Archive for the ‘future’ Category

I am an anachronism

June 6, 2008

The truth can now be revealed, and it isn’t pretty. I’ve suspected this for some time, but I couldn’t really confirm it.

However, the new ( July/August 2008 ) Atlantic (formerly Atlantic Monthly—hmmm, July/August (?), maybe there’s a reason for the name change) arrived today. The cover article, by Nicholas Carr, is: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” It’s a fascinating read.

Carr explores the ways in which extensive use of the Web is changing the ways we read and think. It’s frankly, for someone like me at least, a little scary.

I’m not a Luddite. I actually enjoy being able to search for things on the Web from the comfort of my home office. I’ve had enough experience to know at least some of the ways you can validate (or invalidate) what you find there.

But I also really enjoy a good book or magazine that requires me to digest pages of material, mull it over, and then try to integrate what I’ve read with what I knew before. I like to think deep AND wide, and I take great pleasure in synergy, especially in apparently unrelated topics.

That’s what makes me an anachronism.

Notable quote from the article: “In Google’s world, the world we enter when we go online, there’s little place for the fuzziness of contemplation. Ambiguity is not an opening for insight but a bug to be fixed. The human brain is just an outdated computer that needs a faster processor and a bigger hard drive.”

I would agree with much of that last sentence, but not at the costs that the article points to. These changes do not come in a vacuum.

Carr doesn’t demonize Google. He rather attempts to reflect on the changes in thinking and brain function that are being observed as a byproduct of extensive use of the Web.

It’s well worth your time to browse this piece. You may be able to find it online at www.theatlantic.com. I don’t know. I haven’t checked. I have the hard copy, you see.

And I’ve found another reason to be very happy that I bought the second edition of The Oxford English Dictionary, all 20 volumes and four feet of books. It may not be available too much longer.

The trouble with lawyers

June 4, 2008

Now I’m not one that thinks the solution is in killing all of the lawyers, but I’ve had it to the nth with Hillary R. Clinton.

First of all, my apologies to my international friends who probably couldn’t give a rip about the current U.S. political campaigns. But what is going on here is almost as big a nuisance as modern packaging (a rant very much worth its own post).

The last couple of weeks of the Clinton campaign have demonstrated beyond doubt (Q. E. D., is, I believe, the correct phrase) exactly why I would never vote for Hillary Clinton in any capacity. If the rules don’t favor you, figure out how to get around them.

Now Bill, at least, is angling for a VP spot for Hillary. Dear Barack, this is the one choice that would ensure I could never vote for you. I hope you have the good sense to put a foot squarely where it belongs. Besides, selecting a VP who keeps pointing out the advantages to be realized if you were to be assassinated seems a self- defeating choice.

Here would be an interesting set of ticket choices:

  • John McCain with Condoleeza Rice as VP (and I say this hesitatingly because her voice is impossible, but she is young, female, black, and experienced in foreign policy), vs.
  • Barack Obama with Madeleine Albright as VP (she’s older and experienced and female–besides all of that, she has a wonderful sense of humor).

Obama needs a woman on the ticket just to get rid of the taint of “sexism” (although in my never humble opinion sexism has virtually nothing to do with the growing antipathy toward HRC). The sad truth of the matter is that women with experience in high-level international policy are few and far between, and if Obama has a serious weakness it’s in international experience.

Ben and I were kicking this around tonight, and it’s really fascinating that so much of the tone of this November’s ticket will depend on the VP selections. But I think it will.

On another front, the hummingbirds are making me crazy. We have 12-13 of them at any peak time (on a 6-flower feeder). They are like a swarm of angry insects. Some of them would rather fight than eat (hmmm, I thought I was through writing about politics tonight but maybe not). Tonight I probably created a monster. The feeder was getting low, and I didn’t want to have to get up at 5 a.m. to refill it, so I put some semi-warm nectar in it. The excitement level was so high I had to leave the porch to get away from the noise. But if these nutty birds think they’re getting warm food from now on, sorry. . .

I just got interrupted by a rather protracted phone call. I’ve lost my train of thought totally, so now I’m off to bed. Ciao, more tomorrow.

I can hardly wait to hear Hilary’s latest excuse.

Hillary, give it up

March 31, 2008

Now, I’m neither the youngest nor the brightest lightbulb in the fixture, but I do want to make it clear that I know my subject line isn’t the same as “Give it up for Hillary.” Nor do I mean it to be.

There’s a terrific Jimmy Margulies cartoon in today’s “Week In Review,” the op-ed section of the Sunday NY Times. The interviewer/commentator says: “The math is against you in delegates needed for the nomination. . .” and Hillary responds: “I didn’t give up at Valley Forge. . .I didn’t give up at Gettysburg. . .I didn’t give up at D-Day. . .and I’m not giving up now.”

Hillary, you have proven yourself a prevaricator without even the sense to understand when your untruths have been detected. I know you haven’t claimed to have invented the Internet or saved the free world single-handedly. But you have demonstrated the one characteristic that sends me running to the bathroom in case of projectile vomiting. You are the ultimate politician.

Sweetie, I’m your target demographic, an over-50 woman with a couple of college degrees, a lifetime in business, and a strong belief that a woman in the Presidency would bring something that’s badly needed.

But not you. Not now, not ever.

I’m old enough to have voted for both John Anderson and Ross Perot, knowing in each case that I was probably wasting my vote but hoping for something other than business-as-usual. I can honestly say I never even contemplated voting for Ralph Nader, however.

I’m of that rare breed called the “truly independent.” I was a registered Democrat for an extended period of time until I decided that the Democratic Party had lost its marbles. So then I became a registered Republican. Ditto with that party. For some time now, I’ve been registered without party affiliation.

I pay a price for that. I can’t vote (in Oregon, anyway) in any of the party primaries. I contemplated registering again as a Democrat just so I could vote against you in May, but then I realized how many fund-raising and ideological mailings I’d get and decided against it. I think my fellow Oregonians will take care of you here. Many of them actually have some sense.

But if you are banking on calling in chits with the “superdelegates” (and what a crock that is–a group of party “elite” in place to override the will of the voters in case they aren’t smart enough to choose the right candidate–this is democracy?), I hope you will think again. A candidate who gets there by such means will have no more credibility than a President elected by the Supreme Court, to quote someone else’s recent example.

So give it up. Now. Let’s get on with a race between two people who arguably are outsiders from the political establishment, let them present their views, and let the people choose. At this point you are merely a spoiler.

And while I’m busy ranting on this topic I almost never comment on, I have a few words for the other major candidates in this race:

Barack: The Jeremiah Wright thing told me a great deal more about your character than almost anything else you’ve done. I congratulate you for being forthright. I have lots of “sparring partners” with whom I don’t agree (otherwise, we wouldn’t be sparring now, would we?). In fact, if people evaluated my character by the folks that I tolerate and even like to argue with, they’d be way off the mark. Your response to these attacks told me you are really a grownup with a well-developed sense of a diverse world.

I don’t have the background to know the things that you “know” about racism. But I congratulate you on your ability to articulate your position without blowing in the wind.

John: I’m a long-time admirer of yours, but I frankly liked you a great deal better before the GOP apparently started coaching you on what was required to get elected. You’re sounding like a politician, and that isn’t one of your strengths.

I have a certain amount of faith in your common sense and straight talk. Don’t waffle now. Stay who you are, and I might even vote for you. Unlike many of my acquaintance, I don’t think foreign policy is going to be made in the campaign speeches. I just want to elect someone I feel comfortable can make it. No matter who is President, we don’t be out of Iraq tomorrow. But you buy yourself nothing by being so belligerent about it.

Now a few words for “my fellow Americans”: Hey, guys, if you haven’t noticed, the world is changing. It’s not just global warming, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the devalued dollar, and the globalized economy. It’s a comeuppance to the sort of economic colonialization that the U.S.A., as an economically powerful superpower, has been able to indulge in for decades.

If one definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and hoping for different results, then go toe your favorite party line and vote accordingly.

But if you are concerned about a viable (not necessarily wealthy or over-consuming, just viable) future for yourself and your childen, then take some time to look beyond the heirs apparent for a leader who can actually think. And vote accordingly.

Whoever is elected this fall steps into a mess. He/she will need all of our good wishes and help, so vote for someone you want to help advance “in the direction of your dreams” (to paraphrase Thoreau), not someone you think can fix all your problems.

That person doesn’t exist.

Politics and polis–the Democrats’ dilemma

March 15, 2008

You can’t be following the news on the political front this week and not hark back to Will Rogers’s gibe: “I don’t belong to any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

What really set off this tirade is listening to Hilary Clinton maintain over and over that she can “win in the big states, the ones that matter.”

What the Democrats don’t seem to get is that the “big” states are going to vote “blue” regardless, unless of course they run a blithering idiot for President. Even then, perhaps, they can win in those states. It’s happened before.

What the Dems need to win is a candidate who can appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, urban and rural, white and blue collar, rich and poor, anyone from any walk of life who has a reasonably open mind and likes to think about things.

That candidate is NOT Hilary Clinton, and all of this dithering is simply doing the entire liberal movement a huge disservice.

Clinton represents just more BAU (business as usual). I can’t imagine any circumstance under which I could vote for her, much as I think it would be terrific to see a woman in the Presidency. (I really thought that Laura Bush and Theresa Kerry would have made a much more interesting pairing than their husbands did. . .)

I’m sure my viewpoint is colored by living in Oregon. Although my state has been much in the news lately for its facility with “vote by mail” (of which I heartily approve), it’s really worth looking at for another reason.

More than half of Oregon’s population lives in one major metropolitan area. If you add in the residents of the other “cities” in the Willamette Valley, the percentage is probably closer to 70% of the state’s population being urban in nature. Portland becomes, in effect, the “polis” for the state, and the interests of the rest of the residents be damned.

The “big look” committee charged with looking at land use laws is back in action again. The committee was abruptly defunded at the middle of the year last year when it became apparent they were trying to balance urban and rural concerns, which was not what the governor or the legislature had in mind when they set the thing up. The public uproar over the defunding has reversed it.

I have high hopes for this group. One of the members was quoted as saying something like, “It’s clear that what works in Portland and Washington County does not necessarily work well in other parts of the state.” Well, doh. . .

But that needed to be said. Out loud. Urban Oregonians have ridden roughshod over the rest of the state’s residents for decades now. The result is absolute polarization and a complete inability to get anything of meaning done. Sound familiar?

I’d like to see an environment where our elected official returned to doing the business of the electorate as it relates to the economy, social needs, and foreign policy. I’d like to see them stop using sexual escapade investigations and forays into athletes’ use of performance-enhancing drugs as an excuse to avoid facing the really tough challenges that deserve serious attention.

I don’t think being titillated should be the direct aim of any elected official.

I’d like to see a strong U.S. and a strong dollar again.

I’d like to vote “for” someone for the first time in a long time (as opposed to voting “agin”).

I’ve long been an admirer of Senator McCain, but frankly, I’m a little disappointed at the waffling and snake-oil sales pitch he’s pulling out to not alienate anyone. I expect him to be confrontational, and if he wants to get elected, I think his strengths lie in that direction.

I’m one of those independents they keep talking about. I consider myself  fiscally pretty conservative but socially very liberal. I have no objection to funding social programs, even those I may not benefit from directly. (I’m pretty sure I would benefit indirectly from some of them.) But I do think we need to be operating on a “pay-as-you-go” basis, not accumulating debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

That’s the way I run my personal finances, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask our elected officials to take the same approach. I think we might find some smarter decisions made if we took very seriously the concept of operating on a cash basis and paying the bills as they come due.

Whew! This has gone very far afield from where I started, so let me make another abrupt jag.

Dear Democratic Party: Please give me a choice in November. I can’t commit to Obama right now, but I’m interested enough to want to hear a lot more. I’d like to have the dilemma of two good candidates that I have to choose between.

This election is the Democrats’ election to lose. I just hope they don’t screw it up with back-room politics. If they do, they should probably consider disbanding and leaving the task of representing liberal social policy to some group more qualified.

OK, I confess I just can’t help it–my dream ticket

February 11, 2008

I don’t talk politics with friends. It’s just easier that way. But a day or two ago, Ben commented in this space that he thought this was the first interesting political year we’ve had in a long time, and I’m inclined to agree.

Clinton fired her campaign manager today. If she is determined to preserve her position as candidate presumptive, I can’t imagine a worse move. Even if she wanted to get him out, the right strategy would have been to promote him to some high-level, do-nothing position and have someone else of her choice actually pulling the strings. So apparently she is going to milk the underdog position, if she can manage that, for all that it’s worth. Which may not be much.

There was a terrific cartoon in The Christian Science Monitor this week. A pollster at the door of some suburban house was asking, “So, are you going to vote for the first woman president? The first Black president? The first Mormon president? The first POW president?” And so on.

The woman at the door responded, “I’d be happy to vote for the first honest president.”

I’m just tired of seeing only politicians running for office. I think the founders of this country envisioned a situation in which the most upright of our citizens put his/her life on hold for some period of time to go off to do the country’s/state’s/county’s/city’s business and then returned to live with the results.

It’s been decades, at the least, since we had that circumstance. What we have now are egoists determined to earn a living from the public trough while imposing their opinions on the rest of the world. If I am as apolitical as I think I am, that’s why.

Hilary shed “tears of passion” for public service. But it’s not so long ago (20 years, maybe?) that a terrific Congresswoman from Colorado, Pat Schroeder, was pilloried for weeping in public. It effectively ended her political career. I somehow find Clinton’s tears a lot less sincere.

This is the first election since 1960 that I can imagine myself actually voting “for” someone instead of “against” someone else. It intrigues me and makes me want to learn as much as I can about the someones running for office.

Like the woman in the cartoon, I want honesty. I don’t think that means I need to know all of the secrets of national security. But I want to believe that when my elected leader tells me something is in my best interests, I can trust him/her.

I find McCain interesting. I wish he were 10 years younger, and frankly, a lot will ride on who he selects as his running mate. It doesn’t bother me that he occasionally loses his temper. The world is so screwed up that it would be unbelievable not to lose one’s temper at times. He reminds me a bit of Harry Truman (which George W. doesn’t), a president who could be downright testy but was the right man at the right time. He was also a man who didn’t really want to be president and did not run for re-election.

Obama is inspiring. He is inexperienced at many things. But given my feelings about career politicians, this is not necessarily a handicap. However, given my assumptions about the state of the world and the U.S.’s place in it, it concerns me. If I knew that he would surround himself with a group of pragmatists like McCain and philosophers like Princeton’s Kwame Appiah, I might feel stronger.

The other candidates who have presented themselves interest me not at all. They are either old-time pols or just plain out-of-the-mainstream folks. I don’t think we can afford either.

I was impressed with Ted Kennedy’s “time to pass the torch” speech. I’ve never been a great Ted fan, but I thought he had something useful to say here. I’m part of the Vietnam generation, and I think there comes a time to let the past be the past. One of the things that impresses me about McCain is that after years as a POW he was among the first to lead the charge to reconcile with Vietnam.

So here’s my dream ticket: If I were presented with a ballot with McCain for president and Obama for V.P., it would be a no brainer. It’s not an unprecendented occurence in this country for the P. and V.P to be of different parties, although admittedly it has been rare.

But it’s not unthinkable. And it’s not even impossible. This year the Democratic Convention comes first. If the Democrats are so stupid as to use the power of the extra delegates to freeze out the most interesting candidate they’ve had in decades (the whole reason, BTW, that these delegates exist), they deserve what they get.

I can’t see Obama playing second fiddle to Ms. Clinton. But I can see him partnering with McCain to get things back on track and in the process seasoning himself.

Just my thoughts. If it ends up being McCain vs. Obama, I’ll have a lot of thinking to do.

Goodbye to 2007, reflections, and a few interesting discoveries

January 1, 2008

And I wish I could say I’m going to miss this year, but the truth of the matter is, it’s been a mixed bag, so I don’t know if I will or not. But at least it’s been interesting. . .

Yesterday I heard of a Scottish custom for celebrating the changing of the calendar that I really like. At midnight you open the front door to let the new year in, then rush to the back door and open it to let the old year out. Beats the heck out of getting smashed and throwing up all over yourself and everyone close. . .

But I couldn’t help but wonder: What if you reversed the order and let the old year out before you let the new one in? Would it stop time for the moment? (I’m not usually this weird but I’ve been listening to a series of lectures on physics, and the lecturer has me thinking about the non-absolute characteristic of time. So that speculation isn’t as far fetched as it seems.)

There’s an article in the current issue of Archaeology magazine about the henge builders (think Stonehenge). One of the things we discovered this year was that we have our very own henge on this place, although it’s made of trees, not stones.

One of our serious landmarks is a very large (over 200′ tall according to my astrolabe) pair of Douglas fir trees. They escaped the logging that was done in the early 1960s (just before Ben bought the place) because they functioned as the tailholt for the tower cable (an anchor that holds the lower end of the cable in place). A piece of the cable still sticks out from where they have grown together over the years. They’re very very lovely, but that’s not the most remarkable thing about them.

The most remarkable thing about this pair of trees is that on the winter solstice, the sun sets right between them. It’s a beautiful thing to see and a good thing to know (especially if calendars should disappear one of these days, not a totally unthinkable event in these interesting times).

It’s very cold since the rain stopped, but that has its advantages, too. I started the kitchen stove first thing this morning because it puts out heat so much faster than the living room stove. So by breakfast time I had a hot oven, and we were able to feast on skillet-baked cornbread, bacon, scrambled eggs, and fresh, sweet orange wedges, the kind you only seem to be able to get in the winter.

One of this year’s real plusses is that I’ve had the time to become very good friends with my wood cookstove. I haven’t attempted a cake yet (mostly because none of us particularly likes cake), but I’ve run just about everything else through it. I’m getting very spoiled.

I discovered a piece of cookware I don’t have (Ben says that’s impossible). I don’t have an apfelskiver pan. I think that’s a very good thing. They look like a great deal of trouble to bake, and I suspect that other apple things taste as good or better. So I’m not looking for one.

And of course, I discovered White Lily flour. I’m still making discoveries about how to use it, when to mix it with other flours to get the desired result (for example, scones made with pure White Lily flour are too cakey for my taste, but if I add a little hard wheat flour (about 3 parts WL to 2 parts hard wheat) the texture is perfect.

And speaking of scones, you may remember that one of my goals was to find the perfect scone recipe. I hit it second time out, so now I’m messing with various additions for flavor. I used to think that apricot scones topped with apricot or peach jam were the best, but that was before I added some crystalized ginger to my plain scone dough.

The local co-op has a million varieties of organic crystalized or candied dried fruits, so I’m not through experimenting. But it’s hard to imagine anything better than that ginger. . .

One recent discovery is wonderful. Living off the grid as we do, I’ve become somewhat of an expert in flashlights. We’ve tried a number of LED mini-maglites with varying amounts of success. The problem with most of them is that a) they cost about $20, and b) they may be very bright up close but they don’t project. But I stumbled onto this weird little mini-mag (brand Performance Tool, made in China, of course, in a variety of bright metallic colors and basic black, but since I rarely chew on my flashlights, I doubt that there’s a problem here). It’s about 4 inches long, fits nicely in pocket, purse, or glovebox, uses 3 AAA batteries (don’t know the life expectancy yet, but with the LED lamps I’m expecting wonderful things), and projects its brightness about 25 yards (or roughly as far as you can shoot accurately with a pistol, even a good one). I liked it so much I bought a bunch of them ($3.50 each at Bi-Mart) and have scattered them around in useful places. I even have one by the stove for an oven light. And since I ended up for some strange reason (tied, I’m sure to a battery-buying binge I went on when I moved out here) with a surplus of AAA batteries, I think I’m getting a double hit here.

I think I’ve finally identified my mystery birds, and it’s so dumb that I really feel stupid. But I think the birds with the beautiful song are sparrows, house or song, I’m not totally sure. But if that’s the case, I can’t believe we’ve never had them around until this year. But they can come sing to me any time.

And of course I’ve discovered Super Mario Galaxy. I’m sure it will take me the rest of the winter to finish it. Most days I play only during the evenings when the generator is running and during the times I’m not busy getting dinner together or the leftovers put away. I’m trying to average one star a day, but some days I don’t play at all, so then I have to try to make up for it. The stars are getting harder and harder.

I think I’m basically too impatient to be a very good Wii player. My favorite approach is to run full tilt at whatever is my target. But sometimes my speed is better than my accuracy. This often leads to a less than satisfactory result. Come to think of it, there are a number of things that I approach exactly the same way, sometimes with exactly the same result. Hm-m-m-m-m-m. . .

Here’s what I’m hoping for in 2008:

  • Peace
  • More good weather than rain
  • Peace
  • A satisfactory resolution to my brother’s troubles
  • Peace
  • Lots of visits with friends
  • Peace
  • Some good writing
  • Peace
  • One belly laugh (or more) every day
  • Peace

You get the idea. . .

Now once again I have lumped so many topics together I’ll probably get another note from that guy who complained before, which is OK. At least I knew he read the whole thing. . .But I’m going to sign off. I’ve got to go write a poem about Appalachia, and I’m not sure where to start.

The best to all of you in 2008. Stay in touch.

Obama, the legacy of Vietnam, the future

November 10, 2007

The new Atlantic Monthly has a marvelous piece by Andrew Sullivan titled “Goodbye to All That.” But the cover plug identifies it as “Why Obama Matters.” Both are a good description.

One of the things that disturbs me the most about the current political and social scenes is the absolute polarization of the discourse. Once upon a time, it seems to me, it was possible to have “civil discourse,” with the emphasis on civil in both meanings of the word. Now it seems it takes only an expressed opinion to cause the opposite view to rear an ugly head screaming and shouting.

The last “inexperienced” President we had was JFK. He changed the way Americans felt about themselves and about the world. We can never know what his legacy would truly have been, because his presidency was abruptly terminated by an assassin’s bullet in Dallas, Texas, only three years into his term. The legacy he left us with in his abrupt departure was the quagmire of Vietnam. Sullivan identifies this as the tainting factor of all politics since.

Sullivan’s main point is that all of the movers and shakers of the political establishment are colored by the divisive attitudes that emerged in the late 1960s as a result of the Vietnam conflict. He suggests that perhaps it’s time for another generation to take over and change the discourse. The obvious candidate is Barack Obama.

Is Obama up to the task? I don’t know. I do know that for me, even as a member of the Vietnam generation, the alternatives are all unattractive.

40% of Americans have never known a President who was not a Bush or a Clinton. This is scary.

I spoke at length tonight with one of my sisters with whom I haven’t spoken in a couple of years. There’s no animus here. We just have very different lives and very different priorities, so we have little reason to speak except at weddings and funerals. And she missed the last family wedding, so I haven’t seen her since our father’s funeral.

But she related an epiphany she had recently. Her husband goes to work about 2:30 a.m. On a recent evening, he left for work and she was wakeful (translated: insomniac), so she got up and turned on the TV. On screen was Al Pacino sitting across a table from a “younger man.” And Al says, “If you just keep looking backward, you give up your entire life.”

“Why didn’t someone tell me that 20 years or more ago?” she asked me.

Maybe it is time for those of us whose values were forged by the conflicts of the 1960s and 1970s to step aside and pass the torch to people untainted by them. It may be time for a changing of the guard.

I don’t know the answer to this question, but I do know that what we’re doing with grooming politicians for decades to keep up the status quo isn’t working. It shouldn’t be a question of “It’s my turn now.” It should be a question of leadership, and forward movement, and an acknowledgement that our world is changing.

We can’t keep looking at the past, or we risk losing the present.