Thursday, December 31, 2009

Let Them Eat Cupcakes


When I worked in downtown Los Angeles, I got to know a few of the homeless who worked the corners I had to pass. Most of them were mentally ill. Some were surprisingly young. One man, in his 20's, was pretty lucid and my friend Jonathan Cupp started giving him money. Jonathan died shortly thereafter, and I told the homeless guy, who was pretty shaken up by it. Jonathan was good to him, asked him how he was doing, and gave him food.

After that, I started giving the guy food. I couldn't afford much, but I would try to slip him a bagel or something else I could pilfer from backstage, anything that was going to be thrown out anyway... I was always amazed at how appreciative the guy was. It must have been unusual for anyone to give a damn about this guy, who, it turned out once had a decent job and a family, and lost it all.

Apparently, that's not hard to do. It's absolutely amazing how many Americans are just one lost paycheck away from disaster. Considering the state of the safety net in this country, especially for treating the depression that results and then creates even worse conditions, it's absolutely amazing that more people aren't losing it all.

So, this morning when I heard that my Los Angeles Catering client, Emma Tate, is joining forces with a woman from Naples, Florida, to bring cupcakes to homeless people for their birthdays, I remembered that guy, and the look of appreciation on his face for even the smallest gesture of kindness. And I thought, damn, that's a good idea.

As a sufferer of depression, I understand that holidays, especially one as personal as your birthday, are the worst of times for someone who's depressed. And I can only imagine the joy that such a simple gesture must bring to people for whom something as simple as a cupcake is a very special thing. Thank you Emma and Maria, for doing something. Anything. It is so much more than most would do for the least among us.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Auschwitz "Arbeit Macht Frei" Sign Stolen

I can only imagine the kind of sick bastards that would steal that. But I agree with Jonathan Turley that it is unforgivable that it could be stolen. Denial much, Deutschland?

Yes, I know the camp is in Poland, but I'm insinuating that a Nazi took the sign, and I would think that Germany should have to pay to help keep the camp preserved, although I'm not sure that they do.

The job was apparently very professionally done, which would boost the theory that this was someone trying to make big money selling to the underground Nazi market.

British historian Andrew Roberts said the sign would generate huge interest on the burgeoning market for Nazi memorabilia.

I can never hear about that sign, sprawled above the entrance to Auschwitz, that means "work will set you free," without thinking of the Donald Baker poem that uses it in one of the most impressive ways it ever could be. Talk about putting something in context.

Formal Application
“The poets apparently want to rejoin the human race.”--Time
I shall begin by learning to throw
the knife, first at trees, until it sticks
in the trunk and quivers every time;

next from a chair, using only wrist
and fingers, at a thing on the ground,
a fresh ant hill or a fallen leaf;

then at a moving object, perhaps
a pieplate swinging on twine, until
I pot it at least twice in three tries.

Meanwhile, I shall be teaching the birds
that the skinny fellow in sneakers
is a source of suet and breadcrumbs,

first putting them on a shingle nailed
to a pine tree, next scattering them
on the needles, closer and closer

to my seat, until the proper bird,
a towhee, I think, in black and rust
and gray, takes tossed crumbs six feet away.

Finally, I shall coordinate
conditioned reflex and functional
form and qualify as Modern Man.

You see the splash of blood and feathers
and the blade pinning it to the tree?
It’s called an “Audubon Crucifix.”

The phrase has pleasing (even pious)
connotations, like Arbeit Macht Frei,
“Molotov Cocktail,” and Enola Gay.

(Donald W Baker)

Massive Bat Deaths

Just great. More ecosystem disruption... In this case, the local bat population including little brown bats, big brown bats, and the endangered Indiana bats, are all dying at alarming rates (90% of the population dead) from white nose syndrome, a fuzzy fungus that leaves the bats with too little body fat to last through winter hibernation.

Bats are one of the biggest eaters of mosquitoes. Without them, the massive walls of mosquitoes that breed in the swampy areas up here will have one less predator to slow them down.

Of course, people are probably responsible, as this fungus "...looks like an invasive (species) that was introduced," said Coleman. "It was not found previously anywhere in North America, and was somehow introduced here from another location. It is something that our bats never had to deal with before."

Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/AspStories/story.asp?storyID=879223#ixzz0a3WX0rQN

in reference to: Concerns grow as bat deaths soar -- Page 1 -- Times Union - Albany NY (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Most Important Photograph Ever Taken

Look through space and time and see what the universe looked like 14 billion years ago, via the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. All you creationists can keep your heads in the sand for this one. Those of you interested in facts might want to download the high-resolution version of the photograph. It makes great desktop wallpaper.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Therapeutic Poetry and the Death of John Lennon

I live with pain, depression, and poverty. I worry what affect that has on my son. I am reminded of one of my favorite poets, Phillip Larkin, who has advice for young people on this score:

This Be The Verse

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.


The coastal shelf is pretty deep these days, sinking into the crust like an ocean liner in the north Atlantic. The whole damn planet is rushing toward catastrophe faster than anyone can possibly imagine (except, perhaps, for Dimitri). All the deniers of the impending doom, funded by the deep pockets of the oil and defense industries, seem very happy with the well-furnished sandy hole into which they've buried their heads, and are proudly proclaiming that this awesome vessel called humanity is unsinkable, so they're burning the life boats.

When I was younger, Imagine was a wonderful thought exercise John Lennon gave us. It was full of hope for a more just, reasonable, caring world. Now, imagining just leads to despair, grief, uncertainty, and anger. John Lennon is gone 29 years today, a victim of a reality that is so random, so uncaring, and so dark that his immortal song has become a kind of joke to me, a Medusa I dare not look directly at, lest it kill me. Imagining the world the way he did just fills me with more remorse and grief over the direction the world has actually gone.

Hunter S. Thompson wrote, in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, a passage known as The Wave Speech:
And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting — on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark — that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

That high-water mark for me, being a generation behind Thompson, was Lennon's Imagine. It's been all downhill from there. On this sad anniversary of the death of a man who just had to let his ride on the merry-go-round go, I find myself going back to poems that my favorite teacher, Jim Whitehead, loved, like Aubade, by Phillip Larkin, which I read now and see as a metaphor for the whole human race, especially this bit:
And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small, unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.


This dysfunctional family known as homo sapiens have burned enough fuel that we've raced right up close to that "small, unfocused blur" and it's a little clearer now. People like John Lennon and Martin Luther King are murdered, and Dick Cheney is still promoting torture. Deniers of global warming are given the same credibility in the media as the careful scientists who have spent their lives proving that we're screwing this planet up beyond repair.

And I sit and watch the snow and imagine that it could have been different, if it weren't for all the assholes that I hope can't ice skate, because my moat is frozen.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Polar Bears are Toast

All that crap about permanent ice expanding? Wrong. It's gone.

"Unfortunately, what we found was that the multi-year (ice) has all but disappeared. What's left is this remnant, rotten ice."

in reference to:

""Unfortunately, what we found was that the multi-year (ice) has all but disappeared. What's left is this remnant, rotten ice.""
- 'Permanent' Arctic ice vanishing - thestar.com (view on Google Sidewiki)

Friday, November 20, 2009

This Day, For Thers

My favorite blog is Whiskey Fire, and my favorite blogger is Thers, who's mother just died. In his post about her passing, he links to Donne, Death Be Not Proud, an understandable sentiment from a man who just lost his mother. Since it's my son's birthday ("Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow..."), I'm going to be celebrating today, but I really want to take this little time for Thers who certainly deserves a taste of the beautiful for a moment, if only as a reward for his tireless raking of muck.

I like the Donne, especially after some Bushmills, but I'm more of a modern poetry lover, and I always think of what might just be My Favorite Poem (although that is certainly an even more elusive classification than Favorite Blog or Blogger) on such occasions, which is by Lawrence Raab. Since I couldn't find it on the internets anywhere, I'll put it here, for Thers.

This Day

Watching the beautiful
sticks of trees as they click and sway,
the first green unraveling,

it's easy to imagine I might
remember this day forever.
I say it to myself,

never to others, while the poem
made hoping to preserve it
is changed, then changed again

to fit another order
it happens to discover.
At the end I find myself

in a room by a window, or at the edge
of a field, with the same clear
sky above me wherein later

I will imagine clouds, as if
some movement were required. That,
or a different kind of stillness.

So there must also be
a family circled round
the bedside of someone

who is dying. I place
myself among them.
All of us are waiting

for the little we believe we need
to hold on to and repeat.
But this is not my family

although it is you
who are dying, your words
I am again unable to imagine

as everything continues
sliding together in the light,
that day so easily

changed to this one,
the sky that is so blue, and the clouds
that cross my gaze with such terrible speed.

--Lawrence Raab

Saturday, November 14, 2009

George Bush and Most of His Administration Committed Treason


Over at the Bush Treason Blog today, I wanted to answer the question Why Do I Call It Bush Treason, so I took a look at the NYT book review for The Ground Truth. Take a little trip back to the start of the whole damn enchilada that led to Republicans voting to protect rapists. Seems (maybe you should sit down for this) the Bushaviks lied (!) about their response to the 9/11 attacks in order to make themselves (and The Fearless Leader) seem more heroic than they actually were.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Another Reason Why I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love Reading Whisky Fire


Or: when only creative cursing can possibly explain the outrage over the idiots on the political right...

This bit of outrageous outrage from my neighbor Thers today:

Here is why I dislike the American Political Insider Press, and by "dislike," I mean, "want to toss into a vat of shark-infested sulfuric acid." It is because of this class of thing from The Politico.
When Al Franken ran for the Senate last year, the former “Saturday Night Live” star had to reassure skeptics that the fierce partisan attacks he lobbed at Republicans as an author and radio host wouldn’t define his style as a legislator.
But because of one of his first pieces of legislation, Democrats now have their most brazen attack line of the emerging 2010 campaign season: that Republicans are insensitive to rape victims.
The charge stems from a Franken-sponsored amendment that would prohibit the Department of Defense from contracting with companies that require employees to resolve workplace complaints — including complaints of sexual assault — through private arbitration rather than the courts.
Only in the god-blighted shitworld of the horrible fuckassed American Political Insider Press is it possible to even fucking think for a motherfucking minute that it's Playing with Partisan Dynamite to argue that the American government should not negotiate expensive contracts with companies that shield rapists. What the fuck? What the motherfucking fuck?

See, I live a little further out in the woods than Thers. No one can hear me scream except my wife and kid, and they're used to it (Bush was president for more than half of Spencer's life).  I have this little blog, where I occasionally tee up on some particular brand of lunatic peanut butter that sticks to the top of your brain and tastes like shit (and I also have this other blog--to which, unfortunately, I have to keep posting as long as certain war mongering junta members walk around free--in which I usually go off on some particularly nasty revelation about, for example, torturing people  in order to get "confessions" about the exact bullshit you just made up and told some idiot reporter) but... I don't have that many readers.

What the hell was I just saying? Oh, yeah, how I envy Thers for being heard when yelling FUCK (a Jon Stewartification: the effectiveness of yelling fuck is directly proportional to the number of people who actually hear you). So, I settle for a little surrogate satisfaction by subscribing to Whiskey Fire.

Reading this catharsis not only purges me of the need to take a picture of KKKarl Rove outside and target practice on it (with a BB Gun, you sillies, since I'm too physically fucked up to use the Bush punching bag anymore), but it also serves the purpose of (and how much does it suck that we need such a thing serving such a purpose?) reminding us that rape is a crime for which no arbitration need apply. In the real, just, and moral world of how-to-deal-with-a-crime, all we need is investigation, testimony, and evidence, and the sick fucks who think it's some kind of fun to gang rape someone because they figure, "Hey, we work for Halliburton and Dick Cheney's got our backs," those sick fucks go to jail after their fair trial.

And I thought you fucking Republicans were all about locking up criminals... Oh, were these white guys that did this rape?

As for Manu Raju, the concern troll at Politico who shook this disturbing cling-on ball of political reasoning off his ass hairs yesterday, well, I'm just glad Thers reads between the lines of your turds so I don't have to.

Or, as we said up here at our house after all those Repugs voted to protect rapists: "Holy Fucking Shitballs! Senator Al Franken just got those fuckers but good!"

 

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Keith Visona Was a Great Stagehand and a Better Friend


When I was a young stagehand in LA scraping up work scraping the paint off the floor at ABC stage 54, the old Lawrence Welk stage at the ABC Prospect Lot in Hollywood, I met Keith Visona, a drawly southerner with an Italian-style demeanor of gregariousness. He could, and did, make friends with anyone and everyone. He genuinely liked people.

We worked together many times over the years, most notably on the Home Show on stage 54. When that show went non-union, we picketed together. When I couldn't get new work right away, and then the Northridge earthquake shook the employment scene into rubble, our car was repossessed. Keith lent me his "yellow rocket," a beat up old Datsun pickup that he had kept running for many hundreds of thousands of miles with, as we southerners say, duct tape, spit, and a lot of hope. There were, I'm pretty sure, a few wire clothes hangers holding things together under the hood. Keith was the King of southern ingenuity.

After driving the rocket for a few months, I managed to get back on my feet, and went to his house to return the truck. He was cooking, which he loved to do, and wanted to show me his huge baseball card collection. There was a homeless guy in there helping sort the cards. Keith's charity.

Keith went on to have a good career for a stagehand, working as head carpenter mostly, most notably City Guys and Nurses. You couldn't ask for a better guy to work for. He was patient, never minded teaching you something, but didn't hold you by the hand and dictate every minute detail. He's let you figure your own way as much as he could. When I became a head of department, I would often think, "What would Keith do?"

We lost touch over the years, and he got cancer. I got osteoarthritis and moved up here, about as far away from Hollywood as you can get. He and I kept in touch, occasionally, by email. I always liked the funny things he sent to his list, and I was happy to be on it.

A few weeks ago, Keith went down to Atlanta, where they were going to try a new Chemo. Here's his last Facebook post:
I am tired, more than usual though. I am packing for a move back to Georgia and relatives that can keep me on schedule for this new try at a of chemo/radiation. Should be settled in a week, see you all then. Keith

He was surrounded by friends and loved ones when he died yesterday. I'm sure that's the way he would want it. Surrounded by loved ones right in the middle of the fall classic.

And Halloween used to be my favorite holiday.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Joe Lieberman Forgets That We Can Look Stuff Up

Joe Lieberman, like the Republicans he likes to emulate, thinks no one will go back and see if he ever said the opposite of what he's saying now. Perhaps he's changed his mind, or perhaps, like the wingnuts, he's just a brazen hypocrite. Whichever. History is what it is....

Joe, back in 04, when he was running for President:
"And one of the things we will do when we're one nation is to end the moral outrage of 44 million people without health insurance in the richest country in the world, nine million children whose parents can't take them to the doctor when they get sick 'cause they can't pay the bill. I'm gonna do that, and also help the millions who have insurance that can't pay it, by creating national health insurance pools like the ones members of Congress get our insurance from."
Joe, your current tirade is the kind of errant nonsense up with which I will not put.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grass-fed Meats slow Global Warming


There was a lot of noise on the blogs recently about the contribution that livestock makes to global warming. I always pipe in with a never-acknowledged comment that they're talking about feed-lot livestock, penned up by the thousands in too-small a space, being fed corn, which, in the case of cattle, they are not meant to eat. This is where the methane, a particularly insidious greenhouse gas, is developed in quantities worthy of concern.

Does this mean you should stop eating meat? Well, no. Being a vegetarian is, undoubtedly, much better for the planet than being a meat eater. But grass-fed meat is solar powered, raised on land where it would be hard to grow grain or anything else humans could eat. So, you belligerent meat eaters can have your beef jerky and eat it too. Just make it grass-fed. And eat less of it.


Take Nectar Hills Farm, which is near Cooperstown New York. The rolling hills of this farm aren't well suited for any other kind of agriculture. It's grass land, where the cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, and emus graze in open pastures eating grass (or bugs). Since beef is the big deal in global warming terms, lets compare these naturally low-fat and cold-tolerant highlanders to, say, a steer in a Kansas City feed lot.

Dave Dutton and Sonia Sola are the owners and farmers at Nectar Hills Farm. They love their animals, a small herd of about 35. The cattle roam the pastures of their farm, eating grass, which, because they're ruminants, is what they have evolved to eat. The steer in KC is stuck in a feed lot with so many other animals that he can barely turn around. He is fed corn, which makes him sick, so he has to be given lots of drugs to keep him alive long enough to get to market weight. Because he eats corn, which makes his stomach acidic, he farts a whole lot more methane that one of the Nectar Hills Farm cows. The KC steer is knee deep in manure. The Nectar Hills steer spreads his manure around the pasture, where it fertilizes the grass he will eat later. The KC steer's manure is, along with the manure from thousands of others, poisoning the over-loaded local watershed.


There are many other reasons to eat grass-fed meat. For me, the environmental reasons are the most important. What I do to me affects me, but what I do to the world affects everyone. Environmentalists should be aware of alternatives to industrial agriculture, including alternative livestock operations, that do not contribute to the problem of global warming in the same way that large, industrial feed-lots do.

This isn't a new topic. Michael Pollan talks about grass-fed meat all the time. In the documentary King Corn, you get to see a cow with a big hole in it's side that's being treated for problems related to being fed corn. Many restaurants and health food stores are carrying grass fed meats (see the Nectar Hills Farm links page for a list of places you can purchase their meat, including the Borough Hall Brooklyn Farmer's Market in New York City). So, the solution is out there. If you ask for it, you'll be able to get it. And, you'll make a big difference without becoming a vegetarian. Not that there's anything wrong with being a vegetarian.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Income Caps for Robber Barons?

Here's a comment I just left at my friend Mort Mather's Happy Blog, where he has a post advocating regulating income with caps.

I'm with you on the populist furor, but I direct my ire a little higher up, and have different ideas on how to deal with it.

First of all, I don't support a cap. At least I don't think I do. It's interesting to think about. I doubt it would ever happen in this country.

Second, back when those 90% rates were in effect, there were tons of loopholes. The rich never paid that much.

Third, What percent of the owner's income should the players get? Of course, this race to pay the players the most (see Moneyball), raises ticket prices, etc, making baseball a game for rich people only if you actually want to go to the park. But the players are the draw, and it's certainly unfair to pay them like chumps when the owners are raking in many multiples more...

But, yeah, I agree that this is just obscene. Look at this post from the Flowing Data site today. Sickening.

The Bush tax cuts, especially happening in a time of war, were grossly obscene, and cost about what health care would cost. We should start by repealing them early, rather than letting them expire in a few years.

Then, we should raise taxes on the top 5% or so, just to make up for all the loot these robber barons have sucked up out of the system. Conservatives always say it will trickle down and stimulate, but, once again, we see it does the opposite. So, we can shake it loose with higher taxes on the rich, or encourage investment in a green economy through incentives like tax credits.

Funny how I woke up thinking along this line, then found the Flowing Data post, and then found your post... Great minds think alike.
 Now that I've thought about this a little, I would like to point out that a lot of these obscene salaries and bonuses are being paid with taxpayer money. You don't have to read Matt Taibbi to know that there's some really rotten stuff going on on Wall Street. These people are holding our economy hostage, and can obviously do some serious damage if we don't give them what they want.

The way things are going, it's obvious there's going to be some kind of show down. Will we return to the populist days of FDR, where shared sacrifice and massive government involvement put people to work on common projects that help us all? Or will we continue to cower, to vote against our interests (I'm looking at you Republican voters), and to let the richest dictate to our leaders what we can and cannot do? Is this a democracy, or a corporatocracy?

I saw a poll yesterday that almost half the white people in America think Fox News is a legitimate source of news. My first thought on that is what a damn good thing white people will be the minority soon. My second thought was, yeah, but not soon enough. The more I look at this mess, the more I realize it's broken. It's going to take an FDR to fix this crap sandwich all you Republican voters kept spreading mayonnaise on, and I don't know if we have any FDR's around these days.

But thanks for the mind candy, Mort.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Food Centric


Seems my life has evolved around food. Not sure why, really. My family wasn't all that big on food. My Dad liked to make his specialty things, like award winning chili. But there weren't any restaurant workers in my family, until I got my first job as a dishwasher at Le Mirabelle, a French restaurant in Hot Springs, Arkansas, where I grew up. I managed to work my way up to salad chef, and did the deserts for a while.

Then I worked at Mikes, a beer joint on the south side of the tracks, where I cooked hamburgers and served beer in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where I went to college. That was an experience worth forgetting. So, I got out of the food service life, until I met my wife, who was a cook in Hawaii before she started slinging beers at the 326 Bar in the Farmer's Market in LA, next door to CBS Television City, where I was working as a stagehand.

The rest is history.

Our vacations to New York and points east were always based around food, not the least of which was always a few days at the house or Robin's cousins, Cathy and Eric, owners and operators of Woodstock Moveable Feast, a Hudson Valley catering company. Staying at their house was always a culinary adventure! The picture above is from their website.

When I became disabled and couldn't work as a stagehand anymore, we moved back east to be near Robin's family here in Cherry Valley, where our brother-in-law, Clem, runs The Rose and Kettle, a gourmet restaurant near Cooperstown, and he has a delicious food blog. He met his wife, Dana Spiotta, when they both worked at the Giorgio's of Gramercy, a great place to eat in New York City.


Once we moved up here, we started looking for business projects. Since farming and ranching is so big up here, we thought we'd team up with a local grass-fed beef outfit to make Robin's gourmet beef jerky. Robin met Sonia, who along with her partner Dave, run Nectar Hills Farm, which grows grass fed and pasture raised meats, including the naturally low-fat Highlander Cattle (they have less fat because they have hair, as you can see in this picture), the top round from which we make into naturally healthy and delicious gourmet grass-fed beef jerky.

My friend Mort Mather, who lives (happily) up in Maine, and I converse regularly about organic gardening, which he does for his son's southern Maine restaurant. He and I go way back to the early days of the internet when I published his organic gardening articles at my organic gardening web site (which was one of the world's first).


I've started gardening again (albeit lazily due to my physical limitations) and it seems my food friends will never let me fade away from the culinary life: My Los Angeles caterer client, Emma, now has a LA Catering blog. Even my Maui bed and breakfast client often writes about the delicious tropical fruit she grows in her garden.

Oh, and then there's the organic Kona coffee farm that I used to do the web site for, back when Dr. Faust ran it. He sold it to Mike, who now, because times are tough, pays me with the best coffee on earth, because he's not making enough money to pay me with cash. And that's fine, because, well, it's organic Kona coffee!

So, somewhere out there someone's going to be reading this, and they'll think, hey, this guy's all about food! Let's contact him! Since we gave up eating pork almost two years ago now (for ethical and environmental reasons), and we try to eat only grass-fed meat, and we grow a lot of our own food, and we try to stay away from fast food, and we are the very definition of a slow food family, I just hope that person is Michael Pollan.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Wrote it on the Calendar: F'ing Snow!

That's right. We couldn't afford a calendar for this year, so I print a new month from the free printable calender site. New month comes along, as they tend to do like trucks engine breaking down the slope approaching the big hill near here, and we recycle the old one. So, yeah, we'll only see the words "F'ing Snow" written on the 16th of this month for two more weeks. And then, of course, it will be November, and there will be snow on the north edges of the house that will stay there till March, and October 16 will slowly get forgotten, like all the 110 degree days back in the California desert are just reports we here from our daughter occasionally.

But there it was this morning, a little spotty dusting of snow, kind of pitiful by upstate standards (less by weight than GW Bush's lifetime blow total), keeping the radicchio nice and cool until the sun could come up and thaw all the greens out enough to keep them alive for another day. Gardening in this big walk-in fridge of a summer has been challenging (see the last few posts at the Organic Gardening Blog). But, hey, it's something to do... Saves a few bucks, tastes better than the store's crap, and gives me something to think about besides the lack of TV, the constant calls from bill collectors, and the pain.

All the latest evidence suggests that we're nearing the end of our experiment in poverty, stress, and depression. Well, at least poverty. Thanks to Obama, there are new administrative law judges being hired, and my Social Security Disability appeal hearing happens around Thanksgiving, a full year earlier than we would have expected under a President McCain. Ask any SSD lawyer what one of the biggest differences is between R's and D's, and there's your answer. R's don't give a shit about people who are hurt and disabled. Let them eat what they can grow.

So, with that hearing coming soon, and the lawsuit back in Cali winding it's way to some inevitable ending that has been pre-diminished by Governor Arnold's shiny new corporate sponsored worker's decompensation laws, there is actually a chance that we could get some back money to stop these damn calls, and enough monthly to put us solidly back in the lower middle class, where like the scattered white trash of snowy spots this morning that melt as fast as the sun can find them.

Of course, there's still a few months to go before that triumphant return, and there's still the possibility of another welfare Christmas, but there's hope. Which leads me to the two endings I can't avoid here. One is a joke from the bonus features on the last disc of the Dr. Katz series that we just watched from Netflix (our equivilant of TV now): Dr. Katz's bar friend Stan tells Julie the bartender this joke:
I don't eat free-range chicken; I can taste the hope.
And then there's the welfare Christmas bit, which is from Everclear.

New life. Yeah.

Friday, October 09, 2009

The First Step of Peace is to Deny the Gods of War

"Recognizing the severity of John McCain's issues with violence and its appropriate use, the Nobel Committee awarded Barack Obama the Nobel Peace Prize primarily just for beating him. [...snip...] You award accomplishments. And Obama's main accomplishment in the area of peace is that he denied the Gods of War their choice of president." - BooMan

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Worker's Decompensation Countdown

Decompensation is the functional deterioration of a previously working structure or system.--Wikipedia

The countdown had been ticking for nine out of ten days while I was double bagging two week old garbage in the garage. For the last six months we'd been paring down to the minimum—paying only the bills for things we really needed. The garbage collection was the latest to go to a collection agency. Luckily, the collectors for the bills we stopped paying first, like cell phones and credit cards, didn't call as often anymore, so the slew of new calls was alleviated by the lack of old ones. No matter; soon there wouldn't be a phone to ring.

The countdown ended this morning when I got an email from my lawyer telling me they have a preliminary hearing in my worker's compensation (or lack thereof) case in a month. The 10 day countdown, which began on the day that the agreed medical examiner was deposed and stuck to his report that I, indeed, was seriously messed up from being a stagehand for 20 years, was over. There would be no money in time.

Now a different kind of countdown starts... This one is the inevitable intertwining of dwindling input (and its incipient shrinking of output) with the self-devouring depression/pain cycle—eventually, the snake digests enough of itself that the cycle is broken. The swallowing ends.

My little business, which occasionally makes enough to extend the fast approaching horizon a few miles, has been feeding on its future for a while now, with me promising future work for bigger payments now: I've actually milked the future dry.

What kept the whole seizing engine sputtering along was the hope of a massive overhaul right down the road. The hope that the insurance company would rather part now with the money everyone agrees will be mine eventually, or later, at a 10% penalty I would gladly give up now for that much in advance.

Insurance companies are giant computer programs, with lawyers and claims adjusters all robotically rolling down the longest, most arduous path, at an agonizingly slow pace, like a tractor on a busy highway, following the dotted yellow line of the actuarial odds, blindly aware of the one thing they have that the worker doesn't: time. The slower they can go, the longer they hold on to the money, and the more desperate the decompensating worker becomes.

I expect another insult offer any day now. I tore myself up for 20 years, cannot work in my profession again, and suffer agonizing pain daily, all for an original offer that would make my nut for three months? Now they'll offer five times that, and it will still be an insult, considering that they owe me twice that, plus the weekly starting now until the case is over. And then, if we make it that far, there will be a settlement.

It's a lot of money to me. To an insurance company, it's what the CEO spends on one private jet trip.

Now the cycle has dwindled, like the alien signal hidden in the satellite system in Independence Day, to nearly nothing. I'm like Jeff Goldbloom's character: I figured out what it means, but I'm powerless to stop it. Time is almost up.

The outputs are shrinking faster with each incrementally smaller input. Soon, I'll be down to a c-note borrowed from someone who needs it to pay their rent, and that will be the last money borrowed. We'll miss some deadlines and the phone, then the internet will be shut off, and that will be the end of the little nuggets from working. Then the rent will be missed, and, because we've been late before, the threatened eviction process will begin. And it will be cold. We'll be burning wood because the propane will be gone. And we'll be cleaning our stuff out of the car as the repo man watches, telling us how much he hates his job. And then our stuff will be hauled away by agents of the eviction authorities, since we can't afford to do it ourselves. And then we'll be homeless.

When we got here and originally applied for the food stamps we're getting, we applied for a Section 8 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That was a year ago, when we were told the waiting list was 6 months. Then it was nine. Then it was a year. Now, the program's been frozen. Too much demand. No new section 8's, even for those who applied a year ago, at the “beginning” of this recession.

We've managed to get by with just the food stamps and Medicaid, staying off the assistance by borrowing, but at some point I'll have to go apply for that, and explain why I can't work, and watch my wife drive off to some minimum wage job to make enough to cover the gas to get there, thereby qualifying for cash benefits: what a subsidy to the minimum wage industries that hire the welfare workers! And at that point I'll know that what I've suspected all along is true. The deep sickening massive flock of butterflies in my stomach will have created a massive hurricane on the other side of my globe, and I will know that I am the epic fail I had hoped I wasn't.

Every tick gets exponentially louder. Every dollar coming in is dwarfed by the so many that are due to go out. Every stabbing pain where there used to be cartilage will be chased by the gaping mouth of depression that the pain eats to grow, until something breaks, a giant crack in the levee, and I am the Ninth Ward, what's left of my ego shouting from a rooftop as the shit water rises all around me, while the news choppers fly over, burdened by the knowledge that they cannot help, they can only broadcast to an indifferent system that plays guitar, like some corporate Nero, while another soul sinks.

The epilogue, if there is one, is that I will be tracked down in some shelter somewhere, someday, and someone will ask if I'm me, to see ID, and I'll sign for some official looking envelope that had worked its way through the stopped-up colon of bureaucracy, and it will contain a very large check. Let it be known now that if I have functionally deteriorated so far that I try to wipe my ass with their thousands of dollars, that I want my wife to have it.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Solar Powered Maui Hawaii Vacation Rental

Solar Powered Hana Maui Hawaii Vacation Rental Accommodations
An old client is back in the higher search engine ranks program, this time with a state-of-the-art, solar-powered vacation rental house in Hawaii.

A lot of people visit Hawaii and never get out of the touristy resort scenes, or just hit the hot spots, like Haleakala National Park. But Hawaii's a lot bigger than it seems, and even on a relatively little island like Maui, a hurried vacationer might miss some of the best the island has to offer.

Like Hana. Hana, on the east side of Maui, is famous for the road getting there, the red and black sand beaches, Oheo gulch and the seven sacred pools for swimming and great hiking to beautiful waterfalls and more hidden swimming pools.

Hamoa Beach in Hana Maui, photo by Beach Bum Paradise, beachbumparadise.comHana even has a beach that has been consistently voted one of the best beaches on earth. There are all kinds cool things to do near Hana that this vacation rental house is near.

The house itself boasts incredible views, 3 beds, two baths, 2600 square feet, a warm country feel and decor, the great location (as noted), and a tiny little carbon foot print, thanks to the solar power and other state-of-the-art features.

If you visit Maui, don't miss Hana. And if you're with a group or family, do yourself a favor and check out the Hana Country Cottage.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

MJ on the Soul Train 25th Anniversary Show

In response to a friend's question about my last post, regarding Michael Jackson's need for lots of low end extra sub-woofers while he's working, here's the actual performance. During that same show, BB King and Eric Clapton played together. BB was a friend of my Dad's, and he knew me, so I told him that I was a life-long fan of Eric Clapton, so he introduced me. Clapton says, "So BB tells me you've never had a chance to see me play." I'm paraphrasing here... I said, no, but I did drive ten hours to Austin Texas once for a show, and you canceled. He looked embarrassed and said how "sick" he was back then, and apologized. That was cool.

Anyway, here's the Michael Jackson performance on that Soul Train 25th anniversary show.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Backstage with Michael Jackson

News that Michael Jackson's death was a homicide (a deadly drug overdose administered to an addict, even if by a Doctor, is still foul play) reminded me that after his death I wanted to put a little backstage story up here about the time I worked with him.

I was working in the audio department at the Shrine Auditorium in LA for the 25th Anniversary Soul Train Awards, and Michael was one of the performers. We'd heard that he was very picky about his monitor mix--that he liked it loud, so we had a cue to roll in some extra side fill during his performance. So he shows up (late) and does his rehearsal, and he doesn't look happy, so the mixer sends me up there with my headset to relay any instructions the King of Pop might have for the monitor mix.

I walk up to him, and he looks up at me, see's the head set and says (in his high-pitch voice, almost stereotypically) "You Audio?"

"Yes, sir, Mr. Jackson." They hired me for a reason: my southern-school manners.

"Michael."

"Yes, Michael, what can we do for you?"

"Make it louder."

"We've given you all the side fill we can, Michael."

"No, make the bass louder. I want to feel! it! right! here!" (hitting his chest with both hands with each "!").

"OK, Michael, I'll have him boost the bass."

"That's not going to be enough. You're going to need more sub-woofers."

"OK, but there's already two."

"More! Right! Here!" Pounding his chest again.

I went to get the last two subs in the building, cabled them up, had the monitor mixer (Kevin Wopner, maybe?) patch them in, rolled them out and stuck them next to the side fill, focusing them right at his skinny ass.

When I was ready, he does the number again, and I felt nauseous from all the bass, and I wasn't even in front of them. He's out there, center stage, with two huge sidefills and four giant subs focused right on him. It was so loud I couldn't hear the carpenters working. I could see him smiling at me.

When it was over, I walked up and asked how that was, and he spun around on one foot very dancer like, and slapped his chest again: "Perfect!"

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Discount Everything

My philosophical instincts tell me to take everything I hear with a grain of salt. Everyone steps up the voltage of what they want to communicate, and if you want to get an unbiased view from what you're told, you should always run things through a step-down transformer. Of course, if you ever run across an honest person and do that, you've watered down the truth.

In terms of economics during hard times, though, discount everything is a strategy for survival. Discount as an adjective here plays into the age-old marketer's plan of enticing people into action by promising to take less money out of their pockets for something they value. I've been doing it for people who realize the return on investment they can get by hiring me to get higher search engine rankings for their websites. They've been doing it as a way to get people to see that they can save money and take that Hawaii vacation or get food delivered to their crew in Los Angeles.

We've put an ingenious twist on this idea into Volunteer on Vacation in Hawaii, by offering volunteers a 5% discount on stays at this Maui bed and breakfast, and an additional 5% donation to the organization for which you volunteer. Save money, earn money for a worthy cause, and do something ethical during your Hawaii vacation! Sweet.

How about an ethical honeymoon? While staying at the Hale Hookipa, and volunteering for one of the many organizations that need you, you could take a little time out and get married! Destination weddings have become even more popular as people cut back on the big, expensive ceremonies that were so popular during boom times. One fad I've heard is that people run off and get married, then travel to various cities visiting relatives: this lowers the carbon foot-print of the wedding by not having so many people fly in from all over, and can increase the value of wedding presents, since the people giving the presents didn't have to shell out so much to actually go to the ceremony (Maui wedding packages start at $300 with this Maui weddings planner).

Even caterers have been getting into the discount everything mindset. Our favorite Hudson Valley caterer down in Woodstock has been doing smaller and smaller gigs (weddings included) as the recession has spread like a blight across the land. Culinary Delight Catering in Los Angeles has even created a discount wedding catering package to fill the demand for a less expensive wedding reception.

Providing less for less is the driving force during a recession for any business that wants to stay in business. But how does that affect someone like me, who's job it is to get people to the top of a search for their keywords? It's not like I can just do less. It takes x amount of work to get a site to the top, and any less will get that site something less. Considering the rate at which clicks drop off for sites in the 7th position as opposed to the 1st or 2nd, that's no value for the discount.

I have to find a way to provide the same value in less time: become more productive. I've been doing this for years, and squeezing any more productivity out of what I do is damn near impossible. A lot of it is creative, especially the writing part, and you can't just shave a few minutes off that process to save a dime.

So, in effect, in order to make sure I get the jobs, I've just been bidding lower, which means I'm working for less, which means I can pay less for things, which means the people who provide those things will have to offer discounts which will provide me with less, which means I have to work more, but since I'm doing that for less, well... Vicious circle. Discount everything means less for everyone, and that sharing of less is the real legacy left behind by George W. Bush and all the idiots who voted for him.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Calling Things What They're Not

When we moved up here near my wife's sister's and husband's restaurant near Cooperstown, we did it to be near family during these hard times of little income for me. But if you looked at me now, you'd think it was for the birds.

Because I've become a backyard bird watcher. 41 species out these glass doors on our back porch so far! I have a feeder with black oil sunflower seeds, one with suet, and another for humming birds. I never gave much of a damn about the feathered ones before, but this past winter, it became my new favorite thing.

The Orange Mohawked Woodpecker (AKA the red-bellied woodpecker)Our favorite species we call Ziggy (as in Stardust). It's the red-bellied wood pecker, which should be called the orange Mohawk woodpecker. The hairy woodpecker is just feathered like the rest. The purple finch looks like it was dipped in Burgundy--not really purple. And so on.

Now, a lot of the bird (re)naming went on back when white men cutting out across the continent practicing biological and good-ol'-guns-n'-butter warfare. I haven't found a resource with the Native American names for these birds yet, so I call them as the early musketeers did. Like the Lincoln Sparrow: not for the President, but the first guy to shoot one. Call it red-neck bird taxonomy (of course, red-neck comes from the Battle of Blair Mountain, in which the workers were the red-necks, and the good guys, and were the only US Citizens ever bombed by the US Army, so the term "red-neck bird taxonomy" fittingly misfits).

So, when a bunch of gun-toting, evolution denying, climate change causing, pollution spewing, superstitious, KKK loving lynching parties call The President of the United States a socialist, I just look at the history of bird naming by racist white guys in this country, and I figure, well, they've probably got it wrong. Again.

Banksters Beware!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Volunteer Vacations in Hawaii: Do the Right Thing

One odd thing that I came to realize after 8 years of a fascist Junta controlling the White House was that the right's criticism of the left as ethical relativists was, like so much else from the right for a long time now, complete bullshit. The ethical relativists now defending torture, illegal spying on Americans, and other unitary executive adventures in totalitarianism have made it quite clear that on issue after issue, it is the left that stands up for some absolutist ethical or moral standard, while the right argues that it's OK, for example, to pollute and degrade the environment in some situations (when jobs might be lost, or when God said it was OK).

You're either doing the right thing or your not. Of course there are shades of gray on some issues (for all you philosophical mucker-uppers). But when it comes to things like torture, the world community long ago decided on a basis for what constitutes that definition, and even the Obama administration, much to my continued disapointment, seems to want to stretch that definition too far.

When it comes to the environment, the choices are just as stark. It's a huge, multi-faceted problem, and the best each of us can do is try to live a lifestyle that reduces our impact on the environment. Every little thing counts.

Hawaii Vacationers Volunteering: restoring native Hawaiian plant species for the Leeward Haleakala Watershed Restoration PartnershipSo it is in that spirit of environmental ethical absolutism that I am happy to announce today that, along with my friend Cherie Attix (owner/operator of the Hale Hookipa Inn Maui Bed and Breakfast, and author of the Maui Hawaii Blog Hookipa Aikane (home sharing friend)), all you Hawaii vacationers who would like to do a little to help the Hawaiian environment, culture, and community can now sort through our list of Hawaii organizations that have ongoing volunteer opportunities at Volunteer on Vacation in Hawaii.

Volunteering is one of the cornerstones of American culture. The recent push for more National Service, which includes many enticements for young people to volunteer (like help with money for education), led Cherie to come up with the idea of making a web site with information about volunteering in her community (Maui). Most of the vacationing volunteer opportunities are environmental in nature, like eradicating invasive plant species, planting native species, clearing trails, and cleaning beaches. As we continue to build the site, we will add other cultural and community volunteer opportunities.

Cherie is offering a 5% discount to any guests of her B&B who volunteer for one of the listed groups. She will also donate 5% to the organization for which you volunteer. Nothing like a little incentive.

The idea of voluntourism is not new to Cherie, who was recently recognized by O Magazine for her efforts to get vacationers to Maui to volunteer while they're there. Her guests have all praised the projects for which they volunteered as fun, educational, and worthwhile. After all, if you really want to get a feel for the place you're vacationing in, what better way than to lace up your boots, pull on some gloves, and get out there and make it a better place?

Saturday, July 25, 2009

What do I think of that?

That being an interesting email to a friend, forwarded to me, that used the health care debate to demonstrate--surprise, surprise--that corporate America will once again get it's way, to everyone's detriment. My forwarding friend asked me what I think...

Hmmm... Well, let's see. I'm so fucking broke that I'm down to my last cherished possessions to sell to make the rent. I'm sitting here slowly panicking, with no TV, cell phones long gone, basic phone about to go, two months behind on my car, one behind on my daughter's car, in default on about 30,000 worth of credit card debt, a landlord that will kick us out in 30 days if we're late on the rent, 500 a month in food stamps that barely covers our food every month, and I've got government health care because my income is less than 12,500 per year--meaning we're officially poor.

I'd get a job, if there were any for someone who can't lift over 20 lbs. I have found some burger flipping jobs so far away that half my day working would barely cover the gas to get there.

So what do I think of some health care bullshit that would take me hours to find out if it's true, which it probably isn't because everyone's got their fucking agenda, while most of the people in this fucking country have lost their retirement, are barely getting by, and, according to the latest gun and ammo sales records, heavily armed?

What do I think?

I think whoever wrote it is onto something. But it's old news. I have two blogs you should subscribe to. I suggest you send them to your friend who wrote this.

Club Orlov. Note, especially, this post on American Swine from Kollapsnik.

And Global Guirillas, by John Robb, who recently testified before congress. He's a military expert who analyzes everything with a very clear POV.

I voted for Dennis Kucinich too, but we smart people don't run this country. The rich people do. Sometimes they're smart, but most of the time they're stupid greedy dumbasses with the power to make us feel a whole lot of pain. Their bad decisions have WAY more ramifications than ours ever will. Resilient communities, as Robb calls them, will be the new society: localized, sustainable, and resilient. Globalization will not stand.

And, all you philosophers out there will note that it wasn't Nostradamus who predicted this (voodoo bullshit, that). It was Karl Marx. Maybe if corporate America hadn't been getting rich demonizing him for the last, oh, few decades, we'd have learned something from him: That unregulated greed will be the death of capitalism, at least on the large scale. I'd say we're headed back to mercantilism.


There.

Monday, July 20, 2009

My First Clear Memory: He's Walking on What?

I was five years old at 19:56:15 PDT on July 20, 1969, and I remember seeing that fuzzy picture, and going out side to look at the moon (almost a half, waning, according to the moon phase calculator), and thinking OK, I'm five, I'll believe it. Rockets, spacemen, yee haw. By the time I finished first grade in 1971, I'd read every single astronomy book in the grade school library. I started going to the library in town and getting grown-up books on cosmology, planetary geology, and other fun factual stuff that has pretty much determined my philosophical mind-set to this day.

So for me, tonight, at 10:56pm EDT, it's going to be a special kind of 40 years since Apollo 11, the vast arc of a crazy life has moved me around the surface of this hemisphere with a kind of intellectual crick in my neck, always looking up. My desktop is the famous Earthrise photograph. I have a moon phase gadget on my desktop. And today I am all things lunar, having a ball looking at Apollo landing sites on Google Moon (just pull down the planet looking thing at the top of your Google Earth, and select moon).

The moon will be just a sliver tonight, and it will probably be cloudy--a kind of permanent thing this crazy summer of more global wierding--so, Google Moon will have to do. But it will be back in it's full glory soon, and I'll be out there watching it. Again.

And as far away as it seems, as cold and dusty and preserved, the chill of 40 years is somehow greater. The arc of humanity over that 40 years has shown so little of the promise of that second on that day in 1969. It's hard not to be disappointed.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Earthly Reflections on Imaginary Places

For me, it's just a silly question. Unanswerable. Why waste your time? Even people I know who take religion and heaven very seriously admit that it's a feeble attempt for puny humans to imagine the kingdom of God. Besides, as a militant agnostic (my young daughter reminded me years ago that I couldn't be an atheist because I have no faith), just trying to imagine the unimaginable gives credence to religion which has been the cause of so much of the world's problems (wars, over-population, child abuse).

My friend Thomas D., who writes the Bible Commentaries blog Satan Wrote the Bible, is more empathetic. He often tries to think like religious people, in order to better understand them, to better communicate with them... Perhaps to convince them that it is their certainty of that which one cannot be certain that causes most of the problems with religion.

In his latest post, What Is Heaven Like, Thomas D. immediately goes for the humor in the common view of heaven as full of gold and diamonds. Frankly, this ornate version of heaven is probably not as common as it might have been during the dark ages, when the Catholic Church was torturing people in the basements of their overly ornate cathedrals. Perhaps heaven back then was imagined as gold-plated as a way to shame the church over its feeble attempts at Godliness. Whatever. Thomas D. goes for the obvious for us nature jockeys.

Those who do try to describe heaven usually have a lot of gold, silver, diamonds and other jewels radiating bright light. I like to sink my god-given feet into the soil (I seldom wear shoes) so I can’t imagine a worse place than one made of hard metals with stones scattered about. Give me grass, shade trees and garden soil rich in humus. Fill the air with the scents of flowers, moldering leaves, ocean spray. Lift my spirits with chirping brooks and bird songs and, please, please let there be sex.


Reminds me of the song Heaven, by Loudon Wainwright III (So Damn Happy):

"There'll be lots of drinking in Heaven
Smoking and eating and sex
What you didn't do in this life bad for you
Will be totally cool in the next."

From what I know of biology, I think the clue worth walking away from here is "soil rich in humus." In my weird reductionist way, it seems that everything that dies eventually decomposes into the soil, which in turn supports new life (plants) that support more life (animals) that die and support the soil, in a kind of circle of circles. Even in the really long view, where stars are born and die, the matter that was us-come-soil-come-plant-come-animal-come-us-again goes on to be new rock, new soil, new mineral, new nutrient...

Perhaps it's way too humanist of me to accept an imperfect world as the best we can get, but when you put one persons unhappiness, or even despair, on the scale of a cold, indifferent universe, this existence of ours just keeps bouncing along in different forms randomly colliding and interacting forever, and that's about as heavenly as it's going to get.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

The Current Best Littlest Known Secret in Hawaii

Hui the Coolest Cowboy in the Makawao Maui Hawaii Fourth of July Parade. Photo by Cherie Attix.
The secret is that if you really want to get a feeling for Hawaii without actually going there, you should read Cherie's Maui Hawaii blog: Hookipa Aikane (home sharing friend). Longtime Hawaii resident and Innkeeper Cherie (you can also check her out on facebook) runs the historic Hale Hookipa Inn Maui Bed and Breakfast in Makawao, Maui, Hawaii. Makawao is home to the Hawaiian Rodeo, and their Independence Day parade is the subject of Cherie's latest post. Cherie doesn't write her blog so much as talk story. I edit the blog, but the language (and photography) is all hers, and it is distinctly upcountry Maui...

If you like to keep up with all things Hawaiian, and especially Maui, no matter where you are, Cherie's blog is definitely worth subscribing to.

Friday, July 03, 2009

Infinite Test







I read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest from March to June this year. I intentionally read it very slowly, trying to savor what is a very thick, and even more dense book. If you tried to read it too quickly, your head would likely start to wobble in a distinctly oval path.

So it is with a profound sense of now-you-tell-me that I discovered, through a post at Matt Yglesias's Blog that he and a group of friends are reading IJ this summer, and blogging about it at A Supposedly Fun Blog. It's a real joy to hear opinions from people as they plow their way through the best book I ever read.

Honestly. Set aside a few months. Read slowly, only a few hours a day, preferably morning so you can mull over what you just injested, and enjoy the high, so to speak. It's addictive, and if you take it in small doses over a long time, it won't kill you to finish it (Mithridates, he died old), and the withdrawals when you're done won't be quite as bad as if you'd filled up your day with it every day. But and so.

Oh, and you might want to brush up on your Hamlet first...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Gourmet Grass Fed Beef Jerky on Sale!

Well, we've finally managed to get our long-dreamed-of gourmet grass-fed beef jerky business off to a very small start... We're bartering with our friends at Nectar Hills Farm for the beef. We're cutting back on everything else in order to at least attempt to sell Robin's delicious jerky--especially the new jalapeño and Ommegang Hennepin Ale spicy beef jerky, which sold out at last week's Cooperstown Farmer's Market!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Civil Disobedience by the Manichaen Paranoiacs?

Ethical arguments are always moved along by action, often violent. In a comment to a Whiskey Fire post on the Tiller murder, I wondered about the one thing that's always bothered me about these terrorists... Why do the run? Why, if they believe the law is wrong, and that they are committing not just murder but an act of civil disobedience, do they run and try to hide?

If their cause is so righteous, why not just shoot, and then sit down and wait for the cops, while you explain to everyone around you, as your victim lies there bleeding to death, how righteous you are?

This is an extension of the Manichean Paranoia exhibited, nay apotheosized, by the Bushies, that says, essentially, I am good and therefore I can do bad without being bad. Seeing the world in black and white leads to some stark conclusions and, in some cases, extreme actions. But if you believe you are good, that you just have to do bad to protect that which is good, then why run?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Backstage Story of Downstage Proportions

It's been a while since I told a backstage story, so how about the time, maybe 10 years ago, working a show at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles called Tongue of a Bird. With Cherry Jones, Sharon Lawrence, Diane Venora, and my friend Marian Seldes. Fun show with Sharon flying around all over the place, falling out of the grid, and a set with lots of sliding doors. Great fun back stage with a small rail to operate the doors, prop guys doubling on the rail, barely enough time to make your next cue...

One of my cues was going out on stage for a scene change in low light. Cherry Jones rolled a big heavy iron frame bed toward me, and I put it up stage through a door, which then closed, with me and the bed in there. One night, Cherry makes a bad roll with the bed, which heads off stage left, which, in the horseshoe-shaped house of the Taper, means it's heading right for an old ladie's lap in the front row. I jump down stage, stop the bed, spin it around, throw it in the upstage hole, the door closes, the lights come up, and I'm standing there on stage with Cherry Jones who looks at me like, "What are you doing here?"

So, I jump off stage, over a row of foot lights, and as I'm running up the aisle to the vom, I hear a round of applause! For me!

Well, the stage manager who shut that door and left me out there in the light (my Dad always said the only time anyone ever notices a stage hand is when you fuck up) became a good friend over the years. We did many shows together after that, and she never left me out in the light again. But we sure like to laugh about that story, still. Now she writes a blog, There I Am. Exactly how I felt that night, standing there in front of 750 people... There I was!

If you're interested in theater at all, you should follow her blog. It's a great insider's take on the theater world from an old hippie who has, quite literally, seen it all (I almost wrote scene it all)...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Busy Spring Gardening and Making Friends

Nectar Hills Farm Central New York Grass-fed beef and meats
Well, as you can tell I haven't been posting to this blog. That's because when I'm not working creating new web sites, or working on other people's sites getting them higher search engine ranks, I'm in the organic garden which I had to build, since this is our first year up here near Cooperstown NY.

I just finished making a site for our new friends who raise grass-fed beef and meats at Nectar Hills Farm. I've also been putting in a smaller garden for the Rose and Kettle Restaurant in Cherry Valley. Plus, Robin has been making grass-fed beef jerky from the Nectar Hills Farm highland cattle, both of which are delicious. We're selling the grass-fed beef jerky at the Nectar Hills Farm store in Cherry Valley, and at the Cooperstown Farmer's Market. We're hoping it will be available in a few other places soon!

Those of you subscribed to this blog's feed know that I often post things to that feed through delicious. I'm not sure how to make them appear here (which is odd, because I should be able to figure that out), but if you subscribe you'll be treated to all kinds of fun posts in your reader.

Monday, April 06, 2009

High-quality digital movies at affordable prices

This camera took this video. Seriously. Follow the links. The price of high-quality cameras is falling so fast... Low-budget movies don't have to look like crap anymore. And think of what this will do for nature photography.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Whiskey Fire In Binghamton

I've been reading the Whiskey Fire blog for quite a while now. Great snark. Plenty of insight. Always good wing-nut fun making. When a shooter killed 14 people in Binghamton last week, I was surprised to hear that this fun little blog I'd been reading is being written by folks just down the road from me. I felt a little tinge of memory from past tragedies that make us all feel closer together. In this case, we were pretty close already.

I was anxious this morning to see what they had to say about the tragedy, now that it's had some time to really sink in. The post is from Jake T. Snake: Why is the mine still open when the canaries keep expiring? It's a powerful post, and I recommend reading the whole thing, now, because I'm going to quote the end, which is where Robin and I wound up when we talked about this yesterday. Why, if this guy was pissed at people who fired him, or the rednecks (Binghamton is a city of 43,000, of which 80% are white) who made fun of his bad English, did he go shoot other immigrants like himself?

Finally, I think it is instructive that the shooter picked as his victims, not someone powerful like the people who had laid him off, but a group of the powerless like himself. This is the other dynamic that repeats itself over and over, don't attack those in power that are the root of the problem, but rather find someone weaker to victimize and perpetuate the cycle. This also explains the disdain people have for social workers. We help the weak and disenfranchised and in the united states that is a sign of weakness the unforgivable sin.


All the pitchforks and torches talk is a bunch of hot air fueled by psuedo-populists who will pat the back of the next CEO to donate to their election campaign. When the really angry people lash out with their firearms and satchels of ammo hanging around their necks, they don't go after the powerful. They go after the weak, the easy targets, those least able to protect themselves or fight back. Their self-loathing is exposed through their choice of targets.

Take the case of the Pittsburgh cop killer who was so certain that we were going to take his guns that he, whipped into a frenzy by the riot inciters in the GOP and Fox news, decided to take it out on some middle class, under paid cops who were just doing their job trying to keep their community safe from the likes of Wing Nuts like him. Maybe those cops were conservative 2nd amendment types too. He didn't know. He just started shooting at the first easy target to walk up to his house. He used an assault rifle. The cops were sitting ducks. Easy targets.

We're going to see a lot more of this. As Bushvilles sprout up all over the country, as the welfare roles and the unemployment lines get longer, as wages continue to fall, real income collapses, health care is lost, mental illness goes undiagnosed, we're going to see some very angry, heavily armed people lose it. And they won't lash out at Phil Gramm, George Bush, or Dick Cheney. In one of the final, ironic twists of the Bush era, they will take it out on the people who least deserve it.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

UPDATED: Safe Havens in End-of-Your-Rope-istan

Expect to see a lot more of this (well armed people attacking and killing groups of people, like in Binghamton, NY yesterday). While we're trying to stop a safe haven for terrorists in AfPak, we're letting them re-develop in militia-stan, crazy-stan, and at-the-end-of-your-rope-istan (think Michigan).

We have increasing numbers of frustrated people. These are especially frustrating times. We have easy access to guns and ammo, rampant undiagnosed mental health problems, loss of access to health care and medication, rising unemployment, homelessness and Bushvilles, higher rates of poverty, violent gangs, mafias, narco-terrorists, layoffs of cops and public safety officials, rapidly declining tax revenues at the state and local level. Add desperation to the mix, and people will react in very angry and violent ways.

Odd that John Robb of Global Guerrillas gave testimony to the House Armed Services Committee (pdf) Thursday in which he said:

"With the failure or weakening of nation-states across the board and the lack of ideological alternatives, people will shift their primary loyalties to any group that can provide them security and the basics of survival. These groups will span the gamut of gangs, tribes, criminal syndicates, militias, religious sects, etc. Many, if not most of these groups, will maintain and expand the interests both vigorously and violently. The worst version of this trend line would be the expansion of the criminal insurgency in Mexico into the US (through expansion of the criminal ecosystem more than anything due to ethnic identity)."


While not exactly on point, the example in your backyard is more proof of societal collapse, and is to be expected in the pressure cooker of 21st century America: armed and more dangerous than ever.

UPDATE: Three police officers dead in Pittsburg, shooter feared Obama Gun ban.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Poetry After Years of None

Photograph by Robin Supak
Thousands of Tiny Taps Almost at Once

Almost frozen rain drops bounce
off slanted glass: molten BBs
the second impact of which
humans can barely detect.

The defroster-warmed windshield
lubricates the basal slide,
a glacial race across car parts
toward salted road like wrist blood

down fingers. Red and blue sirens
intermittently flash blinding,
weary authority from cops, ambulances,
and plow apparatus-strapped pickups.

The shorting-neon bar-sign effect prisms
through each half-flattened drop in the mire--
Tetris-piled-ice sky-scrapers, an opaque
cityscape on a bedrock of wiper blades.

Flip the switch! See a civilization
destroyed! The rubber barbarian
horde squeegees the watery wen
into compressed detritus, then resets.

Oil-fueled blades slice ice aside
into dross monoliths, offal sacrifices
destined to feed roadside sluices.
Obliviously eager new sleet

floods the excavated tabula rasa--
the abhorred-vacuum, now a province
filled by termites, protected witnesses,
contraceptive sponges, and colonists.

Gravity hauls the slush across
the transparent Diolkos, unaware
of its shivering nakedness, bare
liquid held together by sheer

temperature like exposed, decrepit
houses in leafless woods,
revealed only in winter,
about to be obliterated.

Scott Supak
February, 2009

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Lauging off the Weed Questions

The following is a comment I left on John Cole's post today about weed:

First of all, there is no reliable evidence showing that marijuana is as bad as tobacco or alcohol in terms of health costs. In fact, it's way down on the list of drugs that do harm in those terms.

But there is one angle where legalizing, or at least decriminalizing, would make a big difference: the drug war now raging on our border with Mexico. As the administration has been saying for the last week, the US's appetite for these drugs (a large chunk of which is Mexican weed) is fueling the war (as are our guns).

Before Sarah Palin changed the Alaska law, a citizen there was allowed to grow as much weed as they wanted as long as it never left the property on which it was grown. This kind of decriminalization would increase domestic production of pot, and decrease the demand for the weed coming in from Mexican narco gangs.

So, the dismissive way which Obama laughed off the question was, indeed, a big missed chance for him to say something substantive about the good things that could happen if we would refocus our resources on things that actually cause more harm, like alcohol, tobacco, meth, and blow.

Plus, decriminalization would mean less people in prison for pot. The fact that we jail people for possessing even small amounts of weed is astounding to me. These are non-violent people enjoying a substance which has been proven to be less detrimental to the public health than tobacco or alcohol, and yet we put people in prison for it. I have severe arthritis and live in a state where I can't even legally use it for pain, even if my Doctor thinks it would be better than the pharmaceuticals that have severely screwed me up in the past.

This is a serious subject, and deserves to be treated that way. Laughing it off just shows me that our president is capable of ignoring important issues because he thinks the people who ask the questions are stoners.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Foul Weather Gear

I landed a new internet marketing client who sells sailing gear. Specifically, foul weather gear for sailors. He also sells some sailing accessories, like hats, sunglasses, and hand-held GPS units, that aren't specific to foul weather, per se. So, when I started researching keywords to use to drive more traffic to his site, I kept coming back to outdoor gear.

Today, I get word that they don't want to associate themselves with the term "outdoor gear" as it is so general that they're afraid the sailors who come to their site will think it's just regular old outdoor gear, and not the specifically for sailors kind. I can see where they're coming from. Makes my job much harder. But, hey, that's what I get paid for. I'll be talking more about this specificity problem at my internet marketing blog.

I just wanted to post a notice here for all those Wall Street types who are about to find themselves with a lot of extra time.

Go sailing. Please. Take that nice sailboat that you paid for out of your taxpayer funded bonuses, and sail away. Sail to the Bahamas. If there's a storm in your way, strap on some professional sailing foul weather gear, the kind used by actual competitive off-shore and ocean racing sailors, and sail right through it. If you're prepared, you can sail right through the worst weather. Salt water won't eat away at your shoes if you get the right sea boots. Your hands won't get cold if you use the right sailing gloves. You will be protected by the clothing made especially for sailors.

Some of you might want to sail to the Cayman Islands. Don't be afraid to take the Mrs., or maybe your mistress, as you can get women's foul weather gear too! Maybe get a little condo--something more than the little PO Box you had to get out of paying taxes in the US, taxes that pay for things like the Iraq war, Halliburton shock-showers, and your hero President GW Bush's pension. In fact, I hear the sailing is good year around down there, so buy a bunch of great sailing gear and sail away to your John Galt paradise where all you productive people can live happily away from all us socialist scum up here in the US, who will have to wade through the muck, without decent muck boots, that you have left us with.

Cheer up! Your warm salopettes and fleece lined hats will keep you cozy and warm no matter how much spray is hitting you, or how much guilt you feel. Feel a little cold around your neck? No, that's not the breath of federal regulators coming to put you in prison for fraud. It's just the cold sea air... put on a neck gaiter and you'll be all snug and warm as you tack off toward warmer waters in more deregulated lands.

Please understand that this is just snark. I understand that many people like to sail, and by no means are all of them fraudulent wall street crooks or Bush voting John Galt types. Plenty of Democrats (I'm looking at you Teddy) love to sail. In fact, a recent nominee for President was photographed in a wet suit while windsurfing. I'm just suggesting that you sailing people take a look at my new client's site and see if you need anything that's for sale there. My research suggests that they have some of the best prices on this gear, so consider it a money saving tip.

But for those of you who have been stealing billions of dollars from the treasure, our pensions and 401ks, in the form of Bush tax cuts, or Bush no-bid contracts, or deregulation of financial instruments you used to get rich while you looted the companies that were paying you so well... Well, for you jerks, I do hope you keep sailing into the sunset, toward a low-tax Randian paradise of deregulation and no minimum wage for your "help." I just want to make sure you're wearing the proper gear for your trek into your conservative utopia. Wouldn't want you to catch cold.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Conservative Catharsis: Blame Deregulation and Privatization

[Cross posted everywhere it makes sense.]

George W Bush broke the world. It was pretty fucked up to begin with, after years of laissez-faire economics practiced by all American presidents since FDR, but much more so since Reagan. The conservative philosophy was corrupted by deregulators who's belief in the free market completely left out the fact that most people are greedy bastards who will steal everything that's not tied down.

Now this upper class of well-to-do Reaganites, many of them in the Democratic party, have drained the wealth of this country into their walled communities and private security forces, while they whine about their portfolios being worthless. What did they think when they were doing everything Phil Graham suggested? Did they think we could just trust the robber baron class not to be robber barons?

The profit motive works just fine in a regulated market, where everyone has their cards above the table, and we all play by the same rules, which we can all understand. Old timey conservatives were for stringent regulations, especially capital requirements on banks and the like. To be a fiscal conservative meant, literally, to not take crazy risks. A little risk for a decent return, but nothing crazy.

Well, you guys had your chance and you blew it. But what's funny about it is that Karl Marx basically predicted it. It's not hedge fund science, you know. If you have a bunch of money in one place, and you loosen the rules that protect it, someone will steal it. Human nature--GREED--is not good in a market because the greedy will take down the rest of us in that inter-dependent system.

So, now we're going to try something else. It's kind of like what FDR tried, at least in the sense of the largess, the investment in infrastructure and people, and the like. But it's also like FDR in the sense that he realized that everyone deserves some basic floor to stand on: a starting place so that we are all, indeed, created equal when we become a member of The Class of US Taxpayers. Now some of us might get more out of that system than we paid in, but the ones at the top will still get something out of it. They'll have clean dishes to eat cooked food on in restaurants. They'll have firemen and cops and teachers and those people will have the basic dignity of health coverage, affordable housing and utilities, and the like. If the private enterprise system refuses to charge enough for the products and services so that those people can be paid enough to buy their own coverage, then it is we the people, the government, who must force them to, through taxation.

And if you don't believe that, then your option is to have a whole class of people who are broke, unhealthy, and damn angry about it. In this country, those people vote for someone who will make the playing field fair again. In the current view of the dominant conservative voices, those people can just crawl off and die somewhere. Or wind up in prison where we subsidize their everything.

There will be people at the top who pay for it. That is populism. That is the price you pay for living in a country where we pay people who stock shelves at Wal Mart so little that they qualify for government subsidized health care. I'm sure most free market conservatives would prefer to have Wal Mart take care of their employees. But then how could they be the low price leader?

It's still a free country, and there's going to be a free market for practically anything (including things that are illegal). There will be a free market for health care and those of you who can afford it are more than welcome to sink your dollars into a system that profits from your sickness on one end (the HMOs) and profits from your minimal care on the other (the insurance companies who don't want to pay, they just want to collect). I ask you, which force will drive doctor salaries lower? A government that tries to enforce fairness, no matter how cumbersome a bureaucracy that develops in order to implement that fairness (and, again, medicare does it with amazingly low administrative costs compared to private companies), or a private insurance company that is trying desperately to keep outlays down because raising premiums is just making them lose customers?

I'm all for personal responsibility. I grow a lot of my own food. I own my own small business and work for a lot less than minimum wage. I would require more stringent food requirements on Food Stamp recipients, like me, to eat healthy foods and support local, small, and organic farmers. But when it comes to something as complex as health care, I just don't trust the greedy bastards to run it anywhere but into the ground.

I lived in LA for 20 years. I remember the Enron fiasco during the electricity crisis. We had been sold a bill of goods about privatizing and deregulating the electricity markets that turned out to be worse than a load of horse shit (which is at least good fertilizer). It is a perfect example of how unfettered markets only serve as suet to a bunch of hungry birds like Ken Lay who fly away with the whole chunk if they can.

At that point, I started looking into co-ops, public ownership of utilities, community supported agriculture, and credit unions. I like employee owned companies and try to support them when I can. Guess what all those examples are? Communist! They take the assets, the factories, the power lines, the loan portfolios, and they collectively own them among all the members. Where I live now, we have an electric co-op (a remnant of FDR's Rural Electrification Association). It's great. All the people who get the cheap power own the assets of the power company collectively. There is no profit, but the guys who cut the tree branches out of the way get paid well, get health insurance and other benefits. So does the nice lady who answers the phone. Because we, the owners, have decided that's a good thing to do. There's no profit for any corporation, but there is enough to make sure everyone gets paid what they're worth. If those employees had a government health plan they could choose, and pay for with a tax on their paychecks, then as a co-owner of the co-op, I would be more than happy to give them a raise with the money the co-op saved by not having to pay for their health care.

I'm pretty sure GM would like that too.

Why should health care be any different than the co-op itself? Why can we not use the medicare paycheck tax to pay into a fund that is then used to pay our dues for a medical co-op that fairly and equitably distributes care on a triage basis, and puts a premium on prevention, even to the point of rewarding people who do the right thing for their health (thereby being less of a burden to the rest of the co-op)?

Now a lot of people will say it's a red commie flag there, but if you really think about it, and look back over American history at the collective good that has developed as a ethic in this country, it's conservative. It says YOU have a stake, YOU have a responsibility, and if you do well, you will be rewarded. The fact that we are all owners makes it the ownership society for real. And the fact that it is controlled by a bureaucracy that is built to make it as fair as possible takes it out of the realm of Stalin or other totalitarian philosophies, and puts it squarely in the hands of voters who get tho choose the head of the federal government every four years.

I worked my ass off for big entertainment companies for 20 years. They made plenty of money off my labor: more than I did, in fact. And when that work caused the degenerative disease I have in my big load bearing joints, those company's insurance companies denied that they had caused it, and tossed me out like any old broken cog. In your world, it's toughsky shitsky for Scotty because they have to profit. In my world, the money I put into the co-op would come back to me from the co-op when I needed it. Some guy who profited more from my work might have to pay a little more tax now to fund it, but I'll never get back all the profit I helped him make. That's fine. But when he tries to say he has no responsibility for my care, now that I'm broken down and can't do the physical labor that I spent 20 years turning into a career, I say he's full of it.

But when he says, well, I don't really want to pay into a system where a bunch of jet-setting insurance company executives and HMO executives milk every last dime out of everything in order to feed their Myopic vision of next quarter's stock price, then he has a point. I don't want him to pay them either. I want him to pay my doctor, with as little administrative or other overhead as possible. In fact, less overhead means more for my doctor.

So that's my long and winding explanation of why I want medical care to be non-profit and universal. And I'd like to thank the Ron Paul Republican who's been rattling a few cages around here for setting me off on what was a comment, but turned into a diary. So much for banging out a quick answer and getting back to work!

And thanks to Hunter today for firing up my populist, anti-Randian roots. Sometimes I forget why I hang out here, and then Hunter posts something that makes me feel like writing again.