Showing posts with label commentary. Show all posts
Showing posts with label commentary. Show all posts

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Adulting in Peace

 My life is slowly becoming that Dr. Manhattan meme, where the omnipresent, and nigh omniscient, super hero sits on the surface of Mars, contemplating his life with jagged simplicity. 

Behold, pretension!

We've been in the throes of our first escrow, an entirely new process that I'm only beginning to understand. The byzantine disclaimers and addendums, compounded with legal aphorisms, wash over me like a salty wave that someone died in. Of course, I should be thankful. Owning property is a gift. And every gift is an opportunity for understanding and growth.

In all seriousness though, I had this strange moment of clarity, maybe 5 minutes ago. I was in the kitchen, hovering over a dissected crown of broccoli, realizing that my mind was characteristically "adult" in the moment. (Obviously, I've been an adult since I was 18, though even that status is symbolic in our highly specialized society.) I was watching myself move, as if in 3rd person, a weight resting on my shoulders that was altering the way I moved and behaved in that space. A similar moment happened in my 20s, when I signed my first lease to rent a town house (for the low, LOW price of $1000 per month). I was so scared and immobilized by the weight of rejection and the potential for failure. What if I couldn't handle it? What if I lost my job and, therefore, couldn't make the payments? I felt, in a way, hobbled by the immensity of the commitment, despite the fact that it was so mundane in hindsight.

Now I was standing over the cutting board, feeling secure and in control of my life. I was doing an "adult" thing and feeling characteristically "adult" about it. 

I've said it before: the progression from a childlike mind to an adult one is less about the traversal of legal status and more of an epiphany that, you—yes, you—are in complete control of your decisions. (That is, as far as "mortal" control goes in the infinite and all powerful presence of God). When I was buying 3 six-packs of beer a week to self medicate my stress, I was a child, abdicating my right of control over my body and mind. Now, I'm making the conscious decision to be an adult and take the helm of my life, inasmuch as I can in light of God's will. 

The apostle Paul kind of addresses this in 1 Corinthians: 11-12. And, in the context of the larger dialogue at work in the passage, as God renews our hearts through the work of the Holy Spirit, this peace that I feel will only grow, ultimately to resolve in my death and resurrection. And that, that is dope, my friends. 

"When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Friday, July 23, 2021

Another Year Around the Sun

 I am ready to leave work, go to the local brewery, and celebrate my Birthday. 

(Yes, today is the day.)

The past few years, other than my 30th, were not very fun. Or they were riddled with depression. Or the looming threat of being old, yet unaccomplished, weighed on me. Not so this year, I am happy to report. 

I'm not sure why things have changed. I'm as old as Jesus was when he went to the cross for the world, which would make light of any of our accomplishments, big or small. That alone could be the reason for my paradoxical contentment, but I don't feel like it is. I released a book in hardcover this year: also a big accomplishment. Still, it's not as big a brag as it sounds. (In fact, it's deceptively easy.) 

This year is different in ways I never expected, and it's because I feel like I'm no longer a kid. 

I am becoming less aware of "age." I'll find out that a co-worker is actually in his mid 40s, when I thought they were my age. We act how old we want to be, which is a lauded trait among our aging boomers. This charming deception gives me social mobility, where I previously didn't. Instead of the need to "impress" my elders, I am collaborating with my peers. 

Hopefully I can avoid the pitfalls of other unequal alignments though. Like, it's sad to see a child acting like an adult. Youth and joy has it's purpose. A child that works in a coal mine, or emancipates themselves when they are 14, loses the freedom to explore hobbies and ideas ahead of their adulthood. Likewise, it's sad to see a 50 year old acting like they are 20. Age carries with it a quiet, established dignity that inspires others. It's a responsibility that we all should feel inclined to take part in.  (I.e. help your kids plan for the future. Be their roadmap. Don't fuck off to Coachella, forget to pay your rent, and then get angry when your "van-life" kids make a mess of you're apartment while you're away.) 

Concerning the above, I would wager confidently the reason I am so happy is because I where I'm supposed to be. That's enough, right? 

I sure hope so. I've already printed t-shirts for merch!

(No, I haven't.)


 



Thursday, June 3, 2021

Working Inside is Weird

My desk at work.

This past week I have been working inside the office for a couple consecutive days for the first time since the pandemic started. This was primarily due to my wife going on a camping trip with her dad, leaving me to fend for myself with Eowyn. The thought of driving by myself was terrifying. (Around this time last year I had a really bad anxiety attack while I was driving.) But, despite some close calls and a stashed emergency Klonopin, I got through it. 

Don't we always?

Sitting in the office, the loudest thing I hear is the sound of the HVAC fans running. The keys beneath my finger tips are deafening. No weird neighbors next door, arguing over dumb shit that doesn't matter. No homeless couples bickering up and down the street. Just the fans. 

I miss the office. 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

"Oncoming Traffic" By Stuart Warren

 


There was traffic on West 580, right in front of the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. 

Traffic rarely happens. When it does, it usually inspires fascination, even wonder. The passing traffic does not stop. Motorists spying in the moments between moments. Life oncoming, then gone.

This time was different though.

There were two cars hedged off to the right shoulder: a 2038 Tesla sedan and a 2018 Honda Civic. The rear crush points on the Tesla were pancaked—what remained of the trunk space, mostly gone. I glanced out of my window and saw the two drivers in a heated fight, a paramedic between them with her hands up. A police officer was dragging a dumbbell set—ejected from the trunk of the Civic—off the center lanes while we waited.

By 2028, most of the Bay Area was autonomous. By 2032, the rest of the state followed. The current Administration established a buy-out program for manual-pilot autos, encouraging the conversion. But, among the millions, a small minority held out. Mostly older men, and a younger generation galvanized by passionate rhetoric to retain their “right-to-drive.” When accidents happened, it always involved a manual-pilot car. There would be a highlight on the evening news—national coverage if the collision was big enough.

The Civic’s owner was red in the face with anger, spittle ejecting from her mouth. It wasn’t about the car. She stood her ground. This would be on camera, the pavement her stage. Ten-thousand talking heads explaining the nuance of car ownership, the “right-to-drive.”

It was something we debated at work, before our managers would step in to re-establish office etiquette. At church, I would argue the nuance of scripture, how the church adjusted for cultural changes, while others flatly denied my points, on the basis of free will and choice. In school districts some advocated—think of the children, they would say—for manual-pilot school busses, that it was unconscionable to entrust students to the cold will of the onboard intelligence.

But as passionate and antiquated the logic was, we all knew that 94% of auto-accidents involved manual-pilot vehicles. 100% of all autonomous cars were zero-emission, and manufactured by carbon neutral companies. Average commute time was lowered by 30% as the speed limit was raised by 25% across the western United States.

The police officer signaled to the line of stopped cars to proceed after a few minutes. I cracked open my book and thumbed to the page where I left off, feeling the pull of my body into the seat, the scene disappearing from view.

Where 580 merged with 101 North, brake lights crept up along the frontage road.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Talking with My Dad about Fact-Checking


My dad and my brother at a BBQ back in 2013.

The other day I was emailing my dad an article that The New York Times put out which fact checked the final presidential debate from this past week. My dad's response, was more or less what I expected:

The NY Times is long known to be a left of center publication.  Hence their reporting reflects their acknowledged philosophic points of view.  The Times “fact checkers" are only preaching to the choir. The “fact checkers” are hired by the Times.  Would these folks opine contrary to the Times editorial board and expect to remain employed?  Do you actually believe the Times would publish opinions that are not congruent with the established editorial opinions of the paper?  It would be the similar if I sent you an article from the “Federalist” or from Fox News.  Both data sources have an ax to grind.  

My dad is very conservative, having been a devotee of Rush Limbaugh and Dr. James Dobson for most of his adult life, although the above was much softer than his usual assessment of the current political climate. What I found interesting was his position: the relationship between a paper's policy bias and its inherent "truthfulness" changes depending on the observer's own political alignment. Someone who is "liberal" would praise the Times for its desire to "uncover the truth;" whereas, someone who is "conservative" would cynically claim that the fact checkers were hired in bad faith. (I mention these in quotes to emphasize the relative absurdity each designation has attracted over the past few decades.) Of course, the reality is somewhere in the middling grayness. For instance, I would opine that most of what Fox News puts out on their network are news stories with an original spirit of truth, but filtered through a lens that confirms the biases of their viewership. The original story may actually be factual, but the interpretation detracts from the "truthfulness" of the presented story, to such a degree that the final result is no longer true. I think this goes the same for other news outlets on the left side of the isle, though to a lesser degree. In this instance, the final story still retains the original "truthfulness," but now is veneered with a layer of interpretation that deviates from the original meaning of the story. 

To illustrate the ways this can happen, I have prepared an example meant to be an objective description (hypothetical of course) of events. (Remember though, true objectivity is impossible, regardless of viewpoint.)

Statement A) 

Today, at 5pm, a protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Smith, Professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were detained and suffered injuries. After 2 hours, a fight broke out between protestors and counter-protestors. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 counter-protestors. 

Typically, journalism reports the above and adds subsequent commentary to interpret the event. So a Fox News newscaster may include additional commentary on top of Statement A to create an entirely new Statement B:

Statement B) 

Today, at 5pm, a student protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles. Joe Smith, Professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were detained after resisting arrest and suffered injuries. After 2 hours of what local business owners described as complete chaos, a fight broke out between protestors and counter-protestors wearing MAGA campaign clothing. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 injured counter-protestors. 

The above adds additional descriptive information that, while technically true, distorts the original meaning of the information. The addition of "student" will delegitimize the protestors as being politically immature. The addition of "after resisting arrest" justifies the injuries sustained to the detained men. The addition of color commentary from eyewitnesses charges the event with subjective emotional energy. The addition of "wearing MAGA campaign clothing" assumes that the protestors were agents of anarchy, whereas the counter-protestors were supporting a return to order by the current Executive administration. The final addition of "injured" insinuates that the protestors were violent and the counter protestors were not. 

The same kind of additions can be added for a left leaning message:

Statement C:

Today, at 5pm, a protest occurred in downtown Los Angeles at Bunker Hill. Joe Smith, Pulitzer Prize winning professor of Black Studies at UCLA, organized the event to bring awareness to a recent event where Black suspects were unlawfully detained and suffered injuries. After 2 hours of peaceful demonstrations, a fight broke out between protestors and armed counter-protestors. The police were called in response leading to the arrests of 3 protestors and 2 counter-protestors charged with intimidation and brandishing a deadly weapon. 

The additional details highlight the location of the protests taking place in a cultural center of downtown Los Angeles. The organizer, Joe Smith, is given credibility with his past achievements. Adding that the suspects were "unlawfully" detained suggests systemic injustice in some form contributed to the circumstances surrounding the arrest. The quality of the demonstrations as "peaceful," gives sympathy to the protestors, who are threatened with violence by "armed" counter-protestors. The final detail of the 2 counter-protestors being "charged with intimidation and brandishing a deadly weapon" further indemnifies the actions of the original protestors.

So, yeah, subjective statements are fucked up.

Given the above, we have only looked at statements, and how objective data can be modified with commentary to create a subjective message. But this kind of influencing can go to additional lengths to influence the subconscious of the subscriber. The curating of related and unrelated stories in a segmentation of news media can add an additional "metastory" on top of everything that then further tints the overall interpretation of all events in the given time frame. Depending on the publication's perceived audience, the metastory will adhere to a particular philosophy, the objective to confirm the bias of the readership. Late author and semioticist, Umberto Eco describes this in his satirical novel Numero Zero, which analyzes the underlying methodology of tabloid media (which in this case, concerns the various regional conflicts and cultural eccentricities of Italy in the early nineties):

"I know it's commonly said that if a labourer attacks a fellow worker, then the newspapers say where he comes from if he's a southerner but not if he comes from the north. Alright, that's racism. But imagine a page on which a laborer from Cuneo, etc. etc., a pensioner from Mestre kills his wife, a newsagent from Bologna commits suicide, a builder from Genoa signs a bogus cheque. What interest is that to readers in the areas where these people were born? Whereas if we are talking about a laborer from Calabria, A pensioners from Matera, a newsagent from Foggia and a builder from Palermo, then it creates concern about criminals coming up from the south, and this makes news..." pg. 46-47

So the idea Eco summarizes (from the point of view of Simei, the Editor-in-Chief of the fictional magazine, Domani) is that, if a newspaper advocates for a specific philosophy, there are ways to use objective data to make a subjective meta-statement that will guide the reader to a specific conclusion. For instance, Fox News might report three of the following (hypothetical) stories in a 24 hour news cycle:

  1. "Obama congratulates Hillary Clinton on her new book in a Facebook post."
  2. "Clinton Foundation fired an employee for [unspecified] misconduct."
  3. "Wikileaks obtains emails involving a large investment made by Hillary Clinton in a German technology firm."
The fictional stories above, when viewed separately, are entirely unrelated. Their objective descriptions are, also, fairly innocuous (other than #2). The curation of the stories is, by no means, an accident however. Even when read separately, a Fox News subscriber can draw a number of conclusions from each story: 
  1. [Indicates a close association (professional and personal) between Hillary Clinton and Barak Obama.]
  2. [The Clinton Foundation is corrupt.]
  3. [Hillary Clinton is beholden to foreign interests.]
 And from these conclusions, the subscriber infers a larger metastory, with greater implications to the news conscious population as a whole: "Hillary Clinton is a corrupt politician, trying to cover up a scandal that involves foreign companies, and Barak Obama endorses/is aware of/is complicit in/benefits from it." And, so, the final story is a work of fiction, synthesized from objectively factual data. Therefore, even innocuous stories can contribute to misinformation. Eco describes a similar effect in an essay that was delivered to the Associazione Italiana di Semiotica in 2009, titled Censorship and Silence. Specifically he states that the OVERsaturation of meaningless information can crowd larger conversations, or direct attention away from other potential scandals. Boris Johnson appeared to be doing this in June of 2019 when he shared some interesting personal hobbies, which some speculated to be attempts at disrupting Google search results.

I highly recommend looking at Abbie's research into conspiracy theories and how they develop

But, getting back to original matter though, concerning my dad and his statement about fact-checkers and confirmation bias. All I can say is that, despite the addition of color commentary, the original event or detail depicted in a news story still must remain objective. "Obama was the 44th president of the United States," is an objective fact. "Christmas Day will be Friday, December 25th in the year 2020," is an objective fact. To say that fact-checkers are biased is a difficult proposition. This is because we live in an ecosystem of independent bodies that can verify the truth independent of a "fact-checker" by referring to a primary source (poll, dataset, audio/written/photographic testimony, etc.).  Therefore, if a single fact-checker reports something incorrect, there are another ninety-nine available to dispute the claim. This is how peer-reviewed academic journals function. And the process by which they operate have given us countless advances in modern science and medicine. To reject objective, independently verified data is a problem because the validity of data is independent of subjectivity. If the data hurts the observers' feelings, then that is not a weakness of data, that is a weakness of the observer. In the end, it's fundamentally an act of weakness and cowardice that not only endangers the individual, but endangers the safety of those within the individual's sphere of influence. 

So I will just say that, yes, it is true that bias exists within the news continuity. That is unavoidable. However, rather than dismiss bias, it is better (actually) to accommodate for it. When it is accepted that bias exists in the wild, and that it can be dissected and explained, there is greater benefit for everyone. Seeking the historical and cultural origin of various flavors bias helps explain why someone in a population might think a certain way. The faith one puts in bias helps us be aware of how information could be corrupted in transmission via wishful thinking. Most important, accepting the risk of bias forces observers and listeners to be held accountable for the dissemination of false information. 

If we can't accept that responsibility, then we might as well just embrace the middling death of democracy and spirited debate. 



Sunday, September 6, 2020

It's Time to "Defund" Evangelicalism

Normally, I wouldn't barrage you guys with something like this, but, I keep recycling these thoughts over and over. And it's reached a point where I just need to let it go and move on. Sorry, in advance. But as a reward for your tenacity, enjoy some DankChristianMemes while you read!

In 2007 a book came out called, "unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity…and Why It Matters." Of  course, it made the rounds in my church circles, telling us what we already knew, but the impact the book has made has radiated outward through time, retaining it's relevance (especially now). 

Clarification needs to be made between "evangelizing" and "evangelicalism" before proceeding. 

The basis of evangelizing comes from the words of Jesus before he ascended into heaven. In the synoptic gospels, these passages occur typically at the conclusion of the books. Specifically in Matthew 28:16-20, the Apostle Matthew writes: 

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Evangelizing, specifically, is the act of going out and telling people the gospel (ie. the "Good News"), which can be understood in a variety of ways, but can be ultimately summarized as communicating the truth that Jesus made amends to God on our behalf out of love for us and now we can live a life with Him and for Him. It however does not mean establishing distant trading empires to extract resources, enslaving and homogenizing ethnic minorities, or nationalizing refugees. Purely, it is an act of communication and service. It is impossible to coerce someone to believe in God (ie. trust Jesus at his word), but it is possible to demonstrate his love selflessly by being forgiving, capable of love, and willing to serve those Jesus came to serve. This is not the same as participating in corporate worship (ie. going to church), being a member of a social/political organization, or engaging in spirited debates on social media. It, by definition, requires intimate proximity to the party being "evangelized."


This labored definition, which could be so much longer, is meant to make unambiguous the process and means through which "evangelizing" is undertaken. Evangelizing is, from a distance, unimpressive and without pomp. It's capacity is to be miraculous and is considered to be one of Paul's described spiritual gifts that Christians receive when accepting the truth of the gospel.    

Evangelicalism is a confederacy of smaller institutions and organizations that combine to form a massive movement in the United States. (Use of the word "confederacy" is unrelated to Evangelicalism's initial justifications for Slavery in the United States.) The institution, in my personal experience, has iconic membership aspects; that is, much like a bank's functions (interest, return on investment, and lending) coalescence to become a piece of the American Banking institution. For example, the church I attended in Escondido, California growing up allied with popular cultural movements and affiliations associated with American church organizations including, but not limited to: "conservative" politics, Pro-Life, Anti-Gay, Nationalism, American Exceptionalism, support of the Israel nation state, Dispensational Eschatology, and Anti-Immigration. Evangelicalism is supported by multimedia platforms, like radio, television, and printed materials, which serve to spread information pertaining to theology, social movements, denominational conferences, theology, political endorsements, and charity initiatives. Churches, depending on size, commonly operate with an executive board of elders that report to a "senior pastor," who's primary role can be as singular as Sunday teaching, to a myriad of responsibilities that cover the vision/direction of the church, counseling services, fund raising, branding, marketing, and ministry oversight (childcare, youth group, senior outreach, etc). The only reason why I bring this up is because these functions are just as apart of the American Church's identity as Evangelicalism is associated with the previously stated points. 

Again, this labored definition is meant to distinguish Evangelicalism from other institutions that involve an "organized" expression of Christianity, such as the Emerging Church (moderate) and the Emergent Church (liberal/syncretic with concurrent, cultural movements).


The problem with Evangelicalism is that it fundamentally escapes the purview of the Gospel and it's core teachings, instead substituting extra-biblical interpretations of scripture as orthodoxy, as well as syncretize with conservative ideology, which itself has become a state religion that mythologizes and deifies particular government institutions/principles. (Fascist and Authoritarian governments attempt the same thing, much to the dismay of contemporary, civilized nations.)   

One of the lamentable failures of Evangelicalism is the substitution of commentary/interpretation in place of sola scriptura (the idea posed by Martin Luther during the Reformation, that scripture alone was the authority of the church, as opposed to Rome). Instead of seeking answers in the teachings of Jesus and His gospel, the interpretation of others takes precedence, and the believer ceases to consult scripture for truth, but blindly accepts current culture's "truth." For instance, on the issue of immigration and the seeking of asylum, Matthew 2:7-15 describes Mary and Joseph fleeing for their lives as Herod maneuvers to seek out his potential opposition and eliminate it: 

Then Herod summoned the wise men secretly and ascertained from them what time the star had appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child, and when you have found him, bring me word, that I too may come and worship him.” After listening to the king, they went on their way. And behold, the star that they had seen when it rose went before them until it came to rest over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy. And going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh. And being warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed to their own country by another way.

Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”


 The irony that Joseph would seek refuge in the country of his ancestor's persecutors notwithstanding, Jesus in his infancy (guided by God's provenance) takes on the role of immigrant and refugee. Later on in the same gospel (Matthew 18:4-6), Jesus asks his disciples to undertake their walks with him with the humility of young children. He concludes this thought with the following:

Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me,  but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

But, despite the very words of Jesus himself, the instruments of Evangelicalism prioritize the needs of the state over the needs of his children. Even worse, the network of affiliated organizations that align under the unified banner of Evangelicalism user their platforms to convince their congregations that nothing is wrong with turning away those that seek aid and refuge. 

Aside from the antithetical stances that Evangelicalism takes on immigration as a whole (including refugees and asylum seekers), Racism is prevalent in the culture of Evangelicalism (or, at least, implicitly) because of its silence on the topic of equality among those created in the image and likeness of God. Liberty University (a "bastion of the Christian Right") and Bob Jones University both encouraged (and in the latter's case, enforced) the separation of couples based on race. Historical institutions of Evangelicalism defended the practice of slavery with scripture. Bishops William Meade and Stephen Elliot noted that the institution of slavery was a part of God's plan for the world, assuming a prototypical argument for the "White Man's Burden." However Frederick Douglas rightly denounced the words of of those like Meade and Elliot stating,

Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference—so wide that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ; I therefore hate the corrupt, slave-holding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason but the most deceitful one for calling the religion of this land Christianity...

The amplification of these evils extend from the nationalization and mythologizing of Christianity's impact on key moments in the formation of the United States government. The ongoing argument I often hear is that the United States of America was founded as a "Christian" nation. This is strange considering that the resounding majority of the founding fathers were Deists or nominal Christians, heavily influenced by Enlightenment Deism. Why this is important is that Evangelicalism, rather than joining the rest of Christendom in curbing the excesses of capitalism and the policies that conflict with the Gospel, the incorporated cogs in the machinery of Evangelicalism equate the combined successes of America's institutions with God's favor and approval. The reality is that Jesus's Kingdom of God transcends national/political institutions (as well as the divisions of sex, ethnicity, and wealth.) Jesus, multiple times in the gospels, rejects the mob's wishes to nominate Him a leader against the provisional Roman government in Palestine. In fact, he goes so far to say that it is right to pay taxes to Cesar. The theocratic tendencies of Evangelicalism conflict with Jesus's mission to unite the entire world under one Kingdom of God, in that it advances a false narrative that the USA is anointed by God (due to a  nationalist interpretation of the Book of Revelation).  


For the sake of brevity, that this alone could go on and on, I will stop here. Evanglicalism as it stands wields an influence that is implicit and far-reaching in our culture and our traditions. It feeds a narrative that denies the sovereignty of God and his providence (in that if non-christian voices exist in a national conversation, God/Jesus/Holy Spirit will somehow lose His ability to work and minister to those who answer to Him). It attempts to support, without the aid of scripture, the demonizing of immigrants out of unjustified fear. It entertains the worst aspects of the pharisees that Jesus denounced by "praying loudly" in public spaces (saturating the media with feigned piety), being "whitewashes tombs" (the artifice of piety despite endemic moral failure), and removing themselves from those "defiled" (supporting and executing policies that harm the most vulnerable of individuals, foreign and domestic). 

It is my hope that Evangelicalism will be tested and broken under the weight of it's own egregious deeds, so that we can all move on and pursue Christ, unimpeded by cancerous and unfounded theology that distorts the Gospel.   

Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God."

Luke 9:62


Tuesday, September 1, 2020

I'm Quitting the Sauce (Seriously)

I've had various drafts of this blog come and go. What is here now seems the best possible iteration of the past couple months. I think what impressed me to write was the fact that I thought being in a scenario like this wouldn't happen. That I didn't "have a problem." That only washed up detectives and coked up movie stars struggled with the temptations. And while I am planning to have a beer at Christmas, it seems that I may never drink again, if my current disenchantment endures. 

I made the decision to stop drinking about a month ago, which seems appropriate given the current, insufferable socio-political climate. It's very strange, to think that my 20s was a marathon of unrelenting alcohol consumption. (Never all at once, just a slow burn.) Even stranger, that the majority of my life was spent NOT drinking beer and wine and Moscow Mules and whiskey and scotch, and whatever else can be fermented into ethanol. I remember, fondly, going to the local independent supermarket where I grew up, gift certificate in hand, when I would buy a 2 liter of A&W Cream Soda and an oversized jar of kosher dill pickles. Back then, that was enough. Why isn't it anymore? 

After I turned 21, it was a fashionable thing to go to local gastropubs and sample the available stock. I never racked up any credit card debt doing so, but I went enough to realize that the super markets had a much better going rate. When I worked for Stone Brewing Company, beer became free over night, which was fortunate given that large quantities were necessary to cope with working 9 hour shifts, 6 days a week in wretched conditions without worker representation. But even outside of work—at church, at home—drinking was a cultural exercise. And, I was very... cultured. 

The turning point was when I realized the rate at which I was drinking. I was having about three six packs per week, usually 2-3 beers per night. Pouring the beer was like measuring out NyQuil into a thimble. I would tell myself that I was just making sure that the beer wasn't over-agitated, but to the person outside of my window I was like a mad scientist. I could see what I was doing and it didn't sit well with me. Then, I had the realization that our fridge was never without at least one beer—I couldn't place a time when it wasn't. Most important, the stress wasn't going away and the beer was no longer relieving it, even when knocking down a 6 pack of Enjoy-By IPA. At this point, I don't even think my medication was working anymore.

Of course, it's now September (ish). I'm addicted to sugar free soda as a replacement, but, you know, pick your battles. At least I lost about 15 pounds in two weeks after making the transition! 

Anyways... enough about me. I have a couple updates!

I can say with modest certainty that my newest book should be ready for printing around Christmas time. My wife is making good progress on draft 3, which is encouraging. Usually that indicates positive things: plot is cohesive, fewer grammatical and structural errors, and good pacing. Additionally, the cover art I received back from the artist my designer picked will look incredible. God, it will look so dope! 

Also, if any of you are interested in pre-ordering the book, please let me know. I'm planning on ordering about a 100 copies. Cost will most likely be $30, plus $4 shipping. Of course, each will be signed by yours truly!

Thanks for hanging in there for a substantial update on my part! Love you guys!   






Sunday, May 24, 2020

Why It's Better To Share, Instead of Borrow

Late last year I was scrolling through my Hulu queue and saw the below:


Holy shit! Is it my birthday? I thought. Guy Pearce is my jam! So of course I embarked on a binge of this very short miniseries. (3 episodes, 3 hours)

I was impressed. Before I tell you why, consider the following.

Every so-and-so has done the Christmas Carol story before. Despite the story being of English origin and set in the very specific context of industrialized England, somehow Americans has also been hooked. This is likely due to the biblical overtones of the story. The three ghosts can loosely represent Christocentric ideas like the Trinity or the three days Jesus spent in the tomb after his crucifixion. The story of redemption, of forcing a man to repent for his sins and receive salvation. The lessons taught about generosity, grace, and the worship of material wealth. Even Scrooge's first name, "Ebenezer," is derived from the Hebrew word "ebhen hā-ʽezer" (literally "stone of help"), to symbolize the divine assistance Scrooge receives from the spirits, as well as the heart of stone Scrooge possess until his redemption. It's all there and easily received by a population that is loosely familiar with biblical verbiage.

The story is so ubiquitous (over here, "across the pond") that I grew up on several iterations of Dicken's work including, but not limited to, Mickey's Christmas Carol, The Muppet Christmas Carol, Scrooged, and A Christmas Carol, featuring George C. Scott (1984). (While jogging my memory, I discovered a version with Patrick Stewart!? What have I been doing with my life?) And, even if some of these versions are unfamiliar, it's likely that at least one of these has made it into your life at some point.

I actually liked Scrooged the best growing up, seeing it as some kind of Ghostbusters spin-off.

So, yes, I was very impressed with the recent version put on my FX. The expanded format allowed for a greater level of narrative depth in areas previously unexplored, such as the politics of the afterlife and the hellish bells that toll there. There is also motivation on Marley to move Scrooge to repentance. For, if Marley fails, he will be cast into an unrelenting purgatory. The #metoo movement is invoked when Scrooge forces Mrs. Cratchit to undress in front of him so that she can take out a loan for live-saving surgery for her son Tim. The spendthrift policies of industrialized Britain and the deadly cost of unbridled capitalism are as relevant today as it was then (corporate loopholes, poor working conditions, the wage gap, the working poor, unaccountable executive, etc.). There is even a scene depicting the rationing of coal, where Cratchit is, absurdly, charged for having additional coals provided to his stove in Scrooge's office. Each of these details cement the viewer in the time period and add layers of complexity to the story that has too often been sanitized by an over-emphasis on joyful climax. (Yes, Scrooge is redeemed. But that doesn't negate the pain and neglect he caused, or the inevitable restitution implied by his change of heart.)

But why write about this in the summer? Why is this important?

I actually was hooked by a line read by Pearce in the show, and I knew that I would want to write about it eventually, but never had the time to do so. Specifically, Pearce states the following:
"A gift is but a debt, unwritten but implied."
This idea got my attention, as I languished on my mom's couch last Christmas. Specifically, I had bought my brother a 3D printer, which I wanted to give as both a celebration of his personal industry and the accommodations he made for me while we visited our father in Hawaii. It was quite an expense, something only made possible by money recently bequeathed to me from my late grandmother, but it was worth it. The above quote seemed to explain something behind the materialistic motivations inherent in gift giving. Though my brother was none-the-wiser, there was some part of me that that sought recompense.

Guy Pearce as Scrooge.
(This is all the shit that goes through my head when I write about something. After all these paragraphs, now I begin the actual article.)

I've always been fascinated by the interaction of words, specifically when people use different terms interchangeably. The language behind share and borrow is markedly different, despite their everyday use as equivalents. Both terms invoke the collaborative ownership of something (wealth, property, resources, etc). Both are primarily positive in connotation. Where the terms part ways involved the object of the sharing or borrowing, In the latter case, borrowing implies that resources gained are returned. Sharing implies extended or perpetual ownership. I would not be the first person to write about the implications behind gift giving. But what I seem to get stuck on is the liquidity of the terms.

Sharing reminds me of the early Christian Church. In the Book of Acts 2:42-47 we read the following:

42 And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 43 And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.

The only reason I bring the bible in to this, is because Americans typically leverage biblical language, the language of A Christmas Carol, while championing the acquisition of wealth, equating divine favor and moral excellence to those who were most adept. But, clearly, in the bible we see a different idea taking place: the sharing of resources for the betterment of the collective. This is essentially a prototype of communism, where members of the community own the "means of production."

Oldie, but a goodie.

Scrooge's statement, where a gift demands reciprocity in some form, brings an argument against charity, that in giving there is an implicit motive to justify one's self. Or, we simply give to feel congratulated and compensate for a moral failing that looms over our consciousness. The moral of A Christmas Carol promotes the idea of selfless giving, specifically grace.

Borrowing, as a concept at least, implies temporary ownership. It is active on the part of the supplicant, passive on the part of the provider. One goes to an institution and asks for a resource and is given that resource, with the understanding that this resource will be repaid in some capacity over time. Obviously this practice is monetized to favor the institution. Some form of additional reciprocity is sought to justify the initial lending. This is typically done with charging interest, where a percent of the total money left to be repaid is charged in addition to the principal. I'm laboring on the minutiae of this to prove a point: of the two terms, only borrowing is inherently predatory.

When we share our resources, we are committing to mutual prosperity and strength. A community, even on the fringe, will survive indefinitely when operating under the concept of sharing resources. Likewise, when someone buys "shares" in a company, they are participating in a group effort to see something come into being. Sharing, in my mind, aligns with the concept of grace; that is, unmerited favor. Grace is a gift. There is no implied debt or language hinting at future reimbursement. It flies in the very face of modern theories like laissez-faire capitalism, where economies are advanced on the basis of self-interest and competition over limited resources. This is incompatible with the Gospel and the concept of sharing. But, even Christians seem consigned to rationalize the use of free market capitalism as a means to an end, or a necessary evil that we must all endure for the sake of general order. Verily, Jesus never said, "Blessed are the poor, that is, unless they deserve to be poor because they collect food stamps, make bad decisions, and are addicted to meth." Sharing involves two active participants, and, rather than the supplicant approaching the provider, it is the provider that approaches the supplicant.

There are several iterations of this comic that have popped up on the internet in the past few years. But all seem to point out the incongruity between the worship of market freedom over the livelihood of average workers.

At the end of the day, the nuance of this argument can be obfuscated by quick tempers and personal narratives. Objectivity flies out of the window and we typically keep to our camps, where the firelight is warm, comforting, and calming. Rarely are we forced to venture beyond the borders and confront the wilderness. That would require bravery, after all. I know that my philosophy is influenced by the teachings of Jesus, which some may find hostile for tertiary reasons. If you, reader, are not a fan of the whole Christianity thing, then consider something like the Utopian future of Star Trek, embodied by the fictional organization known as the United Federation of Planets. In this speculative timeline, resources are shared within the federation. Though there is money exchanged between the Federation and other species (ie, the Ferengi, who covet "gold plated Latinum"), the act of doing so is implicitly denigrating to both parties. And, though it seems absurd to live life based on fictional principals, just because it's not real doesn't mean it can't have an impact on how experience the world and interact with it. (In my case, I believe Jesus is reality, which I would call a "win" in my book.)

Anyways, that's what's been on my mind the past few weeks.

In other news, I finished my 3rd book this weekend. I am beyond excited to share the details with you as the book enters the design process!

#TheWorkingAuthor

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Abortion: (A.K.A.) That Thing We Don't Like to Talk About

At UCSB I took Classics 120 with Professor Athanassakis in 2009, and it was a terrific class. Like most of my required reading books I purchased throughout my undergraduate, I kept the course reader, which was a collection of poetry and prose from a variety of sources. All of it very fascinating and very interesting. The takeaway I had was, primarily that the Romans were "like, totally, just like us." And then I remembered that we used to know how to make quick dry cement 2200 years ago. So, yeah, the Romans were pretty rad, as far as the alternatives were concerned.

Something that stuck with me was one section on Abortion, selected from Jo-Ann Shelton's As the Romans Did, which she sources from Soranus' work Gynecology 1.64. 1-2 and 1.65. 1-7:

"In order to dislodge the embryo, the woman should take strenuous walks and be shaken up by draft animals. She should also make violent leaps in the air and lift objects which are too heavy for her [...] If this is ineffective, she should be placed in a mixture, which has been boiled and purified, of linseed, fenugreek, mallow, marsh-mallow, and wormwood. She should use poultices of the same substances and be treated with infusions of of olive oil, alone or mixed with rue, honey, iris, or wormwood [...]

A woman who intends to have an abortion must, for two  or three days beforehand, take long baths and eat little food. She is then bled, and a large quantity of blood removed from her [...] After the bleeding, she must be shaken up by draft animals."

The section continues for another paragraph focusing on the things one SHOULD NOT do to instigate a miscarriage.

The only reason why I bring this up so randomly is because I was watching Michelle Wolf's newest standup on Netflix (which was amazing) and one of her bits was about her experience getting an abortion, and the general apathy / antipathy that women experience when getting the procedure done. Obviously, when Roe v. Wade passed in the early 70s, the days when women would get back alley abortions was, at that time considered, hopefully over with. (I don't know if this was truly the case, or if it took a few years of general developments for the service to become widely accessible.) But one can assume that the procedure, before the landmark legislation was passed, was likely dangerous and unregulated, or improvised with varying degrees of risk to the mother.

The Reader in Question
Given that Soranus was a physician living in the 1st century, writing about abortion, it would be reasonable to say that getting an abortion, legal or not, is nothing new. In fact, this document indicates that its as old as Western Civilization, if not older (if we look at the Ancient Near East). And this reality is something that I often confront when I think about the "normalizing" of abortion and the upheaval it has echoed throughout history.

Excerpt A
Excerpt B
If I had to go with a moniker that would, unfortunately, carry the weight of tremendously unwanted baggage, I would have to say that I'm "Pro-Life." At the same time, were my wife pregnant with a life threatening pregnancy complication, I would very reluctantly choose to abort the fetus. (Obviously, my wife would be the final authority on the matter, but that goes without saying.) The saving grace of Roe v. Wade, is that, in the event of the above, my wife and I at least have the option, to avoid the horrendous outcome of a fatal pregnancy. For everyone else, it means not having to undergo some form of underworld surgery that isn't regulated or controlled by a board of medical directors. If history can teach us anything, abortions will continue to be practiced regardless of the legality of it, and it is reason why Roe v. Wade SHOULD NOT, be thrown out.

Legality and use cases aside, I've never liked the idea of abortion because its a morally ambiguous position. I would never vote against Roe v. Wade under controlled conditions, but the fact that so many, male and female, talk about it with flippancy is unmistakably horrifying, especially when considering the existential ramifications of the procedure. This is because the decision ultimately is decided based on a value assessment of the fetus. Were I to kick a woman in the stomach, instigating a miscarriage, whether or not I serve a life sentence for murder depends on the viewpoint of the one who is pregnant. (ie. If she had paid me to do it or if I did it out of malice/aversion of being a father.) In the thought experiment, the child is the controlled variable, the independent variable is the binary choice of abortion vs non-abortion, and the dependent variable is the perceived moral outcome. Why is that? The child's value is relative to the caregiver in either scenario. And let me be absolutely clear: I'm not even, remotely, suggesting that a woman should be shamed for having an abortion. Do not put those words in my mouth, please. What I am struggling with here is the philosophical situation at hand where one life is of depreciated value, based not on medical complications or tragedy of circumstance, but based on whether or not the child will place an imposition on the caregiver's emotional, financial, social, or occupational livelihood. Granted there are outlier incidents like rape or incest that do make up a minuscule percentage of the sum total of abortions accounted (1% and .05% respectively according to the Guttmacher Institute, a strictly non-partisan research group that studies sexual/reproductive health and was founded by a former president of Planned Parenthood), but I am focusing on the vast majority of other instances.

There are common objections to my previous points, but the main one that I hear, one that seems to cast a shadow of influence over all, is the idea that an embryo, regardless of developmental state, is simply "just a bunch of cells." The fallacy of that argument lies in the reality that everything is "just a bunch of cells." Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen, is morally repugnant in most cases. Killing a grown adult, child, or elderly human specimen,because their existence places a emotional, financial, social, or occupational burden would be exponentially worse. I would argue that this utilitarian approach to placing value on life begets other odd conclusions, such as devaluing the autonomy and rights of animals, as well as hyperbolic solutions to "solving the homeless problem." In each case the subject of these debates are "just a bunch of cells." So this leads me to conclude that these value assessments are made on the immediate state of the organism, and not, simply, what the organism could be at a later point in time. This doesn't sit well with me because any formal consensus on the matter would lead to rippling effects. For instance, is the purpose of criminal justice to "punish" inmates for an offense, or is the purpose of criminal justice to "rehabilitate" them? The former makes a value assessment on the immediate individual, without any thought taken to modify the behavior against future offenses. The latter does not consider the immediate individual, but considers the potential individual, and takes steps to transition one to the next.

There are other ideas at play here bigger than me, obviously. So many so, that I could not begin to address them without writing a book. I intentionally did not evoke religion in this assessment because individual values may not subscribe to the authority of scripture. (Which is fine.)

My argument for life in potentia can be subverted in a variety of ways. Some may say that life is not only based on value assessment but also general consensus. (Life based on consensus values the viewpoint of the group however, not the individual.) Others may argue that reproductive rights proceed from earlier movements in gender equality and women's suffrage. But, at the end of the day, opinions are like assholes. Everyone has one, and they usually stink. I can accept that the viewpoint I have cultivated over my general life experience may not suit everyone. I can even state that, according to my theological presuppositions, I firmly believe that every aborted fetus is predestined to spend an eternity with God the Father, because it would go against everything I have read in scripture to say otherwise. Like any debate, however, nuance is often lost against monolithic ideas. I would just ask of anyone to consider the extent of the argument and exercise the ecumenical due diligence.

~SW


Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Top Lists

Hey-ho-let’s-go talk about something a little lighter. Ranking systems, contrived or rooted in reality, have always captured my attention with such vigor that I often find myself arrested by them. It’s cathartic, discovering what is—and is not—worthy of our affections. A crystalline high like no other. (Maybe it’s similar to the effects of public shaming, or social outrage, knowing that the world’s fattest man was ousted by some young upstart from Wisconsin?)

Even though it's slightly delayed, I wanted to feel out the things that moved me in 2019. So the following categories summate my spurious attempt to do so. (Does anyone else alliterate when they’ve had a couple of beers?)

YouTube Channel



YouTube has evolved so much that I scarcely remember what it was before. But what it is now is a wide array of DIY cable networks, where the things you actually like are all prepared and ready to be viewed at any time, any place. This year, while videogamedunkey and Easy Allies have vied for my affections, I somehow have come to love TysyTube Restoration. Tysy, who I suspect is from Switzerland—his pieces are demonstrably European, varying between French, German, Spanish, and Italian—finds derelict baubles and proceeds to renew them with practical equipment that I’ve known my whole life. Much like the surgical videos that cater to cathartic eruptions emanating from pustule-ridden human tissue, there is an inherent relaxation that accompanies Tysy’s exhaustive and meticulous excise of wretched decay from inauspicious relics of the past. (Ooof! This is a strong beer!) I think there is an eternal sediment that awaits to be shaken from our lives. We all yearn for it. We all seem to be guided toward this principal that we are in need of cleansing and purification. Tysy’s renewal, then, must be tapping into a reservoir far more primal than cat videos and pirated broadcasts of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

Book

What a difficult thing to quantify: books and their recreational appeasement. I have read The Mysterious Flame of Queen Lorana, The Island of the Day Before, Numero Zero, A Once Crowded Sky, and just began reading Baudolino. There have been comic books as well. There always is. But the act of reading a book always—to me at least—becomes a comprehensive investment. Even though I haven’t finished it yet, I find myself just enthralled with Baudolino, which narrates the exploits of the eponymous main character through a very playful adventure of wit and deliberate candor. As always, the story qualifies as “historical fiction,” given the breadth of detail given to reconstructing the 13th century milieu of continental Europe. Umberto Eco, author of all the above (except A Once Crowded Sky), wields a level of interdisciplinary competence that I have not yet encountered in any living person, other than N.T. Wright. His stories are exhaustive and precise. Every detail is intentional. Not only are they entertaining, they are informative and critical of society and historical movements that predominated each era of Western Civilization. Much like Paul Gilbert (a virtuoso guitarist), Eco very much conveys his love for his subject, and his unrelenting desire to communicate the way he feels through his work.


Album



The Similitude of a Dream kept me above water for the later half of 2019 in a way that I had never thought possible. Especially because most Christian music is terrible, filled with bad theology, and songs that lack the emotional honesty suited to the average human being. Neal Morse is well known in the progressive rock community as a singer and songwriter, and adept at cultivating a community of session and touring musicians. And despite the fact that he unabashedly writes christian worship music, musicians from all philosophical dispositions love collaborating with him. Mike Portnoy, who left Dream Theater in 2010, once said that he equates Neal Morse to Paul McCartney in song writing ability. Personally, I feel, Morse lends an artistic credibility to christian music (compositions and lyrics) that have not been (in my opinion) demonstrated since the Enlightenment. The Similitude itself is a double album, within a larger double album (Bro...), based on John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress. Like most progressive rock albums, there is a story that spans the entire work, chronicling the tumultuous life of a man seeking God in the real world. The album is all over the place emotionally, and seems to touch all the parts of life that we, as people, encounter on a daily basis. Incidentally, it's one of those albums that I wish I had in my early christian years. Broken Sky, to put it bluntly, saved my life.

Friend



It's Desmond. (Who the fuck did you expect?)

Instrument

2019 was one of those years where, after a decade of not playing music on a regular basis, I wanted to make my glorious return. When I was in college, I was the lucky recipient of a cash prize from abstaining from alcohol until I was of legal age, which I used to buy a guitar, custom built to my specifications. I immersed myself in the speculative guitar making community, researching the different tonal aspects of wood and why they are used. Guitar pickups were another abyss I had to wade through, listening to different sound samples from guitars of similar build materials. After this rock-polishing, tumultuous journey, I received the guitar which had been damaged in shipping and I had to wait an additional 6 months before it was repaired. After putting an additional $1000 into the instrument, I was 30 years old and feeling completely shitty about my adventure in guitar gear.

However, last year, I finally got the genuine item (used): the Ernie Ball Music Man John Petrucci signature guitar. And, in one, year I went through more strings than I have in almost ten years.



I have a really ugly guitar face...

...

I'd like to do this more often and I'm hoping to actually get a more formal list coming soon for each new year. I hope I was able to make you laugh, ponder, and muse.

~Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Living in Paradise

Hawaii is a strange place.

I was first introduced to the island state when I was about a year old. Before my parents divorced we went to the island of Kawaii. And while some people insist that memories from back then are a tad unreliable I do remember a road. It was winding through valley of emerald, and at the end was a pristine beach, the kind you see on postcards. My dad always wanted to live there, but in a suspicious way. There was a time that I wanted to live in Japan and “go native,” but then I turned 17 and stopped watching anime. It was like my dad never got noticed by senpai.
Sunset view from the front porch of my dad's house.

Still, I can’t fault him for liking the place. It’s very pristine and, at times, otherworldly. The east side of the island is demonstrably wet, with a microclimate that gets something to the tune of 300 inches of rain a year. There are waterfalls, abandoned structures retaken by the vegetation, and the remnants of a railway that was decimated by a tsunami in the 40s and 60s. When my dad convinced my grandma to purchase a house outside of Hilo, going there again in grade school was very much like moving up river to get to Kurtz and his locally sourced, native experience.

Concerning the west side, Kona reminds me of the “before” picture of a Mars colony before collapsing into dystopian upheaval. Brightly lit tourism and razor-sharp volcanic rock, cooking in the sun, abound. Basalt blacktop that you could cook eggs on. The beaches, where one can find them, are a mixture of coarse, white sand and coral growing on not-so-recent-but-geologically-new lava flow. The 3rd time I went to Hawaii I stepped on a sea urchin, looking like a total asshole in front of a local smoking some shitty weed. Incidentally, if it wasn’t the urchin spines that got me, it would have been the lava flow beneath. Everything here is sharp, rough, like iron castings with the marks still left at the edges.
Kua beach, I think.

All this considered, I say Hawaii is a strange place because I never understood why my dad wanted to live there. (He always seemed to me more like a Montana person.) Hawaii is about as large as San Diego County but with a 4th of the population and extremely isolated. Everything needs to be imported to the state and utilities are enormously expensive. Not only that, Hawaii is a welfare state, specifically the product of colonial occupation. Poor education, lacking infrastructure, and a deficit of investment in collaboration afflicts the island native population. So my dad, Mr. Red State, is up in arms of course. I never understood the mentality that conservatism intersects with business-minded pragmatism. You would think that the solution to bolstering up marginalized populations would be to invest in education and social infrastructure. But conservatism in practice seems more like social Darwinism, without teeth or the wherewithal to commit genocide and “thin the herd” so that the invisible hand of the market can act.

Hiking near Waipio valley.

Great view at the end.
I'm not good at taking pictures of myself.

This time visiting the island, I was able to see the house my father built, which after so many years of toil and hardship is complete. The last few nights have been marathons of movies, an old pastime of the Warren household. Last night I wanted to share with my dad the Netflix Series “Documentary Now,” only to have him abruptly turn it off and switch to The Matrix and Alita Battle Angel. (No, I’m not bitter at all.) For fucks’ sake, does anyone out there still have the critical thinking left to understand subtlety and nuance? Have we truly descended into the Age of Unreason?

And for all the unruly and disrespectful abuse—my dad asserts at the hand of its own natives—the islands have endured, I see an opportunity for this place to flourish and grow into a modern paradise. Fertile agricultural land, readily available geothermal power, myriad opportunities to repair infrastructure, and technological discovery (vis a vis the Mauna Loa Observatory). Shouting from the stands, angrily bellyaching about social and institutional poverty without any intension to fix it in a productive way, is the height of stupidity. So while my dad has finally realized his sought after dream, I can’t help but comprehend the irony of his life. He’s trapped in a recursive loop of disillusionment and hatred of the other and he doesn’t even realize it. My brother thinks it’s a waste of time to discuss and have a meaningful dialogue with him, and for the first time in my life I’m starting to believe that. Then again, I suppose, people hear what they want to hear. As Jesus once said,
You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil. I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”


Sunday, September 15, 2019

Crawling From the Wreckage

Oh! The joy of a wireless hotspot. As I write this I'm on my way down to LA to visit my sister-in-law in Redondo Beach. My kid has yet to meet her cousins . It's only been two years, right? (And one of them was born on the exact same day as Eowyn!)

Many moons ago I wrote my last update. suffice to say the last month or two has been harrowing for a handful of reasons. I had a nervous breakdown (was due for one) and had a spurt of creativity fueled by the turbulent period. I wanted to, as well, invest some time into some more developed ideas. At least one of them will get a longer format treatment to be featured at the end of my next book.

LA is a strange place. The heart of such whimsy (made fun of in such films as Demolition Man and Beverly Hills Cop) and violence. It's likely the home to California's future mega-multi-metropolitan-dystopia. Similar to the adage "you are what you eat," if the city was conscious, it would be screaming with existential terror because so many of it's inhabitants yearn for the end, a la Mad Max-styled diesel punk or the neon highlights of a Blade Runner-esque cyber-punk vista. (Pick your poison.) All of this is popularized in the film industry that has so molded the psychological and topographical landscape of the LA city basin. I don't think I could do it, living here. When the big one hits Sunset Boulevard will erupt like Vesuvius.

It's nice to finally begin the third edit of my new book. It's the final stretch, after 4 years of working on it. I had originally told myself to finish the book in two years, but, unless that's the only thing I'm doing, fat chance. I vacillate between the two, but the third draft is the most important draft in my mind. It's like sanding a piece of wood, or stitching up a laceration: the work isn't done, but its LOOKING like it's done. And that, if anything else, is a salve on my addled brain. Seeing that all that work and perseverance wasn't just for nothing.

If any of you have been following me in this journey, thank you. Seriously, thank you. It can be infuriating writing a book, especially when you know damn well that there are so many other books out there that you are fighting to compete with. With as little ceremony as possible I must say, Let me be YOUR author, friends. Nothing in this world gives me more joy than telling stories.

On another note, I got my fist unsolicited review! Very excited! See it below:


Thank You Mystery Reviewer!


Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Mysterious Flame of Highland Valley Road

As I slowly work through the novels of Umberto Eco, I find myself on the cusp of finishing The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana, still enthralled with the adventures of Yambo rediscovering his past after succumbing to retrograde amnesia.

Most of the book takes place at the summer house of his youth in a small town named Solara (in Northern Italy, though there are two towns named Solara, both very close to one another). There in the attic, the scenery, the books on his shelf, he encounters his personal history, attempting to piece together everything after losing his identity.  It occurred to me, about halfway into the book, that Yambo's experience was much like my own, and I've thought about it sometime, meaning to get thoughts to paper.

After my parents split up, I spent my weekends at my father's ranch house in North County San Diego. It was rather isolated, literally atop a mountain named after an incident during the Mexican-American War, when Mexican Forces attempted to starve a portion of the US Army. I spent most of my weekends learning every inch of the 12 acres my father owned, which was not particularly awful. There was plenty of fruit available for casual consumption, which was convenient, because my father (at the time, he's a lot better now) was a stingy bastard and wouldn't buy us food (or clothing, or toys, or bedding, or anything else). Given that my father was a farmer and local seller at a farmers market, I'm sure he considered it a tax write off.

My father in his 20's (I think)

My father, even to this day, remains an enigma to me. Most, if not all, information I've learned about him has been via secondhand resources (friends, family, and various documents). And much like Yambo, I spent the days at the ranch house either combing the countryside for interesting things to discover, or searching through his personal effects, hoping to glean any information I could on this mysterious person that was my father.

The garage was most interesting, full of bric-a-brac. Newspapers, chemicals, car parts, bike parts, dusty old books and magazines, furniture, and amazing booze (of which I did not partake) could be found in the heap. And even though I have hazy memories of my childhood when my parents were together, the many portions of that house I grew up in were ever changing. My father was attempting to remodel the house for most of my life, replacing the porch with a master bedroom and leaving the upstairs carpet-less for at least 10 years. But despite the slow changes, I was able to glean a few things...


  • My dad had almost 20 years worth of National Geographic collected and meticulously organized. I would spend most of my time looking at the pictures inside, discovering that some had natives in the nude would fuel an early addiction to pornography. 
  • My dad was (and is) a cinephile, and had a wide array of films (both good and bad). When the first DVD players were available, my dad purchased one, along with a $6,000 widescreen TV (rated at 480p). At around the same time, my mom was asking for help for the cost of my braces. My dad said they were too expensive. 
  • My dad had a plethora of maps. Detailed, topographical maps of San Diego County, Hawaii, and others that came with his National Geographic subscription. 
  • My dad was a collector of antiques. He once used a 100 year old apple press to make apple juice on the sly to sell at the farmers market. (Probably breaking numerous health violations in the process.) What's more amusing was the intoxicating stench of alcohol produced, as the rinds fermented on the hill beside our house. 
  • My dad had a large safe. It was ancient, not unlike those seen being broken into by bandits in westerns. I knew he used it for collecting coins. Every once and a while I would see him depositing new valuables, recently purchased from California Numismatic Funding off of East Vista Way. 
  • My dad had a storage unit, which was once a large camping trailer beside his watering meter up the hill. Inside was all kinds of things, including a vintage pool table. When he sold it to my aunt, she once told me in passing that the rubber cushions were the original ones from when the pool table was manufactured in the late 1800s. 
  • My dad preferred to keep his wares in mint condition. His VHS tapes often still had the plastic wrap covering the paper containers, preserved by cutting slits around the bottoms of the tapes. 
Today, unlike Yambo's eventual recovery of his faculties (via a stroke), I still know very little about my dad. I wish I did. The house was sold in 2005 or 2006, I can't remember when exactly...

I hated that place. I hated every minute I spent there, so much so that when my cousins from Germany moved stateside I would spend most of my high school years there, leaving my poor brother to fend for himself alone. Incidentally, the house was burned down during the Witch Creek Fire in 2007, when I was away at UCSB for my Freshman year. It wasn't until a year or two later that I revisited the orchard to find my father's orchard in ruins. The subsequent tenant let the property go to waste, and what was left was destroyed. 

Life is funny like that, isn't it?