Friday, March 31, 2006

9-11 911

I don't know about you, but I don't want to hear the anguished cries of doomed victims in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. We all know how it ended. It does not bring healing and closure. It's a sick form of voyeurism that serves no purpose whatsoever.

Thanks for sharing.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

If at first you don't succeed, count your blessings and run like hell.

Well, I didn't get elected to the planning board.

According to a show on New Hampshire Public Radio today, there are two kinds of people on planning boards in New Hampshire right now: those who want to stop all development and those who want to permit all development.

That's a gross oversimplification, of course, but planning drives people to opposite extremes the way all disputes seem to, these days. The pro-development side complains that any efforts to restrain development and make it more deliberate and thoughtful violate landowners' rights and confiscate their land without just compensation. The ever-hungry land pimps are happy to help drive property values higher and higher, aided by the fertile populace. The more people there are, the more you can charge each of them for a place to stand.

If I had any selfish sense I would wash my hands of the whole thing. But I've lived in enough places to know that I will simply be walking into a worse place or waiting for the problems to follow me to a better one if I cut and run from here. I want to stay here and continue the efforts I have helped to start. I hope I am allowed to do that. The really important things do take precedence over pleasure on demand, and the entirely personal pursuit of happiness.

It is equally, if not more, foolish to give up all personal pleasure for some Great Cause. But you have to do what you can, when you can.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Election Night

The polls have closed. I keep expecting a phone call to tell me how much I lost by or, more frighteningly, that I won.

I am not a politician. My opponent definitely is. I always wish when I see someone with good people skills that they would use their powers for good. And who's to say that once he's finished shepherding his own pet development project through the permitting process that he won't turn around and be the very model of environmental concern.

I admire his smoothness, his affability. I'm more the power-behind-the-throne type, the shadowy advisor, the research geek, the mechanic who figures out how things work. Those are the qualities that will help in the routine crank-turning of the planning board. But it's an elected position.

In my limited experience so far, state statutes seem a lot like what the bike industry dumps on us every year. A lot of it seems needlessly complex and all of it arrives with only the vaguest instructions how to operate and fix it. So, year after year, I have to figure out what has changed, how it has changed and what might accidentally have been left alone.

Towns are left to decide for themselves how to interpret the outline of municipal functioning. Want to allow cheek-by-jowl McMansions? It's your call. Invite every scabby retail giant from here to China? You have to live there.

You can ignore this if you like. The problem is that democracies don't run themselves. Leave it to the people who desperately want to be in charge and you deserve what you get.

I would be good precisely because I don't want the job.

Well, if I didn't make it there's always next year.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Spin vs. Substance

I love watching C-Span. It's especially illuminating during an event like a Presidential press conference, or the State of the Union Address, when I can compare the no-frills sound and picture coverage of C-Span with the emotionally-weighted productions of the commercial networks. The drumbeats, the music, the dramatic voices of the commentators, even the commercial interruptions put filters over the actual information and interfere with the viewer's ability to analyze it clearly. Then the propagandists of both parties jump right in to tell people what the leadership of each party wants the information to mean.

During any evening I can see a lot of political theater. Nothing is unscripted anymore, but at least it isn't over-produced in the course of a day's worth of mixed political discourse.

I don't know when any of these people discuss the real substance of any issue. No politician can waste an opportunity to jab at the other party. All the while bitching about divisiveness and partisanship, each party blames the other for fostering it.

Wouldn't it be refreshing if they admitted they gave up on the American people as a whole a long time ago?

A purely partisan vision for the country, if it allows for the existence of another party at all, wants it to remain permanently inferior and submissive.

Back when the founders of the nation were trying to decide such fundamental questions as whether the country should have a strong central government or be a loose confederation of powerful smaller states, party divisions were inevitable. Later, when the nation grappled with whether they would allow chattel ownership of human beings to continue in the so-called land of the free, party divisions were inevitable. But as the country grew and developed, and as the world developed around it, the black and white areas have overlapped more and more so that reducing it all to a single yes-no decision every certain number of years does not really address the mechanical needs of running a big, modern country.

That's not to say that big, black and white decisions have not come up and do not come up. Most of the time,when they do, the choice is obvious. Oppose Hitler. Resist totalitarianism in its various guises. Oppose terrorism. Sure. And smaller black and white choices call for our attention in our personal and political lives. But in crafting a party ideology suitable for a divided nation to choose between two alternatives in a short election, the important issues end up held hostage, bound firmly to issues of personal conscience important to their adherents, but not relevant to the greater need for a smoothly operating nation.

No political party should own a solution to a national problem. We should all own it. We should all have input. No party should win or lose on it, because then team spirit will overtake national and human interest, and the party deemed the loser will have a natural competitive urge to undermine the solution so it can implement one of its own. It may be the same solution relabeled, but the delay and the obfuscation will simply reinforce the perception that one sub-group knows better than another about situations that affect us all.

I'm really afraid that our love of taking sides will lead to more and more fragmentary solutions. Fragmentation can be good, if it finally breaks us down to the level of isolated, self-interested individuals making carefully-reasoned decisions. But that sort of idealized libertarianism is highly unlikely. The principle of safety in numbers will keep small groups hanging together, pushing their parochial interests and looking for allies to push a little of their agenda here, a little there. That's largely what we have now. We can't even agree on basic human rights and how to divvy up the national paycheck to pay the national bills.

We should be discussing issues as issues not as platform planks. I don't care who comes up with a solution if it works.

Maybe we'll get around to progressing after another century or two defining the problem.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Environmental Inactivism

For the natural mechanisms of the world to work, large areas of the world need to be left alone. That means we shouldn't build out every square inch that looks available.

This wisdom either falls on deaf ears or sparks acrimonious debate over whether you might be "on the side of humans or on the side of animals and trees." Yes. It's about taking sides and fighting. That's the automatic human analysis of most situations.

One winter day in 1986 I was riding in a car, coming out of Shenandoah National Park after a weekend backpacking trip. With snow on the mountains and a good view down the valley with the leaves off, I was suddenly very aware of the shape of the land. All the actions that had shaped it looked obvious and immediate. At that moment I went on geological time. I'm afraid I've been there ever since.

The switch to geological time has not improved my already lackluster performance in pursuit of human success, but I contend the problem is in the definition of success.

We can mess up the climate. We can foul the air and water. We can create such a poisonous, disease-ridden environment that we sicken most or all of the higher life forms on the planet. That's our right, and apparently our intention. But when it's over, geology goes on. The mountains we reshaped to gouge the coal out from beneath them, the rivers we dammed, the wetlands we drained will simply reform as the impersonal forces of gravity and weather compel them to.

A few more years or a few more centuries of self-induced, squalid human suffering won't make a difference in the long run.

Some would say this releases us to pursue our individual and collective greed without limit, because the rock is everlasting. I prefer to say that each person's individual span is such a nanosecond in geological time that we should show more concern for how each of us gets to spend that brief flicker and, in doing so, accidentally create a more sustainable pace compatible with the placid rocks.

But those are just my sediments.

Compact Cars vs. SUVs

If legislative or market forces don't curb the size of personal vehicles lumbering down the road, drivers who choose small cars will remain at serious risk. If our lawmakers are unwilling to address the various negative consequences of rampant SUV use, they can at least promote the beloved Second Amendment by arming small vehicles with sufficient firepower to be able to blast their way out of an impending collision. On-board automated weaponry would be restricted to vehicles below a certain gross weight to assure that owners of mammoth vehicles didn't pile on more advantages.

You guys work out the details. I'm just the visionary.

I Would Drive One

I'm over sporty cars. Now I just want something to drive in the winter or to carry the kayak to distant waters. So why can't we get this little ray of Sunshine (or something like it) here in the US of A?

I'd have to check the sport rack companies' fit charts before making a final decision, but for five grand I would have no reservations about drilling right into the roof, either.

A Thought on Evolution

Humans evolved unconsciously for a long time, but as soon as they developed language and oral history, rudimentary government and the ability to argue, natural evolution ceased. That meant it ended long before Darwin ever noticed it had existed. In fact, it ended long before Creationism was invented. The rules that were supposedly handed down by God were devised by people who had been shaping their own course already for thousands of years.

You could say that by the time we started getting serious about keeping track of God's word we had long since decided to defy it.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Doughboy with Tachycardia

I haven't even really started it yet, but my political life is wrecking my health.

Forgive me, for I have sinned. It has been four days since my last aerobic exercise. Hell, it's been four days since my last exercise of any kind.

Last night I went to a zoning board meeting. Zoning bored was what I used to do instead of paying attention in school. That helped bring me to my current sorry state. I could console myself that great geniuses like Einstein got mediocre grades,* as long as I did not acknowledge that the great geniuses with lousy grade point averages didn't usually devote their private reading time to the sort of sensational crap I did.

Zoning bored at the meeting meant that I wasn't virtuously pumping iron or fake-skiing on the Nordic Trudge.

Tonight it's a planning board meeting.

They call them town boreds because of the way people's eyes glaze when you try to get them interested in the complex problem of creating a policy that will serve the best interests of the people, if not please them.

Meanwhile, with no chance to get out for recess or phys ed, I've simply been drinking too much coffee. The family fat gene is all too happy to turn minor excesses into a smooth carpet of flab.

* Apparently we also now acknowledge that Einstein did really well in many subjects and they in turn did really well for him.

Feel the Fear, but Go Forward

I finally let myself get talked into becoming involved in town government. I'm running for the Planning Board with the slogan, "Vote for 'cafiend' for Planning Board 3-year seat. Honesty. Integrity. He has no plans of his own."

I've been an environmental inactivist for years. Human ambition is the most damaging force on the planet. Greed denies the value of the balance of nature. It demands retribution eventually, because a system out of balance will vibrate to destruction, as we see happening now. We can improve the quality of life in ways that matter. We can find benign uses for technology. We cannot keep living on credit, clawing the guts out of the Earth and calling it "wealth creation." We cannot keep profiting by the fact that there are more people who need houses than places to put those homes. The swelling ranks of the dispossessed will not remain placidly hopeful that better times will come.

Maybe the answer is beyond our ability to accept and implement reasonable limits on ourselves. In that case it gets left to impersonal forces. Maybe that is really best in the long run, but you'll have to accept that your life and every other human life is cheap and easily replicated. Your children are simply statistics, some to add up to more than others. Love them all you want. When the collective shit hits the environmental fan you can't count on having any place to hide from the spray.

Huge objects are made of unimaginably tiny particles, so you can't really say that your individual actions don't matter. You yourself may be individually disposable, but your existence creates ripples. Your properties affect the properties of others. This is true as metaphorically or as actually as you care to interpret it.

Previous generations could be oblivious to this, because the debt had not accumulated enough for imminent alarm. In 1939, George Orwell wrote things in "Coming Up for Air" that I fully identified with in 1998, and took to be sentiments from the 1950s until I looked at the book's publication data. But his complaints about suburban sprawl and pollution could still be considered aesthetic. His observation that governments control their people with constant threats of external aggressors and internal infiltrators probably seemed like the much bigger issue. And it was true at the time .

As the human socio-political situation ran its course through the Cold War, we continued to breed, building up even greater environmental consequences while coincidentally increasing social tensions within and between nations and peoples. In terms of our daily life, who among us would notice stepping on a single sperm or egg, or even a whole zygote or an early embryo dropped on the sidewalk? Yet these tiny things can grow into full-size people who produce more of them and argue bitterly, even violently about them.

And so on.

When there's no water fit to drink, or so little that it is too expensive for the common people, when the acid rain sluices down the denuded hillsides between the disintegrating remains of "newly-constructed contemporary home(s) with breathtaking views" we will finally be free to live like perfect libertarians. In other words, the law of fang and claw will have replaced all those intrusive regulations meant to stave off the inevitable consequences of human arrogance. We can go back to banging out the little ones, watching half of them die, and duking it out for whatever resources remain.

Meanwhile, I'm not busy with anything else. I guess I'll see if I can delay the collapse of western civilization.

Bad Case of the Heaves

Frost heave season is here. Despite predominantly warmer than average temperatures, the usual areas have managed to swell and drop into their familiar winter patterns.

As the winter progresses, heave-prone areas raise their familiar hummocks and ridges. Some of these are isolated. In other cases, the bumpity jumble of jolting lumps jerks the steering wheel and jams the suspension seemingly without end. By April my car always needs a tie-rod end or two.

You get used to seeing catalytic converter covers, rusty mufflers, even the occasional rear bumper in the road, particularly if a large heave forms on a moderately steep hill. Trailer hitches gouge the steep faces of these bulges. Residents even name them. One in Effingham (NH), now eliminated by massive reconstruction of the road bed, was called The Ski Jump, because of the way it would launch unwary or adventurous drivers who came down the hill too fast. I used it strategically a couple of times to teach tailgating speeders the error of their ways.

One time was particularly satisfying. I knew the secret of the Ski Jump, which was to cut sharply to the left at the top and back to the right at the bottom. So I let the tailgater push me to the ridiculous speed he wanted, then spurted forward just before the jump, far enough to stay clear of his wreckage, but too close for him to realize what I was doing and follow me. Perfecto! I was far enough ahead to get a good rear-view mirror look as his little truck shot high in the air, then slammed down, headlights first pointing into the sky, then illuminating a tiny patch of road barely beneath him as his front bumper slammed into the pavement. The truck bounced a few more times as it rolled down the rest of the hill. The tailgater slowed down to a very sedate speed and stayed the hell away from me after that.

Sometimes life is just plain good.

This morning I negotiated some rough seas on Route 153 coming out of Freedom and saw a car door beside the road. How fast was that guy going?