Monday, January 17, 2011

Alive, Alive-O

Well here I am back again. It’s been what? A year? That’s quite a while, but hereditary cataracts had stolen all but the foggiest dim parts of my eyesight and it took awhile to raise the money for lens replacements. But somehow I did, and if there ever was a miracle of technology and medicine, this is one. For less than the price of a used car I am suddenly seeing with the eyes of a 17-year old. 

So I’m a little rusty. It’s going to take a bit to get back into the fray, but here are a couple of things I jotted down as the lights were going dim. Enjoy!

Heart and Head

My heart is full of good intentions but has proven to be impractical and lacking in attention span. My head, though practical and reliable, is dull and lacks imagination. Each has its own internal realm, but where matters involve the real world I try to never let either out alone.


A gift is something that was mine and now is yours. The best gifts are the ones that when you pick it up or use it or look at it, something of the way it was mine mixes with the way you've made it yours and it becomes a vessel containing the essence of our relationship as it was at the moment the gift was given.

Show me how to make a 20 dollar bill do that.

Why We Have Knees

God gave us free will so we can choose which way to go. He knew in doing so he was giving us many futures, most of which would never happen. So he gave us knees. Knees are life's shock absorbers. They allow us to keep our head level when the roads get rough. Keep your knees flexed. You'll be fine.

What pleases God? Giraffes please God. So do platypuses. The fact that daisies smell like dogshit pleases God. What probably displeases Him is that even after giving us self-esteem, free will and extra large cereberal cortexes we still don't get his jokes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A look ahead -- TV

It's now 25 years since 1984. Here is the future of what we used to call "Television":

Commercial Television:
Spot ads will disappear. Sponsor-integrated shows.create the illusion of an ad-free experience. News continues to devolve away from factual journalism. The current Spingeresque freak-show opinion fest will merge with "light news" to become a feeder for sponsor-integrated shows -- "next up -- What happened to American Idol? Details after this word from our sponsors..."

Public Television:
"Messages from supporters" will be replaced with what used to be called spot advertising. Intermissions will increase in frequency until they reach the most profitable message-to-content ratio, and subscriber telethons will be replaced with a more convenient surcharge on your delivery provider subscription.

Next Wave Television:
Underground "open-video" stations will start appearing, built from recycled legacy technology and operated by neo-socialist college students and 70's throwbacks.

Viewership will increase with the advent of the "ad-free" sponsor-integrated programming but will start dropping in favor of local, free "open-video". The OV movement will grow virally until it becomes a practical threat, at which time OV providers will be sued station-by-station by the content delivery industry for violating copyrights and breaking FCC frequency spectrum use restrictions.

And life will go on.


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Shape of the World

Is the world flat, curved or round? Sometimes it's flat and things stay right where I put them, other times it goes all Einsteinian and things start rolling away as soon as I set them down, no matter where I stand or which way I face. Still other times the world is perfectly round and no matter which way or how long I walk I never seem to actually get anywhere.

There is one immutable law, though. No matter what shape I think the world has taken on, it's different when I step into it (much to Heisenberg's delight, I'm sure).


Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Self-Improvement Threat

Self-improvement is the process by which members of the lower of the 2 universal human classes, the Haves and the Have-Nots, can cross the gap and join the upper of the two. Thrift, frugality, etc. are components of the process. The process is based on the proposition that humans are fundamentally equal in capability, and the existence of a strong middle class proves the proposition. Of course the process is under threat -- it has been since the Magna Carta because it validates the idea that the Have-Nots can own some of the wealth they create, that they don't just exist to enrich the Haves. It doesn't take long for that little crack in the windshield to wreck the view from on high -- if the little guy can accumulate wealth just like the big guys, how can you tell which one is which? Without the dual principles of Divine Right and Genetics to fall back on the only reason the little guy can't join the country club is that the big guy's an a**hole.

And the Big Guy is a technicolor, full-figured, winged harpie of an a**hole. Look at what he's done so far:

Step 1. A house divided against itself cannot jack us for pay raises. The "Great Communicator" decertifies the Air Traffic Controllers Union, establishing the principle of Union-busting for the Greater Good. The Private Sector follows up shortly thereafter by developing a virtually impenetrable Union-proofing process obliquely referred to as "outsourcing".

Step 2. You gotta have money to make money. The Government of all of us opens the borders in the name of Wealth and Prosperity For Everybody! The little guy gets to compete for jobs with people who can buy an entire year's worth of food, clothing and shelter for what the little guy has to pay just to keep his lights on for a month. Cha-ching!

Step 3. Ya can't get there from here. The Liberal Media floods the airwaves with a relentless barrage of propaganda branding anything that looks like a part of the self-improvement process as Socialist and Anti-American. Because the Liberal Media consists mostly of Conservative (and a few Ultra Conservative) vocabulists dedicated to keeping the "bully" in "bully pulpit" nobody else can get a word in edgewise and the principle of Validation by Repetition reigns supreme.

Personally, I've gone underground. I have a quart jar that I'm filling with pennies (they're too small too be seen from up there) and I don't buy anything without using actual money (in other words, I don't buy anything). And if I happen to get anywhere near a Big Guy, rest assured I won't be throwing any shoes.

I'm throwing that jar.

Monday, February 2, 2009

On Being Frugal

There are people now going around claiming to be the New Evangelists of Frugality. "Frugalistas", I've heard them called. This, of course got me to thinking. How do you know if you're actually being frugal or just stingy?

Frugality isn't about putting price first. It's closer to the engineering idea of "elegance", where you spend exactly the right amount for the desired result. Go for the lowest price you don't get what you wanted, pay too much and and you're losing the opportunity to use that money for some other thing. It's a dynamic idea that requires you to constantly monitor the quality of your expenditures, not just of money, but of time, effort, emotional involvement and all the other things an experience can cost.

For instance -- I used to ride a motorcycle to work -- it cost less than half the money as driving a car, and because a motorcycle is considered a high-occupancy vehicle I could use the car-pool lanes, which allowed me to time with my family I would have spent idling in gridlock. Financial, temporal and ecological efficiency resulting in a higher quality daily journey -- elegance. But when the price of gas tripled the financial gain was lost. My daily fuel cost exceeded the price of a bus ticket, so I switched to public transit to bring the monetary expense back down to budget levels. The time spent commuting is back up where it was, but it wasn't lost -- the time I spend in transit is MY time, and I spend it reading the paper or (even better) working on knitting my community back together by talking about anything but work with my fellow transit captives, something today's work-centric attitudes have prevented from happening almoist completely, and something I was unable to do while riding my motorcycle.

A job differs from welfare and social security only in that it can be terminated without due process. The key to becoming a frugal person is in recognizing that for whatever reason you are on a fixed income. Money, energy, good spirits, all are limited resources. Once you accept that little truth frugality becomes the difference between surviving and living.


Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Perspective and Joy

Feeling bluesy? Stop reacting, start responding. There's what's out there and what's right here. We get to believing that everything out there is right next door and end up spending all our time planning for miseries that often never arrive. After awhile we stop looking anywhere but out there and lose the critical perspective that tells us what is just too far away to ever spill into our daily lives.

TV and the Web, our main tools for keeping track of whats out there, actually work to destroy this critical perspective. By making everything, regardless of how local or distant, seem immediate and right-here-right now! the actual distance and locality of most events is compressed right into our very homes. But everything is not immediate. Should we re-time the traffic lights in Seattle because arterials are clogged in Atlanta? Of course not. But what's news in Atlanta is right there next to what's news in Seattle. The 4000 miles of towns and communities and counties and states that separate the two and are the measures of our perspective aren't even a part of the equation, and that's the part that's the most important.

You have to work to put that perspective back in place, then some of the right-here-right-now miseries start dropping back into the distance where they belong. Once you release the false immediacy of things, once you stop reacting, there's all kinds of time to look around and see how many of the world's problems haven't done anything at all to your home, family and real life, and how much of the comfort and security you've been working so hard to keep up is right there, intact.

It's hard to not feel a little joy when you get a look at how well you've actually been doing.

OK. I'm done.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Looking For John Doe

I happened to catch the Capra classic "Meet John Doe" on TCM the other night and it got me to thinking about the strong parallels between what triggered the Great American Depression and the situation our government has allowed to develop today. What follows is decidedly Populist in view -- this is deliberate and I make no apologies. It's a view that's been overlooked and ignored for far too long.

It's obvious now that the economics of day-to-day existence have been seriously damaged for the ordinary citizens of not just the United States but but of other countries by unregulated globalization and lifting of limits on what a bank can do with its deposits. An awful lot of the root cause involves complex multi-national transactions on a scale too big for ordinary folk to feel anything but overwhelmed, disempowered and robbed. Credit is drying up. But what that really means is the money's out there, but those that have it don't trust you enough loan you any.

Creditworthiness is just another word for trustworthiness, and therein lies the rub -- today the little guy owns the burden of proof; he must prove he is not untrustworthy and to that end must allow outrageous intrusions into his private affairs by secretive operated-for-profit "reporting" companies, and suffer the unfair use of the results in virtual silence. At the same time those operating behind the shield of incorporation freely pursue any greedy, predatory behavior that may result in profit without ever proving that they aren't untrustworthy themselves. And when they go too far and lose their shirts the consequences are minimal because the little guy also owns the burden of payback.

We all know this is wrong in our hearts. We of the middle class and below spend years teaching our children to be responsible and live our work lives suffering the consequences of ownership and accountability. This is why Congress's refusal to rubber-stamp the "bailout the rich" plan was so cathartic. For a couple of days it looked like the big guys were finally going to get a big dose of our blue-collar working-for-a-living ethics. Yes we know that's not really going to happen, but the hope was sparked, and that little flame is hard to extinguish.

I'm fully aware that this is a purely emotional perspective, but I think because so many have lost so much of what they thought they had earned fair and square and have come so close to the coal mine days of subsistence wages, company stores and death in poverty that emotion will be a dominant force in the years ahead. This brings me back to Capra's "Meet John Doe", and the restorative power of neighborly behavior that's the the heart of the story. I believe the next 10 years will see a re-valuing of Main Street and a renewed understanding that the local communities are where actual business happens and where real wealth is created. Hell, we may even see Wall Street return to supporting Main Street instead of consuming it, selling off its assets and crying "look! New wealth!" to disguise the cannibalism.

Of course it's true we may not, but like I said the hope has been sparked, and it's a tough little flame to extinguish.