Things that just occurred to me, in no particular order

Posts tagged ‘Philosophy’

Flammable

My roommate was aghast.

Her boyfriend was standing over the kitchen sink, a lighter in one hand and a fistful of non-dairy creamer in the other. He sprinkled the one on top of the open flame from the other and was rewarded with a flash of flame.

She gasped.

“I had no idea that stuff, those chemicals, were in my non-dairy creamer.” She swore off the stuff then and there.  If it burned that easily, imagine what it did to your stomach lining?

Of course, I knew that the increased surface area from the powder made it flammable. It would have worked if he’d used flour or talcum powder or sawdust. It’s the reason why grain silos have been known to explode.

But she didn’t know that. Her boyfriend didn’t either. He just knew a cool trick that would impress people.

It’s kind of the way it is right now with science, news, politics, philosophy and economics. Everybody knows a few good tricks, enough to do the social equivalent of lighting a small fire over the kitchen sink.

But few of us know the underlying facts, theories and science behind those tricks — and therefore what those tricks really mean.

I doubt most people could really explain the science behind allergies or the economic principles that drive the stock market. It’s the age of specialization and everybody knows a lot about our specific areas of expertise, but there is no way we’d be able to know all that there is to know today.

So we rely on experts, or people who claim expertise. The problem is, they are often just regular people who know the cool tricks, and not what’s behind them.

The downside is that it’s easy for people to push concepts or ideas that are not supported by facts. They may not even know the facts themselves, but who’s going to challenge them? Their opponents are mostly just as factually ignorant.

So they spin their versions, myths based on what they fear is happening instead of what is supported by fact, and make a knee-jerk reactions every few years at the ballot box, or daily in the grocery aisle or doctor’s office.

February 19

The Liberals only have themselves to blame, all the pie-eyed Obama lovers from 2008, for the current place they’re at politically.

Just to make sure we’re keeping score, we are a week away from a historic mid-term election that will shape the face of the country for the next two years. If the predictions hold out, Tea Party conservatives will toss a mess of liberal legislators out of office.

I received a mailing last week from the conservative Heartland Institute touting their new book, “The Patriot’s Toolbox.” It’s designed to give Tea Party activists all the ammo they need to help change the country.

But one sentence, on the back of the mailing caught my eye and has stuck in my head:

“On February 19, 2009, CNBC commenter Rick Santelli stood on the trading floor of the Chicago Board of Trade and called for a “new tea party” to protest out-of-control spending by politicians in Washington.”

So there you have it, the birthdate of the Tea Party movement: Feb. 19, 2009.

Go check your calendar. The Tea Party started one day short of a month after the new president was inaugurated. Basically, they gave Obama 30 days to fix the country before they started saying it wasn’t working, that he wasn’t working out.

Now, that’s not  a surprise. People that didn’t like Obama could never put the 2008 campaign aside. They’d never be supporters.  I guess I wished that they would have given him a bit of a chance, but what are you going to do?

But here’s where I blame the Libs:  Right about the same time the Tea Party folks first started gathering their teabags, the Liberals started agitating. He hadn’t closed Gitmo, legalized gay marriage, gotten U.S. troops out of Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany or dismantled Don’t Ask Don’t Tell yet. As that first year progressed, they complained louder.

Too many people had too great expectations, right or left. One group was convinced he was going to turn the country over to Sharia law and the other, that he was going to usher in a paradise.

But he hasn’t. We still live in pretty much the same country we had in February 2009. The economy still sucks and we are still a divided mess but we’ve managed to avoid a full-on depression. Things are no worse, and not much better, than they were then.

So he suffers, diminished by outrageous expectations. Has he been great? Not sure I’d go that far, but I don’t think anyone could have gotten much farther under the same circumstances.

That fact hasn’t gotten out, or it’s been ignored. The only narrative so far has been how raw everyone’s disappointment in Obama has been.

The thing is, I used to get mailing like the one for the Heartland Institute from the Right and the Left. Not only mailings, but emails, too. And when was the last time you saw a new Liberal bumper sticker?

One group stayed energized, the other let its disappointment fester.

So I blame his supporters, rabid in 2008 and disappointed today. Unrealistic on both ends.

One note says it all

She was going to celebrate, dammit, and all the stares from the people still in the meeting or the folks outside hushing her were not going to quiet her.

She was there Tuesday night to see Casella get cast down once again, and when she left the room, she wanted to shout. She wanted to stomp and celebrate, but everyone people kept telling her to calm down. She puffed her chest out in defiance, like a 12-year-old school yard bully, and told them all where to go.

Still inside the City Council chambers, I was straining to follow the discussion. With the Casella matters dispensed with, councilors had moved on to a bigger topic — with $1.6 million in cuts expected this year, layoffs were certain. The city administrator was sketching out his plan for gentle layoffs and retirement buyouts to let his staff off easily.

But I couldn’t really hear what they were saying because of the woman’s squawking. I looked back, over my shoulder, out the door and caught her eye.

“You, in the red vest!” she yelled. “You! Got a problem with me? What’s your problem?”

Some of her friends led her away, out the doors and into the street, yelling like  a drunk kicked out of a night club.

Here’s her problem: One note politics. Never trust candidates and politicians that are single noters. That guy you elected to deal with abortion? He may be crappy at balancing budgets. You’ll find your country in hock up to its eyeballs before you know it. The woman who only cares about better schools? She may have no skill for managing people and you’ll wind up with a bureaucratic nightmare and huge taxes.

There are lots of one-note political topics, but the display last night was all about Casella. The multi-state solid waste conglomerate has created a lot of enemies for the way it’s handled the landfills it operates near Bangor. It’s a mess, with trash blowing around neighbor’s yards, phantom odors and no end in sight.

When the company looked to take over management in Lewiston’s landfill two years ago, the city exploded. Casella was chased out of town and the councilors that negotiated with them were voted out of office.

Except Casella didn’t really leave. Their subsidiary, Pine Tree Waste, handles trash collection for both Lewiston and Auburn. And the company brings in 100 of tons of construction and demolition debris from Massachusetts and New Hampshire every year to another Lewiston-based subsidiary, KTI Biofuels. The stuff is sorted and shipped off to other places — wood to mills and electricity generating plants, everything else to landfills.

Casella offered to move Pine Tree Waste’s truck operation into Lewiston, ending KTI and the sorting of out-of-state debris there. But because of the experience at the company’s other landfills, nobody trusts them. Councilors voted them down.

That’s not good good enough for some. I had one of Casella’s Lewiston foes tell me that nothing else matter but chasing the company out of town once and for all. There are no other issues, as far as he’s concerned.

I understand zeal, but I think they miss a lot of things. The deal with Casella might have brought better recycling to the area. It might have kept out-of-state waste out of the city and it might have meant new revenue. Maybe you can’t negotiate with someone like Casella, but an automatic no based entirely on name recognition doesn’t help.

So while the city talked grimly about how to gently cut its staff size, this martinet celebrated. Her one concern was settled. Now she could go back in her hole.

Us and them

I’ve been following and writing about local government for about 20 years, from little towns in Colorado to the Twin Cities in Maine. One thing has never changed, and that’s the governed.
People assume the government, their elected officials, are a big part of this ominous “them.” They seem to think that the minute a person sits on a board or a council or whatever, they become part of this big conspiracy aimed at turning everyone else’s life into mud.
The funniest part is watching it happen, when a true believer — a real governmental watchdog — gets elected and begins morphing into one of “them”. Their old friends and co-conspirators start shaking their heads and wondering when their pal got bought.
It’s kind of silly, from my point of view. Local government is still the purest form of government, as far as I’m concerned. The pay is lousy, the hours long and tedious and the rewards paltry. It doesn’t matter what they decide, some neighbor is bound to object.
And when they object, they’ll do it loudly and publicly — in church, the doctor’s office or the produce aisle at the supermarket.
These poor saps are least likely to be part of the global conspiracy. They get burned out fast and go back to doing whatever it is they did before they got involved in local government. Talk to them years later, and they never are the same.

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