Showing posts with label culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label culture. 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."

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


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, January 25, 2020

New Decade New Me

With the hustle and bustle of the holidays I found myself without time or the focus to write or work on anything other than my book. This year I spent a Christmas apart from my family out of necessity to save my marriage, though, in truth, the reality was a little less hyperbolic. This holiday season, I made some interesting discoveries, changed some vital behaviors, learned that I was suffering under some kind of banal alcoholism, all—it would seem—in preparation for the decade ahead of 2020.
               
Much to my chagrin, my unprofessional dispositions at work have led to the reality of being held back (yet again) in life from joining my contemporaries in the sun. My arrogance, like some Aesop fable, has prompted me to very painfully come to terms with where my career is going and how I should continue. It fucking sucks and it makes me so depressed.
    
Silver linings... At least I have a new desk.
Where to go from here then? That’s the question, isn’t it? I have vacillated on the possibility of either quitting my job or reducing my hours to part time to pursue—more aggressively at least—my writing career once Eowyn starts kindergarten. Joining local writing groups. Being more active in my peer community. Submitting stories to journals. Crowdsourcing for insight and strategies that I could not otherwise formulate on my own… I could go on. But I struggle with whether or not this is a selfish thing. Being a Youtube star, or a writer that couch surfs from apartment to apartment, takes no particular brand of courage when there’s nothing to lose. (And I don’t mean to intimate this as something particularly disparaging to those in my circle of friends that have done this/continue to do this successfully.) But when there’s a family involved, when your child is depending on you for a good life, the picture becomes hopelessly muddy. Can one be virtuous these days, while still being “dangerous”? Something to pray on, then.

Busy at work...
               
I’ve wanted to produce another “Little Bits” post, but I keep forgetting to record my momentary sparks of “genius” when they are prompted by some cursory observation or thought. Similarly, an opportunity arises every so often to write a short story, but these moments always come when I am pressed up against an unmovable deadline (ie. I have to go to work/church/bible study/the store/in laws’ house). Perhaps the imminent danger of being late to something get’s the juices flowing? Possibly. But this goes back to previous posts, lost somewhere in the ether, where I’ve mentioned the ease of writing a short story versus a novel. Short stories are accessible and “punchy.” (The structure of a short story is “Look here!”, then “Oh snap!” whereas a novel adds an additional piece: “So what?”) They are formulated with relative ease, and any subsequent work is less focused on the verbosity of the content but on its composition and flow. Lawd! A novel requires investment and an endurance that I somehow possess in the literary realm, but not in the social and occupational strata of my life. Anyways… this little rabbit trail is brought to you by my lack of focus and my lack of communication these past few weeks.

(…)

One thing that I’ve noticed now that I’ve been 31 for a while and have suffered a major setback in my professional career is the transition from a somewhat youthful awareness and motivation to a laid-back, adult complacency. It’s very strange. Everything now seems deliberate, as opposed to spontaneous. Life choices are weighted by the amount of chaos that would be injected into the ongoing domestic equation. It kind of sucks, but I’m hard pressed to establish an alternative life hack to change this pattern. How does one pursue a “van life” with a family? Probably not very easily, definitely not once the kid reaches the age of public schooling. (That is unless you are a huge piece of shit.) The shadow of domesticity isn’t that bad though, now that I’ve settled into it with Alyssa. There is a flow, a routine. I can expect certain things and rule out others. As 2020 rolls out, I have many ambitions that I hope to see happen. I want to print my next book, run a Kickstarter, and better establish myself as a writer. Hopefully that’s possible with that additional stability on hand? After doing taxes this year, I can say with some certainty that we are “doing okay,” but there’s always something else, isn’t there? I have a feeling that this year, somehow, will be a “shit or get off the pot” kind of 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 15, 2019

How to Make a Sandwich

Making sandwiches at a deli, catering event, or at home for a friend, is a sacred obligation. Don't fuck it up.

Some might say, "But why does it matter? A sandwich is up to interpretation. There are many kinds of sandwich. After all, some would argue a hotdog is a sandwich."

To them I would reply, "You could believe that if you were a moron and didn't subscribe to Sandwich Fundamentalism."

After working a natural juice bar and deli for about 6 months, let me tell you, there is only one way to make a sandwich.

Otherwise cheese and tomato placement is flawless... Good Job!

Step 1: Take two pieces of bread. Lay them flat on your prep counter. Is there a whole in one slice? Is one slice noticeably more thin than the other? If either is true, get new bread. Don't be a bastard. (If cutting a slice from a roll, like ciabatta, cut the roll with the side facing up directly downward. None of this flat-on-the-counter-awkward-side-cut bullshit. 

Step 2: Apply condiments. How many will be used? Two? Then apply them separately on each side. (Ie. mustard on one side, mayo on the other.) Lightly apply them! Do you have any idea how quickly condiments soak through bread? You can't even get to the picnic benches outside the supermarket before its falling apart, into a soggy mess, and all you can think about is how (and why) a sandwich suddenly became a metaphor for your poor life choices.

Step 3: Apply meat and cheese. The foundation of all sandwiches is built on the bedrock of meat and cheese. They constitute the barrier between the wetness of tomato and lettuce. The rigidity of cheese, it's shape and preparation should make where it goes absolutely intuitive. If you put it in the center, then fuck you, you should be fired for crimes against humanity. 

I will add that there is no international consensus, as of yet, for the proper placement of meat. This is due to the varied states of meat. (Pulled pork may be naturally "wet" when applied, while roast beef and turkey could be dry.) If meat is dry, apply directly against the opposite slice of bread as the cheese. If the meat is wet, take each slice of cheese (There are always two. But you only have one? Jesus Christ...) 

*sandwich anger intensifies*


Step 4: Apply vegetables in even layers on top of the meat (which serves as the floor of the sandwich). Don't stack the sandwich! If it's one of those fuckers that asks for every vegetable to inflate the mass of the sandwich, make every layer evenly distributed. This is high art. You are Leonardo da Vinci. Don't let this fucking pleb' tell you how its done!

Step 5: Fold top half on top (with only cheese and condiment applied) on to lower half. You may be tempted to mash the top downward onto the meat and vegetable medley, but you don't have to. If you did "Step 4" properly, then you don't have to. Bread is supposed to be fluffy and airy. 

Step 6: If the customer asks you to toast it, counter with, "but why ruin a good thing?"

Step 7: Don't cut the sandwich in half. Why people do this is beyond me. Who saves a fucking sandwich for later? Just eat it now. Commit!

Hey, the world needs janitors.


With the above, the sandwich will be complete. It will be immaculate, a work of modern art, a testament to your making the best of working for minimum wage, right out of college. Work well. Work fast. Work with all the pride of a person grotesquely in debt. Didn't go to college? Well... then just you do you. You don't need soft skills to make sandwiches.



Saturday, June 1, 2019

Child Rearing Revelations

So I was thinking about generations, how we are the product of our parents and, by extension, our grandparents...


It's funny because it's not funny.


Living in Santa Barbara has taught me that living paycheck to paycheck is not only normal for people my age (born between 80'-91') but also the aging boomers I work with. (This could just be symptomatic of the area I live in, where rent for a 1 bed room apartment is about the same as a mortgage for a house in the Midwest.) This period of economic hardship I face today, specific to those in my age bracket, is not what my parents experienced, where a BA in the 70's was equivalent to an MA today and working at a single job right out of high school until retirement was normative. But there is this dilemma of stagnating college kids, unable to find work, and somehow their lack of progress is exclusively their fault, according to common opinion. Considering that using the word "Millenial" has gained a pejorative connotation among most in today's popular culture, exerted with the same vehemence as an elderly specimen choking on a biscuit, I resent when people write off financial hardships, both mine and my peers, as if they were something to scoff at, or that I could somehow "work harder" to attain stability.

This mentality doesn't consider the extenuating circumstances however. The second World War was immensely profitable for the United States, which unilaterally industrialized the private sector to power the war machine that brought us unanimous victory (economic, philosophic, political, and national) and international prominence. It was the sudden explosion of the middle class, those coming home from the war and the rise in prominence of the other 50% of the population (i.e. women), that created the suitable ecosystem for young-twenty-somethings between the late 60's and mid 70's. What I'm getting at, is that this generation took advantage of this profitable period and lived beyond their means, thereby creating a precedent for inflated housing costs and living expenses, and, in so doing, the Boomers fucked us all over. Today the third generation is paying for it.

It was the Boomers that inherited the wealth and success of their forebears and pissed it all away on youthful rebellion, drugs, and market speculation. So before you call me a "Millennial," take a hard look at everything your parent's wealth bought you and go fuck yourself.

Sorry... Rant over.

Seriously though.

How did I get here? It was about raising children... which has been on my mind a lot since my daughter turned 2 a week or so ago. As people of my age begin to have kids and raise them, I've wondered what example I'm setting for Eowyn. I can think of a few different ways right off the cuff.

Boomer's, and, to a lesser degree, the "Greatest Generation," have given themselves over to a false dichotomy between conservatism and liberalism, with either position profiting off the lack of education in matters of economics, politics, ethics, and philosophy. The "I earned this" mentality, has engendered a sense of entitlement among those that would accuse me of complaining unjustly about my current state of affairs. Because, again, we always inherit what our parents gave us. If the economy was exploding in the post-war years, is was our grandfathers and grandmothers that fostered that environment. Likewise, if we inherit wage inequality, democratic impotence, and poor infrastructure it was because our parents were too busy snorting coke in the 80's or endorsing conservative policies with alarming blindness to take notice. And make no mistake, I feel like those of liberal leanings can shoulder some of this blame, taking the path of least resistance and complaining while not offering realistic solutions to ongoing problems. Impotent policy, foreign and domestic, doesn't help much either, but that's another matter altogether.

Additionally, in light of the recent arrival of American Exceptionalism, resurrected like a Haitian zombie from the mausoleum that was the 1920s, the example I wish to set, always, for my daughter is that you can be anything you want to be, if you work your fucking ass off. (This opposed to the inflated sense of worth we have for "being American," and all that comes with it.)  For all the poor opportunities available to us in the current employment ecosystem, the 2010s has been a renaissance for those with entrepreneurial expertise. Software as a service, grass roots industries (culinary, agricultural, manufacturing, hospitality, publishing, etc), and creative innovations of existing markets (Uber, Venmo, GoFundMe, etc) have lead to a decentralization of industry, which in my opinion is the ultimate resolution to wage disparities in the United States. I have learned first hand from witnessing those that have set out to make something new, that this is not only possible (with incredible effort) but critical to striking down the monolithic industries that have strangled the working class for the last 100 years. When Marx talked about seizing the "means of production," I feel like this is the most reasonable culmination. Other countries have succeeded so much more successfully than we have in matters social and political, that we have lost our right to boast. (In my opinion.)

Oh my god...


When Alyssa, told me she was pregnant with Eowyn, the first thing I did was set up a college fund. (Because that's what you do, right?) Even $100 a month for 18 years is something like $19,000, and of course progressively increasing it along the way will eventually net quite a nice lump sum. I'm doing this for her, so that she can ultimately decide what to use the money for. If she doesn't want to go to college, the money is there for a down payment on a house, or her wedding, or a business loan. I think this is something that everyone my age should do. If anything, simply to spite our parents for not being forward thinking and spending the money on superfluous shit, instead of investing in their future. I was extremely fortunate to have parents that valued higher education enough to support it. But many aren't, and it's up to us to set an example for our children to value things that make society great (public education, art, freedom of speech, technological advancement, space travel, and all the other non-dystopian stuff of science fiction).  At the end of the day, what we seem to love most is money (unless God is already your highest love), and what we spend our money on reflects what we value.

I had several revisions of this post. Not sure why. I wanted to spend a little more time on it than usual.

***Misc Book Updates

If it's not obvious by now, my third book has been delayed, mostly because my wife is finding a lot of stuff that I missed, which is fine. Plus, I'm always overzealous in my timing.

The nice part about the wait too is that I'll be able to likely time the release against any tax refund I might get. Which could aid in getting books printed for a "Make 100" Kickstarter.

But we'll get there when we get there.


Saturday, April 13, 2019

Philosophy and Shit


I had a thought while driving back to the office today after lunch. (My wife and I share one car, so we trade on our lunches.) Philosophers were people, just like you and I. Why are they such a fucking big deal?



“20% of what Philosophers say is true, the other 80% is bullshit,” is what my friend Desmond says, and it’s not a bad maxim to live by, considering the branding that certain philosophers (or authors) exude over the course of their tenure—Grant Morrison is convinced that he was abducted by aliens from the 4th dimension in Kathmandu, an experience which has begotten the best cosmology and world building to date within the DC Universe.

And this really isn’t about philosophers specifically. It’s more of a credibility kind of thing. The words we speak, how they impact people, whether they endure beyond our close circle of friends or disseminate into the ether of pop-culture and beyond. I imagine that, throughout life, the layman and learned alike are told that philosophers and other influencers of culture are these larger than life figures. I’m often guilty of this. See below:



I admit I was angry at first. I mean take the fucking compliment, guy. But on further reflection, this appears to be the case, regardless of the critical distance that is maintained to allow some appreciation of accomplishment. Behind the storyboards, folios, and canvases are just normal, flesh-and-blood people. We know those we love (artistically) aren’t gods because Jack Kirby and Ronnie James Dio are dead. (Though their influences are legion in their respective industries.)

Many work to make a living. Very few get to make art, without feeling like they are “working.” Dante for example was one of the few authors in human history to experience the joy and legacy of his work within his own lifetime. For everyone else that enjoys, possible, posthumous fame, I think this is the case because of nostalgia.

Consider, for a moment, that in Hellenist Greece ideas were weighed with greater contemporary influence than they are in the modern era. There were forums back then specifically for debate and intellectual pursuits, because it was what their culture valued. Today (the "modern" world, which could span from the Renaissance to now) this isn’t the case, and philosophy has been relegated to a niche occupied by idealists, shutins, and professors. Philosophy is valued because of the nostalgia for the era in which those ideas were conceived. This can be the only explanation for why many philosophers never enjoyed their due in life.

After all, death amplifies of appreciation. The sense of loss and catharsis brought on by death naturally magnifies the value of someone’s life work as we, the bereaved, try to come to terms with what has happened. So the issue of critical distance makes sense in this case. We can’t, personally speaking, appreciate what we are offering because of the limit imposed by our own vantage point. When we try to do this, the only foreseeable outcome is looking like a giant piece of shit (a la Kanye West).

So, at least for now, fame shouldn’t get to our heads. Not until there are worms in them, at least.   

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