A Wedding Message for Kayte and Nate

Last weekend, Terri and I traveled to St. Louis to attend the wedding of my niece Kayte to her fiancé, Nate. While there was no opportunity to offer my thoughts on their marriage there, I decided to write them here.

Kayte, the first time I saw you I think you were almost two years old.

You were at your Aunt Sharon’s where she was babysitting you. As I came up to meet you for the first time, you assertively announced that you did not want to be picked up. Sharon saw my disappointment and said it wasn’t me as you did not like to be picked up by anyone (by anyone, I assumed, but your mom and dad).

I suspected even then that you had a strength of character that meant you were going to become someone very special.

I know I was only a sporadic presence in your life. I regret that I wasn’t able to see more of you and get to know you better at each stage of your life as you grew into the beautiful woman, and I mean both inside and out, you are today.

Everyone has regrets – the older one gets, the more you have. Anyone who tells you they have none are deceiving themselves or else have been dead for 20 years and have forgotten. The secret is to accept regrets as part of the cost of being human.

I always knew you were the greatest joy of your mom and dad. And I followed your growth as they kept me up to date on Nerinx, Loyola, St. Louis U. law school, protests outside military bases, and everything else.

Through all of it your increasing commitment to social justice was clear.

And as I saw at that first refusal to be picked up, you have become a force to be reckoned with.

Nate, I’ve only talked with you a few times – starting with Matt and Jen’s rehearsal dinner.

I liked you immediately – your honesty and decency were apparent (and after meeting your dad and hearing the words spoken about your mom, I can see the source of those qualities).

You also embody the saying, in various forms going back as far as Cicero, that the eyes are the window to the soul – yours show both confidence and vulnerability. They both represent your strengths.

Life has thrown you some curves with pain and real loss – and sorry to say, there will be more later. But know that hardship and pain in life can bring wisdom.

In academia or industry, you will encounter, if you haven’t already, self-absorbed jerks who will do what they can to crush your spirit. Don’t let the bastards win.

And I guess that’s a segue to the point I really wanted to make.

John Gierach is a prolific Colorado author of books related to his fly fishing adventures – the latter is of importance only to those of us who love fly fishing. He has spent years experiencing memorable companions and guides, fish caught and lost, and various adventures and mishaps; all have given him keen insights into life and people.

One of the comments in his latest book has stayed with me. He said people spend their twenties and thirties reinventing themselves; their forties and beyond are for becoming the best of what they’ve become.

Both of you are incredible people, each possessing an obvious sense of purpose, a commitment to justice and society, and a love of family and friends. You have great careers and bright futures. From where I sit, I think your time for reinvention is about over.

Now as you take your first steps together as a married couple, you each have the capability and power to help each other become the best of what you’ve become. And together, you can live exceptional lives filled with shared accomplishment and joy.

The years will pass quicker than you can imagine – don’t allow them to do so without continually building on the commitment you made to each other last Saturday.

One other thing.

As you’ve already lived together, you know a shared life can be difficult at times. I think fly fishing can be a source of inspiration for handling those times.

I’m talking about its ethos – not its technique. At its best, fly fishing is about slowing down and focusing.

It’s the same with those difficult times: slow down and focus on what’s important. And one thing I’ve learned is that you generally won’t go wrong keeping your mouth shut.

I wish you both a happy and long life together. May all your dreams and hopes come true.

With love,

Uncle Tom

Social Security Scare Tactics for Younger Workers

The owners, the rich elites who own this country and have been waging various wars of terror on the American people since this country’s founding, are doing what they’ve always done of playing one group off the other while they increase their already obscene amounts of wealth.

One of their latest efforts are the claims that Social Security and Medicare are going broke with no way to save them, and they will not be available for younger workers (those 40 and under) as they reach their retirement ages.

It’s been somewhat successful as I’ve read articles by young writers who have internalized those claims and have written scathing articles about retirees and their supposed excesses.

Those claims are bullshit.

Both programs (Social Security and Medicare) can be saved by changes to spending priorities; increasing limits on, and types of, certain taxes; and doing what every other civilized nation has done in terms of providing healthcare.

All it takes is political will.

That will must come from young people working independently of the two major political parties.

The Republicans are cruel and odious on this issue as they are on everything else.

But don’t believe the Democrats either.

It was Barack Obama who proposed putting both Medicare and Social Security on the table as part of his “grand compromise”; fortunately the Republicans wouldn’t work with him on anything – including something they really wanted.

And it was Obama and the Democrats who gave us a healthcare system based on for-profit health insurance.

Nope – just like the kids from Stoneman-Douglas high school who are working to bring effective gun control to this country, you are all going to have to get involved with something that affects all your futures.

You might be surprised that your older relatives who love you would likely join in the fight to help you.

Dave Lindorff is an investigative journalist who has written on this subject. You can read his latest article here.

A Belated Remembrance

Doug Volgenau

Everyone we know or have known, at least for more than just a casual acquaintance, touches us in ways that we may not always understand at the time. Memories of those we have known fade into dim recesses, remaining forgotten until an event or circumstance triggers a flood of memories of an earlier time.

Today I had such a flood of memories.

I was doing a search on Google and found myself looking up the name of my first commanding officer in the Navy. I found his obituary and learned that he had died four years ago. More troubling to me was learning that he died of complications from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).

Douglas Volgenau was his name. Born outside of Buffalo, New York in 1937, he graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1959.

I first met him at Navy Nuclear Power School at Mare Island, California in 1975 where he was commanding officer of the school. He was little seen after he met with our class for a question and answer session, except by those unfortunates who wound at academic review boards for failed courses; given the nuclear Navy, all I knew who went to those boards wound up doing something else.

After further nuclear power training and submarine school, I reported to the USS Billfish (SSN 676) in April 1976. By coincidence, he had reported earlier to the same boat where he was to be the commanding officer.

As he took command I started my journey on learning what it really meant to be an officer. The journey was not easy as I was full of myself and had a great deal to learn. Needless to say, the education came in the form of being yelled at frequently – many times by him.

He was a big man, having been a heavy-weight wrestler at the Naval Academy. He had a dark complexion and when he was pointing his big finger in my face I knew I was in trouble.

But to his credit, he gave me time to grow and over time I learned to keep my mouth shut and become what I had been commissioned to be.

I still recall the first watch I stood after I was qualified as officer of the deck (OOD). The boat was scheduled to go to periscope depth at night, which can always be a dangerous evolution due to risk of collision if there are nearby surface vessels, and more so at night due to reduced visibility.

I made my preparations, called down to the wardroom where he was at dinner, reported the status, and requested permission to go to periscope depth. He gave me permission and remained at the wardroom table – trusting me to do my job without him needing to oversee what I was doing – something he had done for other new officers of the deck.

It may not seem like much, but at that moment I learned what trust really meant: if I had made a mistake he would have been held responsible and his naval career would have been ruined.

His and my time on the boat wasn’t as happy as it probably could have been. There was a decided chill between the senior officers and the junior officers. Many officers in our wardroom left the Navy, and when I was younger I thought a great deal of it had to do with him, given his sometimes overbearing personality. He wasn’t a perfect man by any means as none of us are.

But as I grew older and more reflective, I started to understand he had been a victim of his predecessor who had burned out the officers and crew in a brutal shipyard period. The resentments and hostility toward the Navy were passed on to those who reported onboard over the next year – including me. Of the many regrets I have, one is that I wasn’t mature enough at the time to understand the interpersonal dynamics.

After my tour on the Billfish, as I was getting to go to my next command, he told me something I have always treasured: “I wouldn’t have said this to you two years ago, but I’d be glad to have you as an OOD on any mission.”

I knew even at the time that he was a decent man – loving and proud of his children and tolerant of their teasing even when we officers were in his house, and in love with his wife Sue who he remained married to for 53 years.

I remember the day he was to take command. He arrived in his dress blues with his rows of ribbons. It was only when he showed up that he learned the uniform of the day was dress blues with medals. As I was the most junior officer present, he asked for my single medal and hurriedly took off his ribbons – to be replaced by my single medal. Sue laughed the whole time, and I liked her immediately; I saw the strength of their marriage in that silly moment.

Life is fragile as I learned last year and we all face our mortality. Learning of his death was sad, but learning how he died made it so much more difficult.

I can’t imagine what his last two years were like as ALS took his strength and he lost all movement. I have to believe he would have endured it, with Sue and his children beside him, as he did with life – face the problems and do the best he could.

So, while it’s four years late in coming, Admiral – you had a profound impact on me, and on who I became. I will never forget you.

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

For tho’ from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar. – Tennyson

His obituary is here.

Thank You for Your Service

Today is Memorial Day.

Memorial Day has its roots in a time before the American Civil War. Families in the rural south conducted religious services and picnics in family graveyards, where the graves were decorated with flowers.

The first ceremony related to the Civil War occurred in June 1861 in Warrenton, Viriginia where Confederate graves were so honored. The practice spread after the Civil War with both Union and Confederate graves decorated in the following decades.

As in much else in American history, there is controversy as to how the holiday we now call Memorial Day evolved to become a formal holiday.

Memorial Day, in any case, is now a formal holiday to honor the dead service members of America’s wars. And those families, who have lost family members, certainly and rightfully grieve for their losses. There are some losses that can never be overcome, even if they believe the sacrifice was for a worthy cause.

Unfortunately, as in much else in this country, Memorial Day has become another tool used by politicians of both parties to manipulate and twist real sacrifice to the service of the empire.

This country has been in an increasing number of wars since 2001 – eighteen years of wars.

Who would have thought the land of the free and the home of the brave would engage in an expanding set of wars with no clear definition of victory or the means to achieve it? Who would have thought war would become so much background noise?

If we were to be honest, we would have to acknowledge a few things about these wars – that would be the best way to honor the dead.

First, many of these men and women were wasted on no-win battlefields, where “surges” were used to provide political cover.

Second, the men and women who died, while there were certainly exceptions, were victims of a poverty draft – think about how many of those you heard interviewed said they joined the military so they could go to college.

Now ask yourself about how many upper-class children had to face the prospects of being blown up by an IED in Afghanistan? More than that, ask yourself how many protests you’ve heard on college campuses against the wars – or from the parents of these college students? None is the answer to both questions.

The truth is this country’s latest round of wars have been borne by a tiny percentage of the population. For the rest it’s just been life as usual.

George W Bush’s cynical admonition, at the start of the wars, to support the country by going shopping was the height of political cynicism. He should be ashamed of having said that.

Solemn speeches will be given today – paying tribute to the fallen. Pious words will be spoken by politicians and military leaders of sacrifice and preserving freedom. While intentionally unstated, the reality behind those words mean someone else’s sacrifice will continue to be required for dubious goals of empire.

That will require billions more for war, ongoing death and injury for a very few, and back to shopping, movies, and the NFL for the majority.

Where is the shared sacrifice in what’s supposedly a democracy? Where is the questioning of the goals and purposes of sending young men and women to die in ever more locations?

And I guess that brings me to me my main point – the use of the expression “thank you for your service”, which seems to be a way for civilians to handle the awkward situation of actually talking to an active duty or former service member.

Whether out of guilt or misguided patriotism – in either case, likely well-meaning, it serves to preclude any opportunity for discussion or question of the causes and goals for which that service is rendered.

What if honest and sincere service is given in various countries to causes that do not serve freedom and democracy as the owners want us to believe?

The reality is the military was and is, filled with individuals who have their own perspectives about where they served and what they did. Further, all of who served, whether in war or peace, have mixed feelings about their time in the military. They should be treated as individuals and asked about how they feel rather than being dismissed with a casual thank you.

It would be better to ask someone about how he or she felt about their time in service – and in the case of our Afghanistan and Iraq veterans how they feel about the war; the same should be said about the older population of Vietnam veterans.

They all live with what they’ve done and the losses they’ve suffered. And the truth is a very many suffer from PTSD. Reliving daily their traumas and being thanked “for their service” creates further stress, and I think isolates them from the country and population they thought they went overseas to support.

But if you do ask – and you better mean it, be prepared to hear what they have to say. They have seen all the falsehoods, the real blood, and savagery that exist behind the flags, parades, and pious words.

Honor the dead and their families for their loss and suffering. But do not confuse their deaths and sacrifice with the faux patriotism spouted by today’s speakers.

Social Media, Ambassadors, and Hero Shots

I came across an opinion piece in the Sweetwater Now, written by the owner of the Wyoming Fishing Company in southwest Wyoming. I’ve not read an opinion piece related to fly fishing so pointed in its criticism of a specific individual. And that’s what I think makes me uncomfortable.

The author’s comments begin with a pertinent observation about the abuse that results from some brands providing incentives to anglers for use of fishing photos. His concern is that this practice may push some anglers into doing whatever it takes to get a heroic shot – even if there is damage to the environment, such as spawning beds.

He comments that he has seen much of this over the 14 years he’s guided, and has, in apparent frustration now called out one abuser.

Citing the cover of the December 2017 issue of American Angler, he goes into specific detail about the incident that caused his reaction. He had very pointed things to say about the Colorado guide involved and his prominent display of brands in the shot, including a Hatch reel and a Thomas and Thomas fly rod. (The author does believe the brands were poorly represented, with which I agree).

The fault it seems to me lies with American Angler magazine that published a photo showing a brown trout with a tail that reflects recent spawning activity. They should have known better.

There is more background on the incident and the author provides additional photos where this same guide has apparently done the same in past years.

I don’t know the guide. So it’s difficult to assess whether this was an apparently repeated case of ignorance, poor judgment, or casual indifference. I think a guide’s job is to educate not only on casting or how to catch fish, but more importantly on the preservation and respect of the fisheries. One would hope he would have been better mentored, if only judged by his behavior in this incident.

I have no quarrel with the concerns the author has expressed. I agree that whether brand ambassadors or everyday fly fishers it can be too easy to make poor choices to get a heroic shot or video of a trophy fish; we should all be abiding by an ethos of take only memories – leave the fish in the water.

But I think the author would have been better served by contacting the brands involved and laying out the points he made in this editorial. Attacking an individual online means both the author and guide will be forever linked, and perhaps tarnished.

In the end, I guess I’m most concerned that this is just another example of the corruption commercial interests can have on everything – including fly fishing.

You can read the editorial here and form your own opinion.

Day Zero and Hook Choices

Hooks

Look at the two hooks above.

The top one is a TMC800s; the one below is a Daichi X452. They are both excellent size-six saltwater hooks. If it’s not clear from the photograph, the TMC is a thicker-wire hook than than the Daichi.

Now, which one should you use?

The answer may be dependent on which fish you are targeting.

In Puget Sound, we spend most of the year fishing for sea run cutthroat trout and resident Coho. In general, most of the fish are smaller than around 14 to 16 inches and do not need a large thick hook to land them – making the Daichi a better choice. Now, for migrating Coho I’d go with the thicker hook.

I had noticed that when I started using the Daichi hook, with its thinner wire and much sharper chemically-sharpened tip, that I was drawing less blood from the fish and the hook was easier to remove – releasing the fish quicker and with less damage; giving it a better chance it will be around for the next fly fisher.

And perhaps a choice of hooks reflects the choices to be made in the larger issues facing us today.

It’s become clear to me that it’s long past time to stop using the term “climate change”, which is a euphemism to avoid inflaming those clinging to dying industries or outdated political ideologies.

The correct term should be “climate crisis.”

The hurricanes, forest fires, and mudslides of last year, and this winter’s storms, have demonstrated that the sometime-in-the-future climate change is here now – constituting an existential crisis.

Elsewhere on the planet, the effects of this crisis are even more clear.

American television does a poor job reporting things happening elsewhere in the world,except for terrorism, wars, and royal weddings.

That’s not the case in other countries. The CBC had an excellent report a few nights ago on the drought in Africa that’s impacting the future of Cape Town – the second most populous city in South Africa.

The drought has reduced the water in the city’s reservoirs to the point that city leaders now speak of Day Zero – the day when the municipal water taps run dry. There will still be water from deep groundwater, requiring people to walk to the 200 distribution points, and there has been a rush to build desalination plants.

And there have been conservation efforts. Residents of Cape Town have been ordered to use no more than 13 gallons per day. That may sound like a lot of water, but in the US the average daily use per person is estimated at between 80 and 100 gallons. Think about how you would get by on 13 gallons of water.

The exact timing of Day Zero is a bit unclear; it was originally thought to be April of this year. Due to conservation and augmentation efforts it has now been pushed out to 2019. Read more here.

But until the drought ends the residents of Cape Town will be living this particular climate crisis.

As with Cape Town, people everywhere will face a Day Zero.

It might be the day when there is no more skiing due to snow levels rising above the tops of resorts.

It might be the day your favorite sports fishery is permanently closed.

It might be the day having an oceanfront house might not be possible no matter how much money you have.

It might be the day the electrical grid drops as severe storms destroy large segments of the transmission and distribution system.

It might be the day there are no ocean fish to be caught for consumption.

It might be the day there is no water to irrigate the lands used for grains and vegetables.

For any of these, and more, the problems may be unsolvable – and our future grim.

But we each have to do what we can. It is about the choices we make regarding our impact on the environment and in the places we live. And hopefully that may be enough to give us time to rethink and rework how we live on this planet.

It starts with conserving water – and using the lightest hook we can.

Reflections on a Ferry Ride

Fauntleroy Ferry

I drove to a fly shop in West Seattle to test a fly rod a few days ago – more on that in a future post.

After leaving the shop, I turned on the navigation system in my Outback to give me the route home – hopefully to avoid the traffic that builds up around Tacoma in the afternoon. It directed me towards a street I hadn’t expected and soon realized I was on the way to the Fauntleroy dock, where a ferry would take me to Southworth on the west side of the Sound.

I thought it would be a nice change of pace and make for a much shorter drive home once I got to Southworth.

Even better, the ferry was there getting ready to load when I arrived. Now I know, or at least believe, the navigation system could not have had the ferry schedule, but it sure felt like more than coincidence.

And what a day it was for a ferry ride.

The temperature was in the mid forties; much warmer than we had during the previous week. And the sun was out – no gray skies; no biting winds; and no rain or snow.

As the ferry pulled away I had time to sit and reflect.

I see the Sound nearly every day. Though we live a bit over two miles inland from any view of the water, I make it a point to get to where I can see Puget Sound any time I’m driving somewhere.

As the ferry pulled away from the dock, I was struck by the idea this was going to be a special trip.

The deep blue waters of the Sound complemented the azure sky that held white clouds to the east. And between them – the land. From the water everything looked forested. Beyond those trees were the houses, roads, people and all the other issues of modern life.

While Gig Harbor is comparatively an oasis from many big city problems, living here doesn’t allow one to escape all the problems of modern life.

Many of the roads are much busier than we moved here five years ago; rush hour backups are common; reports indicate property crime is increasing; and the homeless population seems to be increasing along the highway.

It seems as if every patch of trees is being removed to make way for new houses. The loss of a heron rookery downtown appears inevitable to make way for new luxury homes. And we have a family friend whose wife now appears to be in the final stages of her struggle with cancer.

As Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote, wherever you go – there you are.

So where was I?

I know that most problems go away on their own, or we learn to adapt to them. We all have suffered tragic losses – or will someday – from which we will never recover. And as I learned a bit over a year ago we are all mortal and death haunts each of us.

The ferry itself reminded me that its passage, while a small and temporary thing, does impact the waters and life beneath it. It is the same with each of us. Our actions while small and temporary do add up and impact the natural world we inhabit – the loss of a heron rookery; the decline in returning salmon; and the loss of Arctic sea ice, are all but examples.

I had a moment of awareness as I looked back toward the now distant ferry dock and the large house on Brace Point. At best, they were little more than tiny shapes – without form or definition. Out in the middle of the Sound, everything human-scale appears inconsequential and small.

And watching the brilliance of the light and the beauty of the Sound and distant land it seemed to me that this was about as good as it gets. I live in a place I love. I have people I love and who love me. I do my best to tread lightly on the Earth, sometimes with success; often not.

While not exactly a profound thought it was just a reminder of what I already knew from having left footprints on Earth for over six decades.

And maybe that was the lesson of the trip. Taking a few minutes whenever possible to appreciate whatever we have and wherever we live.

Remembering Vasili Arkhipov – One Person Can Save the World

We live in an age of cynicism and desperation, beset by crises that appear insurmountable. Whether it is political strife, economic upheaval, climate change or tensions with other nuclear-armed states, the problems appear to be so large that no single person can make a difference.

And yet, there are times when one person can change the entire course of human history.

Vasili Arkhipov was one such person. Born the child of peasants on January 30, 1926 near Moscow, his life was service to his country and ultimately the human race.

Arkhipov began serving in Russian submarines soon after World War II. Rising through the ranks he was executive officer of the Hotel-class K-19 in 1961 when it had a leak in its reactor core; the entire crew was irradiated and all members of the engineering crew died within a month of the accident. His bravery during the accident was recognized by his superiors. The 2002 film, K-19 Widowmaker, dramatizes the events of that accident.

A year later, he was commander of a flotilla of four Foxtrot-class submarines that deployed to Cuban waters before the start of what came to be known as the Cuban missile crisis. He was onboard the B-59, which was detected by US destroyers. Signaling depth charges were dropped to force the sub up to the surface.

The stress of the depth charges; the loss of the air conditioning system; the high levels of carbon dioxide due to being unable to surface; and having no communications from Moscow created what could only have described as hellish conditions. The captain of the sub wanted to launch a nuclear torpedo.

The decision to launch nuclear weapons required a vote of the sub’s captain, political officer, and Arkhipv due to his being on board as flotilla commander. The other two voted to launch – only Arkipov dissented.

By some accounts there was screaming as well as punches thrown. In the end, his arguments that the depth charges were missing them and less explosive than ones meant to sink them, combined with his reputation from the K-19, led to him convincing the captain not to launch. Then due to their batteries being nearly depleted, he convinced the captain to surface and then return to the Soviet Union.

One can only speculate, but it’s impossible to believe that once the first tactical nuke was launched escalation to general nuclear war could have been avoided – resulting in what we know now as nuclear winter with hundreds of millions dead and the destruction of all modern societies.

In his later life, he commanded submarines, rose to the rank of admiral, commanded the Kirov Naval Academy, and retired as a vice admiral in the 1980s.

Arkhipov died August 19, 1998 at the age of 72, the victim of kidney cancer that was caused by the accident of the K-19.

The shy, humble man embraced his humanity and saved the world that day by looking at the facts and not letting emotion carry away his judgement. That is a lesson that should be remembered by all those in positions of power.

Think about everything you have done and seen in your life. Then realize without Vasili Arkhipov you would have not lived the life you’ve had.

Etiquette and Fly Fishing Maniacs

Fly fishing. at least in the United States, has evolved in both perception and practice from many decades past when it was considered by most a small sport of rich elitist white males wearing tweed and fishing with custom bamboo fly rods and creels. While the reality was more complex, it was a time of limited numbers of fly fishers when class decorum as well as the norms of society produced an etiquette for stream-side behavior.

Now, the gear has gotten significantly better at lower costs – though many high-end graphite rods are approaching the costs of custom bamboo rods; fly fishers are now both men and women of all races and classes; and most storied fisheries can be crowded at many times of the year.

And unfortunately, behavior on streams has begun to reflect the coarseness of modern society.

Mike Lawson, founder of Henry’s Fork Anglers, recently posted an article on boorish behavior on the river – specifically the Henry’s Fork. Mike commented that last year was the first time he heard music blaring from drift boats as they floated past him when he was fishing. He posted a question on his Facebook page as to how people felt about it; the self-selected respondents were against it about five to one.

At the same time, some of the respondents said it wasn’t a big deal and he should just deal with it. Others agreed and also pointed out all the other bad behavior they witness on some streams: people leaving trash on the river; fly fishers stomping through when another fisher is stalking a trout; boats carelessly pushing through an area where others are wading.

Now I’ve not witnessed any bad behavior on the Henry’s Fork. I’ve gone there in autumn when the crowds have left and I have a favorite spot below the main area of the Ranch.

But I’ve seen where this can lead on a lake on the Olympic peninsula. I had friends whose family owned a waterfront cabin on Lake Sutherland. It was a beautiful location and at times of the year was quite peaceful where one could sit outside and listen to the birds.

But the summer was another story. Other homes surrounding the lake held people with personal water craft. During those summer days, the roar of the water craft started soon after sunrise – sometimes before, and lasted well into dark. They too were just enjoying their time on the water, at the expense of everyone else who might just wanted to have spent a quiet day outside reading a book. It got to the point that going there in the summer was something to be avoided.

Thoreau, in Walden, raised the essential issue: “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

Fly fishers in the main go to rivers, streams and coasts for much the same reason. Bringing in the coarseness and noise of the self-absorbed consumer culture – even by a minority – destroys that chance for finding the essential facts of life for everyone else.

You can read Mike’s post here.

Government Shutdown, And Other Empty Language

I’ve made reference to George Carlin in a number of my posts. I consider him to be one of the top two standup comedians of all time (the other is Richard Pryor). But more than a simply a comedian, George was a profound critic of American society, culture, and the economy. His take-down of contemporary economics and politics in “Why Education Sucks” is as insightful an analysis as I’ve heard.

Running through all his humor is a keen focus on how language is used and more commonly – misused. In particular, George had an aversion to the use of euphemisms to confuse and mislead. He makes frequent use of what “decent people” might call vulgarity. But as the nuns at his Catholic elementary school told his mother years later he was using vulgarity to make a point. Words themselves have no meaning – it’s all about context.

I was thinking about George – and wishing he was still with us – based on a couple of bits of recent news.

The first is the “government shutdown” – where Congress failed to vote to approve the budget, so apparently the Federal government shut down. After all, shutdown means a closure.

But was the Federal government shut down?

Congress is still in session, begging the question if they actually shut down who would be there to restart things? And to put a fine point on it – Congress is still paid during the “shutdown”. (They are required to be paid via Article 1, Section 6 of the Constitution).

Many of the National Parks remain open – with no social media providing road information or friendly Rangers to help visitors. But what hurts most – the rest rooms are closed.

Social security checks still go out; even Congress isn’t stupid enough to piss off older people. The military is still out defending or expanding the empire. The TSA is still looking for 3.5 ounces or more of liquid in people’s carry-on baggage. And other government functions continue. All in all, about 60 percent of the Federal workforce continues working – even though they won’t be paid until the impasse is over.

If you think about it – the Federal government did not shut down. It stopped some functions of government and slowed down others. In the end everyone will get paid, even those who were furloughed.

But government shutdown sounds like scary shit. Slowdown more like a traffic problem. More empty language.

The other topic was based on a news story on CBS Sunday Morning concerning politically correct speech on college campuses. Apparently, you can’t sneeze wrong without someone taking offense. And speakers who promote non-politically acceptable viewpoints aren’t even allowed to speak – no matter how polite or thoughtful they might be.

Are the college kids that much different now? What happened to thinking more about sex, drugs, and rock and roll? Makes me wonder what world many of these kids think they’re heading into after their college career. More on that below.

In the news story I heard the politically correct term “people of color”. Apparently people of color is meant to signify those who are black or brown. I suspect “yellow people” aren’t included in the term.

People of color? Hmmm…is that another way of saying colored people? Colored people, when it was used in the past, was demeaning and used to refer to black Americans.

But isn’t everyone a colored person?

As George noted, white Americans are also people of color as their skin is typically pink, beige, or olive. And the yellow people certainly tend toward shades of olive. And people from India can be as dark as some black Americans – are they considered dark white Americans or people of color?

That black Americans suffer from a historic and seemingly intractable racism should be addressed. That brown Americans (primarily from points south of the southern border) are subject to changing and complex policies based on parochial concerns as well as cynical partisan politics is clear.

And by the way, the term is not undocumented worker – if you entered the country illegally you’re an illegal alien. It’s not a slur, it’s an accurate description.

I’ll also note as David Stockman did that not having a coherent immigration policy is idiotic. The increasing numbers of baby boomers drawing on Medicare and Social Security will require a large number of immigrants to pay taxes to sustain the social costs over the next 30 years. The domestic birth rate has not and will not keep up.

The problem it seems to me is one of boutique identity politics. It’s just another way for the owners to keep people trying to scratch each other’s eyes out rather than uniting to take down the people in charge.

That’s another whole discussion, but to get back to the college kids. Rather than worrying about safe spaces they should be raising hell about the predatory loans many of them have that will keep them indentured servants for many, many years of their working lives. Or maybe worry about having a career as a barista as their only option. I suppose either’s not as sexy – at least right now – as worrying about whatever it is they’re worried about.

Maybe I should have opened this post with a “trigger warming”. On the other hand, as George might have said – if you don’t like it, go to your safe space.