN: "How much?"

WOMAN'S VOICE: "$160,000"

MAN: "OK, but get all the options."

WOMAN'S VOICE:  "Great! Oh, and one more thing.  The house we wanted last year is back on the market.  They're asking $990,000."

MAN: "Offer $900,000."

WOMAN'S VOICE:  Have you decided what we're doing for our anniversary?

MAN:  "Tahiti, First Class.  Order the tickets."

WOMAN'S VOICE: "Oh Honey, you're the perfect husband!  I love you!  Bye!"

MAN: "Bye."

The man hangs up, then notices that the other men are looking at Him in blank astonishment.  Glancing around, he asks:

"Anyone know whose phone this is?"

Christmas Eve Service

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey
Christmas Eve Celebration

Introit        “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming"                   Choir

Welcome and Setting

Today is Christmas Eve.
Tomorrow, we, along with the rest of the Christian world,
will celebrate the commemoration
of the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It is a celebration that touches every aspect
of our religious and secular lives.
It is a time traditionally when families come together,
especially for those families
whose members have scattered across the nation,
or the world.

Protecting Our Right to Ride*

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat
February 27, 2011
as "Motorcycle helmet law rages anew"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

All it took was three days of delightful weather, and the motorcycle part of my brain went from dormancy to full throttle.

Without a doubt the most controversial topic in the motorcycle community is the eternal debate over helmet laws. The two schools of thought are sharply divided. On one side is what I call the Freebirds.

Freebirds prize personal freedom above all, reasoning that if the individual is willing to undertake the risk and accept the responsibilities for that decision, then they should be allowed to go bare-headed.

On the other side are the Pragmatists. While this bunch embraces the freedom of the ride, they respect mortality. They understand that the road is not within their control, so they choose to wear the “Brain Bucket.”

Freebirds say that helmets restrict peripheral vision and add dangerous weight to the head, increasing the danger of cervical spinal injury.  (Actually, a study published last week now demonstrates that modern helmets actually help prevent cervical spinal injury.)

Pragmatists say that even a slow fall to the asphalt can bounce the head hard enough to do serious damage, and that road debris thrown up by cars and trucks towards the rider’s head is a real danger.
For the record, I’m a Pragmatist.

But for the motorcycle community as a whole, part of the frustration rises out of vacuous opinions put forward by talking heads who otherwise wouldn’t know a swing arm from a steering head bearing. They, and those who listen to them, remain convinced that all bikers are outlaws who traffic drugs, cause riots, and (gasp!) go weeks without bathing.

Over the last decade, many states relaxed helmet laws. In that time, there has been an increase in motorcycle fatalities with head injuries being the most common cause of death.
But the number of riders has also jumped. Some say that the large increase of rookie riders on bikes too big or fast for their skill level contributes to those numbers, as does the increase in the median age of riders. Older people have weaker eyesight and slower reaction times.

And, rightly or wrongly, others point to the increase in fatalities as a natural consequence of statistical density; more riders on the road equal more accidents.
Whatever the reason, the numbers have grown enough to grab the attention of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
NHTSA, for all its altruism, in the minds of many motorcyclists has apparently dedicated itself to running motorcycles off the road altogether.

NHTSA’s motivation comes from statistics.

In the years from 1994 through 2009, of all vehicle categories, motorcycles were the only group to show an increase in fatalities, even with an almost 18 percent drop from 2008 to 2009.

NHTSA held a news conference on Nov. 19, calling for all states to pass laws requiring the use of helmets.

Vice Chairman Christopher Hart declared, “People have to get outraged about this safety issue that is causing so many deaths needlessly.”

Well, gee.

Where has NHTSA been lo, these many years while riders were dying by the scores, victims of motorists who failed to yield the right of way?
Where was their advocacy when these careless drivers were taken to court and charged with simple moving violations instead of vehicular manslaughter? How can someone take a human life out of carelessness and walk away with a $100 fine?
(Taking a breath here.)
In my view, the Feds are taking the path of least resistance. They can’t find a way to force drivers to look more carefully before pulling out, turning left, or changing lanes, so they’re going after the easier target.
And by shifting the responsibility to riders, they’re contributing even more to the “us vs. them” mentality of the road.
However, to be fair and honest, there are riders in the community who aren’t aiding our public reputation. Speeding and weaving, pulling stunts in traffic, and riding impaired increases the risk to you and the danger to the rest of us. Riding safely and intelligently protects our lives on the road, and in court gives us a better chance for a fair shake from a jury.

The Constitution protects our right to the pursuit of happiness. But our riding community needs to be more proactive and responsible through our riding habits and attitudes to protect our right to ride from the bureaucrats.
Otherwise, the only pursuit will be them pulling us over, and eventually, off the road completely.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Christmas From Within*

Linus -- Frame grab from "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

*Johnstown Tribune-Democrat, December 8, 2009
as "A Charlie Brown Christmas is Still Touching Hearts"

Copyright © 2008 by Ralph Couey
Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year
--Vince Guaraldi, from "A Charlie Brown Christmas"

In 1965, an animated program debuted on CBS. It was a Christmas-themed show starring the characters of Charles Shulz’s wildly popular and generationally-defining comic strip “Peanuts.” The story was, on the surface, a familiar allegory about how the true spirit of Christmas had been hijacked by greed and materialism. The animation, while colorful, was relatively primitive, the soundtrack lacks the depth provided by modern technology.  And yet, 43 years later, the show continues to touch hearts and enlighten spirits. The obvious reason for its effect is the incipient air of greed that has inculcated itself in the season, an observation usually voiced while standing in line at Best Buy at Oh-Dark-Thirty on Black Friday.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” is much more than a holiday cartoon.  It is a call to the conscience; a reminder that we must at some point in the head-long rush between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve stop, take a breath, and seriously consider the true motivation for the celebration: the birth of Jesus Christ.

We have somehow forgotten that the season is not about material gain. It is rather about hope, salvation, redemption, forgiveness, generosity, and love; the ideas that reflect not only Christmas, but the deepest needs inside us all, especially the search for meaning. The philosophy taught by Jesus gave us that sense of meaning; that regardless of our station or circumstances in life, we are valued – and loved.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

"When I was Your Age..."*

*Johnstown, PA Tribune-Democrat
December 12, 2010
as "Appreciation for Progress"

Copyright © 2010 by Ralph Couey

I like to read other columnists.   I do this for two reasons.  (1) It makes me a better writer, and (2) they’re fun to read.

One of my favorites is 83-years-young Bernice Couey Bishop, who writes for the Rome, Georgia News-Tribune.  I have to admit it was the name thing that initially got my attention, but it is the quality of her work that keeps me coming back.

In her latest effort, she wrote about the one thing for which she was most grateful:

Indoor plumbing.