25 August 2013

12 August 2013


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

01 August 2013


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

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

1.  We are starved for compliments.

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

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

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

2.  We are not more shallow than women are.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

      "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?"

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

      "Have you considered ... VIOLENCE?"

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

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

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

4.  We are sick of being success objects.

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

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

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

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

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

28 July 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 July 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of those rape survivors ~

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


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

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

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

21 July 2013


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

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

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

All of which is prologue to two provocative articles ~

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

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

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

19 July 2013


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

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

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

18 July 2013


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15 July 2013


In the time since Saturday evening when George Zimmerman was pronounced innocent in the shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin, commentary and debate has been almost non-stop.  Bill Moyers posted photos of protests which blossomed across the country.  Discussion and argument flourishes on Facebook and other social media.  One police officer posted his assessment of the murder, and of Zimmerman.  A video rant by an elderly white man outraged over the verdict has gone viral.

Lorraine Devon Wilke adds her thoughts to the national conversation ~ her thoughts and feelings echo my own.

"This will be short.  I've been writing about this story for the last few days and, between phone calls, social media, heated conversations, debate rage, and the wranglings of hundreds of comments, some of which have been like little sucker punches along the way, I'm emotionally exhausted.  And yet ...

"The story didn't change in those 24 hours.  The verdict is still 'not guilty'.  Trayvon Martin is still dead.  The Martin family is still grieving the loss of their son and now the exoneration of his killer.  That story didn't change.

"I'm weary after hours of listening to the insanity of some responses.  I'm heartsick to witness how hateful and ugly people can get in the face of a young black boy's death.  I'm surprised at the rationale of some, the 'certainty' of others, and a sense that the core of the story, the most basic irrefutable facts of the case, are being buried in an avalanche of interpretation that takes into account things none of us could possibly know.  Like, what exactly happened when Zimmerman and Martin finally made contact after the former stalked the latter in an act of misguided, ill-advised, gun-toting self-righteousness?  To every single person who's listed evidence, who's stated 'the facts as I know them', or plied me with pious comments about the jury system and the rule of law, I have retorted NONE OF THAT MATTERS.  Because ALL of this goes back to the moment George Zimmerman climbed out of his car, disregarded the instructions of the police, and with his trusty gun strapped to his body, set out to stalk an innocent young black man.  THAT's the only moment that we know and THAT's the moment that triggered every parsed, analyzed, debated, and interpreted moment that followed.

"And yet, as many times as I've said that, it wasn't until I saw this video that I felt like someone else was actually getting my rage, even saying some of the same things.  And with the volume, the emotion, the sheer howl I'm feeling, maybe you're feeling."

Trayvon Martin  ...

  • was an honor student with a 3.7 GPA.
  • was accepted into college on a full ride.
  • was a volunteer of over 600 community service hours.
  • was a devoted member of his church.
  • was a loyal friend and a loving son.
  • was an innocent boy.
  • but black skin, Skittles, and a hoodie deemed him a "threat to the community".

The figure represents the percentage likelihood that
killings will be found justifiable,
compared to white-on-white killings.
Click to enlarge.

14 July 2013



WWB  (walking while black) can still get you killed in America,
and your non-black killer can still go free.

13 July 2013


Get that mouse!

Seven years ago today, I fell in love.  I'd made a few visits to the local Humane Society animal shelter, with the intent of adopting a kitten.  The shelter is a fine one, with a cage room for solitary adult cats, and spacious sunrooms for pairs of adults and for litters of kittens.  On this particular day, I was wandering among the rooms, admiring and talking with the dozens of felines up for adoption.

And that's when it happened.  I paused at the picture window into one sunroom and there, backlit in a way that made her look radiant from within, was a calico female perched in the sunlight, innocent and proud and beautiful.  I was enchanted.  There were four kittens in the room in various states of play or rest ~ all siblings ~ two calico females and two white males with striking black markings.  All were born on February 27, not quite five months earlier.

I wanted to take all four home, but realized that my apartment would accommodate two at most.  So I went home to sleep on it, and in the morning had decided on adopting the two sisters.  When I arrived at the shelter, I was told that one brother and one sister had just been adopted by someone else.  I pounced, and laid claim to the remaining brother and sister.

And that's when Chiaro, Mao and I began to share life together.  They make me laugh, they keep me sane, and they keep each other company when I'm gone.  Chiaro (the white male) has grown to 13 lb., and his face reflects his half-Siamese parentage.  He's vocal, especially when feeling hungry or lonely.  Mao (the calico female) is quieter and smaller at 11 lb.  At feeding time their duet is comical ~ his voice is deeper and somewhat nasal, while hers is higher and almost birdlike.  Both like to sleep snuggled on or against me at night, which I love.

Because they're indoor cats, they're in excellent health.  I look forward to seven more years with them, and if I'm lucky, another seven after that.  Here's to true companionship.  (Note:  all the photos were taken using a 35mm film camera, before I got my digital camera.  Clarity and detail are lower, but you get the idea.)


Sentry duty

Nap time

09 July 2013


Last week I enjoyed a brief visit from one of my two best friends in high school.  Bill was driving a looping route from Chicago to our hometown, thence here in Missoula, east to Bozeman for a family reunion, and on back to Chicago.  A ham radio operator since his early teens, he loves long drives because it gives him the chance to connect with scores of other operators as he travels ~ each contact is recorded in a logbook (he's accumulated more than fifty logbooks over the years).

Given that his communication is by using a hand key and Morse code, not by voice, such a feat is even more impressive.  He has a formidable antenna mounted on top of his vehicle for enhanced reception.  My thought was 'wait, what about safety?'  So I asked him, and he assured me that he pulls to the side of the road before engaging on the radio.  Smart.

Which is more than can be said for the countless drivers who text and talk on cell phones while driving.  Such behavior degrades one's attention to safe driving even more than being drunk does.  I posted recently about the temptation of buying a cell phone jammer.  It makes me angry to see otherwise (hopefully) sane people put themselves and others at risk.  Each year a greater portion of all auto accidents is caused by drivers whose attention to the road is degraded by texting or talking.

So you can imagine my delight when I learned that more states are cracking down on drivers who text or call while behind the wheel.  In an unmarked vehicle, it's quite easy for an officer to ease alongside an offending driver, confirm their illicit activity visually, and pull them over to receive a traffic citation.

Here is the CBS Evening News segment.  Please watch it.  More important than saving yourself from a traffic ticket, it could save your life.

08 July 2013


There is a pro-trapping organization called the U.S. Sportsmen's Alliance which erroneously equates hunting and trapping with 'wise wildlife management'.  In an effort to generate increased activism among members, they published a list called America's Top 10 Threats To Trapping.  Each entry includes descriptors intended to discredit the anti-trapping group it names.  Ironically, those descriptors lend credibility to the groups instead.

Here are the 'threats' to your right to torture and murder wildlife ~
  1. The Sierra Club
  2. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
  3. Humane Society of the United States
  4. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
  5. Defenders of Wildlife
  6. Born Free USA
  7. In Defense of Animals
  8. Animal Welfare Institute
  9. Center for Biological Diversity
  10. Footloose Montana
Pretty scary list, huh?

I grew up in the hunting culture of northern Montana.  I understand the pleasure of being out in nature, the satisfaction in learning the habits and signs of wildlife, and the thrill of getting close enough to see one's quarry in detail.  But when I became an adult, I also realized that there is no rational justification for the gratuitous taking of life, whether for sport or as a profession.  One can achieve the same satisfaction by carrying a camera rather than a weapon ~ and the target remains unharmed.

In nature, predators and prey existed in a state of dynamic equilibrium for millenia before humans arrived.  It was we who drove countless species to extinction through over-hunting and habitat destruction.  Our self-serving manipulation of wildlife populations hardly qualifies as 'wise wildlife management'.  Neither science nor experience supports that claim.  If we had our heads on straight, we would learn to co-exist with our fellow passengers on the planet ~ further, we would learn to be caring stewards of wilderness and wildlife.  Our supreme intelligence demands nothing less.

Toward this end, I invite every reader to join one or more of the organizations in the list above.  (They forgot to mention the National Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Earth First!, and others.  But hey, this is a good start.)

07 July 2013


"Which are the happiest states in the U.S.?"  That's the question asked by the 2012 Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, a yearly report which "surveys 1,000 people each day for 350 days of the year, asking them questions about work environment, physical health, emotional healthy, lifestyle behaviors like exercise and smoking, access to things like health care and food, and overall satisfaction."

Here are the results (see map above, click to enlarge).  At the top of the list, starting with the happiest, are ~

  1. Hawaii
  2. Colorado
  3. Minnesota
  4. Utah
  5. Vermont
  6. Nebraska
  7. Montana ( ! )
  8. New Hampshire
  9. Iowa
  10. Massachussetts
And at the bottom of the list, ending with the least happy, are ~
  1. Nevada
  2. Indiana
  3. Louisiana
  4. Ohio
  5. Alabama
  6. Arkansas
  7. Tennessee ( ! )
  8. Mississippi
  9. Kentucky
  10. West Virginia
If you click on the results link above, you'll discover a slide show with natural scenes from each of the ten happiest states ~ an interesting choice, since (for me) access to wilderness and nature are a vital component of my own happiness.  

For a more global view, here is a similar survey of the ten happiest cities in the world ~
  1. Rio de Janiero (Brazil)
  2. Sydney (Australia)
  3. Barcelona (Spain)
  4. Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
  5. Melbourne (Australia)
  6. Madrid (Spain)
  7. San Francisco (United States) ( ! )
  8. Rome (Italy)
  9. Paris (France)
  10. Buenos Aires (Brazil)
The analysis in this survey is a bit more informative, with a graph next to each city explaining what qualities make that city attractive.  

06 July 2013


I didn't know whether to laugh or swear when I saw the headline ~ Christians Upset Over Depp's 'Tonto' Being Too Pagan in 'Lone Ranger' ~ referring of course to actor Johnny Depp's portrayal of the Comanche spirit warrior (see above) and ally to a nearly-slain Texas Ranger in the eponymous film 'The Lone Ranger'.  There is a deep and serious disconnect if conservative Christians are flailing at a fictional Native American character for not being sufficiently Christian.  Of course Tonto is a pagan, by definition.  Flip side, Christians who didn't believe in Native American ways were held to be infidels as well.  What's the problem?

The problem is stereotypes ~ "overarching assumptions that ascribe a specific set of characteristics to all people of a certain culture".  If you believe that all Southerners are racists, all Poles are stupid, all Jews are miserly, all Muslims are violent, all women are bitches, all liberals are anti-gun, or any of a hundred other sweeping generalizations which conveniently (and wrongly) assign a trait to someone based on their religion, race, gender, ethnicity, or membership in any demographic, then you are indulging in lazy thinking.  Stereotypes may be handy shorthand, but they are rarely accurate, and therefor are of little use.  They limit our view of others, reducing them to caricatures.

Coincidentally, I recently discovered a relevant article ~ Common Native American Stereotypes Debunked.  Shannon Ridgway brings up an interesting point ~ there are both negative (critical) and positive (idealizing) stereotypes.  While a certain trait may apply to individuals within a group, it doesn't define or apply to the entire group.  Further, it's likely that members of other groups share that trait.  We're all human.

To illustrate, here are several negative stereotypes about Native Americans ~

  • All Native Americans are alcoholics.
  • Native Americans are lazy.
  • All Native Americans live on reservations.
  • American Indians receive special benefits and privileges from the government.
  • Native Americans overreact to their likenesses being used in school celebrations or as team mascots.
And here are several positive stereotypes about Native Americans ~
  • Native Americans are spiritual and wise.
  • American Indians are animal lovers, tree huggers, and sun worshipers.
  • Native Americans are all dancers and story tellers.
Note that each trait may indeed apply to some American Indians, and may equally apply to some non-Indians.  But there are far too many exceptions to justify generalizing to the entire group.  

To flesh out your understanding, check out the article (it's not too long).  Bottom line, our reliance on stereotypes says more about us than it does about the complex, dimensional human beings to whom we're referring.  The author recommends that in order to move beyond stereotypes, it is useful to be honest with oneself, check the impulse to generalize, step outside one's comfort zone by learning about other cultures, and interrupt others when they stereotype.

Sounds like good advice.

04 July 2013


On this Independence Day, many will be spending time at picnics, family gatherings, and fireworks displays.  It is a time of celebration, but it is also a time of reflection.  It was on this day in 1776 that the former British colonies declared their sovereignty as a nation.

Here, then, is a group of people reading aloud the entirety of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.  Some prose, some poetry is best heard spoken aloud, rather than read.  This is such a document.  Pay careful attention, because this is your heritage.  If you should find your mind wandering partway through, snap back into focus!  This is the stuff of which revolutions are made .... and may be made again.

The reading is introduced by Morgan Freeman.  The presenters, appearing in Independence Hall in Philadelphia, include ~

By the end, I had chills running down my spine, and tears down my cheeks.

03 July 2013


As any follower of this forum knows, from time to time I like to include a piece on a new design in personal transportation ~ from flying cars and motorcycles to innovative aircraft and ground vehicles.  Today's feature creature is decidedly ground-bound, but there any resemblance to conventional cars ends.

The Elio has a narrow two-person cabin with fore-and-aft seating (not unlike a Piper Cub).  The rear seat can be folded down for a small increase in luggage space.  It has three wheels ~ the two in front provide steering and propulsion.  The engine is also in front, adding to traction on slick surfaces.  All three wheels have ABS.

About that engine ~ it is an inline, 3 cylinder, 1 liter, 70 hp, fuel-injected, SOHC gas-powered, liquid-cooled power plant with a 5-speed transmission.  Fuel economy is stellar ~ 84 mpg on the highway, 49 mpg in the city.  An 8-gallon fuel tank gives you a potential range of about 670 miles.

Occupants are protected by air bags and a reinforced roll-cage frame with a collapsible crush zone up front.

Clearly this is not a utility vehicle for hauling large volumes of cargo.  It would be a great commuter vehicle, and the composite body panels would provide a quiet ride on road trips.  Perhaps the clincher for many will be the Elio's advertised price ~ $6,800.

Check out the drop-down tabs at the website for more on available colors, still shots and videos, news coverage, and additional specs.  The company is accepting reservations for this Made-In-America concept car which aspires to become as common and accepted as the larger, much more expensive Toyota Prius and other 'green' hybrid vehicles.  See what you think.

02 July 2013


In a previous post I described some of the stressors involved in my current search for alternative housing.  To organize information on locations and features, I carry a notebook with four lines devoted to each advertised house or condo ~ enough room to record location, rent, amenities, and the condition of the place.

During one recent two-week period something odd happened.  When I narrowed my search to a home having two bedrooms, washer/dryer, A/C, garage or carport, storage, and allowing cats, a too-good-to-be-true location popped up.  It had everything I wanted, and fell near the lower end of my planned price range.  In Missoula, housing is ridiculously expensive, whether you own or rent.  So I wondered, what's the catch?

Upon inquiring by email, I found out.  The owner and his family had accepted a missionary assignment to Africa.  He said he'd tried to sell, but with no success, so decided to rent to someone who would take good care of their home.  Fair enough.  Things started to sound strange when he wanted me to submit a sheet of personal information without having seen the house's interior (he had the key with him in Africa).  Oddly, when I drove by the home, there was a realtor's lockbox on the front door.

That's when I learned that contrary to his email claim, he still had the place up for sale.  I contacted the realtor, who kindly showed me inside, and it was indeed a nice home (though located at the end of a very narrow cul-de-sac, which would present the hazard of colliding with parked cars during winter's snow accumulation).

Bottom line, too good to be true?  Yes.  I was dealing with a potential landlord located partway around the globe, with no local designated representative, a man who didn't mind bending the truth to gain a tenant.  What if I had rented from him, then he sold the house?  My rent would likely rise beyond my means, and I would have little time to locate another place to live.  Not to mention the ongoing intrusion of showing what would be my own home to potential buyers.

There was also the issue of the landlord's awkward use of English, as though it was his second language.  Nothing wrong with that in principle, but two people who attach different meanings to the same word or phrase, especially in a legal document like a lease, are headed toward mutual misunderstanding and possible conflict.

All this could be accepted as simply a cautionary tale, but the same situation happened again, and yet again.  Two more owners wanting to rent out their homes at a low price, because they were going overseas as missionaries.  The same playing fast-and-loose with the facts, the same language problems ~ it was as though they had gotten together to rehearse their act.  Or was it one person, pulling some kind of elaborate con?  I'll never know.

But let's be charitable and assume this was coincidental timing involving three missionaries.  What is it that prompts some religious people to try to convert others to their beliefs?  I find it puzzling, and offensive.  By the time we are adults, whether we live in Kenya or Samoa or Guatamala or New Jersy, we likely have developed our own political, cultural, and spiritual beliefs.  Of all the world's hundreds of religions, doesn't the assumption that yours is the one true faith and all others should believe as you do, seem laden with hubris?  Are evangelicals so insecure in their own vision that they have to reinforce it with sheer numbers?

If I were to try to convince a deist to adopt my atheist worldview, even someone I know, it would likely not be a welcome effort.  If I were so seized by my values that I traveled to faraway places and preached my 'gospel' to the world's 'unenlightened', that could rightly be viewed as the symptom of a mental disorder.

So please, don't come knocking at my door peddling your brand of salvation.  And if you just can't help yourself and accept a 'missionary position' among 'heathens', have the decency to be truthful when renting your home out.  Someone might be watching.

01 July 2013


When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in an Australian country town, it was believed that he had nothing left of any value.  Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem ~

Cranky Old Man
by Dave Griffith

What do you see, nurses?  What do you see?
What are you thinking when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, not very wise,
Uncertain of habit, with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food and makes no reply
When you say in a loud voice, "I do wish you'd try!"
Who seems not to notice the things that you do,
And forever is losing a sock or a shoe?
Who, resting or not, lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding, the long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?  Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse.  You're not looking at me.

I'll tell you who I am as I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of ten, with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters who love one another.
A young boy of sixteen with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at twenty my heart gives a leap,
Remembering the vows that I promised to keep.
At twenty-five, now I have young of my own,
Who need me to guide and a secure happy home.
A man of thirty, my young now grown fast,
Bound to each other with ties that should last.

At forty, my young sons have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me to see I don't mourn.
At fifty, once more babies play 'round my knee.
Again we know children, my loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me.  My wife is now dead.
I look at the future.  I shudder with dread,
For my young are all rearing young of their own.
And I think of the years, and the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age look like a fool.
The body it crumbles.  Grace and vigor depart.
There is now a stone where I once had a heart.

But inside this old carcass, a young man still dwells,
And now and again my battered heart swells.
I remember the joys, I remember the pain,
And I'm loving and living life over again.
I think of the years, all too few, gone too fast,
And accept the stark fact that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people.  Open and see
Not a cranky old man.
Look closer ... See ...  Me.

29 June 2013


Using any electronic device while driving or walking in public should be illegal.  It is well-documented that doing so divides one's attention, reducing the user to the coordination and safety level of a drunk.  Those who text, talk on a cell phone, or even use a hands-free device like a Bluetooth mobile headset, lose awareness of their surroundings.  Such drivers weave erratically in their lanes, fail to see brake lights or stop lights, and eventually cause accidents.  Even wired pedestrians become distracted and walk into light poles, fire hydrants, or traffic.

Whenever I see someone texting or using a cell phone while driving, it makes me crazy.  If you must talk, pull over and stop in a safe location.  I've often secretly wished for a device which would jam or deactivate the offending instrument.

Well, it turns out that others are thinking along the same lines.  Elinor Mills reports at CNET that "A team of do-it-yourself technology gurus is creating a video series that will show you how to hack everyday objects to get more ~ and novel ~ uses out of them .... The video series demonstrates how to create the devices, from showing exactly what parts you need to how to solder them and build the final electronic item .... the videos are open source and will be available online for free.  Exploring the technology you use everyday can increase and improve its uses, as well as save millions of electronics from piling up in landfills."

Among the demonstrations are creating a SIM card reader, hacking a pay phone, a GPS jammer or tracker, and wearable devices that block security cameras.  AND, a cell phone jammer that fits into a cigarette pack.  Since I'm not certain of the legalities of altering devices that fall under the purview of the FCC, I am not recommending that you use one.  I do, however, encourage you to educate yourself.  Nothing wrong with knowledge.  

The CNET article explains each item and its uses nicely.  Scroll to the bottom for a brief sample video on the cell phone jammer.  Then, follow your judgment and your conscience.

28 June 2013


Washington, DC

Bill Moyers recently posted on his Moyers & Company website an infographic developed by the U.S. Census Bureau, which breaks down the makeup and distribution of our country's veterans.  Here is the visual, and below are the findings ~

  • There are 21.8 million veterans in the United States.  Of these, 20.2 million are male, and 1.6 million are female.
  • By race and ethnicity, 17.5 million are white, 2.4 million are black, 1.2 million are Latino, 265,000 are Asian, 157,000 are Native American, and 28,000 are Pacific Islander.
  • States having a high proportion of veterans ~ California with 2 million, and Texas and Florida with 1.6 million each.
  • Education ~ 92% of veterans 25 and older have at least a high school diploma.  26% of veterans 25 and older have at least a university bachelor's degree.
  • Veterans of two wars ~ 837,000 served during Gulf War I & II.  211,000 served during both Korea and Vietnam.  147,000 served during both World War II and Korea.
  • Veterans of three wars ~ 49,500 served during Vietnam and Gulf War I & II.  54,000 served during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
  • Economy ~ A veteran is more than twice as likely as a non-veteran to hold a job in public administration.  Veterans own 9% of all U.S. businesses, generating $1.2 trillion in receipts and employing 5.8 million people.
  • Income ~ Veterans' median annual income is about $10,000 higher than the average American.
I was a little surprised at the small number of veterans relative to the nation's 300 billion+ population.  Then I reminded myself that the World War II and Korean War generations are aging and passing from our midst rapidly.  Even Vietnam vets (including me) are near or past retirement age.  That leaves veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, wars which have lasted a long time, but didn't employ as many active-duty troops at any one time.

In any event, as Independence Day approaches, I hope that you will thank any veterans you know or meet for their service ~ as we should also do for Memorial Day and Veterans Day.  In spite of the patina of glamour, duty, honor, and adventure painted by Hollywood, it is a grisly, terrifying, and often fatal experience.  Of those who survive, too many suffer from PTSD, and of those, too many resort to suicide.  A willing and grateful listener can make a difference.

27 June 2013


I have neither a cable or satellite connection for my TV, so to watch certain finely-crafted series, I must rely on DVDs from Netflix (which usually become available 6-12 months after a given season has ended).  Recently I discovered a series which had its debut earlier this year, and it is a beaut.  The Newsroom has many of my favorite traits in a series ~ an ensemble cast, a mix of interweaving story lines, crisp production values, and an intelligent and resonant script.

The premise is this ~ a major cable news channel rededicates itself to the classic standards of broadcast journalism, in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, et al. ~ to research and report the news with accuracy, relevance, and attention to detail.  Each episode is built around a major news event of the recent past in the real world, and offers a behind-the-scenes look at how a news story comes into being.  Superimposed are the connections and conflicts among the personalities of the news staff.  The superb cast is headed by Jeff Daniels and Emily Mortimer.

Critical response ~ "at its best, The Newsroom has wit, sophistication and manic energy.  At its worst, the show chokes on its own sanctimony."  I don't share the "sanctimony" view.  To me, the penetrating interviews on the show are how the fourth estate should carry out its role.  The producer and chief writer is Aaron Sorkin, a brilliant craftsman not noted for being shy with an opinion, so long as he has facts with which to back it up.

Other series which appear on my list of favorites include ~

There is no single thread of traditional genres ~ rather, I am taken by shows which make me think, and which offer a window onto other realms of experience, other times, or other life dilemmas.  So say we all.

26 June 2013


3 - 2 - 1 - LIFTOFF !

Synchronized kittens

"Ahem ~ me please?"

Fading out  ....

25 June 2013


"You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture.
Just get people to stop reading them."
~ Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)

24 June 2013


When I was young, up through my 20s, I had no problem falling asleep and sleeping deeply.  As I've grown older, insidious invaders have conspired to interrupt the degree to which I sleep soundly.  They include ~

  • Stress.  Starting in my mid-30s during an ugly and protracted child custody dispute, I found myself obsessing over the emotional warfare as soon as the lights went out.  That was the origin of my habit of reading in bed until my eyelids will no longer stay open.
  • RLS and PLMD.  After a sleep study at around age 50 I was diagnosed with not one, but two neurological disorders ~ Restless Legs Syndrome, which manifested as a skin-crawling sensation at night, and Periodic Limb Movement Disorder, during which my leg muscles would involuntarily jerk, waking me up without knowing the cause.  A single medication, clonazepam, has proven effective in controlling both conditions.
  • Chronic pain.  Starting in my mid-50s, I began to notice the onset of osteoarthritis.  This discomfort was magnified to chronic pain by a herniated lumbar disk, a result of on-the-job working conditions.  A variety of treatments ~ including epidural and facet injections, use of a TENS unit, and others ~ failed to provide lasting relief.  My injury isn't severe enough to warrant spinal fusion surgery, to which I would not submit anyway, since it has only a 50/50 success rate.  The only course was to retire on disability, which I did. I take a muscle relaxant at night, and ibuprofen as needed, which controls my pain, but does not erase it.  Ever.
  • Aging.  As we grow older, our circadian rhythms shift, and the amount of sleep we need usually changes.  One result can be yet another disorder, CRSD.  You guessed it, I've gained another companion.  Left to my body's own devices, for a long time I was staying up until 1 a.m. and sleeping until 11 a.m.  I've been trying gradually to shift both times to an earlier hour, to be more in sync with the quiet or noise of my human surroundings.  In addition, within the past six months I've developed increasingly pronounced hand tremors which interfere with any fine motor skill like typing or eating, and also may delay falling asleep.  I'm seeing a neurologist this week, to rule out the possibility of Parkinson's disease
  • Speaking of noise, I've always been a light sleeper, and find it useful to run a small fan to provide white noise to mask the sounds of night.  Without it, I would be startled awake half a dozen times nightly.
In today's NYTimes online there is an informative article on sleeping better.  Among the author's recommendations ~
  • Do not exercise within 2-3 hours of bedtime (but do exercise).
  • Avoid stimulating medications like decongestants, caffeine, or beta-blockers.
  • Avoid large amounts of food, as well as any alcohol, close to bedtime.
  • To overcome stress, try a nightly ritual like a hot bath, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation, or other soothing activity (like reading!).
  • Other tips include drinking 8 oz. of diet quinine-containing tonic water daily, and taking a 3 mg supplement of melatonin after sundown.
I have two further suggestions.  First, a high quality bed is essential.  Second, in the absence of a nurturing relationship (I am single), having a furry friend can be quite soothing.  My two cats love to nestle next to me, or even on my legs.  The warmth and body contact are quite helpful.

23 June 2013


Below are two very different, but equally beautiful, slide shows.

In nature, camouflage is an adaptive trait for both hunter and prey.  A hunter whose appearance blends into its surroundings can more closely approach its intended victim.  A camouflaged and motionless prey may be overlooked by the hunter altogether.  Here are 15 images of superb concealment in plain sight.  You can see each creature non-concealed by clicking on its respective name in the list below ~

The biggest and brightest full moon of the year is currently gracing the night sky ~ apparently big because it is close to Earth in its orbit, not because the moon has been pumping steroids.  Here is a collection of 15 sublime images from today's Washington Post.  Enjoy.