Tag Archives: Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading


Searching for Direction

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

I’ve been playing the stock market for about four months now. On days like most of the ones this past week, they say that the market is searching for direction. As though the market, each day, were a living entity that was trying to feel out whether things would be up or down for that day. And that the inability to choose one, to be definitively up or down, would be somehow consternating to the market itself. That there would be mild frustration, even disgruntle at the middle ground, at (heaven forbid!) finishing the day unchanged.

No matter how weird this may be for a characterization of a collective group of gambling agencies called a “stock market”, I think I know how this anthropomorphized market feels. I am searching for direction.

Much of this is the direct result of the post-completion hangover that usually accompanies any major project, especially one that has dominated the horizon for a good bit of time. The project in question at this stage is, of course, the just-released Women World Leaders Quiz. There is always a mad rush of euphoria upon completing a major web project and especially a quiz. Such euphoria usually quickly is dashed upon the rocks of reality as I realize that the first few weeks rarely bring the bulk of the visitors, and that it will take months and sometimes years to build up the kind of visitor base and feedback loop that I’ve been dreaming of for any given quiz. This isn’t always the case, but I’m able to block it out in the mad rush of motivation that rolls toward quiz-completion as I grind out the last few answers. And then the rocky reality crash is replaced by a calm that slowly fades into malaise. As though to inquire so now whatchya gonna do?

Indeed. Now what?

Lord knows there are plenty of projects pending at the BP. A Facebook app that really got me going in late June, if you can believe it. A just pre-announced eleventh quiz that I’m already promising sooner than is probably reasonable. And no shortage of projects in various states of neglect and disrepair, summarily abandoned along the trail like only the web (or a very large closet) allows one to do. Unlike the closet, though, one leaves all the laundry piled about unless one actively tries to go back and retrieve, hide, and clean everything up. And that’s never really been my style. In part because I like history, the layers of sediment, and the snapshots of abandoned pages at their last moment of maintenance. Unlike the closet, or ruins of a civilization, there’s no innate decay in bytes. No real cobwebs on the interwebs. The ‘net preserves better than mummification.

So I have almost too many things I could be working on, but so much leftover void of having the one big bogeyman (shouldn’t there be two o’s in “bo(o)geyman”?… it’s not fear of being one over par, after all) project finally completed. Projects for others (the quiz is for my friends at Camp Kupugani) always carry more weight and onus than projects for oneself. Even if the projects for oneself involve countless others (e.g. the currently suspended-animation OMBFP). This is why having a day job manages to debilitate and undermine all the countless projects (including 3 books, a novella, and unending short stories) that I really should be working on. My Dad always said that half the trick in life was to be able to work as hard for oneself as one did for others. My Dad is smart.

And yet today is a lousy day to start a project, really. I mean, sure, they all feel like that sometimes, but really today. September is going to mark a highly volatile month. And not just for the world – I’ve got trips to Colorado (Will’s wedding) and Nuevo (10-year HS reunion) in the next two weekends after this. There’s a Counting Crows show in there somewhere, to match the Jakob Dylan show we just saw on Wednesday. (First concerts since last October, and it was probably 6 months before that to the last one.) I’m taking serious time off work for the above trips for the first time since coming back from India (oh, there’s a dormant project for you – remember when I was going to put all my India/Nepal trip pics online? Yeah. You’ll note I haven’t even managed to change the theme of this blog from last winter.). And then it’s Em’s birthday and baseball season ends and holy goodness it’s October. And we all know about October. (Hey, at least I’ll have to change the theme then.)

This is the point in our program where I try to draw my own personal failings, struggles, and queries into a larger point about where we all are heading at this moment in history. The obvious segue available is the election – what better way to capture a gigantic search for direction than a bi-polar election season with two divisive candidates vying for the allegedly most influential job in the world for the next four years?

And yet it seems off. It doesn’t quite draw the right note, does it? Oh, trust me, I see enough of your Facebook updates to know that a whole lot of you really believe in this stuff, have been swept away by another series of fanfare and speeches. (Who says the conventions don’t matter anymore?) It’s a culture war, a clash of civilizations, a knock-down drag-out for the hearts and minds. What could be more relevant? Right? But it doesn’t feel relevant, does it? It doesn’t really feel like it’s going to make a difference, does it? I dunno. Maybe it does to you. But I’m not seeing it.

Of course part of this must be because I see it as a foregone conclusion. Don’t listen to me too closely – I put money on Hillary being in the White House, too (though I still wouldn’t rule that out quite yet). But unless they cancel all the debates and/or there’s a major “terrorist attack” on US soil between now and 4 November, it’s Obama big-time. He may just win half the South while he’s at it. If you really think that the Southern Baptist Republican base is going to turn out to vote for two self-described independents from the far West, I think you’re in for quite a surprise. And if Obama keeps compromising, talking about how badly Afghanistan is going to get bombed under his watch, and keeps picking old Washington insiders to help him “change”, the base isn’t exactly going to go gangbusters for him either. 2 votes to 1 is a landslide by percentage, but it says something larger about what’s going on in the country generally.

This wasn’t intended to be a political post and now I’ve got myself all fired up. The point is simpler, perhaps larger. There is an undercurrent, some other sort of direction being sought, decided, flipped on a coin at present. It’s irksome and irritating, it makes me feel all discombobulated. Mood swings that are a way of life go from bobbing waves to richter-scale disruptions. (Though I can’t feel the actual richter-scale disruptions alleged in the region.) They say that April flowers bring May showers, but I might posit that September decisions bring October consequences. And while we won’t watch the ripples run away just yet, the pebble is going in the brook as we speak. You can just feel it.

It feels, well, much like getting pegged with a rock.


Thursday Roundup: Peace, Hope, Truth

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

So it looks, thankfully, like the Olympic Ossetia War may be over almost as quickly as it started. If you’ve been under a rock for a week (or in Vegas, as I was for the bulk of the war), Georgia invaded the breakaway republic of South Ossetia as the Olympics opened. Russia invaded South Ossetia to drive the Georgians out, then kept going for a ways, stopping short of the capital in time for a ceasefire.

Sound familiar? I’ve already made much of the parallels between this Georgia-South Ossetia-Russia scenario and the Iraq-Kuwait-USA scenario circa the early 1990’s. It took a while longer for the whole thing to unfold in the prior case, but then again, it was the USA and not Saudi Arabia that went in to “liberate” Kuwait. The fact that no one in the US media or perspective has labeled this recent struggle as Russia’s “liberation” of South Ossetia is frankly baffling to me. I thought our country believed in self-determination. Well, no I didn’t really think that. I’ve always known that we were hypocrites.

But the hypocrisy goes deeper than recent history. The more compelling parallel, it occurs to me, is the Mexican-American War, with Texas playing the role of South Ossetia. The majority of Texas wanted to leave Mexico and they declared a shaky and unsound independence. Unable to sustain real independence, they floated between Mexico and the US, leaning toward the US. When the US finally tried to absorb Texas officially, Mexico went in to crack down on the renegade province. And the US quickly reconquered Texas and penetrated the aggressor, this time going all the way to Mexico City and taking the Congo California, Arizona, and New Mexico as a penalty.

Now I’m not on the side of the US in either of these examples, or Russia currently. Nor am I on the side of Mexico, Iraq, or Georgia. Frankly, all these people are committing horrible acts by using violence to resolve their differences. If people want to be free, let ’em go. You’re not going to get very far by holding people against their will, be it in a prison, a camp, or a country.

What I do find interesting, however, is how prevalent the principle of defending a weak breakaway republic has been in US policy and yet how blatantly the US has sided with Georgia. It doesn’t surprise me, as stated – I expect the US to be inconsistent in an effort to only defend its friends and partners, no matter how atrocious their acts may be. I guess what surprises me most is how much the media have let the US policy advocates get away with this perspective. Not a soul has presented the counter-arguments about Russia defending a weaker (interestingly, ethnically Iranian) group against an invasive force. On the contrary, they’ve dredged up Cold War rhetoric and comparisons to the ’68 crackdown on Czechoslovakia. This is just preposterous. If you’re going to believe in the Mexican-American War and Gulf War I, you have to side with Russia. It’s just logic.

Regardless, it very fortunately doesn’t seem to matter any more what side one’s on, because this conflict is over. It looked really scary for awhile, but everyone authentically seems to care more about peace than ego. Which is mind-boggling, but may give us some reason for…

Not only am I elated to see the end of this war, I’m also heartened by articles like this one, talkin’ ’bout my gen-eration. I know that I certainly feel like my generation cares more about being socially conscious, environmentally friendly, and actually doing good instead of evil, but it’s nice to see confirmation.

Obviously, though (you knew I wouldn’t stay optimistic for long), I am highly concerned by how this article seems to indicate that lip service is more or less enough to lure my gullible generation into signing on the dotted line. Yes, there’s a section entitled “More than just talk”, but if your company is destroying people’s lives on one hand and then turning around and giving a token amount of money back, it’s still mostly doing evil. Here’s a good indication if this is the case: the word company. This word means that the bottom line overrides other concerns, even if the bottom line can offer light dusting to the community. Usually the only reason it sprinkles this dusting is to advertise, to make people feel better about the company in the first place. Don’t be duped, fellow Y’s/Millennials (I still prefer Y because of the homophonic implication of my favorite three-letter word), it’s just a token. If you have to do a day job, best to put it directly into a non-profit, where there is no bottom line really.

But hey, if everyone is going into these businesses with these attitudes… and can somehow manage to maintain them while working in a company for decades (a gargantuan if), then maybe there’ll be some real change in, uh, 30 years. Hm. That’s a little hope, right? But the fact of the matter is that things are going to need to change big time before then. Fact? Perhaps I meant…

Which is actually going to be a section title for an update about fiction. Contradictory, you say? The old saying says that truth is stranger than fiction, but I’d actually like to coin that fiction is truer than truth. Before you start lumping me in with a Steven Colbert “truthiness” spoof, hear me out. This will explain why 98% of what I read is fiction and why I aspire to be a writer of same rather than non-.

The thing about non-fiction is that it’s trying too hard. The truth (!) of the matter is that everything that one writes, thinks, does is laden in one’s perspective. There’s no helping it or getting around it. Truth may ultimately be vision without perspective, but no one is ever able (in this species in this era in history) to divorce themselves entirely from their own vantage point. So attempts to be objective with a single or group voice are always going to fall short. One is always trying to prove a point, find an eternal truth, even just tell a story about something that happened to someone else. But it’s never (ever) 100% true. It’s fictionalized, cast in a certain light, omits some details, even if they’re only the details that physically can’t be attained in the process of researching the story.

None of these weaknesses of non-fiction would really be a problem if non-fiction called itself “semi-fiction” or “half-truth”. The real problem that non-fiction has is its branding itself as objective fact/truth. By claiming that something inherently biased is indeed objective, non-fiction sets itself up as misrepresentation and disaster, often misleading people into believing it, accepting it whole cloth. When of course, as we’ve established, it needs salt.

But is hope for truth lost? Of course not, because we have fiction. Fiction makes no bones about its factual content – it’s not even trying to be true. But to be believable, to be functional, to resonate with any reader, fiction must establish itself within a consistent and real framework. People are constantly analyzing and evaluating it for its reality, thus holding it already to a higher standard than non-fiction.

But more compellingly, fiction is freed from all constraints, so it can actually tell its story completely, regardless of what someone may say or think or feel or critique. And this liberation allows it to get at a more fundamental truth about the world, because it’s much less self-conscious. It’s not trying to recenter itself in some objectivity or reality, but simply trying to convey a feeling, a presence, a story, a reality of some sort. And this is really the only way to tell the truth. At least more fundamental truths, about how people really are, about what they go through, about what is important to humanity.

With that off my chest, this section was supposed to be about my proclivity toward absurdly long books this year. I’m close to completing Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon’s WWII treatise that feels more like work than any sort of recreation. I’ve never delved into Pynchon, despite being given the absurdly short The Crying of Lot 49 at some point in college, but he was compared to David Foster Wallace (actually vice versa), so I figured once I ran out of Wallace fiction, it was time to jump in. Having already read Infinite Jest (1,049 pages), The Brothers Karamazov (711 pages), and The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (607 pages), I was not concerned about the 760 dense pages of this one. (Parenthetically, this is not me bragging so much as trying to explain why I’ve only read nine books this year.)

Boy, was I wrong. Gravity’s Rainbow is about as inaccessible and oblique as a book can get and still be in any way readable. While it’s an interesting challenge at times and authentically hilarious when one least expects it, it mostly leaves me apathetic. Part of my disappointment is surely derived from having read the first paragraph in a bookstore and being intrigued by what seemed like an apocalyptic plot. Instead, it was just another WWII retread. And I understand how WWII was confused for the apocalypse by the generation that lived it; I even understand why. But it’s less interesting now, it’s overplayed, and it clouds our vision of the future.

I mean, this may not be entirely fair. I don’t know where it ends. There could be a whole bunch of highly redeeming endings for Gravity’s Rainbow. Less than a hundred pages to go and it’s not looking stellar. But if Slothrop ends up in a GE lab with the five people controlling everything and all the other victims lined up… maybe. I’ve made a lifetime of reading books and watching movies out of hoping for crescendic endings that perfectly conveyed my perspective to all, only to have hopes dashed against the rocks 98% of the time.

Deus ex crapola.

I will talk about Vegas at some point, wherein I spent 72 hours (59 of them awake). I will talk about struggling through the ennui of life in the late summer of my day job world (because that’s something I haven’t talked about enough on this blog). I will talk more about the economic situation of a country that still doesn’t know it’s about to collapse, about the excitement and ambivalence of being here to watch it crumble.

But when the opportunity presented itself to filter today’s tidbits through the lens of my old phrase of the three big ideals, how could I pass it up? When I still haven’t decided whether to go to my 10-year high school reunion, why wouldn’t I label a post as I labeled my senior page in the yearbook supplement?

I think my world today can be summed up as follows:

“I’m thinking of going.”


Cinderella Sweeping Up

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

“Grandpa, tell me what it was like back in the old country before the fall.”

“Well, what do you want to know?”

“I dunno. What was it like just before the fall? Did anyone know what was about to happen.”

“Oh, I think some people did. Back in ’08, Grandma and I went up to Gold Country for a little trip.”

“Were you looking for gold?”

“No, no. We were just going to a place with a little history to celebrate our anniversary. We’d been married for five years at that point.”

“History? Like how old?”

“Well, the first night we stayed in the oldest hotel in Placerville. It had been built in 1857.”

“Grandpa, that’s not old! Everything here in _______ is older than that.”

“Not everything.”

“Just about.”


“So you really weren’t looking for gold?”

“I mean, we joked about it a little, but all the gold mining novelty shops were sold out of equipment. Too many other people were trying to find it.”

“What’s ‘novelty’ mean?”

“Hm. It’s like a knick-knack, or a little trinket. Something you don’t really need, but you buy because it’s cute or you just impulsively want it.”

“That’s weird. I’ve never heard of that.”

“Yeah. I guess not. Huh. There used to be shops full of them in America, before the fall. But not so much right before the fall. Most of them were closing.”


“Yeah. On that drive up to Gold Country, we passed all these half-deserted towns and suburbs. There were all these signs saying ‘For Lease’ and ‘Space Available’. But they looked like they were in the middle of nowhere. Places people had built thinking everything was always going to grow and expand. But then… it didn’t. And there were just shells of buildings.”

“Kinda like Gold Country, huh?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Old buildings and old towns that were kinda deserted. People moving on. I guess the difference is that no one knew where to move on to in the suburbs. Back in Gold Country days, there was always more opportunity just over that mountain.”

“Or so they thought.”

“Yup. So maybe it was the same.”

“When did the banks start failing? That was a big part of what started it, right?”

“Oh definitely. Let’s see, that was… huh. That morning, actually. I’m almost positive. I’d brought the laptop up to Gold Country and checked the news that morning and it said IndyMac had failed. That was the first one. It didn’t seem like much at first, but people knew then that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were going down too. And they were half the housing banks.”

“Why’d people choose such funny names for banks? They sound like people.”

“That’s a good question. I guess they wanted to sound friendly and helpful. ‘Like a good neighbor,’ that was one of the old slogans an insurance company had. Just like some regular Joe on the block who’s helping you out when you need it.”

“But can’t balance his own checkbook.”

“That’s pretty much exactly right. I’m not sure anyone in the old country knew how to balance their checkbook at that point. It was pretty clear that nobody really cared. Until all the banks started failing and then everything changed.”

“When did you and Grandma get out?”

“Of Gold Country or the old country?”


“Probably not soon enough, dear. Probably not soon enough.”


Waving the False-Flag

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

“There was an exodus of birds in the trees
’cause they didn’t know we were only pretending
and the people all looked up and looked pleased
and the birds flew around like the whole world was ending.”
-Ani DiFranco, “Independence Day”

People like to tell themselves stories about themselves. A big priority is put in our society on one’s ability to sleep at night, and thus people have to imbed fiction in their own minds in order to get to sleep. After all, the only person we really ever have to permanently live with is ourself. Why not make oneself a cooler, more moral, more reasonable person than one actually is? As Oscar Wilde said, “I never travel without my diary. One should always have something sensational to read in the train.”

Countries like to tell themselves stories about themselves, too. They like the citizens of their country to be able to bed down for the night with cozy thoughts of jingoist pride. Wrapped up in beseeching their deity of choice for a new television should be thanking said entity for plopping them between these particular borders, no matter what actually happens there. Why not make it a cooler, more moral, more reasonable country than it actually is? As Adolf Hitler said, “The great mass of people will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.”

The United States has led the world in a lot of things, but instilling this sense of jingoistic pride on an ongoing basis is perhaps its most sustained accomplishment. It is hard to imagine imperial Romans or Spanish or British believing in themselves this sincerely, fervently, holistically – not just as superior people, but as a superior set of ideals. And surely the disconnect between espoused ideals and actual actions has never been so great: indeed, this is the grand invention of the American enterprise. The Romans made no bones about the barbarians being expendable. Spain and Britain cared little for heathens, except occasionally as servants or objects of conversion. Even Hitler’s propaganda state made it pretty clear how they felt about their chosen scapegoats. But America cares. Really. Believe them. They do.

And thus, whenever America has had (“had”, mind you, not “chosen”) to use violence to defend its freedom (can you imagine more pejorative language?), it’s always been able to paint itself as a hapless but powerful victim whose choices are to take a beating or stumble up and hit back. And yet, of course, careful examination of these events reveals a track-record of pathological dishonesty. The Maine. The Zimmermann Telegram. Pearl Harbor. The Gulf of Tonkin. 9/11. All events claimed as catalytic and unprovoked attacks. All done with the knowledge and/or complicity of the United States government.

This phenomenon, recently labeled as the “false flag” scenario, is as old as the hills. Yes, even Hitler employed this one too, dressing up some Germans in Polish uniforms and having them attack a farmhouse on the German side of the border. What’s so great about these events is that control can be complete, since it happens on your own territory. There’s no mess. And the country is so blinded in its outrage at this unprovoked aggression that it will lash out, just as an individual punched in the solar plexus without warning will knee-jerk into swinging their fist right back.

But these events never make any sense. History finds ways to try to explain or give a context for why small countries (Spain, Vietnam, the Taliban) or empires barely scraping by (Germany in 1917, Japan in 1941) would want to go up to the baddest, meanest, most powerful guy on the block and punch him in the solar plexus once. But no matter how much spin goes on it, it never really quite makes sense, does it? They hate us? Really? Do they hate themselves more? Because they know what’s going to happen when they do this… unending death and destruction. The full force and destruction of the United States government. Are people really continually this stupid?

But we believe it, don’t we? Despite the evidence and the logic, most Americans go around thinking that America just keeps getting stronger, more powerful, more justified, and pipsqueaks keep trying to bonk us on the head for no reason.

Well insanity is oft defined as doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results. So, kids, when the economy is slouching toward depression, the last couple wars aren’t going so peachily, the administration is death-defyingly unpopular, and unemployment is skyrocketing…

What would you expect?

Given the history, what do you think is coming?

And what better day or season to renew our jingoism with the blood of self-inflicted victimhood than on our already chosen anniversary? Two-hundred and thirty-two years of learning how to better manipulate its own people that they will never again get so angry over a little taxation. Iran is already playing its part in this little play: standing up and talking trash to the bully, defiantly thumbing their nose at the tough guy just to save face, praying all the while that they don’t actually swing.

But something has changed since the so-called American century, part of it in the wake of the stinging defeat in Vietnam. American force and capacity to conquer has been steadily diminished in the ensuing infeasibility of a draft and unpopularity of killing. The US hasn’t actually managed to win a war outside of the Caribbean in some time.

Knowing this, it would have to be something so massive as to reinstate old questions long since cast off. Could we have a draft again? Could we fight six wars at a time? Could we suspend the election?

People have been predicting this, on and off, for a year. There are always prior rumblings. The Lusitania. “Bin Laden Determined to Attack Inside United States”.

If you need me on July fourth, I’ll be under the bed.


The Race Goes On

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

My job is making me a racist.

I probably mean something very different by this than you might expect. Perhaps because my definition of “racism” is as much “awareness of race” as anything else. I could go into an extensive diatribe about why I find this to be the case, and I’m torn about whether the time and place for this is now. In part because, rather obviously, if awareness of race is racism, then the more one talks about race, the more racist one becomes. Or is acting. So the whole enterprise is inherently somewhat self-defeating.

The two-minute summary involves the fact that race is innately misleading and arbitrary. Race is based on appearance and nothing more. Nationality is something that at least has some meaning and complexity and subtlety, and awareness of nationality (or primary language) might actually have some value in relating to both culture and to how to understand or serve someone better. But race glosses over these subtleties and divides people based on physical appearance, into 4 to 6 categories that are based on some idiotic Anglo-centric perception of how people look. At the very best, our racial classifications are like a Racist’s Guide to Race.

White folks are defined as those who look totally and completely white, without a strain of anything else in them. African-Americans are those who have at least 1% of their ancestry from pre-colonial sub-Saharan Africa. Asian/Pacific Islanders are a meaningless conglomeration of over half of the world’s heritage; a group within which there is as much diversity of culture, background, and appearance as within the rest of the groups combined. And Hispanic is a new category created because those now placed in it didn’t look quite whitebread enough to be White. Even though, functionally, Hispanic is essentially White.

Some people have Native American as a category, presumably as a conduit for further subjugation of these victims of the most successful genocide in world history. And then a few places are finally adding Multiracial, a category that would honestly encompass 80-95% of the population if people were thinking clearly. And whose takeover of 100% of the population is the only real hope we have of putting this issue to bed once and for all.

The point is that these categories are meaningless at describing anything except the broadest of appearances, and basically appearances only through an extremely traditional White racist filter. “Oh all them Asians look the same to me.” Come on. It’s pathetic. And continuing to codify and classify based on these distinctions only cements the way people look at the world, perpetuating future generations into meaningless classifications along vaguely colonial racist lines.

My job is making me racist because my workplace, like most leftist “liberal” institutions in contemporary America, is obsessed with race. And my job as a statistician and analyzer ends up focusing a great deal on race. I end up running demographic reports and devising new ways of making more interesting demographic reports… and by far the demographic most people are interested in is race. I work with executives and consultants who are obsessed with race and believe that the entire question of poverty in America can be solved through the filter of these 4-6 categories that divide people upon meaningless, Eurocentric lines.

Indeed, every time I run a report by race, I get this twinge, this pang in my gut that I’m doing something wrong that’s making things worse. Any alleged enhancement of service that would be derived from this report would be based on a racist stereotype… e.g. “All people who look African-American do this.” or “Most people who look Asian want that.” Like it or not, these are stereotypes. And last time I checked, stereotyping based on appearance was racist.

It just goes to show, as much as anything, that no matter how deeply committed I feel to the general mission of a workplace, I still wind up doing things I feel terrible about in all my day jobs. Restraining kids at Seneca. Having to kill ants at Chapman. Sales work at RMI. There is no way to fulfill my principles and not make compromises unless I’m on my own, making all of my decisions. This is an important thing to remind myself when evaluating what to do with my time.

And I know at least some of you would argue that my problem is there are too many things I don’t like or feel morally constrained about. To which I have this to say to you: You’re wrong.

Anyway, true to form, just like going to law school makes you more likely to justify selling out or living in Washington DC makes you a bigger believer in the power of the US government, working with racial data all day has made me much more aware of and focused on the issue of race. And people’s individual races. And that stinks.

I know, I can hear all you people hollering in the back about the inability of any of us to truly put away our mental knee-jerks about race and the people we see. To an extent, with some limitations, I might even agree with you, for our generation. And probably the next if they keep having to juggle these 4-6 asinine categories. Ultimately, though, this behavior is entirely learned, so once we stop teaching it, we’ll be in good shape.

And there was a time when I really didn’t see race. I went to three schools during my second-grade year, when I lived in Washington DC (1987-1988), plus spending a fairly significant time homeschooled. All three were pretty low on diversity, but the third one (Watkins Elementary, where my Mom taught the whole year) was the lowest, running at about 97% African-American. At first, having been in majority-White environments my whole life prior, it seemed a little different. But after about 45 days there, I really stopped being able to see the distinctions. People were just people, and I probably couldn’t have even named the race of a given person after awhile. This may sound crazy to you, but I was seven years old. It was early enough for me. Had I spent time in similarly mixed environments thereafter, especially with even broader diversity, I might’ve had to have someone teach me in college what race was again.

But the next year, we moved to the Oregon coast and I once again fell back into a monoracial world. Which is not a criticism of my parents; just an explanation of my development and where it went.

Still, I think I’d be a lot further along the road to the perspective I crave were I not asked to constantly divide our programs and clientele and numbers by race every week.

And this fact didn’t really hit home until this morning, when I went to return a book at Borders. This is really the anecdote that’s reinvigorated my wake-up call about this whole issue and spurned this post in the first place.

The other night, in the midst of the crazy volatility of feelings and urges that has been the story of Spring 2008 in many ways, Emily and I decided to go to some bookstores at 9:30 at night. Even though we’d pretty recently been to bookstores and there was no particular need for new books. So we rushed out to Borders before they closed and spent a good bit of time accumulating some more tomes. One of which was Paradise for Toni Morrison, which Em was intending to read.

But we got back in the car and realized we weren’t done – we craved even more bookstore. So we remembered that Half Price Books, just two blocks from our house and full of cheap used editions, was open past 10:00. So we headed there and acquired more. I bantered with the clerks about buying both War and Peace and Gravity’s Rainbow for pleasure… some “light summer reading”. And Em found a copy of Paradise that looked almost as good as the new one she’d just picked up at Borders, for less than half the price.

I chided her about the odds of her returning it and we briefly jested about looking for a third bookstore that might offer a third copy of the Morrison book. But we called it a night and left the book in the car.

Fast-forward to today, wherein I’m taking Em to the train station in Emeryville to head to Fresno for her parents’ late-breaking renewal of their vows on their 40th anniversary. The renewal is tomorrow and the train will offer her much-needed time to catch up on work, while I have projects of my own that need attention here, plus baseball on Sunday. Regardless of which, there was the new Borders edition of Paradise, waiting with receipt, to be returned to the store literally across the tracks from the station. Em looked at me imploringly and I sighed.

I have trouble with any customer service interaction that is not abundantly positive. There are various reasons for this, but a primary one was that I was raised around a lot of negative customer service interactions that frequently made me feel uncomfortable. I basically now find it impossible to complain at any restaurant, store, or other sales environment, no matter what’s going on. I will only send food back if there’s meat in it, since I simply couldn’t eat it as-is. I will eat around sour cream, mushrooms, and any other detestable vegetarian thing that comes on my plate, no matter how explicit I was about asking that it not come with my food. I will not bring up any price discrepancy on an item being rung up, no matter how much I may be overcharged. I simply try to ride these interactions out and have them wind up okay.

I couldn’t remember returning anything in my life that wasn’t broken. In fact, I’m not sure I could remember returning anything, broken or not. It’s just not something I think of doing.

But I begrudgingly agreed to return the book, because the proximity was too obvious to make it anything but perverse to refuse. I made it clear to Em that this was a big deal to me, and she reassured me about how breezy and normal it can be to return a book, especially with the reason that we’d found a cheaper copy somewhere else.

I make sure to walk in an entrance that is immediately visible from the sales counter, since I’m also randomly paranoid about being accused in this kind of transaction of trying to scam someone by picking up a copy off the shelf and returning it with the old receipt. I think my reasons for this little paranoia are somewhere between my appearance and my inability to deal with any vague implication that I might not be 100% forthright.

Anyway, matters are not helped by the sales clerk in this empty bookstore (it’s 10:20 on a Saturday and I’m a little surprised they’re even open this early) joking to my opening request “We don’t do returns here, only sales,” with a serious face. I had actually started to pivot toward the door on my heel when she starting waving her arms and saying she was kidding and would help me right over there.

And I immediately became conscious of the situation through a racial filter. I was returning a clearly untouched Toni Morrison book to an African-American woman. On a receipt with other books by non-African-American authors. And it’s not just an African-American, author, it’s freaking Toni Morrison, who wrote The Bluest Eye for Chrissakes. Me, a European mutt, doing this. I quickly set the book on the counter upside-down, thinking that after all the barcode would be there and it would make the transaction less obvious.

Wrong again. As I glanced down, the author picture on the back smiled up towards the clerk, revealing that the live person in front of me was a dead ringer for Toni Morrison twenty-five years younger. And I don’t say that because I think all African-Americans look the same, I say that because the hair was identical. The exact same dreads. And of course, I’ve determined about myself that roughly 80% of my visual perception of people is their hair. If someone drastically changes their haircut, I will risk not recognizing them, while nearly any other dramatic change is almost unnoticeable to me. The facial structure is mighty similar too, and the body type.

The clerk was consummately professional and cheery and conversational (we had a brief talk about wrestling with bar code scanners that don’t function and the joy of all those manually typed digits), perhaps a little as a result of feeling bad about the poorly-timed joke, but mostly because she was just good at her job. She betrayed no indication of feeling weird about the racial dynamic of the interaction, no even vague wisp of a hint of such. But I was almost tearing up, a lifelong biological reaction to feeling like someone is secretly uncomfortable in dealing with me or having a less than sincere interaction with me (yes, I’m a North American champion debater, but I often nearly go to pieces in 1-on-1 interactions when I pick up on negative cues). I couldn’t wait to get the receipt and book it out of there.

And I immediately thought to myself, I wouldn’t have even noticed this had I not been working at Glide the last two years.

Glide does wonderful things for all kinds of people. But I wish they, and so many other leftist groups doing otherwise wonderful things, would just ease up on the racial categorization. I, for one, would feel a little more comfortable. And I daresay everyone else they’re serving would too. One-size-fits-all is not perfect, but four-to-six-stereotypical-sizes-fit-each is much worse.

When can people just be people? Mandatory intermarriage would almost be better than this.


3,991 and Counting

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Quick Updates, Tags: , , , ,

Like high inflation, everyone’s proclivity toward debt, and the Iraq War, StoreyTelling being inundated with a deluge of spam comments is looking like part of the reality I’m just going to have to adjust to.

The one spam comment per minute rate looks pretty consistent, so I think that’s what it’s going to be.

Meanwhile, the general barometer of how things stand based on the people on the streets of the Tenderloin says outlook not good. The theory about the end of the month causing the trouble seemed to be dented yesterday. But who knows at this point.

And if the Mariners lose one more exciting one-run game, I think they’re going to set some kind of record for fan frustration. They’re 1-8 in one-run games. 1-8! And they’re 12-8 (.600) in the rest of the games. .600 happens to be the winning percentage of the top two teams in the AL. The only good thing about this is that they can’t possibly keep up that kind of record in one-runners, so as that progresses to .500, the M’s will go on a tear. Right?

The cable may get fixed today and we’ll have some sort of explanation. It’s Comcastic!

Work’s been better; everything else has been crazier. The rate of change is looking pretty spiky as we settle into May. I’ve surrounded myself with distraction bolsters: the APDA Forum game, playing baseball on Sunday, and so on. But the world is there whether one’s distracted or not. Does anyone really think Bush is going to take record disapproval lying down?

Happy Friday.


Now Back to Your Regularly Scheduled Monarchy

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

Well that was fun, wasn’t it, kids?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


It’s Always Tuesday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Land Ho!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


And Now for Something Completely Different

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s damn right.


Life as an Emotional Ocean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is America.

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

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

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

And I will be in Delhi.

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

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

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

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

But the real thing I have reservations for is India.

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

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

We’ll find out.


It’s Bad to Be Right

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

Maybe I should’ve made numeric predictions after all.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe it’s just time to make cuts.


It’s Good to Be Wrong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

But way back where I come from
we never mean to bother
we don’t like to make our passions other people’s concern
and we walk in the world of safe people
and at night we walk into our houses and burn.
-Dar Williams, “Iowa”

I neither come from Iowa nor the hyper-isolationist East Coast that Dar Williams is referring to in this song and I remember thinking when I first heard this song how emotionally broken those regions are. Not that the West Coast is probably much better, but it has a slightly higher portion of betterness, I would imagine – people willing to take risks or embrace their freedom to a certain extent. This isn’t meant to be a condemnation of other coasts or regions or my friends who come from them. Just a common critique I have of general tendencies, which becomes quite revealing when analyzing the two states which, in the next six days, will anoint the new so-called leader of the so-called United States.

Despite everybody’s dead-sprint to the front lines of the primary/caucus chronology in this young year, Iowa and New Hampshire will still have an insanely disproportionate impact on the election of the President, as they have for decades. A large portion of voters are undecided up until the day of the election, annually amazed at just how poor their choices are yet again in any given year. And almost all of America wants to back a winner more than they want the next President to be good, so those undecideds immediately bum-rush whoever seems to be the most likely winner.

Thus people like John Kerry come out of nowhere and get nominated to be President, despite having no personality and no chance of defeating George W. Bush, just based on a handful of people in Iowa. (And, perhaps, I must duly admit, the media’s willingness to sink someone who isn’t towing the party line by trumping up one small whoop to the level of certifiable insanity.)

My personal schizophrenia should also be noted here to provide context for my comments. I am well convinced that there are no viable choices in either party, and that it’s possible that Dennis Kucinich and Ron Paul are actually being paid off by the establishment to seem far crazier than they are to make their reasonable perspectives seem like unthinkable lunacy to the mainstream of America. Once again, as in 2004, we will have an incredibly unpopular ongoing war with no actually anti-war candidate. No one willing to go any further than saying it wasn’t an ideal choice to start the war, but hey, now that we’re in it we might as well stay till 2025 or so.

But (the other half of my schizophrenia here) I also have an insatiable interest in the machinations of politics, and am always drawn back to political analysis despite my confidence that it’s all rigged, irrelevant, and incredibly depressing. I will inevitably watch hours of political television coverage tonight, despite the fact that the candidates are functionally interchangeable and all will continue to run the country into the moral and economic ground.

So back to the show. Regardless of which side of the schizophrenia I’m on at a particular moment, it’s abundantly clear that Hillary Clinton is the inevitable winner of both the Democratic nomination and the Presidency. The name-brand recognition, the rose-colored memories of Bill’s eight-year reign (which only looks good when comparing it pound-for-pound to the reign of King George II), the utter lack of experience of any rivals (not that she actually has much political experience beyond a marriage), and the fact that she has seemed to be a front-runner from the outset (remember the back-a-winner psychology of the American voter!) will all combine to propel her to relative landslides in both races.

I’m still on vacation in Shaver Lake till the weekend (and we’re finally getting snow today!), but were I to have access to write a Duck and Cover today, it might go something like this:

Duck: Are you ready for the coronation of Queen Hillary I today?
Turtle: Don’t you mean caucus?

Duck: A ceremony by any other name would appoint just as well.

Turtle: Could you get any more cynical?
Duck: Just wait.

The real question is who she’ll beat and whether Iowa and New Hampshire will combine to create a Republican front-runner who is chosen by tiny states to become unstoppable, or whether the party’s complete disarray will lead to the first watchable convention since 1968. I realize I’m reviewing things I discussed in my last post of 2007, but when I logged into Facebook this morning, so many of my friends were listing statuses that showed baited-breath anticipation of hope and optimism related to this race. And here in the extremely Republican Garin Clan, there is slightly less interested interest in a variety of candidates on that side. So I feel compelled to spend today reviewing why I don’t share the enthusiasm and any more than politically academic interest in today’s events.

But we started this with Dar Williams and her discussion of how emotions in the Midwest and Northeast lead to people not taking risks. I’m not saying that we could guarantee that if Nevada or New Mexico carried the opening primary with as much respect and homage as people currently confer to Iowa and NH, results would be a lot different. After all, my favorite case that Steve Rabin and I used to run was that we should have a one-day national primary (a case which debuted with a 4-1 win in the semifinals of a tournament in New Hampshire). The whole progressive drag of small state primaries deciding for the nation is a completely busted system. But we still have people in especially low-risk states trying to evaluate how they can best go back to their friends and say they backed a winner.

I feel like this post is rolling around a lot of things I’ve said in the past and I keep flitting wildly between the two sides of my schizophrenia. At this point, I’m just going to go ahead and bank my predictions and move on…

HClinton – 36%
JEdwards – 29%
BObama – 27%
JBiden – 3%
BRichardson – 2%
Others – 3%

MHuckabee – 27%
MRomney – 24%
RGiuliani – 20%
JMcCain – 13%
FThompson – 10%
RPaul – 4%
Others – 2%


Snow Chance

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

It’s the last day of the year called 2007. I am the last one awake in a cabin at Shaver Lake, California. Most all of the Garin Clan is here, save one component family. It is late, and there are less than 24 hours remaining in this annum.

I am writing mostly to check in. It’s been a difficult last few weeks of the year, and this blog in particular has demonstrated that with sparse updates which bear out the frustration of the time. Being sick was debilitating and working through it doubly so. Wrestling with the nature of my job and some of the people I work with wrecked much of my motivation to create or explain.

There is hope, as there always must be, for 2008. There’s a reason we pile the expectant and expected holidays in the middle of winter, and it has very little to do with the weather. Here indeed, we came for the snow, but there is little about. You can call it global warming, but the snow in Boston was allegedly record-breaking for December, they tell me. There’s a reason that people started calling global warming “climate change” instead. The mistake that the last 12 generations of weather-doomsayers made was predicting that things would go in one direction or the other. Saying that things will go in both directions saves us from any contrary evidence. Even the scientific method has been beaten back by propaganda and marketing spin. At least in 2005, everyone banked on more devastating hurricanes. That was a sure bet for 2006-7.

But nothing is sure, as that does a pale job of illustrating. This was meant to be a personal check-in and I’m already off on my high horse about political issues. And ones most of you don’t agree with me on, to boot. That’s no way to end a year. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to write these things. Or maybe the laptop in a foreign house is just no place to be coming back to a familiar venue.

My Dad and I have a running debate about how many units of housing there are per person in the United States. Or, hopefully, the debate is about how many people there are per housing unit. I guess that’s part of the debate. Regardless, it has occurred to me already on this trip that we have utterly forgotten vacation rentals, timeshares, and other such pseudo-units in calculating the equation. How, after years of Pismos and Aspen (PIRG) and a couple cabins at Shaver (Garins), not to mention an entire childhood on the Oregon coast (Seaside) this factor eluded me is beyond me. But it’s not beyond me anymore – vacation rentals must be a huge part of the equation. Em said NPR told her it was in the “high millions” a few days back. Borrowed housing, borrowed time. It’s a great opportunity, like “being in the Real World” noted one of the Clan as we entered the house. Most of my readers won’t need the explanation that this was a reference to a TV show. The Real World is a TV show. Being there is like being on TV. Are we getting somewhere?

Of course the real world is not a TV show, and little could be less like a TV show than the real world (Brandzel’s theory of my life duly excepted). But that pioneer of reality television has brought us an ever-cascading series of series that package the life of aspiration into narrower and more expensive boxes for people. It’s not to say that what we’re doing here (here, as in at the cabin) isn’t great, but it gets me thinking late into the night. How long has the American economic bubble of housing and consumerism been kept afloat by houses intended only for brief visits? And where do these fall in the overall picture as it slides down the screen?

Already three legs into what I tongue-in-cheekily dubbed the EmStor Winter World Tour 2007-2008, I realize I’ve reported on naught so far. It’s been a whirl of hellos and goodbyes, lights on trees and in bags and in skies and on screens. I can no more recount the details on this particular night than I can attempt to sum up the year that falters and fades this very eve. I will say I have had a great time so far and expect much more. That goes for the Tour and the year, and perhaps every day therein.

My expectations rarely are as well developed as they are on this particular cusp. I think it comes with getting older, being a little more conservative, feeling like on has a little more to lose and things to really hope for. I guess that’s the opposite of at least part of the popular perception, but it’s where I’ve been for awhile. Youth is as free as the openness of the future, which tends toward the vast. With age comes a more finite vision, and that specificity lends itself to careful prodding of the future, squeezing it and shaking it like so many wrapped gifts, and having something fixed in mind when tearing open the package. Watching my nieces and nephew this Christmas, I was reminded of my own time when I simply tore at the package in blind blank anticipation of what lay within, letting the surprise hit me at once instead of feeling it out.

I’m sort of walking away from a chance to do that now (or technically soon), instead choosing the more sedate (but wiser?) method of analyzing, holding on, weighing, and deciding. There’s no telling whether that’s the right call (and this fact, in itself, gives me a bit of that bald open future rush), but I feel confident that this is the decision that leaves me the least likelihood of immediate and irreparable regret. What a sad standard that is. It sounds so safe, so sedentary, so moderate. But I used to weigh debates by the better worst-case scenario. And how better to view that than through regret? And yes, I must dance this cryptic dance a few more days until someone gives me the official signal to speak. But many of you know already.

I think this post may exhaust every category I have for this blog. At the very least, it’s exhausting me a bit. Or maybe that’s just my age, or the significance of a year (which I’ve always revered), or the cancer seeping into my legs from this laptop.

You already know I don’t look to 2008 with the aura of political hope. Many do, and I bid you all the best of luck. How you will react to the inevitable crowing of Queen Hillary I from the House of Clinton remains to be seen. Had two royal families ever conspired to take turns with each other and steal the word “demos” from the Greeks, we may never have had experiments in voting and the current widespread form of government in the Western world. But they weren’t as clever as the modern plutocrats, and so we get to test the experiment a little late in the day. I think anyone who knows me knows why I can’t stand Hillary Clinton (well beyond the royalty thing). She will probably start as many unending wars as her predecessor, combining the general Bush/Clinton hawkishness with a unique desire to prove that women aren’t “weak”. And her ability to prove that being someone’s wife is a higher credential than any other experience, leadership, or character for a woman….? That will set everyone back a good few decades.

Whether she gets to kick around Mike Huckabee or Mitt Romney or Rudy Giuliani will probably not be decided till summer, or whenever the Republicans are having their convention. While Hillary will lock things up with a 5-point outright win in Iowa (she has a role-model martyr without having to die, after all), the Republicans are facing a scenario I first anticipated over a year ago with all of the colliding early primaries. They seem almost destined to have the first undecided (read: meaningful) convention since the infamous Chicago ’68 sham put on by the Democrats. Rudy’s fading and the Huckster’s coming on strong, and Mitt may enter the convention with the most delegates but the startling reality that the Republicans will never ever nominate a Mormon to be their horse. The party bosses are most likely to close in behind Giuliani, depending on how 9/11-crazed people are and just how many decomposing corpses are exhumed from Rudy’s closet. Huckabee will possibly be standing out as a clean bit of contrast and the only mainline traditional Republican in the bunch, so he could end up with it. But McCain has enough followers and Thompson enough watchers to almost guarantee that this convention will see no one close to the magic number going in. It will be exciting to watch, and even more interesting to see the various implosions of the party as they try to consolidate and can’t and end up spending months running 2-3 people against Queen Hillary I.

The most interesting thing to see will be whether the Republicans, after the shellacking of ’08, will be able to convince King Jeb I to return the favor King Bill I dealt King George I and jump in 4 years early in ’12. Unlikely, though… it’s far more dignified to let the monarchs have 8 years to reign. Even if it turns out the way King George II did.

So, no, my hope for ’08 is not political in nature. It is wrapped up instead with projects and possibilities, travel and even turmoil. 2007 has been good, but has felt like a long extended period of practice. 2008 will hopefully feel a bit more of a game. With any luck, that would leave 2009 as the beginnings of a real showcase or tournament.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I don’t really do resolutions, being open to the future and all. Anyway, if a resolution occurs to you, you should probably start doing it right away if it’s a good one. Which means that only 1/52nd of the time that really leads to a New Year’s Resolution. Anyway, the last thing I need is to be making more commitments and promises at a time like this. Let’s just agree to hope for today and leave it at that.

Keep checking back, because I really owe you more details. As they say on the TV shows, “stay tuned”…


Historical Perspective

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

My Dad and I have a running debate about whether there’s reason for hope these days or not. In general, not in specific. We buck all kinds of generational assumptions by him being the one who believes there’s hope, and me being the one who’s starting to think everyone’s soul would be better off not having Earth as an option anymore.

I know, I know.

But hope isn’t dead yet. Though, if I’m going to reference that post, I think one of the things that limits my capacity for hope is the simplicity of the possible solutions that humanity ignores. It’s not like solutions that improve quality of existence tenfold aren’t mind-numbingly obvious. They don’t require some revelatory genius to come down from on high and overthink through the possibilities. Most of them, in fact, are derived from lessons regularly taught to kindergarteners. Don’t hit people. Even if they hit you first. I know, there’s a whole book about this. But seriously, world leaders. Get a library card.

But something occurred to me when posting on the APDA forum the other day (though they’ve hidden all the interesting posts now, including the one I’m referencing… I guess it was only a matter of time before the future leaders of America got really uptight about their collegiate privacy), and then again this morning when I was researching melanoma (I have an itchy raised mole that’s started to twinge and hurt). We’re really in the dark ages here. I mean, yes, the dark ages were really in the dark ages, but we will seem like that to future generations.*

*-if we make it that far

The point is that we laugh and scoff and carry on about medieval humans, or the ancient cultures, or really even the 1950’s. We still haven’t paid attention in kindergarten any better than any of those people, but our advanced (if completely schizophrenic) science and super-fast transportation (that produces at least a million corpses a year as a byproduct) make us feel all superior.

If we are actually superior, it is only by the slimmest of margins. And with a full vision of history, those margins flatten to near-invisibility. Yes, the internet is a way better way of communicating than the Pony Express. But to what end? Has the bottom-line changed? We can share more information faster, but we’re still killing and maiming and ruining lives. The rich still own the poor. Most people work incredibly hard their whole lives for nothing other than to pad the coffers of some overlord, or to kill people in said overlord’s name.


So how do we get from here to there? Science still has many things completely bass-ackwards, and has lost its own ability to question itself thoroughly in becoming a new blindly-accepted religion, but it’s hard to deny that science has advanced since, say, 1352. How did that happen?

People had to (A) question their assumptions and (B) take their observations more seriously.

Science really advanced, at its core, through improvement of medicine and technology. The pressures in play were people dying and things being prohibitively inefficient. And people observed that just wishin’ and hopin’ and prayin’ for things wasn’t getting the job done. They needed applied thought and experimentation.

Experimentation. There’s a concept we could really benefit from in philosophy, politics, diplomacy. Whatever happened to the scientific method? Most international actions are justified by precedent, tradition, and principles that are universal to playground bullies. What about something different for a change? Testing various possibilities to see what a new outcome would look like? Replacing current methods of conflict resolution with, say, a best-of-seven chess series? Just to see if that reduces strife in any way.

I’m obviously getting carried away here. Even if an agreement to play chess would save a million lives, no one’s going to actually do it. That would just be crazy-talk. The macho principles of status quo leaders and words like “realism” and “realpolitik” and “real stupid” make sure that hope stays well out of reach for those who care in this world.

The overarching point is that we have all the tools we need to fix everything. They’re located between the crowns of our heads and the roofs of our mouths, and despite all evidence to the contrary, we all have them. The only thing we need on top of that is the will. The will to do something differently, to change it up, to take a leap of faith while banking on the unprecedented and almost incomprehensible ability of the human perspective to adapt and change. And the only evidence for all this faith and hope anyone should need is a history book. Look at what we can do now that we couldn’t do then. Are you really telling me we couldn’t apply that progress to improvements in peace, equality, and spiritual fulfillment?

You gotta want it. It’s our only hope.



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

On my way into work this morning, I nearly finished the latest book I’m reading, Paradise by the late Donald Barthelme. I will finish it on the train home tonight, just two days after finishing the last book I read, The Quiet Girl. Hopefully I will not be in Orinda at the time.

The book is short and has fairly big type and is pretty much a novella, so it’s not like this rapidity is a reflection of anything other than that. I guess it’s also an engagingly quick read. Up next is the longest book I will probably ever read, David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, checking in at over a thousand pages. I’m looking forward to it, I think, even though Wallace probably annoys me at least as much as he impresses me. I suspect I would hate him in person. But if I’d grown up with him, I’d have infinite admiration for him. Life is often all a matter of perspective. See also friends may just be assholes you like.

But this (length of books and time to read them, not DFWallace’s personality) got me thinking about my own writing and how many words it takes to convey something. I think it was my Dad who told me early on that a standard of “making it” as a writer was writing one’s first million words. I think he got this from his grandmother Hemme, who he writes about in his most recent post. I haven’t really sat down and calculated where I am on my own road to a million, but I suspect I might be getting close. It depends on what counts. E-mails? That would clinch it for sure. The Legend of Enutrof? That would certainly help. The website counts, and Introspection alone probably gets me up there. I should do a count.

But then it occurred to me, as my train approached Powell, that writing is not a matter of actually writing a million words. Probably there are no more than few thousand words actually in play, no matter how many millions one “writes”. What writing is (and I think this has hit me before, but not as clearly) is a matter of distribution. One is not creating, per se, so much as allocating. One could go a step further to reveal that one is simply allocating letters and punctuation… distributing not from a pool of a few thousand so much as about forty. The realization doesn’t really translate to Chinese, but is probably viable for everyone else. Even if it’s just words and not symbols, it’s an incredible thought that what matters is the distribution, and one is not making new stuff.

It’s incredible in part because it’s the story of our planet at this time (and probably for the last few centuries). There were probably times when distribution of resources was not the central question of humanity… times when communities were extremely isolated and lived on the edge of extinction at all times. When a drought hit, people died. There were real shortages.

Those times are long gone, replaced by a heartening era in which we are not shy what we need, but we simulate that idea through mismanaged distribution. This is not revelatory, but I feel like it needs to be broadcast on all the radio stations at infinite volume for a week or so. Then maybe people would get it. Would understand. No one starves on this planet for any reason other than distribution. And a load of people are starving, starving literally to death, every day. Thousands. Because of distribution.

Mismanaged distribution’s partner in crime in this enterprise of starving and otherwise abusing people is the myth of ownership. The concept that we somehow possess things, or should, even though we all are on a one-way train off this planet forever, and will leave with nothing in tow. My friend Russ is continually mindblown that people are willing to pay $1 for pixelated “gifts” on Facebook to send to each other, when there is no reality or purpose to these items. He and I both spent years of our life subscribing at a $10-$15/month clip to an online role-playing game where we bartered in all manner of fake goods that were no more than the transmitted image of pixels. Both of these are stunning emblems for the entire reality of ownership on Earth… it’s just a collective illusion that we partake in which has no lasting value or meaning.

Ownership, as a limited and controlled concept, does have some practical benefits. It can be very hard to share the whole world all at once without drawing some lines and dividing things up. I think it’s possible, but we’re not there yet. However, that doesn’t mean that a redistribution project the size of the world is not in order. The point is that once we look through all the economic nonsense people proliferate on this planet, we see that all any item or its possession really is, in reality, is a collective agreement to suspend disbelief. We all hold hands and together just agree that such and such will be the value of a dollar, that this person deserves to live in that house, that this country belongs to those people. There are strong assertions, as well as threats and use of violence, backing these things up. But really, at their fundamental core, is the willingness to go along with the suspension of disbelief. Forget the invisible hand, it’s the whole invisible enchilada. Who says we’re not a nation of believers anymore?

If we were to redistribute, the starvation thing would go away, and the homelessness thing, and the lack of clothing (though really, when was the last time someone was at risk for a lack of clothing? I think that one’s been solved despite the famed food/clothing/shelter trifecta being so popular). Everyone could be on an equal footing, without the wealth and poverty.

I hear you economists in the back. You’re worried about incentives and motivation. Without a bunch of metal or paper that symbolizes the suspension of disbelief, how could we possibly have our food and shelter and… stuff?

First, about the stuff. We don’t need it. Really. I mean, I love the internet, but I’d trade it for the assurance that every person will get food and shelter. And medicine, probably. That’s about all we really need.

So how many people do we actually have to motivate? We need farmers for sure. And builders. Maybe not even builders at this point so much as building maintenance folks. Don’t we have enough buildings at this point? Clothing-makers. Clothes wear out, after all. People to get the resources that go into clothing, which is mostly back to the farmers. Doctors, I suppose. Teachers, I guess, but the curriculum needs some major changes.

Everyone else can be thinkers. Artists. Creators. Isn’t that what most of us ultimately want to do? That… and help people? (See above for how to help people.)

The rest, I must say, is just crap. Everything else. Which is not to say that what you’re doing (how many of you are doing one of the above things?) is crap, given the circumstances. The circumstances are also crap, and require adjustments. I work for Glide, a nonprofit that helps provide things for the victims of distribution. 90% of us here believe we are doing something the government should be doing, but isn’t, so they need us. We are desperately trying to put ourselves out of business. Until redistribution, it’s not going to happen though. So, yeah, what I’m doing is crap. We shouldn’t need it. We don’t need it. We need redistribution.

I am part of the problem. I buy stuff. I spend my time interested in and investing in crap. We all do it, unless we are a victim of distribution and instead can focus only on survival. It’s the sad result of a really powerful collective delusion.

Have I still not answered the motivation question? There are a lot of folks who would advocate that we should all be self-sufficient… everyone their own farmer, builder (or maintainer), sewer, doctor, and teacher. It’s feasible. It’s a stretch, it would take all someone’s time, it would be a half-step above the survival level, but it could be done.

However, as I often say, we’re not all alone on our own individual planets for a reason. We’re supposed to be in this together.

So I’m a firm believer in specialization. Everyone should be an expert at something. And if you’re worried that that’s not enough work, then everyone can take a rotation turn at whatever’s undesirable work. We’ll all pitch in on the farm with 20% of our time. Or get a choice of building, farming, or sewing for a third of our time. The rest of the time, we can think. Interact. Develop the higher arts. Ponder. Focus on what’s important. Unlearn fear, collective suspension of disbelief, and shortage.

I think enough people would be satisfied with being full-time farmers or builders or what have you, reveling in their extra-beneficial role to society and their friends, that we wouldn’t even need rotations. But it might take some time of taking turns first.

Maybe it sounds too simple. Communication and transportation would be severely limited. We could have some system for these things, maybe, although I’m not convinced they’re strictly necessary. It’s nice to see the world and to maintain contact with distant friends. They might be luxuries we could redevelop over time. But there’s something about all that movement that seems wasteful to me today. Maybe just in the transportation. Communication is always probably good. But one system and stick with it, not ever-slightly-better technology. At the point where we have instant communication, we can stop. Maybe we can keep the internet after all.

Until then, we are all (in some way) victims of distribution. No one is poor. No one has shortages. Everyone who suffers for basic needs does so because humanity is too selfish and stupid to break out of this mess. Collectively. Clinging to our illusions.

Maybe if I can redistribute a million more words, others will start redistributing everything else?

It’s just about all I’ve ever wanted out of this lifetime. That, and a Mariners jersey. We all have a long way to go.


Tracy, I Hardly Know Ye

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

I’ve been holed up in Tracy, California, home of my eldest brother-in-law and family, for the past day and two halves. This explains the lack of, well, anything.

On my way out, I came up with (yet another) idea for a website that feels (for the moment) like The Next Big Thing. It is, however, completely beyond my programming comprehension and something that amazes me no one has come up with before. Which means it would actually cost me money to hire people to start it up, and that means I’d best be sure it’d be The Next Big Thing prior to trying. Unless anyone out there knows how to manage incomprehensibly large website databases and wants to sign on for a promise of a cut of what may or may not be The Next Big Thing.

You know what makes for bad reading? Amorphous descriptions of unspecified things that I can’t give more details on.

Anyway, this weekend has been bizarre. I feel like the Garin Clan is my best link to the “real America” that I have trouble seeing most of the time from my ivory towers of personal isolation, like-minded friends, and/or the Bay Area. As discussed in my previous post about Thanksgiving, the Garins are people who I did not choose wholesale, and yet are very important in my life. While most people I would choose are at least somewhat like-minded, the Garin Clan is predominantly in the wheelhouse of the Fresno perspective… conservative, flag-waving, meat-eating, and a bit materially focused. We keep discussion of politics to a minimum, discussion of religion is limited to looking askance at Emily when she doesn’t go to church with them, and no one can really be sure how Emily came from this family or how this family produced Emily.

I have to throw up a bunch of caution flags here. Please don’t get me wrong. I love Emily’s family and I have made a lot of close personal connections with many of them. If you can’t get along well with people who have superficial (or even substantial) differences in perspective from you, then you aren’t much of an advanced person. Besides, I’ve been very good friends with plenty of people who eat meat, like money, and even love America.

But the context of integrating with this family remains weird for me. There’s just no way around it.

Something about this holiday in particular made things really poignant in this department. About five minutes into a trip to Costco yesterday afternoon (“Black Friday”), I was talking very seriously to Emily about taking a sabbatical to a monastery in Bhutan. And it wasn’t to get away from the family so much as the perspective they seem ensconced in – that truly, most all of America is ensconced in, but I manage to insulate myself from pretty well. Vast material consumption with no afterthoughts. Living to the furthest extent of one’s means and beyond, making sure to constantly adjust expenditures so that one always feels strapped, unhappy, and in need of working more. The towering ubiquity of stress, pressure, dissatisfaction, all of which can only be assuaged (mind you, temporarily) with food and material goods, (and for some, drugs).

I really didn’t want to go out yesterday, even though the labeling of the day as “Black Friday” is another linguistic clue (see “illusive terrorist leader“) to the fact that things might not be so bright-n-happy as America wants you to believe around here. Last night when we had returned home and were watching late local news (I don’t think I’d watched such in 3-5 years), they had visual after visual of people stampeding store doors at 6 in the morning, often trampling or beating each other for the right to grab overpriced “discounted” material goods faster than their neighbor. And the banter around the room was not shock about the materialism, but shock about why you would need to be first to be there when the same goods could be procured as cheaply online or later that day.

Granted, I wasn’t exactly speaking up with speeches about how America has gone astray faster and harder than Nero’s Rome, but I also know how to choose my audience. There’s no need to make things awkward for the sake of assuaging my personal perspective. Maybe something would’ve resonated, maybe it would’ve made things incalculably harder. I’m putting more stock in the latter.

I may be exaggerating, as my emotions tend to encourage me to do. But only slightly, I swear. And much of the weekend has been very nice. The kids are growing up fast and are all now verbal and filled with interest in the world and creativity. And a profound lack of attention spans. And desire to cheat at board games. But I taught them paper football and I don’t think imagination is dead just yet… this held their attention as much as the Wii or any other number of amazing graphical experiences.

And the food was great and the adults managed to play some board games here and there as well. Family is family. The fundamental things between us are sound. An hour’s trading of stories from a Garin childhood had us all cracking up nearly to tears. People pitched a book project to me of telling the story of their ramshackle growing up.

But something lingers in the back of my mind in seeing glimpses of the real America. The real America, in every way imaginable, is simply not sustainable. Something has to give.

In the meantime, I’m Googling tickets to Thimphu. There is a higher order, a higher purpose. And somewhere, people believe.

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