Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Real Men

A long day at work. Then running with my dog—in the dark, to avoid the deer hunters. I stop at the corner store to fill my tank, down to ¼.

Snowing. A slushy mix. Wind. I’m cold, but I’ll only be outside of the car’s warmth for a few minutes. I pick up the pump handle and raise the lever.

I wait the few annoying moments for the store staff to notice. Then it starts. Sort of. The lousy 7 gallons or so I’ll need to top the tank are going to take forever at this rate. I watch the meter. 1.208. 1.229. 1.374. Sigh.

I’m pissed. I’m cold, tired, and want to go home, eat dinner, get some rest. I consider just stopping the pump, paying and leaving, but my brain argues that I’d just have to stop somewhere else tomorrow. I sigh again and make an effort to just relax. I pump and wait. Hand squeezing the nozzle handle, I look around.

I notice a man near the kerosene pump with a small boy, four years old, perhaps? They’re dressed similarly: dirty jeans, flannel shirts, jackets—and clean, new, bright orange knit hats. I pump. They pump—or rather Dad pumps, while Junior sits on the steps, patiently, clearly tired. They go inside to pay.

I watch the meter. 4.379. 4.820. 5.358. Sigh. Shiver.

Dad and Child walk out, hand in hand. Dad wraps an arm around Son, lifting him to his shoulder in his left arm, then reaching down for the full five gallon container of kerosene with his right hand. He staggers a bit (I can tell you—those full containers are heavy!), steadies himself, and starts his walk, 60 feet or so, to the pickup truck.

Then he spits.

Straight ahead. Confidently. Into the light breeze, the wad arcing in the light it catches in a smooth, neat parabola. He doesn’t bow his head even the slightest bit.

I glance back a bit later. He’s leaning on the truck bed, seeming tired, but now he’s in a darker spot, and my pump is nearing the 7 gallon mark.

Real men.
Real spit.
Real kids.
Real cold.

[Note to production crew—cue up soundtrack to Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” Focus on Gaston’s song (“I’m especially good at expectorating” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating”) and his dialogue with Belle early in the film (“We’ll have twelve strapping boys—like me!”)]


Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wiki World

A “wiki” is a collaborative website—it allows users to add and edit content.

In many ways, this is a wonderful development, one yet to be understood. Researchers have explored and are exploring how “group think” can yield better results than individuals. The idea is old—Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of the market place, for example, presented similar claims. However, Smith’s model demanded perfect knowledge for all players, an ideal not likely realized. “Group think,” however, starts with the notion that even “primitive” creatures, like ants and bees, possess the ability to make collective decisions far beyond the ability of any individual insect, and that yes, humans also can exhibit this potential. Management theory, organizational behavior studies and more all offer similar accounts of the phenomenon.

“Wiki” is also Hawaiian for “quick,” though, and I fear that’s the main attraction.

I visit a couple of discussion boards regularly. One of them, a Gorean board, frequently gets versions of the same question over and over—What is Gor? (or various attacks on Gor). The board has a search function, as members repeatedly note, but this is too much trouble for many users. Some do try, and then complain that they couldn’t immediately get the answers they sought. Not wiki enough.

A few even claim to be well versed while admitting they’ve never read a Gor novel—kinda like the student who reads e-notes instead of the novel and then bitches the teacher doesn’t appreciate student “work.” Even better—the student who raises a hand in class and says, “Well, I didn’t read it, but I think the character meant that…”

On a blogging board, one member asked how fellow bloggers conduct research. The answers were sad—most said they don’t research at all, and those who did, relied on other bloggers (who, apparently, didn’t research either). Easy, but isn’t that just gossip? Several of those bloggers want to be serious writers—yet have missed that publication after publication stresses that they seek “well-researched” pieces. Not wiki.

I asked a class experimenting with blogs which ones presented the best writing. “The short ones!” insisted a few students. So Harry Potter would be better if just a few paragraphs?

They don’t even “wiki” well—I have to show them how to use Google to narrow searches, how to search for blogs, how to find out how to add advertising to their blogs, even though these links all appear on Google’s home page, the first place they go for information.

Another class, struggling with interpreting an assigned article in group sessions, clearly dragged its collective feet, finally admitting, “We’re just waiting for you to step in and make it all right.” Apparently, I have all the answers?

But that is what many people want. Problems abroad? Bomb ‘em. Economic woes? Just cut taxes (why don’t we eliminate them—then the government can magically fund itself with no money!). Hey, why even have government? Surely we don’t need those annoying police, firemen, road crews…

And on it goes, while people vote for politicians whose positions contradict their own, just because someone fed them the right line, pushed the right button, making it all easy. Reagan’s “shining city on a hill.”

Wiki World.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Finally, Skiing!

Well, I finally got to ski again.

Last night, as I was walking my dog, my first thought was “Hmmm….looks like almost enough to ski on,” followed by, “Great…and tomorrow’s the first day of deer season.”

Nonetheless, after considering the snowfall around my home this morning, I decided to go for it. I loaded up the skis, poles and boots, called my dog, and off we went to the wildlife preserve (to avoid hunters).

Not great skiing by any means—3-6 inches, but wet, heavy, just clumping up. Still, I was hungry enough for skiing that I didn’t care, so on I trudged.

Yes, trudged. Although I run in the off-season, getting back to skiing always abruptly reminds me that skiing using a different set of muscles. At least I got to give them a bit of a work-out. I’ll pay for it tomorrow, I’m sure.

Something wanted badly that isn’t going well, but worth still pursuing. Has a familiar ring.


Sunday, November 11, 2007

Two Images

While I frantically struggle to get back on my feet (and get back to constructing longer, more frequent and thoughtful posts), let me share two very different pictures.

A week or so ago, I turned onto the dirt road that leads to the state land trails Shanti and I walk/run/ski generally every day. This Saturday morning, however, I faced around three dozen people, ages about 30-60, walking along, blocking the road. Some went to one side, sort of, some to the other side, sort of, and others just looked, then returned to their cell phones or other "business," remaining in the middle of the road, completely uncaring that they were blocking access. I drove slowly, and I'm glad I did, as another walker stepped immediately in front of my car.


Two days ago, on my way to work, I saw a deer bounding across a field--not at all unusually (I see this several times daily). This time, however, I saw what at first I thought was a dog, then realized was a coyote. Our would-be preditor had no chance of catching the deer, and clearly was already tired from trying, but still, an interesting picture.


Tuesday, November 6, 2007

What I like about this political season

Sure, we have states fighting over one another to be first to have primaries, along with push-back from national parties, and yeah, we probably should stop pretending this is still the 18th century and institute national primaries. However, I like what I'm seeing.

What I see is both major political parties sorting out wide fields of arguably talented candidates. Messy? Sure. Goes with democracy, though, doesn't it? Kinda the point.

I'm not so wild about their lemming-like rush to bash each other rather than highlight their strengths--but one step at a time.