Monday, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day Reflections

Memorial Day is unfolding as a beautiful day here in Southern Indiana. The sky is clear and the temperature is warm. Soon we'll have the smoker fired up to cook ribs. We'll clean up the sticks and debris from last night's thunderstorm, then do a little work around the yard and garden. About mid-afternoon we expect several of Will's friends to join us for a cookout. For us, it's another day in Paradise, living the American dream.

But I've recently had two vivid reminders of what Memorial Day is all about.

First: Last Friday I was listening to NPR's "Morning Edition" as I drove to work. Steve Inskeep was interviewing retired Marine General Anthony Zinni. General Zinni had some very blunt criticisms of the administration's handling of the war in Iraq. He said that the military was given unrealistic objectives that have led to unnecessary loss of life. "We [The Bush Administration] were in there talking about Jeffersonian democracy, free market economies, changing the face of the Middle East with this one blow. That was ridiculous, and I think now what we have is young kids paying the price..."

Gen. Zinni went on to comment that he had heard on the news that morning that three more Marines had died in Iraq, but that it was not the lead story -- it was number 3, behind the results from "American Idol". Gen. Zinni was concerned that a loss of focus on the human cost of the war will lead to a situation similar to Vietnam.

Second: Gen. Zinni's point was brought home in a very graphic way by yesterday's Doonesbury comic strip. Gary Trudeau filled his entire 6 cartoon panels with the names of soldiers killed in Iraq from the beginning of the war through April 23,2004. He provided a pointer to, a web site that maintains a detailed tally of casualties from the US, UK and other countries. At the time of this post, the US casualty count stands at 813.

The View from the Roof today is that we must not allow our soldiers' sacrifice to go unnoticed or, worse, to be trivialized in the media. We need to see the numbers every day, first thing, not as part of some grim exercise in scorekeeping, but as a prompt to continually demand an answer to the bottom line question: "Why is this happening?" More importantly, we must continue to demand accountability from the government officials and policy makers that started this war. (Let's start by firing Donald Rumsfeld!) One of the mistakes of the Vietnam era was that we confused the targets of our opposition -- blaming the soldiers for the mistakes of their generals and the elected policy makers. There are many today who maintain that any criticism of the war or the current administration somehow equates to lack of support for the troops. I think we're smart enough to tell the difference.

(You can hear the entire interview with Gen. Zinni here: )

Friday, May 28, 2004

We've got pictures!

This post is really a test to see how the "hello!" software works. Within Blogger there is no way to directly upload photos. But "hello!" handles it for you. Very cool!

So, for this morning, the View from the Roof is the view from ground level. Mary has a beautiful rose garden started. The blooms got clobbered by a thunderstorm last night, but earlier in the week I captured some shots of the first blooms.

Some of the first blooms on Mary's roses. Posted by Hello

Another first bloom. Posted by Hello

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Out of the Stone Age?

My grown daughters, Katie and Sarah, call me "Stone Age Pop" because until recently I had the oldest, ugliest cell phone on the planet...and I didn't know how any of it's features worked. The numbers that I programmed in the memory of the thing when I first got it two years ago were the same numbers in it when I lost it in a New York cab two months ago. (The one night I decided to go out with it in my pocket instead of hanging from my belt on a really ugly aftermarket belt clip I bought at Wal-Mart for five bucks.) I didn't care that it was ugly. It was a tool, not a part of my lifestyle. We have 350 minutes a month, shared across three phones. We never came close to running out.

Now I have a new flip phone - the same kind that Katie has. (See her new blog for her opinion of it.) It's newer, lighter, and hipper. And it fits in my pocket very nicely. And I talk on it a little bit more. But it's still a tool. I still don't know how all the features work, and the voice activated numbers I entered don't work - a step back from where I was.

And so the girls still call me "Stone Age".

I let them get away with it mainly because as long as they're teasing me, they're still talking to me.

But neither of them knew what a blog was til I started mine. Old Stone Age surprised 'em.

I'll admit, I hadn't paid much attention to them until we gave up television. (More on that another day.) I had read a few at random, but they usually contained the drivel that caused my son Will to turn up his nose at them. Will said
It's some kid sitting in a dark room at night, all alone, with no friends, writing crap like "I'm all alone, listening to this music. It sucks. I think I'll kill somebody." Don't ever tell my friends you have a blog!

OK. I won't tell. Your secret is safe.

Creating a blog won't change my life. Reading it won't change yours. This is fundamentally a very self-centered endeavor. It's about my opinions, my point of view, It might be the cyberspace equivalent of the crazy guy on the corner shouting at the people passing by. And you know what? If you don't like it, you have two choices:

1. Ignore it. Cross the street and don't look back. Click somewhere else. I'm not being rude, I'm just reflecting the reality of the Internet. Nobody made you come to this site. Maybe somebody suggested it, or included a link in an email. (Ha! Maybe it was me!)

2. Start your own blog and tell the world I'm wrong. Find your own corner and startj shouting. It's free. Go ahead. I dare, I double-dog dare you. Send me a link when you do. (But please, no angst. It upsets Will.)

Here are some of the blogs I was reading before I started my own:

Denny Coates -- "The Book of Life". I like reading Denny's posts. He inspires me to look for the "glass half full", like my neighbor Bill does. Some of us need constant reminders.

Franklen (Sorry, I couldn't find the last name...)-- "Bicycle Commuting Now". I've been dabbling in bicycle commuting. (OK, so 3 days in 4 weeks doesn't constitute much more than good intentions.) Frank's running commentary on bicycling in Harrisburg, PA gives me frequent reminders of how easy, and fun, it can be.

Kiril Kundurazieff -- "The Cycling Dude". Kiril, aka the "Mad Macedonian", is a west-coast cyclist who comments on cycling issues around the country. He has put up some great pictures from California rides.

John Perry Barlow -- "BarlowFriendz". Barlow was a member of the Grateful Dead. He also was a cofounder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation a non-profit group working to protect "digital rights". An interesting blog that addresses a variety of topics.

My favorite blog today, however, is:
Katie Johnston, "Things That I Like and Things That I Do Not Like"

OK, so she's my daughter. I think she's funny as hell. What's so Stone Age about that?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

"Hello, world!"

"Hello, world!"

Anyone who has ever written a computer program recognizes this cheerfully optimistic two word salutation as proof that his or her code has successfully executed. It is the simplest programming task: display a line of text on the screen. Why "Hello, world!" and not "What's up, Bubba?", I don't know. But as a starting point for a new blog, it makes perfect sense to me.

I used to be a programmer. I loved it. Now I'm a director of IT for a large Indiana-based manufacturing company. Some days I love it. (Those are the days when I get to see somebody else's "Hello, world!" moment and cheer them on.)

I'm 48 years old. Next week I'll be 49. I'm almost out of that magic demographic range of 18-to-49 year old males. Next year I'll get my AARP card. Damn!

For 25 years I lived in Tennessee, which explains why "What's up, Bubba?" also makes perfect sense to me. Now I live in Southern Indiana. I've looked up "Hoosier" in the dictionary. It's not really a flattering term.

For the last several weeks I've been reading other people's blogs. There are some excellent ones out there. (I'll share some links I learn how.) There is some trash out there, too. (You can find it on your own.) I hope to land somewhere in between. (You can decide.) My reason for starting a blog is probably the same as anyone else: I think I have something to say, and the Internet provides a free podium. We'll just have to see if it's worth reading.

So why "The View from the Roof"? It was really my third choice.

As I thought about the tone I wanted to set for this blog, I remembered a conversation I had with my neighbor, Bill, a couple of years ago. It was a warm spring Saturday morning. The sky was blue, just a few clouds in the sky, and I was standing on the roof of my back porch, cleaning leaves out of the gutter. Bill was in his yard next door. He called up to me, "Good morning, Mike!". I said good morning, and asked how he was doing. His reply stuck with me: "I'm just enjoying another day in paradise. I'm living the American dream." I'd never thought of it that way. We both have nice houses, good jobs, loving wives and great kids. Bill is a "glass half full" kind of guy. I'm a bit grumpier. He shook me out of it that morning. I try not to forget. So I thought about naming the blog "AnotherDayInParadise", but that was already taken. (You can find it. It's probably very good. I don't know.)

My second choice was "The View From Here". That was already taken, too.

So I'm in the middle of the sign-up form, needing to enter a name. Two strikes. I get up and walk through the house to think. I don't want to cancel and start over tomorrow, and I don't want a lame name. I consider "Free Frame of Reference", a lingering memory from a news story in the 60's about a large door frame set up in a San Francisco park. (I think that's right. Some of my memories of the 60's are cloudy. Bet yours are, too. Be honest, now.) But that's kind of obscure...and I'm not sure I've got the details right.

Then I remembered another spring day, another rooftop moment. We were living in the suburbs of Memphis, in a two story house. My wife, Mary, and I were replacing the roof. Throughout our marriage (28 years, as of yesterday! She still hasn't figured out that she got the short end of the deal.) we have enjoyed doing major projects together. This particular year we were doing the roof. I remember being up on the second story on a clear, warm Memphis day. It was early afternoon and we had few more pressing concerns than how we were going to finish the roofing project. In the back of our minds was the news we had heard the night before about an older woman we knew from church, Olive, who had been rushed to the hospital after a stroke. Mary was on the ground when the phone rang. She went in to answer it. A few minutes later she came out of the house and climbed up the ladder to join me. She said that the call was another church member calling to let us know that Olive had died that morning. We stood on the roof for a few minutes in silence, gazing out over the neighborhood rooftops. I remember looking up at the sky and seeing the misty trails left by a jet and thinking "there goes Olive, streaking up to heaven.". That moment stuck with me, too.

"The View From the Roof" wasn't taken on blogspot, so here we are.

Hello, world!