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This is the archive for June 2008

Saturday, June 28, 2008

I see Billy wrote about Road Tripping while I was gone... Road Tripping.

I was behind the wheel every inch of 4800+ miles just now. Our itinerary went like this: Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Illinois again, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana again, Illinois yet again, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico *sigh* again... and back to Arizona. Thats 14 states, more than one quarter of all that there are.

My general impression from this latest survey of the States of the Union was: Faded Glory. The rented Detroit steel aluminum and plastic had all the bells and whistles, but was uninspired and uninspiring, and showing obvious signs of wear at only 26K miles on the odometer (now 31K, take that Budget, haha). Flyover country was in pretty much the same shape. Lots of bells and whistles, but no longer inspiring. And showing too many signs of wear at far too young an age for it.

The whole place has the feel of consolidation. The bigger towns, in all their Chamber of Commerce glory, are thriving, with the brightest chains all clustered at the portages and landings on those long government built rivers, while the spaces in between seem to all be either emptying out or getting converted to Mini-Me's of the bigger burgs.

We got off those rivers when we could, when it could be justified under the tight deadlines of our three-destinations-in-one vacation schedule. We trekked though the dangerous wilderness where no blue and red shields pointed us in the right direction, where we were on our own to forage for food, gas, and "facilities", and where we were at the mercy of local cops from forgotten towns like Hereford, Texas or Rexford, Kansas, who apparently have even given up trying to generate revenue from strangers passing through just a little too fast.

Get off the interstates far enough, and away from any towns that know what developers are, and you see two things. First are those places just barely hanging on to any kind of cohesive town-ness, their economies trudging along only by virtue of a booming business in plywood and board-up services, and those towns desperately shilling for a slice of the good life and the promise of a Taco Bell if they can just get a few hundred more people to stay there long enough to be counted in the next census, or at least the next hotel industry survey.

Their main methods of doing so seem to be contrived festivals or historic notoriety, and half-heartely integrated marketing aimed at extolling the virtues of their 17 "fine" hotels and inns, the new movie theater, and the 1974 state softball championship high-school. They're all celebrating 85 Years of Progress, or promising a Bright Future, either approach sending a clear message that their best days are behind them if they don't do something in a big hurry.

That's not all that different than what small towns have always done, but it's different now, and that difference can be felt. I've been driving all over this country for 25 years, and maybe I'm just jaded, but now it feels, I don't know, less energetic than it used to be. Before we had Burma Shave and the World's Biggest Ball of Twine and the Mystery House, and The Thing. We had individuals and entrepreneurs shooting for the stars and sometimes taking their sleepy little towns with them. We had towns where people liked to live, liked to go down to the A&W on Saturday night and church on Sunday morning, and it showed.

Now we have desperate little towns where people live because they can't save up enough money to move out - or just figure there's nowhere to move to anymore - towns with far too energetically busy councilmen and assorted busybodies taking it upon themselves to shoot for a slightly classier level of mediocrity, and hoping the owner of some moderately large Ball of Twine will see an opportunity and move there so the town can tax him to death.

So long as he moves to a properly zoned parcel, that is. Wouldn't want all that string and all those Winnebagoes ruining the view from that land they've set aside for the new environmentally friendly industrial campus, or bringing down the property values of the surrounding farmland with their proletariat common-man appeal. That's not what a town with a Bright Future is all about, after all.

That's what it's all about now, even in the major cities, though it's not as apparent there. Except maybe in Detroit where I was earlier in the week. Aside from the general post-apocolyptic look of the joint, they no longer have 4th of July or Independence Day fireworks - they have "Freedom Day" fireworks, this year on June 23rd. There's no spontaneity, there's only that which is either planned or approved (and a kind of freedom that in Newspeak is carefully distinguished from independence). There's no room for it. I don't mean physical room, there's still more of that than could ever be filled, even in another seven generations of raping Mother Earth and depleting her natural resources. I mean breathing room. There's no room for taking chances anymore, for trying something to see if it works, or just because it's fun and makes some farmer enough money to take his wife into the big city once a year to see all the lights and all the shopping.

The margins are too small. The Rotarian Kleptocrats and the planners and the busybodies take the biggest cut of that margin, leaving only what they think is "enough" for the one who takes all the chances. And that's if they like you. They plan and approve and make sure that you don't take any chances that don't fit their comprehensive five-year vision and risk your status of a member in good standing of the community Tax Base. There's only room for sure things anymore, and the sure thing is usually the thing the other guy just did. And sure things live mostly in the cities now, or those small but becoming medium-sized towns that got over the hump of getting Wendy's and Best Western and Chevron to fund their truck bypass.

So the spaces in between are emptying out, or at least not getting much bigger and better. They're not where it's at anymore, those places like where all the cities and towns big enough to be printed on the map in bold lettering started out. There's no more "starting out" and growing because people like living there and building things from scratch, there's only managing what is already there, and growing because you're already big enough to grow, and not wither on the vine of State Route 123 or County Road "A".

Road trips ain't what they used to be. Now there's mostly destinations and "drive by" country and food-gas-lodging next exit. Getting there might still be half the fun, but only because where you get to isn't much fun anymore either.
So the Supremes finally realized that there is a right to own a gun, even if the babbling heads on the so-called news stations fail to mention the fact that it was always true, and that all that has changed is that the government now officially agrees. But we can't be too hard on them, being informed and informative isn't in their job description, after all.

Of course, our rulers' agreement on our rights only goes so far. It can still be infringed if they have a good enough excuse, so says the thin "pro second amendment" majority of high muckety-mucks. There's no right to bear arms in this decision, only an agreed-upon privilege, revokable for anyone who gets too uppity, or upon the appointment of one more "reasonable and common-sense" oriented justice.

Given that, the one conclusion that has so far escaped all analysis that I am aware of is this:

There is now a very diverse mix of legal regimes when it comes to the right to keep and bear arms. Some, like DC, have outright banned it. Others. like Chicago effectively ban it while stopping short of admitting that it's what they're doing. Then there's others, like Vermont with their shall-issue, no-questions-asked permits, and Arizona, where I commonly see people with six-shooters and 1911's on their hip at Circle-K or Home Depot.

Now, however, there has been a "decisive" ruling. Beware that word "decisive" when it comes to your rights. All it means is that the extent and methodology for violating them can be safely standardized. Have you noticed how nearly every state in the country miraculously came up with "click it or ticket" seatbelt laws, and "speeding fines doubled in work zones", and DUI checkpoints at around the same time, each legislature and governor pretending it was their own brilliant idea? I bet if you researched it, you'd find that it all happened shortly after some "decisive" court ruling on whether they'd be able to get away with it.

They have been given a "decisive" ruling on exactly how far they can go, and they will now all go directly there.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

I'm sitting in a cheap motel in Detroit, waiting to go visit some family and watching the insipid morning "news" shows. One of them is all in a tizzy over the fact that many couples now have to defer their retirement because the bummer economy is harshing their financial buzz.

What struck me is how differently most people look at retirement from how I look at it. The traditional way to look at it is that they work like a dog all their lives to earn the freedom to sit on their asses - perhaps in a golf cart - and wait to die.

My view is to work like a dog at work that is not of my own choosing in order to earn the freedom to work at something that is of my own choosing. The magic "65" is completely irrelevant to that.

Take my dad, for instance. He's retired now. He no longer has to hang off the end of a boxcar swinging a lantern in between jumping off and on the moving train to throw a track switch. Instead, he now gets to work in the wood shop in the garage building an amazing home interior. It has hand-laid wood floors and wall trim, custom cabinetry and some furniture, and hand-painted artwork on the walls.

It's not what most people call work, but he's nonetheless amazingly productive, especially given the recent heart attack that could have provided all the excuse he would ever need to just sit on the golf cart every day waiting for the next heart attack. He doesn't have a schedule, doesn't have to think of an excuse when he wants a day off, and still gets to golf whenever he decides the fresh air, exercise, and a day with his friends is more productive than more woodworking.

That's what I think of as retirement. I can sit on my ass with the best of them, but sooner or later, ideas and ambitions start popping into my head. The problem I have now is that I have no time to execute on them. Retirement means that I'd have the time to work my ass off on my own ideas, instead of somebody else's.

I love the work I do, and I would probably still do some of it if I was retired. What I don't love is alarm clocks, commuting, and living on clock time. Those people deferring their retirement don't realize that it's probably the best thing for them. Their vision of retirement seems like hell to me. I don't really ever want to stop working like a dog, I just want to be off the leash.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Well, I just deposited my $600.00 economic reach-around check. Of course, it's only a tiny fraction of what they've taken from me, so it doesn't make me feel any better about the BOHICA I can look forward to with every paycheck. I haven't changed my spending habits one bit, since I pretty much determine my spending by what I need, not by how much "extra" cash I happen to have that day. I'm thinking maybe, just as a fuck you to George and the Fed, I'll invest it in Chinese stocks, so it doesn't, even imperceptibly, slow this economy's dive off the cliff.

I know, I could just spend it at Best Buy like everyone else is doing and accomplish the same thing, but if I did that, somebody in town might get to keep his job another week. Screw him, he probably voted.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Hillary wants to be your Veep, eh? Aside from the fact that the complete suicidal stupidity of choosing her would automatically disqualify you from the Presidency on soundness of judgment grounds, here's what I would do if somehow Hillary were just one of my heartbeats away from the Presidency:

  • Hire a food taster

  • Have someone expendable start my car every morning

  • Stay out of Fort Marcy Park

Sunday, June 01, 2008

It's the fanatic cult of green meets Jim Jones, encouraging your kids to drink the Kool-Aid. Warren dissects it here. I don't have the stomach for giving it the treatment it deserves. I gotta wonder, thought, if there's a kid out there in Oz who will take this a little too seriously.