Monday, October 16, 2017


I never assume this of myself.  I suspect.  I suppose.  I consider the possibility.  But I never assume this.

Case in point, Sunday at the TPASC.  Shooting basketballs, dribbling, minding my own business.  Little kid walks up to me.  8-11 years old.

"Hey, do you want to play with us?  We don't have a ball."

"Why can't you just get a ball from the desk?"

"The desk wouldn't give us one."

"Why not?"

The kid shrugged.  I was pretty tired, having been there for nearly two hours already.

"Sure kid.  Here you go."

The kid was confused.  "You don't want to play?  Come and play."  The other kids behind him agreed.

I wouldn't get any better playing little kids.  "Nah, go on.  I'll just be over here."  The kids took the ball and started taking turns chucking.

Now you see what happened there.  No of course you missed it, so did I.

I'm sitting there for 10 minutes and the kids haven't even made teams as yet.  There arguing, gossiping, laughing at each missed shot.  And I'm sitting there patiently, like an idiot, watching.  Watching the profound absence of urgency.  Watching the lack of enthusiasm to play, the listlessness.

And above all, watching the absolute absence of skill, both athletic and technical, in playing basketball.

They couldn't do anything.  They couldn't shoot, they couldn't pass.  They couldn't cut, they couldn't defend.  I don't think they knew what a screen was.

Near as I could tell, their understanding of basketball seem to be that the aim was simply to throw the ball in the direction of the net at the first opportunity that presented itself.

I watched for another few minutes at their antics before strolling onto the court.

"Guys, let run threes.  I gotta leave in a few minutes."

They looked surprised, shocked almost at the notion that anyone was paying attention to them or that people play basketball on basketball courts.

The teams were made and I made sure to take the runts of the litter, the ones that got laughed at the most.  The oldest kid was on the other side, a young buck, no more than sixteen.  He was fast.  But that was all he was.

They didn't really have a shot.  I hit the wide open ones given to me, hit the kid with the first step just as a reminder and the rest was just set-up for my teammates.  Our opponents were becoming more and more snippy, more and more critical of one another as the game goes on, as the points started raining down from kids that, to their mind, shouldn't be winning.

My guys weren't good but you don't have to be good when an old man tells you you have a green light.  They knew that they'd get the ball, they knew that they'd get a shot.  That knowledge does a lot for anyone's shooting percentage.

Three games later, the runts were three and 0 and I had to bounce.  I daps them up and tell them good game and make my way out.  The runts are bigging themselves up for their performance; the vanquished are playing it off.

I took one last look at them as I went to the showers shaking my head.  Something was up.  Something scratching the back of my mind that I couldn't figure.  What was it though?

I'm a grown up, I thought to myself.

My father taught me to play ball, but he didn't do it because he was my father.  He did it because he was a grown up.  He did it because he had something that I didn't and had it to give.

He did it because he was someone greater than me.

I was greater than those kids.  But not taking that responsibility seriously - not addressing it consciously - those kids will continue sucking at ball.  Is that good for the world?  Me minding my business and allowing - if not outright encouraging - kids bad at basketball to continue being bad at basketball?

Had I taken up the challenge - had I allowed myself the opportunity to look at myself honestly and be generous in my superiority - I could have taught them a thing or two.  They could have appreciated it.  They could have gotten better and taken it more seriously.  They could take ball into their heart and it could make their lives better going forward.

But I didn't do any of that.  I made the assumption that small children should be wholly free to determine their own destiny.  Where would I be if that were true?  If my father didn't assume that he was better at basketball than me, and that he had something worth teaching, would I know basketball at all?  Or would one of the greatest blessings in my life be invisble to me?

I can see that it stems both from my selfish desire not to be bothered reinforced by my genuine respect for people finding their own paths.  I honestly do believe that anyone deserving of help has to first get over themselves enough to ask for it in the first place.

But kids have to be taught.  They have to be.  And that will always require grown-ups acknowledging that kids have to be taught...and then acknowledging that if grown-ups don't do the teaching, no one will.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Here's the thing about Trump...

Whether you consider him to be a politician or a person, the thing about Trump is: he attacks his enemies in such a way that they almost invariably unite against him.  Whereas other people would be content to play enemies off one another, he almost encourages resistance to come at him from all sides.  Who makes enemies of Football and Basketball players in the same weekend?  Who else basically forces the most recognizable people in sports to speak out against them?  Who or what else could unite LeBron, Steph, NFL players and NFL owners uniformly against anything other than say, cancer?

Donald Trump is seemingly driven by one thing and one thing only: saying whatever he thinks will increase his appeal to the person standing in front of him.  Would he have the total conviction of his beliefs to call all football players unpatriotic in a room full of the most popular athletes in the country or to deny the Warriors from coming to the White House before he first realized that they didn't want to come?  He's an opportunist and the thing about him is he's so short-sighted that he doesn't see that the horizon is filling with people who don't particularly agree on anything save for their contempt for him.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

A Calling makes one Courageous

The primary mandate I had for myself in making this decision was to have it based on the potential for my growth as a player ... But I am also at a point in my life where it is of equal importance to find an opportunity that encourages my evolution as a man: moving out of my comfort zone to a new city and community which offers the greatest potential for my contribution and personal growth.
- Kevin Durant

I'm willing to not win it. If I can't build it where I am.
- Damian Lillard


It's difficult I think for most humans to appreciate how both of these statements can be described as courageous.  I think most humans would minimize any equivalency between Kevin Durant joining a super-team and Damian Lillard pledging loyalty to his team as some kind of equivocation.  But this is just trying to make binary things that are not.

Courage is not easy - that much is clear to everyone.  If courage was easy, everyone would be courageous.  What escapes most people most often though is that courage also is not simple.  It isn't a question of doing this and not doing that.  Any meaningful definition of courage would have to include doing something (taking action) under conditions of fear.  But while fear is easy to describe, how simple is it to define?  What fills us with dread and terror is as individual and unique as a person’s fingerprint.  How else could it be in a world where some people look forward to getting their heads bashed in by an opponent in a fighting ring, while others become terrified at the idea of speaking in front of a crowd?

One person’s walk in the park is another person’s greatest test of all.  To someone practiced in not caring about the opinions of others, following your own heart is as natural as breathing.  But to someone who is practiced in deferring to others, that simple act, of doing what you want most, might be the biggest and most challenging decision of an entire lifetime.  They are fighting their own nature, bombarded by thoughts of consequences to come.  This is a very heavy burden - and the doubts that will follow will probably be very heavy.

Kevin Durant was on Bill Simmons and Simmons asked him what he thought of LeBron leaving his team.  And Durant said that at the time he wondered why he'd do that, especially since Cleveland was LeBron's home town.  And Simmons pressed him into whether he thought that it was in poor form, abandoning his supporters like that.  And Durant was adamant, saying why would someone think that LeBron owed more to his community when he'd given so much already?  Who was being selfish: LeBron for making decisions about his own life, or the fans for expecting him to satisfy their expectations?

Simmons kept pressing: "Well, I didn’t like that he did it that way. I just thought it was tacky, especially since he was from Ohio."

"But you don't matter," was Durant's response.  No fan should feel entitled to feeling a certain way about what someone else does or should do with their life.  The notion that Bill Simmons or Charles Barkely or Jim Whatshisface would have made a different, better decision if they had Lebron's memories, pressures, contracts, family, endorsements, doubts, frustrations, insecurities, body, shoe size, commitments, expectations and more is laughable enough.  The idea that someone could have little to no idea of any of those things and still think their opinon of what he should do held some sort of value is simply absurd.  You don't matter - you may be entitled to your opinion, but you have no basis for feeling entitled. Durant just kept saying it, over and over, almost as though he had to hear it as often as possible.  Almost as if he was convincing himself and not Simmons.

To someone trying to convince themselves that the opinions of others should be secondary, making a decision to do something unpopular is the very definition of courage.  But the simple minded, they don't see turmoil, they don't see beneath the surface.  All they see is making a decision that makes your life easier.  To them, you are the winner.  But if it makes your life materially easier and socially or emotionally more difficult, did you really win outright, as they would imagine?  Didn't you actually just break even?

Kevin Durant wanted a change and wanted a better chance at a title.  That was his standard, and by that standard, given the opportunity that presented itself, it was one of the most obvious decisions in the history of decision-making.  When people say that his going to the Warriors was strategically the best decision for the Warriors by eliminating the threat of the Thunder in the West, they're seemingly oblivious to the fact that it is also the best decision for him if he is on the Warriors.  He strengthens himself and weakens an obstacle as well.  That other people don't think that he should have made the mathematically most obvious decision given those standards speaks loudly to how much importance anyone can give to the counsel of strangers.  Because more often than not, without the dimension of aiki - seeing yourself within someone - the counsel of strangers amounts to them telling you not what is best for you but what is best for them.  People who claim to tell you what you need to hear usually use that as a smokescreen to tell you what they want to say.  It isn't about the recipient at all.

Damian Lillard has a different standard - a different outlook.  One might say his youth is coloring his outlook but then again, I'm 36 and I tend towards his line of thinking.  It's all arbitrary.  If Damian Lillard never wins an NBA Championship, does that make him a loser? When out of all the basketball games he's played in his life - one-on-one, elementary, high school, college and pro - he's probably won well over 80% of the challenges he's faced?  How many people on the planet has he lost to one-on-one...20, maybe?  How many games did he play in in his life where he was the highest scorer and far and away the best player on the court?

All that satisfaction and joy that comes from competition, accomplishment and victory in all those smaller battles - do they not add up to that one time that Dirk won a championship?  I really don't know that they don't...and people who have no idea what its like to be one of the 20 best people in the entire world at something have even less of an idea.  But that doesn't stop them from saying that if you didn't win it all, you aren't even worth remembering.

It is important to strive to be the best in all things.  But it is even more important to win on your own terms - meeting your expectations.  Damian Lillard isn't content to win a ring to silence the naysayers.  His standard is higher - to win with the team he built from scratch.  This is all but impossible now.  Which means it probably won't happen.  There is a fear there.  But Steph won with the only team he ever played for.  So did Dirk and Timmy D and Hakeem and Magic and Isiah and Bird.  So with this hope, he walks his path despite this fear.  People see this as loyalty. But this is courage first.

I remember fighting at the dojo and fighting someone much better than me.  One of the senpai was yelling at me to keep my hands up, keep moving - filling my head with all my mistakes.  And I just kept getting hit.  And through the pummeling, I remember hearing Sensei's voice above the din, saying something like "YOU'RE THE ONE GETTING PUNCHED! TRUST YOURSELF!"  And when I finished he said, "No one can take the punch for you.  They won't be taking the beating, and getting the bruises.  The noise from outside won't block a punch. So you have to do the fighting.  If you're going to do the dying, you should do the living, too."

No one else is going to die your death.  Don't let others live your life.

Everyone has different standards.  I’m pretty sure if Kevin Durant never wins a championship he’ll still be happier playing for that team.  I’m pretty sure that if Damian Lillard wins a championship the thing that he’ll hold closest to him was earning it his way.  We all have different conceptions of victory - define victory in different terms.  But it's having a mandate - having a calling - that makes courage obvious.  When you understand what matters most to you, fear gets put in the proper place.

At the ripe age of 36, I feel now that I've found my calling.  I'm going to use that patient ear of mine and listen to the burdens of others and help guide them to a safe place inside of their minds.  I've always had that Stillpoint inside, that place of solace that it seems so few people have nowadays.  It eluded me just for that one period in my life - at university - but I would love to be the comfort to others that I couldn't find for myself.  I would love to offer counsel to others and to help them build the tools to trust in their own counsel.  

And having realized all this, suddenly I feel quite brave.

- Grandpa

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,

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?'


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 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 hope to 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