Looking for an Answer Man

In another time, answers seemed ascendant, or at least, you knew how and where to find them.  Knowing your way around a good library was helpful. Sometimes it was as simple as asking dad. Our culture was built around a functional model that’s now nostalgic at best. Now if a youth in school suggested that his information source was good ole’ dad, he’d probably be suspended for some violation or another. Now, it’s all about Google.

Those of us of a particular vintage remember The Shell Answer Man and the series of commercials that Shell Oil ran during the 1960s into the early 1990s. Again, a time not that long ago (when viewing history’s arc) where assurance, rather than uncertainty was trumpeted. Perhaps Americans were simply less skeptical than they are at the moment.

Nicholas Carr linked to one of the more interesting blog posts I’ve read in quite some time, over at his own Rough Type blog. The post he recommended was written by Will Davies at the British think tank, the Political Economy Research Centre’s (PERC) blog. Davies (in the most provocative piece I’ve read on Brexit) touched on (in point #4) how we’re now relying on data, rather than facts. This reinforces my own point about difficulty in finding answers. It’s also why polling prior to the Brexit vote was flawed and why our own political polling is meaningless. We’ll just have to wait ‘til November to see how everything shakes out. Kind of eliminates the need to follow the news media closely, doesn’t it?

I’ve been reading Neil Postman’s Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. He concludes the book with a chapter called, “The Loving Resistance Fighter.” I thought it was an apt ending to what I consider a classic work on how not to be duped by the techno-utopian crowd. Postman, writing 25 year prior to Davies, delineates that our flood of data has made us all reliant on priesthood of experts, bureaucrats, and social scientists to explain what it all means. Their answers often come up short.

I’m grateful to Postman (and writers/bloggers like Carr) in that they offer a road map for anyone that prefers answers to questions, or at least appreciates the past and where we’ve come from in framing intelligent questions.

Pedaling to work

The last time I biked to work, Bush 41 was in the White House. Hillary’s husband, who would come next, was still an obscure governor of a Southern backwater. It was the early 1990s and I was working for a large power company in Brunswick.

From my home in Durham, the ride took just over an hour. Luckily, my employer had a locker room with two showers. I developed a routine of bringing clothes to change into the day before and kept a few other supplies in a locker to dress for work.

Six weeks ago, I accepted a position with a local credit union. They have a branch in Topsham, 12 miles from my house. On my first day, during the tour, I noticed a downstairs locker room and shower. I said to the branch manager, “I’m going to have to bike into work some day.”

Today is finally “bike to work day.” I’m kind of excited. I’ve had to wait ‘til now for a number of reasons, including afternoon and early evening commitments that prevented me from being able to meander back home following work.

I had to do some thinking about it and some pre-planning. A week ago Saturday, I even pre-rode the route, which is a different one than the one I normally take in the car. It’s slightly longer (just over 16 miles). The bike route takes me through Brunswick, a bicycle-friendly community with a designated bike route. In essence, a bike-friendly designation provides a welcoming environment for people on bikes. This is accomplished through providing safe accommodations for bicycling and by encouraging people to bike for transportation and recreation. It allows cyclists an environment that’s safe, comfortable, and convenient for all ages and abilities. Bike-friendly, or not, biking in traffic during rush-to-work time requires vigilance and some experience riding in traffic.

Keeping to the bike route.

Keeping to the bike route.

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A New Standard for Beer

The first beer I ever tasted was probably a Carling Black Label. How do I know that? There’s a grainy picture taken when I was three or four, with my Uncle Dick letting me have a sip of his beer. He was big on that brand.

Given our current culture wars and the binary battles being waged that extend even to beer, this might be the time to step away from the people who flaunt particular lifestyles. Or, if you are part of a group that’s not in the vanguard—stop hiding your uncouth behavior away from the bright lights and your Facebook profile.

I mean, what kind of country are we living in that certain arbiters get to decide the brands of beer we’re all supposed to be belting down? Given the explosion of craft beer and brewing, especially in burgs like Portland, Maine—where a new craft brewer opens every other week—or so it seems, admitting that you like “lawnmower beer” is liable to get you exiled to a place with a much lower hipster quotient.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

Cold beers on the patio: the stuff of summer.

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The Anachronism

I’m feeling more and more like an anachronism. The things that I think are important seem out-of-date and not in-sync with technology and our app-based culture.

I like slow things—books, conversation, food, bikes, and black & white movies. I’m not so big on Facebook, Twitter, and a culture with an attention span of 10 seconds.

Innovation, early 20th century style.

Innovation, early 20th century style.

Reading about the past, and prescient thinkers who accurately sketched out what life would be like in the present some 25 or 30 years ago (or even further back) indicates that Americans lack the capacity to change their trajectory, no matter how detrimental their track might be. That sums up the span of my life, demonstrated by history’s arc back to my time of birth in 1962.

As I think about these things and many other matters, I’m less sure about what’s right and perfect. And again, this puts me out of step with the masses—who have never been surer that their opinions and actions are right and justified. Even worse, technology gives them all platforms to spew their drivel.

Of course, the same applies to me. Except writing a 200-word post like this one is torturous, and seems like an exercise in futility.

From the Bike Seat

On Sunday, I was out biking around Massachusetts, and even up into New Hampshire, part of the Bicycles Battling Cancer (BBC) ride, which was staged from Hillside School, in Marlborough, Massachusetts. A fun time was had by all, or most of the riders, save for some Monday aches and soreness from riding anywhere from 30 to 100 miles.

Mary and I opted for the 70-mile leg, which today feels just about right. I’m sore, and a bit tired, but am grateful that I was able to help in some small way the battle against the scourge of cancer. I’m also appreciative of those who helped me double my fundraising total of $300. Stay tuned, as I want to give a public shout out to all of you later in this post.

Marlborough is like many places I’ve dropped in on in Massachusetts, always passing through. If all you ever do is drive to Boston, or blow through the state via the many interstates criss-crossing The Commonwealth, then you’d think the state is nothing but one big strip of convenience stores, strip malls, and business parks—and much of Massachusetts consists of these things.

The best part of BBC, save for the underlying purpose, was getting out on my bike and seeing things that you’d never experience from interstates like I-495, or I-290. Even better, biking slows travel down to where you actually notice things on the side of the road and can begin to assemble a different narrative, recognizing that Massachusetts is more than simply Boston, or Worcester, or even Cape Cod. Continue reading

Holding My Place

When you’ve been blogging since 2003, like I have, there are ebbs and flows to content creation. A new job, a topsy-turvy month of May (and now into early June) often bring challenges to my own self-imposed schedule of Tuesdays and Fridays.

As much as I’d like to sit home this morning and crank out 500+ words, my aching knees and back (from umpiring) tell me that I’ll feel better if I put in 30-40 minutes in the pool before heading to work. I try to listen to my body now and then.

Think of today as a placeholder. I’ll have something more substantial next Tuesday, even if it’s simply pictures from Sunday’s Bicycles Battling Cancer ride.

See you then.

I'm sort of like this in the pool.

I’m sort of like this in the pool.

Summer Reading Program

May wasn’t a red letter month for me and reading. While I read a couple of books, nothing I ran across seemed to captivate me. The topics were lackluster and perfunctory. I’m sure umpiring 23 games in 30 days had something to do with this malaise.

June hints at hope that I’ve found some new reading choices that will once again reignite my passion for the written word. Great books always do that for me. Better, deep thinkers and prolific authors proffer up a plethora of new options.

I’ve mentioned Neil Postman countless times before. His books critiquing television as well as the power of a medium to affect its message have framed my thinking on the topic. Postman also introduced me to Jacques Ellul, the French polymath.

While searching for someone or one book to kick start my reading heading into the summer months, I learned that no one’s ever written a biography on this intellectual giant of the 20th century. The closest I could come was a book offering up a comprehensive overview of his life and writing (he wrote more than 50 books and over 1,000 articles). This work, written by three Wheaton College (the Illinois-based school) professors, is called Understanding Jacques Ellul. Continue reading

Dreams and Songs

I’m not a poet. Many years ago I wrote some bad poetry and sent it into the college literary magazine at UMO. This was during my freshman year, and my poems got soundly rejected. I now leave the work of poetry to my son, Mark.

I mention poetry and a particular work of poetry for a reason that will soon become apparent.

John Berryman was a popular poet during the 1960s when it seems poetry was ubiquitous in America. That period was many things—both good and bad. It was a time when artists (and poets) had more cultural cred, or so it seems now in retrospect.

"The Dream Songs," by John Berryman

“The Dream Songs,” by John Berryman

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No Longer Resilient

Over Memorial weekend, I finally had some time to put up my feet and do some reading. Lying on a book shelf was Robert Pike’s wonderful Tall Trees, Tough Men.

Much like Colin Woodard’s The Lobster Coast, Pike’s book offers a snapshot of a place and time in Maine, a state of vast natural resources. Pike’s is filtered through the lens of 18th and early 19th century logging. Actually, Maine was but part of a northern New England focus that included the logging stories and history of New Hampshire and Vermont, also.

Pike wrote his book in the mid-1960s. W.W. Norton & Company published it in 1967 and reissued it in 1999. It’s a book that all Mainers ought to familiarize themselves with simply to have a sense of what the state used to be—mainly a region of tall trees (and rivers to float them down)—with entrepreneurial types finding ways to turn logs into gold.

Because I was curious about Pike, I rooted around the interwebs for more info on why he might have written his book. His obituary (he died in 1997) from the New York Times was a worthwhile read for me.

It’s becoming far too common in our digitally-distracted world to think that life was always about tapping a touchscreen, rather than the kind of dangerous, back-breaking labor inherent in these parts 100+ years ago. Not all jobs included an “easy button.” Pike details the rugged, resilient men necessary for extracting value from the region’s forest resources. Likewise, Woodard’s book offered a similar story about the rebels (and rusticators) that were part of our maritime heritage. The threads are similar and point to a time of hearty souls, rather than the spleeny types dominating the present.

Driving logs down-river was part of logging in Maine.

Driving logs down-river was part of logging in Maine.

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Privilege and Privacy

It’s interesting how the elite have their own unique set of rules for their small circle of friends, and another policy manual for the rest of us schmucks. Take Marky Mark Zuckerberg.

Apparently when you’re richer than God, you can buy up all the surrounding real estate nearby. That way, you won’t have to worry about the hoi polloi peering into your backyard. In the case of Mr. Facebook, he’s planning to bulldoze the homes he purchased back in 2013. The million-dollar homes he scooped up will be replaced with smaller, lower-profile places—the kind that won’t “intrude” on his privacy—an important consideration for Zuckerbuck.

Beware of Zuckerberg's bulldozer.

Beware of Zuckerberg’s bulldozer.

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