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January 31, 2004

Back Country

Obigabu and I are headed off to do some winter camping. We're headed to a beautiful location to dig a snow cave and enjoy the 'real' world.

Posted by wonko at 11:11 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 29, 2004

Flowers for Obigabu

I'm off to Reno shortly to pick up Obigabu who will be visiting for a couple days. Its a nice 3hr drive and I'll take care of other stuff while I'm there. I'm excited about his visit and may not be updating my blog regularly while he's here. I'll drive him back tot he Reno airport Monday night.

Posted by wonko at 12:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 27, 2004

Avalanche 1

I didn't post much last week, mostly because I was at an Avalanche 1 course last Tues-Thurs. I had taken this exact same course last year, but knew I had a lot more to learn and retain.

Avalanche science is more an art than a science. We've learned a lot about why they happen, but avalanche prediction is still mostly deep magic. There are 3 levels of Avalanche certification. Avalanche 1 is a decision based approach to avoiding avalanche terrain. It is more an avalanche avoidance course than anything. We spent half of the first two days in a classroom and the rest of the time in the field. We spent a LOT of time doing avalanche beacon rescue scenarios.

Six minutes without oxygen and your brain begins to die. After 30 minutes buried in an avalanche your chances of survival drop below 50%. Avalanche beacons mean the difference between a needing a rescue or a body recovery. Despite what people think, finding a buried victim is VERY difficult, even WITH top of the line avalanche beacons. Knowing how and practicing can easily mean the difference between 5 and 30 minutes, or finding them alive or dead. Group scenarios are even more complicated, where there are multiple burials and multiple searchers. Its amazing how small mistakes can cost a tremendous amount of time. To this end, we did LOTS of scenarios. On day 2 we went to the top of June mountain where the June Mountain Ski Patrol was about to conduct their own rescue scenario, instead they let us do it. They had four packs deeply buried on a huge ski slope. We had to work as a team to find them. It took 12 of us 15 minutes to find all 4. In comparison, in order to be on June Mountain's Ski Patrol you need to be able to find a victim on that same slope in under 3 minutes by yourself. I had the opportunity to act as leader in a big scenario where there were two victims one with and one without a beacon. I think I did pretty well, considering.

The rest of the time we spent on snow science and the decision process. We learned about the different types of snow and what causes avalanches, weak over strong. We dug snow pits and conducted different tests to identify layers in the snow and try and predict how stable or unstable the snow pack is.

On our last day, we toured out to Tele Bowl on the Sherwins. The day before I had asked our instructor whether we would be doing any steep downhill stuff, or just cross-country skiing out. He assured me there would only be small rolling hills. So I decided to borrow Skis and use my mountaineering boots, instead of using Snow Shoes. Big mistake. See, I'm not a skier. I'm learning how to ski, but haven't skied once this year. I can cross-country ski well, but steep downhill stuff is hard for me. It turns our, we went WAY up on the Sherwins and the only way back was to ski black diamond runs through trees. This put me in a position I can't stand to be in. Last place. I slowed the whole group down and apologized for it. Nobody minded, on the contrary, they were amazed at how gutsy it was to try and take skis out in the first place given my limited experience.

I've learned a tremendous amount and feel even more confident in my abilities to go board gnarly back-country mountains. There are inherent risks, but the learning I've endeavored to make habit, will help me avoid dangerous situations and maybe survive one someday, should I fall into one. The challenge now is to practice. There was so much information, only through practice will I make it a habit, and only when it IS a habit will it become useful. Luckily I have friends who are just as interested in practicing as I am. I will probably take avalanche 2 this year, which is more dedicated to snow science than rules.

Taking these courses makes me think more and more about starting on the path towards being a guide. I just wish I knew how to get there from here.

Posted by wonko at 10:05 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Bard-Harrington Ice

Bruce and I went ice climbing at 6am this morning (so that I could be back to work by 3pm). We decided to do the Bard-Harrington wall in Lee Vining Canyon. The Bard-Harrington wall is around 600' of vertical ice (mostly WI3). Most years, this particular wall is nothing but rock, in fact it hasn't been climbable for many years. For some reason, it fully formed this year.

It was snowing in Mammoth when we left at 6am. After a short drive we started our hike up Lee Vining canyon, where it wasn't snowing, but it was cloudy and VERY windy. The hellacious wind blew spindrift everywhere. It hurt to look up as millions of tiny glass beads assaulted your face.

As I've said before, Ice Climbing is a highly improbable sport. Rock climbing is somewhat dangerous when you are leading, but mostly safe while you are belaying. Ice climbing is just as dangerous for the leader as it is for his/her belayer. As the leader is climbing, chunks of ice, ranging in size from specs of sand to award winning pumpkins, are screaming towards you. You try and plan ahead, having the leader not directly above the belayer, but it never works out quite right. Leading is dangerous for obvious reasons. Following the leader is also somewhat harrowing as falling usually results in a swing and some good hits on the hard ice, which incidentally feels MUCH harder than rock. During the best weather, ice climbing is a test of will. In bad weather, it becomes a severely handicapped test of will.

Bruce led all 3 pitches with style and grace. This climb was still to advanced for me to consider leading it, especially given the inclement weather we were enduring. I did not fall, though I did have some close calls. My gear felt good, but I need to work on my technique. My hanging belay off 3 ice screws at the start of the second pitch was the scariest belay I've had to date. There was no where I could go and nothing to hind behind. As the leader, Bruce was putting his life in my hands. I struggled to take quick glances up between the barrages of ice which had me crouching as close to the ice as possible hoping the chunks would miss, or at the least hit my helmet instead of other parts of my body, all the while I am shivering and blocking out the pain of the dreaded screaming barfies. The weather continued to get worse as we climbed. We ended up hiking off the top, four hours after we'd started, in blizzard-like weather. We made excellent time too, cutting a full hour off of Bruce's previous time, which was amazing considering the weather.

I didn't take any pictures this time, but HERE are some pictures of us ice climbing in lee vining last year. I look forward to going again SOON!

Posted by wonko at 09:33 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 26, 2004

Fighting the losing battle.

Sometimes, when you are fighting a fight you know you can not win, the prospects of your predicament should you give up and lose, are still worse than being in the fight itself. There is joy in independence. There is joy in the fight, even if it serves to only delay the inevitable.

Posted by wonko at 01:58 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 20, 2004

Bush's Plea for Reelection Address ie. State of the Union

This is from chat I had with Obigabu as he was writing this entry on the State of the Union address.

Wonko : Its all such smoke and mirrors at this point. They started writing it in October of last year.

Obigabu: The speech wasn't that bad. I mean it only had a handful of crazy crap.

Wonko : Its not that its good or bad, its that its calculated and not honest. It was written to have as many people as possible say, "It wasn't that bad."

The state of the union has no actual relationship to facts. Its not like they looked at what they were doing and tried to figure out a way to say it. They figured out what people wanted to hear (the greatest number of people) and twisted what they had done into verbal images that the masses would be happy with.

I am being 100% honest when I say the State of the Union bears no relationship to anything the president has done or will do.

And its not just Bush, its any president. In 1998 Clinton said in his speech, "The age of big government has finally ended." There was HUGE applause, it was what everyone wanted to hear. They'd all forget anyway.

Its all horseshit. Its just another election speech at this point. It isn't a coincidence that he's giving the speech the night after the Iowa caucus and just before the New Hampshire one.
He could have hired any writer to write it, even if that writer had no idea what Bush had done or was planning on doing.

Call me cynical, but its the honest to god truth and if you or anyone you know believes anything otherwise, your just fooling yourself, or more to the point, letting yourself be fooled.

Posted by wonko at 09:56 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

The Green

We are slaves to green pieces of paper which we circulate forcefully like blood coursing through our collective veins. If a little is good, then a lot is great. The more the better. It makes our lives easier and distinguishes us from others. If we want to get from here to there, these tender leaves can help us get there by the most direct path. The shortest distance between two points is a strait line. That line is usually a toll bridge with collectors on either end.

Posted by wonko at 08:20 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 19, 2004

City Cancer

I'm in the car, in LA, listening to a discussion on how there is abnormally high rate of cancer from graduates of Beverly Hills High School. The interesting part is that they have been pumping oil from beneath the school since 85 (and once again earlier). ~50 students with Hodgkin's Disease, where the normal rate is 1 per 200,000. Very high rates of thyroid cancer as well. It took a coincidence for someone to realize there might be a connection. The city, at one point, was getting 25M per year in royalties from the drilling, which is actually ON and UNDERNEATH the campus. This is a good example of the detriment of living in a big city. Stuff like that is much less common in small cities. It is also an example of just how greedy our country has become. I guess in the 60s when they first started drilling there, they had to do a study on the environmental damage and found there was a possible risk to the students. This was ignored and eventually forgotten. Of course I'm sure the school and city didn't want to pursue it since they stood to benefit a great deal from it. Here is where it gets interesting though. While it was money that inspired these people to endanger the lives of students, it is equal levels of money that will fight it. Many wealthy people send their kids to Beverly Hills High and are now very unhappy. You don't want to make rich people unhappy. We'll see what happens next.

Posted by wonko at 11:12 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 18, 2004

The Fear

I wrote this a while ago, but for some reason, never posted it.

The fear comes in many forms. It is almost never unexpected. The foreknowledge of the impending fear can be as bad as the fear itself, a pre-fear fear. Like a dog suddenly going barking mad before an earthquake, some voice inside begins sounding sirens that things are about to take a turn.

Action leads to reaction, which in turn leads to further action. We move along lines which begin as ideas leading to decisions and directions, becoming paths, culminating in crusades. The fear is present in all of this. The fear gives us cloudy visions of a future where our next decision has escalated into a full-blown lifestyle. Some ignore the fear. Others react to the fear believing the fear to be their conscience; the angel or demon attempting to sway their very being towards the light or the dark. These pour souls who believe the fear to be a warning and nothing more make their decisions to appease the fear. They make their decisions in submission of the fear. It is not our conscience, THAT fear comes in a form which is easily distinguishable from 'The' fear.

I read "Into the Wild" sometime around 3 years ago give or take an age. Reading it gave me the fear. I immediately considered reading other such books. This intensified the fear. I decided to face the fear and continue in a direction I knew would only serve to anger the fear. It responded by assaulting me with doubt and confusion. Still I continued. Now I'm on the road reading "On the Road" understand it on a level separate from fiction or history. I am seeing the boiling blood between the pages that paves some road to what end I still can not see. I have the fear. I am small, selfconscience, tepid, humbled by some decision I can not articulate, but know I am making.

Posted by wonko at 01:13 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 16, 2004

The Yes Men

I just heard about a film, appearing at this years Sundance Film Festival, called The Yes Men. Before Andy and Mike had the idea for the film, they created a World Trade Organization satirical website. It was the type of website where it takes you a little to see it as a satire and some might never see it for what it is. At some point they started getting invited to speak WTO events around the world as representatives of the WTO. When they spoke at the first of these conferences they were invited too, they had a subtly subversive message. One they hoped would have the audience believing they were really a WTO organization for a while before the jig was up. It was their belief that at some point during the speech, people would begin to see through their gambit and they would be thrown out and probably arrested. That was, after-all, how most subversive activists demonstrations ended. What actually happened was that everything they said was accepted by their listeners who at no point doubted their authenticity. After this first demonstration of the ignorance of their enemies, they get more bold at subsequent conferences they were invited to. They even demonstrated a new workers suit that would allow executives to shock workers in third world countries from anywhere in the world. Even this obvious lampooning was accepted by their audience as a good idea.

What conclusions did they draw from this? First, that the idea of free trade is more like a religion among those that believe in it. They believe anything that is told to them by those who claim to know that religion. Second, that these people who have been entrusted with deciding the fates of millions due to their "expert knowledge" of the issues surrounding world trade, have, in fact, no more knowledge or right to make these decisions than anyone else.

The good news is that this film has already been picked up by United Artists and is expected to be released this summer. Keep your eyes open for this one.

If you want a good laugh, you gotta read the whole story about their antics.

Posted by wonko at 10:39 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Book Review: Radical Chic & Mou Mouing the Flak Catchers

Coming off the heals of the Dharma Bums, which I still must write about, I decided to read some lighter fare. I didn't know what to expect when I started into Tom Wolfe's Radical Chic & Mou Mouing the Flak Catchers. What CAN one expect when cracking the pages of a book with a title like Radical Chic & Mou Mouing the Flak Catchers.

The only other Wolfe book I've read was The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, which catalogs the rise and fall of the Merry Pranksters, a 60s communal style group started and lead by Ken Keasy, author of One Flew Over the Cookoos Next. In the few years since i've read that book I've thought a lot about what it has to say about movements, how they start, what makes them successful, and why most of them fail miserably. Specifically, liberal, anti-system type movements. I appreciated it for giving an impassioned, emotionally attached look at this history, while not being so biased as to downplay the reality based, dirty underside of the movement. Wolfe was able to give objective honesty to a topic he clearly had subjective and emotional feelings about. That said, Radical Chic is a very different type of book. While the book is purely historical in nature, it does not pretend to be objective.

When most straight (in the classical sense) people see Tom Wolfes titles, they probably assume they are made up on the spot as some vague 'in' reference to something in the book. How can a title like that have truly relevant meaning? This is simply not true. What is so great about Wolfe's titles is that you need to read the book to understand them. Once complete, the titles are as clear as day. They are not symbolic or culturally ambiguous such that only someone 'in the know' could understand. They are only vague to those who haven't read the book.

Radical Chic is a reference to a style prevalent among the culturati of the 60s. This group, represented classically as New Money, is determined to show that they 'get it' and to that end spend gobs of money to show the world they are down with the people. Nostalgie de le boue or Nostalgia for the mud is explained to have always been chic for New Money going back hundreds of years. The first half of the book is dedicated to a party given by Leonard Bernstein in the late 60s as a fundraiser for the Black Panthers, attended by The Black Panthers and other members of the new aristocracy. White servants are in, as are fund-raisers for romantic, exotic, yet far-away causes. It is important that these causes be far-off so as not to feel their impact 'underfoot' as it were. At this same time, during the late 60s, the wealthy begin to get lambasted for their, clearly stylistically selfish, sudden interest in helping the helpless. Clear to editorial writers anyway. Clear that this sudden philanthropic interest by the rich is merely a fad just like bell bottoms and zoot suits.

The second half of the book is about Mou Mouing the Flak Catchers. Minority groups around the country began to rise up in direct conflict throughout the 60s. The Power (the government) was completely unprepared to handle this. The most they could do was try and reason with the 'leaders' of these movements. Trouble was, few of these movements HAD real leaders. This idea was unacceptable to The Power at the time. There HAD to be leaders. So they subconsciously, collectively decided to wait for these leaders to approach them through current inter-city government programs of the time. How would they know if you were a leader? You were a leader if you scared them personally enough. It wasn't long before the black, ghetto inhabitants began to realize what was going on, and figured out how to play the game to their benefit. They would march down to city hall, dressed as 'ghetto' or as 'militant' as they could and SCARE the officials in these organizations. This process of playing to the ignorant beliefs the whites had of the blacks to scare them into believing you were a leader, in order to get grants was what was called Mau-Mauing in the streets. If you pulled a crazy enough stunt and scared them enough, they would assume you had street credit and give you money and/or power. Overnight hundreds of groups with names like, The Youth Coalition, The Mission Rebels, The New Thang, Young Men for Action, New Society, and many more had suddenly formed to try and get their piece of the pie. To work the system that had worked them over all this time. The Flak Catchers were the underlings of the people with power who were sent out on behalf of The Power to stall and, in general, catch flak.

The story itself awarded a fascinating glimpse into The System of the 60s. It is both historically interesting (while biased) and educationally useful when trying to get a handle on how The System thinks. Besides the educational value of the book, Tom Wolfe is a literary genius. His use of meter and his command of the language make his books more like poetry than prose. If Wolfe wrote volumes about nothing, he would still be worth reading. Some authors have a way of inflicting sudden euphoria on its readers when they unexpectedly 'get' the FULL meaning of a phase that reveals volumes of hidden cultural and historic meaning in just a few beautifully worded, carefully written words.

Posted by wonko at 10:00 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 15, 2004


Thanks to Crooked Timber for pointing out this article entitled "Anti-Monopoly," in the Washington Free Press. It gives the true story of the history of the game Monopoly which was originally intended to be a game to point out the evils of capitalism. The irony in how the game was stolen and became the most successful board game in history is quite telling.

Posted by wonko at 09:29 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2004

Debt: If its good enough for Uncle Sam, its good enough for me.

This article entitled, "I.M.F. Report Says U.S. Deficits Threaten World Economy" in The New York Times talks about a 60 page report released by the International Monetary Fund lambasting America and its incessant need to borrow. It went on to say that the net financial obligations of the United States to the rest of the world could equal 40 percent of its total economy within a few years. "'...an unprecedented level of external debt for a large industrial country' that it said could play havoc with the value of the dollar and international exchange rates".

Debt is not uniquely American, but our appetite for it appears to be. In "Thoughts on America..." I mention that most other countries still frown upon needless personal debt for things other than buying a home or starting a business with the reasoning that both have a return on investment. Most people think America doesn't need to borrow, based on how much we seem to lend other countries. What was our administration's response to the report? They are telling us not to worry. Its all under control. They're making a plan right now to eliminate the deficit. I can't imagine there are many people naive enough to trust them.

In traditional corporate top-down fashion, the individuals in this country have taken a cue from the government and increased their own debt accordingly. If its good enough for uncle sam, its good enough for the people.

Posted by wonko at 05:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 12, 2004

The Death of Horatio Alger, Part II: Education

I wanted to expand on some of the ideas expressed in this blog entry as it relates to education and society. In Thoughts on America from a Foreigner I mentioned that in Switzerland, education is paid for all the way through college. I think this notion that education should be a public server like water, police, and the military, has more merit than people give credit.

Crime) Statistics show that education is more of a crime deterrent than punishment. That is to say the number of those who are convicted and punished, but go on to commit crimes again is quite hight. However, the odds of a person committing a crime in the first place diminishes exponentially depending on the quality and quantity of their education. This is only counting blue collar crimes. White collar crimes such as stealing pensions from millions of elderly like Enron did, is a whole other matter. Crime is obviously a big problem in our country that costs us all enormous sums of money. A good portion of our tax dollars goes towards jails and courts.

Overpopulation) Statistically, those who have less education are more likely to have more children and less likely to be able to take care of their children. By take care I mostly mean ensure said child gets a proper education. Many of these children become a tremendous burden on the system as their parents claim entitlements and/or give their children up to be taken care of by the system itself. These children tend not to do as well (not to get a good education) as their 2 parent counterparts. When the children of poor, uneducated parents do not get a good education, it perpetuates income/class immobility.

Class Mobility) Which leads us to the Horatio Alger story. Quality and quantity of education is the number one factor in determining ones class mobility. Many of you may know that I did not graduate from college. However, my parents were educated and I did go to decent schools. I consider myself educated and believe I have many options as to what I could do to make a living and/or move up the socioeconomic spectrum should I desire to. My school wasn't nearly as good as my wife's school which was in a more affluent area, however, it was much better than the schools in the ghettos. Having educated parents gives you a tremendous advantage. In the absence of this advantage, one must rely on the public school system, which varies in quality depending on the affluence of your area. My Junior High only had one set of books for the whole school, which remained at school for the kids to share. We weren't able to take books home and thus had little homework. As a youngster that was great, but if they couldn't afford books in a middle-middle class school, how did the lower class schools fare. Meanwhile, Governor Schwarzenegger just reduced school funding in my home state. This will likely not affect the wealthy that much. I'll give you one guess as to who it will affect.

In thinking on this issue I realized how lucky I am. I was born to a middle class family that did experience some income/class mobility. In many ways I am in a high enough class that I do not need to worry about most of these issue. My children will likely do as well if not better than I because of it. Very little of this good fortune can be attributed to anything special I did. I do not believe I worked that much harder, if harder at all, than those who are stuck in lower classes. I would never have learned about computers if I had not gone to at least a middle class school. If I had been born to a lower class family, I probably would not be where I am today. Obviously, this begs questions of environment vs. genetics. Even if I was born the same person, just to a lower class family, I would not have it as easy as I do. This goes with my philosophy that money isn't deserved. Just because you worked hard doesn't mean you deserve this or that. If that were the case, there would be a lot of less fortunate people who should have a lot more than you since they worked harder. As I mentioned in "Why We Spend," too often those WITH money spend frivolously because they feel it is deserved. They worked hard for it, why not buy what they want. This self-centered attitude only perpetuates the problem. Recognizing these things is only a first step however. I believe those 'with', have an obligation to help those 'without'. I'm not just saying I think they should. I think they have an 'obligation'. In the long run it helps all of us, and I'm not just speaking karmically. Crime, debt, resource depletion. These issues affect us all and we all must work together if anything is to be done.

What do I think can be done? I'm not sure. I'm pessimistic about where and when the next major 'movement' will be. I'm cynical of movements in general as the past few big movements only served to stall the inevitable commercialization of America. But I digress.

What will I do about it? I will start by understanding the ramifications of my relationship with money and how I spend. How will I fulfill my obligation? I don't know, but I'm going to figure it out.

Posted by wonko at 07:33 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 11, 2004

Wouldn't it be great if we all owned a home!

Many people think I'm too cynical. I do not believe most people are cynical enough and furthermore that they are being taken advantage of because of their naivety. One of the longest standing, most prominent elements of The American Dream is owning your own home. For most, this is not an optional thing like being rich and not having to work. They MUST own their own home. Why? For most it is the biggest success indicator. "I worked hard and the fruits of my labor have paid off, I own my own home." No one wants to go to their 10 year reunion without being able to confess to be a home owner. I understand the nesting instinct, or at least I admit its real, but I still don't understand the importance.

The impetus behind this entry was this article entitled "Fannie Mae Distorts Markets ", by Robert Blumen. Its rather terse, but still a fascinating article that deserved a re-read. Thanks to Obigabu for finding this telling piece. For starters, I did not know that Fannie Mae was anything other than a private company, when in fact it is a government sponsored enterprise (GSE). It does not have to follow the same rules as other companies, even other lending companies like banks. Their claim is that they are in the American Dream business, which itself is poignant. The author goes talks about financial theories and the claims of Fannie Mae's CEO Franklin Raines.

"Fannie gives banks the ability to lend potential home buyers funds that they could not otherwise qualify for, with which they may purchase a home that they could not otherwise afford." FM claims that this artificially increased demand does not raise home prices, it lowers them if anything. The article talks about why this isn't true, but I have my own explanation which is based more no class polarization. A year and a half ago while I was sitting in the Mariot Hotel in Oakland waiting for Sarah to finish he pharmacy board exams, I started thinking about this very issue. A year later, I wrote about my ideas in this entry. Its kinda in the middle of that entry if your interested. It deals with economic class equilibrium. It explains why the poor never get any closer to being rich and in fact only distance themselves in trying. There is no true incentive in our economic system for everyone to have enough money to live the way they want. Taking home ownership. There was a time when those who would buy homes had to pay for them in cash as there was no way to finance them. Before the 30s, only 2% of home owners had a mortgage. Today, only 2% do not. All of a sudden, you can borrow money to buy a home. As a result, homes can be more expensive. Some argue that the fault is with the consumer buying homes bigger than they need. This is obviously part of the problem, but it is also true that ALL house prices have gone up dramatically until it just isn't possible for most people to buy a house without financing most of it. We see it today in how much people put down for their home. 100% financing is becoming more and more common, whereas 20% was the minimum not 20 years ago. 10% was the minimum not 10 years ago. The price of goods inflates to the maximum possible price consumers can afford. Debt artificially increases this price.

The article goes on to talk about the looming disaster that Fannie Mae might be directly causing. I mentioned that FM does not have to follow the same rules as other lenders. Specifically, they can offer better rates and incur more risk, ie lend more to riskier people. They do not need to have much in reserves to cover people defaulting either. Why? Because they are covered by tax payer money. If a lot of people suddenly defaulted, the govt would have to foot the bill. So here we are. Home prices are at an all time-high. Raines himself said, "From the demand side, we know that consumers will need twice the mortgage capital to own their homes." People are buying homes further and further from what they can afford and they are being encouraged to do so to continue fueling the economy. It only requires a small critical mass of people defaulting on a portion of the projected $14 trillion in home mortgage debt to cause financial chaos in this country. So many things are tied to home ownership as collateral that when a person defaults on their home it causes a chain reaction of collections, all of which the government has promised to secure. American's themselves are increasing their debt, even given the widespread information on the destructive nature of debt. Why should a population listen to a hypocritical government that relies heavily on debt itself. All it takes is a major dip in the economy and/or home prices.

We are headed in a bad direction quickly with no signs of turning. Maybe I'm being pessimistic, but it doesn't seem like a matter of if, only when.

Posted by wonko at 07:13 PM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

January 10, 2004

Heading in the wrong direction: I'm a home owner, landlord, and building manager now.

I haven't updated for a couple days, though this is not an apology. Sometimes its hard to say what I feel, but in the interest of being honest with myself through this medium, I'm going to swing wide the floodgates.

It was never fully decided until it was. Sarah wanted the place and I didn't. I spoke at length before about my reservations of buying a place in general and buying THIS place. The process continued, we moved forward, I only felt worse. I started running out of real excuses other than my hating the place and just not feeling good about the the place and the process. The process is largely to blame, it wasn't good. The owners epitomized ones nightmare of the worst case scenario when buying something this big. Of course, it was the holidays. Everyone was busy. Information did not come in the timely fashion one would hope for. Our realtor is also partly to blame. It doesn't seem like she's been doing this for long and the mistakes she made, though not big, were too simple to excuse lightly. What else was missed? Are the owners telling us everything? I certainly don't trust them.

While everyone agreed this was a great investment opportunity, everyone also agreed (except Sarah and our realtor) that this place needed a lot of work. I don't mean a lot of work, I mean a LOT of work. Its really explained best by saying it would be easier and shorter to list the things that DON'T need work than to try and go through what WILL need work. It ALL needs work. Work costs money. More money than I EVER dreamt on spending on ANY place for the rest of my life. To me, this massive black hole of time and money appeared to be the polar opposite of where I was trying to go. All of the explanations about how other people would really be doing the work did not fool me. A house in good shape takes a good amount of time from the homeowners, time I was just barely getting used to the idea of. This was in a whole other league. I felt... I feel my concerns are well founded.

Everyone kept saying it was a good investment, but I still felt bad. Really bad. I didn't like the place. Not at all. Not the area, not the inside, not the out. So I did what I felt I had to do, even though it was really hard. I said no. I said that I felt bad enough about it that I couldn't go along with the decision. Sarah wasn't happy. She was willing to have me ignore my feelings so that we could have THIS place because after all, its not just a place, its land. Its our building and our tenets. It was and is unreasonable to believe we'd find another property that we could afford, that wasn't a condo with high fees and little control. That was the argument. But I still couldn't get myself to agree to something just because of the money. It had to be more than that right? Thats what I've been saying for the last 2 years, happiness first, than the money. So I said no, and that would be that.

If not for the realtor, who decided on her own not to tell the owners right away that we'd backed out. She thought she'd give us a day to think about it. The next day she told me she hadn't slept. Then my boss got involved and the pressure escalated. There seemed no real way out, no mutually positive decision. So I gave up fighting and gave in. I said I'd agree to buy it and make it our home, at least for the next couple years, but I had caveats. Unbendable contingencies that I would demand of my wife.

First, this was not my home and I did not want to stay here longer than we had to. Second, if we did realize this places investment potential and did make a good amount of money on it, we would NOT simply use that money as a small down payment on an even more expensive place. This was a means to an end, so we could pay off our debt and get MUCH CLOSER to owning a place outright, without payments. I would stick to that, even if it meant leaving Mammoth. Third, we would change our (her) spending habits. We needed to start having our spending reflect who we wanted to be and where we wanted to go. Finally, Sarah needs to figure out where she's going and who she wants to be. Your path will be determined for you by the actions you fall into, that society will pressure you to, unless you determine it for yourself. Then she signed the papers. I did not feel better.

Days have past and I still do not feel better. If anything I feel worse. We had agreed we both wanted a simple life. We had agreed that a simpler life was a more joyful life, one with more options and fewer meaningless responsibilities. Well things are about to get a lot more complex, even as I was struggling to keep fighting for my mission. Even as I continue to fight for what I believe, against what I know is untrue and unhealthy. Sarah has made promises about what my role will be in this new venture. I do not believe any of them. I don't believe Sarah is lying, I just know she underestimates the decision we've made.

I am not the only one. Others share my struggle. I continuously go back to my greatest fear, that it doesn't matter if I'm right, you can't beat the system. Its easier to give in and do what they tell you than spend the rest of your life fighting. Yeah, maybe by giving in you are accepting the life of nagging meaninglessness that plagues so many, many of whom never knew they had a choice, but maybe the alternative is worse. A life of struggle for what you know is right, but can never attain.

I haven't given up. I was dealt a mighty blow, but I haven't broken yet. I've always held that happiness comes second to truth. My path is determined and I still believe my path of struggle is only worse now because I am in between two worlds. I know it is naive to think I'll ever reach some point where there will no longer be a need to struggle, but I have to believe my struggle will lead me continuously in the right direction, which itself is reason enough to continue the struggle.

"Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose."

Posted by wonko at 08:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 06, 2004

Updated Blogroll

I've finally gotten to updating my blogroll. I haven't been as good lately at reading other people's blogs, but I'm trying. Look lower down on the right panel and check em out.

Most recently, I've been turned on to the thoughtful blog of AndrewSW and the whimsical blog of Electric Venom.

On a daily basis I'm checking Obigabu and Kasei's blogs. I'm waiting for Obigabu to get off vacation and start posting again.

Posted by wonko at 10:56 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 05, 2004

Back Country Day Blues

We had it all planned out and for the most part, as I expected, it all went as planned. A posse of us got up early and made steak and egg burritos. A good carrying meal. We then went to the Mountain and met some other friends who would be joining us. A couple lifts and a gondola ride later we headed for the, out of bounds, back-side of Mammoth Mountain via Dave's Wave. Our goal was to ride Hole in the Wall down the Tamarack Lodge, then hike the Sherwin's and get some deep back country powder action.

I'd seen Hole in the Wall from the other side, but had never attempted to board it. It provides narrow passage through a giant cliff band that would not be passible otherwise. It is like riding through a short cave, naturally formed from eons of wind, rain and avalanches. Brandon and Bryce chose an insanely steep line with a mandatory rock drop. Even thought he rock drop was only 5-8', it was so steep, they easily got 20-25' of air before touching down.

The hike up the Sherwin's was mostly uneventful. I wasn't sure how my cardio was doing, but I ended up doing better than I'd worried I'd do. Once on the summit ridge, we broke into teams of two, each picking a different line down the mountain. Brandon and I, who both had avalanche transceivers on, decided to do The Perch, which is the summit of The Sherwin's. Its also the farthest to hike to.

On the summit I pointed out to Brandon that the 'true' summit was still slightly higher. On the top, there was a platform of rocks about 8' off the ground. I commented on how cool it would be to drop in off the top of that rock, the true summit. I was only kidding, but Brandon immediately offered to record it. So I climbed up with my board and gingerly strapped in as Brandon held my board to make sure I didn't fall off prematurely. After hesitating for a moment, I dropped in. The landing was flat, so I didn't end up riding away, but it was still fun.

We then headed off along the prominent ridge-line. I was about to drop in to a narrow chute, but Brandon recommend he recon it first to make sure it didn't dead end in a cliff. Sure enough it did, luckily, I didn't drop in there. So I dropped in a little further down. I saw that there were many rocks below, but there were obvious, if narrow, ways to get between them.

The first couple turns were glorious. Sweet, soft powder gave way to low laid turns. I was relaxed and happy, until... I was making a sharp toe edge turn, my board was essentially pointed straight down the steep gully, when I hit a patch of ice I was unprepared for. I immediately went down painlessly, but started sliding uncontrollably in the only direction it is possible to fall. I was sliding head first down the gully as I dimly realized I was headed for a rock band I had intended to work around. There was nothing I could do, nothing to do, but slide.

I remember hitting rocks for what seemed like too long a time, and then I remember flying off the last large rock and landing in the snow, still attached to my board. Pain shot through my right leg and left butt cheek. My elbow seemed hurt too. Miraculously, my head seemed untouched, except for a minor scratch on my right temple. I tried moving my right leg, but couldn't as the nose of the board had buried itself in thick snow. It took me a minute to work it out, roll on my back and sit up. At first there was too much pain to take stock and see if I had broken anything. Slowly I realized my legs still worked. I got up and tried making a couple turns, which I could do with much pain. Then I heard Brandon's voice yelling my name. I responded and asked where he was. Later, Brandon told me he had been calling my name for a while, but I must not have heard him. He was worried. He had seem me drop in, then heard me hit ice and finally heard my board hit rocks. I made tentative turns through trees to get to Brandon and we kept going on the long traverse needed to get to the boot path leading towards civilization. Each turn hurt, but not as much as the walk out. The path was an uneven snow path with boot holes at uneven depths. After 1-2 miles of that, there was another mile or more of road to get to the bus stop. At the bus stop we noticed that I had broken the super strong hi-back part of my binding. I don't know how hard I hit the rocks, but it was obviously hard enough to break my bindings. The bus took us to The Village where the cars were. The last walk I had to do was from the bus-stop to the cars. It was very painful.

Now I'm resting. I didn't break anything, but I'm badly bruised in a couple places. I'm very lucky I didn't do anything worse. Such are the risks of my lifestyle. I don't regret it, nor am I sure what I would do differently, other than try and be more aware of changing conditions. It was still a REALLY good day. It was beautiful and sunny with the majesty of the Eastern Sierras looming over us the whole time. Innumerable snow covered peaks saturated our view in all directions. It is hard not to be glad, when you are with friends in a place as beautiful as this.

Posted by wonko at 09:13 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 04, 2004

Updated About Page

I finally updated my About Me page to list my current reading and music (more accurately).

Posted by wonko at 04:15 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Mammoth Snow

As promised, here's a couple Mammoth pictures during the last week of storm. Unfortunately, this doesn't begin to capture how much snow we got. I was too busy at work when the worst came. This was just the beginning.

Posted by wonko at 02:55 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 03, 2004

The Death of Horatio Alger

This article, entitled "The Death of Horatio Alger" in The Nation, which I found on Kasei's Links Blog was very enlightening. That article was written in response to this article entitled: Waking Up From the American Dream (free registration required) in Business Week. The premise of the article is that idea of income mobility in America is less a reality now than it was 30 years ago and furthermore it was believed to be more a reality 30 years ago than it really was. Income mobility is loosely defined as one's ability to go from one socioeconomic class to another (higher or lower). The American Dream has always been one of the lower class American or emigrant pulling themselves up from their bootstraps and, with a bit of pluck and luck, doing better than their father did. Most of Horatio Alger's works were essentially this story, which is why he has always been so closely associated with the American Dream.

Post WWII that dream seemed to be a reality as more and more people experienced just that type of income mobility. At some point, however, this trend reversed and has been on a downward spiral ever since. More disturbing is that this trend continued even during our unprecedented boom in the 90s. The two factors which seem most closely related are the 'wall-martization of the economy', and lack of access to education. The former term refers to the trend over the last couple decades towards fewer 'entry level' jobs which lead to better paying, higher class jobs. Rather, we are seeing more and more dead-end jobs that have little to no room for improvement. Even title changes to manager usually offer little pay incentive at most of these types of dead end jobs. Then there is the lack of access to education. Higher education is getting more and more expensive even as grade schools are getting worse and worse. The difference between the class of education during grade school through high school depending on ones location is equally astounding. State schools are increasing their fees many times faster than inflation. The difficulty in ensuring you can afford to give get children get a good higher education is creeping higher into the middle class as well. Bottom line, your chances of rising above the class of your parents is getting slimmer and slimmer. All of this spells a polarization of the classes. "...between 1973 and 2000 the average real income of the bottom 90 percent of American taxpayers actually fell by 7 percent. Meanwhile, the income of the top 1 percent rose by 148 percent, the income of the top 0.1 percent rose by 343 percent and the income of the top 0.01 percent rose 599 percent."

I'll leave you with this excerpt from the article. It's in reference to this hypothetical question. "Suppose that you actually liked a caste society, and you were seeking ways to use your control of the government to further entrench the advantages of the haves against the have-nots. What would you do?" I'll let you draw your own conclusions as to the real possibility of this happening and its impact on our society.
"One thing you would definitely do is get rid of the estate tax, so that large fortunes can be passed on to the next generation. More broadly, you would seek to reduce tax rates both on corporate profits and on unearned income such as dividends and capital gains, so that those with large accumulated or inherited wealth could more easily accumulate even more. You'd also try to create tax shelters mainly useful for the rich. And more broadly still, you'd try to reduce tax rates on people with high incomes, shifting the burden to the payroll tax and other revenue sources that bear most heavily on people with lower incomes.

Meanwhile, on the spending side, you'd cut back on healthcare for the poor, on the quality of public education and on state aid for higher education. This would make it more difficult for people with low incomes to climb out of their difficulties and acquire the education essential to upward mobility in the modern economy."

Posted by wonko at 02:32 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 02, 2004

Thoughts on America from a foreigner

Well, I've been saving this one up for a long time, but its time to post it. I warn you, it is quite long. I decided to break it up to reduce page load. So make sure and click below to read the rest. I wrote this in the beginning of December on my way home from Ben's wedding in San Fran. Without further adieu.
I had the opportunity to talk to a couple Swiss visitors this past weekend on such topics as politics, health care, education, capitalism, etc... I mostly asked questions and let them speak trying to gain as much perspective as I could. I pointed out to one of them that American's have little opportunity to gain a true world perspective as we are not bordered by other countries (besides Canada and Mexico, which do not really count. We ignore one and discount the other.) Europeans tend to travel between different cultures a lot more, often getting their education in a different country than their origin. The two people I was talking to came from Zurich, Switzerland, but both had lived and/or visited many other countries. We had a long conversation and I want to record as much of it as possible so get ready for a long one.

Let me preface this by giving you Philip's standard disclaimer. Most of the questions I asked had to do with European's and their opinions of us. Philip was quick to point out that there is no single European opinion or experience, but there were many similarities in opinion. For you, the reader, all you can fully assume is that these are the opinions of Phillip and those like him. It took them a while to get comfortable enough with me to criticize America openly, but once they did, they were quite frank and I am assuming that the opinions they expressed were both honest and complete.

I asked Philip what European people thought of American capitalism. He first pointed out that most of Europe is capitalist as well and supported the notion of capitalism. The difference was that Europeans believed in a more socially conscious capitalism. I am paraphrasing here because I can not remember his exact phrasing, which he too struggled with as English was not his native language. "Europeans will work hard for a company, but will want something in return. They also want to be able to come home at 5pm have a cigarette and have a social life in general. They want the company they work for to succeed, but they also want their vacation." I mentioned to him (something I posted recently) about how the architects of capitalism believed the free market system would facilitate the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness by the widest range of people. Competition would ensure the best products and companies survived, while companies that cared more about profits than their product would fail. This, of course, has proven to be wrong. I gave this pseudo-example. If there were two companies that sold the same product and one of them decided to pay its employees less, giving them less benefits, but using those cost savings as leverage to undercut its competition, that company would succeed. In order to compete, other companies in the same sector would be forced to compete on those same terms. I told him about the current Vons Strike. I told him how this was happening all the time on a national level and that it was my belief it would inevitably spill over international borders. Other countries would have to start changing their social priorities in order to compete. Likely first signs would be a reduction in vacation time. He said this was already happening. Ironically, I heard something on my drive through Sacramento, on my way home that validated this prediction. I was listening to the always ignorant Savage Nation, an ultra conservative talk show where the host Michael Savage suggests nuclear war against Afghanistan. He related a quote from some European president (who's name and nationality escape me) that Europeans had to stop seeing their good quantity of vacation time as an inalienable right and start seeing that they would have to start working as hard as the rest of the world (ie. American) if they were to compete economically. This precisely validated my belief. I told Philip I believed European nations had to recognize this inevitability and do something about it before it was too late. Fredrick denied this would happen, while Philip acknowledged it was already happening. Socially conscious capitalism. Could there be such a thing? Apparently in Europe, in some unofficial way, there is, but it is that unofficial nature that will spell the slow demise of that brand of capitalism.

The conversation then moved on to the notion of debt. We talked about how one of American's greatest problems is debt. Back in '00 '01 when the recession started, it was the consumer that was blamed. We simply weren't spending enough to keep the system growing. Philip had heard that too and was as astonished as I was. "American's already have more debt per person than any other country, how will spending more money, they don't have, help?" Precisely my question. He then talked about how the rest of the world is thinking twice about lending America money as they are all getting concerned with our ability to pay other countries back. For a country that relies so heavily on debt, how will we fare when the U.S. government starts getting denied credit for having too much outstanding debt. I know I've been denied for that reason :) He related that in Europe, debt is still frowned upon. "There is a certain degree of shame in using credit cards to buy things." Fredrick couldn't believe it when he saw that he could buy clothing with terms in America. I asked if it was viewed as acceptable to use credit to buy vehicles. It wasn't. What about education? Nope. Only to purchase a home or start a business with the reason being that a business will make money back and a home will increase in value, whereas clothing and cars only lose value. I asked if Europeans were seeing the folly of Americans and would continue to shun debt. They were somewhat divided on this, but related that they were seeing more and more ads for credit cards and debt in general. Philip, the more pessimistic of the two, saw it coming.

Over the weekend I spoke to a number of Europeans from a number of different countries. All of them thought our health care system was atrocious. Philip said, and I quote, "America is a third world nation." I was completely stunned by this comment. "If you look at your health care situation, your education system, your homeless situation, your unemployment situation, you are a third world country." Wow. I'd never heard anyone call us a 3rd world nation. It's almost sacrilegious, especially for a country that has recently become so nationalistic. He also mentioned how bad our media was. I got the feeling that Europeans knew how bad/filtered our media is. This notion, along with a few others, made me realize how blinded we've become by our nationalism. We spend so much effort trying to be the uber democracy, and trying NOT to be Communist China or Russia of yore. Better dead than red! Socialism didn't work! That is one reason people give for not moving towards socialized medicine or other services. That point of view is merely one of ignorance. Many European countries that have socialized medicine are more of a democracy than we are. Combine that with our, report what they want us to hear, media, and America begins to look far less democratic and far more like the communist threat we'd been so afraid of.

Speaking of nationalism, they also felt that American's were disliked because of how arrogant we were. We talked about how there are really 2 America's. When Europeans come to visit, they usually come to the California coast, or New York. Both places have a very liberal viewpoint and are probably more open to these ideas than the part of the country Europeans never visit. In this way, many Europeans get a false impression of what American's are really like. On the other hand, they related to me that many (maybe most) Europeans saw American's like the classic texan, loud, arrogant, ignorant. In sheer numbers, they are probably right.

Personally, I never knew how the Swiss system of government worked. I was surprised to find it remarkably similar to ours, but with some key differences that seem to answer some of our system's shortcomings. Philip pointed out that while most American's believed they lived in a democracy, "America is not now and has never been a democracy." American's do not vote for their laws, or even their own president (as we saw in the last election). Switzerland is an extremely diverse country with 4 native languages, (German, French, Italian, and some mountain language I forget and probably couldn't spell anyway). It was important to the architects of their government that the system wasn't a run just by majority rules. The country was too diverse for that. They two have 2 houses (of parliament) like ours. Each has elected officials representing specific states. In one branch of parliament the number of senators (my interpretation) is based on the population of the state they come from (like our House). The other has two per state, regardless of the population of that state (like our Senate). The biggest difference between the Swiss system and ours is that they have a true democracy. Every law is voted on by the citizens. They vote around once every 2 months. In this way, lobbying representatives is not guaranteed affective, unlike in our system. He was amazed how in our system we elect officials with the notion that they will vote the way we expect them to, but in reality, vote however they want (or are pressured to). A perfect example of this is the recent passing of the medicare reform bill. It is the first major overhaul in medicare since its inception. I don't want to go into whether it is a good or bad thing, but I do want to mention how the vote went down in the House. Normally, once everyone has spoken and a vote is called, it is over very quickly, within a couple minutes. This vote lasted 3 hours, which is 2.5 times longer than the longest vote in history. Why? Once you have cast you're vote, you can change your vote before the closing gavel. It is the speaker of the house that, rather arbitrarily, determines when the vote is over. During this three hour vote, intense lobbying to get democrats and republicans who had voted against it, to change their vote was happening. Obviously, there was lobbying on both sides, but it was those that wanted the bill to pass that controlled the gavel. Votes changed on both sides until at one point, the republicans had enough votes and it was at precisely that moment the gavel fell, giving it to the republicans. Meanwhile, there were some dems that had originally voted FOR the bill, who were intending to change their vote against it, but were unable to once the gavel fell. It was obvious to Philip that a representative democracy like ours is a bought democracy. Representatives can be bought with money, influence or support. Votes are given for strategic reasons rather than on their merit. If you vote with ME on this, I'll vote with YOU on that. In a true democracy, it simply isn't that easy to buy the system.

On Education. Citizens of Switzerland are guaranteed an excellent education all the way through college. Their public schools are better than our private ones. As proof of this, their system does allow for subsidized private schools where you can pay varying amounts for your kids to go to one. The idea of subsidized private schools has been debated a great deal in American, but never made into law because it seems obvious that public schools would get worse as those who could afford it would send their kids to private schools (which would be much less expensive than today), while those that could not afford private schools would be forced to go to an even WORSE public school. The best teachers would naturally gravitate towards private schools where they'd make more money and be treated better. This system might be better for the middle class and up, but would probably be much worse for the lower class. In Switzerland, even though it isn't expensive to send your children to private schools because of subsidies, few people do and there are few private schools. Why? Because the public school system is widely recognized as being very good. Why pay for something you get just as good for free? According to Philip, private schools in Switzerland are mostly for the lazy and the troubled.

Health Care. Switzerland has a strange hybrid socialized health care system. I say hybrid because while ever woman man and child has guaranteed health care, they are all required to pay for it. Phillip pays around ~$130/mo for health care. If you can not afford health care, you still get it for free through clinics and other means. The government may take some percentage out of your monthly income if you can not afford the standard fee. What do you get with this health care? Free doctor and hospital visits. All prescribed drugs are free. Would you pay $150/mo if everything was free? I know I would. I paid that much for a long time and that came with a $25 medicine co-pay, and a high deductible. For most, they spend a lot more than $150/mo on health related needs. For some reason, dental isn't covered, but it is far less expensive at full price than it is here. Given their lack of deductibles, how much less they spend on the rest of their health expenses, and how much less dental costs anyway, they don't mind the occasional dental bill.

Is the Swiss system perfect? They didn't think it was. Though there was some debate as to whether on eof the apparent flaws was really a deficit. Because everyone votes on everything and because any minority group can veto any move by a majority, things move very slowly. In our fast paced, quickly changing, global economy, this can put them behind. But perhaps it is best for governments to error on the side of caution when deciding for millions. Rashly changing policy without proper debate can have long term consequences. For example, it might not be wise to rush in and occupy another country for revenge, without fully realizing the long term ramifications and costs. It might also not be wise to rapidly decrease civil liberties in a panicked attempt to regain control of ones people.

I stipulated that when America rose to power with its brand of capitalism and democracy, both were quite new and unproven. Since then, many countries have experimented with variations on both and it would be naive to think America got it right the first time, or even that there aren't other variations that have yet to be tried. I asked what would happen if European countries started taking away things like health care for all. Philip said, "revolution." And indeed, historically, this is how radical change is gained. Our founding fathers predicted the same for our country. As we talked about the decline of the age of the American Empire, they couldn't help but bring up the comparison between us and the Roman Empire, mentioning our military might as another similarity. Fredrick, who had served in the Swiss military in mandatory service related how much more powerful our military is than any other military on the planet, both in numbers and technologically. I pointed out my observations on the problems with the Roman analogy. In the Roman Empire, as well as other empires throughout history, the lowest classes hated and did not support the upper class. The upper class shunned the lower classes and made it clear they were better in every way and that the poor had no chance of ever getting to their level. Indeed, they were almost a different race in their eyes. Whereas in the American Empire, the poor love and revere the upper class. You may think I'm crazy, but look at how we worship Hollywood stars and other famous figures. Even Donald Trump is lauded as a hero for going bankrupt, pulling himself up by his bootstraps and rising to riches again. The rich have figured out that if the poor are led to believe they too can attain the riches and power of the upper class, they will follow blindly, even giving what little they have to those that already have too much. I don't actually believe rich people think about it in that way. The truth is, they probably see the peasants as the aristocracy saw the loath-full peasants in Roman times. The love of the rich by the poor is a product of this system where the pursuit of life, liberty, and BMWs is supposed to be guaranteed by the very system that keeps them accruing so much debt they will never rise above poverty.

We ended the discussion talking about how America needs to start seeing itself as a single community. If a large percentage aren't doing well, it will bring the rest down. In this same way, because of the global economy and globalization in general, the world is becoming one large community. We will not prosper in the long run, monetarily or in our individual pursuit of happiness, if we do not recognize and rectify our attitudes.

Are we headed up or down? The consensus says down. As America drags the rest of the world away from social consciousness in order to protect their capital investment, quality of life for most will suffer, even as the availability of resources increases. There WILL be another revolution. But who will start it and where. What will be the catalyst that ignites a firestorm, awakening the wrath of the ignored masses.

Viva La Revolucion

Posted by wonko at 04:51 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 01, 2004

Trapped in Mammoth

I mentioned that it has been snowing a but here lately. Today, that would be an understatement. We have received MANY feet of snow just over the last 24 hours. The town is in turmoil. So much fun. It probably wouldn't be so bad if the town wasn't so far beyond capacity as it is. I'm not blaming the tourists here, but they sure are less experienced with these conditions. Cars are stuck everywhere. Cars are parking everywhere, blocking traffic in all directions. The 395 (the only road in or out of Mammoth) has been closed on and off all day and is now officially closed due to white out conditions.

Driving is insanely perilous as the plow workers can't keep up with the pounding snow. Driving down the main streets is like driving on a slick, insane 4x4 road where your steering wheel works more like a rudder than a means of accurate steering. Driving home I would turn my wheel only to find my car going in the same direction without pause. Eric (my roommate) and I got off work at the same time and both drove our 4x4s home. It was extremely difficult to see. Certainly, I did not see how much snow had piled up in the parking lot in front of our apartment. Had I known, I probably still would have tried to get in and would still have gotten stuck, as Eric and I did. We worked for a while digging and pushing getting our household and our neighbor to help. Finally we got the trucks out and the plow man decided to plow some of our lot. Though I don't think it is fully plowed even now. How I will drive away at 6:30am to get to work is beyond me.

Meanwhile, another storm is on its way, scheduled for Monday. We already made the #3 December on record for snow fall. We've already gotten almost 2/3 of the snow we received all of last year. The storm window is open and there is no sign of it letting up.

Some would be annoyed at all the extra time needed to get around and all of the extra work required to just live, but I am happy. I love weather. Mother nature is displaying her plumage and it is beautiful. The whole place looks so clean and spacious. The low clouds give the mountains an ominous look and makes them seem so much larger. Weather breaks routine and keeps life interesting.

Posted by wonko at 06:44 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Desert Mayhem

Our trip to the desert was once again a success. Originally a large group of near 20 was going, but most changed their mind either because they thought the weather would there would be too bad, or the conditions on Mammoth would be too good. Their loss. There WAS reason for concern about the weather as it was dumping in Mammoth and there was a good amount of snow for our entire drive. Once the eight of us, hard core enough to go, got there we were pleased to find the ground was only sparsely covered with the white stuff and there was plenty of space to sleep and be warm.

The guns came out immediately after unloading the trucks. We didn't bring as much firepower or gasoline this time, but we did have plans. We did have a very powerful potato gun that could shoot a potato over 300 yards. Within an hour of getting there we had demolished a microwave and exploded a toilet. The toilet was a fantastic sight. We filled it with a couple gallons of gasoline, then threw a large fireworks mortar in and rand. A moment later, the initial charge, meant to propel the mortar high into the air, went off in a puff of smoke. A few moments after that, the larger secondary charge went off, igniting the gasoline and tearing the toilet bowl to shreds in a cloud of flame. Great cheers ensued.

As night neared and the temperature fell, attention was shifted to the fires. It was decided we would have two fires this time after the debacle of the 'fire of fun' from our last visit. Last time we scarred this place, in a moment of shear insanity, someone took the entire roll of 5000 blackcats and threw them on the fire. You'd think they would all blow up quickly. Actually, most of them get blown clear. Being anywhere near the fire in the next 8 hours was a hazardous gamble as blackcats would suddenly ignite, or be thrown into the fire en mass after being found within a 20' radius of the fire itself. A sick game of cat and mouse started where people would rush up to the fire ring to look for blackcats before someone else found them first and threw them into the fire blasting embers on whoever else was searching. Tom had the bright idea of having two fires this time. A fire of fun and a fire of warmth. Of course, as is the nature of fire, both fires became the fire of fun, neither being safe. It was decided we'd need 3 fires next time. Bryan poured copious amounts of gasoline on the fire, walked away, aimed a lit roman candle on the fire and WAM. The projectile caused the fire to explode in a fury of fire.

Our mayhem continued for hours as fireworks launched from all directions until it slowly died down. After many false stops where everyone admitted to having no fireworks left, only to have a giant firework go off shortly thereafter, we individually decided it was time for sleep. As it was not snowing, most of us just laid our sleeping bags out and slept in the frigid high desert air. The temperature likely dropped to around 10 that night, but I slept well. All was well and would be until I woke up, when it might still be well, but the future is dark, and I have no way of telling.

Posted by wonko at 06:21 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack