Facebook Jail

The original plan this morning was to post about returning to eating and exercising properly after my three-month, end-of-year attempt at simply maintaining my weight in an effort to enjoy the holiday season and a few other important occasions scattered throughout. I will simply state for now that it was essentially an abject failure and that I will return to this subject when my next regular weigh-in date arrives. However, the partially composed, original post for today got trashed when I was thrown into Facebook jail for 24 hours.

Aside from the utterly ridiculous reasons for this happening (more on that in a bit,) it’s probably for the better as this day is a particularly good one to be staying as far away from Facebook as possible. I was already riled up earlier in the morning after looking through my Facebook memories from a year ago today, and I’m certain that doom scrolling, as I far too frequently do, would have only served to further intensify those feelings. Thankfully (?), that very behavior — which Facebook utterly encourages due to its design — provided the impetus to getting thrown into Facebook Jail

See, what brought this 24-hour sentence upon me was a simple response to a troll whose comment was highlighted in a response to Washington Post article in my feed. My comment: “Bitch, please. 😂” Apparently, by responding to a troll (which I never should have done in the first place — I really do know better) I “didn’t follow [their] Community Standards on harassment and bullying.” This was a second strike against my account, thus the ban. My first? A comment I made early last year — “Speaking as one, straight white males are the worst” — for that, Facebook’s impeccably context-sensitive, thoughtfully programmed bots and AIs decided that I had engaged in hate speech.

🙄

After quickly getting over my initial reaction of disbelief (and more than just a little bit of  anger,) I started taking some actions that I have actually considering for a number of months now. See, I am fully aware of just how fucking evil Facebook Meta is, and I have already spent lots of time thinking about what to do about that given that the overwhelming majority of my social interaction takes place online, and Facebook is the primary facilitator of it. So, as much as I really wish I could simply delete my account there and never return, I don’t believe it’s 100% feasible, at least not at this time. The fact is that there are a number of friends and family who only/predominantly use Facebook, and don’t really one of the other social platforms. Hell, I barely use any of the others.

Well, that’s changing now.

I’m not giving up the Facebook account, but I’ve started taking steps to transition away from it as much as possible. I’ve decided to make Twitter my new primary site for the kind of short posts that they and Facebook encourage, and anything longer than that is absolutely going over on this blog from now on. I’ll then link to anything I post here to those sites. Once Facebook allows me to make changes to the account again, it’ll be time to aggressively trim my Facebook friends list down to the people that I really wish to follow and then unfollow The Washington Post, New York Times, et al. I already have subscriptions to the news sites that overwhelmingly appear in my feed, and I can manage my own news consumption without Meta’s help. As for the doom scrolling… Well, I’m sure that the Twitter feed will likely provide enough angst on that front. Finally, I’ve already removed the Facebook app from my digital devices and will only visit the site through a web browser. This way, I can more easily control what information Facebook gathers about it.

Frankly, this was a step I should’ve taken a long time ago. I joke frequently about the fact I work for Satan, but holy shit… If I’m working for Satan, Meta is Cthulu. I know my change in usage will in no way effect their bottom line — especially since I’m not actually leaving and they will still monetize me in anyway they can. However, I can rest a little better in knowing that I’m not continuing to play the game the way they would prefer. Maybe a little further down the road, I will take the final step: download all my content and then close the account. However, the desire to socialize as easily as possible those I care about is a hard one to overcome, and I’m certain that even the changes I’m now implementing will take some getting used to.

Start of Year Info Dump

Over the past couple months, there have been more than a few things I intended to jot down in the little leather journal I purchased at the New York City public library, but my laziness got the better of me in a number of different ways. So, I now need to do a giant info dump here on the blog because, frankly, I don’t want to get a sore, ink-stained hand from the amount of writing necessary at this point. Preamble finished; away we go…

  • As part of traveling to Kansas in the beginning of November for my brother’s funeral, we needed a rental car to get from the Kansas City airport to the small town where he lived. Having not rented one in years, I was surprised when informed that I needed to go to a particular lot and simply pick the car I wanted from there. When I discovered that renting a Kia Soul was an option, I immediately found one and left the lot in it. Yes, I love driving my own Soul so much that when given the choice to drive something different, I simply didn’t want to.
  • The following week, Sally and I took the Acela to New York City for our weeklong 10th wedding anniversary celebration. The trip could not have gone any better. The weather was perfect for early November – highs in the 60s and plenty of sunshine – and because it took place nearly a month before the Omicron variant fully reared its ugly head, we never once felt like we were taking any real risks in any of our walking around the city and dining. This was made possible by two factors. One, we didn’t go to Florida, as we were initially planning/hoping months previously, simply because of the mind-numbingly psychotic attitudes to public health and safety demonstrated by state and local officials throughout the state. Conversely (and the second factor,) New York City had proof of vaccination mandates at all restaurants, and just about everyone we saw seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously. Since we live in an area where you can readily encounter the maskless freedumb fighters, it was a pleasure to spend nearly a week in a city where nearly everyone seemed to care about the common good.
  • While there was so much about the trip that we loved and will treasure, the highlight of the New York trip was taking the potion making class of The Cauldron down near the financial district. In fact, we enjoyed both the class and atmosphere of the pub so damn much that we returned there a few days later, on the actual date of our anniversary, for our proper celebratory dinner and drinks. If there was anything similar to the Cauldron near our home hear in Northern Virginia, I’d almost certainly be a regular.
  • Taking the Acela back-and-forth to New York was a key component in making the trip so enjoyable. Seriously, taking the train between New York and Washington is so much more comfortable, relaxing and just simply civilized than any of the other ways to make the journey. Mind you, we chose the added expense of the Acela (as opposed to a regular Amtrak train) because of the special occasion the trip was celebrating. However, given how infrequently we go to New York, maybe it’s a choice we continue to make in the future.
  • While on the Acela on the way back home, it was hard not to notice just how close to the water much of the railbed is. Both the Delaware River and the Chesapeake Bay are going to rise quite a bit in the coming decades thanks to the effects of the global warming. It seems exceedingly unlikely that Amtrak will be able to continue to use those tracks without spending tremendous amounts of money to either elevate them, move them, and/or build dikes to keep the water away.
  • This year’s holiday Lego display is much more low key than efforts over the previous years. I’m happy with the final result and will post the usual pictures to Facebook sometime very soon. However, while it took a number of hours to build everything for the display, it really isn’t much more than a cluster of buildings and an array of minifigures positioned throughout. There’s no special touches this year – no Borg carolers, for instance – but I made it a point to include Krampus, because no holiday display of mine will be considered complete without him hiding menacingly somewhere in the scene.
  • As noted in my 2021 Books Read/MST3K post, I considered reading a bunch of short novels and standalone novellas in an effort to pad my total books read for the year. Although I didn’t go through with that plan, I did decide to briefly employ that tactic to start off 2022. As a result, two books are now finished. I’ve now moved on to my classic for the year: To Kill a Mockingbird.

That’s it for the moment. I’m sure I’ve already forgotten items I previously wanted to note. Hoping, but not resolving, to be better at this sort of thing as the year progresses.

My 2021 in Books & MST3K

I don’t set reading goals each year like so many of my friends do. Instead, I have a standing, yearly quasi-goal of 20 books per year. Compared to some of the goals I’ve seen some people make, this seems almost ridiculously light. However, I frequently include massive several hundred page anthologies in my annual reading, and I have a host of other time-consuming interests. As a result, most years I find myself reading book #20 sometime in mid-to-late December.  This year was an exception; I only read 15 books, and the last of them was a short novel I completed early on New Year’s Eve.

Despite not striving for a proper goal, in just about any other year I would have viewed this as having ill-used my 2021 free time. Reading 15 books suggests I wasted a little too much time on very unproductive pursuits — such as playing mindless games on my phone. Yet, I didn’t judge that as the case for 2021 because of one giant, wonderful reason: Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Because of the size of my DVD/Blu-ray collection and a variety of other reasons, in 2010 I setup a spreadsheet that lists every single episode/movie, which box set it’s packaged in, the date I last watched the it, and a cumulative count of the number of times I watched each. Until 2020, I typically watched 10-15 episodes a year, and at that rate, it would regularly be several years between rewatches of a particular movie, as I own a complete collection of every episode sold on disc — which is over 180 (each disc contains one movie.) With the exception of episodes I particularly enjoy, this was more than enough time to forget nearly everything about a single movie and the jokes made at its expense.

Then the pandemic started, and like so many other people, comfort television watching become more desirable. I accelerated the pace quickly enough in 2020 to watch 30 for the year. Then, this past spring, I quickened the pace further. However, I wasn’t counting the number of episodes watched as 2021 progressed — not even in a rough estimate manner. Mostly this was because the spreadsheet made determining the cumulative total at any time of the year incredibly easy. Nonetheless, outside of duly tracking my progress, it just wasn’t something I gave any real thought to.

As I entered the last week of December, I my book read count wasn’t anywhere near where I would like it to have been. I considered reading a number of standalone novellas and short novels in a last ditch effort to make the final number for the year at least appear closer to the unofficial goal. In fact, the last book I read for the year, The Great Gatsby, was chosen in part for this very purpose. However, I also knew that I watched a lot more MST3K in a year than I ever had, so on the morning of December 30, I decided to finally find out where I stood.

I had watched 47 episodes. Reading 20 books for the year wasn’t even remotely realistic. Reaching 50 was a ridiculously easily achieved goal, and it was something I had never come close to doing before. In fact, the 30 I watched in 2020 represented the previous all-time high. The decision was the epitome of a no-brainer, and by late afternoon on New Year’s Eve I finished watching “The Final Sacrifice,” which I had chosen because the name sounded appropriate for my last episode of the year.

The truly amazing thing about having watched 80 episodes of MST3K in two years is that according to my spreadsheet, I still own 31 movies I haven’t watched since I started  keeping track 11 years ago. In addition, there is going to be 13 new episodes of the series this year. Combine that with the over 30 additional movies I own that were released by alumni of the original run of MST3K — Cinematic Titanic, Rifftrax, and The Film Crew — I would have to keep up this pace for an additional 18 months to watch all of this “unwatched” material. (I need to note that I didn’t incorporate the CT, RT, and TFC discs into the spreadsheet until a couple weeks ago.)

I don’t know yet what changes, if any, I’ll make in terms of time management this year. I decided not to set a number in regards to MST3K this year, in much the same way I technically don’t set one for books. However, I do think it would be nice to reach both 50 and 20. I just won’t make either number a set goal.

Oh, and the first episode of MST3K for 2022? “Beginning of the End.”

Meet the New Year, Same as the Old Year

Speaking as someone who wasn’t a member of the Cult of Trump and was emotionally unsettled (if not outright traumatized) by the entirety of his presidency, every single year since 2016 has seemed like yet another year in which we as a species are slowly shambling zombie-like to our demise. Runaway climate change, environmental collapse, the rapid conversion of the GOP into a quasi-fascist political party that actively undermining our democracy, the rise of fascism around the world, a nearly two-year long pandemic showing no current signs of ending soon, the ever increasing wealth inequality, an accelarating, already out-of-control plastic pollution crisis… It’s damn near impossible to believe that we’re not in some kind of slowly unfolding, inexcorable collapse of human society as we know it.

I wish I could be optimistic about the coming year — I truly do. Instead, I’m feeling rather nihilistic about not just about 2022, but for pretty much the entire future. As bad as all all current problems are, so long as climate change continues to be inadequately addressed, solutions to the other issues simply don’t matter. Even if all of humankind collectively decided to immediately do everything possible to combat climate change, it will still take decades before CO2 levels start dropping. Even more daunting: we actually don’t have a solution yet for all the methane (a far more potent greenhouse gas) being released into the atmosphere as all the permafrost in Russia and North America defrosts.

I think back to my teenage years, and the fact that I was convinced that the world was likely going to end in nuclear war. During that time, I frequently had nightmares about it happening, and the nightmares all evolved out of the fact that I somehow survived the initial exchange — because that was a fate far worse than being incinerated instantaneously in a nuclear explosion. The morbid relief at the notion that it would all end in an instant made that apocalyptic scenario oddly more acceptable than the one currently unfolding. The individual and institutional forces that have created this mess have become so powerful that I don’t see how any of those who are profiting from this slow-motion disaster will accept any changes that will actually address these problems. That kind of leap would involves sacrificing far too much of their own power and wealth. The selfish, short-sighted, tribalistic tendencies of our species are just that unyielding.

I truly wish I had a way of properly coping with this. Instead, my solution to maintaining at least a semblance of sanity is to simply keep finding joy, comfort, and happiness where I can with those I love and in the immediate world around me. Do that, and try my best to be kind and courteous to everyone (something that’s becoming progressively harder in a world where so many proudly don’t give a fuck about the feeling of anyone whom them deem as “other” and deliberately go out of their way to antagonize them.)

In other words, make the best that you can of the world you’re in. The airplane is going absolutely down. So after you don your own oxygen mask, do your best to help your fellow passengers put theirs on before impact. Then, simply hope for the best.

Public Accountability Post (Week 20)

Loss for the week: 1.6 lb; total loss: 29.8. Normally, these posts go to Facebook where an effort is made to minimize the commentary on attempting to get back down to a healthy weight yet again. This week, though, that kind of restraint seems to be too much of a Herculean effort. So, a much longer than usual public accountability post is going here instead, with lots of related thoughts to share.

The primary one is that this is easily the most difficult time I’ve had on one of these efforts. It’s not simply a result of the fact that losing weight is harder as you get older. The biggest obstacle is actually the lack of gym equipment — in particular, an elliptical motion machine. Thankfully, we have a treadmill (Sally bought it long before we met) so getting exercise is never a problem. However, it isn’t the ideal exercise for me, and using it as my primary method of exercise meant making all kinds of adjustments to the amount of time spent on workouts, the intensity of them, and the expected results.

In addition, the pandemic continues to add a layer of difficulty (aside from not feeling safe in going to a public gym.) When it started early last year, my stress eating had already been a constant problem for quite some time for reasons that are now resolved. Thanks to the pandemic, the stress eating went into overdrive for most of the time between March 2020 and when this effort started. It’s difficult to believe that I’d have had this much success over the past 20 weeks if those previous stress-inducing issues still existed.

But, the success is notable more than just on the scale. My sciatica did not flare up at all during the Philly trip a few weeks ago (something noted previously on Facebook,) and it was awesome to fit into a smaller pair of blue jeans this morning now that the weather has cooled enough to wear them again. In another few weeks, it will be time for a regular check-in with the doctor, and hopefully the blood pressure and cholesterol numbers will show even more improvement since the last visit at the end of June.

Finally, I just wanted to note here that I have every expectation of passing the 30-pound mark this coming week. Seriously, unless I screw this up massively, there is no reason why it shouldn’t happen – it’s only 0.2 lb away. If this wasn’t something like the sixth or seventh time I’ve done, I’d probably get much more excited about it.

The Testimony of Matthew the Agnostic, Book 1

My blogging and writing output these days seems rather pitiful compared to the halcyon days of LiveJournal. Frequent posts averaging a minimum of a few hundred words have devolved into far less frequent pithy Facebook bursts of no more than a few sentences. There is no one but myself to blame, and it’s a shame for numerous reasons, not the least of which is since that time I’m sure that certain events and memories that would have been nice to document and save are now lost due to the unavoidable effects of being middle-aged.

Thankfully, those efforts resulted in saving much about my past. In particular, I wrote plenty of  material relating to my college experience with White Evangelical Christianity (WEC.) Alas, I don’t believe there exists a concise summation of that period and how it ultimately changed me in ways I still might not fully grok. All my previous attempts — before, during, and after the LiveJournal era — to compose such a narrative never came close to completion, though a few still exist in Word documents that have lain undisturbed on computer hard drives and backups for many years.

The problem is that it’s a rather difficult subject to summarize in absolutely no more than a couple thousand words. It’s amazingly easy to share stories and anecdotes and indulge in tangents that provide meaningful insight into the opinions and views I now hold. It’s just that those diversions create difficulties in controlling the narrative. That’s the reason every single previous attempt remains incomplete — it became easier to walk away than to attempt to properly pare everything back down to a manageable length. Nonetheless, recent events have provided inspiration to make another effort. The fact that you’re reading this means that this attempt finally achieved the previously elusive success, or it at least worked just well enough for sufficient satisfaction. 

The important thing to understand about this testimony — and, yes, that word choice is deliberate — is that the journey started with the absolute desire to believe and experience God’s love the same way that so many in that faith profess to feel it. When starting on that path, I chose to view and interpret a number of events in my life as God trying to make himself (using the “male” designation because WEC very clearly both understands and depicts God as gendered that way) manifest to me. However, it would be utterly disingenuous to not note the importance that Denise played at the start. 

My girlfriend at that time, Denise (not her real name) was the primary reason this was all happening. Raised in the WEC world, she still lived at home and resolutely held those beliefs. During the first few dates, we shared our respective religious experiences, and because I found myself rapidly falling in love with her, her presence became the clinching factor in my deciding that God was attempting to work in mysterious ways.

So, akin to the way my heart opened to Denise, I attempted to experience and feel God’s love by fully devoting myself to the precepts of her faith. Bible studies, daily devotionals, joining an explicitly “Bible-based” church (as if other Christian branches didn’t actually base their beliefs upon it), scheduling meetings and having discussions with the Pastor of that church, giving thanks before meals, attending services more than once per week, spending entire Saturdays at the WEC equivalent of TED Talks, writing frequently about my experiences in the college newspaper… and, most notably, doing nearly all of these with Denise.  

Looking back on the effort, it’s amazing to see the fervor I displayed. Yet, over 25 years of distance results in some clarity of vision lacking at the time. There’s a reason why Evangelicals talk about the importance of properly indoctrinating children in the faith. Instead, I came into it with a background rooted in wildly differing efforts by my grandmother and father to raise me in two unrelated faiths: Catholicism and Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. Despite nothing but the best intentions and sincere efforts when starting out, I was also a well-read intellectual with moral and ethical beliefs firmly grounded in feminist and humanist values.

In retrospect, it comes as no surprise that every single wholehearted attempt at some kind of leap of faith resulted in a spiritual face plant. Obstacles that proved impossible to overcome certainly played a part: an inability to reconcile contradictions in Biblical text, rigorous objections to a very black-and-white way of looking at the world, finding extreme fault with certain aspects of WEC dogma (just to name a few.) At the end of the whole experience, it simply seemed that I completely lacked the mental makeup — in the words of Dennis Miller, back when he was funny, the “ecclesiastical whiteout” — required for someone to maintain the kind of faith demanded by WEC. But, I’m getting ahead of myself.

It certainly didn’t help that I regularly experienced events and conversations that brutally undermined my ability to simply just accept certain things on unadulterated, simple faith. Numerous anecdotes come to mind, and at some point in the future I will attempt to compile the most memorable of them into a second narrative (hence, the “Book 1” in the title.) For now, I’ll simply relay an experience at one of those WEC TED Talk-like events.

In it, a speaker attempted to explain how certain aspects of my life (and those lives of others) were sinful and un-Christian. Somehow, much of the music and fiction I enjoyed and saw no religious issues with was taking me further away from God. It was best to remove and forever avoid all of it from my life. The justifications for these assertions involved exceedingly questionable interpretations of Biblical passages that were divorced from meaningful context. This was followed with the audacious assertion that if you felt uneasy about what they just said, then that was the result of Satan’s influencing you — any discomfort you felt was because your soul knew deep down what was just said was true.

I shit you not. The only reason why I didn’t walk out before the event ended was that I went there with Denise, in her car.

By the time we had been together for nearly two years, desperation had settled in. Despite all my efforts, God’s presence felt no closer than it did on the day Denise and I met. Desperate times call for equally distraught measures, and one conveniently presented itself: full immersion baptism. Although properly baptised in the Catholic faith, that meant almost nothing in WEC circles. The true way to experience baptism was as an adult, and preferably fully submerged in water (not just sprinkled with it.)

So, attired in an baptismal robe, I metaphorically climbed to the top of the highest diving board I could find and sprung off the end of it with all the energy available to muster. This was the ultimate leap of faith. Or, if you’ll please forgive the tortured mixture of Christian faiths, the frantic Hail Mary pass on the last play of the game. When I literally emerged from the backwards dunk into baptismal pool, there was no spiritual renewal, no feeling God’s presence, and nothing akin to the spiritual weight of the world removed from my shoulders.

I just felt wet.

That’s not entirely right. I knew at that moment the relationship to Denise was over, but I still felt a sense of responsibility to her and her future happiness. Suffice it to say there was simply no realistic scenario wherein we remained together without my active involvement in the faith. The relationship ended with lots of tears, some white lies to cushion the blow, and no small amount of guilt. I don’t know what became of her, but wherever she is, hopefully Denise is happily living a good life.

I’m grateful for the sojourn into the WEC world. It’s responsible for many of the lessons I learned about myself and the world around me, and it allowed me to see and experience first-hand a few wonderful things to be found in living that faith. More importantly, I read the Bible in its entirety (some portions many times over) and came to appreciate red letter edition Bibles. Though I may not have found God, much of what Jesus actually had to say was enjoyably enlightening.

With that in mind, it was clear that much of the dark underbelly of White Evangelical Christianity resulted from placing far too much emphasis on the parts of the Bible printed in standard black. This causes an appalling lack of compassion to those outside the faith, coldly moralizing judgment, and a disgusting amount of thoughtless, casual cruelty. It also allows for a misguided use of one’s own belief in salvation to excuse dreadful behavior in the here-and-now. Most appallingly, the WEC belief system actively encourages the belief in dominionism and the assertion that America is really a Christian nation. 

Those were my conclusions back when leaving the faith in the fall of 1995. Their insisting on a religious right to treat the LGTBQ community as second-class citizens, their venomous rejection of any validity to the Black Lives Matter movement, their refusal to support government policies that help the downtrodden and poor, or any of the other public issue stances they’ve voiced since Trump started campaigning for President back in 2015… none of these came as any surprise to me as those events unfolded.

Any residual good fuzzy feelings that remained in the moments while toweling off after stepping out from the kiddie pool for adults are long since gone. I’m good without God. Do not confuse this with somehow hating him, which many of the WEC faithful want to believe that atheists do (see the God Is Dead movie series.) There’s a whole lot to unpack in terms of my feelings to a possible higher power/creator. That’s a subject for another time — maybe in a Book 3, perhaps. 

Whatever their, her, its, and/or his place in our universe — let’s go with “its” — I’ve found a way to find meaning in everyday life. If something is responsible for my experience, it also knows me and the way I operate. It sees my gratitude for this life and my thankfulness for the good fortune I’ve experienced. Whatever the truth is, I know it wants nothing more than for us to all be excellent to everyone.

Start of the Summer, 2021

Looking back on my 20s and 30s, just where did all the time and motivation to read and write come from? It feels far different now, well entrenched in the middle-aged years. Finding that twin-barreled resource to engage in those activities in the same way has seemed elusive for some time now. Being a different person and having different priorities at this stage of life surely is getting in the way, but it seems like that it shouldn’t require as much effort as it clearly does. 

I will choose to blame laziness and inertia. They surely are a bitch…

It’s been a few weeks since writing a post such as this. Shortly after putting the last one online, it occurred to me to start using the Notes app on my phone as a way of capturing thoughts and ideas as material for posting more regularly. However, when looking at the fragments and brief thoughts currently in the file created for just that job, it appears some of them just don’t contain enough information to fully recapture the thought(s) from that moment. Clearly, at least some of my future jots need to be more robust.

One brief note that needed no other information: “Star Trek comfort watching.” Lately, my comfort television watching involves lots of Star Trek — in particular, Picard and Lower Decks. Both are actually rewatches, but, actually, Enterprise is the only series that wouldn’t be a rewatch.* However, that’s totally fine. Comfort television watching often means indulging in the familiar. More importantly though, getting immersed in a show providing an optimistic look on humankind and the future is something that I really need these days. The present provides plenty of reason to believe that the future is only going to get worse, and frankly it worries me.

In fact, those worries actually keep me awake at night. It’s not uncommon to wake up at 4:30 in the morning, go to the bathroom, return to bed, and then find myself unable to go back to sleep while the various frets and concerns completely overtake my thoughts. Runaway global warming, the rise of authoritarianism in this country and around the world, the plastic pollution crisis, the continuing upward redistribution of wealth and power… Averting the future suggested by these ills will require a global coordination of the governments around the world in a manner that is just unprecedented in human history. At the moment, there is little to suggest that could happen any time soon.

No, the not-distant-at-all future currently looks like something like one of the nightmarish scenarios described in a Kim Stanley Robinson novel: meta-national corporations and oligarchs becoming so powerful that the traditional nation-states are unable to properly constrain them, and the efforts of humankind are directed solely for their own enrichment. The general welfare of the planet or the species? Well, that just gets in the fucking way of profit…

Let’s see, what else to mention at this time…

Sally and I spent some time in downtown Frederick yesterday. Spent a little time with an old high school friend and his girlfriend, enjoying good comfort food and drinks, visited some or our favorite stores, and, most importantly, came home with a small disco ball. We just need to figure out how to hang it from the living room ceiling and properly direct some light onto it for the nights we decide to enjoy ourselves by listening to our favorite music while having a few drinks…

Speaking of alcohol, the new version of The Match Game, starring Alec Baldwin, has been one of our favorite Friday night activities for some time now. We tend to have a couple adult beverages while watching, which means that we’re fairly certain that much like Drunk History (which is also watched while having a drink or two,) we’ll be able to enjoy rewatching the episodes seeing as the alcohol impairs our ability to recollect what we’ve seen before…

As the final note for this post, searching for a new favorite local Irish-style pub is now a priority. It still seems patently wrong and utterly unfair that the pandemic killed O’Faolain’s, but with the large-scale reopening now taking place, finding someplace that serves a similar purpose is simply something my soul needs. More on that once the search is properly underway.

* As much as I love the universe, I needed a break from it when the show started to air. The first handful of episodes did nothing to convince me otherwise, and if new Trek is needed while waiting on future seasons of the various new series, it’s still there waiting for me. 

Sunday Morning Thoughts and Contemplations

It’s been months since posting anything to this blog, I’m currently the only one awake in the house, and there are some thoughts careening around my head. So…

  • I really need a Lego workspace. I’d certainly attempt far more displays given a safe-from-feline area to go wild with. It’s possible that with a little more decluttering and rearranging, a portion of the garage could be turned into one. To do that though, insulating the garage door (something we should really do anyway, given the design of the house) becomes a moral imperative.
  • Spending three days in Philly last week and then going to Winchester, VA a few days starkly illustrated the difference between blue America and red America. In Philly,  nearly everyone was still wearing masks and doing their best to be responsible and considerate to those who haven’t been vaccinated yet. In Winchester, it was almost as if the pandemic had never happened. I guarantee you that the vaccination rates of those in Center City Philly is much higher than in Winchester. Red America is going to be in for a rude awakening at some point in the not-to-distant future. 
  • Barenaked Ladies is putting out a new album next month, and for the first time ever since becoming a fan 30 years ago, I’m not feeling any excitement or anticipation. Their last two albums weren’t all that good, and the first single of the new album, “Flip,” was simply grating to my ears. I’ll almost certainly buy it and give the album every chance to surprise me, but my expectations are just about as low as they can get.
  • It’s likely that at the end of the month Sally and I will be attending our first concert since the pandemic started. We purchased Jonathan Coulton tickets in December 2019 for a show originally scheduled to take place in May 2020. The show never actually got canceled, and after numerous reschedules, it is taking place on Tuesday, June 29. If we do decide to attend (the deadline to request a refund is still a week away,) we are going to be counting heavily on the hope that Coulton fans (at least the ones in this area) are sufficiently like-minded and that the overwhelming majority will be actually following CDC guidelines and not acting like the unvaccinated in Winchester.

That’s it for the time being. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster touch you with his noodley appendage. 

Inauguration Day

I wanted to be excited and happy today. Instead, all I feel is mixture of exhaustion, sadness, and relief. I wept on Election Night 2016, fearful of what would happen under a Trump presidency — because I knew his decades-long record as a business man clearly showed how he would govern. My worst fears that evening were realized beyond what I imagined.

Four years of witnessing Trump gaslight and lie to an extent that still staggers my imagination. Four years of seeing him undermine and destroy long-held, vital democratic ideals and principles. Four years of watching the GOP enable and support him in a boot-licking subservient manner that would have embarrassed the most sycophantic medieval nobility. Four years of watching him tear away environmental, worker, LGBTQ, and consumer protections. Four years of watching him flaunt the emoluments clause of the Constitution (again, with GOP help.) Four years of watching him put himself and his narcissistic desires above country. Then, nearly a full year of watching him callously do next-to-nothing about a pandemic that killed 400,00 Americans on his watch. All capped of by an insurrection attempt he clearly encouraged.

That wasn’t even the worst of it.

No. The worst was seeing what his rhetoric and policies brought out in a sizable percentage of the American people. I was appalled and disgusted by a number of friends and family starkly displaying just how much they despise people like me for my beliefs. If the Trump and the right wing noise machine said that was an un-American enemy, they believed it. There was nothing I could do to show that I wasn’t communist who was out to destroy America. I ultimately unfriended, with extreme prejudice, a number of people who I used to think were basically decent folks.

I’m certain that what I’m feeling is a form of PTSD. I wanted to be excited and happy watching Biden’s inauguration, but I just wasn’t able. Instead, as he took the oath of office, I briefly sobbed. Thinking about it too much much only tinges what I’m still feeling with anger.

Fuck Trump. Dante didn’t imagine a circle of hell sufficient to punish him for what he did to this country and its people.

On MLK Day

Dear White People:

On the day that we honor Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy, let’s have a little chat, shall we? One white person to another. There’s some shit about racism that needs to be talked about here. Specifically, your collective knee-jerk reflexive need to whitewash and disproportionately celebrate King’s embrace of passive resistance and non-violence. The man had an awful lot more to say that gets ignored in the process.

Yes, I get it. The high-level abstract impression left by the “I Have a Dream” speech makes dealing with racism easier. “Oh look, there is a Black man who says we all need to be peaceful and just get along. Then racism will go away!” You do realize that he got murdered by a racist for suggesting that, don’t you?  Stop making the the “I Have a Dream” speech your touchstone for you understanding and celebration of the man. That speech, which is over 55 years old, is about an ideal world that is merely marginally closer to reality than it was then. In fact, it behooves us to instead focus a little harder on a passage from an earlier, 1956 speech, “When Peace Becomes Obnoxious.” He makes it abundantly clear what a peaceful society with justice entails:

“I don’t want peace:

“If peace means accepting second class citizenship I don’t want it.

“If peace means keeping my mouth shut in the midst of injustice and evil, I don’t want it.

“If peace means being complacently adjusted to a deadening status quo, I don’t want peace.

“If peace means a willingness to be exploited economically, dominated politically, humiliated and segregated, I don’t want peace.

“In a passive non-violent manner we must revolt against this peace.”

Yes, he ends with non-violence, but also take notice the word “revolt.” So long as the peace is without justice, it cannot stand. Maybe, the fact that Black people are still needing to fight for the full array of human dignities and rights that white Americans absentmindedly take for granted is a clue that something is still horribly wrong. Beyond that, It’s kind of difficult to continue spreading a message about peace and love when you’ve been shot dead for it, right? Before he was murdered in cold blood by a white person (never forget that), his views on protesting were already undergoing a noticeable change.

Admit it, if all you do is focus on his earlier writing and speeches, then it is rather difficult to reconcile them with much of what he started to say before being shot. In a speech he delivered to the American Psychology Association’s annual convention in September 1967, he stated:

“Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena… They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking.”

See, there’s an illustration of the problem with continuing to insist that protests should remain peaceful. Peaceful protests only work against a system that has a guilty conscience; one that can be shamed into doing the right thing when historically speaking it has been anything but fair and just. This is a huge reason why Gandhi was successful in helping to bring India its independence from Great Britain. The British, having just won a war in which the enemy was the most efficient racist killing machine in human history, just didn’t have the stomach for turning around and brutally repressing another race of people. There’s an alternate history short story, “The Last Article” by Harry Turtledove, that underscores this point. In it, the Nazis win World War II and Gandhi is forced to deal with them rather than the British. It should be clear, even without reading, that Gandhi’s techniques would not have worked against them.

Oh, let’s not forget that Gandhi also ended up murdered in cold blood (albeit for different reasons.)

But, I digress slightly.

What would have happened if Martin Luther King, Jr. hadn’t been murdered, and he had the opportunity to grow older? I guarantee you his views and feelings would have continued to evolve and change. That is what happens to any self-aware person who is willing to let their beliefs be challenged and change them when confronted with facts that do not support what they previously espoused. I will not attempt to theorize they direction they would have taken, but I am certain that King’s would have changed and evolved. I sincerely believe this because of my own growth and change as an individual.

See, during college I wrote extensively in the Commentary section of the student newspaper. In fact, I was the editor of that section for two years. During that time, I wrote nearly 100 opinion pieces, and there is stuff in there that makes me cringe thinking that I wrote it. I know that at times I was sexist, racist, and well… just painfully ignorant. However, I also did try my best to listen and think hard about what feedback I received. Change and growth didn’t happen as quickly as it could and should have — I readily admit to a painfully stubborn streak that continues to challenge me — but over time I came to understand and appreciate what was wrong about those beliefs and how I had to change them. I think it’s obvious that Martin Luther King Jr. was that kind of self-aware person.

So, white people, please stop focusing on the feel-good parts of his sermons, speeches, and interviews. It’s a bad fucking look — especially if you haven’t truly bothered to read the writings of numerous other black writers, both fiction and non-fiction. No one with a truly well-considered opinion relies solely on the work of one person or just one perspective. When you do that, all you are doing is reinforcing and pushing your own beliefs, without any true thought or reflection. It’s like saying that Alex Jones speaks for white people. Well, I’m sure he speaking for way too many of you, but I hope you get the point.

Do better.