The Police

Police, crime and gun violence have been much on my mind the past few days, and it all feels like a key example of how our sociocultural infrastructure is misaligned and wrecking itself and defies fixing and is probably going to blow up.

Executive summary:

Police officers just keep on shooting and killing unarmed Black people, largely without consequence, and my own Twitter feed reflects all day long the outraged responses of “all cops are bastards,” “abolition now,” “you can’t reform evil,” etc.

At the very same time a few violent crimes close together, here in Lakewood, have people screaming “where are the fucking cops” and lashing out, calling for the mayor’s head, forming (armchair) vigilante groups on Facebook, etc.

To the extent that there exists “an answer” to this, I think it lies at least as much in other directions e.g. the gun-crazy political-industrial complex, as it does “somewhere in the middle.”

But this is America, the many reinforcing features of our toxic culture include constant and powerful infantilizing systems, and all things must be either 100% bad or 100% good and any kind of other suggestion is widely offensive, and basically, like I was saying the other day.

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Things Fall Apart

Or things blow up. Every day.

Cover of Amazing Spider-Man #112
An iconic cover of a less-amazing story

So many thoughts. But the most prominent is the still-intensifying feeling that inflammatory phenomena have exceeded a critical threshold and the conflagration is going to burn at will, go where it wants to when it wants to—and there isn’t much for me to do about that per se.

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Genuine Border Problems

I have been thinking about this topic, lately, but a line from this Guardian editorial offered a very valuable perspective: “There are few states in Europe today with the same boundaries that they had a century ago.” To be honest the editorial’s intent is a little unclear; it seems to imply that static borders for centuries are a rarity, but then argues that this necessitates extra effort to preserve the century-old UK borders.

From my own perspective, it seems like a much more useful premise to recognize that static borders for centuries are a rarity, and that this has a lot of relevance for America, which has had basically unchanged borders for 150 years.

Yes, you can pepper that statement with asterisks, but a map of the United States has mostly looked the same since the end of the Civil War. That’s a long time, quite a bit has changed, and yet we have made negligible changes to the mostly arbitrary lines which are increasingly unhelpful.

It’s partly but not entirely an ironic coincidence that much noise within US politics concerns “borders,” but mostly avoids conversation about maps.

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Honesty about disaster

Several years ago, I wrote in Cotton’s Library about the political breakdown which flummoxed the Jacobean antiquarian and courtier, Sir Robert Cotton:

In evaluating his political career, Cotton comes across as a Jacobean Cicero. Like the influential senator at the end of Rome’s republic, Cotton stood in the very middle of a constitutional system buckling and splintering under strain, yet never saw any possible solution but voluntary moderation of the competing forces. The relatively respectful and effective interplay between Elizabeth and her parliaments during Cotton’s early life always remained his model of how English government worked. As political relations deteriorated under the Stuarts he did not see a failure of the system; the system was perfect, and the need for change lay not with it, but with the people within it.

I have since concluded that, in a sense, Cotton’s attitude was both wrong and right, about a political paradox which may be universal. I feel confident that some political systems are so flawed as to be unworkable, but I have begun to suspect that there may not be any set of rules and institutions so perfect that they remain effective when too many people simply stop believing in them.

That’s now happening right in front of us, in America.

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DIY San Francisco Treat

Waltzing through la la land remains the apparent zeitgeist of the present, and I don’t know what more I can really say about that right now.

So how about a cooking blog diversion to switch things up.

Short version: You can make DIY rice-a-roni just like the box version, the contents of which you replace with half a cup of rice, half a cup of broken-up thin spaghetti, and about a fifth of a cup of chicken bullion.

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Vaccines and HyperNormalisation

Personally, things are going okay at this moment. On Wednesday I got the second half of my two-part “$2,000 check,” and the first half of my two-part COVID-19 vaccination. I’m doing some work for clients. Cleaning up around the apartment.

I can’t deny a feeling of emergence, especially because of a personal feeling of emerging from something like a five-year fugue state. I have written a number of times about a similar feeling, after recent elections, as though I had somehow been absent from my own life during extended preoccupation with campaigns, then one day came back to find months had gone by. This feels something like that except for years instead of months.

The end of the 2020 election and its long overtime, plus winter, plus social distancing, plus perhaps the slow start to 2021 campaigns, kind of put me in a place to slow down and reflect for more than in years. But browsing some blog posts from 2015 (like this or this) really made me realize that in terms of thinking about my life, the place I’m in lately is a lot like one I reached five or six years ago. Then activism and related activities began to mushroom, pushing me out of that place for five years. For all the ways that transformed my life, and probably my self, it is now like I’m back confronting very similar deep questions.

Also shit is still just on fire around me which does complicate things.

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The unmentionable Republican problem

Fraud on the political right is a massive, crisis-proportion problem in America but cultural taboos and other habits prohibit any mainstream recognition of this.

Republicans’ 2020 convention produced a platform which was literally just unconditional support for bigoted conman Donald J. Trump. No policies, no values, nothing. State parties are, if possible, even more radically cultish.

This is not new, either, and there is no “bipartisan” symmetry. A dozen years ago, Democrats’ fractious coalition managed for the sake of compromise and governing to coalesce in support of the Republican healthcare reform option, and in response Republicans coalesced around total opposition to it. The subsequent we-have-always-been-at-war-with-Eastasia narrative was the main message of Republicans for a decade. They have, of course, never proposed any sincere alternative in all this time; “Trumpcare” was not only terrible policy but even within the Republican caucus was never even real policy, just a game of hot-potato and plain old lying.

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La la land

I already established the theme of this post a month ago, the short version of which is “the fundamental reality surrounding us is a disaster, and for individuals the additional choice to confront that is made even more unappealing by the huge number of people engaged in some form or another of escapist play-pretend.”

The past week has served up more and more of this on basically every front. I have adopted the term “la la land” as shorthand for the many forms of reality-denying nonsense, especially the energetic promotion of one after another new reform bills which are all pure fantasy absent a revolution within the US Senate.

I mockingly asked last week if people believe that the Senate is a dam, which simply must burst if a large enough flood of legislation builds up behind it. Honestly I would like to believe that some theory resembling this really is circulating among Democratic reformers. If there’s any hope for Senate Democrats’ pseudo-majority to overcome the Republican obstruction and the small but critical number of Democrats enabling it, it seems like it will involve every interest within the Democratic coalition insisting on it. Introducing legislation which coalition members really want, e.g. the PRO Act, would plausibly encourage such an uprising. I don’t assume that this would work, but it would at least be a “theory of the case.”

I suspect not, though. Also last week, I literally called the office of my representative to the US House and asked if there is any theory of the case, or if the party is just giving up and introducing message bills now; the staff’s response was basically a that’s-how-things-are shrug.

More significantly, it just seems like nearly everyone is adrift in la la land, all the time.

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Outlook March 2021

Strange moment, not that they aren’t nearly all strange anymore.

A little over a year since America’s shit-just-got-real moment for a COVID-19 pandemic, it looks at last like we can see an end to our long plague year. It isn’t here yet. But with functioning national governance restored (just barely, for now) and vaccine distribution in high gear, it seems possible that we can avoid another severe case surge. As of today I have hopes of getting scheduled for vaccination soon, several weeks ahead of my previous expectation. This amid a yo-yo few days, which of course have involved ups and downs, but feel overall discouraging of enthusiasm or effort.

So what now?

While I am not completely sans interest in resuming various suspended activities, I reject “back to normal” as a general theme for either society or myself. The former should not really require explanation. As for myself, I have not really had a plan or even a strategy for years. This seems like as good a time as any to explore the idea.

How, then, do I “build back better?”

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America’s Politics Not Fit for Purpose

The American political system does not solve problems, or even resolve disputes, at a national level.

This feels like a big-picture understanding of failed-state reality, above the day to day or even year to year blowups.

A good political system ought to solve broad problems of society, and create better and fairer conditions over time. But for a political system to qualify as functional at all, it ought to resolve some disputes. Even if one credits a political system of endless unresolved disputes with being at least preferable, compared with those fights playing out through violence, this does not seem stable beyond a short term. If arguments just fester, while infrastructure decays, explosions seem inevitable.

As America draws near a decade since the optimistic forecast “that the fever may break” soon, I believe we may say that our political system is just not fit for purpose at a national level. I know I say this kind of thing, a lot, but this fundamental futility seems important.

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