Beautiful Disaster

The first snow in Central Oregon was December 5th. I live in Sisters, near Bend, and we are in the high desert. The dry, cold air makes for nice powdery snow. The snow was beautiful! I was prepared: I bought a new set of snow tires for my four-wheel-drive F150. The truck even with regular tires is good in snow, but the snow tires make it stick to the ground almost like driving on bare pavement. And I put the snow blower on the tractor.

The snow first started west of town – about five or six miles toward the McKenzie Pass. It was threatening in Sisters all day, and you could see that the mountains were being hammered, but in the town itself, it was cloudy, but no snow.

Finally, toward the evening, it came, and when it came, it came down in big, fluffy, flakes. It was beautiful, and just the thing for the Christmas season.

It kept coming! We had a lull the next week, and then, we got hit on the 15th. A good foot of snow, or more, and it was cold, and the snow stayed. And it was beautiful!

I love it when it snows. The snow is quiet, and yet there is so much going on. The snow absorbs whatever ambient sound there is so it makes the world quieter than usual. It covers up all sins. All the things that are undone around the ranch, and anything that is out of place, is covered with a nice blanket, making it look like everything is perfect and orderly.

The usual cycle is to have a nice snowfall in December, and another in January or February, with the snow melting in between. This year, we had several snowfalls from December 5th through the second week of January – and it stayed cold. Each snowfall layered itself on the last one. By mid January, we had five feet of snow fall on Sisters – and virtually none of it melted. This five feet compressed down to about three feet on the ground, and on the roofs.

We had a storm early in January that dumped another 18 inches on top of what we already had. This was the final straw. Up until this point, the snow was still a wonder, at least to me. I love snow, so having it around was fun. It was still manageable. We could still navigate around the paths, and I could still park easily in front and back. But the last storm dumped so much snow on what was already there, that we were smothered.

I took the snow blower out seven times over the course of several weeks, each time clearing from six to eighteen inches of snow. The last few times I could only clear enough to provide access to the horses and the barns. Everywhere else we had at least two and a half to three feet of snow. As I write this, the snow is still there.

We started to get worried about the snow load around the new year. We already a few feet on the roofs, and the last storm took the snow load over the top of some of the buildings’ design limits. Two of our neighbors lost their RV sheds – they just collapsed under the weight. Some of our neighbors had snow and melting ice damage their interior drywall. We had one of the rafters split in a lean-to shed. In Bend, there were a number of collapsed roofs: a school gymnasium, a grocery store, a manufacturing plant. There were damaged roofs galore: the main FedEx facility, grocery stores, and lots of residences.

And, all through this, the snow was beautiful! The snow collected the trees like a National Geographic nature movie. The mountains wore a mantle of white, and when it was clear, the alpenglow in the mornings when the sun hit the mountains was breathtaking. Clear, and beautiful, and cold, and clean, and bracing. It is wonderful. But it just became too much. The amount of snow was no joke, and as beautiful as it was, it was dangerous and destructive.

My house is pretty rugged, but I was not willing to put it to the test. My friend, my son, and  I climbed up and started to shovel the snow off the roof. Oh my! I am out of shape! We had an impressive amount up there. You take the shovel and carve off a piece, and fling it off the edge of the roof. Over and over. For hours. We moved an easy ten tons of snow off the roof of the house.

Finally, last week, it warmed up enough for the snow to start to loosen up. The trees are made for this. The big ponderosas and junipers shed their snow like starlets shedding their mink coats. You could hear “whooshes” every minute or two from various parts of the property as a branch freed itself of its load. By the end of the day, all the trees were bare.

We could see signs of relief. The tons of snow on one of the buildings started to slide – just a wee bit, with the snow and ice hanging over the bottom of the roof like a frozen ocean wave, and a foot or two of the roof clear at the peak.

The next morning, the snow came off our barn. I heard the “whump!” from the house but didn’t know what it was until I went back there. The three feet of snow on the roof became a fifty foot long ridge of snow over seven feet high. This was quickly joined by another pile from the stalls across the way.

In three days, the snow was was finally loosing its grip on the structures. The snow came down in sections – never all at once. I would be outside and hear another “crash!” as a section of snow fell. Since I cleared the roof, I could hear the “thuds” of snow hitting the roof from the trees above. It’s like the the whole world said “Okay! We’re done with this.”

But, no, not quite yet. We are not done. The snow that is here has not yet melted. One morning I went into the kitchen and noticed that the range top was wet. I didn’t know what happened – I thought someone spilled something. But, no, it was snow melt coming into the kitchen from the exhaust vent. Once more onto the roof! We cleared the ice dams.

Six feet of snow is a heck of a lot of water. And sure enough, as it melts, it floods. More so in Bend, where is warmer generally than in Sisters, but here too. The roads have been pretty mucky. And then it freezes at night. We’ve had people skating on the streets. And some cars were skating without wanting to. A friend of mine had a perfectly good minivan skate into his truck. Thankfully, no injuries.

We were in the midst of all this over the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. I thought of how we are dealing with this slow-motion freak of nature. There is a lot of damage, but it’s not as fast and furious as hurricanes, tornados, or earthquakes. We did not make the news. We had a few days where it was minus ten and twenty, but national news picked up the midwest disasters and cold snaps over us. I had disaster envy!

Some of my friends said “I did not sign up for this!” Some seemed to be seriously considering moving back to the warmer climes from which they came. I thought of the refugee Californians and Arizonans who recently moved up here. They were having a hell of a time! I wondered how many would remain.

This snowfall is a record event. Central Oregon had seen nothing like this since 1972. Everyone is afraid this may be the “new normal” but it unlikely to happen again for a while.

Martin Luther King’s day reminded me of the Northridge Quake, which hit the Los Angeles area on MLK day in 1994. That was a disaster. Over sixty people lost their lives. Major freeway overpasses were felled. Who knows how many structures damaged or destroyed. I was there, and I will never forget driving to work the next morning. I lived near Pasadena and worked in Simi Valley, which meant I had to cross the Valley to get to work. I left the house at around five to avoid traffic. As I drove down the 210 freeway entering the San Fernando Valley, I saw something that stunned me: the entire valley was without power and was pitch black, with the darkness dotted here and there with the light from fires. As I descended into the Valley, I thought that the last time anyone would have seen the Valley so dark was maybe one hundred or more years before. I knew I would never see this again.

As I drove across the Valley floor, there was flooding from broken water mains, and there was one spot where the street was on fire from a broken gas main. I felt I was driving through armageddon. Some of my friends and co-workers had PTSD from the shake. One friend would jump sky-high if someone stepped too hard on the floor or moved a piece of furniture too roughly. He lived in the Valley and his whole apartment shook apart around him.

I thought of this on MLK weekend. I thought, there is not a place on this planet that is immune from being humbled by Nature. And I thought: I’ll take the snow.



Cautiously Optimistic

What a day. I woke up once again wondering how the hell Donald Trump could have been elected to the presidency. It still seems unreal to me that enough people in enough places voted for this guy, enough to edge out a flawed, but much more qualified candidate. Unlike some of the liberal persuasion, I don’t call into question the legitimacy of his election. I have faith in our country and its traditions. I know the vote was fair, even if actors inside and outside the country were trying to influence the outcome.

Once again, I had to confirm to myself: yes, indeed, Donald J. Trump was elected. And today, the added twist: he is to be inaugurated. Oh, Jesus.

A couple of hours later, I witnessed Trump getting sworn in. I am old enough to know now when a moment is a moment for the ages, and the transition of the presidency from Barrack Obama to Donald Trump is one of those moments. The ceremony and the pageantry is a wonderful thing, and I am repeating what every news agency today has said over and over: the peaceful transfer of power is a hallmark of our democracy. And today was an example of how remarkable that is.

I was eager to hear Trump’s speech. I hoped that he would deliver something Trumpy, but inspiring. I hoped that he would broaden his reach and embrace America in full. I hoped he would show some humility. I hoped that the realization that he is now actually the president would inspire some presidential words.

The first three paragraphs found me thinking, “hey! maybe…” But then, oh my! His launch into America as Dystopia made me wonder when he would blurt out “May the odds be ever in your favor!” It was bleak, and frankly, he was not talking about an America I know. He was not talking about a world I know. Once again I realized that I was expecting too much of Trump. How could I be so foolish? Trump doesn’t change.

I saw a pro-Trump friend of mine today. He’s a good guy, and he was happy his man is now sworn in and ready to go. He asked me how I felt about the inauguration. I replied “I am cautiously optimistic.”

I love the term “cautiously optimistic.” It is similar to “trust, but verify.” To me it means, I expect things will go well, but I am not blind to the obstacles. I know it will require vigilance and perhaps an intervention to help circumstances along, but in the end, things will be okay. And that is how I feel about the Trump presidency.

When Trump won the election, it felt as if my heart sank into my gut. There was a moment in the evening where it became clear that he would pull it off. That was a bleak moment for me, because in my heart I believed he was completely inadequate to the task.

The day after the election I thought, well, let’s give the guy a chance because no one wins if he fails. I thought that his winning might change things. I thought he might move from running his campaign to getting ready for the White House. I thought he would cool his rhetoric a bit and try to broaden his scope. Once again, how foolish of me! He and his followers are some of the poorest winners I ever saw. During the transition period, Trump just stayed Trump, thin skin and everything. He confirmed my opinion of him.

As much as I would like to think he will eventually “grow” into the job, which seems ludicrous to me since the man is seventy years old, and as much as it would be great if he decided to put away the twitter and become “presidential,” I know he is not going to do it. He is consistent in his opinions, and he is consistent in his attitude, and he doesn’t seem to learn anything.

Why then am I cautiously optimistic?

Because, I believe in America. I believe the checks and balances of the three branches of government will prevail in the end. Even though Trump seems to have a stacked deck in that he has a Republican Congress and has the next Supreme Court justice nominee in the queue, he does not have carte blanche. Every member of congress and Justice of the Supreme Court is a patriot, not to mention the members of his own branch, and there is only so far that Trump can go. Trump can propose a lot of things, but he can’t do it alone. Contrary to what Trump says, he does not have a mandate. He did not win the popular vote, and he squeaked by in the Electoral College.

I have friends who liken the “rise of Trump” to the rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy. It is important to note that despite Trump’s rhetoric in his Inauguration Speech today, American is not in dire straits, as Germany and Italy were. American in 2017 is not 1930’s Germany.

Germany and Italy, and indeed the rest of Europe, do not have the tradition of liberty that we have in America. The closest thing we have to a national religion is the Bill of Rights and the Constitution, most notably the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights. It is sacred to us. The secret of the First Amendment is that while some of us might want to shut other  people up, each of us demands and expects to get our First Amendment rights. We do not have the libel laws England has, and we can argue politics and curse the president or mayor all day long without the fear of being locked up. This recognition of our own right to free speech and of the other rights of the constitution are so ingrained in us, it is akin to being in our DNA; they are so much a part of us that we are unconscious of how important they are, or that others in other countries do not have these rights. But they are there, and there is no breaking them.

Yes, it is chilling when Trump talks of “loosening” our libel laws – but he runs up against the congress and the Constitution if he actually tries to do it. It is impossible that the American people will ever accept a law that says that it is libel to criticize a public official. The whole point of the First Amendment is to allow that type of speech to exist.

The machinery of legislation is big and slow. Trump has made lots of promises but he has to “sell” congress and the American People in order to get laws passed. He can’t sign laws that congress doesn’t send to him. His authority to issue executive orders can cause damage, and that is a weak link, but the big things require the legislature and the courts.

I believe after watching this person in action for the last year and a half that he is inadequate for the job. If I am right, it means he will fail and fail big. I think it is inevitable that he will make some seriously policy and legal errors because of his inadequacy. I believe that Congress will do its duty when the time comes and impeach Trump should he need to be impeached. I believe the machinery of government will work to spit out Trump should he really turn toxic.

I also believe that the Press will do its job and tell the truth about what is going on, good and bad. The press’s role will be huge in this presidency. Trump has been extremely hard on the press, but that kind of thing inspires the press. Trump will be covered extremely carefully over the next few weeks and months.

I believe America has the civic immune system to spit out a demagogue like Trump. The Union is bigger than one man. As a result, I am cautiously optimistic.








PTSD and Me

It is important to know that my wife was a dialysis patient, and that she was never really healthy in all the years we were together. When we first got together, I used to count the number of days she was not in the hospital. She lived as long as she did because of her resilience, courage, faith, and toughness. Our life together was not about her health issues, but her health was a major factor in our life together.

She dialyzed at home, overnight. She did this in her chair, catching as much sleep as she could. Dialysis is a loud process: the pump of the machine, the pump of the Pureflow dialysis fluid machine, alarms of varying degrees of urgency. I slept in the other room, unconsciously on alert, unconsciously analyzing each alarm as it rang. If it alarmed once or twice, I knew Jenny had it. If it persisted, or if the alarm kept recurring, I sprang up to see what was happening.

You never know what you’re going to see. Many times I would see Jenny at wit’s end cursing  the machine, cursing dialysis, cursing the fact that she was having to do this, all while trying to fix whatever alarm was ringing. We had a big manual with a chapter called “Troubleshooting” and unless we knew right off what was happening, we’d drag it out, open it up to find the alarm, and attempt the remedies. Some alarms, like air in  the bloodline, give you only a couple of tries to fix, and then you’re done: the machine stops, and you lose your blood, meaning you pull the needles and any blood in the lines goes into the trash. That only happened once or twice when we were home, and it is a major loss. You lose your blood, and you have to get set up for another run, which takes about twenty to thirty minutes. Sometimes Jenny would leave her needles in and hook up with the new cartridge. You don’t have a lot of options here, because when you start a run, you pump in a dose of Heparin, which is a blood thinner. It’s dangerous to screw around with that, so best to start again.

Sometimes Jenny would sleep through some pretty alarming alarms, such as a kinked blood line, which causes the pump to stop, which allows the blood in the lines to clot if you leave it too long. I’d do what I can to clear the alarm and make sure she was okay. She did not sleep well, so I was glad to see her sleeping; not so glad to see her sleeping through alarms.

Jenny was on the transplant list. When she was active on the list, she was first up – meaning all available kidneys would be crossed with her if there was a possibility of matching. The last few months she was off the list due to some health issues she needed to address. But we did receive a couple calls for transplant in 2014, only to have them withdrawn because the donor did not match. Due to her antibody count, she was nearly impossible to match. The transplant doctors would tell us there’s a slim chance, but still a chance, but then when their guard was down, one or two voiced to me, at least, that it was impossible.

When Jenny was in the hospital, again, I was on alert. I didn’t sit waiting for a phone call – I didn’t want a phone call. Phone calls from hospitals are bad news. If a phone call did come, it could be the nurse calling saying that Jenny wanted me to remember to bring her slippers, but sometimes, it was worse. One time I got a call from Jenny where she was crying and frightened:

“Oh, Marko – I don’t know what’s happening! I feel like I’m going crazy, I need you.”

“I’ll be right there.”

Turns out, it was an adverse reaction to Phenergan, which was used to keep her from getting nauseated after getting morphine. Oh my God she was pissed off that they didn’t tell her what it was and what it was for.

Looking back, I realize now how hyper alert we both were. And, apparently, I still am.

Yesterday morning, my phone rang at 4:52am. It was an unfamiliar ring, and it was on Skype, which I never use, but which I have turned on anyway. I get lots of requests to be connected by many dubious people, and none from people I know. But, no one has ever just dialed until yesterday early morning. Half-awake, and wondering what the hell was going on and who the hell would be calling me at 4:52am, I looked at the name: “adwoa amankwaah.” I rejected the call. Immediately, it called back. I rejected it again. Another three immediate call backs, and I rejected each call.

What flashed through my head during this process was: who is calling me? Why are they calling so insistently? Why at 4:52am? Then:

Oh my God, Jenny – Oh my God Transplant. And I knew neither one was possible, and yet I still felt it.

I thought it may be work-related, but then seeing the name I knew it wasn’t.

That feeling of dread, of urgency, and of fear lingered, and I felt that surely someone somewhere must be dying or hurt, someone I need to help, but can’t. Even though I knew it wasn’t true. It slammed me right back into it. I wasn’t glad to realize it wasn’t true, you know, like when you wake up from a nightmare and realize, “Hey! Martians really aren’t invading!” No, I wasn’t glad. I was sad, because it reminded me of the last time it was true.

Casino Royale Pain

I am the son of gambling professional Jerry L. Patterson. For thirty years, my father took money from casinos, wrote books on gaming, had a casino gaming news letter, and held clinics on gaming techniques and systems for Black Jack, Craps, and Roulette. He predates the MIT kids who won all that money playing Black Jack, and his technique was better.

Dad was a mathematician. He was not the typical gambler. He never bet the house on a single throw of the dice, and he never got caught up in addictive gambling behavior. He knew math too well to go chasing bad bets. He knew the odds of every game cold.

On every single casino game, the odds are in the casino’s favor. Every single game. How much the game favors the house depends on the game. For example, if you play Black Jack, the house’s edge is about 0.5%, meaning for every $100 you wager, and if you play the game correctly, the house will take fifty cents. Over time, your pockets are empty. Craps is better than that if you know how to play. Keno is awful – they take twenty-five cents from every dollar, and Roulette is pretty bad as well – you lose a nickel on every dollar. But, every game sucks you dry over time.

Unless you know what you are doing, and you have a system. Mathematics makes assumptions. When calculating the odds of casino games, the assumptions are that the game is random – the cards are shuffled to be random every hand, the dice are thrown randomly each time, and they are balanced properly, and the ball on the roulette wheel is spun in a random manner. Given all this assumed randomness, the odds pan out that the house gets the advantage, and thus the money. It’s these odds and assumptions that pay for all those lights and cheap buffets and complemented rooms in Vegas.

What dad did was discover systems that took advantage of the arbitrage between pure mathematical odds and reality. Math says the cards are randomly shuffled. In reality, they are not. Math says that the roulette ball is spun randomly. In reality, it is not. Math says that the dice randomly fall on the felt. You can play the game so that the dice don’t fall randomly on the felt. Since the games have a narrow house edge, all it takes is a little nudge to get the odds to be in your favor. Card counting in black jack will do that by letting you know if there are lots of tens, or few tens, in the remaining cards. The more tens there are remaining, the better your odds are, so bet big! When the cards are in your favor, the odds are in your favor, and you take advantage of that by increasing your bet.

Dad’s systems give you the advantage over the house by noting (or creating) these anomalies. The casinos consider it cheating. They consider anything cheating that removes their edge. Thankfully, the law does not agree – usually. Which brings me to Phil Ivey.

Last month professional gambler Phil Ivey was ordered by a federal judge to pay back to the Borgata casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey ten million dollars he had won in a casino game called Baccarat. Why? Because the judge found that Ivey had breached his contract with the casino. What was the contract? The New Jersey Casino Control Act, which disallows the use of marked cards at casinos.

Since gaming is part of my life, my ears perked when I heard about this. How could that be?

Ivey discovered that the cards the casino used had a flaw: The card patterns on the edges were not consistent.Thus, if you can get the casino to flip them around, you can find the card in the deck again. Or cards of a certain value. The result is that after a period of play, all the good cards are flipped, and you can see whether the next card to be played is good or bad. Ivey set the game up with the casino so that only one set of cards would be used for days in a private gaming session, only an automatic card shuffler is used, and the dealer would flip any card around that Phil asked to be flipped.

The casino agreed to all these requests. And being a pro, Ivey took them to the cleaners to the tune of ten million dollars.

Edge sorting is what this technique is called. It can only happen if the casino allows it to happen. They use cards with inconsistent patterns. They agree to the demands of the gambler – same cards, flip requested cards around, don’t mess up the order.

But, according to the Federal Judge, asking the casino to do this, then the casino doing it, and then the gamer using the information, is the same as marked cards. And even wilder, he is demanding that all winnings be returned to the casino. Ridiculous.

It is exactly the same as if Ivey had asked the dealer to bend the card in half and place it back in the deck, and the casino complying. Casinos are not dumb. They know the systems, the games that are played. So Borgata should have known what Ivey was up to.

Ivey is planning to appeal. I hope he wins, because if this stands, every time a casino suspects you of using an advantage, like card counting, they can not just ban you, but get the money back. That is just wrong. So, go Phil Ivey!

There is no Spoon

My son wanted to watch a movie with lots of guns. Oh, where to start? A friend of mine suggested “Saving Private Ryan,” especially the beginning, which to my mind is one of the best battle scenes ever made. But I couldn’t find the DVD. I did, however, find “The Matrix,” with the wonderful line: “Guns. Lots of guns.” My son never saw the movie, so we put it on.

I have seen the movie a number of times. It is one of those movies where if it happens to come up in cable or I see it flit by on Netflix, I just get sucked back into it. I love it. The opening scene with Trinity taking everyone out – priceless. And of course its contributions to the popular culture: the blue and red pill, the kid saying “there is no spoon.” These are certainly is part of my vocabulary now.

1999. Wow – it is hard to believe it came out that long ago. I consider it a timeless movie – to me it really holds up. I didn’t see anything in the movie that screamed “oh, come on – we’re so much better now.” Star Wars is a great movie, but I don’t feel like it is any newer than 1977. It was a groundbreaking movie, and it had amazing and totally new effects, but I still see it firmly planted in the mid-seventies. The Matrix, though – it just seems newer than the nineties.

The premise, of course, is that the world the people live in is not real – it is the “matrix” – an illusion created in the minds of all humans, generated by artificially intelligent machines. In reality, humans are kept in vast tiers of pods. They are used as batteries for the machines – which of course makes no sense at all, but hey, you gotta have a story. Humans live, therefore, in a dreamlike state that is reality to them. Keanu Reeves plays “Neo,” the kid with mystic powers allowing him to see through the Matrix, and eventually, to bend it to his will.

I don’t know about you, but I do feel we are living in an illusory universe. A couple of years ago I ran into the theory that it not just possible, but probable, even inescapable, that reality is not real, and that we really are living in a computer simulation. This idea hasn’t just been hiding out on the fringe, either – even the New Yorker wrote about it last June. Regardless of whether we are in a computer simulation, or not, I have always been a fan of the multiverse – the idea that there are an infinite number of universes that exist besides our own. Why not? If you imagine our universe, all the stars, planets, galaxies, and the space in and around them, as fitting in a basketball, it is easy to imagine a whole roomful of basketballs, each one containing its own universe. If you go to the outer limits of our universe, what’s on the other side?

Even disregarding the idea of multiple universes, let’s look at this universe. If you look at the screen you are reading this on, it looks solid. It is solid glass or plastic. If you drop it it breaks, and you can cut yourself with a shard from it. Except, it’s not solid. It is mostly space. All things are mostly space. Everything breaks down to little spinning balls called atoms, which have a cloud of elections around their cores, and even these atoms are mostly space. There is space between atoms, too. It is a miracle anything seems solid, really.

And then look at light. We see an astonishingly small band of the electromagnetic spectrum. All those frequencies are there, we just don’t see them or perceive them – except perhaps as sunburn from UV. But even within the small band we do see, we don’t see all the colors available. The mantis shrimp can see far more colors than we do, in roughly the same range.

The Matrix speaks to this. It touches on the nagging thought that our world, perhaps, is not what it seems to be. That there is more to all this. That indeed we could be just part of an experiment from some extra-universal teenagers. It speaks to the thought that if we just take the red pill, all will be revealed.

I don’t consider this attitude crazy at all. I think it is healthy to be curious about this, to be curious about anything. I find it fascinating to read what people think about reality, and fascinating to think about what could really be going on.

One thing I am pretty sure of though is that we are not going to find a definitive answer. How could you verify the computer simulation theory? Find some half-buried Statue of Liberty on the beach with the logo “Intel Inside?” on its backside? Dig into some cave somewhere and find a wall with the comment “//to be implemented” on it? No, it’s all speculation. Fun to think about, though.

And by the way, my son loved the movie.


The Big Chill

We have had mountains of snow this year in Central Oregon, and we are on track to get at least another foot of snow over the next couple of days. We have had snow on the ground since December 6th. But I don’t want to write about snow. Writing about the weather is the last refuge of a scoundrel.

I will write, however, about how it is affecting us here in our community. As I said, it started snowing on December 6th, but the big dump came a week later. And then came the cold – temperatures in the ‘teens dropping to sub zero. Sisters, Oregon is on the edge of the Deschutes National Forest, and is a “destination” town for all kinds of outdoor activities, including camping. Central Oregon rents have been increasing the last few years, and therefore we have a contingent of homeless folks who make camp out in the National Forest or in their vehicles around town. In summer, it is actually doable. Since there is a lot of camping of all kinds, Sisters has amenities to support backpackers and campers. The National Forest allows “dispersed camping” which means you can trek out into the forest, find a spot away from people, and set up camp. So, some people opt out of apartments and elect to follow the primitive lifestyle. And then winter comes, and their campsites are buried in snow, and there’s no plowing out there.

On December 17th, Sisters was shocked by the death of a man who was found in his car across the street from McDonalds. He lived in his car, and he was known around town, at least in passing. He worked at McDonalds, and he spent time in the library on the computers. My son knew him from the library, but not well. The night of December 17, he slept in his car with the car running, and he died. The preliminary cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning. The temperature that night went down to -5, and that was the first really cold night of the season. It was cold, the gentleman went into his car, turned it on, turned on the heat, and then was overcome by carbon monoxide fumes as he slept.

The truth came a day or two later: He did not die of carbon monoxide poisoning. He died of hypothermia. He froze to death. That shocked me and a number of other people in the community. His death was tragic in any circumstance, but with carbon monoxide, it was an accident that could be avoided – open the window, whatever. It was just bad luck.

But when a man freezes to death – that is different. He didn’t die because he was unlucky. He died because he was homeless. Despite having his car running, the cold still killed him. The cold was too much. The cold was greater than he and his circumstances, and it overcame what a prudent man might try to do to stay alive. And that was shocking.

He had family. How do you call his parent? How do you tell a father that his son froze to death in a car across from a McDonalds?

His death sent home the point that subzero temperatures are no joke, and that there are a number of people in our community who are at risk. It also sent home the reality that despite the fact that the economy is getting better, there are still a lot of people who are out there just on the edge of disaster.


I’m trying to think of some message that we can glean from this tragedy, some words of wisdom to impart that will wrap things up neatly, but I can’t. It really affected me that this man passed away, and that he did so in such a manner. It’s sad, and it shouldn’t have happened. Yes, accidents happen all the time, but the death of this man hit close to home, and it just shows that we have work to do, that we can’t just say to people “sink or swim.” These people are doing what they are supposed to be doing, and yet they are still in trouble. They have jobs, they have cars, and yet, they succumb. I guess the thing to do is to be kind. To assume goodness. Most people are good. And help when you can.

On January 1st, members of the community set up the Sisters Cold Weather Shelter in one of our local churches to provide a warm place to stay to anyone who asks on nights where the temperatures go below freezing. This is a great thing, and it makes me proud that we chose Sisters as our home. This is a great example of the things we can do to help.

Newly Discovered Favorite Things

I ran into two things today that I had never heard of before, both of which I am happy I know about now. The first is a song by John Stewart called “Mother Country,” which was a song forwarded to me by a friend in response to an earlier post. I had never heard of John Stewart, and here was this beautiful and masterful performance that just carried me along for over six minutes. I looked up John Stewart and found out he was a member of the Kingston Trio, and had been performing since I was a baby. How could this be? And then I found out he recorded a song called “Gold” in the ’70s, which I remembered, and which I did not like. And ten years ago, he performed “Mother Country,” and thankfully it was recorded, and now it’s one of my favorite things.

The second thing I ran into was a movie. I had opened up Quora and on a list of questions was this one: “What movie can you watch all the time and never get tired of watching?” I opened it up, expecting the usual answers like “Die Hard,” “Forest Gump,” “True Romance,” “When Harry Met Sally,” etc. Well, one movie came up a couple of times that I had never heard of, an Indian Bollywood movie from 1971 called “Anand.” Here’s a movie that’s been out for forty-five years, and is such a favorite in India that there are people who would love to see it over and over, and yet, it was completely unknown to me. It is the story of a doctor who was dejected in his work, who was tired of death, and tired of poverty leading to death. Then one day, a friend of a friend comes to town who is terminally ill, named Anand. Anand has cancer, and has only three to four months to live. And yet, he is cheerful. He tells the doctor “yes, I am going to die, and you are going to die. Right now, your body is breaking down, getting older and weaker, and you have only forty years to live. What does it matter as long as we are alive now?” It is a remarkable movie. I can see why people want to see it over and over.

Two favorite things in one day.

I am an optimist by nature. I look at the world, and I have to believe that we are getting better and better. I know we’re getting better and better. I believe that you can find whatever you look for. But if you look at existence you have to look at the full spectrum of existence, not just slices. Oh, there are atrocities on this planet. Oh, you can’t think of a way to kill someone that hasn’t been perfected by someone somewhere and been done over and over. And you can’t conceive of the worst things that can happen and have happened. There is always something awful that we can be shocked by, disgusted by, and fearful of. And we can do what we can to eradicate these things. But if we are to wallow in the awfulness of Man and the evils of disease and disasters, we must also contemplate the opposite: Beethoven. Shakespeare. Charlie Parker. The Beatles. And we must celebrate the good in humanity, as well. Doctors without Borders. Electrical linemen who brave blizzards to turn the power back on. The billions of small and not-so-small miracles that happen every day. I believe there is more good than evil in this world. As Fred Rogers said to do when disaster strikes: “Look for the helpers.” There are always more helpers than there are evil doers. Always.

And when I contemplate the good that is in the world, I am constantly reminded that there are incredible things I have never seen, and wonderful people I have never met. There are songs that have been written that I have not heard that will be a favorite of mine some day. There are places I have never been to that will be magical places when I finally find them. There are amazing books that I have never read. And especially, good friends I have never met.

And that is true for all of us. Keep an eye out for great things, and great people, because they are out there, and they will be your favorite things some day. It makes me happy to know that.



Samuel Whittemore, from 1775

Authors’s note: I wrote this on September 15, 2008. My encounter with the monument was early in 1997. I republish this on January 6th, 2017.

I was cleaning out my office and papers over the weekend, and came across a card that I wrote about eleven years ago. I was working in the Boston area, and in the evenings I liked to explore around.

I always had a passion for the American revolution. Growing up near Philadelphia only made it easier to indulge in a subject that already suited my anti-tyranical and libertarian leanings.

One night I was walking in Arlington, Massachusetts. Arlington is one of the small towns just outside Boston, near Lexington, Concord, and other towns that collectively were the birthplace of the American Revolution.

I walked by a park, and noticed a stone monument. It read:

“Samuel Whittemore, then eighty years old, killed three British soldiers, April 19, 1775. He was shot, bayoneted, beaten, and left for dead, but recovered, and lived to be ninety-eight years of age.”

After reading, I couldn’t help but blurt out aloud: “Now that’s a Man!” I took out a 3×5 card and wrote down the inscription.

It’s these things that capture my imagination. Think about it: Here is a man, eighty years old in 1775. Eighty. 1775. What does that mean in those days? No walkers. No Meals on Wheels. Wooden teeth, if any at all. No Lipitor or Geritol. If you were sick, they bled you or gave you some other Ungodly “treatment.” No antibiotics. No ice! No knowledge of clean hands before surgery, nor of using any kind of antiseptics — “antiseptic” was not even a word. He was shot. Beaten. Bayoneted! And lived. My God. He died at ninety-eight! I want his genes!

On top of that, I had this picture in my head of an old fart with a trusty flint-lock taking aim those red-coated soldiers, muttering as he was firing “take that, you British bastards! Get the hell off of my land!” I could hear him say after the last bayonet jabbed him “it’s only a flesh wound! Come back here you cowards!”

If you put this guy in a movie, no one would believe it. What a man!

As I started this post, I decided to Google him — and what a story. Turns out he was the oldest combatant in the Revolutionary War. April 19, 1775 was the first day of the Revolution — the shot heard round the world was shot that morning in Concord.

You know, it is important to remember that this country is not here by accident, that it took a lot of guts and blood to establish the USA and keep it here. The US has had many faults and sins, but they are faults and sins against a standard no other country even advocates, let alone adheres to. When we had slavery, we also had the Declaration of Independence, which states that all men are created equal. The lofty idealism of the Declaration beat out the base cruelty of slavery. There are people and interests from across the political spectrum that take shots at the Constitution, from universities enacting speech codes to cities enacting gun control to presidents suspending habeas corpus. Despite the onslaught, the rights remain, because they are so ingrained in our collective psyche as Americans and because we are diligent about pointing out and eradicating transgressions against them. So here’s Sam Whittemore, at the dawn of our country, showing what it took to get it done and get this standard established. We need to keep that in mind.

Sit Down at a Typewriter and Bleed

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” –Ernest Hemingway

Or was it Ernest Hemingway?

When I realized that Donald J. Trump was going to be the GOP candidate for president, I realized that anything I say would probably not change people’s views on the guy. The press and Trump’s supporters were deriding or hailing Trump (as the case may be) as being a new phenomenon. However, as a lay student of history and politics, I knew that Trump and the reasons he was selected were not new. Rather, Trumpism and populism and fear and loathing are as old as politics itself. People tend to think that the world they are in now is an unprecedented world. That the problems facing people in the twenty-first century have never been seen before. That the ’80s, or the ’70s, or the ’60s, were a more innocent time. The ’10s are so much more complicated.

The election of 2016, to me anyway, had parallels in the election of 1964, when Barry Goldwater was running against Lyndon Johnson. I was way too young to remember anything about that election, but we were a Republican family, and the underlying thought for years after was that Goldwater was a good man and should have won. I do a lot of chores around the ranch, and so I have time to listen to recordings and podcasts while I work, and I listened to Goldwater’s speech at the ’64 convention – you know the one where he said “extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice.” Ah – what a bad word choice. It was a contentious convention, which I did not know, and I was struck by the number of cigar-chomping delegates who were frowning and fidgeting as Goldwater spoke. I was surprised by the clarity of what Goldwater was saying – it was Conservatism 101, and actually not “extreme” at all, especially when looked at from a vantage of fifty years later, and after the Reagan Revolution and the downfall of the Soviet Union. Goldwater will always be tainted in the eyes of Democrats, especially, but he was a remarkable Republican, and one thing is for sure: we would never have had Nixon if Goldwater had won.

I was struck by the Conservative surge in ’64. Goldwater had quite a movement going, and Johnson was vulnerable due to corruption in his administration and to the old, FDR ideas the Left was known for and still pushing for. Johnson was no Kennedy. I was also struck by the tensions in the Conservative movement itself. Conservatives at the time had two factions: the Libertarians, and the Traditionalists. Libertarians were basically for a reduced government, and more individual freedom, which meant fewer rules, fewer laws, and fewer restrictions on what people do. Traditionalists were all about doing the tried and true: we’d seen it all before, we have answers that apply, there is no such thing as a new man, and the current upcoming generation is like every other generation that came up before, and should be treated that way. Religion played a huge part as the holder of the Moral Compass. Goldwater seemed to me to bridge the gap between the two factions.

I also listened to a 1962 debate between Goldwater and Norman Thomas, a prominent socialist who makes Bernie Sanders look like a reactionary. In it, Goldwater did a masterful job of defining what “conservatism” means. Goldwater defines conservatism in this debate as, essentially, learning from the past to find solutions to current challenges and to avoid making mistakes in order to progress society into the future. Conservatism in his view was not about stopping progress or returning to some mythical “good old days,” but to boldly, yet prudently, progress.

Just as Trump was disruptive to the GOP of 2016, Goldwater was disruptive to the GOP of 1964. Trump is a businessman, and Goldwater was a businessman. And that’s about as far as it goes. Goldwater was a senator, and had experience with government. Goldwater also had a serious demeanor: you knew he had a lot going on in his head, that he thought seriously about the issues, and that he methodically drew his conclusions based on reasoned reflection. His attitude in the debate with Norman Thomas was respectful and gracious – even when Norman Thomas was being rude. Goldwater was a fascinating, intelligent man. Trump, on the other hand, is not. And I thought the GOP could use a refresher in what it really means to be Conservative – because Trump is not conservative in any manner.

It is rubbish that the ’10s are somehow more complicated or different than the, say, innocent ’60s. I’m sorry, coming within an inch of a massive nuclear annihilation as we did during the Cuban Missile Crisis is not innocent by any definition. I decided therefore to provide some context to the election in my own way. Rather than pontificate, I thought that the best way to provide historical context and “space” was to choose appropriate quotes by intelligent people related to the issues of the day. So, I decided to publish one or two quotes a day as public posts on my Facebook feed. The first two were by William F. Buckley and Goldwater:

“Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave. She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out.” – William F. Buckley, Jr.

“Can any of us refute the wisdom of Madison and the other framers? Can anyone look at the carnage in Iran, the bloodshed in Northern Ireland or the bombs bursting in Lebanon and yet question the dangers of injecting religious issues into the affairs of state?”- Barry Goldwater

Don’t they seem a little timely? Post-truth is not a new thing. Neither is religious extremism.

So I started my quote campaign, and I ran into a problem: I could find a nice juicy quote attributed to someone, and then find out that the quote was not from that person at all! And yet, all the best quote sites had the quote: “Brainy Quote,” “Goodreads,” and a boatload of other quote sites popped up the same fake quote as if is was whelped by the Gibraltar of Truth. These quote sites crowd out the actual source of a quote (if there is one). Results from these crowd-sourced and frequently incorrect quote sites show ahead of the source document or news story on searches. As a result, a quote looks legit, but is not. Just as this quote at the top of this post by Hemingway is not by Hemingway. But it sure sounds good, no?

Therefore, I decided to avoid using the internet to find quotes, and instead, I bought a used The Oxford Dictionary of Quotations. I like it much better. Even though many of the quotes are the same, the editors added history, sources, and cross-references to the quotes, so that a quote by Dorothy Parker (“Sorrow is tranquility remembered in emotion”) has a reference to Wordsworth (“Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”) I just love this! This alone is worth the price of admission. And it provides a reason to use known sources rather than just assume some random site on the internet has any real information at all.

There is a relevance to the “Hemingway” quote, by the way: it is still a great quote, even if misattributed. My intention was to have it lead into an explanation of this writing project. I intend to write this year, and I intend to write from the soul, and instead of bleeding onto a typewriter, I’ll bleed onto my keyboard. Stay tuned.


“They Live” Does Not Belong to Racists


“On Wednesday, Hollywood legend John Carpenter hit back at neo-Nazis and white supremacists online who had been idolizing his 1988 cult classic, They Live, as an allegory for fighting against Jewish supremacy.”Gizmodo, January 3, 2017

One of my favorite movies of all time is “They Live,” the fantastic 1988 movie starring Roddy Piper which posits that the world is not what it seems to be. In “They Live,” aliens have taken over Earth and brainwashed us Earthlings into becoming docile food, using subliminal commands like “OBEY,” “CONSUME,” “NO INDEPENDENT THOUGHT,” etc. Roddy comes across a pair of magic sunglasses that show what the world is really like when you put them on: Some of the people milling about are really hideous aliens, and all the wonderful advertisements and traffic signs are all really commands to subdue you.

Somehow, the Alt-right Neo-Nazi faction have latched on to this movie as a way to show how frustrating it is to know the real truth only to have the “sheeple” just drone along without a care in the world. Naturally, if someone is antisemitic and not quite bright, of course “They Live” is about Jew Aliens taking over the world. What else could it possibly be?

It is so tempting to think  that people who don’t believe what we believe, or see what we see, are somehow brainwashed by some evil force. “Of course it’s the Rothchilds! How can they not see that?” or “Just look at the mastheads of all the ‘Lame Stream’ media outlets – they’re as jewish as chopped liver! It’s so obvious.

I waffle between being certain in what I know to be true, and being open-minded about possibly being wrong. I have changed my mind on some fundamental points of view in my life. I used to be for the death penalty; now I am opposed to it. I used to be a full-blown Libertarian, now I am more pragmatic about the benefits of government and law. I used to be a Republican, and now in the last election I voted for the first Democrat of my life. Things change. So what the heck do I know?

But some things are fundamental and unchanging. To broad brush individuals with group-wide stereotypes (i.e. racism, antisemitism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, hell – any phobia) is wrong and has always been wrong. So I am certain about this: racists who believe they have the inside dirt on what is really going on are full of crap. In fact, I say that racists and paranoid conspiracists who latch on to movies like “They Live” and “The Matrix” to explain their superior insights are not the guys wearing the glasses or taking the red pills. Nor are they the ones wandering around blissfully unaware of the evils that lurk in the world. No, they have it worse than that: they are the ones who are inventing imaginary evils of the world, creating fantastically bizarre worlds all their own, with made-up “truths” and made-up explanations, and who see the real world filtered through hallucinogenic smoked glass visors of their own invention. No one is forcing them to wear these things; no, they and their buddies don these glasses willingly, with their distortion fields all set to the same setting: eleven.

I wish I knew how to fix it. It is not a matter of fighting for six minutes to get them to put the magic glasses on. No, I think it is a matter of figuring out how to get their damn glasses off.

In the meantime, they need to leave “They Live” alone.