Faced with the Page, with the Screen

Due to the spiked Virus, we’ve all been faced, some more reluctantly than others, with the screen. The awkward silences or the sudden cacophony on a Zoom Meet Team. The face or its absence, whether you choose to share or not.

The corners of acquaintances ceilings in HD.

But ain’t nothing like being faced with the blank page, brother.

I can’t image the feeling of dying alone behind a drab hospital curtain, cold white lights noises blaring, only some eyes dimly seen beyond a mask holding themselves away from you. Loved ones so far away you can’t hold them. The world receding. I can’t imagine it until it happens to me or someone I love. I don’t want to.

Until I sit here in the night with chartreuse in my glass, confronted by this blank page.

No, no, no. I resist. I haven’t lost someone close to me yet. I’m bunkered up in my comfort. I got a chaise to attach to my 10 year old Kivik.

The last bomb fell the next house over. We are invincible, we carry on.

The numbers are unimaginable here. 700 something each day, as the Governor says something reassuring about less hospitalizations.

7,905 deaths so far today, and that’s lowballing it, because we’re only counting those who were confirmed, who crawled into the hospital wheezing, not the ones who stayed home and didn’t make it.

It’s so big it’s unimaginable. My mind can’t wrap itself around it. So I savor the small moments, the sight of green leaves budding on the trees, the spring flowers in full bloom, the petrichor after a storm, the blessedness of a park of a balcony of a walk of a family of a phonecall from a friend of the savor of the words that wend from my fingers typing into this blank space where I have never been alone but have always been afraid to say what I actually feel because.

Let’s meet here again tomorrow.

Where I Am, Virtually Speaking

I was speaking with an old friend who called out of the blue yesterday, and she spoke to my soul about how the thing we all need the most right now, in this time of pandemic and uncertainty and confinement, are words. Written words, reflective words, words that move us beyond the veneer into a meaning that re-centers us. And she is right.

Dammit, brethren, I haven’t written a post on this blog since October 1, 2018! A lot has changed for me since that time of the mouse in that apartment in that neighborhood, and a lot has most certainly changed in the world.

Let me bring it back to first principles. What this blog was meant to be, in its original instantiation, was the haphazard gyrations of a mind struggling to come back to terms with each moment in which it was confronted with a blank screen. This sort of writing has been what has kept me alive for a good portion of my young adult life. I needed it, like I needed the used CDs at Rhino Records and live music every week.

I don’t see live music anymore, either. I’ve become a dad of two, a bureaucrat, a co-op owner. People, I write and read education blogs and tweets on the outskirts of my waking time. That’s the kind of person I’ve become.

But I still get excited about a glass of Chartreuse, increasingly rare.

But you want me to say something about this moment of global trepidation we’re in, don’t you. You don’t care about my middle aged haze of contentment. You want soulful depths of edgy reflectiveness that will take you past my own navel.

Let’s give this a shot. The moon hovers pastel and solemn over the balcony railing. Its mountains and valleys I squint to hold in my mind’s eye but can’t. Over the horizon of an earth too big for me to know. Because there’s the next day, and its weather, to consider. An allotment of meetings and things I should do that I don’t really want to do, and some things I’m excited about that I don’t feel I have my own permission to embark on, and there’s always the holes that were ripped in the walls where the children pulled the drapes down and the lights that we need to measure and decide and mull over where to place. Wait.

Wait. There I go again. It’s caught me up. My life. My small life with all its immediate small tasks undone that keep me limited, uncaring and ungrateful for the fragile and beautiful existence I share within this world. The fact that I exist at all, that we exist at all, on this planet, in this time, with the space and means to know it if we so choose, which we don’t.

But that’s not right, either. My life isn’t uncaring or ungrateful—I think nearly every second how full my heart is as I touch my son’s face or stroke my daughter’s hair, how much I love the sound of their laughter, the joy they take in each other, in the presence of their mother and father, in the presence of being awake and alive, so painful at times and fraught with temporary anger but full with feeling.

Deep breath. It’s that I don’t stop to really say it, to myself, to you. I say it in my mind, in my heart. I really do. I love being alive. I love my family, I love looking at the treetops from my balcony, catching a glimpse of the changing light into sunset from my bedroom window, the color of the paints I’ve chosen and applied to the walls and the way they change with the light. Catching my son or daughter’s eye and making them smile. Reading books to them. It makes my heart full, each and every day. In the midst of all the panic, and the exhaustion, and the news.

So yes, the world is fraught right now, and part of me is terrified and angry about the frailness of our world and nation, that we are so easily dominated by greed. And part of me is in awe of how we have been brought to our knees by a tiny spiked virus. But another part of me is in love with the time I have with my family, in this coop in the Bronx where we’ve hammered down our stakes.

Our world has become smaller in this time of the coronavirus pandemic. I will never make light of the loved ones lost, nor of the fear that we have for our loved ones most at risk. But this smallness can help us see the beauty that we have before us, however small, however fleeting, however unimportant to anyone but ourselves and each other.

I don’t think I’ve said it. But I’m rusty, friends. Forgive me. And please write down some words to share with yourself with me.

I Failed in My Face-Off With the Mouse

I have now lived in NYC for over a decade, a fact which still surprises me when it happens to arise in my awareness.

Has it really been that long? Why the hell am I still here?

Anyway, in a prior lifetime, when I lived and worked at a conference center adjoining a wilderness in South Lake Tahoe, as part of my duties then I used to kill mice. Quite a lot of them, in fact. Literally, buckets full of mice. I won’t elaborate.

When I moved to NYC and first encountered a mouse family in our living quarters, I thought, hey, no problem, I know how to deal with this. I quickly learned how naive I was.

NYC mice are not inbred country mice. They are not fooled by silly mouse traps. They are not fooled by silly buckets of water with wire hangers strung atop them and a little toilet paper roll and dab of peanut butter with a cardboard ramp leading up to it. Please.

In the apartment we live in now, fortunately mice have not been a huge issue, but ever since the super did work on our bathroom and tore up the floor we have been visited by the occasional mouse who will take up residence.

Every now and then, I do get lucky with a normal snap trap, so it’s always worth a shot, but some mice are wise to such basic contraptions and will have nothing to do with it, no matter what manner of enticement.

What It Takes to Kill a NYC Mouse

To give some context on what it takes to kill a bionic NYC mouse, the last one we had I only managed to kill through pure luck and poor decision-making on its part.

Traps were not working. And the mouse was growing increasingly brazen. I opened up my parrot’s cage floor one day to find the mouse just laying there staring up at me like, what, dude, you’re bothering me. And then he scurried away before I could gather my wits.

Finally, I got fed up, when I saw him meandering over to the sofa one evening, I told myself I would not let him get away. I turned on lights, keeping the escape routes monitored, as I grabbed the broom. I beat around the sofa like a maniac, then finally lifted up the sofa and searched underneath. He was nowhere to be found. Somehow, he had gotten away. How was this possible? I had my senses sharpened to a fine sheen of killer awareness. He had not run from the area. He had to be somewhere nearby.

I examined the insides of the sofa, I beat the cushions, I whacked the wooden frame. I scanned the room.

And then I saw it. A little lump in the rug where the sofa had been. Could it be? No, it couldn’t be. But just to make sure, I stomped around on it. It felt solid. It felt like something. I stomped and pressed hard on it again, for good measure, then lifted the rug.

I had killed the mouse through the sheer good luck that he had decided to leap into a gap in the rug as I had pulled up the sofa, then got stuck. I happily scraped his remains from the bottom of the rug.

I was pretty stoked about that. While I know that kill was primarily attributable to happenstance, I do think there was an element of will there, as well. You can’t give up when it comes to killing NYC mice. You need to be persistent, and take advantage of any opportunity that comes your way. When you see the mouse, you need to spring into action, grabbing any weapon that is near.

If there are no weapons available, you must use your hands. You must use your feet.

My Grit Is Put To the Test

Our apartment has again been occupied by a mouse for the last month or so. Yet this mouse has been extraordinarily stealthy. The only glimpses I’ve had of him have been so fleeting that I think I’m just seeing a figment of my imagination. A soaring, silent shadow that flits in the corner of your eye across the kitchen floor. Like one of those flying ninjas in a classic kung fu movie.

He also didn’t leave much evidence of his presence. There were droppings, but they were so intermittent and variable that you were never sure if they were actually droppings. I only grew sure of his presence when I heard a rustling in the recycling bag one evening and he jumped out when I went to investigate.

And mice have a certain kind of smell, a smell that becomes more defined after it rains. It’s a smell that makes you think of sewers and dark wet places. Once you smell it you know. Though you pretend. You hope, until you actually see it, and then you despair.

Like the prior mouse, traps meant nothing to him. He was not interested.

I’ve been staying up later, trying to maximize the precious work time I have after putting my son to bed and finishing up the dishes. My wife had long gone to bed. After getting a bit of writing done, I wearily trudged into the bathroom to get ready for bed. As I entered, I heard a noise, and looked, and there was the shadow, flitting away into the corner.

I had him. I had him cornered. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. There was nowhere to escape. Other than through the door, where I stood. I pushed the door closed as much as I could (it doesn’t fully close), and frantically looked about for a weapon at hand.

There was nothing. Nothing but the flip-flops on my feet.

I took up my right flip-flop and held it poised. I turned on the flashlight on my smartphone and waved it into the little alcove where the toilet and trashcan stood, where he lay pressed into a corner, listening, waiting, frightened.

He slipped out and we examined each other. He was a relatively large mouse. I waved my flip-flop at him menacingly, and he returned to behind the trash can. He was cornered. And he knew it.

I banged the trash can and out he leaped! He rushed at me to go for the door, and I panicked! I wasn’t ready to smash him with my bare foot. I swatted at him with my flip-flop. He tried wiggling into the corner of the door, but couldn’t get through. He flipped and dove into the side behind the sink cabinet.

Adrenaline coursed through my body. I’ve got you, you little shit, I thought, gritting my teeth. He leaped out again from behind the sink and again I swatted at him, missing by a mile. I wasn’t ready to stomp on him. I dodged him instead. He returned to behind the toilet.

I swatted at the trash can, and again out he scurried, and again he tried the door in fright and couldn’t get through, scraping frenziedly at it with his claws but this time instead of going behind the sink, he ran to that pipe in the corner that brings heat, a pipe that runs from the ceiling to floor. There’s a janky little loose cover around it on the floor, and he dove underneath, searching for a hole.

The cover in question. And yes, our bathroom is this hideous.

I had him! I banged at that cover like a madman, and it made a metallic ping as it bounced between my flip-flop and the tile. My son woke up and began to wail in the bedroom, and my wife yelled at me in frustration, what the hell are you doing?!, and she got up and approached the door.

Don’t open it! Don’t open the door! I yelled hoarsely, banging at the cover on the floor, making it ping, with my left foot and with my flip-flop in my hand. I banged and I banged. Ping! Ping! The mouse stopped moving, his tail dangling out from underneath the cover, I could see it getting squished underneath the cover, I must be getting him! I banged and I stomped.

My wife later told me that in that moment when I yelled out in panic not to open the door she fearfully envisioned me engaged in some strange and solitary sexual act that would make her question everything she knew about me and lead to the subsequent ruin of our marriage.

When I ceased the swatting with my flip-flop, the mouse scurried back out, apparently unphased, and most definitely unsquished. He made one last go at the door, and this time, he squeezed out through the corner, and just like that—he was gone.

My opportunity had been squandered.

In the Aftermath

I feel like I have failed to seize a defining moment in my NYC existence. I had swatted weakly at the mouse, and I flinched when it rushed me, rather than stood my ground and stomped, bare foot or no, when I had the chance.

I could have gotten him if I had not been afraid of his stinky little squishy body touching my bare feet.

I was not ready, my friends. I failed this test. I was not ready to stomp. I was not ready to do whatever it takes.

When you have cornered a mouse, you do not back down. You do not fear its touch, its smell, its eyes.

The mouse lives on. I have begun to set traps again, but without hope, more to demonstrate I am doing something than from any expectation that I will get him.

I will not get him until I have mastered my fear of all that is disgusting. This is NYC. Fear and disgust will not win you your passage.

Will I get this mouse? Will I get lucky? Will he slip-up again and provide me another opportunity?

I don’t know if I have what it takes to stomp, to block the mouse with my body. I will not know until I am faced with the mouse in the corner again—if I am ever given the chance.

So apparently my dad is a badass

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Photo by Anthony on Pexels.com

Badass is not a term I ever would have thought to associate with my dad. Ever.

Yet at a birthday party for my niece a few months ago in San Diego, as we sat eating cake in my sister’s backyard, I was complaining about a noisy upstairs neighbor who blasts his shitty music at all hours of the day and night

My dad told a story of his college years, when he lived in an apartment below a neighbor who would similarly blast his radio. My dad, being the engineer that he is, took his oscillator—because apparently that’s something he just had laying around, as engineering students do—and matched the frequency of the guy’s radio or something, and was able to silence his speakers. And he would keep doing it every time the guy played his music. Finally, the noise stopped. My dad said, chuckling, “I don’t think the guy ever figured out what was going on.”

My dad subsequently brought his dusty old oscillator out of storage in the garage that evening and offered it to me to fly back across to NYC and try out in my own battle against my neighbor. I declined, as 1) I didn’t want to shove an old oscillator into my suitcase; 2) don’t know how to use an oscillator since I’m not an engineering student; and 3) I don’t think an oscillator can combat current music streaming style stereos. Not many listen to radios anymore.

But man, how awesome would it be if I could just short-circuit that asshole neighbor’s speakers from afar?

It was a total fantasy in my head, until I found out that my dad had done it to his neighbor, many decades before me. Hearing this off-hand little vignette gave me newfound respect for my father. Who knew he was actually kind of a geeky badass?

The Fight Against Noise

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In the 1930s, New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia launched a “noiseless nights” campaign aided by sensitive noise-measuring devices stationed throughout the city. New York passed dozens of laws over the next several decades to muzzle the worst offenders, and cities throughout the world followed suit. By the 1970s, governments were treating noise as environmental pollution to be regulated like any industrial byproduct.

Planes were forced to fly higher and slower around populated areas, while factories were required to mitigate the noise they produced. In New York, the Department of Environmental Protection – aided by a van filled with sound-measuring devices and the words “noise makes you nervous & nasty” on the side – went after noisemakers as part of “Operation Soundtrap.”

After Mayor Michael Bloomberg instituted new noise codes in 2007 to ensure “well-deserved peace and quiet,” the city installed hypersensitive listening devices to monitor the soundscape and citizens were encouraged to call 311 to report violations.

Why Are We Always Searching For “A Quiet Place?”,  Matthew Jordan / Smithsonian

I was astounded to learn about historical efforts in NYC to reduce noise since the early 1900s, because from where I sit in my apartment on Broadway, I sure as hell can’t hear any impact from those efforts of yore.

Are those “hypersensitive listening devices” still monitoring the soundscape? Are they being enforced? Because there’s an SUV blasting crappy music so loud the bass shakes my floor passing by every 5 minutes.

There’s a lot of things I’ve adjusted to about living in NYC. But noise is one quality of life issue that never ceases to raise my blood pressure. If there’s one thing that will end up driving me out of the city, it will be that.

It’s been 10 years, NYC

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10 years ago today, my woman and I ventured forth from San Diego to move to NYC, with all our worldly goods crammed in a Budget truck—including my parrot wedged in between us in the cab, screaming his bloody green head off.

As we set out on that auspicious day, I inscribed on this here blog the following sentences:

I’ve spent most of my life coasting along with the way the wind takes me, and settling down into stagnancy when nothing moves, and now, after many tentative forays and excursions, I’m stepping out on my own, with absolutely nothing in sight but what I make mine. I foresee that for a time things will be pretty difficult in certain terms, such as still living under someone else’s roof, and it’s going to take time to find a new job, and it’s going to take time to get used to a completely new world, etc. But all that just seems exciting to me, because at least it’s a challenge to work that much harder to find my place, as opposed to simply waiting for things to come my way.

Things were indeed pretty difficult at first. But it has been exciting. And I’ve worked hard to find my place here, in this dense city that breaks you down to give you the opportunity to build yourself back up.

Countless hours on subways, buses, and pavement across Queens and the Bronx. Lifting boxes, stocking shelves, writing lessons, grading papers, coordinating IEPs.

And here I am now, married to the same rock-solid woman I set out on this intrepid journey with, with a beautiful son, and a career that I love.

Here’s to the future, and to struggle, and to never settling down into stagnancy.

Remain open to things that take time

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The problem with ‘fast action’ is that it presumes a sure way of doing things and a uniformity that, in a pinch, we can accelerate. Just as fast food works for some meals and not for others, we must remain open to things that take time, both for preserving what is of value from the past and taking the time to forge new approaches in the present. The key here is multiplicity, plurality and diversity, which take time.

—Vincenzo Di Nicola, Slow Thought: A Manifesto / Aeon

True Heroism

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I subscribe to The New Yorker, and its diverse and interesting pieces sustain me during my long and varied commutes across buses and trains in the Bronx each day.

A recent piece on explorer and all-around bad-ass Henry Worsley touched a nerve. This is by author David Grann, so it’s great writing, and he has clear admiration for Worsley. Do yourself a favor and read it.

Yet despite also admiring Worsley’s relentless drive and leadership, I ended the piece feeling upset, even angry.

He left behind a wife and two children who loved him fiercely. For what? To trudge across the vast, icy, crevassed expanse of the South Pole on his own in order to fulfil what seems to me a prurient fantasy. That speaks of either immense despair or delusion, not of heroism.

I think it is much more heroic to learn to bear inner demons quietly, while tending to the needs of your family and society.

The loss of a man as strong as Henry Worsley is all the more tragic in consideration of all the good he could still be enacting if he had decided to put his energies towards the ones around him, rather than towards a solo trek across the ice.

—The White Darkness, David Grann / The New Yorker https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2018/02/12/the-white-darkness

Trump, the Chaos Monkey, needs a Truth Demon

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…suppose you were being questioned by the Truth Demon – a super-powerful being who knows the truth on every topic, and will punish you horribly if you give a wrong answer or fail to answer at all. If you continue to assert a claim when the Truth Demon asks you if it is true, then you do really believe it, really think it is true. But if you give a different answer when under threat of torture by the all-knowing demon, then you don’t really believe the claim.

What do you really believe? Take the Truth-Demon Test, Keith Frankish / Aeon

The terror of not knowing

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At Konawaena High School on the Island of Hawaii, where a high school wrestling championship was taking place, school officials, more accustomed to responding to alerts of high surf or tsunamis, moved people to the center of the gym as they tried to figure out how to take shelter from a nuclear missile.

Matttt LoPresti, a state representative, told CNN that he and his family headed for a bathroom. “I was sitting in the bathtub with my children, saying our prayers,” he said.

When I first got the alert from the NY Times about the mistaken ballistic missile warning in Hawaii, I didn’t think much about it, just was like ‘whoops!’

But then I later found out that it took 40 minutes for officials to clarify that it wasn’t real.

Can you imagine what that 40 minutes must have been like for people in Hawaii?

Hawaii Panics After Alert About Incoming Missile Is Sent in Error https://nyti.ms/2EFZccl

And here’s more from The New Yorker:

“After about five minutes, we were visibly upset. My wife was crying, and George, our daughter, wanted to know why. We asked her to come over for a family hug. We explained that we’d heard very bad news that something very, very bad was happening and it had us really, really upset. I don’t think she really understands nuclear Armageddon or ballistic missiles, but she certainly understands that Mommy and Daddy are really upset.

“We continued to fill every container we could find with water for maybe another fifteen or twenty minutes. We tried calling people. My wife tried her father in Chicago three times, got a busy signal. I texted my mother and my twenty-one-year-old daughter. We texted the rest of my wife’s family to say there’s a ballistic missile coming towards Hawaii and it’s not a drill.”

What It Felt Like in Hawaii When Warning of an In-Bound Missile Arrived https://www.newyorker.com/news/as-told-to/what-it-felt-like-in-hawaii-when-warning-of-an-in-bound-missile-arrived

The Opportunities and Risks of Open Sharing

There is an interesting exclusive from WIRED magazine recently that examines a unique international organization, Conflict Armament Research (CAR), that combs through the illicit weapons supply chain that keeps ISIS stocked with deadly weaponry.

There’s also a really interesting subtext of tension that’s present in the piece but not fully illuminated: the tension between how sharing information openly can be a wonderful thing for transparency, but also a dangerous thing in a world of 3D printing, in what is termed in the piece as “the industrial revolution of terrorism.”

Here’s the positive:

Leo Bradley, a retired US Army colonel who once led the fight against IEDs in Afghanistan, tells me that CAR serves as a useful, if perhaps accidental, back door for US officials to publicly discuss topics that are otherwise classified. “We can reference the CAR reports because they’re all open source, and they never reveal US sources and methods,” he says.

Here’s the flipside:

Joshua Pearce, an engineering professor at Michigan Tech University, is an expert in open source hardware (a protocol to create and improve physical objects—like open source code, but for stuff), and he describes ISIS manufacturing as “a very twisted maker culture.” In this future, weapons schematics can be downloaded from the dark web or simply shared via popular encrypted social media services, like WhatsApp. Those files can then be loaded into 3-D metal printers, machines that have become widely available in the past few years and cost as little as a million dollars to set up, to produce weapons with the push of the button.

In other words, freely accessible information and hardware is a double-edged sword. It is only now that we’ve begun to more accurately perceive the risks.

Was Charles Dickens a perv?

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Portrait of a Young Woman, Samuel Worcester Rowse (1822–1901), Courtesy of the MET

I’ve been a pretty voracious reader most of my life, but will admit I’ve never fully read a Dickens’ book before. I think I’ve tried a couple (Oliver Twist, Bleak House) but never made it all the way through. Though the Artful Dodger from the movie has somehow stuck in my psyche nonetheless, as of course Scrooge has.

In any case, I just finished reading A Christmas Carol, which I found enjoyable, but there were a couple of passages where Dickens describes a young woman that struck me as kind of pervy.

Here’s the first one:

Near to the winter fire sat a beautiful young girl, so like that last that Scrooge believed it was the same, until he saw her, now a comely matron, sitting opposite her daughter. The noise in this room was perfectly tumultuous, for there were more children there, than Scrooge in his agitated state of mind could count; and, unlike the celebrated herd in the poem, they were not forty children conducting themselves like one, but every child was conducting itself like forty. The consequences were uproarious beyond belief; but no one seemed to care; on the contrary, the mother and daughter laughed heartily, and enjoyed it very much; and the latter, soon beginning to mingle in the sports, got pillaged by the young brigands most ruthlessly. What would I not have given to be one of them! Though I never could have been so rude, no, no! I wouldn’t for the wealth of all the world have crushed that braided hair, and torn it down; and for the precious little shoe, I wouldn’t have plucked it off, God bless my soul! to save my life. As to measuring her waist in sport, as they did, bold young brood, I couldn’t have done it; I should have expected my arm to have grown round it for a punishment, and never come straight again. And yet I should have dearly liked, I own, to have touched her lips; to have questioned her, that she might have opened them; to have looked upon the lashes of her downcast eyes, and never raised a blush; to have let loose waves of hair, an inch of which would be a keepsake beyond price: in short, I should have liked, I do confess, to have had the lightest licence of a child, and yet to have been man enough to know its value.

Later on, here’s his description of another young woman:

She was very pretty: exceedingly pretty. With a dimpled, surprised-looking, capital face; a ripe little mouth, that seemed made to be kissed—as no doubt it was; all kinds of good little dots about her chin, that melted into one another when she laughed; and the sunniest pair of eyes you ever saw in any little creature’s head. Altogether she was what you would have called provoking, you know; but satisfactory, too. Oh, perfectly satisfactory!

In both these descriptions, the narrator inserts these breathy ejaculations. Not only were they totally unnecessary to the story itself, but when you add in the voyeuristic nature of Scrooge and the reader peering into domestic scenes without the knowledge of those being observed, it becomes even more creepy. As if Dickens is indulging in a momentary bit of a masturbatory fantasy right alongside of the moral journey of his protagonist.

Is this just me? I know he’s writing in a very different era. But . . . well, pretty sure there were more than a large number of women back then who would have said #metoo.

Let 2018 Be the Year

A somber and sober New Year’s reflection on the increasing cynicism this last year of chaos and conformity has wrought.

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Like the rest of you who remain tethered to glowing screens, this year has left me feeling constantly frayed. And like many others, my view of the internet, with its once attendant optimism for the future, has grown increasingly cynical.

I’ve been busy, of course, but peeling away that inevitable excuse, there’s also this to point to for my reticence in writing.

To write, to really write, is to break momentarily free from all that has come before to forge a pathway into the heart of darkness. To rediscover and lay bare the ancient byways that were already there.

But really, we — I — should have known better. Nothing is ever truly proffered for free. Every time we log into a browser, tap into an app, and affix our gaze onto a screen, our every click and swipe and clack of a key is harvested and mined for every last life drop of data. As William S. Burroughs, a professional junkie who would know, once said:

Beware of whores who say they don’t want money. The hell they don’t. What they mean is that they want more money; much more.

It all seems so banal, at first. But what a Faustian bargain it is. We grow not only reliant upon these ephemeral feeds, but addicted. The declension from creator to consumer occurs so subtly that we can almost convince ourselves that we are still creative gods as we color in prescribed, personalized templates administered to us in a drip line from the inner algorithms of a Forbidden City.

Those who control the data, who can mine them for patterns that will narrow the probabilistic outcomes for any given successive moments of time, grow stronger with every reinvestment of attention that we bestow within their encircled domains.

Yet here I am, freely spilling my branded pixels forth onto this particular platform which will be willingly disseminated via instant post grams in the hope that it may gain a stranger’s fleeting approval. So I keep clicking, and feeding, and posturing.

I — we — must still hope for something redemptive. Some Neo love Jesus transmutation that will imbue the raw bestiality of humanity with some kind of higher purpose and meaning.

But I know, we know, you know

that the greatest of power and riches lies within.

However trite, this is a diamond truth forged by star song. So long as this is kept just beyond immediate attention, we fumble in bonds.

Let 2018 be the year in which you and I and we dig closer to the inner flame for longer periods of time for a greater amount of good.

Where have I been? Where has the world been?

It’s been so very long since I’ve posted anything of personally substantive meaning. Where have I been? Where has my heart, my soul, my substance been?

One could easily twist that question right back around to the world wherein we live. Our world has been head suckered down to a bright lit screen. Captivated. Harvested of every life drop of data.

But that’s the world.

My heart and soul has meanwhile been loving every minute I get to spend with my son, who is nearing 7 months at this point. He is a delight to be in the presence of. I draw inward to family.

Writing is also in some ways selfish. Spending time with my son takes clear precedence. And then I’m tired at the end of a long day. Yes, I am getting older.

Complacent, though? No, I am always hungry to be better. My focus shifts from work, to music, to reading, to whatever flits in front of me that seems to be fruitful. But I also seem to be more apt to wait before expending energy on something I’m not so sure will pay off.

I’m working on not wasting my time on something if it doesn’t have any potential future payoff. And if we’re honest, this is what the world, minus the 1 percenters, also needs to work on.

 

Pawns

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Pawn in the Form of an Indian Lady, Courtesy of The Met

“anyone on Facebook is in a sense working for Facebook, adding value to the company. . .
For all the talk about connecting people, building community, and believing in people, Facebook is an advertising company.
. . .even more than it is in the advertising business, Facebook is in the surveillance business. Facebook, in fact, is the biggest surveillance-based enterprise in the history of mankind. It knows far, far more about you than the most intrusive government has ever known about its citizens.”
 You Are the Product, John Lanchester / London Review of Books

SSC

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“No philosopher can explain the sublime better than this, standing between day and night. It was as if this were the moment God said, ‘Let there be light!’ You could not help but feel your specklike existence against the immensity of the mountain, the earth, the universe, and yet still feel your own two feet on the talus, reaffirming your presence amid the grandeur.
 
This was summer at Sierra Camp, perhaps no different than any other camp, but every day felt full of life, and of the relationships that give life meaning.”
 
–Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air

Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better

A country that can’t ensure the daily operation of Penn Station isn’t a country that can prevent transportation gridlock. A country that contracts out the operations of prisons to the lowest private bidder isn’t a country that can rehabilitate its criminals.

Why Canada Is Able to Do Things Better, The Atlantic

Ouch. The truth hurts.

Conservative hypocrisy on government overreach and local control

You can’t have it both ways. Either you are for centralized government regulation (for specific purposes), or you are for little to no government regulation. Whether government regulation should occur at the federal level or state level (or city or county level) is a completely different argument.

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By U.S. Navy photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Michael Sandberg. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Here in the U.S., one of the core tenets of conservative ideology is that the government needs to keep its bureaucratic nose out of individual people’s business. Hence, frequent outcries against federal government “overreach” and rallying calls around “local control.”

Yet there’s some deep tensions that can manifest from this ideology when it’s applied beyond guns and other NIMBYist advocacy. And there’s a hypocrisy that becomes evident when conservatives that espouse such ideology gain power.

To help illuminate what lies behind this anti-government sentiment, let’s first examine an essay published by The Hoover Institution (based on a book of the same name) called “Rugged Individualism: Dead or Alive?

The essay provides a useful term that underpins these concepts: “rugged individualism.” The term, which apparently was coined by Herbert Hoover, highlights the “frontier spirit” of unregulated American expansionism and capitalism.

Yet even within this very essay, which argues explicitly for “rugged individualism,” look closely at the following passage and how when a cherished cause arises, (in this case, the cause of civics education) an argument for government regulation suddenly appears:

“Civic engagement has become a battle cry in education, which is fine—but it needs to be preceded by civic education. The states need to get busy requiring courses in civic education and schools of education should make sure their graduates understand enough of the content of the American system to teach it effectively.

Herein lies the tension between rugged individualism and government regulation. This author’s advocacy for “rugged individualism” hinges around the desire for keeping government out of regulating individual choices. But the minute he turns to the failure in education to consistently adhere to a structured and sequential curriculum of knowledge, guess what he suggests? The government needs to require it!

Yet this call for government regulation is able to subvert traditional conservative alarms because he refers this control to state-level government. But this is highly revealing of the problem with such rhetoric. Conservatives, such as the author of this essay, will speak generally of government vs. individual responsibility when it behooves them, until it comes to something specific they want other people to do, whereupon they can then immediately turn to talking about state power, offsetting it against the federal government. As if state rights were synonymous with that of an individual’s. This is clearly fallacious thinking.

You can’t have it both ways. Either you are for centralized government regulation (for specific purposes), or you are for little to no government regulation. Whether government regulation should occur at the federal level or state level (or city or county level) is a completely different argument.

So you can see this problematic thinking playing out whenever there are hardline conservatives in power and issues such as abortion (where’s the ‘rugged individualism’ for women, huh?), LGBTQ rights, or immigration enforcement come up for political posturing.

For example, there’s been some attention on Texas right now, where extremely hardline conservatives control the state and are seeking to control the progressive enclave of Austin.

In a recent Washington Post article, “In Austin, the air smells of tacos and trees — and city-state conflict,” a Republican lays out the political logic for government regulation:

“Matthew Walter, president of the Republican State Leadership Committee, an organization of Republican state officials, said preemption laws are coming up more and more because of political losses by Democrats at the state and federal levels.

Cities ‘seem to be sort of the last vanguard of Democratic and progressive ideals, which at this point continue to move leftward toward . . . a more socialist vision,’ Walter said. Because cities and counties derive their power from the states, states are within their rights to rein in rogue local governments, he said.”

States certainly are within their rights, because that’s what the concept of a centralized and hierarchical government is about. But follow that logic all the way up. That means the federal government is within its rights to reign in rogue state governments. Though Walter’s logic also begs the question of why it would be the duty of state government to regulate anyone else’s “progressive ideals” or vision.

In a post on NY Time’s The Upshot, “Blue Cities Want to Make Their Own Rules. Red States Won’t Let Them.,” Texas Governor Greg Abbott further reveals the circular thinking that lies behind an argument for state government to regulate anyone else’s “rugged individualism”:

Abbot, the Upshot states, “has been a vocal advocate for state laws that he says are necessary to protect individual liberty from local government overreach. When cities overstep their bounds, he said this year, they ‘should pay the price for it.’”

So . . . state government can regulate local government when local government regulates individuals (in ways your party doesn’t agree with).

Think about that for a minute. State government, according to this logic, is necessary to prevent local government overreach. So does that mean a state government can never overreach? Only federal or local governments can overreach? But whatever happened to the idea of “local control” here?

Or does this really just mean that any government only “overreaches” when it legislates something that your base doesn’t agree with? And that any other legislation–like, oh, I don’t know, preventing women from getting an abortion, let’s say, which regulates an individual’s choices–is just fine and dandy. Is this really logical? Only in the political pandering sense of logic. i.e. hypocrisy.

Here’s another quote from a Republican trying to justify state government control over local control:

“We’re the United States of America. We are not the United Towns of Florida. We’re not the United Counties of Florida,” said Randy Fine, a Republican state representative. . .

. . . “The state is the nexus of government in this country. The states created the federal government, and the states created local government.”

Well, thanks for the history lesson, Mr. Fine. Except there’s this thing called the U.S. Constitution which superseded the Articles of Confederation. And arguably, it was local governments that led to states, not the other way around.

Maybe the problem here is that when conservatives argue about the essential importance of “local control,” they rarely define what exactly “local” really means. Because when push comes to shove, they suddenly revert to “state’s rights.” But that sure sounds like a big stretch to me, to correlate a “local” government with a state government.

Conservatives themselves do butt heads over such things. This can be viewed most recently in arguments over public education and charter schools. Some conservative supporters of charter schools are not supporters of the laissez faire approach, but rather point to the evidence that charters are most effective (in terms of test scores, at least) when they are more strictly regulated by states. Others, such as in a new collection of essays on the topic, Charting a New Course, deride such “system-centered reformers” and argue that charters are over-regulated and choices should be left up to the parents and the free market.

Well, I’ll leave such internecine debates to conservatives themselves to hash out. In the meantime, I’m going to listen to (or read) anyone who brings up government overreach or local control with great skepticism.