Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Holiday cheer and relaxation

Kickin' back for a couple of minutes in a deep chair when I heard the words any host loves to hear:

"The cold water won't turn off in the guest bathroom!"

That's the original bathroom, which was installed without any shutoff valves. Okay, folks, the water to the entire house is going off...now.

Fortunately I was able to contain the gusher using old parts from the plumbing drawer in the basement. I hope that holds us until Thursday when I can get to a hardware store for repair parts  from this century.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Holiday Magic!

Just in time for the holidays, it's CAT GLITTER -- the clumping cat litter that Sparkles! In a variety of festive colors, Cat Glitter is purr-fect for families with pets! Kids want to decorate for the holidays? They'll love scooping the litter box when they dig up treasures like these! Just have them screw in the ornament hangers included with every bag of Cat Glitter so they can hang their beautiful discoveries on the tree!

Cat Glitter clumps harder than ordinary clumping litter, so you don't have to worry about breakage! And your cat will learn not to dawdle in the box after getting stuck to a clump a time or two! So don't delay! Get this fantastic product for the holidays! Do it for the cats! Do it for the kids! Cat Glitter: buy some TODAY!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One after another

My wife has polycystic kidney disease. Her nephrologist said he would prescribe Tolvaptan for her. It was recently approved to slow the growth of the blood-filled cysts that progressively destroy the kidneys of people who have PKD. This is good,  but he said he could only prescribe it because she has health insurance through her new job.

A course of Tolvaptan costs $100,000.00 a year. One hundred thousand dollars a year.

Things like this remind you starkly that life is a series of temporary measures. Some remain in effect longer than others, but each is just a fragile refuge against implacable forces of destruction.

As long as she has insurance she will be allowed to purchase the drug on which her life depends. Its cost must be spread across the whole group of policy holders.

How much is the price distorted by the fact that the maker of the drug knows that an insurance company will be forking out for it? How much of the stated price actually gets paid? Someone with insurance is not expected to ask. Most probably don't. They're just glad to get what they need. It would only matter if the insurance went away.

Should I go on and write a Malcolm Gladwell-style book on all the temporary circumstances that make up every life? It's late and I have to go to my own job tomorrow. That was a temporary measure that has turned out to persist a remarkably long time.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Winterize the lawn mower

Various things kept me from my own winter preparations in October, so on a chilly November afternoon I went out to winterize the lawn mower.

First I wanted to run it out of gas. I've heard conflicting advice on this. One school of thought says to get rid of all fuel in the system. The other says to fill it to the brim so the inevitable remaining fuel has less opportunity to absorb water from the air in the system with it. I've had good luck removing the fuel, so I keep doing it.

Since the mower had to be run anyway, I figured I could chew up and blow the leaves off where they had collected. This was after dumping a few bushels of them under the new porch to inhibit erosion where rainwater runs through the planking and off the steps onto the dirt below. Gutters and water bars eliminated roof runoff and any flow that might have developed across the yard, but a pesky runnel has remained. The telltale drip marks around it show the source of the water.

The mower is temperamental. It might go several times without a problem, but then it will simply refuse to start. Since your basic mower these days has some sort of solid state ignition and an automatic throttle, you can't tweak anything. You can only make sure it has fuel, that the spark plug is connected and undamaged, and yank away on the starter cord. When that yields nothing but fatigue, blisters and perhaps a nice pulled muscle it's really tempting to destroy the mower in some creative way and go buy a new one.

I discovered a solution by accident a couple of years ago. We had just about given up and decided to get a new mower when I gave it one more round of spark plug checking and air filter cleaning. This still did nothing. At a loss, I dropped to all fours to peer at the machine from its own level. Maybe I would notice something. Coincidentally, I looked like I was prostrating myself before it.

On the next try it started.

Since that time, whenever the mower has refused to start, whichever of us is trying to get it to go assumes the position. The mower starts.

Today was no exception. I thought I might have trouble since the mower had been sitting for at least a month in the shed, including some sub-freezing nights. Today is not exactly warm, and November's sun adds only a stabbing light, not a generous warmth. So, after several fruitless yanks on the cord, I got down on all fours, nodded my head, patted it encouragingly on top of the starter reel and pulled the cord. Vroom, off we went.

There are forces in the Universe that we do not understand. This lawn mower is definitely one of them.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

America needs a reason to exist

Jimmy Carter was slightly premature when he called for an examination of American priorities in the 1970s. At the time we still stood as the bastion against Soviet domination. World powers still played on a game board set up by World War II and argued over ideologies that had peaked in the 1930s.

When the Soviet Union -- for various reasons -- finally collapsed as the 1990s came upon us, we enjoyed a period of celebration. But no one has a good idea what to do next. The massive adversaries and threat of global destruction that brought not only fear but stability have gone away.

We still risk global destruction. We still live on a globe populated by a paranoid species that can't seem to outgrow conflict. But in a dawning human consciousness that war really isn't the answer, a couple of superpowers grinding together like tectonic plates is no longer an acceptable scenario. Our enemies are the enemies of peaceful freedom, but they are dispersed. Their motives are diverse. Their resources are limited, yet they are theoretically capable of ending everything. No fortress will withstand them because they can walk through walls by projecting their philosophies into the receptive troubled minds of people already inside.

If our goal is to preserve the geographical entity of the United States and to keep its flag flying no matter what goes on beneath it we may continue to spy on our own citizens and use more police forces to send more people to more prisons. Bit by bit we turn into the kind of repressive regime we said we staunchly opposed throughout our history. But we still exist...technically.

Extremists destroy our system of government from within and without. Whether they're on the "right" or the "left" doesn't really matter. It's their inflexible adherence to their positions that causes the strain. Foreign enemies gather their followers based on their own various grievances. At least some of the grievances may be legitimate, even if their choice of remedy won't really help. Domestic agitators attack the government claiming that its destruction will purify it and free the ordinary citizens from the red tape and tax bills that keep them from succeeding. Benevolent billionaires who could pay their employees a lot more right now are instead financing this revolution, this economic civil war. Why have none of their mob asked them for a raise instead of just writing semi literate signs and waving the flags of sedition?

We have nothing for which to unite. The rich tell us our enemy is our own government. Our government fights with itself over whether to tax the rich who have accumulated far more than a reasonable share of the nation's wealth. Genuine enemies from foreign lands send not only their stealthy fighters but their own ideas to inspire susceptible Americans to join their fight. We are a nation splintering. What can stop it? In the past we have only united in the face of a common threat. We would temporarily put aside internal squabbles, gloss over our own ugliness and turn our phalanx toward the enemy. Those are short-term solutions to a long-term problem.

The solution to the long-term problem is nowhere near as exciting as a good war. Our long term problem really is a malaise, a human condition residing in every individual. It can only be fought alone, even with a support group. The question we have to answer is, "are we better together?"

I think our next national mission may be therapy.

Monday, September 30, 2013

We reward achievement

A meritocracy is only as good as the people deciding what constitutes merit.

How do you know if you have done well at an assigned task? Usually, someone in a superior position praises you. This may include a financial reward. For a student the reward may take the form of scholarship assistance for further education. For a worker it takes the form of pay, benefits and bonuses. Is your achievement meritorious if it doesn't interest someone with the power to give you something tangible, like money, prestige, power or possessions?

In human history and legend a few outsiders have achieved fame and great levels of influence outside the system of entrenched power and wealth. Jesus Christ, whose brand has since been bought out by profit-driven interests, started out as a critic of the establishment whose popular philosophies centered on rewards other than the conventionally accepted wealth and power. Mahatma Gandhi was not known for living like a televangelist either. Those examples spring quickly to mind because they're so darn easy. And they will suffice to illustrate the point that the idea of spiritual rewards and principles without a price tag appeal to something in the human mind. But they can't really stand up to the time-honored tradition of cross-generational brown-nosing that we call achievement. If you're not worth money to the controllers of money, what are you worth?

Gandhi was a political leader. After the idealistic struggle to free India from the British grasp, the country had to function economically. Jesus never had to deal with the compromises of governing. He was an idea man. If he hadn't had that "eternal life" trick to fall back on, he would have been just another troublemaker crushed by the wheels of power. If you live in this material world you have to deal with the self-proclaimed judges of your merit.

Up to this point in history, to achieve merit you must help people who want money make money or you must help them feel good about themselves. This can mean everyone on the economic spectrum, but the best yields come from pleasing people who can bestow the most reward on you for your efforts. You can also make money by scamming people, as in the financial services industry, but then you have to use your wealth to fund the sort of merits that support your lifestyle. Within the financial sector your merits include lining up the chumps for the greater good of your company and manipulating data in a way that maintains a positive cash flow and does not draw attention from the nearly nonexistent regulators.

You can also make money by entertaining people. The superstars of sports and entertainment make it look like a high achiever could amass a fortune largely by personal effort combined with some level of initial talent. However, even there the players have to attract cash just to get started. One person with a guitar and some snappy lyrics might soar to prominence, but only if they get discovered by the right promoter. Merit tends to favor commercialism. You can do some edgy, challenging work, but only if that's what is selling right now.

In science, earnest nerds toil in obscurity, known only to their geeky peers, until one of their discoveries looks like it could have economic or military value. Other types of achievement might get a little "gee whiz, wouldya look at that" kind of publicity, but the real interest perks up only when the work in question looks lucrative.

Free market capitalists will say, "That's what we've been trying to tell you all this time." But their kind has been in charge of defining merit since before the term "capitalism" was coined. People didn't cross wide oceans on tiny ships just to look at the scenery and say hi to the natives. People looked for stuff they could use, even if they had to slap someone else around to get it. Explorers who made it there and back, and exploitative expeditions that followed them had great merit in the eyes of those who financed them.

The net result of centuries of meritorious achievement has been a sprawling human population overrunning a planet battered and smouldering from our ambitious ministrations. We should do something about that, but there's not enough money in it. You might mention that we threaten our very existence, but when you look at the number of people who drink and drive, text and drive, ride motorcycles and bikes without a helmet, take up smoking, and a host of other things we know are bad ideas you realize that warnings fall on deaf ears, while the jingle of coins carries across miles.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Vacation Photos

Here's a picture of the full moon rising above Commercial Street on Portland, Maine's waterfront. The cellist and I were dining at The Farmer's Table with Scruffy.
And here I am with Dr. LeeAnn Cote at NH Endodontics, in the middle of a root canal. Dr. Cote is very good. Nothing hurt until the Novocaine wore off.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The dog's ambition

Scruffy, our adopted terrier, has left behind the touchingly grateful phase of his assimilation. He now feels safe to reveal the less endearing traits like raiding the bathroom trash can for incomprehensibly disgusting snack items and getting up 30 to 60 minutes ahead of the alarm clock to demand service.

This morning he took it to heights I don't want to imagine he can surpass.

He began as he has begun for the last four mornings (at least), with shrill, insistent barks at 5 a.m. The cellist dragged herself from already shallow sleep to escort him to the door so he could go relieve himself. All this was still part of our routine of sleep deprivation.

"Scruffy! No!" I heard the cellist yell. And then "SHIT!"

Her announcement that the dog had chased a skunk under the deck arrived more or less simultaneously with the skunk's own announcement through the open windows that had been admitting the refreshing night air.

The dog is now quarantined in a pen while we wait for the store to open where we hope to obtain de-skunking chemicals. The ever-helpful Internet provided a couple of alternatives with great reviews.

Because the incident happened under the deck, the overspray is wafting in through the foundation vents, so the basement now smells like skunk. We have to figure out how to rinse away the residue from the space beneath the deck, an area we would not want to enter at the best of times, let alone now that it harbors a prodigious stench.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An additional way to frustrate myself

After several years thinking about it I picked up a nice starter mandolin to add to my musical endeavors. Tuned like the violin, it can play much of the same repertoire, particularly in the folk realm. There are also some nice classical pieces for it.

The mandolin can be played more quietly than the violin/fiddle. It can also be played in a more confined space. My fiddle teacher says it comes out of the case more than any of her other instruments because of its convenience and versatility for exploring new tunes or bringing back old ones from the depths of brain storage. My violin teacher approves.

The picking pattern is actually very precise. That has taken some of the free-form fun out of playing around with it, but will lead to more solid technique. I don't think I could get any worse, so solid is good.

Monday, July 15, 2013


These tiny towers, suggestive of something from the desert southwest, were built by the little red ants living in the sandy soil next to the front of the foundation. All the rain has driven them up and out from the saturated soil. The moisture helps their sand grains stick together to form these fragile structures.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Visiting Bear

Daisy the cat alerted the cellist to the arrival of this young bear. The cellist called me quietly to the window. We did have to protest when it looked like it might pull down the feeder for a sweet snack.
When I discouraged it from taking the feeder it made its way around to the driveway and headed across the road.

I was going to bring the feeders in for cleaning anyway.

Right after the bear left, a gray fox came through.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Free Country Conundrum

No one likes the idea that the NSA is spying on them, but it is a natural outgrowth of the Cold War. In the 1950s the idea that spies and infiltrators could be undermining the security of the United States coincided with the growth of communication technology that could be monitored easily from a remote location. Government paranoia reflected citizen paranoia that the Russkis were going to get us if we didn't get them first.

As more and more communication lends itself to easily to surveillance and the enemies become more insidious, the urge to spy becomes unbearable.

In popular culture, the 1950s launched the Age of Espionage. James Bond debuted in print in 1953. The good guys went out and spied on the bad guys. It was something one country did to another country. And those other countries were under repressive regimes where most people had no freedom and no fun at all. Any technology we could develop to make our surveillance in those bad countries more effective was a good thing.

If one country is under relentless observation at the hands of another country where the citizens get to run wild and free, how long do you think it takes the masterminds of the "bad" country to figure out that the best place to hide their own observers is in the midst of that happy chaos? Substitute "stateless ideology" for "bad country" and you have the even more distasteful problem our security forces face today.

I would guess that the average citizen who appears unconcerned by the recent revelations of NSA spying feels, among other things, that there's nothing they can do to stop it. And they're right.

The people who believe that someone should keep an eye on things will keep an eye on things. If you make it illegal they will do it illegally. When surveillance is outlawed, only outlaws will surveil. And it will never be illegal, because who wants to sign off on the decision to quit looking, only to be asked later "why didn't you see this coming?"

The only way to do away with general information gathering is to go back to hand-carried letters and spoken communication directly from one human to one or more humans all present in the same space. And that would only mean that the spying would have to be piecemeal rather than broad based.

We are at the mercy of authorities who determine what is harmless and permissible. Even government of, by and for the people is made up of people who feel they deserve to govern.

Monday, June 10, 2013

More Insect Life

The other night we had not one but TWO Luna moths on the outside of the house, along with dozens of the little cream-and-pink ones we call cherry-cheesecake moths.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Fast Life

The cellist and I have started our own experiment in intermittent fasting.

The television presentation by Michael Mosley explored the benefits of various calorie restriction methods. Straight-up calorie restriction, in which a subject eats about half as much as the rest of us consider normal, has supposedly been linked to serious increases in life span. Is it really longer, or does it just seem longer?

The rationale behind calorie restriction is basically that nutrient utilization is an oxidative process that stresses the body if you respond to every hunger pang. Oxidation bad! If you eat less you burn less and your system lasts longer.

As creatures that evolved with a fairly constant hunger that stimulated a constant search for something to eat, humans are hard-wired to seek food. In a developed nation most of us can satisfy every craving the instant we feel it. Our brains feel reassured but our bodies have to deal with the embarrassment of riches. We have invented enticing, calorie-rich foods that move quickly from the stomach to make room for more enticing, calorie-rich foods. Our blood sugar bunjie-jumps while the calories we can't possibly burn go into the body's savings account. You carry that balance with you all the time, even if the deposits aren't obvious.

Mosley's television series explored the difference between visceral fat and subcutaneous fat. Mosley himself did not look particularly blobby, but had accumulated a great deal of fat around his organs. Research seem to indicate that this fat has the more dire effect on your body.

Because I spend the winter turning into a pudgy hypochondriac instead of getting out for healthy exercise several days a week, and the cellist lives a quintessentially American lifestyle involving lot so of driving and no built-in, regularly scheduled need for exertion we were particularly susceptible to Mosley's presentation.

According to Mosley, the intermittent fasting regime offers many -- perhaps even most -- of the metabolic benefits of calorie restriction while still allowing the participant to eat freely on five out of seven days.

On fast days a male is supposed to eat a maximum of 600 calories. A woman is allowed 500. So it isn't complete abstinence from food. It's roughly a quarter of the basal metabolic rate for an average person of each gender. Mosley's website and book provide hints and recommendations for what to eat and when, but the system offers a lot of flexibility for individuals to discover what works for them.

As Snickers advertisements will tell you, hunger can effect your personality. No one said it was trouble-free.

When you eat more or less free-range on five days, the fast days become events. They are distinct objectives with a limited time span. They are not supposed to be consecutive days, so beyond each of them lies your comfortable normality.

You still need to exercise. In bike commuting season my lifestyle still works. It's only the loss of skiing that makes the winter such a time of deterioration. I have not yet developed really effective substitute activities for winter. As the bike season gets off to a slow, irregular start I'm pretty sure I have not lost much weight, if any. But I'm establishing the eating pattern.

Fasting makes you spend time in your hunger. After 150-200 calories of oatmeal for breakfast burns off around lunchtime the afternoon stretches a long way in front of you. But hunger is not constant. And you can distract yourself with interesting projects. You can become a connoisseur of your appetite. "How hungry am I?" It's good to know hunger when you don't have to, to remind you of the people who have no choice.

You have to have a sense of humor so you don't give way to irritability. But this makes you more mindful in your execution of daily routines.

It helps that the cellist and I are doing it together. We can talk about it, joke about it and know that we're both in this together.

Eating a carefully-selected 300 calories in the morning leaves an equal amount available for an early-evening micro-meal of equally carefully-selected foods to complete the day's allowance. Black coffee and unsweetened tea don't count against your calorie allowance. Hydrate a lot. The cellist makes a savory broth that tastes like food, but contains less than ten calories eight-ounce serving. That makes a nice nightcap before going to bed to look forward to breakfast the next day.

I thought I would wake up before dawn like a kid on Christmas and head out to the kitchen to chow down on everything I could find, but this has not been the case on our three fast days so far. I am almost reluctant to eat that first uncalculated meal, though I still shove my nose in a beaker of coffee with the usual zeal. The fast days are so much work that I am loath to negate their value by sucking down crap when it's fair game. In this way the discipline of fasting, sustainable only by someone who likes a physical challenge, reinforces what would ordinarily be a somewhat weak will when it comes to snacking and sweets. Sure, I would ramp back up if I went too long before the next fast, but the longest interval is three days. That significantly reduces the sugary grazing.

It's not for everyone. We'll see if it continues to appeal to me. So far it's interesting.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Bob: A Story of Immigration.

In 2005 the Western Conifer Seed Bug (Leptoglossus Occidentalis) arrived at our house with a large extended family. Suddenly the place was crawling with these weird-looking bugs:

We named them Bob. The reason isn't important. It's a lot quicker to say, "there's a Bob" than to use either of the bug's official names.

Bob's story parallels the progression of most immigrant groups. At first we feared and disliked Bob. He looked different. He smelled funny. He had disturbing habits like flying ineptly at us or getting on our pillows or bath towels so that we inadvertently applied him roughly to our faces or bodies. We don't use bug spray and we wouldn't squish anything that gives off such a uniquely pungent odor when disturbed or injured, but we did capture and evict any that we found. The colder the day or night the better, as far as we were concerned. So you could say we started deportation: go back where you came from, Bob.

The Bobs don't quit. They keep crossing our borders, looking for a better life. We've gotten used to their appearance, their odors and their attempts at flight. They don't chew things, suck blood or poison our pets. They're just different. We see their struggle to survive the winter when their search for a hibernation niche accidentally led them to our warm lair. Now when they would be dormant they need water. Maybe they need food, I don't know. They feed on the sap in conifer cones. They won't ever find that in our house.

We've developed sympathy for Bob. No longer is he a lousy stinkin' bug. He's an Insect American.

The Bobs seem just as eager to go back out when the weather warms as they were to crawl in when it froze. We just have to learn to get along while we're sharing the same shanty.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My transgender fiddle teacher

Early last summer, the man I've been taking fiddling lessons from revealed that he has always identified as a woman and was going to start living as one forthwith.  He said he had tried once before in the early 1990s, to the extreme detriment of his music career. But the brain wants what the brain wants.

We'd all known Seth had strong sympathies for the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities. A lot of people in the arts do. At the last session before the summer break for the string band he showed up in a tie dyed sundress. But the official announcement nailed it down.

For someone who is not transgender, thinking about it is completely disorienting. It's much easier to imagine being homosexual than trying to reconcile the unshakeable belief your friend's mind has that his body is completely mistaken.

I don't know if someone can be slightly transgender. The conviction that you have been issued the wrong genitalia is about as basic as an issue gets.

Even with sex reassignment treatments and surgery the result is never complete. Certain things just aren't going to happen. But trying to reconcile mind and body does not seem to work. It makes my friend happier to work toward conforming physical appearance to the convictions of the mind than to try to convince the mind that the body is okay.

If you don't have it you can't really claim to understand it. All you can do is say it's all right and keep being their friend.

The absolute hardest thing about it is pronouns. The artist formerly known as Seth has often posted things on Facebook about the search for a really good gender neutral pronoun. Now called Zythyra, she uses the feminine pronoun in some contexts where a choice is required, but told us in the initial announcement that the singular they would be acceptable. What ends up happening is that we use the name Zythyra or the abbreviation Z rather than any pronoun at all.

The pronoun thing. It's a real bitch.

Continuing to attend String Band has provided a real lesson in relevance. Z could show up with a shaved head and a form-fitted silver jumpsuit and the music would still be the music. The teaching style hasn't changed. The content hasn't changed. Some mannerisms are overtly more feminine, as is the wardrobe. So what?

I can't say the simulation of womanhood is at all convincing. There again it does not matter. Zythyra seems happy and at peace more than in the years of unhappily presenting as masculine. When Z was he, he was never grumpy or bitter or querulous. The change has not been huge, because Z as Seth was always a pleasant companion and a good teacher, same as now. But in a critical small way, Zythyra seems more satisfied. I don't know how it works. I don't know why it happens. I just know it's not my place to make someone else conform to my normality any more than anyone should be able to get me to conform to theirs. We're given a point of view with the brains and bodies we receive. There are worse things to be than completely crossed-up in the gender department. You could be aggressively weird and get off on hurting people.

Guns and helmets.

The rationale behind the need to own a gun is strikingly similar to the arguments supporting bicycle and motorcycle helmets. Even some of the arguments against guns sound somewhat similar.

Many people who tremble at the thought of being gunless tell you that they don't want to use it but they want it on hand in case they need it. Likewise, helmet wearers will say they don't plan to crash, but want the protective gear in case they do.

Opponents of both guns and helmets might acknowledge that each has its uses, but point out the ways in which either one can be a genuine hazard to your own personal safety, even if you're trying to use it correctly. Helmet wearers have suffered neck and facial injuries because the projecting edge of the helmet caused their heads to twist sharply during an impact. Gun accidents are well-publicized by the faction saying "I told you so."

Helmet wearers are almost never injured or killed because someone took their helmet from them and attacked them with it. So guns get the demerits there.

Helmet opponents point to unsubstantiated pseudo-scientific studies that seem to indicate a helmet wearer is more likely to have a dangerous encounter with a passing motorist than someone riding bare-headed. I don't know if wearing a gun makes people more likely to shy away from you or if it might inspire a few aggressive types to take it as an invitation to try you out. Someone wearing a gun certainly discourages me from wanting to walk up and say hello. I might find a safe place to watch if two of them decided to see who is faster. But there might be no safe place when the lead starts flying.

Ultimately the sense of a need to own a gun comes down to the individual's imagination -- one might almost say fantasy life. In fact it would be quite safe to say fantasy life in the case of gun cultists who imagine themselves as action heroes saving the day with their trusty shootin' iron.

Many of us -- perhaps even most of us -- will get through life without ever needing to shoot someone. People in the military don't have to buy the guns they use to shoot the people they're sent to face, so those confrontations don't really figure in the decision to go armed in civilian life.

Maybe I've just never lived in a bad enough neighborhood.

I have a couple of guns in the house. I even slept with them handy during a particularly ugly time in town politics. That level of intensity soon passed.

When I've considered carrying a gun on my bike rides I soon realized that it would not be worth its weight. By the time you know you need it, it's too late. The same is true of many imaginary situations in the rest of life. Deadly force is just so darn deadly. Revenge killing is just so darn illegal.

Ultimately you have to make your own decision. The rhetoric gets hot enough to melt lead.

Tuesday, January 08, 2013

It's a bully's world

Bullies have shaped society since before humans developed language.

Bullying is the animal model for establishing dominance. As humans developed more complex thoughts and feelings they had to manage the more intricate relationships among bullies who had achieved varying levels of success occupying adjacent or overlapping territories. As our growing minds and collective experience added more and more data, humans developed many philosophies to try to reconcile the increasing collection of new discoveries and realizations.

At some point it became popular to forget our natural origins. After that we could try to hold ourselves to unrealistic standards, declaring we must control or forbid many of our natural compulsions. These were temptations from an evil entity bent on spoiling our relationship with the Supreme Bully, who would treat us handsomely if we behaved ourselves.

In recent years many cultures have adopted the idea that bullying should be discouraged. As one who played on both sides of that conflict at different times in different schools, I applaud the idea. I just wonder what unintended consequence we will spin off as a result. I would love for it to be all cooperation and acceptance and self improvement. I simply wonder how deleting a fundamental compulsion in our personalities will alter human institutions we have unwittingly based on it throughout our thoughtful existence. Everything we praise: brave warriors, law enforcement, holy martyrs on a cross, is based on the interaction between the bullies and the bullied. If no one ever pushed anyone else around we would be different from almost all other living things. Even plants try to grow taller than their neighbors.

Someone who is willing to push other people around has an automatic advantage over people who would prefer not to. This will make bullying a constant temptation. Some would even say that the will to dominate leads to high achievement. Who is going to argue against high achievement? So if you want to convince a potential bully that it's really wrong to feel that way you had better have a lot of good arguments to support your position. Otherwise you'll just end up beaten up and dunked in a toilet.