I’m sorry, democracy is changing

*sigh* Lovely progressive Missourah’s new voter-supression law has gotten attention in the NYT and the Washington Post. Nice that we can gain the national stage for such proud endeavors as gay-bashing, ‘Defense of Marriage’ and the re-enactment of Jim Crow laws.

The Wa-Po op/ed:

“[Governor ‘Strom’] Blunt and others say the law will prevent fraud. Their opponents rightly point out that the measure disproportionately affects those who have been disfranchised in the past, such as the poor and racial minorities. Besides, they argue, Missouri hasn’t exactly suffered from an epidemic of imposters showing up to vote.

As one of the lawsuits filed to block the measure puts it, “It is statistically more likely for a Missourian to be struck by a bolt of lightning than to have his or her vote canceled by someone posing as another voter to cast a ballot.”

So glad the Kit Bond-zis of the world make an exaggerated issue of “voter fraud” every time an election might not go there way because of the urban vote. It appears to have paid off for the good ol’ boy.

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‘They were drawn toward The Hum’

Slowly, slowly all fall down, a blindfold dance and a 1-2-3
No mistake where they always emphasize security

GM’s Hummers, as a fact of 20th/21st century humanity, generally make me cry. But seeing Hummer drivers, themselves, often make me laugh–at least depending on my mood.

Not that I buy the stereotype mentioned in this hilarious article/ad review that Hummer owners are compensating for small…egos. But they often do have some kind of ‘issue’ going on, one they hope will be soothed by parading around something that is a brand first and a vehicle second. And that brand, as the article mentions, is quite a mixed one–not nearly as masculine, tough, or proud as a naive consumer might think. It reminds me of the ads for American trucks (“Ford tough” vs. Dodge RAM vs. Chevy ‘heartbeat of America’) with their rustic images and testosterone-laden phallus spots. Except trucks are more functional for their target, whereas Hummers attract ‘lifestyle’ chamelions who need a symbol to go with the image they hope they’re projecting.

Draw the curtains, shut the door,
The heater’s on–I couldn’t ask for more
I pull the sheets right overhead
Snuggle, snuggle safe in bed

Mostly, though, with such a loud and hollow brand like this one, it’s just funny to me to see people rolling around town with their insecurities and gullible consumer addictions on such blatant public display. That’s a pretty pricey designer shirt you’re driving. But if it makes you happy, well good for you…but I’ll still laugh.

Bright eyed young inherit all
treading down upon the fallen
They was drawn towards The Hum
Plenty more where they come from.

–The Hum (Killing Joke, 1982)

Your entertiainment dollar

*The problem of leisure
What to do for pleasure

I have long realized I’m too easily distracted and intrigued by many of life’s curiosities to delve into any one long enough to a)get good at it, b) become a continuously informed expert in it, or c) change my habits enough to devote more time to it. This condition covers the gamut of possible interests, from tennis to European history, from playing guitar to Australia, biking to astrophysics; hiking to home improvement skills. All interest me. All (and many more) steal my interest from the others.

Ideal love a new purchase
A market of the senses

Add to these interests a few patently guilty pleasures that steal my time at a rate disproportionate to the amount of fulfillment they add. Namely, televised sports. For the most part, I’m down to two: NHL ice hockey and European soccer. They are brain recess, diversions that I spend enough time on *to* become an ‘expert’ on them, even though that is not the goal.

As I said, I am ‘down to’ two, which means I’m trying to reduce the time I spend on them. I’ve pretty much axed tennis, football, and baseball. Similarly, I’m ever fighting the temptation to spend frivolously on new gadgets and hobbies whose interest will fade (economics says we are all essentailly insatiable beings of desire, living to consume), but that is a rant for another journal. I know I can’t eliminate them entirely, because diversions are necessary for inner peace. But give diversions like these a minute, and they take an hour. It’s a slippery slope from one TV game a week to every game on TV that week. They multiply so easily because they demand so little of you other than time.

Dream of the perfect life
Economic circumstances
The body is good business
Sell out maintain the interest

Yet that is time that I would ideally like to spend on other pursuits, be they new forms of exercise (physical fulfillment) and exploration, or simply other reading and writing (mental fulfillment).

There is an added economic factor in this equation. Watching NHL hockey or European soccer costs varying degrees of money, depending on the cable tier or season package you must purchase to witness a given set of competitions. Last winter, after the NHL’s cancelled season and the Blues absolutely blowing up their team, I bucked up for the NHL season package so that I could watch hockey under the much-needed new rules and would not be forced to watch the hideous Laurie/Wal-Mart-spoiled Blues.

That was a great decision. I loved it. I could watch the Islanders as much as I wanted, and I could catch great local announcers I hadn’t heard in years. Best yet, the NHL finally enforced its rulebook–an approach I’d been pining for for years and years–and it made for the most exciting hockey I’d seen in years. The skilled play was back, and the checking was hard–and legal.

But the season package provided an avalanche of games and, as wtih anything you invest in, I felt compelled to use it. It took so much time. Combined with a loss of affection for the sport after another lockout, I couldn’t fight the feeling that I was yielding too much time to this diversion.

Remember Lot’s wife
Renounce all sin and vice
Dream of the perfect life
This heaven gives me migraines
This heaven gives me migraines
This heaven gives me migraines

Now it’s the time of year when I must decide whether to renew the season package. The Blues are under new ownership; I could reject the package and just watch the games I can catch on their broadcast. Or I could go in another direction, put my entertainment dollar in a new area: the English Premiership (soccer) package. All the games every Saturday and Sunday. More European soccer than I could ever dream of. More time devoted to televised sports than I’ve ever given before.

Or, I could write a book.

*From the Gang of Four classic, ‘Natural’s Not in It’

‘Time keeps creepin’ through the neighborhood’

Heard a little more on our buddy Greg after his awful accident. In addition to his leg being amputated above the knee, and the collapsed lung, his shoulder is ‘significantly damaged.’ Not sure what that entails yet…

But he’s kept up phenomenal spirits and his wry sense of humor, telling our captain, “Well, lightning has struck twice.” I guess, really, what else can you do in that situation? There have to be troubled moments of deep self-pity, but I think Greg will tackle this with all he can.

Word has filtered around the team now, and obviously everyone’s shocked, putting their thoughts and/or prayers with him. Just wish we could see him, though clearly it’s not nearly time yet for him to be seen–he’s still on heavy pain-killers and I don’t know if they’re even done working on him. But we can email notes that the hospital will print for him.

Meanwhile, I go into another weekend grateful [ed. grateful to whom? I don’t know…] for my family, friends and health. And man’s search for meaning carries on…


Arcade Fire
Mildly witching gears, recently I belatedly discovered Arcade Fire and their first album “Funeral,” which I believe came out in 2004. It was written/completed amid several deaths in the band members’ families, and the emotion and feeling is beautifully captured in the vocals and combo of bass, guitar, piano, violin, and more.

It’s one of those ‘sad’ albums that is somehow uplifting — which I personally feel is the best way to deal with loss. To recognize but overcome. Cry as needed, feel your funk and sorrow, but marvel at the tides and mysteries of life in the process. Sort of a combo spirit of (in theory) Irish- and New Orleans-style funerals: with song, dance, and drink in memory of and tribute to what came before. Who wouldn’t prefer their own funeral to be a party for what was rather than regret for what will not be? I’d want that for my friends and loved ones, anyway.

‘Life Amazes Us Despite Our Miserable Future’

Such is the name of the humorously meloncholy song by The Robocop Kraus. Such is the refrain stuck in my head for the last several days.

The sentiment took on a more intensely sour meaning for me yesterday when I learned some tragic news about a friend and hockey teammate, Greg. He lost his leg in a still-sketchy accident in South Dakota while he was stopped, consulting a map, on the side of a road amid a cross-country motorcycle trip. I last saw Greg a month ago, skating on ice for the first time since he recovered from a completely different, unbelievably freak accident last year that fractured his pelvis and tore up his knee. And now, just like that. Horrific and absurd.

I’m not a religious person in any conventional or institutionalized sense of the word. I don’t believe in a single-minded ‘Creator,’ nor a divine being that watches over us, or looks out for us, or smites us, or keeps a ledger of our behavior, or has a special warm place for us when we are done. In short, I don’t see a single entity that has an active view or hand in what we encounter each day. But neither do I fault those who do (nor would I necessarily mind if my beliefs turned out to be dead wrong. Heaven sounds nice, at least in the brochure). I just haven’t seen the evidence. I haven’t discovered an inner compulsion to go that way.

I generally view humans as part of the same life force that animates everything else, from mosquitos to hippopotamuses to algae. But we as a species seem to have both the fortune and the curse of plodding along through life making more conscious changes and decisions about ourselves and–above all–stewing over life’s apparent ‘meaning,’ or lack thereof. Man’s search for meaning in events is both an endearing and maddening attribute. It’s one that certainly grabs me from time to time, even though my analysis usually finds meaning = 0.

The Fall of Because
But as I’ve interpreted this crazy journey so far, we’re all just life forms and combinations of carbon temporarily inhabiting this planet in a recognizable animal form. The difference between a bug devouring its own mate and a human suffering a tragedy is that, with humans, we all stop to ponder, to mourn, to reflect on why, how, for what fucking cause. Other species seem just to move along, ’cause that’s the way of things. But death is inherent in the definition of life. Life is meaningless without it.

And when I find there is no reason, the inevitable conclusion or call to action is the proverbial live it while you can. Seize life in a fulfilling, ‘meaningful’ (there’s that word again) way while some of its factors are still in your control. We’re aging toward death as soon as we’re born. As soon as you reach your physical and healthy peak (if you’re even lucky enough to get there), your body begins its decline again. You know, that whole spiel.

To some that transient nature is reason to believe in a divine mystery Who has the answer and Who has a better life waiting for us after this one. I don’t feel that way, so to me our transient nature is a call to explore it and understand it while we’re here. I’m an Earthly being, so this is the field of play I’m gonna study.

I have lived most of my life acutely aware (or perhaps just convinced) that I’ve been relatively “lucky.” Reared to value education and independent thought, things  and events in personal, professional and familial arenas have thus far worked out for me. But I’m also constantly wary (though not exactly fearful) of how quickly things can change. Tragedy has thus far avoided me, but in recent years it has finalaly touched and brushed against family and friends. Deaths, strokes, gunshots, displacement, miscarriage, heartbreak. I don’t worry about it, but I try to be in some way prepared for it. (I know. You can never prepare for it).

I know it’s an inevitable part of life, we all meet it eventually in one form or another. But it is part of the journey, and it honestly intrigues me how we are often inclined to seek ‘meaning’ or reason in it.

To me, there is no meaning. It isn’t there. Except to say that this *is* life. That’s it: that’s all there is. This doesn’t bother me–we’re just life forms with a particularly acute, overactive and beguilling consousness, after all. (“Our brains are too big for our own good,” as Vonnegut might say). But for me, the only avenue to enjoyment is to recognize this and enjoy observing and processing life’s absurdities, ups and downs in all their beauty and horror. Live it up while it’s here. Juggle its amusing absurdities while you can. If life isn’t interesting, i don’t see much reason to continue it.

Meanwhile, life’s tragedies will come. They are saddening, maddening, shocking and frankly piss me off. But they’re clearly part of our lot. And our lot, as far as I can tell, is all there is.

As always, two Killing Joke songs come to mind, in this case as therapy for processing senseless tragedy.

The Fall of Because
Look at the faces
Whose is the meaning
Forget the passion
Feeding the dead
The fall of because

Look at the faces
It’s cold outside
You’re on your own
Staying indifferent
The fall of because

It’s cold outside
Losing my fear
No more passion
Passion is fed
Because
The fall of because

Madness
Only the righteous kiss those lips
Too much guessing too much “need to believe”
This is madness madness

Why should I suffer when I can’t see your eyes?
Whose truth is your truth?
What brain can you pick? What lies?
This is madness

When did living start being a sin?
If this is today – well what the fuck’s tomorrow?
Whose fashion is your fashion?
What passion can you buy?
When you know god is dead
And you
are god?

This is madness madness
Madness madness
Fucking madness

Only the righteous kiss those lips
Too much guessing too much “need to believe”
This is madness madness

Why should i suffer when i can’t see your eyes?
Whose truth is your truth?
What brain can you pick?
This is madness

‘Chainsaw’

Greg W. (“Chainsaw”) is a friend and ice hockey teammate of mine. An edgy, determined defenseman who skates like someone half his age; I can skate around him initially, but his inner drive always makes him catch up, so that I yield nothing from my rushes around him.

Navy veteran, single, he’s traveled the Earth and has some stories to tell. Fantastic, caring gentleman. An intriguing, enthusiastic guy, the kind of person who you know has left a greater impression on you than you have left on him. He brightens the room with his smile and a sincerity of expression that tells you he’s dealt with a lot in life yet has always adopted the right approach to deal with it.

He missed all of last season because while riding motorcycles with some friends, a driver ran a stop sign and hit him, fracturing his pelvis and tearing ligaments in his knee. Greg, ever determined, swore he’d be back playing with us that same season, even though the rehab ahead of him was daunting. Well, he completed the rehab and was ready to go, but safe judgment determined it better he wait a little longer, give his body some time to rest rather than push it after the trauma of the accident and the rehab.

I saw him back on the ice for the first time a month ago during a summer pick-up game, and he hadn’t missed a beat. He was still catching up to me and frustrating me, ensuring that even if I have the puck, I won’t do anything productive with it. It was so good to see him, and we were all thrilled to know he’d be back with us again this winter. Rather than pure skill, our team is built on solid characters who like to play the game and like being around each other. Greg fits that mix perfectly.

Yesterday we learned he won’t be back. Absurd tragedy struck him again, and this time it’s unspeakably awful. Details are still sketchy, but on a cross-country motorcycle ride with friends in South Dakota, he pulled off the road and was consulting his map. The next thing he knew, he was in the hospital with a collapsed lung, and his leg had been amputated above the knee. Obviously something large and fast hit him. He called our captain from the hospital and has talked to him a couple time–briefly because he’s on a ventillator.

We’re in shock; I absolutely can’t imagine how he feels or what he’s going through. But as one friend put it, “Greg will get through this better than anyone else I know would; he has exceptional resolve and character.” I whole-heartedly agree. But that doesn’t change the bitter shame of this fucking tragedy.

As luck (ha, ack, ‘luck’–an absurd word) would have it, Greg is friends with a physician at the hospital in South Dakota where he’s stuck now for probably several weeks. I trust this will help him some. Mostly I think his own spirit would help him. “He has exceptional resolve and character.” Indeed.

The hotter it gets, the more we burn

No surprise that with a sustained heat wave upon us, air-conditioning use is at a high across the country. (The Pope is also still Catholic).

But as we live, so we burn. As William Saletan in Slate puts it in one of those killing joke, laugh-at-your-peril conundrum stories I happen to love:

“Thank goodness for air conditioning. To keep old folks alive, cities from Washington to Los Angeles are opening artificially cooled buildings to the public…

It’s a heartwarming—or, more precisely, a heart-cooling—story. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Air conditioning takes indoor heat and pushes it outdoors. To do this, it uses energy, which increases production of greenhouse gases, which warm the atmosphere. From a cooling standpoint, the first transaction is a wash, and the second is a loss. We’re cooking our planet to refrigerate the diminishing part that’s still habitable.

Reminds me of whenever I drive to my in-laws’ house on a hot summer day. As I leave the tree-depleted, interstate-paved urban suburbs to the “exurbs” where they live, I always notice the temperature drop as the trees provide cool shelter around me. And these issues inevitably come to mind.

But any fretting about wasted/abused/dwindling resources aside, I’m fascinated by what life may be like in 70 years, just as–in the midst of this broiling heat–I’m fascinated by what life was like before air conditioning. I know I for one would have been a lazy, heat-sapped sloth in the pre-air-conditioning 1920s. But then my shoddy immune system probably would have put me out of my misery, too.

‘Bohemia is it.’

<snip>…“Of all the lager beers, Czech beers are certainly the most unchanged,” said Garrett Oliver, the brewmaster and author of “The Brewmaster’s Table,”…</snip>

A sweet New York Times article on beer in (mostly) the Czech Republic. My father’s hometown is the origin of the “original” Budweiser style of beer in Ceske Budejovice (or Budweis). Due to silly, unending disputes with A-B, that beer is finally sold in the U.S. under the silly “Czechvar” brand. But the Czech brew that survives best (in my experirence) after import to the U.S. is also the original most readily available, Pilsner Urquell.

Our father didn’t really teach us the appreciation for beer common in his native land, but somehow through the natural fermentation in our genes, we found it anyway.

From the article:
Wine snobs might call this overreaching, but great beer is inextricably tied to its environment in much the same way that a great Burgundy displays a characteristic terroir. Real Pilsner, for example, is made with the low-sulfite, low-carbonate water of the Czech city of Pilsen, its original home. Many have tried, but it’s nearly impossible to make a good Pilsner elsewhere without doctoring the water, and even then, it will never taste the same.

But isn’t soot essential to the urban experience?

“Tesla girls, tesla girls

Testing out theories
Electric chairs and dynamos
Dressed to kill they’re killing me
But heaven knows their recipe”

–OMD

 

Now this looks interesting. A 100% electric (i.e. not hybrid) car in the works for 2007, that’s a sports car that goes 0 to 60 mph in ~4 seconds. And about 250 miles per charge (so not the 50 miles/charge that a lot of past experimental cars have gotten). Something you can actually drive around town for a few days without worrying about where you’ll plug in next. For about 1 cent per mile. And a silent “engine.” (Think of the aftermarket for faux-muffler-sound generators!)

 

What’s more, their business plan is to start off with this high-performance car for almost $90k — thus netting in the early-adapters and people who have money to burn on status and image, and then use the hype and word-of-mouth to drive demand for their less expensive family sedan and (hopefully) other models to follow.

 

Looks promising. Hopefully not another pipe dream. Hopefully the designers will not be shot by a deranged oil baron or the vice president (but I repeat myself).

 

Yes, electricity generation still uses fossil fuels–but with at least two huge differences from our “traditional” 20th century mode of getting around: 

1) it doesn’t depend on imported oil, and

2) it concentrates power generation (and exhaust) in single points (i.e. power plants) rather than out of every exhaust pipe carrying every American rear end. That means cleaner air to breathe for me and your children.

 

We can deny, or we can debate, or we can pretend…that global warming is a lie or at least human-activity-independent, that electric vehicle proposals are fantasy, or its a conspiracy of America-hating liberals jealous of oil barons’ ‘hard-earned’ money, but some factors should be obvious and give us pause:

–Our economy, and the success of any leading nation in the post-Industrial Revolution world, has depended first on its access to energy;

–Our access to energy is currently very oil-dependent, considering oil supply is close to peaking while demand (welcome to capitalism, Asia) is growing;

–The global fight for oil will only become a bigger and bigger part of each world power’s foreign policy, creating more chances for violent “run-ins” with China, Iran, India;

–Studies show the average human, if given a choice, prefers to breathe cleaner air rather than inhaling vehicle exhaust.

 

Certainly seems like reason enough to keep searching for an alternative. And fast.

 

We wait in joyful hope for the coming of our savior…Tesla Motors?

‘You have a freaking blog?!?’

…Or so spake my lovely wife, when I told her I was messing around with a site and blog software. Immediately skeptical of why someone would want a blog — just one more reason why I love her. She’s a teacher who doesn’t sit in front of a computer all day, so she’s not constantly tempted by links and jokes sent her way by mischievous friends. Her impression of why anyone blabs to no one in cyberspace was refreshingly appropriate. I’ve explained to her how some blogs are actually convenient resources (the niche-ier the better) rather than venomous pots of anonymous whining–which she already knows but doesn’t have the time to discover first-hand.

Which brings me to laugh at myself. I used to do a great deal of media research in emerging telecom technology. So ‘blog’ has been an annoying buzzword and next thing in my life since before anyone could joke about this form of narcissism. Even in my current position it is a word that is annoyingly thrown around with some degree of ignorance, hope and “we’re hip”edness. It’s a buzzword (still!) that everyone knows but with a function few can place. So naturally I am the last one to create one; and naturally my blog’s purpose is as narrow as they come. (Hi grandma!)

And the sad thing? I’m doing it for the software. Sure, audiences are nice, and I do intend to occasionally amuse friends or family, but I can do that over email anyway. This is more a convenient way for me to organize my thoughts, interests and written threads in a journal that’s not one long Word doc. If this here blog weren’t connected to them there “Internets,” I’d still do it for the organizational software, but I suppose knowing that someone else might actually see this will help discipline my writing, too. In college, our primitive email software had an online ‘resume’ you could use to talk about yourself (“favorite food: steamed squid”), which I instead turned into a personal repository of quotes and random satire of the administration. That served me quite well, and I think that’s part of what I’m looking for here.

So I love that I’m now the stereotypical blogger journaling about things no one else cares about. And I love that my wife can now make fun of me for that. And finally, I love that now there’s a blog she’ll feel compelled to check out every once in a while.

"Now that I know the final conflict is within…"