Paris in my prayers


I’m not religious, so it’s a bit disingenuous for me to say that I’m praying for Paris tonight, in the wake of the terrorist attacks that have shaken the city of Light. But I want to let the world know that if this city can survive the Nazis, it can survive whatever assholes planned and pulled this one off.

The week I spent in the Marais district back in the late 20th century has remained with me ever since. I hope to go back there again one day before I die, and when I do, I’ll think about tonight. Perhaps I’ll even dust off my old blog and write something about it.

Art 1, Lego 0


Until I stepped off the boat at Alcatraz last April, I had no idea who Ai Weiwei is. But I’m glad that I found out.

Weiwei is an artist and a political dissident in his Chinese homeland. He created an exhibit that was on display inside Alcatraz, but was not allowed to leave China to see it for himself. He’s not a physical prisoner the way that Nelson Mandela was on Robben Island, but when your freedom of movement is curtailed you are, in fact, a prisoner.

I probably would have enjoyed Alcatraz well enough if the exhibit had not been on display, but its presence made it mean so much more. It opened up new parts of the island that I otherwise would not have seen, and it raised issues about incarceration and why governments engage in it. Sometimes violent crimes are involved, but other times a criminal’s only real crime is opposing the powers that be.

To make this point the likenesses of dozens–176, to be exact–of political prisoners were rendered in pixilated fashion, as shown above. It was possible, for those who wanted to, to learn more about the identities of these prisoners, why they were being held as prisoners of conscience, and to write to the governments and make a plea for their release. I’d be lying if I said I remembered who I wrote a postcard for–it seemed like a compelling enough story, though–but it felt like something concrete that could be done on behalf of personal and intellectual freedom around the world.

The pixilation effect was created by using colored Legos against a white background. I realized from the exhibit that Legos have an artistic function that I had not considered before. And the plastic composition of the blocks gave the art a sturdiness that other mediums could not match.

When Weiwei attempted to place a bulk order for Legos in advance of his upcoming exhibit in Australia, the request was denied by he company who make the blocks. They claimed that their products could not be used for making a political statement, and filling the bulk order would signify their endorsement of Weiwei’s message.

The purpose of a business is to sell their product to whoever wants to have it. And bulk orders are the best thing, because it means more sales. Or at least it does unless the block-sellers are themselves trying to send a political message of not wanting to offend the Chinese government. It’s an act of expediency on their part, perhaps, but it will also bring lots of condemnation, as it should.

Art is vital for furthering the human condition on earth. It calls on people to think, to question, and reevaluate the things they either actively do themselves, or passively allow to be done in their names.  I’m certainly willing to say that incarceration is abused in this country, given that more people are behind bars in this country than any other nation on earth (including China, which has several times the population that the U.S. has).  If 30 years of the War On Drugs has proven anything, it’s that legalizing and regulating marijuana might have been part of the solution all along.

Over the next couple of days, I plan to go through my house and see what we have in the way of Legos. My 12 and 16 year-olds aren’t going to play with them any more, and sending what I can find to Ai Weiwei for his purposes will be a tangible effort to aid the cause of artistic expression, and prevent the type of corporate grandstanding that the Lego people are engaging in. And it may also save me the trouble of donating them to a thrift shop someday. It seems like a winning proposition, all the way around.

Sending my best to Dominica


The first time I ever left the boundaries of the United States was for my honeymoon in August of 1992. My new wife and I took a Caribbean cruise, leaving from San Juan and going through the islands of St. Thomas, St. John, St. Maarten, Barbados, Dominica, and Martinique. The sunshine and natural beauty of the Caribbean overwhelmed me, and so too did the crushing poverty that I saw. It was my first encounter with the meaning of the term “third world.”

Tourist dollars like ours seemed to be what kept these places afloat, if floating can accurately describe what was going on. The cruise ships bring the tourists, and the locals do what they can to separate the tourists from their money. Giving tours is a big moneymaker, for sure, and they may be the thing that I remember most about these islands. Our tour of Dominica may have been the one I remember the most.

The infrastructure, such as it was, of the islands seemed to decline as the cruise progressed. From Charlotte Amalie and the duty-free shopping it offered on St. Thomas, and the FU money of those who could afford to live or vacation on St. John, there was a precipitous decline when we got to Barbados, and even more so when we arrived in Dominica. But it was also the most pristine of the islands we had seen, and the explanation of how a rainforest worked was facinating, at least to me.

By the time we arrived at a waterfall on Dominica, and bought a piece of fruit from a local vendor, I had decided that the beauty and the poverty of Dominica were both beyond what I was ready for. I was grateful to have a cruise ship waiting for me, to take me onto the next island and, ultimately, away from the Caribbean altogether. But the tour guides and the fruit vendors weren’t so lucky. They had to stay on Dominica and wait for the next cruise ship to arrive, to repeat the same process all over again.

The devastation of Tropical Storm Erika on Dominica makes me sad today. The cruise ships that take their patrons to the shores of Dominca could surprise me and come up with some money or supplies to help the people of the island in their moment of need, but it would be far easier to look for other places to dock their boats, or simply bypass the island altogether. Who wants to see destruction and human misery on their vacation?

Places like Florida, which is next in the path of this storm, will also feel an impact, possibly even a strong one, but in the end they will rebuild. Insurance money and other resources will flow to Florida in a way that they never will to Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean. The people on that island–and the Caribbean as a whole–are truly on their own. I wish them the best.

On Dreams We Will Depend


Nothing says “summer” to me musically like Van Halen’s 5150 album. I turned 18 in the summer of 1986, and was determined to enjoy one last summer before going away to college. I bagged groceries by day, drank whatever I could get my hands on by night, and listened to the fusion of Sammy Hagar and Van Halen whenever I could. Life was as good as I had ever known it to be.

Many years have gone by since then, but hearing the songs on that album–my copy at the time was a tape I had recorded from the radio station that played it all the way through on air–takes me back to that time in my life. So when I received an iTunes gift card for my birthday this summer, I first used it to address a hole in my digital music collection by downloading a copy of 5150.

The technology that now allows for cars and phones to sync with each other is far beyond what was available back in 1986. So I discovered, while driving a rental car around on Cape Cod this summer, that I could put on “Summer Nights” or “Good Enough” or any other track from the album on whenever I wanted to. Driving around the Cape is fun enough to begin with, but also being able to time warp back to the summer when life was stretching out before me was an added treat.

On June 26–the day the Supreme Court ruled that everyone had a right to get married to the person they love, regardless of their gender–I was working on a laptop computer in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. I received a text indicating that my family had made their way to a beach in nearby Truro, and inviting me to come and join them. It was nearing lunchtime, so I hopped in the car, headed toward Route 6, and turned on my music of choice. The first song to come on was “Dreams,” which happens to be my favorite song on the album.

As I drove along the highway on that beautiful summer’s day, I thought of all the dreams that had been granted on that day. For far too long, people had been wrongly denied the right to enter into a legal and (if you want) religious agreement with the person they love the most. Is it any of our business what gender that person happens to be? I don’t think so, and neither did a majority of the Supreme Court.

Growing up in the 80s as I did, many of my associations with the songs of that era are from the videos that were made for MTV. The “Dreams” video I linked to above makes it all but impossible for me to hear the song and not think of the Blue Angels. But on a sunny Friday afternoon, driving down the highway from Wellfleet to Truro with this song on the car radio and a new and improved America on the horizon, I think I may have found a competing image for this song.

That’s what love is made of……

NOTE: This is the second in my series of attempts to clear out my WordPress Drafts folder. I started this post in late June of 2015, and am completing it on August 16, roughly seven weeks later. I still have a backlog of fifty or so unfinished thoughts in the Drafts folder, and will bring as many of them as I can to fruition in the days and weeks ahead.

Waiting for a Cuban visitor


The blog that I’ve been keeping for some time now has traveled the world a lot better than I ever will. The World Wide Web is very well-named, as it turn out.

One of the things that WordPress does for people like me is that it tracks visitors to my website. It quantifies them by number of page views and number of visitors to the site, but those numbers don’t mean anything to me. If 5 people view the site, or 500 people view the site, I really don’t care. As long as someone does, that’s enough for me.

But what I really like is that it can tell where the visitors are from, and it highlights the countries on a world map. I love the idea that someone from a place I have never heard of of, and will likely never visit, has found their way onto this site. I can’t go to them physically, but an idea from inside my brain can. That’s pretty cool.

And in all the years this site has been on the web, Cuba remains as one of the few nations on earth where no one has viewed this blog. It’s the only nation in the Western Hemisphere in that category, and I’d very like to see it lit up someday soon.

In the Summer of 2001–the first year I wrote in this space–I visited a Cuban restaurant with my family and longed for the day when relations with Cuba weren’t so strange. And now, in the twilight of Obama’s presidency, it’s finally coming to pass. John Kerry visited Cuba this week, and the Cuban flag has been raised in Washington for the first time in my lifetime. Cuban access to the Internet remains limited, but I’m confident that will all get sorted out soon.

It’s a new day for the U.S. and Cuba, and hopefully the visitors to my blog will soon reflect that.

Running away from me


My little one was in a hurry to get back to the ranger station and get a plastic junior ranger badge. It wasn’t anything more meaningful than that.

Even so, it felt like a metaphor of some kind. Like her youth is getting further and further away. And when that happens –as I know it must–it makes me very sad.

I first came to the Smoky Mountains when I was about her age. And I hope she comes back someday, with her own kids. But for now, I’ll just enjoy my time with her as much as I can. That’s all there is to do.

UPDATE: This was first written in the fall of 2014, and not recovered again in my Drafts folder until the summer of 2015. I lost the image I wanted to use for this when I switched cellphones in late 2014. The picture above is from an April, 2015 trip to California (Monterey, if anyone really wants to know). But perhaps not surprisingly, the feelings that inspired this draft ten months ago in the Smoky Mountains are still just as strong today, and perhaps even a bit stronger than before. I suppose that feeling isn’t going to go away.

No rain, No rainbows


I don’t like rainy days, and I don’t think anybody does. I’m sure that some people prefer the rain, but like most people I’d rather have some sunshine, instead.

I was recently in California with my family on vacation. It’s a land of unspeakable beauty, and I envy the people who are lucky enough to live there. But they’re also in the midst of a drought that is threatening to change many things. Water is a precious resource, and if the rains aren’t falling, that’s not good.

There’s a saying in Hawaii that I added as the title for this post. It means that if you want good and beautiful things, you need to put up with the unpleasant things first. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding. Something like that.

There was a tiny little bit of rain that fell when we were in Monterey, in the middle part of our trip. California needs more rain than what fell that day, but the end result was a tiny little sliver of a rainbow that emerged as my daughter was doing gymnastic flips on the beach near Cannery Row. And the wisdom of the Hawaiians hit me all over again. The rainbow was an added bonus that made an Incredibly lovely place even more so.

I wish many more rainbows for California in the days and months ahead. They will beautify the state, of course, but they desperately need what causes them, too.

A goal for the Earth

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I wanted to put some thoughts about Earth Day yesterday, but time got away from me and I got some sleep for a change. Maybe there’s Earth Week to give people like me a bit of a break on that score.

I love this planet. It’s filled with so many great and wonderful things that everyone can enjoy. But I hate what’s been done to it, past and present. Like Jim Morrison once said, What have they done to the earth, our fair sister?

We need to do better. All of us, myself included, do things that aren’t in the Earth’s best interest. Using less plastic would be a good start, as I learned recently on a trip to the aquarium in Monterey Bay. Using less means that less of it will end up out in the ecosystem, to poison birds and fish who aren’t doing anything worse than looking for something to eat.

So less plastics, it is. I’ll report on my progress here, from time to time. And the differences might be small, but I can do it and so I will. Our home is worthy of the effort.

Inside the landscape


California is filled with beautiful places, and I’m pointing one out in this shot. Panoramics usually don’t render very well on a computer screen, but to know that I was in such a place–and wide awake at the time–is a pretty awesome feeling.