Saturday, December 30, 2006

Welcome to our automated voice mail system

Thank you for calling the corporate headquarters of Enzyte Natural Male Enhancement. If you think you know your party's extension, think again.

For customer service, you used to press 1. Now you press 3!

In a few weeks it will be 5.

Have a nice day!

Friday, December 29, 2006

The Real Story of the Nixon Pardon

Gerald Ford was sitting in the Oval Office when an aide popped in.

"Mwaya wahn doom bout Nixon?" the aide mumbled.

"Pardon?" said Ford.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Bleah

I don't know about you, but I've seen quite enough animated snot.

Now two competing products have their spokesblobs cavorting on television. Far from making me want to reach for their product the next time I suffer persistent congestion, they just make me want to reach for the barf bucket.

Thanks. I feel better getting that off my chest.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Daddy's DSL

Daddy don't deal with no slow dial-up no more.

No, Daddy don't deal with no slow dial-up no more.

Daddy done got that DSL --

High-speed internet is really swell.

Daddy don't deal with that slow dial-up no more.



Send him a photo or send a video clip.

Send him a photo, or send a video clip.

He can download in seconds what used to be a long, hard trip.


Gonna get my laptop, and bring my wireless card.

Gonna get my laptop, and bring my wireless card.

Check in, check out, always on line

Man, that high-speed is really fine...

Gonna get my laptop and bring my wireless card.


Check the weather and the email, and don't tie up the phone

Check the weather and the email, and don't tie up the phone

The bill ain't so bad, so don't you fret it.

Soon you'll wonder why you took so long to get it!

Check the weather and the email, and don't tie up the phone.


Yeah, Daddy don't deal with no slow dial-up no more.

No, Daddy don't deal with no slow dial-up no more.

Daddy done got that DSL --

High-speed internet is really swell.

Daddy don't deal with that slow dial-up no more.

Friday, December 22, 2006

No Money Down!

Go to the emergency room at the very beginning of October. A few weeks later, bills start straggling in as the "health" insurance company turns down both the provider and the patient. A few hundred here, a hundred there, it's not as bad as you feared. That's good, because you're responsible for paying it.

Three days before Christmas the friggin' bomb drops, blam. The insurance company is pleased to inform you that you've actually met your deductible, so they are going to pick up $75 of a $1500 bill. Oh but wait! Your copay for this service is $75, so you owe the whole thing. And the $1300 premium is overdue, too.

Health care costs remind us what happens to the sick and injured in nature: they get eaten, sometimes eaten alive. If you're a small animal, it takes less of a blow to take you out. That's just how it goes.

We've used our monetary economy as a metaphor to replace real nature. If you go broke you might as well be dead, dropping into the ghostlike ranks of the poor, with whom no one will make eye contact. We all believe, though not all of us admit to it, that the less financially solvent are responsible for their own plight. And it's probably true. Anyone who really wants to can do whatever it takes to get into a well-paid job. Sharpen those claws.

Credit companies stand ready to offer a compassionate hand to those less fortunate. See earlier reference to being eaten alive. Putting your crises on credit is just like having strips of flesh ripped from your living body, digging even more bleeding wounds.

If I'd really had a cardiac problem, much bigger bills would be piling up along with the insurance premiums. I can't bitch. But I'll tell you this: next time I just crawl off into the woods to heal or die on my own. At least you know right then and there how it's going and what you're paying.

When I would take solo adventures on land and water, I moved as an animal moves, calculating every risk because any injury could end up fatal. So it should be in the adventure of life. Health care is for the rich. The rest of us are really on our own.

To be honorable, you have to forego all care. Don't accept anything you can't afford. The care providers are required to treat you if you show up. So don't show up. It's scary, I know, but it's the right thing to do. Life belongs to those who have the strength to take it. That means either good health or the finances to afford ill health. If you don't have either one, bend your neck graciously so the predators can reach your throat and the scavengers can clean your carcass. You no longer deserve to be here.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Hell Brainstorm

I've figured out how to make Hell work. So I guess the game is back on.

We accumulate many projects or other notions we would like to pursue if only we had time. So there you are with all eternity and no time limits. Hell is a blank, empty place where you can't do anything.

Aren't you glad I'm not in charge? A pit of fire at least gives you something to do.

I must have been too tired last night, or too stupefied with residual boredom from the slow day at work, to think of this obvious, simple and energy efficient approach to eternal damnation.

This Hell sounds a lot like my average work day. It's probably the same for most people. As my father was fond of saying, "no work, no eat," but that doesn't mean you find something fulfilling at which to work.

After a lifetime of deferred gratification, maybe the eternally boring Hell will seem like more of the same. Sure there's no end in sight. So what has changed? In a way, guaranteed lack of prospects would be a relief.

Hope is Hell. The reward dangles just out of reach. Hell has to be eternal longing with just enough chance of success to keep it gnawing at you.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

What Hell Could Be Worse than This Life?

What heaven could be better?

Forgive my lack of originality, but I am just one of a vast horde of stone-banging grunts crawling toward enlightenment.

This time of year stimulates religious contemplation. The vocal adherents of a certain strain of Christian piety can't lay off the brimstone even now. They can't hide their glee at every event that seems to bring a fiery day of judgement closer to the social elements of which they disapprove. So I have to think ahead to where I might fetch up.

Start with the premise that Hell is eternal agony and Heaven is eternal bliss. Does the crucial flaw leap out at you the way it does at me? Agony and bliss are both relative states. So for them to have eternal impact, they have to fluctuate constantly. Otherwise, the subject of either one goes numb and perceives nothing.

Pain has two components, Now and Later. Undergoing a serious injury, whether by accident, warfare or torture, you feel the initial pain, but you also can anticipate what life will be like afterwards, dealing with the effects. Have you been maimed, or might you heal back to something like full strength? If you know you're dead, the whole thing becomes rather academic. Pains we suffer now include that component of the future. How will this inhibit me? How long will it go on? If you know you're condemned to endless torment, you have your answer and can settle into the rhythm of endurance. Will you live through it? Of ourse not. You're already dead.

If you're capable of caring enough about another person that you can be tormented by the knowledge that they are suffering, you probably don't qualify for Hell. Pass Go, collect a halo and get the Heaven out of here. So that brings us back to you and your personal relationship with Satan. If you were bad enough to end up in Hell, you're probably pretty jacked to be there. Sure, you might get shafted by the Boss on a regular basis down there, but you knew the occupational hazards before you signed on.

This whole eternal agony thing is crumbling.

Bliss is equally unsustainable. What makes good good? The fact that it isn't bad. If you know it will never be bad, good loses its shine.

You can see where the idea of reincarnation came from. Don't some people just seem to have things going their way all the time? Sometimes they get there from a less enviable state. Other people you observe may have landed in bliss and ridden it to ecstasy.

Or maybe it's all just random. Work hard, get a few good breaks, reach a secure and happy place, live out a prosperous life and die of something quick and painless at the point when pleasure is finally truly out of reach. Maybe you burn out your last taste bud at a delicious breakfast and have a nice quick stroke by noon. But wait, you might strive virtuously, trust a few too many of the wrong people and end up bitter, sick, crippled and friendless. Or a meteorite could hit your car. Your kids could get horrible diseases. Does some fair-minded intelligence guide any of this?

Cause and effect wheel along. What looks like chaos is just the variables we haven't learned to detect and measure yet. It's the eternal "yes, but" that tosses our hopes into a bucket of crap and makes us beseech or berate an omniscient being.

I feel safe in saying that at least half the shit we suffer in this world we make up by ourselves. Actually, the percentage is probably much higher now that most of us don't have to go forage in the wilderness alongside large predators that challenge us for the position at the top of the food chain. Major storms and epidemics are all that remain of the destructive forces we don't generate all by ourselves. Everything else is just made-up horseshit.

Isn't that just like Hell?

Friday, December 15, 2006

What Will History Call This?

The 1930s had The Dust Bowl, when the agricultural economy of much of the midwest collapsed, sending waves of emigrants in search of a livelihood.

What will history call the migration that will follow the collapse of the winter-related industries in the Northeast?

Without enough cold weather to make snow, the downhill resorts will fare little better than the cross-country centers. But winter-dependent industries don't stop with recreation. Loggers need to work in the winter, because so much marketable timber grows in wetlands which can only be worked when frozen. Working them in warmer conditions damages them enough to put the whole future of the resource at risk. So you might get one more harvest off them, but then what?

Timber harvesting requires a long cycle for the crop to reproduce itself. In a normal cycle of seasons, harvesters can work different areas to rotate the impact. With more and more upland lost to development, the logging industry joins most of the wildlife, being driven into the areas deemed unbuildable by our current respect for wetlands. Creatures that don't normally prefer their feet wet have learned to put up with it because the swamp is all that's left to them.

Respect for the recharge areas that feed those wetlands does not keep pace with the forces arrayed against them. Rain falls over a lot of land to fill up that bog. Houses on a network of paved roads built right to the minimum setback threaten the health and survival of the preserved area even when they are not technically in it. It seems like common sense, but who has time to pay attention to common sense?

When precipitation falls as liquid, it does not recharge the ground water the same way it does as a slow-melting snowpack. Rain does not carry exactly the same kind of nutrients into the soil. Hard rain runs off, eroding the landscape. This affects agriculture, even though winter is not the growing season.

We don't really have soil most places in New England. We have various-size mineral residues and some leaf mold. If we get to the point where we have to approve the use of human manure to help build up the organic component of the soil we may find ourselves encouraging the tourists to shit on us while they're here, instead of resenting them for it.

All that will be too little to halt a wave of outward migration. But where will they all go? Even in the Great Depression, the other areas to which the refugee farmers trekked couldn't really absorb them. Now there are more people everywhere.

"They call it Tourist Season. Why aren't we allowed to shoot 'em?" says one bumper sticker. Ah, just wait. People are our greatest resource...for food. The Donner Party turned to cannibalism because they had too much snow. The new wave of New England cannibalism will start because we got too little. We still don't have a growing season or much of a place to farm. What else would you have us do? Move into your neighborhood and compete for jobs with you? Clutter your streets with destitute yankees in ragged flannel and wool?

No thanks. We'll just stay here and run our bed and breakfasts. Every once in a while we'll dish up a guest, that's all. Come on up. It probably won't be you. The scenery's great, with all those rushing streams.

With the winter recreation and timber iundustries will go all the others that feed off them: retailers, grocery stores, schools, auto dealers, contractors, in short, the whole society. Once the population shrinks, things will stabilize at their new level. Whoever's still here will have figured out how to get along.

The collapse of winter businesses won't bring everything down right away. Communities with waterfront will still have booming summer business from which to build up reserves to carry them through the gray -- formerly white -- months. Adjacent communities will subsist by giving the lowlife who work for the waterfront owners a place to live. In a way it will be the way New England used to be, before skiing took off in the 1920s and grew through the rest of the Twentieth Century. The only difference will be the loss of the winter work that sustained a lot of the locals on forest and farm.

Can formerly rural New England thrive as the diluted version of suburbia it is becoming? Suburbia feeds on real industry nearby, and on the needs of employed people, for food, shelter, clothing, transportation, medical and dental services, schools and infrastructure. The money for that comes from some real production somewhere. And the cost is that the landscape gets homogenized until you wouldn't know where you were if you were suddenly dropped into the middle of it.

The palace on the high hill will look out over an unbroken vista of the small roofs of cottages and shacks where the hungry people dwell.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Trigger Pullers

I was half-watching C-Span, when I heard a man identified as Arnold Punaro, chairman of the Commission on the National Guard and Reserves telling David Chu, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness, that the aggregate military forces need to figure out how to turn more of the non-combatant personnel into "trigger pullers." The way he said it, and repeated it, implied that the non-trigger pullers are not as productive as the personnel who direct live rounds down range at enemy targets.

The trigger puller has in the past been referred to as the "trigger man" in other contexts, and the term was not complimentary. "Hit man" is close kin, if not synonymous.

The trigger puller's job is to aim a weapon at another person and use it to kill them. So, to sum up, we need to make the military more efficient by putting more people into the job of killing our designated enemy du jour.

When enemies were enemies and friends were friends it at least had a certain industrialized, conveyor belt logic. Aim and fire. Aim and fire. Advance. Retreat. Fight, win, lose. Every dead enemy made the world a better place. Every loss from our own forces was a tragic, heroic sacrifice, but it definitely advanced the cause of world peace, because we were wiping out the bad guys.

Nothing is that cut and dried anymore, if it ever really was. If I were going to risk death for a cause I would certainly want it to be for something as undeniably good as a future of peace and prosperity in which all the people who were still left could flourish without fear. We would defeat the forces of evil by blasting them to perdition with our own savage weapons of mass destruction. It isn't bad, if you're good. It's only bad when they do it.

The problem is that no one can tell me that the people we're shooting at now won't be standing beside us, aiming at someone else in a different conflict. We're asking people to give "the last full measure of devotion" for the latest theory in political science, or for some temporary gain, so that our breeders might have a bit more time to crank out a few more of our kind before the next large-scale conflict demands that we send them into the maw of warfare.

At least be honest. Tell the world that human nature really is savage, and that we will always and forever live in cycles of killing, until we are wiped from the face of the planet. Admit that we will never accept each other's cultures for the long haul. Kids, we need you to grow big and strong and smart so you can be good fighters. You may die, but if you fought well we will sing your praises. If you believe our religion, you will look down on us from your heavenly cloud and feel great joy at what you were able to obtain for us by slaughtering our enemies .

We need triger pullers, man. We need trigger pullers.

Shoppin' at "The 'Blot"

Ocean State Job Lot opened in the space long ago vacated by good old Ames.

Ames, or "Ames's" as the locals say, was our source for all the little necessities like cheap jeans for dirty work, rubber boots for yard work, unromantic, practical underwear, and all the other useful merchandise in a low-priced department store. Alas, they went under.

For a while we clung to rumors that Target or some other retailer was coming in to take their place. Meanwhile, I nursed increasingly frail remnants of jockey shorts because I refuse to go to WalMart. WalMart is fortunately far enough away in any direction to keep me from being severely tempted.

The 'Blot's slogan should be "no one else wanted this, but you might." Sometimes they have cool stuff, like weird European and Asian snack foods, or Finky Chips, but a lot of the stuff seems like it came from the back of a warehouse or a truck that crashed.

You can find some good deals on name brand items in styles or flavors that failed to find a market. They had a bunch of Tom's toothpaste, but it was all some flavor like Tuna and Soy.

I waited more than a year for some jeans that fit me that didn't look like someone else had worn them for several months without washing them. There was that unfortunate period in fashion when the faded look gave way to the greasy, yellowed look. Combine that with a fly zipper no more than five links long and you have a pair of pants I wouldn't use as a shop rag. Eventually they got some acceptable Levi's 501(c)(3)s in basic black. One leg may be slightly longer than the other, but I'm going to put them through hell anyway. They'll just end up yellowed and greasy. But it will be my grease. And the rise is high enough to reach my shirt.

Eventually the underwear truck crashed, and I was able to update the decade-old contents of that drawer. I'm sure you are as relieved as I am.

When The Blot has something you like, buy as much as you can right then. We got used to buying these Swiss chocolate bars for $1.99. A few trucks must have crashed, because the stock went up and down a few times without running out. But then it was over. They have almost no chocolate now. Now we have an expensive habit to feed at street price. I--I--I'm getting the sshhakes nnnow...

The Blot also brought in a lot of their own employees, and apparently some of their own customers, as well. Even the products look stranger and stranger the longer you look at them. What looks like a national brand turns out to be Past Cereal or Kellegg's. Or it's from Eastern Europe, with an ingredient panel in Hungarian. Still, it's a great place to find 6,000 extra large tee shirts

Speaking of a Living Wage

Here's another post that lay dormant for a few months

Money does not buy happiness, but happiness for damn sure costs money. I don't know anyone who made the conscious choice to pursue happiness who didn't end up taking a pay cut. It's an accepted principle that if you choose your personal relationships and creative goals you will give up at least some of your monetary income for those unquantifiable rewards.

My wife and I are both vastly worse off financially than we were before we got together. I'm not exaggerating when I say we're simply going down the tubes. When she lived in Maryland and pursued her career as a single woman, she had enough money to live and do a little traveling. When I lived as a weird mountain hermit, I had enough money to live and do a little traveling. But when I expanded the cave and she tried to transplant her livelihood we suffered the consequences immediately.

At first it was a few minor things, fully offset by each other's company and the activities we could enjoy in one of the pleasant rural corners of the country. But a flake and a chip at a time, more and more has crumbled to the point where, when either of the decrepit cars finally cannot be coaxed back to life, one of us is going to walk.

We tease children with the idea that they can grow up to be whatever they want to be. We hope it will keep them interested until puberty kicks in and distracts them from the fact that for most people life is just a dismal scrape down a rough slope to a hole in the dirt. A few people actually do seem to put it all together. It keeps hope alive in the deluded masses. Indeed, our mass exercises in denial propel our economy as people try one thing after another to see if any of it really works. In a strange way it even helps sustain a few lives that might otherwise shrivel faster, if those people happen to be involved in something that for a time becomes lucrative.

In our small corner, we have improved the lives of a few people and animals. A small proportion of our enterprises have even produced income. Things could still turn out all right, if the mishaps don't string together too closely.

Where's the Accountability?

I should have posted this back in October when I wrote it.

Yesterday on the Disney Morning News, a segment on the Google purchase of YouTube called it a major step in the shift toward internet-based media on demand, away from commercial media on a broadcast schedule.

The Internet has long been a source of information not readily accessible by the former conventional means. It has progressed from its limited origins very quickly to the unruly creation we use today. It's becoming downright normal.

While the Internet does offer access to a theoretically unlimited audience to people with very limited resources, that virtue is also a drawback. Virtually anyone can slap anything up there to be mistaken for the truth.

A large, visible corporation has a strong motive to make statements it can at least substantiate. A large corporation can't slip into the shadows, change servers, take down the site and pop up somewhere else. It's a big, fat target for lawsuits and regulatory penalties. Advertisers will insist that the media corporation maintain enough stability to be a viable platform for the advertisements.

Maybe all that doesn't matter. A juicy rumor is more fun than a bunch of boring facts. And a lot of Internet news is reliable. The corporate journalism corporations even offer their own Internet content. But you can't be sure that any of it is true. Mistakes combine with purposeful misdirection to render any information suspect until it's been verified.

The Suits and Bean-counters have their own good reasons to keep their affairs in order.

That being said, broadcast media rely on different revenue streams than do the Internet privateers. If the market research shows that broadcast audiences want crap, crap is what you'll get. You can get crap on the Internet, too, but you have 97-jillion channels to flip to. Somewhere out there, you'll find what you like.

I just don't want to hear the assumption that Internet content is more accurate and complete by definition. The consumer has to go looking for all the points of view and tidbits of information that provide a full story and complete understanding.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Living Wage

The idea of paying employees an amount they can actually live on is gaining a little traction these days. As someone who has existed in a job that some might consider to be far beneath my educational and age level, I have considered the employer-employee relationship from many angles for many years.

As a full-time employee, you represent an expense in payroll, but -- hopefully -- an asset as a functioning part of the business. The employer will want to dish out as little as possible in cash. But many factors control how much an employer considers enough.

If someone has hired you to work full-time, that means they have purchased all your available work hours. Theoretically, the rest of your time should be your own. In order for you to show up at opening time each and every working day, your employer pays you to exist.

You may enhance your value to society through activities you do outside of work, but unless they benefit the employer in some tangible way, they don't merit an increase in salary. An employer may choose to reward what they view as good character with higher pay, but the business must generate enough revenue to allow for this. Otherwise, you're both goin' down in that brotherly embrace. Enjoy it while it lasts.

In reality, people with so-called full-time jobs choose or are forced to work extra jobs in some circumstances.

If all goes well, an employee who can actually afford to make a living at whatever he or she is employed to pursue will stick around for a while, steadily getting better and better at the job, working more efficiently, generating more revenue for the business. An employee who has to work multiple jobs will have less attention for each one and will slowly or rapidly break down. That helps no one.

Even in capitalism, wages and salaries represent a division of the income from an enterprise. The income is based on the market, which often has very little to do with the absolute value of the enterprise to the greater good of humanity. The workers in that field have agreed to work for a rate based on the average revenues that enterprise brings in. They fall on a hierarchy determined by the various tussling groups trying to wrest a share of the take from the whole pile.

To some extent, these income ranges become institutionalized. People go into a field with a rough idea of average incomes for various functionaries within it. A change in demand may lead a change in compensation by quite a bit. Or the change in demand could send a seismic rumble across that whole economic sector as it grows or shrinks abruptly. Without a massive change like this, people in the field look for some sort of growth to make them feel like they are progressing.

Competition between products can be a healthy driver of innovation and an incentive to keep prices down. But people also feel competitive about their compensation, the income and other perquisites that they receive, if not earn. This drives costs and prices the other way.

Meanwhile, all kinds of people are just trying to live. While I'm absolutely sure there are many reasons for the cost of living to rise, I'm not at all sure most of them reflect terribly well on human nature. Are the jobs created by a billionaire building his sixth house offset by whatever other plagues might have been released to get those billions?

The threshold of a livable wage will continue to fly upward until we rethink our whole approach to work and reward. The answer can't be a uniform mob of gray-clad people in gray cubicles in big gray apartment blocks any more than it can be road-raging suburbanites shouldering each other off the six-lane boulevards of their bedroom community as they hustle home to the tract mansion, aspiring to be richer, driving more expensive cars to bigger houses in more comfortable climates. It's not sandal-wearing subsistence farmers in sod huts, owning next to nothing because it's the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, we're just trying to live. People who are satisfied with less still have to fight the destructive fight to hang on in a world where hard-driving consumers are demanding more.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Helpful Household Hint

With multiple cats in residence, I suddenly realized that if I spray them all with Pledge every day, they become part of the solution, not part of the problem. Once a week I can vacuum them off. Voila! A photo shoot in Better Homes can't be far behind.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Help Wanted

If I manage to become a rich and famous cartoonist, or at least a commercially viable one, the first assistant I hire will be someone to do the erasing. Make no mistake, erasing takes skill and patience. I don't discount the need for a responsible person. I just get sick of dealing with the eraser crumbs. During extensive erasing, even a kneaded gray eraser will shed some little rolls of eraser cheese. And some stuff just needs to be gone after with the white Magic Rub. That thing sheds like the cats.

We thought she was just stressin' about life

A friend of Laurie's from a couple of shows she'd done had been having a bit of a rough summer. We'd heard about it through a woman who knew her much better, the artistic director of the New Hampshire Theatre Project. It sounded like some of the emotional stress that hits people in their late 20s. It's sad, and hard to go through, but it happens to most people. Particularly at the end of a decade or the end of a phase of life, like graduation from one level or another of school, the path ahead grows indistinct, and monsters dwell in the shadows.

Lisa was on schedule for such a thing, at 29. Her friends did what they could to help her through the ups and downs and waited for her to pull out of it. It was just 20s angst.

Wrong. It was a brain tumor. She died Sunday morning after a week in a coma.

If that wording seems abrupt it is no more so than the events themselves.

She'd been in rehearsals for the latest NHTP production, the U.S. premiere of David Farr's update of The Odyssey. The play opened last Friday, even as she lay in the hospital and her friends went on with the show in what can seem like a show business cliche. It was, in fact, a tribute to what she had lived and was soon to die enmeshed in. She had been a performer and teacher.

Sunday's matinee was a hard experience for the performers and for the audience members who knew the other story. But a powerful magic takes hold when a serious actor gets into a role. It offers an escape for everyone, but underneath it the emotions of real life add emphasis to a line or an expression. The ghost of an actor gone forever from the stage appears momentarily on the face of the understudy who fills the role ably in her own right. What might have been and now will never be flickers like a film double-exposed.

Players who would have been full of happy chatter after the first weekend of a successful production said they felt numb. The elation after the performance met the grief held at bay and left them with nothing at all. This is only temporary. All that they feel and we feel needs to flow through its course, steep and turbulent, dark and twisting, to reach the next calm pond. Light and darkness will strike its surface and penetrate its depths. Each survivor finds a way to go on.

Cliches abound for situations like this. "You just never know." "It could happen to anyone." "Live every day like it was your last." "Tell your loved ones you love them." You know the whole lengthy catalog. Each one started from a simple truth, reduced to a sound bite and repeated until no one really hears it.

She died while pursuing what she loved. No one can ask for more. No one should settle for less.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Collaboration

The perfect creative partnership is like two people farting in a room. You're not sure who contributed what, but you know your contribution improved the product. It's competitive the same way, too. Each contributor wants to match the output of the other, for self defense if nothing else.

Jealousy is inevitable when one partner can't come up with anything to add. It stinks having nothing when someone else is obviously having all kinds of fun dominating the room.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Pets Help Lower Blood Pressure

It was my first commissioned piece of art for money in a long time. It was my first color piece in a long, long time.

The customer wanted a hummingbird and a rose. Hummingbirds don't frequent roses, but if she wanted it I would try to draw it. I had a pretty standard rose I used to doodle quite a bit, and I had been drawing little cartoon hummingbirds since eighth grade. It should be simple enough to bend those familiar forms into an acceptable design. Right?

Nature knows a hummingbird doesn't care much about a rose. They just didn't look right together. And roses are very hard to draw from the angle at which I needed to draw it to balance the composition. My flat doodle avoided what is actually an awkward angle for a rose. I had trouble even finding a photograph at the angle I needed.

The resulting rose looked okay. The bird with it looked a little stiff. They were on the same sheet of paper, but they didn't look like they went together.

When I showed the customer how it was shaping up, she said she was willing to let the rose go in favor of a more likely target for a hummingbird.

If something isn't right, start over. First I researched flowers. Morning glories grow around here and have showy blossoms hummingbirds love. But they're technically an invasive species. After searching websites and books, I settled on the dazzling Lobelia Cardinalis. It's native and a known hummingbird favorite. It's so red it's hard to look at. The blossoms are distinctive and easy to draw from several angles. We should be finished in no time.

Illustrator Wallace Tripp writes on his website that an artist has ten thousand bad drawings to get through before producing the good stuff. I'm not sure if I've passed that threshold yet. Are those just any drawings, or drawings you're trying to do well?

The hummingbird and lobelia proceeded slowly, hampered not only by my halting use of forgotten materials and the age of the pigments and brushes themselves, but by the constant attendance of curious and helpful cats. The cats absolutely must be in my workspace, preferably right in my face.

Bonnie, Basil and Daisy took turns upsetting the water dishes or walking across the table, even across the work itself. Because I would not fling them down the stairs or over the rail into the abyss above the living room, I could not completely discourage them.

Bonnie finally succeeded in flipping the contents of a water bowl into the keyboard of the open laptop three feet away from the drawing table. Most of the water fell short, but not all. I spread toilet paper across the wet keys, dangling little strips into the spaces between the rows to suck out what had gone in. The computer survived.

The drawing has been delivered. Of course I can do better. I haven't turned in a piece yet that I did not immediately or shortly believe I could have executed better. Ten thousand drawings and a change of style and ten thousand more may not cure that.

I'm going to try making watercolor brushes out of cat hair and cobwebs, seeing as I have so much of both to work with.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Sun's Dark Mood

November and December sun slants in from the side, stabbing at the eyes. You want sunshine? Here's your sunshine. Jab!

What passes for noon passes very quickly. The morning's faint hopes turn to the afternoon's squinting haste to use what there is of this dazzling but brief assault.

The gray days, when light just seems to come and go without a source, are almost a relief. Sure it's suicide weather, but a clear view of the sky doesn't really help that much. It's better to settle into the grim work of endurance, waiting for the comfort food of the holidays and the first upward springs of the returning light in January. Secure for silent running and deep submergence. Close the hatches, forget the surface. Dive, dive, and view the world through instruments, while the mind expands on imaginary vistas of islands yet to be seen.

The flat rays of this low sun do pierce the house much deeper than the overhead lighting of the longer days. Prisms in the windows, leftover from when I had high hopes and vague plans, splash rainbows all over the walls. It reminds me to return to the creative life that has been interrupted and delayed more than I could have imagined.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Standard Time

November. Five p.m. and it's darker than a colonoscopy in a power failure out there. This time of year I wonder how it is for people in Alaska, or any other place where the daylight can be all or nothing.

Thanks to Time Warner Cable, I can't even play on the internet at home. Since they took over from bankrupt Adelphia, we have had multiple outages every day. After the last one, the TV came back, but the internet connection didn't. They might get a sevice technician out there next Tuesday. I'm paying how much for this?

So, unless we get lucky and someone drops by sooner, no email, no blogging, except on the fly. If I get a spare moment at work (like now) I can check on things.

I'm unimpressed with the new service, guys. And if my rates go up I'll go back to smoke signals and carrier pigeons.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I'm trying to WORK here...

Daisy likes to help in the studio. Productivity goes down by up to 100 percent when she's on the job. Posted by Picasa

Monday, October 30, 2006

God, the Ready Audience

Only a fraction of what gets written gets read.

Only a fraction of what gets thought gets written.

Only a fraction of what gets created gets experienced in any way.

Life goes at such a pace that you always have to choose whether to experience it or record it. We all know how to act like film stars, regardless of how fame eludes us.

Being one of the infinite number of monkeys on this planet producing unmined gems every day, you might imagine what it would be like to see them all gathered, polished and set. It's tempting to think of some interested supernatural being who can and will record and appreciate it all. Every meaningful look, every soliloquy, every unspoken insight will, at the very least, be lovingly magneted to the door of heaven's refrigerator.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Heavy Rain + High Wind = Oops

We found this on our way through Ossipee Village this afternoon. Power outages don't seem to be quite as widespread as last week, but the wind has been roaring. Note the roots of the tree lifting the front of the boat trailer as the trunk appears to cross the stern of the boat. Posted by Picasa

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Back to the Fuchsia

The weather last weekend was a last taste of summer. On Monday the temperature might have nudged 80. The bedraggled fuchsia hanging by one of the hummingbird feeders put out two beautiful blooms. Two more buds hang nearby. Posted by Picasa

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

For Our Valued Customer

For you convenience, we offer the following two payment options:

1: Through the nose.

2: Out the wazoo.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Origin of the Therapist God

Imagine primitive humanity. Every day brought new levels of self awareness, more questions. Emotions needed names. Mood swings could be noted and charted. Feelings started to stimulate thoughts that affected the feelings.

Depression in animals seems to be a passing thing, for the most part. But humans, able to extrapolate so many possible outcomes from a single point in time, keep coming around to depressing concepts. It has shaped our course from the beginning of self awareness.

A self-aware creature knows its beginning and its end from almost any point in its existence. Not many know the full specific details, but endpoints are in view.

Very early, people must have learned that if they shared something that hurt them with someone who cared about them, the caring friend or family member often suffered mental anguish at least equal to that of the original sufferer. So someone who cares about his loved ones would try to avoid telling them about unpleasant things unless they needed to know.

Depressed subjects would soon learn that people who did not care about them didn't want to hear their blubbering.

"Get out of here, you're bringing me down," may have been one of the first phrases of organized language after "Look out!" and "Oh, gross, was that you?"

The depressed person might find a quiet place and begin to talk to no one. Before too long, he might discover that this helped a little.

While all this simple interpersonal stuff was going on, larger issues like Creation, Natural Disasters and Unequal Distribution of Wealth had given rise to gods. Since gods could be benevolent as well as wrathful, someone trying to keep his problems from becoming other people's problems could quickly decide his soliloquies were prayers to the God or gods. Feeling relieved after a session, the sufferer might return to the group and tell them in general, avoiding the depressing details of his own plight, how "prayer" had helped him. Like a new diet or popular psychology book, it would quickly become the rage. People would even gather in groups to do it, just as some of them had probably discovered that misery loves company and had gathered to weep over their woes already.

Telling a deity made it easier to say and to hear. The congregation could nod sympathetically and still walk out after the service feeling no more obligation to help than was convenient.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Amish 9-11

A suicide attacker came out of nowhere, struck at the heart of the community and killed innocent people.

The Amish forgave him.

The parallel occurred to me this morning as I watched the morning news, but it had apparently already occurred to others. Much as I hate to lose cool points for being first, it gives depth to the point of view.

The voices howling for vengeance in 2001 shouted down anyone who wanted to respond more thoughtfully and compassionately. That urge for vengeance and self protection is costing us dearly today, in money and lives. If you want to put this on a cash basis rather than a spiritual one, it still looks like a bad bargain. And as a spiritual move, in a country where it seems everyone wants to talk, talk, talk about their faith, it looks even worse.

Pick at the metaphor and it falls apart. No shadowy cabal has sworn to destroy the Amish with a coordinated campaign of terror attacks. But comparing one single tragic incident to another, who reacted with deeper character? The Amish didn't gather in a tearful group and sing, "God Bless the Amish." They thought of the attacker as well as themselves.

The Amish have maintained a separate world based on their beliefs. Most of us couldn't hack their lifestyle. It's too disciplined and idealistic. But once in a while you have to take an example from a group that lives a rigorously refined life and see if a bit of it can be applied in your own.

The Nobel Prize

When you win the Nobel Prize for your discipline, you know you're really dynamite.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Air Quality is Relative

Since the human race lacks the will to reduce the use of fossil fuels and other air pollutants, we must accept that poisonous foulness is being pumped into the atmosphere by the ton. But we don't have to put up with stinky foulness.

It should be easy to find flavoring agents -- that don't even have to be non-toxic -- to make bus exhaust smell like fresh-baked bread, snowmobile and chainsaw smoke smell like pizza, and dumptrucks smell like apple pie right out of the oven. That coal-fired power plant could smell like a fudge shop one day and an Asian restaurant the next. We'd still be sucking in sickening and deadly gases, but with our mouths watering. It would be like olfactory comfort food.

That's right! Don't solve the problem. It's too complicated and expensive. Just mask it! Let it kill us, but pleasantly. The project will create jobs for chemists and engineers, and for technicians to install and maintain it, so it's all good news for the economy. Write to Congress TODAY.

Your Vocabulary Builder

Anthropology: When the human race finally apologizes to all other life forms on the planet.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

This might explain a lot

This passage in the July issue of National Geographic Magazine suddenly made huge chunks of human social evolution fall into place.

In Karen Rosenberg's laboratory at the University of Delaware, a room packed with the casts of skulls and bones of chimpanzees, gibbons, and other primates, one model stands out: It's a life-size replica of a human female pelvic skeleton mounted on a platform. There is also a fetal skull with a flexible gooseneck wire. The idea is to simulate the human birth process by manually moving the fetal head through the pelvis.

It looks easy enough.

"Go ahead, try it," Rosenberg says.

Turn the little oval skull face-forward, and it drops neatly into the pelvic brim, the beginning of the birth canal. But then it jams against the protrusions of the ischial bones (those that bear the burden during a long car ride). More shoving and rotating, and it's quickly apparent that the skull must traverse a passage that seems smaller than itself, cramped not only by the ischial bones but also by the coccyx, the bottom of the tailbone, which pokes into the lower pelvic cavity. Only by maneuvering the skull to face sideways in the middle of the canal and then giving it a firm push, does it move a centimeter or two—before it gets hung up again. Twist it, jostle it: The thing won't budge. Rosenberg guides my hand to turn the skull around to face backward, and then, with a hard shove, the stubborn cranium finally exits the birth canal.

"Navigating the birth canal is probably the most gymnastic maneuver most of us will ever make in life," says Rosenberg, chair of the university's department of anthropology. It's a trick all right, especially if there's no guiding hand to twirl and ram the skull. And the neat two-piece model doesn't even include the broad, rigid shoulders of the human infant, a legacy from our apelike ancestors who, some 20 million years ago, evolved wide clavicles that allowed them to hang suspended from branches and feed on fruit. To follow the head, a baby's shoulders must also rotate two times to work through the birth canal; they sometimes get stuck, causing injury to part of the spinal nerves that control the arms.

Suddenly I understand as never before why it took 36 hours, two doctors, and three shifts of nurses to safely deliver my firstborn.

[Get the whole story in the pages of National Geographic magazine.
]

First it made me wonder whether my recurring nightmares about trying to work my head and shoulders through terrifyingly tight passages might refer back to that first passage through a tight, twisty passage into the unknown.

Second, it made me realize why men might try to give women less value. Why get attached to someone when it sounds like such a crap shoot they'll survive producing offspring? Go back before history and science, to the dawn of awareness and the formation of really ancestral values. Think of yourself feeling a strong attachment and then suffering loss after loss. The essential relationship of heterosexuality was booby-trapped by this huge risk. Do what comes naturally and what follows could be agonizingly tragic. You might try your best to hold yourself at a distance, not physically, but emotionally.

I don't know if it really developed that way, but it might. I don't say it excuses anything now that we know better, but it provides another angle from which to view it.

Time to Re-Tire?

Maybe AARP's periscope popping up beside me in the river of life isn't quite as pushy as someone coming up behind me and clipping me behind the knees with a wheelchair to make me sit in it, much as it seemed that way. They just need a new name. Like The League of Awesome Older People, or The Age and Treachery Society.

Creators, Users and the Downright Helpless

The baby is born helpless. It learns to use its parents to get what it wants.

The child learns to use its intellect and external devices in addition to its relationships with other people to get what it wants. But some of them stay back at the level of manipulating relationships almost exclusively to get other people to provide what they want.

Advanced tool users become creators. Not all advanced tool users make that transition. And not all creators will necessarily have advanced tool skills, but the most successful probably will.

Don't confuse imagination with creativity. A creation must actually exist, whereas an imaginitive person can think up endless elaborate notions that never find concrete expression.

Browsing on the Firefox website I was struck by the creativity of the software developers who work to bring forth reams of code we can take for granted.

The computer whiz I know best is a transitional creator. He's come up with some cool stuff, like the Javascript that makes snow fall on the Wolfeboro Cross-Country website whenever snow is falling in our area, but so far has not generated any tectonic change in the computer world. And he and I are both merely advanced tool users in the world of bike creation.

My bike guru in Florida sets the standard for creativity in that world. The company she co-owns down there, Victory Bicycles, creates replica Ordinary bikes, the old boneshaking high-wheelers, from scratch. Apparently, building modern steel frames was too much like paint-by-numbers for her. But she started as a baby, then a student, then a novice and intermediate tool user. Sure, she had an advantage growing up with her father's machine shop attached to the house, but she could have ignored that and followed another path. But she is just one among many, as a visit to The Bicycle Forest will show.

One might argue that artistic creativity is the easiest form. It does not need to fit into any functional, structured environment. It can exist for its own sake. Esoteric bicycles stand more as art. So does falling snow animated on a website. But each of those creations draws from a number of practical principles and meshes actively with the practical world.

Even the most helpless adult dependent on human relationships learns to use a few things, like the car or the cell phone. But more than once the rental manager at a ski touring center where I work would ask rhetorically, "Who dresses these people every morning? How did they manage to get here on their own?"

Experts at "people skills" can use those skills to wriggle through life's streets and alleys without ever creating anything or learning in detail how any device they use actually works. I'll bet most of them earn more money than I do, because every adult has a little bit of money and if you can talk a whole lot of them into parting with even a small fraction of it you can accumulate a tidy pile without really doing anything except socializing.

Someone needs to produce something somewhere up the line. But whatever is produced needs to make its way through the schmoozing process to gain a sizable following.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Drink More, Earn More?

In more recent sex-and-stimulant-related social science, A Study has shown that people who drink earn 10 to 14 percent more than people who don't.

Read further and you find out that the social drinkers earn more, not the people who go straight home and break out the Jack Daniels or sit in a corner in a dark bar and pickle their liver in gloomy solitude.

People who socialize tend to get further than people who don't. You could go to the bar with the social crowd and fail to make the inner circle. Would one more drink have made you suddenly bright, entertaining and accepted? If you are a geek, dork or nerd, you need to find a peer group with whom to network, or accept your lower financial status. If you're painfully shy or a crusty grouch, a lower pay check is probably a small price to pay for your privacy.

That being said, it's still a good excuse to hit the bars. Don't do it to dull the pain. Don't do it to duck your responsibilities. Don't do it to troll for easy sex. Do it for your career.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Democrat Sex

Another reason for Republicans' higher level of sexual satisfaction could stem from their conservatism. Democrats are notoriously horny, whereas Republicans are traditionally uptight. In fact, Republican research facilities are working on ways to make the male climax actually painful, so that the noble act of procreation will be as unpleasant as possible.

Actually I made that part up.

Satisfaction is not an absolute measurement. If you get less, but want less, less is enough. If you always want more, when do you have enough?

Ask Republicans when they think they're rich enough. Waaaa hahahahahaha!

Republicans More Satisfied with Their Sex Lives

According to a recent ABC news poll, Republicans are more satisfied with their sex lives than Democrats.

Of course they are. They're fucking all of us.

Damn, this is too easy.

Friday, September 22, 2006

What do you mean, "Life isn't fair?"

Life is generally remarkably fair, or at least impartial. It's humans that aren't fair. They hide behind some of life's unfortunate bad breaks to excuse their own injustices.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why the Bastards Have an Edge

Or: How One Greedhead Can Ruin a Bunch of People's Day


People who care about the effect they have on the environment and other people, even people who haven't been born yet, are automatically more sensitive than callous pricks who want what they want as soon as they can possibly get it.

It is much harder to prevent a mistake than to make one. Prevention gets even harder when interested parties can't wait to profit in some way from the mistake, and the mistakenness of the mistake is not immediately obvious. Most people would rather avoid the frustration and lengthy argument needed to prevent the mistake, preferring to let it happen and try to clean up afterwards. One could even argue that trying to prevent a mistake is a vain attempt to play God, and that the mistake and its consequences are either a) the real God's grand plan for humanity, b) the tough breaks of impersonal evolutionary forces or c) God's grand evolutionary forces. In any case, we are fools to try to divert it, since human history is mostly a long list of mistakes anyway.

Generally when we did something right it was by accident. We were usually trying to do something shortsighted and greedy when it blew up in our faces and led to something beneficial. Or we'll do something that seems beneficial, like cure syphilis or develop a birth control pill, only to have a seismic convulsion of unintended consequences. Even reducing infant mortality means more kids survive to devour resources, crank out excrement and eventually need jobs and housing.

With only a fraction of this in mind, sensitive types organize themselves into groups trying to advance the causes of environmental and social justice. Since this no longer involves pulling together an army and hacking away on an actual field of battle, the conflicts go on much longer, and the two sides remain numerically fairly even. But one determined selfish person can send several sensitive types to their hiding places or their therapists simply by going after his destructive goal with the relentlessness of aggressive cancer.

If you want to protect a peaceful environment, rural quiet, and places where you can spend a lot of time renewing your spirit and revitalizing your body, you can easily get drawn into such endless work that you never get to do any of those things. And you could lose the battle in the bargain. Small wonder that depression runs rampant among environmentalists.

Some people believe we are in the last days of Earth. Yet many of these same people have children. That seems so wrong in so many ways. But this is what we're up against, trying to promote a lifestyle that will last for generations when many people producing those generations don't think we'll be here for one more. Add their numbers to the people who think we aren't doing any damage and the ones who think we are, but don't care. It's a formidable bloc of ignorance, greed, hypocrisy and superstition. Those are all fine hobbies, but give the rest of us a break.

We'll keep arguing over it, for no better reason than that we might prevail before it's too late.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Just Beginning the Calculations

How much does it cost to exist? We have put a cash value on everything. How much does each breath cost you? No one has put the answer in a prominently visible place, assuming anyone has calculated it.

Just hacking together some numbers crudely estimated from quick research and accumulated experience, I figure adult existence in this country costs roughly three cents per minute. That includes a car payment on a 48-month note for $14000 at 4.9% interest, gas for that car, a median average rent of $500 a month, $60 a week for food, $80 a month for utilities (gas, electric, phone), and a paltry $250 a year for clothing.

This collection of figures dodges back and forth between a fairly comfortable life in a passable apartment, in a car that cost five figures, but does not include entertainment, health insurance, actual health care. The lump sums added up to $16,610. So $16,610 is your ante, the amount you plunk down just to be in the game. That's net. You really need to get paid more than that if you intend to declare it to the government and pay taxes on it.

You need to clear $8.30 per hour, working 40-hour weeks with two weeks of unpaid vacation each year to be a basically functioning element of society.

People get by on less, but they either have to draw from the money of others or find a place to hide out from the constantly-running taxi meter of modern life. Subsistence farming homesteaders might produce a lot of what they need from their land, directly drawing the resources rather than purchasing the raw materials, processed ingredients or finished products. Dumpster-diving urban hermits might exploit a resource-stream outside the direct commercial channels without laying claim to large acreage. You could say they are feeding off the commercial transactions of others, however, because they need to find processed or manufactured items.

Get rid of the car and you get rid of both the car payment and the fuel costs. But then you have to have alternative means of transportation, public or private. Your percentage of the cost of that needs to be charged against your existence account. You yourself may not be paying a huge amount for that commuter rail line or bus service, but someone is. Or if you own a bike you have costs that go with it. These go beyond purchase and maintenance to time you lose or gain by transporting yourself that way.

Every hour costs about $1.89. Realistically, it probably already costs you more. Every hour of every day for all the years of your relatively trouble-free life between the time you leave school at whatever level you leave it and the onset of the medical problems of advanced age, every hour costs you as much as a nice ballpoint pen. Say you get 30 good years. That's 262,800 ballpoint pens. Now you know what to ask for as graduation presents. But I'd suggest cash.

Monday, September 11, 2006

9-11-01+5

That day was warmer than this one, but pretty, with lots of sunshine. What a day for millions of people to face a brand new view of the world. A whole self-indulgent nation reeled at the belated realization that troubles in far parts of the globe could mean much more to them than fluctuating prices at the gas pump.

It was more unreal than any drug experience or any hangover the day after a drug experience. It was weirder than The Twilight Zone. We had to wonder not only what our attackers might have in mind next, but how the emotional reaction of the attacked nation might cause a violent sickness far more extensive than the loss of lives, buildings, and airplanes. Those were horribly bad enough. But the political and religious aspects of the attacks brought them out of the daily reality of living and dying and injected them with all sorts of energy from immense, immeasurable concepts.

The physical threat can't be measured the way an opposing nation in a conventional war can be measured. From very early in the response, the rhetoric of war and the desire to strike a counter-blow -- as if this had ever been a clean, simple, stand-up fight -- complicated what should, then and now, be conducted as a massive, international criminal investigation. And because the conflict involves ideas without borders, it also should be considered as a group therapy session of unprecedented magnitude.

No one was ready to listen to such a measured response back then. Maybe more people are now. Let's hope, because we have enough other problems to sort out rather urgently as well. Even if you accept that the present conflict might well reduce the human population to a level which will reduce our environmental impact to sustainable levels, do you really want to let that option play out?

I hoped, decades ago as I came into adulthood, that we could just ease off the throttle a little and let humanity settle gently into those sustainable rhythms. Apparently, not many people agreed with me. So here we are. We still might do it. It still sounds better to me. But either way, problem solved.

Feelings are more important than things. Things or the lack of them can produce feelings, but the reaction, the feelings, the ideas, the philosophies are what get people to act. One deprived, disenchanted person might simply try working harder or longer, or moving to a new place. Another will join the revolution or the jihad. The mere description of their original circumstances might sound substantially identical. Their interpretation guides them into different actions. Unfortunately, our industrial approach to war-making has given a lot more leverage to those who would act destructively. They need not be in the majority. The negotiator is in the room with the bomber and the hostages.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Hope in Africa

Check out this blog from a young woman working in Africa. She used to ride with the local mountain biking group and raced on the nordic ski team at St. Lawrence University. One adventure at a time she has moved beyond sport.

They keep telling us this...

I'll do a finished version of this, but I wanted to get it out there while it's still fresh.
"How did you track down Bin Laden's number two?"
"Just followed the flies, sir."

Al Quaeda's number one just keeps evaporating before we get there. Posted by Picasa

Double Jeopardy

"I'll take 'Things that Leak' for $1500, Alex"

"Very well. The clue: One of these stinks up your driveway and the other floods your basement."

"What are the gas tank on my wife's car, and the hot water heater?"

"Very good. You owe $1500. Select again."

"I guess I'll skip 'Prostate Exam.'"

Monday, September 04, 2006

Marmota Monax in the Toolshed

We have a groundhog in the toolshed. Actually, it lives under the toolshed, whence it ventures forth to plunder our pitiful garden.

As a manly male, I have formuated plans for its destruction. These range from shooting it as it scurries for cover like flying, fur-covered Jello (trust me, you'd know what I mean if you'd ever seen a groundhog run) to napalming it in its burrow. I was encouraged in this bloodthirstiness by my wife, who is the chief gardener. She feels the loss of her tender charges very keenly. Indeed, she howled for the marmot's blood sooner and louder than I did.

By the time I had launched a few half-hearted BB barrages at the beast, Laurie had developed a softer attitude. She'd complain bitterly at every raid on the lettuce, but stop me from going out to meet the foe on the field of battle.

We're going to try appeasement.

In an attempt to bribe the crop raider, Laurie has started to feed it. Tender bits like broccoli leaves and carrot tops, which would have gone into the slimy compost bucket and then into the mixed morass of the compost pile itself are now laid out beside some rabbit chow we bought during the brief residence of a rescued squirrel who has since moved on to a private campus tailored to meet its needs.

The woodchuck accepts our offerings. The little bastard is actually cute. Since we no longer have any garden plants to protect, we don't know if the payola would really shortstop the vandalism. And if we continue to buy special food for a garden pest, that must be charged to the garden account, increasing the cost of whatever produce we enjoy. If, on the other hand, we can lay scraps in its path to stop it from coming into the garden at all, and those scraps are things we would discard anyway, we will have achieved a balance of power, a sustainable peace.

If it doesn't work, he'll be good and fat for the table.

Actual Brain Lint

What do you find in a manic-depressive's photo album?

Bipolaroids.

What's half of 69?

Lonely.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Retiremart

I hit fifty and bingo, I got an invitation to join AARP.

It's creepy how AARP is turning retirement into a monopoly. Get the hell away from me. I have hopes and plans I'm still pursuing. There's not half this much help launching a career as ending it.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Go Team Go

A news item this morning on ABC reported that Republicans have more offspring than Democrats. This proves that anyone smart enough to realize the need for population control is destined to die out.

The report did not say how the two groups compare when it comes to adopting the excess offspring of more fertile groups. I know a number of Democrats who have not produced children from their own bodies, but have collected children who needed parents.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Another Dang Squirrel

Driving out to the store tonight just to pick up a few quick items, Laurie and I saw a squirrel hopping a bit uncertainly up the middle of the road just a couple of minutes from our house. When I realized it was a young one, I could not resist interfering with the cruel sorting of nature. It's one thing when a hungry owl swoops down on the unsuspecting young rodent, but quite another when it simply gets turned into a squirrel flapjack by a passing car. It seems crueler and more wasteful, even though some scavenger will no doubt make off with the carcass before morning.

But it's a ba-beeee.


I jammed the car in park, punched the emergency flashers and jumped out after an oncoming car passed.

At first I intended to carry the squirrel into the woods on one side or the other, but I had no idea which way it had been headed. It had appeared to have no firm idea either. Meanwhile, it crawled up toward my chest and clung there, burrowing its little head into my shirt.

Awwwwwww! Quit that, you little bastard.

Too late. We ran it home and stuffed it into a cat carrier, with a little bowl of water and another bowl of dry oatmeal. It's old enough to be weaned, though it acted as though it might still be getting to nurse as well.

We'll try tomorrow to find an official state-licensed squirrel nurse.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A Sick Wallow in Unalterable Tragedy

More 911 tapes from September 11, 2001 have been released. How soon will we be able to download them to our iPods? I mean if you want to listen to the last despairing moments of a bunch of human lives, why not have it to play over and over in your car, your home, or while jogging in the park?

What's the point of releasing these tapes? What good purpose does it serve except to sadden us? We know how it turned out. Let it go.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Macaque

Have you noticed that Democrats usually make themselves look stupid trying to include people and fit in with them, like John Kerry trying to show that he's a NASCAR-loving hunter, while Republicans usually make themselves look stupid putting people down, like President Bush insulting the blind guy for wearing sunglasses at a press conference, or Senator George Allen of Virginia repeatedly addressing a person he took to be a foreigner by using an obscure racial slur. Those stupid Democrats, always trying to include and unite. Any fool knows it's all about celebrating our diversity by building up our divisions.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Back in the !@#$%^&* Real World

Hard to believe cartoon camp was just a week ago. I took Monday and Tuesday off as usual at the beginning of this week, because I knew I had a hard travel schedule coming up next weekend. During that time I did a little tidying in my studio and a lot of doodling, but then I was back at work in the accelerating panic that leads up to the local triathlon. The Mount Washington Hill Climb and a half-iron-man triathlon also fall on that weekend. I would never plan to take it off, but a family member scheduled a signficant personal event in a distant location.

Wolfeboro is like Walt Disney World without all the pesky rules. We who work there give each other knowing nods as we meet in the coffee shop, the grocery store or on the street. We thread quickly through the tourist crowds, laying down exact change for our coffee or lunch whenever possible. Get in, get out, get back to work. No need to stand in line if you know the system. It isn't quite as good as a set of underground tunnels, but it's better than nothing.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Typical August Day

When summer's in full swing I can look out the shop windows at any moment and see bikes that cost as much as my annual health insurance premiums and cars that cost more than my house.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Terror Level: Mango

Forget the fear of disaster in the air. Add three hours before the flight just to clear airport security plus the duration of your flight and waiting in the baggage claim area and it may be quicker to drive to your destination. And you can carry whatever liquids you want in your car.

Oh Yeah, That's News

"Coming up after these commercial messages, more coverage of thousands of people standing in endless lines at airports."

Behind the Scenes at Terrorist HQ

"My sheik, we have created an absolutely undetectable explosive substance."

"This is truly wonderful. Show me."

"Certainly. It's right here. Wait a minute. It was right here. I set it down on this table. I -- I -- can't detect it."

Monday, August 07, 2006

What I Did at Cartoon Camp

As a purist I should produce this post as a graphic novel or a series of gag cartoons. But that would take too long.

A cartoonist from Alaska, a cartoonist from California, a cartoonist from Canada and a cartoonist from New Hampshire walk into a bar...

The first night, before I had met anyone, I carried my luggage and my load of insecurities into my room at the Hotel Coolidge. I scratched and fidgeted on the bed, caffeine and anticipation pushing away sleep. What lay ahead could be good or bad, but either way it would be the culmination of more than four decades of deferred gratification and cherished self-image. All my arm and leg hairs seemed animated to annoy me.

I'd left my bike in the car with the assurance of Robyn, on the front desk, that bike security wasn't an issue in downtown White River Junction. But then, around midnight, a sound like smashing auto glass echoed up from the parking lot below my windows. Perhaps the temptation of my Cross Check lying helplessly in the back of my station wagon had overwhelmed the scruples of some weak-willed citizen. I jumped up from the bed to look out.

The parking lot lay in placid silence. Every car was fine. I saw no reason for the noise.

Back in bed I finally began to relax. The buzzing in my head faded into the kind of restless dreams that plague the night before any big event. Half asleep was better than no sleep at all. I let the surrealistic images flow.

Then the spider dropped on me. I felt it land near the center of my shirtless chest and crawl to my left. I brushed across and upward to launch it away from me, and reached up for the lamp.

The spider was expiring in a crumpled little heap on the next pillow. It had been your basic stripy house spider. I felt bad for killing it, but it did ambush me.

Lights out. Back to scratching and fidgeting, as every tickle of body hair seemed to be another invader.

And then it was morning. The alarm clock on my cell phone went off with a cheery chirp. I peeled myself off the sheets and lurched into the bathroom, where I'd left the last of my travel coffee. Shooting these dregs into my gullet started the first few sparks of brain activity so I could shower and dress to go find more, lots more.

Downtown White River Junction has been conveniently and quite closely bypassed by the main roads, so people don't seem to drive through there on the way somewhere else. It has a timeless quality because of that. Cars did drive down the main street and fill much of the on-street parking, but it was not the continuous pedestrian-grinding conveyor belt of canned humanity you find on the major thoroughfares of most cities and towns.

Coffee and baked goods awaited just a couple of doors down, at The Baker's Studio. At home I only have to crawl 38 feet to the coffee pot. Walking 150 yards from my room to the bakery helped me work on my endurance. Must...reach...finish...line...

Robyn from the front desk at the hotel waited at the front desk of the Center for Cartoon Studies to check me in there. She is actually an accomplished graphic novelist and cartoonist and sort of a graduate student/teaching assistant at the CCS. The Center is such a novel concept that traditional roles seem a little hard to assign. Robyn at times seemed like a magical creature that would appear with whatever was needed.

Inside the classroom, Harry Bliss and James Sturm stood near the door as students straggled in and found seats at the four large tables. James is the school's director. Harry is a highly successful cartoonist.

What's a highly successful cartoonist? One who no longer works as a waiter. A merely successful cartoonist might still have a pull a few shifts at the restaurant, or sell computers or printing presses, or teach art. Harry's website lists 16 New Yorker covers. To sell one cover is a pinnacle for a cartoon artist. Sixteen? We can probably learn something here.

I was fully prepared to be talked down to, and totally ready to accept it. So fantastic surprise number one was the egalitarian nature of the brainstorming and exchange of information. The class immediately turned into a bunch of people who spoke much of the same language, some more fluently than others.

Over beers later on, one of the students remarked that he had never met another cartoonist before this, let alone been in a room full of them. We are accustomed to being outcasts, or at least rare. How do you explain the staggering number of unsolicited submissions that inundate the major markets daily? We each feel so alone, and yet we are replicated and scattered across the face of the Earth, all scribbling in our sketch books and sending little packets of hope to be dashed on the harsh reefs of editors' desks.

One of the students was a psychiatrist. She insisted she could separate her roles and not view the rest of us clinically, but I'd still like to see her notebook.

It soon became apparent that the class was not competitive and had no stars. What it had was a bunch of artists or writers who each had strong abilities and areas to build up.

For our first exercise, each table had to brainstorm as a group for a couple of minutes to come up with ideas to illustrate a premise we had been handed on a slip of paper. Then the group would assign one person to create a drawing in two minutes. Harry would have to guess what the starting premise had been by looking at the drawing. I was blown away when Harry and James said I nailed the composition in my drawing of "nuns in a barroom brawl." But lest I think the rivers were all going to flow my way from now on, mine dried right up in some later exercises. But balancing the good with the not-so-good, I came away feeling pretty damn good. Maybe I can do this after all.

I've said before that teachers of creative subjects might be reluctant to dump on anyone so hard that they decide to quit putting tuition money into the lost cause, but I didn't feel cynically misled. So either the whole thing was on the level or they need to introduce an acting curriculum along with the cartooning, because, damn, they're good.

Jamie from Alaska kept me from following my usual tendency to run and hide. On the night of the first day of class he cajoled me into a late beer and a flip through his portfolio. I had carefully thrown together a small folder of my recent favorites to bring to the school, and then left them behind on the floor of my office. I showed him what I had, and got a couple of good laughs. That's all we ask, good laughs. Jamie's stuff was stylistically self-assured. He decided what he wanted and kept after it from a much younger age than I did.

Harry works in a classic artistic style. I thought of it as "unplugged." While most of the other cartoonists went on enthusiastically about Photoshop, Harry produced his effects right in front of us, with washes over line drawings and graphite shading. This is not to say that he doesn't know or can't use electronic techniques. He just learned the old way and is very comfortable with it. I'm eight years older than he is, and lived nomadically for many years. I like simple media that don't need to be plugged in.

Many of the students drew constantly. The most visually oriented were drawing fairly fully-realized sketches. I could understand them embracing electronic image manipulation the way I embraced electronic editing and revision. Because I pursued writing professionally and drawing as a sideline, I did not run along with the leading edge of imaging technology, but I'll kill anyone who tries to take away my computer as a writing tool.

The evening of Day Two we were technically on deadline to have a finished gag cartoon by 10 the next morning. So four of us decided to hike over to the next state to a brew pub to either increase the octane of our creative juices or kill enough brain cells to make our ideas seem funny enough to spend the ink on.

The walk was longer than we anticipated. By the time we figured that out, we had gone so far that we would lose even more pub time by hiking back for a car. And someone wisely pointed out that we might not want to drive on the way back anyway.

We did a good job cracking each other up. And our waitress had a boob tattoo of Chinese characters. I think it was Geoff the Canadian who finally asked her what it said.

"It means 'high spirits,'" she said.

After she left we came up with alternate translations. The one Geoff finally used for his cartoon was "It means 'sexual harassment.'" We'd also tried "It means 'my eyes are up here, buddy.'"

On the last day, Harry had left. Our instructor was Karen Sneider, another working professional. She observed that she's "kind of the Antiharry" when it comes to drawing technique. She works a lot in photoshop, though not as much as one cartoonist both she and Harry invoked, who does it all in the computer and never puts out anything on paper.

Everyone agreed that the prime objective is a good cartoon. How you get there is your own business. There are many tools.

When the class finally ended, each person demonstrated their style of leave-taking. Some obviously subscribe to the "rip-off-the-Band-Aid" school, while others have trouble jetting away from a great experience. I hung out for a while before drifting slowly out into the summer afternoon. After a leisurely trip through the Coolige Cards convenience store for travel coffee and a chunk of chocolate, I found Geoff the Canadian still around the Hotel Coolidge parking lot. We had one last chat before parting to return to our former lives. We wished each other well. Then it was time to go.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Night Journey

White River Junction, VT -- We're here at the Hotel Coolidge the night before the start of the Gag Cartooning Workshop at the Center for Cartoon Studies to prove we're serious about being funny.

This trip is a complete departure from my rut. Expecting always to be told, "don't quit your day job," I let myself get bricked into it. But doing that prevents a person from finding out if their lack of illusions is really an illusion in itself. Am I deluding myself that I don't have talent? Sometimes you just have to show them yours and look at theirs and see how they measure up to each other. There's no getting away from it. The other choice is to turn into the shadows with your gray collar up and merge with obscurity.

Starting on country roads I watched the last dusk fade from the sky. For much of the time I was alone, so I could drive slowly enough to catch the pewter sheen of a stream in the woods and hear the noise of insects buzzing and chirping in the sultry air. The heavy nights of high summer are as valuable as the hard, glittering nights of January.

On the empty back roads I dodged frogs that hopped out from the roadside grasses on adventures of their own. Further on, in Meredith, I dodged tourists that hopped out from the sidewalks to cross the busy street without regard for crosswalks.

The straightest route still took me twisting through forest, field and village with little sense of haste. Other drivers were few, and most managed to split off and leave me in peace.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Ayatollah Mel

Mel Gibson is clearly in the grips of personal turmoil and bigotry. Are his drunken rants relevant to the offense of drunken driving with which he is charged? No. Did the LA Sheriff's Depratment show leniency toward him by suppressing them? Not really.

The sheriff's department is charged with keeping the peace. Would broadcasting irrelevant hate speech by a public figure make their neighborhood more peaceful or less peaceful? I'm guessing the remarks would stimulate unnecessary controversy. So why get into it?

At some point Mel has to face up to his prejudices and acknowledge them publicly if he can't bring himself to get over them. But it's not the job of the sheriff's department to borrow trouble by relaying his unfortunate sentiments in the context of an investigation in which they really play no part. If Mel had gotten juiced and run his car into a crowd outside a synagogue while shrieking his slurs they would reasonably have a place in the public record. And if some Bozo no one ever heard of mouthed off with racist bullshit at a traffic stop no one would care at all.

Human Life is Sacred

Meanwhile, Israeli forces recently performed about 20 very late-term abortions by dropping a large bomb on a house in Qana, Lebanon, apparently with the support and approval of the "pro-life" Bush administration.

Women and children had sought shelter in what they hoped was a strong building during Israeli air strikes. It was not strong enough.

People whose children have been blown to a bloody pulp won't appreciate nuances of diplomacy. They might even develop hostile feelings toward the country that bombed them and that country's big ally already facing image problems in the region.

Good thing those weren't fetuses hiding in that basement.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Cat Litter

I really didn't mean to leave the last post as my front page for so long. I've just been too busy to shovel dirt over it.

I have to get to work now, but here's an interesting video of some people defying gravity.

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=515642196227308929

It looks like fun.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Back and Forth

So I link to this guy Ze Frank, because he seems like a thinking man with an engaging style of delivery. He might scare or offend some viewers, but he has a whole hell of a lot more editorial position than South Park and somewhat cleaner language. The next morning I sober up and decide to pull the link. Later that day I watch his video blog again and decide he's pretty damn smart and worth watching. So I put the link back with a revised post. That day's show was way below his usual standard, so I pull the link again. But today he seemed back in acerbic form. So the hell with it. The link is up again.

Monday, July 17, 2006

What Ever Happened to the Real World?

Seems like only a handful of years ago there was still a real world. Now it's all electronic. Inside this computer are all the thoughts and fantasies of millions of people who no longer go outside except to get into their cars. Even the ones who claim to be doing things outside soon get back to their computers to share their account of it with the world.

The weather is to blame. It's too hot and humid or it's too rainy or it's too cold and damp, or, increasingly rarely, really cold and icy. Screw it. Indoors we have air conditoning or heat, humidity control, a bathroom, a kitchen and electronic windows on a vast world more interesting than anything we could flop into through our own actual front doors.

And we have work to do. The future belongs to those who can manipulate ideas. Before long no one will actually have to make anything. You'll score all your points by demonstrating how your idea could be done. If you don't win the prize for elegant simplicity or utmost economy or artistic embellishment you could still come out on top just because you made people laugh.

Real things happen in other parts of the world. Real people walk real dusty roads. Real angry people shoot at each other over real old arguments that seem real important to them. Real backward nations make real strides forward to attain the level of unreality currently enjoyed in the developed world.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

All That Money Wasted on a College Education...

I could have started a dog poop scooping business for people with too much disposable income to take care of their own disposal problems.

I like the scare tactic used in the article:

The Humane Society says that 40 percent of all households have at least one pooping pooch, each of which answers nature’s call outside 14 times a week. Do that math, and you realize that backyards, parks and grassy medians would be simply awash in excrement if it weren’t for someone picking up the presents.

We need a Global War on Dog Crap! We need an Agency! A cabinet post! Global warming isn't half the problem global worming is.

When I shared quarters with three or four dogs, two or three of which were very large (we had occasional large boarders, but only one small resident dog), I discovered that the little spade that made up half of our poop-scooping apparatus could be used to hit chip shots over the backyard fence. What had been a chore became a sport. With three property lines to choose from, I could spread the barrage.

One neighboring home was owned by a couple of men who never seemed to use their back yard. They seldom mowed. But that could present a difficult lie if most of the dogs' output was up at the other end of the yard. At best it was a par 2. But dog bombs don't hold together as well as real golf balls. It was best to make it in a single shot.

The neighbors on the other side had kids, so I didn't send anything their way. They had enough problems.

The neighbor over the back line had a Yorkshire terrier. I wondered how he might have reacted to the Russian Wolfhound products landing out of the blue. I couldn't ask, of course.

I was always meant to live at the edge of civilization, if not farther out than that. No one scoops after the bear, moose, deer, raccoons, foxes, groundhogs, squirrels, coyotes, bobcats, feral cats, rabbits and all the other little poopers out there in the woods. In a way, this symbolizes the frontier spirit. Keep moving on to where you don't have to worry about where your dog dumps.

If only I'd thought entremanurially about it, I might never have left the cocoon of city life.

One for the List

According to an item on Fark.com, Myspace.com is now the most visited site on the internet. Good to know that in advance, so I won't ever go there.

I've never been in a Wal-Mart. I've never been on alpine skis. I've never been to Myspace.

Of course there are plenty of places I've been and things I've done that I should have skipped, but that's a different list entirely, longer and more smudged with various dark substances.

The list of really cool places and activities I haven't gotten to yet is the longest of all. The world being the banquet of enticements that it is, I would expect that list to remain long. There's all that important sloth and daydreaming -- I mean creative brainstorming -- to get done.

Heavily Armed Forces Approaching

I had just finished writing a rubber check to send to the health insurance company and was about to send it by bicycle courier to the post office when heavy detonations vibrated the house.

The TV meteorologist had told us earlier this morning to expect a line of severe thunderstorms with almost continuous lightning. The first line would come through during the morning, followed by another one on the actual cold front this afternoon.

This lot was just moving out of Vermont about an hour and a half ago. You couldn't drive the distance as fast as it has flown. But it isn't here yet. I've been listening to it for almost half an hour now. It's big. According to the radar it should slam my house within minutes.

Time to disconnect everything and hang out under a doorframe in the center of the house. Blam! Blam! Louder, closer.

I can send the courier out on the fixed gear after the line rolls through.

Monday, July 10, 2006

It's a Trait. It's a Commodity. It's Both!

Some time in the late 1980s (near as I can figure) self esteem ceased to be something you derived from actual accomplishments and became instead one of the avenues to those accomplishments. That's right, folks, make your child feel good about himself or herself, and great things will naturally follow.

I know highly accomplished people who are miserable and some complete wankers who can't seem to deflate their chests. But just do a quick web search for self esteem training and you will find page after page of links to organizations that will perk up your child's self image and open the pathway to a lifetime of happy exellence.

First question that pops into my mind is what if you don't achieve the advertised result in the time allotted? How does the hapless child feel, having flunked self esteem class?

The United States apparently leads the world in happiness training. Professor Martin Seligman of the University of Pennsylvania has been hired to lead a program for British schoolcildren. Apparently no one in the UK or nearby Europe is qualified. So much for the benefits of socialized medicine and weeks of paid vacation every year. Or maybe Seligman simply offered the lowest bid.

Any students who don't do well can chalk it up to the language barrier.

I suppose the fundamental concept is that if you respect yourself you find it easier to identify with and respect others. You're less likely to go along with groups advocating destructive behavior or to lash out individually in your own frustration. It sounds good. Give it a shot.

Art Happens

http://www.neatorama.com/2006/06/27/scott-wades-dust-art/

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Speaking of Alternative Transportation

Does flying make Superman get all sweaty and stinky? You never see him get all sweaty and stinky.

The big drawback to human powered transportation is our exposure to the elements and the byproducts of our own exertion. We get rained on, and we get all sweaty and stinky. People who can ride short distances without serious hills can avoid getting too nasty. And some employers provide some sort of facilities for protected parking, and even shower and locker facilities. Or the rider might work in a place where being sweaty and stinky isn't as much of a liability.

Superman could definitely commute by air. It doesn't seem to tax him much.

So Much for Perspective

We have our personal interests to keep us amused. The other night we taste-tested a couple of different forms of martini and then tried to teach one of the cats to sit on command, using bits of expensive salmon from our dinner plates. When she realized what we were up to, our early success evaporated.

If you're going down anyway, you might as well have a good meal. And enjoy a little good string quartet music until the deck tilts too steeply for them to play.

The human condition is a human problem. And being human I can't resist picking and prodding at it. Can we be turned from a cancer on the Earth into a benign and amusing condition? Can we stop being our own worst enemy?

Having bet no one's life on it myself, I can view it with detachment, but still I want to imagine a better future. So I do.

Off to work. If I were a school janitor I would probably make more money and have benefits. But then who would fix the janitor's bicycle? And the janitor needs his bike.

Just trying to make myself useful. Between alternative transportation and environmental protection I have a full schedule of doomed and poorly compensated endeavors that obstruct wealth creation.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Well that's enough shouting into a burlap sack for one day.

We're really just here to try to find something useful to do while we wait to see what form of death will claim us.

Have a nice day!!

Is it just me, or is it dark in here?

Nothing really matters. It only matters to you. And who are you? The human condition is a human problem. No humans, no problem.

Anaesthetize yourself with possessions and sensations. Good for you. Increase dosage as needed for the relief of awareness. If your life is good, you have increased the overall goodness coefficient of all humanity. One fabulously well-off person raises everybody's average, even that of the guy starving to death at the gates of the compound. If that wall weren't there, the poor bastard would have nothing to lean against. He'd be lying on the ground. So there.

Don't tax the rich. I might be one some day, and I'll want all the coin I can keep to make up for the years of deprivation getting there. That and to pay for my prescription drugs.

Shouting into the sack again. Be a pal and pour some ether on the outside of it, would you? I'll be better after a nap.