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.
Posted by Hello

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.