Saturday, July 31, 2010

Phyto Who? Say what?

I happened across a brief article the other day, on I believe it was The Daily Beast.  It wasn't even a feature piece, just an 'also ran', a kind of "...oh, by the way" article.  It said that scientists have now proven to their own satisfaction that there is a major die-off of phytoplankton occurring in the world's oceans.  With over 250,000 data points, stretching back over at least five decades, they believe that this began in the 1950s, but that it is accelerating in the present.  They also believe--based on the data--that global warming is the primary cause for this.

They have noted periods of such die-offs in the past and have associated them with changes in ocean currents by La Nina, and the warming this brings to a belt of water near the equator in the Pacific Ocean.  These pull-backs have also resulted in the starvation of species ranging up the food-chain, including the marine mammals and other pinnacle species at the top.  Almost in passing, the article mentioned that phytoplankton  are responsible for about 40% of the oxygen that plants put into our atmosphere, and, to that end, they are one of the primary sources of photosynthesis.

If this piece had appeared in the N.Y. Times, it might have been buried somewhere back in the sections, and on page 9 of that section.  There was no attendant alarm, no sense of urgency even. It was just a tid-bit of news offered in the probable hope that readers might feel it interesting.

Hmmmmmmmm.......    My reaction, on the other hand, was a little more like, "Holy CRAP!!!!  It sounds like they're saying that one of the pillars that sustains a viable atmosphere on our planet is waning..... and (by extension) we're all going to DIE," which, of course, is true....I just wasn't planning that we'd slowly suffocate en masse.

But, hold on there, cowboy, maybe that is just a little too 'Chicken Little'.  Maybe we'll get by just fine on less oxygen.  Maybe some geniuses at MIT or Cal Tech have already worked out how we can survive the accelerating degradation of the atmosphere...and they figure it's all so routine that it isn't even newsworthy. 

On the other hand, maybe this news is just so HUGE in its implications that nobody, as in not a soul, can really get their head around it and make the extrapolation of impending doom. Maybe it is just too far-reaching and too radical, and that makes it simply 'unreal'.  But, if we were to really accept it and act accordingly, the changes in how we are conducting our lives would have to be so sweeping and dramatic that we cannot even imagine what life would be like.

I imagine that it is kind of like laying on the beach in Banda Aceh sunning yourself.  Suddenly your companion says, "What the f**k is that?!" and you follow their pointing finger out to the horizon....and you see something.  It's different, and it is real and it's big....very big.  And, you just cannot comprehend that a wall of water 30 feet high is coming straight at you sit and you stare.  And, when it finally sinks in what is really happening........

It's simply too late.

Is that what we're doing here in the early years of the 21st century?  By now, every intelligent adult--which, by definition means those who are not sticking their heads in the sand--knows that we have already visited, and continue to inflict, some terrible things on this planet, things that are beginning to have effects that we can now measure, but which will culminate in ways we can only hypothesize in the present....but are looking rather 'dark', to put it mildly.  It is becoming increasingly clear that we are damaging our host planet to the point of eventual non-viability for life as we know it.  And, the more we learn, it becomes apparent that my use of the word, 'eventual' may be rather optimistic.

The scientific community has been playing Chicken Little for so long now, that many of them have simply given up hope that anybody will listen, or believe that we really are in the early stages of the Sixth Great Extinction.

I watched a video of Farley Mowat--one of Canada's great gifts to the world, via his books--speaking with Paul Watson, the founder of the Sea Shepherd Society, while sitting in chairs on Farley's front lawn, overlooking the ocean.  In mild tones, devoid of anger or alarm, they simply agreed with each other that we are watching the final acts of a species that is going to be the first ever to be responsible for its own extinction.

But, for reasons I seem unable to comprehend, I find that some part of me just refuses to let go, like a drowning sailor who lets his grasp on the life-raft loosen and peacefully drifts down into the depths.  My grip on HOPE simply will not release.  Maybe it is the last thing I have that keeps me wanting to be here each day, trying to be a Human Being, and to somehow, in some infinitesimally small make a difference.

 These images are: macro-photography of diatoms, a very common form of phytoplankton, and a 'bloom' of trillions of such organisms seen from space. 


Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Follow on: Angela Bordeau

I found a photograph of Angela Bordeau (whose roadside memorial I just wrote about) and I wanted to post it in order that you can get a sense of who the young woman was.  It didn't feel right to have her remain just a name.

                                   ANGELA MARIE BORDEAU, b. 2-12-1991, d. 6-15-2010

The Death of local government

By now you must have heard or seen the news stories on a small town in California called Bell.  While the 38,000 citizens of Bell were looking the other way, the local politicians were looting the town's coffers to the tune of millions of bucks.  Seems the foxes were in charge of the chicken-coop and dining on gourmet chicken dishes.

The town manager, was getting a salary of $787,000, the police chief was near a half-million, and the members of the city council had all given themselves salaries in the $100K range....for their PART-TIME positions.  They did this even as they were laying off city workers, and cutting back dramatically on city services.  Apparently, they arranged all of this by giving themselves the right to not only set their own pay rates, but doing so in 'closed meetings'.  When the story broke, the citizens of Bell were obviously outraged and now there is going to be some sort of reckoning.  The state attorney general's office is looking into whether or not laws were broken and exactly how the thieves managed to do all this in defiance of the state regulations that specify maximum compensation rates for such positions.

At first glance, it appears they simply passed a resolution stating that they would not abide by state guidelines.  Hey, now there's a capital idea: don't like a law, or a 'guideline', just make your own law saying that you don't intend to conform.  I just cannot imagine how long they thought they could loot the city like this before it came out.  But, it is a perfect example of how people are empowering themselves to ignore the common good, set aside whatever is in their way....and do exactly what they want to in order to serve personal desires.  There is even a law in place in Bell that may require the city to pay an outrageous pension to the manager once they get rid of his sorry ass.  I think they need a good law firm and should just not pay the a**hole.  Put it all into the hands of a higher court system and show that these people were acting in bad faith, solely in their own interests, and sue the hell out of them for good measure.

When the city manager, a charming lout by the name of Rizzo (hmmmmm.... could he be related to Ratso Rizzo?)  was confronted with the massive wrongdoing that has happened on his watch, he went into a lengthy dissertation on all the good things these kind people have done for the city:  better lighting, nice parks, blah, blah, blah.  Are you kidding me?

Maybe tarring and feathering scoundrels and running them out of town on a rail was set aside too soon.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Angela is Missed.....

I went for a long(ish) motorcycle ride on this perfect summer day.  I chose a loop that would take me up into Maine's 'outback', through the mountains and foothills where the towns are tiny and the people are sparse.  I passed through Farmington--where the earmuff was invented--and the town of Strong, probably so named because you shouldn't bother trying to live there unless you are.  If you live in a populous or even a semi-populous area, you may not be able to really picture just how far out in the boonies some of these little villages are. I passed a sign that said, "Danger Many Moose Collisions in this Area", and someone had spray-painted across the bottom: "490", just in case you really didn't get what they meant by "..many".  Or maybe it was a person who just enjoys keeping score, and baseball seems so remote up there.

I was motoring along through a town called Carthage--'town' referring to a legal boundary more than any recognizable settlement.  I mean, if someone said "Let's go downtown and get some groceries."  You really wouldn't have a clue which way to go.  T'ain't nuttin' dere.  And, I came around a curve, down a shallow hill and saw a lot of pink.  There was lots of pink paint on the pavement, and all kinds of it on the roadside and even in the woods.  I slowed and then turned around, came back and parked the bike. I got out my camera and began recording the scene in front of me.  It was both quite astonishing and very moving.

It was clear that I was looking at, indeed witnessing, a roadside memorial site.  It was an assemblage of materials and items that were serving to record the pain of apparently a large number of people, all of whom knew a nineteen year-old woman named Angela Marie, who died on this spot about six weeks ago, on June 15th.  I could see where a vehicle had left the road and torn up some trees, and I also know that such roadside 'shrines' are commonplace all over rural America.  In some places I have been it is a more formalized practice, with a plain white cross marking the spot where a person or persons have died.  In Carthage Maine, it was a vast and pink outpouring of emotion, with light-sticks festooned in the trees, beads, plastic flowers (they do last longer), a poem, a bare spot on the tree that her car hit where one was invited to leave a message for her by the presence of a Sharpie stuck in the the very spot where her vehicle struck.  I have never witnessed such a passionate outpouring of pain and love as this spot was reflecting.

In the road, adjacent and partially on top of where a large pink heart had been painted, were copious burn-out marks, evidence of a kind of arcane ritual of squealing tires that actually did seem to fit in somehow with the entire rest of the scene.  My assumption is that Angela was fairly passionate about the color pink.

When I had recorded the place, I put my helmet and gloves back on and slowly motored away from this spot.  I didn't hear of her death at the time, but it was in the papers that Angela Bordeau, of Mexico, Maine,  was in a single-vehicle accident, late at night, and was declared dead at the scene.  Franklin County sheriff's deputies reported that speed played a role, the tires on her '03 Saab were all bald and she wasn't wearing her seat-belt.  A part of me would like to know what was going on with Angela that night. The Willie Nelson song, "Angel Flyin' too Close to the Ground", comes to mind.

But, I do know that what I witnessed on that nondescript stretch of country road left an indelible impression and on some level I cannot really imagine a more effective means of demonstrating how painful it was--and is--for those who did know this young woman, to have her pass from this world too soon and so violently.

Rest in Peace Angela Marie

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I Have Seen the Angel of Death.....and she drives a white Focus.

Being far too jaded to actually RUN for exercise, I choose to ride a bike.  I have a nice Trek hybrid--read: old fart's bike--and it has some useful accessories, like a wee computer that tells me when I am slacking off, a tiny bell so that I can warn pedestrians when I overtake them without giving them a heart attack.  I also found a genuine AIR HORN.  It consists of a clear-plastic soda bottle with a rubber cap, a hose up to a smallish horn on the handlebars and you fill it with a bike-pump.  This sucker is not merely loud, it sounds kind of frantic, like "Holy Crap!" but higher pitched.  I also wear a hi-viz lime t-shirt and have a rear-view mirror mounted on my helmet.

Despite all that about one and a half times a week, someone tries to kill me.  Mostly, it is because they are just dim-witted, speaking on a cell phone, typically clueless and other sundry handicaps. If you ride a motorcycle--as I have for about 45 years--you come to know that most drivers are basically A) not very competent, and B) not very intelligent.  I suppose you could argue that these go hand in hand....and, of course, they do.  But, there are also very bright people who totally suck at driving a vehicle.  And I've met some seriously 'slow' people who can do just fine when it comes to anything from a farm tractor to a semi. So, let's just say that there's some overlap, but the bottom-line is that MOST of the drivers on the open road are very limited in their understanding and their skill set when it comes to the act of driving.

Well, you combine this fact of life, with a psychological 'glitch' and you can end up like the woman who tried to kill me today.  I was pedaling along, nearing the entrance to the hallowed site where we get to 'eat with the King', and as I approached the entrance, a white Ford Focus pulled alongside me.  I saw her begin to brake, and I surmised immediately that she intended to turn in and have a visit with His Majesty.  I just didn't quite get that she was willing to kill for a cheeseburger.

Because I knew her intent to turn was about to manifest, I put my thumb on the red horn-button.  As she slowed to my speed and I realized that she didn't plan on waiting for me to move ahead of her, but intended to go for the goodies THROUGH ME....I laid on the horn.  Trust me, there is no way you cannot be alarmed at the sound of this horn.  It actually hurts my ears when I use it.  Remember, I am also wearing the bright lime-yellow shirt that highway construction crews wear; I am lit up like a freakin' big, fat LED on wheels here.

And ........HERE SHE COMES, turning right into me.  My choices are limited at this point: I can abandon the bike and dive onto the top of her car--an act I might have been capable of when I was in the infantry and loaded to the eyeballs (okay it wasn't the eyes that were loaded...I was just being coy) with testosterone....or I can brake heroically, and try to out-turn her as she dives in front of me.  If I blow it, I will be under her wheels.  Luckily, I did the latter and pulled it off.....but, I was shaking like a leaf afterwards.

Since I was headed into the parking lot now.....I pedaled up to where my nemesis had taken her place at the take-out feeding trough.  She stared straight ahead, pretending I would go away if she didn't look at me.  Her window was up and her door locked.  Seems only prudent, eh.  So, I loudly--recall I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Infantry now--informed her that she had no right to cut me off like that.  She waved her hand in a 'Whatever' kind of kiss-off.  And so I cussed her roundly up and down and then rode back down the parking lot to resume my ride.  It was one of those incidents I am not willing to let pass.

We live in the same small town.  Sooner or later, I will see her tooling about in her wheeled, white weapon, and I will get her plate number and at that point I will file a complaint for 'driving to endanger'.  I see stupid all the time on my bike....far too many times to count.  But, this.....this was MALEVOLENT.  And, we're not finished.

Of course, it's also possible that one of her fellow angels--like the cell-phone wielding Angel of Numbness--will take me out before I can follow through.  I accept that as a risk of being out there on public byways.

Many Moons.....

I was standing, staring up at the night sky one evening last week.  Because we live out in relative boonies, the sky here is a beautiful, inky, blue-black velvet, and the stars seem impossibly crisp and bright.  As I stared at the partial moon just above the trees, it occurred to me that I now believe I know why the Native American tribes had names for the various months that referred to something particular about that month.

We are now in the Moon of the Tiger lilly, a few weeks ago, we were in the Moon of Lupine.  These are my names, not those of any particular indigenous culture.  In June I saw an exceptional number of loons on lakes around here.  I don't really think their population has exploded, just that I was in the right place at the right time.  But, if I had the inclination to re-name June, I might choose the Moon of the Loon.

If I was feeling particularly churlish this month might get re-named, Moon of the Deer Fly.  But, if I gave in to that single tiny impulse toward negativity, it might also lead to a slippery slope thereafter.  February could easily slide from the Moon of Blowing Snow, to Moon of Snow-blowing, or even Moon of Most Suicides ....or, God help me,  Moon of Time Shares.  See what I mean?  And it's all downhill from there.  What's to stop me from veering off into social and political issues?   December could become the Moon of Smoking Credit Cards.  September--the gridiron ritual's return-- might become the Moon of Broken Heads.  November could devolve into the Moon of Idiots Running. 

No, it's better that I just keep it positive.  Besides.....which month would qualify for Moon of Gushing Oil, when it has gone on for a full quarter of the year?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Oh, Sarah........puhleeze.

Well, my favorite comedienne has done it again.  She made up a word: 'refudiate'.  And, actually, I think that is both a pretty cool word--a combining of 'repudiate' and 'refute', apparently--and that it's okay to be creative with language.  But, two things about this little act of creativity just don't ring true.  When the blogosphere and then the media at large jumped on this, she immediately defended it as if she'd done it on purpose.  And, then she compared herself to none other than William Shakespeare. 


Watching Sarah run is thrilling. She climbs into her ego like a sleek and shiny bobsled,  pushes-off, never touches the brakes, hangs on and never looks back.  But, here's the thing.  This is the same vacuous person who told Katie Couric that she reads, "Oh, just everything I can get my hands on."  It's the same person who thinks living in Alaska--which is, after all, 'near Russia'--constitutes some sort of expertise in foreign policy.  It's also the same small-minded person who constantly snipes at people, name calls, uses far-out invective to character assassinate her enemies....keeps an 'enemies list', and on and on.  She's off the snide scale and uses sarcasm like a blunt instrument, instead of the fine scalpel we've come to expect from the great masters of our language. Shakespeare himself was a master of the double-entendre, and he had a rapier for a pen when he chose. But, Sarah Palin is the kind of person who might attend an NHL hockey game and think she could get out there on the ice and skate with the big boys too.  She certainly seems to think she can run in the big leagues of national and world politics....and then she does something like this.....again.

Oh, Sarah, we know you far too well to think that you even made-up the word 'refudiate' on purpose. Every time you open your mouth, it seems to re-confirm what we already know about you. You are a small-minded, vindictive, intellectually incurious, seeker of power, who thrives on bringing out the worst in your supporters and inventing it in your opponents.

Old Will would not be rolling in his grave over your grandiose self-comparison with him at all.  He'd be laughing his ass off. 

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Ultimate Art Form.........

There is a vast spectrum of possibilities when it comes to making art.  One could spend a lifetime just trying out all the various media, and some of them are unexpected.  For instance, we don't ordinarily think of business as an art form, per se, but in its highest permutations it requires imagination and creativity of an extraordinary level, if it is going to prosper.

Then there is medicine.  I once had a conversation with a doctor that went something like this:  "You are both a scientist and an artist, traditionally speaking.  I am asking you now for your opinion as a practitioner of the medical ARTS.  I want to know what you feel in your gut."  He brightened right up and told me that he didn't really believe I was having a heart-attack, and then segued right back to his scientific viewpoint and said, "But, we have to treat it as such, until we have completely ruled it out."  What he declined to add was that he was obligated to cover his ass.  (Turned out to be an esophageal spasm that was alleviated before an injection of an antispasmodic drug was even out of my arm. And, treatment was steered in that direction by a nurse who also had a gut feeling that it wasn't a cardio-event.)

There are a plethora of other surprising media.  On the warrior path the term 'Martial Arts' is used, but most of us have no idea how artful it really is.  At the very highest levels, it borders on miraculous.  Laws such as that of gravity and time-space are seemingly broken and forces are brought into play that most of us believe are the sole province of comic books and fantasy movies.  But, the trashy media didn't make it all up. Example: A top Japanese Aikido Master was visiting Ft. Devens, in Massachusetts.  He was there at the request of one of his students--a very advanced American black-belt--and consented to put on a demonstration for a group of Special Forces soldiers who were in a program to test how the army could develop extraordinary skills in elite warriors.  In a kendo duel--with bokan, wooden swords--the black-belt student tried to land blows on his master.  He felt like his sword was bouncing off of an invisible inner-tube.  Finally, he made one last attack, and the sword went through the invisible barrier....and he suddenly found himself wrapped from behind in his master's arms, with his own sword-tip at his throat.  That is true and it is NOT magic.  It is martial skill at the level of an art-form.....a transcendent one.

But, there is one medium that can be identified as the "Ultimate Art Form", and masters from all cultures, all disciplines and all times in human history would agree that this is indeed the highest form of art, beyond any argument or doubt. And, that highest of all artistic YOUR LIFE.

If you are willing to accept that each person has an opportunity placed before them at birth, despite all the challenges, the possible obstacles, and handicaps, using both the advantages of one's gifts, and the challenges of one's shortcomings, can allow a person to pursue life as a creative enterprise, one in which the goal is utterly simple and sane: to become wholly and profoundly HUMAN.  It is absolutely NOT to become dominant, wealthy, skilled at any or all of the lesser media.  Those can, in fact, become distractions and even impediments.  But, they can also become vehicles for moving towards the goal of having an open mind and an open heart.....thereby becoming ultimately and excruciatingly human.

Every time we have a new event or experience in our lives, it becomes a part of the matrix that is US. We can use it, or be detained, even destroyed, by it.  We can even use such terrible experiences as being in a Nazi concentration camp.  I once met a living example of this: Rabbi Zalman Schachter, aka, the Purple Sox Rabbi.  At an evening presentation in Berkeley, Zalman talked about this process of becoming human, and as he spoke, I could feel and even visually SEE the love emanating from him.  Here in front of me was a fully realized Human Being.  It was so obvious that this man had learned something that had transformed him. And, afterwards, I was introduced to him by a friend who knew him well.

And, there on his arm was a crudely tatooed number, beginning with 'A'...............for Auschwitz.

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Death of relationships

One of the pivotal qualities that renders a person worthy of the term 'Human Being' is the ability to manifest compassion.  Without compassion a person becomes a mere hologram of a human being, capable of treating any and all other life-forms--not just other people, but animals too--as just something to be used, abused and tossed away when no longer a Kleenex.

So, it came as a rude surprise to me that the Today Show, on Sunday, with Lester Holt, and his sidekick Jenna Wolfe, did a feature on a fellow who has started a website called "".  This clever chap--Bradley something...couldn't find his name on his site, of course--has decided that there is a crying need for his willingness to contact a person's spouse, lover, partner etc. and tell them that they are being 'dumped'.  He charges only $10 to dump your boy/girlfriend, $25 to break an engagement, and--WHOA!!!--$50 to tell a spouse that they are going to be divorced.  He does this by calling the receiving party and telling them over the phone...via electronically disguised voice, that this is a 'dump', and he's happy to give the dumpee any comments that the dumper wishes to pass on.  And, this genius entrepreneur reminds you that he's an assh*le, when you sign-up to dump someone....his point being don't mess with him.  But, he also proudly proclaims, "We are therapy, humanity and comedy, all rolled into one."

Holy Cow, Batman!!  

My initial reaction was, "This is a joke, right?"  Oh, no. His whole demeanor during the interview with Jenna was that of a person who doesn't have a clue that this is seriously WEIRD, bordering on surreal.  The notion that a person has some responsibility in the delicate personal matter of ending a relationship was not even on his radar, apparently.

So, I next found myself asking what this is saying about the attitudes of the people who hire him towards those they have been involved with....even married to.  And, the answer is that we are now witnessing a level of self-interest, so utterly devoid of compassion, consideration, ANY sentiment resembling kindness or even etiquette...that we can just hire someone to say,"Hey, I'm done here.  And, uh, oh, by the way F**K OFF!!"   Wow!  So, a soon to be former date, lover, partner, or spouse really does take on the same level of worthiness as a product for which we have no further use.  "Yeah, had to sh*t-can her. So, I hired some dick on the web to do it."

Hey, it's kind of like having a virtual garbage-man who comes to haul off your relationship on Thursdays.  And, dear friends, it is also another one of those ethical canaries in the coal-mine that I have been pointing to and saying, "It just keeled over. What do we do now?"

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy Birthday, America

I spent part of Sunday watching the made-for-tv series, "The Revolution" on the History Channel.  It doesn't have the same dramatic quality as the HBO series of several years back that had Jeff Daniels playing George Washington, but it is full of good solid historical facts and some rather authentic appearing re-enactments.

But, what really struck me was just how precarious and incredibly difficult our struggle against tyranny was.  We had already been in revolt for going on five years when 1780 arrived and that year saw defeat after defeat at the hands of British mercenaries and career professional military troops then considered to be the best in the world. 1780 came to be referred to as, "The Dark Time" it was so bad.  American troops were frozen, starved, disease-plagued, un-paid--despite congressional promises to do so, of course--and they were asked to re-enlist despite what appeared to be a losing cause.  And, the majority of them DID.  Not only did they stay the course, they started winning battles, under the leadership of such inspired generals as Nathaenial Greene--a Quaker, by the way, who had set-aside his pacifist ideals because he knew that living under tyranny would be unacceptable.  We developed the first effective guerrilla forces and met the red-coats on our own terms using camouflage, night, and superior backwoods marksmanship to whittle them down to size.  And, in the end, we surmounted all the tremendous difficulties and the odds that were so stacked against us.

During the Revolution the British acted very much like the Japanese and the Nazis during WWII, in terms of how they treated the populace and the American prisoners they took.  They helped to seal their own doom by acting so bestially and thereby motivating Americans who might have otherwise remained astride the fence that separated loyalists and rebels.

As I watched the story of how we became truly a free people, I also heard echoes of the people among us in the present who are trying to foment a revolutionary attitude.  They are comparing President Obama to Hitler, telling us that we are in danger of becoming a 'socialist state' and that 'progressivism' is the new communism.  Palin used the term, "....reload" to tell people how to approach political change.  Limbaugh used the phrase, "....wipe them out," referring to how his listeners should go after Democrats who voted to improve health care.  Beck constantly uses emotional invective to stir up fear and hatred.  And, what makes me truly sad and angry is that there is apparently a large segment of our population who are more than willing to soak up this excrement and adopt it as their own political viewpoint.

It makes me feel that we have completely lost touch with what it was that made us so fiercely determined to be, not merely free, but to be compassionate and fair.....TO ALL PEOPLE.   It is my sense that we're in danger of becoming a nation of self-interested, callous, and even VIOLENT people who just want to meet our own needs.  To hell with anybody else; they can meet their own needs.

Am I wrong?  We are rapidly becoming--already are in the eyes of most of the rest of the world--a nation of people who will do anything to serve our own desires and self-identified 'needs', which seem to be generally defined as having all the luxuries we can and simply to acquire 'stuff'.   Gimme all that good stuff I see on t-v and I'll call it good.

Is that really who we are?  I actually don't think so.  But, there is a segment of us who is headed in that direction and who is making a helluva lot of noise that nobody--as in NOBODY--better get in their way, especially not some foreign, Muslim, black dude who thinks we should become less selfish, more caring, and apparently less rich.