Categotry Archives: Quick Updates

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Seventeen Years of Blogging

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, All the Poets Became Rock Stars, Let's Go M's, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Here are two relatively unflattering portraits of me, seventeen years apart. What can I say – blogging hasn’t always been pretty.

Yesterday was the seventeenth anniversary of Introspection, my first blog. It lasted for just seven years and change before the daily short-format gave way to this more haphazard long format, now nearly ten years into process. My first post was mostly about dreams and teeth. My first post on StoreyTelling was mostly about Introspection, but also my larger history with blogging and the web. Today’s post will be about neither, really, but it felt like an anniversary to mark, not least because of the significance the number 17 plays in my life. But I haven’t posted in a while and that’s partially because I’ve had only a bunch of micro-post ideas flitting around in my head and that reminds me of Introspection and its flitty, flighty, one-liner format. So here we go:

-Mardi Gras was great for parades and great for Uber and kind of terrible for Uber. I gave multiple $150 rides and also had half-hours where I went six blocks without a rider the whole time and wanted to tear the steering wheel out of the car. Ultimately, it was still a very very good couple of weeks. I got pretty Zen about the traffic once I saw just how much I was making on most of the rides that I actually was able to give. I’ve also never had so many cancellations and frustrations since both Uber and especially Lyft had no real idea how to line people up with a pickup spot that made sense given parade routing. Driving during the parades was the worst; just after was much better.

-After a fantastic January for writing, February and March so far have been dismal. I partially blame Mardi Gras, but also wedding planning and also that it’s just flipping hard to focus on writing and anything else. Like yes, Uber is both a pretty easy casual job and the subject of my book, but it still consumes 35-45 hours a week, depending, and that’s time that really needs to be close to empty for me to write effectively. And/or I am also wrestling with too many internal confidence demons to really commit to writing fully and effectively. And/or there is too much variation and too little routine? I am inclined to think they are all factors, in the order presented. The book remains half-finished, but feels over the tipping point and should still be available to my loyal friend readers by summer at the latest (no whammy).

-Today was one of the first times I’ve ever delivered rolled change to the bank and they didn’t kind of whimsically roll their eyes at me. This is kind of a thing that I do regularly, in part because I find rolling change relaxing and re-ordering for me. I was almost heartbroken when Capital One briefly decided they weren’t accepting rolled change anymore and had me actually unwrap and unceremoniously dump all my change into a bucket so it could be fed into their automatic coin-sorter. By the next time I was ready to turn my change into electronically tracked currency, however, their coin sorting machine was out in the shop, perhaps indefinitely, and they were back to asking me to roll it. The bankers are always kind of bemused by me bringing in rolled change like I’m some sort of crank, but then again, most all commercially available change starts in rolls – someone is doing it somewhere, regularly, to keep the economy going, right? Is it so weird?

-Another relaxing and re-ordering practice for me is reading, which has been even more dismal all year than writing in the last forty days. I blame my ambition as a reader – I’ve spent most of the year allegedly reading The Familiar, vol. 1, a gigantic graphically bedecked book that looks like an elaborate prank. It was a mistake to try to read this, especially at a time when I want to be writing, but I really liked House of Leaves by the same author. The last renewal ran out at the library today and I returned it, having done about 160 pages in two months. I’m sure it’s brilliant in some way and I found some of the characters intriguing, but it just hadn’t spoken to me sufficiently to make it worth the work. I need to be reading regularly, though, and it needs to feel like a joy and not a chore. I may return to it someday, but long after I’ve written a couple more books.

-I am so insanely jealous of the folks living in the path of the snowstorm that’s about to batter the eastern seaboard. There’s a lot I don’t love about the northeastern United States, but the regular access to blizzards is not among them. I keep repeating the promise to myself that someday I will live in a place where I don’t have to anxiously anticipate snow, but it will be a regular occurrence with no possibility of not happening. I worry that places that used to be on this list are starting to fall off of the list, but no matter. Next year in Murmansk.

-Was there ever a more short-sighted decision than to decline to name that British ship Boaty McBoatface? Now the yellow sub they allowed to be called by said moniker is getting all kinds of press its expedition never would otherwise. Sometimes you have to steer into the curve. People are so often their own undoing by taking themselves too seriously.

-The Louisiana state government is having massive budget shortfalls this year because gas prices are low. This prompted them to try to charge state taxes from me from 2014 on all of my New Jersey-earned income. My only Louisiana income that year were some poker winnings from a large payout at Harrah’s. They sent me a bill for nearly $2,000 a few months back, including fees for failing to file and interest (as though interest were something that exists in the world these days). They sent multiple threats via certified letter. After three responses from me, all also sent certified, they sent me a check this weekend for $108, which was actually what they owed me for taking too much out of the poker payout in the first place. I was happy to let this money go in exchange for not filing a Louisiana return back in 2014. But they wanted to push it, so I’m happy to make them pay. Of course, in reality, it all feels like a huge waste – of state employee time, of my time, of the certified mail system. But I know to them it’s not a waste, because like all made-up bills, 80% of people probably just get scared and pay them no questions asked. And we wonder how the poor are kept poor in our system.

-Something I have been doing a lot lately is play chess. It’s not quite as relaxing as reading or walking or even writing sometimes, but it’s good for me. The problem is that I should spend more time between chess club “tournaments” practicing, but that would cut into time potentially writing or driving. This is actually an argument that cuts into a lot of things lately, including a pretty successful video-game moratorium I’ve put on myself for all of 2017 till the book is finished. Chess, like all games, is great patience practice, even the fifteen-minute games I favor and we play on Monday nights. The problem is that I still am spending more time looking at my mistakes and how to get out of them than not making them in the first place.

-I lost about an eighth of a tooth the other day. I think I swallowed it. I have an impacting wisdom tooth that’s pushing its neighbor on a tilt out of position, and I’ve just realized that this has made my bite sufficiently uneven so as to hammer into the tooth below with every chew. As a result, the top corner of the tooth below finally gave way. Luckily the root was not exposed; unluckily I have not had dental insurance since 2014. Trying to get into the LSU dental clinic is proving to be a chore, but at least after three days my tongue toughened up enough so that the newly jagged tooth edge stopped serrating it. It was an ugly couple days at first adjusting to the new reality.

-The Mariners lost their Spring Training game today by a score of 24-3. That said, all their best players are at the World Baseball Classic. They were doing really well before the WBC started. I am irrationally exuberant for the lineup of Dyson, Segura, Cano, Cruz, and Seager.

-Peak Trump Outrage seems to have passed. I know a lot of people want everyone to stay angry and vigilant, but I feel like Trump has slowed down into a kind of plodding pace of not being able to get any of his agenda done. I had long predicted that a President without either party really behind him would have a lot of trouble getting anything done and I think that’s coming to fruition. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t stay vigilant or react strongly to the truly bad stuff that comes out of the administration, but a half-assed tweak on a bad healthcare law to make it slightly worse doesn’t pass muster on that for me. Especially when the best analysts don’t think they even want it to pass in the first place.

-Speaking of which, “Get Out” is one of the most flawlessly executed movies in recent memory. Right up there with “Arrival”. However, the former’s third act is its weakest point while the latter’s third act is its best, so just keep that in mind. “Weakest” in this context, however, is still mighty strong.

-I feel supremely lucky to live in a time when the Lumineers can be as popular a band as they are. The Lumineers being popular feels like one of those things that shouldn’t be able to happen – they defy all the tropes of what you’d expect of rock music success. And yet, there they are. Alex and I saw them ten days ago in the UNO basketball stadium and it was incredible. They seemed to express the same kind of incredulity at their success and following that I felt. At one point, referencing the time that they used to spend playing in living rooms and similar tiny venues, they came out into a literal pop-up stage in the center of the arena, closer to our seats, and played part of their set there. It was magical. The Lumineers feel magical in the way that New Orleans does when it’s at its simplest, most historical, and most charming. They seem like they shouldn’t be real. They aren’t passing Counting Crows or anything, but I forget how transporting and inspiring music can be sometimes. It can get so habitual and dull or so processed and rote. The discovery of music, the reimagining of it, makes me supremely sad that I didn’t end up in music somehow even though I have no natural ability there whatsoever…

Submarines
Flowers in Your Hair
Ho Hey
Cleopatra
Gun Song
Dead Sea
Classy Girls
Where the Skies are Blue
Charlie Boy
Slow it Down
Sleep on the Floor
Angela
Ophelia
Big Parade
In the Light
My Eyes

Long Way from Home
Subterranean Homesick Blues
Stubborn Love

-Nothing compares to the magic of having by far and away your favorite song from a band close the encore. Especially the first time you see them. You’ve spent the entire show wondering if they’ll play that song or not, with the drama increasing the whole way. And then finally it happens and it’s their sign-off and you don’t even want them to keep playing after because it’s too perfect. I think this has literally only happened to me one other time, the first time I saw Counting Crows. That was in November 1999, notably just more than seventeen years ago. You would think that means you can’t read what I thought of it at the time online now. You would be wrong.

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Obligatory Uber Book Update

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

It’s strangely unsettling writing a book without a title. Both American Dream On and The Best of All Possible Worlds were titles before they had any other content whatsoever. And Loosely Based was entitled on 12 June 2001 (as a working title that later became permanent), 17 days after I started that project. Which I guess gives me three days to come up with a title for this. It seems like there should be such fertile ground for the intersection of Uber and New Orleans, but I’ve just got nothing so far. It remains the Uber Book for the time being.

Here’s the status of the book, so far, posted here for the all-important public self-accountability that helps fuel my writing projects and make their deadlines real, as well as for my own process/posterity:
-Fourteen days of work.
-Five chapters (sections?) complete.
-12,421 words (~50 pages by normal metrics).
-Roughly maybe 10% of the book complete? Though this puts it on an unsettlingly long pace (~500 pages), but I guess overwriting and editing down is a good idea.
-Pace: 887 words/day (~3.5 pages/day).
-102 days till deadline.
-102,895 words at current pace by deadline (~412 pages).
-26 identified, usable vignettes that could still become chapters/sections.

It’s also weird to be writing non-fiction. And writing during the day. Though I’m writing in the guest room, which has a blackout curtain in the light, and no one is home during the day, so the effect is pretty much all the same. I also lost a lot of writing time from being sick for a good part of the last fortnight, so the pace should pick up.

Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.

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Top Twenty Questions I Get Driving Uber in New Orleans

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, Marching to New Orleans, Quick Updates, Tags: , , ,

NOLANight

In approximate order of frequency:

1. Are you from New Orleans originally?
2. Where are you from originally?
3. How long have you been driving Uber?
4. Busy night?
5. Are you doing Uber full time or do you have another job?
6. Where do you go out in New Orleans?
7. What’s the best place to hear jazz / eat seafood / drink in New Orleans?
8. How do you like living in New Orleans?
9. Were you here during Katrina?
10. If I want to add another stop, do I have to call another Uber?
11. How late are things going at [pickup location]?
12. Is Bourbon Street always like this?
13. Are things still happening on Frenchmen Street right now?
14. Can we stop to pick up water / alcohol / cigarettes / snacks?
15. Does it always rain like this in New Orleans?
16. How do you deal with the humidity here?
17. Do you have an aux cord?
18. Are there really no open container laws in New Orleans?
19. Do you mind if we have five / six people in this car?
20. Can you pull over so my friend can throw up?

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Several Counter-Intuitive Things I’m Thinking Today

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, Tags: , , , ,

If you don't post a picture on social media, people won't know what your post is about!

If you don’t post a picture on social media, people won’t know what your post is about!

It’s gonna be roundup-style today, kids. The loose thread tying it together is that I’m thinking things I think most people I know might disagree with. The snarky among you are saying “Why should today be unlike any other day?”

1. I don’t think Kim Davis should have been imprisoned.
I know. I know. She’s misdirected and misguided, biased and problematic, hypocritical and the whole nine. I’m not defending her actions or her as a person. But I don’t think arrest and imprisonment actually fit her actions at all. She probably should have been fired, probably on about the second day of her shenanigans. Let the long slow dreadful wheels of employment law sort her out. But I think even state officials failing to execute their job properly or carrying out their job in a biased way does not warrant arrest and imprisonment. Unless, you know, they’re killing people or physically harming them or something. But failure to do your job properly doesn’t warrant arrest. If it did, even more of the country’s population would be incarcerated, which is truly hard to imagine. On a political level, also, there’s the whole martyrdom issue. It made me pretty queasy to see so many “liberal” people condemning civil disobedience as a ridiculous concept on face just because their convictions don’t align with the person invoking said disobedience right now. Letting the person disobeying have jail as a place from which to make a more legitimate-seeming claim of mistreatment was just a bad tactical move, if nothing else.

2. NPDA might not be that bad.
The jury is out on this one, but my first earnest night of working with the Tulane Debate Team led me to believe that the differences have long been exaggerated. Certainly the “coaching” that RUDU has received in the last year or so makes me question this a little, but that might not be NPDA’s fault; it might just be the NPDA-experienced person in the position. Almost every time I asked if something was different, I learned that it’s not. There seem to be spready regions of NPDA, but it looks like Tulane avoids those. It might just be linked APDA, which seems to be what a swath of recent APDA leadership has been clamoring to turn APDA into anyway. I need to go to a tournament or two to be sure, though, which looks like it may be in the works! Don’t worry; we’re going to try to get Tulane up to some APDA contests too.

3. Only a Convention Coup can stop Donald Trump from winning the Republican nomination.
No matter how much the media fights and scrabbles and the establishment refuses to take Trump seriously, I think his momentum is almost unstoppable at this point. People forget that the Republican primaries are disproportionately winner-take-all, which is very different from the Democratic proportional system. Trump doesn’t need 51% support to start edging people out of the race and collecting a lot of delegates. People also grossly misunderstand how well he sits at the crossroads of so many things voters find appealing right now – the combination of irreverence for the economic establishment while being (or posing as) a successful businessman is almost irresistible for a group of people who are not doing well financially but assume they will some day. The Republican Party has always had slots for Trump-like candidates, though they’re usually from California (Ronald Reagan, Arnold Schwarzenegger). We’re facing a year when it’s quite possible that both nominees by delegate count will entering the conventions with no major establishment support or endorsements (R-Trump, D-Sanders). I don’t trust either party not to pull a coup, but especially not the Republicans. The problem is that the Republicans know that Trump will run 3rd party if they betray him, especially after he took the loyalty oath. But how else would you stop him? He’s a walking scandal, making him totally scandal-proof. He’s an American Putin. How would you honestly make people who love him now hate him when everyone in the party is trying so hard to emulate him?

4. The more you do, the more energy you have.
This is kind of an oldie but a goodie. And maybe those “you”s up there should be “I”s since this may not be true for everyone, though I might posit that it just doesn’t seem true for everyone. But awakeness and energy levels have always seemed to depend most on one’s interest in what’s going on when one is awake. If there are lots of things you’re looking forward to, lots of activities (even if many of them are objectively exhausting), then the tipping point of waking up when one is otherwise sleepy or getting out the door when one is otherwise feeling overwhelmed just gets a lot nearer. Part of this is a positive reinforcement loop – expending energy is an investment that may not always pay off. Sometimes activities are less fun or enjoyable or “worth it” than they seem. But I think most people (or maybe just most introverts) discount the value that will be gained from such activities, especially when one has a busy/exhausting job. The reality is almost always surprising that those activities are fun, enjoyable, and ultimately energizing. I think the same principle I used to try to convince people to play another game of Risk on Scheffres 2nd and then start their homework even later is still in play: fill your time and your time will fill you. And sleep is only necessary when there’s really nothing else to do.

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Getting Closer Every Day

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Think these close games aren't exciting the Mariners?

Think these close games aren’t exciting the Mariners?

Ten days ago, I wrote this post about how close most games have been for the Seattle Mariners during the 2015 season.

I focused on closeness through the traditional metrics for such games – extra inning games, one-run games, walk-offs. You may have read that and figured that the variance would even out soon, that the closeness of their contests would “regress to the mean” as they say. You may have believed that the M’s are a fundamentally mediocre team this year, not one destined to barely win or barely lose night after night.

Let’s look at the results since I posted:

Monday, August 3rd: W, one-run game
Tuesday, August 4th: W
Wednesday, August 5th: L, extra innings, walk-off, two-run game
Thursday, August 6th: off day
Friday, August 7th: W, one-run game
Saturday, August 8th: L, extra innings
Sunday, August 9th: W, two-run game
Monday, August 10th: L, one-run game
Tuesday, August 11th: W, extra innings, walk-off, one-run game

For those of you scoring at home, that’s 4 one-run games, 2 two-run games, 3 extra innings contests, and 2 walk-offs. In eight games.

There was one (1) game that didn’t have at least one of those elements of closeness. And yeah, that Mariner eternal optimist in me kinda wants to focus on the 5-3 record during the span and claim progress. After all, we’re only 8 games out of the lead in an increasingly murky AL West. We’re only 7 out of the Wild Card, though we’re admittedly chasing almost everyone (literally everyone except Oakland and Boston) in that race.

The MLB record of 31 extra-innings games in a season (set by the Red Sox in 1943) is probably still safe – the M’s are trailing with a mere 18 at this point with a month and a half (48 games) to go. We’re on pace to finish with 25.5 games in that category, though if we keep up the pace of the last 8 games, we’ll get the record with 36 total. You can say that’s absurdly unsustainable, but I will call your bluff and raise you 23 years of Mariner fandom and the 1995 comeback season.

Keep your teams with leads in their divisions. I’m all-in with a team that, if they fall short, will only have about 40 games to look back on that they almost won, any few of which would have vaulted them to their first playoff trip in a decade and a half. Isn’t that more satisfying than your “winning”?

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It’s 2015 and You are Alive

Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, If You're Going to San Francisco, Know When to Fold 'Em, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , , , , , ,

There’s a lot going on. There always is. Despite the efforts of various media outlets, phone applications, and the narrative brain to confine your existence to a narrow set of coherent and perfectly tailored activities/perceptions, reality is a cacophony of wills battling for your attention and interest. I can’t consolidate today. But I feel compelled to document. My thoughts are scattered and they’re cloudy… and like clouds, the thoughts can blow away. The Internet, as long as electricity works, is some sort of vault with which we can offer solidity to the clouds. That’s even how it’s described.

Barack Obama is suddenly the President he said he was going to be, at least a bit, in a lot of different fields. This is both exciting and sad. I have been one of the more anti-Obama leftists out there, frustrated as anyone about his drone strikes and his corporatist policies and his total ignoring of the plight of anyone who looks like him or the environment or poverty. And yet, every other day, there’s a news story about Obama suddenly talking about the prison-industrial complex, or opening an embassy in Cuba, or openly celebrating gay marriage. The 2008 Candidate, who disappeared for six or seven years, is suddenly back on the scene. It doesn’t take a political scientist to understand that it’s not having to win any more elections that is the direct cause of this change of (return to?) heart. I’m not sure anything could more concretely underline what’s wrong with the American electoral system than that someone feels they have to sell out for six years in order to sneak in a few good policies at the end. I still hold out hope that he’s going to commute every death sentence in the nation on January 19, 2017.

I have moved three times in the last twelve months. This one is mostly just sad, or exhausting and frustrating. All three were summer moves, in New Orleans, though the first one started in Jersey, where it wasn’t much less humid than here. Okay, it was a bit less humid. Every time I move, I say I’m going to get rid of all my stuff. I never do. I hate how American I am, deep down, in many ways. I can only say that moving frequently is good for me, so I don’t build up too much complacency about my acquisitions.

Returning to Berkeley was not as hard as I feared. I expressed a lot of trepidation about flying back to Berkeley, by myself, to spend a few days. The context of the trip was of course magical, but I still expected to feel a lot of angst and sadness. There was really very little. The place is still incredibly haunted, but I was more heartwarmed by seeing all the old great restaurants and little quirks that make Berkeley what it is. This was all only augmented by happening to start reading A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius right before the trip, which I feel like is nearly impossible to follow without a deep understanding of the Bay Area. It’s easy to forget that there are places where people unironically embed poetry into the sidewalk, where a meditation center is available as an AirBNB, where a guy like Ben Brandzel could be raised in context. Remembering that is nice.

Being without the Internet is both immensely frustrating and kind of good. This new apartment is great in a lot of ways, including that we get to have our rabbit, Brownie (quickly becoming a Facebook mini-celebrity) and that it’s walking distance to all the great stuff on Magazine Street. But it’s expensive, something we justified in part by the claim that Internet is included. This claim was greatly exaggerated, at least so far. Internet works about 30% of the time and will go out for days on end. I am not great at standing up to landlords, though we’ve been grousing a bit. But in the meantime, I’ve both gone without writing posts I was really excited about and read more than I would have otherwise. I guess it makes it about a push. The Internet, like so many things, is a tool that takes on a life of its own if you let it. It’s just a tool. It’s just a tool. How you use a tool is what determines its value.

I mostly eat when other people are around. It’s not that I completely starve when I’m alone, but I can regulate my food intake much better when there aren’t social pressures to eat with someone. Alex has been back in Jersey for a couple weeks and I find that my eating patterns have settled back to a more comfortable minimalism for me. Given that I gained 50 pounds between 2010 and 2015, I prefer the self-regulation level, which has brought 10-15 pounds off that high-water mark. I’m not looking for 2010 weights, which were depressively skeletal, but I also have no business being 170 pounds.

I’m not sure any news story has made me happier in years than Ashley Madison getting hacked. It’s hard to think of a business more pernicious or predatory of human emotions, nor people who more thoroughly deserve the searing light of publicity. I hope it all gets published in a wiki-style searchable index.

Walking in the rain in New Orleans in the summer is no big deal. I remember the one year I lived in DC, suddenly rain was not a hard deterrent to being outside. New Orleans is the first place where the rain has been sufficiently warm to replicate that experience. It was highly unintuitive to start out on a walk two nights ago into a burgeoning thunderstorm, but I felt reassured and ready. And I wasn’t disappointed. Remarkably, tons of people were out in the rain, equally unhurried. Yet another way this is a seriously liberating place to live.

Patience is an incredibly easy lesson to forget, but it’s at the center of everything. This is a lesson I had to learn and forget, learn and forget, learn and forget when playing poker semi-professionally. And it’s still at he heart of poker, and every competitive game out there. The fun and even more forgettable thing about patience is that it actually can slow time down, which makes you feel like you’re living longer. This is mostly just a note-to-self that I’m sharing with everybody. Yoga and meditation are kind of the embodiment of patience, that unhurried slowing of intention and desire and replacing it with the ticking of each second, slowly. Time is extremely perceptual. Everything in Western society pushes us to rush through things, push for a future that may never come, go go go go go at a busy and overwhelmed pace. This is a life-destructive, time-destructive force. As much as we can layer our lives with the opposite, with patience, with milking a second’s worth of time out of every second, the more whole we will tend to feel.

I have a lot more thoughts, all of which at one point could possibly have merited a whole post on their own. But this format, a little more like the days of Introspection, is fitting for now. And now I have to go get ready to have a day at work.

Life hack:  thinking about death makes you feel more alive.  Remembering that so many are dead makes you appreciate not being there yet.  It is not a coincidence that New Orleans is both one of the most stunningly vibrant cities in the world and has above-ground graves everywhere.

Life hack: thinking about death makes you feel more alive. Remembering that so many are dead makes you appreciate not being there yet. It is not a coincidence that New Orleans is both one of the most stunningly vibrant cities in the world and has above-ground graves everywhere.

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5 Days Out: A Brief Photo Retrospective from Albuquerque

Categories: A Day in the Life, Just Add Photo, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

It is five days before perhaps my favorite night of the year and worth putting a little visual element to the experience of preparing for putting up one of the largest luminaria displays in the city where they are most prevalent. My excitement has not waned since four days ago. But maybe I’m just excited to have had use of a camera that functions, since my camera died shortly before I left New Orleans. It was a top-of-the-line camera when purchased sometime in the early-mid ’00s, the one that chronicled my trip to India and Nepal in 2008, as well as other things in my absence that I’d rather not think about. The camera is stuck with the lens half-open and half-closed and makes a grinding sound when turned on or off that can only mean, in this era of disposable gadgets, that it is irreparable. It was getting obsolete anyway, as my parents claim their camera is becoming. But their camera works:

Happiness is 8 gross of candles.

Happiness is 8 gross of candles.

8 gross. That’s 1,152 candles for those of you scoring at home. Not that the plan is to use all of those as individuals in the display, since there need to be some reserves for replacing duds and flame-outs. Plus, I need to increase the record by little enough so as to be able to shoot for a bigger record in subsequent years.

Noir, my parents' less Facebook-famous cat, wonders why he can't play Pac-Man with me.

Noir, my parents’ less Facebook-famous cat, wonders why he can’t play Pac-Man with me.

Noir, partner in crime to the more photo-shy Nesbitt L’Orange, made a real effort to attract the camera’s attention in the last couple days. Here he was expressing consternation with the cover on the Pac-Man machine in the anteroom that my father is finishing before the events of Christmas Eve.

Put the cat in the sink.  I have a sinking feeling.  Supply your own caption.  This is my gift to you, Internet.  Not that it's really feasible to imagine a cat photo would go viral.

Put the cat in the sink. I have a sinking feeling. Supply your own caption. This is my gift to you, Internet. Not that it’s really feasible to imagine a cat photo would go viral.

Submitted without comment. Except, you know, all the comments I made.

550 bags folded, at least 500 to go.  Each full grocery bag contains 250 folded bags.  I think I'm right on pace so far.

550 bags folded, at least 500 to go. Each full grocery bag contains 250 folded bags. I think I’m right on pace so far.

There’s nothing quite like the waxy feel of one’s fingertips after a couple hours folding bags, the loud crinkle of each new one’s initial fold, the cadence of opening and closing bags to be able to properly fold the lip of each. The bags wouldn’t stay open if the lip weren’t folded over. But I think even if someone devised a way to make a regular sandwich bag to stay squarely open without the fold, folding would still be necessary. This process is what transforms a mere sandwich bag into a luminaria-in-waiting, the unspoken promise of light and hope to come.

It’s good to be home.

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My Public Ballot, 2014 Louisiana Run-Off Edition

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

One of many reasons not to vote for Mary Landrieu.

One of many reasons not to vote for Mary Landrieu.

This is probably the most inconsequential election I’ve ever taken part in, especially given that my primary act was to abstain from the headline race because (a) it literally forced me to vote for a Democrat or a Republican and (b) Mary Landrieu is even more pathetic and right-wing than the average Democrat, which is saying something. I actually solicited advice from my Facebook friends this morning to see if they could come up with a reason I would find compelling to not abstain from the Senate run-off, but I was pretty skeptical to begin with and most advocates invoked the ever-trotted-out “lesser of two evils”. Bleh.

In any case, I had missed the initial election this cycle (with its 14 ballot referenda!) because Louisiana puts a 30-day waiting period on voting (but no waiting period at all on firearm purchases) after one has established residence. And I bothered to vote because there were still two down-ticket local run-offs and a bond issue for whatever is left of the public school system in New Orleans. So after a little online research (way easier than in New Jersey, a state that seems to do its best to suppress any possible voter knowledge whatsoever), I devised the following votes:

U.S. Senator: abstain
Judge Civil District Court, Domestic Section 2 For Reg. and Unexp. Term : Janet Ahern
Judge Juvenile Court, Section E: Desiree Cook-Calvin
PW School Board – 4.97 Mills – SB – 10 Yrs.: Yes

Honestly, all of the candidates for judge seemed really reasonable, but the opponent of the person I voted for in juvenile court talked a lot about spending less money on the system, which in Section E mostly concerns wards of the state, orphans, and the abused and neglected. Not exactly something I support skimping on. And Ahern just seemed like she had more of a coherent plan for her approach to divorce court than her opponent. Meanwhile, bond issues for schools are pretty much no-brainers, even though 4.97 mills is a whopping half a hundredth of a cent. (Yes, I know this gets multiplied by the value of the house to determine the property tax.)

When we have a referendum on an overhaul of police procedures, then I’ll really feel like voting matters.

Past Public Ballots:
2012
2008

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It Doesn’t Really Snow Here

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

A quick click of the refresh button will show you some new imagery around here.

To review, here was the old header:

Header of this blog, 1 October through 10 November 2014.

Header of this blog, 1 October through 10 November 2014.

And here is the new:

Header of this blog, today through question-marks!

Header of this blog, today through question-marks!

Of course the actual versions are much larger, trying to span the entire distance of the page as it appears on whatever of various screen resolutions you may be using. For a long time, screen resolutions were getting finer and finer, but now it seems everyone uses really small screens like tablets and phones to access the web, so I assume that trend is leveling off. I’m not really sure myself, because while I long ago acquiesced to get a cell-phone, I insist on keeping a dumb-phone instead of delving into the rabbit-hole of touch-screens. I suspect this is only the first of many many refusals which put one foot of mine solidly in middle age at the ripe old sum of 34.

It doesn’t really snow in New Orleans. Or it does like every 5 years, maybe. I’m obviously hoping this year, like any winter in which I exist, is one of those rare ones where it snows even where it normally doesn’t. Certainly I can’t complain – last winter in Jersey sent us off to a snowless land quite well with weekly storms over half a foot. That said, our alternative current landing spot was Helsinki, which would’ve finally fulfilled a lifelong ambition to live somewhere where the snow is constant and overwhelming. A place like Buffalo or Lake Tahoe or northern Canada or Minnesota where the question is not if but how much and perhaps, later, will it still be snowing in June. And yes, I felt this way even when I had to drive several hours every weekend as part of my job.

This image is one I found on the Internet of a storm in 2008. The rest of the color scheme is my traditional wintry mix of light blue and light gray, while keeping the general body text style as when I started this theme at the top of last month. Still going with this theme overall (Type-o-Graphy) – I really like everything about it except for the fact that it jump-cuts words while keeping a jagged right justification. I really still can’t figure out who thought that was a good idea. To be fair, I guess I could start doing a solid justify on both sides of the page, but then I’d have to retroactively add that to the last 1,371 posts on this page and … yeah, I don’t really feel like doing that. I just wish it wouldn’t jump-cut words assuming I have a justified page text.

The things we worry about in this life.

In case it wasn’t also obvious, I am mildly obsessed with the New Orleans streetcars, especially the St. Charles line that runs a few blocks from our apartment down the main corridor of Uptown New Orleans, one of the prettiest streets in America for my money. Whether it hosts snow this year or not, I’ve already seen it get decked out for Halloween in full regalia and I can only imagine that Christmas and then Mardi Gras will far eclipse that effort. Though it does seem like an awful lot of people show up in this city for Halloween.

I’ve been watching the new Dr. Who lately, finally, since Alex got us Netflix (I dropped it in 2011 after it had become kind of stressful for me and pressured me into watching screens when I’d rather be reading). The old one was my favorite show for a number of years – reruns were on late-night PBS in my childhood and my Dad introduced me to the show. The new one does an excellent job of capturing the spirit of the original, both in significance and fun. And, like David Foster Wallace writing and most science fiction (these are two separate things – I know that DFW did not write sci-fi), Dr. Who gets me to always think deeply about the larger context of existence and exactly what is being done with our time/energy on this planet, both as an individual (me) and a species (humans). Not always, of late, with perfectly settling conclusions, but I think everyone should have influences in their life that constantly put things in a more universal (and mortal) context.

I wish more people were doing that in blogs, though. I just updated the list of blogs on the sidebar and there’s been a lot of attrition. Which reminds me that I have to figure out how to make future upcoming quizzes (I really want to get the Song Quiz out before 2015, really) more sharable on Facebook, since the “Paste this text into your webpage code!” line, while still an option, is not going to be the primary way of spreading the quiz around.

When I can hire a part-time programming assistant for this site, I’ll know I’ve really made it.

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Unemployment Remains Stable… at Double Reported Figure

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

Was going to post a longer thing about the nature of cameras and privacy and all the Rices from Rutgers that get rung up by audio-visual equipment, but that’ll keep for now, especially since everyone under the sun has something to say about it. Not least of which is The Onion, whose point that only people who get caught on camera doing things wrong get punished sort of misses the point underscored here, which is that everyone is on camera all the time now and that may not be as bad as everyone wants to think. But more on that later, when I’m not quite as sick or I haven’t made it to 1:30 PM and failed to eat today, especially when sick. Go me.

I took most of the summer off from reporting on unemployment, in part because I just wasn’t in much of a blogging groove in general for most of the last year. So here we are again, revisiting the figures I last posted in April.

At that point in the year, the reporting gap, or the gap between real unemployment and that figure the B(L)S puts out monthly, stood at a record-high 5.87%. Now that figure has hit a record high in both June and August, modestly up to 5.89%.

Here are your graphs:

The red line is real unemployment, accounting for those who have left the labor force.  The blue is the reported figure.

The red line is real unemployment, accounting for those who have left the labor force. The blue is the reported figure.

The gap between real and reported figures.

The gap between real and reported figures.

You know the drill with this by now. Nothing is changing much in terms of unemployment. The public narrative about stagnation of unemployment and the “recovery” is actually right for once. But it’s right at 12%, not 6%. Unemployment currently stands at 11.99%, up from 11.94% in July. That July number is the best it’s been since August 2009, when unemployment was still skyrocketing, which was 11.76%.

But 12% unemployment remains 2% higher than the supposed peak of unemployment in the Great Recession, which was in October 2009 (reported at 10.0%). Unemployment actually peaked 2 months later, at 13.13%. It’s periodically touched 13% a few times since then, most recently last October.

The Reporting Gap (second chart) remains a perfect index of the crazy factor in our current perception of the economy as it affects real people on the ground. And that remains at its peak. And the way we would be publicly treating the economy, jobs, and public policy if it were publicly disseminated that unemployment has been hovering between 12-13% for FIVE YEARS is so radically different than the status quo as to make them different worlds altogether.

You’re not crazy. The jobs are not coming back. Someday, we will change the model of our economy. But for now, it remains ostrich time.

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Almost Like Real Life

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

So a lot has been made lately of Facebook putting an overly positive spin on things, shifting our perspective and making us seem and act happier than we actually are.

I think this is true, but largely for a much simpler reason than people are saying. It’s because of the “Like” button.

LikeButton

Here’s the thing. We like likes. They make us feel affirmed. They make us think that people are out there in the void, listening, taking us seriously. Most importantly, they bridge the divide of desperately lonely souls, making us feel that others empathize with our experience.

As such, consciously or no, we construct our posts on Facebook to cultivate likes. And thus we are uncomfortable posting anything phrased in such a way that someone would be hesitant to “like” it. If it would seem wrong or sick or weird or sad to like something, we alter the phrasing to be positive or silver-lining-y enough to gather likes.

I noticed this mostly when reading posts about people dying. People discuss the deaths of their loved ones, friends, people in Israel or Gaza, and they were gathering likes! This seems wrong, right? Who likes someone else’s beloved or cared-for dying? Isn’t that horrible?

But time and again, I would notice that people would find a Polyannaish closing thought or silver lining or positive little thing to say that would make a like not only un-reprehensible, but actually the appropriate response.

I don’t know what the fix is. Certainly a Dislike button would increase Facebook’s death toll decently and make it a far less pleasant and more ostracizing place to be. But I almost think there should be an “I Feel This” button that can express empathy or support without actually feeling positive about the sentiment expressed. Because that enables a full range of real human emotions, not just the parts of ourselves that are most obviously likable.

Cross-posted (of course) on Facebook.

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Porch Storm

Categories: A Day in the Life, Marching to New Orleans, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

He sits out on the high rickety wood porch, consuming pages like nutrients long missing from his diet. The movers, the cleaners, the gas company, everybody’s late, everybody’s nice. Except the moving truck driver from Astoria, Queens. Of course. He’s both the latest and meanest of them all.

People smoke too much and drink too often and constantly use endearments that sound like sexual harassment. They wink often and smile easily and take their time walking the sidewalks. The air is somewhere between a gas and a solid most of the time the sun’s out, surrounding with presence more than evading with absence like one might be used to.

The clouds start to gather, dark and thin, wispy strands like wand emanation from a fantasy world. They combine, swirl, lower, gain heft and weight and presence. Then there’s a flash, the world set alight, and a faint rumble, and the sky bursts open on this bold hard cue. Within minutes, there are pools of churning water at every curb and corner and the flashes and cracks are performing a grand orchestral opera that puts fireworks to shame. It is several minutes before the water becomes sufficiently dense on the porch to threaten the pages themselves and send him inside.

The streetcar sounds its bell and rolls along roads like they were designed for something other than pollution. Tired children are lifted off the boards and onto laps while excited tourists hang half their weight out the window and crane to see statues, balconies, flags of the fleur-de-lis. The conductor pulls a lever and we turn into the busy intersection, there are echoes of a hillside on the edge of the Tenderloin and a time before most of us were born.

The best a nomad can hope for is something that feels like home.

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No Jobs in January: A Glance at Seasonal Adjustment of Unemployment

Categories: A Day in the Life, It's the Stupid Economy, Quick Updates, Tags: , ,

I was curious to analyze the seasonal adjustment data after the last post I made about unemployment data and under-reporting from 2007-2013.

Basically, seasonal adjustment follows a similar shape every year. Not the exact same shape, which is interesting, but my initial inclination to post the graph of each of the years from 2007-2013 individually wound up looking like a well-tread rut line with a couple of alterations high and low in weird outlier months. So the average of the last seven years seems more useful in looking at what’s really going on with unemployment as it cycles through the months.

Here it is:
SeasonalAdjustmenta

I realize I may have done this graph upside-down from what you’d expect – being high on this graph means that actual unemployment (i.e. not seasonally adjusted) is that much higher than the reported seasonally adjusted rate, whereas lower means that the actual unemployment is lower than what’s reported. In other words, in the average January, BLS is shaving a percentage point off the unemployment tally, while in July, they’re adding about 0.6%.

Unsurprisingly, July is the best time to get a job. There’s seasonal work, more people (mostly young whipper-snappers) enter the job market, the weather’s good, people are buying ice cream. Okay, so it’s mostly seasonal work. Summer camp opens and teachers aren’t considered unemployed during their well-earned rest. Everybody celebrate.

January, by contrast, is a disaster. I think December would be too, except there’s seasonal work there to combat that as retailers add tons of temporary workers for the Christmas rush, making that and April the statistically least adjusted months. Basically, winter is bad, summer is good, and fall kind of bumps along being okay.

This is a footnote to all my other posts about how crazy you should feel when the numbers come out. It’s also a really bad sign about what’s going on right now in the economy, because ain’t nobody hiring in January. The numbers are going to take a point off the figure, plus all the people I’ve discussed who are coming off unemployment with Congress putting them off long-term benefits. So we’re in for a heck of a gap this month between what’s reported and what’s real. Honestly, the report could say that January unemployment is 5.5% and that the US lost jobs. That’s probably about what’s going to happen.

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Trains and Translation Twenty Thirteen Tour

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

TTTT

I’ve changed the theme around these parts to match the above poster for my upcoming summer travel plans. I’m not in love with the title, but I like all the T’s and I really like the imagery and all those skylines. At the very least, I’ve solved the minor dilemma outlined at the end of last month. If you don’t see the new theme, refresh the page.

This whole thing may look a bit dark to you. I prefer the term “dramatic”. Your mileage may vary. I was actually toying with the idea of getting a new theme altogether for this blog. Not a new name or anything, but a new WordPress theme style with a different arrangement of dates and titles and maybe even sidebar changes. The problem is that I really like the sidebar the way it is and had also just spent a fair bit of time crafting the new header image and needed to ensure that there was space for my 800×350 pixel creation, which is the size I’ve been working with since shutting down Introspection and replacing it with this.

In any event, this is a pretty extensive tour, including my first stop in Europe since 2008 (and that was only for a few hours in London!). Obviously, an alternate theme for this whole venture could have been about fish, since most of the travel is related in some way or another to Fish’s wedding, which is the whole purpose for the European jaunt, of course. Somehow the “Gone Fishin’ 2013” concept just seemed a little too much like I’d abandoned vegetarianism, though. It’s a shame there isn’t an activity with the summer implications of fishing that doesn’t involve killing or at least significantly injuring creatures. It seems like it would be fun to fish without the whole death/maiming angle.

Other possible plans for this tour included, at one point, the Bay Area, Seattle, and Alaska. These destinations will all have to wait, or more properly, I’ll have to wait to get to them. There’s only so much one can gallivant if the intent of the summer is to be somewhat restful and, with any luck, productive.

Regardless of which, even if this summer isn’t going places, I’m going places this summer. Neat. If we haven’t made plans to meet up in an above-listed city where you’re going to be, let’s fix that, shall we?

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May is the Worst

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Telling Stories, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , , ,

I just spent a fair bit of time re-reading my posts from past Mays on this blog. There are five years’ worth of them and they ain’t pretty. Actually, some of them are kind of pretty; I think a lot of the writing I did in May 2011 may actually have been some of my best in a while, even if it’s extraordinarily laden with pain. But you get the point. I’m almost never having a good time in May.

Things often end in May. People make jokes about the Harry Potter series always putting undue emphasis and tension on May because that’s the natural end of the school year, but I always feel like reality actually conforms to this pattern. And I know that somehow most people like April and May because they feel this bizarre boost in springtime, easily the worst season of the four for my money. I have lived long enough to know that early April through early June is the worst time in my life almost every year and by far the most consistently bad. Maybe I’m misaligned, but I know my alignment all the same.

This May hasn’t been trend-setting in its badness, but more indicative of the kind of malaise and slow descent this season always seems to mark. I was sick for most of the month – probably about 3 full weeks of it after getting sick on May Day. I suspect I had some sort of infection, though the doctors insisted it was either allergies or an especially lingering cold. I’m still not exactly 100%, but I’ve probably been 95 or 97% the last couple days, so I’m definitely through whatever it was. I’ll probably feel 100% on June 7th, because that’s just how these things tend to go for me. I don’t mean to be fatalistic, but I’m one of the only people I know who doesn’t seem to be a total determinist lately, so being resigned to a bad 70-day stretch every year is pretty good by comparison, right?

In any event, today is an event! My last day at work before my two months off till August (though I will have to come in a few days to tie up some loose ends and trade for the first week in August as you’ll see below…), the end of a desperately bleh month, and the return of my girlfriend from Costa Rica tomorrow. Things are looking up. And it seems to be a May tradition on this blog to post a little graphic indicating my summer “tour” for the year, or where I’m planning on traversing to with the opportunity to make use of the time that I’m given. So I don’t really want to make this exceptional, since this May hasn’t even been exceptional in its badness, just kinda averagely awful…

…But I don’t really have a theme for my summer travel. Part of this May has been just feeling totally uninspired. I am almost starting to get inspired for when I will be inspired and I have lots of resolutions for the summer. You’ve heard some of them before, things like actually sending American Dream On and The Best of All Possible Worlds to agents and/or publishers for the first time in 3 years, or actually writing new fiction for a similarly unprecedented stretch. I need to get more active, even if it’s just walking around Highland Park or something. Or doing yoga again. I would like to read more and more intensely, to spend more time deliberately and investing in projects I want to do. Heck, maybe the Song Quiz will finally happen this summer. Really.

So far all May has brought me is joining Twitter. Seriously. And I think the main thing I’m going to do with that is post links to posts here, assuming I actually start writing more. Which makes this all rather meta and self-referential. Which I guess goes well with starting to read David Foster Wallace’s recent biography last night, Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. Best title ever and makes the synergy between he and Adam Duritz of Counting Crows (such connections discussed here) even more poignant. So far I’m up till DFW’s early grad school years and the writing isn’t really seeming worthy of DFW and CC, but maybe that’s just because I never read biographies and so the flat journalistic and presumptive tone is simply unfamiliar to me. Reading non-fiction, though, always convinces me even more that there’s far more truth in fiction. The things taken as given in non-fiction, the sweeping unjustified generalizations, are kind of shocking. It’s a way of transforming hearsay into fact. All the same, I’m enjoying the experience of the book. I think we all just miss Wallace way too much.

Anyway, I need a title for the tour and a theme because I like pretending my life is a book tour or maybe it’s just that the Summer Tour themology is fun. I think May was way too short on fun. This summer, the first order of business is fun.

But I can share the tour dates and the little graphic will have to wait till (gasp!) June. Thank God it’s going to be June. Soon.

15-16 June: Upstate NY (Wallflowers/Counting Crows show)
17-19 June: New Brunswick, NJ
20-27 June: Los Angeles, CA
28 June – 4 July: Albuquerque, NM

28-29 July: Helsinki, Finland
29 July – 3 August: Paris, France
4-8 August: Berbiguières, France
8-10 August: Paris, France

It doesn’t look too glamorous like that, maybe because it’s not a road-trip and thus the locations are few. But the durations are long and the locations are awesome. So let’s make plans! Let’s have fun. Let’s not revisit May for a while, shalln’t we?

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Follow-Up: No Effects of Aging

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

A couple days ago, I posted at length about jobs and where they’re going and the hidden unemployment rate. I promised to hop back onto the BLS website, a wealth of statistical information about our country, and look up the effects of the much discussed aging populous on the sapping of the labor force in America.

I expected that I might find something to mitigate the alarming findings of my last post, those that included that the unemployment rate is actually closer to 13.5% than 8.3% and that note, more importantly, that the unemployment rate is near its peaks of this recession with no signs of ebbing. I expected to find evidence that the aging population was responsible for a decent chunk of the people fleeing the labor force and thus not getting counted in the unemployment figures traditionally discussed by the media in this nation.

Instead, I found this:

SrNoLabor

What this graph shows is the percentage of seniors (aged 65 and above) who are not in the labor force as a percentage of the entire population that BLS counts in their labor survey (civilians age 16+ who are not institutionalized). Keep in mind that the percentage of those in the labor force has crashed by over 3% of the entire population during this recession (or at least since 2001), so if that’s mostly about aging, you’d expect a big uptick in this number. Or at least something visible.

There is a rise in late 2011 and 2012, but it’s almost imperceptible. The overall movement in this entire chart is about half a percentage point. And while we are at the highs of the non-labor-force seniors as a percentage of population for the last decade, this fact cannot be held responsible for the massive gulf between unemployment figures as reported and unemployment figures counting those who’ve left the labor force.

I could release an “age-adjusted” chart, but there are two problems with this. One, the difference in the line between the one I posted earlier this week and the one I’d post now is almost nothing. Two, we cannot assume that every senior in today’s world is out of the labor force by choice. Given that a higher percentage of seniors than ever before are working, many of those not working may be just as desiring of work as their younger counterparts.

Were the gulf even a full percentage point, let alone two or three percent, it would be worth it to adjust the rate for age. But in the absence of any major shift in seniors out of the labor force as a percentage of the overall population, I’m inclined to stand by my original chart and the rate of 13.5%. 13% is probably a slightly safer figure if you really want to wring your hands and mitigate. But that’s not enough of a shift to indicate any notable change in the trendlines for real unemployment.

And as a housekeeping note, this post is inaugurating my new “It’s the Stupid Economy” tag for the blog. I have a feeling I’m going to be tracking a lot of these things as I do more thinking about this in the coming months.

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1,276

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Quick Updates, Read it and Weep, Tags: , , ,

Well, for all my talk yesterday about 1,277 books, I found an inadvertent duplicate in the list that had to be edited out. So it’s actually 1,276 books on the newly updated Book List. You should still check it out, see where your favorites fall, and share it with friends!

If you haven’t submitted yet, now’s a good time to start thinking about your own list. It might be a few months before I update again, but you can be part of the next batch! Here are the top picks from only the new batch of books.

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Too Much Space

Categories: A Day in the Life, Quick Updates, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

My soul hurts today.

I wonder whether YouTube or this blog will last longer. One would think that by the time this question needed answering, the answer wouldn’t much matter. But then again, there are times when Angelfire would have looked permanent, or MySpace permanently dominant. There’s really no telling what’s going to last in this world.

Tell me about it.

If you’re reading this sometime after YouTube has folded, somehow, just imagine a song of bittersweet hopelessness that nevertheless speaks to some kind of hope. I think if I could just cleanly give up, then things wouldn’t be so hard. But there’s such a strong will to live and hope and try that it keeps the nerves sufficiently sensitized so that things remain painful. I’ve never had the capacity for just shutting down emotionally, in part because I probably think it’s immoral, so I just stumble through this bleary fog of unhappy accidents and drifty stabby memories.

I’m ready to skip to the end of the book just so I know what it’s reasonable to put myself through.

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A Thought

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

I don’t think there’s a more devastating or demoralizing conviction a person can have than that their best years are behind them.

People are extremely adaptable. They will go through almost any contortion to convince themselves to have more hope than they should, that every opportunity they face is a lottery ticket that will take them straight to the top.

This, of course, is why capitalism is so powerfully persuasive at convincing people to vote against their own interests.

But when I take a sober look at myself, my life, I know what the score is. And I just don’t know how people go on in that situation. When nothing in the future looks better than the best of the past, what purpose is there in pursuing that future?

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On Superstition

Categories: A Day in the Life, Pre-Trip Posts, Quick Updates, The Agony of the Wait is the Agony of Debate, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

One of my debaters asked me last weekend whether I was superstitious. It was a good question. I reflexively answered that I wasn’t, but then he started talking about debate superstitions about writing on the board and how and who does it and I started quickly clarifying that when it came to that, I was extremely superstitious!

He asked me why I thought people were superstitious and it seemed pretty obvious to me that people are because they seek to exert control on their environment or circumstances in a way that they know they can’t otherwise in life. While we all like to think of ourselves as being in control of our own destinies, the reality is that none of us has particular control when we hold just one-seven-billionth of the power in our planet. I’ve discussed the cacophony of wills extensively before, but it’s crippling to really internalize how much that abrogates our free will into a collective free will as disjointed and chaotic as our world itself. No wonder people try to claw each other’s eyes out getting into the 1% where that one-seven-billionth can seem like one-one-millionth for a while.

If we believe that we secretly control events larger than ourselves – sports outcomes that we watch on TV or in person, the life or death of someone far away, the heart of another person, the thought processes of a debate round judge – by simple actions of routine or pattern, then we can believe there’s some connection between our own personal effort and the outcomes that affect us so deeply. And once there’s confirmation of some sort of link, however tenuous or absurd, between writing in a certain style on the chalkboard or saying a particular set of words or wearing a hat in a particular way and the desired outcome, then repeating that becomes almost holy.

We all hunger for free will, all crave the ability to dominate merely our own lives. And while we all probably have more actual will than we acknowledge when we’re not being overtly superstitious, the fact is that humanity’s not actually well organized yet to maximize reasonable choices for people. Most people do most of what they do with the verve and volunteerism of one with a gun aimed squarely at their temple.

Is it any wonder that I sit here waiting for my life to come back to me? Maybe today, maybe if I mismatch my socks and think only the best thoughts, maybe if I don’t sleep enough to let the nightmares in, maybe if I can ward off the migraines and do everything she would have wanted, look at the clock at the right times and focus my mind in just the right way, maybe I can find a little hope that this message will travel across the universe, the Atlantic, the bridge between half-souls, and remind her of what she threw away.

I am patient. I can do this.

The cruel reality is different, of course. Like any superstition of debate or sports or life, I’m winking at myself. I see the image of her, hopeless and claiming to be tempest-tossed, citing the need to commit an affair and cast aside compassion like they were mandates from Heaven of which she mildly disapproved but was robotically forced to comply. I can imagine her eye-rolling at reading this, the clucking sigh she used to make about how naive, idealistic, stupid I was. Like she had a monopoly on understanding the universe and how it was out to get her.

The universe isn’t out to get anyone. We use our limited will as an excuse for abusing each other. As soon as we wake up and realize that no matter how little will we have, maximizing its utility for good, compassion, and the further maximization of will is our best hope, then we might start making the best use of our individual slices of light. We can all hold a candle and watch it dance in the harshness of wind and rain, or we can join together to merge our lights into a fire that could burn all the architecture of the past that holds us back.

Hoping our light will magically be transported to create that conflagration is surely not enough. But I can’t do this alone.

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