Issue #33, October 1999

Pulled by Time, pushed by Urgency

The first of October, it is, as I take up the writing of this issue. Earlier than I should, on one count, because I am only half unpacked from the return to my quarters &emdash; and for those of you who do not know, I reference not the exhausted but happy return from a journey, but a far less cheerful situation: the complete distortion of my current life, in having had to vacate this apartment for a management-mandated renovation.

Exhausted, yes &emdash; bone and muscle weary from the work of it, and psychologically debilitated from the trauma of it, for it's been a year-long process of failed scheduling, and distortion of the terms under which it was to take place. Did I write any of you, about a 3-week, paid-for vacation that was in prospect as part of it? Yeh, well, it all vanished in the tide of uncertainties. I ultimately went for a week away from here, just to be out of the eye of the storm, but it was largely at my own expense.

On another count, however, this Ripening Seasons issue is far later than I intended it, and it will be different from what I had in mind &endash; even recently. I wanted to make this year's Ripening Seasons a survey of the century as it has personally been for me. I envisioned maybe a half-dozen issues looking at different aspects of it, and have managed only two thus far. One of these was a journalistic reflection on the time (the actual date) of my birth, and I had promised a second half of that &emdash; which was to have been this issue. But other concerns are too demanding as we make the turn into the century's final annual quarter. They push me to shift the focus, and they push me with an immediacy that will not permit even the wait until I am once more completely settled in my apartment.

It will be an omnibus issue, this, scarcely dwelling (if at all) on century reflections. There are changes in my world that I need to record for you, and there is this big, looming thing called Y2K that demands what will now constitute a last-minute measure of persuasion to cover your concerns. Not that I can imagine anyone being yet unfamiliar with it, but because I must try and shake you loose of the stupor that the government's brilliantly exe-cuted pacification process has put everyone in.

You want to know, of course, why you should pay any more attention to what your long-out-of-it friend, Irv Thomas, has to say about Y2K, than any of the several hundred 'experts' who have already told you about it. Well, wait and see what I have to say, before you set your mind on lock-up.

First of all, however, I want to tell you what's been going on in my personal world.

Since this issue is going to everyone on my postal list, a lot of you know next to nothing at all about my apartment dislocation. For the whole of this summer, I've been going through the insanity of a virtual relocation in my housing. The key word, here, is virtual, for I'm staying put &emdash; but have had to pack up every packrat bit of my belongings, and submit to a 5-day move-out as the Housing Authority performs a major sweep of the four-floor, 39-unit building, giving us fortunate tenants a new roof, new carpet and linoleum, new stoves and refrigerators, toilets and water heaters, and a repair of the damage from the leakage of many seasons' rains.

It would seem to be an angel blessing, particularly just prior to Y2K, for anyone paying only $164 in monthly rent, and I may be a churl to complain about it at any level at all. But I can only tell you it has been a devastating experience, and not just for me. You just don't take people in their 70s and 80s, settled in their ways, and impose such a massive dislocation on them &emdash; or you don't do it without contending with a lot of resentment.

A focal point of my own frustration and trauma, during this travesty, has been my wallside book-shelving, custom built for me on the day I moved in, by friend Michael King. It holds more than a thousand books, and I did not want to see it weakened by taking it down and trying to rebuild it &emdash; not even mentioning the extra hassle of boxing its contents.

But it stood on the carpeting that had to go, and I was pressured to back down and accede to some compromise way of having it emptied, then briefly lifted while the floor work was done. Okay &emdash; I made sure that its structural integrity would not be compromised, and that the same work crew would be back to re-shelve the books, as had boxed them away to start with (under my attentive supervision).

But I was not around, to oversee the return of the books, and it was not done by the same crew. Joy, who was handling things in my absence, had a hassle on her hands just getting them to unbox and reshelve the books in some approximate semblance of their original shelving order.

It might seem a minor issue, to anyone not into collecting books. But there is far more to it than you might ordinarily assume, even if you have an assortment of your own. I have collected books all my life, starting all over again each time I've happened to lose what I've had. The puzzling and interesting aspect of it, however, is that I seldom find time for any reading; and I have put a good deal of thought into what this is all about &emdash; why do I collect books that I have so little recourse to?

It came to me, some long while ago, that my bookshelves are a many-layered mirror of my mind, reflecting the assortment of 'places' where I've been, where I'm at, and where my imagination wants to take me. From time to time, elements of it are recognizably no longer part of me, and they are sloughed off like a snake's dead skin, so there is always room for the new and fresh. It is not just a reminder, looking at this mirror, but a constant source of pleasurable contemplation &emdash; yes, just looking at my shelved books, and perhaps dipping into an occasional volume.

But looking at them after this recent dislocation, I saw something new. The arrangement of the books is actually a personal work of art. Looking at the jumbled assortment that I came back to was a tangibly painful experience, as though I, myself, were disjointed, not put back together right. Each segment of shelving had to be re-articulated, much in the way that a chiropractor works with one's spinal column &emdash; it had to be shuffled and re-shuffled until it 'worked.' And only an inner sense could tell me when that was achieved.

I've been back several weeks, now, but my bookshelf is only halfway back to its former articulation. It calls for the patience of restoring an old masterpiece, and in the meanwhile, I am not 'all here.'

Outside of the roof job, I could happily have continued another five years, without anything further being done, here; and only then on the minor disruption of a single replacement at a time, rather than this massive and arbitrary upheaval, coming in a year that has been the natural low point of my personal cycle.

That would be the seven-year cycle I'm always talking about. I've come to a further degree of clarity on it, this year. Last spring, I sat in on a psychology class on life's latter stages, a university offering taught by a sharp young woman with a passion for Rudolph Steiner and his esoteric outlook, quite unusual for a university course. I got fully into it, and set out to track that cycle over the course of my life, as well as could be done. It can only be done by looking backward from a sufficient distance, facilitated by a well-developed sense of the cycle, such that its characteristic passages and nodes will remain visible against a foreground 'static' of the jumbled miscellany that life typically offers.

I've found that many have difficulty seeing this cycle in their lives, and I can only attrib-ute it to the lack of an initially strong feeling of identification with the seasons. Because the cycle analogizes directly with the seasonal round of the year, which has its lows and highs, its times of ease and times of intensity. Anyone reasonably in tune with their world should be readily familiar with their own pattern, in this respect, by half a lifetime lived.

When I say that I'm coming through the natural lowpoint of my cycle, then, I mean its 'winter' &emdash; a time when depression is on my doorstep, and the gleanings &endash; of life, of consciousness &endash; are slim. It was that way seven years ago, on my return from the great European adventure; and it was the same, seven years before that, during the winter of my first year in Seattle. But I can equally well note that these were times of closure and opening, in each case constituting major turnings in my life. So, too, with its earlier 'winter passages' &emdash; in 1978, when I went into my life's deep retreat phase at Camp Kilowana, and in 1971, the winter (of both, year and cycle) that saw me into the beginnings of Black Bart.

So it is definitely my transition time, this extended moment, and I might speculate a bit on what that could mean &emdash; bearing in mind that it can only be speculation, at this point. All I have to go on is the current range of things happening to me, and the few consistencies in my motivation. Together, they may suggest something of where I'm headed, over the next seven years. (If I last that long).

First off is a new and more liberal outlook on what I can consider affordable. Hence, a rented automobile trip to Oregon for an excessively heavy week in my life. And hence, a little more liberality in my plans for a new computer, as was announced in the last issue of R/S. It will be the new iMac...and to my own surprise, it will be one of the brand new (just out) iMacs &emdash; a sleeker design, a faster system, and amazingly...a cheaper price! The 'old' iMac I expected to get was $1195, and this one is $995. It emerged without any advance announcement, and by pure, innocent luck, I had stalled my intended order for a week &emdash; just long enough to place it at the right moment.

Most of you have by now come around, I think, to the realization that the internet and the web are not passing fads, but the threshold edge of our upcoming world &emdash; which is what I started telling you, about five years ago, to a pretty loud heckle of resistance. I've never said it represents the world I'd like to live in; only that I can see the value it does offer, given that we've gotta learn to live with it. But that old ambivalence has steadily given way, as I watch the ever-expanding potential of this amazing thing. And that's despite the fact that my own activity, for the past couple years, has been limited by a browser so 'ancient,' now, that much of the web's riches is yet unavailable to me. Things like live radio from any part of the globe: a regional station selection brought up simply by clicking the mouse on a world map. I don't want to dwell on how often my old Netscape version (2.0) just craps out on me.

Even so, the world's very dimensions begin to change, as you go into this immense cornucopia that has no bottom, no end. Let me just give you a personal instance or two...

I've had my eye out, many years, to replace a number of old phono records that had gotten lost in the course of my life's travails. Most of them are not truly rare, just hard to run across without taking the time to do a real search. Then came eBay, on the web, an auction site that facilitates trading in just about everything. In only a few weeks, most of the records on my list turned up; and the bidding method is such that you can stay on top of it in real time, and get what you want if you're willing to go for it, as in any real-life auction. Which doesn't mean you necessarily have to pay much. Most of the records go for their minimum bid &endash; usually within my comfort range.

The one I really wanted, however, never came up. A truly old one, about as old as I am, and a genuine rarity, I'm sure. It had been lost to me for at least 30 years &emdash; a recording of Shine, by Herb Wiedoeft and his Cinderella Roof Orchestra. He's been completely forgotten; hardly a reference to him can even be found, today. But the recording had the most engaging and memorable clarinet solo &endash; I think it was Herb, but I'm not sure.

Well, the thing about the web is that it stimulates speculation on what is possible, and I went looking for other old-record resources, determined to at least find out what I could, about the object of my search. I did turn up some historical data, but more significantly I found a record auction that has been going on for years, out of Virginia, in a bi-monthly tabloid, a fat sheaf of pages that almost calls for a magnifying glass to pore over. Additionally, they maintain a long list of records on a web site, not for auction but with flat-out prices: most no more costly than $1.50. And . . . lo 'n behold, there on that list, and at that price, was my long sought gem!

The other tale has to do with my own web site, which I've sadly allowed to languish for more than a year, in the press of other demands on my time. In moments, it has seemed like an ego-prompted waste of time, to bury myself in the task of creating a personal archive that will only be hidden in the bits and chips of a computer on the U.W. campus &emdash; and maybe not anywhere, once I leave this life behind. But the magic of it, whether it serves me as a track to immortality or not, is that it enhances the life I'm living right now, and I've had no better demonstration of this (though, indeed, many others) than with the Boyington connection.

Those of you who have visited my site know that its gatekeeper exacts of visitors the test of matching heroes &endash; yours and mine. It's just a clever and fun way of letting people know who the heroes of my life have been, and are. One of them, from the warrior-worshipping days of my youth, was 'Pappy' Boyington &endash; whom I put into the ranks, largely, as the representative of all my old wartime heroes.

Because of that observance, and the fact of my U.W. site address, I was contacted by someone who'd already written a history of Boying-ton's Black Sheep Marine Corps Fighter Squad-ron, and was now at work on a full biography of him. He wanted to know if I might do a little investigative legwork for him, out here, since his subject had been a U.W. graduate in the early 1930s. And I, of course, leaped at the chance.

It took me through school records, classmate contacts, newspaper and directory searches, marriage and court records, even Boeing archives, where he'd held an early job &emdash; all in all, a quite satisfying pastime for one who likes such historical digs. The final payoff will be a mention in the acknowledgements, and a free (inscribed) copy of the book, which is due out before the end of the year.

My web site is no longer in a state of abandonment, thanks to a couple developments during this past year. For one, I had to deal with a shift of the site, from one university computer to another, which meant that I had to re-familiarize myself with its structure and links, and do some cleanup work in that respect. But more significantly, the psychology course that I took in the spring prodded me &endash; for the sake of the class project I took on &endash; to complete the work of getting my 1990 book-length thesis up on the site. It's a scholarly inquiry into the historical and cultural background of our awareness of the seasonal cycle and its other-than-agricultural impact on human life. If the subject at all interests you, I think you may find it a worthwhile read. The new site address is in the box at the bottom of the yellow back page, and you'll find pointers to the thesis section once you get there.

And now that the site is 'alive' once more, in my own mind, I'll be doing further work on it. I've already removed the old-and-aging slices of journal linked as "At The Moment" &endash; with the intent not of eliminating that section, but of trying to find a new way of doing it. One of the challenges of a web site is to reframe the concept of what is possible, when working in this new medium.

It is far more difficult than one might suppose, to take up the potential of the new, without just applying it in the same old way as the old. Somehow, accumulating what amounts to 'dead history' &endash; the things that were going on in my world a year ago, from my year-ago per-spective &endash; is like looking at a once tasty meal . . . regurgitated. It's one thing, to summarize and draw meaning from the past, but quite another to frame its every detail in some kind of reverential glory. The fluidity of a web site is not only great for capturing the moment, but just as great for disposing of it in due time. What that section will turn out to be, I am not yet entirely clear on. But, then, I've got the rest of my life, to play around with it, haven't I?

So the future clearly bodes more involvement with my web site, and more computer exploration in general. I feel as keen as ever, about getting the significant things I've written, over the years, out there where they' stand a chance of being available for folks, long after I am.

Not a new thrust, to be sure, and it has only been delayed for the sidetracking concern with housing issues, and more recently by Y2K; but these two absorbing tunnels of my late-life activism are both showing a gleam of daylight, not very far away. I've been edging gradually out of the housing wars; and Y2K has its own natural timeline. I'll see it down to the wire, but not much longer as a community effort. My Paul Revere days will soon be done.

Which brings me to the main reason for getting this issue out, to each and all of you, as quickly as I can &emdash; and not quickly enough, in any event.

The year is getting late, as you all know. We may have ten weeks (by the time you get this) until the century turns, but you can't count on that long for getting yourself in position to handle the Y2K development. A turbulent and apt-to-be-frustrating situation will begin happening before December arrives. You'll have a crushing conjunction between Christmas shopping, millennial party-time preparation (by those who are sure Y2K is no big deal), and what I expect will be a sudden rush of last minute Y2K panic shoppers, composed of a mix: people inherently incapable of planning ahead, people who shift with the tide of news and opinion, people who simply lose their nerve, in the face of others starting to 'get serious' about the uncertainties ahead, and people who suddenly 'see it': we've been led down a garden path, by a deliberately orchestrated, year-long campaign of false confidence, in order to protect the banking industry (and thereby, at least for now, our national stability).

Figure it out. A run on the banks would have plunged the country into a crisis, completely independent of what does or doesn't happen after Y2K &emdash; except, of course, that Y2K would have been the prima causa, the initiating cause. But while Y2K remains an open question, a panic run on the banks leaves nothing at all in doubt: it would lock this country up like a quarantine. The threat, the potential, became the first order of business to deal with. So John Koskinen had his assignment, and he did it well. But at a cost we have yet to reckon with. For he effectively neutralized the community preparedness effort that had barely gotten underway before he steam-rollered over it.

You don't see this dynamic, of course. Not unless you've stayed on top of the steady flow of information that comes across on various news lists, as I have tried to do. All you've been exposed to is the 'happy-talk' coming out of one corporation or another, or government sources, with the common lyrics, "we're almost ready, we're almost there," or "we've got it licked; the problems are elsewhere, not here."

But I've caught the voices of another side of all this &emdash; the SEC reports that show it's not so rosy as painted, the longtime systems management people and programmers, who know that world from the inside and tell some of the horror stories that are being covered over with smiles, the CIOs (Chief Information Officers) who reveal, in anonymous surveys, the level of food storage and cash set-aside that quite a few of them are seeing to, in their own homes. Those who are closer to the work being done, are not being taken in by the soft soap.

When I visited friends in Portland, a few weeks ago, I was a bit surprised at the general indifference over Y2K. On the internet, Portland has received a lot of praise, for the heads-up stance of their mayor, in getting a neighbor-hood awareness project underway. But none of the three households I visited with, there, had even heard about it! And months earlier, on a brief visit to the Bay Area, I discovered much the same lack of concern &emdash; as if the Y2K battle has already been fought and won, by the 'good guys' &endash; the tech fellows who are remediating all the systems.

The entire country is caught in a cognitive dissonance bind, with no effort being made to resolve it. As a game, or experiment, or even an entertainment, it's all very interesting. But this is none of those, it is a pretty serious business, challenging the very existence of organizations that miss their bets. And those bets have gone over the $50 billion level, for corporate America alone. But in their urgency to get it right, and the government's urgency to keep it cool, guess who's left holding the bag?

The price to be paid for 'business as usual,' as we move toward the year's holiday season, in this Grand 20th Century Finale, turns out to be our welfare, our security, and our peace of mind. And I'm not sure how I can persuade you of it, at this late stage of the game.

Look, I was a programmer once, and a team leader on a complex project that required the effective mesh of more than twenty individual programs, running an automated parts warehousing system and feeding data downstream into purchasing and inventory systems in a factory environment. I know from experience what a project development timeline is like, who sets it and who has to live with it, and I've been through what happens when the clashing reality of those two parties ultimately collides. A hundred unexpected things can come between schedule and implementation . . . and thirty of them generally do! No system is ever completed on time. And management never learns. Believe me, I know! This is why I will not be taken in by the 'lighten up' soap suds, from someone who has never done this sort of work, and is clearly trying to 'put the fix' on my head.

When they tell me that the mission-critical systems are 92% compliant, it means to me that they are 100% inoperative &emdash; for the only real meaning in this game is full completion.

When they tell me that there is 95% reliability in the power grid, I hear them acknowledging the likelihood of rolling blackouts, not the "possibility" of them; and if widespread, it means some parts of the country will be stuck for days, maybe weeks, without power.

When they tell me that the U.S. is way ahead of the rest of the world, in overall remediation, it assures me that the raw material supply sources for most American consumer products (pointedly including petroleum, pharmaceuticals, and electronics) will dry up within weeks, not only setting up shortages here, but putting many more people out of work &emdash; even if their employer's own remediation has been taken care of!

When they tell me that stockpiling, for personal security, is unnecessary, and counter-productive for the society as a whole . . . and then tell me that local emergency response cannot be guaranteed (as the City of Seattle has said, in view of the unknowns in prospect), I know enough to look out for myself.

And when they tell me that "almost certainly," nothing can go wrong at our nuclear power plants, it scares the hell out of me, for it is pure ostrich talk! In a field of unknowns as broad as this one, anything can go wrong. I'm seeing to my own safety with an inexpensive radiation detector kit.

Aha, I can see that rising edge of an eyebrow &emdash; you think the old outlaw has finally flipped toward the survivalist fringe! Well, consider these related items, before you make your judgement:

It takes no great amount of paranoia to draw a picture from that set of items, in light of the Y2K situation. The Tokaimura incident in Japan should have brought it home to each and every one of us, how easily complacency sets in, after a few accident-free years. In fact, we've had so many recent 'wakeup calls' from around the world, in earthquakes and such, that complacency really doesn't have a leg to stand on, anymore.

We swiftly approach a line in time, beyond which our world is going to get very strange, and maybe scary &endash; depending on how well each of us is prepared ... but for just what exigencies we can't be exactly sure. There are a few weeks left, to make your decisions about that. It sounds sort of like a TV plot, I know...but it's real.

Five weeks until the holidays begin, and you can either use 'em or lose 'em . . . believe it or doubt it. But own your responsibility, for wherever you stand, on this, right now! And write me about it (with a $1 bill).


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