24 July 2017

Photography

When I was growing up, I wanted to be an artist.  I wanted to paint stunning landscapes, the kind where the viewer asks themselves, “Is that a photograph?”  Then I learned I could produce even more realistic images by just taking photographs.  In an effort to improve my skills, I signed up for the Photography 101 wait list at my local community college.  I was worried I would not get in the class, but then all three people in front of me were hospitalized after the same balloon accident.

Our first assignment was to take a landscape photograph in our local area and show it to the class.  I decided to take a few photos of Mount Rainier, which was clearly visible from just about anywhere.  Unfortunately, it turned out the zoom was broken on my camera, so I decided to drive closer to the mountain.  My car was overdue for an oil change, but I always waited until the oil burned away, refilling it when the light turned on, so I was not concerned.

I left the city in my tan 1990 Ford Tempo, my camera belted into the passenger seat, and headed south to Mount Rainier National Park.  Due to my crippling fear of freeways, I spent several hours on country roads, passing through farmland and forest.  At one point in my journey, I nearly hit four cows and a small horse before realizing I had left the road and was driving in a field.

Not far from the park border, I ran out of gas for the first time on the trip.  It was a long walk to the nearest town, and there was not much chance of catching a ride in the middle of the forest.  I walked along the road in the early afternoon, enjoying the rain that had started the moment my car had stopped.  As I rounded a bend, the mountain was before me in all its majesty, towering over the forest like a mighty king of old.  My camera was in my car, where I had left it strapped into the passenger seat, so I continued on my quest for gasoline.

I arrived in town an hour or so later and purchased a gas can and two gallons of gasoline.  I did not feel comfortable asking anyone for a ride, so I walked back to my car.  The return journey took considerably longer, as the can was heavy, and I was out of shape.  I had not been to a gym since my first attempt at college, when I would spend an hour a week reading a magazine while sitting on a weight bench.

The keys were on the front seat of the car, but I had left the window open just enough to grab the keys with a hooked stick and push them onto the floor.  This had not been my intention.  As the rain continued to pour, I tried all the door handles and attempted to hit the unlock button with more sticks.  Finally, with a word of apology to my faithful car, I shattered a back window with a rock.  After pulling away any shards of glass, I crawled through the window and over the seat.  Digging through the small forest of sticks, I found my keys, which had slipped through a small hole in the floor and onto the ground below.  The hole was inherited from the previous owner, who had jumped the car into a rock pile.

I emptied the gas can into the tank, started the car, and was on my way.  Without further mishap, I reached the gate to the park.  I had left my park pass in my other jacket, but thanks to a wrong turn down the exit road at the gate, I managed to bypass the pay station.

Navigating the winding roads up to the mountain has always been a bit difficult for me, but thankfully I had my insurance card, and the damage to the other vehicle was slight.  I was now missing a headlight, but there were several hours of daylight left, and I still needed my photograph.

Not far from the Longmire lodge, I found the perfect spot.  The peak of the mountain stood against a patch of pure blue sky, the snow shining in the light of the afternoon sun.  I grabbed my camera out of the passenger seat, but when I tried to take a photograph, I realized there was no memory card in the camera.  I began rummaging around in the back seat, tossing aside my backpack, the jacket with my park pass in it, a few unpaid bills, and a dozen cheeseburger wrappers, before I found the card plugged into my laptop, under an old pair of boots.

I loaded the memory card into the camera and took one of the most amazing photographs anyone has ever taken.  After confirming the picture of my car was in focus, I took another photograph, this time of the mountain.  My quest had been a success, though there was still the small matter of getting home.

Leaving the park was easy enough, but I ran out of gas again several miles from the gate.  I had left the previous gas can by the side of the road as a gift to some future traveler, so after my walk to town, I had to buy yet another can.  After emptying the can into the tank, I drove to town and filled up the tank the rest of the way, something I had neglected to do the first time.


I headed north without further mishap, aside from the incident with the moose and the drapery, but that is a story for another day.

25 April 2015

Conservatives, Environmentalism, and the Future

American conservatives have an uneasy relationship with the environmental movement. Maybe someday I'll do an in-depth research project on when and how this tension started, but this is a blog post, people, not a college paper. I haven't had to type up a Works Cited page in years. Do they still use MLA format in those fancy schools?

You know how it is, every time we have Earth Day or the Hour of Darkness or whatever environmental commemoration (I'm partial to the Three Days of Darkness, when the true pope will appear and all five genuine real authentic Catholics will be saved from the horrors that await; I'm out because I have a fondness for the rock and roll, but that's a side note). Liberals will make some token effort to save the Earth, like turning off their lights for an hour and navigating by the glow of their iPhones. Conservatives will respond by cranking the engine on their 90,000 horsepower SUV's and then dumping a million gallons of diesel fuel into the nearest lake. It's like, "Ha, stupid liberals; I will undo your pathetic gesture and then some."

Part of this is that many on the left are so easily aggrieved, and there is a certain delight in taunting them. Another factor is perceived hypocrisy. "Sure, turn off your lights for an hour, and then go back to your 24/7 electronic gadgets, your $5.00 cup of coffee shipped from South America, your monthly flights from liberal coast to liberal coast (skipping icky conservative "flyover country"), and your Dance Dance Revolution parties at Al Gore's house." Also, appeals to think of future generations run a bit hollow from people who put so much effort into thwarting the next generation through in utero violence and chemical sterilization (and hey, flooding our water system with hormones is probably fine).

There is also a suspicion that environmentalists are not really trying to save the environment; they are trying to halt American progress, so that our enemies may get the upper hand. One thinks of environmentalists in the '70s and '80s, fighting to restrict American industry, while praising the smog-choked skies of the Soviet Union. A modern equivalent would be someone saying, "You want to stop fracking, so we have to buy oil from the Muslims, Barack Hussein Obama!"

What else? Pantheists annoy theists, and some environmentalists are a bit on the pantheistic side. Many conservatives are Christians, and they believe in a distinction between Creator and created. That rock over there is a really pretty rock, and yes God made it, so praise Him, by all means. Just don't bow down and worship the rock. And don't tell people they are worth less than the rock, and they need to die or live in poverty so the rock can be preserved.

Continuing the religious point, Christians and other theists of a more conservative bent believe this world is not ultimately our home. All of this will pass away, and our true home will be in Heaven. So, if we have to plow over an acre of rain forest here and there so a few more people can come into the world, it's worth it. After all, we're talking about each individual person being an immortal being, one who may shine like the stars in the eternal glory of Heaven.

There is another set of Christians who believe the end of the age is near at hand, and therefore environmentalists are trying to preserve the world for a future that will not happen. Why should I give up my third Camaro, if Jesus is coming back next Thursday?

Here's the deal, though. All those points above might be true. Some environmentalists are crazy. Some liberals use the environment as an excuse to push their agenda. Some of their proposed solutions may make the problem worse. However, none of that excuses the apathetic or even hostile attitude so many conservatives have toward the environment.

Conservatives are supposed to conserve, right? When liberal politicians want to spend our grandchildren's money on government programs, we protest. But when conservative politicians want to burn up our grandchildren's energy reserves or cut down their forests, or pollute their water, we go right along with it. I mean, those kids will think of something, right? They're not our problem. There is a callous attitude toward future generations that does not fit with the ideals conservatives are supposed to hold.

The world is changing. Now, I want the Star Trek future as much as anyone. I want to see a hi-tech thriving world, running on clean and renewable energy. I want to see mankind go to the stars. I want us to figure out warp drives or mass effect relays or hyperspace. The thing is, though, I don't really think that's going to happen.

Pessimistic, you ask? I like to think of it as being realistic, something conservative pride themselves on being. Our society runs on oil, gas, and other fossil fuels, and those fuels are going to become less plentiful and more expensive in the years to come. We don't have to reach the point where the planet runs dry; we just have to reach a point where we use more energy extracting these fuels than we gain from their use. I'm still new to this whole peak oil concept, but I think there is something to it.

I mentioned not long ago on Facebook that conservatives tend to think fossil fuels will last forever, while liberals think we will be able to maintain our current lifestyle using clean and renewable energy sources. I think they're both wrong. The future is going to be different, and we will all have to make changes.

So, what will the future look like, and what does this have to do with conservatives and environmentalism? First, the obvious disclaimer that nobody really knows what will happen in the future. Any number of things could happen to change the game, so to speak. That said, the future could prove to be one where our ties to the environment are much closer than they are today, and local communities have more influence on our lives. What happens in DC or on the other side of the world may end up mattering very little.

I see a world where it becomes too costly to ship food great distances, so we all live closer to where it is raised and grown. I see a world where private automobiles are rare, and most people walk to work or use some form of mass transit. I see a world where suburbs and "bedroom communities" either go away or are transformed into fully functioning communities in their own right. I see a world where more of us work in agriculture and less of us work in offices. I see a world where we still have meaningful leisure time, but that time is rarely spent in front of electronic devices.

This is a far cry from the world in which we now live. The American dream, championed by so many alleged conservatives has turned into this: Live in a large, energy-inefficient home, in a suburb where people don't know their neighbors; drive alone in gridlock to a job an hour or more away; work more hours than a medieval peasant; make the same crushing drive again; buy groceries shipped from hundreds or thousands of miles away, wrapped in plastic like everything else we buy; keep up with all the television programs, all the sporting events, be intimately aware of the private lives of people you've never met. It's a mess, it really is. And when liberals suggest buying local, taking the bus, slowing down, knowing your neighbors, caring for green and growing things, they are right. When conservatives mock liberals for doing these things, they are mocking what should be their own values.

Do you want your descendants to breathe clean air and drink clean water? Do you want them to be able to walk in the forest on a summer's day, or watch a whale breach along the coast? If yes, then live accordingly, and start now (this goes for me, too, lest my reader think I believe myself superior). In some ways, many conservatives are already more environmentally conscious than their liberal brethren. A family of six in an SUV is more efficient than six individuals in their own Priuses (Priae?). And really, it's hard to find people more conservative than the Amish.

We should all be more like hobbits, to be frank (or Frodo). Living a simple life, together with our friends and family, with good tilled earth, an occasional pint at the Green Dragon, and long walks in the country. I think the future will look more like the Shire than the Starship Enterprise, and while there may be some bumps on the way, it could prove to be a merrier world.

21 February 2015

15 Things Men Need to Stop Doing After 30

We've all seen these lists, so here is one I made:

1. Basing their lives on lists strangers put on the Internet.
2. Leaving Lego bricks on the neighbor's lawn.
3. Camping the spawn points.
4. Wearing the emperor's new clothes to church.
5. Riding horses through the halls of Congress.
6. Reading the comments.
7. Painting the roses red.
8. Storming the field at chess matches.
9. Cooking toast in the crock pot.
10. Bringing your own silverware to Applebees.
12. Skipping numbers on lists.
13. Opening the forbidden scrolls.
14. Awakening eldritch abominations from their long slumber.
15. Speaking the names that may not be spoken.

19 February 2015

The Evolution of the Word "Sergeant"

The word "sergeant" starts as a two syllable word, which is how new recruits start out saying it. Soon after arriving at their first unit, the word begins to slip to "sarent." It is still two syllables, but the "g" has disappeared. Time passes, and the word becomes "sarnt," soon to be following by "sarn." If left unchecked, it can slip to "sar," a word easily confused with "sir." This can be convenient when you do not know if the screaming man in a PT uniform, chasing you down for the lack of a PT belt, is an NCO or an officer. "Yes, sar," has helped many a hungover soldier survive Monday morning.

The final evolution of the word is nothing but a shrill hissing sound, similar to that made by the spider that fell behind your bed last night, and that you could not find again. At this point, society breaks down, anarchy prevails, and a new order arises. The newly victorious barbarian chieftains enforce the proper pronunciation of "sergeant," resetting the clock of civilization.

The more you know...

25 September 2014

The World of Tomorrow

"So, what do you think of this place?" I asked, leaning back in my chair and not smoking a pipe or anything.

"The bar?" Fred asked.

"Well, sure, but I mean 2014, the present, my time and place," I said. Fred was a foreign exchange student from the future.

"I like it," he said, "though it's hard to believe people used to live like this. We have history books, of course, but it's something else to see it."

"Okay, what are some of the biggest differences between your time and now?" I asked.

"Let's see," he said, "in my time most of the Pacific Northwest is known as the Kingdom of Cascadia. That seems to be a big change from what you have going now."

"We become a kingdom?" I asked.

"Not right away," he said. "After the depression and the war, this region became the Socialist Republic of Cascadia. When that government fell, local governments kept order in some places. The rest was a bit of a mess. The king brought order."

"When will this happen?" I asked.

"I don't think I'm supposed to tell," he said, "but don't plan on collecting social security from the U.S. government."

"Way ahead of you there," I said. "What else?"

"Everyone here has a car," Fred said. "In my time, only the very rich have private automobiles, and they don't burn gasoline. Everyone else walks or rides bicycles everywhere. Horses have made a comeback in the country."

"Do you have any kind of mass transit?" I asked.

"Sure," he said, "in the larger cities. Most people live near their work and their food, though."

"How about population?" I asked. "Is it crowded?"

"In places," he said. "People either live in dense cities, small villages, or the country. No 'McMansions' in the suburbs. The suburbs all died out or became villages in their own right. The overall population is lower than now. We don't have much petroleum-based fertilizer anymore, and long-distance transportation is less feasible. We just don't pull as much out of the fields as you people do."

"Are people religious?" I asked.

"Of course," he said. "The Protestant mainline pretty much went away, so if you're a western Christian in my time, you're probably a Catholic, a Pentecostal, or an independent KJV-onlyist. Cascadia has quite the thriving pagan population, with official denominations and everything."

"Atheists and the like?" I asked.

"A few," he said, "though they've learned to get along. Living closer to the cycle of the harvests has tended to make even the left more religious."

"How do people make a living?" I asked.

"More people work on farms, since heavy equipment is expensive to operate and fuel is scarce. Computers still exist, but we don't produce nearly as much electricity as you people. Offices full of cubicle drones staring at screens all day have mostly gone away. Fast food is pretty much gone, too."

"A university education is getting ridiculously expensive in my time," I said, "while at the same time becoming less valuable. How does the education system look?"

"Most of the universities are gone," Fred said, "and their land has been converted to more productive use. Those that remain have a fairly classic curriculum. Most people don't go; it's all about apprenticeship and on-the-job training."

"So, college is just for the elite again?" I asked.

"In a way," he said, "but don't get the wrong idea. A high school graduate in my time knows more than one of your college graduates, and is far more employable. People learn useful skills at an early age."

We talked through the evening, and I learned a great deal. The future he described was not one I had been taught to expect, but it was an interesting one. As we said farewell, I had one final question.

"You're not worried all of this information will change the future?" I asked.

"You're just posting it on your blog and social media accounts, right?" he asked.

"Yep," I said.

"Yeah, nobody reads those; the future is safe."

So, there you are, dear reader(s). Time for me to learn to plant a garden.

01 September 2014

Iraq

I spent about two years in Iraq, as some of you know. This is not much compared to many of my comrades, some of whom have added tours in Afghanistan and elsewhere, but it was a significant portion of my life. I was just a regular soldier, and I did not perform any great acts of heroism, and no one is likely to make a movie about my wartime experiences.

What I did do, though, was walk the streets and breathe the air. I talked to the people, spent time in their homes, heard their calls to prayer. I rode in vehicles down torn up roads, through deep puddles full of questionable contents, hoping that this was not the time some insurgent pushed a button and sent us all beyond the veil. It happened to friends of mine, good men and true, men who were better soldiers than I.

Even in those days there were debates. Should we have invaded Iraq? Was our cause just? The big picture will be debated for years to come, and it is, to use an Army expression, above my pay grade. Big picture aside, in our little sector of  Baghdad, we had tremendous moral clarity. Our enemies were blowing up children, snatching people from their homes in the middle of the night, beheading people with knives, and attacking their own country's infrastructure. What they were doing was evil, and we, flawed though we may have been, were attempting to counter that evil with good. We were working to bring order when our enemies wanted chaos, we were working to bring security when our enemies wanted terror, we were working to bring peace when our enemies wanted war.

We thought we were making progress, that we were leaving the country better than we found it. The Iraqi police and army were improving, elections were held, and we were moving to an advisory role.

Then this ISIS thing happened. I don't know how it will all end. Perhaps they've had a brief flash of success and then order will be restored. Perhaps the country will break apart with even more death and devastation.

The whole mess troubles me deeply, though not as much as it surely troubles the people who live there. I wonder about the people I talked with and worked alongside. I think of the Iraqi Army soldiers, I think of our interpreters. I remember one interpreter who helped me to my feet after I unheroically tripped and fell during an awkward encounter with AK fire.

I do not know the best way forward, and I do not claim to speak for the U.S. Army or any branch of the U.S. government. I hope and pray that this whole situation has a positive outcome.

Please pray, if you are the praying sort. If these ISIS chaps all meet a violent end, I cannot say I will shed a tear, though I will pray for their souls. May God have mercy on us all.

15 August 2014

Making Time to Write

I am about to head out on my lunch walk, a daily ritual without which I should go mad, but I feel driven to write something. It is difficult to find time to write, though much of that difficulty comes from my own choices. Life is full of distractions, and one can consent to them all too easily. I often tell myself that if I can manage a page a day, I can have three hundred sixty-five pages in a year. That is a novel, though perhaps not a doorstopping fantasy epic.

The world is full of stories, some good, some bad. I like to think I have something to offer, something as yet unwritten that will bring a bit more beauty and light into this often dark world. For those of you who write, how do you make the time?

And with that, the walk awaits!