A Radical Leftist in Donald Trump’s America

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

Time Magazine cover, January 1989.

Time Magazine cover, January 1989.

“I vote for the Democratic Party
They want the UN to be strong…

Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I’ve grown older and wiser
And that’s why I’m turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I’m a liberal”

-Phil Ochs, “Love Me, I’m a Liberal”

I’m not here today to rehash the election. I did that already, a couple weeks ago, to a surprisingly good response. Apparently Jill Stein is hoping to rehash the election, which almost makes me regret voting for her instead of the Socialist Party candidate. As my good friend Russ, who just visited here, put it on Facebook the other day, “I’ve heard the TV say ‘Jill Stein’ more in the last two days than in the entire election cycle. [facepalm]”

No, instead I’m here to discuss what it’s like to hold my political beliefs in the era of Trump’s ascendancy in American political life. Near as I can tell, I’m in a pretty unique political camp. As a pacifist socialist who generally sits on the far leftmost fringe of most (but not all) issues, my take on Trump is decidedly different from most of my friends, who generally fall in a narrow band of liberal to center-left. Most of these folks voted for Hillary Clinton, some gleefully, others glumly, most with a sense of some sort of urgency that Trump represents a new and unprecedented menace to our society (that presumably Clinton did not). Their views are generally espoused in the mainline news media, a media that didn’t realize they were feeding Trump’s support base with every hit piece they wrote about the man between August and Election Day, that they were tacitly endorsing the worldview that the mainstream was out to get Trump and that he truly did represent a blow to the establishment. This media is now only too happy to play Chicken Little to the contemporary American winter sky, announcing every policy proposal and cabinet nominee floated like the discovery that an entire metropolis has had its humans replaced by flesh-eating zombies.

There are aspects of this that I feel are right, good, or at least understandable. Trump is associating with some truly scary people, some of whom he may want to put in his cabinet. A lot of Trump’s followers are terrible human beings with hate in all its forms in their heart. (I should know – I did direct verbal battle with them in December 2015) And those hateful people are feeling empowered and emboldened to spread their hate across the country and the world right now, making very real and dangerous threats against all manner of people. This all should be reported, condemned, curbed, and prevented in all cases.

But there is a fine line between raising very reasonable alarm bells about truly dangerous and scary things and crossing over into making literally everything Trump says and does a lightning rod for alarm. And there are very good reasons to care about this line that do not involve being a Trump apologist or failing to check one’s privilege. There is a reason that “The Boy Who Cried Wolf” is a compelling cautionary tale. Creating a widespread and loud narrative that everything Trump does is an element of fascism or neo-Nazism undermines credibility among everyone who hasn’t already decided that Trump is Hitler. This doesn’t just embolden Trump’s supporters, it makes those on the fence (e.g. the 9% of American voters who voted for Trump despite not liking him, thus swinging him to electoral victory – or the 40% of registered voters who stayed home on November 8th) distrust those against Trump. And it makes it impossible to separate the wheat of truly dangerous and heinous things Trump does or might do from the chaff of him implementing policies that look a lot like Obama or Bush.

While incidental examples of crying wolf seem to come up every day, the best and most salient example was a couple weeks ago with the purported resurfacing of the proposal to implement a registry of all Muslims in the United States. Facebook went nuts over this, focusing on the fact that a Trump surrogate went on Fox News and cited Korematsu as a good legal precedent for such a policy. That line, in isolation, is scary and intolerable, sure. But the policy actually being discussed was not Muslim internment camps. It wasn’t a Muslim registry. It was a revival of the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System), a post-9/11 policy that was law for Obama’s first term until 2011, when the administration suspended the program saying it was redundant with other policies. One of those policies might be CARRP (Controlled Application Review and Resolution Policy), a program created in 2008 that is still on the books today. Like many Obama programs (he’s overseen all but a few months of its implementation), this one is shrouded in secrecy, but basically deftly profiles Muslims and Arabs exclusively and looks a lot like an extreme vetting registry. As al Jazeera recently noted, there’s really nothing more for Trump to do. CARRP already does it.

Needless to say, there are not protests in the streets over CARRP, any more than there is vocal widespread liberal opposition to Obama deporting a record 3 million human beings from the United States in his two terms. Though there was certainly outrage at the announcement that Trump intended to follow suit. So I am left with two simultaneous and equal reactions, which incidentally seem to be about 98% of my reactions to everything since the election:

1. It is so refreshing to see the left vocally opposing awful US policies!
2. It is so weird that the left thinks these policies are so much worse than the policies of the last sixteen years!

And I don’t know what to do with that. Because these are bad policies, all of them. But they don’t become bad for the first time on January 20, 2017. They have been bad since September 11, 2001, when they began in earnest. On the one hand, I can just get in line to rail and hand-wring and be so excited that these policies are finally getting the calling out they deserve. But that also feels weird and intellectually dishonest when all that railing and wringing comes tied up in a neat little package of Trump Is Hitler, Bring Back Barack. Like, if believing Trump is Hitler is what it takes to get people riled up about these awful policies of the last sixteen years, okay? I guess? But the narrative that the Democratic Party, as assembled from 2001-2016, has anything different to offer is just factually wrong. And part of what’s really important to me is that someone (Democrats, Greens, Socialists, extraterrestrial aliens – I’m not picky) spends the next four years preparing for new proposals that do not look like the Fear and Hate of post-9/11 America to date.

This set of problems becomes decidedly more complicated in the few instances where I (gulp) agree with Trump more than the Democratic Party as assembled from 2001-2016. The only really clear example of this is the TPP, which Trump has promised to scrap. It’s kind of hard to know what Trump’s economic gameplan really is. Clearly there are places, like TPP, where he’s fighting against the globo-corporatist establishment agenda. Yay! But of course Trump is personally pretty much a lifelong avatar of the globo-corporatist establishment agenda. Oh no! And he seems to be stuffing the cabinet with some pretty mainline establishment Republicans, who champion globo-corporatism. So why is he getting rid of TPP? Will he actually? Is it just window-dressing while he carves up the the government and sells it to corporations anyway? At least he’ll be doing it instead of Obama or Clinton, so the left can oppose it! Yay?

Of course, the nature of the left’s opposition is going to be important. On a legislative level, assuming that Congressional Republicans and Trump are aligned (which is probably a totally faulty assumption as I expect them to be at frequent loggerheads), there’s very little the left can actually do to obstruct anything. They can do some Senate filibustering and risk a government shutdown they are predisposed to particularly dislike, but beyond that, it’s mostly speeches, organizing, and trying to peel some less crazy Republicans to take a stand against the worst Trump policies and people. No amount of writing letters to your Congressperson is going to fill the House with Democrats, much less Democrats who are invigorated to speak truth to corporate power. Hey, I thought you liked political realism! Isn’t that why you voted for Clinton?

The problems with vilifying everything about Trump and treating it as the same Zombie-Nazi Apocalypse are similar to the problems of concluding that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist xenophobic sexist bigot. For one, they isolate and entrench the opposition. If all a Trump supporter hears from political opponents and the media is that Trump’s choice of breakfast cereal indicates his love of fascistic genocide, then they’re going to be redoubled in beliefs that (a) the left is irrational, (b) the media is untrustworthy, and (c) Trump really is shaking up the establishment. Yes, there are hardcore Trump supporters who will believe those things no matter what. But the people who need to be persuaded in the next two and four years for things to change are not those people. They are more thoughtful and discerning than you think. And they are being barraged with the message that the continuation of a bunch of Obama policies amounts to a world where all the left and the media can say is “This. Is. Not. Normal.”

So far, most of Trump, with a few exceptions, is the definition of normal. It has been normal for sixteen years. And it’s taken someone that half the country truly believes to be the living reincarnation of Hitler implementing and proposing the status quo policies to alert them to the idea that maybe it should not be normal.

Can we all agree to a few terms? Like only pulling out the T.I.N.N. bomb for things which are, in fact, not normal. Not normal here being defined as something that was never proposed nor implemented by Bush nor Obama.

See, as we may remember from a fable about calling out a lupine presence, speaking histrionically about everything wrecks someone’s credibility. And that credibility may be better served in pointing out actual wolves. Of which there may be some. Steve Bannon? Probably a wolf. That’s a winnable battle, if it’s not one of 372 that everyone is trying to fight on day one. Most folks who try to fight all the battles at once lose them all.

I want to be clear about a few things I am not saying. I am not saying “give Trump a chance.” You probably shouldn’t, on almost every issue. There may be exceptions, like TPP, or not going to war with everything that moves, but most things are probably going to be bad policies. I personally, as a far-left pacifist socialist, believe that this is also true of Obama and Bush and Clinton too. You may not believe that is largely true of those folks, but I bet you believe it, as in the examples cited above, way more than you think you do.

And I am certainly not saying that you shouldn’t be afraid of the rise in violence and hate stemming from the worst of Trump’s supporters. That is important to bring up, highlight, and turn back in every instance. That is a very real problem and a very real change and something that we should all unite against. That is a pack of wolves and one that must be opposed.

But it is important to realize that not all Trump supporters or voters are in that pack, nor do they all support the white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and other awful ideologies that some of his supporters and voters do support. Being nuanced about this is important, because otherwise you are calling a bunch of people who are not white supremacist neo-Nazis (for example the 28% of Latinx voters who voted for Trump) by heinous names. And this alienates them and makes them believe they can trust Trump more than they can trust you. And that is very very bad for the future that you want.

It’s not going to be an easy four years. It’s not going to be a good four years. It hasn’t been a good or easy last sixteen years, for the most part. Maybe you’ve done well, while most of the country has stagnated, while much of the country has been sent to kill Iraqis or Afghans or Libyans or Syrians and sew chaos in their countries. If you have done well and prospered in that time, maybe it’s because of that oppression and fear we’ve been spreading as a nation. Maybe it’s a coincidence. Whatever it is, you’re exceptional, you’re lucky, and thus you’re privileged. You may have also worked hard or struggled or overcome adversity, but you are also exceptional, lucky, and privileged. Both/and. That’s the nature of capitalism, especially the aggressively corporatized capitalism tinged with global hegemony that we’ve been practicing since 9/11. Most people don’t do well. Even fewer do good.

But the really important thing about the next four years is what kind of opposition we build. It should be smart, sophisticated, nuanced, and right. Left, but right. Correct. It should do the right things for the right reasons and fight for a world way better than Obama’s world. Because fighting as hard as we should for as much as we should isn’t worth it if we land back in the corporo-compromise world of the last sixteen years. We need to do better. And the first step is saving the wolf calls for when we need them. And blasting them from the rooftops when we do.

PS – Please stop getting excited about the possibility of one of Trump’s many legal problems leading to his impeachment. Unless you have a scenario that also brings down Mike Pence immediately. His VP is not Paul Ryan, who is admittedly third in line. It’s not John Kasich. It’s Mike Pence. Who in every way, shape, and form is worse than Trump. I promise you. You do not want Pence to be President, even if your only alternative is Trump.


All Politics is Personal: The Epic and Foreseeable Failure of Hillary Clinton

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


Disclaimer: I have deliberately waited a week to post this since the election because most of my friends and people I care about have spent the week grieving. If you are still grieving, if you are tender from the election results, if you are mostly feeling fear and outrage, then I recommend you not read this post. This post is intended for people who have enough emotional distance from what happened on November 8th to start looking at the 2016 race critically and analytically. That may not be you. That may never be you. That’s okay. I’m really not trying to poke bears or badgers or hornets’ nests, but I do think the perspectives in this post are important to building a leftist movement in the wake of Donald Trump’s impending presidency.

Disclaimer Two: This post will not be focusing on racism, sexism, xenophobia, and homophobia as the roots of Donald Trump’s defeat of Hillary Clinton. I am not hereby claiming that these hateful perspectives had nothing to do with Trump’s election. It is, however, my belief that they were ultimately a pretty minor factor in Trump defeating Clinton. Many people have posted in the last week that anyone who thinks these isms and phobias were not 100% of the cause has no business speaking and is wrong. If you are one of these people, you may choose to read my post to see a counter-argument. But if you do and wish to respond, please do not accuse me of completely ignoring the role that these played in Trump’s election. You may reasonably argue that I minimized their role and I welcome a logical debate about that. I think that the role these factors played in Trump’s election both exists and is something that we basically can’t, as leftists, do anything to change or fix in the future. The racists, sexists, xenophobes, and homophobes are not the part of the country that we are reasonably trying to persuade. If you actually believe that 47-52% of the country belongs in those categories, then we have nothing to talk about in planning for a future, other than waiting 40-60 years for those folks to die. I prefer a more optimistic look at the future, and one that I think is warranted as soon as we stop nominating Clintons for high elected office.

Disclaimer Three: This post is long. If you’re looking for a TL;DR, I would read the title of the post. In other words, the disastrous defeat of Hillary Clinton is, primarily, the fault of Hillary Clinton and, to a lesser extent, her supporters. If you’re too offended by that notion to see how I reach that conclusion, we’ll both be happier if you stop reading now.

Introduction: Unemployment Numbers and the Gaslighting of the American Workforce

In July 2012, I began periodically posting about the emerging gap between the traditionally reported figures of American unemployment and the seeming reality of said unemployment. As the labor force drained of people in the wake of the Great Recession, with millions of Americans giving up looking for work, retiring early, and (most importantly) never entering the labor force in the first place, reported unemployment started to decline much faster than it seemed it should. Labor force participation dropped precipitously to ultimately 35-year lows, while reported unemployment recovered from an alleged peak of 10% to under 5%. My analysis showed that unemployment actually stayed above 11% for years and, as recently as June 2016, was still as high as 10.96%.

When I started posting about this, it was before the 2012 election, and the words “labor force participation” had seemingly never graced a newscast about unemployment figures. The reported 8% unemployment was seen as too high, but at least stabilizing – my data had the figure close to 13%. In July, I coined the term Reporting Gap for this nearly five-point figure that had been steadily climbing and observed this: “Suddenly it’s a little more clear why the jobs haven’t been coming back and why no one you know feels like the economy is getting better. Suddenly we have a chart that reflects how the recession has actually felt.”

The insidious thing about this gap, I observed repeatedly over the ensuing four years, is that it makes people who aren’t succeeding in the current economy feel like they’re crazy. If unemployment is reported as being 4.9% but is actually 11%, those 6.1% of missing people feel like they are total losers – that everyone else is getting a job and doing fine but there’s something individually wrong with them that keeps them in this ever-shrinking group of folks who just can’t get work. And over time, they start to doubt the narrative they’re being told about the economy and the world. Can they really be this pathetic? Or is there some book-cooking going on that shades them out of the picture?

A funny thing happened on the way to 2016. By this fall, every newscast was talking about labor force participation cratering and sometimes the participation rate would even be discussed before the much vaunted unemployment figure. News would actually note that a decline in unemployment often wasn’t a good thing, because it just meant more people had given up. I, of course, had nothing to do with this – nowhere near enough people read my blog to make a difference. But I had picked up on a trend early that eventually became too big and obvious to ignore: the “recovery” was one that edited out people and jobs and found a way to squeeze the remaining workers into “greater productivity” (longer, more stressful hours) to maximize profits. At one point, I superimposed the stock market recovery over the increase in the reporting gap and it was a nearly perfect fit. Corporate America had found a way to sustain the loss of jobs in the country while rebuilding its own successful business model. The rich got richer and the poor got nothing.

Enter Donald Trump. He didn’t use the same analysis I did of actually examining BLS’ own numbers and applying a reasonable labor force participation rate to them. Instead, he used U-6 and exaggerated it a little, sometimes a lot. He said unemployment was still 18-20%, which I don’t think it had ever been. I wrote about this in August 2015. He was very wrong with the specifics, but he was fundamentally right to observe that American workers had been set adrift and told that everything was fine. And he was angry about it. In speech after speech, he tapped into the feeling of being invalidated, the feeling of being gaslighted, of being told that you are not experiencing the economic hardship that you are. And in so doing, he galvanized people who knew there was something wrong with the tale of the recovery being spun by a Democratic administration and the media that didn’t sit with their own experiences. Obviously many of his prescriptions for the situation were wrong, like building a wall, and the idea of an outsourcing businessman being the savior of the newly unemployed stretches any feasible credulity. But if the reality you feel, deep down, that no one is validating, suddenly gets validated, you feel an immense loyalty to the guy who validated it. I would argue this is where Trump’s traction and real appeal to the people who swung this election began.

Why Bernie Would Have Been a Better Opponent in this Context

The idea that Donald Trump, billionaire with rich father and icon of all that is 1980s about America, would be the hero of the working class is, on face, laughable. The fact that he somehow pulled off this stunt is a remarkable testament to the willingness of the American voter to appreciate the message even if the messenger is the embodiment of its opposite. That said, Hillary Clinton was in no position to criticize Trump’s status as the messenger here and, aside from a few observations of the hypocrisy of the tycoon critiquing offshoring after having offshored tons of jobs, she didn’t try. It is perhaps the most American part of this whole election that in 2016, the two major parties nominated two gold-plated billionaires in the year of working class populism. Reminiscent, perhaps, of 2004, when the major parties offered two staunch defenders of the Iraq War at a time when the war was becoming deeply unpopular. No better evidence of the irrelevance of the major parties to popular democratic interests could be given.

But of course, there was a third road, which was Bernie Sanders. Now I am not here to say Bernie would have definitely definitely won the general election against Trump, though it is my belief he would have. And I’m certainly not here to cite as my main piece of evidence that polls which also said Hillary would be mopping up the floor of the general election with Trump’s toupee said that Bernie would do so to an even greater extent. What I will say is that Bernie would have had no problem attacking Donald Trump for being a businessman, a tycoon, and a lifelong enemy of the working class he now claimed to espouse. And rather than this accusation coming from, say, the pot, it would have been coming from a man whose style could most generously be described as “rumpled,” who had no evident personal wealth, and who had spent pretty much his entire waking life talking about the plight of the poor and working class. Suffice it to say that this would have measured up considerably better to Trump’s claim that he knew how to dismantle the system because he’d been rigging it than a person who wouldn’t release the transcripts of secret speeches she gave to bankers for the six figures “they offered.” If you’re a working class voter and you look at Trump and Clinton, you see two people who are nothing like you and you take the one who sounds like they know what you’re going through. If you’re that same voter and you look at Trump and Sanders, you see a guy who is nothing like you and one who reminds you of you, and they both have the same general message about relating to you. But one of them has lived a life you can connect with and the other has been its boss. There’s really no comparison.

Yes, yes, red scare, red scare. The voters who we were supposed to worry would condemn Bernie Sanders for honeymooning in Moscow and cozying up to communist Russia just voted overwhelmingly to elect a man who repeatedly praised a former KGB agent as the strongest leader he knew. Trump was basically overtly accepting help from the Russians, placing Hillary Clinton in the interesting position of playing McCarthy to Trump’s pinko ways. She warmed to the argument robustly, willingly invoking how she might go to war with Russia in the third debate just to demonstrate how dangerous Trump’s Russian connection could be. And look where that got her. Turns out this voting bloc that tipped the 2016 election was a lot more afraid of local bureaucrats than former Soviet ones.

Of course, the primary argument that Team Hillary used against Bernie throughout the primaries, one that got extraordinarily loud and obnoxious as the general election approached, was that the Republicans would dig up all kinds of crazy dirt on Bernie and throw it at him for – gasp! – the first time, whereas Hillary had “survived” twenty years of such bashing. There is no more absurd, disingenuous, or damaging argument that anyone made or thought during the whole campaign. And yet this line was absolute gospel, a full-scale mantra, for Hillary supporters up until a week ago. No counter-argument would be heard, even when I suggested that this was question-begging at absolute best. By “survive,” it is technically true that Hillary Clinton had not actually dropped dead from the long-running Republican campaign to discredit her and embroil her in scandal. But the truth of this argument depended on an outcome that never came, namely the presumption that she would be a successful Presidential candidate. She had blown an enormous presumptive lead in 2008. The only thing she was ever elected to in her life was a US Senate seat from New York, a state which has elected exactly one Republican Senator since 1980. In those races, she beat Rick Lazio, a four-term Congressman who was brought in late to replace scandal-ridden Rudy Giuliani, and John Spencer, a former mayor of Yonkers. In the latter election, despite running against a former mayor who had absolutely no chance, she spent a 2006 Senate-race-high $36 million on the campaign.

To say that these electoral wins amount to “surviving” years of attacks is just shoddy logic. This is without evaluating the merit of any of the attacks or not. You can argue that Clinton is the most clean-nosed politician in history and all the attacks are (pun intended) trumped up nonsense. You can argue that she’s super-corrupt and hasn’t been caught for half of what she’s tried. Doesn’t matter. The point is that two decades of her being associated with corruption, scandal, dishonesty, and changing her position on major issues was never an asset. It was not proof that she could survive anything. It was proof that she was a ridiculously vulnerable candidate for whom millions and millions of people had decided they could never ever vote, no matter what.

Yes, Bernie Sanders is a socialist, an atheist, and culturally Jewish. His wife once did something a little shady with her university position. No doubt all of these things would have peeled some voters away from him. But marginally? I don’t think there are any people who would be peeled there who voted for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 general election. His socialism? Right in line with the populism of 2016, and see the Russia analysis above. Atheism? Does anyone think Hillary Clinton believes in God or vote for her because of it? Judaism is a flashpoint for the racist Trumpers, sure, but did anyone who feels that way about Jews vote for Hillary? And a shady scandal involving a spouse… yeah. That’s going to be worse than the Clinton legacy.

So at best you get a push, and Bernie loses like Hillary did. Except, of course, that Bernie had momentous and excited enthusiasm behind him, was in tune with the year’s populist sentiment, could actually critique Trump’s elitism from a different vantage point, and had this little thing called humility. More on humility vs. entitlement in a bit. Suffice it to say that I think Bernie Sanders turns out a lot of folks who voted third party or stayed home this election, in addition to swinging those white working class Obama voters in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio who swung this electoral college toward The Donald.

And that’s to say nothing of not having to bully people into voting for him as “the lesser of two evils”. Which, as a concept, is why Trump won.

The Lesser of Two Evils Made the Most Evil

Hillary’s camp was quick last Tuesday night to start blaming third party voters for everything. Facebook feeds, news media, and all manner of angry Clintonites have been quick to jab the finger at me and my kindred people, third party voters. Apparently it’s all our fault that Hillary Clinton couldn’t beat Donald Trump.

The reality, of course, is the opposite. If no one believed in the concept of voting for “the lesser of two evils” and everyone had refused to vote for someone they didn’t like or support, Clinton would have won the election easily.

According to CNN exit polls from the general election, 18% of voters this year disliked both candidates. They broke 49-29-22 for Trump-Clinton-third party. Trump won this election, as I long predicted he would, by winning the race to the bottom. Tons of Americans hated both of these candidates. Most of them stayed home, disgusted. Those who turned out and chose Trump or Clinton anyway overwhelmingly voted for Trump. Had they all voted for third party candidates, Trump’s total would have taken a 9% hit and Clinton’s only 5%, yielding an electoral landslide for the latter.

For reference, only 2% said they liked both major candidates and there wasn’t enough data here to even see how they split. Surprisingly, “love trumps hate” and “when they go low, we go high” were just slogans and had no impact on this race to the bottom.

The fact that 78% of voters who disliked both major candidates still voted for one of them signals just how bullied the American voter is by the mythology of the two-party duopoly. But it also leads us to one of the most important realities of this campaign: that the lesser of two evils cuts both ways. And this makes the most frequent and loudest rallying cry against Trump voters totally nonsensical. This rallying cry states that all Trump voters are awful, horrible, no good, very bad people who have evil in their hearts. They’re all racists, all sexists, all want everyone you know and love to suffer. And that is why they voted as they did.

My response to this is as follows: had Hillary Clinton won and I spent the next week of my life on Facebook decrying how every Hillary voter wants foreign Muslims to die painfully, how they’re all imperialist militarists, I just don’t think that would have been taken seriously.

Indeed, I had a little preview of this in an interaction with Edward Fu on Facebook the day of the election, when I said that a vote for Hillary was a vote for mass murder. He responded by asking “So to be clear – if I vote for Hillary I’m either uninformed or pro-mass murder?”

I responded with “Hillary Clinton believes in war as an effective tool for foreign policy. It seems very likely that she will start a major war in her presidency. Even if she doesn’t, she is likely to kill many more people than the already very hawkish Obama. I don’t think this issue is a priority for most voters, because it doesn’t particularly affect Americans. Or many people see it as inevitable or even good that a lot of our time and money is spent killing foreigners. I am happy to make it a priority to disagree.”

The point is that most Americans did not associate a Clinton vote with what I see as the greatest likely impact of her Presidency that never happened, namely major war(s). And while I would have depressedly taken to Facebook to remind everyone that they had voluntarily enabled whatever war emerged in her first term, most people were not thinking about this. They were thinking about glass ceilings and a slate of policies cribbed from Bernie Sanders and not Trump not Trump not Trump. But this is really important. Because most people voting for Trump were thinking about change and Republican appointments and not Clinton not Clinton not Clinton. Or really just the last part. They aren’t horrible people. They just hated Hillary Clinton a tiny bit more than they hated Donald Trump. And if you were willing to support America’s war with Syria or Russia or Iran or whoever the next appointed Bogeyman would be in the Clinton administration in order to beat Trump, maybe you can be a little more sympathetic to someone who was willing to support the same person David Duke did to beat Clinton.

If you just don’t buy this argument at all, I’m guessing it’s because you’re yelling the following argument:

“But She Was So Qualified!”

This argument for electoral viability, honestly, is almost as ridiculous as “she spent twenty years getting everyone to hate her, so how could she lose?” Americans do not, as a rule, vote for President based on qualifications. They vote for the person they like and trust. Or, this year, dislike and distrust the least.

You know what the previous biggest mismatch of Qualified vs. Unqualified presidential candidates was? 2008. John McCain vs. Barack Obama. Hint: Obama was less qualified. Spoiler alert: he trounced.

Indeed, the Democrats have always been bringing the less qualified winner to the party since FDR. Bill Clinton? Way less qualified than GHW Bush. Jimmy Carter? A virtual unknown. JFK? The textbook example of a greenhorn. People freaking loved these guys. Well, not Carter till he was out of office. But you get the idea.

I think this is all that needs to be said to rebut the argument that Clinton’s resume was not enough to overcome her being a woman. A Black man had vastly less qualification for the Presidency and dominated. And if you think America likes Black men more than White women, several million inmates would like to register their personal dissent. I am not going to say sexism had nothing to do with Clinton’s loss. But the evidence is just not there that this is what was predominantly behind her losing, especially as the more qualified candidate. In fact, a pretty convincing argument would say that being more qualified was a hindrance in this race, especially when following two terms of her party’s Presidency. The fact is that Hillary Clinton is uninspiring, uncharismatic, and pretty bad at campaigning. Late in the general election, even when she was supposed to be en route to a rout, even pro-Hillary thinkpieces could admit this and tried embracing it as a strength instead of recognizing its obvious weakness.

You can say that she gets held to a different standard as a woman. Somewhat. But Barack Obama also gets held to a different standard as a Black man. And he overcame it, because he is actually good at the things that lead to Presidential victories. And there are women who are good at those things too, who aren’t carrying two decades of baggage around that makes people rule out voting for them ever. Elizabeth Warren might have gotten 400 electoral votes heads-up against Trump.

And this is part of what makes it so hard to talk about this election with the crushed Clinton supporters. Because they had started to buy the argument that Clinton was the last best hope of womankind, that she even somehow embodied womankind itself. She succeeded in convincing her supporters that she was an avatar of all womanhood, that no matter her past and her dubious dealings with her husband, no matter that she was a First Lady before holding elected office, no matter that she changed positions on things depending on who was in the room with her at the time, she was a stand-in for all women. And I can understand why people would feel that way about the first woman major party nominee for President, and doubly so when going against Trump and his boorish misogyny. But this was not an election where “Do you like women?” was on the ballot or “Do you trust women to run the country?” was a voting issue. Hillary Clinton lost White women 53-43. She lost people who were somewhat bothered by Trump’s treatment of women 75-19. Seventy-five to nineteen. Hell, she lost 11% of those who said this treatment bothered them a lot!

This association with Hillary Clinton and womankind was one-sided and self-selective. And it started before the primary with the insidious campaign slogan “Ready for Hillary”. Do you see what they did there? The implication was that the only reason you could possibly oppose Hillary Clinton for President is if you weren’t ready for a woman President. This, of course, was followed by the slightly less insidious “I’m With Her” with basically the same connotations. The race was couched as those who are sexist vs. those who are not.

And up until last Tuesday, heck, up until this minute for many in her camp, they never ever stopped believing the truth of that concept. Which of course leads to depressing conclusions if you think that this was the last best woman for the job. Of course, Barack Obama’s slogan was not “Ready for Barack” or “I’m Not Racist”. He did not try to bully people into voting for him to prove they were not something awful. Instead, he talked about hope, change, and yes we can. And whether he delivered on those promises or not, those were effective strategic choices, proved to be effective again this year as Trump presented himself as the candidate of change.

Of course, Hillary Clinton had no avenue for being an advocate of change. She was the ultimate establishment figure, framing this as experience and steadiness. She was following two terms of her party’s Presidency and felt she had to say that those terms had gone well, ignoring those who felt otherwise. And this is not necessarily a reason we should blame Hillary Clinton for anything other than wanting to run. She was the wrong candidate for this time in history, for this office. But there was one major thing she did that exacerbated her non-change-ness, her establishmentarianism, her extreme un-Obamaism…

A Sense of Entitlement

Nothing made people like Hillary Clinton less than her overriding sense that she just deserved to be President. In 2008, she expected a coronation and was stopped on the way to the church. In 2016, she’d lined up enough of the party elders and intimidated all the other Democrats out of running, then made sure they rigged the race anyway when the going got unexpectedly rough. Time and again, she acted like it was just obvious that she had a sort of deed on the Presidency, that this was not a race or a question, that she could not possibly lose, that there was nothing for a serious voter to even consider. And for all Donald Trump’s defensive responses to being baited (with a tweet or otherwise), Clinton’s inability to shed her sense of entitlement was the more serious blunder.

She was unable to ever really articulate why she wanted to be President, other than falling back on the “Stronger Together” catchphrase (which, let’s face it, was only ever about pulling in disgruntled Bernie voters and really rankled after evidence of her operatives shafting Bernie emerged). When there’s a void in why someone says they want something and they self-evidently want it really really badly, you start to get nervous about why exactly they want that thing so much. Trump, for his part, at least had the line about taking time out of his busy days to save the country. He didn’t need money or power or fame because he had so much of it. (In an interesting side-note, I had the displeasure of reading American Psycho this summer and discovering that Donald Trump is basically the #2 character in the book. Future historians will have a field day with this.) When Clinton didn’t give a square answer to the same question, it was just too easy to pencil in nefarious corruption and scheming.

But nothing was worse than when this all came to a head with the election-losing comment by HRC. In a mirror image of Mitt Romney’s election-losing assessment that 47% of Americans just wanted hand-outs and not to work, Hillary Clinton called a large chunk of Trump’s supporters “a basket of deplorables”. Now, it was personal. Now, a sneering oligarch of the American power elite, someone who’d been helping run the country for decades, didn’t just ignore their suffering or claim that the country was doing better than they felt. She actually disdained them individually, as people. Condemning them not just as lazy, as Romney had done, but as morally evil. The self-reinforcing internal campaign monologue that only sexists could oppose the mighty Clinton Coronation had seeped out into the public with one fierce statement of bullying.

Would Clinton have won had she never said that? I don’t know. I’m inclined to think her other flaws were sufficient to sink her anyway. But the race was close enough (yes, yes, she won the popular vote, I know) that I believe a lot more of those 49% who disliked Trump and still voted for him might have stayed home without that comment. Or joined their Republican leaders in writing in Mitt or McCain or Ronald Reagan resurrected. And only someone so sure of victory, so truly honestly disdainful of others, is capable of saying something like that publicly. At the time, she was lauded by the media who’d all lined up to endorse her in fear of Trump for calling it like it was, for pointing out the horrible people propping up Trump. And look, many of those people are horrible and deplorable. But so are the war profiteers and bankers and, for God’s sake, George HW and W Bush, who all voted for Clinton. That doesn’t mean you come out and make a statement saying that you think the main reason people are voting for the other side is because they are personally bad humans.

(Incidentally, a lot of blame for this election loss should fall squarely on the person who made the social media meme that said all the former Presidents were voting for Clinton. Find me a person on this planet who respects both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, other than maybe Bill Clinton. That meme just alienated everyone a little and made Trump’s anti-establishment cred that much stronger. I’m kidding about the impact of this thing. A little. Maybe. It’s a weird viral world out there. Votes out for Harambe, who did not, in fact, get more votes than Jill Stein.)

“But, but, James Comey!”

I am much more open to the idea that James Comey contributed significantly to Hillary Clinton’s loss than third party voters. And not just because I’m not James Comey.

(But seriously, third party voters would have pretty much all stayed home if we had to vote for one of the two major party candidates. And you really think more Libertarian Gary Johnson voters would have broken for Clinton than Trump? Sadly, there are no exit polls on this, but trust me that the third party voters as a whole cost Trump more votes than Clinton. 52% of the electorate voted against the establishment this year.)

That said, I almost posted the day before the election that James Comey was in the pocket of the Clinton camp, because by raising and then silencing the investigation all before the election, he effectively was trying to demonstrate that there was no Clinton scandal to worry about. It’s hard to say if that hurt more than just not saying anything about the investigation at all in the last week, but if James Comey really were a Trump mole, why on God’s green Earth would he have said, literally, “there’s nothing to see here” the day before the election? It’s like LBJ giving a short speech promising that Goldwater would never use nukes the night before people went to the 1964 polls. Could you imagine? I mean, really?

Maybe Obama said he would fire him if he didn’t. That said, pretty empty threat, no? Is Obama really going to fire someone who raised questions about Clinton just before the election? Someday, Comey will write a tell-all book. And it probably will make something up about what happened, so we’ll never know.

In retrospect, it’s easy to say that Comey’s reopening and then quickly closing the investigation cost Clinton a lot of votes. But I just don’t know if there’s anything causal here, especially given that this argument is based on polls that proved to be faulty. And we don’t have polling data on the day before the election or the day of to indicate how many people switched back to Clinton when the investigation was suddenly slammed shut. Maybe Clinton was on pace to lose much bigger, but Comey helped almost save the day.

But here’s the thing: even if you can prove that Comey speaking cost Hillary Clinton the whole election, we’re back at “she’s survived twenty years of scandal!” If you’re right about Comey, then Hillary Clinton was literally entirely felled by the resurrection of a previously buried scandal that plagued her throughout the 2016 campaign season. And you all sneered and rolled your eyes and did your best G.D. Hillary Clinton impression to say that no scandal would ever beat this survivor. So if someone raising a question about one of this cornucopia of scandals really could undo what otherwise would have been a romp, was your candidate ever that strong to begin with?

Conclusion: “Storey, the Past is the Past – Why Re-Bury Hillary Clinton?”

A lot of pieces like this one have been criticized for beating a dead horse, stomping on a fallen hero, and unnecessarily carting out blame for someone who has already been wholly humiliated on the national stage. So what gives?

Firstly, and I wish I were joking about this, but I think it’s really important to start staving off the Hillary Clinton 2020 campaign NOW. I have talked to several people about this and they literally all believe that I am certifiable for even dreaming that Hillary would run again, but I am very very worried about this possibility and I want us all to think a lot about why it would be a very bad idea. As credibility for this prediction, I can only offer my election map prediction from July 2016 that I reposted the night before the election. Which showed a 312-220-6 win for Trump over Clinton, which proved to be 306-232 for Trump. You will not find many non-Republicans who saw what happened on November 8th coming.

(By the way, I haven’t yet called out Edward Fu for rudely and derisively arguing that this map demonstrated I had no ability to conduct political analysis. Scoreboard, sir.)

But beyond my fear of Clinton/Trump II: Apocalyptic Boogaloo in 2020, there is a battle underway for the soul of the Democratic Party, which, God help us, claims to still be the voice on the left. Howard Dean is running against Keith Ellison for DNC Chair. Bernie is being vocal about the change we need, but Chuck Schumer is leading the Senate Democrats. And how we view the results of 2016 has a lot to say about how we look to the future. If Clinton deserved to win but didn’t, if all womankind got rejected last Tuesday, if the basket of deplorables won the day and are all irretrievably evil, then there’s no hope or the hope we have will go to establishment Democrats just as corporate, corrupt, and militaristic as Clinton herself. If Clinton was a bad choice who made bad decisions, then we can start the conversation about a new direction. One that, arguably, is not all that new, because it looks like the very successful two campaigns of Barack Obama, but perhaps with more populism and more follow-through on the, y’know, change.

Because if there’s one thing Trump is unlikely to bring to Washington (and this should ironically reassure the most worried among you, though it worries me the most), it’s change. He’s already lining the Cabinet with the Old Guard Republicans. Newt Gingrich will be back. Nothing says change like 1994’s revolutionary in 2016. Mike Pence, or Baby Ted Cruz, is leading the transition team. Trump is trusting the same coalition that has been propping up Republicans for decades to “drain the swamp.” Plus his kids. His kids are new.

It would be a devastating mistake for the left to respond in kind, propping up its discredited elders for another run as well. We need new, fresh, exciting, energetic, charismatic, scandal-free leaders to take up the torch of left-wing ideals. Hopefully many of them will be women, people of color, LGBTQ individuals: exemplars of inclusivity without being seen as literal avatars of their particular intersectional group. And they should not bully people into voting for them because they are who they are. They should not complain about having to be accountable for past scandals, backroom deals, or changing their mind because they are who they are. And the country will love them for it.

Martin Luther King, Jr. asked that people be judged on the content of their character. He did not ask that they not be judged at all. The country judged Hillary Clinton on the content of her character. They judged Donald Trump on the content of his character, too. We can never again afford to support someone so plagued with character concerns, even against someone equally (or more) flawed. The ensuing race to the bottom is too close to be sure of, and way too close to feel entitled to.

In a long Facebook discussion during the election, one of the few I indulged in after Bernie had given up on the primaries, a former debater kept asking why I was evaluating Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as people, rather than a set of ideas they espoused. I never responded to the last part, mostly because I’d already said I had made my last post in the thread. But it’s the title of this post. All politics is personal.

And the reason for that is the structure of our representative democracy. Outside of perhaps California, we don’t live in a direct democracy. We don’t vote on every issue. We don’t choose to go to war or not, to build a school or not. We elect people to do it for us. And this is why we have to like and trust those people. Because they are not robots programmed to fulfill their promises, nor are they a mere abstract slate of ideas. They are people. Flawed, greedy people who want power and money and to be liked and to make the world in their image. You can criticize the “have a beer with” standard all you want, doubly so for giving us both W Bush and Donald Trump. But it’s a proxy for something reasonable. Who do you want in your corner? Who would you be friends with? Who do you trust when the chips are down to stand in for you?

If we ignore this question or shame people who take it seriously, we’re never going to build a successful leftist movement in this country. And I have my doubts that the Democratic Party can ever build or even wants that movement. But now seems like the best chance in a long time to try.


Obligatory Uber Book Update

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

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

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

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

Where the magic happens.

Where the magic happens.


Don’t Stand for It

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

American hero Colin Kaepernick.

American hero Colin Kaepernick.

During the Iraq War, I made an effort not to stand for the United States’ national anthem while it played. The context for this was almost always sports games, because even though ESPN Radio (which I listen to a lot between Uber drives these days, while the NPR station is playing jazz and I’m waiting for the BBC World Service to come on) insisted (before this past week) on shouting down any caller who brought up politics, sports have been insidiously intertwined with politics for decades in this country. We have military nights, we have anthems before everything, we have the ongoing extra displays of patriotism since 9/11. Like so many elements of our society, we are made to forget that the default setting of what we perceive as normal is, itself, a political statement. We live in a deeply politicized reality, one where every student is made to swear unwavering loyalty to a piece of cloth every morning in a ritual that, were it discovered in North Korea, we would lampoon as the result of creepy brainwashing.

I say “made an effort not to stand” because there were a couple of times during that war that I can recall reluctantly and awkwardly standing, because I didn’t want to make the person I was attending the game with uncomfortable. In light of Colin Kaepernick’s brave public protest (ironically being called a “stand” in many quarters, which I can’t reconcile enough to invoke), I feel even more ashamed than I did at the time about these compromises. I at least a couple times went to the bathroom during the anthem at these times rather than do my customary sit, often when attending the game with just one friend, often someone more conservative, and I just didn’t want to get into the difficult debate in that moment. And, frankly, it’s not just this piece of cowardice that demonstrates to me the difficulty of Kapernick’s incredible protest. It’s the fact that during most of my Iraq War seatings, I was accompanied by others who joined me in the protest. My wife at the time, and two of our very good friends. I’m not even sure we even talked about it specifically or that thoroughly. I’m sure I discussed it with my wife at some point, but it felt like an organic thing. But it’s way easier to sit as a group of four than solo. Admittedly, I also did this when I attended baseball games by myself.

I’ve always been uncomfortable with the anthem and the adoration of the flag, turning my back on the ceremony at times during high school and rolling my eyes and sighing awkwardly, hands buried in pockets, during sports game ceremonies both before and since Iraq. Kaepernick has reminded me that the Iraq War, while poignantly awful in American history, was by no means the only thing warranting this small silent signal of resistance. And deep down, I knew that. I just got tired of the angsty separation from the rest of the crowd, the terse comments from a handful of people, the (at least twice) slaps from older gentlemen accompanied by “get up!” (this only happened when I was alone). No one ever tried to engage me in why I was doing what I was doing. And only once did I see someone else in a ballpark joining me in the (lack of) move, though admittedly sitting while everyone else is standing can make it hard to see (except at Oakland baseball games, where attendees are few and far between).

The anthem stands for might-makes-right, it stands for the notion that a piece of cloth is more important than human life, it stands for the idea that all manner of human violence is worth it if our empire prospers. It is, even before people started talking this week about the grotesque verse taking joy in the death of freed slaves, the embodiment of what I object to about the American Empire. Glorying in war, the utilization of war as a means for our own advancement, the prioritization of cloth over life. And its universal proliferation before sporting events, before gatherings and conventions and convocations is, like the pledge, a little piece of ongoing indoctrination into this militaristic value set before every little ceremony. Kill for your flag. This is what’s important.

During the Iraq protest, I had dreams of starting a campaign that I would call Don’t Stand for It. Mostly, I was lonely and wanted more people to sit with me, because it felt like the right kind of protest that was small but powerful and well matched with what was being protested. It’s an anthem of war, so let’s not honor that during one of our many aggressive, ongoing, deeply unjust wars of imperialism. My follow-through on these kinds of campaigns is notoriously bad, so I can’t really lament not registering that website or starting that campaign – it wouldn’t have gotten more than a handful of supporters anyway.

This is what makes Kaepernick’s protest so inspiring and exciting. He has the platform to broadcast his message, the power to get people to join with him. He has reminded me that I was just copping out during all those Pelicans games, that the arc of American injustice is long and bends towards the flag. It took momentous bravery for him to make this statement, in a year when he wasn’t even assured a starting position on his own team, at a time in our media culture when he knew he was deliberately putting himself in the crosshairs of every zealous racist, warmonger, so-called patriot, and conservative in the nation. He knew exactly what kind of firestorm of criticism and anger would beset him and he sat, alone, regardless. This is what heroism looks like.

As has been well documented in the American media, much of the predictable backlash to Kaepernick’s sitting has been unadulterated racism, newly distilled in the resurgently open bigotry that accompanies many factions of Trump supporters and the opponents of Black Lives Matter. But the mainstream backlash is more insidious – the commentators on ESPN alleging irony that Kaepernick is “protesting a symbol of his right to protest” and saying that he is “disrespecting veterans who are fighting for his right to protest like this”. It’s one of the most knee-jerk, rote, and incorrect assumptions about our flag, anthem, and military: that they have something to do with our freedom. If you can even get past the initial issue that tools of mass-coercion and imperialism can ever be about freedom, even if that “freedom” is coming on the back of oppression of those both outside this country and locked up in this one.

America has faced nothing remotely like an existential threat since World War II. Arguably that war and the Civil War were vaguely existential threats – I could make a pretty good case that neither of them were, but I don’t want to get into that right now, since it’s irrelevant to my main point and my thoughts on WWII are already pretty polarizing. Yes, there are a few WWII veterans still around. But setting those folks aside for the moment, the veterans being most virulently defended in the media against protests like Kaepernick’s fought in wars that were unadulterated, naked imperialism that had nothing to do with defending American freedom. In Korea and Vietnam, the fight against popular communist leaders was packaged as pro-freedom, even though said leaders would have won national democratic elections in their respective countries. Ditto countless covert military operations in Cambodia and half of Latin America. Then we have Iraq, Afghanistan, Iraq again, Libya, the unending war to kill everyone in every country who disagrees with US foreign policy. These are not responses to existential threats or really threats at all – they are self-justifying pursuits of oil, business interests, and the notion that American hegemony is the natural order of the planet. You can think it’s noble if you want that people voluntarily sacrifice their time, energy, and livelihood to sign up to kill for their country (I don’t). But it’s just incorrect to say that they do so to “defend our freedom”. Had we fought zero wars since WWII, we would have exactly the same freedom we do now. In fact, I would argue, much more freedom, because there would not be people in the rest of the world who want to exact revenge on America and its people for the violence it enacted on them, their family, and their country.

Of course, most of those folks in the military didn’t feel like it was much of a voluntary choice. Our military is comprised of disproportionately poor individuals, disproportionately minority individuals, those deprived of opportunity at every turn who were both indoctrinated to believe that killing for your flag is noble and often misled into thinking they’d be safer and better compensated for their sacrifice. No wonder, then, that #VeteransforKaepernick has caught fire on the Internet, that (as in every era) it is veterans of these awful wars who are often the first to rally behind those against the next war. American soldiers return to the nation shattered, traumatized, and suicidal. And most of them seem to understand that Kaepernick’s protest helps honor their loss by trying to prevent the next generation from having to endure it.

Of course, Kaepernick’s protest is not primarily about war, though these realities are a fitting response to the obnoxious mainstream argument saying that his protest is well-intentioned, but he picked the wrong means (I have yet to hear one suggested alternative means, needless to say). It’s about Black Lives Matter, increasingly becoming the most important movement of our generation in America. A movement that has renewed a national conversation about our nation’s historical and ongoing oppression of a race that has endured slavery, slaughter, mass-incarceration, and minimization every day of America’s history. His protest is helping pivot the movement to the spotlight in a moment that is not just the week after another horrific police execution of an innocent Black citizen. He is helping to raise the issue with every week of the nation’s most popular sport, reminding the national audience that the Black players they revere each Sunday are of the same race as those they (at least de facto) support incarcerating and gunning down seven days a week.

Colin Kaepernick’s protest is everything a protest should be. It’s risky and brave, it’s targeted and precise, it’s powerful and profound. Every day, more people are sitting with him, agreeing that Black Lives Matter and that our anthem and flag are not more important than oppressed human lives. Next time the anthem plays, don’t stand for it. Thank you, Colin, for reminding me, for reminding all of us, what truly matters.


Watching (Mariners) Baseball is Bad for My (Mental) Health

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , ,

This is getting old.

This is getting old.

I write here a lot about competitiveness. So much so, apparently, that I wrote two posts entitled “Winning and Losing” on this blog, both mostly about RUDU, both in 2010, two posts separated by That Summer. You can read them, one from March 2010 and one from November 2010.

I also write a lot about the Mariners, hapless though they are. When people from Seattle get into my Uber (this happens a lot, especially lately, including a night where two parties from Seattle were in the car in a span of four trips), I describe myself as a “long-suffering Mariners fan”. This immediately establishes my credibility with these individuals, because just describing oneself as a Mariners fan doesn’t indicate that one has really truly committed to the experience. It’s about the suffering. In an ideal world (i.e. 2001), maybe that wouldn’t be true. But just like a Yankees fan identifies conceptually with swagger and a Red Sox fan with redemption, so does a Mariners fan identify with the inevitability of disaster. Even 2001 ended that way, as I misdocumented in 2014. And as I wrote about just about a month ago when Griffey entered the Hall of Fame, maybe 1995 was the only exception to the disaster narrative, since losing the ALCS was so beyond our wildest dreams that it counted as a total success. That said, though, there is something deviously Sisyphean about even that year. Without it, the Mariners would have left for Tampa and we would have been released from our torment forever. Instead, that year preserved our ability to watch this team roll a boulder up a hill, just past the tipping point, and scream “wait till next year” as it went back down the other side.

Am I being too fatalistic? It’s being drummed into me, just like the hope is being drummed out. Last night, the Mariners lost a baseball game in Chicago by the score of 7-6, blowing a 6-3 lead and surrendering the winning run in the bottom of the 9th. It was deja vu all over again. On Sunday, they blew a 6-3 lead over the Milwaukee Brewers entirely in the 9th, losing by a score of 7-6. Last Tuesday, they coughed up two runs in the bottom of the 8th to lose a game to the Angels (who’d lost 11 straight prior to the game) by a score of 7-6. And on the last day of July, they mounted a 6-0 lead in the first three innings against the Cubs, only to lose a walk-off in the bottom of the 12th by a score of … wait for it … 7-6.

Reader, I watched every inning of all of these games.

I have been thinking it’s a privilege of my new flexible schedule and plan that I can be invested in a Mariners season where the games count and the M’s are contenders. Because, despite the 4 gut-punchers (all in the last four weeks, mind you! and two in the last six days!) listed above, the Mariners are playing meaningful baseball in late August. They remain just 7.5 behind Texas in the AL West and 3 games out in the Wild Card, mostly behind a bevy of AL East teams destined to take games from each other and leave a slot open for a non-East team, probably. Of course, had they won just two of those four 7-6 losses, they’d be 5.5 out and 1 back, respectively. And all four? Well, then they’d be in playoff position, with a bit of a lead, and just 3.5 behind the Rangers.

The Mariners have the longest streak in baseball without visiting the playoffs, a stat made possible by the recent success of the Pirates and Blue Jays. Since setting a record for wins in 2001, their embarrassing 5-game exit from the ALCS against the Yankees is our last taste of October baseball. Call it the curse of 9/11. So many things in my life could go by that name.

And it felt like this could be the year to turn it around. I even intimated as much in that post about Griffey, that in ’95 it was Griffey’s return from injury that was the spark and this year, the return of Felix could mean the same. A week later, I briefly gave up on this scenario after the first of those 7-6 disasters. That was objectively the worst of the four – the only one they led 6-0 and the one in which they lost in extra innings after giving up 3 in the 9th with a 6-3 lead and their closer on the hill. They changed closers after that game and August started out amazing despite the last game in July feeling like a negative turning point. They opened August 14-5, which was close to the best record in the game that month, keeping pace with the red-hot Rangers and scratching to within a game of playoff position.

Since then, including two 7-6 blown games, they’re 1-4, dropping a series to the Yankees and losing 3 in a row. The magic seems to be off.

If past years are an indication, I will stop watching them now, giving up on them after just one too many echoey losses, they will start winning in my absence, they will pull me back in, and I will tune in just in time to watch them just miss the playoffs in some sort of epic-tragic way.

This is a privileged and silly problem to have, being a Mariners fan. Compared to being a Syrian refugee or a homeless American or anyone who doesn’t have time for baseball, it’s embarrassing to even worry or complain about. Part of me wants to delete this post, because it’s not about something that has a chance at changing those larger problems. Of course, part of me also recognizes that I depress the heck out of people when I only post about those things and that itself has a slight counter-productivity in some ways.

I think I summed it up best at the start of the 2015 season:

Sports are objectively stupid. They take valuable energy and resources away from fixing our problems, offering little beyond the value of pure entertainment, already an overrated pursuit in our society. I have made my peace with the fact that baseball is wasteful and unhelpful and still I love it and can’t help myself. I will always pursue it, always invest time and emotion and energy better suited for nobler things into the crack of the bat and the dive of the catch and the eruption of tens of thousands as a ball clears a wall. It’s silly. It’s nostalgic and beautiful and heart-rending and strategic, but it’s also silly.

But last night, I was mulling over whether this is really such a good use of time and mental energy. Ceding so much of my emotional investment to a team like the Mariners feels like flipping a slightly tails-heavy coin each day and walking around being really upset if it comes up tails. Of course, I’m awfully elated when it comes up heads. But is it really necessary for a manic-depressive to sign up for an additional emotional binary in each of his days for the duration of the warmer months of the year?

Yes, I’m watching the game tonight. Why do you ask?



Categories: A Day in the Life, But the Past Isn't Done with Us, Marching to New Orleans, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , ,

I am looking around the room and there is a little mug half-full of orange juice and don’t even get me started on where the mug came from because it’s another memento that should have died in the fire, the fire that never was. And I think a lot about this trend, this policy of not seeing drinks as a binding contract, something that must be finished; I’ve never felt that way about plates or meals but somehow always have felt that way about drinks but she doesn’t, which is completely fine of course, little collections of Coke and water and OJ to be dumped out in the sink when they’ve grown too stale, and bang, it takes me back to a little girl in a movie and the phrase “It’s contaminated.” The contaminated drawn out in the overly scripted way that smart children use to simulate being less smart children who don’t know a word or can’t get it out properly, the fake-child cheese that I definitely remember pulling out on occasion in early acting gigs because how could you not. And I remember where this comes from, the movie Signs, the movie I saw on my first or second night in New Orleans (I could look this up and will in a minute), the night I had concluded, we had concluded let’s be honest, that New Orleans was not for me (us), that this city that was so vaunted and talked up was really just a hall-of-fame for drinking for frat antics, for the kind of life that I (we) had rejected so early in college, which was why I (we) spent my (our) whole time debating instead. New Orleans was such a washout (oh God, that pun, really Storey, do you even listen to yourself sometimes?) that we had given up on it on night #1 (night #2? don’t look, it’s too painful) and said “Do you want to just see a movie?” and the other had been so relieved that we didn’t have to spend another night trying to make Bourbon Street work for us and we really thoroughly enjoyed the movie, even though it was maybe just slightly too scary for her and we walked out into a warm night under what I remember being a fullish moon and thinking that we would be able to get through anything together because we could jointly make decisions like this, of course. And now I know better, not about her frankly, because fuck that, but about New Orleans, that we were so unprepared to look for the real gems of the city, that the meme of Bourbon Street being The Place To Go is just silly and of course what any 23-year-old would know, but it’s not real, it’s not true, it’s not enough, and we could have seen so much more then just before the storm, before both storms, ha ha, not funny, how can you even compare, but there it is, and that theater became Canal Place, the same general location in the same mall, but nicer, more mealy and sit-downy and with overly fancy food and there will always be two reasons you don’t like going there, even though it’s where you took refuge in extreme moments of anger because you don’t cut yourself and you really try not to hit your head, just those two times really, so instead you do things like going to places where the memory is there. And you can ask, reasonably, well why the hell come to New Orleans and it’s like, don’t you understand this whole country is haunted? Because that’s what you try to do when you love someone, you take them everywhere, to places of memory, to new places, like some feral animal trying to mark your territory with the scent of love because you’re so damn happy to have it or so damn proud or you just want the whole country, planet, all your friends to smell like that person or because you don’t even think of it because that’s just who you are and what you do and what you love and you want to share share share everything and no one is there on your shoulder saying to reserve this place just in case, even though you remember wishing you’d done that in high school, though strangely that set of pilgrimages was to go back everywhere and make a new untainted memory except for perhaps that damn tree that you could never return to because really, there are limits to these things, aren’t there? Aren’t there? Where are the limits? Other than the limits that you can set yourself that you somehow miraculously manage to follow, while driving altogether too fast past Mardi Gras World, never ever Googling the day after blocking and never ever Googling the guy before because you know what kind of retinal damage would be done, that honestly the spots from the head-banging are nothing compared to that kind of injury, what you have to try to live up to and never can because you don’t have a chance in hell. And you tried so hard to block out all knowledge, but you couldn’t and there was a wedding on the day you were goddamned going to a wedding, you’ve got to be kidding me, and you couldn’t pull your eyes off of that one fast enough, no way, nohow, and are you really contemplating going to the Ballpark in Arlington (or whatever corporate bullshit name they’re calling it these days) ALONE, what kind of idiot are you really? That was that same trip, just a few days later (you could look up exactly how many, but don’t, not yet), and you want to spend three days there alone just because the Mariners are in a pennant race and they’re chasing Texas and you have a flexible schedule now in part to do things exactly like that, but are you thinking about this really, thoroughly? But then again, is it any different than anything else, really? Than the mugs and cups and glasses and papers and pictures and books and stuffed animals and posters and furniture and clothes and clothes and clothes that you literally surround yourself with? Really? Even your friends, your most supportive friends who have been so helpful and tried so hard trip over things all the damn time, because how can they not? When your whole life is a minefield and they want to be closer to you than seventy-five feet, they’re going to hit mines, them and especially her, her who is trying so hard it hurts, who you are desperately trying to repave places with her scent instead, but you have that sneaking suspicion in the back of your mind, put it away, no, it will be different this time, won’t it? Won’t it? You haven’t earned relating to this character enough, isn’t that why this book is in your life, this book you relate to more than you can almost ever remember relating to anything, isn’t it here to show you how much harder things would have to be to earn this kind of self-hate, this kind of self-doubt, this kind of aversion to everything. Or is that just more self-hate talking, that even your misery isn’t sufficiently earned because it’s so inferior to someone else’s misery, imagining the Damage Olympics and you’re up there with all your limbs intact and all your privileges strong and everyone’s laughing at you and your pain like you are the equivalent of the fat swimmer whose father was on your Olympic Committee so you got to go and party and finish last and expose corruption in your country for a day before American corruption stole the headlines back where they belonged. Why can’t you get out of your head? Why can’t you just You know, deep down, it’s something to do with your memory and its vividness, angels and demons, the curse of being able to imagine settings and recall them, plus of course the obsession with documentation (you could look up so much, just scratch that itch now, it’s nothing like Googling, the great unforgivable divide that you’ve honored all these years, it’s just your own archive, c’mon), after all even DFW took himself into electro-convulsive eventually, but of course that also killed him, just about literally, because it nuked his talent and he couldn’t work and this is just one of the many cautionary tales you dredge up when your friends pound you so hard to just go to therapy, just talk to someone, what’s the worst that can happen, we are insufficiently equipped to help you with this, your family is, your girlfriend sure as heck is (what are you trying to do to her, anyway, and are you really going to post this diatribe really in public where she and everyone can read it, really, what kind of catharsis will that give her, honestly, are you trying to kill everyone here?)? And it’s like well, the worst that can happen is you take your brain away through various chemical and electrical means and it’s a little silly to care so much about me getting through all this if the brain isn’t going to be intact, isn’t it, because that’s basically all that matters, it houses all these feelings and the belief that life is So Serious which after all is what may have separated you from all these people in the first place and made it unlivable, in the end that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? That you care so much, too much, and that’s not meant to sound like the job-interview weakness, oh I Just Work Too Hard and Care Too Much, it’s the same kind of aggressive honesty that DFW talks about in Infinite Jest, no one actually wants that level of stifling, insecurity-bound self-reverberating honesty because it’s too much to be confronted by everything that’s going on behind someone’s eyes when they really spill it all out, there’s a reason that spill-your-guts is a cliche, because they are bloody ugly entrails and no one wants to see those and there’s a reason we have a visceral reaction to seeing and smelling that, our animal nature kicks in and says this is Wrong, I must Get Away, nature is upside-down when I can see innards and after all they are called innards for a reason, use the language you love so much you idiot. There is nowhere to run to, really, unless maybe you just move to Kazakhstan or somewhere else that isn’t contaminated (“It’s contaminated!”), burning all your stuff right before, I mean all your stuff, really, and shutting down pictures and memories and Facebook, you just go and it would look a little like the monastery plan in 2011 (God, how this book has made you re-look at that idea in a new and entrail-colored light) and you could go an volunteer somewhere and just try to cleanse all the memory away without actually excising it chemically, waiting to get old and senile and only have the memory of what’s in front of you. She would come with you, if that’s what you needed, you know she would, and isn’t that enough, maybe, to make it worth it, to know for sure? Or are you just another idiot human who believes there is a test for faith out there, you don’t need to read a book as brilliant as this one to know that faith is not there to be tested, that the whole notion of that is wrong, that this is the PTSD talking like it always does, the loudest and most explosive voice in the room, shouting down the reasonable elements because it is always behaving like the wounded animal it is. And like, yes, we get it, you need balm for your wounds and you just want to be heard, but maybe let someone else talk sometimes, maybe let someone else have the floor, we haven’t heard from Hope in a while, over there in the corner, smiling shyly at all these boorish injured guys in the room, don’t you have something to contribute to this discussion? And Hope looks down meekly, then looks up, and she admits that she just has the same platitudes and cliches that she’s always had, but maybe if you say them enough, they’ll work, and her voice tilts up at the end and almost squeaks, almost fades out, and you go over and try to hug her to the point where you’re almost crushing the wind out of her, and this is the problem with Hope, you can’t hold on to her like this or you’ll kill her, so you back off sheepishly and grab the back of your hot neck with a hand and then some other angry voice takes the floor and she just shrugs at you like she doesn’t even resent you almost strangling her with your embrace just now and you know Distraction will have the floor soon, the same Distraction that almost took over that dark desperate night in your dorm room in the Castle, the pulsing music of Cholmondoley’s blaring up and urging you to do drugs, to go to the equivalent of Bourbon Street that you have access to, to join the throng and the slippery phrase “self-medicate” because this is one of the real, tangible reasons that your memory is so much stronger and clearer and brighter and they have ways of fixing that. That every night you ferry people along their corridors of this decision, sometimes coaching them through the little memories that pop up and poke through, like the leg of an alien in the grass, just a glimpse that startles and the music is almost that dramatic in the background, whenever there’s a reference, an image, something you Did Not Google but have to see anyway, the world really does move beneath you, and for the wrong reasons and that shot of adrenaline shoots from your heart (sure, adrenaline is probably not literally stored in the heart, I guess it’s a jolt of blood or something) and jams in your brain and briefly fogs everything on landing and then it becomes clear, all too clear, so much clarity, and you just can’t wait anymore, you have to remember even clearly, distilled, like the vodka you won’t have, clear as a damn bell, what you were thinking at that moment, it will feel good to scratch the bite (mosquitoes, everything I own is a souvenir of Liberia), to watch it swell in size three times, because sometimes then it pops and the poisonous pus emerges and you can start to heal, yeah right, ha ha, have you even been paying attention?

31 July – 9 August 2002



Ryan Lochte’s America

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


By now, you know the news that Ryan Lochte, whose claim of being robbed at gunpoint with friends overwhelmed Olympic coverage in Rio for days, was lying. He made the whole thing up, claiming to be pulled over by armed Brazilian thugs as a cover for being an American thug who beat up a bathroom and urinated outside. He underestimated a lot of things in this process, including the power of surveillance, the sophistication of the Brazilian government and people, and the intelligence of everyone. But the main thing he overestimated, as do most Americans spending any time outside the confines of this nation’s borders, was American Exceptionalism.

No better poster-boy could be imagined for American Exceptionalism, and for that at least, I guess we should be grateful to Lochte. For he shows us our true selves, as we really are: entitled, spoiled, lazy, violent, and willing to use words and the presumption of our innocence to manipulate, mislead, and ultimately abuse others. A gas station in Rio de Janeiro did not appear to him as a real place worthy of respect, merely as an obstacle to be destroyed when it did not suit his immediate wants. The people of Rio did not seem worthy of respect, so he made up a story that perpetuated dangerous stereotypes about their city. Even his friends were not deemed deserving his loyalty, so he fled the city before they could catch up to him. At every turn, the momentary whim and reputational superiority of Ryan Lochte were all that mattered.

Of course, he got caught. And the reason for his incredulity about this, the reason he could make such uncalculated and boneheaded decisions in the first place, is because of a more insidious part of American Exceptionalism. It’s not just the audacity to do and say and be things that no one else is allowed to. It’s the further insult of assuming everyone loves you for it.

It’s a tiny bit understandable why a star Olympic athlete would think this way. After all, he’s surrounded by a glorifying and grateful nation, where reporters ask him questions no harder than “Were you happy after winning the gold medal?” Everywhere he goes, he’s admired for his physique, his athletic achievements, his contributions to our country. So perhaps it’s easy then to think he’d be untouchable, that all he’d have to do after a night of roughing up some facilities in Rio is make up a plausible-sounding lie about those dangerous natives and their treacherous ways. But if we miss the larger point of Lochte here, we do ourselves a mighty disservice. His need to be the victim, to be the one in danger and protected, when he was in fact the threat: this is the beating dark heart of American Exceptionalism.

It is through our wailing victimhood that we attempt to curry the favor of a subservient planet. Even though we use more resources than anyone, even though we accumulate more wealth at the expense of literally everyone else, you must feel bad for the poor, poor American people. It is us, not you, who knows what it truly means to suffer. We are the ones who are attacked, who are victimized, who are in need of recompense and now. And we actually believe that the rest of the world goes along with this prioritization. How else to explain reporting on terror attacks abroad where the headline is that one American was killed, and only the subhead mentions the 63 others dead? How else to explain our endless citation of 9/11 as a reason to permanently, endlessly bomb tens of other countries? To reserve the right to bomb any of them, at any time, including any civilians who make the mistake of being in the same square mile as a suspected “terrorist”?

Of course the Emperor, like Lochte himself in the pool, has no clothes. Mercifully the rest of the world, when not being bullied into a vote at the UN at least, sees through the pitiable attempts of Americans to grab the title of most wronged people. They have their surveillance cameras out, they talk to their police, they are willing to ask slightly more probing questions than “was it just awful for you to go through that?” The world can see Americans for the brash bullies that we are, hogging everything and complaining that we don’t get more.

So the next time someone asks “why they hate us,” think of Ryan Lochte. Think of what you would think of this flag-draped American hero were you not from the same country he is. The man is an unrepentant, muscular, unthinking model of the way we put ourselves out into the world. We expect to cruise through it on charm, good looks, and the envy of others. They aren’t buying it anymore. They’ve caught us on tape, desecrating their land, disrespecting their people. And they’re going to call us out.

Maybe we should spend less time going for the gold. Maybe we’d be better off thinking about the weight on others’ shoulders first before trying to adorn our own.


It’s Not Fermi

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


The other day, I was talking online to someone with whom I disagree about everything about the Fermi Paradox. “Talking online” here, as used, is a euphemism for “commenting on each other’s Facebook posts”. The Fermi Paradox wrestles with the consternating observed reality that while the universe mathematically must be simply teeming with intelligent life, we haven’t found any yet. Why is this the case?

Said person pointed me in the direction of the so-called Great Filter, which says that one of the nine steps necessary for widespread intelligent intergalactic contact must be missing. Which seems pretty bogus given that most of the things they think might be missing are things like star-systems with conventionally considered habitable planets (which are everywhere) or cellular life. This last always strikes me as a failure in imagination – just because we are cellular life, why would all life be cellular? We reproduce sexually, but not even all life we observe does that. Why would anything we observe locally be a universal in a universe so big we literally can’t even fathom it?

Regardless, the one that I might buy in the Great Filter is that the universe is unexplorably huge. This is one of two arguments that resolve the Fermi Paradox that I find pretty compelling. And as a believer in an intentionally designed universe, I do think that many (all?) planets are left in deliberate isolation so that they can’t interfere with each other, which also plays into my belief about reincarnation on different planets (never the same one twice), which could conceivably get awkward if the planets were mixing and matching. It’s worth noting that our understanding of the speed of light as an upper limit on travel has never really been breached, despite our desire to hypothesize wildly infeasible solutions to the problem. Which kind of explains how people can believe that just buying a new kind of lightbulb will solve global climate change, not, y’know, the death of capitalism and nothing short of that.

After all, if I were going to design a planet with the intent to convey that it is both part of a vast and larger whole, but that said whole was not to distract them from solving problems at home, what better way than to show them the stars but not let them get very far into them? So that their imagination could conceive that much more and greater than themselves was out there, but that running away was not the way to fix things? If you have a better way of demonstrating that, let me know.

The other solution I’m drawn to, of course, is the so-called Zoo Hypothesis, which states that we are under deliberate quarantine and observation by some individual or confederation of alien life. This actually kind of fits pretty well with the unbridgeable distances idea – we’re not meant to get out and about just yet, until we meet certain standards of decency (that old thorny issue of not beating each other about the head and torso comes to mind). It’s kind of funny that we can envision the Prime Directive as a standard for a hypothetical Star Trek, but be less inclined to think we would be subject to this law as applied by a more advanced star fleet patrolling the galaxy. Of course, they never really honor said Directive in Star Trek and we humans have real trouble imagining anything more advanced than we are being possible (a sick sort of extension of American Exceptionalism, really), so maybe we never really spend a lot of time seriously engaging with the real notion of leaving species alone until they figure things out to a certain level for themselves. It’s important to note that I don’t think this means the people raving about abductions and even crop circles are accurate – quarantine would mean actually quarantined under the auspices of a civilization sufficiently advanced to get here and put that protocol in place. The red-line I envision being somewhere about three solar-system-lengths out – surely observation technology would be sufficiently advanced by that point. Unless we’re the only intelligent species that thinks sophisticated surveillance is an important technological advancement.

But the needly one that everyone seems most drawn to as an answer to the Fermi Paradox is that we all kill ourselves before we can get very far. This was a really popular pick during the Cold War, for obvious reasons, and is resurging in trendiness as we face climate change and terrorism and the relaunch of Full House on television. And it’s one that I don’t find terribly compelling, if for no other reason than our own shortcomings in imagination again (we really think we represent the smartest species when we mostly apply technology to killing each other?). And then there’s the slightly more interesting offshoot of this, that we entertain ourselves into irrelevance – that about the time we can create compelling VR, we’d rather plug ourselves into that than either venture out of the solar system or solve our actually real problems. (Indeed, perhaps the most compelling argument against us being in a VR simulator right now is that so many of us are so unhappy.)

I have recently discovered the most compelling evidence I can for this sad and fatalistic solution to the Paradox. Apparently, some guy, working alone in a lab (literally), has been experimenting with creating artificial black holes. You know, black holes? Those things that are the most terrifying concept you ever heard of before a Clinton supporter described their vision of Donald Trump? The things that literally swallow everything that crosses their path, including light, never to relinquish it again?

It’s almost like the guy was sitting down one day and contemplating how to cause the most harm possible. Large Hadron Collider? Nah, insulates the chain-reaction too well! Genetically engineer fifty Hitlers? Not dangerous enough! Fracking? Destroys things so slowly! I know, we’ll try to recreate the thing that grows infinitely and eats everything, shrouding it in vanished darkness! What could possibly go wrong?

To be fair, it turns out that he’s only tried to create a sonic simulation of black holes, not the light-eating ones that actually patrol the universe. And it’s only a few microns in size. But given that we basically don’t understand where black holes come from or why and only know that they create unfathomable destruction and chaos, maybe we should consider self-restraint just this one single time? Our insatiable curiosity may be why we became intelligent in the first place, but even a cat knows when to say when by comparison to this. My new leading theory is that all those black holes out there were created by super-smart scientists who had no mental filter whatsoever, living in societies like ours so in love with their shiny new science that they killed philosophy off altogether. We’ll just create a small black hole, they said. It’ll be fun, they said.

In the end, hubris is the real killer. It takes enormous strength to decide what we won’t do and stick to it.


From Here to There

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Long Tunnel, Tags: , , , ,

She gets in the car and laughs. I confirm that it’s for Jimmy and she says yes and shakes her head in ongoing amusement. I ask her what and she says “He got it exactly right. Jimmy described you exactly.” And I ask her what she means by this and she says “A white guy with long hair. That’s what you are.”

We head toward her destination, an apartment all but under the freeway, the area within two blocks of which I advise tourists not to drive alone. This is a decently long way from the riverside Tchoupatoulis apartment where I picked her up, worlds away in New Orleanian perception. We have time for a longer talk, Friday night traffic being what it is likely to be. I’m just getting underway with my night.

She talks about how she’s sick and it’s hard to be sick in the summer. But she doesn’t think she’s that sick and she won’t be for long. Her boyfriend’s been sick and got her sick, a little, but she’s fighting it off, but she apologizes for her voice, which is just a touch scratchy and punctuated by little sniffles. She says she just had a long nap and is feeling better.

She asks me some standard origin questions and I ask if she’s from here and she say she is, but spent a lot of time in Houston, after the storm. Her brother was still there, until he died. She does not say how. She talks about her brother’s kids and her brother’s young wife and how it was sudden and she’s thankful that her sister-in-law keeps in touch with this side of the family, because they don’t always and those children are her family, too. How her other brother signed up for the army shortly after and her own mother tried to forbid it. She couldn’t stand to lose another boy, her other boy, so soon, but it was not her choice to make.

“You know, from the beginning, he’s just always been about Call of Duty. That’s his whole life, he’s always playing and so into it. He’s always wanted to live like that. So we prayed for him and sent him on his way.” He is, apparently, in Afghanistan at the moment. They don’t hear from him too often and their mother can’t even stand to think about it.

She talks about her own kids, about their father, about how his new girlfriend and her new boyfriend all pitch in to raise them, it’s a family affair. She is currently going from the house with the father and the kids to the house with the boyfriend, or possibly the other way, but I end up being pretty sure it’s the former by the end of the ride when she starts criticizing her boyfriend’s taste in housing locations. As we turn under the highway, there are two police cars boxing in a third non-police car, lights aglow, and she almost reflexively flinches, doing it in a verbal way I can catch without even checking my blindspot. She starts in again about the location, too close to the freeway, too close to where the cops are always looking to make trouble. I think about her brother, a cop of a kind in a foreign land, called into the recruiting office by the siren call of Call of Duty.

I think of Pokemon lures and who designed Call of Duty and what it was designed for. I think of the unsuspecting quest for entertainment and how it traps us into decisions that, by the end, feel like destiny. I don’t choose to share this line of self-interrogation with her, don’t need to sound like that about these military recruitment games being designed as well, military recruitment. It’s bad enough to think your brother is risking everything out of a sense of fulfilling what he always enjoyed most without thinking someone manipulated him into it. Best not worry about that until he comes home. Or doesn’t.

We have had time, if briefly, to cross over my own relationship history, my own uncertainty about having children, the fear of the future I rarely had until my divorce. She seems certain that these things work out, that they will always be better in surprising ways than you expect. A level of certainty I dare not try to convey about her own siblings, especially with one lost so recently. I wonder if I am the fretting mother, or would be, and I wonder what I would do with a child who wanted to play Call of Duty all the time, and it becomes overwhelming, the inability to be sure of anything. The phrase “that’s why they play the game” bubbles up into my mind, meaning at least two things in this context.

We are at not-Jimmy’s house, just out of sight of the spinning blue lights of the cop cars. The highway looms dark and ominous above, punctuated by engine revs and tire squeals. She mentions again how he wishes he would move, but there is inertia and the rent is cheap over here. I wish her and all her family the best, her brother in Afghanistan, sister and sister-in-law in Houston, her kids and her dead brother’s kids and Jimmy and not-Jimmy, whose name I never learned. She shakes my hand, finally giving me her name for the first time, asking me for mine. She hopes I have a safe night.

I pull away from the curb slowly, envisioning what it is like to realize life is not like a video game, as I give Jimmy 5 stars and wait for the next ping to take me in a new direction.



It Can’t Happen Here

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


Long-time readers will know that I am really frustrated by American exceptionalism. Heck, short-time readers will probably realize this. You should also be frustrated by American exceptionalism. It blinds us to understanding deeper realities about ourselves and how we interact with the rest of the world, in addition to upsetting everyone else on the planet who cannot claim to be part of this allegedly exceptional super-country. Think how much you personally love it when other people claim to be part of a group that’s innately superior to any group you could ever be a part of. Feels pretty bad, doesn’t it?

American exceptionalism is also deeply rooted in a belief about our somehow non-transient nature. Forget how dangerous it is for any individual person to start thinking of themselves as a permanent corporeal entity. Thinking of our country the same way is just uniformed about the nature of the world. The Roman Empire, which made it about five times as long as the USA, felt they were exceptional, invincible, and permanent. It’s a common misconception that the successful have about themselves, from Bernie Madoff to Lehman Brothers to Alexander the Great to Napoleon. And believing that you and your movement are forever helps convince other people to follow you, often blindly, often into oblivion. Being more circumspect about one’s chances at permanence and one’s real role in an ever-changing world certainly looks weaker at first blush, but carries the added bonus of being grounded in reality.

The place where this is most coming home to roost in 2016 is the story we Americans tell ourselves about false-flag operations in other countries, but never in our own. Almost immediately upon news breaking of the coup in Turkey (and the realization that it would probably fail), the Western media began questioning the official story and purporting that Erdogan had made the whole thing up, created a theatrical imitation of a coup, killed a few hundred people to sell the story, and packaged it for media consumption. All of this as a pretense for a despotic crackdown on rights and freedoms that would follow, cementing his (Islamist) stranglehold on power.

This treatment of international news got almost immediate echoes a few days later when WikiLeaks published a trove of e-mails from the DNC demonstrating that Bernie Sanders was not given a fair chance of winning the Democratic primaries and that key party brass was with Hillary Clinton all along. The biggest news story for me is that anyone thought this was news, but it was at least nice to be able to hold up the evidence to DNC apologists who claimed that Clinton won the primaries fairly. Almost upon release of the documents, however, DNC proponents and major media outlets circled the wagons to release the rumor that Russia was the hacker that had made this possible, that Russia was manipulating the US election, that shady nefarious Soviet, er, Russian forces sought to control the government through an imperius curse or similar.

By today, August 1st, US media simply reports these swirly false-flag rumors as factually true. Oh sure, they throw in an allegedly with scare-quotes occasionally, like the “alleged” mass-murderer who was caught on fifteen cameras blowing people away. And my issue with this isn’t what you might think. Erdogan probably did stage the so-called coup attempt. The Russians probably did hack the DNC. But you know what else? It happens here too!

Now I’m not trying to dredge up 9/11 specifically, because once you start talking about 9/11 and false-flag in the same sentence, people immediately call the men with the white coats and stop listening. That can be another discussion for another time. But it is aggravating beyond all belief that the American public and American media so willingly look at practically every foreign government action as shady theater intended to manipulate their public, but presume that nothing like that could ever be perpetrated by their government. JFK, MLK, and RFK were all shot by exactly the lone nut we caught and no one else ever! Every instance of American aggression was prompted by an initiation of aggression by some other much weaker power who just expected we wouldn’t hit back! Everything announced from the Oval Office or the Pentagon is completely as it seems!

The problem is that even if you wanted to believe this exceptionalist fairy tale, it’s demonstrably false. No government in history has been so obsessed with its own secrecy as the US of the last fifty years, sealing documents, shredding everything, and layering the blanket of national security to protect against anyone seeking to disinfect with sunlight. And despite this, the evidence that has leaked out is overwhelming. The battleship Maine, the Gulf of Tonkin, and possibly Pearl Harbor were all false-flag operations, done with the complicity or outright framing of the US government. Two decades of operations in Latin America were conducted by clandestine US operatives, usually propping up mass-murdering dictators at the expense of civilians seeking a greater voice in their governance. Even today, black sites, rendition, and unmanned bombings dominate US operations abroad, all laden in the don’t-ask don’t-tell policy of the contemporary American military. We beat the bad propaganda of the Vietnam era by refusing to count bodies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Syria, or anywhere else. When someone tries to force a body count, all men over the age of 14 are hastily labeled terrorist combatants, whether they were in a hospital, a school, or playing soccer in their yard.

This is the government that you think is incapable of false-flag operations? Really?!

It’s just taken for granted when you look at world politics that most of those governments are trying to consolidate power and quell dissent through the use of theatrical false-flag incidents. Yet you think the most powerful, greedy, and successful country on the planet is the one that’s immune to this kind of behavior?

I don’t think you have to go as big as 9/11, though feel free to if you want. The shootings of police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, both committed by ex-military personnel. An endless litany of “thwarted terrorist attacks” including the liquid one and the shoe one that categorically and permanently changed our airplane boarding operations. Committed by people without a third-grade level of preparation. When we know that the CIA and FBI are trying to infiltrate every group with even a whisper of “radicalization” to it. Banking crises and oil shocks and an endless series of disaster-capitalism events that enrich a few people at the expense of millions.

I’m not saying all these things are guaranteed to be iron-clad false-flag incidents. But I am saying it’s outrageous that we don’t, as a wider political audience, consider the possibility more frequently. Doesn’t it seems strange that we assume every other government is operating this way, hell, that every business pitch involves plants designed to manipulate the crowd into thinking a certain way, but the US government with its steadfast history of non-secret non-corrupt practices is the one shining exceptional beacon on the hill?

Maybe our exceptionalism narrative is the greatest false-flag narrative of all-time itself.


My Frustration Runneth Over

Categories: A Day in the Life, Metablogging, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, The Problem of Being a Person, Tags: , , ,

I may have spent too much of 2016 posting on Facebook about politics.

Remember the dilemma I discussed ten days ago about working on entertaining quizzes for millions or serious books for a handful of people? That’s my only defense. Facebook is today’s version of standing on the soapbox in the town square: one immediately gets the attention and reaction of hundreds of people. And for a long-time APDA debater and coach, that means hundreds of people who are interested and interesting, with tons of practice discussing and arguing about issues in a serious (and sometimes snarky) way. It’s a perfect venue for jumping into the open forum.

Except, of course, it’s not a perfect venue. Because my ideas are not, generally speaking, popular. It could be reasonably said that I think most things most people are doing most of the time are in some way wrong. Doubly so for politicians. We live in an imperialist society that believes murdering other people is the best way to “get things done.” That action always trumps inaction, as long as that action comes in the form of a threat, a drone strike, or the spread of unfettered crony-corporate capitalism. A society that slaughters billions of animals for food and clothing, that believes its own citizens are the chosen people who deserve to rule in wealth and power because they happened to be born on American soil. There’s not a lot I look at and say “you know what, we’re doing that right!”

And people don’t like being told they’re wrong. Especially by someone whose opinion is the outlier, is the exception, is discordant with the chorus of self-aggrandizing societal voices that proclaim how America is the best that ever was, is, or will be. That mantric doctrine of our greatness is a great antidote to the self-criticism that is necessary for self-improvement. But it would hardly be fair for me to exhort everyone else to self-reflection without engaging in it myself from time to time. And at a certain point, I have to wonder what good is being done by pressing the shiny blue button to reach out to hundreds of over-educated people and poke them with a stick about this election and the related questions it raises. And it presents a really difficult set of quandaries. On the one hand, I believe in means and not ends, and the means of trying to provoke thought and get people to question themselves is one I believe in. On the other, if I’m not actually eliciting that reaction in much of anyone and am instead just hardening their resolve to fight me, then it seems like a bad use of time and energy. And one that demoralizes both me and those who disagree with me, which is hardly the point.

I would imagine this fatigue is not unique to me. I would guess that plenty of people with vastly more mainstream views have hit the point, perhaps repeatedly in 2016, where they just don’t know what good it is anymore to talk to other people about politics. My Dad and some of the more conspiratorially minded folks out there might argue that this is the carefully constructed reality of 2016 in America: make everyone lose interest in politics by putting up two thoroughly hated candidates and having them argue vitriolically like the whole world hangs in the balance. At a certain point, no one will even care. This is part of what fuels my conviction that about 5 people in each state (not literally) will vote by the end of it – the demoralization factor is just too high of facing another 100 days of intensifying outrage about ClinTrump. But I think my fatigue has a deeper tenor to it when coupled with the realization that no one outside of a narrow band of far-left fringers is embracing what I find to be the most important issues in 2016. Or issue really: let’s stop bombing the daylights out of everything that moves in other countries.

It is horrifying that we live in a nation that can indiscriminately bomb a hundred civilians that we’re allegedly trying to save in Syria and mention of this incident escapes both national conventions. Horrifying. If any other country did that to us, to our special American people, we’d be clamoring for their immediate death at both conventions. Oh wait, we are doing exactly that. Hey, in the end, maybe “they hate us for our freedom” is right after all. Since our definition of “our freedom” includes the right to kill anyone else in any other country at any time and not even notice.

So what is this post for? I guess just to blow off steam. To reach out to the few like-minded people (and there are a few, several even, since my snarky frustrated Facebook posts still get some likes and laughs and whatever emoji are out there to make us feel reaffirmed across the digital divide). To put on the record that if I stop posting where anyone can see or will regularly react, I still felt a certain way and was still upset and still registered my dissent somewhere in the ether. After all, everyone who disagrees with me thinks that voting is not the place for dissent and they sure seem to get frustrated when I use Facebook to voice it. Ultimately, what I’m realizing is that the centrist Democratic movement is just not interested in dissent at all. Just as America will always vilify the next enemy, often an enemy of our own literal creation, as the real biggest, most existential threat we’ve ever faced, so too will the pseudo-left always say that this next Republican nominee is the real biggest, most existentially threatening potential President.

The left is the Chicago Cubs of American politics, always having to wait till next year no matter how promising this year’s candidates seemed. We are Charlie Brown and the Democratic Party is Lucy and we keep waking up on the ground with a concussion wondering how the hell we fell for it.

So here I offer a series of lines I’ve almost posted on Facebook this week, every time choosing not to as I wonder “what’s the point?” and “am I doing more harm to my belief structure than good?” before choosing to let hard-core Democrats just revel in being Democrats in peace…

A note of warning: I am not trying to start a fight. If you are hard-left and dissatisfied with ClinTrump, read on. If you are able to be self-critical about the Democratic Party, proceed with caution. If you are just looking to revel in your love of Hillary and the American electoral system, you should probably go read Vox or Slate or the New York Times right now instead. Seriously. I am not trying to upset you. I am just trying to say this stuff somewhere, quietly, where the people who are open to this can hear me.

-I am so proud to live in a country where every President’s wife can dream of someday becoming President.

-There are plenty of reasons you can choose to prefer Clinton to Trump. Likelihood of starting World War III is not among them.

-Nothing makes it more clear that we need to update the Constitution than hearing every Democratic speech punctuate on “all men are created equal” while they nominate a woman to be President.

-The two major parties in America are obsessed with American greatness. One says America was great before we offered rights to most of our citizens. The other says this moment of unending war and maximum wealth inequality is the height of our greatness. I want a party that says we’re not great, we’ve never been great, and we’re going to have work very hard to even start being good.

-The Democrats lecturing American voters about how Trump is too crass and embarrassing to be President contrasts especially poorly with giving Bill Clinton a keynote address.

-To everyone who posted that outrage about the papers running a picture of Bill Clinton with the headline about Hillary Clinton winning the nomination: Hillary wasn’t even at the convention that day! Are they really going to run a grainy picture of her appearing on the jumbotron with that headline? She chose to make Bill the headliner of the night, to make him the story. You cannot choose to run almost entirely on your husband’s coattails and then feign outrage or claim sexism when the media parrots that narrative. This is why Hillary being the first woman President is so bad for feminism. It presents that image. And the only reasonable response is “well, the first woman President had to use this path to the Presidency,” which is an even worse message for feminism. And not a true one. Elizabeth Warren would have won this nomination in a landslide, and beaten Trump in an even bigger one.

-Facebook really needs to add “eyeroll” to their reaction-emoji slate.

-I’ve clicked on several articles which compare the DNC leaks issue to Watergate, wondering if someone has finally made the proper analogy. But they keep comparing Nixon to the leakers, not the DNC. It was the DNC trying to use every tool available to shut out their opponents and secure a particular election outcome. And if you say “but Bernie never had a chance,” how good do you think the Democrats’ chances were in 1972? Even if you’re right, that’s totally not the point. Nixon still resigned over attempting to rig an election he already had locked up.

-The Democrats really have entirely subsumed the Reagan Revolution mantle. Morning in America. War footing with Russia. Wealth inequality is a-okay. Thanks, Clintons.

-Democrats will always blame the left for everything. They are incapable of seeing flaws in their own series of centrist do-nothing warhawks. If Clinton loses to Trump, the left will be blamed. When Gore lost to Bush, they blamed Nader instead of blaming a candidate so uninspiring he couldn’t even carry his own home state. This is a formula for silencing the left. Democrats are not interested in allowing the left a seat at the table, only in taking them for granted, whipping them into submission, and shaming them for all of their own shortfalls. The Democrats could literally have nominated Mussolini’s ghost this year and all they would do if they lost is shame the left for not falling in line behind this year’s alleged savior.

-Literally nothing is less relevant than the party platform. Like any platform, the candidates just walk all over it.

-I still cannot fathom how the lesson we carry forward from 2008 is that Obama did a good job saving us from ourselves and not that capitalism creates existential disasters out of thin air. Any country less in love with itself would have let capitalism die, sobered up, and worked to develop a new system of ordering society. I would feel sad that 2008 was the one missed opportunity to make sweeping change and fix things, but I know that capitalism will offer many more such opportunities and soon.

-What every Democrat telling leftists to suck it up and wait for 2024 misses is that, if we have 16 solid years of Obama and Clinton, the left will have been utterly eradicated from the party by the end of that. Everyone will look at 2024 and say “well, we can’t risk a leftist – look how successful we’ve been with all these centrists!” There is no plan to eventually incorporate the progressive movement, just to assimilate it into centrism.

-It is hilarious to see Democrats taking credit for progress in the last eight years. I know many people love Obamacare and forget that it was a Republican-authored plan. But gay marriage had nothing to do with Democrats and all of the Democratic leadership disavowed it until the absolute 11th hour when it had already become inevitable. Change does not take place incrementally through political machinations. It is sweeping and it involves changing people’s hearts and minds. The civil rights movement did not quietly work in legislative halls, they took it to the streets and illustrated the injustice of the status quo. If Martin Luther King had taken the modern Democrats’ advice, we would still have Jim Crow, just a slightly milder version, and the Democrats would be shouting from the rooftops how great those slight rollbacks of Jim Crow were.

-Gay marriage is a vastly more radical idea than stopping war. It’s been around a lot less time as a concept and was far weirder to people when first proposed. Why is it just so unthinkable to both major parties that we would ever stop war? There are so many creative ways of influencing world events for the better that don’t involve murdering people. This is literally the only lesson that’s been clear in 6,000 years of human history. Why is it so damn hard for people to internalize?

I don’t know what image to use for this post, but posts should have an image to catch people’s eye on Facebook and Twitter. Which I’m not sure I even want to do, for reasons stated above. Even in quietly venting my frustration, I’m still thinking in terms of getting this out, at least to people who agree in whole or in part. Ah, the problem of being a person. So what image? Here, have a picture of Bernie looking like I feel:



The Surprising Nourishment of Human Connection

Categories: A Day in the Life, Adventures in Uber, Marching to New Orleans, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Tags: , , ,


The world is a scary place. It’s always been a scary place, but 2016 is marking a transition where people in the traditionally sheltered and over-privileged “first world” (or “developed world” if you prefer) are having to feel the heat of its scariness as well. No longer are bombings and acts of violence something that happens “over there” in the bad neighborhoods or difficult countries, but the violence perpetuated by the leading countries in our world is coming home to roost. I say this not to celebrate the expansion of violence, but to put it into a context where we can understand it and start to unpack it. People all over America have grown weary of clicking on headlines about the latest mass shooting, the next terror threat or attack, the most recent bomb to go off in a country they may actually consider visiting, the late execution of an unarmed minority on the streets of our cities.

This is not going to be a primarily political post, but I wanted to start with that context because I think it’s especially pertinent in how we choose to respond to the burgeoning crisis of creeping violence in a world that should know better. It is easy to lose heart, to lose faith, to crawl back inside our living rooms and covers in fear. The major party candidates are courting and counting on that fear, both advocating stringent violent responses to every possible threat, real or perceived. There is little to no realistic hope that the years 2016-2020 will mark an era of peace and conciliation on the world stage. People are increasingly fearful, increasingly defensive, increasingly entrenched. So where to find hope?

For me, it’s been in the car.

I think it’s been surprising to a fair number of people that I’ve, for a time at least, walked away from the world of day jobs and the resume ladder to pursue modern day taxi driving through Uber. It’s surprised me, to be honest. And while I’ve spent my whole “career” looking for gigs that afford me the opportunity to work seriously on my writing and prioritize those goals, I can’t say as driving a taxi was even high on my “regular jobs” list of more mundane uses of time, like, say, postal worker (a two-year interest as a young child), or, say, hotel night manager.

Some of the appeal of Uber is more obvious and thus probably less surprising to those who know me best. It can be done primarily overnight, hours that I have always favored since I was first allowed to see them regularly. It has no direct manager or supervisor, as I have often butted heads with bosses, as have we all. It carries an utterly flexible schedule, offering the promise of time to write and pursue creative interests. And it doesn’t follow you home. Most day jobs, especially those high profile enough to be satisfying to serious people, carry substantial mission creep. In addition to their lengthy scheduled hours, there is endless mental and actual homework to be done, crowding out the ability to use any outside time for pursuits that are not sleep and recreation.

But the big surprise of Uber has been the actual satisfaction with the time spent driving. It’s not that I simply love driving, though night driving has always had a special place in my heart and it’s hard to argue with the scenery of historically gorgeous New Orleans. It’s the human connections that take place regularly while driving, while driving every night. And increasingly, in a world where I feel politically disheartened and depressed, this has been what sustains me. I get nightly reminders that people are fundamentally good, fundamentally interesting, fundamentally human. And I think that focusing on this reality and finding ways to remind ourselves of this key truth is one of the best ways to keep the best parts of our society going as we face the next few years.

Yes, there are plenty of people who are simply wasted. And I’ve had now three people drop the n-word in my car, the first two on the same night laden with violent threats and invective, the last one just last night, a semi-famous movie industry hack who added other racial slurs and gave me my first ever 1-star rating in revenge for me rating him that way (note to Uber: you need to fix the ability of riders to know that you down-rated them before they rate drivers). These experiences are disheartening: seven years in the Bay Area had almost convinced me that racism was largely vanquished in America, especially in the younger generations, but time in Jersey and New Orleans (along with all the horrible police shootings) has since corrected this gross misperception. People spill drinks in the car and don’t tell you, people rant and rave in their drunkenness, people spout drivel sometimes. But these experiences, combined, are the vast vast exceptions. Most people are amazing.

At least four or five times a night, every time that I drive, I have incredible conversations with people. And at least once a night, I have a really transcendent conversation, one that pushes past the typical initial small talk and into real human connection. I’m never going to see 95% of these people again, we’re never going to have more than the five to fifteen minutes we share on the quieting streets of 2:30 AM New Orleans, but we still manage to share intimate details of our lives, hopes, fears, and perceptions. It’s downright amazing.

There is an intimacy in a shared car ride that is hard to match in other environments in our society. And I manipulate the situation a bit by maintaining silence in the car unless people request music or unless efforts to strike up a conversation flag and the trip is going to be long. I have discussed my issues with our society requiring background noise in every environment before, and indeed many riders when I offer music say they just prefer the silence as a refreshing change from all their other experiences. But usually that little break from the bumping music of clubs and bars, the incessant beeping and blooping of our devices, that pause opens up the opportunity to reach out and talk about the things we don’t always discuss.

There is also the opportunity created specifically by strangers which is a fairly well documented phenomenon, but perhaps under-appreciated outside the context of professional therapy. It is precisely the fact that Uber riders are unaccountable to future interactions with me that makes it more likely for them to open up about specific grievances, troubles, or insights about the world and their lives. Granted, this avenue along with my whiteness also makes them guess I will be receptive to their racism, but that’s literally been three unfortunate rides out of 532 to date. In many more cases, however, it inclines them to open up about their relationship troubles, their proposed solutions for the ills of the world, their laments and dreams about their careers, their creative ideas. And those shared moments are solid gold. They are the fuel that keeps me going these days, not just to keep driving the lonely overnight hours in search of riders, but to continue to believe in the underlying goodness and progress of the human spirit.

There are a thousand ways in which technology has been blamed for pulling us apart, despite it shortening the distances of communication on our planet. We are absorbed with our mini pocket computers, we look down and not up, we argue anonymously or with our friends on Facebook when we could be making real memories. But I think Uber is a remarkable development that’s enabled us to restore some of those lost moments of true connection and even create the opportunity for previously impossible conversations. Yes, people have probably been having these chats with their taxi drivers for years, but it feels like there’s something about Uber and Lyft that makes it more likely. Perhaps it’s the human face that shows up on the app, transforming the driver into a real person. Maybe it’s the mutual-feedback system that triggers the urge for people to impress each other just a little bit, to reach out a tiny bit more. Indeed, the success in these operations overcoming the cardinal rule of our youth (don’t get in cars with strangers) is itself a giant exercise in restoring our faith in humanity. The world is not out to get you, with danger lurking at every turn. 99% of people are out there seeking to make your day better, to find something in common, to find a shared thought, belief, or feeling in the darkness.


The Kid in the Hall

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


Any Mariners fan knows that 1995 was the most magical year of baseball in our history. The Mariners overcame a 13.5-game deficit (11.5 games on August 24th, with just over a month to go in the season) to catch the California Angels, beat them in a 1-game playoff, come back in the 11th inning to beat the Yankees in the franchise’s first playoff series ever, before finally coughing up the ALCS in 6 games. The comeback is perhaps the most legendary in baseball history, but it has a dirty little secret. While reputed as being a fundamentally miraculous turnaround, it coincided completely with the return of one legendary player from injury, who immediately transformed the team from a plucky .500 club to a team with a world-class centerpiece.

That same person ignited the first game that started the turnaround, which happened to be his first game back from an injury that had befallen him in May. He also scored the winning run in the Yankees series. And from today on, he’s a Hall of Famer.

Ken Griffey, Jr. is known for saving baseball in Seattle. The Kid, as he was called from day one in Seattle, debuted in April 1989 at the age of 19. I was 9 years old, living on the Oregon coast, and in my first full year of baseball fandom. I didn’t root primarily for the M’s at the time, but that season of hearing Dave Niehaus recite the dynamic accomplishments of the rookie was already helping turn me away from the team that would win the championship that season and to a lovable band of perennial losers. Of course, Griffey was determined to change the narrative in Seattle. He didn’t save baseball in the city, he created it.

He didn’t do it alone, surely. Edgar and Randy and all the guys had a big part to play in the 1990s Mariner squads that turned the tide of history for the club and kept them from moving to Tampa Bay, something that was all but a done deal midway through the ’95 campaign. But without Griffey, it’s hard to imagine any of that success. When he went down with his severe wrist injury that May, it seemed like fate was truly out to get the M’s. The 1994 strike had felled a team that had won 9 of their last 10 and was closing in on first, while Griffey was having a career year. Even 1995 was shortened by the strike, with the season getting off to a late start that made The Kid’s absence even more powerful. As soon as he came back, Refuse to Lose was born. So 1995 isn’t just the story of an unbelievable comeback. The comeback is made a little more believable by the infusion of one of the greatest of all-time.

It’s easy to see echoes of 1995 in 2016. Of course, as I’ve said in several of my “Let’s Go M’s” posts on this blog, it’s easy for a Mariners fan to see echoes of 1995 in every season. Once your team has overcome an 11.5 game deficit starting in late August, no lead in the standings feels insurmountable ever after. But after a hot start this year, the M’s have struggled mightily in midsummer, falling back to .500 after a year that promised to finally end our longest-in-baseball playoff drought. Of course, there’s a dirty little secret behind this collapse as well: the injury to Felix Hernandez.

On May 27 of this year (Griffey’s ’95 injury had taken place on May 26 when he crashed into a wall), Felix pitched his last game before going on the Disabled List with a calf injury. At the time, the M’s were 28-19, 1.5 games up on the Rangers in the AL West. In his absence, the team slumped back to .500, going 19-28, an exact mirror image of their hot start with Felix available. On Wednesday, he returned to action, with the team 47-47 and 7.5 games out of first (the team’s deficit peaked at … wait for it … 11.5 games). While his start was shaky, he overcame a rough first inning to keep the game close and the M’s were able to win on a walk-off in the bottom of the 11th. It was a game that looked so much like 1995, it gave me deja vu. The M’s went on to beat the Blue Jays 2-1 and 14-5 before slipping today. They’re 3-1 since Felix’s return and 31-20 overall with him on the roster. And the Rangers have been collapsing, not quite like the ’95 Angels, yet, but enough to let us in the door. Entering play today, the Mariners were just 5.5 out.

Am I reaching too hard for a narrative today, the day that Ken Griffey, Jr. was inducted into the Hall of Fame with the highest vote percentage in the history of the Hall? Perhaps. After all, Felix doesn’t play every day and there’s only so much impact any one pitcher can have on an entire season of games. But as The Kid surely knew in 1995, actual play is only a portion of a superstar’s impact on the team. They also teach and inspire their teammates. And their presence, their active placement on the roster and in the field, makes everyone else believe that greatness is possible. It’s easier to believe you can fight for that comeback when you know Felix is looking on from the dugout, that he’s going to be pitching every five days, that there’s always a chance.

It’s become fashionable in baseball this century to discredit such notions, to believe that baseball players are human beings on the field who are affected by emotions and momentum and environmental factors. I don’t know how these people explain Tiger Woods’ epic collapse that aligned with the collapse of his marriage and his public humiliation in the international media, nor even how they explain Griffey’s rapid deterioration when he left Seattle, let alone every change in approach made by players after trades, signings, and changes of all sorts. I think the real explanation is much more clear: baseball is still played by people, not robots. Sabermetrics may reveal some trends and statistical value where not previously seen, but the biggest determining factor in a player’s performance is still how they feel in that moment. And Griffey was a great not just for his stellar athletic ability. He was an all-time great for elevating everyone around him, making them better than themselves, making them want to be even better than that.

There are a million memories to recount of The Kid, none of which do full justice to him, and all of which are being covered by the mainstream media today as he goes into the Hall. Some I even discussed here when he retired as a Mariner in 2010. By all means, read everything you can about Griffey today.

The city of Seattle and the fans of the Mariners will never be able to do enough to thank Junior for all he did. But the best way to try might just be to make another storied comeback this year. The M’s made the playoffs just twice after he left the team, the first two years he was gone, inspiring the meme that M’s kept getting better without superstars. Randy Johnson was traded in 2000 and the M’s set a record for regular season wins the next year, after losing two Hall of Famers in back-to-back years. Of course, Ichiro had joined the team in 2001 at the peak of his career, so, y’know, we didn’t only lose future denizens of the Hall. But there’s a Mariners cap in Cooperstown, now and forever. My oh my.


The Putin Playbook

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


“I always felt fine about Putin. I think that he’s a strong leader. He’s a powerful leader. … He’s actually got a popularity within his country. They respect him as a leader. … I would talk to him, I would get along with him. … He has absolutely no respect for President Obama.”
-Donald Trump, from two separate interviews, on Vladimir Putin

Donald J. Trump, Republican nominee for President, is not the second coming of Hitler. Sorry to disappoint, kids. I know Godwin’s Law says the first comparison we have to make is to Hitler, just as the Republicans themselves started drawing brushy mustaches on their Obama posters. And it’s not because it can’t happen here, because anything can happen here. We’re not special in America just because we were born into a rich country in love with its own image and alleged impact on the world. As the world’s leading exporter of imperialism and militarism, it’s certainly a stone’s throw to Hitler on a good day, so we should sure be vigilant.

But Trump’s model is a different strongman. One who is blonde, like him, like Hitler so desperately wanted to be. Vladimir Putin. Trump, like the Russian people, is obsessed with Vlad Putin.

Vladimir Putin may be the most authentically beloved leader among his or her domestic populous on the planet right now. While he has a strong and vocal group of dissenters, the Russians love the authority and respect he has restored to Rodina (the motherland, in Russian). They don’t care so much that he’s alienated a lot of foreign nations, for he’s done so by empowering Russia to be strong and independent, the idealized image of the nation fostered throughout the Communist years and well before. They love that he took back Crimea, love even more that no one was able to stop him. They like that he poses shirtless, does martial arts, purportedly wrestles bears to the ground between drinking sessions at his dacha. He exudes virility, strength, and power. What Trump wouldn’t obsess over such a figure?

But the biggest thing that Putin does best is push the envelope. For what greater test of power can there be than getting away with something more outrageous than anyone would have predicted you could? It’s all well and good to claim power in an atmosphere where you gladly offer concessions and make nice with other leaders at home and abroad. Quite another to demonstrate that power by doing something widely reviled and demonstrating that no one can stop you.

Well before he invaded Crimea, well before he praised Donald Trump as “brilliant,” Rutgers debaters Dave Reiss and Kyle Bomeisl wrote a case they wound up running in Maryland finals in 2010. The case was written in the midst of some minor spats between Putin and his puppet co-leader Dmitri Medvedev (speaking of wrestling bears – medved is Russian for bear) and proposed a hypothetical where Medvedev went so far as to publicly criticize Putin, which he did not do. The case we ran in Maryland finals was, in this hypothetical instance: “You are Vladimir Putin. Invite Medvedev to appear with you on national television. Then strangle him, on camera, with your bare hands.”

What the Maryland judging panel didn’t realize is that this was a serious suggestion and exactly in the wheelhouse of what Putin would do. For the lesson of the case was the same as the lesson of Putin’s entire presidency/prime ministership/presidency: get away with as much as you can. It will demonstrate that your enemies are powerless and make them look weak and terrified for trying to oppose you in the first place. It would be a whole new level for Putin to demonstrate that he could literally get away with murder.

This theory about Trump/Putin explains so many of the things that come out of the mouth of Trump and his cronies, so many things that otherwise baffle political pundits and observers. He’s not just a gaffe machine attempting to eclipse Joe Biden for foot-in-mouth moments. Because he doesn’t apologize for these gaffes or walk them back, almost ever. He’s just pushing the envelope as far across the table as he can reach, loudly testing the waters of how far he’s come and what he can get away with. Melania Trump lifting lines from Michelle Obama? Just a test. Claims about wall-building and Muslim-banning? Just tests. What can he get away with and still be popular, still be leading in the primary polls, still have a commanding presence on the world’s highest and most theatrical stage?

This is why people can seriously consider whether the whole thing is some master ruse: either a punt to old friend Hillary Clinton or a set-up for a shocking abdication between November and January (that theory must have died with the appointment of Mike Pence) or some kind of epic joke to demonstrate his superiority over the American people. Because this is not how we’re used to our serious politicians operating. We’re used to the pandering of the Clintons, the conciliation of Obama, the rallying cries of the Bushes, and the communicating of Reagan. We think politicians want them to like us and we forgot that the most popular people in high school were the ones who didn’t give a flying bleep what you thought of them. We have forgotten the first rule of affection: the less you show a desire to be liked, the more people crave your attention.

That said, Trump doesn’t always pull it off. He reacts defensively sometimes, a mistake Putin would never make. Putin’s response to accusations about small hands would not have been to awkwardly say there’s no problem there. He might have just leaked testimony from a former lover in some media outlet, or perhaps a nude picture of himself, doctored if necessary. He might have just ignored it and laughed off any future questions about it. Putin does not go out of his way to be loved. He shows his strength by pulling outrageous and unprecedented stunts, by speaking loudly and carrying a big stick.

Now, yes, this does not paint a very flattering picture of a Trump presidency. Keep in mind that all my efforts to both demonstrate the underestimated power of Trump to win votes and to compare him roughly equally to Clinton are not endorsements. They are not in any way, shape, or form, a desire to see Trump take the highest national office. But I do think it’s important that we realistically evaluate who Trump is, what he’s capable of, and what his intentions are for the nation.

Like Putin, Trump is an entertainer, a strongman, and an egotist. But he’s also a realist, one capable of measuring where the line ultimately is and ensuring that he doesn’t do something actually crazy and miscalculated. This is why Trump with his finger on the button doesn’t terrify me, any more than the existence of said button and egomaniacal American politicians always terrifies me. Putin has not nuked the US, or Ukraine, has not rebuilt the Iron Curtain, has not recreated the purges. He’s done some condemnable things, to be sure, but they’re within the range of normal US presidencies: invading some other countries, bombing still more, cracking down on some rights, possibly illicitly assassinating some citizens. All pretty par for what we expect from top-line world leaders these days.

Ultimately, though, the best check on Trump is one that truly does exist for Putin and pretty much anyone else who wants to win the beauty contests of contemporary elections in major world powers. Deep down, despite all the veneer of indifference to opinion and reaction, he cares very deeply about what people think. Donald J. Trump wants you to like him. Desperately. He has crafted an entire life around building an image, building up propaganda, and he really really wants you to think he’s cool. In that way, he’s almost indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton. He just knows that showing it less makes people like you more. Which is why he’s going to win in November.

Again, I don’t want this to happen. I also don’t want Hillary Clinton to win in November. Almost everyone I talk to agrees with this mutually assured disappointment. Except, of course, that it’s not assured. Just like in 1992, if everyone voted their conscience, for the candidate they truly truly truly wanted to win the White House, we would not be sending a Republican or a Democrat to the presidency this year. I think almost any moderately popular moderate could jump in the race right now, or in August (I know they literally couldn’t, because they wouldn’t get on the ballot in time), on a not-ClinTrump platform, and grab 300 electoral votes. Short of that, I think Gary Johnson or Jill Stein could each pull 20% and put the election in chaos. If one dropped out and endorsed the other, real third-party victory would be possible, if everyone actually voted and voted their heart.

Sadly, we’re too busy throwing around accusations of people being like Hitler (or of Benghazi), generating fear to insist that we vote for literally the second worst person we could imagine running for President. In that sense, this whole election cycle feels like it’s being run by Vladimir Putin on behalf of the two major parties. They are pushing the envelope as far as they can, offering up the two most hated people in American politics to demonstrate their stranglehold on power. We just keep taking it, eating up the lesser evil, believing in this false dichotomy and being surprised when things get worse. Wherever the line may be, I guess they haven’t found it yet. I sure wish we’d resist, though, so we’d start having candidates we didn’t have to compare to war-mongering power-addicts.


The War at Home

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


As you probably know, twelve days ago, five police officers were shot dead in Dallas. Ten days later, three more were shot dead in Baton Rouge. The alleged killers were both immediately killed, Micah Xavier Johnson and Gavin Eugene Long (a.k.a. Cosmo Ausar Setepenra) respectively. It has been reported that neither are linked to any extremist militant group. This is not true.

In fact, they are both linked to the same extremist militant group: the United States military.

No, I’m not trying to imply or state that these shootings were authorized military operations, though the thought occurred to me more than once that such a thing was possible. Not that our government is incapable of such sinister covert operations, having conducted its business this way repeatedly in countries the world over for most of the last century and well into this one. But I think the explanation is a far simpler one in the instance of these starkly similar shootings. And as we are taught in science classes, simple explanations are often the truest.

The military teaches you that violence is the way to solve problems. That there are good guys with guns and bad guys with guns and that the good guys with guns are morally obligated to shoot the bad guys with guns.

I’ve talked about this concept before, how mass shootings writ large in our society are inspired by a society that routinely preaches violence and murder as the way of getting what we want. Most clearly and simply, perhaps, in Violence is About Violence (26 May 2014), one of my many posts in the wake of a shooting incident. But it’s a lot clearer and more obvious when the killers are actually ex-military, veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, and actually took aim at a uniformed military force they found to be the enemy, namely racist police departments.

I’m not saying this action is justified. No killing is ever justified in any circumstances and this killing is no different. But the people who agree most ardently that killing is justified, the breeding ground for the whole notion that killing can be and routinely is bathed in glory, as long as it’s done by the “right” people for the “right” reasons, that’s the military. The Marines and the Army, where these police shooters were radicalized, where they were trained to believe that might makes right, that killing is good, that the ends justify the means, that the correct response to violence is more violence. And at least in this battle, the enemy was wearing a clear and visible uniform, wasn’t vague and shadowy and uncertain like the purported enemy in Afghanistan or Iraq. Wasn’t dubious like the 56 civilians slaughtered by US forces just today in Syria. No, these cops were clearly wearing the uniform that affiliated them with a group that has been executing Black civilians in our society for decades and caught on camera consistently for the last three years.

Does such affiliation deserve the death penalty? Of course not. Does it deserve any violent retribution? Never. But these acts are never “senseless” in the way they are bemoaned in the media. All these actions carry their own internal logic and to deny that is to willfully wish for them to happen over and over again. To attempt not to understand, to push away awareness, is to condemn ourselves to a permanent state of societal self-mutilation. Folks that the US trained to kill for their notion of liberty and justice applied their interpretation of that cause to the war they saw unfolding at home. Little could be less surprising.

I am hoping that this is the last such incident, just as I am hoping that the police have shot their last victim, just as I am hoping that the US will unilaterally stop murdering civilians at home and abroad. But I have a deep-seated fear that none of this will stop until we can face and engage our own priorities as a nation and begin to unpack the overwhelming glorification of murder that we put on such an elevated pedestal in the United States. There are a lot of steps, large and small, that we could take. Apologizing for the wrongs of the past, from slavery to conquest, genocide to nuclear bombing, would be a great start. Committing to never repeat those same mistakes, even better. Determining to come together to expend our immense wealth and privilege as a country on something other than imperialism, perhaps the best.

We still have the capability of being the country we imagine ourselves to be. We just have to wake up from our delusions first. If we don’t wake ourselves up, we run the risk of being awoken far more rudely and, well, violently.


That’s Entertainment!

Categories: A Day in the Life, Politics (n.): a strife of interests masquerading, Telling Stories, The Problem of Being a Person, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , ,


When I was in high school, I had a discussion with my father about a long-prior discussion he’d had about the state of the world in the mid-1970s. He mentioned, in passing, that his conversational partner of the time had said what people really needed in the world was to laugh more. He then echoed this sentiment, circa 1997, as an obvious truth of the universe. My mind immediately went to the somewhat moderate bullies of my high school, the jocks and the idiots, and everyone I knew who seemed to make laughing a key priority of their existence. I thought laughter was, if anything, overrated in a very serious world. Being a bit stubborn and prone to engaging wherever possible in a keen argument, I intimated that the great problem with the world is that everyone needed to laugh less.

I raise this issue now not to pick or resurrect a generational fight two decades in the making, nor to pick on my Dad, with whom I agree about more things than I’d argue most of my (or any?) age agree with their fathers. But I think this moment of discord speaks to a larger perspective on the world that has changed, perhaps since the 60s or 70s, perhaps even more recently, about the nature of entertainment and its influence on our world, or the world of contemporary America as it now stands, embarrelled in choppy waters and facing what almost everyone can universally regard as a rather steep cliff, with barely any water in the fall to soften the rocky crags below. Far more recently than 1997, my father predicted that this summer would look a lot like the summer of 1968, the least stable of his lifetime to date. Halfway through the summer, that seems like a pretty safe prediction, as news of attacks, shootings, coups, and executions compete for headlines daily as we rush headlong into an election where the major party candidates make Nixon and Humphrey look like popular young gentlemen you’d want to bring home to the parents.

So what’s trending? Pokemon Go!

It is a sign of age, diving into my late 30s, that many of my friends have taken to the waves of the Internet to literally decry the children gathering on their lawns to play this latest video game to capture the American imagination. And also a sign of my generation that a nearly equal quantity are regaling us with stories of their own particular lawn catches. I am not here to moralize about the perils of Pokemon Go. While I am not playing (I just missed Pokemon as a phenomenon the first time around, entering college when it hit the streets. And the last thing I need is another excuse to haul out the smartphone [begrudgingly purchased for Uber] in public.), I definitely understand the appeal. And more importantly, it’s the first video game since Dance Dance Revolution that is getting its players off the couch and into something resembling physical shape. And the first ever (unless you count its natural predecessor Ingress, and nobody but Brandzy does count Ingress) that gets people out of the living room and into the real, living, breathing world where they might interact with other real people.

So, is Pokemon Go a giant scheme designed to replace our outrage with police killings, mass shootings, and an endless upward cycle of violence against seemingly everyone with, well, the digital equivalent of dogfighting? Or, perhaps more accurately, a dogfighting-themed scavenger hunt? Is the timing of its release sufficient to mollify a public fomenting with the desire to rebel, replacing the revolution with the placid need to “catch ’em all”? After all, the game is insidiously embedded in a very real and very corporate world, wherein savvy companies have already latched onto their geographic placement in the game to win friends and influence people.

I am inclined to believe that the release of illusory pocket monsters into the world is largely coincidental with the second coming of 1968 as it arrives on American shores nearly a half-century later. But I’m also inclined to believe that there are no coincidences.

Pokemon Go is just another aspect of our cultural obsession with entertainment. There was a time, I believe, when art was separable from entertainment in a real way, when politics also enjoyed a distance from the desire for laughter. It is hard to imagine what such a separation would truly look like at this moment, when the entire orientation of Internet culture around social media has turned us like plants toward the sun, seeking fulfillment and sustenance purely from the notion of being amused. Our educational system is rapidly trying to catch up, bringing games and electronics into the classroom by the armload in an effort to compete on the giant entertainment battlefield. Maybe everyone in the 70s really did decide that we all just needed to laugh more and they spent the next four decades making it so, ensuring that the concept of entertainment seeped into every element of our waking life, so we would judge each decision by how much comic relief it brought to our brain.

No wonder, then, that the major popular outlets of news in the last 15 years have all become comedy shows. That the nightly anchors of my childhood: Rather, Jenkins, and Brokaw (admittedly problematic in their universal conservative white maleness) were replaced with the guffaws and antics of Stewart and his many descendants. That Obama himself gets the most attention for the White House Correspondents Dinner, far more widely beheld than another boring dramatic turn at memorializing victims of a mass shooting. Indeed, I think the main reason so many of my friends are missing the fact that Trump should be considered the runaway favorite in the 2016 general election is that he is so much more entertaining than his counterpart Clinton. Since televisions became widely held items in American households, this is the metric that explains most every choice the general election populous has made at the quadrennial ballot box. I guess one could argue that Dukakis was more entertaining than Bush the elder in 1988, but in retrospect that was mostly at his own expense, so perhaps doesn’t count. And I don’t know exactly what to do with either of Nixon’s victories – his runs against Humphrey and McGovern were surely races to the bottom in terms of entertainment. But there are no other imaginable exceptions since the Nixon-Kennedy debates opened the television era: the more entertaining candidate always wins, which I think does more to explain the success of all the two-term Presidents since Nixon than any other single theory. Say what you will about Reagan, Bill Clinton, Bush the younger, and Obama, but they are all highly successful entertainers.

There’s a reason I have total confidence that Trump will win this November, barring assassination or other unforeseeable but still seemingly almost predictable upheaval. He is, like Reagan before him, an entertainer by trade. More than anything else that Donald Trump is or isn’t, he is a showman. And whatever the truth value of her given statements may be on a given day, the most salient and consistent critique that can be leveled against Hillary Clinton the candidate is her inability to entertain. Her most ardent supporters have tried to turn this into a strength in recent months, with a cascade of thinkpieces on how her wonky, unaffectionate demeanor is exactly what we should want in the White House. Little good this will do her after debates against Trump when the latter could literally roar, a la Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, a fitting avatar of our contemporary culture, “Are you not entertained?!” You can practically see the thumbs turning down on Clinton in the crowd, condemning her to political death at the hands of the latest champion of a very amused mob.

It is perhaps some small solace to my readers that I go on to believe that Trump is not the second coming of Hitler so much as the second coming of Vaudeville. Or, at worst, I guess L. Ron Hubbard, who called his shot about making a fortune on an invented religion and then put it into practice. Hitler wrote Mein Kampf as his declaration of intention. Trump said he’d try to run as a fiscal conservative and a social liberal on a ticket with Oprah Winfrey. No, the meme about him saying Republicans were dumb and easy to persuade isn’t true. It seems believable because he knows everyone is easy to persuade with enough money and entertainment value, even the Clintons themselves, as he will bring up even more in future debates.

Please don’t confuse my adamance about the future Trump presidency with support. I have no interest in seeing a Trump presidency, though I also have no interest in seeing a Clinton presidency. As I told Alex’s mother the night before last, I think either president would make the first six years of the Obama administration look glorious and I think those years were truly awful. I am not reveling in the future success of Trump, but I am trying to understand and explain its potency so others might harness that understanding to do some kind of counterbalancing good.

This struggle with entertainment as the dominant currency of our society and its potential battle with more serious, sober reflections on change is one that has impacted key aspects of my own life, and especially this website. While I never came up with the idea for Pokemon Go (like Uber, these ideas required a level of accuracy for GPS technology that doesn’t really predate the last five years and I think few people knew would be a certainty until then), I have concocted some virally entertaining quizzes over the years, the first couple of which were extremely well timed with the advent of Web 1.0 media like blogs, MySpace, and GeoCities. These quizzes first hit the scene when I was trying to promote my first novel and write my second, as well as make my way through life with day jobs in the so-called real world. Tired from my commute and the stresses of work, I would contemplate writing fiction that would be read by a few hundred or a quiz that would be seen by more than a million people within its first year. One would be laden with meaning that I found important to impart, the other would be infused with what little meaning I could stick between the layers of entertainment. My choice was usually clear: at least the entertainment would be absorbed by the masses. It wasn’t until quitting jobs entirely in 2009 that I could really get back to writing fiction seriously. And if my life hadn’t fallen apart at the end of that period, maybe I would have found some success then. At the same time, most of the folks who read American Dream On agreed on its biggest critique: too dark, not entertaining enough. My mother observed that I have a great talent for making people laugh in real life; why couldn’t I bring that over into my writing?

We’ll leave to the side, for now, that perhaps the primary theme of American Dream On is that our obsession with entertainment, along with the pursuit of money, is literally killing everyone.

I don’t think Trump or Pokemon Go will literally kill everyone, nor will terrorists nor the police. Though all four will probably take their cut of lives, with Pokemon Go being by far the most innocuous. And not even all the pokemon in the world will be enough to distract us from the blood taken by other forces in the world, at least not for more than a few hours at a time. And unfortunately, the structural differences between Trump’s eventual killings and the police’s ongoing murders and the terrorists’ showy acts of slaughter and Pokemon Go will continue to fade. It’s all packaged entertainment, destruction put out like a press release, neat little explanations and video and unfolding mystery to unravel like a video game. What is this latest killer’s motive? Where will Trump bomb next? Which terror group will claim responsibility for the latest attack? How did the police try to cover up their latest racist execution?

And the slew of reporters will trail after, with their graphics team and sound folks making it all as polished as the latest app to hit our phones. And we’ll take it all in, and I’ll try to write about it in a way that is just flippant and distant enough to be entertaining too. It’s not just our currency anymore, it’s our literal language, because every use of time, every decision to read or watch something is in competition with catching another Pokemon or playing a game on Facebook or downloading something more amusing. And increasingly the only way to change anything might be to win the entertainment wars first and use that to do good. Because holding the mirror up to society isn’t getting people to take things more seriously these days – it’s reminding us of selfies.

If you’ll excuse me, I should probably go work on another quiz. I wonder if “Which police shooting victim are you?” is still too macabre to be entertaining. Maybe it’s the best way we can get more people to say their names.


Top Twenty Questions I Get Driving Uber in New Orleans

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


In approximate order of frequency:

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


Deconstructing the Constitution

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

Don't let the wigs fool you.  These guys were radical hooligans!  They were also all white men, so, y'know, maybe change is good.

Don’t let the wigs fool you. These guys were radical hooligans! They were also all white men, so, y’know, maybe change is good.

It’s easy for us to forget that the founding fathers, now revered as the heart of a sage and long-lasting establishment, were actually a bunch of iconoclastic ruffians. I’ve discussed how they not only codified terrorism, but were actually basically terrorists themselves earlier, so no need to rehash that. It’s just become so easy for us to forget that they were, well, revolutionary. They were outside the normal bounds of their society, their beliefs were radical and different, and they similarly wanted to engender that same revolutionary spirit in future generations.

Instead, what happened in the wake of revolutionary fervor is what always happens: people forget that part of the revolutionary message is that spirit of ongoing change and instead settle down to revere every syllable uttered by that particular band of revolutionaries. This was never the intended message, but it became the message, especially by the time the dust settled on the Bill of Rights. People were so impressed and enamored with the ideas laid out by the early Americans that they forgot a core principle was a willingness to change and change and change again in exactly the same way that had first taken place. Many people can quote Jefferson’s line about renewing the tree of liberty with blood of patriots, but that gets mistaken as a call to violently defend Jefferson’s precise text rather than his real message of staying radically revolutionary in spirit, of always making changes.

Yes, some changes have been made in the 240 years since the Declaration of Independence. We took slavery out of the Constitution and even allowed women and eventually minorities the right to vote. Equality started to actually fan out to mean some semblance of equality among people, not white male landowners. But somewhere along the way, we completely lost sight of the notion that the Constitution was there to be changed, that it was written with specific procedures to make it a living document. Instead, we insisted on holding it up like any holy text: doctrinally perfect, to be interpreted perhaps, but never altered, never touched, only hallowed forever and ever amen.

It is bizarre that the calcification of the Constitution in our societal perception has coincided with revolutionary changes in the shape and nature of our society. We have become more diverse, more impacted by technology, more connected, more entertained. The social, technological, and economic changes of the last 16 years alone are breathtaking and beyond the average person’s full comprehension. And yet this time has brought the least legal change to our highest governing document, with the exception of a handful of Supreme Court cases that have upheld or struck down certain interpretations thereof. While the change brought about by some of these rulings has certainly been notable, it has only served to further crystallize the notion that the document they are interpreting is itself sacrosanct and that only these high priests we call justices are able to properly tease out any alterations in our understanding. This is not for mere mortals to take on.

We have amended the Constitution just once in the last 45 years. And that was to ratify an amendment originally proposed in 1789! It’s also the amendment of the 27 (17 since the Bill of Rights) that made the least tangible change, simply impacting the timing of pay raises for elected representatives. It is the amendment that is the most technical in our Constitution and the one that impacts by far the fewest people. It is barely an amendment at all, and it is one of the oldest ideas we’ve ratified. So leaving this very much aside, the last change we made was in 1971, dropping the voting age to 18 to match the Vietnam War draft. Those 45 years* are the longest streak of untouched time for our Constitution since its original ratification.

Perhaps worse, we haven’t even proposed an amendment since the 1992 technicality of the 27th amendment was ratified. That’s 24 years of total stagnation, without any formal process for change even being initiated. If we leave out the trivial ’92 amendment, we have to go back to a 1985 proposal to give DC representation in Congress. And before that was the Equal Rights Amendment, the 1979-1982 proposal that somehow failed. That was at least a sweeping potential change that would have fundamentally altered our understanding of our Constitution. And perhaps that’s why it failed despite being an obviously good idea. Maybe after 1971 and the demise of Vietnam, we gave up on change. Maybe that’s when our perceived duty to the original sacred text of America overrode the interest in making society better or, to coin a phrase, “more perfect”.

The founding fathers would not be happy with this state of affairs, folks.

It’s not just because they were revolutionary bandits, though that’s a big part of it that really cannot be said enough. They were the insurgents of their age, the rebels, the outlaws and outcasts. This simply needs to be understood by everyone trying to engage with American politics. But beyond that, they had the foresight to recognize that the world would change after their passing. In the wake of yet another mass-shooting in this country, many of my friends have again raised the rallying cry about how far 18th century muskets were from the semi-automatic weaponry available in today’s open market. This is true, but is only one example among thousands of critical things that they could not have anticipated. The state of our economy and corporations are surely beyond anything that Jefferson and Washington could have fathomed. Corporate personhood, the surveillance state, and even instant communication from radio to television to the internet, all would have dwarfed their imaginations. There is so much that they cannot keep up with. And this is a big part of why amendments were featured in the Constitution and taken seriously with a reasonable ratification process: they knew their own limitations in their ability to anticipate the challenges of the future.

Yes, we obviously need to eliminate or significantly overhaul the second amendment. That should be trivial at this point to anyone paying attention, unless we want to become a society where leaving one’s house carries a 1% risk, over time, of dying in a massacre. But we also need to think more broadly and sweepingly about the Constitution itself and what it does and doesn’t guarantee at this point. And imagine ourselves to be founders, or refounders, creating something more perfect that what we had before. Would the founding fathers really not have enshrined access to healthcare as a right in a world of today’s modern medicine? Would they not have taken steps toward codifying greater equality in a society so governed by scarcity, inequality, and corporate greed? And even if you don’t think they would have agreed with these principles, they surely would have wanted the radicals among us to speak up and stand up for them, to advocate radically altering the Constitution or even casting it aside altogether in favor of something, well, more perfect.

As long as we cling to the original verbiage of the Constitution like a holy and unalterable text, we will be beholden to looking at the world like it stopped in 1789, or at least in 1971. But the world didn’t stop there, it is living and evolving daily, just as the Constitution itself was intended to. You can’t simultaneously defend the America the founding fathers wanted and advocate prolonging this level of stagnation. They would be ashamed of you, ashamed of us. They changed far more in their time than Bernie Sanders would ever advocate. It is a disservice to the principles of this country, such as they are, to insist on not making significant and sweeping changes in our own time.


A Pilgrimage

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

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish Catholic Church in New Orleans.

Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish Catholic Church in New Orleans.

On Saturday night, hours before the shooting in Orlando, I was driving for Uber. As I explained on Facebook at the top of the month, I have recently started driving for Uber while between jobs and possibly as the new quasi-full-time gig to enable more creative pursuits. The first step in getting back in a creative rhythm has been posting here more, which has itself been fueled by ideas from the many riders whose journey I help enable on a near-nightly basis while conducting this little experiment.

As I posted about in a later comment on that Facebook thread, these are the four key questions asked by the experiment:
1. Is this a sustainable way of replacing day job income?
2. Does this gig help facilitate a more creative/writing lifestyle?
3. Do I feel like I’m doing enough good? Or at least not doing harm?
4. Can I get a lot of writing material and inspiration out of the chance conversations that this gig creates?

So it’s Saturday, early evening, I’m just starting what I expect will be a long overnight shift and it’s not even dark out yet. It’s just after 5:00 PM and the French Quarter is crawling with tourists, locals, and attendees of the Creole Tomato Festival. I get a ping for a pickup at Cafe du Monde, the iconic open-air beignet restaurant, open 24 hours daily and boasting a line for many of them. I crawl slowly through the heavy traffic toward the green-and-white striped awnings.

A minute or so after pulling over, I’m greeted by what look to be three generations of women in the same family. The Uber was called by someone in her early twenties, while her mother and someone who could easily be her grandmother also pile in, the mother in the front seat and the others in back. However, the bespectacled potential grandmother is fully adorned in a spotless Catholic habit, modest shining cross at the center of a sea of black and white. She could have taken the veil later in life, but the dialogue later seemed as though she were a more distant relative of the great aunt ilk, while their status as family seemed almost undeniable.

They were relatively low-energy (a not uncommon trait of post-beignet du Monde pickups), but quite polite and clearly in awe of all the French Quarter had to offer in full bustle. I confirmed their destination as Canal and Broad Street, which already seemed of concern since the destination in the app just said “Canal Street, New Orleans” which is akin to saying “Main Street, USA”. They asked if I knew the whereabouts of the Seelos Church, which, through the nun’s particular accent, I couldn’t quite catch. I asked her to spell the location, but she said it was just on Canal and as long as we went up Canal, we’d find it. She said she thought it was near Broad or a little before. So off we went, slogging upstream through the Quarter like salmon climbing the waterless face of Hoover Dam. Once it became clear it could take us 30 minutes to reach Canal that way, I aborted (apologies for the turn of phrase, sister) and redirected eastward out of the Quarter to run back to the west and meet up with Canal around the freeway.

Once we hit Canal, it became pretty clear we’d misjudged the location of the church. A search revealed something about Dauphine Street, a fixture of the Quarter, and I despaired that we’d been just feet from it from the outset. They advised we redirect to Canal and Dauphine, but I pulled over and suggested we actually confirm the location of the church online before chasing more geese, already feeling a bit guilty I hadn’t done this in the first place. The youngest of the three pulled it up on her phone, discovered that there were two churches (a Seelos Shrine and a Seelos Parish) and after consultation about the relative locations, neither of which were remotely close to Canal Street, we opted for Seelos Parish as the more likely match. We were on a pilgrimage, it turned out, to where the nun had spent part of her early days, or at least visited decades prior. She said the church was very beautiful and she wished to see it again. It was clear in equal measure that her traveling companions were nonplussed about the church quest in their own right, but very much wanted the sister to feel fulfilled. We redirected in the direction of Seelos Parish, deep in the Marigny, and the sister confirmed that it had been close to the Mississippi as she recalled.

After a brief stint on the highway and a long stop-signy traverse through the Marigny, we pull up to a contrastingly glorious red brick church with a high steeple in the midst of a run-down neighborhood. Two robust heavy wood doors lie at the center and a sign on one side indicates that Saturday mass began two hours prior as it’s now just 6:00 PM. We’ve been on this adventure nearly an hour and the youngest is unsure the church is still accessible after the mass that must surely be over. She pops out to check the doors, crossing the street to the church, but finding no purchase on the unhandled wood doors. I’m just about to roll down the window to suggest she try around the side when a naked man rides by on a bicycle.

And then another. And a naked woman. And then a horde, hundreds long, of naked or nearly-naked bike riders.

After a gasp, the mother yells “Cover your eyes, sister,” a command which the latter ignores as we all half-stare at, half try to look away from the fleshy procession. The three of us in the car exchange periodic awkward expressions of disbelief, mine tending more toward the “that’s New Orleans” variety while the other two continually profess shock that such a thing can be happening. The awkwardness is pervasive for all of us, though when I steal a glance across the street through the flopping bodies, the shame/horror I see on the face of our stranded counterpart on the far sidewalk is enough to make anyone blush.

“Beautiful bodies, though,” murmurs the vaguely Caribbean accent of our elder pilgrim, prompting the mother to crack up in a mixture of nervousness and surprise. The nun, encouraged by this reaction, is then inspired to declare “The older you get, the more you see.” And then even I have to join in the laughter, because it’s all too real.

After the nearly interminable predominantly nude parade, the flashing lights of cop cars signal the tail of the bicycles, and the youngest of our cohort skips back across the street, looking older but otherwise no worse for the wear. She reports that the church is closed, deftly ignoring the 250+ unclothed elephants that just left the room. I suggest she try around the side, which she does, pausing only slightly at the notion of crossing this street again. Within minutes, she has discovered that it is indeed open for viewing and after a brief deliberation, they say it might be a while and they don’t need me to wait. I wish them a great night as they slowly exit the vehicle, still chuckling about this city of stark contrasts wedged between the waters of a sunken swamp.

Soon I was on my way, in search of the next person who needed to get to wherever they were going next.

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