Listening to the Music


credit

Recently, Peter Jackson’s edit of The Beatles’ epic 60+ hours of material from their Get Back sessions was released on Apple, and I’ve been slowly imbibing it. And for me—pushing 60, and old enough to have grown up listening to this music as the background of my childhood—it’s kind of a weird experience.

We had music on basically all the time when I was a kid. It was either playing in the background in the living room our 6-record turntable (just thinking about those vinyl albums thwacking down onto the surface makes me wince in pain), or on the radio in the card. The Beatles, of course, but my parents had eclectic tastes, so there was also Simon and Garfunkel (and Paul Simon), Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Steely Dan, Seals & Crofts, Harry Nilsson, Jesus Christ Superstar (and other soundtracks), Stevie Wonder, Vince Guaraldi, Dave Brubeck, Crosby Stills & Nash, and of course everything else on the radio.


Yes, these actually existed

This was also the case once I left home. My college roommates and housemates were almost all music people, too. The first thing I would set up in moving to a new place—and I moved 12 times in 12 years in Santa Cruz—was my stereo. And before the iPod/iPhone/MP3 digital era, that was a hassle, kids! It wan’t the fanciest stereo in the world, but it had a turntable and a cassette player (ask your granny), and it did the job for me.


21st Birthday gift from my Mum!

But this is a new era. When I had kids, and they got a little older, a couple of things happened. First, they didn’t like my music, and didn’t hesitate to let me know it. They were fine with Ella Fitzgerald (who isn’t?) and ZZ Top’s “La Grange”—which they called “the How How song”—but weren’t so good with, I dunno, Fleetwood Mac or The Nightfly. “Fogey Rock”, my daughter called it. (She was listening to Kei$ha, but I heroically refrained from criticism.)

The second thing was, the iPod came out, and were inexpensive (and easy-to-use and indestructible) enough to buy as birthday and holiday gifts. And so everyone could listen to the music they personally liked, and long road trips could be much more peaceful than Mama or Papa pointing out they were the parents and so if they wanted to listen to the soundtrack of Chicago, that was tough darts, go back to your coloring and LEGOs and make sure the dogs have their treats!


Killer of family music listening

But under the heading of unintended consequences was that we stopped actually having a “family stereo” in the house. Not even a central set of speakers and a plug-in for an iPod. And so my personal domicile stopped having an audio soundtrack all the time. And over time, other than by myself in the car, or (rarely) while I worked with headphone on, I stopped listening to music almost entirely.

A solution might have been to have music playing in my bedroom, but there were two problems here, as well: Our special-needs kids were constantly bursting in, and my partner and my relationship was deteriorating, so it just created another area of conflict. And that was that. Until my kids grew up, my daughter moved out, and my partner and I split up.

Now, with just my autistic son and I, I find myself with a lot more…well, space to listen in. I may still have to use my headphones more often than not, but I’m listening to music a lot more again. My old music catalog, of course, but I went ahead and splurged on the monthly Apple Music cost and am slowly expanding my reach. Right now I’m listening to Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill for the first time, for example. (Hey, I was raising a family!)


Thanks Alanis!

Which brings us back to The Beatles and Get Back. (I’m slowly coming around to the point here.) As I was watching, it caused me to look up some detail online, which led me Rolling Stone’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.” (Which one has to take with a grain of salt from an organization that didn’t include Carole King in its Hall of Fame until this year, but never mind.) So I’m scrolling through the list, with a little perspective, given I’m, as previously noted, pushing 60.

One thing Rock fans often fight over is which genre “counts” or “matters” or “is more vital” or some such rot. eg in the late 70s, punk rock was seen as a reaction to the “overblown excesses” of “art rock” or “progressive rock”. The back-to-basics approach of groups like The Ramones or The Sex Pistols was viewed as a necessary correction to all that silly noodling around with string orchestras and synths those pompous jerks from London (King Crimson; Genesis) and Long Island (Yes) and so forth were doing. Kick over the jams, you dinosaurs!

And watching Yoko Ono scream into the mic—God it was painful—and listening to some of the stuff on John Lennon’s first solo album John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, which were clearly precursors to punk, it’s pretty clear all these narratives are bollocks. These tensions have always been there in rock and roll/rock music. Pete Townsend wrote some of the most orchestral, art-rocky music ever with Tommy, Quadrophenia, and “Baba O’Reilly,” and The Who also blasted the living crap out of people with “My Generation”. Same band. What is “You Really Got Me” by The Kinks but Punk 15 years early? It was always there, just without the clothes pins. (And The Beatles had the leather and smokes in Hamburg, thanks. Lennon wore a toilet seat as a collar, FFS. Don’t talk to me about Sid Vicious.)

What I’m getting from Get Back is just how much the music mattered to those guys, and how much effort they’re putting in—amidst the squabbling and weariness and irritation and pressure and everything—to putting out the best music they can. Will overdubbing do it? The acoustics in here suck; will doing it somewhere else be better? Will playing live give us a better sound? How about Eric Clapton? Billy Preston? They want the best for the music.

And ultimately that’s why the arguments seem silly to me (and why I went on the long digression): To all these artists, they’re doing all this for their music. Pete Townshend managed to fuse synthesizers and hard rock and bitter, cynical lyrics and an anthemic sound into one amazing song for “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Who gives a shit he used synths to make his point? The Ramones amped up their beat to 160 per minute because for them, that got their point across. The Clash used the trappings of Punk and a lot of incredibly sophisticated studio techniques in conjunction to kick your teeth in with their songs. Rush managed (somehow) to fuse bizarre time-changes, complex poly-rhythms, eclectic science-fiction lyrics, and almost oppressive virtuoso musicianship with heavy metal stylings to create unheard-of Progressive Metal because that’s the music they wanted. The music. That’s what mattered to them. Neil Peart tossed in reggae rhythms to “Spirit of Radio” because he had been listening to The Police and thought it was cool. THE MUSIC, people.


Just because it’s a really awesome album

So now I’m listening to the music, and there’s a lot of music out there, and what I like I like, and what I don’t I don’t, and I don’t apologize for either one. And when I’m dancing to 30s dance tunes by Duke Ellington I’m loving that, and when I’m listening to Alanis Morissette for the first time, I’m loving that. And I hope you do, too. And to hell with musical political BS.

And BTW: Jagged Little Pill just wound up. Pretty cool; I can see why it sold 30+ million copies.

Some words on consent

This post contains coarse language. You have been warned.

In the era of #MeToo, ass-clown and probably pedophile Matt Gaetz, ex-President and serial sexual molester Trump, and the years-long focus on sexual predation, powerful men being outed as predators (Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Matt Lauer, et alia), you’d think the rules on sexual consent would be clear to my idiot gender by now.

Ah-nope.

I can’t even imagine how frustrated women must be by this. “No means no, you boneheads! Where is the confusing part!” Well, that’s not the confusing part. The confusing part, and where we men are dumb, testosterone-filled, hard-on-driven morons, is the withdrawal-of-consent portion.

Up front I want to explain that I am not Not NOT excusing our behavior. No. NO NO NO. I’m explaining why we seem like such a bunch of dumb bunnies whose blood has all run down into our genitalia. Partly because it has, and partly because we don’t get how consent can be withdrawn.

I know; “How can you be so stupid?” Well, that’s what I’m here to tell you.

See, for a long time, the whole point of consent from a guy perspective was, once you finally had it—through marriage, or engagement, or “going steady”, or whateveryou had it for good. A marriage license was a license to have sex whenever you wanted, whether your partner wanted or not. “Going steady” meant you got to make out with your partner, with some ground rules (“I’m not that kind of girl!” mean no PiV sex). Or whatever. But the idea in the boneheaded male brain was, fine, negotiations over, we’re done.

I’m not saying this is reasonable, or fair, or okay, or equitable. I’m not saying we should go back to this. I’m agreeing this is patriarchal BS. Unfortunately the vast majority of men carry it in the back of their tiny little brains at all times. Guy thinks: Once we’ve negotiated consent with you, we’re done. If you agreed to have sex, we get to have sex. If you agreed once, that’s it forever. If your clothes are off, we’re going to have sex. Etc. No more negotiations! Consent achieved!

Obviously, this is insanity.

But I’m telling you, this is what guys are thinking when their dicks are hard (if you can call it thinking). Not about birth control, or negotiation, or (often) your pleasure; that they already have consent to have sex. It’s a done deal. So when a guy is told at some point, “Stop,” a part of him (or if he’s an incel ass-clown, basically all of him) is utterly bewildered. “Duuuuuh, what? But you said ‘Yes’ [yesterday | last week | in 2011 when I married you | when you downed that fifth margarita ]. What do you mean, ‘Stop’?”

And of course, the closer you get to the actual moment of PiV sex with us knuckleheads, the more this cognitive dissonance is going to cause neuron failure, and who knows what will happen then. If he’s actually bending over you, nude, johnson in hand, all bets are off. Will he become enraged? Faint? Head explode like a Cronenberg film? One hopes he’ll say, “Of course not, babe; maybe later? Do you want some water? Are you warm enough?” And I’m sure some percentage of guys (including me, I hope) will do so. But scroll back, read, and see what you think.

There is a way to combat this utter nonsense, and that’s education and persistence. My son Joseph is autistic. And with Joseph, to get him to understand a concept I have to tell it to him in brief, answer his questions about it (but not go into too much detail or he’ll get bored and tune me out), and then revisit it. Over and over and over. But the good news is, he does end up getting it. Folks on the autism spectrum are supposed to not understand empathy. But you know what? After living together in close quarters with me, Joseph brings me coffee and biscuits while I’m working, offers to make me food, and does other things on the “empathy” scale. (It’s pretty awesome, honestly.)

If he can learn this stuff, your average lunk-headed, penis-driven man can learn consent as well.

I’m not saying it’s fair we have to train men like this; it’s not. Of course it’s not. But I’m trying to recognize reality here. Men are idiots. You can either bail on us—and I wouldn’t blame you if you did—or you can dig in. Just keep repeating it to us—well, not me; I think I have it now, but you know what I mean—slowly, simply, until we get it.

  • “Look, Biff; just because we had sex last week doesn’t mean you can grope me in Safeway whenever you like.”
  • “Saaed, I’m not in the mood, so get please let me just read my book. Yes, I’m serious!”
  • “Yes Roger, I know you’re ‘hard as a rock,’ but I changed my mind and you’ll just have to live with that.”
  • “Juan, you push that thing against me again and I’ll have Madame Maxime lock you in a chastity cage so fast it’ll make your head spin.”

Etc.

Yes, I know I’m being mildly humorous with these examples, but I’m deadly serious about the thinking behind what’s causing guys to behave the way we do. We think “consent once”=”consent always”. Furthermore, that some things no sane person would consider “consent” do equal consent: Being unconscious, being drunk, being stoned, being high on nitrous oxide; being frightened or otherwise emotionally distraught (say by peer pressure). This idiocy can only be countered by constant and sustained repetition of the facts:

  • No means no
  • Consent must be pro-actively given
  • A partner can change their mind and withdraw consent at any time

You’d think this would be simple and obvious. It isn’t. I’m truly sorry it isn’t, and that my gender is such a bunch of idiots, but we are. I’m doing what I can on my end, I promise.

Matt Gaetz and the Conspiracy of Silence


Art by Hermit

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last 10 days or so, you’re probably aware that Florida Congressman and right-wing blowhard/Trump apologist Matt Gaetz finally had karma catch up with him in a big way. I won’t go into the details; plenty of people already have. It’s your typical story about a hypocritical right-wing “family values” Republican turning out to be another lying, cheating ass-clown, with the additional unsavory whiff of this one being a pedophile into the bargain. Nasty stuff.

Gaetz has long been an egregious asshole, practically daring people to drag him down. His past as a drunk driver and party boy is no secret; his reputation as a spoiled daddy’s boy well-know; his penchant for getting himself into trouble and expecting to be bailed out sadly typical of right-wing scions, from low-level twits we barely know to ex-Presidents we wish we didn’t. And now ol’ Matt’s been caught. And yes, the schadenfreude is sweet.

But that’s not why I’m writing.

Apparently one of Gaetz’s many odious habits has been to share nude pictures of his sexual conquests with his male colleagues on the floor of the House of Representatives. Any male alive is familiar with this kind of behavior—though not, I hope, to this extreme degree—and Alexandra Petri of the Washington Posts asks, in essence, WTF?

Petri is of course much more eloquent, and a good deal more polite. But her question bears answering, especially in this #MeToo era when so many men want to respond #NotAllMen. Why would anyone do such a thing, she asks. “To me, this is something you do, ideally, zero times.”

But if you can’t do it zero times, then ideally it happens only once. It happens only once, because the moment you do it, the person you show it to responds the way a person should respond. You produce your photograph to your colleague, and your colleague looks at you and says, “Never show that to anyone, ever again. Go home and rethink your life. I do not feel closer to you. If anything, I want to have you removed forcibly from my presence by strong gentlemen whose biceps are tattooed with ‘MOM.’ The fact that you thought this would make us closer makes me question every decision in my life that has led me to this point. Leave now and never come back.”

And that’s what I wanted to address. Why doesn’t it happen zero times? Or if it does happen, who don’t the #NotAllMen crowd respond as Petri points out above, and shove it back in the face of the Gaetzes of the world? I mean, this is a totally rational, valid question.

I’m a June baby. Which means I was 17 when I graduate High School. And I’m of average size, and never had much of a growth spurt; grew at a very slow, steady pace. Wasn’t a particularly large, muscular boy. So I was pretty small and slightly-built compared to my school cohort.

And I did a lot of sports. A lot of sports. Baseball, soccer, swimming, basketball, tennis, ultimate frisbee, fencing, some at the collegiate level. This may seem like a digression, but it’s germane in that I am familiar with locker rooms. Too familiar, honestly.

I was also a nerd. I did drama; I did computer science; I was good at math; I was in marching band for a while.

I was bullied. A lot. And in the 70s and 80s, there weren’t any anti-bullying rules.

So I’d like to invite Alexandra into the locker room with me. Biff Tannen takes out a Polaroid of his girlfriend in a revealing pose—in a bathing suit, or in panties, say. Five other guys, all bigger than me, some or all of whom have bullied me, are standing around. What do you say?

Another scenario: Derek and his buds are gathered around his locker, which is just two down from mine, bragging about their (real or imagined) sexual exploits. The glance over at me. “What about you, pussy (or faggot, or queer, or Brainiac, etc)? You ever got in anyone’s pants?” What do you say?

What did I usually say? Nothing. I would shake my head and look away. If I made any kind of negative noise—or hell, noise at all—I would get bullied. They’d surround me and demand an answer. Shove me. Smack me. Once I was stripped of my swimsuit and thrown in the pool naked. Once my bicycle was vandalized for three days straight (and I spent the rest of my high school walking to school out of fear a new bike would be vandalized more). Once I was accosted outside swim practice and only avoided a fight because the coach came outside and then my ride arrived. These are the lessons you learn as a teen.

Repeat this dozens of times in dozens of locker room. With millions of boys all over the country, straight, gay, bi, and trans.

(Gaetz, I might add, reminds me of every bullying high schooler I ever knew. Shorter, yes, but that same laughing, “I can get away with anything” attitude oozes out of him.)

So you grow up, and there are at least two groups: The incels we all know so well, who had it reinforced that sharing those jokes and pictures was perfectly okay because it was fine with their buds, and if someone objected they could stuff them in a locker, strip them naked and throw them in the pool, vandalize their belongings, etc. And there are the bullied, who have been browbeaten for years (some of these are those who say #NotAllMen, I suspect).

(Obviously it’s more complicated than this; these are broad generalizations. And it’s way worse for GBTs.)

Now you’re an adult and you know you’re not going to get stripped naked and tossed onto the floor of Congress; of course you do. But that’s a lot of PTSD to overcome; a lot of programming to fight against. What would I do? Well, what I’ve done is tell that person it’s inappropriate, unprofessional, and to please not do that again. I’ve sometimes reported it to the supervisor. Sometimes I’ve been the supervisor and warned the person.

But for women reading this, I want you to know that though you may think this is an exaggeration, to me when I engage in those confrontations it feels like it must feel to an abuse victim to report their abuser. And I say this as an abuse survivor myself. Even that “small, awkward no” that Petri is (very reasonably!) asking for takes more effort than you might think.

I want you readers to understand I am not copping out; I agree completely with what Petri is asking. What I’m trying to do here is answer her implied question: Why can’t you guys confront this behavior? Why are you not speaking up? I’m not saying we shouldn’t; I’m not saying we can’t; I’m just explaining why it happens less than it should.

Some people have compared the social environment in Washington D.C. to high school. Frankly, I have absolutely no doubt that’s true. In all the worst ways.

Of Superheroes, Storytelling, & Grumpy Old Men


He’s always around somewhere!

I was born in the 60s

This may seem like a digression, but it’s actually a core component here. I was a precocious reader born in the 60s, one of more tumultuous periods of generation gapdom. There were stories in all the papers and magazines I (precociously) read about the “generation gap”. About how the adults running the country and corporations and police departments didn’t understand the young, dirty, long-haired peacniks, and why was that so, and how come we can’t all just get along?

I also happened to grow up loving musicals. Disney cartoon musicals of course, but for whatever reason Broadway musicals as well—Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Gypsy, and whatever was being played on TV. One of those was Bye Bye Birdie, which was about (Hey!)…the generation gap. In the 50s. And so was Grease to an extent.

As I got a little older—not much, but into my teens and 20s—I learned this was not a new phenomenon. At all. That young folks had been pissing off older folks for a long time. Not just in politics, but in the sciences! And in the arts, too! Physicists had called Einstein a fool and worse with his theory of relativity! Quantum mechanics was called insanity! Germ theory was called nonsense and Pasteur a quack! My beloved Monet, whose art I adored, had been scorned by the realists. I even learned that Socrates had uttered the Greek equivalent to “What’s the matter with kid’s these days? Why can’t they be like Albert?”

The bottom line was I realized that that French dude had been right when he said, “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. It all comes back ’round when it comes to people complaining about new stuff, it seemed to me, even when I was pretty young. So I’ve always had a somewhat jaundiced eye when it came to Famous Old White Dudes proclaiming Wisdom about New Stuff.

Right now, there’s a plethora of comic book-related stuff in our entertainment media. While this delights me, as I am both a science fiction and comic book fan, I know it is driving a lot of more serious literary people bats. I get that. I can empathize. In the 70s and early 80s, it was a dry friggin’ period for my sort, to put it mildly. Comic books were (and still largely are!) look down on as completely unserious literature. Science fiction films were few and far between. Comic book-based films were basically unheard-of, and those that did come out were of marginal quality. It was a wasteland for my type of geek. Now it’s a damn geek golden age, and you can bet I’m enjoying it.

But one person’s Golden Age is another’s wasteland, and for every episode of The Expanse and WandaVision and Upload on TV, every release of Avengers: Endgame and sequel of Deadpool to the theaters, someone is outraged and angry that that amounts to a zero-sum loss to “more important” TV shows and films that “should” be seeing the light of day.

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. I’m sure angry Paleolithic hunter-gatherer grumpy old men 20,000 years ago yelled at teens squatting in caves painting bulls and pigs on the walls. “Get out there and gather berries with Aunt Grung and hunt boar with Uncle Alley Oop! Stop wasting time on that drivel!” I think it must be a chemical released into our limbic systems at a certain age or something. It certainly seems to have been released into Martin Scorsese’s.

Before the world fell apart last March, Scorsese said, “I don’t think they’re cinema. I was asked a question about Marvel movies. I answered it. I said that I’ve tried to watch a few of them and that they’re not for me, that they seem to me to be closer to theme parks than they are to movies as I’ve known and loved them throughout my life.”

Scorsese—being a legend—has had his comments analyzed to death. The above-linked article talks about people’s fears of all movies becoming comic book films, which is in my opinion absolutely absurd. They’ve defended the quality and variety of MCU films; they’ve talked about how people want more spectacle these days given how they can get any kind of entertainment they want at home; blah blah blah. My though is much simpler: Scorsese’s just become a grumpy old man, is all, and comic book movies are new.

Back in the day, Scorsese was the Young Turk, exploding onto the scene with the transgressive Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. Outraging audiences with Goodfellas, a film without an actual hero, where gangsters were the “good guys,” but no one was actually relatable. He took a genre—gangster films, something that went back nearly to the beginning of cinema as an art form—and turned it on its ear and inside out. He was the one everyone was talking about. And now when he releases The Irishman, it gets treated with the respect a new release by James Joyce or Thomas Pynchon or Charles Dickens would. The gangster genre has been legitimized and transformed by Scorsese and others (including Francis Ford-Coppola, who also chimed in against comic book films). They’re mainstream now.

Comic book films of this type and scope are new. Their language is still evolving, still being defined. A number of very talented directors have taken shots at expanding the vocabulary of comic book films—Christopher Nolan, of course, but also James Gunn, Zack Snyder, Robert Rodriguez (especially in Sin City), Taika Waititi, & others—and many more will continue. Westerns didn’t go overnight from Cowboys chasin’ Injuns straight to Unforgiven and Little Big Man; there was a long period of development in between while talented actors, directors, cinematographers, editors, composers, and thousands of others turned their attention to the genre. The same thing is true of gangster films. Would 2001: A Space Odyssey have happened if there hadn’t been Destination Moon, Forbidden Planet, and hell even the Big Bug films of the 50s first?

Yes, I acknowledge the Republic serials of the past, with Flash Gordon and the Superman movies and so on. Those are foundational, and certainly in the DNA of many directors currently working (Spielberg and Lucas have acknowledged this overtly). But the vast breadth and scale of comic book films is completely different from “Hang George on a wire”. As is the comedy of Waititi, or the involuted storytelling of Christopher Nolan. This is a New Thing, and it’s evolving. And Grumpy Old Man Scorsese doesn’t like it. C’est la même chose. He doesn’t have to, he doesn’t have to watch, and that’s perfectly okay.

What’s not okay is for him to dismiss an entire genre just because he’s grumpy. Like literary folks dismissing genre novels out of pure snobbery because they have (heaven save us!) plots and romance/science fiction/mystery/fantasy components. Genre is just as valid as officially-sanctioned lit-such-chure, and comic book films just as valid as a Scorsese gangster opus. And while it may take time for the Goodfellas or Godfather of the comic book films to emerge (though some say The Dark Knight might be an example), I’m confident it will.

So let’s leave Scorsese, and Coppola (who deconstructed war movies with Apocalypse Now FFS!), and whoever else has achieved Grumpy Old Man Yells at Cloud status, and leave today’s directors to do what they’re doing, and enjoy it. Let’s watch what they’re doing with WandaVision, because it looks fascinating. Let’s watch the amazing female characters of The Expanse and be damn grateful for them and push for more. Let’s revel in Elliot (nee Ellen) Page’s portrayal of Vanya in The Umbrella Academy, a trans actor starring in a TV show! Let’s enjoy the MCU films, and the other comic book films, and watch as the genre gets built, and (inevitably) destroyed, and deconstructed, and revivified. Because it all comes around again.

And don’t let the Grump Old Men get you down. Even when they’re famous legends.

“Big Tech” and “Monopolies”


There is no “Big Tech”

This is going to be a contrarian post. It’s going to make some people mad, so I want to toss some caveats your way right up front:

  • I do not think Facebook is a good company, and I totally agree something needs to be done to bring them in line with some kind of human moral behavior. Their behavior over the last five or so years has been reprehensible, and it’s clear they’re going to do absolutely nothing about it unless forced. (I also think Zuckerberg is a an absolute tool. But what would you expect from a guy who became a zillionaire from an application that started out as a piece of software that was meant to rank “hot college babes”?)
  • I also do not think Apple, Google, Amazon, and Twitter management are without flaw. Nor do I think nothing needs to be done about the areas in which their corporate behavior impinges on the public sphere. I think government action is the only thing with a remote chance of reining in the over-reach of giant multinationals.
  • It’s clear to anyone with a brain that big tech corporations (as opposed to what the media refers to by the intentional scare term of “Big Tech,” of which more later) engage in questionably-legal and definitely-immoral practices and need to have the whip cracked over them.

I want to be clear with all this up front because a lot of what I’m about to say will sound like high tech industry cheerleading. People who know me as an individual will know it’s not; they know I’m incredibly cynical when it comes to big corporations in general, and tech upper management in particular. But for those few who read this who don’t know me, it’s important we set that groundwork. Okay? Okay!

To our muttons!

Lately there has been a lot of talk about the power of “Big Tech” and how it has “monopoly power” and needs to be “broken up”, like Ma Bell back in the day. (For you young’uns, that was what AT&T was back before the Nixon Administration in the 1970s. And if you’re wondering how it got “broken up” when it’s still around and still huge, well, I’ll get to that.)

The problem here is, while there are some tech companies that hold a scary amount of power in the public sector and over consumers (as noted above!), there is no monopolistic “Big Tech” equivalent to Ma Bell or Big Oil or Big Pharma that the government can go after cleanly to “break up” in a similar way. Sorry. It’s just not true, as much as crusading-but-tech-ignorant journalists would like it to be. And there’s a few reasons why.

Yes, there are some tech companies that are “big”. No question. But no one has defined “Big Tech” ever. People just group a list of companies under the rubric of “Big Tech” and assume we all know what “Big Tech” is. The problem here is, unless you define the term, it’s meaningless. Or rather, it only means what each person who reads it thinks it means, which pretty much amounts to the same thing.

When you ask someone what “Big Oil” means, people say, “The few companies that have a monopoly on oil drilling, production, and distribution.” When you ask what “Big Pharma” means, they say, “The few companies that have a monopoly on drug research, creation, manufacturing, and sales.” But if you ask what “Big Tech” is, people will probably give you a list of companies, and probably not the same list! Apple, Facebook, and Google, probably, but then all bets are off. What about Salesforce? Cisco? IBM? (I’ve never heard anyone talking about IBM when speaking of “Big Tech”, but IBM is the largest [in employees] and oldest tech company in the world!) I read an article where Spotify (4500 employees, €6.5 billion) was listed as a “Big Tech” company that needed reining in. What about Twitter? Or Hewlett Packard? PornHub? If you don’t define the term, it could include any tech company.

When you are asked in grammar school to define “color”, you don’t stand up and say, “green, red, and blue.” No; you give the dictionary definition and then use a color as an example. Facebook or Apple or Google can be examples of “Big Tech,” but not the definition of it. And until someone defines the damn term, it might as well not exist.

I know this may seem pedantic, but seriously: What is it: “Big tech companies that are doing stuff we don’t like”? Tech companies of a certain size? (That should include companies like IBM and Cisco and HP, when it clearly doesn’t.) Tech companies that only operate in certain areas? Which areas would those be, exactly? Apple is what we in tech call a “systems company,” which means they make both hardware and the software that runs on their hardware. Amazon is a “services company;” they provide services, ie a web site that does their delivery stuff, as well as their cloud computing service AWS, and other stuff. Amazon and Apple are not in the same business (though they do overlap in some areas, and yes they try to steal customers in those areas where they do). Amazon doesn’t make iPhones; Apple doesn’t threaten Amazon’s core physical object sales-and-distribution model.

Similarly Google, while also a services company, provides services in totally different areas than Amazon. They provide software tools: Their famous search engine, of course; their mapping tool with all the data they’ve gleaned from that; their analytics tools (something many folks might not be aware of), which allow folks like me to analyze web traffic. Twitter, a different kind of software company, provides an application and web site, and their revenue model is based on ads and (probably) monetizing their very valuable user data. They filter news to their members, and allow what we in tech call one-to-one and one-to-many interactions via their 280 character tweets. This is very different from the services Google offers, as you might imagine.

Think of these four companies and try to squeeze them into one box in the same way you can squeeze BP, Exxon-Mobile, Shell Oil, and Chevron under the heading of “Big Oil”. Yeah, they’re all tech companies, sure, but the things they sell and do are very, very different. Grouping them together would be like grouping Dyson vacuums, Thomasville furniture, and GE refrigerators together because their “Big Household goods that cost more than $300”.

“Big Tech,” in other words, is meaningless. It’s a scare term that echos “Big Oil” and “Big Pharma” that the press uses to help increase clicks, views, and sales. It’s lazy, reductionist, and doesn’t help address the very real problems in the high tech world.

Which brings us to the “monopoly” issue. Which is just as dicey for almost the same reasons.

As I promised, O Young Ones: Back in the day was Alexander Graham Bell. He created a device and a bunch of patents, and his clever father-in-law created a company called (imagine!) Bell Telephone Company in 18-friggin’-77. Yuppers; the 19th Century. And for durn nigh 100 years, this systems company (Remember those? Provide both the hardware and the software, in this case telephone service.) had a full monopoly on phones and phone service in the US. You wanted a phone, you got a Bell phone. You wanted phone service, you got it through Bell. The history is of course way more complicated, but that’s the gist.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, Ma Bell (as it was called) got broken up by anti-trust legislation during the Nixon Administration. This led to the AT&T we all know today. A bunch of “Baby Bells” were created, and after several decades and a bunch of re-orgs and buy-outs, we have one huge AT&T that looks a lot to me like the Ma Bell of yesteryear. But I digress.

So that’s a monopoly in small: If you want it, only one company has it. You want sneakers (trainers, if you’re in England)? Sorry, mate; Nikes and nothing else. No Adidas, New Balance, Puma, Air Jordans or whatever. Nikes. Period. End of story. A car? Ford. No Hondas, Subarus, Chevys, Porsches, or anything else. A Ford. In any color you want so long as it’s black. Etc. That’s a monopoly.

Now folks are saying “Big Tech” (which, as noted above, hasn’t been defined) has “a monopoly”, which “has to be reined in”. Okay, fine. I’ve already agreed that some big tech companies need to be reined in. But I’ve completely deconstructed the “Big Tech” label. So what do these various “big tech” companies people always squawk about—Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple—have a monopoly on, exactly? I promise I’m not being disingenuous here; I’ve given this quite a bit of thought. I agree that (for example) the immoral behavior of Facebook, who have allowed neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other violent groups bent on illegal acts to run rampant, needs to be reined in. People are saying, “They’re a monopoly! Use anti-trust laws!” And as a tech nerd who’s been doing this for 30+ years I say, “Fine; a monopoly of what, exactly?”

And that applies to all the companies people mention when they speak about “Big Tech”. Apple has a monopoly on, um, well…not smartphones. They have a walled garden for their iOS apps, so I guess they have a “monopoly” on iOS apps. But they aren’t the one creating the apps, so that’s not the case. A monopoly on downloadable music? Not really, no; people can get streaming music lots of places these days. So Apple is not a monopoly of anything that I can define, and you can bet if the government—a bunch of technoboneheads as a rule—tried to take Apple down via monopolistic anti-trust laws, their lawyers would eviscerate the government. And to what end? What is the goal in calling Apple “Big Tech” and a “monopoly”? Best define your terms before you go after someone just because you don’t like what they’re doing!

Same with Amazon. There are two areas where Amazon is dominant: Cloud services, and their goods delivery system. In Cloud services they certainly hold a large lead, but they’re not a monopoly; several other companies (including IBM, where I work) are working hard to cut into their market share. In goods delivery yes, I can accept they have a monopoly. It’s being cut into at the margins by various factors—local stores arranging their own deliveries or curbside pickups, companies like DoorDash doing restaurant deliveries so as to avoid Google Eats, etc. And Amazon works like gangbusters to maintain their lead in this area, no question; this whole “scan your trunk” business creeps me out no end. And I’m not sure how I feel about “delivery by drone”. Still, I think government would have tough sledding proving monopoly here, given Amazon isn’t manufacturing the goods, but merely acting as a jobber, as it were. A middleman. They use UPS and FedEx for much of the actual deliveries.

Another factor that makes tech different from Ma Bell or Big Oil or Big Pharma is its volatile nature. My favorite job in tech was working for SiliconGraphics, or SGI. When I was there in the early 1990s, we called ourselves “the best computer company on the planet,” and we believed it. We had Kenny Loggins (“I’m alright”; “Danger Zone”) play at one of our corporate events. At another we had Patty LaBelle. Our hardware was used for the first Toy Story movie. We built a beautiful new campus in Mt. View.

Which is now occupied by Google.

And that’s the point. In the 1990s Steve Jobs announced a joint effort with Microsoft where Bill Gates gave Apple about $150 million dollars to help save Apple’s corporate bacon. Microsoft was flying high, Apple was barely scraping along, Jobs had been called back as “interim CEO” (“interim CEO for life” many in tech joked), and many though Apple was dead. But then came the iMac, the Think Different campaign, and the iPod, and now do you pay more attention to Microsoft product announcements or Apple product announcements? In the 90s, Motorola was king of the cell phone world, along with Nokia and a few others. What about now? In 1995, Google didn’t exist. The Web barely did. Amazon didn’t. Zuckerberg was 11. Salesforce, which now has a giant tower that looks like a vibrator in downtown San Francisco, was still 4 years in the future.

My point is tech is absurdly volatile. Companies can go from giants to penny stock jokes in the blink of an eye. This does not Not NOT mean I think we should ignore their horrible actions; just that I think we need to have some perspective and be smart about how we respond instead of using scare terms like “Big Tech” and deploying monopoly busting anti-trust tools that might not even work.

Which brings us—finally—to Facebook.

IMO Facebook is evil. I’m not a believer of original sin in the religious sense, but even so I would say Facebook’s current situation is a consequence of the original sin of its own birth as a web site for finding “hot chicks” at Harvard by an entitled immature straight white incel tool. While it became, for a while, a home for family and friends to exchange pictures, information, gossip, and news, it (unsurprisingly) evolved into a friendly home, news source, and place of organization for white supremacists, neo-Nazis, incels looking for their fellow travelers, and other odious persons.

Zuckerberg could easily have stopped this. Despite what he, Jack Dorsey, and other high tech execs say, it’s not that difficult to put hard guidelines in place and then tell your staff to follow them. As a tech writer, I’ve had such edicts passed down to me many, many times, and I’ve followed them even when my personal opinion on them has varied considerable from the corporate guidelines. Zuckerberg could have disallowed all advertising that had unverified info in it. Or allowed his employees to delete any material that related to white supremacy (so long as Facebook defined it clearly). He chose not to. This is either greed, moral cowardice, or approval; there is no fourth option.

And as far as a “monopoly”, if Facebook is one, what is it a monopoly of? Social media platforms? (No.) Social media personal information sharing platforms? (Again, no.) Then WTF is it, exactly? You won’t get any argument from me that it needs to be regulated in some way, but using monopoly laws aren’t going to work if you can’t define it as a monopoly, and if a technonerd like me can’t, do you think Congressional luddites confronted by Facebook asshole lawyers will be able to? It is to laugh.

“So where does this all leave us?” you might reasonably ask. Well, I’m glad you did!

  • To review: There is no “Big Tech”; just some big tech company that need some serious slapping down
  • Each of those companies needs an individual approach to said slapping, not “they’re a monopoly; they need to be broken up!” because in tech that’s not likely to work
  • Facebook is a big problem that needs addressing in serious ways, and not through anti-trust laws unless those laws are severely rewritten with modern tech companies in mind

One final note: As I noted earlier, tech is furiously volatile. Right now there is some bright person out there figuring out how to supplant Facebook, or Amazon, or Google. I don’t know who, or where, or even in what damn country, but they’re out there plotting to be the next Salesforce or whatever. Because that’s the way tech works. And instead of solely focusing on my third bullet point, we need to also write laws and create guidelines that allow those folks to flourish and not get tromped down by the Zuckerbergs and Dorseys of the world. To allow them to build their own companies and force Facebook and Amazon and Twitter to the side, or to create completely new markets in tech that we can’t even imagine right now. To develop products that are as mind-bending to us as the iPhone would have been to Doug in 1995.

Because the real answer to fighting these jerk-weeds is not just to play catch-up and try to dig them out after they’re already entrenched, but to help other people from getting squashed by the entrenched jerk-weeds. To not use scare terms like “Big Tech” and broad-but-ultimately-inapplicable “monopoly” laws, but rather focus on the (boring, tedious, complicated, but necessary) details of what’s going on and fight them on those terms. To bring a friggin’ gun to a gun fight, not a tennis racquet to a baseball game.

And with that, I have blathered enough.

There Will Be Blood

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(Image courtesy of The Guardian)

I am not a doctor. I’m not a mathematician, a physicist, an engineer, a biologist, or even a scientist, really, unless a degree in “computer science” counts. But I do know how to do simple math and apply it to things that most people seem unwilling or unable to. (Republicans, in particular, seem completely flummoxed by simple math, but that’s an entirely different post.)

Like the current COVID pandemic. And in this case, the math is quite ugly.

The current figures as of today from worldometers.info are 131,150 deaths out of 2,807,102 reported cases. That’s a fatality/mortality rate of 4.6%. I’m afraid I’m going to dig into some math now but bear with me: The math is very simple, and the results are quite depressing but important. And the scary thing here is: No one is pointing these things out.

First things first: Mortality rate. When COVID first hit, the epidemiologists were saying that the mortality rate would be between 1-2%, or possibly 2-3%. I have been tracking the  numbers on the web site worldometers.info regularly for four months now and, while the percentage has slowly been dropping (4.6% is the lowest mortality rate so far), it has never gotten close to 2%. The high was just under 6% back in march, at 5.98%. Either the epidemiological model is off, or the reporting is wrong. Or some of both. Really it doesn’t matter, because neither one is going to improve over the course of the next year, in my opinion, especially with Republican government officials deliberately obscuring the figurers. We’re going to have to work with what we have. So let’s be wildly optimistic and set it at 4.5%.

Next is fatalities per day. All the various sites (including worldometers.info) start tracking on March 13, 80 days ago. That makes it an easy number crunch: 1639 deaths/day. Yup, there have been some days were it’s less, and some more, as we’ve seen once the curve flattened, it never started really going down because bonehead Republicans immediately starting engaging in measures to make things worse again.

Finally is the number of new cases per day. This is a bit trickier, because of various states being governed by morons, with some days being over 50,000, and other days being under 20,000, and of course adjustments being made in response to these numbers. But similar to mortality, I think it all evens out and we can just go with a regular average of 35,089 new cases/day.

Now unfortunately is the scary part: How long until things get better? And here is the bad news. Not until January at the earliest, and then we need a vaccine. So let’s run the math on that and see what we get.

Why January? The Republicans have made public health a political issue. Wearing masks is for wussie left-wing snowflakes. The cure is worse than the disease. Go to your Trump rallies! So your Trumper GOP neighbors will be out there, massless, until those insane, sociopathic maniacs are thrown out of office. Hopefully out of the Presidency, Senate, House, and various Governor’s houses. But until that happens—in January—we’re stuck with insanity. And that means 1639 deaths/day.

Do you know how many days there are between now and Inauguration Day, 2021? 202. And this is why it’s scary. Because 202 X 1639 = . . . 331,078 people. 331,078 more people dead before Democrats can take over and start fixing things. For a grand total of 462,228 deaths. Because of Trump and the Republicans. And I’m sorry to say it gets even worse, because it’s not like flipping a switch; there’s a ramp-down, just like there was a ramp-up, and unfortunately it’s not an inverse-exponential. And more will die during the ramp down.

This is more complex, and I’m not so good at this type of math, but based on Captain Shakeyhand Moran’s graphs, the grand total looks to be between 500,000-520,000 by the time all is said and done. Damn near Civil War numbers.

Half a million dead. Because of Trump, and his Republican enablers. Half a million.

Can this be avoided? Sure it can; we can stop listening to the lunatic in the White House and the lunatic Republican Governors around the country and do what we know needs to be done, as was done in the Northeastern cities, as they did in Europe and New Zealand and elsewhere.

Or we can end up with 10 million cases and half a million dead by this time next year. It’s up to us.

It’s just simple math. Showing there will be blood.

Strip the rich bare

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Turnabout is fair play, Messers Duke

Despite my constant verbal kvetching, it is widely recognized I am not a violent guy. I have thrown two punches in anger in my entire life, and one was at my brother when I was 15, so that hardly counts. If I say something like “eat the rich,” it sounds pretty violent, but you can rest assured I won’t be getting out my fork, knife, and meat tenderizer any time soon.

But stripping them bare of all their wealth? Ah, that’s a different thing altogether!

The “rich” of a country is hard to describe. The top 1%? The top .1%? The top 5%? So let’s just toss out a couple of facts before I say anything:

  • The top 1% of the country owns 30% of the total wealth of the entire country.
  • That accounts for $35 trillion dollars. That’s a mind-bending amount, and I’ll break that down for you in an easier-to-bite form later.
  • The US has 607 billionaires. These billionaires hold among them $2.9 trillion. Just these 607 people. Which brings me to this tweet by former US Labor Secretary Robert Reich:

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Yup, that’s right: With unemployment skyrocketing, people going broke left and right, everyone knowing someone losing their job (if not losing your job yourself), and folks dying, these people have made billions while everyone else is suffering. Hundreds of billions.

Eat the rich becomes a tempting idea.

What is a billion dollars, anyway? Well, let’s put it this way: The median wealth for a family of four is $98,750. If you count that family’s wealth at a dollar per second, it will take you just over a day to count every dollar.

What about a billionaire? Well, counting at a dollar per second, it will take you…31 years, 9 months, and 2+ weeks to count it all. That’s the difference. You: 1 day; a billionaire: 31 years.

And how about value? Wealth? Let’s go back to the numbers again: $98,750 for 4 vs. $1 billion for one works out to be about $40,506 for a billionaire to every dollar for you. So what does that mean? Let me put it in simple terms:

You know when you go out and you want to get something to drink and you go to those fancy-pants machines where you can get a Coke or a Dasani water or whatever, and they cost about $1.50 or $1.75 or so? And you grumble and you feed in a fin or swipe your card or maybe you have exact change praise god, but you get your bottle of whatever. Minor transaction. No big deal.

A billionaire can buy a new Camry with that little amount of concern.

That’s the difference. And a guy like Jeff Bezos, who is worth over $100 billion? He can buy 100 Camrys. With as much concern over the cost as you have over getting a Coke out of the vending machine. And less concern than you have for getting a sixer of your favorite beer, or a pack of smokes (if you smoke). Bezos can buy a private jet for his equivalent of what you or I would spend on a couple of weeks worth of groceries. I’m not exaggerating; it’s right there in the math.

People will argue I’m being unfair because I’m talking about wealth, not income. Oh no; I’m comparing wealth to wealth, not wealth to income. So you folks go ahead and put away your swords. This is apples to apples. Sorry. Try again.

Where am I going? Simple: Strip them. Strip them of everything.

For months now, Republicans have been arguing that losing 2-3 percent of the population (6+ million people! Sound like a familiar number?) is a reasonable price to pay in order to “save” the economy. That this is a totally false choice they have ignored. Well, I’m not. This is my mom they’re talking about. My beloved Aunt Maureen and Uncle Harold. My other uncles and aunts. My cousin Bill and his wife. The parents of friends of mine. I ain’t exactly a spring chicken my own self, nor are my friends.

Republicans, in their eagerness to get us back to our wage-slave positions and hopefully not notice the tremendous wealth disparity in this country, not notice that the people we are currently relying on—the bus drivers, nurses, EMTs, grocery clerks, agricultural workers, pharmacists, mail deliverers, etc—are desperately underpaid, have inadequate insurance, don’t get enough paid time off, and are in short treated like crap. If they shove everyone out the door fast enough, they believe, we won’t notice this stuff. So they bleat on about how the economy will collapse and we’ll run out of money if we don’t Get Back to Work. I’m all for getting back to work. So is everyone I know. But not if millions have to die.

So strip those rich bastards, I say.

I just showed you how much wealth they have. It’s obscene. It’s ridiculous. And it was made by all those other folks being massively underpaid for their contributions. It was made by taking advantage of the infrastructure (roads, bridges, waterways) that we, the taxpayers, pay to maintain. They have seen their taxes cut and cut and cut again. They have seen their income rise repeatedly while ours has stagnated or decreased. We have been squeezed into a life of living paycheck-to-paycheck while they make billions during a pandemic. Of course they want us to go back to work!

Those 607 people control $2.9 trillion. How long would it take to count that at one second/dollar? Nearly 92,000 years. You: 1+ day; these 607 clowns: 92,000 years. What’s the wealth conversion of $1 for them? More than $117 million ($117,467,400). For you, a Coke out of a machine; for this group, a beachfront house. Just marinate with that for a sec.

So ask yourself: Aren’t the lives of 6+ million people more important than the wealth of 607 super-rich people who can just go out and make more? We’re constantly told these people are “the job creators”, that they’re awesome at making money. Heck, as you can see from the tweet above, they’re even making billions during a pandemic. Stripping them should be no big deal, right? They’ll be back on their feet in no time, and they will have saved the economy. Which the Republicans keep telling us is absolutely critical, even more critical than losing 2-3% of the population. (Or so they insist.)

Republicans say, “You guys go out there and die.” I’m saying hell no, you staggeringly rich bastards to whom so much has been given, you give up your cushy lives for a few months.

How about you, gentle readers; what do you all say?

Trump says we’re in a war. I agree; it’s just not the one he thinks.

Contemplating what’s coming, & what’s just past

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Sometimes Schulz says it best

It’s 8:33pm, Central Time, Tuesday evening, April 22. I’m sitting in my living room, my dogs laying on the floor nearby, the house mostly quiet (save my son talking to his Xbox in the next room, as he does), thinking about Friday.

Friday is when our idiot Republican governor, no doubt following the lead of the maniac in Washington, D.C. who calls himself President, will begin “opening up” Texas. And I’m wondering what will happen next.

I’m completely convinced in a few weeks there will be a surge of new virus cases and deaths, this time in Red states with Republican governors. Perhaps this will be mitigated somewhat by the fact that the hardest-hit states on the coast have Democratic governors who took firm action and are not easing them too soon or too radically, and the idiocy of the Republicans won’t be as damaging. God watches over children, drunks, and the United States, Bismarck supposedly said, and maybe that will be the case once more. But I don’t think so.

So we’ll have another surge of cases, this time in late May, which will lead to another set of closures, which will last until June or July, which won’t ease until August. Which is what I told my disbelieving daughter the other day, who has tickets to some show in Boston in August. Well, I don’t like it either, my girl, but I don’t control the 33% of the population that seems determined to do whatever idiocy floats through Trumps head at a given moment.

I’m sitting here thinking about my son, who in spite of being on the autism spectrum is doing damn well overall, but is basically terrified to leave the house at all. I explain to him about the risks of taking walks with me (low), or going to the grocery story, or going out on drives, but he doesn’t want to risk it. And really, I don’t blame him.

I think about these utter morons on Twitter who try to make it about “freedom” and the Constitution and their “rights.” How they’re just repeating nonsense they heard from microcephalics like Hannity or Limbaugh or the complete nitwits on Fox & Friends when what their arguments really just boil down to is, “I wanna go to the movies; I wanna go to the gym; I’m tired of staying inside; you can’t make me; you’re not the boss of me; wah wah wah!” That they’ll put others and not just themselves at risk doesn’t matter; that this is a deadly pandemic and not some cooked-up hoax to make their Great Leader look bad doesn’t matter; that their arguments are illogical and stupid doesn’t matter. They want to go outside, Fox News is telling them it’s safe, their Great Leader is demanding it, so out they’ll go!

It never occurs to them that all these people telling them to go out don’t give a damn if they live or die. That the GOP and the various large corporations and big banks and other plutocrats have said, explicitly, over and over, that a 2-3% death rate is a reasonable price to pay to “save the economy”. These Trumpers have no conception they are the blood sacrifice the 1% is demanding so they can remain the 1%. After all, in their mansions, gated communities, and luxury flats, the 1% is safe; it’s the blue-collar folks at the meat-packing plants that will die. But with cold disregard the 1% has convinced the gullible that this will, somehow, “own the libs,” and for them that’s enough. Off with the masks, out into the world, and let’s go to the movies!

Such thoughtlessness was no doubt common in Pompeii as the smoke was rising from the cinder cone on the upper slopes.

I worry about going to the grocery story after Friday, surrounded by these nitwits, these chowderheads, serene in their stupidity. Will they try to squeeze by us cautious, reality-oriented people in the aisles? Will they be there with their masks off, rubbing their eyes and faces, wiping off sweat as they come fresh from the gym? I don’t know, and apparently my idiot Governor doesn’t care.

Sometime in the next 24 hours the number of dead in this country from this calamity will surpass that of all those killed in 20 years in Vietnam, a war that, IMO, broke this country for good. Two months. Not all of it can be laid at the feet of Trump, of course; as much as I despise that prancing, lying, self-aggrandizing, psychopathic fool, he is not solely responsible. But just as Johnson and Nixon bear the brunt of the folly of Vietnam, so does he bear the brunt of these deaths. The blood is on his hands.

I worry for my friends and family all over this country. My mom up in Olympia, near the hot spot of Seattle, her lungs already compromised. My sister down in LA, surrounded by 10 million other folks. My brother and many many friends in the Bay Area. My friend Geoffrey in Georgia, with their own noxious governor. My bff Tim just outside DC. The seemingly-unlimited progeny of F.J., Sr. & Elizabeth Moran all over the Northeast and elsewhere. My beloved Bastian relatives in Colorado and elsewhere. You all know who you are. All in danger, all doing their best during this crazy time. I haven’t gotten in touch with you all; I don’t think I could. But I think of you, all of you, all the time.

That’s what I’m doing right now, here, in my living room, the dogs at my feet, this evening, at 8:58pm, Central Time, Tuesday, April 28. Thinking about you all. And the future. And hoping and yes, even praying (in the very non-orthodox way that I do) that we make it through.

We’ll make it through. We’re a strong, smart, ornery, determined bunch. And we’ll make it through.

The post-truth era

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Washington couldn’t tell a lie; we can’t recognize them

I’ve often wondered what era we’re in, that my life is lived in. When studying history in school and later on my own, I learned about the Classical era, the Bronze Age, the Middle Ages. The Age of Enlightenment, the Renaissance, the the Industrial Revolution. The Dark Ages, the Biblical era, the Victorian period, the Edwardian period, the Gilded Age, the Great Depression, the 50s, the Vietnam era, the Edo period in Japan, the Age of Sail, the Colonial Period, the Belle Epoque, and God alone knows how many more. Recently we’ve had the Modern period, then the Post-modern, and then…what.

Well, I think I’ve figured it out; we’re in the Post-Truth period.

I can’t put a hard start on this war. Like any other, it has its beginnings a while before. In the West, I would point to both the Communists and the Nazis, experts at modifying reality to suit their political purposes. Stalin of course was famous for erasing people not only from the world, but from history, even to having them eliminated from photos and portraiture. The Nazis attempted to erase an entire people from the Earth, but then that’s hardly new; there are accounts of that going back to biblical times.

Certainly this tendency had been going on my entire life, from the complete quantum mechanical probabilistic fog of information surrounding JFK’s assassination the very year I was born, to the mass fog of confusion of the Vietnam war, to Watergate and the absurd tap-dancing Nixon’s press secretary Ron Ziegler did during those ridiculous press conferences.

The real insanity was touched off—as was so much of the post-fact world we’re seeing today—during the Reagan Administration. An administration filled with criminal acts and reversals of long-standing oversight that put us onto the road leading to our current disastrous administration but which I believe was completely encapsulated by that befuddled man himself who, when asked about the arms-for-hostages deal, accepted blame but insisted he didn’t remember doing it.

Though Reagan and the Republicans bear the lion’s share of the blame, it was the George W. Bush Administration that really weaponized outright lying. And it was the spineless ness of the Congressional Democrats for allowing it then that has allowed it to run rampant under Trump. You pull up the weeds when they’re small. If you let them grow for 16 years as the Democrats have done, it is far, far too late.

Now we can’t even agree on basic facts, like the fact that Trump, who has broken multiple laws and Constitutional restrictions, is a criminal. Or that the Earth’s temperature, which is rising, is actually rising. Basic, indisputable facts are no longer being accepted by huge chunks of the population. We really are very close to the place Goebbles bragged about, where a Trump admin official can claim black is white, and his followers will believe it. Or in Trump’s own words, he could shoot a person on Fifth Avenue and not be charged for murder.

In my opinion, we can even put an exact date on when we entered this era: When Merriam-Webster decided that the definition of the word “literally” could include “figuratively”. Which in English basically is like saying black can also mean white. At that point, the fight was over and the concept of truth had lost.

So we have gone from Modern, to Post-modern, to Post-truth. God help us all.

The bones of society

vitruvian
Illustration courtesy of tommycovix

With epic events comes epic changes. Or so I think. A global depression; a world word; the collapse of an empire; a global pandemic. In its wake, there are massive changes to a society that would have seemed impossible even a few months prior. The Roman Empire probably seemed eternal, until it collapsed. The economy of the 20s seemed bulletproof, until Black Thursday. September 1, 1939 (and it’s American follow up on December 7, 1941); the European Black Death; the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand followed by WWI and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. These all caused unbelievable and basically unpredictable shifts in social patterns that, up until they happened, were completely unimaginable. Some were good, some were horrific.

We’re facing something like that right now, I think. The entire globe is caught up. Despite our idiot President’s glib assurances otherwise, things will never go back to the way they were. And no one can really predict what changes will be wrought in the wake of this disaster.

And I’m not just talking about the virus here. I’m talking about the disastrous response of the US Government; the disaster that has been the Republican Party’s perspective on the entire thing; the disaster that our entire version of capitalism has shown to be in responding. This virus has stripped away the skin, muscles, and tissue of our society and laid bare the bones underneath. Some of those bones are not just admirable, but downright heroic: The behavior of the ordinary working class folks, like nurses, grocery store clerks, garbage collectors, agricultural workers, delivery people, warehouse workers, and the like. Blue collar people all. The people who, to be blunt, are at the lowest end of the wage scale in almost all cases and are shit upon by the right-wing.

On the other side, the mask has not just been torn, but utterly ripped off and stomped into the ground as far as that right-wing is concerned. Long have they dog-whistled their racism, bigotry, anti-semitism, and xenophobia. Their classism, elitism, and disregard for the poor, the homeless, the elderly (unless it’s their elderly), and the helpless. They have hidden this disdain and disgust behind catch phrases, clever marketing, and misdirection, but it’s always been there if you’ve wanted to see. But no longer; they’re not even pretending any more.

Now we seen the bones underneath. The absolutely blatant attempts to force people back to work even thought it would mean the literal death of millions. “I’m hoping to see the churches packed on Easter,” said Donald Trump, apparently not caring that would sign the death warrant on hundreds of thousands. “No one reached out to me and said, ‘As a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren?’ And if that’s the exchange, I’m all in,” said the Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick, blithely willing to sacrifice my mother, among millions of other senior citizens, in favor of the economy. And they have hardly been alone; the GOP backed up this call for the death of the weak and indigent all across the country.

Everywhere, the skeleton is blatantly revealed, as if the speed of the virus’ spread is forcing the right to give up on their usual policies of misdirection and dissembling and just grab while they can. Ladling the relief bill meant for ordinary people with billions in pork for their corporate friends. Using the virus as a cynical play to attempt to deny abortions at the state level (something even Trump and Bush court appointees found too raw to allow). McConnell, that master of playing the system, tried to convince his right-wing judge friends to stay in office in case the Democrats used this period to slip some left-wing judges through. Several Republican senators used insider information to make money on stocks because of the virus. Republicans are trying to manipulate election and voting rules using the virus as cover. And on and on.

Everywhere, the right is using a national health crisis as cover to steal money, push their right-wing agenda, curtail voting rights, and perform their other usual tricks, only the virus has forced them to be blatant about it. To reveal the bones beneath, rather than the pretty bodies they usually cloak their ugly agenda in.

I know you all have a lot bombarding you right now. A lot to worry about, a lot of stressors in your life. I know local, state, and national elections are probably the last thing on your mind after, say, toilet paper (found some yesterday!), keeping your kids healthy, calling Nana, and figuring out what to do now the the grocery store is out of dog food or Uncle John is sick and there’s no one nearby to take care of him. I totally get it.

And these bastards, under the cover of our national emergency, are trying to steal our country out from under us. Fortunately, the bones of their plan are exposed. Don’t let them. Be vigilant. Keep an eye on them. Call them on it. Because when this is all over, we want to move forward, not back to the damn dark ages.