Monday, March 29, 2004

On Wednesday, radio listeners in Chicago, New York and San Francisco will be greeted by a group of new voices espousing familiar ideals. It is Air America Radio, a "progressive" (see liberal) radio network that will fall flat on its face.

Progress Media Inc., Air America's parent company, promises a new outlet for progressive ideas to counter the mainly conservative gabbers out there in radio nation. While I am a champion of the marketplace of ideas, I can do nothing but applaud these blind pioneers in their quest and hope to catch them when they fall. They are fighting a dragon with a butter knife.

Liberal radio is a concept that cannot work. Radio is not tailored to host liberal arguments, as they are complex and branching, requiring bulletpoints to give ground for reasoning and not the ever important soundbyte that conservative hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Martin Savidge utilize and rely on.

The voice of liberals, and the information that comes out of them, are viewed poorly in our world. Not only by the right, but by the non-politicos as well. Limbaugh can steamroll over causes and boast of conservative might, and Hannity can derail and condemn anyone who does not follow the piper from Texas. They are considered at worst loudmouths, and their response to any criticism usually follows the lines of "So what? I'm right."

Liberals, to be honest, sound like whiners when they protest or speak of their beliefs. It is because at the root of the argument, the liberal stance is compassionate and not entirely self-serving. It thinks more about others and in turn is viewed as too huggy and wanting. Conservatism is selfish. Welfare is the active supporting the lazy, and the downtrodden and helpless are the sad remainder in life's equation. As stated earlier, it's cut and dry. Abortion? The taking of a life and a sin. Terrorism? You're with us or against us. Cut and dry. Good soundbytes.

To truly survive and prosper, Air America must take a page from conservative radio's playbook and attract the opposition (labeled in radio as "lurkers") who will bask in countering arguments and call in, vocally proving their participation in the programming. Perhaps they will bring some of their furor from the right of the dial to the left. Air America can over time claim them as a valuable demographic, pimp them out to advertisers and sustain their airtime. Since liberals know what they believe, and don't require their beliefs to be reinforced day in and day out, they are most likely not going to tune in when out of an automobile on the way to work. The ever mobile conservative, tight knuckles and teeth gritting, will be the fuel by which the liberals burn.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Green drinks me thinks. Today is St. Patrick's Day, the holiday chock full of alcohol and pinching which means nothing but hangovers and bruises for the true Irish like myself. For the first time in what feels like four years, the holiday actually falls on a day where I have to be in school, have duties, must wake up and walk among the living. Previously, they were on weekends or during my Spring Break.

I won't be celebrating this year. Much is to be done in the World of Thomas, which is why this entry must be brutally short. Off to the salt mines of word processing for me.

All the best, messies.

In the meantime, I recommend these...

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Now that we are robotically tapdancing on the Red Planet, I have arrived at the conclusion that astronomers are the happiest people on Earth. They have tapped the keg of delight and become drunk at its spigot, those stargazers, as they peer into the sky and the past at things they will never touch but strive to embrace. They reveal to us all they know and discover, even though a good portion of us don't know what the hell it means. Still, they are cosmic voyeurs who seem thrilled at every pebble found on Mars, every solar flare burst from the Sun.

Notice I don't say astronauts -- astronauts are often very stoic and collected in their thoughts and actions; and for good reason, as they've been off our planet and back again. The recent advancements on Mars has given astronomers a spring in their step and better sex lives, without a doubt. NASA has conducted webcasts of Rover movements, and even Q&A sessions with its female scientists. A smorgasbord of space snippets can be found at . Don't spend too much time there, though. The Flight Director's Update has been shown to cause testicular explosions due to cuddly spaceman cuteness.

Our watchers of the sky are not only giddy at the NASA level, but at the academic level as well. The first science course I took in college was ASTR1020 (Intro to Astronomy). My professor, one Peter Hauschildt, was either German or Austrian, in his late 20s or early 30s, and was undoubtedly one of the coolest sons of bitches I have ever seen. Every Tuesday and Thursday he lectured us enthusiastically in blue jeans and sandals, his thick rimmed glasses zeroing in on every sleeping pupil and medium length hair swaying a half second behind his jutting head. And he wasn't dressing the fit the part; this was how this man was. Several times during the semester, I found him walking through campus with his astro posse which consisted of a couple of TAs who soaked up his quasar machismo and felt invigorated by it. These wannabe Hauschildts had to walk behind the man as he strolled hand-in-hand with his woman, who was also beaming from ear to ear. The only person not impressed by Hauschildt was Hauschildt, which is the true sign of cool. The best part about him was his focus: black holes. Yes! So abstract and dark.

Some of my earliest memories involve astronomers, as my childhood is framed by space shuttle launchings, most notably, the Challenger disaster in 1986. As a young mediaphile, I remember somber press conferences, footage from a camera in mission command (dare I call it Houston?) and the comments of colleagues of those who died in the launching.

Without the dark, the light wouldn't be bright. Space exploration has had many moments of tragedy, and astronomers, even with their sunny dispositions, find these events earthshattering yet reinforcing in their goals. I wonder how they approach their work, by viewing it as war or exploration. While you could equate the two, since they both involve movement, stalemate, loss and gain, they do differ. Do they find the losses inevitable, and perhaps even in their deepest of unspoken thoughts, necessary? I think that they do. Our shuttles are modern sailing ships, and our sails are jets and the cohesion of science and dreams. The loss is not a loss, but a gain, an advance by way of sacrifice.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

My apologies in advance for this travel diary...commentary essays return after this flowery entry...

(Continued from 3/13/04)

Our flight from Atlanta landed at Kalispell International Airport around 10:00 pm Mountain Time. We were immediately approached by a young girl and asked if we were Scott and Thomas. With travelweary eyes we replied that we were, indeed. She was our host, our ride into town, and informed to look out for two guys with shaved heads. Supporting details: one had a goatee, the other had red hair. Eureka. We were off.

The trip was doable by the fact that we opted out of staying at a hotel. While this freed up money, it also meant we were staying a little under an hour away from Big Mt., where we would ski and snowboard. Our lodging was a dog-filled cabin by Lake Flathead, and my bed was a worn shag carpet and camping pillow the size of a book. It was heaven, though, as any energy I could have put into kvetching about my conditions was spent on the days of skiing we enjoyed.

Big Mountain is gorgeous, the ideal location to lock yourself onto two pieces of wood and let the absence of friction determine your outcome. If the world were a table, Big Mt. would sit at the head.

From atop the summit you gaze at Whitefish, a small eclectic town that is undergoing the puberty of ski villages. An influx of celebrities (Demi Moore! Carol Burnett!? Jim Nabors???) and snow enthusiasts has made it a more popular destination, one that is recommended by editors in travel glossies and travelers in airport lounges. The town is growing, as evident in (what appears to be smart) business development and condo/hotel/home construction. You find the wayward post graduate soul working at the eateries and lifts, and the awe-inspired vacationer ambling around town. You find the cliche out West ski town that defies cliches.

Our first two days were spent skiing, although two members of our tight-knit party snowboarded. It was surprisingly easy to find my ski legs again, as I fell down only five times the first day. From my perspective (which is the only one that matters when you are careening down a hill), I did quite well. We all did. I wasn't the tight legged alpine dynamo with an aerodynamic cup on my crotch, but I was able to keep up and lead. Thursday was a much different story.

Since lift tickets are the real kicker in the cost of skiing (boots and skis rent for $15 a day), we decided to enjoy nearby Glacier National Park and hike to Lake Schneider by way of snow shoes.

Glacier was a sight to behold, and if you refer to last night's sappy entry, you'll get all the adjective-heavy imagery. National Parks, while natural, are undoubtedly designed by the route deciders to drop jaws. The road that brought us into the park weaved us down a broad river and next to a lake that reflected the sky and clouds and mountains it calls neighbors. We were to hike a distance of nine miles to an elevation 2,000 feet higher than where we were. Parked next to a lodge closed for the season, we walked to the start of the trail that would take us to our destination, a frozen lake that sits at the joint of two mountain ridges.

Snow shoes are crafty inventions. You strap your toes into two long pieces of plastic and coast over loose snow, the wide surface area keeping you upright and elevated. The plastic never really seems to come off the ground, as your heel is not strapped in and remains free.

They were comfortable, but my boots were not. Blisters developed on both heel within 45 minutes. My body became exhausted around the same time, which I took in stride knowing that I would soon catch my second wind, the relief that comes after your mind and body agree to a suitable amount of exertion. The hike, which was entirely up hill, ground the skin on my heels to the bone, as I could feel liquid flood the loose skin and shift with each step. The short downhill areas of our walk were not a welcome sign for me; I knew that every down meant an even steeper up, and that was where the pain was.

Four and a half miles in we arrived at Lake Schneider, which was covered in ice and snow. In winter, it looked like an unused landing area for rescue helicopters, a clearing in the trees. Totally flat and serene, I was awash in silence and blue, confused by frozen waterfalls and curiously paranoid about the tracks on the other side of the lake. We sat and ate, and at 4:30 pm, began the hike back with daylight burning before us. Unbeknownst to me at the time, one of my blisters (the one treated midhike with mole skin no less) had popped.

Either it was the fact we were going downhill or that I had simply grown accustomed to the pain, but I felt nothing on the way back. My eyes were not focused on our surroundings or on the end of the trail, but the trail itself. The beaten path before me, the path that I focus on only when my next step requires it. The unrelenting moment of now and not next, of here and not there.

It reminds me that looking at now and not next can attack time and its challenges better than any plan is able to.

Northwest Montana is a beautiful and epic landscape that has not changed my life, but enriched it. It did not make me want to toss pizza dough to pay for lift tickets or drop my as yet undecided plans to live in a tree for six months. It did make me want to awe and inspire and choke life by its thick neck.

No more travel entries until I travel once more.

Friday, March 12, 2004

The West stands out as the face of the Earth, showcasing her wrinkles and age with grace and majesty. Time has morphed her into a wondrous sight of peaks and caps and valleys and ridges.

Earlier tonight, I returned from my first visit to Montana, and if you were to tell me I would utter words like those above a week ago, I would have branded you a liar; such transcendental and mystical babble was more fitting wafting out of a microbrew groupie's wordchute after the lifts close.

It is moving, though, the sight of a landscape so still it can only be called a painting. So powerful it belongs on the back of a newly minted dollar bill.

More to come on the West at a later date...time to see friends. Good night.