Monday, July 30, 2007

Dribbling basketballs through math

Dribbling basketballs through math

Commentary by Jim Banholzer

Being a wise-fool through school bounced me down some interesting paths. As a kid aged in single digits, I enjoyed math, constantly solving problems in my head while dribbling a basketball between my legs. Once, while visiting my Aunt Jane, I told her that I would count up to a million by next return. Months later as we drove up to her house, I bounced a ball outside the car window, wildly exclaiming, "999,998—999,999—One Million!"

Suddenly, I was a sophomore, more fascinated in the geometric possibilities of what a trick B-Ball shot could do for a globetrotter, rather than what any algebraic formula might bring in the way of splitting up weights for future newspaper bundles. The guys sitting symmetrically around our rhombus-shaped table were all feverish fans of the Washington Bullets professional team. Mornings after a win we would chant in whispers the names of our various stars. "Chenier! Unseld! Big E!" Our algebra teacher, Mr. Kluge, was a tall man of almost 2 meters and we wondered about what shots he had erased and prime numbers placed on the basketball scoreboard before switching over to a math chalkboard.

Once, in the middle of a lesson, Kluge turned his back for an eraser. I took it upon myself to hurrah in a cockneyed voice "Porter!" honoring point guard extraordinaire Kevin Porter, who had just contributed to a playoff-clinching win with a 17-assists effort. Mishearing my cried praise, Kluge spun about, querying, "Who's the genius that said 'Ordered pairs?' We haven't even reached that chapter yet!" My fellow fanatics pointed to my quadrant while Kluge lasered me a look with a new angle of light.

A couple years later I saw Mr. Kluge taking his son Andy out fishing on a rowboat. I imagined what type of conversations my math teacher—who I had only known in the illumination of the classroom—might have with his son on a tranquil Saturday? Did they talk about depth-sounding graphs and how radar works for fish finders? Or did Kluge point out geometrically congruent fences, which joined together at the fisherman-access gate? Maybe they pondered the mathematical improbabilities of catching genius bottom-feeders if they did not let out enough line, or the physics involved when Burke Lake froze over.

Actually, whatever they postulated over made little difference. It was refreshing enough for me to see that Mr. Kluge was a well-balanced man not suffering from "nature deficit disorder" while passing along his wonderful fishing knowledge to his son.

Back in the '70s, Kluge warned us that within a few years the metric system was going to be imbedded in our culture so much that the word "pound" would be eliminated from our language. He claimed that sayings like "A penny saved is a pound earned" would have to be changed. However, through some critical thinking—which Kluge had likely prompted us for—we figured out that these particular pounds he spoke of were actually a British term for a monetary denomination. Further confounding interest, the pound has essentially replaced the penny in England since the time of my final math examination—a test I passed largely due to obtuse questions about pounds not weighing heavily over my desk like so many medicine balls.

Kluge's mindbenders were sometimes more difficult than trying to figure out how to try to steal a basketball from Kevin Porter. With some of his timed tests you were only given 10 seconds to rebound Kluge-puzzlers out of the back court of the brain, before digging deep and giving it the best shot with what you had.

Gus Johnson, who had played at the University of Idaho, became a legendary Bullet who could pluck a $20 dollar bill off the top of the basketball backboard then quickly calculate the U.S. equivalent of a pound and leave it for change. We in the class had been concerned about re-determining in metric terms the feats of his vertical jumping ability. How impressive would "Gus leaped up a century of centimeters to stuff the ball, conducting a precision face transplant on Dave Debusschere" have sounded? Thus not having to attend basketball games with a slide rule sticking out of our back pockets allowed us to feel more footloose (meter-loose?) and fancy free.

Before my finite years intersect that final exam in the sky, I would hope to run into Mr. Kluge again. Very late in this game I would come unglued from a maple park bench, still traveling with basketballs. I might find him tuning multi-indexed fish scales with his "metric crescent wrench". There I would freely throw him two pounds of advice: "Don't portage up your ordered pairs of fish onto the abacus before they're fried." Then, from my opposite hand, I would divulge to him my secret childhood corollary, employed as a shortcut in counting up to a million, while aggressively advancing dribbles, back in Aunt Jane's driveway.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Superior Sportspersons Soar above Losing Definitions

Jim Banholzer

The mythological status that we bestow upon winning sports icons is inspirational, but all too often our must-win culture deems the person who places second a failure. Take, for instance, Germany’s Jan Ullrich: Here is a man who actually won the Tour de France bicycle race back in 1997 and earned second five other times. Mr. Ullrich is also a gold and silver medal Olympic Champion. Yet in 2005, right before that year’s race, USA Today portrayed Mr. Ullrich as an “also ran” saying, “He lacks mental toughness” (Reibal). Here is an athlete who is in the top one-billionenth percentile of all human racers –yet the media continuously portrays him as a loser. Something needs fixed when according to such doctrines, if you are not sitting on top of the world you are a letdown.

The same goes for professional sports at many levels. Even though Boston and New York’s baseball teams sometimes win pennants for World Series berths –unless the team actually wins the series, it is a tough traumatic event for the team and that team’s city! Enthusiasts, whose teams place second, truly believe that their lives as fans would have improved in glorious ways had only the most infinitesimal of heartless pebbly stones not shifted an easy grounder, bobbling onto an erroneous course through their first baseman’s legs. When this happens, teams instantly trade ‘losing’ players, while managers’ heads get the chop. If you are caught wearing the insignia or even colors of the trailing team, you are subject to ridicule for years to come –until that next rematch. Sometimes this happens even when the team is generating millions of dollars of profit, and would be considered successful by any other business model measurement.

The honorable thing to do is ignore this mockery and attempt to gain character from the process in the meantime. This is not always easy, as there are hundreds of Monday morning “expert” pundits for every professional player and coach. Yet sports figures with integrity can rise above this common challenge and prove themselves successes by disregarding this blather, knowing that, as important as fanzines portray these games to be, that there are more vital things in life to gain rewards from. Superstars can graduate to other causes and truly shine in non-sports related venues, contributing global assists to the downtrodden.

Sportspersons have lots to live up to, when glorified as idols that represent everything good in this weary world. A few aspire to and actually reach this high standard and are worthy of such idolization. It is excellent when they attain this level, but even the most glorified of heroes make mistakes. Being subject to failure humanizes the most respected of sports idols, but if they handle this quandary properly, they can come away even more victorious, albeit human. Paradoxically, being fallible enables humans to overcome mistakes, achieving higher levels of admiration than they could if they were actually flawless entities.

A prime example of sportsmanship played out recently on a field at the Spokane Special Olympics. During the 100-yard dash race, physically and mentally disabled contestants assembled, beaming full of life, each raring to win. At the gun, they started out –except for one small lad who stumbled, rolled over and started to cry. The other participants heard the boy and turned back –all eight of them. One girl with Down’s syndrome bent down on the racetrack, kissed him, and said, “This will make it better.” Then all nine linked arms and walked in unison to the finish line. Everyone in the stadium stood stunned. There was not a dry eye in the arena, and the cheering still echoes years later, resonating in witnesses’ heads when they recount the story. This clearly demonstrates that “True Champions” sometimes thrive unexpectedly in places, which some might wrongly regard as lowly (True Winners). Update on this thanks to "some guy"

Tales of football icons fumbling their fortunes emerge from the underside of the arena. It seems that many fabled players, after having everything in life catered for them, have had difficult times re-adjusting to less lavish lifestyles when their careers are cut short. Some end up strung out on skid row or even in jail. Bruce Lowitt from the St. Petersburg Times writes about players who have resorted to selling their Super Bowl Rings only a few years after earning them. In his story, “Getting the ring can be easier than keeping it”, he interviews Kansas City pawnshop owner Don Budd, who says, “It was hard for me to believe that someone could reach that pinnacle…and be willing to give up the one object that says, ‘I was the best.’” Nowadays, Mr. Budd averages 10 players a season, who sell out their rings in this “last line of defense between poverty and homelessness” (Lowitt).

Yet sometimes, after hitting all-time life-lows even these trounced players bounce back up again, redeeming themselves as even better persons than they had been at the height of their ball-playing careers. Hall-of-Famer Jim Brown, (who was raised by his great-grandmother from age two, because his parents were gone and his grandmother was an alcoholic) left football while at the top of his sport, moving up even higher on the scale of true importance to counsel troubled teenagers and make positive inroads into getting gangbangers off streets. After all, for kids struggling in traumatic times, seriously doubting everything, nothing beats hearing legitimately gifted voices of experience from high-profile persons who have tasted polarities of life’s sweetness and bitterness. From delicate golden syrupy pancakes stuffed with caviar and Savoy-truffles with a Faberge omelet -To soppy milquetoast and rotten eggs for breakfast with a side of saltwater decaf from Hard-Times Café.

Embracing wide spectrums of experience develops a broader person. Denial of bad experiences is necessary within certain degrees, but in many cases, denial is not the healthiest course of action.

How often in life, have you heard someone saying about a traumatic event, “I wish it hadn’t happened to me, but I’m a better person for it.” In Kathleen McGowan’s Psychology Today article, “The Hidden Side of Happiness” she shows how “a rich rewarding life often requires a messy battle with adversity” and that “there is a built-in human capacity to flourish under the most difficult circumstances” Thus the paradox, “what doesn’t kill you can actually make you stronger.” Adversity sometimes gets confused with failure and making a distinction between the two can be healing in of itself. Knowing that you have given it your best at a sporting event or some other task, yet did not “win” first place, should not by any means disallow you to proudly walk away from your valiant efforts.

In the mountaineering community, there are several well-documented incidents of professional climbers attempting to ascend high peaks, and then due to safety or weather concerns, turning around within shouting distance of the summit. Jon Krakauer, in his award-winning book Into Thin Air chronicles the case of Swedish ultra-athlete Goran Kropp. After traveling from sea-level Sweden on a specially built bicycle laden with 240 lbs of gear, robbed and beaten along the way, Goran Kropp finally reached the base of Mt. Everest, intending to climb it without bottled oxygen or Sherpa support. After a few training days, Goran reached 26,000 feet, aiming for the top the next morning right after midnight. Krakauer’s eagle-eyed perspective recounts: “For the first time in months almost no wind blasted the summit, but the snow on the upper mountain was thigh deep, making for slow exhausting progress. Kropp bulled his way relentlessly, upward through the drifts, however, about by two o’clock Thursday afternoon he’d reached 28,700 feet, just below the South Summit. But even though the top was no more than sixty minutes above, he decided to turn around, believing that he would be too tired to descend safely if he climbed any higher” (Krakauer).

“To turn around that close to the summit…,” (Rob) Hall mused with a shake of his head on May 6 as Kropp plodded past Camp Two on his way down the mountain. “That showed incredibly good judgment on young Goran’s part. I’m impressed – considerably more impressed actually, than if he’d continued climbing and made the top.”

Therefore, it is nice to see that at least in mountaineering circles that you do not have to park yourself on top of the world to be a winner. Principled warriors from other avenues of life would do well to take note of this. Being able to analyze mistakes, remember and learn from them, applying them to future tests, are one of the highest aspirations achievable and a fundamental nature of wisdom. Studying and learning from our failures is a great human gift.

It is nice that in this enlightened age of Lickity-split information, more people appreciate this dilemma, offering optimistic opportunities for better squeezing out of dangling second-leveled crevices.


` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` ` `

Works Cited

Krakauer, Jon. “Into Thin Air (excerpt).” Salon 24 May 1997. 20 November 2006.

Lowitt, Bruce. “Getting the ring can be easier than keeping it.” St. Petersburg Times 26 January 2001. 11 November 2006 2001/Getting_the_ring_can_.shtml

McGowan, Kathleen. “The Hidden Side of Happiness.” Psychology Today 02 May 2006. 08 November 2006 00001.html

Reibal, Sal. “Focus gives Lance head start as Tour de France nears.” USA Today 01 July 2005. 10 Nov. 2006 06-30-armstrong-cover_x.htm

“True Winners, California 2004.” 10 November 2006



Country Bumpkin Charm

Each time I fly back into the big city, I sneak up on my old friend Tim. After surprising him with a traditional Inspector Clouseau / Kato maneuver, we drive around for Auld Lang Syne. While we hit most of our old haunts, the past we worship briefly resuscitates, through the well-regarded stories we share.

We exchange our lively anecdotes; some unspoken for decades, as I drive an old beater past the house where we dropped off a dropsy friend with a fine-feather we adorned in his cap, so his dad could get a good laugh at the boys out on the town. After a sentimental pizza, I hit the free-for-all freeway, where I drive in the slow lane. Tim says I drive like a country bumpkin. We come to a stop light and glance over at the racecar next to us, booming out rapid bass beats from its speakers. Tim doesn’t stare at the people, but I do, ‘cause I’m freshly fallen off the spud wagon, landed directly at Dulles Airport.

Fifteen years in Idaho changes my outlook. At the airport, I watched passengers disembark from a direct flight from Africa. Dozens of hugs were exchanged between friends and relatives who had not seen each other for ages. I felt like I could have spent half of my vacation, standing there witnessing this lively spectacle.

We pull over and Tim decides to drive for a while. There’s always a concern about someone sneaking up around you on this crazy freeway. We have a long discussion about how I’ve become accustomed to looking directly at the people in the wheels going by and start singing, “I really love to watch them turn.” I tell Tim, “Where I now hail from there’s a chance that I might actually know the people, could exchange a friendly glance with them and simply smile.”

Tim says, “Banholzer, you know better than to establish eye contact in the City. People are shot for less.” More of the roads have changed since my last visit. I say to Tim, “These pie in the sky ramps remind me of some of the elaborate mazes we used to construct for each other back in fourth grade, before computer codes entered schools.”

Now, I’m stumped. The freeway we’ve been on for twenty minutes is unfamiliar. Tim has it figured out though. He has planned for our elaborate loop to take us where he considers the country, but reminds me of Boise. We’re coming north thorough Clifton, Virginia, while a ceaseless stream of traffic travels south towards us. Most of the commuters look miserable on this hot day, as traffic appears to be flowing around 12 mph. At this rate we gain a good gape into each car, enough time for us react with quick three-word creative commentaries about how each passerby is feeling. It’s funny on our end, because we have no pressing deadlines on this day. Feeling fancifully free, with the knowledge that I’m soon bound back for Idaho, I start making vocal remarks to each passing car that has an open window, repeatedly yelling, “Hurry!” using unique speedy voices to try to match each commuter’s fate. Tim starts laughing so hard, that I think he’s going to wreck. After about two hundred of these, I finally lighten up, feeling that I’ve made my best impact statement, which is:

Tim, why don’t you move to Idaho?

This meditative essay memorializes a Cottonwood tree, which passerby have encrusted with heart-shaped rocks they have discovered along the trails. The keystone tree is shown to symbolize the rejuvenation humans seek and find in refuges of Idaho nature, including magical discoveries of children, blind people, and dreamers. As a symbol of “The Heart of the Valley”, the towering tree is wildly imagined to represent the good nature and joys found brimming on all valley-hiking trails.

Heart-Stone Cottonwood Branches with 'Hasspess'

Jim Banholzer

There is a peculiar Cottonwood that you should know about; on the edge of this lifeline, we call the Big Wood River. The tree blossoms in Hailey, a hundred giant paces behind Robin Hood Lane in Sherwood Forest. Spilling out from the tree’s ridged bark are oodles of heart-shaped rocks tinged in pink, hugging the Cottonwood’s earthen base for all its worth. This steadfast shrine in the center of the valley stands for everyone’s delight.

While woodpeckers and mockingbirds wildly caw “Boo Radley,” I wonder which kind-hearted person interleaved the first cornerstone into the Cottonwood, at the start of this unadvertised sacred path. Others followed suit, paying forward random acts of kindness. Until the Thanksgiving-Tree roots loose, each reachable strategic spot for artfully enfolding rugged heart-stones is full. This keystone Cottonwood, centered between pinnacle mountain peaks and Snake River plains, symbolizes refuge renewal found in all hiking terrains.

Most of the grasping stones match the local geology, where rocking in the wind, the tree sways complete. Heart-stones appear on outlying trails in perfect ratios to retain enduring mysteries. Donor’s rucksack rocks from these far-flung valley paths to seed this shrine, leaving us breathless. Sometimes we take for granted how much good earth is grounded under surfaces that look like acmes of barrenness.

What hand of intelligent design chiseled fine these teeming rocks–each tempered slightly dissimilar? Has somebody secretly slipped a ruby-heart ring under the raw earth for the tree to draw into its absorbing roots? The towering tree was a sparkling seedling when Haileyites Charlie Benson and Glenn Miller ruled this roost like two Robin Hoods scouting in the days of yore (Miller). Then mostly sidestepping nature, TV grew to be a hypnotizing spirit in the valley, with foremost gatherings around radiant fires as Dorothy clicked her Ruby slippers, casting surreal cyber-wishes in techno-color, reminding stunned viewers that there’s no place like immortal home.

These days on Youtube, modern-day whippersnapper’s blog songs about saps falling for this tree. Some have posted photos onto MySpace, jamming the Cottonwood into digital preserves. Double exposure photographs from the tree reveal fleeting glimpses onto unexplained paths leading to heavenly homes.

After hard rains, these natural heart-rocks glaze evermore brilliant. Since ancient times, rocks have recognizingly rolled as containing mysterious uplifting attributes. Consider lodestones, radio crystals and healing stones, which alternative medicine recipients vouch for from their magnetic personalities. Not to mention the dream a companion had in the woods about breaking off shimmering rose quartz pieces budding from her own heart, to hand out freely to friends. Enough to ratchet up sensitivity for the most jaded of Grinches trolling the trails.

One blustery Sun Valley winter afternoon, after a certain turn of events I was feeling lower than a snake’s belly caught in a muddy wagon wheel rut. While quietly snowshoeing past this tree, I spied a sunny scribbled note, on a teensy paper plane, expecting a second wind. Quickly unfurling it, I read impressed, in rare earth ink the recharging message, “I wish ever bode hass pess”. Determining that the optimistic young writer truly meant, “I wish everybody happiness”, this charmed note raised the tree up another notch.

Thereafter, happiness in nature for me was forged into hasspess.

Anglers share secrets, as they stream past the cheery Cottonwood, on their way to fish out Huck Finn afternoons from the Big Wood. Businesspersons halt progress to hike the revitalizing paths, leaving work toils behind. The valley’s collective paths roll out with hikers, containing miles of smiles. This sprays the trails contagiously with sockdolagers of hasspess. In blizzards, the tree offers its shelter for warming reorientations. It’s a good locator tree to stand under for a minute to shake off your mittens.

Miscreant’s juke-jump lizard-like past this tree, jolted while seeing the remarkable stones zap extra-life into its Heartwood and consider reversing their own polarities. Even the blind trade cherry-crimson hasspess rocks enfolded in the Cottonwood heartleaves. Feels like fantasy crystals breaking off a Wonka tree of golden ticket opportunity. As the unsighted, presume H.R. Pufnstuf kind worlds, they sense textured beauties, the rest of us mostly miss (Kraft).

Blind folks have the additional advantage of being colorblind, better sensing what is inside people’s hearts, without distractions of superficial skin colours.

Some find flashier places to be the core of the valley for them, like the dance floor of Whiskey’s or the Mint when a hot band is on. That is nice, but for me breathing in the natural sounds and fresh scents exuded by these peaceful paths, helps me hum a simpler song -attuned to the tranquility I seek. Sometimes in the refuge I’ll restructure lyrics around in my head, such as Neil Young’s Mirror Ball “Throw your Hatred Down” into “Hold your Hass-pess Up”, tossing to the rubbish war-beaten stanzas of cruelty that cement off double-blind gifting tree knotholes from today’s precious Scouts and Jems (Lee).

Returning to the hearthstone of my home, reminds me of local life-bespangling stonemasons, who heave Heart-of-Idaho-shaped rocks onto special stacks for unique adorning jobs. And reflecting about how the poorest appearing homes often radiate with the most character built around their holiday hearthstones, with spirited dancing candlelights -unextinguished by drafts of vacuous grandiose chambers.

While not every valley path contains a heart-rock tree, most have crystal- clear kindnesses, centered walking on their trails, raring to swap sparkles with your passing eyes –to help peacefully fuse a healthier hasspess into your own core. Remember this Cottonwood stoned with hearts, in the power spot at the Cedar Bend Preserve as a symbol for the good of all these trails -and how much this beyond belief refuge called Idaho has to offer.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

A week when Good Fortune peaked

Commentary by Jim Banholzer

One perfectly sunny day I was strolling through some serpent- and tick-free sagebrush, in an area recommended by Betty Bell's "The Big Little Trail Guide." Unbeknownst to me, a Mexican jumping bean, which was squirming atop an anthill, flicked an arrowhead into my front pocket. I sauntered into the Bellevue Post Office where a young lady asked if she could borrow a letter opener for a tightly sealed envelope from the Idaho Lottery Commission. Shuffling through my vest, I discovered this ancient point and we soon found that she had won a large sum of money. She was so delighted that she handed me a small wad of bills with my favorite portrait of Abe Lincoln on their fronts.

Walking into the bank to deposit this money, leftover firecrackers went off celebrating the fact that I was their one-millionth customer. Their prize was an all-expenses-covered cruise to Hawaii. Boarding that same day, I met Captain Clemenson, who handed the helm over to me as soon as his phone rang, because navigating a ship while talking on a cell phone is now a violation of international shipping rules.

Little did I know that while I was in command of the ship, we had hooked onto an iceberg with one of our cables and proceeded to tow it in darkness all the way to Maui. Finding that the drinking water system on our side of the island had shut down for a few days due to volcanic ash affecting its intake, this tremendous block of un-licked ice was just what they needed to get by. We docked it into a cove just the right size and our crew was considered heroes. I had a great visit, played volleyball, got an even suntan and remained chipper and alert for the whole vacation.

Now it was time to get back. I was able to hitch a ride to California on the Tropicana cheerleader's bikini team's Lear Jet. While kicked back for a foot massage on the in-flight lemonade chair, I told some corny jokes that giggled the girls, while I showed them the arrowhead. I then enjoyed a comic book in which Richie Rich convinced Nietzsche of the plausibility of a spiritual afterlife. Soon I noticed "The War is Over" being sung by Jim Morrison and The Doors on their jet's satellite feed. Upon closer inspection I found that this was background music for an actual report about the end of a war.

With a makeshift peace banner trailing behind, I paraglide off the jet back down into San Francisco. I landed on a windy day right in front of Ripley's Museum. As trash was being blown about the waterfront, I did my part to chase some down and found among it a ticket for that night's baseball game at SBC Park.

Perched in the upper deck during an exhilarating rain in the bottom of the ninth, most of the crowd had left. But the Giants made an unbelievable comeback and clinched the pennant on Barry Bonds' 715th career homer, which I caught barehanded without spilling any Anchor Steam ale. Tossing Barry back his ball, he noticed that I too was a lefty and balanced up some celebratory champagne glasses as a batting tee for teaching me some valuable tips. He determined that to hit fair I needed to remain balanced.

Returning to Hailey from these flights of fancy, I picked up my double-parked but non-ticketed Segway at Friedman, which was untouched though I had left keys in the ignition. Confident of speeding without a helmet, I zipped cross-town through a medium volume of other scooter and hovercraft traffic to some mid valley links. Using the Segway I got in a quick game of golf, tying Wrey's legendary Warm Springs record by scoring two holes in one. Soon I traveled up the rest of the bike path at the recommended speed limit, exchanging genuine smiles with young and old alike. There were no incidents of near misses or hits, I did not twist either ankle or overstrain any other muscles and the gyroscopes of the newfangled machine were finely tuned to react perfectly to every molehill and hole.

As I headed in through the back way at work, where nobody was sick, I tossed the obsidian point into the gravel of the parking lot, hopefully leaving enough luck in it for the next finder to occasionally catch fish on first casts. Peering out the kitchen window I saw a butterfly kiss the cheek of the person who picked it up. Wolfing down a quick bowl of hardscrabble granola, I chipped zero teeth on pine nut shells. Then I proceeded to type up this paper, during which time there were no electrical surges or printer problems and spell check remained fully functional even for words I've had a hard time with, like "bikini." Then I handed in everything one minute before deadline.

Secret lives of Meter Readers

Commentary by Jim Banholzer

If you are looking for a long walk every day with not bad pay, maybe meter reading is the ticket. Generally, you get to spend a lot of peaceful time by yourself, plenty of reflecting space, unhindered by a bickering work crew. Dedicating yourself to simply reading meters all day can actually lead into a very ascetic lifestyle.

When a vault into the earth is uncovered, great mysteries lie inside. Neighborhood kids dash over and want to see. Newts and frogs, snakes, snails and polliwogs are all found in these tiny underground arenas. If the meter reader is not watching carefully, he may uncover a bee's nest. Most workers carry a medicine pouch within their toolkits.

Meter reading routes may be a hard road at first, but endurance soon builds up, as the man (or woman) becomes self-reliant. As he walks along, he strengthens his full character, all the way down to his stem cells. Striding along, his breathing becomes natural and he finds himself more plainspoken.

Directions and unusual questions are often posed to meter readers. Do the deer turn into elk at the same elevation rattlesnakes stop snapping? On what street did Hemingway kick the can? Having handy answers makes the job more enjoyable.

Dogs are a part of meter reading. Most bowsers are friendly and can read the meter reader's spirit with a high degree of accuracy. Many will let you enter their gated community to inspect the meter. It's getting out again that presents a problem, as pups craving companionship insist you stay and play.

Some meter readers get to thinking up fantastic ideas along the trail. They begin to carry a notepad alongside their number recorder and write down musings in a Thoreau-like manner. Even in cities, they see bits of nature, which many motorists blur by too fast to appreciate. Along the stream a few morel mushrooms for their pouch. A storytelling of crows over in that tamarack tree trying to change a chapter in an owl's life.

Meter readers of various utilities develop an eye for detail and take note of safety concerns that might otherwise go unnoticed. A dead tree branch leaning into a power line. The smell of gases somewhere or loose manholes in the street. This talent is not lost on Homeland Security officials who sometimes speak of enlisting meter readers to keep "an eye out" for all of us. However, most meter readers are not into this sort of thing. They could draft a map of the homes of stars if they wished, but they prefer to shine as more of a nameless Pale Rider-type of hero. Blending into the background, but emerging with more than speedy serendipity for the occasional good deed along their way.

Daydreams of meter readers include running a line of electricity up to Pioneer Cabin. Imagine the boss man wondering why only one meter was read this afternoon. Meter readers do have it tough here in the winter—trudging across the tundra. They truly appreciate it if you can keep a pathway clear around reading time. Keeping the snow off your roof, away from potentially sliding into your meter area, is helpful. A few years ago at the Gannett Fire Station, ice slid off the roof, breaking the gas pipe at the meter. The station house filled with gas and a thermostat clicked on—razing the whole building.

Customers must think that meter readers are as secretive as wolverines, so seldom seen are they. However, when they are detected it's nice to give them a high howdy and a thank you. They will likely remember that for a long time. During my years of meter reading there were only a handful of times when thanks was given, but it always brightened my day. Almost as much as the aurora brightens my paper route now. Of course, back then it was thin trails of sanity inside the craziness of the Beltway. Certainly, the energy is better on the grids out here—this being a high-radiation area notwithstanding.

Alas, many aspects of meter reading are changing rapidly along with the rest of the world. With the advent of the GPS receiver, probing rods and older methods of tie-down measurements are less often required to help locate meters buried by leaves or grass. Remote registers and telemetry are phasing out some routes. So if your dog seems a tad more lonesome, it could be that he didn't get his monthly belly rub and a pat on the head from your friendly neighborhood meter reader.

Safety demands face long odds with nuclear plant
It's disheartening to see factories that churn out the most hellacious waste in the world plop down into Idaho fields, set up high-paying jobs, then become integrated into the area via churches, spirited Little League ball teams and 4-H clubs.

When something dreadful occurs at a nuclear site, often the culture covers up. Whistleblowers are terrified of repercussions, being shunned by society and worse. Few want to be known as killing the goose with the golden eggs, even if they are speckled with plutonium.

Two years ago, there was a news splash at the Los Alamos, N.M., lab. The highly carcinogenic PU-239 was detected in five workers' noses. It took several days before this information came out to the public. Then it was through the Project on Government Oversight that co-workers coughed this up to, rather than their own trusted government and contractor.

Ironically, of all the of jobs I've labored on, the rules insisted that every accident, no matter how small, be reported - even if it's a cut from a piece of paper as tiny and insignificant as America's Constitution. It's not right that our best men juggling the most dangerous element under the sun should be skittish about reporting disasters that hold far-reaching ramifications. After all, would not the open reporting of near catastrophes aid in preventing similar events?

Recently some Department of Energy spokespersons drove over to Sun Valley, claiming they care about the environment and their grandchildren. If this is true, then they should invite aspiring scientists to join a contest designing foolproof double blind whistle-blower systems. A Rube Goldberg category could be included to generate interest among innovative high-schoolers who seem to have more open dialogues than the highest levels of our own government. The winner could receive a lifetime subscription to POGO magazine.



One Giant Leap for Man, or starving punch-drunk on the moon?

One giant leap for humankind, or starving punch-drunk on the moon?

Originally published in the Wood River Journal:

By Jim Banholzer
In the summer of ‘69, as my brother David and I pigged out on potato chips and sipped Tang, we watched Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong hypnotizingly bounce around on our Moon. Young David was five and I was nine. As our grainy black & white Zenith set flicked otherworldly phenomena, I offered a simple explanation that the reason for gaps in communication was that it took time for Mission Control's messages to reach the moon module and then a bit more for the astronauts radioed responses to rebound back here. Years later, David told me that he had clearly heard what I was explaining, but that it was too much then for his young mind to comprehend what it actually meant.

Since our last Apollo returned, the comprehension required to understand inner workings of mechanisms orbiting over our heads has increased exponentially. Nowadays, NASA has astronomical plans to establish a permanent colonization base near this Satellite's South Pole. From a positive engineering aspect, this extremity appears to be ice-capped and gathers abundant sunshine. For decades, there has been speculation that whoever holds power over this new Moon, will also rule supreme, lighting over Earth with military “defense” weaponry and more. Gearing up for this, our space agency is making sustained efforts to make Moon travel appealing and even promising for average Joe Spud's like David and I. Recently the NASA website, Apollo Chronicles featured an article “Jack Skis the Moon,” comparing the Moon's Mt. Hadley Delta to Sun Valley's Dollar Mountain. To read about this most skyrocketing ski run see:

A prime moon mover and dust shaker partially eclipsed in this piece is former astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Mr. Schmitt is geology engineer, who has started a corporation for extracting Helium -3 from the moon. In the well-crafted NASA article, readers get the playful feeling that any stuck in the mud that is not rooting for bouyant moon bounces must be flat out against fun. The accepted wisdom is that pish-poshing un-patriotics should be made to munch on moon dust.
Ironically, it could be this heavenly body that ceaselessly revolves around us, that winds up saving us savage beasts from ourselves. In one giant leap for humankind, fusion power fueled by the Moon's ethereal helium -3 could become the spark for transport methods of never-ending energy -an upholding solution to our self-wrought energy crisis. Scientific researchers at Princeton University Plasma Plastics Lab have speculated that over one millions tons of helium-3 could be scraped from the top of the Moon. At the going rate of $3 million dollars a ton, if divided equally this would put a half-million dollars in every earthling's back pocket.

It's nice to imagine such a bright future, but that is likely more obscure. NASA is renowned for exorbitant cost overruns and does not put spending skycaps on such undertakings. In 2002, NASA even deleted from its mission statement the words, “to understand and protect our home planet .” Can the gravity of the good outweigh the bad if we invest heavily in moon missions at a time when our country is facing $$ Mountains of debt? Here we are, potentially aiming with billions of bucks trying to turn a profitable shipping lane in the sky. Meanwhile in years of overabundance, while begging for money, most earthly food banks turn down fresh Idaho and Canadian potatoes, because they are considered too heavy for shipping.

Although the Moon is apparently currently barren of sustaining food, there will likely be expanded colonization efforts, including farming if this gold rush of the new millennium proves profitable. In fact, students from
Shoshone-Bannock High School, on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation conducted a successful experiment growing potatoes on Space Shuttle Atlantis. Average Joe-Spud's will again be asked to help launch the pioneering missions funded from our tax base. However, before the tide turns in a twilight seashell game to break our National Treasury for corporate profits, shouldn't we first be investing our mountainous dollars to help waterways run clean to oceans? And determining more seaworthy transport solutions, so that food belt farmers need not in years of overabundance, shamefully plough their potatoes back into earth, with millions starving in dark Africa and even gloomy pockets of Idaho

Though some aspects of our government have lost the public trust for good, I have explained to Brother David, that I hope we will again take time to conduct wide-spectrum feasibility studies, before we skip the potato pivots over the moon and land with astronomically priced pi's astronomically priced pi’s crunched on cash-vacuumed shores of tranquility in our fool-moon sky.

More reference links:

Does the space program have a future? - By Gregg Easterbrook and Nathan Myhrvold - Slate Magazine

Telegraph News

Did NASA accidentally kill life on Mars? -

Tom Waits - Rare Recordings - Drunk on the Moon
Who Threw What?

Tissaw, Linden, Turner and Banholzer 'roughing it' at Lake Sherando

Green Van Elements

Green vans are mystical

Sometimes their magical abilities are used to fish in secret rivers

Or for traveling to distant cities

It's said that they will run better if chistened by the proper mechanic

Most superheroes keep one hidden in their emerald garages, readied for quick jump starts

While white vans sometimes get sucked in by snowbanks

Green vans and their globetrotting rich adventurers blend in better with summer nature

Green vans go back, way back into time

Anybody who operates one, must be a wonderful man!

Friday, July 27, 2007

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