Sunday, September 30, 2012

River Enough and Time

"Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in."  - H.D. Thoreau

I've never hired a flyfishing guide and a boat to float a river and see how many trout I could catch, flies I could lose, wading anglers I could piss off, rafters and kayakers I could founder, or what have you. I've never had much interest in floating along with someone behind me paddling, telling me which fly to tie on and where to put it. Until this week I don't think I've ever been able to explain entirely, even to my own satisfaction, my indifference to this form of consumption. But I was fishing along the river earlier this week and I think I've figured it out.

First, I don't do this so I can have someone to talk to. If I can't fish in solitude I'd rather listen to a four-hour sermon on the seven deadly sins, which pretty much cuts a fishing guide out of the picture. Second, I'd rather watch the river myself to see where the fish might be lying, where the rises are, where the hatches are concentrated, whether the swallows or the flycatchers are concentrating their sorties anywhere in particular. That way, when I return, I'll remember where the fish live. And I'll know, when I see a fall swarm on the water, to stop what I'm doing and tie on a red quill.

Red quill

I was fishing a streamer fly in a current the other day when I noticed in a second current that funnelled between a pair of boulders ahead of me some large browns and rainbows in the light destroyer class, say the 15-18-inch range, hanging in the stream, rising rhythmically, sipping something from the top and falling back into the stream. So out of the water and up the bank I crept, retrieved a flyrod with a dry fly already rigged, tied a little gray emerger behind it, crept back down the bank, and began casting in the calmer moments of a nasty little headwind.

 RS2 emerger

Twenty-some minutes later I had caught and landed a big brown and a very respectable rainbow, twenty of those odd minutes having been devoted to persuading the respective objects of my affection that their struggles were for naught. Had I been floating along with a guide I would never have seen the feeders in the stream nor in all likelihood have got more than a couple of casts before floating on. When you have a 30-mile stretch of river to float there's no need to concentrate on any one piece of it until you know it by heart. Miss one spot, you can cast your fly into the next, you can cast as much as you like, indiscriminately without being concerned about making a good cast each time.

If the fish in one stretch of river are critical of your cast, the next stretch of river will bring other fish with a fresh perspective and perhaps a different critical canon. Make a mistake here, you can always make it up later.

Floating is probably a fine way to fish. You get to know the river, but in a different, perhaps grander and less refined way. You see a bigger picture, an unfolding panorama, but not a series of loosely connected pockets and riffles and seams and shelves and currents, each requiring a slightly different technique, a different fly, a different streamside manner.

Floating along, you are like an itinerant bandit, but less like a partner with the river. I suppose it's a different rationale for going fishing - covering more of the stream improves your averages to land a couple of nice fish. But you haven't had to think much about it, not like the poor old sap with time enough to spare who has to learn how to think like a fish in order to land the relatively few he may encounter in his splashings and stumblings.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Peeling 'The Onion'

Some days, most days now I think of it, reading actual news is like reading The Onion, "America's Finest News Source." The news has always been something of a self-parody and the daily headlines preserve that air of parody which is an inescapable part of our human condition.

Vatican in controversy over ‘drunken tourist herds’

Apparently the hordes of international tourists flooding into Italy have given new meaning to the old expression that someone's breath could peel paint off the walls. And when the walls in question are those in the Sistine Chapel, the liabilities of mass respiration threaten to obliterate an emblematic portion of our cultural heritage.

Tourists in the Sistine Chapel, where such Michaelangelic frescoes as the Last Judgment and the Creation of Adam adorn the chapel ceilings, have attained such numbers and achieved such depths of raucous, unruly inebriation that crowd control is out of the question. The manager of the Vatican's museums notes that over the past two years restorers gently scrubbed what he described as “unimaginable amounts” of dirt off the frescoes while working at night. The air extraction system designed to suck out the humid breath, sweat, skin flakes, hair, dust and pollution wafting upwards is almost 20 years old and urgently needs replacing. Air conditioning to reduce the body heat of visitors before they even enter the room is not installed.

Virginia man kills family and self over fear Obama would be re-elected 

The usual tale of mental illness and paranoia: Albert Peterson, a defense contractor with a history of paranoia, his wife Kathleen and their two sons were found dead in their home. According to a family friend, "He felt that our God-given rights were being taken away. He didn't like where the country was going." Evidently Peterson had retained enough of his God-given rights to keep a handgun in the house.

'Butt-Chugging' Case Causes Uproar 

A member of Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity at the University of Tennessee was delivered to the emergency room in a coma with a dangerously elevated blood alcohol content. According to the police report in mandatory passive-voice officialese, "It is believed that members of the fraternity were utilizing rubber tubing inserted into their rectums as a conduit for alcohol."  

Open wide!

While the patient subsequently told police he remembered participating in a drinking game, he quite naturally denied having an alcohol enema. Police concluded otherwise from evidence found at the frat house, including boxes of the suggestively named Franzia Sunset Blush wine. (Presumably that particular boxed wine would give evidence of unconventional application since not even a drunken frat boy would consider actually swallowing the stuff.) "He also had no recollection of losing control of his bowels and defecating on himself," according to the report. I guess that would be the part about the blush. These truly are the end times. 

Iran news agency reprints 'Onion' story

Iran's Fars News Agency, citing The Onion, said 77 percent of rural white U.S. voters would rather have a beer with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad than President Obama. The news agency reprinted the story word for word. "77 percent of rural Caucasian voters ... would much rather go to a baseball game or have a beer with Ahmadinejad, a man who has repeatedly denied the Holocaust and has had numerous political prisoners executed, than spend time with Obama."

The Onion attributed the poll to the Gallup Organization. "According to the same Gallup poll, 60 percent of rural whites said they at least respected that Ahmadinejad doesn't try to hide the fact that he's Muslim," the Onion story said.

 Real Muslims don't drink beer

Ryan on Romney’s tax plan: ‘It would take me too long’ to explain 

Enough said.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

River of Zen

Right now I am parked in my little camper truck along the Arkansas River. I have been fishing for trout every waking minute for three days. Except for a couple of blustery afternoons the weather has been benign, the winds favorable to a cast, and the fish eager to give satisfaction. I have several hefty ones in my refrigerator, headed for the smoker.

I tend to stand in one place and cast my fly, over and over again in a kind of Zen trance, trying for one perfect cast after another, an old geezer with nothing better to do. Literally, nothing better to do. One of those old guys standing waist deep in a river dressed in the entire spectrum of beige, uncaring whether any fish happens to notice a nicely placed fly, a perfect float, a quiet retrieve and cast again. It is a study, a performance waiting for an audience, just one taker..

Right now I have the heater running, drying some clothes. I was standing about waist deep along the shore earlier this afternoon in a riprap of jagged boulders in a moderate current. The thought occurred to me that I could easily go over backwards into the water and fill my waders in a minute when I went over backwards into the water and filled my waders in a minute. In that minute, however, one's waders are still full of air, so your legs tend to float somewhere just above your head as you drift off into the current. You can't put your legs down to stand and right yourself. You are basically helpless, adrift, festooned in floating flyline about your neck and shoulders, hyperventilating from the shock of a sudden plunge into a cold river - in a word ridiculous, utterly humbled until your wader socks fill with cold water and you can sink just enough, turn over on your belly and head into shore like an old wet dog.

It was a moment of beauty, my moment of Zen. The idea matched reality on cue, the world just then corresponded perfectly to a fleeting thought. The universe settled in that instant, the planets aligned, the galaxies thrummed along in perfect unison, all things were in cosmic balance, my debt to gravity paid in full.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

In the Public Self-Interest

The American Psychological Association found that Americans would benefit from more psychotherapy.      
                                                                   - Harper's Magazine, "Findings," October 2012

  • The American College of Surgeons found that Americans would benefit from more frequent surgical procedures, whether as a necessary medical intervention, demonstration of support for a loved one, or simply as a conversation starter.

"Charge her for a lobotomy and a shoe shine."

  • The American Petroleum Institute found that Americans would benefit from buying more gasoline, engine and automotive lubricants, and remembering to hunt for bargains in brake, transmission and power steering fluids in larger "family sized" containers.
  • The American Homebuilders Institute found that Americans would benefit from owning more than just one or two homes, adding that many additional home sites are still available in flood plains and remote Western forests.

  • The American Dental Association found that Americans would benefit from having a second tooth drilled, preferably the tooth nearest the one with the cavity.
  • The National Association of Evangelicals found that Americans would benefit if everyone would just learn to agree. With them.
  • The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that Americans would benefit from naming the AARP as their sole beneficiary and dying sooner than the sell-by date suggested in actuarial tables. 

"Our actuaries suggest sooner rather than later."
  • The American Restaurant Association found that Americans would benefit from celebrating every month whose name has a vowel in it as National Restaurant Month.
  • The Professional Beauty Association found that Americans would benefit from the self esteem that comes with more elaborate hair styles.

  • The American Dairy Association found that Americans would benefit from taking up sculpting in butter as a hobby, church or sports team fundraiser, community league sport or simple family pastime.

  • The American Association of Anesthesiologists found that Americans would benefit from weekly applications of any approved, professionally administered general anesthetic, and recommended daily applications during presidential campaign cycles.
  • The American Association of Advertising Agencies found that Americans would benefit from believing whatever they read in the New Yorker or hear on television.
  • The American Philosophical Association found that Americans would benefit from something in particular, albeit something on which there was no immediate consensus although a consensus was not ruled out at some future time under the terms of its bylaws, which were still somewhat a subject of discussion and possible revision, albeit revisions falling within parameters set forth by a quorum of the procedural committee. Except they were generally, if provisionally and informally, agreed that it would not be "reading Schopenhauer."
  • The American Association of University Professors found that Americans would benefit from unionizing in the workplace if they felt like it, though it would be better for everyone if they could just find a job with tenure and not worry about unions.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Droning On

 Your tax dollars at work

I merely go off for a couple of weeks to Utah to ride my bicycle and harry the local trout, when upon my return to the "news cycle" and to Western Civilization, I learn to my horror that one of our embassies has gone missing and that Willard Romney has consigned me and my ilk to a sizeable 47 percent blot on the national ethos. I can't go off recreating in one of the underdeveloped countries, it would seem, before this little slice of the First World slides into a chaos at once murderous and libellous.

Frankly, I'm a little surprised that Willard would draw attention to anyone not paying taxes since his own largesse vis-a-vis the feds is currently under public scrutiny. Not to mention that, in tax data from the last round of income tax returns, 78,000 tax filers with incomes between $211,000 and $533,000 paid no income taxes; 24,000 households with incomes of $533,000 to $2.2 million paid no income taxes, and 3,000 tax filers with incomes above $2.2 million paid no income taxes.

And then, of course, there are the people with incomes insufficient to be taxed - the sort of people who used to work for companies taken over by hedge fund managers, for example. According to 2011 data from the Tax Policy Center, more than half of filers not paying income taxes are those earning less than $16,800 per year. Another third of those paying no income taxes earn less than $33,500, an additional 13 percent earn under $59,500. In other words, the growing numbers of the lowest earners, who still pay standard payroll, sales and other taxes even if they don't pay withholding taxes on their incomes.

Actually, I find myself in a rather awkward position when it comes to paying federal tax. I am about to become one of the grateful beneficiaries of the American socialist dream, and I'm all in favor of it, especially the socialist part. This month commences the first of my endless stream of bulging, unmerited Social Security checks.
 Socialist Security Administration

I'm still fortunate enough to owe federal income tax each year, unlike many of my contemporaries whose government checks are pretty much all they have after the likes of Bernie Madoff, AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, Citigroup swept up the loose change like bums on a pavement. I'm going to be raking it in compared with some of my less fortunate compeers. In fact, I plan to stash a lot of the overload under my bed, which I've named "Little Cayman" after one of the high-profile tax shelters Willard uses.

Little Cayman

Which, as I see it, puts me in something of a moral quandary and gives me sqeamish feelings in the wee hours of the night when I lie awake and listen to my teeth decay. I am now one of the Internal Revenue Service's recurring money loops - I get a check from the government each month and then give part of it back. This system presumably keeps the government solvent, not without considerable help from the Chinese. Eventually, I suppose, the U.S. will qualify for World Bank and International Monetary Fund assistance as an underdeveloped nation, but until that time, I and my fellow 53-percenters are all the country has to fall back on for its fiduciary health.

The problem for me is that I feel somewhat complicit in the recent Libyan debacle and the murder of four of my compatriots, since I'm certain that I paid for at least one drone missile strike in my IRS returns for last year. Just a hunch, mind you, but the thought nags me. It's all well to say that an amateurish video propelled those crazy Libyans into a spontaneous uproar, whereupon they all went home and fished out their rocket-propelled grenade launchers and heavy artillery from the coat closet and returned to level the embassy. But I suspect the whole episode was a bit more organized and less warm-blooded than a campaigning presidential incumbent would wish the voting public to imagine. No, I'm guessing it was one too many drone strikes by some guys sitting in a windowless room in Syracuse playing with a joystick.

I can't get over the nagging sense that I'm helping to defray the costs of obliterating refugee camps, Afghan wedding parties, convoys of innocent villagers, farmers who appear to be planting IEDs by merely digging in the dirt - anyone, in short, who happens to be in the wrong place looking suspicious to an 18-year-old video game genius with a GED certificate and a security clearance. 

Eventually, I suppose, they'll all learn to be grateful, but until then we'll just have to defend freedom around the world with no thanks at all. 

One we missed