Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Two things for which to be grateful

This is, of course, the gratitude season, so I dug around and without much difficulty found two things I can be grateful for: small and big.

Small: I've been doing traditional archery for three years now. Of course I lost half of last year due to shoulder surgery, and I lose most winter practise to The Beast. I am not the most ept of people, and sports of any kind don't come easily to me. Yesterday I went, despite concern over the temperature and the possibility of bringing out The Beast.

The air may have been cold but I was hot! I have never shot so well. This shows the truth that being "naturally" skilled at any sport just indicates that you're willing to put in the time and learn from the times when things don't go well, so that you can begin to perform at a level consistent with what you've learned.

Big: Speaking of The Beast, trigeminal neuralgia for the uninitiated. I am entering my tenth month of remission. The warning signs have appeared, suggesting it is coming back. One must not dwell on what will come (and it will; once one has this companion it is always ready to bite) but reflect on what has happened and is happening. This is my longest remission in several years, since the early stages of the disorder. The Beast has been an unwelcome guest at most Thanksgiving gatherings since it began, but it did not appear this time. I ate my dinner. I walked four miles on the beach in blustery, bracing weather. Every day is a gift. Every day without attacks is something to use and enjoy.

This is an important exercise in living in the present, and I'm trying to learn from that and overcome my native pessimism. Live long and prosper.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

I tremble for my country

As a moment of civic education, I recommend browsing any thread on any search engine on any sports topic. I hope—If I prayed I would pray—that these scrawls are the work of the same 30 people who do nothing all day and night but cruise from one sports item to the next "composing" their grunts.

If they are the work of any larger slice of population, we're in very deep shit. Consider that:

- These people are supposedly educated

- They can vote, although I doubt that few have ever voted for anything except the Pro Bowl or an All-Star game

- They can sit on a jury and convict someone of a capital crime

That is why I recall the remark of Thomas Jefferson: "When I reflect that god is just, I tremble for my country."

Saturday, November 21, 2009


There is nothing, as in no thing, and no amount of money, that could entice me to take a cruise aboard the much-hyped Oasis of the Seas. I have nothing against Finnish shipbuilders, or the Royal Caribbean people. It's all about the numbers.

The numbers say we have a ship that is "five times larger than the Titanic." That's a comparison that seems to tempt fate, I think. However, the numbers that bother me are the ratio of draught (the amount of ship under the water) to freeboard (amount of ship above water). In this ship, the ratio is 1:7. This is an uncomfortable ratio at best, if you happen to be on the upper decks and the ship is taking seas broadside. At worst, it is creepy. The more of a ship is above water, and the less is under it, the more mathematical law will try to rectify the problem by putting all of the ship underwater.

Granted that there are very few icebergs in cruise ship waters. However, there are hurricanes. Whilst the Oasis seems capable of outrunning the average hurricane, she is possibly not capable of outrunning a hurricane that is faster than average, larger than average or less predictable than average. Assuming all the odds are on your side, your cruise encounter with a hurricane may end with nothing more than your lunch splattered on the opposite bulkhead.

Otherwise, you get to feature in a nautical disaster that makes the Titanic look like the sinking of your bathtub rubber ducky.

So don't comp me a couple of tickets, please. I might be tempted to sell them online.


Friday, November 20, 2009

Ugly Americans

Good for Adm. Keating! The fact that Dick Cheney is among the critics of Obama's bow to the Emperor of Japan should give us a pretty fair sample of the thought of the previous administration, the one that put the ugly back into Ugly American.

This is, as the Admiral says, what one does, not just in Japan, and not just to the Emperor, to which I can attest personally.

Some few years ago, I was working for an American museum with a notable Japanese collection. We learnt that we were to be a prime stop for the son of the present Emperor Akhito, today the Crown Prince of Japan. While he was of course not the Emperor, #3 in the pecking order is still pretty far up the ceremonial charts. After consultation with various protocol mavens in and out of government, we understood that bowing to the prince was indeed the right thing to do. Bowing is, after all, a traditional and appropriate form of greeting throughout Japan, not something reserved for royalty. We bowed; on average, about as much as Obama seems to have done.

The several Japanese present, staff and guests, bowed until their foreheads nearly touched the floor. "I didn't think it was possible to bow that low," one of my Caucasian peers said afterward of the Japanese obeisances, "and come up again."

The still, small voice asks again, had this been a white president kissing the Pope's ring (and some have) would the same people be so exercised? Or if Obama were to bow to Cheney, would we hear anything from him but satisfaction? As for the average partisan making an issue of it, I suggest they stay at home until they learn the basic courtesies of any country they mean to visit and until they learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.

Slow day at the Globe

A quick glance at the lead stories would suggest there was something to write else to about, but evidently not: a cat stuck up a tree for three days makes the interweb limelight.

Feh! Years ago, when we had a cat who was not driven ballistic by travel, the three of us (spouse, myself, and cat) were spending a week at my mother's house. Almost at once cat took it upon herself to escape and climb a tree not much shorter and just as skinny as the one in this news story. Panic ensured. We got veterinary consultation and local fire department consultation. The consensus was that a rescue might be necessary by the end of the week. However, we were told, most cats manage to get themselves back down before a week is up because hunger overcomes fear.

Sure enough, when we went out on the morning of the third day to commune with the marooned cat, she had managed to get much closer to the ground. Then she covered the remaining distance in one of those chilling demonstrations of cats landing on their feet. She did indeed land feet first on soft turf, and stood still long enough to allow us to scoop her up and bring her indoors into a higher security situation. Subsequent examination showed she had injured nothing but her appetite and dignity.

Apparently we must add helicopter pet owners to the perils of helicopter parents. In this case, it's a pity the pet owners did not have a helicopter, and that the Globe couldn't find better things to do with its time.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

Solving time travel

The job fair I attended today was the usual forced-smile, dreary affair that is normal for these things in all but the very best of times. There we some three dozen exhibitors, most of whom were there to fill a handful of positions at the entry level of bottom feeding careers in bottom feeding industries. I managed to tease out four that had some connection to my skill set, had my conversations, left my resumes and left.

Imagine my surprise when I got home, glanced at the local evening news and saw what looked like the same fair, certainly the same room with the same faces. However, the fair they were covering was an IT worker's paradise, with recruiters begging to hire skilled people.

The most logical conclusion* is that the video crew passed through a wormhole and ended up in a parallel universe. The way I can confirm this is that at my job fair, in this universe, the company reps looked at my name tag, heard me say my one-syllable name—and mispronounced it. Right down to earth, that.

*Naturally, we could not suggest that TV news was lying like a rug now, could we?


Saturday, November 14, 2009

Koala sex

Those parts of the world not obsessed with celebrities and has-been vice-presidential candidates are concerned about the dangers faced by Australia's koala bears. Now it seems that, in addition to hunting (who could shoot a koala??) and habitat destruction, the poor little critters have a raging STD problem.

I wonder if its possible to get koala groups together for lectures and demonstrations of safe koala sex. I suppose someone should also get busy devising and distributing koala kondoms. The research would be fascinating. I, for one, have no idea what size a koala kondom should be, what's the best material to use, should it have pleasure domes or ribs, or possibly additives to make Ms Koalas even happier.

Australian naturalists may need a koala focus group or two. Maybe they're just going to say "fuck it. We're going out anyway, and we want to go out smiling."

This is the sort of thing that makes it worthwhile to follow the world news.

Hissy fits at the Killeen corral

So, score another one for the 24/7 news cycle. Now, we get a pissing contest about who shot Hasan.

By a curious twist of fate, this appeared the same day as some overdue reflections on the merits of fact-checking in journalism. Never mind, they'll get over the remorse by tomorrow. Possibly one of the morning shows will resolve the problem with a showdown between the respective police sergeants. I mean, it's Texas after all.

Speaking of, the media can't be serious when they wonder how Hasan managed to get his guns. Jeeze Louise, it's Texas! All he had to do was choose his weapons and pay.


Friday, November 13, 2009

People whose pain I do not share

I'm missing a link here. There was an interesting bit online yesterday about some banking exec who couldn't adjust to being unemployed and not making a paltry $200,000 a year. He and his privileged family have maintained the same burn rate they did when he had a job. They didn't bother to save more than $100,000 of his income during the seven (or whatever) fat years . Our banker hasn't lost the ability to count, and he estimates the family will hit zero within six months. This sounds suspiciously like the plot of Fun with Dick and Jane.

If that were not enough, we have the tear-jerking story of the guy who was (let's see if I have this straight) 1, driving near a salt marsh when he was; 2, distracted by a large bird causing him to; 3, drop his cell phone, which of course he had to try to pick up without stopping, so that; 4, he drove his $1 million Bugatti into the salt marsh.

We get a few idiots around here, every year, who manage to submerge their cars in salt water. Trust me: after that happens, you have the most expensive pile of junk in the state.

Cry me a fucking river, dudes.

Wandering mind

A good part of today went to telephone/email tag with a recruiter over a gig prospect. This ran far enough into the day that I missed philosophising with my usual group of writers over brewed beverages. The outcome was satisfactory, if not great: client likes my stuff, but client is out of town for a week. Fine; I can't afford to fly after the client, so I'll possess my soul in patience. This news is positive enough to rank as progress.

Also in the progress department, when I began swimming regularly again in mid-July, I could eke about 400 yd and 20 minutes out of my sorta fixed shoulder. I can now keep at it over 30 minutes and do 850 yd. While this is bupkis—the average age-group swimmer can do as well at age 8—it represents an advance for an old person.

Grumpy thought of the day. I would like to locate and lock in a closet the next person who says, or writes, without irony, "something is the new something." Something a) is typically the trend of the moment, and something b) is actually quite safe. Half a million iterations ago, when this was an ironic riff off the shallow speech of the fashionable, it was slightly amusing; not now.

My rocker is busted, and that's why I'm off it.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kinda glad they're in Charlestown

If the yuppie scum are flexing their pallid arms in Charlestown, then the millennium has come.

I'm delighted to see that some other Charlestown residents are preparing to demonstrate in behalf of USS Constitution's morning and evening guns. The purpose of the guns, by the way, is to signal the daily raising and lowering of the colours: everyone within earshot is supposed to face the colours (if visible) or the sound and render a hand salute. It's a ritual observed on military and naval installations around the world. The ritual was at least 100 years old when Old Ironsides fired her first morning gun. The controversy is a pretty little fight to have the week of Veterans' Day, and I congratulate the condo owners behind this for their monumental lack of tact.

In my venerable town there are five, count them, five yacht clubs. They do not observe morning colours but they do observe evening colours, every night from late spring until their waterfronts close in October. Due to the imperfections of both timepieces and firing mechanisms, there is an interval between the first gun and the last that suggests skirmish fire rather than ritual.

I don't have to ask how the yuppies like this (at least the ones not in the yacht clubs) because they have complained, and have received the old Yankee version of "sod off" as a reply. Yacht clubs contain many more lawyers than public relations people (though they have both as members), so when they say "sod off" they mean it.

With the yacht clubs come yachts, or at least watercraft of every size and description; around 1500 of them at last count. Some yuppies have complained that a) there are too many boats in the harbour, which spoils the view and b) that the boats make too much noise just sitting on their moorings. The larger and tonier yacht clubs began admitting non-sailing members some years ago as a money-raising venture, and these Thurston Howells very soon began to complain because their yacht club tended to get cluttered up with (wait for it) yachts—and sailors! I present all this as evidence that yuppies eat their young.

Numbers of those commenting on the Boston Herald piece cited above proposed that USS Constitution double-shot the guns and aim at the condos in question. Please, people! Those guns are irreplaceable antiques, and this is Charlestown, noted for its warm hospitality and directness when dealing with any alien life form. If I owned one of the affected condos, I'd be putting plywood over my windows before the ship's supporters demonstrate.

Monday, November 09, 2009

An unfinished conversation

One thing about Veterans' Day events is that one's brothers and sisters come out of their silence and make some connection.

At the North Shore Community College Vet's breakfast today, for example, I learnt that Wayne Burton, president of the college , served in the Brown water navy at the same time as Sen. John Kerry; indeed close enough to see Kerry earn his Bronze Star. This piece of the Vietnam-era navy interests me greatly. Had I been slightly more competent as a radioman in service school, I would have gone to the brown water, along with the bulk of my graduating class. That was somewhat later in the war, when brown water sailors had a much-improved chance of survival. However, I was a bumbling radioman, and so was relegated to being part of the task of chasing Soviet submarines around the North Atlantic and Mediterranean. Just what that says about naval priorities I leave to the imagination.

Interesting as that was, the college president's remarks cut short a conversation at my table that looked like it was going someplace interesting. A young female student-veteran next to me had just commented to a female faculty member-veteran that it was still hard to get across to students that it was possible to support the needs of people in the military and still oppose these wars. the faculty member sighed and said that she thought we might have succeeded in making that point by now. Unfortunately, the speeches started then and we lost the thought.

I can't help but flinch whenever I hear any argument that blames those who have been cozened into fighting anyone's war, having heard all too much of it between 30 and 40 years ago. Whenever I hear the assertion, I immediately recall Donovan's Universal Soldier. I wonder how many people who went out of their way then, and go out of their way now, to disparage soldiers, sailors and Marines, and not the politicians, would think to do so had Donovan not provided the tinder and match for the behaviour.

It is impossible not to go on and recall Henry Adams' remark that Robert E. Lee should have been hanged. If one substitutes Donovan for Lee when reading the comment, the parallel becomes clearer:

It was all the worse that he was a good man, had a good character, and acted conscientiously. It’s always the good men who do the most harm.

Donovan's little ditty has been doing harm in that way for over 40 years, will probably go on doing harm for 40 years more, and neither it nor its pious adherents will do one damned thing to end war where it must be ended: with the politicians and demagogues. All they will do is add to the confusion, pain and hurt of people more directly harmed by war.

Silver linings...sardonic reminiscence

I begin to think there may be a small bit of good to be derived from the horrors of the Fort Hood shootings.

Ever since the Naval hospital experiences I've noted here and there in this oeuvre, I've been aware that the experiences of military caregivers are a ripe target for those people who feel obligated to minimise the horror of all but certain narrow classes of military trauma. For the Vietnam era generation of caregiver (and people like me, who were just batboys to the caregivers), this has meant a lifetime of clamped-down silence about sights and sounds and smells that could freeze the blood and darken the soul. One can't discuss it, because most people don't understand or don't want to hear and some, as I said, will go out of their way to say the experience is nothing and to get over it.

I cannot imagine any of the caregivers I was associated with, who heard and saw as much or more as Maj. Hasan, doing what he is alleged to have done. (I suppose we have to grant him the alleged.) I can easily imagine suicide as a response to what happens to caregivers in military hospitals, but not murder. The excuse, in my book, has no merit at all.

In the aftermath, I am hearing all sorts of psychiatric diagnoses that did not exist 35 or 40 years ago. Then, caregivers (and batboys) who showed the symptoms we now call secondary trauma were judged to be "non-hackers;" to have "immature personalities" or more significant personality disorders (to the uninitiated, that means "crazee"). No therapist bothered to ask why all these people were crazy; they just blamed the victims and left it at that.

I gave up silence in 2003, when this idiotic war started. I've come to believe silence just enables people who think war is any kind of solution to anything. Apparently silence also enables excuses for people who think mass murder solves anything. But back to the small bit of good. The discussion that is following this despicable act has torn the curtain off, and I hope for good. War is toxic for everyone, including those who try to heal the minds and bodies torn in it.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

It's that time of year

In our back yard, we have the mother of all catalpas. My estimate is that it is 73 feet tall (a very big catalpa is 40 feet tall) and is 11 ft. 3 in. in girth. When we give it appropriate food and water, it can be a very pretty tree. Its leaves are enormous, almost the size of tobacco leaves, so it provides a very dense summer canopy. Around July 4, it flowers out very prettily.

Fall is not its best time of year. Catalpa leaves don't offer a grand show of foliage colour. They just turn grey-brown and fall. As a flowering tree, it produces seed pods: large seed pods, resembling something like a long ethnic cigar. The stuff falls apart quickly and mulches nicely, otherwise it'd be an uninspiring mess. All this is on my mind because I spent part of the day raking, and another part joining the scrum at the town dump's leaf pile.

It had been my impression that native peoples smoked the leaves, much like tobacco. This may still prove true, but my evidence to date suggests that they smoked the seed pods, and that the seed pods are somewhat hallucinogenic. (Note: you have to drill down pretty far at this link to find this information.)

So, it's just as well this town frowns on open burning. If I set fire to a good-sized pile of catalpa leaves and pods, chances are that I'd get the whole neighbourhood stoned.

Five hours later

Warning: geek topic for self-reference.

A chore I saved for the end of the afternoon was to move the wireless router to the same room as the desktop machine. This allows us to do one-stop troubleshooting and to be extra green (and secure) by powering everything down at the end of the day. Going to take under an hour, right?


Yeah, right.

Once again, the culprit is our new HP printer. When I installed it, I followed the path of least resistance (it seemed) and selected the option of connecting the printer via a USB2 port. Nice but. The first but is that the printer is as possessive of its assigned port as a two-year-old is of a blanket. Second, XP does not care for printers being connected via USB2 ports and it too can become sulky.

I made a space for the router, decided which outlet to use, tested the phone line, and moved the router. That took about 15 minutes. Unfortunately, I had also to change CAT5 cables to a new and shorter one. That meant I had to disconnect the printer cable—because my fingers are too large to change CAT5 cables on this machine unless I unplug the adjacent USB2 cables.

This is the point at which I expected the printer to have the sulks. I was not disappointed. HP 6400 series printers come with built-in troubleshooting, but the troubleshooting logic doesn't function well in the case of a cable disconnection. Two reboots later, I had persuaded the troubleshooter that the printer was indeed connected.

Then I turned my attention to XP, and to persuading it that this was the same printer it has happily hosted for several months, and not some strange piece of hardware implanted by aliens.

In fairness, I did interrupt the process to cook and eat supper, so the time was probably more like 3 1/2 hours. Bruised and bloodied as I am, I'm emboldened to attempt the next step, which is changing to a wireless configuration. In theory, it should avoid these pitfalls.

Hmm...I seem to remember a Far Side cartoon that touched on this subject.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Elections, chiefly local

I have no comment about the alleged nationally significant stuff, other than that we have more proof here that the 24 hour news cycle generates its own news, just like certain geological formations generate their own weather.

I happened to be in Boston yesterday, and after repeating "non-resident" to poll solicitors for the 20th time, I would have paid generously for a button that said so. Apart from that, the benefit of living in a town when the area cities have their elections is that one gets to treat the whole thing as a spectator sport. I don't have a dog in any of these fights.

One area city is the most fun after the election, or used to be, because the city councilors adjourn to a particular local restaurant. There they continue the argument in a lubricated state, and someone is sure to throw a punch. It would be a shame if that tradition was lost. We should televise it and call it "ultimate extreme government."

Thoughts for the record

It helps to have pushy friends. The payback for the time I spent last year on a community college advisory panel is some aggressive promotion of my good self by such a person also involved in the panel process. This is good, since aggressive self-promotion isn't my forte.

Now here is a medical breakthrough that could have applications beyond its original clinical intention. Depends upon whether it deals with rejection that occurs outside the body or not.

The moon we have this week is the full beaver moon, and Sadie Hawkins Day is coming up on Saturday. Feel free to place those in your file of useless information.

I don't care what the weather forecast says, we do not use the S-word before its time around heah.

Good news of the day. I went to the unemployment office to file for my extended benefits, and the process took less than ten minutes. This adds 33 weeks of modified anxiety. If things don't improve, there's a state extension beyond that, and if Congress squares away, 20 more Federal weeks. And by that time I will be ready to be a Walmart greeter or assume some equally responsible position. This dreary prospect is why I continue to try on the retired label. Yech.