Friday, June 29, 2007

Long weekend

I have Monday through Wednesday off, so I won't be here 'till the fifth of July. I'm going camping with my son. It should be fun.

Happy Fourth of July.

The Hayloft

My father-in-law asked me to meet him after work at a horse farm to help unload two wagons of hay. I arrived at a small farm and was met by a distinguished older lady who showed me to the stables to change from my office clothes to my work clothes. My father-in-law showed up 20 minutes later with a wagon of hay which we promptly unloaded.

The woman’s daughter arrived while we were unloading the hay and was the owner/operator of the small horse stable. She was about 35 years old, had long dark hair, and was attractive with a nice figure. I am a married man and I have been out of the game of playing the field for several years. Still, it is nice to look at women from time to time and wonder about alternative lives imagining different scenarios for partnership. These thoughts have never gone beyond my imagination since I’ve been married and I don’t suspect they ever will.

We finished unloading the hay from the wagon, tossing it on the ground in front of the stable. My father-in-law drove away to pick up the other wagon and would be gone for an hour. Lisa, the daughter, gave me instructions on where to stack the hay in the stable. I worked on stacking the hay in one spot as she loaded up a small trailer attached to an all-terrain vehicle with bales to stack in another stable a short distance away. I finished stacking all the bales I could fit in the stable she showed me and went to lend her a hand.

I could handle loading, throwing and stacking the bales easier than Lisa. As I was helping Lisa made comments to her mom. “Oh, look at how he can lift them so easily up high.” And “He is soooo tall and strong.” I kept working, feeling proud and manly, and made quick work of stacking the bales in both spots.

It was an innocent line. I don’t think anything was meant from it, other than the practical aspect of showing me the next area to stack bales in. “Why don’t we go up in the hayloft?” Well, I’ve never been invited up into the hayloft by an attractive woman and as I followed her up the stairs, with my eye staring at those long legs tucked into tight jeans, my mind raced from one fantasy to the next as I considered the possibilities of what could happen in a hayloft.

Nothing happened in the hayloft and I kept my composure as we reached the top and she explained to me where we would stack the bales from the next wagon. When my father-in-law finally arrived, I worked up a sweat high in the loft with Lisa watching and commenting about how hot it was and what a good thing it is to have a man’s help around.

I left when we finished and said goodbye. When I came home, I had a beer to quench my thirst. I laid down to bed and my head was stilled filled with thoughts of pretty women and haylofts. I was unable to relieve myself of those thoughts and fantasies until I awoke in the morning and took a shower. Thank God, we have imaginations because they are wonderful. I’ll take it over a porn-site any day.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Notes to myself

I have attempted several times to keep a running journal since my teen years. Most have been abandoned after a month or two of daily writing. I’ve written songs, poems, and stories that have never been published and probably shouldn’t ever be. I have had thoughts that being a journalist or writer might be my dream occupation. However, I lack the discipline to write down my thoughts and ideas regularly.

Blogspot used to be banned at my place of employment. I now am able to access it. So, I thought I would attempt to write my thoughts down once again. Right now, I am comforted to know I have had minimal visitors here. I am keeping an open diary because I’d like to develop a discipline for writing and hone some skills that might be advantageous in the future, if I can ever break away from the necessity for a full-time job moving someone else’s pyramid stones around.

That is the purpose of this blog, in case you were wondering. It is not meant to entertain you, if you have stumbled across it. Sorry. I am simply making notes to myself.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Thread

I am reading two books right now. One Dharma by Joseph Goldstein and The Revolt of the Elites by Chritopher Lasch.

I started this blog upon stumbling upon a friends blog called Pirsig Affliction. Its a long story, but I have come to be a fan of Matt's writing there on Philosophy and I missed not reading him for a couple of years after I stopped being subscribed to the MOQ.ORG mailing list. Anyway, he had a lot of posts and archives to go through, so I began printing off his threads at work and reading him at home as I became reacquainted with Richard Rorty and pragmatist philosopy. I don't know much about Philosophy but everything I have read from Matt seems to make a lot of sense to someone like myself with a bent toward the practical.

Well, funny thing is, no sooner than I finish catching up with Matt's thoughts, I begin the introduction to these two books which are completely dissimilar as far as topics. Let me quote from each beginning with One Dharma first.

A new mantra began emerging in my practice, and it was a very truthful response that had been plaguing me: "Who knows?" ..."Don't know mind," a phrase often used by Zen master Seung Sahn, enabled me to embrace a variety of perspectives, seeing the different views and methods as skillful means for liberation, rather than as the statements of absolute truths I was taking them to be. ..."Skillful means"is a phrase often found in Buddhist literature referring to the particular methods and practices used to help people free themselves from the bonds of ignorance. As skillful means we employ whatever is useful, whatever is truly helpful.

And from Revolt of the Elites:

The quest for certainty, which became an obsessive theme in modern thought when Descartes tried to ground philosophyin indubitable ppropositions, was misguided to begin with. As John Dewey pointed out, it distracted attention from the real business of philosophy, the attempt to arrive at "concrete judgments ...about ends and means in the regulation of practical behavior." In their pursuit of the absolute and immutable, philosophers took a disparaging view of the time-bound and contingent. In the world view of Western Phiosphy, knowing came to be split off from doing, theory from practice, the mind from body. ...The trouble in academia...derives not from the absence of secure foundations but the belief (shared it must be repeated by both parties of the debate) that in their absence the only possible outcome is a skepticism so deep that it becomes indistinguishable from nihilism. That this is not, in fact, the only possible outcome would have been abundantly clear to Dewey, and the revival of pragmatism as an object of historical and philosophical study--one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal picture--holds out some hope of a way out of the academic impasse.

I have always found that there is a thread weaving from the works of authors I read that resides somewhere in the pages - a truth revealed but remaining still unattainable. From Kundert to Goldstein to Lasch the thread remains as resolute as ever even as the subjects vary disparately.

Banks are okay, I guess

I got a letter from TCF bank recently apologizing for their mistakes and asking that I reconsider my threat to never have anything to do with TCF in the future. They refunded me all service fees for overdraft charges - $297.00.


All it takes is writing a letter, I suppose.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Opinions over Facts

I have to admit to being slightly uncertain of my convictions. For the most part I am not sure of much. What gets my ire is when anyone proclaims something that they are certain of or dismisses something because it is preposterous and violates some notion they have about the ways of the world they are certain of.

In other words, the only thing I am certain of is that nothing is certain. Of course, that statement contradicts itself and the weight of certainty can be lifted from one’s shoulder simply by shrugging and saying, “Who the hell knows?”

I don’t want the polar ice caps to melt, but do I really know if man is causing global warming? Who the hell knows? I am in favor of some regulations reducing the amount of CO2 being put into the atmosphere because I don’t like the idea of burning fossil fuels and lowering the Earths storage of energy versus using the annual supply of solar energy and renewable resources. I read Buckminster Fuller as a youth in the 1970’s and he always made sense to me.

Here is where we are all confused and lost in this conundrum in my opinion, though. We expect someone else to solve the big problem facing our increasingly global economy. Science tells us that the Earth is warming and CO2 is the likely cause. There is a consensus. I don’t have the equipment or the know-how to verify if this is true or not, so I am just supposed to trust the experts. Fine, in this case I do. However, the experts in science have been wrong on the consensus view in the past. How do I know that this is not one of those cases?

In today’s world we are beholden to the experts. Our education does not teach us to verify the results of scientists, but rather to trust the experts and the work they produce. We are fed these results in the media and by journalists, whom we are supposed to trust can verify the results of the scientists. We are left with an elite group of experts making our decisions for us and arguments or debate usually is just one side spouting facts from one side at the opposing side. We leave for the experts to reach a consensus, then we scream at our opponent, “Science says!” How is this different than appealing to the Priests and the religious icons in the past to settle debate?

I think we often come at debate wrong. Many people think it is ignorant to begin with an opinion as opposed to having facts on hand. I disagree. I think one should begin first with an opinion that is based on ones experience and socially formed morality. For instance, I start most political arguments with a few basic opinions that reflect my morality.

  1. We should have concern and compassion for our fellow human beings.
  2. War is bad and should always be avoided in almost all instances.
  3. We should preserve local resources and strive for a sustainable economy.
  4. We share the Earth with other species and we should have some reverence for all species on Earth.
  5. We should not take ourselves too seriously.
  6. Love is universal and is the closest thing to an absolute humans can experience

There are others, but I begin with these opinions that are not backed up with scientific fact or religious ideology. However, when I meet my interlocutor, I must attempt to understand the opinions that inform his or her views. Once the point is reached where we each understand the others viewpoint, then we can reach for facts on hand supporting out views and work toward common understanding.

I once had a conservative friend in college. We used to go round and round on many issues. Over time we came an understanding. He believed that each person was only responsible for his or herself and his or her family. If everyone would just take care of his or herself, the world would take care of itself just fine. This view contradicted one of my fundamental starting points that we should have compassion and concern for the well-beings of others (#1). He believed that my views often led to people being worse off. For example, the welfare argument that giving a helping hand to someone promotes laziness. Well, we differed in our fundamental beliefs, but we had a starting point for a discussion. Neither of us was going to change the others view, but I did have to take into account the possibility that my compassion could lead to dire outcomes. I had to ask the question “What if I am wrong?” This is what leads to healthy discussions. If all we have is facts at our disposal when we go into a discussion and repeat the thoughts and ideas of experts with the facts they have provided us, we may be well-informed but we cannot have a discussion on important issues that will lead to productive results.

So, I think we should value opinions over facts. That’s my opinion at least

Friday, June 22, 2007

Lots of work today,

The taxman has to send out the bills. I wanted to write a post on why I am a Luddite, but that will have to wait for another time. See you on Monday at 9:00

Have a great Weekend

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Making Hay

My wife called me at work yesterday. My father-in-law needed help putting up the hay. My voice betrayed my disappointment. I had some work to do in the garden I was planning for the evening. Everything was planted in my raised beds, but I was hoeing up the rows and planting in clover between the beds. I am a perfectionist in my garden, and I strive to make it look as pleasing as it is productive. Fresh Dutch White clover in the rows between the beds, not only adds nitrogen in the soil, but also adds more greenery and is a soft footing to tread upon.

But, I only tend a garden. My father-in-law is a farmer and when the hay has to be put up, he transforms from a good-natured and laid-back farmer into a crazed and hyper man transfixed upon finishing a job before the rain inevitably moves in to spoil the cut. So, when my father-in-law calls, I do my best to help. My garden can wait – the hay cannot.

I got off of work at 4:30 pm and drove out of downtown St. Paul. It is about an hours drive to Marine on St. Croix, where my in-laws have 240 acres of beautiful real estate that they use to grow alfalfa to sell to area horse and dairy farms. It was 92 degree out when I hopped in my car and I was not looking forward to the back-breaking work in the heat until sundown on the second longest day of the year (about 10:00 pm in these Northern latitudes). I turned on the radio and heard the weather report. A massive storm was moving in from St. Cloud and would be in the Twin Cities sometime this evening. The closer I got to Marine, the darker the clouds became looming on the horizon.

After stopping for gas and an ice cream cone (it was hot and I was hungry), I arrived at the farm about 6:00 pm (traffic was heavy). My father-in-law was on the tractor with my five-year-old son sitting proudly on the fender next to him. He was expectantly and noticeably in a panic as I stepped out of the car and he pulled up and asked me if I needed to change. I was still in my work clothes and I guiltily nodded yes. He said, “We’ll go rake a couple of rows and meet you at the wagons on the alfalfa field across the road.” I said, “Okay,” and waved hello to my son as he returned a big grin.

I put on my jeans, sun hat, t-shirt, boots and gloves and then walked to the wagons. I watched as they finished raking and then left to the building to unhook the rake before coming back to switch tractors to the one with the baler. My father-in-laws hurried panic gave me concern for my son’s safety, since usually he was very cautious and attending with him while doing work on the farm. With the dark clouds rolling in, I could see my father-in-law had greater concerns at the moment. However, my son was soaking and basking in his grandpas focused work on the tractor and was attending his every move on the tractor. I could see from his inspired face that he was deeply involved in a learning moment, so I said nothing.

They stopped and got off the tractor and my son ran to me and told me we had to stack the bales in the wagon before it rained. He hopped on the wagon and I guided my father-in-law back to the hitch and then hooked the wagon to the baler and then hopped in back with my son. I don’t look forward to the heavy work of stacking square bales on a wagon as they are thrown back from the baler and breathing in mouthfuls of hay dust. But as we drove away to the field and I looked across the farm at the beautiful fields surrounded by stands of hardwoods and pine with the dark clouds looming on the horizon and lightening stretching across the sky, I could not help but notice the beauty and feel the calm in the wake of my father-in-laws hurried work in front of us. My occasional glimpse of my father-in-laws eyes revealed that he also noticed this and, really, this is what kept him farming at his 70 years of age. He had put up four wagons himself, before I arrived. There was still a calmness in his eyes behind his exhaustion from the hurried work.

We circled the field and the bales flew back. I stacked them as my son heaved against the large bales to little effect. But, he nimbly moved around me and out of the way of flying bales as we bounced along through the field. My father-in-law had the tractor in a higher gear than he normally bales in, due to the limited time-frame we were working in. As the wagon filled, the sky grew darker and lightening strikes became closer with the thunder heard over the hum of the tractor. I adjusted to the rhythm of the baler and my son grew more excited as we climbed higher and higher upon the stacked rows of bales below us. There were five rows circling the field when we began that we had to put up and this would approximately fill the wagon with 150 bales. I could feel the first drops of rain as we rounded the last turn in the field and the sky grew almost as dark as night.

A couple claps of thunder and I noticed the concern in my father-in-laws eyes. My wife came running out warning of a tornado in a neighboring county and my father-in-law said my son should probably get off the wagon for the last go around. The disappointment in his eyes was noticeable, but he climbed down and ran to my wife’s arms and buried his face in her hips as he began to cry uncontrollably. We circled round and finished the last row and then I unhooked the wagon as my son came up with tears in his eyes. My father-in-law called him to the tractor and told him to get on quick before the rain comes. His sadness soon dissipated to pride once again as they drove away to the building and I started up the other tractor and backed it up to the filled wagon.

I made the short drive to the building and backed it in with my son, my wife and father-in-law watching. The rain came down hard just as I got off of the tractor and we stood in the doorway of the building together, covered in hay dust, and watched it coming down. It ended up being a shorter evening than I expected, but I was exhausted and exhilarated standing with my family and taking in the rain and work we had just completed. My father-in-law limped on his bad knee and laughed as my wife chided him over his putting up four wagons by himself earlier in the day. “What is a farmer to do,” he asked? Then he put his arm around my son and patted him on the head. “Right, Ian," he said, as a grin came across my son’s face that lit up all the rest of our faces. We laughed and waited for the rain to subside before running to the farmhouse to eat warmed-up pork chops and muskmelon, chased down with spritzers and beer. It was a grand way to spend an evening after work.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

What is Wealth?

The three basic needs of humanity are food, clothing and shelter. If these basic needs are met, then what constitutes wealth? Is it anything over and above these needs? In addition to these needs we might also include security. Most humans want some assurance that their basic needs will be met not only right now, but also in the future. Thus, humans store a surplus to make sure they have food, clothing and shelter in the future. If that is all wealth is, what are we all these shenanigans, or those things we call jobs, we are presently doing?

Credit cards, debts, savings accounts, investments and retirement. We buy things we want and accumulate debt and then start worrying about retirement. Our parents used to approach debt much more cautiously and began saving as soon as they had an income. We are much more comfortable with debt and many of us will have a negative savings until the day we retire – even with the uncertain knowledge that social security will be there when we do.

Economic theory divides people between producers and consumers. In the past almost all humans were producers and households only consumed what they produced. If an individual was a skilled craftsperson, he or she could trade whatever he or she produced for the goods and services he or she needed for the survival of the household.

I do not mean to glorify life in the past or ignore the hardship inherent in producing for the survival of the household. However, modern individuals and households have given up something in the transition from strictly producers to strictly consumers as the age of agriculture gave way to industry and now, finally, information.

Wealth is now strictly a number, in financial terms, and the larger the number the more influence one has over the events in the world. Take back ownership of the land that is the ultimate producer of wealth if you wish to redistribute wealth in this country and the world from the primary holders of pecuniary wealth to the masses or majority. It is a fools errand to get distracted by obtaining money. Money merely represents wealth in our society, but it does not create wealth.

Here is an interesting link on something called the L-curve. Check it out.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Economics-Neoclassical vs. the Heterodox

Recently I was sent an article in The Nation Magazine called Hip Heterodoxy. It was an interesting read for someone who was once on track to earn a PhD in economics and join the world of the academics. The article makes the distinction between Ortodox and Heterodox economics in this way.

The term "heterodox"--like, say, "infidel"--is necessarily imprecise; it categorizes people by what they don't believe rather than what they do. In the case of heterodox economists, what they don't believe is the neoclassical model that anchors the economics profession.

I was in a department that was considered Heterodox,. In fact, my adviser is quoted in this article. It is strange to be defined by what you don't believe. I suppose heterodox are sort of like atheists - in their belief in the Truth of Not believing they suddenly sound exactly like the people that don't believe in.

The common definition of Neoclassical economics taken from Lionel Robbins is the science which describes human behaviour as a relationship between (given) ends and scarce means which have alternative uses. What Neoclassical Economics proposes is that we are all Utility Maximizers and Rational-decision makers with access to Perfect information. Behind these definitions are, what is called, Consumption and Production Functions that make up Supply and Demand Curves that determine something else called General Equilibrium. Neoclassical Economics proposes that markets tend toward Equilibrium, except in the case of market failure. There are many agreed upon instances of Market Failure, such as Monopoly power, Externalities, Public goods and Common resources, but for most markets, this model accurately describes how markets work and price is determined.

Graduate school in economics involves coursework that revolves around the mathematical equations that produce these terms in real values. Thus Price is Value and is a Real term represented by a number we can compare to other numbers or value. All of this reveals economics to be different from all the other social sciences because it has Mathematical validity and equations that support its theory and is thus considered by most economists and many others to be a Science. There is an elegance behind these equations that reveal Truth or Value in such real terms. It is very easy to be enamored by them. Heterodox economists are no less enamored by them than Orthodox economists.

There are many assumptions underlying the Neoclassical model and Utility Maximizer and Rational Decision makers with Perfect information are among the ones that Heterodox economist focus upon. What if humans are not Utility Maximizers (We're not)? What if we are not Rational Decision makers (We aren't)? And what if we do not have access to Perfect information (We don't)? Heterodox economists focus on these questions and spend their time doing empirical studies revealing that these assumptions and others are false.

They then tweak the model and attempt to write equations that more closely resemble how humans make decisions and come up with alternative equations for consumption and production functions so they can still determine General Equilibrium and their work will still be considered Science by their peers in economics and fit under the ever increasing rubric called Neoclassical Economics. The problem with their work is that the equations get increasingly complex and the heterodox economist loses the elegance that was the main attraction to Orthodox economics in the first place.

Milton Friedman, the orthodox economists figurehead, long ago admitted that many of the assumptions underlying neoclassical economics were false. In his essay The Methodology of Positive Economics, he argued that it was not important that humans were rational, but rather that they behaved as if they were rational in the aggregate and that the model should not be judged on the accuracy of its assumptions but rather on how well its performs. The problem with heterodox economists is that none of their models perform as well as the orthodox model.

So what is the problem with economics? Economics by itself is not the problem. Neoclassical economists proposed a model that is dominant within the field and now, to do economics, one must be adept at mathematics. Alfred Marshall, who first coined the term neoclassical economics, defined economics as a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life. This definition is much less specific and accurately describes how economists approached their discipline around the fin de siecle. Economists were located in philosophy departments and their papers were filled with rhetoric instead of equations as they tried to determine how humans attained happiness in life and the role that markets and money played in this pursuit.

The problem with orthodox and heterodox economists is their treatment of economics as a science, instead of a discpline that is searching for the answers to some fundamental questions such as "What are humans for?" and whether or not our quest for profits at the expense of our physical and mental healths is really in our best interests. Economics should have rhetorical arguments on the nature of our modern existence and whether or not we are really achieving any success in terms of freedom and happiness, as we go about our ordinary business in life. Neither Heterodox or orthodox economists are asking the right questions as they focus on how we make decisions by describing agents in abstract models taking their influence and formulation directly from the physical sciences, instead of what decisions we should be making that best preserve and benefit humanity and its future here or anywhere on the planet.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Getting Smaller

I used to be a habitual reader of Paul Krugman in the New York Times. As a graduate student I taught an introductory Economics course to undergraduates and required the students under my tutelage to read and write their comments on Krugman's two columns a week. Now, that the New York Times Websites charges to read his column online, I no longer am able to read each one of his columns. This weekend my local daily ran a Krugman column in its editorial section. I learned that Americans are getting smaller.

Apparently a new study is out revealing that Americans are now on average three inches shorter than their European counterparts. We are also the shortest among the 18 top industrial countries despite having the largest per capital GDP. Thirty years earlier we were the tallest and three inches taller than our European counterparts. That is quite a switch.

Things do not look good for America. We are a dying nation. Everywhere we look around us we can see doom. Even our myths (television, games, Internet, etc.) are all about death and destruction. 9-11 was just a foreshadowing of our eventual collapse.

Krugman, ever the economist, explains our declining height on socioeconomics. Although partially right, he only alludes to the specific problems. Our bodies are made of the earth. We are destroying the earth that we are living upon. As the quality of our environment deteriorates, our bodies follow suit.

We have been consuming oil, coal and chemicals for so long we have forgotten we are nourished by the soil. We flush our soil away to the oceans and our bodies are a reflection of the meager shape of the topsoil we grow our food upon and the modified foods we pump into our bodies without the slightest notion or reverence for the Earth that provides for us.

Over time we slowly wilt away as cancers and disease consume our weakened flesh. For this to be happening physically before our eyes without our conscious acknowledgment can only be explained by minds that have become increasing numbed and slowed as a collective Alzheimer's disease slowly eats away a memory of our more glorious past while we operate under the continual disillusionment that we are an all-powerful and giant people, even as we verifiably shrink from existence.

Why Write a Blog, revisited

What I am finding is how silly it is to blog. It is sort of like keeping a diary. I have made several aborted attempts at keeping a journal/Diary in the past and I suspect that one day I will abort this mission of keeping a blog online to write down random thoughts.

It is nice knowing that very few people have frequented this blog since I began it a little over a week ago. I actually went and got one of those tracking codes that tells me how many people have been visiting. It has been less and less everyday. I keep this blog out of boredom, as I have mentioned before. In the past I have visited several other blogs on the Internet and engaged in dialogue with other commenter's. After awhile you form an online personality. One of these personalities I maintain is at and his name is Peaches. Peaches ideas are not much differet than my own, but the conversation has grown stifling as he has developed friendships and enemies over the three years he's been there. What has happened is everybody understands where Peaches comes from now and the discussions don't go very far since he is usually met with, "Well, That's great Peaches. Btw, how is the Garden?"

I am not going to attract a large flow of traffic here, because basically, writing out of the need to relieve boredom is, well, boring. As Charles Bukowski was fond of saying, "Only the boring get bored."

I prefer to think that not many readers are reading my random thoughts. But, the question I keep asking myself is why should I even attempt to keep a blog? What purpose could it practically serve? I am dumbfounded.

I suppose this has always been my limiting question for pursuits in the arts. What purpose would it serve? What do I have to offer? What thoughts could come out of my mind that would even be remotely interesting? And, listen, I don't have these questions because I have some self-esteem problem. Actually, I think pretty highly of myself - perhaps, too high. I'm just painfully aware that genius is a rare quality in America where our lives as automatons at work and our thoughts have been so carefully crafted through public education and the electronic media until we all are unimaginative drones repeating the same thoughts and ideas over and over to each other.

So, I suppose, somewhere within me I hold an unconscious impulse that says there is an ounce of originality inside me if I can just give it some nourishment. This blog might be that voice or it could be the echo of a the same voice we all hear telling us we are doing something unique and different. It is not the desire to do something unique and different that inspires me to write, but the desire to silence the voice coming from outside so I can hear the voice from within.

Friday, June 15, 2007

How To Blog?

A while back a friend of mine had a blog who I hadn't kept in contact for awhile. I was excited to see he started a blog. Since I had known him he had become very savvy with the computer. I was not that good. I tried to start my own blog around that time, 2003 or so, and I couldn't figure it out. I was using Blogspot and they charged my credit card, but it was all foreign to me. I couldn't seem to get anything to work. But it was harder back then. But that is another story. My friend kept his blog going for three years and then made a post about how his new boss read his blog. Needless to say, shortly after he gave up his blog.

So, I have to wonder if this blogging deal is a very smart idea. Isn't there a risk involved. Then you read about how potential employers now check on the internet as part of a background check. It makes me wonder if keeping a blog is a smart thing to do? Hmmmmm. Stay tuned, I'll keep you informed.

I Hate Banks

I Think it was 1987 when I saw Mojo Nixon and Skid Roper at Kirby's Bar in Moorhead, Minnesota. He was jumping all over the place playing his guitar and singing rants such as "I Hate Banks" and "I Ain't Gonna Piss in no Cup." He had so much energy, he was practically jumping off the walls on the stage as he banged on his guitar or a large empty 5 gallon drinking water container. I was awestruck. That night at Kirby's he played for me and about 100 other college student aged music lovers. The next week I drove to Winnipeg for the annual folk festival they have up there and to my chagrin, they had Mojo in the lineup and he was scheduled to play the main stage the first night. This time he was playing for aging hippies who were sitting on their blankets with their young families and enjoying acts such as Bonnie Raitte, and David Lindsley. Mojo got up there and did his thing and soon had several thousand people in the palm of his hand.
The Chorus for "I ain't gonna pis in no cup," is

I Ain't gonna Piss in no cup
Unless Nancy Reagan licks it up

Well he got to the last chorus and then started prancing around stage as Skid thumped out a rhythm on his washtub one string Bass and ranting about Nancy and Ronnie to the melody of the Chorus. Then in an impromptu moment he started a chant and had the whole audience repeating after him

Nancy Reagan Sucks the Devil's Dick

Maybe, you had to be there, because it seems kind of childish. However, seeing those middle aged families jumping up and down next to their infants, toddlers and teenagers, and chanting enthusiastically about Nancy Reagan gave me a new appreciation for liberals from the 60's generation. I was thrilled.

I am thinking about Mojo, though, because I really do hate Banks. Or at least I have a contempt for them. I hate how we live in fear of a soiled credit rating as if we all live for being in debt and beholden to the lenders of funds. My contempt for banks has gotten me in trouble.

When I was an undergrad and as I neared graduation, I suddenly was receiving in the mail all these applications for credit cards. I filled a couple out and then received them in the mail and maxed them out on beer at Kirby's and Ralphs for all my friendw with absolutely no intention of paying them back. "Oh, your credit rating," I would constantly hear. "You will never own a house." Well, I've always been stubborn. I thought it would be a good experiment, so I waited out several years of harassing phone calls and letters and relatives who chided me for my irresponsibility. What I discovered was soon all was forgotten and the Banks eventually determined that I was not a credit risk any longer and happily loned me money again without my having to pay back about $3000. 00 in credit card bills.

I never got in trouble with debt again, but I still have contempt for banks that still leads toward trouble. When I went back to graduate school I rang up new debt in student loans. Then, it took me sometime to get a job after I left the PhD program with only a Masters in tow. I have slowly been paying back credit card debt that I built up over that time and recently have been making a strong push to pay them all off so I can pay off my student loans. I had a checking Account with a bank called Twin Cities Federal (TCF). Well, in my enthusiasm to pay off my debt, and because I never balance my checkbook and prefer to keep an approximate running balance in my head, I suddenly started to get an occasional overdraft letter from TCF with a service charge for $33.00. I called TCF and explained my situation and they waived the fee. Nice. It happened three times like that with TCF waiving the fee, but I realized I was playing with fate, so I went into my local branch and asked for overdraft protection so I would not get anymore fees and I would not have to make anymore calls.

I filled out the application and TCF told me that I should be approved in a few days. Two weeks later I knew that my account was getting close to zero, because I made some purchases online for some spring gardening needs. I had money in another savings account to cover it, but I don't like to touch this money. I would have but it had been two weeks and I thought my overdraft protection application would have been approved. On a Saturday, I suddenly received four overdraft statements in the mail. I called the customer service line and they told me that They could not waive any of the fees, even after I explained what happened. On Monday Morning I went through the drive through at my local branch and deposited $500.00 to bring my account out of the negative and learned that three more overdrafts and service fees also went through. I called my local branch from work and learned that my application had been just sitting there the whole time and no one looked at it. I was told that my service fees should get waived for this oversight, but I would have to check with the checking account manager. I went in on Tuesday after work and talked to some kid and he told me "Sorry, we cannot waive the fees, none of them." I immediately closed my account. The next day I called my student loans and told them my account was closed and that electronic payments could now be taken out of a new checking account at a credit Union.

Several days later I get a new overdraft statement from TCF becaue my student loas company took money out of my closed account in addition to a payment taken out of my new checking account. Another $33.00 service charge. That's eight of them so, far. Shortly after, I get another overdarft (9) card over a backorder on some seeds ($3.00 for a seed packet, $33.00 more for a service charge from a closed account). I start getting calls on my answering machine telling me to call TCF over suspicious activity on my account and letters in my mail threatening to close my account (I already closed it you dolts).

Okay, I'm irresponsible. I recognize that. I cold have avoided all of this. TCF is not at fault. So, what? I can't stand how banks operate. They prey off of customer irresponsibility and mistakes. I ended up paying 7 service charges for a total of $231.00. That is not that much.My closed checking account is two service fees ($66.00) plus a student loan payment ($255.00) in the Red. And Guess what? I am not going to pay it. I have several years ahead of me of harassing phone calls as TCF sells my delinquent account once they realize that $321.00 is not worth the effort. I don't care. TCF loses me as a customer forever and I have to deal with some jerks on the phone. It is not that big of a deal. I don't really care. This is not about $321.00. I just hate banks.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

My Cronies

I think I am an example of a person that is mentally healthy. Oh, I get depressed sometimes. And, sometimes I get angry. And, sometimes, I am just plain bored (like here at work - I'd rather be home in my garden). But, I take care of myself.

I think a lot of the mental health issues that we suffer from in our country are caused by our lifestyles and environments. Most of us do not lead productive lives. Our jobs are the source of despair for a lot of us. It takes away from the time we should be spending developing relationships with people who are close to us and also working on our souls.

So, how do I do it? I have to work and my job is as spiritually meaningless as any other job out there.

1. First off, I value my time away from work highly and I don't spend it chasing mindless entertainment such as is shown on TV. I will watch an occasional sporting event (I love baseball, basketball and high levels of competition in many other sporting events), but I never schedule time around a television show.

2. I don't spend anytime on the computer, except at work. I was hooked up to the Internet at home in the past, but I found myself on endless searches for information and engaged in endless dialogue with people I have never met. I am too embarrassed to mention my time wasted playing games, nor the day my wife discovered the filthy names of the adult websites during history search on my computer. Needless to say, removing the computer from my house has been a blessing.

3. I don't own a cell phone. I don't have call waiting. I would toss away the answering machine if my wife would let me. There are times when people should not be able to get a hold of you.

4. I eat nutritious and healthy food. Some day I will do a post on my diet. I am sure you will be thrilled.

5. I have very time consuming hobbies that are spiritually rewarding and nuture that part of me that many refer to as my soul: gardening, writing, playing guitar.

6. My cronies.

My cronies are extremely important to me. I probably should not be one to write a self-help book because many of the things my cronies and I do are not considered good for building positive mental health. Actually, some of the things we do are considered harmful to it. I am involved with a group of friend whom I have known for many years. We get together several times a year to either do a hiking/camping trip or just crash at one or the others floor/couch. We refer to ourselves as The Fools which is short for Drummingfools, the official name of our little tribe of 8-12 friends depending on the time we get together.

Our trips usually consist of hiking long distances carrying drums and other percussion insturments, alcohol, camping gear, clothes and food on our backs with 3 - 7 canine companions. We usually have several nights of drunken drum jams deep in the woods and days of smoking cannibus and relaxing in natural pools and waterfalls in the many rivers along the North Shore of Lake Superior in Northern Minnesota. Give me a a weekend of such activities and I can promise you, I and my foolish brethren will all be spiritually refreshed and ready to face the work-world. A week long hike is like a vision quest and a true awakening of the senses.

That is how I stay mentally, emotionally and spiritually on top of my game. Not with prescribed anti-depressants, but just a short time of excessive drinking a few tokes of the fareye and the comradarie of my cronies is all that is needed to do the trick.

Open Thread

I'm kind of busy today, so talk amongst yourselves.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Water Pistol Man

Water pistol man full of ammunition,
Putting out fires on a world wide mission,
Did you ever stop to squirt the flowers in your own backyard?
--Michael Franti

I used to care. I mean I thought a lot about politics and what I should do personally to make the world a better place. I was far from perfect -- I'm American and I love my conveniences, and I rely upon fossil fuels, and I don't do enough to stop wars around the world that we support with our money and our lifestyles. I see an unjust world and I've felt wrong about it and my part in it for a long time.

I suppose that is what made me a liberal. I would listen to talk radio and get angry. So many people calling in on their cellphones while driving in their SUVs or big trucks to complain about liberals for caring about the state of the world and raising their taxes. As angry as I was, I could never match their contempt for those they called liberals. And there I was, a bleeding heart liberal who cared about people dying around the world in our name and about the environmental havoc we were wreaking on our world.

Now, we are in a war in Iraq. The Democrats are in control in congress and we were suppose to be making progress in bringing our troops home. There was a lot of hope in the air in November 2006. What we have instead is an increase in the number of troops and a further escalation of the War. What should be obvious to us is that we have no intention of leaving Iraq and letting Iraqis decide what should be done with their oil. The number one benchmark is that the Iraqi Parliament must pass the oil law allowing foreign ownership of their oil. We are doing the multinationals biddings in this war. As usual, it is all about profit and these profits put our congresspeople into their positions and promise to keep them there as long as they continue to do the bidding of the primary wealth holders of the world. So, we are not leaving Iraq anytime soon. We will have a presence there until the oil is gone. We might not call it an occupation at some point in the future, but the Iraqi people will suffer under our influence and for our lifestyles for many years to come. So, Why am I not part of the Netroots working the channels for change, naively campaigning for the democrats to defund the war, or marching on Washington all by my lonesome intent upon attaining change.

Because I no longer care. I cannot keep caring for the lives of others around the world. I only have a water pistol and I cannot put out all the fires - let alone one of them. So, now, I grow a garden and I don't own a cellphone and I'm not hooked up to cable and I drive a Toyota Echo. I know, I am still, plenty plugged into the system. I have my job to pay back debt through student loans. I still use gasoline and buy it cheap when you consider the lives lost to get that oil to America. I have way more stuff than any one person needs. But, slowly I am unplugging myself from the pecuniary economy. I am not going to rely upon experts to tell me how to feel or how to vote for different initiatives around the world. I only see a small part of the world and I know how I can make that small part a better place for me, my family and the surrounding community which remains small in comparison to the global world we think about today that has not gotten one bit smaller despite the technological innovations we have today. I can grow my garden and reduce the amount of fuel for the transportation of food around the world. I don't use chemical fertilizers or pesticides. I don't watch the news anymore and I read the papers with the eyes of a skeptic.

Some experts accuse my withdrawal from the political realms of the antiwar voices as a sign of apathy that ends up contributing to the war effort. And other experts accuse the antiwar voices as giving hope to the enemies in Iraq and endangering the lives of our soldiers. I am tired of listening to either side. I don't want to be a part of it anymore. I am going to reduce my footprint on the world and stop supporting the corporations and the financial wealth holders who profit off of the killing. I am not going to listen to the opinions of experts informing of conditions at locations on the planet that are far removed from my community. The world will be a better place when we trust that local communities around the world know how best to use their local resources for the benefit of their local community. I became interested in economics because I believed that money would explain a lot about the forces that guide policy in America. I still believe that and any advice that suggests following the money is good advice.

But Real wealth is not money. Wealth is influence and the control over resources. Wealth is synonymous with power. And we allow a few people to have power over us by giving them influence and letting the idea of money and our financial security be the prime motivator for our lives. Somehow we have to take back that power. If I can (or if you can) take back the control over the food you put into your body, I and anyone else, takes the first step toward redistributing wealth in this country. Redistributing wealth through Democratic initiatives won't solve the underlying problems in our society. Instead, we have to take back the land from the corporations and grow our own food in ways that are environmentally and ecologically sound. We can do this by taking care of a piece of land we own that is under our care. A garden is the first step.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Garden

I remember a campaign as a kid that was put out by the FDA and the nutritional requirements we were suppose to be getting. The marketing line was You Are What You Eat. As a smart-ass kid, this line was utterly meaningless to me. I was an apple, a burger, carrots? What the hell?

I used to eat everything. As a youth, I could not put on weight and I was always hungry. I graduated from high school weighing 135 lbs carried on a 6' 2" frame. I was skinny. I am still tall and lean, but carry a modest 195 lbs on this lean frame today. My eating habits were not the greatest as a youth, but I supplemented all the soda pops, ice cream and junk foods with nutritious food as well. I also ate my share of fast food.

I didn't begin growing my garden as a health kick. I just wanted to tend a little plot of earth. I started going to Farmer's markets and I took an interest in agriculture and our agricultural and food system in the US. Slowly, I started to realize that I was made up of what I put into my body and I became much more conscious of what I ate. I now grow a lot of vegetables, berries and flowers in a garden that is about 120 ft x 80 ft. I don't use chemicals and I have great success and yields from meticulous composting, weeding, soil-building and mulching. I have raised beds that I place plants close together and grow all my vining plants upwards (tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and squash). I grow clover in the paths between the beds and come July and August, my garden becomes transformed into an oasis where I go to sit amongst plants, flowers and greenery with a cold beer and the radio tuned to a Minnesota Twins baseball game or Garrison Keillor's Prairie Home Companion.

Now, I only eat food that I have some idea of where it comes from and how it has been raised or grown. I feel healthy and strong. My plan is to work at my job for as long as it takes to take my hobby of gardening and transforming it into a business as a small farm or Community Supported Agriculture. I am in the process of looking for land to start my organic farm and business around the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. I want to raise chickens, beef cattle, dairy cattle, hogs, goats, and sheep and grow every variety of vegetables you can imagine. That is my goal. I want to be a farmer. But, for now, I am happy in my garden. Soon, I will post some pictures of my garden paradise and the fruits of my labors.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Information or education

Most of my friends and acquaintances are white, middle-class with post graduate degrees. They are also mostly liberals. We agree on a lot of issues and in many ways, I think my friends and associates consider me to have more radical views than they hold. I tend to think this makes me even more liberal, but often, upon reflection, I think my views are actually more conservative.

One of these areas is education. Most of my friends believe that a proper education can prevent the right-ward tilt of the population. They think if people had the right information and enough of it, they would choose to be more liberal and vote in their self-interest. All that is needed is more information. I beg to differ.

In my mind, I think more information solves nothing. We are all bombarded with information everyday from numerous sources. The right or proper information is not only unknowable, it is also not guaranteed to overwhelm other wrong or distracting information. This leaves our education system in a quandary. What is it we want to place in the heads of our little ones, so they can be informed citizens making informed choices?

I think the emphasis on informed is misplaced and we should instead seek to educate children to be morale citizens. Many will argue that morality is subjective to cultures and cannot be given foundations that we can turn to justify choices that we make. My arguments against what is called informed can be quickly turned against me by those who treat morals as subjective. Although morality has no foundations, it is not relative. Rather, we know what is the right way to live in the world and our culture is suppose to support this morality through an education system that reinforces our intuitions for love and respect for all creatures on Earth. Our education system is designed to break down these intuitions through massive doses of information that create confusion by design.

As an example, I offer my own education. My common sense, intuition, and/or morality told me that our economic system was not sustainable. I had an undergraduate degree in economics and I wanted to be an expert who could prove our economic system could not be sustained and then influence policy that would benefit all of humanity. Lofty ambitions, I know, but it felt like a calling. So, I went to graduate school to pursue a PhD in economics and enrolled in an ecological Economics PhD program at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, NY.

What I discovered was that by pursuing more information and learning techniques and models to prove my position, the best I could do was create more ambiguity that proved nothing. By manipulating the data and changing the assumptions in a model or theory, we are able to prove anything as long as we stay within the parameters of the model. When we went to the real world or the real economy, everything changes and most economic analysis is descriptive and not predictive and even its descriptive role constrained to the parameters of the model. All I wanted to do was confirm my conviction that our economy was depleting valuable resources and polluting our atmosphere and if we kept this up, eventually there would be problems -- if we were not experiencing these problems already. However, graduate school and more information provided me with very little useful tools to tackle this problem.

The problem is the model of education. We have an intuition and we are educated to go through the education system to become an expert, so we can have an influence on policy. However, more information and knowledge often leads us to conclusions that are contrary to our beliefs we started out with. This would properly be an education if our conclusions were right. But, what if our conclusions go are wrong and by wrong I mean morally wrong? If we know that killing is wrong or we know that destroying our environment is wrong, but our models feed us ambiguity by informing us that if we do not secure th oil in the MidEast through warfare or we do not knock off a mountaintop to mine the coal inside, then our economy will suffer and millions of more people will starve. That is the science. The morality, which I argue should take precedence, tells us only that killing is wrong and harming the environment long-term cannot be justified under any circumstances.

It takes only a day or two to teach a human infant or toddler morality and it takes years of programming to undermine this morality through information.


Most of us have jobs. I envy the ones who don't.

Jobs fall into three categories.

  1. Jobs we love
  2. Jobs we hate
  3. Jobs we tolerate
My job falls into the third category. Most of us have jobs we tolerate and eventually these jobs we start to hate for stealing our souls. Once we begin to hate them, we should quit. Actually, if you want to have a soul you HAVE to quit.

I can tolerate my job, because I can still pursue outside interests and I relieve the monotony by writing this blog. What do I do? I am a bureaucrat working for a municipality. I talk to citizens all day and I stare at a computer screen as I manipulate data. I attend meetings and give powerpoint demonstrations and hand out excel spreadsheets. Then, I return to my cubicle and take a look at the river 10 stories below and try to regain my sanity, before turning around and staring some more at my screen.

What amazes me is the amount of people out there who appear to be doing the exact same thing.

The Goal

Okay, this is the last post about blogging in general for awhile.

So, far, I do not have an audience. In time I hope to have a few dedicated readers. But, that is not necessarily the goal.

When I was a musician playing in a band, I hated the business part. I could not stand the schmoozing required to get gigs. I felt like I was going around saying, "Come see us! Come see us! we need your attention." Truthfully, I just loved the feeling of playing in a band and making music. It was a thrilling experience. I enjoyed practicing as much as playing before an audience. Needless to say, this attitude did not help build an audience and all the bands I were in were great bands, but lost in obscurity. To tell you the truth, I felt contempt for the audience.

Successful bloggers get hits and traffic grows on their blogs. This means they are part of the blogosphere. I read some of these blogs out there and find some entertaining. I think to be a successful blogger you have to be entertaining, informative, provocative or have a specific focus. I suppose I could be any of these, but an even greater requirement is to post on other blogs and build an audience that will eventually come visit your blog. This is the marketing end and it is the part I detest, again because I feel like a prostitute going around and saying "look at me! Look at me! I have something important to say."

What does all of this mean? Well, I will never be a successful blogger just like I was never in a successful band. If there is ever a large audience coming here, I will detest the majority of them, not because I don't like people, but because I abhor the crowd. If you are here and have read up to this point, you are not part of the crowd. I like you.

Changed my Domain

I am now located at

I don't know how confusing this is going to be for my one visitor - Matt, so far, but I sure hate to lose him.

Name Change

After a weekend of camping with my five year old son, I gave some thought to this newfound project of mine that we call a blog. I came up with some ideas.

1. Andy B***'s Blog was not a good name for a blog. I changed it. It is now called The Dayshift. I only have access to the internet at my workplace and since I am such a dedicated and trusted employee who is productive beyond all expectations, I use some of my downtime to read and write on the internet. This is done to relieve the monotony of the workday.

2. I also gave thought over the purpose of my blog. Should it be a diary that I use to stoke the creative juices and pass the time at work. Or should I strive to attract as many visitors as possible, or some combination of the above. I am still mulling this over. I guess this is a follow up of my previous post on writing and vanity. Writing is a solitary activity. All writers aspire to have readers, but most writers would write whether or not there was an audience or not. I read somewhere once, perhaps in the New York Times about a poll that gave a high percentage for the number of individuals who believed that a novel or story was incubating somewhere inside of them - upwards of 80% or so. I found this discouraging, but this was before the days of blogs and the proliferation of individuals writing on the internet confirms this poll. I used to believe that the main purpose of writing was to achieve immortality thorough the preservation of our thoughts through time. This is another symptom of vanity in my opinion. I think I will just let this blog be what it is - a temporary relief from the boredom of a monotonous day at work.

And hello to my one visitor so far - Matt.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Why write a blog?

That is the question.

Something about it seems very vain. But, perhaps all of writing is vain. Maybe all of language, communicating?

Do I think I am clever? Or do I think my thoughts are that important. I want to answer, no, for myself, - but I certainly think that of most of what is written by all other bloggers out there. But, thats not really fair either.

You know...We write to hear ourselves think and we read because we want to hear how others think. It is part of being human. Plus, I write when I am bored and I am bored at work.

That is the inspiration for this blog. I am bored... At Work...

Are you?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007


To me, since I am the first visitor to this blog and will be, perhaps, the only one.

Tell you what. I will refrain from joining the growing list of blogs in the internet community, if you fail to show up to tell me not to. However, if you show up and say something, anything at all, God help you. You will be responsible for what is yet to come.

As my Blog says, I am Andy B***. Perhaps, you have known me in the past and you were searching through your memory banks and up came my name. A search of Google prompted you to this blog - where you have learned little other than I was alive on June 6, 2007. I can assure you, though, I am the Andy B*** you are recalling from your memory banks. I'm a little over forty, I************ *******************************************************************Now, I grow fruits and vegetables and compose songs on an acoustic guitar with titles like, "a Foolish Man," "Wishbone," and "Hidden Fraternities." I would post these songs for you to listen too but I have no idea how. Plus, they're not that good.

*****Update: Sorry, I edited out my name. Actually you don't know me. Even if you did, I'll never admit it. My name isn't even Andy. and my last name doesn't start with B. Plus, I died several years ago and so did Andy. WHoever, you were looking for, you should look somewhere else.