Thursday, November 26, 2020

Built to Break

Time, time time, see what's become of me
While I looked around for my possibilities
I was so hard to please
Look around
Leaves are brown
And the sky is a hazy shade of winter

—Paul Simon
At a time when time has no meaning, it's still possible to give the side-eye to its passing.

In 1956 a neon, pink elephant sign was installed on a busy corner in Seattle. It stood there for 64 years, becoming an iconic little landmark along the way.

And, now it's gone.

The owner of the property said his company has no current plans for the empty lot, but the sign had to go—maybe he just hates beloved local landmarks, IDK.

Some cultures worked *so* hard to remind future generations of their existence. They built myriad pyramids, edifices, and monuments that survived millennia. They trundled and carved and stacked stone in centuries-long endeavors that their descendants could gawk at *forever*.

Americans, meanwhile, are over here tearing shit down for any reason, or no reason at all. Our most enduring brand is intentional obsolescence. There's a whole "impermanent" school of thought in American architecture, for example, that prefers transient design and construction because more long-standing buildings are "too restrictive."

Currently the largest (and probably most permanent) human-made structures on Earth are the tailings ponds of the Alberta oil sands project. They're big enough to be seen from orbit, and contain "a toxic slurry of heavy metals and hydrocarbons from the bitumen separation process."

Our descendants, if they're able, will gawk for different reasons, probably not out of admiration for our ingenuity.

Where was I? Oh, the pink elephant.

Its loss is nothing, of course, in the time of COVID and other pressing issues. Besides a few maudlin Seattleites, who's gonna miss it?

With that in mind, we should absolutely tear down the Space Needle. It's been taking up valuable real estate since 1963, and you can bet Amazon would love to get its hands on that land.

Also, the Monorail? Totally overbuilt anachronism. You know what would be more in keeping with our love of cheap thrills and turning a quick buck? The perfect monument to a distractible, transitory culture?

A zip line!
"The 5,000-pound sign will first go to Western Neon in Seattle’s Sodo neighborhood for conservation work, before heading to the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in South Lake Union."

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Get Your Chainsaw Away From My Car

Reach across the aisle,
pull back a fistful of COVID

"All living creatures, from the simplest biologically to the most complex, demonstrate a survival instinct.

"This sense of self-preservation is, in the biological literature, a nearly universal hallmark of life on Earth, and the foundation of rational thought and behaviour.

"Consider the amoeba, a brainless, one-cell organism that retreats from threats and seeks to avoid such threats in the future.

"Amoebae aren't able to think, because no brain, but at least, from an evolutionary standpoint, they harbour the potential for rationality in some distant future.

"This is in direct opposition to the red-topped maga, a brainless creature which harbours no such potential."

David Attenborough—Zoo Quest to America
While the impulse for self-preservation is ubiquitous, the natural world teems with species that actually *defend each other* in times of danger. Chimps, dolphins, elephants, lions, orcas, and wolves, to name a few—all will put themselves at risk to defend other members of their pack/herd/pod.

You know who won't tho? 
  • Members of the Minnesota GOP who tested positive for COVID and then didn't bother to tell their Democratic colleagues
  • The White House chief-of-staff who tested positive and didn't tell fellow White House staffers
  • Members of GOP-controlled states and the current administration trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would strip health coverage from millions of Americans—during a pandemic
As COVID-19 rages around us, many of our fellow humans are proudly, happily putting everyone at risk.

That's not quite right: what they're actually doing (and there's no getting around this), is trying to kill us.

Every time they go out without a mask or gather indoors like grinning idiots or encourage others to 'rise up against tyranny', they are literally trying to kill people—as surely as if they'd cut the brake lines on every car in America.

So far 11 million of us have crashed, and 250,000 have died, and when we scream, "Stop cutting brake lines!" they yell, "Actually, most people don't die when their cars crash!" as they take a chainsaw to more brakes.

REPORTER {over chainsaws}: "As you can see, the saboteurs are crashing and dying as well...their bodies are all around us here, and in the refrigerated trucks over there! But they don't seem to notice, or if they do notice, they just don't seem to—watch out watch out watch...!"

{car careens into shot, camera falls to pavement, video transmission fails, audio continues to record screaming}
From an evolutionary perspective, the most successful species are those most adept at adapting to change. Those that fail to learn the lessons of their ancestors are inevitably selected for extinction.

Related: Republicans with chainsaws are coming for your cars.


Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Vote Like You Can't Breathe

Ballots piling up in 
King County drop boxes at unprecedented rateofficials say

"King County Elections workers received reports Saturday about full drop boxes in several locations, spokesperson Kendall LeVan Hodson said.

"Ballots were mailed out to voters this past Wednesday. Typically, King County Elections workers don’t start emptying drop boxes until the first Monday after ballots are mailed, Hodson said.

"But this year’s election is already proving extraordinary. 'Knowing there was so much enthusiasm to vote, we decided to start pickups on Saturday,' Hodson said.

"That decision paid off, because multiple drop boxes filled up Saturday, and some had to be emptied more than once, including a drop box in Ballard. 

"Each drop box holds up to 5,000 ballots."

Our ballots finally arrived Saturday evening, two to three days after other parts of our neighborhood received theirs. Me, rhetorically, to loving wife on Friday: 

"Where the fuck are our ballots??"

We vote every election, but never, ever, did I think I would be so viscerally invested in the temporal status of a ballot.

It's been reported that turnout in King County could go as high as 90% this election, up from an amazing 85% in 2012. When you're used to years of (a)pathetic turnout in the US, 90% suggests something volcanic is underway. 

In our neighborhood, cars typically line up at the local drop box the day before and the day of an election. This year the parade started two weeks early—including both days over the weekend.

My ballot is now filled out and in its security envelope. The drop box is 90 seconds away from our front door, if I'm running (and I will be). 


Vote like you would if you were on a ventilator. Or if someone's knee was on your neck. Or if you were being teargassed. Or if you've felt a dead weight sitting on your soul for the past four years.

Vote like it might be your last chance.


Tuesday, October 06, 2020

I, Miss Manners

You gotta love the Associated Press.

Today the AP published a brief piece headlined "How Do I Politely Ask Someone To Wear A Mask?", with the same genteel delivery that one might ask a shopper not to bruise the bananas in the produce aisle.

From the article:

"'Experts say you should make the request discreetly because shaming the person could put them on the defensive. If they feel violated by the way you approach them, they are much less likely to make a change,' said Jan Kavookjian, a behavioral scientist at Auburn University."

Call me contrary, but behaviorally speaking, the person not wearing a mask in public at this stage of an ongoing nightmare of a pandemic is NOT THE ONE BEING VIOLATED.

How discreetly do you suppose Dr. Kavookjian would address someone swinging a machete in a public place? I mean, in one hand you've got COVID-19, in the other you have a machete—both can leave you with long-term organ damage or kill you outright. Shall we be careful not to shame the person with the machete?

Also, if you're "making the request discreetly," doesn't that assume you're doing so quietly, so no one else hears? As a matter of verbal communication, how close do you have to get to an unmasked person, in public, to make a discreet request? IDK, BUT I BET IT'S CLOSER THAN SIX FEET.

Never mind, reading on:

"Public health experts say masks are key to reducing the spread of COVID-19. But asking a stranger to put one on could still result in a volatile situation, since they may not be easily persuaded."

Point of order: isn't it the stubborn, maskless person creating the potentially volatile situation? If by "volatile" we mean, "prospectively killing or maiming the people around them," then, yes! Yes, they are.

In which case, isn't AP putting the burden of politesse on the wrong party? In a court of law, if one swings a machete in an uncontrolled manner and cleaves an innocent bystander, who's legally liable? 


Moving on:

"Rather than risk a confrontation, experts say it might be best to steer clear of people without masks in public if you can."

This seems like a good time to define a word, and today's word is: sociopath.

noun, Psychiatry.

"a person with a psychopathic personality whose behavior is antisocial, often criminal, and who lacks a sense of moral responsibility or social conscience."

So, over here we have Person A, say, grocery shopping, wearing a mask to mitigate the risk of contracting or unknowingly spreading a highly contagious and proven-deadly disease. Over here, we have Sociopath B, in the same store, swinging a machete.

"Experts say" rather than reward and reinforce the socially conscious and morally responsible behavior of Person A, s/he should clear a path for Sociopath B to continue their crime spree, unburdened by shame or responsibility.

Random observation: enabling and reinforcing undesirable behavior rarely leads to desirable behavior. 

Back to the AP, in closing:

"According to etiquette expert Diane Gottsman, if you do find yourself interacting with someone who is not wearing a mask, you might say something like, 'For your safety and mine, I would feel much more comfortable if we were both wearing masks.'”

Before I say something like that, I'd like to see the data on successful use of passive-aggressive sentences in a potentially volatile situation. Sadly, AP and Gottsman offer none. 

But it occurs to me that many, many people across the country HAVE tried the "polite response" for months now.

Which may be why 210,000 formerly polite people are now dead people.

Maybe it's time we tried something different.

Vote. Like you're not a sociopath with a machete.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

What Dreams May Come

The dreams have been bizarre, and hyper-real, for months.

Almost always they're filled with people I don't know, in places I've never been.

Random sample:

I spent part of last night with Robin Williams. He was homeless and hungry, and I offered to buy him some food. We walked a crowded city street (I don't know what city or which street) until we found a block filled with restaurants.

People recognized him along the way, but kept their distance, maybe because he looked like a homeless person. Me, I just wanted to help him, and was glad to spend some time with him. In the way of dreams, it didn't seem odd that he was alive and walking with me, close enough to see the rough texture of his long canvas jacket. Oh, and the beard, which looked like the one he wore in "Good Will Hunting".

He wanted some Chinese food. We found a communal table, but not two seats together. I directed him to a chair opposite mine ("Why don't you sit there, Robbie," I said), and encouraged him to order whatever he wanted.

We sat and ate together for a while. Then, as dreams do, this one flowed on to something else I can't remember.

I had forgotten all about it until I stumbled across a tweet this morning:

"He offers me a faint smile. I am deeply grateful he is alive. It means a lot to me in this moment. Everything. As he walks away slowly I remember a year ago, when he came up and slapped me on the back gregariously, saying hello. "Survival doesn’t mean nothing died."

—Sayed Tabatabai, MD
Doctor Tabatabai's tweet was about COVID, and soul-deep fatigue, and moving forward by sheer momentum.

One minute I was marveling at his exquisitely skilled use of language, the next I was right back with Robin Williams. And I was grateful.
I don't know what any of this means, but I highly recommend the Twitter thread that brought it back to me.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Unconventional Outcomes

We need to stop thinking about the upcoming election in conventional terms.

We need to stop caring about how the debates will go, and what voters in swing states will do, and how awful Amy Barrett is.

Barrett's views are irrelevant. She's an illegitimate nominee participating in a corrupt process. The SCOTUS already has one illegitimate member in Neil Gorsuch; if this one is seated, the Supreme Court itself will be irreconcilably defiled and unworthy of regard.

And even *that* doesn't matter right now.

What does matter is what we'll do when there's no clear winner on Nov. 3, and Trump declares any result other than his victory to be invalid. When heavily armed militias take to the streets to support cops who will be suppressing mass protests. When the National Guard gets involved in major cities across the country and local governments break down.

If you think this scenario is implausible...well, I hope you're right.

In the meantime, we have a little more than a month to hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Rescue Dog Life

When I look into your eyes
It's like watching the night sky
Or a beautiful sunrise
There's so much they hold

And just like them old stars
I see that you've come so far
To be right where you are
How old is your soul?

Well, I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up

I Won't Give Up—Jason Mraz
Four a.m. is now canine o'clock at our house.

This wasn't always the case.

Before Lucca and Kate left us a few months ago, we all typically slept straight through 'til dawn (and as long as we could after that). But losing them taught us a few things:
1. We're not a one-dog family
2. There are a LOT of dogs out there who need a good home
3. Sleep is overrated

Sophie joined the family a couple weeks ago—because Melissa fell in love online with a big ol' nine-year old Great Pyrenees no one seemed to want. 

Sophie's file told us little, other than she'd been surrendered by two families, the last of which had her on anti-anxiety meds. Because she "wanted to go outside all the time, and would try to dig under the fence." If you can imagine such a thing.

Her last foster dad, bless him, knew Sophie was just doing what Great Pyrenees are supposed to do—patrol the perimeter and guard the flock. He immediately took her off the meds, and established a routine that allowed her to do her job and *be* a Great Pyrenees.

In short, we couldn't see any reason why this good girl was bounced around so much—and we promised her this would be the last time. She's home. 
In the handful of days she's been here Sophie has slowly, steadily allowed us to weave our lives together. By the day, and sometimes by the hour, she shows us a little more of who she is beneath all that fur. 

We expect this process to go on, uh, forever. She's a thinker, this one, and she has opinions about things. We'll be heading one direction on a walk, for example, and she'll spontaneously decide it's time to head somewhere else. If we insist our direction is better, she'll sit down like a mule. If we're adamant, she'll proceed to lie down. At that point, we talk it over for a while and most often agree she was right all along.

She teaches. We learn.
Kate and Lucca never wanted more than to spend time with all of us, together. Sophie, on the other hand, likes her personal space and her quiet time away from the everyday din.

Our girl doesn't have much use for clocks. Or long-established circadian rhythms. She doesn't differentiate between daylight and nightlight.

Four a.m., she has declared, is dawn-patrol time. So, out we go. 

It's not obvious to us yet, but we're sure one day she'll reveal the evolutionary benefit of this ancient ritual. In the meantime, though...
...we've adopted a 13-week old puppy.

Her name is Twyla.

She has opinions about things, too. Already.
And when you're needing your space
To do some navigating
I'll be here patiently waiting
To see what you find

'Cause even the stars, they burn
Some even fall to the earth
We've got a lot to learn
And God knows we're worth it

No, I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up