Monday, May 31, 2010

The Future Re-imagined

In a recent post, Alternative Futures, I alluded to the fact that I want to take this blog into different directions. This is the beginning of that.

When I was about 12 years old, in 1973, the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) imposed an embargo on many Western Countries in retaliation for their support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. The roots of OPEC, however, went back way before the war. OPEC in fact had non-Arab members, including Angola, Ecuador and Venezuela. The organization was formed in 1960 after the member states realized that they controlled a large supply of the lifeblood of the industrial nations, and sought to gain better prices for their product.

Those of us old enough to remember can recall cars lined up for blocks at gas stations, the rising prices and the signs at gas stations stating that they had no gasoline to sell.

The response was huge and varied. Within the United States, the Alaskan Pipeline was built to help exploit the large amounts of petroleum being extracted in Alaska. Smaller, more fuel-efficient cars became more popular. There came a greater awareness of this fact: that there was a finite amount of fossil fuel on the planet, and that it would one day run out, particularly if the rest of the planet began industrializing like Eastern and Western countries had industrialized.

In the late seventies, with Jimmy Carter as President, tax incentives were passed to weatherize homes and to add solar features, such as heating and hot water heaters.

Then, suddenly, Ronald Reagan was elected President, and much of this disappeared. Or so it would seem.

Over the years, however, a small fire has stayed burning. Small groups have explored and studied sustainable living, regarding architecture, agriculture and transportation. I've long been interested in this and feel I have much to share.

My own fire was lit in the late seventies when I came across this book, "Design For a Limited Planet," by Norma Skurka and Jon Naar. The book was a response to an article Skurka had written in the New York Times magazine about about alternative sources of energy and energy-efficient housing. Skurka and Naar featured dozens of projects, large and small, simple and complex. Some of the projects were abandoned-- and some weren't. And time has changed the tone of some of them; for instance, the book covered some wind-energy projects. What seemed like a quixotic quest in 1976 has become a large movement to provide significant sources of electricity to the grid and is serious business.

I gave my copy away to a student at some point, but a while back tracked a copy down online; it's easily available online.

The picture at the top of the post is from one of the annual reports from the New Alchemy Institute. The New Alchemy Institute was formed by husband and wife John and Nancy Todd along with others at Cape Cod, Massachusetts in the early seventies. The picture on the cover shows a mythical serpent eating its own tail. The idea that the New Alchemy Institute had was not the knee-jerk rejection of technology that much of the counterculture had, but the enlightened use of technology to better serve human needs.

Through the seventies and into the early nineties, they experimented with sustainable agriculture, low-environmental-impact shelter and energy use. Better yet, they documented their successes and failures; all of their material is still available online.

More on the New Alchemy Institute and other sustainability experiments to follow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

The Presidential Friday Random Ten

The President is here in Chicago, his adopted hometown, this weekend. His helicopter has been flying back and forth over my house all day, accompanied by a an armada of military helicopters. It just flew over a few minutes ago-- I took these pictures from my back yard. I know he ran down to Louisiana to look at the progress (or lack thereof) British Petroleum has had in cleaning up after their mess, and was planning on coming back to Chicago to spend time with his family. I noticed that when Clinton and Bush were president, the helicopter, dubbed "Marine One," flew over here then, too. They must be flying between O'Hare and downtown or Midway Airport.

1. Foreplay/Long Time- Boston
2. My Mistake- The King Bees
3. Darlin' Companion- Johnny Cash and June Carter
4. Strangers In The Night- Frank Sinatra
5. In My Life- Jose Feliciano
6. Gray Goose- Sweet Honey In The Rock
7. Somebody Else's Troubles- Steve Goodman
8. Life Is A Rock- Reunion
9. Sunshine Superman- Husker Du
10. Everybody's Talkin'- Harry Nillsson

1. After avoiding Boston's first album for a couple of decades since it was overplayed when it was new and I was in high school, I've been revisiting it and enjoying it.
2. This song is sort of a new wave version of the Kinks' "Lola."
3. A lovely version of a John Sebastian song from the Live At San Quentin album.
4. It seems like I like Sinatra more and more as I get old, just like scotch.
5. A lovely version of a lovely Beatles song.
6. From the "Vision Shared" record, a benefit for the Smithsonian's "Folkways" record label. It featured great versions of Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly songs from artists ranging from Springsteen, U2, Little Richard and of course the gospel group Sweet Honey In The Rock.
7. Goodman played frequently at a Chicago folk club that had the same name as this song.
8. A deejay on WXRT, our local "Prog Rock" station, used to play a snippet of this whenever he played REM's "This Is The End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)." The resemblance is a little uncanny.
9. Husker Du's cover of the Donovan classic. They also do a blistering cover of the Byrds' "Eight Miles High."
10. From "Midnight Cowboy."

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Mystery Solved

Last year, there was a hit and run just about a block and a half from my home, at this intersection. Rachel Gilliam, a popular 25-year-old bartender was struck and killed by a car that ran a stop sign at the intersection at 3:40 am, November 1, Halloween night. I alluded to it in a post on my old blog earlier this year. I found it horribly tragic that a person so young and full of promise died, but it shook me up personally-- I walk, ride my bike and drive through that intersection easily a dozen times a week. It's about 150 feet from where I work; it could easily have been me that was hit.

There were witnesses, but they were only able to say that a silver Acura hit her. There seemed to be little hope of bringing the culprit to justice. Undoubtedly, whoever did it had been drinking, given the date and the hour. The family hired a private investigator and offered a reward, blanketing the neighborhood with posters.

It turned out, though, that the security camera of a jewelry store a couple blocks down caught the incident. The camera couldn't show the license plate, but it did show that there were three people in the car. The police got a tip about a silver Acura with damage consistent with the incident. The police were soon in possession of the car and were able to question the two passengers, who co-owned the car with the culprit.

It turned out that the perpetrator, Carlos Castillo was also young-- 23 years old. He had no driver's license and a long rap sheet. It's suspected that he's left the country.

As someone who has dealt with the violent death of someone close to me, I know that knowing who was responsible provides some closure. The ultimate closure will be when he's caught. Guys like him are usually none too smart. I'm confident justice will be served eventually.

Monday, May 24, 2010

My Two Cents Worth On Elena Kagan

I haven't had a whole lot of chance to study President Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court, Elena Kagan, but I do know a little and had a couple of thoughts about it.

A lot of liberals have expressed concern that Kagan is a "moderate," and not an open liberal; this is a problem in their eyes because she's replacing John Paul Stevens, who is a liberal.

I'd point out a few things. When I was getting my Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Political Science in the early and mid-eighties, one of the things I learned was that there's a long history of Supreme Court justices turning out to be something completely different from what the person nominating them thought they'd be. Justice Stevens, was a prime example of this. He was a lifelong Republican when Gerald Ford nominated him to the court. Now he's considered the bulwark of liberalism on the Court. Earl Warren, who was the Chief Justice during the time of the court's "Brown vs. Board of Education" decision that ruled against school segregation, was a Republican who as Attorney General of California (he was also Governor later) was the driving force behind the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. Brown vs. Board of Education was one of many "liberal" rulings his court had. Hugo Black was, when he was younger, a member of the Ku Klux Klan, and as a Senator tried to filibuster Civil Rights laws. As a justice, his record supporting civil rights was excellent. I came across a great quote about Black from the late Carl Sagan: "as a young man, he dressed up in white robes and scared black folks; when he got older, he dressed up in black robes and scared white folks."

My point is that trying to predict the future rulings of a person once they get onto the Supreme Court is pretty much a fool's errand. The Republican party found this out the hard way in nominating David Souter; he was expected to help in overturning Roe vs. Wade, the ruling that essentially legalized abortion across the United States. However, when a serious legal challenge was mounted to it in the early nineties, Souter, to the surprise of the people who consider themselves "conservatives," acted as a conservative in the Edmund Burke model of conservatism; he voted against overturning Roe vs. Wade, explaining that there has to be a compelling reason to overturn a long-standing legal principal. Since the Roe vs. Wade precedent had been working, in his legal and intellectual opinion, quite well for about two decades, there was no reason to abandon it.

Various objections to Ms. Kagan's nomination have arisen and been batted down. She's never worked as a judge. Many people who went on to be fine Supreme Court justices were never judges, including Thurgood Marshall who, like Ms. Kagan, was Solicitor General (and had, in fact, been the NAACP lawyer who argued Brown's side in Brown vs. Board of Education).

All of that said, I think I know why President Obama has chosen Ms. Kagan. One of the criticisms of her is that as Dean of Harvard University, she was a pit bull. I would argue that this is exactly why she's been chosen. In a court that's presided over by the mediocrity that is John Roberts (who himself served very little time as a judge), the right-wing pit bull is Anthony Scalia. I'm confident that Ms. Kagan will rule in a manner that makes me happy. What I'm happier about it that she will serve as a counterweight to Scalia, pushing the fence-sitting justices into decisions that, if not liberal, will be judged on their legal merit rather than Scalia's poliitcal agenda. This is going to be important. The next nomination will be for Ruth Bader Ginsberg's slot; she's got pancreatic cancer, a terminal illness. Like Stevens, we'll be replacing a liberal with a liberal. Roberts is young-- 55. We'll be stuck with him, as well as Sam Alito, (60 years old and someone who never served a day as a judge) for a long time. If we're going to not spend the next 20 years having horrendous decisions from the Supreme Court (such as the recent decision that ruled that corporations have the right to give unrestricted amounts of money to political campaigns, as if they were individuals), we're going to need a pugnacious jurist. I have a feeling that Ms. Kagan will fill the bill.

When Sonia Sotomayor was nominated, I pointed out that I hope to see a Supreme Court that looked more like the United States in my lifetime, and that it was a step in that direction. There are rumors confirming and denying whether or not Ms. Kagan is a lesbian. I could care less about her sexuality as far as her merits as a justice. But there's a part of me that hopes it's true, and that she is, as is expected, confirmed, because not only will the Supreme Court look a little more like America: it'll be fun watching Antonin Scalia's head explode when he realizes that he's lost a legal argument to a dyke.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Alternative Futures

A couple of years ago, I read Jared Diamond's book "Collapse: How Society Chooses to Succeed of Fail." It was sort of a companion book to another book of his I'd read, "Guns, Germs and Steel."

In "Guns, Germs and Steel," he examined what the factors were that made Western societies so dominant economically, politically and of course militarily over the last couple of hundred years. In "Collapse," he looked at why some societies succeeded and others failed in those regards in the last few hundred years ago. In it, he looked at a question one of his students had asked: "I wonder what the Easter Islander who cut down the last tree on the island was thinking?"

Let me elaborate.

When the first Western explorers arrived on Easter Island, in the Pacific, they were confronted with a huge-- literally-- mystery. The island, with only a tiny population and little vegetation, nevertheless had huge statues carved in the likenesses of faces all over the island. The statues would have been challenging to create and move even with modern-day equipment.

There were all kinds of explanations originally, some of them just downright silly, such as the idea that ancient aliens had created them, using their advanced technology. Sometime in the last 15 years or so, a more plausible explanation-- one that carries ramifications for our times-- emerged.

Archaeologists ascertained that the tiny island broke down into tribes, who came to believe that their well-being, prestige and power was contingent on erecting enormous statues representing their deities. The scientists actually figured out which part of the island the stone came from. It was far from where the statues were from.

It appeared that the islanders cut down the trees on the island to move the giant statues. This was unfortunate. The trees were part of an ecological succession process that had taken many thousands of years, starting with dust blowing thousands of miles from other lands, over the Pacific, to Easter Island, being deposited in infinitesimal amounts, speck by speck over the millenia. Eventually lower plant forms established themselves in this dust, slowly creating the thin layer of soil that eventually supported the growth of trees.

In a few decades, the islanders squandered this heirloom trying to satisfy the gods they'd created. Hence the question. When they whacked down the last tree on Easter Island, dooming their advanced civilization, what thoughts were going through their heads?

The ramifications to our time are pretty easy to see. I sometimes wonder how future generations will view us-- if there are future generations. We're a society that uses petroleum, a resource that took many millions of years for geological processes to create, to make plastic to wrap candy with, move two tons of automobile to drive to buy fast food with and create useless crap that will be thrown away in a week. We have an agricultural system that uses huge amounts of fossil fuels-- the actual energy use to create it actually exceeds the caloric count of the food grown-- and non-renewable water resources to create food products that are killing us by degrees. We have created incredible medical tools-- instruments, medicines, etc. and yet until the Health Reform, we were increasingly restricting access to it for our citizens.

And our course, we are drowning in the garbage and poisons created by all of this.

My late friend Mark Evans once said, in one of his many thoughtful moments, that he believed that future societies will judge us not by the transient wealth we created, but how we took care of our infirm, elderly and less privileged. I tend to agree with him.

I recently changed my blog, for now, at least, letting my old blog lie fallow. I want to change not only the format, but the focus. I've long been interesting in sustainable societies-- I first became interested in it when I was in high school in the late seventies and the first "energy crisis" emerged out of OPEC's petroleum embargo on the West. There was a temporary interest in sustainable living-- renewable energy, sustainable agriculture, energy-efficient transportation, etc. When Reagan became President in 1981, the US federal government dropped interest in this like a hot rock. Still, over the last three decades, there have been people and projects dedicated to these things, who looked to the long-term rather than short. I intend to feature some of these things in my blog.

Over the years, I've come to the conclusion that there will be no "magic bullet" that will make society wise up and head toward a better, more livable future. It'll take little steps, persuasion, and dialogue. It's my hope that this blog can be a little part of that (along with my usual political, historical, cultural,musical and of course personal posts). I've come to the conclusion that the alternative is to sit and passively watch our society hurtling off a cliff like the Easter Islanders. And I like people way to much to sit while that happens.

The Day Late Saturday Friday Random Ten

I spent last week running around getting things done that I didn't have time for while school was in, in addition to picking up a couple of extra shifts at work. Yesterday, I spent decompressing from the last year. Can't believe how busy I've been. How much did I relax? I watched an old "Rockford Files" episode on Netflix streaming, that's how much!

In the meantime, a few weeks ago, I discovered that I could become a CNA-- Certified Nursing Assistant-- without taking the CNA class-- if you pass nursing 101, all you have to do is take the state test, which a bunch of friends have taken and said was very easy. I'd like to work a couple of shifts a week, maybe overnight, at some place. It'll give me some badly needed extra dough and some hands-on experience in the medical field.

1. Green Shirt- Elvis Costello
2. Beep, Beep- The Playmates
3. New Gun In Town- The dB's
4. Indian Giver- The Ramones
5. The Way We Live- Johnny Rivers
6. Let's Spend the Night Together- The Rolling Stones
7. They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore- Kinky Friedman
8. Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys- Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings
9. Are You Gonna Be There At The Love-In?- The Chocolate Watchband
10. Sometimes Good Guys Don't Wear White- The Standells

1. From Costello's amazing third album, Armed Forces.
2. When I was a kid, my brothers and I discovered this novelty tune on an oldies album my dad had and just loved it.
3. Nobody was happier than I was when the long-out-of-print dB's cd "Like This" was reissued on cd a few years ago. One of the great albums of the eighties.
4. The Ramones' cover of a bubble gum classic.
5. Johnny Rivers doing social commentary
6. When the Stones played the Ed Sullivan show, they were made to change the lyrics to "Let's Spend Some Time Together."
7. From my favorite Jewish-Texan Country Music Star/Author/Politician
8. "Cowboys ain't easy to love, and even harder to hold."
9. A big bunch of hippy-dippy sixties cheese. From the great Nuggets collection.
10. Another one from the Nuggets collection. These guys were best known for their garage-rock classic "Dirty Water."

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Best Company Name Ever

When the tow-truck driver got out with a leather face mask and a whip, they knew that S & M Towing lived up to their name...

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with asthma. My physician issued me a prescription for an albuterol inhaler, and I've mostly kept it in check since then. I used to get very sick every fall and every spring. I've come to realize that the fall and spring weather changes are triggers for the asthma, and that frequently the asthma would set the stage for bronchitis.

It's been a huge relief to know that there's a remedy for what used to be several days of bad coughing and gasping for breath. It had been happening since I was a kid, and nobody-- doctors, parents or I-- had connected the dots. After a year and a half, I'm still a little amazed that a puff or two does away with what used to take me hours, days or even a week to deal with in the past.

My other physical malady in recent years has been my right knee, a consequence of the motorcycle accident I had in 1988. I tried to start running again, after having laid off for some time, and the pain in my knee was excruciating after just a few runs. This was particularly bad, since I'm working my way through nursing school as a waiter.

I talked to my mother, who had a hip replacement, about glucosamine chondroitin, a supplement she used for some time before her hip replacement. She said that it had helped a lot-- it had let her put her surgery off a couple of years. Desperate, I decided to try it.

I did a little research and discovered that the formula with Methylsulfonylmethane and hyaluronic acid was recommended. The Aldi's around the corner had bottles of 60, a month's supply for $9.99, a very good price. I figured ten bucks was a small risk, and everything I read said that there were no known bad side effects.

I was a little shocked to discover that not only did it work for me, but worked quickly. After a week, the pain almost completely disappeared in my right knee. I had gotten so used to the pain over the last 20 years that I didn't realize how much there was until it started going away.

I'm going to give it a few more weeks and then attempt a couple of runs. Keep your fingers crossed.

There was one more remedy the last couple of days. I caught up on some of the sleep I've lost in the last year of running around like a bat out of hell, with kids, school and work. I rediscovered something, as I seem to have to occasionally: There eventually comes a time where you cannot substitute caffeine for sleep.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


All this week, I've been trying to bring my classmates down-- they've been nervous about the HESI, a standardized test we take at the end of our first and second years of nursing school. As a former teacher, I pointed out that these tests are not to trick, punish or trip them up; they're simply their means of making sure that you've learned what you're supposed to have learned.

Still, as the test approached, I too started succumbing to nervousness. I spent a lot of yesterday looking over my notes and reviewing meds, labs and vital signs. As the evening approached, I had a couple of glasses of wine and went for a walk, trying to stay calm. I had trouble sleeping last night. Later, talking to others, they had experiences similar to mine; when we did drift off to the brief sleep we got, we kept dreaming of content-- statistics, nursing concepts and other things we learned kept filling our dreams.

As I got ready to go, waiting for a ride with one of my classmates, I couldn't resist a bit of superstition. The second to last year my son played baseball, as I left my son's last game of the season, I found a Red Sox hat on the ground, apparently discarded by one of the kids. The hats the kids were issued were of high quality-- official Major League Baseball products. Besides being a Cub fan, I've always cheered for a handful of other teams: the Detroit Tigers, the Minneapolis Twins-- and the Boston Red Sox. I took the hat home, washed it and began to wear it whenever I needed a hat to wear.

The next year, Adam was on the Red Sox in his league. I took this-- finding the hat-- to be an omen. And sure enough, it was his best year. He had a coach who gave him a chance to get out of the doldrums of right field, where his old coach had stuck him, and allowed him to play first base, third base and eventually pitching. His team went all the way to the league championship, where they lost in three games. My son got to pitch in that series. He took the series loss in stride; his goal, he told me, was to play in a championship. The fact that he lost to a team coached by his favorite former coach undoubtedly took the sting out of the series loss.

In any event, the hat, which I wore to a lot of the games, became my lucky hat. I couldn't resist bringing it to the test today. It must have worked. I got a 937 out of 1000, oddly almost exactly the same score as I got on the pre-test in January (940).

I was the first one in my group done; there were 110 questions, mostly multiple choice, and I either knew the answer or didn't. I didn't spend a lot of time mulling over questions I wasn't certain on. I gave it my best guess and moved on. Once you were done with a question, you were done. You couldn't return to it.

When you finished the test, you got your results immediately. I gathered my belongings and went out, barely able to resist the urge to do the "happy dance" on the way out.

I had to wait for my friend Justine, who I'd caught a ride with, so I relaxed in the hall, chatting with the secretary from the nursing department, who was also relaxing in the hallway. I mentioned to her that a year before, I'd talked to one of my customers at the restaurant who was getting ready to take this very test. I kept in touch with that woman, Elena, and discovered from the secretary that she'd passed her second year HESI on Monday. I was delighted. Later on, I'm going to email a congratulations.

As other students started coming out, I was able to tell immediately who had passed. I kept joking, "Well, you're not crying..." Over time, most of my classmates from the photo in the last post came out. They had passed.

I did find out some sad news. First, only 26 of 30 people in my class had registered that morning. Apparently four people did not make grade. Also, Joe, a former classmate who had also been in the picture from the previous post, and whom I had not seen around school for a couple of weeks, had dropped before the end of the semester. Later, Michelle, who I had become good friends with when we took Anatomy I and II together, came out looking distressed. She had just missed passing, and will have to go to summer school. I was puzzled-- she had always smoked me in previous classes we'd taken together, getting A's when I got B's. She told me that she had trouble with big tests-- that she froze up. I wish I'd known that before. Later, when she's not so upset, I'm hoping I can give her some suggestions about things I learned when I was a teacher.

In the meantime, tonight I can celebrate this, and celebrate my 49th birthday, which was yesterday. I think I've earned it.

Monday, May 10, 2010


A few weeks ago, I was watching Brian Depalma's movie "The Untouchables" with my son. One of my favorite moments in the movie was toward the end, when Costner, as Elliot Ness, looked at the picture that the reporter had snapped of the four main characters at the celebratory dinner after their first bust. He had accomplished his goal-- bringing down Al Capone-- but at a cost-- Chicago cop Malone (Sean Connery) and Treasury Agent Wallace (Charles Martin Smith) were felled at different times.

The picture at the top of this post is my version of that picture. It was a shot of my clinical group my first semester of nursing school, at Illinois Masonic Hospital, along with our wonderful instructor, Mrs. Murphy.

In March, Mrs. Murphy's husband, a retired Chicago cop, passed away. It was devastating to those of us who'd had her as an instructor. Not only is she a terrific teacher, but in the clinical setting, she modeled compassion and never forgetting that it was a human being you had as a patient, not a "case."

At the beginning of the semester, we discovered that two classmates-- Eric, the guy to the far left in the picture, and Kate, who was not in that clinical group, had dropped out, both because of pregnancies. Kate and her husband had been trying to get pregnant for some time, and she happily decided to defer nursing school until some future date. Eric, who is in his early twenties, dropped out after discovering his girlfriend was pregnant. I had tried to talk some sense into him-- pointing out that life with a child would be much easier as a nurse than as a retail clerk. He didn't take my advice.

Today, I got a call from Cyd, the woman in the first row, to the left of Mrs. Murphy. She told me that two people from our class last semester, Raj and Nancy, did not make grades good enough to continue. Raj, who was in a different clinical group, was closer to my age. Nancy, who is in the top row, two people to the left of me, is in her early twenties.

When one goes through an intense experience with people, it bonds you to those people. Organizations such as the military and fraternities use this, deliberately putting people through grueling experiences in order to create long-term bonds. Sometimes it's not deliberate, but the bonds are still there. I'm still very close to the people I went to college with over 25 years ago.

I'm also close to the people who I started out this journey with. Looking at that picture, I see people who I've become close friends with-- Bisrat, Karen, Cyd, Mayra-- and people I know I'll stay in touch with for the rest of my life. We all look out for one another. With Raj and Nancy having to drop from the program for at least a year (they can retake Nursing 102 next year, and are guaranteed a berth in the program if they decide to retry it) I feel a profound sense of loss.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Johnny Rojo's One-Hit Wonders: Redbone, "Come And Get Your Love."

In 1974, the band Redbone had a top ten hit with the song "Come And Get Your Love." An earlier single release, in 1972, "The Witch Queen of New Orleans," had cracked the top 40 but hadn't made it into the top ten. It was to be their only top ten US hit, qualifying them as a "One-hit Wonder." "Come And Get Your Love" stayed on the Billboard charts for 24 weeks.

Redbone was formed in 1969 in Los Angeles by brothers Patrick and Lolly Vasquez. The name "Redbone" is a joking reference to a Cajun term for someone of mixed racial ancestry, which they were, though primarily Native American. According to Patrick Vasquez, Jimi Hendrix, who was, like many African-Americans, of partially Native-American heritage, encouraged them to form an all Native-American group. After adding Peter DePoe and Tony Bellamy to the group, they recorded their eponymous debut album and released it in 1970.

From this live version of "Come and Get Your Love," it's apparent they took pride in their Native-American heritage and included elements of it in their stage act.

They weren't afraid to shy away from social statements: before they had a US hit with "Come and Get Your Love," they had a #1 hit in Europe with "We Were All Wounded at Wounded Knee," which was about the 1890 massacre of Lakota Indians at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The record company was hesitant to release it in the United States and the song was banned by many radio stations.

Redbone continued recording and tourings. Original drummer Peter DePoe eventually left, as did Tony Bellamy. Bellamy died just a few months ago, in December, 2009, of liver failure in Las Vegas. In 1996, Lolly Vasquez had a stroke that left him unable to tour anymore and he was replaced by Raven Hernandez. He died of cancer in March of this year.

In 2008, Redbone was inducted into Native American Music Association Hall of Fame.

The song has gotten a second life in recent years; it was featured in commercials for the "Eharmony" on-line dating service and for the Alltel wireless phone service.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The "Half Way There" Friday Random Ten

Had my final for the semester in my nursing class on Wednesday. I got a 91%, which gave me a B for the class, which I'm thrilled about. On Wednesday next week-- the day after my 49th birthday-- I take a mid-curricular test called the "HESI" which determines whether or not I'm where I need to be at the end of the first year (and whether i'll be required to go to summer school). I'll go through my notes on Monday and Tuesday, but I'm not going to knock myself out with it all; as my old friend Martin, who is in my class this semester, said, "If you haven't learned it by now, you're not going to learn it the night before the test."

In the meantime, I'm going to enjoy a couple of days of not hitting the books. I might even hop in my car at some point and go visit my long-lost and recently found friend Jamie who just had a knee replacement. He's going to come up my way to go to "Atwoodfest," the annual party we hold to commemorate my late friend Mark's life. Looking forward to hanging out with Jamie.

1. Her Majesty- The Beatles
2. Driving My Life Away- Eddie Rabbit
3. Sweet Caroline- Neil Diamond
4. Back In the USSR- The Beatles
5. Born To Lose- The Heartbreakers
6. Deuce- Lenny Kravitz
7. Mexican Radio- Wall of Voodoo
8. Arms Aloft- Joe Strummer and the Mescaleroes
9. My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys- Willie Nelson
10. Run It- The Replacements

1. The whimsical last song on "Abbey Road." "Gotta tell her that I love her a lot/But I gotta get a belly full of wine.."
2. Loved Eddie Rabbit for years, and loved him even more when I discovered, in reading his obit a while back, that he co-wrote my favorite Elvis song, "Kentucky Rain."
3. Mr. Diamond revealed a couple of years ago that this song is about Caroline Kennedy, who charmed the socks off of everybody as a little girl in her father's White House.
4. From the "White Album," which is probably my favorite Beatles record. The song was originally supposed to be "Back In The USA" but the syllables didn't work out. They changed it to "USSR" and the John Birch Society got it's nose out of joint.
5. This was former New York Doll Johnny Thunders' punk Heartbreakers, not Tom Petty's (who I'm also a fan of). Mr. Thunders was apparently born to lose struggle with drugs and eventually his life, in 1991.
6. From the great "Kiss My Ass" Kiss cover album. Stevie Wonder played harmonica on this cut.
7. Has one of the great rock and roll lines ever: "I wish I were in Tijuana/Eating barbecued iguana..."
8. Some fine post-Clash Joe Strummer.
9. "...old worn-out saddles and old worn-out memories, but no one and no place to stay..." God I wish I'd written that line!
10. Saw the Replacements twice-- at the fabled Cabaret Metro in 1986 and at their last show in Grant Park on July 4, 1991.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Finally, Final Is Done!

Took my nursing final this morning. Here's a shot of my preparations for it yesterday:

If I dare say, I think I kicked ass on it. I'll find out tonight when my instructor posts the grades. My next step is May 12, when I take an end-of-the-year test called the "HESI." I need to get 80% on it, or I have to go to a remedial summer school class. I'm feeling pretty confident that won't be the case.

Book Recommendation: "Mission To Mars: An Astronaut's Vision of Our Future In Space", by Michael Collins

First, full disclosure, I'm a bona-fide space nut. Since I was kid watching the launches of Mercury, Gemeni and Apollo spacecraft in the sixties and seventies, I was hooked on the idea of space flight and exploration. I find the idea inherently interesting.

Still, an interesting subject does not necessarily make a great book. For instance, I recently purchased George Monbiot's examination of causes and cures of global warming, "Heat," because I kept having to return it to the library without having finished it. The subject is fascinating, yet Monbiot manages to take an important subject and make it ponderous. Unfortunately, content-wise, it's probably the best book on the subject, so I purchased it.

Happily, this was not the case with "Mission To Mars;" it is anything but ponderous. Mr. Collins, who participated in the first manned moon mission (he flew in the Command Module, orbiting around the moon while Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took humanity's first steps on the moon). The book, published in 1990, examined the possibilities and challenges in mounting a manned expedition to Mars.

The fact that the book was published before both the collapse of the Soviet Union, the destruction of a second space shuttle and the building of the International Space Station actually makes it more interesting and perhaps, oddly, more relevant. Collins points out the limitations of the Space Shuttle and the problems with the United States' failure to build a "dumb" booster-- a rocket platform that can launch huge loads, rather than the relatively small ones that the Space Shuttle is capable of. He examines the pros and cons of partnering with the Soviet Union in the endeavor-- mostly the technical, rather than the political problems. He is clearly critical of the idea of the International Space Station, as far as pulling resources away from other priorities.

I would argue that the building of the International Space Station has allowed NASA and other space agencies to learn about some of the "nuts and bolts" problems in long manned space missions and allowed them to examine the physiological problems of human beings living in a zero gravity environment for prolonged periods. He examines the latter at length, pointing out that at the time, 1990, the Soviet Union had a great deal more experience with this through the Mir space station, but that the Americans chose not to try to get the Soviets to share what they'd learned.

Collins examines various problems of long-- multiyear-- space missions, which a Mars mission would entail. An obvious one is power-- how would one power the rocket, and how would one provide the huge amount of electricity needed for such a mission. He suggests that technologies that we've had a lot of experience with-- simple rocket power for the spacecraft and a combination of fuel cells and small nuclear reactors for electricity. He does not shy away from the human factors; how would one deal with physical and psychological problems months or even a year away from earth? He suggests that every crew member would have a preemptive appendectomy early on in their training. How would one handle, though, a psychological problem? Even choosing a crew that remained healthy-- can you think of one person you could stay in one house with for two years without even being able to step outside and cool off for a few minutes? He suggests that the crew be comprised of couples. As someone who has been divorced twice, I had to chuckle-- that might raise more problems than it solved.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is an extended depiction of a mission. Mechanical breakdowns (including plumbing), cultural and crew conflicts play into the mission.

One thing that Collins is adamant about is that he feels that a return to the moon is a waste of time. He takes a "been there, done that" attitude. I couldn't help feel that a little bit of sour grapes played into that view-- that he had to sit and watch his two crewmates make history while he flew overhead. With this in mind, I was a little confused recently when Collins and his two crewmates were critical about President Obama's recent shift in the space program. Reading about the changes, I almost wondered if President Obama had read the book; his shift of focus is to an eventual Mars mission, and the development of a "dumb" booster to launch crews and equipment into orbit, along with the use of the Orion space capsule as a means to reduce the reliance of NASA on Russia to launch crews.

One of the goals President Obama set last month for the US space program was a manned flight to Mars by the mid-2030's. I grew up in the decade that President John Kennedy declared we would send a man to the moon by the end of, the 1960's. If we do manage to mount a manned mission to Mars by that time, I have a pretty good chance to be alive then-- I'll be in my seventies. One of my earliest memories were of our first steps into space. Perhaps some of my last will be our first steps on another planet. Collins' book, which is quite readable, renewed that hope, making it clear that we've cleared the technical, political, economic-- and human-- hurdles before, and we can do it again.