Sunday, June 29, 2008

Too much of a good thing


The New York Times is reporting that the U.S. government has frozen all new solar power plant permits, citing the need for evaluation and impact studies. The article talks about concerns of the impact on native wildlife and also the use of water, which is important for certain types of plants.

It's funny, in a sad sort of way. The sea levels are rising thanks to melting ice, but we can't drink it because the salinity is too high. Can we just use the undrinkable sea water for our solar-powered steam plants, leaving the tasty Dasani for all us kids?

The cynical part of me grumps at the administration stopping solar plants to study the environmental impact while wanting to spill oil all over the Georgia and Carolina coastlines.

The realistic part of me sighs, because it's important to not rush into any energy production method large scale without a lot of serious study.

All the more reason to step up the affordability of rooftop solar generation. That would only infringe on the habitats of the common American pigeon.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Seven Sins: Greed (or Avarice)

"It is not the man who has little, but he who desires more, that is poor." -- Seneca

It's been difficult to draw lines between these first three sins. When asked, most people say they know what lust is when compared to greed or gluttony, but it becomes a bit hard to define. Especially hard if one tries to appreciate the nuances inherent in the words themselves.

Lust, gluttony, and greed can be generally grouped under sins of excess consumption. All three are concerned with attempting to achieve more. In the most pragmatic terms, lust concerns the flesh, gluttony with food, and greed with material possessions (usually money). Each sin also has layers of meaning which can confuse the issue: the lust for power, a glutton for punishment, or even the capitalistic economic principle of greed being good for the economy.

Let me build out from a standard definition. Greed is the accumulation of physical wealth, possibly at the expense of someone else. Perhaps one stereotype of the greedy is taking candy from babies. This sugar-snatching is totally in character of one who will deprive others for his own enrichment. It's possible for this to be gluttony; after all, what if the guy just really wants to eat the delicious candy? In the case of greed, though, it's more about the acquisition.

It's this acquisition that truly separates greed from the other two sins. With lust and gluttony, the goal is the consumption. The food must be eaten because it is delicious, but the true glutton no longer considers what the value of the food is once it is swallowed. For all purposes, it no longer has a value, but since the need is still there, the search for more food begins again.

In lust, we seek the pleasure. The feelings are either pleasing or not. There is no way to "store" it for later, so the lustful are always seeking the next source. They are not focused on the retention of whatever pleasure has already been achieved.

In greed, though, the arrow points only one way: up. Greed is not only the acquisition of material goods, it is the retention. To the greedy, a transaction that makes $50 but costs $45 is not as satisfying as one that only makes $5 and has no cost. The pile of chips belonging to the greedy MUST increase, and any small part that disappears from that pile is to be resented. This is so because the greedy understand that the more they posses, the less is left for the world.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Speaking at Funerals

An NBC anchorman died last week. Tim Russert, host of "Meet the Press". He was not a figure of which I was very much aware; I made no scheduled meetings to be sure to catch his show. As someone who has grown up watching the TV news for terrorist attacks and political elections though, his was a familiar face.

His is not a death I wonder around the house pondering. He seems to have been an excellent man, well liked by his colleagues and loved by his family. There is one part of his memorial services that really spoke to me, though.

His son, newly graduated from college, spoke at his father's memorial service and on all the major news network about his father. Watching a young face praise his parent in a church reminded me of an episode from my high school days.

A student lost his younger brother and mother to a car accident, while they were visiting colleges. It was the first funeral I ever attended for someone near my own age. Classes were waived for those who wished to attend. The throngs of people moved across the street to the local Catholic church.

I played in a brass quintet for that service; the first of the few funerals I've ever attended as a performer. What I really remember about that day, though, was watching the eldest son stand and euologize his brother and mother. I remember being overcome with emotions at this high school senior (who seemed much older than me, the freshman). He was able to get up at the most solemn of occasions and praise the lives and spirits of his family.

I remember wondering whether or not I would have the strength of will to do the same, should I lose family members.

I don't know where that high school student went after that day, what job he took, what life he lead. But the memory of his determination and fortitude has been with me ever since.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Visibility: Quarter Mile and Falling

It's raining again. We've gotten a lot of that lately. The ponds in the park across the street are filled to the brim, engulfing the roots of trees that are usually dry. I'm looking out my living room windows into a great blue-gray haze. It's punctuated about every 4 seconds with lightning and the trees lashing around. I wouldn't be surprised if I lost power at some point.

So, what to write about on a night like this?

I decided to defer to ... myself. This is an entry from my journal dated June 24, 1998. It's no glamorous work of prose, that's for sure.

Wednesday, June 24, 1998.

Summer vacation has begun at last. And yet, still within me is a feeling, which I struggle to identify and cope with.

On one of the last evenings, probably Wednesday. No, I am mistaken. It was Thursday evening. I spent the evening talking to [a friend] at the [residence hall] front desk. One of the last things that we talked about was [her]. "Are you going to see her again?" No.

"Isn't that hard on you? It must be difficult." You have no idea.

After I said farewell to her for the summer, I saw her again on Thursday in the lounge. As I walked through, I'm sure she saw me, but we said nothing and did not catch her eye.

Gripping stuff, right? It has good and evil, a prince struggling against unsurmountable odds, and a star-crossed lovers angle.

I'm only slightly embarassed over transcribing that entry, mostly because whenever I open my journal from those years, my room echoes with "woe is me" for at least two or three minutes. I offer it here as a sort of talisman; I'm trying introduce it to the public to innoculate myself against a further relapse at some point in my future.

This was written at the end of my sophomore year of undergrad. A common fixture of my journal through the start of my master's degree is that there's always someone "for whom my heart bleeds". I have no doubt that's an actual quote from someone in these pages.

But the other commonality of all those years? I never did anything about it. Not once did I talk to the object of my affection about how I felt. In hindsight, it makes my entire journal a big deal about nothing. Almost every entry is caked in hand-wringing of the tightest kind, but I never make any motion. My emotional journey was paused somewhere along the line: each day is exactly the same longings as the one previous, exactly the same slights and wishes.

Luckily, I always turned my silent attentions to people who were decent. It made it a lot easier to not be crushed when they went out with their actual boyfriends or laughed slightly too long at some guy's jokes.

From my current perspective, it's very easy to make fun of Andy from ten years ago. He's young, and he suffers from knowing too many books and movies, and not enough women. Ten years from now, in 2018, I'll be able to figure out if the place I'm in now is so much better (or worse).

I don't keep my cards quite as close to my vest now. I haven't been told lately that I'm unapproachable and distant, which is a plus. That means everybody's just *thinking* it, which is a total improvement from them telling it to my face.

The best improvement, though, is that I don't have to sit at the side and fill my life with imagined situations from movies and romantic comedies. Sure, some of those not-so-fun things have happened to me, but those failures and disappointments have been folded over into my current personality, which I'm pretty happy with.

That's what self-reflection has granted me: the chance to see how happy I am with who I have turned into. Lots of miles left on the road, though!

Friday, June 06, 2008

A presidental contest shaping up

The big political news this week was the clinching of the Democratic Party nomination for Barack Obama. The primary contest between the two candidates is the most heated in my (admittedly short) political memory.

When Hillary first announced she was running for president, I frowned. I don't care for her as a politician. She was too careful for my taste. I found her too willing to accede to the opinion polls on her issues. I can't even remember why I initially formed that opinion, which is probably a good sign that I should just abandon that judgment and move on.

And when Obama first announced his run for president, I frowned. Being only a three year-member of the Senate, I felt he lacked the experience necessary for the job. My initial opinion was that he should stay in the cooker for another 4 years to "ripen".

And then came the contest. Long months of slog through debates and primary. Sniping at each other across the field. Mistakes and horrible slips of the tongue.

And tomorrow (supposedly) Hillary will concede the nomination to Obama. And therein lies the most important thing that all this primary season brought about. It fire-tested the candidates. Barack was forced to explain himself and his position. He answered questions about his inexperience and generally proved himself to be a capable political player. Hillary learned that her husband Bill is a great asset but is not the sort of person to sit idly by and quote the advertising copy, even if it's written by his wife.

Now we move on to the next chapter: the general election. The old man vs. the young man. Is this election going to revolve around wedge issues like gay rights and abortion, or are we mired in the national problems of the war and the economy?