Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Implements of mass construction.

When Mrs. N. and I moved into this house in 2002, one of the things that attracted us to it was that the backyard had "privacy fencing." It came in the form of a stockade-style fence, with swinging doors on either side of the house. It is a far better option than chain link fencing, which I personally don't like.

The previous owners had the job done cheaply, and within the first two years of moving in, several of the posts began heaving upwards. It appeared that the concrete slabs that anchor the posts were not dug deep enough, and with the combination of rain, wind, and general erosion, parts of the fence began to give way as a result. We would prop them up with temporary fixes, but it became obvious last year that something needed to be done to four of the most seriously damaged ones.

Last year, when Mrs. N's. parents made their yearly trek up north for 6 weeks in the summer, she got her dad to show her how to reset one post, and armed with this new found knowledge, we set forth this past weekend to start our version of the Saturday and Sunday afternoon post.

First, the right tools for the right job were needed: (this is only a partial accounting of them)
...and of course, the proper constituents for said re-posting efforts:
and at the end of a long frickin' day, you end up with these: (left and right posts, respectively)
The cardboard tube acts as a form for which the concrete will set into, and then we cut it away and back fill the hole.

While all turned out well, it did require double the usual amounts of Tylenol and other pain killers for my shoulders and back. Things just don't heal like they used to. One more post to go, and if there are any more that need fixing, I'm breaking down and calling a contractor.

This is why I'm happy that I never made the decision to be a day laborer. I was happier (and better at) trying to repair people than fences. Oh, and for the record, we did not uncover Jimmy Hoffa in the process.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Muddy Waters' kind of few weeks.

The last 3 weeks or so have been less than stellar. I feel as though my life suddenly decided to go into neutral, for reasons which at first, I could not comprehend.

It actually happened quite suddenly. I woke up one morning a few weeks ago and found myself completely unmotivated. I felt as though there was no point in pursuing the goals I have been for the last year or two, that it was pointless and that I was just spinning my wheels. What worried me was that I had no idea where this came from. As I have already battled depression once before in the past, it scared me a little to think that the "rabbit hole" was beginning to rear its head once again.

It took a few days, but I started to realize that this wasn't quite the same feeling that I had when I was in dire straits back in 2002, and popping Paxil like Pez. This was different. the reason was staring me in the face, and when I finally realized, it was a shock, as I thought it was something I had gotten past some time ago.

In short, I don't feel as though I am making a difference anymore.

When I worked as a paramedic, this was the type of job that, if not daily, at least once a week you always felt as though you were making a difference in the world in some way. I'm sorry if this sounds egotistical, but I was doing things and experiencing things most people couldn't fathom. They may read about it on the TV news, or see it depicted on a show, or even read about it in a newspaper or website, but the actual experience of being a paramedic is something else entirely.

The impact that you can have on people's lives doing that job is nothing short of tremendous. It has been 13 years since I last treated a patient. I was in administration for almost 4 years after that, and while no longer riding the ambulance, I was still "in the business," making a difference in other ways. When I left it all behind in 1999, a piece of me, a big piece, was left behind as well.

In short, I've never had the same kind of mojo that I did while in that world, with one possible exception, when I am acting. Unfortunately, those moments on stage don't come with the same frequency as when I was working in EMS everyday, so I cherish them when they do happen. Perhaps it is foolish of me to expect anything to equal those experiences, but even something like them, with greater frequency, would be very nice.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Movers and shakers.

I came across a speech given by an leading executive in the investment community that I found rather compelling. It very much sums up a lot of what is going on in American business today, so here is an excerpt:

"Well, ladies and gentlemen, we're not here to indulge in fantasy, but in political and economic reality. America, America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power, there was accountability to the stockholder. The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!...You own the company. That's right -- you, the stockholder.
And you are all being royally screwed over by these, these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes."

Rather sobering, isn't it? It is interesting that he uses the term, "In the days of the free market...," suggesting the possibility that those days have past. There has been much interest in that concept today. It has been suggested that the United States is heading away from free market economics that has been the driver of our whole economy since practically the beginning of this country. It is being suggested, that with the government having a large stake in those banks and other industries that have received government bailout money, that we are spiraling towards socialism.

It is an interesting war of words. One is not quite sure who to believe, with everyone shouting out rhetoric on both sides of the political and economic spectrum. The complexities of market economics are such that trying to make sense of it all for the average person is next to impossible. Hell, I have enough problems making sense of my Quicken when I update it. What chance do I have trying to decipher (Federal Reserve Chairman) Bernanke when he is up on Capitol Hill briefing Congress on Federal Reserve policy?

The executive went on to say:

"The new law of evolution in corporate America seems to be survival of the unfittest. Well, in my book you either do it right or you get eliminated."

This has been at the heart of one of the biggest arguments regarding whether or not to save the auto industry. I sometimes wonder if applying a little Darwinian theory is not all that bad a thing. Of course, there is the other side of the argument, just as compelling; the ripple effect if you do let them fail. Is it a legitimate argument? Again, I can't tell. Common sense tells me it is. Common sense also tells me that the opposite has merit. Why should we bail out a failing company that can't get its act together?

The executive then went on and stunned his audience with the following proclamation:

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed -- for lack of a better word -- is good.

Greed is right.

Greed works.

Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.

Greed, in all of its forms -- greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge -- has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And greed -- you mark my words -- will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA."

Teldar Paper? Never heard of it you say? Well, maybe you have heard of it, just as I'm sure you'll recognize the executive who spoke these somewhat prescient words over 20 years ago:

That's right. Gordon Gekko. The model for what has come to be seen as all that is wrong with American business and to perhaps a larger degree, capitalism. In the movie "Wall Street," Gekko is a heartless, cold-blooded reptilian master player on the economic stage. He wrecks a company in the movie because "It was wreckable."

As with most fictional characters, there is a modicum of truth in all of them, and a lot of artistic license. I personally believe in capitalism, in the ability to make money and to be able to do better for one's self-interest. That said, I think think that it also carries a huge amount of personal responsibility as part of that belief, and that self-interest, while important, is not the be all and end all of everything. Self-interest run amok is Enron, it is the housing collapse, it is the bank failures and the auto industry failures.

I don't really believe we are headed towards what would be considered pure socialism, the kind that might be seen in countries in Europe and elsewhere, but I do believe that government is going to play an increasing role in the regulation of business. The trick is going to not interfere so much, that you stifle the very drive and creative fervor that keeps this country afloat. NY State is a perfect micro economic template, with its high tax burden and over-regulatory practices that have been driving businesses away for years. It is not a model that I would want spread to the Federal level, though in so many ways it's already here.

So here's to you Gordon! Is greed good? Probably, in some ways. The unfortunate thing is that greed can become a very slippery slope all too quickly.

Anyone need some more hair gel?

Friday, April 10, 2009

Taking it all on faith.

This is one of those years where the juxtaposition of two major faiths come together in the celebrations of Easter and Passover. Tradition tells us that the Last Supper was actually the Passover seder, and it is interesting that this year, the second seder fell on Thursday night, which would fall in line with the Christian telling of the final week of Jesus' life.

As I was raised Jewish, we would traditionally have seder's most often at my aunt's house in Brooklyn. Well, they weren't always full seder's, mind you. We were adherents to the ideal that every Jewish holiday was based on one underlying precept: "They tried to kill us, we survived, let's eat." I mean, you really can't argue with that, can you? It's pretty precise when you stop to think about it.

Let's look at Passover. If there was ever a template for this idea, this is it. I mean it has everything: A hero (Moses), a villain (Pharaoh), a quest (free the people), and assorted other characters that complete the hero myth very nicely. In the end, the villain, try as he may to wipe out his workforce, wound up getting screwed over. Pharaoh was not exactly the brightest torch in Egypt, and he wound up being a bronze age version of Gordon Gekko.

Moses: Why are you trying to wreck our lives?

Pharaoh: Because they're wreckable!

Then, there's God. Ok, so you basically have Ben Kenobi and Yoda wrapped up in one Supreme Being with a generally unpleasant temperament, who likes to appear incognito (i.e. the burning bush), prefers staffs of wood to lightsabers, and then writes down instructions in stone. C'mon, you just defeated the ruler of Egypt, you couldn't have borrowed some papyrus? Whatever happened to the idea that "to the victor, belongs the spoils?"

The only thing about Passover that makes life difficult is the "no leavening" requirement. For the gentile readers, this means bread with no yeast, or for that matter any baked goods you want to eat. This has translated into matzoh, which translates into cardboard that you can consume. While today there are actually many different types of matzoh that are quite good (onion, egg, other varieties), you had better have some salad or other type of food that can provide roughage, as your intestines will rebel if you don't.

I can certainly appreciate the ideals presented in the Passover story (perseverance, community, overcoming oppression, ), I have moved away from celebrating them in a yearly ritual. Everyday life in the modern age can be a struggle into itself, so I don't need to be reminded yet again of what it is to survive adversity, and come through it with a new beginning, a fresh start. I also think that these stories are, more than anything else, metaphors that were written at a time to provide a framework for a society to find a common heritage and belief. Did Moses exist? I suspect not. Did Jesus exist? We just don't know with absolute certainty. It requires something that I don't have: faith.

"I don't need to have faith, I have experience." wrote Joseph Campbell. He spoke of the idea that all the gods, all the demons, all the heaven and hells of the world were projections of psychological states of being. This was not new, as people like Jung and others had suggested the very same thing. I think that my own life experiences have born this out time and time again to me.

So, at this time of the year, I choose to look at my own trials, my own crosses that I bear, my own efforts to free myself from any psychological slavery that might be encumbering me, and try to break free from them, and resurrect myself.

Phew, that was a lot. Let's go eat.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The magic touch.

Ever since I was a small child, the idea of space travel has fascinated me. I can remember back in the 60's, watching the last of the Mercury missions, through the Gemini and Apollo programs. Like every other American (as well as the rest of the world) in that hot summer of July, 1969, our family watched in awe as two human beings stepped foot on the moon. My parents let me stay up late that night when Neil Armstrong planted his booted foot in the soil, and the whole world became a bit smaller. I also remember, but not totally comprehending the tragedy of two years earlier, when three astronauts, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee died in a launch pad fire on Apollo 1.

The Challenger and Columbia disasters. I remember where I was when they happened. For Challenger, I was working, and had just dropped off a patient at the hospital when I heard it on the radio in the ambulance. For Columbia, it was waking up that morning to the horrible news that it had happened again.

It was this interest in the space program that pushed me towards the realm of science fiction, both in print, and in the movies and TV. I fully remember the first sci-fi book I ever read, "The Andromeda Strain." While there were some things in it at the time that were hard for a 10 year-old to grasp, I read it, and read it, over and over again until I got it. From TV, it was the the cheesy stuff, Fireball XL-5, Space, 1999, and even some of the original Star Trek series (not all of them Cake, so don't kill me) to more polished shows such as Babylon 5, and the recently ended Battlestar Galactica, where the ideas that science fiction presented allowed me to dream beyond the confines of my earthly home, and in some ways, helped me to push my own dreams forward.

Then of course, there is Blade Runner. I would be remiss in not mentioning the inspiration for this blog, as well as a movie that had a profound impact on me. It still inspires me to this day.

The unmanned missions to other planets; Pathfinder, Viking, the two current Mars rovers, just to name a few. Then, there's Hubble. I think that with all the accomplishments that other unmanned probes have to list, for me, nothing stands out like Hubble. Its eye has opened up the universe in ways that awe like no other. However, there is another telescope that has given Hubble a run for its money; the Chandra X-Ray observatory. It was this space telescope that inspired me this week, and just makes your jaw drop. It was this picture in particular, that makes me realize how insignificant, and how special we are as humans on this planet:

How incredibly amazing is this? It was labeled the "Cosmic Hand," for its obviously weird similarity to a human hand. The first thing that jumped to mind was Michelangelo's painting in the Sistine Chapel of God reaching out to Adam to give him the spark of life.

In reality, it is a nebula created by a dying star, a pulsar, seemingly touching another nebula. Though the two are far apart, they are cosmic neighbors. In any case, it is a example of the pure beauty and violence that the universe can offer.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A year in the life.

I happened to glance at the blogpost tracker widget that I have, and realized that it has been one year since I decided to not only leave comments on other people's blogs, but actually try to see if I could screw up the courage to try my hand at one myself. While I enjoyed writing, I've never enjoyed writing about myself.

I suppose that is why I try to blog as anonymously as possible. There are some of you out there in blogland (you know who you are) that know who I am, but for the most part I have found that blogging anonymously allows me to detach myself from me, if that makes any sense whatsoever. I've found it to be useful and has allowed me to open up enough to at least try to make some of these posts mildly interesting.

The other thing that it did was get me into the habit of writing regularly. As a budding full-time freelance writer, it is important that I do this, to keep my skills and chops up to speed, especially in-between writing. It also allows me to experiment, to explore and find my own style. People have asked me "Well, what is your writing style?" To be honest, I can't define it. Someone left a comment in my comments box that described it as "pithy," but he seemed to mean it in a good way. I prefer to think of my style as being as honest as possible, and to avoid the sarcastic, melodramatic jingo that seems to permeate so much of what I read in the media these days.

I also have noticed that my blog entry counter is at 151. Somehow, I blew past number 150 without even noticing it. I'll have to pay closer to that from now on.

So, here's to another year, to 150 more blogposts, or perhaps more, and to keep getting better at what I do. Thanks to all of you that have commented, and especially to those that keep coming back. I am eternally grateful that you think I have something worthwhile to say, and want more of it. I'll leave you with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Joseph Campbell:

"We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us."