Saturday, January 28, 2006

Eminently Discardable Crapola Floats Up

More so now than before, I recognize many smaller items drifting past me, in the stream. A documentary about the gigantic hydroelectric power project in China (a dam on the Yangtse river) bobbed into my consciousness, and I found myself saddened by what seems so inevitable, and yet so tremendously costly and disruptive to a culture which extends back to the dawn of history. Our own monumental efforts at civil works projects have had unforeseen consequences, but went forward anyway- foresight merely another obstacle, to be shouldered aside by sweating helots. One thing seems certain- as the sleeping giant becomes aroused, it cannot follow our examples of profligacy and laissez-faire environmentalism. We have done a pretty good job of squandering the planet's resources, and exhausted much of everyone's environmental safety net, in the process. This pattern of "progress", scaled up to the proportions needed to accommodate the national ambitions of nascent (and huge) world populations, will make short work of what's left of our collective safety margins.

What I found striking about the documentary was not only the way so much of the nation's cultural history was literally rinsed away or submerged by the rising water, but the loss of active villages along the riverbanks. One could argue that they were unfortunate collateral casualties of progress, but some of them were still functioning communities, thousands of years after their foundings. Imperfect and rendered vulnerable by location, these villages were, nonetheless, more than mere cookie-cutter townhouse projects- they were working models of lasting communities, with social structures which (until recently) had outlasted every other overarching change in government- by several millenia, in some cases. That's not only an archaeological tragedy, but the loss of some very important contemporary lessons in civilized living, ones that have actually evolved successfully over aeons.

If history does repeat itself, the availability of cheap hydroelectric power will unlock other commercial activities which had previously been hamstrung by dependence on fossil fuels. One can only hope that this doesn't create a tidal wave of cheap consumer goods, but it probably will. I know for sure that I can't supply the world's appetite for disposable goods and gadgets, or I'd offer to head this trend off, by donating my stuff, instead. Unless and until ecology itself intervenes, use of hydroelectric power will (at least) partially offset the use of conventional hydrocarbon-fueled steam turbines, which may be beneficial to the atmosphere. Some bright-eyed wizards may be thinking, "Why should this be a question of, "This energy source, or that...', if we can build both?" That would be the western preamble to, "Our decisions to go ahead with work are simple examples of businessmans' risks, and not something for consumers to be concerned about", or, "because it's good for the economy..." These reassuring words are as likely to mean, "we either didn't think about, or, have already decided to ignore long-term consequences. We only reap our rewards in the 'here and now'- we get no bonuses for thinking about any 'day after' issues." As though these fanciful platitudes might somehow ensure potable water, edible food, or breathable air.

It remains to be seen whether these emerging economies fall into the same traps that we did, try the same shortcuts, employ the same bluff and bravado to push specious policies past skeptical populations and through balky legislatures. Things have changed, and the timeline between having one's statue erected, and the moment they hook the tow chain to the tank, is getting shorter. We won't have to leave the cleanup to future generations, because the future is here, now. Our generation gets the mop.

Speaking of immediate cleanup, here's some more folderol, in search of a suitable compost:

Spent, warm, we together in this bed, are silent, awaiting a voice for thoughts in my head. Sorry if my random caresses may confuse you, or elicit in you the feelings that they used to.

In the dark, it seems I'm somewhere far away, leaving only my touch, with no words to convey the missing sense of distance, from anywhere to here. My thoughts are away, but my flesh remains near.

That we are less and more than we were, remains true. My silence and drifting thoughts are surely no threat to you. Let us trace some part of each other through our fingertips, dark, quiet, unhurriedly awaiting an escape of words:our lips

Different, yet familiar paths- are we following them, even now? An hour ago? A year ago? Things have changed, but how? First the hunger, then the taste, then the touch- all return, You want to know what's up, in there? Not now, darling, not now.

Feel free to clog your bit bucket at will, but have a blather-resistant mop handy, just in case it backs up.

Friday, January 20, 2006

A Bit Cloudy, Chance of Light Drivel

I decided to knuckle down and do the dance this week, however alien the rhythm and footwork seemed to me. So? How are you going to document that? Maybe an entry in the ol' curriculum vitae, boasting of a prolonged stint as "Amateur Meat Puppet", or maybe, "Emeritus Marionette"?

I actually found the process somewhat refreshing. Once again, my life was casually laid bare, in a series of indifferent, officious documents which were tossed before me as though I was already irrelevant, and that this pro forma tapdance was just simple routine matter. "Interesting guy... wonder if he ever existed? Well, if he ever did... Oh well, next!" In an ironic way, submitting to this process does actually prop up the economy, while raising the barriers to entry to daunting levels. Keeps the old support network sputtering along, so crucial to re-election, but also makes it pretty unlikely that any help will actually be forthcoming, even after one navigates the gauntlet which has been so carefully crafted. Surely, this must be a delicate, artful commingling of compassion and austerity, with a hint of retribution thrown in, for good measure. How else could this olive branch droop so from the tree?

As with my other shipmates, I was allowed only minimal baggage-I tossed my identity and history overboard, and kept only a small replica of my former shadow-on entering the remedial education part of the course. For a host of reasons, sitting under the fluorescent lights did not seem to humiliate or shame anyone, though it seemed evident that one should be compelled to supplication by the whole process. Different creatures of the food chain found themselves all clinging to this same bobbing detritus. A group of single (evidently distressed) mothers huddled together, exchanging stories of what was (and more often, not working) for them. This conversation took place on a plane of existence that most people cluck about, but have never really bothered to ponder in any depth. No words were wasted on accusations or rancor, and the conversations were both lucid and practical- the same analytical processes that would be a valuable and productive asset, in the fabled "real world", were simply redirected to figuring out how to pay their heating bill, without tripping over some hidden "means threshold" that would cut off their only source of funds, however tenuous. The saving grace in this circumstance is that there's no room in their emotional budget for the terror implicit in daily existence. Taxpayers may or may not like having to subsidize the indigent, but because their priorities are so focussed by facts, other people's opinions and castigations hold little meaning. It may provide some grim measure of high-handed satisfaction to rail about the under-motivated poor, and the blight that they visit on the upstanding taxpayers. A half hour of listening to these stories, and I'd defy anyone to suggest that this is a lifestyle choice, no matter how hardened one is in their opinions. Everyone- regardless of their immediate situation- makes what they can, out of what they have at hand. Hard as it may be to understand, there's no enormous reserve of resources at hand to solve even simple problems, and what resources there are, are amply protected by various rules and conditions which generally prevent frivolous misappropriation by opportunistic freeloaders. I didn't see any of these mythical creatures this week: Maybe they're being held back for some sort of "Grand Finale" object lesson. If you stop to think about it, folks in this boat have long since lost the ability or taste for shifty footwork, and they don't have well-heeled advocates to air TV attack ads. The irony of these mothers, trying to figure out how to hold their families together under lousy conditions, isn't lost on me- it's a model that politicos love to trot out as the paradigm of civilized, upright living, something noble, to defend. Unless, of course, it runs athwart of some other half-conceived taboo, in which case, only bastards from Hell need apply. Funny, I didn't see any of them in the room, either.

The political dimensions of compassion are a slippery slope, indeed. Maybe it's a trait of the circle of friends that I travel in, but as individuals, I find that most people have a hard time with tying personal sympathy to palpable exercises of compassion. The whole idea is too nebulous to grasp, but not due to antipathy. To incorporate the idea that we are connected, despite varying circumstances, into our own lives isn't really amenable to "knee jerk" thinking, but actually requires something that's simpler and harder to accept- the idea that despite our flaws, people are worth keeping in the game, even when it seems that our fortunes are unrelated.

For better or worse, folks that work in this field are too often forced to make bricks without straw. Without the wherewithal to actually change the direction of applicants' lives, they are still compelled to go through the bureaucratic motions. The implicit hope extended is an exercise in both Sadism and Masochism, often, with truly wrenching repercussions. To stand up and work in this maelstrom, day after day, requires a godlike demeanor. Even more basic, the idea that this support channel is limited in its scalability (and that it's already taxed) is worth noting. If that's not ideologically important enough, consider that every economic pyramid has a base- if one's part way up the pyramid, but its base is receding into the ground, then perhaps where one is, hierarchically, is less important than making sure that the foundations are sound. Just a thought, but when you set aside the rhetoric, maybe our quality of life _IS_ improved by looking out for everyone, not just Number One.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Whose oxen, which cart?

Getting through this crazy life means a trip down an unadorned path. My bitch is with the odd barkers of this world: purveyors of snake oil, brokers of vast lots of second-hand oats, hawkers of the polished turds of yesteryear, talking heads pitching half-baked bullschitt casseroles to the numb. It's all good, so long as we get that which we don't want, from those who don't care, pay for it with that which we don't have, and give it to those who don't like whatever they're getting.

I'm no grouch, but neither am I one of those guys who likes a little coffee with his sugar. I'll be the first to admit an aversion to this "immersion therapy" that passes for civilized living. Life is a contraption that _DOES_ require some assembly, not some homogenized process that's sanitized or shrink-wrapped for my protection, like it all comes from the same place. So, what sets me off on this latest little tirade?

Note to hucksters: Your products, despite ingredients like Aloh Vera, Ginseng, Spanish Fly, or Strychnine, will not materially improve my sexual appetite, promote robust hair growth, fill my bank account, nor make women throw their panties (or hotel room keys) at me. Guess what? Your helpful marketing plans involving surrepetitious invasion of my email or blogs have somehow failed to wrest a ringing endorsement of whatever schlock you're trying to palm off, whether Bermuda Timeshares or cut-rate, generic aphrodisiacs. You want lurid, kinky pictures? Well, picture this- how receptive to your blandishments do you suppose some poor screwup, sitting at his monitor in the middle of the night, will be? A real bon vivant, eh? I don't know how it works in your neighborhood, Pal, but that doesn't sound like the optimal consumer demographic to me.

If that's still too abstract or negative to comprehend, try it this way: The minutes, hours, days or months that I spend pounding keys and leering at this #$@#@ monitor are rarely concurrent with any other activity that would involve use or consumption of _ANY_ of your worthy products. In the odd moment when I actually do notice such advertisements, it's usually only long enough to wish that whoever sent me such flotsam would try my new offering- a jumbo Pine cone suppository, applied dry.

Trust me, my discretionary spending patterns are not moved by your honeyed promises. Get real! An erection lasting 4 hours or more would seriously impair my pursuit of a new personal best time in Solitaire, and force me to enlist human companionship during off-peak hours. Why not step back, pour yourself a nice tumblerful of Minty-fresh paragoric, and rethink your misguided strategy? You won't find me, hanging on the Cote d' Azur, not while I've got my sporty, zesty screensaver right here, and some instant coffee.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Lincoln 92 Post vs. Slant Right Cheat

What is it, with these kids? I could hear the TV blaring away from two floors up, as I descended for a cold one. In the parlor, my son was intently watching the last bowl game, which had apparently been a pretty conservatively played one, up to that point. The color man was laying on the accolades with a trowel, extoling the many unsung virtues of one of the offensive linemen, unknown but enjoying a moment of glory after having recovered a botched snap. Third and long, but at least the offensive team had retained possession. "What was that guy thinking? I bet he was dreaming of one of those cheerleaders, all dressed in lambskin." Who says football isn't a state of mind? Yet another metamorphosis was underway, so I ambled over and sat down on the sofa. "Who's in there now, Dad? The sweep guy or the dive guy? Baa... baa!..." His taunts continued, as if to encourage a hasty, imagined interspecies menage between the offense and a flock of compliant ewes. "It looks a little long for a running play. I'm guessing that they'll go with a three-step drop, and a slant in front of the left dog, or maybe a sideline route in front of the left corner. You know, something quick." It was the tailback, the dive man, but the quarterback was a natural option man. Sure enough, the tailback arced forward and to the right, making five receivers. Empty backfield.

The dances were a little different on either side of the ball. The defense moved around like a beached jellyfish. The three down linemen couldn't possibly cover all of the lanes, but the middle linebacker was alternately leaping into the gaps, and both dogs were restlessly running forward and backward, hinting of an impending red dog. The tight end casually decamped from the left end to the right end of the line, and the dogs scuttled back into the shortened defensive backfield. "Where do they think they're going? They're on like the twenty-four, now. There's no place for the sheep-humpers to go...", my son speculated, as the ball was snapped. "You're right, it's either a broken play, or a draw", I opined, as the melee unfolded. The quarterback retreated into a short, three-step drop, then finding no open receivers, lurched to his right and started looking for a way out. It would have been the ideal setup for an option play, but there were no backs or wideouts to take the optional pitch. It did not matter. The rarefactions of the corner, free safety, and dog were still toward the middle of the field, where possible receivers were milling around. By the time the corner reacted, the quarterback was airborne, nearly parallel to the right sideline. He sailed out of bounds, but not before waving the football over the endzone pylon, in bounds. Touchdown. "Sweet...", as I picked up my beer and headed back upstairs. My son, on the other hand, was already loading up another barrage of vituperations, scorn, and humiliating remarks for the purported ruminant Lotharios, even as they jogged triumphally toward their sideline. "Hey! You, with the pretty mouth! They broke your plane! Are you going to let them break your plane?! Get those sheep off the field, and don't give me that cheesy, 'I Only Have Eyes for Ewe' routine..."

I have a hard time, thinking of this as 'passing the baton', but I guess it was to be expected. The effect will wear off, in a few hours, after the season finally ends.