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!!

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