Monday, February 8, 2016

Short Stories: The Nightmare Before Elections

The Nightmare Before Elections

After weeks of steady, unbalanced bombardment via public airwaves with constant angry rhetoric, mostly by that eye of Mordor known as Fox news, I’m feeling a little worried and worn-out. The Sauron-like figures behind Fox remind me of the evil forces in J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord Of The Rings [LOTR] trying to take power by stealing the ‘One Ring’. Steady exposure to such propaganda and rhetoric, particularly the negative kind, does affect people by instilling doubt, fear, disgust and disengagement from public elections, which is the only real remedy for making those meaningful changes needed to benefit all citizens. But, simply appealing to emotions over reason seems always an easier path for those wishing to influence voters.

Rather than following a rational approach to benefit people with real needs, as exemplified by the so-called ‘Bleiker Life Preserver*’, these talking heads prefer doing things the old-fashioned way - by trial and error, forgetting any lesson learned along the way. What a pity! As someone great once said; ‘those who refuse to learn from history, are doomed to repeat it’.
The Bleiker Life Preserver is a four step process:

  1. Acknowledge a serious problem exists that needs timely and effective resolution
  2. It’s our [Congress] job to deal with it, and no one else’s 
  3. Our plan will be well thought-out, reasonable and non-partisan
  4. We do listen to ALL the public, we do care about good results

        No wonder, my sleep was interrupted by the cumulative effect of too many Republican debates, with too many sorry candidates, all wanting to repeal Social Security and the Affordable Care Act for medical care. Hey, as senior citizen, I worked for those things, deserve them, and depend on them for healthcare and income!

Additionally, they all seem to want to go to war at every opportunity and perceived offense, always unilaterally attacking with superior force, and without ever having to pay for it or acknowledging any adverse consequences to our own troops, their families and loved ones, allies, or innocent foreigners impacted.

Some want to summarily take away the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights and replace them with their own ideas of morality, religion, opinions and beliefs, without regard to legalities or other consequences.

Some wish to deport millions of immigrants, build huge walls to keep out migrants and refugees from other places, plus increase draconian, police-state restrictions and monitoring on those who remain.

All seem to want the ‘Citizens United’ decision by the US Supreme Court to stand, meaning that Corporations are PEOPLE and Money is SPEECH! Go figure! Can you spell SuperPAC? How about ANONYMOUS donors?

Many think that our current duly elected President is actively undermining our nation with policies that are ineffective, subversive and illegal. That’s troubling, especially when the evidence seems to prove otherwise!

All seem prone to making such numerous, unsubstantiated claims and complaints about current Administration officials that could be summarized in a standard checklist and used for future political speeches and grand-standing.

All talk like they don’t believe in science, at least in terms of climate change. 

All dismiss environmental concerns as if they were some sort of liberal wish-list.

All are for good education for all, but don’t want to provide it.

All are anti-labor, anti minimum wage, anti-taxes, and doubtful that the Federal Reserve System works at all.

All want foreign trade, but refuse to advocate any resistance to restrict US Corporation from moving off-shore.

All are expert at half-truths, refusing to fact-check themselves before giving political speeches, counting instead upon spinning quick, self-serving sound bytes.

All quickly discount the value of a Public Works Project capable of repairing our nation’s critical infrastructure, creating millions of living wage jobs and enabling trade and commerce to operate much more efficiently and safely.
The various candidates appear to fit one or more of the following categorical villains from LOTR:
  • Ring-wraiths - those nine ghostly nobles who perpetually serve Sauron
  • Trolls - large disgusting beasts with chips on their shoulders and no manners
  • Nazguls - flying versions of Ring-wraiths appearing as large dragons
  • Balrog - the nastiest beast ever encountered, uses fire and long tail to drag down Gandalf (the good wizard)
  • Orcs - nasty goblins controlled by evil forces; can only fight at night
  • Uruk-hai - a hybrid race of larger, stronger, faster orcs and better fighters, who can also fight in daytime.
  • Gollum - a disgusting, insidious creature who desires the One Ring for himself
The reader gets to pick which category of evil villain fits each candidate. I have my own selections, but prefer -for the moment- to keep them to myself.

After this parade of horribles, I awoke with a start, thinking something was trying to smother me - but, it was only my Continuous Pulmonary Air Pump [CPAP] hose, used to help me sleep better. I noisily thrust it off, awaking my wife in the process.

Then, I stepped out of bed and headed to the bathroom, but something else quickly and painfully restrained me. It was my tethered catheter bag partly filled with urine! Ouch! What a way to wake up.

After all those frightening dreams and now this frazzling awakening, I still tried to sleep more, just to make up for the awful nightmarish sleep I’d had. Bad idea! As I continued to dwell on all the negativity I’d conjured earlier, I did manage to capture a few key points; maybe for a future blog. Later, after I’d finally gotten up, I jotted down a few notes to help me remember my nightmare.

Then, I made a firm resolution; I’ve gotta stop watching the Republican ‘debates’ propaganda bullshit! Also, stop reading and watching Tolkien’s stuff. And the meds; either take more or less of them! Maybe a little more wine before turning in?

Failing all that, I’ve gotta get rid of the catheter! Would an adult diaper help?
Just $42 for 72 Men’s max at Costco.
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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Short Stories: Sea Buoy 2 Charlie Bravo

Sea Buoy ‘2CB’ marks the entrance to Chesapeake Bay and the Thimble Shoals Channel, major water routes used by both merchant and military vessels as well as pleasure craft. The importance of these deepwater routes is immense and of absolute critical value to us, as is demonstrated by the sheer density of ocean-going traffic - inbound and outbound - 24/7 every week. Congestion and, therefore, danger are always present to the wary and the unwary alike. It is with this clear perspective that certain early morning events that occurred just before a fourth of July weekend are now being told. 

CC-1 was a communications flagship, a unique vessel designed and operated to maintain direct, continuous voice contact with the White House. With dimensions of 700 feet in length and a beam of about 50 feet, CC-1 was initially intended to become a coal collier, but converted into use as a cruiser by adding an extra deck, extensively redesigning both interior and exterior, and outfitting it with electronic equipment, with very little armament. Aside from a unicorn-like mast, the ship was further distinguished by a smooth topside surfaces to allow rapid wash-downs when required by contamination. A crew of 1200 men included almost 200 radiomen and electronics technicians to tend the ship’s main mission.

NAN Division was the name assigned to the Navigation Department, a group of 20 Quartermasters responsible for operating and maintaining the ship from the bridge, maintaining charts, publications and navigation instruments, keeping track of CC-1’s position at all times, and taking direct charge of navigating during times of General Quarters, severe storms, special Sea & Anchor Details during entering and leaving port, going alongside another vessel, and piloting in restricted or unfamiliar waters. A related duty was keeping the communications staff informed frequently of the range and bearing to their land-based antenna, located in the Virginia Capes area.

The morning in question saw an unusual weather condition, with dense surface fog that masked both vision and detection by electronic instruments. Just after dawn, NAN Division and its special Sea & Anchor Detail was set to relieve the regular watch at the piloting table, helm, lee helm, port and starboard wing lookouts, and after-steering. A Master Chief Quartermaster oversaw these changes on the bridge, assisted the Navigating Quartermaster, the Officer-Of-The-Deck and the Navigator - who, in turn, reported directly to the Captain.

A single sweep of the surface radar briefly showed a small blip on the screen off the starboard bow, but repeat sweeps showed nothing, probably due to ‘sea-return’ caused by the relatively short distance between ship and the blip. That was clearly a cause for alarm, as CC-1 continued its slow westward approach toward 2CB. As a precaution, the Captain ordered ship speed to be cut to ‘all-ahead one-third’, then to ‘all-stop’.

At nearly the moment the new helmsman took the wheel, a visual sighting of a ship bearing down on CC-1, off its starboard bow, was made! The Captain immediately ordered ‘right full rudder’, then ‘all-emergency-back-full’ and the ship began to physically shudder as its forward progress was stopped, then reversed. Unfortunately, the ‘lee helm’, responsible for the engine order telegraph, did not know how to properly signal the order - by repeated movement of a lever. But, the helmsman quickly leaned over and performed this signal to make sure the engine room responded as needed. Slowly, CC-1 turned and began backing down, but the other ship continued to bear down on it, looking like a sure collision. Quickly. the Captain sounded the collision alarm, simultaneously ordering the starboard side to be cleared of all personnel. Sailors stationed at the bow were frozen by fear that the ship approaching would certainly kill them in the inevitable collision that would soon follow. 

As CC-1 backed down and gained sternway, the bow began to swing left, placing it again closer to the approaching ship. The helmsman loudly requested permission to shift the rudder to correct the leftward swing, but this went unheard in the commotion. But, with the Chief’s blessing, the helmsman shifted the helm to left full rudder, countering the dangerous swing and thereby lessening the chance of a collision. Just in time, the bow missed the ongoing ship by a matter of less than 10 feet! The two sailors stationed on the bow later reported they could actually look down the stack of the ship passing right to left. Loaded almost to the ‘gunnels’ with what turned out to be JP-5 aviation gasoline, that ship continued its course without so much as acknowledging CC-1’s presence! Apparently, it had set its auto-pilot as it exited the Chesapeake Bay, meaning no one was even paying attention to what might be encountered. Unfortunately, this has been a common cause for maritime accidents and near-misses, particularly with merchant vessels.

The sense of relief onboard CC-1 was palpable! Everyone had been on nervous edge from the tension of a likely collision at sea. What happened after that was a tense and  unrelenting focus on getting the ship safely into port. The helmsman was so intent on steering a course so precisely that he hardly noticed the time passing, until CC-1 was nearly at the dock. 

When liberty call was sounded for R&R, the helmsman and other members of NAN Division and ship’s crew elected not to go ashore, instead to rest, thank God for saving them, take showers, and try to sleep. Those who did go ashore, went straight to a beer joint. It took some time to remember the Fourth of July was a national holiday, meant to honor our country’s founding, celebrate its blessings and the reasons their ship was necessary. 

Later, NAN Division held ‘lessons learned’ sessions, after which training exercises became much more relevant and compelling because of the vivid memory of what nearly happened near Buoy 2 Charlie Bravo.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Short Stories: Snowball's Adventures

Snowball’s Adventures

As a Tar Heel born, I spent most of my youth living in a small city in the Coastal Plain with activities like school, sports, scouting and church. I liked living there in a semi-bucolic existence, where citizens were friends and the flora and fauna were congenial. The climate and sandy loam soil conditions made this area full of ‘grow-y’ things, most of them useful and benign, particularly the plants which grew in variety and profusion. The main ‘money crops’ were tobacco and cotton, but there was always plenty of corn, hays, timber and truck vegetables as well. Around the city, most fauna were common to urban areas, with small mammals, birds, reptiles and insects leading the list. Of course, pets counted too, with dogs and cats more prevalent. 

Among the plant life, their variety and profusion was truly impressive. From tall long-leaf pines to hardwoods, flowering dogwoods and magnolias, the trees have always been a major asset to the area. Then, rhododendrons, azaleas and camellias, bushes, hedges and flowers - like roses, daffodils, tulips and annual seed flowers. Various grasses, dandelions and other weeds rounded out the list, with the exception of garden vegetables which were planted from seeds or starter plants. The latter was my specialty, and also my chore. I was responsible for the garden; clearing and turning, seeding, weeding, and - eventually - picking, eating and sharing the fruits of my labor.

Tomatoes were the most popular, followed by leaf lettuce, radishes, carrots, corn, squash and green onions, plus strawberries. How I loved to yank the vegetables right out of the ground and just eat them dirty! Hard to beat vegetables that fresh. Anyway, the point is I spent a lot of time out in my back yards tending the garden, not all of it fun, with the hot sun, humidity, bugs, sweat and sunburn. Often, there were other things I’d rather be doing, but a chore was a chore and no one else would do it.

One day, I was sitting on the back stoop when a little scenario played out in front of me. Our cat, Snowball, a good sized, all-white, short-haired Tom was just lazing around on the grass near me, when our neighbor’s dog, Duz, a little Boston Bull Pup started yapping at him as he always did. Now, Duz thought he was bigger and fiercer than Snowball, which was a delusion to say the least. Anyway, Duz got through the fence with the intent of chasing Snowball, which he did, with Snowball’s almost lackadaisical consent. Round and around the house they ran, with Snowball easily eluding Duz with long loping strides, while Duz simply ran too long in one place. After two or three times around the house Snowball had almost lapped Duz to the point that if you didn’t know better, you might’ve thought the chase was the other way around! 

As he came around  the corner in front of me, Snowball hopped up onto a corner of the picket fence and assumed what I considered to be an amused posture, as Duz ran right under his nose and continued on around the house at least two more times! At last, Duz figured out he’d done his doggy duty and chased Snowball away, but he continued to sniff the ground - back and forth - anyway just to make sure. Duz finally returned to his yard, possibly feeling satisfied with himself, while Snowball quietly jumped down and resumed whatever he was doing before the chase. This, I saw as fitting entertainment for me during my rest, and it was. This, I’ll call Snowball’s adventure number one, so we’re about halfway through my story.

Some time later that same summer, another entertaining encounter occurred, this time between me, Snowball and a large robin hunting worms in the yard. Again, I was sitting on the back steps, resting and watching when I observed this sequence of events; Snowball, lying just in front of me, spotted the robin and began a very slow and stealthy advance, every muscle tensed and every step measured and silent. So focused was he that I was mesmerized into watching each move of both cat and bird. Would the bird sense the approach and fly away before Snowball could reach him? Would Snowball make a mistake and give himself away, or just get bored and ignore the robin? No chance of that I thought, with the sheer intensity of the silent stalking beginning to make me wonder if I was about to witness a near-miss, mugging, or worse, a cold-blooded murder. 

Should I intervene, and if so, how? Should I continue my well-deserved rest and much-enjoyed entertainment? Soon, I would have to decide, so why not just scare the bird away and end the problem? That’s what I decided to do, but the way I did it created even more excitement in a way I hadn’t anticipated. Neither had Snowball.

I picked up a pebble and threw it generally towards the robin, but it never got that far, because it hit Snowball on top of his head instead. All the pent up tension, anticipation and drama dissipated in a split second, as I witnessed Snowball launch himself straight up into air about five or six feet! Can a cat really do that? Snowball did! In mid-air, he twisted and turned in multiple orientations before hitting the ground - feet first - then taking off like a rocket, also in what seemed to be several directions all at once. I’ve never seen any animal move that quickly, and doubt I will again.

Needless to say, the robin just flew off to find another worm in another place, hopefully without a predatory cat in the vicinity. I didn’t see Snowball for a while after that, but when I did, he seemed somewhat miffed at me, but maybe that was just my imagination. So, my rest and entertainment over, I again returned to weed the garden.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Short Stories: The Storm

As the young helmsman struggled to keep DDR 880 headed into the waves, he braced himself firmly - feet wide apart - against the ship’s wheel to keep from slipping or falling. In the chaos of the storm, it was sometimes difficult to tell from which direction the waves were coming, but the helmsman knew the ship could not withstand a broadside attack. He, a new Midshipman, had been pressed into service when the experienced Bosun’s Mates and Quartermasters usually assigned the special Sea & Anchor detail were so depleted they could not function. 

The vessel, designed to withstand rolls up to 57 degrees before ‘turning turtle’ or capsizing, was already reaching 45 degrees - port and starboard - in addition to pitching violently. More troubling, DDR 880 carried heavy topside electronic gear necessary to perform her duty as Radar Picket, providing early warning alerts to the Task Force or Fleet she was assigned. The steady onslaught of 45-foot waves - equivalent to 5-story buildings from trough to crest - was sorely testing her endurance, as well as that of the crew, over half of which were incapacitated from severe seasickness, vertigo, exhaustion, or injury sustained during the storm. Below decks, floor surfaces sloshed with vomit so often that keeping the mops busy and toilets flushing almost continuously was necessary. Long before, cooks in the galley had given up trying to prepare regular food requiring trays and utensils, instead turning out sandwiches, soda crackers and coffee. 

No one ventured out on the main deck without an emergency mission, lifejacket, a rope to belay themselves, and a buddy, because danger of being washed overboard was almost certain. Besides, all water-tight doors and hatches were dogged and secure. In time, these precautions might be relaxed, but now they were strictly enforced for ship integrity and crew safety. Indeed, it was difficult to even traverse interior passages without walking on one bulkhead or the other in between steps on the deck. Crew members trying to rest had to strap themselves into their bunks to prevent rolling onto a deck or bulkhead. 

At the height of the 3-day storm, waves raked the ship with such force that plexiglass windows on the bridge were shattered, soaking those inside with cold seawater, plus the knowledge that the storm could get worse before it got better. Worse, DDR 880 now needed fuel, as much for ballast as for propulsion, and normally was never more than 2 or 3 days from replenishment. Empty fuel tanks were not helping to control the heavy rolling, just the opposite. Just before the storm peaked, the ship actually took ‘green water’ down the forward stack, quenching its number one boiler; definitely not a recommended event!

Gradually, as the storm subsided, shipboard routines began their return to normal and the crew readied itself for their next challenge; that of approaching, then steaming alongside a large auxiliary ship - an Oiler - to refill its fuel bunkers. While two ships thus travel close together, the seas always run rough and turbulent between them, even in calm conditions. With the storm not yet over, steadily navigating side-by-side this close to another vessel was tricky enough by itself, without the necessary complication of hooking up to an overhead hose system that allowed fuel to be pumped across the span of 200 to 300 feet of turbulent water running wildly past. But, with this needed task at hand, crew members carefully prepared to venture onto the main deck and man the ropes to pull the fuel hoses over from the Oiler, then hook them up and begin to receive the heavy residual oil - called ‘Bunker C’ - into DDR 880’s tanks. 

The first monkey-fist weighted leader line was twirled and thrown over from the Oiler and caught, then hauled in by the crew, allowing a larger line -tied to the leader- to follow. This larger line was for actually hauling over the fuel hoses, a task that proved overly difficult, forcing the crew to either let it go, or risk being pulled overboard. Again, the Oiler’s monkey fist flew, bringing the leader line over to DDR 880, and again the attempt failed. By this time the crew, being thoroughly wet, knew the drill and the new danger hauling the refueling hoses over entailed. Again and again, the monkey fist made a brief visit to the vessel, failing four more times to bring over the hoses. Finally, the seventh attempt succeeded, allowing sufficient fuel to be pumped into the thirsty vessel to sustain it for a few days, until it made port in the Bay of Biscay.

Relief came at last for the tired crew and damaged equipment aboard, as the storm’s fury finally blew itself out. Later, in swapping sea stories, we learned that other ships had also dealt with traumatic conditions that threatened damage almost as severe as DDR 880. In fact, two newer vessels with experimental aluminum superstructures, suffered structural failure and personnel casualties, requiring their being towed into Portsmouth, England for extensive repairs. 

What the young helmsman learned was that the sea was a mighty force that could not be tamed, especially in a storm, but could be carefully coaxed into allowing ships and men to live for another voyage, if one had the necessary skills and experience. From the moment his ship made port, he committed those lessons to indelible memory, to be used again whenever ocean conditions might threaten.

The remainder of DDR 880’s cruise was relatively uneventful as far as excitement is concerned. Nevertheless, both helmsman and crew seemed to approach each day with newfound awareness of what could happen and how best to deal with it. This is the essence of training, including development of teamwork and safety consciousness. Respect for the sea is a tradition with mariners, particularly those who survive for long. Poseidon does rule the waves, but also all things nautical; this is not just mysticism, but eternal reality! Davy Jones awaits those incautious enough to dare him.
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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Short Stories: The Sentinel



The Sentinel

The observer remained motionless in the dark, his black cloak masking every feature except for his own faint silhouette whenever the clouds thinned. He was naturally well-suited to this job as a trusted sentinel, having spent several years training his keen night vision, hearing and sense of smell into a formidable ability to immediately detect the slightest movement or change in his surroundings, whether due to the wind or other causes. He also had the remarkable ability to keep stealthily alert for long periods and still remain poised without discomfort; traits easily noticed and admired by those who knew him. It was a lonely job, but an important one, and this sentinel actually enjoyed the silence, independence and personal satisfaction it provided. But, he also knew -with certainty- that he would be handsomely rewarded after each such successful vigil.
Every night, as his wards slept soundly, the sentinel would leave his post just before dawn and carefully patrol the perimeter until he was satisfied that all was well. Then, he would quietly make his way back to his next assigned position, recalling as he went what he had seen, heard and sensed during this latest watch. He did this instinctively, summoning all his training, innate cunning and the genetically inherited characteristics of his unique breeding.

Off-duty, the sentinel assumed a different personality, enjoying activities with those he liked, regularly visiting favorite haunts, napping often and eating well. Yet, he maintained his fitness and health easily and without much effort at all. A remarkable physical specimen with a pleasing personality, he was widely admired and liked. But, this he seemed to take in stride as simply befitting his nature. He did dislike loud noise, confinement, traveling in vehicles not under his control, and being bothered or threatened by unwelcome visitors. And, occasionally, he liked to chase and kill. Gideon was his given name, although he rarely answered to it. He preferred certain other nicknames instead, but communicated vocally only as it suited him, and in a style all his own. No one took exception to these peculiarities, least of all those who knew him.

This particular name - Gideon - seemed to fit him, since it conveyed the image of an Old Testament Biblical hero who was appointed by God to defeat numerous enemies of Israel, using only 300 men - an ancient equivalent of modern day special forces, or the Spartans defending Thermopylae.
That Gideon had also reconnoitered the enemy camp at night, gathered intelligence, then launched a surprise attack, using bugles and torches to frighten Israel’s greatly larger force of enemies into first attacking themselves, then retreating in a rout. The victorious Gideon then reluctantly served as Israel’s ruler and esteemed judge for 40 years thereafter, dying in old age after siring 70 sons.
Should one deduce that Gideon was not an ordinary human, they are right, although his family of friends considered him capable of human traits, motives and reactions. He inspired such comparisons because he effortlessly endeared himself to - almost - anyone he met.

The sentinel’s actual name, bestowed upon his adoption was Giddy Gato, a quasi-Italian inspired version of ‘Kitty Cat’. It was strange enough to be noticed, yet accepted by most that came to know him. Most came to call him just ‘Giddy’. He was a member of the species ‘Felis Catus', an ancient group of mammals thought to have been domesticated in the Middle East almost 10,000 years ago. He was a Bombay cat, a type of short-haired cat developed by breeding sable Burmese with black American shorthairs, thus producing a hybrid with a sleek, tight, silky, black coat, resembling a mini-panther.

Kitten Gideon first found his wards by silently moving through ferns in a forest area when only 4 months old. Immediately adopted, he lived with them almost 11 years. One day, as his wards returned home from a trip, it was apparent that something was seriously wrong with Giddy, who was normally healthy. Now, he seemed lethargic, had visibly lost weight, and didn't respond to the usual irresistible enticements for food and fun. His wards waited a week, then took him to the vet for examination, definitely not his favorite activity.

The test results weren’t exactly good, so a different diet was prescribed, along with medications. This gave the wards hope; then came results indicating troubling abnormalities. Biopsy tests showed positive, still his wards remained in denial that Giddy had a dire disease from which recovery was doubtful. The wards paid more attention to Giddy than he could fully appreciate. This worked initially, but his downward trend resumed, so after two days of not eating or drinking and barely moving, Giddy was back at the vet again for intravenous re-hydration.

This time, the vet was blunt with the diagnosis, and the wards got the full message; Giddy was dying, and it was only a matter of days or weeks before his demise.
Although the implications had been right there in front all the while, the wards had chosen to hear only those parts they wanted to hear - that Giddy would improve and optimistically, his life might extend up to a year longer - but with suffering.
Yet, again, Giddy responded well to his new regimen, rallied strongly, gained weight and acted closer to normal, although without his old strength and vitality. Then, began his final decline, culminating with a peaceful death. Giddy had sensed that his time was approaching, and like most animals, was better prepared for it than humans.

One thing will always remain; our faithful sentinel - and watchcat -still honors our home, as his ashes reside in a memorial white urn, marked ‘Giddy Gato 08-08-08’. And, of course, our memories of the little creature that had miraculously invited himself into our home; had adopted US, loved us, enriched us, entertained us, and had brought much joy to the entire neighborhood.
Now, our refrigerator door magnet proclaims 'A House Is Not A Home Without A Cat’.










Short Stories: The Nap

Ray had never been an early riser, except for a stint in the Navy and the occasional need to get up early to catch a plane or keep an important engagement.  For those times when his usual sleep was shortened he often caught a nap later to compensate.
  
This particular morning was different since he could identify no special reason to rise early, just a vague strange feeling of something special about to happen. Even the weather seemed to portend an oddly mysterious day ahead. 

As a child Ray had been well nurtured by his mother who wished her son to be healthy, educated and comfortable.  Indeed, both parents always encouraged him to learn, explore and seek higher goals for his life. In fact, he did succeed in a broad range of endeavors, particularly those that interested him or provided a positive challenge.  Never very ambitious for higher office, status or income, Ray nevertheless sought to achieve excellence in whatever he did or aspired to, whether jobs, education, activities, or personal relationships.

Above all, Ray wanted to better understand and seek the higher meanings of life, adopting those philosophies and practicing those skillful means necessary to attain and live an enlightened life as a human being. Whatever that meant would become not only his goal, but  a constant life-long challenge for him.

As he grew older, Ray married, became a father and by choice held a succession of diverse jobs that often required relocation as well as the usual adjustments that can strain relationships, and in his case did.  His first marriage ended despite best efforts to save it and Ray was thrust into intense strain and despair that forced him to face the unwelcome reality and seek yet another change to both distract him from this failure and provide another job to support his new financial obligations - and himself.

Although Ray had never been afraid of new challenges before, this one was unremittingly tough at a different level and he began to hate just having to deal with it at all. He tried to lessen the pain by drowning it in drink, deaden it with distractions and smother it with more sleep, none of which worked.  For the first time Ray realized that more sleep wasn’t helping because it was restless sleep, often interrupted with unsettling dreams that interfered with his ability to think positively and perform well.

Eventually, Ray was fortunate to find yet another job, that also required a major relocation, which helped break his gloom.  The new venue required an energetic focus, which also began to positively affect Ray’s lifestyle, outlook and relationships.  Ray could see now how he’d gotten stuck in habits, patterns and expectations that were root-bound from his youth and sometimes unrealistically impacted both his goals and achievements, and personal satisfaction. This was a full mid-life crisis which Ray wanted desperately to resolve in a positive way.

Always a goal-oriented ascetic with high ideals, Ray decided he needed to broaden his lifestyle to include more personal enjoyment.  He found he could now adapt his interests outside of work to achieve a better balance and more personal happiness.

With a new focus on life, Ray was open to meet, love and eventually marry a woman with whom he shared many common interests. Immediately, Ray was happier than he had ever been. But, Ray’s new satisfaction with life was now threatened by yet another job crisis; his company went bankrupt forcing him to re-examine his skills, opportunities and goals, this time under duress.  While change had always been a part of Ray’s life, the sudden necessity for wholesale soul-searching, job hunting and possible retraining for lower level jobs thrust him into another very stressful situation.  This time, Ray decided to seek professional counseling, although again, he was tempted to retreat into sleep.

But, this time Ray’s crisis served to wake him up.  He reassessed his qualifications and soon found work in a new field, related to his prior work, that did not require relocation.  This new direction proved useful for several years, until one day Ray received a call from a former colleague who offered a job similar to ones Ray previously had held.  The only catch was, it required another relocation. Fortunately, Ray’s wife agreed to go with him and they began this new adventure together.

The new adventure was a happy one that endured almost 20 years before Ray’s next big crisis, which was health-related and happened shortly after his retirement.  In prime health, Ray became  suddenly aware of a serious illness, requiring major surgery and extended, debilitating treatment against long odds to bring under control.  His recovery required much rest, serving to reintroduce Ray to a former enjoyable habit.  Under these circumstances, Ray had time for personal reflection in the absence of normal physical activity and used that time to determine how he might gracefully meet his fate without trepidation and fear. Once this was done, Ray felt relief along with a clear sense of peace and equanimity, he began to fully enjoy his sleep.  The comfort, and calm Ray felt were almost addictive, allowing the stimulation of creative thought that made his waking hours more satisfying.  He became fascinated with his own family history, and actively pursued it.

As the enhanced connection with history evoked memories that recalled his life events, Ray began to re-live his life with a new perspective and throughout these protracted recollections, he seemed to float above it all, effortlessly and without attachment.  He liked that a lot.

As the distinction between waking and sleeping hours also began to fade, Ray noticed less conflict between the two states and welcomed it.  As he strived for a seamless reality, the very afternoon of the day he had that vague, strange feeling, Ray actually achieved it; when during a nap he first visualized, then spoke to and actually hugged his mother.  

This time Ray did not wake up - or did he?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Housing: ADUs & In-Law Units

An interesting 'News from City Hall' article appeared this week in the Glen Park News, a San Francisco neighborhood publication.
Written by Scott Wiener, a District Representative on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, it advocates a viable method of encouraging more affordable housing in existing neighborhoods.
I think its worth a read, so here it is, quoted verbatim:
I'm soliciting feedback from Glen Park residents about possible legislation to allow Glen Park property owners to add secondary units - also known as in-law units or accessory units - into the existing envelope of their buildings. The legislation also includes Noe Valley, (another nearby neighborhood) and would track successful legislation I authored earlier this year to allow new in-law units in the Castro. (another nearby neighborhood) I'll be attending the January Glen Park Association meeting to discuss the proposal. 
San Franciscans disagree about many issues, but one fact on which we all agree is that our city is in the midst of a housing crisis. Rents are through the roof, and home prices are increasingly out of reach for middle and working-class people. We need to employ various strategies to address this problem, including building more housing in general, creating affordable housing and keeping people stable in their existing housing. 
One strategy to address our city's housing needs is to allow and encourage people to add in-law units in their existing buildings - for example, by converting garages, large storage areas or partially above-ground basements into living units. 
According to various studies, in-law units are the most affordable type of non-subsidized housing, since they tend to be modest in nature and on the ground floor. They're also ideal for seniors and people who have trouble getting up and down stairs. They can be a good option for housing family members or simply for creating new rental units. 
San Francisco has historically been hostile to in-law units, but that dynamic is changing as more and more people recognize that we must create additional, diverse housing opportunities for our residents. The Board of Supervisors recently passed legislation I authored to allow existing illegal in-law units to be legalized, and also passed legislation I authored to allow for the creation of new in-law units in the Castro. I'm currently authoring legislation for owners of buildings undergoing seismic retrofits to add in-law units while they're at it. 
The Castro legislation, on which the Glen Park-Noe Valley legislation will be based, allows owners to add either one or two in-law units into their buildings, depending on the buildings' size. The units must be within the existing envelope of the building - that is, a building's height or bulk cannot be expanded to create the unit - and must be created from spaces not currently being used for residential purposes. An existing residential unit cannot be divided to create an in-law unit. 
The Building Code will be applied flexibly, similar to the treatment of historic buildings under the State Historic Building Code, except for life safety issues. In-law units in rent-controlled buildings will also be rent-controlled. Under our City code, if a garage is converted into living unit, the associated curb cut must be removed and the full curb restored, which usually creates a new street parking space. 
I look forward to receiving feedback from the community and to discussing the proposal at the January Glen Park Association meeting.

Hopefully, this concept can be used in Bellingham, notwithstanding that our housing problems are nowhere near as severe as San Francisco's.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

GPT: It's Never Over, 'Til It's Over

It was probably someone like Yogi Berra who stated the obvious quote above, but he was right, not only above baseball, but other things as well.

The proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal [GPT] and the well-financed folks behind it are an example of something many people oppose for good reasons that seems to have a momentum all its own.
Our community and others have expressed serious concerns about this project and the impacts it will have should it ever come to fruition. Yet, like a ravenous stalking predator, it keeps coming back.

It's quite possible that the only solution to the dangers GPT represents can only be the purchase of the property and physically removing it from consideration as a major coal export site.
Depending upon the cost, that solution could well be much cheaper than the cumulative myriad costs of social and environment harms that would certainly be externalized to the public should GPT ever be permitted to operate.

But GPT is only one such self-serving venture, albeit the one closest to our community. There are many others, known and in planning that could impose similar harms.

Several months have elapsed since I last blogged on the subject of GPT and related topics, but fortunately several others have been following it closely and reporting what they've found.

Today's Crosscut carries Floyd McKay's latest report, entitled 'Coal exports from Bellingham could ramp up rapidly'.

I strongly suggest reading it.
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