Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Pop and sacraments

Religion and rock and roll were both ruined for me by the same thing: I started really listening to the words. I would not go back to my old ways. But it makes me a conspicuous element in a front pew at a Christmas Eve service.

I have no quarrel with many of the general principles espoused by the followers of God, but church has become more than just a boring interlude before we get gooey breakfast pastries on our way home to enjoy the rest of the day. And I don't mean that in a sappy TV movie way. "More" in this case means "more mind-bendingly encumbered with wacky beliefs about supernatural beings and human sacrifices," and "more disturbingly filled with group chants and rituals."

Add to this my aversion to singing in public and you get one stressed unbeliever on public display among a bunch of happy Christians.

I do mean Christian in the best sense. If I was going to be one, I would be one with them. The sermon was about welcoming strangers. I am the habitual stranger. I do not assimilate.

I hope my Episcopalian friends who are the cellist's friends and fellow musicians will forget anything they might have seen that betrayed my lack of Christmas spirit. They kindly placed me by the choir with whom the cellist sang as a guest, little realizing the position in which it placed me with my conscience and my lack of vocal range and control.

I'm a back-row churchgoer who accidentally ended up stuck in prime real estate last night. I like what they do. I'm glad they do it. I just don't need to do it with them. I prayed that someone deserving would come up and ask me with puppy-dog eyes if I would kindly give up my front-row seat to their ailing mother or something so I could slither back to my natural habitat looking at the backs of a bunch of heads. I might even be able to slip out the side door into the comforting raw fog that made the darkness that much darker.  But no, of course it didn't happen. Would it have made me believe in miracles? I had to sit there looking suitably reverent while the words ran in my head as if I was saying them but I could not open my lips to affirm a belief I do not hold. If judge there be, I hope I get a few points for honesty before a foot to the forehead starts me down the sliding board to eternal fire. But I will no doubt get a few demerits for being a poor guest and not joining in with the culture with wholehearted verve just to help them keep the party at full festivity. Really, what IS wrong with me?

Strange as it may seem, I was happy to be there for the reasons I was there: the cellist is loved and respected by this warm group who also surround and connect with her father. The mortal remains of her mother and brother rest on the church grounds. As much as I wanted it to be over, I would not have wanted it not to happen. And I did not want to just send her out on the foggy night alone to do her thing and then come back.

Suddenly I understand just wanting to shut up and play a drum. It can mean whatever you want it to mean while keeping a nice beat for the other celebrants. Too bad that wasn't an option. Music Director James Fitzpatrick asked me if I wanted to sing and I couldn't decline fast enough. If he'd offered extraneous percussion I would have joined immediately. Well, maybe not tambourine.

Every believer picks and chooses scripture and interpretation. At what point should you cease to call yourself by a familiar denominational designation and honestly examine your spirituality without the cocoon of an institution? You can find your social capital in any number of affiliations. And some of us really are reclusive. That may not make us defective. We'll simply never join a group to represent our rights and beliefs. Talk about an invisible minority. We'll just be known as "that weirdo in the front row who didn't say any of the prayers or sing any of the hymns and carols," or other descriptions psychological or anatomical. As long as you feel freaked out by us as individuals rather than a monolithic bloc we can't ask for much more.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We're all in this together -- except for you

As the economy lurches further into an unacknowledged recession, desperate people are starting to consider superstitious solutions like human sacrifice. If someone is known to be different and occasionally a little too blunt, they become a valid candidate for human sacrifice to appease whatever evil entity stalks the country right now, keeping good, virtuous small business people from prospering.

My employers have started picking fights with their employees, finding reasons that employee inadequacy is diminishing an already minuscule bottom line.  My weird sense of humor and my poor bedside manner are driving customers away. The rest of the blame lies with President Barack Obama.

According to my employers, Wolfeboro, a town owned and operated by staunch Republicans, is in the financial swamp because a Democrat in the White House has ruined the economy. Forget the fact that he's cleaning up after a Republican and inheriting a pile of debris that started with increased political activism by big corporations in the 1970s and got a huge push off the cliff from the policies of Ronald Reagan. More correctly the decline and fall was set in motion by the forces behind Reagan and behind the conservative movement ever since, with increasing virulence.

The fundamentals of our economic prosperity have not been sound since -- since maybe forever. All the famous fortunes of the Gilded Age were based on environmental rape and exploitation of labor. Every boom time has been followed by a bust as the principles that underlay it were revealed to be weak. Every attempt to design something with stronger -- if shorter -- legs has been met with abuse, derision and outright hostility since the 1960s when a large enough segment of the population started to notice that something really ought to be done. Unfortunately, a lot of people awoke to portions of a realization at that time, creating a confusing babble of competing priorities.

We still suffer from a Congress with many members who want to direct blame at the president and his party more than they want to see the situation improve. The worse things stay, the more simple minds will insist that the problem lies with one man. Or they will condemn politicians in general, which may have some merit, but who else are we going to sucker into taking those jobs? Do YOU want to go to Congress and listen to all the bitching, whining and accusations while you try to balance your responsibility to the average voter and your obligation to huge corporate donors? For that matter, do you like the nickel-and-diming emails from political candidates and their PACs as they try to get financial support from the general population instead of corporations and the super wealthy? If I gave $3 to $12 every time they asked for it I would have given a few thousand dollars by now. If I HAD that money it would indicate that the system wasn't so badly broken that I needed to GIVE that money to someone to fix it.

My coworker and I get the feeling that our employers are trying to get us angry enough to quit so they can stop writing our checks and won't be legally obligated to pay us unemployment compensation. How this will help them if business does pick up I have no idea. I haven't looked at the bankruptcy laws yet to see if it helps them in the event that they go under completely. And frankly I believe they're just desperately blurting out whatever pops into their heads because they're terrified of the chasm yawning before us.

Forget the Fiscal Cliff. We've been on a crumbling precipice for years because we sell unpopular items like bicycles and cross-country skis. Drivers want us off the roads. Mountain biking depends on trail access. Cross-country skiing needs lots of natural snow and expensive grooming on plenty of land either in public hands or generously opened by private owners. On public land, other user groups who trample grooming lay claim to the trails to walk their dogs, go snowshoeing or even operate snow machines and ATVs. Just about everyone would be happier if we went away. We've tried to sell the benefits of our healthy, active lifestyle to no avail. People would rather drive through congested streets and pay for parking at a place where they can exercise in a building before driving somewhere else for the next event in their busy schedule -- if they want to exercise at all. They would rather walk on a so-called multi-use path to nowhere than use a bicycle to run errands and go to work. An active population of thieves and vandals conspires with the weather and hostile motorists to keep the bicycle an option only for a tiny, determined minority. Many of those riders are simply financially disadvantaged and will get a car as soon as they can afford it.

How much longer will most people be able to afford it? Not only does a motor vehicle cost thousands of dollars to buy and maintain, the environmental costs and a dwindling fuel supply mean that the replacement motorized alternatives are even more expensive in all phases of operation. Sure, electric vehicles and hybrids use less or no petroleum, but they need some or they need to be recharged from an outside power supply.

Forget logic. We're in panic mode. The conservatives love panic mode. It proves that they were right to be afraid all along. Fear the enemy, who could be anywhere. You! I think you are in league with them! Stone this man!

Excuse me, I have to run now.

Monday, November 19, 2012

November sun

Daisy knows what to do with a sunny table in the dining room this time of year.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Veterans Day again

Military service is the ultimate endorsement of the concept that your government knows what's best. Otherwise why would it be worth the potential sacrifice of your life?

Those who serve are frequently brave and noble. That does not mean the causes in which they are expended are always equally so.

Honor those who served, for the reasons they thought they were serving. Cherish the times it was true. But never deny that not every call to arms really manages to serve a higher purpose and a better future. In a better future we wouldn't spend so much time trying to kill each other.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Process of elimination

As I left my driveway to vote this morning I realized I was already a dead man. I passed more than one sign for the candidate I did not support, proving that my vote had already been cancelled out. But if I did not cancel out one of theirs I would not have done all I could to support victory for the side I choose.

In the final tally the margin is what matters. The majority of voters have to go out and fall in single combat to allow a few survivors on one side to stand as the margin of victory. Fortunately, the death is only metaphorical. You could count yourself as part of the margin rather than the anonymous pile of bodies on which it stands, if it makes you feel better. Just make sure you get out there and add to one group or another.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Job Creators and Risk

When I hear that rich people are taking a big risk every time they invest in a company I have to ask, "What's the risk? That you'll lose all your money and end up living in the same squalor you want the rest of us to accept? You SHOULD be scared. Welcome to our world, schmuck."

The so-called job creators don't create jobs because they want to. They create them because they have to. If these business leaders could clone themselves or get robots to do the work they would, without hesitation. I worked for someone like that. He really had done every job in the place, though not as well as he thought he did. He could certainly fill in for everyone from floor rat to sewing machine operator to bookkeeper. Therefore, every employee who filled such a position was a necessary evil, taken on only because the owner couldn't split himself into enough parts to get things done simultaneously.

The whole thing about employees was summed up perfectly the other night on Shark Tank when a budding business woman wanted investors to help her advance with her multipurpose baby product. She said outright that she wanted to use her shark money to move her production to Asia because it cost her too much in the United States. It's a mark of business savvy to embrace the fact that your product will have to be made in another country. Not even a neophyte pretends that they will operate a factory here.

Could Americans possibly become so well educated and well informed that all the millions of us in the work force could find excellent large incomes owning and managing companies all over the world? Imagine: no one would have to toil at grubby, exhausting jobs except for the losers who had to be groundskeepers, restaurant help, garbage collectors, bedpan jockeys, and all the other menial tasks that can't really be automated or outsourced. The vast majority of us, with college degrees and great instincts would take over the upper income brackets in the global economy because we're just that darn good. Who needs a middle class based on the need to actually make anything in this country? There will be managers and there will be the thieving, lazy scum who work for them. Prepare to be chiseled: your pay, your benefits, your social safety net are all not only negotiable, they're contemptible, unworthy of a free people joyously competing for everything in their free market.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Say Obama wins...

Say Barack Obama wins the election. The country won't suddenly start to improve faster than its current crawl. Just losing the election will not suddenly turn the masters of the Republican party into productive partners to synthesize a solid plan to build a sustainable civilization in this country.

The strategists of the Republican party would move forward from an Obama victory to make sure his second term went so badly that any Democratic successor would have little chance to get into office.

The first goal for Republicans will be to retain or regain control of Congress after whatever happens to their Congressional minions in 2012. Focus will shift immediately from the presidential contest now ending to the congressional races in 2014.

From 2014 to 2016, Republican propaganda will need to target contested Congressional seats and the presidency.

To keep people believing in the power of investment, the controllers of wealth must try to keep the investment markets looking good. Simultaneously they will have to restrict job growth and middle class prosperity so people feel like the economy is failing.  It's not just a matter of trying to convince people that a bowl of chocolate ice cream is actually shit. Corporate interests need to shut down job growth wherever possible and jack the prices on commodities, particularly fuels, to keep the cost of living high. Tactics like downsizing help increase corporate profitability while increasing unemployment and stressing the middle class.

This is absolutely not a reason to vote for Mitt Romney. That would simply hasten the deeper entrenchment of corporate power. We might as well try to throw a few logs in front of their train while we can. Just don't expect a sudden surge of progress because we made the right choice now. It has to counteract many poor choices preceding it and try to set the direction for good decisions going forward. That means discussing everything and critiquing (as distinct from merely criticizing) even your allies.

One reason the left has had to move to the right is to provide what the former right no longer does. As the right goes farther and farther to a more distant wingtip, rational minds from the left have had to explore the conservative positions they abandoned. At one time the two parties might have been close enough to come up with real constructive criticism and a stronger solution to national problems. Instead what passes for compromise now is just a box of jagged fragments of opposing points of view thrown together in ill-tempered concession.

Prove me wrong, people.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Fun things to do in Wolfeboro in the summer

Staring out the back window of my prison cell insane asylum place of employment over the parade of boats in Back Bay on a summer afternoon I think of things I'd like to see. My colleague Big G and I came up with a whole bunch of them on Saturday as summer officially ended for this year. In no particular order, here are as many as I can recall:

1. Motor sedately down the channel past the other boaters and shoreside onlookers with a single passenger bound, gagged and blindfolded sitting in your boat. At the same dignified pace, go out to the islands at the mouth of the bay and disappear among them. Return alone in the boat.

2. Come in from the open lake with a couple of friends, each of you with shotguns, and a pile of fake dead loons in the bottom of the boat. One of you can be plucking one while another fires up the hibachi.

3. A boatload of people all staring intently into the waters of Back Bay gave me the idea to put a fake dead body down there, perhaps chained to a cinder block. Grim, I know. A fake mermaid would be okay, but it's hard to make it move.

4.  Motor in towing what looks like a water skier face down.

5.  Motor in towing a bullet-riddled jet ski.

6.  Motor in towing someone on a float tube on top of an overturned kayak with what looks like a pair of arms trailing limply on either side of the upside-down cockpit.

7.  Motor in towing some sort of mock up of large marine life: big shark, small whale, walrus, or just a nifty inner-tube sea serpent.

8.  Tool placidly out the bay, happily looking ahead while a roaring blaze appears to consume the rear half of the vessel.

9.  Everybody in the boat is naked. No one has to be great looking.

We did find a radio controlled shark on the Internet. That could provide hours of fun at the many public beaches. We envisioned a churning fleet of boats crisscrossing each other's wakes, filled with bloodthirsty shark hunters with harpoons, rifles and heavy tackle.

Then there's the list of things we thought would be funny to do in front of Mitt Romney's place, each and every one guaranteed to get us severely arrested. In a way that's hardly fair, since the same pranks would be considered no more than a tasteless misdemeanor in front of an ordinary millionaire's summer shack.  But then they wouldn't be as funny in front of any old millionaire's place. Since most of them involve large numbers of radio controlled model boats and aircraft our canned-beans budget (and our better judgment) guarantee that they will remain amusing private thoughts.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Your Chilling Thought for the Day

When George H.W. Bush chose Dan Quayle as his vice president, many of us joked that it was Bush's life insurance policy. Who would take out the president if that would simply put the photogenic but mentally void Quayle in the Oval Office?

Now it is 2012. Mitt Romney has chosen ultra-conservative poster boy Paul Ryan as his vice president. Since the far right would love to have a zealot like Ryan in full command, doesn't that give a faction already known for gun-toting, threat-spouting and blowing up federal buildings a huge incentive to remove Romney from office as soon after the inauguration as possible, in a way that automatically places Ryan in charge?

In an article yesterday, Bill Moyers pointed out all the ways in which Paul Ryan meets the far right's strongest expectations. He did not venture that this choice presents a physical risk to Romney. I came up with that myself. But if I, a tree-hugging peacenik, can think of it, so can people more inclined to act on the impulse.

A more patient approach for conservatives would simply let Ryan call the shots from the copilot's seat and then run him for the presidency of whatever is left of the country after two Romney terms. He's young enough and in much better health than the country's previous leader from second chair, Dick Cheney. Romney could even come up with an excuse to step aside after one term for Ryan to run that much sooner. Romney barely has a quarter of a billion dollars. He's really the poor boy in the wealthy elite. With all the money funding the right wing, I'm sure he can be bought. Someone with real wealth can provide a very nice severance package for him.

None of this matters if he does not get elected. If Barack Obama remains in office for a second term the right wing will have to continue to inflict their damage through lower offices and obstructionist tactics to keep the economy tough so the majority of citizens will perhaps be more susceptible to persuasion or coercion next time.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Full Financial Disclosure: The Delayed Trickle

The cellist and I are having a small addition built onto our house. We did not finance it by taking on more debt. We're not secret millionaires or lottery winners. We're spending a small fraction of the fossil remains of a fortune made in the early 20th Century that trickled down as far as my bank account in the latter half of the 1990s.

Living within my meager income, I was able to purchase a tiny cottage, with a little help from a relative who provided some money for the down payment on the typical abusive mortgage given to first-time home buyers with low incomes. Then, by luck and careful maneuvering my financial and marital partner at the time and I managed to get our mortgage converted to a fixed rate. We scrabbled on until we decided to go our separate ways, coincidentally around the time I found out I was about to receive something in the neighborhood of $120,000 as my share of a stock portfolio compiled with the proceeds from the sale of Planter's Peanuts by its founders, Amadeo Obici and Mario Peruzzi.

A large chunk went to my departing ex-spouse and to settle our debts at the time. That still left what seemed like a lot of money to me. I took the stocks rather than taking my share as cash, even though I already had misgivings about the morality of the stock market and my ability to monitor my investments closely enough to keep from getting cleaned out by people who make it their business to suck money away from small holders to convey it to large ones.

The investment brokers gradually became more distant and dismissive as it became clear to them that I did not have enough income to buy more stocks and pay them commissions. Occasionally I had to sell some to negotiate a rough patch, but I tried to avoid that as well.

Stock prices soared prior to the "market adjustment" in 2000. We all know what happened in the fall of 2001.  Through all the ups and downs, the value of the stocks that an investment broker had assured me would make me a rich man managed to average out about where they started, minus the amounts I had sold. In other words, it wasn't making me a rich man. Meanwhile, potential costs for medical emergencies, predictable illnesses and retirement in general continued to bounce upward.

Mere misgivings grew to firm belief that whatever corporations were doing to be able to pay dividends to stockholders in times of rising unemployment and recession had to be screwing a lot of people hard. I no longer wanted any part of it, even if it was a mysterious well that bubbled up a little bit of cash all the time. If I took that money, it made me part of the problem.

I'm not just being altruistic. For decades I have tried to support activities that any number can play, to support a true general rise in living standards rather than relying on the misfortune and mistreatment of anyone to improve my own circumstances. Maybe that's hopelessly naive. So be it. I want to believe that the human species can develop a courteous, compassionate and respectful society in which no one has to be subservient or exploited. At the very least I expect that the stock market illusion will crumble within a few years at most. Putting my money into a tangible asset, albeit one that I have to heat and pay property taxes on, is not entirely stupid.

I sold all the stocks and put the money into a lousy savings account. If you put about $87,000 in a savings account you actually get a visible amount of interest every month. But much of that money is destined to be devoured by this minor construction project. It's going to create jobs. In fact, by doing this project and keeping my money in a local bank, the cellist and I have now created more jobs in the local economy than Mitt Romney has. But when it's gone it's gone. I will never again have that much money because I am not important enough to the people who have a lot of money or appealing enough to the multitude who might each give me a little to amass a fortune.

It is ritual suicide. At some point as yet unknown to me, I will face financial ruin because that is shaping up to be the normal destiny of what was formerly known as the lower middle class. I'm building myself a prison. It's a pretty prison in a peaceful setting. When the crunch comes I might be able to sell it to stumble forward a few more years or months, or I might just turn it into my funeral pyre. These are all legitimate options to consider. The one unrealistic fantasy is a healthy, comfortable retirement.

It is interesting to note that conservatives, who are far more likely not to believe in evolution, have a much more Darwinistic approach than liberals to social policy. Live and let die sums up the conservative position. Only the fit survive. This explains their aversion to Social Security and Medicare. By their logic, if you make it to be elderly at all, you've had more than your share of good breaks. If you happen to arrive at old age without a fortune to sustain you, die already and make room for better planners to flourish.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Pondering Atrocity

The recent mass murder in Colorado stirred up the usual discussion at work. For two out of three people there the question was never whether to execute the killer, only what method would be the most appropriately brutal.

Atrocity can't be punished. The perpetrator has already claimed the reward by successfully committing it. Most of them commit suicide anyway, having experienced the best that life has to offer them. Whatever makes them want to achieve this particular hideous thing puts them completely out of reach of our retribution. You can exterminate them but that will not deter the next one. You can torture them, but that's like kicking a rabid dog. It won't change anything that has already happened or cure or prevent rabies. And nothing you do will compensate the ones who have lost their lives or someone important from their lives, and had their trust in humanity permanently injured.

Trust in humanity is misplaced if humanity is capable of producing monsters. Discarding that trust is probably a good survival strategy, at least regarding strangers. But when someone steps horrifically far outside the normal range of acceptable behavior it goes beyond even the average criminal breach of trust. In a crowd one might reasonably fear having a pocket picked, getting groped, or maybe just having to sit too close to someone who farts a lot. You don't want to go through every day wondering when the masked gunman is going to loom up and start mowing people down. Nor should you. First of all, it remains somewhat unlikely. Second, you can't be one hundred percent ready even if you arm yourself. You still have to be in the right place at the time to get a clear and timely shot. Perhaps the only thing worse than a crazed gunman shooting up a theater full of people is a bunch of armed citizens shooting around in the direction they think the attack is coming from.

A gun-rights amendment written in the era of single-shot muskets and pistols is hardly a good guide for society in the age of much more sophisticated killing machines at all levels of combat from interpersonal to international. A well-ordered militia worth a crap to defend community and country is going to need armored vehicles, artillery, air power and more. What kind of personal budget--not to mention what size garage--would you need to house your personal stash of weapons sufficiently powerful to keep your neighbors at bay and "the government off your back?"

Once the shooting starts, intelligence and reason have lost. The issue in the contest becomes simply life and death, not whatever difference of opinion was used as the excuse to become brutal and simple-minded. But who wants to be the only person in the room without a gun when everyone else is using theirs to support their point of view? It's like trying to be a real big-boy nation in the world when other nations are telling you you can't have nukes like they do. No fair! I want to be able to rain fiery destruction like everybody else!

As long as we retain the compulsion to express ourselves with hot lead, things are going to get out of control sometimes.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Set this to any kind of music you think will fit

I'm spending all my money 'til I got no more
'cause if you can't be rich then you'd better be poor.
Mitt Romney says you will be okay
if you live from hand to mouth OR you make a lot of pay
It's those people in the middle who are going away
So get rich or go broke with no further delay.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Better living through innovation

Throughout human history, unprecedented innovations have ushered in improvements in the quality of life. Starting with stone tools and proceeding onward through the threshold of the Industrial Revolution, discoveries and inventions enhanced individual and group survival and started providing lifestyle options.

Right up to the arrival of the Oil Age around the beginning of the 20th Century, each new development added value to the existing level of comfort and convenience. People adopted new technologies because they made life easier. You could still do things the harder, old way, but why would you, if you had the chance to get something better?

Extraordinary innovations became more common from the late 19th Century to the present, accelerating sharply through the latter half of the 20th Century. It looked like the more we had, the more we could get. It was in this surge that we reached the point where we need extraordinary innovation to save us. It is no longer a luxury to enjoy and then become accustomed to having. Our choices during the Oil Age created a civilization so dependent on energy that we can no longer just drop back a little and maintain while we figure out what to do next. We've acclimated ourselves to a level of convenience and operated under the assumption of sufficiency for so long that even dropping back to the level of the 1930s -- a time still in living memory for some people on the planet -- would be a huge shock. And I doubt that the fallback would stop there.

Nature reclaims our infrastructure without the slightest hesitation. It might not be the pretty nature you 'd like to see, when the time comes, because our meddling had decimated the more aesthetic species, but unless we manage to make the planet completely uninhabitable, plants, animals and insects will assert themselves as relentlessly as we have, and we'll be back to meeting them on more equal footing.

The worst of the doomsaying economists predict a crash by the end of 2012 that will make 2008 look like a minor delay collecting for your paper route. I say they're optimists. Their particular doom scenario is tailored to get frightened suckers to sign on with their investment counseling firm, but their hypothesis is based on real observations about undermined or fundamentally hollow parts of the economy that have ended up holding way too much weight.

If the United States, and perhaps the world, falls into a depression worse then The Great One, it will take a lot more than government programs and a global war to pull us out. That combination only worked because of the peculiar circumstances of the time. Those conditions will never be repeated. There may be government interventions. There could very well be vicious war among desperate people sensing the magnitude of the change being thrust on them. In the end, whatever passes for prosperity will not look anything like the rise of nations after World War II. We simply don't have the energy for it.

There's no point in getting ugly about it. There's seldom any point to getting really ugly, although often it's a relief emotionally to get a little snippy. That won't deter some people from getting all cranked up and shooting people, though. You'll have to decide for yourself whether it's worth stockpiling weapons and ammo and non-perishable food, or if the conflict will simply outlast you and your meager supplies no matter how big your cache looks now. What really needs to happen is that people need to decide that everybody needs to work about the same amount, for about the same return, and that no one needs to be given a significantly worse or better time while we're all doing it.

That would be a truly unprecedented innovation.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Political awareness

One of the natural ironies of human development is that young adults who should be very concerned about how their country is being run are distracted by the last tendrils of adolescence, the needs of higher education, the search for a decent income and the urge to find a mate. It's hard to get them to pay close attention to political matters and they lack the life experience to be able to interpret the information they get. As people get older, with less chance that political and social change will directly benefit them, they become increasingly concerned with it.

Everyone mentions future generations when proposing a course of action. How many people really care about these imaginary generations?  Future generations should be the most politically active, and they will be, once they perfect their time machine and come back to dope-slap the current crop of corporate and government leaders. Until that happens, present generations will have to take their best guess at what we should leave for these future people. Would they like a healthy planet with an ecosystem that can support them in the same relative comfort we have enjoyed for millennia? Or would they rather have the smudged, scorched, parched, stinking remnants of an industrial orgy? Will the fortunes created by that orgy survive to give a few of them luxury and the rest of them the illusion that they could attain it? Or will that myth have collapsed? It has to, eventually. The only question is whether we dismantle it carefully, methodically, or have it implode and crush anything beneath it or near it.

How far in the future are we talking here? Born tomorrow? Born next year? Five years from now? Ten? The problem is that future generations don't arrive all at once on some troop carrier. They come sliding in one at a time, even if thousands of them happen to do it at around the same time. They're here and over there and way, way over there, being influenced immediately by all sorts of people who got here ahead of them. They don't know the plan. They may even develop their own ideas.

Some younger adults seem to be getting more involved. Maybe it'll work out. Those who hold power will resist the change, but maybe this time they will not be able to recruit the underlings they would need to preserve their old expressions of dominance. It has to be driven by people young enough to have their most useful, active years ahead of them. Older people can only help or oppose. None of us will see the benefits of a more humane society, should one arise, because too many generations have invested too heavily in inequity for it to disappear before we do. The leading edge of my generation proved unwilling to sacrifice a little 40 years ago to try to set us on a better course. Why should they and their disciples be willing to sacrifice a great deal more now, with their finish line in sight? They'll cling to what they have, grab for as much more as they can get and let those future generations do what they want with what's left over.

Hot, murky summer

The political bullshit is as thick as the humidity this summer. I have to be very careful not to go out of my mind hearing all the catch phrases and code words being tossed around.

The common-denominator morons who respond to these marketing phrases are not really participating in policy making. They are being herded by professional manipulators to help a particular batch of policy makers take or retain control of the lives of all the little citizens who can't think for themselves.

Policy is never discussed openly. You can try to dig around for information, but then your amateur participation in government becomes your only pastime. People in power will never listen to you anyway.

Armed revolt appeals to some people who happen to like combat -- or think they would. That just puts another faction on top trying to maintain their position and remember what their ideals used to be before they had an unruly mob to control. It's not that different from an election, except that there's more property damage and death.

Between bulk-mailed petitions and helpful Internet groups a citizen can quickly join with apparently like-minded individuals to send messages to elected officials and government agencies. You still have to trust that the people providing your information understand the situation and really represent a solution you would actually support. I've joined in on a number of them just to keep general concepts at the top of the pile, but I've slacked off a lot as I find myself short of time to do my own research. Do I really agree with these people who appear to be my allies? Have they analyzed the situation the way I would? Has anyone?

If anyone were to respond it would be a fluke. The powerful, the prominent, like to make a show of occasionally pulling a commoner up from obscurity for a moment of attention and some photo opportunities. It's not the same as actually having an influence. And most likely I would forget anything important I wanted to say in the stress of the unusual moment.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

One less day and one less day

As of Memorial Day Weekend the shop no longer closes on Sundays until the end of summer. That gives me one less day to work on my own nebulous achievements -- or get a lot of household chores done. And with every passing day I have one less day, period.

When the sky looks like this all day it's hard to get moving on anything:

 Thunderstorms moved in on a long, eerie rumble around 2 a.m. The first rolls swept over us in a gradual wave, like a giant UFO. The sound echoed between mountains and across the glacial lowlands, pulsating strangely. It did not sound like your normal rumble or crash until one cell of the storm advanced on us close enough to drop a few bolts nearby. They moved on. The noise and rain subsided.

We woke to this state of unresolved grayness that has persisted all day.  Without the trees to give it context it looks like this:
It makes your brain feel the same way.

The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm warning for areas west of here. The radar shows a large mass of bright colors, but nothing bearing down directly on us yet.

I don't need excitement, but I prefer to produce more than  urine, feces, carbon dioxide and a bunch of clean dishes and clothes we're just gong to get dirty again. Still, when the mental fires are just a pile of damp wood, what can you do?

Scoop the cat boxes.

Monday, March 26, 2012

March returns to normal

The frozen house fly on the deck outside the back door says it all: March reminds us that it isn't really a summer month. Put away the shorts for another eight or ten weeks.

Gusty winds drive the chill of a day that grudgingly reaches the mid 40s. The sun is strong where you can get into it in the lee of some sheltering object. Leafless hardwoods and stolid evergreens sway above the dun earth. The light drives deep into the forest, spotlighting its suspended animation. By mid week, rain is supposed to mix with snow overnight. No one's talking about accumulation, but it's a complete retreat from the days of summer-like warmth recently departed.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Save the world?

When I was young my father used to ask me, "What did you do today to make the world a better place?" Or it might have been, "What did you do for mankind today?" In any case, it was a call to serve a higher purpose than personal gratification or even personal salvation. He wanted me to think globally. He never specified which humans or whose specific world I was to improve by my presence.

Maybe I was supposed to figure out the narrowing parameters for myself. In that case he failed completely.

Some people who serve what they call goodness feel they do their best work by exterminating the agents of badness. This category produces holy warriors.

Some people serve goodness by drawing power to themselves, so that they may have a powerful influence on human affairs.

Some people serve goodness by eschewing power and wealth. They try to lead by example. Some of them through the centuries have generated compelling legends over which later generations argue bitterly, further slicing the concept of goodness into narrow strips of turf turned into battlefields and homelands of the One True Faith.

True Believers of any sect regard nonbelievers as disposable. We are not all in this together. No one will unify a human race made up of exclusive divisions. Only if every single human identified with its own unique existence and the shared experience of being human would the race have any chance at unity. And without unity we are doomed to die in blood and fire, as the holy warriors fervently hope.

Unity does not mean uniformity. Uniformity would mask differences and lead to internal stresses that would eventually break out in civil strife. Unity requires an easygoing attitude and thoughtful cooperation. Such an attitude does destroy zealotry. This frightens zealotry no end, leading to the saber rattling that threatens us in every age. The weapons of war get more horrific as technology advances. The horror deters humanity from flinging itself so readily into war, but some ideologies consider it more important to die for the right reason than to live for easygoing unity. If it really looks like the majority will choose to learn to get along, some true believer will be ready to push the button to send us all to judgment.

The current state of the Republicans illustrates the power that zealotry has gained over a nation once supposedly proud of its ability to give people of many backgrounds a place to flourish under the warm sun of freedom. The truth is darker, of course, but for a very short time around the early 1970s it did look like we meant it. Immigrants and strivers had risen during the 20th Century to make the mythical American Dream very gradually somewhat more inclusive.

In good times people tend to graph those rising curves of prosperity right up through the roof. The same is true of inclusiveness and social freedom. The social turmoil of the 1960s led to a nice party in the 1970s. The party atmosphere masked the fact that bitter resentment was festering in the darkness outside the various circles of light in which happy people danced. The forces of division and exclusion would not be denied. While the celebrants graphed their happiness up toward an amazing future in which a unified humanity cleaned up its own planet and then journeyed to the stars, the frustrated bigots marshaled their forces.

Force is the key to conflict. If the argument is not going your way, whip out a gun and shoot your opponent. Change the basis of discourse to one that suits you. If God is on your side you cannot lose. Even in death you will be exalted because you were doing the right thing. The other side claims God as well? Blasphemers! Theirs is a false god or a sinful misinterpretation of holy word. See how easy it is to keep the bloodletting legitimate?

As long as we praise warriors as the best among us we will remain locked in a death spiral. Thus the world cannot be saved. Humanity is doomed by its own idealism that extends even beyond death. As long as we force each other to prove our devotion by facing extermination we will continue to treat each other as prey.

How do you end hatred when so many people love it so much? Even people who claim to be tolerant will rise to some bait and show themselves willing to fight the ultimate battle, to end some other person's all-too-brief span or have their own ended, just to prove a point.

So what's to save?

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Free Market Military

The defense of our nation and its interests is of such crucial importance that we devote upwards of 600 billion dollars to it annually. It is considered an indispensable service although its budget is theoretically almost infinitely variable based on present and projected future needs. Military spending has been part of the total federal budge for a couple of centuries. It's not going away any time soon.

The defense of the health of individual citizens is largely left up to the individual. The fact that "a good job" included "benefits" during the later half of the 20th Century masked the fact that individuals had no guaranteed protection. During a time when jobs with benefits seemed plentiful and easy to find, anyone changing jobs would expect to hear about the new coverage replacing their old coverage as a routine part of the transition. People did fall through the cracks, but the cracks were masked like snow-covered crevasses. The glacial metaphor is apt because, as the system fails, the ice coverage shrinks drastically, leaving more and more people either on thin ice or standing disconsolately on the mud.

As victims of a market-based system we are told we can shop around. As private insurance is reshaped we will get to select from a much wider menu of flawed solutions worded in confusing ways to mask the corporate profit that motivates insurance companies to dabble in medical care in the first place.

For various reasons, most of them not good, a lot of people are tempted to turn national defense over to private contractors because the private sector is ever so much more efficient than the dumb ol' government. It works as a metaphor but not as a real-world solution. For it to work properly as a free market, we would have to shop around for the best deal. When the country was attacked we would have to send out a request for bids, sift through the applications and choose what appeared to be the best one. It's perfectly analogous to the process of shopping for medical care and coverage when faced with a serious disease that might be advancing rapidly, like a hostile army.

A taxpayer-funded, government-run military service is accountable directly to the citizen government in ways a free-market pool of militaristic contractors is not. We tell our fighting forces to take pride in their training and the traditions of excellence attached to each branch of the service. Why not call on a similar devotion and fighting spirit in our medical forces? Create the image and then live up to it. Fund it as a social necessity like defense. Let medical contractors vie for lucrative government contracts. Make the war on ill health as high a priority as the war on real and imagined adversaries around the globe, for which we develop sophisticated weapons apparently with little regard for the cost. Huge salaries and bloated retirement packages in any part of the private sector can't be used as incentives for much longer. A solid income and a decent retirement as a government doctor or nurse might start to look pretty good to the medically inclined. And ordinary citizens would not have to make the decision to commit slow or rapid suicide rather than get regular medical checkups and take care of things in a timely fashion as they occur.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

On Wheels

If you want to turn someone into a complete asshole, just put them on wheels. Look no further than the chariot race in Ben Hur for the perfect example of what I mean.

The flow is insidiously intoxicating. You don't have to be a very aggressive person to get addicted to your own smooth progress through space on the flying carpet of your well-suspended automobile. You and I develop a sense of entitlement. I'm driving, here! Step aside! I am the captain of this ship.My decisions are unquestionably correct.

Plenty of wheelers have more of a fighter pilot mentality. And not all rollers exhibit sociopathic tendencies. But sociopathic is not too strong a word for the unconscious but pure self interest that so easily takes over a driver's mind.

It may seem like the opposite of self interest when a driver sets aside safety and traffic law to magnanimously wave another driver into traffic from a driveway or side street, but it shows how sovereign each driver feels to be able to grant this boon. In some traffic-choked locales it is necessary, but frequently it is just a bad idea that balls up the orderly flow.

As someone who frequently gets around on foot or by pedaling a bike I can tell you that no motorist questions that the motor vehicle and its driver belong at the top of the chain of command. I fall into the trap myself, especially during the season when I have to drive a lot. I want to get where I'm going at the speed I choose without a lot of crap from anyone in front or behind me. If I did not have a lot of experience being smaller, slower and more vulnerable I could easily drive in my own little selfish bubble until some impact jolted me out of it.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Mitt's Messages

Way back on February 1, Mitt Romney made his careless remark about not being worried about the very poor. It's been analyzed to death and sped off into the murk and dust of dead news cycles. But words have a life of their own. In this case, they conveyed Mitt's message to the named groups: the very rich and the very poor.

To the rich he's saying not to worry, he'll care for their interests. To the very poor he's saying the tiny scrap of threadbare rug they're on won't be yanked out from under them. To those in the middle he's saying, "go one way or the other."

The American Dream was based on the illusion of unlimited resources waiting to be exploited by bold men. Bold men did exploit resources and become wealthy. Other smart guys exploited bold men. By the 20th Century the model worked for fewer and fewer people, especially as the century progressed. Anyone who could see this too soon had to decide whether to play along or start looking for the new way. But the old way has put up a complex and determined resistance.

Whether he meant it or not, Mitt laid out a method by which the struggling masses, unable to rise, could simply drop into the waiting arms of the support system. If you'll be okay very poor and it's just an endless, pointless slog to reach up for the nonexistent rungs of the economic ladder to climb to the shining summit, let go. As the monks and nuns of old believed, our salvation lies in poverty. Right, big guy?

Of course the mass of surrendering humanity will collapse that supposedly fine "safety net." But the germ of an idea lies in the notion that regular people have to construct their own economy and quit playing the rich people's game by the rich people's rules. It means dumping the 401K and all the other tempting investments in the heavily manipulated markets and putting the actual cash money into the new economy we create for our own good.

I haven't imagined it in detail, but it's going to involve a lot of cottage industry and local agriculture. It may require some changes to zoning ordinances in urbanized areas where local agriculture has been out of fashion for many years. Sure, cash earns practically nothing as savings. You'll have to discard the concept of saving for retirement during a career doing things you don't really like. It would be nice if we could preserve the better aspects of civilization, but we may have to settle for living shorter but fuller lives. I don't mean any forcible end to life, only that the fairyland of hospitals and medical miracles is already too expensive for most of us and may not survive conversion to the new economy.

Investment has to take on a different character as well. Big returns are abnormal. They're not impossible but they are unusual. That goes for a small percentage paid to a vast number of investors as well as a big gouge paid out to a small handful. In other words, the stock, commodity and financial markets as currently conducted can't work. The economy has to be built around the middle, not hung from the top or rooted in the squalor of a rotting mass at the bottom.

I know it's doomed to fail because of simple population pressure. But it's more fun to dream a nice dream and tell myself a nice story than to think only about growing old or dying young in the cold, dirty world that really exists.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Wealth creates civilization

Immense wealth is definitely immoral. The idea that a handful of people can control the resources of the entire planet flies in the face of everything American school children are taught publicly to hold dear. The alternative is communism, which also flies in the face of everything American school children are taught publicly to hold dear.

In 1491, North America had a thriving, bountiful ecosystem shared by a diverse population of native tribes. It was far from a paradise, as these tribes exerted their influence on their own citizens and on neighboring groups with the full range of human tactics from cooperation and diplomacy to violence and treachery. We are told that many of them had a different notion of property than Europeans did, so there were fewer walls and fortified borders.

They seem to have had a less adversary relationship with nature. That made them more vulnerable to nature's culling forces as weather and food supplies fluctuated. From what I have read, you needed to stay on top of your game in those days if you were going to last long. Most of us today are pretty sure we would not like to spend our lives that way. That's why we have cars and television sets and supermarkets and stuff like that. If people didn't want those things, the companies that make them would have gone out of business long ago. So clearly we have a preference for civilization.

European-style civilization is a direct outgrowth of concentrated wealth. The inhabitants of Europe evolved personalities that led to conflicts that resolved themselves in a system of enclaves centered around a rich guy's castle. Over the centuries, these accreted into nations. The shape of those nations kept changing as the basis of connection changed. Philosophies came and went or came and stayed to create a complex intellectual landscape.

The rich guys needed people to work for them. Sometimes these people would suffer hardships so great that they threatened the well-being of the rich guys. A really bad plague or famine would have such a negative effect on the work force that the rich themselves would suffer. So medicine and agriculture advanced, improving living conditions for the lowly as well as the high and mighty.

When Europeans ventured to the Americas, it was rich corporations establishing commercial beach heads, not plucky refugees seeking a place to live according to their noble consciences. Plucky refugees might have made good subjects for the dirty and dangerous work of colonization, but they did not foot most of the bill. The concept of private property arrived in the Americas like any other disease or invasive species for which the native biome was completely unprepared.

All the infrastructure of the American colonies was established to make business more profitable. Long before independence was declared, American entrepreneurs were getting their piece of the action. Between the establishment of Jamestown in 1607 and the Declaration of Independence in 1776, more than a century and a half passed. A couple of generations lived and died. In the name of wealth and power, settlers moved outward from initial landing sites into the interior.

A bold pioneer with a sharp ax, a trusty musket, quick reflexes and a good lawyer could establish a family fortune just by marking a bunch of trees and making darn sure his land claims were duly registered. The next poor schmuck to wander into that happy valley to set up a little farm or a sawmill or something would find out he was already behind on his rent.

Between 1776 and 1876 a century passed in which no one questioned the concept of personal wealth. Steal some land from the natives, chop it into parcels and sell it off. The natives weren't using it, they were just living on it. They were smelly and talked weird and just might kill you.

Interestingly, between 1876 and 1976 a lot of people questioned the time-honored concept of minority ownership of majority necessities, particularly once the 20th Century arrived. As civilization advanced on the backs of  millions of laborers and the wallets of hundreds of wealthy people, mostly men, the standard of living accidentally increased to the point where the working class and people in the middle income bracket were now healthy and well fed enough to start exerting some real political influence.

After many attempts to crush this rebellion by force, the wealthy had to accept the new economic landscape. However, they still had the advantage of their own close associations, better schools for their children, better homes and gardens to shelter and nourish their progeny and generations of tradition enforcing their superiority. In the long run, all the wealthy have to do is wait. The ignorant rabble will waste its substance. They will not give up the comforts of civilization, and civilization is still very much the property of the wealthy, run for their benefit. It's their world. The rest of us just get to live in it...as long as we don't make too much trouble.

The wealthy hold the whole planet hostage. The war necessary to dislodge them would have to destroy everything. If anyone survived, they would probably reinvent the whole messed-up paradigm anyway because the war would have reduced them to such savagery that all gentle enlightenment had been scorched out of them.

The problem with any meritocracy is that some people will be bad winners no matter what the basis of the competition is. Back in the dim past we chose warriors as our leaders. Some time in the 20th Century we switched to CEOs. Warriors are basically predisposed to be pricks, despite what you may believe about knights in shining armor. Defender of the weak, blah blah blah. When your clout comes from your actual ability to clout that can't help shaping your thinking. And CEOs are supposed to be all about earnings. What's good for the company bottom line may not be good for your individual ass. Be warned.

Whatever the basis of merit, it creates a hierarchy, which gives abusers of power the tools they need.

Consensus would be nice but we can't even agree to seek it.

So, for what it's worth, the desire of the wealthy to create good neighborhoods for themselves created the model for good neighborhoods throughout history. Their ability to put up defenses against their bad neighbors established the concept by which we still live. In wide open spaces where no one is fenced in, no one is fenced out, either. While that can be wonderfully welcoming and inclusive, it also means you could get an arrow stuck in you when you step out to take a leak in the morning. It means someone has to sit up all night to watch the horses or you might not have any in the morning. It means you may repeatedly have to kick someone's ass until yours finally gets kicked for good, just to have a little space to call your own.

The wealthy seem like greedy bastards who don't play well with others and don't like to share their toys. They are vastly annoying and downright damaging to society in a great many ways. But being a jerk is a basic human characteristic. We should at least give a nod to rich jerks through the centuries who accidentally bestowed the benefits of shelter and sanitation on the rest of us jerks who have actually built and operated it for them.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Hope Less

What does it say about the Republican Party that when Barack Obama chose the word Hope as a campaign slogan the Republican Party, through their irrepressible publicity agents like Sarah and Rush, had to start sneering at it? True to their words, the offensive line of the conservative side of American politics has done its utmost during the last four years to oppose things that offer hope to millions of Americans. And it's working.

There's no such thing as a Great Depression. They're all pretty lousy. The country's economy might be improving slightly under the Obama administration, but it's slow going when the opposition has to take everything as an affront. The conservatives make less and less of a secret of the fact that their policies really are meant to cause the destruction of American citizens and trends in American society that they consider undesirable. They have fully accepted the premise that it's far easier to take lives than to change minds. In an overpopulated world, the quick fix is to kill people. This gets easier when you decide you dislike so many kinds of them so much that you have no qualms about stuffing them into deteriorating situations.

"The Poor" get the most attention when in actuality the working class faces the most immediate threat. Outright poor people have programs to help them with various needs like housing, food, heating fuel and health care. These programs are constantly under threat, but they have managed to remain in place. Meanwhile, people not far above the poverty line get no help and have no buffer to keep them from disaster. Even people in middle income brackets can be destroyed so swiftly, particularly by medical expenses, that they crash down to make a crater underneath the safety net without even slowing down for a brief instant of eligibility. Dead men take no dole.

To the bean counters it doesn't matter who gets destroyed. Life is cheap. People make more people with very little prompting. Some who get crushed may be charming, entertaining and even useful, but they can all be replaced. Then again, why bother? Every death just leaves more for the rest of us.

Kind of makes you wonder whether the sacrifices of World War II were worth it. We bought a few decades, but corporate fascism has an apparently unbreakable grip on our government and our own citizens seem more interested in hating each other than in seeking a better human condition.

People of limited financial means facing a medical crisis have to decide what sort of life they'll have left after the expenses of fighting a serious illness. We make heroes of cancer survivors, but they are forever stigmatized by the medical insurance industry and enslaved to the pharmaceutical industry for whatever drugs they might need to sustain life after the drastic damage inflicted by cancer treatment. I know this because friends who are fighting cancer right now are telling me about their experiences.

In the end, whenever that comes, you want to feel that life has been worthwhile. This gets a lot harder when you realize that all human endeavor is just the diversions of a completely useless species. All we do is argue, fuck and fight. I believe that convincing people to ease up a little would be the most worthwhile achievement in history. So far it has also been the most futile. Even people you'd think would agree will suddenly spout some aggressive rhetoric perpetuating the cycle of punch and counter punch, bullshit without end, amen.

Maybe the horrible winter is making the mental climate worse. It's very hard to get regular exercise, which an aging body needs far more desperately than a young one does. And the growing roll call of cancer patients in the area reminds us that the Big C doesn't care who you are or whether you take good care of yourself. I don't care what they say about early detection and improvements in treatment. In the slow collapse of industrial civilization it's just one more thing you hope never happens to you. If it does, you're doomed to massively uncomfortable treatments that will probably just make the end of your life agonizing. Or you can go without the treatments and just have the end of your life be agonizing.

Isn't this depressing? It isn't great at all, is it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Music and drugs

Throughout the 20th Century, especially from the Jazz Age onwards, musicians were increasingly associated with drug use. It certainly wasn't all of them, but no one was ever surprised to learn that this one or that one was using something, whether it was alcohol or something more exotic. Little has been said, however about the addictive nature of music itself.

My music fixation has led me to consider that very subject and to do ten minutes of exhaustive research. My first and last stop was Helpguide.org, whose Google snippet showed that it might contain the kind of checklist of warning signs of drug abuse that I was looking for.

This opening statement hit on critical similarities immediately:

"Some people are able to use recreational or prescription drugs without ever experiencing negative consequences or addiction. For many others, substance use can cause problems at work, home, school, and in relationships, leaving you feeling isolated, helpless, or ashamed."

Substitute music for drugs and you get this:

Some people are able to use recreational or instructional music without ever experiencing negative consequences or addiction. For many others, music use can cause problems at work, home, school, and in relationships, leaving you feeling isolated, helpless, or ashamed.

Helpless! Isolated! Ashamed! That sounds like me after a tough recital or String Band session. The others take off. Helplessly I flounder after them. I feel isolated as the worst excuse for a musician in the place. I'm ashamed that I did not practice more, and that I present myself as any kind of a musician whatsoever. I swear I'm going to quit. But do I? No. Within HOURS I'm "practicing" again.

The same site offers this list of signs and symptoms of drug abuse:

Common signs and symptoms of drug abuse

  • You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home (e.g. flunking classes, skipping work, neglecting your children) because of your drug use.
  • You’re using drugs under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high, such as driving while on drugs, using dirty needles, or having unprotected sex.
  • Your drug use is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disorderly conduct, driving under the influence, or stealing to support a drug habit. 
  • Your drug use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.

Common signs and symptoms of drug addiction

  • You’ve built up a drug tolerance. You need to use more of the drug to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
  • You take drugs to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without drugs, you experience symptoms such as nausea, restlessness, insomnia, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety.
  • You’ve lost control over your drug use. You often do drugs or use more than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop using, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around drug use. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about drugs, figuring out how to get them, and recovering from the drug’s effects.
  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your drug use.
  • You continue to use drugs, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—blackouts, infections, mood swings, depression, paranoia—but you use anyway. 
Again substituting music for drugs the parallels are disturbing:

Common signs and symptoms of music abuse

  • You’re neglecting your responsibilities at school, work, or home because of your music use. Or how about dragging in even later than usual the morning after your weekly String Band session and spending most of the day listening to the tunes you're trying to learn, collected on your MP3 player?
  • You’re playing music under dangerous conditions or taking risks while high on it, such as driving while plinking on a dulcimer you just bought because it looked easy to learn, using strings you should have changed long ago, or having unprotected sex.Wait. What? Maybe if I was a better musician I could use it to get laid, but not at this point!
  • Your music is getting you into legal trouble, such as arrests for disturbing the peace, driving under a frigging dulcimer, or stealing to support an instrument collecting habit. 
  • Your music use is causing problems in your relationships, such as fights with your partner or family members, an unhappy boss, or the loss of old friends.These mostly take the form of WOULD YOU FOR GOD'S SAKE STOP PLAYING THAT THING FOR A WHILE?!?! Or maybe you feel you have to hide your practicing so they won't all get together and stage an intervention.

Common signs and symptoms of music addiction

  • You’ve built up a music tolerance. You need to play longer to experience the same effects you used to attain with smaller amounts.
  • You play music to avoid or relieve withdrawal symptoms. If you go too long without playing, you experience symptoms such as  restlessness, depression, sweating, shaking, and anxiety because you know you're forgetting everything you've worked so hard to try to learn.
  • You’ve lost control over your music. You often play for much longer than you planned, even though you told yourself you wouldn’t. You may want to stop playing, but you feel powerless.
  • Your life revolves around jamming. You spend a lot of time using and thinking about music, figuring out how to get more sheet music or learn more tunes, and recovering from the effects of hours of practicing. These vary depending on the instrument and the method of playing it.
  • You’ve abandoned activities you used to enjoy, such as hobbies, sports, and socializing, because of your music.
  • You continue to use music, despite knowing it’s hurting you. It’s causing major problems in your life—mood swings (Yes! I nailed that! Oh no, I totally suck at this!), depression (No, I just totally suck at this and always will), paranoia (Everybody wishes I would quit showing up but they're too nice to say so.)—but you play anyway.

 I would worry about myself but I have to practice as soon as my wife leaves. Other people may have problems with music, but not me. I can handle it.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The struggle for existence

If I had known that winter was going to die out in my lifetime, I would not have wasted all that time learning to ski. My life would have been very different. Chaos being chaos, once you change one thing you change a myriad of things. Multiple universes beckon in every fraction of a direction.

In the world we know, many of us invested time and energy in the continued existence of winter. The lack of it is going to cause a great deal of inconvenience for everyone, whether they choose to believe it or not.

In one small sport shop in one small town in one small state on one small patch of the Earth's surface occupied by the self-styled greatest nation on the planet, we struggle to survive. Our biggest adversaries are the weather and the economy. Their allies are other activities we do not service and the human tendency toward sloth.

We can't do much about the weather because too many people don't agree that we were capable of damaging the global climate in the first place. We can't do much about the economy because it is controlled by madmen with self-serving theories about who should prosper and how that is accomplished.

The attack on 9-11-01 was a blow, but the nation's response was more damaging. This was part of Osama bin Laden's plan: he knew that the powerful emotional response, coupled with our diverse philosophies, added to our technological ability to over-react would create massively destructive tension in our tenuously joined society.

The economy is bad, but it is made worse by the Republican immune system's response to Democrats. In the coming election we can either elect a Republican president who will join the misguided right wing of Congress to  strengthen the grip of oligarchy on our society or we can re-elect the Democrat and face four more years of destructive opposition from the Republicans as they try to make the economy such a mess for the average citizen that we will vote for whatever platitude-spouting orator they put forward in 2016 to promise to fix it.

Elections are no longer about leading this country to greatness or even goodness. They're about picking someone to lie to you for a few years until you have to pick a replacement knave or fool to occupy your television screen while unseen minions have their way with the nation's finances.