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The Frankenstein Effect

February 3rd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Once again, a scant majority in the country’s highest court has handed down a decision on a subject the justices know too little about. They have decided what a person is. It turns out a legal filing– not a jolt of electricity in some Central Europe lab– can shock a stitched-together bundle of documents, capital, and lawyers into life, making a corporation into a person.

This is worse than a mistake. It’s hubris.

Even Victor Frankenstein in Mary Shelley’s 1818 horror classic regrets constructing his monster: “Would you also create for yourself and the world a demoniacal enemy? Peace. Peace. Learn my miseries and do not seek to increase your own.”

Think of a person that neither poops nor dies, does not need doctors or schools or diapers or houses, catches no H1N1 viruses, and does not wake these gowned officials up at night with teething or with adolescent woes: A person with a proper attitude toward money and authority. A person that’s all theory, no needy flesh, no messy bones.

Already a public relations firm, Murray Hill Incorporated, has announced its candidacy for Congress, according to the New York Times. On a campaign video, the company promises to bring “enlightened self-interest and corporate accounting to government.” The company says it will enter a primary election for a Maryland Congressional seat, according to its website. A statement on the website indicates the corporation plans to use “automated robo-calls, ‘Astroturf’ lobbying and computer-generated avatars to get out the vote.”

I imagine the move is tongue-in-cheek, but consider the possibilities: Maybe the Supreme Court will go further and grant corporations the ballot, perhaps limiting the rest of us to three-fifths of a vote apiece. Or perhaps do a 50-to-one reverse split and grant us even less.

All this makes me ponder: My dog Porschy is born in the U.S. She has rights, too. (She wants the right to bare teeth.) I am looking into incorporating her in Delaware. Votes for dogs!

P.S. See the Supreme Court’s decision.

→ 1 CommentTags: American Grotesque

Resolutions: When I’m 65…

January 26th, 2010 · 1 Comment

I have decided that 65 is the new 30. Age 30 was a watershed.  Age 65 or thereabouts will be one too.

Many of us who after 30 “got serious,” raised our children, bought a house, and worked at jobs we may not always have loved to try to hang onto it, get another chance. Those of us who at 18 or 20 roamed the world but later stopped because we were busy being  “grown up,” get another chance at roving. Those of us who wrote plays or poetry,  get another chance at creating. Those of us who sat in, or perhaps campaigned for women’s rights or peace,  get another chance at seeking justice.

People are living longer now. We made history as kids, and we still have a dream or two. So it’s time to make some new life’s resolutions. Right now. Here are some suggested ones:

Finish that book. If some corporate New York publisher won’t run with it, publish  independently, using the nifty new online tools.

Share. We are about to get a break on medical bills. Insist that our younger sisters and brothers, our neighbors, and our children get one too.

Travel, but stay in a village. Do something about what you learn there.

Add to the list. Make some resolutions of your own.

We are not used up; we are pent up. And we’re back!

→ 1 CommentTags: It's about time!

Christmas Cookie

December 28th, 2009 · No Comments

It’s Christmas time. The cookies are in play. These have a different frosting, tweaked spices, lots of sugar and butter. What do I think? I think of my aunt’s diabetes, of elevated glucose levels. I think of my hard-won battle with cholesterol. I think of the movie, Supersize Me, that I recently got from the library. But I’m at a party.  I look at my hostess. I pick up the proffered cookie. With her eyes still hopefully upon me, I bite into it.

The cookie is delicious, as I expected, but that is not the point. I hesitated. I could have skipped it entirely. Once more, in my willingness to be agreeable, I have nibbled away at my own resolve to protect my health.

We read a lot about corporate efforts to exploit our hungers with nutrition-poor fast foods. We read a lot about diets and self-discipline. But less is written about the conflicted nexus of holiday tradition and eating. My hostess does not see herself as tempting or controlling me; her hospitality is on the line. She works hard to provide an ambiance of comfort in which food ranks paramount. If I reject the food, I reject her culture, her labor, and her striving for a perfect Christmas in spite of bad times. Acknowledging these efforts, accepting the spirit of nurturing and comfort, accepting her wish to see me eat, I give in. Later, I wish I hadn’t.

Although she never urged food on me, my mother might have urged me to be gracious. That is, she might have done so back before her own cholesterol count shot up and her resolve toughened. Before the stroke devoured chunks of her vocabulary like chocolate chips, leaving her to signal her word retrieval failures with a finger motion across
her throat.

No longer young myself, I think of my mother as I stand facing the Christmas platter. I squirm. I wish the economy were better. I wish my friend had found a grander arena for showcasing her culinary excellence–as chef in a fine restaurant, perhaps. But few cooks are launching restaurants these days.

“Delicious,” I tell her honestly. “Perfect texture”–all the while wishing that the wagons of tradition had not circled, in these hard times, around a cookie platter. Wondering if I am dying to be sociable, I take another bite.

→ No CommentsTags: Thought for Food

Firefighting, the Public Option

August 24th, 2009 · 2 Comments

Why can’t health care be more like firefighting?

Firefighters, you did great. California’s Lockheed Fire, which extended over more than 12 square miles,  is 100% contained.  It took the labor of thousands of you to battle back the blaze before it spread to homes, injured people, and destroyed farms. Although outbuildings and some seasonal cabins burned, nobody lost a home.

I was nearly in tears when I saw small trucks from tiny fire districts as far away as Ebbetts Pass and Murphys, which had come to join our local and state firefighters. I heard the big planes pass overhead bearing retardant to drop on the blaze. I watched the fire perimeters grow and stabilize on a private company’s fire viewer based on data from federal satellites operated by NASA and the Department of the Interior.

I was nearly in tears days later from the smoke drifting into our neighborhood. How much tougher it must have been for all of you who fought it yard by yard, road by road, tree by tree.

And nobody, as you doused nearly 8,000 burning acres at the Lockheed Fire, called you socialists. They called you heroes.

Yet you are the public option.

You did not ask any resident for a means test before dropping water or fire retardant, picking up a shovel, or lighting a backfire. Without you, our neighbors-and possibly ourselves next time-might be injured, homeless, deprived of a livelihood. We are grateful.

Now let’s think a little more about health care. We need a public option there, too. Guaranteeing health is also a big job. We know how to do it. And it’s about time.

→ 2 CommentsTags: Fire Watch · It's about time! · Science and Technology

Following Fire on Twitter

August 15th, 2009 · No Comments

Citizen journalism has taken leaps since last year.

We are living in some smoke today, but safe. The big Santa Cruz County wildfire you have probably seen on the news remains  miles off and over the ridge.  I know, because I can see it on the Internet.

I found this  link to a satellite  fire map via Twitter (posted under #lockheedfire).


The map, produced by an environmental planning company, shows the fire perimeters. Each of  the little flame icons marks a place where heat has been detected by satellites.

Thankfully, we are way to the east. With a bit of scrolling around, you might even see our house—but it’s way far off the screen with the fire.  Amazing technology.

During last year’s fire season, I had to scramble for fire information,  often searching the comments to news updates on the local paper’s website.  I still do that, but I also follow the fire on a handheld, using WIFI and the Twitter postings of our neighbors closer to the scene.

Thus I can tell friends and family with certainty that the fire is a long way off.  It’s about time!

→ No CommentsTags: Fire Watch · It's about time! · Science and Technology

Bierce is Back

July 8th, 2009 · 1 Comment

In the age of instant messaging, trends in literature which have lain dormant since the telephone began to jangle are again awakened. Constrained by length limits of 140 characters, we turn for literary inspiration to the past–this time to the golden age of the telegraph–when users paid by the word and changed language by writing compressed and oddball prose.

This fall, America’s entering college students will attempt to convince computers and academic gatekeepers of their proficiency in English by creating product of ample length and erudite grammar in response to standardized prompts. Meanwhile, in their personal lives-pupal forms of the adult lives they will lead until the next technological breakthrough extinguishes the need for character counting–they are harking back to the one-liner. Compelled by the constraints of texting, the young are developing, new, telescoped language, as did Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and other writers of the telegraph age who became champions of the bon and not-so-bon mot.

Like their 19th century forbears who had to pay by the word for communicating over the new found marvel of the telegraph, the young today are developing dexterity and brevity as they thumb their ways through instant messages. Like their ancestors, constrained by a new technology’s limitations, they are creating new language as they compact the flow of prose with spelling shortcuts and creative abbreviations, much as did the users of the telegraph.

Today’s texters may instantly recognize such abbreviations as wtf, lol, and g2g. Would-be texters must write short, or potentially pay more for SMS. This constraint has resulted not only in new language, but also in squeezed literary forms which at their best can come to resemble poetry at its most austere: high-tech haiku in the form of microblogs, instant messages, and even tiny tweets.

Since Morse code had to be keyed in, and telegrams were charged by length, yesterday’s telegraphers were also urged to write short–to use @ instead of at, strip away articles, dispense with lengthy honorifics, and acknowledge receipt of a message with ii (for “aye-aye”).

Writers like Dickens, whose career began earlier, may have grown wordy under the nurturance of the pay-by-the-word magazine publishers. However, writers more firmly of the telegraph age, like Ambrose Bierce, learned to adapt the compressed telegraph style into missile-like prose sallies–fast, caustic and often terminally explosive.

Can we prove that Bierce, knight-exemplar of the devastating one-liner, the cynical aphorism, and the zinger, actually based his style on the telegram? No, but it’s probable. A Union civil war veteran gone west, Bierce arrived in San Francisco in the same decade as the transcontinental telegraph. A newspaper columnist, before long he was peppering his readership with savage and often hilarious criticisms. Later the nation, too, came in for a barrage of Bierce’s micro-lacerations–often delivered with the vigor of  tiny stiletto thrusts–with the publication of Bierce’s Devil’s Dictionary in 1906.

No friend to technology, this man, who struggled with learning to type as late as 1902 and defined the phonograph as an “irritating toy that restores life to dead noises.” The telephone, to Bierce, was an “invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.” Yet his work remains at times more modern than the wordiest Gonzo journalist’s. Bierce’s dictionary contains pungent listings for “Wall Street,” “Un-American” and even “W.” “War” was defined as a “by-product of the arts of peace.” “Peace,” Bierce noted, was “a period of cheating between two periods of fighting.”

We might not have liked his views much. He attacked entrepreneurs, punctured poets, and spat on feminist ambition. An enemy of traditional wedlock, he defined “Marriage” as follows: “n. The state or condition of a community consisting of a master, a mistress and two slaves, making in all, two.” Yet, even in his creepy and disturbing recollections of traumatic war experiences, Bierce is somehow a man for our time.

Bierce dropped from sight in Mexico in 1913 in a mystery which has never been solved, after writing cryptically, “To be a gringo in Mexico–ah, that is euthanasia.” Media-savvy even in his tabloid-style exit, Bierce managed to package his own presumed demise into an evergreen story to be dredged up on nearly a century’s worth of slow news days–no mean accomplishment in the newsroom then or now!

Will texting drive literature as vigorously? It’s too soon to tell. We have not yet finished adjusting to Bierce. We don’t know what to make of him or how to memorialize him, except briefly: “Bierce lost in Mexico. OMG, stop.”

Note to readers: Many thanks to Project Gutenberg for a download of the Devil’s Dictionary at the usual wonderful Project Gutenberg price–free. Also thanks to Wikipedia for thoroughly documented information on the telegraph age. For additional information on the language of telegrams, see www.telegraph-office.com.

→ 1 CommentTags: Science and Technology

The Legacy of Torture: What would Main Street do?

May 16th, 2009 · 1 Comment

There is heated debate in Washington these days over what to do about our country’s recent unsavory dabbling in torture as an information-gathering strategy.

As with many other instances during the George W. Bush administration in which legitimate duties of government (such as statesmanship) became conflated with and ultimately displaced by punishment, pure and simple, we are all of us coming to realize that Bush-era techniques employed in efforts to extract information from unwilling and even uninformed “informants” went way too far. Not only international conventions but also our own laws and morals were savagely violated by actions taken with a veneer of government approval.

As ever more reeking information continues to seep from the closed drawers of the military and spy agencies, it is clear that the heritage of America’s own dirty war will not go away on its own.

The problem now seems to be what to do about it. Should we go on talk shows and claim that torture wasn’t really torture? Should we-Nuremberg-style-prosecute and punish those who carried out illegal policies endorsed by our then-government? Should we convene a truth and reconciliation commission, so that those who carried out the torture can ‘fess up and hug their surviving former victims? Should we talk the issue onto its deathbed, bury it in paper, smother the legal and moral outrages in subtleties, and move on to health care, global warming and other pressing matters? Or should we see-to paraphrase the late folksinger, Phil Ochs– the pictures of the pain?

What to do? In this case, although I consider myself a progressive, I really would like to see Washington run more like a small business. I ask: “What would Main Street do?”

If I identified an embezzler in my business, I would likely institute controls to identify financial misdeeds earlier and more readily. I might choose not to prosecute the culprit due to concern about publicity. But would I keep the embezzler around to do next season’s taxes?

If I were a small town editor who discovered one of my writers was plagiarizing, I would probably increase my future scrutiny of news stories prior to publishing them. But would I continue to accept articles from the freelancer who burned me?

If I were a carpenter who discovered that a vender sold me wood for a house that was so weakened by wormholes that the house I was building could not stand, I might devise new methods for stress testing my materials before beginning construction. But would I buy again from that vender?

If I, a hapless householder, hire a plumber who recklessly breaks a pipe and lets a stream of sewage spew into my front yard, will I call the guy up again when the garbage disposal stops grinding?

I am not a carpenter or accountant. I do my own cleaning. My business does not earn enough to have employees, let alone ones who embezzle, and my garbage disposal is not broken, but you get the idea.

If I were a new president who discovered his employees had engaged in torture, I would likely devise new methods and policies to keep torture out of government. But would I continue to keep people who authorized it or did it on the payroll?

C’mon. Really? Would you? Would anybody? –buckdata

→ 1 CommentTags: American Grotesque · It's about time!

A Modest Banking Solution

April 9th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Friends, family, and acquaintances are raising questions about whether President Obama  can accomplish  what we helped elect him to do. Will the wars end in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will clean energy really be funded? Will Bush-era wiretap and other privacy violations be sufficiently curtailed?  Will single payer health care get endorsed or merely sidelined? Will the entire national pocketbook be emptied into Wall Street?

For her part, buckdata is wondering why money isn’t getting to the people most hard hit by this depression, such as those on the verge of losing their homes, those who have already lost them, and those for whom a tarp is not a government program but a literal roofing strategy in tent cities around the country.

To aid the President—on this issue at least– the following modest solution is hereby submitted:

Let’s all be bankers! Maybe it’s time for the poor and dispossessed and the rest of us to found some banks. Buckdata has a few in mind: First Foreclosure Bank in Stockton, Credit Default Swappers Bank in the New Orleans Ninth Ward, Toxic Assets Bank in Flint, Bonus Plus Bank with a nice Manhattan address, the Bank of Kaput in New Shock, Pennsylvania, and, of course, the online Bank of Buckdata.

Consider the possibilities: Laid off attorneys can volunteer time to help with the charters and incorporations. Laid off Wall Street employees can help us set up the books. Laid off web designers can devote their graphics talents to creating suitable online presence and branding. Impoverished retirees can exhume their mothballed suits and ties to lend us all gravitas at the headquarters front office.

Once the banks are set up, perhaps the homeless, the foreclosed, the evicted, and the about-to-be dispossessed will be able to approach Washington politely, hats (if we still have them) in hand, in search of generous bailouts. After all, a democracy, too, involves a contractual obligation, doesn’t it?

The proposal has a further benefit: If the sheriff’s deputies should arrive to evict us before the bucks start rolling in, we can always live in the vault. –buckdata

Note to readers: This is a satire. The above banks do not now exist. There is no Bank of Kaput in New Shock, Pennsylvania. There is no New Shock, Pennsylvania. No intention to single out particular existing institutions should be inferred from this blog post. This caution is necessary because of an unusual initiative reported in the New York Times on April 8. The article by Graham Bowley and Michael J. de la Merced details a scenario in which ordinary citizens may  be cajoled to invest in private mutual funds which are to be set up with government support to purchase other private institutions’ soured assets. The writers suggest such citizen investments may be envisioned as similar to the patriotic purchases of “Liberty Bonds” during the World War I. In such an audacious climate, formal disclaimers truly become necessary. Without such disclaimers, even well-informed readers may find themselves unable to distinguish pastiche from reality.

→ 1 CommentTags: American Grotesque · It's about time!


March 2nd, 2009 · No Comments

Buckdata.com will soon be on Twitter?  Stay tuned.

→ No CommentsTags: It's about time!

Middle Class Becomes Twittering Class?

February 10th, 2009 · 4 Comments

Huffington Post does it. Raw Story does it. Obama does it, and so too, reportedly, do Republicans like Karl Rove. They all use Twitter.

Twitter is software which allows a registered member to send out very brief messages to others, either from twitter.com’s website or from a cell phone. Recipients can get the messages either on the web or on their cell phones or other mobile devices.  Members can “follow” others’ messages or allow others to follow their own. One can thus send messages like, “I’m doing the dishes,” or “I’m saving the economy” to friends, family, colleagues, and nearly total strangers who have signed up to receive them.

The service is free, except for the instant messaging charges the cell phone carriers may impose.

It’s a neat idea and its time may have come in a way many media watchers not have foreseen. Here’s why: With mounting middle class layoffs, lots more people will have the leisure to try out new technologies, particularly low cost and free ones. Using their new and copious spare time, they will learn how to – as the users of this new communication system put it – “tweet.”

This week, a buckdata.com writer received a solicitation to follow her to date rather scanty Twitter postings. Checking out the profile of the would-be follower, she discovered a discreet link which connected to the sender’s resume.

It is not likely to be the last such.

Readers, brace yourselves for the sight of the new-new media being used the old-fashioned way. The great Twitter job hunt is on!

→ 4 CommentsTags: It's about time! · Science and Technology