Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Secrets of the Order

The war in Iraq has become a lodge activity for a secret society.

The only person I know well who has gone there still seems to support it. With his level of security clearance, he says, "if you knew what I know, you'd know we're doing the right thing." But of course what he knows is classified, so he can't give any details.

Once in a while someone else who has served over there will say things are much better than portrayed in the media. But we hear many more reports that the insurgency is getting stronger. Historians dig up all our past quagmires to point out the eerie similarities. I remember the mixed messages broadcast during the Vietnam war. It doesn't sound good.

The only way to find out for sure would be to join up and go over, but then you're under contract to carry out the program yourself.

Meanwhile, the quagmire deepens. Did Marines really massacre civilians? The insurgents include people who have already demonstrated that they will spill the blood of their own when necessary to make a point. But frustrated fighting men will lose control. Most of us weren't there. We can't know for sure. It doesn't sound good.

If we pack up and pull out it will instantly demonstrate what may eventually prove to be true anyway: keep fighting us and we will eventually have to leave. The fact that we'd be leaving rather than destroy the place will be lost on the jubilant opposition.

World War II was the last straight-up, toe-to-toe slugfest in our history. We could pound our enemies with everything we had, while they did the same to us. At the end we dropped the biggest hammer the human race had on Japan. Slam dunk. Shock and awe. We are the champions.

Every war since then has been limited, unsatisfying, and usually unsuccessful. Limits don't suit the American psyche. We like to get things done and settled. But when we're fighting for intellectual concepts and our opponents are fighting for deeper ideology a lot of us would have trouble showing up for work with the same energy as the forces on the other side. We'd look for another approach rather than continue the same endless, vicious combat day after day, war without end, amen.

Pride and the fear of appearing weak will keep us there until we can think of a better excuse than "I think I hear my Mom calling me."

The secret society can describe it how they like. They're not obliged to reveal all that goes on in the lodge.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Try this, it's harder than you might think

Try pronouncing "warmth" without the invisible "p".

Some words have silent letters, like ptarmigan or pterodactyl. It's funny to pronounce the initial consonants.

Other words, like warmth and comfort have an invisible p you may find almost imossible to eliminate.

News Flash: Beach Sand is Disgusting

A recent study has disclosed that beach sand can contain high levels of harmful bacteria even when the water is clean.

One news report stated, "Of greatest concern is that scientists discovered the highest sand bacteria concentrations at beaches favored by parents with toddlers.

"Mothers take children to sheltered sites because they are protected from high surf and dangerous undercurrents. But ... those conditions may contribute to more bacteria because the still waters do not agitate sand and flush it clean."

Anybody consider how much the little anklebiters are contributing themselves? They may be as cute as little pet monkeys, but toddlers aren't the most hygienic creatures in the world. Pack a passle of them onto a patch of sand for a few weeks and I bet you'll get a bit of cat litter box action along with impersonal sources like urban storm water runoff.

Only further study will tell. For now, just make sure you have a really big towel, or maybe a plastic tarp.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Geezers! Write!

So many older people have great stories to tell, but they don't think they're worthy of telling them.

Let the future decide if it was worth it. If you can remember things, jot them down. Pass them along to your descendants, if you have any, or just put them somewhere they can be found. Don't include anything personal if you don't feel comfortable with it, but do share your impression of the times in which you have lived and the events you have witnessed. Even mundane daily routines give future readers a snapshot of what seemed typical to you.

You won't have to sort and catalogue it. It won't inconvenience you the slightest bit after you're dead. So scribble it out. Who else is going to do it?

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Coming Soon, the Secret Police

With the CIA being described as a relic of Cold War days, the United States is trying to devise an intelligence strategy for the future.

"They [the CIA] were great at CIA versus KGB," one analyst commented. "but not at the shadowy world of terrorism."

Secret enemies require secret police. One thing those totalitarian bastards in the Soviet Union did for us was create a bubble in which we could live. As they energetically repressed their own people, they contained those elements with which we deal today. True, their tactics ultimately made the problem worse and contributed to their own downfall, but the basic premise that you have to watch everyone when the bad guy could be anyone certainly applies to a dispersed and fanatically determined force like a terrorist movement melding religion and politics into an implacable subculture.

As much as we despise dictators, they tend to spring from roots within their own culture. Something in the general population lets the repressor get started. Perhaps it starts with a desire to see someone else's behavior prohibited. We need to control _________(fill in the blank).

How will intelligence services gain usable information about enemes whose location might be foreign or domestic without working in routine secrecy here, there and everywhere? How will the punitive authorities find out about subversive activities without informants?

We can't really stop it. Armed citizens defending their homes and families in a libertarian utopia become misinformed vigilantes lynching suspects because it's quick, decisive, inexpensive and avoids a lot of bureaucratic paperwork. So if we have an accountable official body , we can only control it by telling it specifically what its target is. Choose wisely.

It would be interesting to compare the accuracy of the vigilantes versus official law enforcement. I don't know how you would compile adequate statistics, but it would be interesting.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Revealed Word of God Theory

The Creationists are shooting themselves in the foot, trying to get Intelligent Design and Creation Science taught alongside the Theory of Evolution. That foot may be in the door of the schoolhouse, but it has a hole through it none the less.

Teaching the religious doctrine alongside the secular theory puts the religious doctrine on a merely equal footing with that godless science. They would do better by staying out of the schools and presenting it to the young 'uns as "what the government doesn't want you to know. Learn the REAL secret of how we got here."

It worked for Christianity in the first place.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

I Look Convincing

Too bad I sound like crap.

I have to say, trying to play this thing has made me a much better observer in the audience.

When the annoying neighbors come up and play their radio so that its tinny bleat obscures the soft sounds of nature, I can go out on the low roof of the old part of the house and rip apart a few scales and tunes. No one says anything. It just gets quiet. Posted by Picasa

More Rain

This weather reminds me of the state of politics in America. It's all one way or the other.

As I watch the sky get darker instead of lighter, even though the morning is advancing and somewhere the sun is rising higher, it's hard to imagine that it has ever been any other way.

Just over a week ago we worried that brush fires might sweep through tinder-dry square miles. The rivers and streams looked like they do in late summer. We had been worrying about the fire danger for more than a month.

This is what happens when one narrow agenda after another takes control: a series of unsustainable situations; crisis after crisis in which we do what we have to, just to get to the other end of it. The circumstances of the moment seem like the only reality.

Monday, May 15, 2006

I am Juror Number Eight

As a member of this month's County Court jury pool, I had escaped service on the lone civil trial at the beginning of the month. Seeing how many jurors they chewed through to get the full box plus alternates they needed for that, I guessed I would not walk away this time, when the court had to fill two or more criminal juries from the same number of people.

The judge read the particulars of the first case, starting with the charge of attempted murder and ending with the charge of conduct after an accident. I really wanted to know how those fit together. I could think of too many ways.

The defendant stood beside his lawyer. He just looked like an average, dumpy guy. Several members of the jury pool looked far more sinister than he did. Of course it isn't about looks, it was just funny to see guys who looked like they probably have vipers and daggers and bloody barbed wire tattooed on them getting ready to sit in judgement of some poor idiot who accidentally double-parked his SUV on top of someone's grandmother and then took off in a panic.

I can say what I want. I'm not on that case. I have no idea what really happened.

My name was never called, but the guy I was yucking it up with while we waited was selected.

The case I got involves simple assaults. Speaking of which, I felt I should mention that I was involved in an assault case making its way through the system to an eventual hearing before this very court. Not that I put a bb bruise on the buttock in the same league with attempted murder, but the law is all about attention to detail. If I didn't give the parties involved a chance to decide about me now, it might screw things up later. That was how I put it to the judge, who asked me the standard questions. Would this situation affect my ability to decide this case impartially? Did I have any prejudice against the attorneys in this case as a result of my situation? There were five or six such qualifying questions.

A friend of mine told me I should just have said, "no, I can still find the bastard guilty."

One woman did get excused by telling the judge, "I just hate cops."

I had a sudden brainstorm for a companion to the wildly popular show, "Cops." It could simply be called Crooks. For people like this cop-hating woman, it could show the successful escapes of various (alleged) criminals. Yep, just an endless sequence of asses and elbows disappearing into the night, with a jazzy, reggae-based soundtrack.

"So you're a bleeding heart commie type who believes these people are just misunderstood and deserve to be catered to?" asked the guy next to me.

"No, I just think they're an untapped market. So what if they're scum? We can target advertising at them," I told him.

Seated as number eight, I settled in to read while the rest of the jurors were picked. The process went on and on and on. I began to suffer from increasing hydrostatic pressure. Members of the Great Unpicked, the Legitimately Excused and the Already Selected seemed to be free to excuse themselves for a quick trip down the hall, judging by the number of them whispering to the bailiff and then ducking out. How I wished I could be one of them. Finally I asked the bailiff.

"Just about five more minutes," she said. "Can you wait?"

Feeling like a small child in the back seat of a car on a long trip, I said I thought I could. But damn, that was a long five minutes.

At last, the judge called a short recess.

You'd have thought the subway doors had just opened. Seated in the jury box, I ended up behind just about everyone in the room. When I got to the hallway leading to the restrooms, the line already extended out of it.

I already had my backup plan. I bolted down the stairs to the next floor, beelined for the men's room door and straight into the stall.

You've heard of Twelve Angry Men? Those were the dozen guys who thought of the idea after I did, and had to wait.

When we returned to the courtroom I was once again able to sit there with judicial calm while what seemed like scores of people bounced their excuses off the judge, with varying degrees of success. Eventually we finished and could go home. Everyone took off out of the parking lot like high school students with a short lunch break.

Remind me to dehydrate myself before the actual trial.

Speaking of predicting the future...

Ever since I moved to this house in the fall of 1989, I have had recurring dreams of a meadow on the mountanside out back, and the river rising to replace the road out front.

The big clear cut from last year is growing lush grass in a lot of places.

The river hasn't risen to reach my front yard yet, but we've had a couple of impressive floods in that last eight months.


Of course.

Anyone could have predicted the forest would be logged. And eventually the creek do rise.

Big Numbers

Storm totals are estimated as high as 11 inches in places. Many places are reporting more than seven inches, and the precipitation hasn't stopped yet. Schools are closed or opening late. Roads are closed.

This is rain, posting numbers like snow. But snow doesn't turn roads into raging rapids. It doesn't scour out beneath them so they collapse.

Right around home it just looks exciting. The real damage is elsewhere. It's just weird that this happened in October and it's happening again in May, with long dry stretches in between.

Those wood ducks came house-hunting in our dry woods a few days before this storm. Now our intermittent streams flow at full strength. Throw that into the pot of legends about animals predicting the weather. I wonder if any wood duck nests have been washed out by this deluge.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Spring Flood

I wish I had a picture from before. Pine River was a shriveled little trickle three days ago. And we haven't received as much rain as other parts of New Hampshire. Posted by Picasa

Friday, May 12, 2006


If a tree falls in the forest and only one person was there, but he's being an asshole and won't tell you, did it make a sound?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Ma baby, Scoop !

As a reformed English major (she wised up and got a second bachelor's degree in something remotely usable), Laurie leans toward literary talent. With literary talent in such high demand -- get the sarcasm? -- she has been drawn, as so many of us are, into the murky world of journalism.

Hunter Thompson obscenely dismissed journalism as "a haven for ...offs and misfits."

I have been both. And anyone creative falls into the latter category, despite their work ethic.

But I digress.

Having suddenly picked up a couple of gigs with the local paper again, I had a call out to a source for some information. I'd requested an email, but they called the house instead. What does Laurie do? Not only take the call, but ask follow-up questions.

Damn, she's good.

Guess I owe her a cut now.

You can be anything you want to be in life...ooh, except that.

You can be anything you want to be, provided you can figure out what you want to be.

If you just can't figure it out, you can probably find someone to tell you what to be.

The key to success, therefore, is continuing to want It. And don't change what It is before you get It. Then you can move on to a new goal.

I say this as one who has no room to talk; a stark example of the pit that yawns to swallow the restless, inquiring mind.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Economic Conundrum

If Americans stopped living beyond their means, the American economy would collapse.

If the American economy collapsed, it would severely shake the world economy.

Don't believe for a minute they couldn't live without us, or that we couldn't learn to live without ourselves, but it wouldn't be much fun, especially if it happened abruptly. What follows the present era of over-consumption will of necessity be more judicious, because all the easy stuff will have been sucked up.

People live beyond their means because they sense that life is short. The method fails them when they live longer than they expected.

"If I'd known I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself."

Monday, May 08, 2006

Bend and Grab

Well, the "health" insurance company just jacked the premium by another thousand dollars a year. This is your reward for surviving another year with insurance-based health care. Congratulations! Being a year older, you are now more likely to get sick, so we're going to charge you a boatload more money for the same inadequate shit we were already charging you too much for last year.

How much longer are the citizens of this country going to put up with such a doomed system?

It does send a clear message that if you have not managed to become wealthy, or made yourself valuable enough to qualify for what we call benefits, you deserve to die, and die poor at that.

One or two people quitting it will only mean that they shrivel away as the system intended. If you want to change the game, many thousands of people will have to refuse to play it.

My health is worse since I have been trying to scrape up the money for health insurance premiums. And, with that money gone, I just don't have the money to go to a doctor. If I really am sick I can't afford a bunch of expensive testing not covered by the lame-ass policy I can afford. If I'm not really sick, it was a waste of money and time.

Ah well, suck it up. We're really just here to die as bravely as we can. If you happen to enjoy yourself while waiting, good for you.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Love = Sex?

Idly Googling this and that, I stumbled on the information that a group in Vermont wants to name a mountain there Brokeback Mountain as a tribute to the movie they feel represents great things about the human spirit and human experience.

While I won't comment on anyone's right to canoodle in whatever way they see fit, when you want to apply your values to a major landform it invites comment from all who may experience it in any way.

I see great potential for humor here. If they rename one of the New England Hundred Highest, will some peak baggers decide to settle for the New England 99? Ooh, they could rename the current number 69 on the list!

The petitioners want to commemorate "an extraordinarily beautiful love story between two people that touched the hearts of millions of people around the world," according to their website.

Shall we name a mountain for every deeply touching love story, or just the ones that make some people squirm?

I wonder how members of this group felt about the campaign in New Hampshire to rename one of the Presidential Range peaks in the White Mountains after Ronald Reagan.

I also have a problem with the name Brokeback in general. That's a southern or western affectation. No self-respecting New Englander would name a mountain anything that jaggedly ungrammatical.

As for the love angle, I understand the profound pleasure of two people stimulating each other's sex organs, but that act can be loveless and love can flourish without it. What about the love displayed by heroic sacrifice, where no one gets a tingle out of it? That seems like something worthy of the gravity of a mountain.

I know the short story by Anne Proulx and the movie adapted from it are not just prurient trash about homosexuality. I know that sexual orientation can trigger discrimination and violence. It is one of the many things human beings are still arguing over. But when you get right down to it, this proposal simply seeks to name a mountain after a movie. While the original petitioners might not have cynical motives, a movie is a commercial product. I can only imagine what sort of themed shops and entertainments might spring up in the vicinity. After all, fleecing tourists is as much a New England tradition as colorful mountain names.

Be ready for the Brokeback Mountain Fudge Packing Company (candy shop). How about the Sheep Ranch petting zoo?

As gross as you think those ideas are, let me assure you I am restraining myself. I see zoning issues a-plenty if this thing goes through.

The GLBT package tours to local inns with guided excursions to the summit (and beyond) don't stretch the imagination at all.

Bigots never learn that persecuted groups almost always become unified and stronger as a result of outside pressure. If no one batted an eye at some of the differences that don't make that much difference, everyone would just go about their business doing what they like with their mucous membranes and not making a cause célèbre out of it.

Friday, May 05, 2006

A New Approach

Something in the workshop conversation yesterday made me remember the long-running commercial for Palmolive dishwashing liquid in which a housewife complains to her manicurist, Madge, that washing dishes gives her rough hands. Madge tells her about the therapeutic benefits of using Palmolive.

"You're soaking in it," she says.

The agitated customer jerks her hand from the bowl of green liquid.

"Relax," says Madge. "It's Palmolive."

I don't remember anything from my year of Latin. I grope for faint scraps of algebra. In fact, most of my schooling remains a blur. But I can remember stupid commercials from 20 or 30 years ago.

Close the schools. Everybody go home and turn on your television sets. You will be educated in repeated 30- and 60-second spots interrupting your chosen entertainment programming.

If someone complains that this seems too much like a mind-control technique, maybe we ought to scrutinize the advertising industry a little more closely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Morning Jolt

Movement outside the window caught my eye as I was standing in front of the television. The morning news announcers were talking about military activities in Iraq while the text crawl referred to an elevated terror alert for mass transit systems. I looked up to see armed men in camouflage walking in single file across the front of my property.

Was it the local terrorist cell, or the local vigilantes looking for the local terorist cell? Or was it the for-real army looking for the local terrorist cell?

None of the above. It's the spring turkey hunting season.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

In the Zone

After a couple of outings as the spare tire for the local Zoning Board of Adjustment, I can say with confidence I know why town officials have been known to drink.

To say more might be considered prejudicial to matters pending before the board.

A Visit to Culture

While some would say that culture does not exist north of New York, compared to the back woods of New Hampshire, Boston offers plenty. And as our host pointed out, New York is certainly the theater capital, but Boston is a music city, with the New Engand Conservatory and Berklee School of Music, the Boston Pops, the Boston Symphony and the Boston Philharmonic as the large and visible landmarks.

We arrived early for Saturday's concert so we could hear Benjamin Zander's lecture beforehand. Our host, Ken, had assured us that Zander is an enthusiastic and informative speaker. "Passionate" was the term he and Genevieve used.

Zander's style was certainly upbeat and energetic. Later, while he conducted, we got to see the passion and intensity. It was easy to see how he keeps himself in shape.

The featured performer was violinist Caitlin Tully, 18. She won the Aspen Music Festival's Nakamichi Violin Concerto Competition in 2001 at age 13 -- the youngest performer to win the competition. She performed Shostakovich's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Zander at that time. He told us that he would never have believed such a young player could have the depth to master such a piece, but that he had to rearrange his thinking after working with Tully.

Now, he said, Tully was five years older and had not been sitting on her hands. She would perform the Shostakovich concerto for us that evening.

After an appetizer by Mussorgsky, the Introduction to his opera Khovanchtchina, We settled in and fastened our seatbelts for the featured concerto.

I wish I could report the piece note by note, but I don't have that ability. You simply had to be there. A tall young woman came out to stand in the soloist's spot beside the conductor, in front of the first violins, and delivered a performance with the speed and energy of youth and the precision of experience. She obviously brought considerable natural gifts to her first lessons when she took up the violin at age four. And she's built on them.

See and hear her play if you get the chance.

We applauded for half an hour or so before the intermission.

The orchestra got a chance to show its own paces in Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5 in E minor. When that was over we clapped again for a long time. Laurie said it smelled like someone had lit a cigarette towards the end of the ovation.

"I think it's people's hands," I said.

We'd come to the city for some night life,so we strolled up the street to Betty's Wok and Noodle Diner for a late supper. The cuisine is Asian Latino. The bar serves sake-based versions of a numberof traditional cocktails. The wait staff danced to an eclectic mix of music loosely centered around the early 1970s. It was amusing rather than horrifying, because they obviously did not take it at all seriously. The service was slightly sketchy, but their sense of fun was contagious. Fortunately my immunity to fun has been quite strong since I overdosed on it in college. I observe and appreciate what I might once have been inclined to pursue.

As ready as I was to accept a late night, we were in Boston, after all. Betty's stopped serving at 11 p.m., so we walked back to the car and drove back to Belmont for some late night dessert and cognac. Ken broke out the bottle of VSOP Courvoisier, a spirit that had been absent from my budget for probably a decade. I snuffled reverently at a snifter of it. We also shared slices of a selection of dessert pastries.

Not a bad foray. It met a number of my top criteria for a visit to a city: I didn't have to drive, it was centered around an interesting activity but we also had time for less structured exploration and we had a native guide. I would do it again in a minute.

It was funny to hear the city dwellers talk about how nice it is to get to the country. No argument there. But I didn't move to the country just to get away from the city and its denizens forever and completely. I'm into cultural exchange. You city folk host me and I'll host you. I didn't move here to be a complete exile. I just knew what I wanted to be closer to.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

This thought hasn't left my mind for almost five years

While it is true that the United States faces many threats, in a free society we need to be able to openly discuss and even protest the administration's ability to talk shit to us. We've been describing a police matter as a war since 9-11-01. We are in a massive criminal investigation. As such it warrants a certain unavoidable control of information. But if it is a war, it is only a war of ideologies. In that case it is only about whatever its supporters say it is about on any given day. It becomes an elastic monster you cannot kill because it simply stretches into a different shape and keeps devouring lives.

When American terrorists blew up the Oklahoma City Federal Building, did we go bomb the place we thought they came from? No. Why? Because it was our own real estate and the people in that area were "people like us." Don't think that double standard was lost for a moment on the people we have bombed with deep regret as necessary losses in our campaign to make The Whole World Safe from Terrorism.

There was something comforting about discovering that the Oklhoma City bombing was the work of home-grown rednecks. We worried for a moment that some foreigners had actually managed to reach out and touch us, but it was a false alarm. Only meddlesome socialist globalists and utterly paranoid security freaks cared whether people blew each other up in other countries. That's just what those people do, after all. Our embassy in some foreign land might get blown up, but the people working there should have known something like that might happen. A US Navy ship might get attacked, but it's a warship, after all, and it was way over there in...what's the name of that country again? Yeah, anyway, it's a big, dangerous world. Now all you kids get in the Suburban, dammit, it's time to take you all to sports practice. Buckle up. Turn on the air bags. Set the alarm in the house before you leave. We're here in the land of the safe.

Good Morning Revisionism

For two mornings in a row, the Disney Morning News, ABC's plastic-wrapped sugar cereal news show, has reported with chummy chuckles about the brilliant comic duo of George W. Bush and his impersonator, Steve Bridges, at the the White House correspondents' dinner. It was a fine, fun evening of mild high jinks, apparently.

Judging by ABC's coverage, no one named Stephen Colbert delivered any satirical harpoons aimed at the Bush administration and the press corps equally. And yet, by listening carefully to NPR yesterday you might have heard a quick reference and some excerpts. Good luck finding any mention of it on their website, though.

The only follow up has come from blogs like this one and a little dismissive swipe from Fox News.

Colbert's routine was not particularly funny, but it was a bold piece of protest speech inserted into what was meant to be yet another unchallenging media experience for a president who has badly needed to be challenged from the beginning of his administration.