Sun 2020-06-21 01:14

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I had a memory today that sort of caught me, evolved into a deep thought, and then morphed into a quasi-epiphany.

The memory begins when I was a small child living in Dexter, Maine in the latter half of the 1970s. It was a late summer afternoon, and I had been playing in the empty residential street with a group of my friends. My mother leaned out of the front door of our house and called me home. I said goodbye to my friends and bounded across the lawn to our house.

My mother saw my beaming face and asked, "What are you so excited about?"

I said, "Danny has a pet turtle and he was showing everybody!"

"Oh, that's nice," said my mother. She didn't recognize the name I had mentioned and, glancing over at the crowd of kids, asked "Which one is Danny?"

I pointed and said, "He's the boy in the red t-shirt."

My mother's face changed. The corners of her mouth curled down a little and she squinted her eyes.

When I turned back and saw my mother's face, there was an expression there I didn't yet recognize at that age. Confused, I asked her what was wrong.

"Huh? Nothing. That's great." My mother smiled thinly down at me, then she ushered me inside and told me to go wash up for dinner. She went into the kitchen and stood at the sink, staring out the window.

There's some things I haven't yet told you about Danny. He was the same age as me. He liked turtles and Tonka trucks. And he was black. In fact, he was the only black kid in my neighborhood, the son of a couple that had moved to Dexter just a short time prior. Danny may have been the first black person I ever met. He is certainly the first black person I remember meeting.

Now at this point, you may have already come to the conclusion that my mother was in fact, a bigot or a racist. That the expression on her face was that of disapproval over the fact that "those people" had moved into our safe, peaceful, white neighborhood.

But if you would, please hold back your outrage for just a bit longer.

For some background on this memory, you should know that my mother was born in 1946 in the northeastern United States, into a white working-class family in urban Connecticut. She was the youngest of three children, and the only daughter. She grew up some years prior to the Women's Liberation movement, but even in the early 1960s young women were trying to change what it meant to be female in America. As a girl, my mother was rebellious and possessed of unpopular ideas. As my mother got older, she found that she desperately wanted more out of life than to be relegated by default to the role of wife and homemaker.

My mother was just a teenager at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. She graduated high school shortly before the passage of the Civil Rights Act, a year after Martin Luther King led a march on Washington and delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech. When I was a teenager, she would later tell me that King had been inspirational to her in those years. That the idea of blacks struggling to get an equal seat at the table resonated with her own feelings and experiences as a young woman trying to be treated as an equal in a man's world. That core idea of equality as a guiding principle acted as a lens through which she viewed the world around her - showing her the way it was and the way it should be. I think it can be fairly stated that my mother believed strongly in equal rights for all people, and wanted to see an end to both racism and sexism in America.

So standing on the doorstep of our house in Dexter a decade later, my mother did not scrunch up her face at the mention of my black friend because she was a racist.

In truth, my mother had felt a swell of emotion in that moment and was trying not to break out in tears at the realization that her young white son didn't even know that he had a black friend. That children born just a few years after all the marches and protests, violence and division, hatred and anger - could possibly grow up "color blind." To me, Danny wasn't the black kid. Danny was the kid in the red shirt who had a neat turtle. To my mother, that was almost a miracle.

That kind of color blind equality is what we used to strive for in America less than half a century ago. To see all people as equal, endowed with the same rights and privileges regardless of their color or gender. To create a world where the color of one's skin has no more bearing on one's life than the color of one's eyes.

I feel like there was a point where we as a nation were on the path towards that vision of equality, and then somehow, somewhere we lost our way. 40-something years after that summer afternoon in my memory, the focus in our country has shifted from trying to see everyone as the same to instead having a hyper-awareness of our differences.

The popular methodology now seems to be to identify people not as unique individuals but as members of one group or another, sorting them into boxes as homogeneous widgets classified along racial, ideological, sexual, and political lines. Ultimately, it seems the goal is no longer unity as a country but rather to divide people on the basis of nothing more than the most superficial qualities. To reinforce group identities and to focus one group's anger and frustration against another. The very notion of equality has been superseded by a hierarchical structure based on the relative privilege of opposing groups with "oppression" no longer being something to overcome, but rather serving as the social currency with which to purchase compliance of others to one's own demands.

I've seen enough of the road behind to know that if we don't change course soon, the road ahead is going to take us right off a cliff. I only hope that there is time yet to turn the wheel.

Sat 2020-06-13 02:55

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I find it fascinating that in some ways we know more about distant stars and galaxies than we do about the center of our own planet. And we're still making incredible discoveries that sound like something right out of Jules Verne.

I'm suddenly in the mood to go re-watch The Core.

Fri 2020-06-12 00:30

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I really feel like the Black Lives Matter movement squandered an opportunity in recent days. They organized, took to the streets, shook up the establishment, and when they had the attention of the nation they demanded... "defund the police." An idea which (almost) nobody in this country will actually get behind when the political rubber meets the road. I can think of two different demands that would have not only directly improved the lives of black Americans in poverty, but would have likely garnered widespread support from many Americans:

  1. End the expensive, destructive, and ultimately pointless War on Drugs that has been waged in the U.S. for nearly 50 years. Decriminalize at a national level the possession and sale of common narcotics (at least cannabis, if not cocaine and certain psychedelics, as well). Discharge sentences and expunge the convictions of non-violent drug-related offenders so that they can rejoin society without the crippling stigma of a criminal record. Maybe take the roughly $40 billion we spend as a nation every year enforcing morality and instead spend it on improving the many failed inner-city school systems in our country.
  2. Repeal the ill-considered, socially damaging policies that encourage and even enforce single-parent households for families in need of government assistance programs like welfare and public housing.

Low-income black Americans are impacted by the War on Drugs to a disproportionate degree, criminal convictions for even non-violent drug offenses are basically employment-ending events, and over 50% of black children in America grow up in a home without a father. While I agree that we need police reform and demilitarization I don't think what high-crime neighborhoods need are fewer (or no) cops. And I don't think that's what the people who actually live in those places really want!

Unfortunately, the problems faced by black Americans in poverty are complex and not readily solved by three-word, easy-to-chant, fits-on-a-banner solutions. Hang on a second! I've got one that might actually help to solve our country's problems:

"Defund career politicians"

Wed 2020-06-10 20:32

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Better to heed the words of poets, than those of politicians.

"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery. None but ourselves can free our minds."

-- Bob Marley, Redemption Song (borrowed from a 1937 speech by Marcus Garvey).
"Free your mind and your ass will follow."

-- George Clinton/Funkadelic, album and song (later borrowed by En Vogue for Free Your Mind).

Wed 2020-06-10 17:14

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Please, Mr. President - you're not helping the situation. Whether Martin Gugino was or was not an antifa fucktwit*, it doesn't change the fact that cops shoved an old man to the ground and then walked past his (seemingly) unconscious body. If we start excusing excessive police violence and a lack of basic human compassion because it was committed against an alleged "provocateur" - it's not a far step from there to label all dissenters as "provocateurs" and start swinging the baton indiscriminately.

To protect the rights of all of us, we must defend the rights of everyone - even those some may find despicable or objectionable.

* To be clear, I make no judgment about Gugino, his associations or personal motivations.

Tue 2020-06-09 03:45

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I've found myself pondering a lot of thoughts lately. These are but a few:

  • The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees the right of the People to peacefully assemble and demand a redress of grievances. Setting fires, rioting, defacing and destroying buildings, beating up people, and looting stores are not forms of peaceful assembly.
  • The police forces of the United States were first militarized in their equipment and tactics, and then militarized in their mentality. The noble sentiment of "Protect and Serve" has mutated into the "Thin Blue Line".
  • Indiscriminate violence is being perpetrated by both police forces, and some not-small percentage of the crowds protesting police brutality. No one committing violence in the streets is righteous.
  • President Trump has some talents. Using calm, assuring language and a measured response to de-escalate tensions is apparently not among them.
  • "Defund the police" is probably the dumbest demand I've ever heard. Why not ask for a pony, a trillion dollars, and World Peace while you're at it? You might actually get the pony.
  • Anyone who would support or defend a movement that uses violence or the threat of violence to silence, coerce, suppress, or de-platform its political enemies are likely to one day find themselves swinging from gallows they helped construct.
  • If there was an actual expectation among the American people that a cop who illegally killed someone would be arrested, charged, and tried - there wouldn't have been a single protest. Throngs of people flooding the streets in the midst of a viral pandemic should serve as a warning to the political establishment that "business as usual" isn't going to keep working much longer.
  • Blacks in America are absolutely correct to be disillusioned and angry about:
    • disproportionate poverty, shorter life expectancy, poorer health, and lower economic participation amongst their demographic
    • under-funded schools, high crime rates, and substandard housing in their neighborhoods
    • targeted and excessive police violence against their communities
  • Blacks in America should also ask themselves why these conditions exist prominently in U.S. cities run by Democrat politicians who are now tweeting proudly that Black Lives Matter.
  • From a business investment perspective, is a community more, or less, likely to be the beneficiary of economic development if it is known to be periodically looted and burned to the ground when its residents become dissatisfied about something?
  • Anyone familiar with the Hegelian Dialectic might reasonably predict the next scene in this movie.
  • 58% of Americans polled now support using the military to restore order in American cities. We stand at the apex of a slope greased liberally by those with good intentions, and the opportunists who took advantage of them.

Sat 2020-06-06 18:50

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The whole "wear a mask in public" thing going on right now really bothers me, and for reasons that probably don't make sense if I'm truthful with myself. I just don't feel comfortable around people who are wearing masks. I guess I still associate wearing a mask with hiding one's identity. And while you could say that not everyone who hides their identity is up to no good, people who are up to no good generally try to hide their identity. If I were standing in line at the bank and a guy walked in wearing a mask, I'm pretty much assuming the joint is about to get robbed. It's a psychic relic of my upbringing in a very different age: criminals wear masks.

Interestingly, at the same time I am very aware that most of us are now living in the panopticon of a surveillance state, and that an honest, law-abiding person might have legitimate cause to wear a mask in public - if only to avoid being tracked by corporations and governments everywhere they go. I recognize the textbook cognitive dissonance here.

But I think I'm also disturbed by the current "wear a mask to prevent COVID" thing because it serves as an in-your-face (pun intended) demonstration of both the power of media and the willingness of the masses to comply with its demands, seemingly without question. Which I find quite unsettling.

Wearing a mask (particularly, a homemade cloth mask) doesn't convey any protection for the wearer against catching the coronavirus and most people aren't wearing proper masks or wearing masks properly. Even the notion that wearing a mask will prevent community spread of the virus from asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic carriers to other people is largely theoretical. It may be the case that it does help prevent the spread of coronavirus, but there isn't much data to back up that conclusion. The World Health Organization itself, in a technical brief released Friday, admitted:

“At the present time, the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”

In other words: wearing a mask in public is just a feel-good measure. Scientifically speaking, wearing a mask is about as effective at preventing COVID-19 infections as making the sign of the cross before entering the grocery store.

But the wearing of masks (apparently) calms most people and makes them feel safer. And let's be honest, wearing a mask is a virtue signal. Trump doesn't wear a mask. Wearing a mask means you aren't a Trump supporter (and by corollary, if you don't wear a mask then you must be a Trump supporter). That's a naive, simplistic, foolishly partisan political worldview devoid of logic and critical thinking. But in a nation where belief in the efficacy of a drug in the treatment of COVID-19 has become a matter decided by one's political affiliation, would you expect anything different?

I've received my own share of dirty looks and judgmental comments at the grocery store because I wasn't wearing a mask.

"I guess you don't care if I get sick and die from your germs!"

- muttered a 20-something woman who by inference accused a person in a higher-risk age bracket (standing eight feet away!) of being a selfish prick, while offering up justification that was blatantly self-centered.

Which is kind of off-putting when you're just minding your own business trying to buy some goddam eggs.

So yeah... I guess I'll probably end up folding to peer pressure on this issue.

Thu 2020-06-04 16:56

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New reports are indicating unemployment and jobless rates are worse than we thought. Anecdotally, I've heard from business contacts that a lot of those jobs lost to COVID-19 shutdowns won't be coming back. And it's not just because so many small businesses in the United States have folded.

A lot of companies furloughed or downsized a significant percentage of their workforce earlier this year in response to the COVID-19 shutdowns and the resulting economic slowdown. From what I've seen in the media, the expectation is that when the shutdowns are lifted these companies will be bringing the laidoff workers back.

But what I've heard from management-types I deal with paints a different picture. It seems a lot of those same companies have enjoyed seeing their personnel expenses vastly reduced, and are looking to keep those numbers down as the shutdowns end. To accomplish this, they will be using the time-honored tradition of do more with less.

In other words, expect companies with furloughed employees to bring back half of those workers and make them work twice as hard for the same (or less) pay as before. If any of the returned workers don't like that new dynamic, well... from the employer's perspective we're now in a buyer's market with plenty of people eager to do anything to have a job. You can do the math on that one yourself.

Ever forward into dystopia...

Tue 2020-06-02 18:18

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While I absolutely and without equivocation believe in the need for the immediate and full-scale demilitarization of municipal police departments, I think our lawmakers are missing the point if they think preventing the transfer of military hardware to police is going to address our current problem of widespread police brutality. Derek Chauvin didn't kill George Floyd with a surplus M16 or roll over him with a surplus armored vehicle. He put a knee to Floyd's neck and held it there until the man was dead - while onlookers begged him repeatedly to stop.

Our problem in the United States is that we have police departments across the country hiring and retaining fascists and psychopaths. Officer Friendly has been marginalized and replaced by Officer FuckYou. If we want to solve the problem of police violence, perhaps we need to start with psychological evaluations of every police officer and administrator in every major metropolitan police department. Maybe while we're at it we could quiz them on the Bill of Rights and assess their positions on the subject. Let's find these bad actors and get them out of the police force. We also need to demand a full-scale effort to change the culture in these major police departments, and restore the historical notion of protect and serve.

I want to be clear about something: the problem isn't every cop. There are good cops in our nation's police forces. I've met some and talked to them. And you know something? They are just as pissed about this shit as the average person. But they feel like the current system is rigged against saying or doing anything about the problem. Bad cops watch out for other bad cops. We need to support the good cops by finding and firing the bad ones.

Sat 2020-05-30 19:58

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If you wonder why I host all of my own network services and eschew smartphones, IoT devices, cloud services, social media, and smart assistants... watch this fascinating, informative, and ultimately terrifying interview [YouTube] with Shoshana Zuboff about surveillance capitalism.