Thursday, August 30, 2012

Is The GOP on self-destruct?

These are interesting times. For me, in particular, the coming month is going to be filled with joy, laughter, long walks and hopefully a very cool boat ride that will include a stop at Wild Hose Island. It does mean that I may be too busy and too happy to blog, at least every day, while Olaf and Anneke are here. It also means that the world at large can do its worst, and probably will, considering the state of politics today, and I won't comment.

Yeah, like my mouth can stay shut.

Remember the bumper sticker I mentioned the other say? "The problems we face today cannot be solved by the minds that created them." I keep thinking about those words, and I look at the political animals that roam the Washington zoo unchecked, unvaccinated, and unrepentant. The fact is that Barack Obama is perhaps the only man in Washington who didn't have a hand in creating the mess he inherited. Among the choices available, he is the closest thing we have to a fresh approach.

He's not perfect. In the American climate of "I want it now," he has not righted the ship of state as quickly as we all want. He has spent much of the last four years trying to get the Republican members of Congress fall in line through compromise, and yet they did not play. In that way he wound up taking many of the best parts out of Obamacare, for example, and still the GOP opposed it, and still does. Obama's greatest weakness is that he tried to find the middle of the road in a town that has lost the concept of compromise.

I was sitting at the car shop today while my car was being readied for our upcoming trip to Yellowstone (incidentally, a Republican was at the helm when Yellowstone was made the first national park, for what that's worth). I read a Newsweek magazine article written by a lady GOP leader who complained, what the @*&@!! are the republican men thinking? She stated that the men in her party are actively alienating women by focusing on issues long ago settled -- they're not stupid, they're suicidal.

I only hope she's right. If it works out, I'm going boating with dear friends who happen to be Republican, as well as my Dutch family, and although I am dying to know how much the leaders of the GOP are embarrassing them, I plan not to talk about politics at all. No elephants or donkeys, just horses. Wild ones.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Red Moon Rising

Last evening the moon was red as it rose over the Swan Mountains. Some might take that as an evil omen, but I know the reason is smoke in the air from the many forest fires raging south of us. But it could have been the GOP platform planks rising up and revealing themselves.

Yes, the GOP Convention is in full swing even as Hurricane Issac breezed by Tampa. Maybe the hot air present among all the politicians preparing to speak pushed the storm further west, I don't know. It might be a method for warding off future tropical storms -- someone should look into that.

Just as I was complaining that there is no difference between the parties, the Republicans began to open their mouths. The GOP has decided to underscore the differences between "right" and "left" by drawing a line in the sand within the line they drew when they declared, "No new taxes."

They are officially the party of No.

No on abortion. No on same sex marriage. No, of course, on taxes. No on cooperative government, bipartisanship and compromise. No on Medicare. No on Social Security. No on universal health care. No, no, no ----- their voice will extend to a policy of not simply saying NO MORE, but also to YES LESS. They want to take back. Under attack: health care, elder rights, gay rights, minority rights, a woman's right to choose.

Meanwhile the American infrastructure is crumbling. President Obama has done what he can in a combative Washington, but the Republicans depend on our short memories. They say he didn't fix things, forgetting their role in creating the mess they passed on to him. It's as if they are saying, hey, we gave the Black kid his chance and he's blown it. Give it back to us now.

We are at a crossroads. The election in November has grown into one of monumental importance and the choice is actually crystal clear because neither party seems able to find the middle anymore. So we must choose which road we want to follow -- forward, or backward? Turning right, you head back the way we came. Turning left, you head into the unknown where adventure, chance and hope reside. Neither road is safe. You decide.

And if you are blue collar, female, gay, a member of a minority, or at or near retirement age, I cannot believe that Republican Red is your color. Blue is so much cooler.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Offline, Old Hope, and Bumpers

There are days when I have so much to write about that I have trouble deciding which subject to choose. Today I decided to write about everything, and let the words fall where they may.

First writing subject is "not writing." Things are going to be wonderfully hectic over the next few weeks (all of September, actually). That means my blogs will be hit and miss, mostly miss. My projects will sit by while I have fun playing tour guide for Olaf and Anneke, who arrive September 1 for a three week stay. It's their first visit to the United States. They love mountains and hiking, so Montana is tailor made for them. For Diane and myself it is a perfect excuse to explore our new surroundings.

Then we have a wedding at the end of the month, plus we may be getting two of our cats back during the week between O and A leaving and Myra and Ryan's event. Not much time for musing on the keyboard.

Next, the old hope. My nephew Richard forwarded me a fun article for anyone like myself who thinks his age means the limits are falling on him "fast and furious." Roger Clemens has been making news by un-retiring (again) and preparing to pitch at age 50. Minors to start, Majors to follow . But Richard's story is about an ancient player named Bill Lee, the Spaceman, who had a colorful career back in the
80's and now is 65 years old. Seems Ole Bill just won a professional game on August 23 for the San Rafael Pacifics, a Minor League team. Think of it -- competing with the big boys, young enough to be his grandkids, and winning the game! Forget the New Hope. Pin your star to the Old Hope!

We read a bumper sicker yesterday that read: "The problems we face today can not be solved by the minds that created them."

I love those words. They are not party or agenda specific, they merely state that if we want to solve our problems, don't rely upon and re-elect the very officials who brought them into being in the first place. Problems need innovative solutions from people with fresh perspective.

So, you might ask, what problems? On MSNBC this morning, I heard that the United States ranks 78th in the percentage of women in elected office. 78th! We're behind Afghanistan. So who exactly are we to criticise anyone?

It occurs to me that the GOP likes us to be backward. Another area where we rank far lower than we should is in health care. Their opposition to Obamacare means that they want us to wallow in mediocrity. There must be money in it. We rank somewhere in the middle of the pack among industrialized nations, and to hear the Republicans talk, it would be okay with them of we slipped further back -- anything would be preferable to agreeing with the Democrats on any issue. This divisiveness rears its head every time we turn around, but Obamacare is one of the hot button issues the GOP continually harps on as we march toward November. Obamacare is not perfect, but it is a step in the right direction -- that is, if you believe that every American deserves health care coverage.

The GOP does not.

We are also mediocre when it comes to education, particularly mathematics and science. Once upon a time we led the world in these fields, and drew to our shores great minds from everywhere else to help us lead. No more. Look elsewhere for new discoveries and technologies unless they come from a handful of brainiacs sitting around figuring out how to make last month's newest fad obsolete. No child left behind is a bust. The gaps between the United States and the rest of the world are widening, and the GOP seems to want to accelerate the process. The world is moving away from us, or, as the saying goes, perhaps it is we who are moving away from the rest of the world by standing still.

I do not blame the GOP entirely. We the people elected them and many of us push their agenda of non-compliance and progress stalling. Meanwhile, the Democrats do nothing but compromise, only to have the Republicans obstruct anyway -- like the pre-war allies offering Hitler what he wanted on the promise that he would be satisfied until the next time.

People shout from the rooftops how important this election is going to be. I don't see it. The people running in 2012 -- all of them -- are exactly the minds who created the problems in the first place.

Okay, okay, I'm going to backtrack a little bit, but I'm not the first politician to do so. Come November, a choice must be made, and the candidates both have clear agendas each is pursuing. In that sense the election is crucial. Do we pick a man who inherited a mess forty years in the making and who has made steps to improve our lot, and who seems to be in touch with what a human being, male or female, is; or a man who cannot seem to differentiate between what is good for a male dominated businessman society from 150 years ago and the world we live in today?

Look at Todd Akin. Members of the GOP will say that he is not typical of the Party's values, but this is the man who co-authored a bill that wanted to redefine rape. With Paul Ryan. That Paul Ryan. The Paul Ryan who himself wants to impede a woman's right to choose. Comic and commentator W. Kamau Bell (catch him on F/X before his show's six episode run ends) refers to the GOP as the Circle of Idiots. And yet the polls show the race for President is neck and neck.

Akin's words were poorly chosen, but the sentiment expressed there demonstrates the reactionary vision the GOP has for America. Everybody has to know his or her place.

It is a world that may have worked once, a few centuries back when most people did not know better and before the invention of the guillotine. All it gets us now is the same stuff, different day. Democrats may be progressives who are not progressing, but Republicans are running backwards at full speed.

So maybe it will be the most important election ever. Which direction do you want to go? Please remember that, no matter what Washington has done for the past several years, standing still is not an option.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

$३०० Tennis Shoes?

Today's blog is sort of a news items miscellany.

We begin with the latest technological advancement from Nike. Somehow the company has seen fit to justify a new pair of tennies with a price tag exceeding $300. I can buy a kayak for that, no shoes required.

At $300, those shoes ought to be able to run the 100 in 8.9 seconds no matter who is wearing them.

Then there is Mitt Romney pointing out that President Obama pinpointed $90 billion of the stimulus package toward research and development of green energy. Romney bluntly states that this is a waste of money, that green energy isn't working, and that the price tag is outrageous. Of course, $90 billion is less than ten percent of the overall stimulus, and green energy is an area upon which we are going to have to rely at some point in the not too distant future, when the fossil fuels run out or get so audaciously expensive as to be useless. And, of course, we spent twice that per year during the Bush administration on the two wars we were fighting. Iranian oil? I don't see much. Afghani oil? Non-existent.

Everything is relative.

Romney also speaks highly of creating jobs in America, forgetting conveniently how many jobs he himself has outsourced. If he were really honest he would tell us why he outsourced, and call for remedies to the issues that prompted him to find a better bottom line overseas.

The Republicans still go on and on about Obamacare as if it were the greatest scam and deadliest sin ever perpetrated on the American public. To me, after compromises and adjustments, Obamacare is far from the plan it should be. But then, I look at the eighteen or so countries with better health care for their citizens than the United States and dream of universal health care. I guess that marks me as a socialist. But FDR called for just that in his second Bill of Rights back in 1945, three score and seven years ago.

This means liberals are looking backward, trying to bring equality to all citizens, from a playbook set down long ago; while conservatives are looking someplace altogether different from a playbook based on obstruction and partisan politics that was established only recently.

It's a topsy-turvy world.

The fact is, the political discussions that we hear on the TV these days are utterly disturbing. Real issues slip by the wayside while opposing candidates keep telling us what their opponents did, not what they themselves will do. It's politics as usual, which is to say politicians running on vague promises and empty words.

I keep saying it: these guys (and gals) ought to try walking a mile in my shoes. I paid sixty bucks for them five years ago and thought the price was outrageous then.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Mothman Prophesy

Everyone will agree that this has been an odd summer. Wherever in the nation you go, you will hear how hot and dry it has been. More than half the counties in the United States report draught conditions. July was the hottest on record. August has been plagued by fires throughout the West including 750,000 acres burned here in Montana, much of it still burning. Meanwhile, the Mississippi River is so shallow part of it had to be closed to boat traffic.

Ahah -- signs of global warming???!!!

From my admittedly amateur comprehension of weather patterns on the planet, I do understand that those patterns have been going on for millennia. They occur in cycles. There are your 10,000 year patters, your 500 year patterns, your 50, 10 and 2year patterns. Like DUNE's plots within plots within plots, our weather occurs in patterns within patterns within patterns. They are normal aspects of a living earth. But Man exacerbates the system, speeding it up and making the extremes more aggravated. I take this as fact. Global warming is a normal part of earth's regular patterns, but Mankind's pollution and agriculture have accelerated the process. The end result could be a Dune-like Arrakis, or an ice planet suffering from the worst Ice Age ever. I'm betting on the ice planet. Either way, people are going to have a rougher go of it than they do today, and one extreme might precede the other: ice, then barren and dry, or visa versa.

All I know is that the moths didn't show up this year.

Let me explain. Last year, after the heaviest winter in our part of Montana in some time, the summer saw an inundation of moths. The moths particularly liked my workplace for the 24 hour a day lighting, and they literally covered the ground and the trash cans. There were so many that hundreds drowned inside the small troughs that hold windshield cleaner for our customers. People told me this was a normal part of the summer here in Lakeside.

This year, where there were thousands every day, I count a dozen or less. The moths did not come back.

I don't think it was because so many drowned last year. There were thousands who didn't for each one who did. I think it's a sign.

No, not a sign from God, although some of you could interpret it that way. I think it is a sign from nature that 2012 indeed is an abnormal year. This means that the abnormal summer will be followed by an abnormal winter. I feel THAT in my bones. What I think is going to happen is that there will be rainfall, plenty of it in fact, but that there will not be much snow. For the snow to stick it has to fall early and stay down. This way sunlight is reflected skyward off the white and the ground cools enough to keep the snow long enough for more to fall, and more falls because the whole atmosphere is cooler. Early snow and cool temperatures spell a long winter. The moths say this is not going to happen in 2012.

Instead, if there is an early snow, it will melt. Snow will not accumulate and the ground will never get that cold, at least not here. I prophesize that it will be a wet but mild winter, and 2013 will see a dry hot summer.

It will be interesting to see if I am right. If in August next year the Mighty Mississippi is down to a trickle, we'll have the answer. So let's all hope I'm wrong about this. Otherwise, 2012 may not be such an abnormal year after all, at least for the latest pattern.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Yesterday, Today and the Day Before

After a short cooling trend brought down from Canada by a nice low pressure indentation, the high pressure ridge has pushed back and temps are back in the low
90's for today. No matter. It's Sunday, our day of rest and catching up on things we recorded on the DVR. It is also my chance to write this blog, which in some ways is supposed to be three days of blogging -- yesterday, today, and the day before.

I guess that means I should talk about three things.

I'm still reeling from the news that Paul Ryan has the Veep nod from Mitt Romney. I should be glad -- to my mind it makes re-electing President Obama a no-brainer. But my mind is not always in tune with the climate of the country. When I see all the symbols of military patriotism that float around the place, I remind myself that pacifism is not the norm, no matter how much I think it should be, and no matter what people like Moses and Christ and Gandhi may have said or believed. So it should come as no surprise that the same American populace that somehow believes having the biggest military in the history of Mankind is a matter of self-protection and nothing else is the same American populace that might decide to elect a ticket whose primary objective is to keep the wealth exactly where it is.

Reacquisition yes, redistribution no.

This is the world my grandson will inherit. It worries me that it will be the same place we always knew, or even lesser than the same place we always knew. My brother and I often commiserate that America's best times are behind her and that we got to live through those times. But now we are seeing the downward slide that seems inevitable for all great empires in human history. They have their day and then they slip.

People in this country refuse to see it but it is happening all around us: America has become a second rate country. Our city infrastructures are beginning to crumble. In education and in health care we rank in the middle or lower among industrialized nations. The disparity between the rich and poor has grown and continues to widen. One in four American children go to bed hungry every night. Eventually -- pretty soon, really -- the rest of the world will turn elsewhere for its leadership and inspiration, and for its financial solvency. We no longer can be trusted.

This is not the fault of our current President or any one man or woman. It is the result of a national policy and a national attitude that pervades America and has since the Vietnam War. All our greatness and all our might could not win that conflict. It could not stop 9/11. It could not find and capture bin Laden until all the efforts and expense of ten years searching finally paid a dividend, and that dividend was a corpse. It could not sustain an unsustainable economic bubble, and it cannot seem to correct the mess of problems created when that bubble burst. For the first time in my memory people of older generations fear that those who follow will have less, not more. This means that what we built, we have destroyed or at least undermined. Again, no one person can have done all this. The onus is on each and every one of us, including me. We let it happen.

We stopped being vigilant. Maybe we grew tired from the debacle of Vietnam. Maybe we became complacent because things were going so well and everyone thought it would go on forever. We were sold a bill of goods and the goods were so attractive that we readily consumed them without reading the caution label on the packaging.

Sorry, Xander.

Prosperity is a misleading word. It is measured by ever-changing yardsticks, some of which are created on the spur of the moment to justify the numbers. It is meant to describe how well things are going. In today's reckoning, prosperity is measured by the number and kind of electronic gadgets we own, designed ostensibly to make life easier. But making life easier comes at a perilous price. The less we have to do, the less we do. The less we have to communicate with each other, the less likely we are to try. The less we interact, the more isolated we become. The more isolated we become, the more socially awkward to the point of ineptitude and outright fear to engage. This leads to isolation. A nation filled with isolated people WHO THINK THEY ARE CONNECTED is easy to control.

When we are controlled, the controllers can do whatever they want. And they will. And progress grinds to a total halt.

I am not saying that Barack Obama is better in tune with the real problems facing the general American populace, although I think he is. I hope he is. I want him to be. Still, he is a creature of Washington and ultimately a political animal. What I am saying is that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan want their hands on the controls to promote their own power hungry agenda. That is something we should come out in droves against come November.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


I read about what people do to each other, in the name of God, or Justice, or Liberty, or Ism (take your pick), and I feel fortunate that all I ever have done in my sixty-two years of living so far, is read. I sometimes even wonder if what happened before is only my own furtive and over-creative -- and admittedly violent --imagination, before I stop and realize I am not so important that humanity is my personal invention.

I am sitting next to my lovely bride watching the Tanglewood 75th Anniversary Great Performance (recorded for our convenience with our DVR) on a lazy Thursday afternoon. Immanuel Ax is performing a Haydn piano concerto, lovely and calm and proof in its own right that I am NOT the center of the creative universe. I never in my wildest imaginings would have composed such a piece of music. Just not my style. Lovely, but not me --I'm more of a Shostakovich kind of guy. And though I love his music, I know I never could have come up with that, either.

More proof.

I am really quite insignificant. Easily overlooked, like the rabbit in the burrow while the fox hunts down the sprinters. This has served me well, as the kinds of conflicts that writers write about and composers try to capture in their music I have experienced only on an intellectual level. I do like to think that I have a gift for empathy, so that I can walk a mile in someone else's shoes without actually having to try them on. So I feel pain even when it is not mine, and that leads me to feel sadness that humans are so good at inflicting pain on each other.

We even enjoy it, relish in it, glorify it, fantasize about it.

For example, we are so proud of killing Osama Bin Laden that now there is controversy over who should get credit for it. My take: President Obama is the Commander in Chief. We got Bin Laden on his watch. If Ronald Reagan could take much of the credit for freeing the Iran hostages on his inauguration day, shouldn't the credit go to the man who had been in office for two full years when Public Enemy Number One was dispatched? The fact is that George Bush had almost eight full years to find the man and couldn't.

Still, it seems to me that we are missing the point. The point IS that we are proud to have killed another human being. No matter how heinous Bin Laden was, there should be no pride in it. Relief yes, pride no. To paraphrase a minor character's best lines on a SyFy show from several years back, "Killing is wrong. Always. Sometimes it is necessary, but it is always wrong." And it is nothing to be proud of, nor is the need for it something to be celebrated.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

On A Hot Afternoon

It is late afternoon or early evening here in Lakeside. It’s hard to call, because the time passed six pm Mountain Time half an hour ago but the temperature is still at mid-day level, at 90. This has been the hottest summer on record for most of the United States, and we are no exceptions up here. Normally, 90 plus days happen half a dozen times during the summer up here, and most of us don’t bother with air conditioning. This summer, days under 90 have been rare.

I keep remembering a funny image once conveyed to me: cooling off in the living room by sitting in a splash pool, three or four floor fans going, and watching a movie set somewhere in the frozen north. Something like “The Golden Compass” or “Ice Station Zebra.”

Instead, I’m watching “Rizzoli and Isles,” under a ceiling fan with my laptop on top of my lap where it belongs. I haven’t been doing much in the way of writing lately, or campaigning, for that matter. I have been busy and feeling good about that, but for the time being the writing has taken second or third spot. There’s been quite a bit of that lately, and I’m not sure why. Part of it is the nature of the beast – writing seems to come in spurts of creative energy. Part of it is the rewrite phase, about which I have written before. Part of it is the heat.

I just figure that the material is there, and when I am ready to tackle it, it will be ready for me. There is comfort in that. And joy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Congressional Reform

Warren Buffett is a rich dude who remembers and appreciates what it is to be less than rich and struggling to make ends meet. He has proposed "The Congressional Reform Act of 2012," and upon reading it both Diane and I signed the petition. It seems unlikely that such a sweeping reform, reigning in Congress's self-indulgence, will make it beyond petition, but if enough American voters do sign it the numbers cannot be ignored. So we encourage you all to read the petition, and sign it, and pass it on. The link is, or just key into your search engine the phrase Congressional Reform Act of 2012 and grab the first link, /Petition2Congress. The other links will give you more information, so feel free to explore.

Remember that curiosity is our greatest asset.

I often talk about the disconnect between Washington and the rest of America. This petition suggests a way to level the playing field somewhat. It won't bring average citizens into the halls of Congress. That still seems to be a province for the wealthy or at least very well off and certainly well connected. Without election reform designed to level the playing field even further, it is going to be the candidate who can raise the most money who will run. Roseanne Barr and Roy Blokker don't stand a chance against a Romney or an Obama, just on money alone.

The least we can do is to make our elected officials buy into their own retirement plans and health insurance, and Medicare and Social Security, just like the rest of us. And no work, no pay, after accumulated leave time is exhausted.

Another thing I often write about is the Citizen Congress, although I never called it that. It is the Congress that the founding fathers envisioned. I have suggested strongly that we dump EVERY Congressman in office today and start over, asking primarily those who do not want the job to serve. And serve is the operative word. It is a privilege to serve in Congress, not a right and not a career, and the incumbents to a man and woman have lost sight of that. Or so it seems. They live in a bubble of their own creation, one that excludes them from the realities that plague the majority of their constituents. Unemployment and underemployment, foreclosures, lost income and rising prices are things these people know about only on an intellectual level.

And, sorry to say, intellectual is a word I no longer associate with a Senator or Representative.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Paul Ryan, Really????

What prompts my second blog today is the fascinating news that Mitt Romney introduced Paul Ryan as the next President of the United States, er, scratch that, he meant Vice-President. I have only one thing to say. Paul Ryan -- really?

Okay, I have much to say on the subject, and I imagine that I will be saying it over the next few months, until the wise American voter rejects Romney and Ryan and the policy of richness enhancement on the backs of the rest of us; or turns out to be amazingly stupid and votes to destroy Medicare and Social Security and increase taxes on the rest of us while the rich get more and more breaks. Is it that simple? You bet. Even simpler.

In 2005 Ryan said that the influence that brought him into politics was Ayn Rand but backtracked when pressed by the Catholic Church seven years later. But wait, there's more. In 2008, according to the Wikipedia article I read this morning on Ryan, as a member of the house finance committee he was privy to a private meeting with the lords of finance of the day, including Henry Paulson and Ben Bernanke, with the aim of urging him and other Congressmen to support or craft legislation to help the troubled banks as the bubble was about to burst. That same day Ryan apparently sold his shares in some of the banks he learned were in trouble, and bought shares in Goldman Sachs.

If that isn't insider trading, I don't know what is. I mean, didn't Martha Stewart wind up wearing an orange jumpsuit for something like that? And Ryan is up for second chair. I'm just saying.

I hear a distant echo flowing across the land, whispering, "I am not a crook, I am not a crook."


Xander's in the kitchen with Diane. Say it slow, sing it with quiet enthusiasm. Every Saturday morning Xander helps his Oma make a fresh loaf of bread, adding ingredients, pushing buttons, watching the bread go through its stages, and of course, sampling the finished product once it had sufficiently cooled. Sometimes he would have it with butter, others with a wedge of Laughing Cow Cheese. It seems like such a small thing to enter your week, but it is one of those warm and fuzzy life-affirming events that stay in your mind, and your heart.

These days I need every life-affirming event I can grab. When you balance off the disappointments of life with the joys, the fears with the hopes, it seems like the disappointments and the fears are actually grander in size but the joys and the hopes always win out because they also contain one more element, grace.

The past two days were filled with grace. And you can interpret my choice of that word any way that suits your own pursuit of happiness. Remember only that I am non-denominational.

Friday afternoon we took Xander down to the swimming area on the lake, another simple thing we had done before. This time, though, we remembered to bring his shovel and bucket, and after a while in the water he wanted to play in the "sand." I put sand in quotes because the sand on Flathead Lake is mostly small pebbles and stones. Anyway, while he played on the shore under his Oma's watchful eye, I went for a swim in the lake. It has been literally decades since I actually swam and it felt so good, between the refreshing temperature of the water on the hot afternoon, and the memory of how much I love to swim.

I used to be good at it. Not competitive, but more than competent. And who knows -- if I had been steered and groomed when I was young maybe I would have competed at least in school events. But sports were never considered important in the Blokker household and I never tried.

I also never wanted to fail; the only guarantee for that is to stay in your seat.

But Friday I swam. It was liberating. Brief, because my body was not very used to that type of exercise, and I forgot that breathing was different in the water, but bloody fantastic.

Saturday we joined Xander's parents and his other set of grandparents and a friend on Frank and Claire Marie's boat. We cruised the lake along the north shore, then stopped several hundred yards offshore from Somers. Nik jumped into the lake. Xander followed his daddy, wearing his lifejacket. Frank took a dive into the water to cool off, and then I went in -- and swam. The water felt so good and the exercise felt life-affirming. There goes that word again! After fifteen or twenty minutes, we towelled off and went up the Flathead River for several miles before heading to the Cay at Big Fork where, of all things, we used their pool. For over an hour. In 36 hours I had spent more time in the water than in the thirty years preceeding.

Today I'm a bit worn out, but so very content. Not even another bout with our ancient freezer when we got home last night could dampen my spirits or chill my enthusiasm.

That, my friends, by any definition, is grace.

Thursday, August 9, 2012


Today is August 9. It was a busy day in history, filled with good things and bad. Jerry Garcia passed away on this date in 1995. Sam Elliott was born in this day 68 years ago.

In 1936 Jesse Owens anchored the USA men's relay team and won his fourth gold of the Olympics, held in Munich in front of Adolph Hitler. Owens outclassed every "Aryan" the Germans could put up in the four events, and he was a Black man. Controversy might follow him after the Games, but for one brief mnoment Owens was America's shining star.

In 1945, on this date, the US dropped a second atom bomb on the Japanese at Nagasaki, killing at least 70,000 people in a single blow. It remains the most devastating single act of war ever committed. Whether the bomb was dropped to shorten the war -- which it did accomplish -- or to show the Russians the power we had at our disposal as we arranged the peace -- which seemed to make the Russians rush all the harder to get their own bomb -- is still a matter of debate. Ask any GI preparing to invade the main island of Japan, and he has no doubt. Regardless, it ushered in the nuclear age in brutal form and remains the last time such a weapon has been used in combat.

Japan surrendered five days later.

I think of anniversaries when they come up. Yesterday marked the fourth year since Sheri left us. On the 6th -- Hiroshima Day -- ten years ago Diane's mother passed. A week earlier in the same year a good friend, Jim, died suddenly. I remember them, I remember them all and I remember mostly the times they made me smile, or laugh, or feel loved.

The Dutch seem to have as much reverence for the day someone died as for the day they were born, calling it their cross-over day. It is the day everything changes for those who were left behind, and they remember it fiercely -- an anniversary of remembrance. It is a sad moment, but easier with each passing year, to find joy in the life that we were privileged to share.

But when I think about war and war anniversaries, I cringe, duck, hide, cry. We watched the last episode of Ken Burns' "The War" last evening, seeing grown men so many years later moved to tears by the nature of human cruelty. They could not even be comforted by the thought that such things will never happen again -- because they did, and they do, and anniversaries like those that mark battles won and lost stick in my throat. War is obsolete, and yet war happens. All the time.

I once thought we had outgrown war, or were finally about to outgrow it, when I was in the thick of protests against the war in Vietnam. Then I realized that every generation has its own version of "The War." Some have colorful names, others simple ones, but all include "war" in the title. I think of the children killed, the women violated, the young men slaughtered. I think of the symphonies and novels that will never be published, read or heard. The inventions that might have helped mankind that lie rotting inside a crushed skull.

I think of the utter irony of war: better ways to kill lie buried with the dead.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Paralysis of Will

I have
so much
to do.

Funny. I have more time than ever, and yet I still have so much to do. I have manuscripts waiting for rewrites and ideas waiting for first drafts. I have a presidential campaign to run and a home to maintain. Like any of you, I have a to do list a mile long. In fact, I am so anal about remembering what to do that I have lists to tell me where I left my lists. My lists are full of redundancies, but they do contain some of my most concise thinking on paper.

The point is (yes, I have a point), I suffer frequently from a paralysis of will. I don't wanna. I don't wanna run the vacuum, go to the grocer's, write the next article, work on the novel. "Bunheads" distracts me. Fighting with my Internet router so I can get enough signal on the laptop in the living room distracts me. Picking up an old manuscript that was never finished and reading it to discover, yes, I know how to put words together, keeps me from putting words together,

I avoid writing like the plague. I avoid re-writing as if it were Armageddon meeting me head on.

I have said this before, because it happened before. It happens often. That's the bane of my craft, at least for me, and I feel guilt and a bit of self-loathing about it. Even writing this blog, dusting off the cobwebs of my mind, so to speak, won't help, because now I am thinking not about the book that only needs a good polish to finish, but the manuscript I read through last night that essentially needs a total reboot.

And I work on neither. Sometimes I just don't see the point, sometimes I just want to play, sometimes I just don't have the energy. Right now, I have to go get the mail.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Smoking Blog

My nephew has suggested to me that I tell it like it is, that I be blunt, that I be Dutch. So here goes, even though he won’t like what I have to say. Sometimes the truth is just that, the truth. Sometimes it’s ugly, but no uglier than the subject of my blog.

Smoking is a dirty, filthy, disgusting, smelly, ugly habit.

I know, Roy: tell us how you really feel.

I know that nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to humankind. Centuries of culture have embedded the idea of smoking being cool into our brains. Once upon a time smoking was even considered healthy. But now we know it’s not. Smoking is slow suicide.

In fact, I can think of only two industries in the world that actively and knowingly produce weapons of mass destruction: armaments and tobacco.

Plus, smokers seem to think the entire world is their ashtray. As part time janitor at a convenience store slash casino, I spend twenty to thirty minutes every shift, picking up discarded cigarette butts all over the grounds, often right next to ashtrays and ash cans. Even worse, I find them near the gas pumps all the time. I guess I shouldn’t complain. After all, that gives me some job security. I should thank the smokers for the $4 a shift I earn cleaning up after them.

Four bucks. Won’t even buy a pack.

Yeah, this is how I really feel. And I say it boldly knowing that some of my closest friends still smoke, including my own children, who think their four year old is unaware of their habit; that self same be-bold nephew; and undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women I have ever known.

Remember, Madam, Nephew, dear son and daughter-in-law, that I love you. I just need you to know how I feel. It won’t stop you, it won’t change things, it won’t make black lungs pink, it won’t clean up the beaches and the parking lots. But maybe your stopping now will keep at least one young person from giving in to the temptation to start.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Applebee's Fails The Course

Once upon a time, there was a safe place for a Weight Watcher to go to dine out, with reasonable prices, good service and a decent selection of friendly items on the menu.

No more.

The last time I was in our local Applebee’s, they had cut their Points Plus menu selections from seven to three, as well as reduced the 550 calorie selections. Left were high point choices (12 Points Plus) and items not to our taste. So we decided if we have to go to a restaurant and have to struggle to get a meal that wouldn’t entirely undo our daily plan, it may as well be a better place than Applebee’s.

Besides, we have found that most better restaurants are glad to accommodate, if they can and almost anyone can grill a chicken breast or a nice salmon fillet, toss a salad and provide the dressing on the side, sometimes even fat free.

Or I just won’t go out.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Blowin' In The Wind

I have been fortunate all my life. The major problems I have had to face were of my own creation. In a life as blessed as that, you trip over the small things. Your mood can shift with the prevailing wind.

Small things can even call into question big decisions when they have nothing to do with each other. But a fearful or anxious person is always second-guessing himself anyway, so it should be no surprise that a catastrophe of minor proportions can distort the value of a choice of major benefit.

And yet, here I go.

It's all a matter of perspective. I gain my perspective through grousing, then carefully examining the grouse.

Perspective came yesterday when the water heater seemed unwilling to reliquish any hot water. I know nothing about water heaters except that they make huge messes when they fail. In this case, the water was going through the machinery but coming out warm, then tepid, then barely warm at all. First thought: broken, needs replacing, OMG where am I going to find $500?

I realized, I have no reserve. There is gas in the tank but no auxiliary. There is electric flowing through the house but no back up generator (not that I'd want one; they're smelly and a bit dangerous unless you have an electric one, and then what's the point?). If the car breaks down, I can't fix it. If my glasses break, I can't replace them. In other words, I found myself looking at a stark reality that if anything unexpected happens, I'm up the proverbial creek without a canoe, let alone a paddle.

I have company coming over from the Netherlands in a few weeks. I have a wedding to go to in Portland at the end of the month. There are things to do, places to go, people to see. And the reserve is empty.

It sounds like griping, and it is, but there is another point: hot water is a luxury, not an expectation. In fact, running water within the walls of a house is a luxury most human beings do not enjoy. Things that I take for granted are things that would mark me as a rich man in other parts of the world, and even in some parts of the United States.


The song goes, if I were a rich man, implying, let me have a rich man's problems to deal with, but the reality is that I have problems that most people would love to have. And, thank God for the owner's manual and a wife patient enough to wade through it -- the reset button on the water heater was much easier to find than we expected.

The winds did change.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Olympic Blog

Hats off to our Olympians! The performances in the pool, and in gymnastics, are truly inspiring. Special congrats to Michael Phelps, and to precious woman's team captain Rebecca Soni. But all the swimmers have been a delight to watch, and medals have gone all around the team, and a Dutchwoman, with the delightfully complicated name Kromowidjojo, even snuck in there to boost my dual loyalties!

And good on Gabby, and our women's rowing team, and great praise for all you Olympains who did not place -- each and every one of you placed, just to get there.

So how about Team USA whacking Nigeria, 156-73? The American basketball all stars won by ten points more than the Nigerians scored -- it was like watching the Harlem Globetrotters play a high school team. Not to take away from the Nigerians, because I have been on the receiving end of games like that, so outmatched and unbalanced that you almost feel like you didn't show up, and yet there you were, giving it all you had, your heart in your throat.

It's like hunting the fox with a division of Panzer tanks. If you can't flosh him, you flatten the bushes. Where is the competition? The even playing field? The sport? We're watching a bunch of millionaires running everybody over, showing off both their power and their arrogance, proverbial lords of the manner.

Is anyone else profoundly embarrassed? I find myself rooting AGAINST Team USA.

Give me the women's swim team. They seem like true sportsmen, happy for each other and supportive of their hard work, and gracious toward compeditors from other countries. You get the feeling these women realize and appreciate that they all are doing the same thing, trying to do their best and then let the medals fall where they may. They are pleased just to compete, and competing is the operative word.

Friendly competition. Among equals. Around the world.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Veering off the Campaign Trail

Hello, friends, family, comrades, fellow members of the DIP!

I apologize that I wound up not campaigning yesterday, or today. There were internal affairs to attend to, and the outcome has been both difficult and yet very positive.

I think the best way to explain it is to say that my bride of thirty-seven years, seven months and nine days, who is my partner in all things. has quit her job to be my campaign director. There is a pay cut involved, but the alternative was proving way too costly in other parts of her -- read that, OUR -- life. Money is not everything. Neither is winning.

And yet, we have won a great victory. Choosing to retire is always a difficult decision. It was time to step away from life as a veternary technician and embrace the new life ahead.

As First Lady.

After all, who in their right minds would not want two near-poverty retirees running the country? We understand! We get it! We know what the real world is like and we will never lose touch with it, no matter how high a salary the President of the United States makes.

Then, of course, there is our grandson Xander, who is a full time job for all of us -- his parents and both sets of grandparents. It takes a village, and we are that, the six of us, plus aunts and uncles and cousins. Diane will have the joys of being able to focus all her energies and her considerable talents on Xander, helping him learn and grow and interact according to his parents' wishes, helping to provide the young man with a strong foundation and to promote the caring heart that already beats within him.

As Xander prepares for school, and as the world around him begins to expand,his Oma will be there for him.

Once upon a time, Diane told me that the woes that befell us two years ago in Salinas, when I lost my job through an act of hubris, it turned out to be the best worst thing that could have happened to us. It brought us here. Leaving her employment can only enhance that new reality.

Electing me President wouldn't hurt, either. Or maybe it would, but I already have the gray hair.