Thursday, August 30, 2012

Track day

Blogger is making me nuts. In "Compose" I can insert paragraph breaks. In "HTML" I can add photos. I can't do both in either mode, and I can't switch back and forth. Anyway, here's a photo from my track day at Oregon Raceway. If I can get things sorted out with Blogger, I'll write up a bit more. Right now, I'm looking for another way to host a blog online.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GoPro at the barn

I bought a GoPro camera at the motorcycle races at Laguna Seca last week,at a terrific discount.  Fun, but challenging to learn how to use the camera and even  more challenging to learn the editing software. 

For anyone not familiar, GoPro is a very small video camera in a waterproof case made for filming action sports.  I'm planning to use it on my motorcycle when I do a track day at Grass Valley in North-central Oregon next week. 

Here's a brief clip of Mary and her horse Woody, plus a few friends at the barn.  This is all practice.  It looks like Mary has helped me solve the problem with paragraph breaks and posting links in my blog, so I hope to be writing and posting more often to Midnight Sun.

Barn visit

Thursday, June 28, 2012


I have no idea why Blogger no long allows me to insert paragraph breaks, even though they're there in the documents I paste in. I'm working on it. I think it wants me to write the draft here in Blogger, which is cumbersome but which I could adjust to. Still, writing in Word then pasting into Blogger used to work, so I'll spend some time trying to figure out why it doesn't any more. In the meantime, thank you for your patience and sorry for the inconvenience.

Oh happy day

Yippee! We now, finally-- unless a future Republican Congress and President strike it down-- have a system of access to universal health care. It's an achievement that has eluded us since Harry Truman first proposed it sixty years ago and which has been in effect in virtually every other modern democracy in the world for decades. "Why don't you believe in America"? we should ask the Republicans. If all those other countries can do it, what makes us so dysfunctional? Well, now we're not. Obamacare is an unnecessarily complicated and often confusing law because it preserves private insurance companies, a burden on both individuals and businesses. I currently have a $13,000 hospital bill for a one-night stay which my insurance company is giving "further study." If they deny the claim, I'm screwed financially and will have virtually no legal recourse. As long as a national right to health care is based on a profit-driven market, it will be needlessly expensive and often punitive to individuals. But it's the best compromise that was available, and it holds out the hope that now that we've cleared the first and highest hurdle, the program can be refined and improved. I'm no lawyer, but I've wondered all along why universal health care is any different than Social Security, a system that only works so long as people start paying into it at a young age when they first begin working. We can't wait until we start thinking about retirement, usually some time in our fifties or sixties, to start paying into the system. If that were the case, people would wait until the last minute before opting in and Social Security would completely collapse in just a few years. The same holds true for health care. If the Obama administration had called the individual mandate a tax from the beginning, that aspect of the law would have been far less controversial. Ironically, Justice John Roberts went along with the tax argument even though government lawyers never raised it. Good job, John. I'm happy to learn we're eye-to-eye on this. I never thought I'd see a Black American elected president. I never thought I'd see a system of universal access to affordable health care in this country. Now, as the cartoon character used to say, I've seen everything. But then he'd shoot himself in the head, which I have no plans to do. I'm far too happy and proud to be an American right now to spoil such a lovely morning.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Obamacare revisited

Suppose the Supreme Court strikes down the individual mandate this week. The mandate requires that all people not currently covered by other insurance, usually provided by their employers, buy insurance on the private market. It’s the most controversial component of Obamacare, and by my rough guess, there’s better than a fifty-percent chance the court will rule that it’s unconstitutional. If that happens, Obamacare collapses. Without the individual mandate, and with the guarantee that preexisting conditions are always covered (a very popular component of the plan), there’s nothing to prevent people from going without insurance until they get sick, then opting into a policy. Young people especially believe they will never get sick or injured, or at least not anytime near future. But without paying into the system as they go, there’s no money to pay back to them if they need it. This is how insurance works, whether it’s a private insurance company or a national system. So, what to do if the Supreme Court rules as I suspect it will? Actually, the answer is simple and should satisfy even the most hardened opponents of Obamacare. We allow, let’s say, a one-year period for people to shop around and decide either to buy in to the system or to risk it on their own. Those who choose not to purchase insurance then lose the protection for preexisting conditions. This is the epitome of individual freedom and free-market economics that conservatives most revere. Once you’ve made the choice to opt out of available coverage, you lose the right to opt back in anytime you actually need it. Choices have consequences. Now we have what might best be called optional universal coverage. The system is financially sustainable and health insurance is available and affordable for anyone who wants it. The sad part is that we’ll still be seeing posters around town or posts to Facebook announcing pancake breakfasts to raise money to treat somebody’s nine-year-old girl who has brain cancer. This is the tragedy and the travesty of our current system, but now it happens to people who never had a choice. Under free-will Obamacare, it will only happen to people who made a bad choice. Or to the children of people who made a bad choice. It’s an ugly and cruel alternative, but it might be the only alternative we have. It’s the consequence of trying to design a universal health care system that is still based on free-market principles instead of the single-payer alternative that never had a chance in a Republican-controlled congress. And we can always hope that after a few more years, or decades, of pancake breakfasts, we might have a congress ready to support true universal coverage. In the meantime, I love pancakes.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Again with the almost-cancer

We haven’t made it to the desert with our trailer this year because I’ve been stuck in town with a series of doctors’ appointments and tests.  It takes forever to get in to see a specialist, even in ours, the greatest healthcare system in the world.  Resulta que I haven’t been able to move forward and get this thing taken care of, but I also haven’t had enough time between appointments to head south, even for a few weeks. 

(In fact, Mary and I made a break for it last Sunday and were headed to Death Valley for ten days or so, but at our first stop in Fallon, Nevada, we couldn’t get the slide to work on our trailer.  We decided to drive back home and get it taken care of at our local dealer.  Turned out to be a loose wire.)

Like my run-in with prostate cancer a few years ago, I now have an “inconclusive” test result indicating I either do or do not have thyroid cancer.  And as with prostate cancer, it doesn’t much matter.  Early stage thyroid cancer is almost completely curable, but if it turns out to be benign, they often recommend surgery anyway.  In my case, they’ll probably remove half my thyroid and biopsy that.  If it turns out to be malignant, I get a second surgery to remove the other half.  I assume there is no discount for the second surgery. 

Fortunately, thyroid surgery is considered minor and I should be out of the hospital the next day and back to normal in a few days rather than weeks or months.  This my doctor assures me.  Easy for him to say. 

This is all good news: the early CT scan and ultrasound indicated only that I had a mass somewhere in my throat, which could have been one of the bad ones.  I had to wait a month to see the first specialist, who assured me this was all about the thyroid and I could relax.  I managed to not think about it too much during the month, although I had to fight against blaming myself for my near-lifetime battle with nicotine addiction, which is generally summarized as twenty-five years of heavy smoking, fifteen years of non-smoking, and now another fifteen or so of occasionally smoking. 

Again, I blame my parents.

At any rate, the thought of losing my voice and/or breathing through a hole in my throat got my attention, and I think this time I can actually stay off the fags.  Thank you Jesus for nicotine patches during the rough patches.  Also, gum. 

To be honest, though, I did spend at least some time thinking that this could be it and asking myself if I’ve had a good life, if I have any regrets, if I could face this.  The answers were all positive, but then the question wasn’t yet real, was it?  

Is the sun setting on Midnight Sun?

 A few weeks ago I signed up on Facebook, mostly to keep in contact with some jazz fans and musicians I know electronically from around the country.  Of course, I also quickly Friended up with a bunch of politicos who mostly share my leftist leanings. 

I’m finding I love Facebook because of the rapid-fire interchanges and the frequent opportunities to jump into a conversation.  Most posts are links to something else on the web, much of which I find interesting.  I don’t really care what someone had for dinner tonight.  (I actually slow-cooked some ribs in my Crockpot with a sesame-ginger marinade last night, but I don’t consider that newsworthy.  Although, I must say, those were some killer ribs.)

The possible downside to this is that I haven’t felt any impulse to write more extended, thoughtful pieces for my blog.  It’s a tradeoff, I guess: I like to write, and the blog is a venue for getting published, although I’ve never had more than a handful of readers.  Still, that handful has sometimes been very appreciative, and it’s gratifying to spend a day or more on a single piece and then hear back from someone that they enjoyed it. 

In the end I suppose it comes down to what I feel like doing.  If I can say it in less than fifty words, it goes on Facebook.  If it takes more than an hour or so to write, it goes here.  Since I’m fundamentally a lazy person, I’ll probably be posting a lot more to Facebook than I will here. 

Sign up and let’s be Friends!

Keeping up with Spanish

No real surprise that I’ve found it difficult to keep actively learning Spanish since I’ve returned from Mexico.  I try to meet once a week with my conversation partner Leticia, but an hour a week is lame compared to the five hours a day I spent in class in Guanajuato.  Not to mention that when class was over—hello!—I’m in Mexico and almost no one speaks English.

What seems to be working the best right now is watching Spanish-language television, which is actually the place to go for many immigrants trying to learn a new language.  I can say that my listening comprehension has improved dramatically.  I thought I would never be able to understand much unless the speaker slowed down for the Gringo, but it seems that a combination of concentration and passively letting the language wash over me has its good effect. 

I try to watch one or two news programs a day, but my favorite two programs are ones I would never watch in English.  Caso Cerrado (Case Closed) is a mock courtroom where litigants come before a faux-judge and present their cases on any possible conflict they might have with each other.  These can be tragi-comic, but the program seems to bring a bit more dignity to the proceedings than some of the US programs of the same general format.  Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry.

The other program is Una Familia con Suerte (A Lucky Family), a soap opera/sitcom with a great cast. Here I only laugh.

My comprehension ranges from mas o menos to nada, but I find that the more I watch, the better I understand.  Fortunately, there are so many Spanish/English cognates that I can often generally follow dialogue that I would otherwise completely miss.  I could never learn a non-Romance language, like, say, Urdu. 

The other good thing about TV is that it’s fun, whereas memorizing vocabulary and practicing verb tenses isn’t.  For now, it’s the only source of daily practice I have.  The other strategy one of my guidebooks to Mexico recommended—get a Mexican girlfriend—is not an option for me.  

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Send the boys back

A few days ago I wrote a piece on the withdrawal of the last American troops from Iraq.  It was long, bitter, and angry and I decided not to post it.  But it concluded with “we told you so,” and it’s a conclusion I stand behind. So then I published it anyway.

Michael Tomasky has written a better piece on why the right will soon start to publish accounts of how we actually won, and why it is Bush who should get the credit, not Obama.  It’s worth reading here:

Or, if things go bad, it’s Obama’s fault.

Personally, I think the campaign has already started.  Iraq’s government is splintering, violence is on the rise, and people in and out of the country are talking about a new civil war.  And John McCain says its Obama’s fault.  He should have left behind a few thousand combat troops.  In another nine years, we can take another look.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mary made me do it

I had actually decided against buying another motorcycle, but Mary talked me into it.

The week before, I had a CT scan to follow up on a chest x-ray my family doctor had done as part of my routine physical.  Also, I still haven't completely recovered from the horrible cough I got in Mexico.  Although he was “absolutely comfortable” with what he saw, he wanted me to have the more detailed scan to determine if I might have lung cancer or not.  He saw something in the x-ray that caused him at least some concern.

I was never too worried about it, though I certainly had it much in mind as I reflected on my twenty-five years of heavy smoking and the occasional relapse even now, twenty years after I finally “quit.”

Even when I started smoking in 1965, we knew we were at risk for lung cancer and various other life-threatening conditions, but I did it anyway without a second thought.

I blame my parents.  They were smokers, too, and statistics show that children who grow up in smoking households are vastly more likely to smoke themselves.  I also blame my brother, who conveniently left packs of Pall Malls lying around so I could steal them now and then.  This is probably why we haven’t spoken for almost thirty years.  He was really pissed off about those cigarettes.

I certainly don’t blame myself since I’ve always had low impulse control, which is not my fault.  The devil made me do it, and if I had to have lung cancer, I didn’t want to carry around a lot of guilt about it. 

Anyway, it was a tense week waiting for the actual test and then the results, and if I wasn’t particularly worried, Mary was.  Shortly after we got the good news, she said I should go ahead and buy the bike.  Might as well do it now rather than wait too long and have to put it on a bucket list. 

Thing is, I already have a large collection of things I decided I should do now, including my recent trip to Mexico.  The trick for us seniors is always to try to guess how long we’re going to live.  The goal is to go broke the day we die and freely indulge all of our big-ticket-impulses up to that final minute.  It would be just my luck to live ten years too long and have to actually live on my pension for all that time.  I’m doing my best to keep spending at a relatively high level so I won’t have to face that grim reality.

In the meantime, “no one knows what tomorrow may bring,” as the old hymn reminds us, and for me, that’s an invitation to live like I might die tomorrow.  Or preferably, some time ten or twenty years from now, but still with a couple bucks in my savings account.

In the meantime, “beat the bucket.”  That’s my motto.  

Welcome Home

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in Iraq yesterday to say job-well-done to the last American troops coming home.  President Obama met with soldiers at Fort Campbell, Kentucky and was warmly received as he thanked them for their service.  I can only add my own humble “thank you for your service,” though it always sounds hollow to me.  Only “I’m sorry for your loss” might be more empty and pointless to the families of the fallen. 

Personally, I prefer “welcome home” to those who made it back.  It was only a few years ago that a counselor I was seeing was the first person ever to say “welcome home” to me as a Vietnam veteran, and to my own amazement, I burst into tears.  Forty years after the fact, I’m not looking for any thanks, but it’s nice that someone recognizes I was even gone.

There’s a deafening silence on this last day of our war from the likes of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and the dozen or so other neo-cons who pushed us into the abyss nine years ago.  No claims of victory from them.  Are they playing golf today?  Are they ashamed of what they’ve done?  “Possibly,” and “certainly not.” 

I was so amazed at the time that still so soon after Vietnam, most Americans didn’t recognize the same mix of outright lies and gross distortions of fact that got us into that earlier pointless, doomed-to-failure and far-away war.  Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations about “weapons of mass destruction” would not have got a search warrant from a local district attorney and it failed to get an endorsement from the UN, but in we went anyway.  I couldn’t believe this was happening again, but it was, and so few others seemed to see the parallels.  The press at the time failed utterly to report on the wealth of evidence demonstrating that the neo-cons’ case was a house of cards. 

But maybe not utterly, and maybe not so few.  There actually was a large and vocal opposition to the invasion, but it got precious little coverage and it certainly never got equal time, let alone a full hearing.  At least Oregon’s congressional Democrats voted unanimously against the invasion.  They had no effect, but it mattered to me and my friends and colleagues who stood amazed as the Bush administration maneuvered public opinion over the course of months to the point where they could say they had a majority of public support.  I have never in my life seen such a distorted and intense propaganda campaign.  At the time of the invasion, a large majority of Americans believed we had an endorsement from the UN, although the best Bush could patch together was a rag-tag “coalition of the willing,” many of the willing being tiny, weak countries who depended on American foreign aid and who sent at best a handful of advisers then pulled them out a few months later. 

Four-thousand, five-hundred Americans have died, tens of thousands seriously wounded, physically and mentally.  Estimates of Iraqi deaths range from over one-hundred thousand to one million.  In any case, lots and lots of dead Iraqis.  Are the Iraqis better off now that Saddam is dead?  Is the region in any way more stable?  Have we “projected American power abroad”?  What a total fuck-up, the whole thing. 

And still, I feel enormous pride in our fighting men and women.  They were over-deployed and bore the whole burden, about one-percent of Americans at war while the rest of us sat home and were never called upon to make the smallest sacrifice. 

To those who fought the war, Welcome Home.  Thank you for your service. 

To no one in particular, we told you so.