24 December 2008

Problem Solved

Ambie Heltrop of Mattamiscontis, Maine, was going up to bed when his wife told him that he'd left the light on in the garden shed, which she could see from the bedroom window. Ambie opened the back door to go turn off the light but saw that there were people in the shed stealing things.

He phoned the sheriff's office, who asked 'Is someone in your house?' and Ambie said 'No, they're in my shed.' Then the dispatcher said that all patrols were busy, and that he should simply lock his door and a deputy would be along when available. Ambie said, 'OK,' hung up, counted to 30, and phoned the sheriff again.

'Hello, I just called you a few seconds ago because there were people stealing things from my shed. Well, you don't have to worry about them now because I've just shot them.' Then he hung up.

Within five minutes three police cars, an Armed Response Unit, and an ambulance showed up at the Heltrop residence and caught the burglars red-handed.

One of the officers said to Ambie: 'I thought you said that you'd shot them!'

Ambie said, 'I thought you said there was nobody available!'

[Reminds me of what someone once observed: Youth and guile are no match for age and treachery.]

21 December 2008

Staying Mentally Fit

I often while away the dull moments with productive mental exercises. This is to prevent memory loss. For instance, right now I'm working on recalling the names of Snow White's eleven dwarfs.

20 December 2008


Beneath her talking head on the History Channel appeared her name and her credential, Sonia Shah, Author. I googled her and now I understand better why she was being consulted for a show called “CRUDE.” (She isn’t crude; it was a show about oil.)

I recalled that I had long ago started a list, now lost, of professions, for lack of a better word, or careers if that’s what they be – credentials that regularly follow people’s names in printed and broadcast news stories. And in documentaries, like the one featuring Author Shah.

As I watched Sonia Shah on TV I revived the list as best I could.

In news, someone is as casually identified as a Socialite or Embezzler as someone else is a Professor or CEO. (Nowadays, documentaries are more likely than the news to provide a steady stream of these varied credentials.) And of the array of choices, how do you explain to your kids that they might want to aspire to the title of Contortionist or Auctioneer but perhaps not to titles like Extortionist or Racketeer.

My favorites among titles I’ve seen after people’s names? Activist and Expert. I am especially fascinated to comprehend how someone can earn the title of Activist. I might like to be an Activist for causes of my own, but I’m too damned involved with my family and with earning a living to spend enough time being an Activist who would attract the attention of the news cameras. I can only conclude that most visible Activists are independently wealthy.

I’ve even seen the term Professional Activist. Is there a degree for that? A salary? Myself, I’m more of an Inertiaist. Where I see Activists plying their profession I’m more inclined to say, No thanks, I liked it better the way it was. Activists seem mostly intent on reducing my freedom, and Inertiaists don’t sell news.

I realize that a degree in anything makes someone an Expert, and a Ph.D. makes someone an actual Authority. So there are a lot of Experts out there, ready to have the word, with a capital E, appear after their names on TV. Sometimes it’s a Renowned Authority. Then I’m impressed!

It so happens that I am an authority on many things myself. The only difference between me and an authority on, say, cosmetics, is that I’m not an expert on anything that sells news or documentaries.

It used to upset me to read a news story and see a sleazy rock star referred to as a Musician, (or more offensively, as an Artist). But that was back when I expected my daily news sources to be more discerning, more responsible, more linguistically accurate. I have long since abandoned such expectations.

As I describe myself at DamnYankee.com, I lay serious claim to the titles of Activist, Advisor, Advisor to the Administration, Economic Advisor, Political Advisor, Constitutional Analyst, Legal Analyst, Foreign Policy Analyst, Media Analyst, Military Analyst, Cryptanalyst, Linguist, Expert, Academic Expert, Unnamed Source, Strategist, and more... not that anyone listens, but I am as qualified as anyone named in the news media to assume any of these monikers. How can that be? I’m active all the time, even sometimes an agitator, I analyze and advise and strategize, I’m an expert and a source, and, yes, I’m a cryptanalyst. The beneficiaries of my activism (or intertia), analysis, and advice are those who read my commentary and advice.

I'm as much an expert on things political and philosophical as Chomsky, Chopra, and many other darlings of the broadcast media. (Just as with me, Chomsky and Chopra each have a formal education in something far removed from the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. It's plain to me that I have read it and they have not, so I claim a greater expertise in that hallowed document than they can.)

I scoff at news media reports that quote “experts” without naming them. I’m equally unimpressed by reports that credit “unnamed sources”, “legal analysts”, “political advisors”, and the like. I’m analyzing politics and laws and the media all the time. I write letters to elected officials giving my advice. I’m an expert on quite a few things, especially in dealing with the messes created by “enabling legislation”. And DamnYankee.com stands as my continuing political activism.

18 December 2008

Meditating on Situational Awareness

For me the most useful term to emerge from the study of behavior – and I am loathe to use buzzwords and generalities, but I like this one – is situational awareness.

I know people who are always attuned to their surroundings and for whom it comes naturally, instinctively perhaps, or arising from a need for vigilance in their developmental years. For me it’s learned. But, being learned, it may put me at an advantage; I am conscious of my situational awareness.

What is it, exactly? It’s the taking-in of all available cues and signs in the environment around me, and processing that information to be prepared for action. Some of it is passive awareness, some of it active.

Being a learned behavior, it is often my conscious preoccupation while I’m out in the wild. For instance, the first weekend of December I was busy collecting poles in the woods to use for a tee-pee over a magnolia tree newly planted this fall next to the house. It was a still afternoon, heavily overcast, in the high twenties Fahrenheit. While scouting for strong, straight poles of the right species, which was chiefly an exercise for the practiced eye, my mind was free to regard the rest of the situation around me as I meandered deeper into a familiar woodlot.

Although I may not have a naturally-heightened sense of situational awareness, I do have a great sense of direction. So every now and then I paused to verify what I thought was the direction back home, and I was invariably correct.

A couple inches of snow on the ground assured that I could follow my backtrack, but I realized after a while that I had a high (natural?) vigilance for the coming of fresh snow. The first flake in the air, resembling a tiny tuft of down far to my peripheral left, made me conscious of my awareness.

Still I carried on. I had decided that eight or ten poles would be enough, and so as I cut and de-limbed them, I carried them to a couple of staging areas I had selected.

So, while I subconsciously paid attention to the danger of becoming lost in a snow squall, I half-consciously used my homing “instinct” while I automatically scanned for the poles I needed.

With the three-quarters of my mind that was relaxed and idle, I “read” the forest. I could looked at the evidence of forest succession around me. Mostly I was traipsing through second-growth hardwoods about 20-25 years old. What had once likely been a property line demarked a clear break into mature conifers. And where I was finding the long poles I needed may have been an abandoned snowmobile trail.

The thin snow cover was crisscrossed with squirrel tracks, but for the time that I was out there that day, I didn’t see evidence of any other wildlife. I heard a chickadee “scree” now and then, and at one point a gray-black mouse-sized rodent scampered ahead of me for a yard or so and then ducked into a crevice in the crust that took it under a mound of snow which may have fallen from an overhead branch a day before.

I was impressed by the amount of standing and running water just below the snow in most places. For my whole trek I was on a hillside, keeping to an approximately even elevation, so it made sense that there was abundant spring water. Since there had not yet been a deep freeze, the ground temperature just below the surface might still have been ten degrees or so above freezing.

My creative mind anticipated how I might assemble the tee-pee, so every now and then I made a mental calculation about pole length, whether to retain a fork or cut behind it, whether to use a species or not.

I believe I am skilled at identifying trees, but I found it unexpectedly difficult to be sure of the species when dealing with two-inch diameter saplings devoid of leaves. Suffice to say I stayed with deciduous trees and managed to avoid poplar.

In addition to my innate sense of direction, I have an acute sensitivity for the odor of burning wood. This awareness is probably wonderfully primitive, for all of my human ancestors would have had a serious need to know where to find fire, whether it was a fire to return to or a fire to flee. For me a wood fire is a soothing pleasure, and over a half hour or so I enjoyed the scent of a someone’s distant hearth.

It occurred to me only once to consider the possibility of an encounter with an unpleasant creature. Since the only creatures one needs to fear in the Maine woods are skunks and humans, I could readily dismiss these; skunks would be napping and humans would announce themselves with a noisy approach. Black bears, which an experienced Mainer knows not to fear, are hibernating by now. Coyotes are ubiquitous but inconsequential as a threat. And the eastern panther, which I have more experience with than most people, quod vide, is sufficiently scarce as to compare with a winning lottery jackpot ticket.

I’m sure my complex neurological system was occupied with other things of which I was mostly not aware – a heavy scratch on my ankle proved most annoying once I removed my socks that night, but I managed to ignore it completely while outside. I was thirsty for quite a while, enough so that I once contemplated eating some snow. But I allowed myself to anticipate for a moment the cold ale in my fridge and the thirst, although not gone, was forgotten.

And Oliver Sachs would probably have a great time analyzing my ability to hear a self-composing symphony at times like this, when there are few demands on my active consciousness and my left temporal lobe can play tricks on my auditory senses.

So for me, a Sunday afternoon in the sedate December winterscape of northern Maine was a respite from indoor confinement in the company of teenagers with domestic electronics – (no one wanted to go out with me). It was a time for meditation of the sort that I devise for myself. It was an opportunity to practice bringing together the information gathered by my senses at different levels. And, even though I wasn’t practicing situational awareness at the level of a military strategist or an African bushman, it was a time to be aware of what I am aware of. In spite of the lack of excitement, it was something worth writing about.

17 December 2008

Nice People

I like a lot of people, but I wouldn't want most of them governing me. Just because they are nice and have what they believe is my best interest in mind doesn't mean that they would act in a way most likely to preserve my freedom.

13 December 2008

Rising Where You've Fallen

In my lush field of green that is also my deepening field of white, in my brown tower over that field, and in my travel within my town and far, far beyond it - in my years of learning, fathering, working, exploring, teaching, trying, hoping, waiting, praying, laughing, yearning - I stood for something.

Because I fell for a wonderful woman, I stood for romance.

Because I fell before the throne of grace, I stood for faith.

Because I fell for the laughter of children, I stood for responsibility.

Because I stood for these, I stood for love.

I have fallen for much, and I have stood for much more.

14 November 2008

Doom and Gloom

The world will always have plenty of petty despots, scattered about according to P.J. O'Rourke's definition of "Nationalism - A political ideology which suggests that every little group of human twerps with its own slang, haircut, and pet name for God should have its own country as well." But, while they may be fewer and arise less frequently, the world has not seen its last terrible dictator. 

The world has not seen its last famine or its worst tectonic plate shift. As we creep toward the mid-point between mini ice ages, we can acknowledge that the world has not seen its hottest weather (in human history). And there's no reversing "global warming" by switching to compact fluorescent lights. Human who believe we are making the atmosphere warmer are anticipated by Aesop: "The fly sat upon the axel tree of the chariot wheel and said: 'What a dust I do raise!'" 

11,000 to 13,000 years ago the northern hemisphere was half covered with ice, and likely will be again in another 13,000 years. But from today until then, it may get much warmer before it turns cold again, and all of this has been happening over and over without the self-flattering influence of Man. 

The world has not seen its last dustbowl, mighty flood, or continental fires. It has not seen its last plague or last universal economic collapse. And it has not seen its last atomic bombing in an act of war. 

The world may have seen its last free representative republic, and the sinking of that republic will drive rational science underground. For with economic ruin will come a rise in charlatanism and superstition where once reigned reason, free will, and responsible citizenship. Under universal poverty, especially close behind an era of plenty, people will regard science and reason as irrelevant, even maliciously responsible for the plight of the land. 

The world has not seen its last era of real money. Since 1932, when the USA ceased circulating gold coin, and more certainly since 1972, when the USA went off the gold standard, the only currency within and between countries has been fiat money - promises to pay, credit, and most recently, digital money represented by the flow of electrons in tiny computer circuits. 

People denied control of those electronic circuits will find a way to return to currency of intrinsic value, governments be damned. 

The world is not especially optimistic, although optimism is a feature of human nature. But even those who let a little pessimism creep in are not prepared for the turmoil that any of these calamities, or worse, a succession of these calamities, will bring. 

Individuals can prepare themselves a little, but those who smugly believe that they are fully prepared are fully to be shocked at the reach of the succession of global crises to come. Those who live in densely-populated urban areas and who blithely expect their urban and national governments to prevent such crises or to coddle everyone if the worst should happen are to be pitied.

05 November 2008

I'm Trying

The election of 2008 is over. I'm still in mourning. The hardest thing for me? Giving up being an independent, responsible citizen and becoming a mollycoddled victim awaiting government rescue. I can’t even figure out what I’m a victim of, except earlier government attempts to rescue me. 

Rescue me from what? My own wrong-headed thinking, I guess. Certainly that includes my inability to choose appropriate charities for my philanthropy. Probably also my selfishness in thinking I deserve to prosper from my own efforts and my masochism in thinking I deserve to accept the consequences if I fail in my attempts to prosper. (For if I fail, certainly my efforts were undermined by someone else’s greed, and I need to be taught to petition the government to punish that greed.) 

Up to now, I have succeeded in fighting off such attempts. 

Most importantly, I need to re-program myself to keep my mouth shut when I can see plainly that the emperor has no clothes. There will be retribution for anyone who says so. 

I don’t expect that I will ever become accustomed to being one of the sheeple, but I will soon enroll in groupthink therapy and learn worshipful mantras and take the pictures of Lincoln and Reagan off my walls to make room for a portrait of a benevolent BHO. I hope that I have to put up only a head shot, because I don’t want to expose my kids to the emperor’s full-body image. 

God knows, I’m trying to get it right!