The Urge to Buy…

Years ago someone painted graffiti on a tunnel wall near the University of Washington, “The Urge to Buy Terrorizes You.” I drove past that message frequently over a period of months, enough times that it etched into my memory and sensibility.

Of course, back then I was in my twenties and held to the notion that grander justice and social reform were possible. I thought that people were capable of noble change and that the world was evolving steadily forward towards something better. I embraced that the less you bought, the less you had and the less you defined your life by material things, the better off you and all would be. If I don’t hold so closely the optimistic view of the first set of convictions, I still hold to the second.

I don’t like the current human climate of the world. I especially dislike the constant barrage of materialism and shaping the culture around consumption. Though it may be somewhat instinctual for human’s to fortify themselves with stuff, I think that tendency is exploited by a corrupt and predatory culture that calls itself an economy acting to funnel wealth from the bottom to the top. Sadly, I also believe that this is an eternal force of human nature and that it will never change. Since I have injected the word belief into this small expression of opinion, I feel obliged to share another opinion about what I believe…

Over the past few years I have been weaning myself from the whole notion of belief. Every time I would hear myself say, “What I believe,” it would give me pause, because what I believe is of no consequence in the world, only how I act. And, what I’ve noticed as I’ve aged and perhaps magnified by the expanded role of media, information, and “communication,” is that we spend far too much energy examining, judging and confronting each other over matters of belief much to the detriment of civility and compassion.

Good, with that out-of-the-way I can return to my point.

It disappoints me that humans are so frail and easily manipulated. It pains me that buying and selling become the main thrust of a culture. It is eating us alive.

It reminds me of the play The Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. A man awakens one day into a world where he sees a rhinoceros. Steadily, the rhinos increase their numbers until one day, all there are is a civilization of rhinoceri.

We are so much more than consumers.

Chop Wood, Haul Water, Think About Genocide?


I’ve been splitting wood the past few days with a hydraulic splitter.

It’s a delightful task. With my ears plugged I reduce a massive pile of rounds into an equally massive pile of split wood suitable for our wood stoves.

For the most part it is piece by piece by piece by piece,

The repetition allows for contemplation about many things, from the ecology of grubs to the evolution of hardwoods, the differences between fir and oak, and though I resist, the ongoing calculations of how much time remaining to complete the job.  There is also abundant time to muse on my theories, the latest being challenged by a silly hat on a football player’s head.

I have a lot of theories about life and I don’t care if they are right or wrong. Caring would demand a standard of proof of which I have no desire. My theories  come free of charge and play no significant role in the world. Paraphrasing radio commercials selling Oregon Lottery Games, “My theories are for entertainment purposes only.”

I have a theory that human beings are hard-wired to form strategic alliances  and that in trilateral relationships (Three sides with you in the middle) generally form one ally and one enemy.
This holds for siblings,  sibling
neighbors, cities, states, and nations.

For example, the United States loves Canada but we’re not so sure about Mexico.


Check the border if you doubt it.   mexicobordercanadaborder




In Oregon we either hate Washington and love California, or the other way around (I’m sorry Idaho, I haven’t figured you into this yet).   France and Germany have a bit of history too, so do Serbia and Croatia

schadenfreudeThe complementary theory that goes with this is – you hate what and who you know more than who and what you don’t know. And it’s not just Schadenfreude (taking pleasure in the suffering of others). No, its serious business meaning that civil wars are far more bloody than foreign wars because the intimate knowledge and contempt you have for someone you know is greater than someone whose ideas you feel threatened by or whose resources you want. BUT, part of the hard wiring of this hatred is an instinctual competition for what your neighbor has and you want. In biological terminology, you are intraspecific competitors for the same resource in biological terms.

(Intraspecific competition is a particular form of competition in which members of the same species vie for the same resource in an ecosystem (e.g. food, light, nutrients, space). This contrasted with interspecific competition, in which different species compete.)

ckThis all leads to Colin Kaepernik, the quarterback for the San Francisco 49’rs who was at the center of a shit storm last month when he was photographed wearing another team’s hat, the Miami Dolphins.  For his part, Kaepernik said essentially, “It’s just a hat people” but that didn’t silence the debate about whether it is right for a player on one team to don the apparel of another.  True, this debate took place largely in the mind sucking world of sports talk but I have another theory that sports culture is the proving ground for mass culture.  The debate cooked down to those who felt he is free to wear whatever he wants versus those who felt that because he gets paid by the 49’rs he should only wear their apparel.  Even though I didn’t much care either way, it remained on my radar and a few weeks later I stopped by the offices of the University of Oregon Track and Field staff to say hi to two young friends of mine who work there.

I am a volunteer who bristles when we get directives about wearing Nike apparel, Nike being the main supporter and sponsor of UP Athletics. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the support of Nike for what they support, but I am old school, call me 60’s generation and I think that it shows no class to require this kind of loyalty, especially as I am a volunteer who works hundreds of unpaid hours to help run the track and field meets.

I digress. Years ago my father said that he thought corporate logos on apparel or cars or anything were silly, and that if someone wanted him to wear one they should pay him, just like any other advertising outlet for the privilege. I agree.  (I often imagine depositing a check for 100 thousand dollars a year in exchange for tattooing some corporate logo on my forehead like Michael Jordan (Gratuitous snarky slam).

Another digression.

I had a teaching student years ago who was about to graduate. She wasn’t the best teacher under the stars but she worked hard and cared a lot. She was also a Cheerleading coach and had been a cheerleader in college. One day, in an attempt to find a way to help her improve, I stopped by to watch her coach cheer.  Everything she lacked as a teacher:  confidence, command, and instinct was present in her cheer coaching. She was a passionate natural. I encouraged her to bring the whistle to science class the next day… Two months later she was about to graduate and a job at the rival university to hers came open for the best cheerleading coach position ion the state. She asked me if she should apply. With an eye for her bright future and to save thousands of students a less than ideal science teacher in the future, I offered an emphatic, “Yes! It is what you love and are great doing.  Hesitating she said, “But its the Beavers and I’m a Duck.  It took a little counseling before she lowered her resistance and applied, got the job and she’s still there.  I hope she’s happy.

The University of Oregon and Oregon State University rivalry is known as the Civil War.  For the most part it is a harmless and playful rivalry just like any other rivalry.  It makes for some very amusing contention, even within families, and most people have a healthy perspective about it.  But it isn’t the healthy balanced perspective that a demagogue can exploit by stoking artificial kinship bonds into pathological impulses that lead to genocide and war. Go Ducks!

beaversducksWhich brings us back to Colin Kapaernik and how the outcry against him wearing the Dolphin’s cap has a direct relation to genocide. Boom!  Because of all the above theories I believe that anything that divides humans into antagonistic units opens the door to the baser instincts of survival and violence, and that caring whether your quarterback wears another teams cap forges a separation that is perverted and begins to establish a cultural psyche that can lead to genocide. Boom!

When I asked my friends in the Athletic department about CK, one thought it was the same as someone in their Nike affiliated department wearing an Adidas garment.

adidasNike’s big rival and that It was at least a faux-pas in the world of sponsorship. The other thought it was CK’s choice what he wanted to wear in his free time, but agreed that it was stupid. Fair enough, and these are two people who I respect, but they are of a younger generation and in positions where a certain corporate loyalty is mandatory to their survival.  I had a few similar situations in my life but, being the committed contrarian that I am, usually refused to obey.  I think that if I found myself magically deposited into a utopia  I would find something to complain about.

Do I need to connect the dots?

CK wears the wrong cap, People who have had their ethos forged by profit driven corporate imperatives are predisposed to loyalties think that is wrong, A despot rides into the world and stokes the fires of hatred and division, The shooting starts.image

So much for hauling water and chopping wood.

No more genocide for a while.  I promise.

S.A.T. question? Dog, Hamster, Toaster, Cat…

This is installment one of The Culture Is A Lie Series…

Browsing the BBC news-site today, these were the headlines for news in North America. I’ll leave it to you to decide which one caught my attention. Honestly, I felt like I was taking the S.A.T and being asked to select which answer doesn’t belong.

Rallies in US over Zimmerman verdict
US journalist Helen Thomas dies
Legal battle over Detroit bankruptcy
US mob trial told of grisly killings
Farc offers to free ‘US veteran’
JAY Z changes spelling of his name. (THIS ONE)
Four men freed from Texas ‘dungeon’
SEC charges US hedge fund manager
Photos leaked of US ‘race bomber’
US air crash victim killed by truck
Kidnap case CIA agent ‘heads for US’

jzHow do you spell my name?

The Vultures of Doom

There are days when doom hovers like a flock of circling vultures.

vulturesDays filled with a bombardment of environmental woes, plane crashes, floods, tornadoes, shootings, genocides, pandemics, and people you never want to meet.


Dr. Jonas Salk, the creator of the first polio vaccine once was asked how he dealt with the news. His reply was directly drawn from his experience as a young physician making his morning rounds at the hospital. At the end of every patient’s bed was their chart, the first thing any doctor looks at because those were “the things that went wrong in the night.” He said the news isn’t even close to what was really going on, just what had broken down. Not only have I never had polio thanks to Dr. Salk, but I often use his wisdom as part of my apocalypse resisting forces.  salk

Countering doom is demanding. Meditation helps,  breathe breathe, yield impermanence “Is doom real, can you hold it in your hand?” Sports works also. Check the scores, check what Ichiro has done, run the numbers, look at the stats, weigh the basic moral equations associated with who is winning and who is losing. Good for a while but ultimately not a durable fix.

Movies can offer refuge, but have you noticed how many “SOCIALLY MEANINGFUL DRAMAS” there are?  Shit, watch one of those and you’re about ready to pull the f’n plug. God save me from any film that is “important.” Books are good, sort of, except that I am a writer so they often feel like I’m working while reading them.

Coping poses challenges. Comedy helps. I’ve been on Bill Hicks tear of late. Hicks was a poignant comedian who died in 1994 at age 32 of pancreatic cancer.  billhicksHicks skillfully eviscerated everything from wanna be rock stars to marketers and anyone else he saw as part of the grand con game from religion to children, “special children” even more so, and he could get on a roll with his explosive energy. Hicks was from Texas and had a deeply ironic friendship with the will of Satan, and man he could rip it. He expressed complete and utter disdain for anyone and anything whose sense of self-importance or significance was inflated. Last night I found a small bit titled, “It’s just a ride” (Link below). In tone and content it is a grand sense of Hick’s philosophy and soul, and it is the perfect antidote for my creeping sense of doom.

The Machines Are Winning

Every day I hear someone talking about their inability to keep up with technology.

In 1984 I was teaching teachers how to use desk top computers.  Both Apple and IBM had released their revolutionary desk tops and the paradigm shift was underway.

apple mac IBMOld schoolers, my father included, a PhD chemist at IBM’s prestigious Yorktown lab, did not know how to use a computer, though his semiconductor work was directly related to them.

Other old schoolers like the groups of teachers I was instructing, were doubtful of the new technology. I had one near-to-retirement teacher who came to the class with a magnificent hand written journal she kept to record four decades of rhododendron cultivation. handjournal She defiantly stated at the start of the class, “They tell me I need to put this on a computer but I don’t see why. “I responded that if I could keep a journal as beautifully as she did, I wouldn’t use a computer, adding, “You don’t need a computer:  it’s just a tool to serve you but if it doesn’t serve your needs, don’t use one.”

I also made a point of bringing a baseball batbbaseball bat to the classes and would hold it in my hands without saying anything until someone asked me why I had a baseball bat in my hands and I would say, “Always keep one of these by your computer so that you can remind it who’s in charge.” Which is all background to the point of this writing that technology is making us crazy and it’s okay, even healthy, to reject it.

At dinner tonight, we met a woman in her early sixties who told us about the problems she’s having with using her iPad. IPadITouchImac The pad was only her most recent acquisition, having gotten an iTouch, and iMac previously. She said that she just scheduled two appointments at the Apple Store to learn how to get her address book on to her devices. Then she said, that she recently learned that there was an on off button on the device that she didn’t know about, always thinking the front facing button that awakens it from sleep was the on off. She had no idea how to use these things though she still wanted to.

I told her two stories, the first about an older friend of mine who struggles with computers.  He told me that his father used a handwritten address book for his entire life which served him well.  And by the way, his father had inherited the book from his mother, thereby meaning the handwritten address book worked fine for over one hundred years ! AddressabookNo upgrades, no incompatibility issues, no built-in obsolescence to force you to by a new one. No, just a pencil and paper. Pencil and paper Works fine.

Story two was about when  my father retired from IBM.  He wanted to do some diary writing about his life, and he asked me what computer he should get to do so.  I told him that a pencil and a yellow legal pad LegalPadwas the best way to start, but perhaps realizing that the computer ship was leaving port without him, he impulsively ran out and bought a $2000 Macintosh computer, plopped it on his desk and then left it there ostensibly unused, completely without desire to figure out what the thing was all about. During one of my visits I taught him the basic operations of the machine, but it was abundantly clear that he was not comfortable with this new way of doing things, and further, he no longer had an interest in adapting to the basic demands of the computer world (see baseball bat above). Well, touché for that. My father’s wife was a bit more tenacious and did eventually learn to play solitaire on the Mac, making it one of the most expensive deck of cards in the history of the world. cards

My point? Despite its utility and joys, technology has become too dominant in our lives and it is making us crazy.  There’s a joke about the factory of the future being staffed by a man and a dog.  The man’s job is to feed the dog and the dog’s job is to bite the man if he touches any of the machines.  YIKES!  The incessant rapidly changing capabilities of technology are overwhelming us.  We try to “keep up” but keeping up isn’t even relevant anymore.  You can never catch up, you can only fall less further behind.  The technology companies today are no different from Thomas Edison Edison Lightbulbwho understood that he would never make money by producing light bulbs that don’t burn out.  Strategic obsolescence drives the business model of hardware and software companies. Minute by minute, day by day, week by week, “innovation” makes today’s must have gadget, tomorrow’s old piece of worthless crap, which is what our brains will be if it’s not too late to take the baseball bats out and remind the little electronic sons of bitches who’s in charge.

(Full disclosure, I started writing this piece on my iPhone, downloaded it to my desktop Mac, edited it using spell check and now I’ve posted it to my blog.  Goddamn dog just bit my friggin hand!  The machines are winning and we are the machines.)

Don’t Worry Baby

101-0163_IMGMike and I are the same age. We’ve known each other for twenty years.  Lately we’ve been playing music together.  We meet for a few hours with our guitars and swap songs. Mike is a fine guitar player.  He puts up with my limitations and in return I do most of the singing. Mike proposed a rule that we limit ourselves to one song per artist per session so we might avoid the seductive rabbit hole one can enter with artists like Joni Mitchell, Bruce Springsteen, Jackson Browne, or can Bob Dylan.  There are just too many great songs.




We have many songs residing in our collective memory. The other day I suggested we do Jackson Browne’s, Under the Falling Sky and then Mike brought out the Beach Boy’s, In My Room.

Because of the rule, I couldn’t suggest the Beach Boys’ Don’t Worry Baby, which continually blows my mind for its sweetness and harmony.  I dug it out on YouTube and when you hit the link below you will be rewarded. It’s one of my favorites and when you see the guys in their matching shirts and pants, hair neatly coiffed and their motions so reserved you may struggle to imagine what was so radical about music in the sixties. True the Beach Boys weren’t considered radical and maybe that’s why at the time even though I liked their music I didn’t identify with it. But I do now and as soon as I master the G#min7 chord we’ll be in business.


“Beach Boys Singing Don’t Worry Baby c. 1965”

johnandpaulA bit of a digression.  Some years ago I listened to Terry Gross conduct an interview with Paul McCartney after Paul had published a book of poems.  I’ve always been a John Lennon kind of guy first, but Paul is a genuinely impressive person.  He spoke about his father and childhood influences, about songwriting and poetry:  it was lovely.  Apparently there were some ground rules forbidding Terry to ask Beatles questions and Terry was admonished a few times by McCartney in a gentle way, but of course things moved in that direction anyway and Paul recounted how sad he and John were that the great jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman railed against their music when it came to America. The Beatles had idolized Goodman, as well as some of the great American songwriting duos, and they were surprised when the blow-back came from people they admired.bennygoodman

tgrossBenny found the music too threatening, whatever that means, and somewhat ironic considering Benny made his name in a musical form that owed its vitality to musical origins mainstream America wanted no part of at one time. When I play Her Majesty’s a Pretty Nice Girl or When I’m Sixty-Four I try to channel the revolutionary zeal that made it so threatening.

But, Mike and I can only do one each session so I better choose carefully.

XXX Peace.


I cannot describe the sadness over the loss of the nineteen firefighters in Arizona. Anyone who has worked with fire whether for a single season as I did decades ago or for years as do the Hotshots, understands the capricious nature of fire. These men were proud, skilled, competent, brave, and selfless. I admire them, I cry for them and those who loved them and are now struggling to deal with this tragedy. Think about for a minute, please think about it for a minute. RESPECT!