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

2986Will we ever learn?
(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

comingtoamericatrading
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:

IMG_5252

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

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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.

We can’t save your industry, journalists

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Image courtesy of The Lexington Leader

27 years ago this January, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina releasing Mosaic, the first fully-realized Web browser and, in one of the few times in which this phrase is actually not hyperbole, changed the world.

Now of course you can search for information, reach a book, watch movies or TV shows, chat with whoever you want, get weather information, check your email, get traffic updates, and do any of a hundred other information-related tasks from a hand-held device you can carry with you at all times, almost anywhere on Earth. In the Hindu Kush, for all I know. I mean, that’s changing the world. In my life there have been a very few times when I’ve watched something happen and known it was history and felt the shiver of the realization run down my spine. Watching Apollo 11 lift off; being shown the Palm Pilot for the first time (for me, the iPhone was Steve Jobs gluing a Palm Pilot to a cell phone; a brilliant combination, but the Palm Pilot was the real innovation); and watching Mosaic being demonstrated by my friend Nate. I saw the world changing right there on his desktop.

We all know what this has brought to us as we text our friends across the country while in a virus lockdown. Hell, I talked about it in a blog post just a week or so ago. Not everyone recognized it for what it was at first, of course. I had a head start as a nerd, and of course Nate showed it to me. It took music companies a notoriously long time to adapt to online downloading, and only really got a grip once Apple came out with the iPod and Steve Jobs used his famed Reality Distortion Field to convince them to do it his way long enough to get things going. TV and Film companies eventually took it well enough to create what is now being called “The Golden age of television.” Eventually the world tends to adapt to new tech, even the Amish if they so wish. (They use roller skates, after all.)

25 years after wide adoption, however, print media is still flailing.

I’ve been watching almost since the beginning, and frankly it’s made me pretty angry. I love newspapers. I’ve been reading newspapers since I were a wee lad, growing up under the shadow of the Nixon administration just outside of DC in Alexandria, Virginia, during the Watergate era, reading the Post and enjoying four pages of comics. I love them. When I left home, I made sure my dorm subscribed to a newspaper. I moved 12 times during my years in Santa Cruz, and the first thing I always did on moving was to subscribe to a paper. And I continued that policy after getting married, and after moving to Austin, lo on up into the 2000s.

But the print media, they didn’t adapt. They just…didn’t.

Print media, historically, is a bit…well, weird. In ye olden days, it was built around one rich guy. Think Citizen Kane. I know that’s a fictional film, but it resonates because it’s based on a true story, specifically that of William Randolph Hearst and others of his ilk. A rich guy would start a newspaper, usually with a particular agenda, and would publish it and “encourage” stories and editorials of his liking. Later, papers evolved and they became less supported by one rich guy and rather a combination of subscribers and advertisers. Later, advertisers because a much bigger part of their cash structure, and rich guys less.  Much later came corporations who consolidated papers, so that dozens of local papers were owned by one giant company, who continued to fund them from advertising (both local and national) and subscriber fees. But the important thing here is, advertising was a big component in paying for your news.

Now, a knowledgeable person would tear this to shreds in the minute details, but this is an overall picture, so just bear with me here. The key point stands: Advertising made up a huge percentage of a newspaper’s income.

With the coming of the Web, suddenly you’re able to publish online for very little. No more did you need giant printing presses, tons of paper, lots of ink, fleets of trucks, and a bunch of paperboys on bikes. Now—just like me here at my laptop—you could file and send out a story by typing it and pressing a button, and literal millions could read it on their laptops. Advertisers, naturally, didn’t want to pay as much for online ads. The amount papers got in advertising money totally cratered.

So okay: Print media needed a new model.

And that’s what the situation has been for 25 years! The music industry—reluctantly, kicking and screaming, crying poverty the whole way—adapted. The TV and film industry adapted and are making spectacular amounts of money. What is the print media doing?

Well, starting in the 90s they began holding meetings. Convening think-tanks. Having conferences. Suggesting solutions. Making recommendations. And they came up with an idea: Pay walls.

Tech people had already tried this model. In tech, we had been doing online content for a while—I’d been doing it since 1991 or so—and we’d found it didn’t work. People hated it. You needed to do something else. But print media was convinced they could make it work. So for the last 25 years they’ve been trying it, in various flavors. (eg The NY Times pay “wall” is more like a sieve; there’s any number of ways around it. Some other media sites let you access current content but not old content. Others make you see advertising if you don’t subscribe but turn it off if you do. Some let you see X number of articles per month for free then you have to subscribe. Etc. No consistency; it various from site to site.)

It hasn’t worked.

The industry has been contracting severely over the last 25 years. There’s been mass layoffs consolidation. Dozens of local papers have closed. Media people—high-visibility media people such as Rachel Maddow—have now taken to begging publicly for people to please, please subscribe to their local papers to help keep them alive. We need our local papers, people like Rachel say; they’re critical to the health of our country!

I couldn’t agree with Rachel more. But unfortunately, begging for people to subscribe based on their altruism is not a viable business model. It’s going to be even less successful than paywalls. I’m not saying this to be a harsh jerk; I’m saying it because it’s obvious and true.

Print media needs to do now what it seemed incapable of doing for the last 25 years: Seriously examine it’s business and make the changes it must in order to continue to survive. And the most critical of these is: No one is going to save it except the people themselves. The journalists and editors and reporters. Not the subscribers, the advertisers, the executives, and certainly not the publishers, who notoriously are rich jerk-weeds like Jeff Bezos. It’s the “individual contributors” (as we say in high tech, of which I am one!). You folks have to save yourselves.

And as I’ve always hated people that kvetch without suggesting things and, while I’m not a journalist, I do have a few thoughts. These are the thoughts of a naive technonerd, a non-journalist, who is well aware of his lack of journalism training. But I am trying to help, okay? Really. And yes, I do subscribe to a number of media. So here we go.

First, it seems to me are quite a few areas of cost that maybe you could lower in your current model. For example, what is the profit and loss of your print runs? Do you actually make money by maintaining all those printing presses, delivery trucks, drivers, paper boys, and what not? Seems like a lot of overhead to a nerd like me, who does his own publishing by pressing a button.

Another thing I often wonder about is coverage. Does every paper really need to have a White House reporter, a DC bureau reporter, a London bureau reporter, and so on? Can’t the various papers & magazines band together on this kind of reporting, especially the international reporting? Why the heck are there 200-or-whatever White House reporters? That’s just absurd. To be perfectly blunt: It seems like that huge corps of reporters only exists for the ego of the reporters themselves. Couldn’t the salary of one Jim Acosta be better spent on three local reporters covering city halls? Nothing against Jim Acosta, who I like, but do we need 200 Acostas?

The same thing goes for any bureau at a paper. Do you all need duplication of science desks, entertainment desks, etc? Wouldn’t it be much better to have those folks out covering local news? I’m hearing all these journalists begging for subscribers to local papers. I’m down for that, so long as local papers are covering local stories. Local government, local entertainment, other local stuff. Anywhere there’s duplication, that seems like wasted effort to me.

I’m sure some of these ideas are dumb because of my ignorance of the business. My goal here is to get these journalists thinking outside their standard model a bit. That model has been in place an awful long time, and when you’re in a bubble that long, it’s hard to think outside it. In tech, we don’t really get that luxury. (eg the White House press corps is ridiculously big; from the outside, it just seems stupid and redundant.) Because I’m serious: After 25 years, if the best you have is to beg for more subscribers, you’re screwed.

To hell with your advertisers, your publishers, and your executives; figuring this out is up to the members of this business. I love the industry. I don’t want to see it die. We can’t save it for you. So buckle on your damn thinking caps, journalists, and get thinking on how to save it for yourselves and us!

What moments may come

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One never knows when a moment may come

In this time of fear and stress and panic, sickness and death, heroism and cowardice, wisdom and stupidity, moments, brief moments, can stand out and take on outsized meaning.

I’ve written a bit about some of these moments I’ve noticed. The quiet that seems to have descended on all of us, some of which can be frightening, but some of which can be blissful. I’ve written about the comfort that can come from the most mundane moments in life, and how it can tether you to reality, and help you to keep from drowning in your own fear and panic and those internal voices that threaten to overwhelm you. I’ve written and will keep writing and keep publishing in the hopes that these small personal insights will help the folks that read them, help you all keep your demons at bay, as they help me with mine.

I’m a romantic slob. It’s a part of my nature. I cried in Star Trek II when Spock died. I watch Sound of Music sometimes and turn off my snark circuit, because sometimes you need to bathe in the catharsis of schmaltz. And deep down, I think the most cynical in us needs those moments, just to reacquaint ourselves with the fact that, yes, there is real beauty out there, and it’s okay to appreciate it. It’s okay, in fact, to let it overwhelm you. Even if it’s just for a minute or two, when no one’s watching.

I was walking the dogs and listening to my iPhone on my headphones. As I was passing under a tree, The Beatles’ Blackbird came on, and a bird above me was singing along with it. All through the song I stood there, entranced, the song and the birds on the track in my headphones singing along with the real bird in the tree above as the light was fading slowly from the evening sky.

It was such a powerful moment of transcendent, heart-stopping beauty, right now, amidst so much fear and suffering and death, I just burst into tears from the sudden loveliness of it. I stood there, listening to the bird and the song and a young Paul McCartney singing alone, accompanying himself on the guitar, tears literally streaming down my voice, overcome. Nature, and a bird, and a song, all combined just for a moment of perfection, and I was there.

And I wanted to share it. Share it with you all.

I hugged myself there, on the sidewalk, the dogs waiting patiently, the light still slowly fading, my eyes wet. I paused the music after the song ended and pulled off the headphones. The bird had stopped singing too, as if she had sensed she needed to acknowledge something too. There was a faint rumble of a truck on the road, a ways away. A runner turned into the road heading towards me. A squirrel gave me a look. The dogs waited. The world kept turning, as it does.

Life can be so hard sometimes. And then it can touch us, just like that.

Relieving pandemic stress through the mundane

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It ain’t poetry, but maybe it can soothe

I have been in bad pain now for six days.

This is where I would put the cliché “pain and I are old friends,” but you know what? Pain and I are long-time enemies. Pain is mother-fucker, a bastard, a son-of-a-bitch, an asshole. I hate pain. Pain is a demon that has been torturing and tormenting me, regularly, for as long as I can remember, from the usual childhood injuries of course, but mostly through the agony of migraines that started when I was a teen and continue to this day, and post-surgical chronic pain from nerve damage to my spinal cord that requires daily doses of opioids and regular steroid shots and radio-frequency “nerve burns” to keep at bearable level. But it never, ever, ever goes away. Pain has been pounding at the inside of my left eyeball and eyebrow, and clawing at the back of the base of my skull on the right-hand side, for longer than Gen Z has been alive. My neck pain is old enough to vote. My migraines should start getting mail from AARP any day now. Fuck pain.

And for six days now, I’ve been in pain where my migraines are alternating with a flare-up of my neck pain for supremacy. And you might wonder why this is. Well, it’s because I’ve been tensing my neck and shoulders and clenching my jaw.

From the stress.

You feel it too, don’t you? There’s a friggin’ pandemic outside your door. You can feel it, can’t you? Like a damn Stephen King monster, waiting out there for you to make a false move. You just want to walk the dog, or pick up a gallon of milk, or get a 4-pack of toilet paper (good luck with that!), or grab a box of tampons, or whatever, and you feel like you’re taking your life in your hands just by stepping over the threshold, don’t you? Hell, just opening the door! It doesn’t matter that your rational mind is telling you that the virus isn’t airborne and there’s no darn way you can get it just walking Fido down to the mailbox and back. Your panicked lizard brain is screaming at you, all the time. Someone touched your door handled! Someone brushed against your car door! The mailman wasn’t wearing gloves! That cat brushed against an infected person! Unclean, unclean! Stay inside or die!

Pretty stressful.

Right? You hear that voice; you know what I’m talking about. You’re stressed to the gills. My body is expressing it with tense muscles and a clenched jaw, translating to (goddammit) massive fucking pain.

But you don’t have my issues. So maybe you’re sleeping 12, 14 hours a day and thinking, “WTF is wrong with me? No on needs this much sleep!” Or maybe you’re obsessively watching Bugs Bunny cartoons. Or your favorite anime. Or playing Animal Crossing 10 hours a day. Or have read 4 volumes of Gibbon’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and are halfway through volume 5. Or have been playing your piano so much your fingertips are dry and cracked. Or have completed 127 new cels for your next animated film. Or like me, have poured out thousands of new words of text.

(Or on the dark side, beating your partner or your kids. Or buying 20 sacks of potatoes at the grocery store. Or having long talks with your dead father. Or something even worse.)

Stress manifests in different ways in different people. I carry mind physically, partly because that’s how I’m built, and partly because I have an autistic son who needs me to keep it together and so flipping out is really not an option.

I can’t help much if you’re in the darker category other than to urge you if you’re locked down with an abuser to get out. I know it isn’t easy, especially now, and I speak from experience. But please try. Please. You don’t deserve what’s happening to you.

And for the rest of us—those sleeping 14 hours, or watching Cowboy Bebop on an endless loop or re-reading their Jane Austen collection for the ninth time or whatever—I would urge you to have some patience with yourself, show some kindness to yourself. You are going through a period of (literally!) unprecedented stress right now. Unprecedented! Cut yourself some slack. Adjusting to such stress is not something you can do by flipping a switch. If you need to take it slow, take it slow. After all, if you force yourself beyond your limits and snap, you’ll be no good to anybody, especially yourself.

And then, set yourself reasonable goals. This won’t last forever (there; I fell into a cliche, but it’s true), and keeping that in mind will help. You can’t control it, so deal with the stuff you can. Cook. Shower. Eat regularly. Brush your teeth. Sleep regularly. I’ve worked from home a lot in my career, and it’s the little regular things that keep you going, believe it or not. Getting up in the morning. Having breakfast. Showering. Lunch. A break in the afternoon. If you need a nap to recharge, then take a damn nap. There’s a pandemic on, FFS; no one is going to begrudge you a 30 minute break. Bring in the mail. Empty the trash. Walk the dog. Feed the cat.

Anchor yourself in these mundane but very real tasks, because they are stuff of life, the tiny threads that can help hold you grounded to the world, help prevent you from coming untethered. Life is a series of moments, many of them mundane, almost all of them completely unrelated to anything to do with the virus. So do those, and think about them while you’re doing them. Yup, I know it sounds silly, but it’ll help.

This is not profound. This is not the universe in a grain of sand, nor am I the Dalai Lama. This is a time of huge fear and transition and stress, and I am a terribly right-brain, rational person. But it seems to me your dog needs someone who is worried more about feeding her, and your lawn needs to be mowed, and isn’t it time you vacuumed because that carpet is starting to make that awful crunching noise, don’t you think? I mean, yuck, right? And maybe in the mundane, you can find a bit less stress, and a bit more peace.