The Excess Mass Equivalency

[A repeat post from January, 2012. My blog met an untimely end in January 2016, and I plan to repopulate with some of the old entries over time]

Anyone else ever deal with big bottled water? No, not the pints and quarts and liters of non-returnable plastic whose very existence we would have scoffed at if someone suggested forty years ago that buying water the same way we buy soft drinks would ever be commercially feasible, much less wildly popular. No, I’m talking about replacing tap water in your home or office with those five gallon behemoths, hauled in from the car or truck or wherever you haul them in from. We started drinking water this way about the time our middlest girl (Ruthie) was born, being not at all pleased with certain, ah, “peculiarities” in the odor of Decatur tap water. And much too aware of the incredible profusion of toxins that had been dumped upstream in the Tennessee River over the decades. It seemed (and still seems) a completely warranted substitution, given the importance of our precious bodily fluids. (No, Jack, I’ve never seen a Russkie drink tap water. Only vodka, Jack.)

But this missive is not about the quality of water or its fluoridation or lack of. In fact it’s not about water at all, other than as a mass reference point. A gallon of water is the mass equivalent of 3.8 Kg, or 8.3 pounds. So five gallons of water weighs 41.5 pounds. If you go to Lowe’s you can buy either the 5 gallon bottle, or the 3 gallon version. Three gallons weighs in at 24.9 pounds. If you’re ever there, try picking up a 5 gallon bottle and a 3 gallon bottle, one in each hand. They make it easy to grab, the bottles have handles built right in. Now stand there a moment, one bottle in each hand: A total of 66.4 pounds. Try walking down the aisle, maybe saunter over to the Tools area or take a look at plumbing fixtures, 66.4 pounds of excess poundage swinging along with you.

Here’s a point of reference: That’s how much I am carrying around as excess poundage in my body, every day, every minute, 24/7. Roughly 65 pounds above the tiptop limit of someone my height and age. If you actually do this experiment, you’ll be astounded that I am even able to walk from the den into the dining room on a regular basis. Though it’s pretty obvious that I must have indeed walked to the dining room. Often. And spent far too much time in there.

If you don’t want to experiment with water bottles, next time you’re in the grocery store, try picking up a 50 pound bag of dog food and walk down the aisle (walking down the aisle seems to be somehow critical to this experiment). If you really want equivalence, get a helpful passerby to throw another 10 pound bag and a 5 pound bag on top of the 50. Hell, get a whole bunch of people to try the experiment, make it a party! Marching up and down the aisles, chanting the Song of the Volga Boatmen. You’ll probably be doing a public service by making all those people aware of this mass equivalency, because chances are many of your fellow shoppers are also lugging 50 extra pounds or so of excess mass. It’s a national epidemic, you know. We’re pretty much all in the same Volga (or Tennessee) boat, which is struggling pretty hard to stay afloat, as you can well imagine.

Twenty-three years ago (or, as I like to measure things, about 60 pounds ago), I played the Scarecrow in the Giles Heritage Theatre production of “Wizard of Oz”. I sang and danced around the stage, falling on the floor and leaping back up as the Scarecrow is wont to do. If I attempted that today, I’d likely do damage to the stage, much less the terminal damage to my body. Oh, how I’d love to be able to prance around like that again! Alas, I fear that is not to happen. But I do have a goal. No, not to reprise my Scarecrow role (though I will always remember it fondly). Rather, to diligently remove the 8 gallons of hydro-mass equivalency from my body. Not so I can dance, necessarily. I’m just tired of carrying this extra stuff around. To quote the Grateful Dead (from “New Speedway Boogie”): “If the horse don’t pull you got to carry the load/ I don’t know whose back’s that strong/ Maybe find out before too long.”

Maybe I will. But I’d rather lose the load, thank you very much.

© 2012 Chuck Puckett

An Early Tally

Let’s keep an account, shall we?

  1. Thursday, two days after the election, Drumpf met with Obama in the White House. He acted reasonable, it seemed. Not raving and ranting. But it seemed to me he had a look of fear in his eyes,  a look that was the opposite of confidence. Like, “Oh, shit. What do I do now?” I guess that’s to be expected having just gotten some real information about the world he’s now got to deal with. And having no idea what he’s going to do about it.
  2. Also on Thursday, Drumpf apparently got his tweet account back. His tweet? “Just had a very open and successful presidential election. Now professional protesters, incited by the media, are protesting. Very unfair!” He claimed that all the anti-Drumpf protests were being paid for. By the media.
  3. Here’s the kicker, the real piece of stunning news. Immediately, the day after the election, news outlets all over the world reported that Russia had publicly admitted that they had definitely been in contact with the Drumpf  campaign during the election. That they were still in contact. So the Wiki Leaks that they provided were orchestrated. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, that kind of puts a big question mark on how you deal with Drumpf’s (now) daily security briefings. If the Drumpf team is coordinating with the  Russians, how secure is the information you give to Drumpf ?
  4. Friday:  Drumpf names Pence to lead transition team (and neatly gets rid of the liability that is Chris Christie). Other members of the team include Dr. Ben Carson (a Creationist mentioned for Education), Rudy Giuliani (everyone says Attorney General. Seriously?), Newt Gingrich (Secretary of State? Newt?). Then it’s the inner, trusted circle, the dons of the family: Donald Drumpf Jr., Ivanka Drumpf and her husband, Jared Kushner. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, who was considering whether to investigate Drumpf University but declined, is also on the list. Nice payback. Wonder what bone she’ll be thrown. Did poor good ol’ boy Jeff Sessions get stiffed?
  5. Still no tax returns. Worse than that, he still plans for the Drumpf business, not to be placed in a blind trust, but to be run by his children. The same children that are key members on his transition team. Drumpf supporters probably don’t know what “nepotism” is (and certainly can’t spell it), but they should at least understand (massive) “conflict of interest.” Even Dick Cheney put his Halliburton (and other) holdings in a blind trust. So Donald Drumpf plans to run the country without full disclosure of his finances, or where he makes his money. And the country, according to Ivanka, should just trust the Drumpfs, because they’re going to be, like, “super responsible.”
  6. Word comes out today (Sunday) that Drumpf doesn’t plan to live in the White House full time. Maybe weekends in New York City. You know, for the golf and everything. Nothing like keeping your finger on the pulse. In fact, this is nothing like keeping your finger on the pulse.
  7. Drumpf has now said, post election, that he may not want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He wants to perhaps keep it, but, you know, fix it. Like the Democrats have been trying to do since it was enacted, in the face of adamant Republican obstructionism that, rather than working to fix it, voted 50 some odd times to simply repeal it. With nothing on the table to replace it. Drumpf almost certainly realizes that, in violation of his campaign promises, he can’t simply remove it without putting something in place. No one will stand for a return to “pre-existing conditions disqualify”, and all the other pre-ACA horrors. But he doesn’t have anything to replace it. Tough position.
  8. in a similar vein, Drumpf is back-pedaling renegeing on the Iran deal. Again, someone probably explained he cannot simply act unilaterally. He must now deal with international realities, and he cannot simply declare things to happen by fiat.

That’s enough for now. As I’ve said elsewhere, the minority of the electorate that managed to get him elected, those raving non-thinking, non-critical tools, many voting for the first time ever, who have been so easily manipulated, are not going to react pleasantly as Drumpf encounters political realities that will force him to renege on his favorite promises. Drumpf has no “deal” that he can subsititute for the economic realities that caused manufacturing jobs to be sent off-shore. They won’t be coming back. He may slow the hemoraging by getting Congress to impose massive penalities on any more jobs leaving (good luck: Congress knows who pays their salaries, and it ain’t the government). But he won’t bring the lost sheep back. Drumpf will build no Wall, certainly no Wall that Mexico will pay for. Will Congress enact such a measure, knowing how much it will costs? No. And on and on.

Don’t get me wrong, we face almost certain Trumpish horrors. There’s a lot that can be done (and undone) via executive order. And the question of the future Supreme Court makeup is the 900-pound gorilla in the room. But it is heartening to remember that Republicans used the “60 Vote Is a Majority” reality in the Senate to endlessly deny progress for years. Now it’s time for Democrats to have the political will to do the same.

But the early tally of post-election activities mainly reveals that Drumpf is a small-minded man overwhelmed by a reality that he never really expected to be laid in his lap.  A small man who made himself look big by completelely ignoring civil norms of behavior, by resorting to endless bullying, name-calling and other cowardly actions, the sort of actions that, in all the stories we read as children, resulted in a come-uppance when the story ended.

Here’s hoping for “and they lived…”

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

The Indistinguishable Phusis

From my earliest forays into the spiritual (which formally began in high school, though I had been thinking on these matters since early adolescence), after I had started my survey of the world’s religions and their key figures, I had recognized that there was a strong similarity among all of them. A very strong resemblance in the case of Jesus and Gautama Buddha, but one also easily recognizable, for instance, in the sayings and actions of Lao Tzu, and Moses, and a host of others. From this, a working hypothesis emerged: that all these figures had, in some supreme MOMENT, apprehended the Godhead, the True Reality, the Truth Behind the Veil. For lack of a better phrase, they all experienced an overwhelming Religious Experience, in which, for one brief shining moment, they were at one with the wordless expanse and glory of the Infinite Being.

But, being finite (as we all are), the Infinite could not be “maintained”; they were forced to return to the Here & Now. And they were then required, by the power of their experience, to somehow relate that experience to their fellow human beings. But (and here’s the crux of the matter), they only had the symbols and myths and culture in which they lived to translate the Ineffable, the Wordless, the Beyond Description. And so, each key figure attempted to translate the essence of their experiences using the ideas and notions familiar to them and their listeners. Jesus spoke in parables that are steeped in Jewish culture and history. Siddhatha used the symbols and metaphors available in Hinduism. And so on.

The actual experience is, I believe, the same, and forever incapable of accurately transmitting to their listeners. The message that they deciphered from the experience, the way of life they all urged, is also fundamentally the same: we are One, Love unites, there are consequences for our actions, give aid to those who need it without regard to recompense. Reduce the Self and listen for that “small, still voice” that speaks “when your heart is strangely warmed.”

Some claim that, in the fullness of time, we will all come face to face with the Inevitable and experience this fullness individually and as a conglomerate whole. The religions that adhere to an “arrow of time” world view, wherein there is a Beginning, a Traversal, and an End to everything, are most likely to consider this apocalyptic notion. Whether the Veil is ever lifted, in our lifetime or ever, is debatable. Is there an End of Time, where all is resolved for eternity? “There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies.” Ask Horatio; I know not.

There does seem to me a slipping backwards at work in our present world, a tendency, in the face of a world that appears ever more terrifying, to relapse into fundamental literalism. Not just in Christianity, for there are similar trends in Hinduism, and of course the other religions “of the Book”. But I do believe that the overall arc of history is towards enlightenment and (if you will) a revelation. Towards unity among all peoples. Consider how the long story has evolved: from isolated tribes in prehistory to villages and cities, coalescing into small kingdoms and then larger kingdoms, then empires, ever ebbing and flowing, but always moving inexorably towards a global culture.

Now, thanks in part to technology, our interconnectedness is truly amazing. This blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc, are all examples of how that interconnectedness works. We all know, more and more frequently, what happens everywhere, all the time. This global neural network is staggering in its import. We have not yet learned how to manage such a maze, and the capability seems at times daunting. The arc of history may point toward a global village, but it does not guarantee it will ever exist.

It is easy to despair, hard to hope. But keeping our eyes on the prize makes it possible.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

A Civics Lesson

In my naïveté, I guess I have always believed that when a candidate wins delegates in a primary, those delegates are somehow “bound” to him. I have the same belief about the Electoral College, and thus consider their actual meeting a mere formality, neither note nor newsworthy.

It may be true of the College (though careful scrutiny of the Constitution reveals no such binding). But it is apparently emphatically not true of the primary process. There, the “rules” are not of law, but of party origin. And apparently, the process by which actual human delegates are named (after being “chosen” by vote or caucus) has a tremendous latitude. There is in fact, a whole secondary battle fought after the primary to determine who the actual delegates are. And whom they represent.

Also apparently, Ted Cruz is a master in the tactics of this secondary, and arguably more important battle, while The Donald (like most Americans, myself included) doesn’t seem to have even been aware this battle needed to be fought. And while Cruz has amassed a huge number of “false flag” delegates, Drumpf is only now starting to wage this shadow campaign.

Look, I detest both GOP front-runners. But I merely abhor Drumpf, while I am petrified by Cruz. If Cruz (or some white knight GOP mainstreamer like Paul Ryan) were to wrest the GOP nomination from Drumpf via an inner manipulation of arcane delegate machinations, I feel reasonably certain that the multitudes of new, inexperienced voters Drumpf has brought to the party would revolt. Not only revolt; they’d likely take their voting power and either mount a third-party run, or else stay away from the polls in droves, hatching revenge plots and stewing in their bile-soup of anger and fear. And by the way: either scenario probably guarantees a Democratic victory for the White House, assuming even tepid support from the Democratic base.

One can certainly imagine the GOP elite willing to make such a sacrifice, if only to keep their party from completely exploding into smithereens after being struck by a blast from the Donald Drumpf Death Star. Better to serve in Congress than reign in the White House, and you can be sure the GOP is worried to death what a Drumpf candidacy might do to their Senate and even House majorities.

So now I take home this lesson in Civics. But not the Civics I learned in Mr. Kimbro’s class in the 9th grade. It’s not just about three branches of government counter-poised to prevent power accumulation in any one branch. It’s not a bicameral Congress that offers stable long-term Senators to balance the “will-of-the-people” rapidly overturning House. These things didn’t turn out the way the Framers envisioned, and neither did the paths to power. No, this is a lesson in realpolitik Civics, where arcane rules and backroom deals still determine the outcomes.

And that’s just for the GOP. Don’t get me started on the Democrats and super-delegates. I’ve had enough Civics lessons for one day.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett

Apocalypse Now… and Then

I must admit to being a little down in the dumps in the wake of the South Carolina Democratic primary. I expected Bernie to lose, but the margin was much larger than I had feared. The problem seems to be one of not gaining the trust of minorities. I still feel confident that his message would resonate with anyone on the Left who had ears to hear. But people must be willing to at least investigate his ideas.

And so now, if the pundits and prognosticators are right, and things proceed according to the prescribed path of the ancien regime, we are likely to see Hillary as the Democratic nominee. The anti-democratic institution of super-delegates already made the math almost impossible, and unless Sanders gains some significant ground on Super Tuesday, the probability is that the forces that are implicitly and explicitly warping the primary process in Clinton’s favor (read: Debbie Wassername) will prevail, and the Democrats will simply hold on to the old guard. There will be no sea change on the Left. And we will likely lose forever the one true chance to effect a real change in the way politics is done in this country. That is the quiet version of Apocalypse Now.

Which then leads to the much more dramatic Apocalypse Then, in November. With Hillary as the Democratic candidate, and Donald Drumpf the presumptive GOP candidate, we will experience one of two possible soul-wrenching outcomes. Either Clinton prevails, and the moneyed interests continue their stranglehold on American politics, not only unabated, but likely strengthened, embolded by the utter failure to eradicate their influence. Or, and this is not unlikely with a Clinton-Drumpf matchup, Donald Drumpf actually becomes the next President of the United States. The horror of such an spectacle freezes the marrow of any circumspectful citizen. And yet, the electorate in many ways has morphed into an unrecognizable mob, intent on some sort of drastic change, and the old school sameness that Hillary represents could be in real jeopardy in the general election.

And so I feel less than optimistic at the moment, as if a chill gale were bearing down on the country, fully capable of dismantling reason and further deteriorating an already embattled ethics. It is an ill wind that blows against the empire. But it blows nevertheless.

© 2016 Chuck Puckett