To Live in Interesting Times

By David L. Brown

The Chinese culture is enriched by a wealth of sayings about the vagaries of life. One such is in the form of a witty curse: May you live in interesting times.

Well, we are certainly living in such times today. The vision we’ve had of ourselves, we Americans, has been torn to shreds. What was thought of as a more or less unified society of people leading so-called normal lives, a Leave It to Beaver world, has become infected by a patchwork of toxic special interests, battles between warring tribes, and competing subsets of cultural anomalies and ideologies.

Our nation is in danger of total collapse in the face of the greatest danger our people have ever faced. No, it’s not the North Koreans, the Russians, China or Iran, for this most ominous of  threats comes from within. The battlegrounds are our schools, our churches, our universities, our corporations and our governmental agencies. It is a danger that goes like rot to the very core of our civilized society.

In this essay I will discuss just one facet of these interesting times, the fact that the rot and destruction of our society is promoted and gleefully shouted from the rooftops 24/7 by the very organs of information that should be a bulwark against such a deadly menace: Our news media. No longer content to report unbiased news and offer objective opinion, it has turned to manufacturing verbal and written garbage and spreading it wholesale to the entire world. Holding high the banner of truth, it has made itself a purveyor of lies.

I was trained and worked as a journalist in the days before the press and media became weaponized against the people. I earned a degree from the top-ranked journalism school in the nation and perhaps the world. In that time, more than five decades ago, journalism was struggling to rise out of its past, a past sullied by the practice of so-called Yellow Journalism.

For many years the press had taken sides in the public debate and acted as a kingmaker, a molder of opinion rather than a reporter of it. It had acted as a source of propaganda rather than a trusted and neutral source of information from which citizens could make sound decisions. It acted counter to its role as a free and valuable force for good as defined and protected along with other basic human rights by the First Amendment of our Constitution. Thus had William Randolph Hearst been able to brag that his newspapers had caused the United States to enter into war with Spain based on fake news about the sinking of the battleship Maine.

In that era of the 1950s and early 1960s when I entered upon the scene, journalism sought to earn respect as a profession, akin to the esteem in which medicine, the law and engineering were held. Standards of ethics were created and held out as models. Academic standards were enforced in J-Schools. Journalism at last seemed to be taking its place as a valuable and positive force in society.

And then came Watergate when the Washington Post took it upon itself to bring down a presidency in collusion with a disgruntled FBI agent named Mark Felt. Suddenly everyone in the field wanted to be an “investigative reporter” like Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. The news business turned back on its path toward respectability and entered a new era of Yellow Journalism.

And boy, if you thought it was bad before just look at it now. Thanks to television, cable, the Internet and an unending 24 hour news cycle, what was once a kind of quaint background noise to the affairs of our nation became a raucous cacophony of manufactured “news” that became a dominant force in our society. Add in the cancer of so-called social media and such vampire-like entities as Google and you have a recipe for a Frankenstein monster that is eating our society from the inside out. No, that monster from the Victorian age is inadequate to describe the situation. Let’s think in terms of thousands of Godzillas, giants trampling our society beneath their horny feet and threatening ruin to our precious republic, all for the love of money.

And these new forces of evil are not just dominant but destructive, because media entities are engaged in a vicious competition to capture the attention of the public in ways never previously possible. The trouble with journalism is that what attracts attention also draws advertisers, and advertisers are the life blood of any media business. With literally hundreds if not thousands of media outlets vying for our attention, they could never succeed through calm, impartial reporting of the facts. Indeed, the rule in journalism today has become “If it bleeds, it leads,” and the practice is for media darlings to run around with their hair on fire shouting that the sky is falling. It is a practice of ruling through fear, and all too many Americans have fallen into the trap of believing all the hype. Because of manufactured fear children are no longer allowed to be children, adults cower behind locked doors, and evil prowls our streets by day and night encouraged by the thought that fear and danger comprise a natural state.

As always when the pendulum swings too far in one direction there is an eventual reversal and we may be seeing a counter trend to the destructive forces at work in our world today. Each day more people are seeing the scales lift from their eyes as it becomes clear that the media are not sources of fair and balanced reportage. As outlets reach increasingly extreme levels of hand wringing and fear mongering, their credibility is waning. Most people today have lost trust in the press and electronic media, as reflected in this 2017 report by the Gallup polling organization:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Americans’ perceptions of news media bias have increased significantly over the past generation. Thirty-two percent believe the news media are careful to separate fact from opinion, well below the 58% who held this view in 1984. Meanwhile, 66% currently agree that most news media do not do a good job of letting people know what is fact and what is opinion, up from 42%.

As with a fish, rot starts at the head. It is the major media oligarchs who count the beat for media empires engaged in mass deception and bias. While many journalists are on board with the practice of manufacturing fake news, some few are not. Small, local newspapers and broadcast stations are the last hold-out of simply honestly reporting the news. And yet, and yet, sadly more and more of these are joining the parade of deceit and abuse of their First Amendment rights. Unfortunately, multi-billion dollar media corporations are buying up once independent local outlets and stamping them with the brand of their fake news model.

Enough on this. In future essays I will examine other aspects of this subject, for the causes of the problems we face as a free society are not limited to the media, not by a long sight. In fact, as we will discover, the rot has spread to every corner of our once-great civilized nation.

Posted in Communications, Conflict and War, Economics, Global Security, Politics | Comments Off on To Live in Interesting Times

Reactivating Star Phoenix

By David L. Brown

I began blogging on this site in 2006. For about five years I posted fairly regularly, usually with in-depth essays, more than 400 in all. After the death of my wife in 2011 I became interested in other things and have only posted a half dozen or so times in the last seven years.

Star Phoenix Base sprang from my belief that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) was real and a serious threat to the planet. Over the last decade it began to look doubtful to me and my thoughts on the subject have gradually turned almost 180 degrees. I no longer believe global warming is a serious threat, and am puzzled how in the face of much evidence against it the true believers still hold that we are facing certain doom unless we … what?

There’s the rub, for all the solutions appear at their heart to be scams to extort money from some people to give to others. Mainly to take from the rich and give to the poor. It’s Robin Hood on a global scale. The perpetrators spread fear in order to control and extort from the masses, whether to gain research grants, push through taxpayer support for questionable green initiatives, obtain political power or create business advantages.

The whole AGW thing, as it turns out, is not science. It is another S-word, socialism, a wolf wearing the clothing of a sheep. The Paris Accord, should it have been carried out, would have transferred many billions and perhaps trillions of dollars from the First World (primarily the U.S. as we would have been the deep pockets player) to the Third World. And for what return? Apparently all that vast investment would have lowered the presumed global warming by something like 0.1 degree C. over the next hundred years or so. In other words, it would cost much and make hardly any difference at all.

There has been no “hockey stock” of upward zooming global temperatures, and in fact based on a number of reliable data sources there has been no increase in global temperature during the last two decades or so. Not that those who want the scam to continue don’t continue to run around yelling at clouds and declaring that each month is warmer than any previous one, each year the hottest ever, and the planet doomed to turn into a furnace that will make all life impossible. Some still claim our planet will turn into another Venus, with temperatures many hundreds of degrees warmer than at present. Ooh, danger Will Robinson! Danger!

To which I say hogwash. Advocates of AGW complicate and magnify the issue by deliberately confusing the difference between climate and weather. Every weather event is blamed on AGW, now conveniently rebranded as ‘Climate Change” (CC). Thus it no longer matters whether the weather is hot or cold, wet or dry, for anything and everything can now be appropriated as evidence for CC. If it snows in Michigan in April, why it’s due to CC. If a hurricane appears, ditto. If it gets hot in the summer in Texas, why run for cover it’s CC and the sky is falling. They are all a bunch of Chicken Littles.

This is silly because there have always been aberrant weather events and always will be. They are not signs of the coming climate apocalypse, but merely our planet doing as it always has, which is to change. Sometimes it changes in one direction, sometimes in the other. Although believers try to deny it, there have been warmer periods in the historical past, such as the Medieval Warming Period. There have been colder times such as during the Maunder Minimum, not to mention the periodic glacial epochs of the more distant past.

The obfuscation reflected in the change of terms from AGW to CC was necessitated because the climate stubbornly refused to follow climate models that predicted a steady rise in temperatures. When you change the game from warming to merely unspecified change, you can blame everything on it. Everything, as it turns out, from a chilly morning in July to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and even the misbehavior of murderous jihadists.

There is a long history of humans being manipulated through the invocation of imaginary threats. Children were told to be good or the Boogey Man would emerge from under their bed. Whole civilizations were held in thrall to powerful gods armed with lightning bolts and magical powers. In some instances human sacrifice was demanded to protect the survivors against threatened doom. Thus were Canaanite children thrown into the burning belly of Baal and living hearts cut from the breasts of millions of sacrificial victims in Mesoamerica. Is it possible that AGW and CC are just such imaginary threats, with the purpose of controlling and manipulating the populace? It seems likely this may be the case. Thankfully we’ve not (yet) reached the stage of requiring human sacrifice (although it could be noted that the widespread practice of late-term abortion is reminiscent of the practices of Baal worshipers).

Incidentally, and perhaps not by coincidence, Baal began as a weather god and evolved to become supreme among the gods of the superstitious people who worshiped and sacrificed to him. Are AGW and CC reincarnations of this ancient deity? Something to consider.

For what good it may do, I have resolved to let my tiny little voice once again speak out in a world filled with the clamoring ravings of millions. I am renewing my dedication to this little weblog. No longer will I report and comment in support of the idea that we are moving toward the precipice of a climate apocalypse. Instead I will explore alternative concepts and the reasons behind the promotion of this modern day myth.

But that’s not all, for there are many even more important subjects to examine and discuss, things that are real and that are having true impact on the direction of what we humans call civilization. Alas, there is little that is civil in much of what goes on in the world. I will write on many subjects that attract my interest, and invite you to come along for the journey. See you soon.


Posted in Climate Change, Default File, Ethical Issues | Comments Off on Reactivating Star Phoenix

Living in a Non-Private World

By David L. Brown

I first noticed the intrusive nature of the internet about five years ago when I wrote a private, personal email to another Ace of Spades member offering to review his novel, and in the subject line I used the phrase “I’ll be your dog.” Within hours I began to receive spam emails offering me dog food, veterinary services, all kinds of dog-related products and services.

About the same time someone mentioned something called a “walk-in tub” to me. Never having heard of this, I Googled that product and learned what it was about. I am not and never will be a buyer of such a contraption, and only wanted to satisfy my curiosity. However, that Google search triggered a wave of spam emails that continues to this very day. I can only make a guess, but over about five years I have probably received and deleted between five and ten thousand spams on the subject of walk-in tubs, including several so far today.

This is bad enough, but now I have learned that one does not have to actually do an on-line search or mention certain keywords in an email to be targeted by intrusive spammers. It may seem hard to believe, but I am convinced and will offer evidence below, that our smart phones are listening to us all the time, even when they are locked and on the table or in our pockets. They are little electronic spies, always listening for us to utter keywords that can be collected and sold to spammers.

I first heard of this a few months ago by reading an account by a person who made this claim to a friend and was told that could not be true. He offered to demonstrate, and began to talk about a made-up story in which he was planning to go to Spain, where he wanted to rent a Jeep. Within a few hours, in came spams offering vacation deals in Spain and opportunities to rent Jeeps.

I decided try the same thing, and soon found similar results. I have learned that not every subject will result in hits by spammers. For example, when I made up a story about wanting to buy an ultra-light aircraft I got no hits. I suppose this is because there are no spammers wanting to pay Google, Apple, or Microsoft for keyword leads. I have gotten many very positive and direct results, however.

Here are a few examples of things I have experienced just in the last two or three weeks:

  • When I was chatting with a friend who is a wine lover, I mentioned that years ago I used to buy a French wine called Mouton Cadet. Within less than 24 hours I received spam messages offering to sell me (can you believe it?) Mouton Cadet wine. Hadn’t heard of it for about 40 years. What a coincidence!
  • On another occasion about two weeks ago I began to receive dozens of offers to buy Dr. Seuss books. I couldn’t figure that one out until I remembered that a day or two before this started my friend had made a wise-acker remark about “Horton Hires a Ho.” Horton (the Elephant) as a keyword leads to Dr. Seuss and has resulted in dozens of spams, sometimes as many as 20 or more a day. As we talked my phone was sitting nearby, doing its quiet listening thing.
  • At the same time I also started to get spams from “Elmo,” and when I mentioned this to my friend along with the facts about the Dr. Seuss spams he recalled that we talked about toys that talk to children, among which is Elmo. BTW, I am a 76-year-old childless widower and have about as much interest in these subjects (or walk-in tubs or many other things that appear in my inbox in an endless stream of spam) as I have in putting my head in a vice and squeezing until my brains burst out.

Most recently, a few days ago I had a client for one of my photo tours. Before we departed in my Jeep we stopped by his car to pick up a jacket. It was a Range Rover, and later as I was driving, locked iPhone in my pocket, I asked “How do you like your Range Rover?” We talked about that for a moment, so I should not have been surprised that night to discover spam in my inbox offering me opportunities to buy, lease or rent Range Rovers.

But here is what is really interesting. During our time together he was shooting with a Leica camera. At one point, I asked him if he had a polarizer filter for it. He said he did not. Thinking I might be able to loan him one, I asked if it took a 52mm filter. He said, no, it was a 38mm polarizer.

Well, my iPhone was tucked in my pocket and turned off, but obviously listening. About two days later I was looking up something on Amazon and noticed something that got my attention. In the display below my search result on the bar containing “recently viewed items,” there was a Leica 38mm polarizer filter.” Trouble was, I had not recently viewed that item, and in fact had never viewed it – I had only talked about it within hearing distance of my iPhone.

Yes, the iPhone was definitely listening for keywords in my conversations, and those keywords were being shared with Amazon as well as dozens of email spammers. There is no way this could be due to coincidence.

There are other examples, far too many and too specific to possibly be due to coincidence. I have no doubt whatsoever that my iPhone is listening to me all the time, and no doubt reading this as I write since I am using it as my internet connection so it is plugged into my computer. It is seeking out keywords that can be sold to a variety of spammers who launch cascades of never-ending spam messages to my two email accounts, which are also connected to the phone.

I have no doubt that the NSA gets feeds of anything that sounds like a threat to national security, as we all have come to suspect. But the fact that I am being constantly monitored by my phone (and perhaps my Macintosh computer, my Sony TV set, my LG pad and who knows, maybe even my toaster) for purposes of feeding my personal information to spammers is very disturbing. It is a sign that we live in a very different world than we may have thought, one that makes the plot of the book 1984 seem like weak tea by comparison.

I remember an old movie in which the protagonist seeks to discover the source of some evil spying activity, only to discover that “it’s the phone company!” Well, maybe it IS the phone company, or at least the makers and sellers of digital phones and other items, to wit Google, Apple and Microsoft, no doubt with the aid and collusion of governments and, yes, the phone company of course.

I remember reading that during the Obama administration members of Google management visited the White House something like 250 times. Hmm, something big must have been going on. I am convinced that it has to do with what I am experiencing, for think what the next step might be if everyone’s smart phone is being used to listen in to everything we say, every place we go, and who knows, perhaps even using the built-in cameras to watch us or those with whom we interact?

Well, I can imagine it and it is not pretty. Blackmail. Use of secretly obtained information to bend someone to the will of the holder (perhaps such “someones” as a Senator or a Supreme Court Justice or even a presidential candidate).


Perhaps actual monetary blackmail is already taking place on a wide scale, where secrets obtained by listening in on private conversations are used to extort money from less-than innocent victims (for example, cheating husbands or wives). That may already be a “thing,” and who knows where it will stop?


I have pondered whether this knowledge should lead me to make changes to my life. I feel violated, and while a friend with whom I discussed this subject pointed out that as long as I am not doing anything wrong it should not matter, it really DOES matter. My illusion of privacy has been utterly destroyed. There are, well not “people” as such, but machines, massive computer networks listening to me whenever I talk around my phone (or computer, pad or whatever). I am sure of it.


There was a great but little noted German movie that came out a few years ago called “The Lives of Others.” It was about the intrusive spying in East Germany, where privacy was virtually non-existent. It did not come to a good end. Are we in a similar situation now? I think so, and it is extremely concerning.


Should I feed my iPhone to the toaster (there would be sweet irony in that), or continue to live as if under a microscope? I don’t know. Like nearly every human being alive today, I am addicted to the convenience of a hand-held device that acts as phone, internet connection, video player, e-book repository, GPS device, calendar, calculator, and so much more. It truly is like science fiction … but is the loss of privacy worth it? I wonder.


It would not be easy to go back to the old ways. There used to be phone booths everywhere from which you could place calls to and from anywhere in the world. During a year I spent traveling around Europe in the 1990s, that was how I kept in touch with home, and there was never a lack of a phone, even in the most remote villages. Now, with smart phones in every pocket, that option no longer exists.


Mail service is a dying thing and the service is terrible. Fax machines would probably fall prey to the malicious listeners. Smoke signals might be a possibility for some situations but seem impractical on the whole.


How does one live under the biggest, most invasive microscope ever conceived of in the mind of Man? I don’t know, but I do know that I don’t like it and I suspect it will come to a bad end.

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Yes I am still alive

By David L. Brown

Well, it has been about five years since I posted anything here, and if there is anyone out there (Hello-o-o?) you may have thought I had passed beyond the realm of the living. Not so, for as Mark Twain famously said “The rumors of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

Anyway, yes, I live and have been busily engaged in things other than blogging. It is a shame that all the effort of past years lies untended and abandoned. I have often thought that I should edit a collection of some of my essays (there are some 400+ of them on this site) and publish it as a book. Perhaps I will, in the sweet by and by.

Just wanted to check in and really, to test the site to make sure it still works. The world has changed dramatically in the more than a decade since I first began writing here. I may soon begin to post again, and the direction of my thoughts will be quite different from in the past.

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On Reading

By David L. Brown

From time to time I have written on various aspects of writing. Today I’m looking through the other end of the telescope to consider the subject of reading, for without the ability to read no one can either write or learn from the writings of others. And, as we’ll see, by “reading” I mean far more than the ability to recognize letters and spell out words.

This subject was brought to my attention about a week ago when I attended an awards banquet for an international writing contest (yes, I was there to receive two awards, one first place for best novel in the mystery/thriller/suspense/adventure category and a third place for a non-fiction book). Someone on the program prefaced the awards presentations by reading a long document that was supposed to be amusing and entertaining. Unfortunately, she could not read in any useful sense. She stumbled over words, put emphasis in wrong places, mispronounced words, failed to “get” some of the jokes, and sometimes read… each… word… in… a… sentence… spaced… out… like beads on a string as if there were no connection between them. It was painful to watch.

The person in question, who shall remain unnamed, describes herself on the website of something called the “Albuquerque Metaphysical Reading Group” as “a writer of metaphysical fiction and nonfiction”. Hmm. She actually belongs to something that identifies itself as a “reading group.” Curious.

Anyway, the experience got me thinking about the connection between writing and reading. To my mind it’s not a chicken-or-egg thing. The ability to read clearly and well is a necessary prelude to good writing. As we enter the adventure we call life, our brains are empty vessels waiting to be filled with content. Think of them as like hard drives. We can choose to fill them with whatever we want, from meaningless babblings to rap music to pornography. Or, we can fill them with ever more complex knowledge about the world and how things work. That’s what a classical education was supposed to be about, in the days before higher education turned into a kind of holding pen and party central for young adults.

And how do we fill those empty spaces in our heads with useful content? By listening to a teacher drone on about something? By comparing opinions with others whose heads are equally vacuous? Through some kind of magical osmosis in which we sit on a couch watching the Cartoon Channel? Well, no, the real answer is that if our brains are to be supplied with useful stuff it will be through reading quality pieces of writing. Anything else is just static and background noise. GIGO, as the IT folks like to say, garbage in, garbage out.

No person who has failed to master reading and acquired a deep understanding of the written language will ever be able to produce clear, analytical writing. It follows as night after day that the ability to read and understand good writing is the key to being able to write same.  If you fill your head with junk don’t expect to generate pearls of wisdom expressed in stately sentences.

And as mentioned above, reading is a lot more than just being able to recognize letters and words. As in the case of the contest chairman who read sentences as if each word was a separate bullet from a gun, it’s the connections between words that are important, the flow of the words in their total effect.  Words are only the bricks and mortar from which sentences, paragraphs, chapters and entire books are built. To stretch the metaphor, look at it from the point of view of the architect, not the guy who carries the bricks.

Reading really well, like anything else of importance, requires practice, a lot of it. There is a rule-of-thumb that to master any difficult task requires ten thousand hours of practice. This applies to such things as brain surgery, concert musicianship, baseball and, yes, reading. Then, on top of that, schedule another ten thousand hours of writing to master the craft. Excellent writing, in other words, may require a twenty thousand hour commitment.

Unfortunately, many people travel through life without ever learning these skills. The Calvin and Hobbes cartoon at left illustrates one form of so-called “writer’s block,” and in that case it may be real. The other kind of writer’s block is the more fundamental lack of proper preparation through having mastered reading and thus the art of writing. Frankly, I consider it to be bogus. When I managed a public relations agency sometimes staffers would plead “writer’s block” when their work was past its deadline. “I don’t know how to start,” they might say. I never accepted that, telling them to just begin to write and the proper beginning would come to them later. That’s what scissors and paste were for (yes, that was in the good old days before PCs and word processing).

There is a related and much-ignored art that was once taught alongside reading and writing. It’s called diction and it’s all about how words are used in speaking and writing to communicate clearly. One of the best ways I know to judge a piece of writing is to read it aloud, and I don’t mean in a monotone. Read the piece as an orator might and you can get the feel of how the words are working together. Sometimes having them pass over your tongue gives you a clearer sense of how well your sentences are crafted. In speaking as well as in writing, the “flow” of the words matters.

Reading aloud is also a good way to improve reading skills. Remember that the written word is a relatively recent arrival in history, and it’s nothing more than an often imperfect method of recording speech. Speaking, reading and writing are the great triad of human communication, evolved over a long period of time. Each is related to the other, and none can stand alone.

Final conclusion: Want to write? Learn to read.

Posted in Essays and Opinion, On Writing, Personal Memoir | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on On Reading

A Personal Reminiscence of My Wife

By David L. Brown

Pat in a photo taken on Halloween night, 1978.

This is a personal note for today, which is a special day in my life. If my wife Patricia still lived, this would have been our 50th wedding anniversary. Sadly, she passed away June 21, 2011.

Our life together was rewarding and yet troubled due to  mental illness that struck her in her late 30’s. She had been very smart, hard working, cheerful and productive but after a terrible nervous breakdown and hospitalization she was never the same. For the last 30 years of our marriage she was on anti-psychotic medication and suffered several more relapses that required hospitalization, including one for more than 60 days in 2002 and another a few years later.

The Polaroid snapshot shown here shows Pat a few years before her first breakdown. It portrays the confident, charming, friendly wife I shall always remember. Sadly, there were many subsequent years during which she was a different person altogether. Not that she was bad or unfriendly, but the confidence was gone. She still had moments of humor and we had some good times, but they were few and always interspersed by troubled times of  problems. In addition to her mental illness she was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes had periods of paranoia during which she imagined threats from things that were not real.

I miss Pat more than I can tell, but am going forward with my own life. Last spring, after she had been gone for about a year, I wrote a poem about Pat and our lives together. I want to share it with my friends and readers, so here it is. It is very personal but I feel it is important to share Pat’s story. Please join me in remembering a kind and generous human being who brought much happiness into the world, but whose life was blighted by the dark cloud of mental illness.
Twice I Was Married
An Autobiographical Poem

Twice I was married
Yet not to different wives.
First for twenty years to Pat,
My loving wife,
Vibrant, smart and sane.

Then for thirty more
I shared my life with Pat,
The same yet different,
My troubled, childlike wife.

It was a Pat transformed,
The victim of a dark and evil thing
That crept unseen into her mind
Like poison or a spell.

Schizophrenia. It is a thief
Of souls, destroyer of lives.
For thirty years we lived beneath
The awful shadow of that thing
That stole her spirit and her pride.
In vain I hoped for better times,
In silent agony.

Sometimes strange voices spoke to her
That were not there.
Most times her medication
Held the terrible demons down,
Yet still the sickness waited,
Festering there inside her head
And gaining strength from year to year,
To twist and warp
Her thoughts.

Sometimes she didn’t want to live,
Twice ingesting pills like candy,
Later drawn by stomach pumps
In busy ER bays.
At other times hot blood had flowed
As wrist was sliced with knife,
Yet not too deep.

The years passed on,
The rhythms of our lives together
Rose and fell like gathering tides
From crest to trough.
Hope remained, and yet each crest
Was followed down and ever down
To new and deeper lows.

Paranoia is a funny thing.
There was a time when she believed
That I’d arranged her kidnapping
And hired actors to pretend
As nurses and psychiatrists.
In the psych ward that time she used
The public phone to call police,
Reporting her imprisonment.
When she told me that, she laughed,
Later, when a drug had pushed
The demons back.

Her end came suddenly, surprise
To me yet carefully planned.
At seventy years of age she’d borne
Her troubled mind for thirty some.
I left to run some errands, to a store,
And as I stepped toward the door
To leave she called to me
“I love you.”

I did not know that those would be
Her final words to me or anyone.
When I returned she’d done at last
What many times she’d tried.
On the patio, in a chair
She lay as if asleep, at peace,
A bullet through her troubled brain.

Yes I was married twice,
But not to different wives;
To two quite different versions
Of the same. One that was
Happy, bright and young,
The other sliding slowly down
Into the darkness and despair
That mental illness brings.

Those years were hard and yet
There was that one essential thing,
A common thread that tied it all
Together, linked my marriages
Into a single whole.

It was that thing that she
Expressed so well to me
In those last precious moments of her life.
It was the magic words she spoke:
“I love you,”
Her honest way of bidding me goodbye.

Posted in Essays and Opinion, On Writing, Personal Memoir, Psychology | Comments Off on A Personal Reminiscence of My Wife

Starve-Yourself-Old Theory Takes a Hit

By David L. Brown

For some time now there’s been an assumption floating around that if you reduce your caloric intake to about 30 percent below the required daily intake you will earn yourself more years of life. I suspect a lot of people have been acting on that theory and voluntarily starving themselves in hopes of living longer. I know one such and he looks like an Auschwitz survivor.

But, sad for them, a new long-term study with monkeys has sunk that battleship. The report in the journal Nature showed  no difference in life expectancy between monkeys fed a normal diet and those fed a restricted diet. An earlier monkey study at the University of Wisconsin claimed to have found a difference, but there was a flaw in that study. Unrestricted monkeys were allowed to eat as much as they wanted, thereby becoming obese. In other words, it was a study to compare simian analogues of Twiggy and Michael Moore, and therefore bore little relationship to reality.

The whole idea got started with a study of worms, which bear even less relationship to normal humans than Michael Moore, and was followed by a mouse study. But when it comes to humans, apparently the starve-yourself-old plan just doesn’t work.

Michael Moore look-alike could have taken part in Wisconsin study.

Actually, it’s not surprising to me, and in fact I don’t know why they bother to mess around with monkeys because there has been an ongoing human experiment with billions of participants. It’s called real life, in which some people are consistently underfed thanks to poverty and food shortages while others eat like, well, Michael Moore. And the data from that experiment is pretty clear in squelching the idea of calorie restriction for life extension.

For example, the country of India is well-known for its large numbers of malnourished individuals. If the theory were correct, those people would be living long and prospering. Well, at least living long. But in fact, India has an average life expectancy of just 64.7 years, compared with 78.2 years for the United States. I don’t have a figure for the less-fortunate citizens of India, but my guess is that those who are better off are living longer and raising the average, so the actual results for those on the involuntarily calorie restricted diets could be lower, perhaps much lower.

There are many other places where food is scarce and people live on the edge, and indeed even lower life expectancies are observed there. The worst case scenario is the island of Mozambique, where the average life expectancy is just 34.2 years. The world average is 67.2 years and most of the Third World lies on the bottom half of the scale.

In case you’re wondering, the country that is the longest-lived is Japan with 82.6 years. Some other top-end data points include: France, known for its rich and hearty meals, 80.7 years; Switzerland, 82.1; Australia, 81.2. None of these places are known for widespread malnutrition and famine.

I think the real message to take away from all this is that extremes are bad, and of course that’s what we all kind of knew all along. People who are unusually thin have few physical resources to fall back on in case of illness. We know that young girls who suffer from eating disorders often die young and obese people are in danger of heart disease, diabetes and other debilitating diseases. So eat healthy food in normal amounts, maybe accompanied with a glass of wine or two and you’ll probably outlive all the starve-themselves-old crowd, not to mention the waddling obese.

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Drought Colors America Red

By David L. Brown

I usually don’t write short posts on this blog. In fact, some may think I’m too verbose. Well, guilty I guess, although I like to examine subjects in depth and analyze the various factors involved. In this case, well, I’m merely going to post the map below, just released by the U.S. Agriculture Dept. It shows those counties reporting drought disaster. It requires no comment.

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Arctic Ice Melting at Accelerating Pace

By David L. Brown

As we all know by now there is no global warming or climate change, thanks to a concerted effort by deniers to insist that we all put our fingers in our ears and recite “La, la, la I can’t hear you”. Unfortunately, they forgot to tell Mother Nature because the planet continues to show signs of warming and as far as climate change, well just turn on the Weather Channel and draw your own conclusions.

One of the most significant “canaries in the mine” that I’ve been following for some time is the extent of Arctic sea ice. The Arctic ice cap has been melting fairly steadily, and I predicted about seven or eight years ago that we would see an essentially ice free Arctic Ocean by 2015. At that time the experts were saying it wouldn’t take place until the end of the 21st century, and while I was probably setting too early a target, the trends certainly indicate that it will almost certainly happen far sooner than was thought just a few years ago.

Why is the Arctic ice important? For one thing, it provides a heat shield for the Arctic Ocean itself, preventing it from absorbing solar rays during the long period of 24-hour Midnight Sun during the months of summer. Ice and snow reflect heat back into space, while open water is dark and absorbs the rays. The more open water is exposed, the more heat is absorbed.

This matters not only because it represents de facto global warming, but also because the Arctic is an important “climate regulator” and if it’s disrupted it can create havoc, particularly in the North Atlantic. That can cause climate effects in major population centers of North America and Europe, including the possible disturbance of the Gulf Stream, the warm waters of which prevent northern Europe from being like Siberia which is at a similar latitude but has quite different climate conditions.

Right now the Arctic ice cover is at its lowest point ever for this date, as shown in the graph at left. The blue line represents this year’s ice coverage as of yesterday, August 13, 2012. The dotted line is the record low point set in 2007. Above that is the average for the previous 20-year 1979-2000 period (represented by the solid black line) and the effect of two standard deviations to that average shown by the gray band. As you can see, not only has the 2012 ice coverage extent exceeded the record low, right now it’s taking a decidedly downward turn. All in all, we’re way out of what was normal during the last two decades of the 20th century. (I’ve cropped all but the most recent data points from the graph. You can see the whole thing here.)

One of the factors that’s often overlooked in evaluating the extent of sea ice is that it is a two-dimensional view of the situation. In other words, it only shows the ice covered areas versus open water. But like most things the ice is three dimensional. In other words, in addition to its surface area the ice has the third dimension of thickness, and that dimension has been steadily decreasing. Thus, the total mass of ice is far less than it was in past years, and thus the rate of melting is able to increase because there’s less total ice to melt. To understand this, you merely need to put a block of ice out on the driveway in front of your house in July (assuming you live in the Northern Hemisphere) and watch. At first the ice will seem to melt very slowly, almost like watching grass grow. But as thawing proceeds the rate appears to speed up until toward the end it virtually disappears before your eyes.

Something like that could be taking place in the Arctic Ocean. I haven’t looked up recent figures, but a few years ago to the best of my recollection I reported that the ice had averaged about ten feet in thickness back in the 1950s, and by the early 2000’s it had been reduced to only about three feet. It’s probably even thinner today, making the ice cover even more prone to disappearing. At right is a map of the present coverage, again as of August 13. Both these graphics are from the website of the National Snow and Ice Data Center (see link above). The white area, of course, shows the extent of the ice coverage and the purple lines indicate the previous “normal” boundaries, again the average during the 1979-2000 decades.. There’s obviously a lot of open water right now that was ice-covered at this date in past year, and that water is happily absorbing those solar rays. The annual minimum coverage, by the way, usually occurs in mid-September so we have about another month of melting ahead.

You might note the little X in the right center of the ice area. That represents the North Pole. A friend of mine recently visited that remote spot on a nuclear-powered Russian ice breaking ship. I remember a few years ago reading about how a similar vessel arrived at the pole to discover an area of open water…the pole itself was ice free. Quite a disappointment for the tourists I’m sure, because one of the great thrills of taking such an expensive trip is to get out and walk around on the ice at the top of the world.

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Keep Kicking that Ethanol Can

By David L. Brown

Yesterday I posted an analysis of the current forecasts for a poor corn crop due to heat and drought, and also mentioned that the obvious step to take is to suspend all ethanol production to free up the approximately one-third of the U.S. corn crop mandated to go to distilleries and into our gas tanks. If the corn crop drops by a significant degree, as seems likely, that mandated amount of corn will take an even larger bite out of the supply, perhaps even surpassing one-half of the total.

It’s deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra said. Back in 2008 I posted this editorial cartoon that appeared on the cover of Quill, the magazine of the Society of Professional Journalists. (I am a 50-year member of SPJ and am immediate past-president of the New Mexico chapter.)

That cartoon is even more appropriate today, because the USDA is refusing to put a stop to the travesty even though a world food crisis is inevitable, putting hundreds of millions at risk of famine. And today, writing in The Financial Times, José Graziano da Silva, the director-general of the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, wrote (as reported by Reuters here):

“Much of the reduced crop will be claimed by biofuel production in line with U.S. federal mandates, leaving even less for food and feed markets,” he wrote in an op-ed just a day before the U.S. government issues a pivotal crop report that is expected to show U.S. corn output falling to the smallest in six years and stockpiles at near record lows.

“An immediate, temporary suspension of that mandate would give some respite to the market and allow more of the crop to be channeled towards food and feed uses,” he wrote in a high-profile yet indirect message to Washington.

Obviously, the line has been drawn in the sand by those in charge in Washington and it’s to favor the owners and operators of ethanol plants vs. hundreds of millions of endangered human beings. And not to mention the “inconvenient truth” of food shortages and higher prices right here at home. Already, as I mentioned yesterday, ranchers are liquidating their herds in the face of dried-up pastures and hay crops. How bad is it way out West? I saw a post a few days ago from a rancher in west Texas who said that he’s received just three inches of rain in the last two years.  His critters have long since gone to market and he’s facing a bleak future.

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Posted in Age of Oil, Agriculture Issues, Energy Technology, Famine, Fossil Fuels, Global Security, Transportation | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Keep Kicking that Ethanol Can