Tuesday, January 31, 2006


I don’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t respect him and look up to him. I disliked hearing friends refer to their father as “my old man”. I never used that phase to fit in because it was disrespectful. I’ve always respected and been thankful for my father.

He was born in 1912 in a world of coal mines, hardship and prejudice. His father died in a mining accident when he was eight. He attended the eighth grade two years because of a rumor that bus service may start and give him the opportunity for high school. When this didn’t happen, he quit school and was working in the mines by the time he was sixteen.

He was a natural athlete and played baseball on several teams. As a teenager I remember him watching one ball game on TV while listening to another on the radio. Some of my earliest memories include attending games with him.

During WWII he enlisted because “it didn’t look good for a young man to be walking around.” When I first heard this I was surprised because I didn’t consider someone over 30 as young.

He was a coal miner, a flight engineer during the war, a hair dresser, owned a garage, foreman at a church furniture company and a machinist – all with an eighth grade education. I’m not certain what he did when he started as a machinist. Did he sweep floors?

He had an eighth grade education and shortly after he began working at the machine shop I remember him going to night school for a few weeks at the local high school to learn algebra. Within a few years he was the highest paid machinist and was offered the position of foreman which he declined. How did he learn trigonometry and geometry? He worked on one-of-a-kind projects: a deep sea recovery vehicle to rescue trapped submariners, the retro rockets on John Glenn’s first space flight, the camera mounts on NASA's un-manned moon shots.

Late in life he took up bowling and golf. He became a Mason and declined a nomination for a position in the Grand Lodge of the state of New York. He was active in his church. The last position he held was second grade children's Sunday school teacher and he had the largest class in the church.

He missed one half-day of work in the early 1950s and never missed another day until he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1974. When he became ill, he received hundreds of cards because he had many friends. He lived another ten years and continued to decline due to a heart attack, infections caused by a bronchial tube that did not heal properly and kidney disease.

I learned to be patient if I asked a question that he couldn’t answer. Within a few weeks he would come in one evening and say, “Remember the question . . . “ and he would have an answer.

He seemed to have infinite patience, unlimited courage and flawless integrity and honesty. He inspired calm and hope. Though he was rasied in a prejdiced world, he wasn't prejudiced. He had a reverence for life that is rare.

He wasn’t perfect. I know some of his flaws but they were minor compared to his good qualities and strengths.

While in the Army a friend made the statement that he wouldn't do a certain thing becase his father would beat the hell out of him. I responded that I wouldn't do it because my father would be disappointed. It felt good and it feels good to have that kind of role model and example.

I’ve done some stupid things in my life that I regret. Fortunately, one of them is not failing to tell him how I felt. When I was in my late twenties and had children, I made a point of saying “I love you, respect you and think you are the best father I could ever have had.”

As I age I miss him. It would be good to sit and talk man to man. I miss that.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Too Old to Care

It’s one of my favorite short stories. A friend told the story of visiting her mother in the hospital. As she entered the room, she saw her mother lying with her back to the door, the covers tossed to the foot of the bed and the back of her gown open. “Mom”, she said “your gown is open” and her mother replied “I’m too old to care.”

There’s something about the story that gives me a smile, causes me to further enjoy aging and gives me a stronger determination not to care.

I was raised to care and to ask the question “what will people think?” One of my sisters, who is two years younger than I am, has been hospitalized twice do to stress. Being a male, I seemed to have more natural immunity and didn’t learn the lesson as well as she did. The older I get, the more I “un-learn” the lesson. With each passing year, I care less and less.

While in the Army, I saw a full page cartoon in a Playboy magazine that depicted a scantily clad female. The caption read “I don’t drink and I don’t smoke. Two out of three isn’t bad.” It still brings a smile to my face.

There’s me, my wife and other people. Rather than ask “what will people think” I prefer to ask “what do I think and what will Julie think.” Two out of three isn’t bad.

Anyway, Julie keeps me balanced. Over the weekend she “asked” me to throw out two of my favorite shirts. As we discussed the faded and frayed shirts, she did offer to let me wear them in my work building – where no one would see them.

Perhaps, this is why the Bible says “It is not good that man should be alone”.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Politics - Final Post

“Blame the system, don’t blame people.”
“Fix the system, don’t try to fix people,.”
“Focus on the system rather than on people.”

The above do not tell the whole truth but they seem to tell part of the truth. In my work career I’ve seen things go wrong when good people worked hard and did all the right things. I’ve seen bad results when everyone worked for good results while knowing it was going to fail. The common element in all of these experiences was the system. The workers were intelligent, dedicated, competent and working within a flawed system that prevented success. Replacing the employees would not have fixed the problem because the system was the problem.

I’ve heard for years that the American political system is the best in the world. Maybe it is but being the “best” doesn’t count for much in my book. Assume I need a balloon. The best I can find has a small pin hole. It’s the best but it’s flawed!

Today, I read another editorial quoting statistics consistent with other sources of information that indicate a majority of the Americans are being led in a direction they do not choose. What’s the solution? Wait until the next election and vote for another candidate? This is focusing on people rather than the system. Do we have assurances that the next elected officials will better represent us?

I don’t have viable solutions to offer but two flaws that I see are the following.

Why doesn’t the ballot have a “none of the above” choice? The political parties select candidates and I have two choices – vote for one of the candidates or don’t vote. If I don’t vote, what does this communicate? If I do vote for one of the candidates, does this communicate I think he or she is qualified or does it communicate that I don’t want the other candidate? I want to change the system to give me the option of saying “none of the above! Give me new candidates and hold another election.” Yes, there are major problems inherent in this but surely some wise and experienced persons can offer better solutions.

I think it should be easier for voters to get access to pending legislation. With the massive federal deficit, would it add much to mail, distribute or publish pending legislation so all voters have access? Many years ago I was in a discussion with a group concerning the equal rights amendment. Everyone was opposed to the amendment. I asked who had read the amendment and not one of about twelve people present had read it. The following week I took copies of the amendment and distributed them. The most vocal opponent from the previous week read the amendment and exclaimed “I’m not opposed to that!” It’s ironic that we discuss, rant, talk, rave and vote without knowing the pending legislation. There’s something wrong with a system that encourages me to vote from a state of ignorance.

Enough about politics! I’ll close this series at three with a correction. In “Politics 101” I quoted the ending line of the Pledge as “with truth and justice for all.” The correct quote is “with liberty and justice for all.” No one commented on this. My focus in the post was on truth and honesty. Can we have liberty without truth?

I want honest poeople working in an effective system.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Politics 102

Last night I received an email with the subject "Just Wondering". Here's an edited version.

I have been reading some of your blogs. And like you I look at things differently. We had a discussion at work recently about pregnant teenage girls at our local schools. Someone brought up . . . child care provided to student mothers at school . . . they feel that only incourages the students to have sex. I expressed . . . that it was not the child care that caused these kids to engage in sex . . . that it's keeping these kids in school.

This one girl . . . feels they need to drop out of school, get a job and take care of their child. . . . She became so angry by my feelings she began cussing in the cafeteria. I smiled the whole time. She later apologized. Anyway, how can in-school child care be so bad???? That child (student) now has an education.

Sometimes people find me the "weirdo" at work. I don't judge people by what they wear, what gender they love, or what color of skin they love. . . .
I guess I just want to say thanks for instilling weirdoism in me. Makes my life a lot more interesting. Plus I am able to handle life a little bit better.

Love you!!!!!!

"Angel" is my daughter and will be 36 in about two weeks. She has worked at a hospital for the last sixteen years and has contact with many people. In some ways -- maybe, perhaps, hopefully -- I have some small positive influence on our world through her. I think political participation is important, but the example we provide to friends and family is more important. In my opinion, this is more important than the influence that I have through the ballot box.

When she was young I called my daughter Angel more often than I called her by her ame. I didn't realize the significance of this until she learned to write and I noticed she used "Angel" as her middle name when practicing writing her full name. Since it was special to her, I intentionally continued to use that name rather than her real name which is Dawn. Several years ago, on a visit to her new house, I noticed she had decorated with angels -- figurines, prints, etc. As I travel, I watch for different or unusal items with an angel theme to send to her as a gift.

In spite of the world's problems and in spite of the frustrations of politics, life can be and is good!

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Politics 101

It was the summer of 1956 and times where hard for my family. My father was foreman of a company that manufactured church furniture. The owners of the company were in financial trouble and he was looking for work while he had a job and before the company was bankrupt. He had no savings, an eighth grade education and few prospects in the area. My father's brother lived in Buffalo, New York so he planned a trip from Princeton, West Virginia to Buffalo to look for work.

Getting time from work to make the trip and paying for the trip were challenging. Some pews had been installed in a church in Pennsylvania and the work was unacceptable so my father decided to drive through Pennsylvania and repair the work himself as a way to pay for trip. On the second day, I remember waiting for him and lying down on a pew and going to sleep. He finished the work after dark, woke me and we went for supper. It was then that I learned he was down to less than a dollar. Supper for me was a small package of cookies and he had nothing. Hopefully, his company would send more money by Western Union the following morning. We returned to the motel that had a black and white TV with a choice of one snowy channel. I turned on the TV hoping to watch Hop-a-Long Cassidy or Roy Rogers but I saw something new. What I was was not entertaining to a nine year old. I asked my father and learned it was a political national convention preceding the 1956 presidential election. I questioned the fanfare on the TV, the purpose of the convention and tried to understand. Such was my introduction to politics and the beginning of my political education. I began my political education on a hot summer night, hungry with a queasy stomach from eating cookies and wondering about our uncertain future.

In school I was required to take classes in "civics" and U.S. history but I don't remember ever being required to read the U.S. constitution. I was mystified and horrified by a high school teacher who said that the office of president was so important and so sacred that it would be better if the Russians bombed and killed everyone in New York City - eight million people - rather than killing the president. This sounded extreme -- too extreme.

I was taught that the U.S. was founded on noble principles of equality, truth and justice. Beginning in first grade we recited the pledge of allegiance -- "with truth and justice for all". Watching the protests that led to the riots of the sixties I realized the unspoken words appended to the end of the pledge made it "with truth and justice for all white men".

I had questions for which no one offered acceptable answers. "If we believe in truth and justice and if we reject the violent overthrow of the U.S. government aand if we advocate peaceful reform through political processes then why do we fund rebels in other countries attempting to overthrow their government by violence? Is this truth and justtice? Isn't this a double standard."

I lived though the nuclear cold war, the Cuban missle crisis, air raid drills in school, the construction of a fall out shelter by the town library and the Viet Nam war to stop Communism. I was taught the Communists were the "evil empire". Then came the Iran-Contra affair which was confusing. It had something to do with the "Freedom Fighters" in Latin America. As I read and tried to understand why the president needed "deniability" and the details involving the revolution in Nicaragua I learned the "Freedom Fighters" were Communists who were being supported and backed by the U.S. "What the heck? Why where they called freedom fighters rather than Communists? Why the deception?"

As I came of age and tried to vote responsibly I learned each candidate was in favor of jobs, education and fighting crime. As the elections drew closer each candidate told me that his opponent was dishonest, unethical, a scoundrel and would lead to the destruction of civilization. "Which one to trust? Both are saying the same thing. Vote for me because I'm the lesser of two evils."

"Big government is bad!" This was news to me and I tried to understand. "What size government is not bad? Are we talking about the number of employees, the budget or what?" Finally, after hearing slogans and catch-phrases repeated many times I began to get the message -- "government is bad".

I find labels to be misleading. What's a convervatives? A liberal? As I struggled to understand these terms I concluded they were useless. Then it happened. The definitions changed!

I was talking with a young lady who took an online poltical tests. After finishing the test her choices identified her as most similar to people who identified themselves as members of political party 'X'. She was confused and said "How can I be an 'X'? I don't believe in abortion!" I saw the young lady as somewhat naive for taking the labels of party 'X' and party 'Y' as communicating something about individuals. I related this story to an intelligent and educated man. To my shock and surpirse, the man saw it the same way as the young lady! The labels had meaning and usefulness to him. If you identify youself as supporting party 'Z' then you are blah, blah, blah . . .

As I walked across campus about three years ago I came to a stop sign that had a bumper sticker affixed to it: "The League of Pissed Off Voters". Sadly, the message communicated with me. I don't have answers to the many questions I posed as a young person. I feel like I've been deceived by the educational system and by politicians. I want "truth and justice" not just for myself but "for all". I read "Blessed is he who hungers and thirsts for righteousness" but I don't feel blessed. I feel cynical, disillusioned and angry.

In my last post I said I have questions and I want help. How do you accept and function within a political system such as ours? Don't tell me it's the best in the world. It may be the best but it's still not acceptable to me.

The last politcial candidate for president who caught my attention did so because of his intelligence, his integrity, his honesty and his boldness. He stood in New England before the National Rifle Association and said "I'm in favor of some forms of gun control." When questioned about the energy crisis he advocated, as one part of a comprehensive plan, a huge tax on gasoline. Popular ideas? No, but he was honest and he had courage. He didn't tell me what I wanted hear. He told me the truth as he saw it. I can't ask for anything more.

My life is good. I enjoy life when I meet people one-on-one, when I spend time with good books that offer thoughtful opinions differnt from mine, when I open myself to dreams of a better future for all, and when I try to live in harmony with the natural world. It all makes sense. The politics I've experienced doesn't.

(My job doesn't allow time to re-read and edit the above. You're getting the raw product so read it with a degree of tolerance, please.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Dissection

I wrote the last post (Healthy Cynicism) and I’d like to dissect it.

  • What was the subject? Was I commenting or ranting about the U.S., religion, my attitudes or the relationship between religion and politics? Among those who commented all four possibilities were included.

  • What about the statistics? As one person noted, the statistic about firearm homicides was not very useful. The reader was left with the responsibility to research the population of each country and calculate a rate. Many years ago I owned a book titled “How to Lie with Statistics”. The purpose of the book was to point out usages of statistics that are misleading. These figures bordered on deception.

  • Where was the supporting evidence? The sentence pertaining to the U.S. as the prime culprit in nuclear proliferation was taken from a chapter that contained evidence but was presented without explanation.

  • What about trends? In my perspective, static counts are not as important as trends. To say that over seven in one thousand Americans is imprisoned is not very useful. It’s more useful to know also that in the 1970s the rate was one in one thousand.

  • Definitions were missing. I used the term Christian. What is the definition of a Christian? To further complicate the situation, what is the definition of a Christian nation?

  • Where were the opposing view points? I offered none.

  • Why the politically incorrect language and insincere question that conveyed negative emotion? Did it help or harm? (That’s definitely a rhetorical question.)

  • What was my purpose? Was it to inform, to educate, to motivate or to entertain?

  • Did I prove a cause and effect relationship? I alluded to a relationship between the statistics and the influence of religious groups but never said it directly nor attempted to prove it.

  • References to the quotes were omitted. All of the bulleted items were copied from a book but I never gave the title and author of the book.

  • Solutions were not offered to the problems of homicide, nuclear proliferation and other issues. Not only did I not offer possible soltuions that I read but I did not ask for possible solutions.

Yesterday’s post is an example of the kind of communication that concerns me. I am concerned about our world. Since I live in the U.S., I’m especially concerned about the role of the U.S. I’m searching for reliable news. Should I trust the national media? Should I trust alternet.org? It appears we are polarized and no longer communicating. It seems to me that we are quick to speak but slow to question and to attempt to understand.

Paul Tillich, a theologian, said “The first duty of love is to listen.” In my opinion, the second duty of love is to question.

I’d like to write a few posts concerning dialogue and I invite your participation. I don’t have solutions or answers. I wish I did, but I don’t. I'm looking for help

To quote, once again, the closing lines of Natala’s poetic post:

open yourself
and i will do the same
and perhaps together
we will begin to understand

Thanks to each of you who commented on the last post. You responded with grace, restraint and kindness. The attitude with which you responded encourages me to move into a few posts related to politics.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Healthy Cynicism

Unfortunately, I know how to read. Unfortunately, I do read. Here are a few of the things that I’ve read lately. In a few moments, I’ll tell you why I use the word “unfortunately”.
  • The John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reports that the rate of firearm homicide in the United States is nineteen times higher than that of 35 other high-income countries combined. In the most recent year for which data are available, handguns killed 334 people in Australia, 197 in Great Britain, 183 in Sweden, 83 in Japan, 54 in Ireland, 1,034 in Canada and 30,419 in the United States.”

  • The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, and the Pentagon have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, confirmed by soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse. In addition to personal testimony from children about physical and mental mistreatment, a report from Brigadier General Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib, described a visit to an eleven-year-old detainee in the cell block that housed high-risk prisoners. The general recalled that the child was weeping, and “he told me he was almost twelve,” and that “he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother.” Children like this eleven-year-old have been denied the right to see their parents, a lawyer, or anyone else, and were not told why they were detained. A Pentagon spokesman told Mr. Hersh that “age is not a determining factor in detention.”

  • . . . This is especially disturbing, since U.S. intelligence officers estimated to the Red Cross that 70 to 90 percent of the detainees at this prison were held by mistake.

  • In rejecting or evading almost all nuclear arms control agreements negotiated during the past fifty years, the United States has now become the prime culprit in global nuclear proliferation.

  • More than seven Americans out of a thousand are now imprisoned – most of them for nonviolent crimes. This is the highest incarceration rate in the world, exceeding Russia’s former record of six per thousand.

  • A New York Times article reveals that Canadian and European young people are about equally active sexually, but, deprived of proper sex education, American girls are five times as likely to have a baby as French girls, seven times as likey to have an abortion and seventy times as likely to have gonorrhea as girls in the Netherlands. Also, the incidence of HIV/AIDS among American teenagers is five times that of the same age group in Germany.

I use the term “unfortunately” because these and many other things that I read have led me to ask a question that I can’t answer. Question: “Since we are a Christian nation and since we seem to lead the world in stupidity and some forms of evil, does being a Christian make a person less intelligent, less compassionate, less Christ-like?”

Normally, I try to portray a positive side and there is a positive aspect here but, first, let me tell a truth. The truth is, I’m a cynical son-of-a-bitch. I take comfort in this. If I wasn’t cynical, irritated and angry then I would be uncaring, lack compassion and be a horrible person. I take comfort and hope in my cynicism. I feel good about myself because I question the government, religion and the current situation in the U.S. Now, don't read this to mean that you're uncaring or a horrible person if you're not cynical. Our personalities are different. I'm talking about myself, my reaction and my way of dealing with life.

I don’t want to leave you thinking I’m against Christianity. I’m not. In its theoretical form, I find much that I admire. Unfortunately, there’s something wrong, demonic and evil in the current marriage between politics and religion.

I know some Christians who exhibit a spirit that challenges me, gives me hope and causes me to temper my cynicism. Natala has a post that paints a picture of her spirit – the spirit that I admire. Here’s a portion of one of her posts. Follow the link to her blog for the post in it’s entirety.


i know the answers
that you will give me
because i was
once you
in a way.
i question
to understand
(section omitted)

i do not question
to make you angry
to challenge your faith
to tell you that you are wrong
i question
because i want to know
(section omitted)

tell me what it really is
that you feel
what it really is that you think
be honest
(section omitted)

if god is
as big as you claim
then let god
contain my questions
(section omitted)

if you don't know
simply tell me
that you do not know
because i do not know the answers either
and perhaps if we were honest
we would be able to find the answers
just let me question
and do not be afraid
(section omitted)

open yourself
and i will do the same
and perhaps together
we will begin to understand

Friday, January 20, 2006

Need for Novelty

“Where’s the bookstore operated by the ‘colorful’ guy?” The ladies in the visitor’s center knew immediately to whom I was referring. One began to show us on a map and the other searched for a news article containing his photo. “He’s very intelligent” one said. “He and his wife have a memorial in the town park. It’s in memory of their daughter who died at age twelve.” We got directions to the park and asked a few more questions.

Following their directions, we walked down the street, across two sandy washes, turned right at the rusty metal building with boarded windows and found the bookstore. It was packed with old books, new books, CDs, customers, narrow aisles and had a canvas tarp for a roof in one section.

He was helping customers, all of whom where fifty to eighty years old. He was tanned, thin and slightly stooped. He was dressed as I expected – sandals, a straw hat, a royal blue velvet pouch and nothing else. I watched the eyes of the customers and no one appeared to notice that he was nude – uh, almost nude. I turned to Julie and said “Well?” and she replied “Looks like a piece of jerky”. Yes, too much sun will do that.

I have a strong need for novelty. Dictionaries use words such as “new, unusual, different, refreshing, surprising and original” to define novelty. I enjoy meeting unusual people, searching for oddities in nature and having new experiences.

Julie and I visited Quartzsite, Arizona last weekend in a search for novelty. Quartzsite has a summer population of 3,350 and a peak winter population of 250,000 with estimates of one million visitors staying for varying lengths of time. The desert around the town is sprinkled with RVs – motorhomes, travel trailers, fifth wheels and some strange conversions of buses and panel trucks. The town is filled with temporary booths selling rocks, gems, jewelry, RV parts, food, clothing, groceries, western and native American souvenirs, tools, kitchen utensils, and much more.

In addition to the bookstore, we browsed a few booths and marveled at rocks, gems and fossils from all parts of the world. On another trip I saw a fossilized dinosaur nest with eggs that had a price tag of $18,000. On this trip I saw polished slices of stone from Australia that were unlike any I’ve ever seen.

The most interesting people I saw where with dogs – men, large men, carrying small, very small, lap dogs in cloth carriers suspended from their necks, women leading dogs wearing caps, scarves, boots and various other pieces of dog clothing, a couple on a moped with a crate mounted on back that contained two white poodles with red bows.

After getting a bite to eat, we drove south in search of the Magic Circle which is a section of a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) long term visitor area. I assumed the Magic Circle would be on a back section of the camping area so we drove past many campers before we encountered a sign that said “beyond this point you may encounter nude sunbathers”. We found the circle but no magic. We didn’t see anyone out and didn’t have a chance to talk with any of the winter residents.

I enjoy meeting people who are different, who hear a drum that I don’t hear, who have experiences that I’ll never have, who make the world more wonderful and more colorful, who are enjoying life, who teach me new things.

Why do I have this need for novelty? An article in a science magazine proposed the theory that it’s a product of an evolutionary drive for survival. Predators watch herds for the animals that are different, unusual and novel because these may be the animals that are sick or injured and more easily captured. It’s an interesting theory. Maybe I’m not very high on the evolutionary tree.

Given a choice between novel and politically correct people, I’ll take the novel.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Sustainable Goals

I am a little saddened to know that it’s gone.

When I was about 18, I moved several small maple sprouts that had taken root on the edge of the yard close to the huge old parent maple tree. They were a few inches tall and I planted them in a bed in a protected area. A few years later I took the largest and healthiest and planted it in front of the house between the sidewalk and the street. It grew above the utility lines and was trimmed to protect the utilities. Whenever I visited my parents, it gave me a sense of pleasure, peace and satisfaction to see the tree and to know I had a part in its history. I had protected it from lawn mowers, droughts and other urban dangers. Hopefully, it would be there after I was gone.

My father passed away, my mother moved to a nursing home, the house was sold and the tree was cut. Such is life but the tree still inspires me. It helped teach me to plan for the distant future, to be patient, to be persistent, to measure progress not by distance from the goal but by distance from the start.

Over the years I’ve enjoyed working toward long range goals – finish an enlistment in the Army, complete college, earn a graduate degree, pay off educational debts, give my children a home and opportunities. Life is richest when I have goals. Perhaps this is part of what defines us as human – the need and ability to plan for the future, to work and to get a sense of pleasure as we move toward the goal.

We’ve lived off the grid for the last nineteen months and we’ve been in our house for ten months. The electrical system has been close to perfect. Water has not been a problem nor troublesome to haul. In nineteen months we’ve made only four trips to the land fill and composting is going well. We’re established. We’ve not where we want to go but we’ve come a long way from the start.

Julie and I are making plans for the coming spring and summer and it helps to review our progress to date and to renew our determination and commitment to sustainable living. We can’t change our world as quickly as we would like but that’s OK. It took years for the maple tree to mature and it may take a few more years but we’ll get there.

This year, in addition to regular maintenance, we’re planning on installing a system for harvesting rain water, garden beds, irrigation for some landscaping, and a porch on the front of the house. I won’t get to a grey water system this year but this is a low priority since we don’t use much water and therefore don’t produce much grey water. We heat and cook with propane and I want to reduce or eliminate this necessity but that’s a little more challenging and I haven’t found the right solutions as yet.

Sustainability is important to Julie and me. I’ve been reading about climate change, global warming, species extinctions, alternative energy and environment impact of human decisions. There are some who believe we’ve passed the point of no return and global warming will destroy us. Perhaps they are correct but until that happens I plan on continuing to work for sustainable living that preserves the earth and its natural beauty for the next generation.

The maple tree didn’t outlive me but my solar panels will. It’s predicted that they will still be functioning fifty years from now. I have no assurance they will last that long but such is life. The only thing I have control over is my self and I plan on leaving my children an example of setting goals, working toward them and leaving the earth as healthy as I can. I think that’s a worthy heritage for them.

If I’m fortunate and know my time is growing short, just before I die, I think I’ll plant another tree and leave it for others to enjoy. That would make an interesting obituary: "He is survived by two children, five grandsons and one maple tree."

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I find the female form attractive. It’s not a conscious decision. It is unconscious and genetic. It’s who I am.

Recently, I took a test of my “thinking” style and the results surprised me. In the past I’ve straddled classifications and boundaries – scientific, nature, relationships. This time the test results identified me as a “nature” thinker without other classifications. That’s who I have become.

As I age, am I narrowing in my thinking and my perception of the world? Is it because this is where I put my unconscious effort or is this narrowing genetic like sexual orientation?

I experience the world through genetic and learned filters and try to be aware of my filters but am not always successfull. For example, about twelve years ago I was glancing through a Backpacker Magazine while sitting next to a friend who does not hike. As I flipped a page he said “That’s a nice car”. His statement removed my filters. For the first time I realized the magazine includes full page adds for SUVs. They had been there all along but I had never consciously noticed them. For me, cars are a necessary evil and are blocked by well developed filters.

Julie and I were with another couple who I sometimes find stressful. She says things that lead me to believe that she hates gays and lesbians, is more materialistic than I am, worships Rush Limbaugh, despises non-Republicans, rejects social programs and is becoming more and more religious. To be truthful, often her attitudes irritate the hell out of me.

We were discussing a trip to Mexico and she didn’t want to go. She had talked to people who told her about the danger – the kidnappings, assaults, robberies and killings of Americans – none of which I’ve read. She had been advised not to drive Arizona roads near the border and if she found herself in that area to be sure and keep her doors locked. Later, we were walking some colorful, lively and interesting city streets. I wanted to browse through a “hippy” store containing posters of Janis Joplin and other musicians, bumper stickers cynical of the American government, outlandish clothing and patches of marijuana leaves. As we walked, joked and laughed I noticed she had shut down, pulled her arms in close and was exhibiting symptoms of irrational fear. Her filters were functioning! It’s who she is.

For the first time, I think I saw her more clearly and felt compassion for her. She’s afraid.

Here’s the problem. How can I remove my filters – or replace them with more appropriate filters – and see other people as mirror images of myself? For example, I perceive nature as wonderful, peaceful, awe inspiring, void of evil, and filled with the things that enrich life whereas corporations, religions and politicians merit suspicion. She perceives much of the world through different filters of fear and looks to religion and some politicians to protect her. We’re the same except for our perspective.

The skill that I’m trying to develop and refine is the ability to manage my anger toward many of her attitudes and values – such as her dislike of gays and lesbians, non-Republicans, etc -- without directing that anger toward her. I’m trying to find ways to remove my filters and see the world as she does. I think and hope that doing this will enable me to find ways to bridge the chasm that separates us. We are who we are but surely – somehow, some way – we can help one another to age gracefully without becoming more narrow, more selective in perception and less open to our world.

I find the female form attractive. That’s genetic. I find many people’s attitudes and values irritating. That’s learned and perhaps partially genetic. I have a desire to respect and relate to those with whom I disagree and who think differently than I do. That’s a choice.

(Julie and I worked 10 hour days last week and took Friday off since Monday was a work holiday. Hopefully, I’m back to posting regularly and trying to catch up on reading your posts. If you haven’t heard from me in a while, it’s because I’m over-committed at the moment. Also, I hope to put more thought into my posts rather than writing quick posts, like this one, off the top of my head.)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Internet Tag

Melody at Trap Door tagged me. I didn't' play the game by the strict interpretation of the rules. Two categories have more than four responses.

Four jobs you have had:
(Sorry, but memory lane wouldn't let me stop at four. I started to pick four unusual or favorites but couldn't decide.)
  • Toll collector (Interstate 90 in New York)
  • Grocery store - bag and stock
  • Park cars at a funeral home
  • Operated small remote PX while in Army
  • Ford stamping plant - material handler and press operator
  • Rate clerk for a trucking company
  • Receiving manager for a walmart-like discount store
  • Nuclear Missile System Fire Control Operator (computer operator)
  • Cut and housed tobacco
  • Picked strawberries and grapes, trimmed and tied grapes, planted grape vineyards
  • Worked on a dairy farm for about 5 months
  • Contract work for delivery and installation of Sears appliances, buildings, garage door openers, fencing, etc
  • Truck driver and yard worker for a scrap and structural steel business
  • Darkroom technician for small town newspaper
  • Raised two acres of strawberries and raised hogs
  • Contract work as roofer, painter and carpenter
  • Pastor and minister of youth
  • Director of Computer Services, Telephone Services and Institutional Research (my longest title)
  • College fundraising
  • College admissions recruiter
  • Cut and sell firewood
  • Cut and sell cedar logs
  • Worked at amusement park
  • Software developer

Four movies you could watch over and over:
(I never watch a movie a second time but some movies I've enjoyed:)
  • Open Range
  • Driving Miss Daisy
  • Places in the Heart
  • Lonesome Dove

Four places you've lived:
I counted 34 mailing addresses. Multiple locations in each state.
  • Virginia
  • West Virginia
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • Kentucky
  • Texas
  • Arizona (6 mailing addresses in 4 years)

Four TV shows you love to watch:
(I don't have any programs that I watch at present but some I've enjoyed in the past:)
  • Dharma and Greg
  • Law and Order
  • Star Trek (the original)
  • Red Skelton

Four places you've been on vacation:
(I have an addiction to travel and keep a US map that I highlight as I travel. I definitely won't go down memory lane with this question.)
  • Washington, DC
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands
  • Utah

Four of your favorite foods:
(Only one healthy favorite.)
  • Ice Cream
  • Chocolate
  • Chicken
  • Fruit

Four places you'd rather be right now:
  • Australia
  • Machu Picchu
  • Easter Island
  • Galapagos Islands

Four sites I visit daily:
(This one was tough. I don't have four regulars.)
Four Bloggers you are tagging:

Friday, January 13, 2006

Real Power in a Real World

Who’s looking at my website? Tuvalu? Where’s Tuvalu?

A quick web search found this: “Tuvalu is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia. Its name means ‘Eight Standing Together’ in Tuvaluan. With the exception of tiny Vatican City, it has the smallest number of inhabitants amongst independent nations.”

In the first nine days of January I had over 16,000 hits on one of my websites. “Is that possible?”

Last month I showed Julie how to set up a web site and put one page on her web space with just the word “hello”. I checked and it had been accessed 19 times. I opened the page and checked the counts again – 20 hits. It appears the statistics are correct.

In nine days I had hits from Argentina, Austria, Brazil, Czech Republic, Malaysia, Pakistan, Taiwan, Viet Nam and about twenty other countries.

Have you ever thought about the influence you have? You write a simple post expressing some wisdom, frustration, solution, problem or thought and people – one billion people – have access to your post.

“Some time in 2005, we quietly passed a dramatic milestone in Internet history: the one-billionth user went online. Because we have no central register of Internet users, we don't know who that user was, or when he or she first logged on. Statistically, we're likely talking about a 24-year-old woman in Shanghai.”

I have tremendous power and with it tremendous responsibility. I can influence the world for good or evil. I can heal or I can harm.

As I write my posts, I am conscious of respecting the people that I write about. I know someone from my past may discover my blog and read about my interaction with them. I tell you about stories from my past but I don’t tell the ones that would be hurtful. What image do I project to those who know me personally? Do they perceive me as being honest or do I appear hypocritical? Do I project one image on my blog and another in face to face interaction?

I think we live in a great and wonderful period in history. I’m posting this via wireless and satellite using electricity provided by the sun. What I’m doing can be done in the most remote places. I have a voice that can reach anywhere – from the heat of the Sahara desert to the polar ice caps. What impression of Americans do I portray to people from other countries? What image of men? What images?

I am king of a virtual domain. May Allah, Yahweh, the Hidden One and Bob give me the wisdom to be honest, compassionate, bold and profane as needed.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Day Dreaming

“We wont’ get stung?”

“No, they won’t sting.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

One evening I heard about a swarm of bees on a bush about three feet off the ground and phoned a friend who had an empty hive. Next morning, he met me as the sun was starting to rise and I was took him to the spot. I was young, dressed in a tee shirt and shorts. Also, I was a little skeptical. How many bees are then in a tightly packed swarm larger than a basketball?

I held a box under the swarm and he cut the branch. The swarm dropped into the box, a few bees began flying around us – and nothing else happened!

Since that day I’ve wanted a bee hive. Yesterday, I went to the local community college to enroll for classes in grey water, rain water harvesting and solar applications. I noticed a class in bee keeping and enrolled in it also. A bee hive may be in my future.

Another dream of mine is to raise rhubarb. That may sound strange as a “dream” but there’s a small problem. I’ve planted rhubarb three times in my life and moved soon afterwards, leaving the rhubarb for someone else to enjoy. Just once, before I die, I like to eat rhubarb that I raised.

Yesterday, I took a break in a bookstore and browsed a copy of “The Official Arizona Trail Guide”. The trail starts at the Mexican border and terminates at the Utah border -- almost 800 miles in length. I’m a member of the Arizona Trail Association and plan on hiking the entire trail in one continuous hike. Originally, Julie and I had the hike tentatively planned for next spring but it appears that’s not going to happen. That’s OK. It will still be there year after next.

We going to Yellowstone National Park in June and have discussed trading our motorcycle for something larger and making the trip by motorcycle. It’s just a dream at this point.

Why am I rambling on about dreams? Dreams enrich my life and make me feel alive – very alive. I can’t imagine fearing the future or not having dreams.

Dreams and goals enrich my life but shouldn’t limit it. I may never hike the Arizona trail or raise rhubarb or have a bee hive. If I get the opportunity to hike Australia, visit Easter Island and trek across Europe in one huge, extended adventure then I’m taking the opportunity and postponing the Arizona Trail and these other dreams.

Occasionally, I like to imagine my life at the moment of my last breath. I want to live now so that I’ll be able to say at that moment “It was fun. I lived some of my dreams.”

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

An Abomination!

“What’s that alarm?” Somewhere, in the back of the motorhome, an alarm was beeping continuously. Julie discovered it was the carbon monoxide detector in the bedroom. We were on the south side of Phoenix driving to Tucson. As we neared Phoenix, we commented on the haze blanketing the valley but we didn’t realize how bad it was until the alarm sounded. “Welcome back to America, the land of traffic, haze and air pollution!”

We had been discussing the difference between the Netherlands and the US. We were trying to imagine the experience of a Dutch person driving into the city for the first time. What would they notice? How would they handle travel without access to abundant mass transportation, bicycle lanes and pedestrian ways? Would they find Americans friendly? Would they feel as safe as we did in the Netherlands? What would they think of our cities?

In a recent book, Garrison Keeler called cities the crowning achievement of civilization. I don’t think I agree. There are wonderful things associated with cities – book stores, coffee shops, museums, live theaters, orchestras, and parks. There are horrible things associated with cities – pollution, continual light, incessant noise, crowding, and traffic. I don’t think cities are necessarily bad but cities as they now exist are bad – very, very bad – in my “infallible and perfect” opinion.

Julie commented on how the Dutch in Amsterdam did not return her smiles. As we traveled through Phoenix and Tucson she consciously watched people and concluded that Americans don’t smile either. I think it has to do with people’s reaction to crowded cities.

I enjoyed Amsterdam because 90% of my time was spent walking, watching people, and exploring in relative leisure and silence. The four days we spent in Tucson were drive, drive, drive, wait in crowded areas at large restaurants, and coordinate plans with family. I missed the exercise of walking and times of lazy solitude in quiet, green areas. I found time for this in the Netherlands but not in Tucson. Yesterday was hell for me. Yesterday, I didn’t feel like smiling at people. I had reached my limit. I wanted peace and quiet and solitude. Perhaps this is why people in cities don’t return our smiles. They are overwhelmed and need to escape to a more natural environment.

Somehow, some way, we need to design cities with green areas, dark night skies, clean air, minimal noise, small intimate communities within a larger invisible city, opportunities to meet people and opportunities to seek solitude. Somehow, some way, we need to preserve the good that exists and resurrect cities as communities in which people can live and flourish.

My personal religion focuses on evolution and nature. Cities, as they now exist, are abominations and challenge my deepest spiritual beliefs. They tend to infect too many people with spiritual, physical, emotional and relationship diseases. There is something inherently wrong with them – as they now exist.

OK, give me your dissenting opinions. I need to hear them to give me balance and to prevent me from becoming a raving religious lunatic advocating razing cities and moving to small happy family farms with sunshine, warm breezes, birds singing and neighbors smiling at one another.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Returning Home - The Long, Slow Way

Today is our return. We’re leaving Amsterdam about noon and will arrive in Phoenix about midnight after stops in London and Chicago. Allowing for eight hours time difference, that’s a trip of twenty hours.

Tomorrow morning we will drive our motorhome, which is stored near Phoenix, to Tucson and meet Julie’s sister and brother-in-law. We’ll return to work next Monday. I’m not certain about internet access so my next post may not be until Monday.

I haven’t been able to read your posts for the last ten days so next week will be catch-up time. I hope everyone is well.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Amsterdam - Day Nine

After eating Mexican, a well balanced diet always includes ice cream. This is a nutritional fact that I discovered after years of research. To maintain good nutrition, we had Mexican and found a Hagen-Daas. I ordered koffie (Engish translation: coffee) to enhance my culinary experience – hot coffee with cold ice cream. It’s a ying-yang diet. The clerk took a paper cup that would hold at least ten ounces and began making the coffee, I’m thinking “All right! Finally, enough coffee to justify 2 euros ($2.50)”. When he handed the cup to me, it was less than half full – once again only four ounces. This brings me to an ironic warning about travel in the Netherlands. In this land with abundant water, a person can become dehydrated unless financially well-to-do or in possession of a hydration pack. Unfortunately, I left my pack in Arizona and I’m too cheap – er, make that frugal – to pay 45 cents per ounce for water. This is strange. In the deserts of Arizona we waste water. Walk into a restaurant and a glass is served without asking for it. Here, order it and it you’ll pay for a six ounce glass without ice. Earlier this week, in a restaurant, I paid six and one half euros (about $8) for about a quart of water. This is free enterprise at its best – a huge supply, a huge demand and a huge price!

Joking aside, bring a good water bottle or plan on buying water at a grocery. In a grocery store it’s possible to buy one and one-half liter bottles of water for 41 cents euro. The plastic bottles can be returned to the store for a 25 cents euro credit so the water costs 16 cents euro. Shoppers go to the grocery carrying reusable bags containing empty bottles. A machine, built into the back wall of the store, has a round hole into which the bottles are inserted and a display accumulates the credit for the bottles. After pressing a button the shopper is issued a credit slip which can be redeemed with a cashier. I think this is an excellent way to recycle.

Yesterday, at lunch, we were sitting close to another couple. I thought I heard English and listened more intently to determine if they were speaking US English. I heard a phrase and knew they definitely weren’t from the northeast. As we began a conversation, I learned they are from Oklahoma. Later in the day, I head a young lady on a bicycle call out to a young man riding in front of her, “Phillip, wait up!” These two couples are the only American’s we’ve met since arriving.

It’s been a great trip. Here are some things I’ve discovered or confirmed.
  • We haven’t entered a restaurant, store, theater, museum or other business where English wasn’t understood and spoken.
  • The travel guide that described the Dutch as somewhat rude was inaccurate. Everyone has been most pleasant.
  • We Americans could learn much from Dutch/European engineering. I’ve found some intriguing designs.
  • Crime and auto accident rates appear to be much lower than in the US. We’ve seen few police and heard few sirens.
  • We haven’t seen the first person who appeared to drink to excess or be
  • There's a shortage of baseball caps and beards! Surprisingly, no one stared at me.
  • Of all cities that I’ve ever visited, a city in the Netherlands would be my first choice in which to live. This is the highest recommendation I can give for the Netherlands.

(Photo Gallery)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Amsterdam - New Year's Eve

“What are they doing?” As we sat in the window of an Italian restaurant, four men were opening a box that was about thirty inches square and eight inches deep. They removed a round object and began unrolling it down the narrow street that was about twenty feet wide. The object extended about forty feet and terminated with a large cylinder affixed to the end. Then I understood. “It’s a string of hundreds -- 2,000 or more? -- firecrackers with a huge on one the end.” Two of the men lit the fuse and moved back and we were entertained by fireworks. They had two more boxes and on each succeeding box they left part of the roll on the end which made for a shorter string but a much larger ending explosion. The street was filled with paper litter, smoke and laughing young people.

As we walked the streets, we passed hundreds of people celebrating new year’s eve. Periodically, the sky was filled with fireworks and the echo of exploding firecrackers rarely died away. About 8:00 PM we decided to return to Shawn and Abby’s and boarded a standing-room-only tram. At midnight the entire city erupted. Thousands upon thousands of non-stop explosions continued for forty-five minutes before the rolling thunder began to lessen. We went outside, watched the fireworks above, listened to the noise and breathed the distinctive smoke.

Periodically, we had heard fireworks for a few days but I didn’t associate the sounds with the approaching new years. About 1:30 AM, night before last, a large firecracker was dropped from the apartment above us and exploded outside our bedroom window. No problem. However, yesterday afternoon I did feel a distinct irritation when some student waited until we walked below his window and dropped one behind us. I had a two euro coin in my hand – the heaviest coin – and wanted to discard good international relations and try to nail the young man between the eyes. You know, just to teach him some manners. Julie, being frugal as usual, refused to permit this moment of satisfaction. “Don’t throw money away!” I saw it not as throwing money away but as a good investment.

Yesterday morning we got up early and walked through an ecolint which is an ecological route for animals living in or near the water. The ecolint led to the Amstel River and a traditional windmill that has been converted to a house.The area is permanent or winter home to swans, parrots, ducks, magpies, and other birds. Curiously, I saw one rabbit -- probably a hare -- that looked much like a jackrabbit at home. A few people were walking dogs and one man was feeding birds. A man was leading a horse along a path when a small motorcycle passed and the driver blew his horn. The man calmed the startled horse and shouted something after the motorcycle. Julie watched the incident and calmly said “Now we know how to say asshole in Dutch.”

(Photo Gallery)