Monday, December 29, 2008

The Commiseration Game

I politely listen because it is the civilized thing to do, but there are times when I get sick of hearing other people complain. If they only knew how much time I spend complaining myself, they might be a little more sensitive to unloading on me. In addition, most of the complaints that I hear really are not about anything truly horrible. Just like screaming, complaining is a form of drama designed to call attention to yourself. I never understood why people scream the whole way down; On long falls, sometimes you just want to yell, "shut up!".

This recession has caused quite a bit of anxiety, and anxiety always gets people yipping and complaining about the smallest things. I think it's time that I shared with you a personal story about what I could have gone through had I lived through the great depression. I think you will see that your problems are not all that bad after you hear what I could have gone through.

I would have been quite young then, and things are tough on kids because they have little control over what happens to them. Things were indeed tough, but you would have never heard me complain because I knew there were kids far worse off than me.

Back then, I spent most of my waking hours foraging for food. There were times during the winter where I would eat little more than dust and mites, and of course be thankful for even that. Have you ever been so hungry that when you used your teeth to remove a splinter from your hand, you were afraid that you might not stop at the splinter?

Sometimes it was just luck that we made it at all. Maybe it was the kindness of a stranger that would pierce the darkness with his bright light of hope and your heart would burst with gratefulness and relief. This is very emotional; I'm having a hard time getting through this now as I cry like a baby imagining a fat old man, stinking of urine, giving me a whole armful of hay to share with my family. It's the first time we ate anything in two weeks, and I'm pretty sure I split it up evenly so everyone got a fair share.

After eating nothing for two weeks, it was incredible. Now I know why my friend never had any hay in his barn where we used to jump from the hayloft. From two storeys up, that cement platform would have hurt like hell, but nobody complained back then. We had great imaginations, and before the loud thud, you could almost hear the soft whoosh of the hay breaking our falls.

I would have been very lucky to finally have friends; maybe it wasn't always that way. Maybe the first place I lived wasn't even above ground; it may have been in a tunnel underneath a frozen lake. It was miserable, and all I did was sleep. I was either passing out from exhaustion searching for food, or my father was beating me to sleep with a half empty bottle of gin.

He wasn't my natural father, of course; nobody had those back then. My natural father could have died during childbirth, so I wouldn't remember him. The story is that my mother went into labor with me and interrupted his drinking. He was understandably upset and started chasing her around. At some point my mother jumped over a chair trying to get away, but I fell right out onto the floor. My father couldn't stop in time and he stepped right on me, slipped, and fell backwards where he hit his head on an axe blade that my mildly retarded, one-eyed, mute sister happened to be swinging in the den at the time. He was a tough ol' coot and I guess he fell on it one more time that day before he finally gave up the ghost.

Good things often emerge from bad things, an often when you least expect it.

We were visited by a badger one night as we shivered in our sleep. I woke to a racket as mother and the badger squared off. The speed and ferociousness, the hissing and snarling, and whatever sound the badger might be making made the scene hard to take in at first. The badger struck inside with a quick head-fake and a lucky lunge, and mother snapped its neck, but not before it tore off her lower lip. It was gruesome, and you tried not to stare but your eyes were just drawn to it. Mother vowed right then and there to move us somewhere above ground. For the life of us we couldn't understand what she was saying because of the lip, and to tell you the truth, I was too distracted looking at it to realize she was even talking, so there were probably other profound things that she said but, sorry, I missed it. Her look of determination said it all: it said not to get in her way unless a full beating was desired.

As we left, my sister gazed back with her one eye, gazed back to that miserable hole in the ground, and if she could have talked... she probably would have mentioned that we forgot to leave a note for the new father about our intentions, and not to worry about all the blood at home when he got out of prison.

We were heading someplace warm, and where other people lived!

We found a beautiful place already set up that would do fine keeping the rain off our heads and snug at night. There were times when it was actually too hot, as the vent from the asbestos plant we lived under would sometimes leave us covered in a fine blanket of dust with fantastic thermal properties.

We were prouder than hell of our mother. She got a job selling potato chips for Frito Lay. It was off-shift work, and we would see her out the door late at night going to work in that skimpy uniform they made her wear selling chips on street corners. She worked on commission and made hardly and money at all, and I suspect that was because people had a hard time understand what she was saying because of her lip.

Because I was the man of the house, the task of feeding everyone fell on me. There were times when mother made a dollar and I would rush out to buy hay with it, but often I had to resort to other means. I tried my hand a fishing once, but I was not very good at it. I had seen a small fish go by and I dove in after it. I no sooner had it in my mouth when my world was rocked. I saw stars as it ripped into my cheek and started pulling me forward. I fought like hell, swimming serpentine the whole way, but when I broke surface and saw that some old man had caught me, I cussed up a blue streak from the good side of my mouth. The old man called me a foul-mouth bass and clubbed me on the head so he could remove the hook which I had swallowed by that time.

Now before you start feeling too bad over what I could have gone through, you should consider what my sister went through: Mother sent her to school to smarten her up, but Sis would end up running home the 6 miles, bawling like a baby the whole way. We didn't know exactly what was wrong because she couldn't talk and none of us could read or write, but I figured she was teased because she didn't have any shoes, and shoes were all the rage back then.

Kids can be darned cruel.

I know it's a terrible thing that I done, but desperate times call for desperate measures, so I stole a set of horse shoes from my friend's barn where we used to jump. I put a rag in my sister's mouth and nailed those shoes to her feet just so they wouldn't pick on her anymore. I thought I had done a good thing, but mother cried when she saw it. We left the rag in for a few days.

People today might poo poo the idea of nailing horseshoes to a person's feet, but you have to understand that I would have been young and people back then knew how to make the best of a situation; Yankee ingenuity, it was called, and it was ingrained in us.

Take for instance the family that lived by the DDT plant next to us; they had a set of Siamese triplets who were arranged sort of peculiar. They all faced each other in a triangle, and each had one arm sticking clear out the back of the others. They had every reason to be miserable, but almost every time I saw them, they would wave both hello and goodbye to me. They were great at waving. They picked on themselves more than others picked on them. Sometimes they would get to pestering one another by slapping each other in the back of the head when they weren't looking. This would escalate to where they were slapping from the back, and punching each other in the face with their free arms. Eventually, one would forget and try to run away and they would all fall down and it would be over.

The finest example of overcoming would have to go to my friend Freddie. He was born without legs but you hardly even noticed that. He always wanted to do what we were doing, insisting that we treat him regular. It wasn't always easy because doing things like playing chicken on the train tracks put him at a disadvantage because he would have to start rolling out of the way before everyone else just stepped aside, so he often lost but still played anyway.

He may have lost at chicken, but you wouldn't believe him on a baseball diamond; he was legendary. When he was at bat lying on his belly, his strike zone was so tiny that it almost was a gimme for him to draw a walk. We used to think that was funny - a kid with no legs drawing a walk. We used to say, "Hey, Freddie walked today."

Sometimes the opposing pitcher would get so mad that he would just line a fastball into Freddie's face, and Freddie would just smile, bleed from the nose or teeth, and take his base. He usually wasn't very good at stealing but whenever we played this one certain team, we would actually draw a crowd of spectators because the game was so exciting. The other team had a blind second-baseman, and Freddie exploited that weakness every chance he could. He would roll off first base a little bit, and when the pitcher was committed in his wind up, Freddie would lunge like a worm toward second base and the most exciting race you ever saw would unfold.

The catcher would go through the motions of whipping of his pretend mask and he would throw a laser to second base trying to catch Freddie stealing. If the ball didn't hit the second-baseman, then Freddie, who could have waltzed into second base if he had legs, had to race the center fielder to the bag. Their catcher was good, though, and usually would hit that blind second-baseman with the ball. The place would go wild; we would be yelling Go! Freddie Go!, and the other team would be yelling, "a little to the left! More to your left..." and you don't know what excitement was.

Man, those could have been the days. I hope you all feel just a little richer now in your relatively affluent life when you think about what I could have gone through during the Great Depression.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Twas the Night Before Christmas

Twas the night before Christmas and all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even me

God bless all mice and men

Monday, December 22, 2008


It was hailed as a brilliant marketing campaign, but Diana called it cruel and unusual. Did a company really have the right to change time-honored tradition? To rewrite the legend for their exclusive use?

She was appalled when the ads started to appear in some of her magazines last year;
In this day and age, why do we lie to our children? Flying reindeer? Elves that mass-produce brand-name toys? With the loss of the polar ice, how is it that Santa lives at the north pole?

She hated those ads which were meant to appeal to our reason. She hated them because half the population was sophisticated enough to agree with the premise yet stupid enough to not see it for what it was. They really thought Santa Server was doing them a favor.

Let us be the embodiment of Santa Claus for your children. We have the marketing data, and may know more about your child's interests that anyone except you. You set the budget and leave the rest to us. On Christmas morning your child's in-box will be filled with e-gift certificates from among the millions of gifts in our databases. You will share in your child's surprise and joy as you open each e-mail and choose to accept or even exchange the gift for another to be delivered to your home…

She thought back to last year when the oldest of her two boys had asked, "Mom, how did Santa get into the house to leave these presents? The biometric locks will only open for us..."

I stayed up and let him in, dear.

"Nuh uh, I watched the security loop from last night."

She was certain that Santa Server had somehow planted that question. At face value, she admitted, the company made a bit of sense. She just had a problem with tradition... her tradition, taking out of her hands and spun in a different direction.

To make matters worse, this year the company forced themselves onto her children with the most insidious marketing ploy ever devised. Santa Server produced a new "classic" animated Christmas special called "Santa's Last Sleigh Ride." It told a dramatic tale of Santa rescuing the last of the Polar bears and seals off the tiny piece of ice that supported the famous "North Pole" pole. Santa shouldered part of the blame himself for the receding ice and vowed to reduce his carbon footprint by e-mailing toys to the good girls and boys from now on. It never did explain how a reindeer-powered sleigh was a major contributor to greenhouse gasses but it was sufficiently easy to pass along just enough guilt to make him a hero with his green awakening. Diana thought they missed a great marketing opportunity by not putting him on some sort of brand name anti-depressant as well.

After the program ran, there were widespread reports of parents leveling with their children about Santa rather than succumb to the perceived blackmail by Santa Server. Diana almost counted herself among them but decided to hold off for the sake of her youngest son. He deserved at least one year of magic.

Diana and her boys had been leaving cookies of a different sort for Santa all year long inside their computers, it was time to make use of them.

Hello, this is Santa Server; how may I help you?

Um, yes; I'd like to… sign up for…

Yes. I see you are calling from 555-4734, are you Diana Greenfield?


And I seeee… you have… two sons, ages 8 and 6... one Sumner and the other Thomas...

Tommy. His name is…

Yes! Tommy. Thank you, that is important.

This is my first time…

Oh, yes Ms. Greenfield. We see that. Let us take a moment and get some more personal information which helps us deliver a most authentic and personal experience for the recipients of your gifts. Ms. Greenfield, we see that you are no longer married, but are you still dating a Mr. Richard Evans?

No! I don't see where that's any…

Ms. Greenfield, please. We just want to know who to list as the givers of the gifts you purchase. Santa, obviously; but maybe you would like to list others on some of them…

Doesn't that kind of detract from what you are all about? I can buy my son gifts from me…

Well, you got us there. Some of this info serves at a cross-purpose. Are you near your computer Ms. Greenfield?


Good. Please check your email now. We have sent you some mail with a link that you are to click on. This will allow us to perform a very limited scan of your computer to ensure the correct delivery of our services through whatever spam filters you have, and to narrow the list of appropriate catalogs from which we will select the gifts. I see that you have not clicked on the link yet; would you please do so now?

Yes. I have to tell you, this whole thing is making me rather uncomfortab…

OK! While it is scanning, let me tell you about some of the popular services we offer. As you probably know, we don't perform any price markups on the gifts. We charge a simple flat rate of 10 percent on whatever amount you choose to spend on your gifts. Because this is your first time with us, we will allow you to add as many recipients as you wish for free. Usually, people take advantage of this by being nice to themselves. Would you like to be nice to yourself this Christmas Ms. Greenfield?

Well, yes. I mean…

Well sure you do! You can literally surprise yourself this year. Why not treat yourself to 10 or 15 thousand dollars of long deserved...

What? What makes you think I have that kind of mon…

Ms. Greenfield, come on now. We have your financial info right here. You are in the top eight percent earning range… as a doctor such as yourself should be. Most people spend about 2.2 percent of their income during Christmas but that does not include themselves. We are trying to change that and let you be nice to you for a change. Since you are currently not dating, that leaves more of your budget for your sons. They will be lucky lads with... say $3000 dollars worth of gifts for Christmas. Each.

You people are out of your…

Oh! I see your info is coming in now…

What makes you think I'm not dating…

Ms. Greenfield, I am so sorry. That was very forward of me. That did not represent the opinion of the company at all. That was my own carelessness. Ms. Greenfield, are you bisexual?


Well, we are showing a small amount of lesbian-oriented pornographic viewing as having taken place on your computer. Could that have been Mr. Richard Evans?

I… I don't know.

It's nothing to be ashamed of, Ms. Greenfield.
Ms. Greenfield?
Ms. Greenfield? You have to understand; we are simply ensuring the best service possible. You have to spend the appropriate amount of money on gifts this holiday; why not spend it through the best provider of gift services? We can only be as good as the information we have. We see that your mother is recovering from a double-mastectomy; would you like us to consider this in selecting her gift from you this year?

Ms. Greenfield?
Ms. Greenfield, deleting our email has no effect. You have already clicked on the link. We see you are about to receive a phone call from one of our competitors; let me tell you what they will do with your information…

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Social Christmas

The line snaked around two corners.

Benny could see at least that much as he made his way to the end of the line. This was the windy side of the building, and the cold gusts made his cane wobble from side to side as he used it to lever forward. At least this line moved fast compared to some of the other lines in the city. The soup was awful thin here, but they knew how to move em' in and out.

Most of the people in his line stared down at the ground and shuffled forward in silence. What was there to say? Standing in a soup line 3 days before Christmas said everything that needed to be said. They say misery loves company, but Benny felt nothing but bad for the other people in his line. It never really crossed his mind that he was in the same boat. Maybe that's how they all felt; maybe that's the work of mercy.

Too old to care, he stared across the street to the other line, which today was nearly as long as his. They noticed his stare, and soon a chorus of rude taunts and gestures from the line of men in their 30's, 40's, and 50's were being hurled his way. Benny couldn't imagine being a parent of one of those men; the shame would break his heart.

He looked at the fine suits worn by the other men; suits once cut to fit but now falling off the shoulders of more than a few. He looked at his own clothes and rubbed the stubble on his cheeks and noticed most of the others in his line missed a date or two with a razor.

His line was just as quiet as the other line was boisterous. The occasional hacking cough or honking nose were the only sounds escaping from the line ahead. Ahead, the end of the line. It was occupied by a hawk-nosed man with an uncompromising ladle and a dour look. The soup man had grey skin, the color long washed out by the dull fluorescent light he lived under.

Benny thought about the man at the end of the other line.

A clamor erupted across the street and Benny scanned until he caught sight of the problem. A kid, just some kid who might not even have a name was standing in that line valiantly resisting all the pushing and shoving to get him out. Foul language echoed between the tall buildings as they told the kid he didn't belong in the line. The kid kept one toe sacredly planted at his place in line as he was pushed this way and that. Out of the kid's line of sight, an older, athletic-looking man with a smile plastered to his face snuck up behind the boy in a creeping crouch. He came up out of his crouch and took three giant strides before coming off his feet to deliver a vicious kick to the middle of the child's back. The boy still had a toe pointed down as he sailed through the air and landed well into the street. The kick would have killed Benny but the boy got right up and gave his assailant the finger while tears rolled down his cheeks.

Howls of laughter erupted and the assailant was roundly congratulated. Benny caught pieces of his bragging that he learned martial arts from some famous name or another. Even now, the line of ex criminal banksters and ex Wall Street executives displayed their primal need to sport their brand-name existence as they stood in line to demand their entitlements from Santa.

Even now they could be heard mocking Santa and his socialist ways.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Fed: Criminal Banksters Control Us

The Fed's announced policies yesterday are nothing short of spectacular. It is a rare display of the real power running America, and neither the president nor Congress is powerful enough to prevent the Fed from moving forward with its short-sighted and highly destructive plans.

When you consider that a great deal of the legislative and executive energy is spent trying to carve up the pie without making it arbitrarily larger, and then the Fed can come along and unilaterally double or triple the balance sheet without so much as a debate, then I ask you where the true power lies in this country.

The Fed will argue that it is pulling out all the stops to prevent the nation from descending into a deflationary spiral, but it is the Fed itself, through fractional reserve lending, that has created the conditions for deflation (and inflation) to begin with.

Banks cannot be expected to lend loosely in the current economic environment, so why do they need so much money? We keep hearing about too-big-to-fail, but not one peep yet as to breaking up any of the too-large institutions. Talk about your moral hazards.

The worst part about all this is we are probably blowing our last, best chance to do something great as a nation - something big to get us out of the mess. We are going to create jobs building roads and pounding sand while we explode our balance sheet trying to re-inflate the housing bubble. There are much better things that we could be putting that money to work for, and it would probably re-inflate all the bubbles as a side effect.

Picture this:

An elevated platform snakes its way through the Northeast corridor. On the top side of the platform are north and southbound commuter trains - possible maglev but certainly high speed. A unique feature of the line is that for every passenger who gets on the train, the train will not stop or slow down until it is that passenger's stop.

How does that work, you ask?

Simple: As a train approaches a station, say within 1 mile of it, a car that has boarded passengers independently leaves the station ahead of the train. It originally is travelling slower than the train but accelerates to match the speed of the train at the same time the train catches up with the car and couples to it.

Meanwhile, anyone on the train wanting to get off at the station makes their way back to the last car in the train. before the train reaches the station, the last car uncouples from the train and decelerates into the station side rail, replacing the car that just left. The train is constantly gaining and losing a car, but never changing speed.

We are not done yet.

Underneath the platform are additional north-south lines for freight. This is an entirely automated system that is the backbone of a supply chain for an efficient industrial corridor. It is like a river that flows two ways. It hosts autonomous carriers that hang from the tracks under (or in) the platform. These carriers are designed to haul a standard container fitted with special couplings on the top to link to the carrier.

Freight terminals would consist of a siding where a carrier can temporarily 'exit' the system to load and unload a container. An agent with a container to ship pulls a truck into a bay at a freight terminal (siding) and summons a carrier. The carrier is either already waiting at the terminal or the closest empty carrier is directed to the terminal where it will automatically hoist and secure the container off the truck. The carrier then coordinates its entry back onto the main line to proceed to its destination. Once on the main line, the carrier's arrival time at the destination is predictable to the millisecond.

Both the top and the bottom of the platform are powered by electricity generated from Pebble Bed nuclear reactors, a next-generation reactor design with superior all around characteristics. Additionally, the reactors could provide electricity to run the plants along the corridor and this electricity could be provided for free as an incentive to locate along the corridor.

Additional support for the manufacturing corridor could be a plant that specializes in waste reclamation and the disposal of toxic materials, with dedicated carriers sent out to provide free transport for waste products.

The non-stop, high-speed commuter line would essentially open up the commute range for work. Working 200 miles away would not be a problem.

This is the kind of project the US should be doing. Not only would it create thousands of excellent jobs building it, but it would provide a green industrial area with efficiency and convenience unrivaled in the world. It would go a long way toward keeping vital manufacturing jobs right here at home.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Cellphone or Banana?

"What are you writing about, Honey?"
"I'm writing about what separates man from beast."
"Really? Well... I'm going out to feed our live horses while you beat that dead one."

She has a point.

Just as I once learned that I was not, in fact, the inventor of the ham and cheese sandwich, I find once again that I am late to the party. The search for profound and essential differences between man and beast is not new.

Should that stop me from flailing about? Should that stop me from flopping around in the mud, gasping for air like a dying guppy? Where some see a dead horse, I see a piƱata.

If you want, grab a stick, step around the dead horse, and we'll see if we can't whack a little candy loose.

This subject has been a nightmare to write about. When searching the Web, the question, "what separates man from beast," will take you down endless philosophic avenues, mostly in the ghettos. I say that because the question has not been unambiguously answered, so the philosophy tends toward the mystical.
The question has range, but the answer has to be satisfying, right? Well, you have be the judge of that. The answer can't be blurted out without an explanation of how it was derived; no answer should ever be taken without an explanation.

It's only fair to you that I write this out in a linear fashion... but it's tough. There are so many things that want to be explored in depth, but then it would turn into a manuscript that would probably die a digital death. For this reason, many things that deserve better are not going to get it. The beauty of the interconnected tubes is that you can always ask for more info, right?

So, here it goes...

As best as I can tell, the main differentiating feature between man and beast is that we wipe our asses. We need accessories. We are higher maintenance, and therefore less pet-worthy.

The plain and simple fact is, attempting to identify an overarching, somehow profound feature the separates man and beast is folly. It's not the right question to ask; I could have just as well asked what the overarching differentiator between dogs and cats is. The right question to ask is why we hold cell phones, while chimps hold bananas.

If you started by listing the differences in natural abilities between man and beast, things will get out of hand very quick:
Can we fly? No.
Can we stick to walls and ceilings? No.
Can we live in a liquid water environment? No.
Can we discharge 500-volt pulses of electricity? No.
Can we spray material stronger than steel out our rear ends? No.
Can we rapidly burrow underground? No.
Can we rapidly change our coloring to become nearly invisible? No.
Can we consume objects twice the diameter of our heads? No.
Can we regenerate severed limbs? No.
Can we live inside a host? No.
Can we use sonar to locate moving objects? No.

So maybe the first question actually is why are there so many different types of animal life? Why are there so many species?

What's that? You don't think I'm being fair to us people?

Well, OK; let's pick something else. We can't compare features because we get trounced there. Does the Blue whale really need an 18-foot penis?

How about differences in complex behavior and expression?

Only man cries? No.
Only man rages? No.
Only man plays? No.
Mourns death? No.
Prepares for death? No.
Teaches others? No.
Kills for sport? No.
Raises armies? No.
Gets jealous? No.
Builds cities? No.
Cares for the sick? No.
Shares information? No.
Lives in communities? No.
Creates social castes? No.

I'm not being fair. We are but one species, so the above list can be viewed once again in the context of why so many species? With so many diverse species, many of our traits are bound to show up somewhere else. It's one of the fundamental problems in looking for differentiators between man and beast because there is almost always some counter-example.

Let's attack this from a different angle and come back to the species question later.

So much for linear progression.

Maybe we should be asking what man and beast have in common?

Hmm. Right now my mind is wandering among some irrelevant but interesting thoughts: lobsters are known to be cannibalistic. They have also been known to willfully give up a limb to a predator in the hope that the rest of itself will get away. Has there ever been a lobster that was too lazy to forage for food and just decided to shed a limb and eat it? What would that be called? Would it be auto-cannibalism?

To see what we have in common, I think we are going to have to get real small. We can zoom right past carbon, and even past amino acids, but what about DNA?

Even if you are a bacterium, we are all made up of the same DNA stuff, it's just arranged differently. Even there, we share many of the same proteins such as the AAA+ class of proteins that initiate cell division. The entire biosphere shares the same DNA structure.

If you are a chimp, then you share about 95% of the same DNA sequence you have with a human's DNA sequence. My guess is that quite a bit of that 5% difference can be accounted for in the physical differences between chimps and humans, and also in the meta-coding such as sperm and egg.

If you are thinking of trying genetic engineering at home, then please don't use what I say here, because I am about to take giant shortcuts to find out how big a 5% difference in DNA is. It goes something like this:

A strand of human DNA is about 3 billion nucleotides long. Pretending that it all transcribes to proteins (via RNA transcription), then the 3 billion nucleotides will triple up to form 1 billion codons, each coding for an amino acid used in a protein. If we pretend that instead of 20, there are only 10 types of amino acids that are used in proteins, then the 1-billion-long train of codons can be thought of as a 1-billion-digit number of the kind of numbers we are used to dealing with (base 10). Man and chimp are both coded for using a 1-billion-digit number with only 50 million digits being different between them. 50 million digits is a large number when you consider the number of atoms in the universe only takes 80 digits to write out, and 10 universes takes 81 digits.

If you squint real hard, you can almost see how DNA looks like a computer language - a computer language that emits a standard instruction set for all species. We will have to come back to that too, but for our purposes here, we already knew there would be differences in the genetic code between man and beast, so we really haven't learned anything. We are slicing it too fine. Even if there were only a one-digit difference between man and chimp, it really wouldn't explain what that digit does.

Let's try it the other way for just a second and use a very coarse approach. We'll throw caution to the wind and speculate that the big difference between man and beast has something to do with our brains. Then the question becomes, so what? We just add it to the list; not only don't we have eight arms or shoot ink out our asses, but our brains are different too. It doesn't explain why the cell phone.

It can't be that our brain is larger than the rest of the animals, because it is not. If the difference were a function of brain size, then why isn't a big dog with a big head much smarter than a little wiener dog with a little wiener head?

It would be nice if I could say right here, that the difference between brains is that the human brain has a neurodiscombobulator, where animals don't, then I could actually live with that answer, even though it still wouldn't explain why the cell phone.

The fact is, it doesn't have anything that is identifiable as uniquely human. We have failed to identify any quantitative difference that might explain the cell phone-banana gap. It must be a qualitative difference somewhere.

I always like stripping away assumptions when attacking the unknown. We come with a huge amount of default assumptions that we are not even aware of most of the time. This, by and large, is a good thing because our day would go nowhere if we had to make sure the ceiling wasn't going to fall on our heads before we entered a room, and then check that the chair we want to sit in will support our weight, and then pause to feel our heartbeat to make sure the ticker is still working. It's nice to keep moving forward toward a goal. There are times, though, that our default assumptions completely blind us to possibilities.

I've seen very intelligent people who gave up on the following riddle:

A father and his son were driving together in a car and got into a terrible crash. The father died on the spot, and the son was rushed to the hospital for immediate life-saving surgery. The surgeon came bursting through the doors of the operating room, took one look at the patient, and said, "I can't operate on this boy, he's my son!"

If you've heard this before, then maybe you remember possibly struggling with this riddle. If you've never heard it, and can't figure out how the doctor's statement can be true, don't feel bad. Your subconscious brain is feeding you the expected (default), but wrong answer. Just as with an optical illusion, or even gaps in memory, the subconscious brain tries to serve up sensible data without you even being aware.

Some people actually get mad when they are told the doctor is the boy's mother, and I suspect that is because they are mad at themselves for tricking themselves.

Instead of looking just at the brain for qualitative differences, let's start with the assumption that our brains are being supplied with better data and start our qualitative search there.

Since there is no evidence that we can influence, or are even aware of individual cells in our body, we'll exclude basic cellular metabolism from our consideration of what data the brain receives. The first layer to consider may even be below the limbic system, and that would be the involuntary regulating processes. Most of these processes are governed by a type of feedback known as hysteresis, whose action is to keep some term in a system orbiting a desired value. Sweating to lower body temperature (through evaporation) and shivering to raise it are examples of hysteretic regulation. Our rate of breathing changes in accordance with the body's need for oxygen.

Again, there doesn't appear to be much difference between man and beast here, but it is worth mentioning that people sometimes exploit, for their side effects, the automatic responses of their regulatory systems. Some people use rigorous exercise to lose weight, but there is a secret that the marketer's of diet plans don't want you to know: you can lose weight by drinking ice water. The body burns fuel to compensate for the temperature loss due to consuming ice water. You can eat pizza, which contains all the food groups and tastes great, and as long as you drank enough ice water, you are on a diet and will lose weight.

So score one for people! Humans' rock!

Now consider this: nature has created an automaton specifically designed, as best as I can tell, to bug the hell out of us. It runs on shit and garbage, moves rapidly in all 3 spatial dimensions, can rest on the ceiling, identify faces, evade hostile actions, and self-replicate on a large scale. Its offspring are little fucking maggots. Its efficiency is off the scale when compared to anything man has created. The instructions for its replication and autonomous existence are stored in a double-helix molecule that is so cleverly arranged, that it would be like reading every other word in this essay and having it be a completely different essay - times ten. I just wanted to say that in case you think I'm biased against the rest of the animals.


Pain is a very effective form of hysteretic feedback designed to get us to stop doing whatever it is that we are doing. Nerve endings are the sensors that sound the pain alarm and they are concentrated most heavily in the skin. Our skin is really an environmental suit that alerts the brain to the fact that the body has sprung a leak or is undergoing rapid compression or some other thing judged to harm the machine. Our skin doesn't participate in a corrective course of action; it just provides the feedback that some action is necessary to prevent damage. Maybe with the exception of bacteria, all animals sense pain and will react to it in some way that is highly reflexive. If you are the source of the pain some animal is experiencing, you may in turn experience the effects of a different reflex, and that is the fight reflex. Bite, sting, stink, scratch, scream, stab, or stern lectures are some of the things you may experience, depending on the species you are tormenting. The fight reflex is necessary because the flinch or flight reflex doesn't always work against things that are intent on doing harm. You can flinch away from a flame, but not a shark.

Collectively, all our sensors... I mean senses, provide us with the necessary feedback to interface with the external world to the best of our abilities. Natural selection is greatly influenced by sensory phenomena, and species whose abilities were enhanced by better senses gained selective advantage. Sensory organs also provide some of the most convincing evidence of evolution: there are caves in which virtually the entire animal population shows evidence of once having useful eyes. It also shows the fine grain roll that efficiency plays in natural selection. Would it really kill to leave the eyes alone? Maybe it would, if the energy required to grow them and service them is better spent elsewhere. Also, damage to the eyes from bumping into things may have been a source of infection, and that could easily guide selection.

Still, all in all, it does not appear there is a qualitative difference in the senses of man and beast. Quantitatively, our senses might actually be inferior to many mammals. From here on, though, we will start to see greater and greater separation as we ascend the hierarchy of how sensory data is processed.

There is a noticeable correlation in how we classify species to the level of data processing they perform. The lower species are great at surviving by thriving and dying. Their niche in the ecology usually has plenty of food readily available and an environment that ranges very little. When food doesn't basically fly into their mouths, or the weather becomes too hot/cold/dry/wet, those species will hibernate until conditions are right again or just lay eggs and die. They can get by just fine with their senses and reflexes.

At some point during evolution, some species were given a great and powerful feature to augment their senses, and that feature was memory. Memory literally adds the dimension of time to existence. With memory, sensory input can be retained as experience and later, rendered as knowledge. This held tremendous advantage for animals as they could recreate successful activities. When a decision is required in any goal-oriented activity, experience greatly increases the chance of a better choice being made. Experience leads to predictability, and predictability is king.

Experience is a funny thing unto itself. When we mention experience we are usually referring to first hand, or direct experience. There is another phenomenon that substitutes for experience; it's not experience-helper, but actual, honest faux experience. Can you guess what it is? Does anything instinctively come to mind? It's instinct!

Instinct is a real bastard to research. 97% of what you will find off Google is very superficial, and the other 4% is indecipherable neurobabble. Because of this, I am just going to make shit up here.

Instinct has to be one of the weirdest phenomena there is in biology. Since it is inherited, it must be coded for in DNA. It makes sense, right? But then I get confused, because I can't find anything in any literature that hints of the possibility that there is a DNA "recorder".

It seems highly unlikely that a complex behavior is something that gets randomly mutated. That would sort of imply that frogs could potentially develop a tries-to-fly-south-for-the-winter disorder. Some instincts are so specific and complex, that it is hard to reconcile them as something other than a learned and etched behavior. I can understand the maternal instinct, which many species possess; I can see that as being selected for very early in evolution. What I have a hard time with is the fact that a salmon goes through hell to somehow find its way back home to spawn, or that the Arctic tern migrates across the planet. Selection is a very slow process, and continents move, and rivers come and go. Somehow a mapping of the external, physical world, yes, an atlas, has made its way into DNA.

I told you I was just making shit up; I'm ready for the real info whenever you tell me what it is. For now, let's just call instinct preconfigured behavior and be done with it.

With memory, we are starting to get some separation in the species. Imprinting sensory experience to memory might be learning, but it is not knowledge. I think it is only knowledge when it is recalled and used in an action. A rat first learns a maze, and then runs a maze.

Many of the higher species actively teach their offspring by introducing them to essential experience. Additionally, these species often play as adolescents. Playing is practice, and practice is needed to strengthen the neural pathways in the brain. It would be nice to skip beginner and go straight to expert, but it doesn't work that way. Much of the brain is a substrate on which learned behavior is formed. With the exception of instinct, it does not come with behavior preconfigured, and this is a great thing for adaptability. Most of the higher species exist at a place in the ecology where food does not just fly into their mouths, and where they themselves are considered food. As always, there are exceptions to this. In general, though, members of the higher species are much more active than other species. They exist year round, and this often requires great adaptability and cleverness in seeking food and shelter. Sensory data is processed in much more complicated ways.

A more passive method of learning than direct experience is observation. Careful observation can substitute for direct experience but does not guarantee knowledge. A dog can watch another dog get hit by a car and then step in front of one itself. Somehow it failed to map what it saw to self. Focused attention seems to be an important part of passive learning, and that usually requires a goal. Treats are commonly used to get a person's attention.

People are easily trained by cats. Anyone who owns a cat has been trained by the cat to accommodate its needs. I don't think cats purposefully employ discomfort as a means to train us but discomfort, our discomfort, is ultimately what they found to work. Causes of discomfort include loud, persistent meowing, scratching the furniture, darting in front of us as we walk, knocking shit off the shelves, and lying down on the exact spot where we are reading. To avoid these discomforts we actually learn the early signals that a cat sends out to get our attention and we then make an educated guess as to its needs. If they rub up against our leg then maybe they want to be stroked. If they move toward their dish when we move then they might be hungry. If we respond correctly they will leave us alone, otherwise they will escalate from a gentle gesture to persistent and overt obnoxiousness. One question that bugs me is why do my cats first rub against my leg instead of going straight to obnoxious?

Why didn't Pavlov's dogs just ring the bell themselves?

Besides instinct, there is another built-in feature that brains come equipped with, and that is pattern recognition. It is believed that all animals with sight, including insects, have the ability to recognize faces from any species that does not try to disguise its face. Pattern recognition is something brains are good at. A bee has a brain the size of a speck but it not only controls 3D flight and all the social functions, but it also can recognize a variety of flowers from any angle.

Pattern matching maps sensory input to a symbol in the brain. Some patterns, such as the face pattern, seem to be hard-wired in the brain. Other patterns get laid in down in memory in some sort of hierarchical fashion as we learn. When we think of a tree, we use the default symbol for a tree. When we think of palm tree, we now use a more specific symbol that sort of inherits the attributes we associate with the generic symbol and augment it with more specific attributes - it becomes much clearer in our head. Some symbols, such as the one for Mom, are extremely specific and may even hold emotions among its attributes.

There were two things I said I would get back to: the question of species proliferation, and the observation that all species share the same DNA structure (mostly true). I usually get a little squeamish when I am asked to look at something holistically. I get into high alert mode and will bail at the first sign that the term holistic is being used as a substitute for faith. I don't mean religious faith necessarily, but any kind of dogmatic belief. I mention this, I think, for myself to make sure I'm not doing the same to you when I ask you to consider some curious observations about the biosphere. The biosphere is big and we are a part of it, so the expression 'can't see the forest through the trees' might be applicable here. A holistic view of the biosphere would have to include the dimension of time, and given the subject matter, the amount of time really spans back to the very beginning.

First, was there a single mother species that all life can trace back to? The assumption is yes, and this assumption is used to help locate a new species onto the taxonomy by checking the location of specific DNA markers. Its ancestor is the species with the least differences in these marker locations.

I mentioned earlier that there are 20 amino acids used in the metabolism among all species, and this is true, but it glosses over a few things. Each nucleotide can be one of four different chemicals, abbreviated A, C, G, and T. Since nucleotides group into 3's to form a codon, that means there are 43 = 64 possible states, or values a codon can assume. This discrepancy is reconciled by allowing several states to code for the same amino acid; 61 states code for 20 amino acids, and the other 3 states code for a special condition that tells a ribosome to stop chaining amino acids and cut the now-completed protein free. Some of the amino acids are mapped to only one codon state, while 1 amino acid is coded for by 6 different states. Most amino acids are coded for by at least 2 states.

There is nothing chemically that would favor one mapping over the other. Each of the 20 amino acids could just as easily been mapped to only one state and just leave the other states unused. It is speculated that the redundant coding is a way to reduce the odds of a harmful mutation. In fact, upon close examination, what has happened is the coding scheme has been arranged so that really only 2 of the nucleotide positions are important, and the third is very tolerant of a mutation. I want to know how, out of all the different ways the mapping could have been arranged, the initial species - the progenitor of life, managed to hit upon this most efficient mapping scheme to guard against an amino acid-changing mutation. It implies that, against fantastic odds, a molecule that was complex enough to protect and maintain itself, and replicate, finally happened... only to die off because it independently was created elsewhere with a more favorable mapping and was pressured out of existence. Because of the large number of possible mappings, this may have happened over and over, and mind you, for one to win out over the other, at least two competing mappings had to exist at the same time. Something smells very fishy - especially when you consider that a worst-case 33% increased chance of a mutation happening really shouldn't be all that bad since there are now 10 MILLION SPECIES! It would seem that the most is made from mutations.

Speaking of which, given this propensity to create huge numbers of species sporting a fantastic array of flamboyant characteristics, you would think that at some point it would have hit upon a very hardy combination of species that would be nearly impossible to pressure out of existence. Let's see if I can think of such a combination: hmmm... how about a beetle that eats dung and a dung-producing dung-beetle-eating something else. They could be made hardy and could cover the earth. How's that for efficiency? Why the variety? (There's a very interesting answer to that which takes another 2000 words)

But some aspects of the whole efficiency gig are a lie, right? I mean, why nature would make a species such as the salmon that has to go through living hell just to make it one more generation, is beyond me. Why not let them deposit their eggs like other fish? Or, how about the poor penguin: I watched March of the Penguins and I felt guilty just for being alive. To stand on an egg for 7 months without food, in sub-zero temperatures at the bottom of the world might make me contemplate extinction. They seem to do just fine in warm environments; the penguins in the New England Aquirium thrive, and it's hotter than hell in there.

The point is, the biosphere is a highly complex system at every level. It's so complex that we run into any number of questions that have a definite answer. In addition, it exists on a time scale outside the range of meaningful statistical sampling that we can employ from direct observation. There may be patterns that won't cycle for another 700,000 years. It's complex through and through. It's comparable to the complexity of the human brain.

Which brings this to a point: there may be an identifiable, qualitative difference in man's brain which indeed may explain how he came to be holding a cell phone. The problem is, this same quality may also be responsible for why it is so miserably difficult for us to crawl out of the holes we dig for ourselves. The reason I dragged up the issue of the holistic biosphere, is it would be nice to have a datum where we can gauge whether or not we are pressuring ourselves out of existence. By all appearances, the biosphere is experiencing an infection. We may in fact be a blight in the biosphere, and since it is so good at long term survival, we might consider looking over our shoulders and we might consider being a little less blighty.

There is a fractal nature to the biosphere. Life is made from building blocks that are adaptable over long periods of time. It has a tendency to fill up every nook and cranny by trying new or better ways to survive. It is not planned: it is a continuous game of craps being carried out by the mechanical process of DNA mutation. It is opportunistic. It has produced a wide assortment of life exhibiting a variety of characteristics. The goal of gain is a necessary feature that is common in all life. It too is opportunistic, at least until man came along. Our species has been endowed with a characteristic that moves gain from opportunistic to a directed, mechanical process, and it may not be any more controllable than the DNA mutation strategy is.

What would the earth look like if humans never developed to more than a 3rd grade level, say the mentality of a normal 9-year-old? I don't mean reverted to that, I mean they never did. How much different would we be than the apes? Would a 9-year-old have the ability to develop a written language or systematize learning in general? What would shelter look like? What would it all look like?

The reason I ask is because a qualitative difference in the human brain that could lead to our current state would not have an instant benefit that could be utilized from birth. Nature, in all its flamboyance, may simply have produced a species with superior pattern matching abilities. The pattern matching is carried out in a mechanical process over time.

Here is how things might progress:

A baby human would take in sensory data much as the other higher mammals do. It would explore its surrounds and it would be nudged by nurturing parents much as the other mammals do. Because it had superior pattern matching abilities, it might "notice" that this thing called self can affect change in its surroundings. It can shout out loud and the symbols called mother and father would react in pleasing and rewarding ways. It would begin to notice patterns to the noises made by mother and father, especially when they repeat the noises. It would notice that it could modulate its own noises to mimic the patterns of mother and father noises. It would begin to annoy mother and father for attention because self was being assigned a greater and greater value and becoming very important.

And that gain thing - whew! What a trip that is. It would seek gain, and begin to notice new patterns that led to it. A chair helps reach the cookie... ouch! A slap on the hand is loss! "You are a very bad mother and I didn't like that!"

It would begin to interact with others that match the pattern of self. They would compete for gain, which would primarily involve the reward center of the brain. They would be impressed and they would try and impress.

They would begin to notice patterns of patterns, and abstraction would begin its self-reinforcing ascent. Knowledge from experience and learning would be multiplied by the ability to abstract. The terms of a remembered experience would get substituted by analogy and abstraction, and the experience would get simulated over and over with different values. Reality would leap from what was, to what could be, and a new, more gainful course would be set.

This will be continued (I lost 25 pages of related writings).

There are some very disturbing implications with a mechanical pattern matching process. The combination of mechanical pattern matching with goal-oriented behavior has many pathological pitfalls.

We may truly be our own worst enemy and are possibly helpless to do anything about it - at least statistically. It will be explored.

I Have Chickens, I Have Eggs

I should have known.
I've seen it many times.
Hell, I've swerved out of the way often enough that when I hit that turkey late one rainy afternoon I felt like I ran over an old acquaintance. Amazed at its heft, I moved the bird off the road and walked down the only driveway around.

Have you ever knocked on a stranger's door to tell them you killed one of their animals? I did, and it's not fun at all. The door was answered by an elderly couple who warily looked at my wet self through the glass door.

Not having the words, I just turned and pointed at the road.

They opened the door and I explained what happened and the man was quite stoic and muttered something about it being inevitable. I already suspected the bird was a pet and this was pretty much confirmed by the old woman. She looked like someone had just run over

I was invited inside but I had this horrid feeling that I would see framed photographs of the couple along with their turkey. I apologized once again and offered to fetch the bird from the end of the driveway. They declined and I was relieved because I was not sure if I could carry it that distance in a dignified manor. I left feeling lousy.

The brain works in strange ways. It was spring and the sun was shining and that always brings out the best of people in Oregon. I had completely forgotten about the turkey incident from weeks before and therefore was quite surprised when I found myself whipping into the Wilco feed store parking lot. If I was surprised, then my girlfriend Rhonda was a bit freaked. Did I hit something? Is it car trouble? "No," I said, "I have to check something out. C'mon in," I waved.

Behind us, out in the parking lot, the sign read Spring chicks! Turkeys!

It was like I was on a mission and knew exactly where to go; weaving through the isles at a brisk pace, Rhonda close behind. I could feel her getting ready to question when I suddenly stopped, turned, and pointed. How smart and purposeful I felt when I uttered that one word: "turkey." Rhonda's eyes followed to where my finger was pointing and asked, "what the ...?"

That was a question I had a hard time answering.

My knowledge of turkeys was quite limited. Growing up within sight of the Boston skyline, I had made turkeys out of colored construction paper and paste, I had participated in many wonderful thanksgivings, and I knew the Wild kind made the bed spin. Beyond that? Ziltch. I only identified the turkey to which I was pointing by brilliantly deducing that it was bigger than a baby chicken (about twice).

There was a lot of activity around the other racks, all of which contained day-old chickens. Chickens! Who needs chickens? I just needed a turkey to give to that nice old couple. Price tag: $2.00.

I was hunched over, studying the small bird while waiting for a salesperson to free up. What's wrong with these salespeople? Don't they see that I am purposeful and ready to buy? Around me I keep catching bits of conversation about chickens. What a bunch of freaks, I thought. Do they gather at Wilco and just stand around talking about chickens?

Then I noticed the sign that read "FREE CLASS! The Care and Feeding of Chickens. Sunday, 1:00pm."

Hmmm, 10 minutes. I turned to Rhonda and talked both of us into staying for the class because, after all, the old couple might not be home and we might end up having to care for a turkey for a day or two. I like to think she was trying to absorb these new events but I suspect she was contemplating the depth of my insanity. So either out of love, or fear, she agreed.

I thought it was mildly hokey that they had bails of hay for benches set up in the back of the store. I thought it was extremely hokey when the 25 or 30 people started to clap when the speaker came out. I mean, c'mon! It's not like this guy wrote a book or anything.

My cynicism has a way of biting me in the ass. It turns out the book he wrote was a tome that documented about 2000 diseases that can afflict chickens. This was a man who was seriously concerned about the safety of our food supply.

He began with "Yep, this is the book", while hefting the tome off a table. "This is the book none of you will ever have to buy unless you purchase your chickens by the millions." (Laugh). "If you have a few chickens and let them run around and eat bugs in your yard, then you will more than likely never have a sick bird..."

Hey, this was going pretty good! He was dismissing worries I didn't even know I had. I figured the same must hold true for a turkey, after all they taste similar.

Then Wilco did something truly evil.

Those bastards sent a couple of kids, presumably slave labor, around the room passing out paper bags that contained "One Free Chick, Compliments of Wilco."

I didn't see it coming and I'm sure that was the plan. Oh, yeah. Here's your free chicken, and by the way it needs food and water and heat or it will die, killer.

Heat? Where the hell do I get heat? How much heat? It turns out they sell lamps that heat up baby chickens. Cost: $10.00.

What the hell do you feed a chicken? My guess was bread. Bzz, today is "you're wrong" day. The feeding options for baby chickens are real simple. You feed them Chick Starter and they live, or you feed them nothing and they die. They are not picky; you can feed them Starter in the morning, and then Starter for lunch, and later, feed them some Starter for dinner. Or you can just put Starter in a dish that they can reach and let them eat whenever they want.

They also need water. Chickens like fresh water. They don't need nearly as much water as, say, a horse but they appreciate it just as much.

I'll give you one guess how I know all this about baby chickens. That's right, I ended up leaving Wilco with:

6 Rhode Island Red sex-linked baby hens $6.00
1 baby Bronze turkey $2.00
1 Special heat lamp for poultry $10.00
25-lbs. Chick starter (turkeys love it!) $5.00
Total $23.00

Before you go running out and doing the same, there is something very important I have to tell you. It concerns turkeys and their survival. It is crucial that you understand that baby turkeys are very ugly. All of them. Mine was and yours will be too. They are hideous, and you will have to cultivate that paternal or maternal bond and resist the urge to put it out of its misery.

As they get older something incredible happens. Simultaneously, they get both uglier and shockingly beautiful. From the neck up they look like they had a real bad case of acne whose cure was attempted by dunking their heads in boiling water. Vivid, angry colors and wattles - that's what their heads look like. But the rest of the turkey? Well that's another story. A Bronze turkey, especially a Tom, has outrageous plumage. Sometimes I didn't know where my turkey began, and where it left off.

The turkey never did get over to see that nice old couple. When you take care of something living, you become vested in it. That little turkey would respond when I talked to it and if I took it out of the box and held it in my hands, it would hop up onto my shoulder and then onto my head of curly hair where it would go right to sleep. Rhonda would look at me with that ugly little bird on my head and say "yep. It's a definite improvement. I'd go with it."

Rhonda cracks herself up all the time.

As the days went by I found out that when a turkey rubs his head on you that means he likes you. It's good to have them like you because turkeys grow very large, very fast. My turkey was not aggressive but he did startle me sometimes. He had a thing for the rivets on my jeans and would occasionally try to remove them with his beak. It didn't hurt but it would give you quite jump if you didn't know he was behind you.

Another thing to know about turkeys is that they are monumentally stupid. My turkey was known to waste the better part of a day just staring at himself in the bumper of my truck. On Monday mornings I'd always find him out by the road sitting next to the bright blue garbage barrel. It was trash pickup day and my theory was that he thought the yard had moved out to the street because that's where the bright blue thing was.

Alas, it was my stupidity that did him in. I work from home and sometimes I'd work late into the night and not get up until 10:00 or 11:00, which is too late to keep the birds cooped up. I got to leaving the door open on the small shed that I used for a coop. I was aware that predators like to sneak into chicken coops for a meal but I rationalized this by thinking that Turkey was big enough to scare anything off. The problem is, chickens and turkeys become very docile at night and can be handled quite easily. More than once I've had to pick a bird up after dark and carry it to the coop. This usually happens on nice evenings when the bugs are plentiful and there's maybe a piece of watermelon to peck around the yard. Just as when we were children having fun in the summer, I think the dark just sneaks up on them.

Predators are a fact of life when owning animals. This is especially true of fowl because they taste so good. You like chicken, I like chicken, Mr. Raccoon likes chicken, Mr. Fox likes chicken, and I suspect one of my neighbors dogs likes chicken.

Which brings us back to chickens.

I told you that I purchased half a dozen Rhode Island Reds but actually I lied. I only thought I did. I'm going to be talking about cocks and sex-links but rest assured I am staying on subject. The Reds I got were actually sex-links. Don't Google it because you will be getting chicks of a whole different kind - mostly without feathers. Sex-links are hybrid birds specifically bred for better performance and easy sex identification at hatch time. The males and females are either a different color or the feather patterns are different. This is important because, unbelievably, roosters don't lay eggs.

The first few weeks after bringing home the birds was somewhat uneventful. I kept them in a large box on to which I clipped the heat lamp. I would have to regularly change the water and I would take them outside to run around so I could replace the lining in the box. Unlike Turkey, who learned to jump out of the box after a week, the chickens didn't do much of anything. Not even grow much. At about week four, they decided to double in size in the span of an afternoon. At least that is what it seemed to me. I figured like all birds, they need to be helped out of the nest, so one last time I brought them outside and tipped the box over and away they ran.

I figured the chickens would follow Turkey around and look to it as their protector but just the opposite happened. As I said, turkeys are monumentally stupid and my turkey must have been impressed with the very busy agenda the chickens had. He would follow them around as they darted about the yard, always running, always with some purpose only known to them. I thought about strapping a proximity detector on two chickens, multiplying the resulting vectors together, and posting the answer on the Internet as a perfect random number generator, but I didn't want to intrude on their affairs. For all I knew they would start to run in regular patterns and then I'd look like a real jerk.

Soon, I got to thinking, "where the hell are my eggs?" I gave them the benefit of the doubt for about another month but at this point I was buying chicken feed in 50 lb. sacks. Fifty pounds! It was the high-protein Starter mix and it cost $9.00, or about $3.00 more than regular feed.

I started to get pissed off at my lazy chickens. I bought them "surrogate eggs" if you can believe it. Fake eggs that are supposed to stimulate laying wherever you put them. I figured "stimulate", hell, I'll just show them the real deal, so I chased them around the yard with a frozen chicken completely naked. The chicken, that is; not me.

I had heard that weather can influence egg laying so I used that as an excuse to mention my egg laying problem to the cute little know-it-all smart-ass behind the counter at the feed store. Because I was buying starter she asked how old my birds were and I told her about 10 weeks. She gave me that your-an-idiot look I was getting used to and told me they start laying at 20 weeks.

I was obsessed! Week 20 was hell and I'm sure my behavior didn't help my nervous chickens at all. I had built nests of straw everywhere around my yard. It was like something out of a nightmare. I figured "one more nest, that's what they need!" So, of course, it was in a box of rags that I found the first egg. It was small, misshapen, and had two yolks! That little lady continued to lay double yolkers for months, each one bigger and more perfect than the last.

I had never had a fresh, free-ranged egg before and all I can say is I'll never buy store eggs again. The yolks of store eggs look sickly and yellow compared to the bright orange ones I was getting. How many eggs was I getting? Five or six a day. Rhode Island Reds are known as prolific layers. They lay brown eggs. Rock hens are another great laying breed and they lay white eggs. Do you know what a male Rock chicken is called? That's right: a Rock cock.

Speaking of roosters, chickens don't need one to lay eggs. That's right, no roosters. If I don't need one, I won't get one.

Life is tenacious. If you have chickens there is a great chance you will end up with a rooster. For me, it happened while I was looking at a horse to buy. I drove up to a farmhouse not far away and when I got out of the truck the strangest looking bird came running up to me, stuck out its chest, and belted out a loud cock-a-doodle-do. That bird cracked me up and I said so to the man that eventually sold me the horse.

Here is what I think happened: my chickens somehow made me convey to that rooster that they were alone. In turn, the rooster conveyed to his owner that he needed to be given to me because when that man delivered my horse, out came the rooster from the trailer. He said "I know you liked this guy, so here he is." To the best of my recollection, I never mentioned owning chickens to him, so just giving someone a rooster is a strange thing to do.

Never name your chickens. They come and go, and too many look too much alike, so when the man told me the name of the rooster was Rock-a-Doodle I laughed because you could not find a more apt name for this bird. It looked just like a punk rocker. Polish chickens have an outrageous mop of feathers on top of their heads. This one was a Polish variation called a Top Hat Special, and he was special all right.

Roosters are loud, funny, and aggressive. I could carry Rock-a-Doodle around like a football at night, but forget about doing that in the day. It seems I was sporting fun for him in the morning before feeding them all. Hell, I got to where I'd carry a trash lid with me to bash that little bastard in the head. They have short memories so I'd have to bash him quite often.

If he wasn't attacking me, he was trying to nail one of the hens. You don't know what sex drive is until you've seen a rooster. They say you should have one rooster for every ten or so hens and I'll testify.

You know how in the cartoons roosters are always portrayed as crowing when the sun comes up? Bullshit! Don't believe everything you see in cartoons. How about 3:00am? How about 3:00am, 3:01am, and 3:07am? How about whenever they want and often enough that you completely get used to it. My neighbors did too - eventually.

The neighbors minded less when I started giving them cartons of fresh eggs. The cartons are the problem now, since I don't buy eggs. My neighbors are good about bringing back the empty ones and of course they linger around long enough for me to fill them up again. My original six birds, those lovely ladies, were giving me 5 or 6 eggs a day and that adds up fast. Rhonda suggested we plop a sign out at the end of the driveway announcing a dozen eggs for $1.00, but I told her I didn't want a bunch of egg-eating freaks crawling all over my property for the sake of a buck. It's tough enough watching out for the neighbors.

How many eggs am I getting now? Today? Let me first tell you about some more BS that is being foisted upon us. At the beginning of this I mentioned buying a heat lamp and accessories to grow chickens. They (it's always 'they') also were pitching an incubator as required goods to successfully hatch your own birds. Again, a big hardy Bullshit! I have to work at NOT hatching chickens because all that is needed are some fertilized eggs and a chicken to sit on them. Things in great supply in my back yard.

The work to NOT hatch eggs involves finding them. Chickens are sneaky! They will start laying eggs in a well hidden place and once they have enough, they will start setting. Even if not hidden all that well, they lie perfectly still and, I believe, assume other shapes such as a can of paint.

The very inspiration for this story is because, for the second time now, the morning feed was enjoyed by eleven new chirping balls of fuzz. Eleven!

Besides the Reds, I have acquired the odd other chicken here and there, and I do mean odd. I don't know what these chicks are going to look like when they grow. One of my Frizzle hens was the one setting but that doesn't mean she's the one who layed them. They are very communal in that way.

The one thing I haven't done yet is cook up a chicken. Rhonda is against the idea on the grounds that they live on our property and therefore are part of the family. Me? I don't have anything against the idea on principle, I mean it's just like fishing, right?

Oddly enough, I always catch and release when fishing in the river behind my house.

Anybody want some chickens? Anybody want some eggs?

Message in a Bottle

The pictures below were taken by the inestimable Diane Arbus, and they had a powerful effect on me. I may be naive in saying this, but something tells me they wouldn't understand what has happened to this country today.

Are we losing America forever?

What does it even mean to be American anymore? What do we stand for? What can I do to help my country? I fear I am too late even asking.

The button simply says, "I'm proud".

Two devistatingly powerful smiles. They could have stopped the war.



I hope someone gets this message. If anyone asks, tell them that America was done in by zombies. In the end, there were just too many of them.


The other day, I read Howard Zinn's interview over at AlterNet in which he discusses the decline of the American empire. I normally like Howard and find him to be a compelling thinker, but this interview fell flat. It actually had an odd tone to it:

... if American foreign policy continues in the way it has been -- that is aggressive and violent and uncaring about the feelings and thoughts of other people -- then the influence of the United States is going to decline more and more.

We are not some bully that needs to knock it off; what we are is a seriously ill nation with a terminal prognosis. Besides uncaring of others, we are incapable of acting in our own best interest. Right now, all I hear is a wailing klaxon and the sound of an automated voice counting down the time to self-destruction.

In fairness to Zinn, the interview was originally given to Al Jazeera, so there is the possibillity he may have felt compelled to dial it back a notch..., but if that were the case, then maybe he should have written about that itself.

You may not like this essay, folks. I wrote it because Zinn didn't, and it cuts to what I think are the preemminent causes for the trajectory we find ourselves on. It doesn't have a very happy ending because frankly, I'm at a loss as to how these causes can be unwound by anything short of a violent convulsion. The America that I have been waiting to reclaim might not actually exist anymore.

I'm still pissed at myself for not reading Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation, yet it seems completely inappropriate to do so now. I wasn't alive during WWII, but that's not a requirement to pass judgement on America of then versus America of now. I was born into an already-great nation in 1963. Highways had always existed as far as I was concerned. Highways, cars, gas stations, and the electricity to pump the gas were all appearently God given.

Building something like the highway system today is unthinkable. I don't mean the physical construction of it, I mean getting everyone on the same page. About the best we can manage today is a fence along the Mexican border, and that happened mainly as a stupid political statement. It won't stop a terrorist, it won't stop illegal border crossings, and it doesn't even work as a fence very well.

We used to build anything. We used to do anything. It was competition not hegemony that made us put a flag on the moon in response to the Soviet Union putting an antenna named Sputnik into space. It didn't matter that the world could only be blown up once, if the Soviets had the capacity to do it 10,000 times, then we could do it 15,000 times. We didn't like steaming around continents, so we cut canals across entire countries to shorten the trip. We cured polio, we discovered DNA, we invented the transistor, we made our government embrace civil rights, and we tossed crooked presidents out on their ass.

We didn't have everything, though; we didn't have a government that micromanaged our fear. We didn't have daily colors to tell us if it was a good day or a bad day to die in a terrorist attack. We never realized we had a huge illegal immigrant problem that was inflicting untold economic damage on the country. We didn't know we might have restless leg syndrome. We didn't know voter fraud was appearently widespread in mostly impovished Democratic strongholds. We didn't know that gay people cause New Orleans to flood. We didn't know they hate us for our freedoms; we always assumed it was the napalm.

We certainly didn't know that George Orwell's 1984 was an instruction manual.

When the Soviet Union fell, we became that shining city on a hill. We were victorious! We were correct. We were truly enlightened, and thanks to us, we invented the Internet just in time for the long run of peace which would surely follow. The Internet was to be the great equalizer. The playing field would be leveled for everybody, and the free flow of information would allow reason to polish good ideas like pearls and the best among them would percolate to the surface to be realized with the great peace dividend that was due us. We couldn't wait to see what came next.

If you ignore the porn and the chain letters, you could argue that we did in fact start to attain enlightenment, but 9/11 interrupted our march up that hill. In fact, the political party currently in power has stopped the clock since 9/11. You need not look any further than the 2008 Republican National Convention for the shameful proof of that. I can't tell you how much I was looking forward to fleeing 2001. We have let events usurp whatever plans we had for the nation, and that is most deciedly un-American.

Consider this:

In 1939, the US unemployment rate was over 17% and it had a military budget of $1.3 billion. Over the next 5 years, this nation managed to crank up an enourmous industrial base that designed and built 15,000 ships, 100,000 aircraft, and 130,000 tanks, not to mention all the other vehicles and munitions needed for the war. We did this while fielding 16 million enlisted personel to fly, drive, shoot, save lives, and die in WWII.

It was definitely not the kind of war you could shop your way out of because it took the United States, England, and whatever other help that could be found in Europe, along with a massive Russian army fighting in unthinkably brutal conditions to defeat the Huns.

Parallel to fighting in two theatres, another project was going on in the US that involved the nation's best scientists and a supporting staff of 130,000 people. That project, of course, was the Manhatten Project. The Oak Ridge separation facility alone was consuming twice the electricity than all of New York City consumed just to separate enough material to make a couple of atomic bombs. All this work was being done from first principles and in secret. The US dropped two of those weapons on Japan and the resulting horror forced Japan to surrender, and thus ended WWII.

The United States stood like a freshly minted titan and set to task restoring the economies of entire continents. It took the lead in holding open and fair trials for all the world to see, and brought a degree of closure for many by winning conviction against war criminals. The world looked to us as the moral authority, and we took that roll serious.

It was easy to overlook the fact that the US stripped away the constitutional rights for a whole class of US citizens when it interred Japanese Americans; easy to overlook, that is, unless you happened to be a Japanese American. Roosevelt had his dark side and this was an exceptional thing for him to order considering there were no indications that Japanese Americans were any less patriotic than any other group. I think he genuinely hated the Japanese and that simple emotion spilled out to affect 100,000 people in the worst possible way - by stripped them of their rights and property and putting them in a box in their own country simply by association. Even in a democracy, a single man can upend the lives of many with just a careless wave of a pen.

Newspapers during WWII were politically incorrect at best, and racist screeds at worst. The enemy was often referred to in patently offensive terms. We were fighting little more than deranged monsters and cur dogs. The utility of fear and hatred was not lost on America even during the height of our righteousness.

Below is a masterful bit of advertising for fear.

Notice the dead dolly on the floor.
Do you think this is too polarizing? I wonder

how returning amputees felt about it...



Say what you want, but at least they had posters and acknowledged the war.

If the government had its warts, well, it was just a reflection of the people - what to you expect from a seed stock of criminals. We've not always been the quickest on the block either; the settlers forgot that In 1705, British Chief Justice Holt stated

: "as soon as a negro comes into England, he becomes free; one may be a villein in England, but not a slave".

They forgot it so thouroughly that it took another 150+ years and a brutal civil war to remember it. Civil wars are not just for abstract sub-human creatures that live in the Middle East.

There was a bit of irony between interring Japanese Americans and drafting men to fight the war; both actions removed the fundamental rights and free will of a large number of people. Their freedom and will was commandeered for the (percieved) collective good of the nation.

This is in stark contrast to the number of times the US has commandeered business and industry.

A disproportionate amount of the heavy lifting and sacrifice has always fallen on the people of America, and that weight is often carried without so much as a word. These are things we do for freedom, and for our country, and for our family, and for our friends, and for our neightbors. Sacrifice and giving is ingrained in us; we don't need to be reminded of it all the time, and I hate it when we feel we have to remind others of our past sacrifices too. It's tacky.

It is also profoundly troubling when the government enguages in discretionary warfare. The people pay a heavy burden in lives and treasure, while companies typically flourish. Will Exxon and Shell reimburse us for a portion of the $2 trillion dollars that we spent to arrange their oil contracts in Iraq?

It hurts when you find out fellow citizens such as General Electric ran a cartel from 1924 to 1939 to:

lower costs and decrease the life expectancy of light bulbs, while at the same time hiking prices without fear of competition.

or that  IBM collected profits on all the tabulation machines that Hitler used to keep track of prisoners and exterminations at the concentration camps.

These are just two examples from an untold number of instances where corporations conduct business in a way that is attendant to profits at the expense of society. There is a complete divorce from accountability in the minds of the CEO's who make the descisions. Their job is to raise shareholder value, they will say.

The harm that corporations do is not always premeditated; Bhopal India, Exxon Valdez, WR Grace, lead paint, DDT, asbestos, Vioxx, e-coli... the list is endless. People understand that accidents happen, but they also understand that consequences and accountability must happen too. Accidental or not, corporations can always be counted on to go to extraordinary lengths to deny having anything to do with a mountain of dead bodies or patch of scorched earth.

Corporations have been afforded the status of 'person' which puts the company on the hook for any wrongdoing even though the 'company' did not make any descisions. If I run over a child with my car, you can bet that it's not my car that is going to jail. In the case of the Bhopal disaster which killed upwards of 20,000 people, the CEO of Union Carbide, Warren Anderson, literally walked away and was declared a fugitive from justice in India until Greenpeace found him living in luxury in the Hamptons. When India found out, the US government refused to extradite him. Again, that is just one example; we don't even want to go near South American examples.

Far be it for me to stand in the path of progress; that is not the point I am trying to make. I like money just as much as the next person, unless the next person likes it enough to kill for. I also do not mean to impugn all companies as being immoral; one need only to look at the Mensch Of Malden Mills for a great example of corporate stewardship. How unfortunate that he was punished by the banks for his humanity.

Another thing borne after WWII was a codified international monetary system at Bretton Woods, NH. The world needed to be rebuilt and there was a need to establish monetary rules for this. It was here that the greenback was adopted as the fiat currency for the world. This was not a meeting of bankers hammering out financing for the reconstruction, it was a meeting dominated by economists who think about things such as the causes of war, trade imbalances, and depressions - or at least they used to. A macroeconomist lives in a brutally cold world of numbers and consequences. They are not moralists, and I want you to keep that in mind.

The results of that meeting was a tangible affirmation that the United States was not only the moral leader of the world, but also the economic leader as well. By default, America was accepted as benevolent; it obviously had to be, or else it would not stand as the leader.

America's dominance in world affairs gave rise to, or added prominence to many so-called think tanks, which examine all areas of policy. Many of these think tanks mixed public, economic, and military policy through various public and private commissions. Some didn't; some offered unsolicited advice based on studies they undertook themselves.

When smart people with similar views are put together in relative isolation to think about smart policy, their beliefs run the risk of suffering from groupthink along some dominant line of though. If a common ideology pre-exists among the group, then groupthink is intensified. When that group is composed of powerful and influential people who are not used to thinking they could be wrong and are not often second-guessed, then the product of groupthink can spill into policy.

Ideology is what allows someone to defend a bad idea even in the face of contrary evidence. It has a nasty tendency to reduce the problem space to black and white, and sometimes even into threat and non-threat. Bush's famous statement, "you're either with us, or against us", is an example of the former, and Cheney's 1-percent doctrine is an example of the latter.

Many think tanks either have economist fellows or draw on influential economists from outside. Economists use a tool, called rational choice theory, to predict how the average, rational individual will behave under certain circumstances. They use this model because it is so critically important to predict how people will respond to changes in the economy. Unfortunately, rational choice theory has been maladapted by policy wonks to pick the rational answer among several for a given question. The distinction is major because once ideology, or even willful deceit has reduced the question to black and white, the answer is often red – as in red herring.

The whole War on Terror concept is a red herring. Why stop there? Why not a War on Crime too? Or a War on Poverty? Or a War on Drugs? We land some helicopters in a far-away place, shoot a few people, and when someone else shoots at us, now we have terrorists. Now we can rip through the population and assert just enough authority to officially get away with dropping bombs on houses and wedding parties. Do you think it's possible that the decision to torture was the product of groupthink reduced by ideology to black and white? Let me rephrase that: have you ever in your life heard of an actual ticking bomb scenario? Could it be a red herring?

Like maximizing shareholder value, the rational choice scenario deflects accountability. How could we think about prosecuting someone trying to save us from a ticking bomb? Why, they should get medals – and probably will.

Milton Friedman is an important figure in the world of economics, and he has attained an ideological following that is pervasive within the libertarian and conservative community. His contributions to statistical analysis won him a Nobel medal and some of his economic models have proven to be quite accurate. What earned him love is his doctrine which asserts that the primary function of a corporation is to maximize wealth for its owners, and the only thing that prevents that is government interference. Friedman's position on corporate responsibility starts and ends at maximizing wealth for the owner while staying within the law of the country in which it operates. If it can be shown that giving to charity somehow increases the real wealth of the company, then it should do it, otherwise let the owner do with the profits as he or she see fit.

You can see how the dogmatic simplicity would appeal to a conservative, and I don't mean that as an insult, I just mean the fixed order and predictability.

Ronald Reagan was an eloquent speaker, so when he uttered the phrase, "greed is good", not everyone saw it for what it was - an uncharacteristically clumsy endorsement of Milton Friedman's economic doctrine. Actually, maybe it wasn't so clumsy after all. Economics is a very important topic inside the think tanks because all other policies are dependent on it. After a think tank has reduced Friedman down to black and white and filtered it through rational choice, what they were left with was the conclusion that a declaration of war on government was in order. Trickle-down economics was a good rational choice for a small government, even if you didn't make government smaller.

The funny thing is, Friedman started making money off his celebrity and once that happens, it's pretty hard to turn the bus around or even slow it down to explain that maybe he shouldn't be taken so literally. Here is Friedman's last interview before he died. What comes through is a content old man who has done his assigned job. He charted a path through the jagged, shifting icescape of macroeconomics, and he did so with the bitterly cold detachment and objectivity required from any scientific study. He was well aware of the messiness of the real world as is evidenced in the last exchange of his last interview:

NPQ | In the end, your ideas have triumphed over Marx and Keynes. Is this, then, the end of the road for economic thought? Is there anything more to say than free markets are the most efficient way to organize a society? Is it the "end of history," as Francis Fukuyama put it?

Friedman | Oh no. "Free markets" is a very general term. There are all sorts of problems that will emerge. Free markets work best when the transaction between two individuals affects only those individuals. But that isn’t the fact. The fact is that, most often, a transaction between you and me affects a third party. That is the source of all problems for government. That is the source of all pollution problems, of the inequality problem. There are some good economists like Gary Becker and Bob Lucas who are working on these issues. This reality ensures that the end of history will never come.

That is a definitive acknowledgement of the need for regulations. I just wanted to establish that before I get back to the think tanks.

Washington has a million think tanks, and they help keep the streets free of deranged ex-public servants. One think tank, Progress for a New American Century, or PNAC for short was formed in 1997 and was kind of like the American Enterprise Institute's bizarre little brother who tortures small animals. PNAC had one thing going for it, and that was a member named Jeb Bush.

Jeb had a brother named George who would be perfect to sit in the oval office while the members of PNAC formulated American policy. George had all the right qualifications: distinct lack of curiosity, corrupt, without conscience, etc, etc. Not only would PNAC members get choice jobs in government again, but their carefully crafted, ideologically driven, rationally chosen path to perpetual world domination would finally get a chance to bear fruit. PNAC members such as Elliott Abrams, William Bennett, Dick Cheney, Eliot Cohen, Scooter Libby, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, John Bolton, and Doug Feith all were installed into influential positions in George Bush's administration.

I have to say something real quick about Donald Rumsfeld. His wrongness is so total that had Alan Turing been aware of someone like Rumsfeld, he would have had to rethink his test for machine intelligence because even the smartest computer in the most distant future would identify him as some kind of wrong-answer-generating automaton. Be it a prepared speech or an on-the-spot interview, he can be counted on to deliver a rapid series of lies, some inferences drawn from no known form of logic, references to mysterious information, monumentally stupid assertions, and usually finishes up with a flourish of arrogant insults. As a civilian, here are a few things he did on the side:

• Member of the President's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control—Reagan Administration (1982–1986);

• Senior Advisor to President Reagan's Panel on Strategic Systems (1983–1984);

• President Reagan's Special Envoy to the Middle East (1983–1984);

• Member of the National Economic Commission (1988–1989);

• Chairman Emeritus, Defense Contractor, Carlyle Group (1989–2005);

• Chairman, Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (1998–1999);

• Member of the U.S. Trade Deficit Review Commission (1999–2000);

• Member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR);

• Chairman of the U.S. Commission to Assess National Security Space Management and Organization (2000);

All the members have similar backgrounds in economics, policy, and war. Economic globalization dovetails beautifully with PNAC's goals. They know that establishing a global hegemony will proceed faster riding an economic wavefront than by trying to cripple others economically. You can't fund yourself by bankrupting everybody else; you just need to assimilate their economies in yours.

The members of PNAC are extreme right-wing ideologues. If you look at the papers on the PNAC website, you will notice they all promote the idea of US expansion throughout the world by the perpetual use of military power. There is barely a mention of any diplomacy or even consideration of our allies. Here are some common traits among the members of PNAC:

• Most have no military service.

• Most have sat on the boards of weapons manufacturers and were members of other think tanks that advised weapons systems procurement for the government.

• Many have strong ties to Israel and Israeli lobbies.

• Many cut their teeth in the Nixon administration and learned very well the lesson of compartmentalization and covering one's tracks.

• All seem to be more than willing to lie to promote an interest.

• All are intolerant of insubordination or dissent.

• All obsessively micromanage.

• All hold favorable opinions of the unitary executive theory.

• All have expressed disdain for the media but use it to spread disinformation.

They live in an antiseptic world which they created for themselves. There is no such thing as erring on the side of caution, because there is no erring; reduced to black and white, all problems are simple, rational choices. It is simply inconceivable that things could go wrong. If they didn't like the information they were hearing, they would find someone who would tell them what they want to hear. In this antiseptic world, negotiating is not an option because it leads to unpredictability. Milton Friedman showed them the way; it is all predictable inside the think tank.

PNAC knew that a new world order world take some time and be difficult. In fact, in 2000 they said:

"the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event -- like a new Pearl Harbor."

Getting George Bush in office required finance and something else. The financing was not a problem because an oilman has lots of friends who would love to see him in office. Being a republican son of a republican president and ex-CIA head probably had the weapons manufacturers calling him before his campaign had a chance to beg themselves.

Money wasn't a problem, but the candidate was. You can't teach passion, or even compassion for that matter. What was George Bush passionate about? What did he stand for? What inspired him? Forget it.

There were no wars, and the economy wasn't in the tank. In fact, the government was even running a surplus, so there was one issue for Bush – he could be passionate about reducing taxes. About the only other thing the country faced was that it had a special prosecutor named Ken Starr who liked to publish pornography. That would be Bush's other populist issue – restore integrity to the White House, and that one resonated wonderfully throughout the conservative and religious communities.

Still, it was best not to take chances. If you don't have anything to offer the public, or don't really give a shit about governing anyway, then it's best to buy an insurance policy by staffing up with people who understand how to manipulate the public and who make no distinction between right and wrong. In fact, if you are not very good with issues then stay clear of them because they could get you embarrassed. What you need are good wedge issues to carve up the map and get just enough votes to win. You pit Americans against Americans. You play off people's fears. You even chose wildly irresponsible running mates if it will get you a block of votes. Most of all, you lie like a threadbare rug.

George Bush's good friend, Turdblossom – A.K.A. Karl Rove – was a Republican campaign consultant. Because he works exclusively for republicans, it is assumed he is a fiercely partisan republican, but it's actually hard to tell.  He is remarkably apolitical for a political consultant, but then again, Larry Bird didn't need to run, jump, or dribble to be a great basketball player. Karl Rove is just like an economist; he lives in a frozen world of numbers and consequences. Unlike an economist, who makes no judgment of morality when devising a predictive model, Rove is simply unconstrained by morality when synthesizing political strategy. It's not as much his wormy brain as his tireless legwork that makes him successful. Rove tries to leave nothing to chance. He has a bag full of dirty tricks and a head full of stats and traits, and he has a good instinct for matching one with the other. Standard fare is to take an opponent's asset and turn it into a liability: John McCain adopted a black child, so when he ran against George Bush in the 2000 primary, Rove started a rumor that McCain fathered a black child and still supported it. He only used that one down south, but it did the trick nicely there.

George Bush was the perfect storm against society. On the first day that he moved into the White House, he indulged in hubris and allowed Rove to start a rumor that the Clinton administration trashed the White House on the way out. There was no need for it; it was just a taste of what would become a habit of manufacturing reality.

With his cabinet stuffed to the rafters with binary-thinking, hard-right, PNAC ideologues, and with their prophetic, hypothetic catastrophe still in the future, the ideologues set out to their respected areas and systematically began dismantling or gutting all government agencies and services which related to public health,  welfare, education, and the environment. Bush pulled out of the Kyoto protocol, the ABM treaty with Russia, and the International Criminal Court. He also announced the Bar Association would no longer review federal judge selections.

These actions were relentlessly spun as smaller government, less spending, and a court system that better reflected the core values and beliefs of mainstream Americans. All this, of course, was pure bullshit; it was nothing less than power consolidation and alignment of interests not in the public good, but exclusively for the private sector. The government did not become smaller, it grew bigger and it spent more – just not on the public.

The spinning was relentless, and the cutting pernicious. The Clean Air act was to make the air less clean, and shutting down EPA libraries had nothing to do with hindering environmental research – it was all about saving that whopping $2 million dollars. By the time the government was finished rewriting the reports, the research would have been a waste of time anyway.

The Bush administration perverted Friedman's theory of less government regulation and actually employed the federal government as a tool to assist in private enterprise and to pursue an ideological agenda. The shares that We, The People, purchase when we pay our taxes vest us as the owners of the government. What Bush has done in his role of CEO is to sever ties with the board of directors (congress) and embark on a new corporate strategy altogether. As a result, Moody's and Fitch have downgraded us to junk status.

Friedman really should have thrown his Nobel over the White House fence.


I don't want to dwell on 9/11, and I certainly do not claim PNAC foresaw the event, but I will say that PNAC saw and wrote about the utility of "a new Pearl Harbor". 9/11 was a tragedy, but what followed was a disaster.

With the exception of a couple of programs, television did not do journalism; they only reported the news. As an economical substitute to journalism, television adopted a pundit debate format which let you decide if you believe the liar on the left, or the liar on the right. The all-news networks found it extremely profitable telling gullible people what they wanted to hear.

9/11 scared the hell out of everybody, and the government moved rapidly to take full advantage of the situation. People could not get enough news and the largest content provider was the government. Networks would do nothing to jeopardize their access to content, and as a result, we were beaten half to death with fascist tactics designed to whip up a patriotic fervor that had Chinese factories running day and night to keep up with US flag sales.

Honesty would not do. Honesty was punished, and opinions only came in one flavor. Iraq had to be perceived as an imminant threat to the entire population of the United States.

New departments were created within the government to manufacture the evidence to back up Cheney's repeated public lies about Iraq. Generals were fired who injected reality into Rumsfeld's antiseptic world where enemies flee before his invincible machines of death from land, air, sea, and space. Paul Wolfowitz emerged from his cocoon just long enough to tell us the war would only cost $3.50 and the only arms we would encounter would be hugs.

Because we were examining Iraq with a microscope looking for anything that could be interpreted as a weapon, it was no surprise that the weapon Powell showed us from satellite photos was the vial he help up to the camera and asked us to imagine it contained something awful. I don't know if it was a straw man or a red herring.

These colors don't run, and get busy shopping. We placed your wife in danger, Mr. Wilson, because of your attempts to expose our lies. If people are not doing anything wrong, then they shouldn't mind the government having a little peek to see if that is true. Don't you trust the government?

Well don't you, punk?

The war is going great, the economy is sound, and unless we need a dose of fear, the forecast is for sunshine and handjobs for as far as we can see into the future.

Torture is just a word for certain actions which, if forbidden, will result in your death from a ticking bomb. It is also needed to find out if there is a ticking bomb. The rules forbidding torture are as quaint as the constitution and are not applicable in the new ways of the world. It's not like the government is obsessed with torture and have high-level, secret meetings about it, and write legal opinions on it, and the fact that the same specific techniques of torture appeared simultaneously in Cuba and in Iraq are a complete coincidence. It's just a few rotten apples pulling pranks on a few dead-enders.

It's pretty hypocritical for us to condemn the government's use of torture when we as citizens are neck deep in the weapons trade. You are probably not even aware about how much you subsidize the weapons industry, so let's take a quick look: First, there is very little actual risk in designing a new weapon because it is almost a rule that the government will pay for the design up front. Once designed, the weapon manufacturer stands a good chance that the weapon will end up on display at trade shows around the world that the government pays to exhibit at. If it doesn't sell there, the government will give it a good word at the:

  • International Military Education & Training Program

  • Military-to-Military Contact Program

  • International Narcotics Control (and other counter-narcotics programs)

  • Anti-terrorism Assistance

  • International Criminal Justice (and other police training programs

Usually, weapons sales just walk in the front door. The weapon may be selected as part of an arms agreement with another nation, or the government might reward a country which behaves in ways we like with free weapons. If a conflict breaks out you can be sure the government will be there supplying one or both sides with weapons. There is even crazy talk about the CIA covertly funneling weapons to groups around the world to foment rebellion.

If the weapon manufacturer does happen to make a direct sale to another country, then there is a good chance that some side business in the form of offsets will develop too. Weapons offsets are potentially very costly, but it's hard to tell because they are not always done in full daylight. It is common practice for some country to demand concessions from the weapons manufacturer for the privilege of selling the weapons. The concessions are commonly equal in value to the weapons sale. What the other country wants can range from a promise to build a factory in the country to manufacture the weapons there (which siphons jobs away from the US), to arranging the purchase of some exported product (which might kill the sales of a domestic producer). All of this can be tricky business, and since weapons manufacturers' might not know anything about selling mangos, they can look for help in arranging the offset through:

  • American Countertrade Association

  • Defense Industry Offset Association

  • International Reciprocal Trade Association

  • National Association of Trade Exchanges

  • Corporate Barter Council

  • Investment Recovery Association

These non-profit, government-subsidized organizations will know just who to call in the government to orchestrate the offset trade. The government employs thousands of contractors for this.

Without even knowing it, you have been funding a huge vertical support structure to assist in the delivery of weapons to other countries with the manufacturer pulling in all the profits. Ironically, the successful use of these products tends to lower demand for other products that you might wish to sell.

If you think this is an exceptional set of circumstances, you would be very wrong. This is happening in virtually every field, and it didn't come about by accident. The government is infested with tics and leeches. We only see the engorged bodies of the lobbyists, but below the skin, the government is teeming with parasites.

A stupid president/CEO would see oil as a vital resource and conclude that a preemptive strategy at any expense was necessary to ensure access to the commodity. The CEO would conclude that the huge ongoing expense of maintaining access to it, even for 100 years, was worth it. It would never seriously consider finding an alternative method of obtaining the commodity, or an alternative to the commodity itself.

A smart president/CEO would entice the commodity into the market where it could use market forces to attain the best price for the commodity. A smart CEO also realizes the folly of relying on the consumption of a non-renewable resource, and that research into alternatives is needed, and that technology is the only thing that can manufacture wealth – anything else is just a zero-sum game.

One tribe hunts an animal to extinction, and the other tribe learns how to farm.

I can't even remember the last time the government asked us to save money, yet I hear plenty of calls to go shopping. I bore witness to the government borrowing money to send checks to everybody in the hope they all used it to shop with. I bore witness to the government refusing to assist children in medical coverage while it continued to fund a war of choice. The government right now is asking every man, woman, and child to give at least $2,300 to the same institutions that feast on the poor through predatory lending practices, and try to trick you into punitive fees for things they don't even want you to be aware of.

In one sense, Friedman had it exactly backwards; it is not government that interferes with business, it is business that interferes with government. Grover Norquist wants a government that he can drown in a bathtub, but I want a government that supplies the things which the free market will not. The free market has not provided a way for 49 million Americans to afford health insurance. The free market will not pay for a toxic spill or the possible outbreak of leukemia which follows. The free market does not promote conservation of anything. An unconstrained free market is pathological. It will feast on the weak to grow stronger. It would seek free resources, including labor. It is regulations and laws which saves the free market from itself. It is laws that cause timber companies to replant what they cut. The free market will throw anybody under the bus for a buck. The free market would scorch the earth if left unchecked.

We need to know that we are more than just profit centers for corporations.

The administration has made it so we can't even get an honest report from any agency without having to follow it back to its originator to find out what was gutted due to political pressure and coercion, and only then if we are lucky. All too often nobody can remember anything about anything and they are ready to quit and go work for a lobbyist anyway.

This is the Bush administration. It sees no problem using the Department of Justice as a tool to crush political opposition. It has staffed that department with people who refuse to cooperate in the normal checks and balances of government, and these people refuse to serve subpoenas to members of the executive branch who have been found in contempt for not cooperating in investigations of the politicization of the DOJ by the executive branch. It is an administration that has staffed every department dealing in public welfare with corporate stewards. It is an administration that does not honor laws and refuses oversight right to the point of destroying documents and records. Oversight poses a threat to the government. Dick Cheney shits himself at the thought of an inspector. I can say it is an objective fact that anyone who tries to hide between branches of the government should not be anywhere near government. If he wants to be a criminal, that's his personal choice; but get the hell out of leadership when you are doing it.

The same is true for Congress; none of them should be in leadership rolls. I like Obama and I will be voting for him, but he starts in a deep credibility hole simply on his despicable FISA vote. What is the business of Congress? Jesus Christ! FISA was about the lowest bar to jump over for doing the people's business. It was nothing more or less than voting to following the law or not, and they failed. Congress is an institution for of the criminally negligent.

None of this, though, is what makes me think we are not going to crawl out of the hole we dug for ourselves. Not without a sea change.

I'm of the opinion that a person cannot actually become more stupid. I think it was there all the time but had less opportunity to be expressed before 9/11. I'm not talking about basic cognition skills, I'm talking about knowledge. I am sure there is a direct relation between the quantity of a person's knowledge and the quality (or objective truth) to their knowledge. Expansive knowledge allows new information to be run through that many more filters before a judgment is made on its usefulness. I think plenty of people willfully skip the filtering process when new information clashes with pre-existing beliefs. These people are highly unlikely to mention the alternative information when expressing beliefs. It is the groupthink cycle where alternative options cease to exist.

John McCain mentions over and over that he is a maverick. He can do this because there is a romantic notion to the word; nobody likes to think of themselves as a conformist; it's much more exciting to be a maverick. The reality is that most people do not like to be ridiculed or scorned, or singled out in any negative way, and because of this, they tend toward conformity. Whores don't go to church – they pray at home.

"You are either with us, or against us," was probably Bush's most damaging statement. I contend that its cumulative effect was more frightening and caused more damage than the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Corporations were pissing themselves from fear of being labeled unpatriotic, and the administration used that power against everyone. There are basically 6 companies that control all the broadcast and print media. The fear index in broadcast media was particularly high. Any programming that could be perceived as unpatriotic ran the risk of destroying sponsorship. Questioning the administration was a sure way to get labeled unpatriotic and lose your revenue stream. In this mode, people absorbed a steady stream of one-sided bullshit until their brains began to bleed. Democratic politicians would melt into a puddle at the threat of being called unpatriotic, and self-identified republicans feasted on it. It emboldened them to make outrageous statements and it lured all the conformists into their poisonous den.

I am not sure the country has been this polarized since the civil war. The pundit wars on broadcast television established the new nature of dialog between liberals and conservatives, and the Internet amplified it. Sharp, short attacks on intelligence and character pass for dialog, and a clever turn of the phrase often substituted for logic. I should know; I'm a grand participant. This race to the bottom is so pervasive that it is now ingrained in marketing and media experts. The fact that John McCain chose Sarah Palin as his running mate is so obscenely disgusting, insulting, and dangerous, that it should earn him the label of terrorist. The problem is, a large number of people fully support it. Even after watching Palin emit random words that carried no discernable information content in response to a complete softball question lobbed underhand to her by Katie Couric, many people still think she is up to the job. Here is what her foreign policy consultant had to say about her proximity to Russia assertion:

"The point she was making is that the geographical location of Alaska has unique attributes. This doesn't happen to many states in the union," Biegun said. "Her point was that she's pretty up close to some of the big issues of international affairs."

This is what they are doing to America because they know that half the population need some excuse... any excuse to quiet their discomfort in aligning themselves with such an ass. I fantasize about meeting this Biegun person and vomiting all over him for 2008 seconds. It's just a marketing job to them. Marketing works. McDonald's could run graphic ads for a new menu item called McShit-on-a-Stick and 50% of the people would rush out to try it.

So here we are, weeks before the election and all of a sudden we are being blackmailed for a starting figure of $700 billion dollars. The people spoke on the first vote, so now the politicians are at it again, only this time they are adding a colossal insult to the package in the form of tax breaks. They hope Bush will accept this new legislation with tax breaks in it. Nothing in the bailout addresses the underlying problems in the economy, and attempting to reinflate the bubble will get the banks lending for 5 days. They will begin hoarding cash once again because the economy is still contracting and they don't trust each other any more than we trust them. So far, every failed or merged institution of late is under investigation for fraud and other crimes.

Everything about it is wrong, but it is part of the new pattern of inaction, unaccountability, and failure that we now specialize in. We have eliminated constructive social discourse. We have a thoroughly incompetent government incapable of making a correct decision and unwilling to legislate for a better standard of living. We have a media that has completely abdicated its responsibility to inform the public, and has done so for the cause of money. We are socializing all of the nation's excess that we only tangentially benefited from in the first place. Wages have fallen in real dollars, and we are ready to strap ourselves onto the inflation bus that is going to go over the cliff. We are a consumptive society which has already shipped its manufacturing jobs overseas, and is now in the process of shipping all of its technological prowess and leadership there as well. What the fuck good is being able to buy an $8.00 pair of work boots if there is no work and we don't have any money anyway?

Maybe the government will start sending work boots to us. I hope they don't make us stand in line for them.