Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A View From The Edge Of Town

     I’m sitting at the edge of town, or rather, I am sitting where the edge of town used to be. A block away from the locally owned coffee shop where I now sit lies the world of tomorrow, a dystopian vision of faceless corporations and computerized interactions.
     Just beyond—I would see it if the shades were opened—is the world of Walmart,as well as a collection of chain stores that have glommed on to the area that surrounds the interstate exit of this and every other moderate-sized town. It contains the same shops that you can find in every small city everywhere: Starbucks, Applebees, Buffalo Wild Wings, Perkins, etc. It sits upon land that used to be family farms while buildings sit vacant in the downtown area.
     The lights are a little brighter on the new end of town, everything a little newer. But crossing that line I can feel it, a palpable anxiety. I was just there, I had stopped at the Starbucks in order to relax for a moment before finishing up the necessary Christmas shopping. But somehow relaxation does not seem to occur in this area. The stores are all crowded and I find myself becoming impatient. The roads are busy and I find myself disliking my fellow man as they drive by in their vehicles, not having to care for others because they are insulated from them.
     I swear to God we are missing out on things by converting our society over to a mass-consumption culture, a streamlined process of getting as much for your money as you can. There is more than just the exchange of money for goods that leads to human happiness. I don’t have to explain it to know it’s real, I feel it. I feel it and if I could only quiet the urge inside me to keep moving forward, to consume more and more, I’m sure I could find intellectual reasons as well. Something is missing, something important. The accumulation of goods is the basest form of pleasure we can experience. It is something that, once the necessities have been acquired, should be set aside so that we can experience the deeper joys of life. But it’s being force-fed to us the way food is shoved down a goose’s throat to fatten its liver. We have lost the capacity to slow down and reflect, and so we are unable to get free of the machine that drives us onward.
     I sit here alone in this independently owned coffee shop thinking about what I don’t want us to become and realize that we’ve already become it. My hope lies in the belief that once we realize what we’ve created we will reject the choice we made. We will observe what we have created in all its shallowness, wastefulness, and inanity and seek a different path. We will shrink somewhat from what we have been mislabeling progress and embrace some of what humanity has held sacred for untold centuries. We will appreciate once more the things that truly bring sweetness and joy to our lives rather than driving in our oversized vehicles to acquire as many products as possible. It’s not a radical idea, it is merely stepping back from a precipice we have found ourselves at. It is the correction of a behavior that has not gotten us where we want to be. It may take some effort at first to train ourselves to make different decisions, but that is what grown-ups do when facing life’s moments of decision.

     This is not some kind of regression, nor some vain dream of a better world that lies somewhere in an imagined past. It’s simply an admission that we have screwed up. It’s realizing we have to take a step back in order to move towards the world we want to live in. Of course the machinery that is in place will try to talk us out of stepping away from the reality it seeks to weave for us. But arguments and propaganda can only go so far in persuading us to pursue a lifestyle we know deep down is killing us spiritually, is killing the world literally. The machine is quite large, its influence quite strong. But it is not reality, will never be reality. In the end humanity will triumph over the machine it has built to move us forward. In the end we will abandon a vehicle which we can no longer steer but seeks to steer our course for us. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

War Or Peace

You cannot make war on war, you can only make peace on war. You cannot profess to fight for peace, only work for it. War and peace are alternative paths we can take, different kinds of behavior. They are opposite paths. It is a choice we must make, war or peace.

Once you commit to peace you must leave behind the weapons of war, the mindsets that permit you to see the other as the enemy. You must beat the swords into plows and start tilling the earth, plant seeds rather than attempt to burn the crops of your neighbor.

To believe in peace you must help your neighbor rather than withholding your help for fear of him using your vulnerability to harm you.

Make no mistake, when you choose war you have chosen war. You do not choose war in order to achieve peace. When you choose war you have abandoned peace. When you choose war you abandon the very ideas that make peace possible.

When you choose war you choose “me” over “us”. You choose fear over hope.

Even when war leads to victory it plants the seeds of future wars. No vanquished nation or people ever forgets their defeat. The wounds of war never heal. They fester, for years, decades, centuries, until the time for vengeance arrives. And that vengeance is but another justification for their enemy in times to come.

Peace is the planting of seeds for the future, an optimism. War is a succumbing to the immediate fear. A commitment to peace requires faith while war is a surrendering to the fear that is the basest instinct of our animal nature. It is the fallback, the final position when all else has failed, just as an ill-adjusted adult falls back to infantile patterns of behavior when confronted with a situation he cannot control. As one of Isaac Asimov fictional characters was fond of saying, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

The thing is, it may work for some…for a while. And from that, others deduce that it is a valuable tool or perhaps a necessary one, an ever-present threat to be held against others in order to entice them to the bargaining table. But show me the nation that has risen by war that has not fallen in the same manner. What works for the individual does not work for a nation. What works for the life-span of a human will devour a country in the span of several human lifetimes. And beyond that, what works for the individual is toxic for the whole. Humanity has endured through war not because it is an inevitability but because its scope has so far been limited. But larger and more destructive tools of mass-destruction have been filtering into more and more hands. With the greater proliferation of such weapons will come the increased desire to use war as a means of protection against such weapons. At some point the desire for individuals and nations to protect themselves will mean the end of us all.

There is no peace that war provides. Even those who believe in war have no ultimate answer as to how we can forever forestall nuclear war. They provide no vision of a nuclear-free future, no security. They offer only immediate actions to stave off whatever the most pressing problems might be. But the road they propose we take has only one endpoint. War leads to war, not peace. Choose now the path you wish to take.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


The problem with fear is that it keeps you from appreciating how miraculous life is and how blessed you are. The time spent fearing and distrusting your fellow man is time not spent appreciating how they make your life not only better but possible. When you break things down into “us” and “them” then you fail to feel the gratitude you should for what they do for you.
     And make no mistake, gratitude is a wonderful feeling, as well as being an essential element for spiritual health. You cannot feel happy without feeling gratitude, one flows naturally from the other. And if you are incapable of gratitude, you will never know happiness.
     Some people are do-it-yourselfers, and I respect and admire that. I wish I was the kind who could build my own garage, re-wire my house, or grow my own food. But even the most self-sufficient of us requires the fruits of other people’s labor. Even those living out in the wilderness have with them possessions that were made by others, perhaps on the other side of the world.
     From time to time I might find myself lying in bed and aware of all of the work that has gone into the building of the house my wife and I am fortunate enough to call our own. I assure you that such an awareness brings a greater sense of gratitude than were my home a palace. Not only have people I never met put together the walls from timber and drywall, someone has cut down the trees so that other people at a mill might fashion the wood into proper building material. People have installed plumbing and electrical items whose component parts come from all corners of the world. Somebody mined the copper, somebody shipped it, while others transformed it into the wires that lay hidden within the walls and bring to me the miracle of electricity that is possible because of the people working at the power plant, using coal that was mined in Kentucky coal mines and shipped to us up Lake Michigan. And let us not forget those who repair the wires that bring the electricity to our houses, those who create the appliances it powers, etc.
     You see, we are incredibly interdependent. And we are all part of an immensely complex system. Even those who do not seem to contribute are still a part of it. And before we judge those we believe are not contributing sufficiently to the greater good, perhaps we should first ask ourselves if we are adequately rewarding those who do so much for us? Are we providing those who give us life-sustaining food an adequate piece of a pie that is large enough to provide for all? Is their work not as vital as any, and if so should they not be compensated accordingly? Not only those who own the land and the equipment but those who work long hours in the field. There are many working long hours in developing nations to provide the clothes and electronics we feel is our rightful payment for the work we do, and yet those individuals are not driving around in new cars. Often, they do not even have adequate shoes to walk where they need to get.
     But instead of appreciation for those who provide so much for us, we often fear and judge those whom we believe may be taking from us. When I think of all those who have worked to build the house I have, the books I read and music I listen to, gratitude takes the place of fear. Fear is a self-indulgence we cannot afford. And by fear I include hatred, for hatred is just a reaction of the fearful to those they fear.

     We are all in this together whether we like it or not. We are all going to survive because we have found a way to live together or we will perish because we have not. Demagogues try and turn one against the other, always for the benefit of a few who profit from all. It is our job not only to do the work that brings us our daily bread and the bounty we sometimes fail to appreciate, but to ensure that others who do their job are taken care of as well. That is what gratitude is all about, and it is not a burden but a source of joy. Life would not be so sweet nor rich without it.

Monday, December 21, 2015

A Big Change Has Begun

     We are all frightened daily by news we hear regarding the state of the world, frightened by glimpses of problems seemingly too big to be solved. Panic does nothing to help, it merely gives us the impulse to run away. Sometimes it gives us that initial jolt of adrenaline, but our inability to conceive of a path of action eventually causes us to turn away.
     It is the fight or flea impulse--with which we are all familiar—on a societal level. We mostly choose flight, we avoid doing anything, and so choose to live in a bubble and pretend that we are safe in it. Turning inward is society’s equivalent of flight. And when some demagogue comes around and plays upon our fears, then society turns to the fight impulse. Whatever grand delusions we have about ourselves being individuals, creatures on par with lions, we are herd creatures that succumb to the common mind when we are troubled. We gather around, afraid to wander too far from the herd. Humans don’t do this physically but intellectually. When we become frightened, we constrict our thoughts so that they do not stray too far from the herd mentality. It is how we are designed as a species and an area of study too little researched as of yet, at least by those who would seek to do good with the results. I suspect advertisers and special interest groups could give us insights into such behavior, though they use such knowledge for personal gain.
     Many adult human beings have experienced the urge to fight or flee, at least on a personal level. To truly mature into a well-functioning adult means you are able to overcome to a good degree those baser impulses of fight or flee. You learn wisdom, real wisdom, understanding that such basic reflexes can often lead you astray. You have learned that to accomplish the goals you wish to accomplish you must set aside your fears and work with a fixed determination towards those goals, putting aside your fear and anger. Those fears never go away but you learn to identify them for what they are and keep them in check when you start to notice them influencing your behavior in a negative way.
     Perhaps society too is in the process of maturing, of learning how to gain control over such a herd mentality of fear and anger that so often leads us into war and financial disaster. It certainly doesn’t feel like that now, it seems the world is in utter chaos, and the best thing we can do is either to confront things with violence or else flee from attempting to deal with the situation at all. Here is an alternate viewpoint, one which I think appeals more to the adult in us, mature creatures living in an increasingly mature society, despite whatever fears and doubts we may harbor.
     Our era already has a good idea of the problems it has to face, it is merely taking its time to gather its courage. It is taking its time, too, to make sure it deals with the pressing problems of its day not merely with courage but with wisdom. Courage alone is how people of a century ago faced their problems and it created world wars. We today know we cannot confront our obstacles in such a manner. As frightening and destructive as the technology was then, our advances will make such an approach the end of human civilization.
     So we wait and we debate. We wait although emotion and passion pulses strongly within our veins. We wait as Hamlet once waited in order to ensure that balance is once again restored.
     We tread cautiously because we have seen the danger of courage unbound by humility. That does not make us weak, it makes us wise.
     That might seem like an unrealistically optimistic view of the situation as it now stands. All dramatic turnarounds begin in such a manner. That is how it is done. Humanity must put the skids on and come to a decision about where our lives are heading and then make adult decisions about how we want to spend our lives from here on out. It happens with individuals everyday. A drug addict decides to quit or seek treatment, an overweight person decides to get his eating under control, a worker decides upon a career path that will lead him to a degree of success. People turn their lives around all the time. So will society once it admits to the situation it now finds itself.
     It will begin with individuals, deciding a change has to take place. These individuals will encounter like-minded others and be encouraged and assisted by them. And once it has hit a critical mass, that herd mentality that has been resisting the change that must come will suddenly become its greatest asset.
     It will come. It has to come. We are ready because we must be ready. We wish to be more, we all do. We want a society that is equitable, a society that nurtures the best aspects of human beings. We have great things inside us and we all want a chance to let them grow. It’s time now, we are adults who are ready to live our lives. We are a race that has seen too much mindless bloodshed and indifference to our fellow man.

     It has begun. Minds all over the world are locked into a commitment to a better world. This is not like the adolescent well-meaning but immature rumblings of the 1960s. This is the maturation of the human species that does not want to be an addict or a screw up any longer. This is not believing, it is doing. It has begun.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Message From Climate Change Deniers To Their Descendants

     It seems that the internet will be around for a while, perhaps forever. Very few of us have stopped to consider how much data we will be leaving behind for our descendents. We will be known to our descendants in a way no other generation has. A hundred years from now it is quite likely that our great grandchildren will be able to search back through the limitless data and get to know us through our comments, pictures, videos, etc. that we have posted on Facebook, Twitter and elsewhere. Actually, it’s quite likely it will go far beyond the things you have posted with your name on it and include the crabby rants you posted on YouTube and elsewhere because you hid behind your anonymity. I have to think technology a hundred years from now will make everything you do online now easily accessible to them.
     I know, the idea that your great grandchildren will know how you spent your on-line life is pretty disturbing. But there’s a positive side to it too. A hundred years from now, your offspring will know about the valiant struggles you made on their behalf, will see your prescience and wisdom in every Facebook comment and Tweet you ever made. They will see the brave stance you took against the prevailing wisdom and how you sacrificed yourself for what you thought was right.
     So I’m offering you this opportunity to share for posterity your stance you are now taking on climate change. Consider this a time capsule, if you will, destined for your progeny a hundred years hence.
     I’m asking all of you who have taken a firm stance against the idea that climate change is in any way man-made to post a message to the future. Let them know that when the overwhelming majority of the scientific community warned of the direness of man-made global warming that you stood against the onslaught of propaganda from such self-serving, short-term-interested philistines. Let your descendents know that the word they live in is the result of the wisdom and courage that you and others like you once possessed.
     Don’t be modest. I’m sure that the future world would love to know about the trials and tribulations of their ancestors, will be proud of the sacrifices you were willing to make so that they could live in a better world. Let them know about the tireless research you did to counteract the so-called facts Twenty-First Century science was throwing in your faces. Spell out for them the obstacles you had to overcome in order to drive your SUVs and live in oversized homes, how you had to battle to resist the invasion of windmills and solar panels that the government was trying to jamb down our throats.

     So please, leave a comment. Leave your full name so your descendents will know who you are. Leave the name of your children if you have any, where you come from and any unique facts about yourself, just to make sure your descendants know they have found the right person. And then let them know you opposed any actions against climate change. I’m sure they will be proud to know they came from such brave, forward-thinking stock.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Support Peace, Or At Least Share In The Cost Of War

     War is the failure to achieve peace. Preserving peace is the job of the politician, war is their failure. The warrior is needed when the politician has failed. The politician’s job is not to send men to war but to prevent the need for their sacrifices. No politician should be lauded for sending men to war, rather he should have to pay the price as much as anyone else. But they never do, at least not if the war is won.
     I support soldiers, but not by supporting war, anymore than I would be supporting fire fighters by supporting arson. Arsonists should be sent to jail.
     I support those in the medical field as well, but shouldn’t we do everything we can to avoid injury and illness? If we want to help doctors and nurses, if we want to improve the overall health of society, shouldn’t we be stressing prevention above all else? If a car crash happens and medical personnel race to the scene to aide those who are wounded, are we to be accused of not supporting them if we were to call for rerouting traffic away from the site of the crash in order to avoid further damage?
     It is the soldiers and their families who alone pay the price for war. It used to be that when the country went to war the homefront was expected to make sacrifices. In Word War One people were encouraged to grow victory gardens. During World War Two there were rubber drives, paper drives and scrap drives. Women did without silk stockings so that silk could be used in the production of parachutes for the troops. Food was rationed, gas was rationed, everybody knew it was their duty to do their part.

     I remember our President’s speech after the events of September 11, 2001. The one thing that sticks in my mind was his call for us to go about our daily business, “to go shopping”. Consuming and behaving like shoppers, that now seems to be who we are as Americans. Maybe it seems normal now but I guarantee you it would have seemed plain wrong to my father or my grandfather, both soldiers in the two great wars.

     I remember also in the days after the war in Iraq began, the sudden appearance of bumper stickers on SUVs that proudly proclaimed We Support Our Troops. No, you don’t, you support war. Not the same thing. You support war for oil. You support converting the blood of our soldiers, not to mention the blood of others in nations you will never visit, into fuel for your oversized vehicle. You might not want to hear it, so you’ll probably try to shout the idea out of your head and become outraged until I silence myself. But it’s true. We didn’t go to Iraq to help the Iraqis, we didn’t go there to make the region a safer place, and we sure didn’t go to war for the sake of the troops, who had to leave their lives and families behind.

     So I’m going to say it, even if it makes me unpopular, even if I have to pay a price for it. Because I think if our country is sending its troops into battle we should all have to pay a price for it. We can’t continue to go putting the price of war on our credit card, increasing the national debt because we don't want to really know the costs of war. Support the troops. Demand that your politicians do their job by finding better solutions than war. Support peace. And if such concepts are too foreign to you, at least do your part in the war effort. Because once you start to be inconvenienced by war, maybe it won't look like such a convenient option.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Walmart And The End Of The Mom And Pop Store

     The story’s a familiar one, isn’t it, a shopkeeper is paid a visit by a group of thugs who suggest that they are there to provide protection for the store owner…for a small monthly fee. It’s a polite way of saying that if you don’t pay them a hefty percentage of your profits they’re going to destroy your business and you will be without a livelihood. A crime organization puts the squeeze on all the businesses in town and soon the innocent little town of free people becomes a place of fear and intimidation. The criminal organization is like some blood-sucking leech that gets fat while the healthy and hardworking hosts are sucked dry until they are barely living.
     I thought of this the other day while sitting in the car at a strip mall while waiting for my wife. Around me was a group of stores, the same stores you’re likely to see at a strip mall near you. There was a tax preparation business, a hair stylist, a nutrition store, a sandwich shop, and a nail spa. And every single one of them was a chain store. Every single one of them was identical to the one in the strip mall closest to you.
     It didn’t used to be that way. I’m old enough to remember independent businesses in my home town, which by the way was the epitome of suburbia, not Mayberry. We had a pharmacy, a hair salon, a tax preparer, a book store, a record store, garden shop, an optician, an electronics dealer and a grocery. Today we call that Walmart.
     The thing is, every one of those independent business men are now working for Walmart at whatever price Walmart decides to pay them. And if it’s not Walmart, it’s some other chain. All those small business owners used to play a special role in the town, used to know that they contributed to their community in a meaningful way. Now they are interchangeable cogs in the corporate machine. Where once they met their neighbors and chatted while doing their job, now they seem like lifeless drones as the plod through their working day. Visit a Walmart pharmacy sometime if you don’t know what I’m talking about.
     An independent pharmacist, butcher, or shop owner used to know his customers and was able to accommodate them. Now they have to work by the rules the corporate entity sets out for them. My grandfather was a butcher and I remember hearing stories about how he’d slip a little extra to people he knew were having trouble making ends meet. You can’t do that sort of thing these days.

     Like I said, my grandfather was a butcher. He had his own store. He managed to raise thirteen children doing that sort of work. Today the average wage for a butcher is $12.40 an hour. Try feeding a family of fifteen on that. Oh, I know, they’ve simplified the process so that a butcher no longer needs to be as knowledgeable as he was fifty years ago, his skill set is no longer worth as much. But how is that progress when it only hurts the person doing the work? Who is profiting? It’s not the butcher, the baker, the barber or clerk. Society is no longer based on what is best for the individual or the community but what is most profitable for the corporations. And it’s only getting worse. The theory is we all end up benefitting, but try telling that to the butcher with mouths to feed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 16

The greatest artistic talent of our day is busy constructing packaging rather than art.

Brave men need people looking after them, people to say enough, no more. This holds true for boxers as well as soldiers. Don't send people to get hurt when they have nothing to gain from it. Don't let others profit from the bravery of others.

Morality is really no different on a societal scale than for individuals. I do what I feel to be moral and right because I truly believe it will benefit me and in some small way the world. It's not so much about making rules for others to follow so much as setting an example that others will want to follow.

Hate doesn’t need a reason, just an excuse.

All countries memorialize the dates when they were wronged, but never do they recall the wrongs they have done. Looked at from the inside, each nation is blameless.

We can judge without understanding, but if we are able to truly understand, we will not be able to judge.

We can disagree on 95% of the problems facing the world, but if we are able to work together on the 5% we agree on, we can make the world a better place.

Weak arguments hide behind strong emotions.

Many seek the path of judgment rather than the path of understanding. But how do you judge what you do not understand? And understanding, how can one then judge?

We all have a role to play and it is nobody’s role to despair. It would be a poorly written play if there was, a group of characters sitting around awaiting an inevitable end. Nor is it your role to fault your fellow performers, to tell them their actions are wrong. Play your role as it is written in your heart and let the written words come to life.

Arrogance passes as intelligence to the ignorant.

The problem with a philosophy or a belief is that you soon start changing the facts to fit it.

Wisdom that does not lead to contentment is not wisdom. It is better to be a happy fool than a miserable wise man.

Our society needs more grandmothers and less facelifts, more grandfathers and less ED pills.

A philosophy becomes a religion the moment you replace questioning with belief, when you forget that is but one way among many to see the world.

Difficult questions, even if never fully answered, are still more useful than simple answers.

Walls are Illusions, illusions are walls. There are no borders that are not artificial, no “over there”, no place called “away” where we can throw something. We cannot wall ourselves off, at least not for long. There is no hiding place. We cannot lock something away without it festering in the darkness. There is no there and them, there is only here and us.

The more you have the less you have need of your fellow man and the more you begin to fear them.

The more you see differences, the more you see the need for walls, bars, and guns.
Our society currently respects profit more than work, which means that it gives a higher regard to those who take rather than give.

Christian, Jew, Liberal, or Conservative. If you are a halfway thoughtful person you will inevitably end up being embarrassed by whatever group you identify with.

Assuredly science is superior to religion in understanding the physical universe. But maybe, just maybe, religion is better at seeing our position in relation to that universe.

You were born to solve the problems you confront, not complain that nobody is doing anything about them. If you see and feel a problem so acutely, who better than yourself to solve it?

Dinosaurs had brains the size of marbles but even they weren’t dumb enough to cause their own extinction.

It is dangerous to ignore facts, just as it is dangerous to become too enamored with them.

The job of keeping you informed and enlightened will never pay as well as the job of keeping you misinformed and frightened.

Perhaps the one unanswerable question in life is why so many of us choose to live in a fantasy world of our own creation that offers us nothing but pain.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Miracle Of Loaves And Fishes, Another Perspective

     When I was a younger and more impressionable person, I chanced upon a documentary that dealt with the Dead Sea Scrolls. One line of thinking that someone expressed was that the Gospels were intended to be secular rather than miraculous. One example given was the story of the loaves and fishes. Rather than giving a supernatural explanation to the story, the hypothesis went that rather than miraculously transforming a few loaves and fishes into enough to feed thousands, Jesus rather was able to reach the faith of those in attendance, so that those who had enough and more were willing to share with those who did not. In other words, as the scant rations the Apostles began with were passed around, more was added to it.
     The idea frightened me at the time, needing as I did a literal interpretation of The Bible, needing to know some father-figure sky god kept an eye out for me, for all of us. But it stuck with me, perhaps because it shook me.
     Looking back on it now, I see the beauty of the story when told in this way. After all, what a small thing it is to produce food from nowhere. Mankind has been doing that since civilization began, planting seeds into the ground and reaping the harvest. They have cast their nets blindly into the sea and brought from it fish. Through the centuries, man’s capacity to produce food has grown to miracle-like levels, so that now we pay farmers to not grow food. Walk into your local grocery store and witness the amazing ability of modern man to bring foods from all over the world to your part local supermarket. I was in the grocery store yesterday and the different kinds of apples they had was astounding. The variety of foods on display would have blown the minds of the mightiest emperor a millennia ago.
     But for all our ability to produce food in abundance, we have yet to learn how to share it for all to have enough.
     I remember visiting my grandmother when I was a child. Hers was the sweetest smile I have ever seen. There was an utter lack of selfishness about her, and it inspired me to do anything she would have asked me. Day or night, people would drop in on her, and there was seldom a moment without visitors. My fondest memories are being at her house.
     And the people who came to visit were always welcomed, always offered whatever it is they required. And in return people were always dropping by to offer something in return, a box of candy, vegetables fresh-picked from the garden or fish from the river.
     That to me, looking back at it now, was a miracle. It felt miraculous as a child but I really never reflected too much on it: children tend to accept the miraculous without feeling the need to ask questions about it.

     I’m not a Biblical scholar, and even if I was I would not like to thrust my opinions on such sublime matters as these. But I do see the beauty of interpreting the miracle of the loaves and fishes in such a manner. Ah, to reach the hearts of those who have and teach them to share is in itself a miracle. And it is a story more in need of telling than the idea that we should leave it in the hands of God to make the world a better place. After all, we will never have enough for all if we do not learn to trust in sharing.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Winners Of The Book Giveaway Announcement

Thanks for coming to visit my site. The winning numbers for the giveaway are 19 and 14 (You see, together they are 1914, the year the First World War started, which is kind of relevant to my newest novel, Seven Stones. If you had one of these numbers, email me at and I will send you a copy of whatever book of mine you would like. Be sure to tell me what number you had and be sure to include the password so I know you're the legitimate winner. Thanks for playing.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

First Words Of A New Novel

The year is 1917 and the first World War is raging. Meanwhile, our protagonist has seen too much and prefers escaping to Northern Ontario than serving in the military. Here then is the beginning of the sequel to Seven Stones, tentatively titled Shell Shock:

      Steam rose from the backs of four horses as they struggled to pull a heavily loaded sled up a snow-covered hill. On either side of them, as far as the eye could see, trees too small for harvest were left standing amid large gaps where giant pines once stood. Behind the horses was a sled filled with the timber of once mighty trees, piled so high that even sitting at the lower end of the hill it stood taller than the magnificent draft animals.
     One would have thought their task impossible, but the horses worked in unison with what the loggers standing nearby recognized as pride. Both man and beast tested their limits in this wilderness, and those that were not broken by their labor were changed by it nevertheless.
     Within the muscles of the straining horses surged the very essence of life, the urge to test itself against whatever the outside world demanded of it. They were horses at the nexus of youth and experience at their work. And they pushed towards the summit without any conception of failure, nostrils flaring to release steamy breath into the cold morning air. An occasional whinny came forth like a grunt of affirmation as they pulled.
     A man stood atop the pile of logs, holding the reigns. He shouted encouragement, but the horses needed no external motivator: their task was clear. And so they lurched, gaining inch by inch, until the first two horses stood upon the crest, and then the others. A final effort pulled the sled over the hump.
     But there was no rest to be had upon the top, no slow transition to a gentler labor. No sooner did the sled reach the apex than the very gravity that had held the sled back now moved it towards them. Slowly at first, so slowly that it gave the horses an instant of relief, a brief sense of triumph. But quickly the horses found the situation had changed. Suddenly their burden had become a pursuer, like some predator out of their primordial past. Now they needed not to pull but to flee. And because they were harnessed together, they could not afford to give in to the urge to panic.
     Behind them a thick rope was connected to the back of the sled, attached to a strange device that contained a series of pulleys on the other side of which was a group of men who sought to slow the sled’s descent. The driver pulled back on the reigns in order to remind them that he was in charge. It was his task to keep the horses from giving in to their instinct to panic, the powerful compulsions that had helped their bloodlines survive for untold generations. His was the hand that would keep them functioning as a unit.
Their pride and discipline held, although nervousness could be seen in their wide-open eyes and the involuntary tics that made their ears twitch and their tails tuck. Such discipline was more of an effort to them than the upward pull, more against their nature.
     Large hooves found solid footing on the path that had been well prepared for them by those whose job it was to tend the ice road. Hot sand had been shoveled upon the freshly fallen snow. Behind them it was the men’s turn to pull, and they applied themselves with all the pride and animal intensity the horses had shown, intent on keeping the sled under control.
     The horses were perhaps a third of the way down the hill that was a not so gentle twenty foot decline when the first snap of the rope was heard. Strong men stared helplessly at the quickly unraveling cords as the horses seemed to sense the danger. The men released the rope faster, hoping the horses could make it to the bottom while it still held. But the fiber continued to uncoil until with a last quick snap it let go.
     No time seemed to pass between the snap and the look of terror that alit in the eyes of the horses. Panic arose in them but it was checked by their experience and awareness of the situation. Perhaps such knowledge resided not in thought but merely in muscle memory, still they were reacting to their predicament in a controlled manner. They needed to run, but they needed to run as a unit. They would have to keep pace with the load bearing down on them without straining unduly at their harnesses. They would have to use all the energy panic provided without surrendering to it.
     The driver tried to help them in this, sought to provide direction and control. But the initial snap of the rope had launched the sled forward, so that he was facing his own battle to remain his perch atop the logs.
     It was a single misplaced hoof that did them in, a slight break of the rhythm that kept them operating as a single entity. Even then they might have recovered had it not been for one of the horses in that back that was a little younger and newer to the job. Panic arose in him with an intensity that silenced any other concerns. Abandoning the thought of teamwork, he strained against the harness with all the life that was in him. The other horses still struggled to work in concert, but it was futile. There was no unity, no time to react as a team. Panic soon spread among them all.
     In the mindless jostle of animals attempting to flee, it was a short time before one of them went down. It almost managed to regain its footing but by that time he had brought the horse next to him to the ground as well. The two front horses continued pulling madly, each in a different direction. Before the rear horses could get their legs back under them, the sled was upon them, the thick steel runners slicing effortlessly through muscles that short moments ago had spent their efforts providing the sled’s momentum.
     The driver had already been thrown, or else had judged the situation hopeless and jumped from the impending disaster. Nobody would have blamed him—a jump from such a height would not have been made lightly. The sled did not get past the fallen horses before the reins tightened, tipping over the already top-heavy sled. Amid the noise of the crashing sled, of men hurling curses and logs breaking free from their restraints, the cries of the horses cut through the chaos. It reigned above the madness as the chief horror. All of their pride and vitality in the end had brought them nothing but this. Cursing and shaking his head as he walked down the path towards the horses, the foreman reached into his Mackinaw jacket and pulled out a pistol.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 15

I've re-read these and still think they were thoughts worth thinking:

When you are at a loss for what to do, remember that the answer is to love, not hate, to have faith rather than fear. Always. Because love grows from love, hate from hate. Faith like fear radiates out into the world. Faith makes the world a safer place for us, though it does not always seem to be the case. Sometimes hate seems to be the safer course, but that is merely fear talking.

There are two ways people choose to look at humanity. The first is to subject humans to the worst possible conditions and respond to how they act by saying, “this is what humans are like beneath the veneer of civilization.” The second is to encourage people, forgive them when they have erred, and say “this is what we are capable of.”

You cannot effect positive change with negative thoughts and emotions.

Peaceful protest requires more courage than going to war. In war you can abandon yourself to primitive impulses, to the kill-or-be-killed mentality. The peaceful protester must face violence fully aware, must experience it with all the sensitivity civilization has imparted.

Once upon a time there was a law beyond the market, but no more. Once religion or love of king and country were foremost in a person’s mind, but now there is only profit.

The intellect is a boat which can take us to the very shores of understanding, but once there we must leave it behind in order to grasp true meaning.

To entertain a child is to open his eyes to a larger universe, to present new possibilities to him. But to entertain an adult is to distract him from that larger universe. An adult does not need to be entertained, he can truly experience life rather than have it explained.

We are too busy reacting to reflect. Leisure is our greatest treasure, and we have lost the ability to appreciate it.

You are not the man you were five years ago, you are the man he made.

A story is merely a vessel for something more important.

It is not whether you win or lose, it is the game you choose to play that matters most.

Never argue philosophy when facts are available—unless the facts are against you.

The longer one remains a fool, the harsher the lesson learned.

Technological progress will never compensate for our moral and spiritual shortcomings. In fact, in the final analysis, it will make matters even worse, will place powerful new tools in the hands of our lesser angels.

Life has not changed even slightly since the time it first appeared on the earth, merely the packaging, the bodies it wraps itself in.

Our greatest minds used to pursue beauty and truth, now they pursue marketing and amusement. There is no one looking out for us.

Perhaps big brother has not yet arrived, but we have left the door wide open for him, and set out the welcome mat.

The intellect does not enable one to experience the divine, but it can help spot the false prophet.

See it as it is, not how it fits into your life story. As you grow towards adulthood and begin to have an understanding of life, the pieces that do not fit the narrative you have written tend to fall to the wayside. So much we perceived in childhood is forgotten because it is inconvenient.

The more we are conscious of being observed the less we act according to our own motivations and act in reaction to those we believe are watching us. Who at work feels they are doing their best when they have the eyes of their supervisor on them? And when are we ever left to ourselves nowadays? When does someone have the opportunity to truly be an individual, the best person he can be? When do we write down our thoughts for ourselves rather than for an audience, when do we care more about what something means than how it is perceived?

We are caught between Eden and the Promised Land, believing there was once or ever will be a resting point.

No child believes he will look like his parents when he grows up. It is an idea too horrible for a young mind to contemplate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

How A New Novel Is Begun

I never would have dared share something like this before, but since I’m now on my fifth novel I’m comfortable enough with the process to know it’s going to work. It seems absurd on the face of it, to think that I take such crude, unrelated elements and weave them into a novel, but it’s the way it works for me. Some people couldn't imagine doing it on the fly and outline the entire story before they begin writing: such an approach is equally incomprehensible to me. For me, the story has to unfold itself, it has to grope its way from one location to the next. Sure, I’ll have my next destination somewhat in mind in order to guide me, but I always like to be surprised at how I get there and what direction it sparks me to head towards next. So here I am, throwing out a few things I have in my head which inspire me to write. And from them shall come another novel which I am confident I will be proud to say I wrote.

Opening Scene:
I have an image in my head of horses pulling a sled stacked with fallen trees up a big hill. Steam will be rising from their bodies as they exert themselves to the utmost. They are not sure why it is they must accomplish this task, but somehow the exertion seems to be what they were born to do. And so they labor and strive until at last the top is reached.
But as they reach the top they now realize that what once was a weight to be pulled is now a danger behind them. The weight of the sleigh is bearing down on them now with full force. They run madly to escape what is behind them, but in their madness they act individually and soon run into each other. One horse collapses, sending another and still another down, until the sled runs them down.
Our Main Character from the last novel, Seven Stones, will be witnessing the event. And to him he will see the world as it now is, a world that struggled to reach a higher summit only to see it all come crashing down upon them. It is 1917, and World War I is raging.
Doug Slattery is a draft dodger, avoiding the war by hiding in the woods of Northern Ontario. He has seen too much to view the fight as anything other than senseless. He has seen the promise of a better worlds slip away.
As a logger, he is part of the destruction of the natural habitat. So when odd things start happening in the region, he starts to think it is the result of the destruction he is a part of. Loggers go out in the woods but never come back. Their bodies are later found, horribly mangled. Is it some spirit of the woods out for revenge? Or is it some other form of butchery that is causing supernatural events? Gradually, Doug learns of an institution that is harboring veterans of the great war, shell-shocked wreckage from a devastation the likes of which the world has never known. The damage the war has done to them is still working its power through their war-ravaged minds. Doug will have to infiltrate the asylum disguised as a patient if he can hope to find the answers he will need to stop the horrors he has been witnessing. But the outside manifestations are but little compared to the madness within.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 14

In making the decision to reflect rather than react I have come up with my daily dose of observations.

I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe that those who do are capable of achieving things others would believe impossible.

Every moment of the day we are given the opportunity to think, to give birth to some new idea or perspective. How often when offered such an opportunity do we merely react?

It is better to have evidence without answers than to have answers without evidence.

Too much analysis always reveals imperfection. Any potential love interest will fall from angel to animal with enough scrutiny. Magic is killed by demanding too much proof.

Our primary motivator is not inspiration, a quest for happiness, morality, or a sense of purpose. It is habit that most determines our behavior.

I’d rather be optimistic and wrong than pessimistic and right.

Technology is becoming ever more marvelous, but what good does it do if it does not serve humanity?

What if the imbalance of the individual is necessary to the balance of society? What if making the individual “normal” through medication is making society as a whole abnormal?

Never trust those who talk philosophy when facts and science are readily available.

A country content to be directed by the free market will soon see Shakespeare and Plato replaced by the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo.

God is love, yes, but what if love is God? Does it require any less faith?

Those in the earnest pursuit of the truth are too busy in that pursuit to have time to refute every lie.

A rising tide lifts all boats, but it drowns those without one.

We live in a world we’ve created and yet do not understand.

I saw a starving child yesterday. The temptation was strong to help him, but I resisted. Instead, I told him to close his eyes and believe in the magic of the marketplace.

If you want to ensure that you have an accurate measurement, be sure to use more than one measuring device.

No society arises without religion and spirituality because you cannot use doubt as a base.

There is no such thing as a purely economic transaction. All transactions involve human beings with human considerations.

Truth is not the sort of thing you can draw a circle around and claim you have defined.

It is the easiest thing in the world to judge someone. It does not require understanding them, in fact judging them is an easy way of avoiding having to understand.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Random Thoughts Part 13

25 more ideas for blog posts waiting to be written. Or 25 concisely written epithets, your choice:

A nation run by bankers will never be out of debt.
A nation owned by weapons manufacturers will never know peace.
A nation that allows a small segment of its citizens to write the laws will never know justice.
And if these elements own the media, then we will never know the truth.

Knowledge is knowing.
Wisdom is knowing you do not know.

When we can no longer find anything to believe in, that is when it is up to us to become something to believe in.

Writing, as I suppose other forms of creative activity, is both hard work and the ultimate form of relaxation.

The rules of finance were written by rich people looking to get richer. That part about the “magic” of the market place was thrown in to make the workers feel better. You think they wrote the laws because they were selfless? You think it was to benefit you?

If you have a sufficient desire to do something you will not only find a rationalization for doing it, you will find a moral imperative for why it must be done.

Every man is a heretic to another. No two think exactly alike. What people mistake for exact same thought is in fact not thinking at all.

The problem with government is that it inevitably leads to a bureaucratic nightmare. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to spend the next eight hours on the phone with my insurance company.

There are always those who urge war and revolution as a way to rid the world of evil. If violence purged sin our world would be a Paradise.

We are not raising children to be free but to conform. When they are told rather than asked they are taught to obey rather than question. What kind of freedom can come from such teaching?

Most of the world’s problems begin when people decide that if some is good then more is better.

Imagine if all the discontent people felt was channeled towards changing our society instead of being quieted by prescription drugs.

The difference between a scientist and public relations expert is that a scientist does not answer when he is uncertain and a public relations expert is never uncertain.

There is nearly always an economic excuse for not doing the right thing.

The trouble with technology is that it is in the hands of people.

It’s not like there is anything new to say. We merely have to repeat the words of a play performed a thousand times before until we deliver the perfect performance.

Always try to see yourself in another person, even if to do so means you must see yourself as an idiot. It’s hard, but it’s never too far from the truth.

When yes and no are no longer sufficient answers, wisdom begins. Spirituality, too.

God is life, everything is alive, and love is the awareness of this.

How could a species smart enough to build atomic weapons be stupid enough to build atomic weapons?

Science is the process of disproving false gods. So is religion.

Reality is altered by belief just as it is maintained by disbelief.

The trick is to be tough and independent without becoming cruel and indifferent.

Our children’s minds are in the hands of corporations as firmly as German children’s minds were once in the hands of Nazis.

No one is so foolishly optimistic as they are when buying a lottery ticket or voting for a political candidate. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Perchance To Dream Free On Kindle

Tomorrow through Sunday I will be offering my book Perchance To Dream free on Kindle. It's the second of a series but it works very well by itself. Here's the link:

And here's a brief little sample of what you will find inside it:

     He was a little child, a boy of no more than eight years of age. The world had been a mystery to him, but up until now a pleasant one. He was alone in the quiet murmurings of a summer afternoon. The movements of birds and insects could be heard along with the sound of leaves rustling in a mild breeze. The world around him was alive with a myriad of small movements, the growing plants nearly sentient. In front of him was a tree with a swing made of a rope and a tire. He was delighted at this discovery, this little grove he had never been to before, a spot that was alive in a way only the youthful senses of a child could fully appreciate.
     And yet…and yet there seemed to be a slight stain on all of the life around him. It was as though there was a darkness hidden in the heart of the greenery, something that contradicted the innocence and health that surrounded him. Suddenly, he sensed a shadow between the sun and himself, or perhaps there was a darkness behind the sun, a shadow hiding at its back. Holes began to appear in the quiet little world he knew, and dark terror seemed to pour through them. He knew there was something hidden in the grass nearby, something that gave lie to the brightness of the day, even as he knew there was a darkness in his mind that he had been unwilling to think about. Some small hole in the earth seemed to drain the light from the world like a drain hole in a sink. He could feel his world being sucked through that black hole. He was just a child, but he would never experience life in a childlike manner again. He tried not to look at the thing hidden in the grass, tried to shut his mind from the reality that made false all he had known. He tried to pretend he had never seen it, to cover it over with the life he had always believed he had known. But he felt a scream building up from the inside…

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Writing of a Different Sort

A couple of years before I released my first novel, I was busy doing some writing of a different sort. Below are a couple of pieces of music I composed and recorded. Both were done on my Yamaha CP-33 and recorded on a 4-track Boss Digital recorder. The first I called Master Of None because I attempted to throw in a variety of techniques and styles without thinking I was much good at any of them. Looking back these years later I definitely hear my desire to play like Franz Liszt as well as Frederic Chopin:

Here is one other piece of music I managed to upload to YouTube before realizing writing novels gave me a better chance of expressing myself.
     Music is still my first love. I hope someday I will have the time to return to it. But for now, I hope you can semi-enjoy my early attempts to create something for the ear. If you'll notice, with The Fall Of, I was already attempting to tell a story through the pictures I chose. The story is one that has played itself out no doubt quite often in history. Typically the narrative goes that a civilization has sinned or become decadent, and so it is punished. What I attempted to say here is that such catastrophes can happen at any time without reason, and individual humans have to bear the responsibility for the suffering that results from such misfortunes rather than saying it is God's will. It also says that misfortune will come, and misfortune will pass. I'd like to explain it further, but the point is that it's all a little beyond human understanding why bad things happen at all. Where we become involved is how we deal with what comes our way. We humans have our role to play in this universe, an important one, even if it's perhaps not the starring role.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Seven Stones Is Now Available As An E-book And A Paperback

I am very happy to announce that my newest novel, Seven Stones, is ready to be read. You can read the first chapters for free or purchase now by clicking here: Seven Stones

A few short words on why I think you would want to: I have taken everything I've learned from writing my first three novels and crafted this work with an eye towards both being an entertaining read as well as having moments that I hope will stick with you long after you have read it. It is historically accurate while weaving very magical and imaginative elements into the fabric of history. It has definite horror elements mixed with action/adventure and a certain hopefulness even in the darkest of moments. Please take a taste. Perhaps it will not be to your liking but I think it is worth risking a sample.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

An Argument On The Free Market and The Function Of Government

I had a little discussion on YouTube and have culled these words from it. It is not especially well said or unique but I think it was worth saying and perhaps worth reading.

     Seen through our own paradigm, we are the perfect society, because we use our own gauges in determining exactly what the best society is. Likewise in the Soviet Union the Communist Party saw their society as superior, because they could more or less feed their people and everyone was more or less equal. Our perception of freedom here is the ability to own a Harley Davidson, at least in my neck of the woods. It represents to many the lure of the open road as well as their ability to own something they truly love. But the image is a finely crafted one and the poor saps who own one often work 6-7 days a week at a job they hate in order to have their little chunk of paradise. I think owning stuff is a very good thing, up to a point. But beyond that point it becomes a sort of fetishism, a mass hysteria and a very limited view of what makes life worth living. I see our society as one that is unhealthy and that is hurtling along like a runaway train towards an inevitable crash. We have divorced ourselves from every ethical belief of the past so that now we consider greed to be a good, discipline bad, and caring for others as a weakness. We view age as a sickness rather than a part of the life-cycle, and few of us ever really continue to grow emotionally past the teenage years. Middle-aged men pop Viagra when perhaps they should accept the calming of their urges in order to fulfill the much needed role of guiding figures rather that randy old men. A quarter of our society takes psychotropic drugs in order to cope with their existence rather than take the journey towards making their lives meaningful, Almost everyone is suffering under crippling debt, as is their local, state, and federal government. And if you look at it fairly, you could make a good case that each of these problems has at the root of it our consumer culture to blame. 

I don't believe in a perfect system, just a workable one. A consumer society is one that tells us we shouldn't wait to save money for something we should buy it now. It is a society in which we don't actually ask if we need something, but rather base our purchases on an emotional rather than a rational decision making process. I don't blame the consumers so much as those who propagate such a system, who believe that their sole purpose in life is to make a profit and if we all just do our job of selling and consuming we will achieve the best possible of worlds. We are inundated with countless messages from every source of media, all of them trying to sell us something. Even churches have let in televisions, giving to them an elevated place. Count how many times today you are prompted to buy something, be it from Facebook, television, your phone, radio, or billboards. Then think of how often you are prompted to quiet introspection, work in the garden, or visit an aging relative. I don't think any society in the world has ever been asked to view life on a purely economic level as we are, except perhaps the Soviet Union. And the Soviet Union could not dream of the propaganda machine we have created.

I would like to see a workable system that maximizes human happiness. I know happiness is something hard to define, but so is freedom and nobody is afraid to mention that as a necessary goal. I think we can both agree that it is not a fear of starvation that drives a Warren Buffet or a Donald Trump, so why do we think the best way to motivate people is to work or die? Yes, it motivates, but it is the motivation of the stick rather than the carrot. It is the kind of motivation that causes some to become drug dealers or thieves, corporate or otherwise. The market, like fire,is a wonderful invention but we should treat it as a tool to be used rather than a mysterious force too powerful to control. To suggest that the market should be responsible for society is to suggest that we are not active agents in the process, it is a way of surrendering our humanity to outside forces. In primitive cultures, when a man mistreated his worker or his slave he was apt to be kept up all night with the cries of anguish. In other words, employer and employee had a closer association and the actions of either were more closely felt by the other. Nowadays we have distanced owner from employee so that a worker in Thailand can be beaten and worked 12 hours a day without the person who gets the stock dividend even being aware of how they earned their money. We need to maintain our humanity in our business practices rather than seeing humans as merely numbers on a spreadsheet. Man is an inherently tribal and social creature: if we isolate ourselves from one another and from the community we live in, we will become dysfunctional. I'm not saying the solution to our alienation from our own humanness has an easy solution, but if we do not accept the reality of the situation, it will be impossible. We cannot expect what is a simplistic economic theory to solve the complexity that is the human situation. Government is a tool, and in the hands of an educated electorate, a pretty efficient and powerful tool. To simply abandon it would not only mean that we would not benefit from it, it would mean that others would pick it up and use it as they saw fit. 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

A Snippet From Perchance To Dream

Here's a little something from my second novel in The Amazing Morse series, Perchance To Dream. There is nothing supernatural going on here, it is merely a description of a Halloween show put on by the magic show that magician Dave Morse works at. The illusions are fairly standard ones, but I attempt to put my own spin on them:

Located on a side street off of the main street of Wisconsin Dells, almost directly across from the Museum of Historic Torture Devices, Douglas Slattery’s House of Magic was a rather fitting place for Halloween festivities. It had a cultivated air of mystery and shadow about it. It was difficult to achieve such an atmosphere on a sunny day when the street was crowded with tourists, but the autumn night lent credibility to the props and less than authentic items that the store contained. Through the store’s display window, a chair could be seen, made of ornately carved wood and covered with rich red velvet. Two swords spanned the gap between the arms of the chair and upon the sharp edges of the swords sat a severed head. Not your normal everyday severed head, either, but one covered with tattoos. So many tattoos that the head was shaved in order to display them all. Nor was this severed head an inanimate prop, but a very active and curious thing that looked back at those who gawked at it through the window. When a couple who were walking past happened to gaze upon the spectacle, the tattooed head opened its mouth and stuck out its forked tongue at them like a snake giving warning. There was a defiance in its eyes, as though hatred was what kept it from the death it deserved. The woman leapt back as the thing’s eyes suddenly met her own and stared a challenge at her. The couple continued on their way. A moment later, several others had gathered outside the window. A sign in the window’s lower left corner read: “Enter if you would dare to see more.” The people soon entered the building.
They entered into a small room with a closed curtain at the far end of it, just in time for the next presentation to begin. The curtain was pulled back by some unseen source, revealing the body of a woman with the glaringly obvious lack of a head. Into the neck poured metal pipes, apparently to bring nutrients to the body in order for it to maintain a semblance of life. Various equipment that looked to belong to a hospital were around the body, one of them showing the vital stats. There were also two clear plastic vats filled with crimson fluids which intermittently bubbled as the fluid was pushed into or out of the body via tubes connected at the woman’s throat. Before long, the pre-recorded voice of an overly-clinical man could be heard through speakers located somewhere in the ceiling of the room: “What we see here is a recent development in health and beauty aids. In front of you is the body of a woman who was evidently born with good genes, but unfortunately without the material means to maximize their potential. She was forced through economic necessity to work in an industrial setting that made use of some rather dangerous heavy machinery. A moment of carelessness on her part resulted in a complete decapitation, the head being damaged beyond the opportunity for reattachment. Fortunately, modern medicine has been able to maintain the life in her body even though she is, sadly, no longer able to hold down a steady job. But her misfortune shall work in the favor of some other woman who is able to afford this magnificent physique. In the future, tummy tucks and other such painful, inconvenient operations will no longer be necessary, as bodies such as this will be available to women who simply do not have the time for exercise. Already, scientists are hard at work, busily trying to replicate the genes that have made this attractive physique uniquely suitable to matching and not rejecting another’s head.
“If one of you would like to step toward the computer screen, we will demonstrate to you that this body, while not technically ‘alive’, is still fully functional.”

At the railing that discouraged the crowd from getting closer to the exhibit was a touch screen with simple commands displayed. One simply had to touch “lift right hand” in order to make the body in front of them obey, if rather awkwardly. Another square had the command “cross legs”. When pushed, the woman’s attractive nylon-clad legs moved in a rather lady-like manner, crossing from one direction to the other. The audience was given the opportunity to press every button, or at least enough to get the point across. Once this was done, the crowd was instructed to exit the door on their left, allowing the room to fill up again with the next crowd of onlookers.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Capitalism Needs Competition

     I’m just a sheet metal worker, but today I got to listen to an hour-long discussion of Cervantes’ Don Quixote while at work. It was preceded by an hour long discussion on the refugee crisis in Europe. When I say discussion, I mean a respectful, thoughtful discussion of ideas rather than a couple of guys hurling abuse at each other.
     I Shouldn’t have to tell you it was on public radio, it’s sort of a given. I have heard a thousand other such instances of elevated hour-long discussions on issues ranging from John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme to the accomplishments of John Quincy Adams. And what did I hear on commercial radio when I turned the dial? Well, commercials, mainly. An astounding string of them. In fact I hit three in a row.
     To make a similar comparison, I flipped through the channels on TV tonight to see what was playing. Not on the normal channels but on the elevated ones that some cable salesman once tried to impress me with. I thought I might have to fudge the schedule a little just to make it seem more extreme, but such exaggeration was unnecessary. Here is the list of actual programs on the channels I deemed most highbrow:
                History Channel—American Pickers
                Arts & Entertainment—Duck Dynasty
                American Movie Classics (Note the word “Classics”)—Gone In 60 Seconds w/Nicholas Cage
                The Learning Channel—My Big Fat Fabulous Life
                VH1—Dating Naked
     Let’s face it, corporate media is a cesspool.
     It wasn’t always that way, though. Check out this interview from 1958, it’s an example of what television was once capable of producing: . You can also find Erich Fromm on 60 minutes, and Phil Donahue interviewing Ayn Rand. On a daytime talk show!
You see, back then the corporate model had competition. They were afraid if they didn’t provide for the citizenry that the citizenry might choose some other kind of model to provide not only their news and entertainment but their other needs as well. The U.S.S.R. still existed and there was a battle for the hearts and minds of humanity.
     But now there is no longer any competition and corporate media has grown fat, lazy, arrogant and stupid. It throws an entire day of the same reality program on a channel the way a farmer would throw slop in a trough for the consumption of pigs. Even Public Radio is far more dependent on corporate underwriters than it should be.
     It seems that a lack of competition has made corporations soft. Competition has always been the redeeming feature of capitalism, the check upon the greed that drives it. Knowing someone can come along and do your job better makes a guy or a corporation work harder and act smarter. But the idea that competition between corporations will do the job is demonstrably false (keep in mind the examples I gave you were from those channels that were most likely to supply adult programming).

     Perhaps capitalism itself needs honest competition from another form of production, another way of providing for the needs and wants of society. Maybe corporations need to face a real threat to their existence before they can show what they’re capable of. It’s time to start thinking outside of the box. Viewers of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but Honey Boo Boo.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Our Preference For A Small World, A Simplistic Understanding

     Grow up in a certain time and place and the oddest things will seem normal to you. Mood rings and pet rocks, earth shoes and bell bottoms were things we never really questioned in the 70’s. And if you grew up in a society where they cut the heart out of a virgin in order to appease the volcano god, well, that seemed like a perfectly rational thing to do at the time.
     Of course, you see the absurdity of it all, don’t you? You see the madness of a society that advocated slavery or wearing powdered wigs in order to look important, right? That’s the thing; when you’re outside of it it’s easy to see what is wrong with a given era. But when you’re trapped inside of it, it’s almost impossible to see the absurdity that takes place right under your nose. There is some fundamental flaw in the human intellect that leaves a person blind to the obvious if those around him are similarly unaware. We are tied to a greater communal mind in ways we cannot understand and are unlikely to admit. We are less the rugged individualists we see ourselves as and more like the sheep we tend to mock. We tend to rebel in more or less the same way. Hence tattoos as a symbol of self-expression, because a Maori design on your shoulder so marks you as an individual.
     You see, a given mindset is a hard thing to shake. We all want to believe we are free from biases, but the evidence suggests otherwise. But as much as mindsets are quick to come and go, there is one bias common to the sun worshippers of primitive times and modern day hipsters: we all believe that we were born in the one place and time that got it right.
     This is not to blame those who are unable to see past their own backyards, as it seems to be something universal in our nature. But by realizing our penchant for group-think we should arm ourselves against it. We can do this by deliberately stepping beyond the borders of the here and now, and perhaps the best way to do this is through reading. By reading we can visit other lands and times, can permit another’s mind to guide us through a different train of thought. But do not read a book about Victorian England written by a contemporary writer for this purpose as it will contain contemporary biases. Read a book written in a different age. It doesn’t so much matter if it is a classic, a romance, or a comic, you will know it for what it is. If a child’s story, you will see how an adult spoke to a child in a different era.
     Read an old magazine and glance through the advertisement as well as the articles. Immerse yourself in a different environment. When you return from it you will see things differently.
     That is what troubles me about libraries is that they are quickly replacing those testaments of ages passed with new interpretations of them. But like a photograph, anything that is copied loses some fidelity with each copy that is made. Go back to the original, back to the source, the real thing, or at least as close as possible. The powers that be of any given age wish to keep you blind to other perspectives, wish to have you see the world in the way they are trying to paint it. They want to purge the world of historical perspective, which is why The History Channel has day-long blocks of Pawn Stars and Car Wars or whatever the hell they are showing nowadays. Step outside of the cage others would make for you, or else the heart that is sacrificed to the volcano god might just be yours.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Childhood In Three Generations

     My wife and I walked the dog tonight, up past the water park/mini-golf course that was recently built eight blocks away from my home. It was built to give kids something to do since there isn’t a lot of open space nearby. As we walked by the eight foot tall gate that barricaded the amenities against those who might not have the money to pay, I couldn’t help noticing the domed piece of darkened glass that covered the camera that was observing us as we walked by. Surely it was there to keep the peace, surely it wasn’t bothering anyone who was obeying the laws. And yet I couldn’t help thinking that our world has changed lately, changed with both a speed and extremity that has never been witnessed before.
     I think about my own childhood and I think of endless hours of play outdoors, whether it be on the streets or in the field a couple of blocks away from my home. Either way it was play far from the eyes of the adults. The field I’m talking about was no nature preserve, rather it was a bit of land that had been cleared in order to make it just another piece of the suburban puzzle of square plots of land. But for whatever reason, the project was halted halfway through and abandoned. The result was not too different from a sandbox where a child had been playing with Tonka trucks before getting bored and moving on to some other endeavor, just on a grander scale. But it was a place where we learned how to negotiate both an external reality and our relationships with our fellow man (or boy, as the case may be).
     But kids don’t explore the real world while figuring out how to get along with others nowadays. It’s bad enough with the waterpark example, where they are constantly monitored by not only the lifeguards but by video cameras. They are not discovering anything, rather they are caged in like animals at a zoo, free to play in an artificial environment that might amuse but does not instruct them how to live in the wild. And this is when kids are at physical play, burning off the energy nature has given them. More often they are busy exploring artificial worlds with artificial people. I refer, of course, to video games, where adults construct reality to which the children respond. It’s like play, only nothing ever useful is learned. Instead, children are taught how to steal cars and kill a bunch of people and if the game stops going your way you can just hit the reset button.
     This is the point where you say, “Aw, just an old man talking about how hard his childhood was and how easy kids have it today.” Not at all. I loved my childhood. I feel sorry for kids nowadays who will never get away from the world adults have fashioned for them. Of course, even in my day I knew there was something artificial about my life that made my experiences feel a little less than legitimate. See, my dad had grown up during the Great Depression and he exited that straight into the greatest war the world had ever seen. His generation had a connection to reality very similar to every other generation that had come before. Prior to the last 70 years or so, you would had to have been a very rich and alienated aristocrat if you wanted to be able to escape the laws of nature and the fundamental lessons that life teaches. When my dad wanted to go swimming, he and the other kids in the neighborhood would dam up a stream until they had a pool. Imagine what that taught them about working with others and getting along in order to accomplish a goal. Now a kid just has to have parents with the money to get past the iron gate. Of course, maybe they’ll come out with a swimming game for PlayStation and save them the hassle. They could cliff dive in Australia, bodysurf at Waikiki or compete in the 400 meter freestyle against Michael Phelps. I’m sure it will teach them good hand/eye coordination. 

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