Thursday, December 29, 2005

Leftovers, It Seems

Despite its rather humorous seasonal placement, the approaching new year still strikes me as a time of death and regeneration. These terms have common meanings, and other, more nuanced interpretations. I still favor the latter (far less ominous) versions. Practically speaking, it seems to me that, regardless of ones spiritual leadings, each of us gets a period of reflection, to examine our moral or pragmatic motivations, and decide whether they are valid or meaningful, by our own lights. I'm not talking about seeking the redemption for ourselves in the eyes of our fellowmen, or suddenly remaining awake through Sunday services (an outburst of earnestness?), but a simpler examination of our own actions in (and consequences to) the world we live in. I can only guess about the granularity of such introspections in other people, but I suppose that some are more harrowing, and others breezy. The good news is, whether totally agnostic or fervently religious, or somewhere between extrema in our personal leadings, everyone stands to benefit, if our own self-examinations are honest and thorough. For my part, this is the differentiator between those ideas and beliefs that go forward, and the ones which get scrapped. Like spring cleaning (albeit months early) or New Years resolutions (except that they're more than just noble, unfulfilled aspirations), these deliberations occur in a very definite season.

As the song recommends, "believe half of what you hear, and disregard the rest...", I'm the archetypal Doubting Thomas. More accurately, I try to assess what I see for myself, before accepting any official explanations or positions, rendered personally or publicly. I don't know who has the better perspective, folks who take media news as gospel, or those who try to sift what reality may come from it.

This makes the process of figuring out which notions are obsolete or specious a more challenging one, but it does make for an interesting dumpster-full of discarded thoughts.

Did I mention that there's a bit of debris produced here?

None of us stands quite so tall,
massed together, peering over the garden wall.
Who of us would not far rather hide,
than join the gathering on the other side?

'It would be far simpler...', did someone say?,
'... to go on as we did, in an earlier day.'
But which day, which way was meant,
that might answer for the way our souls are bent?

Looking about the garden for the ultimate decider,
arises only a bold, bolt equine statue, sans rider.
How safer are we within our walled redoubt,
not outside, but in, and not looking without?

There are no guarantees about edibility, tastiness, nor pleasing appearance- such is the nature of leftover servings. By tradition, the best was made of what was at hand. Everything else... into the compost!

Have a safe and amusing New Year's Eve! As for 2006,

First, do no harm!

Saturday, December 24, 2005

The Silence

The weather, ever a merry trickster, refuses to comply with stereotypes. Virtually all of the snow is gone, and the air is bobbing up and down between the mid-20s and mid-40s; low chance of a white Christmas here, Bing. Even so, the roads are conspicuously empty, and the night is silent. I've distributed a few little gifts to my family on behalf of a small, single-mother family of cats who sit here with me (I think they like the music). I've always relied on the kindness of proxies, when it comes to giving holiday gifts. I try to decouple the act of giving things from the season, and the cats like the appreciation which is bestowed on them by those crazy humans. My family probably can't remember recieving direct holiday gifts from me, personally.

The warmer evenings make moving around in the dark easier, while I weigh the silence, contradictions, things about which I've had ongoing questions. My feet seem to operate by their own lights, and the air's not so cold as to impinge on my meditations. " See? I can walk and think, all at the same time!"

I find myself walking by the meetinghouse, past the graveyard where we commemorated the 2,000 fallen in that blighted country. The TV's running the usual mix of cheery holiday programs: robed choirs, singing all manner of hymns, carols and such; a John Wayne gung ho movie marathon; the history of Jesus; past and future climatic catastrophes, one after another. Something for everyone. I switched over to a seasonally appropriate channel- the silent, black screen channel- before putting on a sweater and heading out.

I remember reading an article about the fall of Ninevah, a particularly gruesome battle which took place thousands of years ago in what is now called Iraq. Talk about good, old-fashioned blood and guts- the climate there preserved skeletons still impaled by spears thrust millenia ago. Maybe that explains why holy books like the Bible, Torah, and Koran are so frequently abused now: Hubris, arrogance, and ignorance allow us to ignore or circumvent their lessons, to repeat the same patterns of behavior while drawing a line. Before this line lies reason... we grimly skip past the line, and wonder at the familiarity of results. Yet, we have had so many silent nights to reflect, and been lulled into a recidivistic cul-de-sac. Chaotic and devisive as the outcome may be, I can't help feeling that we're taking the easy way, at the expense of more pressing matters than personal or national aggrandizement. Not to put too morose a point on things, but are any of us ready to judge ourselves for our actions, or their repercussions? We're here, and facing a future daunting in its complexity. No party or person can have all of the solutions, but if we step back and look at it, we're pretending that 19th century strategies and Bronze-age rivalries are still our big problems ahead. Are they, really? Are we so incapable of coexistence? Will we burn up the last of our resources, proving that our cause is just, and what's yours is mine? Probably, but while we futilely wrangle over these unresolved issues, we are squandering time that doesn't belong to us anymore. Talking heads and pseudo-scientific bulschit will not mitigate problems that we already have with our environment. I actually do care that we stop pointing fingers and start facing issues realistically, regardless of who or what precipitated them. In the end, whether you're an oil-sheik, land baron, or Croesus, nobody's exempt from our shared future. Screwing this up isn't just a question of bribing our way past collateral damage, or fancy legislative loopholes. Ignorance, indifference, greed or partisan jingoism aren't going to help anyone, and won't absolve leaders or followers, real or concocted. Staying alive is a proposition with something for everyone. Leaders who fail to acknowledge these issues need to find less harmful positions in society, and step aside. In the long run, the run is getting shorter.

I need an irony-deficient diet. Thoughts like these make me feel as though I've gone out looking for Santa, but found Scrooge instead. Actually, I'm hoping that folks everywhere can benefit from a little downtime shared with loved ones, and find comfort in the season.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Cold Goeth Before The Fall

It's still a few days until Winter officially muscles aside Autumn, but this year, it has a running start. The usual weather accoutrements have already been trotted out, including ice, snow, sleet, and a handfull of nights bottoming out near zero degrees Fahrenheit. Where's the mystery? These climatic revelations usually don't make an appearance around here until January.

It looks as though we'll be spending the next few months in the icy jaws of the beast. Like others, I tend to humanize inherently non-hominid phenomena, rather than simply accept them for what they are- in this case, the elements are going to be an ongoing pain in the ass. But in the panoply of definitions, there's cold, and then there's cold. Waking up to the dry chill of zero degrees is definitely bracing, but for truly cold, try laying on the filthy, oily floor of a machine shop, in the middle of a winter's night, troubleshooting live motor controls with a multimeter and a flashlight, trying to avoid electrocution, hypothermia, or being mangled by an indifferent and balky leviathan. OSHA regulations? We ain't got show you no steenking regulations! I got your regulations, right here!

The machine shop was an old, non-descript cinderblock structure, shoehorned onto a narrow isthmus between two rapid streams. It had been built later than its architectural neighbors, holdovers from an era of hydropower and waterwheels. It had none of the character or clear purpose of the abandoned rolling mills up and downstream, but it did share some of the basic features: the fast water ensured that the floor would always be colder than the ambient air, and it had a full complement of dubious electrical wiring. The bathroom water supply was turned off from mid-Autumn through mid-Spring, to prevent water pipes from bursting when frozen. Admittedly, that's an extreme interval to hold ones water, but the management wasn't completely indifferent to the problem; There was no drinking water, either, over the hiatus. Lunch could be enjoyed al fresco, or for the finicky, warmed by one of two kerosene torpedo heaters. These primitive machines looked like the engines from a Messerschmitt ME-262 jet, minus the compressor section. Size isn't everything though, not in this icy cavern- you could set the soles of your boots afire, without noticing the heat on your legs. I had the nearer of the twins fired up hours ago, but my breath was still coming in dry clouds, only a few feet away.

It took until nearly dawn to complete the retrofit, which was only about an hour before the indexing machine would be hauled away to a maquiladora shop in northern Mexico. See the difference? There's plain old frigid, then there's a combination of temperature, time, and circumstances that congeals into something I define as cold. You just have to set aside a piece of your life to grapple with the cold. The Braceros would have to deal with the terrible jaws of that machine in their version of paradise, some 100 degrees warmer than mine, but it's better to have at least someone watching it spit out electrical conduit fittings, mindless though it might be, than nobody at all. I'll bet if I asked, they'd tell me that I don't know what cold is, not where I live.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

To Dream is a Luxury

"Snawk!" Well, it was worth a shot, but regular as clockwork, sleep Apnea betrayed my torpor again. I'm convinced that the pews at meeting are designed to maintain awareness (through physical discomfort) in members who gather for worship, but it wasn't fatigue that put me under. Like a special delivery, my subconscious was politely knocking: 'Sir? Sorry for the intrusion, but you have a message waiting, if you'll kindly cross over into REM state to collect it. Right this way...'

I've learned to accept such deliveries, promptly and gratefully, whenever or wherever they may turn up. Unfortunately, silent worship provides a highly conducive venue for these peculiar visions, mainly, because my snoring or snorting tends to disrupt everyone else' meditations. To my way of thinking, any dream that you can remember is a good dream, regardless of its actual theme or substance. As I say, it was a risk.

The snort is, as I've observed, disconcerting to other folks, but its effect is like two ham hands clapped loudly inside my own head- no rest for the weary there, either. Usually, if it happens, it does so before I get to REM state, in which case, I get to remain in a condition of perpetual grogginess. But on rare occasions, I can slip into the theater of subconciousness, if only for a moment. Apnea's like a bums rush out of this private showing, but you can keep anything you can drag back, as consciousness returns.

So much for explanations. I only recalled fragments of this latest episode. It was a mixed bag of images, to be sure: Bucky Balls, chain mail armor, homemade sugar cookies (fresh from the oven), a rat running in an exercise ball. None of these bits seem to converge on any coherent theme. Who cares? My God, what a blessed release of hidden tensions it is, to get any reception at all on this channel. I'll gladly figure out ramifications later, and offer my belated apologies now, to those whose quiet reflections may have been jostled by the thunderstroke. The coveted shards of this other world are nearly as good as a bird in the bush; better, if you can savor them in a moment of clarity.

It snowed last night, and may stage an encore tonight. Oddly, I know about the salutory effects of warmth, but have a harder time recognizing it, even when it's obviously all around.

A tattered panel ball (one of those dodecahedral soccer balls), deflated and partially obscured by fallen leaves, nonetheless has managed to retain its colors. This sticks in my mind, because even when the wind's blowing like hell, the ball stays put- might be an interesting shape for storm resistant houses, rather than the usual boxy designs that got hammered by Katrina or the other hurricanes, cyclones, and tornadoes this past year. Unlike a real soccer ball, its shape is a fairly course approximation of a sphere, which might require some aerodynamic enhancements to reduce its drag coefficient, and a hinged roof system, to equalize the internal atmospheric pressure to the lower barometric values found within tropical storms. Any container of that scale is bound to have fairy large, or else, numerous flat surfaces. The key is to make these surfaces, which act as airfoils, as small or angled such that, from whichever direction the atmosphere applies pressure, the surface translates mechanical stresses into manageable loads. The hinged roof panels would allow the internal pressure to temporarily adjust to sudden, radical drops, without having the structure explode, as it generally does when a tornado encounters a conventional, rectilinear dwelling. If such storms are predicted to increase in frequency and intensity, maybe simply replacing box for box is a naive and futile response to natural disasters, and we ought to try a different approach.

As I said previously, I haven't figured out the relevance of these random musings.