06 December 2015

An Hour With Bernie

The YouTube video referenced at the end of this sat in my Watch Later pile for about two weeks. If it took me that long to find an hour of time in my rather uncomplicated life [full disclosure: my wife had to work Saturday; I did not], there is little hope that anything more than a fraction of the population will be exposed to this speech. (And, like most everyone, I can watch YouTube on everything from the Smart TeeVee in the living room to the smartphone in my hand—we may not have time, but we do have options.) 

In my not-so-humble opinion, it was well worth finally viewing. The shame is that the problems so easily recognized and clearly outlined by Senator Sanders are virtually impossible to rectify. Not because it cannot be done—a solution need not be complicated, merely presented and agreed to—but because a handful of very powerful people will do everything it takes within all that power to see to it that it is not done. 

Sanders doesn't have a chance of winning the election, and that may or may not be a good or a bad thing. The bad thing is that, whoever does win the election, and from whichever side, will not bring a single kernel of Bernie's fairness and sensibility to the office. Any similar words you may hear exiting from their mouths while on the campaign trail will be carefully scripted pandering which, in time, will fade away to empty and forgotten promises. Beyond that, only a handful of people will be exposed to this material (and you, Dear Reader, may be one who simply says Oh, I don't think so... to sitting through it), but will be bombarded by hours (in three-minute slices) of everything from meaningless drivel to steaming piles of bullshit about and from the front-runners—one of whom will go on to become the Occupant.

And whichever candidate from whichever side wins, beginning with Inauguration Day and for the next four or eight years, the other side will spend all of its time screaming about what a shitty job the winner is doing. Rinse and repeat. But the more election cycles we allow to pass before enacting change, the more violent bringing change about will be. All while the earth itself is getting just as pissed off with the people who are inhabiting it as the people who are inhabiting it are with each other. 

Rant over. If you're still reading, you may as well watch the damn video. 

Bernie Sanders' Democratic Socialism Speech at Georgetown University
19 November 2015 


We are living in interesting times.

08 November 2015

Planetary Magic

On a finite planet with a closed atmosphere, we continue extract coal, oil, gas and water as if all three are replenished by magic springs, partying like it's 1999 (or 1929). We then dump the spoils of all this consumption, our tremendous amount of waste and pollutants, onto and into the land, sea and air as if magic filters will scour and remove our slag and detritus as quickly as we deposit it.

It is easy to understand becoming drunk on power with the advent of pistons, turbines and electric current doing the work of multiple humans. Who wouldn't embrace affordable lighting, heating, refrigeration, sanitation, and fast, comfortable transit, mass or personal? Even allowing for ignorance and greed during our early years of ecstasy as the Industrial Revolution unfolded, or blind faith that all this magic will continue to be provided by just-in-time technology or "god," by now anyone with even a modicum of wisdom can see that this is fantasy and fallacy. Oil, gas and water are dwindling and becoming more difficult, costly, and risky to extract. If these gods are going to step in and make it all better before Earth is just a tiny, spinning, lifeless cesspool in the universe, they'd better be about it.

Anyone who cannot see that we are fouling and killing land, air and sea as well as their inhabitants is in deep denial—or doesn't give a shit, which is even worse. Those who can afford to own, heat and cool one or more homes that contain arguably ten times the reasonable living space required per any human occupant, do so. Those who cannot afford to, thanks to the different magic provided by the finance industry, do so as well. By many estimates, we throw away up to 40% of our food, much of it before it even has a chance to be prepared. From Harley to HUMMER to Hatteras to Gulfstream, it ain't all-Amurican recreational fun if it ain't big and loud and it don't burn fossil fuel. A certain breed of asshole adopted the truly idiotic and obnoxious practice of "rolling coal," which takes something known for its fuel efficiency and, in recent years and despite recent setbacks, even cleanliness—the diesel engine—and makes it as fuel inefficient (and dirty) as is possible. What exactly is the primary winning force at work here that continues to feed this culturegreed, corruption, stupidity, apathy or denial?

All this reckless behavior while continuing to crank out consuming and waste-producing people at a rate faster than they're dying (or we're killing them) off. I personally remain in a non-dead condition thanks in large part to modern medicine—and the insurance that I am fortunate to have. (That it cost a million bucks for my cancer treatment, and whether I'm even worth two commas, is fodder for a future entry.) But we're keeping people alive, myself included, who simply would not survive the beginning of life or, if so, make a shorter run to the end of it.

Until we get real about having had the gift of some readily available and extremely dense energy sources along with clean, safe water sources for the past couple of centuries or so and understand that we simply must throttle back and make do with less, things are not going to work out. It takes twenty square feet of solar panels and ten hours of bright sunshine to produce the same amount of energy contained in the single gallon of diesel fuel you can carry with one arm. [I pulled that ratio straight out of my ass; to anyone who bothers to do the math/research and provides proof, I'll be happy to make the correction and give credit.] The sooner we all figure out and accept reality, the less painful—if even possibleadapting to it will be. And for most of us who don't manage to exit the premises before the defecation begins to truly hit the ventilation, it will be painful. Heading toward wind, solar, and whatever renewable resources we can develop and tap will be more like heading toward the era of burning wood and dung than it will be like the era of burning gas and oil.

If only we could harness and convert to usable energy the effort that goes into producing all the bullshit that goes toward convincing us that everything will be fine.

26 September 2015

Piss Tanks and Soot Cookers

Dammit. Every time diesel looks like it might take off in the USA....

You either love driving diesels or you don't; I fall into the first camp. Since my first 1978 Oldsmobile diesel, purchased used in the early eighties, I've enjoyed the fuel economy, range, and operation of the diesel engine and haven't stuck a gasoline pump nozzle into a car I've owned since. I've had four cars powered by five of those infamous 5.7 liter Oldsmobile diesel engines, and none of them owed me a thing—and I knew what I was getting into.

I did manage to work my way up to a car I lusted for when it was new, and could afford to buy about two decades later: a near pristine and low-mileage Mercedez-Benz 300SDL, the top-of-the-line, long-wheelbase version S-Class—the "Big Benz"—but with a 3-liter in-line 6-cylinder diesel rather than the 5-liter V-8 gas monster that more appealed to the American buyer who could afford to blow 50,000 1987 dollars on a car.

About a year ago someone did me the favor of hitting me head-on—thankfully not at high speed—and totaling my beloved old SDL. I say "favor" because a decision needed to be made about putting some funds into cosmetic work for the car as my real life Connecticut winter driving had taken its toll on this previously pampered baby. The thousands I would have spent would have yielded little return beyond my pride, so the timing was good. I was forced into what I pretty much had predetermined would be my next car: a Volkswagen Passat with the TDI engine. I wanted to go smaller in size, higher in fuel economy, and less prestigious and conspicuous in brand and status. The Passat was all that and more, and fit my requirements perfectly. I just didn't want it quite yet. In probably one of the quickest sales a dealership has ever seen, I parked my ass in a brand new 2015 Passat SE TDI with a fun-to-drive 6-speed stick. Save for that third pedal, about the dullest and fartiest vehicle in the VW lineup. Perfect.

About ten months and six thousand miles into the Passat I remained pleased as punch: nice car to drive, 48-50 miles-per-gallon, 800 mile range, and, pry the VW badges off the bow and stern and it could be a Camry or an Accord, the car is so nondescript. A car I could like but not worship. And finally, I could spout my unsolicited preaching of the joys of driving a diesel and now include, delivered with smug superiority, "clean running."

Along came "DieselGate."

Within days an almost surreal story unfolded telling of willful cheating by Volkswagen to alter the results of emissions, blossoming into what is looking like a quagmire second only to something you might not be surprised to find on Wall Street, but would never expect from Wolfsburg. This public relations nightmare will require an enormous amount of damage control and perhaps billions of dollars to make it better—it's hard to imagine at this point ever making it right.

There have been some changes in diesel emission controls having come two decades and crossing a millennium from my last to my current model year car. Where once upon a time, the "diesel emission system" consisted of and remained the same basic and primitive closed crankcase, positive crankcase ventilation (PCV) and exhaust gas recirculation (EGR) found in cars since the seventies, it's gotten way more complicated today. Electronics have reached the diesel engine, for fuel delivery, throttle/speed control (I reckon the good old flyweight governor is dead), valve timing—and emissions. Once upon that same time, after you got a diesel engine started the only thing you needed to keep it running (or stop it) was fuel (or no fuel). Those days are gone. Without a battery or alternator, you're just as stuck with a diesel as you are with a gas engine now.

My first startling experience with the emission controls in my TDI was the diesel particulate filter regenerator, or DPF, and its first- and second-cycle signature smell of burning plastic, the same kind of plastic found everywhere in automotive controls that, when it burns, makes you go straight to thinking something electrical is about to go up in flames (typically a switch, often headlight or dimmer). The diesel exhaust system is no longer nothing more than manifold, muffler and piping. Even the catalytic converter—lack thereof long a bonus of owning a diesel—has found its way to the diesel. I'm guessing a lot of this stuff is why you see so many buses on fire these days, due to intense heat where there never used to be in a more crowded engine compartment.

Particulate matter (soot), CO and sulfur derivative issues have been dealt with using reasonably simple and reliable controls, filters and re-blending of fuels. But nitrogen oxides (NOx) is the tough one to tackle. Enter the "piss tank," which holds "diesel exhaust fluid," or DEF. This magic urea cocktail (hence the various urine-themed slang terms) is injected into the system after combustion to reduce NOx. It also adds another never-before maintenance routine, the need to top off this tank of juice. Fortunately, the diesel exhaust has not gone from smelling like the odor I know and love to smelling like a busted urinal in a dive bar on a Sunday morning. (The "fry-o-lator" smell of biodiesel exhaust is bad enough.) But this stuff ain't cheap, and its consumption is directly related to driving habits and engine load.

Since the discovery of extremely high NOx output seems to be the main problem here, I'm betting that the hack was to reduce the consumption of DEF to avoid "inconveniencing" the customer by stretching out refills to last long enough to make it to the next oil change or service, thereby not causing an additional interim service scheduling annoyance and expense.

My best guess is that the combination of reasons VW went to such reckless lengthsWTF were they thinking? lengthsto defeat this system except when sensing emissions rating and testing is basically three-fold:

  1. Maintain fuel economy;
  2. Maintain performance;
  3. Reduce maintenance costs (DEF replenishment, expendable filters/parts).
Since it's all controlled electronically, turning the system on or off is as simple as, well, turning the system on or off. What they are inevitably calling the "VW Bug" (it's actually more hack than bug, as it's intentional, not accidental) might be connected to rear wheel movement, hand-brake position, steeringjust about anything that does something different under normal driving conditions than when chocked in a dynamometer for testing.

I like the car and would rather not look for an excuse to get rid of it. If VW wants to somehow compensate us beyond a "free" recall, I'm open to a gesture. Cash is nice. I won't quibble over a small performance hit, but anything beyond a tiny ding in my fuel economy and I will be pissed. Resale value is not a large concern of mine since I tend to drive cars into the ground, but nobody, particularly a diesel fanatic like myself, likes going from preaching all his annoying clean diesel gospel to being shamed and embarrassed by driving the pariah of the road.

As parents are wont to say, looking to induce guilt and shame, I'm more disappointed than I am angry with VW's behavior. At least all those Lemon Law-tainted Olds diesels I fancied were bad engines thanks to designer incompetence, not willfully unlawful and deceptive behavior. And I bought all those cars, priced accordingly, after the cat was out of the bag.

29 August 2015

Horse Sense

Shortly after taking office, New York City's Mayor Bill De Blasio seemed to make the banning of horse-drawn carriages in Manhattan his primary mandate. As it seems with just about everything these days in the U S of A, there are extremely vocal groups arguing for, groups just as vocal arguing against, and probably a group thousands of times larger than both groups combined who are completely unaware of or apathetic to the cause.

On the issue, I'm not sure where I stand beyond preferring to cease any cruelty to animals if there's any cruelty to be ceased. I'm neither equine rights fanatic nor starry-eyed lover of the iconic horse-drawn carriages of NYC, fondly remembering lusty fondling beneath the blanket in the back of a brougham, driver oblivious to—or jaded and uncaring of—passengers stoking (and stroking) the boilers of libido just a few feet aft. (It does prompt one to wonder what sort of juices might be all over those blankets, and the frequency of laundering. And you thought cheap motel bedspreads lit up under long-wave ultraviolet light.) For me, they're there in the background, a part of the cityscape that has always been; if I ever did ride in one, the experience was so non-important that I don't remember it. But I might miss them, perhaps by proxy for others, since deep down I guess I really don't personally give a shit, horse or other, were they to be gone.

I do remember reading about the horses of New York City some time back, perhaps in the New Yorker magazine, and if memory serves, the piece pronounced the whole thing humane, the stables clean, the staff caring and attentive, the horses, like the people and pets of the city, hardened to and apparently not traumatized by the cacophony about them. On second thought, maybe that was about the horses of the mounted police. And in Time.


Once removed from the streets, will we come to learn that the horses' fate was to be slaughtered and re-purposed into dog food? I suppose, if they are miserable in their lives as carriage slaves, it might be a relatively quick and humane release from their living hell. We can still tell all the little kids and horny lovers that they were transported to farms upstate and are living their remaining years in relaxed bliss, eating five-star oats and hay and banging or being banged by super-hot country fillies and stallions.

08 August 2015

Wasted Talent

I was once told, by an old salt whom I respected and whose opinion I valued, that "you have boating in your blood the way you run that thing," that thing being the Rhana-B, my father's bristol, 1963 Egg Harbor 37, his last in a long line of boats before he swallowed the anchor back in the mid-seventies. [Link is to same model, different boat.] My reply was along the lines of (but to be honest, probably not as polished as), "In my blood, perhaps, but I don't have boating in my heart."

That something is/was "in your blood" doesn't necessarily mean it's beneficial. Jewelry, thanks to a family business, was in my blood for years. So was alcohol. Neither were the best things for me.

Just because you have the capability to do something well doesn't mean you love, or even like, doing it—or should do it, if you truly dislike whatever it may be. I grew up on and around (and not frightened or throwing up over the side of) boats and didn't mind running my father's pride-and-joys, it just was not something I would pursue or continue on my own despite all the exposure and experience. Some are quick to call this ability to do but choice to not do "wasted talent." To them, I offer this:

Think of something you truly dislike, even hate doing, but despite that, genetics and/or environment created a sick little joke that made you an absolute prodigy at whatever it might be. Would you want to do it for the rest of your life? Yes, you say, if you can make a great living doing it. Don't be so quick to make that deal.

Continuing to use pleasure boating as an example, the forces of romance, status and pride can seemingly fog the concept of a good time. So many of the boat owners I witnessed during The Boating Years looked positively panicked and miserable running these complicated and expensive toys they owned, much of the misery coming from their near total operator incompetence manifesting for all to see at the most critical times, e. g., backing down into a slip or rafting with another boat. And I speak not of new boaters "learning the ropes" (including that they're called lines) who with practice become proficient and capable yachtsmen; I speak of those who have been putting themselves through this for years, with little or no improvement in skill and confidence. Who likes a hobby that regularly betrays one's incompetence and causes embarrassment? All those people manning boat hooks and dropping fenders over the side aren't the boating community joining together to help and be courteous, they're merely scrambling to defend their own and other people's personal property from damage—they've seen this "captain" in action before, and no, it wasn't just a small scrape. Pardon my conceit, but when I backed dad's boat into the slip, people on either side just hoisted their glasses in salute and stayed right where they were.

Once she's all tied up and the engines are shut down, the owner/operator should walk from the helm and stand on the bridge with a look of pride and accomplishment on his face, not weak-kneed, I-need-a-drink relief from the torment finally being over until the next good time he has to suffer through.

Whatever your hobby or "claim to fame," from boating to baking, you should love performing the process as much as you love presenting the achievement. It may sometimes offer a challenge, but should never be an ordeal.

Not everyone who wants to dance can, but not everyone who can dance wants to.

02 August 2015

They Killed Cecil

For about a week now, during periods when we're not anticipating what verbal vomit will next be ejected from The Donald's mouth or pretending that the parched and burning west coast is not indicative of much bigger problems to come, a large part of the country (and the world) has been lighting the torches and sharpening the pitchforks in a hunt for the hunter—one Walter Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who, in a theoretically "good and legal" hunt gone terribly bad and illegal, paid fifty grand to (apparently) accidentally shoot to death a locally well-known and loved—not to mention physically distinctive—13-year-old male Southwest African lion named Cecil. As the news of Cecil's death exploded on social and other media, Dr. Palmer went to ground, if not at the suggestion of his attorney, by his own survival instincts: I'm guessing there are more than a few scopes both virtual and literal trained on Dr. Palmer's head.

Even buying that the guides—and the hunter—truly believed that this hunt was "clean," that they had no clue which lion they were killing, his tracking collar perhaps obscured by Cecil's glorious and famously black mane; even allowing that it's allowable to lure any animal out of a national park for the purpose of shooting it; and even allowing and accepting the practice of hanging dead animals' heads, skins and other body parts on the wall as trophy or decor, what exactly is it that makes one feel good, proud and satisfied about taking the life of an animal that has no reason—food, threat, injury, disease, overpopulation—to be killed? And why is first shooting the animal with an arrow and not successfully killing it, then finishing it off more than a day later not cruelty and torture? (I get that Cecil ran for cover, as would most anything shot by an arrow. What I don't get, in an age where we've taken the projectile to much more reliable and efficient heights, is why we're still shooting things with arrows. More "sporting?" Tell it to the wounded and suffering animal.)

As stated earlier in this fledgling blog (though for very different reasons), I am neither belt-buckle-proud NRA-member and game hunter nor all-guns-are-evil bumper-sticker vegetarian activist. I do not attempt to force myself into eating a diet other than that of the omnivore I am by design, and, like many of my kind, choose to not dwell on the lives and deaths experienced by the animals who gave their former and suffered the latter to become the neatly butchered and shrink-wrapped chunks of beef, pork and poultry upon which I feast. Call me a hypocrite, but at least an honest one.

What I cannot wrap my head around is the mind that gets off on killing for pleasure and trophy animals of any kind, but I suppose more so those considered rare and exotic. Which is not to flat-out say, It's wrong, but is merely my personal opinion. Mr. Palmer, after taking Cecil, no doubt assumed The Pose, most typically one foot on the kill, weapon in hand, now infamous vitreous white-toothed smile (he puts his mouth where his money is) beaming for the lens. And Cecil may have been the ideal example that so easily lends his killing to public outrage: capable of invoking "The Lion King" images as well as those of an actual, locally (and now globally) famous and beloved animal, something you cannot achieve by simply killing for free a common deer or even ordinary black bear.

Why this is so hard for me to understand makes little sense. We kill our own species, oftentimes complete with some variation of The Pose; throughout history we've painted and photographed images of conquerors holding up severed human heads, trophies of The Hunt. Perhaps taking big and/or exotic game puts more value on the prize. It's the most killing fun you can have for fifty grand without killing another human being.

25 July 2015

It's Too Late

Excerpt from a LinkedIn discussion thread some time ago:

It has been said that “When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross,” to which I would add, "and have 'carry permit' and be well armed." Is it too late? If not, what can be done? -author unknown

Perhaps more plutocracy than fascism, but in my not-so-humble opinion, yes, it's too late.

Not that there weren't plenty of warning signs and opportunity to slay this beast before it grew too big to kill (or too big to fail), but energy, water, infrastructure, economy, politics, culture, you name it, where there are warning signs, we are masters at ignoring them. For years we've been talking about reining in out-of-control campaign finance and other monetary political influence, yet over those years, we've sat back and watched the problem worsen. Or just plain remained oblivious to it. Wall Street now owns Washington, and Main Street is paying the mortgage. We have all but boiled an electionlocal to presidentialdown to he or she who has the most money, wins. As we spool up another presidential campaign circus, that is currently one Donald Trump. [insert deity here] help us all.

The people of the world who aren't busy killing each other must be watching and laughing at the spectacle that has become the USA, but we're too shameless to be embarrassed. Tipping point? Long past; we're toppling.

While I can understand (though it both sickens and saddens) how and why a large percentage of the population buys into this "trickle down" and "job creators" nonsense and continues to allow it, what I cannot understand is how a handful of powerful and intelligent people with a U. S. flag in one hand, a bible in the other, and a fountain of empty promises (and outright lies) spewing forth from their mouths can reconcile their actions and behavior with their so-called patriotism and religion. But beyond that, this course our leadersboth business and political, if they are even able to be separated any longerhave us on, while in the short term has created exponential growth of wealth for the already wealthy, comes at a cost of crippling the middle class and crushing the poor, not to mention siphoning funds away from badly needed infrastructure maintenance and upgrade. It is difficult to see how in the end there is any option other than completeand literalcollapse.

So enough with the "Job Creators" bullshit. Beyond demand, the only reason a domestic job gets created is when a company cannot employ machine technology or outsourced (or undocumented) carbon-based units and is has no other choice than to use genuine, domestic, carbon-based W-2 or 1099-MISC human resources. This has been going on since long before there was the Internet, electronics, or global economy; since before the engine, internal or external combustion; since before sea, air and rail transport; since before grid electric power. Humans treated like animals (or worse) worked our fields before Whitney and Deere and McCormick mechanized cultivation and harvesting. We're still paying for that Bad Idea whether we want to admit it or not.

Don't pretend you're doing a good deed and make a P. R. puff-piece out of creating a local job or two. It's just that the current technology/cost leaves no other alternative than to use local humanoids for the task.

18 July 2015

Pictures, Pictures, Everywhere

We can't seem to go a minute without taking an image of something with our phones (and, occasionally, dedicated cameras), sending, sharing, uploading what is often useless dreck, a waste of everyone's time, the time often wasted at work. But perhaps it's all part of the next phase: we're halfway to becoming illiterate, so images will become the only way we document and communicate. They may be digital and called "emojis" this time around, but we're regressing from the written word to visual glyphs.

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but what happens when there are no more words?

The user interface, shifting toward an adult "Playskool" environment, might be where we're going whether we want to or not. I am not alone in having observed this shift since long before Microsoft released Windows 8 upon the world. Shorter attention spans and a general loss of literacycollege graduates includedare causing us to dumb down. Our computer/tablet/phone desktops are starting to look like a Denny's menu or a McDonalds cash registermore pictures, fewer words. Customer or cashier, the tired, drunk, stoned or illiterate can just point to what they want without saying or reading a word. Why write actual words when you can just snap a picture with your mobile, tack on a little happy face or swirly-turd, hit Send and be done with the communication?

Might this be related to our refusal to grow up (which is not the same as fighting the aging process)? Dave & Busters is nothing but Chuck E. Cheese with booze for young "adults," and the silly, immature, glitter-infused alcoholic drinks and flavored liquors and beers we drink indicate a population that is not maturing with adulthood. Hell, we even have adult chewable vitamins in the style of Gummy Bears. When I was a kid, I strove to grow up enough to drink real beersans any stupid fruit or mismatched additional flavorand straight scotch, not a sugar-fortified pastel-colored Slurpee with booze in it. Going from Flintstones to Centrum, St. Joseph's to Bayer, root beer to real beer, were rites of passage. We are not growing into adults; we are growing into adult-aged children. Fat, ignorant, spoiled, unhealthy ones.

"Sharing" our lives is no longer taking the time to write something out, to share intimately, one-on-one or one-to-few; it's snapping with our phone a picture of something as mundane as breakfast and broadcasting it via social media for everyone we know, even tangentially, to see, most of whom probably don't give a shit about our breakfast. (Speaking of, do we post our morning poop later? That's about the only use I can see for the swirly-turd emoji that for some odd reason has eyes and a smile.) Ever since film and cameras became available to the masses we have taken pictures, but it was not the primary means of communication, more a photographic record. Digital has brought the cost of taking pictures down to nearly zero, and hard disk (and cloud) storage is not much more than zero per gigabyte today. This allows for taking and saving a virtually unlimited number of shots. The cost of film and developing, as well as a limited number of exposures on a roll, at least gave the photographer reason to pause before pressing the shutter release. We are drowning in a sea of images, but only a fraction of them are good photographs.

The god-forsaken "selfie" has taken this to all-new, narcissistic heights. WTF, people. Send yourself a post card, "Glad I'm here, and glad I'm here with me!" and sign it, "Love, Me." One of these days I'm going to grab someone's selfie stick and beat them over the head with it. It will be worth being escorted out of the venue by Security, and maybe a couple of people will applaud.

The trend is not completely without its merits, though the good is often a dark good: evidence. Shocking crimes and ugly truths swept under the rug for far too long are reaching our eyes, and if the networks won't bring them to us, the Internet will. Hopefully and with luck, we'll finally begin the process of righting some terrible wrongs. It's a shame that it had to come to this, but if it takes dash-cams and body cams and citizens with camera-phones to keep us honest, or assist in the prosecution of those who are not, then so be it.

A cloudy bright side, but a bright side nonetheless.

11 July 2015


Like many, I am neither belt-buckle-proud NRA-member and game hunter nor all-guns-are-evil bumper-sticker vegetarian activist. But I do believe that just a little more background checking and delay before allowing citizens to take ownership of firearms might help, and probably not hurt. A Kit-Kat bar is an impulse buy; a Glock 9mm is not. True, there is a thriving black market for unregistered or stolen guns, and plenty of legally obtained and registered weapons are involved in crimes. As I write this, we are still learning of yet another breakdown of a system, this time the FBI's Background Check System, which failed to prevent the sale of a gun to Dylann Roof, accused of killing nine people at a church in South Carolina.

Where is the logic in stopping none, rather than some?

Guns involved or not, we could possibly achieve a good deal more prevention of violent crime by simply recognizing some signs and acting upon them before it's too late. While a lot of the persons who commit mass murder and other heinous crimes were indeed the "quiet, polite, never-saw-it-coming" types we see time after time in television interviews with neighbors, coworkers and family, many who eventually make it to the nightly news were clearly, undeniably, batshit crazy, leaving behind plenty of evidence to prove it long before they executed whatever sick plan they were brewing. Discovering this information would not require probing covert surveillance and loss of privacy, merely better observation and recognition of suspicious overt actions on websites and social media, and better communication between health care, education, law enforcement, etc.

We invest so much money and effort on cool and profitable things, but have a complete aversion to investing in the boring but important stuff that might help us survive ourselves and the future.

Finally, here's a thought to perhaps curb the number of children gunned down by mistake in this trigger-happy country we've created: The manufacturers/importers/retailers won't do the right thing and simply cease production/sales, and entertaining laws prohibiting the sale of certain toys would lead to a rabid, Big Brother backlash. But isn't it time consumers and parents—and kids old enough to know better—just exercised some common sense and stopped going out to play with toy guns that look so damned real?

Sometimes we have to take a little bit of responsibility for ourselves.

03 July 2015

Introverted Drunks

I hung up my alcoholic spurs about two decades ago, but for all the drunk I got—and I got a lot of drunk—I am happy to report that I never found myself having gotten into anything like those embarrassing (and pathetic and disturbing) situations shown in pictures that circulate about the Internet. We've all seen them pass through our In Boxes: unresponsive, vomit-covered and urine-soaked young men wedged unconscious between the toilet and the wall of some public bathroom stall; bodily fluid-splattered young women in various stages of undress leading one to wonder just how many things were shoved into someone's daughter and where while she was out cold and oblivious. No doubt many a time as the door closed behind me or I stumbled away from the table to crawl home comments were made as to how I was pretty well lit and whether or not I was okay to drive, but I never faced any "Do you at all remember what you did last night?" announcements after waking up in an unfamiliar place with dried puke down my front, unfamiliar (as opposed to familiar?) panties on my head, and a load of piss and poop in my pants.

Perhaps I escaped these treasured moments because my drunken career built slowly; I was well into adulthood before I would cross the famous "blacked-out drunk" threshold, and then, always at home, alone. (Johnnie Walker and I managed to disjoin a happy and loving couple, by no means the first relationship destroyed by booze, which assisted with the alone part.) When forced to be out at some function I would pace myself, drinking as much as any normal heavy drinker (whatever that is), never a stranger to the bar, but rarely getting staggering, slurring, drunk in public. Once released from the function, I would finish the job at home, however many drinks it would take and until whatever hour. The job wasn't done until I couldn't remember finishing it, which usually meant waking up the next morning to a fresh cigarette burn in the comforter, the remains of a scotch on the night table, and some unexplained object—often the CD player remote—in bed with me, like a trophy brought back to a crow's nest. I went through a lot of eyeglass frames during The Drinking Years, from collisions with door frames when guessing, incorrectly, which was the real door.

Growing up in Connecticut during the state's legal-at-eighteen experiment, I was lucky enough to enjoy legal drinking early on. (Personally, and despite being an alcoholic, I still believe one should learn how to drink before one learns how to drive. Giving a kid a driver's license before a drinker's license just seems like a bad idea.) As a teen and into my twenties and beyond I was never a "party drunk"—I hated parties then, I hate parties today (more so sober)—so getting shit-housed and rowdy with a bunch of equally shit-housed and rowdy friends was never my idea of a good time. I would grow into that guy who drank too much but remained a functioning alcoholic for years—not yet drinking during the day or on the job (that day would come), but the first to say Yes without hesitation when the sun went over the yardarm. You never had to encourage me to have a drink. If someone wanted the motion seconded for the Should we start drinking? vote, I was your man.

Our super-sharing and social society does not shower many benefits upon us introverts, but I'll take this one.

20 June 2015

Shop Manuals

I was disappointed after receiving the shop manual I ordered for a new Honda generator, but at first couldn't put my finger on why. Then I realized: shop manuals are no longer the good, long reads they once were. Gone is text not only explaining in print the how to perform the maintenance/repair/adjustment at hand, but also the background and theory into how and why something works.

Today's manuals, like so many things, seem to have become more about pictures and less about words, just cutting to the chase. Is this because those who are expected to work on stuff are better trained, and understood to be able to fill in the general technical/mechanical blanks when servicing things? Or that our busy lives—and busy jobs—do not allow for any "wasted" time on interesting but frivolous information? That's hard to believe, since we are surrounded, including at work, by frivolous and huge time-sucks like Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. Does time allow, but attention spans do not? Or is it because we've all become so "in the moment" that we don't care about the background, the "why" stuff is the way it is? Need it, Google it, execute it, forget it.

Or is it because we simply cannot read?

The Detroit Diesel In-Line 71 Service Manual was a compelling book I could curl up with on a rainy day just to read for pleasure, not only to study in preparation for upcoming service or repair of my bus's engine. The Honda Generators EM6500SX Shop Manual is just something on the reference shelf to be pulled out only when needed.

Are curiosity and retention dead, deemed simply wastes of time? Pity, if so.

06 June 2015

Acceptable Behavior

I personally don't think Doug Hughes (gyrocopter guy) is a nut-case, but then again, that very description has been applied to me more than a few times, so who am I to judge? Nonetheless, does anyone, left, right or center, save for perhaps those reaping, directly or indirectly, the harvest of the money itself, disagree with the need to get obscene amounts of funding and its influence out of politics? Unfortunately, Mr. Hughes's action—and his Bernie Sanders appearance doesn't help—is the type of thing often associated with the psychologically unstable, allowing for quick and convenient dismissal as such. But it's a fine line between genius and madness; so also might it be a fine line between activist and revolutionary, protester and rioter, soldier and terrorist?

Who is to say that someone is crazy or going outside acceptable behavior when they've tried, individually or as a group, every "acceptable" means of demonstration, never to be heard? There have been many voices, resounding and respected, that have tried to educate the public and convince politicians of, to cite two examples of which a reasonable amount of the general populace are aware if not informed, racism and campaign finance reform. But the national, mainstream media never seems to enlighten the broad audience of these crucial issues and seething cauldrons of rage until some group sets a city block on fire or lone individual lands a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn. And regarding the latter, latch onto the security issue, not the purpose of the mission in the first place. Left to the major television networks and press, all of which, let's don't forget, make massive amounts of money on campaign advertising, the payload on board that 'copter—innocuous letters, not armed explosives—and Doug's mission were all but ignored; the shock and sensation of some senior citizena Florida Man, of coursein a flying bicycle managing to mosey along for miles flying literally beneath the radar of some of the most restricted airspace in the country was the story, period. We already know our national security is falling apart along with our infrastructure. The media (and, alas, viewers) were probably disappointed when he didn't blow himself up or pull out an AK and start shooting.

Perhaps once in a while a story should lede before it bleeds.

30 May 2015

If I Had The Tools

One of my all-time favorite memories of my father and our jewelry store (my first life; the memories are not all good) was when an out-of-towner, visiting our charming and affluent New England shoreline village, would come into the store, place some precious personal item that needed attention on the counter, look down his or her faux-patrician nose at the olive-skinned, head loupe-wearing peasant and announce, in a derisive tone, "It's such a minor repair. If I had the tools, I'd do this myself." In other words, this is so simple you should drop everything you may be doing and tend to my needs so I can be on my important way, and there shouldn't be a charge. Treat me right, and I might just buy one of those emerald rings I'm pretending to be interested in.

My father would go into the shop, collect whatever tools were necessary to complete the task (including an acetylene tank and torch, if need be), walk back out to the front, place everything down on the counter and say, "Here. Now you have the tools."

There is great schadenfreude in watching people squirm after their bluff is called.

Another favorite was the visiting matron/yuppie who needed some "small repair or adjustment" to their priceless piece that they would "normally give to their own jeweler," "hate to let anyone else touch," are "worried about getting the same stone back," etc. The old man would take the piece, disappear into the shop, pick up a hammer, wail on a steel mandril or other handy noisemaker for a few seconds, then come out with a handful of random pieces collected from his bench. And she would be ignorant and self-centered enough to be blind to the fact that it was a joke.

And, lest I (or he, posthumously) be labeled sexist, the same game worked on visiting men, though their small repair or adjustment was typically on their precious Rolex or Patek. For them, my father would make somewhat softer noises, and grab a handful of watch parts to walk back out with.

Not all of the time I spent in retail was spent in misery, but few people were less suited for it than my old man and me.

19 May 2015

Don't Forget the Vet

My meager charitable donations are heavily weighted toward veterans and lightly toward the more popular suffering or starving animals, children, etc. I've nothing against animals and children (animals, anyway), but everybody likes animals and children, so they get their fair share of support thanks to heart-string-tugging commercial pleas drenched in Johann Pachelbel and Sarah McLachlan.

But we tend to forget the vet, from funding and solutions mired by gridlock in Washington, to apathy and ignorance from the general populace. It is shameful and sometimes criminal how we treat our soldiers after we've sent them off to die or be maimed (physically, psychologically, or both) for the arguably good or actual protection of the country. Whether one agrees with the wars they fight or not, let's don't forget that these men and women are following orders, not creating them.

 A politician is a fellow who will lay down your life for his country.
-Texas Guinan

16 May 2015

Ruining The Future

Declinist that I may be, I still take a lot of what I read in Economy In Crisis with a grain of salt. But this sentence, from a referenced 2012 article in the arguably even more salt-grain-worthy ETF Daily News, resonated:

We are ruining the future of this nation in order to make the present more pleasant for ourselves.

Sums it up beautifully, but all that "pleasant" is shifting more and more toward the top and away from the bottom.

We humanoids (worldwide) have created competitive, not cooperative, cultures, societies, economies. It may simply be in our nature, but it is beginning to look like we're about to find out how this all plays out in what is looking more and more like the endgame of a race to the bottom. The flow of money is opposite the flow of heat; money moves toward itself (despite everyone knowing this and what it's doing to us, and, unlike the laws of thermodynamics, this one we can actually change). Companies continue, through technology and shareholder demands, to do more stuff with fewer people. How can this ever create more than just low-level, unsecure jobs not yet replaced by machine while we continue to make more people who need jobs paying a decent wage and offering some financial security? It seems like simple math that just cannot add up, and yet we continue to run the same equation. How can this possibly end well for more than just a few, and for even those, how much time can their money buy before it all collapses?

The uber rich will have, for a while, amassed enough wealth to be able to purchase pleasantor at least shelter, food and health care—by spending liquid assets and jettisoning other equity as needed. (Provided there are still buyers. As of this writing, they're bidding fine art into the stratosphere.) You're in a very different world of "pain" when you can cut back 90% of your income/wealth and still have more remaining than 90% of the rest, who will experience misery like they never imagined in even their worst fever dreams or blockbuster apocalyptic films. But in time, the game will play out for even the super rich. Their future generations will come late to the party, but eventually get caught holding the bag.

We've gotten used to boom-and-bust, zero interest and "Quantitative Easing" as the acceptable norm, but what if the next crash is the one from which we cannot recover? What happens when the smoke clears, the mirrors crack, and the duct tape and bungee cords holding this charade together finally snap? What happens when the perfect storm of climate change, fuel/energy scarcity, food scarcity, water scarcity, collapsing infrastructure and collapsing economy all collide? Will our last ounce of strength and cent of fiat currency be put into war? It won't be the first Great Depression; it won't be the first World War; it won't be the first collapse of currency; it won't be the first collapse of civilization. But it will be the first time we run out of fuel and water, at least on a large scale.

Perhaps this income inequality is not by accident. Those at the controls are running this economic engine hard and over-speed; the exhaust manifolds are red hot, the oil is worn and dirty. They know damned well that it's going to blow apart, but worse, they know that this time, it could be a long time—generations—before it begins to recover, if it ever does. The rich are playing their own version of prepping. Only they're not stockpiling guns, ammo, food, water and fuel, they're simply stockpiling Cash and Other Assets. Because when you have enough Cash and Other Assets, you can buy all the guns, ammo, food, water and fuel you want. Or so you hope. And it will work, until it's truly Game Over, however and whenever the game finally ends.

The renaissance, after the Big Crash & Reboot, might be a beautiful time to live for whoever is around to experience it, until human nature eventually just repeats the same mistakes. A Tragedy of the Commons does not need fossil fuels, Washington, or Wall Street. But the period when we really begin to circle the drain, then go down same, will be both fascinating and terrifying, albeit not all at once, but like a tsunami moving inland as it makes its way up the income/worth ladder. Illness (and lack of health care), violence (with weakening or corrupt law enforcement), and suicide (just let me out of here) will assist with reduction of the population, at least, so what remains of resources will stretch a bit longer for those who can afford to purchase some pleasant.

It is possible that all this angst is for naught, and it won't be a slow and painful death; maybe one of those near-miss meteors won't miss. After all, it won't be the first time.

Tip of the tin-foil hat to ya.

11 May 2015

You Can't Catch Gay

I'm proof positive for all those bible-thumping right-wingnuts that exposure to homosexuals does not "rub off" and "infect" young "victims." With a fag-hag for a mother (the term learned from gay friends) and a tolerant father, few kids were exposed to more gays and lesbians than I from childhood onward. As a very young (male) child I wantedand receivedfor Christmas a toy kitchen set, much to my former Army Drill Sergeant father's Tonka truck or toy M-1 Carbine instead dismay. There's a picture of me having just set it up and, honestly, current me would have put a hundred bucks down on the me in the picture turning out gay. And it's not the present, it's the pose. I went through a stage of wearing my mother's beads and clip earrings. I worked on tractors and cars and boats with my father and his straight friends; I went to the theatre and museums and listened to show tunes with my mother and her gay friends. (The latter sometimes without the protection of mom or dad, and not once did any of them gays try to molest me or bring me over to the other side.) I wear purple shirts and pink ties. When I finally succumbed to carrying a cell phone, I insisted that it be a pink Razr.

I've enjoyed multiple friendships with, been influenced by, and loved many gay people throughout my life. Hell, my mother would have been thrilled were I to have cued "I Am What I Am" from La Cage au Folles and come bursting out of the closet, arm-in-arm with my boyfriend. (It would have been fabulous!)

Yet despite all this, and with no pressing reason coming from any cornerparents, family, friends, careerto pretend to be otherwise to either myself or others, when it comes to sex, I turned out plain old straight. Never once have I looked at another guy and thought (or suppressed), Man, I'd like to do that.

We The People have plenty to quarrel about that's a lot more important and valid to our future survival as a nation and a species. Can we just put this dumb argument to bed, and get into same withand marrywhomever we desire?

09 May 2015

A Dollar a Day

LogMeIn pulled the plug on their free subscriptions, forcing me to either go elsewhere (Teamviewer is nice for free, but it's no LogMeIn), or pay to play. My gamepared down from 10 to 5 computers which I maintain at no charge for friends and relativesis now costing me almost forty bucks per month.

This prompted me to think of it in terms of the old arguments, Marketeer pro and Suze Orman con, of just how littleor muchthat really is. The math does not require calculus or a spreadsheet, though the latter can help drive the point home (and be saved and updated).

Daily, it comes out to $1.36indeed, "less than a cup of coffee," and Dunkin' Donuts, not Starbucks. But annually, it's almost $500. For most of us, that's real moneynot a cup of coffee, but several weeks' worth of groceries. Or a car repair. Teamviewer is starting to look a lot better.

Go ahead, try it yourself. Pull all those recurring "small" monthly expenses you may haveOn-Star, Spotify, Netflix, SiriusXM, elevated or "premium" subscriptions, cable tiers and data plans, even charitable donations (it begins at home). It may not be easy, for most of these leeches have convinced you of the convenience of auto-debit; the charges are silently sucked out of your account, leaving a small void to magically be filled in by the next auto-deposited paycheck.

Now do the math, and revaluate the services rendered. There has to be at least one that, if you're honest with yourself, is not worth the expense based on current cash flow and return on investment. If you've never had the pleasure, canceling a low ROI subscription can be cathartic.

It's amazing how easy it is to trick our stupid minds. Hell, we've been falling for the same $9,999 being "less than ten thousand dollars" since the Marketeers discovered the trick, and we show no sign of grasping reality.

02 May 2015

You Prefer Chaos?

People tend to complain about "putting up" with those of us who exhibit mildly obsessive but not full-blown OCD tendencies (e. g., "ordering," with which I am afflicted). But what exactly is the problem with our tidy and precise quirks (clocks set and synchronized to the second, dishes washed promptly, shelved items alphabetical, labels forward) if we don't freak out when you don't comply with the demands of our little demons? If we admit that you're the "normal" ones and we're the freaks, and we truly don't mind - which is different from coping with - your normal behavior, where's the problem in your being able to know what time it is without a doubt, immediately locate the rosemary in the spice cabinet, or grab from the shelf the Huey Lewis (under Lewis, Huey of course) CD you want to listen to? Is it a problem that the spoons are all spooning in the drawer, and in the same direction as the spooning forks?

26 April 2015

Deferred Maintenance

Our country finds itself in a position similar to the homeowner who finally accepted that he has been living beyond his means and cuts back on discretionary spending, but now has no savings and cannot afford to take care of mandatory maintenance and repair, forcing him to take on additional debt to fix items that are now failing and cannot be deferred any longer. Our highways, bridges and rails are literally crumbling and collapsing before our eyes, taking lives with them.

Our water and our electrical infrastructures are two critical systems we've been deferring the upgrade and basic maintenance of for decades. I shudder to think of the cascading failure of either (or both) at a time when our economy (and our nation in general) is being stressed. Like right about now.

Many have been warning about this for years, but as goes her people, so goes the nationwe'd rather do the stuff that shows and impresses than the stuff that doesn't. The country has collectively been doing the equivalent of installing granite countertops and shiny new appliances in kitchen and bathroom makeovers while ignoring the corroded, leaking boiler in the basement and knob-and-tube wiring running through the walls.

Kunstler's "The Long Emergency" dances dangerously close to reality.

Mains Power Connected

The lights are on; let's see where this goes.

Whether somewhere or nowhere, it will have done it's job. People tell me I should get my writing out there. They also told Harry Chapin's "Mr. Tanner" that he should go public with his singing.

Sometimes the talents that make us whole are best kept to ourselves.