The Royals are Reptilians and I’m an Alien-Human Hybrid

It’s times like this that it becomes abundantly clear that I am either a changeling or an alien-human hybrid. Somehow, against all the impulses of the herd I have been born into, I am completely disinterested in the social life of people who have status merely by dint of being the product of the chance meeting between a lucky sperm and egg.

Not only that, I have never been able to comprehend how regular people can be so engrossed in the personal lives of those whose existence is completely foreign to their own, in terms of power, wealth and privilege. Frankly, it wouldn’t occur to a Royal to look your way if gazes were air and you were suffocating to death.

We are not amused.

A couple of years back the Queen’s solution to the deficit in the Palace heating budget was to raid the fund used to feed the poor. She can’t put on another sweater like regular folks, she has to heat her Palace with the bodies of the starving. Her Ministers had to explain why this would be a bad idea.

I need you to think about this concept: Her Ministers had to explain why taking food away from poor people who would starve without it, was bad. In other words, the idea that it was morally or ethically questionable had never crossed her mind.

This is the group people around the world are obsessing over; waxing rhapsodic about? These people, who have never been particularly talented, intelligent, beautiful or industrious. From what I have observed, their sense of public decorum is about on par with the average “man on the street”. What merit affords them the attention of 1/3rd of the worlds population?

Given that the chances of a mere “commoner” interacting with them in any meaningful way is practically null, I would find it exceedingly helpful if someone could explain in clear, concise terms, exactly why anyone should care about anything they choose to do?

The difference between hoarders and artists

Artists and hoarders share an important quality: we love stuff. It gives us a deep sense of rightness, of satisfaction to have this scrap or that bit and to know we will always have access to it.

It is very difficult to describe what objects draw us and become necessary. But that gut feeling of connection is a common thread.

The difference, however, between hoarders and artists is that very often, artists will actually utilize the things we drag home. Sometimes they become sculpture, sometimes we wear them, sometimes they become still life objects and sometimes we just slap on a coat of paint and call it a day.

We understand that these things have purpose. They are living in the sense that they will change over time. They are, very often, intended to change over time; to become worn and comfortable.

When you put something in a box or put it away for safekeeping, you deny that “life” by fixing the thing in time and space. So, in a sense, artist are the crazy cat ladies of stuff. We take in all sorts of strays, we feed them, we work with them and we appreciate them for the life they’ve had. We appreciate them for what they are and more importantly, for what they realistically could be; without romance or illusion. Because that is part of our job as artists, to see things as they are.

That said, let me introduce you to my latest rescue. An early 60’s era dresser, all wood. Not an ounce of chipboard.

dresser

Forgive the picture. Our bedroom is dark and the remodeling is ongoing.

I spotted this lovely as I was driving through a neighborhood, trying to avoid backed up traffic from a downtown construction project. It was in the midst of a pile of discarded furniture from a rental move-out. There was also a mattress(urine soaked, as it turned out), a couple of flimsy chipboard end-tables and some well loved plastic kids toys.

I immediately flipped on my turn indicator to signal the Mister, who was behind me, that we needed to pull over. I made a U-turn (illegally) and pulled up beside his truck window.

Windows down we discussed.

Me: “Do you think that dresser is any good?”
Mr.:”What dresser?”
Me: “60’s era, brown, stickers”
Mr.:”Didn’t see it.”
Me:”Let’s go look.”

So he pulled around behind me and we pulled up in front of the house.

The family was still taking items out to their car. So I motioned to an older man among them and asked if we could take the dresser. He nodded, so I started to inspect it. It was passable. But I’d need to take it home and take out all the drawers to see if it was worth refinishing.

We opened the hatch on the wagon, lowered the middle seats and popped it in.

I’d love to tell you that when I picked it up it looked like it looks in the picture. But no.

Mud brown shellac. Decals, stickers, reflectors all over the drawer faces. The drawer pulls were original, but bulky and  wooden. The drawers were all out of wrack with various splits in the sides from roofing nails being used to try and “repair” it.

But beneath all that, the lines were clean. It was well proportioned. The wood was solid and whole. Definitely worth salvaging.

So, I stripped it, glued the splits, repaired the drawers and found a beautiful deep mulberry color to paint it. And while I was buying paint,  I found some elegant matte black pulls with a fine copper edging that played off the mulberry very nicely.

I did have some issues with the paint and varnish. I liked the flatness of the mulberry paint. But it was going to be prone to scratching and streaking. So I decided to use a satin polyurethane varnish…mostly because it was what I had on hand.

I hated the varnish. It was too glossy and since I don’t have a clean room (or a ventilated one for that matter), I was forced to work outside. So the varnish dried too fast and left a textured surface.

My solution? Mix the paint and the polyurethane to keep some of the flat of the paint and some of the protection of the polyurethane with a slower drying time to allow for the  paint to level.

So, yes, I could’ve bought something at Ikea. Something clean and new and frankly, on an artist’s budget, expensive. But this dresser has already had a life, a history. And now, for better or worse, I have become a part of that.

A hoarder only wants to see things as they were. An artist sees things as they were and as they potentially could be. It has always been the play, the tension between reality and potential that excites us.

On walking the fine line between revisionist history and cultural sensitivity.

Two stories have come to light this week that examine America’s relationship with art, it’s depiction of slavery and our sociological  and cultural response to those depictions of history.

The first story, out of Georgia, centers on a series of murals painted by George Beattie depicting an idealized version of Georgia’s agricultural development.

The series starts with corn grown by prehistoric Native Americans, and proceeds to a 20th-century veterinary lab. The history in between the ancient and the modern eras includes slavery.

The incoming Republican agriculture commissioner, Gary Black, doesn’t like the work and feels it is no longer appropriate for the modern agricultural systems in Georgia. (Perhaps a golden idol to Monsanto would be more to his liking.)

Mr. Beattie is no longer alive to defend the work, but had obviously dealt with the issues raised prior to this incident.

Beattie’s 1995 defense of his work:

“As a human being, I am vehemently opposed to slavery, as anyone should be, but it was a significant epoch in our history; it would have been inaccurate not to include this period.”

In the second incident Publisher’s Weekly examines a Twain scholar’s efforts to “update”  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for a modern audience.

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by most any measure—T.S. Eliot called it a masterpiece, and Ernest Hemingway pronounced it the source of “all modern American literature.” Yet, for decades, it has been disappearing from grade school curricula across the country, relegated to optional reading lists, or banned outright, appearing again and again on lists of the nation’s most challenged books, and all for its repeated use of a single, singularly offensive word: “nigger.”

Believe it or not, I find the first incident slightly more defensible than the second for this reason:

Twain was portraying the mores of his time. As a former newspaper man, he understood the importance of capturing the particular realities of a story, even if they were dressed in fiction.

In creating his painting series, Beattie was not portraying the essence of his era. He  chose to create a view of history that removed the suffering of the kidnapped victims of slavery. Neither did he depict the genocide visited upon the Native Americans who were driven off their tribal lands. He chose to create work that pleased his patron; work depicting idyllic moments; free of want or hardship. He edited out the uncomfortable moments in a foreshadowing of what Gary Black is currently attempting to do by removing the work wholesale.

Black claims he is not comfortable with the depictions because they whitewash the realities of Georgia using slaves to build it’s wealth and power. But by the same token, it seems he is attempting to push that uncomfortable skeleton into a literal and metaphoric closet.

In denying our history, we belittle the suffering of those already made small, nameless and faceless. How can we pretend the abuse did not happen? How can we bear to make the abhorrent more palatable by a self-imposed blindness, by euphemism or by proxy? What do these incidents say about our willingness to confront our past so that we remain aware of our potential, as humans, to dehumanize others?

As an artist, this chills me; this marginalization of painful truths for the sake of ease. It does not bode well for our maturity as citizens or as a society.

Daddy TeaBagger Weeps: My Tea Party Turned Corporate Whore! (how spoiling the Boomers broke America)

Which is what I’ve been suggesting for some time now.

Boomers, on the whole, just don’t get it. Because, sadly, they never really “got” it in the first place. From the moment their collective purchasing power was recognized way back in the 50’s, every speck of an idea rising from that generational cohort has been microscopically scrutinized in order to figure out how it can be sold to the public at large. They are the Co-opted Generation, brought to you by the makers of Pepsi. “It’s the Herd Mentality that’s GOOD. And so GOOD for you tm“.

If they had been self-aware enough to take control of their own message, they could have actually have been a force to be reckoned with. But having been raised in a bubble that catered to their every whim, they assumed all that corporate fawning meant Power and Money were actually in agreement with their ideals. The sad reality: Corporations were using the 900 lb gorilla as a social and economic wedge; handily stripping out the substance and selling the pre-packaged, easily digestible product to the public at large. And if the rest of the country didn’t like it, the collective ire of a massive generational cohort would rain down fire upon your head.

So we end up with McDonald’s. Because kids on long trips don’t like eating unfamiliar food in unfamiliar places. ad infinitum

Once the pattern was established, it was easily and handily manipulated – for profit of course. And as time went on, it became increasingly easy to steer groups with special interests into their own intellectual cul-de-sacs. After all, wasn’t every egoistic whim they ever had worth exploring in deep navel gazing, cash-costing detail, regardless of the price to society at large?

Whittling away the generational mass, fracturing it, was a simple thing really. By their late 20’s most people’s interests and life path have gelled somewhat. They are no longer a “puppy-pile” of mate-seeking, group-thinking, exploratory youth.

At that point, it was just a matter of seeing the broad trends within the cohort and nudging them a little farther along the path. And this is less conspiratorial than it sounds. Because, bottom line, it’s always been about the Benjamins.

It was the Corporate sycophants in politics who saw the possibilities of using those differences for both corporate and political ends. They married Richard Nixon’s ground breaking political strategy of “us disenfranchised slobs” vs. the “elites” to the Corporate consumer group micro-marketing.

Minor personal digression: Ol’ Dicky Nixon was not attractive, he was not from a wealthy or politically connected family and he was not charismatic. But was incredibly intelligent. And most importantly, he was a political shark. He never stopped moving and he was a vicious bastard when crossed. In the end, I loathed him a bit less and respected him a bit more because of these things. But only a bit.

Fast Forward: Tea Party. The perfect blend of the Boomer ethos of “ME, ME, ME and to hell with how it affects other people” wedded to a political platform, funded by Corporate dollars.

Here’s the interview with Daddy TeaBagger “himself “. And since he’s not a Corporatist, unlike 99% of Washington, he’s pretty pissed that his brainchild has been Frankenfurtered to keep boot-licking Corporate butt-monkeys in power.

“In short, The Tea Party was and is about the the corruption of American Politics and the blatant and outrageous theft from all Americans that has resulted. It is about personal responsibility and enforcement of the law against those who have robbed, financially ****d and pillaged the nation.”

Ahem….. Excuse me. That’s “WAS.” No longer “IS”. Welcome to the real world, where you and what you want are irrelevant. Enjoy your stay. And please remember: It’s a Class War and the Rich are winning.

How to Conserve Water (Without Really Trying)

On a Wednesday morning garden walk-about, I discovered that one of the swales behind the house was filled with water. Now had it rained, this would not be surprising. That’s what the swales are for; to keep the downside of our hill from becoming a rutted mess. With the co-benefit of watering our garden beds.

But there had been no rain.

The culprit was the water line from the well to the house. It had ruptured. Probably from the combination of basement building, power-line trenching and earthmoving equipment when we installed our solar panel array.

I’d like to blame the earth movers; they put a few dozen bees in my bonnet while they were here. But I strive to be both fair and skeptical (a classical skeptic, not the modern fundamentalist sort). So I’m forced to admit that I can’t definitively know what caused the problem.

A ruptured line next to the house would also explain the persistently damp wall in the basement. We were planning to regrade the front yard to try and shunt more water away from the house. Because the folks who built it – let’s sum up their siting skills in a word: sub-par. The house is oriented so that any water falling off the front side of the roof immediately rolls back toward the footing.

Luckily, it seems we will be able to fix a couple of problems with one solution. Even though it means we will have to get a trencher out here. And locater services.

As it happens, our next door neighbor is a trencher/well and water guy. And he is often in need of carpentry work. So there may be some opportunity for barter there. But, if you know anything about dealing with bureaucracies, especially of the power company sort, then you know we may be waiting a few days to get the water back up and running.

So what do we do until then?

Let me begin by explaining the artist’s creed.  We aren’t taught this creed in a  formal fashion; instead we acquire it through experience. It goes something like this:

We have done so much, with so little, for so long; we are now qualified to do anything with nothing.

As a rule artists, and other “creative” types, are the red-headed step-children of funding and budgetary concerns. We are given the leftovers, the scraps with the understanding that “because we are creative”, we will be able to make-do. And after eons of this archetypal narrative playing out like a recurring nightmare, we have become so entrenched in this expectation that making-do comes as easily as a child’s first breath.

The problem was a fairly simple one. We had plenty of water. The question was how to get it to the house.

The Mister Getting a Spot of Water 02/09

Initially I was taking water from our rainwater storage tanks. Two 325 gallon tanks that sit on the back corners of the house. You see, I’m a catastrophic thinker. And lately, as you might imagine, that tendency has served me in good stead.

In North Carolina, we’ve suffered a series of droughts over the past decade or so. According to this report from the Center for Health and Global Environment (pdf) it seems that drown or drought will be the “norm” for the foreseeable future. So I decided to implement some measures to deal with potential water issues . Burms and swales for the gardens and water tanks for rainwater storage.

The water from the tanks is fine for the garden, for watering the dogs, flushing the toilets and in a pinch you can boil it to wash dishes. But, without filtration and some sterilization, I wouldn’t want to use it for drinking or cooking.

Given that, we decided to “run a line” from the well to the house.

This is a much simpler solution than humping water up the hill from the back of the house.  The well water is potable and with a noticeable lack of bugs, leaves and other mystery items floating around in it.

This morning I hooked a hose up to the well, switched it on and ran it over to the front door. 

While this has all the convenience of City Living whilst keeping the native Country Charm, it could be more convenient still.

Running it through an opening in the storm door seemed like it would move the line into an optimum position near the laundry, the kitchen and the first floor bathroom.

Once inside, it was simple to get all the laundry out of the way. The only issue was being aware of the rinse cycle starting so I could add more water.

While the clothes were washing, I started heating pots of water for the dishes, filling water jugs for later use and as a side benefit I was able to get enough water on the hall way and kitchen floors that they both got a rather thorough cleaning.

I can see why women used to be relegated to the kitchen before the advent of boilers and hot water storage. Heating the water on our propane stove took up a good amount of time. I can imagine the extra time spent lighting and stoking wood fires to get the water up to temperature.

Taking advantage of the hot water available, I managed a quick “whore’s bath” as we say in the South. (Apologies to all you whores who bathe thoroughly on a regular basis) Of course, if I was worried about “freshness”  Summer’s Eve could do all that and seemingly get me a raise to boot.

Even before this incident, we had already acclimated ourselves to recycling as much of our “greywater” as we feasibly can. We can’t legally use the water from the washing machine or from the dishes for much of anything. Not yet anyway.  Luckily those laws are changing as lawmakers come to the realization that if oil scarcity has caused the problems we face today, they are nothing compared to the coming nightmare of water scarcity.

So we don’t flush the toilets every time if there is only urine. However, without chlorination, you can’t let the bacteria breed in the toilet bowl for too long before the odor begins to “waft”.  And after I’ve taken a bath, we use that water for the next several flushes; keeping a small bucket handy in the bathroom for just that purpose.

This incident is precisely why I have been pushing the Mister to look into a solar well pump. Either that or a high end hand pump. We were lucky this time. It was only a broken water line. The next incident could be more problematic.

As for heating the water; if the need arises, I can easily construct a solar water heater. That’s a weekend project made from handy scrap material (well, handy for artists, anyway). But if the electricity goes down for an extended period and we use up the stores in the rainwater tanks, that means walking down to the creek or down to the lake.

Down the hill doesn’t bother me. It’s the idea of hauling enough water up the hill that makes me shudder.

Three days of dishes were finally done. And since the Mister is the usual washer of dishes, they weren’t stacked with quite the same neatness he seems to be able to achieve. In my view, if it doesn’t move, that’s good enough. This inevitably leads to a pile of of random shapes sporting the appearance of  bad post-modern sculpture.

As for fretting over the potential lack of a functioning well. Well, here’s the thing: for the past few years a number of government agencies, including the National Research Council in 2009 have warned of the potential for a catastrophic failure of the electrical grid. The general consensus is this could occur either through cyber-attacks or from solar storms.

This past July a “Space Weather Conference” was held in Washington DC. It was attended by NASA scientists, policy-makers, researchers and government officials. One of the speakers, Dr Richard Fisher, the director of NASA’s Heliophysics Division explained that every 22 years the Sun’s magnetic energy cycle peaks while the number of sun spots (and solar flares)  hits it’s peak every 11 years.

He said these two events are due to overlap in 2013 and will produce huge levels of radiation. He also suggested that, although it was unlikely, much of the world could spend several months without any electrical power.

I guess he struck a nerve somewhere, because NASA immediately began to soft pedal Dr. Fisher’s statements suggesting that it could occur within 10 years or 100.

And that’s fine. Except for Katrina. Except for the fact that our National Guard is no longer available to do the job it was created for, to guard the Nation in emergencies and crisis. And except for the fact that, as a nation, we’re broke. Not only fiscally, but in terms of vital infrastructure.

I can’t know the future. But I can make guesses based on history. I can look to the consensus of nominal experts as an inroad to seeing the potential for a given event to occur.

But mostly what I can do is live by the Realist’s Motto: Always Hope for the Best (But Be Prepared for the Worst).

In this case, the worst would be no electricity for months. And other than the convenience of  a water pump, I’d have to say we’re better prepared than many. And that’s probably because we’re artists.

Our blessing and our curse.

Moonlight: Trashing Trash Culture and A Tale of Requited Love.

I woke up early this morning thinking about vampires.

Okay, quite honestly, I didn’t wake up thinking about them so much as I was having a “contagion” dream. When suddenly, the Spousal Unit starts thrashing about the bed in the throes of a crampy calf muscle. The substantial amount of guttural cursing from the opposite side of the bed would tend to wake anyone; even the dead.

He worked it out and, after popping a magnesium pill and drinking a little water, he was shortly on his way back to that restful place beyond place. The S.U. will most likely sleep through Armageddon. And if woken up, will be able to fall back to sleep until something a little more interesting happens or the alarm clock goes off; whichever comes first. But unfortunately for me, given my tendencies toward ADD, anything that wakes me up, keeps me up.

So, I’m lying there trying to puzzle out the dream. It involved vampires traveling across country. Up until this point their spread had been prevented by some sort of linked rules. In this case, Rule 1056; which coupled with another rule or law, prevented them from spreading their contagion.

The vampires had found a loophole or workaround. Obviously we are talking a mutation of a natural sort, say viral or biotic, either that or some sort of human political maneuvering. Nevertheless, they were on the move. I kept seeing the rules with some golden yellow digital icon beside them. Ah well, a mystery to keep me occupied throughout the day.

As I had started to mentally wander off into my list of chores for today, my current gripes with our PV system and the contractor who installed it and the 3 feral “rescue” kittens that are now occupying the basement needing a home, it became evident that I was not going back to sleep. So I snuggled up to the SU murmuring threats of dismemberment; kissed him and got up to start my day at 4:30 a.m.

Marmalade Click me to see my sibs.

It was well before sunrise and if there were vampires around, they had ample opportunity to inveigle their way into the house. Working on the theme for today, I decided to complete a chore left unfinished last night: chopping up last year’s garlic. What I couldn’t save for eating, was going into organic pest repellant. And again we touch upon vermin as bringers of disease, or sadly, politics.

I realized, in the midst of my peeling, chopping and dream pondering, that last evening I had seen an episode of television’s latest whoring of the vampire craze: “Moonlight”. Or rather listened to most of it and viewed a bit of it as I worked in my studio.

Hey, give me a break. It was that or So You Think You Can Dance with America’s Most Talented Big Brother Idol in Hell’s Kitchen.

To the part of my mind that likes a little verbal distraction to ward off negative self-talk, most “prime time” television is pretty much on par with golf. It’s not so boring that it fails to distract the “super-ego” (i.e. critical) part of my brain, but lacking anything captivating enough to actually engage my attention or imagination.

I don’t usually comment on Trash Culture. That would be like critiquing the food at Taco Bell. What, exactly, would be the point? It’s ubiquitous and uniformly the same; no matter what sort of wrapper you put it in. Perhaps it’s my age, but seeing the same 5 ingredients combined in different ways, pawned off as worthy of ingestion simply because it is in a different wrapper, has become rather dreary.

But regarding this particular Post-Modern Pu-Pu Platter; what makes it especially offensive is the exceptionally wooden acting from the male and female leads. In a story as old as time or at least as old as the American narrative, the warrior hero and his damsel in distress can never be. They must forestall. Failing that, she must die.

Perhaps this uniquely New World genre was a rejection of the louche habits of Old Europe. Perhaps it was formed by the Puritan ethic that moved through the Enlightenment era resulting in the seminal work of the genre: “Last of the Mohicans”.

American heroes never really “get the girl”. That pleasure is reserved, in our ethos, for tales of romantic love or domesticity. There is a restlessness that lies just beneath the surface of our hero tales. One that suggests committing to a singular course or cause leads to a death of sorts. And women often wonder why some men are commitment phobic.

Here, I stray into a level of discourse this TV trifle does not deserve; so back to the juiciness of holy water, blood, stalking and staking.

Those rare moments where I am pulled into this Penny Dreadful by the potential for a dramatically ripe moment, turn into a wrenching brain cramp as I mentally hear the director speaking to the actors:

“Okay, your friend is talking about finding his soul mate after 350 lonely years of being vampire. But when she begged to be “turned”, it went horribly wrong, he has lost her forever and now he is full of self-loathing and remorse. You realize he could be talking about your situation. So Female Lead, I want you to glance up at Male Lead with a bit of longing, apprehension and sadness.”

“Good, now Male Lead, look somewhat stricken; your friend is suffering and you feel for him, because you can sympathize. You have been secretly watching over Female Lead her entire life and you find yourself falling for her. No, no, it’s not at all creepy in a -adoptive father watching his daughter grow up and then wanting to sex her up- sort of way. It’s more of a – two souls meeting at the right time after years of patience- thing.”

So the only worthwhile actor of the 3, the grieving friend, ends up looking a little over the top and hammy by comparison.

This particular actor, Jason Dohring, was the romantic interest in “Veronica Mars”. There he fared somewhat better. At least in that series, there were good storylines, believable dialogue and other good actors to play against.

Trash Culture television has shown itself capable of putting out a good product. The aforementioned Veronica Mars, or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, to name just two examples. Joss Whedon is an exceptional writer who is fearlessly dedicated to the story. If the story arc requires that a character die, then off to fictional heaven they go. Or Hell, or Purgatory. Ah, yes, purgatory: back to our story.

And you can see where “Moonlight” wants to be “that”. The somewhat earthy male Vampire detective with a heart of gold, finds the spunky, blonde, soul-mate girl of his dreams. The problem is, neither of them wants to consume the other, either by a morally sanctioned execution or through an unholy sexually charged murder. There is no tension here, no ethical angst, not one whiff of existential quandary. And matters are not helped by the fact that these two have all the sexual chemistry of, well, an adoptive father and his pretty daughter.

It is no stretch to suggest the Male Lead’s acting is wooden compared to David Boreanaz’s Angel. In fact, that observation does not even begin to approach the term “understatement”. Boreanaz, at least, has some naturally easy charm that shows through in both his expression and in his physicality. He can passably appear stricken or guilty. He can muster a visage of unrequited longing when the need appears.

In comparison Moonlight’s Male Lead is, quite frankly, a mook. He sounds like he was dragged off the docks sometime last week. And he moves like a ballet dancer in welding gear and steel-toed boots. If vampires represent the animal in us, our connection to the amoral wild, then they should at least move with the easy grace of something less cumbersome and shambling than muskoxen.

And it’s probably unfair to compare the Female Lead to a plain vanilla cookie. It just so happens that I like vanilla cookies. They have both a complexity and depth this actress can not seem to grasp. And both leads seem incapable of expressing anything beyond a range of facial expressions found in your average Botox junky.

Oh, well, look at the time. I’ve nattered on long enough. By now, the sun is well up; time to lay disturbing dreams and wasted efforts in their respective graves. I’m away into the real world of my garden, where life robbing foes are still fought with garlic and fire; only on a much, much smaller, and definitely less epic, scale. And where, subversively, the upright, straight-shooting guy who battles the elements, rights the wrongs, and fights the good fight still, somehow, manages to find the woman who completes him.

FarmerMan

AdamFarmerMan

Even though she may occasionally threaten him with dismemberment for waking her from her dark slumbers.

Questions of Logic In the Business of War

You have probably read or read about the Washington Post’s series on Top Secret America.

After listening to the talk show pundits and reading a few commentaries on the subject I began to consider a question that, while on the periphery of the discussion, no one seems to have posed. Perhaps it is too naive a question.

The parameters of the question are this: The military works for the US government and ultimately for the people; the tax paying public. They train their soldiers to understand this. Their stated goal is to protect the country and it’s citizens. These tax paying citizens want to see their tax dollars go to the best use for the good of the country.

Privately held, profit-motivated companies, for instance Blackwater, are in the sole business of helping to wage war. From a logical standpoint what is their motivation to in any way assist in the cessation of a given war?

From a corporate standpoint, helping to end a large scale conflict could only lead to decreases in their profit margin.

I understand the implications of what I am asking. I’m not addressing the foot-soldier here; nor the outright mercenary. I’m talking about a military contractor corporate equivalent of BP’s President Tony Hayward. Where does he draw the line when considering his livelihood and the financial health of his company?

The Pea Pickers Dilemma or (handy clickable Gen Y title) The Epic Fail of American Politicians

This morning, I spent the coolest part of the day harvesting green peas off the vine. As an activity, pea picking is incredibly repetitious.

Black-eyed Susans and Green Peas

It is neither physically nor mentally taxing enough to fully engage my interest.  And so, as often happens in these instances where my body is engaged but my mind is free to play, I began to ponder.

What I began to ponder was a charming turn of phrase used when someone expresses utter disbelief at another’s foolhardy actions. “Are you out of your pea picking mind?” I suspect this might have it’s origins as a Southern phrase, much like it’s cousin: “Are you out of your cotton picking mind?” The implication, in both instances, is that pea pickers and cotton pickers are less than, shall we say, astute.

I understand that. By way of contrast, harvesting something wild, like blackberries, requires a broad and overarching attention in order to gather small fruit on unsteady terrain, while avoiding thorns, spiders and snakes (not necessarily in that order). Compared to blackberries, picking peas is simple. You stand in a level row, you see a green pod hanging in front of you, you pick, you drop it in the bucket, you see another pod. You pick. Simple. Unthinking. Repetitive.

Pea Pickers, then, would be the domesticated cousins of the Wild Berry Pickers. Over the years, we’ve bred all the uncertainty, pain and danger from the enterprise of picking peas. As a result, picking peas requires much less mental and physical stamina, much less engagement in the process, than gathering from the wild. Therefore, simpletons are able to do it. And so, the logic suggests, that makes your average pea picker a simpleton.

There is an obvious presumptive flaw in this line of thinking. But as a metaphor for a foolish person doing mindless task, calling someone a pea picker has the potential to be a fair assessment. So hold that thought, we will revisit our pea picker in a few moments.

Let me briefly turn your attention to George F. Will, political columnist for the Washington Post. George Will falls, rather definitively, to the conservative side of the political spectrum. And while I admire him for his occasional ability to admit his most grievous mistakes, George Will and I have only agreed on 2 things in the past 30 years.

The 2nd thing we agreed on was a comment he made during the Inaugural Parade commemorating George W. Bush’s 2nd term in office.

The limousine carrying the President and First Lady was traveling along the parade route with secret service and a uniformed guard detail, on foot, beside the vehicle.

As you may recall, the security for this event was unprecedented. For the first time ever, spectators had 10 foot fencing between them and the parade route. There were “free speech” areas, cordoned off to keep protestors from impinging on the happy occasion.

Mr. Will was a guest commentator on one of the broadcast television networks along with the usual broadcast news anchors. As the events unfolded, the television people nattered on, filling air time as we watched the car progress along the route. At one point, the President’s limousine inexplicably sped up to the point that the security detail had to jog along side the car to keep formation. One of the news anchors made some comment about why they might be moving more quickly when George Will said, apropos of nothing: “It looks like a Banana Republic.”

There was dead silence in the studio, then a quick cut to commercial.

The first thing George Will and I agreed on was in the early 90’s. He had written commenting on a friend of his in northern Virginia, who worked with his hands making custom pajamas for a discerning clientele.

Using his friend as an example, Mr. Will explained that he was of the opinion that those living inside the beltway were entirely disconnected from the daily realities of American life. They didn’t have real jobs. Many of them hadn’t had real jobs in decades. They didn’t make things. Therefore, they didn’t understand the complex and intricate process of seeing an idea through from beginning to end; from thread to cloth to product. Or the ramifications of failing to understand and acknowledge each part as it relates to the whole.

He suggested instead, that a life of signing and pushing around individual pieces of paper, disconnected from a knowable outcome during the day, coupled with a life of political socializing and leisure during the night had created a culture that could not comprehend the realities a majority of Americans face. Obviously, I’m paraphrasing here, but in George Will’s opinion: Making piles of paper, only to send those piles to other people to makes other piles of paper, was no way to understand the needs of your constituents.

Politicians, bureaucrats and their faithful, well-meaning wonks are doing work that is well-defined; bounded by bureaucratic process and laid out in neat rows. There is very little uneven footing. They do not stumble upon tearing thorns. And what snakes and spiders creep there are easily spotted and, unlike their wilder cousins, just as easily negotiated with.

Something happens to those fledgling politicians after they leave the nested security of the small towns that elected them. There is some fundamental shift as they are domesticated by money and power. They forget, or most likely they never knew, what life is like in the midst of briars and mud and need and want.

They also forget who picks their peas; who puts the food on their tables. In their re-negotiated world-view pea pickers, mindless drones of an agrarian age, become part of an indistinguishable mass of humanity that exists out there. They are unknown, and so become unknowable.

To those unknowns outside the security of the beltway, one vote by an ethical politician can keep a multi-national corporation from killing an ecosystem. One vote can save the source of a multi-generational local business or it can allow ruination on an unprecedented scale.

Politicians from the Gulf States who failed to vote against those corporations with no vested interest in the local communities, voted against their own constituents by default. And any politician who chooses without thinking, who mindlessly grasps the low hanging fruits in front of him rather than considering the consequences, has failed those who put him in office.

Deciding the fate of people’s lives was never intended to be easy. It was never intended as a pea picker’s job. But it has become just that; too easy and much too safe. Politicians have become too insulated from the consequences of self-interested choices. They have been allowed the self-indulgent mindlessness of simpletons. Meanwhile, the vast majority of Americans in the wilds outside the beltway, are forced to scrounge in the briars; competing with coyotes and snakes for what we can gather before the hard rains come.

(This commentary was published in the Grant City Times Tribune during the week of July 7th)

The haves.

Never knowing want.

Never wanting to know.

Why are you surprised
when you take the perfect berry
and find it eaten,
empty,
hollowed
by your choice?

Never Be Your Beast Of Burden

I am not fond of people who use open forums to whine about their lives or their take on the state of the world, unless they are willing to also discuss the potential for action and change.

But if one simply wants to spread the needy, infantile contents of their ego in a public venue; that, in my exceedingly humble opinion, is what psychotherapists are for. And hopefully part of a larger program which includes exploring positive, proactive ways to improve the subject or object of the complaint.

My aversion to “sharing” is partly the result of having lived many years in the pre-Oprah era.

I was probably the originator of the phrase “TMI” (too much information).  I’m not fond of “sharing” with perfect strangers.  It’s not that we shouldn’t talk about our problems, anxieties and traumas. I find talking about those things to be helpful in the proper context. I find talking about them out of the proper context to be self-centered and rude.

For me that “proper” context is usually in the midst of finding ways to deal with the issue so that it can come to some sort of resolution; real or imagined. That way, I don’t ever have to deal with the issue again, unless I choose to. And sometimes I undertake this task with the help of someone who has knowingly consented to share my burden.

But there are many who use the internet or social groups or the line at the grocery store to vomit their petty pinpricks of frustration all over the nearest bystander. This makes the vented feel better. But it doesn’t help them. Not really. It’s a quick fix. A cigarette. They are going to need another one in a couple of hours. And then some other innocent bystander is going to go home, covered in Vomitus Whinus.

Trust me, that stuff is both toxic and communicable.

That’s what people fail to comprehend. When you pass that stuff on to people who do not consent or are not “trained professionals” many times it affects them in a real and substantial way.

You vent to some patient, well-meaning stranger. They take it in whether they agree to or consciously want to. On the way home, they start thinking about the ways in which their world is broken. Or how their spouse has pissed them off. Or how their children don’t acknowledge or respect all the hard work they do

They take your bile into themselves and it becomes their bile.

And if they don’t have a way to deal with their issues, they will simply spread your dis-ease on to another unsuspecting soul. And I mean this quite literally.

Living in the South, I’m always amused in talking to new arrivals. Often they will have questions about the manners and mores of the region. What this phrase means or why people do that. And when I explain the basic rules, I will often say: “Oh, and never, ever ask a stranger how they are doing; because they will tell you.”

More often than not, their jaw will fall slightly, their eyes will widen and they will exclaim, “I KNOW!” And then they will relate some incident where they innocently spoke to some person in line or in the doctor’s office with the verbal tic of: “Hi, howareya?” And for the sin of being merely polite, were treated to 20 minutes of mind-bogglingly graphic details of this particular ailment or that unfortunate mishap.

In a relationship, by way of contrast, there can be an exchange. I share with my friends or my partner and when they need my ear, they share with me. It’s communal. We commune. We agree to share the other’s burden because we are emotionally or socially bonded to each other. And because we have this emotional contract, we know it is reciprocal; our ability to share our views and feelings is two-way street.

Sans relationship, i.e. on the internet or in line at the dry cleaners, you are merely spreading your dis-ease. I stumble on your exhibitionist-emo-ego-masturbation and I am faced with a limited series of choices:1)  try to ignore what I’ve been subjected to so far and hope that it hasn’t infected me, 2) whine back at you with my opinion or about my problems or 3) tell you to grow up,  learn to deal and develop some adult restraint.

The first is obviously the better choice. But let’s say I choose to engage you. Since you have already taken on the role of victim, the second choice would seem inappropriate. Why would I stomp all over your whine fest with my own? The 3rd choice makes me a condescending bully. So literally, I can’t come out of this unscathed, either by your vomitus or by public consensus.

Let me put this bluntly: the world’s population is not a personal stash of toilet paper for soaking up your spew. That is not a role we signed up for. I know this may send a rending shock through your world view but, believe it or not, you are not the center of the universe. I fully understand that growing up in a world which has encouraged you to foist your self-centered drivel to anyone who would listen has left you with the mistaken impression that you are somehow entitled to do so at will.

You are a child in the guise of an adult. Learn to practice some modicum of restraint.

It is somewhat like training your bladder. There are times when you need to “go”, but no relief is available. Consider whether pissing yourself in front of a perfect stranger would be socially acceptable. If you conclude that it is not, consider holding it until you find an appropriate outlet for your discomfort.

If you need help, get help. Barring an emergency situation, if you think choosing a perfect stranger to counsel you in exceedingly personal matters is helpful or productive I first suggest you explore the subject of coping skills.

Don’t simply expect me or any stranger to bear your burden without protest.

« Older entries