Blogs - 2006  
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We each began a (more-or-less) weekly blog in February, 2006. In part, we do this to keep our writing noses to the grindstone, and in part to reveal some internal dialogue to our nearest and dearest - and any other interested website readers.  The most recent blog entries are at the top of the page.

Click here to see the index of all blog topics.

[And to read the 2007 blog entries, click here]


    Bill's Blog                         About Bill

    Pat's Blog                           About Pat

December 17, 2006 (Bill: Christmas shopping)

         About a quarter of a century ago the existential psychotherapist/philosopher Rollo May (Love and Will, Man’s Search for Himself, The Discovery of Being) expressed concern that due to the spectacular technological advances since the age of enlightenment we were losing our sense of being. We identify with technology to the point where we are dehumanizing ourselves.

         In his writings on axiology Robert S. Hartman posited three levels of value, each level infinitely (his word) more important, and of greater value than the preceding level.

  • Systemic valuation which provides the social order necessary to avoid chaos,
  • Extrinsic valuation which provides comparative good, better, best, evaluation of things in terms of how they work and fulfill their function, and
  • Intrinsic valuation, which sorts for uniqueness.

         As another Christmas perpetrates yet another shopping barrage, it's hard not to believe that technology hasn’t trapped us at the extrinsic level. . With thousands of identical shopping malls so you can’t even tell what part of the country you’re in, and whole generations vying for and wearing the same designer tagged clothing, we’ve been homogenized as a culture. In the interest of “the economy” we’ve dumbed ourselves down to the lowest common denominator. And, thanks to our federal government, we even have ‘No Child Left Behind’ complete with standardized tests to verify that, to the extent that we’re all the same, we’re all ok. Where are the Jeffersons, the Lincolns, the Picassos, the Ghandis? Madison Avenue now defines how to be a person and the primary role now foisted upon us is that of the zealous consumer. We seem to have bartered away our individual uniqueness in order to fit this role.

         The price we’ve paid is our individuality. And with it our social responsibility as individual citizens of our community. How did we lose ourselves so badly? Do we want our epitaph to be "I had the most stuff"’ or "I made my full contribution to global warming, I did my share!"

         I don’t know what the answer is, but I suspect that some of the questions might be: Who are you? What really matters to you? What are your hopes for your grandchildren? How would you like things to be in your country, in your world? And what are you doing to make things more the way you’d like them to be?

         Perhaps it's time to take back our country and address such issues as health care, education, international poverty, global warming, and world peace. One place to start would be to check out the Global Marshall Plan to learn more.


December 9 , 2006 (Bill: Depression in the young)

         [Ed Note: This one is old, webmaster just found and posted it since it's still timely.]

         I saw a brief blurb in the Minneapolis Star Tribune about the growing concern that antidepressants may increase the risk of suicide in young people, and the resulting debate regarding recommendations that tough new warning labels be put on antidepressants. I thought it has long been obvious, not only to mental health professionals, but to much of the lay population, that depression by definition means ‘to push down below one’s level of conscious awareness’, and that what is being pushed down is whatever the depressed individual doesn’t want to know and/or isn’t prepared to deal with in his self perception or where he ‘fits’ in the world.

         Given that understanding of 'depression' is it surprising that when one takes a drug to alleviate the depression one is confronted with the depressed material rising to consciousness. It thereby has to be dealt with whether or not one is prepared to deal with it. One way to deal with it is to conclude that life isn’t worth living or I don’t deserve to be alive. Tough new warning labels won’t help. Antidepressants ignore the root cause of the problem and instead attempt to treat resulting depression which is only a symptom of the problem.

         The primary reason for teen age depression was succinctly described over thirty years ago by the cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker in his Pulitzer Prize winning book The Denial of Death.

“The crisis of modern society is precisely that the youth no longer feel heroic in the plan for action that their culture has set up. The great perplexity of our time, the churning of our age, is that the youth have sensed - for better or for worse - a great social-historical truth:   that just as there are useless self-sacrifices in unjust wars, so too is there an ignoble heroics of whole societies: it can be the viciously destructive heroics of Hitler’s Germany or the plain debasing and silly heroics of the acquisition and display of consumer goods, the piling up of money and the privileges that now characterizes whole ways of life in capitalist societies." (my italics).

         Our culture fails to provide a meaningful role for teenagers. There’s nowhere that they fit. What are they to do with all that horsepower they’ve developed as they’ve matured through puberty? Essentially society says: “Your role is to be a good consumer, buy stuff, ignore all that horsepower your feeling, slip your clutch for another decade or so and then maybe we’ll find something worth while (heroic) for you to do.”

         More and more teenagers are responding by getting depressed. Giving them a few more basketball courts and maybe a chance to work at McDonald’s won’t resolve the lack of meaningful roles problem. Neither will tough new warning labels on antidepressants. And where do teenagers hang out these days? At the mall. Does that tell us anything? They’re like the lions and tigers we see pacing back and forth in their cages at the zoo, they know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is.


December 6 , 2006 (Bill: Different world views)

         I’m reading Bush On The Couch by Justin Frank, a clinical professor in the Dept. of Psychiatry at George Washington University. Similar to the type of psychoanalytic study the CIA does of foreign leaders, it is a psychological case study based on the available public knowledge of George W. It is a very compelling and frightening read.

         I was particularly struck by one piece of information the author mentioned:   “According to an extensive study conducted jointly by Stanford, UCLA, Berkeley, and the University of Maryland, the fundamental difference between conservatives and liberals is a resistance to change that is based on fear. This study fits well with and verifies the comment that the social psychologist Jack Gibb made to me about twenty-five years ago:   “By about the age of three we make the single most important decision of our lives. We either decide that the universe is dangerous and spend the rest of our lives protecting ourselves, or we decide that the universe is exciting and spend the rest of our lives exploring it.”

         For me, this explains the alarming success of the ongoing fear-mongering tactics employed by the current administration. It feeds the fundamentalist conservative right’s fear of change and those who are different, and encourages them to support ‘getting the bad guys’ at all cost.

         FDR was right when he said “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”   Fear is now costing us our basic constitutional liberties and our international standing as a basically moral nation. Recall that nearly 200 years ago James Madison said: “I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the rights of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.” Perhaps, with the new Congress coming, it is time for all of us to write to our representatives to repeal the Patriot Act abridgements of our civil rights, prohibit torture in US-run prisons, and the doctrine of preemptive strike.


November 20 , 2006 (Bill: On my birthday)

         Today is my birthday, I’m now 71. And, as is usually, but not always the case, it falls in the same week as Thanksgiving. What do I have to be thankful for? Excellent health. A happy primary relationship with Pat. Kids and grandkids (about to become a great grandfather in January). An array of dear friends strewn throughout the U.S. and Canada. And sufficient resources to sustain this wonderful full time land-cruising lifestyle.

         On top of all that, I’ve developed a powerful resolution to learn to play classical guitar. I’ve been following instruction manuals and enjoying regular daily practice for the last few months. Then, last week in Eugene, Oregon, I found a place to take four lessons. To say that life is good seems like a ludicrous understatement.

         For the last couple of years I’ve been acutely aware of the privileged life that I lead. We are comfortable without concerns about danger or hunger or deprivation. We complacently spend too much and consume too much, often with never a thought and thus no awareness of our exorbitant consumption levels. In that regard, Pat recently read a quote to me from Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Up Side of Down:

“Consumerism has developed such a firm grip on the psyches of so many of us that, without a coherent notion of what will give our lives meaning, we try to satisfy our need for meaning by buying ever more stuff. In the process, the mental muscle that allows us to think and talk about values in complex and sophisticated ways atrophies. Reduced to walking appetites, we lose resilience.”

         I do indeed have much to be thankful for. Part of being thankful is remaining aware of just how inordinately privileged I am and making myself more generous and available to people who struggle to meet the most basic needs of life just so they can get through the day.


November 5 , 2006 (Bill: Voting)

         Here’s a little bit if information leading into Tuesday's non-presidential year election.

         The U.S. lags behind over 100 countries in voter turnout. In our off-year elections about 40% of the registered population vote. We’re outdone by both old and new democracies. Outdone by both Iran and Iraq among others. Thus my opinion that we should make voting compulsory for all eligible voters as is done in Australia and several other countries. That step alone would go a long way toward cleaning up the mess we currently have.

         The poor and uneducated of the working class, and many in the Hispanic and black communities no longer believe that their vote has any influence. Politicians would run for office differently if they knew that everyone in the community they represented would be going to the polls. It would help retrieve voter influence from rich corporate lobbyists.

         Since the country seldom elects to follow my advice, I urge you to vote and encourage everyone you know to do the same. Do it!


November 3 , 2006 (Bill: My heroes)

         The other day Pat said to me, “Who are your heroes?” The question got me reflecting on who they might be. Who are the people, teachers, poets, authors, colleagues and friends who have most influenced my thinking and contributed to the shaping of how I see the world and who I am now?

         I don’t recall any especially strong adult model influences from my childhood and adolescent years. You’d think I’d have a few, but none come to mind. Not parents, nor teachers, nor the parents or older siblings of friends, nor relatives, no uncles or aunts or grandparents. No friends or classmates for whom I recall having strong admiration. I certainly had a network of good friends, but it seems I grew up without any real mentor.

         The first time I recall getting my proverbial socks knocked off psychologically and intellectually was when in the U.S. Navy, stationed at Kami Seya, Japan hanging around the barracks all alone because my entire watch section (about eighty strong) were off to Yokohama on liberty and I, being broke, stayed back on the base. I had run out of things to read, and, it being a Sunday morning, the base library was not yet open. I ambled around l the bunks and lockers until I came across an anthology of poetry lying open on an upper bunk. I picked it up and read Vachel Lindsey’s poem The Leaden-Eyed:

Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull
It’s poor are ox-like limp and leaden-eyed.

Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly.
Not that they sow but that they seldom reap.
Not that serve, but have no gods to serve.
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.

         I was stunned. How could something be so blatantly true while I had never noticed it or thought of it? And there it was so clearly stated. Who would ever guess that poetry could be so powerful?

         On that day I was hooked. I went from Lindsey to John Donne’s 93rd canto (No man is an island...) to William Blake to immersion in poetry as a way of making sense of the world. More powerful than philosophy or theology because it showed up with the emotions left in, and it even sang. Since that day some fifty years ago poetry has been a dominant influence on who I’ve become in life and remains a joy and delight for me.


October 21, 2006 (Bill: Under the banner of "Freedom")

         Under the banner of ‘freedom’ President Bush and his administration have:

  • Imprisoned hundreds of people in the Guantanamo Bay prison with no due process;
  • Sanctioned torture as a form of interrogation and then got Congress to legalize it;
  • Started a preemptive war on false premises and retroactively claimed it is being waged in the name of freedom;
  • Caused the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians;
  • Ordered unlawful wiretapping and spying on American citizens; and
  • Methodically marketed fear to keep us all in an ongoing state of national emergency.

         What is going on when a systematic progression of government activity flies directly in the face of what FDR called the four freedoms: freedom of speech; freedom of religion; freedom from want; and freedom from fear?

         Once again I find myself saying: “The explanation cannot be as simple as ‘How can they be so stupid?’ or “They’re basically a bunch of evil bad guys.” These are intelligent educated people who are doing this. What is their thinking? What’s their rationale, their motive, their reasoning?

         To help get my mind wrapped around those questions so that I can better act to confront them, I am currently reading linguist George Lakoff's latest book Whose Freedom?   In it, he addresses the connection between the mind, body, and emotions. We're not as rational as we think, and our logic is tied much more closely to our emotions than we know.


October 6, 2006 (Bill: Marriage)

          Nietzsche made a wonderful comment on marriage about 125 years ago. “When marrying, one should ask oneself this question: Do you believe that you will be able to converse well with this woman into your old age? Everything else in marriage is transitory, but the most time during the association belongs to conversation.”


September 14 , 2006 (Bill: Dramatic irony)

         
The Republican party is afraid of losing seats in both houses of Congress in the upcoming elections. To alleviate that concern the sitting President and Vice-president of the United States are actively pressuring Congress to pass legislation to legalize wiretapping and the torturing of prisoners.  Dramatic irony strikes again.


September 11 , 2006 (Bill: Different policy views)

         
 Despite what you read in the newspapers, there are significant differences between the views of the Democratiic and Republican parites. Did you know that the Republican party opposes and the Democratic party favors the following policy positions:

  • including labor and environmental standards in trade agreement;
  • the US being part of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty;
  • the establishment and operation of an International Criminal Court;
  • the international treaty banning land mines;
  • the Kyoto treaty on global warming ;

August 30, 2006 (Bill: Corporate deification)

         
 I recently read that, mythically speaking, immortality is the defining difference between gods and mortals. By that criteria we have successfully deified corporate America by legally defining corporations as having all the same benefits and responsibilities as individuals - except they have them in perpetuity. They don’t die like we mortals do.  Corporations live on and on for generations, long after their founders have passed on.


August 23, 2006 (Bill: The Medicare snafu)

         
 Today's Oregonian contains inside this little squib about a major snafu by the Medicare Program.

"About 230,000 Medicare recipients are getting checks that eroneously reimburse them for monthly premiums they have paid for prescription drug coverage this year. The checks average about $215 and are accompanied by a letter that mistakenly says that the Social Security Administration will no longer deduct monthly premiums for drug coverage. Medicare officials caught the glitch just after checks totalling $50 million were sent out last week. As a result, they began sending a second letter instructing the elderly and disabled not to cash the checks and assuring them that their prescription drug coverage will continue."

          Give me a break! Instead of seeking out qualified people, this administration has consistently appointed political hacks to top level management positions in the federal government, as part of its effort to crumble some formerly effective programs. It is clearly succeeding.


August 15, 2006 (Bill: Nietzsche)

         
 Serendipity Strikes Again. I’ve long been an advocate, fan, and admirer of the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) because of his insights into what it means to be a human being. I’m aware that the default setting on Nietzsche is that he advocated Aryan reform and was deemed a precursor to Nazism in Germany. There is now ample evidence that all of that is untrue, but the stereotype hangs one. For me he says better than any other philosopher that the purpose of life is to continue evolving beyond our present state and that the way to do that is to look deeply into ourselves and come to understand just what drives our behavior.

          Imagine my delight last week when reading The Yalom Reader (Irvin Yalom)  I found in chapter nine a discussion of Nietzsche’s remarkable contributions to existential thinking. Yalom articulates my long term stance on Nietzsche incredibly well, certainly a good deal better than I can. It was nice to discover someone else, especially one as well known as Yalom, supporting my position that Nietzsche has a huge amount to offer and was not simply a “God is dead” anti-life philosopher.

          It appears that, as Nietzsche predicted, he may be coming into his own a hundred years after his death. For a quick glimpse of what Nietzsche was about read pages 375-380 in The Yalom Reader by Irvin Yalom: New York, Basic Books, 1998.  If that cranks up your interest, have a go at reading The Portable Nietzsche edited by Walter Kaufman: New York, Viking Press, 1954.


August 3 , 2006 (Bill: Politics!)

         Listening to NPR’s All Things Considered last night was informative and sadly entertaining. The gist of one news report was that Congress has decided to allow the cafeteria in the Capitol to
return to listing French Fries and French Toast on its menus rather than Freedom Fries and Freedom Toast as they are now labelled. Why was this necessary? Because a resolution had been previously passed to eliminate the use of the word ‘French’ to symbolically show our disdain for France in not supporting the pre-emptive attack of Iraq in 2003. I find it positively ludicrous that Congress is so engaged in the bizarre charade we call politics that it has the time and energy to first pass and a few years later repeal such a resolution.


July 20, 2006 (Bill: Pre-emptive strikes)

          In the course of 7 days ending yesterday there have been over 2,000 air attacks by Israel on Lebanon. And no-one is calling it insane. In the last decade, the US has set back the course of peace by 100 years. It has made the idea of "pre-emptive" strike acceptable as a rationale for invading or bombing a country. The US has led the way, and modelled that behavior for others to follow. Just watch how Israel has learned from us.  

          In domestic situations, pre-emptive strike is called assault and battery with a deadly weapon. What's going on in the middle east is standard "We have to destroy the village to save it" bullshit, and our government is highly invested in not calling a spade a spade.


July 1, 2006 (Bill: Existential issues)

          I'm busy now that I'm back home in Clemmie. I think often about the four primary issues that all humans face because of our unique capacity for self reflection. For the most part, because these issues are so anxiety provoking, we spend our lives figuring out how to keep busy enough so we can avoid dealing with them.

  • We are mortal. We are going to die, and in a hundred years we and everyone we know and love will be dead and gone.
  • Choice. At every moment in our lives we are confronted with choices; as you read this you have to choose whether or not to believe it.
  • Loneliness We are born alone and we will die alone and we know it - yet much of our time is spent in attempting to make meaningful connection with others.
  • The meaning of life. We are born into a meaningless world. We have to create meaning in order to know how to act and we do this by choosing a social role that our culture affirms (doctor, lawyer, soldier, teacher, plumber, minister, politician, whatever.)

June 26, 2006 (Bill: Military spending)

          The U.S. defense budget, $561,000,000,000, is more than half of the world’s total defense budget which distributed among 169 countries totals $1,097,115,610,000. We’re spending more than twice the $280,000,000,000 combined spending of the countries with the next ten largest defense budgets (U.K., France, Japan, China, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, South Korea, and Australia). Our defense budget is more than 45-times larger than the combined spending of the seven states we have identified as "rogue" states (Cuba $1.4 billion, Iran $6.2 billion, Iraq $0, Libya $0.6 billion, North Korea $1.9 billion , Sudan $0.5 billion and Syria $1.5 billion).

          Meanwhile polls by the Program on International Policy Attitudes indicate that more than 80% of the U.S. voting population wants reduced military spending and increased spending for social services such as health care and education - over 50,000,000 of us are without health care insurance.

          Whatever became of our representative democracy? The will of the people? Just who is being represented? Who’s interests are being served?


June 23, 2006 (Bill: Our Calanais stones)

          We went and saw the Calanais Stones on the Outer Hebridean Isle of Lewis in Scotland. A magnificent array of huge stones, each ten to twelve feet high, possibly three feet wide, maybe 1½ to 2 feet thick and weighing upwards of 1500 lbs., all carefully placed to form a Stonehenge-like pattern that clearly had some kind of meaning and spiritual significance to the people of the prehistoric culture that erected them some 5000 years ago. Undoubtedly they congregated here at this site they deemed sacred. In some way these stones were part of their understanding of what the heavens were about or addressed the spirits of their ancestors or appeased the gods in whom they believed. Perhaps they marked the equinox or seasonal changes or the phases of the moon or the tides. Clearly some system of beliefs, some explanation of what life was about, its higher meaning, led them to devote the necessary untold hours, days, and years of collective time, energy and tribal resources needed to construct such a site.

          It was a poignant reminder that through the development of language Man is unique in the animal kingdom. He is the only animal to have evolved to the point where he is meaning-driven rather than instinct-driven, and to that end must and does create symbols and rituals which ascribe meaning to life. We are the only species who, as Shaw noted, must explain ourselves to ourselves.

          And now, in our present culture what drives our behavior? How do we ascribe meaning to our lives? To what do we devote untold hours, days, and years of collective time, energy and tribal resources? What sites have we created and deemed sacred? Where do we congregate? Where are our Calanais Stones? Have shopping malls become our sacred ground? Is it ‘shop ‘til you drop’ that we’ve sanctified? I fear we have so subordinated our human values and rights to the demands and expectations of market forces that we are turning our entire society into docile consumers. It appears Ralph Waldo Emerson accurately expressed our creeping deification of consumerism some hundred and twenty-five years ago when he said; “Things are in the saddle, and they ride mankind.”


[NOTE: due to distractions and constraints on accessing the Internet during our travels in the UK, the blog entries are on hold for a few weeks.]

April 26, 2006 (Bill: Our default settings)

          I’ve been thinking again about what makes us human beings tick. At this point in time the world population is about six and a quarter billion. It’s a bit tough to get your mind wrapped around a number that big. If you counted it out at the rate of one number per second it would take you more than 200 years to finish counting. (Actually a lot longer than that because all the big numbers like 37,491 take more than a second to say.) Whereas six and quarter billion minutes ago would take you back 12 or 13 thousand years. So here we are, all 6,250,000,000 of us, each unique, each with our own names. Each of us harboring the miracle of self-awareness, the ability to self reflect and contemplate whether we are being a person right or should we try to change the way we are.

          As we go through life, we develop many of what I call ‘default settings’. Those ways of behaving and responding to situations without really consciously thinking them out. Are we essentially hopeful or fearful? Go for it or be careful? Competitive or cooperative? Doubter or believer? Yes or no? Abundance or scarcity focused? Do we sort for what’s wrong in a situation or what’s right? Do we see the universe as friendly or unfriendly? These default settings have a huge impact on how we go at our lives, on what makes us tick in our own unique way. When we are unaware of them they often trump or short circuit our rational thinking process. When we are aware of them we can control them;  when we’re unaware of them they control us.


April 19, 2006 (Bill: The Iraq war)

          Here in the United States we have a form of government which is called a representative democracy. That means we elect a president, senators and representatives and send them to Washington to represent the will of the people and speak and act on our behalf. A study by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) found that on the eve of the 2004 election, 74 percent of the public felt that the United States should not have gone to war if Iraq did not have weapons of mass destruction or was not providing support to Al Qaeda (58 percent of Bush supporters, 92 percent of Kerry supporters and 77 percent of the uncommitted).

          PIPA studies have also shown that by April 2003, a few weeks after the invasion, a large majority felt that the UN should take the lead in resotring civil order and economic reconstruction in Iraq. By December 2003, 70 percent of us held that the UN should also ‘take the lead to work with Iraqis to write a new constitution and build a new democratic government.’ As pointed out in Noam Chomsky’s recent book Failed States, these figures suggest a simple ‘exit strategy,’ if our current administration had any interest in pursuing this course: follow the will of the American public, and transfer authority to the UN - assuming, as always, that Iraqis favor this option.


April 14, 2006 (Bill: Presidential misbehavior)

    During his execution of the office of the presidency George W. Bush has violated his oath of office to faithfully execute the laws of the land on a number of fronts including:

  • launching an illegal war in violation of signed treaties, which the Constitution sets forth as the law of the land;
  • the wiretapping of U.S. citizens in contravention of FISA;
  • allowing the articulation and defense of a policy in favor of torture - in contravention of an archetypal norm basic to any legal order and civilized society;
  • engaging in the mass detention of citizens and non-citizens solely on his unreviewable word that they are ‘enemy combatants’;
  • denying the right to counsel to detainees, including U.S. citizens on U.S. soil;
  • the mass detention and disappearances of immigrants;
  • the abuse and torture of detainees on the mainland, in Guantanamo, and in Iraq; and
  • misusing the concept of rendition in violation of the Geneva Convention

          Taken as a whole, these acts represent a pattern of behavior which conflicts with our constitution, international law, and any common understanding of morality. I am deeply concerned about the appalling precedent that will be set for future presidents if the Judiciary Committee does not initiate impeachment proceedings in response to this consistent pattern of executive misbehavior.

          Representative John Conyers has proposed H. Res. 635 which calls for a Select Committee to investigate President Bush’s lies about Iraq, wiretapping, etc. and to make recommendations as to whether there is sufficient evidence for impeachment.

          I urge you to write (fax is recommended) to your congressional representatives in Washington and on the Judiciary Committee and ask them to support Rep. Conyers and vote yes on HR 635.


March 13, 2006 (Bill: Head Start)

    Did you know that:

  • The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee will be looking at the Head Start reauthorization legislation (S. 1107) which will come to the Senate floor soon.
  • They are considering effectively dismantling the program by shifting oversight to the states.
  • There is also the danger of across-the-board cuts in federal discretionary spending, which will reduce Head Start funding.
  • The U.S. has highest prison population per capita in the world at 701 per 100,000 at year end 2004 for a total of 2,267,787 inmates. The average annual cost per inmate per prison year is over $20,000. Construction costs alone for new Federal prison in 2001 - 2003 exceeded 1.2 billion dollars. We are currently spending over 18 billion dollars a year on the war on drugs alone.
  • Research has proven that Head Start is the single most effective program for reducing delinquency, criminal behavior, and adolescent entrance into the criminal justice system. In 2004 the total federal budget for Head Start was only $6,773,909,000.

         I want more support for Head Start and less need for building more and more prisons so I’m contacting my Senators and my House representative to let them know that. If you agree, I’d like you to do the same:  call, write, e-mail, fax your congressional representatives and let them know that you support Head Start and want to see the program strengthened rather weakened. Do it now! You live in a representative democracy. Don’t be a spectator who votes once every four years. Be enough of an activist to let your representatives in Washington know what you want from them. Thank you!


March 9 , 2006 (Bill: The National Debt)

    Notice To All Residents of the United States: As of this morning the national debt stands at $8,280,138,347,988.18. The debt increases because the U.S. Government spends more than it collects in taxes. This is called deficit spending. Since last September 30th the National Debt has continued to increase an average of $2.17 billion per day. The estimated population of the United States is 298,726,564 so each citizen's share of this debt is now $27,718.12. Please send your check in that amount to the Treasury Department at once. Each day’s delay is costing you an additional $726.42.

    You will be relieved to learn that the Treasury Department does accept Visa, Mastercard, Discover and American Express. Remember, these cards have been created to allow you as an private citizen to engage in the miracle of deficit spending. Should you decide to pay by personal check, please add $2179.20 to pay for the three days it will take for your check to clear. And, of course, advise your congressmen that you badly need additional tax cuts in order to satisfy the Treasury Department's appetite.


February 25, 2006 (Bill: Works of Ernest Becker)

          I’m quite taken with the works of the anthropologist Ernest Becker. He wrote three very powerful books: The Birth and Death of MeaningDenial of Death (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize);  and Escape from Evil. They are all based on extensive study and integration of the findings of anthropology, sociology and psychology over the last century.

          Essentially, Becker found that those fields clearly show that man is the first species to be motivated and driven primarily by two basic psychological needs: the need to avoid excessive anxiety; and the need to maintain and support sufficient self-esteem to feel as though he matters, has value, and is worthy in the culture in which he is born into or finds himself. Through the evolutionary development of the ego, which Becker defines as the first psychological organ to evolve, and the development of language, man learned to control his instincts, put them on hold, evaluate situations, and examine alternative courses of action. He does this by employing language to symbolize his day-to-day life experience and by responding to the meaning of the symbols. Thus man has become the first species to be primarily "meaning-driven" rather than "instinct-driven."

          Thus, if your spouse answers the phone and says: “Its your mother, she wants to thank you for the birthday gift” you respond very differently than if your spouse says: “It’s the police they’ve been told there’s a bomb planted in our house due to ignite in fifteen minutes.”

          This step in evolution has created a world-changing - possibly earth-shattering - impact on life on this planet. It has provided the means to create, among other things, ideology, philosophy, theology, nationalism, chauvinism, jingoism, patriotism, medicine, engineering, mythology, environmentalism, war, and genocide. It has also endowed our species with the responsibility of being active participants in, rather than passive recipients of, the evolutionary process.

          One of the most compelling and weighty questions of our era is how we are handling that responsibility.


February 19, 2006 (Bill: Integrity)

          I’ve been thinking about the concept of integrity. It goes all the way from the capacity of our autonomous nervous system to reject foreign objects - organ transplants that we wish it wouldn’t reject - to kinesiological muscle testing which make a person test weak if he lies or states a false name. The body doesn’t know how to lie. Another way this surfaces in human interaction is Freudian slips when we mis-speak because of an internal conflict or disagreement about what we are saying.

         It appears that integrity is closely tied to the concepts of trust and truth. “He has a lot of integrity” usually means "what you see is what you get." Apparently when you fail to follow Shakespeare’s advice and “to thine own self be true,” your muscles know about it and say ‘no,’ and your unconscious knows about it and mis-speaks for you.

          How do we decide when a person is telling us the truth or lying to us? When we hear a politician speaking how do we determine whether or not to believe him? Perhaps we should have kinesiologists on hand whenever politicians make speeches.


December 14, 2006 (Pat: The Iraq situation)

        
 What with everyone else weighing in with advice to President Bush about the situation in Iraq, I may as well add my 2¢ worth. So here's what I think he should do:

  1. Apologize! Fess up to the world that we screwed up by invading, and we're sorry for the mess we created.
  2. Go hat in hand to the U.N., and request that it take over peace-keeping while the U.S. withdraws. Provide the necessary financial support. Recognize that as long as we're in Iraq as an occupying force, peace will not return.
  3. Fund a Job-Corps type of program in Iraq to rebuild the country's flattened infrastructure through employment for those hordes of out-of-work young men who are fuelling the violence.
  4. Take a good hard look at our U.S. selves in the mirror. Think about the violence in Iraq and the volatile situation in the middle east through the analogy with domestic violence. Are we the abusive husband or the abused wife? Both play roles and if there's any hope of retrieving the situation then both parties have to accept responsibility for their individual contributions to the violence. We need to do our share. What do we need to change about ourselves?
  5. Face up to the elephant in the living room. It's about oil, stupid. Recognize that our addiction to foreigh oil is not good for us. Respond to the urgent challenge posed by climate change. Begin a Marshall-type plan to switch the US economy to renewable sources and to reduce our mindless production of plastic trash.

          In all the discussion that's been going on, I don't think I've heard these ideas from anyone. They sure make sense to me. Sadly, I'm not holding my breath waiting for this to happen.


December 9, 2006 (Pat: How big is your "Carbon Footprint?")

        
 The average Brittish household has a "carbon footprint" (10.9 tons of CO2 annually) just over half the size of the average American's (19 tons.) I extrapolated these recent Carbon Trust calculations to come up with an estimate for each (on average) American household's greenhouse gas production. Of course, these don't get at the energy demands at the workplace, by the military, etc., which have huge footprints. But this information does make it plain that individuals can make a difference through plain ordinary conservation and a few life-simplifying steps. And, individual consumption choices obviously trickle down (?up) into the manufacturing sector.

  • Recreation: (trips, leisure activities, hobbies, etc.)
    3.4 tons
  • Heating and cooling:
    3.1 tons
  • Food: (production, transportation, storing, cooking, etc.)
    2.6 tons
  • Housing (physical building and contents, lighting, etc.): 2.6 tons
  • Hygiene: (bathing, cleaning, sewage, laundry, cleaning products, etc.)
    2.5 tons
  • Clothing:
    1.7 tons
  • Commuting:
    1.7 tons
  • Air travel:
    1.5 tons
  • Education: (schools, books, trips, etc.)
    0.9 tons

         Questions for us: (1) Are we above or below average? (2) Could we reduce our footprint without hardly noticing? and (3) Will we?


November 29, 2006 (Pat: Future living)

        
 We've been feeling the cold. It's unseasonably chilly in sunny California, perhaps an effect of global climate change. Living in Clemmie, the weather conditions are right in our face, we can't ignore them like one can in a house. The rain dances noisily on the roof, the wind rock us around like a baby, and despite the best efforts of our heating system the cold seeps in everywhere. Water vapor condenses on windows and walls, and mildew follows behind.

         Made me think that, in terms of energy, heating needs have got to have greater priority than transportation or plastic packaging. A hundred years from now, when the oil is gone, maybe we'll all live in little villages and do our "transportation" through the ether. With a camera and big screen in the living/dining room, we sit down to share virtual Thanksgiving dinners with our distant dear ones. Private cars have long since gone the way of the dinosaur, and if we need to go somewhere we use our legs or public transportation. Most of our living and working happens right in our little community. We get social enjoyment from our neighbors, food is all sold in bulk, there are no more shopping malls, and with all the "found" time previously spent stressed-out driving madly around (on average, Americans spend 100 hours a year just commuting), everyone is a helluva lot happier. Sounds pretty good to me.


November 20, 2006 (Pat: Visiting others)

        
 When we swallowed the hook and gave up sweet Callipygia (sob, sob) to move into dear Clemmie (smile, smile) and take up a life of land cruising I never dreamt of the benefits we'd find. Too many to list, but primary among them is the ability to reconnect with dear ones with quality time. We have friends and relatives all over this continent - and a couple of other ones too. Now, as we pick a general route, it's incredibly easy to make minor detours to visit this one or that. We keep our address book up-to-date so we call, say we're going to be in the area and would like to visit. Then we add, we'll bring our own bedroom, linens, and kitchen and all we need is a flat place to park our little house and (if possible) an electric outlet.

         We remember that fish and guests begin to stink after 3 days so we remind our dear ones it'll be more like having a short-term neighbor than a guest. We don't think we've overstayed our welcome anywhere - at least if we have no-one has mentioned it. We retain our usual routines, get up early and eat breakfast in Clemmie, make our own lunch, offer to bring potluck for dinner (or invite hosts to happy hour), and retreat to our own space when seems appropriate, or at nap time. It's a fabulous way to visit.


November 11, 2006 (Pat: Rebuking our president)

        
 I'm glad the election's over, and happy with the outcome. I worry about how the President will handle the defeat, however. It's my belief that his mental stability is fragile, and that he suffers from delusions of grandeur and invulnerability. His language is egocentric and reflects a dysfunctional thought process. For example:

"I aim to be a competitive nation."

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."

"See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda."

"It's in our country's interests to find those who would do harm to us and get them out of harm's way."

"I want to thank all my citizens."

        After six years of doing whatever he wants regardless of the consequences, and with no evidence of an ability to admit mistakes or express remorse, the President is now confronted with the fact that the American People have rejected him. We hired him as our CEO in 2000, and he has proceeded to drive our business (our country) into the ground. And now the Board of Directors (the electorate) has put him on notice that they're not satisfied with his performance. Most likely this is the first serious rebuke in his political life. Let us all hold him in the light, for our own and the world's sake. Let us hope that those close to him are able to act in the best interests of all of us.


October 31, 2006 (Pat: Climate change)

        
 Happy Hallowe'en. Today's scary monster is climate change. If you aren't worried about it, you should be. As the number of dead zones in the oceans increase at an alarming rate, maybe the problem will be solved when humankind is flooded out of coast areas - where people are heavily concentrated. Certainly, the flooding is going to happen sooner than we think. The ozone hole over the Antartic is at its largest ever (10.6 million square miles) guaranteeing a continuing rise in average temperatures, and accelerated melting of polar ice caps. At Lewes, Delaware, the sea has already risen a foot in the past century. Fish from Delaware waters are now more like you'd expect in Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.

         So what are we doing about it? Most of us Americans waste ½ of the energy we use. There are a zillion ways to reduce dependency on fossil fuels: around the house; when shopping; and transportation. We have to do something now, or we'll wish we had later. Many corporations are making some effort to cut their waste - but you'd be totally aghast at the amount of energy the military wastes. For example, the Navy has 12 active aircraft carriers, and when practicing launching and retrieving just one of these burns about 200,000 gallons of aviation fuel a day.

         For our part, we regularly review and adjust our commitment to changing the way we do things. We encourage readers to take a ½ hour to discuss with their immediate family what they can and will do.


October 20, 2006 (Pat: Growth)

          
Today's USA Today has on page 5A a full page ad, of which the top 2/3 is emblazoned with the words "Energy Security." The explanatory text nags Congress to do more to increase energy supplies. At the bottom, the ad's buyer is identified as the Alliance for Energy & Economic Growth.

          Made me think about growth and the day's accepted wisdom that economic growth is a continuous unending goodie neccessary to us all. Well think about that. What do we get when something constantly grows? First we get maturity, but after that it's called cancer. Our economic system is way past maturity. Why do we always want more, more, more? Like Bill Clinton (who at least had the insight to recognize it and courage to confess it) we do things because we can. Humanity hasn't got the hard lesson yet: do only those things that are necessary.


October 10, 2006 (Pat: Foot on Neck)

          
The state of the world weighs on me. Us humans are poisoning the environment and causing massive murder and mayhem. What can one person do? One must do something - so I feel. On the former, here's a few questions to think about the weight of one's foot on the planet's neck:

  • Divide the number of square feet in your home by the number of people who live there. For every 100 square feet in your answer, add a point.
  • For every vehicle you own, add 3 points.
  • For every 10 gallons of gas you buy each month, add a point.
  • For each trash bag you put in the garbage on the average week, add a point.
  • If you ride the bus or train or walk or bike to work (or whatever your normal daily activities are) deduct 3 points.
  • If you routinely recycle, deduct 3 points.
  • If you always turn out the lights when you leave a room, deduct a point.
  • If you don't give a shit, add 5 points.

          If you live in the US, the average foot is 4 times as heavy as the foot of someone in China, and 6 times as weighty as a person in India. Don't even ask how much heavier it is than a starving Darfurian.


October 2, 2006 (Pat: Military spending)

         
 Did you know that global military spending this year ($1 trillion) is about 15 times the amount the world spends on international aid? That there are enough bullets floating around to put two into every human being? That 1,000 people on average die every day from armed violence? You can read more about this in a report by Amnesty International and Oxfam called Arms Without Borders. Also, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute produces a report on the arms trade every year if you're interested in this element of our global economic mess.


September 24, 2006 (Pat: The coming dark age)

         
 I live in a paradox. Here we are having a delightful life roaming around in Clemmie, wanting for nothing. At the same time I can clearly see that humanity is heading for a horrifying meltdown: environmentally, economically, socially, and culturally. By nature, I'm an optimist, but the more I read and think about our collective predicament, the harder it is for me to see how we can emerge into a saner world without hitting bottom first.

         The seeds of self-destruction have been growing for decades. The seething "war on terrorism," birthed in the torture of Cairo jails 50 years ago, is now a full-blown conflagration. The booming western culture of materialism fueled by corporate greed is consuming the global environment. And, the checks and balances of America's political greatness have shrivelled almost entirely away. It's easy to imagine that fiifty or a hundred years from now human life on this planet will be well into another Dark Ages period.


September 18 , 2006 (Pat:Death of the common good)

         
 I am having a very hard time sitting on the sidelines while the president of the supposedly most advanced country in the world condones and promotes the "disappearing" and torture of political prisoners. Apparently there are some 14,000 of these souls being held outside the US. Why aren't we all rising up in revulsion? Is this what western civilization is about? Didn't we think this kind of behavior belongs only to bully dictators?

          These past 6 years, and presumably for the next two, my country is being governed by a bunch of cronies who don't understand the fundamental difference between policy and politics, who never internalized the lessons of Civics 101. Policy is about the common good. Politics is about grabbing and keeping power at all costs. Our so-called leadership seems to be building a funeral pyre for the poor old common good.

          I think I'm disgusted.


August 31, 2006 (Pat: Confronting existence)

         
 In the dusk of yesterday's evening I walked to the mouth of the nearby Siuslaw River to see what birds were about. On a log inside a floating dock I saw some 500 (mostly Western with a few Least) Sandpipers huddling together, shifting position, zipping on and off, while preparing to roost for the night. These teeny birds - some for the first time - are migrating south from breeding grounds in the northern tundra. Each one is special, I thought, no less than you or me.

         We humans must consciously or unconsciously come to terms with the essential facts of our existence. These are scary things to face: (1) we are going to die; (2) we do not control our world; (3) we live and die alone; and (4) the universe is indifferent to us. It seems that there are two ways that individuals deal with these anxieties of existence.

  • Because I am special, these facts don't apply to me.
  • There is someone out there (another human, or a mythical figure) who will save me.

          Irvin Yalom said: "Wisdom does not lead to madness, nor denial to sanity. The confrontation with the givens of existence is painful but ultimately healing."  This confrontation, it seems to me, is the true work facing each of us. And it is healing work: if we don't do it we must use up psychic energy to keep the lid on Pandora's box.


August 22, 2006 (Pat: Winning hearts & minds)

         
 Dear President Bush: you won't win the hearts and minds of American citizens with hollow and manipulative rhetoric. We're not so stupid we can't see that it's just words, words, words, a whole lot of empty spin. And you don't win the hearts and minds of people in other countries by using force. You win hearts and minds at home and abroad by doing useful and helpful deeds. It's not what you say that people care about, it's what you do that counts.


August 15, 2006 (Pat: Newton's 3rd Law)

         
 The BBC news website is holding a moderated debate about whether the cease fire in Lebanon will be permanent. Here's the 2¢ worth I offered:

The cease fire in Lebanon will not permanently hold until the underlying grievances and frustrations on both sides are dealt with and widely seen to be FAIRLY addressed. Force cannot produce permanent peace - Newton's third law applies equally to human behavior (fighting and coercion.) Peace can only be achieved through some kind of political process that is perceived to be fair by all parties. Hence, so long as the US is involved, peace will remain illusive because of its (the US') obvious bias.

          FYI, Newton's 3rd law states "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." This means that in every interaction, a pair of forces act on each other. Forces always come in pairs - equal and opposite action/reaction force pairs. Ergo, if one person starts a fight with another, the victim fights back - even if they have to do it surreptitiously. Just watch any kindergarten playground.


August 11, 2006 (Pat: Maintenance)

         
 Being aware of how little maintenance we have in our lives made me think about how slowly its burden awakens in kids. When a kid gets a new toys or stuff, s/he tend to think it's always going to stay in its new, pristine, condition and then is disappointed when it break or loose its luster. For the most part, at that point the item goes in the trash bin. Except for favorite shirts, shoes, etc., which improve with age until they're rags or outgrown. Same thing with a new first house or car. Young or first-time buyers rarely plan how they're going to pay for maintenance and repair - such demands appear after-the-fact as unpleasant surprises.

          Why don't schools teach, beginning at a young age and continuing into high school, formal life skills? About money, where it comes from, credit, debt, and saving. About maintenance, its burden of prevention, routine care, and the drain of deferred cost. That the more you have, the more you'll be buried in maintenance. About human relations, conflict, cooperation, individual differences, and social responsibility. About health, nutrition, attitude, and fitness. About family life, child care, stress, and aging.


August 4 , 2006 (Pat: The RV Life)

          
I know it's not a week since I wrote my last blog entry, but I have to share this thought. (With whom, I wonder? Does anyone read these blog entries? Please let us know.) Anyway,  I was thinking how much easier it is in Clemmie to get up and go somewhere. Basically a question of securing a few things inside and remembering to unplug. A few moments only. We forgot one day, but a fellow camper hollered at us that we were dragging our electric cable - thankfully before we got far enough to do any damage. Athough Bill just said, but tomorrow I have to undo the water hose as well. Back on Callipygia (where are you now, dear sweet boat?) departure was a big deal, a long checklist of things to prepare and to not forget. Much as I loved those years, I'm glad I don't have that burden on my shoulders any more. Nowadays, the worst that can happen to us is that we get stuck by the side of a road somewhere - in our very own home. We can't drown.


August 3 , 2006 (Pat: Boxed in)

          
At 6 am this morning I walked through the trees to go to the bath-house for my morning duties. The brisk clear air, the soft sounds of squirrels and nuthatches, and the sweet smell of cedar invaded my senses. Life: what a miracle. This is about as good as it gets. If/when we move into a house, we'll have to put the bathroom at the end of the yard. I cry quietly for the millions who live boxed inside the paraphernalia and busyness of modern living, never noticing that life is passing by.


July 28, 2006 (Pat: Two in a small space)

          When I tell people that we've lived fulltime together in a small sailboat/RV for 6 years, almost always they react with the statement:  "You must like each other a lot." The fact of the matter is that we do - but, unknown to them, the smallness of the space actually enhances the liking. Most people seem to think, instead, that it would enhance the frustrations and annoyances. Not true. In a small space you end up having conversations or interactions about all manner of things on all manner of topics at all manner of times simply because of the proximity. To quote Bill (see Bill's Wisdom) : "The essence of trust is how safe is it for me to be me with this person as opposed to being careful?"  Living together in a small space forces each person to be more openly "me." Thus, it can significantly enhance the trust in a relationship - if you let it. If/when we have to move "ashore" it will definitely be into a small space.


July 13, 2006 (Pat: What really mattered?)

          We're back "on the road" and it's a bit of an adjustment. Our trip to the U.K. is stuffed away in memory (and slide shows), like it barely was, in deep hiding with other past experience. Settling down in Clemmie was tough. First, the schedule: finish this, check that, go here, visit there. Thank goodness the mantle of simply being came out of storage: sit here, look there, notice this, hear that. Don't have to be anywhere anytime. Do a little something, disappear into details. When it's finished move on. My work life was never so. A few fleeting moments on vacation perhaps. Otherwise, a busy routine, overseen by a mental "to-do" list erupting in the night, shoulder and neck muscles on permanent taut alert. Of all I worked at doing, what became of it? In the grand scheme of things, what of it really mattered?


July 4, 2006 (Pat: What do you want?)

          What do you want? There's a question worth asking. Today (at least) I want to become wise, and humble - or is it humble, and wise? I want to recognize all the bird sounds I hear. I want to be chopped up and taken into the woods as bird food when I die. Who knows what I'll want tomorrow or a year from now.


June 7, 2006 (Pat: Culture shock)

          I'm having a bit of culture shock during our trip "back home" to Scotland. It's changed and I've changed, and there's a lot of it I don't like. Couldn't possibly be me, so surely it must be them don't you think? I'm making a note of the things I'm reacting negatively to in the hope that by witnessing my own prejudices I may be able to eliminate them. I thought maybe I would enumerate them here in my blog, but when I looked at the list I see that it's far too long! Well, well, well, what does that mean?


June 2, 2006 (Pat: Ain't it Awful)

          I've been watching the local BBC News this week, while my body has worked to overcome a bad cold. What struck me most is how confrontational the reporters are, and how much they seem (to me) to twist things to produce an "Ain't it Awful" or "Aren't they Bastards" effect. The marketing of fear is at least as fullblown as it seemed to us in the U.S. And, the peddling of fear is likewise about all of the wrong things. Terrorists, Iran, taxes, the usual suspects. Not much about the real dangers humanity faces, and to which it seems to be largely blind or indifferent: global warming, materialism and greed, environmental destruction, and species extinction.


[NOTE: due to distractions and constraints on accessing the Internet during our travels in the UK, the blog entries were on hold for a few weeks.]

April 23, 2006 (Pat: Misplaced priorities)

          I'm looking forward to our trip to the UK next month. In particular I'm eager to check out the birds I used to see and pay little attention to when I was a kid growing up in Scotland. To my distress I have learned that the ubiquitous house sparrow has all but disappeared from British cities and is rapidly declining in European ones too. Good thing they've got their DNA all over North America - reproduced from 9 birds introduced a hundred years ago. They're spunky little gems and well worth the watching. And, as we plan to head for the Oregon coast after our UK visit, it's distressing to learn that large numbers of starving pelagic (sea) birds are washing up on the Oregon coast. What are we doing to our environment?

          I'm interested in seeing the changes that have occured in the almost 20 years since I last went "home" to Scotland.   I Wonder if they're having water problems. Did you know that 1.1 billion people don't have access to safe water and 2.6 billion people are without basic sanitation? A situation that is steadily getting worse as we head for global environmental collapse. To quote Jeffrey Sachs of the UN Millenium Project "Everything we think is at the core of our geopolitics -- the war on terror, Islamic fundamentalism -- have almost nothing to do with the real challenges we face on this planet, they are a distraction and a misunderstanding. Ignorance, misplaced priorities and indifference are keeping the world firmly on the path to disaster." And, I add, nowhere is this more true than in the USA.


April 17, 2006 (Pat: Where are we going?)

    I've been spending a lot of time lately at the hospital. Hours with not a lot to do but love the patient, Sudoko, and try out some thought experiments. Oh yes, and people watching too - which with the possible exception of bird watching is the best pastime of all.

    Mostly, I wonder where our culture is going. I recently read Radical Evolution by Joel Garreau. I recommend it to you. He sets out three scenarios that could result as the accelerating rate of technological invention and mass consumerism cranks humanity up this incredible curve of change that we all sit on.

  • Heaven:   over the next 40-50 years, humanity (or some of it) changes (evolves, engineers itself) into something different, a new species perhaps.
  • Hell:   through continued acts of collective gross stupidity, we (and a whole lot else) come to a brutal, catastrophic end.
  • Prevail:   the future is rocky but, as in the past, mankind muddles through as ordinary people facing overwhelming difficulties rise to the occasion.

    What do you think? And what are you doing to prepare and help your kids deal with the many toxic aspects of human culture?


March 20, 2006 (Pat: Traffic)

    We drove round the Atlanta ring road (I-285) over the weekend. Goodness knows what it would have been like on a weekday, much less at rush hour. To accomodate more vehicles, the road is now 9-10 lanes in each direction. What a nightmare. We made the mistake of driving the expressway that goes through the middle of Atlanta a few months ago on our way to the southwest. Same thing, 9-10 lanes in each direction. Wouldn't you know it: when you build more traffic lanes, more traffic comes. It's that simple. Let's hope Atlanta keeps on widening its roads, perhaps up to 32 lanes in each direction. Then they can knock down all the buildings, and pretty soon it won't be a city, just a muddle of huge concrete expressways with all the cars in Georgia driving round and round, not to mention each other nuts. And, oh yes, in the meantime we're running out of oil to make fuel for all this activity.


March 12, 2006 (Pat: Human progress)

    Yesterday we spent the day at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas. It's a hangout for astronomers to do research through some very impressive (not to mention huge) equipment, and a place for the public to get educated.

    Being there certainly forces a focus on the grand scheme of things. Made me think that perhaps humanity's idea of progress may be changing. First came language, symbols, and writing, as measures of progress for early man. Then the notion of moral improvement through religion and philosophy was seen as progress. Next, after fire and the wheel, technology and trade came along with a switch of focus to accumulation of material wealth as the measures of progress. Nowadays, it strikes me that progress is happening through an increase in our connections and interconnectedness. Each of us knows what's happening to strangers in some of the farthest corners of the globe - and maybe even we're collectively beginning to care about them. Is a life-saving shift in direction happening for our species?


March 5, 2006 (Pat: Touching the Earth)

    Think for a minute. When was the last time your foot actually touched the Earth? At least the sole of your shoe, if not the sole of your foot? And I mean touched the surface of the Earth as it naturally occurs and not as manipulated, surfaced, constructed or built on by man? Can you rememberwhen it was and how it felt? If you live in a city it could have been months or even years.


February 26, 2006 (Pat: Instructing others)

     Our species is in trouble because it's members habitually insist on telling other members how to do something or what to believe instead of focusing on what's supposed to happen. Just imagine a home where the family rules were boiled down to one: "does this action increase the amount of love in the household?" Or a school where teacher performance is measured by: "does this activity enhance the ability of kids to learn and think independently and act for the common good?" Or a religion or political party where dogma and ideology are reduced to: "do not do unto others what you would not have them do unto you." Wouldn't the world be a better place if people stopped trying to make everyone else fit into their notion of what a person should do and be? So here I am, one more person telling everyone what they ought to do!


February 19, 2006 (Pat: Bird counting)

          Today I turn 67, and I'm spending it counting birds. It's time for the 9th Annual Backyard Bird Count. My backyard is an ever-changing campsite, with an ever-changing bird community. I notice that I'm beginning to feel anchored to birds, they've become my familiar friends in a life where the human faces are all strange. The welfare of these little fluffy things has become poignantly important to me.

          This morning it's an unseasonable 34°F in south Texas, with a strong gusty north wind. I saw only 6 birds during my first 20-minute count time, at 8:30am. I imagine them dozing, huddled together in nooks, crannies, and shrubs with their down all fluffed up and bills tucked into their necks trying to keep warm. Later, flocks of lark buntings and white-crowned sparrows showed up, pecking at water drops from the faucet-to-hose connection outside our window. One got left behind as the others zoomed away in a small cloud. He seemed disoriented, lost almost until he saw his group winging again over some bushes in the distance. Immediately, he took off after them and left me to wonder... What?.


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Pat Watt (KG4QFQ)
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