Saturday, April 28, 2012

The rising this time

The stress levels are rising again. 

Where is it written that some of us shan't have a few moments, days, weeks, months of peace? Look, I know that just isn't the way (at least my and probably your) life works. But that doesn't mean that I don't want those moments. There isn't time to photograph and/or write notes to the self about everything good and or bad that one wishes to remember, savor, or encourage to recede into memory and or forgetfulness. Even for the moments I'd like to revisit again someday, where and or when does one really get the chance?

Thanks to computers, we now have the ability to alter and fix up some of our mementos. For instance many years ago now, when I lived in Boston, there were any number of things I photographed. One or two hundred dozen pictures have always been a little better as I prefer to remember them, not as they are. Case in point:

The above picture was taken on the first "Victorian Day" at the Boston Public Garden in May of 1989. Sadly, it was never held again as far as I know. A number of people with an interest in historical couture dressed in restored Victorian era clothing and took a leisurely stroll around an appropriate period setting. It was over in a few minutes. Now, in my mind's eye, the above picture looks a little more like this:

Please understand that I really do prefer the color picture. But the way my mind wants to remember the photo is without the woman in the 1940's blue skirt, and as something I took in a moment when I had become unstuck in time. A few minutes later, I happened to notice a couple dressed all in black, as though they were some kind of Victorian punk rockers. I immediately raised my camera. They paused in their stroll for the briefest moment, just long enough to take one picture.

The problem I have with the photo is the two people on either side whose modern garb quite ruins the perception of an antique hand colored photo of Edgar Allan Poe and the Mrs. It doesn't matter that Poe only lived in his nearby birthplace as an infant, and certainly didn't live there with his child bride cousin (she was 13 when they married) who died of consumption. In our modern world, I can now use fancy computer programs once the province of Hollywood special effect departments to eliminate the folks in the photo who spoil the illusion. Except that the best program to use to accomplish that costs over $180 for the basic version (and that -is- a discounted price) to well over $340.00 for the more complete version. (In my experience, basic versions give you enough of the program to become extremely frustrated at its limitations which force you to buy the full featured version.) And then there are add on packages costing close to $100.00 each. As it happens, there is a "free ware" program which I downloaded which is said to be a near equivalent of the fancy schmancy program. The only problem is finding the time to learn how to use it to see if it is up to the computing task. Until that time, the picture is best observed from my frustrated director's memory, edited to my specifications. Then I can enjoy the moment the way I want.

Sadly, I can't seem to get to a place where I can edit my life to be the picture I want. A quick perusal of the morning news leaves me saddened and a bit depressed. Iran has publicly trumpeted its ability to get some kind of sea going vessel to within 3 miles of the US - perfect for missile launching. It doesn't matter whether or not they are just making gaseous noises. It doesn't matter whether or not someone over there actually said this. What matters is that it has been reported and that it is a threat and that the threat will be used as another notch in the buildup to a potential preemptive military action. Or perhaps that is the anxiety some set of forces in motion from God knows where wants us to have. The Governor of the US State of Maine, a place heretofore thought of as a potential Stevil haven from the masses, has accused his states' governmental workers of corruption, clarified to note only some workers who have been corrupted by union leaders. Considering that this same man had a mural depicting Maine's labor history removed from his state's Department of Labor building, discerning a message there isn't terribly difficult. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in addressing the current economic climate. has just urged young people to go into debt and start businesses - by, say, borrowing $20,000 dollars from their parents. My father earned a decent income, and we were, for a number of years, financially comfortable. Until it came time for me to go to college, an endeavor he had implied he would finance. A few months before I was to begin my studies, he asked me where I was going to get the money. Fair enough - my life, my responsibility, changed circumstances, whatever. But if someone solidly in the middle class in 1968 couldn't afford to send his child to college, who can afford to "loan" their offspring twenty thousand these days? I sell food to senior citizens, people solidly middle class, and people on welfare who often can't afford their bill and who have to have items removed from their purchases. Or who note that the money for this week's food was the money saved to fix their car. Or who spend considerable time going through every pocket counting out several dollars in change. This kind of stuff just makes me crazy. Sometimes, it is best to avoid the news. How do I avoid reality?

There are problems at work. There are always problems at work. Two weeks ago (the properly allotted advance notice), I put in specific requests regarding portions of two days for this upcoming week in which I needed to be elsewhere. On Thursday morning, I am to be a guest on a local commercial radio station program to talk about getting our non-profit community station back up and running. I could work the four hour morning shift they often give me, or I could work in the afternoon. On Friday evening, as our Community station will be having an open house, I asked to be done for the day in time to catch the 4:30pm bus into town. The result was to be given those two days off "by request", and have other days in which I will work until 8 and 9pm - when no buses run and I will have a 45 minute walk home (I need a cane to walk) on a highway at night. This sort of thing has happened just about every time I have put in a specific request to not work at a given time due to a doctor's appointment, etc. Considering the regularity with which this happens (and not just to my less than humble self) it is difficult to see it as anything other than punishment for asking for the benefit of a flexible schedule - one of the touted lures used to snare one into employment there. I made comments to other staff about this. Within a couple of hours, I was taken off register for a minute, and told by the bookkeeper that I had rung up a customer's red grapes as green grapes. The red grapes are on sale. The customer complained and the grapes had to be given away for free, plus one dollar as per company policy. I had cost the company $3.40. They have been noticing such errors creeping into my work, and I was being notified about this as a courtesy before the matter was "out of their hands". Was this real? Was it just to induce under the thumb anxiety as payback for an intemperate remark? Has the campaign to remove me from employment there (as the last person in my "part time" category of 20 to 38.5 hours) resumed? Is that campaign real? In my minds eye, the way I perceive it, the poverty level exploited worker is being crushed for having spoken a totally obvious truth.

Yesterday, someone posted a comment to an article on this blog from last September. The comment reads, "Good bye, considerate soul mate :) ". What to make of it? Is it from someone who is pondering an end to life either naturally or by their own hands? I certainly know people who live in great pain who might fit either description. But the two visitors late that night who could have left such a comment were not from Canada where the most likely suspect lives. Who then? Was it someone who managed to log onto my blog without leaving an electronic trail? Was it just someone reading my blog and saying goodnight? And who considers me a "soul mate"? Why don't I know about this? A soul mate? Really? The smiley face lets me live with the note, but the "Good bye" still leaves me with a sense of unease. Why can't life have editing software?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Happiness and Moments of Pleasure

As difficult as it sometimes can be, identifying, noting, and remembering moments of happiness and pleasure in our lives is of great importance. Over the years, I've found that documenting such moments helps. How many sunrises or sunsets have you watched whose beauty astounded you, which filled you with moments of peace and happiness you thought you would always remember? How many do you actually remember? When I had money to afford a decent camera and pursue my photographic interests, I took occasional pictures of sunsets. Finding them 20 some years later (how have so many years passed?) I stare at them blankly for a moment, and wonder why I took that particular picture? Was it the sunset, was I there with someone 'special', was I experimenting with low light photography? Here's an example - I took this at the beach in Provincetown, MA in October of 1989 (really, can it really be so long ago? Did I really take it in September and just didn't get it developed until October?). I should also note that my scanner seems to have a bad case of dust that won't dust off of the glass plate. I suppose I shall have to take it apart and clean the underside.

Text can capture such moments to preserve as well. Thus it is that I must note that yesterday, upon returning to my little hovel after my less than rewarding and almost completely energy debilitating employment of 10am to 6pm, I found that my new coffee maker had arrived. It took a couple of hours before I had a moment to open the package. I had guessed right - its coffee grounds receptacle was a cone, not a basket. I smiled that little happiness smile.

This morning (work today is noon to 8pm) I am happily in the process of cleaning it for its first use. The instruction manual which came with it offers specific instructions for this process. It suggests two full "brews" using just water to clean out the system. The instructions further tell me to "see 'Brewing Instructions' on p. 7." There is no page 7. Actually, there is a page 7 if one continues into the instructions in Spanish and turns the booklet upside down in order to read them. And my gosh, the 'Brewing Instructions" are there as "Instrucciones De Uso". In case you are wondering, the English version of those instructions are right under the "Before You Use Your Coffeemaker" section on the first page of text. By the way, the English instructions note that after brewing the first cup of water, one should turn off the machine and let it cool for 10 minutes. In the Spanish version, it notes that one should let the machine cool for 15 minutes. I guess time is different in Spanish speaking countries. Which could, of course, be a sort of proof for Einstein's theory that time is relative.

Time with the internet is relative, too. I started this post early this morning. I should have started it last night (I was too tired after I got home from work) and wished austanspace a Happy Birthday. While constructing it, I've done a few hours of work on stuff for the radio station, and finally had that first cup of coffee from the new machine. It's good. Not quite as good as the old machine with the built up years of coffee residue in the reusable and washable filter, but it's good. And I smile. Then I notice the time and how late I am to start getting ready for work and I panic...

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Still that kind of day...

When I said that it was just that kind of a day I meant it.

I tried to take a day away from doing things concerned with the radio station and thus spent about 2 and a half hours on it. The zipper on the only pair of pants I have left that are decent enough to wear to work broke. (I've been trying to get to the used store that benefits our local hospice for a month, but the only times I've been able to get there - a Sunday and a Monday - turned out to be days that it is closed.) And, while washing the coffee pot (and telling myself to be careful thinking about the time the last one broke while I was washing it) it broke. I don't like most 4 cup coffee makers - most use a coffee basket, and coffee (to my mind and taste) brews best using a cone shaped filter. I just spent an hour online looking for a cone style - the last two such machines I've had (covering around 30 years) are no longer made. I think I've found one but I won't know for sure until it gets here. Amazon had it, and even though it is "in stock" it takes an extra 3 days to ship. There usually isn't enough in my debit card account to spend $12.00 plus shipping at any given time, so I guess I'm lucky in that regard.

In order not to waste an entire post with more bitching, here's a pic I took a week ago in front of a performance venue here in town known as "The Church" (because that's what it used to be). For many years, it was the home of Omega Optical. Back in 2006, during our first Friday of the month "Gallery Walk",  a lightning bolt struck and damaged the steeple. The 6 foot or so high stone cross at the top wasn't damaged and was  saved: it now sits on the ground in front of the building. The flower in bloom is a very old variety that used to be known as the "poet's daffodil". I can't remember what congregation built The Church, and I couldn't find it online when I just looked. I'm sure I'll remember it an hour or two from now when I'm in he middle of something else.

Earth Day musings and the new normal.

It is one of those days. Move the chair to get closer to the keyboard to type, knock something over. It is Earth Day. The early warmth we had made all the trees on my block leaf out very quickly, and much earlier than normal. Today, though, is cool and gray.

Spring on the Brattleboro Common - about a half a block from my apartment. I took this photo yesterday!

The lilac on the Common (not far from the crab apples in the picture above) as well as one growing in a 2 foot space between two older buildings on the edge of our business district, are both starting to open their blooms a month early. This is the new normal - there isn't any normal. Well, there is, but I find it depressing and try not to let much of it slip into my consciousness. Which is pretty hard to do when it is the major part of one's everyday existence. (And I'm thinking of the "new normal" in politics and economics as well as in the environmental sense.)

How to explain this feeling? Well, let's take Earth Day. Although there were a couple of similar ideas already out there, Earth Day as we know it was founded by US Senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970 as a reaction to the disastrous 1969 oil spill in southern California and the lack of a decent response by the US Government. He based his idea on the anti Vietnam War movement's "teach ins", hoping that education would help raise enough public outcry that something would be done to stem what he saw as an approaching environmental crisis. How have things changed since then? In 2010, this day was celebrated by the sinking to the ocean floor of the drilling platform of the Deepwater Horizon BP Macondo blowout (after an explosion two days previous); an incident otherwise known as the Gulf Oil Spill. Haven't head much about that lately have you? Have you seen or heard of any legislation or regulations passed to protect against shoddy cheap bottom dollar is king construction work to try to help prevent this kind of thing from happening again? Have you heard about the continuing "persistent oil seep" in the Gulf whose chemical analysis identifies it as consistent with the make up of oil from the Macondo 252 well? The phrase in quotes is from an investigative piece published in March 2012. You haven't heard of it because the reporting was done by Al Jazeera. Three days ago, the New York Times reported that BP has, so far, paid out about $ 8 billion to individuals and businesses affected by the spill. (That's out of the $20 billion fund they were forced to set up, which the Times failed to mention.) BP claims to have spent an additional $14 billion in cleanup costs. BP's books show a $37.2 billion charge for their expenses. In case you're curious, the lawyers have so far collected about $600 million. One other thing, aside from the continued deaths of Gulf waters dolphins and whales at twice the normal rate, tar balls still continue to wash up on Gulf shores. According to the National Geographic Society and Ecowatch, the tar balls contain the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, which can cause fatal blood poisoning and is the causative agent of cholera.

One of these days I'll get around to writing about what I see as the "new normal". In the meantime, I'd explain the phrase by mentioning Monsanto, the giant multinational conglomerate which manufactures rGBH (the bovine growth hormone which leaches into the cows milk and has been identified as an "accelerator" of prostrate, lung and colon cancers), and the toxic weed killer Round Up and much of the genetically modified Round Up resistant seeds (corn, soybeans, etc.) sold in the US. They dealt with the fact that their products are getting the major blame for the destruction of pollinating insects (think bees, among others) by buying the company that does much of the research into bee colony collapse. They made the purchase last September, but the news of it only came to light two days ago. I wonder whatever happened to their anti-trust investigation the US Government started in 2009? I wonder if that was affected by the 2009 appointment of their chief lobbyist ($8.8+ million in 2008) (and a former Deputy Commissioner of the US Food and Drug Administration) to the position of senior adviser to the FDA by President Obama? You know, the FDA. As in Monsanto's should be famous comment, "Monsanto should not have to vouch for the safety of biotech food Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is FDA's job." Oh, by the way,  they are also a former employer of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas (who wrote the Court's majority 2001 opinion that genetically modified seeds were patentable). I won't go into their history of manufacturing DDT, Agent Orange or their worldwide toxic dumping and use of child labor. Happy Earth Day, Monsanto.

Earth Day is also the birthday of J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the great geniuses of the 20th century. His studies of a range of subjects led directly to Nobel prizes for others. He was nominated three times, but was never given the award. In the early 1940's, he was called upon by the United States government to work on a specific task. He completed his mission, and is now known as the father of the Atomic Bomb. Horrified by the death and destruction his work unleashed, he agitated for organizations to oversee atomic development and for the then new United Nations to oversee and control atomic weapons. For that work, various interests in the US pushed him out of the way of the business of atomic money, and used the anti-communist witch hunts of the 1950's to publicly embarrass and destroy him as they revoked his security clearances. It just wasn't any fun starting a profitably expensive arms race with a Communist liberal loving peacenick running around gumming up the works. Oh, by the way, the atomic arms race isn't over you know. But then again, no arms races are ever over, are they?

Shall we now discuss the new figures on poverty in the United States? Let's not. But if you live in this country, have you noticed a large upswing in crimes such as holdups of convenience stores and banks? We're having quite a few here in Brattleboro these days. Cause and effect and all that.

And as for our hopes for the future being based on education engendered by days like Earth Day, here are a few responses from an article on Facebook this morning about a bank robbery in town yesterday:

Person 1 ...can't see it taken very long to find him one dum ass bank robber

Person 2 - Well lets rember they never caut the guy that robbed to banks on a bike ane one day. So will see how long it takes this time

After a report of an arrest in the case:

Person 3 - Wow they did there job this time.

Person 4 - People really should judge the police when your not the ones putting your life on the line everyday in these situations every day

So much for education. And hope. It is one of those days.