31 March 2009
30 March 2009
29 March 2009
for those of us with chronic, 24/7 pain, isn't it long past time to decriminalize the use of marijuana for pain management? some states (including montana) allow it with strict regulation, others do not. and the federal government, as usual, is more behind the times than anyone.
prohibition has never worked. a century and a half ago, abraham lincoln understood that. the current so-called "war on drugs" is an abyssmal failure. other substances aside, it makes so much more sense to legalize marijuana completely, then (just as we do with alcohol) regulate and tax its sale, thus (a) assuring standards of quality control, and (b) providing much-needed revenue to state and/or federal governments.
but i guess that would be too logical.
i experienced a window into this heartbreak in 1985, when i lost legal custody of my son to his mother. subsequently she and her husband proceeded to systematically alienate my son from me. i was demonized, my character was assassinated, and numerous barriers were erected to hinder the emotional ties between father and son, as well as to prevent visitation itself. ultimately, caught in the middle between warring adults, my boy did what he had to do to preserve his own sanity -- he made the choice to take sides. and logically, he chose to align with the people he had to live with. he began to reject me, to refuse to spend court-sanctioned visitation time with me, and finally would not see me at all. from january 1988 until the summer of 1993, i was cut out of my son's life.
i never gave up on him. i placed regular phone calls, and wrote regular letters. i even kept up with monthly child support payments to his mother, though she had reneged on her responsibility to foster his relationship with me. over time, as my son entered his middle teens and began to think independently, he recognized the disconnect between the libelous, distorted picture they'd painted of me, and the truth of his own memories of me. bravely (given that his stepfather was a violent alcoholic, and his mother was an enabler of that behavior) he insisted on spending two summer vacations with me. it was our first time together in five years. i'm so proud of him for having the determination and courage to reconnect with me.
getting to know each other again wasn't without a few bumpy spots. but that was nothing, nothing compared to the daily, hourly misery and pain and horror of being kept forcibly apart from my son for all those years.. that passage was a cauldron for me, and in surviving it i discovered reservoirs of inner strength and resilience i never knew were there.
all of which gives me a deep appreciation for the strength and resilience of the black community, then and now. their suffering was orders of magnitude worse than mine. to better understand the issue of severed families, i highly recommend the four-hour PBS series "African American Lives", which reveals the geneology and family stories of nine black americans. it cannot fail to touch your heart.
27 March 2009
26 March 2009
25 March 2009
after a two-week hiatus in that splendid city, more hitchhiking south through the kenai penninsula to homer spit, thence by ferry to kodiak island. after two weeks' camping out in a rainy state park, i pulled some strings and got a job aboard the processor/freezer ship M/V All-Alaskan, a.k.a. the blue zoo. i spent the entire summer wearing long johns and seeing my breath, working 12 hours on and 12 off, seven days a week, processing salmon that were first loaded onto our vessel by fishing boats, then gutted and flash-frozen and boxed, then off-loaded onto korean or japanese freighters. i had one of the better jobs, running the strapping machine which secured the big boxes of fish from falling open. we burned so many calories that we lost weight even while eating three to four huge meals per day, especially if we worked an 18 hour shift. not to mention building up impressive shoulder, chest and back muscles from all that lifting and shoving and maneuvering of heavy objects.
it was a wild summer, filled with vivid memories, mind-blowing scenery and a frontier lifestyle. i hated to leave at the end of salmon season in bristol bay, but i'd scored a free airline ticket back to tucson, and more importantly, i missed my son ian so much that toward the end i would sometimes break into tears when i thought of him. so, back to the blazing sonoran desert and home. well, one home. it feels like everywhere i've lived is home. now i could add alaska to the list.
and i want to go back !!!!!
birthday greetings also to two of my female heroes --
24 March 2009
23 March 2009
item 2: a private plane carrying at least 14 people from california to ski in montana diverted from its planned destination (bozeman) and crashed in a cemetery while attempting to land at butte. several facts leap out at anyone who has read many NTSB accident reports--
~ the plane carried more people (14) than it was rated for (12), and probably too much cargo, given that it was transporting a party on a skiing outing.
~ the pilot did not refuel at his last california stop. he may have thought he had too much weight on board to take on extra fuel. if so, he set himself up for fuel starvation.
~ the last-minute cancellation of the flight plan to bozeman, diverting to butte (which is only marginally closer), suggests that the plane was indeed low on fuel.
~ finally, and fatally, the key words "turning steeply on the approach to landing" -- when your airpspeed is down, you DO NOT execute sharp turns, because you are almost certainly below stall speed, especially with a heavy load and higher altitude. what witnesses described as sudden loss of control and plunging to the ground, is precisely the consequence of a low-altitude, low-airspeed stall.
~ black irony, they crashed in a cemetery. no comment.
22 March 2009
parts of my body aren't as resilient as they once were -- though i could reclaim much of that by working out as rigorously as i did in my mid-thirties, when i did five weight workouts and eight karate workouts per week. these days i'd prefer weight training and swimming.
if age is a state of mind, i must still be in my thirties. my thirst for adventure is far from satisfied, as is my hunger for learning. my desire to give and receive love is undiminished, though now i'm much better at it. one of the perks of growing older.....
20 March 2009
19 March 2009
"coping with adversity through national service" feels like a fresh wind of change in a world of self-absorption, conspicuous consumerism and malaise.
it is my understanding that the group's intended membership is primarily teens, but that adults can become involved in a support/mentoring capacity. still in the process of forming and organizing, full launch is to take place this fall. i wish melissa helmbrecht martin and her partners well.
18 March 2009
(click on the image to enlarge) this would be hilarious if it weren't so true, and so creepy. bottom line: if you are able to (or have the nerve to) make any of these statements as a refutation of your own racism, you have such a long way to go in understanding how insidious and pervasive prejudice really is. i've been doing this stuff for decades, and i'm still learning.
oh, here's a valuable link (satirical for liberals, literal instruction for conservatives?) to a set of remarks often employed for suppressing discussions on racism. also discussions on sexism, birth control, stem cell research, or just about any other controversial topic. the point is, none of these remarks contains logic or substance. rather, they are manipulative tools, often so distorted or subtle that their irrelevance isn't noticed in time. i can't tell you how often i've heard such diversions from conservatives, and some liberals as well. some day there will be a thoughtful, mutually respectful, substantive dialogue on race, and i shall fall over from shock.
17 March 2009
so, as a modest contribution to cross-cultural enjoyment, i offer this link to a fine website with a wide variety of news, sports, entertainment, travel, advice, opinion and much more. one of my personal favorites is "best irish movies of all time" -- i'm pleased to say that i've seen nine out of the ten, and only disagree with one title being included in the list. oh, don't forget to click on "dublin webcam", meghan sweeney's blog, and the green tab labelled "the pub", which takes you to a subpage with its own nooks and crannies to explore. the content changes daily, so it's a fun place to visit.
don't even get me started on the rich array of contemporary irish writers out there, from frank mccourt to morgan llywellyn to roddy doyle, frank delaney to patrick mcginley to maeve binchy, and dozens more. dare i mention oscar wilde, james joyce, w.b. yeats, samuel becket, jonathan swift? the list is as long and colorful as irish/celtic history itself.
and the music, ah, the music. "riverdance" was for many, their introduction to the rich harmonies and rhythms of celtic music. me, i'm a bit more partial to groups like the chieftains, balladeers like robbie o'connell, celtic harpists like kim robertson. something for every taste.
so here's to ya, emerald isle and all your children, whether at home in eire, or far-flung by the irish diaspora. the world is a better place for your being with us.
16 March 2009
additionally this morning, john scalzi continued his blog's conversation on racism faced by writers, with another guest entry, this one from k. tempest bradford. i've thought about and discussed and confronted racism for decades, yet i keep discovering fresh revelations (about others and about myself) from articulate and forceful writers like these. bradford's excellent blog is the angry black woman.
and one more, just for fun -- amy alkon's in-your-face relationship advice blog/column, the advice goddess. her hilarious, right-on commentary is informed by a solid grounding in psychology and social research.
i notice that three of the four blogs i've recommended are authored by women. does this reflect a personal bias, i wonder? probably -- my earliest playmates and best friends were girls, the daughters of the farmer my dad worked for. even so, it seems to me that the thoughts and life experience of social/racial minorites are more informative and horizon-broadening than those of many white males, at least in this country. we've ignored or devalued those minority voices for far too long. this ties in with my earlier remarks on xenophobia.
there. put that in your bong and smoke it.
13 March 2009
even if i didn't have aspirations as a writer (i do), her thoughts would remain informative and compelling. it is absolutely essential for all of us as world citizens to talk about race. i've been fortunate to live among black and latino communities, and to make lifelong friends who have broadened my horizons in unexpected and welcome directions. life is too short NOT to explore all the diversity and color that makes up our world. essential to this is discovering and understanding the issues which separate us from each other. as i noted in my email to friends, "race is the deepest, and most studiously ignored, issue of this or any other time. xenophobia drives just about any conflict you can name. the 'other' may be based on gender, nationality, class or religion, but race receives the least attention. at least in my never-to-be-humble view."
12 March 2009
if i still lived out on the prairie east of the rocky mountain front, this would feel like a chinook. a wind from the west that undergoes adiabatic heating as it descends the slope of the rockies. but i don't live there -- i'm in the mountains' interior, at the confluence of three or five river valleys, depending on who is counting. but what the heck, i'll call it a chinook anyway. i'm entitled.
an aside: i heard the most outlandish thing on the View this morning -- a recent survey in england disclosed that if given the choice between having sex for an hour or getting an extra hour's sleep, 80% of the respondents opted for sleep. say what? i mean, i'm over 60 and treasure my sleep as much as anyone, but say what? one of the View's panel of hosts pointed out that with her husband, she could do both. another suggested splitting the difference, half an hour doing each. i'm thinking naw, once i'm engaged, i'm there for a while. partly an advantage of being older and less trigger-happy, but also because i plain love it!! so there.
11 March 2009
10 March 2009
great blue heron.
if you don't keep up with taxonomic debates within biological circles, you'll still understand this entry's title if you've seen the movie "Jurassic Park", with its reference to birds and dinosaurs having a common ancestor. paleontology has refined the connection since that movie, as evidenced in a recent NOVA episode on PBS. and even if you have seen neither the movie nor the tv episode, if you've ever watched a great blue heron fly silently past, especially in the crepuscular light of dawn or dusk, your imagination may well make the visual leap to this Cretaceous creature. here is a description, from the back of the Audubon card from which i lifted this photo:
"if you accidentally surprise a great blue heron (ardea herodias) as it stands, motionless but alert for fish or frogs, in its watery hunting ground, it will reward you with a sight straight out of the Jurassic. the tall, long-necked bird gathers itself, jumps, and flaps away in slow motion on three-foot wings, it body language whispering Pterodactyl.
"the apparent laziness of its wing beat belies the speed a blue heron can achieve -- easily over twenty miles per hour -- and its size would suggest a greater body weight than its typical five to eight pounds. it is unexpectedly prolific, too; as many as seven eggs have been found in a great blue heron's nest."
09 March 2009
last friday night, a spectacular launch took place at the kennedy space center. a rocket carrying the kepler telescope ascended into space, on a mission to search for earth-like planets orbiting in the habitable zone of other stars. kepler's telescope and large, sensitive camera will examine a rich star field near the plane of our milky way galaxy.
call me a space monkey, but this is pretty exciting stuff ! !
08 March 2009
when i graduated from high school in 1965, at 5'9" i weighed 155 lb. and was naturally fit. in 2003, after years of edging slowly up in weight, i reached 200 lb. and knew that i had to take charge. i looked doughy, felt sluggish, and had a low self-image. having gone on fruit juice fasts ranging from three days to thirty days in the past, i knew i had self-discipline. so i set a target intake of 1200 calories per day, and stuck with it. the lb.s and inches came off gradually, which is the most realistic approach if you want to keep the weight off. i ate a balanced diet, included the major food groups, and kept track in particular of my intake of fat, cholesterol, and fiber.
once in a while i allowed myself a special treat (sweets are my weakness), and that's okay. all things in moderation. i found it important to weigh myself daily, so that if i slipped, it was immediately apparent. by 2005 i had plateaued at 165 lb., and it took perserverance to get past that barrier, but it paid off. today i'm not only at, but below my h.s. weight. i go for a daily walk, still eat well, and feel (and look) better than most men my age.
to get started, and as a periodic reference, a BMI (body/mass index) chart is valuable. it gives you a pretty liberal range of "acceptable" body weight for your gender and height. i believe that the nearer you are to the lower end of your range, the healthier you are and the longer you'll live. and your fitness will allow you to actually enjoy those added years.
this is a health issue of epidemic proportions -- in the u.s., one-third of the population is overweight, and an additional one-third is medically obese. these are staggering, scandalous numbers. we are literally eating ourselves to death. to give yourself that little added push to really look at your own weight issues (if any), rent a copy of michael moore's movie "Sicko". it is a funny and sobering indictment of the health care system in america, as well as a wake-up call to those two-thirds of us who are literally eating themselves to death.
07 March 2009
[footnote: HHB 23rd in 1968 was one of the few units in Vietnam still being issued the older, heavier, and more reliable M14 battle rifle, which uses 7.62mm ammunition. by this time most other units were using the lighter M16 assault rifle, which fires 5.56mm ammunition. i always kinda liked carrying the more substantial M14, with its wooden stock, which with its longer range was used as a backup sniper rifle in two-man sniper teams. the M14's recoil compares to a 20-gauge shotgun, while the M16's recoil is barely more than a .22 rifle, which is to say, negligible.]
whether in base camp at Phu Loi, or at a remote FSB surrounded by jungle and rice paddies, i was always a target. actually two targets -- (a) a random target, by virtue of my being with other u.s. soldiers in a given area; and (b) a specific target, since i had a price on my head. there was a bounty paid to those who could prove that they had killed a commanding officer, a medic, a machine gunner, or a radio/RTT operator. during that long, lonely year i was variously mortared, rocketed and shot at, any time of the day or night. at no point was i ever in direct, hand-to-hand combat, though several times our FSB was in danger of being overrun by Viet Cong or North Vietnamese regulars. my work day was 12 hours on, 12 hours off, seven days a week in base camp. in the field, i was on duty 24/7.
i turned 21 a few weeks after arriving in country. that, coupled with my two years' college, made me an old, educated man in contrast with the average enlisted GI, who was 18-19 and lucky to have a high school diploma. it isn't an accident that the military actively seeks out the young for recruitment. young bodies are strong and resilient, young minds are malleable and susceptible to propaganda. sadly, both young minds and bodies are vulnerable to all the forms of damage, dismemberment, disillusionment, trauma and death that war can dish out.
you can get a more detailed idea of my time there by reading my entry from last Veterans Day, 11 nov 08. bottom line, each day of this past year has been a forty-year anniversary of an event in that jungle war.
on 7 march 1969, i boarded an airliner (Freedom Bird) at Bien Hoa airbase, and after intermediate fueling stops in japan and alaska, and a hurried outprocessing at Oakland Army Base, i found myself in San Francisco, a civilian again. 24 hours from war zone to cosmopolitan peace. no counseling, no preparation for the social strife surrounding the war, or for the hostility and suspicion directed at military veterans by the public, or for the cold indifference toward vets from our government and support agencies. we'd been used, abused, maimed, killed, gassed, and cut loose to fend for ourselves. so we turned to the only ones who would ever understand -- each other. many vets fell through the cracks, never to recover.
this is in stark contrast to the treatment of those returning from WWII. back then, soldiers were trained as a unit, shipped overseas as a unit, remained with their unit during the course of the war, and returned as a unit to the u.s. in particular, the return trip was valuable, since it was by boat, giving GIs valuable time for decompression and sharing their experiences before release into civilian society. this solidarity and familiarity served my father's generation well. he is still close to many of the men in his railroad detachment.
It is also a stark contrast to the treatment afforded those returning from iraq and afghanistan. slow learners, the military and the public did take a few lessons from the vietnam experience. now young vets are treated with dignity and affection, their needs seen to as a matter of policy. this is as it should be. how tragic that so many in my generation were scarred or lost, to make it happen.
so here i sit, to a casual observer a more or less well-adjusted, well-educated, perceptive and articulate individual. but forty years later, still hemorrhaging inside. vietnam will always be with me. i've sought counseling and therapy, i've read voraciously, i've talked and listened and thought and thought. and it will always be with me.
06 March 2009
there is also this -- even though i am not religious, i believe strongly in the quaker principle of Bearing Witness, i.e., not turning away from an inhumane act (human brutality) or a painful situation (a whale stranded on a beach), but being there so that the scene will not pass unnoticed. it is a vital component of remembering history, lest we repeat it.
and a variant -- so long as one person is a slave, i am not wholly free. so long as one person is in danger, i am not truly safe. so long as one person struggles against ignorance or oppression, so must i struggle, on whatever paths i discover or create.
speaking of the darker side of history, yet on a lighter note, my ever-reliable friend bill from chicago sent me this link to a set of quotes by the writer alan moore. of those presented, i think my favorite is this -- "sexually progressive cultures gave us mathematics, literature, philosophy, civilization and the rest, while sexually restrictive cultures gave us the Dark Ages and the Holocaust. not that i'm trying to load my argument, of course."
05 March 2009
04 March 2009
this is not, of course, a new phenomenon. governments or competing political factions have "disappeared" their opponents for centuries. including, i have no doubt, our own democratic republic. i first became specifically aware of the issue when i saw the excellent 1986 movie Salvador. each film includes the audience in the process of discovery -- Salvador from an outsider's point of view, an american photojournalist -- and Cautiva from a resident's point of view, a teenage girl. i'll say no more, to avoid giving away too much plot.
it is a disturbing thought, the realization that citizens can be detained illegally, kept indefinitely, and probably tortured (the most self-defeating tactic imaginable for obtaining information, since everyone has a breaking point and will say anything, just to make the pain stop). we are not immune from the threat, i think. abu ghraib and guantanamo prisons are merely the tip of the clandestine iceberg, and it has been documented that many if not most detainees are innocent. if foreign nationals are at risk, why not u.s. citizens? the old CSNY lyrics "paranoia strikes deep" were a dark understatement.
it is to be hoped that, at least for our government among the nations of the world, such practices will be slowed under the obama administration. i sincerely doubt they will ever be halted altogether, since black ops and credible deniability go hand in hand. i hope i'm wrong in this.
03 March 2009
the most personally significant of them all is the birth of my son ian. this would be true no matter what, but icing on the cake is that he was born on my 30th birthday. his due date had been about ten days prior, but it was as though he spent his time grappling the walls of his mother's womb, refusing to emerge until march 22nd. his birth was the finest birthday present i've ever received, or ever will. it was love at first sight. after he'd been through the ritual placental separation and placed in an incubator to warm up for a few minutes, i was the first person to hold him. his eyes locked onto mine with that star-child's gaze, and we looked into each others' souls for long moments. it still sends chills down my spine.
funny thing -- my own birthdays became less important after that. not that i was indifferent or avoidant or in denial, just that the focus shifted to ian, and appropriately so. simultaneously, we've always thought it a wonderful thing that we share the same birthday, bonded in this special way. pretty darn cool.