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.

What I wrote to my congressman and senators

I hope you're working on real health care reform. Using insurance companies to pay for spiralling costs just adds their administrative costs to the already soaring price of medical care.

I can't afford to keep paying premiums that go up 15%-20% a year. My income certainly doesn't go up 15%-20% a year. In New Hampshire I'm lucky if my income holds steady, let alone goes up.

Don't try to tell me that medical savings accounts will take care of anything. If a person can't afford to save at all, a restricted-use account will not help. When I did get suckered into a medical savings account a few years ago, it cost me money and saved me nothing.

Only by chance did my wife and I get to deduct our medical insurance costs on our tax return, because she is mostly self employed and I derive a small amount of income from freelance writing. If we both worked for small businesses we would have to pay for our expensive insurance and we'd get NOTHING back on taxes.

The country needs positive action on this, not political bushwa. Either that or let's publicly acknowledge that our system is designed to weed out lower income people because they are less valuable human beings. Come on, let's hear it. Drop dead, low income scum!

How's your Doctor?

I don't go to the doctor much. It's a lot easier to tell if I have a good car mechanic than if I have a good doctor. And now, with health insurance premiums eating up every free dime and then some, I really have to need an office visit to justify shelling out for it. But I digress.

I picked my doctor because I rode mountain bikes with him and he seemed like a good enough guy. He's never really impressed me, but he hasn't hurt me yet. Another guy I know can't say as much. He stopped going to my doctor after a mildly botched vasectomy. Ouch. Obviously it isn't something I can easily bring up to my physician, but it certainly makes me think twice about what I'll let him work on. So basically I figure I don't really have a doctor. I just have someone's office staff holding my medical records for me.

Days away from an age at which one is supposed to submit regularly to undignified procedures to stay ahead of the early signs of various fatal conditions, I ponder my choices. I can't really afford to pay out of pocket for any of those expensive indignities, so I am unlikely to suffer them, but if I wait for spectacular symptoms to tell me I'm finally sick enough to suck some money back out of the insurance company, my odds of survival go down.

Say, for the sake of argument, that I had played the game of life properly and attained something like the national median income for my demographic. With some chance of actually using a physician on a regular basis, I would want to choose carefully.

I think physicians should be required to keep a copy of their school transcripts, right back through high school, out on the table in their waiting room. Read the out of date magazines if you want. I'd be poring over the doctor's academic history. Sure, grades aren't everything. A wise physician would keep some supplemental biographical information out there as well.

Better still would be a central place, perhaps a website, on which one could compare all such information for physicians in the area. It would have to be mandatory to do any good. If physicians could merely choose to subscribe, both good and bad might be left out.

Education Funding: Beyond the Bake Sale

Public schools are turning increasingly to private money to supplement the money they receive from penurious taxpayers who say no to whatever they can. This is what has brought vending machines dispensing unhealthy food and drink, and now even some corporate branding of the schools themselves.

Soon individual classes will have sponsors, like Sex Education, brought to you by Johnson Controls. The section on homosexuality would be sponsored by Johnson&Johnson.

Many sponsors are lined up to fund Driver Education. Between NASCAR, the various auto and tire makers, petroleum companies and the producers of the Fast and the Furious movies, the young menaces to navigation should lack for nothing.

We can't pursue this trend fast enough. Since the whole point of an education is to learn to be a good and voracious consumer, and to gain the job skills necessary to earn enough money to contribute to the economy by keeping consumption high, a strong corporate presence in the schools is like having the young ones tag along while the experienced tribe members hunt or gather. It brings the real world right into the classroom.

It's in the corporations' best interests to produce successful people. This isn't just a tax deduction. This is a chance to take real control of curriculum.

The taxpayers still remain in the mix. That ought to make school administrators' lives hell, as they try to answer to both the citizenry and their corporate sugar daddies. But eventually the citizens will get bored and go away and let the corporations take care of things. Freedom is a pain in the ass. You have to keep taking care of endless details, paying attention to the shell game. All anyone really wants is a comfortable, hassle-free life. Strong corporations run by decisive leaders can provide it better than anyone. That's what their marketing says.

Questioning authority is so passe. It might have been necessary in the Dark Ages, when authority was wrong about so many things, but nowadays authority is really good. Questioning it just creates antisocial turbulence. Now off you go to School, Inc.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Lightning Follow-Up

Yesterday evening, the first hard gust of an approaching strong thunderstorm toppled the remaining trunk of the lightning-struck tree left over from June 1. That saves me having to fell it. We can leave the snag as a monument to the incident and a playground for woodpeckers. I still have to buck up the fallen trunks and tops and drag the pieces further into the woods, but at least I don't have to drop anything tall.

It did not fall the way I would have sent it. It actually fell in a better direction. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Sorry my blog is late, but my cat ate my router

After the disruption caused by the lightning strike early in the month, and a busy work schedule, then the internet connection went down again last night. As I poked around the cable modem and wireless router, I discovered that one of the antennas of the Linksys WRT54G was not standing up as straight as the other one and it had teeth marks near the tip of it.

At least two of our cats like to chew on pens and pencils. The antennas on the router must be even more fun to chew, because they have a softer outer coating.

I really don't know if the cat bites had anything to do with the interruption of service. I suspect the lightning did cause a little slow-acting brain damage, because the router showed normal indicator lights even when it would not allow traffic to pass through, and a night's unplugged rest seems to have cured it at least temporarily. The cat bites are funnier, though.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Pretty Scary

Just at closing time yesterday I went downstairs on some errand and was told that one of the women in the natural food store below the shop was sick. Her coworker, a younger woman, didn't know what she should do. She'd asked one of my employers for help. He was about to go check it out. We went in the back door of the food store.

The woman in distress was lying on the floor on a couple of steps between a store room and an office. She was mumbling incoherently and did not seem to be capable of moving. Her coworker told us she'd taken an herbal muscle relaxant. Obviously that stuff works. I've seen rugs that weren't that relaxed. The delerious rambling was disturbing, though.

This was obviously bigger than we were. My employer had worked in the local hospital for many years before he retired to put more time into the bike shop, so he checked vital signs and sat with the patient while I called the hospital emergency department and the ambulance company. Then we rooted around trying to find exactly what the patient had taken. In fleeting moments of lucidity she tried to tell us, but even at her closest approach to normal she couldn't put together a whole sentence. She couldn't even lift her head.

Her pupils were dilated appropriately to the light level, but her eyelids remained at the same half-mast all the time. Her arms and legs lay limp, her feet at forgotten angles, as if her nervous system was abandoning ship.

We found a bottle of what she seemed to be trying to name. When the EMTs arrived, we gave it to them. They noticed it was still sealed. We couldn't find an open bottle of the same stuff.

We all tried to stay calm and upbeat. She wasn't getting any better, but she didn't seem to be getting any worse. Then again, she was pretty damn bad. The ambulance took her away. We dispersed.

I've known her for several years now. She's a nice and caring person as far as I can tell, but quiet and shy. She's not one of those caring people who comes on with the sisterly or motherly rush. I realized as I made my way home that I don't know her last name.

All night I wondered if we had intervened in time or if I'd seen some of her last minutes of life. Could she have quietly just continued down, down, slowing, numbing, slipping away? Or would she bounce right back when they pumped her out? I couldn't do anything more than I had done. It just hovered in the near background of my thoughts all night and through breakfast. I was assuming the best, but I would not dismiss the worst until I knew.

She recovered. I haven't seen her yet, so I don't know if she has a sense of humor about it. If she doesn't now, I'll make sure she gets one.

Any near-catastrophic experience you survive becomes part of your legend. I don't know if they all make you stronger, but they can all be played for laughs.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Another Eye, Another Tooth

An airstrike has blown up insurgent leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq.

Our president, George W. Bush, was actually rather restrained in his speech a few hours later. He solemnly declared that justice had been done, but he did not exult in the inflammatory way he has exhibited in the past. He did not smirk. Perhaps his handlers injected his face with massive amounts of Novocaine to control it.

It is not justice when you kill a person in a way they expect to die as an occupational hazard of the profession they feel divinely compelled to pursue. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi may not have welcomed death, but he can't have been too surprised to have it finally catch up with him. If you care to believe that he really believed in glorious martyrdom, he can't have been too put out.

Justice really eludes us in cases like this. We have to settle for pest control. But because we are dealing with people, who can interpret and reinterpret events to suit an artificial philosophy, the mere fact that retributive death has been meted out takes on whatever meaning the observers wish to give it.

Now we swap the enemy we knew for the enemy whose style has not been displayed yet. It may be more of the same, it may be worse or it may be better. Now we endure the violent reaction to a powerful leader's death.

When humans advanced to the point that nonhuman predators no longer could make significant dents in our population, we had to start substituting other methods of keeping our own numbers in check. Sure, disease still thinned us by the thousands, but in that arena we have also progressed.

The ways we seem to prefer for reducing our herd seem to be motor vehicle accidents, wars and bad personal habits. Pop out kids, teach them to love God, guns and General Motors and send them out to fight. This is vastly preferable to having fewer kids, spending much more time with them and trying to teach them to enjoy life and the many challenging creative pursuits they could explore with fascination through many happy years.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I'll bet THAT made a sound

When I got home from work last Thursday I found this exploded white pine. Chunks of it had landed up to 30 yards away. Some were even on the roof.

A concentrated thunderstorm system had barrelled through in the late afternoon. Apparently it had bowled a strike at my house.

Inside, the electricity seemd to be working. Then I discovered that only certain circuit breakers had blown. One television was dead. One was maimed. The controls for the kitchen stove had been fried, so we can only use the gas burners until we get it a brain transplant. The cable modem is dead. So is the photocopier.

The well pump wasn't working, but it snapped back into action when I picked up the control cover that had blown off and pushed on the switch. I don't know if the switch is meant to pop open like that in a case like this, but it seems to work properly now. Running water is habit forming. Posted by Picasa

The exploded heartwood

This closeup shows the exploded interior of the tree. The piece sticking out is somewhat smaller than a landscaping tie. Posted by Picasa

It must have been a big bolt

This pitch pine right behind the shattered white pine shows the fresh spiral scar of lightning as well. Posted by Picasa

Near Miss

This shot shows the debris field and the tree's proximity to the house. Posted by Picasa