Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Crash + Bailout = Easy Explanation

Folks, I'm just as concerned about this as you are. I mean, I'm sitting here watching my Krispy Kreme stock options tumble like that skier in the old Wide World of Sports intro, and I think to myself, well, how did we get here?

It's real simple. The near extinction of long-term thinking and the constant pull of greed.

Sustainable growth? Investing for the long-term gain? Nope, in this frenetic "now, now, now" world, you're only as good as your last quarter. If you're not flipping stocks and houses like pancakes, you're a failure. That's the mentality of the i-banker. I know because I know i-bankers. Personally. Lots of 'em, in fact. I hear their dreams, doubts and horror stories. I hear about the pressures put on them by their firms and themselves. Their skewed definition of "success." The quick buck is the sexy buck. Sustainable growth and bulletproof portfolios? Ain't nobody doin' that but the old coots. Old stinkin' rich coots, but old coots nonetheless. Ah, but who's laughing now? (I mean, besides the Chinese of course...)

Making social plans with these guys is nearly pointless. The weekend is a vague abstraction, next week is a mirage, and next month is an urban myth. I am reminded of what Brian Eno said about how his concept of here and now changed when he moved to New York. He quickly learned that here meant "this room" and now meant "this five minutes."

This haunted him for a good long while and ultimately led to his involvement in The Long Now Foundation, and organization devoted to promoting creative & responsible long-term thinking and providing a counterpoint to today's faster/cheaper mindset. Since finding their site (via SF writer Neal Stephenson I think), I've been picking through their library of recorded seminars like a well-stocked used CD store that none of my music-head friends have found and pilfered yet. (If you listen to one and one only, I'd steer you to the mp3 of Paul Saffo's talk, "Embracing Uncertainty: The Secret to Effective Forecasting." Great stuff there, including a discussion of "indicators" - something we'll be coming back to in this space again.)

As for our old friend greed, it's as old as civilization itself and is the elephant in the room that most of the talking heads in the room continue to sidestep and ignore. (To their credit, the talking heads without a stake in the game zero right in on this, but their salient points and simmering indignation is consistently met by the blameworthy with deafening and well-funded silence & deflection. I tell you, it's enough to make you want to hurl a can of tuna straight through the fucking TV screen sometimes.) Folks, here's the thing about rich folks. (And I'm talking about the really, really rich here.) Their singlemost defining characteristic is this:

They are rich. And they intend to stay that way.

File away as needed, but don't ever forget it.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Prodigal Cowboy Returns

But you won't find answers in a book; you'll have to go there.
- Kosti the miner to Larry in The Razor's Edge

I've been away from here because I've been out there man. Out there 'cuz I had to see. With my own eyes. In their own words. And you know what I found out?

People up and lost their goddamn minds, I tell you whut.

Either that or they're just plain scared. One or the other. Hard to tell with most folks.

I may be speaking to the heavily-bunkered and well-provisioned choir here, but the land has fallen upon dark times as they say, and much to my chagrin (and general annoyifyin') I don't have enough time to personally kick all the corpulent, in-on-the-take butts that so desperately need what we like to refer to in these parts as "a Durango enema."

A man can dream though. A man can dream...

What the hell is wrong with these people? Yes, we make our own choices - personal responsibility, rugged individualism and all that, but how are you supposed to remain optimistic when the game is so beautifully rigged?

This ain't a blue state-red state thing - it's a money and power thing. And when we sit there and watch what little of either we still get siphoned off, we can (and to a degree should) blame the suits. But...

It's our fault too. We stood there and let it happen. We stood in line at the all-you-can-eat bullshit cafe, paid twice as much as we should have, and then went back for seconds.

Doesn't mean we have to keep this up though. Doesn't mean you can't take a page out of The Book of Billy Jack and make 'em pay a little bit. In fact, I'm here to tell you it's your Goddamn moral obligation to make 'em pay.

Not 'cuz they're "winning." (Because from a purely quantitative standpoint, some will always have more than others, and failing some kind of epiphanous mass-bodhi event across all humanity, the quantitative physical world is where most of us will continue to go about our day.) No, because the bastards are ruining this world and limiting our alternatives. Damn near ensuring that armegeddon arrives on a human timeline rather than a cosmic one.

I may be powerless to stop this slow but accelerating march toward civilization's oblivion, but I for one intend to kick, holler, junk-punch, and eye-gouge every step of the way. It's like Otter said in Animal House:

We gotta take these bastards. Now we could do it with conventional weapons that could take years and cost millions of lives. No, I think we have to go all out. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody's part.

And to quote Bluto's response to this sacred charge:

We're just the guys to do it.

Stay tuned, folks. My name is Bronco Billy. I'm back and I'm pissed off.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Life Advice from Bronco Billy: Avoid the Triangle of Suck

85% of my time these days is spent within a triangle bounded by my apartment, my office and the nearest grocery store. I have labeled this area "The Triangle of Suck." It should not surprise you that this area ain't exactly what you'd call prime real estate. No sir, you're better off living in Shreveport than here.

I was talking to a co-worker today, and I said, "I have my performance review next week. What do you think is the maximum number of times it would be acceptable for me to say the words 'fuck' and 'bullshit?'"

"I'm not sure," she said, "But it's probably not very high."

And to think I was so hopeful about this gig last year. Oh well. I suppose if I truly had big brass ones, I'd quote Red at the end of The Shawshank Redemption. I'd sit down with my boss in the performance evaluation meeting and I'd say, "So you go on and stamp your form, sonny, and stop wasting my time. Because to tell you the truth, I don't give a shit."

But I won't of course. Not in this economy. No, I imagine I'll pull an Oliver Twist and say, "Please sir, may I have some more?"

Damn it all. Damn everything but the circus.

[Whiny-assed gripe mode switched off. Insert promises about posting more. Now where'd I put that Boris CD?]

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

She came from inner space ...

I’m a city kid, born into the busy streets and lively times of a big city. There’s always something going on in a city. There’s always something to see. I guess it is to be expected when you cram so many people into one seething, confronting place. The people scream to be heard, demand to be seen. It’s the only way to stand out from the masses, I guess.

And, I love the essential expression of humanity that is constantly on show. My latest obsession is with stencil graffiti. Here’s why:

It haunts me. She looks out from a tunnel on Punt Road, Richmond. And, I deliberately drive by there every time I am back in the city. She has become a feature of my town, etched into my remembrance of the people I grew up with. See, we grew up with the figures and poses captured in the graffiti. And, as much as art mirrors the people, the people have mirrored the art. That’s the thing about stencil graffiti. They confront you. In the most ordinary and unexpected of places. Artists must choose carefully, but they must also choose hastily. They have little time to transform a blank wall into a canvas. And that transformation can’t easily be undone. The art becomes inextricably tied to both the location. And, to the town. See, my home town is Stencil Graffiti Capital.

I can imagine the artist designing and trying out their art for what must seem like ages. Early sketches become cardboard cut-outs. Lofts become littered with failed images. And, then, in one late night rush, all the anticipation unfolds onto the blank slate of the public space. In the new morning light, the art is unveiled. Do the artists come back to admire their work? Do they watch other people and how they respond to their art? Do they tell them that they made it last night? Or is the art lost to anonymity and the vagaries of time.

So, I was wondering. Is there a place for stencil graffiti in my new town? Will there be an appreciative audience for the statements embodied in this art? And, then, one day on a roundabout sign just near my house, this blossomed:

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

This Is Why Two-Person Rock Bands Fail (or, A Call For Occasional Guest Writers)

For those of you keeping score at home, Zed's kicking my hiney all up and down the block when it comes to posting in these here parts. But this isn't going to be one of those "Sorry I haven't written in a while" posts. No, dear readers, we realize your time's far more valuable than the 41-cent stamperooni that would be required to mail that stinker in. (For more vociferous indictment of self-indulgent meta-writing, check out what our man in the U.K. recently had to say about it.)

This band was supposed to be a three-piece you know, with a few extras thrown in here and there for the tour dates. It all looked so pretty in theory. But alas, CGK (our theoretical third contributor) seems to have gone the way of a Spinal Tap drummer, his blogging life cut tragically short by spontaneous combustion. There he was, just drinking a beer at a Saturday afternoon barbecue just south of Moline and explaining to the woman nearest to him why she was fundamentally wrong about pretty much everything, and all of a sudden there was a flash of green light and WHAMMO - nothing left of him but a globule. That's what the eyewitnesses say, and they ain't lying 'cuz I was there. Saw it with my very own oculars I did.

Not everyone buys this story though. Zed swears on a stack of crushed Coors Light cans that the green globule was extraterrestrial residue, and that CKG was in fact brazenly abducted by aliens in broad daylight. While I find this unlikely, I have to admit it wouldn't be the first time little green men have been spotted in that part of the country.

Whether you're on the 'splosion side of the fence or the abduction side, the end result is the same - we're a two-piece now. You know what they call a two-piece rock band? A gimmick, that's what. As for those very few two-pieces that actually achieved some level of notoriety, you know what they call those bands? Talented gimmicks, that's what. Folks like The Spinanes? Flat Duo Jets? The Kills?

All gimmicks. Gimmicks with a special place in my heart, mind you, but gimmicks just the same. And don't even get me started on Roxette, which I refuse to link to on general principle. Furthermore, let me remind you that no matter how hot you thought the blonde in Roxette was, she turns fifty next month. The hot chick from Roxette is turning fifty?!?! Holy shit, what have I been doing with my life since 1989?!?!?!

Don't answer that, Zed. Show some mercy. After all, friends don't pile on when their friends use Roxette videos as mileposts in their life-arc.

Hold on, did I just link to...


Linking to a Roxette video. Me of all people. Gawd. That's not nostalgia, that's a cry for help.

Speaking of cries for help...

Zed and I envisioned this production as having three people who posted a good amount along with a sprinkling of other voices here and there. Between the two of us, we have friends and associates scattered far and wide across the globe, and what would really spruce this place up a bit would be occasional dispatches from some of these far-flung folks. Just a paragraph or two about what's going on in your corner of the world would do the trick. Think about it. Drop us a line at broncobillyblog[at]gmail[dot]com if you don't know our "real" email addresses. A few of you are about to get arm-twisted into submission anyway, and so you might as well just start typing 'cuz everyone knows volunteerism is infinitely preferable to coercion.

Sleep well, good citizens. You have been warned.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"Politicians, politicians everywhere and not a hand to shake..."

I logged in tonight to do a post 'cuz I'd been, uh, not quite matching Zed's recent surge in output, and lo and behold right before I sit down to write a breezy little piece, I see that he got face time with Obama in a bar way out west.

Yeah... I can't top that. Originally-planned breezy little piece now gets bumped to next week, I'm afraid. Instead, let me try to hold up a mirror to reflect part of the DC take on this sort of thing. (Read Zed's post below first though. It'll make more sense this way. Plus, his is, um, better.)

Back now? Alright then...

Here in the Nation's Capital, you can't throw a rock without hitting a Congressman, a CNN talking head, a Starbucks, and Marion Barry. If you've lived here 5+ years, there seems to be an unwritten rule that you have to make a big show out of acting like politicians - no matter what office they hold - aren't anything special. That all they really do is spew B.S., check the lobby cushions for spare change, and generally make your morning drive a major pain in the ass. (I can personally confirm that being on the wrong side of a Cheney motorcade running perpendicular to your route will add no less than 40 minutes to your commute.)

Oh sure, we interact with them, we just act they're anybody else - a deliberate indifference that must be alternately relieve and infuriate these people. Some of the more surreal encounters I've had in this town include cracking jokes with Senator Paul Simon in an elevator, sharing a long table with Janet Reno as she ate a bagel in a profoundly weird "she's gotta be a Men in Black alien" kind of way, and making fun of George Snuffleupagus' height after a medium-speed sidewalk collision. (Ordinarily I'd just say "excuse me," but the immaculately coiffed midget gave me attitude, and Satan transmitted the desultory response of "You look taller on T.V." straight to the steel plate I got in my head back in 'Nam - a steel plate that as Zed may recall from our younger & drunker days, bypasses my tact circuits entirely.)

In this town there is indeed an art to spotting important folk and getting them to notice you in order to make a big production of acting like they're not important. It's a mug's game but it's our game. Those politicos and talking heads are our unique indigenous species, and we can't help but wonder what ridiculous predicament they'll get into next. We can't help but see them walk down the street, roll our eyes, shake our heads, and maybe chuckle a bit. "Only in this town," you mutter to yourself.

I suspect it's probably similar to the sensation Zed and his neighbors feel when they're out fly fishing and a Long Islander on vacation rumbles up next to them with several hundred dollars worth of ridiculous and unnecessary gear. "Christ. Only in this town. Thanks a LOT, Mr. Redford..."

And yet these knuckleheads are lovable and endearing knuckleheads because they're so uniquely yours, and it is because of this that instead of telling this pasty Easterner to piss off you force a smile and remind him of the four-count rhythm between 10 and 2.

Over here on our end of the country? Well, I suspect that it's the very same "lovable local knucklehead" psychology that compels us to keep electing Marion "Mayor for Life" Barry to public office. Easy there, Mr. Barry, you're among friends. Slow down. Remember now, crack smoking is done to a four-count rhythm between 10 and 2...

All that being said, I would have paid hard cash money to have been at that bar with Zed when the American political system walked right through the front door and bummed a handful of fries. We DC residents are so damn jaded and cynical that when office-seekers clamor on T.V. about how the people in Washington have lost touch, I wonder if that indictment does extend beyond the conference rooms on K Street and a handful of storied marble buildings.

Yes sir, it woulda been nice to meet Obama in a room full of normal people. "What's normal" you ask? Well, there are loonies out Zed's way for sure, but when it comes to politics - especially national politics - I know one thing.


Nope. Sorry. Not this town.

That ain't us.

A brush with greatness

He is as tall as he looks on TV. His smile is broad and genuine. And, he really does have the knack of truly connecting to the ‘little guy.’

Yes, I got to shake Barack Obama’s hand and meet the guy unmediated, unmonitored, and entirely without spin. He’s the real deal. This country could be so lucky.

So, there we were, happily chowing down on a burger, fries and wheat beers. There’s cowboy hats, bolo ties, and a good assortment of clean jeans sitting up at the long, long bar. The walls are covered with the proud local traditions of mining, miners and the ethnic groups to which they belonged. Stevie, the grizzled shoe-shine drifts from one pub denizen to another.

Then, suddenly, a suit appears, wielding a reporter’s notepad. A handful of political operatives (you can pick them by their silk ties, Chanel handbags, and Blackberrys) all turn their attention to the door. We know not who the buzz of expectation, the frission of anticipation, is for. But, it is clear something is about to happen.

It was all so sudden, so undramatic, and so ordinary. Barack walked in, smiled, took in the scene, and then found the first hand to shake, the first person to greet and give his full attention.

Initially stunned, the forty or fifty of us in the bar were amazed this was really happening. We cheered and we clapped. The man-who-might-be-President was right there, mere feet away, smiling, chatting, and clearly enjoying himself. Barack was at ease and quickly, we were too. Excited, nervous but not in anyway scared or intimidated.

Out came the cell phones, the digital cameras, and the pieces of paper for him to sign. It all seemed OK for us to gawk, to snap photos, and to ask him for a special word or two. No-one crowded him, no-one pushed or jostled. (Of course, the Secret Service wouldn’t let that happen, and the media all took positions behind the bar.)

One-by-one, Barack visited with us. He asked after our story, he told us he was glad to see us, and he graciously allowed photo after photo (that will be treasured and talked about for weeks, months, maybe years).

Now, he may have a bit of a jellyfish handshake! You would too if you had hundreds of them, day in and day out. But, it is the genuine attentiveness, the eye-to-eye connection and the immediate warmth with which he greets you that is notable. You are swept entirely into his world, for just a moment. There is no hoopla, no distractions, just your story and his.

Wow. Is this a great nation or what? That a man on the cusp of becoming the leader of the free world graciously asks a seven-year-old if he could have a couple of fries, signs the bartenders t-shirt, and then turns to address the small crowd saying how marvelous he found this place we call home and asking after the fishing; that is amazing. You know he would have loved to have had a beer (indeed, he would say so later that night in his speech.) Nothing staged, and nothing rehearsed. A man of the people, getting to meet the people, all across the country.

And, then Barack was gone. The Secret Service now let us freely come and go. The media all file back onto their bus. As we exit into the bright, chilly afternoon, left in the wake of the moment, it is clear that something special just happened. Something that you never really experience on TV. Something that makes you proud and amazed to be an American.

I would say there’s no where else in the world right now where it would happen quite this way. And that makes me smile. That gives me hope.

p.s. Your not-so-humble correspondent was able to give Barack a quick lesson in the Presbyterian art of fly-fishing: “Its ten and two, Senator, ten and two!”

Monday, March 31, 2008

Just because you're not paranoid, doesn't mean they're not out to get you.

There’s a good number of gun-toting, gov’ment fearing, independent minded folks that live in these thar hills. Their houses are tucked away out of sight and they don’t have mailboxes, street addresses or an easy way to track them down. Folks value their privacy and aren’t afraid to protect it, perhaps by any means necessary.

Ironically, birds of this feather flock together. And you better believe it when I say this place has got somewhat of a bit of a reputation. But, the ethos is one of ‘live and let live’. Or, at least, ‘leave us the heck alone’. It shouldn’t be any of our business how they choose to live their lives. There’s enough deer and elk to go around.

The attraction is a heady mix of solitude and privacy. Many of us get anxiety attacks in crowds and we’re either stubborn enough or rude enough to be picky about whom we rub shoulders with. And, just one look at the denizens of the big burg is enough to know that that isn’t them. Invite folks in for a cold one, or three, but make sure the truck is parked pointed downhill. Peace and quiet must rein each night at the ranch, or there’ll be hell to pay.

The road into town is long, indeed, and the winters are even longer. An independent toughness, a fortitude of heart, mind, and bottle is required. Folks learn to struggle in silence, to find inner resources, or else they move away. Toss in a certain reserve, a touch of Godliness and it is no surprise to find the local ethnic mix is predominantly Scots-Irish, Scandahoovian, and assorted religious refugees (Mennonite, Amish and Latter Day Saint). Their forebears were poor, persecuted, and persistent in their beliefs. Shall it be the down-trodden that inherit paradise?

These sort of circumstances lead to equal doses of frugality, humility, and introspection. Life is more than mere brutishness, but the pleasures are still simple and corporeal. Hunting, cheap beer, and big trucks. Or better yet, all three. Full bore, one might say: “open her up and let ‘er rip!” We’re gonna have a good time and we’re not gonna wait for some pantywaist from Hollywood to entertain us. We’ll make our own fun, thank you very much.

I’m somewhat convinced that this will always place such self-willed sorts on the outskirts of society. Exiled to the fringes, isolated from poisoning the mainstream, it just wouldn’t do for these ideas to get around too much. Everyone would expect such freedom and independence. Our collective would never, thus, learn to get along.

Perhaps, then, in our increasingly crowded and complicated world, it is counterproductive to value peace ‘n’ quiet and natural beauty. Even though the wilderness may well have been the forge of the American character, as Teddy Roosevelt was all too convinced, today’s competitiveness requires more complicity, more passivity, and perhaps more gullibility. But, I don’t think so. There’s a realness out here. A fresh perspective on what might be essential and true.

And, this year I think I’m gonna learn me to shoot a rifle. So, y’all be warned, now!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

I love Rock and Roll

I love rock and roll crowds. I love the smell of someone else’s armpit, in my face. I love the refreshing shower of someone else’s beer, drippling down to my socks. And I love the crush of humanity that sways to and fro without any semblance of rhythm. Really I do.

I spent New Year’s Eve among the bright and brightest of New Zealand’s youth. Amidst the sartorially-challenged, I fitted right in. Beneath the moon, in the crisp December air, the sounds of Salmonella Dub and Cornerstone Roots floated over the bluestone ramparts of one of the oldest buildings in Christchurch. We rocked and we rolled. And as the beer flowed, the stupidity followed, and another imperfect meeting of minds and bodies was begun.

Live music is essential. It is the proving ground that winnows out the auteur from the merely angry. It feeds the artistic soul, both literally and as a participatory sport. Live music is music at it’s rawest, with all of the flaws and all of the beauty. On a magical evening, it is transcendent. On an earth-grubbing occasion, it epitomizes banality and self-indulgence. This night had a bit of both.

So, I’m in the midst of the crowd. Have you ever noticed how difficult it is to maintain your position in a particular spot? I mean, what is it that people feel the need to push up against you, placing you in the dilemma as to whether you should push back (with distinct frottage overtones) or whether to just go with the flow and drift aimlessly wherever the crowd should take up. Someday, I suspect I will find myself on the stage, wondering, well, how did I get here?

Ah, but there is something about mass movements of mindless morons. In the middle of all that peer group pressure, there is a crowd identity and with it, a crowd moment. It is easy to get swept up in it all. You let go. You give up. And in doing so, you find nirvana. The pulse of the moment, the pleasure of being lost in something bigger than yourself. One has become all, and all has become one.

And I find that moment addictive. I keep searching for it, always looking for the next great high, the next great band, the next great concert. I love losing myself in my music, and I am constantly hungry to discover what will be my next great obsession. Because that is where you’ll find me, lost in the crowd, searching for something. Maybe for my wallet or my cellphone, which I swore used to be comfortably in my pocket before some dickhead decided to liberate it from there. I guess I'll just go get another beer ...

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Horatio, We Hardly Knew You!

One of my friends recently proclaimed, “I don’t do the Facebook thing.” Trying hard to look suitably stunned, I waited for the inevitable rant of how Facebook/MySpace/Twitter/etc. are no longer what they used to be. Now uncool. For people without a real life. Dominated by lecherous twelve year olds. The last hope of the unloved and unlovable.

Instead, they gave a more nuanced reply. Formerly, he enjoyed the sense of staying connected and of staying in touch with his friends. But, the constant profile updating and other assorted cyber-preening became tiresome. In the end his network’s frequent inquires as to his whereabouts and general good health (since he hadn’t posted anything for, oh, over a week) was what did him in. The shallow demands of his buds drove him to drink … and the pub welcomed him back into its sticky, lubricated womb.

Everyone say humans are communal creatures and that we all crave frequent interaction. We need to feel as though we belong and that we are part of something bigger than our own meager selves. Many folks don the colors and cheer on their favorite corporate enterprise, err team. While others gather together at the nearest railway cross for a tad of train spotting. Both are equally pointless, if but only for the sheer unresponsiveness of the target of attention. But, the inanity is, at least, in the company of fellow besotted. Bracketologists. Whatever.

So, imagine my surprise to find genuine community online. A place to share enthusiasms, for sure. A place to air grievances and seek solace. A place to be real and work through life’s ups and downs. At this place, there’s folks with out-of-control political opinions. There are those who talk too much about sex. And, then there’s the cat fetishists! But, in all of what appears to be the random ravings and just plain I-want-to-be-heard-and-belong, we find real people. Real people who hope, and dream, and cry. Good men and women I now care about, even if I’ve never met their fleshy selves.

And as this online Isle of Misfit Toys becomes part of the backdrop of my life, I wonder what would drive me away. What would it take to be alienated from these people. What perceived slight, what misunderstanding, would lead to my excommunication? Call me perverse, but if this motley collection of strangers are as ever changing and relevant as they seem, then what would it take to piss me off, sufficient to say that I didn’t belong. In this cynical and jaded online world, what would cause one to say that I’m not what I seemed, to make one pause and wonder whether I really knew him at all?

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Who needs angels when you have geosynchronous satellites?

At a time when the world seems to be spinnin' hopelessly out of control,
There's deceivers an' believers an' old in-betweeners,
That seem to have no place to go.

- Willie Nelson, "Hands on the Wheel"

My bias has been to think of the satellites that orbit our planet in military and commercial terms only, but the below photo and blurb from io9.com gives us a positive side of big brother. It also poses a few dicey questions - the kind you get when philosophy and practicality collide head-on.

This is what a mass evacuation from a city looks like from space. Using satellites orbiting over Africa, human rights groups published UNOSAT satellite imagery to show, in very simple terms, the human cost of violence in the Chadian capital city of N'Djamena. Over 10,000 people are crammed on a bridge, trying to escape into the neighboring nation of Cameroon. The black dots are people, and the yellow dashes are vehicles, most likely trucks and buses. It's a chilling portrait of the human future, wracked with violence and recorded via space-based surveillance devices, taken on February 27.
The degree to which our activities can be (and often are) unnecessarily tracked by the state in all its forms - not to mention corporations who have even less real accountability - has made me deeply uncomfortable for years.

And so it's nice I suppose to see satellite imagery being used for more altruistic purposes. Park an orbital camera over the evil men who think they are far removed from prying eyes. Maintain a perspective on what's really going on in a hot spot long after your assets in the region have been reduced to a skeleton crew of diplomats, spooks and marine embassy guards.

Technology is generally supposed to make things easier, and I wonder if those of us with the greatest exposure to it don't consequently allow ourselves to sometimes fall asleep behind the wheel of the large morality automobile. How often in this world is the "right" thing done out of fear of being tripped up by a camera or database rather than because it's simply the "right" thing? How would you even begin to guess the percentages on that?

Their value as tools cannot be denied or understated, but when satellites function as U.N. observers, do we allow them to excuse us from a more rigorous and preemptive brand of diplomacy? I wonder sometimes.

How can you even fully trust any electronic image anymore? You can't of course. What about the entity that obtained the image - or possibly even tweaked or fabricated it - and then deliberately released it along with a prepackaged blurb of interpretation and a side of fries? Can you believe them? I dunno, but I'm willing to bet a round of drinks that the answer is "sometimes, but not as much as we'd like."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why trust will never go out of style. Why trust will never be made obsolete by the technology of today or tomorrow. Why the profoundly organic virtue of trust is as important today as it's ever been, made even more so by technology - not less.

We're drowning is a flood of digitally transmitted words and pictures. If we're as sharp and savvy as we aspire to be, then we already have the tools to interpret the raw data and arrive at presumably intelligent conclusions. Or at least put ourselves in a position to ask some probing and meaningful follow-up questions. But how do we know the raw data is valid unless we've directly observed it? "Are these figures accurate?" "Are these photos real?"

Fact is that we don't know, so we have to defer to the people are on the ground. We have to rely on the independent corroboration of our fellow human beings. We have to rely on people we can trust. A tough gig on a planet with more than 6.7 billion points of view, but you gotta start somewhere.

If this post has a frayed end or two, it's because I'm still mulling some of this over. There's once thing I can assure you of though, and that is if you're reading this then you're someone Bronco Billy trusts.* And I don't trust just anybody.

Sleep well, good citizens!

* The execption being Zed when he's liquored up on that low-grade thermonuclear hooch he brews in his basement. The man's a veritable loose cannon in that state. Or loose boomerang. Whatever.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The WSJ loves Zed ...

See, I have a confession. I read the Wall Street Journal, and I like it. Maybe I'm beginning the inevitable slide into age-appropriate conservatism. Say it ain't so, Huck! But, dang, its become a great newspaper. Predictable, it is not. Entertaining, certainly 'tis that. Challenging and confronting, check. And, opinonated! After all, it is the Wall Street Journal.

In an era where news has become so thoroughly homogenized and commoditized, the WSJ now stands out. Frequently, I am left wondering how the heck they manage to report on that - some obscure, fascinating, and frequently perverse topic. Often I find the discussion of economic or political decisions to be considered, terse to the point of clarity, and yet offering insight that is indicative of a studious and enthusiastic mind.

Now, admittedly I am a media junkie and must own up to a fetishistic fascination with the form itself. But, although I came to this daily habit through necessity rather than choice (its the only
national paper I can get delivered in PDN. So, I have fed the addiction through a regular diet of opinion, reportage, and whimsy. May my countryman, Rupert, not distract the Journal from its current course. Because I love the WSJ just the way it is, and that's true love if ever I saw it!

Most popular articles on WSJ.com on some particular day:
  1. Monks: Thou Shalt Not Buy Too Much Beer
  2. Ethanol .. Craze Fools as Doubts Grow
  3. Head of Rove Inquiry in Hot Seat
  4. Sharp Blows at Republican Debate
  5. Some Colleges Cut, Eliminate Student Debt

p.s. I particularly like Joe Morgenstern's film reviews:

"'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly' is unsparing and inspiring in equal measure. The camera immediately puts us in the position of its hero, a man regaining consciousness after a catastrophic stroke that has left him lucid but almost completely paralyzed ... no premise for popular entertain could be more improbable. Yet, Julian Schnabel's magnificent French-language film, like its true life subject, transcends reality's prison with surreal buoyancy".

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is Google God?

When I look out into your eyes out there,
When I look out into your faces,
You know what I see?
I see a little bit of Google
In each and every one of you out there

Lemme tell ya ...

With apologies to Mojo Nixon & Skid Roper*

Google is everywhere? Sometimes it sure feels like it. If it’s not more hype about their GPhone (slinky, slim, and rather intimate with your derriere?), or their $3.1 billion takeover of Doubleclick (the folks responsible for endless minutes waiting for ads to load on the website you thought you were interested in), then it’s because they are pandering to the demigods in China, right?

I’ll be the first to admit that I think much of the Google technology is neat. Not killer-app, but sometimes awfully close. Google Earth rocks. I love being able to zoom in on my neighbors house to see if there’s anything suspicious growing in their backyard, and I get a kick out of checking out random zipcodes to see if any of the local mountain tops have been razed

If Google is everywhere, then Google will know everything. Already they have one of the largest consumer databases and probably know way too much about each of us. Think about it, every time you click on a YouTube video, every Blogger and Feedburner blog you read, every orkut contact you make, every Picasa photo album you view, and, of course, every Google Academic, Googlepedia, or just plain vanilla Google search you do, there they are. Collecting the little webcrumbs you leave behind, building a bonanza of psychographic information about why you like, who you like, and where you like to hang out.

Be afraid, be very afraid. Because you won’t even know what they know about you. They promise to keep it all private, even from you. Soon, Google will know more about you than you do.

* Michael J. Fox has no Elvis in him.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, but She's a Purty One Sometimes

"Go look at the moon now! 2010 til next eclipse. Stop reading. Go!"

It was just a text from Heather received at 10:04 p.m., but it had a kind of forceful "mission from God" edge to it, and so even though I didn't think it would be all that spectacular of a sight, I threw on my jacket and walked outside. I looked up and...

Well, damn. How 'bout that?

Now that's not a color you expect to see in the moon. Sign of the Apocalypse indeed!

My head spun for a moment in the way it does whenever I get a rare visceral feeling of just how incredibly distant certain things are. Well played, Sister Moon. Nice to know you can still give us some one-of-a-kind glimpses that we're not going to get in our living room no matter how many dubloons we dropped on that flatscreen.

I walked back up to my apartment, turned off the TV, put a Hillard Ensemble CD in the stereo, arranged some candles around the place, and turned off all the lights. Lying on the couch, I simply let my mind wander in wide circles. Wider and wider still they wandered until they catapulted out of frame like comets.

No big revelations. No divine insights. No cheat codes for the good life. Just a cowboy beneath a peculiar sky having an odd thought or two about the journey so far and the one to come.

We'll travel no farther tonight, old horse. In pace, in idipsum dormiam et requiescam.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sign of the Apocalypse

Roundabouts, spring has started its slow march towards insanity.

And, as we dig our ways out of the humble abode, we begin to look to the outside world for amusement. Ya see, the sled dogs are now certifiably stir crazy, the avalanches have done their thing (and closed the mail route over the pass, as well as one of them fancy interstate thingies), so perhaps its Congress that can now occupy our attention. And baseball. Better yet, Congress AND baseball.

So, who's this young whippersnapper that's suddenly taken the main stage? He's not accused of dipping his pecker in the honey pot? No. He wasn't swindling the locals numbers fella, was he? No. And, he hadn't off'ed a ref? No.

His great crime? His trainer (a scoundrel of many hues, certainly) had injected his wife before a glamour shoot for that two-bit sporting magazine. And, for this he can make an ass of himself, his team, Congress, the FBI, IRS, and us mugs, the paying public.

Sheesh, its enough to make a man go back to skinning marmots . Your world ain't no crazier than mine, fo' sure!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

What's With All The Noise?

Eh? What’s that?


I’m sorry. I can’t hear you. It’s all noise to me.

It was pretty common knowledge at the commercial radio station that I once worked at: the only point of playing music was to keep the audience listening long enough to suffer through the advertisements. The music was just an excuse to print money. The costs of running the station were few, and little was required to keep the patter going.

Many were the listeners who played along. They dutifully paid attention to our various exhortations, to gleefully go and separate themselves from their hard earned cash. Yes, they waited long enough for us to stop shouting at them and get back to the music. Nothing much else required of them, and nothing much else delivered to them.

But what then of the oh-so-charming and deep timbres of public radio? Ack, I feel as though we’re still shouting, albeit with a lower volume. You still can’t hear me, can you? I gotta admit that there’s times when I feel the underwriting is just there to let the government off the hook for fully funding a public broadcaster. Trial lawyers, local doctors, investment companies, and the Childbloom Guitar Program. Yep, we hock them all.

So, what is the purpose of all those ever-so-important sounding NPR broadcasts? Can any listener ever say they enjoy hearing about the minutia of snail darters, about the water systems in Darfur, and the strenuous importance of damage to the ocean floor?

Sure, you feel better. You tell yourself you’re smarter. You tell other people you’re smarter. And, maybe you are, but is it only out of duty that you listen? To be fully civic and responsible?

No, you don’t feel entertained, relaxed or blissfully enraptured by the sheer audaciousness of anything that NPR broadcasts! The sameness of it all is deafening. *

Ah, so that leaves college and community radio. Amateur hour. The most uneven, unenduring, unpredictable, pointless spot on the dial. You may never know what gems you’ll discover in the rough, because no-one has that much staying power. Can you last through the endless stretches of abandon where you wonder if there ever was a fairway of harmony, melody, and rhythm?

What was that purpose, that flag, that coordinate? Remind me once again, if you please. Was it the alternative in the Fresh River Valley? The alternative to what? To the mainstream? To what real listeners choose to listen to? Maybe it was to be anti. Just for the sake of it. But, as soon as you knew what you were against, then there's a whole new striving to be different all over again. Nope, we were never with us, nor against us.

And, still the underwriting continues. Even on college radio they’re still trying to sell you stuff. By way of clever association, for sure. But, the store is still open and you're expected to pucker up and swallow all the same.

OK, there are the philanthropic sorts out there who sponsor it all because they think it is the right thing to do. Good for them, I hope they sleep better at night. But, I seriously doubt they know exactly what particular hour of sonic assault they bought. Not that it matters, because neither will most anybody else except the DJ.

The whole notion of building an audience, that I can understand. Requiring something of the listener, in ways of actively engaging them in a dialogue. I can’t help but feel that treating the audience with respect also means not treating them as a means to something else.

Sure, art must pays its own way. But, those ads, that talk, that philanthropic pandering, it all clouds the creativity. And the clarity of true broadcasting gets lost in the noise.

* And, don’t think it’s all that much better over the pond. I’ve spent the better part of the last two months listening to the BBC. Beyond the I’m smarter-than-you, plum-in-the-mouth, sanctimonious self-importance that you would expect from the British, its still the same pitiful blather. Now, it might be the mellifluous blather of the Asian Network, the rap-infused patter of 1Xtra, or the smug prat-boy blather of the ultra-hip 6Music, but it all seems an equally pointless exercise in filling newly created hours of dead air. I admit I do like Radio 1, particularly Gilles Peterson, Annie Nightingale, and Mary Anne Hobbs, if only I could work up the effort to listen in.

It All Comes Down to One Man and his Rocket Launcher

"Private Zed!"

"Sir! Yes sir!"

"Where is CKG?"

"Blown up, sir!"

"Where is Bronco Billy?"

"He has a bad case of the flu, sir!"

"Private Zed, this blog MUST ADVANCE! Now stow that beer, pick up that rocket launcher and ADVANCE!"

"Well I..."



Tuesday, January 29, 2008

A Conversation With Our Silent Partner

* The following exchange recently took place in a nondescript music store in a nondescript strip mall on a quiet stretch of road connecting Nowhere and Not Much Else.

Whapitty whap whap!

(went my hands on the bongo drums)

Whapitty whap WHAP!

"Whoa whoa whoa! Pardon me, but we have a strict policy concerning the handling of the instruments. An employee of CKG's Music Exchange must be present. Now, may I help you?"

"Figured I'd find you here," I replied. "We put the band back together, remember? Or did you forget already?'

"The band?"

"Yes, the band. You, me and Zed. The band. The people want the show. You know what the blog is like without you being a foil to me and Zed? It's like The Muppet Show without Statler and Waldorf. We need you man. We need you to remind us that we're wrong. That we're full of crap."

"You're wrong and you're full of crap. You are both unrefined and ill-mannered Philistines whose failure to engage in original thought is rivaled only by your failure to engage in regular deodorant use."

"See? See how easy that was?"

"Still riding around in that Ford P.O.S. with all those Rush cassettes?"

"Hey man, In the Mood never goes out of style."

"Care to poll anybody with a high school diploma on that one?"

"See? This is what I'm talking about. This is what's missing from the blog. You need to swing by, if only to leave snarky comments. It's a group blog, remember? It ain't supposed to be Waiting for Godot."

"Well, I'm refurbishing a tenor for David Murray and then I need to work on that piano that Cecil Taylor beat all to hell, but after that I'll try to stop by."

"Sounds good. I'll grab the beer and let Zed pick the wine. See you soon."

"Just one thing man. The bongos? Don't ever do that again. You break it - you bought it. And besides, don't forget what Duke said."

"I got it. I'm good. I'm gone."

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Gift that Keeps Giving.

I’ve been accused of being bull-headed, of having a fiery temperament worthy of a redhead, and a stubbornness born of an Ox. Meh, I’m an Aries. So a town that celebrates the bull? Sounds like my sort of place!

She didn’t want my help; she was scared.

As the old lady tripped and fell stepping up to the bus, I dashed forward to play the shining role of Prince Savior. Now the town of Rakvere, Estonia doesn’t see a lot of foreign tourists. But somehow I still felt the need to rush in, collect up the lady’s spilled groceries, and put out my hand to help her up.

She just looked at me as though I was born-on-the-other-side-of-the-planet, hostile, and threatening. Shrinking back, getting frailer as she cowered. From inside the bus I heard gasps of “ameeriklane”. Safely assisted from inside, the doors closed and the saga drove away. Me? I was left playing the fool, holding her recycled toilet paper, wondering what cultural insult I had made this time. I was just another dumb American tourist!

There’s something about travel that emboldens the mind and weakens the hesitancy of even the most reserved. It’s implicit in the notion of travel – of stepping out of the familiar, going places and seeing the unexpected, putting yourself at some small amount of social disorientation.

But, we needn’t impose those conditions on those we visit. It is their lives that we want to experience, not our own. It is their cities that hold the charm when ours have almost completely lost any. We don’t want to turn true gems of the world into yet another Tijuana, but everywhere we go we misbehave.

More than once I have wanted to cry out: why can’t we leave ourselves at home? Because there’s many a day when I sure wouldn’t want to invite me around and be forced to offer myself gracious hospitality. Thankfully, the world is full of people who think otherwise. And, other than a mis-step or two along the way, I love the travel that is full of open-hearted, generous and brave people.

Funny, but that’s always been the reputation of the fine people of Rakvere, Estonia! Bulls welcome, too!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hell is Not a Destination ...

OK, so you could say it was getting a little chilly around these parts. Or you could say that it was a tad draughty in the ‘nads. Either way, I saddled up the reindeer and pointed his nose south. Way south. Further south than below the Mason-Dixon line. Beyond the punchlines of Dixie. I’m talking about the enveloping warmth and succulent moisture of plantation Florida. Yes, the winds of good fortune had blown me to Mr. Walt’s Playground. A sunnier, brighter world of smiling, happy people.

But, wait. Why the fuck do we travel? Is it just to move around? Sometimes I think its only to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Than here. To get out. To escape. To feel as though you can. Ah, to travel! To hurry up and wait! To line up to be groped! To be forced into take off the crap covered boots, the 10X hat, the big belt buckle, and even the gosh-darned wranglers. And why the fuck do they want to rifle my underwear, anyways?

Please, no more surly customer ‘service’ agents. And, no more gigantic wheeled luggage monsters, that threaten grievous bodily harm to any innocent ankles, shopping bags, or loose poodles that happen to be in their way. I lie awake on the cold, hard plains frightened of these things. Really, I do.

Perhaps Disney is right. Travel is where dream come true. Where we suspend belief in the mundane, as we encounter the unfamiliar. There is always that delicious, unsettling feeling that we don’t quite know what is going on. One must, therefore, resort to a firm belief in yourself. To construct a world (of magical possibilities?) where we are solidly at the center. All in the fervent belief that then people will pay attention to us and we can feel as though we are important. Powerful. And, indeed, there is a long imperial tradition of visiting somewhere, seeing something you like, and buying up a whole farmload of it. Land, gold, well-behaved housemaids. You name it, and we’re off to ‘discover’ it and have our cake, too.

So, go west young man. We live in wealthy times, in times of little significance. Travel is not the great equalizer, but the ultimate exercise in consumption. You can buy your own importance, on your terms. Its all about you, right here, right now.

Except when your flight is delayed. And suddenly you feel impotent all over again.

* Mickey says to say Hi to y’all and wants to know when you’se is gonna come visit!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Beware the Vile Red State Temptresses of the Blue State District

Well, it may have been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon, but it's been downright comatose around this blog. I was expectin' more whoopin' and hollerin' and shootin' guns in the air, and instead we end up turning this damn thing into "Iron John" online and then forget about it altogether.

Downright pathetic, tell you. In fact, it's just about enough to make a man look into the mirror and slap the shit out of his reflection.

So instead, let me tell you little cowpokes a little story. A story about how for the second consecutive weekend, your pal Bronco Billy got hit on by a Republican. I mean I'm sitting there at the bar and before I know it, this assertive blonde-haired woman with a security clearance the size of Nebraska who looks me straight in the eye when she talks to me is noticing that I need another drink and is doing something about it. She's talking to me about her condo, her enormous LCD TV, and John McCain. I feel my head to begin to spin, and before I know it, I'm having an out-of-body experience.

Must escape this evil... Must not allow this insidious political doctrine to regain foothold in my psyche...

Now we both need drinks, and Mama didn't raise no impolite cowboys, so I order us up a couple more. Now we're talking about terrorism, and the FBI, and when it's okay to "take out the bad guys." And I'm not really arguing with her that much.

Sweet mercy, what in the name of Howard Zinn is going on here?!?!?!

It's now well past the time I planned on heading out and our drinks are empty again. Decision time. And then I hear a voice in my head as clear as day. As clear as Luke heard Ben Kenobi. (I'm not sure, but based on the accent, I think it was the voice of Ted Kennedy.) And what the voice said to me was this:

"Run, Bronco Billy! Run!"

And so after exchanging some concluding pleasantries, I did just that. I hit the door of that saloon, got on my horse and didn't look back. The next day I relayed this story to an old friend of mine, and he says to me, "Well, that's two weeks in a row. I can't figure if these Republican women are looking for a guy or just looking for a reformation project. I guess it doesn't really matter though."

"Why doesn't it matter?" I asked him, not realizing I had walked right into his punchline.

"Because in the mind of a woman," he said, "Aren't they the same thing?"

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Are We Not Men?

Being a guy being a guy, is a tough gig these days. If we're not being accused of insensitivity and we're not being accused of being sexist, then we're considered boorish and rude. Its almost as though the men of the world are being driven out of the mainstream, cleansing our society of its aggressive, competitive, patriarchal core. It's all enough to make you want to own up to your innermost thoughts and cares, to get in touch with the real you, and to open up and share all with five or six of your closest confidantes.

We don't do that, do we? Or, at least real men don't. We're not going to let some tender, caring, attractive intellect get inside our shell. We're men, dammit. Strong, independent, and proud.

OK, so if our manly traits and domineering characters are so distasteful and unattractive, why are we this way? Could it be that there is a purpose to all of our worst tendencies? Even the belching, farting, and general loutish aromas?

I've been thinking a bunch about how hard it is to escape who we really are. As I age (as I mature?), I find myself becoming more and more like my parents. And I am finding more and more of my mannerisms are just like what my mother and father would do. I am limited to a greater extent by my physical abilities, or increasing lack thereof. And I am regressing back to the simpler range of pleasures than I ever used to.

The constant search and reinvention of identity inevitably leads one back. To family, heritage, and 'your people'. Partly, it's nostalgia and a naive romantic hankering for an earlier, easier time. And, partly its surrounding yourself with people who understand you, recognize your cultural tics, and expect you to behave just like one of the tribe. But, it can all end up reinforcing your worst tendencies. You're forgiven much in the name of 'that's just how we are'.

I always thought I got my bluntness from my mother. She's a strong, independent, and private person, who's not afraid to offer her opinions. It is said she sees the world in black and white, a world in which she is most always right. Cutting to the bone, she offers insightful advice and down-to-earth perspectives that eschew niceties, hype, and pretense. She simply tells it how it is, whether you are ready to hear it or not. Pretty manly stuff, really. Virtuous character that I aspire to.

Then, at my Dad's memorial service, a long train of colleagues, friends, and foes all spoke of his directness, his tenacity, and his intellectual prowess. I guess, therefore, I'm screwed. Bluntness on both sides, a heritage of un-PC, independent gruffness. Pretty hard to live with, but I'm proud to be the man I was raised to be. Traditionalist or sensitive new-age guy, I dunno.

So, my question to my compadres is, what does it mean to be a man?

p.s. I really didn't mean this to be the topic of my first post. But, I know the Order of Murtaugh. And I've been reading the slightly cloying come-uppance of Mr. Master of the Universe in How Starbucks Saved My Life (Michael Gates Gill). I'll probably get slammed for the post, but I'm man enough to take it.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Order of Murtaugh

The Order of Murtaugh is one of the world's oldest yet least known fraternities. Throughout the centuries it has recruited quietly and serendipitously, waiting for prospective members to, of their own accord and initiative, utter the secret phrase that affirms their worthiness.

Upon hearing the "Holy Utterance" spoken in their presence, current members of the Order of Murtaugh will stealthily approach the speaker to confirm that they meet the minimum age requirement and are of suitable demeanor. If they do, they are given a cryptic business card containing only a phone number.

A couple weeks ago, after completing a strenuous 45-minute run, I leaned hard against a telephone pole gasping for oxygen and said to no one in particular, "I'm getting too old for this shit."

I didn't know it at the time, but it was statement that would change my life.

A man out walking his dog quietly approached me, handed me a business card, and very matter-of-factly said, "You need to call this number." Intrigued, I did so.

I am pleased to report that having recently passed the Rites of Initiation, I too am now a proud member of the Order of Murtaugh, the order of "guys who are getting too old for this shit."

Now some of you may be thinking, "That's absurd. Murtaugh was character from the Lethal Weapon movie franchise." What you don't realize is that "coincidence" is in fact a secret Hollywood nod to our great and noble founder, the forgotten ancient Emperor Murtaugh who, while repelling an especially large barbarian invasion, was reported in the great oral histories to have said to his closest advisors, "I'm getting too old for this shit."

And thus, a legend was born. A legend that would repeat itself several times over history. Examples include George Washington while crossing the Delaware River, General Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville, Winston Churchill during the Blitz, John Wayne during the filming of Cahill: US Marshall, and Lance Armstrong in the Alps during his final Tour de France. All great men, and all members of the Order of Murtaugh who, at the precipice of defeat muttered, "I'm getting too old for this shit," and succeeded anyway.

Because I am still new to this organization, there are many rituals I have not yet learned, but as best as I can tell, most rituals involve five steps:

1. Griping about something.
2. Taking a swig from your beer bottle.
3. Setting the beer bottle back on the table forcefully.
4. Waiting three seconds.
5. Saying the Holy Utterance.

Generally speaking, I've never been a big fan of societies or fraternities, but something tells me I'm going to like this one...