Sunday, December 23, 2007

...then you've made your life contingent on rivers

I just finished reading River Horse, A Voyage Across America by William Least Heat-Moon. It's the true story of his trip across the United States via river, but there are such poetic moments that it's hard to believe it's real. The author lives in the town where I went to college, and I share his appreciation of the lower Missouri River. Here are some great quotes, mostly from the latter half of the book, because that's when I started taking note of the words. I'll have to go back and read the first half again.

p. 235: "I said, If nature undoes immediately what we work years to do, then we're not doing it right."
p. 345: (quoting Pilotis) "'That river isn't about people - it's too primeval. When I see an ocean, I don't see time, but on the Missouri, I see time everywhere, along the eroded banks, down the shallow bottoms in those worn and rounded stones, even in the current. Flow and erosion, flow and erosion. The valley is the face of a clock, and the hour hand's the moving river, always showing how our days are ebbing, getting washed downstream. Civilization will run out long before the sun burns up and turns rivers back into planetary gases.' 'And later: Stand on the water's edge and see how easy it is to imagine a valley before you existed - then imagine it in a time when you're long gone. That river scours existence, pulls solidities loose and flushes them away. To it, our days are no more than cottonwood fluff. Our little selfish ploys and conceited aspirations are just so much sediment. People are about cleverness. A river's about continuance. We talk about dams and wing-dikes, but we don't need to fret about that Missouri. It's not endangered - we are. When I'm out on the water, I don't worry about it. I worry about me. I'm just too small for that river.'"
p. 355: "That night the Photographer reminded me of a famous line from Aldo Leopold, author of the celebrated book A Sand County Almanac: 'One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.' But that was two generations ago, and now the world is not so lonely for those who act on behalf of our planet."
p. 433: (quoting Pilotis) "Why do you think our passage must be continual travail? You've got to adjust to going downhill. Quit uprivering. Just follow the drainage down."
p. 453: (quoting a woman in a bar) "In full certainty, she said, 'When a man takes to the road, even if it's a river, he's running away, but when a woman takes off, she's looking for something.'"
p. 459: "Pessimism and negativism are cankers in the soul of long-distance voyagers, and continuance of journeys owes about as much to blind faith as realistic assessment - at least, that is my interpretation, drawn from reading many travelers' accounts, including those of Columbus."
p. 462: (a discussion between the author and Pilotis) P: "Does the ease of downstreaming make you second-guess yourself about refusing to take a jet boat up the River of No Return so you could have cooperated with the flow of the Missouri for halfway across the continent?" WLH-M: "'No, I said, because those two rivers forced us to earn passage - I think it's like rock climbing where the point is to go a difficult way, otherwise ascent is almost meaningless - the object isn't just to get to the top but to get there in such a way you learn the nature of the mountain.'... 'Four-lane highways are for passing, not passage.'"
p. 474: (quoting Pilotis) "The best human beings can do is borrow a river. We can live in a forest, in the mountains, in the earth, in the grasslands, but not in a river. That's strange for creatures two-thirds water."
p. 491: "On that hundredth night I understood that I had gone and entered a place, and I knew where I'd gone, but where I'd entered I had no idea. When our voyage was only a memory, where would I wash up? Just where is the great delta of old river travelers? When the journey is done, quo vadis? That's a question adventurers leave out of their accounts..."
p. 492: (the author remembering a conversation between him and his ex-wife) "The winter before, I had heard, 'Are you going to trade a boat trip for our marriage?' an impossible question for me since to walk away from the river, once the idea of crossing took hold of me, was to walk away from a long dream, a deep aspiration. The voyage was not more significant than the marriage because it had become one pillar of it - or, at least, one pillar of my life. Either way, I believed a long rivering necessary to my continuance as a man. To the question I said, If I fail even to try the trip I won't be worth being married to. And I heard, 'Then you've made your life contingent on rivers.' To that, I could say nothing."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Female leadership

If Hillary Clinton becomes our next president, would Nancy Pelosi or Barbara Boxer run in the future?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Choose Your Candidate

I just took the Washington Post Choose Your Candidate Quiz. The questions are organized by topic, and the participant chooses which candidate response they most agree with. The participant doesn't know which candidate gave which response, and they can choose to hide or show the tally by candidate. Some responses are more obviously linked to certain candidates, but half the fun is guessing. I will not divulge who the quiz says my candidate is, but I have a few initial reactions:
1. You can take either the Democrat or the Republican quiz. When I have some free time, I'll take the other quiz. I'm curious to know what it would tell me, or whether it would just frustrate me. However, it would definitely help me brush up on what the other party has to say.
2. The quiz presents positions as talking points, which we all know are mostly BS anyway. It just goes to show you that the content carries less weight than the style of wording in politics. Just because a candidate says things in appealing ways doesn't mean they're more qualified to lead.
3. Does it really matter whether the quiz results align with whom you already support? How many people would change their mind after taking this quiz? Maybe it depends more on how decided you were before or what your experience has been with the candidates.
4. I'm definitely doing more research on the candidates. I know whom I'm voting for, but I also want to know more about all of our potential Presidents.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Stem Cell Breakthrough

Two weeks ago, scientists announced that they discovered a way to create embryonic stem cells from skin cells, without any use of the controversial embryos. If this technique is truly successful and proves to be the huge scientific breakthrough everyone believes it to be, then the stem cell debate is over. It also means that President Bush won.

I must admit, maybe that's okay. True, I joined the throngs of people outraged that Bush would defy scientific reasoning and refuse on moral grounds to support embryonic stem cell research. But being President of the United States is a tough job in which you're called upon to make decisions that will never appease everyone. At the end of the day, you do what you think is right.

Put yourself in his shoes. Try to make a controversial decision between what you feel is right for the country and what others want you to do. (You may think that just because you align with a certain political party that such an issue may never come up, but these days, you just don't know, and what you think you believe may be tested at some point.)

What President Bush did was put his foot down about what he felt was right, forcing the scientific community to find a solution that won't pose a moral dilemma for some people. So scientists did just that. Whether the administration sufficiently supported scientists working on such projects is another story that requires more investigation. But in the long run, if we now have the technology to do stem cell research that will pass the moral test and receive lots of new funding, isn't that what's best for the country?