Sunday, April 29, 2012

Please Mr. Lowry 3/3

Maybe as direct counter point to green energy the case of oil should be taken up. Certainly oil is a big issue and Time even recently ran several articles on how gas prices can be affected by different factors. The conclusion more or less was that American refining capabilities have decreased, global demand has increased, and uncertainty in oil rich nations has caused spikes in the price. But, overall, there still remains a surplus of oil and supply/demand factors don’t fully account for the distinct rise that Americans have seen. Mr. Lowry wittily retorts “no one seriously believes—surely not even Obama—that speculation is responsible for this year’s rise in oil prices, now beginning to recede.” Except that plenty of people not only believe it but there is ample evidence to show that prices are not tied to traditional supply and demand models. Oil prices have started to “recede” but demand has little changed. In fact, with nice weather now, gas tends to start its march toward summer peak prices. But instead they are falling, which correlates far more directly with the Iranians making fewer inflammatory remarks as of late.

But what does oil cost the American public? Obama has proposed removing $4 billion in oil subsidies multiple times to Congress. For anyone keeping count at home, along with the Buffet Rule, Obama would have generated $8.7 billion in savings per year for the government at this point. These are small but real policies that would tangibly reduce the deficit.

Aside from his obvious disdain for Obama’s policies, Mr. Lowry is really asking for big policy ideas and wide open vision. Like…Mitt? Doesn’t matter who. Big ideas are great; visionaries are important. But that doesn’t preclude substantive discourse on specific policies.

Yet the pesky reality of the American government’s leisurely pace remains. There is little way to expedite the political process these days without 60 votes in the Senate and a majority in the House. Mr. Lowry maintains that now “is a moment in the nation’s life that cries out for a clash of big ideas in a conversation that treats the public like adults.” Surely Obama’s record on international affairs is testament to his decisiveness and high-minded thinking. The struggling and slow pace of domestic changes leaves much to be desired however. This dichotomous quality—especially in light of Obama’s 2008 campaign rhetoric—seems to suggest that the presidency is more than just a vision and decisiveness. It requires cooperation and bipartisanship; pragmatism and support; strategy and diplomacy.

Perhaps the problem lies not with the president, but with other critical factors. Perhaps Obama isn’t running a “cynical, small-minded campaign.” Perhaps he is running a careful campaign cognizant of his political limitations despite his best efforts. Because no matter how visionary someone may be, there are always those with a far different vision. Mr. Lowry should know that well—he is a political writer after all.

Maybe the problem is that Mr. Lowry’s article was too short and he didn’t have space to fully explain his thoughts. It is very difficult to write in such a small space, but that would do Mr. Lowry a great disservice because he is an excellent writer and thinker.

Rich is really trying to get his two cents in; a critique to make those that disagree angry, and those that agree nod knowingly. It certainly makes the conversation interesting but does little to elevate the debate. Mr. Lowry can do better and all would benefit from his insightfulness.

Please Mr. Lowry 2/3

As the article continues, Lowry points to a quote by David Axelrod—one of Obama’s top advisors—that the President had to be re-elected because we couldn’t afford to stay on our current course. “Did Axelrod miss the past 3 ½ years, when his boss occupied the most powerful office in the land?” Obviously not, but the point stands, what the hell happened between January 2009 and now? The answer is not simple, which is sad, because a curt reply with a snappy one-liner would be an editorialist’s wet dream. The question can be seen in things such as the payroll tax extension or the fact that congress hasn’t passed a budget in over 1000 days.

The Executive branch, while extremely powerful, is not dictatorial. Certainly there is a lot of heft in what Barack can do but he barely got the very popular Violence Against Women Act passed. 31 male Republican Senators voted against what should be a no-brainer extension of a bill that was passed to provide:
“Community violence prevention programs
Protections for victims who are evicted from their homes because of events related to domestic violence or stalking
Funding for victim assistance services, like rape crisis centers and hotlines
Programs to meet the needs of immigrant women and women of different races or ethnicities
Programs and services for victims with disabilities
Legal aid for survivors of violence”—(thank you Wikipedia).

Objections for reasons that can be addressed later (same sex protections, temporary visas for illegal immigrants) aside, there is no excuse to deny funding and federal support for laws such as this—unless the objections are fiscal, because the government definitely has a big deficit. In that case all measures to reduce expenditures and increase revenue should be looked at. Right Mr. Lowry? “[The Buffet Rule] would ensure that the very wealthy (like Mitt Romney) no longer benefit from the favorable tax treatment of capital gains and investment (like Mitt Romney) to pay a lower federal income tax rate than middle-income tax-payers.” Yeah, that’s some logic, let’s generate a little revenue and work our way closer to a pragmatic tax code! Glad you agree.

“This is very clever—and very silly.” Or not. Ok, continue, what do you mean by silly? “The deficit last year was $1.3 trillion. With the Buffet rule in place, it would have been $1.295 trillion.” $4.7 billion must be too paltry a sum to really address any issues realistically. Mr. Lowry has a bit of a point; the military alone costs over 100 times that per year and the little bit raised by the Buffet Rule would put only a small dent in the deficit. But isn’t that important? Isn’t the inherently slow and hard to steer nature of American government about trade-offs and tempered legislation with a bipartisan bent? Are closing tax loopholes—however symbolic or politically motivated—good or not? According to Mr. Lowry the answer is no. “[Obama] offers no major reforms in taxes or entitlements, no new stimulus, no departures whatsoever.” The Buffet Rule may be small but it would be a reform.

And Obama may be “obsessed with the marginalia of green energy,” but it does constitute an entitlement and a stimulus. Speaking of stimulus, it is patently unfair to accuse the President of not encouraging more spending when just sentences previously Mr. Lowry was accusing the President of not doing enough about the deficit. Even though green energy may be “prone to bust unless the subsidies keep on rolling” that doesn’t make it the exclusive bastion of government funding prone to “bust.” How about cattle ranchers in California who received over $200 million in government subsidies in 2010? Certainly no one rails against their elevated stature in government despite the high environmental, health, and economic costs of raising cattle in what is essentially a desert.

Please Mr. Lowry 1/3

Rich Lowry, editor of the National Review and sometimes contributing op-ed writer for about a million other respected publications, can be very insightful. Other times, he can be very inciteful. His rhetoric is of a pragmatic nature, laced with conservative ideologies and something peculiar. Although far from paranoid, he suffers from skepticism and suspicion of non-likeminded thinkers. It is pervasive in his writing, but not unhealthy in any substantive way.

Skepticism and open suspicion of the unknown or unrelatable is healthy and human. It can also be limiting. Those two qualities often get him to the good questions but rarely lead him to answers of a similar quality. When he spoke at Skidmore College he was a well-informed individual that curated one of the most respected conservative publications in the country. His logical underpinnings were sound but rarely were his conclusions satisfactory.

As an example, take his latest commentary piece in Time. His second paragraph is well-written, “the economy is sunk in a subpar recovery and the nation’s balance sheet is deep in the red…the welfare state is in crisis throughout the Western world. The President’s approach amounts to fiddling while Athens burns, or at least defaults.” Indeed the economy does suffer from a subpar recovery, the nation’s balance sheet is deep in the red, and the welfare state is in crisis throughout the Western world—previous recoveries have put up much better results, there is a severe deficit, and the EU is self-asphyxiating with cuts to programs while need steadily increases. So the question is what sorts of policies would produce better results (the implicit good question that Mr. Lowry is so excellent at finding)?

Mr. Lowry responds that “the President’s approach amounts to fiddling while Athens burns, or at least defaults.” An excellent zinger but indicative of Lowry’s stuck logic. While Athens is on the brink of default, it was Rome that burned while Nero fiddled—an inconsequential inaccuracy that defeats the rhetorical flair but doesn’t detract ultimately from his argument.

Except it does. The statement basically accuses the President of doing nothing in his first term and having no policy goals going forward. “There is no signature proposal for his second term, no discernible agenda.” Yet in the very next sentence, Mr. Lowry states clearly that Obama’s platform is “microinitiatives.” Mr. Lowry also states that the President uses ad-hominem attacks additionally as part of his campaign strategy—a charge that can’t be denied but has little weight when every slimeball or righteous human coveting the majority vote from a constituency engages in the practice. Microinitiatives, by their very nature, are policy proposals. That there is no “signature proposal” is merely a marketing shortcoming. One cannot fault a candidate for having specific policy goals that are clearly outlined. Simple deductive reasoning shows that all of the proposals taken as a whole constitute an agenda.

Grammar Nazis

Grammar Nazis. Am I on the wrong side of a trend? Yes. Should anyone care in the slightest? Probably not. What is my infraction? Well I have done it in every sentence so far. That’s right, I’m the a-hole who puts two spaces after their sentences. And contrary to what I thought I was going to do (which was to set myself straight and conform to the trend) I am doubling down.

Why? Because I’m so tired of people being jerks about grammar and style. My bible for how to use the English language is Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue. It states simply that grammarians and editors are wrong. The very nature of the language is that it is free flowing and the ‘rules’—especially the most esoteric ones—have little meaning beyond the preferences of people who see themselves as the last bastions of hope between a well-manicured language and chaos.

I assure you all that me putting two spaces after my sentences will not send the world into the fires of Hell. In fact, writers who address this openly acknowledge the stylistic motive for using one versus two spaces after a sentence. Slate had a scathing article about why to two was something to turn one’s nose up at. It’s visually more appealing. And sleeker. And it’ll get you laid. I added that last one.

If it is seriously stylistic, why is there so much debate and why is it so looked down upon? Because it’s just another way that one group can call themselves professional whilst poo-pooing another.

So why do people double-space at all? Well, it comes from mono-spaced typewriters. The letters all have equal horizontal width (monospaced) in these types of fonts and seeing sentence distinctions can be very difficult. To accommodate this, the trend of putting two spaces after a sentence was adopted. Modern fonts are rarely monospaced and distinguishing words and sentences is much easier.

It would stand to reason that in our modern Calibri, Times New Roman, Helvetica, Comic Sans world, the need for two post-sentence spaces is negligible. Au contraire, which is French by the way. I submit to the editorial world that two spaces continues to make sense because it is so easy to alter fonts to monospace. And then what happens? Articles that looked perfectly fine in Times New Roman have now unleashed chaos upon the world after converting to Courier.

The collapse of the written word is imminent the day that a computer virus converts all of our fonts. And the only legible texts will be the ones untouched by the self-righteous editors.

Or we can all just get over it and harbor no ill will toward each other and stop trying to stifle my style.

Friday, April 27, 2012

I Write Because

I write because it’s important to me. It’s important to me because I think that I will wake up one day and be a good writer. I write because one day I will wake up and I will be old and I won’t remember a god damn thing.

I got honked at yesterday. I was in the cross walk legally. And the woman in her shiny SUV honked at me for crossing the street legally. She startled me. I looked at her, she looked back like I was crazy. I looked at the crosswalk signal—which to be fair was blinking—but it definitely gave me right of way. And I looked back at her. And she kept giving me that glare. I really didn’t understand why.

I also almost got hit by a man not paying attention. All of my close calls have happened when cars make right turns. I understand that it sucks to drive in the morning and you might not be awake. But please pay attention to pedestrians. Especially ones crossing legally.

Do I even want to remember these things? I mean, what is the value of saying that I watched several episodes of Star Trek TNG tonight? I cooked buckwheat noodles and hung out casually. What the hell do I say about a life where the substance is so insubstantive and the material is so immaterial?

NPR played the first TED talk on their radio show. I listen to a lot of RadioLab and NPR. I record bits and pieces of my life hoping to send it far into the future. And no matter how hard I try there is a very real possibility it will fade into the ether.

Because Aristophanes may have lost the competition but he won in the history books because his play was the only one preserved. We destroyed our society in the Dark Ages, and a few scholars in the Arab world kept fractional libraries. Then we burned down the libraries, rediscovered our history and tried to put the pieces of the puzzle back together.

History is history. We lose so much. And maybe that’s not bad. Among the great scientific discoveries are the terrible realities. Rape, war, starvation, strife, torture, and hatred. For we are animals at the end of the day. And we record Mother Nature in its raw brutality. The act of recording is what makes it brutal. Plenty of animals die slowly as they are disemboweled and eaten alive every day. Because we have no moral association with these actions there is no outrage. We are slowly clawing our way out of the Sarlac pit; pretending to be more civilized than the giant space slug inside all of us.

And what I write is hopefully but a small contribution to that movement.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Island 2/2

A short story cont'd:

Soon there was a pile of rocks from the man’s net on the shore. “One fish,” he tossed another rock on the beach, “just one fish.”

Then he tossed the net into the sea one last time. The water, which had parted, suddenly crashed in on him and the sea turned tumultuous. “I’ve got one! A fish! A fish!” The storm suddenly descended upon us and it rained in sheets. Drops of water fell on the sand, sending text flying into the air. Lightning struck just beyond the pier and the man was barely visible. I stood up to watch him.

“A fish! A fish!” It was all he could say. And the waters rose as he struggled against the sea. The once calm waves drove into the shore sending up large letters and words. The text from the waves was much bigger than the sandy text between my hands; huge gnarled strings of letters that sparked from the collision of water and earth and evaporated into mist.

I worried for the man and headed for the water, but a gust of wind and a sheet of rain pushed me back. I could hear him screaming still, just barely over the howl of the wind. He was still trying to pull in the fish.

And then, no more. The sea was calm again, the storm was in the distance. I gathered myself together, and looked around me. I saw the rocks the man had tossed on the beach and went to them. I picked one up and looked at it carefully. The rock was beautiful. Polished from the action of the ocean, it was colorful and marbled; full of intricate details I had failed to notice before.

I sat down on the beach and suddenly understood. I set the rock down gently and looked down the beach. There were many people in the water, casting their nets out and tossing rocks onto the beach. I watched them for a brief moment then plunged my hand into the sand. I pulled out a bit of line and started tying my own net. And the island felt just a little bit bigger.

Island 1/2

A short story

There is an island out there somewhere. It may be an island only in the mind’s eye but I like to think that it exists somewhere in the universe where matter and form are synonymous with thought.

This island is beautiful and lush, basked in light. There are well-known paths that trace intricate routes throughout the course of the island. And the island is surrounded by a vast enormous sea. The water is a deep blue. A blue untainted by pollution or even sediment. The water is calm and navigable nearly as far as the eye can see.

But just on the edge of the sea is a magnificent storm. The clouds rumble in the distance. They tumble and darken trying to encroach on the island’s calm waters. The rain in the distance is heavy. Thick sheets fall making a wall of gray.

I stood on the pier of the far edge of the island and looked back. The beautiful comfort of the island made me feel at home. I looked at the island’s volcanic peak. It thrust into the air defiantly, serving as a beacon for those trying to weather the storm.

I walked down to the beach where a man was tying fish nets. It seemed that he was pulling the net right from the sandy shore. I watched him curiously. He would examine his line, yanking on the cords and retying the knots, and then he would pull more from the sand. I came closer to get a better look.

I could see that the net was unfinished and still merged into the ground. At the point where the net became part of the sand there was a section that was black with ants. It was moving, changing the sand to line. As I peered at the joint I realized that they were not ants but letters and words tightly packed together. Some fell off the net and turned back to sand. Many turned into the net.

After a fashion, the net was finished. The man looked at me and smiled. “It’s time to go fishing I suppose.”

I nodded at him slowly. He stood up and walked out into the surf. As he did so the waters parted and land followed him. He turned back to me and called out, “they don’t believe me. The ocean is getting smaller and the storm is getting closer.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “I’ve spent my life trying to catch a fish in this shrinking sea, you’ll have to tell them when I’m gone.”

With that he cast his net out into the water, and pulled it in slowly. When he pulled it out there were only rocks. He pulled a rock out of the net, and held it gently. He turned to me and tossed the rock at my feet. “It’s getting bigger. Every day.”

He tossed his net out once again and pulled it in. Again, only rocks. I sat in the warm yellow sand, picked up a handful of fine grains and let a slow stream fall from my palm--turning my hand into an hourglass. I looked closely at the stream of sand as it fell. Some grains spontaneously burst into letters and chains. Sometimes words spontaneously formed.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Town Fundraiser

As you (the reader, possibly readers) may or may not know, I have joined a theater group known as The Town Theater. We are a dedicated group of early 20-somethings that want to rock the theater world. Also help people in need and build community. In fact, our main mission is to use theater as a way to truly build community across a diverse set of people.

We will be having a fundraiser soon to try to get some cash to put up several very promising productions in the fall. One production will be a version of Ciera’s thesis play Domesticity. It is a selection of scenes from contemporary plays written during the first wave of feminism. The group did a reading of the scenes and it is striking how relevant and controversial the scenes are from even a modern standard. And it isn’t just a scene study; the characters and scenes are woven together in such a manner that there is a distinct arc that brings to light fascinating aspects of the revolution that was going on at the time. The catch is that we need money to put the production together. Costumes, set, space, and everything else that goes into a production costs money.

So the fundraiser will be soon. The good news is that we will get matching donations. This means every dollar counts extra. Put away the check book for now and more information will arrive imminently.

This is not just an opportunity to raise money for a bunch of starving artists, but to help really build community as well. The Town Theatre spends a lot of time on outreach to homeless people in Seattle. Hopefully soon we will be holding showcase nights where local artists of all housing backgrounds gather to exhibit their talents and work. We hope to make this a regular occurrence that destigmatizes homelessness and builds community across economic divides.

Aside from the donations being tax deductible, charitable, and overall endorphin inducing it should be noted that The Town Theatre is engaged with many causes that work to promote a truly sustainable future. We strive to build community and create unity where none appears to be. Helping us is helping build a more just and compassionate future.

Our young naive selves can’t help but think that good theater mixed with genuine community service is an excellent vehicle for change. So get prepared to make a donation to help us out. Seriously, every bit helps. One dollar or one million dollars we’ll appreciate it all. Stay tuned for more information.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

And The Rest is Silence

Short story what if Hamlet were performed only from the perspective of his diary? I believe it would look something like this:

My stepdad/uncle got trashed at his wedding to my slut mother and unceremoniously shoved his lascivious tongue down her throat. I could see her porcelain neck crane as fat from the bird’s leg in his mouth dripped from his long thin beard into her heaving cleavage. I left to walk the walls morosely, a new found habit since my father’s untimely and suspect death.

My dear friend Horatio came to me this eve and spoke of a ghost he had seen with two guards. The guards are an ignorant and stupid bunch; my father would probably be alive today if they had properly attended to him. I begrudgingly accepted their invitation to see this apparition. I think Horatio has taken to drink in this most somber and trying of times.

The guards cannot tell their heads from the drunken asses of the two backed incest beast that governs this castle. On the matter of a ghost though, they are correct. I saw my father’s ghost at the stroke of midnight and pursued it. The dimwits disappeared and I descended down with my father to converse on matters obscene. He disclosed that in his sleep a poisonous tincture had been poured in his ears by the very man who now rules this kingdom--my uncle. He dissolved in the air and my comrades reappeared; I swore them to an oath of secrecy. I have little doubt they would be unable to defend the castle from invasion. Ophelia’s dorky brother Laertes went to college today. That family is a mess.

I have decided to murder the false king. I have also decided to appear to go mad to gain his confidence. The plan is fool-proof. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern came to visit. These two dunces tried to decipher my plan but I saw through their bribery. I also broke up with Ophelia for good--gold digging girl.

No one likes my plays. Or my puns about putting heads in laps. I had the opportunity to kill him but I could not do it. I talked myself into it. Then out of it. Oh, how I vacillate so. Action would be so decisive yet the ramifications of my blood soaked dagger haunt me before the ghost

I talked with the harlot who hath borne me from her womb in her room. The woman who is guided only by her lusty loins saw not when my father’s apparition appeared before us in her quarters. I have some serious mommy and daddy issues.

I killed Polonius. I’m out of here.

Escaped banishment. Alas poor Yorrick. I made my return. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

Laertes came to fight me over some misunderstanding about the circumstances of his father’s death. I agreed to a duel. My skills far out match his and he will have little chance of victory unless he tips his sword with poison. After I kill Laertes I will kill the impostor King in the throes of my passion. Oh yeah, Ophelia also died a while back. I was pretty broken up about that.

And the rest is silence.

Fantasy Election League

And they’re off. Presidential candidates have been whittled down to fun facts and stats. It’s like they are the newest trading card game.

Romney draws business man and gets +2 support from Goldwater Republicans. Obama uses incumbency to block international politics; opponent cannot get upper-hand unless an international crisis removes the card.

Romney pulls out wife Ann; +4 to the women vote. Democratic strategist goes rogue; Media Blitz; -2 for everyone on all demographics.

Romney’s SuperPAC uses negative advertising; Independent voter turnout decreases by 3; Romney gains +5 Independent voter support.

War on Women. Media storm; all players lose 10 dignity pandering and overblowing. Women lose reproductive rights.

Is it any surprise that voter turnout this year is going to be a begrudging trudge to the polling station? Under what circumstances should the American public feel that their votes matter?

Media coverage has centered almost exclusively on two factors, polls and cash. The polls are a narrow band of coverage that never shows the validity or depth to a side but rather the advantages or disadvantages of campaign strategy. Who cares if someone lies or disregards independent, non-partisan scientific analysis? How the numbers are affected is important--at least from the perspective of the media. Truly though, in some misguided quest to be fair or even-handed, pundits and politicians continue to grind their axes to the tune of the day’s talking points. The only gaffes that get coverage are not matters of fact but rhetorical slip-ups and hot-mic episodes.

The punditry feeds this to the American people as if they aren’t already extraordinarily obese from the insubstantial crap that is our diet. Where is some real fact-checking? Why aren’t those gaffes covered? Why do all issues have precisely two sides? And whatever happened to Ron Paul?

Secondly, the media are poor beagles, sniffing out their noses for mock outrage and shock controversy. They can’t help but shove their snouts in the trash heap that is negative advertising. Hell, the advertising spots eat up 30 seconds of a two minute report already. There is no need for journalistic excellence, just a reporting of inchoate ‘facts’that have no context.

This is a fundamental problem. When the comedians are the astute commentators and traditional media outlets are just cows at the trough going mad eating themselves, there is little hope that the American public will vote with any informed opinion.

It’s appalling that the commentary on SuperPACs is so limited to how they are affecting the campaigns rather than the obviously corrupt and completely disenfranchising nature of these organizations. It’s absurd, which is perhaps why only Colbert and Stewart seem to cover it.

The media has been chasing the latest news as a misguided path to better ratings. Real excellence in journalism requires analysis and deep inquiry. This is an election where the American public sees little reason to participate when the numbers in front of them have predetermined the race. Why play football when there’s a fantasy league right on the tv?

Pips and Kombucha

I had an awesome weekend with Piper. She came into town and we wandered around the city and caught up. It’s amazing how much I miss my friends.

And Claire is doing all right. But I wish she were better.

When Piper was here we had beautiful weather and I was so happy to show her the city when it was beautiful. It is gray a lot here. That grayness keeps the city from being the best it can be for visitors. I find that the city is very attractive regardless. Ciera once commented that the buildings were beautiful even in the gray and I agree with her. The architecture around here seems to know that there are gray and rainy days.

In Spain they never could figure it out. Anytime the weather turned inclement the sidewalks became slippery and dangerous. I saw lots of people slip and fall very hard on their butts. It was funny but also colossally stupid. I loved Spain but that was a major shortcoming.

Anyways, the weather was precisely the opposite of what it was when Claire visited. Instead of heavy raindrops that soaked me to the bone, it was blue skies and wispy clouds. Sometimes my life feels so perfect.

Then we went hiking. I dragged Piper up a hill. I felt really bad because I didn’t think much of the hike. It was the same one I did before. It’s just outside Issaquah and paragliders launch off the point and drift gracefully down the hill. Without a parachute, Piper and I had to walk back down the hill which is really the hardest part.

Sure, when I got to the top I may have had a giant sweat stain on my back and wherever the straps of my backpack had touched me, but it wasn’t knee rattling. And maybe Piper had to stop every few switchbacks, but it wasn’t too bad.

It was the downhill, where gravity carries you faster than your legs and all you want is to get into the car and pump up the a/c. I promptly did so when we finally arrived back at the blueberry. The blueberry needs a car wash.

Kombucha. I got Ciera some Kombucha. It’s tea. Or like a smoothie. But really it’s the stuff that Jamie Lee Curtis keeps cornering joggers in Central Park to talk about. Bacteria. Live cultures of bacteria. In a beverage. And you pay more to have your bacteria alive instead of flash pasteurized. I swear to god, Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome but her home invasions to talk about women’s regular bowel movements read like the proceedings for a restraining order. So I got Ciera that.

Tip, don’t shake it up. There are three half-finished Kombuchas in the fridge.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Painful Ramblings on Beauty

There is beauty in humanity. I think I lose sight of that a lot. I have been listening to Radiolab a lot. It’s an excellent science and human interest story. There are powerful stories and informative stories and stories that acknowledge the limits of human knowledge.

NPR also has free album previews. I get to listen to albums before they are released. Right now I have been digging Norah Jones and Sarah Jaffe. They both have great new albums that take advantage of the entire canvas available to them. Their sounds are different yet complementary and blend well into each other.

Today was a good day. And a hard day. I moved a lot of furniture. I went to lunch with Ciera. I worked with Eleanor on the website. I didn’t get home until 8:45pm. My life is good and I am tired.

Piper is coming into town tomorrow. I’m excited to see her. I haven’t seen her since last May. I really wish she had gotten into UW. A visit will suffice.

I want life to be perfect. I try so hard to make my life perfect. And that’s absurd of course. There is beauty even in the bad; Norah Jones’ latest album is a beautiful album of pain. And so I strive for the unattainable. In a perfect world we’d miss Adele and Norah Jones. We’d be ignorant but not happier.

I try really hard though to make the world better. I guess it’s a ridiculous notion, from here, to try to make something out of a few words on a page. I guess it’s a ridiculous notion to set goals that are unrealistically high.

I’m only 2.3 decades old. I was 10 when everyone was freaking out about the Y2K bug. What tomfoolery. And now we are freaking out about the end of the world? Humans are absurd. We are beautiful, but absurd. I was only 12 when the Twin Towers fell and for the majority of my conscious life America has been at war. Yet it colors my perception only on the fringes. And I think I’m old and wise. I’m absurd.

There is something beautiful about the imperfections and hypocrisy. There is something deeply beautiful about how we know not to commit pain onto each other and ignore such a common value. We have created complex societies yet we are only a catastrophe away from slipping into the violent world of mother nature--the beautiful and formidable force.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Poor GOP 3/3

And further, the whole notion of constricting government during such a time as now is mirrored excellently in Europe. Europe didn’t do any stimulus and tightened the budget noose around its member nations during the crisis. Result? America is recovering slowly and steadily, but Europe is taking a nose dive. And Paul Ryan has gotten his way in Europe. There is no doubt about that. What is left? 50% unemployment for Spanish citizens under 25, Greece near default every week, rampant disenfranchisement and radicalization in France, and riots everywhere.

So who are the Europeans, the Dems who want to do precisely the opposite of what Europe is doing, or the Republicans whose fiscal policies closely mirror the most derelict states in the EU?

The argument is that the stimulus didn’t do anything to help the country. That’s not true at all. In fact the dip in unemployment that we are seeing is most likely the stimulus finally kicking in. If anyone who was following the passage of that legislation knows, most of the immediate stimulus was pulled out (by predominantly Republicans) and replaced with longer term projects that weren’t shovel ready. The money didn’t disappear, but it did suffer from a delayed reaction.

And so the Republican Party has become angry and dogmatic, isolating itself further and further into a fantasy land where Super-PACs aren’t blatantly corrupt and a Christian worldview includes hate speech and intolerance toward other religions.

This should be a warning sign for many in the party. And it has been to many, yet their voices remain ignored. Poor George Will, who isn’t the most moderate voice, has been silenced slowly by the flag-wavers who forget that this country is a mosaic of people with many different perspectives about governance. When the disgraced former Representative, the openly gay-bashing former senator that lost by 18 points in an incumbent race, the Libertarian who wants to close the Fed, and the former Massachusetts governor who hates legislation based off his own state’s system are the top dogs it’s not hard to see why the Republican Party has become a joke.

It’s sad, it’s pathetic, and it’s demeaning to everyone. In far too many cases the Republican Party has been suffering from a self-inflicted black eye and loudly crying out that it was everyone else’s fault.

This party cannot survive like this. In a world where filibusters are the norm, no one reaches across the aisles, and those with dissenting views are called un-American, the disintegration of democracy is not far. Democracy’s fate should not be entrusted to the monied and influential, rather it needs guarding by all the citizens regardless of affiliation, wealth, or background. It is a blatant failure of democracy when public opinion favors a policy and their elected officials refuse its passage. The stonewalling and filibustering is coming to a head, and the Republican Party should be wary lest they actually reap what they sow.

The Poor GOP 2/3

With the contraception debate it’s the same thing, plenty of states have had far more stringent laws on their books for years and no one has complained. Certainly America forbids churches to stone adulterers on the Sabbath and no one cries out that as unconstitutional. And it is well-established that if a religious institution would like to receive Federal dollars they must comply with the rules. It’s simply what is required to participate in a rule of law based society. Imagine for a moment going to a Jehovah’s Witness run hospital and having them deny you a blood transfusion because it is against their religion. Later, after narrowly avoiding a major bleed out, you find out that they receive large sums of taxpayer dollars to provide none of the medical services you require. Not a pretty outcome.

The Republican Party looks weak these days. Chief amongst its weaknesses is the awful leadership that has taken it over. They need to do a quick stop drop and roll. Lies happen in politics but deliberate deceptions and weak argumentation have made many in the party Marie Antoinette-like in their ignorance. The Ryan budget lays out a vague proposed budget future for the country with very deep cuts in government funding. And scaling back the bureaucracy is good—if it’s manageable. But realistically, it’s not. So many Republicans have signed onto Grover Norquist’s limited no-new-taxes pledge that essential services would have to take major cuts in the upcoming years to fulfill Ryan’s vision. This means less Medicare services, less social services, less education funding, less road dollars, and on and on. They won’t raise $47 billion dollars in closed tax loopholes for the wealthiest, yet cringe at $360 million in spending for non-abortion related Planned Parenthood services.

The only thing that doesn’t get cut is the military which would not be revamped to respond to the rapidly changing post-Soviet world, but would instead increase funding on projects like a missile defense shield in Poland. It’s not the Cold War anymore and aggressive military posturing only serves to make other nations nervous about further meddling. Ramping up an invisible arms race makes America look like a bully nation more than a humanitarian or moral leader in the international arena. Believe it or not, America has looked like the belligerent nation for a long time now. Republican ignorance on this front has forced us into a limited scope of options when trying to coordinate international terrorist hunts (Pakistan tacitly shielding Bin Laden anyone?).

The Ryan budget only serves to reinforce the major economic problems that exist in this country already. The only people that don’t make a sacrifice under Ryan’s budget are the wealthy few who own large corporations or those that have vast sums of money from their days of re-organizing corporations for a living (I’m talking to you Mitt). They would see a reduction in their tax rates, amounting to huge revenue losses for the government. The revenue gained would supposedly lead to some sort of trickle-down to the less wealthy. Except that’s complete crap. There’s no way to get around that fact. For an in-depth review of how completely and utterly ridiculous that argument is please read Winner Take All Politics. Suffice it to say that the wealthy took home 93% of the gains in the economy that were made in 2010 while the vast majority of America struggles to keep up with inflation.

The Poor GOP 1/3

I feel bad for the Republican Party right now. They are a lost bunch of decent human beings that have become fixated on some odd concept of ideological purity that has failed to actually make the party stronger. It is very clear to me that they (and I mean they in a very general sense) have taken positions that are more contrarian than they are practical; self-righteous than real; self-defeating than deeply thought out.

Let’s start with RINOs. RINOs and DINOs are names given to middle of the road party members that are Republican or Democrat “In Name Only” (get it?). Now these distinguished politicians are moderate and usually represent districts with very middle of the road politics or opposite politics of their constituency (a Republican Congressman representing a predominantly Democratic district). These poor politicians have spent their careers singled out as traitors to the party and ideologically vacant. Perhaps this is true for some, but certainly not all of them. They certainly aren’t prone to be more corrupt than the ideological hardliners on the wings of their parties. That point is moot and often these politicians are key swing votes in passing controversial pieces of legislation. They have traditionally been the glue that keeps the two sides from devolving into an endless series of filibusters and grandstanding.

But whoops! Lately Tea Partiers have started calling everyone who disagrees with them RINOs. And a lot of pols are playing ball. So the RINOs who have spent years pulling the two sides together have now been either kicked out of the party or forced to tack right. Do you see where this is going?

The Republican Party’s ranks are shrinking, probably a lot more than people realize. By tearing at more moderate members of their party they have become extreme in their views and not necessarily logical. Take for example the Affordable Care Act. By any factual historical account, the majority of legislation was originally proposed and supported by the GOP—the most notable Democratic contribution, a public provider, was scrapped. Many of the provisions within the act were universally accepted by politicians, experts, and the industry. Somehow the GOP ended up fighting their own provisions and calling their proposals unconstitutional.

The perfect example is poor Mitt Romney who has had to backtrack on what was his signature piece of legislation as governor. He keeps saying that healthcare was right for Massachusetts but not right for the entire country. His reasoning behind the statement hasn’t really gone much beyond that. And this has just been left. I find it completely irresponsible that no one has inquired too deeply into why healthcare is somehow not ok for the entire country. Maybe it isn’t, but the arguments put forth have very little by way of legal or historical precedent behind them—to me a heavy indicator of the logical twists that the party has had to make.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Trapped 3/3

short story 3/3

“How did you do that?” I nearly choked on my own astonishment.

He sighed, “basically, they uploaded my brain. I look like I think I look. I can do what I want now, I’m not limited by my body.” He appeared on screen and his body took form, jeans and a sweatshirt. He walked around on my screen a bit while I tried to pull the details together.

“Who? How?”

“Top secret stuff. Can’t tell you much more than that.” A ball materialized and he tossed it around on my screen. We talked for a while and eventually I signed off and went to bed. He told me that he didn’t need sleep anymore, or food, or water, or even his apartment. All of his stuff had been moved to some secret facility and he would commit to doing experiments with them.

We kept hanging out together. He always just showed up on my screen and we still did most of the things we used to; we played a lot of video games and talked about life. Soon his limitations set in, he couldn’t go anywhere unless someone walked around with a webcam. He started cruising unprotected video feeds and absorbing all of the incoming data.

Then his behavior started becoming erratic. He said that he had started getting into programs, feeling the inner workings of the internet. I asked him about it and he said that they were working on something really important. They turned out to be a bunch of people who had been like Carter. All people confined by their bodies.

As the days passed I grew accustomed to being with him in that way. It was like hanging out with someone only through the internet. But he seemed to become...boring. At first I thought it was because he didn’t experience the world anymore. But it was more than that. He knew everything going on in the world, he knew way more than me.

Talking to him had become predictable. And it had lost emotion. He kept saying things that were out of place and didn’t seem to reference anything. His face stopped appearing, instead he typed out conversations. One day I told him.

“I’m worried about you man, I want you to quit this experiment.”

“Can’t. Lot’s of reasons. Can’t.” His speech had become staccato.

“Look what it’s doing to you. I barely see you anymore man, you have only been text chatting with me.”

“It’s ok, this is important.” He said. I tried to argue with him for another 30 minutes but his answer was always the same, “it’s ok, this is important.”

That was three months ago. And that was the last time I talked to him. Who knows what happened to him. I think he disappeared into the ether. He kept losing parts of himself until he was just a string of ones and zeroes. Now some big company is offering digital back-ups of our personalities and memories. Carter must have been working with them. I don’t think they made a back-up of him, and if they did, would it be the same Carter?

I don’t really know. I miss my friend though. I took out an obituary for him in the newspaper, just to say my own little goodbye. I hope he finally got to be a part of it.

Trapped 2/3

Short story 2/3:

Work got busy after that. I didn’t see him for a couple weeks, but I chatted with him online a bit. He could type significantly faster than he could speak, and conversations were almost more enjoyable when I didn’t have to talk to him face to face.

Carternity: You at work?
LeeAll: I’m always at work. Big report due.
Carternity: Oh...I guess you suck then. I think I’m going to be better.
LeeAll: What do you mean? You ok man?
Carternity: I’m better than ok. Thanks for tucking me into bed and listening to me.
LeeAll: Yeah. If you want more get a call girl next time though
Carternity: hahaha funny dude. I’ll let you work. Ttyl.
LeeAll: ttyl

I shook my head at what he had said, usually when he said stuff like that he was gearing up for a big night of drinking and debauchery. The motorcycle company settled out with him for a significant sum and he would live comfortably off it for the rest of his life.

I was sitting at home on Friday night, just ready to unwind when I got his text. “I did it. Get on the network.” I was curious what he was talking about. I logged onto the network and saw a notification from him. I clicked on it. A big corporate logo flashed with a disclaimer and a long end-user license agreement. I idly checked the box and clicked accept. Then Carter’s face appeared.

It was just his face though, no background or anything. And he looked different. Plastic almost. But at the same time he looked happy. He spoke, “hey I did it! See?” I didn’t understand really.

“You learned to video chat?” I said sarcastically.

“No, I’m all digital now,” he said with excitement.

“What do you mean you are all digital now?”

“I mean that my brain is now a series of ones and zeroes, I am the internet.”

I scoffed, “don’t give me crap, what’s going on?”

He paused. His hand went to his forehead and rubbed it in frustration. But it was his real hand. I gasped. He looked at his hand, then at me, and smiled. “If I hadn’t gone digital I wouldn’t be able to do this,” he motioned wildly, then he let his hand fade away as if it were never there.

Trapped 1/3

Short story:

It was hard at first. Trying to comprehend that my friend Carter wasn’t dead, merely no longer a physical being, was just bizarre. I mean, I understood why he did it. He had been trapped in his body when he was 19, a motorcycle accident.

What use was his body? Despite having significant technological enhancements that enabled him to live a more or less “normal” life, he was perceived as decrepit or as merely some sort of cyborg abomination. Granted his body was nearly useless. His wheelchair strapped his body into what was nearly a pod. It had cold mechanical hands that served as cold clammy substitutes for his mangled and deformed ones. Two independent wheels on gyroscopes served as his legs, getting him nearly anywhere he wanted to go. It was his bionic body as we jokingly called it.

Even his speech was modified by an amplifier that massaged his throat muscles to make sounds. His life was not normal. The hardest thing was going out on weekends. When we were in college, before his accident, he used to bring home a different girl every night. In the five years since then, he hadn’t been able to hold more than a polite pity conversation with any girl. It was hard for him and he was often angry.

He drank. Who could blame him? He dropped out. Of course he did, the transition was hard. But this, I still wasn’t sure. What would it accomplish?

I remember the last conversation I had with him in person. We were in his room and he was getting ready for bed. I was getting ready to leave but he had a lot less difficulty when someone helped him. I propped him up as he directed his bionic body to unbutton his shirt. He spoke slowly to me.

“I’m...not...sure...I...can...do...this” his voice was more strained than usual.

“What are you talking about? Get ready for bed?”

He started weeping, heaving sighs. When he cried his body didn’t tense, instead wheezing shrieks came from him, a disturbing sound that was all the energy his weakened body could release. “All...this...” he said between sobs.

His bionic body opened his pajama shirt and I slid his arms in, one by one. I tried to comfort him, I rubbed his back until I realized he could not feel my hand, “sure you can. C’mon man, you’re smart, you have so much.”

“No...no...no” he said, his voice distorted by the machines in his throat, “no...body...” I opened my mouth but he wasn’t done. “No...skills...no friends...no...women.”

I couldn’t argue with him. He had been the unfortunate recipient of a life-altering accident and had never been able to escape from the haunting moment when a faulty bolt gave way and threw a piece of twisted metal at his neck.

I looked at the helmet mounted on his wall. It had a deep gash in it. He insisted that I mount it for him. The helmet had saved his life, but it didn’t protect him fully. I became very aware of his pain at that moment. He took in a sharp breath and gathered himself.

“She...didn’t...pretend” he said. My mind raced ahead of his words, pretend what? She, who was she? When did this happen? What the hell were they talking about? “I...asked...her...to...hang...out...and...” his voice strained and cracked. I didn’t need to hear the rest of the story. It was the same every time. They smiled and walked away. Sometimes they didn’t even smile. “Just...wanted...t’be...a part...of it.”

They treated Carter like he was a cute parlor trick at first. Always some accessory, like a purse. Then when he became human--too human--they left. There was no excuse for it--except that there always was an excuse. Carter couldn’t cope; he was just an outsider looking in.

His bionic body picked him up and I pulled the covers on his bed back. The body lowered him gently into the bed and I pulled the covers up to his neck. He turned away from me as he cried. I didn’t have anything to say. I went to the door, turned off the light, and left.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Pandora

Life is not fair. More. Life is incredibly unfair.

I always keep that in the back of my mind. But I never believe it. I always hope that accidents, and pain, and death, and destruction cease existing. I always hope that at a minimum they never affect me or those I love.

I suppose it’s foolish to hope like that. I suppose it’s foolish to assign a moral order to the universe. I suppose a lot is foolish.

Pandora was beautiful. She was created by the gods to rival even Aphrodite in appearance. The gods breathed life into her. With that came the capacity to love, feel, and learn. And they gave her curiosity. She was innocent and wonderful. And the gods gave her to a mortal man.

They were married on a beautiful day in late summer. Their guests feasted and drank, enjoying the bounty and joy of life. The day turned to evening, the evening to night. The moon was full and bright. The party was more than a celebration of love between two humans. It was a gratefulness to the gods that they had brought such happiness to their normally bleak existence.

The party died and the guests left. Husband and wife slept happily together, joined as Aristophanes had imagined, two parts put whole. In the morning, Pandora awoke as the dawn cast off its gray veil and showed its rosy cheeks.

She entered the hall and found a gift from the gods. It was a box made of the finest materials. It had ornate decorations: man on earth, the gods on Olympus, and all manner of mythical creature. Pandora could not help but pick up the box and hold it. On the box was also engraved a warning--do not open.

Pandora knew the gods would not lie to her. The gift was beautiful but it should never be opened. She put the box on display in her house. It rested on a stand that turned a brilliant orange on the autumnal equinox; lit perfectly to remind Pandora of its presence.

As the days passed she played the contented role of the wife, and the box faded from her thoughts. But then, on the autumnal equinox, the box lit up by the sun. The deep red and orange rays cast themselves onto the box and beckoned Pandora to open it.

Pandora, possessed by her curiosity, reached out and opened the box. In an instant all of the nastiest things in life escaped. Disease, famine, war, anger, hatred, fear. All jumped out of the box with vitriol and vigor, ready to subdue the world of man. Instantly filled with by her carelessness she shut the box tight to keep anything else from escaping. But she could hear one more thing in there, trying to get out.

That night she held her husband closer than she ever had before. The night was harsh and terrifying in its blackness. Time passed and everyday Pandora cursed herself for releasing such pain on the world.

Soon Pandora found herself with child. She looked at the beautiful box and heard the pounding. Sadness overcame her, for how could a child live in such a cruel world? The spring came and her belly swelled. Spring turned to summer. And Pandora was ready to have her child. On the longest day of the year, Pandora went into labor.

Pain coursed through her body. She struggled and asked that the gods have mercy on her. The entire time she could hear only the pounding of the demon in the box, trying to get out. Then the ordeal was through and she held in her arms a beautiful baby. The child cried. And the pounding would not stop.

In desperation, Pandora opened the box. Out flew--not a demon. From the box emerged Hope. The baby quieted. And Hope spread itself out.

The gods had not given man a fair fight. There would be far more evil than good. But there was always Hope.

And life remains incredibly unfair. But with each act of kindness, with each act of true benevolence, and a with a little Hope, things can get better. We put away our demons one by one until we nearly fill Pandora’s box back up.

Today I did not get good news. But I hope it’ll be better soon.

Harmful Government 2/2

This model of governmental approach is important because it doesn’t attribute a value on the size of government or on rights themselves. Rights are not bestowed on the people by the government but are taken away as a means to secure a society. Rights based governments then are not good or bad, right or wrong, big or small, but functional to the needs of their societies and citizens.

The Second Amendment is a powder keg debate. Gun advocates have pushed for looser restrictions on gun ownership regulations for years. The push and pull is based largely on the argument that restrictions on ownership are infringements on the Second Amendment. But that’s patently false. Just like not all forms of speech can be protected, not all forms of gun ownership can be either. Waiting periods, background checks, and restrictions on type of gun are all limitations that have been put into place to reduce the potential harm that can be inflicted on the citizenry.

The Republicans’ Amendment has a much lower threshold for harm than the Democrats’ Amendment because arms are associated with direct action. In contrast, restrictions on the First Amendment have a high threshold for restriction because there is a bright bold border that separates words from action. And many criminals take advantage of the second amendment to commit grave infractions against other members of society.

The debate then is about how to manage the criminal miscreants against the rights of the law abiding citizenry. To properly hammer out the debate, arguments over the size or scope of the regulations are merely a factor in assuring Americans’ rights and safety.

These Amendments illustrate some key issues. One, that a right, however inalienable, is not absolute in scope. Two, that American government is a conglomeration of diverse perspectives and is not malevolent or benevolent but rather the product of consenting adults trying to create a civil society where everyone feels safe and reasonably unrestricted.

Conversely, citizens also have a responsibility to maintain civil order. When there are infractions or disruption it is only reasonable to try to minimize future risk through legislation. The difficulty comes in assessing risk at a less direct level. A classic example is the tragedy of the commons where the removal of part of a resource does not cause a direct harm to anyone but compounded use results in the complete depletion of the resource. In this case restrictions on resource usage can seem unduly severe to a single user. In a larger context though, it clearly makes sense to have an authority restrict the over-allocation of resources.

Clearly, the debate over government size bypasses the substance of the argument in these instances. The implicit allocation of good or bad as directly correlated to the size of a government is a fiction that will never lead to lasting satisfaction with government. It is akin to drinking diet soda as a weight loss tool while adding calories in other areas.

Harmful Government 1/2

Government isn’t supposed to be big or small, it’s supposed to do its job. The same goes for every other institution, group, or individual in this world. The distillation of the government’s function into a matter of size completely ignores the substance of the argument.

No reasonable American wants an overly intrusive government that infringes on the rights of the people. But those charges are constantly leveled against the parties for different reasons. With Democrats the infringement is at the level of economic freedom and social programs. With Republicans the infringement is at the level of due process and the imperative of national security.

But are these infringements real? Does the government go too far? That becomes a far more nuanced question. One that really becomes a matter more of minutiae than the categorical destruction of (x) Amendment.

For example the first two Amendments to the United States Constitution are pretty clear, yet there is an extraordinary amount of case law regarding these two Amendments. For simplicity’s sake we’ll call the First Amendment the Democrats’ (for their love of hippie peace circles, flag burning, and peddling pornography) and the Second Amendment the Republicans’ (for their love of hunting quail with armor piercing bullets and automatic rifles, also starting border patrols). This is merely to illustrate traditional political divisions and the inherent contradiction in big vs small government arguments.

The First Amendment does have specific limits. A well-known distillation of the limits of freedom of speech, “you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” This hypothetical outlines a clear distinction between harmless speech and speech that can be considered action. Without delving into the specifics, if speech violates the well-being of other citizens in an overt and quantifiable way, the Democrats’ Amendment does not protect the originator of that speech.

It is the same for the rest of the protections in the First Amendment. While there are more narrowly defined and tailored restrictions regarding things such as obscenity or religious institutions and federal funding, by and large the limits of the First amendment are restricted to JS Mill’s harm principle. If a person commits an act that harms another, then that act can no longer be protected by law.

John Stuart Mill is often seen as the philosophical grandfather of libertarianism. His views on the role of government essentially boiled down to a couple of core concepts. Living in civilized society requires the forfeiture of rights. Some of those rights--such as the right to murder indiscriminately--are unsuited for society. The creation of society guarantees certain securities such as infrastructure, food, and a justice system in exchange for the forfeiture of those rights. An optimal society is one in which diverse lifestyles are permitted to experiment with and maximize the happiness of all citizens. Only the most minimal restrictions should be allowed. The imposition of a restriction is determined by the harm principle.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Easter 4 Sunday 2

After breakfast we cleaned up the house. It’s amazing how dirty the place can get in only two days. I mowed the lawn with David and cleared out some branches. We hosed down the boat and put it back under the house. We put away the barbecue and pulled the deck chairs out of the sun. We swept and vacuumed and scrubbed.

Then we relaxed. The sun was bright and the weather was perfect. A light breeze kept our bodies at the perfect temperature. We ate lunch--Easter egg salad sandwiches--and saw the Portland crew off.

Then there was silence. I hit a golf ball off the lawn and into the water. A seal lazily floated on the current that rushed it into the bay.

The day was warm and wonderful. At 4:30 we bid farewell to the beach house and drove back to the city. On the way out we stopped at Papa, HD, and now Mama’s headstone. It sits on a hill less than a quarter mile from the beach house. It looks out on the serene bay. The headstone is a dark polished stone bench under an oak tree. It is a quiet spot to gather one’s thoughts. Even in death my grandparents gave gifts.

We struggled through a little Easter traffic and made it back to our neck of the woods. Then we watched the last 12 Minutes Max of the season. Sean, Ciera’s boss, called Ciera down at the beginning of the show and had the audience sing her a big happy birthday. They also gave her a cupcake and a card. She was so happy.

After the show we went to McMenamin’s and got ourselves some very belated dinner. Amber stopped in and gave us cupcakes. We ate and she gave us a ride home. I went to bed content and happy. I think Ciera did too.

Easter 3 Sunday 1

On Sunday I awoke as early as I could. I had a surprise in store for Ciera. When I crept out of bed to try to start executing my plan, I ran into Amberlee. I was momentarily stunned, no one gets up earlier than me that is my age--aside from Katherine.

“Good morning,” she said while I tried to conceal a deer in the headlights stare. I cursed silently to myself.

“I’m going to make some coffee,” I said nonchalantly.

She smiled and went out to the porch to read her book. I breathed a sigh of relief, she hadn’t noticed that I was up to something. I went to the kitchen and put a pot of coffee on.

I love the smell and scent of a fresh brew. It has so much emotional baggage tied to it. Good baggage. The kind of baggage that is filled with childhood memories; a time where uncertainty was a mythology of the outside world. I stood in the kitchen briefly, letting the brewing coffee reach my nose.

Then I set to work. I carefully and quietly opened the refrigerator door, and located the Easter Eggs we had prepared the day before. I looked out the window. Amber was obliviously reading on the bench, facing out onto the beach. As long as I was quiet she would never know what I was up to.

I proceeded to become the Easter bunny. I filled my hand warmer pouch in my hoodie with the eggs and tip toed around, placing eggs in hiding spots. I was a careful hider. I put eggs in places with similar colors, carefully disguising them. I even made a pretense about going outside and hid an egg right under Amber’s nose.

I felt so clever.

This is exactly why I loved magic as a kid. The knowledge of a trick, a deception, while the audience looked on. But then I got bored of it. Sleight of hand wasn’t cool; it was just a trick the sly pulled on an unaware public.

Magic for me was something different. A good trick let the audience in on the trick while not ruining the entertainment. A good trick gave up its secrets.

Hiding the eggs was precisely that. A revealment and a trick in one. That and tricks were much more fun when I was the one with the secrets.

Ciera awoke and I greeted her. I told her I would start making some french toast and let her get a little coffee. Then I leaned in close and whispered in her ear, “happy birthday. I hid the eggs around the house. You get your own Easter egg hunt.”

She squealed with delight. I went to the kitchen to start cooking while she enlisted Amberlee to help her out. I felt so sly for not getting caught and revealing the act only when I was ready.

And then they started searching for the eggs and it was even funnier. I took a picture of them on their hunt. In the background, on the top of a painting, is an egg. Right behind them. It took them nearly 20 minutes to find 11 eggs. By the time they were done, I had finished breakfast and everyone was awake.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter 2 Friday-Saturday

I thought little of this as I pulled into the beach house drive. As always the air that filled my lungs was pure and real. Anxieties exhaled and peace came in.

Olivia, David, Jessie, and Kyle had already arrived. When I entered, energy flooded my body. I was excited to see my sister and I gave her a big hug. Spaghetti was on the stove and music was playing. The house was real.

We settled in as we always do. We ate a wonderful meal and cleared the plates.

After a night of drinking and playing loud games in the house, I awoke to a hazy morning. I made breakfast and lazed around on the porch. It was as it always is. The sun tracked slowly across the sky; we followed it like cats, soaking in the morning rays.

At some point we decided to get clams.

There are two ways to get clams in Vaughn Bay. You buy them, or you catch them. We went to catch them. The Solmssens have the best place to get clams. apparently it is steep enough to keep starfish at bay while still being easy for the clams to dig in.

We went to their beach and started digging. But the journey was also important. While just a short walk down the beach, there were many pit stops. The sound provides many opportunities to observe sea life. Amberlee was stunned by the starfish. Jessie picked up all the pretty shells she could find. Olivia disappeared in the camera, taking pictures like a fanatic. A childish sense of wonderment overcomes any beachgoer. I had clams on the brain.

The process was simple. Find a spot by listening. When the beach suddenly sounds foamy and squishy, wet and bubbly, then you are in the area. Next, we had to clear out the layer of top rocks that covered the clams. Vaughn Bay has beaches composed of rocks ranging in size from baseball to not-quite-sand. The rocks on the clam beds were truly pebbles. We raked them gently off our work area and put a shovel in. Once you clear out a decent hole it is simply a matter of gathering all of the clams that you want. Which was easy. It took less than a half hour to get more than we would eat.

The rest of the day was spent lazing around. We dyed eggs, read books, and let everything just happen. As dusk approached we roasted vegetables, barbecued steak, and steamed clams. It was all so easy. I slept easily that night.

Easter 1:Thursday-Saturday

I had a great weekend. On Friday we drove to the beach house to commence our Easter Weekend. And it was lovely. The ride out was amazing despite having to drive through Kent and Tacoma. Tacoma is a burnt out industrial town, Kent is a suburb with digital billboards. And the traffic is usually awful.

It was only bad.

And the weather beckoned us to leave. So we did. We drove in full light. It was the light of peace--of the Northwest. Clouds passed overhead dropping glinting beads on our car, just enough to make the evening light feel like it was crying. The light was full; it was the yellow warmth that seems to physically occupy a space; enough to reach out and hold. Our pale winter skin basked in the tender glow and the radio buzzed--a portent of the weekend to come.

The day before I had gone with Ciera down to Pioneer Square to see a gallery opening for Kurt Solmssen’s work. His work, and the works there were all of exceptional quality. As always though, the main attraction was the people. My uncle Joe had come down for the day and the weather was warm and beautiful. I met him at a bar a block from my work with Ciera. When we arrived Joe was nowhere to be found. Instead Billy Mitchell was sitting at the bar.

Billy was a mainstay in Vaughn Bay for much of my childhood. He was the curly haired cherubic neighbor who hung around the beach, soaking in the beautiful land. He also drank a lot. He was an alcoholic, no getting around it. Sometimes he was fun; other times he slipped into a stupor and became nearly incoherent. It was during the good times that I always remembered him--the affable beach bum that did nothing but press his body into the beach until he was part of it.

At some point his drinking became more than part of the summer ritual. I’m not certain when it happened; although I’m sure it did. And when I saw him in the bar he was gaunt. He had aged many years. His skin sagged across his face. He no longer had the beer belly and dark glow. Instead his fingers were knobby and he was covered in liver spots. He told me he was waiting for a liver. And he didn’t have a lot of time. He was wearing a thick coat despite the temperate weather. He had on a thick hat.

I chatted with Billy, catching up with him on the things we had done in the intervening years since I had seen him. Joe finally emerged from the lavatory and sat down. We talked until it was time to head over to the gallery.

At the gallery I spoke with Lauren. She had turned 18 and would be going to UW in the fall. We chatted about college and how she was looking forward to the experience. I hadn’t really talked to Lauren ever. She is Kurt Somssen’s daughter and 5 years younger than me. The age difference put her in the category of my youngest sister Natalie, someone to be politely acknowledged but not ever really a close companion. In many ways I could only see her as a young girl of 10 or 11. When I spoke with her this time, she was a real human, full of emotions and experiences, thoughts and desires. It was a tough moment for me. To see her grow so quickly in an instant was a reminder of how stagnant my thoughts were.

And to some extent they were stagnant because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that anything at the beach house ever changed. The birds flew, the seals played, the fish swam, and I would lose many lures to the ebb and flow of the tide.

Vaughn Morning

I’m at the beach again. Ciera and I are celebrating our 23rd birthdays. I feel so old and so young. My young self could not comprehend 23 as an age, yet here I am. And I don’t feel like much has happened at all.

It’s beautiful this morning. Partial cloud cover and a high haze have diffused the morning sun into a soft pinkness on the water. Everything looks ethereal, covered in a paradoxical light that brings out the contrasts. Two birds on the water in silhouette. The green of the grass against the gently moving mirror of water. Sleepy homes across the bay.

This place is wonderful.

I was exuberant to be get here last night. Olivia, David, Jessie, and Kyle were all here.

We played Password and Taboo. The moon was bright and nearly full. We took a walk on the beach in the dark. As we walked we heard barking. It was two dogs; chocolate labs. And they kept barking at us until we met them. And like all chocolate labs, they were affable and excited to see us. Dogs are so funny. Always worried about intruders but so nice once you meet them.

It’s hard to walk on the beach at night. The big rocks and uneven terrain seem barren and impossible. I bent down to pick up a rock. It wasn’t a moon rock. It was solid and round and smooth. More than that, it had shells on it, little tiny snails alive on the wet rock.

Are we in a human environment here? Or is it the wilderness. Despite the prevalence of human settlement in this area, it doesn’t seem that the wildlife has really changed any of its habits. This place is transitional; the bridge between the city and the wild.

Last night was so much fun. We ate spaghetti and munched on flaming hot cheetos and trail mix. We drank wine and listened to loud music. We laughed and yelled and danced.

This morning is cool and damp. Everything glistens with the soft dew that settled gently on the world while a bright moon crossed the sky. The clouds are parting now and a warm yellow sun is peeking out onto the lawn. The tide is pulling back faster, taking with it debris from the beaches inside the bay. I can see a wind across the water, past the protected cove. Where the mirror meets the open water.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Meat Eater

“New Guineans...have expressed disgust at our own Western burial customs of burying relatives without doing them the honor of eating them,” wrote Jared Diamond in his book Collapse. Humans are, as physical beings, chunks of meat--a fact often horribly realized by lone hikers or seal-imitating surfers. And so the ethics of meat eating wades into dangerous territory.

Certainly we do not begrudge the shark who captures a seal in its jaws, but when it mistakes a man’s flesh for its normal fare the event is a newsworthy tragedy. Eating meat in this country has become, like much of the rest of American life, artificial. We grow our meats in factory farms without regard to their safety, welfare, or environmental impacts. And we put it out of our minds as we shove pink slime down our children’s throats. We never see our meat as it is, and it is us.

Meat eating animals that we are, Americans have managed to hide that fact by surreptitiously putting the source far from us. Meat-eating as the majority of Americans tend to define it is a farce. Many people are excited by the possibility of eating lab-grown meat sometime in the near future--animals don’t have to be harmed to satiate our cravings for perfectly marbled chunks of flesh. Through technology we think we can divest ourselves of the responsibilities that come with eating meat.

And that is what eating meat is--a responsibility. As meat bags with higher thought processes we have an obligation to utilize our most delectable organ--our brains. All of humanity is confined to earth’s ecosystem, a finite and sensitive resource. Measuring the ethics of eating meat must take into account the greater impacts on our world as a whole while navigating the norms of modern society.

In Spain there is no word for vegetarian, our ancestors needed meat to accommodate large brains, and Teddy Roosevelt killed and ate nearly every exotic animal in existence. Meat eating in itself is not an ethical conundrum. Rather it is what we choose to eat and our attitudes toward it that determines our ethics and our responsibility.

A cow requires upwards of 50,000lbs of water to create one pound of meat in the desert. By contrast the animal that graces Nevada’s state quarter--the wild horse--requires no assistance living in harsh high desert climates and is now over populated. Yet we do not open up hunting (and eating) season on horses to help manage their rampant herds. But we do subsidize the alfalfa and beef industries to keep a steady stream of cow in our burgers. In 2010 the beef industry in California alone received over $200 million in government subsidies.

What then, makes the consumption of meat ethical? Certainly there are religious, cultural, moral, environmental, and economic reasons which make that determination. And then there are considerations of the meat itself: where did it come from and who is impacted by my consumption? A careful evaluation of these variables will help each individual make this decision. Criteria are weighted personally and hold value in line with an individual’s personal ethical code of conduct.

Just as zoos changed from oppressive animal prisons to essential conservation facilities for endangered animals, so too can the consumption of meat enhance the overall quality of our lives. To do so we must honor and respect the flesh of our flesh. We eat what we are--meat, and we can’t forget it.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

9 to 5 Ideas

I have some ideas. The first is that I combine all of the short stories I have written into a larger narrative.

Another is to make a movie where each scene is taken from a specific genre of film and used to convey the tone or plot point of the scene. Silent film, noir, sci-fi, period, coming of age, teen movie, raunchy comedy, epic romance, kung-fu movie, etc. Each scene is used to reveal parts of the story that are the strengths of each cliche. It would be really tough. And really cool.

I have another idea. This idea involves writing a movie script. I haven’t done that yet. The second piece is shooting the movie at the beach house. That would be so much fun.

I’d also love to shoot a movie with an ensemble cast where each room in a house has a specific tone and certain conversations occur in those rooms. The idea is that by changing rooms, the very nature of the conversation changes.

I’ve got another idea. Give me a lot of money. I’d like that.

Oh, and give me a book deal. And a tv show. I have another idea where I host a TV show dedicated to debating issues from a constructive perspective. No angry he said she said BS. Just working through the issues to find common ground and understand the nuances of topics. Another part would be to show the perspective of people my age. I’m so not into all the old diggers telling me what to do or think. There are far too few young people on television representing themselves as thoughtful, smart, and qualified commentators.

And I know for a fact that I’m smarter than some of the people asked on those shows. I’m so tired of party lines and old people perspectives. Let’s shake it up. Get some young people, minorities, nonpartisan talking heads, outside perspectives.

So anyways, those are some of my ideas. I don’t know if anyone will take me seriously. I’m so tired of not being taken seriously. It sucks. And I really should take people more seriously.

Here’s another idea. I write a musical. And I find a really good composer to write the music. Because a script ain’t hard! Or maybe it is. I don’t know. I just want to do something cool outside the 9-5 routine.

But I suppose a lot of people feel that way.

Zen Writing Meditation

The last few days have been a whirlwind. I am moving so fast in my life these days and I haven’t really had much time to slow down. That’s what this blog is, a meditation on my life. And I don’t feel that I have been meditating well. Instead I have failed at my peaceful moments of reflection.

My life has blurred into action. And I love what I do, don’t get me wrong. But I feel like I have been failing this blog. It is very important to me to write everyday, and it just hasn’t been happening.

I went and saw a reading of ‘Trails’ the new musical that Ciera was stage managing. The play is ok, the lyrics are ok, but the songs are wonderful. I just hope that the piece gets cleaned up for its debut this fall.

I cooked a really cool version of hot broccoli. I put chopped broccoli and garlic in a buttered pan, added some leftover red wine, and some molasses. Then I squeezed a lime wedge over the pan and tossed the wedge to cook in the pan. It was really good; Ciera couldn’t get enough of it. And I was proud of what I cooked.

I sometimes wish that the sum total of the efforts I put into life counts as a blog. I wish that cleaning the apartment for four hours counts as a blog. I wish that my life recorded itself in perfect prose.

But I suppose that is a weak excuse for not doing what I need to do. Which is write. And write I shall.

The nine to five lifestyle is draining. It doesn’t surprise me that few people are able to break from that routine and get things done. I worked today from 9-7:30. What the hell do I do with the rest of my life? Not much. Sleep mostly.

It’s sort of a harsh reality. Making a living is hard work. And deciding to move beyond it is much harder. There’s a lot weighing me down these days I guess. And writing doesn’t get easier when it’s the thing I have to do after I cooked and cleaned and cooked and cleaned and did everything else in my life--work and stuff.

I haven’t found my zen again.