Tracy, I Hardly Know Ye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Country Quiz II

Categories: Blue Pyramid News, Tags:

You’re Iran!
People can’t stop talking about you these days. Even though you’re just doing what you normally do, everyone’s eyes seem to be on you wherever you go. Attention is nice, but this is starting to get a little ridiculous. After all, you just want a normal life like all the big people have. But it seems they think you were born to be one of the little people. A particular little person is about to get you in a fair bit of trouble. When you read books about reading Lolita, it totally blows your mind!

Take the Country Quiz II at the Blue Pyramid


The Ghost of Thanksgiving Past

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

Today has felt portentous.

There is something about the arrival of cold. Cold and dark. I have always liked winter, as long as I can remember, and there are few places in the world when it isn’t finally cold(er) and dark(er) by late November. Richard Adams’ caveat about winter still stands – humans like it because they can resist it, not because colder and darker really feels better. That’s part of it. But there’s something deeper, closer to the core of winter. Maybe it’s that this time, more than any other, forces us to band together. Rabbits could feel that as much as humans, as much as those on the streets of the Tenderloin. Summer is a time for isolation and a casual attitude. If you’re not huddled together in winter, it’s over.

So winter is finally here, and for some reason I’ve been quite reflective on the passage of this Thanksgiving. I’d posit it’s a larger feeling than just my own – this particular holiday seems charged with something larger than itself. And it’s making me contemplate this, perhaps the best conceived of all traditionally celebrated American holidays.

I don’t mean conceived as in created for birthing. I mean the concept. Because the birthing process for Thanksgiving, as I’ve discussed in Introspection and probably elsewhere, is a flaming scar on the American landscape. It’s hard to imagine a German holiday celebrating a hearty Seder with Jewish immigrants, perhaps commemorating a date in the 1920’s. Harder still to picture it being the centerpiece of the secular German calendar.

But the concept, once we get past the actual creation of Thanksgiving and the subsequent destruction of the culture who inspired it, is a good one. Giving thanks. Appreciating what you have. Not taking things for granted. Not working yourself to death. It’s all very unAmerican. No wonder we slaughtered the folks who helped us think of it.

But the tradition remains. And in thinking how my tradition has changed over the years, it’s interesting to note that most everything that stands out is from college. The high-school years all blend together in a sea of similarity. There was one particular Thanksgiving in Oregon spent with a friend’s family and much Scattergories and basketball that sticks out. But mostly, it’s college.

Sometimes I wonder about high-school and college, which tend to stand out in an irradiated hue as opposed to the rest of one’s life. The glow (warm or creepy) that these 8 years cast across one’s life seems to reverberate through most everyone’s experience. I didn’t expect this to be the case for me, but of course it’s proven mostly so, especially in light of holidays and other annual instances. The cascading highs and lows, the sheer breadth of variety and emotion, this surely must be at the heart of the elevation of the power of these years. It’s not that any were the best years of my life. Nor were most of them particularly formative (with perhaps 2 notable exceptions – junior year in high school and senior year in college). But life stabilizes so much after college (or at least mine did – after all, I’ve been engaged or married since college) that sometimes the patterns meld into a similarity. This is not a bad thing – it’s very comforting that life is less of a struggle. But the big Thanksgivings that stick out were from the days before…

In 1998, I was invited down to Philadelphia by good friend Kate Myers, who was still in high-school at the time. It was bizarre and wonderful in many ways, both in the way Kate and I related in her hometown, in the participation in a glorious Thanksgiving Day Parade, and in the relating to a family – anyone’s family – who was not my own. Kate and I had good times and bad times before and since, yet it often seems like that trip encapsulated what was and is best about our friendship. It was also crazy, less than three months deep into college, to be home for someone else’s Thanksgiving on the East Coast, having spent precisely the prior 18 Thanksgivings with my own parents.

The next year, though, was different. Kate had gone to college herself and there may have been a repeat invitation, but I didn’t want to crash her homecoming. I seem to recall at least three or four invitations from various sources, but it was nothing doing. I was struggling through one of the lowest points in my life, a sophomore slump that was both profound and pervasive. On the verge of leaving Brandeis (for a semester or perhaps for good), feeling utterly isolated, I checked into a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square for dinner and then proceeded to a downtown mall (Copley, maybe?) for several movies. I remember just making the train to get me to just make the last commuter rail back to Waltham by mere seconds. On the ride back, under heavily labored breathing, it occurred to me that missing the train might have been a more fitting end to my solo Thanksgiving. Finding a cheap hotel or huddling in a subway station as the rest of the world dozed on too much dead animal.

I didn’t even feel that way about it at the time, that it was an emblem of loneliness. Loneliness can be different than isolation. I had plenty of both that semester, but that Thanksgiving almost felt like a reprieve from loneliness. I was voluntarily embracing being alone, taking it in, putting both arms around myself. It seemed far preferable to trying to find a way to communicate across an abyss with families of various classmates who’d invited me to their festivities. So much pressure, so much East Coast/Catholic school feeling of inadvertent wrongdoing and misstepping. That Chinese restaurant and those movies felt like freedom. “Anywhere But Here”. “The Insider”. I still remember the films I saw that night, and their titles were my anthem.

I was telling my work friend Pete Lee about this Thanksgiving of 1999 and he said it sounded dismal and stereotypical. He aped several pop culture scenes of me as the despicable lonely wretch, who can’t even find someone to be with on Thanksgiving. I wasn’t ready to fire back with a dissertation on loneliness in crowds and the nature of true isolation. I meekly went with “It was kinda fun.” And it was.

The next year, however, stands out as perhaps the best Thanksgiving of my life. It seems cruel and even crazy to say that about a holiday spent without my parents, my wife, or my wife’s family, but there was something magical about that weekend. My friend Ben Brandzel (no webpage to link) had secured an invitation to “Haystack Mountain Farm”, a trumped-up name for a fall retreat that a professor friend of his had in New Hampshire. He was able to bring three fellow stranded Westerners up to the Farm, and thus Brandzy, his then girlfriend Michelle, Gris, and I embarked for a truly wacky adventure. I feel like a tremendous portion of Brandzel’s and my inside dialect was derived from that trip. (Or maybe just the one joke about the fish and the water… yes, our dinner gift for the host family was the “Big Mouth Billy Bass” talking fish from Cracker Barrel that sings “Take Me to the River”.) We played Clue with a full six people. I had countless talks with Gris and with Brandzy & Michelle, and I think even with just Michelle, though we’d just met. When everyone else had finally gone to bed, I plucked a book off the shelf of the utterly spectacularly cozy library that was my bedroom for the night, which proved to be Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, one of the 25 best books I’ve ever read. I finished almost half of it before drifting off to peace.

That weekend was simply magic. Maybe it’s something about finding family in people who aren’t your family. Maybe it’s something about connecting with a range of people. In that set of four, each of us had at least one person we’d been incredibly close friends with for years and years, and at least one person we’d just met. And I couldn’t have been much more grateful for the whole thing.

The Thanksgiving to follow, though my life was in infinitely better circumstances overall, could not have been more diametric. On my way to meet Emily’s family, which was to be a surprise to them (not my idea), I had as close as I can think I’ve come to a panic attack in the Phoenix airport. By no means was I prepared to meet her family then or under those circumstances. I already knew that I was in love with her, that I was almost certainly going to marry her. And yet she had this gargantuan family that I’d never encountered, who I had to care about what they thought of me, which is a position I tend to be in with approximately no one. The feeling of other people being able to hold that kind of control over me was enough to make me sick. Almost literally. And it was nothing against them personally, it was just the circumstances.

Emily’s mom did not take the surprise well. She looked pale and on the edge of fainting. I knew how she was feeling. In an effort to make me feel less awkward, she likened the surprise to “Y’know, expecting an orange life-saver and you get, uh, cherry instead! It’s not bad, exactly, just different!” I wanted to drill myself into the asphalt of the parking lot where we were standing in a very warm November.

The family was huge and boisterous and all knew each other really well. It was like my first day at the Academy again. Except the Academy hadn’t had a veritable photographic shrine to Emily’s ex-boyfriend in the main thoroughfare hallway. No one had thought to taken the pictures down because, right, it had been a surprise. And because some people left their exes on that wall forever. At least two siblings still have them there.

I remember a panicked call to my parents where they offered to come pick me up from Albuquerque. I remember starting the tradition of holing up in an upstairs room with a book and feigning sleep. Some day I will write a memoir entitled Pretending to Sleep in Other People’s Houses. The title has rattled in my brain for nearly a decade. I think it has to do with the loneliness in crowds vs. freedom in isolation thing again.

This probably sounds terrible and Emily’s probably going to be mortified at me writing this. But it’s real and true and it’s been 5 years. Each year has been better than the last. The pictures have come down, and I’ve come downstairs more and more. The family has developed a penchant for board games, which brings everyone together in a most positive light. There has been a cascade of kids, getting older and thus more interesting by the annum. I’ve gotten to actually know this wonderful family, rather than seeing them as surprised strangers who are hosting an alien for dinner. The alien who made their daughter/sister a vegetarian. Even on Thanksgiving.

This year, we’re not making a big deal of Thursday. Some of the Garin Clan is assembling on Friday in Tracy for a limited version of the usual affair. Even the 10 people present will dwarf my family’s traditional trifecta Thanksgiving, but it’s not the full 15. And this is looking, in a couple ways, like possibly the last year of 15 being the full number. If nothing else, it is good for Emily and I to have the full experience of each other’s completely different families.

I will get to rest, to take time, to take stock. To give thanks. There may never have been a year when I have so much to be thankful for. Nor never a year prior when I actually had to worry about how much I was eating. But there are always changes. I’m actually excited to be giving Gris & Anna a ride at 3:45 this morning, just for the difference of it. It might make this year a little more memorable.

As the years start to recede, it’s the highs and lows that stand out where the water used to be. And I can be glad not to be in them, but to appreciate their depth and gravity. And thank God I got here in one piece.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Uncollected Works

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Let's Go M's, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , , , ,

While you’re waiting for the Country Quiz II to be out (maybe tonight?), here are some random assortments to tide you over. And if you’re wondering why there hasn’t been anything big, it’s because the CQII is about to come out. Latest calculations have it that it takes me an hour to write 8 answers, fully coded. There’s also the question tree (done a while back), the image collection (done more recently), and getting all the merchandising ready to go ahead of time (a significant time-suck). So it sort of saps the creativity. Non-stop writing and coding will tend to block out other writing.

The 2007 Mariners (in my MVP 2005 season) are 9-2 (.818) since switching back to All-Star level. One of the losses was a heartbreaker where Travis Blackley coughed up two solo homers in relief in the 7th inning of a 1-0 lead. They also lost the first of the 11 games on All-Star, so they’ve won 9 of 10. This is looking most auspicious, but admittedly most of these games were on a tour of NL Central ballparks – not exactly stellar competition. The sweep of the Pirates just completed was the first sweep of the season – in the second week of June. Just before, RJ took a no-hitter into the 7th in Milwaukee. Thus, the playoffs are looking at least like a longshot instead of an impossibility.

The CQ2 has 32 of 64 answers completely written. Full merchandising of about 80 items per design will be available at launch. Additionally, a new advertising strategy is going into place with the launch of this quiz. You wouldn’t want everything to be just like the original, would you? I briefly thought about holding the launch till the day of the 5th anniversary of the original (it would be 18 January 2008), but timed launches of quizzes have never exactly served me well. It’s going up this month, and probably within minutes of me finishing it.

After a few months of notable average improvement, I’ve gotten beaten down with the migraine stick this month. Maybe seasonal changes have something to do with it. I’m also noticing a November pattern, given how concerned I got about these things last year at this time. Still, overall severity seems down big in 2007.

After the longest-ever 4-day week last week, it’s hard to get as excited as I’d be inclined to be about a 3-day week upcoming. Who knows how long those 24 hours can be? But there’s reason to believe they’ll be relatively straightforward, a brief lull between twin storms of last week and the entirety of December. In other news, there is no news yet, but there will be by ’08.

Finally, Free Rice is perhaps the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.

This is my 62nd post in StoreyTelling, in its 48th day. Duck and Covers count for exactly half (31) of those posts.


They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?

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

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

And yet, no terrorism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It beats just accepting things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m just the (gulp) messenger.


News You Can Use

Categories: A Day in the Life, Blue Pyramid News, Quick Updates, Upcoming Projects, Tags: , , ,

Or read, at least.

You probably can’t help but noticing that this page has been overhauled, as the October season wanes and is replaced by an oncoming winter. At some point I may try to institute one of those snazzy things that lets you choose which theme to use when reading, but for now the change is complete, and affects back-posts. So the pumpkins are gone, either till I figure out how to let themes coexist or until next October.

Since we’re on blogging news, I want to introduce everyone to my Dad’s new blog, Qala Bist .com. He’s actually been writing since early October, but we’ve been ironing out the kinks of him having a blog, getting the style set, and so forth. My Dad and I, despite our uniqueness, rarely do anything alone. So it’s only fitting that he start this up now. I think you will find his posts to be much like his interior design, for those of you familiar with that… layered, textured, fascinating, and (above all) colorful.

I have a couple of larger post ideas brewing in my mind’s eye, but it’s just not happening tonight. I spent tonight on the phone, which was great but cumulatively tiring. There’s even more news on the horizon on several fronts, but nothing to really delve into yet. Except one thing, I guess: I can almost promise that The Country Quiz II will be out this month. Note the “almost”. But if I went ahead and promised, then I would force myself to make good on it, whatever the consequences.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day.” Or perhaps “today was just a day fading into another.”

To read. To sleep. And not to dream.


Chto Dyelat?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh boy.

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

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

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

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

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

Orwell tells us this in 1984:

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

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

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

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

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


What are the Odds: a statistical analysis of the last post

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , ,

Okay, so I got to thinking. And I can’t just leave the last post where it ended.

You might be wondering, for example, what the statistical probability is of me making the playoffs after switching to an easier difficulty after just 57 games (35% of the season). Maybe this doesn’t sound very challenging to you.

Last season (2006), my M’s went 101-61, for a .623 pace. Assuming that same winning percentage greets my next 105 games in 2007, I’ll go 65-40, for a final record of 72-90. Which will NOT make the playoffs. For an indication of how much I’ll miss by, the Angels are on pace to win 101 games (sound familiar?) and the A’s 94.

Now, you might say that after playing 57 games on Impossible Mode, I’ve improved over 2006. I sure hope so. But I’ve also set my players back a notch. And if this baseball game is like any other, the player progressions for the season are at least partially impacted by the start the player gets off to. So one would think this might mitigate any improvement.

For example, Ichiro is hitting .186 with 3 HR, 5 RBI, and 16 R. Last year, he hit .271 (yes, last year’s difficulty was hard) with 78 R. It’s unlikely that he’ll suddenly bounce back to hit .271 or score runs on that pace for the last two-thirds of the season.

Similarly, Randy Johnson is 0-11 with a 6.13 ERA in 12 starts and 3 relief appearances (61.2 IP). Last year, he was 11-8 with a 1.70 ERA in an injury-shortened season (22 starts, 158.2 IP). Staff ace Mark Mulder is 1-8 with a 6.47 after going 20-6 with a 1.71 (in 247 IP!) last year. Only Eddie Guardado is within 2 points of last year’s ERA of anyone significant on the staff. And he won the Cy Young Award last year, with a 2-0 record, 54 saves (in 54 chances), and an 0.61 ERA in 59.1 IP (64 appearances). He almost won the MVP Award. This year, he’s only managed to get into 9 games so far (8.2 IP), but has posted a 1.04 ERA, no record, and converted all 6 save opportunities.

What to conclude from all this? (Besides the fact that I’m a tremendous dork who loves baseball, statistics, and video games?) That this will be mighty difficult. Assuming the A’s go on to a 94-68 record, which is a very standard mark for a Wild Card team, I will need to compile an 87-18 (.829) record to catch them. In my Pro-level (3rd hardest of four levels) season in 2005, I only went .722. And that year, Ichiro hit over 30 HR.

Good luck.


Greatest Comeback Ever? (or: 7-50)

Categories: A Day in the Life, Let's Go M's, Upcoming Projects, Video Games Killed the Free Time, Tags: , , ,

I’m well aware that I haven’t posted in a while, and this isn’t really a “real” post anyway. The holiday season is hitting full stride and people have been crazy at work and at home. It’s a three-day weekend, but Em will be spending most all of it in Sacramento as the powerful at the capital try to play “Deal or No Deal”.

So hopefully I’ll have some time to update various parts of the webpage, catch up with my life, and maybe even do something meaningful.

But not yet.

Saturday mornings are some of my biggest video game times, when the whole world of possibility with free time unfolds and I can just let my mind go and relax a little. And of course I can’t stop playing MVP 2005, despite my aforementioned growing hatred of its hardest difficulty level.

So I’ve decided, in the 2007 season, to attempt the greatest comeback in the history of baseball. Rather than languishing on my 20-win pace for the season, I’m switching back to All-Star difficulty for the last 105 games of the season. The goal is to make the playoffs.

Here’s a testimony to my abysmal performance so far:
7-50 (.123) record
28.5 GB (Angels) in the AL West
26.0 GB (A’s) in the AL Wild Card
112-363 (-251) Run Differential
2-27 Home, 5-23 Road
.188 BA, 6.18 ERA
3-16 vs. West, 0-18 vs. Central, 4-15 vs. East, 0-1 Interleague
35 HR, 54 SB

And Ichiro is hitting under .200.

Can this band of scrappy Mariners, defending champions for the past two seasons (who broke their own AL record for wins with 117 in 2005) add to their accomplishments with the greatest seasonal turn-around in the history of sports?

Stay tuned…

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