Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Kinda depends, don't it?

Two items from last week scratched against each other and eventually drew sparks, so here I am...on the slow coach as usual.

A week ago Monday I was at North Shore Mall while my car was in the shop. I chose the mall because its ennui was at least more varied than that of the Chambers dealership. They haven't jumped on the bandwagon that offers TV movies and all you can eat whilst the busy mechanics dismantle whatever.

I wasn't into my first perambulation five minutes before I was jumped  by this fast-talking mall kiosk sales type, who began rubbing his snake-oil exfoliant into my hand before I was able to draw a second breath. It is, or used to be, a truism of retail sales that three "Nos" were like three strikes: you're out. I peppered this earnest Israeli (self-identified) with about twenty before I got my hand back and got out of there. I continued my mall walking with slight detours to avoid Mr Unctuous and his nostrums. I began to think I had escaped all ill effects.

But no: a couple of hours later,  the exfoliated hand began to itch furiously,  like an anaphlactic reaction. Unwisely I began to scratch, when so help me, my skin started crawling around. My scratching tore open an abrasion about 15mm in diameter, between my thumb and index finger on the back of my hand, as easily as tearing a tissue. I galloped for the nearest rest room and flushed my hand with soap and water until the itching and the creepies subsided. The damn thing oozed for a couple of days afterward. It's a hard place to bandage and hence a bitch to keep clean.

I dislike pushy mall kiosk inhabitants, but an article in the next issue of Boston's street paper, Spare Change, put the business in perspective. This piece was deploring Boston's push to outlaw "aggressive panhandling" without the law being especially clear on what aggressive panhandling is. Fair point. I know what it is to me: squeegee men anywhere or the flower sellers at the Mass Pike exit to Storrow Drive (who practically become hood ornaments until you buy or the light changes): like that. The article pointed out that just being homeless and being on the street is enough to get someone labelled an aggressive panhandler. Why, selling Spare Change can do it. Specifics, Mr Mayor: specifics.

However, if one has the capital to organise a sketchy company and rent space in a mall, then aggressive panhandling becomes a legitimate business, even if there's nothing to choose between methods and the value of the product. Would the sensitive souls who might label a homeless woman sheltering with kids in a vacant doorway "aggressive" might fly to the defence of the ardent capitalism of a mall kiosk hustler. After all, the hustlers dress well and don't smell.

I'd rather defend the homeless family and ride the kiosk hustlers out of town on a rail. No squeegee man has ever tried to lift the skin from my hand.

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Thursday, June 20, 2013

Stumbling back

So, the two preoccupations that have kept me away from this are both about done. The first was my roofing job. This once was a semi-refreshing brainless activity that I liked because it was brainless. Alas, I find the contortions a lot harder to manage than i once did.

Second was another writing project, fulfilling a promise to my daughter to write down what I remembered of my father's WW II experiences. Thanks to the several degrees of estrangement that afflict my family (we put the "diss" in "dysfunctional"), Em grew up hardly knowing I had a family. My wife by contrast worshipped her father and made sure Em knew he had been a Marine who landed on Iwo Jima.

This writing exercise turned out to be emotionally churning. This was partly because the war stories were memories of my father at his best, the times when he was relaxed enough to share such stories. The other part of his war story was his changed personality after the war (as I heard from people who had known him before it) and behaviour that generally fits the PTSD profile. There were only a few glimpses behind the curtain: combat incidents of which he was oddly proud, and shadowy inferences of involvement in things far worse. It is too late now to learn the truth from him. I could only pass on what I knew or suspected.

With all this I've missed a good deal of fodder. I'll confine myself to just one topic. 'Tis spring, and once more the sound of crunching trucks too tall for Storrow Drive is heard along the Boston Esplanade. There have been two of these in a week, and every time this happens, the talking heads start wondering how we could improve the situation.

We can't, since the cause is out of one city's hands. It isn't that the signs aren't visible enough, or that it is too easy to turn a truck onto Storrow. The problem is the nut behind the wheel. Examine the subject closely and one is likely to learn that the drivers simply assumed that Authority was trying to keep them off of a convenient roadway that they had a God-given right to navigate. Asked properly, these drivers would likely assert their superior knowledge, and keep asserting it even after someone has spent hours sweeping up the cookie crumbs, empty soda bottles or dead chickens that their superior knowledge had splattered all over Storrow Drive.

If that doesn't make you think of Edward Snowden, you haven't been paying attention.

Ever since I enlisted in the Navy, I've been encountering the bane of the technological society:  people who mistake their technical prowess for genius, and their quick grasp of data for wisdom. These people are frequently dropouts from college and (more and more) high school. Those two errors in their makeup have convinced them that they are superior to people who try to teach them perspective, and strive to introduce them to ideas other than their own. They are prophets in an age that worships intellectual sloth. The majority don't become famous whistle-blowers (but don't they wish). They infest Internet comment pages, providing evidence of an intellectual Gresham's law. They are the cheering section for every conspiracy paranoiac that comes along.  I met a great many of them as career non-commissioned officers, and some try to drive eleven-foot loads under nine-foot overpasses.

Hmm, why shouldn't we call them all snowdens? The emphasis is on the snow.

We require some periodic corrections to government for the sake of individual liberty, but we may have to assign the role of naive dreamer to the Founding Fathers, who thought such corrections would come from the best and brightest. They come instead from people who are too dumb even to know they are dumb, who have never known a helpful moment of self-doubt. Both we and the corrections are much the worse for it.