Saturday, July 26, 2008

Venice Sunrise

From the outside looking in, flying can seem like the best job in the world. The fact is, though, that flying can be stressful, boring, scary, or tiring. Sometimes it can be all of those things in one day.

But sometimes, it is the best job in the world. After thirty-three years, I still find moments of magic.

I took this photo last month. We were flying outbound south of Venice, Louisiana, very near where the Mississippi River empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Best Political Essay I've Read All Year

It's been said that we've been "dumbing down" as a nation. Sometimes, I believe just that. We've become a people who tend to focus on who is right rather than what is right. Too many people are unwilling or unable to dig for the truth. Rather, they'll let their favorite conservative or liberal pundit dictate which conservatives or liberals should be the target of scorn this week. Instead of adult political discourse, what we now witness to is something more akin to political tribal warfare. Or, maybe it's more like the Hatfields and the McCoys: we're not sure why we're battling, but we do it because our Pa of choice said so.

Michael, in his blog Megaloi, just posted an entry that hit me as one of those "I wish I'd written that" moments. My first inclination, out of creative jealousy, was to stomp around and call him a bastard. (Bob Barbanes and I call each other that now and then; why should Michael be exempt?) Instead, I asked him if I could paste his essay here.


Politics. It's that time again in our country, and it seems every time I turn around I'm hearing someone ranting, pontificating or arguing about the upcoming Presidential election. I figured I should join in as well.

Don't worry. Gimme a shot here and see if this is different than the political opinions you usually come across.

If you're like me, then 95% of all political discussions you hear are simply attacks on the "other" side. Nobody ever seems to tell me why they like a candidate -- only how evil the other guy (or gal, while Hillary was in the game) obviously is.

I don't do that. It angers me, and is playing right into the hands of our modern media. They know that happy times and supporting storylines don't get the high ratings. If a TV station or website wants the big bucks, they need to break scandals and tap into the more bitter, impassioned instincts within us.

So I won't do any attacking here. No criticisms at all. I won't even tell you which candidate I like. I'm simply going to list all the ways I agree with what each side (Democrat/Republican) uses as common talking points. Here we go:

Republicans often say that our country is in pretty good shape, that we're the best country in the world and are not in need of massive overhaul. I agree. Our economy, civil rights and safety are higher than almost any other time in our nation's history. See this article by Gregg Easterbrook for more detail.

Democrats often say that it's time for change, and that our country needs to shift gears in some major areas. I agree. Our economy is showing some signs of real weakness and is far too dependent on foreign oil. Our lower/middle classes are far too represented in prisons and slums. Our resources are being stretched and extended across the world in a way we can't support long-term.

Republicans often say that Senator McCain has proven himself to be a seasoned and effective political leader, a man who can work across party lines to solve problems. I agree. His credentials are impressive and he seems to be a man of integrity and strength. He would probably serve us well as President.

Democrats often say that although Senator Obama's tenure in the Senate has been much shorter than McCain's, he also has an impressive resume. I agree. He has sponsored many very important bills and shown empathy and foresight in making some tough calls and votes.

Republicans often say that McCain can truly relate to mainstream America, and that he really gets it and cares when it comes to the worries of the individual. I agree. He genuinely seems to care about people, and I think that is a core part of what makes him an attractive candidate.

Democrats often say that Obama's eloquence and intelligence allow him to inspire great crowds of people, and that this kind of charisma would bring many benefits to our country. I agree. He is a powerfully effective speaker, and envisioning that type of person representing our country is an attractive thought.

This is the way I like to talk about politics. Focusing on whom I like, what I want to see, and where I'd wish our country to go.

I hear Democrats using the name "McSame" and berating the man for the occasional verbal slip, basically saying he's as smart as a bag of walnuts. C'mon now.

I hear Republicans using the name "Osama' and berating the man for his race and his popularity, basically saying he's the antichrist just waiting to emerge. C'mon now.

We can do better.

We can do better. I suspect, though, that to prevent political commentary in our country from sliding into one prolonged version of the Jerry Springer show, we can't depend on the "wisdom" of our media. To change things around, it will taking nothing less than a popular movement. Certain media pundits are all-too-willing to target "undesirable" candidates with half-truths and innuendo. If we don't start calling them on it, what will really continue to get buried is the truth.

Let's start calling the bastards on it.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Home for the Eighth

Last month, I was surprised to learn that a day of vacation I'd requested had been approved. Summertime is crunch time with my employer, since the possibility of a hurricane evacuation in the Gulf of Mexico looms. Also, a goodly number of our 650 pilots belong to the National Guard or Reserve, and summertime means that they'll be unavailable for at least two weeks. I'd imagine that summertime is not a fun time to work in our pilot and aircraft scheduling department.

But I got my extra day off. Without that day of vacation, I would have whispered "happy birthday" to Dylan as he slept in the wee hours of the morning, before walking out the door to catch a 6 a.m. flight. Instead, I got to spend my son's birthday with him and his friends at Waterworks Park. It was great fun for the kids and the adults. The smoke from the fires had been oppressive for days prior to The Day, but a southerly wind sprang up the night before and gave us the gift of clear skies for the party. Dylan had a blast, and he's outgrown that tendency to say "I didn't have a good time" at the end of a really good time. He's learning that endings can mean celebrating instead of mourning.

Actually, he started doing that two years ago, on his sixth birthday. Wow, have two years really gone by since that one?

I flew out the next morning on the commuter flight to San Francisco. I felt really happy, and really thankful. I got to be home for my son's birthday.
My friend Roland posted "Why is My Blog So Boring?" I've never found his blog boring, but I know how he feels. My last stint at work was one of the slowest ever. Out of the thirteen days I was there, I flew during two of them. Yet, in spite of getting paid to mainly sit on my ass, I managed to post just one "real" blog entry. The rest were video links, an "iPod Roulette" submission, and some cute animal photos. (The latter giving evidence that I'm oh-so-secure in my masculinity. Ahem.)

There are a lot of people out there with real writing talent who would love to have the time to write that I had during those thirteen days. I feel guilty. I feel like I wasted an opportunity. I feel like a lazy slug.

I've often wondered about the mystery of what provides the creative spark to sit down and spew out words on the keyboard. Maybe I let that mystery hold sway too much. I've never been so good at kicking myself in the ass. Maybe the real mystery is in learning how to be better about kicking myself in the ass.
The fires continue. Visibility yesterday was down to a mile in smoke. Dylan and I were out feeding the llamas when Air Force One flew over on approach to Redding Airport. President Bush came in to check on the progress against the fires. Our Governor Schwarzenegger was there as well, and evidently did not refer to the President as a "girly man."

Friday, July 04, 2008

Another Episode of "iPod Roulette"

I discovered iPod Roulette on my friend Uncle E's blog. Just recently, Kelly posted another of her installments of iPod Roulette, so it prompted me to do the same.

1. "Back in Black," AC/DC.
Nothing like starting off with a rock anthem.

2. "Talking Wall of Voodoo Blues," Stan Ridgway.
Ridgway was the original lead singer for the group Wall of Voodoo, best known for their 1983 hit "Mexican Radio."

3. "Someplace Far Away," Hal Ketchum.

4. "Dean Moriarty," Eric Taylor. Eric Taylor is a Texas singer-songwriter. This song is one of my two favorite on the album. I couldn't find a solo performance by Eric on YouTube, but I did find a video of a live performance of "Dress of Laces" with his ex-wife, Nanci Griffith.

5. "About a Girl," Nirvana. From a 1993 "MTV Unplugged" performance.

6. "Bring it to Me," Steve Morse. I couldn't find a video of this song, so here's Steve performing one of my favorite compositions, "Highland Wedding."

7. "Cigarette Blues," Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan. I was surprised to find this video on YouTube. I used to watch Tom and Kenny perform live at Cold Spring Tavern, the site of an old stage coach stop in the mountains above Santa Barbara.

8. "Ice Breaker," J. Geils Band.
Rhonda and I saw J. Geils at the Forum in L.A. in 1974. What a fun concert.

9. "I Can't Be With You," The Cranberries.

10. "Dronia," Scenic.

11. "When I Lost My Faith," John Gorka.

12. "Crash Into Me," Dave Matthews Band.

13. "Eleanor Rigby," The Beatles.

14. "Fiesta," Helen O'Hara. She was the fiddle player for the group Dexy's Midnight Runners.

15. "Hard Times Come Again No More," Yo-Yo Ma, Mark O'Connor, Edgar Meyer, and James Taylor. From the album "Appalachian Journey," it's a performance of a Stephen Foster song written in 1854.

Hm. Nothing really embarrassing here, at least in my judgment. I'm both relieved and disappointed.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Why I'll No Longer Complain About Forwarded Emails

As I write this, I have over 2000 emails in my inbox. That's partly because I've been neglecting my emails for the last couple of months. And yeah, the occasional offer to lower my mortgage, make my manhood larger or more enthusiastic, or watch some nekkid coeds do nasty things sneaks through the spam block. But really, most of those two thousand emails are forwards, and they mostly come from folks I know.

Forwards from coworkers. Forwards from old Army buddies. Forwards from friends of friends. Forwards from friends of friends of friends.

And yeah, I was complaining about them. All those coworkers and old Army buddies who'd do nothing but send forwards of jokes, political statements, or other stuff that I just, by gawd, had to know.

"Why the heck can't they write something?" That's what I'd think. Something about themselves. Something about their daily lives. Something about their wives. Something about their kids and/or grandkids. Something about their daily lives. Something about their hopes for the future, or their recollections of the past.

At one point, I actually wrote an email to everyone on my address book, asking that the forwards cease. I never sent it. I realized that, no matter how tactfully I tried to couch my request, it would seem harsh to at least a few people.

This year, four deaths have really prompted me to look at those forwards in a new light. In the last few months, two fellow pilots have succumbed to illness, and two others have died in helicopter accidents. I'll never see them on this earth again.

I won't complain anymore. I won't complain because those forwards mean, first and foremost, "I'm still living on this earth. You still have the opportunity to get off of your ass and call me." They mean, "You're still in my thoughts often enough to include you in this email." Or, they might mean, "You're no longer part of my daily life, but you once were, and I haven't forgotten that."

So to all of my friends and coworkers who send me nothing but forwards, please continue.

Please continue for many years to come.