Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Grass Really IS Greener

A former coworker of mine took a new job last fall for a healthy rise in salary, plus what passes for a benefit package these days. He's been emailing me or dropping by to swap stories about his new job and my same old one.

He's not disillusioned, but after the first few pleasant challenges and small adjustments to a different management, he's come face to face with the relentless onslaught of the particular customer demands of his new clientèle.

Yes, the grass is greener and lusher over there. That's just to make the dog shit harder to see.

Pay always lags behind crap. Every time you hop to a new job with a higher salary you soon discover why it still isn't enough.

Don't get me wrong, keep striving. Just watch your step in that nice grass.

Does Bashing Work?

All discourse, particularly political, seems to head straight for the big toy box of pejorative language. Anyone passionate about social changes of all sorts has to demonstrate their depth of commitment by calling the other side as many kinds of an idiot as possible.

Bashing may be emotionally satisfying and delight those who are already converted, but it doesn't change any minds among the opposition. In short, as an argumentative tactic in the intellectual, productive sense, it is a complete bust.

That being said, I love a good harangue as much as the next true believer. But it's strictly to rally one's own troops and entertain them. When it gets broadcast to the wider world, it simply stiffens the resolve of the opposition. "Call me a (fill in the blank) will you? Well you're a (insert snappy comeback here)!"

Fun stuff, but while slap fights are won and lost, problems remain unsolved.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Evolution is All in Your Head

Thousands of years before the oil lamp went on over Charles Darwin's head, humans had ceased to evolve by natural selection. No wonder they thought it was a crackpot theory.

We evolve in the world of ideas now, and have for a long, long (keep adding longs for a long time) time. Because of this, communication of all kinds carries huge weight. We imagine the future and try to change it based on what we know now and from the past. Whether we get the changes we hope to get is irrelevant. We do change things purely based on what we think. To the extent that we are not natural, that's not natural.

People with unsuccessful ideas breed. The offspring adopt different ideas, and might or might not breed. Ideas outlive their creators and evolve on their own, further changing the future independent of any reproductive system.

At the same time, some form of physical evolution continues just because we keep breeding and DNA keeps twisting. But the forces on our physical being reflect what our minds have created. There is no single master plan, as there would be for a simpler species dealing with the simple needs of food, shelter and sex.

We of all species have the greatest power to deceive. We can dress thoughts to look like other thoughts, and create pitfalls and snares in the invisible space of spoken word.

And this, for the moment, is the truth. Take one step away in any direction and I can't guarantee anything.

Reality is for people who can't handle the Internet

Hip people in the 1970s used to say, "Reality is for people who can't handle drugs." It was a snide way to invert the accusation leveled by "straight" people that drugs were a contemptible way to evade reality. These same people often packed all sorts of religious meeting places to engage in apparently superior illogical diversions.

Drugs, religion and fantasy life have all served as havens from the search for the true reality of our strange universe. The Internet is just the latest twist on the theme of escapism.

Like all escapist tools and techniques throughout the sprawling history of self awareness, the Internet has its solid, prosaic underpinnings and much content directly connected to the manipulation of what we refer to as The Real World. An escapist can't escape without acknowledging what was escaped from. You have to push off from something. And if you had no existence to begin with, how could you bemoan it or wish to be distracted from it?

Are we really here?

If you weren't here, you couldn't ask.

The true nature of here may turn out to be scientifically astonishing, but the fact remains that you have an arc of life to pursue, and you have to take a dump at regular intervals.

The Internet is a great place to be publicly obscure. It's a great place for people who can't handle real obscurity. You really want to be obscure? Shut the fuck up, take down your website and slink off into the grimy cityscape, where everyone looks the same. Go homestead in the last pockets of quasi-wilderness and don't do a documentary about it.

Hell, Thoreau was an attention whore.

Gratuitous obscurity is a sign of lazy writing. I respect people who still bother to craft coherent thoughts, complete sentences and concrete images.

Don't mind me. I'm really from the Crab Nebula. Unreal, man.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Judge by Appearances

Someone said on a forum today that judging someone by their speech online is like judging them by their tattoos in real life.

If someone has a tattoo of a flaming sword driven through a baby's skull, or a picture of a graphic and strenuous sex act, or any verbal suggestion of something that perhaps not everyone would enjoy, it's perfectly appropriate to judge them by that.

It's not appropriate to judge them by the fact that they have tattoos at all. It's not appropriate to judge them by art choices that might not be to your taste. But if they cared enough about an image to get it permanently applied to their body, you can safely guess that the concept that inspired it guides their thinking. You can consider it a thought balloon over their head.

If anyone with tattoos does not see it this way, I suggest you think some more. Go ahead. Ink up. I've seen some cool ones. Just remember I read what is written (if I know the language) and I analyze the pictures. Since art is interpreted by the beholder, any time you turn yourself into a canvas or a gallery, you invite the critics.


On the calendar, March looks like it has 31 days. Experiencing it off the page, I think it has about 38.

Even with the warmer climate, winter can claim a chunk of March whenever it wants. We will get warm days, and every type of precipitation, but no resident of northern New England can relax and leave the house without a couple of extra layers of clothing until late June.

Our reward for enduring March is April. April belongs to no season. With that gray limbo in front of us, March seems even longer. April: all the hypothermia of winter with none of the fun. You like gray skies and cold rain? You'll like April around here.

The real estate business would die in its tracks if every prospective home buyer had to spend March and April here. Can we make it a law?

One way or another, winter will be dismantled and carried away. On a day-to-day level we can't slow or hasten it.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Stumbling, not Springing, Forward

Another sluggish morning. I could barely get my ides open.

I'm amazed how much I tell time by the light. Even looking at the clock, my mind overrides what I see there, going instead by the darkness outside to fool me into thinking I have more time to get up and get going.

Having early-summer length evenings when the day length isn't even 12 hours yet further disorients me. The weather over the past couple of days hasn't helped. It felt like May yesterday. March returns tomorrow, with some forecasts calling for a foot of snow.

In New England, you're not through with winter until winter is through with you. However, if winter is too busy elsewhere, or just not feeling up to par, you may have to get along with just a touch of wet sleet and endless damp chilliness.

The weather reminds us we don't really control anything. We can poke, prod, disrupt and destroy natural systems to some extent, but we don't control them, because we can't make them do exactly what we want, whenever we want.

The power of disruption and destruction is really no power at all. Anybody can break something.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Filthy Lucre

I was just thinking that plastic cards are much more sanitary than paper money, because they only get handled by their owner and the person receiving them to process payment. Paper money goes from hand to hand, its porous fabric absorbing legendary amounts of contamination.

Then someone handed my colleague George a credit card with toilet paper stuck to it.

If you make a special effort, even plastic money can be gross.

Thanks, Vacationing Public!

Monday, March 05, 2007

This wasn't in the manual

On Friday I was skiing the Ellis River Trail in falling snow, with perfect wax and comfortable technique. I worried a little because my bindings were coming apart, but the loose bits seemed to be staying partially attached. I could only keep skiing, enjoying the fluid stride through silky powder. I looked down every stride to make sure the little yellow binding flexors still clung to the toe pieces. I could replace the attachment pins if I could get them back to the lodge.

On a straight, level stretch I saw two skiers many yards ahead of me. They were down. Sometimes people's feet tangle and they fall in places that seem to present no hazard. But as I got closer I wondered if they had decided to stop and sit in the middle of the trail just for a picnic. One squatted or knelt, facing the other one.

Still closer I could tell they were both women, approaching middle age. I started to form a few choice comments about appropriate places to stop and spread out across the tracks, but I don't shoot first anymore. Not so much, anyway. And not this time.

As I pulled up, one woman, on her cell phone, said, "What? No!" She turned to her friend. "Oh my god," she said. "Dick's dead! He just died!" She looked at her friend, repeating, "Dick's dead, he's dead! He wasn't even sick." Then she collapsed, sobbing, in her friend's arms.

I didn't want to ski off, since no one else but the friend was there, but I didn't know what I could do. I made a few sympathetic comments.

"You may have a shock reaction and your body temperature will drop," I said. "You should go to the warming hut, right over there, and sit for a minute out of the weather." Snow was still falling, and the breeze was picking up.

When she'd just been blasted with totally unexpected bad news I couldn't really question her in detail about how close they'd been or how seriously she might react. The sobbing woman said he'd died in his sleep. Her friend said that sounded like a good way to go. But rationality like that has to fight through a lot of other brain traffic when an emotional missile seeks you out in the middle of a pleasant afternoon ski outing.

I know what to do when someone is bleeding, or not breathing, or hypothermic. I know what to do when someone is scared or lost. But the cell phone has now allowed the outside world to barge in with crap like this. All it did was ruin her afternoon. She didn't need to know about it right then.

Oh yeah, and she had a signal out there? It wasn't the right time, but I really wanted to ask what service provider she had.