4.05.2020

The Long Emergency

As recently as late February, we were still bemoaning our over-busy lives.

The week that the shit hit the fan in Durham, March 16th, I woke up every day as if waking up from a nightmare, a nightmare where everyone lost their job, and a vague specter of death moved through our community. Every day was like going to war with an imaginary demon. Every day was like going to war, but the army you were commanding was losing badly.

Our potential demise as a modern civilization was rendered far closer than we ever imagined. Suddenly, many bourgeois privileges, like going to bars and restaurants, were spoken of in the past tense as if we were speaking of the one-time wealth of ancient Rome.

We had been so blind, and Covid-19, like a biblical Tower of Babel, or an actual literal plague, laid us bare. The orange-tinted emperor had no clothes. The economy, reliant on consumer spending like a perpetual motion machine, had no clothes. The city officials, teachers, school administrators, health officials, were left listless, wholly unprepared to react to a crisis of this magnitude and scope. There was no reaction. All we could muster was "stay at home".

And stay at home we did, or at least those that could afford to. While time slipped through our fingers, Latinx families were expected to follow English website instruction for homeschooling. (Was this really the most creative solution to this problem? Why weren't teachers reaching out? Even using Google Translate for assignments for grade-schoolers would have been better than nothing.) This was the stratification of information access in its most obvious, blatant, and unsparing form. In an attempt to social distance and for lack of beds, homeless folks slept outside at the shelter in March.

I like to use something I call emetic theory as a way to understand the value, if any, in what is happening. In the Winter of 2014/2015, only a year after I had taken ownership, the Bakery hired an employee who proved to be toxic in the most stereotypical sense. She caused long-serving employees to leave. She was mean to staff and to management. She was resentful and disagreeable to put it mildly. To make matters worse, before things came to a head with her, I hired her partner as well, and the toxin spread. When the fireworks were over, they had both quit in a span of three weeks, and I had lost 1/3 of my staff. The way the Bakery was coming apart, it was as if it had swallowed an emetic and was throwing up; literally every day felt like possibly the last we could go on together. The Bakery at the time was barely staying afloat financially. It was at that point that I realized I needed either to step up as a manager, or I was going to go bankrupt. I began thinking more as a manager, and less as a staff member and worker, which had been my role since I joined Ninth Street Bakery as a bread mixer in 2009. I needed to think about what a leader would do. It was an uncomfortable role for me. I was quiet. I was humble. I wasn't good with people. I wasn't particularly good at giving praise, or letting people know they were appreciated on a regular basis, especially when I was feeling stress, which was every day. All those things needed to change if I wasn't going to go down with the ship. Painful as it was, the emetic the Bakery swallowed as a result of those two toxic employees was positive in the long run, both for the Bakery, and for me as a manager. Covid-19 is not comparable in scope, magnitude, or severity, but a blind man can see the fissures, cracks, and outright canyons laid bare by the unequal distribution of suffering dispersed by this emetic, whether it be access to health care, education, basic goods and services, or something as simple as health education on the risk and pathway of viral transmission. This may actually be a chance to take a look at the dysfunctional things in our economy and fix them, to trim fat and excess, and to redistribute wealth more equitably. A twilight of the idols so to speak.

Trump's reaction to Covid from the get-go has had all the overtones of an alchemist trying to convince a scientist that they can transform shit into gold. The fact that we give him or his administration or the (elected) officials that answer to him hand and foot any credence is a shameful reflection on us all. The idea that we can do very smart things in the field of global capitalism, yet and leave a nation of 320 million to be governed via systemic corruption, racism, monied influence, and willful ignorance hurts my soul and boils my blood. In a world of Covid, or perhaps post-Covid, complacency and ignorance will no longer be tolerated. Why is South Korea so much better than us at this? And Hong Kong? And Singapore? As my Nana would say, "You’re not so great.  You’re not so terrific."

In many ways, Covid has brought everything to fore that Trump always wanted. He wanted the borders closed. He saw international trade come to a screeching halt. Like Trump, we no longer shake hands anymore. Like Trump, everyone is socially isolated in their "tower".  His disputed claims of wealth and ostentatious bombast now fall hollow like never before amid severe economic crisis. He is the loneliest man, and as Deleuze would say, "the ugliest man". And he still hasn't released his taxes. And with his xenophobic race taunting of the "Chinese virus", he opens the door for an international race war. He is so dumb and misguided I can literally see the wheels of cognition turning.

I call Trump "racist grandpa". I had a grand-uncle who survived Auschwitz, and like many persecuted minorities, was subsequently racist to other minorities, having heard him use the n-word once. It was the kind of thing that as a young adult in the late 90's, I tolerated and chalked up to the ignorance of having been a Polish immigrant in a new and often hostile world (he lived and raised a family in Brooklyn when being from Brooklyn meant something). Like my grand-uncle, we somehow allow Trump to continue being racist, as well as classist, sexist, homophobic, etc. How he is not impeached for misconduct and abuse of power has as much to say about his inability to see plain facts and string them together as it does our inability to depose him. He is an embarrassment.

To win at a public health intervention like Covid takes conformity. We all need to move like a school of fish to win at social distancing. But to win at a political intervention like new civil rights (read upending structural racism, gerrymandering, expanding Medicaid, installing Medicare for all, fighting environmental racism, removing insider trading, lying Senator Burr, etc.) takes concerted and sustained action, both at the national and state level. When you look at a relief package like the CARES Act, it turns out that all along we had the money, lots of money apparently, to give direct payments to poor and working class people, we just didn't have the political will to stomach it. As with massive outlays for wars of deception and interference, the money is there and has been there to lift people out of poverty, just not the political will. It's abysmal. I didn't realize that the government had 2T dollars to give to poor and working class people, it just took a global pandemic to show it.  And the amount of that actually going to actual folks is like 230B. It's so wrong. We could actually lift every poor person out of poverty tomorrow if we wanted. I think what this shows is that all the time we had the money to provide direct payments to citizens. We just didn’t have the political will.  We willingly and voluntarily let people live in poverty. We could raise the living standards of millions of people and create a generation of voters that believe justice means bringing everyone up to a basic level of safety, security, and well being. Do we keep growing, or do we redistribute what we have? Ironically, Covid is a virus built on stratification. The first people to transmit and fall victim to Covid and transmit it internationally were the folks that have the income to travel by plane regionally and internationally: NBA stars, movie stars, health ministry officials, international soccer players and coaches, for example. The next tier of people to get it were those bourgeois who fly in planes, go to bars, restaurants, clubs, concerts.  A lack of discretionary income to be in places where people gather for leisure meant that the poor and the working class, the 3rd world, were both the last to get it, and also the least prepared to perform behaviors like social distancing or to get adequate health care or health information. At Wholefoods, only 25 people at a time can be in the store. At Compare Foods, there are no limits and people confusedly negotiate and ignore the blue taped Xes on the ground near checkout meant to indicate appropriate social distance.

I put this all in context to stake the claim that there is still time to put our intellectual capital and moral wherewithal to work.

I wish I had right now:

Better information!

Information is the foe of panic and fear of the unknown.

I wish I had:

1. Confidence that contact tracing is happening for all hospitalized and non-hospitalized cases. How many public health workers are intersecting with the community to do this work?
2. Where are the hotspots in your community? How is the community being messaged about this?
3. Public health advisories. How are we communicating about health behaviors to all communities?

This is a public health crisis, and it has already proven fatal in communities where information is not shared effectively about risks and behaviors.

Leaders need to step up and think as hard about the transmission of information as the transmission of the virus. Leaders will step up through this crisis, and pretenders will step out or step aside or step down or be deposed.

If there is any opportunity in Covid, it is to think twice about getting back on the capitalism treadmill if and when things return to normal. Covid effectively pulled the Andon cord on our economy. The question is what and how we will fix what was broken. What if we didn't keep growing and instead redistributed what we have? If we base wealth on growing GDP quarter after quarter, we are doomed to fail eventually as a society and as a civilization. What would it mean to clean the slate? What type of people are we going to be when we return to the capitalist treadmill, how are we going to be changed by this? What will we demand of our leaders? Covid has taken the wheels off of the capitalism train, and not eager to get up back on that treadmill, I see the pain in the eyes of all who have been laid off or affected; there must be a 3rd Way, a way to distribute wealth equitably without these extremes and lack of safety nets. What would I do if I got off this treadmill?

Virus culture

Coronavirus culture is really STI culture gone global.

The blame.
The resentment.
The guilt.
The confusion.

Axioms of Viral Culture
1. Information is often insufficient, inadequate, and untimely.
2. No one tries to give someone else a virus.
3. You can blame others, but it won’t be as half as bad as the blame you hang on yourself.

1.17.2020

So rather than feel that we are on the continual upswing of consumer capitalism, i think we are somewhere closer to peak or overshoot.

I've been mildly obsessed with this stuff since 2005.

Around that time, the theme was "peak oil" as the catalyst for societal change, which proved to be false. But even if peak was not 2010 but instead will be 2030, the societal changes that will occur will be the same. There's been no meaningful decrease in the amount of oil consumed since the peak oil scare, which leads me to believe that we will go on consuming as much as we can right up until the point that supply decreases not through conservation, but because producers are literally running out.

I spend a lot of time trying to predict the near future (10-30 years out), which is problematic. More useful is to know where will be 150 years out and backwards-solve to discover what we should be doing in the immediate term.

Year 2200 - global warming has made large swathes of the Earth virtually uninhabitable, without access to fresh water or capacity to grow plants or tend animals. Weather is highly volatile, leaving island nations and low-lying places constantly flooded.

Year 2100 - the end of liquid petroleum means that nations are burning shale, coal, gas and wood for energy, exacerbating global warming. Liquified natural gas and battery cells provide a modicum of energy for transportation fuel. Communities reduce sprawl for walkability and use of lower-energy-use transportation like motorcycles, scooters, electric carts, bicycles, trains, and light rail. Nuclear plants are going in at high cost, but it is difficult to maintain consistent maintenance of power grids across depopulated areas.

Year 2050 - In an attempt to maintain a bourgeois lifestyle and consumer economy, oil producers continue to produce until they literally can no longer satisfy demand. Conservationists are outdone by politicians shouting empty promises to a public that doesn't want to see the writing on the wall. Prices skyrocket, and inflation combined with reduced GDP torches financial markets, setting interest rates high, devaluing currency, and putting businesses into a conservative wealth hoarding. Unemployment increases and publicly funded programs and safety nets retreat. The price of commodities increases. Nations begin saber-rattling and with nuclear arms at the ready, catastrophic attacks are imaginable for the first time since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the name of preserving a way of life that upper classes in 1st world nations have enjoyed for decades while lower income people and 3rd world nations continue to suffer deprivations and hardship.

2050 really isn't that far away. It's possible we'll live to see it. Our children certainly will. And their children will likely live to see 2100. What is the the likelihood that the quality of life that we enjoy will be also shared by our grandchildren? What is the probability that they will inherit whatever wealth we or our children generate in our lifetimes?

1.02.2020

i looked up and asked, what happened?
suddenly no one cared about anything anymore.

12.30.2019

cell phone diet: the right of first refusal

To decrease screen time and retake our brains from the insidiousness of having a computer brain at the ready for all of our thinking, compromising our attention, increasing anxiety, resulting a low-grade ever-distracted state:

1. install hourly chime app from app store on phone for daytime hours.
2. at the hour chime, allow yourself to phone for 5 minutes (whatever you want, texts, instagram, safari).
3. otherwise, no cell phone use aside from calls or maps or emergencies.
4. use a laptop or desktop computer for searching, reading, etc.
5. for longer dives into apps that only exist on the phone (e.g. instagram), allow yourself one hour a week on a set day (e.g. Monday).
6. before going to bed, allow yourself to catch up on any texts that were not answered during the day.
7. steps 1-6 are goals. if you don't get there immediately, don't beat yourself up about it. it's a process of uncoupling.

The concept is that one has the right of first refusal not to look at one's phone. Nothing is commanding us to do it. It will always be there, waiting. Nothing is really that urgent. Just wait until the hour. Once cell phone use was limited to 30-45 min per day, I have noticed a real difference.

12.25.2019

era of disposability

we live in an era where everything, from clothing to media content, is designed to be rapidly desired, consumed, and then discarded. history, ethics, literature, religion, civics, empathy, everything of another era that was valued for the robust strong ties it created in society now has little value because it cannot be corporatized, commercialized, and capitalized upon. those old flows have been fully uncoded and put in service of new flows that maximize churn and profit via disposability. the ability to feel otherwise now signals to others a vulnerability worthy of denigration, ignorance, and apathy. the tempo and cycle of culture is running at a fever pitch where technology is no longer in service of humans, but instead humans are running blindly to catch up with everything that is happening in their phones.

12.19.2019

"There is no gift for the beloved. The lover alone possesses his gift of love."
-- Toni Morrison

12.01.2019

molly sarle


connan mockasin, thalia hall, 2019

opener helena deland









catching up


happy place at long pond, wellfleet


train they call the city of new orleans

changes

dave and matt


jenn wasner


khruangbin at lincoln theater



george warren rickey





may 25 2019







the kid stays in the picture







skylar gudasz











10.29.2019

We were not royal but snobbish, not aristocratic but class-conscious; we believed authority was cruelty to our inferiors, and education was being at school. We mistook violence for passion, indolence for leisure, and thought recklessness was freedom. We raised our children and reared our crops; we let infants grow, and property develop. Our manhood was defined by acquisitions. Our womanhood by acquiescence. And the smell of your fruit and the labor of your days we abhorred.

Toni Morrison, The Bluest Eye

7.17.2019

On Joy by Zadie Smith

"Real love came much later. It lay at the end of a long and arduous road, and up to the
very last moment I had been convinced it wouldn’t happen. I was so surprised by its
arrival, so unprepared, that on the day it arrived I had already arranged for us to visit
the Holocaust museum at Auschwitz. You were holding my feet on the train to the
bus that would take us there. We were heading toward all that makes life intolerable,
feeling the only thing that makes it worthwhile. That was joy. But it’s no good
thinking about or discussing it. It has no place next to the furious argument about
who cleaned the house or picked up the child. It is irrelevant when sitting peacefully,
watching an old movie, or doing an impression of two old ladies in a shop, or as I eat
a popsicle while you scowl at me, or when working on different floors of the library.
It doesn’t fit with the everyday. The thing no one ever tells you about joy is that it
has very little real pleasure in it. And yet if it hadn’t happened at all, at least once,
how would we live?"

http://theessayexperiencefall2013.qwriting.qc.cuny.edu/files/2013/09/Joy-by-Zadie-Smith.pdf

5.20.2019

A Man's Man, and a Writer's Writer - James Salter

In conversation, he’s courteous, flinty, guarded, and particular in a way that combines shyness and care. He doesn’t like to be asked things directly. “It seems shameful to me, to start analyzing oneself in public,” he said. His voice is thin, almost effeminate. He’s funnier in person than in his prose, which is generally solemn, and he has a gentle streak.If there are ants on the counter, he won’t kill them. He has an obsession with a 2003 documentary about the Thoroughbred Seabiscuit, which he watches over and over, tearing up in the presence of guests. He has been known to sing “American Pie” to clams when he shucks them. He always diligently checks the bill at restaurants.If he’s telling a story that involves numbers or years, he whispers the math to himself, his eyes fluttering, a finger tugging at his ear. He is a reciter of poems, and keen to read aloud. He likes to visit cemeteries. He measures out his Martinis precisely, down to a ritual drop of Worcestershire. He’s intensely competitive. He used to take pleasure in occasionally beating the poet Kenneth Koch, a superior player, in tennis, and he kept meticulous records of the touch-football games he and his literary friends played for many years on Long Island. “I could still show them my heels well into my fifties,” he said. He is renowned among them for his poise and self-control. He cherishes a way of life that may be passing from the world. For New Year’s Eve dinner at home in Aspen some years ago, Salter had everyone wear black tie.

by Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker, 2015