Category Archives: Stuff

LOCAL ECONOMY: NEW GAMES NEED NEW NAMES

(From the Transition Honesdale newsletter a few years ago…)

“You cannot change a game by winning it, you cannot change a game by losing it, you cannot even change it by refereeing it. … The thing we found out in the ’60s is that you can change the game by turning your back on it and going away and starting a new game, and if that is a more interesting game, then people come over to play it.”

— Stewart Brand, founder, New Games Foundation

One day, when I was about ten or so, I found myself playing a game of Monopoly with a kid I had just met, the son of one of my Dad’s Army buddies, whose family we were visiting in Gettysburg. Things were going along fine, until he started to add houses to Park Place even though he hadn’t acquired Boardwalk yet…

Now here, of course, let me stop for a moment and apologize to those of you for whom that last sentence might not make sense – but if you’re familiar with the rules of Monopoly, a game based on conducting real estate transactions in Atlantic City, you know that what my new acquaintance was doing was simply not kosher. I pointed this out to him, of course – but he settled the matter with a simple dictum:

“My game – my rules.”

Well. I certainly knew where I stood at that point. So, by the time I inevitably landed on Park Place, he had turned it into a veritable high-density multi-use luxury development, with several hotels and a neighborhood’s worth of houses, and the game was over.

At heart, any economic system is, simply speaking, a game – that is to say, it’s a set of arbitrary rules that serve to organize some kind of human activity. The rules of the game define goals, explain how the goals are to be reached, specify rewards for achieving the goals, and exact penalties for behaviors that contradict the rules.

The economic “game” is a little different, of course. Usually, we voluntarily choose whether or not to participate in a game, and we can leave the game if we’re not having any fun. (Or if the other kid cheats!) We either know the rules before we start, or they are clearly explained to us in fairly short order. The rules frequently have safeguards built in, to minimize (if not entirely prevent) injury, and to keep the game “fair.”

But in the case of the economy, we usually find ourselves born into the middle of a game already in progress. We have to try to puzzle out many of the rules as we go along, and frequently we find that the rules can change on the fly. We do not, generally, have a realistic option of leaving – although it can certainly be done, if one doesn’t mind putting one’s health and well-being at considerable risk. And increasingly, the safeguards are disappearing.

For millions if not billions of people, there never has been much “fun” to be had in this now-global game; grinding poverty, exploitation of the vulnerable, and environmental despoliation have long been the norm. Those in the middle classes, even if they weren’t exactly “winning” at the game, could at least expect to enjoy some creature comforts – but in recent years, as wealth and power have become increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few, they’ve seen their expectations and assumptions begin to crumble.

So now, in keeping with the spirit of Stewart Brand’s quote above, there are new games being devised – despite the attempts of our dominant economic players to convince us all that theirs is the only game in town, or to use Baroness Thatcher’s immortal words, “There is no alternative.”

These developing institutions and methodologies turn existing economic models on their heads. Locally-focused, they run counter to the trend of increasing globalization. They aim not for more accumulation, but for better distribution. They are sustainable and restorative while the old systems are extractive and exploitative. They replace the ethics of competition and dominance with cooperation and mutual assistance.

From worker-owned cooperatives to CSAs, asset-sharing programs to “B” Corporations, these innovative ideas are frequently lumped under the heading of “the new economy” – a term, unfortunately, that says nothing at all. Indeed, the very term “new economy” is hardly new. It’s been used for years to describe various economic trends, from the shift away from manufacturing to the dot-com bubble, and is used now to describe the ways that high-tech companies, especially those in information services and biotechnology, do business.

“Sustainable economics,” “community-based economics,” “partnership economy,” “sharing economy,” “gift economy” – these are some of the other terms that have been bandied about to describe this process of economic transformation, but none of them have gained wide currency. (I like “syneconomy” myself, but unfortunately folks are likely to confuse it with “sin tax.” Ah, language!)

New games need new names. As we develop this new game together, I am sure one will eventually emerge – a brand, if you will, that we can stand behind and promote.

And who knows? It might be even more fun than Monopoly.

Pieces of Charlemagne 

The poor man was hardly cold
Before the intrigues began
Brother Antonius
Took an ankle to Sicily
And was never seen again
Hans the young coroner’s assistant
Carefully trimmed the glorious beard
And swept the results into his pocket
Though some imperial cat hairs
May have been mixed in with the cuttings
The sisters who prepared the body
Kept tightly curled souvenirs
Hidden in lockets and scapulars
Slowly, pieces of Charlemagne
Meandered across his old empire
Some wrapped in burlap
Some swaddled in gold and lapis lazuli
Here, this is his ulna
Here is a paten made from his patella
Here is the finger he gave to a peasant in Armenia
But what I want to see is not his skull
But the furrows from his brow

ATTACK MODE (2010)

(My Peace and Justice Files column from September, 2010)

attack

“Turn on the TV, we’re under attack.” As September began, James J. Lee attacked the headquarters of the Discovery Channel, taking hostages and issuing a list of demands, in which he attacked “Kate Plus Eight,” among other things. Apparently, he felt that Mother Earth herself was under attack, and he didn’t think that Discovery programming attacked global warming or overpopulation hard enough. So, police attacked in response, killing Lee. Al Sharpton attacked Glenn Beck for trying to co-opt Martin Luther King’s legacy, evangelical Christians attacked Beck for being a Mormon, and Beck attacked President Barack Obama’s faith as “a perversion of the gospel.”

The “Bleacher Report” says this year we should expect to see much more of an aerial attack from the Florida Gators than the past few years. Hamas attacked some Israelis, killing four, so you know the Israelis are going to attack someone in response, right? Nonetheless, Netanyahu and Abbas say they’re willing to attack some the thorniest problems surrounding the peace process. Turkey is still miffed at Israel for attacking that flotilla of humanitarian workers headed for Gaza, although other people defend the Israeli soldiers, whom they claim were attacked with clubs and iron bars by the people on the ships.

“Who’s behind these attacks, anyway?” Hurricane Earl is about to attack the coast of North Carolina. A Muslim imam has been under attack all summer for proposing to build a cultural center a few blocks from the site of the Ground Zero attacks in New York City. The people attacking the imam have been attacked as being Islamophobic racists, but they say they’re still outraged by the 9/11 attacks. A Muslim cab driver was attacked in his cab by a photographer who had just returned from filming attacks with the Marines in Afghanistan.

“We’re in full-attack mode now, by golly!” A mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee was the target of an arson attack. Some kids in Carlton, NY, are accused of a drive-by attack harassing a Sufi mosque. Sarah Palin maintains that the American way of life is under attack. I had a major panic attack myself in January of 2008. Newt Gingrich attacks Obama’s “secular-socialist machine,” and some of Obama’s critics have attacked the veracity of the President’s citizenship. US-led aerial attacks killed 16 civilians near Kandahar, some of whom were reportedly election campaign workers.

The schoolkids are back to attacking their books, and here in Honesdale it’s football season, and you know what that means – it’s time for the “Red and Black Attack!” Political campaigns are working on new series of attack ads, in preparation for the November elections. “The attack came before dawn, while the village was asleep.” Shark attacks against swimmers in coastal waters have grabbed headlines. Police are investigating a series of acid-throwing attacks in the Northwest. Bee colonies are under attack from a mysterious illness. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton thinks that Israel should already have attacked Iran’s nuclear program by now. An Iranian newspaper has attacked Carla Bruni, the wife of French President Sarkozy, as a “prostitute” for defending the rights of Iranian women from attack by conservative clerics.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) renewed calls for a missile defense system, saying “I think we are naked in terms of an attack on the East Coast.” Archaeologists have attacked BP’s plans to start exploratory oil drilling off the coast of Libya. Two people died in Port Huron, MI, as a result of one of a number of recent attacks around the country involving machetes. Some conservatives attacked Ann Coulter for speaking at an event for gay Republicans, and of course she attacked them right back. The Defense Department recently confirmed a major cyber-attack against US military computers. Wikileaks founder Julius Assange contends the rape charges against him are part of an attack campaign following Wikileaks’ release of a huge number of military attack reports from Iraq. A fungus has attacked the bat population in the Northeast, and is spreading.

So when Obama says that our days of attacking Iraq are over… somehow, for some reason, that gives me little comfort.

Some of my favorite classical pieces

  • Philip Glass, “Evening Song” from SATYAGRAHA (Act 3, Scene 3)
  • Arvo Pärt, “Cantus (In Memoriam Benjamin Britten)”
  • Kronos Quartet, PIECES OF AFRICA (album)
  • Terry Riley, IN C
  • Steve Reich, DIFFERENT TRAINS
  • Philip Glass, “Funeral of Amenhotep III” from AKHNATEN (Act 1, Scene 1)

My To-Do List

  1. Help establish multi-party democracy in the United States.
  2. Encourage the surgical separation of Christianity and Capitalism.
  3. Help facilitate the transition to
    1. The Next American Republic.
    2. A New Values Economy.
  4. Further develop & expound the philosophy & methodology of “Serious Silliness.”
  5. Finish & disseminate creative works (songs, essays, etc.).
  6. Develop a better relationship with/understanding of mortality; find an opportunity for a good & useful death.
  7. Have fun in the meantime.

Continue reading

Excerpt from The McAdooiad: The Vale of Pundits

(In my epic-in-progress poem The McAdooiad, a political consultant leads an expedition to Hades to conduct a focus group there. While there, they are given a tour by the shade of someone who might be Mark Twain, or maybe Kurt Vonnegut, or possibly both. They travel to the section of Hell called the Vale of Pundits.)

“Hell has expanded since Dante’s day,” the guide explained.
“More than just nine rings – indeed, nine times nine sets of rings,
A great anti-amusement complex, a vast park of punishments,
Mall upon mall of maulings, subdivisions of sufferings,
For those who could not, would not, dared not repent.

“Construction continues, new Hells are designed, approved, erected,
But it cannot keep up with the influx of souls – hence your delays upon entry.
Still for all the mass production, for all the identical highrising rows,
Yet there are some who have rated their very own personal dooms,
who have crafted their eternal homes, which even now await their architects.

“Ah, we have arrived. Come, gentlemen, behold the Vale of Pundits.”
The huge conveyance rattled to a stop, its doors sighed open
And roughly spewed them onto a lofty platform.
Before them swam a frothy miasma of shifting positions,
A sight that made them dizzy and disoriented.

Like the froth of bathtub suds, when a young child empties
The whole container of Mr. Bubble beneath the faucet’s roar;
But also like a pit of lava, bubbling, erupting, red-hot heaving –
So did this jumble of enclosures appear
To the travelers’ bewildered eyes.

“Each of these spheres,” explained their white-haired escort,
“That you see before you, stands ready for its guest.
These are for those who sold their gifts to the highest bidders,
Who betrayed both their craft and their fellow beings
To deceive and divide, to satisfy the needs of the powerful.”

“Somewhere in this Hell … here, this one: see this vast, empty plain?
In its midst  there lies a table; behind, a comfortable leather chair.
On the table sits a great golden microphone, and an ashtray with a cigar.
There is a man who has condemned himself to sit behind that microphone
Forever, and smoke that cigar, and talk and talk and talk and talk….

“Trying to convince someone, anyone, that he does not belong there.
The microphone, however, will not be connected to anything.
Only he will hear himself, and he will hear only himself
But he will not even be able to convince himself.
Because no one could ever make him change his mind.”

“And here! Oh, look, you spinners of words:
For here is something you may perhaps find instructional.
Behold this scene, see these halls of mirrors?
Here shall languish a man, who mastered the art of litany;
The lie, repeated enough times, he made to seem truth.

“So every word here uttered, each sound made, shall rebound
Unendingly, to the eternal torment of those poor Irish ears.
But this is the bed which he himself has made.
Here, I can demonstrate…” and leaning close, the guide
Whispered one small word: “Benghazi”

Like the clanging of bells in a clocktower, as evening’s sun
Disappears behind the tenements, or the sounding of klaxons
That warned of impending bombers, the word
Fed back upon itself, building force without remorse or mercy,
Until the travelers thought their heads should indeed explode.

It lasted but a second, this great cacaphony, this
Tsunami of dreck, but it left them all grey faced and ashen.
“Tell me, Guide,” said Barychnikov, his beard trembling,
“I recognize these men of whom you speak. What of
That woman, tall and gaunt, who so delights in outrage…”

“Say no more,” the guide replied. “She of whom you speak
Has such great pain created, such revulsion caused,
With such carelessness and cruelty, with such deliberate malice,
That were I to show you the fate that she has created here
Your minds would go mad, and your hearts shatter.”

“One last ere we move on…” He turned with bushy eyebrows
Towards the churning mass, and one sphere moved to the front.
They saw a great rotisserie, a turning spit, above red-hot coals.
The spit was empty, but standing all around were monstrous,
Hungry, clutching hands eagerly straining towards the fire.

“Here shall soon reside a man, once powerful, a leader of the pack,
Who built an empire from falsehood and fright. Of great bulk
And greater ego, he forced himself upon the women in his employ,
Enslaving them to his appetites. So here he shall spin, if you will,
While he is groped, prodded, molested, and worse.”

A random bunch of my favorite songs

Other than setting apart the Top Thirty-or-So, these are in no particular order – I’ll just post ’em as I think of ’em… These are some of the songs that can make me stop in my tracks, turn up the radio, dance in my chair, drive a little too fast, or sing along at the top of my lungs…. These songs make my scalp tingle, my heart race, or my mind soar. Some of these songs are part of my self-definition; some mark particular moments, or even eras, in my life… So, feel free to pick one you haven’t heard of, look it up, and check it out.

First, my Top Thirty-or-So Essential Faves as of the moment…

  1. Kate Bush, “The Big Sky”
  2. 801, “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)”
  3. The Beatles, “It’s All Too Much”
  4. Roxy Music, “The Thrill of It All”
  5. Brian Eno, “No One Receiving”
  6. Peter Gabriel, “Solsbury Hill”
  7. Blue Öyster Cult, “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper”
  8. REM, “It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)”
  9. Moody Blues, “I’m Just a Singer (In a Rock and Roll Band)”
  10. Talking Heads, “Life During Wartime”
  11. The Who, “Eminence Front”
  12. John Cale & Brian Eno, “Spinning Away”
  13. The Horse Flies, “I Live Where It’s Grey”
  14. Talking Heads, “Stay Hungry”
  15. Pink Floyd, “One of These Days”
  16. Laurie Anderson, “O Superman”
  17. Bjork, “Human Behavior”
  18. Moody Blues, “Legend of a Mind”
  19. Simon & Garfunkel, “The Boxer”
  20. David Byrne, “Big Business”
  21. Paul Simon, “Cool Cool River”
  22. Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”
  23. George Harrison, “Art of Dying”
  24. Radiohead, “Subterranean Homesick Alien”
  25. Gary Numan, “Cars”
  26. Brian Eno, “St. Elmo’s Fire”
  27. Talking Heads, “Burning Down the House”
  28. Moody Blues, “Story in Your Eyes”
  29. Depeche Mode, “Never Let Me Down”
  30. Talking Heads, “Road to Nowhere”
  31. David Byrne/Brian Eno, “The Jezebel Spirit”

And now some others…

  • Talking Heads, “I Zimbra”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Carnival”
  • Radiohead, “Creep”
  • Bush, “Machine Head”
  • David Bowie, “‘Heroes'”
  • Jane’s Addiction, “Jane Says”
  • Pink Floyd, “Us and Them”
  • Peter Gabriel, “I Have the Touch”
  • King Crimson, “Discipline”
  • David Byrne, “Five Golden Sections”
  • Talking Heads, “Houses in Motion”
  • Emerson, Lake & Palmer, “Lucky Man”
  • Cat Stevens, “Wild World”
  • Radiohead, “Karma Police”
  • Foo Fighters, “Everlong”
  • Pearl Jam, “Black”
  • Eddie Vedder, “Big Hot Sun”
  • David Byrne/Brian Eno, “America is Waiting”
  • Human Sexual Response, “What Does Sex Mean to Me?”
  • The Beatles, “I Am the Walrus”
  • Synergy, “Breakdown in World Communication”
  • Stephen Foster, “Hard Times Come Again No More”
  • Bjork, “I Miss You”
  • Kate Bush, “Deeper Understanding”
  • Laurie Anderson, “Big Science”
  • Tom Tom Club, “Wordy Rappinghood”
  • Roxy Music, “Out of the Blue”
  • Cat Stevens, “Peace Train”
  • David Byrne, “Big Blue Plymouth”
  • Bob Dylan, “Subterranean Homesick Blues”
  • Natalie Merchant, “Wonder”
  • 10,000 Maniacs, “These Are the Days”
  • Radiohead, “Fake Plastic Trees”
  • Talking Heads, “Nothing but Flowers”
  • Gary Numan. “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”
  • Wall of Voodoo,”Mexican Radio”
  • Jimmy Eat World, “Sweetness”
  • Tori Amos, “Smells Like Teen Spirit”
  • Melanie, “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”
  • Talking Heads, “Don’t Worry About the Government”
  • Harry Nilsson, “Jump Into the Fire”
  • Rod Stewart, “(I Know) I’m Losing You”
  • Paul Simon, “American Tune”
  • Soundgarden, “Black Hole Sun”
  • Bush, “Everything Zen”
  • Brian Eno, “Third Uncle”
  • Plastic Bertrand, “Ca Plane Pour Moi”
  • Talking Heads, “Crosseyed and Painless”
  • Elton John, “Madman Across the Water”
  • Mason Williams, “Classical Gas”
  • The Cranberries, “Zombie”
  • Blue Man Group, “I Feel Love” (live version)
  • St. Vincent, “Digital Witness”
  • Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, “Almost Cut My Hair”
  • Roxy Music, “Manifesto”
  • Radiohead, “How to Disappear Completely”
  • David Byrne/Brian Eno, “Help Me Somebody”
  • Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists, “Asturias”

How Much

HOW MUCH
a country lament by Blind Peanut Nicholson

So how much for some simple friction
How much for a nuzzle on the ear
How much for you to listen
While I tell you my darkest fears

How much for you to show me
The dreams you keep hidden inside
How much for us to just be here
Breathing side by side

(bridge)
How much for you to notice
The pain I can’t express
I didn’t come here to drink overpriced beer
Or to watch someone get undressed

How much for you to just hold me
How much to let me cry
How much do you charge for a reason to live
Or some comfort before I die
How much do you charge for a reason to live
Or some comfort before I die

Epigrams, Slogans, & Bumperstickers

  • The best things in life are messy.
  • A violent revolution is no revolution at all.
    • The real revolution is against violence itself.
  • If you can’t break your chains, use them.
  • Big Brother is watching: KEEP HIM ENTERTAINED.
  • If it’s falling, push it over.
  • When you make a fool of yourself on purpose on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter so much when it happens by accident.
  • Sex:Liberals::Money:Conservatives
  • Every day is a gift – even if it doesn’t fit.
  • Big Brother loves you SO MUCH… he can’t keep his eyes off you.
  • When the dip is gone, the party is over. When the party is over, it’s time to go home.
  • Education should be dangerous.
  • Unity, not uniformity; diversity, not division.
  • We need some new isms.
  • “Mistah Galt, he dead.”
  • Go with the Greatest Common Factor, not the Lowest Common Denominator

Organizations I’ve made up that ought to be more real

You might have noticed: I like to make stuff up. This includes some organizations of which I am pretty much the only member. (Though others are certainly welcome to claim membership in any or all of them – no dues, initiations, or secret handshakes are involved.)

The PLAUSIBLE NEWS SERVICE is the handle under which I write satirical news stories. My goal with PNS is to write pieces that are just plausible enough that they seem accplausibleeptable, while still including sufficient clues that the observant should catch the joke. (Closer to the work of Andy Borowitz than that of The Onion, say… though I am nowhere near the level of either.)

I am the editor and chief correspondent, though sometimes you may see Plausible News material credited to my esteemed colleague, the noted broadcaster and media analyst Otto B. True.  The best compliment I can get (and it has happened a couple of times) is someone asking, “Wait a minute… Is that for real?”

PNS releases frequent “Plausible Newsflashes” on Twitter and Facebook.

The SIESTsiesta-partyA PARTY USA (Motto: “Take a Nap, America!”) supports the rights of all Americans to enjoy a nice afternoon nap… and encourages folks to get a decent night’s sleep. We also repost news articles about the health and productivity benefits of napping. (I have sleep apnea myself, so some of this stuff is serious!)

The Siesta Party USA is considering the possibility of branching out to other countries. Contact me if you’re interested.

The LEAGUE OF MORTAL-AMERICANS (Motto: “You’re Already a Member”) would like to remind you of one thing: you’re gonna die.

The League believes that increased awareness – and acceptance – of mortality is a good thing. Seriously. Studies have shown that folks who manage to reconcile themselves with the idea of their personal mortality are generally happier, less stressed, and more generous.mortal-logo-2

Also co-sponsors campaigns like “Die Early” (encouraging Baby Boomers to leave the planet before drawing Social Security benefits) and “Ducks in a Row? Ready To Go!” (encouraging EVERYONE to get their wills, powers of attorney, health care directives, etc. set up as soon as possible).

The BUSH REGIME MEMORIAL SOCIETY fights against any efforts to whitewash the dismal and disastrous history of the George W. Bush Administration (2001-2009). It sponsors the annual Shoe Day observance on Dec. 14, when all citizens with functional memories are invited to send worn-out footwear to the George W. Bush Library, in commemoration of the day when an Iraqi reporter chucked a couple of shoes (a huge insult) at the visiting Bush.

The BRMS faces a grave challenge these days, as you may be aware, as Donald Trump shows every indication of wrestling the title of Worst President Ever from George W. Bush, and making it seem that W was Not So Bad. But nonetheless, we shall persevere, and we look forward with great anticipation to the day when our sister organization, the Trump Regime Memorial Society, will come into being.

I am honored to serve as Chief Researcher for THE INSTITUTE FOR RESPONSIBLE HEDONISM, which was established at Harrad College in the late 1960’s.  The IRH engages in extensive long-term studies of things that are fun to do, while (hopefully) avoiding dangerouskumbaya excesses or unforeseen consequences. (Presenting an IRH business card at a bar or a party might be good for something, but I can make no guarantees.)

The KUMBAYA LIBERATION FRONT seeks to reclaim the song “Kumbaya,” and the sentiments behind it, from folks who think it’s too namby-pamby to think about the possibility of people actually getting along together.

The ASSORTED SHIaswa(F)TWORKERS OF AMERICA – a superunion for all those folks who find themselves under-, mis-, or dys-employed, rather than being able to follow their dreams and make a living at the same time. (Our mottos include: “Well, Somebody’s Got To Do It,” and “Actually, I’m Working on My Novel.”) ASWA also comments on workplace conditions, the overloading of American workers, and similar stuff. (Sometimes the “F” is silent.)

A related organization, the KNOWLEDGE AND INFORMATION WORKERS INTERNATIONAL (KIWI) reaches across borders and around the world tKIWIo bring together writers, librarians, researchers, educators, statisticians, and other like-minded folk. Also covers publishers, newspaper and other media employees, and people who work in call centers and copier shops. (Motto: “We don’t own our means of production – we are our means of production!”)