About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

Anonymity

Okay, I drank way, way too much ice tea last night, and am cruising into this lovely Sunday morning on far too little sleep. But still…

Public garbage cans in London have screens that display advertisements.

Those same garbage cans can recognize smart phones of people walking by.

And if the garbage can sees you going into a different coffee shop than usual, it can flash a “loyalty” message as you walk by.

Who told Ridley Scott and Terry Gilliam they were in charge?

In the past, I loved the future. My first favorite books were science fiction: Assimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, then on to Phillip K. Dick , William Gibson and Samuel R. Delany. There was something liberating about the future, not quite chaotic, not anarchistic, nor autarchistic, but a place… unbound, I guess.

Perhaps the only thing unbound was my imagination. I’ve heard that before. There was, of course, the threat of Orwell, but 1984 came and went and big brother had not arrived.

But now, maybe it has: The NSA. Black boxes under your dashboard record every stop and go, in your car or on your computer. Your cell phone broadcasts a constant stream of who you are, where you are, what you are doing and when. Drones. Verizon. Xfinity. CenturyLink. AT&T.

Yes, I fear corporate snooping more than government snooping, primarily because corporations are better at it and they own our lawmakers. But it doesn’t matter who is perched on my shoulder. Laws protecting privacy are in serious need of review. Because what we feel and what we do can be modified by those who anticipate our behavior through study of the habits of people just like us.

We are losing control not only of our freedom, but of what we think. And it may already be too late.

Dead or Alive

From my couch, I look out at mountains mottled green and gray. Over the years, fire has eaten into the smooth blanket of trees; from life to ash where it bit most deeply. For now, draw no lines and call each shade part of the forest.

Forest fires, from very close up, are terrifying. They howl as they run among the trees, pulling life from each branch, each blade of grass. The sizzling crackle and rushing inhalation as flames suck needles from an incandescent pine is with me still, years after I last heard it.

I can only imagine the final moments of 19 firefighters who died recently in Arizona, then even my imagination flees.

Fire and forest, firs in flames, made me curious about the line between what we think of as alive and what we believe is not. Blame Disney.

Life is “the condition that distinguishes animals and plants … including the capacity for growth, reproduction, functional activity, and continual change…”

From an embryonic smolder at the base of a ponderosa struck by lightning, the fire gestated in pine needle duff, creeping outward to find small nourishment in drops of sap and drying decay. Four days after conception, maybe a week, a hot brisk breeze found the nest, brought oxygen and an appetite.

The fire changed. First, it climbed the tree that brought life from the sky. Lower branches gave it a ladder, and it grew upward with each step. It didn’t take long in the heat of August, and while it licked its way to the top, it dropped flaming sticks and cones into the breeze to land in the bushes at the base of other trees. With that, what we think of as “the fire” climbed the ridge outside my window.

Was this reproduction? Was it still one fire, or many? Ants or colony, cells or man, genes or species? Where is that line?

Did the men on that mountain feel they’d been ambushed? They were at the edge of the fire, they had a plan. How did everything change so suddenly, flames coming for them so quickly and with such lethal intent?

In 1943, physicist Erwin Schrödinger gave a lecture on “What is Life?” From that grew the knowledge that, locked in our DNA, is information. A code about structure, about what has been successful, that can be modified as needed to fit new circumstances.

Fire may have no such code within. Perhaps that’s why we do not think of it as alive. But perhaps the DNA of fire lies outside its skin, its code an ability to respond to the code of the forest, it adapts as it needs to once it has been awakened.

Two trees outside my window, one living, one dead, one growing upward and one crumbling to fertilize the next. They are part of the same living forest, itself an organism that grows and adapts and is rejuvenated, often by fire. The words are easy, but it is hard, at times, to find the lines.

Controlling the Internet

Last weekend in Seattle, fellow racer Rick Korn said I should focus on social commentary rather than my literary efforts. Rick and I were having a conversation about publishing, crowd-sourcing, and how the Internet has become an essential utility for commerce and communication, the major information artery of our society. It carries blood, not iced tea.

And it is controlled by a few oligarchs who have increasing power to dictate what we see, and when we see it, through ownership of the access points. The uproar about the National Security Agency collection of “meta-data” is really only the tip of the iceberg.

While no one “owns” the Internet, how we get there is owned by ATT, Verizon, Comcast (Xfinity?) and a handful of others. Those access points have sniffers and filters by which they take our personal information. So, not only do they charge us for access, they turn around and sell the information they sniff out to others, or give it to the government. They have the power to examine every place we visit, analyze wherever we go for information, filter what we see, and wrap it in ads.

The Internet is too essential to allow corporations to control the on-ramps and off-ramps in any way. ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Google, Apple and the others are not to be trusted. Not because of obvious malfeasance, though there is evidence of that, but because the past has shown that control of an essential commodity or service will be abused. See the history of oil companies, or railroads.

Here are my suggestions: Every effort should be made to maximize competition in every identified market at every level of integration. We should be allowed to buy any phone we want and use it on any compatible carrier. Their blather about compatibility and security is just a smoke screen.

Usage should be charged on an actual metered basis. A friend of mine pays $50 per month for data. She was charged an additional $10 one month because she went over her 5 gig limit. But she had not used any service the previous month, nor any the month after, and paid $50 for each of those. So the total was $160 for less than six gigs.

This is like buying water by the barrel, delivered every month. It’s one thing to charge if you order another bucket, but how many of us would stand for it if the water we had paid for but not used was engineered to evaporate on the 10th of every month?

The law has lagged so far behind the technology, and often been written by the oligarchs themselves, that it no longer serves the interest of those of us who own the spectrum.

A toll road is a freeway where you pay someone to get on or get off. It’s one thing to pay to get on. It is another when the owner of the toll booth tracks where you go, and maybe sells that info later, or blackmails you with it, or gives it to an agency that pulls you in for an interrogation even though all you did was drive past a mosque or synagogue or a pro-peace rally.

Ownership of all personal information should belong to the person about whom the information is about, not to those collecting the information. Any attempt to collect information without a court order must be disclosed, and approved of, with the ability to say “no” as easy it is to say “yes.”

One final point: these are very conservative, Republican concepts. They are offered in the spirit of the real Boston Tea Party, where the East India Company, in collusion with the English monarchy, was taking advantage of their control over transport of tea to the colonies.  That not only led to a declaration of independence, it’s why there are so many Starbucks in Seattle.

Thank you, Rick.

A “Shoe”

Kunicki discovered a water leak before racing even began and had a DNS (did not start), Edelstein blew a rear end in the morning session, which he had to replace before we went out at 2:50 and had a DNF (did not finish). So two of the fastest drivers on the grid had to start at the back of the pack when the afternoon race started.

Rick Stark was on the pole, Randy Dunphy next to him, John Goodman and I were third and fourth, with Kallberg behind me. When the green flag came down, monster V-8s howled down the straight, through Turn 1 and into the wide sweeper, Turn 2, nicknamed “Big Indy.” Kallberg moved by me as I moved past Goodman.

Stark and Dunphy, fighting for the lead, had contact. Dunphy’s red Falcon went into a slow spin in the middle of traffic. Somehow, we all avoided him, and his job then became cutting through the rest of the pack along with Kunicki and Edelstein.

It’s easy to build a Corvette into a competitive race car, half the work is alrady done. It is harder to do a Camaro, and much, much harder to do a Falcon. But Dunphy and his mechanic have a very fast Falcon that consistently places near the top of the field, despite the fact that it is essentialy a brick.

Watching Dunphy come through Turn 9, whether from a race car behind him or from the stands, is breathtaking. The car lurches and hops and moves the very outside. I’ve always been afraid the loose gravel and dirt on the outside of that turn would grab him.

Like in the first race this morning. He didn’t miss a beat as he raised a cloud of dust.

“It was out there for 50 feet or so, but I just rode it out,” Randy said to his mechanic, or something similar. I got it second hand, and it was noisy when I heard it.

“Ride it out.” At 100, maybe 110 miles an hour, in a turn, “riding it out” is not the first thing one feels like doing. But doing anything else is far, far worse. It used to be said of Porsches that you never, ever, “lift,” or take your foot off the gas in a turn. That is a recipe for a spin.

So is touching your brakes when half of them are on hard pavement, the other half in loose dirt. That is the number one cause of fatal accidents on the highway, and it would have put Randy nose first into the concrete wall in front of the stands. So, he “rode it out.”

Randy is quiet in that sometimes intense way of Viet Nam Vets, willing to take responsibility (he wondered aloud if he had caused the contact, until reassured by others he did not) and very reluctant to blame, he usually wears a smile. He drives well, is very predictable, and in our sport, that means a lot.

“He’s a real ‘shoe.’ If people knew what it takes to drive that car that fast, they would be amazed,” said his mechanic.

A “shoe,” in our world, is someone who wears a racing shoe to do the best that can be done with whatever he has, does it very well, does it better than most.

Randy didn’t win the race this afternoon. I finally got past Rick Stark, who has been driving the wheels off his small block Corvette in this event, and I took first. But my vote for “Shoe,” of this weekend in Seattle, goes to Randy Dunphy in his red Ford Falcon.

Day at the Races

The new tire combination, rubber from earlier this year and late last year, worked well in practice this morning.

Qualifying started at 10:30. I was warmed up, Yellow Jacket was warmed up. We were flying right along, I had just gotten by Kallberg and was accelerating out of turn 2 when there was a “BAM!” and I lost power. The engine revved freely but was not turning the wheels. I drifted down through the hairpin of Turn 3A and pulled off at the turn station, scrambled up to the safety shed.

They towed me back to the pits at about 11 a.m. I told Jeff Taylor I thought the the clutch had let go, maybe the transmission. I crawled under the car and started turning shafts and tires. The transmission sounded like it was chewing on beer bottles.

With a new engine, and a new clutch, we found the new weak link.

Three or four years ago, I sold my back-up transmission to Dave Edelstein. Dave sold it to Jeff and Jerry Taylor. The Taylors used it, took it out of one of their cars, rebuilt it and sold it back to Edelstein. Today, he offered it to me.

Jerry from Colorado had offered to let me use his back-up transmission, gratis, for the weekend. Tom Cantrell had three or four in his trailer, and offered me one of those. Humbling, this competition.

And then Edelstein asked if his mechanic, Ken, could help me out. Ken and Jeff Taylor dove under my car. The two of them hauled out the old gear box, put the new one in. I brought them tools and unhooked the shifter from above, filled the new tranny with gear oil. By 2 p.m., the job was done. At 2:30 we were back on the track.

I hadn’t realized until then that the old transmission was so bad.The newly rebuilt one shifts so much more smoothly. I took back to Kallberg the new set of tires he sold to me for this race, since a transmission breaks the budget.  The old skins were working fairly well, they’ll have to do.

They worked well enough that Kunicki, starting from the back, ended up in fourth, and I ended up in fifth. Edelstein is two spots behind behind me. Kallberg is still fighting mechanical gremlins.

And because of the help of friends, this weekend is not yet over.

Timberline

Nearly every day, I look out windows of my treehouse at a rambling row of volcanos. Higher ones emerge from forests as rough crags of rock and ice. I’ve hiked the most gentle several times, to someplace above 10,000 feet, above the trees, where steep flanks of deep pumice and slag lead to ragged extrusions of stone.

That well-defined edge, where forests end and mountains declare indifference, is the timberline. There is life above the timberline, but life defined in different ways. Lichen rather than trees, or wheat. Beetles, rather than cattle. The timberline looks porous close up, but seems a sharp edge when seen from a distance.

Some places in the American Southwest hit 128 degrees the other day. Water freezes at 32 degrees, boils at 212. 122 degrees is halfway in between, but I would say that’s our “timberline” of temperature. I think life would be redefined on the other side.

Deserts have a “timberline” of sorts, where moisture to sustain species we relate to, or depend on, stops being available. Where hard oceans of crust, dust and rock butt up against the softness of river and pond, irrigated habitability.

I imagine there is a similar “timberline” of depth in the ocean, where pressures become so immense and blackness so deep that life, as we can relate to it, transitions from vibrant, lush, dart and dash,  swoop and swim, to a barren watery world of barely imaginable creatures.

Is there a “timberline” of health, too, an edge where the organization of organism breaks down? A line where suddenly, everything changes? Where broken hip or pneumonia are not just conditions but mark the boundary between life as we knew it and an afterlife unknowable, death all but certain?

Is there a “timberline” of society, where order and commerce, love and laughter, flirt and flamboyance, become chaos and violence, ugliness and horror, marking a place beyond which our species cannot survive? Is life as we know it possible in what we knew of as Syria, one of the oldest locales of civilization?

Is there a “timberline” of spirituality, where serenity ends at a rough jagged edge of chaos and madness, empty of all meaning or significance? Can that line be seen, or are the threats so subtle that the line is crossed without awareness, the bubble of spirit exhausted like altitude sickness on a mountain top, being too deep beneath the waves when the tank goes dry?

This week we plant trees and lavender around the treehouse. Maybe we’ll plant an apple tree, too, before the season turns. Go to a movie. Remember to meditate. Call my daughters. I need to plant myself, too, on this side of my timberlines.

No excuses

A tough weekend at the HMSA Historics. It was pretty obvious early on that we were third fastest on the grid, and that didn’t improve.

Hardware wasn’t to blame, it was the wetware. Yellow jacket ran well. But I made some decisions on and off the track that didn’t work out.

To begin with, I have not done any karting this year. In past seasons, I had a couple months of  karting by now to improve my reflexes, to get into the feel of speed, to get used to flowing with G-forces. Trying to finish “Chalice,” wrapping up some real estate work and personal matters, I decided to forgo that sharpening. It showed. Thinking I could jump into the cockpit after nearly ten months, and be the best I could be, was just stupid.

I did not adequately think through a decision I made about tires. Not Hoosiers vs. Goodyears; Both work fine. But I chose tire sizes that were wrong. I don’t want to go into a lot of detail, but it mattered. Again, my error.

Pre-race preparation was poor: My internal clock, always a little off-kilter during a race weekend, was running too slow. I let myself be distracted. I did not leave myself time to adequately prepare for each session. Which meant  that by the time I got on the track, my head was not where it needed to be for precise shift points, turn-in markers, braking zones. When you are looking for one second in a two-minute lap, this matters.

Previous problems with oiling caused me to make engine changes that should have been reversed after the oiling problem was solved. I didn’t do that.

And it was hot. God, it was hot. 140 degrees on the asphalt, little or no relief even in the shade. Thinking was a chore. I did a few things to take care of myself, but should have done more.

But Yellow Jacket, with engine prepared by John Sartelle, brakes by Jeff Taylor, was in fine form. Had I been able to bring my best game, it might have been a different story.

Hopefully that will be the case in Seattle this next weekend.

A noisy weekend

“Congratulations, your application has been accepted for entry to the 2013 Portland Historic Races at Portland International Raceway June 28th – 30th.  We look forward to having you join us!  This year we celebrate the 60th anniversary of Corvette, “America’s sports car”…

You have entered: 1969 Corvette

Your Car # is: 95

You are in group: 5”

Acquire and Defend

Squirrels and rabbits below my treehouse fill a stash and then guard it. Sparrows chase hawks lurking near their nest. Observng my own bio-psychology, I feel different emotions attached to “gathering” and “protecting.”

Gathering gives a rush of pleasure. Senses are heightened, the “looking for and finding” sends a little endorphin pulse. Future behavior wants to replicate that little stroke.

Protecting follows a pulse of fear. Potential loss flairs as a form of anger, behavior aggressive. Successful protecting  may not reenforce this behavior, the fear impulse seems more primal. It takes a while to get over loss of love, wealth, or right to bear arms.

Science indicates we value something we are trying to protect twice as much as we value the same thing if we are trying to gather it.  See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Psychologists talk of “systems” of behavior.

These systems may originate in various regions of the brain, but are not like the pipes of a power plant. They are organizations of input and response, similar to what we used to consider “instinct,” though that implied not being changeable.

Though these systems seem to be inherited, so is our ability for language, and our ability to use words and images to trigger fear or pleasure nearly as real as the actual loss or gain.