Monday, November 26, 2012


I've been an advocate of "disciplined practice" for a long time, and as principles of life go you could do a lot worse than "Everybody have fun tonight".  Here's a video of the song, performed by Wang Chung, with the lyrics so you can follow along and see what Eddie and I are talking about.

So there you have it, the secret to staying unflappable in these troubled times is "Everybody Wang Chung tonight", and disciplined practice - lots and lots of disciplined practice.  And Eddie is right - children are little germ factories, so stay away from them (unless it's your grandchildren - they're OK).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

It's my birthday!

"King David and King Solomon
    Led merry, merry lives,
With many, many lady friends
    And many, many wives;
But when old age crept over them-
    With many, many qualms,
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs
    And King David wrote the Psalms."
(James Ball Naylor, Ancient Authors)

Another birthday is upon me and since this one puts me on the other side of 65 it's starting to get difficult for me to think of myself in terms of "middle aged" but I don't think of myself in terms of being "old" either - maybe "mature middle age" would be a good way to sum it up.  Still, age and aging have been on my mind lately so when I spotted a very small volume entitled "Plea for an Age Movement" among a stack of free books, I snatched it up.

What I had discovered was a treatise written in 1941 by Ralph Barton Perry, Professor of Philosphy at Harvard University. He opened his essay, which runs to a total of only 23 pages, with the poem which I have reproduced above and goes on to say, "We have heard a good deal recently about the "youth movement" and I suggest that the time has come to start an "age movement".  It seems to me that not much has changed in the 70+ years since those words were written.

"There was a time when old men held a good position in the world...The theory was that although we had slowed down physically...we had more than made up for it. We were supposed to have laid by stores of wisdom, so that we could offer good counsel...We were supposed to dwell in the realm of ideas and to survey all of history, so that we could speak profoundly...

"Recently we have fallen to an all-time low.  We are retired at an early age from business and the professions. We are hustled by our juniors in politics.  And as to the armed services, it is universally held that what they need is young officers." This lament, written in the days preceding America's entry into World War II, describes the problem as envisioned by Prof. Perry and he goes on to expound, "The young, having ceased to respect their elders, have banded together and become a social class or political party, under their own leaders - a higher proletariat, unwaged and unlabored as well as unskilled.  Their opinions and sentiments are treated as touchstones of policy. Those who are old enough to remember several wars are supposed on that account to be disqualified from judgment about this one.  Those whose judgment is respected, those who are supposed to know what war is, are those who have never experienced war and who have even forgotten their history." Sound familiar?

The solution to the problem seems self-evident:  "...(W)e have got to change our ideas of the value of age".  Perry suggests that to begin to  regain the ascendancy of aging we need to start an "age movement", and he suggests some steps we can take to reclaim the value of our collective experience and wisdom.

The first step, Perry suggests,  is to engage youth on terms that utilize our strengths and do not expose our weakness, and to "never concede that the arts in which the young excel are in themselves more excellent than those which become our greater years."  We should act our age, not try to reclaim our youth, and take pride in the things we do well.

Perry's second prescription is to make virtues of our necessities. "Age should not have its face lifted, but rather teach the world to admire wrinkles, and the etchings of experience and the firm lines of character."  What we need is new perspective to replace the "youth culture" that exclusively celebrates the virtues of being young and beautiful with one that values the attributes of every age because let's face it, none us stays young forever but all of us have have a contribution to make.  The Gray Panthers  (remember them? - they're still out there ) incorporate the concept in their core values, two of which are "Honoring Maturity" and "Unifying the Generations".

Most important, attitude matters:  "It behooves us, then, as elders to take the view that the course of years is a passage from less to greater vitality, from inertness to activity...Whether a man shall live toward the past of torward the future, is for him to decide...Time extends in both directions, and neither is ever closed. Let us, therefore, consider every anniversary as the opening of a new chapter, rather than as a closing of an old, and our many years gone by as an accumulated capital to invest in the years to come."  So I have 66 years of accumulated experience, knowledge and (I hope) wisdom, and I hope I can use it wisely to make my next chapter useful, productive, and even more fun than  the earlier ones.

It seems to me that the state of affairs concerning youth vis a vis their elders has not changed much since Prof. Perry opined so eloquently on the topic, yet I feel hopeful that I and my generation are ready to claim our rightful place in society as respected elders, if only because we have always had a sense of entitlement which makes us feel that we can have or be anything we want.  "We're not getting older, we're getting better" to paraphrase some commercial campaign from years ago - and I believe it!

So if an "age movement" is called for, I'm in!  Sixty-six may not be the new 40 but it's not necessarily a sentence to irrelevant old-age, either.  In fact, I can't remember a time when I've felt better about life and what I have to contribute - so bring it on, baby, this old fart is ready!

Hey, you know who else turns 66 pretty soon?  Jimmy Buffett!  Let's see what he has to say on the topic:

Like I said, it's all about attitude.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Black and white

It's a complicated world and we live in complicated times.  Sometimes it can all feel a little overwhelming and leave me yearning for a simpler life,  a black and white world where the choices are very clear and offer no chance for confusion.  In the real world there are nuances and subtleties to every question but in my imaginary black and white world the choices would be stark - it's right or it's wrong, good or bad, yes or no, without any room for doubt or confusion.  Maybe not every one would agree but at least the choices would be clear, black and white with no pesky shades of gray to complicate things.  Such a world would certainly be simpler but not better, I think - it's the shades of gray and all of the imaginable colors in life that let us be the individuals that we are, each special in our own unique way.  So as much as I like simplicity, I'm not really wishing for a black and white world, but I know somebody whose world is black and white but still manages to experience life with all of its infinite possibilities to the fullest.

I've written about Andrea Carla Michaels before and I've told you about her passion for words, but today I learned something about her that surprised me:  Andrea's dream-world is literally black and white.  In her own words, "...If they made me say you can only do one thing, it would be to make crosswords".  Crossword puzzles, it should be noted, are constructed in grids of squares that are black and white, so Andrea's fantasy is bi-chromatic in that sense but I hasten to point out that a well constructed puzzle, such as Andrea herself routinely delivers, is a study in nuance and subtlety of language so her "black and white" world is in reality much more complex than it would appear.  But don't just take my word for it, here's Andrea to explain it in her own words:

How can you not love someone with that much passion for what she does?  If I had one wish to be granted, it would be that my sons would find something in life that makes them feel like Andrea does about her black and white constructions.  When you have that kind of passion for what you do all of life's myriad complexities become tolerable, because loving who you are and what you do is all that really matters, isn't it?  It seems pretty black and white to me.

If you read this far you deserve a reward, so here's Three Dog Night to tell you why "black and white" really matters:

This is the 200th post on this blog and in my opinion it may be the best one so I have to say, "Thank you, Andrea - you are an inspiration".

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Another meteor shower, another full moon

Well here it is the middle of a new month, the presidential election is over, there's yet another scandal involving high government officials with trouble keeping their ego and their libido (and the associated body parts) in check, and still I have not provided the astronomical highlights for November.  But not to worry, you haven't missed a thing unless you wanted to send a birthday card to Fred Whipple, the American astronomer who worked and taught at Harvard for more than 70 years - he was born on November 5, 1906 and, among his other accomplishments, invented the Whipple shield to protect spacecraft from small particles by vaporizing them. Other November birthdays of note are the eponymous Edmund Halley (of comet fame), born November 8, 1656, and my favorite astronomer Carl Sagan who was born on November 8, 1934.  And if you were in northern Australia on the 13th you might have witnessed the total solar eclipse that occurred there.  But other than that, you haven't missed a thing, so on to the second half of the month which is much more exciting (and not just because that's when my birthday falls).

First and foremost, the Leonid meteor shower peaks during the early morning hours of Saturday the 17th.  The moon will have set before the meteor shower gets going so we should be able to see about 20 meteors per hour as the Earth passes right through the debris field of the Comet Tempel.  So stay up late or get up early, either way it should be an experience that will make you glad you did.

The other highlight for me will be the full moon on the 28th (at 9:46 am so the viewing should be really good on the 27th, too), which is called the Frosty or Beaver moon (I'm going to let circumstances determine which one I settle on).  A penumbral lunar eclipse happens on the night of the 28th (OK, I didn't know what that means either, so here's what Google has to say about lunar
Lunar Eclipse Geometry
Geometry of the Sun, Earth and Moon During an Eclipse of the MoonEarth's two shadows are the penumbra and the umbra.
(Sizes and distances not to scale)

Types of Lunar Eclipses

An eclipse of the Moon (or lunar eclipse) can only occur at Full Moon, and only if the Moon passes through some portion of Earth's shadow. That shadow is actually composed of two cone-shaped components, one nested inside the other. The outer or penumbral shadow is a zone where the Earth blocks part but not all of the Sun's rays from reaching the Moon. In contrast, the inner or umbral shadow is a region where the Earth blocks all direct sunlight from reaching the Moon.
Astronomers recognize three basic types of lunar eclipses:

      1. Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

      • The Moon passes through Earth's penumbral shadow.
      • These events are of only academic interest because they are subtle and hard to observe.

      2. Partial Lunar Eclipse

      • A portion of the Moon passes through Earth's umbral shadow.
      • These events are easy to see, even with the unaided eye.

      3. Total Lunar Eclipse

      • The entire Moon passes through Earth's umbral shadow.
      • These events are quite striking due to the Moon's vibrant red color during the total phase (totality).
Now you might be wondering "If the Moon orbits Earth every 29.5 days and lunar eclipses only occur at Full Moon, then why don't we have an eclipse once a month during Full Moon?". I'm glad you asked! You see, the Moon's orbit around Earth is actually tipped about 5 degrees to Earth's orbit around the Sun. This means that the Moon spends most of the time either above or below the plane of Earth's orbit. And the plane of Earth's orbit around the Sun is important because Earth's shadows lie exactly in the same plane. During Full Moon, our natural satellite usually passes above or below Earth's shadows and misses them entirely. No eclipse takes place. But two to four times each year, the Moon passes through some portion of the Earth's penumbral or umbral shadows and one of the above three types of eclipses occurs.
When an eclipse of the Moon takes place, everyone on the night side of Earth can see it. About 35% of all eclipses are of the penumbral type which are very difficult to detect, even with a telescope. Another 30% are partial eclipses which are easy to see with the unaided eye. The final 35% or so are total eclipses, and these are quite extrordinary events to behold.) Aren't you glad you asked?
So there you go, night-sky watchers, set your alarm clocks and get out there to enjoy the splendor of nature in all it's glory - dress warm!
Here's a nice little piano piece titled "Lunar Eclipse" to listen to while you try to understand that whole "umbra/penumbra" thing - in fact I recommend that you just close your eyes, enjoy the music and try to forget I ever brought it up (that's what I'm going to do):

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Veterans Day (Observed)

It's Monday so under normal circumstances I would spend the day driving a DAV van to take veterans to their appointments at the VA medical center and return them home but, somewhat ironically I think, I have the day off because today we observe the holiday which really falls on 11/11 which was yesterday, but it was Sunday so we get today off instead.  I've ranted here before about these "half holidays" and why I think they are an insufficient way to honor our veterans, so I won't repeat myself on that point.

I read a couple of troubling (but not surprising) statistics in today's paper:  only 8% of Americans can claim veteran status yet an estimated 20% of the nation's homeless population have served their country in the military.  "This is a sickening statistic" is how the paper put it and I agree.

This so fundamentally wrong on so many levels that I hardly know where to begin, but let's look at the first figure by itself and ask, "why has the burden of fighting our wars and keeping our nation safe fallen on so few veterans?" Only 8% - not even one out of every ten - of Americans have put on a uniform and stood ready to defend the country?  Really?!  No wonder we are so quick to send our armed forces into harm's way when all the other 92% of us have to do is claim that we "support our troops" while we go blithely about our day to day business with little knowledge of and no real appreciation for the sacrifices being made by those few men and women.  How can we claim to be a nation of patriots if we ask so much of so few and absolutely nothing of so many?

Soldiers and sailors and air forces and marines eventually return home, the lucky ones anyway, to become veterans and we honor them by allowing them to become a disproportionate segment of the homeless population - what the hell is the matter with us?!

OK, I don't have any easy answers, but this is a huge national issue (disgrace, really) that will require a political solution so I'm going to make a suggestion: as the new Congress and state legislatures convene and go about conducting the public's business, watch to see which ones support programs that benefit not only veterans specifically (but that's important) but also programs that benefit our neediest citizens by providing shelter, medical services, nutrition and other necessary support in their time of need.  These services will be expensive of course so watch to see which of your representatives are brave enough to stand up and say we must find a way to pay for them, because it's time for us as a nation to step forward and make some sacrifice on behalf of those who served us.   If your representative says we can't afford to assist those in need, including our veterans, then ask him how we can afford not to.  It's only fair.

That's a lot to ask I know, but if you don't do anything else at all to honor veterans today at least take 5 minutes to watch this video and reflect on the sacrifice that these men and women have made on our behalf and ask, "what do we owe them in return?"  

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Meet Bill Audette

I've written about Bill Audette here before - he's the old-time rock 'n roll rebel who hosts the Night Train Show on WMPG radio every Saturday afternoon from 1:30 to 3:00.  My previous posts have featured the music Bill plays on his show, the "history of rock and roll" as he calls it.  But of course there is much more to Bill than just the music he loves and shares with his audience every week.

Recently Bill appeared on another show that airs on WMPG, "Desert Island Discs", that features extended interviews during which the guests are asked about the music they would want to have with them if they were stranded on a desert island. They get to pick 8 songs and explain why those are the ones they would want - the responses reveal their musical preferences  certainly, but also much more about them as a person.  The interview with Bill, skillfully and entertainingly conducted by Deb who was filling in for the show's regular host, Jeff Wax, revealed a remarkable man who has a passion for music certainly, but who is so much more than that.

I was going to try to summarize what I learned about Bill by listening to his 90 minute conversation with Deb, but I don't think that's a fair way to introduce you to him.  It's better if you just go to the show and listen for yourself.  I think you'll conclude as I did that there is much more to Bill than the persona he shares with us every week on his show. 

I think the measure of a man (or woman, but I'm talking about Bill here) can be taken by what he values;  Bill values family, friends, a career in which he takes great pride, and rock 'n roll,  and he's passionate about all of them - it seems to me that's not a bad set of priorities by which to live one's life.  Here's a dedication to Bill, because he envisions a world that can be better than it is and this is the song that expresses that for him:

Now go listen to the show to understand why there is so much more to the man than his music (but you'll hear some pretty good music, too!).

And if you are still not tuning in to The Night Train Show on the radio at 90.9 FM or on-line at, or listening at your leisure as I do by going to the TNT audio button at, what the hell are you waiting for?!  Bill's a remarkable man and he plays awesome music every week, and he deserves your support - so get over there and get listening!

Tell him Dirigonzo sent you.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The election is over...

...and Barack Obama has been re-elected;  rejoice with me or get over it.  Whether you like it or not, President Obama has four more years to try to set the country on a course that will ensure peace and prosperity for our nation. 

I know that some Americans, particularly fans of Fox News, will take the outcome of the election particularly hard and I feel obligated to offer some relief to them.  So here's the thing:  the nation that Fox portrays is not real, it's a fiction constructed by them to make you think that a predominantly white, Christian nation is God's vision for the United States.  But the reality, as evidenced by the election results, clearly and undeniably establish that we are not the nation that Fox News so desperately wants us to be.  But don't just take my word for it, listen to what John Stewart has to say on "The Daily Show", which even though it airs on Comedy Central, still has more credibility than the talking heads on Fox News.  Click here to see why.

Be honest, do you really take those people seriously or do you just watch them because they say things that make you feel good about your own wish for an America when white, Anglo-Saxon Christian values were all that mattered.  Because if that's the case somebody has a message for you:

Seriously, this election produced a good result.  If you can't see that, maybe you need to rethink your priorities.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Some things never change

The 2012 presidential election is a mere 4 days away as I write, and I think the candidates offer a stark choice for voters to determine the direction of the country for the foreseeable future.  I'll leave it to you to decide which one offers a path to a  brighter, more hopeful future, but just to put things in proper perspective, listen to what the Temptations had to say about the issues facing our country in 1970:

Wikipedia's reference page about the song tells us, ""Ball of Confusion" delves head-on into psychedelia, this time with a strong political message. The lyrics list a multitude of problems that were tearing apart the United States in 1970: the Vietnam War, segregation, white flight, drug abuse, crooked politicians, and more. "Round and around and around we go", the Temptations sing, "where the world's headed/nobody knows." The end of each section of the Temptations' lists of woes is punctuated by bass singer Melvin Franklin's line, "And the band played on."

Richard Nixon was the President of the United States in 1970 -  has any thing changed since then?  And will anything change depending on the outcome of the 2012 election?  I'd like to think that this is the election when we can decide once and for all if we are a nation that looks to the future or one stuck inexorably in the past.  Some things never change - or do they?  It's up to us when we go to the polls on Tuesday.