Reset: Endings & Beginnings

We in the United States are in a position where the President and his associates are currently under investigation by the FBI for collusion with a (non-democratic) foreign power, which is now suspected with tampering in the French electoral process as well.  According to ongoing reporting by the thankfully still free & independent press, which the President has relentlessly attacked in true dictatorial style, undoubtedly because he understands the truth is a threat, many members of his inner circle may be violating the law by maintaining massive financial conflicts of interest.  Meanwhile, the President’s hideous budget calls for cuts to or the elimination of virtually every service that vulnerable Americans depend on, up to and including Meals on Wheels, a simple, effective program that feeds the elderly who are unable to feed themselves.  All this is happening after one of the ugliest and most poisonous elections in the country’s history.

The hateful, racist alt-right, which sees in Trump’s rise a resurgence of white nationalism, is mirrored by an increasingly angry, militant, and grim new Left, whose calls for resistance and revolution are becoming surprisingly mainstream. Stuck in the middle are millions of anxious, confused, & befuddled people who simply want this whole nightmare to blow over, and for things to go back to the way they were. They won’t. We have not yet reached 100 days of Trump’s administration, and we already seem to be increasingly at risk of nuclear war (!) with North Korea. If we manage to avoid that, the reality of climate change, which is, incredibly, being exacerbated by the administration’s policies, will inevitably bring misery and suffering to millions. We are engaged in high-stakes gambling with the future of the planet, and history suggests we are unlikely to win.

The political instability this country is facing is not the cause, but a symptom of deep trauma & malaise, fundamentally ethical, and also the symptom of a damaged national psyche whose origin dates at least to the Vietnam War and probably before.

“We don’t win wars anymore,” said Mr. Trump on the campaign trail. But who’s counting? Does it even matter? Who could “win” in Iraq or Afghanistan? Only for-profit military contractors that scored big no-bid contracts. Not the employees, per se, but certainly their shareholders (likely including Trump nominee Betsy DeVos).

The Iraq War was not necessarily about oil, and obviously not about weapons of mass destruction. It was really just about war, for its own sake: a way to stimulate the economy, create “jobs”, privatize socialized property (including oil), and manufacture and test new weapons. There was nothing to “win”, and no real reason to. In war for its own sake, there need be no victor: destruction and production are enough. “Nation building” means digging a hole, then filling it. Rinse and repeat.

That the whole botched “Shock and Awe” disaster has resulted in a new virulent religious death cult that is plaguing the world today simply creates another business opportunity to invest in: increasingly intrusive “security”, which Americans have been the “early adopters” of ever since. In the public sector, the increased demand for security has resulted in an increasingly militarized police.

So Mr. Trump obviously misses the point when he talks about “winning wars”, apparently thinking that they are about international contests rather than free enterprise. His even more hideous vision of war, that of white nationalistic conquest, in which black and brown people are forced into their “place” in a fictional, invented, endlessly disproven fantasy of racial hierarchy (a fantasy which, if it did not necessarily win Mr. Trump the election, obviously did not cost it for him), can only result in a literal Hell on Earth: something genuinely apocalyptic, for whites as well as everyone else, as implementing his vision would result in the suppression of all diversity and dissent, and likely any kind of individuality whatsoever. It requires everyone to be a square peg in a square hole, and Heaven help those who cannot or refuse to fit. This is Fascism at its core: conformity to an racial ideal is impossible for anyone (no matter how close they seem to be), and ultimately pointless anyway. It’s easier and much more fun to be yourself.

In any case, his awful agenda involves sawing off the branch on which we all sit, by detaining, deporting, and harassing massive and critical segments of the U.S. workforce, and pissing in the well from which we all drink, by gutting any semblance of environmental protection (of course, those are only the two of the more disturbing parts of his platform, and ignore his attacks on health care, education, the arts…).

Our world is already on the cusp of climate disaster. The seasons are being eradicated, and the weather is increasingly chaos. Temperatures vary by twenty, thirty, or more degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of hours (this is typical of a particular kind of climate region: the desert). All this in addition to the usual widespread toxic pollution that does not necessarily affect the climate, merely human health. The current administration’s literally suicidal approach is not only to do less to prevent all this, but to accelerate towards oblivion with maniacal abandon. And there were already attempts by the administration to stifle scientific reporting before Mr. Trump even took office. True, there are profits to be made by razing rainforests to produce disposable paper cups and palm oil, but at a certain point, we run out not only of ancient forests to destroy, but also of clean water to pour into the paper cup (of course, privatizing water is big business as well: the workings of supply & demand here are painfully obvious). The opposite of “Sustainability” is “Death”. We must choose Life!

The film “Mad Max: Fury Road” is a tragic, beautiful, & horrific vision of our world one click away from oblivion. The world is desert, overrun with violent gangs racing to the bottom, competing over what little food & fuel is left in the world. Humanity is ravaged with disease, and extinction seems almost preferable to the degenerate, illiterate, brutish, and miserable life the few remaining survivors lead. Few in the audience would trade places with even the “elite” of that deranged world.

This essay is primarily a prayer that we avoid that ruinous path. When the results of the election was announced, I personally plunged into an emotional darkness that I know many others across the country felt. It seemed that the bottom had fallen out, and the hell-world of “Fury Road” was just one of the possible fates looming far below that we risked plummeting towards, in free fall. It is no small miracle that we haven’t, largely because a collective “NO” has reverberated from so many corners of the country and the world. Whatever the outcome, this “NO” has shook the world.

“Now what?” is the daily/weekly/monthly question that has been asked since the election. Now what, indeed? Will the genie go back into the bottle? Will our economy continue to be based on disposable cups/plates/towels/napkins/clothing/furniture/phones/cameras/cars and virtually everything else? Are we going to continue to demonize the poor even as our systems demoralize and destroy them? Are we going to continue to try and quantify and measure every aspect of every human being as “Big Data” in order to rank them and classify them according to some misguided and asinine formula or algorithm, in a manner akin to phrenology? Are we going to continue to strip any semblance of privacy & dignity from every person while normalizing the sick fiction that the virtual world is a healthy place to maintain our social lives? Are we going to continue to treat art & culture as nothing more than a commodity to be bought and sold? Are we going to continue to hate, fear, & denigrate the “Other” as we excuse and ignore the most heinous acts from “our team”?

Or will we finally, finally, finally, halt our madness with the simplest of attitudes: one of prudence, humility, non-violence, & respect, and perhaps, eventually, trust?


Functions

Are people like functions,
getting called,
taking their arguments,
ultimately to exit,
yielding their return value?


A Nation In Crisis

American officials have recently asserted that the 2016 Presidential Election may have been tampered with by a foreign power, by unlawfully gaining access to the information system one of the two major parties in favor of the other. We have also seen a massive disinformation campaign through social media and entire professional-looking fradulent news websites which cropped up just in time to sway the election, again in favor of the same candidate.

Given the gravity of this accusation, a full investigation is needed, both by the Executive branch and Congress. The Electoral College should and must postpone its duties until this investigation is complete. Any other course of action risks compromising the security of the United States of America. If a full investigation reveals that a foreign power did not, in fact, intervene in favor of one candidate, the Electoral College should certainly carry out its duties as intended. But given the unprecedented and dangerous nature of this accusation, I am in favor of a postponement, pending investigation.

A word on motive and motivation: I am not writing this because “my side lost”, per se, given that I never felt personally that “my side” was ever represented in the first place. I am writing this because if these official allegations are true, then this is simply the most prudent course of action: allow our Republican-led Congress to lead a formal, nonpartisan investigation of the allegations before the Electoral College convenes.

A delay is unfortunate, and uncomfortable, and may even make many voters angry. But again, if these allegations are true, the truth must be determined before it is too late.


Home Improvement

I recently watched an instructional video on home improvement, and I was struck by how deeply into the presentation the language of business was embedded.  For example, when deciding what kind of cabinets to buy for a kitchen, the host recommends that for luxury homes, one purchase the finest fixtures available, since lower quality fixtures could reduce the value of the home.  On the other hand, for “normal” homes, one should purchase cheaper cabinets, since having the finest quality available would not necessarily increase the value of the home.  The question of which fixtures the people living in the house would actually enjoy is never addressed.  Even safety is discussed primarily in terms of financial liability: if someone is injured due to construction work on a home, is the contractor liable, or the homeowner?

In other words, the top priority of the instructor appears to be maximizing the financial value of the house while minimizing costs and liability.  One of the disturbing assumptions underlying this perspective is that the home is seen as an inherently temporary product, intended more to be sold than lived in.  In this view,  the home is reduced from being the intergenerational nexus of a family’s life to being a commodified “vehicle” expected to provide a good “return on investment” (ROI).

Why would anyone plant a tree on such a property, given that the tree could take decades to mature (and only then serve its intended purpose, ROI), long after the house is expected to be sold, and even resold?  In his “Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch implores parents to allow their children to color on the walls, as his did.  What role could a child play in such a house, other than staying out of the way, for fear of doing something that would (heaven forbid) reduce the value of the property?

Thus what should be the primary focus of home improvement, building a beautiful, loving, warm, and safe long-term environment for family and friends is mutated into a heartless business venture that is crippled by the binary logic of the balance sheet.  It is, of course, wise to keep a place for cost-consciousness in any large project, but let us not allow cost-consciousness to supersede the higher consciousness of building a true home.


Fruit

Once I bit lustily from the fruit;
until the shivering insult of rot
learned me to be cautious forever.


Flea Market

“That’s $14.35.”

“Fourteen… thirty-five?” He felt stupid saying it so slowly, but it sounded wrong.

“Yep,” the woman sitting on the other side of the table said.  He thought he saw a slight leer.  “You want it?”

“Ummm, well, I, uh, hmmm…” He had an uncomfortable sense that she somehow understood his disfluencies better than he did.  “I’m not sure, hmmm.  What is it?”

“It’s a clock. Antique. It’s worth at least a hundred and fifty but I gotta get rid of it.”

“A deal,” he thought. “Maybe. This lady knows what she’s doing. Probably not $150, maybe less, but who knows? Maybe it’s worth even more.  I could get Sam to look at it… Besides, it would look good on the bookcase, next to the lamp.”

What he said was, “Huh,” but again he sensed that she was reading him more closely than he would have liked.

The vendor sat at the edge of a plastic folding chair, arms folded, with raven-black hair, wearing a dark purple dress made of what looked like velvet, the steward of a table covered with old dolls, old bottles, old mirrors, objects waiting for a place to go besides the dump.  The table’s faux oak veneer was peeling, revealing the damaged particleboard underneath.

“It’s nice,” she said.

It was, he agreed. But it also looked heavy, and he had a long train ride home.

“Yeah…” He started to pull back.

“You can have it for ten. I gotta get rid of it.”

He tried to remember what was in his wallet. Did he have a ten? He was pretty sure he had a twenty, but sometimes these flea market people didn’t have change, and they had to go to the next table, to their… friends? Probably more of a you-scratch-my-back kind of situation (now that was an old saying). Anyway, he definitely didn’t have… fourteen-thirty-five, and didn’t feel like spending more time with this transaction than necessary, and already regretted following his curiosity to this weird place, and this weird woman, with her weird table, but if he had a ten on him, what the hell, it was a nice… clock, or whatever it was.  It didn’t look like a clock to him, but it looked old and ornate and brassy, and they don’t make things like they used to, and it would give his apartment a slightly classier feel, and… She was staring at him, waiting, waiting for a decision, while he tried to remember if he had broken a twenty recently… He had! Yesterday, when he stopped by the deli to get a coffee.  The guy hadn’t been crazy about giving him nineteen dollars in change, either.

“Sure,” he said.

He took out his wallet.  There was no ten, only three twenties and a few singles.  He blankly handed her a twenty.

“Hold on, I’ll get you your change,” she said, and headed to the adjacent table.

“Careful, it’s heavy.”


Gluten Free

Hey, how you doin’ little pizza pie?
You are the apple cobbler of my eye;
You look like a panini fallen from the sky;
Just a little taste of you I wanna try;

Gluten Free! Gluten Free!
Gluten Free! Gluten Free!

Hey my lasagna babe you look so fine;
My little cupcake yeah – you’ll soon be mine;
Delicious canolies all in a line;
If I can’t eat you up it would be a crime;

Gluten Free! Gluten Free!
Gluten Free! Gluten Free!

(Bridge)

I want to slurp you up just like spaghetti;
Warm you like toast that’s nice and bready;
Run my fingers through your raw cookie dough;
Why I can’t have you baby I just don’t know;

(Instrumental)

My cookie cuttin’ days are just about through;
My angel cake went and left me too;
No devil’s food for me, you know it’s true;
Babe I’d go hungry if it weren’t for you;

Gluten Free! Gluten Free!
Gluten Free! Gluten Free!
Gluten Free! Gluten Free!
Gluten Free! Gluten Free!