Saturday, July 27, 2013

Obama - Crazy like a Fox

Obama has done it again. Attempting to heal wounds and repair relations between previous enemies, he has raised the bee swarm of conservative ire. In a speech to Vietnamese leaders, Obama referenced Ho Chi Minh's letters to then President Truman at the end of World War Two seeking US help in gaining Vietnamese independence after the fall of Japan. The existence of these letters is historical, as is Ho Chi Minh's regard for America's founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson. But to the right, Obama is merely relaying leftist mythology and replaying the political errors that led to our failure to hold onto Vietnam. Some people just can't seem to let go of the past, or work a way out of a hide-bound ideological take on the world.
It's a similar sort of denial that takes over right wingers on the issue of climate change, where Gaia has dared to defy the market system and declared its own self-regulatory mechanisms that pay little heed to individual self-interest. Of course, environmentalists need to understand that it's only been 450 years since Sir Francis Bacon proposed ravishing Nature for the purpose of unlocking her secrets and it's going to take some patience while we get used to living within our limits on the blue-green planet. But don't count on Obama to storm the ramparts of the oil companies. He's way too smart for that. The dragon has its talons dug deep within his own administration, and its going to take a massive effort on the part of a world-wide movement based on generational equity, not race or class, to cut us loose from impending disaster.

(photo credit: Templar 1307/

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Teddy Claims His Place

Here is my weekly blog post, delivered with trepidation. For it offers no insight into the Israeli-Palestinian situation, gives no definitive take on the Trayvon Martin case. Instead I am writing about a dog. A new dog in my house named Teddy.

Oh, fine. Teddy, said my daughter in the back seat, acceding to the younger sister's suggestion for a name. We were driving to a town along the southern border with Massachusetts where the puppies were waiting.

A little background: We are not dog people. My wife and I have resisted a dog for the well-known factors involved: time, money, chewed up and wasted clothes, shoes, lives, as it seems to us. We have children, three of them, growing up fast, but still consuming our attention as it is, along with chickens, sheep and oh, yes, jobs. Who needs or wants a dog? My daughter. Who has not stopped pleading and worshipping a wristband she received from some charlatan at a wedding who said it would not fall off until she received her secret and most ardent desire. Which was? A puppy. At a basketball game this winter when she was crying on the bench before the start, I walked over and was informed by the ref that players could not play with accouterments on the wrist. And she refused to have the ragged slip of fabric cut off because the puppy had yet to materialize in her life after two years. I untied it and retied it around her ankle and the game was allowed to commence. But I knew we would have to bite the dog bullet.

And so we drove three nights ago through a landscape of scrub woods which I have come to recognize as prime domestic pet breeder real estate after our purchase of a cat four years ago from a trailer parked in similar terrain. It had reeked - animals and generations of New England backwoods survivalists coexisting in a jumble of plywood and dilapidated possessions. We love Jink, one of the best cats ever. But Jink and us were about to receive a new addition to the family.

The house did not disappoint. Located a mile back from the road on a rutted and washed out drive cleared by backhoe, devoid of bark mulch. At some point there was a fork in the trail. Up the hill in two different directions. Two gentlemen on dirt bikes, practicing for the last days on this moonscape, were parked under the spruce. I asked them if they knew anything about puppies.
Puppies? Never seen them, they answered. We drove on, choosing the right hand fork. And then, at the top of the hill, behind the last pile of uncleared boulders, was the log house, maison Swiss Family Hardscrabble, behind a leaning plywood barn failing to contain several pick up trucks flying Confederate flag decals, and other rusted hulks of one kind or another.
A mixed pack of hounds surrounded us, one of them poking his head through my window, baying for us to come out with our hands up and some treats. After some awkward moments, dim shapes appeared on the porch of the house, two largish people, one man and one woman. The woman leaned over the rail.
They don't bite, she said at last. I popped my door and stepped out, testing the veracity of her assertion, and my daughters followed me up to the house with the dogs at our heels, one particularly friendly mutt thrusting its wet muzzle at our hands to be petted. Turned out she was the mother.

Teddy and siblings were the cutest bunch of butterballs, flopping around at our feet and vying for our affection. The girls fell in love with the smallest pup, and the mother took it aside and straddled it, seeming to swallow its head. It looked like bonding time before we took him away.

So far we have survived. It has been two restless days and three sleepless nights. And we struggle to find the right routine and mix of tenderness and sternness that will yield a perfect and well-mannered denizen of  Hope Mountain Farm. But Teddy, a needy and uncertain yellow fur bundle, claims his place, and our lives will certainly never be the same.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Edward Snowden Worthy of Our Gratitude

Edward Snowden is a visionary man of peace and we should do everything in our power to protect him. That's my conclusion after his meeting in the Moscow airport Friday with human rights activists and listening to his words in silence and respect. 

"I did not seek to enrich myself. I did not seek to sell U.S. secrets. I did not partner with any foreign government to guarantee my safety. Instead, I took what I knew to the public, so what affects all of us can be discussed by all of us in the light of day, and I asked the world for justice."

Snowden recognizes that we live de facto in a transnational community via the Internet today, and therefore he is seeking to establish the rights of all citizens to equal protection of privacy rights. It is a discussion worth having. We need to make sure that he continues to be able to spread his message that the power of snooping on the electronic communication of all people at any time is just too much to place in the hands of any government, or government contractor, for that matter.  It is the power, as he said in his meeting, to decide people's fates, and the fact that he thrust it away and took the step that he did to bring this power to light, makes him a man worthy or our respect and gratitude.

Still, I would like to see him stand trial and defend himself in court in the United States instead of spending his days in irrelevant exile in a place like Venezuela that does not stand for the vanguard of human freedom.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Inspiration - Solar Impulse

I'm a writer. I'm currently in between books. In between books is a scary place. It doesn't really exist. Kind of like the other side of the moon. As I contemplate the next phase of my writing career, I'm looking to different sources for inspiration: my life, the books I read, the media. Sometimes a story in the news gets my creativity flowing in ways that might not feed in directly to what I'm working on, but lifts me just by the sheer example of human perseverance and ingenuity it provides. The unlikely journey of the Solar Impulse, completing its historic cross-country flight today, is one such example.

Like the creators and pilots of the Solar Impulse, nobody tells me what to do next as a writer. A book is a one-off flight across terrain that ideally has never before been seen. A writer in between books is kind of like the hero of Yeats' poem, An Irish Airman Foresees His Death:

...No law nor duty bade me fight, 
No public men nor cheering crowds...

What makes me want to keep taking this plunge into the vastness of infinite space? Is it the lonely impulse of delight that Yeats ascribed to his gloomy, heroic pilot? After all, the blank page is like that - the possibilities are endless and the trick is to keep pushing the envelope and not settle for what has gone before. Whether you are a financially successful writer, (all 10 of us), or not, the ideas must be fresh and the vision compelling. There must be delight in it. Otherwise why do it?

But more than individual pleasure, it also helps to have a higher good in mind.  Not many people talk about this, but there is a purpose to fiction writing. Stories help shape us and give us strength to carry the flame forward. By not hewing to the known, by not pandering to the concepts or stereotypes that form the common consciousness, stories clarify and mold our awareness of the reality we all swim in.

Writing is exploration, which when done with purpose and intelligence, is really about the challenge of solving a new puzzle, and that's why I take as my inspiration today the story of the Solar Impulse, an example of intrepid exploration that is helping to push change in the spheres of science, engineering, and social organization, and in the process providing a lift to all of us as we celebrate the spirit of independence and the unleashing of humanity's potential.

(Photo courtesy of the Solar Impulse)