Monday, September 26, 2011


I have to confess: I'm a big fan of Fox. Twentieth Century Fox, that is. Three of my all-time favorite TV shows and countless movies come from there. I've been revisiting two of those shows recently, and as before they are terribly addictive. The lead character in The X-Files is named Fox, and the TVs in 24 often show Fox News as background.

Speaking of which... I hate Fox News. I hate it, not so much because it's a mouthpiece for the crazy wing of the right wing of the political “right,” but because it dares to call itself “news” when it clearly isn't. What's obvious to me now is that Fox News is really just entertainment masquerading as news. As entertainment, it's not bad at all: the actors are pretty good at what they do; heck, they routinely fool a huge number of people into thinking they do real news.

The addiction to honest entertainment has helped reduce stress enough so that the nerves around my herniated disc have finally healed. The bizarrely improbable exploits of Fox, Dana, Jack, and Chloe have allowed me to focus on work – which itself improbably assumes a scientifically and technologically advanced future – and helped cast the increasingly scary stories about climate change as something akin to an elaborate X-Files plot, which I can emotionally deal with in the same way.

If I don't think too hard, I can be almost convinced that the world is just hitting a little bump in the road, and all will be back to normal if we can just get business out of government. By the way, I've noticed that people on the right conveniently forget to call business in government by its rightful name: “corruption.” They also easily ignore the fact that businessmen-run-amok are the ultimate villains in 24, which they like for its us-versus-them plots.

While I remain convinced that the unfettered pursuit of personal power is the major contributor to the ills our planet faces, I'm under no illusion that ignorance of reality and understanding of the way the world really works aren't a close second. That's why I've been gradually reopening my eyes, which has included reading two books, “Our Dying Planet” by Peter Sale, and “Introduction to Permaculture” by Bill Mollison, the first dealing with the problem that pushed me toward what my culture considers normal, and the second dealing with one potential solution to that problem.

I'm only a few hours away from concluding the last season of 24, while in the real world I've been replacing critical stuff that's worn out over the years that I tried to get maximum wear out of everything I owned. I'm making progress on my novel, which is a good middle ground between dealing with fiction and reality – by using the fiction as I believe it should be used, as a simulation that illustrates an understanding of how the world works, and a mental exploration of how it might work or should work. I'll soon be “defoxified,” and once more, as Jack Bauer would say, “in the game.”

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Memories of 9/11

On September 11, 2001, I was still living in Windsor, Colorado, where my father had died nine years earlier in a futile attempt to change the way kids are educated. I was commuting in a van pool to Westminster, a suburb of Denver, where I would soon move to be closer to my job as a technical writer at Avaya.

I was listening to the car radio while driving to the Windsor Park N'Ride soon after the first plane hit. The first reports said that a small plane had accidentally hit the World Trade Center. During the time that it took to get to Avaya, the second plane crashed, and it was clear that both crashes were part of a coordinated attack.

The company had invited everyone into its large auditorium to watch the unfolding events on a large screen TV. While there, we learned of the Pennsylvania crash, saw the World Trade Center towers collapse, and watched the aftermath of the Pentagon crash. I was sitting next to my boss, whose brother was working near the section hit at the Pentagon.

Realizing that no one would be productive after that, the company sent us all home. The most direct evidence of what had just happened was the silence above us as all air traffic was grounded; it was the first time in my life that something wasn't flying overhead. When I got home, I obsessively watched the news, which would become a habit for years afterwards, and processed what had happened with my friends and family.

There was no doubt that the attacks were pure evil. That someone would plan the execution of thousands of people was unfathomable; that they would actually do it was reprehensible in the extreme. At the time, I didn't know that the perpetrators had declared war on us, that our government knew such attacks could happen, or that there was a part of the world that viewed us as a mortal cultural and economic threat. When it came out that the hijackers believed they were on a holy mission that would be rewarded with sex in heaven, it became clear that faith was the enabler of this evil, the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, and as such it might be practically unstoppable.

Practically everyone I knew became a lot more cautious, and paranoia seemed to grip the country. We were encouraged to report any suspicious activity, but not informed what that might be. I saw a photo in Newsweek soon after we invaded Afghanistan, of someone who looked a lot like Osama bin Laden, and was surprised that he wasn't identified as such; dutifully, I sent an e-mail to the FBI about it, and never got a response.

By 2003, after numerous terror alerts, the level of paranoia was still high enough for most people to support the invasion of Iraq, despite shaky evidence. I'm proud to say that I wasn't one of them; in fact, by that time I had come to distrust both the judgment and veracity of the Bush administration, and found the cost-benefit analyses I was hearing totally unconvincing.

That opinion was reinforced in the intervening years, and it became clear to me that people like Bush were using threats and disaster for pure political and economic gain, sabotaging the Constitution, destroying anyone who got in their way, and therefore making them a greater threat than the enemies who attacked us on 9/11. Unwilling to just complain, I became politically involved in ensuring that such people never held such power again.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Stress and Consequences

My back and arm pain returned shortly after I wrote that it was gone, and is intermittent no matter what exercises I do. The main variable affecting it appears to be my state of mind, or rather, my state of emotions. In addition to my persistent worry about the future of the world, the stress of fighting for survival during the daily commute seems to have a huge impact.

As planned, I've spent more time focusing on solutions than problems. I'm learning more about permaculture, along with my local natural “substrate” that includes ecology and geology. Some of this research is being used in “Visitors,” the sequel to my novel “Lights Out,” which helps keep my fun writing skills up as well.

I'm also looking at further personal improvement. For example, I took a “StrengthsFinder” test to find out what my natural capabilities are. Not surprisingly, my top strengths are: Strategic, Learner, Intellection, Responsibility, and Ideation. Basically, I'm a curious, responsible thinker who loves ideas and strategic planning. During the more frequent pain-free periods, I'm considering how to use those strengths in a more satisfying way.

The news has not helped in my quest to reduce stress. It seems that every day, more bad news comes out on the climate front. We're a lot closer to the edge of irreversible devastation than people thought just a few years ago; the Siberian permafrost will likely melt, unleashing a huge amount of methane, and the Arctic will almost certainly be ice free in a few years. Historic heat waves, wildfires, floods, and freak weather are all pointing toward a future where disaster is the norm. Meanwhile, politicians and business leaders appear to be focusing on raping and pillaging the planet while they still can; all for fun, profit, and personal power.

I'm lucky to have a job, but I don't know how long it will last. In addition to the financial benefits and being able to work with genuinely good people, I can for hours briefly forget my deep misgivings about the overall future of electronics and health care, and focus on tasks that may do some good in the short term. After hours, however, when I poke my head up to see what's going on in the rest of the world, my fears return – along with the pain.

I know that my current life is like the proverbial “calm before the storm.” The basic outline of how to avoid the storm is pretty clear, yet I'm still struggling with how to implement it. The best I've come up with so far is to follow the script of my poem “Deathstoppers.” My writing has become more caustic, both out of frustration and because accountability for what's happening may be among the best tools to pull us out of the indifferent death spiral we're in. As President Obama is now discovering in response to his recent, powerful jobs speech, the best way to deal with bullies, especially stupid ones, is to stand up to them. And we've got some world-class sociopathic idiots driving us toward oblivion right now.