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Category: Humans

It's a Sign
There was an odd scene down at the local Costco this week. At the entrance to one of the aisles, a young woman (apparently a store employee) stood holding a sign that read “No Toilet Paper.” I can’t help but think that the sign — and the whole tableau — were also a sign of the times. A sign of what, exactly, I am still not sure.

The very fact that the woman was there to begin with is absurd. A stick with a sign stapled to it would have served adequately. I suppose that Costco customers might want to ask her questions, but I can’t imagine that her answers could have been very helpful. “Yes, we have toilet paper on order,” “No, I’m not sure when we will be getting more,” and especially “Yes, we have no toilet paper” wouldn’t really add much to the basic message on the sign.

Perhaps she could be persuaded to offer an opinion of her own as to why a human was needed to hold a No Toilet Paper sign when a stick and a staple would have worked just fine. She might suggest, for instance, that the specter of supply chain breakdown figured into it in some way. Or the pandemic, or labor shortages.

But if the problem is a shortage of workers, then why is this young woman’s valuable time being wasted on an unnecessary task? She is not needed here. She should be on a loading dock somewhere, wrestling 24-roll bundles of Charmin onto waiting big rigs. Or driving the big rig herself, rushing the 4-ply bathroom tissue to Costco’s desperately waiting members. But no. She stood mute as the tissue-less swirl all around her. Even if she wanted to help, there was nothing she can do but hold her sign and perhaps appear sympathetic.

I have begun to wonder if we will all be in her shoes someday soon. Not because of supply chain issues or plagues but because modern civilization itself will render us useless.

How? By assigning our jobs to automation. Much is made of the pandemic revealing the fact that workers are dissatisfied with the kind of work they do and how little they get paid for it. Well, they aren’t they only ones who’ve noticed. The Invisible Hand of the marketplace has also been watching. Why bother with a bunch of grumpy, demanding human workers, the Hand is no doubt thinking, when computers and robots can do it all? Even the most demanding professions — law, medicine, architecture, the arts — will be reduced to 1’s and 0’s soon enough. And then what?

Our lot, it seems, will be to hold up signs that are meant to be read by other useless humans. Or to answer their pointless questions. We would still be ridiculously expensive when compared to a stick and a staple, but we would be providing that all-important human touch. Even more importantly, we would be getting paid something for this service, and we would be spent that money keeping the Invisible Hand of the marketplace alive and well. Until it finds some other way to keep itself going, that is. Ina world with or without toilet paper.

In the meantime, friend, hold tight to that sign. Twirl it if you like, dance with it, wear goofy costumes, act like a fool. Or simply display it with a quiet dignity. The Hand respects your freedom.
Don’t Do The Research
Please, please don’t do the research. One reason: so many obviously ill-informed people are insisting that you do. What those people are really asking is that you read the “sources” which they are relying on for their beliefs. Better to just turn slowly and walk away.

Research into complicated, arcane subjects is not, after all, your strong suit. If it were, you would already have an informed opinion. Furthermore, that opinion would be open to change if your research turned up new and powerful evidence that called the original opinion into question. That’s what genuine experts do. But admit it — that’s not you.

So, in the case of Covid-19, unless you’ve been studying infectious diseases all your life and are recognized by other respected people in that field as an authority, then your research is not worth squat. The same goes for your studies of rampant electoral fraud. Unless you have a solid understanding of the laws and systems underpinning elections and are actually wading into the data up to your neck, then your opinion does not count for much.

And so on, with all manner of subjects about which you know very little. Rather than reading whatever sources the guy down at the end of the bar recommends, let me suggest that your time would be better spent figuring which experts to rely on.

Let’s take an example: Covid. To keep it simple, we’ll establish our basic goal as avoiding death no matter how it may come. For the purposes of this exercise, we will assume that you do not think that Covid is some kind of hoax.

Now, let’s establish your options for a reliable expert. Behind door #1 we have Anthony Fauci. He has studied epidemiology for most of his professional life. That discipline is the main focus of his work, which includes service under U.S. presidents of both parties and in positions of high responsibility in several prestigious organizations and institutes at the center of his field. He has taken the lead not only in confronting Covid, but in battling AIDS, MERS, Swine flu, and Ebola.

Behind door #2 is Dr. Jennings Ryan Staley. Dr. Staley harnessed his license to practice medicine by operating the Skinny Beach Med Spas around San Diego. He also marketed a “COVID-19 management program” that included hydroxychloroquine, Xanax, and Viagra for a mere $4000 per kit as a “miracle cure” for the virus. The absence of Ivermectin from that list might be explained by the fact that it rose to fame only after Dr. Staley had already entered his guilty plea to mail fraud, a felony.

But hey, he’s a doctor. So, which of these dedicated healers would you choose as a source of life-saving advice? I have purposely made the choice easy (I hope) to illustrate my point: even though looking into the backgrounds of your chosen experts is technically “research,” it’s the kind that you are qualified to perform. Look at their histories, look at their status within the field, look at their rap sheets. Then decide.

And if the facts change, go ahead and change your opinion about the expert. If Fauci gets busted for promoting the ingestion of Clorox as a cure (even though no idiot would ever really suggest such a thing), then drop him from your list of reliable sources and find someone else to listen to.

Hey, you can do this. It’s all the other, complicated stuff that you suck at.
A New Voice
There is a trend on the websites that I turn to for news. I've been seeing a certain kind of story that is meant, I think, to elicit some pretty ugly schadenfreude from the readers. The stories go something like this: a long-time opponent of vaccination or masking — someone who has promoted conspiratorial misinformation in support of their views — comes down with COVID-19 and dies.

“Good!,” comes my first thought. “He deserves it.”

The story often goes on to report that the deceased changed his tune after getting infected. He begs friends and family (who are uniformly devastated at his sad passing) to mask up and get the shot.

“Too late, jackass!” I think. “Eat shit and die.”

I do not like my inner voices to talk this way. Even though this response is accompanied by feelings of righteousness, it is not the family-friendly, G-rated response I’d prefer to hear from my voices. In addition to confirming my worst fears about myself, I believe that such sentiments have a corrosive effect on my soul (if such an entity actually exists).

But I had been hearing a lot more from these voices in recent years. My opinion of my fellow humans has taken a dark turn for the worse during these times. I find more and more that I am categorizing others (like the people in those COVID stories) as idiotic, craven, hopeless, or just plain evil. They have become the other to me, and that is a brand of thinking I despise in them. This troubles me.

So, over the last couple of weeks, I had tried to adjust my thinking about my fellow humans. Rather than seeing of them as stupid, callous, and zombified, I started thinking of these people (who constitute, apparently, just under half of the entire human race) as crazy. Certifiable. Unable to care for their own safety.

I found this approach to be helpful in maintaining my own mental health…at least for awhile. Where once I experienced anger, I was now filled with pity for these folks. The poor things can’t help themselves. Maybe they’ve got some bad chemicals squirting inside their heads, or their mothers did not love them. Whatever it is, it’s not their fault.

Even though it’s been nice to have all that bile removed from my system, I am finding that feeling sorry for other people can also take a toll. Instead of bitterness, I began tasting something else. Pity in large amounts takes on he flavor of spoiled milk after a bit. That's the best I can do at describing it. Too much pitying probably won’t make you sick, but you will want to throw up just in case.

After experiencing that for a while, I decided that I could not handle that feeling, either. So I am trying something else, something other than bile or sour milk. And so far it’s working. Now my official position is that all those people are suffering from temporary insanity.

These are really good people at heart, I now think. They’re just having a bad day, or week, or decade. This makes me feel much better. I still have a bad taste in my mouth, but it’s like the taste of beets. I don’t like it, but at least it won't hurt me.

We’ll see what happens the next time one of those shock jock screamers falls over dead with the virus. If all I can taste is beets, then I just may have saved my soul.
Finessing the Monster
I took a class last weekend about wildfires. The focus of the two-day course was a detailed examination of exactly what happens when a wildland fire burns down your house…or doesn’t. We got pretty deeply into the data about what is going on during one of these events, and the search offered a number of surprises.

I used to have a pretty dramatic notion of how wildfires destroyed homes. I imagined the fire as an irresistible, all-consuming monster that swept across a landscape consuming everything in its path. The metaphor did not come with much in the way of specifics, but it did carry a full load of emotional baggage, especially fear.

I did pick up some hard-won specifics last year when the path that the monster took came close enough to my house to destroy the homes of two neighbors only yards away. The monster never showed itself in the way my metaphor suggested. There was no three hundred foot wall of flame, no exploding buildings, no howling behemoth of incineration. Instead, it operated remotely with windblown embers that could travel for miles. If one of those embers (“firebrands”, the pros call them) were to find a small collection of dry leaves, twigs, or other natural detritus and ignite it, then that is where the trouble started. If the collection was sufficiently large (not very large at all, as it turned out), it might burn long enough to spread to other fuel and finally to a dwelling.

The speed and intensity with which such accumulations burn does not need to be high. As long as there is more fuel nearby to sustain the flame, it might go anywhere, slowly but dangerously.

In fact, I learned over the weekend that even when the monster is right there within a relatively short distance of your home, fully visible and giving off immense amounts of radiant heat, it is not the huge flames themselves that consume the structure. Rather, it is small, ignitable accumulations very close to the building (or some fuel source attached to it) that are the immediate source of danger.

Even if the building is heated well beyond human tolerances, even if it is charred by the heat, it will not ignite if there is no flame right next to the building to set it off. If this small flame is not there to ignite the flammable gas being released by the charring, the monster will often roar past and leave the home intact. As in the case of a creeping fire set off by a firebrand, some small pile of burning fuel very near the building is what would be needed to activate ignition.

This new notion about the nature of wildfire has been an inspiration to me. There is something about being able to protect your home from a rampaging, all-powerful monster just by doing a little light raking that is very appealing. I sense that there is some very zen lesson to be drawn from that irony, but I still haven’t been able to put my finger on it. If I find it, perhaps it will be useful in dealing with some other monsters…like the virus, the climate, injustice, or death itself.

There is, of course, a whole list of other fire safety measures that deserves attention. But what fun is there in thinking about putting on a new roof? For now I am happy to meditate on the idea of one man against the monster, armed only with a rake.
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Trump supporters are people who know what they believe.
~ JC, Bonny Doon