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.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Morning News

"Pretty harsh out there this morning. We're seeing single digits all across the region!"

"That's the traffic report. Now, on to sports!"

Gender traits

Women are different from men. Distinctly separate but equal. So it is fair to refer to some qualities on a gender basis until further research proves otherwise.

In the universe I inhabit, women do not refill liquid soap dispensers. When the level in that little pump bottle gets too low for the pump to bring any up, they start adding water.

What at first seems like a sensible, frugal move to liberate the last of the soap from the bottom of the bottle never stops there. They continue to dilute the remains until the bottle contains only vaguely soap-tinged, slightly slippery water.

In a shared space, one of the men will notice and refill the dispenser. Men's function is primarily janitorial. That's all right, someone has to do it. But for how long do the women endure the cold, insipid ghost of soap in their own exclusive bathroom before they finally look for a proper refill?

To be fair, the men don't even have the imagination to add water. We just hit the pump harder to see if we can bully it into coughing up a usable blop of soap. Only when brute force utterly fails will anyone bother to dig out the big jug and refill the little bottle.

The Late 007

James Bond, age unknown, self-styled international super spy, was found dead in his London apartment today, a woman's spike heeled shoe driven into his skull. He had also been strangled with a silk stocking.

A bushel of anonymous Father's Day cards had been dumped over his naked body.

In declining health, Bond had suffered the ravages of several sexually transmitted diseases, in addition to liver disease and lung cancer.

Bond was due to appear in court next Wednesday for a preliminary hearing regarding several hundred thousand dollars worth of traffic fines. Licensed to kill, he was no longer licensed to drive, after one too many reckless pursuits.

He is survived by an undetermined number of children.

Stalker

A woman was murdered by a stalker recently near here. It made me think again about how some men consider sex to be an entitlement. In fact, the majority of men consider sex an entitlement.

The urge is primal, powerful. It certainly seems like a need too strong to deny. And even when you develop the ability to step back from it, you can never take its control for granted. But it is not yours to demand, guys.

Stalkers and killers of ex-wives and girlfriends are pathetic men. On some level, they know this. But well before resorting to violence, men can certainly do a lot of sniveling and posturing when matters carnal don't go as they might have wished.

Considering the stakes involved for women, the answer "no" should be assumed. The so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s confused the issue by reducing the potential liability, but only if certain precations and methods were followed. And it was not going to undo countless generations of biological reflex.

Wild animals do not control their sexuality, they merely experience it. Breeding behavior is another sorting characteristic. As long as the method works, the species survives. If the method fails, the species might develop a new strategy or they might just die off. Either way, the old order is gone.

Humans not only get to choose how they act, they seem beset with the whole spectrum of desire, from the little furries who mate early and often, banging out litters of a dozen, to the irascible she-bear who will kill a male except when she's in season. Just about any animal behavior you can imagine is reflected in humanity. Yet we persist in trying to view ourselves as a uniform group.

Different people feel different pressures. We try to sterilize our love, assuming the biological side is subordinate, even contemptible. But then it breaks its bonds in unfortunate ways when one participant or another can't retain the level of control that seems mutually agreed.

We are the only species that gets to redefine success. Success in nature simply means producing a new generation, which can then produce a generation of its own. But we are so far from candid, natural life that we not only can but must define success in other ways. Either that or return to breeding thoughtlessly and letting culling forces physically weed out the losers. Every form of mortality goes up.

We seem unwilling to return to such a kill-and-be-killed methodology. I can't complain. In a natural order, I would have been dead long ago. But that brings us back to self control and conscious direction of all personal behavior.

It didn't work out. Get over it. If it makes you want to kill her, it ain't love, pal.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Parental Incentive

The reason there are so many messed-up kids in the world is that parents don’t get an ecstatic reward for raising them right, only for conceiving them.

Parents should get an orgasm every time they make a good parental decision.

“No, Johnnie, don’t grab things. You have to learn to share – oooooh!”

“Guess I’ll put a little more into Junior’s college fund – Aaaah! Yes! Yes!”

“Hey, Sport, let’s take a look at that algebra homework – whoa, take a time out there. Gotta ride this one for a while. Whew!”

"I never knew volunteering at the school could be like this!"

The Pessimism of Religion

Religion offers a great way to give up on the human race without appearing to do so. It allows you to fight the good fight, expecting to lose physically, but win spiritually. So assholes still rule the Earth. The clash of Good and Evil will destroy everything. But then the good people get to go on and enjoy a good place where everything is good.

Timing is everything. Relatively inexplicably, some people get to live placid, prosperous lives, while others struggle endlessly. And if you have the bad luck to live when the great clash of good and evil bathes the globe in fire, don’t expect to enjoy bovine, suburban bliss.

Clearly, destructive forces exist. Some kind of faith provides a padded backstop on which to lean. You could have faith that humanity will eventually grow up and achieve a peaceful, pleasant world. You could have faith that the God of your choice will make things right.

The crucial difference between faith in human ability to learn and grow, and faith in God’s ability to rescue the faithful lies in the basic view of humanity itself. The secular faith really views humans as much more perfectible than does the religious model.

Evil only wins by gaining recruits. Evil can only be a force as long as people agree to do evil. Starve evil to death and the need for forceful conflict disappears. With no aggressors, you need no defenders.

Power intoxicates. A sense of personal strength and prowess may tempt you to use that strength to make an intellectual point. It may be simple greed, or righteousness, but the result either way is coercion.

The difference to reconcile between religious and secular faiths is whether we really can seek the sustainable model of ongoing human existence, or whether the attempt to compromise is in itself a sin.