Friday, December 4, 2015

Friday, November 27, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Attention middle aged men! Read how to get lucky when your wife is away!

I got lucky yesterday! Don’t tell Lori, she was out running errands at the time, and if she finds out there will be hell to pay! I was a little nervous at first, I didn’t want to get caught but I just decided to go for it. I’m 49, not getting any younger, and this could be the last chance. So after Lori left, I went out to the shed, grabbed the ladder, and proceeded to clean the gutters.

I’ve been cleaning my gutters since living in this house until a couple years ago, that is, after the renovation. Before the renovation I could reach all the gutters with my extension ladder. Now, with the second floor addition there is a set of gutters that runs the back length of the house that are about 20 feet off the ground. I can still get to the lower gutters, but the only way to get to the higher gutters is with an extension ladder longer than I have, or, climb up on the roof.

When I was a kid I would sometimes climb out my bedroom window onto the lower roof over our family room. From there I could stand up and lift myself onto the main roof. I didn’t do it a lot, but did it some. It was easy and a little thrilling. In college we’d climb up on the roof of our frat house. It was easy to get to and the roof had a low slope. It was probably more dangerous than we thought, but we didn’t care. There was a great view from there. In grad school I helped a friend, who was renovating a house, put on a new roof. That was hard work, but kind of fun in that I realized this wasn’t going to be my career. Roofers: Hats off to you. That is hard work!

The point of that last paragraph is to say: I have roof experience. But I don't have recent roof experience. And I’ve never actually been on my current roof. Since the renovation I’ve gladly paid someone else to get way up on the top of our newer and higher roof to clear the gutters of our prodigious leaf fall. Typically they get up on the lower, porch, roof with one ladder, and then get up onto the main roof with a second ladder straddled over the lower peak of the porch roof. From there, with a rake or leaf blower, the job is easy. One year my next door neighbor Jon climbed up on the roof and did the job for me.

So how hard could it be? I have my extension ladder, and I have a six-foot folding stepladder for the second flight. I got everything ready: Extension ladder, second ladder and leaf blower (borrowed from same neighbor Jon), and climb up onto the first roof. I step off the ladder and onto the asphalt shingles and instantly realize this was a mistake. I have the wrong shoes on. I thought old running shoes would be soft and pliable and grippy to the shingles, but they were slippery and slidey. Adrenaline pumping, I skittered up, hands and knees, to the lower peak of the porch roof and stopped. Holding on to the peak with my gloved hands, I realized I would not clean all the gutters.

I had created in my imagination this story: Lori gets home. I'm waiting casually for her on the front porch with proud puffed out chest and with a sweep of my right arm up, pointing vaguely to the roof and the heavens proclaim, “Look, my winsome love, I have cleaned ALL of your gutters – yes, even the dangerous second level gutters!” She would have cursed at me for getting up on the roof, something she had expressly forbidden, but it would all be a play of course. For I know she would secretly be impressed by my masculine daring, would drop her grocery bags to her side, grab me by the arm, and take me inside to make mad and passionate love.

That was the plan and why I was going to clean the gutters. Now I was confronted with a whole new set of fantasies that involved ambulances, and broken bones, I-told-you-sos, and being out $75 to pay the guy who comes around and cleans gutters.

Where I got lucky!
To get down I reluctantly let go of the roof peak and started to slowly and uncontrollably slide toward the ladder. I sensed that if my feet hit the ladder it would be too fast, my momentum would knock the ladder over and I’d have an 8-foot fall to look forward to. Without thinking I rolled onto my back, and planted the heels of my slippery running shoes best I could and stopped! Now I was 180 degrees rotated and out of position to re-mount the extension ladder. But the stepladder was in front of me standing on a 4 foot high wooden "shed" we built for stowing trash cans, propane tanks, and miscellaneous yard gear. I had set the stepladder on top of it thinking I would grab it from the porch roof and set it in the straddled position for the second part of the climb. Not realizing I was completely fucked, I gradually inched towards the stepladder on my back. I didn’t have a plan, exactly, but thought with the combo of the two ladders something would work out. As I slowly approached the edge of the roof, I lifted my left foot to reach the extension ladder and as I did, the disappearance of that little bit of friction was all it took. My left foot, now against the extension ladder, allowed my body’s momentum to pivot to the right and I slid, sideways, right off the edge, landing on the roof of the shed.

Leaves ready for pickup!
Now this shed isn’t a regular shed, it’s sort of a homemade job, though I hired a handyman to construct it. The roof is actually a giant lid that opens up. And it’s construction is fine but not rigid (a former complaint of mine). So not only did the shed reduce my fall distance by half, the non-rigid wooden roof/lid cushioned my fall. I lied there for a moment, sat up, and took a deep breath. What did I just hurt? I waited. I waited for the pain and miraculously, after about 30-seconds, none materialized! It was like one of those scenes in the movies when the bad guys chase the good guy off a building and he lands in a dumpster full of soft, cushiony bags of trash.


I sat there for a few more moments, then hopped down, finished cleaning the lower gutters and raked up all the rest of the leaves in the yard. They now wait for the city to come around and suck them up with their leaf-sucking truck!

And that is the story of how I got lucky when Lori wasn’t home. Please don’t tell her.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We'll always have Paris

Paris.

Syrian refugees and home-grown killers from …
from Brussels?
They now threaten my wife who fears when I metro
downtown with a bunch of 5th graders on a field trip
one block from the White House.

“Fuck that,” I say, “we can’t let them win that way.”
Fuckers. I’m going to do what I want anyway.
And then I think of Timothy McVeigh
and wonder when will they
close the border with Michigan after all.

Enough days have passed so finally my FaceBook feed lights up
with my rightie and leftie and uncertaintie friends condemning and supporting Muslims.

They aren’t all the same, you know!
They are just crazy, fanatical boys
looking to take out their hatred.
Wake-up sheeple! You naïve liberals will reap what you sow
when Sharia law is thrown at you
like five score rocks at a raped virgin.

But killing Parisians? Why is that?
Okay fine!
My Christian forebears need to “own” the Crusades.
A silly idea, if you ask me. And hundreds of years ago too, by the way.
Can’t you pricks come up with anything fresh? Maybe kill Parisians because of our decadent cable TV?
It costs too much anyway and it would better fit our narrative.

And thank you Double-You for pulling the lid off. Thought democracy was a good idea didn’t you? Yeah, not everywhere it turns out. Here,
we need not Democracy over there,
for us in our comfortable suburbs.
A good propped up tyrant would have kept us much safer,
like our good friends in the Saudi Kingdom.
Oh, Mr. O., please keep them in power for my safety (May Allah bless them with many virgins after they die a slow ironic death).

And what IS up with all the virgins you “men” want over there?
Have you actually been with a virgin?
Look, I’m not the world’s most experienced guy over here.
Not by a long shot.
But I’m telling you:
Maybe before the next time you blow yourself up with a belt bomb,
just maybe consider blowing yourself up for a woman with a bit of, let’s just say, experience.
And one experienced woman truly oughtta suffice.

You boys can thank me later.

But back to the Double-You:
You broke it and bought it and we are paying for it, so thanks for that. Ten more years? One hundred? How long is the plan on this layaway?
And there is no unwinding this one. We are in it.

Yes, yes, I KNOW!
I’m a man and I’m white and heterosexual.
I live in a comfortable house with my comfortable wife and kids and things.
I have privilege. I do. I’m okay with that.
What I mean is, it is who I am. And,
AND I am also NOT okay with cops killing black kids and assassin drones and how our hands are stained with the tarry oil of our sins.

AND now it’s the fucking 2010’s, for Christ sake, and there are STILL people burning women and beheading gays and this is, I have to say, intolerable.
I am NOT okay with that either!

Sure, not all Muslims are doing this. Many Muslims are, in fact, NOT doing this.
But some are.
Just like not all Christians protest soldier’s funerals and think God Hates Fags or shoot up black churches.
But some do.
And not all Buddhists are terrorizing minorities in south-eastern Asia.
But some are.
So I have to wonder, does it really matter that they are Muslims, Christians, or Buddhists (or Jews or Hindus)?

Do you want me to tell you the answer?  Do you want me to tell you what they all have in common? Do you?

How about starting with this: We must answer for ourselves. And we must answer for our humanity. Our collective humanity. And remember we reap what we sow, and what our forebears planted. It's our legacy and heritage, so just suck it up and own that too. The sins of the father? Well, sometimes, yes.

And then continue with this: With our collective weaknesses and fears.
Our fears? Hah! That’s a good one! It is the only thing we have to fear, after all.
Along with Syrian refugees, of course.
They are a scary lot, aren’t they? At least that is what some of my FaceBook friends are saying.

Look, I grew up Catholic (and was not molested or raped, by the way) and now,
if you had to ask, I guess I would say I’m
Pantheist.
I recently would have said agnostic, or a lapsed-atheist, ha ha.
But I see it now, and have always seen it, I think, as it is all god, nature’s God, to sort of quote Jefferson.
All this? Really?
Yes. All this.
All the beauty of the first green leaf buds on the spring trees and the
fading indigo to orange and pink of a sunset sky and when
my boys entered the world from their mother and we held their warm little pink bodies and knew life was perfect, right then, at least for a little while before she died.
Yes, all that and a glass-smooth perfectly still Seneca Lake and the
sand-pipers skittering from gentle waves along the Jersey Shore
and the paintings at the National Gallery and the Foo Fighters and Miles Davis.
A steady rain in the summer an autumn morning fog and a campfire with my brothers.
I make love to my wife and I know that all of it is God.

And then I turn on my internet and what is all this other shit that I see?
What, what is this?
And I see it for the truth that it is. It is part of it too.
This is how we finally kill my God. One cut at a time. A thousand cuts.

Human trafficking and war, famine and disease.
A man strangled to death for a lousy cigarette.
Suicide bombers and mass murderers.
Corporate fascists and angry communists.
Fat cat donors and corrupt politicians.
Rabid lapdog media spinning in their zones a perfect propaganda machine
to infect my mind with news of terror that stokes my fear.

Fear.
Yes, be so afraid. So much to be afraid of, we are told.
Don’t look behind the bushes!
Run. Run! Run now inside your home to save your family!
Pulse racing with shallow respiration and barricade yourself in.
Keep the gun loaded and pointed at the door. And don’t ever, EVER, take your eye from it.

Because they are out there and they are coming for you so keep your eagle eye on that front door. Study the door knob for the first suspicious turn.
Or the shadow of feet through the crack between the bottom of the door and the threshold.
Stay vigilant, and with God on your side, you might have a chance.
But you aren’t looking at the side window are you?
That is where they come in.
From the side and the back while you are looking at the front and one sneaks upstairs and anal rapes your son and cuts off his genitals and shoves them down his throat, then to your daughter and slits her throat.
Silently, silently while you impotently stare at the front door.

Then you hear a noise from behind and you spin, gun cocked, but another, waiting, bursts through the front and pins you to the floor with a knife to your throat and a hand pressed against your mouth so you can’t scream. A knee is shoved into your gut up against your sternum and you can’t breath.
Then comes a thump, thump, thump, and you strain your neck and out of the corner of your bulging eyes you catch the silhouette of another one of them dragging your wife down the stairs by her ankles.

And this is how it ends for you as they defile her in front of you and in the back of your mind you can’t help but wonder if she likes it better from them than you.

Then as quickly as the thought rises in you, you shake it away, and the fantasy dissolves back into the back of your brain where it waits for another day. You get up and check the side window and the back door and satisfied they are secure, you return to guarding the front.

Fear then
anger then
hate.

And this is now YOUR freedom and on it goes until we have run out of genitals to mutilate
so we turn the knife to our wrists and we slowly
cut cut cut cut cut.

It’s the second act of the first book, you know; right from the start:
Brother kills brother. You can look it up.
The first was when we flipped off God.
“Fuck you, God,” says I, “I’m eating your fucking fruit! It looks gooood!”
Meanwhile keep diggin’ what’s left
from the ground and set it on fire, you know,
so I can type this on my MacBook Pro
which turns the sky into the darkest sackcloth.

And then?

Well, who knows? If anyone’s left, I guess he, or she, can take a selfie and post it online somewhere.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, they say, but neither did it fall overnight.

It took a while.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Gun, the engine

Cue the teeth gnashing, hand wringing, and the coming meaningless debate over the 2nd Amendment. Yup, its that time again, about every few months or so when some depressed, depraved, suicidal, crazy, mentally unstable person shoots up a school or a mall or a military base or a movie theater or a church.

Predictably the left will rise up in piqued anguish calling for measures to halt the rising tide of gun deaths. Then after a momentary pause the right will criticize the left for its demagoguery and be shocked and appalled by the left's attempts to politicize the tragedy -- our thoughts should be with the families, after all.

Someone will quote statistics that guns lead to more deaths; someone will quote statistics showing the opposite. Someone will finger-point the NRA and the massive amount of money at stake in the arms industry. Someone will invoke abortion as murdering more lives than guns ever do. And what about cars? Cars kill people too. Maybe we should ban cars.

There will be posturing, name calling, and in due course everyone will leave angry and nothing will change and by the following Sunday's round of NFL football, we'll be on to something else.

Don't be surprised by all this. It's the script we've written for ourselves. We are trapped in a bi-polar construct with neither side willing, or able, to extend itself even a wee bit to see the other's point of view. And it's the same script we run over, and over, and over (and over) again for whatever the issue du jour is: Gay marriage, Planned Parenthood, Hillary's email, Benghazi, Obamacare, Climate Change, the Pope's visit and what he should have really said, Trump's hair.

What the f&ck is wrong with us? We've given up probably the one thing that made this nation great. Actually made it at all: The ability to debate rationally and then compromise. The willingness to let go of our emotions, at least just a little bit, in the overall belief that we were, in spite of whatever the current conflict, in this together trying, hard as we could, to make something better.

I look at our current political climate and would like to blame all of this on our inept political leaders, but I look around at my friends social media and see the same thing. We are all guilty.

Often times, in these debates on guns or abortion or what have you, someone will invoke the Founding Fathers. It will go something like this (and I am just as guilty):

Well, clearly, if you had read Federalist 69 you would know that what the Founding Fathers really meant was that you are, actually, full of shit! And it is indisputable that you are full of shit because I HAVE read Federalist 69 and you, sir, no disrespect intended, it's clear from you hyperbolically ill-formed argument, have not read Federalist 69, which, by definition means you are literally full of shit. Troll!

Personally, I have not read Federalist 69, but here is what I think I remember about the Founding Fathers: They were a bunch of white, merchant class, plantation owners, many with slaves, who were somehow able to overcome their personal biases, some pretty big conflicts, and see that their mutual survival in the 1780s required serious compromise. It was not a foregone conclusion this nation would even really be created, let along survive. And it was far from perfect too. Notably, they punted on slavery knowing it was going to be a major, major issue in the future. For you students of history out there, I'd like to suggest the book, The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, by Joseph J. Ellis. It focuses on George Washington, George Mason, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay and the wrangling they went through to get a new Constitution to replace the ineffective Articles of Confederation. We've created in our minds eye this mythology of half-god, half-mortal men who through divine inspiration created our country. The Quartet dispenses with that mythology and brings into focus the humans, some very brave humans, who wrestled with their consciences, had to make great compromises on issues of absolute right and wrong, knowing in the end it was not at all perfect yet good enough to press forward.

After reading the book I decided I would never try to guess what the Founders actually meant. What Ellis argues is, though, that our still on-going debate over the "right" balance of power between the states and the federal government is actually the point. What the Constitution sets up is not whether its a federation of individual states or a federal government that includes states, or who has more power than the other, per se. What the Constitution actually does is set up the mechanism for us to debate that balance of power over time. The genius of Madison, in particular, is the insight that he couldn't know what was best for our future and to thus create the structures so we could figure that out.

Wow!

Okay, so it turns out this isn't an anti-gun missive. It's a book review! And it's just one book. I'm sure you or I could find other books that present a different interpretation of our early history. That's good too. But what I really found compelling in The Quartet is that it highlighted, starkly, the way the Founding Fathers worked together in contrast to how we work together today. They had angry mobs and factions and the like in the 1780s and 1790s just like we do today. They were ornery and called each other names and made up lies about their opponents. Yet, still, there was a strong ethic, perhaps illuminated by the Enlightenment philosophy of the time, for them to overcome their animal emotions and allow rational thought, and the ensuring debate, to eventually win out.

How refreshing would that be?

I remember a few years ago driving home and listening to CSPAN radio (yeah, I know) and they were playing the Nixon-Kennedy debates from the 1960 election. They were debating the status of a two little islands disputed between Taiwan and China and whether we should get involved. I was blown away. This was like no presidential election year debate I had ever heard. Sure, Nixon and Kennedy disagreed, but each presented his argument for his position and I remember thinking at times, "oh, that makes sense, I agree with him." Then I'd hear the rebuttal and think "oh, he also makes sense." Hmm. I actually had to think about what I thought was best.

We aren't those people in the 1960s anymore. We tend to show up with our minds made up and rather than listen we wait to pounce. Maybe it's the rise of the modern media machine and our short attention spans. Maybe it's the post-Watergate desire for the media to find a good scandal rather than the truth. Maybe it's our collective post 9-11 existential fear that has us looking to hunker down rather than being open to new possibilities. Maybe it's something else. Maybe it's some of all of that.

I get depressed by all this. I sometimes feel that our good days, as a nation, as a culture, are behind us, and we are all now just looking for a hand-hold to grip as we slip over the edge. I don't like feeling defeated, but it's there. And here we are again, with innocent people dead who died, I'm afraid, in vain. Another senseless and meaningless mass-murder we will do nothing about.

I'd like to think we could still be brave, like the Founding Fathers. Brave enough to say to ourselves, maybe I don't really know all I think I do about guns. Maybe we could set aside the parsing of the 2nd Amendment and what the militia's roll is. What makes sense for us today? Maybe there is something we can do to unambiguously protect the individual's right to own a gun for sport or protection and maybe there is something we can do to reduce the likelihood that those ill-equipped to handle a deadly weapon get one. Maybe technology can help. Could we somehow incentivize the gun industry here? Could Democrats reach out to the NRA (gasp) and seek a way forward? And what about abortion? What if we somehow thought about abortion differently? How do we unambiguously protect women and their mental and physical health and also reduce the necessity for abortions? What does each side need to let go of to come to a compromise? How do we move from black and white thinking back to shades of gray? How can we re-educate ourselves that compromise is not a sign of weakness or a "slippery slope" but actually an act of great courage?

I wish I had answers. Right now, just questions.

And thanks for reading to the end!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Letter from John to the Rowan County Clerk

Dear Ms. Davis,
Been a tough couple weeks, I bet. It sure is hard to do the Lord's work. And, I'm making an assumption here, but I suppose the thought of two Kentucky dudes gettin' it on in a carnal way makes you uneasy. Keep those Broke Back Mountain shenanigans out west where they belong, am I right? I don't know if this will help but personally, I imagine two ladies, not dudes. But that's for another essay.

Anywho, I was going back over my scripture and noticed this quaint little passage in 1 Timothy 2 11-12: Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 

Ouch! Gosh-darn scripture, being all inconvenient! Okay, sure, I cherry-picked that verse. And well, Paul, the presumed author of this letter to Timothy, was talking more about church roles than secular or civil roles, I think. At least that's what I got from the Wikipedia page I skimmed.

Now, we've never met, but it's probably fair for me to let you know I don't believe in God. Or maybe a better way would be for me to say, I don't think I believe in god the way you believe in God. The best label for me is probably "Agnostic" but I don't want to be pinned down with labels!

God. Looking pissed.
But let's say there is a God and He is the Judeo-Christian God, Y-hw-h, the God of the Old and New Testaments, the one who impregnated a virgin who birthed his only son, Jesus of Nazareth. Jump ahead 30 or so years and Jesus, through the only sanctioned act of child sacrifice since before Abraham, dies for all our sins. Other stuff happens too: Miracles, parables, sermons, and the like.

All during these events, and after, (mostly after), those who were witness to it and those who heard of the stories of this amazing god-human, wrote down the stories. Lots of stories and at some point someone said, "Enough! You writers are driving me crazy constantly re-working your draft. Adding. Subtracting. We've got plenty of the narrative down, we need to wrap it up, get it to the editors, then to the publisher! Let's go! Chop, chop, chop!"

And that is how The New Testament was created.

Now at that time in history, God stopped inspiring new scripture qualified to count as additions to the New Testament. How do I know? Because no humans have added anything new! That was it!

God gives Adam the finger
But even though God isn't creating newly inspired words for the Bible, we still talk about God-ly inspired work, right? The work of St. Augustine, or Martin Luther. Our U.S. Constitution comes to mind. We know our great Founding Fathers were divinely led to create the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. How do we know? Because Glenn Beck says so: "God's finger . . . wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. This is God's Country."

Manifest Destiny! American Exceptionalism! The spread of freedom and democracy! Of course the Finger of God is behind this! And he hasn't stopped, he continues!  How else were we able to defeat Fascism and Communism? We are a city on the hill with a thousand points of light!

From the mountains, to the prairies,
To the oceans white with foam,
God bless America,
My home sweet home.

We are a blessed nation, aren't we? Though imperfect, for sure, we must be guided by a divine force - God's Finger of Glenn Beck. So how does God's Finger work today? Through our citizens and legal residents, like Donald Trump. Through our churches and non-profits, through the divinely inspired institutions and systems we have created, like talk shows and reality TV. We may despise the man who is president, but we respect the God-Finger-created Presidency, right? Same for Congress, and, well, maybe even the Supreme Court. Hmmm. The Supreme Court. Of course!

I know I sure felt the Finger of God pointing towards love and compassion when I read the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges:

Holding: The Fourteenth Amendment requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.

Love. The sword God wields to destroy bigotry, ignorance, fear, and hatred. Right there, documented for all times, on SCOTUSBlog. How ingenious of you, Oh Lord, to use the Supreme Court to carry out Thy will! You created the Supreme Court, after all, with Your Finger and the Constitution.

So, Ms. Davis, I wonder. What if God IS behind all this? What if God, who divinely inspired our Founding Fathers to create the U.S. Constitution, and with it, the Supreme Court, wanted to make it so all people could marry whomever they wanted to? What if THAT is God's will? Wouldn't it be a shame if it turned out you were standing in His way?

Don't stand in His way, Ms. Davis. Let God give you his Finger to guide you to do His will.

Sincerely,
John

Thursday, July 16, 2015

A bad romance

My Dearest,

I don't know where to start, exactly. But I just feel like we need to look at our relationship. There, I said it. I know, it was tough for us from the get go and looking back I wonder how we made it this far. And I wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if we had never gotten together at all. I know you've thought about it before too. You've actually said as much. But in spite of our many differences, we always seem to pull it out, especially when we really need each other.

Broken Heart image courtesy
http://cybernations.wikia.com/wiki/File:Brokenheart.svg
I remember when we were young and full of life and energy and wanting to try new things together. Sure, we had our disagreements but it was so easy to just, well, look the other way, I guess. At the time I thought we had accepted each other for who we were but it’s hard to see it that way now and not believe we simply ignored those differences thinking the other one would change. I know you never really understood my urban and more industrial ways and looking back, while I viewed your philosophy of a simple agrarian life with romantic eyes, I later could not deny how I had simply ignored your use of slaves to make that all work. I know I tried to change you, and really couldn't. After our separation and everything that happened after that I thought we could go on. We no longer had to make compromises that ignored the core issues and I really thought it would work. Because, and you have to admit it, it did work and we did great things together. We built the world's largest economy, invented lots of really cool new technologies, we destroyed the notion of oppressive, dictatorial leadership as a viable model, and spread our concepts of democracy around the planet. We even sent humans to the moon and brought them back. Others looked to us as role models. And even though they don't admit it now, they are better for it.

And as good as it all was I now see we were really mostly focused on our careers and raising the kids. I thought this whole time we were growing together, in union. But now I'm not so sure. Now I see that it was really me trying to force you to change and that, well, it seems you were never really up for it. Somehow you went along with it. Maybe you just went along with it because you believed we were still right for each other too. But now all those times you'd joke about the "the south will rise again" I thought it was just playful teasing. Now, I see it that, well, you were serious, weren't you?

It really hurts me to think that all these years you saw yourself as an individual first and as part of our union second. And all this time I saw us as a union first and individuals second. I never wanted you to give up who you were, at heart, nor did I want to give up on who I've always been, but what happened to "united we stand?" Do we no longer believe that anymore?

I'm really confused by all this and I worry the pain we've caused each other over the years can't be reconciled. I don't want to separate like we did back in the 1860's. That was far too painful. But I don't want to keep on like this either. I don't like that we sleep in separate rooms or spend most of our alone time with our friends complaining about our union.  And I just have to say, we used to have great sex together. It was really amazing. But when was the last time we even had sex? In the 1990s? But looking back I think you were just going along with it. It may have been the late 1950s when we last really had great sex together. That's along time, even for an aging country like us. What happened?

Oh, South, I don't know why I am writing this. I still love you and want this to work out. At least I think I do. I do love your gentle ways and the slower pace of life you tell me about. I love your sunny beaches and the gentle rolling mountains. I've grown to love your okra and I even love bluegrass music. Yeah, I know I used to complain about it but I've grown to really enjoy it. And I know I must come off as a nag sometimes and you feel like I'm always telling you what to do, and how to spend or save your money, and I know you don't understand why I go to different churches now, but it is where I feel comfortable. So I feel like sometimes you nag me about that too. But, I don't want to start that argument again.

And I also know you really, really like your gun collection. You don't need to tell me again. I get it! And you must know how nervous it makes me having them around the house - how many times have I told you so?  But I've backed off lately, haven't I? I mean, let's be honest: I haven't tried anything to make you sell your collection, or even lock them up in the basement so the kids won't get them, have I? But you keep arguing with me about it as if I am. I wish you'd just relax for once about that.

And I know I'm not perfect either. I know I have crime in my cities and not all my people are happy. I know you don't like some of my free-spirit friends I hang out with. Okay, I'll admit, maybe some of them are a little too free-sprited, but mostly I just feel good when I'm with them. And I know I'm not in as good of shape as I used to be and some parts have become run down and neglected. I've been trying to get back into shape, but its hard. I've asked if I can join the new gym, but you keep saying we don't have the money for it. And the whole racial divide we thought we'd gotten past in the 1960's, well, turns out it's still here for you and me. We've ignored it like we ignored a lot of things and now look what's happening. I know you hate it when I suggest it, but I really think couples therapy could help us. If you agree, I promise I won't mention the flag you seem to like so much. But you have to know how much it reminds me of our separation and sometimes when I see it, it just makes me cry.

I didn't want to end this note to you like that. But I just had to get those things off my chest. I want to think about the positive. I want to put positive energy out to the universe about us. Think about us the way it used to be when we are together, laughing. When we'd be out and about the other countries would see us with our purple mountains majesty and amber waves of grain and they'd want to be just like us. I want to be like that again.

How do we work together to fix it?

Love,
North

Friday, July 10, 2015

Can you see the real me?

People often ask me, "John, what is the secret of your success and happiness?" Well, one secret to my success and happiness is my morning routine.  I'd like to share it with you.

I wake up each day at 5:00 a.m. I change into loose fitting comfortable work-out clothes then head downstairs to the kitchen. I drink 16 ounces of filtered water, take a multi-vitamin, then heat up the water (tea-kettle filled the night before) for my green tea. While the tea is steeping, I take 5 minutes to log my dreams in a journal I've been keeping for over five years. Then I press the tea (I use loose leaves in a tea pot with a incorporated filter with a plunger). After a sip or too of the fresh-brewed tea, my head is clear and I feel focused. I take my mug of tea, the one with the Sanskrit for "peace" written on it,  (and some more filtered water) to the back porch for some stretching, simple yoga posses, and light resistance work for 30 minutes. I've adapted the workout from several sources that I'll share later. What I particularly like about this routine is that it creates for me a sense of the seasons. In the winter the chill on the back porch and darkness create one reality, in the summer, like this morning, the gray of the dawn along with the heaviness of the air signal thunderstorms later in the day.

After my workout it's 5:45 a.m. and that's when I head to my home office for 15 minutes of journaling (important - write in long hand not on the computer!), followed by 60 minutes of writing and editing for my current project.

It's now 7 a.m. and the kids will be up soon for summer camp and I move to the kitchen to prep breakfast. Some mornings its a simple homemade muesli or granola cereal and cut fruit. This morning I'll make my from-scratch whole grain vegan pancakes (yes they are delicious!) and some scrambled eggs for the non-vegans in the house. By 7:45 a.m. I am wrapping up breakfast and we double-check the gear for today's summer camps (older son: music camp; younger son: swimming). From 8:00am until we need to leave at 8:30 a.m. I give the boys some screen time as a reward for being ready promptly. I use my last 30 minutes to answer a couple email and clear a few pieces of paper from my desk (some to filing, some to recycling) thus keeping my desk, and my mind, clutter free.

It's now 8:30 a.m., the kids are ready to go, as am I, and we pile in the minivan to camp. I kiss Lori goodbye and check if there is anything we need while I am out. I know when I get back in 30 minutes I'll feel a sense of accomplishment and with the sense of a strong body, a clear mind, and clutter free desk, I can have a productive day. Since I reviewed my calendar and action list the night before I know I have until 11 a.m. before my first meeting. It will be a good day.

And that is how I start every morning. At least that is how I start every morning on my alternative fantasy planet called "John Feels Really Good, Every Day." I couldn't find a suitable ancient Roman or Greek god or even mortal to give my alternate fantasy planet a proper name, so I use the long name. Meanwhile, back on reality planet "Earth," which is also not named for an ancient Roman or Greek god or even mortal, my day actually started thanks to a meowing cat at the top of the stairs. I am pretty good with cat meow interpretation and this particular cat meow translates to this:

"Hey! Hey you! Yes, that's right you! Guess what? Your alarm is set to go off in 30 minutes! Only 30 more minutes of sleep left! Just thought you should know!"

I should be thankful for the 30 extra minutes of day I'll get. Maybe a third cup of coffee will bring me that joy.

My fantasy morning schedule is just part of a larger fantasy world of who I am. Productive and reliable. Clean desk. Organized. Magical as a father and always one-step ahead of the children and their needs. Ready with Band-Aids and sage advice. I play music and write poetry and my wife thinks only of me and my amazing toned and athletic body. She notices other women, younger women in particular, giving me "that look" as we pass them in public. She just smiles because she knows what she has and the others never will. Professionally I am successful in all things, never doubting myself. Sometimes difficult situations arise and that is when I shine the most. Danger and risk are everywhere but I am confident in my choices and know that true leaders, like myself, are differentiated by our ability to see through the turmoil and envision a new world. As a result I am admired and people follow me.  Because of this ability I am sought out professionally. It's a good life I have here on planet John Feels Really Good, Every Day.

Meanwhile, back here on so-called Earth, my desk is a mess, I'm way behind on several assignments, and I think older son will just have a glass of milk for breakfast and we will call that a meal. I still think I'm a pretty good parent, and spouse, and a productive member of society, but there is still this tension with who I really am and who I think I "should" be or "want" to be. I'm not sure the precise wording and if I were seeing my shrink today she'd have a field day with this.

I wonder how many of us walk around with this notion of who we are and who we ought to be? Maybe that tension is a good thing. It keeps us moving and changing as humans towards some more idealized person. There are whole shelves of self-help books at the book store (if we still had book stores) that offer different strategies for living better, fuller, happier lives. Why is that so? It's a strange thing if you think about it. There really could be just one book titled, "Just Chill the Fuck Out and Be Yourself!" If you open that book up to its one page and read it, it would say, "I told you to just chill the fuck out and be yourself!"

I'm guessing one of you readers schooled in Freudian psychology could help me out with the concepts of id, super-ego, and ego and how these three selves are in conflict or mediate with each other.  Perhaps there is a more contemporary model that explains it. But I wonder if there is a simpler way to think of who we are and about being honest about whom we are, warts and all.

There is the "me" I want to be: The aspirational me. There is the "me" I present to the world: The facade me. Then there is the "me" I really am: The real me.

But we can't see the real me, can we? (Yeah, you had to read this far to get to a bad Who pun). There may be a fourth "me" distinct from the real me: That is, the real "me" I think I am but am not. This is different from the aspirational me and facade me in that we truly believe it is who we are, but since our self-observation powers are limited our view of self is limited too. And, no, I am not going to make an Austin Powers reference to "Mini Me." Sorry about that.

I wonder if great people in history like the Buddha, or Jesus, or Ghandi had the introspective abilities to align those distinct "Me's" such that the inner-conflict from them was reduced or eliminated. I wonder. Or maybe they were filled with self-doubt too and just dealt with it better.

Anywho, if you got this far in this essay, thanks for sticking with it. I'd appreciate your thoughts and comments below. And have a great day, regardless of which planet you are on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

A dream for the ages

I remember as a child having dreams where I could fly. Last night I dreamed I could run without knee pain.

Monday evening I led little league practice for my younger son's team - our head coach away on travel. It was fun and a good practice and when I got home my right knee was hurting. Badly. And I walked with a limp. "What is this?" I nervously wondered. Three summers ago I had knee surgery on my left knee. A torn meniscus. It still aches when I run. But my right knee? My "good" knee? Ugh. I took 3 Aleve and went to bed. Yesterday it felt a little better, but I could not say it was "okay."

In my dream I was back in my childhood town and I was running along the main road and turned into the peach orchards, along dirt roads. I was running so fast and so far and never ran out of breath. It was exhilarating. At one point I stopped and realized my knees weren't hurting. It was such a thrilling and exciting feeling to have no knee pain and then I realized it was a dream then I tried to run again but the dream had run out.

I'm 48 years old. I could stand to drop 10 pounds but I'm otherwise in pretty good shape. But my knees have started letting me down. I remember when 48 was old, like say 28 years ago when I was 20. I was ending my junior year in college and it was my dad who was 48. Now my dad is 76. I can't exactly say 76 is "old." I know better. But 76 is "getting up there." I say that not so much for his benefit but for mine. I hope to make it to 76 and it'll be a stretch to consider 76 "middle-aged" so I'm going with "getting up there" rather than "old." Meanwhile 48 is now somewhere in a broadening range of "middle-age" ages. I'm not sure what age actually qualifies as "old" anymore. Someone twice my age at 96-years-old is certainly old but I wouldn't say it to them. I would congratulate them and then ask them how their knees are holding up.

I shouldn't complain. I'm lucky. I'm lucky I was born when I was because if I had been born, say, 10,000 years ago I'd be dead. I would have never made it to 48. Besides the ornery left knee there's my plantar fasciitis, my torn left bicep, and I wear glasses. Unless I could have been the clan shaman, I'd have been left behind.

"Hey John, grab your spear. We are getting ready to chase those buffalo over the cliff."
"Really? Now?"
"Yeah! Come on!"
"Look, my left knee is really acting up, why don't you guys go on ahead and I'll just drink some of this fermented cactus juice and ask the spirit world to look after you all. Cool?"

No. What happens is they leave me at Dying Rock at the foot of Spirit Mountain with a full skin of that fermented cactus juice so I can join the spirit world. We might have been a little sad, but there would have been a nice ceremony. We'd chant. Someone would burn dried sage. We'd say goodbye and they would move on. That was how it went down. And as I closed my eyes I would have fallen asleep and dreamed of chasing buffalo with my clan-mates.

I wonder what future dreams I may have: Maybe one day I'll dream of the thrill of eating solid food or the exhilaration of making it to the bathroom on my own. Whatever those future dreams are I'll try to enjoy them. I guess that's the best thing.

Oh, and my right knee? Thanks for asking. It's still a little stiff but it feels better. I don't think it is anything serious.






Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Altitude Analysis

FADE IN:
Scene 1: Interior

Typical military office of an officer. Mahogany desk, flag, awards and certificates adorn the walls. The Colonel sits at his desk shaking his head. He is looking at papers and is clearly distressed. After a moment he presses the intercom on his desk

COLONEL
Send in Jenkins!

JENKINS enters and salutes. The COLONEL returns the salute.

COLONEL
At ease Jenkins. I'm glad you could come in today. I want to discuss the issue at hand but I don't want to get bogged down in the details.

JENKINS
Of course sir. So, you just want a high level overview?
COLONEL
Right. 
JENKINS
Okay! I can give you the 30,000 foot view of the issue, if you like.
COLONEL
Well, see, that's just the thing. 30,000 feet up is pretty high up. Is it too high?
JENKINS
Yes, it is, for a commercial airline it a fairly normal altitude. Some go up to 36,000 feet. But some of our military planes fly 100,000 feet up. Maybe you'd like that view of the issue.
COLONEL
Yes, of course, that sounds good, but that is pretty high up. I'll need metaphorical oxygen for this won't I?
JENKINS
Yes, you will. In fact, you'll need a metaphorical pressure suit. 
COLONEL
Well, that doesn't worry me. 
JENKINS
Now you could go higher, say up to the 300,000 foot level. Now you are in essentially in space. There is really no atmosphere and your metaphorical plane's wings are useless. You'll need a metaphorical rocket.
COLONEL
That's too high up. I don't need the 300,000 foot view of this issue. I don't think its that big. Take me back down to 30,000 feet.
JENKINS
Yes sir. Now, as I was saying, taking the 30,000 foot view of the issue...
COLONEL
One second! From up here, I can see the metaphorical landscape, even roads and towns, but I can't make out any people. I'm not sure but I think this is too high.
JENKINS
Well, let's look at this from the 10,000 foot level. What do you think of that?
COLONEL
Hmmm. Yes, yes, this is better. I get a better sense of what is going on. I can even see metaphorical kids playing metaphorical soccer on that metaphorical field.
JENKINS
Exactly! I think you are on to something. Shall we continue?
COLONEL
No, Jenkins. You've been very helpful. I now have a good sense of what metaphorical altitude I should use from here on.
JENKINS
Thank you sir.


FADE OUT

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sustainable Energy = National Security

During one particularly warm January, back in 2007, I sent in this letter to the editor of the Washington Post calling for the returning Congress to get to work on global warming, invest in renewable and alternate energy sources, and develop real conservation strategies. And I also mentioned it would help "reduce our dependence on despot-controlled oil."

Now, eight years later, the Middle East is essentially in state of complete war: Saudia Arabia and Iran are close to direct conflict over Yemen, and we have gotten sucked into competing and conflicting interests. For example, we are supporting Iranian backed militias against ISES and supporting Saudia Arabia against Iranian backed militias in Yemen. We are in, what I think is called in political science circles, a pickle.

Beyond the human toll from this war, beyond the despicable evils being carried out by ISIS, our national interests, because of our need for a steady and predictable supply of oil, are at risk. I can't help but wonder what would be our condition now had we invested the trillions of dollar we spent on war on solar and wind power, reliable battery technology, and a modernized electric grid. I wonder what would be our condition now if we had re-programmed those trillions of dollars we spent on war and rather on modernizing our transportation fleet to run on electric powered motors with a massively decentralized system of conventional, and non-conventional micro-generation sources (think roof top solar and backyard wind). And what if instead of fracking natural gas like their was no tomorrow, and then send it overseas to India and China, we could slow that down, keep it here at home, and make doubly and triply sure what we are doing is safe. This then becomes a game changer.

With a comprehensive, secure, and predictable supply of energy, we would no longer depend on the Middle East (or Nigeria, Venezuela  and a couple others). Without the threat of losing access to Iranian oil we could negotiate with them differently with the goal of being rid of they nuclear capability. Maybe we would not feel so compelled to protect Saudi Arabia in the same way we do now, and we could take a wholly different approach to containing ISES since we wouldn't be worried about them taking over oil fields in Kurdistan. I'm not an expert on all the factions, tribal relationships, lingering colonial affects, and so on, that conspire to create the tinder box that is the Middle East, but our reliance on their oil for our standard of living and economic might limits our options. I like to have options.

Our country isn't perfect, but that doesn't mean it isn't often times amazing. Our "experiment" with democracy continues with fits and starts, we gradually inch, tentatively, towards a true universal justice for all, and the spirit of discovery and innovation run through our DNA like no where else allowing us to be leaders pretty much in whatever we set our minds to. I firmly believe that.

For reasons that I can't quite understand, energy policy has become a liberal vs. conservative thing. Liberals staunchly argue for more alternative, non-carbon polluting energy and conservatives staunchly argue that such a policy will cost too much money, jobs, and hurt the economy. How can we get past this? It seems that National Security, an issue that Republican/Conservatives like to run with, could be greatly enhanced through a comprehensive policy of energy independence that would include wind, solar, and better technology across the board. The investments would create jobs, reduce our dependance for overseas oil, and allow money we spend on military to be spent on other programs, or returned through lower taxes. If Republicans are concerned about decreasing the military budget, how about this: Put the DoD in charge of re-tooling the infrastructure. We've declared wars on drugs and other things, why not this? The military-industrial-complex may already be tooled up sufficiently to build out the solar and wind generating capability we would need.

I know my liberal friends will not like the idea, perhaps, but why not? So come on Republicans, step up to the plate!And it seems, with our current state of technology, it's naive for Democrats/Liberals to think retooling our energy infrastructure overnight is possible. Some transitional approach seems obvious that must include natural gas, nuclear, and even some coal (hopefully not for long). Fracking? I don't like it and I have protested against here in my state of Maryland and in DC to prevent a Fracked Gas processing plant on the Chesapeake Bay (Cove Point). But, if a politician could create the argument that, while not ideal, we could use our own natural resources and keep them here in the U.S. (not ship it overseas like they want to do with Cove Point), we can reduce our dependance on despot controlled oil, I think I'd get on board. So come on Democrats, where can we find areas of compromise towards a greater good?

We Americans like to win. Sometimes at all cost. But we also do know how to compromise. Or did. Some of you may recall your High School history and The Great Compromise which got us our Constitution, and the Compromise of 1850 which, though ill fated in the end, was a desperate attempt by good-willed people doing what they could to prevent a Civil War. Neither side liked all of it, but both sides saw the obvious benefit of easing sectional tension.

So now what? The stakes are too high to allow the petty and dysfunctional, cow-towing to monied interests group of (mostly) men and women we call Congress to continue as it is. Yeah, I know some of you are still unconvinced by the science, but global warming is here and pretty well understood. We may not have every detail, but we have enough. Shoot, we still don't quite understand how gravity really works, but we certainly don't deny it.

But so what if it is or isn't real? Even if it turns out the science isn't exactly right, its undeniable that our non-renewable resources are that: Non-renewable. They will run out. They are running out. The easy to get to crude bubbling up from the ground in Texas is long gone. We now have to drill it from the Arctic or deep in the Gulf of Mexico. We don't do that because its easy. We do it because that is what's left. Technology has allowed new sources to be exploited, like tight oil and tar sands in the upper midwest and Canada, but that stuff is expensive and dirty. It's like ordering pork loin and getting scrapple. It's what is left. So just forget global warming for a minute and think out this: We will run out oil. Maybe not tomorrow, but we will. And since we don't know exactly when, do you want to wait until we know for sure?  And now add in this: Much of the oil we depend on comes from a chaotic part of the world - one that appears to be on the verge of implosion. Do we want to keep doing business over there? It just no longer makes sense. If you were an investor would you want to invest in that part of the world? It no longer seems even remotely in our best interest.

We are Americans, Goddamit, and we can do better than this!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dry wall lemonade

This morning I woke up about 6:15am. That's about normal, though I didn't get to bed until almost midnight. March Madness, of course, and Lori is out of town and we chatted late. I got up and peed then crawled back into the covers to get more sleep, but couldn't. After about 30 minute of debating whether to get up or not I got up, put on my sweats and sweatshirt and sweat socks. Normal attire for when I first wake up to head to my office and try writing. I don't sweat when I write - it's just comfortable. I flip open my laptop and hear a soft tinkle sound, like water running, somewhere. I follow the sound to the kitchen and that's when I remember: In my multi-tasking sensibility last night (dishes, laundry, dogs, cats, kids) I set the dog dish on the kitchen counter, angled the filtered water tap, turned it on, and forgot it.

When we renovated our 1940's cape cod house a couple years ago we installed an under counter water filter system. There is something about this particular unit and the water flows very slowly. Very, very slowly. Slow enough that impatience can get the best of us, especially when filling a large container and our dog water dish, while not too large is large enough. Lori and I have both set the dog dish on the counter, angled the tap, set it and forgotten it. Usually the other of us stumbles upon it and turns it off. Water will dribbled some over the lip and into the sink and some onto the counter, spreading out, along the back edge and under the toaster and microwave. I would venture that the absolute longest one of us has ever forgotten it is maybe 30 minutes. Maybe.

This time? About 8 hours is my guess.

Damn! Dammit. Godammit!

Of course my first thought was actually: Godammit Lori! If she hadn't been out of town, she'd have filled up the water bowl, not me, and none of this would have happened. Seriously!

Then my second thought was. Shit, there is water on the counter, and some on the floor, but not as much as I would have thought from 8 hours of constantly running water, even if half made it safely into the sink. I took a deep breath and went into the basement. Water dripping from a recessed light fixture is a bad sign. And then I could see the bulging drywall tape outlining the seams in the basement ceiling. Not good.

Several gallons of water had dripped and spread out on the floor. Part of an area rug was soaked, but fortunately no major damage to anything else. But the ceiling? I knew there was water up there and knew it had to come out. Leaving it leads to mold and crumbly drywall. Dammit! I fetched a utility knife and tentatively cut a hole. Then I pulled down a chunk of soggy drywall and a steady trickle of water ran down my extended arm. There is nothing like wet drywall. They call it drywall, because its dry. It's not supposed to be wet. Then a larger hole I could poke my head through to see along the floor joists. Ugh. Water was pooling in spots nearly the width of the basement. So I went to it and after about 30 minutes of battlefield surgery I had several gaping holes in my basement ceiling a couple piles of demolition debris and a head full of wet drywall dust.

At some point in the midst of this, my anger and frustration (with myself this time) shifted. Besides the drywall and some insulation, the damage seems manageable. This part of the basement is where my son practices with his band and we have a fair amount of musical gear. Some ours, some not. None of it was affected. It's also where I store my camera and video gear for Sister Eden and thankfully it was untouched. And then I thought, with the audio stuff going on in this part of our basement, maybe we could have some lemonade from this lemon. I've always thought of putting in some acoustic dampening tiles. Maybe now is the time.

And now I'm wondering what other parts of the house, or maybe my life, I can cut holes into!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Again with the spring cleaning

I'm on a bit of a spring break and decided some weeks ago I'd use the time to a) clear out the shed so I can b) move stuff out of the utility room to make space for c) the overflow from the upstairs closet.

I've already made some progress this weekend but its a strange thing. Where does all this stuff come from? Lori and I are not profligate shoppers nor hoarders. Somehow stuff just finds its way in.

I'm starting to believe that at night, after we are asleep, our stuff comes to life and has raucous bacchanalian orgies. Old paper files getting drunk and copulating with a box of VHS tapes then some weeks later is birthed a box of miscellaneous, partially used, office supplies.

I can think of no other way this is happening.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Agnostic?

Perhaps I am cursed, or afflicted might be the better word, by a god I don't believe in, to wander about from one conviction to another; an explorer trapped in my own imagination.

A friend of mine is strong in his conviction: God, in his perfection, created the Universe, sent his son, Jesus Christ, to establish a new covenant then die for our sins. God also created an Objective Moral code to guide humanity. It is our choice to act accordingly and to, hopefully, choose with our free will to act in accordance of that objective morality and move towards communion with God. That's what God wants. At least that is my naive understanding. It's pretty simple, really, and sometimes I get a little jealous of my friend and his conviction. I wish I could be sure about something.

I wonder if my parents had been Atheists if I would have gone through some spiritual rebellion in my 20s, moved away from their atheism, and then found God. Instead of the other way around. Or maybe its just the simple matter of what we think we know from science. The world isn't less than 10,000 years old, and we do share a common ancestor with other animals. How can I square that with a teaching that is based on a book ignorant of modern science? Something must yield and for now God is losing. Badly.

But then I wonder: So what? Does it even matter? What if God does exist and created everything just as it is, including the pesky evidence that suggests otherwise? What would really change? I'm still me and I still enjoy sunsets, rice and beans, and making love to my wife. I will experience it regardless of what is behind it all. Does that make me agnostic?

I'm not sure.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

3 simple reasons why Keystone XL is a bad idea (and what we should do when we approve it)

1. Allows precious North American petroleum resources to be sent to China

I’m not an anti-export guy. I actually think international trade, over time, is a good thing. But we have to think carefully when it comes to energy. Sometime in the next 50 to 150 years we will have to have moved from carbon-based energy sources to cleaner sources and renewables.  Allowing a North American resource, as nasty and cruddy as it is, to be more easily shipped overseas, especially to a major rival like China, seems un-wise. I was talking to my WWII-vet father-in-law about this and he said it reminded him of the stories of the USA selling scrap metal to the Japanese in the 1930s only to have it come back to us as bombs.

2. Oil prices will rise

Contrary to what many say, the additional supply from tar sand oil will not have the typical affect of increasing supply thus lowering prices. That’s because not all oil is equal. Tar sand oil is about the most difficult, and expensive, to extract and refine. It’s not like North Sea oil or West Texas oil or Saudi oil. That oil that is easy to get out of the ground and easy to refine. Because of the costs to extract and refine what essentially starts as a think tar-y sand, a barrel of tar sand oil needs to trade for upwards of $70-$80. Right now a barrel of oil is under $50.

3. Ignores the property rights of middle-Americans

It’s bad enough when the local or federal government imposes eminent domain to take land for roads or other interests that serve the common good. But here we have a situation where a company from another country is petitioning our government to allow them to use U.S. citizens' private land. Sure, some of those landowners are okay with it, especially with the bribes payments they'll receive. But not everyone is in favor.

Okay, I’ll admit it, I’m a knee-jerk-reactionary-tree-hugging-card-carrying-liberal. Except I’ve misplaced my card somewhere. I think I must have left them in the pocket of my cargo pants when I stripped down at Burning Man back in 1999.

Anyway, I’ve been to the anti-KXL rallies. I’ve written letters and all the other do-gooder crap. And I also think the main-stream green movement maybe picked the wrong "line-in-the-sand" issue with Keystone XL. What makes Keystone XL a bad idea is not the pipeline itself. Sure, every pipeline brings environmental risks, but there are so many pipelines crisscrossing the country all over the place, many in worse locations, that are older and are a greater risk to the environment. What makes Keystone XL bad is not Keystone XL itself but what it will lead to.

It’s thus a fairly complex issue and not a good political “sound bite” issue. It's easy to pick it apart with environmental studies that only look at the pipeline. And there is the constant argument over jobs. It’ll create lots of jobs or it will create few jobs. In an economy as large as ours the number of jobs this thing creates will be a rounding error regardless of whose estimates you use. And the real winners, the oil companies, stand to gain tens of billions of dollars. Yes, that is a billion with a ‘b.’ The math is easy, really. There are literally billions of barrels of oil locked up in those tar sands. By making it easier to get it out, they can sell it on the international market for $10-$15 more per barrel while saving a few dollars with cheaper shipping (pipeline vs rail or truck). At $20 per barrel times a billion or ten, the profits are amazing. That is who wins. Royal Dutch Shell. Exxon-Mobil. And PetroChina. The last one is the listed arm of state-owned China National Petroleum Corporation. I really don't like the idea of a Chinese government-owned company standing to reap a windfall while it despoils our environment to send refined oil back to itself. It's a huge subsidy and back in the good old days, when one country took the resources of another we called it colonialism.

Here's what we should do

But beyond all that, what I’d rather see is a way for both sides to get past their bullshit posturing and come together. Here’s an idea: If we approve Keystone XL, tax the shit out of that nasty dirty oil. Ship it to China for China to pay the export duties. Use that revenue to ramp up our wind, solar, and yes, nuclear, energy capabilities. Congress has to, HAS TO, get out of its current bi-polar mess and start to govern again. The Tea-party fascists need to go home. And yeah, we need new leadership on the liberal side too. Pelosi and Reed had their chance and we see what happened. They can go home and teach at some local university.

We need creative leadership in Washington DC not a bunch of demigods looking out for personal, party, and corporate interests. Remember, it's supposed to be "We the People..."