29 May 2008


a friend was describing to me a tv documentary she'd seen, in which it was demonstrated that drivers who insist on talking on their cell phones while operating their vehicles, have approximately the same focus available for the task at hand (driving) as someone who is drunk.

i've seen this documented in past studies, as far back as ten years ago. my friend went on to tell me that in just about any "multi-tasking" setting, the brain is capable of paying primary attention to only one task, with the other tasks getting extremely short shrift on the cerebral back burner.

if you'd like confirmation of this phenomenon, all you have to do is pay attention to the behavior of drivers talking on their cell phones. they wander within their traffic lane, they suddenly realize they're about to miss a turn and veer across traffic, cutting off other drivers, they experience near-misses with adjacent vehicles, with pedestrians, with lamp posts. in short, they are a deadly menace on the road. one might as well be asleep at the wheel of an UNguided missile on wheels.

this irresponsible and hazardous behavior should be illegal in all states, just as driving under the influence is illegal. only a handful of states have enacted legislation making it so. oh, parenthetically, the excuse of using headphones, ostensibly leaving both your hands free, holds no water. it is what is going on inside the brain that is at issue.

bottom line -- hang up and drive ! ! !

by the way, the brain's inability to "multi-task" has implications for all those eager employment ads which describe a fast-paced work environment which requires energy, drive, a cheerful smile, and the ability to multi-task. gee, sounds like they're asking for the impossible, doesn't it? well, they are. it's far more productive in terms of quality and quantity, to slow down and focus on doing each task in turn. surprise.

back to vehicles for a moment -- the same splitting of attention occurs when one is listening to the car radio. the next time you're cruising, whether listening to talk radio or to music, try turning it off and notice how much more attuned you are to what's going on around you. it could save your life.

26 May 2008


i am a vietnam veteran. each year, amid the cataclysm of lucrative store sales and general foolishness to which american commerce is prone, i tend to withdraw into reflection, and sorrow, and cynicism over the prospects for the human species. you probably wouldn't notice these thoughts on my face if you met me. by and large, vietnam vets learned a long time ago to stuff their feelings, a result of being treated like monsters rather than honorable citizen-soldiers. the word "hero" wasn't broadly applied to everyone in uniform, as it is today. but that's another issue, already addressed in a prior entry to this journal.

no, we who survived the jungle war in vietnam, contrary to the movie myth of the deranged PTSD homicidal lunatic, tend toward quietness. we carry unhealed wounds for years, sometimes lifetimes. ours is a private history, shared with fellow survivors in the language that we alone understand. each war creates its own culture among its veterans, it seems to me. WWII vets, korean vets, vietnam vets, gulf war vets, iraq/afghanistan vets each have their shared slang, shared fears, shared music, shared struggles. the patina overlaying these differences, the commonality which binds us into a larger group with a mutual language, is that of war. visit any cemetery or war memorial and you will see the light of recognition light in the eyes of military veterans as they regard their ancient foe -- war itself. no one who hasn't been through it can hope to understand the feelings, any more than i as a male can understand the amazing complex of joy and pain that a woman experiences during childbirth. i can try, i can imagine, i can even empathize. but i'll never know what it's really like.

which is why vets so often become isolated, especially vietnam vets. unlike those who returned from WWII, or those who are returning from iraq, we had no decompression, no psychological check-in, no chance to sort through our raging confusion. one day in march, 1969, i was in vietnam. twenty-four hours later i was discharged and set loose in san francisco. culture shock to the nth degree.

but i adapted, i blended in, i found ways to pass as a member of the counterculture. the monumental disconnect between my exterior life and my wartime past didn't hit for about fifteen years. in the interim, starting ten years after my return to the states, i'd been reading hungrily about the experiences of others who'd been there. i'd seen the smattering of (mostly terrible and non-representative) movies about vietnam. it all came together like a 2 X 4 between the eyes, one fourth of july evening. my partner at the time and the three kids in our blended family had gathered with others to view a huge fireworks display at the base of "A" mountain in tucson. with the arrival of darkness, a powerful combination of stimuli coalesced as they never had since the war. suddenly i realized that i was back in country, parachute flares slowly falling, lighting up the landscape in red, explosions going off, the wop-wop-wop of choppers overhead. i found myself drowning in the first full-fledged panic attack of my life. i made certain that my son was safe with my partner, then literally ran for my life into the darkness of the nearby desert, finally finding a shadowy corner behind an adobe building in which to crouch, my senses in disarray, my heart racing.

i eventually pulled myself together, of course, and life went on. but to this day i cannot be around fourth of july fireworks. the sound of strings of firecrackers going off sounds eerily like M16s in a firefight. the flashes, the darkness, the disembodied voices, the threat -- all are still there. the beast continues to prowl the earth, and it is hungry.

and isn't it odd (we humans are such a contrary, paradoxical, glorious and strange species) that i've never lost my interest in guns, so long as they are in my hands. someone else with a gun has my full attention, even if it's holstered on a cop's belt. kids with guns give me the heebie-jeebies.

so, we each find ways to manage our neuroses. my PTSD isn't nearly as debilitating as that of many vets, who saw and did more horrific things that i. but it's real enough. i don't think about it much, and i don't think that it rules my life. but on days of remembrance like today, i allow myself to be swept back to those other times, to remember the heat and the humidity and the gigantic insects and the landscape populated by folks who came up only to my shoulder, speaking a language that could be piercing and musical all at once. and i remember the faces. the voices. the laughter. the anger. the sweat. the boredom. the exhaustion of working twelve hours a day, seven days a week. the nervousness, never knowing whether the next incoming mortar round or rocket or sniper round might have your name on it. the friendships, forged in those inhuman conditions.

and the deaths. men i'd known for weeks, or a few days, or not at all, amid confusion and explosions and blood and missing limbs and spilling brains and screams and gunfire and yes, those thumping chopper rotor blades.

understand: these are sacred memories. sacred to my life history, sacred to the nation which sent us all into such an abysmally useless war, sacred to the families of those who never came back, or who came back missing pieces of themselves. i wouldn't wish the experience on anyone, nor would i care to live through it again myself. but it was a cauldron i survived, a harrowing passage which helped shape the man i was to become -- partner, father, seeker, role model, dreamer, world citizen.

as are we all, though we sometimes forget.

one last thing: each time you learn that someone is a military veteran, on any day of the year, please, please say "thank you". the sentiment has nothing to do with political beliefs, or patriotism, or sentimentality. it has to do with allowing that person, man or woman, to pause, look up, and feel recognized for their sacrifice. they will be humbled, and grateful. finally.

23 May 2008


for a few months now, a new love interest and i have been exchanging visits between our respective home towns, 200 miles apart. the photos i got back from a recent rendezvous set me to thinking about my history in photography -- they were taken with a Nikon N90 35mm SLR film camera. that's right, non-digital. my developer is kind enough to offer both traditional prints and negatives, supplemented by a DVD of digitalized images. this enables me to send photos as attachments to emails to my friends, while still practicing the art and science of photography as i first learned it, discovering the delicate balance between lens opening and shutter speed and film speed and ambient conditions and the photographer's creative vision, which are the purest form of film photography.

back in the day (over forty years ago), photos were just snapshots, with a kodak camera and later a polaroid camera. i didn't really begin to learn and understand the process of creative photography until i was in vietnam. there i purchased a 16mm Minolta cartridge film camera half the size of a pack of cigarettes, and carried it everywhere i went. astonishingly, this tiny device had controls for shutter speed and lens opening, and by trial and error i began to learn how manipulating each control affects the light which reaches the film. i'd begun an artistic and photodocumentary journey.

a few years later, living in spectacularly photogenic southern arizona, i progressed to a Pentax Spotmatic 35mm SLR, with a wide angle lens and a zoom telephoto as well. the pentax was still a simple camera, with manual adjustments for shutter speed and lens opening. the sole electronic device was a built-in light meter. my vision broadened, my instincts became more fine-tuned, as this old workhorse taught me even more about light, and shadow, and composition, and depth of field, and motion, and color saturation, and focus. four years spent managing a nature preserve provided a nonstop playground for experimenting with light.

fast forward to the late 90s, the pacific northwest. i decided to upgrade to my current Nikon, with all its attendant bells and whistles -- built in flash, motor drive, autofocus, more features than i've ever used. it cost an arm and a leg, and wouldn't you know it, i made the purchase right before the digital revolution changed photography forever. so here i sit, determined to use and enjoy this older technology until it wears out or they stop making film. digital is great, and someday i'll indulge, but for now, i'm still a film guy.

it's analogous to the faces on watches. i still much prefer the traditional analog clock face with its numerical face and hands, to the somehow impersonal flicking, ticking numbers on digital watches. i don't think i'm a luddite -- there's something i find visually appealing, as well as intuitive, about glancing at an analog watch and picturing what time it is without having to think the numbers to myself, then translate that to something meaningful.

one could make a similar observation about musical instruments -- i also happen to prefer the more organic, genuine sound of an acoustic guitar to the whine of an electric guitar, all other things being equal. or even sound recordings -- there's something primal, historic, about listening to a symphony on an old LP, compared to the admittedly more brilliant digital sound on a CD.

it takes all kinds, i guess.

09 May 2008


here's a game i made up about ten years ago. we all know that a kazillion songs, movies and books have been written about love, with a significant portion having the word "love" in the title. i wondered what would happen if one substituted the word "lunch" for "love". i can't find my list of morphed titles from that time, which ran to several hundred entries. but i'll bet you can come up with several dozen on your own -- if so, please feel free to share them by clicking on the comments link below.

here are a few samples to start the mental wheels spinning:

muskrat lunch
and i lunch you
all you need is lunch
lunch in the afternoon
strange lunch
sea of lunch
lunch with the proper stranger
she lunches you (yeah yeah yeah)
lunch among the ruins
to sir with lunch
lost in lunch
feel the lunch
lunch me tender
in lunch with you
for your lunch
young lunch
all my lunch

you get the idea. have fun!

08 May 2008


today marks the 35th anniversary of the surrender of militant american indians who had held the south dakota hamlet of wounded knee for 10 weeks. wounded knee lies within the pine ridge indian reservation, and the militants were mostly oglala sioux, led by members of AIM, the american indian movement. their occupation was in protest against decades of abuse and neglect by the feds and by the puppet tribal government led by dick wilson and his good squad. armed with a few rifles and a reverence for traditional tribal values, the small group of occupiers were surrounded by an army of FBI, u.s. marshalls, white ranchers, and wilson's goons, equipped with armored personnel carriers, helicopters, assault rifles, machine guns, grenade launchers, and other tools of the vietnam war. for more on this incident, which closely resembles similar attacks by whites on indians in the 1800s, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wounded_Knee_Incident .

wounded knee was the site of the massacre of the same name in 1890: http://en.wikipedia.org:80/wiki/Wounded_Knee_Massacre

in 1973 i was living in tucson, arizona. i vividly remember seeing a poster in the window of a head shop on south 4th avenue, proclaiming the situation at wounded knee and calling for assistance nationwide. i came so close to going, and now wish i had.

07 May 2008


it happens that for the past year, i've been searching for a new relationship in my life, several years after the last one ended. being adaptable, i've explored a number of connections with potential partners through online services like match.com and eharmony. most profiles are eliminated immediately for one reason or another. a few develop to the email and phone call stage. even fewer filter down to actually meeting, then meeting again. of those, two women have become good and caring friends, and another has great potential as a life partner (be still, my heart).

during the process, there've been a few comedies of error, and a few catastrophes. i've learned much, about others and about myself.

through it all, one of my guideposts for understanding and evaluating each new person has been a favorite poem, written by a woman named oriah mountain dreamer. the poem is called The Invitation -- you can savor it for yourself by clicking on this link -- http://www.oriahmountaindreamer.com/ . she has a wonderful vision on relationships, one that i return to when i need nourishment or the reminder of what's essential in this life. enjoy.

06 May 2008


NASA maintains a number of useful and fascinating websites. my favorite is their astronomy picture of the day, http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ . the image for today, 6 may 2008, is especially breathtaking -- two galaxies colliding, a swirling mass of chaotic beauty.

please note that to view a particular day's image, you must click on the "calendar" link at the bottom of the webpage, then navigate to the date in question. or, it's fun just to cycle back randomly to previous images, using either the "calendar" or the "archive" link.

many of the images are taken from the hubble space telescope, from orbiting shuttles and stations, as well as from ground telescopes. there are also stunning images of terrestrial weather. if you send the above link to your computer's desktop, you can check each new day's image as part of your routine, for a daily dose of awe and wonder. check it out.

05 May 2008


the tragic death of the filly Eight Belles at the end of saturday's kentucky derby was shocking to all who witnessed it (i, thankfully, did not). after running the entire race on churchill downs' famous dirt track -- hard and fast that day -- and coming in second place, the filly was loping around the first turn to slow down and cool down, and both her front ankles snapped. she had to be euthanized on the spot, before the horrified crowd and a world tv audience.

the event will, i hope, serve to bring into question all events in which animals are the subject or the vehicle for human "sport". in the case of thoroughbred horse racing, it is my understanding that there has occurred so much inbreeding over the years, in the pursuit of speed, that such injuries become more and more inevitable. at what cost, both to the horses and to our own integrity?

greyhound racing? similar story.

professional rodeo? don't even get me started. i grew up in rodeo country, and have vivid memories of one particular whoop-up rodeo (whoop-up being my home town's annual celebration of the trail by the same name, used by booze smugglers from canada into the u.s. during prohibition) -- a bronc was released from the chute, somehow landed awkwardly and shattered a rear leg joint. the poor creature leaped and hobbled and literally screamed (a sound i shall never forget) around the arena. the only thing holding its lower hind leg to its body was a shred of hide. that near-severed limb spun and looped crazily as the horse fled in panic to escape the pain. even after riders were able to rope it and tie it down, it took a full half hour before the owners could be reached for permission to put the horse out of its misery with a gunshot to the head.

freak occurrance? well, imagine yourself to be a calf, prodded out of a chute and running terrified from the pursuing horse and rider. suddenly a rope settles around you neck, and you are jerked into the air from full forward flight to come crashing to the ground, choking. the rider then hastily binds three of your four thrashing legs and raises both arms when finished, signalling the stopwatches to stop, recording his time. good clean fun, right? someday i'd like to see a cowboy sent racing across the arena, only to be ridden down and roped in similar fashion. i think his attitude that the whole procedure is painless might change.

rodeo is sacrosanct in much of the american west, as is bullfighting in spain and mexico. they remain in my mind bastions of barbarity and torture, right alongside dog fighting, cock fighting, fox hunting, and canned big game hunts. this is not sport, this is savagery.

Eight Belles is mercifully no longer with us. i hope that her death will spark a universal debate over our assumptions on the humane treatment of animals. but i'm not holding my breath.

03 May 2008


this burns my socks. just about year-round in missoula, and certainly during the warmer months (all four of them), pedestrians and bicyclists, often accompanied by their baby strollers and unleashed dogs, ply the streets of the city. missoula prides itself as being friendly to alternative, non-fuel-consumptive transport, which is fine. but the majority of said amblers and peddlers abuse the privilege.

i'm a professional driver, during this particular incarnation of my long and sordid life. i'm on the road 4-9 hours a day, and i see all the venal sins that you pompous, self-righteous walkers and bikers commit. you have developed a sense of entitlement, not to mention righteousness, that makes me homicidal. not for you the rules of the road, oh no. if the sign says "don't walk", you walk anyway, in crowds, and vehicle traffic backs up, idling engines adding to air pollution. many of you can't even be bothered by walking (good for your health, i hear) to the nearest crosswalk. you amble with blinders on, not checking for traffic, right across the street in midblock. screeching tires and warning horns seem to make you more determined to claim the public thoroughfare as yours, and yours alone.

bikers. sweet mother of god, don't you realize that you are subject to the same traffic rules as cars are? you ride on the roadway or the sidewalk, with or against traffic, ignoring stop signs and stop lights, swooshing your daring way through one potentially lethal confrontation after another. lethal to you, by the way, not the poor unfortunate sod off whose hood you may happen to ricochet. it's all about speed and style with you, and the devil take the hindmost.

pedestrians and bicyclists of missoula, your behavior is disgraceful, dangerous, and despicable. you wouldn't survive for two minutes in houston or philadelphia or boston without turning into road pizza. get over your egotistical selves, realize that you share the road with the very motor vehicles for whom those roads were built (using fuel tax dollars). stop, look and listen before crossing.

or, keep it up, and you may find yourself in the path of a moving vehicle whose driver has no intention of slowing down for you. not me, mind you. i'm a professional, even on my days off. still, the temptation is there ...

02 May 2008


one of my favorite writers, morgan llywelyn, has written the fifth and final installment in her series of novels on the irish people's struggle for independence through the tumultuous course of the twentieth century. the ongoing story is told through the lives of generations of one family, beginning with the events leading up to the Easter Rebellion in 1916, followed by the Civil War in 1921, the founding of the Irish Republic in 1949, and the horrors of Bloody Sunday in 1972. (each of the stated years is the actual title of a novel in the series.) 1999 continues the chain of events to the disarmament talks and beginnings of reconciliation among the irish at the end of the twentieth century, as ireland has joined europe and prospered.

llywelyn's story telling is magical -- whether rooted in modern times, or in irish myth and ancient history (see Brian Boru, Finn Mac Cool, Grania, Lion of Ireland, The Red Branch, etc.). her characters are both recognizable and larger than life, flawed and heroic. her characters' voices and speech are a fresh sea breeze of celtic lilt and lore. she is, in short, a national treasure.

up the british!