Sunday, March 30, 2014

Very Appealing Candidates

Having chimed in on a few national political issues over the years, I am constantly deluged with requests for funds to support political candidates and advocacy organizations that represent the interests of the less corporately connected elements of society.

The running theme in most of these appeals is that billionaire backers are bankrolling the forces of destruction and my $3 or $5 or $10 or sometimes an odd but symbolic amount like $12 will go a long way to help in the fight against oligarchy, plutocracy, runaway capitalism and all the ills of our wealth-worshiping culture. This is grass roots fundraising.

It seems sensible: ask the people of limited means for tiny little contributions. But in reality the processing costs for such a small donation probably eat much of its value. Even worse, a site that appears to support one candidate may actually be raising money for the other side. Or some other sinister interest might have a fish hook in the bait. The one time I did make a contribution to a political candidate I discovered my credit card had been compromised. It's made  me leery, since I am one of those people of limited means who can't afford any financial errors. The card company covered me, but I still had to go through the inconvenience of changing card numbers.

The problem starts with the reliance of political candidates on copious amounts of cash. Even if the candidates and their direct organizations are limited in their sources and use of money, the outside groups that support them channel huge sums to shape public opinion. And even though the campaigns seem to go on forever, they start and end with emotional appeals rather than level-headed discussions of the pros and cons of proposed courses of action. That discussion is never conducted in public because manipulative interests don't really want it done in the open.

You might observe that even a number of small contributions add up to less than I spend on coffee every year. True, but when I pay for a cup of coffee I get a cup of coffee. I know the people at the coffee shop. I know my money helps them in their lives just as the money they spend where I work helps me. The money I throw at social change provides no such assurance. It's like when millions of people chip in after a natural disaster only to discover later that the money was mostly wasted on unhelpful bullshit. You want to feel good, you want to do good, so you trust the people who say they're going to take your contribution to provide that good. In the world of natural disasters there's a clear set of problems and a slate of obvious remedies. And even then the remedial organizations manage to screw it up.  In politics it's even worse, because of all the power and influence at stake. Participants have many built-in motives to mislead.

Assuming for the moment that many of the candidates and organizations trying to fund their resistance to tyranny a few dollars at a time are legitimate it still doesn't change the fact that we little people are in a spending contest with billionaires and rich corporations. We should not be in that position.

The fundamental problem is our undue respect for wealth. If a little rich is good, more rich is better. So most rich is best, right? They call it meritocracy, wrongly assuming that money is an accurate gauge of all values.

Sorry, people. There IS something wrong with being rich. But where is the line between "doing okay" and "filthy oligarch?" Personally I put it down the scale, not far above "doing okay." But just releasing that money into the wild won't make everything fine. If all the newly-minted thousandaires decided to spend their money on destructive, polluting equipment and activities and rampant development we would destroy our ecosystem even faster than we already are. We still need to talk about problems as rational adults.

I'd like to say I didn't think we're screwed, but I think we're screwed. I've heard more about Gwyneth Paltrow in the past week than about efforts to reform campaign finance, promote sustainable energy production, support family planning, rein in climate change and on a large scale treat each other with more courtesy and respect. I just don't see what my $3 is going to get me. How many commercials will it take to instill those values?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

March is the brightest month

In the snowy part of the Northern Hemisphere, March is the brightest month. The sun is strong and the white cover on the ground reflects it upward even under the evergreens. This makes the arrival of actual warm weather a bit of a step back, visually. The warmer air holds more moisture, breeding more haze and clouds. The brown earth and flattened vegetation revealed by the melted snow looks deader than the gaunt twigs in the gloom of November. This all died last fall and has been lying around crushed beneath the snow ever since.

The first few days or even a couple of weeks in spring have lost the hope of reflected sun and still don't offer the solace of green shoots. Warmth is relative, and greater warmth will only wake up the bloodsucking insects faster. If I was going to go away from here for any part of the year it would be that gap between meltdown and green up. But I would feel guilty.

The people who come here for the very best of any season, particularly the ones who can afford to buy a luxurious house to occupy during those times, are cheating. I'm sure many -- if not most -- of them would say they have to live the way they do and they envy those of us who live here all year, but we know that's bullcrap. They chose that life and they're cherry-picking the best of our conditions the way they take the best of everything else they can get their hands on.

I know that sounds resentful. Sorry about that. It isn't really. I don't care much either way. Their influx makes life here possible the way lots of seasonal fauna and flora do. I just wonder how many of them would earn their good times if they had to endure the bad ones to get there. Would they divest and depart forever? Some sort of life would be possible here even without them. It would be less lavish overall and more practical.

I keep wondering what one of Wolfeboro's celebrity residents would think if they saw the place in its winter disarray. Would they be so grossed out by it that the unshakeable image would ruin summer for them as well? Once in a great while we'll see one of the uber-capitalist tycoon types in the off season, but any sighting of the high-end summer folk is limited pretty completely to summer, and high summer at that. So even though someone might have been coming to town for years, they really only know a few weeks of it.

If someone put in a fracking well near one of the tributaries to Lake Winnipesaukee and let chemicals flow down to turn the water weird colors, would the few best weeks of summer hold their value? Lucky us, we don't have that kind of rock under us. But what if other businesses started locating big facilities even a few miles from the lake? Our image of quaint purity would be blown.

Timber harvesting used to be the big industry in the northern half of New Hampshire. Residential development has squeezed forestry and agriculture in the southern half. The commercial development that followed simply provides for the hordes of consumers occupying the sprawl around urban centers. Rural character recedes northward to the point where already dim economic prospects darken almost to complete blackness. In the transition zone we live off our looks. Big money looking for deep rurality goes to Montana or Wyoming. Sorry, North Country. Screwed again. But south of the notches and north of the sprawl we try to maintain our balance: easy to get to, but not too easy. Quaint and peaceful but not too boring or remote.

The mud is going to be epic this year. Looks like the weather pattern is not going to shift suddenly and completely to warmth. We may get more snow to add to what already has to melt. The slow infusion of meltwater makes the deepest, most persistent mud. The top layer of ground thaws to pudding before the frost has left the deeper layers, so the water has nowhere to go. Grudgingly the earth softens so that the water can soak down, but when it is fed by glacial snowbanks the process can take weeks.

The process, no matter how dismal and endless, is fascinating. How much more ugly can it get? How long will it remain dank, murky and hypothermic? We need to market this. Come to New Hampshire! See if you can take it! Check out how unbelievably useless and gross conditions can be! Drink like a local! Experience the season of alcohol and comfort food, when there's really nothing else to do. Be amazed!

It'll be a little while yet. There's still some spring skiing. And then...