Categotry Archives: A Day in the Life

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Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Monarchy

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Well that was fun, wasn’t it, kids?

We got to live for a day. We got to dream. Those of you more politically inclined, and certainly more Democratically (big-D and little-d) inclined than I got to run around, shake hands, pretend it was 1960 or 1968, but this time the promise was real. We got to think this one was different, that once again we could believe and that cynicism would get swallowed up, just for a moment, in the wave of euphoric hope that people claim abounds in this country.

It was exciting – thrilling even. I’ll even admit that I had some hope somewhere amidst it. It didn’t seem feasible, it didn’t make any sense, but hey… George Mason was in the Final Four a couple years ago.

Funny thing about George Mason. They still lost. By 15 points. In the semifinal.

The only consolation is that we get to keep our dream. We don’t have to watch an Obama presidency go down in the flames of compromise and selling out. We don’t have to watch him reveal himself as or become an establishment prop. We don’t have to see the glowing rhetoric turned to justifications for war or tax cuts or individual mandates to buy health care. We can keep the dream. Just like with RFK, but with less blood.

I know what you’re all thinking and saying, rolling your eyes and lamenting my dim awareness of things. Obama still has a lead in the delegate count! Obama is the clear choice of the people!

Here’s the thing, folks… the party establishment has been looking for approximately ever for excuses and reasons to pick Hillary over Barack. She has had the lead among superdelegates, the bellwether barometer of where the party establishment is going, since the beginning. A couple people started to falter in her support once Obama had crazy momentum, but even then she maintained a lead and a lot of people were hemming and hawing about “why we have superdelegates in the process”.

America loves its winners and once Hillary starts to look like a winner again, I don’t see how people will be able to hold it back. She’s again been able to dress herself up as Cinderella – and unlike all the March Madness and election Cinderellas of the past, she’s actually female. It could be argued at this point that the Clintons actually throw some primaries so they can always fit the bill of the American underdog that you just know is going to win. Incredible territory to steal from John McCain and Barack Obama. Unbelievable that the story going into August or November will be about how Hillary Clinton is the candidate of infinite comebacks… the same Hillary who was the presumptive president-elect for the entire year 2007. Pretty much no one can manipulate the public like the Clintons. Except maybe the Bushes. Ah, monarchy.

As alluded to earlier, I saw “The Other Boleyn Girl” two nights ago. It may be the revision of history looking back, but King Henry VIII was seen to quake in the wake of the scorn of his supporters at times. He trembled at the idea of casting out his popular first wife and even more at separation with the Catholic Church. How would the public think? How would they react?

If only he had had color televisions, cable news pundits, a rabble-rousing but ultimately unsupported rival, and the appearance of an ongoing rivalry with a power-sharing partner. That’s how to really keep them in check, Henry. The real American revolution was not democracy… it was how to evolve and perfect monarchy without letting anyone know that’s what was happening.

Do I still hope to be wrong, again? Sure. Why not, just for you. But haven’t we really known all along exactly how this would go down?

Good, if somewhat predictable, theater makes for really bad governance. God save the queen.

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It’s Always Tuesday

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

It’s 4:30 A.M. on a Tuesday
It doesn’t get much worse than this
In beds in little rooms
in buildings in the middle
of these lives
which are completely meaningless
-Counting Crows, “Perfect Blue Buildings”

I have 20 minutes to write this post and I feel like I could take the rest of my life. There’s a lot of pressure on today… not in my world so much as the world. Which in itself is a misnomer, because there are always more worlds, always more lives. Go to India, learn that we are not doing this thing once only for a one-shot deal. Everyone should be mighty thankful for that, because we’ve screwed this shot up pretty mightily. The humbling weight of history is almost all the gives me hope these days. No wonder I’ve been surrounding myself with the past and citing historical context for everything and watching movies about 1980 or 1536.

Americans always vote on Tuesdays. This decision was made in the antebellum years of the United States, with the winds of war looming on the horizon. A move was needed to unify the country, now and forever. Or maybe it was just more practical to pick a day forever. We’ve been living with it ever since.

Tuesday was named for Tyr, the Viking god of war, the equivalent of Mars, the Roman god for whom March was named. We are the Vikings, we are the Romans, we are at war, and we are not paying attention to history. We still believe in Empire and a God of War. And we honor this symbolism with making our most important, or illusory, decisions.

Maybe if we had been voting on Wednesdays all along, we wouldn’t be in this mess. It’s a little naive to think that, given the restrictions put all seven days on who we are able to pick from in the first place. But maybe it’s more naive to think that if you pour this kind of collective energy and symbolism into a specific day, it doesn’t stick at some point. It’s the first War Day in the Month of War. And this will, by all accounts, seal our fate for the next 4-8 years.

Maybe on 9/11, the US should’ve done something useful and declared war on Tuesday instead of terrorism. Declaring war on War, which is the same as war on terror, but perhaps we could actually defeat Tuesday. We know exactly where Tuesday is hiding. We probably have even less understanding of its motives, but at least we don’t have to blow up three countries to get rid of it. Congress already blew Daylight Saving Time into a day-eating monster; it can take out Tuesday just as swiftly.

And instead of renaming, we could just eliminate it completely and have a 4-day work-week, a 32-hour stint that can sustain the same levels of employment for the next three years that we have now. I’d happily donate my 8 hours so that we don’t have a full-scale Depression in the coming days and have to start an even bigger war, perhaps a final one, to try to dig out of it. Are you in?

I don’t really think anyone’s going to win today. The chorus of people with deafening cynicism about Obama is getting louder. Why hasn’t he taken controversial stands, outlined plans or policies? Why does he vote awfully meekly for someone with such vocal courage? I can continue to hope for upside and pray that he’s been sandbagging all along… that the first 100 days would feel like revolution from within. I can’t rule it out yet. But there seems a futility about this whole exercise. If he really weren’t in someone’s pocket, wouldn’t they just get rid of him? Would we really get to keep someone that’s up to the challenge?

But go, vote, hope. I will board my train and get a seat because so many people would prefer to stand in the middle of the train than sit at the front or back. I’ve been trying to discern a motive for this behavior (short of believing that Americans are obsessed with sitting) that makes sense. Why someone would rather stand up for half an hour around others standing just to be in the middle of the train. But I guess it’s explicable… a flight to the middle, toward the average, toward American ideals of pointless effort and uncontroversial conformity. One’s just that much closer to the exit, perhaps, ready to bail as soon as the wind turns. Even if there are twice as many people in one’s way.

Tyr dies in the end, along with all the other Norse gods in the Vikings’ own mythology. Chaos wins, takes over, runs amok over all those seemingly the most powerful and dominant in the universe. Eventually, some far off date after the devastation, there are the small glimmers of the budding of a new world. A big, painful jab at the reset button on a computer that takes quite a while to boot up.

Anyone got a version of Disk Defragmenter that works on this one?

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Photo Diary of India & Nepal Update

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

Little is so humbling as setting slightly optimistic goals and then being bowled over with malaise and inertia. The fact is that I have found myself so overwhelmed by the online efforts I would like to produce that I have been unable to make any progress on any front.

But for now I bring you the slightest bit of progress: a landing page for the Photo Diary of my time in India & Nepal. It’s not much, but it’s a start… and it gives me a place to send all my friends who don’t read this blog so they can check for updates on their own.

There is more to come. I have a to-do list a mile long, almost all of it involving webby projects. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like without the Blue Pyramid’s demands hanging over my head. Less connected and quieter, to be sure. But would I have written 3 more books?

Enough of such concerns for now. Today is booked, so little more will be coming out today. And then it’s a work week. But it’s March, which offers hope of loosing the chains of inertia. Not losing them, to be sure, but loosing them. I know you were wondering if that was a typo.

Type. Oh.

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Land Ho!

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Tuesday afternoon must’ve been pretty inspiring. Walking back from the subject of my last post, my mind was already fomenting the issues at play in this one. It’s probably a good thing that I don’t have more time to write posts at work anymore.

Walking in and out of the Tenderloin is always a surreal experience. It just doesn’t seem to make sense that an area so desperate can be surrounded by such wealth and privilege. The novel idea I had before Loosely Based (what I was actually working on [on and off] during my senior project in 1998) was to be called Blatant Contrast. The idea here was to discuss urban areas in America and how much of a stunning distinction there was between the existence of rich and poor who, often, were integrated on the same blocks and city streets.

While there was integration in Albuquerque, I’ve never seen so much segregation of groups as in San Francisco. Sure, a panhandler might wander down to the nearest BART station or the cable cars, but the Tenderloin generally seems to have invisible walls on all sides, girding in its residents where anything is acceptable and nothing is taking for granted. And yet a walk to lunch, or home, or just about anywhere takes you back to the promised land of California, one of the most expensive places in the world to live, the precious gold of the Barbary Coast.

And yet walking reminds one of one’s feet, one’s literal place in the world, one’s footing and setting and bearings. It certainly doesn’t hurt that I just went to India and have gotten a perhaps unprecedented context for the width and space of the world and how similar every place really is. The spirit ebbs and flows with time and space, but one’s same feet will find the same ground anywhere… anywhere there’s land. And the land may yield fruit or feed fowl or offer rocky rejection, but land is land is land. I have seen it all, and man, it’s all the same.

Of course the real lesson of the Tenderloin is a perfect illustration of how land is not the same, how no land in America (and much of the world) is treated the same as any other patch of land. “How much land does a man need?” Tolstoy asked, but that question never seems to limit the discussion here. Perhaps it’s “How much land can a person avoid getting foreclosed on?” Or “How much land can a credit card buy?” The question is really the same, especially if you’ve read the story (it’s excellent), but the perspective has just enough tweaks and bounces to make it seem different. The point is this, in a world where “Location, location, location” is perceived as the benchmark of selling real estate: every square inch of land is valued differently; every square inch of land is the same.

I understand all the arguments and I’m immersed in a culture that promotes this perspective. Land is where one lives, and where one lives determines everything. Being 20 seconds or 20 minutes or 20 hours from this or that good or service or access makes all the difference in how one lives one’s life. Fair enough, I can understand that perspective and how its valued. The relativity of it all. But the Tenderloin breaks that justification over its knee, since it’s nestled right in the heart of all these other valuable areas. Some definitions of the TL put it as small as 30 square blocks – a castle of poverty under siege from the forces of the gentry on all sides. The Tenderloin is just as close (or far) from all the same activities as everything on its border. And yet its land is worthless, while the same patch of asphalt and cement across the street might be among the most coveted on the planet.

I’m trying to get you to really think about this distinction and whether it makes sense. I haven’t lost my mind and forgotten all of the reasons that property values fluctuate and all the factors the people have been trained to take into account. I understand about the condition of property and the surrounding aesthetics and everything that goes into these calculations that millions of people devote their entire lives to manipulating. I’m asking you to roll back those assumptions, ingrained as so obvious, and really question whether this whole set of perspectives on land makes sense. Or is it simply the willing, overt suspension of disbelief?

Of course the contrast gets wider and more obvious when one looks at a place like India. Obviously one isn’t very close to the services available in San Francisco when one’s in India, but this latter locale is certainly no undesirable place. And yet the whole country, even the most valuable land in the nation, doesn’t come close to San Francisco prices. And even there, constant variation and the close proximity of worthless land and that which is highly valued, is the norm.

Or perhaps the example is best illustrated with land on the outskirts of some growing metropolitan area. Bear Canyon, for those New Mexicans who remember. Or the outskirts of Pleasanton perhaps. The same land, sitting there, can be worthless for decades, centuries, time immemorial. Valued only by lonely souls who seek solitude, or someone who planted their claim flag only after their horse got lost. And suddenly, almost overnight, as the city rolls out and the people roll in, the land is more valuable than it would have been had gold and oil both been uncovered ‘neath its crust.

This is the way the world is. But does it make sense? Is anyone here really valuing land, really understanding its capability and innate properties? Or is it simply the willing suspension of disbelief, to say that other people value something in this and that way, so I will too? That there’s nothing I could do to alter this perspective, so might as well get in line and aspire to the high end as well?

It always amazes me that believers in the so-called Invisible Hand, the only truly respected deity in modern America, have such a hard time imagining a world where people willingly ruled out violence and embraced pacifism. As though it were somehow more essential to human nature to blindly blithely trust the priorities of a marketplace than to avoid hurting one’s fellow person. Traditionally, it has been easier to persuade people to flee to selfishness and embrace the Hand than to make sacrifices for the betterment of society. But this is sort of like saying that it’s easier to reward six-year-olds for tearing toys away from their fellow first-graders rather than teaching them about sharing. While technically true, it sort of ignores the fundamental question at hand. And when it really comes down to it, humans are infinitely adaptable. This is both a strength (survival through adversity) and a weakness (almost unimaginable gullibility and willingness to follow). But people can be taught.

Because of course the same principle in play with land applies to currency itself. Or celebrity. People have created massive architectures around hierarchy and distinction and the elevation of some to the detriment of others. This has not been the path of least resistance… it has been the result of careful, extensive planning and manipulation and effort and work that, when combined with human adaptability, has yielded the societies you see today.

People tell you this piece of paper has value and you believe them. Why? Most fundamentally, because everyone else is running around believing them as well. Don’t think this is the justification? If you woke up tomorrow and everyone were effusively discarding paper bills, using them to wallpaper houses, wrap fish, light fires, and so forth, how would you react? Sure, for 24 hours, you might greedily grab all the cash that you could. Maybe even spend a week dreaming of the piles of paper that you had amassed, waiting for the tide to turn back. But it probably wouldn’t be much more than a month till you walked by 100’s blowing in the streets, or even started lighting some up on a cold night without kindling. You would adapt. You would adopt what’s being done around you, what you see.

And you tell me we can’t train people the same way to not kill each other? To willingly rule out any possibility of violence, or to put it on the same plane as burning stacks of $100-bills? Really?

I think this is where Hamlet should’ve been going (maybe was implicitly going) with the old “Nothing is either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” I’ve always detested that line because I believe, wholeheartedly and fundamentally, that moral distinctions are the only ones that transcend all this trivial human suspension of disbelief. Good and bad really do get past human solipsism and sophistry, to a world of God and morality and the higher order. But everything else? Sure. These things are entirely determined by a species almost obsessed with finding distinctions where none exist, with creating ways of valuing the same thing disparately. Think about how things are marketed. Every piece of advertising, fundamentally, comes down to this question. How can we get people to make phantom distinctions? How can we get people to overvalue the slightest distinctions? How can we divide people’s worldview into one of increasing gulfs between what arbitrarily “has value” and what equally arbitrarily “is worthless”?

If we spent the same energy and time on moral distinctions instead of “value” or “worth” distinctions, we’d have a whole new ballgame. And everyone would win.

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The Noon Gun

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Tags: , ,

I grew up with stories of “When Daddy was a little boy…”, tales of my father’s childhood lived across adventures from Nevada to DC to Afghanistan to Korea. The preferred setting for these narratives had to be the streets of Kabul, and no Kabul story was complete without some sort of reference to the Noon Gun.

The Noon Gun was a cannon that was (still is?) fired each day at noon, perhaps the atomic clock of its era, to help the residents of Kabul track their temporal progress through the hours. To the uninitiated, it must have caused quite a start to hear the cacophonous blast of gunpowder, an unheralded harbinger of the decades to come in Afghanistan. And there were reassurances and snickers from those who knew, or those who perhaps were just complacent in their noontide reminder.

I was walking to pick up a burrito just now, exploring a new route to a new Mexican (but not New Mexican) place gracing my slightly new location at my slightly new job. And it sounded, a howling wail tolling the end of the world, up, down, up, hold, down. “Take cover, take flight, take heed.” But then when do I go to lunch? And was I at work just yesterday?

It’s San Francisco’s own noon gun, of course, which sounds only on Tuesdays and precisely at noon. It’s a city-wide test of the Emergency Broadcast System, in case of question-marks, so that everyone can know to head for the hills as soon as question-marks happen. You fill in your own blanks, because no one’s really quite clear what it would be. And that fuels the effectiveness… anything can happen, everything is threatening.

But somehow, at the early onset of Tuesday afternoon, it sounds more like a cry for help. Of course it’s only on Tuesdays – when else could it be? And noon, the dawn of the difficult period, the advent of the slow decline into nothingness that is afternoon. Somehow the Tuesday Noon Siren calls out like an affirmation of one’s internal feelings rather than a particular call to action or safety. Why wouldn’t a forlorn, urgent wailing call out at just this particular moment?

But it’s really trying to warn us, like “Vantage Point”, a movie that should probably be protested and picketed when it comes down to it, that the Danger is Out There. “Vantage Point”, a waste of a dear couple hours over this already less-than-precious-weekend, offers an intricate plot that is fiction to its very core. Yes, there are Presidential conspiracies of body-doubles and the fact that no matter how many people came together to kill someone, they will be labeled as a “lone gunman”. But the picture of a terrorist threat, that for the pure power of violence seems to rail against nearly the whole world, that is collected, coordinated, and wants to fight some mysterious war for the sake of never ending it, is the height of American projection. The United States may stand unilaterally for bold, violent action and rogue “heroics”, thus fearing its own image more than any reality out there. But at least if one attacks a mirror with full force, one only gets bloodied by broken glass.

I’m not saying that nothing will change, nothing will happen, and certainly not that nothing will appear to happen. But jumping and running from the mirror is a little distracting when we should be realizing it’s what’s being reflected that should scare us.

And boom.

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Clicking on No Cylinders

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Tags: ,

Somehow, this weekend felt like someone sucked all the oxygen out of the universe.

I had big plans for the weekend, or at least moderate steps toward the things I’ve been intending to work on for a while. Many of which are things that just don’t take scads of effort or triumphant victories over inertia. And yet… nothing.

The weekend wasn’t a total washout. I saw some friends, played some games, watched an utterly frustrating Academy Awards session. (Tilda Swinton? In that field? The Coen Brothers on parade? Really?) But could I call myself productive? Did I sit down and get done? Nope.

I feel like I’m revisiting the same crossroads I practically inhabit all of the time. Does the Blue Pyramid, generally, as a potentially limitless pool of opportunity and time expenditure, add to or detract from my overall productivity? Would it be good to run a month of no BP as a litmus test for what else I could get done? Do feelings of inadequate productivity generally help or hinder the cause of making me more productive? Is there any way to make a day job compatible with my dreams, even in the short term?

And yet there is a larger inertia in play here, just in this particular weekend and seeming to extend to today. I hope I can shake it, that the fog lifts before I have to show up to a meeting or try to put together a project at the place that pays me. Which reminds me that I’m in record territory, as of just last week… Glide is now my longest-running employer ever. And it hasn’t even been two full years yet, even though it feels like eons. That’s probably telling.

But what is it telling me? And am I listening? And why was I startled, deep down, in the core, last night, to really contemplate for the billionth time how finite and fragile life is? For the first time in memory, it truly scared me. It didn’t hit as a passing observation or a reaffirmation of things I already knew, but it scared me. A new level of feeling that I’m falling short of potential, of where I should be. How would I feel if the writings didn’t get written, the ideas didn’t get expounded, the plan didn’t get laid out simply because I was slogging away at a day job in the meantime? Wouldn’t that be silly?

Storey Clayton: he made silly, shortsighted decisions that assumed there’d always be time.

God, save me from that epitaph.

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2/20/?

Categories: A Day in the Life, Upcoming Projects, Tags: ,

Yesterday, I had a really hard time.

For one thing, I just wasn’t feeling that well, which is always sort of a struggle on one’s birthday. Birthdays aren’t quite the same as they were when I was excited to tack on an extra year to my overall tally, but they’re still pretty cool. And having extremely evident allergies (to the tune of 60+ sneezes in a day, with accompanying draining and Cindy-McCain-style-zombie-red-eyes) is just not a welcome addition to such a day’s schedule. I wish I had a better handle on why I suddenly manifest allergy symptoms on and off all the time, but I guess that’s just part of getting older in America these days. Nothing that debilitating so much as really annoying.

The other reason I had a hard time was more whimsical… every time I wrote the date, my inclination was to put “80” in the year slot. This temptation already would’ve been strong, coming off weeks of traveling and filling out border-crossing forms of all kinds. And that’s just the year I normally associate with “2/20”. But then the actual year is “08”? Forget it. I think the whole day was lived as though 28 years prior.

But tack on “reversal year” as some sort of additional random year to celebrate one’s birthday all the more. I guess it doesn’t work if you were born in ’77 or ’88 (or ’44), but everyone else can celebrate a particular birthday when writing the date will trigger any inclination you ever may have had to dyslexia.

This post is sounding a little overly whiny, and really I had a great birthday (at least the celebrating it part). I really appreciated seeing everyone’s e-mails, phone calls, and (new this year) Facebook messages come in over the day. Gris, Anna, & Brandzy joined us for dinner and an eclipse (I may never get over Anna & Emily’s insistence that we blast “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on the way home from dinner while craning necks to see the moon at the same time). There is now even more baseball to anticipate, as people have solidified that baseball and books are the only things I consistently crave. I sneezed and snorted and drained my way to 11:56 PM Pacific, when I officially crossed over into the territory of Even Older than I Thought Was Old Before.

I am feeling about the same today, but hoping to maybe dehydrate myself into not requiring an entire tree worth of repositories for nasal material today. I know, I know, don’t hold back.

It seems I’m only doing relatively quick updates these days and it’s really about time to shower anyway. To keep you entertained with promises of content, I’m hoping to follow-up my analysis of the Republican vote-counting system with a reverse scenario for the Democrats, which should be much more straightforward, but likely offer similarly election-altering (and more predictable) results. There’s ongoing trip update stuff, including really starting to transcribe my journal. And new ideas abounding seemingly every day, competing with old ideas and the vague notion that I really should write some fiction at some point.

My need for a 10-20 hour/week secretary/coder/admin assistant on the Blue Pyramid doesn’t seem to be dissipating. Though reading my handwriting remains an insurmountable challenge. Which prompted Brandzy to suggest last night that I hire a look-alike to spend that time at my desk while I stay home and try to decipher my own handwriting.

Anyone with long hair and a willingness to wear bright colors out there?

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And Now for Something Completely Different

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

No update from the trip that was today. Or at least not yesterday, bleeding into today as it now is. I was fully intending to, and I was probably going to do some other stuff with my night as well, when I got bowled over with a (thankfully brief) project.

Em & I were watching the primary returns come in, already yearning for a time when there were more names and more excitement than we’re down to in this, the allegedly most wide-open year in American presidential politics of our lifetime. And the old discussion came up about whether the Republicans counting all primaries/caucuses proportionally – instead of the status quo, which contains a smattering of winner-take-all, proportional, and mixed counting – would have changed any of the results.

Emily asked and I chalked this up as a quick trip to Google. But either someone’s done it under the wrong keywords or not at all… somehow, in this modern era of instant punditry and an army of political paraprofessional bloggers, could it be that no one had actually run the numbers?

This kind of stuff is now just about my (new) job, so you’d think I’d be tired of it after spending most of my 8 hours today slogging through statistics. But I simply had to know. And I’m glad I found out, because the results will blow your mind.

The fact that this kind of thing isn’t front-page news is either surprising or very much not so. I guess it’s one of those moot points of alternate scenario simulation, since there was never even so much as a tangential discussion amongst the Republican top brass that they might change this age-old system of assigning delegates. But, much like the superdelegate thing, it’s got to make you wonder if people are even pretending there are direct links between the voters and the final decisions.

Anyway, I’m already imagining possible follow-up calculations, such as (obviously, and no one do it while I’m at work tomorrow!) what if all the Democratic primaries/caucuses were winner-take-all? That’s a lot simpler to figure out, although it’s also beyond unrealistic since it’s clearly “going in the wrong direction”. Not that this superdelegate thing giving Hillary a chance to still maintain the monarchy by backroom means is much better.

In any case, I’m plenty burned out on that project for now. It was one of those things, maybe like the old 64-team APDA national tournament concepts, that I just had to sit down and crank out in its entirety without pausing to consider what else I could be doing with my time. I hope someone pays at least a little attention. How did Julian Sanchez put it so long ago… “Storey Clayton is a crazy, crazy man. But the tropical heat of obsession has yielded entertaining fruit in this case.”

That’s damn right.

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Today’s Photos: Delhi & Kathmandu

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Day three of my eighteen-day photo tour of India & Nepal (which before today hasn’t actually featured any India or Nepal) is up on the page.

More to come soon, hopefully still keeping up on the daily pace even during the work week.

In other news, today was totally shot down by a migraine, though I’m briefly through the worst of it, if my luck holds. I was long overdue for one and didn’t even have a terribly debilitating one throughout the trip (a minor one and a half, if memory serves). So no complaints, though this one’s been heavy on the vision-reduction as well.

Many reasons for keeping the update quick again today.

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Back from India, etc.

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

Well I’m back from India, as should be relatively obvious from the recent spate of Duck & Cover updates (I missed Thursday because the internet was down), as well as the overhaul of the page theme here. It was an incredible time and I’m going to try to let the pictures and primary source writing from there tell the story.

To that end, here’s the first page of photos from the trip. I’m going to just periodically upload one day at a time and roll it out in installments. Similarly with the writing. For now, it’s all I can commit to. You should also be forewarned that the pictures are very large, averaging about 2/3rds of a megabyte each, and there will be tens of pictures on each page. So if you don’t have a superfast connection, grab a book while you wait for the pics to load.

Maybe it’ll be fun to watch this be released serially instead of all the photos and writing at once. Hopefully that’ll be the case.

In the meantime, I’m absolutely exhausted. Emily and I had our sleep schedules totally distorted upon return and have been waking up at 4 AM all week. Which is better than waking up too late for work, but still somewhat problematic. And today we were completely wiped out, unable to do anything at all despite needing to do a good deal to catch up from our time away. I would really think that jet-lag would wear off after five days, but my Mom pointed out that we have been going straight with travel or work without a break for basically 4 solid weeks. So I guess it makes sense to be this worn out.

Hopefully we’ll be able to catch up with people this weekend, not to mention some errands. We can’t stay this weary forever.

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Quicker Update from India

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

I’m back in an internet cafe, one with a painfully slow 33.6 Kbps that makes me yearn for the national parks of Nepal. We’re holed up in Orchha, India, a village of a scant 9,000 people with an incredible number of beautiful Hindu temples and a gargantuan palace of the Mughal era.

The palace itself was one of the nicest surprises of this trip, since Orchha initially looked like the lowlight of the whole journey. It’s a beautiful place, though, although admittedly vaguely tourist-trappy. There have been few places we’ve seen that aren’t at least a little touristy, though, or seemingly designed for a good bit of the population to cater specifically to Western visitors.

As predicted, I have made myself internet-accessible mostly to check in on the American political situation. CNN is a painfully slow website in general, opting for millions of bytes worth of loading instead of making information simply available. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten so accustomed to their format and their vote-counts that I can’t try to navigate another site on this connection. So I’m still waiting for it to load. I got a look at earlier results, however, and it looks like I may have been wrong about which party will have a hung convention. Although when there are only two candidates, one can’t really have a hung convention in the end, even if someone ends up winning by a single delegate. Maybe Edwards will refuse to drop out and cling tightly to his 26 delegates in the hopes that those few can swing the entire election.

Of course I still find it completely inevitable that Clinton will eventually be President, so this is all pretty academic. It’s looking more and more like a repeat of the 1996 election – a Clinton against a hopelessly old has-been who is about a decade past his political hopes and dreams.

But enough about America; I’ll be back there soon enough with very little else to ponder. I’m hoping to design a webpage to commemorate this trip upon return, but I’m already over 1100 digital photos taken (I’ve gotten used to my first digital camera in a hurry), so it’s going to take a good deal of time to get things posted. I am completely mentally unprepared to be back, save for a few bizarre work-anxiety dreams about the new post that I’ll be in within 16 hours of landing back in California.

The trip remains overwhelming and amazing and overall an incredibly positive experience. Trying to describe it in small bits seems to undermine the effort to describe the whole undertaking in full grandeur and detail, which I’ve kept up with nicely in my comp notebook. (Of course transcribing that will also take a while…) Suffice it to say that this is a beautiful country and different from North America in many of the very best of ways. Certainly not perfect, of course, and it’s been hard to transcend the experiences of a tourist to really get to the core of the country. It may be impossible, especially on a trip this short and this guided, though.

Emily’s Mom keeps saying on this trip “How could you possibly describe this?” and “You couldn’t possibly explain this to someone else.” I’m hoping to prove her wrong with my pages and pages of writing and hundreds of pictures.

But for now I’ll have to leave you with that and keep you in suspense.

Tomorrow, on to the Taj Mahal and then back to Delhi. I may run out of things to do in Delhi and post again, but I doubt it with the Gandhi Museum still to see…

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Quick Update from Nepal

Categories: A Day in the Life, From the Road, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

Hello from Chitwan National Park in Nepal!

I won’t attempt to try to describe the events of the past few days, but they have been among the most memorable in a very long time. I am currently sitting in an internet cafe in a village on the outskirts of the Chitwan National Park, maybe a third of the way through our journey through Nepal and India. I have been taking copious notes in a comp notebook about the whole trip and I will probably dump them all straight into a “primary sources” entry upon return home. Already Emily and I have taken over 400 digital pictures and I’ve written over 30 pages chronicling the trip.

So I’ll save most of the details for when I get back. It’s been an amazing and extremely positive trip so far. I got a little sick (cold/ear infection type) the first couple nights, but have seemed to knock it out cold (if you will) with some crazy Australian cold/flu medicine that’s powerful stuff indeed.

Our group leader is phenomenal, a Nepali-born resident of India who has been showing us around and giving us the inside scoop. Our group is joined by three Australians and a British couple and we’ve all been becoming closer as we share this completely unprecedented journey. Yesterday we went on an 8-mile hike through the National Park and got within a few feet of a wild rhino, not to mention seeing a tiger in the wild, which is apparently incredibly rare here.

Less than an hour till my elephant ride, so I’d best log off soon. As this internet cafe and many of the things I’ve seen prove, the smaller worldview of interconnection has definitely come to Nepal, to a far greater extent than I could’ve possibly anticipated. We may be traveling “grass-roots,” but the whole world is traveling through the series of tubes.

I hope to update again sometime before return, but no guarantees. Maybe on Super Tuesday (since I primarily logged on to see what happened in Florida). Though now it looks like less is in suspense and everyone’s folding in behind Clinton/McCain. Surprising, but perhaps demonstrative that America’s obsession with voting for winners trumps all other political concerns.

Namaste for now.

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Life as an Emotional Ocean

Categories: A Day in the Life, India & Nepal '08 Trip, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Pre-Trip Posts, Tags: , , ,

I don’t think I could possibly encapsulate what the last week has looked like in my life, but you can tell it looked like something with the absence of all the posts. It’s like someone going quiet in a room for an extended period of time, but still giving clear indications they’re awake… when the posts go dry for awhile, you know something’s brewing and bubbling, but it doesn’t even bear expression yet.

On Friday, I return-guested on the Mep Report, so keep an ear out for TMR #101 if you like that sort of thing.

Early in the weekend, Emily’s last surviving grandparent, Thelma Garin (1911-2008) passed away at four in the morning. She had, for a while, been unaware of people as specific identities, but we had spent a last hour or so at breakfast with her before leaving Fresno in early January and it was a nice farewell. We should all be fortunate enough to see 96 (though I’m not convinced that I want to… as I told Fish, as me when I’m 94), but it is always quite sad to see someone move on to the next step of existence.

Because I simply had to be at work on Tuesday (many others’ schedules had been altered so I could preview databases that last work day before leaving for India) and the service for Em’s grandmother was in Fresno on Tuesday, I had to miss it. So Em went down there on Monday morning while I stayed by the Bay and tried to take care of things for the trip and not think too much about it. I’ve tried to remain rather tabula rasa for this most exotic trip of my life so far, not anticipating any specifics or experiences since (A) I know I can’t and (B) even if I could, I’d rather be bowled over with the full force of surprise than to anticipate. It’s rather the way I see movies, or idealize seeing movies (one can’t always manage it).

Yesterday was sort of a mess. We got to preview the databases without a hitch and then I had a farewell party at FYCC, where I will no longer be working directly within Glide. Some peeps were clearly more broken-up than others, and I don’t know to what extent people believe that the trip down the block to the main building will be a short and accessible one. Psychologically, it’s almost like moving across the Bay. But I intend to hold people to visiting and I will definitely be back, to deliver deadlines and train on databases at minimum, and likely to just say hi as well.

My (now former) boss that I dislike (I think I can start talking a little more liberally about this since I no longer work for him) gave me what I thought was the best goodbye present of all of not showing up for my party. But then he waltzed in 50 minutes late (standard operating procedure, really), making me wonder if he’d intended to sandbag his arrival so I could have a little fun at my party or if he’d just been himself. Most likely the latter, but the impact was the same for 50 good minutes, so so it goes. I managed not to say anything tremendously rude, despite thoughts of lines like “I am just so glad to not be working for you anymore” coming to mind.

Meanwhile my boss that I like remained stoic as always, though he seemed to confide in others that he was concerned. It was sort of cute. And a bunch of other folks were appropriately sad, which was nice. I think it’s perfectly fine to be happy that people are sad to see you go. I feel like many people resist this concept as perhaps self-serving or just inappropriate, but deep down you know we all feel this way. It’s the only real confirmation we get, other than from blatantly sincere people, that we were ever worth our salt in the first place. Now this doesn’t mean I was gloating or rubbing it people’s faces (and in fact I was reassuring people that they’d be far more fine than they thought), but it’s just sort of nice to be missed.

And then my supervisee managed to slip a note into my coat on my way out that I didn’t discover till dinner, and that pretty much made me cry. It was tough to not reconsider some of these decisions to take the promotion and switch things around, but my need-for-challenge-brain looks forward to not starving for awhile. And my boss-I-dislike showing up was a good reminder of what’s at stake as well.

Meanwhile, the world at large of economics and politics and such was aswirl with the upheaval and change that seems to be becoming the norm. The stock market was poised to plunge 500-1000 points and then Bernanke swooped in and again sacrificed every other economic interest in favor of saving the market. At this point, it feels like a legitimate concern that my bank will be drawing money away from my savings account at a rate of 0.5% by the time I return from India. If anyone has any solid schemes or things they want to start up (Jake, I’m looking at you) that seem likely to return more than a penny a day that savings accounts will be making soon, let me know.

I guess that’s the theory, right? That I’ll say and do things like the above concluding sentence? And that will jump-start the economy? I’ve never really had money before, so I’ve never quite grappled with these things. A little secret, though: unless Jake specifically (or someone else I believe in) comes up with a really good scheme, I’m not going to do that. I’m not going to do something risky. I’m far more likely to invest in the Bank of Mattress. And I’m sure as all get-out not moving it over to stocks or property or something insane right now. So good luck with your theory, Fed, it requires a lot of people being a lot stupider than I can imagine.

But this is America.

And in America, the coronation of Queen Hillary I is back on track after some early snags. I can’t really predict South Carolina, but I’d imagine it’ll look a lot like Nevada or maybe a little closer. But given the polls in Florida, it’s hard to imagine that SC will matter for doing anything other than knocking John Edwards completely out of the race. He will make his withdrawal speech the night of the SC primary, yielding a little more support for Obama, but certainly not enough to move the 20-point deficit Barack’s running in Florida. And Florida will be just big enough and long enough before Super Tuesday to swing the table toward Hillary and end it.

On the Republican side, Fred Thompson just saved the hung convention. John McCain was almost garnering enough momentum (crazy as it seems) to start charging toward the lead, but Thompson dropping out swings Florida to Huckabee. The problem is that Giuliani, McCain, and Romney are all competing for the exact same kind of voter and that person is very different than a Huckabee voter. Thompson single-handedly kept Huckabee from winning South Carolina by a solid margin (without Thompson, he probably would’ve won SoCar by at least 40-35), and I thought, since he’s friends with McCain, he would stay in for Florida to do the same thing.

Florida will be razor-close and really difficult, but I think Huck will just edge Giuliani and McCain will run third. This will be result #1317398543 that “stuns the pundits” and it will turn everything on its head. “Can Mitt Romney survive a fourth-place finish in Florida?” “Can John McCain become a comeback kid again?” “Is Huckabee now the front-runner?” “Why won’t Rudy drop out since he hasn’t won a single delegate yet?” But all four will remain, and Ron Paul will be not talked-about but continue to post 8-12% everywhere (except maybe Florida). And then each of those four will win at least two states on Super Tuesday. And it will be a Mess.

And I will be in Delhi.

But first, this morning, I will be voting in the primary that actually matters. I watched the bulk of the Green Party debate the other night and concluded that by far the only candidate who had the whole package was one that apparently dropped out at the end of the debate. And I really wasn’t impressed by the person he dropped out in favor of, Cynthia McKinney. It’s not that McKinney isn’t well-spoken and doesn’t have a history of standing up for good things… but the only thing she’ll be known for on the campaign trail will be her outburst with Capitol security. I’m also not wild about someone who was a Democrat to get elected and then switched affiliation to the Greens after leaving Congress. If you’re going to jump ship, at least do it while you still have some voice and influence. This kind of move just seems more self-serving than anything, and I don’t think it serves the party well.

And while I still like Ralph Nader a lot, I think it’s best for the health of the Greens to move on from his perennial candidacies. We need a candidate who isn’t going to just throw up a white flag and encourage voting for sell-out Democrats in swing states, but as long as we’re sure of that, then Nader isn’t doing the party a lot of favors by running again and again. He’s visible, but low on credibility at this point, and is risking associating the Greens as a platform for his personality instead of an actual serious and ongoing party. For the overall good of the Greens, it’s time to move on. And to be fair, he hasn’t even announced yet (he has a proxy running in the primaries), so maybe he recognizes these arguments already.

Say what you will about what this says about me, but this all means I will be casting a protest vote in the Green Party primary, for Jared Ball. The only wasted vote is a vote for someone you don’t fully believe in.

And I get to vote this morning in the February 5th primary because Berkeley at least (and probably much of California) opens in-person balloting early for just this sort of thing. If you’re curious, here’s a schedule of the Green Party primaries and then the convention is in Chicago in July. If Fish were still going to be around then, I’d seriously consider going. But I doubt he will be. And if McKinney or Nader are the nominee (and really, no one else seems to have much chance), it will probably take the wind out of my sails a little. Not that I won’t probably support them, but you see my reservations above.

But the real thing I have reservations for is India.

Again, I have no expectations for this trip, no thoughts, no anticipation. I know what a whole lot of flying looks like (~27 hours each way), but that’s about where it begins and ends. I’m going to let India wash over me, lap up and take me under. I will be armed with a composition notebook and pens, but no internet or way of accessing. I’m going to be off the grid for the longest time I can recall since going on the grid of this series of tubes. I intend to pretty much post my whole account of the trip upon return (depending on length and possibly edited for some people’s privacy concerns), so don’t think the accounts and descriptions of the event will be withheld without expressed written consent or something.

Take care, everyone. Don’t let the country collapse too much faster than the current pace. Not that you really have control over that, but the illusion of control is what this country is all about. I’m going to go find out what another country is all about. I may just be impressed.

We’ll find out.

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It’s Official

Categories: A Day in the Life, If You're Going to San Francisco, Tags: ,

At least now I can stop hiding some of what’s going on, and maybe even be a little less cryptic.

My last day in my current job (Contracts/Information Systems Administrator of Glide’s Youth and Family Development Division) will be next Tuesday, the 22nd. But I’m staying with Glide. Starting February 11th (upon return from India), I’ll be taking over as the Program and Strategy Analyst for the whole Foundation.

I probably shouldn’t get into all the details of exactly why I’m so excited about this change and why it couldn’t be coming at a better time. Obviously there’s still small parts of me that are conflicted about choosing to work when I don’t have to work, but there’s enough challenge and opportunity in this position to make it worth it, for now. It was a pretty clear decision when it came down to it, and hopefully will remain so. And I’m sure that once I start rolling up my sleeves and getting into the work, I’m going to really enjoy it.

More than anything, I’m elated about this because it gives me an opportunity to use the parts of my brain that I feel are best honed. Very few jobs manage to do this. Repeatedly in the job description and discussion of this position, words like analytical and critical and creative kept coming up. I will get to use these aspects and mental energies to actually do my work, not just to find a way to get through my work without being too bored. So not only will it be a challenge, but it will be the right kind of challenge. And that just makes me feel extremely fortunate.

It doesn’t hurt, of course, that the overall goal of my work will be to make an organization that I greatly believe in run more smoothly and efficiently.

My co-Managers at the Division I’m leaving took me out to lunch today as a farewell and I will continue to have little events like this through Tuesday. People have been e-mailing really great wishes and encouragements. It’s been a rather overwhelming day as I put the last 21 months of my life in context and realize that my routine is about to shift tremendously and will never look the same. And there are a lot of people I’ll miss.

But it’s time, it’s the right time, and it looks like the right move. And I won’t be too far from any of these people, and will get a chance to connect and work with some really great people I just barely know at this point. And of course India will probably turn my perspective sideways and give me a whole new dimension and depth on change, transition, and 2008 as a whole. My whole vision is boggling a bit as I try to grasp the enormity of what’s taking place.

So thank you Glide, for the opportunity and the chance. I will be setting a record for length of time with one employer, a threshold I wasn’t sure would be crossed as recently as last month. I’m ecstatic to stay on board for a whole new chapter.

Gonna be some changes made.

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I Ain’t Gonna Work on Maggie’s Farm No More

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: , ,

I have yet to see “I’m Not There,” allegedly a very good film about the many sides of Bob Dylan. And maybe “I’m Not There” is all the message one needs. I have written so much about being there or here lately that it’s hard to imagine what not being would be all about. But I’m thinking it’s time.

Well, he hands you a nickel,
He hands you a dime,
He asks you with a grin
If you’re havin’ a good time,
Then he fines you every time you slam the door.

I’ve never done the manual labor described in the song, but I don’t think Bob did much either. Maybe a little, in those early Minnesota days, but my Mom had a good friend that went to school with “Little Bobby Zimmerman” and he didn’t exactly have the farmer physique. Me neither. The point becomes, really, that any labor can end up feeling physical and manual if it’s bad enough. People go home for backaches, stomach aches, are “just sick” and won’t be coming in for days. There is a word, psychosomatic, but it’s not psycho at all. Why work when nothing is working? Why try when everything’s trying?

Eventually it all feels like you’re out on the farm, being ground into the ground by a machine that nickels and dimes you but carefully controls your feelings and perspectives. Has insidious, trained ways of drawing you back in. Even if you manage to dodge the raining (reigning?) bullets of debt and fear and materialism, they’ll find a way to strike you down, to huff and puff and blow your house down. And hope is not far behind.

My Dad has long (six months?) been saying that “nothing is working anymore.” I’m skeptical as to whether it ever was. But the more I see, the higher my perspective, the more laughable it all seems. What would it even look like? Who is working? Why? The situation is well-nigh screaming at me to cut bait and take my losses. It’s like What is Success? rolled up with Seneca with a sprinkle of Broadway and the Advocate and everything else. I can give myself an India reprieve, maybe. But that depends a lot on the next 7 days. Open future, options and decisions to be made. Is humanity worth saving? Some things are so broken that it’s best to start over.

Emily and I cried at “The Great Debaters” for many reasons, but perhaps most of all because we missed debate. Imperfections aplenty, and some really bad people (mostly great, though)… but rules and order and intellectual rigor and curiosity. Everyone on a (roughly) level playing field in the quest for discourse and powerful voices rising to quiet the din of a confused and ill-informed public. Ivory towers rising to the sky, for sure, but to get above the nonsense and into the light. We will never go back, even when we go back. It’s all over now, baby blue, and maybe when people reunite to run the country it will be different this time. But we know which ones will rise in that way and those were the ones we would’ve voted off the island first (and won the elections there, just as elsewhere, of course). So it’s all for naught, even in the best of cases. What is worth saving?

Well, he puts his cigar
Out in your face just for kicks.
His bedroom window
It is made out of bricks.
The National Guard stands around his door.

I talked at length what seems like eons ago (it was, chronologically, just over six weeks ago) about Distribution and how few to no people in the world would “need to work” if the world were properly distributed. Or how we could all work a few hours a week (like six or eight) and more than comfortably provide for everyone. Maybe this doesn’t sound like the most exciting thing ever to most people, but I would imagine it does. “The Great Debaters” touched on these issues, and many more, about the nature of work and whether it helps or is necessary or is just one of those hurdles a manipulative society puts in the way of its people.

The point is, we have all been trained and raised to believe in work, no matter what that looks like or how absurd it is. I’m reviewing here. But it takes repetition to break down stereotypes. What are you working for? What am I working for? (I’m really asking here.) For debt? For needless planned-obsolescence gadgets? For the opporunity to give offspring more debt and more obsolete gadgets?

Well, I try my best
To be just like I am,
But everybody wants you
To be just like them.
They sing while you slave and I just get bored.

I am chronically addicted to telling the truth and busting the doors open on perceived needs for privacy, and it is for this reason more than any other that I am getting blindly angry this past week or so. When people try to restrict my ability to speak, to say what’s going on, to share and communicate, especially when it’s completely obvious that such communication is the only road to functionality and the converse is the road to ruin, I get really frustrated. And more so the more it goes on and builds up. It gets hard to even sit still, to breathe, to know what to do. If some place is willing to compromise you more than you even knew you could be, what are you doing? What am I doing? (I am asking here.)

I know all my counter-arguments, my rebuttals, my refutations. I understand the temptations that I am drawn in by, the draw of influence and power, proxies for the opportunity to lead. To provide leadership. To be a leader. In some ways, the worse and more profoundly silly things get, the stronger the argument for staying and fighting and cutting through the madness. I could fix this, give me six months and enough “buy-in” (code-word here for the ability to unite, to wield power for the positive, to bring people together). That’s all it would take.

And maybe, it occurred to me just this morning, the job of every worker at a non-profit should be to put themselves out of a job, just like the work of every non-profit is to put themselves out of work. Everyone who’s doing right by non-profiteering is trying to get our distribution away from needing the work of the non-profiteers. We’re making up for things that shouldn’t be as they are. If we do our job, then we won’t be needed anymore. How many parables and lessons carry a central figure as a traveling teacher whose stint is brief but more powerful than 13-17 years of an educational system?

So six months, maybe twelve, to put myself out of work. Then forget it.

But in six days, mark this, it may already be too late.

Let’s go, time’s a-wastin’.

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Be There Then: 2007 in Review

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Tags: ,

2007, I miss you already.

I don’t often do full-scale year-in-review pieces, but I have always enjoyed reading them. In particular, my work-friend Pete’s 2007 in review was particularly striking to me. I liked his idea of top ten moments of the year, little snapshots of what will really be remembered about the annum. Other things that come to mind include Dave Barry’s annual absurd skewering of the year on a month-by-month basis, or even summation montages on news television (do they still do these?).

I had my own way of reviewing the year on the BP – a little synopsis page that led to my 5 favorite books read during and movies of the year. Here’s 2005, for example. But you’ll note I haven’t even done 2006’s yet, let alone 2007. Not that I don’t intend to still do those pages for 2006 (and 2007), but that’s sort of part of a larger theme in itself. (If you’re wondering, I still can’t discern which would be the top book I read in ’06 between The Picture of Dorian Gray, A Man Without a Country, and The Year of Magical Thinking. Meanwhile, ’07 pretty clearly seems to belong to Crime and Punishment.)

So I have undertaken a year-in-review process for a year that dawned with much potential, seemed sort of disappointing and drifty overall, and then (upon this review) looked pretty good. I’m still sorting out the impact of just that process, let alone the whole year. But I think a chronological thing might be better than a ranking. I flagged about 18 moments, some of them days long and others seeming fleeting seconds, that will really stay with me. But a year is not a Book List or a Movie List, so we’ll see how this looks…

2007 Year in Review

Overall Themes
Before getting into a chronology of the year, it seems there are some overall improvements that come to mind in 2007 (as well as disappointments, but I’ll get to those later). Among these are many basic steps that were taken to improve quality of life – some deliberate and some rather passive. These included (1) reading more, (2) getting into tennis with Emily, (3) staying in much better touch with my parents (not that we haven’t been in close contact for a long time), and (4) following baseball more closely by attending and watching more games (and the M’s having a decent season). The other two big highlights that stand out are (5) the transition of this blog (and maintaining it) after Introspection petered out and (6) managing to hang on at Glide despite a tremendous amount of tribulation there. Implicit in this last one are concepts of my making myself somewhat indispensable (including a mid-year promotion) without having the job overwhelm me or other efforts. And since I like sevens better than sixes (7 for ’07), I’m going to say that the last overall theme of positivity is (7) maintaining Duck and Cover for a full year, while changing its release schedule to better correspond to my life.

Nuevo Year
In January, the year dawned at the Tank (my decade-plus appellation for Fish’s parents’ house), which seemed like a long-standing tradition at the time, but is (with the passage of time) notable in itself because it was probably my last new year rung in at the Tank. I can’t give you an exact count right off the bat of how many years of my life began there, but it’s a high number. Start counting the other memories and it gets a little overwhelming. While there again in December, we all realized that the Tank was the last remaining of any of our close Nuevo friends’ original houses from when we all went to high school. Everyone’s parents had moved. And now Fish’s will be joining the pack, in all probability. In any case, this new year was marked by games of Mafia, snow, and endless speculation about flight delays. No small part of this highlight is the epic snowstorm, one of the largest in decades in Albuquerque, that blanketed the city I love in my favorite kind of weather for days on end.

On 15 January, I hiked Point Reyes with Gris & Anna on MLK Day, one of those stand-out hikes on a pristine day where all the animals seem to be willing to let humans seamlessly integrate as fellow creatures. We talked much of the future and the past and the day seemed like the perfect complement to a new year. Incredibly chilled, we had a warm Mexican meal in a local restaurant on our way back and much hilarity about milkshakes.

Never Forget
February brought the dawn of a short-lived but intense era of Mep Report videos, starting on 2 February with the release of 1-31-07 Never Forget. This lampoon of the events of 1/31, in which the city of Boston collectively mistook hastily-erected AquaTeen HungerForce advertisements for terrorism, was an idea that almost made me return home while walking to work so I could start on it. Instead, we (Greg, Russ, and I) stayed up all night that night to complete a masterwork of humorous tribute. The video was discussed in the Boston Globe online, was our first successful foray onto the front page of a section of the infamous Digg.com, made several YouTube charts in the first 24 hours, and has (of this writing) been viewed 63,548 times. It was one of those breathtakingly fun experiences that seemed to bubble up out of nowhere. Less than a year later, Russ would start using skills he was demonstrating here to pick-up a great job with Boing-Boing TV.

A borderline highlight is 17 February’s launch of One Million Blogs for Peace. This is borderline because while it was exciting and has done well, it has been yet another example of me starting an online project that is very high on maintenance and sets altogether too-lofty expectations. It was really exciting at the time, and now seems like a key component of a laundry list of why my post-collegiate life has been hard to control.

A no-doubter, despite lasting only a half-hour at most, is my walk home in the rain from a movie seen on the night of 24 February. The sky opened up and dumped on me for a 10-block walk, but I was suited up with hat and jackets in preparation and got to just be in the storm. It was one of a few transcendent moments in nature for the year, one of those moments that one feels perfectly aligned with everything.

Goodbyes
On 11 March, we went to Clovis for Emily’s paternal grandmother’s birthday, finding her surprisingly lucid and in good spirits. But another transcendent moment was found when Paul IV (Em’s eldest brother) hauled out digitally salvaged home videos from a trip taken across the country and then on to Italy over 50 years prior. The memories flooded back to her grandmother almost immediately, and she kept pointing out people and places long seemingly forgotten. She was enthralled, and we were all moved. This highlight has gained significance in the passage of time, since it was one of the last really lucid moments we had with her and her condition has since begun to fade. Knowing she had this moment then is great comfort to us.

On 29 March, Emily finally departed PIRG, perhaps my most profoundly joyful day of the entire year. The day itself was ambivalent and strange, in part because of that institution’s incredible ability to continue to disrespect one of its brightest and strongest workers in its history. At the time, there was still a good deal of Stockholm Syndrome being manifest in Em’s perspective, but by now in the full light of time and others’ reassurances, she has come to see how poorly they treated her and how cultish much of their behavior is. We still have friends at PIRG, and most every person I know seems to have worked there for at least a few days, but their methods are medieval. Exhibit A in why the ends don’t justify the means. Putting years of struggle with work behind her was a major step for Emily and for the two of us as a whole.

So it Goes
On 7 April, we attended the wedding of Mesco & Afsheen, to much fanfare and jubilation. It was a great wedding and a really fun trip to Atlanta overall. I got to see the fabled whale sharks on a plane (no longer on the plane), see ‘Lisha before her jaunt to Malawi, and hang out for some quality time with Mesco, Afsheen, and friends of hers from bizarro-Brandeis. And there was much Waffle House. One of those almost unfettered great trips, all told.

Five days later, on 12 April, just hours after the death of beloved author Kurt Vonnegut, Russ, Greg and I had pulled another all-nighter (to be fair, I don’t think Greg made it the whole night) to release So it Goes. (Kurt Vonnegut 1922 – 2007), a tribute which at this point has even passed the previous video in YouTube views (67,445). It makes most people cry and demonstrates that while we’re pretty funny guys, we may have a greater talent for meaning and mourning. Before the phenomenon was over, we made the front page of Boing-Boing.net (a larger accomplishment before they’d even heard of Russ), Lily Vonnegut (Kurt’s daughter) ended up sending us an e-mail, and most YouTube commenters admitted to crying every time they watched it. This is probably the greatest success of the Mep Team of all-time (collectively), to date.

LA Story
A late May visit to LA was one of the best such SoCal visits of all-time, and really enabled me putting a cap on what is nearly always a dismal April/May season for me. Highlights included a baseball game, reconnecting with the LA friends (Jake, Mesco & Afsheen), and a candidate for Conversation of the Year, in which I caught up Russ on the facets of my story that I had somehow overlooked telling him in the midst of us becoming friends back in college. We didn’t manage to get to the Casino for poker, but I think that was the right call in the end. The fires of Venice Beach reminded us all that life is far more transient and malleable than we would ever normally let ourselves admit.

A New Form of Story-Telling
Even before the emergence of this blog, early June brought a rare and strangely enjoyable opportunity to moderate a game of online Mafia/Werewolf for the APDA Forum community. A Forum crash may have wiped out the record of this game forever, which reminds me somehow of those sand mandalas that Buddhist monks create and then destroy for the purpose of demonstrating the impermanence and stunning beauty of our time on this planet. Not to say that “The Witches of Parliam Village,” which lasted a fortnight and was the longest Forum thread ever to that time, was as beautiful as a mandala, but I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of some of the aspects I most deeply miss about debate: intellectual play with many other intellectuals. That’s probably the most fundamental thing I feel I lack on a daily basis post-college.

Oregon Revisited
Emily’s & my trip to Oregon was probably the dominant event of 2007, coming squarely mid-year (July) and throwing my perspective off its axis. I had already been drawing conclusions about the necessity of living more by direction and less by momentum, but this trip was able to throw my perspective into sharp relief against the backdrop of where my consciousness really blossomed. Revisiting (and showing Em) the scenes of all those “formative years” dredged up memories good, bad, and ugly, and brought me to a precipice of self-examination that was necessary to attempt progress. Ultimately, it seems clear that I am still feeling the reverberations of this experience, and still have many changes to be made or clarified. And it wasn’t all heavy weather – much of the trip was just a great deal of fun, as Oregon in the summer usually is.

Old Friends
In August, Lauren Cusick came to visit us and I was surprised at how well we all reconnected (and how quickly). While Lauren and Emily had always been close, she and I have probably never connected so much as we did this trip, making it an unanticipatedly great time and strengthening friendships all around. There are many people who I’ve always been confident that I can reconnect with immediately after extended times apart, and adding a new person to that list was especially good in light of how few friends I’ve made since college.

Prius Present
While September dawned difficult and a long-planned visit from my parents did not go entirely as planned (with Emily having to return home for a funeral), it facilitated the fruition of a plan I’d been developing for months. To wit, I was able to give Emily a blue (in probably her favorite precise shade of blue, no less) 2007 Prius for her birthday with her having absolutely no idea this was coming. I literally bought the car and parked it a few blocks from our house and invited her on a walk of no seeming importance, only to spring the car on her as a birthday surprise. Her reaction took a long time to recover from shock and meld into some sort of happiness. Neither of us are materialists or ever really make big purchases, but with the amount she’s driving for her new job and the improved safety and fuel economy (not to mention car color!), this was sort of a no-brainer. And the fact that months of planning led to a perfectly carried surprise was essential to the joy.

A Magical October
Most of you may think that I overrate the significance of October, but this one was largely demonstrative of why I do. It began with a Weakerthans concert experience that I can do no better than to point you to the original post to describe. It’s not like meeting John K. Samson in itself was a huge deal (though it was awfully cool), but the way this whole night unfolded seemed emblematic of, again, being exactly where I should be.

Less than a week later, Em and I were in Vermont to witness Stina & Dav’s wedding, which proved to carry its own multifarious magic. I may be coming off as a sucker for weddings in this review, but seeing two of my very close friends find, establish, and codify their happiness is one of the best experiences I could imagine. And most all of my friends have jettisoned the traditions they don’t like in favor of establishing a new set of traditions, which is the only way to go if you ask me. As with the prior wedding, there were key friends to reconnect with here (primarily Ariel and Kate), and the memories that eight of us shared in the waning night at the reception hall, restaurant, and fireplace were beyond profound and utterly timeless.

Less than a week after that, I departed for a 40+ hour water-fast, most of it in the woods of Marin. While not a perfect experience, it was part of a continuing series of grounding exercises to remind me of the life I want to be leading and the path I wish to be walking. As a continuing part of the fallout from Oregon, I have been reminded this year that simply being happy, wandering a course without obvious pitfalls, and holding key aspirations is not sufficient to make a decent life. Those three things are all good, to be sure, but a larger component of deliberate movement has to be exerted to bring everything together and make it sing. I’m clearly not all the way there yet, but the quest is joined at this point and I am mostly keeping my focus on what needs to be done. Keeping all this together in the big picture is one of the key challenges for 2008.

Taco Time
When I first made this list of key events in the year, November was the only 2007 month to lack a single highlight moment. Maybe it’s too recent and was too sloggy to really count. My fatigue with my job hit an all-time high and I came tremendously close to giving notice. Day faded into day, leaving me tired and bereft. The only thing I can bring together is a night shortly before Thanksgiving in the San Francisco Chipotle (oddly I seem to have a lot of revelations there) on New Montgomery, between the Palace Hotel and the Academy of Art. It led to this post about my history with Thanksgiving and more context with the larger picture. Of course, this was quickly followed with a brush with materialism and standard America that made me want to move forthwith to Bhutan. So let’s just leave it at Chipotle.

Perseverance and Rejuvenation
December, though recent, already stands out as a month of great highs and lows, but lows which seemed triumphant despite their difficulty. The lows were mostly embodied in having to run the two largest events of our year at work in the midst of a terrible and debilitating illness. There is something telling, perhaps, in that both of my big sicknesses this year were marked by not being able to rest (and thus making them much worse)… the other was debate Nationals at Vassar in April. I simply couldn’t be absent for most all of the days, throwing my voice out twice as I tried to keep things organized and on-point. Fish came to visit as I was reaching a psyhcoemotional low for the whole year and helped salvage me from the worst, even making a big contribution of time and effort the day of our first major holiday event. Getting through those events successfully, hearing from old-timers that it was the best they’d ever been run, was about the biggest thing (on paper, at least) that I “accomplished” in ’07.

Then it was time to launch what I have dubbed the 2007-2008 EmStor Winter World Tour, with quick whirlwind trips to Albuquerque, back to Berkeley, and then to Fresno/Shaver Lake. I saw seemingly infinite numbers of folks, almost all in quick succession of hellos and goodbyes. I got a bit more time than the average with my parents in Nuevo, with Beth in Berkeley, and with the Garin Clan at Fresno/Shaver. Not enough time with snow, really, in any of the events, but these trips combined to provide a restful recuperation period for the year, and a chance to touch base with many people, however briefly, and connect.

The Downsides
I don’t want to dwell on the biggest disappointments of 2007, but it seems like a few are worth noting. Primarily (1) not writing enough, (2) not paring enough from the schedule, and (3) getting sick at Nationals. The middle factor there may be a bit of a red herring, because at least in 2007 I embarked on the concept of paring things instead of just taking on more and adding projects. But I’m still overall disappointed with how much has been left hanging. And most of this is online and thus sort of silly… a bunch of projects that I “feel” I should maintain despite them not being an important or quality use of time. The temptations of so many chapter ones, the “instinct to nurse every idea to health.” That line just skewers me every time, it’s exactly my experience with projects and opportunities. So I have to continue to fight that instinct, to distill time and its expenditures into the refined projects that have the best chance, the most upside. Which is very closely related to the not writing enough, of course. And getting sick at Nationals was just unfortunate timing, because I didn’t get much chance to hang out with people, I felt cruddy when I did, and I still had to do a good deal of work. And I was sneezing and wheezing through key outrounds, which just can’t have been fun to argue toward.

Looking Ahead…
At this point, I don’t really have time or energy to contemplate 2008 beyond what I’ve already done. I find it all but inevitable that the trip to India, now a scant 11 days away, will set the tone for this year in my life. If a mere trip to Oregon can bend 2007 in a new direction, one can only imagine what my first real international travel in more than 12 years (Scotland so doesn’t count) will do. And that trip is so different than any prior experience that I have that there is simply no point in trying to anticipate it or build expectations. It will be completely fresh and unexpected. And the rest will follow.

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Be Here Now

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Tags: ,

People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs
that voices never shared
No one dared
Disturb the sounds
of Silence

I think “Sounds of Silence” may have been about cellphones.

There’s been a whole new level of energy this past 24 hours, like a current rising up from some supercharged backwater, ready to flood the planet. “I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.” Go back to the ’60’s, I know. But the ’60’s have come for us, again. Barack Obama was born just as late as I was. He moved the woman who moved Hillary to tears to tears. Twice. “There’s something happening here.”

But people aren’t paying attention. In fact, they’re on their damn cellphones.

People are continually baffled that I don’t own a cellphone, inquiring where my Amish beard has gone or why I will get within 10 feet of an internal-combustion engine. More than anything, though, they cite how ubiquitous cellphones have become. I can’t think of an item that was so quickly embraced by so many with so few second-thoughts. Even past partners in holding out (at least of my generation) have conceded for work or for a romantic interest or for some other reason. I am not completely alone at this point, but close.

When one of these people cited some overwhelming statistic of universality at me the other day, I snapped back that if the whole society started taking heroin, I wouldn’t be joining in either. The person actually snorted and replied “Well, if heroin kept you in better touch with people, maybe that would make sense.” I then asked whether she felt that cellphones kept her in better touch with people. She conceded that the phones raised the quantity of contact, but lowered the quality. After some prodding and conversation, she even granted that this was probably an aggregate net loss in communication, in the purest sense of the word. “But I can’t stop now,” she concluded.

Sounds an awful lot like heroin to me. Oh sure, heroin’s probably an extreme example – a little like using Hitler analogies in debate (or reducing to nuclear war in policy debate). But some insidious hard drug, sure. That makes you think your life is better till you really examine what’s going on. That makes you feel better while being worse. That once you start, you can’t even think about stopping.

So just like my stance on alcohol, tobacco, and all “hard” drugs, I’m not even going to go there. Not start. Not even a little. And really, now that I put it in that context, the idea that all of society started doing something crazily self-destructive without me is nothing new.

So as I continue to seem more alien to others, the world seems more apparent to me. There are little signs and clues littered throughout one’s day if one cares to look. Mindsets to approach the world with. An overall presence that is fundamental to the universe. To just immerse oneself in the streets of a city on a cold day, as I did yesterday afternoon, is enough to send one into an almost revelatory set of understandings about what is going on. What is real. What is happening here.

As with anything, there are very few conclusions that come out of these processes. It’s much more about ideas. I’m not going to now tell you that I solved the mysteries yesterday. Far from it. And I’m not sure I’d even want to. But these days, it seems my mind starts to bubble over after even five minutes of, for lack of a smoother phrase, “being here now.”

One of the things one sees in this process, hears, feels, is everyone’s cellphone conversations. Not that they’re all vapid or meaningless, but so many of them seem so empty. Empty of content or meaning. Most of them are the equivalent of a handshake or a wave, hearkening back to the “handshake” days of the early FAX machines of my childhood. Blips and bleeps that signify someone else is on the other end of the line, someone’s out there, that solipsism hasn’t yet won the day in this scary world. And on that level, I can sort of understand. But there’s never really more than a handshake or a wave. No deeper meaning, no exploration. Too often, one “has to go,” usually just to blip-handshake-call five other friends before going underground (literally or figuratively) or to duck into the next distraction. As soon as people are on cellphone calls, they want to get off. And as soon as they’re off, they want to get on another one.

Does this really make you feel more connected? Less guilty, I could see, since guilt about not being in contact seems to dominate so many perspectives these days. New Year’s Resolutions passed around a table about this yesterday. But really, more connected, more deeply understanding of the people in your life?

Yesterday I reveled in the city’s hereness, nowness, reality. Then I ate, feeling compelled to pray before eating for the first time in months. Usually perfunctory functions like saying grace before a meal seem to me part of that ritual that undermines real meaning… so much of my problem with organized religion is founded in it draining meaning out of things through repetition. No function that one has memorized feels like a live connection to God. But yesterday, because it was spontaneous, I wanted that recognition. And I realize that the intent of these rituals is actually to remind one to be mindful of God at all times… the unpronounceable tilted touchstones on Jewish doors, the saying of grace, the forehead-dots. All intended to be reminders. But if one can transcend the reminders, cut to the quick, get down to an ever-mindfulness of God… that’s where it’s really at. Spontenaity. Twisting and turning the dials until one is in tune with God.

And it’s not going to give you the answers or solve the puzzle or fix everything. That’s not the intent, not why God is there. God actually tends to be rather cryptic and has a remarkable sense of humor. But being in tune, attuned, tuned in, can be inspirational and uplifting. And maybe the only thing that gets one through a winter like this.

It probably bolstered my whole experience of observation that I then proceeded to a ghost story movie, one of the best in a long long time. It’s called “The Orphanage” and will probably scare you silly, but is well worth the experience. It’s in Spanish, which didn’t buffer the fright nearly as much as I expected. It is in exactly the genre of “The Others” and “The Sixth Sense”, perhaps the two best ghost movies of all time. I now probably have to say three.

And what is a ghost story beyond a call to awareness, to hereness, to nowness? Yes, ghosts are buried in the past, but they are creating a presence, establishing a reality in the here and now. How better to call people to attention to a deeper world, a world beyond, the world that is actually real and underlying at all times, however hard it is to “see.”

Ghosts as they are understood by pop-culture probably do not exist, but the imprints upon time and place that severe actions create are a gateway to the reality that is underneath the seams of the Metaphor. Everything is connected and woven, and even the cacophony of wills can snap together like a mosaic gone groutless at any time if one just pays attention.

Put away the cellphone. Stop talking. Listen. Hear. Feel. Be. Here. Now.

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It’s Bad to Be Right

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Maybe I should’ve made numeric predictions after all.

What’s utterly hilarious to me about the current political situation is how the script of what’s going on ratchets back and forth so quickly. Two weeks ago, this was Hillary’s nomination to lose. Now people are depicting her as some sort of underdog candidate who came out of nowhere to triumph against incredible odds.

Really?

The thing is, it’s still probably the Dynasty’s presidency to lose. And I really don’t see them going down without a fight. It occurred to me yesterday for the first time (you heard it here first [TM]) that if Obama seems poised to actually grab the nomination, they will probably shoot him before the convention. When the two big people you’ve been compared to are JFK & MLK, and the person you actually most resemble is RFK, those just aren’t good odds.

But don’t worry, it’s just a wingnut lone gunman. Scout’s honor. I love this country (TM).

Despite my lampoony cartoon today and the incredible details of the exit polling, no one really asked the question how many people were impacted by yesterday morning’s papers’ top story being the trumped-up showdown between the US and Iranian navies in the Strait of Hormuz. It was well-documented that many people decided yesterday who they’d vote for, making the day’s news pretty significant. And Hillary’s late campaigning was playing a whole lot of the fear card, which seems to be as close as she comes to having a theme (“Eight More Years of Bill” coming in a close second). And if you don’t think Hillary Clinton and the Dynasty can coordinate with the US Navy, you’re really not paying attention.

What’s interesting about this race is that while everyone’s claimed that it’s going to be a sudden burst of voting, it’s still a pretty protracted process. Everyone just started earlier. It’s a lot like malls starting to put up Christmas decorations in July… it doesn’t mean Christmas will get done differently, it’ll just start sooner. Michigan is next week and has been so utterly desanctioned that the media isn’t even acknowledging that the state (America’s 8th-largest) is voting at all. Then we have Nevada and South Carolina, the latter of which will bury John Edwards for good (not that it’s good so much as permanent) when he gets third-place with about 20%.

The thing is, Super Tuesday is still a full month after New Hampshire, and more than a month after Iowa. In 2004, it was six weeks after Iowa and four after New Hampshire. So functionally, Iowa has been pushed back a week and then everyone jumped forward. Oh, the momentous change!

Granted, four years ago a lot fewer states were clumped on Super Tuesday, and even fewer in 2000. But the election was over a week after Super Tuesday last time, with everyone else dropping out. You have to go back to 1992, in the early days of the Dynasty, to see a primary process that was still up-for-grabs post-Super Tuesday.

But, I maintain, the Republicans will break that streak. The factions, both regional and issue-based, will continue to divide them until the Convention, leaving a tremendous amount of time for the Democratic nominee (who will be sealed up at Super Tuesday) to take the lead in the general election.

So very little has changed since my pre-Iowa thoughts, except that the Dems will be a little closer for a while, but probably still end up with Hillary. Not that long ago, almost no one took Iowa that seriously. Rudy and Hillary are still hoping this ends up being true. It probably will be, all told. Heck, if Dean hadn’t whooped, Iowa would still probably be seen as entirely meaningless.

I’m getting all of this political posting out of the way now, since I won’t even be in country for Super Tuesday. I’ll be trying to find a paper in New Delhi that’s covering the story. And while it will probably be a disheartening Hillary-romp that I won’t be sad to miss, I will miss the pundit head-scratching as at least five distinct Republican candidates win primaries.

In the meantime, watch the media trying to consolidate behind the Hill’. She has Fear and Tradition in her court, classic bastions of the American voter. And she’s now, almost unthinkably, grabbed the “underdog” label. And if there’s something Americans like voting for more than a pure winner, it’s someone who has made themselves look like they’re in a trite kids’ underdog sports movie. Only in America would people buy that someone so steeped in power, influence, and string-pulling as Hillary Clinton is reminiscent of the Mighty Ducks or the Bad News Bears.

It’s bad news, all right. Makes me wonder why I let myself hope in the first place.

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Independence

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: ,

Yesterday was rather surreal, all told, and a good bit volatile as well in the face of some long odds and a decent amount of personal boredom. I am in what I might describe as a sort of fugue state these days… the interim between December trips with families and the trip to India, the limbo between status quo and change at work, the suddenly discombobulated outset of an election that may not be signed, sealed, and delivered after all.

I spoke aloud while walking to lunch yesterday, saying that it seemed like “you can see the seams on the Metaphor today”. My perception of the planet we inhabit (and indeed, likely, all physical planets and realms) is that it is part of the grand Metaphor of the universe. None of this physical stuff really exists, which is why I find the physicalists (“realists” in some circles) so laughably ironic, believing as they do that the Metaphor is all that really exists. I could write a book on my theology that stems from things like the Metaphor (hey, I might), but a thumbnail starter sketch might look a little like “The Matrix” of movie trilogy fame, but without the machines and the enslaved humans and all the violence. And without the real world behind the shadow world being, itself, a physical domain. That part really didn’t make any sense.

And also, I would say, without quite as much rule-bending as “The Matrix”. The point is that the Metaphor probably only hangs together on rules and boundaries, a playing field of sorts for the moral and spiritual progress and lessons of the Metaphor. Why do you think there are “laws” of physics in the first place? Does it make any sense that there would be rigidly definable and discoverable laws in a universe randomly created by happenstance, luck, and flying asteroids? I ask you.

I’m getting a little lost here, or at least bogged down. It’s easy to do in a fugue state. Regardless, yesterday had moments where it looked like the tapestry that holds the Metaphor together was visible, as though one could actually see behind the curtain and watch the strings being pulled. Of course one never can actually physically see behind the Metaphor (there’s nothing physically there to physically see), but it seems that way. And days like that, one has to wonder if things are unraveling, or it’s getting urgent to start really seeing things.

Today is different… soggy, ambivalent, quiet, and yet highly pensive with that small highlight of hope and uncertainty that seems innately tied to both Tuesdays and election days (one being a function of the other, after all). Emily tried hard (probably without trying) to talk me out of any enthusiasm about Obama last night. He is well-connected with Washington tradition, steeped in special interest, lobbies, and big bucks. I could see a lot of pressure being placed on someone younger and with demographic differences from our last 40-odd presidents to conform and demonstrate that “he’s not so different after all”. Those who view the world racially would characterize his term, his life, his success as a referendum on whether his race could lead this country at all. Preposterous on all fronts, but you know that’s how the media would handle things. Like judging all white males on Hitler or on Kant (those are meant to be incomparable polar opposites, in case you’re not sure where I stand on those historical figures)… the truth is always in the middle, in the gray, in judging individuals by themselves and their actions alone.

But it’s a lot of pressure that would be on Obama, to not rock the boat and to instead pave the way for others like him by appearing “reasonable,” “moderate,” and other mild adjectives that involve preserving the status quo march toward full-scale plutocracy. Most presidents have caved under far less pressure, with far less riding on it other than personal plunder. And it seems like his status quo march is already well under way, pandering to the lobbies and holding back on sweeping specifics.

Nevertheless, Obama has upside. “Upside” is usually a term applied to baseball prospects to indicate that they have a high potential. Some pitcher with raw power who can’t find the plate, who can throw 102 with no control has a lot of upside. Yes, they’ll probably walk more than they strikeout next season and linger with a 6.02 ERA in AA ball. But that kind of raw talent can be crafted into something under the right tutelage, molded into someone like Randy Johnson, who might aim for 99 instead of 102, but with pinpoint control. Whereas a finesse pitcher who is playing well now, but has already learned 5 pitches has little upside. He’s a known quantity. He might be better overall than the pitcher with upside, but that upside gives the wild fireballer more potential.

So then it’s an issue of how much you want to gamble. And a lot of people like to gamble on upside.

This may make Obama sound worse than he is, in part because most minor-league baseball prospects have upside. But I can’t remember the last time I felt like a presidential candidate who got more than 10% of any vote had a lot of upside. Edwards may be slightly better overall, but I don’t really see any upside that he has. Most of his stuff is out on the table, including voting for the Iraq War and running with John Kerry. These are indicators of a total lack of upside.

Whereas Obama has almost nothing on the table, didn’t even get to the Senate till after the Iraq War had started. He’s like a long line of people who we don’t really have any idea what he stands for. But unlike most of them (such as, say, Colin Powell), the indicators are really good with Obama. He has fervently made the war and opposition to it an issue (again, gulpingly admittedly without committing to actually ending it). He has spoken with glowing rhetoric about change and hope. He has not been in politics long. He does not think Islam is the greatest threat to humanity.

It’s not a lot to go on, but it’s a lot of upside. Enough to make me actually hope that he wins New Hampshire and gets the jump on this whole nomination gambit. In large part just to stop the Clinton/Bush royalty from having a shot at extending the dynasty. But also because of that lingering upside.

New Hampshire is allegedly known for its independents, stemming from its strong sense of independence. Don’t Tread on Me started in New Hampshire, depicting the United States as a sort of crotchety agitated snake in perhaps the most accurate zoological representation of this country in history. I think it was a rattler, but I envision the USA more as one of those constrictors that goes around squeezing things to death and swallowing them whole, until eventually one can’t even see the outline of the enormous thing just swallowed. Always consuming, at a rate that seems to defy what an individual could want or need. Maybe that’s why Mexico’s flag has the eagle nabbing a snake. Rise up Mexico, and put your northern neighbor back in its place.

In any event, it’s interesting that the state that has the most and most disproportionate influence on our presidential selection process, crying out about its independence, has managed to give us such mainstream moderate plutocrats. Yes, they voted for McCain instead of GWB in 2000 and Tsongas got the nod because of geographic proximity (though Clinton’s strong showing while being from far away was what really launched him) in 1992, but NH has hardly prevented the rise of the two-party monoliths of mediocrity. And when “Independent” is a proxy word for “Libertarian,” I get plenty spooked anyway. Maybe they’ll like Huckabee’s so-called “Fair Tax” that gives everyone income tax-free and only goes after spending. Yes, there is some mild concession credit to the especially poor to prevent it from being the Most Regressive Tax Ever, but the fact that the poor spend 150-300% of their income annually while the rich spend maybe 50% really indicates the unfairness of this plan. But it sounds right up New Hampshire’s alley.

(And don’t get me wrong, I want to trim the IRS and decapitate tax loopholes as much as Huckabee… I just might instead replace the status quo with a 10% income tax at $50,000+ a year, 25% at $100,000+ a year, and 50% at $250,000+ a year. And abolish for-profit business, taxing 100% of would-be “profit”.)

In any case, I’m going to stop short of making predictions this time around, maybe just because of the mood. I still think Hillary has a good shot to bag this one, or maybe to overwhelm Super Tuesday even if she doesn’t. But I’m really hoping to be wrong about that, and that we will at least have someone who has some potential in the running. Hey, if it’s Obama vs. “Fair Tax,” I might even care about the general election this year.

But I’m getting way ahead of myself. For now, I’m just going to squint and try to see the seams. Bait my breath over early returns that should leave New Hampshire before I leave work. Pause to ponder why everyone shaved massive amounts of facial hair yesterday (or at least, confirmed and documented, myself, Mark Samburg, and David Letterman, the last two in major public displays).

Shedding weight? Dropping anchor? Going younger, slimmer, more hopeful?

Maybe it’s just time to make cuts.

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It’s Good to Be Wrong

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

And now I’m back. From outer space. If by “outer space,” I mean “a cabin in the woods with the Garin Clan.” And I do.

As far as Iowa goes, Henry Clay once said “I’d rather be right than President.” (Incidentally, the second quotes-Google search for this sentence brings up someone posting the coveted Feingold-Kucinich result on my Presidential quiz.) My phrase would be something more like “I’d rather be wrong than clairvoyant.” Which may seem to undermine the whole process of making predictions, but perhaps it’s part of the preparation principle.

The preparation principle is pretty basic and possibly almost universally held as a belief structure among people. It’s approximately If one is prepared for something, it won’t happen. Now most people might tack on a “bad” to this. As in “if one is prepared for something bad…” These people are optimists. In general, I think that the universe sees preparation as an exercise in prevention and thus works swiftly to prevent the prepared-for. Sometimes. In some ways. I don’t want e-mails talking about how someone brushed their teeth or combed their hair this morning and then still had a meeting or went to work.

The point is, I was really really wrong about Hillary Clinton. And this makes me really really happy. So bring on the saucy remarks about how I jumped the gun and spoke too soon… I’m happier than you are.

On the other hand, if you flip Ron Paul & Rudy Giuliani and give Huckabee a much bigger bump, I was pretty close on the Republican side. Not that this is where I’m putting any hope or much interest. And if Huckabee gets anointed, it’s going to be awfully hard for him to win, methinks. Although Obama v. Huckabee might be some kind of bizarre dogfight. I don’t anticipate a ton of turnout there.

But fortunately, my anticipations tend to be wrong. And while everything I can see leads me to believe that Obama is only fractionally better than Clinton or Huckabee, fractionally better is about fifty times more significant an improvement than I’ve seen from a mainline Presidential candidate since… Mondale? Really in my lifetime, functionally, since I didn’t start following Presidential elections till 1988, and Dukakis really seemed a buffoon. So that’s pretty exciting, all around. It would be a lot more exciting if he hadn’t equivocated on the idea of a full pullout of troops in Iraq by 2013, but at least he didn’t vote for the war in the first place (yes, I realize this is a technicality – he wasn’t in the Senate at the time).

Back to work now, and much more later. Today seems awfully surreal already and on the way toward the swirlier. The year already feels very old. Maybe that’s why I shaved today.

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