Saturday, July 13, 2019

Barry


Hurricanes were a way of life when I was growing up in New Orleans. My life has been touched by three major storms: Betsy (1964), Camille (1969), and to a lesser degree, Carmen (1974). I had left New Orleans by the time Katrina came along.

It’s an undisputed fact that hurricanes are getting bigger and stronger. The three storms I lived through fell during the “peak window” of hurricane season, from August 15 to September 15. Labor day weekend is the bulls-eye. Hurricanes are named alphabetically: this is significant when you consider that I survived Betsy, Camille, and Carmen during the same point in the season we’re now seeing storms named Katrina, Isaac, and Nate. Mathematically, that’s about a tenfold increase in hurricane activity in the last forty years. I’m just sayin’. Point it out to the next climate change denier you meet.


Right now we’ve all got our eyes on the Louisiana gulf coast, where Hurricane Barry is coming along somewhere south of Lafayette. My eldest brother and his wife are in its cross-hairs, as are my neice and her husband, but Lafayette’s pretty far inland. The scary part is the storm surge that’s going to be driven into New Orleans, which is already flooded from the rising Mississippi River and all the rain they’ve already gotten.

If any of y’all need an ark, I noah guy. 😬

Friday, July 12, 2019

Dancing With The Reaper


If there’s one thing I’ve gotten used to in the last twenty-seven years, it’d the fact that I’m dying. I’ve been dying for the last fifty eight years, and I don’t see any reason to stop now. I’ve come close more than a few times… from an operating table in 1992 while doctors sewed up a twelve-inch gash someone carved down my back with a box cutter, to pneumocystis in 2005 which sent my fever spiking to 104.6°, to lingering side effects from chemotherapy in 2014, causing me to waste away to 89½ pounds. I’ve rang the grim reaper’s doorbell more times than a Mormon missionary. I’ve fought a constant battle against AIDS since 1992 and gone two for two with cancer. I’ve even survived two major hurricanes and a tornado.

Now the diagnoses are starting to pile up. Something I brought home from Europe last year landed me in the hospital for ten days last September. They never did figure out what it was, until I flunked my pulmonary function tests last year and got diagnosed with COPD. It came as no surprise: after a forty-year smoking history and a relapse in Europe, where the cancer sticks are particularly nasty, it was a matter of when, not if. But something new popped up out of the blue. While starting respiratory therapy, a routine check of my vital signs showed that my blood pressure was 206/155. (Yeow!) That’s bad, like red alert bad. It’s “a stroke about to happen” bad. Fortunately this happened at physical therapy and there just happened to be a hospital attached to it, so they ran, not walked me to the Emergency Room where I spent six hours mainlining labetolol. They finally got me down to 177/117 before they gave me some blood pressure meds and sent me home. Now I’m monitoring my blood pressure several times daily and wondering if I even want to know what card the gods are going to deal me next.

There’s a lesson here, folks. Just because you feel fine, it doesn’t mean you are fine. See your doctor now and then, just to make sure.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Bigots With Bibles



ISIS, the “Islamic state,” is a fringe element of Islam, one most good and decent Muslims look down upon and have nothing to do with. They’re a dangerous force that needs to be suppressed, because theirs is a doctrine of violence and hate that has no place in a civilized society. But it is naïve to believe they are the only bad actors in this play. The greatest threat to America, barring any nuclear bombardment from North Korea, is bigger than just “radical Islamic terrorism.” It’s radical religious terrorism, and that includes the segment of the population that identifies itself as “Christian.” Like their Islamic counterparts, their dogma is a perversion of their faith, and they are more alike than either side will admit.

Like ISIS, or ISIL, or whatever you want to call it, this mutant strain of Christianity — I’ll call them Chrinos, because they’re CHRistian In Name Only — want to turn America into a “Christian State,” a caliphate where their warped interpretation of biblical law trumps the Constitution (no pun intended). The irony here is that there’s absolutely nothing Christian about them. A supporter of Roy Moore (whom they’d be crucifying in the town square if he were a Democrat) ignores the accusations of pedophilia against him, claiming that you “just can’t fake” the Christian values he professes. Bullshit. You’ve all been faking it for millennia. Jimmy Kimmel said it best:

 Burn!

Roy Moore is not a Christian, nor is anybody who would vote for him. They’re all Chrinos, stupid sheep following opportunistic wolves to the shearing, where they are fleeced for every penny that can be extorted from them. I wouldn’t be surprised if wealthy corporate donors were contributing to their ministries, where they persuade their deluded disciples to vote Republican because Jesus. The Republicans then pass a tax code that totally fucks the poor and middle class, but that’s okay, ’cause Jesus. Roy Moore gets to molest teenage girls because Jesus. Donald Trump gets to “grab ’em by the pussy” ’cause Jesus.

I call bullshit. I’ve read their book, and they’re doing it all wrong. Their religion teaches them not to be judgmental of other people (Matthew 5:2), that the rich should sell everything they have and give it to the poor (Matthew 19:21), and to be nice to foreigners living in their midst (Leviticus 19:34, Hebrews 13:12). Their Jesus said that he who lives by the sword shall die by the sword (Matthew 26:52), and I’m sure he’d feel the same way about firearms.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
— Matthew 15:8

What passes for Christianity these days is diametrically opposite to their scripture. They’re all for being judgmental when it comes to gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and the transgendered. They bend over for the rich and powerful. They despise foreign refugees. And don’t even get them started about their guns. These people are not Christians; they’re just bigots with bibles.

The only thing more tiresome than these hypocrites trying to force their archaic beliefs on the rest of humanity is their pathetic whining when somebody tells them they can’t. They start screaming about how persecuted they are when the law won't let them persecute others. They cry over what they consider “religious intolerance.” Again, I call bullshit. The truth is, we have tolerated religion for far too long, and the time has come for it to stop. Believing that some immortal sky spirit created the universe is one thing, but now their archaic beliefs are a threat to humanity, as they ignore the warnings of scientists about climate change, because Jesus. Meanwhile, the Chrinos and the Minos (Muslims in name only) are fighting a war with the rest of us in the crossfire, like two armies arguing over whether 2+2=3 or 2+2=5. Religion has become a threat to humanity.

Don’t try to refute me by pointing out the good things Christians do, either. None of these good deeds count if they are dependent on some imaginary being to make them happen. When I give to the poor, or comfort the afflicted, it means a lot more because I’m doing it of my own free will, not because my imaginary friend told me to. If God is the reason you don’t murder, rape, or steal, then you’re just a mindless automaton; your morality is invalid, especially when you support the likes of Donald Trump and Roy Moore. Nobody is buying what you’re selling.

Mind you, there are real Christians out there. You just never hear from them because they’re really Christians who follow the teachings of Christ as recorded in the gospels, not the xenophobic, homophobic, misogynistic baggage Paul added to it in the epistles. You don’t hear about them because they keep their faith to themselves, as their Bible teaches (Matthew 6:5), instead of waving it around and bragging about it like Tim Tebow. I just wish they would speak up and challenge the heretics who have corrupted their beliefs. Just like I wish more Muslims would call ISIS and Al Qaeda out.

It’s time for humanity to grow up.

Monday, September 25, 2017

The Russians Are Here! The Russians Are Here!

The Russians have invaded. Don’t bother trying to stop them; they’re already here. They came in through the back door from cyberspace. They created digital spies, fictitious Americans who existed only on Facebook and Twitter, an army of avatars inserting themselves into our sociopolitical discourse and giving voice to the unspeakable thoughts most people are afraid to say, thus empowering the real people who think such things to express them openly. Bigots who once hid their faces behind hoods and veils unmasked and marched their hatred proudly down city streets and on college campuses. It’s like some great evil has awakened and is spreading over America like a dark cloud. And it is. Ever since September 11, we’ve been a nation driven by fear and distrust, which is exactly what Al Qaeda wanted. That fear was our greatest vulnerability, and our enemies have learned to tap into it. They’ve not only hacked into computers, they’ve hacked into minds. Now they’ve taken control by influencing our election. This is nothing short of subtle cyber warfare, and it’s not the kind of war we can win with weapons. We’re going to have to fight this war with our minds.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

What Makes America Great

August was a wild month, starting with the clash between the Nazis and the Antifa in Charlottesville. Then we all forgot about politics for a brief, shining moment while we watched the solar eclipse (that I had to miss ’cause it rained where I was). We all came together again as well when Hurricane Harvey slammed into Texas as a category four hurricane that was worse than Katrina in terms of damage, though thankfully not in loss of life. It’s in times like this that heroes are forged, and the real heroes of Hurricane Harvey are the men and women of the “Cajun Navy,” basically just ordinary people who owned recreational motorboats. They were born out of Hurricane Katrina, rescuing stranded residents in New Orleans. They jumped back into service, maneuvering their fishing boats through the flooded streets of Houston, rescuing families stranded on rooftops as the flood waters claimed their homes. They came from all over the country, with their canoes and kayaks in tow. Anything that could float and carry people became a rescue vehicle, like the makeshift civilian fleet that rescued the Allied forces trapped at Dunkirk. They don’t have orders and they’re not getting paid, but their heroism and selflessness should stand as a reminder to us all that America is already great.

I know of two of them in particular. Kenny Bellau is a kid from my old neighborhood who was our “roving reporter” following the New Orleans East tornado back in February that passed within about 300 feet of my childhood home, with his bike and his cell phone camera. He brought it along when he took his boat to Houston, and provided live coverage of the rescue operations. Why some local TV station hasn’t hired him is beyond me. The other one I know is family. Jeff Peno is my cousin once removed. His father is one of three cousins I have in the affected area, from Nederland, Texas (just outside of Beaumont). I probably have other cousins in the region I don’t even know about. That’s how I know that in the long run, Texas is gonna be okay. Because they’re Texas.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Come Hell and High Water

Hurricane Harvey at 8 a.m. Saturday, August 26.
Hurricane tracking has always been a kind of hobby for me. Well, maybe not always a hobby; when I was a child, my life might have depended on it once or twice. I was the official “hurricane tracker” in the family. In second and third grade, I had dreams of being a meteorologist when I grew up, but I didn’t have the mathematical aptitude. Now, sitting at my desk in Minnesota, far outside the hurricane belt, I have all kinds of software for keeping an eye on the tropics when friends and family are in harm’s way. And Harvey is no doubt a family matter; I have three cousins who live near the Texas coastline.

My fascination with hurricanes comes from having survived two of the worst. My first was Betsy in 1965. I was about 4½ years old at the time, and didn’t know what a “hurricane” was. My second was Camille in 1969, which was much more memorable. For one thing, she was a freakin’ category five (though the Saffir-Simpson scale wouldn’t be published for another two years), and for another she was coming right at us! We made out a lot better from Camille than we did from Betsy. Camille veered north, passing us to the east and showing us her “weaker” side. After Betsy (whose maximum sustained wind fell one mile per hour short of the category five threshhold) we were without power for two weeks, and I learned that little ditty that rhymes yellow with mellow and brown with down. If you ask me, Betsy should be retroactively classified (the National Hurricane Center does that sometimes) to category five. She was as bad to New Orleans as Katrina was.

I usually put it this way: Betsy + Camille = Katrina.

But hey, this is Texas we’re talking about, and I’ll say one thing about Texans: they’re as proud, as strong, and as stubborn as they’re reputed to be. They’ve got this. Harvey’s about to learn for himself that ya don’t mess with Texas.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Eclipse 2017 : A Review


The Great American Eclipse of 2017 has come and gone, and I wish I could tell you what it was like to see totality, but I can’t. It isn’t that I can’t find the words to describe it, but rather because we had the dumb luck to pick the worst place to watch from: St. Joseph, Missouri.

No offense, folks, St. Joe is a fine town with a rich history — it was the starting point for the Pony Express back in the day. It’s just that the weather sucked. Bigly. We were going to go to the event at Rosecranz Airport, but nobody told us it was a ticketed event and was sold out. After driving around a while, we ended up at Lewis and Clark State Park a little southeast of town. Things looked hopeful at first, and we were able to see first contact and the first ten percent of the eclipse before the clouds and rain moved in and persisted throughout totality. I never got a chance to see the corona.

I did see something. It still got real dark, not as dark as night because the clouds were diffusing the light (damned laws of physics) and off in the distance we could see eerie glow on the horizon, as we were looking out of the umbra into the penumbra, where the eclipse was only partial. Some people brought their dogs, and they started acting really skittish. (Animals react to eclipses, it seems.) Birds stopped singing and crickets started chirping, thinking it was night. A few minutes after totality, the clouds broke for a minute or so, and we were able to put on our eclipse glasses and see a thin sliver of the returning sun. Then it clouded over again. It didn't look like it was going to let up, so we left. We had dinner in town, and by the time we got back to the hotel, the sky had cleared and I got to see the end half of partiality. And of course I was wearing my eclipse glasses, a good sturdy plastic wraparound pair that I can hold onto and use again. I only got one picture of the sun before it was obscured by clouds.

The sun over Rushville, Missouri at 11:05, about
half an hour before the eclipse began.
Fortunately, with a little luck and a lot of medications, I’ll have the chance to use them again in about six and a half years, when another eclipse will cut across the United States from Texas to Maine.

April 8, 2024
The path of totality will cross over or at least very close to Austin, Dallas, Little Rock, St. Louis, Indianapolis, Cleveland, Erie, Buffalo, and Niagara Falls. The little town of Carbondale, Illinois will have the rare privilege of seeing two total eclipses in seven years, as it is the point where the 2017 and 2024 eclipse paths intersect. It’s probably going to be a really big show, even bigger than this one was. For reasons I’m going to have to ask my go-to astronomer, Phil Plait about, totality is going to be longer next time. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance to see it this time without a rainstorm eclipsing the eclipse. Jim wants to go to Niagara Falls, but I’m trying to talk him into some place that won’t be as chaotic… like Sandusky, Ohio. Jim loves roller coaster, and they’re the roller coaster capital of the world. Cedar Point usually isn’t open in April, but I’ll be surprised if they don’t make an exception for the 2024 eclipse.

Even if there wasn’t going to be another eclipse in seven years, I’d still hold on to the eclipse glasses and binoculars. They can serve as a reminder of the brief, fleeting moment we all came together and forgot about politics for a while. Maybe it’ll come again in 2024, right as we’re heading into an election season. This could be interesting… because as Pink Floyd pointed out 44 years ago, “Ev’rything under the sun is in tune when the sun is eclipsed by the moon.