Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Little Escape From the Cliff

Moved by the dysfunction stalking the country, I was going to offer some depressing thoughts on the lack of confidence I'm feeling in our ability to evade the various cliffs facing us, but instead I'm offering escape today in the form of an excerpt from the upcoming work of fiction I am racing to complete by the spring. It has no title yet. But here's the setup:

A father and son have come across a Mayan tablet with a notation on it sought by Islamic warriors intent on building a warp speed transport craft. The father is imprisoned in a Jihadist camp in northern Canada. The son is attempting to find him. This is a section of the first person account of the father's imprisonment which takes turns with the son's quest.

If the Universe is spinning, then nothing has an essential purpose which has yet to be revealed. When the song ends, the play will be called. Until then we are running around the chairs trying not to be the ones standing when the music ceases. On the other hand, if the Universe is stable and we're the ones spinning, then this is a story with a beginning and end and the purpose of hell is to purify us for an eventual liberation. it would also explain all sorts of phenomena such as nauseau, the feeling I get when I contemplate the endlessness of my stay here.
Also, morning sickness, when the tumbling child wanting to be liberated calls out from the vacuum of the womb. 
Mary suffered tremendously with Ricky, or Richard, as she called him. I can picture her huddled beneath me, my arms around her stomach, holding her up like a sack of potatoes in the bathroom, sometimes for hours it seemed, the sun coming up in the window with the orange tree outside it. It never gave any oranges aside from one year some pitifully small fruit. But Ricky was as healthy as an onion. The little guy came out like a ball of fire, blathering, spewing his bodily fluids freely with the hospital cap on his elongated head, stretched from the difficult passage into this world through Mary's hole. She was our world tree, the axis around which our lives revolved. With her death we were cast headlong into the spinning vortex and tried with all our might to hold on to what we had, our memories of the love, the faith that it would continue to grow and wrap itself around our hearts and develop into something resembling the image we had in our minds of her.  I'd almost be capable of assembling my memories into a coherent picture excep that it would serve no purpose. There's nobody coming for me in this place. I don't believe it anymore. There's nothing calling to me beyond the noises of the infernal machinery in this undergound, viperous catacomb.
And yet she was above all else endowed with a sweetness of spirit, a rock meant to alleviate the spinning of whatever time and space we are sailing in. She never failed to pick me up when she smiled, and she smiled all the time. In the morning looking up from the bed with half closed eyes as I dressed for work, in the night when I stumbled around in the dark and switched on the light, unable to sleep from too much bourbon with the staff of Myers at the annual Christmas party.
She and Ricky sometimes whispered conversations at the table and I couldn't quite make out what they were saying, and she would smile at me and repeat what she'd said, sometimes not quite truthfully just to rub it in in, kind of harden me in her own way. She wasn't some kind of perfect wife, agreeing with me on every subject, God knows. But I could count on her honest opinions to be on the money.
Odds and ends from the piles and piles of mental images that come out:
Mary and Ricky reading the Lorax in Ricky's bed. A card Ricky made for Thamsgiving. She had it up on the refrigerator or years. His class pictures on the refrigeratior also. The photograph of the two of us on the deck of the Freedom standing in front of the ventilation shaft like a big tuba. The earring box on her bureau covered in dust. The mole on her back, about an inch windward of the vertebrae, her long feet splayed naturally the way she stood over Ricky when she was trying to get his cowlick just right for the first day of school. the way she cried when I came home and announced I'd lost the job at Myers, angry at them for not having given me time to even clear out my desk.
I am pausing now to write these words down. There is light now and an electrical outlet and a bed. The cell I am in still has puddled water from the condensation dripping from the ceiling. I have tried to position the bed so as to miss most of the drips, but the pencil, the paper, all of these are meager, yet important improvements. Jajabr comes and sees me now several times a week. We talk. I want to start to record our conversations. Next I will ask him for a favor and I will write Ricky a letter. I will send it to Tony, assuming that he has been placed in custodial charge until Ricky turns eighteen in a few years. I have asked Jajabr what he plans to do with me. He says the decision will be made by the judges. Apparently there is a counil of these men, holy men, in Jajabr's opinion, who legislate on all matters. I hope they are sensible. He has asked me to write out my case for freedom so he can forward it on. I am working on that too. But first, I need my memories. they make me strong, give me hope. I can't work without hope.
It's another day now. I can tell somehow by the sounds. There is a cycle of noises that carries in this cell, closer to a night and day, with a round of silence followed by more noises, motors, whinings and roars, and the occassionl thunder of the train tracks, but more distant now. Jajbr came down. There is no dilly dallying when he is around. The guards walk faster, tighter. His righteous indignation is the fuel that motors them onward in this outpost, wherever we are. He came inside with the food and asked me how I was. I said I would be better with natural light. the artificial light has failed to relieve me completely of my morbid thoughts. I confessed that i was thinking about dying.
Your weakness is a result of your lack of faith in the right way, the path of Allah.
It's what he always says. Patiently, I asked him for more information, trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice. 
 What are the signposts of this path?
I didn't mention, although it was my first thought, that it would be hard to walk any sort of path, living in forced confinement in a toilet. He doesn't seem to take that sort of thing well, I've found. Besides, I needed to get the envelope and a letter out to Ricky.
You must work purely for God. Align your desires with the rulings of the Sharia. Be resolute in your intentions.
I must try harder. But it's asking a bit much when I have no idea how long this will go on, don't you think?
Over that, not even our judges know. That is the time and day of the final reckoning.
I'm not talking about the Last Judgement. I'm talking about getting the hell out of here Jajabr.
You must have faith. Seek the counsel of the wise men.
And they are, where?
You know the story of the mouse and the Lion. I am the mouse and you are the Lion. I can save you. Your voice will return once you have found the true source of your strength in the one and true God.
What is this mania for conversion? Is that why you have me here?
I just think you might find wisdom in your captivity. After all, look at Mandela. He found a world in a cage. Why not you?
I'm not Mandela. I'm just an ordinary man, You trying to force a square peg through a round hole, Jajabr. I'm not going to lie to you. I appreciate your conversation., But t gets a litle old having to listen to all the claptrap about your salvation. No offense.
His face reddened. He stared hard at me and stroked his beard. His eyes are a strange dull amber and the hard black pupils that wax and wane with his moods.
You must be confronted with your ignorance.  That is your only salvation.
Like all of us Americans, huh?
No, not all. Some will find it easier to accept the true din. Whoever God desires to lead, he turns his heart to the righteous road.
The only road I care about is the road that leads me out of here and back to my son, Jajabr. You've deprived me of my freedom, but the only reason I have for living is my son. I need to get word to him that I am alive.
Your son is alive. I have word that he is in the hands of the enemy, at their camps and councils of the highest order. They have seized the tablet and are attemting to understand the message of the Mayan kings.
The Mayans? Tell me that dammed tablet had anything good on it Jajabr.
The ancient people of that lineage understood the Safira and how to assemble the levels of matter that came from it.
What do you inetend to do with it? Do you really intend to wipe us out?
If we have to we will purify by fire
With your bomb.
The technology is in its dvelopment phase.
Look, again, no offense. But it's been awhile since your side has had any decent technological jump on the West.
We controlled thirteen million square kilometers. That was not done with firecrackers, my friend.
Okay. But if you destroy the West, do you intend to strip out the engines of innovation that are our universities and our entrepreneurs, our commerce? What will you be left with?
Sharia law. An Islamic wy of living. The learning will not disappear. Humans will still behave like humans, only decently, without the excessive immorality, the homosexuality, the poverty of your children, the lack of health.
Oh, come on.
How can you defend your country when one gunman can enter a kindergarten and shoot down twenty children with an automatic rifle? These are cancers on the soul of the world, these acts. Your women are the ruination of our young. It will be brought to a stop, for the good even of ordinary Americans who are suffering as badly as any. We used to think it was your plan to keep only our people, the Arabs in a state of suffering. But now we see it is even worse than this. Your thirst for power has led you to cannibalize the mongrel hordes that live in your own slums and outbacks. The world itself is sick from your smoke. I must stop. It is enough for me to see you to know that we must prevail.
Nice talking to you also, Jajbr. Anytime. Stop in and see me again soon. I'm always here.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sleepwalking to Nowhere

This morning the alarm went off even though it shouldn't have. That kind of thing used to really bother me, but not so much any more. Getting up in the dark when I could have easily slept for another hour. There must be a purpose for those twists and turns of fate besides giving me an extra hour to write. Maybe more than anyone ever imagined. I'm reading a book, Parallel Worlds, A Journey through Creation, Higher Dimensions and the Future of the Cosmos by Michio Kaku. It's a fascinating narrative of recent developments in cosmology and physical science, something about which I've always been somewhat curious, but had little to no grasp of. One of the new theories coming out of the quantum revolution in physics is one about alternative universes that arise every time there are choices to be made, sort of like Schrodinger's Cat who is alive and dead at the same time. Too difficult to explain fully, but nevertheless it  has been a revealing way to think about where we are as a country, seemingly stuck between two alternative views of the universe, deadlocked and unable to either defecate or get off the pot. Especially given the Mayan end of time, and the beginning of a new long cycle, it seems likely to me that what we are witnessing is the dying of an old way of looking at things and the rise of a new consciousness. Certainly listening to the fumbling in the media around gun violence and who or what is to blame for the deaths in Newtown, there might be some good come out of all the soul searching, if we can seize the moment and take some step forward. The people who claim that there are no outright or easy solutions, so doing nothing is the best option, I hope they can be effectively silenced by all the outraged people who are adamant that something needs to be done. Something in this case means taking a step despite the uncertainty, choosing between two alternative views, and moving beyond the current status quo that is really a black hole leading nowhere.
The same situation holds with every major issue, from our fiscal woes to global warming to the politics of the Middle East, doing nothing is giving in to the mistakes of the past that have led us to these impasses. Moving out of the comfort zone is the only way to ensure our survival. The question remains, will we be able as a species to find a way to organize ourselves and find solutions that do not entail a world of haves and have nots, higher walls and bigger guns? That's not a reality I would want for my children and their children, but it seems increasingly likely that that is the way we are going. Like spoiled children, we don't seem able to take even the tiniest steps away from our cherished ideas and favorite toys.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

We are all Adam Lanza's mother

I confess I have been silent on this issue, like many, not wanting to light the short fuse of 2nd Amendment warrior-advocates. But now the time is right, the blogosphere is lighting up, and I feel compelled to do my part to get a hold of the moment and push the collective consciousness in the direction of common sense corrections. The killings in Newtown are so horrific it must be the chance now at last for us to put a stake through the heart of yet another right wing boogie man. Along with deniers of global warming, gun control opponents stand on ideology rather than reason, with seriously lethal results. If the events of yesterday are not enough to make someone gag with horror and revulsion at the idea of automatic weapons in the hands of madmen, they either have an empathy deficit or are so good at deluding themselves with the sound of certain words that it amounts to a pathology. We have all heard the argument before that outlawing guns is not the answer to these massacres. But at least outlawing the ownership of rapid-fire pistols and assault rifles will lessen the sheer numbers of dead. As William Saletan wrote yesterday, there will always be madmen, and no country is immune from the onslaughts of socially isolated lone wolfs intent on committing suicide by mass murder. But every other country in the civilized world recognizes that easy access to combat weapons does nothing for personal security, is not something that hunters require, and only heightens the chances of lunatics trying to outdo each other in the lethality of their final evildoing.
The problem is people like Adam Lanza's mother now have bought into the allure of security that possession of Terminator caliber weaponry brings. Absurdly, toting a Glock today is like driving a Suburban was 15 years ago. It makes you feel invulnerable to the rising tide of madness when all it really does is add to the total mass of lunacy. When otherwise sober adults think that the answer to the murder yesterday of Newtown's 20 kindergarteners is training and arming elementary school principals, it is time for all of us to take a deep breath and admit that, like Pogo said, the only enemy we are facing is us.
Obama said that he intended to take meaningful steps. Let's hold his feet to the fire on this one.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Ugliest Thing- Doing Nothing About Climate Change

I love this wet, muddy weather. There's fog coming from the woods and the lakes and water dripping from every branch of the maples surrounding the house and the eave of the wood shed as I gather logs to stoke the two wood stoves. The thermometer is hovering right at the freezing mark, but what's coming down from the upper atmosphere is distinctly unfrozen. This is a maritime climate day in what should be the continental cold belt of North America's east coast. It's beautiful, but unsettling, a marker of the changes sweeping the globe that herald grave dangers in the years ahead. The damage has been done already, not just 200 years of industrial output in the developed world based on burning the planet's cheap, plentiful millennial stores of sun energy in the form of oil, coal and natural gas, but the seeds of social confusion and mistrust as the oil industry and its allies have managed to stalemate any possible consensus on what to do about global warming caused in large measure by the thickened belt of insulating carbon accumulating in the upper atmosphere, a result of our profligate, promiscuous and prodigal burning spree. International conventions called for the last 25 years have gotten us nowhere, and the latest round of Doha talks seem about to break up without an agreement once again on how to proceed other than continue to talk about talking about the problem. The absurdity of the bureaucratic pace of negotiations is evident to anybody paying attention. It seems that the human race is hopelessly mired in egotistical one-upsmanship, unable to summon the collective will to save itself. Where does the blame lie? Despite bleating from the political class that the Chinese or the Indians, or whoever, is making an agreement impossible, I believe that future generations will have little difficulty seeing that Americans, overfed, bloated, dysfunctional victims of our own prosperity, failed in our self-appointed role of world leaders at this most crucial juncture. The funny thing is how beautiful failure can look and how comfortable it can feel. That could just be a temporary illusion, however as the economic pain from climate change begins to sink in to the collective nervous system. Here in my town, dependent on the ski industry for a large chunk of our revenues, how many responsible adults are looking out at the landscape and seeing another disastrous year for the ski, snowboard, and ice-fishing aficionados that fund our town's essential services? More than a few,  I'm guessing. Not much further afield, acidification of the oceans caused by carbon deposition is creating havoc in the shellfish industry of neighboring states. It looks increasingly like doing nothing about global warming and its consequent climate change will be the ugliest thing we never did.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Good Neighbors in the Snow

The first coating of snow on the road and the good comes out in some people. Our friend Carol and her son Tristan were on their way up for a visit from Connecticut. They got a mile from the house when they went off the road into a ditch.  Someone in the campground saw them and went for their truck, pulled them out, and gave them a ride up to the house, since Carol was too scared to drive any further on the icy dirt road. They pulled into our driveway and Carol got out, stumbling, into the snowy yard and the wind. She said she'd gotten lucky. "Come meet these guys." Smiling, a big soft-spoken guy, the driver said he was Bill and and his wife was Janet, and they were recently moved in from Claremont to a trailer in the campground. Then they drove off and we went inside the warm house. It's good to know there are still neighbors like that.
Later in the day I was watching my daughter play in the basketball jamboree that kicks off the winter season for the fifth and sixth grade league. It was in a gymnasium in a neighboring town, and a sign in the gym entrance had a quote from John Wooden, the former UCLA coach. Paraphrasing, it said "Compete with intensity, but not to embarrass your opponent." And that's how the girls played. There were a lot of scraped knees and jump balls. But nobody yelled at the refs for a bad call, and nobody screamed at a kid for a stupid mistake. It's good to know there are still gyms like that.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Pies, Ipads and the Anna Karenina Principle

Thanksgiving is over, the opening salvo in the holiday season has been fired. Just back from the big city and here is what we learned.

* The Ipad is the new gadget de rigeur. Whipping out your tablet and googling a You Tube video to prove your point is the best revenge, at least until next year.

* Board games do keep older minds supple. My brother-in-law's mother, in her eighties, can stomp at Scrabble.

* Mark Sanchez and the Jets need a make-over, or maybe a GPS.

* As a nation, we are very good at pie. Making and eating.

* Tolstoy was right, at least at Thanksgiving. Happy families are all alike, and Thanksgiving is the most communal of our holidays because for the short period we are together, we are happy. Maybe we should amend the second half of the Anna Karenina principle to read ... and unhappy families need to limit their exposure to one massive meal a year.

Friday, November 16, 2012

No Jingle Bells Yet

No, it's too early. Not Christmas music on the radio. Not yet. Don't hurry me. I'm having too much shaudenfreude watching the Republicans stampede to see who can disown their Grinchlike karma the fastest. Listening to their top honchos on the talk shows, you'd think it was all a matter of window dressing, a couple more Bobby Jindall types, a few more Michelle Bachmann-like women running for office and their problems will be solved. They just don't get it, apparently. Their plantation South political strategy of racial divide and conquer with the intent of preserving a uber-capitalist status quo doesn't work any more. People looked at their platform, listened to the Romney flip flops essentially in the business of protecting the privileges of the one percenters because why? You could presumably end up with more jobs at Staples or Walmart at minimum wage with no health care? No, thanks. We could do better than that and now we will.
And in the end, even the forces of nature seemed to conspire to keep the Romney wave from reaching all the way to the White House, although the flooding from Hurricane Sandy came close.
Everything is apparently going to happen very fast now. The fiscal cliff will be just a speed bump as Boehner bends to the new political reality and Washington finds a way to do business again. Geopolitically, Palestinians feel that they have waited long enough and the only way to get Israel to the bargaining table is to start a war in Gaza and count on world opinion to step in and put a stop to the slaughter before it spreads. Hold on tight for that bloody mess.
And my favorite chess move - California initiated the nation's first cap and trade system to stem carbon dioxide levels this week. You recall cap and trade. No? One of Obama's first legislative initiatives, it died when Democrats from the coal belt allied themselves with Republicans to stall passage in the Senate, and then when the Tea Party swept to power in the 2010 midterm elections it was tarred and feathered as the idea from communist hell and then euthanized as us environmentalists went on a two year carrot fast. It's riding back in on the favorable wind of progress. Activists are hoping that the world's ninth largest economy, California, will provide a model of how to decouple economic growth from fossil fuel dependence using the market based incentives of the cap and trade model. That's the kind of hope I'm talking about. But hold off on Jingle Bells until after the turkey.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

All it Takes

Thoughts on Veteran's Day:

We remember the warriors and celebrate their service. It's about manhood, bravery, and of course sacrifice. It's about all of us. We are all veterans, and every life is made of campaigns. You win some and lose some and the thing is to never give up. In Spanish, darse por vencido, to give yourself over as conquered, has more resonance. I remember the Celts, who would go into battle naked and prefer death to slavery. Then there are some veterans of wars that have forged the Republic we are lucky to live in, after the war there is nothing left. You can see it in their eyes, the hollow look of having nothing left to give, to live for. War can do that, life can do that. I've seen photos, old prints of my great-great grandfather, a Civil War vet, drummer boy of the NY 166th Volunteers. After the war he tried farming in Ohio and failed. Then he came back and lived in Albany and sold kitchen appliances door-to-door. He was married and had four children. In the old photograph, he is posed with his wife and you can see he has no faith in the enterprise; there is no direction in his eyes. God knows what horrors he had witnessed as a 15-year old underaged so-called volunteer. His wife kept him going. One look at the photograph and the life story is there. The aimlessness of the veteran who gave up. Sometimes you can win the war and lose the battle. We don't talk about it enough, the veterans living with psychic wounds that do not heal. We all need something to live for. Today on Veteran's Day, give a veteran something good, a reason to live for. All it takes is a word, a look, a hug. Because one beaten down vet is a defeat for all of us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Push and Shove of the Real World

6:00 am -- The line is forming in the dark. At dawn the stream of cars into the state capital is already obvious. By the time I show up it's a river of people, and the lines are already snaking around the downtown, blocks and blocks of people with more streaming in by the second. People with early morning faces and winter coats, lots of Obama-Biden stickers on baseball caps and pea coat lapels. Working class frumpiness prevails. Groups of adults with bunches of mixed race children, hospital workers, college kids, plenty of white men including myself, perhaps leaner and hungrier than the average, but also lots of slightly better dressed, scarves and fluffy coats, touristy looking couples coming up a little after the early birds. There is an entire city assembling and busloads beginning to be shuttled from the state office complex up on the Heights. Not too many on the buses, I notice. When the green-eyed lady in front of me says not to expect Clinton and Obama until 10:00 or 11:00, the prospect of no food for that long begins to gnaw at me. I cut my losses and jump out of line, walk away, don't look back, giving up my hard earned spot. I'm walking up the blocks, past thousands waiting for the show, for the appearance of the man of the hour. I'm feeling like a renegade. I'm that guy, yes, who decided coffee was a bigger draw than the future of the country.
For a few minutes I was part of the mass, the good people fighting the good fight, and the truth is I still am, but there is something about that energy, of being part of something so obviously larger than the sum of its parts. An army of good-humored, idealistic people. One thing I sensed in that line was determination. There is strength in numbers and we are strong. Well, maybe not me when it comes to breakfast. But who are we? In a deeply divided, polarized country, it is clear that our people are the fearless people of the now, not the people of what was once. We are continuing to put our money on change. It has been a long-time coming, and is still not showing its face fast enough for many, but it is in the air and unstoppable.
One caveat. The other guys, on the other hand, are to be feared. The willingness to play the country for chumps has been evident for decades. It has descended into criminality before, and it could do so again. The fact that nobody can pin down what policy platform Romney really represents, is truly frightening, given the context of historical Republican malfeasance and even recent anti-democratic moves like Citizens United. More learned observers than me point out the frightening similarities between what a Romney presidency would entail and the capitalist dictatorships of South Africa and Chile. Union busting, militaristic, resource gobbling countries governed in the interests of a small, corporate, international elite. Not that I believe Romney would descend to that level, but the tendencies are there. As evidence look to what he said behind closed doors in that Boca Raton dinner. Does anyone think that once in the White House he would not be pressed to kowtow to the likes of the Koch brothers and their ilk? Yes, Romney has been preaching bipartisanship in the last few weeks, but...why should anyone believe him?
For me, there are two men who have stepped up in recent days and decided that being an adult means showing that you care more about other people than you do about your own behind. Those two are Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York and Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey. Both those men show that when it comes to the actual push and shove provided by the real world, there is a chance for a bipartisan path forward out of this mess we are in.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Seduced by the Historical Moment

This preparing for calamity is a strange business. I can't get too excited by it. I'm not ready and know I'm not, but don't care. Is anybody else out there feeling the same way? Life will never be the same again, and yet, what's the big deal? I'm not ready to move on. Just writing this, I have no idea what I'm saying. I feel like the people in Pompei moving around their kitchens, tying their shoes, what would they have done differently if there had been a volcano forecast? We've got Hurricane Sandy bearing down and she could have my name punched out on a stub. But probably not. We'll probably bumble through like we always do. A few roof tiles off the house, power out for a week. Been there, done that. Roads washed away. Ho hum. Surviving is what we do. You might say I'm in presidential election funk. Nothing else even comes close to matching the importance, the sway of this personal moment, this appointment with history. That's what comes from living in a swing state. My vote matters. This whole thing matters. There is a difference between the two candidates. At least that's what I tell myself right now. Not even a natural disaster is as important as Obama vs. Romney. This is wrong. I know it. A correction is coming. Talk to me in a few days and I'll have a different opinion. But I'm stuck this morning.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Hour is at Hand

The final debate behind us, the campaigns wind it up for the final stretch to the finish. Polls give the  win in last night's foreign policy debate to Obama, but so far there seems to be little movement in the support for either candidate. Positions are locked in. The few undecided have gone to ground, sick of being harassed by activists from both camps. We had one car pull up yesterday while I was raking leaves in my torn jeans and red plaid farmer's jacker I picked up at the swap shop. It was a Subaru town car with Massachusetts plates. Two older guys about my age, with clipboards. One had a foreign accent, somewhere between French and Eastern European. Both of them very tentative, almost strange, not to say out of place and off-putting. When I expressed my support for Obama, the one with the strange accent looked at me for a long time and then said slowly, Thank you. Thank you, in an unsmiling, unironic voice. As if I had done something grand and important that the larger world would one day be grateful for. Something beyond my station. I said You're welcome and we stared at each other a while longer. I thought to myself, Barack's in trouble if these guys keep going. Maybe I can convince them to turn around and drive home. Don't they have a Concord office? I asked. Yes, but if we don't come, then who will? asked the man with the foreign accent. Then I understood. This was a dangerous brave mission into the hinterland because the hour was at hand. I thought of a term I remembered from my days working with environmental groups. The tyranny of the volunteer. Well-intentioned amateurs who bungle the work, but nobody will stop them because after all, nobody is getting paid to do this. Anyway, eventually they left. Hopefully they drove home before they could turn off many more people with their air of astronauts descending on an alien planet.

But in all seriousness, did you not love the look of Barack in the debate, the intense, exalted focus? Here is a guy who could go into battle no questions asked. No chicken hawk posing, no faux saber rattling. Romney kept it under control, pitching for the female vote this go-around. But he showed his true colors manipulating some meaningless statistics regarding boats in the Navy. Come on, people! This is a guy who will say anything to get a vote. A shyster salesman who trumpets false statistics to spread a sense of panic that our Navy is about to go under because there were more boats in 1916. Imagine if Barack had pulled something like that. It would be all over but the shouting. There is definitely a residual, racial double standard in operation. And the irony is, we have a true warrior in the White House now by the grace of God, not some manicured suit.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Barack the Knife

I loved last night's debate. It combined the appeal of hand-to-hand combat with the high stakes of deciding who gets to run the United States for the foreseeable future. Obama came roaring back, yes, but his style as a debater contrasted sharply with Romney, whose verbosity is backed by the bravado of a school bully who knows he is right. I liked both of them; I admired Romney's tenacity and drive, and i appreciated Obama's cool demeanor and lawyerly intellectual swagger, plunging the knife in the appropriate procedural moment. Watching the Twitter feed, the one that stood out for me in the early going was -- #debate @Obama could have gone in for the dunk but takes soft fadeaway jumper.
It seemed to sum up the night.
I think Obama won on points, and the polls seem to back me up, but he still could have been more forceful and convincing in his presentation of where he wants to take us in the next four years. He began to outline a longer term vision in his energy policy, but he needs to spend some more time before the next debate figuring out how to communicate the big picture aside from renewable energy. What kind of society is he aiming for? I mean, wind, solar, what are we talking here? Go big, Barack. Think global, act local. In the third and final foreign policy debate, this is what he wants to be talking about: the United States leading the planet into a sustainable, democratic and vibrant century past the dangerous shoals of climate change and societal disruption. He needs to turn on the well-known rhetorical flourishes and get away from bashing Romney. That's been done already. Not with loud shouts or Biden style heat, but with poise and confidence. The best moment of the debate: Obama telling Romney, "proceed Governor," and Romney pressing him instead on his initial characterization of the Benghazi consulate attack as an act of terrorism, which Romney doubted. But the wager was proved wrong, as the moderator, fact-checking, backed the president up that he'd labeled the attack as terrorism the next day in the Rose Garden. "Can you say that louder, Candy?" Obama called from the bench. Romney, pacing the floor, controlling the territory like an attack dog, looked like he'd been slashed.

Sunday, October 7, 2012


It's raining again on Sunday night, the leaves clogging up the ditches in the runoff. Got back from dinner at friends we haven't seen in ages. Kids are getting older. So are we. Had dinner, wine and stories, catching up with the changes. We've shared the struggle through the years of raising our kids together in our town and keeping heads above water in many more ways than one.
On Saturday coached my daughter's soccer team in a game against a neighboring town. She had a couple of good runs. She's getting stronger, attacking the ball with more confidence as the season progresses. But the coolest thing was at halftime, when I was trying to convince one of the girls she could play defense even though she "hates playing defense" and doesn't "know how to play defense", my daughter grabbed my hand and held it. I wasn't sure whether it was to give me support or to get support herself. Then later in the second half, this same girl asked to be put back in, this time on defense.
I thought you didn't know how to play defense.
It's fun.
Then I went and watched my son play in his game and get three assists. Final score was 6-5. Coach praised the team for their character at the end of the game.  I could hear from my spot against the fence lined up with the motley assortment of parents. It was true. They never gave up against a superior opponent.
This morning I drove down to Dracut Massachusetts to pick up a bicycle for Eve's birthday this week. She was born exactly a month after 9/11. On the way down I picked up two hitchhikers, a brother and sister traveling back home to Connecticut. The sister told me a story about hitchhiking to California as a teenager to visit her other brother stationed in the navy in San Diego. One boy she knew, Christopher Parker, went with her even though she didn't like him much. At one point she got poison oak and covered herself in calamine lotion. She said she was standing out there hitching a ride covered in the calamine lotion, looking like a ghost. She laughed remembering it. Her brother had a tattoo on his face and asked her to be quiet; he wanted to enjoy the silence. She kept asking him if he was nervous. Said she was going with him to keep him out of trouble. They had two coolers and duffel bags and had no idea how they were going to get to Groton, near the sub base. I left them at a Shell station at the intersection of 101 West and 3 South, near Hudson on the Mass border, they could either go west through the Monadnock region and across to 91 south or go south to the Mass Pike. I hope they made it.
Definitely a stop and smell the roses kind of weekend.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Holding Back Time

I took this photograph the other day from the roof while I was cleaning out the chimneys. It's a chore I do every year that marks the real end of the summer. Wood fires are imminent. As a matter of fact, we're just holding out, clinging to the illusion that we are still enjoying the easy days and nights of summer. The nights are cold enough now for fires, especially since the leaves on the maple trees to the south and west of the house keep it from getting a lot of sun. The leaves here in the woods to the east have just started to turn, none of the bright reds and oranges that mark the peak of foliage season, when the tourist industry gets a huge bump with the visiting leaf peepers. This year, there is also the influx of the candidates. Both Obama and Ryan and their running mates and significant others have been popping up all over the Granite State making speeches. The race seems to be going in favor of Obama. But it's just heating up now,  much like the foliage.
Watched The Iron Maiden last night with Susan, and it brought back memories of our days together in London at the end of the Thatcher administration. Meryl Streep as usual does a "spot on" job with the voice and gestures and even the vacant sideways looks of the elder Maggie in the throes of oncoming dementia. The youth out in the street with the vests and long hair battling the police during the poll tax riots in the news reels were images of a distant past, like visiting another country. Funny, in my mind it still seems so vivid and real. I remember the excitement when she resigned, as if the wicked witch of the West had finally melted and the little people got to dance for a little while.
The passage of time is a funny thing, the object of attention of many a novelist, the way it telescopes and fragments in our memories. Routines and chores are a comfort to us, as they signal continuity and give the illusion of permanence. They say the only two things you can really count on are taxes and change. Of course if you are in the 47 percent you don't believe that and you are hoping, as I do, that Barack will hold back the hands of the clock as well. With that easy smile and sonorous voice, he could probably charm Father Time.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Nobody Has the Answers

With just six weeks to go to elections, Obama seems to be pulling out ahead, and it's no wonder. Really, what independent minded person looking at this as a job hire would pick the applicant with so many questions hanging over his resume? There was a great piece in the New Yorker by John Cassidy as to the reasons Romney seems to be falling apart in the home stretch, ranging from an incompetent campaign manager to the demographics of the country that seem to be favoring the Democratic party. But it seems clear that both Romney and the Republican party in general are fighting strong headwinds to regain the White House. The question now is, should one hope for big Democratic gains on the House and Senate? I have two opinions on this. First one is that yes, a Democratic majority would move the country off the dime of stalemate and help promote a progressive agenda that might get us moving in a positive direction. But, on the other hand, the economic forces arraigned against Uncle Sam are mighty, and I don't believe either party has an answer to the shortfall between what American's regard as a decent middle class existence, i.e. doing better than one's parents, and the reality that the economic growth we need to accomplish it is probably not going to happen -- barring the recreation of a bubble economy such as the one we have had for the last thirty years. Indeed, I tend to side with Republican opinion when looking at the recent moves by the Federal Reserve to create liquidity by buying bonds and setting interest rates so low as to discourage people from using banks. So now we have a stock market that's bubbling over because the big institutional players have no where else to park their money. What is wrong with that picture?

Anthony Caplan is a writer, blogger, teacher and homesteader in New Hampshire. He is the author of the novels Birdman, French Pond Road, and the just released Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home. Find out more about him and his work at 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Melting the Freeze on the Arctic Melt

Because the political battles looming with the US election make such great news content we tend to be locked into a very short term horizon in thinking about the issues that matter. Add to this the candidates tendency to want to boil their campaigns down to simplistic sound bites focusing on the one issue that their minders estimate will gain them the most traction, and it can seem that democracy, especially one like ours where the cost of campaigns means political candidates are on message all the time for the sake of their fundraising machinery, does not make for an educated or enlightening public discussion of any issue with a long-term window for action or consequences.

That's why the issue of climate change, despite the worst drought in sixty years and the prospect of food price spikes ahead this winter around the world, is receiving a very muted reception on the campaign trail. Beyond the prospect of jobs or energy independence, there is little mention of what was a central issue in the last two elections, global warming and its attendant climate change, and no mention at all about the news that came out in the last week from the US government itself: the melting of ice in the Arctic has reached an unprecedented rate of speed. Have we reached the point of exhaustion on an issue where our very survival as a society might be at stake?

I remember in the 1990s when environmental; groups first warned that if nothing was done, the North Pole could be ice free by the middle of this century. But this summer the volume of sea ice  as measured by satellites has reached the smallest ever seen, and the remaining ice is so thin that US government scientists are predicting a blue North Pole by the end of the next decade. The implications for coastal regions, wildlife, and the planet's weather patterns are frightening, but the response to the scientific findings have been nothing but underwhelming. For Republicans, who have made it a mantra of their political culture that climate change is a hoax, to walk this particular piece of science denial back will be very difficult. But the Obama administration has also yet to come up with a forceful plan and policy statement beyond their already stated platform calls for a growing reliance on renewable energy to cut our carbon emissions by 28 percent by 2020.

My question is, if the Arctic ice is in a death spiral, do we need to be much more proactive, or just resign ourselves to living in a vastly different, almost uninhabitable planet? And in case you think I am scaremongering, here is the scenario painted by NASA's James Hansen in a recent NYT op-ed:

“Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.”

Aside from commentary on the environmental blogosphere, you would think from observing the mainstream media that the melting Arctic was about on a par with stagnating SAT scores or inner city crime, something designed to elicit politically correct reflex statements and counter-statements on the Sunday talk shows. In fact, the fallout from an ice-free Arctic would be immensely unsettling, and in the worst case scenarios of the meltdown of the Greenland Ice Sheet and a runaway warming, could spell the end to the conditions that have sustained human life on Earth.

But there are calls to action from a wide spectrum of organizations from the League of Women Voters to Greenpeace. It may be that simmering under the surface, there might just be a groundswell of support for a much tougher line on the human activities that are driving the pace of melting.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Donkeys and Elephants

I'm back in the saddle today after a long hiatus away from the blog. This space has always been an eclectic blend of self-indulging journalistic confessional, a branding medium for my more speculative work, i.e. fiction, and/or advocacy pieces on politics and the environment for the most part. So sometimes if there's nothing going on it's because I'm ... transitioning. That's right transitioning, you heard it here first.

These last few weeks have been an epic feast for followers such as myself of the true national pastime: electoral politics. They say the party conventions are an outmoded anachronism, not strictly necessary for gathering the votes of delegates and officially sanctioning the candidacy of the party's nominee. But I say there is no better event for gauging the collective stylistic impulses of the Republicans and the Democrats, and after all, that's what we vote for when we vote. One team or another, choose sides. This is about family and tribe more than it is about policy or template for the future, and the conventions give us a glimpse into the differing worlds of Donkey America vs. Elephant America. The comforting thing for me is how comforting both of them have become. The differences between the two are like choosing between chocolate and vanilla on a hot summer day. You know what you're going to get will be a different experience. But at the end of the day, with both you will be left thirsty, fatter, and longing for more. So the gut impressions we are left make all the difference. Tampa was a gathering of small business owners, the salt of the earth, every day Americans, steadfast, loyal, mostly white, true believers in a world that is fast disappearing. Charlotte was a broad, fast-moving river of differing constituencies, mostly urban, mostly hip, unstoppable. Barring no major shakeups in the world order, there is no way Obama can lose. The Democrats make better spectacle and we love to be entertained.

America remains a centrist, pragmatic nation where the practice of democracy is deeply engrained and richly entertaining. The two parties' conventions are a mirror reflection of each other, both faithful reenactments of American citizenship. The differences between Dems and Repubs are differences of style, not substance, and even in their policy platforms, you can see that the aims of the two parties are the same, with mere differences of opinion about the best way to get there. The fact that Republicans are portrayed by their opponents as proto-fascist villains, and Democrats likewise as European elitists in disguise waiting to bring in the rule of the United Nations has more to do with cheerleading than with reality.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Costa Rica

Spent a couple weeks off in Costa Rica with the family. We got off the plane and the girls were asking where the monkeys were. Then the car rental place wouldn't take my debit card as a payment. They needed a traditional credit card. They got us a taxi to take us into San Jose and the girl from the agency, feeling bad and worried for us vulnerable gringos, came out and chatted with us while we waited on the curb. Then the taxi driver knew someone who did accept debit cards, so we changed plans and drove around the back of the airport into Carlos Leiva's driveway. He hooked us up with an SUV and a GPS at a fraction of the cost. When in Costa Rica, go with the flow, the locals will take care of you. Thank God for the GPS, as it would have been impossible to find our way without it. Also, the roads are a mess. I questioned the need for a 4x4, but by the second day, on our way out to the Pacific coast, I was no longer a doubter.  Potholes that could swallow a truck and rutted bedrock were the norm.
Five days playing in the waves playing surfer bum with my son. Read Kook by Peter Heller which the house we were renting had on the bookshelf. And then up into the mountains. In the more heavily frequented highlands, you pay to go anywhere. Also, the tourists were all wearing the same bug proof Sierra Club pants my wife insisted we buy at EMS to prevent us catching dengue fever. Apparently they all read the same blog post. Waste of time as there were no bugs. I told you so. You could get away with jeans and a can of bug spray. 
The best thing we did as a family was the horseback tour where you go up into the mountain tracks and see how the people really live. Costa Rica is essentially a country of small-holdings. The Spanish did not follow the normal pattern of enslaving the locals for their labor, instead becoming farmers and actually settling the interior. Consequently today the country seems to actually be a Latin variant of the Jeffersonian ideal, and indeed the ethic of responsibility and ownership could be seen everywhere, from the recycling being done extensively down to the smallest villages, to the informed conversations you could have with all sorts of people about topics as varied and difficult as global warming and government corruption. 
On the last day we stayed in Alajuela, near the airport, and wandered into the museum dedicated to the town's hero, Juan Santamaria, who died battling the southern American mercenary William Walker.  Walker intended to take over Central America and make it a slave state. Given that Costa Rica has no military, it makes it even more poignant that they should honor the heroism of such a man, whom most of us have never heard of.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

What is Wrong With USA?

Here we are in the dog days of summer, and does anyone else feel like we need to get off this ride? The shootings in Aurora, as Roger Ebert said, seem to be closing the loop of madness. What is going on here when every goofball loner seems to think only of picking up a gun and going on a rampage? In the good old days, the dispirited tended to jump off bridges. Now they want to cause as much suffering as they can. Who are they punishing? We are all in this together, so we need to all take a moment and reflect on the solution to the gun violence and alienation, especially among the young, the promising in our country. Someone should be proposing a day, a national holiday when we march in honor of the fallen, the innocent victims of slaughter, from Columbine to Aurora. This would be a day to reach out and join together and acknowledge how far we have fallen from the ideals of our Pledge of Allegiance.
I am not one to fall back on the nostrums of mainstream religion, but until we have built a perfect secular society where a spirit of community prevails, not a spirit of greed and short-term pleasure seeking, then I think the best bet lies in at least accepting that our religious traditions all warned us of today. We have met the enemy, as Pogo said, and he dwells in all hearts that remain silent in the face of evil.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Next Leg

As you set out for Ithaca,
Wish your journey to be long, 
Ithaki, Constantine Cavafy
Getting started on a new writing journey is always a little daunting. Actually, blogging about it helps, it's like talking to someone. Hello? Actually maybe it's not. Kind of scares away the demons, though and gives you the courage to carry on.
Now with Latitudes launched on the world, there is marketing to do, but there is also the sense that it has a life of its own now, no matter what happens. Time to turn attention and face the hardest part. You start with the thought: Where can I turn the light now? What is my burning need to say? I have written three novels so far.
One thing I've learned in the self-publishing adventure is to think in terms of market. It is amazing the lack of originality in the book world. You think of novels, and the word itself means something new, different, but there is in fact little new or different in books. If you have written a murder mystery featuring a drug addicted homeless millionaire, or a thriller featuring a teenage vampire in love with a basketball star, you are joining the parade of thousands, and you have a chance at best-seller status. With books as in food and other commodities, we like what we already are familiar with. Going against that is swimming against the stream. So...
Taking my character driven, plot resisting story telling instincts and twisting them a notch, I have decided to write a thriller. That's right, a young adult thriller with plot twists and contemporary action galore. Now the only way I'm going to do that is also to change my methodology a little. Therefore I have researched and found what I wanted. It is called the snowflake method of constructing stories, and seems reasonable and not simplistic. With the scaffolding of multiple pre-writing documents,  this will be a less mysterious way to go, but I think in the end, my characters will always retain the stamp of their creator. So I am not worried about their dimensionality. This should be fun. So far here is my elevator pitch. See if you like it:

While on vacation, a widowed high school teacher and his son find a Mayan calculating tablet that is the long sought key to the doomsday machine being built by the al Qaeda terrorist Ali Jajabr.

Right now it's tentative title is Cypher. I've written a synopsis and character sketches of the five main characters. Next I will build a scene list on a spreadsheet. Then I will write the first draft.  I'm not going to predict how long it will take, because that depends on so many things.
Next week, while in Costa Rica, I will take notes and do some research. So the next leg is already underway. Hooray for the craziness that is the writing life. Ithaca will loom on the horizon someday soon, perhaps.

Anthony Caplan is a writer, blogger, teacher and homesteader in New Hampshire. He is the author of the novels Birdman, French Pond Road, and the just released Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home. Find out more about him and his work at 


Thursday, July 12, 2012


“Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.”
― Terry PratchettThe Color of Magic

While researching for a new book I read that algebra comes from the Arabic word for compulsion, the state of being forced into a certain act or condition, as in when solving for x we are compelled to seek an equilibrium of forces on either side of the equation. And it made me think today of how it seems as if a larger force were behind my resolution to set my thoughts into words. And of course it is a mystery what makes any human endeavor worthwhile. Why have children, for instance? There are those that think it is a crime to try to relieve your loneliness and lack of purpose by reproducing another human being, as if putting the burden of all our hopes and fears onto our children were the most monstrously egotistical thing we could ever do.
Our striving for immortality is the way we give life to our spirit. If we didn't pour ourselves into the act of creation, whether raising children or raising a barn, we would eventually wither and die. That's just the way we are made. We are all compelled to seek out meaning larger than ourselves. "Don't go looking for trouble," my grandmother used to warn me. She knew. My compulsion was never an easy one. At least all these years later it's clearer than ever what it is I need to do.
What equation are you still compelled to solve?

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Update from the Poet's Path

My guest this week is poet Trinka Polite. Her debut book of poems "After the Sixth Day" has been released and is lighting up the virtual and literary worlds. Her guest post gives us an update on her spiritual journey. Welcome, Trinka!

So Anthony asked me to give an update on my spiritual journey.  Completing my first book was such a huge part of the journey.  With writing, you give away so much of yourself whether you realize it or not.  I knew that sharing my poetry with the world meant releasing my truth--the good, the bad and the ugly. And I must say as I head into the summer, with my book now in readers’ hands, I feel a new sense of freedom!  

I’m grateful when I hear from someone that a particular poem had personal meaning.
Things happen in our lives and we struggle to understand them, but somehow a magical moment happens when clarity shines through and your life makes sense.  For this reason, writing always makes me happy! J My skin tingles and I breathe more calmly when I’m in my writing zone. Fortunately and unfortunately, you can’t schedule these moments.  

I never force writing; I simply wait for the words to come and let creativity take its course. 

The last poem in After the Sixth Day (My Promise) gives you a glimpse of one of my “clarity moments.”   Here is a sample of another poem:

The Ocean is Mad with Me

I laid there and waited for you and you turned me away. 
I came closer trying to get within your reach, and your aqua lips kissed my ankles and teased my legs.
I had calmed your anger.

I came back later as the dark sky pushed down on you.
I brought others to introduce to them your calming and soothing effects. 
You greeted us with misty hands which explored our exposed bodies. 
Unaware, your liquid shoulders shrugged us to the side. 
We walked away unsure of your next move.

As I was preparing to leave, I came to you one last time with eyes bright and smile wide. 
You were sparkling and powerful, and your roar a quiet thunder. 
You did not notice my presence.  Others were totally immersed in you.
I left you as you were.             

Before the door was shut, and the curtains were closed, I stole one last glance.
Your anger was ceasing…..

So be sure to get your copy on!

Peace & Blessings,

Trinka Polite

Author of After the Sixth Day: Notes from a Spiritual Journey
Twitter: @MsTrinkaV

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Overcoming Adversity

Hope it was a great 4th of July. A lot of people are struggling with triple digit heat and no power, so it's a tough one for many. By the way, how weird is it that all the adverse weather situations have Spanish names, el nifio, derecho. I'm waiting for the other shoe to fall when we get hit with derecha, which would be a plague of locusts in the winter...
Summertime is when the climate change deniers really go into overdrive. I doubt many of them are living in the Chicago area. Imagine suffering through record heat waves like the one they are experiencing in the Midwest and maintaining the no-problem-here attitude of the business-as-usual crowd. 
I'm not one for going into panic mode. Being an eternal optimist, I believe that we will blunder our way through, coming to our senses and moving quickly to a fossil fuel-free economy, before the ice caps melt. 
It will not be an easy transition, but we have one ace in the hole. It is the greatest resource any nation possesses: its people, especially its children.
The strange thing is, we are just now realizing what a precious resource our children are. One of the most basic human intuitions is only now being confirmed  by science. Adverse childhood experiences have a tremendous and long-lasting impact on human development.
A new study, known as the Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE study, examined over 17,000 cases to investigate the link between childhood maltreatment and  health and well-being later in life.
Adverse childhood experience can include physical, sexual or emotional abuse; having a parent abandon the family; having a parent who was a substance abuser; having a parent who went to prison or was institutionalized for mental illness; and witnessing domestic violence.
Almost two-thirds of the study subjects reported at least one ACE factor, while one in five had a score of three or more. Researchers determined that as the ACE score increased, so did the risk of developing serious diseases such as heart and lung disease, liver disease, diabetes, sexually transmitted diseases, chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc..., as well as the likelihood of high risk behaviors including smoking, alcohol or drug abuse, and promiscuity. Those with higher ACE scores are also at increased risk of obesity, adolescent pregnancy, suicide, fetal death, intimate partner violence and sexual assault.
Of course there is a factor that can be easily overlooked, and that is the role of the healing power of relationships in overcoming adversity or trauma. As a society, I believe we will have to commit to a major project of healing, and that will include rebuilding a sense of community and belonging. It does indeed take a village to create healthy children. One of the factors impeding the development of our greatest resource, our children, is the lack of a communal culture. Much like alcoholics, the first step is recognizing that we have a problem.

Anthony Caplan is a teacher, writer and homesteader in New Hampshire. His latest novel Latitudes - A Story of Coming Home, is the story of overcoming an adverse childhood. Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or your local bookseller.

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