28 February 2009


earlier today i sent out an email to my southern arizona correspondents, noting that on tv i had stumbled across a golf tournament being played in tucson (coinciding with tiger woods' return to the tour after an injury), at a place i'd never heard of called dove mountain, and was enjoying the views of the sonoran desert. it has been twenty years since i lived in tucson, and fourteen since i visited. in the interim the city has undergone metastasizing sprawl, unwisely following the examples of los angeles and phoenix. this i can intellectually grasp by simply looking at a tucson street map in a book store, noticing the many square miles of roads, houses, shopping centers, and other eyesores where once there was only desert.

but when two of my friends wrote back, telling me the actual location of the golf course on tv, i was stunned. it lies at the southern base of the tortolita mountains, which was virgin desert and far from tucson's outskirts when i lived there. in may of 1972 my then-partner drove us on miles of sandy desert trail to the mouth of wild burro canyon, and dropped me off there for a three-day solo hike into the heart of the tortolitas. the trip was remarkable for (a) the many rattlesnakes i encountered, with no harm done to person or snake; (b) the unexpectedly cold nights, through which i shivered with only a space blanket (remember them?) and a brilliant full moon for cover; and (c) a day hike up a side canyon, during which i sensed i was being watched, and looked up the canyon wall to see the resident herd of wild horses standing partway up, spectators to my intrusion into their world. their existence was apocryphal, few peope having ever seen them.

now golf courses have sprung up all over, water hogs that should be outlawed from any desert environment. and dove mountain and other golf courses effectively block the entrance to wild burro canyon. this is more offensive than words can encompass. edward abbey said it best, on the back cover of his seminal novel The Monkey Wrench Gang: "desert, o my desert, yours is the only death i cannot bear." it's enough to turn one's thoughts (again) to eco-sabotage. if i were younger, and didn't live 1500 miles away, my first target would be abbey's favorite object of scorn, glen canyon dam, which wrecked the colorado river through the grand canyon. after that, time to brainstorm a way to discourage those who build golf courses and other "developments." to borrow from a handy phrase we used to use in vietnam, i've got your development for you, right here.

27 February 2009


HAPPY THIRD BIRTHDAY to my brother-and-sister cats, the white male Chiaro (short for "chiaroscuro", the term in art for the interplay of light and shadow) and the white-and-calico female Mao (chinese for "cat"). it was love at first sight when i visited the missoula humane society shelter, and in one of their glassed-in enclosures were four kittens, two white and two calico, all from the same litter. i would have adopted them all, but someone beat me to two, so i happily took the remaining pair. they are a constant source of entertainment, comfort and conversation. yes, i talk with my cats, and they understand perfectly, since i am fluent in cat. i've tried teaching them to play chess, but with somewhat disappointing results -- they can only beat me two games out of five.

also, a shout-out to powell's city of books, which occupies three stories and a full city block in portland, oregon. anyone remotely near the pacific northwest should make powell's the destination for a pilgrimage -- a browser's delight.

26 February 2009


well, not exactly. but my amiga vieja irene in tucson sent me this exciting article about two jaguar sightings, one in arizona and one in mexico. que fantastico!!!!! in the early 1980s, when i was studying ecology & evolutionary biology at the university of arizona, one of my mammalogy field trips was a long weekend at organ pipe national monument. during our stay, someone discovered a set of large, i mean large cat tracks. plaster casts were taken, and it was later deduced that they were jaguar prints, probably a stray from mexico, since we were only a few miles from the border. what a thrill that was.


this story is not only interesting from a naturalist's perspective, but (if you read the comments following the article) illustrates how fired up the controversy over wolves can become. and guess what ..... you can add your own comments!!

25 February 2009


my friend bill in chicago turned me on to xkcd some time back -- the site is self-described as "a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math and language." you don't have to be a math geek or a postdoc in literature to enjoy the wit and wordplay. here's an example ......

24 February 2009


from 1978-1982 i was caretaker for canelo hills cienega, a nature conservancy preserve in southern arizona. my then-wife, infant son and i were fortunate to live on the property, in a two-story adobe ranchhouse built in 1882. we owned two dogs, which were kept in a fenced yard, and three cats, which stayed indoors at night.

one fine day, one of the dogs, shona, who was part rhodesian ridgeback, escaped the yard and disappeared. they'd managed this from time to time, and were always within sight or sound of our voices when we called them back. this time, no response. by dinnertime we were downright worried, afraid she might have become lost in the surrounding national forest.

shona was missing for three days. we phoned neighbors, we walked and drove the ridges and draws of the oak/juniper woodland, to no avail. our other dog, cisco, part terrier and part chihuahua (if you can envision a 30 lb. chihuahua) was morose and lonely without his best friend. even the cats picked up on the family mood, and were unusually subdued.

on the third day, i had our truck out in the forest, gathering dry downfall for winter firewood, and a movement caught the corner of my eye. there in a sandy draw, in the shade of a juniper, was shona, caught securely in the jaws of a leg-hold trap. she was mute and quivering, fearful and dehydrated and disoriented. i carefully
freed her from the trap -- thankfully i was wearing leather gloves -- and took her home. luckily she hadn't struggled, so there were no broken bones in her foreleg, though the swelling and pain took a week or so to go down.

finding her that day had been sheerest chance. if i'd chosen another draw, another hillside for wood gathering, she would have died of starvation, or been killed by coyotes. i learned that under arizona law at that time, licensed trappers were supposed to check their traplines every 24 hours. whoever set shona's trap apparently
didn't care about the pain of the animals he might catch, nor the condition of their pelts if they struggled. i broke the law myself, and remain proud of it to this day, when i dug up his trap and buried the whole thing deep at an undisclosed location, where it would never harm another animal.

to me trapping is a lazy, cowardly, cruel and heartless way to make a living.
leg-hold / foot-hold traps, cyanide traps and drowning traps are especially vicious inventions. they are placed and often baited where any creature, wild or domestic, might get caught. the trapped animal knows searing pain and panic and shock, and will often chew its own foot off to escape, or die trying.

i have no use for commercial trappers, including those who employ live traps. their methods are despicable, and their goal, making a handsome income from the fur industry, cannot be justified. 'course, i have no use for most hunters, either, particularly "sport" hunters who go out to get a trophy, prove their manhood, and as a bonus put a little meat on the table. i make exception for those who are truly subsistence hunters, who would otherwise go hungry. but even they should, in my view, give their prey a chance by hunting with bow and arrow (thereby having to learn the lives and habitat of their prey, not to mention having to practice woodcraft and stealthy stalking techniques to get close enough for a clean shot.) shooting an animal from several hundred yards with a high-powered rifle and a scope isn't so much hunting as it is hi-tech target practice. and don't even get me started on "canned" hunts, wherein the highest bidders get to shoot trophy animals like bison in a fenced-in area.

for all the rest, i say this -- you can derive equal satisfaction by hunting with a camera. you're still enjoying the outdoors, you're still having to put your experience and fieldcraft to the test, and you still get to bring home something precious -- lasting images of animals in their natural setting. and the animals get to stay alive!! imagine.

i realize that there are special circumstances where a predator acquires a taste for livestock, and must be relocated or killed. it is possible to do this humanely, with minimal suffering. i have no argument there, so long as the work is done by a game warden or other licensed professional. and of course, if it's your life or the predator's, you have the right to defend yourself. but what i'm addressing is an industry that flourishes by harvesting wild animals for their fur, so that wealthy individuals can wear chic coats. i'd like to see those end users caught in a leg-hold trap for a few days. they might find their sensitivities altered.

you can learn more about trapping and the issues surrounding it
here, and also here.

22 February 2009


when i was teaching environmental studies to high school kids in the early 90s, there were only four states where one could reliably find wolves -- southeastern arizona, north carolina, upstate michigan, and alaska. of those, sightings in arizona were few -- fleeting glimpses of mexican wolves straying from the northern edge of their range. sightings in north carolina were also few -- resident red wolves were elusive and few in number. sightings in michigan were a bit easier, since gray wolves had been reintroduced to the northern woods, with the cooperation of local farmers and environmental groups. sightings in alaska were most numerous of all, because gray wolves there hadn't been systematically hunted to extinction as they had been in the lower forty-eight. (don't tell sarah palin that, she might get ideas.)

since then, gray wolves have been re-introduced to portions of their former range in the western states, arousing heated, sometimes violent controversy. horror stories were spread about the prospect of voracious attacks on livestock and humans. these myths have not materialized, and gray wolves in a few of these states are on the verge of being de-listed as endangered species. dozens of family packs now roam the back country of wyoming's yellowstone park, and the mountains of montana and idaho. there is occasional predation of livestock, but surprisingly little, considering the potential.

the value of predators like wolves, mountain lions, grizzley bears, coyotes, bobcats, and others is this: imagine the continent as it was before the arrival of european settlers, say, five hundred years ago. every habitat was teeming with biodiversity, and a dynamic balance existed between predator and prey species. predators tended to cull out the injured, the sick, the old and infirm ( because these are the easiest to catch, which conserves the hunter's energy reserves), thus improving the overall health of the prey herd. and the populations of predators were inherently limited by the number of prey. a neat system.

along came euro-man, replete with his mythology of conquering the wilderness. predators were seen as morally evil, as competitors for venison, and as targets for "sport" hunting. so we declared war on predators (and quite a few other plant and animal species as well) without a second thought. the wolves never had a chance.

it wasn't until the latter half of the twentieth century that environmentalists, naturalists and even some hunters and ranchers began to realize the harm we've inflicted on the natural world, and began to seek ways to return things to a more natural balance. but by then, our own human population had spread like cancer across the continent (not to mention the globe), and untouched natural habitats were shrunk and scattered. the loss of habitat is every bit as troublesome as is the loss of the species. efforts to reintroduce and protect eradicated predators, a necessary part of the food web, have collided with the spread of human cities, with ranching/farming, and with outdoor recreation. alas, animal predators and humans (the ultimate predator) don't mix well.

there are a number of possible stop-gap solutions. mine is elemental. i view the problem not as having too many predators, but having too many people. the planet could, in my opinion, sustain roughly one-tenth of its current six billion human inhabitants, leaving large and viable tracts of landscape to revert to its wild state, where the resident critters would be free to do their thing. think of it. six hundred million people is still a lot, but represents only twice the population of the u.s. that many people, scattered across the globe, would give us a chance to realize our true place in the scheme of things -- ethically and pragmatically, we are a part of nature, not nature's conqueror.

so how to reduce the number of people? clearly, intentionally killing each other off is out, even though we've shown we have quite a talent for it. depletion by attrition is a partial solution, and unavoidable -- the loss of human lives to war, plague and famine is a constant. ultimately, however, we need to make a conscious, dedicated decision to have fewer children. whatever else one may say in criticizing the chinese government, its policy allowing a couple to have no more than two children makes ecological sense, but it doesn't go far enough.

i propose that, not from any governmental edict but rather from our own sense of responsiblity for life on this planet, both now and in the future, no couple should have more than one child. i myself made that decision over three decades ago. it was hard, because both my parents came from large families, and i grew up happily with many uncles and aunts and cousins. but change begins with the individual, and i knew i had to set aside that large family tradition and choose a different path.

even this approach has its limitations, because we've already passed the threshold of runaway consequences arising from our own excesses -- global warming, species and habitat extinctions, deforestation, and a score of other issues all are the product of our fecundity. none of them will be reversed or healed overnight, not even over a period of years, decades. but we have to take the first steps now. with that in mind, i propose that we stop having children entirely, for a period of ten to twenty years. yes, it is a radical step, and yes, our genetically hardwired imperative to procreate is a tough one to overcome. but it can be done. i'm living proof. and the alternative is a world of unimaginable peril, with no good choices.

which brings us back to wolves. a quarter century ago, i thought of a way (laced with black humor, but not entirely preposterous) to nibble back the sheer numbers of people. the notion is simplicity itself. why not reintroduce packs of wolves to locations of greatest effect -- large urban green areas like central park in new york city, for instance. they could serve the same surgical purpose among humans that they do in the wild -- culling thieves and muggers and other miscreants, as well as anyone stupid enough to be out in the park after dark. just a thought.

and after all, the wolves would be doing nothing that we haven't been doing to them for centuries.

20 February 2009


please note: following is a column written by molly ivins for the 30 november 1982 edition of the dallas times-herald, and reprinted in her book Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She? i offer this in tribute to molly, and to introduce the reader to The Wall experience, and also because the missing man in the story could very easily have been me.

she had known, ever since she first read about the Vietnam War Memorial, that she would go there someday. sometime she would be in washington and would go and see his name and leave again.

so silly, all that fuss about the memorial. whatever else vietnam was, it was not the kind of war that calls for some "raising the flag at iwo jima" kind of statue. she was not prepared, though, for the impact of the memorial. to walk down into it in the pale winter sunshine was like the war itself, like going into a dark valley and damned if there was ever any light at the end of the tunnel. just death. when you get closer to the two walls, the number of names start to stun you. it is terrible, there in the peace and the pale sunshine.

the names are listed by date of death. there has never been a time, day or night, drunk or sober, for thirteen years that she could not have told you the date. he was killed on august 13, 1969. it was near the middle of the left wall. she went toward it as though she had known beforehand where it would be. his name is near the bottom. she had to kneel to find it. stupid cliches. his name leaped out at her. it was like being hit.

she stared at it and then reached out and gently ran her fingers over the letters in the cold black marble. the memory of him came back so strong, almost as if he were there on the other side of the stone, she could see his hand reaching out to touch her fingers. it had not hurt for years and suddenly, just for a moment, it hurt again so horribly that it twisted her face and made her gasp and left her with tears streaming down her face. then it stopped hurting but she could not stop the tears. could not stop them running and running down her face.

there had been a time, although she had been an otherwise sensible young woman, when she had believed she would never recover from the pain. she did, of course. but she is still determined never to sentimentalize him. he would have hated that. she had thought it was like an amputation, the severing of his life from hers, that you could live on afterward but it would be like having only one leg and one arm. but it was only a wound. it healed. if there is a scar, it is only faintly visible now at odd intervals.

he was a biologist, a TA at the university getting his PhD. they lived together for two years. he left the university to finish his dissertation but before he lined up a public school job -- teachers were safe in those years -- the draft board got him. they had friends who had left the country, they had friends who had gone to prison, they had friends who had gone to Nam. there were no good choices in those years. she thinks now he unconsciously wanted to go even though he often said, said in one of his last letters, that it was a stupid f---in' war. he felt some sort of guilt about a friend of theirs who was killed during the Tet offensive. hubert humphrey called Tet a great victory. his compromise was to refuse officers' training school and go as an enlisted man. she had thought then it was a dumb gesture and they had a half-hearted quarrel about it.

he had been in Nam less than two months when he was killed, without heroics, during a firefight at night by a single bullet in the brain. no one saw it happen. there are some amazing statistics about money and tonnage from that war. did you know that there were more tons of bombs dropped on hanoi during the christmas bombing of 1972 than in all of world war II? did you know that the war in vietnam cost the united states $123.3 billion? she has always wanted to know how much that one bullet cost. sixty-three cents? $1.20? someone must know.

the other bad part was the brain. even at this late date, it seems to her that was quite a remarkable mind. long before she read c.p. snow, the ferociously honest young man who wanted to be a great biologist taught her a great deal about the difference between the way scientists think and the way humanists think. only once has she been glad he was not with her. it was at one of those bizarre hearings about teaching "creation science." he would have gotten furious and been horribly rude. he had no patience with people who did not understand and respect the process of science.

she used to attribute his fierce honesty to the fact that he was a yankee. she is still prone to tell "white" lies to make people feel better, to smooth things over, to prevent hard feelings. surely there have been dumber things for lovers to quarrel over than the social utility of hypocrisy. but not many.

she stood up again, still staring at his name, stood for a long time. she said, "there it is," and turned to go. a man to her left was staring at her. she glared at him. the man had done nothing but make the mistake of seeing her weeping. she said, as though daring him to disagree, "it was a stupid f---in' war," and stalked past him.

she turned again at the top of the slope to make sure where his name is, so whenever she sees a picture of the memorial she can put her finger where his name is. he never said goodbye, literally. whenever he left he would say, "take care, love." he could say it many different ways. he said it when he left for vietnam. she stood at the top of the slope and found her hand half-raised in some silly gesture of farewell. she brought it down again. she considered thinking to him, "hey, take care love" but it seemed remarkably inappropriate. she walked away and was quite entertaining the rest of the day, because it was expected of her.

she thinks he would have liked the memorial. he would have hated the editorials. he did not sacrifice his life for his country or for a just or noble cause. there just were no good choices in those years and he got killed.

19 February 2009


literally, "let the good times roll", the motto of new orlean's version of mardi gras , which begins next tuesday, 24 february. there are a number of signature regional cultural events i've never had the pleasure of attending, and mardi gras is one -- along with the annual bikers' rally in sturgis, SD; the mummers' parade in philadelphia (shame on me, since i lived in suburban philly for four years); and on and on. i have had the good fortune to attend several concerts during the charleston, SC, spoleto festival, including a performance by the incomparable guitarist and true gentleman, mr. chet atkins.

i do, however, claim bragging rights for an annual three-day festival that many of you have never heard of. my home town, conrad, MT, hosts a celebration called Whoop-Up Trail Days, which takes its name from the route taken by whiskey runners from fort hamilton, alberta, canada to fort benton, montana, during the years of prohibition. conrad lies on or near that smugglers' path, but the annual fete, which is held in late spring, isn't so much about booze, as it is about celebrating the history and solidarity of a small and shrinking farming community. our once-legendary parade has diminished in size a bit over the years -- i was part of the parade a number of times, first on the boy scouts' float, and later playing my french horn in the conrad high school marching band. back in the day, the parade also included a number of equestrian groups, dozens of classic cars (dating back as far as ford model Ts) and farm equipment, clowns, balloons, bison burgers, and lots of pretty girls from all over. i wasn't noticing the pretty boys at the time, but the girls had my attention.

though i've returned to my home state four years ago, i haven't yet made it up to whoop-up. maybe this year.

17 February 2009

16 February 2009


small wonder that john s. has become my favorite daily dose of all things that lie in the shadowy borderland between real and surreal. this is primo.

15 February 2009


i doubt that this list is comprehensive or exhaustive of the genre, but it's just about guaranteed to give you a grin or a giggle. i especially like the one about WASPs.....but then, it's no secret that i'm a hedonist.


earlier this morning i emailed to select friends a series of links that graphically illustrate the consequences of a global warming-induced rise in sea level. the first was to the astronomy picture of the day, showing one of antartica's ice shelves as it was fifteen years ago. today much of it has melted away, adding to the water in the world ocean. (note: if you go to this site later than today, you can access the photo by clicking on the "calender" link.)

the second link was a very graphic map, showing the coastal and inland areas that will be under water at various stages of ocean rise. many of the world's major cities would become submerged.

the third link was to a fairly decent wikipedia article, describing historic changes in sea level, and factors (in addition to antarctic ice melt) that contribute to the current rise.

in geologic terms, of course, this is nothing new. between ice ages, sea level has been high enough to form a north american inland sea, centered on the lower mississippi valley. what sets this rise apart is its human-induced rapidity -- a geometric progression similar to that of other calamities (the extinction of large numbers of species, the disappearance of entire ecosystems, the alteration of the world's weather) set in sudden motion by the cancerous growth of human populations.

personally, i think it's time we STOPPED HAVING BABIES for a while, say, twenty years. that would be a small start. ideally (in my estimation) the planet has a sustainable carrying capacity for roughly one-tenth of our current 6 billion souls. mass genocide is out of the question, although unintended plague and famine are not. we passed the threshold for taking true healing action half a century ago, and for many plant and animal species it is too late. it may be too late now -- global processes are of such massive scale that they require decades, if not centuries, to reverse.

but considering that we are rapidly turning our garden planet into a sewer, we can only in good conscience begin now. and anyone who isn't part of the solution, is part of the problem. octomom, take note.

14 February 2009


today's entry from john scalzi's weblog, whatever:

"a list of the top 17 'homo love songs.' oh, go on, you nervous straight person, you. you know you want to see what that link is like, just this once."

(the comments below the song list are worth the price of admission, by themselves.)

here's a little game to play with friends and/or loved ones -- we all know that there are a kazillion songs with the word "love" in the title. make a list of as many as you can think of, substituting the word "lunch". guaranteed giggles. a few examples to get you started --

~ all you need is lunch
~ lunch never dies
~ radar lunch
~ when i fall in lunch
~ puppy lunch
~ i've got my lunch to keep me warm
~ lunch on the rocks
~ all you need is lunch
~ forbidden lunch
~ young lunch
~ you've lost that lunchin' feeling
~ sea of lunch
~ you made me lunch you
~ somewhere, my lunch
~ muskrat lunch
~ 50 ways to leave your luncher
~ hawaiian lunch song
~ from russia with lunch
~ your lunch is lifting me higher
~ can't buy me lunch
~ i'll never stop lunching you
~ lunch me tender
~ everybody lunches a luncher
~ where is the lunch?
~ our lunch is here to stay
~ but will you lunch me tomorrow?

you get the idea. a few of those titles might be seeds for a science fiction story. or an alternative theme song for the movie Alive, i suppose.

well, you know what granny used to say. "don't eat with your mouth full." colorful woman, granny.

13 February 2009


wow. it hardly seems possible that i started this meandering commentary on 13 february 2008. but 'tis true. as a mission check, it is useful to re-read the entries on my choice of pseudonym, the origin of the blog title, and why i chose the SR-71 Blackbird as my icon.

i first undertook this web log as a convenient path to accomplish two goals. the first was to prod me into writing something, anything, on a daily basis, as a way of developing some form of discipline to further my desire to become a professional writer (fiction and environmental/political commentary). this has been only partially successful. over 366 days (last year was a leap year), i've made 138 entries. one hopes that quality at least partially compensates for the lapses in quantity.

the second goal was to provide a stage, a forum, a sounding board for my thoughts, feelings, and original ideas on a wide range of topics, from news of the day to personal flights of fancy. the online journal format is ideal. aesthetically i can think of a number of ways to jazz up the visual presentation, but this site is free and provides a reasonable array of tools, so for now, it'll do.

two things are blatantly missing -- a snowballing readership, many of whom are willing to declare themselves "followers" of the blog (to date: one); and reader feedback. each entry has a "comments" link at the bottom. please, dear reader, feel free to indulge in praise, critique, debate, stream of consciousness ramblings, or general rabble-rousing. i take an interest in all your thoughts. thanks.

so what next? perhaps a second blog, dedicated specifically to raw, first-draft writing attempts. dog (sic) knows i need the practice. good friends whose opinions i respect have been prodding me for years to become a writer. no time like the present. vamanos!!!

12 February 2009


today marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of charles robert darwin , whose theory of evolution is one of a small handful of paradigm-shifting works of brilliant insight. although his seminal voyage as resident naturalist aboard the HMS Beagle took place in 1831, it wasn't until 1858 that darwin published his seminal "On The Origin of Species", after years of experimenting and testing his thinking. the results reverberate to this day. his realization that species evolve, influenced by both natural selection and sexual selection, revolutionized our understanding of nature, and of ourselves. darwin's theory of evolution was buttressed and solidified by later discoveries in genetics by gregor mendel, and still later by watson and crick's discovery of the double helix structure of the DNA molecule.

let's be clear about a few terms. in science, we assign special meaning to the following:

a hypothesis is a tentative explanation for an observation, phenomenon or scientific problem that can be tested by further investigation; the antecedent of a conditional statement. e.g., the hypothesis that two objects of different weight, dropped from a height, will reach the ground at the same time.

a theory is a set of statements or principles devised to explain a group of facts or phenomena, especially one that has been repeatedly tested or is widely accepted and can be used to make predictions about natural phenomena. e.g., the theory of evolution by natural selection.

a law is a statement describing a relationship observed to be invariable between or among phenomena for all cases in which the specific conditions are met. e.g., the law of gravity.

there are those, generally of a particular religious bent, who dismiss darwin's work as "merely a theory." but they either mistakenly fall victim to the ambiguity of language, in which one word may have a number of different meanings; or else they intentionally take advantage of that ambiguity to further their own agenda. for in the more generalized public understanding of the word, outside of science, a theory is a conjecture, a supposition. it is understandable that in our society, in which education in the sciences is at a third-world level, the general public might not make the distinction in meanings. but actively sowing such confusion is misguided at best, irresponsibly manipulative and venal at worst.

back to darwin. happy birthday, charles. may you live long and prosper.

11 February 2009


my thanks to my friend KC in reno, for turning me on to the humor, intellect and gleeful combativeness in the writings of molly ivins. the texas columnist, unabashed liberal, and political commentor (i REFUSE to use the word "commentator", which denotes an ordinary spud) whose keen wit and people-savvy made many an elected official cringe. a few random examples from her first book:

~as for george bush of kennebunkport, maine -- personally i think he's further evidence that the great scriptwriter in the sky has an overdeveloped sense of irony.

~ one of my heroes is william brann, the great populist, who edited a paper called "the iconoclast" in waco before the turn of the century. brann, a fearless man, loathed three things above all others: cant, hypocrisy, and the baptists. "the trouble with our texas baptists," he once observed, "is that we do not hold them under water long enough."

~ normally texas political debate is conducted in highly flavored language, both on and off the chamber floors. of a loony person: "crazy as a peach-orchard boar." of a normally indolent colleague, suddenly invigorated: "who put tabasco sauce in his grits?" of a cautious man: "he wears a two-inch belt and big jim suspenders." of a homely man: "he's so ugly that when he was a little boy his mama had to tie a pork chop around his neck before the dog would play with him."

~ h. ross perot: seven bubbles off plumb.

~ an honest man in the texas legislature is one who stays bought ..... actually, the criterion for being considered an honest politician in texas is as follows: if you can't take their money, drink their whiskey, screw their women, and vote against 'em anyway, you don't belong in texas politics.

~ bill clements' sayings generally combine ignorance with arrogance, two of his most salient traits, but the man's bluntness can be endearing. you will notice this in the unlikely event you should ever agree with him. he was once confronted by a fundamentalist at a republican convention, who demanded to know if clements had been born again. "no thanks," said clements, "once was enough." ..... but clements, although a miserable governor, makes a wonderful target. when told clements had been studying spanish, agriculture commissioner john hightower was moved to comment, "oh good. now he'll be bi-ignorant."

~ (borrowed from Savvy): the charm of ronald reagan is not just that he kept telling us screwy things -- it was that he believed them all. no wonder we trusted him -- he never lied to us.

~ i have been collecting euphemisms used on television to suggest that our only president (reagan) is so dumb that if you put his brains in a bee, it would fly backwards.

~ there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

~ one of my favorite moments was when the president (reagan) told us his purpose in all this was to bring an end to the terrible war between iraq and iran. he sent arms to bring peace. this is the famous putting-out-the-fire-with-kerosene ploy. remember the graffito from vietnam -- fighting for peace is like f---ing for chastity? ah, said the president with great lucidity, it's true we shipped weapons to iran, but they were defensive weapons. if the man had a brain, he'd play with it.

ah molly, you've left us, and who will take up your pen?

05 February 2009


an article in today's NYTimes online confirmed what i've thought all along -- that the popular copycat criminal forsenics shows on tv (CSI, criminal minds, numbers, NCIS, cold case, even the ghost whisperer) are a farce. it is absurd to think that any single investigator, or even team of investigators, would be as omniscient and astute as these heroes are portrayed, pulling off weekly miracles of connecting the dots. this premise should be appalling and offensive to any intelligent mind.

how likely is it that such brilliant minds would enter police forsenics in the first place? not the most lucrative or prestigious or influential of fields, when there are plenty of private companies and universities where meaningful research and the possibility of getting one's findings published provide a more realistic lure for those with skill and talent. the peter principle holds true here, as elsewhere -- people tend to rise to the level of their own incompetence. if one's level is low to begin with, then one has to settle for lesser opportunities. like maybe, working for law enforcement or the military?

i am frankly BORED by the forsenics fad on tv. these things go in cycles. remember when the fad was westerns and comedy, in the 50s and 60s? i can't think of a single western being broadcast today. with any luck at all, within a few years it will take a crime scene investigator to find any forsenics shows on tv. even if there were, it would be a coin toss whether this so-called "scientist" could locate it, even if equipped with a map, a schedule and a crack team of specialists.

the unspoken tragedy in all this is that in the real world, as the NYTimes article indicates, innocent people are found guilty and incarcerated for years, based on faulty evidence produced by ill-equipped, ill-trained and often frankly incompetent police investigators. thomas jefferson said it best: far better that ten guilty men go free, than that one innocent man be sent to prison.

04 February 2009


here's a reference for anyone who has ever wondered what the verbal hash is about when military, police, aviation, ham, or other radio types spell out words. each letter is deliberately spoken as a particular word (beginning with the chosen letter), to avoid confusion over fuzzy frequencies from sound-alike letters, e.g. "c", "d", "e", "g", "p", "t", "v" and "z". the military and aviation phonetic alphabet is as follows:

Papa (accent on the second syllable)

once you have those down, you can start working on the Morse code equivalents !

03 February 2009


an hour or so after midnight on 3 february 1959, a chartered beech bonanza carrying musicians buddy holly, richie valens, and j.p. richardson (the big bopper), crashed in an iowa field shortly after takeoff from mason city. the 21 year old pilot and all three passengers were killed.

buddy holly has been described as the single most creative force in early rock and roll, influencing the beatles, the rolling stones and bob dylan, among many others. he was only 22 at the time of his death, and yet his songwriting was so prolific that new albums and singles were released for years after his passing.

(to hear the aviation detail of that ill-fated flight, listen to an NPR interview with AOPA's Air Safety Foundation director, bruce landsberg.)

in 1971, don mclean's "american pie", a tribute to holly and the evolution of pop music following his death, became the longest song ever to hit #1 in popularity. the lyrics were filled with arcane musical references, a bit mysterious, and the melody and rhythm were infectious. for those who've wondered, here is a website which interprets "american pie", clarifying the images for the rest of us to understand.

fifty years later, the lyrics ring true:

"a long, long time ago, i can still remember how that music used to make me smile..."

02 February 2009


here is a link to an index of webcams showing views of glacier park, yellowstone park, and representative locations around the state. (it's a big state, 300 miles by 500 miles, fourth largest in the u.s.) very roughly, the western third of the state is mountains (the mighty rockies), and the eastern two-thirds is prairie. or was, before farming, logging, mining and other "development" was inflicted on the land. one of my favorite fantasies is the wish to roam the american west as it was 500 years ago, before the arrival of european explorers and settlers. well, we all need our dreams.