31 December 2008

HERE WE GO AGAIN

the last day of 2008. slightly fewer (NOT "less") than 12 hours until midnight. i doubt i'll even be awake for the transition, unless the neighbors are particularly rowdy. no local friends or romantic interest with whom to share the evening, unless you count two part-siamese cats. that's okay, i enjoy my own company, and theirs. have a safe new year's eve, everyone. cheers to us all.

29 December 2008

STEADY PROGRESS

i've made it a priority to accomplish something positive each day, vis-a-vis the job search. so far, so good. tell you what, though -- today i'm glad not to be out in the wide world. it is snowing steadily, with much more on the way. beautiful. the temp is hovering just below freezing, the most treacherous range for driving around, since that snow turns to slush, then re-freezes at night to create a city-wide skating rink. ai caramba. it may sound perverse to say it, but i'll be glad when daytime temps return to below 20 dF. at least then outdoor surfaces remain solid, more predictable.

and HEY! readers of this blog (all four of you) are invited, encouraged, and begged to leave comments. how else will i know how i'm doing? just click on the "comments" icon at the bottom of each entry, and tell me what you think. i'm interested, really.

really really.

oh yeah, you might also consider passing the blog link (or just the name) around to others. i would like to expand my readership geometrically, and would be glad for your help. thanks.

28 December 2008

IT'S ALL RELATIVE

yesterday my son called, and during our conversation he mentioned having read my Veterans Day piece. he was blown away, in that he didn't know i'd experienced such things. i've never intentionally not told him, so it was my turn to be surprised. it seems we have some catching up to do.

just now i went back and re-read that entry. whew. it puts my current worries over being jobless in a new light. things could be much, much worse.

and also much, much better. it feels important to keep both realities in mind in the days ahead. thank you, Ian, for your sensitivity and support. no one could ask for a finer son. i'm so very proud of you.

24 December 2008

THE TWO FACES OF BEING JOBLESS

face one: degrees of panic over the sudden absence of income and health insurance. taking stock of resources -- financial, institutional, emotional. encountering the ego shock of being fired for the first time in nearly a half century of work. learning to cope with uncertainty, loss, the illusion of failure or fault.

face two: taking a deep breath and noting that physical stress is diminished. sleeping soundly and long. feeling freer, less encumbered by the expectations of others. discovering that as these layers fall away. i'm getting back in touch with myself -- who i am at the core, what are my dreams, which direction do i want to choose. noticing who my friends are by their quick response and encouragement. feeling so much gratitude for their being in my life. having more time to be with my cats. they care, too.

one door closes, another door opens.

21 December 2008

AN EXPERIMENT

Okay, deep breath. I'm about to try inserting a link to another website, using a self-created link rather than inserting the entire URL. It is a NASA website which daily posts an astronomy or earth weather image. And (drum roll, please) here it is.

Whew. Does this make me a computer programmer now?

BUT IT'S A DRY COLD .....

Whatever. For the past week and a half, Missoula has experienced on-again, off-again Arctic conditions, thanks to an easterly wind off the cold Montana prairie, funnelled through Hellgate Canyon. Night temps have been consistently below zero, with wind chills down to minus 30 or 40 dF.

All fine and dandy if one lives and works cozily indoors (ahem, Bill). But when you have to get up at oh-dark-thirty to be on the road before 6 A.M., with over two hours before the sun comes up, to these aging bones it feels like Dante's sixth circle of hell. Which is to say, not as bad as my growing-up winters on the northern prairie itself, but close enough.

Paradoxically, in one regard the extreme cold makes driving safer. With the passage of car traffic, roads are less likely to turn to ice or slush. Rather, they remain mostly packed snow, making driving more predictable. This part can become fun, as one can drift into a controlled skid around corners (at safe speeds, of course), or plow through a modest snow drift if your vehicle is large enough. Which mine is.

And I have to admit that once cold is controlled for with warm layers of clothing, I find the beauty of valleys and mountainsides clad in white to be far preferable to the drabber tans of summer. Now, if only we could get these Other Drivers off the road (the ones who insist on driving at a snail's pace on roads where it is perfectly safe to go the speed limit -- hey morons, get a clue, this is Montana, learn to drive or park it!!) ... oh well. I grew up here, many of the crawlers didn't, I suppose. I remember coming home for my first Christmas home from college, car-pooling with other WSU Montanans in an old '54 Ford with aging street tires, crossing Rogers Pass and laughing as we outpaced (again, at safe speeds) cars and trucks equipped with chains. It's all about technique, and respect for the true limits of the environment.

And I have to brag a little here. At WSU (Washington State), friends and friends of friends would often seek me out in winter, when their vehicles became stuck in the snow, or they ran off the road into a ditch. I was pretty handy at getting them out. It didn't hurt that it was I behind the wheel, and they who were pushing at my command at the right moment. Let'm sweat.

So, this winter will be real, unlike last year. Not as much snowfall as in the Pacific Northwest or near the Great Lakes, but that's okay. So long as my truck's battery holds out, I'm in fat city.

[Note: in deference to a dear friend's request, I am experimenting with actually using capital letters, in contrast to my usual e.e. cummings approach. Jeanne, I hope you've noticed.]

Cheers, everyone. Only a month until inauguration day, and the beginning of better times for all.

23 November 2008

THE FARM, GONE

i spent my childhood as something of a nomad. my parents seemed to move every few years, from town to farm, farm to town along the northern Rocky Mountain Front. it wasn't until i was a teenager that we settled into a house my dad built himself, within two blocks of what would become my high school. (i trace my inherent shyness, always feeling like the new kid, to those days, but that's another story.)

my family remained in that house in town after i graduated from high school -- i was 18, my brother was 10, my sister was 5. through two years of college, then two years in the military, i always knew where home was. shortly after i moved out on my own, a young adult entering the migratory pattern south to tucson, arizona, my parents bought a small farm just outside of town. twenty acres of land along the county irrigation canal, with a scenic view of town to the east, and the magnificent ranks of the Rockies marching down the western horizon. the farmhouse was two stories with a full basement, shielded from arctic winds by a nice grove of trees, with a huge garden and an array of aging outbuildings. what struck you first, last and always was the quiet. the only sounds that claimed your thoughts were birds (western meadowlark, red-winged blackbird, pheasant, house sparrows), and the wind. you'd swear you could hear the planet breathe beneath that limitless dome of sky.

even though i had never had my own bedroom in that farmhouse, it became home for me, in the ancestral, family sense. i had my own home in tucson, but my parents' place would always feel like the more fundamental Home, the place where you can always walk in the door and know that you'll be welcome, part of the family. it remained so for 35 years, persisting through the seismic shifts of a struggling parental marriage.

this past spring, their marriage underwent a sea change. nominally "separated", my mom moved into her own apartment in town, leaving my dad at the farm. their long-range plan was to clean the place up, sell it, split the proceeds, and my dad would find his own place in town. though not exactly a surprise, given the strained atmosphere between them for decades, this move was decidedly a paradigm shift. it gave me insight into what my own son must have gone through, when his mother and i parted ways. except my son was only five, while i'm sixty-one.

the difference being that in my parents' case, parting ways ultimately seems like it will be a healthy and healing experience for all concerned. there are no discernible traces of the internecine warfare that my son had to try to understand at so young an age.

last sunday, i received a call from my dad, letting me know that a tentative buyer had firmed up plans, and they had signed the necessary papers to transfer the property. my dad now has until mid-december to pack, clean, and move a lifetime's accumulation of stuff to storage, and to find a place of his own in town to live. seems like he should have insisted on more lead time, but it's not my decision.

here's what's surprising about the news of the sale -- i'm feeling suddenly adrift, homeless, uprooted. it isn't a rational response, i know, but there it is. there'll never again be a single, discreet family home to return to. it all feels abrupt, and disquieting, as though the world has become an unreliable, unsafe place. i suppose the feeling will pass. millions have gone through something similar. still, this is new to me, and it all feels vaguely threatening. as though one sunny day, someone suddenly repealed the law of gravity.

well, i've been through much worse in this colorful life of mine. i'm glad that my mother is, and always has been, so resourceful and assertive and looking out for the future. and i'm glad that my father will soon be relieved of the burden of trying to keep up with a house and acreage that have become too demanding for a man in his 80s. within a few months, all the legal and financial details will have been resolved, and each of them will have settled into their new reality.

as for me .... i miss the farm.

16 November 2008

SUNDAY MORNING

sleep in. (it's all relative -- for someone whose alarm goes off at 4:30 a.m., sleeping in means 7 or 8.) wake up slowly, leisurely. rise, turn up the heat a bit, put on my casual sweats. feed the by-now-ravenous-but-polite cats. enjoy the quiet. check my email, the comics at the Washington Post online, the NYTimes online, the astronomy photo site, the online dating sites. am waking up by now. turn on the tv to see if anything worthwhile is on Meet The Press. if not, off. sometimes a light breakfast (a toasted bagel, or an almond-and-poppyseed muffin, or some cereal with fresh fruit). sometimes not. eventually, shower and shave and dress. hmm, what to do with the day? few plans, which is nice. do a couple of loads of laundry, read a book or an aviation magazine, make a blog entry. play with the cats, who don't receive nearly enough attention since i'm gone so much of the time. go for a walk, maybe drop in at Barnes & Noble and browse.

at intervals, think about my life -- what i enjoy, what i would like to change, whom i would like to call or email. most of all, relax, allow my body to heal from the abuses of the workweek, allow my mind to refresh itself. i look forward to this.

11 November 2008

VETERANS DAY 2008

(note: as background, please read my entry for Memorial Day, 26 may 2008.)

what follows isn't pretty. then again, neither is war. war is rarely what one is shown at a movie, or on tv. it is personal, and the experience is different for each participant. what i want to share has nothing to do with sweeping battles or calculated strategies or clashing armies. at its foundation, war isn't about patriotism or noble ideology. it is about you, and those few who are near to you in moments of violence, or tedium, or terror far from home.

my war was vietnam. these are only a few of the vivid memory snapshots i carry with me every day. they represent the randomness, the absurdity, the waste which jar any expectation of glory or patriotism. small moments. important moments. i share them as a way of recognizing, honoring those whom i knew in country, especially those who didn't make it back.

~ it is midday. after leaving travis AFB in california, with stops in hawaii, guam and the philippines, the airliner transporting me has touched down at Bien Hoa airbase. i reach the door at the top of the ramp, and am smacked senseless by a wall of heat. wherever there isn't pavement, there is fine red dust, six inches thick. i'm instantly dehydrated. how am i going to survive an entire year here?

~ it is sunset. after only a few weeks of OJT in country, at my base camp in Phu Loi, i've been sent to the field. we are at a fire support base somewhere in the mekong delta, occupied by the troops of a 155mm artillery battery, and guarded by a company of infantry. the perimeter is a scant enclosure of barbed wire and too few bunkers. all around lie jungle, and heat, and humidity. the hush of twilight is shattered by the unexpected sound of M16 fire being sprayed across the camp, from one of the perimeter bunkers. friendly fire, intentional fire. everyone hits the dirt or finds something to hide behind. the shooter is screaming words, but they make no sense. his firing pauses as he runs out of ammo, reloads. the dusk deepens, concealing a handful of MPs as they take up positions surrounding the bunker. CRACK CRACK CRACK. silence. we learn later that the shooter was a grunt who'd apparently seen too much, and lost it. he had shot his buddy in the bunker before opening up on the camp. his reward: assassination.

~ it is afternoon. we are setting up a temporary fire support base in a paddy near a temple in Cholon, the Chinese district of Saigon. a miniature settlement of camp followers materializes along the road -- a barber, a souvenir shop, a whorehouse. the resident vietnamese mingle with curious GIs. a blind boy walks across our compound, led by a smaller boy. we learn later that the blind boy was counting his paces, measuring distances and vectors to our artillery pieces, command post and my communications truck for targetting by VC mortars. children at war.

~ it is night. we are camped next to a highway and an ARVN (south vietnamese army, our allies) compound, back in the delta. we arrived late in the afternoon, and while crews prepare the 155s for fire missions, the rest of us are told to fill sandbags for individual bunkers in the event of mortar or rocket attack. my fellow radioteletype (RTT) operator and i are the only ones who do. for an hour or so after sunset, a searchlight from the ARVN has illuminated us, and (what a coincidence) during that time, every ten minutes or so a harrassing mortar round has landed in our camp from somewhere in the dark jungle all around. eventually a round gets lucky, exploding amid four foolish GIs who have been standing around talking. two are killed instantly. one has both legs blown off. the fourth is peppered with shrapnel. a medevac chopper is called in. this is what the VC have been waiting for. when the chopper arrives, mortar rounds start raining in on us. impossible noise and confusion, lit from all sides by explosions. the VC want that chopper, and the cluster of soldiers who are trying to onload the wounded. i am among those who ran to become stretcher-bearers, ducking and weaving in the mud and chaos. the man i'm carrying is our medic, a black dude from detroit who had only three weeks left in country, and a wife and two kids waiting for him at home. everyone likes him. amid the confusion the first sergeant running around like a headless chicken, looking for the medical files of the injured soldiers, getting in the way (a feat for which he is later awarded the Silver Star). finally the wounded are aboard, and the chopper (miraculously unhit) lifts off into the night sky. we later hear that Doc -- all medics are called Doc -- didn't survive the flight to the hospital. we mourn.

~ it is morning. we are set up on the western perimeter of a base camp west of Tay Ninh, near the Cambodian border. the perimeter is manned by ARVN soldiers, not Gis. my RTT rig, looking like a pickup camper with a thyroid condition, sits near a small, one-man perimeter bunker. the ARVN occupying it has a puppy. yesterday he became furious with the animal, and started to beat it. i was furious and intervened. he couldn't understand English, but he knew from my voice and gestures what i meant, and assumed a placating attitude. this morning, the same performance, only this time he is throwing the puppy down hard on the ground, like a football. i literally see red. against all reason, since he had an M16 handy and i only had my bayonet in its belt sheath, i stormed over and seized the dog from him, then returned with it to my rig. he in turn was incensed, picked up his rifle, then put it down again and followed me, yelling at me. my commo sergeant was visiting and backed me up, and the ARVN had to retreat, losing face. i kept the dog, named it Sooner, and brought it back to my own base camp at Phu Loi when i returned from the field. Sooner became our commo mascot, and was still there when i left the country months later.

~ it is twilight. same base camp. near my tent a small group of GIs has set up a crude table, and a rowdy poker game is going on. i'm trying to catch a nap on a cot, miserable in the heat and dust. last shower was thirty days ago. i'm snapped awake by the crack of a single shot, very close by. i jump up to a crouch and peek outside. the poker table is deserted, everyone has scattered. leaving the tent, i walk past the table, noticing a wet gray mass on the ground. nearby a small group has gathered on the porch of a hootch. one GI is raving, being restrained by others. turns out that he was one of those standing around watching the card game, next to his best friend who was one of the card players. holding his M16, which for some absurd reason went off, six inches from his friend's head. the entry wound was as big around as your finger. the exit wound was as big as your fist, and as the player's body slumped to the side, his brains fell out onto the ground. the accidental shooter is taken out by medevac chopper, senseless with grief and horror and guilt. he's sent to a psych hospital in japan the next day, a casualty of a landscape where everyone carries a gun.

~ it is night. we are back in the delta. some enterprising souls have erected a shoulder-high sleeping bunker made from dirt-filled wooden ammo crates, roofed over with PSP and sandbags. inside are a dozen wall-to-wall cots. you have to crawl over bodies to find an empty cot, if you want to sleep in that protected space. we are all awakened in the same instant by the distinctive sound of incoming rockets -- pssssssssssssssshhhhhhhhhhhhhhhBOOM. the first one impacts some distance away, but each one gets a little closer. they are being walked in our direction. somehow, by some sleight-of-hand, every single bunker occupant has managed to rotate his cot sideways to burrow closer to mother earth. an amazing feat that could not be duplicated in daylight. all the rockets explode harmlessly, hurting no one, destroying nothing. in the surreal silence which follows, a lizard scoots across my legs, and i barely notice.

~ it is morning. DEROS. date eligible for return from overseas. i'm returning to the World (as we call home). two of my commo mates escort me on the jeep drive from Phu Loi to Bien Hoa. joking around, roiling mixed feelings. i spend the night at the 90th replacement battalion, pretending to be hardcore for all the green troops arriving for their year in paradise. i leave vietnam at 11 p.m. on 8 march 1968, and 24 hours later, after fueling stops in japan and alaska, arrive at travis air force base in california at 11 p.m. on 8 march 1968 -- a beam-me-up trick caused by crossing the international dateline eastbound. a few hours of out-processing and i'm set loose from oakland army base, honorable discharge papers in hand. no decompression, no counseling, no preparation for the jolting culture shock to come.

but that's another story.

epilogue: here's a link to a NYTimes article on Veterans Day, as it is observed both here and in other countries. (i've carried a buddy poppy attached to the rear view mirror of any vehicle i've owned, all my adult life.)

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/11/opinion/11watson.html?ei=5070&emc=eta1

if you know a veteran, please tell him/her "thank you". many of us never heard the words.

09 November 2008

WHO WE ARE

as the presidential election results continue to resonate, spreading ripples of speculation and discussion, one fact remains remarkable to me. barack obama's winning majority was evenly distributed among nearly all voting groups -- whites, blacks, latinos, democrats, republicans, older voters, younger voters, gays, straights, men, women. about the only group he didn't fully penetrate (no surprise here) was unreconstructed white southern conservative males. if one looks at a map of the shift by voters toward democratic candidates nationally (see http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/results/president/map.html and click on the "voting shifts" tab), most of the nation reflects this change. except the bible belt, where red persists. i have a feeling that over time, these folks too will be dragged kicking and screaming into the 21st century. or failing that, they may disappear through attrition.

i digress. the numbers tell the story. obama, 364 electoral votes. mccain, 162 electoral votes. undecided, 12.

in actual voter numbers, obama, 65,431,995. mccain, 57,434,084. undecided, 1,159,079. (source: http://news.aol.com/elections/2008/president )

landslide? you betcha. mandate? well, yes.

as has been his pattern throughout his political career, obama appears to be acting "with all deliberate speed" in assembling his transition team, and soon his cabinet. he is drawing upon the proven talents of people he's worked with in the past, as well as upon the expertise of people who are familiar with the minefields of washington, dc, politics. in short, a coalition.

it is this which leads me to believe that neocon fears of a radical shift to the liberal left in policy and legislation, are only that: fears. my prediction is that obama will create a centrist administration which, while unmistakeably liberal in its philosophy, will seek to address the needs and desires of the populace as a whole. no small task. as abraham lincoln put it so memorably:

"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country." -- Lincoln's Second Annual Message to Congress, December 1, 1862.

lincoln and obama have much in common: both represented the great state of illinois in washington. both are guided by an evolving, far-reaching vision. both are hopeful that the better side of our natures will prevail. both have been tempered by personal adversity. both are informed by an awareness of the greater good. and both are gifted, transcendant orators. lincoln surrounded himself with a cabinet made up of allies and adversaries, both. obama appears poised to do the same.

but one can carry such parallels only so far. we live in our own times, guided by our own angels, contesting with our own demons. today, more than i have been for many years, i am hopeful of the outcome.

05 November 2008

AFTER THE TSUNAMI

last night (presidential election night), i wasn't able to stay up for more than the preliminary returns, since i faced an early wake-up for work. i went to bed around 8 p.m., with obama building a convincing and expected lead. but wouldn't you know, i woke up around 2 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep. so i checked the tv, but election coverage had already ended. the NYTimes webpage gave me the news of obama's sweeping victory, and i was unable to fall back asleep after that.

this day has been so long in coming, on many fronts. in the more immediate context of the disgrace we charitably call the bush presidency, we've been saddled with eight years of needless war, the rape of the environment, the near destruction of the world economy, repeated injuries to our well-being and insults to our intelligence. (one might question the intelligence of an electorate that would prolong the agony for a second term, but apparently there are limits even for the party faithful, given how deeply bush's approval rating has tanked.)

throughout the primaries and the campaign, obama held a steady course, never lost his cool or his focus. he appears to be the genuine article, someone who legitimately places the needs of ALL the people he serves (not just the richest donors) first. which is what sets true liberals apart from conservatives, in my mind. he did not stoop to the smear tactics which the republicans, and even hillary clinton a few times, employed with relish. he held the high moral ground, and persisted in his message of hope, of finding common cause, of transcendant vision. his intelligence, diligence, eloquence and strength of character will, i believe, place him alongside lincoln, fdr, and jfk among our greatest and most inspiring leaders.

in a more historic context, going back decades to the struggles of the civil rights movement, obama's ascendancy to the presidency seems more like an impossible dream come true. i am proud beyond words that i've lived to see the day when a black man or woman will take the oath of office. so many good souls fought so hard, enduring tears and bloodshed and humiliation and death, to bring this day about. it is a culmination most devoutly to be wished. and someday (sooner rather than later, now that this threshold has been crossed), when our first latino or woman or jew or asian or native american is elected, the sweetness of the moment will only be enhanced.

i wish that bobby kennedy and dr. martin luther king, jr., could have lived to see this moment in history -- a moment when the majority of voters chose a candidate based "on the content of his character, not on the color of his skin." this is a defining moment in our national story.

obama is human, therefore imperfect, and he will make mistakes. but fewer mistakes, i think, than most would. he has inherited problems vaster in scope and in number than any of his predecessors (thank you, george. thank you, dick. thank you, donald. thank you, oil barons. thank you, wall street greed merchants.). he will need a crack team to advise and assist him, not unlike the kennedy brain trust. the talent is out there. the will is there. the need is there.

barack obama, step forward and meet your constituency -- the planet. i wish you well.

29 October 2008

VANITY WEBSITES

above is my personal term for sites which you can visit, input info as you please, and save the results for either public or private viewing. so far i've limited myself to four:

~ google earth. this surfable, 3D depiction of the globe is nothing short of fabulous. you can vary the magnification down to where you can see individual buildings, you can actually slant the view to see the height and dimensions of places as varied as manhattan and the grand canyon, and (here's where the vanity part comes in) you can tag personally significant locations -- places lived, events, whatever. it's a lot of fun.

~ google maps. similar to the above, but 2D, and with certain features like roads and streets in more detail.

~ facebook. yes, the one, the only, the ubiquitous, the paradigm of vanity sites. you get to reveal as much or as little of yourself as you wish to anyone who views your profile -- disgusting habits, tastes in movies and books, and oh yes, the names and faces of those who consent to be listed as your "friends". guilt by association. i'm still not sure of the value of this site, since there's little actual, meaningful communication going on, mostly preening. maybe i'm missing something.

~ my barnes & noble. i haven't opened this up to public view yet. it's simply a fun compendium of my favorite books and authors, growing all the time. they may be forced to evict me, as during my lifetime i've read thousands of books. one can also include movies, but there's no convenient way i've found to partition the two categories.

~ well, in fairness i should include match.com and eharmony. you create your own profile, including those traits and interests which you hope a reader will find appealing. perhaps the ultimate vanity. or perhaps just a new version of the age-old dance of courtship.

my chicago buddy bill notes in his blog http://ciexinc.com/blogs/daily/ that these endeavors can be a serious time suck (not his words). extremely true. beware.

28 October 2008

CATS....AND DOGS REVISITED

this time the title doesn't refer to actual animals, but to our uses of slang. when i was growing up, hip guys were cool cats, you dig? beatnik jargon. a new generation invented hip hop, and from the gangsta culture a different term of familiarity emerged -- dawg. yo dawg, wassup? it is my impression that at one point, the word was used only within either the Crip or the Blood gangs, and i'm not sure which. but it quickly generalized within the entire hip hop community to connote a friend or friendly acquaintance. and as with so much creativity that springs from black america (gospel, jazz, blues, r&b, rock 'n roll, rap), white kids adopted it too.

i wonder what my grandson's generation will come up with?

23 October 2008

FIRST HARD FROST

i'm up and out the door a few hours before the sun comes up. yesterday morning was the first time this season i had to scrape frost off my windows, as my vehicle warmed up. brrr.

my work takes me from midtown missoula to the city's periphery in all directions. there've been days when i drive up into the south hills when my ears have popped from the change in elevation. other days, especially in winter, the valley's riparian fog is so thick you can't see more than fifty feet, which, on icy roads, is a not-so-welcome thrill. and of course, whenever it rains or snows, drivers seem to lose their minds completely and behave like lunatics. city drivers, anyway. those of us raised in the country are more likely to take it all in stride.

this being the west, in a university town of modest population, there are still opportunities to see wildlife as one explores the edges. i've seen bald eagles and great blue herons and osprey, rocky mountain bighorn sheep and whitetail deer (the latter so numerous in some neighborhoods that they might as well be cockroaches), black bear and red fox and coyote. the sightings are always a thrill, and a reminder that it is possible to coexist with nature, given a willingness to share space and make allowances for the needs of these creatures who share our planet.

but if one insists on seeing nature as Other, in case of conflict, in my book nature takes priority, whether you live on a ranch or in a city. this world currently hosts about 6 billion humans, far too many to be sustainable, or compatible with the natural world. i would love to wave a magic wand and set the upper limit for humans at one tenth that number, maybe even one hundredth. most would gravitate to cities located on coastlines or waterways, as we did back in the day, leaving vast reaches of landscape and seascape available for recolonization by wildlife. it would be a far richer, more varied world for us, and for our descendants.

sadly, it may already be too late to reclaim such a dream world. we've already set in motion the engines of destruction and extinction. there are entire ecosystems which have vanished, just during my lifetime. humanity is a cancer. eventually we'll either have to move off world, transmitting our viral selves to other planets, or else we'll drive ourselves (fittingly) to the brink of extinction through war, famine and terminal, myopic stupidity. such is the nature of the beast.

17 October 2008

YOU GO, PAUL

my default resource on matters economic has won the Nobel prize in economics. paul krugman is a professor at princeton university, and writes a column and blog for the NYTimes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Krugman his writing is highly accessible without being condescending. he manages to distill complex economic and political issues down to their essence, making concepts and connections easy to understand, therefore easy to form one's own opinions about.

now if only he were in charge of this country's economic policy.

09 October 2008

CATS....AND DOGS

so i've been exploring the possibilities in online dating/matching for well over a year now. lots of fodder for discussion there, but i want to narrow our focus to one topic -- pets. this being the west, a number of women online have horses, whether working or recreational. but the majority gravitate to the same animals that urban types favor: cats. and dogs. here in the northwestern u.s., cat owners like myself seem to be in the minority among pet owners. (we'll leave the discussion of whether it is the pets who own us, for another time).

which begs the question, are there human personalities that are drawn toward one animal or the other? you hear dog owners wax poetic about their animals' loyalty, faithfulness (as opposed to infidelity?), happy nature, always-glad-to-see-me, and most notably, their trainability (the dogs, not the owners). this, in spite of dogs' relative high maintenance demands: needing to be "walked" (euphemism for being taken outside to relieve themselves), creating a nuisance for neighbors by barking (shame on owners for not training properly), and unavoidably, their propensity to drool. editorial comment: yuck.

in counterpoise, you hear cat owners sing the praises of their animals' independence, the soothing effect of a happy cat purring on your lap, their own trainability (you just have to make the cats think it's their idea, not yours), and their low maintenace demands: cats instinctively use a litter box from kittenhood with no human training needed, they are very affectionate with humans they know and trust, and shedding can be minimized with daily brushing, a grooming routine which both humans and cats find nurturing.

the above assumes that all animals under discussion have been responsibly neutered. and, truth be told, a lot depends on the individual animal's personality, and how it interacts with the individual human's personality. but let's take an evolutionary step back, and look at a broader aspect of cats vs. dogs.

wild dogs (coyotes, wolves, dingos, hyenas, etc.) evolved as social animals, in hunting packs centered on a family group with an alpha (dominant) male and alpha female. they remain so in a human setting, subservient to their alpha human. cats, on the other hand, (with the exception of lions) are solitary creatures in the wild -- leopards, cheetahs, tigers, lynxes, ocelots, etc. they pair up temporarily to mate, then disperse. this behavior, too, carries over into a human setting, though it is somewhat arrested artificially, with adult cats in the role of kittens not yet weaned from their human "parents".

so what does this say about our human choices? i'm still sorting this out, and welcome any opinions or references from the reader. but as a starting point, it seems to me that dog owners are relatively insecure people who have a need to dominate and be admired, while cat owners are relatively secure people who have a tolerance for independence. all this is speculative and wildly influenced by my own preferences, of course. i know dog owners who are gentle, caring souls, and cat owners who are control freaks. but as a generalization, i think the contrast is a starting point for discussion.

a few tangential questions -- tentatively assuming for the sake of argument that my hypothesis is valid, what does this say about the respective humans' treatment of their own children? and what about people who own both dogs and cats? are they conflicted, confused, bipolar? or just door mats for any species that presents itself? (tarantulas and vampire bats and boa constrictors, take heart!!)

well, i'm a cat person. and you?

03 October 2008

ASSUMPTIONS

during the night i came down with a bug that had me in and out of bed several times. i was reminded of all those things which we take for granted when they're functioning as we expect, but which gather our full attention when they break down. the list is impressive, when you think about it. our bodies -- affected by illness or injury. our vehicles -- increasingly complex systems (often computer governed) going on the fritz, or sustaining simple, unanticipated disruption like a flat tire or a key locked in the vehicle (i carry a spare in another pocket). our homes, our relationships, the air we breathe, all at the mercy of aging or accident or neglect or abuse.

there is another subset of expectations which i encountered earlier this evening, during the downtown First Friday art gallery stroll. a particular exhibit consisted of small, inconspicuous pieces which blended in so well with the merchandise and wall decor that, unless one chanced to notice the equally inconspicuous labels, one might miss the artist's creativity altogether. i was lucky, in that i know the artist and was on the lookout for her work. others breezed right by. we seem to assume that "art" is macro and attention-grabbing, often overlooking the micro, the subtle, modest in size but no less thought-provoking or enlightening.

we've managed over time to construct a visually and aurally busy world, full of color and clamor, and too often signifying little. what a wonderful surprise to pause, take a breath, and open one's senses to that which is only invisible because we take it for granted. my world is a little richer for that reminder.....

01 October 2008

OWN IT

like the late paul newman, i proudly lay claim to being a progressive liberal. labels are always limiting and sometimes misleading, of course, but one has to begin somewhere. i don't understand why so many democrats cringe when they hear the "L" word. most of our founding fathers and greatest presidents were, to one degree or another, liberal. historically, progressives and liberals have advocated the advancement of labor rights, civil liberties and social justice. we were early proponents of anti-trust laws, the regulation of large corporations and monopolies, as well as government-sponsored environmentalism. this is a bad thing?

naturally, political views fall along a continuum, and aren't easily cast in black-and-white terms. still, i suggest that the legitimacy and importance of the liberal point of view, as exemplified by ted kennedy and barack obama, are an important counterpoint to the fiscal and military excesses of the neocon reagan-bush years. capitalism is not some holy touchstone -- it an economic system replete with deep flaws, including an inherent penchant for greed.

this ties in directly with conservatives' hijacking of the concept of patriotism. as in, if you're not for their jingoistic point of view, you are somehow unpatriotic. this is completely irrational and manipulative. i'm one liberal who loves his country too much to allow it to continue to be ruled by a hegemony of oil barons, arms manufacturers, conservative christian fundamentalists, and others who devalue and seek to destroy the very diversity which defines freedom.

what are they afraid of, this ranting, self-important mob? well, the light of day for one thing. they scatter like cockroaches when confronted by the inconsistencies of their own propaganda, and ultimately crumble when, as happened during the mccarthy hearings in the 1950s, their hypocrisy is exposed and the fundamental question is asked, "have you no shame?".

i stand for social responsibility over corporate/shareholder profits. i stand for preservation of the natural world over the rape of its resources. i stand for liberty, equality, and mutual respect among all races and cultures, including both genders. and ultimately, i stand for our continued evolution from family, tribe, town, state and nation, toward a world community which values and protects cultural diversity, while affording equal opportunity for access to education, health care, housing, and viable work.

and i stand firmly against those who would deprive others of these rights, for their own selfish pursuit of wealth or power. theirs is a criminal world, deserving of the consequences bestowed upon criminals by a responsible society. a world society.

30 September 2008

THE DAYS GROW SHORTER

or at least, that's my excuse for neglecting these entries all month. playing catch-up:

~ paeans and sorrow for the passing of paul newman, an actor and director who lived his political and philanthropic beliefs offscreen, and who brought intensity, wit and genuine talent to his roles onscreen. he could say more with a glance or a quirked smile than most actors can manage in a lifetime. of his movies, my personal favorites include The Hustler, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, Sometimes A Great Notion, The Sting, Nobody's Fool, and Road to Perdition.

~ praise and awe for the HBO series The Wire, which ran for five years. i just finished watching the last episode on DVD. though centered on baltimore homicide detectives, the show managed to vividly portray hundreds of characters, in layered settings ranging from the corridors of political power to crack corners in the ghetto, from the Sun newsroom to the waterfront. i loved the interwoven complexity and relevance of the issues presented, with grit and profanity and humor and violence and tenderness, and always a clear eye for the human frailties which drive us all to acts which we would hate to see on the evening news. no preaching to be found, but relentless insistence on authenticity and thought-provocation.

~ pleasure and a slower pace of life (I) in Conrad, MT, over the weekend. like many rural, agriculture-based towns, Conrad has shrunk by attrition as its youth have moved away, and local businesses have been forced to close or consolidate in response to the advent of big box stores in Great Falls. still, a core of energetic, determined and inventive residents has kept the community alive by creating an arts council, restoring to Art Deco glory the local movie theater, expanding the city library, and supporting local schools. i'm proud to call Conrad my home town (one of several, actually, but the one in which i lived the longest before adulthood.)

~ pleasure and a slower pace of life (II) in the countryside where i grew up, on the northern plains along the Rocky Mountain Front. the drive from Missoula along state route 200, over rogers pass and emerging through the foothills onto the great sea of prairie, never fails to take my breath away. it is here that you can understand that Montana's nickname, Big Sky Country, is literally true. only out on the open ocean can one view an expanse of sky so vast, through air so clear that you can see weather forming many miles away. i've lived all over this country of ours, and my heart dwells in many places, but the deepest of my taproots is here, where the stillness is so complete that you can hear birdsong half a mile away, and you would swear that you can feel and hear the earth breathe.

~ finally (as the reader heaves a sigh of relief), props and a big hug to my friend Jan in Casper, WY, with whom i've shared a number of long, wide-ranging phone conversations. she is a formidable scrabble player, as i've learned the hard way at an online site. she is also a viola player and general renaissance woman with a lively intellect and a sly talent for fun. Jan is a keeper on life's list of friendships, or relationships, or however we decide to fashion it.

cheers to one and all. welcome to fall ! !

08 September 2008

GET FUZZY

i'm an inveterate comic strip reader, dating from preschool days (i learned to read at a young age). these days when i scan the sunday washington post comics (a weekly ritual both sacred and irreverent), only a handful are on my must-read list. "get fuzzy" is one. like "the boondocks", the humor is sideways, provokes a little thought, and evokes an "uh-huh" along with a smile.

my favorite character is bucky, the acerbic, misanthropic iconoclast (not unlike myself in certain moments) ..... siamese cat. bucky takes no prisoners. consider the following exchange between bucky and his human, robert:

R - ok, so you don't like the summer olympics. what about the winter ones?

B - well...at least some of those sports can kill you...that's interesting. their names give 'em away...luge your life...slalom into a tree...and who invented ski jumping? dr. kervorkain? mental.

R - so you like the winter olympics?

B - robert...the winter olympics are like a liberal with a baseball bat: you may not like him, but you have to respect him.

there's a certain hunter s. thompson twisted logic going on there, deranged but still possessing substance. (this from a progressive liberal who owns a gun.)

many of my favorite comics are about animals ("mutts", "garfield") or about adolescence ("zitz", "foxtrot"), or take an unabashed liberal/radical view of the world ("doonesbury", "the boondocks"). it's an entertaing mix on a sunday morning.

07 September 2008

IN SEARCH OF

for the past year and a half, i've been looking for romance, variety (live's elusive spice), new friends, and possible a life partner, through two online dating services. my personal filters for even considering contacting someone are: a personal profile that shows originality, literacy, high intelligence, a variety of life experiences, an appreciation for the arts and the sensuous, and a sense of humor. it doesn't hurt to find someone who is facially or physically attractive (this is subjective, not identical with hollywood standards), but that comes second. not an all-inclusive list, but you get the idea.

it's been an interesting ride. one aspect of reading someone's online profile is that you get lots of ideas for books to read! another aspect is that over time, one becomes more adept at (a) reading between the lines in selective, self-promoting descriptions which make the writer sound like a renaissance woman; (b) spotting those with neurotic or psychotic tendencies; and (c) noticing those precious few who are genuine, interesting without having to proclaim "'i'm interesting", provocatively curious about the world, and have a clear range of ideas and experiences with which to enrich a conversation.

i'm probably too selective, but on the other hand, life is too short to waste time with shallow thinkers, or with those who exaggerate their finer qualities. in this rich world of ours, there is little excuse for dullness or lying.

soooo, my thanks to those whom i've been intrigued by and agreed to meet me, whether or not we hit it off. putting oneself out there, to be seen and evaluated, is a scary and courageous thing, for most of us. here's to courage, and to the thrill of the hunt, and to the very human need for closeness and love which drives us to take that first step.

31 August 2008

RETROSPECTIVE

what a fortunate summer in missoula!! the norm is inexorably increasing heat, culminating with a month of wildfire-generated smoke blanketing the missoula valley, creating visual and breathing misery for all. this year we were blessed with a cool, moist, late spring, and a relatively mild summer with only three or four days exceeding 100 dF. and only two days of smoke. deep sigh of relief.

plus, at work for the first time, after having moved sufficiently up the seniority ladder, i got my choice each week of 40-hour fixed assignments, compared to 30-hour on-call weeks during the past three years. a nice little bonus for my savings.

i'm hoping that this is a harbinger of good things to come in other realms. for the past year and a half, i've been trolling for partners on match.com and eharmony. a few contacts have developed into gratifying friendships, and one blossomed into a lovely, sensual affair that ultimately ended for reasons which shall remain private. so, i'm once more on the prowl. gentlemen, lock up your ladies, the lynx is loose. and if you're not a lady, then you're my kind of girl...

25 August 2008

BACK IN THE GROOVE

for the past two days i've been taking the Motorcycle Safety Foundation's basics course, as part of reincorporating the motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license (something i allowed to lapse after i sold my last bike in 1995). the MSF course is highly regarded, both within the biker community and among state law enforcement and licensing agencies. for this rider, it was a reintroduction to exhileration and an exercise in humility. at first it all felt a little shaky, but pretty quickly the flow of coordination and motion returned. i aced the written test, lost a few points on the riding test (rusty skills), but still passed. it is a rigorous and demanding course, so passing feels like a real accomplishment.

no plans to rush out and get a bike right away. here's the history:

my first motorcycle, a lot of machine for a virgin biker, was a used 1963 Triumph Bonneville, 650 cc. it was a classic, both as a street bike and as a racer, and perhaps not coincidentally, was painted in British racing green. if i were to hear one go by today, i would recognize that distinctive sound instantly.

my second was another Triumph Bonneville 650, this one brand new in 1970. mostly the same machine, a little bulkier and more aerodynamic.

my third was a 1982 Honda Silver Wing, the last year they were made in 500 cc. it was a full-dress touring bike, with windshield, full fairings, saddlebags, and interchangable rear seat and trunk. in fair weather tucson, arizona, it was my sole transport for nearly two years, and i loved it. it was also the bike which i was riding during both of my traffic accidents -- in each case a little old lady in a big ol' battleship (caddilac, oldsmobile) made an illegal left turn across my path, causing an unavoidable collision. in each case the bike came to an instant halt, while i went flying in an arc of considerable distance. hospitalization both times. the bike was fixable the first time, but not the second. hence being sold for parts.

my partner at the time, after being called to the hospital and later witnessing my convalescence, told me "the bike goes, or i go." the bike went. what a sad day.

but hey, guess what, she left my life over four years ago. i'm older, but not dead, and i would love to be back in the saddle. maybe next spring i'll try a BMW touring bike. they're mechanically reliable, and sexy looking. i would love to have a partner to ride with, either as a passenger, or on her own bike. i would also love to get together with a small group of biker friends and take day trips.

all in good time. for now, i have the endorsement, and that's all the beginning i need. cheers.

11 August 2008

TURNS OF PHRASE

in addition to fiction, natural history, biography and history, once in a while i enjoy a solid work of science fiction. "solid" meaning well-grounded in physics, math, and astronomy. which narrows the field of eligible writers to an elite few, preeminent among whom is gregory benford, who has a PhD in physics, as well as a fecund imagination. i just finished one of his s.f. novels, Beyond Infinity. below please find a sampling of his wit and command of language:

~ hello, and welcome to my anecdote.

~ this reminds me of the time i felt deja vu.

~ i always wanted to be someone. (pause) maybe i should have been more specific.

~ the intellectual breeds of humans think in terms of abstractions. but most people have emotions and think that they are having ideas.

~ (referring to saintly types) they seldom have redeeming vices.

~ the past is not over. it is not even past.

~ i started out with nothing and still have most of it.

~ disasters, rather than being blows against life, were inevitable sways, bringing rejuvenation along with death. wildfires cleared tree canopies, letting in sunlight. floods swept silt from gravel beds, renewing river plains and deltas. nature's nature was change. it was not a museum.

~ this, even little children learned. that rapid selection pressure operated on what already existed. it added capability to minds, layering rather than snipping away parts that worked imperfectly. the human brain was always being retrofitted, and showed its origins in its cumbersome, layered workings.

~ though sunlight fell with the square of the distance from the sun, the available volume rose as the cube.

~ one of your philosophers remarked that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught. you must live through your world.

08 August 2008

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK

ok so what is the speed of dark?

this one got me thinking. we can approach it from several directions.

~ the speed of light is roughly 186,000 miles per second (mps). that's fast enough for a photon of light to circle the earth 7.75 times in one second ! assuming for the sake of argument (and i know there are those who will propose exceptions) that, as einstein posited, no matter can travel faster than the speed of light, then that speed is the upper limit for how fast light or matter can travel. so is it reasonable to deduce that the speed of dark might be the lower speed limit, i.e. zero? no motion. no energy. nothing. as in, deep space.

~ ah, but we know that deep space is anything but empty or sans energy. so, noting that 186,000 mps is a positive value, might the speed of dark be a negative value, something less than zero, say minus 186,000 mps? bends your mind a little, doesn't it? think of the implications for the space/time continuum. we might have events happening before they happen.

~ alternatively, think of the color wheel that we all had to construct in fine arts 101. three prime colors (red, yellow, blue in pigments) with initial blendings between them (orange, green, purple), and further gradations ad infinitum. but wait, where's black? absent, dear reader, because black is precisely the absence of color, not a color itself. extending this reasoning -- if that it be -- if darkness is the absence of light, then can it be said to have quality associated with either matter or energy? like, speed? back to zero. hmm.

i think there are scores of ways of approaching this, and i'd love to hear some of them. please feel free to add your thoughts by clicking on "comments". if you don't, i will feel sorely let down. ball's in your court ...

03 August 2008

TUNNEL VISION

in today's online NYTimes there was an illuminating article on something just about all of us encounter to a degree -- a situation in which one must make a choice based on both expediency and principle. such decisions can be the hardest for anyone to make, and often the coin toss rests on whether anyone is watching or not, even for the most righteous among us. (see "feel the eyes upon you" at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/opinion/03Judson.html?ex=1218427200&en=94b8048458ce19bc&ei=5070&emc=eta1 )

in this instance, it is a driving situation, in which multiple lanes of traffic must merge down into two lanes. the article's author is perceptive and funny, and has her finger on the pulse of contesting impulses most of us feel when faced with the choice between conforming to an unspoken rule, or defying it to further one's own progress. do we display our virtue by merging early, or do we zoom up that empty lane past the conformist sheep, knowing that up ahead some kind soul will probably let us in? check out the article, and see if it alters your own perception of which is the proper choice. you may be surprised. (see "the urge to merge" at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/03/magazine/03traffic-t.html?ex=1218427200&en=66e0ac52c8a9fdbc&ei=5070&emc=eta1 )

01 August 2008

THIS IS YOUR BRAIN ON BOOKS

i'm just finishing a mind-boggling book called The Brain That Changes Itself, by norman doidge, m.d. the central theme is neuroplasticity, a fundamental brain property describing the manner and degree to which our physical brain cells can adapt, reorganize, and regenerate, whether in response to environmental conditions or to our own focused efforts to retrain ourselves.

it is a marvelous and comprehensive journey, touching upon everything from sexual attraction, love, memory, pain, imagination, neuroses, obsessions, sensory perceptions, physical brain trauma, and on and on.

while the concept of building new neural pathways is not new, this book presents the biochemical, anatomical, and physiological research and anecdotal evidence in a manner that is accessible to the lay reader, while still engaging to those with a background in science. it contains insights into thought and behavior that just about anyone will find useful -- those little light bulb "aha!" moments that illumunate one's own life. highest recommendation!!!

30 July 2008

CAN'T HELP MYSELF

there's a gathering of hell's angels in missoula right now. no big deal, mostly aging baby boomers out to recapture their younger days. marlon brando or lee marvin in "the wild one", they're not.

sadly, the contingent from north dakota didn't make it. it seems that when they got into montana, they didn't get past the first pull-out with a sign reading "chain removal area".

(this will only make sense to you if you've driven mountain highways in winter, when snow chains are required....and if you realize that most true hogs are belt or chain-driven. myself, i'll always opt for a shaft drive, very reliable and maintenance-free.)

a long way to go to explain a short joke.

26 July 2008

CHUBASCO

in southern arizona, as in southeast asia, each year seasonally rains appear, driven by planetary weather engines like heat, humidity and prevailing winds. one feature of the arizona desert monsoon is the chubasco, a violent squall often accompanied by thunder and lightning.

this morning, during my daily check of the university of arizona webcam, i discovered that the site features a vault of time-lapse videos, http://www.cs.arizona.edu/camera/vault/ , including one on 26 june showing the arrival of the season's first chubasco. in addition, the 5 september 2007 video is a most impressive recording of a violent desert thunderstorm's arrival over the santa catalina mountains. check'm out !

25 July 2008

AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS

today is 25 july. which means .... only five months until christmas. it's not too early to start planning your gift for me.

i'm pursuing a new project. or more accurately, reviving an old one. i've owned and ridden motorcycles off and on for nearly forty years. but it's been fifteen years since i sold my last bike -- after a serious traffic accident, my ex told me "the bike goes, or i go". i obliged, sadly. but since she's now been an ex for over four years, that particular barrier no longer exists.

my first bike was a classic 1963 Triumph Bonneville 650. if i were to hear one today, i could still identify that distinctive sound. a cold start meant tapping the "tickler" a few times, essentially priming the carburator with fuel, which was a quirk on these brit bikes. it was even colored british racing green. i bought it for $600 cash from a guy named alan in tucson, az. when he later mailed me the owner's manual (this was a lot of bike for a virgin rider), he enclosed a note which i still remember: "hope you enjoy the wheel. best friend stole my girl, army after my ass, what next." recall that in 1969 the vietnam war and the military draft were on every young man's mind. but i loved that bike. sold it to a lucky guy in houston, tx, where i was attending a computer school and couldn't keep up with the insurance payments on a car and a bike both.

the second bike was another Bonneville, this time a 1970, brand new, having returned to tucson. the 650cc displacement suited me well -- easy to maneuver on city streets, but heavy enough not to get blown around on the open road. goldenrod colored, with a black nike-like swoosh accent. easy rider.

the third bike was a burgandy '82 Honda Silver Wing, full dress with fairings, windshield, hard shell saddlebags and interchangeable trunk/passenger seat. man, i loved that bike. in sunny tucson, while attending the UA, it was my only vehicle for nearly two years, and with wet weather gear in the bags, it was all i needed. i loved being able to pull into any crowded parking lot and find a triangle of open space available to slip my bike into, right near the theater or store or whatever. '82 was the last year that Honda made the Silver Wing in 500cc, after that they went to 650.

i loved that bike best of all. i could be in the rottenest mood in the world, and all i had to do was saddle up and go for a relaxing ride on the swooping curving paved desert roads around tucson, returning the wave of a friendly saguaro, hearing and seeing and smelling all that clean desert ... and things would be right with the world.

alas, my neat little touring bike and i were in two near-fatal accidents. in both cases, once in tucson and once in philadelphia, a little old lady in a big ol' oldsmobile/cadillac, left the oncoming lane and turned left in front of me. both women claimed they didn't see me coming, even with clear dry conditions and my headlight on. whatever.

the first driver nearly missed, tagging my tail and sending me head-on into the opposite curb. i was out cold for a few minutes, and ended up with severely strained ankles, road rash on one knee, and in a wheelchair for a while. which gave me a real appreciation for what people with disabilities contend with in our society, but that's another story. my saddle bags were destroyed, but i got the rest of the bike repaired and running again.

the second driver had better timing. i think she was leading me a little, since she arrived at the collision spot before i did, hitting my front wheel. again i went cartwheeling through the air, landing on the sidewalk, out cold. the chin guard on my fullface helmet was cracked, which gives you an idea of the impact (and the effect if there'd been no helmet.) this time a fractured clavicle, separated left shoulder, slight concussion. the responding ambulance crew did their best to kill me too, trying to insert an IV while the vehicle was negotiating a curving bumpy road to the ER. but it was at this hospital that i discovered divine morphine, after eight excruciating hours on a wooden backboard. aftermath, a couple of months with my arm in a sling.

alas, poor Silver Wing, you were beyond repair this time. after keeping you around for consolation for a year, i sold you for parts. sigh.

but now i'm in montana, where a motorcycle license is life long. i'm studying the manual, will take the written test and then the MSF (motorcycle safety foundation) course in lieu of a performance test, and will have my license without having to actually buy a bike. that will come later. it'll just be nice, very nice, to have that motorcycle endorsement on my driver's license again, knowing i can go rent a BMW and spend a day out cruising with a friend. and someday, either a Honda Gold Wing or a BMW touring bike. maybe after flying lessons.

that's my story, and i'm sticking to it.

22 July 2008

I'M SO CONFUSED

yesterday we broke 100 dF for the first time this summer, and i thought i was back in tucson. today it was cloudy and rainy, and about 30 degrees cooler. lovely. for a while i thought i was back in the vancouver/portland area. if tomorrow brings flashbacks to charleston (hurricane hugo), i'm moving to tahiti ! !

20 July 2008

CHINO AIR SHOW

gracias a mi VIEJA amiga irene in tucson, herself a pilot, for providing this link to a set of truly high quality images of WWII warbirds. my personal favorites are the P-40 Warhawk (flying tiger), and the twin fuselage P-38 Lightning. check'm out!

http://home.comcast.net/~bzee1b/Chino/Chino.html

a new friend and i were talking on the phone about flying (among many other topics), and we agreed that the ultimate pilot accomplishment is to land a jet fighter on a carrier deck. PBS recently aired a series titled (coincidence? i think not) "Carrier". each episode featured interviews with the mostly young residents of these floating cities, everyone from pilots to cooks to munitions personnel to flight deck crew. very interesting, even if you're not a plane freak.

13 July 2008

GAIA

my thanks to my friend bill for sending me the following links detailing the career and evolutionary thought of lynn margulis. she is, by any measure, one of the most original thinkers of this or any other age, and has influenced the course of biological/evolutionary theory with penetrating intellect and accessible prose.

her discourse on endosymbiosis:
http://www.edge.org:80/documents/ThirdCulture/n-Ch.7.html

wikipedia biography:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lynn_Margulis

i was privileged to attend one of her guest lectures at the university of arizona, in the mid-1980s. the power of her insights and her conclusions was inescapable.

12 July 2008

DREAM FLEET

this is just for fun. following are links to several modes of conveyance. some appear on my fantasy list, others are just quirky. a few assume that the cost of fuel and purchase is no object, which does not describe my current incarnation. enjoy.



on land, four wheels:

smart car. http://www.smartusa.com/

toyota prius. http://www.toyota.com/prius-hybrid/

BMW Z4. http://www.bmwusa.com/Standard/Content/Vehicles/2008/z4/Z4Roadster30si/default.aspx


on land, two or three wheels:

BMW touring bike. http://www.bmwmotorcycles.com/bikes/bike.jsp?b=r1200rt

Honda touring bike. http://powersports.honda.com/Motorcycles/Touring_Sport_Touring/model.asp?ModelName=Gold%20Wing%20Audio/Comfort/Navi/ABS&ModelYear=2008&ModelId=GL18HPNA8&w=829&h=634

Piaggio scooter. http://thekneeslider.com/archives/2006/05/11/piaggio-3-wheel-mp3-scooter/



in the air:

SR-71 Blackbird. http://portal.aircraft-info.net/article12.html

Javelin. http://www.avtechgroup.com/index.asp

Diamond DA40 CS. http://www.diamondair.com/



in the water:

Perception kayaks. http://www.perceptionkayaks.com/

running the Grand Canyon. http://www.raftarizona.com/

Caribbean sailing. http://www.windjammer.com/



in space:

ah, that's a whole 'nother posting. until then.

09 July 2008

A SEMINAL BOOK

in my april 20 entry (check it for commentary), i highly recommended a book called With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, by fred pearce. the book was relentlessly informative and thought-provoking. i've now discovered another work which asks original questions and poses possible answers that are stunning and, to this sometimes-misanthrope, much to be desired. i refer to The World Without Us, by alan weisman.

the author asks us to imagine what our world was like before we evolved into large-brained, bipedal, opposable thumbed planet-wreckers; and also asks us to imagine how our world might recover if we were to suddenly, hypothetically, vanish overnight. he goes into wonderful detail in describing the processes of decay and collapse of nearly all things human, as well as the processes of recovery and regeneration as nature reclaims our earth, sometimes in quite unexpected directions. it is a grand and imaginative thought experiment, and a window into one possible future for everything we've ever seen or known.

[as luck would have it, much of one chapter (pp. 55-67) describes the career and controversial paleontological thinking of dr. paul s. martin at the university of arizona. paul was my de facto mentor, and remains a good friend, as he has done for hundreds of those who passed through his tutelage at the UA's desert laboratory on tumamoc hill, overlooking tucson from the west. in his environmental education class, he once described a guest speaker, dr. andrew weil, as a true renaissance man. paul is certainly another.]

so. i suppose one might say that while the first book is about the mechanics and consequences of human-caused climate change, the second is about the resulting changes if we were suddenly removed from the scene. equally fascinating, both.

08 July 2008

WALKING THE WALK

yesterday i watched an excellent 1947 movie that i had somehow overlooked over the years, "Gentleman's Agreement". gregory peck plays a journalist who presents himself as being jewish, in order to understand and expose the roots and manifestations of anti-semitism. the film isn't preachy or condescending, and in fact is quite subtle in its exploration of the nuances of bigotry. dorothy mcguire and john garfield also appear, and the movie was directed by elia kazan.

prejudice is something i've thought about and resisted all my life, including a few harrowing passages of self-change. it just makes no sense to eliminate a substantial fraction of the world's wonderfully diverse cultures from my life, simply because of the negative stereotypes which may be attached to them. that's like listening uncritically to every rumor you hear, and believing it. by putting all that stuff aside, i've make my life infinitely richer by becoming friends with people from a wealth of racial, cultural, and national origins. our world is a rich tapestry. why limit our enjoyment of it (thereby limiting our own potential for personal growth) by choosing to notice only certain colors, certain textures?

the device of passing oneself off as being from another social group was described in a similar manner in john howard griffin's book, Black Like Me. and of course, racism against blacks was further exposed in harper lee's 1960 pulitzer prize-winning book, To Kill A Mockingbird -- made into an oscar-winning film two years later, starring .... gregory peck. both his roles stirred controversy, and provoked much thought and self-examination in american discourse. which in my eyes is the highest form of praise.

i've been a de facto minority member several times in my life -- as an anglo among latino co-workers in southern arizona, as a white among black g.i.s in the army, as a male among militant feminist females in the university of arizona's women's studies program (in which i minored for a time). each experience was an eye-opener for me. not that i'm any kind of expert on what it's like to be latino, black or female in our white male-dominated society. just that i've a window onto that experience, sufficient to declare myself an ally, to speak up against prejudice even when mine is the only voice doing so, and even when the prejudiced person is a friend or family member. it is hard at times. but it is also, ultimately, cleansing and liberating.

try it, you'll like it.

05 July 2008

ANOTHER 4th, SURVIVED

few situations hold fear or unease for me. i've dealt with violence, hostility, confrontation, abuse, neglect, character assassination, court disputes, and assorted other forms of civilized conduct in more forms than i can count. but there is an annual event which i dread -- the 4th of july. the explosions, bright flashes, choppers overhead, parachute flares, all conspire to bring up vivid memories of vietnam. it raises the hair on the back of my neck to notice how a string of firecrackers going off sounds like a firefight.

so each year i either find a remote place away from people altogether, or stay home and build an aural wall around me so i can't hear the noise. a shame, really -- people seem to genuinely enjoy the spectacle. and my PTSD isn't a fraction as severe as it is for many vets. at least i understand what stimulates mine, and can mostly manage my environment to remove the stimuli. mostly.

i wonder how the inclusion of fireworks originated? are we re-enacting the aerial bombardment of fort mchenry on september 14,, 1814, the scene which inspired our national anthem? wikipedia doesn't shed much light on why pyrotechnics and explosions have become such an obsession: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4th_of_july maybe it's connected to the u.s. being a gun culture. i dunno. i'm not anti-firearms in principle, though in the hands of anyone but me, guns make me nervous. this includes hunters, criminals, and the police. i think spending a year in a jungle landscape where everyone is armed, and either intent on killing you or may kill you by accident, has something to do with it.

whatever. i can now breathe a deep sigh of relief. until next july.

04 July 2008

A FAREWELL

i am in mourning. two days ago, during the last of our daily phone calls, my love interest revealed to me that she wanted to end our relationship. this was a bolt out of the blue, as she had been sitting on her negative feelings for some time without communicating them to me, or giving us a chance to work through them. as with any couple, there were little things in each of us that bugged the other. unlike most past relationships i've entered into, J and i shared a high degree of mutual empathy, humor, sensuality, and the willingness to risk sharing our thoughts and feelings into intimate realms others rarely dare to enter.

she has certain perceptions of my behavior which she finds oppressive. i think her perceptions are distorted (through lenses which i shall not reveal, out of respect for her privacy). in my view there is nothing we could not have solved. but she ultimately admitted that she doesn't want to put in the work needed for any solid relationship to succeed. she says she is content to live alone, enjoying her circle of friends and the recreational activities she pursues.

all of which is inconsistent with her having sought out a relationship online to begin with. but there've been a number of contradictions in her attitudes and behavior (this being my perception, which in turn may be distorted), which might have been interpreted as red flags. i chose to live in hope. i still do.

the usual platitudes like "it wasn't meant to be", or "the end of this will be the beginning of something better", occur. but they don't erase the pain i feel now, or the regret over the loss of a transcendent level of romance, emotional ease, and intellectual challenge. i know i'll survive, and thrive. as will she. i wish her only the best. how vivid are the memory of her laugh, her touch, the sight of her dancing eyes. J, i miss you.

29 June 2008

M.I.A.

i'm gobsmacked that it's been a month since my last entry. a combination of working more hours, and pursuing a relationship with someone who lives 200 miles away. but no excuses, i need to discipline myself to make this a priority, since it is (among other things) a stepping stone toward writing professionally.

here in missoula, the seasons have changed with a vengeance. two weeks ago we had our last snow, which browned most of the exuberant lilac blooms which i so love, for their color and scent. it has been a long, cool, relatively wet spring. suddenly, starting with the solstice as though choreographed, it's summer, with temps in the high 90s. climate shock, almost as severe as the sticker shock at the gas pumps.

why is it that there are no mass demonstrations against the obscene windfall profits the oil companies are raking in? they whine about wanting permission to drill for oil in national wildlife refuges and other treasures we're saving for the future, yet they're sitting on already-approved oil reserves which they are NOT producing from. to paraphrase george c. scott in the movie "the hospital", the greed in this country is positively dazzling.

but then, we're missing public demonstrations against our decaying health care system, against bush's oil war in iraq, against any number of conditions and situations which affect the public. i miss the activism of the 60s and 70s. you hear polite echoes here and there, but nothing attention-grabbing. perhaps we've all become numb. or just plain tired from the effort to survive in this depressed economy.

about the only signs of life i've seen have been in the presidential race, especially in the intense public interest in both clinton and obama. i hope that clinton's supporters, the ones who churlishly say they'll vote for mccain rather than obama, will come to their senses and vote for their party's candidate. he won the nomination fair and square, and he's light years preferable to (with a nod to radio talk show host stephanie miller) old grampy mcsame. what an amazing year this has been, in which a woman and a black man emerged as the most charismatic and progressive contenders for the democratic nomination! old-guard mccain pales by comparison, in every sense of the word "pale". that rictus grin of his gives me the creeps.

but life and death and climate change have gone on, in spite of our apparent apathy. this summer the ice cap over the north pole is projected to melt off completely, leaving the polar region as open water for the first time in tens of thousands of years. "but...but...", say the polar bears as they either look on hungrily from shore, or sink into the watery abyss where they once hunted on ice. i won't say i told you so.

but i did, starting a quarter century ago, when i was a student in the ecology & evolutionary biology program at the university of arizona in tucson. it doesn't take a genius to understand the basics of the planet's cycles, or to grasp the implications of our interfering with the life processes that sustain us. one would think this information would be right up there with english, math, history, music, physics, art, and philosophy in the priorities of our school curricula. alas, no. we're too busy picking fights with other countries to tend to our own schools, our own elderly, our own health, or what the future will hold for our grandchildren.

here's an interesting exercise for you, one in which i indulge from time to time. if i were the surprise recipient of a million dollars, what would i do with the money? or why not, make it a billion. how and where would you spend/invest that money to improve life around you? take a moment with that.

now remind yourself that this is precisely the question we should be answering vigorously and publicly every day, with regard to how our government spends our money. we're all in this lifeboat together, folks.

29 May 2008

MULTI-TASKING? NOT SO FAST.

a friend was describing to me a tv documentary she'd seen, in which it was demonstrated that drivers who insist on talking on their cell phones while operating their vehicles, have approximately the same focus available for the task at hand (driving) as someone who is drunk.

i've seen this documented in past studies, as far back as ten years ago. my friend went on to tell me that in just about any "multi-tasking" setting, the brain is capable of paying primary attention to only one task, with the other tasks getting extremely short shrift on the cerebral back burner.

if you'd like confirmation of this phenomenon, all you have to do is pay attention to the behavior of drivers talking on their cell phones. they wander within their traffic lane, they suddenly realize they're about to miss a turn and veer across traffic, cutting off other drivers, they experience near-misses with adjacent vehicles, with pedestrians, with lamp posts. in short, they are a deadly menace on the road. one might as well be asleep at the wheel of an UNguided missile on wheels.

this irresponsible and hazardous behavior should be illegal in all states, just as driving under the influence is illegal. only a handful of states have enacted legislation making it so. oh, parenthetically, the excuse of using headphones, ostensibly leaving both your hands free, holds no water. it is what is going on inside the brain that is at issue.

bottom line -- hang up and drive ! ! !

by the way, the brain's inability to "multi-task" has implications for all those eager employment ads which describe a fast-paced work environment which requires energy, drive, a cheerful smile, and the ability to multi-task. gee, sounds like they're asking for the impossible, doesn't it? well, they are. it's far more productive in terms of quality and quantity, to slow down and focus on doing each task in turn. surprise.

back to vehicles for a moment -- the same splitting of attention occurs when one is listening to the car radio. the next time you're cruising, whether listening to talk radio or to music, try turning it off and notice how much more attuned you are to what's going on around you. it could save your life.

26 May 2008

MEMORIAL DAY

i am a vietnam veteran. each year, amid the cataclysm of lucrative store sales and general foolishness to which american commerce is prone, i tend to withdraw into reflection, and sorrow, and cynicism over the prospects for the human species. you probably wouldn't notice these thoughts on my face if you met me. by and large, vietnam vets learned a long time ago to stuff their feelings, a result of being treated like monsters rather than honorable citizen-soldiers. the word "hero" wasn't broadly applied to everyone in uniform, as it is today. but that's another issue, already addressed in a prior entry to this journal.

no, we who survived the jungle war in vietnam, contrary to the movie myth of the deranged PTSD homicidal lunatic, tend toward quietness. we carry unhealed wounds for years, sometimes lifetimes. ours is a private history, shared with fellow survivors in the language that we alone understand. each war creates its own culture among its veterans, it seems to me. WWII vets, korean vets, vietnam vets, gulf war vets, iraq/afghanistan vets each have their shared slang, shared fears, shared music, shared struggles. the patina overlaying these differences, the commonality which binds us into a larger group with a mutual language, is that of war. visit any cemetery or war memorial and you will see the light of recognition light in the eyes of military veterans as they regard their ancient foe -- war itself. no one who hasn't been through it can hope to understand the feelings, any more than i as a male can understand the amazing complex of joy and pain that a woman experiences during childbirth. i can try, i can imagine, i can even empathize. but i'll never know what it's really like.

which is why vets so often become isolated, especially vietnam vets. unlike those who returned from WWII, or those who are returning from iraq, we had no decompression, no psychological check-in, no chance to sort through our raging confusion. one day in march, 1969, i was in vietnam. twenty-four hours later i was discharged and set loose in san francisco. culture shock to the nth degree.

but i adapted, i blended in, i found ways to pass as a member of the counterculture. the monumental disconnect between my exterior life and my wartime past didn't hit for about fifteen years. in the interim, starting ten years after my return to the states, i'd been reading hungrily about the experiences of others who'd been there. i'd seen the smattering of (mostly terrible and non-representative) movies about vietnam. it all came together like a 2 X 4 between the eyes, one fourth of july evening. my partner at the time and the three kids in our blended family had gathered with others to view a huge fireworks display at the base of "A" mountain in tucson. with the arrival of darkness, a powerful combination of stimuli coalesced as they never had since the war. suddenly i realized that i was back in country, parachute flares slowly falling, lighting up the landscape in red, explosions going off, the wop-wop-wop of choppers overhead. i found myself drowning in the first full-fledged panic attack of my life. i made certain that my son was safe with my partner, then literally ran for my life into the darkness of the nearby desert, finally finding a shadowy corner behind an adobe building in which to crouch, my senses in disarray, my heart racing.

i eventually pulled myself together, of course, and life went on. but to this day i cannot be around fourth of july fireworks. the sound of strings of firecrackers going off sounds eerily like M16s in a firefight. the flashes, the darkness, the disembodied voices, the threat -- all are still there. the beast continues to prowl the earth, and it is hungry.

and isn't it odd (we humans are such a contrary, paradoxical, glorious and strange species) that i've never lost my interest in guns, so long as they are in my hands. someone else with a gun has my full attention, even if it's holstered on a cop's belt. kids with guns give me the heebie-jeebies.

so, we each find ways to manage our neuroses. my PTSD isn't nearly as debilitating as that of many vets, who saw and did more horrific things that i. but it's real enough. i don't think about it much, and i don't think that it rules my life. but on days of remembrance like today, i allow myself to be swept back to those other times, to remember the heat and the humidity and the gigantic insects and the landscape populated by folks who came up only to my shoulder, speaking a language that could be piercing and musical all at once. and i remember the faces. the voices. the laughter. the anger. the sweat. the boredom. the exhaustion of working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. the nervousness, never knowing whether the next incoming mortar round or rocket or sniper round might have your name on it. the friendships, forged in those inhuman conditions.

and the deaths. men i'd known for weeks, or a few days, or not at all, amid confusion and explosions and blood and missing limbs and spilling brains and screams and gunfire and yes, those thumping chopper rotor blades.

understand: these are sacred memories. sacred to my life history, sacred to the nation which sent us all into such an abysmally useless war, sacred to the families of those who never came back, or who came back missing pieces of themselves. i wouldn't wish the experience on anyone, nor would i care to live through it again myself. but it was a cauldron i survived, a harrowing passage which helped shape the man i was to become -- partner, father, seeker, role model, dreamer, world citizen.

as are we all, though we sometimes forget.

one last thing: each time you learn that someone is a military veteran, on any day of the year, please, please say "thank you". the sentiment has nothing to do with political beliefs, or patriotism, or sentimentality. it has to do with allowing that person, man or woman, to pause, look up, and feel recognized for their sacrifice. they will be humbled, and grateful. finally.