Tag Archives: Pessimism

COVID Summer 2021

The sense that a Theory Of The Case is generally missing, including from purported leaders, is thriving lately.

I continue to think back on one of the earliest COVID prognoses that caught my eye as one of the best. I wish I had clipped a source URL. But I recall back near the start of all this, someone advising that eventually everyone would be exposed to COVID and (this being way before vaccines) most people exposed would get infected. This was, as far as I can tell, always the theory of “flatten the curve”—even if that escaped people—i.e. don’t all get COVID at once and thereby overload the hospitals, not do this so that you don’t get COVID ever.

With vaccines’ arrival, some theoretical possibility seemed to exist that thoroughly vaccinated societies could achieve that so-much-abused concept, herd immunity.

That’s just no longer even within reach at this point.

As someone else forecast fairly early on, COVID is endemic now. There is no credible scenario for how this worldwide, extremely transmissible virus gets removed from circulation. This is not so much because it’s “mutating around the vaccines,” as ongoing lurid speculation anticipates, as it is because there are a lot of people who will never get vaccinated. Vaccines are available in America. It isn’t really an access problem other than for children or the immunocompromised. For millions of people in this country and many more in other countries, it’s basically just a Bartleby the Scrivener situation.

Few people seem even to be confronting this reality, honestly.

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Jan. 6 Committee, Day One

The realization, starting in my late thirties, that “responsible adults in charge” is mostly a myth no matter how high up you go—this is one of those realizations which always remains difficult to believe.

Day One of the US House Select Committee on January 6 2021 has provided another dismaying booster for that realization, though.

I have gone back and forth on the whole idea of this House investigation. There are meaningful questions which ought to be answered. A professional investigative agency seems much better qualified to pursue most of them. The Department of Justice seems like in practice it is going to stay far away from many “politicized” areas. The politicians’ fixation on a “bipartisan” investigation is just lunacy. Republicans are so in thrall to sabotage that they turned an offer of 50/50 membership into a mostly Democratic committee.

Day One of the Committee seemed mostly to be a lot of weeping for the cameras, on behalf of the ruined virtue of America’s wonderful institutions, rather than investigation. Some allowance can be made for Opening Day, and I’m aware that politics and really all culture involves some degree of playacting.

But the whole premise which this Committee is making into the theme of its pageant is fundamentally, childishly, misguided. A violent putsch assaulted America’s Capitol on January 6, and an assault on America’s democracy needs our urgent response, but they are not the same things.

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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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System design matters

Early this morning I came across a twitter thread summarizing the “theory of now” of Professor Jason Stanley, who endorses the summary. While not exactly my own phrasing or choice emphases, it seems generally accurate to me also.

The main difference in my own “theory of now” may be that I think system design—omitted from Stanley’s theory or at least from a 20-tweet summary he just promoted—plays a critical role.

My own “theory of now” might in fact be summarized in six words that I scribbled down earlier this year:

  • rabid right
  • flabby left
  • bad rules

The summarized Stanley addresses effectively the first two, which are both important. I believe that the third is also essential to understanding the sabotage of America.

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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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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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Groundhog Day politics

I’m tired of the stupid, empty, ritualized war which has replaced national politics in this country.

America is a dysfunctional failed state, but the rotting zombie shambles along, nonetheless. The belief that some sort of shock will revive moribund neurons seems nonsense at this point. The entire Trump presidency with its New-York-phonebook of abuses and atrocities produced no more than tiny, marginal political movement in the big picture.

The coalitions have held; almost nothing seems to matter; to the extent that any things do matter they tend to be so arbitrary that they reinforce the rule of irrational, inescapable nightmare.

This is perhaps the truest definition of “a system-wide problem with system-wide problems”: when events seem so broadly meaningless that incentive to adapt actions or thinking evaporates, at the same time as resulting exhaustion intensifies the general tendency toward inertia.

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Going off the grid

I struggle to process the emergence from the left of messages like: “Government doesn’t work. Abolish coercive enforcement by the state. Rely only on yourself and local, privately organized charitable systems.”

Of course, there are a lot of things I didn’t specifically anticipate, such as people freezing to death in Texas, yet here we are.

More generally, all of this is entirely in line with the dismal trends I have seen and bemoaned for so long. The trail of news stories and reports documenting the decay of America’s physical infrastructure goes back many years. I have written ad nauseam about the corresponding decay of political infrastructure, especially the corrupt sham Republican Party which in Texas “seceded” from the rest of the country’s electricity grids, and is now busy lying about the consequences. The “horseshoe theory” convergence of some left-originating rhetoric with rightwing libertarianism is strange in detail, but the broad collapse in social trust has been more and more on my mind.

Somewhere around here I have a scrap of paper on which I scrawled something like “the collapse is going to accelerate,” a few months ago. So, uh, yeah.

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Mueller Time Reconsidered

A small further reflection on The Resistance, and what might be the most significant of my personal artifacts from the whole thing. It is not a sign or banner or anything physical. It’s a draft e-mail I prepared years ago to summon acquaintances in the event Trump fired Special Counsel Robert Mueller and nationwide protests followed.

The “springloaded” protests were organized by a vast coalition; I don’t know how many people eventually signed up to take part, although I believe it was a lot. I not only signed up, but drafted a personal e-mail to a few dozen people in hopes of reinforcing the potential participation just a bit more, doing my small part.

Looking back, the heavily organized non-event seems to encapsulate a lot of The Resistance.

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