Archive for May, 2012

Not so bad for business

Wednesday, May 30th, 2012

Economics aren’t laws of nature. It’s tragic how people cling to them. Those of us who think about these things are forever astonished at the suffering the world endures, while solutions are so apparently at hand. But you’ll get an idea of why, if you just speak for a moment with your neighbor about politics.

The guy working at the discount electronics store, or the teller at your local bank (or the bank’s website developer if you don’t go to your bank anymore), all pretty much believe there are one or two really important ideas governing the fate of the whole country. The ideas occasionally differ, but their number is invariably few. ‘If we put a stop to immigration,’ or ‘if we only had a single-payer health care system,’ – then everything would be the way it ought.

There is no more powerful group of (conveniently) ignorant people than those of us with some money in the bank. We are absolutely, positively, certain the laws of economics dictate debts must be paid back – ‘or everything will collapse.’ Of course this is true: some of the ‘money’ we have in the bank is just IOUs we’re hoping to see come due. If they don’t, we might have to mow our own lawn next week (or even ‘go xeric’ and stop paying to water the damn lawn in the first place).

But all that really happens when debts aren’t paid is: the folks with the money have less. The folks with no money keep right on being without. The folks who owed money – well, hold on, the folks who owed money have more. Some of them might even go shopping for grass seed.

Loose lips

Saturday, May 26th, 2012

Mr. Morsi may, I suppose, be elected and suppressed. The Brotherhood will grow more powerful. Mr. Tsipras may surprisingly loose by a hair. Either way, his people will eat less. Mr. Obama will ride a ‘suddenly’ booming economy to victory, and continue dismantling the Constitution. He can pay off his business buddies with the new war in Iran. A man who betrays his principles for re-election won’t regain them after re-election. The wealthy have the power and the glory forever. Amen.

Alongside the road in Nicaragua the young women walk towards me and don’t avert their eyes. The women in my country learn from infancy to pretend they don’t see me, or even sneer and make ugly faces to hide what they think I want. The women by the side of the road know they have nothing I want; nothing I can’t take if I do. You would never imagine what has been done with their souls and their bodies already. They are an indictment. They stare until I pass.

But I can imagine, because I, too, have lived in the dirt. I, too, was a child with nothing; desperately hungry, despised by the people on the street, bewildered that I deserved to be beaten and pissed upon. Not even my wife understands this. A person can’t know what they haven’t experienced; they can only think about it. Our feeling for the big-eyed starving kids in the magazines is the same we have for the puppy limping in the street – meaningless emotion.

See me and you know what broken looks like.

3D printing and how crazy we all are

Saturday, May 19th, 2012

There’s a thing called 3D printing and it’s pretty easy to understand, but the printers themselves are still fairly tough to build. What happens is, computers use atomic-scale three-dimensional maps of common objects – like toothbrushes, automobiles, or leather jackets – and then simply ‘print’ them out with specially-designed molecular depositors. This is already done in your dentist’s office to make custom-shaped fillings. Making the more complicated stuff is, I think, mainly a matter of energy.

I didn’t know what to think of this when I first heard it. It seemed as if, well, if anything can be produced by a single machine with a pattern database, and everything has the same cost of manufacture, and if as much of everything as needed for everybody can be made, well, then, how do we figure out how to maintain our inequality?

This didn’t phase my twelve-year-old for an instant. When I described 3D printers to him he asked, “so, when these come out, will we get a subscription to them like for music, and use them as much as we pay for?”


Sunday, May 13th, 2012

From my youngest days, my most satisfying memories are of leaving: in the back seat of a car, head tilted against the seat and face pressed against the window, riding out of town forever. Everything is over. I paint memories colored in past laughter and moments of friendship, while the outdoors blurs into a flashing distance.

I imagine leaving my life like tidying up a last apartment, checking the corners are swept and the curtains drawn, then softly pulling the door closed behind me. There’s nothing left to do. All that is – was.

I’m fifty three years old and I confess my imagination has been more satisfying than the realities which inform and inspire it. I don’t understand people. I speak to them and they don’t respond to what I say. I’m more interesting to me than they are. If I go to a party (which is rare) I sit in a corner and watch.

I used to be anchored to the world by my love for women. Pursuing them is a practical matter, involving commitment to physical detail and well-defined mannerisms. As the urgency of youth has waned, I find it easier to conduct my affairs in my mind, and simply seeing a woman cross the street is often satisfying enough.

I was surprised, as I lived, by how firmly people believe in themselves – and how silly their ideas generally are. In my lifetime, ‘things’ – the lives people lead, the opportunities they have, the meals they eat – in my lifetime ‘things’ have slowly gotten worse. It seems things should be getting better. We make pocket telephones that speak and tell which nearby restaurant we’ll prefer, yet children are born into poverty.

I thought this was about an inappropriate political arrangement. I thought we could identify the problem and fix it. Until I discovered people don’t want to fix it. Folks don’t want to overcome suffering – they simply don’t want to be among those who suffer.

I’m disappointed, but I’m not unhappy. I remember I’m only imagining things; the way things ‘ought’ to be. With my feet on the ground, I am only what God made me. I’ve gotten better, as I’ve gone along, at not trying to impose too much. My hope for the world isn’t really the hope for the world.

My walls are drawing closer and my spaces are getting tidier. When everything that’s past is all there is, I will be content to softly close the door.

Conservative comedy

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

My boy brought some comedy television into my life, and immediately I wondered about the other point of view. We’ve got a couple of guys, doing nightly half-hour programs, making fun of conservatives, and some of it is indeed funny, but I’d like to see how that spirit points in the other direction. So I did some brief searching around and came up with: not much.

I guess the idea is, comedy is about putting people down, so the liberals get to make fun of the rich and powerful, but conservatives are making fun of us. Well, I grew up in the United States and I hang with a pretty conservative crowd and let me tell you, they are offensive. Some of it is hilarious. Well-spoken bigotry is a knee-slapper. What separates us as a people is: some of us hear it and feel an ache of despair – while a true Republican just wishes the party poopers weren’t in the room so they could have a real laugh.

At any rate, I guess our conservative media doesn’t have the guts to air the really funny stuff.

So I watched the liberal shows, a little hesitant because I know liberals feel about Christians the way they believe conservatives feel about black people – except it’s politically OK for them to do it on TV. And I saw an interesting thing. They were saying lots – and lots – about religion, and saying ‘Jesus’ like they weren’t spitting the word, and making fun of the rich Republican hypocrites. I’ve said this for years: if the Democratic elite would just conceal its bigotry and simply approach the so-called religious opposition on the merits of its faith – the whole Moral Monstrosity will shatter into a zillion pieces. Are folks finally catching on?