Thursday, January 22, 2015


Many of you will be familiar with Bill Bryson's delightful book about Australia already.  (ISBN = 978-0767903868.)  In A Sunburned Country is funny and entertaining, like all of his travel books, but there's a special flavor to this one.  Here's the reason:  Australia, chartered under the astrological sign Libra, is thus is ruled by Eris, the tiny iceball out beyond Pluto that creates so much controversy and keeps things interesting for us.  Even as a little kid in school I was taught about Australia primarily in terms of how odd and contentious it is:

>> Australia is the only continent that is also an island.

>> Australia is the only continent that is also a country.

>> Everywhere else in the world, marsupials -- which essentially give birth to live embryos who crawl from the womb into an external pouch where they grow until they become recognizable members of their species and can shift for themselves -- have been pushed to a pretty marginal status by other species.  But many of the really important keystone species in Australia -- like the Quolls pictured above -- are marsupials.

>> The native Australian animals that are not marsupials tend to be much odder than that.  Take the Platypus -- a venomous, duck-billed, furry, beaverish aquatic animal that reproduces by laying eggs. 

>> Bryson comments on the fact that it seems that every tiny creature in and around Australia is out to kill you.  Nobody has ever really accounted for the fact that an enormous proportion of the local fauna are deadly poisonous and ready to show it.  ALL of the snakes found there are among the top ten deadliest on earth.  Any pretty shell you pick up on the beach is likely to nail you with a venomous spine and put you in the hospital.  All spiders are poisonous to some extent, but in Australia any of them can easily kill you.  There are no harmless house spiders of the sort that people everywhere else take for granted.  For crying out loud, even the sea life is dripping poison -- the itty-bitty Blue-Ringed Octopus and the filmy, petite Box Jellyfish being especially lethal and agonizing.   How's that for an Erisian corner of the world? 

>> Even more Erisian is the fact that living happily among these staggeringly dangerous animals is a variety of native Scorpions.  This is an animal that strikes terror around of the world because so many of them can kill you.  They all sting in Australia, and it always hurts, but there is not a single case on record of anyone there dying of the poison.  You have to like that.  A website I found recommends Aussie Scorpions as pets for anyone over 12.  Hee hee!

>> Oh, and the people?  Ever heard of "Australian rules" football?  Aussies can't get enough of it, and it's not like the soccer games you are used to in the USA, where nobody is allowed to use their hands, and prima donna players put all their energy into showing off their balletic on-field moves.  In the schoolyard, nobody keeps score anymore because that's too, you know, competitive, and anyone who shows up is sent home with a trophy.  Australian Rules football, on the other hand, allows players to move the ball using anything short of a bazooka; they are allowed to tackle and generally clobber each other, although injuring other players is "discouraged" with penalties; and the last player standing wins.  You had better believe they are keeping score, too.

>> In this passage on page 100 of my edition, Bryson sums up their political process thusly:

"...It is an exhausting process to witness, and you do rather come away with two interlinked impressions -- that Australians love to argue for argument's sake..."
If that's not the perfect Erisian system of government in a nutshell, well, I'd like to see better.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

These Are The Times That Make Us Think About Chaos...

...But are we after all really thinking about ORDER? 

Yesterday we had a brutally cold day after a 3-inch overnight snowfall, and sure enough, we heard in the early afternoon about a 150-vehicle smashup on I-94, over by Kalamazoo.  This morning they've corrected the number of cars and trucks involved: 193 total.  One of the 50 semi trucks involved in the crash was (rather curiously for this time of year) loaded with 44,000 pounds of fireworks.  Needless to say, they caught a spark from somewhere, turning the crash site into a Confetti-bomb, Roman-candle, Catherine-wheel inferno for several hours.  Amazingly, only 1 person died in the fracas.

While all this was going on, a couple of hours east on US-23 pretty close to Ann Arbor, there was a 30-car smashup.  1 person died in that one, too.

While I was Googling for details of these sorry events, what did I find but ANOTHER multiple-vehicle smashup on I-94, almost exactly a year ago, close to Michigan City, Indiana.  The image above is from that crash.  46 vehicles total involved, 15 of them semis.  3 humans and a dog died in that one.

(I keep mentioning the number of semis because I just figure, hey, being crushed to death between 2 semis must be even scarier than being crushed to death between 2 Fiestas.)

This is not to mention the vast number of single-car and smaller multiple-vehicle crashes that must have been going on everywhere the police looked yesterday.  Even I did a 360 on a near-vertical driveway that morning, luckily without hitting anything or even needing a tow truck to get myself back into the game.  (Hey, I wonder what the wait was like yesterday for tow truck service?)

So, people look at an image like the one above and they say, goodness, how chaotic!  NOBODY CAN DENY  the sloppiness that must have gone into the non-planning of this clusterfunk -- unsalted, half-plowed roads travelled by drivers barrel-assing at dangerous speeds while talking on their phones, tailgating as usual.  Even the ones who slowed down for the conditions and kept their eyes glued to the road clearly did not slow down ENOUGH.  Is any excuse good enough here?  We all heard in advance about the temperatures and the snowfall.  We've had pretty minimal winter weather up until now, so there's no reason for them to be unready.  They've had all summer to save up to buy salt, or buckets of gravel, or plows -- really they should have had whatever they needed, right at hand.

When we sit back and do nothing as known dangers come to roost quietly all around us, the same dangers we face every year, are we not setting ourselves up for disaster?  Is that not the essence of order?

Is setting ourselves up for disaster -- INVITING THE VERY CHAOS WE CLAIM TO DREAD SO MUCH -- year after year -- is that not pretty orderly, to the point of being predictable?

I also have to like the echo effect of hearing about a massive multiple-car smashup in Michigan on I-94, almost precisely a year after a massive multiple-car smashup on I-94 at Michigan City.

Just saying.

Saturday, January 03, 2015

...But I Hate Being Wrong As Much As I Hate Being Right

I had this friend once I lost touch with years ago.  I've really, really, really missed him.  I always wondered how he was and what he was up to.  It was impossible to think he was not out there living some kind of great life. Everyone told me what a genius he was.  I really couldn't comment on this because he was majoring in something I'd never studied; he could have been a genius or a moron.  I just knew I loved him with all my heart.  Have you ever loved someone so much that just seeing him cross the sidewalk in front of you, half a mile away, and it made you happy for two days?  I saw him!!!  Have you ever loved someone so much that you could be walking around with your usual glazed expression, focused on your own problems, and something would make you snap out of it, turn around backwards and look -- and there he'd be, 200 yards away, talking to someone?   He had THAT effect on me.  Many people loved him, but only I had specific radar that could pick him up that way.  That's the real thing, baby. 

So true that I love him still.

He went somewhere else for grad school and we lost touch.  But I knew he was succeeding like mad somewhere, the cynosure of all eyes, straight A's in school, incredible career afterwards, loved by one and all.  There's no way out of it for a guy like that. 

Well, I couldn't find him for the longest time after I started looking.  None of our mutual friends knew where he was and nobody knew who to ask.  He's a big computer type, with a secretive quality for all his popularity, and I always pictured him working quietly in a basement office somewhere, setting up some gigantic database or other new system (or maybe hacking into one).  Making things happen.  Big things.  Maybe raising kids with someone he finally really loved, not those shaky specimens he was always dating when I knew him.

Well, I finally found an article about him online. 

It said he killed himself. 

"His friends declined to share details," the article said. 

I know just enough about his inner deepest whatever to make an educated guess at why he would pull a stunt like this.  But it's still just a guess.

I love you still, and I hope I see you again.  Soon.

I HATE Being Right All The Time....


Two days ago, I repeated a tired joke about an old friend.  I wanted to touch base with him but only had an office number, and I couldn't get past his evil robo-secretary.  This made clear that he was a very busy man, maybe even busier and more important than he was planning to be when he went into practicing law.

The joke about him is this:  "He's such a shitty driver, I can't believe he's still alive after all this time."  This gem of wit dates from when we first knew each other.  He was the first driver I ever rode with who really scared me.  He was a leadfoot, usually more or less stoned when he drove his friends anywhere.  And he was an even worse driver under the influence, which is really saying something.  Most people, fearful of a drunk-driving charge, are verrrrrrry careful when they get behind the wheel knowing they're impaired.  Not this guy.  He floored it, laughing, being careful to take the corner on two wheels just to show you he didn't care if he died along with all his passengers.  Of course, scary or not, those are simply good times when you're a teenager.

I finally got fed up trying to get past the front desk at his work, and let it drop.  For, what, a year or two?  Quite a while, anyway.  You know how it is.  You get busy with other things and it slips your mind.

 But then I had some luck finding other people we both knew, and I took up my lance, got on my donkey and tilted at that windmill, I mean robo-secretary, again. 

I was stymied once more.

So I just got on Google two days ago, after making that joke again,  remembering again all the good times we had.  I immediately found a fresh photo of him.  I was pleased to see that he'd finally slimmed down the way he wanted -- the photo on his office website showed the same old tub of lard I knew in high school.  He was even smiling in this new photo, which is astounding.  It's not easy to get him to smile.

So I hit "visit page" to see what the occasion was for the posting of this trim, confident-looking, happy-seeming photo of my friend.  Promotion, maybe?   Did he follow in his dad's footsteps and successfully run for office? 

He was killed in a car crash.  His fault.  On a side street with a low speed limit, right near where we both grew up.  He rear-ended the other driver so hard that she was on life support at the time the article was written.  He was killed outright.  At least I hope so; one article I found on the accident said he died on Sunday, the day after the accident.

I still miss you, man.  Wherever you are, be happy.