January 30, 2012

The Endless Spring

This winter season is yet another in a long string of mild winters. Tomorrow the temps in our area will hit the low 60s. Okay, so some folks don't like it when we say it's global warming, but, yeah, it is. If you want further evidence that the times they are a'changing, look at this map of plant hardiness zones put out by my brothers at USDA, my former employer of several decades.

Like the ever higher tides creeping in across the globe, the warmer air is creeping northward, claiming ever larger swathes of countryside. Just to keep it interesting, some areas are getting colder, which is in keeping with the overall understanding of the impact of climate change.

In my neck of the woods, the already long spring season will get a little longer. What's not to like about that?

January 27, 2012

Global Warming: 1880 - 2011

Take thirty seconds to look at this time lapse video produced by NASA, paying special attention to the last ten seconds, which cover the last 40 years. Thirty seconds. Not too much to ask, even for busy people like us.

Watching this video won't change the world, but it might help change your mind about the reality of global warming. And once you accept that reality, it won't be long before you are wondering how it got this far. But don't expect to hear the Republican presidential candidates debating this topic, unless it is to outdo each other in their denials of the science and the threat.

January 22, 2012

Chairman Newt

Does Newt Gingrich remind you of anyone? How about the guy who force-marched China into a cultural revolution? That's right. Chairman Mao. Both were driven by their own vision of what was best for their country. Both believed in the unrestrained use of power to achieve the changes they envisioned. "Politics and war are remarkably similar situations."

Newt Gingrich sees himself as the Great White Father come to save us from ourselves. He is a thinker, a visionary, a man with big ideas. He wants to be headmaster of the nation. "Gingrich – Primary mission, Advocate of civilization, Definer of civilization, Teacher of the rules of civilization, Leader of the civilizing forces."

Unfortunately, that's not the job he is seeking. He is running for chief executive, a job that soon enough ties down every Gulliver with a thousand Lilliputian strings of daily labors and sorrows. How long before Newt chafes under the minutiae of governance? Not long, if you go by his one sole attempt at leadership--Speaker of the House--a job he was booted out by his own rank and file, tired of his erratic personality cult style of leadership. "I'm not a natural leader. I'm too intellectual; I'm too abstract; I think too much."

Republicans in South Carolina went for Newt because he possesses the one great quality of all visionaries: absolute certainty. The conservative/evangelical mindset yearns for the simplicity of black and white choices between clearly good and clearly bad. Newt appeals to their siege mentality. He is the warrior-priest come to lead them into one final battle against all that threatens their values. "I think I am a transformational figure."

They love Newt because in their hearts they know he means to do exactly what he says. And you know what? They are right. He is a revolutionary, not a politician. Big difference. Do not take this guy lightly.  "I have enormous personal ambition. I want to shift the entire planet. And I’m doing it. I am now a famous person. I represent real power."

January 17, 2012

Food Fight

I was listening to a rebroadcast of an old Jack Benny radio show on Sirius radio. The show originally aired sometime during World War II, although I didn't catch the exact date. At the end of the show, Benny's long-time announcer, Don Wilson, came on with a public service spot. He called it "Food Fight for America."

The message was simple: Grow, Conserve, Share, and Be Fair. This was a time in American history when the nation was united in one single overarching purpose: winning the war. As part of that effort, shortages and rationing were an everyday thing. All essential materials went first to the war effort. The folks back home had to make do with whatever was left.

That included food. I can't say for sure exactly what each word was supposed to convey as a message, but this is my take on it. Grow your own food. Conserve (don't waste) what food you had. Share what you could with those who didn't have enough. Be fair and don't hoard food or engage in price gouging

There are a lot of folks who think we are about to enter a new Dark Ages. I'm not ready to go quite that far, but you have to have your head pretty deeply buried in the sand not to feel that something bad comes our way. If that's the case, we could learn a thing or two from the greatest generation, starting with their sense of shared purpose and resolve and willingness to sacrifice for the greater good.

Grow. Conserve. Share. Be Fair. Not a bad message any time ... good or bad.

January 12, 2012

I Stab At Thee

One of many unforgettable lines from Moby-Dick occurs at the very end, as Ahab pulls near to the white whale: "Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale; to the last I grapple with thee; from hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee." With those words, he drives the harpoon deep into the whale.

This was how it was done. This was how you got whale oil for lamps and machinery and a hundred other uses. Whale hunters drove harpoons deep into the whale, stabbing at it again and again, until finally red blood came gushing out.

Then came news of the discovery of petroleum oil, which proved to be the death knell for the whaling business.  To find crude oil, oil men built wells to push drills deep into the earth, stabbing at it again and again, until finally black oil came gushing out.

Jim Morrison wrote these lyrics a long time ago, but they still ring true:
What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down

January 10, 2012

Final Requiem

I haven't done much posting to the blog lately. What with work and putting the finishing touches on Requiem for Ahab there hasn't been much time left to write for the blog. I haven't written a blurb yet, so I thought I would work on it here. So far, this is my working draft:
Requiem for Ahab is a story about one man's quest to reconcile his past with his future. It is a story about fathers and sons, war and its warriors, suffering and forgiveness.
Anyone who has read Moby-Dick knows that Captain Ahab lost his leg and then his life, along with the lives of the crew of the Pequod, to the white whale, Moby Dick. What you may not remember is that Ahab was survived by a young wife and son—Hannah and Thomas. Ahab's life has ended, but their lives must now go on without him. They move to a small town near Boston, where she meets and marries Aaron Stoddard. The years go by and Thomas Stoddard grows into a young man. Ahab's memory recedes deeper and deeper into a past seldom revisited by either mother or son.

When the Civil War breaks out in 1861, Thomas enlists in the Second Massachusetts Infantry Regiment and sees action at Antietam and Chancellorsville. Then comes the Battle of Gettysburg, where Thomas is wounded and has his leg amputated. He can't help but remember Ahab's fate, and he wonders if he too will go mad. Thomas realizes he knows nothing about his father's death ... or life. There is only one man who can help him discover the truth about his father—Ishmael, the lone survivor of the Pequod.
 Writing blurbs is hard work. Where do you draw the line on how much to reveal about the plot, especially in a shorter work, such as a novella? And will those parts that appeal to me as a writer be the thing that will hook a reader? It's all a guessing game. The good news is that the story has been written. Now if I can only capture it vividly enough to entice readers into checking it out.

January 2, 2012

Doing Nothing

A couple of years ago I posted a little self-help piece on another blog. I'll reprint that piece in its entirety one of these days ... I know, be still my heart ... but for now I want to focus on one of the items on the list. Briefly, I posited that nine out of ten times, the best thing to do was nothing. The art was in recognizing that one time in ten when action was needed.

A corollary to this principle is that most of us can do nothing, so what you are aiming for are scenarios when you can get your way by doing nothing. It's hard to explain, but believe me it works. With teenagers, it may be the only thing that works.

The problem is that Rule Number One indicates that most of the time we have a hard time doing nothing. The sense is that leadership is defined by doing something, anything, otherwise you look passive. Bearing this in mind, I present this excerpt from the December 27, 2011, issue of the Washington Post:
Ironically, if Congress did nothing at that moment, the debt problem would largely disappear. The expiration of the Bush tax cuts and related provisions would bring in an additional $4 trillion over 10 years. The spending cuts would add savings of more than $1 trillion. Borrowing would slow and the debt would begin to fall as a percentage of the economy by the end of the decade, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office. No one expects that to happen, however. Instead, policymakers will be under enormous pressure to come up with more palatable alternatives.
I guess the question to ask ourselves is how much bitter medicine are you willing to swallow to get better? The politicians keep telling us we can have our cake and eat it, too. You and I both know that ain't true. The above suggests that by doing what we all know is necessary, major tax hikes accompanied by major spending cuts, we go a long ways toward solving the debt problem ... a good thing to do assuming that is the correct problem to be solving here. But that's another matter.

Happy New Year, not that anyone believes it will be.