Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Peace, Love and Joy; Holiday Cheer

To be fair, my wife loves Christmas as much as she loves her birthday. She just hates to have her day devalued under the excuse that "it's Christmastime."

She is, in fact, a Christmas expert. She decorated our spectacular tree and produced festive meals for the eve, Christmas breakfast and Christmas dinner. Her entertainment business is called Food 'n' Music. She can provide it all.

So, slamming into instant festivity isn't such a challenge for me when she pre-assembles so much.

Peace, love and joy to all.

Bon appetit.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Isn't there some holiday right about now?

Christmas comes up like an animal leaping into my headlights on a dark road. I had no sense of its approach, no festive buildup to the happy day. Partly it was eclipsed by the far more important celebration of my wife's birthday.

No more miserable creature crawls the surface of this wretched globe than one whose birthday falls within the week before Christmas. They grow up annually slighted as their special day gets absorbed into the avalanche of mandatory festivity attendant to the revels that each civilization has placed around the solstice and repackaged to suit social and philosophical developments of each successive age. Religious and commercial energies are at their height, drowning out the celebration of a single mortal existence among the rank and file. So Christmas must never take precedence in our house before the all important 20th of the month has passed.

Not that we don't make a lot of holiday preparations as well. Ideally we will have produced and distributed our card by then. Not this year, though. It won't be as bad as the year we were so late we made one that said Merry Groundhog Day, but we have certainly missed The Day.

Still, festivity is lacking. I blame my involvement in the ski business for most of that. If we don't have snow, we're all teetering on the edge of depression's abyss, because we can't ski and aren't earning any vitally-needed income. But when we do have snow, we're so busy with the customers' incessant needs that we have precious little energy left over to spend on a mere holiday. Maybe the people lucky enough to live minutes from work can get into the swing of it, but not those of us pouring two hours of every day down the toilet we call commuting.

In keeping with the miraculous nature of the season, I did find my favorite last minute Christmas shopping store open for a very profitable ten minutes in which I redeemed myself from Christmas deadbeat to Jolly Old Elf.

Time to wrap.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Slick Willie in Mittboro

Former President Bill Clinton will be in Wolfeboro today, campaigning for his wife, whose name is Hillary, in case you've just emerged from a coma recently.

Wolfeboro is the site of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney's summer palace. Back when he was just the arrogant governor of Taxachusetts, the locals couldn't bitch enough, but now that he might put their burg on the map by becoming President of the United States, he's become some sort of home-town boy. There are plenty of signs from all candidates around Wolfe City, but Mitt's appeal as a tourist attraction and source of bragging rights has given him a solid jump in the polls.

Presidential candidates have tended to brush by Wolfeboro in the past. George W. Bush breezed through in 2000, but blew us off in 2004, giving us a token visit from his surrogate, former White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card just a few days before the voting in November that year. I suppose not much was at stake when New Hampshire seemed like a granite block of Republicanism. So we can thank George W. Bush for making other options look attractive. Let's at least have the discussion.

Still, it strikes me as interesting that a candidate would single out Wolfeboro as a source of significant votes or financial support. I know the money's there, I just can't imagine too many people in that bastion of corporate and inherited wealth handing any of it over to those "tax and spend, populist rabble rousers."

I wish I could be there when the earth splits and the flames issue forth, as the forces of liberalism and conservatism gather in the skies to smite each other with their bright swords. Make up your own mind which side is good or evil. Personally, I like that rascal Bill. Maybe you can't trust him with your girlfriend, but at least he's not arrogant.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Hot Tip from Spam

Spam informs me "girls like when you have a big instrument," so I'm taking up the stand-up bass.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Primarily Annoying

Now is when living in New Hampshire becomes a pain.

Is it the snow? The ice? The cold? Wind, darkness and the price of home heating fuels?


It's constant phone calls from Presidential campaign staffers asking how we intend to vote in the upcoming primary.

Has anyone figured out whether such tactics actually help by a few percentage points? Because most New Hampshire residents I know hate the damn phone blitz. It's enough to make you want to ream out the candidate you like, let alone one you don't. They may be trying to create awareness, but there's awareness and there's awareness. You may become aware that someone just brought in a tray of your favorite cookies, or you may become aware that someone left a screen open and the house filled with annoying mosquitoes. A New Hampshire resident would have to be blind, deaf and imprisoned alone in a tiny vault not to know who's running in the damn primary. The obscure, whacko candidates who can't afford ads can't afford annoying telephone staff, either. So no one is handing out exciting new information here.

I can tell you right now that the perfect candidate is not out there. And I know from long experience that what they say to get elected most likely will not turn out to be what they do. The road to Washington is paved with well-expressed intentions. Many of them are laudable. But not one single candidate shares my position on every issue. So I'm compromising, as they will have to compromise when one of them actually takes office. It almost doesn't matter who you vote for. By the time all the analysts get finished pissing in the data, no one will even be able to say for sure what the electorate hoped to get for their trouble based on how many voted for whom in the primary field. No one seems to examine the results based on each issue as represented by each candidate to get a sense of what the voters might have liked to find all in one. We always end up making a deal with ourselves first, deciding what we're willing to give up in return for electing someone with various other qualities. Often what we have to discard was not unimportant, it just lost out by a whisker. But does anyone ask us anything once the election is over?

Fuck no.

We'll hear from the candidates again the next time they're feeling us up for another vote.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

More from the Campaign Ads

Rudy Giuliani says that you should vote for him because he will scare the bad guys in the part of the world where we are currently engaged, just as Ron Reagan did in the Iran hostage crisis in 1980.

"The hostages were released in one hour," he says. "It was the hour during which Ronald Reagan was taking the oath of office."

That doesn't make me think St. Ron and the Republicans intimidated our enemies. It makes me think they had insider agreements in the oil-producing region. How much did US insider cooperation have to do with the long duration of the hostages' captivity prior to their coincidentally timely release?

Hillary Clinton says that our economy is in trouble, indicated by the fact that oil prices are rising and the value of our homes is falling. "The middle class is getting slammed," she says.

Rising oil prices bring significant stress to people with low or marginal incomes. But falling home prices only matter to people selling houses or borrowing against their value. To a person with a low income and poor prospects for its improvement, rising housing prices are bad, bad news. Property gets revalued, tax bills get rewritten and suddenly you're getting taxed out of your home. That house is on the market (or in the hands of the bank or a tax sale) whether you like it or not. You have to find a slum with no services more in line with your lowly economic station.

Property taxes present a particularly ominous strain. As municipal costs go up, the tax on where you live goes up with it, regardless of how many services you are actually using. The burden is distributed over all the property owners in a given jurisdiction, but you may accidentally find yourself living in a house that, according to tax assessing formulas, you don't deserve. But don't panic. Economic mechanisms will straighten that out. Then you will be renting or living in a packing crate, and all will be as it should be, according to the numbers.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Welcome, Theocracy

Mitt Romney stated in a speech Thursday, "Freedom requires religion. Religion requires freedom." He has also supposedly stated that the separation of church and state should not be absolute.

The first statement is just blatantly stupid. Freedom requires a sense of fairness. A sense of fairness is notoriously overlooked in many religions. Be fair to the faithful, but screw the other guys. So eventually you fall afoul of either the fundamentalists or the compromisers. You end up where we are now. So get over it.

The assertion that religion has a role in government just opens the door to theocracy. Put one religion in charge and the others get jealous. Religious civil war ensues. Put them all in charge and the fundamentalists fight the compromisers.

Religion does one thing. It manipulates people through their fear of death to concentrate power among a self-appointed elite. It's no different from aristocracy or Corporate America. Aristocracy and Corporate America have made good use of it throughout history.

Religion does empower the common people by incorporating their helpless, directed mass into the base of the pyramid supporting the religious power brokers and decision makers. But, as in the unions that came along later, the regrettable corruptibility of those decision makers renders the whole body less effective or ineffective to represent the best interests of the vast majority of the members.

Religions have a major advantage because most of them don't have to pay off until after the chump is dead. Did the poor schmuck go to heaven? Of COURSE he did.

Religion benefits some people because it stimulates their better impulses. Doing good things causes a rush of pious good feelings. By tying this feeling to a specific cosmic entity and philosophy, a religion gives the believer a framework in which to set feelings they would have had anyway. It feels good to do good.

Unfortunately, it can also feel good to do bad. Religious leadership can use those feelings to command their darker minions to do religion's dirty work in the name of [insert deity here].

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Next President of the United States

A man I know who is both a Republican and a fatalist said, "Pretty soon we're going to have a woman President telling us all what to do."

"It's still a horse race," I assured him. "Nothing is certain. All Hillary has to do is make one misstep and all the Clinton stigma will fall on her. And the Democratic party would go down with her. Congress would turn back the other way. It's still a race."

The more prominent the office, the less the person in it can actually get done, with all the problems of image. If you look like political poison, no one will deal with you. So you can't even do something idealistic as a political martyr, because no one who wants to stay in the game will want to be associated with it.

I just hope whoever gets elected isn't too annoying, although I'm planning on ignoring them anyway. There's plenty to do at local levels, and a lot of leadership through other channels. Government follows trends, it doesn't set them.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Economic Theory

What is the real basis of value? How does the first person in line get the money to spend on what the next one in line has to offer?

If the real basis of value is the finite resources of this planet, we will reach the ultimate limit long before the sun blows up. If prosperity depends on the rate at which we irrevocably consume the Earth, the size of the party determines how long it can last.

This basic fact is obscured by thousands of years of business, evolving on top of the relatively uncriticized practice of digging something up and dragging it to town to sell. Once humans determine that they need something, efficient acquisition of it becomes an understood, unquestioned function. If you want coal, you mine it. If you don't want people dying in tunnels, you blast the top off the mountain and shove the debris aside. Cut trees for wood, drag fish from the sea. Drill oil wells. Do what you have to do.

Early in the settlement of North America by European colonists, some pioneers founded fortunes just by blazing trees with an ax and then entering the land claim with the appropriate colonial governing body. It wasn't quite money for nothing, but it beat having a job. But in order to realize their investment, these early land pimps had to have paying customers.

Coming at it from another angle, fortunes are made by producing or controlling the distribution of the essentials of life: food and shelter. Food is a renewable resource produced through appropriately favorable circumstances and labor, another renewable resource. Shelter, on the other hand, uses materials which may be renewable, like wood, vegetable fibers or animal hides, or durable and reconfigurable, but not subject to rapid regeneration, like stone.

With the harnessing of fire, new amenities in shelter (and cuisine) became possible. At the same time, resources would now literally go up in smoke.

Quarry a building stone and it can be used in its various forms all the way down to sand. But the products of combusted coal aren't nearly so versatile. There's a reduction and considerable loss of matter humans would find usable, even as energy is released. Wood you burn is wood you don't have to build with. And we all know the story on oil. Not only are we running out, the use of it as we race toward that deadline is making our planet's atmosphere look like the lungs of a chain smoker.

Merely saving money at the surface levels of the economy does not mean that you are contributing to a generally beneficial trend. Above the sales floor of Walmart are tiers of executives and major shareholders who don't really have to worry about paying rock bottom price for jockey shorts, lead-laced toys and plastic trash cans. And they never will. Meanwhile, among the customers and associates are many who will face these issues with increasing concern.
I was considering researching and writing a comprehensive history of apathy, but then I figured, "why bother?"

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Word

Constitutional government sets the word above the person. Leaders are given powers and responsibilities by the documents that establish and guide our government. This is very different from government by people with unlimited powers to express their will capriciously.

All laws descend from the Constitution. All the smaller laws can't contradict the major constitutional principles, but they do have to address all the little details of running the country at every level. The Word determines who gets to do what. The people merely interpret and apply it.

Moral laws are pretty simple. You have a pretty good idea whether you should kill, steal, lie, cheat or sabotage other people's relationships. More difficult are the laws governing the mechanical aspects of life, especially building things. When the Earth seemed so big and impervious to human influence, people could build anything anywhere and take the consequences. Build in a swamp? Sure. Your building will be a moldy mess until it ultimately rots into the bog and disappears. Steep slope? Good luck with that. Wind-scoured mountain top? You're an idiot, but it's your money.

As we've grown vastly more numerous and our engineering has overcome the obstacles to construction in environmentally sensitive areas, we've had to develop better reasons to leave those areas alone. And because some poor idiots still hold investments in lands better left alone, we have to get through the transitional period in which we either let the people make their mess or buy them out.

The local wetland article for the zoning ordinance keeps growing larger and more complicated as we attempt to make it fit every possible circumstance. The goal is to have land owners able to do whatever we can allow them, even on non-conforming lots, without having to go through a punitive permitting process. At the same time we don't want to defang the ordinance for new subdivisions and construction.

Input is colored by concerns that are often not clearly voiced, if they're admitted at all. And it still has to go to the planning board for review and public hearings before it gets voted on in March.

The cumbersome process makes one wonder if we will have anything left to protect by the time we formulate all the perfect regulations. But after we are gone, The Word will remain. So it has to be as good as we can make it.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Creative Environmental Protection

A friend of mine from up the road was lamenting the destructive activities of ATVers in his neighborhood. With or without permission, they have been ripping around wherever they can find or make a trail, including on his property. When he closed off the trail with some logs, they came into his yard and ripped doughnuts around it to assert their power.

Law enforcement, of course, can do nothing. Unless the marauders come back and invade the home, assault the occupants and identify themselves thoroughly, the police are stymied. I'd rather have it that way than allow the gendarmes to bust in on hearsay, so we work within the limitations of our system. But it's frustrating.

Motorized recreation attracts thugs because thugs don't like to exert themselves on something as mundane as walking, bicycling or cross-country skiing. Better to thunder in with a hot engine between their thighs, hop off fresh as a daisy and use that saved-up energy to whup ass.

Putting it that way, it sounds downright attractive. But damn it all, we're supposed to try to develop some character, aspire to more refinement.

My friend suggested using piano wire to express our criticism. Tempting as that may be, I shy away from impersonal, deadly traps. They could be used on me, and they're overtly hostile.

"Forget that," I said. "Just put out cases of free liquor beside the trail. The problem will solve itself in a very short time."

Think about it. They're off the roads. Their vehicles have no air bags, roll cages or safety devices. The trails are lined with trees, rocks, ravines and ditches. It would be messy for a while, but then it would be over, and the marauders could never say that you had made a hostile move against them. On the contrary, you'd given them treats.

We'd have to go out and pick up dead bodies, smashed machines and empty liquor bottles from time to time, but I'd do that for the emotional satisfaction and healthful exercise.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Porcupine hiding behind the tool shed

I came around the corner of the house this afternoon, carrying tomato cages to the tool shed, to find a porcupine waddling across the yard. By the time I could get the camera, it had climbed into a pile of scrap lumber on the back of the shed. Cute little bugger. They look cuddly, but I know better. Hard to resist giving him a pat, though.

The Future of Human Civilization

The middle class is shrinking because it is becoming obsolete. That which serves no purpose atrophies.

The most efficient industrial society has a small ruling class and a large working class. The small ruling class controls manufacturing and distribution. The working class provides labor. It has only the buying power granted it by the ruling class. Under streamlined management, large corporations can operate their manufacturing facilities and big-box retail stores with a minimal middle management class. The economy can be manipulated to keep even these slightly elevated functionaries under sufficient financial stress to keep them in control.

The labor class doesn't need to be well educated, so the ruling class doesn't need to spend a great deal on public schools. Design engineers and other technical people will come from the ruling class, but part of their challenge is to design systems that can be operated by people who are trained, rather than educated.

Preserving the illusion of a free society, the labor class may believe it has mobility and free will, but freedom, as they say, is not free. You have to fight management's wars for them. And you are only as free as your budget allows.

It's essentially a slavery economy with free-range slaves. They don't run away because there's nowhere to run and they don't know they're captives.

Low-Guilt Lighting

We've been slowly replacing most of our light bulbs with "soft-serve" fluorescents. You know, the little swirly ones. In the process, we found some outdoor ones that have a glass capsule that looks like a regular outdoor flood. We put one in the the light beside the basement door, shining on the woodshed and driveway.

Especially on a cold night, you have to make an appointment to have light. In other words, turn the light on several minutes before you plan to go out. But when it reaches full power, it throws much more light than the incandescent bulb we had before. I doubt if it saves much energy for us when we're at home, because we'll leave it on all evening, to illuminate our trips out for firewood. It will definitely save money when we have to turn the light on early in the day and leave it on so we have light when we come home from work in the dark.

Our electric company offers a cheap deal through an online program, so we're waiting for a big box of bulbs for inside fixtures. Kind of a funny thing to get excited about, but it's like collecting anything. More! More!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Rethinking the Modern War

Young adult humans need quests. In the past, leaders could satisfy their need for pawns and the young adult's need to pursue some glorious aim by putting the adventurous youth into armies.

Humans seem to have a desire to die colorfully in conflicts they imbue with deep significance. It beats rotting in some retirement home.

Humanity made a mistake by taking these wars too seriously and making the killing machinery too efficient. Getting blown to smithereens by an impersonal bomb or cannon shell lacks the fantasy-game satisfaction of flowing swordplay, or even just stalking each other with firearms through a forest or cityscape.

We need to go back to wars of personal combat, where the dance means more than the body count. We can have both war and peace if we acknowledge that war is really just another hobby. Medical technology has advanced very well, forced to treat the grossly traumatic injuries inflicted by massively destructive weapons. Imagine how much fun a war with more primitive weapons will be now. You can get hacked, stabbed and stuck with arrows and then have a state-of-the-art helicopter evacuate you to a modern medical facility. Some people would die, but more would live. And you'd know at the end of each work day that you rose or fell based on your own skills, not some random insult like a land mine or a giant bomb.

Risk of death, and loss of comrades is necessary to keep the quest real.

The organizers of wars could decide what the stakes would be, just as the organizers of charity sporting events decide what cause gets the income from the entry fees. In fact, we could even have benefit wars that really do donate the proceeds to a charity.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Go ahead, be true to yourself. No, really.

As I was scrubbing the kitchen sink this morning, rather obsessive-compulsively, lines to a 1960s pop song kept going through my head:
"You've got to
make your own kind of music
sing your own special song
make your own kind of music--
even if nobody else sings along..."
That's right, you freak. Be true to yourself (and keep it to yourself). If you wind up alone, it's okay. Why? Because that's where you belong. It only sounded like an encouraging anthem promoting diversity and creativity. It's really starkly Darwinist. Do your thing...and DIE, you social cripple! Or hit it big, in which case we'll all be HAPPY to sing along!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hillary's right about one thing

Many households are one missed debt payment or serious medical diagnosis away from financial collapse. But you can't lay the blame entirely at the Bush administration's feet.

The nation's prosperity under Bill Clinton sprang from multiple causes, few of which had to do with him. Most were not sustainable. The economy did rebound on a wave of optimism when we finally shook off the grasp of the Reagan era's ill-advised fiscal policies, but the boom that followed was not based on sustainable principles.

Factors like housing starts and a surging real estate industry can't last, because they don't put money in circulation widely enough, and they really just represent tumor growth in humanity's metastatic expansion in already overpopulated areas, and incursions into the few remaining uncrowded ones.

Politicians have a way of standing in front of the rising moon, pointing and saying "look what I did!" Priest magicians have been claiming credit for volcanic eruptions for a long time.

I don't have the answers, but I'd like to see us at least look for them in the right place.

In the meantime, I try to make all my few and carefully chosen debt payments on time and hope to avoid that medical diagnosis.

Advice to superior beings

If you think you are one, that's probably the first sign that you're not.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

New Hope for Green (or blue green) Energy

Energy giant Chevron Corporation and the U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory have announced that they have renewed research to produce liquid transportation fuels using algae.

This is not a joke. Previous scum-to-energy research halted in the 1990s, when crude oil prices were low. Now, with economic and political factors, as well as environmental concerns putting a lot of pressure on energy companies to find an alternative to petroleum, slime slides to the head of the list of bio-fuel sources. Algae is easy to grow in a lot of places that would not be suitable for other crops that might be used for needed food supplies. You don't need a green thumb, just a neglected fish tank.

The thing is, if we are really going to look to the scum of the Earth to save us from ourselves, we will find out in short order what nation harbors the most of it. Scum is power! Because we're talking about literal rather than figurative scum, we're talking about a genuine resource.

Algae probably seems plentiful now, but wait until we're avidly scraping it as fast as it can form, to feed our voracious appetite for energy.

Personally I like the idea of humanity being saved by scum. It scoops up so many great metaphors into one neat, slimy bucket.

Poisonous Chinese Toys

Here it is, Halloween morning, and some kids are getting the bad news that their fake teeth from Hong Kong have been recalled because they contain unacceptable amounts of lead.

Are Americans being wussies about this lead business? Or is this really a serious issue?

Do the Chinese give lead-laced toys to their own kids? Don't they know that could seriously hamper their plans for world domination as that lead diminishes the mental capacity of an entire generation of their youth? Or is lead really a nutritional supplement that helps keep a person grounded, rooted to the earth?

Maybe they're trying to do us a favor.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Simple Supply and Demand

Although I could live as a modern suburbanite now, with heat that comes on by itself and no need to walk out my back door, I still use the wood stove to provide most of the heat.

Hot iron gives more even warmth than the propane Monitor or the fake wood stove in the living room. Those breathe out their heat when the flames dance, but subside to cold metal while the house chills enough to alarm their thermostats again.

A fire takes more than logs. I still pick up kindling and pine cones from the woods. It's a simple act that connects me to the entire history of human gathering. So much of what we use now we gather from stores, using the intermediary of money to mask the simple act of finding a useful basic element and bringing it home. You'd get arrested if you just gathered a cart full of stuff from local stores and carried it home without going through the checkout line.

Trash picking and Dumpster diving are forms of gathering, but not quite the same as identifying a natural resource and picking it up directly. When I go out with an empty pail in search of pine cones I spot and select them with much more care and attention than a lowly pine cone ever inspires at other times. When I go to a berry patch with empty containers, at first I'm daunted by the task of filling them one small fruit at a time. It's as far as you can get from scooping up a pre-packed pint or quart from the supermarket and heading for the express lane.

This isn't about character building or knowing the true cost of things. It's about picking up something that nature provided, and using it directly, without modification, to make your own life more comfortable. Pine tree makes pine cones, cones serve their reproductive purpose, I use what's left to start warming fire for my lair. The simple process shows what lies beneath all the other complicated structures and procedures we use to extract what we want or need from the Earth. Find where it's lying and figure out how to pick it up. When it's gone, find more or find something else. If it's something that grows back, wait for the next crop.

Freedom is free

Freedom is absolutely one hundred percent free. The people who tell you otherwise are often the ones who stole it from you and now want to sell it back to you at a high price. They coin snappy slogans like "Freedom isn't Free" to try to make you, the wronged party in the transaction, feel guilty for quite logically being unwilling to pay them.

Freedom is free, but oppression is cheap and plentiful. Oppressors always seem to get a lot of bang for their buck, too. Stooges abound who will support philosophies and organizations that promote one sub-group's freedom at the expense of another's. Then a relatively freer organization will raise a banner representing freedom and it will be the best anyone can do, so sides are drawn up and conflict is pursued.

Freedom is free, but government costs money. Government as an outgrowth of thoughtful public debate is better than nothing, as long as conscience remains so unevenly distributed among humanity. And someone has to keep the infrastructure functioning. We all chip in, we all get something back.

Freedom is free, but societies are interdependent. Interdependence imposes limits. Grown-ups understand limits. Push yourself and the boundaries of human achievement, but don't get pushy and don't get grabby. Freedom is one thing. Rudeness is another. And greed is something else again.

Monday, October 29, 2007

From the Forest

One of the cats was lobbying me heavily to let her go outside. It's a crisp fall afternoon. The trees have roughly half their leaves, so the color scheme of yellow and brown extends from the lower branches to the ground. The wind moves the branches. Loose leaves lift and flop on the rust-colored ground. There's a lot of movement in the forest.

A more purposeful movement behind the first screen of trees caught my eye. The largest, healthiest-looking coyote I've ever seen was foraging just outside the clearing in which the house sits. This thing looked like a wolf. It was beautiful. Its fur was thick and full. The coyotes I've seen before have looked like mangy German Shepherds.

The coyote stayed for several minutes. It looked toward me several times, as if it sensed me watching. I saw it find something to eat back there, but I couldn't see what that might be. The Chicken Shooters across the street might have released more pen-raised exotic fowl for rich numb-rods to shoot with expensive shotguns this weekend. A wounded one might have breathed its last back there behind the compost pile. It wouldn't be the first time.

The coyote population surged around here when the Chicken Shooters first cranked up. The Chicken Shooters basically laid out a coyote buffet. They had pens of fowl of various ages, and the escapees from all phases of the operation scattered into the scrub with no wild heritage to guide them.

Interestingly, the coyotes used to call to each other while hunting, but now hunt silently. I'm guessing this is because of the ways the Chicken Shooters have tried to protect their investment in pheasants, quail and Chukar partridge. It's open season on coyotes all year 'round in New Hampshire. You need a license to hunt 'em, but then you can blast away at them like shooting rats down at the town dump.

When the gunfire gets really thick and heavy over there I have to remind myself that this operation did keep the land from getting broken up as house lots, each of which would have driven up our tax rates. But with all their various enterprises, they halted all the hiking, mountain biking and cross-country skiing some of us used to do on that land, as well as making the paddling dicey on the stretch of Pine River that flows past their property.

Somehow I haven't picked up any death hobbies as I've gone through life. There was the simulated combat of fencing, but nothing that purposely ends the life of an animal or person. As an omnivore, I can't cop a moral stance and say I don't eat face, but I also don't play noisy hand-eye coordination games that annoy the neighbors, either. Unless you count the fiddle. And the fiddle doesn't leave dead bodies of any size lying around afterwards. If you want to eat chicken, go buy some chicken.

It's rather grim that we can't maintain wild game bird stocks anymore so that someone who wants the primal experience of the hunt can go find one wandering around on its own. We have to have places that manufacture birds and simulate their last wild dash toward freedom. Their little bird brains don't know how good or bad they've got it, but it still seems a tad gruesome. Only a touch less gruesome than a commercial poultry farm.

Anyway, it was cool to see that coyote looking so fine.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Will the world survive the Bush administration?

George W. Bush has always sounded to me like a redneck picking a bar fight. Where Bill Clinton (love him or loathe him) had that soft, Elvis-style southern accent that made you want to forgive him for sleeping with your girlfriend, Bush has always spoken with the harsh edge of a poorly educated, irritable man. I'm always waiting for a string of profanity.

I hadn't been up two minutes this morning, with barely a couple of sips of coffee in me, when there on the television was Condoleezza Rice "in a Today Show exclusive," pumping up the rationale for invading Iran.

In the present crisis brewing over Iran, I can't trust anything coming out of the White House urging a hard line with Tehran, because we saw with Iraq that they would say anything to start the war they want. Ordinary citizens have no credible source of information. Believe what you like about the Internet. Believe what you like from it. In truth, you only believe it because you choose to believe it.

A lack of solid information leaves us to fall back on personal philosophies and powers of reasoning.

Looking at the long, lurching stumble of history one sees a slow trend toward greater human understanding, all too gradually replacing the paranoia that has marred every contact between differing cultures since the beginning of culture. That paranoia reached its technological and cultural zenith in the Cold War. The Cold War grew from the Second World War. "The Second World War's connected to the First World War. The First World War's connected to the Franco-Prussian War. Now hear the word of the Lord..."

It stinks when the leaders of other countries make more sense than your own. This isn't treason, this is reason. No, you can't trust a politician, not even a foreign one who momentarily seems to have found the right spin. But consider the general concept that saber rattling is not the appropriate response to absolutely every diplomatic challenge.

Bluffing is a time-honored tradition, particularly among weaklings. Threatening to beat people up is a time-honored tradition among bullies. Neither one is a particularly tenable stance for a nation supposedly devoted to the spread of peace, understanding and a big box retail store in every town in the world.

World War I started as a series of unfortunate threats collided with an equally unfortunate series of promises. Don't think the same mistake couldn't be made again with far worse consequences. Our tools for mayhem and destruction have evolved much faster than our ability to conceive that a more grown-up approach is possible.

The correct response to a bully trying to start a fight is "grow up."

The Bully in Chief has more than a year left to try to get us into more complex brawls before he retires safely to the ranch, having personally dodged yet another armed conflict the nation would have been advised to avoid in the first place. Will we make it?

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Kona Friday on a Thursday

The local coffee shop always has Kona on Fridays. It's become a bit of a holiday.

Kona is a lighter roast, with a wine-like finish because of its acidity. It's a great coffee to let cool off, especially with a little cream in it. I like it still somewhat on the red side, never milked to pale blandness. As a light roast it is deceptively mild until you realize that it hasn't had the caffeine cooked out of it andyou'rereallyflyingandeverything'sgoing greatthisstuffisgreatyouneed totryithere'sacouplebucksgonextdoorandgetyourselfsome,YEAH!

If you drink enough, you see God. And you talk to him really fast.

Today I walked in to find the pot of Kona on the counter.

"Yes, it's Thursday," said Mandy, current co-owner of the shop. "I'm going to be closed tomorrow. I hoped you'd be in here today."

I promised to return for seconds. When I did, a couple of hours later, she told me she'd ice some and leave it in the fridge for me for tomorrow. I can let myself into the shop and get it.

Friggin' enablers. God, I love her.

Well, gotta go. I see a bright light and I have a lot to say.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Genius and the rest of us

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau, creator of Doonesbury, has followed a path from a relatively ordinary young life to a position of immense influence. As he himself describes it, it sounds like a series of accidents. He was the son of an illustrious physician, true, but was himself not attracted to a career in medicine. He could have had a career as a well-to-do unknown. But he didn't.

At an evening presentation last night in White River Junction, VT, Trudeau said that he never envisioned a career in cartooning "until about junior year." He drew cartoons and submitted them to the student paper at Yale. They developed a popular following, despite his idiosyncratic drawing style, and that led to an offer from Universal Press Syndicate.

That's right, my aspiring scribblers. They came to him. To put it bluntly, that shit doesn't happen to everyone.

Trudeau admitted that he was in the right place at the right time. While he may not be the voice of his generation, he is certainly a voice of it. In the medium of cartooning he depicted the lives and times of a certain set of Baby Boomer intellectuals. He admitted to his flaws as he described how he covered things like the Vietnam War. As a craftsman, he strives for accuracy in satire. You must first understand what is going on to portray it even in an ironic light.

In a way, I see his adoption of the troops now fighting abroad as a form of atonement for failing to portray them with precision in the Vietnam era. As he says, he was never against the troops themselves, only against the decisions made by political and military leaders to send them to Southeast Asia and to keep them there. So it is today with our military personnel being taxed and expended in Iraq.

"You have to be able to separate between opposing the war and honoring the warrior," he said.

Because Trudeau requested that no recording devices be present last night, I am doing my best to piece this together from memory and a few notes scribbled while the house lights were up. It's a shame, in one regard, because certain points of his talk flowed seamlessly, each quip or joke setting up the next. At other times he seemed to get a little jumbled, as when doing a bit with Supreme Court justices, but was he really stumbling or was I just too ignorant to get the joke? If it was the latter, I was not alone, because no one else laughed until what I, too, perceived as a punchline. Beyond the jokes, he also delivered a call for more people to take up the responsibilities of citizenship, to pay attention to the running of their country. It wasn't said that bluntly, but almost in those terms through the character of Jack Tanner in the HBO series Trudeau did with Robert Altman.

Mention of this collaboration with Altman and Trudeau's work with Elizabeth Swados ("Doonesbury" the musical, Rap Master Ronnie) underscored for me how he had moved into the world of genius from the one in which the rest of us toil in obscurity. You may have your own opinion of the work of Altman and Swados, but at least they're Somebody You've Heard Of. Each is a verifiable heavy hitter. Trudeau is married to Jane Pauley. They can afford not only to live in New York, but to live well there. He hangs out with all sorts of People You've Heard Of. They've all heard of each other. It's a different world.

As his prominence grew, his ability to build his genius in the company of genius grew as well.

I wanted to speak with him, because he inspired my early aspirations. More detail would certainly have helped at the time, but somehow I'd developed the handicap early in life of believing that asking for details constituted prying. A born journalist will pry and be damned, but I came out much more reticent. It dogs me to this day. So last night I had a thick portfolio in my plain room at the Hotel Coolidge, less than 50 yards away, but no polite excuse to lay it before him. He was tired. I knew it had been a long day, because he'd given a lecture that morning at the Center for Cartoon Studies, and now it was close to 10 p.m. I did hang around until the line for book signing dwindled to nothing. Then I identified myself as a finalist in the Union of Concerned Scientists cartoon contest from this summer. He brightened at that, shook my hand and asked which one was mine. I told him and he laughed, indicating recognition. There were only a dozen finalists, so he might well have remembered it. I chose to believe it, anyway, because I'd had a long day at the end of a long life and I could use the reassurance. We actually walked together, slowly, toward the door, and even down the stairs to the street. I didn't try to bend his ear. I just flowed with the group escorting him out, tossing in a remark or two. He said how much he enjoyed his visit to Vermont. I said it might have been quite different across the Connecticut River.

"I live in the state next door," I said. There was a general laugh and some knowing murmurs. "But they need subversives there," I said.

Before I let him go forever, out on the sidewalk, I did hand him one of the business cards my incredibly wonderful wife made for me as a good-luck gift before I went on this journey. Who knows? He might not send those pants to the cleaners with the card forgotten in the pocket, and he might, in a moment of mad boredom, visit one of the two web addresses provided.

I wanted to ask him about the issues he doesn't get to cover, because he has taken on the war and warriors as his focus. Thus has the Bush Administration tied up one more of our national resources in pursuit of his ill-advised military campaign. All the while Trudeau delivers a necessary message about the war, he isn't talking about the economy, health care and the environment. And who is left with the genius connections and the high media profile to put that into cartoon form for the public to get a meaningful chuckle?

We who are not famous work from the ground up. It's hard, underpaid, frustrating and sometimes mightily boring. We're not doing anything that gets us on TV or hanging out with the people who do. We depend on our elevated observers to help us guide our efforts.


I had an interesting time personally that evening. The whole trip had the sense of a mission. I planned it from compiling a portfolio, to deciding what creative and communicative tools to bring, to resolving that I would plant myself on the sidewalk at least an hour early to be sure I got a good seat.

Food would be a problem. At first I had planned to make enough lunch to supply an early supper as well, but time got away from me as I focused on the portfolio and a few household things that needed to be taken care of, so I headed out with one chicken sandwich, three speckly bananas and the last of a box of Cheez-Its. I hoped I might miraculously find a source of somewhat nourishing food in downtown White River Junction, though I doubted it.

As planned, I got to town in plenty of time to stuff my car behind the Coolidge, where it was immune to the two-hour parking restriction, and then wander the streets to see who I might meet. The Center has a number of really cool people on its staff or associated with it. Unfortunately, there are a lot of cartoonists and related professionals out there. Even if you've seen someone's work and know their name, you may never have seen a picture of them. I looked for the one or two I might recognize.

Robyn Chapman was working the desk at the Coolidge. An award-winning cartoonist and teacher, faculty member at the Center for Cartoon Studies, she still needs a day job, like so many of us. I'm always glad to see Robyn, for no specific reason.

Yards down the block, I had just slipped into the Briggs Opera House to check out the evening's venue, when I had a chance to help Michelle Ollie carry some stuff up the stairs from street level. She's the managing director and co-founder of the Center. She remembered me from phone and email conversations.

Right after that I spotted James Sturm across the street. He's the director of the Center. After a minuscule bit of prompting he remembered me from the previous summer, or at least politely acceded to the possibility.

I wondered if any of the alumni from that workshop who live nearby might show up, but no one came up to me and I didn't see anyone who looked familiar.

With one thing and another, I did not hook up with any food. I did not want to drive anywhere. See? I really will starve first. I did score some Java at the Coolidge Cards convenience store, and used it to wash down my two remaining speckly bananas and the dregs of the Cheez-Its. I spent a couple of hours on the hotel's wireless network, researching wetland ordinances on the Internet. Civic involvement goes on. I have a meeting tonight, in fact.

I was third in line at the door. By 7:30, the line stretched back toward the Coolidge. Up the stairs we went. I had to claim my ticket. I gave my name. The volunteer at the table found the envelope and handed it to me. I proceeded to the next station, having lost a number of places to people who already had tickets in hand. I wasn't too worried, it's a very small theater. But then a very strange thing happened.

"He has a yellow ticket," said the attendant at the door. "He wasn't at the dinner, but he has a yellow ticket for some reason."

"Wait, there was dinner?" I said. My bananas and Cheez-Its rumbled slightly at the thought of genuinely tasty and nutritious food. But I was swept along by the usher to a roped-off area where a seat with my name on it awaited me.

It has happened to me before. Fame I did not know I had preceded me and I received some level of deference above what I had expected. Usually it is a matter of coincidence or mistaken identity. But I supposed someone might have identified me as the region's finalist in the prestigious Union of Concerned Scientists contest. Maybe Trudeau himself had specified it.

I had a good laugh over that line of speculation, but I accepted the seat. I was right next to one marked NHPR. Great! I could do some networking and self promotion with someone from my favorite radio station.

I was pretty sure this was a case of mistaken identity. Shortly, a guy addressed as "Tim" by the usher, was searching a few rows forward for his seat. I wasn't going to put up my hand until someone made me, but I 'll bet his last name is "White." I meant to ask, but he got away from me at the end of the show. And maybe it wasn't. He had his wife with him, and neither seat beside me had her name on it. It worked out for us all, because they got to sit two rows closer. The show was supposedly sold out, but the theater was not full.

NHPR blew it off. I was bummed about that.

When the lights came up at the end, I discovered that Alison Bechdel had been sitting in the first occupied seat to my right. But there's that thing about name recognition without facial recognition. Turns out she looks like one of her characters, but I only caught on to who she was when I heard someone address her and then saw the name tag still taped to the back of her chair. As I leaned in to start to try to make contact, she gave me a look like, "who is this weirdo?" Lacking a good answer, I aborted the approach. I was having trouble with my voice from a couple of hours of silence, purposeful dehydration (don't want to waste time on useless pee stops) and my autumn allergens. I let her slip away.

I'm not a fan of anyone to speak of. I respect what's respectable about a number of people, but I had no powerful urge to buy a book and get it signed. Real personal contact transcends souvenirs, and I'd tapped my charitable budget by buying the ticket to the show. Proceeds benefit the Center for Cartoon Studies. I gave. So while the crush gathered to have books signed, I went out to the lobby. My refreshment sense was tingling. There were cookies! And they were free!

My metabolism had shut down somewhere near the beginning of the show. I'd run out of fuel and my body temperature was approaching the territory of a dormant salamander. If I was going to shake Trudeau's hand, and by god I intended to, I needed something in the furnace so he wouldn't think I was one of the undead.

The oatmeal cookies actually seemed to have some nutritional value. They were probably glued together with a half-pound of butter apiece, but there were bits of oatmeal and other twigs in there to provide some virtue. For some reason, Alison Bechdel bestowed a more benevolent look upon me when she saw me chomping on the cookies like I had just been rescued from the wilderness. I felt better all the way around. Still totally lacked the balls to go up and make like a colleague, but felt better, anyway.

I passed some time conversing with a couple I had met in the line before the show. We all seemed content to talk without exchanging names. I have that dratted tendency to hug anonymity. Agree or disagree with my ideas. My identity does not matter. But, dammit, if I'm going to make something of branding, I have to build that identity. But again, once I do that, it is rude and affectedly coy to try to remain anonymous. You can't win.

After my brief time in the presence of Garry, I went back to the hotel to try to sleep. Part of me was very tired and just wanted to crash out until the bagel joint opened in the morning, with real food and coffee. But my mind churned with the decades of issues connected to this comic quest. I willed it to be silent, but it would not. And in a way I didn't want it to. I wanted to ride it all out, bring myself back to functioning equilibrium. I have to operate the life I have created, even if I change it. I have to stand on its solid ground to be able to step off.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Religious Extremism

A suspected terrorist from a radical Shaker sect blew himself up today while attempting to assemble a bomb.

A statement from the extremist group Shaker Jihad stated that Brother Jacob was unfortunately overcome by the Holy Spirit while performing the tricky task of installing the detonator. Giving way to the tremulous trance for which the Shaker sect is named, he set off the explosive.

See, it just doesn't work for some religions.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Past and Present Touch

Next week I'm going to see Garry Trudeau in White River Junction, Vermont. He's doing a benefit for the Center for Cartoon Studies, where I went to cartoon camp last summer.

Back in the 1970s, Trudeau's work had a great influence on mine. He portrayed the world of college and young adulthood I was soon to enter. His values represented the change in political climate that was shaping national policy as young people started paying more attention to how things were run and who was running them. But before it got as painfully political as it did after his characters graduated from college it was funny. And it was pretty roughly drawn, which gave me hope that I could find success with my own less than polished style.

As Trudeau moved into the adult world and brought his characters with him, they faced the transitions that we all did in the Baby Boom generation. Born almost exactly eight years before I was, he went through the thick of the social unrest and intellectual questioning that emanated from college campuses in the late 1960s. His perspective was different from mine and my contemporaries, because his age group came at these things first. From middle to late "Boom," each year got a slightly different slant. Someone my age might be forgiven for getting the mistaken impression that a lot of issues were taken care of already. We were truly rebels without a cause, because we had witnessed the actions of our older siblings and their contemporaries. We developed our own leanings, whether conservative or countercultural, without facing the live fire of large-scale demonstrations and the specter of a war we might actually be sent to.

What remained was the hedonistic echo of free-loving campus life and a jaunty disrespect for an authority that appeared to shallow thinkers (plentiful among people in their late teens and twenties) to be completely discredited.

I had chosen long ago to be a cartoonist. This was not something one could go to school for. No cartoonist ever visited any school I attended on Career Day. Guidance counselors broke the glass on the emergency equipment box on their office wall when I told them what I hoped to do for a living. "Anything but that!" was the consensus.

"Success is money," said one. "Get into something that makes money and do that art shit as a hobby."

If only I had listened. Oh well.

All the time I thought I was working on becoming a cartoonist I was actually becoming a cartoon. I identified with the characters rather than critically examining what the various comic artists were doing. Then I got pissed off when even Zonker turned out to have more entrepreneurial ability than I do.

Speaking of pissed, what's with Frazz being independently wealthy? That totally negates the value of his simple occupation. Anybody can be cool when they don't have to worry about money. I ride a bike and do underpaid crap work, and I don't do it with a back door cash flow from creative success. Try being hardworking and frustrated for decades and see how cool you be.

If nothing else, I hope to come back from this outing with renewed energy to work on my own stuff, which keeps getting pushed to the back of the desk. I get blocked in to the point where I can't seem to get myself to pull it forward. I'll drag a better portfolio than I took to cartoon camp, in case anyone has a chance to look. That means I have to pull some things forward.

Trudeau was one of the judges on the cartoon contest in which I made the finals this summer. I keep forgetting that happened, because I haven't gotten my free calendars yet.

Friday, October 12, 2007

In a Good Cause

Making enemies may be emotionally gratifying, but making progress is much more so.

The same goes for making friends.

Human connections are important. The desire to have cooperative or adversary relationships may cloud your thinking when dealing with complex or controversial issues.

Sometimes there is no "good fight." Sometimes there is just an important truth that needs to be served.

Here endeth the lint. Doesn't necessarily mean anything, it just drifted out from under the furniture of my mind and I haven't vacuumed it up.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ax the Tolls

Don't raise the tolls on New Hampshire expressways. Raise the speed limits about 30 miles per hour, erect bleachers along the highways and charge admission to watch.

NASCAR is big business. Why can't we tap into some of that excitement? Most people drive like they're in a race anyway. Without toll gates to slow them down it could be a real crowd pleaser. And drivers will appreciate being able to use the highways for free, at last.

I would be willing to bet it would raise more revenue than the toll hike ever would have, with a lot less grumbling. And it would create a whole new category of business as entrepreneurs opened parking lots for the spectators. It would generate race weekend money all the time.

Drive Free or Die.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Too Much

Once you realize that humans are basically hopelessly delusional, you may feel a sense of relief, but you still have to figure out how to make a life for yourself in those conditions.

First you need to crank up the squelch to filter out most of the paradoxes. If you listen to everything and really try to consider it, your head will spin constantly.

On top of this pile the real issues in politics, environment, and social organization.

Seems like the two options are to babble constantly or to shut up completely.

Hence some long silences. No thought lasts long enough for me to articulate it. Sometimes new information derails a conclusion that was starting to form. Or lack of information makes any attempt to express a conclusion too vague.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Rip your children's teeth out!

Rather than use stem cells from an embryo that has no consciousness, tear the teeth out of your child's head with pliers to obtain them. It's morally better!


As one who had many teeth extracted during my youth, I can't recommend it as a real good time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Man. The Pants. The Legend.

This morning we got the call from the editor of the local paper: she wanted a reporter to cover a presentation by Jared Fogle, a.k.a. "The Subway Guy," at the local elementary school. It wasn't on the schedule, but Laurie has really taken to these occasional reporting gigs, and I hear I will actually get paid for photographs this time. Scoop and I are on our way.

He looks just like he does on TV. And he seems like the down-to-earth nice guy he appears to be. You can't learn everything in an hour or so, but you get a sense.

His message is well documented. He went from 425 pounds to 195 using diet and exercise. His creative use of Subway sandwiches for the nutritional component earned him national recognition and launched him on this long journey to public appearances great and small. He doesn't do a Subway infomercial. He talks about moderate eating and sensible activity. He explains how he settled into a sedentary lifestyle and what made him pull himself out of it.

Celebrity status complicates things in ways Jared did not address. He was morbidly obese, in danger of death, but, because he pulled himself back from the brink in such a catchy way he created a marketable success story when "being the Subway Guy wasn't on my goal sheet," as he put it. He just wanted to get fit and healthy again. So the message that never gets stated is that one can make a spectacular mess of oneself and then make a livelihood out of the story of recovery. On the other hand, there's already been a Subway Guy. There isn't a vacancy for another one.

In Jared's case it does not appear to be at all cynical. And I don't view it that way. I simply can't ignore the way the solution to an essentially self-created problem leads to great inspiration for others trying to defeat the same self-created problem.

Jared had the basis for his own recovery in him all the time. Others might not be so fortunate. Whatever causes them to eat may have deeper psychological roots. Physiologically, the mechanism of recovery will work on the basis of impersonal metabolism. Burn more calories than you eat and you will lose weight. So for the average lazy sod, and I include myself in that category, it really is just a matter of making better food choices and inserting more exertion into the average day.

Humans have made great advancements in labor-saving devices. We are too good at it. When exertion was unavoidable, it was nice to be able to choose to save energy on some tasks. But now we have to remember to exert. It isn't always easy to take a walk or a bike ride, so then we have to choose various human forms of the gerbil wheel.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hillary Romney, Mitt Clinton

Hillary Clinton has embraced a mandatory insurance plan reminiscent of Republican rival Mitt Romney's, as she tacitly admits that she can't beat the insurance companies or pry their talons off of health care financing in this country.

In that regard, at least, the next two presidential terms will be business as usual. Neither party apparently has the stones or the integrity to try to provide equal access to treatment across the financial spectrum.

Remember: your value is measured in dollars. Get lots of dollars and you will be all right. The market is wise and will reward the best people and products that humanity can produce.

Really? Then why do opium, tobacco, alcohol and gambling do so well? People are willing to pay for them well beyond the point at which they provide any improvement to the quality of life. Drugs are so popular we have to have laws against them and devote kilos of money and time to try to eradicate them. That's the free market in action. The drug dealers don't even get to hire the best ad agencies and flood the airwaves with carefully calculated messages to promote their product. Demand rides high on word of mouth alone.

John Stossel presented an infomercial for laissez-faire economics the other night, lambasting socialized medicine and lauding the market-based approach. The leaps of logic and begged questions went by too fast for me to catalog and consider them all. It masqueraded as an in-depth news analysis, but its slant was clear from the outset. Socialized medicine bad. Free-market health care for profit good.

Okay, okay, I get the picture. Maybe it's time to quit voting and let the country run itself. I feel sorry for my friends' children, and for my nephew and children-in-law. But hey. The only thing you're guaranteed in this life is a death.

About all human beings do is fuck and argue anyway. In the freewheeling past, our sex drive slightly offset the destructive forces of famine, pestilence and our crappy personalities. No one had to think too hard about anything. In fact, it was probably better if you didn't. Unfortunately, a few people thought a little more and a little more clearly, enhancing our survival ability and our capacity to kill each other at the same time. Even so, people got more and more hooked on the idea of long, prosperous, somewhat peaceful lives. That pursuit of peace and prosperity has led to more complex arguments degenerating into larger and bloodier wars as time has gone by.

Money and advanced technology obscure the animal nature of human activity and the philosophies used to try to exalt it to some higher status. There isn't even anyone to tell, because the few who can see it for what it is have no power to change it. I mention it merely to go on record as one who noticed. I will now shut up and let it run its course unchecked. I will probably continue my local activities, futile as they may be, just for something to do while I wait for my exit cue. I have some friends here, and I hate to let them down.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Surgin' General's Report

Sorry, anti-war protesters. We can't just turn it off and walk away from it.

Think of Iraq as a pile of dog shit. Think of the United States as a pair of lugged-sole shoes worn by an irresponsible child named George W. Bush. Think of America's situation as a white carpet. If we do not take all the time necessary to clean all the dog shit out of those shoe soles, we will track it all over the white carpet. True, we have every reason to be infuriated with little Georgie for wearing boots that weren't even really his and running through the pile of dog shit, but that does not change the reality of the present situation. Even if we yank little George up by the scruff of the neck so he quits dancing on the steaming pile of turd, the boots are still dirty.

Okay, now the metaphor breaks down, because you don't clean shit off your shoes while still standing in it, whereas the human chaos in Iraq does demand the direct involvement of responsible, mature, committed individuals to bring all receptive parties to a reasonable solution. It was just really fun to portray our unfortunate chief executive as a naughty boy in misappropriated shoes, stomping in shit.

George said one true thing when he told us the war would be long and difficult. He might have been referring to his Grand War on Terror, but it certainly applies to the Iraq conflict. Quagmires by definition slow your rate of travel. That does not mean you will be in them forever. But expect to pick up a few leeches and fight off a few crocodiles as you slog along in search of that elusive higher ground.

While the Iraq war evolves, terrorist attacks in other parts of the world are investigated after the fact or foiled in advance by diligent police work. Terrorist operatives theoretically have access to a number of sources of useful tools to create devastation. We can't be everywhere at once. We have to hope we manage to be in the right place at the right time. Iraq wasn't it, but it's a mess we now have to clean up properly if we can.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Grasshopper season is the BEST time to be a cat

In the dry heat of a late August afternoon, the cats chase grasshoppers around the yard while one human works on a news article for submission today and the other one watches the events of small lives unfold.

Grasshoppers make the best cat snacks. Crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, they leap and fly to make the chase interesting, but don't usually fly high or far. And there's always another one if the first one gets away.

The hummingbirds battle around the feeders. Lacking long lenses for my digital cameras I brought out the old three-pound Pentax with who-knows-what loaded in it. Not only do I feel compelled to finish the roll, as we did in the past, I will also have to wait to get the film processed. But the quick shutter and telephoto lens allowed me to close in on some of the aerial action. If the film hasn't gone by completely in the uncounted months (or more) since I loaded the camera, I may get better shots than I have since the early 1990s when I was able to shoot from inches away, concealed in a makeshift blind made on the umbrella-type clothes drying rack.

Dragonflies patrol at all elevations. The new wind chime tolls long, deep notes that seem to resonate without end.

Monday, August 27, 2007

War is running for office

The war in Iraq has hired a publicist in the form of Freedom's Watch. This group of conservatives has appointed itself to polish up the image of endless armed conflict and thereby enlist voter support. You've probably seen the advertisements on television.

Imagine what the Vietnam War would have been like with a better image consultant. We could still be engaged over there, too.

First let me say that absolutely everyone associated with this endeavor should either be over there in uniform or have close family members over there in uniform. When they show us amputees, paraplegics and bereaved parents they should acknowledge that they are urging us to support the creation of more amputees, paraplegics and bereaved parents. The creators of these ads owe it to them and to us to prove their own commitment with more than money and purchased words.

And who is the ad agency making this stuff? Who collects a paycheck and then goes home to suburbia after crafting these appeals so filled with leaps of faith and flawed logic? Is it just another job when you do your best to persuade the masses to keep answering the call of duty that will doubtless get a number of them maimed and killed? If it is a noble labor of patriotism, do it in your spare time, for free.

Victory happens either when the losers are completely annihilated or when their side consents to have lost. Therefore, any conflict can go on forever as long as participants on both sides keep picking up weapons.

By declaring any withdrawal from a pointless conflict "surrender," Freedom's Watch actually sides with the enemy by conceding to their terminology. By being narrow-minded, stiff-necked and freely bellicose using other people's children, Freedom's Watch is actually very bad for the country they claim to support so fervently. They close off options in a way utterly contrary to the style of open discourse we've been told is our way of life. Of course we know it isn't our way of life and it never has been. Our way of life has been to shoot our way out and make up fancy stories about it afterwards since the 17th Century. We're just four centuries better at it now.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Worst President Ever

After assuring us going in that Iraq was not and would not be anything like Vietnam, George W. Bush is about to argue that withdrawal from Iraq would cause the kind of violence and chaos that followed our withdrawal from Vietnam.

Vietnam is like the Civil War. Some people will never stop fighting it. Iraq will be the same way. You can pull the military forces out of the quagmire, but the arguments will live on and on and on.

If we could have moved the Civil War to someone else's real estate certain people would probably still be fighting it.

We've had the video of Dick Cheney in 1994 explaining how war in Iraq would be a quagmire. We had the assurances that George's Folly would be a quick and decisive event. We had howls of protest from the warmongers insisting that it would be nothing like Vietnam. But now that it suits their purposes to draw the comparison, it will be just like Vietnam.

This administration will say whatever is convenient to try to get what they want. From the beginning, George has looked like a spoiled, whiny teenager to me. This is just more of the same. He puts on a manly voice and tries to look like a rational adult, but it's all just to justify his impulse of the moment or shovel some sand over his pile of indiscretions.

Now we're seeing commercials to promote our continued military involvement. They lump Afghanistan and Iraq together as a package deal. A double-amputee veteran urges us to lobby our senators and congressional representatives to keep fighting as a way to keep terrorists from attacking us again. No individual politician dares to put his face up with a message like that. We have the assurances of someone who can't really know that we are winning on the ground and need to stay engaged. I honor the man's bravery, but I don't trust his information. Where's the definitive victory?

I can understand wanting to put an outpost in the region. Since such an outpost can't help but generate conflict, placing it there under the cover of a war is as good a way as any. War would find it eventually. But don't dangle the carrot of "victory" in front of what you hope is a gullible American public. As soon as we went into Iraq it was a long-term sentence. Meanwhile, what do we do when the terrorists inevitably figure out how to launch completely effective operations from placid-looking locales anywhere in the world? What do we do when another spot heats up while the ones we're in still burn and itch?

I can't believe anyone wants to be the next President of the United States. Sure, you can't help but look better than the present idiot and his pack of jackals, but you get stuck having to clean up after them. If you last eight years it probably won't be half enough.

Monday, August 13, 2007

National Service

As the Viet -- I mean Iraq war drags on, more politicians are talking about instituting mandatory national service. This is a euphemism for a military draft.

If national service just meant cutting your hair, going through a brief period of physically demanding training, peeling potatoes and letting irritable assholes order you around for a few years it might not be so bad. But military service means that you may be ordered to kill people. That's what "serving your country" means: killing people you're told to kill because someone at the top of the chain of command has determined that they need to be killed.

The unswerving obedience to authority necessary to military service is utterly antithetical to the concepts of individual liberty, self reliance and self determination that supposedly form the foundation of our national identity. For your period of national service you have to put aside all that and accept that the leaders directing you forward with fixed bayonets know exactly what they're doing, and that any harm you cause or suffer ultimately serves the greater good.

Even if you know it's not true, you have a contractual obligation to perform as directed, and a bond of trust with your fellow warriors. You have to accept that those two things make the lives of the people on the other end of your gun barrel less important than your own. At the same time, you accept that your individual life and health are less important than the political objectives you were sent to bolster.

Anything less than this life and death commitment is considered contemptible. In our long tradition of killing each other over all manner of differences of opinion, we have developed the habit of revering warriors and not questioning the concept of war itself. Of course the good guys will fight the bad guys. The bad guys started it. We're going to find out where they live and go kick their asses.

Conflicts do arise. A fighting force governed by strong authority will always prevail over one that tries to organize itself democratically or by consensus. A fighting force that fools itself into believing that bloodshed is glorious will have better morale than one that acknowledges the pain, suffering and probable injustice generated by armed conflict. We just can't afford to have sensitive soldiers.

A draft will not make our country a better place. It will not make our young adults better people. It certainly didn't do so in the Vietnam era. The war itself made some people better and others worse, whether they took part in it or opposed it. Those who believe in the inherent virtue of military service will insist that the experience will improve everyone concerned. The fact is that anyone who would rise to the noble ideal of military service would rise to the noble ideal of any endeavor. And those who show up just to get to kill legally, and the saboteurs and malingerers and hopelessly inept will find their level and their path within the system without changing their basic nature. You can challenge people to bring out their inner strength without putting a gun in their hand and an enemy in front of them. Why don't we think about how to do that?

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Why provide health insurance for children?

Politicians like to say they have a plan to provide health insurance for all of the nation's children. This promise conveniently combines the idea of generous health care with the time-honored practice of kissing babies.

Why provide health coverage for children when you're just going to throw them to the wolves when they become adults? Why give the little tykes a false impression of the world? Why give them healthy bodies and then under-fund their education?

The politicians promise health insurance, not health care. This just means the taxpayers will foot the bill for the profit margin of the insurance industry. This isn't even feel-good crap. It's just plain crap.

I do love a highly competitive presidential primary. The candidates bring a touch of excitement from the big, wide world to our little state. They shuttle busily back and forth, occasionally providing some actual information. Of course the ones who do that usually tank in the voting and disappear. But it's fun while it lasts.

Monday, August 06, 2007

A Little Scrap of the Big News

"NH Lake Resort Draws Glitterati" says the San Jose Mercury News. The article is a rehash of the standard wire piece that has been going around for a few days now, with some updating.

I have yet to see any glitterati. Mind you I don't get out much. I enter and leave the town by the servants' entrance. The northwest quadrant cuts the perfect angle away from the village, avoiding all possible sites of interest to any of the beautiful and exciting people. Coming in I do ride up Main Street, but who's around at 9 in the morning? On the way out I'm safe in obscurity once I get past Wolfetrap. Drew Barrymore supposedly drank there at least once.

Either Tim Daly or Steven Weber used the bathroom at the deli behind our shop. Our informant could only say "it was one of the brothers from 'Wings.'" Glittery.

Since the town has supposedly attracted famous people for decades -- centuries, if you count John Wentworth -- you can be sure they have had all the glitterizing effect they're going to by now. I suppose there have been some ill-behaved photographers around the lakeside cottage the Sarkozy family has rented, but we have yet to see any spectacular motorcycle chases as the paparazzi pursue limousines full of fleeing celebs. Monaco we ain't.

I'd like to see any of these illustrious folk try to entertain themselves around here in early November or mid-April. Frankly I don't know how they manage it now. But somehow they do. The shoreline sports enough mansions of the fabulously wealthy that they can just hop fences and make new friends without ever appearing before the prying eyes of the curious yokels.

Prominence, particularly political prominence, requires certain sacrifices. The first of these is the ability to wander freely on foot or bicycle wherever fancy takes you. The rest of us may be turned aside from a few gated communities, but we are also not trapped within them.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Science before breakfast, law before lunch

Monday I got up at 5:30 to calibrate instruments for river testing. I got to the river shortly after 7, collected the samples and data, handed off the instruments to Claire, this year's river goddess, and walked back home through the woods to eat some breakfast.

After eating I had to sprint over to the town offices for a conservation commission work session. We're updating the town's wetland ordinance. It doesn't need much, but it's a critical part of environmental protection. Since a clean environment is a special interest in this country, we have to be ready to answer all sorts of challenges from the developers who want to view the world as a gridded flat surface they can sell by the square yard.

Talk about political interference in science! The legal people just want a number, a reasonable, moderate distance they can justify as uniformly applied and enforced. The developers want it small. The environmentalists want it big. Everybody wants it simple.

As I suspected it would, my initial research indicates it ain't that simple. Many factors affect how wide a wetland buffer zone needs to be. One study out of Georgia stated that in one case the buffer should be more than 250 meters. In another case, 25 feet would be sufficient. So the standard 100 feet would be woefully inadequate in one case and massive overkill in the other.

Set that number too big to begin with and you'll end up hauled into court or rubber stamping all kinds of variances and exceptions. Set it too small and you might as well not have it at all.

Put it on the pile with all my other reading...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Life is simple. Civilization is complicated

Two Marine reservists were discussing their Iraq experiences the other day. One works in the bike shop. The other rides with the local group.

Days before, I had said to the first one, "I wish I could feel there was some kind of guiding intelligence, some well-thought-out plan for what we're doing."

"There isn't," he assured me. He shook his head.

The second one always has a positive attitude. He does not seem to be someone who considers things too deeply.

As they chatted, the first Marine said that he'd go back to Iraq if he wasn't married.

"But then you get there and you go, 'why the fuck did I do this to myself?'" he said.

The second Marine said he'd had a good time on his fairly short tour.

"I kept saying to myself, I'm living the dream," he said.

Living the dream?

Combatant types enjoy the combat itself. Maybe some of them prefer to dress up and patrol around without a lot of hostile action, while others like to mix it up more. Neither of these guys goes around picking fights when they're at home. They're both people I would want on my side if something did break out. But how are you supposed to feel about people sent by their government into a dangerous situation when they seem to be having fun in it? The fate of nations and the vast sweep of political and philosophical forces means nothing to the fighters in the fight. Some don't care as long as they can get a job fighting. Others are just too busy trying to survive the challenges of each day to give any thought to a bigger picture.

We present this black-and-white notion of what we're doing and the people we're using to do it, but they don't react as uniformly as they are dressed and told to march. Some discover the experience traumatizes them. They come back recounting the horrors. At the other end of the scale, some people, even some who have been blown up, shot and mangled, accept it, even praise it.

As a civilization, we get selected groups to do things in the name of all of us, but each sub group is made up of smaller units all the way down to the individual. No leader can say with perfect confidence that every follower represents the same values at all. This is true of all participants in a conflict. Life itself may be a simple matter of finding food, shelter and whatever companionship one desires. Mix all those simple lives into something called a nation or an ideology and you get fundamentally insane activities like wars or political parties. It's hard to wave the flag when you don't know how the person looking at it will interpret it. It's hard to know how to treat a veteran when you don't know how they view themselves. You can't even say they all did it because they thought it was a great and noble thing to do. Some of them just like the line of work.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Nielsen Family

Out of the blue, Nielsen Media Research called to ask if I would like to fill out a week-long survey questionnaire reporting my viewing.

"I don't mind doing it at all, but I really don't watch much TV," I said.

"That's okay," the woman from Nielsen told me. "We ask several households so we get a cross-section."

Good deal. I don't mind being the 2% margin of error.

In winter I will drool in front of the box a bit more, but in summer I watch the morning news and the evening Simpsons reruns and that's about it.

The survey started last Thursday. I duly reported the morning news and the evening Simpsons. We've also been spot-checking the various summer talent shows and Top Chef.

Last night, I was home alone. I was watching the Simpsons. It was the medical marijuana episode.

The phone rang at about 7:15. It was a woman from Nielsen. I thought it might be my wife phoning in. I was also thinking about several deadlines for drawings coming up, as I watched the television.

Ring, ring!


"Hi, this is (missed name) from the Nielsen company. I just wanted to see if you got your survey packet and if you had any questions."

Do you mind? I'm trying to watch TV. I didn't say it, but I thought it. Damn it, I should have said it. I should have said, "I know you're just trying to do your job here, but so am I. How am I supposed to get my TV watched if you keep calling me up asking questions?"

In my distracted state, trying to watch the cartoon and stay in contact with my other preoccupations, I sounded completely stoned. It made her laugh. That made me laugh, because I knew I sounded like an utter bake-head. I'm not, but let's just say the sensation is not entirely unfamiliar. And there was Homer, doing the usual excellent job of lampooning that state of mind.

It all had a curious unity. There's a wacky, stonerish humor to the idea of the Nielsen company keeping one of their test subjects from watching TV, especially one who draws an almost continuous line down the "TV Off" column of the survey booklet as it is.

Tonight I'm not watching at all. The Simpsons reruns go Monday through Friday and I got home too late for the evening news.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy Blowing Things Up Day

The Fourth of July is a big holiday around these parts. I don't know how much people are thinking about Philadelphia in 1776 and throwing off the yoke of British rule, but they sure like to blow things up.

Test salvos start some time in June. In addition to the usual little crackles of small arms, occasionally, at any hour, something large could go up with a deep boom.

We live in the woods. There isn't really any place to have a parade. The schools don't have marching bands. You can run up a flag if you want, but the main activity is blowing stuff up. It peaks around now, but takes the rest of the month or more to wind down. With a boom boom here and a boom boom there, here a boom, there a boom, everywhere a boom boom...

On the Disney Morning News, Sam Champion was talking to Gloria Estefan. I wasn't really paying attention, waiting for my local weather forecast, when I heard Gloria say, "we're at the American Mecca."

They were at Walt Disney World. Mecca?

I wish I could disagree. But our site of pilgrimage in this country is an amusement park.

While I like to find my fun in less controlled environments, at least using Disney World as the center of our religion shows that we don't take ourselves too seriously. World War III, underway as we speak, is between people who take themselves way too seriously and those who want to be free not to. The worst part of the battle is that it has to be fought, because it can't be defused with humor. One whole side is incapable of getting most of the jokes, especially the ones on them.

Still, I feel a little uneasy putting Cinderella's castle up there next to the Ka'bah. Maybe when Cinderella's castle has been around for a few more centuries it will have soaked up more of the gravity of the older shrine. You just have to give these things time. It all starts with an idea. Like the idea Gloria Estefan so casually put forth this morning.

Yay, Mecca! Yay Mecca! Yay, Mecca Mouse Club!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Political Divide

Just when I thought how nicely we were all getting along at work, someone got a bee in their bonnet because I said I didn't think much of Mitt Romney. Since this person seems to like Mitt, they went immediately into the Bush administration stance that if you're not with them you're against them. In this philosophy, intellectual inquiry and political dissent are unpatriotic and contemptible. You're either laughable or despicable, but either way you're wrong.

This all may stem from the belief some local businesspeople have, that a Romney presidency will increase tourist traffic and business revenues in town, because of his lakefront second home. Or is it his third, fourth or fifth? Anyway, not his principal residence, and even less so if he wins the White House.

I can't wait to see how these eager profiteers react when the whole town is locked down for some terror alert, and there are anti-aircraft batteries dug in at numerous strategic points.

The anti-aircraft batteries would be cool. Whose house would they drop the bogey on? It wouldn't be Mitt's.

The fun of all that would not be worth having Romney in charge. After all, what do Mitt Romney and Barbie's left breast have in common?

They're both plastic boobs.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Never Give Up

Stick with your dreams. That's what they say. Keep plugging away, because you can't win if you quit the game.

Can't argue with that. But you might have to grub for twenty or thirty years before you see a way forward. Or you might never see one. That kind of determination takes a certain kind of stubbornness. Some might call it stupidity.

Hard to say if it goes anywhere from here. But it went here, and "things," as they say, are happening.

I have called attention to myself. It's not a quiet matter between me and an editor and a bunch of magazine or newspaper readers I'll never meet. I can feel detached from celebrity judges looking at my work. It's too unreal, even when they pick me. When I have to bother people I know and people I barely know to try to generate enough votes to win, that's when it gets real. I'm making a fuss, pick me, pick me. I hope they'll think it was worth it.

In all the years since I got over myself, after the unfounded arrogance of young adulthood, I have been happy to toil anonymously, helpfully, competently. But I kept drawing pictures. It wasn't like a hard-fought battle or a master plan. It was just a habit. In the end, making a habit of your dreams and desires may be the best you can do. Just don't quit. The strongest force against the creative soul is not opposition, it is indifference. By making a habit of your creation, you make yourself indifferent to indifference.

You have to be ready to amount to nothing for the sake of doing what you want to do. It's a risk. Every course of action brings its hazards and drawbacks. You only hope you get to choose what you risk and why you risk it. And then hope you have the strength to follow all the way through. It may not be a dramatic, heroic struggle. It might just be a long journey on a low budget. But that doesn't mean it isn't worth taking.

This moment could be the high point, a flash of light near the sunny surface before sinking back into the green depths. Or it could be the start of things more exciting and lucrative. Either way, the cat box needs to be scooped.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Grand Design

Lately I have worked from the assumption that most of us have no compelling reason to exist. At best we are spares, almost talented potential replacements for the few truly illustrious people. Perhaps we hold spare organs for them. But as I sat and listened to local poets at the library tonight I realized some higher intelligence has a greater plan for all of us.

All our building and destroying, our mountaintop removal mining, blast craters, highway interchanges, Great Walls, suburban subdivisions and pyramids are the result of a young alien creature's entry in his school science fair.

We need all of us, consuming, demanding and destroying, to inspire the Earth-scarring disfigurements we have perpetrated on our planet's crust. They are vital to our creator's clever plan, because in the language of his species they spell out, "Eat my shorts."

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Environmental Laundry

We put up a clothes line. It's one of those simple things you can do to save the planet.

We've had rain almost every day since.

If one of us stayed at home, we could exploit the dry parts of the day. Unfortunately, we both have to leave the house for at least part of almost every day.

Natural methods rely on unpredictable forces. If we lived in a desert, we could dry clothes all the time, but we would have no water with which to wash them.

The trick to exploiting natural energy has always been control and storage. That's why fire was such a cool thing. Once we figured out how to burn things, we simply had to try burning as many different things as possible to see what we could get out of them.

Wood is solar energy that has been stored for a few years. Coal is solar energy that has been stored for a few million years. So is oil. Since the source material for petroleum is thought to contain some animal components as well, it could be said to contain the force of life itself.

Releasing this energy has drawbacks that are now well documented. In addition to the pollution that comes from burning any of these fuels, we can also romp through the reserves in far less time than it took to create them. Unlike a natural cycle, this one has no renewal phase.

If we tried to make petroleum out of the greasy remains of the living organisms that die every day, we would have to pour massive amounts of external energy into the process to speed it up. Energy is, in this instance, compressed time.

Running the environmentally contemptible electric dryer, I compress the work of half a day's sunshine into an hour. If the dryer worked better, it would take even less time. Like everything else in this house, it is just a tired, aging slacker.

A damp rug, recovering from an attack of cat pee, hangs over the clothes line, while the electric dryer hums and rumbles in the basement. This aging slacker has to put forth some of his own energy to get to work. It's still somewhat renewable.