Life is a journey, and you won't find your way by following someone else's directions.
Life is a journey, and you won't find your way by following someone else's directions.
It struck me that in my case, part of the reason I don't blog much is that I'm so often on a mobile device and not a computer. If it was easier to blog from my phone, I just might.
This was part of what I liked about Posterous and Posthaven, both of which specialized in posting via email. We all have email on our phones, so it removed one of the biggest barriers.
I'm not sure what the ideal solution is here, but blogging from mobile is something that all blogging platforms need to address (hint, hint).
I don't do this a lot, but I have a book recommendation for you.
"A Darker State" is both a thriller and a murder mystery that just happens to take place in East Germany in 1976. Oberleutnant Karin Müller of the East German Kriminalpolizei (Criminal Police) has been promoted to major in order to head up an investigative team with national authority, and is assigned to the case when the body of a teenage boy is found near the East German-Polish border. In the process of investigating, she runs up against the dreaded MfS, the Ministry for State Security, otherwise known as the Stasi, whose interest in the case is mysterious. She must tread carefully when the teenage son of a high-ranking Stasi officer is shown to be involved in unexpected ways, and when the involvement of the Stasi bleeds over into her personal life, it begins to affect her own friends and family, with potential repercussions that can only be described as dire.
The protagonist is interesting, because she is neither a party loyalist nor a dissident. The daughter of a German mother and a Soviet soldier father, who disappeared shortly after her birth, she is a product of the system and still believes in it, but she is not blind to the contradictions in the system, nor to the fact that she plays a part in some things she'd rather not think too hard about. As the series has progressed, she is starting to develop a more complete view of the world she finds herself in, and as the series progresses towards the inevitable end that the reader knows is coming with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, of which she of course has no inkling, it will be fascinating to see how she adapts as the only world she has known starts to collapse. But that's for future volumes.
I'll add one other thing--36 years ago this summer, I visited East Berlin and East Germany. The writing in this series (it's the third book of a planned five) has captured the feel of that time in the East beautifully, both in atmosphere and in details. The author has clearly done his homework. I recommend this book wholeheartedly..
Oh, and if you're in the United States, download this one in e-book form while you can. There is some doubt as to whether this should be sold in the United States yet, as the U.S. publishing rights haven't been sold yet. But somehow, both Amazon and Google will sell it to you--for now.1
Warning: this is both long and political in parts. --Larry
It's with a bit of a shock that I've realized I haven't blogged since last February. Yes, the year 2017 turned out to be a shitshow of titanic proportions in the wider world, but that wouldn't ordinarily have stopped me from blathering on. Clearly, there were special circumstances at work, and a review and situation report are both in order. Let's start with the positives--in my own little world, 2017 was pretty good overall. Then we'll move on to the rest of the annus horribilis that was 2017.
I got a promotion midyear, which has finally put me in a position where I don't feel I have to make excuses for what I do. Work in general has been good to me; I like the people I work with, I seem to have their respect, and my work is varied and interesting. Although I'm finally earning a respectable income, I would of course like more money (who wouldn't?) and a greater feeling of job security (ditto), but that's life in the private sector in America. We're now owned by a private investment group, and if you've worked in the business world, you know what that means. Still, as long as my badge still opens the door to the office, I can't complain.
Although there have been ups and downs, things are good on the family front at the moment. My marriage is solid, I see my brother and my youngest nephew frequently, and my mom continues to live independently and is in basically good health overall. My mother-in-law continues to astonish everyone by continuing to plug along at the ripe old age of 98. My oldest nephew lives in New York City, but was able to come out for Christmas, and we all enjoyed time together. My brother went through the wringer this year in both his personal and professional lives, but has come out the other side in good shape. He found a new career within a couple of months of the old one ending, before the severance ran out, which is always a good thing. And even better, it's something he's going to enjoy.1 And finally, my wife and I have both of our cars paid for, and we're fortunate to have what is by California standards a very small mortgage. No complaints here either.
I'm lucky to live where I do, in a place where other people come for vacation. The weather is great, we were named one of the most livable places in America recently, and like all California beach towns, you can show up in shorts, sandals, and a T-shirt pretty much anywhere, at any time of the year, and nobody cares. Overall, it's been great.
Except for the month of December, that is. By now you will have heard of the Thomas Fire, which ended up being the largest wildfire in California history, the flames of which were visible at one point from behind my house. We went through weeks of smoke and haze, and for a time, the hottest fashion accessory in Ventura was the N95 mask. Although our house was OK in the end, we have friends who weren't so lucky, and who lost almost everything. Ventura will come back, but it's going to take a while. And in a sense, it was fitting for a year that was, for the most part, a raging dumpster fire to end with a raging wildfire.
I recently turned 52, and nobody gets much past the half-century mark without thinking about where they've been and where they're going. It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that I undoubtedly have more road behind me than I do in front of me. That's why it's so satisfying to be able to say that I'm good with where I am, in every sense of the word. My marriage is good. I love my wife. We love our house. Our cars are paid for. When I look back, I've had some fascinating experiences, and I've made some good friends. I've lost a few as well--that's part of the journey. For me, the biggest thing is that I'm not seeking anything any more. I'm not looking for anyone to explain the world to me, or to tell me how to worship a deity. The time for fairy tales is over. I've recognized that anytime you have a hierarchy, you have people whose primary interest is in perpetuating that hierarchy and controlling the people under them. It's just human nature. I'm much more interested in making the most of the time I have left, in such a way as to honor the choices that people make and helping them to live lives that they find fulfilling and true to themselves.2 In summary, if this is my personal plateau, I'm good with that, and I'm at peace with the universe or God or The Force or whatever you want to call it.
And Now, The Rest Of The Story
If you know me, or even if you just read my blog, you know how I feel about national and world events of the last 12 months. For people like me, who believe in science, who believe in equality, who believed we were making slow but steady progress towards a more just and equitable society, the last year has been a wake-up call. I did not think that so many of my fellow countrymen were so misinformed, prejudiced, fearful, uneducated, or just plain stupid as to vote for the current occupant of the Oval Office. I was wrong.3 I did not think that 80% of evangelical Protestants would vote for a man who is, by all accounts, a serial sexual predator, who brags about "grabbing (women) by the pussy," who blatantly lies about all things at all times, and who also has a habit of not paying people who work for him. I was wrong. I did not think that the members of the Republican Party, the party of Ronald Reagan, who more than anyone I would expect to be skeptical of Russia, would put party above country and turn a blind eye to collusion with Russia. I was wrong. I did not think that the Republican establishment would roll over and become Trump's lap dog. I was wrong. I was so very, very wrong.
Just to be absolutely clear, I consider the current occupant of the White House to be illegitimately elected, most likely guilty of treason, almost certainly suffering from dementia, and the Republican Party to be so compromised as to be unsalvageable. It is as if we have taken a wrong turn, and ended up in an alternate timeline. Our liberties are at stake. Our place in the world is at stake. Our constitutional government is at stake. Our founders made provision for the removal of a President from office, but they did not make provision for a legislative branch that put party above country, and refused to take any action. Or that would pass bills in the middle of the night, without giving its members the time to debate and discuss them. Plainly put, our system of government has broken, and it needs to be fixed.4
So how has that affected me?
In some senses, it hasn't. I live in California, the bluest of blue states and the beating heart of the Resistance. I'm a middle-aged straight white guy. I'm not in the demographic with the most to fear. Although the current government seems determined to screw up my retirement and my health care and my very future, it isn't trying to take away my right to vote, or my right to get married (theoretical, since I'm already taken). It isn't trying to keep my relatives out of the country, or to deport the ones who are here, or to mess with my right to practice my religion (or lack of same). But if there's one thing I know, it's that one doesn't wait until one is personally threatened to oppose infringements on personal liberty. That's one reason why I stopped attending the local Orthodox church; the priest thinks Trump is just wonderful, and Fox News is political gospel, and never missed an opportunity to take potshots at Obama, and frankly, I'm done with religion that wants to be political.5
I also know that you have to do more than just scream about it on Twitter and Facebook, which brings me to someplace where I have been affected--social media.6
I've dialed back on my use of social media. It's not that I don't care, but as I just said, screaming about things on Twitter does no good. Far better to focus your energies where they can do some good, such as writing to Senators and Congressmen, or participating in demostrations, or, ultimately, voting the bastards out. And that's what I'm prepared to do.
What I'm not prepared to do is subject myself anymore to the endless, breathless crises on the Internet. The past year has beaten it out of me. I once was a news junkie; I now keep abreast of the news, because one must, but I'm not going to wallow in it. I've even given up my subscription to the Economist. I look at Twitter, but I don't post nearly as much on an average day as I once would have. I don't show up as much on my chosen alternative networks either, such as 10Centuries or Pnut or Mastodon, because at the end of the day, it's as much about breaking the habit of always having to be logged on somewhere, talking about nothing in particular, as it is a given network.7
This is not to say I don't go online; I do, but I'm trying to be more mindful of where I am. In this sense, the last year has perhaps been a blessing in disguise, because I've learned some new things. Some months ago, I decided it would be fun to get a mechanical watch to mark my promotion (possibly a kind of reverse tech geekiness--I love that it isn't connected to anything, and doesn't rely on a battery). That led me to to the wacky and wonderful world of watch collecting, and the forums that serve that community. I've been learning about watch movements, and dials, and hands, and complications, and it's just fabulous.
And politics never rears its ugly head--it's somewhere I can go to just be with other geeks and geek out about geeky stuff that the wider world doesn't care a fig about. And now I know the difference between a Vostok 2415B movement and a 2416, and why some Shturmanskie chronographs have a flat grey dial instead of a metallic silver one, and what the lug width is on a Bulova UHF Military, and why it's actually more complicated to make a watch with a central seconds hand than one where the seconds are on a subdial. It's marvelous.8 It reminds me a great deal of when I was a kid learning about cars, and threatens to become my next lifelong obsession. I'm good with that.
That's the year and the situation as I see it. I feel like I should end with some grand summation, some pithy words of wisdom, and a rousing sendoff, but I've got nothing. 2018 is likely to be a seminal moment. It will determine whether we right the ship of government in the midterm elections, or let it continue to founder. I hope that it turns out better than 2017, but I'm not confident of it. And even if it turns out to be absolutely delightful in every way, it will take us years to undo the damage that's been done already. Votes matter, and elections have consequences.
Next time--please--let's all vote correctly.
This is a slightly revised version of a brief review I wrote on Amazon of Stasi Wolf by David Young, which is not yet available in the United States. Fortunately, I was able to secure a copy of the British edition.
This is the second novel in a series whose protagonist, Karin Müller, is an Oberleutnant (First Lieutenant) in the East German Volkspolizei (People’s Police). Specifically, she's a detective assigned to the murder squad in the capital, Berlin.
Or at least she was. As the book opens, Oberleutnant Müller has been transferred to a dull backwater of Berlin, where she’s doing the kind of work that would normally be the province of uniformed officers, and her partner is still in the hospital recovering from wounds suffered in the first novel (Stasi Child). She’s visiting him when she gets the offer (if indeed an “offer” from a superior officer in a Communist nation can be called such) to go to the model city of Halle-Neustadt to investigate a kidnapping and murder.
And thus begins Stasi Wolf. Others have ably summarized the plot; as someone who visited the German Democratic Republic in its heyday, what I’d like to do is comment on how well the author captures the atmosphere of East Germany in the 1970s and 1980s, from the complex and uneasy relationship between the regular police (Volkspolizei) and the Ministry of State Security, known as the Stasi, to the carefully organized group activities of the Freie Deutsche Jugend or Free German Youth (“Be ready! Always ready!”), to the stirrings of change coming from the younger generation who chafed against the ever-present demands of the Party. And he didn’t just capture the social and emotional feel of it, either—his description of the haze from the Leuna chemical complex brought back memories of the ever-present oily smoke from thousands of two-stroke Wartburgs and Trabants, of the haze from the brown lignite coal used to heat much of the East in winter, and the soot I remember blowing into non-air-conditioned railroad cars on hot summer days from the grimy locomotives of the East’s Deutsche Reichsbahn.
If you haven't read Stasi Child, don't let that dissuade you from reading this book. It stands on its own, and can be enjoyed on its own, with enough background given that you won't be feeling left in the dark.
Overall, Young has once again given us a view into a vanished world that grows increasingly distant. If you like a well-crafted detective story, you’ll like this book. If you’re a history buff, you’ll find yourself impressed with the care taken to get the details right. And if you just want something entertaining to read, you’ll find it hard to put down. As for me, I’m already looking forward to Book 3.
Concerned about what's going to be happening in the US government in the coming days, weeks, months, and years? Want to keep tabs on how your Representative or Senator is voting?
You can sign up for email updates if you want, or if you're like me and hate email, you can right-click the RSS feed link and paste it into your favorite RSS reader (mine is NewsBlur):
It's going to be critical for the next few years to keep track of what the US government is doing. This makes it just a bit easier.
As I write this, it's the last evening of the Obama Administration. Tomorrow, the new Administration will begin.
It's hard to know exactly what to say at this moment. Those of us who opposed the incoming President are apprehensive and worried about what's to come. The new Congress has already begun to dismantle the social advances of the last fifty years, and there's more of that on the way.
Still, for all that, we have to hope that the new President will succeed in improving the economy and creating jobs, because that will benefit all of us. But wishing for his success in limited areas does not mean wishing for his success in all things. I am highly skeptical, and frankly the outlook is not good. I still believe this will be an Administration dedicated mostly to enriching the occupant of the Oval Office and his business empire (of which he hasn't divested himself yet), and he's packing his Cabinet with people who are either incompetent or dedicated to destroying the missions of the departments they will head--or both. His kids are his advisers. It's nepotism run amok.
Earlier today, I read that the incoming team plans a budget that will abolish the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has to rate as one of the great ironies of the age. This won't do much for the budget, but it will go a long way towards punishing and silencing the opposition. This is the act of a strongman, not a President.
In the days and months to come, you will hear from the government and its supporters that they have a mandate. They do not. We must remember that the majority of Americans did not vote for this government. Because of the quirks of our electoral system, not even a majority of those who voted voted for it. If this were any other country on Earth, our own government would make some kind of statement about how the election did not represent the clearly stated will of the people. And you know what? They'd be right.
One suggestion I’d offer people is not to spread yourself too thin — per above I think the Trump administration is going to make pushes into all sorts of areas: Free speech, women’s health, public education, minority voting, LGBT+ rights and so on. They want you to be dazed and thinking there’s too much to focus on. Pick one as your main focus and drill down on it, hard. Others will take up the other categories. Help them when you can but push hard on the one area you know and care most about. If enough people do that, everything will get covered and energy won’t dissipate. It’s going to be a long four years. Best to keep focus.
So find something you care about. Fight for it like a California grizzly bear defending its cubs. Support the people around you fighting for what they care about, and together we'll see each other through this. It's called solidarity, and it's the weapon that's been used successfully by oppressed and marginalized people throughout history. It's what allowed shipyard workers in Gdansk to defeat a Soviet-backed military government in Poland. It's what allowed Cesar Chavez to bring about reforms in the treatment of farm workers. It's what drove the British from India. It works.
And finally, don't be afraid to be radical. If you leave it up to the current leadership of the Democratic Party, nothing of consequence will happen lest it upset their corporate backers. Raise a fuss. Lead a protest. Write vitriolic letters. Organize, organize, organize, or you may find one day that it's no longer allowed. I'm not joking. At the state level, the GOP is already trying:
In North Dakota, for instance, Republicans introduced a bill last week that would allow motorists to run over and kill any protester obstructing a highway as long as a driver does so accidentally. In Minnesota, a bill introduced by Republicans last week seeks to dramatically stiffen fines for freeway protests and would allow prosecutors to seek a full year of jail time for protesters blocking a highway. Republicans in Washington state have proposed a plan to reclassify as a felony civil disobedience protests that are deemed “economic terrorism.” Republicans in Michigan introduced and then last month shelved an anti-picketing law that would increase penalties against protestors and would make it easier for businesses to sue individual protestors for their actions. And in Iowa a Republican lawmaker has pledged to introduce legislation to crack down on highway protests.
So there you have it. I'm not saying this is the last night of a free Republic, but I also don't want to look back on this night years from now and remember that it was. Do your part. Support each other. Stop the darkness from descending.
Now go do it.
There was a bit of comment today on social media (Twitter in particular) about Paul Ryan's logo (above). Specifically, that it looks a bit like a Reichsadler.
It isn’t, of course. A friend of mine whom I respect a great deal pointed out that it’s basically a simplified version of the official Speaker of the House logo, and it is. As such, it’s silly to focus on it, and we should oppose Ryan for valid reasons, of which the logo is not one.
He is not wrong, and he has a point. My counterpoint to that is that if I were designing a logo, and I were doing it for a public figure, I’d go out of my way to make sure it couldn’t be misconstrued as something it isn’t. I don’t think anyone is opposing Ryan because of his logo, but given his policy positions and image on the other side of the aisle, it shouldn’t be surprising that people see something that wasn’t intended. It’s a “once seen, can’t be unseen” kind of thing.
That being said, I do oppose Ryan for perfectly valid reasons, those reasons being:
…just to name a few.
Basically, I oppose everything that Paul Ryan stands for. I find him contemptible. Like most devotees of Ayn Rand, the writer who popularized cruelty and called it “Objectivism,” he has a remarkably single-minded focus on his ideology, reality be damned. Simply by taking away health insurance from millions, he's going to destroy countless lives in the name of creating a libertarian fantasy world that has never existed anywhere, and it will take us decades to undo the damage he will unleash. We need not ignore a logo to see him clearly for who and what he is.
And now, he’ll be working with a President who appears to be willing to let him have his way. A President who is, in my opinion, as close to being a fascist as anyone who’s ever been elected to the office. A President who has openly associated with white supremacists and has named one, Steve Bannon, as a top advisor. As far as I'm concerned, seeing Nazi iconography where it wasn't intended is, in my view, understandable under the circumstances.
Welcome to 2017.
Today, my thoughts keep returning to something that happened in the small French resort town of Vichy on July 10, 1940.
In that town on that day, the French National Assembly met in the local opera house. By a vote of 569 to 80, with 20 abstentions, they voted all power to Marshal Henri Pétain, then voted themselves out of existence. The name of the town where they met would go on to become shorthand for one of the most hated regimes in French history, a regime which replaced Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité (Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood) with Patrie, Famille, Travail (Country, Family, Work), a regime which collaborated with the Nazis and would ultimately be defeated by the Allies and the Free French under Charles de Gaulle.
By all indications, today is going to go down in history as our own tenth of July. I wonder who our de Gaulle will be.
I left the office early today, as is usual on the day before Thanksgiving, and stopped at my mom's house on the way home to help her put the extra leaves in the dining table for the big feast tomorrow. She's getting on in years, and wrangling a heavy cherrywood table is getting to be a bit much for her, as you might expect.
She still lives in the same house where I grew up, and so stopping at Mom's house is always a small trip down memory lane. There's a stop sign on the corner that didn't used to be there, but apart from that, it's about the same now as it was when we moved into the place when I was six years old in 1972. The old Swanson place is next door, the house across the street that was owned for years by a Malibu lifeguard with an orange Porsche 911 is under new ownership, the big two-story on the cross street lost its oak tree but still has the elaborate brick stairway leading from the street to the front door, and next door to it, Mr. Edwards is still at war every afternoon with the soccer moms who park their minivans in the cul-de-sac where he lives (there's a back entrance to the elementary school there).
Maybe it's because it's autumn--I always get a bit reflective at this time of year--but I look at the leaves on the tree in front of what I still think of as the Masons' house starting to change color, and I think not of what's the same, but of what has changed. Particularly in the last couple of weeks, with the election being what it was, it's been a slog. I look around the old neighborhood, and I think of neighbors long gone, and my dad and his brothers and sisters, and my grandparents, and I imagine what they--Republicans all--would think about what is going on now. I suspect they'd be appalled, particularly at the rise of the far right. My dad's brother, whom I once heard use the word "spearchucker" in a descriptive way not applying to Olympic javelin throwers, may have held racist views, but even he would be shocked at what's going on. I'm fairly certain he didn't spend World War II in naval aviation so that people could quote Nazi propaganda in the original German and give the Hitler salute at gatherings in Washington, D.C.
And then I look at the recently announced Cabinet appointments, and the incipient kleptocracy, and the spectacle of a President-elect involving his family members with the transition and blurring the lines between the business of America and the business of his company, and I despair. I wonder what I'm doing even paying attention. The world has changed, and I have clearly not changed with it.
There's the question of voting irregularities (i.e., fraud) in certain key states (look up Outagamie County, Wisconsin if you want the details), and yet it appears the Clinton campaign, despite amassing a two-million-vote lead in the popular vote, has no intention of requesting an audit or recount. Meanwhile, our current President is focusing on a seamless transition and seemingly keeping quiet as he makes way for someone who is going to attempt to undo every bit not only of his legacy, but the achievements of the past fifty years. If the Democrats are our only hope against the devolution of our republic into a kakistocracy, God help us.
This is the position I'm starting to arrive at: it's over. There's nothing that can really be done at this point to prevent any of it; the time for prevention has passed. The best thing that can probably be done is to keep our heads down, work hard, and ignore national politics. The only help any of us can be at this point is to our friends and neighbors locally--to help them paint out the graffiti when the local mosque gets vandalized, to support local leaders who refuse to cooperate with the coming police state, and not to get distracted from the fact that the other side is trying to establish the New Normal, which is anything but.
I have no grand conclusions. The important things in the coming years will be simple ones: love your family, care for your neighbors, do your job, and if you're lucky enough to have a bit of land, work in your garden. Read books. Visit friends. Travel, if you're lucky enough to have the money to do so. Volunteer locally. If you have kids, teach them history. It will at least give them the perspective to understand what's going on around them. Have coffee, and eat pastries, and laugh when you can. Be brave if you can, and if you can't, support the ones who can. The coming years will test all of us in ways we don't yet know or understand.
May we all pass those tests.