08 May 2016


Over the years I have lived in 9 U.S. states, and visited or traveled through 37 more. This should be an easy test of your 6th grade geography classes ~ looking at the map, can you deduce the names of the 4 states missing from my travel map?

This map does not include the small number of foreign nations I've spent time in. They include ~

  • Canada (Alberta)
  • Mexico (Sonora)
  • Philippines
  • South Vietnam
  • Japan
So much of the world yet to discover ~ so little time remaining in which to do so.

15 February 2016

Hi everyone,

Yes, it has been nearly two years since I was last active here.  Parkinson's and other complications have sidetracked me, but I am resuming posting ~ both here and at my own domain, http://www.predatorhaven.com/ .  Look for me there for a different slant on the world from the one you've found here.  

And THANK YOU for all your visits!  You make my day.


17 May 2014


"The connection between music and mathematics has fascinated scholars for centuries.  More than 2000 years ago, Pythagoras reportedly discovered that pleasing musical intervals could be described using simple ratios.

"And the so-called musica universalis or 'music of the spheres' emerged in the Middle Ages as the philosophical idea that the proportions in the movements of the celestial bodies -- the sun, moon and planets -- could be viewed as a form of music, inaudible but perfectly harmonious.

"Now three music professors ... have devised a new way of analyzing and categorizing music that takes advantage of the deep, complex mathematics they see enmeshed in its fabric."

09 May 2014


The following was first published at the website PositiveMed.com in August 2012 ~

When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.

Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem.  Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the hospital.

One nurse took her copy to Melbourne.  The old man's sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas editions of magazines around the country and appeared in magazines for mental health.  A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple but eloquent poem.

And this old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this 'anonymous' poem winging across the Internet.

Cranky Old Man

What do you see, nurses?  What do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes,

Who dribbles his food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do
And forever is losing a sock or a shoe,

Who, resisting or not, lets you do as you will
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?  Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse.  You're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.

A young boy of sixteen with wings on his feet,
Dreaming that soon now a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at twenty, my heart gives a leap
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.

At twenty-five, now I have young of my own
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play 'round my knee,
Again we know children, my loved one and me.

Dark days are upon me.  My wife is now dead.
I look at the future, I shudder with dread
For my young are all rearing young of their own
And I think of the years, and the love that I've known.

I'm now an old man and nature is cruel,
Its jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles, grace and vigor depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass a young man still dwells,
and now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain
And I'm loving and living life over again.

I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people.  Open and see
Not a cranky old man.  Look closer.  See.  Me.

30 March 2014


Click on image to enlarge.

(What follows is a copy of an email I sent to select friends and family about six months ago.)


Late summer 2013

My life has been intellectually, emotionally, and physically active.  I discovered my own athleticism in adulthood ~ at play while hiking, bicycling, kayaking, weight training, and motorcycling; and at work as a surveyor, nature preserve caretaker, lifeguard, USFS wildlife tech, freezer ship crew, and driving transit buses, among others.

If you drew a blank front-and-back silhouette of my body on a piece of paper, then made a red mark for each injury or medical repair, the result would look like a road map of all the collisions and mishaps which accompany working and playing hard.  I’m proud of that, in spite of the complications which all those hard knocks introduce as one ages.

Ten months ago, something new and strange intruded itself.

The symptoms

  • I noticed that my hands and feet had developed tremors.  It was mild at first, but over time, it interfered with handwriting, with typing, even with eating.
  • Accompanying the tremors was occasional numbness, especially in my left arm, and stiffness in my left hand if it remained in one position for too long ~ as though the joints had become locked in position and had to be slowly freed up.
  • Along with deterioration in hand manipulations, my coordination while walking became awkward.  My gait was stiff and uncertain, cranelike ~ a far cry from the easy athleticism of my youth and middle years.
  • Mild vertigo began to intrude itself when I stood or turned too quickly.
  • As happens for us all, my memory began to erode ~ especially my memory for certain words, or for the names of people, books, movies.  Any of these symptoms by itself might not be cause for concern. Taken together, they are.

The diagnosis

I got a referral to see a neurologist.  After a lengthy physical exam and set of questions, and a followup MRI, he said that I clearly am in the early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
Parkinson’s is "a degenerative disorder of the central nervous system.  The motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease result from the death of dopamine-generating cells in the substantia nigra, a region of the midbrain.  The cause of this cell death is unknown.  Early in the course of the disease, the most obvious symptoms are movement-related.  These include shaking, rigidity, slowness of movement, and difficulty with walking and gait.  Later, thinking and behavioral problems may arise, with dementia commonly occurring in the advanced stages of the disease, whereas depression is the most common psychiatric symptom.  Other symptoms include sensory, sleep, and emotional problems." (definition from Wikipedia ~ check out the website for more info.)

The genesis

Parkinson’s has a clear genetic component ~ one of my uncles had it.  Other factors particular to my lifetime include wartime exposure to Agent Orange (a defoliant and herbicide widely used in Vietnam), and the near certainty of a concussion in each of my two motorcycle accidents (1985, 1990).

The prognosis

Even though there is currently no cure for Parkinson’s, an array of treatments exist to minimize the symptoms.  The duration of their effectiveness is limited, however.  Barring new research results or new medications, my outlook is for a maximum of 15-20 years of normal function, with my symptoms gradually returning during that time.

The background matrix

Parkinson’s is not, of course the first insult to my body.  Others include ~
  • PTSD from my year in the Vietnam War.
  • Skin cancer (under control and continuous treatment).
  • Chronic pain and limited mobility from a herniated lumbar disk.
  • Arthritis.
  • Bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Restless legs syndrome.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High cholesterol.
  • Acid reflux disease.
  • Chronic clinical depression.
  • Assorted physical injuries ~
  • Broken left clavicle
  • Separated left shoulder joint
  • Separated right bicep muscle
  • Bilateral severe ankle sprains
  • Tendonitis in right elbow, both ankles
  • Separated left ring finger joint
  • Separated right knee cartilage
The list goes on.  Some conditions respond to medication, others do not.


I am still coming to terms with the Parkinson’s diagnosis, psychologically.  Even though I did my own research and knew that was the likely cause of my symptoms, hearing it from the neurologist was hard.  At first I was struck by how empty and hollow life had seemingly become.  It’s not as devastating as being told that cancer gives you six months to live, but it’s in the ballpark.

But I’ve learned to counsel myself over the years, and I’m now taking things one day at a time.  If we can discover a medication which removes the tremors and awkward walking, I’ll be content.  There remains much that is fine and rewarding in my life ~ writing, reading, places I want to see, people I want to meet or reconnect with.  Most of all, I am committed to doing everything humanly possible to save our garden planet from the ravages of pollution, climate change, dirty energy, and human overpopulation.

I grew up in a world which had much more wilderness and wildlife ~ today we erase wilderness and murder wildlife at a rate which leads to ecosystem loss and species extinctions daily.  We are fouling our own life support system. What kind of world will we leave for our grandchildren, and their grandchildren?

I am determined that it will be a better world.  I will die trying to make it so.

Which leads me to my own eventual end.  I have no wish to exist as a vegetable, either in a nursing home or as a burden to family or friends.  Before I become physically incapable or mentally scattered, I will choose to depart this life on my own terms, with dignity and acceptance.

In the meantime, life is rich with loving friends, fine music and art, the foods and cultures of a diverse world, and a wealth of memories.  My cats are my caregivers and my solace.  And, to paraphrase the Beatles, life goes on within me and without me.


During the time since that email was sent (and much love and support was received), I've endured the physical and emotional roller coaster of treatment.  My neurologist prescribes a medication in various dosages, or combinations of medications.  Nothing is completely effective.  My unsteady gait has improved, and I walk daily, no matter the weather.  But the tremors in the muscles of my left arm, from shoulder to fingertips, continue -- especially in the hand.  Typing has become slow and clumsy, a frustration to one who once typed 85 wpm without errors.  Whenever I grip something for more than a few seconds (a vacuum cleaner, a game controller, a dumbbell), it results in hours of intensified tremors, often compounded by sensations of skin crawling, or soreness, or fatigue.  Lately I've noticed that tremors are now present in my left leg and foot as well.

Recently I discovered a local support group for Parkinson's patients.  There are 20-30 people in the group, most of them in their 60s or older, but a few much younger who have family members with the disease, and want to know more about it.  The group members are friendly and welcoming, and I'm learning more than I have through my neurologist alone.  Among other things, I found out that there are twenty highly-rated centers around the country which specialize in Parkinson's treatment -- something most neurologists do not do.  In the West, one is in Phoenix, AZ, and another is in Portland, OR.  I love the desert, but Phoenix is way too crowded.  I love the temperate rain forest, but Portland has such long, gray, wet winters.  However, my son and his family live nearby, so that may become my destination for treatment.  Besides, I've missed my son for far too long.

Networking seems to be key, augmented by my own research.  That, and educating loved ones about what Parkinson's is, what to expect, and how to most effectively be supportive.

That's my story, and I'm sticking with it.

29 March 2014


As promised in an earlier post, here is a summary of my experience with a book called Badluck Way - A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West, by Bryce Andrews.

The core theme is the evolving relationship between predators (in this case, wolves) and the cattle ranchers who often share the same territory.  It is a polarizing, highly-charged subject, one in which I am firmly allied with wolves.  But as the author shows, it's not all black and white.  Bryce Andrews is a gifted writer and an incisive thinker, in addition to being a hard-working cattleman.  His book is a gift, one that bridges the opposed perceptions of hard-core ranchers and hard-core wildlifers.  The writing flows as naturally as a mountain stream, awakening the reader's senses and lifting our collective eyes to a horizon we may not have known existed.

From the book jacket ~

"In this gripping memoir of a young man, a wolf, their parallel lives and ultimate collision, Bryce Andrews describes life on the remote, windswept Sun Ranch in southwest Montana.  The Sun's twenty thousand acres of rangeland occupy a still-wild corner of southwest Montana -- a high valley surrounded by mountain ranges and steep creeks with portentious names like Grizzly, Dead Man, and Bad Luck.  Just over the border from Yellowstone National Park, the Sun holds giant herds of cattle and elk amid many predators -- bears, mountain lions, and wolves.  In lyrical, haunting language, Andrews recounts marathon days and nights of building fences, riding, roping, and otherwise learning the hard business of caring for cattle, an initiation that changes him from an idealistic city kid into a skilled ranch hand.  But when wolves suddenly begin killing the ranch's cattle, Andrews has to shoulder a rifle, chase the pack, and do what he'd hoped he would never have to do.

"Badluck Way is about transformation and complications, about living with dirty hands every day.  It is about the hard choices that wake us at night and take a lifetime to reconcile.  Above all, Backluck Way celebrates the breathtaking beauty of wilderness and the satisfaction of hard work on some of the harshest, most beautiful land in the world.  Called 'an important meditation on what it means to share space and breathe the same air as truly wild animals', Badluck Way is the memorable story of the West's timeless landscape, a place at the center of the heart's geography, savage and gorgeous in equal measure."

I found it at the public library, and was so deeply impressed that I bought a copy for myself and one for my son's birthday.  By happy coincidence, I noticed a sign in Barnes & Noble alerting passersby to a book signing that weekend.  Eureka!  I showed up, two copies in hand, and was greeted by one of the most pleasant, eloquent, and at-ease people I've ever met.  We traded stories -- me, about my work on a Nature Conservancy preserve in southern Arizona, and doing post-hurricane habitat restoration for the US Forest Service in South Carolina, and Bryce, updating me on his own life's progress.  After the events in the book, he went on to manage two other ranches in southwest Montana, continuing the ethic of coexisting with wilderness/wildlife rather than seeing nature as an antagonist.  Currently he and a partner are starting their own ranch in the Bitterroot, with the intent of supplying free-range beef in bulk (a whole beef, a half, or a quarter) to individuals and/or retail outlets in Missoula. 

I enjoyed our conversation so much that an hour slipped by before I knew it.  Bryce wasn't hesitant in greeting others, but he was also generous with his time with me.  We exchanged business cards and email addresses, and I promised that I would continue to promote his book wherever I could.

And, as you can see, I'm following through.  Not from any sense of obligation, but because of the inherent worth of his writing -- skilled, natural, and devoted to one of the seminal controversies of our time.  I hope you will fell encouraged to read the book, and pass the word along.

28 March 2014


The following text (original in Spanish) and the photo
are by Guillermo Pena.
Translation to English by Sergio Cadena

My dear [child], the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through.  If when we talk, I repeat the same thing a thousand times, don't interrupt to say, 'You said the same thing a minute ago' .... Just listen, please.  Try to remember the times when you were little and I would read the same story night after night until you would fall asleep.

When I don't want to take a bath, don't be mad and don't embarrass me.  Remember when I had to run after you making excuses and trying to get you to take a shower when you were just [a child] ?

When you see how ignorant I am when it comes to new technology, give me the time to learn and don't look at me that way .... remember, honey, I patiently taught you how to do many things like eating appropriately, getting dressed, combing your hair and dealing with life's issues every day .... the day you see I'm getting old, I ask you to please be patient, but most of all, try to understand what I'm going through.  

If I occasionally lose track of what we're talking about, give me the time to remember, and if I can't, don't be nervous, impatient or arrogant.  Just know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you.

And when my old, tired legs don't let me move as quickly as before, give me your hand the same way that I offered mine when you first walked.  When those days come, don't feel sad .... just be with me, and understand me while I get to the end of my life with love.  I'll cherish and thank you for the gift of time and joy we shared.  With a big smile and the huge love I've always had for you, I just want to say, I love you .... my darling [child].

09 March 2014


(click to enlarge)

The last time I posted an entry of any substance was late last summer -- nine months ago.  A deleterious health issue reared its ugly head, and I've been finding my path through the physical and emotional challenges that come with a diagnosis which places an unexpected limit on the years I have remaining.  I'll reveal more in a future entry.

For now, I want to say 'thank you' to those of my friends and family who have stuck by me, and to those readers who keep returning to this forum.  I've missed the daily act of choosing a topic, researching it, writing a summary or opinion, proofreading, rewriting, selecting illustrations, and finally publishing the result.  Rigor, creativity, satisfaction.

I already have a list of topics to introduce, not least of which is an important new book on one ranch hand's experience with cattle and wolves.  As happens in many controversial debates, people tend to fall into polarized absolutes in the stances they adopt.  I fall into this trap at times, though much of what I put out there is actually intended to provoke thought, discussion, or an expanded understanding.  The world is rarely a simple, black-or-white place.

I was fortunate to spend an hour talking with the book's author, earlier today.  He is eloquent, well-informed, and understands nuance and the longer view.  More to come.

25 August 2013

12 August 2013


Their eyes are filled
with memory,
with future pain,
and with the love of the moment.

01 August 2013


I've discovered an excellent website called The Good Men Project.  Its editor is Noah Brand, who wrote a featured article titled Five Important Things Women Don't Know About Men.  I like Brand's writing style, and the way his mind works.  I present his text below ~

"The title is, to be fair, an over-generalization.  These things are not universally true of all men, and there definitely are women out there who know and understand some or all of them.  By and large, though, these five areas where communication between the two most popular genders tends to break down on grounds of incomprehension.  Women, this might help explain a few things.

1.  We are starved for compliments.

There's an old rule men learn about flirting with women ~ if a woman is pretty, don't expect to impress her by telling her so.  People have been telling her that every single day since puberty, and it no longer registers as anything other than background noise.

On the other hand, most men have never been told they're pretty.  Or attractive at all.  We're supposed to derive value from our success and our careers, not our looks, and there is an overwhelming cultural narrative that we are the wanter, not the wanted, the pursuer, not the pursued, the desiring, not the desirable.

Tell a man (other than Ryan Gosling) that he's pretty, and you will have his undivided attention.  You may well be the first person ever to say that to him.  Do not assume that an attractive man knows he's attractive.  The opposite is probably the case.

2.  We are not more shallow than women are.

Sure, some guys only go for women who look like magazine advertisements.  Some women do the same thing with guys.  But when most women get together with their trusted friends and talk about men, there's a rich diversity of attraction that gets talked about.  They'll talk about a guy's sexy voice, or the way he holds them in his sleep, or the look on his face when he's passionate about something, or the lines on his hands.  When they do talk about the face and the body, it's not all sharp cheekbones and ripped abs.  There are all kinds of types that different women find attractive for their own reasons.

And yet there's a stereotype that men don't do the exact same thing.  Believe me, we do.  When actual grown-up men get together and talk girls, there's an awful lot of 'I love the way she tells the truth, just straight-out with no bullshit.'  and  'It's the freckles.  I cannot resist her freckles.'  and  'When she giggles a certain way I just want to jump her right there.'

Oh, we do dig the physical aspects too, very much so.  But again, it's not about the women in magazines and commercials.  Grown men can tell the difference between an airbrushed plastic image designed by a marketing department and a real live woman.  We have a very wide range of tastes and types in terms of what we find sexy in a woman, and anyone who tells you different is probably trying to sell you something.

3.  There's a reason for that emotional repression.

I'm often surprised by how little women know about the experience of being a teenage boy.  It really shouldn't be surprising ~ there are almost no realistic depictions in media of teenagers of any gender.  I mean, when was the last time you saw a teenage girl on TV or in a movie acting like teenage girls in real life?

Short version ~ testosterone is a hell of a drug.  Those who've taken it as adults as part of a gender transition tend to report intense cravings for physical catharsis, flashes of inexplicable rage, and similar effects.  And that's taking it on purpose, knowing that it's a drug, with an adult level of brain development and emotional maturity.  Now imagine that happening to you without warning when you're thirteen and have no idea what's going on.

Almost every adult man walking around spent at least part of his adolescence dealing with sourceless, purposeless anger and a desire for violent catharsis.  It's like having a little devil on your shoulder constantly making the same unhelpful suggestion.

      "I don't know how I'm going to deal with this test Friday.  I can't cope."

      "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?"

      "Shut up, shoulder devil, nobody asked you.  Hmm, What do I want for lunch?"

      "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?"

      "Shoulder devil, that is NOT EVEN A FOOD."

And so on.  We spend years learning that our immediate emotional responses to things are absolutely not to be trusted.  The first response to an emotional impulse must be to ignore it and repress it, just for safety.  The men who didn't lean that reflex?  They're the ones with criminal records for assault.

Once we mature out of adolescence, the hormones calm down and we're fine, but at that point the cultural conditioning has been drilled in beyond repair, a million repetitions of 'man up' and 'crying is for girls' and on and on and on.  What was a safety precaution in high school becomes a socially mandated norm, and that's why, over the course of my life, I've shed more tears over the 'Marseillaise' scene in Casablanca than I have over my mother's death.  (Though to be fair, I've seen Casablanca probably twenty times, and my mother's only died once.)

4.  We are sick of being success objects.

This is one of those things most men don't even have the vocabulary to talk about.  It's a nameless pain, an unspoken discontent that eats away at far too many men.  Just as women too often feel defined solely by their looks and their dress size, so too are men taught that our worth as human beings comes from our career, our bank balance, our success.

All those gold-digger jokes, all those lines about 'So what if he's short ~ he can stand on his wallet' ... we know on a deep level that they're not jokes.  Those lines about how the job of a husband and father is keeping the bills paid ~ we understand those.  We know that our attractiveness, our worth, our contribution to our families is all about how much money we can make.  And it's exhausting.

Some guys get resentful, thinking that even their loved ones just see them as a walking wallet.  Some guys get tired, feeling like no matter what they make, it'll never be good enough.  Some guys spend their whole lives ashamed, having had it beaten into them that they're only worth what they've got in the bank, and taking poverty or financial reversals as a deep personal failure.  It eats away at us daily in a thousand little micro-aggressions, all the ways we're made to feel Not Good Enough, when what they mean is Not Rich Enough.

5.  Yes, we actually do need to adjust ourselves like that.

This one's less of a major emotional issue, but seriously, enough with the jokes about how weird and gross it is.  The equipment shifts around, it changes shape and size, it chafes, and it is very very sensitive.  When it gets uncomfortable, it gets very uncomfortable indeed, so cut us a little slack, could you?"

28 July 2013


Last year my son's mother-in-law passed away, after a long illness.  Her death was a terrible loss to my son's wife.  The loss was almost inconceivable to my grandson, who was ten at the time, and had been very close to his grandmother.

As luck would have it, the information-rich National Geographic website recently published a piece which is welcome to all of us who must try to help children understand death.  Virginia Hughes' When Do Kids Understand  Death? draws upon research from the 1930s to the present, and places the discussion in the framework of a child's intellectual and emotional development.  Her answers, for both children and adults, are illuminating.

"No matter what your age, death is not easily defined.  But for the purposes of research, scientists define a child's understanding of death by looking at three specific aspects of the concept.

"The first is death's irreversibility.  Once your body is dead, it cannot ever be alive again.  Kids under 3 don't understand this idea ~ they'll talk about dead people as if they went on a trip or took a nap, or will hold open the possibility that dead things can come back to life with the help of water, food, medicine, or magic.  Children begin to grasp death's finality around age 4.  In one typical study, researchers found that 10 percent of 3-year-olds understand irreversibility, compared with 58 percent of 4-year-olds.

"The other two aspects of death are learned a bit later, usually between age 5 and 7.  One, dubbed nonfunctionality, is the idea that a dead body can no longer do things that a living body can do.  Before this is grasped, kids will affirmatively answer questions like, Can a dead person feel? or If someone died, could he still eat?  Can he move?  Can he dream?

"Then there's death's most befuddling attribute, at least for me ~ its universality.  Every living thing dies, every plant, every animal, every person.  Each one of us will someday expire.  Interestingly, before children learn this, many believe that there are certain groups of people who are protected from death, like teachers, parents, and themselves.  'Without a doubt, most children understand that some people die before they understand that they themselves will die,' the review authors write.  And even children who understand that they will one day perish 'have a tendency to say that their death will occur only in the remote future when they get old'

"These are all generalities and tendencies.  Some kids develop more quickly than others.  And some studies have found that emotionally traumatic events ~ such as the loss of a parent ~ can speed up a child's understanding of death."

When I was about 6 or 7, my parents and I lived on a farm along the Rocky Mountain Front, in northern Montana.  One afternoon I was home alone, after the school bus dropped me off.  My mother had driven to a distant town earlier in the day, but should have been home to meet me.  My father was nowhere to be found.  I was puzzled and confused.  Then something surreal happened ~ a car containing two neighbor women pulled into the driveway.  They came inside, and told me that my mom had been in a car accident.  My dad was with her at the hospital, and I was to come with them to stay at our nearest neighbor's home until we knew more.

Not knowing what else to do, I obeyed.  I was friends with that neighbor's children, so playing with them provided distraction from the dark and worrisome cloud of uncertainty which took over my emotions and my thoughts in moments of silence.  The day passed into evening, and I'd been tucked into a bed on the sofa when my parents walked into the door, and I ran into their waiting arms.  I could breathe again.

I later learned that my mom had been driving home, when an oncoming car with a drunk driver at the wheel swerved and struck her car.  In those days before seat belts, it's a miracle that she came out of it with little more than a few cuts and a nasty bump on the head.  Thankfully our country roads back then were gravel, so neither vehicle was traveling very fast.  The other driver was cited by the sheriff, and after doctors determined that my mom had sustained no serious injuries, she was released from the hospital.

But I still remember those dark clouds in my mind, not knowing if my mother was alive or dead, or how badly hurt.  Not knowing is a terrible thing.  Only rarely is knowing worse.

22 July 2013


Last week I watched a film which remains seared into my thoughts.  The Invisible War is a 2012 documentary about sexual assault in the military.  The tone is thoughtful and understated ~ there is no need for sensationalism, because the facts and the emotional struggles of the survivors speak for themselves.

The film features interviews with veterans from multiple branches of the United States Armed Forces who recount the events surrounding their assaults.  Their stories share common themes, such as the lack of recourse to an impartial justice system, reprisals against survivors instead of perpetrators being held accountable, the absence of adequate emotional and physical care for survivors, the unhindered advancement of perpetrators' careers, and the forced expulsion of survivors from service.

Interspersed with these first-person testimonies are interviews with advocates, journalists, mental health professionals, active duty and retired generals, Department of Defense officials, and members of the military justice system.  The film also includes footage which documents the veterans' lives and continuing struggles in the aftermath of their assaults.

Past incidents of sexual abuse recounted in the film include the 1991 Navy Tailhook scandal, the 1996 Army Aberdeen scandal, and the 2003 Air Force Academy scandal.  The Invisible War uses these examples to argue that the military has consistently made empty promises to address its high rate of sexual assault.  The survivors and advocates featured in the film call for changes to the way the military handles sexual assault, such as shifting prosecution away from unit commanders, who often are either friends with assailants or are assailants themselves.

Here is the film's home page, which includes the official trailer to the movie.

Below is a sampling of facts about sexual assault in the military, featured in the film ~ all statistics are from US government studies ~

Over 20% of female veterans have been
sexually assaulted while serving.

At least 1% of male veterans have been
sexually assaulted while serving.

More than 86% of service members
do not report their assault.

A Navy study found that 15% of incoming recruits
had attempted or committed rape before entering the military ~
twice the percentage of the equivalent civilian population.

Today a woman serving in Iraq or Afghanistan is
more likely to be raped by a fellow service member
than to be killed in the line of fire.

Women who have been raped in the military
have a PTSD rate higher than men who've been in combat.

In units where sexual harassment is tolerated
incidents of rape triple.

33% of servicewomen didn't report their rape
because the person to report to was a friend of the rapist.

25% of servicewomen didn't report their rape
because the person to report to was the rapist.

Many of our closest NATO allies no longer allow
commanders to determine the prosecution of sexual assault cases.

Of those rapes which are reported and brought to trial,
only 5% end in a conviction.
Of those, most are plea-bargained
down from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Fewer than one-third of convictions
result in imprisonment.

In December 2011, a lawsuit brought by rape survivors who appeared in this film was dismissed.  The court ruled that rape is an occupational hazard of military service.

Of those rape survivors ~

Five years after her attack, one survivor is still trying to get coverage for jaw surgery (for an injury inflicted during her attack) from the Veterans Administration.
  • Her assailant is still in the Coast Guard and lives in Charleston, South Carolina.
One survivor is pursuing her Masters Degree in Social Work to help survivors of military sexual assault.
  • Her assailant was court-martialed and found guilty only of adultery and indecent language.
One survivor is working for a corporation and lives in South Carolina.
  • Her assailant has recently been promoted to lieutenant colonel.
One [male] survivor and his wife are helping promote awareness of male military sexual assault.
  • He does not know the identity of his assailants or where they are today.
One survivor and her husband have a baby boy and are raising him in Virginia.
  • Her assailant is still in the Air Force and was awarded 'Airman of the Year' during her rape investigation.
One survivor's father is returning from Iraq after a one-year deployment.
  • Her assailant is still in the Navy and stationed three hours from her home in Kentucky.  
  • One survivor's assailant became a supervisor at a major U.S. corporation and sexually assaulted a female employee.  He was never charged and now lives in Queens, New York.


On April 14, 2012, then-Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta watched this film.  Two days later, he took the decision to prosecute away from unit commanders, and placed it with a trained independent counsel.

But this is not enough.  The military culture of rape must be addressed at every level of rank and command through education, and through firm and consistent prosecution of assailants.

I was so impressed by the quality and the experience of The Invisible War that I watched it a second time, a few days after the first viewing.  I highly recommend it to anyone who cares about our daughters and sons, wives and husbands, sisters and brothers serving in the military.  Then share the film with everyone you know.  Spread the word.

21 July 2013


One measure of intelligence is the intelligence quotient, or IQ.  Relying on IQ measures alone can be limiting, since "IQ tests only examine particular areas embodied by the broadest notion of 'intelligence', failing to account for certain areas which are also associated with intelligence such as creativity or emotional intelligence."

Broadly, intelligence is the relative capacity for "logic, abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, communication, learning, emotional knowledge, retention, planning, and problem solving."  An IQ test attempts to measure these traits, among others.  One limitation of standardized IQ tests is that they may fail to take into account regional differences in culture, in exposure to a full range of educational opportunities, or in socioeconomic background.  One can be highly intelligent, yet possess little skill or practice at test-taking.

With those caveats in mind, IQ remains the measure with which most people are familiar.

All of which is prologue to two provocative articles ~

Caution ~ studies like these provide approximate information only.  Not all conservatives are racist or stupid.  Not all liberals or atheists are brilliant.  What they do describe are the tendency of traits to cluster in association with one's political or philosophical leanings.  

Hence the title of this post.  Assume for the sake of discussion that conservatives are, broadly speaking, less intelligent than liberals ~ does that imply that one's level of intelligence leads to a choice in political stance, or does it imply that a choice in stance raises or lowers one's intelligence?  I make no assumptions, though it is tempting to think that my liberal, atheist, anti-racist views and my reasonably high IQ are no coincidence.  The question is, which came first?  Or is it a perpetual feedback loop, with intelligence informing choices, which may in turn broaden or limit intelligence?  

I know some pretty bright conservatives, and some pretty dim liberals.  Are they merely statistical anomalies amid the throngs of bright liberals and dim conservatives?  Or is the continuum more complex?  I throw this out as food for thought and discussion.  

19 July 2013


What follows is by no means a comprehensive treatment, but rather is advice which appeared in two different sources in the past two days.  Click on each header for a link to more detailed explanations of listed items.

From The Huffington Post, 9 Things You Need To Do When Your Email Is Hacked

  1. Change your password.
  2. Recapture your account.
  3. Report the incident to the email site.
  4. Speak to your peeps.
  5. Scan your computer with an updated virus program.
  6. Review your personal email settings.
  7. Change passwords or security questions for other sites.
  8. Check your email folders.
  9. Monitor !
From The New York Times, Digital Tools To Curb Snooping
  1. Protect your password ~ Keep strong, safe, multiple passwords.  Use a password manager.  Use two-step authentication.
  2. Trick the trackers ~ Use tracker blocking tools.  Use a rerouting service.  Set up an encrypted virtual private network (VPN).  Change to a search engine which does not compile your search history data.
  3. Trust the Cloud ~ With the best providers, customers' files are encrypted, and users' plain text passwords are not transmitted to the provider.
  4. Keep conversations private ~ Use encrypted email.
  5. Remember the basics ~ Keep security software updated.
The Internet is a fun and informative place, the world's library.  It can also bite you like a fine for an overdue book.  Stay safe, stay current.

18 July 2013


Recent days have been chapters in the book Be Careful What You Take For Granted.  For example ~

Transportation.  Last week, for the fourth time in nine months, my truck went on strike.  The engine would turn over, but refused to start.  One of those incidents caused me to miss an important appointment with a neurologist, which had to be rescheduled.  My limited mechanical knowledge suggested that it was likely a problem with either the electrical system or a clogged fuel line.  A friend helped me narrow it down to the battery.  Though it appeared to be supplying juice, I was astonished to discover when I went back through my receipts that I'd bought it new in 2008.  Five years is an impressive lifespan for a 12V battery that sits outside during Montana winters.

To tide me over (and as future insurance), I bought a portable, rechargeable battery jumper.  A new battery is in the offing.

Communication.  A few days ago, my landline telephone and internet service went dead.  We forget how much we depend on our devices until they -poof- disappear.  Thankfully I keep my cell phone charged, but it took a full half hour of negotiating tech support menus, being cut off in mid-conversation, and penetrating each person's recital of his/her script to get my message across.  It turned out that a trunk DSL line had been damaged, with repair taking six hours.

Power.  At 3:45 this morning, I awoke to the sound of silence.  My subconscious had been stirred by the sudden absence of fan or air conditioning sounds, and the lights were out in my entire apartment complex.  I opened windows to admit cooler night air (and its cargo of traffic noise and rail yard sounds), and once more resorted to my trusty cell phone to call for repair.  More menus, more tech scripts, more waiting.  I fell into a restless sleep, awakened too early by my hungry cats.  The electricity didn't return for seven hours, and when it did, I felt like I could breathe again.  I wasn't looking forward to baking in daytime temps in the 90s, nor to the boredom of having no Internet, radio, or TV.  Besides, I had laundry to do and dishes to clean.

Health.  Yesterday I kept an appointment with my dermitologist, a regular visit to check for pre-cancerous growths on my skin ~ the legacy of too many days spent sun-bathing under the southern Arizona sun when I was young and stupid.  I've become more attuned to which skin formations are a result of simple aging, and which ones might become melanomas.  Caught early, the latter can be treated by freezing with a jet of liquid nitrogen.  This visit there were only six, and only one of those was even mildly advanced.

Cancer is something I assuredly do not take for granted.  Life's other conveniences and necessities do become easy habit, until they decide to rattle your cage with their absence.