My latest conversation with a gas pump

Do you have a loyalty card?     No

Credit or debit?          Credit

Enter Billing Zip Code:     41005

Would you like a car wash?     No

Would you like a receipt?     No

Would you like to buy a gallon of milk?     No

Would you like a coupon for ice cream?     No

Are you registered to vote in your state?     Yes

Do you still possess a childlike sense of wonder?     No

Are you a patient person?     Yes

We both know that’s not true, don’t we?     Yes

Am I annoying you?     Yes

You’re going to keep answering questions, aren’t you?     No

You’re lying again, aren’t you?     Yes

Don’t you feel better now admitting that?

Please Enter Response:

Please Enter Response:

Please Enter Response:

Credit Card Charged: $142.50.

Thank you and come again.

Please Swipe Loyalty Card or Credit Card.

Something not serious

DISCLAIMER: No brain cells were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

After having a couple of days writing about something I enjoy doing I found myself stuck today. I can’t think of something to write about that’s not serious. I don’t want to be serious. Everything is so damned serious now. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t getting to me a little. I’m OK. If I wasn’t trying to post everyday I’d just let today go by without a post until I get my head on a little straighter. Like tomorrow. Since I feel a sense of responsibility to not miss any more days, I’m going to forge ahead here.

Hey! Wait! The only rule is that I have to post.  This is a post. Carry on with what you were doing. I think I’m done now.

Here’s a picture of Porter playing with Dunkel so the time you spent coming here was worth it.



I actually wrote a post for Hoperatives

HoperativesLogoWordsIt’s a miracle.  I actually wrote a post for Hoperatives. “Well of course you did,” you say, “you never hesitate to mention you’re a co-owner of it. You certainly say it’s why you hang out at so many breweries.”

Yeah, that’s true.  But since when does that mean I actually put any work into it?

When I said I was going to start writing here every day I wondered how I’d handle beer-related ideas. The funny thing about Hoperatives is that we don’t really think of it as a blog per se. Its job is really to be a clearinghouse for news and events concerning the beer community in Cincinnati. It’s relatively niche in that way.  There are a few folks in town who are writing more traditional opinion/news blogs about beer.  There used to be more, but they keep getting hired by breweries and distributers. The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Cincinnati Business Courier both cover the beer scene pretty well from a straight news perspective. The TV stations tend to do a pretty good job as well. WLWT WCPO used to have a guy who was quite plugged into the scene, but then a brewery hired him away.

In case you’re wondering, I’m not housebroken enough to be anyone’s full-time employee anymore. I’m all ears if a brewery is looking for somebody to do a project, but I may be the one white guy over 40 who doesn’t want to go work for a brewery full-time. It’d really cut into the time I can hang out in them. Plus I’d have to leave the basement. That means pants.

So anyway, how to handle blog posts that might deal with beer?  Ones like today are a no-brainer. A brewery I really fell in love with on a couple trips to Detroit — Short’s — is coming to the Ohio side of the river. That’s a news story and it belongs on Hoperatives. Lots of beers come into the market all the time, but I don’t always have a personal history with them. I worked that in, but it’s still a Hoperatives story.  On the other hand, beer has played a large enough role in my life to date that it’s bound to come up here now and then. I think, though, that I’ll mostly try to come up with other things to talk about here. I’m really trying to avoid the “hey, I wrote this thing over at Hoperatives, that counts for my post here” type of approach. But is that worse than a haiku?  Not sure.

I don’t know.  Like everything else, I’m making this all up as I go along. Within the confines of this blog, at least, I’m only trying to make me happy.

Black dog day

Everyone has their days and this is one of mine. It’s been an eventful week that’s been stressful in its own way. Everything is fine. Sometimes I just take a little time to process things.  Today is one of those

I’ve heard for years that Winston Churchill referred to his depression as a “black dog.” I Googled it, and darn it if I didn’t come up with a really cool article that really dives in and thrashes the history of the thing. It’s a PDF, so be ready for that if you click on it. But go read it if you want to learn something. It’s kind of neat.

Probably not a fascist

I have to admit, it does sound snappier in the original German

Donald Trump is probably not a fascist. Feel better?  Don’t. He might be worse

I spent most of the drive home today thinking I was going to write an appeal to repeal Godwin’s Law. You may or not be familiar with Godwin’s Law by name. In its original form it reads

As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.

When the Internet was getting going it was a really fun place. For one thing there were a lot of really funny and smart people who mused about the social implications of this new thing being created. Godwin’s Law is among the best examples of that. Do a little reading on the history of the thing and you’ll find it was a gentle reminder to folks that the Holocaust was a truly horrific thing and it’s not the sort of thing that compares to most things you might be upset about.  It was far, far, worse than anything you’re likely to be talking about.

Over time there became this belief that Godwin’s Law precluded usefully mentioning Hitler or Nazis in any online discussion at all. That’s what I was going to argue needed to be repealed in the Age of Trump. Turns out I didn’t need to bother because it’s not something Mike Godwin ever believed and certainly doesn’t now with respect to Trump:

First, let me get this Donald Trump issue out of the way: If you’re thoughtful about it and show some real awareness of history, go ahead and refer to Hitler or Nazis when you talk about Trump. Or any other politician.

The thing that scares me the most about Trump is his scapegoating of Muslims and, more generally, anyone who isn’t white. His boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any votes is an admission that he understands his followers. They know he’s not going to shoot them because they’re white and from ’round here. He’d only shoot someone who isn’t. He praises folks who deal with protests in his rallies with force.  I talked about nucleation points last week. I used the group at the Malheur Wildlife Refuge as an example of a nucleation point that didn’t form. I fear the Trump candidacy is one that is going to. His policies are vague to the point of incoherence, but most people stop listening as soon as they hear their own prejudices and fears repeated back to them with the promise that the strong man will solve the problem. Leave the details to him. Just go out there and be great.

Journalist David Neiwert makes a compelling argument that it’s not accurate to call Trump a fascist. It’s a topic Neiwert has studied and reported on for more than two decades as he’s followed the various incarnations of hate groups in the Pacific Northwest.  He discusses several descriptive models of fascism and shows how easy it is to make comparisons with Trump. He concludes that Trump doesn’t cross the line to fascism, though, partly because his appeals to the use of force against people who oppose him is tepid when compared to the historical examples of the Brown and Blackshirts of Fascist Germany and Italy. The other is his incoherence.

That, in a tiny nutshell, is an example of the problem with Trump’s fascism: He is not really an ideologue, acting out of a rigid adherence to a consistent worldview, as all fascists are. Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald, and he will do and say anything that appeals to the lowest common denominator of the American body politic in order to attract their support – the nation’s id, the near-feral segment that breathes and lives on fear and paranoia and hatred.

Rather than a fascist, Neiwert concludes that Trump is a right-wing populist demagogue. That should provide no comfort to anyone because fascism is merely one kind of right-wing populism. One with focus. Maybe it’s on Ritalin or something.

Joking aside, Can Mudde, an associate professor in the School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Georgia1 wrote a nuanced op-ed in the Washington Post back in August that probably puts Trump in his proper historical perspective.

…to understand the Trump phenomenon in all its complexity we need to look at both U.S. history and contemporary Europe. Trumpismo can be seen as a functional equivalent of the European populist radical right, but it is a very American equivalent. Trump himself doesn’t hold a populist radical right ideology, but his political campaign clearly caters to populist radical right attitudes, and his supporter base is almost identical to the core electorate of populist radical right parties in (Western) Europe. However, Trump also stands in a long tradition of American nativism, going back to the Know Nothings of the mid 19th century, of American anti-establishment politicians, and of conservatives who claim to be the right “CEO” to make America great again. But, in contrast to the rich history of U.S. populism, Trump is an anti-establishment elitist. He is better than everyone, i.e. both the elite and the people!

Pardon me if that doesn’t make me feel better.

We’re going to know a lot more about how things are going with the election by the end of March. As the excess-baggage-candidates drop from the slate of Republican hopefuls, Rubio or Cruz will either catch Trump or they won’t. I’m not going to venture a guess. There is no part of my brain that accepts the idea that any of those guys ought to be allowed out in public, much less made President of the United States. I have no insight into the psychology of anyone who can consider the question without projectile vomiting.

No matter what happens, though, Trump’s true believers aren’t going away. Even if one of the other folks wind up getting the Republican nomination, or Trump gets it and then loses the general election, these people who’ve supported Trump are not going to go away. And what scares me about that is that that these folks may decide to follow the next charismatic leader who says he’s not going to make the “mistake” Trump made.

If that happens it’s going to get ugly real quick.

1How ’bout them Dawgs!

Mental health

[I’m probably cheating with this one.  I actually wrote this months ago for a mental health awareness campaign at my former employer. I got some good feedback from it. It’s part of the reason I’m doing what I’m doing now. It kind of had to go up today. Today my mental illness is old enough to drink.

I’ve edited this just the tiniest bit. It may be a little hard to read. I can tell you it wasn’t a lot of fun to live, either.

Everybody’s story is different.  This is mine.]

Thursday February 17, 1995 was pretty much a typical day. I taught a couple of classes. Met with some students. Did some reading for my dissertation. Closed my office door. Tried to figure out how to kill myself so it didn’t look like I killed myself. It had been my routine for a month or two. Except weekends. On weekends I didn’t teach classes.

There was one thing different that day, though. A few days before — I honestly don’t remember how many, but I know it was earlier that week — I had been doing some reading on survey measurement instruments and came across a number of simple diagnostic questionnaires. A couple of them were for depression. I maxed out the scores. Not in a good way. Other than its association with the word ‘sad’ I had no conception of the word ‘depression.’ I was 32 years old.

Shame-Typography-2-800pxBefore there was Google (or even the World Wide Web) there was Usenet and its newsgroups. If you wanted to see what a lot of people had to say about a given topic, you went and found a Usenet group. And there was a Usenet group for just about everything. I fired up my newsreader on my desktop computer and found a group called alt.depression. I started reading. It was mostly people telling their stories. And saying things I was pretty convinced I was the only person ever to think. For as long as I could remember. I just thought that’s how things were.

So on that Thursday when I closed my door and thought about how to kill myself because I couldn’t bear to be alive, the thing that was different was that I had the inkling there was name for what I felt. I had long before accepted the idea that I was screwed up, but that there was a *name* for it was a revelation. I was in hell, but it wasn’t a hell designed uniquely for me. So as I sat there trying to think of a way to kill myself another thought became to grow and grow and grow. “You really ought to talk to someone.” I said to myself, “because if you actually think of a way that will work you’re really going to be in deep shit.”

I called a colleague in another department who I knew was plugged into the social services system in town. Told her basically what I said in the first paragraph. She called a friend of hers who is a psychiatrist and I had an appointment with her the following Monday. My colleague called me every day to make sure I was OK. Just telling her made me feel better, so there really wasn’t much danger. But I appreciated her asking. I don’t know that I’ve ever properly thanked her for saving my life. Thanks, Pam.

I spent the next two and a half years in therapy. There was a move to another city in the middle of that. That probably didn’t help because sometime about a year and a half later I found myself on the Henry Avenue bridge over Wissahickon Park Valley in Philadelphia deciding whether or not I was going to jump. “Do it now, or don’t ever do it,” I said to myself.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t.

William Styron wrote a brilliant book on his experience with depression called “Darkness Visible.” (Of course it’s brilliant. It’s William Freaking Styron.) Anyway, he said that the fundamental decision everyone has to make every day is whether to live or die. That day I decided to live. Keeping the choice at the forefront was getting tedious. I had to decide to do it or not do it. I’m glad I chose what I chose, but I have very complicated feelings about those who choose otherwise. I would always counsel not doing it, but, when I hear of someone who has, I always have the feeling of sadness that an old enemy has taken another one. I can never condemn them. I hate the hurt the people left behind feel. I always tell them it’s OK to be pissed off at the person who killed themselves. It’s a more appropriate reaction than feeling like they should have seen it coming and been able to do something. People were uniformly surprised at how bad things had gotten when I told them of my suicidal thoughts. Never once during the whole time did I ever quit cracking jokes. Jokes were the only way I could make myself pretend that people liked me.

We live in an age where we’re told constantly to “go with your gut,” “do what you think is right,” “be yourself.” I suffer from depression. I’m on medication and have been in therapy. Those are three bad very bad pieces of advice for me. If I’d done any of those things I’d be dead. For the record, I didn’t think much of the Apple “Think Different” campaign either. You know who else thought different? Jeffery Dahmer. So there’s that.

I can’t tell you what it’s like to suffer from depression. What I can say is I can’t listen to my inner monologue. I know I can’t stand people telling me how I ought to feel. I’m way too in touch with my feelings. All kinds of feelings. Too damned many feelings. I don’t need an amateur telling me I’m doing it wrong. I think I’m wrong in ways you can’t begin to imagine. I do better when I ignore my feelings. “Luke, whatever you do, DON’T USE THE FORCE. It’s an asshole.”

A saying that’s gotten popular in the last few years is “depression lies.” I’m not sure what people who don’t suffer from depression get from that, but I like it. It’s something simple to think of when things start getting bad. And simple is good when things start getting bad because everything slows down and everything hurts. Simple is good.

Life is hard. But it beats the alternative. Don’t ever let go of that.

We are diminished

As I wrote yesterday’s post about Justice Scalia I saw a tweet about a fire at the Rabbit Hash General Store.  To say it filled me with more emotion than the other news of the moment is an understatement. It was not a building that could handle any kind of fire. I’d hoped they’d save part of it, but I knew in my heart it was gone. There was a lot of very dry wood in that place. It never had a chance.

For those who read this who don’t live around here, Rabbit Hash is a small, unincorporated community in rural Boone County, KY. We can drive out there in about 20 minutes from our place. It’s a different world. A slower, better one. They made a movie about it. The General Store was the center of the center of the universe.

One beautiful October day a few years ago I needed to get my head together, so I drove out there and just hung out. It’s the first thing I thought of when I saw the news last night.

Thankfully no one was physically harmed in the fire last night. But lots of people were hurt.  And it’s going to hurt for a very long time.

There is a GoFundMe campaign organized by the owner of the store. Consider contributing if you’re able. The essential River City News has a remembrance.

My two days with Tony

I saw the news about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia while sitting in a bar drinking a beer. An Urban Artifact Scythe. Quite tasty. My first thought was “holy shit” and my second was whether anyone had put Clarence Thomas on a suicide watch yet. You have to figure the man is going to insist on being buried in the same grave. I never had a personal encounter with Scalia other than living through the disastrous ramifications of Bush v Gore like the rest of the country. I did have a two day period, through, where his whims had a direct personal impact on my life, however trivial.

Justice Scalia came to Cincinnati on March 4-5, 2002 to speak to a Law School Alumni group and a general address to students. At the time I ran what was called the Streaming Media Project. We were physically based in the College-Conservatory of Music and relied on the resources of the Electronic Media Division to operate.  We were actually a unit of the Office of Information Technology. That’s who I worked for and that’s where the money came from. We did a lot of webcasts for the College of Law. Looking back on my time there — I left in 2005 — most of the memorable webcasts I remember producing came out of the Law School.

Photo from UC News.
Our main contact was a librarian in the Law Library by the name of Joe Hodnicki. I always loved it when he called. I’m not being sarcastic here. I really did. As I said, the vast majority of the stuff they asked us to do was pretty interesting. I always knew when Joe called that the deadlines were going to be pretty tight. It was (rarely) his fault. He was the designated middle-man over there and people didn’t usually include him until late in the game.

I wish I could say I remember the conversation we had this time, but the truth is I don’t remember much in great detail. I think he called the last week of February to say that there was a possibility we’d be asked to stream a talk by Scalia from the Corbett Auditorium in CCM the following week. I remember that the first time we talked about it he said doubted we’d actually get to do it.  Scalia was notorious for not liking his speeches broadcast. There was nothing nefarious about it, it was just that the guy didn’t make his arguments in soundbites and didn’t like them being presented that way.  I doubt I would have thrown up any red flags from my point of view. Corbett Auditorium could be reached from our offices without even going outside. We had a network drop in the back of the house we could use to get the stream out. It was an easy gig. That probably wouldn’t happen.

It might have been later the same day, or maybe the next, when Joe called back to ask if it was possible to record another speech. He’d be speaking off campus at The Phoenix banquet space downtown the night before the Corbett event. I don’t think we’d done a gig off campus at that point and I was more than a little suprised. Joe was still pretty doubtful the we’d be allowed to record either event, but he’d been asked to check feasibility.  We knew there was no way to get a network connection down there, but they just wanted the speech recorded for posterity.

This was 2002. On one hand we were less than 6 months from the events of 9/11 so everybody had security on their minds. On the other hand, it occurred to us that there was a good chance he and his handlers had absolutely no idea what “streaming media” was. We’d put together a mobile production rig that was relatively advanced for its day, but now reminds me mostly of that scene in Wall Street where Michael Douglas is talking on that massive cell phone on the beach. The three cameras were small and remotely-controlled, so we figured there was a decent chance it wouldn’t trip anyone’s “Hey! We don’t like video! Cut that out!” response.

So we hauled our gear down to the Phoenix on a Monday afternoon and set up in a balcony overlooking the main ballroom floor. We dropped the cables down the side and kept the cameras out of the way as much as we could. That was the day I found out that the U.S. Marshall’s Service handles security for Supreme Court Justices. I remember this extremely tall guy coming into our makeshift control room and looking around. It was pretty cursory, but I remember that his badge looks exactly like the badges in old westerns. It was kind of cool.

We spent the evening sure we’d get the plug pulled on us, but we didn’t. We tore down late that night and set up again first thing the next day back on campus. This time we were going out live and we really expected to get shut down. But we didn’t. Other than what Joe had mentioned about Scalia hating to be recorded, I’m not sure it was really ever an issue anywhere except in our own paranoia. Paranoia was big then.

I remember little of the speeches. I remember him really enjoying talking about how the US Constitution wasn’t a living document, but a dead one. Those speeches were recorded nearly 14 years ago and the links on the press release from then are dead. I found other links that I suspect are equally dead. We did everything in Windows Media format back then, and that’s as good as dead. I’m guessing Windows Media 7 at best, but maybe older. And now the man is dead, too.

I remember him being funny. I remember disagreeing with him vehemently. What I mostly remember is that we managed to pull it off.

Mothers and sons

2014-07-11 14.06.04I heard this morning that the mother of a friend passed away. He posted something on Facebook about it and people have been responding with words of support all day. Which is how it should be. I always hate hearing about anyone losing someone close, but it’s really tough to hear of someone losing his mother.

My mom died in 2005. She died at a hospice in San Antonio the week after Hurricane Rita hit the Gulf Coast. She’d been evacuated from Victoria, TX because no one really could predict where the storm was going to go. The area was still reeling from Katrina earlier in the summer. When word came down that the hospital she was in was going to be evacuated a few days before the storm hit, Carla and I flew back to Cincinnati. To say leaving that hospital room was the hardest thing I’ve ever did is an understatement. I fully understood that it was the last time I’d ever see her alive.

Two random weird things: First, the actor Hal Holbrook was at the same gate at Houston Intercontinental we were leaving from. He’d apparently been doing Mark Twain Tonight in Galveston when the evacuation order came down. I kept staring at him and thinking “Is that Hal Holbrook? Why am I seeing Hal Holbrook on what’s arguably the worst day of my life?” He was on a different flight, but there he was. I couldn’t ask him for an autograph or anything like that. I’d never have been able to hold it together. Hell, there’s no way to tell this story without it being completely depressing.

The other thing is sadder. I was at work the day mom passed away and I decided to stay there because the idea of going home and staring at the walls did nothing for me. I called my friend Jeff who’d been the best man at my wedding. He’s a school teacher, so I wasn’t surprised that I needed to leave him a message on his cell. A few hours later he calls me. We start talking and it becomes pretty clear pretty fast that there was a disconnect. “Hold on,” he said, “Are you saying your mom died this morning?” He was calling me to let me know his father — a man I considered a surrogate father — had also died that morning. Jeff hadn’t heard my message. He called me to let me know about his dad. Needless to say both of our days went from bad to worse.

When I heard about my friend’s mother this morning all this came flooding back. Not like it was yesterday or anything, but it all flooded back. There’s really nothing you can say. Having been through it, you realize just how much of nothing you can say. But you want to.

There’s not really a point to all this. It was just on my mind all day. But if you can still call your mom, I’d strongly recommend doing it very soon. It really kind of sucks when you can’t anymore.

Coming Attractions

IMG_0242It’s been a long time since I got up in the morning on a Saturday looking forward to all the stuff I have to do this weekend. Truth be told, it’s been a long time since I got up any day looking forward to what I had to do. I have five more days of training my replacement at my soon-to-be-former job, then this becomes the new normal. I can’t wait.

I have a fair bit to do today and tomorrow. I can’t talk about what I’m working on in any great detail, but I can talk about two things in general. I’m working on a short feature about a local brewery for a national beer magazine. It was kind of fun going to a brewery yesterday evening and work. It’s tempting to put that word in quotes, but I actually was working. It’s a place I’ve been many, many times, but this time I was getting to look at it with new eyes. There may be something to this whole writing thing.

The other thing I’m working on is some documentation and demo of a gadget. I assure you I’ll be talking about it more than some of yo probably like very soon, but at the moment it’s not my place to talk about details. The gadget works with the Big Green Egg, so I’ve spent part of this morning getting a fire going and now I have a GoPro taking time-lapse photos. Later I’ll shoot some regular video and record a voiceover. Tomorrow I’ll run the Egg again with food this time and not rags stuffed inside a sock and soaked in water to simulate food for the gadget’s thermometers.

Last time I went the freelance route I think I limited myself too much to doing one thing. The webcasting work I did in the past is something I’m always going to be thankful that I got to do, but I think that part of my life is mostly over. That’s not to say I’ll never stream anything on the Internet again. This time around it’s just one possible thing in the toolbox.  Last time it was the only thing. Lesson learned.

So here’s my post for today. Sorry to cut this short, but I have things to do. Ain’t it great?