Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Happy New Year

As of about 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time (USA), the sun was on its way back north, signalling the beginning of calendar winter and the approach of the spring to follow. This is the true New Year. It's the bottom of the cycle, the alpha and the omega, and all that jazz.

Have a fine one.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Stupid Holidays

Modern society has succeeded in turning what was once just a way to inject some light and music into the darkest time of year into a monumental exercise in deadline pressure. It has become a huge logistical problem. All right! On your mark! Get Set! BE FESTIVE!

Did the gifts arrive on time? Did the party go well? Is everybody happy? Does it fit? Right color? Is it The Right Stuff? Buy it. Wrap it. Maybe even ship it, if you can't be with the ones you love. Move that merchandise, or the holiday ain't jolly.

Great. As if we didn't have enough to feel depressed about this time of year. That's why we started partying in the first place, you idiots. Why pile all these conditions on our happiness?

It was a gradual process over centuries (at least), which is why so many people let it get so far out of hand.

Ah well. I chalk up a lot of religion to death fear and survivors' guilt. Think too much about the wrong things and you completely lose sight of what's really important, which is to get through the dark time as best you can and avoid doing anything rash until your head straightens out some time in January. Water down the religion and crank up the consumer angle and you get the holly jolly mess we all negotiate today.

Be of good cheer. Season to taste.

Why Fencing is Nothing Like Chess

Fencing has been referred to as "high speed chess." There's even a supplier that calls itself Physical Chess. That's very self-flattering, but fencing is really nothing like chess.

In chess you get to examine the board. In fencing you are immersed in a constant flow of movements, some relevant, some not. In chess what matters is where you put the pieces, not how you put them there. Slam a piece down or set it lightly, its value depends on whether the opponent sees all the implications of its position. The board stands until the next move is made. In fencing a combatant may parry with only enough force to deflect the attack or hard enough to knock the weapon out of the opponent's hand. A fencer may attack directly, or with a beat or bind, to name just a few physical possibilities that are far from the realm of chess.

Chess is based on the combat of armies. Fencing is based on the combat of individuals. An individual in actual combat might sacrifice a finger to deliver a fatal blow to the heart, but that's not the same as sending a division of pawns to slaughter while the cavalry swoops around the other flank. Really, it's not. And in modern sport fencing all wounds are equal.

Fencing is the physical expression of argument. I mean that in the intellectual sense of point and counterpoint. Fencer One offers a thesis in the form of an attack. Fencer Two must decide whether this is a serious proposal or a ploy to slow his thinking.

Fencing is all about pointing out each other's mistakes. While this is like chess, the form of expression is much more immediate and subject to a lot more variables including but not limited to dumb luck and brute force.

The true fencer will know many ways to circumvent the strength of an opponent, but there is no defense against dumb luck.

Fencing involves a lot of timing. Chess really involves very little unless it is artificially injected. I might be totally fooled by my opponent's clever gambit on the fencing strip, only to notice it at the last possible instant and head it off. Ha ha! Eat that, Smartypants! Whereas if I'd boned it on a chess move I would just have to eat it.

Sure, sure, you can keep your finger on the chess piece and take the move back, but in fencing the window of opportunity lasts all the way until the opponent's blade arrives. If you twist cleverly you might even evade it then.

I'm only thinking about this as I pine a little for the simple directness of combat sports in contrast to the dense, convoluted maneuverings of real life. I would really like to have a certain couple of people on the other end of an epee right now.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Other Regional Customs

In Maryland, the forecast of a crippling snowstorm (anything bringing an inch or more) leads to a stampede to the grocery store, where panic-stricken residents empty the shelves of milk, bread and toilet paper. I don't know if the prospect of snow creates a craving for calcium and vitamin D, accompanied by loss of control of body functions, or if the shoppers think that when the bread runs out they may have to subsist on a nutritious, high-fiber meal of toilet tissue soaked in milk. Delicious cold or hot!

In the south, people head straight to the liquor store at the forecast of frozen precipitation. No one's houses are insulated, so they feel the need to load up on antifreeze and deaden sensation so they won't notice the cold. It's probably a form of the dormancy exhibited by certain animals in adverse conditions. Fish and frogs burrow into the mud of evaporating ephemeral pools, hoping to remain vaguely alive until refreshing rains recreate their habitat. In other climates amphibians rest on the bottom of frozen ponds. Inebriated southerners awaiting the return of their normal temperatures fit neatly into this category.

In the north, residents try to act as much as possible as if nothing at all is happening while blizzard winds blast the landscape. Some of them even affect short pants throughout the entire season. And everyone has seen the news coverage of the various polar bear and penguin clubs taking unseasonable swims to mark the new year or some other significant occasion. Let's not even talk about how some people drive, as if their vehicle generated its very own patch of Floridian road under itself.

When wintry weather threatens us up here, we buy whatever we happen to need at the grocery store and go home to watch TV until the power goes out. We save our real panic for summer's heat waves, when the mercury might top 70 DEGREES for days at a time. That's another whole story.

Ah, Tradition

The first real snowstorm of the season is a good time to ponder some New England traditions.

In weather like this, when driving to work, dress for the ditch, not the office. Several times I've stopped to help dig someone out of the snowbank, and a couple of times I've had to dig myself out.

Something about the snow just brings out people's urge to help. The time my car got sucked down on its side about four feet deep in a roadside ditch, a beat up Nissan stuffed with sturdy lads pulled up within minutes. We all just gathered around and heaved my car bodily back up onto the level roadway. With cheerful thanks and warm wishes back and forth the guys piled back into the Nissan and zoomed on their way.

Always drive small cars. People can lift them.

Another time I had to do a hockey stop into the snowbank, I was shoveling away when
a car pulled up and two guys practically snatched the shovel out of my hand. They really wanted to help, with no profit motive. Once again, when my car was back on all fours, pointed the right way, the two helpful souls just hopped back in their car and we went our separate ways.

Another New England tradition is The Freezing Bathroom. I blame this one on the Puritan heritage and the persistence of outhouses well into the 20th Century in rural areas. When you're used to a drafty shack, with subzero winds hissing through the cracks (as it were), a 50-degree room feels quite tropical. If you believe in punishing the flesh for its sinful, decadent urges, a 50-degree room probably strikes you as unpardonably indulgent. If you don't freeze to the seat, it's good enough.

Despite my best intentions, the bathrooms in my house honor New England custom. Space heaters take the edge off, but require a bit of pre-planning if you anticipate a longish sojourn. But I feel connected to the region's long history.

Monday, December 05, 2005

More Prehistorical Trivia

In ancient times there were natural checks on our population. People smelled so bad that the only time men and women got together was when the women were going crazy in heat.

The guy who invented deodorant became instantly incredibly popular. Unfortunately, he died soon afterwards, either of exhaustion or at the hands of a stinky, jealous man.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Want Liberty in Your Lifetime?

The Libertarians want to protect us from Big Government. So who protects us from the Libertarians?

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Forgive and forget? I don't think so

It's much more important to forgive and remember. Remember how you felt and how you dealt with it, so when it happens again, as it so often seems to, you can remember that you did manage to get to the point of forgiveness. It also helps to remember the route you took to get there.

If you don't intend to forgive, forget as quickly as possible, so you don't get caught up in some sort of messy revenge plot. Screw that. Just walk away. Easier said than done, but a better idea.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Are These The End Times?

Ha. They should be so lucky. We may cause the cleansing of the human race from the face of the Earth, but don't blame God for that one. No one's ducking out the side door before it happens.

Problems need to be solved, not run away from.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Advice to Children

There are worse things than being unpopular.

Things that are hard to learn will make you look and feel stupid many times while you are trying to learn them, but that doesn't mean you won't eventually be good at them. Don't ever quit just because it's hard.

Study music. Learn to make some for yourself. (Advice to parents: as hard as they are to listen to when they're new at it, always encourage them to keep at it. Then go in your own room and eat a bunch of aspirin.)

Adults will not always help you stick to things the way you will wish you had. They may not be patient. They may not be kind. They may simply not know any better. But some will know. (Advice to adults: It's hard to be a human being. It's really hard to be a young human being. Don't make it harder by getting in their way. Guidance is one thing. Obstruction is another thing entirely.)

Don't let the bullies get you down. I wish I could say you can always beat them by standing up to them, but sometimes you just have to work around them. Most of them will outgrow it.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Gun Rights

American citizens have the right to keep and bear arms, but even here, economic discrimination takes place.

Good guns are expensive, especially if lawfully purchased from a licensed dealer. Maybe buying a black market gun is the ultimate in personal freedom, but what about my warranty?

It's one thing for people of lesser means to have to own crappy, dangerous cars. You might be able to work around the limitations of those. But cheap guns can be very dangerous to their owners. You could make the case that it's downright discriminatory, even unconstitutional, to force any citizen to settle for a cheesy weapon.

If we accept that human nature is basically irritable, and that deadly encounters are bound to occur, then possession of a firearm becomes a necessity so basic the government should issue one to every adult and provide training to every child. It would level the battlefield, anyway. If anyone has one, everyone should have one.

Bear in mind that anything beyond the initial 9 millimeter is your own problem. Want an AK? A Stinger missile? A tank? You're on your own.

Personally, I can go for months, even years without having a gun pointed at me. But maybe I have just been lucky. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

It might be good for national morale if everyone felt the weight of a little personal security riding on their hip, or the holstering location of their choice. There might be a few impulse killings, but only until the novelty wore off. If it's not you, or someone you know, what's the problem? If the law can't find the killer, the Armed Citizen eventually will.

It would do away with gun control as an election issue, too. If anyone bitched about it, someone else would probably just shoot him.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

These Honored Dead

Step back a moment from everything you've read or heard about the Civil War. Put aside your cherished notions. Sometimes things happen for reasons far different from those intended by the participants or inferred by later observers.

The Civil War happened so that at least some land would be preserved from strip malls and car lots. Even over bloodstained fields, it's been a battle against the developers. But only the dignity of all those deaths slows the development juggernaut the slightest bit.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cold Mountain

I just finished reading Cold Mountain, by Charles Frazier. I hadn't read it as soon as it was handed to me, probably more than a year ago, because I wasn't in the mood to wallow in the Civil War era.

The more I think about the Civil War the more I think all uniforms and regalia should be burned as relics of an entirely shameful chapter in our history. How do you celebrate the supposed heroes without taking a side? If the heroes were heroes regardless of side, their deaths were a double waste. How is it wonderful that anyone died valiantly for a mistake? Choose for yourself which side might have been mistaken, the fact remains that one side won, one side lost and many bloody acts were committed in the process.

I saw the movie on DVD. While it wasn't one I'd see twice, it had some great bits, like when Renee Zellwegger said, "They call this war a cloud on the land, but they made the weather, and then they stand out in the rain and say 'shit! It's rainin'!'"

The book just took a lot longer to make the same points the movie did. I didn't feel as ripped off as I do after reading just about anything by Larry McMurtry, but I did feel that I could have spent my time better elsewhere. But I did want to see how book and movie compared. Now I know. And there would have been no film without the book. So it wasn't a total waste. It does not cast either side of the Civil War in a very positive light. That in itself is worth a lot.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Conflict of Interest

If you want to have enough money to contribute to environmental causes, you probably have to be employed in something environmentally destructive. Even if it isn't in your back yard, it's in someone's back yard.

If you live small, trying to leave less of a mark on the land, your financial vulnerability increases the chances that someone destructive could move in next door.

Because the environment is considered a special interest, it derives much of its support from rich eccentrics who happen to like trees. This works fine for the po' folks if they happen to live where such ecccentrics and a ready supply of trees come together, but the rest of you are screwed. And the eccentrics have to get that money from somewhere. See paragraph one.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Cleaning

We feel the irresistible urge to clean twice a year, spring and fall. We may feel cleaning urges more frequently, but I’d guess most of us find them easier to stave off. But the major changes of season really bring out the nesting urge.

Back when I hoped to land the job of novelist/cartoonist/house husband, I devoted myself to housework. Unfortunately, I’m not very creative in the kitchen. What I consider creative in the kitchen most other people classify as criminally insane. That leaves me with only a few safe, bland meals to cook over and over. So I threw myself into the cleaning.

Laundry never piled up. I vacuumed at least once a week. I even tried to dust. And I did my poor best, for a while, to put some sort of meal on the table in the evenings, at least until I received word that I needed to start earning more of my keep in the outside world. Supper then became a ritual of guilt, blame, disappointment and macaroni and cheese.

Still I cleaned, hoping that this would compensate for my other inadequacies, as a chef and best-selling author. It helped that the house was a tiny shack.
Eventually the marriage fell apart under a number of stresses, but by damn the house was clean.

My model was an ex-girlfriend’s mother, whose house was not fancy, but was as clean as you hope an operating room will be. The stove still looked new, despite the creditable meals that had issued forth from it. After supper, the kitchen would be cleaned, the dishes all washed, everything scrubbed sparkling.

Yes, it sounds obsessive, but I was impressed. I knew it was beyond the power of an ordinary mortal to maintain such a standard, but at least I had an ideal. I tried to imagine what she might say if she had a flat tire out front and happened to drop in to use the phone, a highly unlikely circumstance given how far away she lived.

“I was right about you never amounting to much, but you’ve got the cleaning thing down,” she might say.

Then again, probably not.

I’ve fallen from those Olympian aspirations since my house grew and my spouse changed. Neither of us feels really motivated to chase down all the hairballs produced by a cat population that has now grown to five, or the relentless tide of sand that comes in on everyone’s shoes. The continental ice sheet slept here, 15,000 years ago or so, and it left all this sand and gravel lying around.

Fall comes. Clean the chimney. Stack the wood. Clean the windows that have hung open all summer collecting spider webs. Too soon we will have to shut those windows for a few months. If they’re smeared and silk-veiled, that’s what we’ll look through until spring.

In the spring, a winter’s worth of dirt and another collection of cobwebs will await banishment into the flower-scented air. But that’s another project for another season.

Civic Duty

Citizens have one social duty, and that is to think. Does that mean we’re doomed? Often people grow resentful when they go to the effort of thinking and then nothing appears to change to suit them. In frustration, some may decide it’s no longer worth the effort to think about society’s problems when they have so many problems of their own. It’s much easier to wait to be told what to think about the bigger issues. But if you wait to be told, you are not free. You’ll be free for a while to make your personal decisions, but eventually all those people abdicating leave all power in the hands of a few.

Cynics say we are there already and always have been. I’m not so sure. It’s difficult to get the people in power to listen to you. But someone will always have to be in charge, and they’ll always be busy, with all the rest of us trying to reach their ear.

Our political system doesn’t help. I keep thinking of great questions to ask my congressman, but then I realize he doesn’t dare give me a straight answer, because I might talk to the wrong people, or someone might overhear him, and his unscripted words will have an unpredictable effect. Even if it turns out to be a good effect, no one wants to take the political risk anymore. It was never a good idea, and it becomes ever less of one.

For every moment of political risk, a politician will spend many hours refining the message, squeezing the future risk out of it as it becomes part of the party framework, or perhaps as many hours recanting it, reshaping it to prove it was misunderstood if it was disliked. When do they have the time to think in real terms about issues where the script has failed? With whom can they think in secure privacy? The world must be a dark, frightening place to a public official, never knowing when a chance comment or sincere intellectual experiment will blow up in his face.

Because the politicians dare not publicly think, we end up led by shadowy figures in the background, who are free to do the thinking away from public scrutiny. But that’s the real problem. We often find ourselves led through ideas none of us have had an opportunity to scrutinize and criticize until they’re about to become policy. Sometimes it is even later than that.

I get annoyed when my congressman, who once appeared to have a brain, just spouts the safe party position. But then I remind myself that by winning election he gave up the chance to do anything on his own initiative.

Conservatism

I love the quote from John Stuart Mill: “Although it is not true that all conservatives are stupid people...it is true that most stupid people are conservative.”

John must have been in a cranky mood that day.

On the other hand, as frustrating as those sticks in the mud may be, those who need to be dragged forward to progressive thinking do prevent a certain amount of unstructured darting about. To quote another conservative, “If I have to answer right away, the answer is no.”

If you like to think outside the box, remember that you have conservatives to thank for the fact that there is a box at all. I always ask myself whether my own radical notions only seem supportable because I can hop back in the box for shelter if things look like they’re going to go badly. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But always ask.

We need both the reassuring box and the courage to go outside. Even more importantly we need to know when it’s time to follow the disciplined approach of thinking creatively within a structure and when it is proper to discard some of the structure to build anew. Otherwise we just mutate uncontrollably, and survival is a matter of luck.

It’s not just a matter of being moderate. Sometimes you have to be selectively extreme.

I never said it was easy.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Looked good in the showroom Posted by Picasa
Rush Hour Posted by Picasa

These People have a Problem

I work for Republicans who hate the rich.

Republicans who hate the rich? That's like being allergic to your own skin, isn't it?

Fiscally and socially conservative, my employers hate all welfare. New Englanders seem especially prone to blame victims for their own misfortune. You're in a bind? What did you do wrong? These things don't just happen.

On the other hand, they also hate the privileged, because the privileged most often chisel them for lower prices. But mere chiseling does not define the problem, because I also hear them complain about some of our wealthy customers who spend their money freely, but spend a bit too much time in the shop, live more flamboyantly or enjoy more leisure than my employers can accept.

Hardworking, perceiving themselves as virtuous and largely correct, despite a rural, naive bigotry, they don't think it's fair that they should work so diligently, vote so faithfully and still find their circumstances pinched.

What could possibly be going wrong? Why isn't the system they serve serving them?

Unfortunately, they tend to equate high profitability with low honesty. And at that they may be correct. Maybe until they play the game ruthlessly to win they will never break through to the riches that hang tantalizingly out of reach. But that kind of profitability accumulates consequences that can all come due at once. The indictment could be delivered by a grand jury or by political commentators planting bombs or flying stolen aircraft. Or the aggregate poverty of those left behind could simply drag most of society down, spilling the failing middle class into the abyss between misery and oligarchy.

Protecting the Valuables

When we have something of value, we hire a watchman to guard it. If it's really valuable, the watchman is armed. Maybe the protective force is a large detachment of people with weapons and enforcement powers, to prevent anyone from plundering or damaging the important facility. But the people who guard our one and only environment are considered crackpots. Far from being paid to keep watch, they're expected to spend their own money and work without pay, all the while being criticized and despised for restricting other people's freedom and hindering the economy.

So where are you going to live when the job finally gets to be too much for them?

So You Think You Can Drive

We need to build race tracks in every community. These would not be real sporting tracks. They would be proving grounds for all those people who consider themselves great drivers.

Anyone could drop in at any time to run a quick heat against whoever else was around. They would get no guidance and no training, just a starting flag and a finish line.

At regular intervals, crews would remove the wreckage.

In a closed environment, dangerous idiots would finally be a danger only to each other. Concentrated in that way, they would be more likely to take each other out.

Traffic would be two-way, to simulate the environment in which these self-perceived experts usually operate. To goad them further into doing something homicidally or suicidally impatient, we could insert remote-controlled slower vehicles.

Drivers would pay no entry fee. In addition, anyone convicted of a traffic offense would be sentenced to run a certain number of laps, increasing with the severity of the offense.

All participants would be encouraged to sign up as organ donors.

Spectators would pay huge admission fees. The money would go toward highway safety programs and improvements in bicycle and pedestrian facilities.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The Origin of Neoconservatism

Conservatism is based on fear. Conservatives tend to be paranoid. Some group or social force is out to get them.

I believe that a lot of people who smoked too much pot in the 1970s and became deeply paranoid formed the bulk of the wave of converts to the Republican Party in the 1980s.

"Screw the yurt! Forget the geodesic dome! I have to live in a big, honkin' mansion with foot-thick walls to keep out all the bad people!!!!"

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The Theme Park Map to Peace

The basic problem with the Middle East is that it is fifteen pounds in a five pound bag. There’s no way to divide the territory into nations in a way that will satisfy everyone.

Rather than try to shoehorn warring ideologies into overlapping jurisdictions, why not move everyone out? The Palestinians get a chunk of Texas. The Jews get southern Florida, except for the very Caribbean and Latin-influenced coastal areas like Miami and Tampa. Details can be worked out.

No one will live in the so-called Holy Land. It becomes a religious theme park operated by a staff of sympathetic non-believers. Everything will be carefully maintained and preserved. The various religions can come in to observe their various festivals, but no one with a religious stake gets to stay over. People will have to get along whenever the needs of the various faiths coincide, but it will be a lot easier than trying to reconcile resident populations.

Palestinians and Jews, now separated by a thousand miles or so, can decide whether it’s worth making the long trip to pick on each other. And since they’ll be embedded in the United States it will be easier to keep tabs on the malcontents.

No doubt some form of this idea has been proposed. I read somewhere that Argentina was once considered as a site for a Jewish homeland. Then we would just have to deal with displaced gauchos.

People who derive their self esteem from unswerving compliance with unverifiable superstition will always be hard to accommodate, because so many of them are unwilling to accommodate anyone else. That leaves it to the rest of us to decide how we might be able to get along with them.

Wanna get High?

Just because I am not visibly overweight does not mean I don’t have a weight problem.

For some reason, my fitness inspires resentment more often than emulation. Some people ask me how I do it and then keep interrupting to tell me how it won’t work for them.

“It’s easy for you to talk. You don’t have to worry about it.”

Au contraire. I worry about it all the time. That’s why it doesn’t get out of control. Call it discipline if you will. I call it laziness. If I want to have a body to use, I have to keep it in good shape. Nature is all too happy to kill us off and let some other creature consume our substance.
Do it or don’t do it. It’s your damn body.

You do not have to be fit. Yes, obesity leads to a variety of health problems. But everybody dies of something. Enjoy yourself while you live. Make sure what you enjoy does not destroy the enjoyment of anyone else. If that means you are a little chubby or even out and out fat, and you don’t mind being that way, be that way. I honestly don’t think less of you for it, although I get accused of it. And we probably won’t spend a lot of time together, because my interests carry me in other directions.

We tend to try to share what gets us high. That was true of me in every phase of life, with every buzz. It’s still true now, with the self-propelled exploration. But I know that we don’t all enjoy the same things.

Buzzes end. The happy drunk ends with the hangover. The pot high ends up with the bong-lung cough. Other drugs carry even worse side effects. But we try to get high because, let’s face it, life can be pretty depressing. It’s hard not to peek at the end.

Because you can’t stay high all the time, whether you get high on chemicals, food or experiences, spiritual or mental resources help you get through the down times. Or maybe you just concentrate on getting hold of some more of what gets you high. Somehow you have to keep yourself interested in living.

A rhythm of exertion and rest offers a cycle of effort and renewal that adds up to a balanced whole. In that way it is superior to highs that depend solely on substance intake.

C’mon, man, let’s do some.

On Aggression

If meerkats had machine guns, the landscape of their desert home would look quite different. But they don’t, so they respond to threats generally by fleeing. Musk oxen circle up. Ants swarm and bite.

An attacked animal will flee or fight. A hungry carnivore will hunt.

Human aggressors feel the pressure of more complex motives.

“I thought he was going to hit me so I hit him back first.”

“I wanted what he had, so I took it.”

“I disapproved of how he lives, so I attacked him.”

“His way of life is a threat to my security.”

“He pissed me off.”

“God told me to.”

And the meerkats are tinkering in their burrows. Be very afraid.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Customer Relations

There are two basic models for customer relations: adversarial and cooperative.

In the adversarial model, the customer is a bag of money. The business wants to get as much money as possible with the least effort. The customer, knowing this, wants to avoid paying. It becomes a contest between gouging business and chiseling customer.

In the gouging model, work quality only serves to keep the customer calm, quiet, reassured. The reassurance may be false. Who cares? Get the dough. Get the mark out the door. Take five minutes, spray the bike with aromatic lubricant, knock the worst of the dirt off, call it a tuneup and charge $50.

If you don't really like people and have really fallen into that "us versus them" mentality, conning customers seems perfectly legitimate. They're not clients. They're prey.

Some customers are easy to hate. But not every poor-mouthing chronic chiseler deserves to be screwed. Some of them can be educated to understand the value they're receiving for the higher price. Others are simply playing the business game, trying to drive a hard bargain because they enjoy the haggling. Feel free to laugh in their face. Don't play the numbers game with them. The chiseler always wins that one.

In the cooperative model, even chiselers can be accommodated. Perhaps you have to do it by showing some of them the exit, but don't waste time being hostile. Just be courteously unavailable.

The cooperative model seems like more work at first, because you actually have to perform the services you say you offer. But I've noticed over the years that trying to get out of work ends up being more work than actually working. Once you accept that the work needs to be done, you can get down to doing it as quickly as a good job allows. Then it's done, usually just once, correctly, and it's out of your hair.

The guy who fixes my car was talking to me on the telephone earlier this summer. We both had heavy repair loads.

"Well, work too hard," said Rich, as we got ready to hang up.

As so often happens when I talk to Rich, I took it to heart. Do good work. You don't always get to choose when it comes to you. If you've created a trusting customer base, you really do owe them the expertise you've trained them to accept. Do less than that and you have to start all over again.

Question Authority

I am so reflexively argumentative that I will look for the flaws in just about any statement someone cares to make, even if it seems I should agree with it. The companion philosophy to Question Authority is Question Yourself. Don't let your own assumptions go unchallenged. Every once in a while you have to slap the bedrock hard, just to assure yourself it is still bedrock.

Moss-grown assumptions make most of the trouble for my irritable colleagues. The racism, the sexism, the elitism based on church denomination, place of origin or political affiliation guarantee that only their physical cowardice prevents them from being as ruthless as Al Qaida.

Perhaps physical cowardice is all that makes any of us hesitate that extra moment and try to understand another point of view, rather than attacking it in a berserk frenzy. But I'd like to think not.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Mr. Ludd

I'm no Luddite, though I get accused of it by technofascists so blinded by their addiction to the very newness of something that they cannot see its flaws.

I don't hate all technology. I hate half-baked technology and I hate predatory technology.

Half-baked technology is rushed to market unready to become a reliable, useful tool. Companies rush to try to establish market share, confident that early adopters, the aforementioned techno addicts, will do their research and develoment for them. Unfortunately, with modern marketing and mass production, too many innocent bystanders can get sucked in with the techno-chumps, thinking a real innovation has taken place.

Predatory technology is any item willfully changed by its manufacturer to render older versions unusable, even if those older versions were solid and sufficient to meet the need of the consumer.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Up with the Birds

This morning I was in the kitchen, standing at the counter, shoveling my breakfast into my mouth. A few feet from my shoulder, a hummingbird zipped up to the feeder hanging by the kitchen window, jabbed his beak into the plastic flower and began to guzzle. There we were, two type A commuters, getting cranked up for our day.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Nonconformity

I don't insist on flying under the radar. It just seems that every time I gain a little elevation they raise the radar.

I'd love to be normal. So come on everybody! Act like me!

Actually, if I met me I'd probably piss myself off. I can be pretty annoying.

Do the Math

If you live half your life doing things half-assed, you have to live the second half doing things ass-and-a-halfed to net out fully-assed at the end.

Recent Financial Advice

Major companies face bankruptcy because of the accumulated liability of their pension plans. Whether you work for one of those companies or not, overhaul of the pension system means you will end up putting your own carefully hoarded retirement savings into your 401K plan. Unfortunately, your401K is funded with stocks in major companies facing bankruptcy because of their pension liabilities.

Well, nothing's perfect.

School, what a hassle

Mandatory public education is intrusive and dictatorial. One of our most cherished freedoms is the freedom not to know anything.

How many kids actually like school? And adults certainly don't like paying for it. So instead of arguing over the details of No Child Left Behind, I propose a new act called Your Child -- Not My Problem.

If you and your kid want your kid to be educated, you figure out how to do it and how to pay for it. How much more local does control get? How much more individually tailored and privatized could it be? It's the ultimate in freedom. And freedom, after all, is just another word for nothing left to lose.

Just wondering

Has any cat lover starved to death yet, sitting in front of the computer, looking at Catster.com?

Just one more. Oh, that's a cute one! Just one more. Awww! Just one more. Look! Just one more...

The Matrix Rethought

Industry requires energy. Labor-saving devices need power to operate. Power requires an energy-providing industry. That industry becomes the key player in all industry. It can't really price itself out of the market, because advanced technological civilization depends on machines using energy other than human muscle.

A large, healthy population of humans could provide muscle in short shifts on machines designed to give back physical fitness in return for energy output. Design from the human outward instead of from the task inward. Take the human in a confguration that gets the best from it and provides the best for it. Design linkages to translate that power output into the direction needed for the work to be done.

It would be a way for many hands to make light work instead of long unemployment lines.

The human engine needs fuel and maintenance. Other forms of energy do provide more bang for the buck, but what do we do with all the people? We keep manufacturing them.

The Guru Business

"You have the answers inside you. Well, actually you don't, but you never listen to anyone, so you're only going to look inside yourself anyway. So I tell you what you want to hear, so you won't feel like you wasted the trip to find me. It sounds profound."

The Logic of Suicide

Will the problem of suicidal murderers only get worse?

The logic of suicide is all too simple. You're going to die anyway. You might as well get it over with. If you can enhance it with some sense of added value, so much the better, but you have to face your end in any case.

A suicidal killer might be mad at the world for not being a nicer place. It might be an act of despair, carried out with a grand flourish, because, if your life isn't worth anything, neither are the lives of those you take with you.

The motive might be philosophical, as we are seeing now with the religious extremists who either incite others to sacrifice themselves or fall for the arguments and volunteer to carry out the attacks.

We have created many tools to aid in wholesale and retail slaughter. A dedicated suicidal killer must yearn to possess these tools for death wish fulfillment. Eventually, someone with access to that kind of technology will crack. All the checkpoints in the world won't stop it. In this contest of death, winning is measured by causing ever bigger Big Ones.

It's ironic that our desire to come up with quick, safe, conclusive ways to slaughter our enemies gives a certain kind of enemy such excellent means to turn that power against everyone. A deterrent only works against people who have something to lose. But once a person accepts and values death itself, for whatever reason, the path is clear to inflict it on a grand scale with no fear and no remorse.

Divided We Stand. For a While.

One frightening outcome of the homeschool and religious school movement is that people will live entirely within their divisions, never hearing another point of view. The true devotees would say that's fine, because there are no other points of view.

We all tend to be prisoners of our own opinion. For a rare instant one might step outside of self and truly identify with another person's point of view, but then that understanding merges with your own point of view. The assimilated characteristics might improve the person, but they're no longer external and exotic. They become wholly-owned subsidiaries of the parent company.

Regular infusions of other points of view help freshen your awareness that another way might not be wholly evil and threatening to what you hold dear.

You don't have to condone something to understand it. But you'd better really understand it if you condone it. And how do you know how you feel about something if you are never allowed to think thoroughly about it?

Jihad (pronounced Yee Haa! in Texas)

If y'all are going to keep fighting over God, we're going to have to take it away from you.

How much scripture got written just because the person leading the religious observance needed some new material to spice up the act? Religion was the first show business, after all.

Years go by. It all gets taken terribly seriously. It was just a schtick, you know?

I think, therefore I'm going out of my head

Sunday School gave me a good head start on a lifetime of depression.

Christmas brought us this cute little Prince of Peace, who was going to save us by showing us the way. Then, by late March or early April, the combined Roman and Judean authorities had gruesomely executed him, as the general population let it happen. Year after year I learned more details, but the ending never changed.

The best Jesus could do was offer to make the afterlife a good one, to make up for all the assholes we have to put up with in this one.

It leaves the critical question of religion unanswered. Is it to ease our interactions in this life or just to pave the way for the strictly theoretical next one?

If Jesus really just existed to save the salvageable among humanity, how is that different from giving birth to a second child just so it can donate tissue and organs to your ailing first one?

I have a lot of trouble celebrating the political murder of someone who just wanted to show people how to be happy together.

Unfortunately, the end of Christ's life is what really soured me on people. The Christians were this handful of underdogs when the overdogs killed their leader. The movement immediately began to warp, as its new leaders remade God in their own image. What could be more warped than two or more sects of the religion of peace and love making brutal war on each other and torturing their captives?

Christ was a subversive. His death was a political statement by both sides.

If you want to cut through the clutter of scriptural bickering, it boils down to this: live by the peaceful teachings. If the incorrigibly violent people attack you and kill you, it's all right.It'll only hurt for a little while. Then you get to go to heaven. Don't become a violent person to oppose violence.

It's okay to duck, dodge and run away, as long as you don't leave a weaker person to take the blow you have evaded. It is better to be struck down because your flight was slowed by the innocent you were carrying to safety, than to fight, win or lose.

It is very hard to get yourself to live that way. I'm not at all sure I want to. But there are some excellent ideas there.

Christ was executed. Gandhi was assassinated. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. Men of peace fall to men of violence. Or they simply become objects of contempt and ridicule, like Jimmy Carter.

In the end, Christ was a victim, not a warrior. He didn't suddenly strip off his robe, revealing the leotard and cape of SuperJesus, and go flying around smashing evildoers. In fact, his failure to do that contributed to his fatal loss of popularity.

When I watched the movie "Gandhi", I was so conditioned by American cinema tradition that I had to remind myself he wasn't suddenly going to turn into Gandhiman and lay down some ass-whuppin' martial arts moves on the British colonial authorities.

Appeals to the conscience only work on people who possess one.

Repercussions

My father's parents were dreamers who made one critical mistake. They exposed a child to the consequences of their failed dreams.

Some simpering idiot may say it's lucky for me that they did, but if I'd never existed would I know it?

My father lived in opposition to his parents, forgoing most of his dreams to focus on supporting his family. But the echoes and aftershocks of his dreams and those of his parents rumbled beneath the world he made for his children.

I lived in opposition to my father. I determined I would not reproduce until I was living my dreams.

Well, here I am, pushing 50 and childless. There's a grim satisfaction in that, since I was tempted many times to squirt out a little inheritor of the family genome. We're designed to want that, and to feel very miserable at times because we haven't done it. That's why there are so us-damned many of us, all needing a place to shit.

Economic Competition

Economists toss around the notion that competition is good, but where does competition end and cooperation begin? Eventually the global economy becomes so uniform that the bases of competition can no longer be readily manipulated.

Even now, competition hurts many to benefit some. Consumers of a product or service may benefit when they receive it at a lower price, but this often puts a serious pinch on the people asked to provide the benefit at a price low enough to ace out the competition. The item in question then gets provided by a series of suicides, who try to make it work on such slim margins that they end up going under, one after another, or the consumer has to get used to paying more, unless the item is simple enough that an endless string of failing, under-compensated providers can produce it. This assumes anyone is stupid enough to keep at it.

At some point, everyone in the world will know that there’s more to life than toiling for a pittance, because every economy so far has produced its privileged ones, who claim more for their services and take more leisure as their due. Fans of the American management class like to say that American labor priced itself out of the market, and that unionized American workers are a bunch of greedy slackers. Greedy slackers they may be, but that model has been held up to them as a success since before the beginning of American industrialization. After all, who is schmoozing in the boardrooms and dotting the golf courses and yacht clubs of the world?

The American Dream has not been to have any particular thing, but simply to have more and better than one has at the moment. It can be done. Look at that guy over there. He’s doing it right now. I want some of that.

Competition without rules leads to warring princely states. But rules do not guarantee a clean or universally beneficial game. People cheat, or write the rules to favor themselves or their causes, or simply overlook something. In economy and ecology, we always manage to overlook some critical detail, some butterfly that flaps its wings and throws the whole system out of our control.

As long as the model for economic success is competition, it will be acceptable for powerful individuals and sub-groups to take control of a disproportionate share of resources.

Competition is natural. But we live so far from purely natural actions that we can’t compete as all other life forms compete. We have to examine how our exaggerated efficiency in one area can actually lead to our downfall overall. Infant mortality is down. Survival is up in general. People live longer. Lo and behold, we have a population problem. We can dig resources out of the earth with massive mechanized equipment and refine raw materials in cleverly designed factories. Unfortunately, these factories belch and spew foul byproducts across the machine-scarred landscape.

We can compete with each other not only through the medium of money, indirectly deteriorating each other’s lives by destabilizing currencies and taking our business elsewhere, but directly, through our war machines. Oh, but war machines have gotten so effective that we risk destroying too much, or getting attacked by enemies who have developed their own fearful engines of destruction.

Natural competitors act locally. They don’t think globally, because they don’t think at all. Trees grow, and shade each other out. Their leaves fall beneath them, recycling material back into their own structure, and into that of their seedlings. If some species grows faster, it reaches the light and dominates. Then species life span controls how long that type will rule.

Animals follow their various methods, grazing, hunting, scavenging or as parasites. They don’t make moral judgements.

Eden was a state of mind. The legend says that Adam and Eve ate of the tree that gave them knowledge of good and evil. That knowledge has only been a burden. Whether you believe the myth as written or think it is simply a written version of a wistful oral tradition handed down by apes who pined for simpler times, the fact remains that we know better. Generation by generation we know better and better, how the actions of one entity can influence many others, and how even the insignificant striving of anonymous individuals can add up to a happy society or a locust plague.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Romance

Detachment kicks romance's ass. And it's an ass that badly needs to be kicked.

Detachment renders you immune to True Love, but it's all that makes real love possible.

In these modern times, a relationship between two fully functional adults with interests and ambitions beyond procreation or some fictional ideal of romance is a very difficult thing. That doesn't mean it is impossible. But if you can't back off and get a little clinical you run the risk of a galaxy of failures, none of which are glorious. Beware the allure of flaming suicide, metaphorical or actual.

My father said that the secret to a long marriage is that "we is more important than me." Noble thought, but she always seemed to be giving more ground than he. She was willing to be a portable dependent, willing to move when the orders came, willing to stay home for the kids. She was more than willing, she was glad. But that dependence did foster some resentment. I witnessed it. If she had yearned for her own achievements outside the home the stress would have been unbearable. We're all lucky she did not.

Come forward to the twenty-first century, when both parents or partners in a committed relationship pursue goals outside the relationship. Sometimes you love each other deeply, but individual ambitions or a sense of duty draw you apart for some time or the rest of time.

Any relationship requires sacrifices. They can be unilateral or bilateral, but someone's giving up something, some or all of the time. The constant calculation is whether it is worth the cost. We each only get so much time. How many of us can really say, in real life, that we so purely want to spend it in the company of one particular other person that we will give up anything else for it?

That's not devoted. That's irrational.

Somewhere between the codependent and the sociopath lies the answer. But nothing is guaranteed. We become a habit for each other, and it is mostly for the good. But don't be afraid to look at it with clear eyes and see if it really earns its keep for both of you.

It's not easy and it's not always fun. Some of us turn out to belong alone. That's damn scary. No one can blame you for shying away from that abyss. But hey, maybe it's just what you've been looking for. And it's the only guarantee that no one is hurt or disappointed.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Oops, misleading language

The last post (below this one) is part of a set with three others on Citizen Rider.

I just made a quick visit to the Annapolis area, and it reminded me not only why I left, but what I miss. The struggle that is irretrievably lost there is the one to save the natural environment in the face of runaway population. Toss the economy on the fire with it, as property values spiral upward like a fire-spawned tornado in a raging conflagration. The struggle to which I return is to stop the same damage in a place where growth has been a little delayed. The climate is tougher, the economy as rocky as the soil, so people don't pile up as fast.

I was poaching a few minutes on someone else's computer before we loaded the car and headed out across some of the ugliest highways in the country to get back beyond the battle lines and return to the lives we have made there.

Some things are better. Some are not as good. Megalopolis certainly offers a lot of human diversions, conveniently close together. There are just too many people. That's not a statement of personal taste, it's a scientific fact too many people seem willing to debate.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Scattered

My family moved so often none of the kids is from where they were born. Even when we moved back to a place, enough time would have passed to make us strangers, even to the people we had known.

The adults had a bit of an easier time. Adulthood brings changes, but nothing like the changes of growing up.

We learned to pack up, let go and move on.

Over time, we accumulate friends that last a little longer, hanging on as correspondents. We're happy to see each other when we manage to visit. But what's the point of having friends all over the world if you can't get all over the world? It certainly seems to accentuate the fragility of life and the preciousness of our connections.

Ah yes. Our connections. Those things that now make it impossible to settle in any single place without pining for at least some aspect of another place, other people.

You might make it work if you lived almost forever and had unlimited resources. But then life wouldn't be a struggle. The shared struggle against what each of us considers the forces that need to be struggled against unites us in seriousness or in humor. You find the people who react the way you do or who react entertainingly, and you try to stick with them. You help the ones you think you should help and oppose the ones you think deserve it. Maybe you do it by making up your own mind. Maybe you do it by following orders from someone you let think for you. But the struggle is what unites us.

It's almost time to hit the road again, to leave a place where one set of struggles seems to have been pretty thoroughly lost, to return to a place where that battle may yet be won. But friends remain here to be missed. None of us can travel at will to bridge the distance at any instant the urge strikes. We have to hope we get to the next encounter, and many more.

Friday, June 24, 2005

The One that Gets Away

The unwritten novels are always more witty, gripping, brilliant, because the great passages just swim in and out of mind. The bulk is hidden in the murky depths, only hinted at by the quick shine of an eye, a fin, a patch of flank that shows the size and grace of the leviathan that never comes wholly into view.

All too often, when the monster is reeled in, it has ugly wounds, a big mouth and rapidly begins to stink.

Melville was writing about the Great White Novel: the one that always gets away and eventually kills you; the thing of awesome power that, if you ever did land, you would also destroy.

The pursuit must be undertaken, not with harpoons and lances, but with quiet boats, scuba gear, curiosity and persistence, to view the beast in successive glimpses, capturing its visage eventually while letting it roam free. The end result is the same: a bunch of words. Well connected, they will be read.

What are we waiting for?

Why are we so unwilling to elect a whole woman to be President of the United States? Time and again we elect a boob.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Wha' fo'?

Foyer is a strange word. We bathe in a bathroom, dine in a dining room, go to bed in a bedroom and live in a living room, but who foys? And how, exactly, is the foyer applied to the act of foying?

There is no act of foying, of course. Many people put a coat rack and a place for overshoes in the entryway of their houses. Indeed, the entryway is designed for such a purpose. Therefore, it's "fo' yer" coat and "fo' yer" boots.

Language is a wonderful thing. For instance, the word "pasta" derives from when it was the only food. No one remembers what it was called back then, because at mealtime they only got as far as saying, "Please pass de --". When another food was invented, pass de became the word for what we know today. The spelling was simplified.

Go ahead, ask me about something else.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Freedom isn't Free

It costs other people's lives. I mean, the hero of the battle of Bennington, General John Stark, who said, "Live free or die," said it years after he had survived the battle. And Patrick Henry got Liberty, not death, although he at least had the balls to throw down his statement before the fact.

Thing is, we have no way of asking the dead what they think. Maybe they'd say, "I wished I'd ducked."

"Freedom isn't free" seems to have been adopted by the armed intervention crowd to signify that if you're too lily-livered to face hot fire, you don't deserve freedom. But the real work in a free society is in the boring wrangling, the voting, the educating,the frustration and the general pain in the ass of putting up with people who might be different from you.

Or we could just fight to the death. Freedom isn't free, you know. And death, as John Stark pointed out, is not the worst of evils. Of course he was alive when he said it.

Repubican

Porn star Mary Carey continues to publicize her support for the Republican Party and pursue plans for political office. That shows you what you have to be able to swallow before you can swallow their economic theories.

In response, the Democrats are going to release the Monica and Bill video as a fundraiser. There's even talk of a live show at the next $1000 a plate party dinner.

WWJE?

Who would Jesus execute?

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Dreams and Logistics

A kindly family friend once said to me, when I was already over 30, "I wish you'd been my kid. I would have knocked that art shit right out of you."

I thanked her for the thought, but we both realized it was too late. Even though I was trying to convince myself I hopelessly lacked talent and should get a real job, the real world seemed to have less use for me than the creative one had.

As Joyce Carey's protagonist Gulley Jimson pointed out in The Horse's Mouth, the sufferer from art doesn't really have a choice in the matter. It has nothing to do with talent. It's basically an infection.

I use the term art loosely here, since cartooning is not considered art by the artistic, and writing, while it may be creative, is damned by that "thousand words to one picture" ratio.

Well sit back. I can bury you in about 17 pictures' worth while you're still squinting down your thumb at the canvas.

Cartooning is often a very verbal form, and merges well with writing. Look at Thurber.

The problem is that "art shit" takes time. So I've been working a minimum of two jobs since I started having jobs. When times were really tough and I worked seven days a week, my schedule was pretty full. Fortunately, that was also the time when I felt that life wasn't worth a fuck anyway, so the sooner I died and let my wife collect my insurance, the better for all concerned.

It was true at the time. Since then I have sprouted some redeeming social value, so matters get a bit more complicated. Some good causes find me occasionally helpful. A few nice people would miss me.

In order to set aside the time to create, you have to feel you're worth it. That's why so many successful creators seem like stuck-up schmucks. And successful or not, to stake out the time to create one must forego a great deal of social contact, especially when you live your real life in your spare time.

Published or not, that cartoon you scan and laugh at in 30 seconds probably took at least a couple of hours to conceive, sketch and finalize. That glib little essay through which your eyes flowed so smoothly probably took a number of revisions to seem so effortless.

You only see work from people who found the time to produce it.

Meanwhile, life goes on. What seemed like just an okay place to live is, in fact, a beautiful little piece of forest, guaranteed to be mowed down as soon as I relinquish it. All the plants, animals and birds by which I've marked my seasons here can just go to hell. Some fatass needs a house. If I have to leave here, I will never want to come back.

We moved often when I was a child. I learned to let go of everything, the places, the people, because it was easier that way. They were going to let go of me. And while we lived in developed places, the changes, though cancerous, often took place on the fringes. Annapolis, of course, is now one giant, festering malignancy. But I saw that coming and moved here, beyond the battle lines, to stake out what I could.

I have dreamed of skidders and bulldozers almost constantly since I moved into the house I have managed to inhabit for 16 years. And now they're coming. Empty lot values have gone from about $3000 an acre to about $14,000, and that's just on my street. So even though I could technically pursue my ambitions anywhere I could set up a little studio and office, I would be leaving things I care about.

Meanwhile, my wife has discovered that she won't really do whatever she has to do to stay here. She won't teach general music or English, or work as a cashier. So she's off to greener pastures, to find a good orchestra job. New Hampshire spits out another one. She has too much invested in her career,and she's too good at it, to stay here and starve, despite the fact that she has produced a neat little youth orchestra from nothing at all in about five years. Logistics. There's just no money.

We discussed her chances before she made the leap. We knew it would be tough, but we hoped gaps would align and she would slip through them.

It didn't happen. This is the real world, where most success is fractional and dreamers need to give it up or die off. Or live apart so that some small gains may be kept and some small forests protected against that day when they might be more universally valued.

Addiction

Reality is the most expensive addiction of all. You can do drugs and fantasize at the same time you're working your dub job or resting at home before going back to your dub job. But once you get hooked on really feeling good and really doing things, you have to devote time directly to that.

Really, from a standpoint of efficiency, you're better off with the drugs. Most occupations seem to prefer that you work yourself to death in them, squeezing every drop from you. Your more enjoyable occupations are generally invitations to slow starvation, except when they're invitations to rapid starvation. So you might as well squish your brain into a euphoric lump and poison your body quickly to end the protracted suffering.

To make matters worse, some people prominently and publicly manage to live their dreams. Gaps align through which they shoot, advancing to the takeoff point until they can hardly fail unless they really try to crash.

It's enough to drive you to drink.

Have a nice night. I'm going home and have a beer.

What Would Jesus Do?

He'd let them bang the nails. Then he'd forgive them. What would YOU do?

Good Advice

Never smile at a dentist or talk too much around a psychiatrist.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Love your Pets

NBC had a thing the other night about people's love for their pets. Al Roker went around interviewing pet owners with way too much disposable income and reported on the truly ridiculous excess showered on some pampered animal companions.

Supposedly, people love pets because pets give unconditional love. But that's not necessarily why the relationship works. My grandparents were absurdly devoted to a ferocious fat bitch of a cat that would shred absolutely anyone who came within paws' reach. I don't fault them for it, I merely report it.

The thing is, whether they love you back or not, pets don't break promises. They don't make promises. They don't let you down, because they never agreed to your expectations. They make great objects of affection because you can invest them with any qualities you care to imagine.

Tradition

Each generation believes the next generation is going to lead the entire human race straight to hell. All those prophecies of doom in the Bible are probably only there because that was the first generation to write down what every generation had been saying since the dawn of human existence.

Friday, June 10, 2005

I suddenly wondered

When big bugs are flying fast, do they get smaller bugs stuck to the front of them?

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Nonviolent? Me?

When I talk about avoiding violence it is as much a reminder to myself as a rebuke to anyone else.

Remember when Indiana Jones faced the final swordsman in Raiders of the Lost Ark? He got that weary, disgusted look on his face and hauled out the trusty Colt. Blam! Blam! Problem solved.

I feel that way at least once a week. It's a major reason I never renewed my handgun permit. That and the fact that I would have to buy a better handgun and I couldn't remember the three sure-fire reasons to carry, which guarantee approval unless you are an obvious blood-dripping felon.

Why worry about the tender legalities when one is contemplating blowing someone's head off? Because there might be extenuating circumstances. No point digging the hole deeper than it needs to be. But a moment's sober thought always brings me back to the basic impracticality of killing people you don't like. They always have friends, and they might not be quite completely in the wrong. Once you plug 'em, that's it.

So screw it.

Self defense presents some worries. Sometimes I transport bank deposits. I often travel alone. I've had a scary encounter or two in the dusk of a late fall bike commute, when a questionable pedestrian or slow-passing motorist worried me for a moment. But the only time I faced a gun at point-blank range I would have had no chance to use one of my own. Even to reach for it would have guaranteed I would be shot. Turns out the guy was just really nervous from his own previous bad experience, and all I had to do was be calm and wait for everything to work out.

And self defense does not really address the desire to do violence out of anger. That's a hot surge, maybe wrapped up with some righteous indignation to give it an aura of respectability. Addictive drugs to be avoided.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Hey!

What's the employee health plan like at the health insurance company?

Tuesday, May 31, 2005


"What a sweet little baby. Have you started a fund yet to pay for his prescription drugs when he retires?"
Posted by Hello

Positive Negativity

To be positive in a world undeniably filled with negatives, one must be blissfully ignorant, immersed in denial or able to take the negative energy and flip it to create something positive out of it. The last choice takes the most strength and thought, so it is the least popular. But ignorance and denial only create an unsustainable false positive, underlain by the blackness left unaddressed. Sooner or later, the ice gives way and the skimmer plunges through into cold darkness.

I'm frequently accused of being negative, because I look into the darkness and I point out where the wiring for the light may be faulty. Don't just throw me out, call a damn electrician.

Really read the job description

What would you do if the person you worked for said, “I need you to kill someone for me. Here’s his address. Here’s what he looks like. Here’s money and weapons. You can try roughing him up, but he probably won’t change the behavior we don’t like, so kill him if necessary. Here are documents explaining and excusing your action. They will be published.”

Welcome to the military.

How can anyone doubt our animal origins when we engage in so much animal behavior? There’s the show of force, the bluff charge, the bashing of antlers, the fighting over territory, food, watering holes, females. There’s the killing of the rival’s children, to obliterate their genetic line.

The difference between the animals and us is language. We can spin it, where they just do it.

One of life's bitterest ironies is that peace needs defending. But whenever we praise a young hero for jumping on a grenade we should never fail to say in the same moment that we really would prefer to create a world in which no one needed to jump on any grenades. Don't let it go without saying. Say it all the time, and think about it.

A peaceful world may be impossible, but so is a war to end all wars, unless it simply kills everyone. If you think we should all die, start with yourself. And don't make a mess while you're doing it.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Actual product may differ from catalog picture

I was explaining to a woman the logistical difficulties that would delay my delivery of some instant gratification she had requested from the shop when she interrupted me.

"You chose this life," she said reprovingly.

Let's get one thing straight. The life I chose was to fall ass backwards into immense wealth and devote the rest of my time to philanthropy and ecotourism. The waiting list for that one is quite long. The life I'm living came a distant second.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Unclear Message

Honda Element parked out back. Painted across the back window in red, sort of Asian-looking letters it says, "Path of the Samurai" in an arc above the phone number 776-KICK. But then the vanity license plate says "Prey."

Is it used as a noun or a verb?

Was it the owner's first choice?

As a call to action, it seems like a harsh injunction. Not terribly Confucian.

Maybe it's just there to deter tailgaters.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


If whales had bumper stickers
Posted by Hello

Waited too long

The following post, about civilian hawks, dates from shortly after last November's election. I was just cleaning out the files and liked it too much to throw it away, despite its age.

Civilian Hawks

A number of people I know have been vocal supporters of war as an instrument of foreign policy since September 11, 2001. Yet when I ask these people which branch of the service they will recommend that their children join, they always answer, “Shut up. My kid’s not going in any war.”

Just recently, two mothers were discussing college costs. One woman’s son wants to major in engineering.

“Why not ask Jeb Bradley to sponsor him for admission to the Naval Academy?” I asked. “It has a top-notch engineering program.”

One of the mothers shook her head and murmured, “This isn’t a good time to be in the military.”

“But don’t you support the Bush administration?” I asked. “Didn’t you vote for him?”

I did not get an answer. The mothers closed ranks to exclude me from their conversation.

If you support the current war efforts but refuse to risk your own flesh and blood, you are using the selfless, valiant American men and women of our armed forces as human shields, cannon fodder and decoys.

Anyone who asks someone else to go fight a war on their behalf without any intention of taking any risks of their own is beneath contempt. If you don’t believe in this life and death struggle enough to offer yourself or anyone close to you, maybe you ought to rethink your support for sacrificing other people’s lives and loved ones.

This isn’t just an election issue. This is a daily issue in all our lives. When the bullet crashes into someone’s body and the light in their eyes dies forever, that’s it. They’re gone. You may in fact decide you feel okay about sending a soldier out to fight and die, but you need to have thought about it long and hard, not just spouted a patriotic slogan and listened to “Proud to be an American” a few dozen times.

When I was of military age I did not join the service because I did not trust the leaders of my country at that time to expend my life wisely. I had been too young to serve in Vietnam, but as a service dependent I had gotten to see a lot of people go and I had heard arguments for and against the war from military and civilian alike.

The draft was essentially dead by the time I had to register. I was just as happy to be able to avoid military service. But I did not then turn around and start beating martial drums to inspire anyone else to go into uniform to protect me. I have always considered that pathetically hypocritical.

Military conflict is a woefully inadequate weapon to throw at the perils that face our country right now. Make no mistake, we are under attack, but the enemy’s strength is in being dispersed and stateless. One of them could walk up next to you and detonate himself tomorrow in the mall, and no army in Iraq would have made the slightest bit of difference.

Maybe rather than supporting the sacrifice of helpful strangers you should ask your government to be a little more intelligent about tackling the real dangers to this country. If you simply endorse the continued waste of noble Americans in a never-ending bush war, no amount of yellow ribbon stuck to your car will hide your shame.

Thinking about Weapons

Advances in weapon technology are not made by good fighters. Good fighters don’t need them.
Conflict has two parts. The emotional release of acting out the conflict is one. The desire to eliminate the opposition is the other.

Really powerful weapons place the second objective higher than the emotional satisfaction of fighting an opponent and displaying skill, strength and courage.

There is some satisfaction in exterminating an undesirable life form. But we do not get down on the floor naked to go after each individual cockroach. We do not hold mouse-hunting season, bagging them one by one after careful stalking. When we have decided that some creature must go, we deal with it as quickly and efficiently as we can. The same is true in human conflict.

Disguise it how you will. Delay the full force in deference to your fear of retribution or vestigial conscience. The fact remains that powerful armed force exists to exterminate undesirable human beings. It goes far beyond a good fight.

Look at some of the weapons we use: germs, gas and huge fireballs. Standing at a distance, the users of these methods let microbes, molecules and atoms do the dirty work. You may have to be a good scientist or engineer, and a cold-blooded bastard, but you don’t need to be much of a fighter.

That’s not to say that skillful and courageous fighters no longer ply their trade. When we don’t want to exterminate whole populations or smoke up a bunch of real estate, we have to send in the more precise technicians. They do need courage, skill and faith in their justification in order to give and receive harm in the fast-paced world of modern mechanized slaughter. And the theaters of war get more complicated all the time. But still we try to pursue precision violence.

The weapons are a large part of the problem. Stray bullets have a way of hitting unintended targets. It’s nice to be able to mow down your enemy with a hail of lead, but it’s easy to make deadly mistakes, shooting the wrong people in any number of ways.

Each advancement in the arms race from the first stick or rock has been an attempt to gain the advantage. But all humans seem nearly equally resourceful when it comes to figuring out how to hurt each other. One side develops a technology. The other side develops a countermeasure. Maybe it’s as big a gun. Maybe it’s a whole new way to hide and outflank. Maybe it’s a home-field advantage, which takes the day because the contest is about control of that field. The invader can’t move the conflict to another place to cancel out the defender’s local knowledge.

The art and science of kicking each other’s ass, which developed only to support the underlying desire to kick each other’s ass, has turned into a whole separate realm of endeavor, on which research continues even in times of little or no ass-kicking, against that future day when asses will need to be kicked. As a discrete industry, it develops its own protective and promotional strategies.

You could say it is as simple as the military-industrial complex, but what is that, really? You need to trace it back to fists, sticks, rocks. Selecting and shaping various objects to use against each other forms the basis of what we have today.

Are we happy to call ourselves advanced because we no longer use sticks and rocks?

Somewhere this must exist.
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Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Impulse not compulsory

Progress toward maturity is gained when your desires and your intentions are no longer automatically identical.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Invasion of the Tree Snatchers

I woke this morning to the sound of chainsaws, apparently about to come through the bedroom wall.

A working forest stays a forest, we tell ourselves, but it's small comfort when it's time for the section of forest nearest you to earn its living by losing its life.

Worse yet is the fact that this is a liquidation cut. My absentee neighbor has subdivided his land. Perhaps he has even died. He was pretty old. I don't think he had any children. I remember something about a niece or nephew.

A real estate sign has appeared, like a melanoma signalling that terminal cancer of the woods has taken hold.

The chain saw noise was replaced by a sound like someone taxiing an airplane back and forth. And it sounded too close. I figured I'd better take a look.

I've had timber thieves before. Actually, my neighbor had them worse. They'd already mowed the back half of his lot back in 1997, cleaning out valuable oak, before I heard them too close, at the wrong compass bearing, and went back to see what was going on. The thief was bold. He was also in a hurry to finish his theft before January 1, 1998, when it became a criminal matter instead of a civil one.

We ran him off eventually, but I don't think my neighbor ever collected on his lawsuit. The timber thief had a lot of practice hiding his assets and changing his address.

The operation this time is too spectacular to be theft. The skidder road goes straight in, not looping sideways from the next lot. So I didn't expect to find anyone surrounded by expensive stumps, claiming his compass didn't work.

What I did see was something like the world's largest brush cutter. It's a yellow monster, half skidder, half tree-eater. Controlled by a skilled operator, it moves as if alive. Hydraulic jaws grip a tree, while a roaring, whining blade cuts it off at the base. The hydraulic jaws then lay the tree trunk aside as casually as a person might put down a pencil.

Logging ends eventually. Silence returns and vegetation blurs the raw scars. But this is cancer. This is real estate. Someone is going to put a house on there, forever changing the character of the woods.

Most of the older houses are fairly near the road. Sometimes I wish I lived further back, but the back land is the back land, merging with the greater forest on the larger parcels all the way up and over peak after peak, to the far end of the range. I wouldn't want to diminish that.

The newer trend is to build further back. That means when I enter the woods, aiming into what had been continuous forest, I may have to walk past someone's side yard. Will they understand what living in the woods is like or will they try to trample out a hunk of suburbia for themselves? Will they understand the tradition around here, that we all use the land and don't abuse it?

So far, all we see is the fresh gash of heavy machinery ripping out trees, and the ominous tumor that advertises the land as available for wish fulfillment. We wait to see what those wishes may be.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

They Pursued it Religiously

Young Mother was filling out a scholarship application for teenage son.

"It asks about his religious activities," she said. "He doesn't really go to church, but maybe they'll give him credit for praying with his girlfriend."

"Praying with his girlfriend?" I asked.

"Yeah, she comes over to study, and they're shut in his room and I hear them both saying 'oh God, oh God, oh God.'"

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Campaign Finance Reform

Forget campaign finance reform. Let 'em get as much money as they want from wherever they want.

Just make the candidates write their own stuff and deliver it without any coaching.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Big Government

If Abraham Lincoln was correct, and we really do have government "of the people, by the people, for the people," then we already have one of the largest governments on Earth. So quit bitching about the tax dollars and acting as if the government is a separate entity.

While it is sadly true that the country was founded by rich white guys, for rich white guys, in order to get the rest of the grunts to fight the revolution for them they had to write some pretty open-ended language. And we, the people, have been using it against them ever since.

So let's assume that the ideals are as good as we all like to believe. In that case, the government is not a separate entity for us to hate and rail against, because it is what we have let it become.

Citizenship is a pain in the ass. Really. It's hard to be good at anything else if you're paying attention to governing the country all the time. That's why we try to elect people we can trust to run things. It would be nice if it worked on the honor system.

Since the government is supposed to represent the interests of each individual citizen, it must become large to represent the variety of interests all the citizens bring to bear. And, like any family, we will argue about priorities. But there will always be taxing and there will always be spending. Otherwise there is anarchy, great freedom for a very short amount of time, followed by many years of feuding between princely states, or gang wars for turf, depending on your 'hood.

Pardon me, but we went through all that already. An effective government is a big government. An ineffective government isn't worth wasting any money on. We're all already part of it.

Maybe popular government is doomed. Maybe no one can be trusted to run it, and the majority of us, the working stiffs, don't have time to ride herd on the scoundrels and screwoffs who vie to get elected. In that case, stock up on weapons and get ready for some exciting times. Makes me glad I didn't have kids.

Far better is to try to perfect our big, bumbling goofus of a government, to shape it really to serve our needs.

Does it keep individual citizens from amassing the wealth of kings? Certainly. If we wanted people to act like kings, we could have stayed under the rule of one.

Does freedom for all prohibit some acts? It sure does. Grow up and accept it. Are we all going to learn to play nicely together, or die in the biggest playground fight in history?

That remains to be seen.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Alternate Reality

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, Cher is aging naturally.

It struck me, as I gazed on the technological monument that is her face, that we will never know how she might have looked. She had good bone structure. Who knows what her heredity might have done for or to her? There are many ways to defy age. The course she chose was just one.

It's too late now. Even if she let it all go from here, it can't possibly just slump gracefully. Things have been moved too far from their natural trajectory.

Anybody can be whatever they can afford to be. I just wondered, while I was watching her in a film, what might have been.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Thursday, April 14, 2005

It's Always Something

The problem with job security is that it involves a job.

Forecast for Prom Night

High teens.
Widespread late afternoon showers will be followed by drying and increasing coolness.
Cool trend should continue in some areas overnight.
Unsettled conditions may lead to disturbances in some areas.
Caution is advised, especially in and around wet areas.

Thursday, March 31, 2005

A Choice

Would you rather have mediocre (or worse) service from someone who is very deferential to you, or excellent work done by someone who is more crusty?

Excellent service from someone nice would be ideal, but we can't always have the ideal. And we don't know until the work is done whether the crusty person was an irritable genius or just a jerk. But let's say you've established a track record for each provider. Who gets the nod? Mr. Results or Mr. Nice Guy?

Oh, and the cranky one charges a little more money, too.

Who wins? Competence or charm?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005


Basil Ignatius Frisky Toes establishes a current high score of 24 objects for the new season of "How many things can you put on a cat?"
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The 24 things.
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Monday, March 28, 2005


Here is Bartholomew Theodore Delbert Bear taking part in a game invented by Laurie's cousin Jillian. It's called "How many things can you put on a cat?" The name is the description. Keep piling things until the cat gets up and dumps them off. We haven't played in a long time, so I don't remember the record high score, but it was above 20. Note: cat must actually be alive during play. Objects may not harm cat, though cat may harm objects. Objects under cat, such as my good Gore Tex jacket, don't count toward your score.
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Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Imagination

When I was young, people gave me the mistaken impression I had a great imagination simply because I had an active and improbable fantasy life and far preferred to dwell there. But that's not a really useful form of imagination.

A better example of imagination is the dairy farmer who has developed a system to recover methane from cow flops. Here is a project with nothing but benefits.

Methane is a greenhouse gas. Apparently, using it for energy produces few or no harmful emissions and eliminates the methane itself as a pollutant. So this farmer, faced with the proverbial lake, figured out how to deal with the massive byproduct of his herd, while reducing his energy costs, probably producing enough power to sell some back to the grid when the system is fully operational.

Now THAT is an imagination.

Your better imaginations work that way, blending solid scientific principles to create new leaps into possibility.

The rest of us can only look up from our comic books in slack-jawed wonder.

Pastoral Vignette

At one point, I lived on a farm and traded my labor for a break on rent.

The family who actually ran the farm for its rich owner kept a dairy cow. I had to learn to milk it so I could cover all the chores in case the family went away for a few days. Why else have an assistant?

Most of us have seen milking depicted in many forms in television, movies and cartoons. It does little to prepare the city or suburb slicker for the smell of the barn or the experience of sitting down beside an enormous-appearing hairy beast, with an empty bucket and instructions to fill it with warm, fresh milk.

I try not to let anything faze me, but as I sat there on my little stool, actually another bucket, upturned, I realized I was about to grab the nipples of an extremely large creature I had barely met.

Prior to this, the only mammaries I had ever touched had required a certain amount of courtship. Shouldn't I kiss her a couple of times, or something? This just seemed so abrupt, so personal. Getting slapped is nothing compared to getting brushed off with a hard hoof with, dare I say it, some beef behind it.

The cow had no such qualms. She was used to the routine. If she felt fractious she would simply step into the bucket with a manure-covered hoof or swat me alongside the face with her encrusted tail. She didn't care if I ever called, and she preferred hay and grain to chocolate and flowers.

We ended up seeing each other for a little over a year.

On Your Marx, Get Set,...

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” said Karl Marx. This was supposed to be the great equalizer, one of the pillars of communism.

Ayn Rand bitched that this would penalize ability and reward need. Those capable of producing would be bled by those who could only consume.

I contend that “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” reflects capitalist markets in action. Far from being an equalizer, it is a great unequalizer, but not in the way Ayn Rand thought.

If someone is willing to burn 50-60-70 hours a week of precious life at a probably destructive, though lucrative, occupation, in order to live at a high standard and consume luxury goods, that person is in the grip of a powerful need. It’s an unhealthy need, but it produces what we refer to as wealth, so we praise the lifestyle rather than study it as pathological.

I need little. If I had more money, I would simply work less and spend more time trying to improve various skills that don’t pull in much money. I’d spend time enjoying the passing phenomena of each and every day, appreciating beauty. I would spend more time preserving the environment to the detriment of so many harder workers’ wealth-producing schemes. So I produce according to my ability and consume according to my need.

The wealth-producing world will grind me under its heel sooner or later, and wipe its shoe on its immaculately-fertilized lawn without another thought.

Geopolitics

In an attempt to mitigate the US trade imbalance, the Bush administration sent Rice to China.

Information You Can't Live Without

Watching the morning so-called news, I often have to shake my head sharply to break the trance and remind myself that the three or four celebrities being paraded before me over and over will never enter my real life. Their faces, and faces of other characters in the media, become more familiar than those of people who live right up the road from me. The details of their lives replace the more boring statistics about the millions of people who could live happily for a year on what one of the beautiful people spends on dog food in a week.

Actors are creepy anyway. They can synthesize all the great and small emotions in realistic, close-up detail. At least some of them can. Then there are the great stone-faced leading men, who can suppress all the great emotions until they become exquisitely nuanced grimaces.

Either way, they aren’t bumbling into my path. I can’t do anything for or about them. But there they are, dancing behind the glass.

I hear that Drew Barrymore frequents the coffee shop where I get my morning jolt in the summer. Ben Affleck supposedly spent a weekend in town last summer. Tim Daly or Steven Weber used the restroom at the deli out back once. Cal wasn’t sure which one it was, but, “it was one of those guys from ‘Wings.’”

Couldn’t prove it by me. It just proves that this is a big little world, and all you have to do is open the left door instead of the right one to miss seeing the big pink elephant go by.

Celebrities seem like mythical creatures, like animated cartoons. Or they’re like rare birds one watches the meadows and trees to spot once in a lifetime.

Of course they must gather in certain places and become mundane to the people around them there. But their images are beamed around constantly, keeping the notion of their existence and importance alive in the minds of all the people they’ve never heard of.

Truth in Media

Every time I see something I’m familiar with depicted on television or in a movie, it is misrepresented. It may be slightly wrong or totally wrong, but it is always distorted somehow.

Television and movies demand oversimplification. They have no peripheral vision. To look to the side, they have to turn to the side. Our eyes can pan and zoom instantly. Our minds can keep track of the periphery while our eyes scan the scene. But the camera captures one point of view at a time, whether it is wide angle or narrowly focused. That’s what you get of that moment.

If I know what I know is distorted, I have to assume that what I don’t know as well is equally distorted. So the whole mass of information becomes suspect.

Forget the internet as a fountain of truth. No offense, neighboring blogs, but most of you guys are pretty scary. As they said on The X Files, “the truth is out there,” but you have to study pretty hard to have any idea exactly where.