Monday, April 28, 2008

Ahh, Television

A constant, corrosive stream of reminders that life is short and difficult bathes the room. Advertisements urge the viewer to prepare for retirement, fight aging, keep teeth and gums healthy or, failing that, properly replaced, keep vaginas moist and penises rising faithfully to the demand of lust, hold off arthritis with drugs whose side effects could include lymphoma and be sure to purchase enough of every kind of insurance. And if all else fails, we know some good lawyers you can hire.

Between interludes of advertising, endless fiction crackles through the transmission lines to fill the empty lives of the audience with experiences to replace the ones they're not out having for themselves. Is it better watch devotedly or just have this continuous destructive murmur in the background while you give your direct attention to something more important, like solitaire or a computer game?

Someone got paid to produce both the advertisements and the fictional teleplays that fill the intervals between sales pitches. Yet television depends on people with nothing better to do than sit around and watch television. That sort of precludes having a job, doesn't it?

More than one cartoonist has advised watching television to get popular culture references and current events to spark ideas and keep the material fresh and relevant. Too bad I stumbled on this advice many years after I had developed the habit of avoiding the television.

Perhaps more fibrous programming, like C-Span, would make me feel less like I'd just sat around in my pajamas eating several pounds of processed snack food. Nothing makes me feel more like I've wasted hours of my life than daytime television. Just being around it makes me feel sick. But just as some people like weird things like organ meats, pork rinds or cheeses that smell like something dead, so can some people endure hours of vapid crap chattering in the corner of a room they're in and feel undiminished by it. Some people even appear to need that noise and motion.

Enough. I'm going to scrub the greasy residue of daytime video off my hide and then salvage the remains of the day.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Everything's the middle and the edge

Eventually it should be possible to link-hop and stumble your way into every website that is not password-protected. With sufficient skills or clearances, you could enter those as well. But it does not happen automatically, any more than you sense the connection of all life automatically.

Or do you?

Some people seem to have at least a moment of reflection when faced with another life form, however small or alien. Really creepy life forms might elicit less of this response, but the plethora of anthropomorphized animated characters demonstrates our tendency to project our feelings onto anything we remotely believe might be capable of sharing them. We're looking for company. This is true even if we ourselves aren't very good company.

Paradoxically, people tend to live within their own perceptions even as they look for connections to the wider world. Some people are frankly xenophobic and clear about the limits they place on the company they wish to keep. Others acknowledge it less, either because they do not realize it about themselves or because they realize the value of concealing it. Act nice and people tend to be nicer to you. Later on, if you have to screw them over, it will be easier if they trusted you.

As we seek to improve our own nation in the coming election, how many people acknowledge that the only truly sustainable way to improve our lot is to recognize that it is connected to the fortunes of everyone else on this globe? As weapons proliferate and desperate philosophies masquerading as benevolent religions turn more readily to murder-suicide, how long can we choose short-term solutions favoring prosperity now at the cost of ever-larger paybacks later? The debt is more than monetary even now.

Oh, the economy's a mess. Can we borrow our way to greater spending and maybe kick the environment in the ribs a few more times and get away with it? Can we talk the owners of the world's oil into dropping the prices a tad, slap a few adhesive bandages on the irreconcilable differences of the so-called Holy Land and eke out a year, two years, four years, a decade, of easy living for the shrinking, beleaguered middle class of a handful of industrialized nations? Can we make do-nothing health insurance available to all citizens, call it "health care" and walk away dusting our hands in satisfaction at a job well done?

No one's really proposing major improvements to the Executive Branch except in the area of IQ and vocabulary. Anything would be better than what we've had, but the bar is set very low. Is driving at an angle toward a cliff that much better than driving straight at it?

We debate issues in the context of an election, where one side wins and the other loses, instead of carrying on a constant, substantive conversation about what we can improve and how we can improve it. It goes beyond the political, but it shows its face only in the political process, where we resort to snappy put-downs instead of seeking solutions. Schools of thought get divided between two camps instead of attended by interested minds. Intellectual territory belongs to one group or another when it should be public domain, like a library or a park. I don't mean that intellectual property should not be protected for its creator or discoverer to be compensated for the effort that went into the creation or discovery. I mean that in the realm of social solutions, team pride needs to give way to a higher good.

When discussing the outcomes of various philosophical approaches we must be brutally honest about what they mean. No answer will be perfect. Total, unfettered freedom quickly leads to the end of freedom, as the free strong dominate the free weak. Equality of opportunity has never existed, but if it did it would still not guarantee fair results. Equal opportunity should lead to meritocracy, in which good qualities of intelligence, hard work and good character lead to the greatest success. And yet, with all societies ours to invent, we've never managed to bring about that one. And what happens to the middle and lower tiers in that society? Do they take their status like good sports, even if it means shorter lives with fewer amenities?

Just keeping babies alive and Africans from starving is not enough. What do they do next? What do we all do?

From a biological standpoint, most organisms just want to create more of their own kind. Then whatever happens happens. It's gotten us this far, but now humans seem to be able to make ever larger and more malignant things happen. Up to the middle of the 20th Century, our wars got bigger and bigger, the weapons got bigger and bigger and the strain we put on our planet and each other got bigger and bigger. In the latter half of that century we held off the humongous war that our humongous weapons would have made possible, but continued to dig bloody gashes in everything else. And it all started with the urge to make more of ourselves, in number and stature.

What now? How do we advance? What innovation will save us, short of the cooperative attitude that has eluded us up to now?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Damn,this place needs cheering up!

Hucking clutter feels great. In that vein, we here at Scavengewood have begun to wad up and discard accumulated stuff.

It's generally better to stay light on your feet. The house just feels better with less stuff in it, as long as the stuff that remains meets our needs. I don't believe in throwing out any item you haven't used in a year, because that arbitrary method can eliminate items unexpectedly unused because an activity has been interrupted, not discontinued. But surplus clothing and half-dead appliances can certainly go. You have a good idea when you've really left something behind.

My old standard used to be "one layer." If all your stuff can't be stored in one layer, you either need more efficient storage facilities or less stuff. When another active adult moved in, we had to accept two layers in places, but the goal is always to get it down to the thinnest pile possible.

Expert yard sellers and flea marketers seem to turn their crap into gold. I haven't developed the knack. I'm mostly concerned with getting it OUT OF HERE than with generating income from it. We might try selling some, though. It's just pretty thoroughly chewed before we let it go.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Live constantly in fear of death and as if you would never die

When you wonder if you might be going any moment, you try harder to do what you want to do most.

It's easy to get morbid, depressed or fearful when considering the Big Dirt Nap, but one way or another you have to get past that, since the life you're living is a limited-time offer. Sometimes you may go for long periods denying or forgetting the essential fragility of existence. Then something reminds you. It might be a specific thing or the notion might simply cycle to the surface of your consciousness.

Fear not the death, since there's no point to that, but instead rebel against the preventable waste of time. At the same time, remember that the joys of a nap are as legitimate as the triumph of composing a symphony. Enjoying a good meal, you provide an essential service to the person who worked to prepare it. We can each only do so much. Frantic striving for achievement is not necessarily a better use of time than relaxed appreciation of every opportunity not only to exert toward a goal but to enjoy the efforts of others or simply observe the existence of all things.

Just remember to appreciate it. Humans are peculiarly equipped to be able to do that. And who knows? You may be called upon to provide a review.

The thing about living forever simply reminds you not to give way to impulses that could leave things in a tangle for yourself or parties on whom you have no right to impose. To say more would enter the realms of good and evil about which so vastly much has been written, spoken and acted already. Look for the boundaries of your rights and responsibilities. Don't complain about having to color inside the lines, because you do get to decide where those lines lie. If you cross someone else's line, do it mindfully. Don't be surprised by consequences. Of course you won't live forever, but you might live inconveniently long if you blundered around expecting to be taken out before the blowback caught up with you or with someone or something you suddenly realize you care more about than you thought.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Citizen Action Needed

Governor John Lynch has said he wants to boost revenues from liquor and lottery sales to help overcome New Hampshire's budget deficit.

When you receive your federal tax rebate check, would you be so kind as to go out and spend it all on booze and lottery tickets? It would be like a federal bailout for the state's ailing finances, and you get drunk!

Monday, April 07, 2008

Recorded before a live audience

As television has become a fixture in virtually every household in the developed world, and penetrated pretty deeply in many other areas, we've all learned how to become better actors by watching the professionals.

Humans like fiction. But the fully developed presentations of film and video make it possible not just to study a description of a character's actions but to study the speech patterns and every nuance of gesture in a performer's portrayal of it. Now more than ever before in history, we can -- and often do -- choose a fictional character who never existed, played by an actor we will never meet as our principle role model.

Throughout the long and mostly undocumented ancient history of our species, storytellers passed down the legends and lore that contained the stories used to teach character and behavior. But when you can see stories from many eras frozen exactly as performed and repeated on demand it reaches a vastly larger number of people in a short time. And now it's been going on long enough to become the unquestioned norm. Not too many people questioned whether we should become like that as we were in the process. Now we are that way.

It isn't just limited to fiction, of course. Any person we see a lot will affect our behavior whether they attract or repel us. We fill in more of the blanks around people we see less. It becomes more like it was when you might hear a story once or a few times, or read a book, and have to imagine a lot of details.

With some of these characters, the purportedly real ones, we often get more details than we asked for.