Dark is Coming

In other words…happy midsummer2015-06-21_1238EDT

 

 

It’s About The Privilege

My high school friend T. posts a lot of inspirational memes to her Facebook wall. I usually glide right by because many of them hook into the “let go and let God” or “God never gives us more than we can handle” schools of thought. I’m not a big fan of God perse. Too much contradiction in the PR. Occasionally, though, she posts something I find interesting. A couple of weeks ago it was this. It is not necessary to react to everything you notice.

This speaks to me not just as an introvert but also as someone who finds thoughtful analysis valuable and largely lacking in our increasingly noisy world. These days it’s not thoughtfulness that matters but speed to publishing and how loud you say what you say. Access to multiple channels – think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Blogs, reblogs – or channels with lots of followers that will repurpose your content as their own virtually guarantees that no matter how shitty or ill-thought your conclusions someone will read them.

I’ve been doing my part for months to up the signal-to-noise ratio in the world. Silence here doesn’t mean I don’t notice things. It means I’ve been doubting whether or not my opinion matters at all. Every now and then, though, something happens, some meme, some incredible piece of cultural effluvia ranks so high on the bullshit scale I just can’t let it go by.

Unless your head has been under a rock for the past month there is no way you have missed two of the biggest cultural bombshells in years: Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out and Rachel Dolezal’s exposure. In case you have been under a rock, or are the next unibomber, or maybe have a different filter bubble than I do I will recap.

The ABC News magazine 20/20 aired an interview with Caitlyn Jenner, still then publicly using Bruce and male pronouns, which dragged the transgender community into the public spotlight far quicker than Laverne Cox’s quiet elegance and dignity ever could. Loathsome as it is, we are a celebrity oriented country that often needs that celebrity push to do the right thing that was already in front of us. Once celebrities start saying something is OK or acceptable, values begin to change and a lot of ground gets covered rapidly. In this case, the change in values, much the same as the way Ellen Degeneres’ coming out pushed forward acceptance for gay and lesbian people, is a good thing.

In this interview, which can be viewed in its entirety, Jenner stated that she first knew the outside, the boy she saw in the mirror, didn’t match the girl she felt like on the inside when she was about 8 or 9 years-old. Eight or nine years-old. I’m sure that seems unbelievable to a lot of gender-conforming people who take their gender identities, gender expression, sex, and sexual orientation for granted. My friend J.’s 6 year-old son is already insisting on nail polish and dresses in public. He’s fortunate; his parents want him to be who he is.

Rachel Dolezal, the now former head of the Spokane, WA NAACP, spent nearly a decade presenting herself as a black woman both in public and professionally.  At least she did until her estranged parents outed her as a white woman.

These stories aren’t related in the slightest, except they are. They’re about cultural appropriation and privilege. [Read more…]

Special Relativity

by Snoron.comEinstein’s Special Theory of Relativity in part states that a moving clock ticks slower than a stationary clock. The theory goes that as a clock’s velocity increases it continues to measure time at a slower and slower rate until it reaches the speed of light at which point it stops altogther. I hold that Einstein didn’t have to do a lot of complicated math to figure this out. All he had to do was talk with a four year-old and someone middle aged.

Remember how important that half year was before you got to school? You were never going on three, or four. No, you were four and a half. That half became crucial at some point in early childhood. It separated you from the younger kids, the babies, who weren’t as grown up as you and didn’t get to do as many things. That half was important probably from when you were old enough to answer the question about your age until you were about nine or ten. [Read more…]

Four things I know for certain about Ferguson, MO

  1. Being a police officer is a dangerous, underpaid, underappreciated job.
  2. Police forces in this country do not do a good job of screening out the racist, homophobic, power-drunk assholes who think that having a badge and a gun gives them the right to push people around.
  3. Human beings are extremely bad at assessing both risk and probability, and human males in particular often over estimate their personal power and capabilities in conflict situations.
  4. The only possible way we could ever know the facts of what transpired in Ferguson is if both of the parties directly involved had been equipped with chips that recorded full-color video, stereo audio, and fMRI so we could have a record of what each of them saw, heard, and felt during the encounter.

Everything else is speculation.

Happy Birthday to Me

I'm apparently doing something right.

I’m apparently doing something right.

So 45 has kind of been freaking me out.  I’m not really sure why.  Forty wasn’t really that big a deal.  Maybe it’s because the staff where I worked when I turned 40 included a much broader age range than where I work now.  As I think about it, that’s probably a huge part of it; I have concert t-shirts older than at least two of the people I work with.  I am also the oldest person in my office, admittedly only by a couple of years but it’s still a fact that niggles like a badly sewn sock seam.

Maybe it’s because until you hit 45 you can almost convince yourself you’re still in your thirties. At 45 this thing happens where you realize you’re closer to 50 than you are to 30 and the brain just seizes.  Or maybe it’s all just bullshit and you really are only as old as you feel  regardless of that the driver’s license says in which case I’m about 19 – still just as confused about a lot of things but maybe a little more confident because really other people’s opinions aren’t actually that important.  And according to the Real Age test I’m apparently living right.

Like I’ve said before, New Year’s Day isn’t always in January.

Happy Midsummer!

Yes, I realize it’s been forever since I wrote here but that doesn’t make midsummer any less important.

midsummer-2104

Thus begins the long, slow slide back toward the dark.  Use the rest of your summer wisely for it is far shorter than you think.

 

 

 

What would Kermit do?

Kermit The Frog

It’s not easy being green means recognizing that life is sometimes hard for everyone, but how do you weigh your needs against the needs of others?

Back in the old days (aka: the 1990s) there was a public meme that grew out of the evangelical Christian community. This meme manifested in a lot of paraphernalia that read “WWJD?” (What would Jesus do?). It was, theoretically, a reminder to folks who wore the wristbands, t-shirts, hats, sweatshirts, and what have you to act in a way that would demonstrate their love of Jesus and his beliefs. Human nature being what it is sometimes this reminder worked better than others. But that’s not the point of this essay.

The point of this essay is to try to embrace the idea that many memes you may not agree with entirely may still have something of value embedded in them, for what is American culture but a series of rapidly changing memes some of which stick (democracy, meritocracy (even though we don’t really have that)) and some of which don’t (slavery).

The “What would Jesus do?” meme carried embedded a couple of concepts key to American thinking: leading by example and hero worship. These are things Americans say we value. Unfortunately, these values and behaviors when not supported by other key concepts like equality, compassion, and patience tend to lead to the impatient, resentful, harried, fragmented, fractious culture currently on vivid display to the rest of the world.

I feel I should inject at this point that I’ve recently spent a week in Canada, Montreal and Toronto to be specific. Some things I took away from my time in Canada:

  • Yes, Canadians really are that polite, even the native French speakers.
  • Mostly plastic currency is never going to feel natural to someone who grew up handling currency that is made of cotton and linen.
  • If you extrapolate from Montreal and Toronto, Canadians must take a lot of photographs (3 camera stores in Montreal and 6 in Toronto that I saw (that’s 8 more than we have in DC)).

One thing that I found interesting about being in public in Canada has to do with public politeness. Politeness requires one of two things to be in play: social opprobrium or social security. [Read more…]

Better than The Gap

One of the bon mots of the positive thinking movement goes something like “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with other people’s highlight reels.” As sayings go and as a product of the positive thinking movement, which can go way too far (The Secret Q.E.D.), this isn’t a bad one as its general intent is a reminder that people tend to show their best to the world and if you compare your struggles to everyone else’s best you are bound to come up wanting.

This is not to say that comparing ourselves isn’t a good thing. It’s a human and absolutely necessary thing in almost any endeavor in life. Comparison tells us whether or not we’re hewing to social norms, or by how much we’re missing them. When done constructively comparison also gives a standard to which we want to aspire or surpass.

Comparison is particularly hard to avoid in a stats-driven society. How does this baseball pitcher compare with other pitchers on his team? In his league? To himself the previous year? What was your grade point average last year? Where does it rank you compared to the rest of your class? Numbers control who wins elections and who loses. But comparison happens even when you’re looking at something that isn’t trackable with numbers and stats.

Comparison is how we determine if we, or something we’ve produced, is “good enough” and while in some forms of art comparison is pointless – try comparing a Monet to a Van Gogh sometime and see how far you get – in some art forms comparison is both useful and necessary because it not only helps you aspire it also teaches you. [Read more…]

One ring to rule them all

The last three weeks at SmallAgency have been brutal. Not because the management style has changed, and not because we have a client who is being a righteous pain in the ass. The last three weeks have been brutal because I have a co-worker who doesn’t know when to ask for help.

I know I shouldn’t be one to judge for a lot of reasons the most major of which is I should probably have “please confront me if I don’t ask for help” tattooed on my forehead. The reason for that is muddled. Some of it is how I was raised, some of it is personality bent, and some of it is learned behavior for in the realm of geekdom there is very little more annoying than the user who just wants you to do it for them and hasn’t bothered to try any solutions himself before asking for help. That is a key distinction in the geek ethos: try to find the solution before you ask for help. It is the distinction that led to my co-worker’s downfall.

It takes a certain amount of self-confidence and maturity to admit you were wrong. Since we won the project, the one that turned all fruit shaped, this co-worker has been claiming it as her own. The organization does work in an issue space that matters to her, the client’s reps who came in to meet with us for the kick-off impressed her personally (I think there may even have been a little crush action going on.), and the implementation used a content management system (CMS), in this case WordPress, with which she has a high degree of comfort. Confidence, however, is not this co-worker’s strong suit. Combine that with her inability to think strategically, her other major weakness, and you have the perfect conditions that end up with all four developers working 10 hours a day for 12 work days and still missing the client’s soft launch deadline by a week and their hard launch deadline, which luckily turned out to be not all that hard, by two days.

Working a ten-hour day, full out, with a project lead who is flustered and who must distribute the tasks but hasn’t thought enough about what the tasks are to be able to parse them out turned me into a lump of oatmeal by the end of the day. I wasn’t capable of doing more than grunting and staring at the television when I got home from work every day. Because I was looking for the lowest pressure possible narcotic to soothe my overloaded nervous system I did that thing that everyone with hundreds, or even dozens, of available channels and a searchable interactive program guide does when she wants to zone out in front of the TV: I aimlessly flipped channels. This is how I found Cozi TV which having just read its Wikipedia entry to find that link makes complete and utter sense with respect to programming.

Cozi seems to run nothing but classic TV shows from about 1960s through the 1980s and on this particular evening they were running back-to-back episodes of the quintessential television narcotic Charlie’s Angels. This particular episode was vintage Angels, second season so we’re dealing with Kelly (Jaclyn Smith), Kris (Cheryl Ladd), and Sabrina (Kate Jackson). And as I’m watching the flickering images on a TV that’s in a form factor no one could have imagined when this show originally aired in 1977, as I”m being lulled into submission by the simplistic plot, the quaint lighting and camera techniques, the set dressing, the clothing, and that oh so familiar frission of sexual attraction that was so scary when I was eight and is less scary at 40-something I noticed something interesting. Sabrina was wearing a pinky ring…on her left hand no less. This may not seem significant at first but it is when you locate Charlie’s Angels in its cultural context. [Read more…]

The Sacred and the Functional

I had to redo the binding on my favorite dictionary today. It’s a Webster’s Seventh Collegiate. I stole it from my step-father when I was in 12th grade. The binding holding the covers onto the inner pages had disintegrated well before I graduated from college. No surprising since by then the actual book was 30 years old.

There are newer dictionaries out there, ones that incorporate words and phrases that have made their way into English since the Seventh’s publication and I own more of them than is probably reasonable for one person. But the Seventh holds a particular utility and sentimental value for me. It was the dictionary that made me feel smart in high school. Yes, I was one of those kids who actually read the dictionary. It was the first reference book I ever claimed as my own. It’s the book I turn to first when I want to make sure I’m using a word correctly. As such, yes, it is an old friend and it is beat up.

Assassins Guild Diary

This originally retailed for $22.95. A near fine copy now runs nearly $100.

I spent July 4th weekend at the North American Discworld Convention in Baltimore. Discworld is the universe Terry Pratchett first unleashed on the world in 1983 with The Colour of Magic. Discworld is flat and carried through the universe on the back of four elephants who are standing on the back of the Great A’Tuin, a turtle, who slowly swims through space. Pratchett’s Discworld novels are literate and humane in the deepest sense of the word exploring what it means to exist and co-exist. Though there are currently 39 of them with the 40th, Raising Steam, to be published this October, it is as the organizers of one panel at NADWCON pointed out possible to run out of Discworld novels. Arguably, it’s only possible to run out of previously unread Discworld novels.

Because this was a Con there was a vendors’ room which included not one but two booksellers. To be expected at a convention focusing on a single author. Fewer ornamental swords than Comic Con (currently under frenzied way in San Diego) and more discussion about which edition and printing is the best one to own. While filling in my own collection to replace some early paperbacks with hardcover volumes I got into an interesting discussion with one of the booksellers. [Read more…]