Tag Archives: Culture

History is what happens while you’re making plans

Yesterday on Twitter, someone posted in a thread that: “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.” While attributed in this case and quite frequently to Franklin Roosevelt, I’m not surprised to find this morning that the attribution appears spurious. I have not spent all that many years personally engaged in politics, but bumbling seems much more typical than something happening as a result of planned activity.*

That seems to apply to… a lot, actually, as the past year has been demonstrating in big ways.

It isn’t just that no one seems to have a credible theory of the case. Republican elites probably come closest, with their states-and-courts strategy for hollowing out democracy—while abhorrent it’s a strategy and it’s working—but even they seem to have a tiger by the tail. This looks like a disciplined, functioning strategy in comparison with most other political activity, much of which is ritual people just repeat because humans are that way. Calls, postcards, zingers online, letters to the editor; dance the ghost dance, shake the magic gourds, chant the word “bipartisan” again and again and again and again.

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Rule of (Brandolini’s) Law

Brandolini’s Law: the amount of energy necessary to refute bullshit is an order of magnitude bigger than to produce it (Alberto Brandolini, 2013).

This is one example of the problems that I just don’t think America can realistically contain with policy at this point.

The frequent heading of “disinformation” does not quite get to the scale of what’s in motion, in my opinion. In the big picture, the disruptors* are engaged in mythmaking. I don’t think any lesser word conveys the full scope of various related efforts to delegitimize negative facts and create deeply held contrary convictions. The mystery-funded Cyber Ninjas “audit” in Arizona “is a new kind of political ritual, whose purpose exists beyond reason or consensus or fact.” Its purpose is, it seems obvious, to further the myth of a stolen election.

This is not completely new, though. Similar origins produced the “birther” lie in response to Obama’s election, and while I don’t recall many Republicans disputing Bill Clinton’s election per se back in the 1990s, they were at work weaving the fundamental myth that all Democrats are inherently an Other who cannot legitimately govern “real Americans.”

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Nonbinary Generation

I’m 42 years old and not really with-it, or hip, or anything like that. Yet it does seem like a grassroots conceptual revolution has gotten underway in a relatively short time, when it comes to sex and gender. The rise of nonbinary identification seems like it is gathering pace especially rapidly.

Personally I can definitely describe myself as gendernonconforming, which is a pretty broad category given what rigid expectations of gender norms still prevail in our culture. There is no obvious reason why nail polish, my most public demonstration of this, is so much associated with a specific sex only, but it is. (The only comments on my nails to date have all been positive, but not everywhere is Lakewood.) Nonbinary might also be applicable, but the term feels so new that I wonder if I understand properly.

Recently I caught up with a Generation X friend who has two gendernonconforming children, the older of whom identifies as nonbinary and has adopted they/them pronouns. It was only during our conversation that I realized how recently I have had any real awareness of nonbinary status as more than an abstract concept. I heard another acquaintance mention one of his children identifying as nonbinary, some time in 2018 or 2019. So, maybe three years. A lot has happened during the past three years, but that’s still not a long time compared with four decades.

A few thoughts about this for whatever they’re worth.

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The Republican Cartel

This is as good a summary of any of the majority of what I post here these days:

Just so. Yet, our institutions, our narratives, our culture all expect a legitimate political party in that space, and can’t seem to adapt. (Most adults just don’t seem to respond to information which challenges their beliefs, at all, and often don’t even respond to experiences which challenge them.)

Journalism can’t seem to communicate that Republicans are pursuing a coordinated nationwide campaign to “get rid of the ballots,” literally. Coverage refuses to see any large pattern, and consistently describes individual actions of disenfranchisement as e.g. “hardball” or “playing rough.” Apparently that’s all that Jim Crow ever was? Actually impossible to pass “literacy tests” and other schemes which outright blocked African Americans from voting were simply “playing rough,” huh.

Of course, once it’s normalized for a candidate to “win” despite inarguably getting fewer votes than an opposing candidate … a culture has begun down a very dangerous slippery slope. Once this happens, and is accepted as legitimate, what frontier or limit is there to preserve democracy?

“Webcomics” book review

I found Sean Kleefeld‘s recent book Webcomics very interesting reading, despite being a webcomic… critic? skeptic? curmudgeon? Probably that last one.

I’m not opposed to webcomics. I have read various, including the (NSFW and age-restricted) OGLAF. But I still think Strong Bad E-mail #181 was and remains persuasive in pouring cold water on webcomics.

All of which I bring up in order to establish that, for anyone aware that the author has been an online friend going back to the previous century, FYI I was not pre-sold on his new book.

Despite which Webcomics was still a worthwhile purchase, impressive and offering much interest.

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Japan round-up

One of the strangest things about spending time in Japan was the surgical masks. Or, rather, how absolutely not-strange they were to nearly everyone around me. After a day or three, I got used to maybe one in five people wearing a mask over his or her face. As I spent more time riding the rails, particularly the JR Yamanote line, I found that this wasn’t even that difficult to imagine an explanation for, either. In a very crowded car, people are literally right in one another’s face, and crowded cars are the norm in Tokyo. I don’t know if the masked themselves would draw this connection— Japan disclaimer—but at all events reaching for some sort of barrier stopped feeling mystifying.

It still felt strange, though. Like someone had announced an outbreak without me noticing. While, in the meantime, the whole thing was routine to everyone else. People wearing masks were a decided minority, but I think in Tokyo it has become like, say, glasses: it has been normalized in the sense that some people wear them, other people don’t, and you really pay it no special regard.

A few other notes about Japan that should wrap up my public commentary…

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Week in Japan, introduction

“Understand, you say? Understanding is in principle based solely on wishful thinking.” – From Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence

I am planning to write a bit about spending a week in Japan, recently.* First, though, I feel like I ought to preface any and everything I write with a disclaimer along the lines of the above quote.

No general statement about cross-cultural comprehension, let alone “inscrutable orientals” is intended, I want to add. I simply feel it’s important that any remarks I make are accompanied by a reminder that, in this instance, I literally did not understand most of the messages around me.

Street with Japanese signs

Did not understand.

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Opting out of the NFL

I may do a year-in-review post a bit later, but for the moment I feel like writing a bit about a minor item of 2014, in most ways: turning aside from the NFL.

I suppose the arc of my interest in the NFL spanned about 20 years. Up until high school I never took particular interest in sports, as participant or spectator. Then… peer pressure, I guess? I wasn’t drinking, smoking or taking part in any other illicit activities, but I also wasn’t comfortable with isolating myself completely from the mainstream of my peers. Adopting a team* popular among some of their number worked for me.

I think the NFL must have been the first sport/league of which I really developed a functional understanding. The NES classic Tecmo Super Bowl was undoubtedly a great help here. The 1990 season has remained my baseline for evaluating NFL affairs ever since, in a lot of ways. I still bust out this 8-bit masterpiece from time to time, too. I played a couple games of “Tecmo” just last night in fact.

In 2014, though, that has been about it for NFL stuff.

After 20 years, I simply did not return from the (period formerly known as the) off-season this year. Just didn’t really feel like it.

There is no one reason, as usual. The revolting spectacle of millionaires vs billionaires in a greed-off a couple of years ago was probably a big shove. Since then, as most observers would acknowledge, the NFL has been through a series of scandals adequate to prompt “will football survive” essays. The league’s predictable stonewalling has not exactly fed or watered my enthusiasm for it, nor has the continued extortion, by millionaires and billionaires, of public money.

I should emphasize that I don’t regard dropping out of NFL nation as a test of moral superiority. I have abandoned neither college football nor the NBA, each of which shares more than one of the NFL’s offenses. I can quibble about how the NFL seems worse, when all is added up, but the difference is ultimately quantitative rather than qualitative; if it’s wrong to be a fan of the NFL then it’s wrong to be a fan of those other entertainments. I can’t go quite that far. All of them are compromised, certainly, but we live brief lives in a fundamentally compromised world, and on the list of Evils that People Should Stop Enabling, the NFL is a long way from the top. Even I don’t make it through the day on virtue and righteousness alone; if the NFL makes existence a bit more bearable for you, I think “go right ahead” is an entirely valid answer.

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