Category - commentary

Acerbic observations on the state of the world, art, politics, and culture.

America: It’s Still A Good Idea

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:

The Thomas Jefferson Hour
Episode 1501 – 4th of July 2022

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.

The simple fact of the current moment is that we are no longer ‘majority ruled.’  With the non-proportional representation of the Senate (and its very unconstitutional filibuster rules), the persistence of the antiquated Electoral College, and a Supreme Court super-majority that was appointed by presidents who (mostly) failed to win the popular vote, our political environment has taken a dark turn from the actual will of the majority.

We are a more enlightened people than our current governance wants to let us be.  It has taken 200-plus years, but now our institutions have morphed from declaring our independence from a tyrannical monarch to a tyranny of our own minority.

The irony in our current predicament is that this ruling minority labels itself as ‘conservative.’ In my recollection, the essence of ‘conservative’ was ‘limited government that stayed out of individual lives.’  This newer brand of conservatives is precisely the opposite.  They seem determined to tell the rest of us how to live our lives and what we can do – from who we can love or marry to what goes on inside our own bodies.  Well, excuuuse me, but in truly free state, your right to enforce your religiously-defined values stops at my epidermis, and your capacity to be a fascist stops at yours.

Still, as Joseph Ellis says near the end of his segment, “when we are at or near the solution to the human problem, we would be insane to turn away from it.”

I hope some of you reading this will find the time over this weekend to listen to the podcast offered above.

If Clay Jenkinson and his erudite friends are not enough to restore your optimism, then I also suggest you read this op-ed in today (July 3)’s NYTimes by another Nashvillian, Margaret Renkyl:

Money quote:

It should not be so unbearably hard for justice to prevail, and justice finally gained should never again be at risk. But this is the country we live in. The fight for freedom will never be over. And, God help me, I will not be one who gives up. This is my country, too, and I will not surrender it to a vocal minority of undemocratic tyrants.

OK, enough with the pontificating.  Let’s go to the ballpark, root-root-root for the home team, gobble hotdogs and blow some shit up:

Epilogue: Termination / Vindication

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.

I started filing for weekly benefits (it’s not a lot, but it is a non-zero sum) within a couple weeks of my termination.  Each week I’d go into the Jobs4TN.gov website and fill out a form and each week it said that my benefits were ‘in progress’ while the department determined my eligibility 

On April 12, I finally received an email from the Department informing me that my benefits had been denied because – according to my former employer – I was discharged for a ‘policy violation.’  Never mind that the policy makes no allowance for the mutual exchange of personal information, the Company had decided I had violated the privacy policy and the Department concurred.  Benefits denied. 

Conveniently, that notice arrived  about an hour before I was to have lunch with Adam, a lawyer friend who had previously offered a bit of counsel on my plight. While we waited for slices of pizza at the Arcade I told him of this latest development and he offered to help me file an appeal.

The first thing Adam did was compose a letter to Apple requesting a copy of my employment record.  He and others have suggested that this is something I’m entitled to, so it seemed reasonable to ask for a copy that might shed some light on exactly what their case against me was.  We sent that request to four different email addresses at Apple. None bounced.  We are still waiting for the file.

Meanwhile, Adam looked up the case law and highlighted all the clauses that showed that the policy was sufficiently vague in this instance, and my record was sufficiently clean after five-plus years of employment that the termination was unjustified.  We filed the appeal on April 15 and a telephone hearing was scheduled for May 4.

Apple has some liability here. I don’t know how much of the benefit they have to pay but it’s not nothing,  so they have the right to make their case for why I was justifiably terminated.  But somebody has to show up to the ‘hearing’ and make that case.

At 8:00 AM on May 4 Adam and I got on the phone with the hearing officer, a cordial-but-crisp woman named April that Adam kept deferring to as ‘your honor.’   We waited a few minutes for a representative from Apple to come on the line.  Then we all went on hold and waited another 15 minutes.

When we all got back on the call, it was still just three of us.

Adam then staged a virtual courtroom scene, effectively putting me on a virtual witness stand and asking me some questions about my employment history,  my understanding of the Company’s privacy policy and the circumstances with The Woman In Question.  The appeal officer listened and asked a few questions of her own.  Fifteen minutes later she said she would make her decision by the end of the week.

It didn’t take a week.  By the end of the day I received an email informing me that the prior decision had been reversed:

The employer has not proven by the weight of the credible evidence that the claimant committed work-related misconduct, as meant by Tenn. Code Ann. § 50-7-303(a)(2). Therefore, the claimant is eligible to receive unemployment insurance benefits

Two days later two grand showed up in my bank account.

Another funny thing: the day of the hearing and decision, I needed to go to the Green Hills Mall to order some new eye glasses – the first time I’d been to the Mall since I was fired.  I confess, I felt a little bit like gloating.  I looked over the second floor balcony in to the store where I’d worked for the past five years and watched the familiar activity within.

Nope, not missing it.

I am grateful for the time I had there.

I am more grateful that it is over.

Now then, time to ride the bus in the direction that it is going

Our National Dilemma…

…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.

This Just In:
Why Ya Gotta Love Baseball

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:

Watch Blue Jays fan’s gesture after Aaron Judge
 home run bring young Yankees fan to tears

(I originally saw this story in an online publication called The Athletic, but that site is behind paywall so I found another source with similar footage)

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.

 

A Word About This Month’s ‘Buster’

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.

Buster Comes Home, May 28, 2020
*

The Last Dandelion

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.

Why I Got Off Facebook

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:


 

*

Hello…. What’s This?

And…. who are all you people?

For the past ten years or so, I have been using  MailChimp to send out an automated “Weekly Digest” of things I posted to my personal (i.e. vanity) website/blog, CohesionArts.com.

When I looked my MailChimp account recently, there were ~500 subscribers to the list.  I found about 150 obvious ‘bot’ subscribers.  After purging those I still have about 350 names on the list.

When I look through that list… I have no idea who most of the subscribers are.  And I suspect a lot of them are still bots.

I mention this for a couple of reasons.  First, I got off Facebook last year, and now I am making a genuine effort to find my tribe outside the feudal (and futile?) estates of ‘social’ media.

Hence the question… who are you people??

If you’re real, this might be a good time to identify yourself somehow.  Try sending message to this email address and I’ll make sure you’re added to the ‘Dunbar List‘ (no need to resubscribe if you’re already getting the automated emails).

The other thing that’s going on here is a rebranding.

I’ve dropped the “Cohesion Arts” domain and now everything has been relocated to IncorrigibleArts.com.

“CohesionArts” was something I came up with when I thought my then-future-ex-wife and I  were going to do photography projects together. Well, that never happened, and the marriage itself went the way of 50% of all marriages three years ago.

Besides, I’ve never been entirely coherent or cohesive (if you doubt that, read my second book).

But I’ve always been incorrigible.

Read More