Wednesday, October 5, 2016

My Trip to Feast of the Hunters' Moon or Discussion With A Wall

Last weekend, starting on Friday, I went with an Away Team from the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, journeying for 530+ miles and ten hours (and a bit of change) with four other people in a ten-passenger Ford Van, towing a 14-foot trailer from Minneapolis, MN to West Lafayette, IN. Our destination was Historic Fort Ouiatenon Park outside West Lafayette, where we'd be camping for the next two nights. Once we arrived, set-up was in order: two canvas wall tents for sleeping, cots and bags and gear related to tenting, and gear for two days' worth of activity. Activity which also needed a tent, a 14-foot canvas affair with a full wall to house tables, shelves, seating- everything you need to demonstrate and sell at an event.

The event? The 49th annual Feast of the Hunters' Moon, a re-creation of the annual fall gathering of the French and Native Americans which took place at Fort Ouiatenon, a fur-trading outpost in the mid - 1700s. It is held annually in early autumn on the banks of the Wabash River, four miles southwest of West Lafayette, Indiana.

The 13-hour day was rough, made more so by the fact that I was (and still am) battling an ear infection and bronchitis, but it eased and moderated when we were finished setting up and could relax for a while before the show began the next day. Cocktails were had. Cards Against Humanity was played. Hilarity ensued.

Saturday was busy, as it always is at this event. We wound up hosting some re-enactors, as we always do at this event. One group came in and played Pope Joan, a multi-player game good for filling in spaces between re-enactment. It's historically accurate as well, so they bought a set. One of them came back later to fetch the woman from whom they'd bought it for help - she's a bona-fide people person and a collector of people, and in the course of helping them to refine their understanding of the game, she befriended them.

Jump to after-hours: dinner in our bellies, cocktails in hand, playing Cards Against Humanity again, and one of the re-enactors stopped in to say hi. He stayed for a bit, talked for a bit, then left to refill his own cocktail. Our staff - the one who'd gone to play the game with them - was worried that we'd scared him off with our CAH shenanigans, what with the raunchiness of the game. She forgot about that in the buzz of other activity, and the game went on.

We moved on to other after-hours catching-up pursuits after our game was finished, the rest of the staff and our guests eventually drifting off to bed as it got later. I was up with our camp cook, about to call it a night myself, when our new re-enactor friend came back. We talked for a bit, then he got around to what he'd really wanted to say in coming back: he'd overheard some of our talk throughout the day and he realized that we're not, but he's definitely going to be voting for Trump.


For my own part, I can't fathom how anyone can support him. Period.

That in mind, though, it struck me as an interesting opportunity: I've asked a number of times why anyone would, in a number of different settings. The most common response? None at all. I thought I might get a chance to hear a different side.

I was glad that both women who'd made the trip were already asleep, though - the very notion of Trump support immediately shuts them down almost completely, and I fear there'd have been an ugly scene had either or both of them been awake. As it was, the camp cook and I listened to our new friend lay out his reasoning.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not as much a follower of politics as I should be. While I could have refuted his points with "No! You're wrong!", I refrained. Our camp cook is well-versed in many things, political discourse included. He handled much of the rebuttal eloquently and calmly as I listened, but our friend was unswayed. Indeed, he seemed not to be listening to any of it.

Without going into a lot of detail, the re-enactor's support stems mostly from his displeasure with The State Of Things. Fair enough, that.

He interrupted himself countless times to disclaim, "Do I support everything that he says? Fuck no!", which I took to be his way of discarding the most unsavory portions of a disturbing collage of wholly-unsavory philosophy. Eventually his main motivation came out: he and his wife run a cleaning business which employs a handful of people, and he can't afford insurance for his employees or for himself.

Naturally, that fuckin' Obamacare is to blame.

With a $15 minimum wage, he'd have to raise his rates to the point where he'd price himself out of the market.

Naturally, Trump is the answer.

He'd hear nothing to the contrary. Respectful/non-abusive attempts to illustrate problems with Trump immediately shut him down almost completely, and had the camp cook - who'd timed out on our friend's shutdown - or I dug in our heels, an ugly scene might well have followed. As it was, we were still friendly enough despite our differences as he began to beg off, citing the lateness of the hour, but we became as heated as we would get that night when he said, "And that Black Lives Matter bullshit - pull up your pants and get a fuckin' job!".

Then I did dig in, and without making a long story longer, I laid out a defense for my postion: no freedom 'til we're equal.

And it was like talking to a wall - my increase in emphasis and volume had little effect other than what you'd expect from emphatic loudness in an encampment of canvas tents in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. So I pushed in the clutch, we agreed to disagree, and we shook hands.

In the epilogue, I'm struck by his willingness to grasp a couple of vague promises and outright dismiss so much negativity and dishonesty. I'm struck by his willingness to put his own interests before that of 325 million other people. I'm struck by his belief that anyone claiming unfair conditions should sit down and shut up. I'm struck by his refusal to entertain any contrary notion, even briefly.

But I learned something.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

parts of speech

i hear it all the time: "why don't you say something?"

"why are you so quiet?"

"you don't talk much."

the most recent instance, a saturday night. my son was in town for the evening and was at my house with his new girlfriend and some friends of theirs whom i'd not seen in a long time. all of them early-20-somethings preparing for saturday night shenanigans, i had little to add to the goings-on. i was in the room, taking them in and enjoying having them here, when i wasn't doing a small bit of catching up. "basking in the atmosphere they were creating" is the best i can do to describe it.

my daughter was also at home, and she had a friend of hers over. her friend, an artless pipsqueak of a girl whom i love as if she were my own, said it this time: "you're all quiet over here."

i didn't get defensive, or offended, or angry.

"that be how i do." is what i told her.

usually the remarks come from people i've seen in some sort of regular, day-to-day context - acquaintances. occasionally, though, i get one of them from a complete stranger, someone i've just met. Whatever the source, the blurted and tacky, tactless and impolite noise-for-the-sake-of-noise always makes me wonder how they'd respond if i followed suit.

"why don't you say something?"

because i have nothing to say.

it's worth mentioning that i've said this many times. while i've learned that it's not rude, not exactly, it does have a tendency to alienate people.

"why are you so quiet?"

why are you so talkative?

"you don't talk much."

you talk too much.

not that i'd choose either of those responses - they're rude and confrontational and blunt, and i have a pretty strong tendency to not be any of those things. unless i know you fairly well and i'm comfortable with you. or unless i'm writing words at a screen. then i can be rude and confrontational and blunt. i can even be a dick sometimes.

but in real life, with all the sometimes-far-too-real people? not so much.

so. why am i so quiet?

i'm not, if the right handful of people are around, and the right topic comes up. my absolute favorite is when an absurd notion turns into an epic speculative-nonsense planning session that serves only to amuse anyone involved. i can do serious talks as well, though i'm better at commiseration than i am at giving good advice. i tend to avoid talking about issues that have sides. too many people are far too entrenched in their views and far too quick to consider a difference of opinion a personal slight. i don't want to deal with it.

i've got nothing against small talk - strangers in public asking me "how's it going?" or "how ya doin?" or a million other variants on "hi" are... i don't know. maybe they're putting out their feelers for suitable additions to their people collections.

maybe it's a compulsion.

i don't know what's going on in their heads, so i couldn't say. i'm a huge fan of small talk when it comes to people other than random strangers, because... how else are you going to find out whether someone is worth getting to know? i've had very few deep, significant, or meaningful conversations with people the first time i met them. the exceptions have been far between as well as few, and none of the people from those conversations remain a significant part of my life.

in groups, i often find that i'm talked over or ignored when i have something to add to whatever's going on. this has trained me to keep what i have to say to myself, to watch what's happening instead. one-on-one, that's not really an option. i have one end of a conversation to hold up. because i'm pretty resistant to "take-a-side" discussions, have little interest in most pop-culture talk, and would prefer silence nine times out of ten, i don't do well in that situation.

the thing that keeps me quiet the most? far too often, i string words together in sentences that i reckon are perfectly coherent, but that people hear completely differently. for a guy who doesn't like to talk a whole lot, this can lead to a whole bunch of additional talking to clarify what i said in the first place.

so. again. why am i so quiet?

it could be just about anything.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


One of my Facebook friends posted this picture recently, with a bit of vague affirmative text as a caption. It struck me immediately in a visceral kind of way, neither negative nor positive. Mostly because of how I had a million other things on my plate at the time.

So I grabbed it, confident that I had something to say about the message: "People you help may harm you in the process. Don't ever help anyone."

That's what I got from it, anyway.

Today I'm back at my mindless job, one which takes up all of a third of one compute cycle in its most trying moments. Currently I'm stuck waiting on other people to do their mindless jobs while my work piles up- I can't do a thing until they've finished.

So my mind wandered, and in wandering, it settled on that image. Instead of funny cat videos. Or sports stats. Or girls in bikinis. Or a million other things it could've settled on.

The message "don't help because you might get hurt" is a pretty disgusting one, I think. It implies that you're helping for your sake, not theirs. And THAT implies that you're helping because you think someone is watching. Because you're hoping for some kind of reward. Or because you're afraid of being punished for not helping.

If you want to help, just do it. Don't expect "karma" to win the lottery for you in exchange for your deed, and don't go looking for a ticker-tape parade. Sure, you'll get a few pats on the head. Maybe even an occasional cookie.

The sad fact is this: most times, helping will bite you in the ass.

Preface/disclaimer time, and then an anecdote.

I'm not comfortable around people, individually or in groups, and I prefer my own company whenever I can manage it. While this sounds antisocial, it really isn't. You wouldn't be able to tell from my attitude most of the time, but the pool of people whom I genuinely dislike is very small- I'd not even have to remove my shoes and socks to count them.

That's not to say that I'm some kind of Gandhi figure - not even a little bit! I'm quick to judge and quicker to anger, I can be mean and uncharitable, and I have a lot of trouble putting myself in others' shoes. At the same time, I'm quick to forget and don't hold much truck with grudges. I like most of the people I meet, and even with the ones I don't really so much, I can find some kind of redeeming feature of them. I wish them well, one and all. We're all in it together.

A little less than a year ago, I gave up my second job after my wife graduated from college and started work. I'd been cashiering in a gas station on my days off for about 14 months, and as you might expect, I met a lot of people during that time. All kinds of them: locals, long-distance travelers, drunks, addicts, harried parents, irritated commuters, regular people, people who think gas station cashiers are beneath their notice, talkers, crazies of all stripes... All manner of humanity came through the doors.

I had a lot of small-talk practice during that time being around the regulars whom I got to know fairly well, as well as all the single-serve folk. This is something I'd been without for a long time: plain old, garden-variety contact. I'm not a shut-in, I'm not agoraphobic. Generally I don't go out if I don't need to, but there's nothing physical or mental preventing me from doing so. I simply like my own place, and I REALLY like people best when they're somewhere else.

It wasn't this year's Easter Sunday - because I no longer had the job - but in 2014. I was working a shift at the gas station as I was off from my full-time job, and a woman dressed for Easter (think church, not bunnies) came in after pumping gas. She used the restroom, wandered the store, and picked out a few other items for her travels, but it was when she tried to pay for everything with a money order that things went wrong. The store I worked for didn't and doesn't accept them as payment, and that was all the woman had.

No cash. No cards. No checks. Nothing.

I was working with the assistant manager at the time, who was irritated and ready to call the cops on the woman for having a tank full of gas for which she couldn't pay. Thinking of how I'd feel in her place, with it being Easter on top of everything, I paid for her gas. And for the extra stuff she got to go along with it, because even though I'd have to work all of that shift and part of another to cover the cost, it's just money.


I wish I could say that I paid her bill with no expectations, but that would be a lie. Even though she looked the part of saintly grandmother, when I wrote my name and phone number on her receipt, I did it fully expecting never to hear from her again. A year-and-a-half hardly qualifies as "never", but so far my expectation has been met. I'd be less surprised to be abducted by aliens, or to learn that my cats speak english, or to discover that I'm Canadian royalty, than I would be to hear from her again.

That being said, I'd do it again, if the circumstances were right. Not because "the boss is watching and will be impressed". She wasn't - she thought it was a dumb thing to do, and judged solely on the matter of $50 +/- and whether I'd have it to spend on myself, she was completely right.

Not because "karma will even things out". It won't, because that's not a thing.

Not because "I won't be able to sleep tonight otherwise" or because "I get the warm fuzzies from helping" or because "It's the right thing to do". "Wouldn't be an issue", "I don't", and "Depends on the situation", respectively.

I'd do it - and try once again to leave my expectations at the door - simply because I'm trying to get better at putting myself in others' shoes. That, and while I have a tendency to judge and scorn people for being self-centered, for seemingly working to make the world a more difficult place to be for everyone else, I don't often follow my own advice.

So I guess my own drive to help - such as it is - is self-serving. I'll go back to funny cat videos now.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

a comment i made on a facebook thread about vaccine-phobes

i'm all for people being anti-establishment, for them being critical and not simply believing everything that's told to them by "authorities". there's value in the mindset, and i believe it's incumbent upon people to weigh their options, to make an informed decision, and to act. responsibly.

most of us don't need to be told what that means.

for example, i could take a real shine to lions after seeing a super-awesome video of a lion... i dunno, maybe roaring loudly or rolling around in the dirt. i could get it in my mind to buy a pride of lions to keep in my back yard.

you know, on account of how they're super-awesome.

assuming i didn't know anything about lions from the get-go, i might want some information about them - what do they eat, how much room do you need for them to be able to roar loudly and roll around in the dirt, can they be housebroken, that sort of thing. i might fire up my friend google for a search. "lions", i'd type into the search field, then sift through the results that weren't about football or community-service organizations.

well, shit. i didn't know they got that big.

and "apex predator" means they'll eat me. or my kids. or my neighbors. or my neighbors' kids. or all of us.

"but i *really* want a lion!" i might whimper. "they're, like, super-awesome!"

so, one more google search, this time "lions as pets". almost 17 million hits. i think i can discard most of the anecdotal evidence, good AND bad - i want the skinny from people who know about lions. lion experts.

the majority of the information coming from lion experts is, in simple terms, "you're better off with a house cat. they're nearly as troublesome, but mostly are unable to kill you/terrorize your neighborhood".

for me, that would be the end of my research, and i might go on to develop a semi-healthy obsession with lions.

the divergence from the *other* crowd would have started some time ago, maybe right after "i could take a real shine to lions....". and you know the *other* crowd i mean - they get it into their heads that they have it right, period. no amount of naysaying from Reasonable People or Contradictory Information From Experts can sway them.

the ones who found two "experts" who say owning lions is great, and the right of every free citizen.

the ones who KNOW that Big-[Profiting-Wildly-From-Lying-To-The-Sheeple-To-Prevent-Lion-Ownership] is engaged in an intricate, global coverup of the medicinal, physiological, and psychological benefits of owning multiple lions.

the ones with their fingers jammed in their ears, shrieking "lalalalalalala - i can't HEAR you!!!!" over and over.

i'd sadly give up my dreams of lion ownership, not only for my safety and that of my family, but also for the same of the community in which i live. pretty easy decision, that.

but for the *other* crowd, well... "none of your lies will change my mind! your so-called 'experts' are SHILLS, and i REFUSE TO BE ONE OF THE SHEEPLE! i'm getting those fucking lions, because IT'S MY RIGHT AND NOTHING ELSE MATTERS!"

all right, fine. you're one of *those* people. tell you what, though: if you and i both survive the events "Your Lion 'Unexpectedly' Breaking Free From Your 'Control' And Mauling Someone I Care About" and "Public Safety Officials Bringing An Escaped Lion To Heel", you'd better be ready for the back of your skull to meet my louisville slugger.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

your dogma ran out in front of my karma

A friend of mine from facebook and from the real world shared this image with me the other day, I think because we often jibber and jabber about how the world could be a much better place than it is. The "infographic" above is pretty much a perfect encapsulation of the utopian starry-eyed nonsense that's becoming more and more commonplace these days, and I'm pretty sure a little piece of me dies every time I see a new poster appear.

The premise is flawed from the outset: "Doing nothing but COMPLAINING about the system or demanding that our "LEADERS" CHANGE THE WORLD FOR US is no different than going at a theatre and throwing tomatoes at the stage." Bullshit.

Bull. Shit.

In the real world, I've never been forced to go to any theater, to see any show. If I want to see it, I see it. If not, I don't. The real world isn't like that, though. The day-to-day that we all experience is a part of the framework in which we exist, not a diversion put on for our entertainment. You can't just "walk away" and "create a world of your choosing", and with nebulous terms and undefined goals, all I see in the above is this:

I don't have any problem with anyone who wants the world to be a better place - quite the opposite! Our world is a pretty neat place, but at the same time, it can be a festering shitehole. Improvement is always possible.

What I DO have a problem with is anyone who's peddling a "Phase 3" of create a world of our choosing UNDER NO AUTHORITY BUT OUR OWN as a follow-up to a "Phase 1" of WALK AWAY AND UNITE followed by the standard "Phase 2", ?. If I thought this particular "Phase 3" was a realistic goal, I might ask a proponent of it to suggest ways in which we could achieve it. Because it's not a realistic goal, though, I have to wonder what "Phase 1" entails. If you're not interested in running afoul of the law, probably it's "going to Starbuck's to have lattes and talk about how great it's going to be to live under our own authority in a world of our choosing, with other people who no longer vote".

If you're slightly more determined, you might stop paying taxes on everything you buy - "take THAT,  The System!" - and for a time, feel like you're really making progress. Until they catch up with you and punish you for not paying the taxes. And compel you to pay fines. AND taxes.

If you're as determined as you can be, if this is a do-or-die, all-or-nothing situation, you quit your job and go guerilla. What then? Even if you were sufficiently funded to take on your government and its military - and para-military - the numbers aren't going to work out in your favor. You'd be better off buying yourself some "democracy".  

So, in this example of "create a world of our choosing UNDER NO AUTHORITY BUT OUR OWN", you can 
  1. act minimally and legally, become discouraged, and give up
  2. get illegal enough to cost yourself some money, get a record, and maybe wind up in jail. then give up
  3. go full outlaw, get an asterisk next to your name, and become an example for others
Wouldn't it be better to establish a realistic "Phase 3"? Something small and achievable, but meaningful? Something that, once you've done it, you can think to yourself, "I helped make that happen!"?

Friday, May 30, 2014

message to a friend and former co-worker

Well, there are nice people around The Fortress, but still I don't think there can be any valid comparison between the Empire and the FOS. Stormtroopers all come from the sociopathic DNA of Jango Fett, so I can't really believe it's in their nature to be "nice". I wouldn't imagine the nurture of the Kaminoans - who took the cash and built/bred/geneticfully engineered to specs without worrying over ethics - or the pervasive atmosphere of "relatively-low-ranking-soldier-in-the-Galactic-Empire" could lead to much possibility of "nice", either. There wasn't any "nice" I could discern within the Empire's command structure, and the top end of that food chain - Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine - was not only *not nice*, it was SILLY with evil.

Now, *that* being said, there isn't any obvious benefit to niceness within a military organization bent on maintaining the control it's established. To all appearances that control is largely unquestioned and nearly complete, so their drive to expand is implied. An organization with near-unlimited resources, mad for power, would continue to reach until they exceeded their grasp.

There *is* a benefit to niceness within a private organization bent on getting all the cash it can. Whether the nice is actual or apparent, it becomes important because the private organization can't simply demand unquestioning obedience of all of the rank-and-file - pesky labor laws and regulations and "worker's rights" nonsense. Nice comes into play at the top end of the organization where there's an image to project, and pervades the bulk of the remainder of the personnel structure as a means of social and professional advancement. Political maneuvering, for the most part, though genuine niceness *does* exist there. Genuine niceness doesn't seem to serve any practical function within the system, though. So probably it can be ignored.

I could speculate about the top end of the food chain at the Fortress of Stoopid. I don't suppose you make it to executive-level by being nice, though the executive-level people I know from the Fortress seem nice enough. On the other hand, I don't suppose that - operating within the confines of the present system - you can *remain* in an executive-level position by advertising your evil. Good in a military dictatorship, sure. Direct-mail advertising business? Maybe not so much.

So I guess the parallel between the two has to be the single-mindedness. The Galactic Empire had their thirst for power and control. Money might also be an issue, but that can be left for another time because money is the thing for the Fortress of Stoopid. The Empire fell because of their arrogance.

The Fortress? Incompetence might not bring it down, but they certainly suffer for it.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

the world as i see it

so, saturday night as i was watching game five of the first-round stanley cup playoff series between the minnesota wild and the colorado avalanche, something happened.

fans of the minnesota wild - and hockey fans, for that matter - probably know by now that the game was little more than a string of calls by on-ice officials favoring the avalanche, calls that ultimately cost the wild the game. i was outraged - or as outraged as i could become about professional athletes being "victimized" as they went about their business - over the outcome, and where i don't normally bother listening to what the assorted commentators have to say regarding their take on the game, or what coaching staff has to say regarding their take on the game, this time i was.

so i watched. between the 3rd period and the overtime, commentators had harsh words for one call in particular that had allowed the avalanche to tie the game. wes walz, former wild forward, was the most vocal in his criticism. other analysts at least mentioned the call, and just before the overtime began, replay footage appeared that showed the avalanche entering the offensive zone offside - a further outrage!

anyway, colorado went on win the game. no one except for the color commentary and play-by-play announcers, apparently having missed the memo from the brass to drop it, had anything to say about the bad calls. wild players who were interviewed downplayed the "missed calls" when asked, saying that they can't dwell on that. they need to focus on the next game. take it one game at a time. the in-studio people back in minnesota didn't mention the incidents, instead lamenting the colorado comeback and looking ahead to the sixth game of the series. wild head coach mike yeo echoed the sentiments of his recently-interviewed players in the post-game press conference, basically refusing to comment on the call that had cost his team the game.

i wasn't surprised at that point, and the outrage i'd experienced earlier was gone, saved for something outrage-worthy. which this was not.

what happened saturday night as i was watching game five of the first-round stanley cup playoff series between the minnesota wild and the colorado avalanche was *not* that the wild lost to the avalanche because of unfair officiating- ok, that *did* happen, but what happened for me is that i can now see the game as it is: intangible goods produced by a corporation for consumption at point-of-sale. available to consumers on 41 occasions from october to april in the 30 markets across the us and canada selected by the nhl corporation to be the best income generators. the outcome of each and every "contest" decided in advance by nhl corporation revenue forecasters, carefully considering where consumers are most likely to spend the most money on their product. and the merchandise associated with the 30 different varieties. and the broadcast rights to include those without access to the point-of-sale. and advertising revenue associated with broadcast.

how can i be outraged over that? a multinational corporation trying to earn all the money they can year in and year out - that's what corporations do. they aren't saving the world, no. they *are* employing people, they benefit local economies where point-of-sale exists, and athletes in the nhl appear to be much better-behaved than those in the nfl or the nba, for the most part.

unfortunately, i can't un-see what i've envisioned - whether or not it's a reflection of how that system actually works - and what i enjoyed as a diversion is now another product for which i have no use. none of which affects the nhl one bit - i was a minor consumer of the product all along and my absence will make no difference to their bottom line.

similarly, this should affect anyone who takes the time to read it not one bit. i'm spitballing on a rainy monday.