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Friday, May 31, 2002

Arab Terrorism, Britney Spears, Arafa Is Gay, Sex, Sex, and Sex

That should just about corner the market on google searches. Now that all of you are at this site let me just give you a few instructions: turn off your computer, push yourself away from the screen, stand up, pull up your pants, and walk outside into the glorious sunshine of a real world with real people.

Search engines are a marvelous thing. I use Google all the time for research and I'm consistently and constantly amazed by the miracles it performs. On the other hand, I am consistently appalled by the filth that people are looking for on the net. I know this because of the tracking device I have gives me the searches that people enter to get here. What is appalling is that the filth-seekers find their way to my (relatively) chaste page. OK, scratch ‘appalled.’ That word no longer exists in 21rst century American life. How can you be appalled when everything is for sale? Allow me to re-phrase that. I am intrigued by the circuitous manner in which certain disturbed individuals find their way to my page.

I have had people stumble here looking for the Sister Act website and freaks searching for anything to do with priests and boys and a number of disturbing search requests( this sort of makes sense if you read this page). I wish that I could say that I welcome you one and all to LEFTBANKER but I’m looking for a specific demographic. I am trying to get readers who have their pants on. Call me a dreamer.

What’s my point? How the fuck should I know? I’m home sipping scotch and smoking a cigar. Oh yeah, I did have a point. Always use home made chicken stock when cooking bean soup because the stuff out of the can is little more than water and salt. Wait, this isn’t a cooking lesson. Note to self: stop writing after second scotch or you may ramble on about stuff that only Martha would care to read.

I suppose that I started off with the idea of preaching about the evils of virtual reality and the internet but here I am, another contributor to the information virtual sewer. I have no point to make but I feel pretty strongly about the home made chicken stock issue.

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

One More Time

I don’t have God in my life but I have some really inspiring things created by man. If you had to give up religion for a work of art you could do worse than Bach’s Goldberg Variations performed by the eccentric Canadian pianist, Glenn Gould. I only hope that religion makes people feel like I feel when I listen to this piece.

Gould’s interpretation of the Goldberg Variations launched him into instant stardom when his recording was released in 1955. I think what sets this recording apart is the way Gould uses changes in tempo from one variation to the next to alternately demonstrate Bach’s genius with his own virtuosity.

As a struggling pianist I find that this work is a constant source of wonder and inspiration. I return to it again and again when I get in a rut. If I don’t feel like practicing I’ll listen to a few variations and be inspired to sit down and play the ones that I know or perhaps try a new one. Many are beyond my ability, especially at the break-neck speed at which Gould plays. The hope of someday having the skill to play the canons, like Bach’s fugues, is what keeps me practicing.

Like those under the spell of religion I feel the need to preach the word of Bach and to proselytize. Everyone should go out and buy this CD, or better yet, go download it for free at kazaa. Bach and Gould are both dead so there’s no need for the record companies to get any money from them.

The world has nothing to fear from atheists. The people that scare me are those who claim to have God in their hearts but have no art in their lives.

Saturday, May 25, 2002

More Porpaganda from the Washington Tourism Department

Another day trip cut short by snow. It’s only the end of May, what was I thinking? This time I was on my mountain bike and I won’t be sore as a whore on Sunday morning from this ride, like I was from hiking.

The Iron Horse trail is an old railway that has been turned into a great bike path. I don’t know where it begins but I picked it up on I-90, about 40 miles from my front door in Seattle. I go to this spot right off exit #38 to rock climb. There is a bike path right under some of the crags and I always wondered where it went. I just got around to exploring a bit of it. Follow I-90 east and take exit #38. As soon as you get off the ramp at exit #38 take a right and then pull into the first road on the right. Drive up road about 100 yards to the parking lot. Get on your bike and ride up the road that is blocked by the big iron gate.

When you get to the top of the hill this road intersects with another gravel path. One way goes east to Snoqualmie and the other goes west to Twin Falls (I think). I headed east on this trip. It was spitting a little rain but it was fairly warm. The path crosses over a few railroad trestles spanning some beautiful canyons. The road follows I-90 but you are riding several hundred feet above the din of the interstate. The area is full of snow-capped peaks, waterfalls, avalanche slides, and plenty of wilderness.

I was having a fairly hard time on the trail and I didn’t understand why until later. Even though I was struggling a little bit I decided to take a detour and rode straight up Garcia road almost to the summit. This mountain is crisscrossed with lots of fire roads. They range from fairly smooth gravel to rocky wash-outs. I noticed a couple of parties of downhill riders that go up in the back of a truck and fly down on their bikes. These guys are decked out in full body armor and wrap-around helmets. I prefer the whole experience of riding up then riding down.

This ride totally sold me on full suspension mountain bikes. I was testing out my brand new bike which has front and rear shocks and I was amazed at how fast I could descend on these rough roads. I have always been good at riding up hills but I’m not too gutsy on the break-neck descents. This new bike may make a descender out of me yet. You lose quite a lot of power on the up hill portion with full suspension, but I think that it is worth it overall. I felt totally comfortable flying down very narrow roads at 30-35 mph with a 300' drop to my immediate left.

After the detour I was back on the trail and hammering for Snoqualmie pass. The trail goes through a two mile tunnel at the summit which sounded like fun. I was looking forward to it but I was huffing and puffing the whole way. Maybe I should have had something for breakfast besides coffee.

I could feel the temperature dropping, Around a turn there was a patch of snow on the path. I passed by the remnants of an old railroad snow shed. These sheds covered the tracks through the mountains so they could keep going during the months of tremendous snowfall in the Western mountains. There was an avalanche and rock slide warning for the trail ahead. There was more and more snow on the path and then I was carrying my bike over drifts four feet high. I quickly decided that I would try for the tunnel on another day and turned around and started back.

I immediately realized that this was a fairly steep incline which explained why I was geezing on the way up. I don't know what I was thinking as this isn't even a false flat but a verifiable hill. I dropped down into my lowest gear and cranked for all I was worth. A bear popped his head over the down slope side of the road but I braked too hard and scared it off.

I was back at the parking lot in no time and the whole ride was right at three hours. I hate hiking, for the most part, but biking is great. I never have that feeling that I do when hiking that I wish it would only be over. I alwyas have fun cycling, even on the most brutal of hills. This is mountain bike heaven and I'll be back a lot this summer.

P.S. Once again, folks, leave the SUV at home. All of the rough stuff you have to negociate on your own power.

Friday, May 24, 2002

Cuba, Drugs, and Horribly Flawed Logic

Celebrity Boxing was on the TV at a bar last night (where is a crazed Muslim with a highjacked airliner when you need one) and one of the now infamous IF YOU BUY DRUGS YOU SUPPORT TERRORISM commercials comes on. I had heard of these but I had yet to see one aired. I was absolutely floored by the stupidity of the message. They are saying that if you buy drugs then you are an accomplice to terrorism because terrorists make money from drugs.

I didn’t realize that Leni Riefenstahl had risen from the grave and was producing Third Reich style propaganda but apparently I got caught napping. Do the people in charge of drug policy in this country think that they can lie to the public and still retain any credibility? This latest lie is the most foul thing to ever come out of our ludicrous war on drugs. These ads are so completely devoid of sensible logic that they don’t warrant one word of criticism. Just why our government is so terrified of its citizens doing drugs (the ones that aren’t legal) is beyond any rational explanation.

One ad from the Partnership for a Drug Free America implores parents to “tell your kids the truth about marijuana.” I’m all for telling the truth, and from what I have been able to gain from personal experience and extensive reading on the subject, is that marijuana is fairly benign. Most of the people I went to college with smoked a butt-load more dope than I did and they are all successful people. All of those who smoke cigarettes are now in worse shape than I, but tobacco is an accepted drug that kills more than all the “bad” drugs put together. Everyone already knows this.

Bush recently imposed a set of incredibly unrealistic conditions on when the USA would resume normal relations with Cuba. Freeing political prisoners and holding free elections were the two main points he stressed. I’m all for it, but let’s set the same standards for all nations including Saudi Arabia and China. Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women is so deplorable that every woman in that country is basically a political prisoner. As in the case with our country’s fear of drugs, I don’t understand our fear of Cuba. Are the going to attack us? Sounds silly to me but I'm no geo-political expert.

Our policy towards Cuba is set mostly by the Cuban émigrés in Dade County, Florida. The proposal by the present administration concerning Cuba is a direct result of his desire to court the vote of the anti-Castro exiles in Miami--his only hope of taking that state in the next presidential election. This community is one of the most right wing, anti free speech enclaves in this country. They are almost completely responsible for Castro’s continued reign in their native land. Had we ignored their rhetoric and opened trade with Cuba regardless of Castro’s politics, capitalism would have ushered him out of office years ago. Instead, our obstinacy has fueled Cuba’s obstinacy and for 40 years Castro has stayed put. This is almost as long as we have been waging our futile and costly war on drugs. Lies don't serve a democracy.

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

Star Wars vs Napoleon

I watch as many movies as the next guy. I suppose that I read more books than the next guy. Some guys never read any books, and for those non-readers I feel pity. The Star Wars movies aren’t my cup of tea. I fell asleep during the first one years ago and I'll wait to see the new gaggle. In general, I would say that entertainment that is geared towards kids I find anything but entertaining. There are exceptions to this but Star Wars doesn’t do it for me. To each his own.

In a search for entertainment I need not go much further than my bookshelves. I noticed The Age of Napoleon by J. Christopher Herold as I was organizing some of my books the other day. This was published in 1963 and I probably picked it up at a thrift store somewhere. I started reading it last night in bed and got as far as Napoleon’s ill-fated venture into Egypt.

Reading yet another account of the Battle of the Pyramids and the Battle of the Nile is far superior entertainment for me than anything Mr. Lucas and his special effects genies could conjure up on film. The action in The Age of Napoleon is at least as dramatic as anything in the Star Wars movies, and I don’t think anyone would disagree that the dialogue of history outshines the work of modern screenwriters.

Mr. Herold writes entertaining history and knows how to craft a good sentence. Describing Napoleon’s treaty with Austria at the expense of the Republic of Venice Herold writes, “Bonaparte’s Italian policy has been called statesmanlike by some and cynical by others; it is a quarrel over synonyms.” Star Wars has the phrase, “May the force be with you” and this book has Tocqueville’s summing up of the creed of political liberals “the gradual and progressive development of equality is both the past and the future of human history.” Book 1, Star Wars 0.

In spite of the constant media siege promoting it I have the sneaking suspicion that the Star Wars movie isn’t really very good. I’m sure that it could never enthrall me as does a good history book.

I am not one of those pseudo-intellectuals who profess that they never watch TV or movies—I enjoy both. I find that movies and TV appeal to my lazy side. I don’t ever open my eyes in the morning and immediately search for the remote on the TV but I do grab the book by my bed that I dropped as I fell off to sleep the night previous.

In the name of fair play this forum is being yielded to the spokesperson for the Northwest Star Wars Society

STAR WARS FUCKING RULES, MAN

I guess you could say that I’m a Star Wars fanatic. My Dungeons and Dragons buddies and I are going to camp out at the theater so that we can be the first ones in line when tickets go on sale for the new episode. I really think that one guy in the movie is cool. When he won the fight I was super-stoked but when his manager died I was, like, so sad. Spock fucking RULES! We are bringing light sabers with us so we can have some fun while we’re camping out. Will there be any girls there?

Anybody who would rather read a book than go see Star Wars is a total dweeb. Here’s one thing his pansy-assed book doesn’t have: Jedi. Say no more.

Tuesday, May 21, 2002

No Man Is an Island but Most Have a Peninsula

I have stated before that I wouldn’t review a movie if I didn’t like it. Art critics tend to be those that can’t do the things they critique. On someone’s advice I went to see About a Boy. I didn’t like it for lots of reasons but this isn’t a film review. I had bigger problems with the ideas expressed in the movie than I did with the movie itself (although I had big problems with the movie).

It’s one thing to be preachy and another thing to be preachy without having the slightest idea what it is you are talking about. Boy, along with millions of other pop culture sources, puts forth the suggestion that if you aren’t out there procreating then you are leading a meaningless and unfulfilling existence. Without a family your life is shallow and selfish. Hugh Grant portrays such a man in this movie; a man without wife, child, or a job. He is idle and rich. He spends his days watching TV and preying on women for his own amusement. He admits it himself that he is shallow.

As vehemently as the film tries to paint his as a wasted life, it portrays the lives of several women to be worse off in motherhood. He attends meetings for single parents (all women) to have sex with the attention-starved single mothers. The single mothers are abandoned, lonely, desperate, and, in one case, suicidal. At least the Hugh Grant character, as big of a heel as he seems, has not left a failed marriage and a fatherless child in his wake. If you want to find the real assholes of the world make a film about deadbeat fathers. Because this is Hollywood (everyone is British but it's still Hollywood) you know that he is going to see the joys of fatherhood.

This is a very destructive and dangerous message and it is extremely pervasive in our society: that every one of us is meant to have children. The fact is, most people shouldn’t be parents because they really don’t want to be parents and because they aren’t very good at it. People feel such incredible pressure to have children because of all the buzz around them telling them to do so. They go on to have children they don’t want and they make terrible parents.

Grant forms an odd friendship with a teenage boy. He has almost nothing to pass on to the child as far as wisdom, as far as anything the child can use to better cope with the cruel world he finds himself occupying. The child’s mother is even less capable of parenting the child. Why the fuck would you even bother having a child if you had nothing to pass on in the way of wisdom? If you can’t teach your child anything valuable as far as life on this earth then maybe you should figure this out yourself first before bringing a child into the world. Jesus, could you imagine parents in a primitive society not teaching their children to deal with the harsh realities of the world around them? You may as well let your child be raised by wolves, or eaten by them.

To state my point I would just like to say that if you don’t want to have kids then by all means remain childless. Your life will not be meaningless and shallow, certainly not any more so than it may already be. There are plenty of parents whose lives are meaningless and shallow. Depth and meaning can come from many things besides passing down your DNA. If you decide that you do want to have a child then try to gain a little wisdom along the path of your own life so that you can share with it your kid. Homo sapiens have been overly successful as a species and it is no longer imperative that we all procreate. If you already are a parent it is never too late to be a better one.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Nature 2, Me 0

Or

ANOTHER GOOD WALK FOILED



The drive east from I-5 along route 20 shows immediate promise as a sight-seeing venture. The road follows the Skagit River upstream to its source in the Northern Cascades of Washington. The towns are small and far apart on this road. Traffic is what you would expect on a small highway that connects a metropolis like Concrete with its less glamorous neighbor, Rockport, seven miles further upstream. The odd thing about the lack of traffic is that a few miles beyond these urban centers lies one of the most beautiful National parks in the country.

North Cascades National Park is called the Alps of the U.S. except this park is in Washington and has more glaciers and more peaks above 7,000 feet than do the Alps. I didn’t know that this area was compared to the Alps when I began the spectacular drive through the canyon at the beginning of the park but I remarked that it reminded me of Switzerland. Route 20 through North Cascades is as scenic as any piece of road I have ever driven, walked, rail-roaded, or cycled. Something else to put in your DON’T YOU WISH YOU LIVED HERE file: the park is only about 200 miles from Seattle.

After last week’s hike-from-hell I wasn’t even sure that I was going to get out of the car on this trip. I had my hiking gear in the trunk but I was planning on using the lame excuse that it was raining to keep it there. It stopped raining before we reached the park but I was still talking myself out of hiking.

A park ranger told us that most of the high country trails were still covered with a heavy snow pack so he suggested a hike through the old growth forest along Thunder Creek. The trail follows a valley for a pretty fair distance so snow cover wouldn’t be a problem. We parked at the trail head and walked south along the shores of Diablo Lake. We even walked past a Boy Scout troop so I figured this trail must be pretty easy.

It probably would have been easy had we stuck to it but we opted for the more challenging Fourth of July trail which headed up the mountain on the east side of the valley to the pass at 3,501 feet. After the pass the trail dropped down again and ended up about ten miles further along route 20. After we hit the road I figured we could hitch-hike back to the car. It seemed like an easy plan and preferable to the in-out backtracking we would have to do on the Thunder Creek trail. I hate backtracking.

I was traveling light. I was wearing my hydration pack and carried only a wool sweater, a thermal sweatshirt, gloves, and a hat--ignoring my good sense to bring along a rain parka. I figured if the weather turned to shit I could run back. I also took someone’s advice and decided to wear, running shoes instead of hiking shoes. The running shoes worked out really well. I appreciated their light weight and adequate stability.

I had made several comments on the way up that on the mountain across the valley there seemed to be a LOT of snow yet we had yet to see any on the trail. A bit further I noticed a cute little tuft of snow near the path. A little farther along a twenty feet section of the trail was covered with snow. I hoped we were near the top.

The running shoes were great right up until I had to traverse the top of the ridge which was covered by about 4-6 feet of snow. I was following a set of prints put there by someone I hoped knew the trail well enough to negotiate the snow and bring us to the other side. The trail dropped altitude in the next ½ mile or so and from there it would be downhill and dry to the highway.

Unfortunately we came upon the person setting the trail for us. I wasn’t sure if it was a man or woman; a mountain Pat wearing boots, gators, and carrying an ice axe. Pat said that he/she had gone a few hundred yards further before turning back.

After turning back last week I was determined to make it over this ridge. We pressed on and so did the snow. We weren’t descending at this point but merely rounding the ridge so the snow pack remained formidable. I would alternate between on foot resting firmly on the surface to breaking through to my crotch. I had seen no trace of the trail for a few hundred yards and no chance of it up ahead in the snow. As much as I hated the idea of backtracking I had little choice at this point. Our map wasn’t detailed enough to get me past this point.

Back at the car I thought again about how something I was so glad was over seemed like fun when we started and would seem fun again the next time out.

Friday, May 17, 2002

Bike to Work Day

Somewhere, someone called me and fellow left-leaning types a bunch of names. Most of the odd pejoratives I dismissed as typical bigotry and promptly forgot. Of course, this was in print, as this sort of passive-aggressive computer dork would never have the cojones to look another dude in the eye, let alone say anything except well under his Twinkie breath. One of the names stuck with me: hackey sack player. I vote democratic (or further left) and I’m also a card-carrying ACLU and Sierra club member (among other semi-commie outfits) but I’ve never played hackey sack. I did judo and jiu-jitsu for several years, so I guess I could play hackey sack with that guy’s fat, muscle-free corpse.

I am what you would call a bike person. There has only been one single year in my entire life when I didn’t own at least one bicycle and that was when I lived in a South American city where riding a bike would have made the X-Games look like rocking on a porch swing. I ride for speed, for thrills, for transportation but mainly just because it is a great way to get around. Bicycles are the single greatest form of individual transportation ever invented. My saying this doesn’t make me some sort of eco-hippie and, as I said, I don’t play fucking hackey sack.

Tomorrow is Bike to Work Day here in Seattle, home to some of the worst traffic congestion in the country (I think we made it to #2 behind perennial loser L.A.). Less than 1% of workers in Seattle choose to commute by bicycle and I guess that is their business. I have spent enough of my life commuting in various forms and I can’t for the life of me understand why anyone would choose to sit in traffic in a car. I think it is time to at least start talking about alternatives to the automobile.

The people of Amsterdam decided that they preferred the city planning of their 17th century forefathers to the planning designed around the use of automobiles. Ten years ago they voted to seriously restrict the use of cars in the center of their beautiful city. They are accomplishing this by gradually removing parking in the city center and then rebuilding the roads to make less room for cars and more for bikes and pedestrians. Bikes are everywhere in Amsterdam and the people there all look fit. They have made their lives better by limiting the use of the automobile.

Cars have a place in the whole scheme of transportation but we must not see them as the only means of getting around. If you drive a car every time you leave your house then you should take a good look at where you live. If you have a bike and haven’t ridden in a while try taking it out for a spin. It is a good way for an adult to play like a little kid behind the guise of being socially responsible (yeah, I hate that phrase, too).

P.S. What, exactly, is wrong with playing hackey sack?

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Learn to Play the Piano Badly in only Five Years

Sound too good to be true? I wouldn’t have believed it myself but I am now living proof that it can be done. Wait a second people; I’ll answer all of your questions if you’ll only act like civilized human beings for a few minutes instead of the unruly bunch of animals that you are.

Does it cost a lot to learn to play badly?

Oh, my lord, yes. It is as expensive as all get out. First you need a piano which is one of the most costly of all musical instruments, not to mention the doctor bills that will pile up quickly if you decide to move the thing by yourself. Next you’ll need instruction--but what is $40-50 an hour for a big shot like you? Just take the money from your food budget (you don’t think I would tap into my booze budget do you?).

Will I need to practice a lot?

Yes. If you are looking to play this instrument with anything approaching my level of incompetence you’ll need to practice constantly.

If I spend a lot of money and practice a lot will I always suck?

At this writing I am not qualified to reply to that question but if I may speculate I would say the answer is ‘yes.’

I’m probably not as bad as I think I am but then again I probably am pretty bad. I’m too stubborn to quit and I have begun a new practice regimen with the vain hope of making a marked improvement in my playing. It takes a lot of work to hump over and beyond the plateau's (or ruts) that I encounter in my playing.

A couple of things conspired to get me to take up the piano in the first place. This may sound corny but the movie Groundhog Day was a big motivation. In the film Bill Murray is sitting in a diner when he hears a Mozart piano sonata and is prompted to seek lessons. He makes a triumphant public appearance at the end and impresses the gal.

The other big motivating factor was the discovery of Glenn Gould’s recording of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. The first track is the prelude in C major--a simple yet infinitely charming piece. I probably had this CD for six months before I listened to any of the other tracks. I was not only struck by the beauty of this little prelude but I thought that it would be easy to play.

That prelude was the first piece that I learned to play closely followed by the andante movement from Mozart’s first piano sonata. Playing an instrument is very similar to learning another language. It is a life-long process of learning with no definitive goal but there are plenty of rewards along the way.

Sunday, May 12, 2002

I'll say It was Fun Now but It Sucked at the Time

I’ve written about this sort of thing before. I’m as outdoorsy as the next Seattle person, maybe more so, but often I get into some sort of wilderness experience that is out of the Twilight Zone and I just want to be home and done with it. This happens quite frequently, come to think of it.

Like the poem by Robert Frost and taking the road and some roads are traveled and some aren’t. Let me tell you, there is a good fucking reason why no one takes the road less traveled—it sucks and you’ll find yourself bushwhacking through hell and then you have to go back through hell to get out again. You would think a guy would learn that when the trail going gets rough, the rough may get going, but the smart turn around and go have a beer in some nice bar in the mountains and watch the Mariners kick the crap out of the Red Sox.

I woke up this morning and saw that it was one of those perfect spring days—few and far between this spring--so I called a neighbor, threw some stuff in a pack, put on some boots, and headed out for the Cascades. I didn’t really have anything in mind other than a mild road trip through the Snoqualmie Pass (3022ft). After that I would just play it as it goes.

There is still plenty of snow at Snoqualmie, the lowest of the Cascade passes. This area is pretty familiar territory for me as I have been up here for hiking, climbing, and snowshoeing. We got a pretty early start so I thought we might make a big circle around the Wenatchee National Forest.

We stayed on I-90 east to 970, a little two-laner through some good looking high plains farm country. After a couple miles of post card country 970 meets up with route 97. I made a note to come back here with my racing bike as this is a beautiful road with light traffic. 97 makes an almost continuous descent from the summit to the floor of the Wenatchee river valley. Note to self: do ascent first then coast back down the hill.

97 heads due north to the little pseudo-Bavarian village of Leavenworth. On this weekend the Bavarian theme is pushed beyond the obvious alps-like setting to include a bunch of the townies dressed up in German traditional clothing for the May fest. We opted to skip the polka bands in favor of breakfast. I thought that we would try the Snow Lakes hike and any tourist stuff in town would cut into our daylight in the mountains.

I had been told that this hike is one of the most beautiful in all of the Cascades. This was from someone who has seen more of the state of Washington than most people. I have seen a bit and every hike for me has been spectacular--the scenery, that is, the hikes have all sucked. I have never been on a hike where I thought to myself, “I wish this hike would never end. I wish that I could just keep putting one foot in front of the other until I dropped dead.” Like I said, though, the scenery is always incredible.

We found the trail head, parked the car, shouldered our packs, read the trail report, promptly ignored it, crossed the bridge and began the hike. The report mentioned something about clear for three miles and then trees and snow blah, blah, blah. Trail reports are for soccer moms.

This side of the mountain was scorched by a fire several years ago and is mostly cleared of trees until you get close to the top. It was a nice change as the lack of trees affords a better view of the surrounding mountains. I have been on many trails in the mountains here that are completely under the canopy of the forest with almost no breaks below the treeline to view the area.

Even though this was a beautiful Saturday we only encountered nine other hikers the entire day. On some of the more popular hikes you’d think you were mall-walking by the crowds you meet. The truth is that this trail isn’t really fit for public consumption this early in the season, but we had a few miles to go before we saw first hand what was posted on the trail report.

As soon as the path moved from the area cleared by the forest fire to trees that were simply damaged by fire, but still standing, we ran into problems. The weakened, fire-damaged trees offered little resistance to the tremendous avalanches of this past winter’s heavy snowfall. We began climbing over, or ducking under, one fallen tree after another. In some parts entire swaths had been leveled, making it difficult or impossible to find the trail.

At first you think nothing of this sort of obstacle course--who would let a few fallen trees stop them? I could see above us that the trees were progressively less damaged and thought that the going would get better.

It didn’t get better. Climbing over fallen trees gave way to traversing steep snow fields where you alternated from sinking up to your crotch, to risking a slide down a few hundred feet to the pile of rocks below (ice axe left home for purposes of convenience). The trail was completely gone and I couldn't find any other footprints.

Deciding to bag a casual day-hike such as this one I get increasing insight into what leads climbers to lose their lives in pursuit of a summit. I know some hard-core types will scoff at my lame analogy but the mechanics are completely similar. A fixation with a goal can cause a person to lose track of their present situation. As they say, when you reach the top you are only halfway there. I knew that for every 100 yards of treacherous terrain I picked over that really meant 200 yards with the return thrown in. At times like this your quitter's instinct intersects with your survival instinct.

Maybe I am dating myself with this but, "It was Miller time."

Relatively large mammal spotted on this trip. He didn't want to get off the path and, for a minute, I wondered if I was going to have to butt heads.

P.S. Mariners 3, Red Sox 1.

Thursday, May 09, 2002

Earl Buckets: Maintenance Man

That Leftbanker guy ain’t in today. My name is Earl Buckets, the maintenance man in his building and I’ll be writing to you today. I’m in his apartment cause I had to fix the toilet. Like some pretty boy writer can fix his own toilet when it’s broke? Yeah right.

What kind a job is writer anyway? All the people in this building got faggot sounding jobs: computer programmer, web designer, software engineer—where’s the MAN in them jobs. Hell, my sister could do them jobs—if she wasn’t in jail. Get a man’s job: Police MAN, fire MAN, maintenance MAN.

Most a the time I just sit around in the mop closet down in the basement. The manager locks me in there for safety reasons but when they is a problem, when they got what I call a ‘situation’ they call on old Earl. Just like in that movie Top Gun. When the commies started getting righteous they went and got the Mav. Same thing here in maintenance; the sewer backs up, toilet gets busted, maybe there’s a grease fire, they come wake up old Earl.

I live my life like that Top Gun movie and it really, I don’t know how to say it, it really EXPANDS my world. It helps me see things clearerer. Example: I took a look at Leftbanker’s busted toilet. The safe way to fix it would’a been to just crouch down and take it apart. Sure, that’s how Iceman would’a done it. But I tried to think how Mav would do it so I leaned over the toilet, sorta upside down. Very unorthodox, you might even call it dangerous, but I took care of it. Mav and me don’t care what people think, we just get the job done, period. Flying jets and what I do ain’t so different.

Now I’m kicking back sipping a little of Leftbanker’s booze. Scotch, I told ya he was a fruit. What kinda guy ain’t got a bottle a Jack Daniels or some tall boys lying around? Not one goddamned Billy Ray CD or Skynyrd in the whole collection, neither--nothing but classical. I’m half afraid to look through his clothes cause I’ll probably find a few dresses.

I’m just getting a little head start on the drinkin’ cause later I’m going out partying with Oscar Bungston. He’s the urinal cake representative for this whole part of Seattle so I don’t need to tell you he’s a pretty important guy. He’s got a way with the ladies, oh yeah he does. He starts working the charm on the ladies and there’s no stopping him. Most a the time they give him a head start before they call the cops on him. I still get warning shots fired at me and maced pretty regularly, and I got enough restraining orders to wallpaper the mop closet.

I learn things from Oscar. I bet you didn’t know that if you drop a couple a urinal cakes in the tub it makes for a very refreshing soak, just like a Jacuzzi.

Wednesday, May 08, 2002

ENRON Bosses on a Moral Par With Bin Laden

As demented, twisted, and murderous as Bin Laden may be he is acting out of deep religious beliefs. The bosses at Enron completely swindled not only their share holders but their own employees simply to make money. Their only motivation was greed.

They encouraged their employees to invest in the company even though they knew that Enron was going down the tubes. They did this, even though they knew it was jeopardizing the retirement and overall financial well-being of employees, just so they could bilk a few more million out of the pyramid scheme of a company they constructed. If that isn’t evil somebody needs to explain to me what is.

Enron’s leaders, trained in our finest schools, not only showed a lack of business ethics—an oxymoron, I know--but they also seemed completely free of any sense of human decency. For a company to display such utter disregard for its employees is disgusting. It is tantamount to infanticide.

Please keep in mind that the people at the top of Enron were already wealthy by anyone’s definition yet they continued their piracy simply to propel themselves higher into the economic stratosphere.

Enron is simply the most egregious example of a type of corporate thinking that came to a boiling point in the dot com boom and subsequent bust. Hundreds of companies went public with no plan other than to make millions or billions for the clever few at the helm. They knew when they floated stock that they didn’t need start-up capital but they saw a huge loophole in our criminal justice system and took a very profitable advantage of it; a criminal justice system that deals harshly with petty drug dealers and thieves but allows the big fish to swim and devour with impunity.

As far as comparing these corporate pirates to a terrorist I can only say that I reserve the right to speak hyperbolically since the largest bankruptcy in world history seems to be hiding behind this country’s hysterical fear of terrorism. Without 9/11 Enron would be under much closer scrutiny from the press and the American people who have been robbed of billions and billions of their hard-earned dollars. It wouldn’t even occur to most Americans to earn their living by the sleazy swindles that seem to have been business-as-usual at Enron.

I don't believe that jail is an appropriate punishment for anyone other than violent offenders therefore I suggest that the criminals involved in these financial scandals be required to work at a minimum wage job for the term of their sentencing. They must live only on what they make at this job, and funds from any other source will constitute a breach of their sentencing. These people seem to have nothing but contempt for their employees and the American consumer, let's see if a little honest work can make them see differently.

Face Facts: You Need Help

After spending some time in a mega-bookstore I came away with a few observations. Self help books fuel most of what is going on in publishing these days. I was going to call this entry something like VODKA MARTINI AND A JOINT FOR THE SOUL but the whole Chicken Soup thing is so beyond parody that it can't possibly be funny.

The Chicken Soup books are a publishing juggernaut. You really have to see it to believe it. There is a CS for teens, for Latinos, and every conceivable demographic. I wouldn’t be surprised if they have a CS for suicide bombers or one for death row inmates.

When was the last time that our society got excited about a work of literature? Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities was a huge bestseller and one of the finest novels in American letters. That was fifteen years ago. I could probably think of something else but it is more fun to imagine that we are just a bunch of dumb monkeys--at least for the purposes of this essay.

Men and women are reading different books. They both read self-help books but with completely different strategies. Men and women flock to books that offer fairly childish solutions written by hucksters and snake oil salesmen. But men are generally seeking monetary advice and women want answers to romance and the keys to a fulfilling existence.

I’d like to try my hand at writing a self-help book, one more couldn’t hurt. I’d rather write one for women than for men for one reason: Having money isn’t the most boring thing in the world but talking about it is.

If I do write this book I won’t concern myself one bit as to the efficacy of the advice I give; no one else seems to care. Most of the advice I find in these books is totally useless and some is downright dangerous. If any of the fad diets work why do women’s magazine print a new one every single issue? My diet: drink a diet shake for breakfast, another for lunch, and then eat a sensible bucket of fried chicken for dinner. Does it work? How the fuck should I know? I’m not fat so maybe it does work.

Men are from Mars and women are from somewhere else. It would be more accurate to say that men are in one aisle and women are in another and maybe that’s why they don’t have a lot to talk about. How can men and women communicate if men are obsessed with children’s games and women…I don’t know what women are doing. Women need to dump Oprah and Martha and we guys will all chip in to have Terry Bradshaw put out of his misery. I’ve seen Martha’s show and from the looks of her she’s some sort of crystal meth freak. I saw her making a pillow case out of an old shirt. She just runs around and makes things that any sober person would just buy at the store. Why would she do that unless she was on meth?

If you want to self help then educate yourself. There are lots of ways to do that but we all should agree on a short canon so that men and women can have a conversation. Here is my very short list:

Literature: Shakespeare
Visual Art: The Simpsons
Music: Mozart Bach Beethoven
History: Greece, Rome, Middle Ages, Renaissance, Enlightenment, WWII

Everything else is under electives.

Monday, May 06, 2002

Sexiest Sex-filled Sexfest

I’m out to attract new readers and I don’t care how low I have to go to do it. I realize that most of the perverts that will find this page through a google search for SEX will quickly lose their erections and move on. But what if I told you that later in this entry I will post a link to a secret video of Britney jumping on a trampoline wearing nothing but a hospital gown? Thanks for your undivided attention.

How anyone can watch CNN with a straight face is beyond me. Forget Seinfeld, forget I Love Lucy, CNN is absolutely the funniest thing on TV. Although most of what they report as news is fatuous and devoid of any real ‘news’ content the really funny part is how seriously the news readers take their dumb jobs. I love how they will read a story about a disastrous flood in Bangladesh and another story about a seven year old blackjack dealer with equal enthusiasm. Hell, they will read these two types of stories in the same breath. The news readers always speak as if they were telling a bedtime story or trying to explain simple dirtections to a heavily medicated person.

CNN deals mostly with sensationalist stories of the “boy trapped in refrigerator eats own foot” variety. During a 40 minute ride on the exercise bike at my gym the other day CNN ran a story about a ten year old girl who got knocked up four times. I’m no expert but how the hell is that news?

If you really want news then read. Get a decent news magazine or a good daily paper. Don’t tell me that you watch CNN because you don’t have time to read because it takes longer to watch CNN than it does to read the NY Times cover to cover. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against entertainment and that’s what TV news is all about. Just don’t kid yourself that you are informed because you watch Dan Rather every night.

Sunday, May 05, 2002

The Internet: Information Superhighway or Virtual Sewer?

In my last post I mentioned an e-mail I received with an incredibly vulgar subject line. This message ended up in my mail box through no prompting on my part. Could you imagine a 1950’s housewife going to her mailbox and finding a piece of mail like that? The FBI and the bomb squad would have been called.

That we are becoming desensitized to sex and violence goes without saying. We have been undergoing a loosening of moral standards for a century and I thank god for it. If you want a look at the good old days look back on the moral standards of Victorian England and you wonder how people procreated in such stifled times. I’m definitely not a prude but I would ask this question: Where will we go once we have completely eliminated all taboos in our society?

Don’t ask me why the fuck I’m reading People Magazine en Español but I came across a picture of three ho’s: Pink, Christina Aguilera, and Mya. I have only heard of Christina but I assume the other two hookers are also pop singers. The outfits they are wearing would be shameful if they were accepting prizes at a porn video awards ceremony. The bar to sexual decorum can’t be lowered much more and I only wonder how future, talentless acts will be marketed. You can only get so naked after all.

The new marketing plan of show-us-your-tits can only go so far. Sex sells but once they show hardcore pornography on TV in an ad for a liquid floor cleaner there will be no where else to go. It should be fun to see the advertising people try to reach for new lows to shock their target market. How about a snuff flick to dramatize the new value meal at MacDonalds? How much would you care to wager that in some Madison Avenue advertising boardroom some clever young executive has pitched that idea already?

We are almost at the point of snuff films as popular entertainment. If you have any doubt of this just look at the extreme sports crap that is all over TV. I'm quite sure that skateboarders die all the time while being filmed doing crazy stunts. A 17 year old Washington kid just died last week after he jumped into a raging mountain river during a video shoot for extreme type activities. I have seen these videos used in TV commercials so how far are we from a snuff film as an advertisement for a hamburger?

I am just thinking out loud here and offer no moral judgement.

Wednesday, May 01, 2002

The Meat of the Matter

Guys, what if you woke up tomorrow morning to find that you were living in a society that had decided that your penis was too small? This is assuming that you don’t feel that way already. From this day forward the thought that you were ill-equipped would gnaw at you with feelings of self-consciousness and shame. Everywhere you looked you would see images of “real men” with society-pleasing bulges: billboards spilling over on to freeways, TV commercials plopping in your face, magazine articles practically rising up off the page.

You could wallow in your modest manhood or you could take the bull by the horn. You could submit to costly and painful surgical techniques that could add as much length and width as you cared to endure. All of the Hollywood guys have already done it. Would you go under the knife to blend in and restore your self-esteem?

Welcome to the world that U.S. women inhabit. Fake boobs are so de rigueur that it is hardly possible to have a career in movies or TV, even news programs, unless the female applicant is willing to undergo surgery to correct her non-Hindenburg jugs. If she chooses not to have implants she will probably lose out to the gal who did.

If you lived in a society where every time you opened your eyes you were practically assaulted with images of men who could trip over their own dinkies, you would probably begin to feel inadequate. This is the true goal of advertisers—not to make you want something so much as to make you feel inadequate for not having it.

Looking in my e-mail junk box I noticed several that pertained to penis enlargement. One preposterous subject line read: Get a Horse Cock! I decided that enough is enough so I sent a reply. I wrote that the human male has the largest penis, proportionally, in the animal kingdom so a horse penis would be a step down. Touché, engage the wit of Leftbanker at your peril. I could image these cretins reeling at my vitriol. My junk e-mail now comes in at a rate of about 10,000 per day. Note to self: when it comes to junk mail, never get out of the boat.

The Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Resolution

Actually this is just a shameless attempt to manipulate google and draw hits to this page but since you’re here I’ll come up with a quick solution. Let's call this solution the Leftbanker Accords.

Here is how we will do it:

Either the Israelis or the Palestinians will choose to give up all of their territorial claims in that godforsaken wasteland. Whoever chooses to forfeit will then be allowed to emigrate to the U.S. They will receive citizenship after a brief inculcation period (they have to watch X hours of American TV, go to a baseball game, and perhaps read People magazine cover to cover). The new Americans will get a place to live and a used Honda Civic to drive. All new arrivals will get a $500 gift certificate to the Gap. They will also get to go to a Backstreet Boys concert free of charge (wouldn't it be refreshing to see the Backstreet Boys using their power for good instead of evil for a change).

The party that decides to stay in Israel/Palestine gets the land and that is it. The U.S. will no longer give one cent of foreign aid to that particular corner of the world. They will not get to go to a Backstreet Boys concert unless they pay the full face value of the ticket. I think to carry out my plan we would have to flip a coin because these two sides would fight to the finish over the right to watch Happy Days reruns and cruise the strip in the U.S.A.

*I would like to thank the senior fellows at the Rand Corporation for their assistance in drawing up this protocol.