.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Firewood Clock

What with all the extra carbon dioxide being thrown up into the atmosphere by human activity and there to pen up more heat than usual inside the Earth's envelope, my firewood pile, to the best of my recollection, is looking better than it ever has at this time of the year.

Under the deck that you can see in the front, in the picture of my house, I always try to store three rows of heating wood, amounting maybe to three cords in all, for December, January, and February, plus I have to set up another less organized pile to get us through the two earlier months of October and November. The first weeks of the Spring to come can call for fires, too, but as that period never has any fearsome cold here in the western reaches of rural Virginia, that period can take care of itself.

With November nearly at an end, its pile should be exhausted, but because of the warm days and because my woods gave me a bonus of two large, dead trees, and because my wife has been pushing the garden cart of wood while I pull it up the hill to the house, the November pile is still large enough that it is poised to become the new December heap instead. But it will be too small to last through that month, and it will be interesting to see how long that will take.

All this caused me to want to hurry November along so that I could go into December with a decent pile. But that's on the perverse side, because often enough in this weblog I've spoken of how drastically time has seemed to speed up since I've gotten old, to the point where I like to say that I no longer have to wait for anything.

That's not strictly true, though, or it's not accurately phrased. I should say instead that I no longer have to wait as long, because actually I still wait for lots of things.

I wonder what the evolutionary reasons are for this speedup of time, because it would seem that with the End lurking just around the corner, a person would be highly stressed by perceptions of how fast it is coming up, with nothing that can or even should be done about it. It's hard for me personally to believe that old age is anything but a reward for being industrious enough to look both ways at all times before crossing the street and so on and so forth.

The main salutary reason I can cook up is that with age the number of distressing things that a person can see tends to get larger and larger with each day, and even the things that he used to think were cool either become permanently defiled by events or by others, or he sees that so many things, after all, never really had the value that he formerly saw in them. So existence hustles him past these perceptions fast enough to lessen their chances to take painful bites out of his still self-prized mind..

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Life Just ...Is

When I was five or so and the nation was locked in the depths of the Great Depression, my father, who worked as a chauffeur for the National Geographic Society, moved my mother, my even younger sister, and me to a small house up on a slope in the Northeast quadrant of Washington, D.C., in a neighborhood that was and still is called Capitol View. Located right on the Maryland border, it was as far out in D.C. as it was possible to get and still be in the city. I suppose that from somewhere in that neighborhood it was possible to see some part of the U.S. Capitol building, which was miles away, but if I was ever able to do so I don't recall it, and that would've been of little interest to me anyway, unless someone were to say it was important, which no one ever did.

The main view I remember was the one that I was able to see from our kitchen table, down the hill to where they were building a long row of duplexes on East Capitol Street, a boulevard that ran straight as an arrow, or almost so, to the Capitol. I remember the smoke and glow of pitch pots burning there, curing the freshly poured concrete I guess.

A short time later, in one of those houses there lived a boy about my age, who, because of a terrible illness of some kind, was strictly confined to his room up on the second floor. So I would go there quite often, maybe every day, to play with him from my position on the ground, as I was never allowed to go into his house.

I don't recall that boy's name or anything else much about him, except that pretty soon he didn't answer from up there anymore, and I was told that he had died.

I am glad to report that some years later, when I began to write seriously, maybe in college, one of my first short stories was about that experience. I titled it "His Last Dreams Will Be of You."

I know where that story is, in one of the several boxes that contain all my numerous unpublished short stories, and, because I wrote it so much closer in time to the Capitol View days, maybe it contains more details. But I am reluctant about digging out that story and reading it, because in this latter stage of my life I have a lot of reservations about dredging up the past.

But I've never forgotten that boy and how we played at something or another while he called down to me from his sickroom window, and I suppose his family was glad that he had a playmate, as I don't remember any other kids in the neighborhood doing that.

How daunting it is to realize that that was over 70 years ago, and I'm still here with all my parts still reasonably intact, while that boy who was my age has been gone all that time. Yet he was at least as virtuous as I could've been, yet the fates decreed that from the last day I talked with him, I should've been afforded all these added days on the planet while he was given none at all.

I am suspicious of the widely popular saying that life is unfair. That sounds as bogus to me as weather people saying -- as they so love to do in the interest of pumping drama into their normally dry deliveries -- that a hurricane is "unleashing its fury" or some such. Life is neither fair nor unfair. It just ...is, I think, and hurricanes just ...are. Unlike us they don't have policies or emotions. It is only people that act unfairly and wallow in the state of stupidity called anger, and it's ridiculous to think that elemental forces share any of our motives.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Viva the Red Desert!

I am highly scornful of the way that so many people are so willing to throw so many resources into the effort to send a manned spacecraft to Mars. What's on that planet that rates all the expenditure? Quite clearly there's nothing there to loot, pillage, rape, murder, despoil, infect, enslave, wipe out, racially cleanse, or religiously convert. Consequently there would be no opportunity for Europeans, Americans, Asians, or anyone else to repeat the hideously inglorious episodes that followed the several voyages westward of Christopher Columbus.

The machines that have safely made that long trip to the red planet have sent back pictures reporting the bitter truth. Mars has none of Lowell's canals or any other amenity. Instead it is one big desert, period, on which for humans to set foot without massive protection of several kinds would be almost instant death. It would be a long time, if ever, before anyone could go outdoors there in their short sleeves for a leisurely autumn stroll through the woods.

And good for Mars!

I try to picture the situation if instead Mars was Earth's twin -- a beautiful blue planet covered with oceans, forests, an atmosphere, and, most intriguing of all, signs of something called "civilization."

Can you imagine?

For long centuries already, humans would have been peering at that heavenly body while itching to go there and loot, pillage, rape, murder, disease, enslave, and convert.. No sooner would the telescope have been invented than they would have drawn lines on maps and endlessly redrawn them in the act of fighting wars to determine how the spoils would be divvied up, a la the Spanish, the English, the French, and other national groups in Europe as they slobbered over the Western Hemisphere a few hundred years ago.

And meanwhile the more decent humans -- always in short supply despite popular belief -- would have wept rivers of sympathy for what awaits the unsuspecting inhabitants of that matching blue planet, an onslaught that today would be imminent, given a decade, a generation, or a century or two.

It would not be a pretty picture.

--Provided of course that the Martians would not have long since been preparing the same fate for us, while they wait for us to send them devices that they can adapt to bounce back the favor on us.

Somehow that thought does nothing to improve the picture.

So all praise to that all-encompassing deadly red desert!

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Black Friday, or Green?

On Thanksgiving, two days ago, I talked to a man who works for a large toy retailer. He compiles their databases, in which they want copious information entered, relating to every little detail of their selling. He and his co-workers had been especially busy because the company was eagerly looking forward to "Black Friday."

That interested me because just a day or two earlier, I had run across that term for the first time, and I was surprised to see that "Black Friday" referred to the day after Thanksgiving, when it has become the tradition for consumers whose stomachs had become unbloated enough to allow them to flood the stores looking for sales, and it had become, I suppose, the official first day of the Christmas buying season.

It was easy to figure that at some time recently when I wasn't looking (that happens a LOT these days), that day had come to be called "Black Friday," because it would allow the accounts of the stores to go into the black, as opposed to being in the red. All the same I wondered if this was yet another example of people being either uncaring or unaware of usage and history, because isn't "Black Monday" embedded in all our consciousnesses in a very strong and negative way? It has been used for nearly 80 years to denote that tragic day in 1929 when the N.Y. stock market crashed and the Great Depression began.

I asked this fellow about these points and he said he was a little surprised, too, because "black" usually refers to something unfavorable and bad.

I smiled when he said that, because I wondered if he would suddenly catch himself, thinking that I could've been offended, because of my recent (give or take two or three centuries) African ancestry. But his race consciousness may not move in such directions, because his parents are Chinese who lived in the Philippines, and instead he just kept talking about the thinking at his company.

He said that there they called it "Green Friday" instead, obviously because that's the color of dollars, though then I wondered to myself whether Robert Redford and his people over at the Sundance Channel might feel a little uncomfortable, because they have almost appropriated "green" all to themselves, with their vigorous and unflagging promotions of environmental awareness.

It occurred to me that saying "Black Friday" might have also arisen as an attempt to start taking the stigma out of the adjective "black" and instead using it to denote something positive and good for a change. But I know that right now, considering the way that the last four decades have completely betrayed the spirit of the 1960's, such virtuous intent is in general far too much to hope for.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Study in Cynicism -- The Annapolis Peace Talks

The current Palestinian-Israeli peace talks being held in Annapolis, Maryland strike me as being a study in cynicism, and for that reason, even more so than in the cases of the numerous parleys in decades past, FAILURE is written large all over them.

Then why hold such talks? Why should anyone attend them or even take them seriously?

We know very well why the Bush Admin is hosting the meeting . With less than 14 months remaining of their consistently miserable days in office, the Bush people want to be able to point to one success finally, and that is to bring about peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

If it weren't such a serious matter, that goal on the Bushie part would be totally laughable. That conflict has been going on for much too long -- 60 years -- to be suddenly resolved in a few short days, and all just for the sake of allowing a certified war criminal to be able to have something on his record to hold up against the spectacular ravages that History is certain to wreak on his two terms in office.

For such a peace to blossom, the seeds for it have to have been planted long ago, and one can point to absolutely nothing that the Bush Admin has done along those lines. Instead at every turn it has supported the stronger but less justified party in their grievances, the Israelis, against the weaker party, the Palestinians, and the building of that Apart-hate Wall on the West Bank is one of the most tangible manifestations of that.

So what is the Bush Admin doing even to presume holding these so-called peace talks when, of all the governments in the world, it has been the least even-handed? I would think that peace talks are best sponsored by those with at least a little credible pretense of having had a balanced view of things, though I admit, it would be hard to find a country that in all these years since 1948 hasn't taken a dim view at some point of the things that the Israelis have done in the process of keeping an eternal foot on the Palestinians' necks.

With that in mind, what are the Palestinians expecting, when they must know that they'll be asked to make concessions equal to those that will be requested of the Israelis, when they will have nothing to concede to compare to those that the Israelis could make but almost certainly won''t, not least because they're the stronger party, and after these several thousand years that have passed since the Greeks supposedly started our "civilization," the Melian Syndrome still applies.

I refer to the incident in Thucydides' book about the war between Athens and Sparta, when the Athenians, in iron-assing the people of the island of Melos, told the Melians quite frankly that they can trust in the gods' protection all they want, but they should know that in this world the strong do whatever they want, while the weak are able to do only what is imposed on them.

And what contributions will the Syrians and the Saudi Arabians be able to make meanwhile -- especially the latter, in light of various facts such as that the great majority of the 9/11 attackers came from their country, and also a country whose high officials have such a poor understanding of basic right and wrong that, the last I heard, they (along with the Bush Admin) are going along with a recent court ruling in which a woman who was gang-raped was sentenced to six months in jail and to receive 200 lashes, for having ventured unaccompanied by a man into a shopping mall, while the rapists got off with two to nine years in jail and presumably no chastisement with a whip?

Well, I guess all these high officials who have shown up in Annapolis appreciate the perceptions that they will get, as "world leaders" who have the power, in this turn on a dime, to bring about such a long-desired peace. But my expectation is that such a peace will only be achieved a long time from now, and that, when it comes, it will happen so quietly that no one will notice till much later still. .