Thursday, June 26, 2008

A Quaint (But True) Story From My Youth

Early one morning I got a frantic telephone call from my friend Jim. "Get your mask and snorkel and get down here a soon as you can! It’s an emergency!" Jim was an active fellow, but was blind as a bat without his coke-bottle-thick glasses. Earlier that same morning he had capsized his Hobie Cat on the bay side of the Keys (it was his dog’s fault, he explained), just off of the Buccaneer Lodge in Marathon (FL), and lost his brand new state-of-the-art bifocals in the process. To make matters worse, his charter sailing business was slow that summer, so his hardworking (and long-suffering) wife Fran had laid out a couple of week’s paychecks for Jim’s new specs.

"You don’t understand," he explained when I got there. "If we don’t find those glasses, it could really affect my vision."
"Yeah, I guess so," I replied. That figured. No glasses, no vision.
"No, you don’t get it. If Fran finds out, she’ll scratch my eyes out!"

We sailed back to the Buccaneer, as Jim explained that he was sure he knew where he was when the boat tipped. There was a sandy patch, about 100 feet offshore. He had taken bearings off the old Clark house, and the Buccaneer docks.

I had learned from diver friends that the best way to locate something underwater was to set up a grid pattern and to search systematically. That way you could cover all of a certain area, not backtracking needlessly or missing anything. We snorkeled back and forth for over an hour.

There were sand patches, turtle grass, fish, sponges, even an occasional conch shell, but no glasses. We conferred about the location briefly, and started on another grid pattern. By now Jim was much farther offshore, and was starting to shout, "Come on, they gotta be out here somewhere!"

I decided to keep looking where I was for a little longer before moving out. Then I spotted a pile of underwater debris and swam down for a closer look. There, on the bottom, were two bent welding rods! (I swear this is a true story.) I brought them to the surface, remembering that they could be used as divining rods to find things. I grabbed them by the short ends and swam in a circle with the idea that they would indicate the direction to go to find the glasses.

(I should also explain that by this time I had already come under the influence of the Baptists, and as you may know, one of the things we don’t approve of is dabbling with low-level psychic phenomena, so I continued the process only with serious misgivings).

Jim was still shouting in the background for me to swim out and join him offshore. "Out here! Out here!" Just then the two rods crossed in front of me.

"OK, OK!" I shouted. I decided to swim forward with the rods for a minute, before joining him in the deeper water, basically thinking I was wasting my time and indulging in a silly superstition that I had long ago discounted. The rods crossed again. I looked down, and there, right on the bottom in front of me, were the glasses. I dropped the rods, and swam down and scooped them up.

"Come on, come on, you’re wasting your time. They’re out here!" Jim was bellowing, as I surfaced. He told me later he just couldn’t believe it, when I came up with them, and told him, "I got ‘em!"

For years afterward, whenever the story of the lost glasses came up, Jim still looked at me as if he suspected that I found them early on, and made up the story about the rods just for fun. Either way, he was darned happy to get them back.

More About Dowsing

Check out the novice dowser in the picture above. He is not using a traditional forked stick divining rod (see article below). He’s holding a couple of welding rods, with a 90-degree bend, forming an L-shape. The shorter ends of the rods are held in upright fists, with the longer ends pointing out straight ahead, horizontally and parallel to the ground.

The two rods must be gripped hard enough to keep the long ends horizontal, but not so hard that an imperceptible inward motion of the wrists won’t allow the rods to cross in front of the dowser. Using this method, when the dowser gets over a "vein" of water or a hidden item, for example, the crossing of the rods indicates "pay dirt."
Another device used by old-timers was the pendulum. A simple plumb bob will suffice for this purpose. Chester Clift, who was a well-known dowser from Washington County in New York State, favored this method. (Chester used to spend the long upstate winter fashioning pendulums out of unusual rocks and stones for his many friends and followers.) The motion of the pendulum, held on a short string by the dowser, naturally follows either a clockwise, counterclockwise, or a back and forth motion. With this method, the individual dowser decides which of these motions indicates the presence of water or other objects and interprets the results accordingly. And of course, as you'll see if you try it, you can control the motion of the pendulum with the slightest movement of your hand.

In all methods of dowsing, whether with a forked stick, metal rods, or a pendulum, my conclusion is that the operator already has an "educated guess" as to where to find underground water, or even lost objects. There’s no magic to it, other than "divining" what the dowser already knows. Anything more than that is the realm of ignorance and superstition, and except for occasionally relating a few quaint stories from my youth, I basically forgot about the subject.

A Hell on Earth

Not too far away from our golden shores is place where the Four Horsemen--War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death--have been reaping a bitter harvest: Haiti. Once known as the Pearl of the Caribbean, and the wealthiest colony in the New World, Haiti has been theoretically independent since 1804. But since then, for a variety of reasons, many but not all of them self-imposed, they are now the poorest country in this hemisphere, and also the most corrupt.

Their population is now over 8 million. The average life span is around 40 years. Half the people are illiterate. AIDS and tuberculosis are rampant. Less than 2% of the once lush forest remains. Of what little wealth they have, 40% comes from foreign aid. The poor eat "cakes" made out of cooking oil and clay to ease their hunger. The country is a conduit for illegal drugs, with the assent of what little civil authority remains. Gangs of armed thugs kidnap innocent people for ransom. It’s not safe to travel, even within one’s own neighborhood. The elite remain behind high walls in their own compounds or retreat to Paris or Miami. Haiti is a "closed system." Is there any hope for Haiti?

Imagine the plight of an intelligent, relatively educated young person in that country. He or she can only secure a decent future by attaching himself to a powerful patron in a position of relative servitude, by allying himself with a criminal enterprise which preys on the weak, or by finding a way to get out. They live in a country whose population has so far outstripped its resources that it is literally devouring itself. And all this is happening within a one-day cruise ship ride from Miami.

Some people hope that the current generation of Haitian-Americans will take an interest in returning home with money and learned American values, and improving the situation. Others will tell you that until the prophecies of Revelation come to pass and Jesus returns to set things right, the Four Horsemen will continue to exact their own measures of population control. Still others, like the French engineer I met there thirty years ago, will tell you simply, "They need a Castro."

Whatever the answer may be, Haiti is an example of what can and will happen to the rest of the world if we don’t get serious about population control, conservation of our remaining resources, and stewardship of the earth.

Could This Be the Beginning of the End?

Above: The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Even a secular observer has to admit, when we look at the world population curve, with 6 billion people already on earth, and another billion due to come "on line" before 2012, that we are going to face some major problems in the coming years. This year, for example, the demand for oil has surpassed the world’s output of oil, and the price has spiked, not due to some worldwide conspiracy, as some say, but due to the simple old-fashioned laws of supply and demand.

Trouble’s a-comin’. The price of fuel is affecting the price of goods that have to be shipped, which is virtually everything that we consume. The attempt to cut fuel costs by producing ethanol from corn (backed by our own government) has doubled the price of a basic staple, not to mention the cost of animal fodder needed to produce all kinds of meat. Most Americans commute for miles from home to work in our individual vehicles. A huge percentage of fuel is wasted in traffic tie-ups on a daily basis. Prices are going up, and they are going to go higher: some say six bucks for a gallon of gas by Labor Day.

On the plus side for us, the USA is still a pluralistic, resourceful nation. We’re diverse enough so that if one sector fails, another sector can rise up to bail us out. We still value and reward innovation. We’re free to move from place to place. And we still have the ability to change our governments, however slowly, by free and honest elections (despite the inevitable conspiracy theories one hears). So for those of us who live in the United States, there is hope.

As bad as things seem, the past has taught us that if enough decent people keep working on our problems, little by little, we might just all wake up in a better world.

Unfortunately, however, there are places where the forces of Reason and Good are stymied.
More of this anon.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Not To Worry

As we Americans bemoan our fate over $4 per gallon gasoline, it’s easy to forget that we are still the wealthiest and most fortunate nation on earth. A scant 90 miles away, closer to Key West than Key Largo, is a "Second World" nation where things like freedom of speech and well-stocked Winn-Dixie stores are only a faraway dream.

Remember the recent picture of now-fourteen-year-old Elian Gonzalez making a speech extolling the virtues of Communism? Sure, a few politicians are now somehow trying to pin Elian’s return to Cuba on the Democrats and Barack Obama, because a couple of Obama’s staffers were in the Justice Department or otherwise involved when Elian was sent back to his one surviving parent.

Now I don’t even begin to claim any real understanding of Cuban politics (either here or abroad), other than to know that it has a conspiratorial and emotional edge that many Americans fail to understand. Even some of my in-laws are still planning on recovering the property that they had to leave behind fifty years ago.

But I do know that it’s a different world today, and a new ball game. Young people don’t necessarily relate to the issues of the past. We even saw one of the younger "talking heads" on cable network news a while ago, who had to ask, "Cuban missile crisis? What was that?"
El Barbudo has one foot in the grave, and the other’s on a banana peel. Change is finally coming, and soon.
And as far as Elian goes, not to worry--as any student of human "body language" can tell you: he’s not into it. And you don't have to be a psychologist to know, even at his tender age, he'd be a lot more comfortable sipping a mojito out on Sobe than reciting dated Marxist propaganda to a bunch of superannuated politicos.

Now it may require a major leap of faith, but if we decide to look to the future rather than dwell on the past, here’s a good bet: in a few short years Elian will be back in Miami, along with thousands of tourists, students, and business people making the trip legally, and in both directions.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A-yuh, theah's watah theah!

Of all the ways kids can get into trouble nowadays, there's little danger that your child will take up divination and start running around with a forked stick. Not so in an earlier age.

Fifty years ago rural New England was full of old codgers who claimed they could find water (and other things) by use of a divining rod. Most of them were more than happy to show a youngster how to do it, and to see if he or she, too, had the "knack." This was done by having the the young neophyte hold one branch of the fork, while the experienced dowser held the other, and then traversing the ground where the "vein" of water was to be located.

More often than not, at point 'X', the rod would mysteriously point down, indicating a drillable source of cool, clear water. Some said that hickory wood was the only type that you could use. Others said willow, and still others maintained that wood from "any type of tree that bears a fruit with a pit" was the only substance that would work.

After considerable experimentation, I found that any wood that stayed springy and wouldn't split would do just fine. So would a piece of solid wire, for that matter. The trick was, that when the "handles" of the rod are held correctly, there is a tension on the whole apparatus that will cause the rod to bend downward (or upward) with an imperceptible twist of the wrists.

I only saw only one dowser holding the rod with palms down, like the lad in the picture above. Most of the "adepts" I saw held the rod with their palms up. Sometimes when they got a "reading," the rod would twist dramatically, even tearing the bark off the sticks in their hands. I ultimately came to the conclusion that most of these old fellows had an innate sense of where there was underground water, and how deep you would have to drill to reach it.

Prevalence of dowsing is not limited to New England, of course. Once a paving company accidentally covered a couple of water meters at a business in Marathon. When the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority meter reader came by and saw what had happened, he nonchalantly reached behind the seat in his truck, took out a wire divining apparatus, quickly dowsed the location of the meters, uncovered them with a shovel, took the readings, and drove off as if it were all in a day's work.

(More on this subject later.)

Are We Going To Have a Hurricane???

"Are we going to have a hurricane?" asked the elderly lady from the tour bus, a look of total fear and desperation darkening her aged countenance. An enormous black cloud slowly advanced, with an occasional flicker of lightning highlighting leaves and debris blowing in the quickening wind.
"Naw," I said, "it's just a thunderstorm." She gasped in disbelief and ran on tiptoes across the parking lot to the supposed safety of the waiting bus.

OK, we must admit that "hurricane bravado" is part of the cultural norm in the Florida Keys. There have been historical disastrous hurricanes, such as those in 1919 and 1935, and more recently severe storms like Georges in 1998 and Wilma in 2005. Wilma, with its flooding and the subsequent rise in insurance rates, dovetailed with our current real estate slump. (For more information, see ).

They say that the real estate market will recover next year if we don't have another hurricane. The experts say it's a La Nina year. That means there's a cooler current off the coast of South America that is usually associated with a diminished hurricane season in Florida. At the same time they predict a 65% probability of a busier than normal season. But the experts have been wrong before.

So we took a non-scientific poll of old timers, both male and female. There are some that will say the number of hurricanes is related to the relative abundance of land crabs. Others will say it has to do with the migration of land turtles across the road (from ocean to gulf, mind you), or the temperature of near-shore waters. And there are others who just seem to have an inchoate sense of knowing.

So here is this year's prediction: there will be two strong storms, both of which will probably miss us. Conditions will be reminiscent of 1979, when Hurricanes David and Frederic threatened the Keys, but passed us by.

But in view of the unusual weather across the Midwest this year, it might be a good idea to keep those flood and windstorm policies paid up.

This Whole Oil Thing -- Worse Than We Know

I put a link to Jim Kunstler' blog site at the right of this page, because when the current increase in the price of gas appeared, I remembered that he had been predicting it for years, and got it right almost to the day.

His current rant is quite disturbing to those of us who thought we'd always have enough fuel:

The fellow is a bit of a self-promoter, and his language is a little salty at times, but he hit the nail on the head this time, and there's no reason to believe that his future predictions are going to be inaccurate.

Good old fashioned American ingenuity may bail us out of this one, but it looks as if major changes are ahead for all of us.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Les Autos a L'Avenir?

Our Cars of the Near Future?
A couple of summers ago we took a trip to Canada. Local car dealers had a display of new vehicles at this street fair in Trois Rivieres, Quebec. The cars were well equipped, and some of them seemed sporty enough, but what struck us as odd (at the time) was that they were all so small!
After thinking about it, and filling up our rented gas-guzzler at the Canadian pumps, it all became clear. Canadian fuel prices (and the tax on them) were much higher than back in the good old US of A. So they simply went to smaller cars. There is apparently a certain je ne sais quoi in the post World War II American psyche that likes, expects, and demands big cars. But it looks as if that sixty year love affair is just about over. At least for the foreseeable future....

Friday, June 20, 2008

My Sentiments Exactly

Seen in today's paper:

Letter-writer is right about progress in Keys

Dave Scott of Marathon, who wrote "'Progress' is killing the
Florida Keys" (June 17 Letters to the editor), you read my mind. My thoughts exactly before I started to read the letters to the editor. There was, and in a small amount still is, something about Key West that makes it so unique. If you don't mind, Dave, may my words join yours. For every sunset Key West has, it takes part of that uniqueness away. One day, many folks will wake up and say "No More."

Elizabeth M. Sullivan, Washington, D.C.

We can only hope! And work to keep "Critical Concern" in place. But now Florida's governor is saying, "Let's drill offshore!" even though the relative dribble that may be produced is (1) years in the future and (2) will be sold at world market rate anyway.

How much smarter would it be to start investing in a world-class rail system for Florida? (I know, I know, that's not how things work....)

For a copy of Dave Scott's original letter, try this link.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Let's Drill for Offshore Oil!

Key West trivia question: Anybody remember the day (hint--Captain Tony was Mayor) when we looked out, and there was a sea-going oil drilling rig out by Sand Key light? It turned out that it was just parked there, and was on its way to somewhere else. But it caused a bit of a stir.

Now that President Bush and (quite possibly) his successor, Sen. McCain have come out in favor of ending the ban on offshore oil drilling, some of us are wondering how that idea will play out here in the Keys.

Will the battle lines be drawn between the tree-hugging, reef-relief Greenies and the Humvee driving, pave-it-over Piggies? Or will most of us fall somewhere in the middle?

I can remember when beachfront hotels on Key Colony Beach, for example, had to have kerosene-soaked towels available so that people could clean the oil off their feet, and not track it on to the pool deck or into the rooms. And that wasn't just here--it was at every beach in Florida.

I can remember a three inch layer of tar just below the sand at Long Key State Park. Now, granted, a lot of that was from freighters who flushed their tanks right offshore. That doesn't happen as much anymore, because of heavy fines and the ability to "fingerprint" oil spills.

But in California, where most of the spills came from drilling activities, I can remember the rocks along the Santa Barbara coast still being covered with blotches of black tar and the skeletons of dead birds in the late Seventies.

So, since I have seen what a terrible mess oil makes when it hits our beaches (and our tourist economy), I will have to be on the side of the Greenies on this one. On the other hand, I just had to shell out FIFTY BUCKS for three-quarters of a tank of gas for my 4-cylinder vehicle!

So we can be sure that the oil companies will be telling us that with new technology the drilling process can be clean and environmentally friendly. And we won't know for certain until we let them try it.

There IS one saving grace for us here in the Keys: there's a good possibility that there isn't any recoverable oil here. People have drilled here before. Right off of Duck Key are the remnants of a drilling rig from long ago. Florida's geology is basically flat-lying limestone, not the "folded" rock that favors accumulation of organic deposits like petroleum and natural gas in its faults and folds.
On the down side, any spill from the west coast of Florida would eventually reach us.

So now we have a president and a presidential candidate telling us we have to throw out environmental protections that were originally enacted for valid reasons. And by so doing they will be polarizing public opinion into Greenies and Piggies, or if you prefer, Realists and Dreamers.

The true fact is that if we had listened to Dick Nixon and/or Jimmy Carter way back when, we wouldn't have the current problems. But people thought that cheap "fossil fuels" would go on forever, and as we know, Democracy is absolutely the worst form of government. Except, of course, for all the others.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Purloined Letter?

We have been hearing something disturbing on the grapevine. A large number of property owners who live within 300 feet of properties whose owners have applied for variances have NOT received notification of the impending hearings from the city planning department, as required by law.

What is worse are reports that city staff is routinely blaming the lack of notice on the US Postal Service. Sure, we've all lost things in the mail once or twice, but have we lost hundreds of letters in the last few months?

The real problem is that a lot of people travel during the summer months or are otherwise occupied out-of-town. Hence, posting an 11 x 14 inch card in front of the subject property and running a small ad in the legal section of a newspaper are not sufficient notices. Nor can budgetary concerns be used as an excuse for not sending out individual notices to nearby owners. The application fee should be sufficient to cover the postage and mailing expenses. And mailing of notices to every owner within a 300' radius is specifically required by statute.

Neglecting to mail out notices, as required by law, is unfair to both the nearby property owners, and to the applicant as well. Without proper notice (and proof thereof) any citizen ought to be able to challenge the validity of any variance on procedural grounds.

We certainly hope that the powers-that-be take note of this situation, and give assurance to the taxpaying public that the correct procedures will be followed. Failure to send out these notices as required by law creates an impression of impropriety that may be difficult to reverse. And that's the last thing that we need at this time.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Sure, An' Ya Know

We haven't seen any bumper stickers like this around town, as of yet, but a few wags assure us that they are out there. Some say it's been a tradition since JFK's election for politicians to shake their family tree (especially around the middle of March), hoping an Irishman or two will sift out. Even Dick Nixon claimed to have roots in th' Old Sod, and named his dog (an Irish setter, don't ya know) after the place where they were from.

So, with a McCain runnin', and as close as this election just might be, it may be only a matter of time before we see the above.

Our research shows, however, that taking advantage of ties to th' other side is not a new thing among politicians. It's as old as the potato blight of the 1840's and the mass emigration that followed it.

Charles Graham Halpine, a rogue Irish journalist who wrote under the pen name Miles O'Reilly
during the American Civil War, won an election for the position of Registrar of New York City on a Democratic and Republican coalition ticket. He described his success among the newly-enfranchised immigrant voters to the fact that:

"Von Halpine trinkt zwei lager Bier,
And O'Reilly wears th' Green."
As illustrious and as popular as he was, Halpine's final exit, although dramatic, was ignominious. He was found dead in a New York hotel room, having overdosed himself with chloroform, some say in an unsuccessful attempt to wean himself from th' demon rum. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

What's With This? III

Excuse us for being presumptive here, but shouldn't this sign be saying "Sidewalk Gone"?

This is the new office building at the corner of White and United Streets.

It looks as if there is only about a foot of sidewalk left in places.

Hmm, comments are welcome on this one, but to us it looks like a clear-cut case of res ipsa loquitur. Tsk, tsk.....what next?

Just Desserts

Today I had the pleasure of stopping for a little chat with Bob Kelly at his art gallery on the corner of Caroline and Ann Streets in Key West (definitely worth a stop if you are in the neighborhood). Bob pointed out a group of people off of the Majesty of the Seas who were listening to a tour guide tell a story about the "crazy woman" who lived in the very house on whose front porch we were sitting.

This led our discussion to various incidents that took place around that area, and I was reminded of this story told by Bob Anderson, who lived for a good number of years on the corner of Elizabeth and Dey Streets. It's not a Key West story, but a Vermont story. Bob had worked for NBC in New York for many years. (In fact, he claimed to be the one who "discovered" Andy Rooney; we'll save that story for later.) Eventually, he "burned out" and he and his wife Annie moved to the country, up near Jericho, Vermont, about 20 miles or so east of Burlington on Rt. 15 to settle Bob's jangled urban nerves. It was, and probably still is, an out-of-the-way rural area. They busied themselves making Tiffany-style lamps out of stained glass and selling them by mail order.

Before too long the Andersons got a taste of every Vermonter's nightmare. The old farmhouse up the road was purchased by another New Yorker, who fixed up the place at no small expense. At the end of the summer, as Bob was shutting up his place and getting ready to come back to Key West for the winter, he decided to do the neighborly thing and go over and introduce himself to his new neighbors, and see if they needed anything.

"What most of us seasonal people do," he said, by way of offering some friendly and useful advice, "is, we have a gadget attached to our oil burner. If for some reason the electricity goes off, and the oil burner won't come on, it turns on a little red light out by our mailbox. Then when the RFD postman sees it, he knows to call Silas down at the general store, and he'll come out and relight it, and that way your pipes won't freeze."

"Tell ya what, pal" said the neighbor. "If I ever need any of your advice, I'll come over and ask for it."

Now, Bob was a big, imposing fellow with a stentorian voice, who had run a PT boat in WWII. But underneath all that was a little kid still begging for approval. He knew as well as anybody that Robert Frost had said, "Good fences make good neighbors," but he was hurt by the fact that his neighbor blew him off just the same.

So he "shook the dust off his shoes," and he and Annie packed up their things and headed south to the Keys. When he got back in June, he was surprised to see the New Yorker's farmhouse once again in a state of total disrepair. Here's what happened:

Some time after the Christmas holidays a happy party of New Yorkers set out for Vermont, planning a ski holiday on the slopes up in the nearby Sugarbush Valley. When they got to their friends' farmhouse up in Jericho, they were puzzled that the key wouldn't fit into the lock on the front door. It seemed to be frozen. They went to get a cigarette lighter from the car, in the hope of heating the key and melting the ice that had somehow got into the lock.

Then someone looked in a window. The whole interior of the house was one solid block of ice! Apparently the electricity had gone off at some point, and a pipe up in the attic had cracked just enough to let a trickle of water flow down through the floors. As long as it was flowing a little, it didn't freeze, but when the water set on the floors, it did, and slowly built up a huge ice cone that by January had filled the whole house, encasing everything inside in solid ice, including a grand piano!

It didn't melt completely until the first week of June that year.

Moral of the story?

Well, I'll leave that up to you, but sometimes it seems that it's what we learn after we know it all that counts.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Breaking News, Key West Fire (6/8/08)

As we were heading back into Key West from Stock Island after yesterday's sailing trip (see post below) we saw a huge cloud of black smoke in the distance. As we got closer, we speculated on what it was, and where it was coming from. (Had Karen left the toaster-broiler oven on?)

When we got into town, we saw that it was a building on White Street. A huge crowd had gathered to watch the firemen try to put it out. June is the time when the tourists have gone for a while, and you see people that you haven't seen for months.

The fire brought a crowd of people from the surrounding neighborhoods out of their air conditioning and away from their TVs. We saw dozens of people we recognized, including Bascom Grooms, current president of the KW Chamber of Commerce, whose real estate office, it turned out, was one of the places burning. An adjacent electronics shop and an exercise studio were also on fire.

The fire department stayed there all night, and today the area was cordoned off. No one was hurt. Our sympathies to those who lost businesses, and we hope that all of you will be able to recover soon.

A Day of Sailing

Yesterday afternoon I had an unexpected treat: a friend has acquired a sailboat (and just as importantly, a good place to keep it) and we took it out to the reef.

There were four of us, and three of us had lived in the Keys for periods of time in the past. We realized that, as you settle down and get busy with just living, you don't often get the chance to experience the finer things of life here. We'd all shared many an hour kayaking and canoeing in the back country, but we realized that none of us had been to the reef for years.

We sailed out into the blue water, saw a turtle and flying fish, then turned around and hooked up to a mooring near Marker 32. There were a couple of sharks in the water, but two of the guys snorkeled anyway. I stayed board, just to make sure the boat didn't break loose or anything.

Anyway, the reef looked good and the water looked clean. The weather was beautiful, and that thin strip of islands we call home seemed far away, along with it's problems and hassles.

It was good to see that which 99% of the tourists never get to see, and to remember why we came here, and to be reminded just how wonderful this small part of God's great creation really is.

Incident at Uxmal

A phone call from afar the other day reminded me of something about which I had not forgotten, but don't ordinarily share with others. Since this site is currently read only by a few friends and some "stumble-ons," I now join the ranks of Dennis Kucinich, Jimmy Carter, astronaut Edgar Mitchell, and numerous others. Yes, I'm one of those wackos who claims that they have seen an unidentified flying object, and to this day I can't deny the following story.

It started with another phone call back in 1977, from a friend who had at one time been a New York City cop, but who was working for our local school system. The summer before we had been talking about (of all things) Meso-American archaeology, and we talked vaguely about making a trip to Mexico.
"You need to get a few days off," he said. "I got three ladies who want to go to Mexico with us."
"That's great," I said, "but I can't really get away this time of year." I was working for a seafood producer, and it was the height of mackerel season.
"Well, you have to." he said. "I've already bought your ticket." The next week, right after school got out for the Christmas holidays, the five of us landed in Merida, Yucatan.

The next day we drove south in a rented VW Thing to the Mayan ruins at Uxmal, arriving late in the afternoon. The Mexicans had installed equipment for a "sound and light show" in the ruins. The English version was at 9:00 PM. We decided to check it out, and after finding a place to stay and getting some food, we went back to see the show.

The viewers were led to a spot alongside what they call the Nunnery Quadrangle, a football field-sized enclosure formed by four ancient buildings. The sound system was enhanced by the natural acoustics of the quadrangle. As the story unfolded, lights appeared on the pyramids is the distance, synchronized with the music and unfolding story from the sound system.

The girls sat on folding chairs with most of the other 60 or so people who were there. My other friend (the former NYC cop) and I stood at the back, better to see the whole scene. He was never one to "miss a trick," and he said to me, "Something's coming down, something's coming down!" He pointed to a Mexican lady looking over to our right, and grabbing her child up to her chest.

I looked over to the right, and there, just past one of the buildings that formed the quadrangle, was this thing in the sky, no more than 100 feet away. At first it looked like some kind of merry-go-round, a rotating array of colored tubes hanging down from a disc-like cover. I remember also thinking that it looked like a giant Portuguese Man-o-war, with purplish tentacles hanging down from a rounded body. I assumed that it must be part of the light show, as, I am sure, did some of the other people in the audience.

Then, as we watched, the tubes changed color, and seemed to soften, so that they appeared to be dragging behind the circular motion of the disc. Then they were simultaneously drawn up into the disc. The thing continued to move forward and slowly gained altitude. It was silver in color, and about 80 to 100 feet in diameter. There was a rounded dome on the upper side, which gave off a reddish glow. Around the outside were yellow and orange lights, which rotated with the disc.

It's hard to explain, but we had the feeling that there was some kind of intelligence on board, and that they were having a good chuckle at our amazement, but not in a malicious way. The thing, whatever it was, slowly gained in altitude, and it was then that we noticed another one, high above us in the night sky. I had actually seen it before, but discounted it as an aircraft. When the one that we had seen close up got near it, the two of them went off in tandem toward the west.

All this time I remember pinching myself, as if to test if what we were seeing was real. I had a watch and remember that we had the two things in sight for a good twenty minutes. Unfortunately none of us had a camera with us. We did make drawings of it later, and they looked a lot like the picture above (which I crudely "photoshopped" recently).

After the show the Mexicans were in a big hurry to shoo everyone out of the place. One woman tripped and turned her ankle, and taking care of her took up much of the staff's attention. Of the other spectators, only a few seemed willing to talk about what we had seen, and they all agreed that it was something extremely unusual.

Later I told one of my neighbors, who was a retired Air Force officer, and also an astronomy professor, what we had seen. He told me that Project Blue Book, the Air Force's project to investigate UFO's had never really been closed. (He also called my attention to the first chapter of the Book of Ezekiel, which some people claim also speaks of a UFO sighting.) He later told me that his contacts in the Air Force had investigated this incident, and had placed it in the category of "a true unknown."

Later that week, newspapers reported a story on two mysterious sonic booms heard off the east coast of the US. It was later speculated that they were due to "exploding swamp gas."

Last I heard, one of the teachers had taken a job up on Florida's west coast. The other two got married, and eventually retired from teaching, and the cop is running a cattle ranch up in the Panhandle.

So there it is. PS: We went on to visit a lot of other archaeological sites, making the grand tour of the Yucatan Peninsula, and got home safely. It was a great trip, but nothing else happened that was as exciting as that evening at Uxmal!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Who Is My Neighbor? *

The picture at left shows a disturbing incident that took place in Hartford CT last week. A 78 year old man was hit and badly injured by a car that was speeding, apparently racing another vehicle. That's bad enough.

The really disturbing part of the incident is the number of other cars and pedestrians who just kept going.

Now, this sort of thing is more common in Miami, due to the large number (let's face it) of newer Americans. In many if not most third world countries, any contact with the police is at best expensive, and at worst life-threatening. But this is the United States.

It's not really a new problem, even here. Incidents like this call up the memory of the Kitty Genovese murder in Brooklyn forty years ago, where many apartment dwellers ignored her screams, and didn't even make a phone call for fear of "getting involved."

But it does make one wonder if our society has changed. Whether it's due to TV and media violence (including computer games), a growing "Hooray for me, to Hell with you" attitude, or whatever, there should be no doubt that failure to stop and at least call the authorities in the case of someone's accident or injury is NOT acceptable behavior.

Even in the former Soviet Union, so often decried as the throne of "Godless Communism," failure to stop and render assistance in such cases was a crime! Here, non-involvement is more and more seen as the "smart thing to do."

* For one answer to this question, see Luke 10:29.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Real Estate=Living Spaces=Our Future

The hoped and prayed-for real estate buyers' "feeding frenzy" has not yet appeared. The national housing market is off. There are thousands of unsold condominium units in Florida alone, and the run-up in prices during the boom which tapered off three years ago has discouraged most "regular" buyers.

Prices are actually coming down. Foreclosure rates are up 1000% over previous years. And "for rent" signs are proliferating at a rate unseen here since the Navy pulled out in the late '60's. Investors stuck with high taxes and insurance rates on properties they can't unload are trying to mitigate their losses, even if they had not intended to become landlords before the present situation developed.

Some of the more ambitious condominium projects in the Keys are in receivership, and the rumor mill says more will follow.

Add all this to the fuel crisis, the usual election-year jitters, and fear of another bad hurricane a la Wilma, and you have the current scenario. A time of watchful waiting and a sense of unreality.

And the situation begs the question, are there any "remedies" on the horizon that might actually be worse than the situation they purport to cure?

There have already been trial balloons about bringing in legalized gambling as an additional revenue source.

There is talk about rewriting the variance standards in the land development regulations, in order to facilitate development in already crowded areas.

And there's always the bugaboo of turning existing housing into more transient units, for a number of ostensibly beneficial reasons.

Now, it's never a good idea to take counsel of one's fears, but to some of us, things seem just a little too quiet. And it's food for thought when you realize that the only real civic buttress against what may be an economic juggernaut of desperate investors is a loose federation of retired people with good intentions but limited resources.

One can only hope that innovative minds can bill Key West as a clean and pleasant place where you can get around without using a lot of fossil fuel. And at the same time realize that preservation of our neighborhoods, with emphasis on maintaining pleasant living spaces, is essential for our long range future.