Monthly Archives: September 2016

222. Too Many Mouths

This continues from yesterday’s post The Wall.

When I was a kid in Oklahoma, we had tornadoes just like now, but with less destruction. About the time I was born, a local town was hit, and people were still talking about it when I left for college. It was that unusual.

When I was in my early teens, we watched a tornado drop down and march across the prairie. It was five miles west of us and in plain sight. Every ten minutes or so there was an explosion of wood and tin as another barn got hit, and it collapsed one house just before it lifted up again. It walked six miles across the landscape, destroyed three or four barns, and one house. No one was killed. One woman was slightly injured and scared half to death when her house fell in on her.

If that same storm were to hit today we would see hundreds of homes destroyed, numerous injuries, and probably deaths. The difference — more targets.

**     **     **

I would give you a reference on this next bit of information if I knew it. It came from a classroom lecture during college in the late sixties, and if I ever knew its source, I don’t know it any more. Call it an honest memory, with figures subject to further verification.

When Europeans conquered Africa, according to earliest census information the birth rate and the death rate were both about 4% per year. Medical missionaries saw the massive losses to disease and set about rectifying things. Slowly, the death rate dropped to about 2% per year.

The birth rate never changed.

You can do the math. Kindness, sacrifice, and the eradication of disease took a stable population level and started it on its way toward overpopulation and famine.

**     **     **

Yesterday’s poem Hungry paints a bleak picture of the future. It could be co-oped by conservatives as a call for borders. I reject that interpretation. Walls won’t help. No country is strong enough to survive without a fundamental change throughout the globe.

This world is straining at its limits with five times the population that should exist. The reason is clear – too many births for the number of deaths.

It would be facetious – and heartless – to say we need more deaths. We need fewer births, and the change needs to be world wide. We fight against terrorism, pray for peace, and try to tamp down bigotry, but all of that will get us nowhere if we don’t solve the problem of overpopulation.

Science continues to produce wonders. We may be able to feed the world, even with a population expanded beyond today’s. We may; but where will we house them? And what will be the psychological effects of inhuman crowding?

**     **     **

Let’s get back to the small picture: I used to keep an aquarium in my classroom. Every fall my students would bring me some crawdads. In spring, we let them go. One year the crawdads died unexpectedly in mid-year. I left the aquarium in place and we watched what happened.

Once the crawdads were gone, we just had algae (only visible by a greening of the water) and a few water snails. They multiplied. And they shrank. Every week there were more snails and each snail was smaller. Eventually there were thousands of tiny snails inhabiting the tank, filling the water with veils of snail mucus, covering the bottom, and the sides, and clinging to the surface tension, and filling the mid-waters.

I am afraid that my students and I saw our future. Not a cataclysm. Not a nuclear war sending us all back to barbarism as the science fiction cliche would have it. Just more and more people living smaller and smaller lives, relentlessly moving into a future horrible beyond conception.

Hungry.

Raven’s Run 12

Chapter Four

Wahini was laying over too far. I could feel it even below decks, and as soon as I could, I disengaged myself from Raven, put on a sweater under my oilskins, and went on deck. Once I let Wahini fall another point off the wind, the pressure on her storm trysail eased and her masts came back closer to perpendicular.

I watched her and felt her motions for a while. She was still laboring. Even under that single small sail, she was sailing too fast. Her broad, blunt bow was crashing into the waves, sending shudders through her massive hull, and showers of spray cascading over the decks.

The wind was force eight and still rising. I released the lashings on the wheel and eased her into the wind as she approached the next wave. This time she took it obliquely, slid sideways as she went up the back of the wave, and slipped down the far side with a twisting, corkscrew motion.

For the next hour I steered her over the waves, letting her slip away to lessen their force. Eventually, I had to take down the last sail, change course, and run her off under bare poles. The masts and rigging alone were enough to carry her downwind as fast as I dared to let her go.

Once Raven stuck her head out of the hatch, looked around her, and slammed the hatch closed again. I didn’t blame her.

Wahini was not a typical yacht. She was a replica of Captain Joshua Slocum’s Spray, built to plans reproduced by Pete Culler.  Slocum had been the first man to sail around the world alone in 1895, and ever since, dreamers have been building replicas of his ship.

I had inherited my Wahini, left half-built in the corner of a trucking yard in the industrial district of San Francisco. When I had first seen her there, forlorn and abandoned, I had been bitten by the same sea fever. Over the next three years, Will Hayden and I had finished and launched her.

Slocum had twenty years of experience as a professional seaman when he circled the globe, but even still, he and the Spray had gone missing on a later voyage. The original Spray had been too shoal, too wide, and inadequately ballasted for her length and sail plan. She was extremely stable, up to a point, but if she lay too far over, she would just keep going until she reached her new position of stability – upside down.

When I inherited the Wahini, I had known none of this. By the time I found out, it was to late. I was committed. So I stayed at the wheel for the next fourteen hours, corkscrewing up and down the waves, and worrying.

#          #          #

Exhaustion, the pounding, twisting, heaving motion of the Wahini, the howl of the wind, an unseasonable cold punctuated by salt spray working its way down from the neck of my oilskins, drove all thought of Raven from my mind. But even fear can become numbed in time. By the third hour I was flogging my mind to remain on task; by the fourth my responses had become automatic while I dreamed awake. more tomorrow

221. The Wall

This post carries a poem at the bottom. Pardon me while I set the stage for it.

I wrote this poem years ago, when Trump wasn’t even a blip on anyone’s radar. It isn’t about him, but he eventually came to symbolize what the poem spoke against. When he started talking about a wall, I published the post repeated below, back in September of 2015. AWL was a new blog then, and no one was reading, so once again . . .

Have you ever asked yourself, “How could Germany have been fooled into following Adolph Hitler?” The answer is on your television this morning, and it is Donald Trump.

I’m not saying that Trump is a Nazi. I don’t see him as evil, merely foolish. But the techniques that have brought him to prominence are the same techniques that Hitler used.

First, appeal to a country’s deepest fears.
Second, claim to be the only one to have the answer.
Third, claim that your opponents are all cowardly and incompetent or, to use Trump’s favorite word – stupid.

The tactics are false. But the fears are real, so Trump promises his followers a wall to keep the world out. There is no wall strong enough to do it.

*****

This morning, September 15, 2015, Hungary closed its borders with a wall of razor wire. By the time this post reaches you, it will have been breached. Count on it.

The Hungarian Uprising of 1956 forms my first political memory. I was eight, and I remember sitting in front of the TV with my parents watching the streams of refugees escaping Soviet reprisals. Eventually 200,000 Hungarians fled. That memory makes it hard for me to watch Hungary put up a wall against Syrian refugees fleeing genocide.

Backed by Russia, East Germany built a wall across Berlin in 1961. It slowed the flow of refugees escaping from tyranny, but it did not stop them. And it didn’t stop the fall of East Germany.

There is a fence across our southern border that holds back no one hungry enough to jump it. Trump wants a wall to hold out “illegals” and a massive sweep through our country to deport the “illegals” who are already here. He wants declare that the 14th amendment doesn’t really mean what it says, in order to authorize the deportation of American citizens, born here just like you and I were.

Hitler would be proud. East Germany would understand. Russia is laughing.

*****

Poetry should stand without explanation, but, like anything else, it can be misused. So, be notified! This is not a right wing call to man the barricades to keep the enemy out, but a cautionary tale about what it will cost us if we don’t find real solutions.

Hungry

We who horde the common wealth
Upon this crowded planet,
Must look to see what lies beyond
Our barricaded borders.

The world stares back,
Unblinking eyes — prepared
To eat us all alive, and still be hungry.

                              It’s happened all before.

Once, seven in a cave drove out the eighth
With stones and fire-sharpened sticks,
Because the antlered carcass on the ground
Was not enough to feed them all.

And then in ancient days when kings and priests
Invented both religion and the law,
To fill their coffers so that they could eat
While those who raised the food went hungry.

Or yet again, when men of white
Despised the black, and black despised the gray.
And those whose colors ran together were disowned.
Color was enough to make them hate
But hunger taught them how and why
A thousand years ago.

Yet still we breed and laugh,
And play at deafness, though an angry sound
Declares the world is poised to seize its bread.

They will march like locusts through the earth,
And eat us all alive, and still be hungry.

This world is troubled. We are surrounded by people hungry for bread and freedom. Pointing a finger at them and saying, “It’s your fault!’ won’t solve our problems.

And a wall won’t do it. Never has; never will.

I’ll have more to say on this tomorrow.

Raven’s Run 11

She couldn’t kick in the tight dress, so she drove her spike heel into Davis’ instep, dodged Weasel, and ran forward. Davis and Weasel followed. It was fifty feet to the mesh half-gate. Within two steps, she knew she wouldn’t make it. They caught her, each one grabbing an arm, and she screamed. She got a good breath and screamed again, louder, until Weasel clamped his hand over her mouth and began pawing her. Davis pushed Weasel off and said, “There’s no time for that now.”

Davis twisted Raven’s arm up behind her back and shoved her against the rail. She could see the water rushing by forty feet below. Then they all heard the sound of the heavy steel door opening behind them.

Davis spun Raven around and threw his arms around her.

An old couple stepped out onto the deck and stopped. Raven tried to cry out, but Davis’ arms crushed the breath out of her.

The old man took them for lovers. He said, “Sorry,” with a wry smile, and pulled the door shut behind him as he retreated into the ship.

Davis spun her around, slamming her against the rail, and reached down to grab her thigh and tip her over. That was the part I saw, captured as an afterimage while Raven fell.

“I never fainted,” Raven said. “I never lost consciousness. I remember every foot of that fall – the water frothing out ten feet from the side of the ship and rushing up to get me. If I live to be a hundred, I’ll never forget that fall. I thought, ‘Just let me break my neck and die. Don’t let me drown.’ But reflexes took over; I straightened out at the last moment and went in clean.”

#          #          #

Raven had to stop her story. She had my hand in a death grip.  Wahini was pitching and rolling and groaning around us, but she took no notice of that. She was too lost in the memory of fear.

“The water was cold. I had thought it would be warm. When I went under, I could hear the throb of the propellers and I tried to swim away from the ship to avoid them. I couldn’t move my legs in that damned dress, so I peeled it over my head and kicked off my shoes. The sound was all around me – terrifying.  It scared me more than drowning and I swam straight out until I thought my lungs would burst before I came up for air.

“When I did come up, I couldn’t scream. I had used up all my air, and I could barely get a breath. The ship was rushing by, not fifty feet in front of me. I could see couples leaning on the rail above me, staring into the darkness. They never saw me. I tried to scream and just squeaked. It was horrible. It was worse than anything else that had happened. Seeing the ship roll by, seeing those people staring out over my head, and I couldn’t even call out to them. Then they were gone, the ship was gone, and I was alone.”

She came into my arms, sobbing, struck wordless by the horror of being left alone in the water as the ship rolled on uncaring into the empty ocean night. I braced my legs against the opposite transom and held her tight against the rolling of the ship and the trembling of her body. I could imagine dimly how it might have felt. Falling overboard is a constant danger to singlehanded sailors, and a reason to never go on deck at sea without safety harness. I could too easily imagine what it would be like to fall off Wahini and see her sail away, unmanned and uncaring.

I could imagine it, but Raven had gone through it. That would be a whole different story.

There were no words to comfort her. I simply held her. more tomorrow

220. Planets in Motion

planet story stick 5

Two hundred posts in a little under a year is something of a milestone. What began as an attempt to generate readers for my fiction has almost become a way of life.

I had planned to place this non-writing post as number 200, in celebration, until scheduling issues got in the way. You see, writing a blog isn’t the first activity that I began for the sake of my fiction — which then went on to take over my life. In the early eighties it was clear that I wan’t going to make a living writing novels, and needed a day job. I began working as a substitute teacher to earn some extra money. I was strong, loud, and male so they sent me to middle schools. Substitute teachers don’t like middle school. If you think back a bit, I won’t have to tell you why.

Maybe I’m odd, but I thought the kids were a hoot. I told the dispatcher that I actually liked middle school kids, and suddenly I had full employment. After a year, I went back for my credential (I already had two masters degrees) and got a job at one of the small rural middle schools where I had substituted. I taught there for twenty-seven years, mostly science.

It was an underfunded school and I was a carpenter, so I built a lot of my own science equipment. I shared some of that in posts 201 and 202. A lot of the curriculum sent down from the state was crap, and I was a writer, so I wrote a lot of my own material. I had less hassle from the bosses than most of my friends because good science teachers are hard to find. Ones who aren’t just biding their time, waiting for a chance to move on the high school, are even more rare.

I kept on writing, but at a reduced output. It wasn’t how I had planned my life, but it worked. I once figured out that about 4000 students passed through my classroom during my tenure. I’m proud of that.

Now that I’m retired, I am writing this blog and its sister blog Serial four days a week. Now that’s a day job. This post provides the details about the last big project I built for my science classroom. Pass this on to your science teacher friends.

From this point on, things get technical. If you are a planet geek or a DIY person, you will probably enjoy the details, even if you don’t need the product. Maybe you could make one for your kid’s school?

*****

You can show the scale of the solar system with a model you build yourself (see post 202), but showing how the planetary orbits interact with one another takes some time. I figured out how to do it near the end of my career by building a poster that changed over the course of a school year.

You need a piece of hardboard, 6 ft by 6 ft, 1/8 inch thick, a pint of black or blue-black paint, four tubes of artist’s acrylic (pale gray, blue, green, and red), a one-inch brass drawer pull, four foam daubers, (half inch diameter foam cylinders attached to the end of a dowel, used for laying down stencils), and a measuring device you will have to make yourself.

You find the center of the hardboard poster by running lines from corner to corner; they cross at the center. There you drill a 1/8 inch hole and feed the bolt for the drawer pull from the back. Add a matching nut on the front, tighten, then add a drop of Super Glue to keep things from moving. After you paint the board black or blue-back, spin the drawer pull onto the bolt to represent the sun.

For the four colored circles which will represent the inner planets in their initial position, you will need to go to the website www.theplanetstoday.com. Use the double headed date arrow at the top of the page to chose the date of your initial array. Use the measuring device (building instructions below) to establish each distance from the sun and, referring to the website, make your best visual estimate of where to initially put each planet on its trip around the sun.

At the outset, it won’t look like much, but every week you will add another four dots. By the end of the year Mercury will have circled the sun more than twice, Venus nearly once, Earth about eighty percent of the way, and Mars will have moved a fairly short distance – given the length of a typical school year. I put on new planet circles every Wednesday, since Wednesday almost never has a holiday.

Your students will soon have a clear picture of how the planets move in relationship to each other. When Venus is visible in the west at sunset, or in the east at sunrise, or is not visible at all in the night sky, your wall chart will show them why – assuming that you explain it to them, and keep them at least somewhat excited with assignments like, “What is that red dot in the sky, half way up from the eastern horizon at eight o’clock tonight?”.

The measuring device you will build allows you to place additional planet-circles at the appropriate places for subsequent weeks. It has a single 1/8 inch hole at the left, and eight larger holes. Once a week you will remove the drawer-pull-sun and put the small left hole over the bolt. Place the initial Mercury-hole over the previous week’s Mercury circle and put on a new pale-gray circle into the other Mercury hole, using a dauber. Repeat for all four planets —Mercury pale gray, Venus blue, Earth green, and Mars red. Replace the sun drawer pull and  you are done for the week.

planet story stick 3To build the measuring device, begin with a piece of hardboard 36 inches wide and seven inches high. Draw a line about 1 1/2 inches above the bottom and parallel to it. Clearly mark a point on the line about 1 inch from the left side. This will locate the sun-hole. When all further measurements have been made, an 1/8 hole will be bored at the sun-point and 5/8 inch holes will be drilled at the four pairs of planet-points. Don’t drill anything until all nine holes have been marked accurately.

So far, I have used feet and inches since we have been talking about carpentry. The rest of the dimensions will be in millimeters.

On the base line, measure 215 mm from the sun-point and put a point for Mercury. Continuing on the base line, and still measuring from the sun-point, put a point at 402 mm for Venus, a point at 557 mm for Earth, and a point at 848 mm for Mars.

Each planet needs a second hole, the distance between the two representing the distance the planet moves in one week. For me, these required four radii and four calculated angles. I have simplified (honest, it’s simpler) by giving dimensions above (perpendicular to) the base line, and back toward the sun (parallel to the base line).

For Mercury, this will be 104 mm up and 26 mm back toward the left.
For Venus, this will be 78 mm up and 8 mm back toward the left.
For Earth, this will be 67 mm up and 4 mm back toward the left.
For Mars, this will be 53 mm up and 2 mm back toward the left.

These twin dimensions place the pairs of planet-points at two points on a correctly dimensioned circle, representing the orbit.

Drill the sun hole 1/8 inch to match the bolt holding the drawer pull. Drill the eight planet points 5/8 inch to allow clearance for the 1/2 inch dauber. The outline of the measuring device can be trimmed down to any convenient shape, as long as it encloses all nine holes.

Raven’s Run 10

“I didn’t see Davis again until the next day, after the ship sailed. We left Bermuda at four PM. He was in the dining room when I went in at seven for dinner. I ignored him, but he came up during the meal and apologized for seeming rude on the island. He said he had been a little drunk. But that was a lie. He was cold sober on the island, and he was cold sober when he threw me into the ocean!”

Her eyes were burning. I decided that if I were James (the Cat?) Davis, I would take care not to fall into her hands.

“I went back to my cabin after that. I wasn’t having much fun on board. Most of the other passengers were middle-aged or older. I should have flown to Bermuda. Anyway, after an hour I started to get stir crazy, so I went down to a lounge and watched the old folks dance a while, and then went to the movie. After the movie, I went for a walk on deck. By that time, I had forgotten all about Davis.”

But Davis had not forgotten about her. From the lounge, she had gone up two decks by an inside stairway, in the direction of her cabin. She saw Davis following her. It spooked her, so she turned aside into the duty-free shop. After he passed, she followed him and found him in front of her cabin.

Raven began to get scared. She didn’t want to confront him by herself, so she turned to get a ship’s officer. She never had the chance. Her second assailant, a slim, weasel faced man she had not seen before, was waiting to cut her off. He stood at the head of the stairs, not saying a word.

Raven turned left and went out of the heavy steel doors to the deck. She was above and forward of the main promenade where all the after-dance couples were strolling. Here the deck was narrow and slick with spray, with lifeboats every few meters.

The door wouldn’t latch. There was no other door letting out onto that small section of deck, only a narrow ladder forward leading up to the crew’s area. It was closed off by a waist high, steel mesh gate. Raven headed toward it just as the door behind her opened. Davis and his dark shadow came through.

“That was when I made my worst mistake,” Raven said. “I should have run like hell and crawled over that half-gate. But it seemed so melodramatic that I just couldn’t do it. I was scared silly, but at the same time I couldn’t believe I was in any real danger. Nothing that harsh words and a slapped face wouldn’t put a stop to. The second man being there should have warned me, but it was the kind of thing that never happens to real people.”

She shook her head .  “If you hadn’t been there, that would have been my last thought as I drowned.  ‘This sort of thing doesn’t happen to real people.'”

I reached across and took her hand. She jumped, then relaxed and finished her story.

Davis said, “What are you running from?” She told him to get out of the way. He just shook his head, and his weasel-faced shadow said, “Not ’til we’ve had some fun and done our job.”

Then Davis grabbed her arm, hard, while Weasel moved up beside her. She was dressed in a thin, clinging dress that half-bound her knees, and left her feeling vulnerable. For a moment she submitted to Davis’ grip on her arm, frozen by the shock of what was happening to her. Davis said, “Time for a swim.”

Weasel moved up beside her and began to touch her. He said, “Put her on the deck and hold her. You can dump her over when I finish.” more tomorrow

219. Required to be Equal

Do you remember the game telephone? Here’s how the game is played in the halls of education.

“All kids deserve an education.”
“All kids deserve a chance at a decent education.”
“All kids deserve an equal chance at an education.”
“All kids deserve an equal education.”
“All kids deserve the same education.”
“If all your kids are not coming out of your school equal to one another, your school has failed.”

I hope we all agree on the first three statements. The fourth looks good, like a hand grenade wrapped up in pretty paper. Whether it is reasonable or crazy depends entirely on how you define “equal”. If you mean equal quality, bravo. If you mean that every kid needs to learn calculus and quantum physics, or needs to understand Chaucerian verse in its original language, or needs to know how to play basketball . . . sorry. You’re off on a well-traveled wrong road.

When Thomas Jefferson said “all men are created equal”, he didn’t mean that strangers could come in and drink his wine, or borrow books from his library. He certainly didn’t mean that children lacking math ability should be tortured with equations, or that children who already run, hike, play and explore should be forced to trade that for the tedium of organized, competitive sports.

The fifth telephone response is simply wrong on the face of it, and the sixth is the discredited concept called No Child Left Behind.   (see 48. No Child Left Behind)

*          *          *

If educators had the courage to tell the truth, these are the words which would be carved over the entrance to every school in America:

Children are NOT created equal.

Some children have many gifts, some have few, and none have the same gifts. They are all wonderful, and all different. One size does not fit all.

If a poor black child wants to be a doctor, and has the talent for the job, it would be a crime for his situation to hold him or her back. That is the impetus behind No Child Left Behind, but in education, good ideas get the life crushed out of them during implementation.

Every child deserves to go as far as his/her talent and ambition will allow. But no mother’s love, or teacher’s pity, or governmental decree will make a doctor out of a child who lacks talent or lacks ambition.

Every child who has the talent and ambition, should go to college.

That’s just good sense and nearly everyone would agree. But that statements has a flip side:

Children who lack talent or lack ambition should stay the hell out of college.

Now put that on a bumper sticker and see who salutes.

Somewhere along the line, Americans seem to have changed the reasonable notion that, “Everyone should have the chance to try his or her hand at winning,” to “Everyone should win.” That’s bad philosophy, bad morals, and bad arithmetic.

There are two casualties of this way of thinking – those who don’t make it into college because of overcrowding, and those who go to college because they were told they should, and then find out they don’t fit.

Our high schools should produce graduates who are ready for life. Instead, they focus on college prep. That’s proper for perhaps twenty-five percent of students. The rest are being cheated out of their educational birthright – a high school experience that educates them for the life they will actually live.

Raven’s Run 9

I said, “Who are you, Raven No-name? Who threw you off that cruise ship, and why?”

Chapter Three

She started to protest, but I went on, “I was watching through binoculars when it happened.”

“Did you get a good look at them?”

“I could give a description: one was heavy and muscular, the other was skinny and short. But I couldn’t pick them out of a police line-up. They were too far away. Who were they?”

She shook her head and said, “I don’t know. I never saw either one of them before.” I thought she was telling the truth.

“Why did they do it?”

“I don’t know.”

“Okay, what other weird things are going on in your life?”

“I don’t know, it’s just . . .  My father is Daniel Cabral. He’s a state senator in California. He has someone on his staff that I thought might be dishonest. Daddy wouldn’t believe me, so I hired a private detective to check her out. But he didn’t find anything wrong.”

“You think he might had stirred this up?”

“I don’t think so. I don’t know. He was – kind of slimy.  Most P.I.s are, I guess.”

“Careful. I used to be one.”

“Really?”

“Sort of. I worked for a P.I. in San Francisco while I was in college. It was a part time thing. What else could account for what happened to you?”

“Nothing.”

“You aren’t an escaping Mafioso bride? Or the daughter of a drug kingpin? You didn’t find a secret treasure map in an old trunk in the attic?”

She laughed for the first time. She had a face made for laughter. 

“You’ll have to decide for yourself what I am. Everyone I know thinks I’m something different.” She folded her legs under her and the baggy jeans tried to conform to her curves, but there wasn’t enough of her to fill them. They remained shapeless, but I remembered those tan and lovely legs and I was having a little difficulty concentrating. “Daddy thinks I’m flighty and my sister thinks I exploit people.”

“What do you think?”

“I think I’m a pretty nice person,” she said, but she made it a challenge. Believe it or not. She was an odd one.

I said, “I believe you,” and refilled our coffee mugs.

The little cabin was cozy with the fire and the oil lamps reflecting off varnished wood. Raven was braced into a corner against the motion of the ship. The baggy jeans had drawn tight across the top of her thighs in this new position and her brown toes gripped at the side of a locker like blunt little fingers holding her in place. She worked a brush through the tangle of her heavy, black hair, wincing prettily when the brush stuck in rat’s nests.

I was having a little trouble breathing.

She stopped her brushing and said, “I think you are a pretty nice person, too. Thank you for treating me decently. Especially,” she grinned, “considering how I was dressed when you found me.”

“Tell me what happened, and what led up to it.”

“The big guy was named James Davis. Or so he said.”

“Jim Davis draws Garfield the Cat.”

“I know. Probably an alias, but not as obvious as John Smith.  He approached me in Bermuda the last night I was there. Used a pick-up line, made small talk in a bar, that sort of thing. I wasn’t interested so I turned him off, but I had a hard time getting loose from him. He said he had a car rented for one more day and wanted to give me a tour of the island. First I said no, then I made excuses, and finally I had to make a scene to get away from him.”

“Crazy jealousy? The revenge of a jilted lover?”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t like that. He was insistent, but the whole thing didn’t last ten minutes and I gave him no encouragement. Unless he was completely psychotic, it couldn’t be a motive for what he did. And it wouldn’t explain the second man.”

“Go on.” more tomorrow

218. It Couldn’t Last

I normally avoid long quotations, but  I have to share this one from the novel Cinnamon Skin, written by John D. MacDonald in 1982. The technicalities of this seem a little dated, but his understanding of human reality is still spot on.

Walking back through the mall to the exit nearest our part of the parking lot, we passed one shop which sold computers, printers, software, and games. It was packed with teenagers, the kind who wear wire rims and know what the new world is about. The clerks were indulgent, letting them program the computers. Two hundred yards away, near the six movie houses, a different kind of teenager shoved quarters into the space-war games, tensing over the triggers, releasing the eerie sounds of extraterrestrial combat. Any kid back in the computer store could have told the combatants that because there is no atmosphere in space, there is absolutely no sound at all. Perfect distribution: the future managers and the future managed ones. twenty in the computer store, two hundred in the arcade.

When MacDonald wrote this, I was facing the reality that I wasn’t going to make a living with my writing, and considering options for a day job. Two years later, Apple introduced the Mac. Two years after that, I was teaching middle school and had accumulated enough money to buy my first computer, a Mac SE. It was a joy to use. SuperPaint by Silicon Beach had both dot matrix and vector graphics in one program. I’ve used more sophisticated graphics programs since, but I’ve never used a better one. Microsoft Word for Mac was lean and fast, nothing like the slow, bloated, obese monster it would soon become. HyperCard showed what hypertext could do, long before the internet made it the center of everything. We became masters of our lives, makers instead of consumers, with a powerful tool that answered our commands seamlessly.

If you are reading this, you are probably under forty. If I could take you back to that golden age, you would hate it. It would seem like nothing to you. It would be like trying to imagine what it felt like to ride the first tractor, instead of walking behind a horse, avoiding the semi-solid horse exhaust. Or trying to imagine how empowering it was to shoot the first bow and arrow, instead of throwing rocks at your food.

It couldn’t last. I saw the handwriting on the wall a few years later when Apple came out with its first oversized laptop. For the first time, there was room for more than a minimal keyboard, and laptops could finally handle the third element. The keyboard handled words, the mouse handled graphics, but there was no proper input for numbers. Scientists and businessmen alike needed the ten-key function that was (in those days) on every keyboard of every full size computer. I was sure it would be added, but when I saw the rollout, the keyboard was still minimal. Instead there were a pair of oversized speakers so games would sound better.

It was all over. From that time on, Apple catered to consumers instead of creators. When Steve Jobs came back from Pixar to save Apple, and created an I-Mac that looked suspiciously like the Pixar logo, I knew it was really all over.

The change from creator culture to consumer culture happened in three stages: first the pre-Windows IBM computer was so hard to use that all your effort went into mastering it, not using it. Then the Mac and the mouse made the machine transparent, and you could make things you never dreamed possible. Then came a day when all you had to do was push a button and the finished product appeared, with none of your input and none of your personality.

Life happens. Progress happens. But I liked stage two the best.

Raven’s Run 8

The wind was still rising. It wouldn’t be long until it would be blowing a full gale, so I ran up the trysail, then furled the mizzen and moved forward to bring in the tiny foresail. I almost lost it overboard, but when I had finished, I could feel a difference in the way Wahini stood up to the wind.

We went below and I built a fire in the Shipmate. It hadn’t been lit since Will and I left San Francisco six months ago. Even if Bermuda was just over the horizon – in the wrong direction now and further away every minute – this storm had sent the temperature plummeting.

Raven had wrapped herself in a blanket. She looked lost and alone. I refilled her coffee cup and opened a can of soup. I set it on the Shipmate, then took the transom seat across from her.

“If you don’t talk soon,” I said, “you’re going to just break down and cry.”

“How long was I unconscious?” she asked.

“I don’t think you were ever unconscious. You were in shock from your immersion, and as soon as I got you on board you passed out, but I would just call it sleep. And you only slept about six hours.”

“But the storm . . .,” she gestured toward the overhead.

“This storm was already building when you went overboard. You would have noticed the signs if you had been on a small boat.”

Her eyes searched my face, but I couldn’t read their message.  She said, “Where are you taking me.”

“I tried all last night to sail toward Bermuda to put you ashore, but this storm is blowing in exactly the wrong direction. By the time we ride it out, it will be too late to turn back. I’m afraid you’ve signed on for the whole journey. I can put you ashore on the Azores or at Gibraltar, or you can come all the way to Marseille. It’s up to you.”

I let her think about it while I served up the soup. She balanced easily to the motion of the Wahini and ate it in neat little bites while I drank from the rim of my bowl. Then I stuck my head out of the hatch to scan the horizon. The ocean is wide, but there are a lot of ships out there. It is a thousand to one against ever colliding with one, but if it happens, it can be awfully fatal.

The Shipmate was glowing now, and the cabin was growing cozy.  Raven had laid aside her blanket. Will’s shirt and jeans were wide cuffed and baggy on her.

I said, “Who are you, Raven No-name? Who threw you off that cruise ship, and why?” more tomorrow