Sunday, December 21, 2008

Why doesn’t college work better? An Introduction

As much as I like teaching, it’s often frustrating, seemingly relentless (part of why I’m buried and not blogging as much these days) and short of tangible rewards. On top of that, criticism of higher education is common, from employers to students. Why? What prevents colleges and universities from performing better?

I’ve thought about writing a series of reflections about this for over a year. At that time, however, I was also angry at a handful of related issues, and it wasn’t the time for clear thinking. Now that I’m merely buried in work, though, I’m ready to explain. The problem, in no particular order, is students, professors, high schools, parents, taxpayers, administrators, government, employers, guidance counselors, economics, culture, and society at large. Did I leave anybody out?

As I find a moment here and there, I’ll explore these areas one by one, labeling them when I do as part one, part two, etc. But here’s a start.

Higher education exists for one purpose--to continue. Seriously, no irony. It always has, since its inception in the 12th century. Sure, if research occurs, if education happens, if knowledge expands, terrific. But the system is set up not to reward those endeavors, but to continue. In fact, not only have many new ideas originated outside of supposed intelligentsia, but also those institutions often opposed the new approaches. Despite its more recent “liberal” label, college is a thoroughly conservative institution.

All the other stakeholders have much the same focus--to survive. Admittedly, lots of people throw themselves into endeavors for lots of commendable reasons. But the bottom line is survival, not growth. What growth does occur is a byproduct. Add a healthy dose of self-justification, and we have a system of higher education.

So join me on an exploration, and I look forward to your comments along the way.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Healthy Balance Game

In Hermann Hesse’s "The Glass Bead Game," the young Joseph Knecht asks his mentor, the Music Master, for advice. Knecht is uncertain about which direction to take his career, about how to best respond to the events around him, and about difficulties he sees in official positions.

The Music Master tells him of a time, when he himself was young, that he likewise sought the advice of a respected elder and mentor, a Sanskrit scholar known as “The Yogi.” As the Music Master described his concerns and woes, the Yogi instead asked several questions about his meals, about his bedtimes, about his meditation practice. Instead, the Music Master had let good practice slide in each of these areas, largely because his concerns were so important and pressing.

But the Yogi points out not only the slip, but also that just when we most need to address health concerns (meals, bedtimes, meditation) during periods of stress, we are least inclined to correct our faults and return to normalcy. Ironic to be sure--we ourselves know we are off-balance (hence the stress), but leave behind balancing elements, even ferociously defending the counterproductive choices.

I am guilty as charged of this offense. Overwhelmed as I am, though, with work, home matters, personal challenges, and many, many projects for the future, some of them immediately pressing, I shall strive to remember to seek balance.

As another yogi tells us at the end of the novel, all is maya.

And welcome back to my blog!


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Birth of a World Leader

I got thinking today during a long afternoon walk.

I've supported Obama for a few years. I was impressed with his convention speech in 2004, and happened to hear him speak more informally a few times after that, and again, I was impressed with his intelligence, responsiveness, and through command of the issues--not just party talking points. So I looked deeper, and liked his command of strategy, his willingness to delve into new, but not reckless, approaches, and to follow them aggressively. I also liked his understanding that yes, things will get messy, but we can still strive for the positive.

I was delighted when he won the primary. I watched anxiously as we approached Election Day, and started to relax as I saw the red/blue map redrawn in part. A popular win as well as an electoral win, and a decisive one. I was happy indeed, as I believe that we have elected a president who can lead practically, delve into the complexities of issues, look ahead to the long term, and inspire us to again unite and be proud of our country, not just our party or our slice of the country's many beliefs.

I hadn't thought about the race issue other than standing against the racist/Islamic charges, as I truly believe in the man. Election night, I really started to realize that yes, of course, this has got to be a major event for black Americans, even as Obama didn't run based on race. And all those references to Lincoln in the acceptance speech--last few elections the Republicans emphasized they were the party of Lincoln, not so much this time--as well as Dr. King, and I started to appreciate the historic importance of this election beyond my own political preferences.

But today, listening to voices around the globe, I also started to realize that we have elected not only a president, but a world leader. I knew he would be more popular than Bush, that he would strive to work with other countries when reasonable, but I'm catching a glimpse of just what expectations people have for this new president. We also talk about, carelessly really, America as the "leader of the free world," but this time we've actually elected such a world leader.

Many, many problems stand in the way of progress, of course. But I believe we have found a leader up to the task, able to build for the long term, capable of careful consultation with others of the same ilk. I know others don't always share these beliefs, but at least a number of them have made clear they will stand behind their new president and work together as we can, and that's the start of a nation and a world that can start to first believe and then realize--yes we can.


Sunday, October 19, 2008

Rewards of a Dead Garden

I thought I should do a quick check of the gardens, even though I stripped them last week before a frost. I left the sunflowers and the corn, so since tonight is a hard freeze, time to see what little can be salvaged.

What little? I was out two hours. I have a bag full of corn---lots of it small, but that's OK, all ripe. The sunflower seeds are gone---birds and rodents, I suppose. But then I have new peas and beans---not great looking ones, but certainly acceptable, and my broccoli plants are still thriving and producing delicious offshoots. So I picked a bag of greens.

Then the walnuts. One black walnut tree, which produced a few walnuts last year, has dropped all its leaves----and seven bags full of walnuts, with at least another bag's worth still on the tree!


Sunday, October 12, 2008

Palin with the terrorists

Sorry this is so short---a busy life and lots of online writing responsibilities are preventing regular blogging in the short run.

But this I have to say. Negative campaigns are nothing new, obviously. But Palin's crack about "palin' around with domestic terrorists" is over the top, distasteful---and desperate.

Yes, negative campaigns work. I hope not this time. Surely voters can grasp that campaigns go negative when they can't compete based on their platform? And spinning facts is one thing---extreme exaggeration and malicious innuendo is quite another. Nothing illegal or improper happened here. In fact, a community benefited.

I see partisan glee at such attacks, but here's my question---why would we elect someone we already know will lie to us?


Friday, September 26, 2008

Financial Crisis 101

Time for a $700 billion (and that's just the STARTING figure) bailout, we're told.

What a lot of people miss in all this is:

1) the "banking system" referred to isn't the issue in this crisis--commercial banks are already well-regulated.
2) this "crisis" didn't spring up overnight (see the previous post).
3) this plan ENDS independent investment banking by NATIONALIZING the remaining investment banks (the others are now under commercial banking regulation)
4) this plan STRIPS the power of controlling the purse strings from Congress and hands it, WITHOUT OVERSIGHT, to the Secretary of the Treasury (appointed by the President and needing no Senate confirmation)
5) this bailout expands the government's actions to the INSURANCE industry (AIG).
6) this is the latest "we're in a crisis and must act immediately to take extraordinary measures" tactic Bush used to sell his invasion of Iraq (which had nothing to do with 9/11 or WMD) and the subversion of the Constitution under the Patriot Act.

Of course, he passed those when a Republican Congress rubber stamped his idiocy. I hope the Democrats have the balls to reign him in this time. Yes, the financial mess is real, and yes, something, unfortunately, must be done--but it DOESN'T have to be rammed through immediately with this false sense of urgency. The credit markets will be fine as long as something is in the works. Let's take the time to get one right, for once, and yes, the people fleeced under the usury-like mortgage practices deserve at least a chance to make good on their debt and keep their homes---THAT will be better for the country, its people, its lenders--and its economy.

How much longer will the sheep voluntarily line up to be slaughtered?


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Can McCain handle multiple responsibilities?

John McCain announced he'd suspend his campaign, asked Obama to do the same, and called for postponing Friday's debate.

If a man is unable to address the business of the day and carry on his obligations, then how is he going to handle the job of president?

This financial "crisis" (and I have an economics background, so I readily get how severe this could get) didn't suddenly spring up---it's been building from years of ignoring the problem for political expediency (yes, from both major parties). If it only now needs someone's attention, that person is clueless about the U.S. economy.

We've known for a century that an industrial economy cannot place blind faith in Adam Smith's agricultural model. The unregulated 19th century led to exactly the monopolies T. Roosevelt started to address. C. Coolidge proclaimed "the business of America is business," and when his successor ignored the written plea of a thousand economists, the market crashed in 1929---taking "non-market" people with it. Eventually, FDR introduced regulations to pull us out and better manage the economy.

From there it's been a free ride. Economic booms were wasted. Then suddenly Reagan told us everything was simple again, and that morning in America, Adam Smith rose from the dead, unable to address the realities of an industrial economy. So the largest creditor nation became the largest debtor nation in just eight years, and the market crashed again in 1987----along with a Savings & Loan scandal resolved at the expense of the taxpayers.

Then came the largest peacetime expansion in the history of the U.S., and deficits turned to surpluses. But we were too worried about Clinton getting a blowjob to pay attention.

So more deregulation, under the fantasy that all deregulation (and any tax cut) is good. The Treasury will magically create the money. Osama bin Laden attacked the U.S. while the Bush Administration was asleep at the wheel. Then they used that tragedy to slam through the neo-com agenda of more deregulation, stripping away Constitutional rights, and starting a war by lying about its connection to 9/11. Bush made Osama a success by insuring the attacks would indeed undermine U.S. financial interests. We're spending a fortune, we've sacrificed our rights, and Osama is untouched.

So our deficits are soaring, with no end in sight. We're still pretending we don't need to address Medicare and Social Security, even though doing so now will prevent the next crisis. We spend more on health care than any other nation, but we don't have health care for 25% of our citizens---so we pay instead in the emergency rooms.

And now, after almost eight years of Bush, we face another financial crisis, again in banking, and while people lose their homes, even more money is stolen from taxpayers while we're told we must keep taxes low on the wealthy.

Yet Warren Buffet is a Democrat. Go figure.

People need to stop voting against their own interests.

And McCain needs to be a man and have a debate he knows he can't win---and can't win for good reason.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Sparrow and Horse

The horse wandered lazily, stepping moment to moment, grazing, seemingly oblivious to all around it. The two sparrows hopped behind and beside it, picking at insects, seemingly oblivious to the horse.

One casually careless hoof would easily dispatch a fragile sparrow. But none of the trio seemed concerned. The evening was cooling, insects were about, and insects tend to gravitate toward horses. Or perhaps the horse’s slow promenade simply stirred up the bugs in the grass. Either way, or maybe for other reasons, the march across the pasture proceeded peacefully.

Balance. Even among seemingly impossible things.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Light and Cloud

Last night I was outside working until about 8:30, as, although the night was clear and beautiful, it was too dark to see what I was doing.

Tonight I stopped just before 8:30, but the eerie orange glow kept everything reasonably illuminated for quite some time---9 and a bit beyond. Why? Some clouds in the west reflected the light of sunset for quite some time after the actual sunset (at 8:00).

And somewhere west, darkness fell before 8:00, due to the cloud cover.

Who are you, what is your spirit name, and how long before you’ll find your way here?

Beautiful sights. Beautiful thoughts.


Monday, August 4, 2008

A Vision for Energy

A political cartoon this weekend shows Ike proclaiming "We shall build an interstate freeway system across this nation," JFK proclaiming "We shall send a man to the moon in this decade," and G.W. Bush holding his energy policy, saying, "Don't look at me."

Then I caught the news sound bite on the radio on my way home of Sen. Obama announcing "If I am President, we shall become in independent withing the next ten years of Middle East and Venezuelan oil" (or something close to that--I'm working from memory here).

The coincidence struck me, and since I only caught the sound bite, perhaps there's more to the story. Still, a few quick thoughts:

Oil is a global market. You can't simply buy oil so judiciously. Anyway, what are the options? Russia? Nigeria? Offshore drilling? Oil anyway goes where it can most profitably be sold. That's the fantasy of solving America's energy needs with more drilling, and that's the fantasy of only buying oil from certain places (and we haven't even addressed transportation costs).

But if he means developing real alternatives, finally, with the support of the U.S. government--like solar (traditional or using mirrors to heat water to drive turbines), wind, tidal, geothermal, (or just much better use of earth insulation and trees to cut or even eliminate heating/cooling costs), or perhaps even McCain's thirst for nuclear power (although I still have heard no plan regarding the waste or the terrorism risk), then yes, we could cut oil consumption dramatically.

At least, we could stop subsidizing oil companies--I think they just may be ready financially to stand on their own feet...


Monday, July 28, 2008

John Quixote and the McCainocrats

Poor reasoning is hardly unusual in political arguments, but among the poorest is the ire expressed by some of Hillary Clinton’s disappointed supporters.

The argument, such as it is, runs that since the media treated Senator Clinton poorly, her supporters will vote for McCain instead of Obama.

No, seriously—they say this with straight faces and pious intensity.

Apparently this must be made explicit—Obama is not a media mogul. He does not control it, and to blame him (or attempt to punish him) for the media’s actions is ridiculous. Also bizarre about this claim is that these Sen. Clinton supporters apparently feel she’s a helpless girl at the mercy of the big bad powers that be—and that somehow these powers are the media. Come on, Sen. Clinton is a strong and politically astute politician—hardly a victim. And reporters’ lackluster performance as the Bush administration has run roughshod over the Constitution and blatantly lied to the U.S. people is not exactly an indication of the media’s power—dupes would be closer to truth. Or perhaps spineless.

Meanwhile Obama has assiduously avoided presenting himself as the “black candidate,” running instead on his appeal and ideas. Imagine that.

The simple truth is that Clinton lost the primary because she came up against a superior candidate, one the voters preferred. (Yes, she’s claimed she won the “popular vote,” but no one has been able to see how she came up with that conclusion, as Obama won more votes and more delegates.)

But she has more experience? Not much. She’s a second term senator, but presents herself having decades of national politics experience—when she spent most of it in private practice. (And if First Lady counts, then does anyone find Laura Bush a prime presidential candidate?)

Let’s be honest---if these voters wanted the most experienced candidate, they’d have voted for Bill Richardson—long experience, popular, and Hispanic, so still historic (if that’s the point for these voters).

These voters are at least well matched with their preferred candidate—her performance refusing to admit obvious defeat in the primary and her ungracious speech “backing” Obama was shameful.

In short, this comes down to “sore loser.” OK, human---but at what cost? I’d have considered McCain at one point, eight years ago, and I don’t doubt that he’s a good man, but his record and views during the Bush administration have evolved to present a poor candidate.

Military operations seemed to have tipped the balance. McCain maintains that we could have won Vietnam if we’d only have stayed. Perhaps true, but what he misses is at what cost in both funding and lives, without considering everything we’d have to sacrifice just for the sake of winning. This same blind egoism drives his take on Iraq--above all else, he wants to win, no matter the cost, ignoring several other serious problems.

This irrational machoism pops up again in his insistence that we should never talk to countries with which we have conflicts, specifically Iran, which McCain ridicules as “making nice to our enemies.” But since when did talks equal “making nice”? If you get a “talking-to,” for example, it’s not a pleasant experience. We talked to the Soviet Union all during the Cold War--and more than once prevented nuclear war by doing so. And talking doesn’t mean we agree or concede. It means we attempt to find acceptable middle ground, or perhaps even persuade the Iranians to follow a preferable course.

The distortions aren’t limited to foreign policy. McCain has attacked Obama’s plan to help poorer families with a tax bracket occurring at $200,000, claiming this will hurt small businesses and cost jobs. McCain, however, ignores that those small business costs are already legitimate business liabilities, and so are deducted before counting as earned income--the $200,000 would be net income earned AFTER those employment expenses are already paid.

McCain also repeats the tax cut mantra--we must cut taxes to stimulate the economy. This, of course, ignores that the previous tax cuts haven’t accomplish that; to the contrary, they’ve contributed to a soaring national debt that has devalued the dollar and helped tighten credit markets. Further, just as in the Reagan years, when the U.S. went from being the largest creditor nation to being the largest debtor nation, with 25% of our assets moving into foreign hands, our current spending habit is being financed primarily by China. Hardly contributes to the independence from foreign interests. Plus, all during the economic boom of the 1990s, the mantra was that we have to cut taxes to give the money back to the American taxpayers. So which is it? Cut taxes in good times. Cut taxes in bad times. Anybody suspect they don’t particularly care about the economy (or just about the economic welfare of their wealthy campaign contributors)? McCain has admitted it’s not his strong suit. He’s right on that point, at least. But certainly not a “maverick.”

Then there’s McCain’s famed claim of reaching across the aisle. It’s true! Trouble is, he hasn’t accomplished anything meaningful. When George McGovern and Bob Dole reached across the isle, they created the school lunch program, ensuring that every school child in America got at least one nutritious hot meal a day. McCain reached out for immigration reform that doesn’t work.

His bipartisan attempts at campaign finance reform have been equally unrealistic. Reality is, stakes are high in national politics, and since people (and groups) have the right to support candidates of their choice, all new regulations will ever accomplish is moving the money from one avenue to another. Further, his position is disingenuous. Barack Obama offered to rely on public financing if McCain would do--and McCain is the one who refused (and foolishly at that, since the Obama campaign has much, much more cash). Is it time for the silly flip-flop chant?

And speaking of flip-flops, how about McCain’s flat claim that we should not bail out banks or consumers who make poor economic decisions. Two days later, after a popular Obama speech about not bailouts but sensible refinancing, McCain suddenly argued that we had to help people in trouble.

But perhaps at the top of my befuddlement is why any strong supporter of women’s rights would vote for a candidate who has repeatedly made clear that he would appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Let alone the point that packing the court to force it do one’s will instead of pursuing justice undermines the system.

Speaking of the Supreme Court, McCain made the ridiculous claim that a President Obama would mean more Justices like the ones who ruled out the death penalty for the rape of a child--and this was AFTER Obama said he strongly disagreed with the decision (a decision reached, incidentally, by an already Conservative court).

The Straight-Talk Express has pulled into Bullshit Central, and it’s dropping load after load after load. McCain likes to label Obama as “elitist.” If by “elite” he means “smart,” I say we go with it.


Updating my Blog

Thanks to all of you who asked about blog updates. Nice to know there are so many readers!

Yes, I will still be regularly updating my blog--though probably not as frequently in the past (lots of things going on).


Thursday, June 19, 2008

Snakes and Other Sounds

We get used to the strangest things.

The sound is barely audible, and very, very brief. But I hear it above all the cars, birds, dogs, planes, mowers, whatever is going on around the neighborhood—a garter snake escaping from under the garden’s black plastic as I approach. I can even tell which garden and the exact location of the snake, watching it slither quickly into the grass.

I start working the soil for a new plot, and I hear the low, quick sound of my neighbor’s horse quickly flapping his lips. From two hundred feet away, through several lines of densely packed evergreens, he knows I’m there. I know exactly where along the fence he is, too, although I can’t see him and I’m not sure how I can tell—nor how he can tell that yes, just this afternoon I bought a bag of carrots to share, still in the car…but he knows.

The neighbor’s dogs—on the other side, five hundred feet away---bark incessantly. They have eight dogs (they show them). I don’t even notice the sound, until my neighbor periodically yells at them to shut up. His barking is the annoyance, and it never works anyway, other than a second or two of silence before the dogs begin again.

Red-winged blackbirds tsk tsk continually. That does get irritating after a time. I know it won’t stop, however, nor can I get away from it, as the birds are telling others that I’m there and where I am. I watch them follow me as I move through the garden.

I check my strawberry patches---lots of berries, and many more on the way. Finally, fencing out rabbits and netting out birds has proven successful. I lift the net and pick the ripe berries—only to find that I’m now competing with ants and slugs for the fruit. Damn frustrating. I pick all the ripe berries before any more damage can be done. I’ll clearly have to stay on top of harvesting.

I check my broccoli---the largest plant is lying on its side, cut halfway through the stem at the ground. Rootworm. Great. Sigh.

I’m not fond of snakes. However, they don’t harm the plants, and they eat insects. They can stay.

And I don’t mind the sound anymore—I’m used to it.


Monday, June 2, 2008

The Saga Begins

I finally had to admit my old lawn mower was beyond even what duct tape, wire and gorilla glue could help, so I headed to the store for a replacement.

Emblazoned across the front and back of the 22” cut green beast, in bright yellow, appears its name: The Weed Eater. And all I could think of while cutting grass this morning was “I am the Weed Eater; where is the Key Master?”

As I cut along the edge of my property, my nearest neighbor had a different thought: “I am the horse; where is my apple?”

I rolled the mower back to the shed, accosted by Shanti: “I am your dog; why is the horse getting treats?”

As I opened my front door to get to indoor work, my cats greeted me with, “We are the cats; where is our lunch?”

The portal has been opened.


Sunday, June 1, 2008


Last night I came home, sat down with my dog, and watched the stars come out.

I used to do this all the time, and sat thinking about how and why I would ever stop. Bit by bit, I suppose, the intrusions accumulate. A firefly shines. Michael.

Michael was my best friend since I was two. His family rented the second floor of the house, my parents the first floor. We were inseparable. We even became blood brothers—and understood what we were doing (never underestimate children). Although we were born just six weeks apart, we straddled opposite lines of the school rules, so I set off for kindergarten at age four, while Michael had to wait a year. So it was at home that we cemented our friendship.

Michael had a collection of empty bottles—or so they appeared. We would walk across the field, and Michael would point out the sparkling lights that were fairies. His bottles, in fact, contained several of these fairies, each in the form of cartoon characters—Donald Duck, Mighty Mouse, Bugs Bunny and many more. I couldn’t see them of course, but I had Michael to describe them.

Simpler times.


Monday, May 19, 2008

The Fate of a Cardboard Box

Any large odd-sized cardboard box—the one from the new ‘fridge, washing machine, television, etc.—proposes a unique challenge. What to do? I faced this dilemma with the 4 x 4 inch x 6 foot box used for shipping my trees.

Some might try to crumple, fold, compact, and then attempt to force it into the recycling bin. Others might try to fit it into a burning barrel along with other trash. Still others might take out a box cutter and reduce it to a flat sheet—a solution that only perpetuates the issue. Does the box now go to the compactor? The barrel? The recycling bin? My dad, an amateur mechanic, would probably save it to lie on while working on his back under the car.

I, however, fortuitously hit upon an elegant solution. After a brief attempt to extricate the trees by lifting them out, I realized I’d have to open the bottom and pull them out roots first. Once this was accomplished, and the trees safety housed in a five gallon bucket, I considered what to do with the leftover shipping container. Then it hit me.

Cat toy. Two cats and a 4 x4 6 foot tunnel. Even better—a ping pong ball, two cats and a tunnel (one of my cats can follow the ball through the tunnel as fast as I can roll it. I pity the mouse that attracts THIS cat’s interest.).

Cue commercial music. An assortment of trees—insert current cost. Expedited interstate shipping—include average cost. A cardboard box for two cats? Priceless.

Until they decide they’d rather sit on it.


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Days of Trees and--Nuts

A month ago I decided to expand my orchard to include nuts and some more fruits, so from an outfit in Wisconsin, I ordered Japanese Walnuts (I have Black Walnut), some Chestnuts, Hazelnuts, Pecans (I love pecans), Peanuts (I know, not a tree), Golden Apricot (My one apricot tree is lonely), along with Kiwi and three varieties of grapes (Again, yes, not trees). Just for the hell of it, because you can never have too many of these, I also ordered a handful of tomato and broccoli seeds.

Two weeks ago, I received a small box in the mail—my tomato and broccoli seeds. All else was backordered. Deep sigh.

*Ring—ring—ring* Not many people I know are morning people, so the early phone call on a Saturday yesterday morning was a surprise. *Hello?”

“Hi! This is Doug at the Post Office.” In a small town, we all know each other. “Hey, I’ve got a tree here that’s not gonna fit in the carrier’s vehicle. Can you pick it up?” I sighed. Yesterday I was home all day, a nice sunny day. Saturday I had a rehearsal and a concert out of town—not a day I could plant. Oh well. “Sure—be right down.”

He had two cardboard boxes, one 4 x 4 inches x 6 feet, the other 2 x 4 x 24 inches. Both had labels from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture. Apparently, my supplier had the trees shipped directly to me. I opened the tops just to see what had come. I pulled out an invoice.

Everything. Huh? I looked down. I expected roots wrapped in plastic with cord or rubber bands. Nope. Pots. Pots! Those “cardboard” nursery type, half filled with soil—as nothing secured the plants from moving about nor the soil from falling out as the package was handled. Cheese heads have different ideas about shipping plants than we do in New York, I guess—the box wasn’t even labeled “This end up” – just a small felt pen marking, “Please rush—planting materials.”

Well almost everything—they shipped the female kiwi plant, but backordered the male kiwi. I opened the small “planting materials” box—and found the male kiwi. I looked at my watch and headed for the hardware store to pick up the stakes I’ll need before I would have to leave to rehearsal.—the hardware stores would be closed on Sunday, and EVERYTHING planted must immediately be fenced,, or the rabbits will eat it right down to the ground. (They even eat the needles off my Austrian Pines! It’s a running battle—I’ve become Mr. McGregor.)

So today is the day for the digging of holes and planting, fencing and watering of trees. Probably tomorrow too. Rain or shine.

Maybe I should pick up some extra ibuprofen…


Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Grading Papers on a Spring Term Evening

Whose words these are indeed I know;
His seat is by the window, though—
He will not see me sitting here
To read his essay, filled with snow.

My little house must think it queer
To stop with other work so near;
The only sound I hear’s the creep
Of anxious dog (the cats—asleep).

My plans are many, lovely, deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And piles to grade before I sleep,
And piles to grade before I sleep.


Monday, May 12, 2008

The Saga of Me-Eye Wonz and the Icy Grey Maze

Or, why spelling and punctuation matter (not to mention lines, rhythm and meter):

Ah! Wretch-like, Me-Eye Wonz was lost.
But, now…um…Found was blind, but—
Now, icy, a maze, in greys. How?
Sweet. The sound—THAT saved!


Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hilary should be grateful for Obama

Overall, I like Hillary Clinton. She has been (and continues to be) a great Senator. I’ll vote for her again. But I can’t support her for President.

I believe she’s well-meaning. I believe she has good ideas. I believe she’s talented. And I even remember way back to when Hilary Rodham was one of the lawyers in the Watergate case. But she’s not a President.

And I believe Obama has saved her ass.

Granted, politics has been (and continues to be) an ugly business. Silly attacks trump reason and substance, not just now but historically. But the thirst for power at all costs can damage those victors.

Take George Bush. He and his party went to great lengths to win the 2000 election on a technicality. Later, investigating journalists agree that he would have narrowly won Florida anyway (though he’d still have lost the popular vote nationally, but that’s allowed in the current rules). Had he taken the high road, he’d have become President with far less bitterness. [Yes, he and his administration have amply demonstrated since then that they are entirely about power and using it for their own agenda, public be damned, but at least he’d have been off to a better start.]

Hilary’s thirst for the White House has led her to throw ethics out the window as well. Stretching the truth at first, for example, regarding her “experience” over Obama—they are both junior Senators, period. Does anyone think Laura Bush’s time in the White House counts as Presidential experience? Then outright lies—like landing in Somalia under sniper fire. But what bothers me most is her drive to win the nomination at all costs. If that means overturning the will of the voters via superdelegates, fine, presenting the clearly flawed argument that the states she narrowly won over Obama will go for McCain in November.

Particularly distasteful is her insistence that she “won” in Michigan and Florida, where Obama followed the rules and stayed away, while she forged ahead and claims this one horse race as a “victory.”

If she somehow managed to win this thing, she’d come in flawed from the start, as another candidate who won only on technicalities.

We’ve seen enough of that shit. I applaud Obama’s consistent insistence on keeping to issues and a better vision, even though he clearly knows what his opponents will throw at him. He’s saved Hilary from an unnecessary disaster of her own design.

And I sincerely hope he’s the next President of the United States. I believe he can help pull us from the economic and military messes Bush will leave behind, and I believe he can help lead us to new heights.

I would like to be proud of my country again.


Sunday, May 4, 2008

Where to Meet Single Men

While I struggle with finishing the school term, and while I’ve briefly started other posts, I thought I’d fire off this one.

Meeting people in the course of our busy lives has become preposterously difficult. The fear of sexual harassment accusations, for example, has bizarrely overshadowed fear of STDs, eliminating (or at least complicating) all those work place alliances—with work where we spend most of our time.

The Internet and the local paper, in theory, with their dating service opportunities, should help, right? However, people offer only a line or two of information in their quest for a match (?????), and, well—people lie.

Many, many books purport to address and solve this conundrum, but they’re rarely even remotely helpful. [Most book sales, incidentally, are for self-help books—and only 5% of those books get read.]

But if you want to meet responsible single guys, go to the laundromat Sunday morning. I’m quite serious.

No moms struggling alone with screaming kids. No partiers hungover from Saturday night. Just guys getting things done.

And you can tell a lot about a guy. Does he needlessly park across three spaces like an asshole? Does he hold doors to help out others? Does he help keep the machines clean, throw out his trash?

I’ve heard that guys should take aerobic classes and women should take karate classes to meet members of their opposite gender. Those approaches all are pricey, however, and further, pretending to have interests you don’t really have doesn’t much help. I’ve heard talk of the grocery store, too—but doesn’t that just seem a little creepy? [Hey, nice melons! Or hey, nice beans!] Or hang out at a church—where mostly couples and their children participate (and a definite problem for atheists). Other organizations can be prohibitive for other reasons—hiking clubs typically ban dogs, for example, a problem for dog owners who would never hike without their dogs.

Sunday morning laundry. Trust me.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Apricot Tree

My apricot tree is in bloom—a beautiful burst of pinkish white flowers. Apricot flowers appear before the leaves (which are appearing in bud form), presenting a glorious flash of color with nothing to dull the display. First nothing but grey sticks, and then, suddenly, technicolor. It’s a wonderful harbinger when so much else warns of dreary pointlessness. Our artificial world is not so fruitful.

My classes are going well. My students repeatedly win awards, both on campus and in the community, honored by the Provost, the college President, the Writing Committee, the town Mayor and a host of agency heads. The badly needed redesign of the Composition Program is ½ my ideas (I’m on a nine person committee), and the journals my students have created are the “poster child” for our new 200-level writing initiative. But my Peer Review Committee denied my promotion, noting that the criteria specifies an emphasis on successful teaching (although the Personnel Committee had no problem at all). Huh?

The woman I anticipated sharing the rest of my life with not only didn’t show up, but disappeared, and when I finally called just to inquire as to why, informed me she felt “abandoned” (although she did seem glad to hear from me). The irony that I can never reach her by phone (she turns it off) or even leave a message, that she didn’t answer my email, that she no longer uses her Yahoo IM, and yet makes no effort to contact me appears lost on her (other than apparently sending me a letter, when we already know that mail across the Canada/U.S. border has become a joke during the Bush administration). She loves me, she keeps saying. To quote one of my friends, “I’ll believe it when she shows up.” And now? She has another reason for a delay. My friend’s point is well taken.

My government is insane. The economy no longer works well. The elective wars in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t conforming to the administration’s fantasies. Looming but solvable problems with Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Unemployment, Global Warming, Rising Energy Costs, Rising Food Costs, Insufficient Health Care—all are lost to jockeying for short term political gain, and the only consistent push seems to be for cutting taxes, as if no taxes would magically solve all this.

I was finally able to get some sleep, and after rising, I took my dog to Stoney Pond for a longish run. She quickly found some deer parts—the forequarters of the front feet, fur still attached. Poachers, probably. We run on, and when deep into the woods, her demeanor alerts me to the presence of wildlife—but clearly not prey. We run on, and her nose and ears track the changing direction. Finally I hear it—once, then twice. Certainly not a dog (and without an owner out here). Coyote, I suspect. We run on. Then I see it—or at least a swish of tail for a moment. My dog, a few seconds later, sharply turns her head once she catches the scent. We run on, repeating the pattern a few times.

Then I see, directly in my path, neatly laid out, a feather from a red-tailed hawk. I pick it up. My Native American friends (who associate me with a red-tailed hawk totem) would say I was given a gift from the deer (I let my dog take the bone home), the coyote, and the red-tailed hawk. Once, in my younger mystical days, I’d have thought so too. It’s a wonderful, and probably healthy belief, one of reverence to things greater than ourselves. It’s spring, though, and I run virtually every day. The odds of our coming across such things are high, and when we do, it’s just nature playing itself out—just as we all are living the course of our lives.

But I took the feather home, accepting the gift, real or imagined. And for all else that happens, my apricot tree is in bloom.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Frog Song

Long days. Too much everything. At the end of this day, despite the late hour and approaching darkness, I call my dog and head to Stoney Pond, not for the run I missed, but for a long walk. The trouble with troubles is that the mind races, preventing solution—or at least working against one.

We start the walk—a calm, peaceful night, the scent of moisture in the air, the weather warm before an approaching cold front. My dog races about, sometimes straining the 26’ retractable leash, sniffing about, sometimes digging furiously until I call her.

I’m thinking about the hour I wasted before we left. My college has embraced something called “Strengths Quest” as a tool for students and faculty. I was handed my access code a few months ago. Although I rolled my eyes at the presentation two months ago, I finally decided to log on.

Good grief. Who are these clowns?

Two unseen geese take off honking, warning the others of our approach.

Two of my “five strengths” aren’t even words—“Ideation” and “Intellection” [I swear—I’m serious—that’s their taxonomy]. Two others (and notice these labels aren’t even parallel) simply repeated my answers to the ridiculous questions: “Strategic” and “Learner”. The fifth took what I said and bizarrely exaggerated on no evidence: “Maximizer.” The off-shoot of all this is that I like to take time to think and plan, that I’m good at absorbing information and readily seek it as needed, and that I build on my strengths rather than obsess about weaknesses. [Well, duh, yeah---]

Then consider the hundreds of areas the brain-trusts who designed this atrocity simply ignored. Arggh. This is scholarship? No wonder colleges can’t achieve demonstrable results (except in artificial areas measured by arbitrary vehicles such as this nonsense).

An eerie sound dominates the walk, like a cicada invasion (but it’s too early for insects), or more like a science fiction film. Actually, it’s frogs, peepers, so many that the sound just meshes together into a spooky, constant barrage, an effect amplified by the evening quiet and the rapidly darkening sky. A little further along the path, another sound slips underneath, more frogs, but croakers this time. I know what will happen, and it does. As we approach a side pond, home to the croakers, the sound abruptly stops, almost as suddenly as throwing off a switch. Amazing. The peepers continue.

Across the water, somebody’s in the campground. A radio plays rock music. Lights shine.

I think about the book I’m reading, a book I first read several years ago, Hesse’s “The Glass Bead Game.” I’m teaching it in my sophomore literature class. Now, of course, I see several things I missed the first time I read it, including the themes of his other novels and the playful irony of the work. It speaks to me as much now as it did then—no doubt in large part because Hesse and I share an interest in music and Eastern philosophy (though the book involves much more than just that). I’ve always remembered this passage, one I accidentally turned directly to when flipping pages:

“This landscape of clouds and sky. At first glance you might think that the depths are there where it is darkest; but then you realize that the darkness and softness are only the clouds and that the depths of the universe begin only at the fringes and fjords of this mountain range of clouds—solemn and supreme symbols of clarity and orderliness. The depths and the mysteries of the universe lie not where the clouds and blackness are; the depths are to be found in the spaces of clarity and serenity.”

We come around the “corner” of Stoney Pond, leaving the woods to walk along the water, approaching the campground. The music has softened considerably. People (three?) walk about with flashlights. Another goose honks, flying across the water.

The peepers are loud now. We walk to the shore. Abruptly, eerily, the peepers suddenly just stop. Silence. No music. No wind. No birds. No sound at all.

The sky is cloudy—cold front approaching. In the darkness, I look for a place to cross the watershed to the road by the campground. Eventually, I realize this will simply mean I have to get my feet wet. I go for what rocks I can see, none of them dry, but better than wading into rushing water over my ankles. I slosh through the mud on the other side, slipping at times. At least I’m wearing think wool socks.

A small fire and a Coleman lantern light the campsite, one now devoid of sound and visible people. My dog and I walk by, silently.

The night is warm. Peaceful. I used to get away to the mountains for a day at a time, and always found it gradually cleared my thinking. Why did I stop? Busy schedule, I guess—and since I moved to the country, I don’t feel the same need to “get away” that I did in the city, even in the well-wooded residential area. Maybe I should anyway. Dunno. Not that easy.

When I reach the car, I’m not done walking. I walk past along the road for a bit, intending to double back. As the road climbs, though, the character of the forest and the air changes, more dry, lighter but also “desolate” in a relative sense. I turn back and drive home.


Sunday, April 6, 2008

Reelin' in the Tears

On the way to do laundry, finding talk radio at the moment vapid, I hit “scan” on my car radio, and caught the beginning of Steely Dan’s “Reelin’ in the Years.”

For years I’ve loved this song—first, Steely Dan is an awesomely talented and original pair of composers/performers, and second, they collaborate with monsters (music slang for incredibly gifted performers), in this case, that awesome guitar solo, an exemplar of both construction and delivery.

I’ve long know the lyrics, of course, although they’ve always been secondary to my interests as a musician, but today, for some reason, they caught my ear:

Are you reelin’ in the years,
Storin’ away the time;
Are you gatherin’ up the tears,
Have you had enough of mine?

Well, quite a few years have passed since I felt quite that way, but I started thinking about my last few relationships.

Sure, years ago, I flatly messed things up. I was young, stupid, clueless. It happens. But more recently, past decade or so, I’ve entered carefully calculated relationships, a step at a time, planting gardens instead of rushing in, sword blazing. And the results were wonderful! Passionate partnerships built on common interests, engaging conversations, intersecting life goals, and so forth.

And yet these relationships went belly-up. Why? No reason. Nothing bad happened. That, in fact, seems to be the problem—with no negative developments, the relationship seemed to be promising enough to call for a long commitment, making it a real threat. One partner decided to strive to control me and force issues she knew would never work. Another decided she’d worry 24/7 that I was seeing other people on the side (I’ve NEVER cheated on a partner—when I told one of my best friends about her assessment, he could only repeat, “What?!” His wife agreed.) More recently, one woman invented such bizarre stories to get ME to be the one to end the relationship that my dad pointed out “You’ve got lots of material for a great novel there.”


Everyone has issues. That’s fine. But I’m tired of people taking a pound of my flesh in attempts to satisfy their own psychoses.

Taking your bat and ball and going home alone is easy. Partnerships take more effort than that—you’d think mature people could get a grip on that. But apparently not. Many relationships seem to be forged youthfully, when idealism clouds any sense of reality.

When Tracy Chapman asks, “Why if there’re so many of us, are people still alone?"--it’s often because they choose—whether they’ll admit it or not—to be alone.

Just take responsibility for such a decision, rather than spending years of other people’s lives when they could be building a life instead of wasting one. Cry your own tears--and be clear about the reason.

I'm reminded of the pilot for "Mad about You." Our couple meets by accident, and are about to part forever, despite obvious sparks (well, this IS television...). Then our hero turns to this vision and says somthing like, "One day, you'll be with your friends, drinking margarettas, complaining 'Why can't I just meet a nice guy?' Well, you DID meet a nice guy--and you let him walk away." He turns. Pause. She says, "Wait! -- you swear you're a nice guy?" And so we have a television series.

That's what people want. Television. Internet romances. Emotion at a distiance.


Saturday, April 5, 2008

An Artist's Circle

I was perhaps an accidental artist, growing up alienated with a slightly abusive mother and a dad working long hours and going to night school, themselves the children of dairy farmers, my childhood era the turmoil of senseless violence of the sixties, my environment stuck in fifties philosophy, a tarnished Pleasantville.

Yet the house was filled with books, the library was down the street, and inexpensive books were available from catalogs the teachers gave us in class. I took refuge here, eventually also in mathematics (I liked the logical aspects and the challenge of theoretical math) and increasingly in music. From music, the path I decided to follow, I learned a good deal about what the music addressed, including time periods, cultures, philosophies, literature, dance, opera—anything that might make me a better musician—learning FAR more than in school or college.

Most of all, I learned to identify myself as an artist—one who strove to see the world in terms of ideas, particularly fresh views of that world, challenging entrenched, outdated, unuseful thought patterns. “I was sent into the world to rattle cages,” I sometimes explained—my view of the artist as a young man, my way of dealing with a confusing world in my search for purpose and identity.

Thirty years later, I seem to have circled back. My family is scattered and some members won’t even speak to each other. I feel alienated at work, my classroom successes—new approaches, students winning awards for their writing and so forth—are met with polite praise and official criticism, as I’m viewed more as a threat than an asset, indicated by the degree of nitpicking necessary to respond to my endeavors (which remain otherwise successful). I’m irritated and angry, despondent and discouraged. What a waste of energy.

So, I find myself back to rattling cages, back to letting go of what others think, back to seeing the world as freshly as I can, and back to living in my own mental compartment, perhaps symbolized by my cave of an office, or by my home located far out in the country by myself.

Ironic, I suppose (or maybe this has just been building): I sat down to consider how to approach my Intro to Fiction class in this next unit. We’ve just finished “Dubliners”—essentially the story of Joyce’s journey from artistic/alienated adolescent in ”Araby” to his cosmic self-realization(s) at the end of “The Dead”—and his next work? “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” (one of the books I read on my own as a student). Then I started to read the next work, Hesse’s “Magister Ludi,” and I had my own epiphany.

As the “biographer” described the history of the novel’s Glass Bead Game, I remembered why I chose to read this work too as a student, and I know what I’ll teach the class to get them into the novel. As the narrator describes, I’ll show them what’s so special about Bach, Mozart, and Renaissance masters, how Joyce parallels music, how music and mathematics are richly intertwined, how great a role math plays in Renaissance painting and architecture, how Ancient Greece saw music as also geometry and astronomy, how this started the university system, and how Ancient China governed the use of music as essential to the health of the state—and why.

And then the role of contemplation. How everything is a symbol. And just what do we DO with this knowledge after we attain it?

For better or for worse, the artist is back, attitude and all. It’s simply who and what I am, and I refuse to be "a creature driven and derided by vanity."


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Where does it start?

Depression sneaks up, its stealth apparent only long after its origins.

And one day, though “This isn’t like me!” you’ll lament, nothing seems to have a point. Terminally blocked at work, certain to win more criticism than credit, as that’s just how people think. Relationships are only possible with baggage, primarily women more afraid their coupling WILL work than not, running whenever things look good. Work and chores pile up, far more to do than humanly possible, and it all just gets worse. And then one day, your doctor wonders if you need some pharmacological help.

“April is the cruelest month,” T.S. Eliot tells us at the start of “The Wasteland,” breeding lilacs and tulips out of the dead ground, mixing memory and desire. That "stony rubbish," bleak and desolate as it may be, took time to prepare. How did it happen? When did it start?

“Hurry up please, it’s time.”

Ave Maria.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Quiet Time

Ever have one of those periods when you find yourself rethinking everything at once? Work, career, relationshipos, friendships, home, live, direction, purpose and so forth?

Ever notice how these periods like to come when you're overwhelming with stuff from every direction needing attention?

That's what's going on here. Lots of stuff to write, from politics to reflections to social satire to etc.

It easts at me everyday I don't write it, and I'll get on it as soon as I possibly can.

Thanks for checking in.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Super delegates aren't the problem

Lately I’ve heard quite a few people complain that super delegates subvert the election process, that their vote unfairly counts more. That's oversimplifying it.

First, while Democrats have the super delegates, Republican votes are magnified too by the "winner take all" philosophy toward state contests---this is what has allowed McCain to take the lead. Thus, a minority of voters and/or a minority of states can dictate the nominee, provided that nominee wins states with large numbers of delegates.

On the Democratic side, super delegates or no, everything is still up for grabs between Clinton and Obama, as the Democrats count delegates proportionally--meaning a candidate can lose a state while still gaining delegates. [This primary may well need to be resolved at the convention---and there's nothing wrong with that.]

I also dislike the super delegate system, and frankly, the party itself didn't mean for it to work the way it's playing out and may scrap it in the future. Still, it's not as simple as certain people getting extra votes.

80% of the process is the popular vote. The thinking was that such a majority would decide the nomination. The other 20%, the super delegates, were created to make sure Democrats got to the convention with a clear nominee, all battles settled--NOT to hand pick a winner.

We also need to remember that democracy in America is representational, not absolute. Further, these delegates didn't just appear--they've been elected, over and over and over (that's how they rose so high in the party), and were chosen by others elected over and over and over. Consequently, they were indirectly chosen by the voters. I don't like it when Bush vetoes a bill because he personally has a different ideology (in fact, I find it an abuse of his power, one that defies the will of the American people on such issues as stem cell research), but clearly one could argue he was elected to wield that power (and Congress can still override him if support for the bill can gather a 2/3 majority).

Super delegates aren't the only way people get more voting power. Remember all those candidates who have nice dropped out of the race? Their delegates can now vote however they wish---technically unguided by the voting public. They might follow the recommendation of their former candidate--giving that person considerable voting power, but then, one could argue that power was earned via the state primary elections. And what of the caucus states? Those elections are FAR from over--the caucus is only the first step, and again, many of those delegates now find themselves free to pick new candidates.

And finally, all we've done is elect delegates to represent us at the convention. We can't force them to vote as pledged. Yes, they almost always do--but not always. [The same is true of the electoral college, incidentally.]

More problematic in terms of fairness is the mess created by the Michigan and Florida contests. Since those states broke the party’s rules by moving their primaries before Super Tuesday, leadership stripped those states of their convention delegates, and the candidates agreed not to campaign. Hillary Clinton won those states anyway--but then her name was the only one on the ballot! Not exactly fair--and now that the election is close, she wants those delegates seated.

Unless either she or Obama pull ahead significantly enough to decide the contest, this will be the real mess for the Democrats.


Saturday, February 2, 2008

Heroes & Patriots, Bullies & Cowards—and Christians

Last week a small town near here laid to rest John Sigsbee. More than 2, 000 people filed past the casket of this popular young man, just 21.

Sigsbee joined the army just after high school and was sent to Iraq. He was sent back, though, when an explosion burned him over most of his body, to heal.

And heal he did. Then he went back to Iraq, where he was killed Jan. 16 during a gun battle, along with a few of his fellow soldiers, trying to liberate the Iraqi village of Bichigan. [That liberation was completed later in the week.]

Brigadier General Todd Semonite spoke at the funeral. He presented Sigsbee’s parents two medals awarded posthumously—Sigsbee’s second Purple Hear, and the Bronze Star for heroism in battle. Sigsbee was buried in the Saratoga National Cemetery in Schuylerville.

If only that were the whole story.

Sigsbee’s death also attracted the attention of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, who announced they would send members to the funeral to protest what they see as America’s permissive attitude toward gays, claiming God is killing our troops to punish us. This group carries signs and shouts slogans at military funerals such as “Thank God for dead soldiers.”

Thankfully they didn’t show—a group of 60 Patriot Guard Riders did instead, with plans to (after the family had safely entered the funeral) form a blockade between the Westboro protesters and the mourners, and if needed, shouting “God bless our troops!” and singing the national anthem.

“We got a lot of media…so our message got out,” explains a spokesperson for the Topeka group. Instead, they protested another military funeral at Camp LeJuene in North Carolina. Well, bullies do typically stand down when challenged.

Local clergy denounced the group, saying, “They’re not Christian,” and that they weren’t affiliated with local Baptist churches or the Baptist Conference.

But here’s my question.

I hear incessantly, year after year, “Christians” crying, “They’re stealing our Christmas!” just because someone wishes people “Happy Holidays,” or “This will destroy marriage!” when any concession to same-sex unions might appear.

Where were these “Christians” when this Kansas group undermined their faith? Local church groups should have been at the funeral too, ready to stand for something.

Thank God we at least have patriots.


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Llama in Winter

In addition to the hiker/snowshoe issues that started the month (see post below), winter just isn’t being a sport. All the snow melted—but you can’t even go running, as the ground is a swamp. Then the temperature dropped—and turned the swamp into ice. So finally I ran down to Stoney Pond with my ice skates—not as cold or for as long as I’d like before skating on a lake, but the ice fishermen seemed to survive, so I thought I’d try.

The first problem was finding an access point—not all of the lake was frozen, and shore tended to feature a little water and some very thin ice. I found one eventually, on the far side of the lake. Next problem—an anxious, impatient husky while I lace up my skates. That done, and having successfully mounted firm ice—I haven’t been skating in a while, so it took a while to get my “ice legs” back. But I did, and one nice bonus—my husky can’t really pull on her 26’ retractable leash, as she doesn’t have much leverage on the ice! So some watching for fish holes and suspicious ice, and finally, a winter sport.

The next brought a few inches of snow, so I thought I’d skate again—I’ve done this before, just skating through the snow. Problem is that I can’t see the ice. Further, with snow on the ice, guess whose husky has good traction again? And, with a blanket of snow covering it, the ice surface was turning mushy in many places. I finally gave up.

Today, another inch of snow convinced me, desperate, to try skiing. Not great—technically possible, but really I could just barely get around, and for the most part, dead grass lined the bottom my tracks. Without more snow, that’s pretty much that. I finished the trail, though, and drove toward home.

That’s when I saw it ahead in the road. A llama. Or an alpaca—how would I know the difference? Something South American the size of a horse that keeps it’s neck straight up, has hooves like a deer and wears fur on its back that looks like a poncho made of dreadlocks.

Not wanting it to continue to the highway, I drove around it, slowly driving it down the road back to the its probable home—a farm set far off the road behind the trees that keeps at least horses and sheep that I’ve seen. I was hoping our wooly ruminant friend would head up the drive, but just stood there, the horses watching.

While wondering what to do, a man came walking down the drive. “Got loose last night,” he informed me. “Been walking all over since.”

I watched as he tried to walk close enough to secure his livestock, figuring my presence would at least keep the creature from running my way back down the road. “If I can just get him in with the horses, he’ll be fine,” explained the owner.

That gave me an idea. I went back to the car to get the bag of carrots (What? I had broccoli too, but that didn’t seem promising), hoping to lure the llama. Nope—but the horses instantly noted the carrots and crowded the fence. I obliged.

Finally our fugitive trotted up the long drive toward the house, resigned owner strolling behind. I figured I’d done all I could (OK, OK, I had hardly done anything) and headed for home.


Friday, January 11, 2008

If you could change the world...

The problem with that question is the assumption that you can’t.

Thing is, you can change the world. People do it all the time. Sure, being rich or powerful is what most think of--supernaturally powerful in many cases, but that's just impatience.

For example? Need to be a millionaire first? Fine--an astonishingly small amount of money set aside each week in a very conservative no-load mutual fund will generate millions over a normal work life. Most people don't, excuses in place. Yet you'll see stories every so often about a janitor who leaves five million to cancer research--how'd that happen?

Many people then turn to the vote. Yes, that's important--vote. Excuses quickly enter here too--there's no one worth voting for, politicians don't care anyway, it's all about money and so forth. Let's take a look:

No one worth voting for? Both major parties have fielded a dozen candidates of all different factions of their parties. Third parties are alive and well--and some are growing. All of those candidates start with "retail politics," talking to one person at a time. When they can't do this, their supporters do. I once heard an interview with the founders of Greenpeace and Earth Day. They were asked how they got such large movements going from the ground up. they both said the same thing: "talk to one person, then talk to another person, then talk to another person." And hey, you could always make a small donation to your favorite candidate--millions of those small donations mean major campaign funds.

Politicians don't care? Ever write to one? No time? Hell, how long does it take to write a letter? Or an email? People do the equivalent here all the time.. Send one a week, one a month, one a season, one a year--but you'll find (1) you will get a response and (2) they do pay attention--literally add up the pros/cons, etc--your letter marks you as a likely voter. I have even used my elected officials for help resolving business and governmental problems, quite successfully. (I can't call the Comptroller of the Currency about a bank pushing me around inappropriately--but my Senator sure can!).

I've addressed the money issue in part in two different ways already, so let's move on....

The above are some typical ways people think about changing the world. This post is about the ways they overlook.

One person can most definitely change the world. A patent clerk in Switzerland named Albert wonders what it would be like to ride a motorcycle across the universe at the speed of light, and in 1905, publishes a paper--that will in time lead to nuclear weapons and nuclear poser. James Watts wonders if the natural heating and cooling of water could help drive a pump to solve the constant drainage problem he faced--and started the Industrial Revolution. A messy scientist notices his poor housekeeping has spawned a mold--and we get antibiotics. We could go on and on in this vein, of course.

OK, we aren't all scientists--ordinary people sometimes get cool ideas too, from the safety pin (an idea worth millions) to hooking up a circuit board to a television in a garage and starting Apple Computers. But OK, we aren't all inventors either.

How about the twelve-year-old boy who saw a homeless man and organized a blanket drive that generated several thousand blankets distributed? Anyone could have done that. Anyone didn't--he did.

Granted, you can't just wave your hand and the world is magically better. You can just explain to yourself that the problems aren't solvable, that it wouldn't do any good anyway, that really those problems are somehow good or "God's" plan or Nature's plan or any other of the self-serving nonsense people use to justify doing nothing.

But bit by bit? An improvement here or there? By looking for solutions instead of complaining about problems? With a little patience?

Absolutely. One person can change the world--the only prerequisite is wanting to do so and taking action instead of creating excuses. Maybe start with just changing parts of it.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Horses--the Motorless ATVs

OK, I thought only the weather and thoughtless snowshoers and hikers were my nemesis to winter exercise. I figured at least I could jog along the trails. I didn’t count on horses.

A multi-use trail is a multi-use trail, of course, and equestrians are well within their rights. Thing is, just like ATVs, horses rip up the trail, leaving little but a trail of mud. I’ve never encountered this before in winter, but with the ice turning the slush, the horse folks churned it to brown soup.

Oh, and the horse shit. Why, if dog owners are expected to clean up, aren’t horse owners? Dogs find a place off the trail anyway—horses dump a pile in the middle. Nothing but laziness and unconcern for other users prevents riders from carrying at least a shovel.

That would, however, mean moving their asses off the horses and getting a bit of exercise.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Benazir Bhutto Lives

Well, like milliions, I read the Sunday paper this morning only to find Parade magazine wondering what will happen if Benazir Bhutto wins Pakistan's election this Tuesday.

And like millions, I'm pretty sure she won't, since she was assassinated on December 27. Then again, a dead guy beat John Ashcroft for the U.S. Senate (so Bush promptly appointed Ashcroft Attorney General).

I can understand a large publication has a lead time. And I can understand that millions of dollars are involved. But if you want to be a news publication, you have to decide which is more important.

Parade has issued a statement that they felt what bhutto had to say was too important to make a change. Fine.

But they could have said so in advance--maybe even boosting newspaper sales. They didn't.

Money trumps news.

Yeah, I know--no newsflash there.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Missing the Concept...

Hands full of grocery bags, I approached the door of my local store. A man just coming in held the door wide, waiting for me.

"Thank you!" I offered in a hearty voice.

"Why wouldn't I?" retorted my benefactor.

I left it there with no further words.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Skis, Snowshoes and Snowmen

A few weeks ago, we finally got enough snow for cross-country skiing. I was elated—especially with a husky, this is my premiere recreational/exercise activity during the winter months. So I headed out to the ski trails behind Colgate—around three miles of trails through a beautiful, wooded area.

Laying a trail is a lot of work—slow, plodding, tiring, not a lot of fun. However, once done, I and others could enjoy it for weeks. Colgate even has a large sign at the entrance to the trails, politely asking people to walk and snowshoe to the side of the ski tracks, not in them. After all, these trails are as wide as roads, so missing the ski tracks isn’t hard. Further, skiers even try to promote this by making tracks along the side of the trail, leaving plenty of room.

Well, this didn’t take long. Day two, snowshoers had ventured up part of the trail, and yep, stomped out the ski tracks. This turns a stable, smooth ski path into a flat, then icy, uncontrollable, dangerous mess. Why? Snowshoeing is difficult work under any conditions—what’s the point of ruining the ski trails?

Day three, the hikers did their due. Now, certainly walking in the ski trail is easily than hoofing through snow—and it also makes post-holes all along the track, completely destroying it.

Day four, snowmobiles. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on these trails, but that doesn’t stop them. Even so, with a trail the size of a road, with one narrow ski track off to the side, you’d think a snowmobile could maneuver around this. Guess not.

And for all the considerate snowshoers and hikers and snowmobilers, it takes one asshole. And so next, when the weather warmed, and when it was impossible to cut new tracks, what would have been a nice set of tracks, nice and contained, resistant to melting temperatures for a while, was now an icy mess impossible to navigate in the deeper areas, and a wet, muddy mess in the shallow areas. Wonderful. Fuck you very much.

I went running along the canal instead, but this was also an icy mess. I could have ice-skated probably, as the ice was beautifully smooth, but I’ve fallen through ice once before and don’t wish to repeat the experience—I’d rather wait for a few days of very cold weather first.

Last week we got a Nor’easter, so I went to Stoney Pond to start over. No, it’s not immune to snowshoers or hikers (although generally safe from snowmobiles), not as many people go there during the holidays—except a few other skiers and their dogs. This works well—we reinforce each other’s tracks, and while dogs will run in the tracks, they don’t weigh as much and spread that weight over four feet. Even deer, although they make deeper holes, make small ones and curiously not that many, just here and there.

Day two—a few snowshoers and hikers, but not too much damage yet. Down by the lake, though, some people had built a snowman—nice job of it, too. Shanti (my husky) saw it ¼ mile away—and barked and barked and barked and barked. This was successful—that snowman stayed right where he was, making no sudden moves and coming no closer. We made a wide circle around it. Next day, no barking—but she sniffed that thing up and down, round and round, a through examination.