Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Gone to soldier

In conversation recently at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference, a woman asked me if I was relieved to be retired from the military right now. I answered that actually I felt a bit guilty at times. She didn't understand, and I couldn't explain it easily in casual conversation. I'm not even sure I understand it myself.
In a way, military service is traditional in our family. A grandfather, two uncles, and both my father and mother were in the service. Both of my brothers and I enlisted, although my youngest brother's knee gave out in basic and he couldn't complete his term. Grandpa, Uncle D., and I were the only ones to serve as a career.
But I can't recall it ever being discussed much. There was no expectation imposed or implied. We weren't raised that this was our duty. It was just a choice each of us made, accepted by the rest as unexceptional. (Well, Uncle D. had a fit when I joined up, because I was "taking a job away from a man", but that doesn't count.)
So this war in Iraq isn't evoking some family ethos that we should rush to the aid of our nation. And this odd regret isn't because I want to do my part -- this isn't a cause I agree with. Nor is it because I would have anything of value to contribute; I have no special skills of use in this conflict, and if I were still on active duty, the chance of being deployed would have been extremely remote.

The first time I was stationed at Travis AFB, the SAC commander began the newcomers' orientation by thundering, "Our job is war!" Even less popular to say publicly back then than it is now, but it really is the bottom line of the military.

I served in the military for twenty years. I was never in combat, not even in a region of conflict for support purposes. I never did our real job  

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Mr. Gillespie and Mr. McAuliffe

It's time for these two men to get their parties under control. They may think they're being clever and strategic (by gathering signatures on behalf of Nader, and by fighting his inclusion and scrutinizing each name), but they both appear petty and childish.  

Monday, July 19, 2004

MSNBC's Scoop column

In today's "Scoop", Jeannette Walls writes: "Some Whoopi Goldberg fans, as well as anti-Bush types, are threatening to boycott Slim-Fast after the company dropped the comedian for making off-color jokes about the president.  . . . "
Seems like she ought to allow for the possibility that maybe some people just think Slim-Fast is wrong. (But no, in this day and age, nothing is motivated by principle, only by partisanship...)

Monday, July 12, 2004

Senator Santorum's reasoning

I oppose the Federal Marriage Amendment. I take issue with Senator Santorum's insistence that this is about strong families.

Fact is, family is a concept greater than marriage. And to invalidate the half* of our nation's households that do not consist of a husband/wife is unconscionable.

Family is important. And the nation should occupy itself in discovering how to acknowledge, support, and nurture the evolution of families. Not in futile attempts to shoehorn the population into a single definition.

I have no particular interest in marriage, gay or otherwise. But I resent the implication that my family exists only if I have a spouse, of the opposite gender.

Fact is, the FMA is not about family, despite Santorum's spiel. It is only about the legal status of two adults, and the codified agreement between society and those two. (We'll skip the argument of why it should be only two for now.) Now, extending the agreement to male/male and female/female pairings does nothing to change the codified agreement between society and male/female pairings. Married heterosexuals lose nothing. Nor is any other couple's behavior or choices an influence on their spiritual bonding -- that is theirs, to them, as they define it, as it should be.

I'm being only partially facetious here: I suspect that for many, deep down, this antipathy is rooted in the (probably unconscious) notion that their marital status is "proof" that they're heterosexual...and that without the limitation on spouse gender, "I'm married" will no longer be evidence that they're not gay.

*Married-couple families=54,493,232, Total households=105,480,101; married-couple families with children: 24% (2000 US census)

Sunday, July 11, 2004

A cut above

I grabbed a paperback to read in the bath, just something I'd picked up at the library on impulse. I thought it would be a typical serial killer/procedural type mystery.

It turns out to be a lot better than that. The book is The Fifth Angel by Tim Green. I'm at chapter 21, so I can't be sure the book as a whole will fulfill its promise, but I'm hopeful.

The writing is excellent with a smooth easy rhythm and avoids the obvious metaphors and analogies. Green makes the characters real and interesting, without gratuitous details. More importantly, the story poses a compelling ethical dilemma, one I will ponder for awhile.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

History lesson

Road trip with my daughter today, and "WOLD" by Harry Chapin came up on one of my CDs. She really enjoyed the song, but I had to pause it to explain that, at the time, most people listened to AM stations.

The story made more sense to her then.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Patriot Act amendment vote

Today the House of Representatives voted down an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have undone item 215 in the Patriot Act. This is the infamous provision that every news report and article will tell you is about libraries and bookstores.

So I looked it up. It authorizes the FBI Director or designee to request authorization for "the production of any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)".

That could include library records, sure; it could also include a copy of your sales slip from Victoria's Secret, I imagine. It could also include a vast array of resources that could be of value in an investigation.

I'd like to see that provision made more specific, to exclude personal information that is none of the government's business, though I can see how that would be extremely difficult to do and still provide flexibility for investigators.

But I also resent the misrepresentation. I have never heard that provision referenced in the media in any way other than as an explicit authorization to snoop into the books we buy and check out of the library. How disingenuous...

Wednesday, July 07, 2004


I started out with a long list of the amazing technical advances made, but everyone knows all that. What I want to know is why we still can't make a stapler that doesn't jam?

Tuesday, July 06, 2004


Used to be, when someone in the family felt ill, we'd pull out the old family medical guide and start the hunt for information. It was often right, and we'd have a good idea about how serious it was, what we could do for ourselves, and what to expect the doctor to do (if we had to go in at all).

These days, I get results just as good from web searches. It's quicker. Plus I can check three or four different sources for confirmation, which is reassuring.

Which is why I'm fairly confident that I have osteoarthritis of the thumb. I didn't even know thumbs and arthritis went together. Short of cortisone injections or surgery, my options are: ice and aspirin. (There are very few exercises for the thumb joint, although I did find one set.) And since the options are so limited, no need to see a doctor unless it gets bad enough for those types of treatments.

Besides, the old family medical book said pretty much the same thing.

Monday, July 05, 2004

If Mary had been a boy

BBC hooked me at a young age on the stories of Henry VIII and his six wives, and then again on the reigns of his daughters. Tonight I wondered how differently history might have been, had Catherine of Aragon born a son rather than a daughter.

  • No Church of England, the Pope continuing to influence the affairs of England
  • No marriages to Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves, Catherine Howard, Catherine Parr
  • No Bloody Mary
  • No Elizabeth I...would the Renaissance still have occured?
  • No execution of Mary of Scots
  • Would Sir Francis Bacon, Sir Walter Raleigh, still have made places in history for themselves?

...and so many many other paths that would have changed, those are merely the most obvious. What amazing ripples such a tiny change would have made...

Sunday, July 04, 2004


The sports reporter was raving about the Sharapova/Williams match. Finally, the radio announcer asked him, "How are the men doing?" The sports reporter replied, "There are men playing?"

I thought it was a cute reversal.

Friday, July 02, 2004

obesity epidemic

The Salt Lake Tribune -- Skeptic says obesity epidemic fears are overstated
"It's one thing to talk about statistics and another to talk about what's happening to individuals," said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University in New York City. "Everyone notices that there are more overweight people now."

It's frightening that a university professor would use such sloppy reasoning. Everyone notices -- did they (every single person in the US) notice this before the barrage of media hysteria?

The article's skeptic, Jeffrey Friedman, an obesity researcher at Rockefeller University in New York City, does a nice job of explaining how the statistics could be interpreted in different ways. Brings to mind Mark Twain's categories of untruths: "Lies, damn lies, and statistics."

Another bit of information: "...in 1998, the Body Mass Index (BMI) was redefined to judge men and women by the same weight standard. This instantly created an additional 39 million fat Americans," (source: bigandbeautiful.org)

During my last few years in the service, we switched from a straight height/weight chart to a body fat standard. This involved several measurements at different points on the body, and neat little formulas and charts, which together estimated an individual's body fat percentage. (The most accurate method for determining body fat percentage involves water immersion, not very practical for huge numbers of troops. But we accepted the results of that test, should someone want to pay for it, as overruling our grosser estimate.)

But I guess now the newest fad is body mass index. Have you looked at this thing? Ignore all the misleading text and just look at it...it's a damned height/weight chart! Instead of providing the approved weight ranges for each height, each weight is individually listed and assigned a bmi value. Then you check that value (age and gender irrelevent, btw) to see if you're overweight or obese.

I've lost track over the decades of the number of health and nutrition pronouncements that are accepted as scientific gospel (and receive lots of funding) only to be forgotten when a newer one comes along. I don't think they know what they're doing. I have no faith in their intellectual or ethical rigor because they fell into the trap of grabbing media attention by hyping absolutes. I have to laugh...or at least try to...

Thursday, July 01, 2004

When Bush Lost Me

Most of my adult life, I've been apolitical. I think part of it was mental survival; in the military, you have to do whatever the gov't decides you'll do. So I always voted, but otherwise didn't get too emotionally invested in specific outcomes.

And frankly, it isn't as if I could easily tell the players apart. I'm sure the political class in our country sees massive differences between the different parties and cliques. On the outside looking in, those differences seem fuzzy and ultimately rather meaningless.

But when Bush gave his speech after the World Trade Center/Pentagon attacks and announced "You're either with us or against us" - that angered and frightened me. That attitude is wrong. He is wrong. I cannot support a leader who sinks into such binary unrealistic thought processes. Maybe he's watched too many movies.

And then he made it worse the following year. The country had girded itself for the "war on terrorism", for increased domestic security, for a new and vulnerable view of our place in the world...and he decides it's time for a war in Iraq. He hadn't finished the job he started, but no matter; all his attention and resources had to be devoted to this new whim. Skewed priorities. Maybe the invasion was necessary, maybe not, but he chose the timing.

I suppose one could argue that by placing both Afghanistan and Iraq into chaos, we disrupt the powerlines in the terrorists' network. But I don't believe our gov't is that farsighted. I see only hubris.