Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Playing politics

Politics is downstream from culture.
- Andrew Breitbart

I think its time to retire the word politics.  It pains me to say it but the word has too much baggage. It's been made into a dirty word for a dirty mean-spirited thing that makes us into worse and worse people.  We did this, we created this understanding.  And we underestimated the influence that market forces have on access to decision makers and the decisions they make.  But Politics, that word that once represented the triumph of reason over barbarity, the promise of mankind, is now in shambles. Its a shell of its former glory, a cipher that represents now only the base machinations of operatives and professionals that put a premium on winning at all cost over winning in lasting, sustainable ways.

Politics has reduced perhaps the most important social exercise of all - namely the administration, caretaking and shared security of large groups of people - to a high-stakes game.  It infantizes us, rendering those who participate less and less sensible while filling the rest on the periphery with disgust and resentment for the 'system' of games that are played, the nakedly selfish interests of the players and the obvious inequities of the system.  The tragedy is that while politics makes fills us with disgust of the 'system', the 'system' is not separate from us.  It is us.  It is our cities, our provinces, our states, our countries and our world.  It is our community, made up of us, made for us, made by us.  Politics as it stands today, removes this personal investment in these real communities and in its place is fealty to the theoretical, the putative...the ideology of the party, the professional political class, the players in the game that observers are left to root for from the stands.

The well-being of a single human is difficult enough - ask any parent.  And no one would argue that one or two parents trying to decide what was best for a child was some kind of game.  How then could the arguments over what's best for 30 million people, 300 million people end up being full of less substance and more performance?  Be full of more empty promises and less patience for finding the path forward?  It may be an ideal notion that politics should be full of the most serious of people but it shouldn't just be a notion.  Anyone who thinks about it for a second would see why it should be a reality.  But once the human mind moves from wanting what's best for everyone including yourself, to wanting what we want - then it just becomes a matter of building relationships of convenience, relationship solely as a means to an end.  And then the games begin...

Perhaps we can try the word politics again in the future when every human understands this.  But for now, the word is simply too abused, too mistreated, too battered and bruised. Communication. Dialogue. Debate. Convince. Persuade.  All these words speak of something sophisticated, something important, something done while listening to someone else, something done while looking someone in the eye.  Something that is earnest and respectable.

'Politics' does not have that same ring.   At this point, we simply do it because we don't know how to do something else.  Maybe using a different word might help us to escape this losing game.

Saturday, February 04, 2017

Manifest Destiny part II: Entitlement reform

All of us, if we are of reflective habit, like and admire men whose fundamental beliefs differ radically from our own. But when a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or count himself lost. … All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum.

The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.
H. L. Mencken
I am always open to all the possibilities.  It's just that the pollsters were so goddamned certain. That should have been my warning.  Daniel Kahneman, Nassim Taleb - they truly are the starting point of a thinking, conscious human being in the 21st century.   We all get lazy and assume that someone else knows.

I was a little surprised.  They underestimated him in the primaries, too, though so I wasn't stunned - thank goodness.  But Mencken would have known. He would have just assumed that Americans are what they have always been, and have never portrayed themselves as: perfectly average humans.  He would have assumed that the sentence below was not only possible but likely of an American because an average human can rationalize just about anything:

"Oh and asked whether Trump is qualified to serve as president, 60 percent of voters said no. (Though nearly 1 in 5 of that 60 percent voted for him anyway)."

Michael Moore saw it coming.  Now he has a five-point plan.  LOL.  If he was so bloody clairvoyant why couldn't he change the outcome?  Late night hosts are crying like children.  Bernie Sanders supporters think they would have 'won'.

In the 'middle' Nate Silver looks like an idiot.  The media look like the clowns that they actually are. No one knows what is going on.  The Simpsons saw the endgame back in 2000.  Life imitates art, it seems...Putin's laughing his ass off...

On the other side...Idiots feel vindicated.  The President-elect is going full steam ahead - never mind that among the people who bothered or were able to pinch their nose long enough to vote, more people dislike him than like him.  And Conservatives wonder if they are a dying breed.

Americans are so soft.

They have this great expression in the States: entitlement reform.  It refers to efforts to reorganize the country's social security infrastructure so that old people don't start dying in poverty the way most of them did in 1920s and 1930s.  It's basically running out of money - the numbers of people paying into it and those taking money out doesn't add up.  Like climate change, it isn't the problem of anyone actually in power right now, so whether it gets fixed is debatable.

And boy do the Americans need it.  Because like perhaps no other people in the world, Americans are the most self-important, self-entitled group of humans ever.

The worst medical, emotional, traumatic and violent hardship that an American is experiencing today is nothing set against the suffering of those places in the world that have to worry about terms like, 'sanitation', 'infant mortality', 'food and water security', 'mortar fire', 'refugees', 'air raids', 'mass kidnapping', 'IEDs' and 'suicide bombing'.  Whoever was going to win the election, how many Americans will ever have to think about any of these words?  How many hundreds of millions of humans in our world do?

...

So the day after, we're hearing people throw around a word like 'mandate'. That's really depressing because for all the things that can be said about the average American it seems we must also add to the list poor comprehension of the English language.  A 'repudiation'!     Mandate?!?  The vote was literally 50-50!  If they re-did it today, there might be a completely different fucking outcome! Repudiation?  The same people who voted for Trump are the same people who hated Obama on day one.  Nothing was decided.  What was reinforced is that Americans can't really agree on anything, not even whether a person like Donald Trump was what the Founders had in mind for the Oval Office.  I mean for God's sake, isn't like supposed to attract like?  Glenn Beck is a Conservative who happens to be a bloviating windbag and even he couldn't stomach supporting Trump.  Why would anyone argue that Trump is a winner when he couldn't even secure the Conservative bloviating windbag vote?

Aaron Sorkin wrote a line in the second episode of the second season of "The West Wing".  Govenor Bartlett's crack team of political operatives lay out the plan of attack to conquer the primary season, with their prognostications coming down like pronouncements of the inevitable.  Bartlett takes it in and when the sunny forecast of their victory is finally declared he throws up his hands and says, "Well, that's it then.  We've saved people the trouble of voting!"

"We need to bring jobs back to our country, make the economy stronger and hopefully unite all people. I feel Obama has put a wedge between the people of this country. We should be looked at as individual merits and not by the colour of our skin."

Does she think that her experience is in any way cognate with even 1 percent of the 320 million people in her country?  Does she think her opinion or her slice of the American experience is somehow reflective of the life of an inner city youth in Chicago or a firefighter in De Moines, or a gay nightclub owner in Miami?  Besides the fact that the Founders deliberately viewed the country as a collection of states each with their individual priorities and character, each of the people just mentioned have a daily vision of America so different that they might as well be on different planets.

This was this woman's thought process.  But this isn't some sort of one-off.  This isn't an exception. She is the rule.  All 320 million of them seem confident they have some sense of their country.  And absolutely none of them seem to make any effort to do so.

Why are they all so certain without any fucking knowledge?

I'll tell you why.  It's because Americans neither know nor care what their country is actually like. They only care about what they want it to be for them.  They're Americans.  Getting what they want is their birthright.

And ultimately what does it all boil down to?  Entitlement - the entitlement at the heart of the American psyche.  I'm an American.  I'm entitled to a good job.  Cheap gas.  A gun.  Massive portions. Short commutes and open roads.  Low taxes.

Cold beer.  Cheap power.  Social security.  A pension.  Football on Sundays.  A home and a car.  I'm an American.

If I don't want to know how trade works or how economics works or how coding works, that fine, because I'm an American.  If the world is moving in a direction away from my way of life, that's fine, because I'm an American.  I'm a rugged individualist and I don't need no government helping me, but those good-for-nothings in Washington aren't looking out for me, and I deserve it because I'm an American.

Why do I need to know if black people are being gunned down by police?  I'm an American.  Why should I care if a liberal is talking about racism or sexism?  I'm an American.  Why should I respect a woman's body? I'm an American.

Does it bother you that little kids were gunned down in Newtown?  I mean, yeah its a raw deal but, I deserve to be able to buy a gun anytime I want.  I'm an American.  I deserve to have a woman president.  I'm an American.  I deserve to have a government that represents what I believe in.  I'm an American.  I deserve a country free of bigotry and hate.  I'm an American.

Y'all don't deserve shit.  No one cares that you're American.  You have had the luxury of convincing yourselves that you deserve things, that you don't have to care about what others think, that the country is made to satisfy you, because in the past those things happened.  Here in the real world, we fight for what we can take and we bargain for what we can't.  It really isn't any more complicated because no one deserves anything.

The staggering ignorance of their own fellow citizens - never mind the world beyond their borders - has brought them to this fate.  And the truly lamentable thing is: there are no grownups.  The liberal intelligentsia - those who should by all accounts see that if overtures and efforts to build bridges between liberal and conservative, between states, between communities, aren't made by them, they'll never be made - in their disgust and distain for the conservative 'other' are just as, if not, even more entitled.  Yet they look at Trump's election with outrage.

They harbour this outrage to these dregs, the historical relics.  Bible belt, home-schooled, inbred, human garbage.  They are aghast at how the peasants feel this entitlement to their ignorance, to their selfishness, to their racism, and guns and xenophobia, their fear of progress, their fear of change.

And for all the sophistication of some member of the idea economy, living in the big city, with a multicultural group of friends, sharing in their experiences, how much of the knowledge economy has brought any wisdom?  How much has access to all that knowledge made people more human?  How many people feel as entitled to their freedom to not engage politically, culturally and intellectually with the rural 'other', the uneducated 'other', the working class 'other'?  They don't need to cross the divide - they're Americans.

No, they don't need to do that work.  They do if they want to remain 'United States of America' and not just 'States of America'.  That 'United' part requires stuff like volunteering, reading newspapers that you don't necessarily like, making connections with different parts of the country.  That unity takes work.  And as any population grows and becomes more complex and diversifies, it takes even more work.

Americans are putting the same amount of work (or possibly less) into being citizens now that Americans did when the country was a quarter as big.  Why would anyone think that that is sustainable for the Union?

And yes this process is hard.  It has always been hard.  It would be hard in a place like fucking Aleppo, where humans actually know what hard really is.

But for the average American?  The soft, docile, pampered, entitled, ignorant, obese, cattle-like average American?  Coddled on television, fattened on GMO corn-starch garbage, encouraged at every step to their right to comfort and ignorance?  Recipients of the Devine blessing of a Destiny that is Manifest?  The American that has been domesticated from their early years, indoctrinated from childhood that they will be okay regardless of what the future brings because they are American?  You might as well ask them to walk themselves off of a cliff.  They're Americans. Why the fuck should they have to do something, anything, they don't want to?

And not being American myself, one might ask: why do I care?  Why does anyone in the world care about the goddamn Americans?  Well, two reasons really.  One, they have a lot of nukes.  And two, they talk a good game.  They say that theirs is the best country in the world.  They basically beat people over the head with how great it is.  So it's pretty confusing to us suckers in sucky parts unknown the world over, when the Donald makes an entire campaign out of how America isn't great and has to be made 'Great Again"...and wins?!?  So America sucked all this time?  Why do they lecture other countries on human rights and economic freedom and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, if they don't have their own shit together?

That's a rhetorical question.  Didn't you read a word that I've written so far?  They are a whole country of soft, entitled princesses.

Which of course brings us to the softest American of them all: Donald John Trump.  Is there anyone in the world that doesn't believe that they could beat Donald Trump in a fist fight?  Teddy Roosevelt could probably kill Donald Trump in hand to hand combat with one arm.  Donald Trump is basically Joaquin Phoenix as Commodus in Gladiator and every other human is Maximus.

In a real way, a Trump Presidency is the logical conclusion of the arrogant self-importance and sense of entitlement that all Americans seem to have.  It is only fitting that the most entitled, least deserving person in the country should ultimately become President.


How soft is Trump?  Well, here is a man that hasn't a backbone.  He's the human equivalent of soft-serve ice cream.  He's a shape-shifter.  There are serious people who would consider a person that rises above partisanship, above simple dichotomies of ideas to be the highest form of human.  All those serious people would despise Trump because he isn't that.  He doesn't rise above conventional thinking.  He bloviates below it.  He's the walking definition of equivocation, the man that stands for absolutely nothing.  Take for example this tweet:

First off, the doofus thought that Romney was somehow going to win the popular and lose the Electoral College - actually Romney just lost both.  But more importantly, more breathtakingly, and more unsurprisingly, four years later, he does the exact thing that outraged him - win the Electoral College with less votes - the exact same thing that he says calls for a revolution and...

And what?  What were you expecting?  The man doesn't believe in anything.  He doesn't remember anything he said ten minutes ago.  He's a four year old.

What does it say about America that the man who believes in nothing is the most American American of them all?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Hello, my dear love. And Goodbye...

To my daughter, Kamillah Grace,

I can't speak for your mother, my love, my darling.  And I won't. You had a relationship with her that I can never know, trapped in this finite, incapable & wonderless body of mine.  It seemed as though you were terribly real to her from the moment that you were just form without essence - just a handful of pluripotent cells, eager to divide, change and fulfill their destiny.  To me you were a promise: an island on the horizon, an undiscovered country.  I was eager - I looked forward to the fulfillment of the promise.  I looked to the horizon and anticipated the rise of the sun.  I wanted to explore this new realm and be the best father to you that a man could be.

To me, you were far away.

Is there a point to telling you who I am?  Is there something more to the Universe than what we can see with our eyes and measure with rulers & tools?  Is there a quantifiable foundation to all that there is?  If so, then I'm talking to no one.  I may well be talking to someone that never existed.  That possibility doesn't frighten me.  I know it frightens others, who change the notion in their minds from possibility to certainty.  I know why it frightens them - what possible meaning could lay behind the loss of someone that never existed?

But that is only possibility, nothing more.  It isn't any more or less true than the alternative.  There's a comfort in both, isn't there?  If you never existed, then you were denied both the virtues and vices of life - your first kiss and the reality of living in a world where Donald Trump is commander of the most powerful military force ever assembled by mankind.  Life isn't inherently good or bad, so you never existing couldn't inherently be a blessing or a curse.  Given the chance, you'd have no reason to envy the living.

And if you did exist by any definition I can fathom, was your short stay...pleasant?  Could you feel sensation?  The warmth of your mother's body.  The vibration against your skin.  Is there some way, some mechanism by which my words to you through the cocoon of your mother's tummy touched you?  One nerve cell reaching for another, like hands in the dark looking to grasp onto something, anything.  Leaving a mark, a record inside of your body of the world around you.  Had you already created your first memory?  Had you already made yourself real?

(Gosh, your heart beat was so strong and steady.  I had no doubts that I would hear it one day, not with a doppler, but with my own ears, pressed against your tiny chest.  1 year, 2 years, 3 years, 4. Would you wonder why Papa did that, pushed your arms away and put his ear next to your chest?
When would you tire of it?)

My heart breaks to think of the discomfort at the end, the discomfort that we imagine all living beings feel at the end of being.  Where beings dissolves back into things.  We all have a sense of that one moment of going from a person to a body.  Is there one moment when one goes from cells to a person?  What is the moment when a snowflake rolling down hill turns to a snowball?  Or a snowball to a boulder?  My darling, Kamillah Grace, I don't know these answers.  But whatever you were, I love you with all my heart.  I would have given you everything I had.  And when the tears come to my eyes at being cheated of you, I will remind myself that I still can.

Your father feels silly for a moment, thinking that he's writing this to himself.  A letter without a recipient.  And then he thinks how silly his skepticism and doubts must look to his daughter, her existing in some unreachable place, peering at him in some manner or form beyond the unremarkable limit of human understanding.  Curly hair and freckles the wonder and marvel of which I can only imagine - she peers over my shoulder at what I'm writing and smiles at being so embedded in the heart of one she can't touch, one she can only know from a distance and in passing.  Whereas I only hope, she knows. You know there's more to the Universe than what I can know, and you know that we'll meet properly, see each other again.  How much do I envy you.

I kissed your little nose - your red, unfinished skin.  I held you in my hand, what remained of you, as close as I dared.  Now you are close and yet still so far, so frustratingly, unfairly far.  In my mind's eye, I saw what could have been. We were denied from each other by forces beyond our control, my love. But my love for you will not be denied, not by reason, nor passion.  Not by distance.  Not by time.

In the world that I know, to you my darling, I say hello and goodbye.  And in the world you know, hear my whisper...

...Until we meet again.

Your father,
Kamil

P.S.  I can't promise that I won't write you from time to time.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Manifest Destiny or 'If Donald Trump is the answer, what is the question?'

Grandtots,

You will look back at my blog and wonder: Jeez I knew my grandpa.  What was he thinking when that reality TV star became U.S. president after Barack Obama?

Well, three things.  The first is this idea of the message vs the messenger.  We have that great saying, don't shoot the messenger.  But it seems to me Americans have something very backwards. They pick a president like Barack or Donald and think that with the right message - "Hope + Change" or "Make America Great Again" - that they'll be able to get things done.  When nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is: they have a country now where the messenger will determine the audience before a word is said.  McLuhan said the medium was the message.  Well, in a world built on appearances, the messenger is louder than the message.  Anyone who thinks that Donald Trump is going to unify anything, make the majority of the country that didn't vote for him listen after everything that he's said already, would do well to remember how his much more careful and considerate predecessor fared attempting the same thing.

So America seems to have abandoned the idea of unity.  They pay lip service obviously - it sounds good.  They put E Pluribus Unum on their money, after all.  But the melting pot?  Shared American values?  What would those be?  If decency was one of them, I mean, they just elected Donald Trump. This summer I watched Team USA basketball get booed...in the United States. If Americans can't uniformly cheer for an Olympic national baskeball team...

The messenger is more important than the message.  When I last checked politics was about shared interest and communication.  But America is defined by self-interest and messengers.  The cult of celebrity that has worked its way into every facet of their lives, is now complete.  A man got elected president because of his ability to entertain.  Will the quality of those who put their name in the hat going forward improve or degrade?

They've had two elections in 20 years where someone had less votes that the other person and became president.  The first was decided not by counting all the votes but instead by the Supreme Court.   So in addition to giving up on unity, giving up on decency, giving up on the importance of the message and policy, they've also seemed to abandoned the idea that a mandate comes from getting more votes than the next guy (or gal).  So one wonders what they'll abandon next?

The second thing is: there was a lot of talk about how Donald Trump couldn't win an election appealing just to white people.  Again, I think that Americans have that backward.  Obviously white people are as unified a group as black people or any demographic entity.  But America is a white country, the same way Japan is a Japanese country.  Trying to win without actively catering to white anxiety and fears would be like trying to win a Japanese election without appealing to the concerns of ethnic Japanese.  Non hispanic whites are 2/3rds of the country.  If you win them by enough it really doesn't matter what else happens. 

I think people tend to think of America as the world in microcosm, as representative of humanity.  We get this notion that the melting pot is a kind of gulash or gumbo. When in reality its clam chowder with some other stuff added for flavour.  America isn't nearly as diverse culturally, intellectually or racially as anyone thinks.  There are huge swaths of that country where the percentage of non-white people plummets into single digits.  There are not huge swaths of the country where the percentage of white people is in single digits.  White nationalism is a thing and a very potent thing especially when voter turnout averages around 50%.  A one-percent uptick in white participation will tip any balance, no matter how comfortable a statistical model.

And finally, something I've been mulling around in my head for a while but can't be bothered to really explore further. There is this unresolved tension at the heart of every American.  The rest of the world cheers them on, wanting the best and assuming their best is best for the world.  But they have a big problem.  It's like a rot in the foundation and it cuts across other more visible difficulties of class, gender and race..  It's built into the country's DNA as it is in no other country the world, so there really isn't any other situation to compare it with.  And it is this.

Contrary to the beliefs of, I would say, a solid majority of Americans, the city named after George Washington isn't some foreign entity.  It isn't a foreign power, it isn't an invading force, it isn't a overbearing occupier.  Washington, D.C. and the elected officials that work there is nothing more or less that a concentrated version of the country in miniature.   Americans have this sense that Washington D.C. has to work independent of the opinions and disquiets of the people, because they honestly believe that Washington is something fundamentally separate from a steel worker in Mississippi or a Oil rig worker in Alaska.   To them its just a broken machine, like Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey that needs the right mechanic to fix it.  But the undeniable truth, to which most of their people are completely oblivious, is that the politicians of Washington D.C. and the sum total of the work that does (or doesn't) happen there are just a reflection of the people who send them, just a reflection of the country at large.  It isn't that Washington D.C. doesn't work (and that would be a pretty bad problem if that were all it is).  It's that Washington D.C. doesn't work because the country doesn't work and the parts of the country that they send to Washington won't work together any better than the whole from which they are derived.  The parts of the country don't fit together (easily) anymore.

If anyone took one American from each state and put all 50 of them in a room and asked them to get something important or substantial done, they'll end up in just as much gridlock as does the House and Senate.  They would find that they had a lot less in common than is suggested by the word 'nation'. Some of them will argue that they shouldn't try to solve the problem collectively but rather individually.  Some people will ally with people that look like them.  Some women would stick together against predatory loners.  A third of them in the room would have a gun and the other two-thirds would be weary of that first third.  They honestly lament Washington as an outside problem to be solved by an outside agent - Barack or Donald.  They see the problem as something separate from themselves.

How could this be?  How could they not see that Washington is literally a pulsating symptom of a disease at the heart of the country?  To my mind, it is for two reasons.  The reality is that there are two diseases at work, an old, chronic one and one of a recent making...a philosophical one and a social one.

The philosophical affliction is that wide swaths of the populace know that government is bad and shouldn't be trusted.  Which is fine if you live in a dictatorship...but in an elected democracy that has a two century old history of free and fair elections that fundamental distrust of government is a fundamental distrust of your own people: your neighbours, your partners, your allies.  I'd love for someone to explain how they can have it both ways but near as I can figure a line can't be neatly drawn between the government of a country and its people when the government is made of the people, by the people and for the people.  Distrusting a government made up of citizens, by citizens, for the benefit of citizens = distrust of citizens.  That is simple logic.  The rhetoric tries to tease out and separate the two - put good guys on one side, bad guys on the other.  Some times the good guys are unions, some times the good guys are corporations.  But the bad guys are always in Washington. 

And you can't have it both ways.  Either you have a democracy, and a government made up of regular folks, and the will of the people is expressed every two years and every elected official devoting their life to public service is a patriot and its the BEST.THING.EVER. and your government is the envy of the world OR the government is a foreign parasite siphoning the energy of its people in order to feed a bureaucratic machine that breaks the backs of its citizens through taxation and over-regulation, enriches itself, encourages corruption and reduces the hopes and dreams of free man and womankind to rabble.  

It can't be both of those things at the same time.

The Founders took their distrust of foreign control and the understandably romantic image of themselves as rebel liberators realizing freedom through violent revolt past its logical conclusion and applied it wholesale to the relationships between Washington and the states, into the very blueprint of the country and its spiritual sense of itself.  And 240 years later, surprise, surprise, it simply isn't helpful from a standpoint of unifying a nation. Americans elect people to federal office by the will of their neighbours and then spend 2,4,6 years distrusting that will until the next election.  But this is simply distrusting your neighbors over and over again until you get to the point where the distrust is the only thing that you can agree upon.  And that is precisely where they are now.  An American in L.A. (Los Angeles) is not likely to agree on a lot of public policy (if they are even familiar with it) with an American from LA (Louisiana).  But they both agree that they agree that Washington is full of worthless bums.  

Heh, no.  Washington is full of people like the one that stares back at you from the mirror...who do the exact same things that you would if you were in Washington. 

The social disease is more well documented, has even more consequence for the digital age, and is more overt.  It is simply the conscious effort by certain politicians for the short-sighted and reprehensible benefit of a political party at the expense of the republic (a word that must seem foreign to most Americans) to redraw congressional districts and basically render voting counties the equivalent of concentration camps of like-mindedness: echo chamber ghettos that combine with the emergence of the web and social media to give people a sense of access to information, a sense of being informed, while rendering themselves more ignorant than ever before by continually, willingly and eagerly exposing themselves to increasingly clever, trite, meme-like, faux-outrageous and entertaining expressions of their own beliefs.  The double-whammy is that this is the convergence of both an analog and digital process.  The counties were made into physical echo chambers of the real world.  The Web and network meeting places like forums and Facebook serve as virtual echo chambers and amplifiers of the chatter in the cyber world.  They filter out disagreement, contrasting viewpoints, nuance, cosmopolitanism, and diversity in the same way that a canopy of leaves starve the underbrush of a forest of sunlight. 

Combine these four things: a political heritage of mistrust of the very place and people that most represents their unity, a spirit and identity that deifies violent revolt, a logistical electoral map drawn to create even more borders and division between people but this time borders not of space but of thought and ideology itself, and a cyber world that makes it easier than ever before to never have to revise or revisit the merits of any opinions of public consequence...what chance do any mere heartfelt words or best intentions have when pitted against those four things?  It's like trying to redefine gravity.  It's like trying to change the course of a hurricane with an electric fan.  They're just mere words pitted against culture, heritage, technology and institutionalized decisions, lines consciously and deliberately drawn in ink on a map.  The percentages of states won in the electoral college may change but that popular election count is crystallizing near the 50/50 stalemate.  And this is the worst outcome of all.

As I mentioned in a previous blog post, people don't want to win.  They think they do, but they don't. What they want is certainty.  What they want is to have people respect their win, recognize it and bend the knee.  They want people to recognize their superiority.  They want to have the answer, have the faith of others and lead.  Respect and obeisance without victory will always be taken over victory without respect.  The Cavs won the title over the Warriors and you'd be hard pressed to say that the Cavs were clearly the best team in basketball, when they eeked out the title in 7 games over a Warriors team that dominated the season, won more games than any other team in history and won the stronger conference against harder opponents.

But to squeak out the win...does Donald Trump have a mandate?  He has the power but does he have a mandate, when more people voted for someone else?  Does he have some claim to being the leader of all Americans when there are whole cities in his own country that he'll never feel comfortable visiting?  Crowds in front of which the best he could hope for is to be booed?  How much progress can America make if each successive administration simply wipes clean the efforts of the last?  The 50% win is meaningless.

And that is the real, real danger of President Trump.  Not that he'll be too influential.  But that ultimately he was the true turning point, the true realization of a Do-Nothing-America, living in the hopes of a return to an idealized illusion of the past, entering into the twilight of its significance, paralysed by being literally of two separate minds.  If neither Barack Obama nor Donald Trump, a statesman and a salesman, two people more different than imaginable, can do anything of lasting importance to and for the United States, what American can?

- Grandpa


Saturday, September 17, 2016

Is Sheba Cool or Lame?

We lay in bed, talking.  Her more than me, but we lay in bed talking, as she is wont to do.  She bounces from one topic to another, laughing and annoying me to no end, and I calculate that it will be at least another twenty minutes before she’ll show me mercy and let me go to sleep.

She asks a question and I reply, insufficiently to her liking, which invariably elicits four or five follow-up questions.  I’m walking a fine line here – how to answer comprehensively enough that follow up questions decrease while remaining brief and terse enough to keep her level of enthusiasm from rising – I negotiate it as best as I can.  The flame of her social mind flickers, the embers wane.  Another question, another answer – her need to talk is nearly quenched, now almost extinguished.

And then, she, my wife, does as she always does.  What perhaps she alone can do.

She surprises me.

“Babe, am I cool?”

Five syllables waft through the air from where she sits to where my head lay, bouncing from atom to atom, vibrating atmosphere before doing the same to my eardrum.  Action potentials, the movement of ions, the brief percolation of the syllables made into words, then finally into ideas, over my brain, percolating like water through coffee grounds. 

And just like the caffeine in those coffee grounds would, her question has me wide awake.  Awake as I’ve ever been.

“Are you cool?”  I repeat carefully.  I’ve never heard anyone say these words to me, in this order, before.  The novelty has my faculties returning full blast, the nearness of sleep is not so near anymore.

“Yeah.  Am I cool?  What do you think?”

I half-smile to her and half-smile to myself.  “That’s…a loaded question, doll.”

“Well, tell me…”

The very idea of trying to get into it now, here, at this hour, off-the-cuff without cue cards or charts or presentation slides makes my stomach turn.  It would be an affront to intellectualism itself – equivalent to trying to launch a Saturn V rocket by eyeballing it.  But the challenge has been made.  I have to write to have any hope of coming to an answer.  And even then I’m not sure what conclusion I’ll find.  Heck I don’t even know if I’ll like the answer.

Is Sheba cool or lame?

Let’s do it!

***

I suppose first we have to establish some definitions, some criteria, some guideposts to the inquiry. ‘Cool’ is obviously a nebulous kind of term, immediately suggestive of social power dynamics, in-group vs out-group theory, self and othering, and then into economic theory like Veblen goods and utility diagrams.  And after having spent years or even a lifetime trying to account for and capture ‘coolness’ in all the objective, quantifiable ways possible, we peer into the bucket only to find that we’ve gathered none of it at all – the bucket had a hole in the bottom.  Every notion we ever had of ‘being cool’ that we stored away drained out the bottom of the bucket.  It is the ultimate emergent property, the ultimate eye-of-the-beholder attribute.  It is the diamond of subjectivity – the flawless gem of qualitativeness.  Like water in the hand, the harder you try to grasp coolness, the easier it escapes.  Like the Dao, or the Do of Karate-do, the moment that you think that you have it is the moment that it eludes you.

(I’m typing this next to a girl watching ‘The Notebook’ on her phone.  How gross…!  Needless to say the next few paragraphs will be garbage that you can skip…)

So our first acknowledgement is that zero upon zero percent of humans actually know what cool is.   Go too far into aloofness and you’re just cruel and a jerk.  Be too accessible and you’re too eager and desperate.  Moody and mysterious on one side of the line becomes emo and pathetic on the other. Charming and happy without fail – you’re naïve and a sheep.  No one ‘cool’ could ever be naïve, a sheep, emo, pathetic, desperate, eager, cruel or a jerk.

If you’re a player, reducing women to objects and getting your belt notches into the high double or triple digits, chances are you have a STI for your troubles.  As much as girls are a game of numbers to such men, viruses and bacteria are just a game of numbers to our genitals.  To envy such a person is to envy the dude playing musical chairs so long that he might be the last man standing.  It was fun while it lasted, I guess.

If you’re a good girl, who only had sex with one man your whole life, knock on wood, you won’t get an STI.  You also won’t really experience to any meaningful degree one of the four fundamental joys of life (sex…along with sleeping, eating and shitting – dancing being, to my mind, just an extension of fucking and masturbation).  To say that a person that’s only had one sexual partner could ever really be cool would be like saying a person that’s only slept in one bed, or eaten from the same cook their whole life, or never taken a shit in someone else’s house is cool – its about as cool as someone who literally has no clue what they are missing. ‘Cool’ obviously has to be an appeal to someone who has something that others don’t, something that others want; not someone in desperate need of what others’ take for granted.

So, we already see that ‘cool’ is dynamic.  It isn’t as simple as being the person that has a lot of something or someone living so simply that they seem to be missing out.  ‘Coolness’ is somewhere in the middle, something unique, something rare, but at the same time something that isn’t ‘obvious’ and ‘simple’.

So is ‘cool’ middle-ground?  Well, there seems to be a quality of balance to a person who is thought of as cool.  But objects that are thought of as ‘cool’ are usually new, original, exciting, things that challenge the imagination.  And maybe the notion of a ‘balanced’ person or an ‘original’ person also tickles the imagination – the idea that someone could be put together and well adjusted in a world constantly pulling us between selfish thoughts of ourselves and sacrifice for the good of others – a world that is constantly challenging our sense of self-worth, our purpose and rarely offers certainty as to what we should be doing and who we should be.

Yet middle-ground sometimes equates to middling.  And while some part of ‘cool’ may flow from ‘well-adjustedness’, ‘put-togetherness’, and self-assuredness, middling and average things are pretty much never cool.  People who never pick sides, indecisive people, people who always want things both ways, ambivalent people with no strong feelings or opinions – no one like that could be cool.

That would lead us to the opposite of the middle-ground people.  The trail-blazers.  The risk-takers. The outsiders.  The pioneers.  The grain-go-against-ers.  The rebels.   Judd Nelson in the Breakfast Club. Indecisive they are not.  They stand for no bullshit, they challenge authority and they don’t suffer others silently.  Injustice puts them on red alert – they aren’t afraid for a second to make a scene and take the initiative.  Most leaders will have some of these qualities and it’s hard to deny that leaders are often a lot ‘cooler’ than ‘followers’.

And yet, how much of being a leader is being seen to be a leader?  How much of it is about flash and pomp instead of substance and inspiring others by example?  Too often being a leader is just being a marketing guy – telling people that things are okay, giving people the sense of your importance or making people feel good about themselves.  When the shift from substance to semblance is complete – when looking good matters more than doing good – it’s very easy for the leader to tumble from being cool to being lame.  People who are a little too quick to mention their accomplishments, who are a little too quick to talk about things done in the past instead of their plans for the future – the boastful, the braggarts, the blowhards – you could be the leader of the world and still not be cool because the need to be your own hype man isn’t cool.  If you’re cool, other people do your hyping.

So where does that leave us?  ‘Cool’ isn’t a follower, but leaders without followers are pretty lame. Cool isn’t average, but extremists get old quick.  Cool is often novel or new, but originality is usually just ‘new to you’, not ‘new to the world’.  Very few things are actually new and when people think that something new to them is actually new, they can seem lame pretty fast.  ‘Cool’ is appeal and appealing – kindness is appealing, but sometimes so is aloofness and mystery.  So ‘cool’ is contextual, subjective.  Therefore, while sentiment can carry us away and give us an instinctual sense of what is appealing and cool, so long as what is cool is subjective and contextual, there will always be room for people to make the case as to why a thing or being is ‘cool’ or ‘lame’.

***

The arguments for why Sheba is cool are strong and articulated by others far better than by me:

The Insisted writes:
Hmm. Is Sheba cool or lame. To answer this one must first determine what is cool and what is lame RIGHT NOW. Because cool things are very of the moment, and only the moment. For example, hover boards are cool right now, butttt I find them super lame. Like obesity here I come! What else is very 2016. Oh! I know! Painting in your eyebrows: VERY cool right now, you can't go on Instagram without seeing ten women with the same crayola brushstroke above their eye got these little white girls looking like Khal Drogo.... ya, no, that's pretty lame to me too. Kylie Jenner is cool, that guy that wears white vans, the Housewives of Atlanta...all classifiably cool, and yet I find all of them unbelievably lame. And then there's Sheba! Now Sheba may not be cool to the untrained eye. She doesn't paint on her eyebrows (it would be like painting a bush on a bush), she doesn't keep up with which cleansing tea Kylie drinks to help her shit herself skinny, etc. She's terrible at taking selfies. She lets her chin hairs grow in ARGUABLY longer than she should (I'm talking billy goat here, people, you could cut it off and use it as twine). She wears this weird Aztec poncho all winter and I'm not going to say she doesn't get mistaken for the yeti. She's fond of belly rubs and chocolate cake (never leave the whole cake out on the counter, make a point of cutting her a piece and putting it away). And yet, somehow, I'm convinced Sheba is very very cool. She knows herself and doesn't question what she loves or does or says. She stands up for herself and other people. She wears what she wants, and rocks risky haircuts, and has her own untouchable style. She's unafraid to be goofy at an age (89) where most of her peers are too busy playing Mah Jong to be goofy. Kidding. If you're cool to one person, you're cool. And Sheba is cool to me. Bonus: I'm extremely cool and well known for being cool so that makes her even cooler. -Simone, younger sister (22), professional cool guy

Sohayla Smith contends:
Sheba is definitely cool. Her personal style makes her cool. Her forward nature makes her cool. Her confidence in the things she loves makes her cool. Her curly hair makes her indisputably cool. Her talents in voice & music make her über cool. Her organization and business strengths make her corporately cool. I would go on, but I'm running out of cool ways to describe how cool she actually is... It's almost like there aren't enough ways to communicate her coolness… "Cool" ain't cool enough to describe Sheba. Sheba IS cool. ;) <3 big="" i="" late="" lol="" sister.="" your="">

Mandelabursa adds:
Is Sheba cool or lame? I knew Sheba a long time ago and I've been getting to know her again. Its funny: what made her cool then is what makes her cool now. But, I don't think she sees it that way. When Sheba talks about the time we were and Denlow and St. Andrews, she tends to quite self-deprecating. But, I really don't understand why. I remember a girl who was fearless. While I was trying to meet some standard of cool that demanded a forced apathy, I observed someone who lived loudly. She laughed, cried, said strange and unexpected things, pursued her crush, annoyed his friends, expressed jealousy, worried, hoped, dreamed, got teased and fought back. All the while being genuine in every moment. Sheba was willing to risk heartache by being herself. That is a mark of courage. That’s what makes her cool then and that’s what makes her cool now. 

Now obviously, there is to be expected a fair amount of rose-coloured eyewear when being assessed outwardly by friends and loved ones – no one wants to admit to being friends with someone who is lame for fear of their lameness being a reflection on the question of their own coolness.  And I suppose that my coolness too, will be determined by my conclusion, being married to the person being assessed in this way.  However, I’m not content to simply rubberstamp my Sheba’s coolness.  Any real conclusion in her favor must come face to face with the advocacy of the other side – that is, the myriad of considerations suggestive of my beloved wife’s profound lameness.  But again, for the sake of honesty, it is important for us to remove from the fact of coolness or lameness the judgements of good or bad.  There are lame things like disco, that lighten our spirits and make us laugh.  And cool things, like being cynical and astute, that aren’t really a long term platform for our mental health and well being.  So it is entirely possible that my wife might simultaneously be, on balance, quite lame and yet still the best thing that has or will ever happen to me.  So allow me to play devil’s advocate…

***

And let us not beat around the bush.  With just a cursory look at my wife there are some things that come quickly to mind that are often considered uncool.  Let’s just summarize the biggest ones:

Floral print –

Bruce Lee writes that the ultimate style of fighting is to have ‘no-style’, that is, the style that takes the best elements of all styles and incorporates them to be something that is all of them yet none of them at all.  Well, Bruce may well have been talking about my Sheba, because she either rocks every style or has no style at all.  Her go-to, interest-piqued fashion favorites are floral prints, embroidered fabrics, clashing colours, and earth-tones.  She (thankfully) stops short of leopard prints (seriously, thank God) but she has the capacity to put on some combinations that are eye-catching for literally each and every individual wrong reason.

Now obviously, fashions are fads and not necessarily indicative of coolness.  Oscar Wilde famously said that fashions were so awful that we get rid of them wholescale every year and try again.  And just as obviously what a person wears or thinks is visually appealing is a poor arbiter of who that person is or what they represent in thought and spirit.  But again we aren’t taking about the beauty of my wife’s spirit, we are talking about whether she is cool or lame, and people who actively seek to dress like 70’s era grandmas tend to tilt to one side and not the other, no matter how confidently they may rock 70’s grandma clothes.

Do I want my wife’s fashion sense to change?  Hell, goddamn no!  And an everlasting fuck-you to anyone that would dare try to make her feel bad about how she looks or what she wears – I have a punch to the gut waiting for you!  But do I think that I want to dress that way?  Or does anyone else think that for that matter?  That she has a fashion sense and style worthy of envy and an eye for items and combinations that others would want to emulate?

I don’t.  I don’t think she’s on a subway or a bus or walking down the street and someone looks at her and says to themselves ‘She’s dressed cool!  I want to rock stuff like that!”  I could be massively wrong, but I don’t.  I think if anyone looks at her for a second or longer, they’d eventually say to themselves: what an ‘interesting’ combination.  They wouldn’t be mean or petty. They’d be perfectly polite in their head because her fashion sense would inspire simple curiosity as to why she thought those things went together.  Then they’d characterize her as eclectic and move on to the next thing in their heads.

Again, this isn’t a good thing or a bad thing.  It’s just a thing.  If someone asked me whether my wife, love of my life, dressed cool, I’d say not really.  She’s more interested in having fun with what she wears than ‘making a statement’.  She dresses in a way that makes her happy and that’s always going to be more of a priority than whether it met any standard of ‘cool’.

Thrifting –

This one can go either way, considering even now what was considered thrifting is now being rebranded as ‘repurposing’, ‘recycling’ and the like.  And I’m not enough of a rube to be blind to the idea that retail clothes, made overseas using cheap and oftentimes poorly treated labour and sold at criminally absurd markups, is an incredible racket that is one step above pay-day loans in my estimation of businesses that add good to the world.

But – there’s something a little, off, about wearing someone else’s shit.  Or at least above the age of getting hand me downs from your older siblings.  I mean, if someone has way too much clothes and wants to downsize, clearly they would do well to give it away, either to charity or to a thrift store.  It’s certainly more reasonable than keeping it or throwing it away.  However, I’ve been in any number of thrift stores and that is rarely the impression that I get from them.  Often do I get the impression that this item on this hanger meant a great deal to someone and some bad turn or circumstance forced them to sell it, just to make ends meet.  If a retail store in a mall – that altar & place of worship to the god of retail commerce, indoctrinating people from young to the virtues of spending money on things they don’t need – is actually a symbol of failure, a failure of society to understand the actual value of things, then a thrift store reeks of a failure of a different kind: a failure of people to manage themselves and their affairs forcing their hand into a situation where they had to sell things that they actually value just to get by.  Each item is potentially a tale of heartbreak.

Without doubt, being cool is about meeting standards – having standards.  People without standards or people with low standards are hard to justify as cool.  And thrifting immediately has connotations of low standards.  Things that other people don’t want.  Things that they do want or can’t afford any more.  Things that were considered quality by people poor enough that they straddled the line between keeping their own shit and selling their shit.  None of these things smack of high standards, and as my wife will tell anyone, while you can find some good things in a thrift store (some great things in thrift stores), you will also find a lot of bad crap, just as you’d find a lot of crap in a Gap or H&M or American Eagle.  The only difference is that while you’ll find crap in both, the crap in the mall is new & expensive and the crap at the thrift store is old & cheap.

It’s a balancing act, finding the treasures amidst the trash, finding the diamond in the rough.  Done correctly its probably the smartest form of shopping in the world, and my Sheba has an incredible eye.  And yet, now and again she’ll select something from her adventures and explorations through the racks and aisles of a Value Village or the like that is not old, cheap and good but rather old, cheap and bad – a thrifted item that looks like it was thrifted, something that was thrown away for the best reason of all: it just isn’t worth keeping; and in those moments, thrifting – spending time sorting through piles of other people’s garbage just to buy something that after being marked down 90% still isn’t worth what you end up paying for it – is a preposterously lame exercise.

An exercise that my beloved wife adores.

E-bikes –

My wife can tell you far better than I what people think of e-bikes.  E-bike riders are probably lower than pay-day loansharks on the scale of people who add value to the world to most motorists and the notion that anyone could get angry enough at my angelic wife – my nerdy, joyful wife – to pre-emptively cuss at her on the street like she was some crass, common human, is telling in and of itself. Only the rarest most awful form of degenerate could spend time talking to my Sheba and not find themselves fighting the urge to like her.

Yet mounted on her e-bike, in her lane, wearing her little helmut, puttering about at 30 km/h, minding her own business and bothering no one – she is public enemy no. 1.  She’s the end of civilization. She should be harassed and bullied off of the road.

I found this amusing at first, then I found it troubling.  So I did my token research to get to the bottom of the entitled motorists view.  Obviously the road belongs to them and its their God given right to have short commutes, smooth roads, care-free drives, where the pleasantness of the ride allows them to enter into a near Zen-like state of euphoria in which driver and vehicle become one and they transcend the base concerns of this corporeal human condition.  Reality however, goes differently. Everyone wants that bliss of driving, everyone rushes to get a car and everyone is fighting for their piece of the road.  And into this fragile peace, this fragile coexistence – enter the bicycle that can move fast, but not that fast; that can accelerate quickly adding uncertainty to other drivers; that straddles usage between a road vehicle and a pedestrian; and is clearly, (if perhaps, unfairly) associated with those drivers bad enough to lose their license and have their ‘big-boy’ driving privileges taken away.

This stereotypical e-bike user is not my Sheba.  And my Sheba has the best reason of all in easing back onto the road: SHE SURVIVED A FUCKING CAR ROLLING OVER OFF OF A HIGHWAY thereby making her tougher than 99.999999999% of humanity and 100% of dumb fucks cussing at her from a car window as they go by.  Sheba is a considerate and responsible motorist, doing her part to give e-bike riders a good name.

But there is such a thing as guilt by association and for every one Sheba out there on an e-bike there are 10 shitheads on e-bikes, driving between lanes and cars at a red light.  Or riding on the road only to see traffic and then zoom onto the sidewalk to bypass.  I’ve actually seen a guy, bottle in a paper bag in hand, riding down the street.  HE WAS DRINKING WHILE DRIVING!  And you have to figure that the motorist seeing this thinks of e-bike riders the same way city-dwellers think of pigeons – a pestilence of creatures that acts as though they can go anywhere and do whatever it likes, that no one would miss if they were driven to extinction.

Mandelabursa, one of the advocates for my Sheba’s coolness was forced to admit to me the fundamental trouble of e-bikes in the uneasy road peace among motorists.  Where there are cars, bicycles, pedestrians and e-bikes, the e-bikes confuse everyone’s expectations.  If they are in a bike lane, they are wider than bikes and the motor makes it easier to pass.  So now they look to pass more often which causes them to encroach on the driving lane causing the cars to decrease the speed of traffic.  The e-bike user becomes this bright flash bulb everybody that uses the road has to be on guard for – they are slow enough that you can rear end them, fast enough that if the collision was bad chances are someone could die.  They are quiet so you can’t hear them coming, and they find blindspots causing a motorist’s blood pressure to rise.

As we mentioned earlier in the discussion, cool is balance but cool is not middling or ambivalent. The e-bike represents the ultimate form of middling – the motorist that isn’t quite, the driver that dips their toe in rather than jumping in.  No one needs to be told about how driving is cool – the auto industry has spent more money in the last ten minutes than we’ll make in a lifetime telling us so.  No one would deny that biking and getting places while strengthening your heart and getting in shape is cool…it’s the highest form of cool – environmentally healthy & a lifestyle choice to be made with pride.

By those standards, the e-bike, as not equivalent to either driving (which is cool?) or biking (which is cool!) would kinda by definition be lame.  I’m sure you see it differently, doll, but its simple math.

Mug collecting –

Oh, boy…She doesn’t even drink that much coffee.  She has at most two or three cups a day.  So???

She tells me that it’s an experience – having her morning cuppa.  And the mug is part of that experience.  And I’m all for experiences…

But collecting things that you might not use?  That’s called hoarding and it most definitely is not cool.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call my wife a ‘mug-hoarder’.  She has standards – she has limits.  She is a ‘mug-collector’: an archeologist of pottery and ceramics made for the purpose of holding hot beverages.  And even my brother is learning to appreciate the value of a good mug for a morning drink (though he may be doing so just to annoy his sister-in-law).  I suppose mug-collecting/hoarding is just as lame or cool as any other collection of things that have passing sentimental value.  For me, the very act of collecting things is the act of accumulating stuff more for the sake of having it than any intention to use it.  Someone else could be using and enjoying it but instead, you’ve ‘collected’ it, so it can sit somewhere gathering dust, and that to me is quite lame.  But that could just be me.

Keeping me awake at night –

Admittedly the weakest of the considerations, but one near and dear to my heart.

I like to sleep.  I don’t like to be awake.  She likes keeping me awake.

It isn’t rocket science.  I think she’s lame when she keeps me up.  Sue me!!

Dancing –

So, predictably the best was saved for last.  Elaine from Seinfeld.  Pee-wee Herman.  Drake in Hotline Bling.  There are only two types of dancing: people dancing and people trying to figure out dancing.  People who do what the music tells them to and people trying to figure out what the music is saying to their bodies.  The first type is cool and the second type is lame.  I want it to be more complicated than that but it isn’t.  It’s easy.  A child can hear a beat and move naturally and effortlessly, lifting their heart and the hearts of onlookers.  If an adult can’t, they are lame.  This is one of the easiest ways of telling whether someone is cool or lame and its right there for anyone to see.

And we’ve all seen my Sheba dance…

Now my Sheba does have a magic power.  She has a gift.  For all her profound lack of coordination of physical grace, she makes it incredibly difficult to rag on her for her dancing.  Because she’s having a fair amount of fun.  Her arms go out at weird angles.  She loses the beat with regularity and moves out of sync.  She has a tendency to not take herself seriously enough causing her to seem like she’s having an epileptic seizure…

But her smile…Her smile wins over the crowd.  Her smile makes her adorable.  When she dances and smiles, she could be the most uncoordinated person in the world but she’s still one of the most beautiful.

So despite the fact that she has little to no rhythm, her lame-ness is still a little cool.

***

So where does that leave us?  Is there a verdict?  In the final analysis, I think I’m going to come at the question from two angles.  From the first angle the question “Am I cool?” is a question in search of some sort of objective perspective – whether Sheba is cool with regards to the world.  But from the second angle, my wife is asking my opinion of her, not what I think the world might think of her, but what I make of her.  So take this for what its worth…

From angle one: I think the verdict is very clear.  I must grudgingly admit that my wife, Sheba Devonish nee Mojtahedi, is, in fact, cool.  The points raised in favor of her lameness, while significant, are dramatically overpowered by the points raised by her advocates, namely that she is confident in her own skin as befitting someone her age, a comfort borne of actual hardship that she’s emerged from on the otherside.  She has seen some shit in her life.  And she’s still smiling.  As The Insisted mentions, to the untrained eye, she is perhaps not overtly cool.  But then of course, the rube, the vulgate, those armed only with the common untrained eye are not cool and have never been cool and cannot be an accurate judge of cool; the untrained eye is too busy trying to be cool.  Sheba isn’t trying to be anything but herself, her best self.  She tries to be the best leader that she can at work, and to hear her employees tell it, she is succeeding.  She tries to be the best wife she can, and she’d clear that bar in a comatose state.  She tries to be the best daughter and daughter-in-law she can be – again high marks.  She tries to be the best sister and aunt and friend and woman that she can be and even if she wasn’t succeeding she’d just wake up tomorrow and try some more.  This inhibition – this profound lack of self-consciousness coupled with an abiding sense of self-awareness - this is something that she share in spades with those people who are very clearly cool.  The bright light that leaves people a little happier from her presence and a little sadder from her absence.  That quality of the spirit – she who has ‘confidence in the things she loves’ as Sohayla Smith states, she who ‘lives life loudly, risking heartache to be herself’ as Mandelabursa writes – that quality of spirit must surely trump mere facts and details like riding an e-bike or dancing like a cripple-on-crack.

But I’m sorry to say that from angle two: the verdict is equally clear: doll, YOU ARE LAME!  I know that you are lame because I am lame and if you were cool and I was lame, you wouldn’t have chosen me.  You would’ve found someone rich, someone tall, someone buff, someone funny, someone who was consistently all the things that I am only occasionally.  And that would suck.

And this is why whenever you do something particularly lame…like that time that you asked me whether or not you’re cool…I smile.  I smile and shake my head in wonder at how lucky I was to convince you that I was somehow cool enough for you.  My darling wife, on the occasion of our second m-irthday, however lame or cool as we may be, let’s be that.  Let’s be whatever we are together.

Is that cool with you?

- K

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Anonymous the Bot

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.
- Oscar Wilde

Anonymous is an interesting idea, isn't it?  Not only the hacktivist anarchist collective, or the pithy quotes that you see online that were unattributed.  But the deeper idea of a person with no name, a source of thought with no identity.

If an idea has no source, does it exist?  Could I exist if I never had parents?  Causality and the mechanical nature of reality seems to suggest that all things come from somewhere and all people from someone.  But then you read a statement, a question, a comment and the author is "Anonymous" and that always tripped me up.  It tripped me up when I was younger, because I figured someone should be proud of what they said or wrote.  Not putting your name was cowardly and not knowing who said it and attributing it to no one was annoying, ignorant and lazy.  So there was this whole period of my life, probably before the age of 13, where any sentence that started 'someone once said,' or 'i can't remember who said it' was met with an eyeroll and supreme indifference.  Here comes someone trying to seem smarter than they actually are...look at them go...

Then you're a teenager and it seems as though everything that you say is a liability.  Every action and relationship is a reflection of your virtue as a person.  One day you're up and another you're down, your stock is fluctuating minute to minute by the who, the what, the where and the how of you.  All of a sudden, anonymous becomes that blanket of comfort and you understand the absolute necessity of anonymity to be who you really are - to say things without being afraid, to have an effect without risking yourself, your standing.  Anonymous becomes the best of allies and many people get stuck at this level of understanding to the point that people honestly can't conceive speaking their mind or confronting certain problems without their friend, anonymity, holding their hand and leading the way.

And now at the last level, I look upon anonymous with a sigh again.  Because there are certainly places and situations in this world where to speak one's mind is mortally dangerous.  And there are certainly things said that are worth repeating even if you didn't know who said it.  But I sigh.  I sigh because, it is a profound sense of self-importance to think that the forces of the world are trying to destroy you for your one, partial, small, unimportant opinion of one thing, today, that probably won't matter to anyone, including yourself, ten minutes from now.  We do ourselves a disservice to use anonymity like a magic wand applicable in every way, when it should at best be a spark or a scalpel, used to start things that couldn't be started any other way or cut a path to the truth that couldn't be reached in any other manner.  Too often the rationale becomes if you spoke your mind and put your name to what you thought, others can hold those thoughts against you.  Well, are we still fourteen years old?  Or at one point, are we going to take that deep breath and say to ourselves 'If I speak my mind, and you hate me for it, why should I care what you think of me?  Why shouldn't I want to know that you hate me?  Why shouldn't I want to give people like you a wide berth and find more people like myself?"  Why should we be afraid of the whole world and everything in it and every possible consequence of our actions, like a child?  Why shouldn't we think about what we say, say things with pride, stand by them for as long as we can, and then change what we say and think when something better comes along?

Why shouldn't the uncomfortable things that we say simply be used to clarify who we will be comfortable with?

So, I see many comments and messages on the internet from our old friend Anonymous, he's more active than ever.  And sometimes he has something interesting to say, and I confess, I read pretty much everything, so more often than not I listen.  I imagine sometimes Anonymous speaks for someone somewhere in this world not necessarily because they are afraid but simply because they are lazy and can't be bothered to add their name.  To that I always wonder: if you can't be bothered to add your name, how important is it to add your thoughts?  Nonetheless, anonymous speaks and I listen. But I still sigh.  Because no matter how smart anonymous seems in this instance, anonymous is still missing that larger point about the value of saying things and standing by what is said and by understanding the world through the reactions of those around you to what you say.

And then I can't help wondering if in the age of the Net, if all those messages that anonymous leaves isn't just a bot.  Just a random assortment of code, spitting out words assembled by algorithm just to appear like a real person.  No thought at all behind the words, just like all those anonymous thoughts existing without a source to stand behind them.

Is Anonymous real?  Or is it just the approximation, the imitation of the real?

- Anonymous

(P.S.  Just kidding, I wrote this.  Me.  Kamil!)

Monday, November 09, 2015

Things we hear and things that go without saying

Grandtots,

I love subtext.  I love innuendo.  I love the silence between sentences and the spaces between words. The darkness is what makes the stars stand out.

I love satire.  I love wit.  I love poignancy.  I love prescience.  And I especially love people who can appreciate these things.

I don't think I've been conscious 2 minutes in the last 20 years where my love or appreciation for those things that go unnoticed has wavered.  I notice now by reflex what others don't or can't notice when they try.  I correct people's sentences in my head as they talk to me and I notice people's errors as they make them before they finish.  Pobody's nerfect - I'm don't waste time judging them.  I understand the road they've taken just by looking at them, and the time it takes to be good at anything.  My understanding delights me.  I'm not big on offering corrections because I don't assume I know better.  I mostly just keep it to myself.  If asked I would offer an opinion.  If pressed, I would offer a complete opinion.  But how many people actually want to hear that?

I keep a lot to myself, I suppose.  I think, somewhere deep inside, I'm waiting.  I'm testing the world around me.  I'm prodding everyone to see if they notice.  I'm on the lookout for those who notice me noticing what others don't notice.

The one person that does this best, I had the good sense to marry her.

Most of the sentences I say out loud have some subtext, some words that were consciously omitted. There are the things that I say and the things that I determine go without saying.  But, by and large, they don't go.  By and large, people don't hear the things that I don't say.  And I find this...fascinating. Because there are so many things that people don't say to me that I hear so clearly.  I can hear people who aren't saying anything at all.  The silence in the world is so loud to me that sometimes it's deafening.

I'm not bragging.  It's just the truth of me.  Because my ears are so sensitive to silence, when people talk and use words in such feeble and pointless ways, it moves me inside.  People use words a lot like kleenex tissue or toilet paper.  You blow some excrement into it or you wipe your behind with it and then you throw it away.  You'd never think to keep a used kleenex and carry it with you.  You'd never think that toilet paper was a reflection of yourself.  It exists to be discarded.

To my ears, much of what is said is said in a forgettable way by people who have forgotten what they said even faster than they expect it to be forgotten by others.  When something is said memorably it is usually memorable only because of the magnitude of how badly it was said.  Feeble or pointless. Why say that at all if you were going to say it so badly?  I wonder.  Why not take a moment to think and say it better?  Saying it badly the first time will make it harder for you to say it well afterwards. The noise that you made dug the hole deeper.

We live in a strange world where the only types of people who can be counted upon to really measure their words are lawyers and politicians.  I watched Justin Trudeau giving a speech.  The whole country was united around him.  The reporters asking the questions were so happy to be asking questions of someone that would respond to follow up questions that any pretense of impartiality was eschewed.  They were on his side.  They wanted to hear him talk.  They were hanging on every word.

The first day of a politician's term is that politician at their most popular.  It was the mountaintop. They will only go down from here.  They will never have a better shot at genuine candor and levity.

And there was Justin Trudeau giving a press conference.  Reading the talking points like a robot. Taking every question like walking through a minefield.  Worried about saying the wrong thing.

I laughed.  I wouldn't do that.  I would smile.  I would smile and talk like I had something to say.  I would smile and talk like people wanted to hear me.  I would smile and pause when the silence spoke greater volumes.

I would smile and talk like I loved words.  And like words loved me back.

- Grandpa




Minds we make and minds made up for us

Grandtots,

An interesting thought just now.  I was reading an online forum trying to divine some information or other about some topic or other.  Wading through all the opinions - informed, uninformed, measured, melodramatic and in-between - I stopped to ask myself: do I really need to read all this?  I'm a pretty bright guy & I have a pretty good run of trusting my own judgement.  I don't really need to hear & read other people's opinions on things to have an effective and reasonable opinion of things myself.

But then the thought occurred to me in a flash:  maybe all the opinions I read is the reason why I have an effective and reasonable opinion of things.

In this case correlation may be causation.

- Grandpa