Wednesday, July 30, 2008

In the Sandbox

I am bored. Stiff. To tears. To death.

At the beginning of this campaign season – yeah, way back then – I was excited, hopeful, in full, blooming, optimistic splendor. Yes, the country had its head in the crapper; we were at war with everyone on some front (including ourselves); the economy was tilting, if not yet teetering; and, society hardly deserved the word. Even nature had rebelled against our tender mercies. We were a nation divided, and sunk in the kind of funk that only the abused can truly feel.

But, something glowed down that dark tunnel. The end of the current administration drew nigh. Even they were not bold enough to try to extend their power beyond constitutional boundaries. Would they? Naw – change was certain.

So, a slew of candidates paraded before us, polite, prepared, and well-behaved. If their staffs were hopeful, and their accountants nervous, that was all part of the early play. It was the message that mattered, and all were wedded to it, because little invested meant little to lose. Then the media helped to thin the herd, turning their cameras and microphones toward the brightest, most interesting, and determining who was viable in their own (smoke-free) backrooms. After that, we jumped into the sandbox, and the play became rough.

He said, she said. Hey – he hit me! That’s my bucket! No, it’s my turn! Why does he get more candy? You like him better! They said they’d be nice, but they’re being mean to me. Mom! You don’t like me because I’m black/I’m a woman/I’m old/I’m crazy. He’s too little! She’s a meanie! He’s stoopid – with two O’s! Mom! I’m not playing with you anymore; I’m playing with him! He’s not your friend; he plays with them! I’m not like him! Yes you are! You don’t know what you’re talking about! Oh – you think you’re so popular! You’re just a snob! You’re such a Britney! At least I’m not a Paris! Liar! Oh, will you just shut up! Get outta my sandbox! Mom!

On and on … until I’m stricken with sandbox fatigue. Dear God ...

UP NEXT: Meet me on the playground at 3 o’clock, if you know what’s good for you.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Goose Herds

When I left work tonight, I ran into HERDS of geese on the lawn. A man exiting the building after me, told me that I should try photos at mid-day, when the geese play in the fountain (OK, Rebecca, so maybe trespassing in that fountain in the name of rebellion is not worth the undiagnosed, resistant-to-modern-medicine diseases lurking in the depths. Seems like it should be). Then, another exited, and said, “You know, they’re just rats. Why don’t you take a photo of me hitting them with my car?” I thought it was the pigeons that were rats, not the geese. Aren’t they the harbingers of the equinoxes, gliding the skies in orderly majesty? “No, they’re rats.”

I could wax indignant about how we have caused this conflict. How we build the cities, the housing developments, and office parks, in a quest to fill the space between horizons. How we mow over the habitats of deer and goose, pigeon and hawk, and rue their adaptive qualities (Oh, why won’t they just stop munching on my shrubbery and fouling my fountains and molesting my garbage and spattering my sidewalk, and just go awayyy?). I could point out that we could just leaving a piece of ground and sky for them to run and soar, and it really wouldn’t cost us much, nor greatly delay our march toward dominion. But, I guess you know all that.

“Ummm … dudes? There’s a pond right over there.”

“Yeah, but it’s got goose poo in it.”

Who are we? Consumer or steward? Caretaker or developer? Cooperative or competitor? Can we be both, or would we fail, trying to walk the in-between? We better figure it out. Else, one day soon, we may find ourselves gazing out upon a stark and empty landscape, eating our tuna sandwiches on the patio, and wondering where the life went.

I must mention that the two men are really great guys (you’re not reading this are you?). I’d post their pictures, but they’re officers, and I’d be fired, and wouldn’t be able to pay for my internet connection (Damn, Comcast and their mercenary ways), and thus would follow the demise of this blog.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Goose Poo Fountain

I know, I know. Again with the fountains. But, something else annoys me today. Here is a fountain in the Great Valley Corporate Center, and someone found it necessary to place a No Trespassing sign by it. Now, I don’t know about your Corporate Centers, but ours are great swathes of inert space, where nothing untoward ever occurs. We drive through the area from meeting to meeting, park legally and enter the building in an orderly fashion. We eat in designated areas, and walk/run/bike in the proper lanes. We pride ourselves on being a well-behaved bunch, and certainly not “fountain jumpers”.

I suppose it’s possible that someone may have become accidentally intoxicated at one of the many happy hours provided strictly for stress-reduction purposes. Hours later, said unfortunate may have staggered from the bar, weaved across the parking lot, clamored into the (suddenly) inviting fountain, and promptly suffocated on goose poo. Since our hives of commerce fall deathly silent after 7 PM, the body would have floated until morning. In the face of such tragedy, there would have been a Law Enforcement/Security/Disaster Recovery Joint Task Force investigation, the requisite Legal Review, and a certified Risk Mitigation study, all culminating in a decision to plant that sign.

Yesterday, I read an article that related the lenient treatment of the homeless in Philadelphia, as compared to other cities. In other towns, fines are assessed for feeding the homeless, in an effort to clear the parks. The Police arrest the homeless for “camping out,” and chase them doggedly in a bizarre wee-hour game of musical park benches. But here in Philadelphia, as long as the people have moved along by morning, we look the other way. All this leniency has cultivated an atmosphere where the homeless sleep, unmolested in ritzy Rittenhouse Square, and do not simply trespass in the fountains, but bathe in them. Life is good. Not as good as more shelters, and social safety net programs, but I ask too much.

Goose poo aside, if the economy continues to slide, we may need more signs.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Blue Summer's Eve

There’s this point in summer when the rains come, and the heat loosens it grip for a moment. If all is quiet, you might hear something click. It's a marker for a subtle change, hard to notice in the rush to shore and mountain. But, sooner or later, you feel a slow drifting, as if the year has crested a hilltop, and is coasting down the lower valley.

The anticipation of June – realized or not – begins to give way. The magic that filled the air in mid-summer, blinks like the last fireflies. The nights are overheated, but the shadows are somehow deeper. The sun is still on fire, but its light begins to cant, as if to say, “This, and not much more, girl.”

I catch myself searching for that first scent of decaying leaves, that first crisp night, not sure if I want to embrace it or forestall it. So little play behind, and so much work ahead. Did I waste this summertime on too much labor and not enough love? Too much voice and not enough thought? Too much movement and too little dance? And, should I really be peering down the road to autumn when a part of summer remains undiscovered?

Tomorrow, the sun rises to release this blue evening, one more time … one more time … one more time … then done.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Standing Ground

When did we become sheep?

I remember a time when we stood up for ourselves. Whether it was a fight in the school yard, an argument in class, a ball game, a board game, a poker game, we played to win. Most of us competed without rancor or cheating, and few tried to actually drive their opponents into the ground, but we weren’t going for a tie. We were going for the trophy. Adults left us to play, to fight, and settle our differences (provided no one lost an eye or limb), and, generally, we settled our differences to play another day.

Then dawned the gentle times. We came to believe that the very act of losing bred low self-esteem, and was, by definition, abhorrent. The games weren’t about competition. They were about camaraderie and team-building. Everyone was valuable; therefore, everyone was a winner. Trophies for Most Valuable Player were replaced with “Most Improved”, “Tries Hardest, and “Loudest Cheerer”. Fighting was never tolerated, and differences were settled quietly – or not at all. Tied games became the very best outcome, until we did away with scoring all together. We forgot that competition held value, and it was the pursuit that made excellence possible. Victory became a dirty word in some circles: too raw, too distasteful, too barbaric.

Obviously, not everyone has converted. For every soccer mom, there is a corporate raider. For every non-partisan cheer-leader, there is a king of cronyism. For every person who turns the other cheek, there is another willing to raise a .45 to his face. We have always had nations of sheep and wolves, but the borders have become wilder. The sheep band together, dreaming of peace and quiet, while the wolves prowl the perimeter, picking off the weak. The sheep wish for fairness, while the wolves leverage advantage. The sheep cry foul, begging to be left alone, while the wolves dine heartily on mutton and lamb chops.

And now, it appears that the sheep are losing the capacity to rise up and fight off the wolves. They have forgotten that peace and prosperity must be defended. They have forgotten that sheep that fail to stand up, raise voice in protest, and raise arms against aggression, find the wolves streaming quietly from the shadows, unhindered. Without warning, the sheep nation is under attack, invaded, disenfranchised, evicted, powerless, bereft and draw into conflicts they would have rejected, had they only the mettle to stand up.

Not only must we stand up, but we must band together (strength in numbers). We must remember how to play rough-and-tumble, and to enjoy the muddy wins. All the relationship-strengthening gentle conversations, consensus and compromises fail when we are unable to raise our voices, declare our ambitions, and then stand our ground when the wolves come.

Because, the wolves will not be turned aside gently.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Angels on the Atlantic

Blessings to Vince and Jeanie Hubach of Ocean City, NJ who have sponsored trips to the shore for 3000 - yes, 3000 - inner-city kids each summer for the past three years. Some have never seen the ocean before, and you can imagine their joy.

Vince Hubach has a T-Shirt that reads: "The cure for anything is saltwater: sweat, tears or the sea."
There's a special place in heaven for anyone who pays it forward like the Hubachs.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Flowers for Lori

STILL practicing with my new camera ...

Lori from the The Skoog Farm Journal always posts beautiful flowers that lift the soul, so I thought I'd return the favor. OK, so they were not at my farm, because I don't have a farm. They were at work. In the lobby. By the odd fountain. It's the effort that ...

Did I mention the odd fountain?

I'd say this is our corporate mascot, but I'd be lying (sigh).

And, then there’s the outdoor fountain.

Looking at all this water on a hot, humid day, I started to think about the moist East, the dry West, and the rest of the world. They say water will be the next oil, and I believe them. In the East, our water competition is nothing close to that occurring in the west. There has a strain on teh water supply in some areas of the East (due to over-building), but usually, we only think about water during a drought. Lawns and gardens, dirty cars, and pools suffer, and we survive. In the west, we conserve out of necessity, have serious water-wars, and (as usual) it’s the rich vs. the poor. And, the winner is …

In a growing number of nations, however, water is not an easy resource like wind and sky; it’s a problem. Supplies are insufficient, polluted or difficult to access. Illness spreads. Children suffer. Factions fight. Women trudge too far, every single day, in the hot summer heat, or they thirst. There ae no taps, no water companies, no reservoirs to rely on and complain about. Water is power. Water is life.

And, here we have fountains, beautiful, meditation-friendly, soundscapes. Jump in and chase the geese fountains. Dance at midnight on the Parkway fountains. I love fountains. But, looking at these fountains, I just felt a bit over-blessed.

And, that, too, is life.

We just need to spread the blessings around a little more.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Smells like a Pageant

Color me a conspiracy theorist, a paranoid, a fanciful fairy in a pink dress and tiara, dancing beyond the rim of reality, but is this crazy campaign season starting to look more and more like a pageant? You know, those elaborately rehearsed rituals, where everyone goes through their paces as if the steps were painted on the floor? Where the proceedings are both implausible and sacrosanct, and the conclusion is determined long before the first character steps upon the stage? Yeah, like that.

Oh, I know - the pageant has been playing forever and ever, and it’s the power-brokers who write the script, but suddenly it seems much more obvious, as if the man behind the curtain hired a publicist. Too many people are acting unaccountably strange in the public forum. Too many people have uttered head-smack-worthy things that are curiously well received (it’s a wonder they can keep a straight face, I think naively). Too many events have fallen neatly into place, forming a picture that never should have existed on this plane. Public figures are behaving erratically, and putting forth thought-strings so bizarre, that I cannot fathom how they ever rose to prominence. Can they really aspire to greater power acting like this? More importantly, can the king-makers actually watch, smile and applaud?

A few obvious examples:

A barely articulate Bush is elected. Twice. He flagrantly champions the agenda of his cronies (and only his cronies), consolidates power in pursuit of a level of sovereignty appealing to a Visigoth, and, when questioned? Well, he looks surprised. Then insulted. Then he turns the channel. One would expect that Congress, that body that thundered in on promises to end the war, steer us back on the good road, and rescue our global reputation, would slap the President silly for his insolence, wrestle him down, bring him to account for his outrageous misdeeds. No. Harry Reid drones on about Senate procedures, while Nancy Pelosi shrugs her shoulders. The war? FISA? Subpoenas? Piffle. An administration guilty of war crimes? Yawn. Credit woes, gas prices, immigration? Yeah, we need to do something about that. Bush and Co. are now MOONING Congress, and we watch, mouths agape.

Meanwhile …

Hillary ran from snipers, but there really weren’t snipers THERE, just the THREAT of snipers. And, she didn’t run, she walked. And, received a poem. This most-prepared of candidates seemingly had no strategy beyond the first months of the primary season. Her husband, for his part, said so many silly things about racially motivated voting, and hope (his hometown) being a fairy tale, where he never before spoke so carelessly. And, Hillary’s supporters blamed sexism for her loss, and vowed to jump to McCain in significant numbers. Even if Obama’s policies are quite close to Hillary’s and McCain’s are miles away. Even if McCain, too is a MAN.

Meanwhile …

McCain is a war hero, but not a war monger. He merely recognizes the sad necessity of combat that grinds on forever without clear goals. We don't WANT to do it; we NEED to do it. But, he's not like Bush; he's a maverick. Also, he’s a dogged advocate of veterans, but against a vet bill that promises to bring veteran benefits out of the '50s. Because it's too generous. To veterans. He knows nothing about the economy, and his chief economic strategist calls us whiners who never had it so good. His moral compass is strong, but his vices are legend. His temper gives generals pause, and large crowds somehow cause him to grin sinisterly and chuckle oddly.

Meanwhile …

Obama is our hope, but badly in need of a plan. He’s been running forever, but we still don’t know who he is. He insults a key demographic, because HE IS JUST AMONG FRIENDS in San Francisco. Reverend Wright pops up periodically to misbehave gleefully, and Jesse Jackson quietly threatens to geld Obama in a FOX News studio BECAUSE HE IS JUST AMONG ENEMIES. Oh, and, he’s married to a militant. And, he’s just so black/liberal/arrogant/Muslim/young [pick one]! And, he really likes the word "notion".

Meanwhile ...

The media follows ever silly scandal like the promise of treasure it has sadly become, and I cannot fathom how the power-brokers keep all these balls in the air.

And, somewhere, in the wings, the producers smile and applaud.

Or, maybe this thought is better articulated here (you can pause my music at the bottom of the blog):

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Monday, July 14, 2008

No Time to Smell the Roses

We are so very civilized, and civilization has its benefits. Watch television, and you know.

Earn enough money, and you only shiver when you choose to do so. $4 per gallon of gas is around every corner. Music fills the air, and a thousand shows are just a remote-click away. We need never be lonely, because our nearest and dearest travel with us in our cell phones. Our shops are piled high with clothing. Food and drink are abundant, and you don’t even need to cook, because there’s an Applebee’s in your neighborhood. If you want to eat healthy, a Whole Foods will only charge you a few dollars more for your conscientiousness. Our pets have supermarkets, and our poor live better than most of the world. Just ask them . Even in the down times, we have it made (wink).

Yet, we must be afraid of something. Afraid of dropping in the pecking order. Afraid of ceding our supremacy. Afraid of slipping behind. Afraid of losing ... something. We must be terrified, because we run. Every day, all day long, we run. We run from home to car to office to restaurant to gym to store to home. Like dragonflies skipping from leaf to branch, we run from climate-controlled environment to climate-controlled environment. In winter, we dash from warm homes to warm cars (some of us have cool gadgets to start our cars, so we won’t have to wait for the heat to kick in), and drive to warm offices. In summer we sprint from cool home to cool car to cool mall to frigid theater. As if the world were an inconvenience, we run to avoid spending too long in such an alien environment.

And, in running, we miss so much. Cool dewy mornings, warm humid afternoons, deep blue evenings - all are waystations through which we pass on the way to more hospitable places. And, in running, we never smell the roses (the natural ones, not the hybrids bred for scentless beauty). Even when we tackle the strategically-placed walking/jogging/biking paths, we are so focused on the goal, on finishing one step faster, one stride longer, that we never notice where we are.

Until the sweat builds up, and we retreat to our air-conditioned cars.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Nerd Humor?

Five o’clock traffic in the tiny-wonder-state of Delaware.

If you drive south on Route 141, you will pass under this train trestle proclaiming: NERD HUMOR.

Nerd Humor?

After I took this photo, I did a search to see if there was any history, and found some vague mention of graffiti taggers (Nerd, Humor and FH [Fast Hands] crew). Two individuals converging, unconsciously collaborating? Good for them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Wild Playthings

All scientific evidence to the contrary, we humans continue to believe that we stand at the exact center of the universe. There are those of us who act as if the world would stop turning on its axis were it not for our tender interventions. There are men and women who work very hard to shape the world into a perfect incubator for their dreams, glory and profit. And, there are far too many who act to conquer the world, and, with blinding arrogance, call it the will of God himself. We arrive, remodel our environment to meet our needs, encounter a problem, diagnose it strictly from our perspective, and are caught off-guard when things swing out of balance. And, never do we consider that the unintended consequences of our environmental manipulations are our fault.

We claim the top of the food chain, and use our dominance to forward our needs and desires, at the expense of all competition. When we are not running each other off some disputed turf, we are conquering other species, and running them off. Even when we don’t need it, sometimes even when we don’t really want it, we seek undisputable supremacy over our environment. We emptied the plains of buffalo, and then remarked on the emptiness. We killed inedible game for their heads and stole gorilla parts in a futile pursuit of potency. We pushed out housing developments ever further from the cities in an ultimately self-defeating search for rural life, and then complained in town meetings when the deer had nothing left to eat but our gardens.

Some would label this a survival instinct found in every species, but I think that is disingenuous. All other species take what they need, and leave the rest. Only our species takes what it needs and then more – if only to defeat our competitors. Even if we float the theory that our brand of ruthless resource competition is hardwired in humans, I don’t buy it. There are many people on the planet who take only what they require, and leave the rest unmolested. There are many humans who share, without calculating whether or not their gift will strengthen a future competitor. I say this hyper-competitiveness is a corruption, a deficit of spirit, a raw selfishness that has flourished by mutual agreement of our grandness. We do it simply because we can.

So, like the buffalo problem and the wolf problem and the wild cat problem and the deer problem, we have the wild horse problem. For profit, we opened federal land to ranchers, and when the resources began to diminish, never considered reducing the ranching but decided that it was the wild horse population – that lauded symbol of the west – that had exploded beyond capacity. No matter that the statistics disagreed, or that nature self-regulates. Rancher dollars were at stake. We captured the wild horses for adoption (literally running them to ground). Now when far more have been penned than can ever be adopted, and when the cost of care and feeding has begun to eat into those rancher dollars, the Bureau of Land Management claims the only recourse is euthanasia. No listening to other options (more land allocations, birth control, even), no adaptation, no cooperation, no sharing, but euthanasia.

Simply because we can.

For more information, see Let Em Run:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Valley Forge Slice of Night

Since my attempts to photograph fireworks on the Fourth of July were a dismal failure, I decided to practice my night photography. Valley Forge has something well-lit - let’s try that! Stationary, lighted subjects are easier to catch than moving items MADE of light, right? Right?

In case you need to visit the park web site (Public Service Anouncements 'R' Us):

In Valley Forge Par, the deer are fat and happy … and virtually domesticated. Every once in a while, hired hunters thin the herd (which really pisses off the local hunters), and there are many deer vs. car encounters, but generally they live unmolested. The deer feed on the parklands, and don’t bother to raise their heads when cars go by. If you stop in front of them, they MAY deign to glance at you. If you lower a window, the sound annoys them, and they kind of sidle off - slowly. When I set off my flash, I swear they shot me a nasty look, before they faded into the night.

On a wind-swept hill, surrounded by car-eating cobblestones, stands the Memorial Arch, shining pale and regal in the night.

Then all else fell into darkness, and I turned toward home ...

Sunday, July 6, 2008

This is Woman's Lib?

I am still trying to master my new digital camera. I do not remember my film SLR being this tough, but growth is good, yes? We’ll consider this a “stretch objective”. At my job, stretch objectives are used to encourage us to grow beyond our day-to-day job responsibilities. Point is to increase our overall contributions to the success of the organization. How’s that for a “corporate priority” (wink)?

I live in the outer suburbs of Philadelphia, but would not call it bucolic, farm country. We have woods and fields and farms nearby, certainly, but generally it is suburban housing, town homes, and apartments. So, I was surprised to find an old red barn right down the street in this suburban neighborhood. I was even more surprised to find it marked with this question:

Now, I have lived in this town for nearly twenty years, and do not recall the first time I saw this, but I imagine it has been there for quite some time. Who wrote it? Why?

When I took this photo today, I parked in someone’s driveway, and gave a cursory (as in, hardly at all) search for the owner of the barn. I did not knock on any doors, because – to tell you the truth – I found the painted question vaguely chilling, presented as it was. Very American Gothic, and not in the best sense. The thought of encountering (disturbing) the writer seemed potentially – well, let’s just call it risky. An old man with a shotgun comes to mind.

I had visions of someone (a woman, of course) imprisoned inside, crying out for liberation. I even zoomed in on the window, half expecting a ghostly face appear. In the interest of full disclosure, I must tell you that I discussed this barn with my son, who did not remember it, but suggested that I stage a photo, complete with a manacled woman, chain trailing from the barn. In his defense, he is an artist, and watches entirely too many horror movies. This discussion may have planted disturbing thoughts in my head.

But, what does the query mean? What is the “this”? Is it an indictment of 21st century suburbia? A wistful longing for the past when the barn stood in an open field, rather than on a two lane road, surrouned by houses and apartments, and the roles of life were clear and sacrosanct? Is it the complaint of a woman cheated by the siren song promise of independence, or a man disenfranchised by the discontent of his partner? Or, maybe a political statement, a dramatic shot across the bow in some municipal skirmish?

What do you think?

Friday, July 4, 2008

It's Friday!

This is Friday (my mother's new cat, not the day, which is causing endless confusion). I say she should have been named Trouble, or Homicidal Maniac (don't think that would fit on a license tag).

Friday with Mom

Friday appears to be a cuddly kitten, but she is not. She is a sociopath. Oh, she purrs, but it is usually when climbing someone's bare leg in pursuit of anything that moves.

There is something vaguely disturbing about a kitten that purrs with murderous intent. I love her!




Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Can You Relate?

Nearly seven billion people reside on this planet, and we cannot get along. Seven billion separate minds rely on faulty verbal and visual cues to communicate the invisible inside. So many personalities, agendas, opinions, passions, habits, rivalries, prejudices and desires fail easily. We clash with such frequency that I wonder how we have survived on the same rock for so long. We take offense at the slightest gaffe; we rise up in umbrage at each misstatement, and never more so than with the ones we love. We wage war in response to provocations both bold and mild. And, when faced with an offense – whether murder or misstep – we react with such equality of passion that I wonder if it is the war or the provocation that matters most.

Relationships are both microcosmic and macrocosmic. Although we like to think that our interactions become more sophisticated as we enter into more complex relationships, we play no better at the international level than we do at the national, city, club, family or sand-box levels. Act in a way that we dislike, or worse still, do not understand, and questions become arguments, become public statements, become name-calling. Then, we drag in our friends, build factions, and draw the lines of war.

“I want that!”
“You can’t do that!”
“Your mama wears army boots!”
“My dad can beat your dad!”
“Your president is the devil!”
“Let’s invade!”

If only we would talk to rather than at, and then listen and respond, and then repeat until we truly see that there is common ground. Certainly, there are the crazy people, the greedy and the power-hungry. They don’t care about your perspective. They don’t care about your feelings. It’s their world, we are captive, and anything that goes against their person- or world-view is a cause to saddle up for battle. And, when they run into someone else who is crazy, greedy and power-hungry, well then maybe it’s Armageddon, and maybe cooler heads prevail until the next antagonistic word or gesture.

Yet, there are always voices (on the playground, in the boardroom, at the summit, at the podium), saying:

“Hey! Stop! Can I help? Let’s just talk. Let’s just think. What is really bothering you? Did you listen to what she said? Well, what do you have to say? What if we tried this? Would that work for you? Did you really listen to what he said? Maybe we can do both. Let’s try. OK?”

We need more of those voices. With more of those voices, we may all be heard. With more of those voices, we meet across the breach. With more of those voices we approach as true an understanding that separate, invisible minds can find.

Unless it’s that crazy nitwit downstairs who hogs all the parking spaces with his precious Mercedes and motorcycles.