Tuesday, May 31, 2005

A Better Better Nation: the slightly less luddite Lawrence Walker


As faithful readers will know, I have, since way before I invented the web (or at least my few little cubby holes of its existence) been rather a luddite, one prone to scoff at the religion of technology as savior. I am not even really computer literate. I string words together, not HTML - and don't know a boot from a bonnet, an ISP from a CPA. When it comes to RAM, I don't know the difference between a CPU and a Dodge. I see the nerdy whimsy in this bit and bite (or is it byt and byte?) world, but I sort of like the Woody Allen option of feeling the Live Lobster of Compuwizardry is trying po pinch (or is it pynch?) me in the - byte me - in the ass.

I know, I know - fewer and fewer Webheads out there have any patience for or even belief in resisting the wonders of the newest gadgets that "connect" us and keep us in "touch" and draw us all into this miracle of the WWW, El Mundo Wide Webarama. And I don't do as much proselytizing as I used to about the evils of technology (get me started if you like - I can be wound up for a song).

But entering the blog world, even, it has taken me until now to figure out (meaning ask) how to insert links and text commands into my posts. I know, it all looked too plain and down home before, a real garage operation. And as in all things in this 'style is often as deep as it gets' world, yes, style counts - how things look on the 'printed page' - how much buzz there is - and how many links to others' buzz. And we want buzz. A BETTER NATION IS a good horse, and it wants to run. It's time we got it out of the barn and onto the track.

So herewith, in that vein, I will be combing over past posts inserting links, corrections and updates so as to make this a more polished product, worthy of your generous attention and support, all the way back to ABN's first post ever. Soon, you will find real links to the sources, people and pieces/books I've mentioned - just like all the other fourth graders can do (already). As with every blog, especially those not sponsored by corporate/plush red carpeting and cheap Chinese labor, we live for two things - soft, warm comments and cold, hard cash.

And SO... From luddite to (slightly) literate, YES, A BETTER NATION wants to earn your eyeballs, a few minutes on your clock/in your ehtosphere, a bit of your brainyness - AND your cash dollars, shallow pockets, deep pockets, we'd pick every pocket if we could. But honorable as we are, we leave you in peace to pick your own pockets for us.

We (that is the "Royal We") here at ABN want to be your source for substance and style. We'll stash the ideas if you'll stash the cash.

No paypal yet, so the green stuff works just fine, in the form of legible and non-rubberized checks, made out to yours truly. You can also find MY WISH LIST at Amazon (ha! a link to his wish list! how clever!) and make a much appreciated contribution that way.

Yes, A BETTER NATION is lifting off from the lowlands of Ludditesville, headed toward the stratosphere of the Blogosphere.

Hitch the better angels of your nature (and a brave financial stake) to ABN's star. It's sure to be a wise investment in my future, if not yours. OK, yours too!

Monday, May 30, 2005

Lawrence Walker's A Better Nation Makes Blogebrity


Blogebrity, the magazine about bloggers, has announced that the blog "A Better Nation", hosted by Lawrence Walker, has been added to the site's list of significant blogs. You can find the lists by going to www.blogebrity.com and scrolling down the "C-list" on the right hand side to "Walker, Lawrence." There is a link to Walker's mail blog on political, cultural and personal matters. Walker started his blog on November 15, 2004, in the wake of the 2004 presidential election.

Walker had previously been active on Abuzz, the New York Times' site for discussion. Walker says he made his first posts to the blogosphere on Abuzz in the fall of 2000, in the wake of the 2000 election. Thus, his roots in blogging were primarily political, but he soon branched out into all sorts of cultural and more personal matters, from movies to prescription medications to personal matters. He posted over 700 times to Abuzz, but the site went defunct in early 2004.

After the election in November, Walker felt the need to once again enter the fray on political and philosophical issues. An acquaintance at the political networking site, "Love in War," suggested that Walker start a blog of his own at Blogger.

Walker was born in 1957 and grew up in Dallas. He attended the University of Texas at Austin from 1977 to 1989. He started his college career in Plan II, a selective liberal arts honors program but, after three years, switched to American Studies, interdisciplinary cultural history. After a few years managing a bookstore, Walker continued in the graduate program to receive an MA in American Civilization.

For many years, he has been a bicycle tour leader and occasional freelance writer. He intends to use his blog, "A Better Nation," to return to some of the concerns and commentary he had skirted since his days in grad school, mixing academic perspectives with pop culture, seriousness and humor to attract a wider audience.

He welcomes visitors and comments to his blog.

-- ABN Staff (yours truly, yep, me, myself and I)

Friday, May 27, 2005

Friday Night at the Movies

The two Sir Richards of film criticism at Time, Schickel and Corliss, have just revealed their joint effort to list not THE but A Top 100 List of movies that are great or best or not to be missed.

[Link here: http://www.time.com/time/2005/100movies/the_complete_list.html]

The list has raised some controversy by design. The critics even say right up front that they have tinkered with the list to NOT BE a definitive list, set in stone, as THE best, not to be amended or argued. Well, their ploy has worked. The list is being compared to many others, including similarly long lists and more selective lists, such as those at Salon and in the Sight & Sound Top Ten Movie Poll taken every ten years since 1952 and last in 2002.

When I was in college, I took a good many classes in film "appreciation" and criticism. Most Monday nights, I'd go to Jester Auditorium and pay about a dollar to see a classic, "important" or intriguing movie, complete with a memeographed set of study notes with which to consider the film and to put it in perspective, to put into both its cinematic and historical contexts. And I'd write papers about everything from "Citizen Kane" to "The Searchers" to "Blow Up" to "Emmanuelle" to "Apocalypse Now." By the time I was about 25, I'd already compiled a list of 100 Favorite Films, a la the 100 list at the back of Hallowell's Film Companion. (All of the films below would make that list now.)

Some movies remain important and the best of the best, and this is a great deal of consensus about them. In many cases, I agree. I know and like the insider/critical ("Citizen Kane," "The 400 Blows," "The Wild Bunch") choices and the people's choices ("The General," "It's a Wonderful Life," "North by Northwest").

What follows are two top movie lists blogged from the hip of ABN - The Top Thirty or So Greatest of the Great (American Classics) and Two Dozen or So I Really Like Myself (a more eclectix mix in addition to the greats).

Here are the Top Thirty or So Greatest of the Great (imminently well crafted, well-acted, well-respected and, above all other factors in this context, WATCHABLE, in roughly chronological order). Each might deserve a viewing every few years, just to keep our sights high....

The General
The Gold Rush
City Lights
Duck Soup
The Thin Man (series)
The Wizard of Oz
Citizen Kane
Fantasia (and now add a few selections from Fantasia 2000, especially the "Rhapsody in Blue" sequence - brilliant)
It's a Wonderful Life
The Big Sleep
The African Queen
Singin' in the Rain
On the Waterfront
Sunset Boulevard
West Side Story
Some Like It Hot
To Kill a Mockingbird
Dr. Strangelove
The Graduate
Bonnie and Clyde
Little Big Man
The Wild Bunch
The Sting
The Godfather(s)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
Annie Hall
Apocalypse Now
Dances with Wolves
Schindler's List

And now, Two Dozen or So I Really Like Myself (in addition to the above) - and which easily and readily come to mind right now, thus some more recent than most classics, a few foreign and again, in roughly chronological order...

Destry Rides Again
The Third Man
To Have and Have Not
Paris When It Sizzles
Breaking Away
Cannery Row
Miller's Crossing
The Fisher King
L. A. Story
Unstrung Heroes
The Player
Life is Beautiful
Shakespeare in Love
Waking Life
O Brother, Where Art Thou?
The Royal Tenenbaums
Big Fish
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Thursday, May 26, 2005

A Meta Meta-Blog Blog & Blogebrity

I've been surfing the A, B, and C List blogs over at www.blogebrity.com, and I'm learning all over again about the popularity of airy belly buttom gazing - that, other self-referential (if not reverential) stuff and, of course, sex. Lots of sex - or at least implied sexiness.

We, all we bloggers, are, whether introverts or extraverts, gabbers at heart, if not outright exhibitionists. We've been feeling cooped up for too long, and we want our cats out of the bag. And we might want to take you into our closests to see our skeletons, not sure whether we are still ashamed or not.

Meta-blogs are blogs about blogs and blogging, the act thereof. Well, then this is a meta meta-blog - a post about those posting about those posting, a blog about blogs about blogs - and I promise I am treading lightly compared to some.

But not even this thread of mirrors is the extent of the meta-blog world now. No, just in the last few days, Jon Stewart did a hilarious send up of the major news networks' occasional and now, for some, daily reporting on what the hottest blogs are saying, though it's more meta than Meta as it's really about who's hot than what you've got. And pretty soon, in desperation to seem with it a bit more, perhaps Newsweek will morph Conventional Wisdom Watch into Blogger Watch - maybe it's already happened, and I, happily, missed it.

The blogger mythology has it that blogs beat down Dan Rather. Blogs made Howard Dean. Blogs will be the new grassroots of the next revolution. Maybe we'll all be staring at cable or rattling away at our keyboards and miss the real revolution.

CNN and MSNBC regularly report snippets of blogs - as Stewart said, feeling inspired to read blogs out loud on TV! What a concept. And of course, the cameras come in onto pretty/sexy blogcasters like it were a talk radio sideshow, maybe an MTV main event.

Now is that news? Is that anything but seedy? Gossip, opinion, even slander and pseudo-slander and pseudo-inside SCOOOOP as expertise, as WORTHY. Yikes.

And I'm being cautioned by friends to either get with it and write like a 'real' blogger, maybe more of the unseemly/sniveling side of things (and SEX). Or somehow make it more 'marketable' to grow my audience. I'm kind of an old-fashioned guy around here - older than most devout, detached, Gen XYZ wry mismash "D" listers: posts too preachy, too long, too stuffy, not enough juice?

Get with the program! Yes, that's the essence of free speech, isn't it?

Hey, at least I am free - and you're getting your money's worth.

... Which reminds me that I will be trying to figure out how to accept donations soon. Help keep me afloat. I'm treading (and taking on) water, kicking up my little patch of dust here in the cosmic Plutosphere of Bloggerspace.

Send your contributions to: Lawrence Walker, P. O. Box 2142, Kerrville, TX 78029.

Links to Amazon and Google soon. Yes, we too would rather join those "A" and "B" listers than fight them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Democracy Now!

Lawrence here, with a link to the page at the "Democracy Now!" website titled "Bringing 'Democracy Now!' to your community." It has the best way to do it and plenty of links to make it happen, if you can.


"Democracy Now!" is Amy Goodman's hard-hitting Pacifica Radio (and rarer TV link) that can be heard on about a hundred stations in the U.S. but only three stations in Texas. Three stations for 19 million people. It's carried on three stations in Missouri and three in Alaska, for crying out loud. It's on four in New Hampshire and Mexico, five in Oregon and North Carolina, eight in Vermont, twelve in Colorado and 28 in California. What does this say about the great gallumping state of Texas?

We're about as backward as they come. Even the liberals here don't know how backward we are. So many of them have been desensitized to what it means to have anything but a parochial, patronizingly patriotic conversation devoid of a bigger world view.

Amy Goodman is an inspiring speaker, tough as nails, brave, dogged - a tomboy lady as American hero, if you ask me. The problem is that even though Goodman and DN are often right on, it could, especially in this regressive state, clearly be labeled a clear conspirator in the "the liberal-biased" media - though it is certainly NOT "mainstream." But it's not communist, either. It is very much FOR America, for the valor and the virtues of a better nation.

I think DN may just be too edgy (and 'radical' - meaning passionate and blunt) for many public and private radio stations in this rash red state to consider. And it's not an NPR program, so its distribution is often due to word of mouth with a budget that's hand to mouth.

Of course, it is a farce that the conservatives have been so good at pinning the "mainstream media" with a "liberal bias." This in itself is a huge danger to the health of our society and our culture, whether it's Bloggerland or Dowdland or Foxland or Lehrerland. Americans are very touchy about and resentful of the perceived (and real) education gap between "East Coast/West Coast liberals" and "heartland conservatives." That uppity investigative news where sharply pointed follow-up questions are not a thing of the past is just TOOOO "anti" American....

For more on this sham, see the writings of NYU journalism professor Todd Gitlin (a favorite of mine, often to be read in "The American Prospect" and many of his own good books - see "Media Unlimited" for example). Also, you might catch the renowned works, "The Myth of the Liberal Media" by Edward S. Herman and the even more popular "What Liberal Media?" by Eric Alterman (Alterman has his own A-list blog).

My only hope for the heinously underinformed hinterland is that we might get more of the programming already on other, more worldly NPR and independent stations. (This antidote to the narrow and woolly WORLD of Rabid Talk Radio will be essential to turning some red states blue.)

In the meantime, 'til Goodman and crew (that would be me and you) can cause a Radioland revolution, that seems like a reasonable compromise to me. We really do need more - and more substantial - news (besides all the blather you see on these silly blogs). Give us that good ol' fashioned boilerplate! Here's to the straight scoop from... the BBC. Invaluable, I hear. Maybe it's time to get Sirius about XM.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Selected Shorts

* * * It has been disclosed that some convicted sex offenders are receiving medicare payments to treat their erectile dysfunction. Your tax dollars at work.

* * * Title of a SPAM I received today: "Be Stallone in bed..." Not sure that I would want to be, feeling I might just be able to do a bit better than that. And are there other SPAM alerts, suggesting, say, "Be Clint in bed," "Be Ahhhnold in bed," "Be Bill in bed," "Be Oprah [with a Big O] in bed...", "Be L Lo O O O in bed...", "Be a star on 'Fear Factor' in bed...", "Be [your favorite congressperson or Supreme Court justice] in bed..." ? Hmmm?

* * * Studies show that children are spending, on average, HALF the time outdoors they spent outdoors a generation ago.

* * * Meanwhile, studies are showing that getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight three times per week could reduce the occurance of many forms of cancer, since ultraviolet light creates vitamin D in its most usable form - better than supplements can - and new studies show that many cancers may be occuring more frequently due to widespread vitamin D deficiences. So a moderate amount of sun exposure may be better than none at all.

* * * Today was trash and at-the-curb recycling day here on Water Street. I walked down the block collecting easily recyclable things from my neighbors' trash to put in recycling, including a dozen aluminum cans (easily reached) and enough carboard to box up about three refrigerators. My actual trash was about four pounds for the week.

* * * Why is it that anyone would want people who don't like government to run the government? It seems most likely that people who don't like government would be most likely to run it _into _the _ground - and then we'd find out why we really needed good government. (Sound familiar?)

* * * The meaning of life, in one off-the-cuff equation: To reconcile (1) objective/verifiable reality with (2) our perceptions of reality in the context of (3) OTHERS' perceptions of reality. So in the big picture: sort fact from fantasy [see Monday's post, re: "The Elegant Universe"].

* * * You heard it here first: there is no such thing as "potential." People do the best they can every day, every moment. Nothing more can be proved, so the notion of potential is a sentiment, a projection, not a fact. (If they do better or worse tomorrow, it is because their current conditions have changed.)

* * * We talk about "being sensitive" as if that were an excuse to pussy foot so daintily around others (or hot topics) that we need not act. Nope, sorry. Being sensitve does not mean we get to refrain from taking action. And neither does being sentimental. It is still our actions that count above all, not our feelings. The thing is to act sensitively, positively - and wisely - meaning with as much prescience and precision as we can possibly muster.

* * * And remember: We each do the best we can every day. That doesn't let us off the hook. It ought to humble us and remind us we are accountable. (I did my part recently when I humbly plead "Guilty" to a traffic ticket I couldn't even afford to pay - even though I was stopped as I pulled out of my own driveway.)

* * * Be cranky and cantankerous if you must, but I'll tell you, I am trying (ok, a bit haphazardly trying) to counteract my bile (and akilter brain chemicals) with some being loving and some being thankful - and some laughs. Shut in, cooped up, thought out, I need to get my blood pumping!

~ Zippety Doo Dah Day!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Slouching Towards the Grace of Tragedy

Ok, maybe even with as nice a spring as it's been around here, I've just gotten fed up with being the Dalai Lawrence, all nice and earnest and chipper in the face of the current load of shit hitting the fan. I don't know. I'm not dwelling on the news much these days, at least not overtly. Hell, I'm not even reading much news at all. But I've been crabby for a few weeks. A mid-May / summer's-on-its-way kinda thing? A mid-life thing? A male andro/menopausal thing?

We might think all the crab-inducing news is just white noise (like the heat of summer), but no, it is there. We can hear it, and we can feel it even when we're not listening to it or even for it. Unless we've got dumbshit blinders on (all the rage these days, by the way, praise the lord and pass the hot steamin' horsehockey), it's there, wearing us down, making us tired of being alive in the ways we're alive, "hanging in there." Hanging in there has, as we know, never been enough to prevail, never enough to master pride in ourselves. That white noise (from the basement of the White House?) comes at a profound price, yes.

Regarding the hopes we share for a political paradigm shift (YES! Away from the corporate cash cows hiding behind the Bush/bin Laden shootout and TOWARD some genuine international consensus building), I wrote to my friend Jack today:

Yes Jack, I too am hoping that the EU will lead the way toward more cooperative alliances world-wide [leading to the comeuppance of this bully empire]. US carnivorous capitalism out, Eurosocial democracy in.

Funny (or not so funny) thing, I am rather disgusted with the world, as usual, but I seem to internalize it more, even with my blog to vent, and so it comes out as... depression, not more riled emotions. Not that I am functioning worth a damn or much at all.

I tell ya, I crave absurdity, that's what I crave - it seems the best antidote to the rot we see. Laughs lighten the LOAD.

Lovely days we've had out here in the hills, a long spring and just now the parched air of summer, later than usual. So I piddle around the house and yard like a bumbling, somewhat senile retiree - guess it goes with the territory [in this retiree town].

Living on fumes (and a few laughs), Lorenzo

And later I wrote:

I suppose I could complain but don't as much - or at least not as pointedly as in the old days - just an amorphous sense of forlornness, I suppose...

As for intellectually, I could use some more stimulation. And I would say the closest I am getting these days is (dare I say this?) in my own mind. It's not exactly that am challenging myself more than anyone else is - though a therapist might say I am 'being too hard on myself' - but that I feel I've got to turn to books for any original thoughts - the authors' or mine. Most of our acquaintances are just passing along headlines or dogma. So it's gotten to be when I punch "Publish [blog] Post" most days, it is a highlight of my day - or night as the case may be and often is, racing my 2 AM deadline (midnight PDT). It is my thread - pretty feeble for "a lifeline".

Before and beyond the blog, dammit, I'm just sort of aimless, shuffling around as if I were not much different from that rather far gone senior citizen...." Maybe I'd better UP my meds!


Seems a little of Yeats' "The Second Coming" is in order:

"...The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity."

Me, shuffling, slouching, with my righteously typed out but otherwise closeted convictions, lately it seems I see myself in my own shadows as if looking at myself as a young man grown old, as the Star Child sees the old man at the end of "2001: A Space Odyssey." Where did the time go? Where did hope implode? Where did we shuffle away from the light of (was it) a new dawn or an old dusk? What wary and wimpy beast slouches towards the shadows to rasp in the stale air - the fumes of empire?


Longtime friend Jack, a mathematician, astrophysicist and philosopher, wrote back this afternoon:

Can't really complain, at least on the intellectual front. I'm battling my usual demons as well, trying to translate the amorphous correlations of my dopamine deficient brain into concrete mathematical relationships. I'm closer than I've ever been though.

While politics and political advocacy are certainly important, they are not the be-all and end-all of existence. Throughout the gaudy tapestry that is the history of Mankind in all its vainglorious and superfluous pursuits is woven - in a much finer thread - the heroic tale of those few souls who have sought a deeper understanding of the world of which we are a part. Why not take a break from the endless rehashing of political polemics and read something like "The Elegant Universe" [Brain Greene's very popular and apparently inspiring book about the big picture of matter]? Not only would it give you something to talk about with your [expansively enlightened friends], but you might discover for yourself the truth of Steven Weinberg's conclusion to "The First Three Minutes":

"The effort to understand the universe is one of the very few things that
lifts human life a little above the level of farce and gives it some of the
grace of tragedy."

Friday, May 20, 2005

Friday Schmy Day

TGIF, they say, and is that a good thing? Five days work to earn a few days for your "lifestyle of leisure"?

And here comes Memorial Day Weekend just a week from now, when summer starts in earnest, and we're even more intent on making it look like we're the most laid back and best outfitted grillers in the 'hood - as opposed to doing what keeps us shut in most of the time - channel surfing.

Oh Fridays don't matter quite as much to me as to most of you since I barely work. Indeed, I barely function in any conventional sense. Most of my function - including my few strains/veins of High Function - is in the unconventional, rather unAmerican venues of... contemplation, sitting around thinking - really known, if you do it with any articulation or systematic thought, as that thing that sounds so hackneyed - philosophizing. And who does that any more? Well, there are those of us who do, but I just don't think we're ever bunched up, more like few and far between, like spotting a big hot air balloon - as opposed to, down on the ground below (and below ground) the industrious and dutiful ants.

Strange that we, homo sapien sapiens, are sort of a cross between apes and other primates (of course), strutting, courting birds of a feather - and ants. Our ant natures so often seem to win out. We make worn paths going from home to get stuff and bring it back home and from home to work moving stuff around and going back home, like ants in rush hour, traffic jams, all tuned to the weather and news and sports scores.

I figure, of all the animals, ants must have cable down in their apartment homes. It's cheap to hook up - like getting free cable included in your rent at a humongous apartment complex, gated no less, so anteaters can't get inside and you can enjoy the scene at the swimming pool at your leisure, in peace, with residents and guests of your own kind, approved, ant-like like yourselves.

Amazing, to me, for all the human variety - and there is a hell of a lot, I am not kidding - that so many of us are just that, not quite ant-like but, yes, birds of a feather, flocking together. Sure, we're social animals to beat the band - we put the antics of dolphins and chimpanzees and peacocks to shame - but we, perhaps like they (if we really knew them), certainly are a quirky bunch.

We seem to be relieved to have jobs and relieved to be away from them. How many ants love what they do? They're lucky, those ants - they don't love. But we humans, we love, and we have passions and contradictions. And that sort of stuff - all the id and the ego and the (uh oh) psyche get in the way of comfortably sorting out and "balancing" all the stuff we do that we don't really want to do from the stuff we do that we do really want to do.

Who invented this weekend thing anyway? Does the ration of 5:2 make sense to most of you (ants)? Why not 4:3? Or even 3:4? Americans work more than most human animals ever have - yes, harder and longer. Maybe somewhere in there is a badge of honor and a gold watch, but it seems there's so much else to do, too - like sit in the front yard and let your mind wander around the scene and the universe a bit.

Just a bit. Try it. You might really like it.

And you'll be oh so human.


Thursday, May 19, 2005

Highway Bill Hullabaloo

Back atcha Friday morning with the dish on the big highways and transportation bill - planes, trains and automobiles.

Could this large "public works" bill (filled with pork for all 50 states) be the very first bill President Bush might veto?

Mr. Bush says $195 billion is about $15 billion too much to spend "during a time of war," so he'll quibble over that and ask for $500 billion EVERY YEAR (!!!) for his specious war on terror, in which he fights fire with fire? (I mean terror with terror, pardon me.)

In the meantime, please see more on somewhat related car topics and "treading lightly" (as opposed to treading under Cheney's thumb - or hell) below.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Hybrid Hullabaloo Part Two


Picking up where we left off, more on cars - certainly a central theme in American life, ever since about 1900, and especially since Henry Ford said, "a chicken for every pot and a Model T for every garage" - or something like that.

Besides the Hybrid Hullabaloo, there are some good ways to go - going with a modern diesel or buying an efficient used car.

Current diesel passenger cars (mostly from VW) are efficient, surprisingly quiet and fairly clean burning. With some, you can expect well over 40 mpg. And there is that prospect of biodiesel - meaning you can make diesel out of grain, by golly. Yes, you can grow your own fuel.

And let's not forget that Honda has been offering honorably modest Civic hatchbacks (btw, hatchbacks are the most efficient shape of car) with conventional gasoline engines that get 40+ mpg for well over a decade; they're simple, reliable and inexpensive.

There is nothing "wrong" with hybrids, even as a 'stop gap measure.' This new technology needs to be desirable and in demand. Yep, it's time to tell the gas guzzling Fords (worst of all brands, on average) to exit stage left. A hybrid is certainly the most admirable NEW car to buy, if one feels compelled to buy NEW. (Again, any vehicle that averages 40+ mpg gets a gold medal in my book - 25+ for the bronze, 30+ for the silver.) But why churn up the factories of production by joining in the demand for a new car? Better to be green the old-fashioned way, by reducing demand, reusing what we've got and... recycling.

The bottom line is: Recycle an efficient car, meaning prolong its life and good health. Buy a good used car that gets 25+ mpg, keep it tuned, keep the tires aired up, make sure it's aligned and in good shape, and don't drive it much.

That's the real bottom line here: whatever you drive, don't drive it much.

I've done some checking. Here are the national averages per vehicle:

Average miles driven:

Per privately-owned vehicle: 11,904

Average miles per gallon:

Cars: 24.4
SUVs: 17.3
Pickup trucks: 16.5

So let's round these off (up ever so slightly), and say that the average we are shooting to beat is...

12,000 miles x 25 mpg = 480 gallons/year. That is just about the average for a car.

Many studies round annual car travel up to as high as 15,000 miles per year per vehicle, and this may be more indicative of suburban and semi-rural automobile commuters and travelers such as the AAA's membership, but this is not the national average per vehicle registered and in service. As of several years ago (the last reliable figures), that average had never topped 12,000 miles/year.

Given, these averages, it seems reasonable to me to propose that notable, even considerable conservation (the realm of "treading lightly") starts at a rate
of consumption 20% lower than the average, that is 384 gallons/year.

An example: 28 mpg x 384 gallons = 10,752 miles/year.

Now, truly admirable conservation would, I propose, start at more than 20% below the average, say 30+ mpg and 11,010 miles driven annually (367 gallons/year) - or similarly, 40+ mpg with fewer than 14,700 miles per year (also 367 gallons/year).

Let's do the math on the average and two extremes:

On the "treading lightly" end (that is, "treading lightly" for an American), let's say your vehicle gets 40 mpg, and you average 10,000 miles per year. You would consume 250 gallons of gas, and at $2.10/gallon pay $525 for gas per year.

In the middle, let's figure AAA's hypothetical (high mileage) average for an American car: 24.4 mpg x 15,000 miles per year = 615 gallons of gas at $2.10/gallon = $1,292 in gas costs per year.

On the "heavy consumption" end, let's say your vehicle gets 17 mpg, and you average 30,000 miles per year. You would consume 1,765 gallons of gas per year and at $2.10/gallon spend $3,706 per year on gas.

So, what does it take to crack $4000 a year in gas expenses?

Nothing unheard of: at $2.10/gallon, 1905 gallons. Who uses that much gas?

Four examples:

A Hummer at 11 mpg traveling 20,900 miles.

A Ford F150 at 16.5 mpg traveling 31,433 miles.

An average car at 24.4 mpg traveling 46,482 miles.

And how about a Toyota Prius, getting 52 mpg?

99,060 miles.

Wow. The conservative Prius driver might drive for a decade on $4000 worth of gas while some heavy gasoline consumers are topping the $4000 mark every year.

FTR (For The Record), especially since one commentor recently at "A Better Nation" said that I 'probably drive a car like the rest of us,' last year, yes, I do drive a car.

Years ago, I came up with the philosophical question, "what's the worst thing you've ever done?" I came up with my own answer, and it is: "driven a car." Overall, I still feel that driving a car is the worst thing I have ever done, as the many hundreds of thousands of miles I have already driven will impact the entirety of life on this planet for decades and maybe centuries.

But last year, due to a lack of employment, mobility and motivation, I pulled off a rather exemplary year for an American car owner, especially one living in the big, spread out state of Texas. I drove my car an exceptionally low number of miles, even for me: 7424 miles. Yes, that was the total for 365 days exactly. My car is a 4 cylinder hatchback with a 1.9 liter engine and manual transmission. It gets an average of 30-33 mpg per tank. Total gas 4/04 - 4/05 = 232 gallons @ $2.10/gallon = $486.

Also: I have no children and won't be having any children - who would also, most likely become consumers, car owners AND drivers. In the big scheme of things (a truly environmental model), their consumption would be added to my total.

Tomorrow: the $295 billion highway & transportation bill just passed by the Senate and how it fits into the big picture of trains, planes and automobiles....

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

DiCaprio, Diaz, the Hybrid Hullabaloo and You

What came before was merely a six year primer for the hybrid vehicle, starting with the introduction of the ingenious Honda Insight roadster in 1999 and Toyota's more conventional Prius sedan in 2000. Up until now, the hybrid was seen as a rare choice for sensitive movie stars, fanatical greens, and liberal retirees. Now, with gas at last cracking $2.15 a gallon (an all time high, though adjusted for inflation, still cheap), hybrids are getting hotter and hotter. Hummer out, hybrids IN!

As of May 4th, the newest "It" vehicle for celebs and the sensitive rich has been available on showroom floors - the Lexus RX400h - and yes, that little "h" stands for you know what. (Lexus is Toyota's luxury-level brand.) And just today, Toyota made a big news splash announcing that it would immediately begin building a hybrid version of the Camry, the most popular sedan in the United States - and that it would build that car in the United States, at its Georgetown, Kentucky, plant.

Honda has been offering a very conventional-looking Civic hybrid for several years, but Toyota's publicity mainstreaming the Camry hybrid will take the acceptance of hybrids on a giant leap to the next level. The hybrid will have a chance to achieve its due - a much larger share of the new car market.

Manufacturers have been resisting the public's demand for small cars because they've been making so much more money selling big SUVs and trucks, and so the hybrid is becoming a classic story of demand and supply.

Car industry spokesmen and market analysts said today that they felt there were at least four factors involved in the ramping up of Toyota's plans to get the Camry hybrid built and to dealers:

1. Sales of the Prius have exceeded ALL expectations, doubling last year. And if the cars were available this year, dealers feel they could sell three times as many Priuses this year as in 2003. Demand has outstripped production, and so hybrids are a quick commercial success, even with the addition of about $4000 to the pricetag of a comparable gasoline-only model. Want one? Get on a waiting list - and pay sticker price.

2. Gas prices are currently 40-50 cents higher than they were just a year ago, averaging about $1.70 then and upwards of $2.10 now. Cynics said gasoline would have to double in price to get people out of their gas guzzlers, but it seems this 20% hike over the $2 threshhold is making a substantial difference. You'll still see some Hummers and other behemoths (super-sized SUVs and trucks) on the road for years to come, but they are already the most despised sort of vehicle on the road.

3. The hybrid has become a status symbol and conversation piece across many socio-economic groups. Its success depends on its moving from status symbol to accepted norm.

4. According to some demographic studies, a higher than usual portion of shoppers for hybrids are especially concerned about environmental and political matters (above and beyond the immediate price of gasoline and the issue of status). Hybrid shoppers have increasingly voiced concerns about this nation's dependence on oil (which makes its security vulnerable) and its involvement in Middle Eastern and South American conflicts which seem bent on procurring the largest oil reserves in the world at the cost of international goodwill, American lives and billions of dollars.

This would not be the first time a category of car was seen as a political statement, but at least the pendulum, post-Hummer hoorah, seems to be swinging in the right direction. Leonardo di Caprio and Cameron Diaz were the first major celebrities to "go national" with their love for their hybrids. Maybe we'll even see Arnold change his tune. We need all the celebrities we can get on the side of "treading lightly."

Tomorrow: more on hybrids and your other car choices, new and used.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Have a garage sale!


As the saying goes, 'One man's trash is another [sucker's] treasure...'

Seems like garage sales have been major events in my life, ever since my mom sensed their awesome powers and dragged me from one to the next - and then had a few traumatic ones of our own. Yard sales are not only events in which you make a dime on the dollar for all that stuff you bought (or were woefully given) that is eventually headed for the landfill. They are also intensely memorable experiences, compounded by combining forces with friends, meeting obscure neighbors, sorting and piling and remembering your own stuff but also parting with it for a pittance or a song.

Best to have fun with these things. I had a garage sale for 12+ (yes, count 'em, twelve plus) hours on Friday and almost as many hours Saturday, by the time the last "free" remnants were carried away from the curb.

Thanks to friends Susan and Mike, this was the least stressed/most fun garage sale I've ever had, and I've had about one about every two years. Some have been uptight, even contentious, with various parties ("friends") competing for sales and accurate accounting - whew!

But this one, even with a lot of work, flew with self-deprecating humor - the sign didn't say "sale." It said, "STUFF You Gotta Have." And we sold something to at least 70% of those gullible enough to step in off the street for a looksee.

"Hey, so you got stuff I gotta have? What is it?"

"Uh, well, I don't know, but we sure are going to find it before you leave here. I'm sure what you gotta have is here someplace!"

"So... what do I need that you got?"

"I don't know, but we sure are going to find it! Now don't you need a wood lathe or this nice bathroom sink? How about a basket to put your pet cobra in? Surely there's something here that you need - you know it and I know it!"

Sit there forlorn or bored or too self-conscious or (heven forbid) too reverential of your own junk, and a major opportunity is missed. People want bargains, but they soon learn that the best bargains are: a sense of gamesmanship, a sense of play, a true generosity, help above and beyond, the truth (even if its broken or wrong for their specific needs). A garage sale invites the surrounding world in to your piles of stuff. Treat your visitors well and happily, and there's almost no better way to spend a day or two. (I find Fridays afternoons/evenings and Saturday mornings 'til noon work best.)

The greatest thing about a garage sale is the socializing. A simple "SALE" sing and a a pile of stuff near the street gets all sorts of people - everybody from cheats to snobs - out of their front doors and car doors. You'll mix and mismatch. You'll commune, after a fashion - meaning the American fashion - meaning SHOPPING. You're amazed that disparate citizens from around your area have little reunions in your yard and that you make some unlikely and even (sometimes) substantial connections. That communal goodwill is probably fairly priceless in this TV-interred nation, so having a garage sale can be a gracious act of altruism - give away some things, bottles of bubbles to the kids and watermelon to the parched and persistent. Then, yes, there's the pocket change - about $500 for me this weekend - but for some great stuff and some DAYS of work, really, so a bargain? Yes, absolutely, since I am just barely getting by, eeking out some bills - that's real money these days.

Then there's that most amorphous and mysterious of aspects: recycling all this stuff, waylaying it's arrival at the landfill. Your greatest hopes are that your old trash will indeed be (or become) another's treasure, that your stuff will fill the real needs of another, perhaps less fortunate. Yes, the best garage sales are fantastic recycling projects.

That is the best thing that could happen in your driveway - that friends, neighbors and strangers find things they actually need and/or (ok) want, for cheap - with goodwill and smiles all around.

So have a garage sale. Don't take it too seriously. Price things (and show off your things) with a smile, and go for making social connections flow in your front yard. Rarely are we brought together with such good feelings as at a friendly and fun garage sale.

Friday, May 13, 2005

Lucky you (?)

So, I wonder, who out there believes in luck?

I've just been spending some e-mail blather time with friends Mike and Jack and friends of Jack going on (and on) again about what seems to be that most eternal of debate topics - the idea of a god or gods or God or somesuch.

What I'd call supernatural, the imaginings we conjure beyond the natural realm we can see and feel and touch and measure and verify.

What I'd call (mere) superstition.

Take the tsunami, for example. A hell of a lot of the ethosphere in the aftermath of the December 26 tsunami was taken up by people trying to fit their ideas of the gods or God into that natural event - really, the simple equation of techtonic plates, water, and gravity - a very simple event taken to the most amazingly complicated, moralistic and downright irrational levels.

Ugh! Can't we get over - at least in the blogosphere, among those adept enough and ambitious enough in life to own computers - to leave behind such irrational nonsense?

And then, apropos today's date and calendrical coincidence, how many of you really believe in luck?

As in: some have more than others, as determined by a PRE-determined FATE?

My gosh, does the irrational still win out over the rational so much, so often?

No wonder Carl Sagan said that science is a candle in the dark, a bright but small flame warding off the darkness for at least a few of us.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

How to con the neocons! ; ))


Whoa, there Cash Cow Cowboys, not so fast! We saw that Nader payback you gave us for Ross Perot's messing up the '92 and '96 victories for Bubba Arkansas. And we're not really sure we want to drop the idea that Donna and Monica and Los Bimbas Ricas Bonitas weren't on the money-laundered payroll at some offshore blueblood think tank. Seems a buck'll buy a few swiftboaters, too.

Now why haven't we gotten in on this game plan? It's not like it's the most ingenious thing we ever did see, 'ceptin' plenty of us Dems seem to be more taken with our blinders than our bleeding hearts these days.

Yep, welcome to the dumbed down Democratic Party, neither new nor improved - party of Those Who Shot Straight (Blanks) and Wear Blinders.

Now why aren't we more wily PRO-gressive types coming up with a few mod politicO tricks ourselves. Why be all afeared of splitting the Dems into the Dean Wing and the Straight Arrow Blind But Smiling Wing when we could be concocting a little party of our own - on the RIGHT?

Yessiree, that's right - on the RIGHT. We need the anti-Nader, and there are plenty of 'em out there. Pat Buchanan made a pretty good one. Pat Robertson made a pretty good one way back when. So let's be crafty about this: let's choose somebody whose name isn't Pat - somebody whose name sounds vaguely English, like those diciples were English, same as the Beatles. They'll run Ringo, and we'll come back at 'em with John, Paul AND George. Maybe not George. One was enough, and then, almost 200 years later, George McGovern proved that nobody else named George should ever be even close to remoted elected president. But some of us didn't learn, and now we've had two more has been George's with a capital T trump card in their back pockets, and that would be T for Texas. One ran the CIA from behind closed doors. One ran a baseball team from behind a T2 supertankard of swill Lone Star beer - or was it putrescent Pearl?

There certainly seem to be lots of Johns to choose from, no matter what side of the aisle you're on, though the two lady senators from California are twice the men they will ever be. Ah California, where the women are manly, and the men are... cartoons.

OK, so whatever his (or her) name is, let's make this party the kind of party that gets real church-going, God-fearing fanatics to flee those milk toast middle of the road Republicans. They know that lawyers and banks and Wall Street groupies aren't REALLY God's people.

This party's gotta have a name, and it can't be subtle because it's followers won't be subtle. They'll be wanting to go postal on any federal anything if given half the chance and a box of bullets. And don't worry about the hypocrisy of it all - they won't get it. They're the friendly folks who INVENTED blinders - and rose colored glasses that have little pictures of Elvis at the temples. (Yes, of course, we'd get Elvis to get on this ticket, but he has left the convention hall and is currently holding forth on some deity's right hand.)

But you know where we're goin' with this. You know this is God's country, and it's time we had a party that said so. We're men (and wives), not apes, for godsakes. So let's stand tall and be proud to give it up for the some such Christian Coalition Party. Or hey, better yet, the Jesus for Justice Party. That's it. Put the man's name on the door and on the bumper stickers. "Jesus is my co-pilot, and I vote."

Slogans abound: "We put God's law above anybody else's."

Take your party back to the good ol' days when the George before than cherry-choppin' Washington guy was not just an elected president but a Crowned King! Yes, with the Country & Western party you can two step it and swing right back to the traditions on which this country was founded, when real Americans spoke the king's English, when the gentry owned all the land this side of the Indian territories, when Puritans got some respect or the lash - and when witches, slaves, traitors, freethinkers, misunderstood patriots and other ne'er-do-wells were duly hanged.

Now that party would get the right scrambling from the awesome electoral might of the NEXT FDR, wherever he (or she) is. And isn't it about time we asked?

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Social Security's burning Bush


Our dollars and sense-challenged president is running hot and cold on a good many things in his second flustered and notably more flummoxed term. This is especially true when it comes to that big bear in the entitlements lock box, social security, pride of FDR's New Deal, scourge of the Corporate Country Clubbers' Raw Deal (the new "CCC" being the antithesis of FDR's CCC).

Boys and girls, can you say "fiscally unsophisticated"? SURE you can....

But no, the new CCC Neocon Posse is not really so unsophisticated. They are sophisticated enough to know that a strange brew of fear and fiscal smoke and mirrors might could fool most of the people enough of the time.

Mr. Bush would like to make that trust fund less secure and less-trustworthy, and he's catching both hot vibes and cold shoulders all around. As with his messy nominations for judgeships, he's making such a mess of things he'll have to start looking over his shoulder. Even some of the bluest blooded Republicans are boiling a bit and in a few short years will probably be glad to see Mr. Bush packing his bags for Crawford.

True Majority (.org) has just posted an easily downloadable 90 second animated clip that explains the social security debacle in one fell swoop. It just goes to show how far not only President Bush but also many in Congress (and many more outside those hallowed halls) will go to scrap popular federal programs, all with the intention of making the federal government seem more and more useless, more and more inept, more and more at odds with the woefully un- and underinformed American "on the street," voter or not.

We don't need any miracles or even an overhaul. Social security needs just one thing - an end to the $90,000 cap on earnings that apply to each citizen's contribution.

As True Majority's animation shows, all those millionaires and billionaires contribute exactly the same amount as those who make $90,000. What a crock. Of course the rich don't want this to change because social security is one tax from which you can't shelter yourself, no matter how highly paid your accountant, no matter how tricky your stock trades, loopy investment scams and foreign accounts.

Switzerland or Swaziland, the rich can invest, divest, launder, run guns and rum and just run and hide in the bushes behind the White House and, as it is, not worry a fig about social security - a drop in their buckets. Why not have those making more than $90,000 contribute at the same rate? This is nuts. Problem solved. Case closed.

Don't you believe otherwise, that it'll take more than this, the simple raising of the cap. Fair is fair.

I've just picked up a copy of Cass Sunstein's book, "The Second Bill of Rights." Subtitle: "FDR's unfinished revolution and why we need it more than ever." Sunstein's book revolves around President Roosevelt's 1944 State of the Union address, in which he proposed new rights for all American citizens - the right to a decent home, the right to a good education, the right to adequate medical care, the right to a decent job at a livable wage, the right to fair trade and, overall, the right to social and civil security.

FDR understood that it was government's job to help make the playing field more fair for opportunity - opportunity and stability being necessary ingredients of any real security, at home and around the world. Now there was a rich man looking out for those in trouble and having trouble, not like today's bloodless (or is it bloodthirsty?) crop of Cash Cow Cowboys rootin' tootin' 'round the globe in the name of God-Fearin' American Jingo-Brand Freedom.

FDR's revolution is unfinished but no less needed. Indeed we do need it more than ever - in a world more intent on fairness than even that elusive and amorphous carrot of freedom. And one way to keep that people's revolution alive is to make social security work the way it should - as a stable safety net. It's not a government giveaway, and it shouldn't be a government gamble, either. The stakes are too high for those who need help - and that's NOT those making over a few hundred thousand a year. Why not share the burden, rich friends?

So please, don't be spoiled, and don't continue to spoil the spoiled. Move the ceiling for social security earnings up to the CEOs' income levels, and let's be done with this fake crisis and point to the propagandists trying to get us burned.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Government liens, government lies and the end of the empire


"You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time."

-- Abraham Lincoln

Lawrence here with a hypothetical scenario, loosely based in history.

The rich and the powerful conspire, and the government lies. The rich, the powerful and governments have does these things for decades, for centuries, for millennia. But now some of those lies seem worse than ever or at least in recent times, since our country seems more strained in terms of finances, education, manufacturing, the best and the brightest. Our reputation in world affairs is tarnished and vulnerable.

Some of these increasing vulnerabilities, many based on those in power conspiring to lie or limit the safeguards of our own democracy, may even make our country more vulnerable to a federal/national/international breakdown or crash.

Every empire thus far has ended. Perhaps every empire ends, and maybe this is how it will happen to the United States: Our own hubris and mistakes will make us more and more vulnerable to the competition and those whose loans keep us afloat. We will leverage ourselves and militarize ourselves into irreversible debt. Our foreign infiltrations will backfire. Some big loans will be called, and the European Union, the U.N., Japan and China will censure us and levy fines on broken and ignored treaties and trade deals.

The U.S. will get slapped down. It will be humbled somehow, and maybe that is what it will take to end this empire - the same as every other. History is right there to suggest this is how it will go.

But maybe, with America's big shoulders slumped - if not on its knees - humbled before the collective powers of wiser, more progressive, more cooperative (more "multi-lateral") nations, maybe, just maybe, the world would be a BETTER place.

Empires have had their days and maybe even done some good for the world - shown us what an empire can do and what it is likely to do - but I don't think many of us would say the world would be a better place if any empire had been able to endure much longer than it did or become "permanent." An empire is an aggressive and then institutionalized phase a powerful and rich nation goes through, but who wants one to last forever? Better to share the riches and the rights, the access to human progress, the ability to prevail as a species and as a planet teaming with life yet bound by limits.

Much of the world has already learned the lessons of America and taken those lessons to more modern means of dealing with this "global" world. The future of democracy doesn't depend on the United States, it depends on enlightened citizens around the world. We have probably taught the world our greatest lessons already, and our constitution will be a model for a long time to come.

But the current imperialism and runamok capitalism of this nation will NOT BE a model for a long time to come. The current biggest lesson the world is learning from us now is the price everyone is paying for our political (and hypocritical) audacity, our spoiled entitlements, our military might, our weapons buildup and dependency, our oil addiction, our consumption, our "holier than thou" arrogance, and our waste.

If the other powerful and influential countries in the world are learning these things faster than we are - and keeping these lessons in mind - then the end of our empire might indeed be a good thing.

We would still be a world player, still a leader of sorts, still the America Woody Guthrie was proud of, still innovative, still striving, still ripe with hope. But we would function better within the bounds of cooperation and the limits of our political and natural resources. Billions might learn better ways to do what is needed - to tread more lightly and not carry such big sticks. We as a nation and as a participant in the world might even mature a good bit, beyond this adolescent phase, and deal with the world less as spoiled teenagers and more as considerate, respectful, enlightened and compassionate adults.

We will give up our empire or lose it. We will cease to be an empire and, for it, for that gift and for the world, we will be a better nation.

It's high time we became the home of the brave: With respect to justice, cooperation and peace, here's to the end of the empire.


Monday, May 09, 2005

What would a peaceful nation do?

A few years ago, to protest the launching of the U.S. war against Iraq, I went to peace rallies and marches carrying a sign that asked, "What would a peaceful nation do?" That question seemed to resonate with fellow activists and with some spectators as well, who nodded knowingly or gave the thumbs up.

For one thing, a peaceful nation wouldn't have cause to incarcerate so many of its own citizens - the highest rate in the developed world with by far the world's largest expenditure on prisons and prisoners - it's BIG business here.

Another thing: If we were a peaceful nation, we would not be so drawn to watching the sorts of brutal and crime-ridden entertainment that remain so popular (and of course - also Big Biz - we export our cinematic and tele-insidious mayhem to the rest of the world - certainly our most pervasive WMD). Tens of millions of Americans and now at least a billion or so around the world are steeped in violence as a way to solve problems or control others. And this is certainly part of what makes us SUCH a gun-toting, gun-proud, gun-happy nation.

Again, no other nation comes close to Americans' public glorification of guns and "the right to bear arms." In no other country are guns so "hi-viz." And Big Biz, too: who can touch our international arms sales in billions of dollars up front, much less the bounty of our backdoor deals? Trading weapons for all sorts of under the table sleaze - including ongoing regional wars - what a country.

Other cultures - even some we might consider "evil" - have the sense to publicly marginalize and disdain the violent elements of their culture. (Some of us are too afraid, and some of us, it seems, are not afraid enough - too ballsy and cocksure - "Bring 'em on!" they seem to say with that smarmy Bush brand of bravado. Clint's "good, bad and ugly" Dirty Harry and Ahhhhnold's mythical Terminator/now real-life "Governator" are modern American saints.

"Shane, come back! Come back, Shane!" And where's Matt Dillon when you need him?

If we were a peaceful nation, we would not only be proudly upholding the Geneva accords, without ongoing and systematic failures and coverups, we would be pressing other scurrilous nations to do the same AND to come up with new and improved protections for the rights and treatment of prisoners (supposedly innocent until proven guilty in a court of law).

For many of us, our fear is mixed with apathy, but for others of us, our "fear" for what this country is doing is mixed with anger. Some of us thought this was a better nation than it is - or has been for some time, if it ever was so great as we've been told, "beacon of hope, light of the world." We are demoralized to discover that it's never really been that great of a nation - not like we idealists hoped it would be - those of us who expected and demanded that our nation not make egregious errors such as at Abu Ghraib and Guanatamo Bay - and starting a "pre-emptive" war under false pretenses.

Shouldn't Lady Liberty's lamp shine on and against these horrors, not in any way for them? If we're the light of the world, why does our government seem to prefer such deep shadows? Did some of the more naive of us think these sorts of travesties were "behind us?"

These atrocities - in our name - deserve some serious reactions from Americans who care enough to want a better country. So we can't afford to fear as much as we do. We have got to be brave enough, now and then at least, to stand against the ills of our government, our culture, our co-workers, our acquaintances, our neighbors, perhaps even some of our wayward friends. The closer the enemy is, the more deft you must be, but do it, and make your lines and your principles clear, probably, to seem sensible and reasonably sensitive, somewhere in between the two extremes of ubiquitous conspiracy theory and sappy sentiment.

The fear is that we may lose control of what we thought we were in control of or at least clinging to - the good America. The sadness is that we may not have any but the most cursory (no, make that illusory) control now - the idealist's "power of the vote" and a "free speech" say in what is happening around us.

What is a priceless vote worth when you can buy a lobbyist? What is your free speech worth when the ears that need to hear of a wiser or more humane way are so rich, so connected, so audacious and/or so entrenched they're not only deaf to you but, however diplomatic in public, secretly disdainful, downright disdainful of your very existence?

Friday, May 06, 2005

From "web" to "soul"

Well, herewith, my fourth and last post on the "web" that connects us, for now. Meanwhile, back over at my local ideas and issues salon, the posts to that thread have veered recklessly back into the realm of fantastical and phantasmagorical hypotheses, mostly way right-brained stories of Gaia and reincarnation and extra sensory kinds of things.

Only a few of us stick our necks out for (even as a left hander myself) some rigorously left-brained thinking on the matter. I say the "web" and even, yes, our "souls" are sentiments, albeit very human and humanizing sentiments - but alas, nothing more. At least nothing more we can observe.

Mark, of the salon, said he didn't have 'a metaphysical bone in his body,' so he felt he was at a loss to converse on such ethereal matters. But I say us un- or a-metaphysical types can get it about as right as it can be gotten.

We can name lots of things that exist only in our fantasies, dreams and wishes, but that doesn't mean that they exist, that we can make them exist, will them into existence.

I don't mean to completely squash the romantic notions of humans' being "heartfelt" and "soulful," but let's not forget that our brains are doing all this work, both observing rather objectively and, very subjectively making some things up - right out of thin air, so to speak. Our brain is not detached from our body or from our surroundings, but the heart does not really "feel" the way, with poetic license, we say it does. And no one has yet proven anything like a soul to exist.

So what is the web?


And what is the soul?

An utterly human consciousness or self-awareness, mixing sentiment and a longing to be special and wonderful and (even) immortal.

That is what we call the "soul."

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Clinging to the tattered web


Herewith, more still (day three) on this thread of the "web" that connects us - psychologically, physically, naturally, technologically, spiritually....

"Reach out and touch someone." So the AT&T ad slogan goes.

And we talk about keeping in touch, but you know it and I know it: our "touch" these days seems/IS more "virtual" and fragmented than it used to be. Sure, we might make the rounds more - and more often - but, as before on this blog, I have to question the content and quality of that connection, that "touch." We're not really reaching out as physically close family, friends and neighbors - we're "instant messaging" and calling on the go Go GO.

(OK, I know - just can't give up on this theme, no, not quite yet, it seems - so much to talk about here - and the thread has proved popular.)

After writing yesterday's blog, I had to go back and look at the two books I mentioned, "Future Shock" and "For Common Things: Irony, Trust and Commitment in America Today."

"For Common Things" is so beautifully written and so apropos to the "deep hope" of this blog, I feel compelled to give you a few paragraphs from its Preface to sample:

"This book is a response to an ironic time. Irony has become our marker of worldliness and maturity. The ironic individual practices a style of speech and behavior that avoids all appearance of naivete – of naive devotion, belief, or hope. He subtly protests the inadequacy of the things he says, the gestures he makes, the acts, he performs. By the inflection of his voice, the expression of his face, and the motion of his body, he signals that he is aware of all the ways he may be thought silly or jejune, and that he might even think so himself. His wariness becomes a mistrust of language itself. He disowns his own words.

"In answer to all that, this book is a plea for the value of declaring hopes that we know to be fragile. It is an argument that those hopes are no less necessary for their fragility, and that permitting ourselves to neglect them is both reckless and impoverishing. My purpose in writing is to take our inhibition seriously, and to ask what would be required to overcome it, to speak earnestly of uncertain hopes.

"To do so requires understanding today's ironic manner. There is something fearful in this irony. It is a fear of betrayal, disappointment, and humiliation, and a suspicion that believing, hoping, or caring too much will open us to these. Irony is a way of refusing to rely on such treacherous things. However, there is also something perceptive about irony, and sometimes we must wonder whether the ironist is right. The ironist expresses a perception that the world has grown old, flat, and sterile, and that we are rightly weary of it. Nothing will ever surprise us. Everything we encounter is a remake, a rerelease, a ripoff, or a rerun. We know it all before we see it, because we have it all already.

"What has so exhausted the world for us?...."

Now, I'm reminded of an even older book, mentioned previously in this blog, the one that helped get me fired up about this theme 20-25 years ago. That book is Daniel Boorstin's "The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America" (Vintage Books, 1961). So this theme has stood the test of time and won't go away, not as long as we creep and leap away from closer familial and communal connections, earnest, up close and personal. We've given up the comforts of the Tribe for the insipid passivity of the TV. We are confusing contentment with movement, trading adoration for mere agitation.

The pre-packaged, overly advertised world has caused in us a backlash of ironic defenses: we have turned toward being more self-aware, more selfish, less political, more materialistic, more style and surface oriented, less earnest, more wary of the "news," the "facts," and the virtues based on awareness and goodness. We are even, as it were, "at two" with nature - the fragile nature of our surroundings and sustainance - no longer observant of its provisions, its lessons and its bounty. We are caught in this web that is at least far-flung if not downright fractured socially, tattered technologically, and psychologically, spiritually in need of repair and renovation.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

More on the 'grand web' thread


In the context of this 'grand web' thread, thanks to Dean [see Tuesday's post below], I am reminded of a fine book by Jedediah Purdy called "For Common Things: Irony, Trust, and Commitment in America Today." (2000, Vintage Books)

With the elegance of an E. B. White or Bill McKibben, Purdy considers a growing trait in the American character and lifestyle. Indeed, it has become a notable American value if not a civic virtue. The trait is our newly widespread affectation of being disaffected, putting on airs of what we might call ironic detachment. Though less demonstrative and blusterous, Purdy's little book is in some ways a rejoinder to Alvin Toffler's splashy 1970 bestseller, "Future Shock."

Things are changing so fast we're not sure what will stay the same or be dependable or "permanent." Andy Warhol's saying that each of us would get our "fifteen minutes of fame" seemed to foretell our ADD-addled culture, thinking we want (and even expect) immediate gratification but, at the same time, feeling some vague emptiness for regal and comforting traditions and commitments. We are hired and fired and traded and move and buy and sell and watch and drive and dream and delude ourselves at disconcerting rates. We feign an outer toughness, an ironic cynicism or flippancy to cover the hollowness that seems to haunt us - so much so that we're not only remote control happy, we're trigger happy and road rage happy, too. Ah, what new permutations of "happiness" Americans invent!

Of course, this ironic detachment affects the web of our connections, the threads that might bind us, and as Purdy suggests, undermines our trust and our sense of civic and civil commitment. No, we want to be free like kids in a candy store. We seem, as a culture, in general mind you, to equate freedom with the right to be selfish or rich or ruthlessly competitive. We watch murder stories for hours on television, but we seem to secretly admire white collar crime. We think it comes with the territory - that that same sort of cunning and conniving is what got those people to the top in the first place, thank you very much Michael Milken and most recently, Martha Stewart. Not found guilty as much as found dumb. Plead ignorance. Plead ironic detachment.

And so the web of our sentiments is frayed. The web of our soulful, heartfelt connections is akilter, shuffled around, gated and domesticated as we are.

Probably, no one at our funerals will talk about the hours we spent as spectators or slaves (no matter what our wage), virtually detached - shopping, remodeling, fertilizing, TV watching, slaving away at jobs for corporate aspirations - unless these make good stories, at least bittersweet if not funny. Don't we want to conjure and foster the plot, the character, the charm of our lives while we still have a chance?

To replace the plot of life with a vita, to replace the threads with a bunch of duties and tasks and errands and STUFF, to disassociate (to in effect desocialize) ourselves or to allow ourselves to become less social, to ignore sentiment, to put things and work before the content of our character, to put a résumé before stories and anecdotes, to weaken the web, to diss it or dismiss it, is to show an active dislike for others around us, whether strangers or our own parents. When the going gets rough, we want our stories and our sentiments to back us up, to be there for us, to remind us of the worth of living and struggling and prevailing.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

The Ineffable Web

Friend Dean sent a query to my ideas and issues salon (Salon Penasco). His query and some of the responses are worthy of a wider audience - and perhaps your consideration and suggestions. Thanks for reading.

Dean wrote:

"There is something that exists between individuals who are fond of one another. It exists, I perceive it, but I cannot name it. I have only become aware of it, though it has always been there, since my father’s death. When I think of him there is an entity, almost tangible, that appears in my awareness. It is more than a feeling, it is an individual existence, a warm and comforting thing, familiar and reassuring, that is there whenever I think of him. I guess I became aware of it as a result of fearing that I would lose 'it' as I had lost him. But I find that it continues undiminished by the passing days.

"Now this creature is not unique to him. Upon reflection I realize that something similar in form, but as unique as the individual involved, exists for me in relation to every person with whom I am or have [ever] been close. I can still find it as regards a beloved cousin some thirty-five years gone, or with old friends who are long lost, as well as with all those whom I am still graced to know. It even exists in relation to certain beloved pets. My wife says that it is 'the bond,' and I agree that is part of it. And typically it arises along with the person’s face, but it’s still there even when the faces I can no longer really recall. It partakes of the nature of the feeling that comes when one encounters again a long lost friend and slips back into that easy and comfortable relationship, whatever it might have been, that returns unchanged by the intervening years.

"So these are some of the things that make it up; emotion, memory, relationships, bonding, but they do not name it... Can you?"

Maggie wrote:

"No, Dean I for one cannot name it. However, I, like you, feel it very strongly. Could part of it be that those of us who feel intensely part of the natural world intuit the ephemeral thread that connects everything, so those who are closest to us - be they relatives or friends - are always with us? Sometimes it almost blows my mind when I look at a stranger and think, 'you are made of the same star stuff as I am made of.' Then that person is no longer a stranger."

Rhonda wrote:

"Could the name be, simply, 'love'? And could this be what is meant by 'immortality'? The way we live on after we're physically gone is (perhaps solely, perhaps only in part) through the love we've nurtured with others. And the way we grow (and increase the likelihood of immortality) while we're here is to expand the circle of our love to encompass all of humanity, all of nature, all of the universe, which also means being the sort of person the universe loves back. For me, this presence you speak of is more 'real' in proportion to the love. Do you find it so?

Then yours truly wrote:

"Lawrence here, with a word for it, for Dean's ineffable web of memories, emotions, bonds, connections - and Maggie's notion that we are the 'same star stuff' and thus, in that way, not strangers.

"I don't want to seem too pedestrian here. Mundane? Worldly? Literal? I feel some of us [most of us, it seems] want a word that will connote the rather mystical grandness of what you feel - and maybe only a very grand word or phrase or concept will do.

"But my word sounds rather plain and simple - but then perhaps it's not so plain and simple, though it seems to cover all this. My word for what you feel is: sentiment.

"Of all animals, perhaps only humans are sentimental. Others may simply be lonely or mourn a loss, but we 'sentient' beings weave a web of sentiments through our emotional and cerebral complexities. Perhaps only we juxtapose the rational and the irrational, the present and the absent, dreams and day dreams, terror and joy, loss and hope.

"Sentiment, in the grandest sense, covers all of this and is understandable - comprehensive yet comprehensible - not really as emphemeral or ineffable or mystical as so many might like but comforting in that we can generally understand our sentiments (and certainly, as applies here, I think, our being sentimental as well).

"If we identify and articulately describe our sentiments, we're about as close as I think we can sensibly get to that feeling of grandness and at least connecting with if not exactly solving some of our biggest mysteries - the ineffable feelings that, to be sentimental about it, 'make us human.'

Any help?"

... And anyone else out there who'd like to chime in on this?

Monday, May 02, 2005

The cult of the hear and now

"Can you hear me now? Can you hear me now?"

"Where are you?"

"I'm in the doctor's office, at the gym, on the plane, feeding the dog, waiting in line, getting groceries, taking a bath, in Tahiti or Pittsburgh... and oh yes that most common answer to "where are you" - "stuck in traffic."

....Back when I was growing up - which doesn't really seem like so long ago - we rented our telephones - actually paid a monthly rental fee to the phone company. That rotary dial phone was owned by the phone company. Seems so strange now.

Most of them were black and fairly generic looking, rotary dial desk top models. Only rich people and fancy people and people who smoked cigarettes and other decadent dandies had colored phones or, most exotic of all, wall phones or colored wall phones (usually white or deep red) or phones out beside the pool.

We had one phone, and it rang or didn't - no "services" as such, no options, no plans, just a bill.

When we weren't there to answer or didn't want to answer, people knew it because the phone just kept ringing. Etiquette suggested you let it ring seven times before hanging up - I remember, seven rings specifically. Perhaps Emily Post came up with that - certainly not Erma Bombeck or Joan Rivers, who would have had something sassier to add - like taking the phone off the hook. Joan and Erma and I guess Phyllis Diller were, in those days, the sassiest women I could think of, and somehow I figured each of them might have better things to do than be very dutiful about answering the phone.

My mother was rather plagued by the phone. She couldn't stand to answer it. Even if she were within a few feet of the ringing phone, she would stammer and shout out to someone else to get it, even if they were up in the attic or out in the yard. I wonder what sort of Fruedian incident caused her to clam up at that ring.

But somehow, I've acquired more of her phone aversion, but now the contrast is even more stark. We live in a culture more addicted to phones than ever before. We are absolute fanatics for "keeping in touch," even when we have very little of any substance to actually say. We don't know the names of half our neighbors but call family and friends enough to consume hundreds and even thousands of "anytime" minutes every month. We risk having car wrecks. We turn away from people we are with to give more focused attention to people on the other end of the line - even strangers we don't know. If you've called me, you must want my time, and I must be worth your time. Indeed, how would I know I was really worth anyone's time unless they were proving their need for me by using up some of their alotted "anytime" minutes to call me any old time they feel like it?

We interrupt socializing and solace to answer that more and more invasive ring. We let the thing break into our quality time, down time, drive time, dinner time, making love time, commute time, doing the dishes time, bedtime, sleep time, shopping time. We seem to get a kick out of calling from aisle 9 to see which brand of soup somebody sort of wanted and what size juice?

A whole culture craving contact, but I overhear snippets and wonder what substance is really getting relayed. It sounds like so much blather to me, as if we could just make up for the small size of our talk by just increasing its frequency, immediacy and AMOUNT.

I got suckered into the new mobile phone fad last year. I broke my contract after three months and ran. It "wasn't me." But then part of me says it IS me, since it's 2005, and I'm alive, and we've come a long way from trying to entertain ourselves with black and white television with fewer than a dozen channels or LPs transferred to reel to reel tapes in the living room or a little transistor radio with a turn dial and a clunky nine volt battery.

Isn't our new philosophy "I wear a designer phone that looks like a little jewelry case and talk on it in public and unlikely and even obnoxious places, therefore I am"? Yes, that seems to be the meaning of life in the "hear and now."

We have phones as the antidote to some curious things that ail us - traffic, getting lost, mobility, flippancy, our expectation for faster and faster gratification (darned near immediate), and yes, the mundane ritual of shopping confusion (too many choices - too much desire to please with the exactly right thing - all of our spoiled preferences). We even get tired of our phones, since they are now fashion accessories with lots of peer pressure and technological obsolescence riding on them.

Out with the old and in your ear with the new, even if there isn't really much between your ears.

This weekend, there was a good sale on those attractive "pay as you go" over the counter phones, no plan and lots of gimmicks for minutes. I bought one and took it home, envying its styly look and what it might do for me - give me "connectivity."

But after reading the fine print and doing the math, I took it back. I'm too broke and too easily entertained for this "connectivity" culture that's "reaching out" and "keeping in touch" - keeping in touch but keeping in touch with WHAT?