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


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.