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


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

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.


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


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.