Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sex, Lies, and Transhumanism

You know, sometimes from the outside, glimpsing in only now and then via the mass media, it's really hard to credit the existence of disciplines in the Academy such as "queer studies" or "transhumanism." I guess that makes me a stodgy old fart, even though I've long considered disciplinary boundaries to be a pretty good way to guarantee nothing really new under the sun.

We're all in an endless loop now anyhow, wanting always new all the time. Kids electronic games are only good until the next newer cooler one displaces them, just like it used to be with computers-as-toys. Now, the "computer" is mainly a gadget to jack onto the ever changing 'net, if you're not a gamer. So netbook prices have dropped to what a telephone would have cost back when they were delivered "free" as part of your commodity-regulated telephone network. Back in the day when I was a kid. Remember the "Princess" phone, which ushered in the era of choice and new and libidinous tech?

Lots of people predict that Internet devices will soon all be free, and maybe even the connectivity too, for so long as you're willing to accept the branding and have the credit score to promise good transactions.

So yesterday, I was waiting to get my blood drawn among grampas and kids and moms and dads, and there on the big flatscreen was Doctor Phil talking about transactional oral sex in our schools. Now, I hardly ever watch TV, and so Doctor Phil to me is just another phony with a Texas accent who follows the inevitable downslide to sensationalism so that he can be rich and famous.

He's talking about how young girls can be arm-twisted into using oral sex for clothes, favors, money and a kind of fame. He's warning you that this can also happen to your own daughter, no matter how good a job you think you might be doing. I'm looking up to see the sky falling, especially when he's interviewing some dance-chaperon Mom who talked about the freak dancing at the prom and a circle of cell phone wielding freakers surrounding a couple engaged in the actual act itself. Full-on intercourse on the dance floor with the girls hands on the floor like a dog.

Now everyone else in the waiting room is treating this like background noise, since maybe they're more used to it than I am. Or maybe they just look away quickly when I check out who else is paying attention, but I'm pretty much reeling from the whole scene, flashing back to that other time when I emerged from some kind of academic television-less cave to find Saturday Night Live and Televangelism at the same moment in my personal history. I - honest - couldn't tell which one was satire and which one meant to be taken seriously.

The part of the Doctor Phil story which I had to credit was that these young girls, if and when they ever emerge from this abusive transactional sex scheme, show the symptoms common to sexual abuse everywhere. There are permanent scars and lifelong issues. But it has to depend, doesn't it?, on whether you're really a hottie or if the guys are just using you to get off.

Does it? This stuff is so confusing to me, since I just see Doctor Phil himself as his own victim, needing to be that "hot" on television and getting there on the back of everyone else's fears. I mean, there's nothing new about the abuse we heap on gullible peoples' aspirations. A good blow job among equals in hotness can't hurt anyone now can it?

Which is the trouble with "Transhumanism" if you ask me. We have all internalized scales of humanity according to which the really fortunate ones with the high IQs and incomes and bionically arranged perpetual airbrushed bodies seem actually more human than the rest of us. We actually think that evolution will proceed in the direction of those traits which we value the most, in our locust infestation of planet earth. You know, these would be the ones who can abuse the earth the fastest and with the most impunity. And if they choose not to, we almost worship them.

So, I got my bill for the dumpster I had sitting out in front of my recently sold house. I had it there for a full month, and they charged me just the $125 delivery charge plus $30 for the ton of contents gotten rid of. No friend I asked to guess could even come close to that cost. I'll miss that kind of trailer-trash earnest, let me tell you, considering the literal boatload of guilt they hauled away for me. Computers, monitors, artificially fabriced upholstered furniture, TVs, SCUBA wetsuits, hardware and software of all sorts.

It is my contention that what we call humanity does not inhere in our hardware at all. Consciousness is the result of dialogic connections among individuals with recognizable faces which can have a kind of stickiness for love. There have to be hands for deliberate touch, and the proper black box for grammer to our voice box. There has to be a frontal cortex for abstraction and metaphor, and to the extent that we drop the ones beneath our level we drop out of the human race. That's my contention.

So, I'm gonna have to say that Doctor Phil himself is a little bit less than human. He's given in to the logic of the marketplace, and been taken over by transactional humanism. He's giving himself blowjobs, and I find it gross to watch. But hey, I'm sure he's a nice enough guy. I just get confused among Tammy Faye and the one who imitates Sarah Palin. I know which one I like, and which one needed a lot of help. I'm no good with names, though.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Impossible Thread

You know, I have no idea how to continue on this thread I started, which has been leading to a kind of skepticism about skepticism. I've had a clot to my lungs which I suppose might have killed me. I have no real advice about what to do to prevent such things in the future, except for taking extreme prophylactic measures which would seem mostly to promote a kind of perpetual ducking for cover, as though the sky were always about to fall.

Control, of course, is always an illusion, but I want some sense to random which isn't just a colossal shrug to the shoulders and a closing of the eyes to leap off any and all cliffs. Actually, I want to see the insights which properly do descend from Einstein's revolution, Kuhn's enlightenment about the structure of scientific revolutions, and the more recent PoMo instincts, to enter in to actual life in a way to make a difference.

No one but me will buy the connection among those three seemingly distinct clusters, perhaps. But, as Foucault surely would have noticed, they all rehearse the very same theme. But we live as though it were still the Nineteenth Century and all that was important was to make our horses run faster.

I just stood up to get another cup of coffee, conscious now of the need to move my legs more often, and while emptying my pockets remembered the recent raffle at Subversive Theatre. I tossed those worthless numbered tickets, just as I did the hyper lottery stub I bought for a lark the other day, reminded of how I feel when raffle winners are being called.

Is everyone in the audience straining in hope to win? I'm not, ever. I'm always straining against the sense of embarrassment if I were to win, just kind of hoping that my number won't come up since I won't know what to do or how to act. If it were easy enough to do, I'd probably buy tickets and then give them away so I could have my cake and eat it too. But you know, it's hard not to look at your ticket and see if you might have won something you actually want or need.

When the doctor let me go from the hospital yesterday, I didn't exactly laugh at the instructions, though I wanted to. Since my legs were clear of clots, there was no definitive evidence that the emboli started there. But since the genetic testing also doesn't show any propensity, I'm left with random.

Now I can easily just chalk the whole thing up to the strangeness of my recent circumstance. Why worry about something happening again when you're right in the midst of free fall - at the top of a months' long arc of leaving a job, leaving a geography, selling a house, dumping a life's full of accumulation, radically shifting around in patterns of exercise and socialization. Why even pay any attention at all?

So here's another really bizarre factoid: I actually, for just a moment, have the largest cash balance in my bank account of my entire life. Of course there are all sorts of current debts which will whittle it down to size pretty quickly. And in the end, it grants me maybe a few weeks of clear and free against the future.

I can't claim very much of it as due to my own diligent saving and planning. The fact is that without the help of friends and family, my cash position would be quite negative, but I banked the proceeds from the sale of my house yesterday, right after getting a hair cut in extravagant self-indulgence upon release from the hospital. I wanted to look just a bit different from the way I felt; the way I knew I looked.

Of course the house sold for several tens of thousands below its demonstrable worth, and a few tens of thousands more below its actual replacement value. The commissions and fees I paid out were unconscionable on the face of them, premised on the tidy fiction of incredibly rising values from back when there was always plenty of wealth to spread around. And most of the contents of my bank account can be attributed directly to emergency funds generated from one or another hospitalization in my past.

So, there's a cup half-full/half-empty problem here of major proportions. No-one would argue for success as a definition of my life's trajectory. The very fact that I've never had this much money "in my pocket" argues pretty clearly for failure. But still, there you have it, and yet truly I never have felt quite so vulnerable. Especially up against what this hospitalization would have cost had I allowed the health insurance to lapse like good financial planning might have dictated. Like I really wanted to. I'd be in debt for a literal eternity, preferring in my mind to leave a note for congress instead of a 911 call to get an ambulance. You see, I'm also on the wrong side of any definition for "charity case" and so the debt would go right against my personal balance sheet.

I mean, come on I've got an Ivy education, lots of important and at least moderately well paying jobs in my past, and this is all I've got to show for it? What a schmuck! What a pikk! What a whatever the proper disparaging term is.

(Just a bit of oversharing here - too much information, TMI - I had to take a break for my first homecoming dump and to inject myself with some more blood thinners. Now where was I???)

Schlump? Slacker? Lazy ass?

I don't know. My buddy in the ER investigated serious and fatal auto accidents for the Buffalo Police department, and then got "retired" himself for having been hit by a drunk driver. His settlement allowed him to buy toys and move to the prosperous suburbs away from my his original West Side story. But he considers that all stupid, and the context where he was raised to be the happy one. Hit again and whiplashed, he landed next to me and in some sense might be considered to have quite a few more health issues than I do, but he's going home to wife and kids and cars and flush bank account. He seems a lot happier than me too! Well, whatever happy is. I have a harder time flirting with all the nurses.

Depending on how I look at it, I can panic that I'm about beyond my means to extend my indecision. Pay the credit card companies, a few more months' health insurance, rent, and I'm way deja underwater all over again. I wouldn't exactly go out and sign a loan for a new car now, like I would if I were employed.

But you know, it's ground zero all the time. There's never any certainty. That guy who tried to blow up the plane in Detroit was, of course, from the very best of families in his homeland. Did Chairman Mao come from the slums? I mean, what happens to "special" people when they figure out they're not? How far is it from balanced to self-exploding nutjob anyhow when you first uncover the dissonance between the fiction and the real?

We all know that we surf the pleasant illusion that even though today my doctor really can't tell me what to do to avoid clots in the future, just maybe tomorrow he will be able to add a whole arsenal of genetic tweaks to make my body run just like a well-oiled machine.

Bullshit! Pardon my English, but really folks that day is never coming. There's always a boundary between you and the context you dwell in, but there's also no way to place it with any real precision. Truing is the process of matching yourself against who you might be, I suppose, and then going for the best one. And there's no machining which can make a better you. You have to do it yourself from the inside. My roomie in the hospital and I agreed absolutely on that one.

Well, I've gotta go and get my blood tested so that they can set the right viscosity or something. I walk around now in a kind of confidence that for a moment I'm not going to thow another clot. I might bleed out into my brain, or eat the wrong vegetables, but you know there's always someone out to get you.

We live in a sea of metaphor, and the only really smart ones are like Rain Man who just sadly died yesterday. He could recall facts at will, read thousands upon thousands of books at a glance, one eye per page which would have made the Kindle damned inefficient for him. But he couldn't make sense of single metaphor, which must have meant that he couldn't make sense of anything at all.

I'm happier here being the full-on ironic me. The one just to the side of myself, never quite convinced of the one other people might be seeing. Or do I have that just backwards? What the hell? What's the difference? I'm all one. You take care of the machinery, Doc, and I'll go on being me. I mean, for so long as I can.

Matches, matches for sale!! Two for one, get your matches here.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Kindling Caught Fire

So I'm feeling pretty sheepish here. I hinted right on this blog that a Kindle would make a great gift, trying for the right ironical twist so that whoever dared would have to feel a little silly and could back off without penalty. But, you know, Mom is always looking for the perfect gift, and word leaked out. I make no representations about my intentions, since I don't really know them.

I tend toward lamentations about days gone by, even wishing we could try horses and buggies again, slow down our eating, try for different takes on what it could mean to be human. But I'm also susceptible to cool, and am definitely into scientific discovery - not so much for the purpose of Truth, which I don't quite, well, "believe in," as for truing, like I used to do with bicycle wheels. Science is a way to find those things on which we must agree. But it can't get at everything.

I'd just finished moving my shelves and shelves of books, and then - even though there's absolutely no connection according to the doctor - landing in the hospital. A Kindle sounded pretty good up against shelves and shelves of dust-gathering yellowing fusty pulpy paper, some of it not even made to last so long.

My new Kindle is the first I've seen one, and I've got to say, I'm pretty impressed. They nailed the form factor, making it easy to hold in one hand with a screen which isn't lit and holds its picture despite the state of on or off. And amazingly to me, it includes the ability to get on-line anywhere through 3G cellular contracts - not just at a "hot spot".

Of course, by representation and disposition, I shouldn't really like the thing. I should be actively bemoaning the loss of bookmakers' craft. I should be getting paranoid about the profit margins they are making, and the destruction of local outlets. I should call it the Walmartization of everything, which it is, but hey, there's no stopping progress, right?

I sometimes like the magic of perusing actual shelves, and I sometimes get frustrated, especially after a move, with the impossibility to organize mine in any really useful way. I settle for thematic bunchings, trying to keep authors' works together, unless they strain the boundaries of their subject matter too much. The biggest frustration I have is looking for something that's long-since been lent out, never knowing if it's even there to be found.

I do wonder about the pricing scheme of my new device. When you buy a cellphone now, you know the price is subsidized by the contract they get you to sign; that they make so much money on your "minutes" that they'll do almost anything to keep your device humming. Including polite and free and rapid repairs when the thing breaks. It almost feels like a throwback to the good old days.

You just know the big American cellular providers fight against unlocked networks, where you could move your phone off before the subsidy wears away; and, well, I guess we consumers pretty much like it too. So long as there are new goodies to be had for prices which disguise the installment plans to which we've all become so addicted.

But this Kindle puts things backwards. You suppose that they are counting on your impulse buying of lots more "good reads" than you would perusing bookshelves. You suppose that not only do the cellular charges get subsidized by the purchase of the Kindle, but that the actual purchase price of that piece of hardware is pulled from thin air, or subsidized somehow by the soft lock-in to the Amazon sales network. You wonder if there's any actual labor content in there, or if it too is the new mass-media imprint with no marginal cost for each new run.

It reminds me of Ivy League tuitions, where they calculate the actual cost to educate each student at maybe $150 K each or so. Which makes the incredibly steep tuition seem almost cheap, as though you really should mortgage your soul to leverage such a return. But then they drop any tuition at all just to sharpen their claim on the best and the brightest, and again you wonder where's the calculated reality to it all.

Do they really add up the return on endowment income, the grant funded research, the unrestricted donations and actually set a "real" price. Well, of course they do, since they have to balance a budget. But it starts to feel like my cellular company which just pulled a massive profit on my failure to anticipate the number of minutes I would use for the holiday and the OMG texting, especially since getting ill. Is there really a meaning to the cost per minute, or is it whatever the market will bear? Or, I mean, is the market really working?

They apologized that they can't do what they used to do and retroactively change my plan. I'm sure that some corporate advisor gave them a cogent argument about how the profile for rebates could reveal preferential treatment toward the folks predisposed to feel entitled and be polite about it. As with hiring practices, you have to watch your behaviors very carefully now.

So, based on some customer loyalty algorithm, and some quick calculation of how much profit margin I've afforded them by doing Internet and all the rest, they gave me 40% off my overage, minus the retroactive difference in the minutes. Somehow it's calculated to make everyone reasonably happy.

You know, whatever.

I'm reminded (ramble ramble, but I should be allowed to do that in the hospital, although you know I'll take any excuse) of this "media summit" I attended last summer, being named in honor of my Uncle Lou, whose memorial service was to be held concurrently. The pundit gurus up on stage, brought there to predict the future of media (100% Television, they confidently predicted, regardless of the medium for its transmission) browbeat their young and cool audience about the equivalence of unpaid digital downloads to actual theft of physical property.

I wasn't a bona-fide participant in the summit, so I sat on my hands, but still I wanted to yell out, "yeah, yeah, steal this book you sheep." There is nothing moral about making something super easy to steal and then holding people responsible for doing so. It feels a lot like a sting operation on a whole generation, so that we really can feel smug about being better, from the golden oldie days.

Let's say the purveyors of digital books were willing to grant me the license I already own for the IP (Intellectual Property) I've already bought for the books now on my shelves. I'd even be willing to pay a premium to have the perpetual digital property. I'd even be (almost) willing to burn the physical specimen if it were paperback and had no intrinsic beauty, if that would make them happy.

Anyhow, then I might be willing to allow their exclusive franchise. "They" being anyone wanting to enforce some kind of copyright on digital reading materials. Or digital music or videos. They should let me lend my stuff, and keep it cataloged for me somewhere in the cloud. I don't mind a check-in check-out system, giving over my authority to whatever repository I choose. I see the future, and it's about my own control of what I've paid for. I think the folks at Amazon actually see it too.

I'm pretty sure there is some definite - if hard to locate - divide between "content creators" who make lots of money and those who are simply desperate for exposure. Of course, just like the cellular companies, the publishers are going to set their prices so that they're always making money, which pretty much means that the minor creators will have to keep a day job, even thought the publishers can find their work profitable - in aggregate.

So there might even be a built-in conflict of interest between most artists and the enforcers of copyright.

I heard on the radio that the local library will be stocking digital titles, and that I will be able to download them without even visiting the library. So there is a kind of check-in/check-out license which limits the number of copies in circulation. Just like my family hopes that I will keep my books "for decoration," it would be too bad if no-one has to actually visit the library any more, but still it's a pretty attractive prospect, don't you think? It surely has a high cool factor.

But what shall the price be? Shall it be set by the owners of the medium for transmission? The monopoly holders of the marketplace, like e-Bay or Amazon where you will almost always go - or NetFlix - because they will definitely have all the titles.  So if you're a new author, you'll give them whatever massive cut of the price, just because they have the distribution network. Almost precisely the way that Google calculates ad-sense.

It feels very much as though we've created a brave new monopoly world, where there's only really room for a single player in any given category, where price can be set at will, almost without constraint, and the "little guy" has nothing at all to say about it. "Whatever the market will bear" has a different meaning when there's only one real player.

I have an image of pinnacles getting ever steeper with a small set of Ivy League colleges toward the top, say, or e-Bay, Google, ATandT and Verizon, and then a scattering of regional colleges and companies which can make a credible claim to offer a similar service.

But the value proposition continues to out-favor the ones at the peaks. They let you roam around the entire country at will, give you the best prospects for "in" connections and signals in obscurity. Their diplomas are global in reach and recognition, as are their faculties, and the entire game is premised on some sense that quality is distributed that unevenly also.

And so the spread between CEO and worker salaries gets wider and wider, in perfect imitation of the divide between Walmart prices and the ones from the style boutique. And the quality also is made to imitate a perfect spread in value and discerning eyes can tell in an instant from the drape and the finish and the placement of the buttons.

All built on a fiction as if such distinctions can be calculated and as if there really are great ones and lesser ones in fact and not just in fiction.

There shouldn't be such a stretch between the bottom and the top. The rest is details:

I think random tends toward monopoly concentration without proper context for moderation. I think there's even a name for this - the Pareto principle. It's what locust-style humanity on the planet is about; it's what the Ivy leagues are about, it's what happens to everything without regulation and proper feedback loops.

I'm not against making all sorts of distinctions, nor against specialized treatments for the distinguished. Some folks really know how to fiddle, some are incredible on ice-skates, and some are really really brainy and bright.

But as often as an IQ test suggests that some hidden talent might be lurking, I'm pretty sure it over-selects for privilege or a unidimensional form of brain-power which might never get trued by failure. Especially when a premium gets placed on never showing weakness. Having headed a school for "gifted" children, I know a thing or two about these matters.

Clearly, some of our most important thinkers and shakers and movers never did excel at any particular measures. It's only the government meritocracies which get overloaded by Ivy grads. In the "real world" of science and industry, there are plenty of dropouts and state college types.

OK, so here in the hospital, what I would really like would be someone to respect my intelligence; someone who isn't programmed - as much by client expectations as by personal predilection or training - to think I want him or her to be the expert. I'd like someone to debate with me to the point of my own satisfaction that there is no connection among and between all "symptoms" of my "lifestyle" which have led up to this singular event of a clot forming in my lungs.

It isn't clear that it came from my legs, although the literature all declaims that. There's no evidence that there's any connection to my general decline in conditioning, which makes this pulmonary emobolism feel an aweful lot like a punctuation mark to a general trend.

They have a good theory, they have a cause and an effect, and it's very clearly documented, with lots of case history and treatment success. I know from my own professional work as a computer network and systems troubleshooter that that's what you need in order to fix things. You need a good solid theory of how things work, what might have happened, and then you can go about setting things right.

But in this case, I have evidence from the inside, as it were. I have the poetic shape of this happening on Christmas, and the stresses and strains of trying to sell a house in time to move and find some kind of work before funds and insurance both run out. I have irregular patterns of exercise, and eating and drinking.

Weight gain descended from a broken leg, a torn muscle, and the general sloth which sets in from living alone in the country where work erases the daylight hours, and the highlight of each day is cooking and eating dinner tuned precisely to my self-indulgence. As often as not enhanced with wine or beer, and I know that now if I drink too much my heart pounds in exactly the same way that it did when my body was screaming for more oxygen and there was a clot in the way of its getting there.

I even know that my liver makes the stuff which clots my blood, and that when they give me blood thinning drugs, I'll have to watch my steady intake of vitamin K containing green leafy veggies. I know these things all interact, and it seems pretty likely that if I'm on a roller coaster of "life-style" I'll be pushing things toward and maybe over all sorts of limits.

I don't want the isolated cause and effect which can be represented by the schematic of theory.

But there isn't a doctor on the earth paid well enough to have that conversation. There are lots of armchair doctors, but there also seems to be some inverse relation between propensity for out-there private quackery and the taciturnity and vagueness you get from a well-trained and practiced clinician.

This, to me, is very frustrating. I'm happy enough to get the good treatments I've been receiving. I'm happy enough to make my own safe-enough conclusion that I should even out my habits, lose some weight, get more regular exercise, and live, well, a lot more primitively.

I'm on the "user" side of tech support, pretty much in the way of the doctors getting their work done to the extent that I want to take and play a role. And believe me, I'm not a difficult patient - I'm compliant in everything I do. Well except for the Lipitor, which just seems extreme to me given my overall makeup. And oddly, no-one's implicated that in the clotting. Hmmmm, should I do an Internet search?

Well, and so I've been sprung now. My sister tells me of the strange fact that her friend getting an embolism triggered her going in for a sonogram of her veins. And then my brother had similar symptoms. And then I go to the hospital. And on Christmas Eve, in echo of my previous experience!

The doctor explained that the echo-cardiogram confirms that the heart had been laboring against the clot, but that it is recovering well. There were no clots in my legs, and it was way too soon for them to have been reabsorbed. So, I'm left with a purely poetic explanation for what happened, and just like with new knowledge that asteroids might hit planet earth, why let that change the way you live each and every day?

Well, except for the observation that there is no real excuse for replacing reality with schematics. There is no real excuse for letting technology exaggerate the differences among us by allowing corners against all purchases in any given medium.

I come away with a nearly pure conviction that trued love is the kind which doesn't depend on perfection or anything approaching it. That if your love or respect or honor depends on maintenance of an illusion, then the person stuck in that endless loop is the saddest person of all. The one who has an image to keep up. The one who is absent from himself.

I'm glad to be home, and recovering however slowly. I'm glad to be alive. Now, please excuse me while I play with my new Kindle.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Troubleshooting Illness

It seems that the mind becomes reluctant when the body loses its vigor. Thoughts seem as petered out as does the body after a short walk up and down the hallway. I've signed away my privacy as regards DNA testing for propensity for clotting, and vaguely wonder how this can and will be used against me. I wonder vaguely if concern for me as a class of human being will ever have any hope to overcome the lucid arguments made on my behalf by highly lucrative insurance, drug and medical technology interests which have my representatives' ears.

The troubleshooting seems solid, and on the side of being sick, I'm glad they know just what to do to maximize my odds for getting better. The signature also commits only to probabilities, that nothing's perfect, and that they might think I should when I shouldn't take various medications to thin my blood forever. I wonder which side the money's on. Yeah, well.

But I'm not all that cynical or even skeptical about the process. I've spent a long career troubleshooting computer problems, and the process strikes me as more similar than I might wish. You have a pretty good theory formed, of which a good chunk is always the aptitude and patience quotient of the person behind the keyboard. They look you in the eye for earnest answers to what might be wrong, and you try to mask your certainty that among the things wrong is that they think the computer is some strange and mysterious collection of complex systems beyond their understanding.

And you retain a kind of reluctance to let them know they're mostly right; that complexity when it multiplies goes right out of control very quickly. And least beyond the troubleshooting steps which isolating variables can uncover. The only choice is to control the variables on the way in, which makes you a kind of adversary of the "user."

I always want to form a picture in my head of how this sudden collapse of lung capacity might relate to the gradual but decisive reduction which occurred across the years of growing old and getting fat from too much work and driving; and from breaking a leg and tearing a calf muscle.

Where does the balance fall, I want to know, between the heart and the other parts, or is it all just a big continuum. I have this vague mental image of clots - just generalized clotting, a kind of restriction of the flow, maybe combined with loss of flexibility, so that after a while, if I'm doing something stressful, I get out of breath, but if I give my body time to catch up with aerobic ambitions, then I breath just fine.

I pictured my lungs contracting in the severe cold the other day, and that was just fine for an explanation of my more severe loss of breath; that and the fact that I was keeping up with my much better conditioned brother-in-law. Then the next day, after climbing a flight of stairs, I'm on the floor, and in the ambulance, but it feels like the same old same old, and it's just a little hard for me to credit a little clot. Punctuation to a process which had been going on for years and years.

But I guess with complex systems, any little thing can set the whole out of whack and into some sort of downward spiral. I just want to know what I should do now that isn't more slow waiting for some kind of ticking time bomb.

And I wonder where it all must end. So long as everyone's in on the game, house prices rising, insurance through the job, then the only ones who really get hurt are the ones who aren't in on it. I just don't have a whole lot of faith that things will keep getting better and better. That feels to me like a lot of justification to advertise new products and new hopes sold against your fears.

The problem I had is pretty high profile among the life threatening issues which land people in the hospital, and I hate to say it but it really doesn't seem like the high tech is a big part of my solution. I feel like I'm dealing with a basic ring job which doesn't have a whole lot to do with electronic sensors or feedback loops. I feel like I need to do more walking and less sitting, and maybe tweak my diet a little bit more.

Last time this happened on Christmas Eve, I could justify some vague sense that it was all my fault. That I had indulged too much stress trying to save an already bankrupt school, had internalized far too much rage and that quenching it with alcohol was really not a great idea. They yanked my appendix, and I was left with the poetic diagnosis; the one which still had the most credibility.

This time, who knows? It seems like the whole system is out of whack and I don't have any implication in it at all. It could have happened to anyone, despite what they might tell me about my genetic deficiencies.

It's the way I feel about everything, but I'll be the first to admit I'm in a compromised state of mind. We shouldn't be focused so much on the specific cause. We should be a little bit more focused on the systemic issues. The escalating state of getting more and mine. The evident fact which my roommate and I and every roommate I've ever had in the entire history of time, that the things which really count can't be counted.

I made several circuits of the hallway just now, and I feel only as though I've run half a marathon, so I must be getting better.

Friday, December 25, 2009

What a Way to Spend Christmas

I don't really get why there is some measure of surprise that I don't take meds. No meds. Is that such an out-of-the-ordinary thing? This near-death experience doesn't exactly make my life flash by as it does my mistakes. I feel so vulnerable, so utterly without income, and so saddled now with pre-existing conditions. It's like when you make a claim against your homeowner's insurance, and that's the last claim you're ever allowed to make, since suddenly you're a risk and have to be moved into the pool.

What I don't get is that the way I felt was pretty much continuous with the way I've been increasingly feeling - out of breath - but this time there was no strenuous activity at all. And climbing a single flight of stairs did me in. Did the clots move up into my lungs simply to say "enough already" stop and take stock? But what stock should I take?

I'm reminded that everyone around me is as imperfect as I am. There are flaws to the gift-giving, and I don't really have the energy to sustain the chit-chat. And that is what I mean by love. That is what it is, this imperfection falling short. Ivy league love can't possibly be love. Love is always bush league, because if you were to have to always play the perfect role, you'd never be there for someone. Love is aspirational too, just like humanity.

My cellmate made his living on car crashes as a cop, and then by getting crashed into, if I have that right. But he's a far happier man than I, and loves his wife and kids and still ogles the young girls. There's lots to be said about honor. There's lots to be said about aspirational love.

And I wonder now as I worry losing my mind in a different way from the time before, what I will or would be, that far short of memories and making sense. What would I be, then if or when I can't remember what it was that I'd made my life's work; this notion that it's not the hardware, stupid, it's the dialogic stuff which rides along it's froth.

What a way to spend Christmas - it reminds me of the last time I had to go to the hospital Christmas Eve, to get my appendix out. I wonder what the message is. For such a fake holiday, meaning nothing at all except that some Church bureaucrat wanted to make it so.

So, what if my hardware goes then, will I be the same me? I guess I won't be the one to know. I guess you'll have to tell me.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Ho Ho Ho!

There really is nothing terribly fun or funny about the Christmas gig. You must be thought a pederast, or why would you take it? Beautiful women pass their children over, and none of them wants bald with beard with overbelted stomach. Yet you can be removed from the game, spectating eternally the wonder. I want I want I want I want with Mommy bending over.

It's just another sort of keeping score, with tokens of love nor money. Earnest fandom, warpaint faces screaming love for their home team and even they can't take themselves that seriously, except for yelling fuck on cellphones with children around. Aw, who cares now? It's only all in sport.

Unwrapping presence for genuine surprise if it were there, the trued love stood in for, awesome, virtually real for how we live. Drink up please, it's time. I love the look on my own children's faces, matching want against my bank account. There is no greater joy.

I still remember Mustafa, who taught me to interpret earnest Brits who mixed their beers. Who expected a precision to the pour such that we needed pneumatic calibrators to draw it from our dungeon. Where we were granted fish head lunch and dinner, marginal improvement, actually, above the fare on offer for the paying clientèle.

Who, after modest called out hours, morphed into beltwad spending gangland drinkers, open jacketed to the bar. Grinding pistols on display, pretty pool playing boss who rotated me from bar to bar because I would keep them clean.

I watched my niece learn to shoot pool at her grandparents' Republican retirement commune, where each night bon-vivant victors in the game of life can rehearse the way they were in college, or across the years at cocktail hour, calibrating dress for normalcy, and whose own children are that grateful to be relieved of the need to walk cadavers back and forth to dinner, excited for the new electric wheelchair set to arrive now any day. Jingle bells, jingle bells.

I think there is no contradiction that we should train the class of fandom with the same stentorian manner used at West Point, perpetuating cycles of abuse fully justified now by salary measures for the sporty, and the IQ scores of alphas relieved of duty. Pygmalion remains obedient in class.

And why did Obama, please, surround himself only with the Ivy mafia, the American Ruling Class which believes itself that far removed from the shouting classes; by irony removed to situations all reminiscent of real mahogany and leather. Hinted at theatrically or is it funereality, for those retired now everywhere. Drink up please, it's time.

My purpose then must become the evening of all scores. The leveling of all playing fields, the bringing back down to earth all hubristic towers, but with love and not with wanton mischief.

Mustafa was knifed to within an inch of life, doing what he'd taught me, leaping over the polished mahogany to intervene between bartop shattered jug and neck. Smiling Yank accomplishes what massive angry Tunisian never could.

I still stow Santa Suit in closet, somehow held back when SCUBA diving wetsuit was laid to rest in dumpster. My eyebrows pump on automatic. The children all beyond that age when Santa could accomplish the unlikely.

There is still time left to buy and wrap those presents. There is still a little time.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Cynic's Christmas Story - Pandora's Box

After all, Christ, ironically enough, is a bastard for real, and came into our lives pretty much the way that the Avatar dude from the "jarhead" clan came into the lives of the indigenous people on Pandora. They wore Geo-graphic nakedness, and already knew how to jack in to the godhead of their trees.

We'd wrecked our earth then as now, and wanted the philosopher's black gold beneath their Mother's collective wisdom. Forgive me Lord, while I take your sacred heart and use it for my own merely symbolic purposes. John Cameron knows a lot about hearts as metaphor for what machine-think lacks. (Now if only the Governator would grow one, but we all know what steroids do)

I saw my very first 3D movie, for real, and it was pretty cool, I gotta say. I think I was the only one swatting flies as they swarmed my view, though, and no-one laughed at that pratfallen irony either. Why would anybody want to watch the flatscreen any more, when you can almost climb right into that virtually real greatest story ever told? I'll save my Winnebago stimulus for the Ritz!

The yes-sir! Marine called to stand in for his brainy sibling, the wanna-be in-planeted techno-god, because he was genotypically correct to take the place of his dead philosopher bro.  Our Hero this time also is a half Real-Man; without legs which has meaning clear enough for anyone who's ever watched Gone With the Wind.

This epic movie icon-man, bereft of family and divided from himself, jacks on and falls in love via the immaculately test-tube engendered (you gotta wonder why the Catholics go along with that) half-Earth half-Pandora actual whiteboy body he downloads into. He syncs across the great divide of worlds; not mere race or class or culture.

If reparations is the mot-du-jour for America's global warming sins, then Obama of course must shy away if he wants to keep his neck. But couldn't we just set up new trade in outered carbon already, simply for the purpose of transferring wealth back down to the squatters on earth's rainforests, the way we did for earth's inner raghead Texas tea-baggers?

Then someday soon, we can declare yet another civil smart war, or will they then just upstage our power with jazzed up personal truths ? Why not just finish them off with their own wanton defenselessness against intimately transmitted diseases the way we did the redskins. Triangular trade in rectitude; black gold,  Heroine Dorothy; opiated Taliban. Irony is the tool of the abusive intellectual, who can never trust that Sarah Palin will get the joke in time. She deploys her sexuality like Scarlett.

And the ignorant or the abused must all hear irony the same way, from years of being made crazy by caretakers who might seem to love you one moment and be actually raping you the next. There is room only for an Earnest Jesus, taken literally the way man wants Him.

Our Jesus had his metaphorical legs airbrushed right out from under him, and now stands in for the rantings of all those already left behind in the transport. But, once we stop angrily doing His work, the real Jesus might yet come into our still half-beastly hearts and light a fire there.

Hey, there's always Hope. Merry Christmas, and may God bless us every one.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Negotiating Price - Conclusive Proof of Conspiracy

Lots of people these days find that just as they were about to poke their nose above water, something bad happens. The car breaks or the furnace needs attention. It's as if there were a conspiracy, with rising prices calibrated to hit your cynicism button. Like when I moved out into the country and my auto insurance rates went up. "Well, that's just what the computer shows" and I read some stuff about how rural roads are actually more dangerous than city streets, and then forgot about it.

Yes yes, we all know that there's a conspiracy against us, but who can we be righteously angry at? What person can we stick in what bullseye, and then throw outrageous darts at? And once they take that spot, well, is it really just a matter of how much they're worth? Can our anger be gaged by the price of the target? Why not, right? What other metric can we possibly have.

Moving back into the city now they want to nearly double my auto insurance rates. It can almost make a guy hopping mad. But who do you get mad at, exactly? Not the nice woman on the phone. Not at her computer. Just like when gas prices were going up, and so everything else had to raise dependent prices at the same time. Sometimes calling it a fuel surcharge, just to outsource some petty rage.

And now the Governor here in New York State has had to cancel payments to local school districts since he can't print money he doesn't have. As if that cut won't get passed along too. It makes you want to go back on all the little deals you made where you accepted logo value for the real thing. As in, how does that price get computed anyhow? Isn't it simply what you're willing to pay, based on some calculus of desire? Weren't we all out buying iPods and making a lifestyle out of it? And then paying the breakdown insurance fee becauase they're not really supposed to be repairable. And then somehow thinking that Steve Jobs is the more cool-friendly dude at the top, up against dweeby cloud warriors like Steve Ballmer or Eric Schmidt.

Jobs runs his job like a fascist dictator, and has his own cult-like following. We don't even resent that he gets his new body organs from the head of some outsourced line, since he's so crucial to the workings of our economy. Well, hell I'm almost certain I'd like him a lot better than I would Bill Gates. I mean, for anyone with a sense of humor who reads Dr. Suess, Mom is the consummate fascist, and she's pretty nice. And Steve manufactures cool, while Bill just makes money, right? Or gives it away to folks who think like he does.

But these are all the guys at the center of the conspiracy to set price just at your breaking point. Um, I think that's what capitalism means. Even though universal healthcare would save more businesses than it could possibly destroy, the business community fights against it. Even though an even and well regulated playing field for doing business would liberate corporations from being forced by business logic to act like really bad citizens in their bogus role as "legal persons", they rail against more regulation.

Well, ultimately, you have the choice to buy or not to, right? Except when it comes to certain things, and those things now raise their prices I guess just because they have to. The economy's bad all over. But it never is quite clear whether the incredibly falling prices or the incredibly rising prices are what constitutes the biggest danger to our economy.

The falling prices are built on the fictional cost of oil, which is subsidized by simply mortgaging our future. Only the cost to extract and for political baksheesh gets factored in, and never the actual cost of the decimation of our commons; our common heritage. Never the cost of war. Never the cost to those we exploit, who aren't resourceful enough to slow our extraction of their resources.

The rising prices are built on want or greed or desperation moves to stay in business despite fallen demand. But sometimes new things, like iPods, can be compared to the incredible cost they would have had were that same "functionality" to be introduced the year before, and they can seem like falling prices even when they fill a category which never even had existed.

So, in the end it can seem marvelously conspiratorial when you find yourself right on that edge if something happens, and certainly over it if you lose your job or get sick. And none of us knows how to fly as escape from free fall.

But this conspiracy is surely between you, the consumer, and those who present stuff for your conspicuous consumption. There can be no real mystery about that. Price means to set you near your edge, which is fine until you lose your confidence or balance, and then the game is up.

Everyone steps away, and like those Chinese who we thought once were being all taught to jump off their stools on some cue to focus a shockwave down to the Big Apple, say, more effectively than a nuke could be delivered; everyone steps away from their edge and the economy reels from the shock waves of it. As if not one chance Chinaman could be counted on to have second thoughts. As if it's all a confidence game.

Because those cappos at the center of the financial economy were caught up in new ways to manufacture confidence and deliver the certainty of high returns by simple math which by any other name would be called a Ponzi scheme. Selling futures at a discount. So long as the future can be pushed off into seeming eternity. Which it can't. I'll insure you insuring me and we're all happy until we're not.

And so now how is it that we can keep full employment without the automobile, say, no matter how powered, to take up that much of our paychecks? How can we keep the economy humming without people playing perpetual musical houses on some bizarre notion that the price of real-estate will keep magically rising just because, what? There continue to be more and more of us? That's gotta stop too.

It would seem that we could and must bring things back down to earth. If the cost of oil were to reflect, truly, the cost to replace it. If the cost of parking were to reflect its true value, and not the reverse-protectionist scheme of if you charge for it no-one will come.

If the actual labor cost for goods were to be some significant fraction of what are now the distributed logo-costs, the shipping costs, the marketing costs, the free-parking costs, the salesperson costs, the stocking costs, all of which are in competition with the free-of-them-all-but-shipping cost of goods from the virtual shelving of the Internet.

The fact that there is not a greater disparity in price from store shelves and price from the Internet does beg one great big question, don't you think? As in, where does the real subsidy come from? Could it be, simply, the roads and the parking and the fact that none of us factor in the cost to own our cars? It might turn out that labor represents the almost nil actually built in to final price. It might turn out that there really is a conspiracy of price fixing which has nothing to do with anything at all but your desire.

But where will people work when this all collapses? Can there really be enough jobs after the big box stores shuffle down their cardboard walls, and all those underpaid workers go back out into the local stores where the clerks once could earn enough to raise a family? When physical widgets get manufactured locally without physical danger to children or smokestack effluent to spoil the air, will there be enough actual jobs for handy people without the desire to prove it in college?

Why not, right? I mean, if you do the math, there's enough money right now going to the center that if it were to be redistributed out would generate enough tax revenue to even silence Glenn Beck about his trillions that he can't conceive.

I'd say maybe. I'd say it might be worth the investment of some hope, which costs precisely nothing. What if instead of doing everything ourselves, according to the massive educational infrastructure of lego-style DIY home improvement, we were to actually learn, once again, to trust our neighbors, and pay the ones with that kind of genius to build and to repair our houses? Could it actually be that the price, rid of all those externalities of centralized design copyright costs, would drop to where we might wonder how we ever could afford the extravagant cost of widgets sent from distant shores?

Could it be that we could end up with houses worth living in, and minds not all ticky-tacky identical? Where design flowed more naturally from workers trained as apprentices, and who understood local conditions and materials? Where the distance from source to market was actually walkable? Bicycles in a pinch?

Not to mention the food, which we've already learned to never cook ourselves, as though the cost of servants was ever so extravagant as the cost, including the externalized health-care cost, of eating out perpetually and rapidly. Julia Child compiled her guide to French cooking for servantless Americans. Well . . . .

Not to mention the dialing back of war overhead. Not to mention the re-creation of tourist destinations worth visiting since they aren't all variations on the very same theme park. They could be so interesting that it might be worth threading them together across a slow walk, like beads on a necklace, making the flyover far too boring to be worth its expenditure of however little time and inconvenience.

This extravagant vision is as near to hand as ceasing to hand over all of our power to those Ivy generated thinkers who have been allowed actually to believe that their particular brand of genius - the kind which gets measured by IQ - is the only kind which counts. They are naked now, with nothing to show for their supposed intelligence apart from a very clever deflowering of our mother earth.

So, I'm also extravagantly hoping that our very fine community organizing president has surrounded himself with so many Ivy Leaguers simply because he knows that they represent the actual power elite; and that he has that much confidence in his own powers of persuasion that he can convince them to relinquish their strangle-hold on what gets considered for publication. That he understand that one must hold ones friends close, but ones enemies even closer.

That once the power elite are convinced that they too will feel the pain of the least among us, whether transmitted along with the rampant and indiscriminate disease vectors of poverty, or the indiscriminate desolation of living on a despoiled planet; that once this seed-core of sourdough thinkers and doers and lever pullers sees that they actually are naked emperors, then the catalytic outspread of better living actually can change the world, so to speak.

Because, of course, scant readable publications do come from the Ivy. The good stuff all comes from somewhere else; the music, the literature, the interesting architecture, the theater, the painting. All that comes from the Ivies is power. They train for the voice of power, the assumption of power, the supposition of power, and they populate elite museums with meaningless art removed from the context of any life. They fill the elite concert halls with music which never can quite remove itself from the age when cardinals actually did wear red and jewels and screwed around and wielded power behind their curtains.

And these folks are the ones we allow to represent us in the halls of power? And Glenn Beck is the enemy? It really can be hard to know which are the more powerful delusions, but it does seem clear that the mutual suspicious between intellectuals and people whose genius is elsewhere, might be the most corrosive actual divide in our actual Republic.

I retain some real hope that this divide can be crossed. Rock and roll has made its way into the halls of power. Powerful stories sell better than refined literature. Good wine can still be had. What the hell, eh? Size really does matter, as does height. Some things are just too high, and must come down, like Tiger Woods, for the sheer pedestrian weight of being human. Some kinds of genius are simply over-compensated, as are some shortcomings overcompensated for. And no matter how perfectly composed are your publications, reclusive and exlusive geniuses of my world, I'll take mine live and local. Every time.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I must take a break now, from moving file cabinets up three flights. It's recycling day, and I had resolved to throw most of the files away. But I was stopped by these mountains of paper of my very own accomplishment. Letters written, students recommended, faculty evaluated. Chinese teaching materials, and other things I seem to keep thinking I'd be interested in some day.

Once before, already, I had emptied out these same file cabinets. There are only so many cycles a person can go through before there's nothing left to toss. And so I moved the first one, not even believing myself that it could be done alone. But so long as you take it only one step at a time, and work out the angles and the balance, it isn't necesssarily very much about muscle.

Still, the second one weighs a bit heavier on my mind. We all live this life of Sisyphus, condemned to push the rock back up the hill, knowing that it will come crashing down, and that we will have to start again.

Our condemnation is the foreknowledge, but the act is no more difficult than lots of things we do because we want to. In sport, in transport, in report and import-export. We're always moving and expending lots of effort. Even my U-haul boxes encourage me to mark the first the second the third the fourth time I will use them, so that they don't get wasted or recycled too early. As if I'm expected to be in some perpetual motion home to home. Save energy and cost, and keep your packing materials always ready to hand!

And it's not all bad, since were I to stay put I never would clean out various drawers and closets and cubbyholes and garages, quite evidently judging from the stuff I discovered after having forgotten about it completely and sometimes still couldn't quite discard. Rituals of renewal are or should be important. Wholesale cleanings out and paintings and refurbishments. And then the rock can start its uphill climb again, no different really from the downhill rush. It's all a matter of perspective.

We are at such at time with our country. Lots of people smarter than me wonder how to re-fund that fourth pillar of our democracy, the free press. Lots of people smarter than me actually do believe that the blogosphere will do it; that this empowering of thinking people to write whatever's on our minds, will keep our cappos honest in their deflowering of the earth.

Except that so much of the time, bloggers are just like someone in a crowd pointing up into the sky and gazing there. Lots of heads will turn. There may still be nothing there. No matter how many people are free to write, no one of them may have access.

Edited copy, with writers who have statutory access to the halls of power is essential to our republic, plain and simple. One whistlblower may be all it takes to bring down the corrupt and the dishonest. But plenty of times, there is no-one in the room to blow the whistle. Everyone there is in on the take, and that's by careful pre-arrangement.

The problem with the news has nothing to do with free copy on the Internet. The problem is that all the time we used to have to read the paper over breakfast or during our train-commutes has dissolved into paying rapt attention to the traffic jam we're stuck in. Breakfast is on the run, or in the car, and we must steal moments during breaks or in between work emails to get a sniff of the news from the company-provided Internet.

And what time we do have not at work, if we have any at all apart from our Blackberry tethers, we'd like to spend in family matters or self-indulgent entertainments.

We might spend a little time on Facebook, keeping up with friendly spam. Facebook is like our newspaper used to be. No need to read all the emails, just browse the headlines from those we're interested to keep up with; so much more efficient than to make epistolary rounds by phone or paper or electronic targeted thought. Which no one has time to read anyhow, if you take any time to write it.

Between Facebook and Google News our very Republic has been squeezed right out of existence, and we dare complain that Obama has let us down!!! This trouble has nothing to do with the medium. It has to do with how we organize our time, and what we do with our collective want. We want to drive. We want to spend that much of our disposable income on our wheels. We want there to be no choice about it, and we are desperately afraid that without that industry our economy really will melt down beyond the ability of government printing presses to bring it back.

No sane person wants to live in an economy run by bureaucrats. The bureaucratic structure embodies the Peter Principle, which means that those in power are always and only the ones who failed at risk taking. By definition, they are on the make or finished. These are not the folks you want to have decision making power over you. Anyone who's tried out banking in pre-capitalist China knows what I'm talking about.

But no sane person wants to live in an economy without bureaucratic controls on what the risk takers are allowed to do. And there really are ways to encourage creativity among the risk-averse classes. Just as there are ways for creativity to survive schooling. I'd guess it has something to do with the balance among standardized testing, performance review, and political correctness.

No sane person wants to trust those in power to wield it in our best interests. And the solution is to take some time that's not on the company nickel, over breakfast perhaps, or during a sane commute (perhaps you can do your exercising on a bicycle on the way to work, and take the time you would have spent at the gym??). Take some time to read the news. Peruse the headlines, and then look a little bit more deeply at the ones which peak your interest.

The web is no better or worse than paper for this. Sites like, can help to replicate the newspaper's sense of location, and approximate the efficiency of scanning the open pages of an actual paper. Your renewed interest will guarantee the value of location and interest-specific advertising, and so those investigative reporters can be paid again.

But the automobile has got to go. There can be no negotiation on that one, or we're all screwed in every direction. It's not just the hot air, or the cost of the energy. It's our very survival as humanity which is at stake here. Driven, we are beastly.

And oh yeah, the news! My house will close before Christmas. The delay is all blamed on the unconscionable and constipated banking system. What are they doing with all that printed money, one might really like to know. They sure seem awfully careful all of the sudden to lend any of it back out. Well, Merry Christmas then, to one and all! Just a few days early. Though not soon enough for Santa's shopping. Well, there's always credit.

Sisyphus Rocks!!

Place Holder

There is some meditative practice which I have never learned, which leads the mind to stillness. There are bodily rehearsals which I will never accomplish which remove the mind from a flow at one with qi. There is kung-fu or skill which I will never master which could allow me finally to deploy my metaphorical blade, of words, to find that space between to separate that which only apparently was conjoined. To split apart the armour, of words, and let some light in.

My mind quiets only at the end of a wild drive, through an ice storm, passing overturned and spun out trucks and sports-cars, driving much of the time with only my little finger, finally with jazz on the radio playing as though in some living room, the sound system is that good, into the inky and greasy mist of New York City. This drive was that insane, and yet only into that final tumult was my mind fully reciting ommmmmmmmmmmm.

Right to my daughter's doorstep, right through Wall St. canyons, still not losing my fine sense of direction, I traced my geographic mandala to its source and its conclusion, hardly stopping, and even, still, enjoying the cabby's look at those streets. My car now, at 300,000 miles approaching what a cab does, and starting also to show those rattles which cabs all used to have. My own hips from driving, feeling the way those cabs used to sound, and needing new ones like the newer cabs, all so miraculously smooth. That's the main thing which has changed in New York. The cabs no longer rattle. They have fine joint replacements.

I still enjoy threading through the maze, and accelerating to keep the pace of the stop lights up or down the avenues, finding impossible squeezes through and among pedestrians or construction or other fast moving objects who also must master that same flow, with awareness almost not aware, though never insane like what they do on freeways in L.A. I can only imagine.

Thank God I have a quiet reptile brain, which would keep obsessive compulsive types returning to check the water the lights the locks before leaving this home or that one. Mine only sends me back for what I've actually forgotten, the screwdriver to remove the cover frame so that the boat can be transported. But not, apparently, the flashlight for removal after dark. I'd need a human brain for that; one which wouldn't go roaring past the pornographic undersides of upended monster trucks and SUVs, amazed that there can be enough first responders in reserve to be there already, though the hulk still steams and spins its wheels.

I drink whenever I return from long drives. I drink to endure the imprisonment of sitting still. I drink not to excess, just to the point of falling asleep in the midst of Julie & Julia which would inform me about how people make proper new beginnings writing blogs or learning how to master a man's world. My pacing is all wrong, and the rate of imbibing exceeds the attention I can spend on the moving picture, never feeling sleepy at the wheel no matter how over my edge I've driven. Well, unless and until it's maybe 3 AM, at which point the road starts jumping around. The way the movie does, and I'm asleep.

This reptile brain in human beings has such a fine and important function. It only signals "fit" or "not" taking stock of the entire picture the way a good film must while cutting shots from different angles made at different times. In an unquiet mind, the reptile brain keeps calling shots, compelling returns to something which must be laid out perfectly, and only then will allow hazarding out. Pieces all arranged. The ritual prayer. They have pills for that now.

Our major industries now also defeating themselves, railing against publicly funded healthcare, when really the level playing field would so relieve them of their burden. Or perhaps they really do just want slaves, beholden to their largesse in granting, what, insurance? Railing against regulation for the sake of the environment or the stability of the financial system, when there are very very few who prefer to operate as sociopaths, denying claims to patients to whom they're bound by contract. Secreting poisons beneath their very own earth. They truly only want that everyone should be playing by the same rules, except that they are afraid to lose their advantage.

The cappo at the top, now there's the real sociopath, who makes so much so much money on everyone else's fear, and so the team spirit overcomes the worker bees and they actually do start to believe that what is good for the company is actually good for the world and certainly for them. No different, really, than the person who gets a charge out of cheating on their taxes. Winning - getting the better of - someone in a financial dealing. It's all good.

Until it goes bad. Along my way yesterday - no, it was the day before the day before already - I endured some earnest theologian from the "9/11 Truth Commission." He was convincing. He doesn't know who brought down the World Trade Towers, but he knows it couldn't have been those planes alone. He knows that Cheney and Rumsfeld were in the middle of it. He knows that Bush's brother owned the company with the security contracts on the buildings.

On the outside, we all wonder at the code of silence which could keep such an operation secret. We want to know only about the families of the people on those planes, if they were fictional, and are pretty certain they couldn't be in on any conspiracy, no matter how cleverly written.

So, were the planes then filled with explosives of the sort to melt steel? And were the buildings also peppered? And were the pilots secretly guided or goaded in their grim design? Or were there only acts of omission, to allow an opportunity to be taken opportunistically for a design already set on some other level?

We do know that every smart bomb which is launched, or for that matter manufactured, will already be known to kill that many innocent civilians. We do know and accept these rationalizations, and buy the argument of collateral damage. We know how many more both of the innocent and of our own so poorly paid soldiers would have been killed with and by and behind the older cruder weapons. Once the objective is accepted, then the collateral damage must be accepted as well.

Getting the objective accepted is by far the more difficult part, and one might say the collateral there was also that much more finely tuned than was even the case with Pearl Harbor. I think that is what this "truth commission" claims. That the objective would not be accepted unless and until some precisely calibrated collateral damage became accomplished. And maybe there was even some secret knowledge that the Trade Towers would have to come down. Were already weakened. Were already targeted. Would fit the bill.

The American people are that unlikely to accept the fact of carnage and mayhem in our future when the oil runs out before we have prepared for it. So that even the stepping up of our addiction becomes a tactic in a strategic war for true world domination. I'm fairly certain that these are the games which get played in Skull and Bones. I'm pretty sure these folks are prepped for world domination. Only ever negotiating price and timetable and musical directors' chair.

These things are perfectly obvious, and require no conspiracy theorizing to confirm. So many of us feel bad for Tiger Woods, now that his behavior has been outed as at some odds with his fine image. We calculate what he has lost, and imagine ourselves somehow in his same shoes, what?? My young daughter taught me this as we were driving home. That it was his wholesome image which brought him all those contracts, and now we should feel bad for him when they get clawed back? This is business, pure and simple folks, and there was a lot at stake for him to keep it clean. I guess he tried really hardly, but you know if your sleep is disturbed, you really shouldn't be counting on Ambien. You'll just do crazy things while half aware. You need something much stronger, like Michael Jackson tried for. I'm not saying either of them was guilty of anything. I'm just saying that they couldn't sleep.

So we do know, or we should, what the leaders of the free world, so called, would do if they had full and complete discretion. Which they don't, and we should know that too. We may want them to do the dirty deeds they do in our name, for so long as we don't need to know all the details.

But I did catch enough of Julie and Julia to understand that what we don't want is for innocent people to be used as pawns. (That young blogger's day job was to handle calls from distressed relatives of the dead and missing from 9/11. To turn away and buy off their outrage. How many billions were spent that way, creating plausible deniability of claims for outrage?)

The trouble with focus on the trade tower conspiracies is that it deflects focus from the actual accomplishment of the objective the tower's collapse actually did enable. Metaphorical war was turned literal, in our name, and made nearly perpetual. Armed Blackwater (you can't change your name away from responsibility, Z) contractors make more and have more deniability than sworn upholders of our Constitution. These are not mysterious truths which need one single person to break the code of silence, as if he would be thought sane if he were to do so. As if he would be allowed to remain sane if he were to do so.

I actually might not mind, and it doesn't make me very proud to say it, but I might not mind if this weren't all being done somehow in the name of Jesus. That disconnect between image and reality just really makes me mad. But there again, I think you have plausible deniability, since old W. just might be stupid enough to accept the man-made literal Jesus, and Cheney and Rummie, whom nobody has accused of being altar boys, might be just cynical enough to take full advantage. Earnest preachers from all sorts of pulpits buy this story, and plug it in to some mantra of eternity, with geopolitical players and roles all mapped out in advance. These things don't require conspiracy theorizing to see in their full relief and detail.

I think it's only when the clear and present actual Jesus makes his appearance in our hearts that the big question mark at the center of all sorts of conspiracy theories can get erased. I don't think very many murderers march forth with their confessions. I don't think very many cappos find true religion before the end of their days. I think there's far far too much rationalization available to combat that kind of truth.

Which is, pretty much, how our reptile brains relate to the rest of us. Making our decisions before we know they've been made, and then we can use our cognitive powers to rationalize them. That's how abusive families stay intact. That's how the Mormons build their empire. That's what keeps rosary beads turning. And it's not, by far, all bad.

But family secrets kept in closets have power only to destroy. The chance for love and light. The chance for actual transformation of our lives. It is an act of faith, then, to refrain from calculations of the cost to achieve your objectives. Using anyone, no matter how mildly, is still too high a cost. Abusing anyone, no matter how obliquely, is still too high a cost. No matter your riches, you will still die, the same as the rest of us, but not with easy mind.

You will think it is, because you will have bought your own rationalizations. But your reptile mind will catch you up. Your workers will betray you. Your wife will not be bought off. There is a decent soul among the Blackwater operatives. There is a decent soul inside our government. All it takes is one, and I will never bank on perfect human craft. Never.

I risk my life each and every day, although I understand that car mechanics don't have perfect motives. I understand my fellow drivers' skill cannot be up to mine. I understand that I myself am far from a perfect driver, though demonstrably pretty good and courteous to a fault.

I wish that I had an actual choice. Not about driving down to NYC, which was simply a choice to afford comfort and leisure and time together with my daughter. I should not spoil her so abusively, I know. But I mean in general, so that I would not be required to partake in this conspiracy of destruction of our earth. This misdeployment of so very many smart weapons with so many talented Kamikaze pilots at their wheels.

It takes no great conspiracy theory to understand just why we do this. We want to. We like it. And I do have to confess, I like it probably a lot more than you do, or I wouldn't have taken a job which required 50,000 miles each year. I wouldn't have moved that far away from my daughters. I wouldn't have made the 100 mile trip 4 times each and every week and accepted full responsibilty that it was fully my decision and that I would require no help, at all, from their mom smug and snug at their center.

Because I too wanted out from my imprisonment, and have developed a full on ecology of survival. My stomach, co-evolved with alcohol, seems to know how to reprocess water since I'm not dehydrated, but drink only coffee and beer (I exaggerate shamelessly). It's like a camel's hump, I'm certain. Each time I drive, I am that blasted from myself and so when I get home there is nothing else to do but drink and sleep and rise again another day to do the same thing.

My rosary beaded circuits are complete now. My mandala fully traced. My last blizzard run down the pike toward New York or New England, my last circuit but a couple between my old house and my older one.

I have no conclusion. There is no conclusion. There is no final answer, but I will keep practicing my words, looking for a kind of kung-fu where they take over for themselves without my intervention. Where they find their own right way to open cracks for the light to enter in. To help catalyze the terrible libido stored in money, say, for deployment in other ways from terror and bought fictional security.

I race to find my place, standing still in motion, there will be no closure, it would seem, on house or love or career or tale, but things will fall to dust. They always do. That much can be counted on.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

On Catholic Autopilot

Richard Dawkins was right that getting brought up Catholic constitutes a kind of child abuse. Rote gets substituted for understanding, so that men can use you for their purposes. Guilt is built up until it feels inborn. You deviate, you cringe. And here in Buffalo, the most Catholic city in the country, it is almost guaranteed that you can't start up something new. The certain response is mockery; a kind of sure, yeah, go ahead and give it a try, but you'll be back working for your dad soon enough. Buffalo is the place were dreams meet reality!

This is how abused people must respond. Free thinking is scary. Around here, good enough really is good enough, and maybe that's how it should be. The more we talk excellence, the more it seems another hail Mary pass for what at best is snow-bound and mediocre. Suicide in Buffalo, after all, is dramatically redundant.

And yet somehow there remain theatrical productions of almost every sort nearly every night of every week no matter what they do in the Big City. My very favorite is having a kind of NPR-style might-go-out-of-business fundraiser tonight, where I hope to see you. Live music and a reading from subversive Santa!

The Colbert Report
Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
A Colbert Christmas: Another Christmas Song

Colbert Report Full Episodes
Political Humor
U.S. Speedskating

Urban farming takes root in Buffalo too - and I even heard about an urban fish farm, taking advantage of the fact of basements, no matter the condition of their wooden cover. Why not, right? Water holds incredible quantities of heat, and can be charged up when everyone else is driving. Sell the fish and pay for the heat! We sure have lots of water.

I'm writing on Catholic autopilot now too. I have a simple mantra, and I can't seem to find any way to say it better, so I just recite it over and over like counting my rosary beads. Eventually, my I is expendable even to myself. That's the trouble with having an agenda. Or the hope.

Without any agenda, in my dreams, I was loved just for my being. That time so long ago now that I can't even project myself there, when I had no sense of shame and no need to perform on any level. Before the zits could make me insecure, such were our worries in the suburbs. Before there was any need for comparison shopping. Before even Mom had hopes for me. I've been beside myself for love, but never could do anyone quite proud enough. I've been oppressed by me.

So, as you know, I've fixated on a spice rack, my agenda for yesterday left over from the day before. I have no room now in my cupboards for all the junk I've mashed into this apartment. I'm too tired to throw any more away. I found some hooks to put coffee mugs outside the tiny cupboards. For those, I had to take a walk into my color-blind spot; the other way in my cognitive map of this post-modern urban landscape. Underneath the rainbow style of my own neighborhood, lurk cool divides which still tend black and white.

My ears were bitten from the driving snow, and I had to drive myself in any case to larger shops farther afield. My car's heater core is as old and clogged as my heart, and as expensive to replace. I became a Tibetan for a day then, on my Xanadu quest to find a spice-rack without resorting to the Internet. My excuse was that I had to stop by to fix my daughter's car, which was too far away to walk. And the subway - not quite on my cognitive map either - passes by no likely spots for spice racks.

Tibetan quests are always the goal they seek, where what you learn along the way provides relief for the vacancy of the goal once accomplished. The nothing after the layers of the onion get peeled. The fact that I could easily have assembled lumber, screws, and paint to build my spice rack before burning all that gas, in a fraction of the time it took to search.

I need more space for food in my cupboards, and I can't see cinnamon from pepper flakes up at eye level behind the rest. Cinnamon tastes really weird on pizza, trust me, and would never make it out of Buffalo like once-garbage chicken wings did.

Driving then, absurdly around cars sidelined by the inevitable bent fenders of first snow, my ears perked up when NPR Science Friday did a radio show on patenting genes. Genetic defectives who need to know whether to lop off their breasts must pay a company which owns that patent to find out if they've got the patented gene.

This is serious business, and people wonder out loud if there's any charity left in the world. Or if the only way there is to harness greed. Or if greed is just motive, and no trouble with that, except what ever happened to research motivated simply to true our understandings with reality? Is saving lives the same as selling widgets?

Like all such things, the point is reduced to minuscule punning differences among meanings. What is nature and what is artifice, what is science and what is art, what is discovery, what is invention? What is the difference anyhow between natural law and laws of nature? Perhaps the only difference is when a claim gets staked. Eureka! I've deciphered the code of nature, and now I claim it for my own.

There are elaborated sets of terms, and manuals of usage, to guard the way in to any advanced discussions. Citations which can and must be made to true these words and get at what essentially has already reached some point beyond absurdity. But you would never know it without a life's worth of study. So go, and be the first, and for a time you'll own it. You'll be filthy rich before the courts catch up. Before the side effects take hold. Before the Ponzi scheme that is life's perpetuation falls apart.

Still, I was compelled to listen since I've been following this discussion for quite a while. I moved Ira Flatow over to my internet-connected phone so I could continue listening even while connecting the battery charger to her car so that my daughter has some independence after I bring her home from college. I have no memory of what I did, and so when her mother called to wonder if it was I who hooked the car up, I could only conclude that it obviously must have been. Would someone else have done it?

Perhaps it is natural that Buffalo provides a center for Secular Humanism. We are among the most churchgoing and religious cities in the land - for some reason, I think we're at the very top. Perhaps it is inevitable that a scholar at the center of these debates about patenting genes should have gotten his start here, as my student at a school with Catholic roots; at a University with aspirations to aspire to greatness but where good enough is still good enough. And as executive director of that center for atheistic rationality. I also, did I mention, am not nor ever have been Catholic.

Apart from the snow, I know that driving during the shopping season is a dream here in Buffalo. I know that the traffic is infinitely more slight than wherever you live. And yet I had no patience at all to navigate and negotiate parking, to wonder from which side the hit might come; the slide; the crash. Walking across parking lots rather than to commit the absurdity to move my car from big box to big box, and realizing that once inside the car, the drivers no longer see those of us walking as real.

I had no patience, and so I entered a dream state myself, detached from the car, detached from my frozen feet and ears, marvelling that anyone could find anything they needed among the endless shelves overstocked with want. Spice racks galore, though most came intact with certified-sanitary jars full already. I could find nothing that I needed, and only things that I might want but have no room for. Bizarrely, some of these over-elaborations cost half the price I would ultimately spend for simple racks to hold the jars I already own for free when paying, supposedly, for their contents.

I finally found my spice rack at a local hardware chain store. This one's a holdout from just before national big-box, but just after the local stores got destroyed. They somehow cling to their niche by remaining small enough to navigate in a single bite, but large enough to overlap the really big box places. A sort of convenience store for between Home Despot forays.

Where people follow you and wonder what you're looking for in imitation of the old days. My old friend of a friend Danny Nevearth used to advertise them on TV. He was king of radio in Buffalo once, when radio was king. He turned out to be nearly as engaging on TV ads.

Now there's someone else who preserves his moves for those TV advertisements - I imagine Danny became too expensive? I wonder if he gets a royalty from those moves, or are there still things you can't patent? I saw a Julia Roberts look-alike on an Internet ad (you can see her too, just above, and see if you agree). Maybe it really was her? But, no you can't imagine she'd stoop to that. I wonder what the laws are for impersonation?

Well, I impersonate a real person most of the time. Or maybe all of us just simulate a time when something seemed more real. Maybe we're all just acting out by rote, behaviors which once were real. As in my writing, I just rehearse my stupid mantra. There's no one here anymore. There's only rote.

Or. Well, I've got to go now and see how the battery charged on my daughter's dormant car. I'm the energizer bunny. I'm on autopilot. There is a drug now which can be administered just as you are exciting memories, and which will selectively destroy them. It shows promise for traumatic stress syndromes. White-out for your disorders.

I also learned - on the radio of all places - that there is evidence that simple rote learning of phonics actually does build "white matter" in the brain for kids with trouble reading. I taught for a while at a school for dyslexic boys - I think that term's fallen out of favor - where we all learned to drill like that. That was when whole language was in and out of favor, and everyone was gifted.

Gosh, I remember trying to write a paper for a graduate course in Progressive Education, to qualify the certainties of "whole language". No wonder I always sound the fool - the science isn't there yet.

So, maybe rote will bring Jesus back down to earth after all. Maybe the very words will be made flesh, like white matter in the brain. Maybe if we just white out the guilty remains of magical thinking that if you break this chain of spam. And maybe with practice the brain can be reconstructed, and the sense will come back in to the words. Maybe we've just forgotten how to read. Maybe not.