"The Childe...More restless than the swallow in the skies..." -Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage

Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Endorsement for the League of Women Voters of Michigan

I don't know how you folks who watch television keep from shooting yourselves during election years. Now, I don't mean fatally shooting yourselves. That would be crazy. I just mean firing a single low-caliber round into your foot to see if you can still feel anything.

I make the above jest after having watched a single evening of regularly scheduled television programming last week. It wasn’t the programs that upset me. What overcame my peace of mind was the cavalcade of angry, spiteful, mildly-factual-at-best political ads (and not just the ones funded by right wing folk).

A bit of background:

For reasons ranging from budget to personal taste, I don't get television in my apartment. I have a TV set. But it isn't hooked up to satellite or cable. And I've never gotten around to updating my antenna to digital. Oh, I get the news. In fact, thanks to NPR and reading newsprint articles, I assert that I am better informed than many TV watchers.

Still, on nights I use the Laundromat, I enjoy catching some TV. It takes me one hour of local and national news plus two game shows to wash, dry, and fold. Lame as that may sound, I’ve found it’s a decent way to spend an evening. I even look forward to it. Last week, however, watching TV at the Laundromat was an ordeal.

During each commercial break, as negative political ads followed one after another, I felt cynicism welling up in me. It couldn’t be helped. Watch that much negativism in super-concentrated doses, and you grow embittered. Viewing ultra-violent films and porn couldn't be any less healthy. At least the makers of that fare admit their work is sensational fiction.

That said, I want to plug a great information source that is free, user-friendly, and extremely helpful to citizens: The League of Women Voters. In the 21st century, the gender-centric title is a bit of a misnomer. This nonpartisan organization seeks to educate all voters. Still, in 1920 when our federal government finally got around to granting women the right to vote, it was the perfect name.

I first picked up a copy of the league’s Voter Guide from a pile of them in my college dorm. Ever since, I’ve regarded it as must-read political literature. The League’s printed Voter Guide, true to its claims, provides a concise nonpartisan primer on candidates for each federal and state category. This includes judges and statewide ballot proposals. Candidates are given three basic questions related to the position they are running for, and the League prints their brief responses. At least, that's what the local league in Michigan does.

The political ads, by fondling base impulses, tried to convince me this election is a do-or-die end game. The League of Women Voters reminded me it’s not. Elections are part of an ongoing process that does not begin or end with any one election cycle. So if you feel discouraged or overwhelmed, know that you are not alone. Also know that, depending on when you read this, you still have a full day or maybe a couple of hours to pick up a Voter Guide, or read up online. Find a local league here. Michigan has one worth bragging about in my opinion. Take it from me, it beats watching the television ads.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Best of Facebook Status Updates

Earlier this year I finally signed up for Facebook. I was a latecomer. And I'm proud of that fact. In any case, upon joining Facebook, I soon discovered the joy of posting Status Updates. These are short posts detailing where you are, what you are doing, and how these facts expose the idiocy of people with opposing viewpoints.

Below is a sampling of my Status Updates since joining Facebook. At their best, these are profound slices of my life--pure distillations of existence marked by wit and frankness. At worst, they serve as a troubling indication that--thanks to the Internet--my social life now resembles a trite and rather mundane knock-off of an Oscar Wilde play. I share them for your enjoyment, and with the deep and abiding hope that you will leave comments, thus adding to the attention these have already gotten me on Facebook.

And now, in no particular order, I give you the best of Childe Jake's Status Updates. For added fun, guess which of these successfully caused one of my friends to choke on her coffee:
  • From my window side table in the coffee shop I spy a cat on a window sill for whom Sunday morning is all about monitoring the birds fluttering about a nearby tree. And I thought I looked serious sitting here reading Milton.
  • Suddenly, I find myself filled with a deep desire to drop everything and go watch "Bill Cosby: Himself."
  • Dictionary.com turned off the comment option on their Word of the Day post. That is so lugubrious.
  • Stupid Culinary Trick: By combining mayo, pepperoni and sharp cheddar, you can create a sandwich that tastes exactly like the Chef Boyardee you didn't bring to work because you weren't in the mood for it.
  • I'm pretty sure I'm witnessing the squirrel equivalent of Fight Club on my neighbor's lawn. (Wait, am I not supposed to talk about this?)
  • "Oops! I did it again. I played with your heart. Got lost in the game. Oh, baby, bab..." Okay, I fell asleep last night listening to NPR Classical. Would somebody please explain how I woke up with that song stuck in my head?
  • My toe itches.
  • While grocery shopping I was annoyed to see Sports Illustrated's new "Swimsuit Issue" for sale. It's tacky, monopolizes shelf space better reserved for legitimate journalistic publications. Plus, it totally threw off my grocery budget.
  • A turtle charged me on the hiking trail today, which caused me great reflection while he was doing it.
  • Nephew says impatiently, "Why can't all cars go 70 mph?" Uncle replies coolly, "One day when you are a 70-year-old woman you will understand."
  • So much for saying it only happens in the movies. I sat on a bench and a bird pooped on my shoulder. Didn't get a good look to see what kind of bird, but I'm pretty sure it was a vegetarian.
  • Just finished munching on an Asiago Cheese demi-loaf. That leaves about 10 more minutes open for anyone who needs something, has ever wanted to catch me in a life-affirming mood, or just feels chatty.
  • Frick! The library just sent me a notice saying I have to return Kate Beckinsale...I mean Underworld.
  • If those darn scientists dare disprove the existence of Triceratops (my favorite dinosaur) I swear I'm gonna...I'm...I'll move to Canada!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Childe Jake Ends Bid to Replace Charity Nebbe at Michigan Radio

As reported by the Associative Press:

In the first major concession speech of the 2010 General Election, blogger Childe Jake has conceded defeat to Jennifer White in the race to become Michigan Radio's newest on-air host. With this victory, Ms. White is now the undisputed host of the weekday afternoon show: All Things Considered.

Jake suspended his campaign over the weekend, citing the need for Michigan Radio members to unite for the fall membership drive. Unnamed sources also confirmed that Jake's campaign suffered from a dwindling war chest, a lack of support outside of his apartment, and the fact that Jennifer White was officially hired about two months ago after an extensive national talent search.

Flanked by a local supporter from the Chelsea Teddy Bear Company, blogger Childe Jake concedes defeat to Michigan Radio's Jennifer White. Off-camera is senior political analyst Jack Lessenberry. (At time of publication, Jake was unable to confirm exactly how far off-camera Mr. Lessenberry was.)
It was five months ago that Childe Jake began his quest to snag the high profile radio job. He did so via a momentous blog post: Why I Should Replace Charity Nebbe on Michigan Radio. In the wake of that very-nearly-viral blog entry, Ms. Nebbe publicly expressed support for Jake receiving a job interview. Still, Jake's campaign quickly foundered.

Earlier today, Childe Jake held a press conference at his campaign headquarters in Washtenaw County. Surrounded by his supporter, Jake delivered a stirring and sometimes emotional concession speech:

“Friends and fellow public radio listeners, I stand before you today with a heavy heart.

A few minutes ago I had the privilege of speaking with a person I have spent the past few months debating. This person is more than just an opponent. He is my neighbor. In return for me not blasting my radio during the Powdermilk Biscuit Song on Prairie Home Companion, he has agreed to vacate our shared patio long enough for me to deliver my concession speech. This accord reached, I will now proceed with my prepared remarks:

When I began my quest to succeed Charity Nebbe at Michigan Radio, I did so out of a sense of duty. I saw my bid as a histor…pardon me, an historic opportunity to end business as usual. For too long now, public radio has teemed exclusively with trained journalists. As such, our precious airwaves have remained subject to a status quo of in-depth coverage, balanced commentary, and rigorous fact checking. As an amateur blogger--but more crucially as one who knows personally the frustration of every Michigander who lacks reserved parking during the Ann Arbor Art Fair--I felt it was time to offer listeners a choice.

Now the Michigan Radio hiring committee has spoken. And while I disagree with their decision, I will abide by it. For the sake of station unity, I offer my concession to Ms. White. I have heard it said that in an American election there are never losers. Those words, eloquently coined by a past non-winner, provide me solace today.

Standing here in the chill of an autumn breeze, I am reminded of another chilly morning this past spring when I volunteered at the Michigan Radio studios. In the predawn drizzle, all I could think about was scoring a cup of hot coffee and a comfortable seat in the station's phone bank. At that moment, a Michigan Radio employee buzzed passed me wide awake and smiling. Even at 5:50 am, her very aspect exuded a genuine enthusiasm for the mission of listener-supported public radio--a mission to provide the best in educational programming and broadcast journalism.

Thinking back on that brief encounter, I can only say, "Congratulations, Jennifer White. I'll catch you on the drive home!"

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Come Sail Away with Bradbury and Post...and Me

Returning to the Elegant Subject of Solar Sails

This is life itself, to onward fly
A boy alone with Universe
who knows that he must go into the dark.
Before I explain the above poetry quotation, I have a confession. Sometimes I get sick of reading about space exploration. Albeit hypocritically, I often tire of reading the very kind of cosmic blogging I tend to do myself--subjective and sentimental pro-NASA/pro-space rhetoric. Here is an example from one of my favorite TV shows, The West Wing.

One of The West Wing's most haunting episodes is entitled "The Warfare of Genghis Khan." Though the central plotline involves nuclear arms proliferation, a key subplot depicts a NASA employee befriending White House senior staffer Josh Lyman. Initially Josh is cynical about NASA, but soon he is won over by some good old-fashioned space evangelism and a boyish peek through a telescope. Sound naive? I think it does.

Why should we go to Mars, Josh asks. And the brilliant NASA scientist replies…adventure will nourish humanity's soul. Ug. Is this really the best reason a NASA employee, albeit a fictional one created by talented TV writers, can come up with? From a show of such indisputable intelligence, I expected reasoning that was more nuanced and politically savvy. Still, methinks I wax too grumpy.

Inspiring the public is a valid (if belabored) rationale for exploring space. On The West Wing, this reasoning pays dramatic dividends when Josh's newfound enthusiasm for NASA runs headlong into the episode's titular plotline about warfare. As Josh portends, in a world fraught with violent selfishness there is something "generous" about marshalling resources for peaceful exploration.

This brings me to the above poetry excerpt, which comes from a wonderful piece co-authored by Ray Bradbury and Jonathan V. Post: "To Sail Beyond the Sun (A Luminous Collage)." Even though I’ve been a space enthusiast for decades, I only discovered this 20-year-old poem a few months ago. It was published in 1990 as part of a collection entitled: Project Solar Sail.

Project Solar Sail

I became aware of this book through the Fans of Arthur C. Clarke group on Goodreads.com. Sir Arthur edited this collection of original works by leading science writers. The published book was a fundraising effort to build support for a solar sail mission.

Recently, I scored an original copy on eBay. And over the last few days, I have read and reread Bradbury and Post's "To Sail Beyond the Sun (A Luminous Collage)." The poem's conceit, as I take it, is that humans are like solar sails. Fashioned from base material, we have proven sea-worthy, or rather, star-worthy. In coming weeks and months, I intend to read Project Solar Sail in its entirety, and pass on some of its rhetorical and practical value via this blog. For personal background, I hope you will read a previous blog post: Harnessing the Wind from the Sun.

For now I affirm a belief held by many space enthusiasts today. We humans are quite beautiful and precious, yet we remain coarse and superstitious children clinging to a small blue orb. Admitting that humble reality and then engaging in vigorous exploration can refine us into something even better. As cosmic poets Bradbury and Post express it:

We are the energy of Shakespeare's verse,
we are what mathematics wants to be--
The Life Force in the Universe
That longs to See!
That would Become
and give a voice to matter that was dumb.

We are, to the gates of gravity, the keys ...

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Revisiting the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail for Surcease

Trust me. The view will get better if you keep reading.

I always feel like I'm repenting when I go hiking. With the exception of this past June, my hikes have usually been preceded by much procrastinating. My body is too easily disposed to lethargy, and reaching my mid-30s has not helped. With some ironical gratitude, I thank Michigan's Democrat and Republican gubernatorial candidates for getting me back out on the trail.

The two guys fighting it out for governor in Michigan have both demonstrated weak negotiating skills by initially failing--and then barely managing--to negotiate one measly debate. With big money playing an even bigger role in this election, debates are essential to provide the public a reasonable chance to evaluate the actual candidates. But if these two men can't even agree on a set of debates with each other, can we expect them to be any better at negotiating a state budget with scores of opponents and a multitude of competing interests?

After spending a few hours over several days familiarizing myself with candidates, I felt dispirited. And this gave me the needed shove to get back out on the hiking trail. Yesterday I came home from the office, changed into hiking attire, hastily made a peanut butter sandwich for supper, and headed back to the Waterloo-Pinckney Trail.

Many sections of the trail effectively belong to hunters until April. Nevertheless, several safe trail heads remain available beginning at the Gerald Eddy Discover Center. I did the Lakeview Trail, a horseshoe-shaped byway that skirts lovely Mill Lake. Here is a peek at what Mother Earth offered this weary pilgrim.

With leaves changing colors, a rich golden shimmer penetrated the forest in sporadic patches. On a cool Wednesday evening, I had the trail to myself--at least as far as human contact is concerned. I never hiked more than a few yards without hearing a rush of leaves as a nearby chipmunk or squirrel darted out of sight. The funny thing is, in the thick underbrush, I didn't even notice them until I heard them scurrying away. I even stirred up a doe as I headed to my favorite spot along the Mill Lake shoreline.

Why do I have to cajole myself into taking a couple hours every week to visit this place? Can I really be that wrapped up in the mess of our "civilized world"? I can. We all can. People who are passionate, people who give a damn--each of us is susceptible to being overcome by the unhealthy frenzy of a general election’s closing weeks.

So if, like me, you catch yourself getting feverishly frustrated with the election, take a breath. Better yet, take a walk. You will see this country is still big enough and rich enough to sustain us all. It is a durable landscape capable of supporting people with conflicting views. Still, to keep a level head in days to come, I expect I'll need a few more excursions to enjoy what Lord Byron called, "the pleasure in the pathless woods." If you are reading this blog, whatever segment of the political spectrum you fall within, I encourage you to do the same.