29 February 2008


i want to take a moment to note the passing of william f. buckley, jr. even though my political views have always been 180 degrees opposed to his, i always enjoyed his stewardship of "Firing Line" on PBS. here was an erudite, forward, and immensely entertaining conservative moderator who actually encouraged civilized discourse. his intellect was prodigious, but it was his manners and his respect for articulate debate that set him apart from the conservative mob, and certainly from the mobsters who now run the republican party. he tolerated disagreement with his views, so long as that disagreement was clearly stated and supported. which is more than can be said for many political thinkers today, conservative or liberal or progressive. sic transit gloria mundi.


(yes, i studied latin in high school for two years, the best "foreign" language investment one could hope to make in our culture, since latin provides the foundation for its descendent romance languages -- italian, spanish, french -- as well as a significant chunk of english. no disrespect to arabic or chinese or german.)

so how may republicans does it take to change a light bulb? believe it or not, it takes five. one to actually change the bulb, and four to sit around and reminisce about how good the old bulb was.

28 February 2008


since its inception, i've been thinking about the purpose of this endeavor. some bloggers use the forum to post personal news or items of interest for family and friends. others, as a place to rant about politics or issues of the day (too many of those). still others, as an avenue for sharing information/knowledge about specialized subjects, anything from raising aardvarks to racing yachts to posting non-existent sexual expertise. alright, if i were inclined, i could write with some level of credibility (backed up by daily research) on aviation, on ecology, on birding around the country, on the travels that took me there, on online dating (!), on music (classical, blues, jazz), on movies (hmm), on books.

but my own approach has been less focused, so far. i'm in no hurry to arrive at a direction for this. but one interesting consequence to emerge has been the realization that simply developing the discipline to make an entry each day, is good preparation for becoming a writer, something to which i've aspired for many years (with the ongoing encouragement of friends whose opinions i respect). clearly, my entries so far are the equivalent of barely, barely dipping a toe in the water to test the temperature. as time passes, my voice will emerge, focus will clarify, substance will substantiate. kinda fun! i welcome any feedback or advice, from all two or three of you who read this with any regularity.

my cats are alternating between flinging themselves soulfully into my lap, and gnawing on my ankles, so it must be their suppertime. mas manana.

27 February 2008


it's my day off, and i just finished watching a DVD movie called "Paris, Je T'aime". it is a series of five-minute vignettes, all by different directors, set in different neighborhoods and environments in the city, portraying all manner of personal encounters, interactions. fun for people-watchers, and interesting for anyone who (like myself) has never seen paris. it's one of the reasons i've enjoyed the jason bourne movies -- getting to see so many european cities as the character pursues his identity and eludes his pursuers.

windows onto other places, other times. these are the films and books i enjoy best, especially if the story is thought-provoking, or illuminates what makes us tick. this is probably why, in the small rural town where i grew up, i so loved to frequent the public library and the movie theater. and still do.

curiosity. hunger. identity. thirst. knowledge. conjecture. amusement. spectacle. empathy. what would i do in his/her place? we never know for sure, until we're in it. more on this later.

26 February 2008


in the movie "Dangerous Minds", michelle pfeiffer plays an ex-marine (a stretch, i know) who is suckered into a new job teaching english to a group of inner-city misfits. as a onetime teacher, i found her approach quite interesting. she was able to actually engage her students' interest and stretch their imaginations with (audible gasp!) poetry. at one point in the movie, she challenges her kids to read the poetry of dylan thomas and the lyrics of bob dylan, and try to find parallels. hence, the dylan-dylan contest.

the process of teaching is powerful and subtle and immensely rewarding. a number of decent movies have been made about it, some predictable, others quite original and insightful. in the years since teaching math, algebra, biology and environmental studies to similarly-challenging students in suburban philadelphia, the structured teaching i've done has been limited mostly to chess. here, classroom rules and expectations can be done away with. my approach is very relaxed, gradual, two minds working together to discover the interplay of pieces on the board, with an emphasis on expanding horizons and having fun!

i've long felt that poor students are a product of poor teaching, and that we as a culture fail our children by not providing them with the finest teachers and labs and facilities that money can buy. won't it be a fine day, as the old bumper sticker states, when schools will have all the funding they need, and the air force has to hold a bake sale to finance their new bomber?

25 February 2008


or is it tea and symphony? tonight my heart is singing -- it has been a grand, grand day. just finished a book of travelers' tales in ireland, got to drive (safely) through a snowstorm earlier, and spent quality time with a new friend. it feels as if my horizons are expanding, taking on colors and textures that have been missing for a long time.

at the moment i have one purring cat in my lap, and the other cat basking in the warmth of the tensor lamp over my other computer's monitor, both of them supervising as i type. they agree with me, by the way, that the oscar for best actress should have gone to julie christie in "Away From Her". her performance was luminous, devastating, inspired. and what a fox, after all these years.

there once was a girl from missoula,
who kept all her wine in the coola.
red and white there were seen,
for she is the queen
of her home, a benevolent rula.

24 February 2008


i was struck when i came across a brief set of principles, self-evident after you think about them, which can be applied to any aspect of life, be it work, play, a relationship, a hobby, or learning a new skill. they are:

~ competence. the minimum acceptable for anyone who thinks and acts in accordance with the philosophical concept of Quality.

~ excellence. a state which some achieve, after considerable effort and exercise of talent.

~ mastery. something few seek, and fewer attain.

it seems to me that we (myself included) often see ourselves as having reached a higher state of achievement or awareness, than we actually have. this may be a normal human propensity, but it's not particularly adaptive to our surviving and thriving, as individuals or as a species. a little humility goes a long way in restoring a clearer view of self. sometimes it takes a 2 X 4 upside the head to achieve that clarity, that humility.

in ecology and genetics, "fitness" isn't a measure of physical strength or speed or ferocity. it is a description of an organism's ability to survive long enough to pass its genes on to viable offspring. so survival of the fittest has nothing to do with "nature, red in tooth and claw", i.e. some gladiatorial contest with the winner taking the spoils. it is about adapting to the environment, thriving, and reproducing to pass on those traits which enhance survival -- possibly speed or strength or ferocity, but equally possibly the ability to imagine, to conceptualize, to think ahead to good or bad consequences of a choice. or to form ethical guidelines for behavior, whether alone or with others.

footnote: i'm reading one of the seminal books of my lifetime, and cannot recommend it highly enough to every reader: With Speed And Violence, by fred pearce, subtitled "why scientists fear tipping points in climate change." it is a cogent and compelling exploration of earth systems, easy to understand, documented by extensive research, disturbing in its implications for our grandchildren, our children, perhaps even for ourselves. we've been conveniently living outside the guidelines imposed on planet stewards, and it may already be too late to assume the mantle of responsibility. but we must try.

23 February 2008


the event referred to in yesterday's post has been clarified -- the couple in question are indeed parting ways, but it is not in response to a crisis. rather, it is a well-reasoned and rational choice based on conditions that have been growing for many years. in the long run, both will be happier, and that is what matters.

so my mind is back on track, the train is pulling out, all aboard!

here's an indispensable resource for those of you who, like me, are movie freaks: www.imdb.com , the internet movie data base. enter the name of a film, actor, director, character, a quote or keyword, and be amazed. extensive filmographies, cross-referencing links, the works.

something of more substance tomorrow. time for an amaretto sour and a good book.

22 February 2008


i learned today that two people near and dear to me are parting ways. too much sorrow to explore this further.

21 February 2008


every saint has a past -- every sinner has a future.

be careful whom you choose as your hero. in doing so, you have diminished yourself in some way.

20 February 2008


but i have visions of the navy launching its rocket, missing the errant spy satellite, and striking the eclipsing moon, blowing it to dust. horrified children will turn to their parents, eyes as big as saucers, and protest, "i didn't do it!"

or not.

19 February 2008


an old and dear friend sent me an email in which she spoke of life's struggles and heartaches, and the resources she has created or drawn upon to negotiate those difficult passages. her words were inspiring, and resonated with the conviction of her experiences. as i reflect on my own times of struggle, it is clear that each of us possesses reservoirs of inner strength and resourcefulness that we rarely notice. currently i'm dealing with a couple of work-related injuries which limit my physical freedom, a far cry from the free-and-easy athleticism of my youth and middle years. and yet i persist, through the pain, through the discouragement, through the sometimes loneliness. i'm far from noble or heroic, it's just the right thing to do. having a couple of feline friends definitely helps!

another friend who is struggling with physical disability emailed me, asking what i do to comfort myself when things seem bleakest. i mentioned the company of cats, comfort foods, diversions like reading or dvd movies, or just getting out of my apartment (and out of my head) into the world to run errands or go for long walks. perhaps the most important element for me is contact with friends, whether directly or online. to all my friends: thank you for being in my life. you mean more to me than i can ever express -- though i will continue to try.

18 February 2008


for the past eight or nine months, i've been exploring the world of online matching services. the results have been decidedly mixed, though curiously parallel to a similar period in the mid-80s, pre-internet, when i was placing and responding to personals ads in the tucson, arizona, alternative newspaper. then, as now, of those respondents whom i actually met, probably two thirds were dead ends. another sixth were multiple dates, but ultimately did not work out. the other sixth became friends, but not romantic interests. of the dozens i met over a three year period, only one turned out to be a soul mate. currently, my new soul mate has eluded me. but hope springs eternal .....

naturally, i suppose, in both the print medium and online, aspiring partners tend to place themselves in the best possible light, rarely revealing their character flaws, psychoses, or weaknesses. it's up to the perceptive hunter to read between the lines, pick up on red flag phrases, or notice gaps in information. and that's just the preliminaries, before you actually meet!

it's a new world, one in which it can be too easy to make rash assumptions based on wishful thinking. i've learned to slow down, listen carefully, but still hoping that my correspondents match candor for candor, intelligence for intelligence, wit for wit, and that we find common ground in our aesthetics, our cultural interests, our delight in the natural world, and the activities/events that challenge, thrill and inspire us. i'm definitely not looking for a clone, how boring that would be. just a reasonable degree of compatibility, with enough differences to spice up the mix. someone to learn from, and share with, and grow with.

but alas, she has to like cats ....

17 February 2008


why "predatorhaven"? because predators get a bum rap, and many have been driven to extinction, or the brink of it. humans seem to see predators as either a threat, or as competition. what we fail to take into account is that predators are an indispensable part of nature's food web, keeping prey populations in check by culling out the weak, the sick, the aged, thus ensuring that the strongest and swiftest prey will survive to pass their genes on to future generations. remove predators -- mountain lion, wolf, raptor, snake, alligator, orca, shark, tiger -- and you may make life temporarily easier for a few hunters or ranchers or fishermen. but in the long run you've upset the balance that evolution has taken millenia to produce. the result? an impoverished ecosystem. the rampant spread of prey species, until they become pests requiring human management, when it was human MISmanagement that screwed things up in the first place.

humans in coal mines have crudely measured the air's toxicity by keeping canaries in the mineshaft where they work. the canary dies, woops, time to decamp. similarly the health of an ecosystem (of which we are merely a part) can be measured by the health of its predator species. biodiversity isn't just an abstract word coined by some ecologist in pursuit of a research subject. it is a fundamental requirement for a vigorous, resilient and sustainable future for all of us. WE are part of the system, not the inherent masters of it. being possessed of consciousness and (presumably) a set of ethics, it is incumbent upon us to act as responsible stewards for all life forms. if we fail at this, the system will be absolutely unforgiving, as we are already starting to discover with the advent of global warming, global dimming, deglaciation, species extinctions, the disappearance of entire ecosystems. do we really want to go down in history as the species equivalent of planetary cancer?

when i think of how much wilderness and wildlife existed when i was a child in the 1950s, and compare that to what remains today, i grieve. what will be left for our children's children to marvel at? more to the point, nature's creatures deserve to be allowed to survive for their own sake, independent of any value judgments which we may arbitrarily impose. i learned this most vividly during my years in the sonoran desert in southern arizona. one doesn't just blunder through the landscape without first learning to understand and respect one's place there. you learn to carry water, you learn not to brush up against cholla cactus, you learn not to reach beneath a bush or rock ledge without checking for rattlesnakes first. and you absolutely yield the right of way to the natives. they were here first. we are their guests, and should behave accordingly. this holds true in the desert, the jungle, the african savannah, in a coral reef, in a southern swamp or a western mountain range. we are the guests.

alas, we have also become, by virtue of our large brains and technology and sheer numbers, the most voracious predator on the planet. but that is not our rightful role. rather than being a cancer upon the land, we must reduce our own population to a sustainable level (say, one tenth what it is today, worldwide), and, reduce our presence in what remains of wilderness areas, and actually expand those areas in order to support all nature's creatures, with special focus on the top of the food chain, nature's predators.

end of rant. for now. and how was your day?

16 February 2008


if you haven't already discovered it, this website http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ offers a different picture daily from NASA files -- nearly every one a jaw-dropper -- along with text which explains what you're seeing. the images range from hubble telescope shots of phenomena in our galaxy and beyond, to photos taken from earth of meteorological or celestial events. well worth planting an icon on your desktop for daily reference, inspiration, beauty and awe. thousands of past images are accessed using the "calendar" or "archive" functions.

for a view from above, try downloading google earth (works best with a broadband connection). it's free, versatile, and loads of fun. the satellite image resolution is impressive, and you can manipulate the format in ways that will blow your socks off -- magnify from a global view down to your own house, or a slanting 3D view, for starters. just bring up the google site, and browse their list of product downloads.

yup, i'm a map freak as well. in addition to enjoying the usual google maps and mapquest, take a peek at http://www.ravenmaps.com/prostores/servlet/StoreFront . someday i want to live in a house large enough to have an entire room devoted to maps on display. not to mention a rooftop observatory, a wraparound porch, hidden passages, a library with built-in shelves on all walls, and a view of either the ocean, temperate rain forest, a broad mountain valley, or pristine desert. nearest neighbor 1-5 miles away. enough land to form a nature preserve. well, we all need a dream, don't we.

so if corn oil is made from corn, i wonder what baby oil is made from?

15 February 2008


i chose the user name "rys" after reading diane ackerman's excellent book, The Zookeeper's Wife. jan and antonina zabinski managed the warsaw zoo, before and during WWII. they were horrified by nazi racism, and took action, transforming their facility into both a safehouse and underground railroad station for (ultimately) hundreds of jews, gypsies, and others who were hunted and persecuted by the nazis. jan was also a high-ranking member of the polish resistance. their son's name was ryszard, nicknamed rys, which happens to be the polish word for "lynx", one of my totem animals.

so now you know. thought for today: "You are what you have to defend." a bit ambiguous, intentionally. what does it mean to you?

14 February 2008


the aircraft shown is an SR-71 Blackbird, america's fastest and most effective reconnaissance plane. it flew so high (80,000 feet) and so fast (2193 mph) that no missile ever caught it. the final, decommissioning flight set a transcontinental speed record, west coast to east coast in 68 minutes, 17 seconds, averaging 2124 mph.

here's a link for those who, like me, are into flight: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sr-71 blackbird.

the image is an icon for my intent on this blog -- observation from a nonordinary perspective, at times posing provocative questions, at other times just fooling around enjoying the ride. welcome aboard!

13 February 2008


thanks to my chicago amigo bill for patiently prodding me into this. course and speed uncertain, but the ride feels smooth. more later, over most of this same station.