Tag Archives: Personal

Walking back through political interpretation

I make and take a lot of notes. Even before the more or less daily news chronicle which I began in 2017, I have collected and organized political, economic and other notes throughout my adult life.

Lately I’m doing some spring cleaning, and in the process, this weekend I revisited two or three small, ad hoc collections of notes. They are interesting, especially cumulatively as a walk back through 10 years of struggling to make sense of political dysfunction.

A virtual folder on my Mac, which began as a catchall for interesting texts which I wanted to save and meant to file eventually, has turned into a cross section of 2011-20 political perspectives. Some just seems quaint. Remember when the “war on terror” or “free trade debates” were national preoccupations? One is a rant from February 2017, responding specifically to local affairs and posted on a local message board, but which rails against complicit unwillingness to say that a lie is a lie; a general relevance existed at a time but has grown since, I think.

Three or four excerpts from Vox articles published after the 2014 election seem, now, like the beginning of the conclusions I eventually arrived at in my recent book Nemesis.

  • …the Democrats hadn’t actually discovered dark arts of GOTV that allowed them to survive a GOP year. The polls were wrong — but they were wrong because they undercounted Republican support. As often happens, Democrats fooled themselves after the 2012 election into believing they had unlocked some enduring political advantage. They learned otherwise. (source)
  • If the economy drives whether people vote to re-elect the president, and presidential approval drives midterm voting, then surely the economy should should drive midterm voting through the mechanism of presidential approval, right? (source)
  • The last five elections, taken together, wreck almost every clean story you might try to wrap around them. They show an electorate that veers hard and quickly between left and right and back again — shredding any efforts one might make to draw deep ideological conclusions from a single campaign. They show that Democrats can, in the right circumstances, win midterm elections. They show that incumbents can win presidential campaigns. They show an electorate that seems to be searching for something it cannot find. (source)

One sentence, from the same period, is so exact: “American politics is descending into a meaningless, demographically driven seesaw.”

It’s humbling that it took me seven more years to process this even into what I hope is some kind of useful model for making sense of things.

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2021 Year in Review

At some point, this year, I scribbled the random thought that if 2020 was the year when everything happened, 2021 feels more like a false year when things didn’t happen (though not a year in which nothing happened).

I don’t know. This month I started a year-end letter to a pen pal of some years with “what the fuck.”

When did 2021 even begin? On one hand, it feels (and felt) kind of like everything before Inauguration Day was a collective holding our breath since the previous autumn. The morning of January 20 I had a variety of awful physical symptoms but ultimately concluded that it was just shock at the day actually arriving when the nightmare of President Trump ended. On the other hand, that aside, the nightmare has not really ended.

Personally this was like a good year, in some ways, or at least a prosperous year. This was a decent year for freelancing, including the past several weeks which I expected to be a post-election lull and which have not been. Not only did I replace my car in 2021, with a newer better car that I still really like so far, but somehow my decision to go ahead in early summer rather than wait for the market to clear (lol) actually turned out to be an excellent decision. (WTF?)

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Twitter Jail 2

I spent the night back in Twitter jail.

Unlike last time, very specific reasons accompanied this lockdown. Wednesday evening, I replied “die pepsico, die (please)” to some dumb bullshit ad polluting my Twitter feed courtesy of the bloated food & beverage corp.

Soon after, I was locked out of my account, pointed toward the offending reply like a naughty child, and given the “option” to delete it. Upon choosing this “option” (over the alternative of losing my account forever), I was restored to Twitter in a kind of ghost state. For 12 hours, I was allowed to see but do nothing else.

Hilariously, this prohibition on interaction extended even to liking. Not only that, but rather than simply disabling these features, Twitter instead programs the app to punish any attempt to use them; click a “like” icon, e.g., and get whisked back to the “you have been naughty and are banned from interacting” page.

This is absurdist.

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Hyundai Ioniq Plugin Hybrid

So I have purchased a different car, and it’s my first car-purchase in 14+ years, only the second time in my life I have made a car-purchase on my own, as well as the most expensive purchase of any kind that I have ever made and the most expensive thing I own, by a lot.

So I have thoughts and feelings.

Where to begin. So much is new with this. I’m going from a 2000 Toyota Camry to a 2018 plug-in hybrid. Just in terms of the technology and interface, it feels comparable to going directly from Pagemaker 6.5 to the 2018 release of Adobe InDesign. In all honesty, I don’t think such a leap would be completely baffling. But it would be quite a big adjustment. The 2000 Camry had a substantially analogue dashboard; the 2018 Ioniq is like most modern vehicles, i.e. basically a computer on wheels.

The Ioniq is considered a hatchback (and it amuses me that “five-door” is an alternative term). Typical vehicle styling however blurs most of the difference between this and other sedans, now.

My new car can plug in to “fuel up” from electric current. Public charging stations, even if they are free, hardly seem usable at all without a smartphone. It was only two years ago that I upgraded from an old flipphone to a modern magic rectangle.

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Post-democracy America

As I watch corrupt sham democracy eat each big new hole in the remaining shell of representative democracy, I always feel a tension any more between dismay at how fast it seems to be happening and the lessons of experience about how long zombie systems can shamble along anyway.

Aside from the lessons of America itself over the past couple of decades, I think again on re-reading Gibbon recently, and on how long the Roman Senate existed after the Roman republic ended. This notoriously pathetic zombie institution (the use of which by America’s framers as an explicit model for our government was really Asking For It from the very start) lingered on for centuries after it had surrendered all power to autocratic emperors. The Roman Senate outlasted the republic, its own purpose, and even the Roman religion, by centuries.

That’s a powerful corrective to any expectation of a near-term catharsis, of any kind.

So I’m stuck, usually, with the expectation that things will get worse and worse, but, while some kind of explosion(s) are probably somewhere ahead, even they may not really alter America’s zombie-shuffle very much.

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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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Self-employed 15 years

Fifteen years ago tomorrow, I was fired from what remains my last “real job.” I have now been without a full-time employer for nearly three times my whole salaried career—and while part of the time since included extended temporary/contracting roles, it has been most of a decade since I last commuted to the office for anyone.

I have no real regrets about this. I like this arrangement, and while I suppose that some alternate career path might have been better, I don’t feel that I lost out on “climbing the corporate ladder.” It is also extra interesting to reflect on this as America picks at established assumptions about how much autonomy, dignity, etc., is reasonable to trade off in return for “a job.”

Beyond this, it is difficult to know what I should think or feel. Celebration of what I have, and realism about the modest achievement it represents, pose something of a dilemma.

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Late-stage Pandemic

It’s the last week of April, 2021.

It’s five weeks since my first COVID-19 vaccine shot, and one week since my second.

It’s daylight hours in a Groundhog Day limbo, in which time no longer seems to have any meaning beyond the wheel of dawn to noon to dusk to night, a repetitive loop which it’s impossible to define as having any ending or beginning.

That last one might be a dramatic exaggeration, but the feeling is certainly not just me; on Monday ProPublica began an official e-mail with the words “In an era in which time has grown increasingly hazy…”

Yesterday, the CDC made a confusing announcement blessing a few limited unmasked activities for fully vaccinated people, all of which activities people have been doing without masks or vaccination.

Everywhere it seems like this has all just outlived our capacity to sustain it, at least in the sense of an acute crisis during which we sort of hold our collective breath. There are many many caveats here, the most important being that I’m not an expert in virology or public health and you should seek one out if you want expert guidance on the COVID-19 pandemic. For the personal reflections of one 42-year-old mostly vaccinated Very Online American, read on.

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Reality and self amid the maelstrom

Thinking lately about what’s real and what’s important—neither of which overlaps completely with the other—and how to hold onto them amid all the dysfunction, real dangers and misleading indicators.

I have been writing plenty about the false and misleading, this year. Every day seems to be a downpour of dishonesty, delusion, wrong directions and la la land pretending. I can see this, and while it’s a struggle to go against the grain when hardly anyone else seems like they’re going to, I think I can make it that far.

But where am I going to, and where can I go to; what revised expectations of real and important should replace the old?

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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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