THAT Escalated Quickly

I have a pacemaker now.  I keep saying it to myself waiting for it to sink in. To get some kind of reaction.  Something significant. Something momentous. I’ve got a little computer in my shoulder that controls my heart via three wires.

A technician can pull out a large briefcase-sized unit, press a couple of keys and say “Your heartrate is 80. ”

Click-click-click

“Now it’s 70.”

And all I can think of is how cool it is. There’s a box about the size of a set-top cable box plugged in next to my bed that downloads data from the pacemaker and transmits it to my Arrhythmia Guy’s office every night. If they see something funky, I’ll get a phone call the next morning. Having a pacemaker means never being alone.

I didn’t know I was getting a pacemaker Wednesday when I got up buttcrack early to go to St. Elizabeth’s. I knew I was getting one someday, but that was some other time that wasn’t now.  Wednesday was supposed to be an ablation. It’s the same procedure I had two-and-a-half years ago. I’d been in A-Fib since May. I’d been progressively feeling worse and worse. I ‘d cooked at the Porkopolis Eggfest over the weekend and it just about did me in.  I couldn’t walk more than a few feet without having to rest. It’s been hard to stand for any  length of time for quite a while. I don’t even want to talk about the depression. It’s not been a period I plan to look back on with nostalgia.

A-Fib isn’t what got me the pacemaker.  Not directly, anyway.  What got me the pacemaker is something called a Left Bundle Branch Block.  That had first been diagnosed back in 2004 or 2005.  When it was first discovered a cardiologist told me that someday I’d have a pacemaker.

Someday.

My heart apparently decided someday was Wednesday. According to my surgeon, they had run the first lead up my leg to start the ablation procedure when the left side of my heart decided it wasn’t going to talk to the right side anymore. Maybe they talked politics. Could have been Russia.  Might have been a Bernie/Hillary conversation.  I don’t know. Whatever it was they had to go track down Carla to get permission to change directions.  Apparently one of the leads was tough to get in. Took three or four tries. They did a cardioversion and called it a day. The nurse anesthesiologist’s first words to me (that I remember, anyway) were “We’re done and we had to put in a pacemaker.”

I feel OK. I can already tell that I can stand and walk better than I could Monday. Some things are awkward because I have to limit my range of motion with my left arm for the next six weeks. It’s going to take a while for the leads to get really secure in my heart muscle, so I have to be careful about pulling them out. That means I can’t reach backwards with my left arm or go above my shoulder with my left hand.  I can’t lift a weight more than 10 pounds or so with my left arm. It’s going to be difficult. Not impossible, just difficult. Pain in the ass more than anything else.

There are still adjustments to be made.  One side effect is that one of the leads stimulates the left side of my diaphragm.  Imagine having the hiccups on one side and not the other. It’s as pleasant as it sounds. It was bad the first night, but a rep from the pacemaker manufacturer came out and made some initial adjustments. I still get them, but not very bad.  It has a lot to do what position I’m in.  It’s extremely mild (or can be if I shift around) so I’m inclined to let it ride until my next follow-up in a bit over a week. I figure there’s a lot of adjusting to be done.

When I had the ablation done in 2015 I didn’t say much about it. This time I decided to be a bit more open about what was going on. I’m glad I did.  I’ve gotten wonderful support from so many people. I’m grateful for all of you. I still feel a bit shakey. Anesthesia has always kicked my butt and this time is no different.

So I have a pacemaker. That’s not a surprise. Apparently I also have a future I don’t have to dread. That’s what’s different.

 

A SMOBOT Kickstarter Update

SMOBOT Control Unit
I cannot wait to get my hands on this thing.

I made a post about the SMOBOT Kickstarter campaign when it started back at the beginning March. I’ve been obsessively tracking its progress. There are now five days to go and it’s hard to say whether or not they’re going to get funded or not. They need about 50 more people to commit to buying a unit. I have no illusions that a lot of people read this blog, but I’m going to write this in the hope that it might help someone who’s on the fence make a decision. I like the guys behind this. I’ve been using  a pre-production Beta unit for over a year now and I love it.

If you’re not sure what a SMOBOT is, go read the last blog post and watch the video. The tl;dr version is it’s a robotic damper control unit that attaches to the top of a Kamado-style smoker like the Big Green Egg, Kamado Joe, or Primo. A thermocouple tracks the temp inside the cooker and the damper opens and closes to maintain the temperature at the set point. The damper looks like this when it’s operating.

Animated GIF of the damper working
This is a time-lapse of the damper working. In real-time you rarely see the damper visibly move. The individual adjustments are very small. That’s why the whole unit can be powered by batteries.

There are also two food probes that allow you to track the temperature of whatever you’re cooking. And since we live in the future, all the data is available on your local Wi-Fi network and even through a free cloud service. When you’re a nerd like me, that’s pretty damned cool.

What the SMOBOT doesn’t have is a fan or blower. There are other temperature control units out there, but they require you attach a blower unit to the lower air inlet of the cooker. That’s where the airflow control comes from. Clearly the things work because lots of people swear by them, but they never appealed to me. The whole idea of something like a Kamado is that it’s built to draw in air. The things work essentially like a convection oven. Getting air into the things is not the issue.  The issue is how much and when. That’s what the SMOBOT takes care of. It constantly watches the temperature and fiddles with the damper when it needs to, and leaves it alone otherwise.

The data from my last cook. Winds were 18mph gusting to 30mph. They were blowing directly into the damper-opening side of my Big Green Egg. It was like sticking a hair dryer in the lower damper and randomly turning it off and on. To say these were challenging conditions is an understatement. I never touched a thing from the time I put on the food to the time I took it off. I was actually cutting the Kickstarter video the whole time.

I have no idea how much charcoal Eric Reinhart and Curtis Pope have burned developing the algorithm that runs the thing. There’s probably an sixteenth of a degree of global warming with their name on it. Small coal plants in China look at them and say “See?  Why are we getting all the blame? Hey, is that honey-glazed pork?” Whatever rainforests have been depleted, the algorithm is solid. The published control range is +/- 5°F, but I’m convinced the thing takes a 2°F error kind of personally. You can see from that graph up there that the unit never stops looking for that equilibrium point. It’s sort of Terminator-like that way.  Except for the whole traveling-back-to-the-past-to-kill-your-mother thing. I can saw with absolute assurance mine has never done that. Mark that worry off your list.

I really like the design of the production units. I’ve used my trusty Beta unit for a long time, but when I get my new one it’s going to be displayed on a shelf. From that picture I can’t be certain, but I think these units are quite a bit smaller than the Betas were. For one thing they aren’t trying to jam two 9v batteries in there. It’s powered via a USB port now. I’m assuming that’s a micro-USB cable plugged into the side in that picture, which means that whole thing isn’t very big at all. They’ve decided to ship a 4000mAh external battery pack with the Kickstarter package and the estimate is that it should last 48 hours in continuous operation. Worried about weather?  You should be able to toss the controller and battery in a zip-top bag. It doesn’t matter if the damper gets wet. Mine sits out in the weather continuously and laughs at rain. At least that’s what it tells me it’s laughing at. I think it might actually be me it’s laughing at. I’m very insecure that way.

Something that people are really paranoid about is the damper getting gunked up with grease and grit. It can happen, but it doesn’t really cause a problem. If the damper gets bound up with dried grease, you can easily free up the mechanism by lifting up on the arm that moves the damper just a little. It’s not like it’s welded or anything. The bond is pretty weak.  I light my Egg with a torch and I just swipe the flame over the metal part a couple of times.  That melts the grease and then it’s lubrication, not a binder.

They’ve added an indicator light to confirm the unit is actually attached to your Wi-Fi network, which is nice. Once you get it set up on Wi-Fi the first time there’s not much reason to mess with it, but it’s nice to have the visual feedback without having to reach for a phone to check each time. I’ve used the Beta unit at our local Eggfest using a LTE hotspot and it works great.  Cooking at one of those things can be hectic (and loads of fun), and it’s nice when you can resist the urge to fiddle with the dampers, especially since the lid gets opened and closed so much more often than with a normal cook.

The best new feature after the overall size and USB power is that “auto” button.  You’ll usually want to turn on the unit when you’re first lighting the fire. The lid’s up and at that point, though, and you really don’t need the damper working so it powers up in “manual” mode. On the Beta units you had to scroll through a menu to kick it into “auto” mode so the controller would take over.  It was remarkably easy to forget to do.  Or so I hear. Just like I heard a rumor it’s easy to forget to attach the thermocouple to the grate. Don’t think there’s anything they’ll be able to add to fix that.

The coolest thing that’s happened during the Kickstarter is that they’ve been able to add the Char-Griller Akorn Kamado grills to the lineup of cookers the SMOBOT can work with. For whatever reason, most of the ceramic Kamados have top vents that are similar enough that mounting the SMOBOT is just a matter of using one screw. The Akorns — which are made of steel and are typically much less expensive than the ceramic types — use a different type of top vent mount. Apparently a guy with both an Akorn and a 3D printer really wanted a SMOBOT.  After a little back and forth with Eric and Curtis, he came up with a prototype mount that works, so there’s an Akorn version of SMOBOT now. I’m pretty sure the same thing is going to happen with other models of cookers, but probably not in the next five days.

I know I know a lot of people who own some kind of Kamado cooker. Let this be my gentle reminder to you that you need one of these things. It works. It’s easy to use. It lets you sleep when you when you want to cook over night. It’s also just a cool gadget.

SMOBOT: Where Your Inner Geek Meets Your Inner Cook on Kickstarter

Something genuinely good is happening today. It’s nice to be able to say that. It’s been a long time since I’ve posted here. I’ve had to step back from the world a little to maintain my own sanity.  But today something good is happening. Something that makes me happy.

In May of 2014 I saw a video on one of the Big Green Egg forums by a guy named Eric Reinhart demonstrating a gadget he’d built. It was an automatic damper controller for his Egg. It controlled the temperature inside his egg by controlling how much air was being drawn in to feed the fire.  Like any kind of grill, the Egg takes in air from one damper to supply the fire oxygen and expels it out another as really good-smelling smoke. On an Egg (and other similar kamado-style cookers) the air goes in on the bottom and out the top. One of the reason people love this style cooker is that they’re very fuel-efficient. The heavy walls (typically ceramic or very thick metal) allow a very small fire maintain a temperature for a long time.  I’ve gone longer than 24 hours on less than 9 lbs of lump charcoal and had fuel to spare.

I have heard tell of people who can set the dampers once and walk away until it’s time to pull the food off the next day.  I am not one of those people. I can dial in a temperature that will hold for about six hours before it starts wandering. Realistically, I’d probably do better just to leave it alone and let the thing find it’s own equilibrium, but I’m not that person either. I mess with things.  It’s what I do.  The gadget I saw Eric demonstrating neatly solved the problem.  I wanted one. So I emailed him to find out what the deal was.

The deal was that this was his hobby.  He had a full-time job that kept him busy and (I later learned) a daughter on the way.  He was exploring the idea of building a few of the things and I asked him to put me on the list. I was completely paranoid about an announcement email going to spam and missing out, so every six months or so I’d email him to see what was happening. He’d always respond quickly and reassure me I’d not missed out. He’d been busy. Life is life , after all.

Then one day he emailed me (and it didn’t go to spam!  Yay!). He was finally pushing ahead on building some units  and asked if I was still interested. “Oh HELL yes!”  I thought,  though I was slightly more restrained in my response. But only somewhat. There are other temperature-assist units out there. What they have in common, though, is that they force air into the smoker using a blower.  People who use them love them, but it somehow seems like cheating to me. It’s not. There is no “cheating.” There’s not a rulebook.1 It’s just a personal preference, but it’s the one I have and I’m going with it.  I wanted to hold out for a passive system.

I learned as we chatted that Eric had joined up with Curtis Pope to refine and, eventually, market the gadget. It had a name now:  SMOBOT.  And a logo (though it changed later). I got to try out one of the Alpha-stage prototypes and was instantly hooked. I learned that part of the reason the timeline had stretched on was Curtis was working to wi-fi enable the device and that meant the control unit was basically rebuilt. The Alpha was Bluetooth-only, and even that was wonky. You could reliably control it remotely from up to four feet away. As long as you were outside. The Beta units would be controllable via wi-fi.  When I got my hands on an early Beta, I threw together a video they were able to put up on their website to explain what the thing did. Anytime you can use the words “robot apocalypse” in a project you know it’s going well.

It was definitely a beta unit. New software would be pushed out, and sometimes we’d get an email a day or so later saying “Um. You might not want to do that update if you haven’t already.” It only happened a couple of times, but it was still a work in progress. I’ve pretty much quit using my Egg without the SMOBOT attached. The Beta units are powered by two 9V batteries and the original leads were terrible. Eric came up with better ones and I sent mine back to him to be retrofitted. I made sure I did it when we were traveling so I wouldn’t have to be without the thing when I wanted to cook.

A little over a month ago Curtis and Eric contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in cutting their Kickstarter video.  I jumped at the chance. Some of the copy from my original video made it into this one, but this is a lot more polished project. I guess I should disclose that I have gotten paid for this, but the negotiations were pretty much “whatever is fine.”  These units are also going to be more polished. The Beta cycle taught a lot of lessons. You’ll be able to power it using anything that can charge a cell-phone, for example.  The wi-fi has always been solid, but I’m looking forward to seeing what’s been done with it using an upgraded chipset.

So the Kickstarter is live as of now. I think I’ve told everyone I know who has a kamado-type smoker, but in case I’ve missed you:  BUY THIS!


1Please don’t yell at me if you have a blower-type controller. Your happiness with what you’re doing is all the justification you need to use what you like. Seriously. I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong, because … well … you just aren’t. This isn’t Highlander. There can be more than one.

It’s not going to be OK

Well, it’s finally here. I said I was staying off social media (and anything resembling live media) today, so if you’re seeing this on Facebook or Twitter it’s only because I have my blog set to squirt my posts over there.1 You can leave a comment there, but I won’t see it for a few days. Or you can leave one here. Or you can be like me and roil in a pit of despair.  After brunch. And doing some prep for my classes. I’m reasonably certain Monday will still happen. Everything after that is a crapshoot.

Both of my parents died of cancer. I remember what it was like knowing that it was just a matter of time before something awful happened and feeling utterly powerless to do anything about it. Then, when they died, saying to myself over and over “now it’s real” and being unprepared for it.  And I’ll never forget getting to the J-School the morning we started bombing Baghdad in 1991 and meeting Doug Barthlow outside the library. “Things are going to be different for the rest of our lives,” he said “We’re going to be living with this forever. It’s never going to be the same again.” That’s what today feels like. It’s a little before 10AM EST as I write this, so technically the world is still sane, but it’s over. I’m assuming the choreography has begun and the orange-skinned homunculus is strutting and thrusting out his jaw like the two-bit Mussolini wannabe he is. He wanted military units and tanks and missiles in his parade, people.  That’s fucked up.

Gallons of ink have been spilled and gazillions of electrons have been rearranged so people like me can scream. Today we become that dystopian novel we read. Today we lose all the wars we’ve fought in the past. Today Moscow becomes the most important capital in the world, and they didn’t really have to work that hard to do it. All they had to do was give us the fuel and we were perfectly content to burn ourselves down.

We’re really good at that, the burning ourselves down thing, I mean. I remember that tape that came out from Osama bin Laden where him and a couple of the other planners were talking about the 9/11 attacks. They were as surprised as we were that the buildings actually fell down . They knew they were going to kill a lot of people and we’d overreact and weaken ourselves as a result, but they never let themselves hope it would work out that well (from their perspective). We completely lost our shit. A few thousand guys running around in the mountains of Afghanistan managed to make a country of 350 million people with the most powerful military on earth completely lose its shit. 9/11 sucked, but it was alike giving a gorilla a little paper cut. The reaction should have been “Hey, do that another — oh — 200 or 300 times and you might start drawing some blood. Meanwhile we’re going to piss you off by not changing a bit.  Sure, we’ll hunt you down and turn you into a stain that’ll take more than Tide to get out, but we’re going to do it by being exactly the same as we were before. We can make you a footnote and not even break a sweat.” But, of course, we didn’t do that. We chose to become a completely different country.  One where the thing we fear the most is fear itself. That’s why the subtitle to this blog is what it is. The people who wanted to destroy the US in the past went about it the wrong way. We were always the best people for the job.

I don’t think there’s some hotline from Moscow to Washington with Putin issuing orders to his poodle.  Put a complete fucking moron in the top job and suddenly the United States is way down on Vlad’s “Things-I-have-to-worry-about-today” list. The things my parents and grandparents believed in and sacrificed for become irrelevant today. The zombie apocalypse is upon us. Mitch McConnell’s general appearance aside, the zombies aren’t undead people looking for brains to eat. They’re dead-eyed authoritarians looking for money to take. The country is about to be sold for parts. You will not be receiving payment. But the beatings will continue until morale improves.  Or not. It’s pretty much the same to the folks in charge. No one’s asking you to like it. You’re just supposed to comply.

I am, of course, over-reacting. “It’s all going to be fine,” you say,  “it can’t happen here.” Hands start waving around and a blanket of vague descends if I ask you, “Really?  Why not?” A lot of people are going to be in the streets today and tomorrow saying “This is not OK” and that’s the most hopeful thing I’m seeing right now. As bad as things are — and experience has taught me you tend to dread the wrong things too much and the things that really wind up sucking you don’t dread nearly enough — I find hope in that I know I’m not alone in this. I have found there are a lot of people out there who’ve been feeling like Cassandra. We’ve been on the wrong path for a very long time. You see, the deal with the idea of the USA isn’t that we’re especially good or exceptional people.  We’re just regular, flawed,  people who aspire to good and exceptional things for everybody. We’re not unique in that. Wanting good and exceptional things doesn’t make us good and exceptional. It just described how hard we needed to work. We mistook the ends for means. The payments for that mistake is coming due. And it’s going to suck.

It’s not going to be OK. That suggests that things are going to be how things are going to be without intervention and all we have to do is sit back a take the ride. If things wind up working out OK it’s because people will have made it OK and probably hurt some feelings along the way. Euphemisms and platitudes aren’t going to cut it. Civility is a great thing when you agree on ends but not on means. It makes it much more likely you’ll get there. It’s important to not jump to conclusions, though. Really, really important. Be sure you’re not really working for the same ends before you abandon civility. It’s hard to roll that back. If you get that wrong you are, indeed, the asshole. Political party labels are useless now. I know many, many, many self-identified Republicans who are horrified at what’s starting. There are things (guns, abortion, LGBTQ equality) we (stridently) disagree on, but we all fundamentally believe in the underlying framework for how that stuff gets worked out (and that it’s always a temporary solution). This isn’t liberal/conservative. Edmund Burke and Barry Goldwater would look at the current GOP and say “what the fuck is wrong with you people?” They’re not exactly relying on time-tested traditions. They’re about to throw a lot of them out.  There’s nothing conservative about what’s going on.

So today it all changes. In about half an hour  from now we’re through the looking glass. God help us all.

See you on the other side.


1Paints quite a picture, eh?  You’re welcome.

Putin’s Poodle

I have long opposed the death penalty on the slippery slope principal.  Once we enshrine the idea that the State has the right to kill someone, the only thing left to argue is who gets to decide who needs killing. The list of those who decide tends to be people way too comfortable with the idea of doing it and the list that says who deserves killing only gets longer. It’s an awfully big hammer. So tempting to use. Sooner or later we’ll all qualify in someone’s eyes, and you never know who’s going to be put in charge. The usual argument I get into is someone points at some really heinous killer and says “You want to keep this guy alive?” (It’s usually a guy, and I figure in this case the sexism of that construction might get a pass). And I say “No, I really don’t. But I believe what I believe despite the fact that guys like that exist. That’s how important I think it is. Better this guy rot in a cell then say ‘Sure, I trust your judgement about who lives and dies.’ Because I don’t.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot as it’s becoming clearer and clearer that, domestically anyway, the focus of the incoming administration will be to dismantle as much of the social safety net as it possibly can and sell it off piece by piece. Look at the people being nominated for Cabinet positions. Each and every one has a vested interest in gutting them. People keep yelling about “conflicts of interest” when, in fact, there’s no conflict at all. They don’t believe there should be a social safety net. Their interest is to make sure there isn’t one. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature. There’s no conflict.

“What do you mean you have popular prices? You’re the most expensive in town!”

“Well, we like them.”

I think idiot who got elected is only interested in having power and enriching himself and his family. I think his Veep is  interested in leading the Republican effort to strip the country down for parts and install a soft-core theocracy that allows you to believe anything you want as long as the only opinion that counts is “What Would White Jesus Do (in our opinion)?”

I’m equally convinced that Russia’s victory in the Cold War becomes final just after noon on January 20, 2017. They won this election. I don’t think that’s because they “hacked” the election. I think they hacked some computers and ran a pretty standard disinformation campaign. I don’t think they messed with voting machines because that’s not the weakest part of the system. That would be the people who do the voting. I do believe there was coordination between the Republican campaign and some Russian intelligence service if for no other reason Rudy Giuliani seemed to know what Wikileaks was going to leak before they actually did it. But that’s not why it worked. It worked because the Russians were very comfortable dealing with Americans as we actually are rather than who we’d like to think we are. Not having to pretend to care really opens up the old day planner.

And in the end we voted for the guy they wanted us to. By “we” I mean, of course,  the small number of rubes who had to vote particular ways in particular places to game the horrible system we use to elect a President. But they could have gotten more if they’d needed them. It’s not like the Democrats ran a candidate people actually liked. There were plenty of people out there plenty willing to believe all the pretty stories. Yes, in a sense, Clinton did win because she got more votes.  In the other, more accurate, sense she lost. There’s no “moral victory” column in the Electoral College.

At any point in the campaign did anyone ever float the idea that the CEO of ExxonMobil was the best person to be Secretary of State? There’s only one country that benefits from that, and Sarah Palin thinks she can see it from her house. (Hint: It’s not the United States). All the other appointments either hate the departments they’re supposed to run or they used to be a General up until very, very recently. Which is pretty much the way they run things in Moscow. There’s not a downside for Russia in this election. They don’t give a shit about our social safety net either. And they don’t have to pretend to. But we have to care about what they think because our Dear Leader loves their Dear Leader and wants to be just like him when he grows up.

So now we are confronted with the image of buyer’s remorse on a national scale. It’s kind of sort of sinking in for some people, but it’s coming for everyone who voted for him sooner or later. I’m on record (if Facebook can be considered a record) for wanting to be the one to announce to the assisted living facility that I worked on Election Day that the guy most of them voted for is going to touch their Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. And it’s going to be one of those bad touches you tell your grandkids about. Except you gave them permission to do it.

It’s tempting to sit back and laugh. Hey, if you’re dumb enough to vote for a con man, you deserve what you get. You managed to vote for the evil of two lessers. I can’t sustain that, though, any more than I change my tune on the death penalty when a serial killer or mass murderer is caught. I’m not going to oppose cuts to healthcare and the rest of the social safety net because the people who will benefit from them in the short term did anything to deserve it. I’m going to oppose them because it’s the right thing to do. I believe it so much, in fact, I’m willing to fight for it even when you couldn’t be bothered to do it yourselves.

For your sake I hope there are enough of us.  Because otherwise, you are screwed. All of us are, but we’ve had longer to get used to the idea.

 

Hip-hop News (or Newsies Delight)

What’s the difference between what we’re calling “news” nowadays and popular music? Sample. Remix. Mashup. Grab a little from here, grab a little of that. Throw it on Twitter. Throw it on Facebook. Put it on a blog. Rinse. Repeat.

This came up from a comment that was made on a Facebook group I’m a part of:

They have a Twitter post in there. Let me double check though. Sheesh I miss the days when a story was a story.

“…when a story was a story.”  My first reaction?  “Sheesh I miss the days when the medium was the message.”

Has the internet finally killed McLuhan?  Besides the fact that he’s been dead for quite a while, I mean. We got hung up on “global villages” and extending our senses without noticing that “medium” doesn’t mean much anymore.

I have absolutely no business talking about popular music. I will look like the complete idiot I am because I know very, very little about it. It’s not a point of pride.  It’s not something I apologize for. It’s not that I don’t like music. I love music. I just don’t follow it much. I hear stuff I like all the time. I just don’t care enough about it to nerd out on it. I’m probably missing out, but I’m OK with it. I’m glad other people do.  I do know the process of making music is digital, though. Deciding to “be analog” is an artistic choice that comes with its own baggage. It used to just be the way things were. Sampling started pre-digital, but it got a lot easier to scale when digital came along. Anybody could do it. And they did.

I look forward to the day we have to explain a dual-“turntable” digital DJ mixer to a space alien. It’ll be a good warmup for explaining Twitter.

I’ve been thinking for a while that the processes described in Joshua Meyrowitz’s No Sense of Place have been accelerated and magnified through social media. He describes in his book how broadcast television broke the connection between physical and social spaces. Simply put, television showed everyone how the other half lived. Or at least it purported to, anyway. The effect was disruptive. The Civil Rights movement and the other social upheavals of the the 1960s and 1970s tracked right along with the rise of television as a dominant force in American society.  People saw how other people lived and said “holy crap, we’re getting screwed.” And they went out and did something about it.

I’ve been OK with this idea, but it hasn’t quite clicked for me yet. What’s happening now is similar to what Meyrowitz described, but I’m not sure it’s just that there’s more of it happening faster. I think it’s the matter of resolution.  Just like analog-to-digital processing can sample at rates far above human perception,¹ social media allows us to drill down below the level of broad group-level descriptions. We knew that what we saw on television back in the day wasn’t real representation of anyone’s specific life, but it was probably some sort of average. Now?  We can see down to the pixel or the sample. Facebook and Twitter shows us the trees and now we realize don’t really understand forests anymore.

My students are in the process of writing final projects for the semester and one of the things I keep urging them to do is revise, revise, revise. Write and then go back and fix it. You’re not going to write a finished product in a first draft. You’re used to reading final drafts. They didn’t start out looking that way.

We used to live in a world where we based what we knew off final drafts. Now we’re just waiting for the next remix.

Still not done with this.  Have to think about it more…


¹And I don’t give a fuck that you think you can tell the difference between a sampled file and an analog one. Compression?  Sure. Not all perceptual compression is going to fit everyone’s specific sensitivities. But not mere sampling. Your ego is exceeding your hardware.

Doing What’s Right

simple-candle-800pxIt’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that Mike Pence took the deal John Kasich was offered. The Grifter doesn’t want to be President. He just wants to be in charge. He wants to be the top of the food chain. As long as he’s El Jefé Anaranjado¹ who gets his cut from whatever money’s being made, he’s going to be happy. He’s going to reward those who helped him and punish those who hurt him. He’s not worried about the details. That’s what he has Pence for. Oh, and how Pence has taken the opportunity! Want to be in the Cabinet? Be white. Be rich. Be opposed to anything that wouldn’t fly in an Indiana town that has more churches than liquor stores. I have this picture in my head of Pence Interviews: The Musical where a chorus of interviewers sing (to the tune of The Spice Girls Wannabe): “Tell me that you’re white, that you’re really, really white…If you wannabe in my cabinet, you really gotta hate the gays…”

We’re going to start hearing a lot about rights soon, especially religious “rights.”  I have a complicated relationship with religion. My first and foremost belief is that my religion is none of your business. The second is like unto it:  I don’t want to hear about yours. I’m interested in what you do. I couldn’t care less why you think you do it. You have a justification? Yay you! Want a cookie? Regardless of what you do or don’t believe about life, the universe, and everything, the authority of your belief system ends where your skin meets the air. Your moral code has an intended population of one:  you. What you do to me matters to me. What I do to you matters to you. Everything else is rationalization.

Here’s what I’ve decided is going to be my standard going forward: No one has the right to make anyone else’s life harder. It’s a good thing to try to make people’s lives easier if you can, but it’s not always possible. It’s never OK to make someone’s life harder,

Life is hard all by its own self. You can do everything you’re supposed to do and try to be good to people and still get slapped upside the head with a metaphorical frozen fish. Make the circumstances weird enough, it becomes a real one. If something can go wrong it probably will. If there’s a bad time for someone to lose hope, that’s when it will most likely happen. If there’s a really bad time to become overconfident, someone’s going to ask you to hold their beer. If there’s any evidence it doesn’t work that way, I’ve yet to see it. Given that the essence of human nature is to screw thing up, the least we can do is not make anything worse for anyone else. When we rise above our natures we might actually make things better.  Hippocrates got it right, though.  First, do no harm.

If the news from the past couple of years is to be believed, the biggest threat to religious liberty are selling wedding cakes to people who you don’t think ought to get married and signing the legal documents necessary for the same. Forget the fact that refusing to sell the cake doesn’t stop anyone from getting married or that the state gets to tell you what forms you need to sign if you’re an elected official. What you think is going to happen to your soul is your business, not mine, but what you’re doing is making someone else’s life harder just because you want to. That’s not OK. Your life doesn’t get any worse if you sell that cake or sign that document. It goes on just like it did before.

“OK,” you say, “so I want to rob a bank. That guard at the door is making my life harder.” Yes, but you’re planning to make other people’s lives harder. The people in the bank. The people you’re stealing from. That guard is preventing you from making other people’s lives harder.

“Oh, OK, then,” you say, “so what about abortion? You’re making the fetus’s life worse, aren’t you?” Not so fast, Skippy. The fetus doesn’t exist separately from the mother. That fetus is entirely dependent on every decision the mother makes no matter what. Sounds like to me the only one qualified to make any decisions vis a vis the fetus is the mother. Someone does have to decide. It’s just not you. Unless you’re the mother. Otherwise all you’re doing is getting mixed up in something where you’re more likely to make someone’s life worse than better.

So as we enter these dark days ahead — and make no mistake, dark days are coming — hold on to simple truths. Evil isn’t complicated. “Fuck you” is a pretty simple concept. It pays to have simple truths for yourself to hold onto. The simplest truth is this: no one has the right to make someone else’s life harder.

Anyone who tells you otherwise will be happy to make yours harder.


¹The Orange Chief

Ends and Means

I’m not aware of a circumstance where loss of citizenship is the penalty for a crime. Maybe one exists, but I’m not aware of it. It’s extremely difficult to give up one’s citizenship. Not that I ever checked on it when Shrub got elected the second time…

Antonin Goddamned Scalia said this about flag burning:

“If it were up to me, I would put in jail every sandal-wearing, scruffy-bearded weirdo who burns the American flag,” Scalia said. “But I am not king.”

That’s the lusory attitude I talked about the other day: “I have my strong feelings about this, but I have to work within the system.” Scalia was saying there that he understood and accepted his role in the system.  Bush v Gore showed  he was perfectly willing the put his thumb on the scales when it was his turn to do so, but he colored inside the lines.

For all you “wait and see” types.  He just told you his ends. He’s bigger than the game. He wants what he wants and that’s what’s important.

What do you suppose he’s going to do when he has the means?

And who’s going to stop him?

Breaking Faith

This is not normal.

He has no proof this happened, of course. He can point to nothing because there’s nothing there. It’s not on me to “prove” millions of people didn’t vote illegally. It’s on him to prove they did. And he can’t do it. Because it didn’t happen. The only reason you write something like this is to delegitimize your opposition in the minds of your supporters. He won the election because of a loophole in the electoral system that was put in place to block the direct popular election of the President. As with most things having to do with the Yam-Colored One, this has been floating around for a little while.

alex-jones-trump-vote
The fever swamp from which the new national discourse emerges.

This, in turn, apparently has its roots in a series of tweets from some guy with a Twitter account named Gregg Phillips who claims to have a database of 180,000 registered voters “tagged with non-citizens.” Whatever the hell that means. Other than blustering statements about how the evidence is solid, he’s so far refused to let anyone see it. It doesn’t matter of course. It’s “out there.” It’s already been accepted as truth by the base. Like all stories having to do with the person who I’ve privately started calling The Last President of the United States, the details of this particular train wreck are mostly irrelevant. I’ll only throw out that the “story” begins emerging around the time it became clear Clinton was going to win the popular vote by a large margin. The fact that people keep harping on that and the margin keeps growing and Jill Stein decides to ask for a recounts before she returns to whatever cicada nest she sleeps in until Presidential election season rolls around again has really harshed the mellow of The Hairpiece that Roared. Forget the fact that the rules for being elected President of the United States don’t require you to win the overall popular vote.  It’s a wrinkle that’s been in the rules from the beginning. It’s happened before. The popular vote?  Sure, it’s nice to have.  It’s not required. Them’s the rules. Say what you will about Shrub back in the day. He’d just shrug and say “I won.”

So why is it such a big deal to Herr Twitler? It’s part of a pattern that makes perfect sense if you don’t mind being utterly terrified.

So a couple of the classes I’ve been teaching this semester deal with games.  In the process of the crash course I’ve had to subject myself to on game theory, I’ve had the great fortune of being introduced to a delightful book called The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits. It’s a deceptively simple book written (partly) in the style of a Socratic dialog using the fable of the Grasshopper and the Ants as its basis. The Grasshopper isn’t an irresponsible slacker here. He’s actually a subtle thinker who develops a philosophy of life that sees Utopia in a life of all play and no work — even when that life leads to his inevitable death. It sounds depressing, but it’s really a book that attempts to refute Ludwig’s Wittgenstein’s assertion that games can’t be formally defined. Suits didn’t care for this position and wrote this book. The centerpiece of the book is his formal definition of a game:

“My conclusion is that to play a game is to engage in activity directed towards bringing about a specific state of affairs, using only means permitted by rules, where the rules prohibit more efficient in favour of less efficient means, and where such rules are accepted just because they make possible such activity.”

Later he sums it up even more succinctly:

“…playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles.”

Compare this to anthropologist Mary Douglas’s description of an institution in her masterpiece How Institutions Think:

“Minimally an institution is only a convention. David Lewis’ definition is helpful: a convention arises when all parties have a common interest in there being a rule to insure coordination, none have a conflicting interest, and none will deviate lest the desired coordination is lost.”

Games, conventions and institutions all require willing participation, what Suits called the “lusory attitude.” Lusory is a term that’s pretty common in Game Studies.  It more or less means “playful,” but sounds better when talking to colleagues from other departments at faculty gatherings and you don’t want to keep saying ‘playful’ all the time.  Most everyone but the physicists will let it slide and who cares about physicists anyway? Screw those guys.

Willing participation. I’ve mentioned it before in another context, but I can’t think of this without thinking about this George Carlin routine:

“‘Cause that’s what they taught us; it’s what’s in your mind that counts; your intentions, that’s how we’ll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had’ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. “Thou Shalt Not WANNA”. If you woke up in the morning and said, “I’m going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!” Save your car fare; you did it, man!”

Can anyone point out anything the Yam-Man has done that could reasonably be interpreted as wanting to hold the country together more than getting his way? The fainting-couch crowd will gleefully point out that I’m being rude to him.  That I’m not showing any respect to the duly-elected Grifter-in-Chief. And you’d be right.  I’m not.  I won’t.  I don’t have to. That’s one of those unnecessary obstacles that’s built into the game. It’s not a bug.  It’s a feature. I, as a citizen of the United States of America, have the right to believe that the man elected to be President of These Here United States is a simpering bag of pus with tastes that would make a bordello owner say “Jeez, that’s a bit over the top, isn’t it?”  The fact is, my opposition only matters if you favor the less efficient means of putting up with it over the more efficient means of lining me up against a wall and shooting me. He’s not allowed to have me shot yet.  Yet.

The most dangerous time for him is right now — before the reins of power are handed over to him. This is not a man who handles pressure well.  We have to keep it up. Don’t let the bastard breathe. We don’t have to give him hell.  All we have to do is tell the truth and he’ll think it’s hell. But also remember we’re all asked one question every single day:  is this country worth it? What are you willing to give up and set aside in order to keep the country together?

Then ask what is he willing to give up to keep the country together?

That’s really the biggest question of all.

We’re All Day-to-Day

simple-candle-800pxI asked this morning on Facebook and Twitter what, exactly,  people with a “wait-and-see” attitude toward the Short-Fingered-Vulgarian-in-Chief needed to see in order to quit waiting and speak up. Most of the answers were along the lines that “He hasn’t done anything yet.”  This, of course, the morning after he appointed the former publisher of Breitbart News (hell no I’m not linking to it) — a man who brags that he’s made White Supremacy mainstream again — to be his Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel. The other thing he’s done is appoint Reince Priebus, a man who can’t even take a principled stand on “i-before-e”, to be his Chief of Staff. You’ll recall that the whole purpose of this campaign, besides throwing out brown people who are here and killing selected ones who aren’t, was to “drain the swamp.” Guess what?  He just appointed the swamp to be Chief of Staff.  You know how this works, right? The Chief of Staff decides who sees the President and when. The Chief Strategist and Senior Counsel is the person the President goes to see when he feels like talking to someone. This after picking Mike “Pray the Gay Away” as his Vice-President and surrounding himself with failed-90s-politicians-also-on-their-third-marriages Newt Gingrich and Rudy Giuliani as probable cabinet members. Ben Carson seems to be in the mix in there somewhere, but there’s always the chance with him he’s just confused about where he’s supposed to stand.

I ask again:  what in the HELL does this man have to do in order for you to say you’re a little nervous?

You actually don’t need to answer that question because I already know the answer.  There is nothing.  You’ve already made your choice.  You’re OK with all this. Not OK, exactly, but willing to let other people do the heavy lifting. Let someone else get their hands dirty. “Such and such will NEVER let him do so-and-so!” you say with confidence based on nothing other than the pressure on your sphincter from you praying you’re right. “I don’t have to say anything NOW because SOMEONE ELSE will stop them THEN!” Really?  Why would they? I’m some faceless bureaucrat in the bowels of the government and some order comes down that is going to hurt a lot of people.  Why does it fall on me to stop this?  Who will know? Who cares? I’ve made my entire career giving my bosses what they want. Why should I stop now? It’s not like anyone cares, right? Nobody but a few cranks are talking about this, and no one takes them seriously anyway!

“Banality of evil.” Look it up. No matter who said it first, the idea that the only thing needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing is sound.Why? I think of it as the “Save the Planet” problem.  Sounds good.  Everyone has to be in favor of that , right?  (I mean, except for the person we just elected President.  Not him). Here’s the deal:  The planet is going to be fine.  It’s big.  It has an atmosphere. Its been hit by big rocks and life came back.  Not the same life, but it’s the same planet. For some reason we talk about the planet as if somehow it’s natural we’re here.  It’s not. There was a time we weren’t here.  There could easily be a time we’re not here and the planet will never even notice.  It’ll be fine.  People?  That’s our choice.

So it is with institutions. The only reason institutions have power is because people give it to them. They don’t occur naturally.  They only exist through voluntary participation. In Darkness Visible William Styron made the point that the fundamental choice someone makes every day is whether or not to live or die. So it is with institutions. We have to decide what we’re willing to accept in order for the institution to survive. The Founders made a choice. We think they made the choice for us, but they didn’t. We have to make the choice every single day. Is this thing worth maintaining the institution for? There will be people on the other side of that decision.  There will be institutions. They just don’t have to be the same institutions we have now.

What’s the deal breaker for you? When do you start letting other people know that? Whose job is it to speak for you? When that bureaucrat has to make that call, what does she have to go on?

Years ago there was an ESPN promo where Keith Olbermann says about some ballplayer “He’s day-to-day.  We’re all day-to-day.” So is our country. So are the institutions that make it what it is.

You do what you want. I don’t know what else to do.  I’m speaking out for as long as I can.