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



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.


Domain Registry of America (or: Never Trust Anything with the American Flag)

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

At work today, I got a charming piece of mail from some new friends in Buffalo, New York! They invited me to renew my domain (I have a registered domain in my name for work that we haven’t managed to use) for the low-low price of $30 a year! (Market rate = $10/year.) It isn’t really an invitation so much as something that carries the universally accepted format for a bill. But ever fear, Americans, this invitation, stamped with the American flag on both the envelope and the fake bill, reminds me “You must renew your domain name to retain exclusive rights to it on the Web, and now is the time to transfer… Failure to renew your domain name by the expiration date may result in a loss of your online identity making it difficult for your customers and friends to locate you on the Web.”

To be completely fair, this document is probably legal (American flag aside). It does say, buried in the text somewhere, “This notice is not a bill…” (emphasis present in document). However, calling it a notice is confusing even in the disclaimer. This isn’t a notice at all. It’s a solicitation. It’s like someone referring to a telemarketing interaction as being a “notice”. That word sounds serious, important, and as though it would be an error in judgment to ignore. There is no better use of judgment than to ignore something like this.

And yet I’m not ignoring it. Domain Registry of America, I’m calling you out. Everyone should go pelt their website with virtual rotten fruit. Even their icon is an American flag.

I’m not quite sure why this particular piece of mail is making me so angry. Perhaps because there was just the briefest moment of pause that I was given when I opened it up, and I’m about as cynical as they come with regards to spam, phishing, junk mail, solicitations, and advertising. There was never a moment when I was about to break out a pen and a stamp, but my first thoughts were “Why are the rates so high?” and “How did they get my address?” This was followed quickly enough (for me) with “What on Earth web company handles renewals by mail?” and “Why did Active-Domain switch to this ridiculous name?” and then, of course, “Oh, I know how they got my address!” And then the anger set in.

We are legally required to post the address of contact information for every registered website and keep it current. Presumably, of course, so the American flag can send us mail trying to scam us out of an Andrew Jackson a year.

But why not? Andrew Jackson himself swindled half a country away from its people. So how can we complain about invoking his image, and the image he upheld, to lie, cheat, and steal?

The actual reasoning for the required registry of addresses probably has a lot to do with 9/11 and the WWE (War Without End). After all, if someone makes a threat on a website, it’s important to be able to hold a fall guy accountable for that. Police get very irritable when they don’t have a door to knock on or smash in.

So required registration gives them a door, or a collective set of doors to open the way for the real American way: enterprising swindling. After all, money is a conserved entity. No one is making it unless someone else is losing it. We get blind to this in the US, sometimes, because the people losing it are all over the rest of the world. In our own borders, the stealing is rarely so present and obvious as when it comes in a fake bill carrying a false flag.


They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?

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

If anyone had lingering doubts about my post from about a week ago (the one with the distinct lack of terrorists), this latest missive from CNN should clear those right up for you. And it’s not this article in and of itself, per se, so much as the fact that one of these articles gets released every couple weeks. Just in case anyone in the world is wondering, the US could not be more open to terrorism if it took out large billboards in unfriendly nations saying Please bomb the United States of America, North America, Western Hemisphere posthaste and greeted would-be bombers with VIP dinners and a show.

And yet, no terrorism.

It should be extraordinarily relieving to realize that there is not actually a terrorist threat to the soil of the United States of America. Maybe it would be more so if we didn’t seem so obsessed with trying to create one. Or believe that one is already there when it is not. But the absence is nevertheless blatantly and painfully obvious. There is no other explanation for the lack of action despite abundant motive, opportunity, and means.

Shooting messengers was probably an early form of terrorism. In the old days, it wasn’t just a rhetorical joke to get one’s boss to not yell about bad news. They actually shot messengers. Or stabbed them, when the practice was popular prior to firearms’ invention. Talk about a conversation stopper.

It’s sort of the ultimate act of bad faith. Someone is entrusted with the courteous gesture of giving you fair warning, knowledge, or understanding of a concept. Sometimes an unfriendly concept or plain old bad news, to be sure, but still just letting you know. Giving you a heads-up. And then you take their head out. No doubt some of these instances were simply rage or a lack of control. But occasionally they would be deliberate, and punctuated by things like sending the messenger back, hand delivered (no COD), by your own messengers. Few volunteers raised their hands for that return journey.

Obviously, at some point, it just becomes inconvenient to engage in such messengerial slaughter. After all, the incentive becomes high for one’s own messengers to book a ticket for a cave in the woods rather than deliver the actual message. In any case, it all boils down to one thing: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

Nowadays, we have e-mail to keep us from the dilemma of whether or not to execute a messenger to make a bold, if rude, point. And the worst you can do with e-mail is ignore it, which must be worse than deleting it. Unless you’re the White House, in which case e-mail deletion has been criminalized. Good luck winning that case, courts. Ordering someone not to delete an e-mail is sort of akin to ordering them not to think about something. Not only will you have no way of proving whether it’s happened or not, but telling them not to do it will guarantee the opposite.

Ignoring e-mail is dangerous, if not often deadly, because there’s full documentation that something has been communicated and a complete lack of acknowledgement or response. Some days, I half expect an urgent notice in my Inbox saying that my Outlook courier has been shot by a colleague.

But it beats the alternatives. Some of the world’s great bloody battles could’ve been prevented by a good e-mail system. The Battle of New Orleans was among the largest of the War of 1812, and fought entirely after peace had been declared. It just took a while to get the word out. It’s hard for me to pick and choose amongst deaths in war as being more or less unjustified than each other, but that one’s pretty objectively hard to explain. War deaths are needless enough without waiting four to six weeks for delivery.

Around the same time last week, I promised another post about the misperceptions associated with the War Without End (WWE – remember, WWF is taken) that the US is engaged in. To review, Iran will get toasters and there are no terrorists in or coming to the United States.

The perception that’s making it impossible for the US to prosecute an effective war in Iraq and Afghanistan (and indeed would hold true in Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and wherever suicide bombing is sold) is individualism. Individualism is, almost by definition, a Western concept. Yes, home on the range, but more specifically (or actually, less specifically) “Greek Western”. (And now you’re just thinking of Alexander the Great in a John Wayne film. We’re getting nowhere. Or maybe I’m too glib tonight to really write this post seriously.)

The point is that many people see the world as West vs. East (or at least West/East… there is not always diametricity). The Islamic world, neatly, serves as a bridge, both geographically and conceptually. While Islam falls squarely in the evolution of Judeo-Christianity, which is at the core of Western culture, there are sufficient links to the East in the cultures who tended to adopt Islam (Persia, Arabia, The Stans of Central Asia) to muddy the waters. And a (the?) central question in West/East debate is individualism vs. communitarianism. All for one or one for all? Or really, one for one or all for all?

Suicide bombing, as a tactic, is at the heart of this issue. Again, I’m going to speak tactically and strategically about war and violence despite being a complete pacifist. I’m not exactly sure why I keep doing this. Maybe because what’s going on in this country is so broken that I’m not sure how everyone doesn’t see it, and yet I recognize that pacifism is not widely espoused. So I seek to explain a middle ground, or even “win on the road” as it were. If I can beat people in their own violent ballparks, just showing how ridiculous the status quo is by their (your?) own standards, then maybe I’m getting somewhere.

It beats just accepting things.

So back to suicide bombing. In some ways, nothing is more individualistic. One person’s sacrifice and martyrdom for the good of all. Your name in lights. And the much-ballyhooed “72 virgins” theory. Although, upon reflection, it seems these are all extremely Westernized views of a phenomenon that, deep down, the US mind can’t fathom. My suspicion is that these suicide bombers do not actually make much of the glory and the individualism of it all. My guess is that this is the West trying to put what it finds incomprehensible into some neat little package that makes sense, such as 72 times as much hot sex, forever. But I’m not really buying it. Sure, I guess there’s a passage somewhere about 72 virgins. But tons of smart activists have done a really good job of carving up Leviticus to demonstrate the unending prohibitions contained therein. And the whole Judeo-Christian lineage is on the hook for the Old Testament. Pretty much any religious text reads like a string of self-defeating schizophrenia. This is one of the damning things about organized religion – it tries to be so all-inclusive and universal that it ends up saying everything. And thus, ultimately, nothing. And God gets lost in the process.

God is for another post. And certainly little could be further from God than suicide bombing. The point is that despite the West’s claims that “suicide bombers are doin’ it for themselves”, I’m not buying. I think they’re making a sincere, if abominable, sacrifice. I think they mean it. The reward, if they really believe it, might not hurt, but they’re mostly motivated by making their life an effective weapon in a communal fight for a communal ideal.

So what has the primary strategy of the US for four (Iraq) to six (Afghanistan) years been to combat this new communitarian weapon? You heard it in the very first hours of the Iraq War. “Decapitation.” The entire core strategy employed by Western forces against insurgents/rebels/freedom-fighters/terrorists who use suicide bombing has been to try to kill leaders so that the whole movement collapses on itself.

Obviously, the grand-daddy of this strategy was the original “decapitation strike” (attempt) on Saddam’s life when the war began. But it has continued ever since. The only news stories of purported mini-victories have been about this or that person, key leaders who you just heard about for the first time after their death, being killed. And all future speculation is about killing this person, and then that person, and Osama, and then maybe it will all be over.

This is very Western. In the West, we like individuals. We like strong personalities and people who tell us what to do. I just finished reading Shantaram a few days ago, continuing to find it over-rated as all get out. I couldn’t stand the narrator. But he was a classic Western hero. And time and time again, he was admired and admonished for not believing in anything except people. He didn’t believe in God, religion, society, but he liked individual people. No wonder this book is so popular among Americans.

And when you kill our people, boy does that weaken us Westerners. JFK’s death killed a generation’s hope and perhaps the whole damn country. MLK’s shooting plunged the Civil Rights movement into chaos from which it is still recovering. RFK. John Lennon. The US does not bounce back from the dead.

But this is an individualistic perspective. It is one that innately believes that people are more important than their ideas. The author’s name should be bigger than the title on the book cover. The actors are bigger than their movies. The artist beats the art, the politician beats the politics, the ideologue beats the idea.

This is not what the suicide bombers believe. It is not what the people who follow al-Qaeda (if and how it exists) or any of the other groups fighting Western forces in Iraq and Afghanistan believe. In fact, even saying “people who follow” is misleading. It would be better to say “people who are”. Because that’s what believing is like for someone with that kind of conviction.

Conviction is not hip in America, unless we’re talking about sending people to prison. It’s cool to be apathetic, dispassionate, not stand out in your love for something or your dedication. You don’t want to be labeled as “obsessive” or “compulsive” or in need of heavy doses of widely advertised and unsafe legal drugs.

The Eastern world seems to lack these hang-ups. Despite noted emotional dispassion in much of the Eastern world, it can widely be seen that there is a greater level of conviction and dedication therein. And this is usually toward a higher ideal or purpose, almost always with a communal aim.

Thus, there is no decapitation strike. To use a weird and disgusting and easily misinterpretable (but still compelling) analogy, the “enemy” (of the Western forces) is basically like an army of worms. And the US is trying to use decapitation against an army of worms. Every strike just makes two more where there were one.

And what’s the US motto? An Army of One.

In a hypothetical struggle between an Army of One and an Army of Worms… Ditka. (After all, what is the Da’Bears sketch but a testament to the unending faith of Americans in one individual’s ability to vanquish all?)

Hopefully you can see by now why the US has yet to make any progress against the purported “enemy”. The thought that we might spend the next few decades listening to overpaid pundits and analysts say “Now if we just kill this next leader…” is pretty daunting. The fact is that the top twenty al-Qaeda leaders could be killed tomorrow and they would be replaced overnight with forty more, plus thousands of new recruits who were on the fence until this mass-murder angered them enough to finally get involved. What binds them is not devotion to leaders or individuals, but the ideas of the cause. And one of the core ideas is revenge and punishment for injustice. The steady fuel of American injustice is not doing a good job of quelling the motivation here.

So, you may ask, what is the solution? For you militarists, there is probably only one purely tactical solution, which is genocide. There is no way to continually inflame more and more of a population, doing their recruiters’ job better than your own, killing leader after leader and brother/son/father/mother/daughter/sister one after another, torturing the survivors, and somehow quell the population. The intimidation thing isn’t exactly working. The people being attacked are too passionate to be afraid and (especially in Afghanistan’s case), they’ve just suffered too much already to be scared of more war or torture. Afghans have been living in an almost unending state of war since before I was born. You wonder why people liked the Taliban – they actually united the country in some semblance of peace. It was a pretty awful government, but oppression usually beats out endless mortar fire and land-mines. At least you know where you stand and how to wake up the next morning. Ditto that for Saddam vs. status quo in Iraq.

The other unsettling reality (unsettling really only for militarists) emerging from all this is that conquest is no longer really a viable option for world affairs. It’s hard to accept as someone who’s played in excess of 200 Risk games in his life, but I pretty much have to admit it’s true. When was the last time a country was conquered and held by force by an external power? (And Grenada doesn’t count.) Afghanistan was supposedly conquered by both the Soviets and the Americans in the last 30 years, but neither of those have really turned out to be sustainable. Vietnam and Korea? If World War II gave us anything, any consolation prize, it’s the end of conquest. You can’t take over other countries by force anymore. After watching what Hitler did and how the resistances in each country helped bring him down, every nation on the planet has resolved to never let an outsider come in and tell them what to do. No matter what.

As a pacifist, I have to look at this a little like nuclear weapons. This huge commitment to violence is devastating and depressing. But the net impact may (eventually) be to scare people out of fighting, which has to be good. Or, as Shantaram would put it “the right thing for the wrong reasons”. A little like belief in global warming theory. It gets people to do something good, but for bogus reasons. But sometimes, these days, maybe we can take the bogus reasons.

As a strategist in this post’s discussion, one has to think that the sooner the “great powers” realize the no-conquest rule of the post-WWII reality, the sooner they’ll be able to preserve their resources and be reasonable about things. Which puts the US pretty much squarely on the ore cart to the abyss at the moment.

So the actual best strategy (not just what I believe in morally) is total withdrawal. There will never ever be “victory”. There will never be a stable conquest. And make no mistake, victory = conquest in the minds of the US. Sure, it’s not technical “51st state” conquest, but it’s the kind of economic domination over the property and wealth of the remaining country that becoming a 51st state might be less invasive. And there’s no way the people of Iraq or Afghanistan, so long as they’re alive, will ever accept this.

So we can fight forever or fight for a day or just stop already. The question is quite simple: how many times do you want to bang your head into an unbreakable wall?

At least with total withdrawal, there’s a chance of credibly being involved in subsequent diplomacy. The US can again become (or seem) a disinterested party, who has the neutrality to be reasonable, as they are sometimes perceived in other negotiations (though, really, all that comes to mind is the cessation of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905 that won Teddy Roosevelt the Nobel Peace Prize). The US can join with the world community in hoping that these countries truly find their own way to be a part of the world, not a branch of Western-based corporation culture.

It’s not looking likely. Will we stop banging our head first? Or will our brains splatter all over the wall?

It’s not a pretty image. But it’s not a pretty time. It’s an ugly time to be an American individual.

I’m just the (gulp) messenger.


Chto Dyelat?

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , ,

Al Qaeda: The Looming Terror
An AC360 investigation into the formation of al Qaeda, where they are now, and their illusive leader.
Tomorrow night, 10 p.m. ET
-CNN.com, 11 November 2007

A little over ninety years ago, Vlad Lenin completed a relatively bloodless takeover of power in what was then Russia. It had taken about eight months to become obvious that democracy had failed.

But, as in so many American wars of the last half-century, the takeover of government was just the beginning. Protracted fighting across the nation, against royalist-revivalists, lasted for years after the “revolution” was complete.

Lenin had written a pamphlet at the turn of the century laying out the plans and predictions for this coup, eventually leading to successful execution 15 years later. It was called Chto Dyelat? (transliteration), which can roughly be translated as “What is to Be Done?” The question seems profoundly relevant tonight, when I am somehow railing in frustration at nothing at all.

The question sounds more elegant in Russian. My frustration needs some art tonight.

Emily and I went to a movie tonight, “Lions for Lambs”. It was pretty awful. The movie simultaneously lacked subtlety and clarity. It pounded one over the head with preachy nothingness. Despite CNN (why do I keep quoting this source?) saying the movie was targeted at a “thinking-person’s” audience, the movie seemed to be written for toddlers. And the final conclusion, a crescending call-to-action, was left blank. There was no action. Only an uneasy settling of the fact that CNN (renamed in the movie to prevent a lawsuit) was so deeply manipulating the news as to distort reality. And the absence of action spoke louder than the prior 86 minutes of calling for action.

You can feel Robert Redford’s frustration in the film. It’s everyone’s. Everyone who ever believed in this “democracy” feels so swindled and cheated that they don’t even know which end is up. At least Vietnam gave everyone a fighting chance. People seemed to react to reality in Vietnam. People cared. Injustice was met with horror rather than indifference. The media took the right side. There was hope. Replication of Vietnam in perpetuity over the coming generations might not have been ideal, but it would’ve worked. People could’ve slept at night knowing they had some power or control in “their country”.

But this? What is this? When every aspect of the country has been sold and everyone who could care is in debt or discredited, how can one even begin to mount a response? What would it even look like? Who would be left to care?

So you have this slow choking of American belief in democracy and destiny and all those so-called lovely things we used to care about. Redford was trying to make a movie to shake some hope into people, as near as I can tell. He ended up making a deafening case for hopelessness. His suggested actions are to either (A) go to Afghanistan and get perforated by bullets for no reason after killing people who are not the enemy or (B) stare in horror at the television while realizing that everything you’ve done in your life is worthless.

Oh boy.

He really wanted to have a suggestion at the end there. But it was left blank for the audience to fill it in. At least Al Gore’s equally terrible movie ended with hundreds of suggestions for what you can do to “prevent global warming”. At least he maintained the illusion that corporations are not in control of the planet, but individuals are. At least he maintained the noble lie, full of hope and strong lyrics.

Illusion. Let’s get back to that word. No one proofreads anything anymore. I have to remind myself when reading documents for the people I work for. I sit there, sometimes, thinking “Helen Rosner and I are the only people left on the planet who care about proofreading.” Today’s news doesn’t have time for proofreading or copyediting or even thoughtfulness. As in the movie, it’s about getting facts up on the roll. Or maybe it’s as my Dad would say and no one wants to work anymore. Personally, I think it might (as in tonight’s example) be the universe fighting back, railing through little clues to conspire against a plutocracy hell-bent on recreating something between the Fall of Rome and the Extinction of the Dinosaurs.

Osama bin Laden, not even bothered to be named in CNN’s website promo for its latest shock-n-awe program about idle terrorists, is described as “their illusive leader”. Now whether it’s because grammar is dead or work is dead or what have you, the intended phrase was probably “elusive leader”. As in hard to find. But the devil, they say, is in the details.

The sentence instead reads that the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, is an illusion. A mirage. And just to make sure that the universe is with us on the themes of tonight’s show, Dictionary.com’s first full entry for the word gives us this: “based on or having the nature of an illusion; ‘illusive hopes of finding a better job’; ‘Secret activities offer presidents the alluring but often illusory promise that they can achieve foreign policy goals without the bothersome debate and open decision that are staples of democracy'”

That actually gave me chills just now. You can look it up.

Orwell tells us this in 1984:

The program of the Two Minutes Hate varied from day to day, but there was none in which Goldstein was not the principal figure. He was the primal traitor, the earliest defiler of the Party’s purity. All subsequent crimes against the Party, all treacheries, acts of sabotage, heresies, deviations, sprang directly out of his teaching. Somewhere or other he was still alive and hatching his conspiracies: perhaps somewhere beyond the sea, under the protection of his foreign paymasters; perhaps even–so it was occasionally rumored–in some hiding place in Oceania itself.

An argument could be made that it would be better a Two Minutes Fear. And while there is plenty of fear of Goldstein and fear in general laden throughout the ceremonies of Orwell’s Oceanians, it’s hard to rally around fear. Of course, the real powers don’t want people rallying at all. The real powers are squarely between Orwell and Huxley, using just enough manipulation and self-destruction to form their brew.

Go back to your Orwell. And your Huxley. And your Bradbury. And then tell me: Chto Dyelat? Because their answers weren’t very good either. Retreat. Run. Maybe you can make it to the woods or the Falklands or maybe they’ll get you first and take you to Abu Ghraib and torture the hope out of you. Maybe you can read or write or remember and be the last living testament to the way things were.

And I know dystopias end badly because they’re supposed to be cautionary tales. But we already blew through those checkpoints. There was no caution.

In a dystopia, my friends, what is to be done?


Terrorism and Other Myths

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

File this one next to “Iran will acquire toasters” as part two in a series of explaining basic principles of political reality that the entire world fails to understand.

Was that too harsh? I don’t think this post is going to get any more easy-going.

The inspiration here is an online news article that is (finally!) not from Fox News. It’s this one, wherein CNN elaborates that no less than 21,000 people were mistakenly let into the United States in 2006. Security measures should have stopped each one of these twenty-one-thousand souls from crossing into the precious New Promised Land (USA).

Not only is this a fact, it’s one that the government itself is willing to tell you. Or “leak”, at least. So the actual number could be much higher. This doesn’t really matter, because there’s probably not much of a difference in your mind between 4,000 or 5,000 people and 21,000 or 25,000 people and even 40,000 or 50,000 people. Maybe if you think hard and put it into a context like sports stadiums, you can kind of grasp it, but in the end, sports stadiums of various sizes all start to run together and look the same anyway. At a certain point, numbers all start to look alike and those of us who are not mathematicians (read: everyone reading) really don’t distinguish these big numbers very well.

The point is, a metric crudload of people who were supposed to be too dangerous for the common people to interact with were let into the United States of America.

The rhetoric that is taken as a given (roughly equivalent to “the sun will appear to rise in the morning” or “Senators are doin’ it for themselves”) in the US government is that just one person who shouldn’t be let into the country (or on a plane, or into a stadium, or into a country club) will instantly lead to a breach of security so fundamentally devastating that it will instantly manifest terrorism. After all, there are about a quadrillion people out there who “hate us” (for no reason, of course) and every one of them has no life aspiration beyond blowing Americans into little tiny formerly flag-waving pieces.

Even if some of that is slightly exaggeratory, the general gist is true and is displayed daily. Not just by government sources, but by all sorts of media, ranging from “leftist” to “right-wing”. We need to live in fear of the constant numbers of terrorists chomping at the bit to blow us up where we work, live, and play. The only thing keeping our physical bodies intact is the watchful eye of American security.

The problem with the watchful eye theory is that American security is run by the same people who do all the other jobs in America. And 85% of all people, in work and in life, are asleep at the wheel almost all the time. So we get our stadium full of 21,000 would-be terrorists into the country.

Conservative estimates with this simple formula of mismanagement of the border (21,000) times people who hate us (10% of surreptitious dangerous would-be entrants? 5%? 1%? 0.1%?) would range between 21 and 2,100 incidents of terrorism per annum in the United States. Say you have the most incredible law enforcement ever, that using the combined forces of the Patriot Act, wiretapping, suspension of the Constitution, martial law, and a pod full of those precogs from the movie “Minority Report”, can anticipate and prevent 95% of terrorist acts on US soil, even though the same people let 21,000 dangerous people in the country.

2006, you owe me, conservatively, between 1 and 105 incidents of terrorism on US soil.

Not that I want, like, endorse, or do anything other than abhor terrorism. But hopefully my point is blindingly obvious by now. We have not had any terrorism on US soil since 2001. For six years, despite pursuing a foreign policy hell-bent on generating terrorism and inciting generations of hatred, there has not been a single act. Not one. The numbers above, times six. Or really, to the sixth power, to fully illustrate the beating of the odds.

There are only two possible explanations for this.

Either (A) there are no terrorists or (B) US law enforcement is working at a 100.00% rate of anticipation and prevention.

I think we’ve blown up (B) as though with a rocket-propelled grenade. How do you account for the 21,000 mistakes? How do you account for the math above? And how in God’s name do we have US law enforcement that despite allowing a burgeoning drug trade, endless gang warfare, and sky-high incarceration rates, suddenly learned how to prevent something purportedly likely with 100.00% accuracy?

It also just doesn’t wash with the fact that I carry a backpack, often extremely full (I pack lots of layers to account for San Francisco’s schizophrenic weather), onto a subway five days a week, and it could just as easily have explosives as jackets. (Note to SFPD et al: It does NOT have explosives. It has jackets.) If BART felt they could effectively anticipate my explosive:jacket likelihood, they would not have just spent millions of dollars on new hidden camera systems, entirely to prevent terrorism, that not even Turkish hackers will know the location of. (I learned about this on the local news at the ER.)

But if I grant (B), then nothing else really matters. I think I’m more scared of a world in which law enforcement can anticipate and prevent with 100.00% accuracy than one in which we risk occasional private acts of discord.

So we’re left with (A). There are no terrorists. At least not that want to do anything in the United States.

I guess you could allegedly make the counter-argument that terrorists all have an extreme penchant for panache, and the bar has been raised so high by 9/11 that it’s just too darn intimidating to commit terrorism on US soil. Daily events in Iraq and Afghanistan seem to contradict this theory, not to mention the old days of Israel, Northern Ireland, and wherever terrorism is sold. Granted that only 2 of those 4 examples are in the fabled “post-9/11 world”, but I think they’re quite relevant given that it’s allegedly the same enemy as the one that is coming for us on US soil. So even if I grant this crazy argument that only the biggest plot ever would be satisfying to commit within American borders, all it means is that we can stand down and relax, because we’re going to see something coming a mile away. The fear and paranoia paradigm still doesn’t wash.

The only other counter-argument I could possibly imagine would be that the deterrent is so high that terrorism doesn’t get carried out. And while ending up on the rack in Gitmo isn’t appealing, I don’t think it’s deterring countless acts of terrorism in the Middle East. And certainly it’s no secret that US law enforcement rates are not fueled by precognition and do things like let in 21,000 “bad guys”.

So what would be deterring people who hate the US, can get in, will likely not get caught, and are willing to kill?

We’ve got another binary choice here. For the sake of clarity, we’ll move on to two new letters. Either (C) there aren’t any such people or (D) they see a distinction between attacking US civilians and US occupiers.

You might say we can rule out (D) off the bat, because of 9/11. But if that’s the case, we’re left only with (C), which means that 9/11 was not what it seemed. But if we rule out (C), it makes (D) very hard to explain in the context of 9/11 as well. In fact, why did 9/11 happen and then lead to six years of uninterrupted bliss inside a porous and osmosis-prone United States?

I can’t explain it. But I will go with (D), in part because (C) would have to mean accepting that literally everything we are being told about both Iraq and Afghanistan is untrue, and that’s a little more than I want to handle tonight. (D) is at least logically consistent and sound outside of 9/11, and even more logically consistent and sound with an inside 9/11. (You see what I did there.)

So then we have a people who blow up people only for the purpose of kicking out an oppressive occupier. Who will only attack military or invasive parties and steer clear, despite plenty of motive an opportunity, of attacking civilians who have stayed out of the conflict directly (despite empowering the conflict indirectly).

I’m no fan of violence. I’m an ardent pacifist who advocates peace and non-violence about all things. But I also like semantic and logical political arguments like this, a throwback to my debate years. And I’m left feeling that you can’t really call this phenomenon in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere “terrorism”. It seems pretty military to me, or at least paramilitary. And while that doesn’t justify it any more, at least we have defined terms. These people are just rebelling against an occupier in the old traditional method. Adhering very strictly to terms of engagement more civil than those used by the oppressor.

Which, in fact, brings us all the way back to (A). There are no terrorists.

Sleep easy, America. There was never any threat (from abroad) to begin with. Border guards, go ahead and let an extra thousand in, on me.

Part 3 in this series (mostly noting it now so I don’t forget) will likely involve breaking down the problems with fighting a force which routinely employs suicide bombing as though they were ardent individualists.


At the Zoo

Categories: A Day in the Life, Awareness is Never Enough - It Must Always Be Wonder, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Strangers on a Train, Tags: , , ,

Early this morning, we posted a new video for The Mep Report, my former podcast with which I still interact from time to time:

Most of the material is old, but it’s repackaged in a nifty new way intended to promote the show. This one isn’t going to take over the world, but it’s hopefully the kind of thing that makes people want to listen.

Not many people wanted to listen today. In general. It was, again, one of those days that makes one question nearly every assumption, every action. I came so close to not making it into work today. I can’t even tell enough to know whether going in was a mistake or not. At this point, I’m past the point of caring.

On the way home, a prophet got on the BART train. He was a firebrand preacher, raised in the ‘hood, with a goon on either side of him mugging, leering, and laughing as he spoke his truth. The man was eloquent and profound. He found his target audience, a man twice his age from the Vietnam era, engaging him in a repartee of the man’s life and his own perspective. He quickly found more than his target audience. After one stop, I had to put my book away to listen.

Only a tape recorder would have done him justice, but one key moment was his declaration that television is a harder drug than anything else out there, “except maybe alcohol and cigarettes”. He broke down television to its component parts: “tell-lie, and that’s their vision.” His target audience was clearly impressed, verbally affirming. Many of the others surrounding were annoyed or afraid. And just as many, like me, were listening.

After two straight days feeling debilitated despite working for one of the most important social services agencies in California, hearing this man was the most inspirational moment of my week.

He wasn’t perfect (at one point he said he liked Hillary more than Obama, though at least he prefaced it by saying that there’s no point in voting because no one’s vote counts), but it was a damn sight better than anyone else who’s standing up and calling out these days. It made me wonder why I’m not doing more of the same. It also made me wonder how he’d react if I asked for his contact info and said that he should be speaking to more than just BART trains.

Probably, he’d feel patronized. Who the hell am I, anyway? But the man had a voice and a vision. He was able to capture the despair of this day and mix it as a message of unification for a muddled mass of misfits rolling northward toward nowhere.

And why did it hit me like a testimony to our time that this man was speaking to BART trains instead of crowds? Why wasn’t he leading the charge, the voters, the revolution? The inspirational populism of All the King’s Men came to mind, and I had to acquiesce, as I was walking away from the northbound train, that he had no reason to be less corruptible than anyone else. Sure, “the best minds of my generation can’t make bail.” But also, “show me the money.” In the end, he would probably be just as buyable, just as susceptible, just as able to adjust his story and perspective to meet the needs of the imp of self-interest.

In a way, are we all doing the same thing every day? In a small, small, but damning way? Why do I not speak truth to BART trains? Why do I not rave at those who might listen, at those who don’t listen, at those who seem inexorably locked into demanding that I listen?

It’s not fear. It must be a sneaking suspicion of self-interest.

Out, damn imp.

Above ground, now. Walking westward, toward the sun and its descending shadows, still not gone yet by an act of Regress. A woman, seconds before entering a gym in her designer work-out gear, screams at a young woman on a bike in angry sarcasm: “I’m so glad your mommy bought you a bicycle!”

I wasn’t there to see chapter one of this interlude. I only saw the aftershock. Maybe the woman almost got run down. But the dripping bitterness just seemed out of proportion. The younger one stood perched over her bike, stock still, in that kind of silent shame that cuts deepest when one is sure one has nothing to be ashamed of. And did this woman really just yell and then bolt into the carded confines of her high-priced gymnasium? After unleashing invective at the allegedly spoiled?

She eventually moved on. And so did I, hurrying now. And the wandering mind recalled the ongoing rage of a born bicyclist who uncharacteristically turned his rage on everything this afternoon, just before this journey began. Usually his rage is confined to bicycles, but today it was for everything, valid or in.

“He seems in a weird space today. Let’s just leave him alone.”

The zookeeper is very fond of rum. I feel that the last 48 hours have brought me closer to an understanding of why people drink alcohol than I’ve ever had before. There have been many moments of thoughts akin to temptation in the past. A mid-sophomore year (college) night above a pulsing party in the space below comes to mind, as the scent of cannabis wafted to my window. “It would be so easy,” I moaned. Over and over.

I remain, as then, steadfast. But these are trying times. Times without measure.

Stand up, ye prophets. And I may even, soon, have the courage to stand with you.


This is Where the Summer Ends

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

…in a flash of pure destruction
no one wins.
Go nuclear.
The calm
the beach
and the remains…
-Ryan Adams, “Nuclear”

Trick or treat.

It’s Halloween, in many ways my favorite day of the year. I am blessed to work for a children’s center for my fourth Halloween in five years, allowing me to delve into the holiday as much as I would want to, usually from afar, as an adult.

I could barely sleep last night. I had various projects to work on, not the least of which was putting the finishing touches on my costume. I’m going to be an elephant, in a technical reprise of 1992, my last Halloween in Oregon and really my last childhood Halloween. That was also the night of the “real” Halloween haunts, when a strange old man in the backwoods of Oregon seemed to pretend to not know what Halloween was. Either he was very confused or I was making a really good move to back slowly off of that porch when he invited me in for a real meal.

Someday when I have more time, I’ll reprint that whole dialogue. Good times. In any case, I have upgraded my hastily thrown together gray outfit with paper-plate mask and sock trunk for a new elephant-head hat and recycled gray body from a costume of Emily’s past. Em says I’m easily impressed by a decent costume. I reminded her that I used to go to grade school wearing construction paper when the mood struck me. In the rain. On St. Patrick’s Day.

As joyous as Halloween makes me, there’s more to why I’m here this morning. I have had a post percolating for awhile about the symbolic passage of summer and the road the planet is traveling on. Picture a globe whistling nervously to itself as it takes what must have been a wrong turn into a haunted wood, watching as the scene darkens, owls and ghosts come out to play, and the globe’s watch breaks.

What? Globes don’t wear watches in your imagination? Well neither do I.

Maybe it’s just me, but this article hit me like a sign of the times. For those of you who can’t believe that the second news story I’ve posted on this blog is also from Fox News, the headline reads Scientists Find Oldest Living Animal, Then Kill It. A clam off the coast of Iceland was determined to be about 407 years old. Humans killed it within minutes of finding it.

1600-2007. RIP, clam.

And maybe the ghost of a clam coming back to haunt us doesn’t make you weepy this All Hallow’s Eve. But perhaps it should scare you.

The President, continually demonstrating either immense stupidity or chilling brilliance, is babbling about World War III if Iran gets the bomb. Here’s the problem. Iran will get the bomb. Everyone will get the bomb someday. This is the nature of technology.

I know nuclear bombs are very complex. But the idea of keeping technology in limited hands, especially limited along the lines of nation-states, is antithetical to the nature of the human experience of technology. When was the last time someone said that as long as Mongolia doesn’t get toasters, everyone will be safe? Would it even make sense to keep toasters from people? Or if you don’t like that example and want weaponry, how many nation-states failed to acquire cannons (the nuclear technology of their day) within a few decades of Napoleon’s time? Or firearms in their day?

The clam was alive for the whole Napoleonic era, by the way.

Sure, there was strategic advantage enough for genocides to be carried off with aplomb. But that was before the super-wired Internet Age. Information took months where it now takes nanoseconds to travel. Technology took centuries to advance where it now takes weeks.

I want to be clear. I think proliferation of nuclear weaponry is terrible. The creation of the weaponry in the first place was unforgivable. But now that it exists, terrible or not, the proliferation of information on how to spread this technology is inevitable. It’s not a question of if, but when.

And if this terrifies you, it should scare you more that the only people vile and ruthless enough to actually use the worst weapon ever on other human beings were the first to develop it.

The clam turned 345 during Hiroshima.

So the real question, as it is always going to be with issues of war and peace, is not staying one step ahead of the curve or killing enough people who might find out how to make nuclear bombs. After all, oft-labeled “terrorist states” Pakistan and North Korea acquired the bomb and the world still exists. Note how US rhetoric on these doomsday scenarios has neatly shifted to accommodate conflicting reality.

The real issue is how to get people to not want to bomb the world into smithereens.

But that’s not what Bush, raving idiot or cold calculator, wants to talk about. He wants you to envision our whistling globe getting pounded to pulp by the ability of humans to learn and develop technology that other humans came up with 60 years ago. Dead at the hands of the mere passage of time and obviousness, like so many quadracentenarian clams.

Iran will get toasters, my friends. And everyone else too.

Happy Halloween.


Drawing Blanks

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

But the bacteria are coming
to take us down
that’s my prediction
it’s the answer to this culture
of the quick-fix prescription.
-Ani DiFranco, “Garden of Simple”

I think I have a staff infection.

No, not a staph infection. I’m fond of plays on words. People are freaking out about something that resists drugs, because it’s what people themselves can’t do. Drugs are almost universal, they infect almost everyone. Something that can resist drugs is the scariest thing we can fathom. No wonder I’ve always been interpreted as intimidating.

Yeah, it’s that kind of mood today. I’m torn asunder somewhere between righteous fury and complete apathy. Between leading a rally of one into the center of the earth and demanding to speak to the “leader” and crawling into a hole with water, a book, and a prayer of survival. Everything seems stark and vivid, like a world of sharp high-contrast shadows. Not a form in sight. Not a shade of gray. Someone flipped the scanner setting from grayscale to monochrome.

I initially couldn’t think of anything to write about this morning, but it seemed there was nothing more important I could do with my time. I took a shower, hoping for inspiration. All I found was the same self-inflicted diatribe on leadership, the lack of it, and how the natural traps of age and capitalism combine to imprison us all. We should try twenty years where all the Presidential candidates have to be under 35 years old and see where we get. Or have to act like it. This isn’t about straight-line age, any more than it’s about anything else simple. I know 20-somethings who act like they’re 60. I’ve met at least a few people over 70 who think they’re 25.

I like scary movies. It’s October, after all. A couple weeks ago, before all the good movies came out, I dragged Emily to “The Last Winter”. It was terrible (though not, as she dubbed it, “the worst movie ever”). The central issue causing the horror was the issue of the Earth fighting back and expunging the human virus. It would’ve been a lot scarier if they hadn’t manifested this desire through the form of ethereal ghost-caribou whose most fearsome weapons were snarling and pointing their antlers.

But apparently the planet is fighting back with resistance that would make the Democrats look strong. 18 inches of ocean in 93 years! It’s going to be really hard to adjust to that. A veritable tsunami. Somehow, I don’t think that was quite the nature of Noah’s flood of legend. Fearsome retribution comes for all those who stand in the same place for a long lifetime.

And maybe that’s the lesson, and the only metaphor we can hope to grab here. Don’t stand in the same damn place. Don’t stand in the doorways, don’t block up the halls. Maybe we won’t be drenched to the bone, but I guess our knees could get wet. What does it take to make people take themselves, each other, some sort of composite reality seriously? Allegedly a bunch of millionaires are coming together in a stadium in San Diego, uniting in the common bond of their losses. I suppose it’s a start.

The BART train is whistling down from Richmond, calling me to another day of head-butting walls as hard as I can. My only regret is that I have but one skull to give for this lifetime. If anyone has a helmet, drop me a line.



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

My father had his second cataract surgery today. There were complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that I attended his first cataract surgery, an unfettered success. Both were held in Albuquerque, and we decided to forgo me making a second trip because the first went so smoothly. No matter the ridiculousness, one feels a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.

A friend is having communications today. There are complications. In the dormant period of time between Introspection and StoreyTelling, you may have missed the fact that this friend visited Berkeley and imparted to me tales of a series of life-changing events. It seems I am uniquely placed in this world to help this person through this struggle and, in so doing, find another reason for what has transpired in my life. I used to say “happened to me”. I almost did again. One starts to take a certain amount of responsibility for something like this.

Hillary Clinton is running for President today. She is a woman and a Democrat. But she is also complicated. She typifies neither women, nor Democrats, if anyone does. And what would that even mean? I am not prone to doing anything other than laughing at FoxNews, which makes it all the more chilling that they are the source of one of the most compelling political articles I’ve ever read. The man writing it is a libertarian, coming from a vantage point I have significant distaste for. Yet there is something deeply common in our perspectives that allows us to see through all this absurdity of partisan illusion and realize that Clinton is Bush. And Bush is Bush. And Bush is Clinton. And when Hillary extends the dynasty’s reign over America past the twenty-year mark, will anyone take responsibility for this?

My Dad is okay. He had an allergic reaction and is due for a rough night, but the morning’s return visit should fix everything. And my friend will be okay as well, through the choppy surf of sine curves that eventually ease, but never subside. Hillary will be more than fine, but what of the rest of us? Note the definitive tone that Balko uses toward the end of the article, despite raising electoral vulnerabilities of Hillary, taking solace in what will be fun to watch in the destined presidency ahead.

We all like to tell ourselves stories. Things are easy, straightforward, simple, monochrome. There are good guys and bad guys, and we are all good guys. There are villains out to get us, but we can stay strong and triumph.

The truth is a lot muddier than that. Ariel once told me, I think paraphrasing a more well-known source, that one’s “friends are just assholes you like.” I think there’s something to that, although I might be more tempted by “one’s enemies are just people you hate.” It’s complicated.

Doctors, lovers, and Democrats are not here to save us. They are not perfect people, blessed by the right holy hands, ready to bestow their graces in turn on an otherwise hopeless population. They are corruptible, fallible, often terrible people. And getting sick, being betrayed, voting Republican – these are not the unmitigated vices they may seem. Surely they hurt. But sometimes pain is our only hope of positive change.

As we were setting up for our Second Annual Pumpkin-Carving Extravaganza at the house on Saturday, our neighbor intoned in a horrified whisper: “You’re not going to light those, are you?” I choked back a hundred wry comments to instead mumble something about “not during the day…” only to quickly cover it with “We’ll be careful.” She replied with paranoia about fires and thinly veiled threats of police action. For candles. In pumpkins. On Halloween.

Even that which we take for granted is complicated.

But it was my father who told me at a young age that what makes the phrase “Love thy neighbor” so compelling is the fact that one tends to have a really obnoxious neighbor. You might get along well with the whole neighborhood, but there’s that one neighbor… And until recently, this probably wasn’t even her. But love? What’s love got to do with it?

Compassion for complication. Today, it may be our only hope.


Fry Day

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

It’s Friday, I’m in hate.

I didn’t write anything here last Friday, save for posting the week’s final Duck and Cover. It was about an Embassy, which is supposed to be an extension of diplomacy and peace, being unable to open because of animosity toward the US. Which is inspired, in no small part, by the fact that said Embassy would not be about diplomacy and peace, but exerting control and influence, running a shadow government to ensure that Iraq functions as a colony for decades to come. It’s no coincidence that it’s supposed to be the largest embassy structure in world history.

Today’s Duck and Cover is about another subversion of peace, perhaps even more damning because of its source. The Nobel Peace Prize has long been sliding into some strange territory, but it wasn’t until today that I was really willing to concede that the committee has been corrupted or lost its way entirely. I had this debate with my Dad not two weeks ago, and now I have a heaping pile of crow on my plate and it’s time to dig in. I’ll be flushing it out with my fast soon anyway.

I know a lot you are thinking that my objection is laden in distaste for Al Gore as a person, his recent movie, and my disbelief in global warming as a concept (at least the way it’s being packaged to people). And you’re right that this sours an already low moment, but it’s not the core substance of my objection. Even if I were to grant that global warming is the biggest threat facing our planet today and that Al Gore is its leading crusader, there’s no justification for giving him the Peace Prize. Global warming has nothing to do with issues of war and peace, violence and non, human interaction on a basic living-together getting-along level. I know the argument you’re going to levy – global warming will eat our resources and living space, making the struggle for limited quantities that much more painful. So if Al Gore’s work were to figure out a way to divide resources fairly, or to negotiate conflicts based on refugees leaving the bay that was Bangladesh, or anything along those lines, then maybe (but still probably not). But he’s trying to “prevent” something that, if it is to be believed, is inevitable and insurmountable at this point. If you really believe in global warming, it’s time to batten down the hatches, start moving people to higher ground, and figure out how to vacate the Equator.

I’m getting away from my point. The point is that giving Al Gore the Peace Prize in 2007 is like giving Jon Stewart the Nobel Prize for Medicine because, after all, laughter is the best medicine.

And maybe you’d agree with that move. But if your lifetime aspiration were to be a medical researcher who cured something devastating, wouldn’t you feel like your goals were lost upon the announcement of Jon Stewart’s award?

It’s a familiar theme for me this week, despite all the anticipation I have going into this weekend’s fasting trip (see three posts ago, if you missed it). The struggles I have at work are reaching a boiling point (and now check two posts ago…) it’s really hard for me to anticipate where things are going to go. And as much as I love and embrace the unknown, a place of employ is just a hard place to do that. I can’t really engage all the details here, nor am I sure that this is how I want to spend my last few minutes before getting in the shower and starting up the track that inevitably leads to another work day. (Though not full, because I spent 11 uninterrupted hours there yesterday.) Suffice it to say that my pendulum swings radically between thinking I’ll be at Glide for the next five years and wanting to give notice. I can’t tell you why unless I do the latter, and I won’t want to if I do the former. Today, as on many Fridays, my pendulum has swung almost full-arc toward the latter.

Friday is usually a good day for people, especially at work. For a number of factors, some of them explicable, Friday is quite the opposite for me. Part of that may be sincerely wrapped up in holistically enjoying the work that I do and not wanting it to end for the week. I don’t think about it or feel it that way, but I think it must be a subconscious factor. Additionally, there are usually things that need wrapping up before week’s end, and that puts extra stress on its final day. And many people are often gone on Friday, shifting the weight of the workload.

I think it’ll be fine. I need to be on my way. The drum-beat of time still has me in its grip, for less than a day now. It’s decidedly October, and the butterflies in my stomach have the aura of sinister moths.

“Squint with one eye, hum a show-tune, and wait for your ride to say, ‘Oh, that’s where you must have lost your way.'”

All our accidents went purposeful and fell indeed.

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