Archive for December, 2004

Anne Marie wrote the following quote. She is one of my favorite people and so I gave her question some thought in the useless roundabout way at which I excel:

“Anyway…yeah…sometimes I wonder what the hell I’m doin here in Germany…wasting time getting a masters that, actually, I am not sure if I like it because all I dream about now is opening a restaurant in the south of Italy somewhere…do you have some advice for me…I’ll take some if you’re handing it out Elliott…”

I am not a big fan of giving out advice, although it has its uses. Fortune cookies give advice. Only friends can support each other.

Your dream of opening a restaurant in Southern Italy sounds a lot like my dream of opening a traveler’s hostel in Eastern Europe.

I’ve deconstructed my dream a lot. Is it a dream of escape? My form of a primal subconscious dream to escape the responsibilities of life? I’m sure everyone has such a dream in some form. Does anyone every follow it and if so at what price?

Is it simply a fantasy that serves as an outlet for everything in my life that isn’t what I want it to be? In that case the dream is just a symbol of what more I want to achieve, and is safe because it is distant and can take on whichever qualities I need it to at the time. If that is the case, then following my fantasy wouldn’t satisy it. I would simply invent another one.

Is it a dream of fulfillment? Do I actually, in practice, prefer that life to this one I now live? Would I embrace the advantages and accept the disadvantages of that life better than the one I have in the US?

I’m not so sure any of those are the answer, probably some combination and a few things I’ve never thought of.

I used to talk to Peter all the time about the “right” thing to do…or actually he used to talk to me. He always did, and often still does, refer to his decisions in terms of right and wrong…as if there is some objective measure or a predetermined path to discover and fulfill.

I never understood that thinking. To me there is very rarely right and wrong…only many options, each with their pros and cons, but none of them is RIGHT in any objective sense…not even RIGHT in a subjective sense. Better or worse sometimes, yes…but right or wrong??? History books decide that, and they are written by the winners and so aren’t to be trusted. And no one has hindsight of the future.

At the time, there is only a decision, and how firmly and whole-heartedly you commit to it.

Of course, given a bit of time, I could deconstruct that statement too. I think the point here, if there even is one, is not to listen too much to what I have to say. I know I don’t.

Ask Peter, he might be able to give you the right answer.

Comments 2 Comments »

It seems we take for granted that technology is moving forward at a breakneck pace. Everyday there is a new discovery, a new gadget, a new medicine…all better, faster and, of course more expensive, than the ones before.

I admit I get caught up in it too. I mean shit…we’ve got robots on Mars, animal cloning, genetically modified foods, infinitely fast computers, new drugs hitting the market everyday, commercial space flight, nuclear power, and cell phones the size of a credit card.

Do you guys remember few years ago they grew a human ear on the back of a lab rat?? They put human genes in a rat and made it grow a flipping ear on its back!! Even I have to say that is really freaky.

Anyway, I could go on with gazzillions of examples of all the unbelievable things technology and science are doing, but I’ve already listed enough to make my point: What freaking good do any of them do us?

I’m not discounting the value of science or saying that one day some of it might not produce significant results….but right now, all the “unprecedented progress” of the past 30 years is just so much HYPE.

I like my computer. I like my cell phone better than a phone attached to a wall….but my life is not really improved because of these things….and that is the real point. Life is not significantly better because of these dizzying science fiction advances.

Here are some real inventions:


I mean with a refrigerator, we go from eating spoiled, rancid food which will eventually kill us, or gorging on whatever fresh food we occasionally find, to being able to regularly get fresh fruits, vegetables and meat. It transforms life from “Feast or Famine” to “eat whenever you feel like it”.

The first known artificial refrigeration was demonstrated by William Cullen at the University of Glasgow in 1748. However, he did not use his discovery for any practical purpose.

In 1805, an American inventor, Oliver Evans, designed the first refrigeration machine. In 1876 German engineer Carl von Linden patented the process of liquifying gas that is still part of basic refrigeration technology. Finally, in 1918 Kelvinator marketed the first practical home refrigerator.

— The moral is that it was over a hundred years before the discovery made it into the lives of popular folks, thus improving our lives…alot.

Indoor Plumbing/Public Sewage:

Man…this one was a master stroke. We go from shitting in the woods, polluting our own water supplies and dying of thirst… porcelain flushing toilets and a near unlimited supply of clean water. That, my friends, is real progresss.

Over 2,800 years ago, the fabled King Minos of Crete owned the world’s first flushing water closet, complete with a wooden seat. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world, was made possible by a sophisticated irrigation system. In essense, any ancient civilization worth a crap (no pun intended) was capable of public water systems.

It seems the idea of toilets didn’t materialize again (on record at least) until thousands of years later, in 1594. Sir John Harington built a “privie in perfection” for his godmother, Queen Elizabeth, to use in Richmond Palace, and one for himself at his humbler estate.

Then a few hundred years goes by again, during which time only royalty had access to private toilets and sewage systems. The idea of public water/sewage popped up again in England, and then in the US in the early 1800s.

Engineer Julius W. Adams provided the framework upon which modern sewerage is based. In 1857, Adams was commissioned to sewer the city of Brooklyn, which then covered 20 square miles. Chicago is credited with having the first comprehensive sewerage project in the country (designed by E. S. Chesbrough in 1885), based on the New York model.

Although the country’s first bathtub was commissioned in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1842, it wasn’t until the 1920s that bathrooms finally began to take off for regular folk. Even in 1950, 35% of dwellings lacked full indoor plumbing.

An outbreak of amoebic dysentery in Chicago during the 1933 World’s Fair was traced to faulty plumbing in just two hotels. The tragic results were 98 deaths and 1,409 official cases.

So let’s rally around toilets. They’re the shit….even though this time it took thousands of years from the time of conception to the time the average person got to take advantage.


I love this one. The next greatest drug is introduced every single day. However, as I am quick to remind people, the death rate of humans is holding steady at 100%….despite the multi-billion dollar drug industry.

Alexander Fleming “invented” penicillin in 1928…or rather he noticed that a blue mold killed bacteria in a petri dish in 1928. However, it wasn’t until 1940 that it was isolated for medicinal purposes. It was first widely used in WWII.

I studied Microbiology in college. Want to know what human achievement has saved more lives than all drugs combined? Sanitation.

Clean water and unspoiled food are the best drugs we’ll ever invent.

Get your head around this:

Notice that life expectancy is relatively high (around 50 years) in the paleolithic era and then it drops. Why is that? Well, the “invention” of agriculture allowed us to move closer to each other since larger concentrations of food were, for the first time, possible in the same area.

That was bad. People died earlier. Why? Simple….people get sick and when there are a lot of other people around….they get sick too. People are hazardous to your health.

Also notice that, despite prozac, lipitor, wellbutrin, celebrex, kryptonite, megatron, bowflex, and any other number of modern, and very expensive, medicines……the average life span has not skyrocketed.

The fact that it has gone up at all is mostly lifestyle and nutrionally related… has little to do with pills or surgeries.

The Car:

The freaking car!! I might accept a bit of debate on this one; however, overall this has been an awesome advance. This is the beginning of transportation, the beginning of availability, and an integral part of what makes modern life possible.

Horses work well, but cars make us go…and more importantly the internal combustion engine makes transport of goods possible. What good is a refrigerator to store fresh foods if you have no method of transport to get them to you?

Karl Benz (of Mercedes-Benz fame) was the German mechanical engineer who designed and built the world’s first practical automobile to be powered by an internal-combustion engine in 1885.

Henry Ford incorporated the Ford Motor Company in 1903, proclaiming, “I will build a car for the great multitude.” In October 1908, he did so, offering the Model T for $950. In the Model T’s nineteen years of production, its price dipped as low as $280.

Cars are very modern by most reckonings, but really most of the significant inventions mankind ever made all happened in a very small time frame…from the late 1800s to early 1900s.

The Telephone:

Uhh…this one is a no-brainer. I wouldn’t say the telephone lineage that makes it possible for us to talk on our cell phones while stuck in traffic is a particular boon….but the telephone is the beginning of the communications revolution….forget the Internet.

What good is an engine to transport goods to your refrigerator (which itself is no good without public water) without a telephone to tell the fruit farmer in California or the meat broker on the midwest plains that you need it? Although at that time, it was likely the telegraph, not the telephone that was doing the communicating.

In the 1870s, Alexander Graham Bell patented, not invented, the telephone. It seems Mr. Bell was standing on the shoulders of giants because I can’t find much history to this invention.

Antonio Meucci was the real inventor. He was a doctor by trade and through medical research realized that one could transmit voice via wire, and between 1850 and 1862 he developed at least 30 different models of telephone, although he was too poor to protect his inventions with a patent. I can’t find any history before that.

I think I’m beginning to see a trend….all these inventions depend on each other in large part to be useful. By themselves they are just mildly interesting. In conjunction they allow us to move from death by malnutrition to death by obesity in 100 years.

Actually, it was only about 50 years around the turn on the 20th century. We haven’t done jack shit that has paid off in the last 50 years….although based on the timeline of the other inventions, the latest wave won’t really start to pay off for the average person for a few decades yet. Right now we’re just muddling about, stiring the same tea cup of old discoveries, looking for a way to grow a fucking ear on a rat’s back!!

My point is that these technologies are not producing significant improvements in the quality of life of the average person. They are incremental advancements at best. Their “whiz-bang” factor is off the charts, but their value is debatable.

What does the discovery of water on Mars have to do with me?? Absolutely nothing…and those dying of thirst in Africa have about as much use for the water on Mars as they do for space flight, global positioning satellites and any other number of modern wonders. They might be interested if the water could somehow find itself from Mars in the spaceship using GPS and then wind up in their desert hut….they still wouldn’t have a refrigerator though.

And don’t think I have the rose colored “good ol’ days” glasses on. I don’t think past inventions are inherently better than the present ones anymore than I think music, movies, people’s values, or any other number of things were nececssarily better in the past.

I’m just saying when you get right down to the old “what is this doing for me” litmus test……today’s science is just so much volleyball.

Comments 3 Comments »

I vaguely remember myself when I used to have that much fun. That guy was mostly a rock star, and did what he wanted when he wanted….and everyone loved him for it.

The difference between that person and me is mostly psychological…but not altogether. Life changes….or perhaps we change and so our life seems to….which still makes the difference mostly psychological I suppose.

Anyway, as I toil away my days in the “real world”, middling about full of energy, bursting at the seams with nervous action of uncertain purpose….I am reminded of this person sometimes…….and wonder what happens that causes me to forget.

I am sure that it is the unrelenting barrage of non-events that makes up my daily life. Simply put, they wear me down….and sap the energy that makes me able to rise up.

Not that I am not full of activity and random achievement. Everyday is full to the brim with a spate of buzzing movement and exhaustive effort. When people ask me to do something, I really do have to check my schedule.

The non-events are like a hail of miniature ice picks, bleeding away my will to do anything but drink a beer and watch some TV….a welcome break from the endless snow storm of my life.

However, there is certainly a degree of romanticism to that person I was. His life was very tiresome and full of questions as well…but at least at the end of all that, although no closer to any answer, my story unfolded a little more….I was a little more myself than I was before.

These days end with me no closer to who I can be. They are spent mostly trying to be a little more of what everyone else already is. I have little to offer to that life.

I was at Ein Gedi in 1996 and was talking to Mark from South Africa, the good Mark, and he told me one night very drunk so I knew it was the truth, “I just want to be somebody. That’s part of why I travel. I want to do something special that makes me different….unique.”

I was really drunk that night too (big surprise) and told him something that is truer now than it was then. I said, “When you’re somebody wanting to be somebody different you do things that no one else does to set yourself apart. When you’re really different, you don’t do different things anymore…all you want to do is feel like everybody else.”

Take a look at the picture. Do any of you guys remember that person?? What would you say to him?

I don’t even know what I would say to him. “Keep going,” perhaps…or maybe, “Grow up you fucking Peter Pan,” but both of those are tough roads to hoe. How do you erase the baggage of your life??

That is a good question.

Comments 5 Comments »