Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

Wanting to Party Like It Was 1999

“Did you know that the first Matrix was designed to be a perfect human world, where none suffered? Where everyone would be happy? It was a disaster. No one would accept the program. Entire crops were lost. Some believed we lacked the programming language to describe your perfect world. But I believe that, as a species, human beings define their reality through misery and suffering. The perfect world was a dream that your primitive cerebrum kept trying to wake up from. Which is why the Matrix was redesigned to this, the peak of your civilization.” — Agent Smith, The Matrix

The Matrix was released in 1999. Coincidentally, that was around the time I became fond of saying that particular time and place was perfect for me. Living close to a large city with plenty of bookstores, used CD shops, restaurants and many other beloved places to frequent, for the first time my job provided the necessary income and stability to lead the kind of life I wanted. The world seemed wonderfully suited to cater to my interests, needs, and desires.

Alas, the world changes, but that was expected. Some changes would be for the better, and the others… Well, I just thought that disconcerting changes would be of the predictable variety that typically make challenge people as they age. Predominantly, the kinds of technological and cultural progressions that just move too fast for us as we start advancing well into middle age and beyond. In some ways, that is exactly what happened. For example, societal changes in how we consume books, movies, and music just feel wrong, but they are not entirely unexpected. However, there are ominous, mostly unanticipated things inducing feelings of dread — to the point of causing anxiety — about the future.

Where to even begin? Global climate change, the political decline and slide of the American republic into minority rule and totalitarianism, the incessantly-growing power of global metanational conglomerates, the increasingly daunting plastic pollution problem, the largest upward redistribution of wealth in American history… it’s all just one giant backslide, and at the moment there seems to be very little hope that any of this is going to appreciably change for the better in the near future. Hell, I totally get why climate anxiety is rapidly on the rise — I might even be experiencing a touch of it myself.

In addition to all the ways in which the current state of affairs is depressing as hell, it’s nearly just depressing that this battle needs to be fought. We shouldn’t have to. As a species, we are capable of such innovation, insight, beauty, and creativity. Yet, we are also amazingly short-sighted, tribal, selfish, and capable of frightening degrees of both self-deception and deceit. Throw in the rampant misogyny, racism, and religious intolerance that seems to be getting worse, and it adds up to something far more damning than what Agent Kay said in Men in Black: “People are dumb, panicky dangerous animals, and you know it.” 

There’s a good reason why I often add “misanthropic” when describing myself as a secular humanist.

I don’t want border on churlish. I want to be optimistic and believe that this world will start becoming a better place again. But, it’s daunting… and exhausting. I will continue to speak out, vote, and attempt to change what I can. I have to, knowing that Brandon will be inhabiting this world for many years after no longer will. Sadly, as it is, 2020 is nothing like any kind of future I would have imagined back in 1999. 

Even more disconcerting: at the moment, 2020 is proving Agent Smith right.

Just Write

I simply don’t write the way I used to. Facebook still sees lots of regular posting, but I’m not engaging in the kind of writing that I find rewarding. The stuff shared on Facebook conforms to the format it demands and rewards: short, easily digested bursts. It’s not the kind of writing I frequently did until… Well, around the time I started transitioning to Facebook from LiveJournal.

It’s easy to make excuses, and there are certainly plenty to choose from. However, the most enticing ones are undermined by the fact it’s been nearly 10 years since I regularly composed the kind of lengthier posts that feel awkward on Facebook. I’m not going to make them. No, I just need to start writing again, much like I just need to properly exercise and carefully choose how I eat. Disconcertingly, years of Facebook posting has considerably atrophied that mental muscle.

Alas, that’s easier said than done. A lack of time and the far too little mental fortitude are the biggest enemies right now. I know I can do something about the former, but that means making some drastic changes — ones where the benefit of writing more may not properly offset the loss of mentally disengaging frequently needed these days to maintain some sanity in a world that increasingly appears to be careening wildly and ever more quickly towards self-immolation.

However, it may also be that making writing a real priority might provide more benefit than launching a mindless game on my phone and completely blocking the outside world. Actively giving thoughts concrete form could provide a sense of stability and structure that’s missing in everyday life.

There’s only one way to find out.

I’m not going to make any promises or grand goals in regards to this. Similar declarations in the past went nowhere — as most recently evidence by last year’s quickly aborted “Song a Week” project. Hell, nearly everything in this post is a repeat of thoughts and sentiments shared in previous declarations to change and write more.

Just write, dammit.

That’s all there is to it.

What I’ll Never Forget

(Five years ago, today, on Facebook)

It’s been 12 years. During that time, I have seen my country manufacture evidence to start a war with a country that had nothing to do with 9/11; I have seen common people who spoke up against the war denounced as traitors and un-American; I saw what happened to the Dixie Chicks for merely stating they were ashamed of our President; I have seen many of my fellow countrymen passively and unquestioning accept a slew of government surveillance programs that infringed upon our supposedly Constitutionally-protected liberties; I have seen our court system give a stamp of approval to those programs; I have seen the excessive militarization of our police force.

Think about we led our lives before those attacks and how we lead them now. Now, ask yourself if we really are any safer as a result of all this. If you accept the argument that Osama Bin Laden masterminded these attacks because he hated America, then he succeeded in ways he probably couldn’t imagine because America has changed significantly for the worse.

To rephrase something my friend Kate stated, forgive me if I don’t share images of the Two Towers bearing messages about how we’ll never forget or images of crying eagles. I haven’t forgotten. The window just outside my work desk on 9/11 had a clear line-of-sight to the Pentagon, and I saw the smoke and flames first-hand. I went home that day with the smoke plume towering over my head. When I went to work the following day, I could smell from the Metro station I used to commute to work the smoke emanating from the Pentagon a couple miles away.

Don’t you dare tell me I am being un-American for stating some simple truths, and don’t you dare tell me I shouldn’t be angry about what I’ve seen America become.

(Political trolling will be deleted with extreme prejudice.)

Nothing but Swoosh

Now that it’s been a couple weeks since Nike initially triggered a bunch of flag-waving enthusiasts, my two cents on their ad featuring Colin Kaepernick:

  1. The immediate stock price hit was to be expected. The Wall Street crowd leans conservative. I would have been stunned if it hadn’t dropped in the immediate aftermath. Nonetheless, it didn’t stop the anti-Kappers from gleefully using the stock price as an indicator that Nike’s gambit had hurt them. Clearly, they don’t understand how stock prices work and why the immediate was meaningless.
  2. While Nike was definitely “taking sides,” that was tertiary to the ad’s primary goals: getting them lots of publicity above and beyond mere advertising, and selling more shoes and clothes. I think the fact that the campaign is still a large part of the national conversation shows the former worked exactly as planned. As for the latter, fact of the matter is that we won’t know how successful that was until Nike has issued at least a couple quarterly earning reports. In other words, it’ll be months before we know whether it increased sales or hurt them.
  3. Millennials are the largest generation in American history, and now they are all adults. In addition, surveys and polls show that on average they are more liberal than Boomers or Gen Xers. They are also the group more likely to purchase the types of clothes and shoes made by Nike. Conversely, the people most likely to be annoyed at Nike for featuring Kaepernick are people who are buying less of that class of products. If you’re going to take a side, you should definitely choose the side that’s most likely to respond favorably to your advertising.
  4. Nike spends enough money on marketing research and market surveys to give Miles Drentell an erection to rival that of John Holmes. Does anyone really think that they didn’t carefully consider all the pros and cons of this ad campaign?
  5. Finally, there are plenty of far better reasons to stop buying Nike products than their decision to include Kaepernick in their ads. In fact, if you are using that as your rallying cry to boycott, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention to the wages and working conditions in their Asian factories over the past few decades. Either that, or this simply hasn’t bothered you in the past. I’ll leave it to you to decide which you think is actually worse.

Okay, that was more like a nickel than two cents. However, I also need to give Nike additional credit for getting me to finally get off my lazy ass and pound out something with more heft than my typical 100 words or less Facebook post. They’ll never know or care, but that’s okay — I’ve never purchased or worn any of their products anyway (though I certainly wouldn’t mind wearing them if they paid me to do so.)

“Oh, alcohol, would you please forgive me…”

[cross-posted, and slightly reformatted, from Facebook]

A few thoughts that occurred as this evening unfolded:

  1. I’m looking forward to the time when Drunk History does an episode on the Trump administration — provided America survives his Presidency.
  2. Alcohol is the great enabler — it lowers my inhibitions enough to allow me to raid the stash of Tastykakes in the panty, which were ostensibly purchased for the kids’ lunches.
  3. It’s a good thing for everyone who knows me that I wasn’t properly made aware of The Smiths when I was in high school.
  4. Thankfully, alcohol does not deter me from using words such as “ostensibly.”

Antifa & Free Speech

I’ve been giving a lot of thought recently to the antifa movement, my feelings towards it and what it represents, and the role of protected free speech. Truth be told, I’m still struggling with all of it. In a normal, properly functioning democracy, there is absolutely no place whatsoever for such a movement, nor should we be talking about what kind of speech is acceptable in a public forum. However, it seems to me that the United States, at this moment in time, is not a properly functioning democracy. The primary reason for this is our current President, who has no qualms whatsoever about eschewing established norms or circumventing and/or disabling our systems of checks and balances. He also constantly attacks the free press, demonizes his opponents (to the point of suggesting that violence against them might be okay), and gaslights and lies on a regular basis. Trump is wielding his power in a fashion that is wildly errant and destructive, to the point where white supremacists of varying kinds feel comfortable making demonstrations consisting of violent rhetoric, which often includes declarations welcoming the idea of race war.

I strikes me as Pollyannish to suggest that their freedom of speech still must be respected, no matter the cost. Again, in a normally functioning democracy, this would be an appropriate response. The problem is that many of these far right-wing individuals and groups aren’t just voicing their opinions; they are also coming to these gatherings heavily armed and engaging in acts that stop just short of committing violence against counter-protesters. They are aggressively acting in a manner designed to enrage and provoke in the hopes of causing the other side to start the violence. In the cases where these racists do shed first blood, they will find some way to blame the other side. HBO’s VICE News segment on the events in Charlottesville two weekends ago, featuring an embedded reporter, demonstrates this quite clearly.

They arrived heavily armed and bearing large body shields to be used as means of shoving counter-protestors out of their way. In addition to antagonizing and provoking, they were also hoping to intimidate through a strong show of force. Simply, they are operating in the margins where the courts have ruled the First Amendment rights can be curtailed and suspended; where speech is no longer just an expression of ideas. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.’s 1919 opinion, written in support of a unanimous Supreme Court ruling, made it clear that speech designed to cause violence or damage could be restricted. The issue then becomes a matter of determining what crosses that line and what doesn’t.

The free speech issues were compounded by the police response. Ideally, the police forces with the proper jurisdiction would be in place to make sure that such displays of openly antagonist speech do not escalate into full-blown violence. Unfortunately, this was not the case in Charlottesville. Why the police looked so utterly unprepared and inept continues to puzzle me — the white nationalists, Neo-Nazi’s, white supremecists, and various counter-protesters made it very clear in advance that they were going to be there in large numbers. This was a situation that required a large police presence, and the City of Charlottesville should’ve known in advance whether it was prepared. If not, they should have asked the Governor for National Guard assistance days before the marches took place — especially since white militia groups also announced their intention to attend in advance. I guarantee you that if a militant faction of the Black Panthers had fought in court for the proper permits for a demonstration then the City of Charlottesville would’ve been better prepared than it was for the events of August 11 & 12.*

To make matters even worse, for a brief period on Saturday morning, the police actually retreated from an area where violence was occurring and didn’t intervene. At best, this situation suggested that our government is afraid to properly assert itself in its duty to preserve the public peace. At worse, it shows it is incapable of it. Either way, we have a situation now where many on the left, who are horrified by the violent rhetoric and aims of far right-wing individuals and groups, feel as though they need to protect themselves, in much the same manner expressed by the NRA and its supporters. Hence, the antifa.

It’s this breach in the public trust that has provided the conditions for antifa in this country. It’s this kind of situation that has caused many on the left to suggest creating the kinds of limits that Holmes et al. said might be necessary. As I said at the start, I haven’t figured out exactly where I stand on all this. Ideally, I loathe the idea of settings limits (even temporary ones) on First Amendment rights, and I am equally disconcerted that an Antifa movement exists. However, our government seems unable or unwilling to maintain the peace in situations where it clearly should. Violent speech was in part responsible for a situation that got out of control, and as long as right-wing organizations continue to bring weapons and armor to demonstrations and agitate for violence, there will be those on the left who feel the need for something like antifa.

I don’t have an answer for this solution. At the moment, however, playing by the old rules doesn’t seem to be working.

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*Actually, I’m more willing to believe that in such a situation the city’s response would have gone too far to the other extreme, making it far worse than what we saw.

15 Years of Online Blogging & Journaling

This morning I spent a little time on one of the many long-standing, unfinished projects that just seem like they’ll never near completion: properly archiving and then printing hardcopies of the now defunct LiveJournal pages. This is easily the most daunting of the long-term tasks that never seem to near completion. I know it won’t take as long to complete as finishing Gaudi’s Sagrada Família, but it certainly feels that way.

While copying-and-pasting entries from November 2002 into a Word document, the number and size of the posts once again astounded me. Coincidentally, today marks the 15th anniversary of my very first LJ entry — a fact I didn’t properly recall until reviewing the site earlier today. The Word file dedicated to the 2002 posts is now complete through November 26, and is currently over 50 pages long. I’m fairly certain that’s far more than my combined posts to Facebook, Brick à Brac, LJ, and Twitter for all of this year.

Although a change of priorities is a primary cause for the decreased volume over time, the timestamps (as well as my own recollections) for most of the LJ posts make it clear that the overwhelming majority of the posts were written while goofing-off on the job. Looking back, it’s easy to see how that dynamic quickly transpired. Though qualified and possessing the necessary skills, I hated my job and was often happy to procrastinate and put forth the minimum necessary effort to complete the work. Combined with the ability to sense where corners could be easily cut, this resulted in a need to find something that would create the appearance of looking busy. Make sure you do your writing in Word, and it’s very easy to create that illusion.

Although that dynamic is no longer at play — the current paying gig is far more agreeable and provides more than enough work to keep busy — it’s disappearance doesn’t account for all of the decreased pixel generation. It’s not a coincidence that the first notable decrease in output corresponded with Facebook becoming my preferred social media platform. It’s a nice tool for keeping in touch with friends and family, but its design discourages the type of writing most frequently found in blogs and online journals. I adapted, but I also believe that my ability to write long, thoughtful entries suffered as a result. Taking the time to compose posts such as this just feels more difficult; that it takes more concerted effort than in the past. Like so many others, I often find the path of least resistance most tempting, and deviating sometimes seems non-rewarding — especially when Facebook allows readers to reward you with “Likes” and the feedback on a forum like this is much more limited.

It’s important to ultimately remember that writing on site such as WordPress or LiveJournal should primarily always be a personal endeavor. Though the work is harder, it’s also more personally fulfilling. Though you won’t get the rewards of posting frequently to Facebook, you will find that your voice is better used and understood. I won’t pretend that this particular entry will result in more frequent kinds of post. Simply, I’ve made and broken too many similar promises and resolutions over the past 5-10 years to foolishly express even a hope of this. However, reading some of those LJ entries from 2002 makes it clear that I’ve really lost something by not setting aside time to write more often in this manner.