Category - commentary
Acerbic observations on the state of the world, art, politics, and culture.
Or, What I Did With My Summer Vacation (and the rest of my summer).
Hi there, remember me?
When I started my ‘Dunbar Project‘ about six months ago, I had expected to post things to my personal website and send out an email with some links every couple of weeks or three.
The last post was about three months ago.
Where’d the summer go?
I was thinking this morning about how many times in my life I’ve dedicated myself to some initiative and quickly moved on to something else. Is it just me or you too? Sure, there have been times when I’ve gotten going on something and stayed with it. But there are also lots of times when the best intentions get derailed by the next distraction. You know… #squirrel!
So, let’s see… where were we? Read More
This country is an idea, and one that’s lit the world for two centuries…
––Rob Lowe as Sam Seaborn in The West Wing – S2 E16
I am writing this post mostly because it’s the ‘4th of July Weekend’ and I want to encourage anybody who is reading this to listen to this:
Anybody who has known me very long knows I’m a huge fan of this podcast. I have listened to almost every episode since I first learned of it more than 20 years ago.
In a typical episode, the creator of the show, Clay Jenkinson, is interviewed as Thomas Jefferson, speaking from a 21st century perspective on both historical and contemporary events and issues; at the end of each hour Clay returns as himself to speak about what he has just said as Jefferson.
This episode is a departure from that format. To discuss Independence Day, Clay speaks with three people. The first is a listener, Brad Crisler – from Nashville, no less; second is Lindsay Chervinsky, an accomplished young historian; third is the venerable Joseph Ellis, one of the country’s most renowned authorities on the Early National Period (side note: it was Ellis’s American Sphinx that sparked my interest in Jefferson to begin with).
With Clay and his ‘semi-permanent guest host’ David Swenson, these three individuals offer a useful perspective on why, despite the challenges of any given moment, we shouldn’t give up on the idea that took shape in Philadelphia two-and-half-centuries ago: that all men (and women!) are created equal, are entitled to equal justice under the law, and can effectively govern themselves through compromise and majority rule.
Murica! It really is the best idea anybody’s ever come up with for a country – even if its origins are steeped in contradictions, and even as the institutions that were formed to implement those ideas have outlived the compromises that were necessary accommodate those contradictions.
I suppose by now most who read this know that I got fired from my job at the Apple store in Green Hills back in January. Don’t cry for me, Argentina. If they hadn’t pushed me I never would have jumped, and it was well past time to fly.
That job got me through several life-changing years, starting with Ann’s decision to move to Oregon back in 2016. I think I can safely say now I’ve survived that transition and everything that came with and after it.
Time to ‘face the front of the bus’ (as my friend Philo Farnsworth III liked to say).
I’m still sorting out exactly how I will sustain my new-found freedom. I got that ‘part time summer job’ working at the ball park (more on that here).
And I figured, hell, let’s see if I can collect some unemployment insurance.
Well, umm…. no. Not so fast.
…as neatly crystalized in the title of a podcast that showed up in my RSS feed last week.
Commentary Magazine is a tolerable source of conservative perspective on current affairs – which is to say, a useful alternative to the MAGA/QAnon/Tucker Looney Tunes that passes for ‘conservative’ in some circles these days. This episode offered a recap of the recent primary elections in Ohio and Nebraska and a preview of the primary in Pennsylvania.
F. Scott Fitzgerald said:
The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
I keep sources like ‘Commentary’ and Andrew Sullivan in my daily infostream – along with the usual left-leaning sources like the NYTimes and Wonkette – just to keep the Fitzgerald Quadrant of my cerebral cortex in reasonable working order.
In the 1980s, when I was living in Hawaii, Ted Turner’s WTBS cable superstation was our only live TeeVee and I started watching Atlanta Braves games My new-found fandom was eventually rewarded with tickets to the first World Series game ever played in the former Confederacy, Game 3 of the 1991 Series between Atlanta and the Minnesota Twins.
Sometime during those years I went to San Diego to see the Braves play the Padres. I was rooting for the visiting team. What surprised me was the derision and verbal abuse directed at me (and my then first future ex-wife Georja) just because we had come to San Diego to root for the Braves.
How absurd, I thought. Show some respect for the opposition: If there was no opposing team there would be no game for fucksake*.
I think that’s why I found this story so heartwarming:
I hope to read in tomorrow’s sportsball news that Aaron Judge found Derek Rodriquez before today’s game and signed that ball for him.
Baseball: possible evidence that there is a loving God. Even in San Diego.
*This rule does not apply in Boston. If you go to a Yankees/Red Sox game at Fenway Park, you root for the Red Sox, I don’t care what team you grew up with.
Back in May of 2020 – during the pandemic – I got a kitten.
The woman who gave me the kitten told it was a male, and for some reason now lost to posterity I started calling him “Buster.”
When I took Buster to the vet, they informed me that the kitten was actually female. I was relieved because snuggling a male cat seemed oddly gay to me (yeah, I know, #homophobic).
However, In the interest of gender neutrality I kept the name (does that mean I have to declare her pronouns?).
Buster is now a full grown cat, but for the sake of those who are new to the list or missed the original posts, I think I’ll go back and use photos from the first year in the banner for the weekly(ish) ‘Buster Sez Hey!’ emails.
The one that I’m using this month (May, 2022) is from the first weekend I had her. She’s pretty much ‘fresh outta the box’ I brought her home with in this one.
Every morning for the past several years now (thanks, Jerry), the first thing I do once I hoist myself out of bed is put on my sneakers and go for a two-or-three mile walk before I re-plant myself in a chair with my coffee and laptop.
Over the past week or so (late April) it seems this year’s crop of dandelions have all come and gone. Mostly they look like this now:
…which is to say, they have scattered their seed to the wind and what remains will return to the earth for another year.
But a couple of mornings ago, I found one that was nestled in among some bushes, still completely intact in its ‘just before it all gets blown away’ phase. It made a nice image with the macro lens on my iPhone 13 Pro.
It’s been almost a year since I deactivated my Facebook account (in June, 2021) – so I guess this is long overdue, but now that I have embarked on “My Dunbar Project“ I suppose a bit of retro-perspective is in order.
I stopped using Facebook for three reasons:
1. Vanquishing the ‘Poke and Scroll.’ Anybody who has ever used social media recognizes the impulse: you poke at the screen and scroll to the next thing, and the next thing, and all the things after that. Surely the next thing will satisfy the craving. Sound familiar? This compulsive behavior is not a bug, it’s the whole fucking point of social media: to keep you on the platform. Maybe others have better self-control, but it’s not a safe temptation for anybody who is even slightly OCD (and in the digital era, who is not?) – or recovering alcoholic types.
2. The environment is a toxic swamp. Yes, services like Facebook have their merits, even if it’s often just an illusion of connection more than the real thing. But much what passes for ‘conversation’ on Facebook quickly descends in to chaos and rage. What’s the slogan, “if it enrages, it engages” (which brings us back to point #1 above). The stated mission of Facebook is “a more open and connected world.” But it’s actual purpose, it’s business model, is to keep people using the site and hoovering up as much personal data as possible and then capitalizing on that data. Which brings us to reason #3:
3. In the digital economy, we are all vassals and peasants: I’ve written about this before, and others have expressed it more eloquently than I ever will:
“when the service is free – then you are the product”
Every minute that we spend uploading ‘content’ – photos, posts, comments, replies – to social media, we are supplying our labor for free while unimaginable wealth rises to the top of the pyramid. I suppose it was ever thus, wealth has always ascends in one form or another. And sure, there are some who make their living plowing the digital fields of social media. But as long as I’m one of the unpaid peasants, I’ll toil in my own non-remunerative fields, thank you very much.
That’s it in a nutshell. And while I can say that I don’t miss the whole poke-and-scroll-enragement-feudal-environment, I do miss the occasional brush with people I actually care about.
If you might be one of those people, then please check out My Dunbar Project and fill out the form.
And if you have any doubt about how pernicious this Neo Feudal Digital State is, then watch the entirety of this expose by John Oliver (April 10, 2022). By all means keep posting and commenting, but don’t kid yourself what’s really going on: