2/1/03-Sat.-Today is a quite somber one, with the loss over Texas of the NASA Space Shuttle Columbia. The radio and TV coverage here is largely focused on this, hour after hour, as after the 1986 Challenger disaster.
I left about 11 AM for the nearby mall where I did my exercise walking for an hour.
Our country is having its share of humbling events, with a variety of terrorist incidents over the last decade or so, leading up to 9/11/01, an economic retreat, several years of falling stock markets, and now this loss as well. Such things are grounds for grief and also are shocking to folks who usually deny vulnerability or our ultimate lack of control.
This nation and the global community need to carry on. We have, collectively, tremendous potential for progress. Yet, by overreacting, we also have the capacity to do great harm at times, even in the name of what we see as good. This may be what is happening as the George W. Bush administration prepares for a preemptive war, one with unforeseeable consequences. It should be easier to assess this after more evidence from the intelligence community is provided to members of the UN Security Council.
I for one would not be at all comfortable with the US leading "a coalition of the willing" in a war against Iraq that does not have the blessing of NATO and the UN. It would be completely hypocritical for us to use UN decisions as a justification for attacking another sovereign state but to ignore the United Nations when it indicates such a war would not, or not yet, be approved in the present circumstances. It would show that we arrogantly pick and choose which mandates will or will not be honored, solely on the basis of national self-interest, or even of the narrower personal agendas of our leadership.
I heard a couple interesting quotes the other day:
"What luck for the rulers, that men do not think," Adolf Hitler;
"An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind," Mahatma Gandhi.
2/5/03-Wed.-"Things fall apart." The Columbia shuttle, the human body, the car...I've a fractured tooth giving me fits this morning. Am down at the Mobil station, on South Lamar, getting a taillight replaced. May stop at the nearby Kerbey Lane restaurant afterward, if they're successful with the repairs here.
My pen pal efforts have been quite fruitful over the last few days. About ten contact messages were either received or attempted. Several of these, ones I initiated, have resulted in at least a budding correspondence. All of the potential writers are interesting overseas women in their forties, one in Argentina, another in England, a lady in Slovakia, and yet another, in South Africa.
I have replied, in turn, to each of their initial responses. One has enthusiastically answered again and seems sure to represent a long-term writer friend.
Have some concern that the others will promptly drop out of the endeavor, as a couple of the earlier contacts did, now that they have a better idea what kind of correspondent I may be. Fran feels this is an unreasonable worry and that all four will now be writing regularly. We'll see.
Am considering going on a "tea diet," as recently suggested in a "Saturday Evening Post" article. Apparently replacing sodas, coffee, water, or other regular beverages with selected teas, by itself, can result in lowered body fat and cholesterol, decreased weight, and increased anti-oxidant benefits.
If I go this route, I'll wait about ten days and begin at the end of my six-week "fast" from all caffeine drinks, chocolate, or alcohol (except for special occasions). While I'll go ahead and complete that New Year's resolution, it seems unwarranted to have such complete restrictions continue further, since the effects on my system of this purist approach have been disappointing and minimal. Moderation in caffeine intake seems appropriate, but a total ban excessive.
Later- Did my two miles of mall walking. Then, back home, settled down for the meditation regimen.
2/9/03-Sun.-A busy time. Lots of work getting ready for the tax info. to go to our accountant and for filing the return.
Fran and I went to Tres Amigos for a scrumptious brunch. Lots of squirrels and a cute tit mouse were outside our window there, eating the tortillas the restaurant puts out for local wildlife so patrons can see the neat fauna. At times we've seen a large black snake (after bird chicks in a new, nearby nest), raccoons, and opossums there. But the creatures today were fun to watch as well.
Gave Fran her long massage.
During meditation I began to see things a bit askew, as if through a different lens or filter. It was as though I were on some kind of dulling, mind-altering drug (wasn't). There seemed to be a quality of life missing. The meaning had somehow been erased, like color taken from a scene, or the three dimensions reduced to two, so that all was "flat." This intriguing phase lasted only a few minutes.
Had one of those synchronicity experiences this morning and afternoon. Before getting out of the car at the eatery, I checked my coiffure in the rear-view mirror and asked Fran if my hair was OK (as I'd not had a chance to put any gel on it and it seemed rather windblown), saying "Does my wild and wooly look seem alright." She assured me it did and added that she thought men's vanity about their hair appearance was amusing. I pointed out that women spend more on such preening concerns than we males, but she insisted it was still different, that women just get their hair trimmed or permed, and so forth, and forget about it, while our interest in last minute preparations before going into a public place was funny. Hmm.
Right after we returned home I was reading in my new book, Meg, by Steve Alten (something of a disappointment, by the way, after having it well recommended) and came on this line on page 21: "The article she wrote...made a local celebrity of the wild and wooly millionaire." I haven't heard or used that "wild and wooly" phrase in years. Interesting coincidence.
We have a mysterious burrower in one of our backyard gardens, the entrance hole rather large, big enough for squirrels, though of course they are not burrowers themselves, only diggers. Hope we can find out and see what created it.
2/13/03-Thurs.-The other day I got together for lunch at Luby's (on Oltorf) with my friends and former colleagues, Sandy and Maria. We had a great visit.
This morning, while I was exercising at the "Y," Fran and Pepper took a walk in the nearby Barnes and Noble Shopping Center area. They "struck it rich" with wildlife viewing, seeing at close range a skunk and, following right behind it, an opossum. Both waddled along for some distance before the polecat went down a burrow, one that Pepper's often found fascinating in the past. Now we know why! On sighting the two animals, our mutt went bananas. It was all Fran could do to restrain her. But, once the skunk was out of sight, she let the dog chase the marsupial, just not close enough to be bitten.
Beginning our celebration of Valentine's Day early, I went over to Bombay Grill about 11:00 AM and picked up a to-go treat for us, enough delicious Indian food for several meals each. Frances made us a pair of wonderful salads to go with the exotic vittles.
Am continuing the recording of transactions for our tax return. There's still much to do, but it should be finished in time.
The pen pal correspondence has been terrific in the last week or so, with several fascinating and excellent writers participating.
I called my (paternal) Aunt Kim and Uncle Randolph night before last. This pair is inspiring, smart, talented, funny, and amazing. They've been married sixty-nine years (seventy, next November), are both in their late eighties, eccentric, and (through their own investments) wealthy. They were already together and had the first of two children, my cousin Bob, before my folks met and started dating. Randolph is a real namedropper. He was a journeyman printer much of his interesting career, and in that capacity, working for the "Wall Street Journal" and various other newspapers, knew several famous journalist broadcasters, including Walter Cronkite.
Randolph gets itchy to buy something every few weeks or months and often has had two or three of everything one could possibly need, from motorboats to television sets, homes, cars, and so on. His rifle and gun collections are quite impressive too.
He was just telling me of buying a new computer system and his one hundred tenth vehicle, the last two autos purchased just since Fran and I visited them, in January of 2002. He got a nail in a tire a few days ago. It went flat before he could get to the dealer. He was so upset he traded it in for a Mustang, then and there. He said he simply couldn't bear to keep a car that he'd had to drive on the wheel rim! He always gets his cars with all the options, safety features, and latest gadgets. And Randolph and Kim buy all their vehicles new, a dealer's dream come true!
Randolph has very bad arthritis but still does most all the chores, inside and out. Kim has crippling joint problems, especially in her hands, and an almost incapacitating digestive condition, with malnutrition. She's also, just in the last few years, had at least two strokes, a couple severe struggles with pneumonia, a terrible spine problem, and a broken hip! Nonetheless, she keeps bouncing back. The duo remain, in spite of many huge setbacks, cheerful, intellectually curious, concerned about others, mentally sharp (with still excellent memories), and possessed of a charming sense of humor. I can only hope that, if I get to their age, I'll have as winning a spirit as each of them models so well.
The meditation and exercise regimens continue, but unremarkably.
Saturday morning I expect to head back up to Waco for a couple days' visit with my mom.
2/15/03-Sat.-Have stopped in Georgetown, my usual "breaking point," on the way to seeing Mom in Waco.
Sipping coffee and reading an article on the current AAII list of "Shadow Stocks."
There's a retarded fellow working here, doing a good job. Reminds me of my vocational rehab. counselor days. It's odd to acknowledge that, for various reasons, I've worse prospects for getting and keeping rewarding employment than he does.
The sky is overcast, giving the day a somber mood. I think of lonely times by the sea, the wind blowing, the waves churning, the low clouds scudding in. The temperature is falling.
Today a series of anti-war marches and rallies rolls round the globe. Wish they'd do some good.
The George W. Bush administration appears to be upset, self-righteously blaming other nations, Germany, France, Belgium, China, and Russia, in particular, for not clicking heels, saluting, or genuflecting in response to the president's domestically expedient political decision that now's the time to oust Saddam Hussein and make war on Iraq. Through our Secretaries of State or Defense, we arrogantly remind the nations of "old Europe" of their debt to us, of how we sacrificed to save them in World Wars I and II, as if any nation conducts its foreign affairs for self-less motives, as if Russia and China played no significant roles in the winning for our side of the last global conflict, or as if we could have managed alone, without the timely assistance of France, in our struggle for independence from Britain.
But what our leadership does not seem to understand is that the rest of the world is not just concerned over a vulnerable middle eastern dictator with a checkered past (one in which we were involved ourselves for awhile, supplying him with anthrax, funding, conventional weaponry, and equipment useful for developing and refining weapons of mass destruction), but also about a relatively new kid on the block (compared with Europe, Russia, or China) who acts like the neighborhood bully, one who, with his policies of first or preemptive strikes, for "regime change" or to decrease a merely potential threat, may do as much or more harm than Saddam Hussein.
Other nations don't share the administration's view that it alone has a right to make decisions for the rest of the world. They see that, were such doctrines as Bush promotes to have earlier been part of international law, they would have justified Germany's World War II attacks on France and the Soviet Union or Japan's on the U.S. at Pearl Harbor. They worry that if his cowboy approach becomes the accepted norm, India or Pakistan, North Korea, Israel, China (against Taiwan), or other countries may feel authorized in their own preemptive attacks. Until Bush is checked by our concerned allies or a more enlightened electorate, the world is far less secure than before he entered the international arena.
2/20/03-Thurs.-Thunderstorms crashed into our area at a little after 4AM, the lightning all around us and very close. We took the trembling doggy into our bed for her greater security.
2/21/03-Fri.-Up at 6:30 and over to the "Y." Had a swim, hot tub soak, and sauna. Back home, Fran and I put the finishing touches on our latest family newsletter and printed it up to copy for folks who need it via snail mail.
The rains have persisted, punctuated by thunder. We've received about four inches since yesterday morning, the yard now very moist with water standing in multiple ponds.
The discord with our erstwhile allies over Iraq seems to continue. The Europeans think the U.S. under George W. Bush wants war, no matter what. The Bush administration thinks the Europeans want to avoid war, no matter what. But, one way or another, U.S. control in Iraq is almost inevitable. Ours is the only superpower. We have many means to assure we get our way. This is but the next step in a multi-phase Bush plan to reshape the world (source: PBS' Frontline, 2/20/03: "The War Behind Closed Doors").
The audacity of his ambitions is amazing. He seeks, by political and economic persuasion or force of arms, ultimately to replace the dictatorial regimes of all the Islamic or Arabic nations (that directly or indirectly threaten our nation) with democratic governments (by Bush's definition of "democratic," that is, which is considerably less than that envisioned by our founding fathers) and capitalist economies friendly to America and cooperative with us in tracking down and eliminating terrorists or suspected terrorists, wherever they may be. In the process he also intends greatly reducing the rights of even U.S. citizens.
In the (intended to be secret, but leaked) second phase of the Patriot Act, probably to be given to Congress for speedy passage when we are clearly at war and/or there is another significant terrorist attack (so folks will be eager to go along), he would have the option of taking away people's citizenship, remove penalties on corporations for even serious polluting (on the theory that penalties on his big buddy corporations would be bad for the economy and thus good for terrorists and/or that even providing information on pollution could aid terrorists?), and give police and federal authorities permission to make secret arrests.
His sweeping, paternalistic vision is not complicated by a nuanced appreciation for cultural or political diversity, international laws, and either a cautious regard for human rights or for other countries' sovereignty. Such a moralistic, evangelical approach will play into the hands of those who see the implacable march of Western-style globalization as a terribly negative and alien force in the world. It is the modern equivalent of the Crusades and may be as vehemently resisted as were those religious-based aggressions before, with what consequences we cannot yet fathom.
Early Monday morning I go in for my next series of skin cancer surgeries, including another operation deep into my nose. Am trying to simply be realistic and stoic about it, but the progression from one lesion in three-to-five years to three-to-five lesions in one year has me concerned and depressed.
Have been continuing my meditation and doing daily exercise. Varied my schedule a bit today to go get some rental videotapes (Fran's turn Sunday for another long massage) and a haircut.
Started a new read, Len Deighton's Fighter, a history of the Battle of Britain. So far, it is superb. Until a few days ago, I'd no idea Deighton, famous for his brilliantly written series of espionage thrillers, had also done non-fiction.
2/23/03-Sun.-Gorgeous weather here today. The temperature is in the high seventies (F), the bowl of sky quite bright and blue. We may still receive some mild cool fronts, but spring has definitely arrived. For the first time since early last fall, I'll be getting out and mowing the front yard this evening.
As I mark the passage of the last hours till my operations tomorrow, I note that I've been, for several weeks now, thinking of my life in two phases, before and after surgeries. But, since, once they've occurred and I'm having to again deal with all the dressings changes, pain, avoiding getting into the "Y" pool, wondering how soon I'll require yet further medical interventions, and so on (not merely the freezing off, routine type procedures I've sometimes had in the past), it will seem like "after the special surgeries," mentally I've just shortened the two periods to: BS and ASS.
A neat site for writers who hope to put their stories out on National Public Radio is at Transom.org.
It occurred to me, while Fran and I were having our latest discussion this morning on the Bush brand of foreign policy, that "defense," as in the 1984-style distortions of words to mean their opposites, now almost universally is used when one's leaders really want to convey "a capacity for offence."
I was ill yesterday, for unknown reason, with bloating, nausea, and much generation of excess gas. Yuck! Am fine now. I'd thought it due to food poisoning but cannot recall any suspect eatables likely to have had such an effect.
This afternoon I gave Fran her long massage. As background, we watched "Kate and Leopold." The movie proved to be only slightly entertaining. In fact, the Meg Ryan character was rather irritating. The score was its best feature. Over all, I'd have to say "Just Visiting," recommended here a few weeks ago, is much better in the temporal shift comedy genre.
2/24/03-Mon.-The surgeries have begun. I'm in the waiting room. So far, they've taken out a piece of my nose roughly the size of a pencil eraser. This Mohs surgical process involves a series of surgeries as the doctor checks, between carvings, to assure they've gotten it all. If not, then there's more cutting and scraping, at greater depth and breadth. Last is the long reconstruction phase. So, I'm just at the beginning of my medical experience today. They've provided me coffee, much appreciated.
The waiting room has several patients, all of us "nose jobs" today, and a pair of husbands here to metaphorically (or literally) hold their spouse's hands.
The total bill for my own procedures, just on this occasion, is expected to be $3000 or above. It's mind-boggling to think how much money my saw-bones is taking in during a year's time. Even after high insurance rates and other overhead, she must be doing alright. Of course, she may still be paying off loans taken out to help her get through all those years of training. And I suppose I figure she's worth it. More so than many a corporation CEO, or most sports figures, and so on. But what the heck? Any gig is good if you enjoy it and it pays for the mortgage and groceries.
One of the other patients shows me a magazine open to some elegant-looking needle work, part of a cute, but highly impractical, outfit for a very young girl, and tells me she's making something similar for the two year old daughter she and her Polynesian-American husband are adopting this year.
She says she is mostly a vegetarian but that, based on his cultural background, her husband eats mainly just meats and rice. She said she is a chef and knows how to make vegetables and salads that are quite tasty but that her husband can't get used to such foods.
Then she called someone on her cell phone, apparently a colleague at her office, and spent awhile trying to find out if some medical records, on a person whose name she almost knew but not quite, had been Faxed to another physician's office, as she'd requested, important as they had to be at the doctor's office before that patient went for an appointment tomorrow. As I am summoned for my next contributions of flesh, it sounds like she is dealing with a typical intra-office bureaucracy and will be at it awhile.
My dermatologist's nurse's name is Vicky and she has a sixteen year old son with an attention deficit disorder which runs in the family, back three or more generations...or, well, maybe not ADD per se, but difficulties with spelling, dyslexia, and such.
She hates the cold and can never get warm when temperatures fall. I tell her that is true for my wife as well.
Later-Today, indeed, the mercury is down about thirty to forty degrees (F) since yesterday. Austin is enduring one of those winter weather crises that result in numerous accidents and make for hellish morning rush hours. (Glad Fran and I can sleep in if we wish tomorrow morning!) There is a white blanket of slippery sleet on the ground, with more predicted through the night. Folks in central Texas are simply terrible drivers under such conditions. It reminds me, each time, of when someone who has never been on ice skates before gets out on the rink, except that, instead of using skates on an artificially frozen pond, they are twirling about with heavy vehicles moving often at high speed on major roadways.
I'm safely home again and glad to have gotten away from the doctor's office with only the better part of a day, a little over an eraser's worth of flesh, and several hundred dollars having been lost. I'm using a bag of frozen peas as an ice pack to reduce facial swelling, but am warned I'll probably have a black eye by tomorrow.