Categotry Archives: Primary Sources

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Stalin Condemns Trump, Lauded by Democrats

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, Tags: ,

Moscow, Russia (AP) —

In a surprising reversal today, former Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin held a press conference to lambast current American President Donald Trump.

“For too long have I stood by and watched as Trump ruins the American ideal with his tweets and his fake calling of fake news,” the mass-murderer announced. “I will not be complicit in his demagoguery any longer.”

In a thirty-two minute address, Stalin cited numerous disagreements with Trump, including his treatment of immigrants and his promises to build a wall with Mexico. “I may have built a network of gulags across Siberia that killed hundreds of thousands,” Stalin noted, “but a wall? With Mexico? Is this guy for real?” The Georgian leader who ordered the purge of millions while disavowing all knowledge also critiqued Trump’s willingness to lie to the American public, as well as his sexist and racist agitation. “Does he really think it’s acceptable to divide people in his own country like that?” Stalin asked rhetorically.

Democratic leaders in Congress and across the United States were quick to praise the former dictator for his brave stand against oppression. “Stalin may have committed some minor atrocities in the past,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-New York) said, “but I think history will now remember him for his bold condemnation of the President.”

Stalin, who avidly supported the Trump campaign in 2016, donated money to his warchest, voted for Trump for President, and approved of all his Cabinet picks, is now a minor hero of the left. News of his condemnation has been shared and retweed 3,832,750 times by registered Democrats and other left-leaning advocates of the so-called resistance to the American President.

“I’m just so happy we have a friend like Uncle Joe on our side now,” noted left-wing journalist Rachel Maddow. “I don’t care what he did in the past as long as he’s willing to stand up to Trump at a time like this. This is a real moment of crisis in our country and I’m glad Stalin decided to be on the right side of history.”

Stalin, who is widely acknowledged to be responsible for the death of at least 20 million people, is said to be considering a challenge to Trump’s leadership in the upcoming Republican primary in 2020. “I’m no Republican,” noted House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California), “But I would certainly support Stalin over Trump. His bravery today will not be forgotten.”

For his part, President Trump was content to respond with a tweet. “Why haven’t we heard from Stalin for so long until now?” he inquired to open his tweet. “I don’t think that’s his real hair either. Sad!” While stopping short of labeling Stalin’s condemnation “fake news,” Trump said he would no longer meet with Stalin or his advisors on key policies and was considering sanctions against Russia in response.

In a key Congressional vote shortly after the condemnation, Stalin praised Trump’s position and those who voted for it.

“Just because he condemned him doesn’t mean we can expect him to oppose Trump on every issue,” Schumer said of the twentieth century’s most prolific butcher after the vote, “the fact that he made the announcement is enough to make him our ally for life.”

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Shoes on the Highway

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Telling Stories, Tags: , ,

Shoes on the Highway
by Storey Clayton
6 April 2017

I saw two shoes on the highway
one
and then another
as I sped up the overpass
they were strewn, not placed
on the road, not the shoulder
clearly flung from great speed

and I stopped to imagine
the scene
kids or friends or frenemies
careening through the night
one joking, one not amused
as the joker hung them by the laces outside
to wave tauntingly in the windy wake

did they let go or lose control
the question
and how real was their contrition
confronted by the anger of the shoeless
saying I’m sorry through uproarious laughter
you don’t mean it, the retort
I do, I’m sorry, but did you see those shoes fly

I think this is always
the way
when someone loses something
when it’s taken and thrown out the window
someone thinks it’s funny
the loser knows it isn’t
and the rest of us have to swerve to dodge the fallout

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Tulane Debate Reaches NPDA Nationals Quarterfinals in Historic Upset

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

The Tulane University Debate Team on Sunday at NPDA Nationals. Left to right: Alexander Parini ’18, Ben Ozur ’18, James Capuzzi ’17, Sina Mansouri ’17, Khristyan Trejo ’19, Michelle Daker ’17, and Claire Kueffner ’18. (Not pictured: Elise Matton ’14)

The Tulane University Debate Team reached the quarterfinals of the National Parliamentary Debate Association (NPDA) National Championships last Sunday at the Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The partnership of Claire Kueffner ’18 and Khristyan Trejo ’19 finished in the top eight of the title tournament, besting more than 125 rival teams from more than forty schools across the country.

After 8 preliminary rounds of competition, Tulane KT broke to partial-double-octofinals (52 teams) with a 5-3 record. Their preliminary run included an opening round win over the 15th ranked partnership in the nation, a team who had just made the quarterfinals of the National Parliamentary Tournament of Excellence (NPTE) the prior weekend. Tulane KT entered the single-elimination playoff as the 37th seed. They proceed to knock off #28 Utah HH (#7 in the season rankings), #5 Berkeley GY, and #13 Washburn PH in three consecutive elimination rounds on Saturday night and Sunday morning. They were finally eliminated by #4 Washburn BS (#6 in the season rankings), a team that went on to win semifinals and share the National Championship with other teammates from Washburn.

This was the first time Tulane won an elimination round at NPDA Nationals at only the second NPDA Nationals the team has attended. Trejo and Alexander Parini ’18 made the double-octofinals last year, losing that round to Nevada. Trejo was the top novice speaker at that event.

This year, Parini attended the tournament with Ben Ozur ’18. Seniors James Capuzzi ’17 and Michelle Daker ’17, the team’s President and Vice President, also competed. The combined results for the three pairings gave Tulane overall a twentieth ranking in the tournament’s sweepstakes.

Not only is the quarterfinal finish an amazing result for a team competing in its second NPDA Nationals, the top eight finish placed Tulane among several elite teams at this culminating event. The seven other teams in quarterfinals were all ranked in the top twenty in the season-long rankings; Tulane KT was ranked 456th. The other teams were ranked #1, #2, #3, #6, #10, #14, and #19.

Full tournament results can be viewed here.

Tulane has been competing in both NPDA and the American Parliamentary Debate Association (APDA) this year, two national leagues of parliamentary debate with some stylistic differences. The school as a whole finished the NPDA season ranked 47th on the NPDA circuit out of 179 schools. The school is ranked 26th on APDA. Tulane will finish the debate season this year with trips to the William & Mary APDA tournament and the APDA National Championship at Rutgers University.


Tulane University has only had a debate team for six years, at least in its modern incarnation. The team has a website, but in one of those administrative confusions that seems universal to college campuses, we’ve been locked out of the ability to update it. And while there’s a lot on Facebook and in various places about how this past weekend happened and felt, I felt compelled to put a little write-up here for posterity as well, since this has been such a big part of my life so far in 2017.

Alex and I have been coaching the Tulane team for almost two years, invited to help late in the year prior by their then-coach, Andrew Bergman, a Pitt (APDA) dino who graduated from Tulane Law last spring. Last year, we volunteered and this year we are receiving a nominal stipend for our time, which largely consists of coming to two out of three weekly practices and the occasional tournament, plus generally trying to support the tournaments we don’t attend as much as possible. We’ve also been offering logistical help to their hosting of tournaments and navigating various debate leagues. The team started out competing in IPDA, then went to NPDA, and now sits at a crossroads between NPDA and APDA where it’s finding success in both formats.

I did not travel to Colorado with the team for this tournament, a decision I quickly came to regret as the successes piled up and our pre-round calls became increasingly excited and frantic. But in some ways, it was still a perfect tournament, even to be appreciated from afar. Below, I’m including my public thank you to the team who went (and Alex), as I posted on Facebook yesterday…


Y’all, please allow me to give some individual thanks in a public venue to a team that did something really incredible this weekend…

Sina Mansouri, it has been a real pleasure to work with you this year and observe your intense dedication to fostering this team and ensuring Tulane’s debate legacy continues to grow. I’m so glad you got to be on the ground this weekend to coach and be a part of this incredible accomplishment for the team you helped start.

Alexander Parini & Ben Ozur, I know this weekend didn’t go as well as you’d hoped for y’all individually, but I know you met your challenges with resilience and high spirits. I can’t wait to work with you on APDA next month and everything next year as we build toward what I think will be Tulane debate’s finest hour yet.

Michelle Daker & James Capuzzi, I am so glad you won your last NPDA round ever and that this weekend proved to be a holistically good experience for y’all. This accomplishment is a testament to your leadership this year and I appreciate all the time and hard work you’ve put into the team. I am so excited to see how y’all do in our upcoming April marathon swing through the mid-Atlantic!

Alex Jubb, I still maintain that you had the single best suggestion for every single round from the bubble through quarters. You have been an amazing coach for this team, even when they’re competing in a style that we’re both still learning. As sad as I was to not be in Colorado this weekend, it was a joy to share the vicarious excitement with you here in New Orleans.

Elise Matton, I don’t think this could have happened this weekend without your presence. When Alex first told me she’d met someone who went to my high school, was in her TFA cohort, and had founded the Tulane debate team, I couldn’t believe it, but I knew you would immediately be a person I shared a real connection with. I am so glad that you were able to lend your expertise and wisdom to the team this weekend, that you were the team’s leader throughout, and that you got to see firsthand the results of your creation.

Finally, of course, Khristyan Trejo & Claire Kueffner, I am simply in awe of y’all. I am still coming to terms with the magnitude of what you accomplished, for a partnership ranked 456th in the season standings to finish in the top 8 at Nationals among teams all ranked in the top 20, for a total outsider student-run team to crash a party reserved for teams that fly every weekend on the school’s dime with mammoth professional coaching staffs and scholarships. And that you did it your way, talking about what you feel is most important, *convincing* people that it *is* most important, makes it all the more special. You are the change we want to see in the world. Thank you.

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They Showed Us Our Past

Categories: A Day in the Life, Hypothetically Speaking, Primary Sources, Tags: , ,

When we found them, we were not thinking of our history, even while we were watching theirs.

We were thinking of visitation, of proof of life, of how similar or different they were from us. We were thinking of little green men and ominous grays and the slim possibility that the similarity in their planetary structure might mean similarity in species structure as well. Maybe Star Trek would be proven right after all, that the greatest variation would be in skin color or pointiness of forehead, that something ape-like would win the evolutionary struggle on every sphere, if only to reaffirm our perceived inevitability. We were not prepared for the victory of their cephalopods or cetaceans or proboscideans, much less the co-existence of all three. We were not prepared for how long or how carefully they had been watching us.

We wanted them to show us our future, to show us possibilities. To show us solutions for problems we had not solved, to show us the way forward, to show us how to get to other planets and survive and thrive, to live long and prosper, to be fruitful and multiply among the stars. Instead, they showed us our past.

It turns out the speed of light is an absolute barrier after all. There would be no real-time two-way street, no communication that built relationships between live members of contrasting planets forty light-years across the universe. We opened with a simple hello and it was eighty years before we got hi back and by that time the first hello’s author was on her deathbed in a beepy antiseptic corner with barely the muscles left to smile. And it’s not like they were all living to four-hundred over there, that was one of the lessons that was slow to sink in, that lifespan is meant to be finite, that something else always gets you in the end, that appreciating what you’ve been given requires not always ungratefully trying to negotiate the terms. But that came later, much later, after the videos.

The realization first occurred to us when we realized that the forty-year lag-time meant they were watching our past in real time while we watched theirs. We quickly surmised that the opportunity of space travel, of interstellar communication if not physical relocation, was actually a question of time travel. Until we could summon a craft ready to traverse forty years into the unknown with no hope of return, we would have to settle for the slow and unsettling dialogue. It actually took us about a hundred and sixty years to realize we could send questions rapid-fire, that we didn’t actually have to wait for a response before sending a follow-up question, that we could bombard them with inquiries in the hopes that they would respond in turn. I wish I could say this was borne from ingenuity, but it was much more that eighty years after hi back, the second response was somewhere between “what?” and “I don’t understand.” And we just got fed up and greedily asked them to send us blueprints for their faster-than-light ships, which of course they didn’t have. But if we kept our inquiries short and declarative, they could respond in sequence and then, at least for the next generation, there would be news from beyond every day.

By the time they got around to asking whether we would like to see our past, their existence had been inculcated as both a regular part of life and a mammoth disappointment. We had spent so long imagining interstellar space travel that we’d assumed this would immediately follow contact with them, especially when it was immediately obvious that they were more advanced than we were. Which made it all the more surprising that it took them centuries to reveal the quality of their telescopes, the sophistication of their listening devices. But of course, they were smarter and more experienced. They knew it would take time to build up to the idea of viewing the reality of what they’d been watching all along. Turns out the prime directive, while not an absolute, was going in sort of the right direction. It is up to the weaker, less intelligent “civilization” to do the asking, to initiate. There’s too much potential for abuse the other way.

Before we knew about the recording device, when they threw in some idle commentary about when we sent the message or we asked them about things that were half a lifetime ago to the recipients, some of our philosophers got excited about what could be seen through this reflected lens. If we could ever, however frustrating it might be, make contact with species a hundred, two hundred, five hundred light-years away, then we could dip our oars deeper into the tide of what came before. Think of the possibilities! they declared. Imagine what we could learn. No longer would victors write the history books, for the books would write themselves, in technicolor video no less. Of course, the sad irony was that whenever contact was initiated and all that came before would be lost to history, to this process. We could only get history, only ask them to reflect our past back to us, once were dialoguing.

That, of course, proved to be untrue. It presumed that we were the more advanced tribe, that no one had been watching all along.

Their picture was incomplete, of course. They did not have ships just offshore from our atmosphere, hovering in some sort of invisible orbit. They did not have anyone anywhere close. They were locked into their fixed relative perspective, only a particular angle on our planet from the ships in their own star system. But oh, the rotation of planets! Every hour, we would show them a new face, a new vantage full of people and struggle and mistakes and triumphs. It was almost enough to make us believe that there was purpose, real intent behind the rotation of planets. That they spun to ensure that from any angle, everything could be seen.

It was not everything, of course. It was not an on-demand library of every event in history. For the first few centuries, in fact, they couldn’t even penetrate buildings. It was only the outdoor events that were recorded, only the declarations in full view of the sun that made it to the archive. It was enough, though, to get the gist. It always was. It turns out what mattered to us most was not the speeches whose memory still imperfectly trickled to our contemporary collective imagination, not the battles and names we’d grown up studying. It was the way we were, writ large, the toiling in the fields and the minor atrocities of daily living. An anonymous rape in a back alley. A botched robbery on a lonely dirt highway. The distribution of smallpox blankets at a formal trading session.

For a long time, we’d known and internalized that witnessed horror held so much more sway than mere described horror. That the thrall of the camera, much less with audio, created a truth we could not bear to deny or resist. We were wholly unprepared for the impact of this reality applied to a history before we’d invented our own means of recording.

It is vital to stress that they offered this with utmost neutrality. There were a mirror, not a documentary filmmaker. They showed us garden weddings and spontaneous beachside births as well, we were awash in humanity’s humanity as well as its inhumanity. But the overall message was somehow clearer than our own extensive efforts to self-monitor, to spread surveillance to every corner of our own little sphere. Someone is watching. Someone has always been watching. Someone far smarter sees what you are doing and so might your grandchildren’s grandchildren.

No longer was history a mere abstraction, something to be reframed and repainted. It was something living and breathing, in better quality than we could produce ourselves, even after its precarious journey across the empty echoes of space.

It made us take our present more seriously, as we pictured it re-refracted through the rebound from our newest neighbors, offered to our descendants with quiet condemnation, a condemnation made all the quieter for arriving without commentary. We could no longer use past precedent as a justification. It was future understanding we needed to appeal to.

We wanted them to send us blueprints for overcoming mortality and the speed of light. Instead, they showed us our past. And it was the only way we could finally learn how to build a brighter future. Not one of eternal life or instant travel. But one, more vitally, that future generations could be proud of. Or at least less ashamed.

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When the Good Die Old: Mary Tyler Moore (1936-2017) and Richard Adams (1920-2016)

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Primary Sources, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

Richard Adams died on Christmas Eve last year. That will always be a fact of my life, that I got engaged to Alex on the night of the day that Richard Adams, author of my favorite book of all-time, Watership Down, passed away. I was sad, of course. Not sad enough for it to derail my planned proposal, or luminaria day, or anything like that. And not as sad as I wanted to be. Because, after all, the man was 96. It is sad to know that the world no longer contains a person who has done so much for you personally as to write your favorite book. But less sad to know that they got as much time as anyone would want here, and perhaps more.

Eighty is not ninety-six, certainly, and Mary Tyler Moore didn’t have quite the impact on my life that Richard Adams did. But I spent a lot of my teenage years watching Nick-at-Nite incessantly, hours at a time, and both The Dick Van Dyke Show and especially The Mary Tyler Moore Show were key features of the late-night network’s lineup at the time. I loved them both, but especially the latter, where MTM had been able to shed some of the sexist tropes of the DVD writers and really star on her own as a model of independence, talent, and humor. It’s not to say that the MTM writing was totally without sexism, but as people have observed the world over in the last 24 hours, Mary Tyler Moore was ahead of her time and a pioneer for feminism.

Of all the Nick-at-Nite shows I really liked (along with close second Get Smart, Dobie Gillis, Dick Van Dyke, Bob Newhart, Bewitched, I Dream of Jeannie, Taxi, and Cheers) I think I loved Mary Tyler Moore the most. Her show was fresh and funny and avoided a lot of traditional romantic arcs that one would expect from that kind of show. Mary Richards was not continually pining for one person in a will-they/won’t-they battle that where we all knew the ending on the second episode. She was independent, smart, and worked in journalism, but not as the flashy broadcaster you might expect for someone in her role. She was a producer, and one who can see the buffoonery of the pretty figurehead in the anchor role. She worked with a tough boss, an old-school journalist, and the insight into the world of the news and how it really gets made fascinated me. More than anything, Mary’s world felt real to me. Her effort to make it in the world of work, friendships, relationships, and what we now might call “adulting” resonated with my picture of what the future might look like. She, and the show, were eminently authentic.

Watching Mary Tyler Moore, growing up on the coming-of-adult-age story meant for a prior era, I found so much to emulate. I wanted to be like Mary. I wanted to be compassionate and emotional and independent and capable like she was. I wanted my life to look like hers. And not just because I wish I’d been my age in the sixties instead of the nineties.

I’ve probably seen every episode of the show at least twice. It’s in the pantheon with Gilmore Girls and Doctor Who and The Wire and Lost and probably a smattering of the other Nick-at-Nite selections listed above. I think of myself as someone who really doesn’t like TV, but I’ve honestly watched a ton of TV for someone in that category.

Richard Adams is not my favorite author of all time, any more than Mary Tyler Moore is my favorite actor. Adams’ other works are uneven, generally disappointing. He is one of those authors who possibly had only one truly great story to tell, his first, something crafted over years of oral storytelling in long car rides with his daughters. I tried to get into The Plague Dogs and couldn’t, largely because it was about dogs and not rabbits. (It prompts the question of whether I would have been deprived of the grand and life-changing allegory of Watership Down had it been about dogs instead.) I liked The Girl in the Swing, but it was a bit overly sensationalized. Even the sequel Tales from Watership Down, which I was so excited to hear of and read, rang hollow, felt a bit contrived, felt like an effort to tweak and/or cash in on the past, left me feeling pretty empty. None of this really cheapens Adams’ legacy for me, though. Just ask Harper Lee, whose only (until the cynically commercial effort to publish Go Set a Watchman) book stands atop the Blue Pyramid’s composite list of people’s top twenty-five books of all-time. You don’t need to write more than one book to change the world.

How do we mourn those who had a full long life? Is it okay to feel less sad? Having so recently experienced the sudden death of a 34-year-old, I can say that it feels different and it probably should. Of course, the other key difference there is that I knew Jon, while Richard and Mary only influenced my life as far-away strangers, through their art. As someone who hopes to be an influential artist, I can mourn this loss by proxy, while still recognizing that I would expect the sadness of people impacted only by art to be quite muted compared to those who actually know me in real life.

Perhaps a more apt comparison would be how I feel about Moore and Adams relative to, say, David Foster Wallace. They all impacted me from distance, but DFW, by his own choice, didn’t get the time he should have been allotted. Part of that loss, to be sure, is the pain of the books unwritten, the art unmade, the other things one could have enjoyed. And part of it, perhaps, is not being able to meet someone who influenced you so much. I never much carried the illusion that I could meet Mary Tyler Moore or Richard Adams someday. But DFW felt more accessible, gave me more time to get in a position where such a meeting would be more likely.

Which makes mourning all feel a little selfish, I guess. And stranger in light of my primary emotion at the loss of Adams and Moore being somehow sadder that I’m not more sad. But maybe being at peace with death, when it comes late in life and after it has been full, is okay. Maybe a little more acceptance is just what’s called for when the good die old.

Or maybe I should look to one of the most profound and powerful meditations on death I’ve ever read:

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs
later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of
time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as
in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way — something about rain
and elder bloom — when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly
beside him — no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The
sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first.
Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to
me?”

“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in
a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears
were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said, “Yes, I know you.”

“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about
that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to
have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”

They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The
sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay,
keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to
Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the
edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get
used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing
inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be all right —
and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and
together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the
first primroses were beginning to bloom.

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The Case Against Free Trade

Categories: A Day in the Life, Call and Response, It's the Stupid Economy, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, The Wild Wild Web, Tags: , , , , ,

I spend a lot of time arguing on Facebook. It comes and goes as a use of time. It’s often frustrating, but in the best moments, it feels like there’s a real opportunity to change someone’s mind. Facebook has become this distilled part of the Internet where enough smart, thoughtful people spend enough time that it’s like tapping into a collective town square. The greatest democratic theorists always talked about the proverbial town square, the marketplace of ideas, a place where concepts are freely exchanged and rebutted and synthesized into the best decisions for our future.

Granted, my Facebook feed may be more like this than the average feed. In a world where people talk about their feeds being overly siloed and sectioned off from disagreeing opinions, the majority of my Facebook friends have been associated with APDA, the American Parliamentary Debate Association. This league of collegiate debaters has its flaws, but it does bring together a group of intellectuals who care about persuasion and the future of the planet’s people. And that’s pretty cool.

It also has plenty of people who disagree with me. Then again, the main reason my feed is probably not siloed into people who agree with me is because there are very few such people, if any. There’s a reason my site is called the Blue Pyramid, after all.

Anyway, a recent argument, primarily with some former Boston University debaters, but also with some former Cornell debaters, enabled me to distill a response to one of the most prominent arguments against free trade. And I feel like I want it to be in a more prominent and permanent place than a Facebook sub-comment thread. Both because I live to try to persuade but also because it proves that all the time spent arguing on Facebook doesn’t have to end fruitless with a feeling of unsettled angst. It’s not just wasted time. Even if a lot of it is.

As background, the initial discussion topic was Democrats and leftists, including Bernie Sanders, celebrating Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I am one of those leftists celebrating this, as a lifelong opponent of free trade. We then got into a lot of the reasons I’m against free trade. Part of my case could be the entire book The Shock Doctrine. But I see free trade as problematic for even more reasons than Naomi Klein does. I see it as the proliferation of unfettered capitalism, the system that creates waste and worships waste as a value above all others. It places corporations in a superior position to nation-states – while I’m not a fan of either institution, I’d choose nation-states every time. They at least try to have popularly utile motives, whereas corporations care only about the bottom line.

But I’ve always believed the most damning thing about free trade, especially in its recent incarnations as something that mainstream establishment politicians want to see sweep the globe into one giant market where enormous Western multi-national corporations (MNCs) run wild and free, is that it’s telling a false story about competition. The narrative is that a level playing-field will enable those with the most talent and merit to rise and gives everyone an equal opportunity to succeed. The reality is that the playing-field purported as level is anything but. Free trade is giving some groups a 200-year head-start on a race and then celebrating how fair it is because everyone was allowed to run. Worse, those with all the monetary and power advantages of having been competing in a capitalist marketplace for vastly longer are the ones who write the rules of how the race will be run. The idea that this is passed off on the developing world as a fair fight is laughable.

I got two key counter-arguments in defense of free trade, though, which I want to reprint my responses to because I think they’re the most clear and cogent articulations of my beliefs on this complicated issue that I’ve put forward. And then I’d like to invite y’all to join the debate on this critical issue of our time if you have further counter-arguments.

The first counter-argument questioned, essentially, why I would advocate for protectionist trade when that essentially divides the world and what I ultimately want is a united world under the banner of a more socialist structure. Isn’t free trade a possible stepping stone to a united socialist world? Am I cutting off my nose to spite my face here?

My response:

Think of it like harm reduction vs. the AA model of addiction cessation.

Ultimately, I want the AA model for capitalism – no capitalism, nowhere. That’s my ideal. I recognize how unlikely it is, but that’s not going to stop me from railing against capitalism my whole life until other people see its flaws too.

But, in the meantime, we can also seek harm reduction. This is why I’ve spent most of my career in non-profits and why I’m not a pure accelerationist. I see protectionist trade as harm reduction. With free trade, the top-dog best-funded MNCs end up owning everything and superseding governments. They are able to make the rules and will turn the globe into an unfettered capitalist wasteland. Protectionist trade, while riddled with innate flaws of capitalism, curbs that outcome that the MNCs so desperately want. It enables some countries to protect themselves and their interests rather than being overrun by greedy colonialists.

Protectionism in America doesn’t really *directly* protect anything I care about, which is why people often assume I believe things I don’t when I align with Bernie and Trump on this issue. I don’t care about the American worker. I care about the Nigerian worker. And if the most powerful country in the world that holds most of the rapacious MNCs takes a big step away from free trade, it extends that trend around the globe, making it more likely the people I care about are saved from free trade’s devastation.

It’s kind of weird, I guess, that I vehemently agree with both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump about the importance of opposing free trade, but not for the reasons they do. But it’s also why the typical rebuttal to economic populism doesn’t resonate with me. People are basically saying “those jobs ain’t coming back, fools!” And it’s true. Automation has killed American manufacturing, permanently. But I don’t care about that. Automation and free trade are both killing everyone’s jobs, pretty quickly, and part of our thread was about the need to develop safeguards in a post-work society. Which, by the way, will not be aided by allowing corporations to sue governments for implementing protections that limit profits. If we need to give universal basic income or benefits or even just the right not to be enslaved by a corporation to former workers who have been edited out of the economy, we will need to tax corporate profits to do that. Both of those things could be clear violations of the TPP as written. This is bad.

But then I got the seminal argument, the one I see most proliferated in defense of free trade, the golden myth propagated by everyone to carry the torch of free trade forward for a new generation. And my response to it was actually liked by the folks asking the questions and arguing against it. If I didn’t change their minds, I at least offered something to give them pause. So this is the main focus of this post and what I want people to think about.

The question:
“What do you make of the statistics that show that this sort of trade and development has reduced extreme poverty ($1 or $2 a day) to single digit percentages in 30 years from 60-70 percent, if I’m right…for all its manifest problems? And before industrial capitalism virtually everyone that lived in extreme poverty.”

My response:

I feel like what’s being calculated is highly misleading. On a capitalist spectrum, the numbers have slightly increased. But people have traded functional subsistence economies for being enslaved by a capitalist machine that destroys their countrysides and makes them all the property of foreign sweatshop-owners and foreign resource exploiters.

This is a complicated question, but there are a few key points in evaluating this widely propagated (mis)perception of free trade:

1. Comparison to pre-colonialism. The only suitable comparison of current standards of living is to pre-colonial days. Because I see free trade and directly colonial ownership as two phases of the same trend. And if you started with chattel slavery and then went to Jim Crow, you don’t get congratulated because Jim Crow is better than slavery. You get blamed for enslaving people in the first place. Developing world poverty was not an innate state of being as it’s represented as being – it was manufactured by colonialism. A shitty quick fix that puts everyone in the GDP matrix does not count as “lifting people out of poverty”. It’s rearranging the deck chairs on an unending disaster.

2. What is counted. My argument would be that if you’re living in a functional pre-colonial barter economy, or even a somewhat feudal economy, all of your labor and standard of living is invisible to conventional contemporary capitalist metrics. You may be making $0/day because you’re not paid in money or you’re paid in a money worthless compared to the American economy. But this does not mean that your life is awful or that you are even functionally poor relative to your actual sphere. Globalization puts everyone in the same race without recognizing that there are different definitions and perceptions of the good life in other countries and different scales of magnitude.

3. Winners and losers. These averages and things are often calculated with the few robber barons of each developing country factored in. Not only can this skew the math, but it recreates the wealth inequality situation over and over again in societies all over the globe. This is deeply problematic because capitalism tends to recreate its own kind of aggressive feudalism where the few rich people functionally own everyone else in society and can abuse them and get them to do whatever they want. That’s actually somewhat new in the US and it’s giving us Trump, endless government corruption and cronyism, and will eventually replace democracy with kleptocracy. That’s bad for everyone’s quality of life.

4. Materialism. The problem with poverty and quality of life as measured by GDP stats is that it puts the innate value on materialism. The ability to own toasters and cars and other things, regardless of how wasteful and problematic these things are. Are these really necessary for the good life? Refrigeration increases the convenience of your eating experience so you can run back to your 16 hour/day job. But that 16 hour/day job in the West is prompting the world’s largest stream of anti-depressants and people trying to mortgage their schedule to have one day at home where they actually cook a meal and taste their food. How to compare this to a pre-colonial society where people lived on the land, took 3 hours for each meal in a three-generation family under one roof, and took time to appreciate each other as people? It’s a hard question. Capitalism dismisses the latter situation as poverty because it doesn’t cut the mustard in dollars and cents. I think it’s probably objectively a preferable way to live. I don’t see someone being forced out of that to go work in the sweatshop so they can eat processed food that gives them cancer in the middle of a tenement as being “lifted out of poverty”. But that’s how it gets calculated.

5. Access to health care, the internet, etc. This is the one area where I think there may be some ground to argue that modern life and culture does improve quality of life across the board. The problem, though, is that the more unequally things are distributed, the less you can make arguments from this vantage. If socialism were the overriding philosophy, or even protectionist trade, then equal access to improved modern medicine, the internet, and quality education would be priorities. Unfortunately, free trade has created kleptocractic neo-feudalism in most developing countries, meaning that these fundamental improvements are proportionately accessible only to the rich. This is part of why I’m advocating for protectionist trade. If you run the state-run oil company and have some capitalism, you can still use those oil profits to give everyone hospitals, schools, roads, and internet-accessible phones. If it’s everyone for themselves in the MNC-run rat-race, those are only going to be accessible to the people at the top. I think this is the best conduit to improving lives and the best argument for the capitalists. But free trade actively hurts this benefit.

What do you think? Is free trade an unfettered step in our ever-upward trajectory of progress that only Luddites and idiots would oppose? Or is free trade a bill of goods being sold to us by ever-hungrier MNCs controlled by a Singularity-like focus on cancerous growth? Or something in the middle?

I welcome your responses and thoughts. Send me something, post on your blog and send me the link, argue with me on Facebook. This is an important discussion to be considering as we face the future.

If you’re connected to me or the debaters I was debating against on Facebook, you can also see:
The original post with all comments
The specific comment thread where we discussed these aspects of free trade at length

Using this image ought to stoke some reactions!

by

Long Night’s Journey into Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, Primary Sources, Tags: , ,

Content warning:  language, depictions of possible mental health breakdown(s).


2:49 AM.  I get a request for pickup at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel.  It’s a little too early for it to be an airport run, though I’ve had at least one person go that early when they thought that Louis Armstrong International was not perhaps the fastest curb-to-gate place in the country (it’s up there).  I pull up to the curb ahead of a taxi driver cleaning out his car who glares at me slightly as I pull past.  He’s probably going to wait in front of the Ritz for the next hour or so until an airport rider emerges.  I feel a slight twinge of guilt and identify my rider, a huddled looking woman in a big puffy parka.  It’s sixty-two degrees out, mild for early January.

I confirm her name, a Russian name, and she agrees in a fascinating blend of Russian and Southern accents, with a hard-nosed edge to the delivery that would best be described as “urban” or even “gangster”.  Like she’s pretending to be in a movie about drug dealers.  But her face tells me she’s not pretending.

I swipe the green bar on my phone to start the ride.  The map zooms out to reveal the entire southeastern United States.  The destination is simply listed as Tucker, GA.  No address.  I blink once and feel that whooshing rush of adrenaline that comes with the unexpected, the verge of adventure.  But then I remember two nights prior and immediately tamp it down.

Two nights prior, I’d picked up a guy at a rousing French Quarter club toward closing, swiped the green bar, and seen the whole USA.  The destination was listed as an address in Tucson, Arizona.  The guy had no luggage, was boisterously amiable, talking mile-a-minute, and seemed impatient.  I felt a joke was the best approach.  “I assume we’re not going to Tucson?”

“Tucson?  Hell no!  Is that what it put in there?  Jesus.  I have a house out in Tucson, we could go check it out.  I guess it picked up on that.  No, just going around the corner to the Bywater.  You know where Markey’s is at?  It’s right around there.  God.  No wonder they wouldn’t give me the estimate of the fare and I had to say I was okay with that.  I’m just going a few blocks!”

I sighed with predominant relief, but there was just the tiniest bit of sadness in me that I didn’t get to be the guy who went on a two-day Uber roadtrip, who didn’t have that story to add to the collection, who didn’t contend for an all-time record-high fare.  I filed the thought away.  Alex needs the car in the morning.  I’ll be tired before too long and this guy is in no shape to drive.  I couldn’t have done it anyway.  When I drop him off three minutes later, he thanks me and says “Man, we woulda had fun going to Tucson.  Maybe next time.”

Back in front of the Ritz Carlton.  This rider also has no luggage, not even a purse.  I turn to ask the puffy-coated woman where we’re actually going.  She cuts me off, “Just to confirm, we’re going to Atlanta?”  Her sentences lilt up, but with emphasis, the pronunciation on Atlanta is At-LAN-ta, sounding almost like a curse word.

“Um.”  I hesitate.  “Let me just check how far away that is.  I don’t think I can take you to Atlanta.”  I’m stalling, but also in a bit of the shock that happens when unpredictable events unfold.  I know how far away Atlanta is, it’s 6-8 hours, depending on traffic, and it’s almost 3:00, and Alex needs to go to work at 6:30.  I would barely be in Alabama.  I confirm what I already know.  “Yeah, I’m sorry.  I can’t take you to Atlanta.  My girlfriend needs the car in the morning.”

“What, you could take me five minutes ago, but you can’t take me now?”

It’s a common misunderstanding that Uber drivers see the destination of the ride when they accept or reject the pick-up.  “No.  I didn’t know that’s where you were going until just now.  Drivers don’t see where you’re headed until you get in the car.”

“Sir.  I need to go to Atlanta right now.  And that’s your job, you have a contract, you have to take me where I need to go.”

I am half-turned around awkwardly in the driver’s seat, looking her in the eyes over my shoulder, somewhat imploringly.  She is staring back with a quiet, matter-of-fact desperation.  There is no fear there, but it looks more like this is because life has surgically removed fear from her than because she’s not in a situation that would make her afraid.  “I can’t take you to Atlanta.  My girlfriend needs the car.”

“Sir.  If you cancel the ride, they will hold my money.  The money I need to get to Atlanta.  And I need someone to take me to Atlanta.  Do you have the cash to give me back, sir?”

“I don’t have the cash.  But that’s not the way it works.”

“They will hold my money!  They said you would take me to Atlanta.”

“Look.”  I turn back to my phone, hit cancel ride, and hover over the reason for cancellation.  The ride is not actually cancelled until I submit the reason.  I point.  “You see that?  It says ‘do not charge rider’.”  That’s what I’m going to press.  Okay?  You won’t be charged.  It won’t charge you a dime or hold your money.  I’m really sorry.  But I can’t take you to Atlanta.  Someone will.  You’ll get a driver who can take you to Atlanta.  It may take two or three tries, but it’s not me.”

“Sir.  They will hold my money.  I need to go to Atlanta.  I’m not getting out of this vehicle until we’re in Atlanta.”

I look at her again.  She is resolute.  I know she’s wrong about the money, but in that kind of 98% way you know something, not absolute.  It’s not completely impossible that there’s a special hold for interstate trips.  But didn’t the Tucson guy say that he hadn’t been given a fare estimate at all?  How does Uber handle $500 rides for accounts linked to checking accounts that may have far less in them?

Of course, here is where I have to admit to myself that there’s been a small but rising voice in my head rooting for the woman refusing to leave the back of my Versa Note.  Because I do want this story, I do want to be the guy who gets the huge crazy roadtrip fare.  In all my months driving for Uber, I haven’t gone so far as even Baton Rouge.  My two longest trips were to La Place and Covington, less than an hour away each, still places classified as far-flung suburbs of New Orleans.  I sigh heavily.  I look back at the woman.  She is dug in, hands in her parka pockets, looking out the window.  My phone screen is still inquiring why I’m cancelling the ride.  I sigh again.

“Let me call my girlfriend.”

It is unclear to me whether I’m hoping to have Alex yell at me, perhaps audibly to the woman, on the phone.  Yell at me for waking her up at 3 in the morning when she has to teach at 7.  Yell at me for considering this idea to the point of bringing it to her attention.  Yell at me so I have an excuse to again reject the woman’s insistence and this time mean it.  I start thinking about what recourse I have if she persists in refusing to absent herself from the car.  I conclude, as the phone rings, that I am left with the police as the only option.  I immediately recoil from this thought, but then consider that the woman is not Black and, more importantly, most of New Orleans’ officers are.  Unlike nearby Baton Rouge, where protests and eventually violent recrimination erupted after the shooting of Alton Sterling a few months prior, New Orleans doesn’t have a police shooting problem.  It did during Katrina, but not since.

The phone near my ear tells me that the number doesn’t have a voicemail set up.  It did the last time I called Alex.  And then I remember that Alex is switching work phones today, that she gets the new one in the morning, that the service contract probably reset at midnight.  And her personal phone has had problems for weeks and is not receiving calls.  We don’t have a landline.  I have literally no way to reach her except in person.  And I can’t even think about heading to Atlanta without telling her.  Perhaps more importantly, she doesn’t have an alarm set to wake up if her work phone isn’t working.  Her number now directs to her new work phone, safely tucked away at school or perhaps the phone carrier.

I hang up.  I turn back to the woman.  “Okay, look.  I’m not promising anything.  I have to talk to my girlfriend because she takes the car to work and she has work in the morning.  And her phone isn’t working.  So we have to drive to my apartment.  I have to go talk to her.  She may say no.  Is that okay with you?”

“Yeah,” she says.  “I’m in no rush.  I gotta be there by 3:00 is all.  But I need to go to Atlanta.”

I relax a little and head toward home, trying to catch up to my competing thoughts.  Am I really going to do this?  Am I really going to embark on a 12-16 hour roadtrip?  How do I convince Alex?  What will the fare be?  It seems like it has to be at least $400 or $500.  The estimate on Waze said 484 miles to the destination, and $1/mile is generally a good ballpark.  Then again, that’s for slower city driving and time is also a factor.  We’ll probably average 75 mph on the way to Atlanta, so it might be closer to $400.  My record-high day of fares at this point (I’ve yet to drive a Mardi Gras) was Halloween, at around $350.  I’ve already made about $80 today in four hours, mostly in the wake of the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert at the Smoothie King Center.

Of course, it’s not really for the money.  Oh sure, I’ve been jealous of the stories I’ve read about big-ticket fares in online media.  The first big one that was popularly discussed was a trip from New York City to Buffalo, not even crossing a state line.  A friend of Alex’s family told me this summer about a ride he gave from Atlantic City to New York City.  But the fare always seemed dwarfed by the romance of the story.  And hey, I’m working on a book about this.  What material!

We reach my apartment building.  I decide not to bother with the gated parking lot and just park on the street.  I take a minute to gather my wits.  I’m about to leave a stranger alone in the car.  Admittedly I have her Uber identity, but still.  What are the vulnerabilities?  I make sure to grab my keys and phone and open the door.  “Give me ten minutes,” I tell the woman.  “No promises.”

I rush into the apartment and start calling Alex’s name.  I am trying not to sound alarmingly urgent, but I need her to wake up.  She rises, bleary, to a sitting position on the bed.  “Hi, cutie,” she says softly.  “What is it?”

I explain the situation, that there’s a woman who really wants to go to Atlanta, right now.  That it will be around a $500 fare.  “I wouldn’t be back until tomorrow night,” I conclude.

“So I’d take an Uber to work?”

“Yeah, probably.  And that or get a ride home.”

“Okay,” she says quietly.

“Okay?”  I am exhilarated and just the slightest bit disappointed.

“Yeah, if you want to.  You have to promise to be super-safe though, okay?”

“Of course, of course.”  I look back at my phone, at the map of the road ahead.  “Do you need anything before I go?”

“Just a hug.”

Before I go, I tell her that her phone alarm might not work because of the switch and that this also will put her out of touch with me till she gets the new one.  We test the alarm on her phone and it works and she admonishes me again to be careful.

I head back out to the car, glad that Alex seemed genuinely okay with it, excited that the woman will not be disappointed and, perhaps more importantly, that a confrontation about her removal from the car will not be necessary.  I wonder if I can go see anything in Atlanta when I’m there, if I’ll be up for it.  I consider, just before I see the car, that there is a small chance the woman will be gone.

She’s not.

“Okay,” I say.

“Okay?”

“We’re going.  You ready?”
“Oh, thank God.  I was so worried when you came out alone.”
I start the car and pull away from the curb.  “How come?”
“You came out alone.  I thought she was coming with us.”

Just the faintest drip of hesitation drops down from my heart into my gut.  This seems like such a strange thing to say.  I dismiss it.  “No, she has work here.  In New Orleans.  We’re going to Atlanta.  She has to be at work in a few hours and I had to make sure she was okay.”

“Oh,” she says absently.  “I thought we were picking her up.”

It takes me a few minutes to realize that she didn’t think Alex was joining us for the journey to Atlanta, but that I was running her to work beforehand.  I think about Alex sitting outside the dark school for the next few hours, waiting for the first person with a building key to arrive.  I relax a little.  This wasn’t such a crazy thing to think.  And after all, she doesn’t know she teaches kindergarten.  Maybe Alex goes to work at 4:00 and she’d just be a little early.

We ride in silence for a while.  It seems we are both collecting our thoughts.  My heartrate is calming down, the shift from the adrenaline rush of a momentous decision to the compartmentalization of mental focus necessary to drive for seven uninterrupted hours.  She seems relieved, but has withdrawn deeply into her own head, I guess with the primary worry of not being able to get out of town being sorted.  Twenty minutes into the ride, I realize that I should have packed a backpack and taken it along.  There is plenty of space in the car, I won’t be able to pick anyone up in Atlanta (or Alabama or Mississippi) anyway, and I may have to stay the night somewhere on the road back.  A change of clothes would be nice, but a book is completely essential.  Twenty minutes after that, I realize the ride will end during daylight hours, headed east in the morning, and I didn’t even bring sunglasses.

We keep going in silence, across Lake Ponchartrain, through Slidell, away from the city.

I ask if she wants to listen to anything, my way of saying I would like to.  She looks up.

“I just don’t know if they’re messing with me or if it’s real.  You understand what I’m saying?”

“Excuse me?”

“I mean, like the prophecy?”  She is speaking very rapidly.  “The prophecy.  I just don’t know if it’s real or not.  They’re telling me about the floods.  And like I don’t want anybody to get hurt, man.  I don’t wish that on anyone.  But I had to get out, you know.  Do you understand what I’m saying?   I had to.  Do you know the prophecy?”

I look out into the Mississippi night.  We are in swamp country, the kind of place where the highway is surrounded on both sides by alligator-filled bayou.  There are only a couple headlights, a couple taillights, visible at any given moment.  It is very very dark.  The situation has deteriorated quickly.

“Um.  I don’t know.”

“You know the prophecy.  They don’t mess with the old world.  It’s the new world they fuck with.  Like there’s the line through, what was it?  I can’t remember.  Phoenix I think it is.  That line that goes through Phoenix and all the way around to the other side.  You know what I’m saying?  And it covers the Pacific and California and Asia and all that shit.  And then on the other side you have here and New York and that Atlantic and, like, Europe.  And that’s the old world.  And they don’t fuck with the old world.  But they’re trying to destroy the new world. You understand what I’m saying?  With a flood.”

“Okay,” I say, trying to swallow my nervous sigh under the syllables.

“But they flooded here.  So I don’t know.  I get nervous that they’re going to do it.  You know, I don’t know who to trust.  They’re telling me this.  And they say it’s going to happen.  But I don’t know if it’s real.  You goddamn motherfucker!  Shut the fuck up, I’ll knock you out!”

I haven’t said anything.  I really hope she’s talking to the voice in her head.

“I don’t even know.  I don’t know who’s a clone and who’s real.  Barack Obama.  He’s a clone, right?  Do you know?”

Deep breath.  “I don’t know.”

“Why would they do that to him?  To be married to that?  You understand what I’m saying?  Do they hate him that much?”

“Um.”

“I think he’s a clone.  He’s a fucking clone!  I knew it.  Motherfucker.  But maybe they’re just trying to fuck with me.  I don’t remember.”

She withdraws into a bit of mumbling, then reclines slightly.  Silence takes hold.

I re-evaluate my options under this sudden barrage of new information.  My father’s voice is reverberating in my head with his most frequent and important adage, never get yourself into a situation you can’t get out of.

She has already refused to leave the car once.  We are now in rural Mississippi, the kind of place where there’s only an exit every ten miles.  Turning around or ending the trip early do not feel like real options.  They feel like they would risk jeopardizing my safety and causing further agitation in someone who is suddenly clearly quite troubled.  I calm down a little.  Aside from the shouted “motherfuckers,” there’s not a clear threat to me, especially if I don’t interrupt the ride.

Because of my history, because I play with worst-case scenarios in order to prevent them (another lesson from dad), I start trying to discern why she is here.  Why a ride that could cost her well more than $500 in the middle of the night was not only worth it, but desperately important.  Maybe she just committed a crime and needed to get out?  Am I facilitating a fugitive?  Is there a giant butcher knife packed into that parka?  Or is her assumption that she can do something to get out of paying for the ride?  That she can grab the phone when my guard is down and try to cancel the ride somehow?  I have often worried about this before when contemplating the big-ticket roadtrip ride that might come in the future.

The ride to La Place, my second longest prior to this trip, got cancelled in the middle of the ride.  Toward the end of it, actually.  We were on a minor highway in the middle of the night, swamp country again, and the disheartening but sudden sound of a cancelled ride rang out of my phone.  My heart dropped precipitously.  Usually this only happens if someone has picked up the wrong rider and the actual rider has seen that they are allegedly on a ride while they stand waiting.  They cancel the ride and the driver suddenly realizes that they have the wrong rider, that they are not getting paid for this ride, and, perhaps most importantly, that all of the protection that comes with Uber is suddenly lost.  Because now you don’t have the identity of the person in your car.  Now they could be anyone and there’s no way that Uber can look up who you drove and tie their identity to you being at this place in this time.

In that instance, the rider had been one of the most amiable and friendly riders I’d ever had, passing the long drive quickly with tales of work and growing up outside New Orleans.  Of course, con men tend to be talkative and gregarious.  That’s how it works.  He tried to re-request the ride from the freeway, but the app wouldn’t let him.  We pulled over and he tried again to no avail.  The app showed I had actually gotten paid for the first part of the trip up until cancellation and he said he had $8 cash on him and he’d pay me that to finish the ride.  It was almost exactly fair, so we continued on.  But I was still relieved when the address proved to be in a quiet neighborhood, not a rundown shack, and when no one emerged from the building to join him in stealing the car.

So theoretically this is a power a rider always has, to cancel the ride, though one at least gets paid for the time already spent driving.  But what if they took the driver’s phone and cancelled the ride there?  This was no minor investment I’d made in time and money, three tanks of gas to come, inconveniencing Alex, her extra spending to get to and from work without our car.

I assure myself I’m being paranoid, perhaps even more paranoid than my traveling companion.  I focus on my breathing.  I reset cruise control and try to play little mental games to compartmentalize the time remaining in the trip.  Hours past and hours to go.  Fractions of the trip.  Landmarks to come:  Biloxi, Mobile, Montgomery.  To try to predict where we’ll be at sunrise.

Periodically, she interrupts my little internal mental games with new rants.  Many of them center on clones and the idea that regular people are sometimes clones with no outward indication other than slightly aberrant action.  Many of them engage with voices in her head telling her to leave New Orleans.  At one point, I ask her if she has to be back for work at 3:00 PM, trying to center her on a more normal reality and she looks up blankly.  “No, I, I don’t work.”  I repeatedly try to ask why she’s going back to Atlanta, but she either ignores these queries of says “They told me to.”  It occurs to me she could have been fleeing abuse.  Some time passes in silence.

“Can I smoke a cigarette?” she asks.

“I’d really prefer that you don’t.  My girlfriend has asthma.  She’s allergic to it.  I’m happy to stop if you want.”

“Okay, fine.  Don’t bother.”

Another minute.

“But can I please smoke a cigarette?”

“How about I pull over?”

“Here?  No way.  Please?  I really need a cigarette bad.”

I try to calculate a number of cigarettes that this trip will require for her, given that it’s been over an hour before this request.  I think about the fabled calming effect of nicotine.  I think about the hypothetical butcher knife beneath her parka.  “Okay, if we roll the windows down.”

I do so and she lights up.  I think Alex is going to kill me if my rider doesn’t first.

Half an hour later, I’m glad that she hasn’t asked for another cigarette and that the smell is very faint already.  I tell her we’re going to pull over for gas soon, that she should get some snacks if she wants.  She has returned to something more normal.  “Okay.  I wish I had a few bucks to throw you for gas, but I only have a card.”

“It’s okay,” I say, thinking about the expense of the trip overall.

“You should smoke again at the gas station if you want,” hoping that this will buy me out of a few more requests.

I pull into the station, a Marathon just over the Mississippi/Alabama border.  Alex had Facebook messaged me from her computer when she got up and now I had the ability to reply…

Alex:  how’s it going?

Storey:  The rider is really odd.  I think she might be schizophrenic.

Alex:  What do you mean?

Storey:  I think she is clinically schizophrenic.  She talks about voices and doesn’t always make sense.  She might be tired or on something instead.

Alex:  You are being careful, right?

It occurs to me that it was a really bad idea to tell Alex all this before the ride was over and I was safe.  It also occurs to me that I wanted there to be a record of the rider’s behavior, just in case.  These things are in diametric conflict.

Storey:  It’s fine, it’s an adventure!  Getting gas and coffee now.

We pile back into the car.  My rider has smoked two cigarettes and purchased one small heavily doctored cup of coffee.  She has also removed her parka, revealing long curly dyed red hair that was previously invisible under the parka hood.  Also revealing no butcher knife.

We head northeast through Alabama.  The first glimmers of light are starting to emerge on the far horizon.  I forgot to buy sunglasses at the gas station.  We have, according to Waze, four hours to go.  Soon, rain starts, offering a reprieve from my oversight.

“Sir.  When’s the inauguration?  It’s in two days, is that correct?”

“No,” I say.  “It’s in nine days.  A week from then.”

“Sir, you are not telling me the truth right now.  You are lying.  It’s in two days.  Is that not correct?”

“Today is the 10th.  Well, morning of the 11th.  The inauguration is the 20th.”

“Sir, please stop lying to me.  We have 37 hours before the end of the world and we all die.  Is that not correct?”  Her agitation is growing.  I am becoming concerned again and realize that if she wants the inauguration to be in two days, it might as well be in two days.  It occurs to me that this is the best thing to do with people convinced of things whose reality is dubious.  You placate, you go along with it, you try to get on their level and reassure them in their terms.  It also occurs to me that the last reference I saw to this tactic was in the movie “Collateral Beauty” and that said reference was punctuated with the following joke:

“I thought you couldn’t afford therapy.”

“I can’t.  My Uber driver told me that.”

Here were are, at full circle.  “My mistake,” I tell the woman.  “It’s day after tomorrow.”

“Goddamn right.  I think.  Fuck, maybe it is in a week.  Motherfuckers!  Why are they messing with me like this!”  A pause.  “Barack Obama, he’s a clone, is he not?”

“I don’t know,” I say it as evenly as possible, as though I’m considering the possibility.

“He must be.  He’s a fucking clone.  And you sir, are you a clone?”

My heart palpitates exactly once.  “No.”

“Sir.  Are you a goddamn clone?”

“No.”

“Good,” she leans back.  “I didn’t think so.  Fuck.”

After a couple minutes, she puts some music on her phone.  It is, near as I can tell, Russian gangster rap.  The language is definitely Russian.  The cadence is definitely rap.  Some really fake sounding gunshots are peppered throughout the first three tracks.  I would normally, at this point, offer to hook up the aux cable, but four hours of Russian gangster rap through the speakers is a bigger commitment than I’m presently ready to add to this venture.

After a few songs, she asks for a phone charger.  I ask if she needs an iPhone or Android.  When she says Android, I reluctantly hand over my phone’s own charger, noting that I’ll need it back in about an hour and that we can trade back and forth.  She mumbles, accepting the cord.

The music goes off.  She leans back, her eyes close a little, even leans over on the seat.  I am pretty impressed that she’s been awake the whole trip.  Had I just booked a seven-hour Uber to Atlanta, I would probably have immediately laid out on the back seat and slept for a few hours.  That said, it occurs to me, again, that she may be harboring lingering doubts about me and feels compelled to keep her eyes open.  Maybe she’s fleeing some sort of abusive situation.  Maybe she’s been trafficked.  Maybe she has very good reasons to distrust men but has to rely on one now to get away.  Maybe she’s just hopped up on something.  But maybe not.  I ponder, hoping that she’ll feel okay enough to get some rest.  She looks like she needs it.

I don’t think she ever quite falls asleep.  Twenty minutes later, she pops back up.

“Sir.”

“Yes?”

“Sir.  What do you know about voodoo?”

“Not much, honestly.  There’s a lot of people in New Orleans who know about it, but I only know what’s in the movies, really.”

“Sir.  Do you know how to get a curse removed?”

“I do not.”

“Because I think I, I picked up something there.  I think someone.  They fucking did this to me.  You understand what I’m saying?  I am so confused.  I remember but I don’t remember.  You know?”

“I.  I guess?”

“Do you understand what I’m saying?”

“No, not really.  Who did this to you?”

“Don’t fuck with me like that.  You know who.  You fucking know.  They did it.  And now they’re talking to me but I can’t tell what they’re saying and I don’t know if it’s true.  Do you think it’s true?”

“I.  I don’t know.  I don’t think so.”

“You don’t think it’s true?  Man, I need someone to fucking take this thing off of me.  Fuck.  I don’t even know how I got this.  But do you know someone who can take curses away?”

“I don’t.  I’m sorry.  Maybe there’s someone in Atlanta who knows about voodoo?”

“Fuck.”

I keep driving.  She periodically leans forward and asks things which lead to five-minute conversations in the same style.  A sample of some opening lines:

“Sir.  When was it again that all the Nazis left the planet?”

“So, you’ve seen the movie ‘The Matrix,’ right?  That’s pretty much true, isn’t it?  How much of it exactly is true?”

“Sir.  Where did the neo-Nazis come from if they all left the planet?”

“What other movie is Keanu Reeves in?  Is he a clone?”

“I’m glad I’m an ugly bitch.  Thank God.  If I weren’t an ugly bitch, I’d be so arrogant.  And then they’d get me.  You understand what I’m saying?”

It is important to stress that her tone throughout these conversations is deadly serious, the way most of us would discuss a family member getting cancer or perhaps a recent mass-shooting.  It is delivered in the persistent staccato harshness of her overall demeanor, fast, a little angry, and laden with swearing.  When I respond at a pace even half as fast as hers, she responds simply with “Sir.” to indicate that she has not understood me.  The Russian gangster rap comes and goes.  A couple more cigarettes are smoked (she always politely rolls the window down first).  It occurs to me at one point that she might be trolling me, that she feels the most entertaining way to pass these necessary hours with a stranger is to rant and inquire about bizarre theories about the nature of the world and see how I react.  If this is the case, she is perhaps among the finest actors in the world.

Her most fervent phrase, peppered throughout the scattershot dialogue, is “You understand what I’m saying?”  There is always a special emphasis on these five words, an extra loudness, as though she can detect throughout that I do not, in fact, understand.  I still try to usually reply to this in a vaguely affirmative way, mostly for fear of being re-accused of being a clone.

When I ask her questions, such as for my phone charger back, she is usually non-responsive.  Occasionally she mumbles and then ignores me.  By the time my phone battery is getting dangerously low, risking both the GPS and verification of this trip with Uber, I get insistent and she finally lets me take it back.

A few minutes later, she asks if she can see my phone a second.  My heartrate surges again. “Why?  Is your phone not working?”  I am unable to keep the surprise/fear out of my voice.

She ignores me and stares out the window.  I am content to let this one drop.

The sun comes out from behind the storm.  We have made it through the vast majority of our trip.  I am starting to gain some confidence, in the daylight, that I will have the energy to finish the journey, that she will not attack me, that even if the ride somehow gets cancelled most of it has been logged and I will be compensated for this extraordinary experience.  In the back, my traveling companion is showing every bit of having been up as long as I have.  It occurs to me, for maybe the hundredth time, that she may be going through withdrawal.  A few minutes later, as though she heard my thoughts:

“Sir.  Can we.  When we get to Atlanta, can we go to the hospital?”

“Yes.  If that’s what you want, absolutely.”

“We can go to the hospital?”

“We can go to the hospital.”

“I’m sorry for freaking you out.  I’m.  I always talk too much.  I’m sorry for talking too much.”

I smile.  It’s been a few hours since that happened.  “Hey, it’s okay.  It’s a long ride.”

“I’m just.  I’m just trying to understand, you know?  You understand what I’m saying?  They’ve got me all crossed up.  I’m just.  I’m messed up.  I’m sorry.”

“No, no!  No problem.”

An hour goes by.  We cross into Georgia.  I try to confirm that we’re going to Tucker, Georgia.  The fourth time over the course of twenty minutes that I try to ask this, she says “Yes sir.”  I realize she may just have a hard time hearing, though I have been increasingly loud with my inquiries over the course of the trip.  I follow the GPS toward Tucker, realizing again that there is no address there.  I wonder if I should ask again about the hospital.  I wonder if she’ll want to return to New Orleans when we reach Tucker.  I wonder if I’ve come 484 miles to be in the same game of chicken with her about leaving the back seat.  I follow the directions my phone offers.

Soon, we’re in metro Atlanta, just behind rush hour, a fortuitous near-miss made all the better for the hour time-change at the Alabama/Georgia border.  Tucker appears to be a suburb nestled on the eastern side of Atlanta.  We proceed along a three-digit ring highway, I-285, south of Atlanta to get there.  As we approach the exit for Tucker, I ask her again to confirm where we’re going.  She replies affirmatively.  “You still want to go to the hospital?”

She is looking vastly better than when she made that request.  “No, I’m fine sir.”

“You sure?”

“Yes sir.”

I am trying, hard, to picture what the closing scene of this ride will be like.  I wonder if she has a home.  If she will just ask to be dropped off in the middle of Tucker, go sketch a sign on cardboard, and stand on a sidewalk.  This doesn’t square with reserving a $600 Uber at 3 in the morning under what appears to be her real name, but it would not be the first thing tonight that has failed to square.  We take the exit.  I ask for directions.  She responds quickly, with cogency, a series of turns that appear to be going in a direction, not in circles.  She is the same person who made it clear how important it was I take her to Atlanta in the first place.

We pull up to a run-down vinyl-sided series of apartments, four-plexes or so, in a vast sprawling complex.  The road through them is halfway to being reclaimed by the dirt.  The biome is piney, strewn with brown needles.  The road slopes gently downward and we are going to the very back, she assures me.  I briefly envision people jumping out at me, banishing the thought almost as soon as it comes.  We are so close.

We pull up.  “Right here is fine, sir.”

“Right here?”  I basically don’t believe it.

“Right here.”  She looks at me, sincerely.  “Listen.  I am so so grateful for you.  I just don’t even know what I would have done.  I had to get out of there.”

“Oh, you’re welcome.  I’m glad it worked out.”

“No.  You don’t understand.  I am so grateful.  Thank you.”  She opens her arms as though to hug me, an impossibility from the back seat to the driver’s seat.  I offer her my right hand instead and she clutches it fervently in both of hers.  “So grateful.”

“You’re welcome.  I’m glad we made it.”

“Yes sir.”

She opens the car door, gathers her parka, sizes up the building in front of her, and sighs.  “Thanks,” she says, closing the door behind her.

I sigh.  I swipe the red bar, untouched for seven hours and twenty-one minutes, to end the trip.  The phone, naturally, takes about 30 seconds to process this information.  It asks me to rate the experience.  I fall into a spasmodic laughter and pull away from the curb.

I click over to the Earnings tab on my phone, satiating my long-running curiosity.  Riders are always asking me how much a fare is, often so they can calculate a fair tip.  I always tell them honestly that I don’t know.  It sometimes takes half an hour for a ride’s fare to show up and one can never see it till the ride’s over.  This one populates pretty quickly.  $391.26 is my share.  She paid $521.68 for it.  Less than I thought.

In half an hour, I will be at Waffle House, eating for the first time in half a day, loading up on more coffee.  I’ll tell Alex I need to get out of metro Atlanta before rush hour starts and then I’ll evaluate when and where to sleep.  But I won’t sleep.  I’ll drive seven straight hours from Waffle House, stopping only for gas, to New Orleans.  It’s not rational.  It’s probably not totally safe, though I’ll have a surprising amount of energy throughout the drive and promise myself I’ll pull over if I start to fade.  But I don’t fade, even after 19 consecutive hours of driving, of 30 consecutive hours being awake.  It doesn’t make sense.  But sometimes, you’ve just got to be home.


This is an excerpted chapter of the in-progress book tentatively titled Driving for U:  Behind the Wheel of a New Orleans Uber by Storey Clayton. If you are in the publishing industry and would like to contact Storey about this book, please e-mail him at storey@bluepyramid.org.

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Revisionist History

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Call and Response, Know When to Fold 'Em, Metablogging, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Think of the past as a mirror...

Think of the past as a mirror…

From time to time during the seven years of this blog’s existence, I’ve added new categories for indexing the various kinds of posts one sees on this page. I’ve long eschewed the notion of a specialized blogging pursuit, such as focusing only on the Mariners or on my statistical analyses of the flaws of the stock market or on periodic stints of writing a weekdaily webcomic. It’s likely that choosing any one of these as a singular path would yield greater readership, or at least more strangers reading since they could come to that page specifically for one pursuit or interest. Instead, StoreyTelling ends up being about all of these things and a lot more and really only offers the category/tag clicks as a way of sorting out the kind of content a given reader might be most interested in.

The problem with that, of course, is that the nature of my interests and their specificity can change over time and these categories can then fail to be fully representative of their content. I think the best example of this phenomenon is in the Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading category, which has come to include everything from actual voting in American political campaigns to any major story covered by the news to individual myopia to the plight of others to any matter of international concern. This broad brush isn’t all that surprising given that I probably think every one of my posts is political in some way (small-p political) and I have been known to say that all art is political. What exactly politics means is contextual and thus that category is my third most-used, behind Duck and Cover (740 posts, almost all of which are just blog-displays of the comic) and A Day in the Life (621 posts, as my default for just about any written post). But it also means that the category starts to lose its meaning when it discusses such a wide range of topics.

The solution to this would seem to be to subdivide the categories, to try to divide international relations from American politics from commentaries on more tangentially political issues. I guess this is why categories and tags exist as separate entities, though I’ve only used them interchangeably herein. The problem is that any effort to recategorize past posts interferes with one of the cardinal rules of this whole project for me: namely, to not revise or edit past posts. Now, it’s certainly debatable to what extent adding or dropping or specifying categories/tags is really changing the context of a post, and it’s a question I struggle with. Categories like Strangers on a Train or It’s the Stupid Economy were created after a few posts in those directions made it clear that such a unique category was necessary, or at least a good idea. But then the question immediately arises of whether to back-categorize other posts that fall into the genre but predate the actual creation of that category. Does this somehow interfere with the nature of this blog as a time capsule of the person I was in the past, of my perspective, or the authenticity of those observations? Or does it just make it easier for people to find posts they might like?

I think, as is so often the case, the purposes of this blog for myself and for others wind up at a bit of cross-purposes. If this blog were primarily/only for readers, it would likely be trivial to just go back and try to recategorize. Granted that scouring 1,384 posts (though half are just D&Cs, so maybe we can exclude those) for possible re-examination of content through the lens of later-created categories is a big project. But it might be fun to go through everything and re-examine, as I periodically attempt to do anyway. This, after all, gives me the opportunity to use this blog as one of the tools that I prefer it to be, as an educator about where I’ve been, where I’m going, and hopefully how I can screw things up less in the future. But once I’ve altered those categories, I’m saying something just a little bit different from what I said at the time. And then it seems an easy addition to fix typos. And then it’s all too easy to start trying to justify taking out that particularly immature statement, or that awkward phrase, and soon we’ve lost the document’s integrity altogether.

Now, look, I know the slippery slope is a logical fallacy. That said, I also know that almost every road to evil or mistakes is paved in sequential tiny jumps that each make sense in the micro-view and end up becoming a horrible leap downward in the macro-view. I’ve periodically discussed this under the ungainly appellation of the A to B, B to C, C to D Problem. No one would ever go from A to D directly and to consider D from the vantage of A would be absurd. But A to B is just enough of a little compromise/sacrifice/change/jump. And then from the new vantage of B, once adjusted, C doesn’t look nearly so far away as it did before – it’s just as far as A! And so on.

I honestly think it’s hard to explain anything we find regrettable in human history that was caused by sentient thought that doesn’t conform to some version of this progression. This is part of why I don’t really believe that there are evil people. There are a whole bunch of fallible, possibly selfish, but largely well-intentioned people who get caught on these roads and make little hops all the way to really disastrous decisions.

In any case, I care a lot about the integrity of this body of work, combined with the previous blog and even the Waltham Weeklies and other saved documents before that. Because as long as I leave them untouched, they aren’t subject to the kind of revisionist history that our memory naturally is. I have a pretty darn good memory as these things go, with multiple distinct and powerful memories from before my fourth birthday, which I’m told is relatively rare.* But as debates like those sparked in my family about whether I saw E.T. or Tron first prove, my memory is imperfect, or my parent’s memories are. I firmly remember a certain order of events and my parents recall another. And these memories are important for us in shaping our view of the past on which we base our notion of both the present and the future. But there is a truth of the matter. The memory is serving a different purpose than the absolute truth about what happened. And I have a bit of a bias toward the truth as I think it’s a little more stable and informative.

That said, there’s really no way to make memories conform wholly to the truth, or at least not to be damaged by the end results. Obvious example: my marriage. How I felt about my marriage before Emily cheated on me and left me is wholly different than how I felt about it afterwards. But the fact of the experience at the time remains unchanged. In memory, there is no possible way to recall a particular anniversary dinner or a shared moment or some sacrifice she made for me outside of the context of her ultimate betrayal. There is no possible way for me to just envision that pure memory without the tarnish that time and subsequent events put on it. And yet, the actual event was the pure version, without the eventual damage of future events. As a temporal extant being who must constantly remember the past through the new lens of the ever-changing present, that event is fundamentally lost to me, its context forever altered. But with this blog, I can at least read my actual reporting on the event from the precise time it happened and get the most accurate possible rendition of how I truly felt about it at the time, unspoiled by the knowledge of the future.

I think, for what it’s worth, this is what makes betrayal, especially romantic betrayal, so fundamentally devastating. Because it takes all your good memories, all the little buoys of confidence and hope that get us through the tough days, and spoils them. No matter what the actual content of their validity was at the time, they are not only lost, but actively ruined, turned against you to now be little taunts of what you didn’t have. Even if you, in a sense did have them, at the time. This is why I was able to seriously say things like maybe it would have been better had I died in the October 2009 car accident (scroll down to the italicized postscript in that post) after Emily left me – because then I would have died with all those good times intact and unspoiled in perpetuity. As the Smiths put it, “To die by your side is such a heavenly way to die.” This is not just about the joy of a particular moment; it is about the knowledge that this moment will never be so great in the long-term future as it feels right now. The course of events will destroy it.

Now, there is no illusion that this blog, merely by existing here as unaltered testament to the daily updates of a temporally changing being, can actually capture and preserve that magic wholly in a way that is meaningfully useful to combat the damage of, say, betrayal or loss. Because even in reading about the past, no matter how pure or unadulterated the past’s testimony is, the overly introspective ruminative person (that’s me!) will find clues that were never there.

Prime, recent example: in looking for a particular nugget of past testimony in my blog sometime last week, I started reading various posts from the past, as I often do. It’s like getting to hang out with my past self, a close but sometimes annoying friend. And then I discovered, to my absolute horror, that my post about my plans for the summer of 2010 was entitled, by my own choosing, April Come She Will. In the context of my choice at the time, it was innocuous. The post was dated 6 April and I talked about the inevitability of April and how the month often troubles me. But in the context of how that summer unfolded, well, here are the lyrics to the Simon & Garfunkel song which shares a title with that post:

April, come she will
when streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May, she will stay
resting in my arms again
June, she’ll change her tune
in restless walks, she’ll prowl the night
July, she will fly
and give no warning to her flight
August, die she must
the autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September, I remember
a love once new has now grown old

Now, I don’t need to go through a full blow-by-blow of the events of those months in 2010 to demonstrate just how chilling this discovery was to me. After all, you can go read the archives of those months on this page! Isn’t that the whole point? Suffice it to say that this could be a chronicle of the critical months that ended my marriage, down to July being the time of betrayal after an unhappy and searching June for Emily in Liberia, yielding to her cruel indifference in August and everything being over in September. I mean, this could’ve been a poem I wrote about the experience. And I know that this is about a trivial love affair that starts in that same April and is over by summer’s end and I know that I’ve been listening to this song since I was thirteen, but this is exactly the kind of experience that prompted me to spend a fevered day in senior year running around telling all of my friends that we have the key but we just don’t know how to use it. And when they asked me what the hell I was talking about, I just said, in hushed reverent and slightly goggle-eyed tones, that it was “the key“.

What I was talking about, then, was that PLB had told me a story in the midst of our relationship about her father’s first marriage and how his first wife had gone crazy on their wedding night and had a nervous breakdown and couldn’t handle the commitment or the situation and basically disappeared and that it broke her father’s heart and made him kind of a sad, distant person. We were doing a close reading of either Conrad or Kafka in AP English and something in the work triggered the memory of this story and I came to see it as a parable, a warning she was giving me, that had about as much truth-content as her average statement. (Full disclosure: I have no idea whatsoever if this story was entirely true, entirely made up, or some mixture.) At that moment, I felt that this was the one glaring clue she had given me that she was in over her head, was crazy, and that our relationship was doomed.

Now, talk about your revisionist history! It’s probably just as nuts to believe that this was her deliberate warning as it is to believe that I knew the next six months of my life would mirror a Simon & Garfunkel song on 6 April 2010. But doggone it, this stuff gives me the shivers. You can call it irrational pattern-seeking if you want, you can call it confirmation bias, you can call it the deliberate and willful search for something that isn’t there. But I will never be able to see these things without the feeling that there is a deeper code to be cracked in all of this, that things are more embedded that we can imagine. Or, to quote the Doctor Who episode I saw last night:

“People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff.”
-The Doctor, Doctor Who, Season 3 of the new reboot, “Blink” episode

How else to explain that I actively try to send my past self psychic messages about the outcome of certain hands at the poker table to be received by my previous self? Or that I sometimes feel I receive those messages? I rarely trust these messages, especially when they are about subpar hands, but the messages of certain strong feelings have a scarily remarkable track-record of being right. And this practice definitely predates poker and probably goes back to a deeply embedded series of beliefs that most people would consider “magical thinking” to be polite and “crazy” to be realistic. And, mind you, no one has been less successfully psychic than me. I still dated PLB, still married Emily, still hired Baia. No wonder I’m obsessed with trying to beat the future.

No, this isn’t all just about having some perfect script of the past to serve as a blueprint for some mosaic of the future, though that’s not none of it either. But the preservation of the perfections, oddities, insights, and tribulations of the unadorned past still feels like the single most meaningful aspect of the project of blogging. And why it will probably be just a little bit harder for you to navigate to the type of content you personally most want to see. As though I didn’t make it hard enough by calling a category that most would label simply Music as “All the Poets Became Rock Stars”. Or by choosing, it would appear, nine categories for this post. Maybe, future self, I just want you to read it. (But not “Read it and Weep”. That’s the Books category.)


*Which reminds me, as a total sidenote, that it just occurred to me how crazy it is that I remember seeing both E.T. and Tron in theaters at a little younger than 2.5 years old. These may even predate my near-drowning experience in swim class that I have always classified as my earliest memory. I’m sure my Dad can weigh in, especially after he rebutted my Ms. Pac Man-post‘s discussion of those two movies with the following:

“The first point about Tron was that it was a DISNEY movie. I grew up loving the Walt Disney movies, the color (not black & white), the animation (though not all were animated). My first drive-in movie (in Carson City) was to see a re-release of Dumbo. I saw Bambi (alone in a matinee) on a big screen one block away from the White House in 1957 in Washington. I loved 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (in Carson), Another film at the drive-in was Old Yeller, about when I got my dog “Jamie”. Pinnochio and Cinderella were seen several times, my mother loved Fantasia, so I endured that movie (once), but I found the Bald Mountain sequence very scary (like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz).

The 70’s and early 80’s were a bad time for movies. Bigger theaters were broken up to create small rooms with small screens (for small audiences). Then they started building “multi-screen” places (not really real theaters), like where ET was shown, out on south Mooney (in Visalia). I generally hated the “small room” mall type movie experience. I loved (best) the movie “Palaces”, like the Grand Lake in Oakland, or the older (depression, WPA mural, type theaters, like the Kimo in Albuquerque and the old original movie house in downtown Visalia. [Note: In many cities in the US West the only place the WPA Arts Project was visible was in the murals painted on the walls (for free) by WPA artists. Often, this WPA art was both the biggest art (and the best) anywhere in town. In time, most WPA movie murals were painted over. Now, most WPA era movie theaters are torn down, converted, or closed. There seem to be NO articles about the movie murals on the web, just modern day full wall posters that date (in concept) from the WPA Art period that still was very alive in the 1950’s.]

Anyway, Mom and I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, in San Jose (actually in a theater in Sunnyvale or Mountain View) the first time you were “babysat” while living in San Jose. Raiders (July 1981) was not as scary as Star Wars (Darth Vader), but still had a few scary (for children) scenes. I can’t recall any other movie that your mother and I saw until I took you to Tron (Mom, then as now, was not interested and didn’t go). I worked for cable (afternoons, evenings and nights). We bought the RCA discs, mostly Disney movies (Mary Poppins, Dumbo) and Seseme Street and Muppets. Had the (new) Disney Channel on TV.

So, Tron was a DISNEY MOVIE, playing at an old WPA real theater downtown, that had a balcony (just to be safe).

I re-saw Fantasia in an old WPA theater in Berkeley (California Theater, about 1971, before it was broken up), because “everyone else” in the group wanted to see it. It was crowded, so we ended up in the balcony seating. The Night on Bald Mountain scene wasn’t nearly as scary sitting ABOVE Bald Mountain.

We sat in the balcony, in Visalia (at the Visalia Fox Theater), when we went and saw Tron. It was the furthest left re-screen configuration, based on the left side entrance to the balcony seating. The theater was old and fairly shabby then, not impressive. I don’t think I ever went back. Also, for a “cherished” Disney film experience I found Tron very boring and I was very worried you didn’t (wouldn’t) like it, and might not ever want to go to another “real movie” again. I guess I was wrong.

Anyway, Mom had heard good things about ET from other parents. She thought it might be a better movie “for kids”, maybe you, more exciting, better plot. I was more concerned about the “alien” (sci-fi), Star Wars angle. I almost said, after the failure of Tron, “let’s not go.” But “Disney had failed me,” so why not try something new, out in a new theater on Mooney. On Mooney, we sat on the floor (floor level seating), the theater was crowded, unlike an almost empty Tron theater experience. The whole thing WAS scary, even for me.”

-E-Mail from Donald Clayton, 8 December 2014

I love my Dad. You can see I come by this obsession with the past, memory, and context pretty honestly.

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US Announces Airstrikes to Target Ebola

Categories: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, Tags: ,

ARLINGTON, Va. — Speaking at a press conference today at the Pentagon, President Barack Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a comprehensive plan to “degrade and eventually destroy ebola” through the use of targeted airstrikes.

Citing ebola’s willingness to kill indiscriminately and even target children, the very old, and the very weak, Obama and Hagel were unflinching in their insistence that ebola must be eradicated. “We cannot erase every trace of ebola from the world,” Obama admitted, “That’s why we must remain vigilant as threats emerge.”

The plan will involve airstrikes on the nations hardest hit by the recent most deadly outbreak of ebola, including Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria. Airstrikes will target those currently with ebola, though those near them will also be impacted. Hagel noted in his statement that those nearby are likely to be infected anyway, so their deaths would be inevitable. “Those currently not suffering from ebola may soon become sympathetic to ebola,” he elaborated. “We must strike this disease at the root if we are to eradicate it.

“Even now, some Americans are infected with the deadly scourge of ebola,” Hagel went on. “They hold American passports. All they need do is get on a plane and they can bring ebola to our homeland’s shores. We must wipe them out before this is allowed to occur.”

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one White House aide admitted that the cost of the air campaign will exceed $100 billion and there are, as yet, no appropriations set aside for this spending. When questioned about this, Hagel retorted that “We cannot put a price on freedom. And make no mistake, ebola hates freedom. It destroys your organs, making you unable to move.”

A predator drone off the coast of Liberia launches an initial missile into an ebola-infected village.

A predator drone off the coast of Liberia launches an initial missile into an ebola-infected village.

Obama was quick to observe that this is not merely an African epidemic. “If left unchecked, this disease could pose a growing threat beyond that region — including to the United States,” he said.

Republicans were quick to criticize Obama’s plan as falling short of the decisive action necessary to deal with ebola. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell questioned the plan to only kill Liberians currently carrying the virus. “Shouldn’t we have a more comprehensive strategy to destroy the entire country?” he asked in a response statement issued following the President’s press conference. “After all, those in Liberia without ebola could someday get it. And then they will hate freedom. I question whether the President truly cares about homeland security.”

The rapid emergence of ebola has taken the country by storm, terrorizing Americans everywhere and capturing the nation’s horrified imagination. Shortly after the announcement, a poll showed that 94% of Americans favor the strikes to kill every man, woman, and child with ebola, and 55% say they do too little to stem the disease’s inexorable spread.

Obama promised that America would not be the only nation striking at those with ebola, noting that Somalia and North Korea had both pledged to send missiles for the war effort and that Myanmar was considering joining the fight as well.

Concluding his remarks, Obama noted that this mission would not be without danger to Americans abroad. “Now, it will take time to eradicate a cancer like ebola. And any time we take military action, there are risks involved — especially to the servicemen and women who carry out these missions. But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ebola wherever it exists, using our air power and our support for partner forces on the ground.”

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Scientists Discover Possible Link Between Tragedy, Sadness

Categories: Primary Sources, Tags:

TUCSON, Ariz. — Researchers at the University of Arizona announced Friday they had discovered a possible link between experiencing tragedy and feeling sadness. The findings, to be published in the October Journal of Health Psychology, offer new insights into treating those with depression and long-term chronic mental illness.

“This discovery is truly revolutionary,” noted Dr. Rachel Eisenstein, who headed the study. “This may be the breakthrough we’ve been looking for in treating the most difficult cases of depression we are facing in our society.”

Eisenstein’s team studied both individuals who had recently experienced direct personal tragedy or trauma as well as conducting related studies which simulated those experiences. In the latter, test subjects were brought in for tests that they were told would examine motor coordination and brain function, but the study was then interrupted by an important phone call for the subject in which they were told that a person close to them had just died.

“We used their emergency contact on the release form,” explained Arjun Karamchand, a PhD candidate in Arizona’s psychology program and one of the interns on the research. “When subjects took the phone call, they were still wired to the brain scanners. All the parts of the brain we associate with sadness just lit up like a Christmas tree as soon as they got the news.”

The Arizona team focused on the cingulate, the part of the brain most closely associated with feelings of sadness and depression. In over 95% of cases, the test subject’s cingulate was highly active during both hearing the purported news of the death of their loved one and immediately afterwards. In many cases, the cingulate remained engorged with blood and highly volatile for the remainder of the test subject’s time in the lab.

“We don’t want to jump to any conclusions just yet,” cautioned Eisenstein, who noted that far more research is needed to discover why this correlation may exist. “As yet, we have no proof for any sort of causal link between the tragedy and the feeling of sadness as indicated by increased activity in the cingulate. In fact, we suspect that the sadness may actually be causing the tragedy itself.”

If that is indeed the case, research may be needed into how to rebalance cingulate activity in order to prevent tragedies and save lives. “Every day, people are walking around with engorged cingulates and increased brain activity,” said Karmchand. “This is not only saddening these people, but may actually be endangering the lives of those around them.”

Further studies are planned to explore the nature of the tragedy or trauma experienced and its possible correlation to sadness. “We are hoping to fund one involving direct and immediate cessation of limbs,” Eisenstein added. “Understanding the link between direct trauma and sadness as opposed to mere emotional loss is key to understanding why people are experiencing these feelings of depression.”

Eisenstein admitted she has been having difficulty attaining funding for that study due to its controversial nature. “The cingulate is considered very fragile in the psychological community,” she said. “Some people say we shouldn’t do anything that could endanger its chemical balance, even in those who have consented to the research.”

Despite the controversy, Eisenstein insists her team’s research is critical. “Right now, there are all these people feeling unnecessary sadness in the wake of tragedy,” she said. “Frankly, the fact that a society like ours allows people to feel anything other than elation at all times is the real tragedy.”

She promised to continue her research, focusing on the possible development of drugs that will combat cingulate activity before, during, or after traumatic events. “There’s no reason tragedy has to make you feel less than your best,” she said.

Scans from Eisenstein's research at the University of Arizona, showing increased activity in the cingulate.

Scans from Eisenstein's research at the University of Arizona, showing increased activity in the cingulate.

For more on groundbreaking mental-health discoveries, please see the article Most Babies Chronically Depressed, New Study Warns.

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My Name’s Sandy, A Hurricane-y

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, Tags: ,

Original lyrics by Storey Clayton
based on and to be sung to the tune of “Call Me Maybe” by Carly Rae Jepsen
and brought to you in part by cabin fever

I caused a wave and a swell
Turned a bright day into hell
Storm surge rose, never fell
And now I’m in your way

I wrecked your satellite dish
Knocked over trees with a kiss
You were not looking for this
But now I’m in your way
Power barely holding
Stores shut, shelves were showing
Cold night, wind was blowing
Where you think you’re going baby?

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney
My eye’s staring right, at you baby
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney
And all the weathermen, try to chase me
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

You took your time with the call
The lines were down after all
I took the beach, had a ball, and still I’m in your way
I made the coastal folks squeal
Made the inland cities kneel
I was sure you would feel it, and I’m in your way

Power barely holding
Stores shut, shelves were showing
Cold night, wind was blowing
Where you think you’re going baby?

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney
My eye’s staring right, at you baby
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney
And all the weathermen, try to chase me
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

Before I came into your life you could go outside
You could go outside… you could go way outside
Before I came into your life you could go outside
And you might miss that… you could go way outside

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

Hey, I just wet you, and it’s so rainy
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney
And all the weathermen, try to chase me
But my name’s Sandy, a hurricaney

Before I came into your life you could go outside
You could go outside… you could go way outside
Before I came into your life you could go outside
And you might miss that
A hurricaney

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Perhaps the Worst Round Ever on Video

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

I’ve been displaying all the APDA Summer 2011 tournament rounds as they get uploaded, so I might as well include our semifinal loss, a monstrosity which included 6 minutes of points of clarification, pervasive ad hominem attacks (mostly directed at me), and the scattershottiest opp I may have ever witnessed. Nevertheless, you can judge it for yourself below:

APDA Summer 2011: Semifinals from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.

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Storey Advocates Nuclear Annihilation

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

If you liked it when I argued we should profit off of hapless students instead of offering them non-profit education, you’ll love this.

This was the case Dave & Kyle were going to run in Nats Finals had they gotten there. Instead, Dave & I had fun with the sisters Sanders in this round that is not precisely an exemplar of full decorum. Enjoy:

APDA Summer 2011: Round 1 from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.

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The Case for Religion

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

I have another TH’HEAT video in the wings, but the uploading seems to be going slowly because it’s really long and something about the lighting of it makes it extra-colorful and thus takes a lot of byte space and bandwidth. At least, I think that’s contributing to the issues. In any event, David Yin uploaded our fourth round from last Saturday’s fun tournament at Columbia and I wanted to share it since it was by far the highest quality round of the five we debated. We also got to defend something I believe in, more or less, even though I was accused of being an atheist during the round. It was after giving this LOR that I really felt I was on my game again and had shaken off all the rust from my time not debating.

Debate: “Would You Get Rid of Religion?” from David on Vimeo.

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Storey Defends Profit

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , ,

One of the most fun aspects of debate, as well as its most educational and most challenging, is that it mandates one frequently argue persuasively for things diametric to what one actually believes. Here’s a key example, where Dave and I, debating as “Red Dawn” as a nod to our personally socio-communist leanings, argue things like the market solving, the ethos of American opportunity, and even the accrual of debt:

APDA Summer 2011: Round 2 from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.

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Sentient Spiders!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

The first of a few rounds from Saturday’s tournament that Dave and I filmed. This is probably the second-best – our fourth round was awfully awesome and hopefully the other team, who recorded that, will get it online soon. This is among the crazier cases I’ve ever run, but it made for a pretty great round:

APDA Summer 2011: Round 3 from Storey Clayton on Vimeo.

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Don’t Go

Categories: A Day in the Life, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Primary Sources, Quick Updates, TH'HEAT 2011, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , , ,

I haven’t had a lot to say the last couple days, but it’s not for lack of activity. Friends have been in New York and I went to see them, other friends came to New York and I went to see them. So much of me wants to just scrabble up the current life plan and return to a previous one, but I also know that fails to recognize the incredible blessings incumbent in the current one. People still get this wide-eyed look when I talk about the opportunities I’ve got with the debate team right now and I have visions of all the things that I think we can accomplish and I’ve already become really reliant on this community of people. I just so so so wish it were somewhere in the West, or at least not in New Jersey. I have people nearby, everywhere around, but not here, and efforts to get people here seem to be stymied by the fact that it’s New Jersey and everyone else recognizes that too. Next life, I think I want a planet that’s 500 miles around or maybe to be born into one of those feudal villages where a trip to the city walls is a big adventure.

In any case, on this particular planet, I’m staring down an epic roadtrip in less than a fortnight that’s got some event changes possible at the front-end that I’ll update as soon as I know what those are. In the meantime, I wanted to share a tour video from another roadtripper, the herein over-discussed Allison Weiss, who just released a recording of one of the new songs as she played it at the Princeton show I attended! This song, like so many of hers, captures exactly how I’m feeling, but this day in particular. And it’s a rerun of something I already saw. The world is like that all the time, kids. Just open your eyes and your mind.

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Some Days are Rocks

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Primary Sources, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

This letter will be part of my outgoing mail today:


“Today, I take you into my arms and into my heart and promise to hold you there forever. Through whatever we encounter, I promise you my unfailing love and my unflinching honesty. I know that my life can never be the same without you. It can never be complete without your love, your understanding, and your support. I love you in a way that I’ve never loved another person and I never will be able to again. You are my soulmate. This is why today is the happiest day of my life, as I stand here before you, and our family, and our friends, and all of God’s creation and I commit myself to you and to our lives together. I love you.”
-Emily Garin, as she became Emily Clayton, 13 July 2003

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Thoughts on a World Only Facebook Could Manifest

Categories: A Day in the Life, Primary Sources, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , ,

So a funny thing happened last night. Some of my debate friends posted on Facebook. And then they kept posting. Facebook has posts and comments on posts as the main framework for its operation, each attributed specifically to an identity. And the genius of Facebook, as I’ve long said and doesn’t seem to get talked about as much as it should, is that everyone uses their real identity on their because the incentives in place reward/require that and there are few rewards for being anonymous (at least undiscernibly so) or having multiple identities. Anyway, before too long (3-4 hours), there were over 1,600 comments on this one post.

We naively thought for a while that we would hit some sort of cap or be in for some sort of record, but a tiny bit of quick research proved both of those notions were absurd – there’s apparently a Facebook post with over 305,000 comments and counting out there. Never question the ability of humanity to push an envelope. It was in that spirit, and the spiraling reflection of what a strange, somewhat magical, and overall confounding phenomenon this post was, that I wrote this stream-of-consciousness evaluation, in what ultimately proved to be two comments with a Postscript, this morning. I present it here unedited, typos and all, as it was written:

One thousand, six-hundred, and seventy-two comments. Why is it standard procedure to put hyphens before “hundred” and the last two numbers of a large number, but not thousand or more? That seems odd. I am also breaking the longest silence in this thread’s history, of about 3 hours. It looks like the longest gap prior to this was about 15 minutes or so, but it may have been less. It’s strange that Facebook conceals precise times for things until over a day after they’ve happened. It seems strangely revisionist, even though it’s clear that their reason for approximating things in proximity to the current time is to make things seem somehow more “live” and exciting. Not that this phenomenon could possibly have anything to do with spawning threads of over 1600 comments in 7 hours. Of course, we also have to recognize that while Facebook may not have anticipated this usage of comment-threads, they certainly seem to deem it a form of “working as intended,” since they’ve done nothing to stop or alter it. And some of the publicity around the 305,000+ thread must indeed make them pretty pleased with themselves. As though an entity like Facebook could have a monolithic opinion like that. Perhaps they have endless boardroom debates about whether or not they should cap the number of comments. Which raises another interesting question I’ve always wondered about, which is why there is no limit on comment length when there’s a rather draconian limit on status lengths, one that I routinely (about 1/5 times I try to post a status) trip over. And then they prompt you to write a note, which basically, formatted the way they are in Facebook, has a big sign on it that says “Irrelevant!”. In any event, it seems bizarre that they would cap that and pretty much nothing else. Do they fear some massive escalation prompted by 850-word status updates that prolongs everything else. But why wouldn’t they want that? Of course, I don’t know for a fact there’s no cap on comment characters, though I’m likely to find out at this rate. It could be that what I’m writing right now is not actually being published and has to be broken into a (heaven forbid!) second comment. It’s like a Schrodinger’s cat problem (oh God, I mentioned cats in this thread), whether the cat’s in the box or not. Is this sentence in the original comment as intended or not? I won’t know until I press enter. But I guess you could say “I’m doing it wrong” with this comment, if the point is to extend the number of comments to our ultimate, if dubious, glory. Of course it’s tremendously silly to start doing things like Adam did last night, posting one letter at a time, but mostly because that limits or eliminates discourse altogether. Which prompts the ultimate question, the one that most of you must be asking yourself right now (as though you’ve actually read this mono-paragraph all the way through, though I suppose you might have, and I maybe suggest you copy/paste into Word and insert line-breaks at sentences for added clarity, because this is a lousy way to read), which is, of course, what was it about this post and this series of early comments last night that was able to produce the maelstrom when most of these threads die out after a (relatively!) merciful 30-50 comments? There was a thread about Waffle House a few weeks ago that crossed triple-digits and I recall thinking a comment-thread about WikiLeaks on Reid’s wall hitting 65 comments or so was a sign of great discourse, but of course that actually had predominantly meaningful commentary and debate. It occurs to me at this point that I will be surprised if it actually accepts a comment this long. Insert sexual joke here. Ditto. But seriously. Also, naming Adam and Reid and getting the brief suggestion of tagging them from Facebook reminds me that there is a limit on number of tags in a comment or post. Which makes me wonder how they arrived at the number 6. Five seems so obvious, but 6 actually more convenient (and not just for the trivial reason that it’s +1). It makes me wonder how many things are done in pairs besides debate teams, because that’s what I find it most useful to call out, for example when Rutgers broke 3 teams at UVa. Not that I’m just gratuitously bringing that up. Or am I? In any event, I’m now torn between maxing out my six tags or leaving this as an untagged monument to “doing it wrong” in this thread. Although of course part of the magic of this thread is its lack of gratuity (hear me out) because, unlike just posting single letters repeatedly or even starting to read out of a random Dickens book like some bloated filibuster, the mysterious alchemy that can spawn a 1600+-post thread derives from its ability to entertain a large number of people for a long period of time. Which I would probably levy as a response to any people coming to harshly critique the alleged gratuity of this endeavor. After all, can you really say this thread is less valuable than time spent watching a TV show or, indeed (to reference my own activity last night), a baseball game? Certainly it’s interactive and lively. There was a palpable excitement in most, if not all, participants. A small injection of a sense of wonder. A spawning of micro-communities as people discussed entirely different things but, while they faced periodic criticism, no one was excluded from one main thread. Making it very different than forums or chatrooms designated for specific purposes to the exclusion of others. It almost gave me renewed hope for some sort of small utopian socialist community someday. At the same time, I realize that in analyzing it this deeply, one starts to kill part of the magic, as in overexplaining why a joke is funny. If people fully understood why this thread was so enthralling, it would detract from the magical nature of finding it so and thus take the sheen off the entire experience, to the extent that there is one. I recognize that some people are merely truly pained or annoyed by this, and at least a few people liked particular comments but wisely (?) restrained themselves from actually posting, lest they be besieged by notifications. It also occurs to me to wonder what the relative word-count of this comment is (gee, I sure hope they let it be just one comment and that it loads properly and stuff) to the entire thread before it. Even I, on a morning where I eventually have to go to work, don’t aspire to write a piece longer than the original work which I am appending, though it would be an incredibly commentary to do so. I will have to settle for merely having at least one word for every comment made prior, although I have no idea where I am relative to such a goal. This comment now takes up over six full lines when pasted into Notepad, which forces line-breaks after only a very long time. I know this because I have dealt with computers frequently and pasting into Notepad and periodically saving is a necessary adaptation (take note, kids!) to a world where certain web applications can crash at any moment and working this long on something to find it go up in smoke is one of the most heartbreaking experiences one can have short of, y’know, real heartbreak. Although there is something similar in each, of course, in the idea of working so hard on something or spending so much time with something/someone, only to have it come to nothing in the end, only to have loss. In both cases, there is memory, but the memory of how great something was only serves to enhance the pain of the loss. Wow, this is really similar. And I’m painting myself into a sad, sad corner. And at the beginning of the day too. I went a really long time without doing that in this comment. Although, frankly, and you can probably tell, this actually hasn’t taken that much time to write, which ought be a lesson to all of you paper-writers out there, that something of length doesn’t necessarily take much time to write as long as you feel really comfortable with your material. Although most debaters know that, I would suspect, since debating makes you a faster writer by making you think on your feet in complete and persuasive sentences. Microsoft Word has me at 1,439 words prior to the beginning of this sentence here, which actually surprises me as being a little shorter than I would’ve expected, but so it goes. Guys, I had dreams about this comment thread last night and awoke to think they were more surreal than most of the dreams I have about things which are not actually things. At this point, my computer is really laboring through the process of processing this comment and I’ve probably said most of what I want to say, but I’ve pretty much set an explicit bar for myself of exceeding the number of comments prior with words herein, so it’s pretty much you and me and my recognition that I have to get there at this point, if you are still reading, which I would have doubted prior to the comment thread which inspired this post here, but of course the rules seem somehow changed by this whole thing and in the context of this whole thing. Which says something, at the least, about human adaptability. I almost feel as though I could challenge someone to do anything or virtually anything in this comment thread and people would pool resources and unite in order to rise to the occasion. Possibly ironic use of the word “rise” there, though it calls to mind pole-vaulting or similar, wherein even if what you’re doing is sort of needless and silly, it still has meteoric value as a testament to human endeavor and triumph. I mean, what skill could pole vaulting possibly demonstrate other than sheer human ability to do mind-boggling stuff? And do you ever think about what we recognize as tremendous and what we don’t have a way of recognizing and how trivial the differences are between those things? I know this is going to bother those of you still clinging to capitalism and arguments that the market solve, but there really is no correlation (or little, I would definitely posit) between work and reward, between impressiveness of a feat and structures to recognize that feat. How someone out there is the most talented person at a sport not yet invented (let’s say Calvinball for the sake of argument/illustration), but they will never get to rise above janitor or truck-driver (no offense, Ashley) because no structures are in place to acknowledge their skill, and so they will struggle their whole life with drugs and depression and loneliness because society has arbitrarily deemed them to be unsuccessful. Whereas, on the other hand, a great success in football or basketball in baseball can thrive in a sport invented and earn almost unfathomable amounts of money, power, prestige, and notoriety, living as a veritable modern king in our society. Yes, a certain athletic prowess is certainly translatable from one sport to another, but let me at least tell you a story about this to illustrate my argument. I used to live in Oregon and they are quite big on their recycling there and were a forerunner of recycling/deposit incentives and one day I went with my Dad to a recycling center in a grocery store and we had bags and bags of cans and bottles and jumbled recyclables and we handed them over for our deposit and the kid there (he was maybe 17 or 19 or something) took the bag and sorted it like some dervishing Hindu god, just all arms flying and spinning and never placing a can or bottle or green bottle or plastic bottle wrong, boom, boom, boom, boom, the whole thing was over in a matter of seconds and I was floored by the sheer talent this kid had for seamlessly, efficiently, instantly sorting recyclable items. And then something occurred to me almost immediately, it being obvious in front of me, and I said to my Dad that this was an impressive skill which our society was not in any way designed to appropriately recognize or compensate. For, almost paradoxically, if it were, this kid could not be here in a lowly rural part of Oregon sorting 5-cent recyclables. So walk not from this comment thinking that we are at the terminal point of our understanding of anything, be it radiation and cell-phones or how to structure a society. Or, indeed, how to prolong a Facebook thread. There is much to be learned in the future and I am excited to see what happens next with all of you alongside.

Postscript: Apparently the cap is 8,000 characters for a comment. Where they came up with that, I have no idea, but I doubt they expected someone to test it that often. It does also renew my wonder at the fact that they haven’t capped threads themselves, but that discussion remains for another time (or perhaps for all-time).

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