My Weekend Lament

This passage from Carl Sandburg’s The People, Yes pretty much runs through my mind every weekend as I look at the stack of books in my to-read pile, and the bookmarked articles in my browser.

    "I earn my living.
    I make enough to get by
    and it takes all my time.
    If I had more time
    I could do more for myself
    and maybe for others.
    I could read and study
    and talk things over
    and find out about things.
    It takes time.
    I wish I had the time."

Hillsborough River Press

I have a new hobby. I decided to start my own press and publish some ebooks.

You can find the first book here – The Green New Deal.

Some background — I write all the time. I also have a full-time job, and, you know, a spouse and friends and chores and various indolent indulgences. All of which means that writing is more of a life-long hobby than a compelling vocation. Nonetheless, I enjoy it and it brings me great satisfaction.

So, to create a new outlet for longer works I launched Hillsborough River Press. This is an ebook only press (for now) and is a home for short books I write. I want to alternate between fiction and non-fiction. I’m shooting for two of each per year. First up explains the Green New Deal, and the 2nd release in September will be a near-future thriller.

I hope this scratches my itch for writing and publishing. So far, setting it up and launching it has been fun. I hope you enjoy it!

I started with zines in the 1990s, and moved to blogging in the 2000s, and now have this micro-micropress. This is the latest iteration of what has been a hobby for over a quarter century now.

The conceit behind The Green New Deal is that it’s part of a series titled 1HR Reads. If you read 300 words a minute, then 15,000 words is about an hour of reading. If you want to be a beta reader and offer feedback, get in touch and I’ll send you a free copy. Feedback can be copy-editing, or looking for contradictions or vague passages, or asking questions to add to the next edition.

I fully expect this book to be updated in a couple of months, so any and all feedback will help with the next edition.

Thanks to everybody for reading, and sharing!

The Green New Deal is the 2016 DNC Platform

I’m near the end of writing a long explanation piece about the Green New Deal. With any luck I’ll be able to talk about it more this weekend!

But, one thing I just noticed while researching is the Green New Deal is almost exactly the 2016 DNC Platform. (This post from ThinkProgress in February noticed the same thing.)

The urgency for dealing with climate catastrophe is more pronounced in the GND, but that makes sense given the current inaction and the sobering analysis of the latest IPCC special report, released after the committee’s work. But, it’s also worth noting that Bill McKibben was part of the drafting committee. (You can find the drafting committee here.)

The platform addresses creating a green infrastructure, green manufacturing, supporting research in climate mitigation, being inclusive, developing resilient cities, building a clean energy economy, clean water, clean air, cleaning up pollution, universal health care, and more. The GND addresses the same topics.

What doesn’t make sense is the hesitancy of “centrist” democrats to support the GND. In 2016 it was their agenda.

The Last Supper Pill

(This is a work of fiction, and takes place in the imaginary town of Abdera, Florida.)

I’ve never met Cindy, but she’s probably my closest friend in Abdera. We speak over the phone first thing every weekday morning. She’s sweet and fun to talk to even if there’s rarely something I can use for the news site, and we sort of have a little flirty thing going on. My name is Gomez Goldenham and I work the police beat for the Abdera Intelligencer, which maybe sounds more impressive than it is.

When she picked up the phone she started with, “Here’s something weird.” Every morning I try to imagine what Cindy looks like and every morning I imagine her looking different than I imagined the day before.

“Finally! You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting to hear that.” Usually when I’m talking to Cindy I’m eating a breakfast burrito and drinking a giant iced coffee. This morning was no different. A black rhino everything burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck is my go-to choice.

“Well, the weirdness is a personal thing,” she said. “I feel happy because I finally have a crime to tell you about. Then I thought that it’s really macabre to be happy, because what happened is super sad. Isn’t that weird? To have these different places in your brain so that you can be happy about something at the same time you’re sad about it?”

“I get it. Like you said, it’s two different parts of your brain. Sorry to prompt the conflict. What happened?”

“Oh, it’s not your fault. At least it better not be! Sorry. Bad joke. Jean Ferrybridge is dead.”

I realized I should be taking notes. I rooted through the remains of take-out and not-quite-finished coffees until I found a pen in an aging donut box (I would throw these things in my trash, but the wastebasket is full and I’m too lazy to take it to the dumpster). I pulled a piece of paper from the printer sitting on the corner of my desk. “Tell me again what happened.”

“We got a 911 just after midnight. Someone driving by Jean’s house saw the door was open and called us. Roger answered the call. She was already dead when he got there.”

“What was the cause of death?”

Cindy paused. “You know what? I’m not sure what I can say about this. I should probably check with Pollux.”

Pollux is James Pollux, chief of police of Abdera, Florida. “I understand. How about off the record?”

“And you won’t report it? I don’t want to get in trouble.”

“Promise. Not until we get official word from Captain Pollux.”

“Somebody beat her to death, Go. Roger said it was bad.”

“That’s horrible. Was it a robbery?”

“It didn’t look like it as far as Roger could tell. But, they’re out at the crime scene now.”

“Thanks, Cindy. Do you think it’d be OK if I head out there?” That may sound like I’m asking permission to do my job, but I’m really making sure I don’t get her in trouble. I like Cindy.

“I suppose so. Just tell the Captain that I didn’t tell you nothin’.”

I asked for the address and she gave it to me.

“Thanks, Go. Like I said, I’m happy I had something for you this morning, but I’m also sad I had something for you this morning.”

“I appreciate it Cindy. I might call later if I have any follow up questions.”

I couldn’t remember how I knew the name Jean Ferrybridge so I googled her.

Lambert, the editor, publisher, and lead reporter for the Abdera Intelligencer walked into the office two minutes after I started my search. Lambert was my boss and hired me right out of J-school. She was a weird combination of cynical and sincere, and oversaw everything printed in the paper and on the website.

“What are you doing here?”

I was a little thrown by her comment. I was always at work on time, and today wasn’t my day off. “Working. Guess what?”

“They found Jean Ferrybridge dead last night.” She dropped her bag on her chair. Lambert has her own office, but mostly we all worked in the large central space. Not that there were many of us.

“That’s right. How did you know?”

“I’m a fucking reporter, Gomez. Shouldn’t you be at the crime scene?” Lambert was texting someone on her phone while talking to me.

“I was looking up Jean on the internet.”

“Let me rephrase that – get out to the crime scene. Talk to the captain, the deputy, then talk to the neighbors to see if anybody heard or saw anything last night. The internet will still be here when you get back.” She shot me a look that asked ‘are you still here?’

“Got it.” I hesitated. There was something I had to ask. “Lambert, do you want to take this? It’s probably a pretty big story.” My few minutes of googling revealed that the Ferrybridges had been influential in Abdera for generations.

“I do not. You have the police beat. This is your story. We all have to start somewhere, Gomez. If you have any questions, or need anything, give me a call. Actually, check in with me in about an hour and let me know how it’s going.”

“Thanks, Lambert.”

“Don’t thank me. Get the fuck out of here and get to work.”

#

“Hey, hey, it’s Hambone. How’s the reporting, Goldie?” My first week on the job Lambert took me to the police station to introduce me as the new police beat reporter. Cindy was out picking up lunch that day, something I learned later she was expected to do every day. Roger couldn’t stop laughing when he learned my last name was Goldenham and started making fun of my name immediately. He thinks he’s funny, but he’s an asshole.

“Hi, Roger. I heard about Jean Ferrybridge. I’m here to report on it. Find out what happened.” Jean’s house was on a small man-made bluff overlooking the bay in a cluster of fancy old-for-Florida homes.

“That’s Deputy Tiger to you and right now this is an ongoing investigation. We have no comment for the press. Why don’t you go grab yourself a couple of burritos, Hamhock. We’ll call you when we have something to say.”

I pulled out my phone and turned on the audio record.

“Can you tell me what happened to Jean Ferrybridge?”

Roger chuckled. “No comment, Goldenboy.” I felt my face turning red. I’d been bullied all my life because of my weight, and I still didn’t know how to deal with it. My go-to solution was to avoid people, but I couldn’t avoid Roger Tiger if I wanted to do my job.

“Gomez Goldenham! I thought we’d see you soon.” Chief Pollux walked out the front door and across the lawn. Pollux I could deal with. If he wasn’t interested in politics and running for office, he was missing out. He was easily the most charismatic person I’ve ever met.

“Hi Chief. I heard what happened to Jean. I came to see what you’ve learned so far.”

Roger smirked at me. “I’m going to finish up inside, Chief. Adios, Hammyham.”

“Thank you, Deputy.” The Chief turned his full attention to me. He was impossibly handsome and had a way of making you feel special. “Right now we have nothing to report. I can confirm that Jean Ferrybridge is dead. I can tell you that we are treating this like a murder, and we have no motive.”

“How did you find out about it?”

“We received an anonymous tip sometime after midnight.”

“Do you know when you’ll have a more complete statement?”

“Right after lunch. I’ll call you personally. Right now, though, I need to get back inside and wrap up this part of the investigation.”

“Will you be bringing in any outside resources? I mean, are you contacting the FBI?”

Pollux smiled and held out his hand to halt my questioning. “I’ll be in touch.”

I shook his hand and walked back to my aging Hyundai. Roger’s comment about burritos had me craving another breakfast burrito from the Ghostfood Food Truck. I promised myself I could stop by Ghostfood for at least a coffee once I’d talked to the neighbors.

None of the neighbors I spoke with admitted to seeing anything the night before, or to being the person who called 911. They all agreed it was horrible and everybody presumed it was a robbery gone wrong. Jean was well-known in the community, and while not precisely well-loved, no one hated her enough to kill her, and no one could imagine she had any enemies that would resort to this kind of violence.

After walking up and down the block and knocking on doors I squeezed into my rattletrap Hyundai and drove to the Ghostfood Food Truck.

#

Marco runs the Ghostfood Food Truck which is usually parked in the Gaspar Business Park parking lot outside of downtown. He tries to recreate foods and recipes that have been lost. For example, it’s the only place in town you can get hardtack. He sprinkles it on his chicken chili, which he calls the Dodo Delight. The truck is covered with info about animals and plants that have gone extinct, or about to go extinct, and he features pretend extinct dishes, like Dodo Delight (chicken chili) or Sabretooth sandwiches (pulled pork). Maybe not the greatest marketing idea, but he makes up for it by having the best coffee in town.

If Cindy was the closest of my nonexistent friends, Marco was a close second. I saw him almost every day and we usually chatted for a couple of minutes when I ordered my coffee or breakfast burrito.

“What’s up, Primo?” I fought the temptation to get a mid-morning snack and ordered a large coffee.

“Jean Ferrybridge was killed last night, and I’ve been talking to neighbors.” I don’t know how he managed to make his coffee so good, but I wanted it to rest on my tongue for eternity.

“No shit? Fuck. I knew Jean.” Marco handed me my coffee.

Instantly my mind was off the coffee and on Marco.

“Really? I’m sorry man. I would have been more sensitive if I’d known. I didn’t mean to blurt it out like that.”

“No, that’s alright. I mean, it sucks. I mean… I don’t know what I mean. I need to take a minute.”

“Sure.”

Marco came out from the truck and sat at one of the nearby picnic tables. He pulled out his vape and took a drag. I sat across from him, blowing on my coffee and taking tiny sips.

“I’m real sorry. How did you know Jean?”

“She comes… used to come to the food truck. She loved it. She was always telling me about exotic recipes I could make if we really had extinct animals. She was crazy about food. In fact, we belonged to a supper club together.”

“A supper club? What’s that?”

“Weird shit. She thought I’d fit in because of the truck, y’know?”

“What kind of weird shit?”

“Well, like one time we all went and got fecal implants.” Marco grinned at the memory.

“What. The. Actual. Fuck? How does that have anything to do with food? That’s like the opposite of food.”

Marco nodded, still smiling. “Yeah. I told you it was weird shit. Ha! I guess in that case literally. She said it was a way to feed our microbiome. That it would give us a whole new outlook on what it meant to nourish ourselves.”

“Did it?”

“Yeah. I guess so. I didn’t even know what a microbiome was before that. You know we’re mostly not us? We’re mostly microscopic organisms like bacteria. More than half of us is not human.”

“I had no idea. That IS some weird shit. Anything else?” I had about a thousand questions about fecal implants, but it felt inappropriate to grill him at that moment.

“Sometimes it was exotic meals. One time she had Seema Surly from Drinkwater Labs bring us some glow-in-the-dark chile peppers she had gene-spliced together from some bioluminescent fish. One time we had a meal with the recipes completely created by an AI, but then a person cooked it. That was crazy. Most of that shit was inedible. There’d be like a pound of salt and a teaspoon of chicken.”

A beat-up burgundy Impala drove up into the lot and two guys who looked like carnival workers got out.

“It looks like I got customers.” Marco put his vape away. “Oh yeah,” he pulled a pill from his pocket where he kept his vape. “Jean just sent these out. They are supposed to be a part of our next supper party.”

“Can I see it?”

“Sure.” Marco handed me the pill and went inside the truck.

Then things moved really fast. The two men did not move to the order window. One of them walked up to me, moving quickly. The other followed Marco into the truck, pushing him through the door.

I’ve never been hit in my life. My mom didn’t believe in corporal punishment, so I’ve never even been spanked. Bullies taunted me mercilessly, but no one has ever hit me. As long as you don’t count getting your ears flicked or the occasionally slap across the head by a high school bully. This was nothing compared to that. This was a full-on punch in the face. It hurt really bad and I started to cry. I could hear Marco scuffling in the truck. I tried to stand up, but the man pushed me down by the shoulders.

Both men were shouting something, asking questions, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying. There was too much confusion. Too much pain.

Finally I understood the man in the truck as he shouted out “He doesn’t have it. He said he gave it to fatty there.”

“Where’s the fucking pill?” Through bleary eyes I could see the man with his fist cocked back. He was short and burly, bald with a long thin black ponytail, and a pockmarked deeply tanned face. For some reason it seemed weird to me in that moment that he was wearing flip-flops and cargo shorts. He also scared the shit out of me.

The pill was in my hand. Without thinking I put it in my mouth and bit down.

“You dumb fuck.” He tried to get his hand in my mouth, but I bit him, then I kept chewing the pill. As we wrestled I fell off the picnic table and onto the pitted blacktop.

This isn’t actually much of a surprise if you knew me. I’m a compulsive eater. During one of the last conversations I ever had with my mom while I lived at home she said “Do you have to put every goddamn thing into your mouth?” That was the day I knew it was time to move out. We’ve talked since, but not much. What WAS surprising was the pill. It sort of exploded in my mouth. Not exploded in a fizzy way like an effervescent candy, but exploded with flavor like it was filling my mouth with food. It was shocking and disconcerting and I might have spit it out, it was so unexpected, except for the guy trying to stick his fingers in my mouth to scoop it out.

I couldn’t tell if I was really eating food, or if it was just some sort of flavor explosion. My mind couldn’t comprehend what was happening  in my mouth. It was like I was eating a whole meal. Literally. First was a strong taste of bibb lettuce with a raspberry and balsamic vinegar dressing. I kept chewing and swallowing, keeping my face away from the guy poking at my mouth. Next was the taste of steak, then buttery potatoes, then steak and potatoes. It was amazing, and amazingly delicious.

“Goddamn it! He ate it.”

At the very end I could taste Key Lime pie. I burped.

“You stupid son-of-a-bitch.” It happened in slow motion, but I was frozen, like I’d forgotten everything I ever knew about moving. He punched me again. This time I felt my nose shift and heard a crunch.

Weirdly, the breaking of my nose didn’t hurt as much as the earlier punch. My guess is because my body flooded with endorphins and other pain killers to keep me from going completely mad. Instead I felt really itchy on the inside of my face, like a swarm of ants were trying to make their way out.

The two men got in their car and drove away. Marco knelt beside me and turned me on my right shoulder.

“Spit out the blood. We don’t want you choking.”

I spat. “The pill. They wanted the pill.” It was hard to breathe and I kept spitting blood, letting it drool out of the side of my mouth.

“Did they get it?”

I spat some more. The blood in my mouth was starting to make me feel sick. I wondered if I vomited if I’d see meat and potatoes and key lime pie. It crossed my mind that I should vomit just as an experiment to test my taste experience against the contents of my stomach.

“I ate it.”

“You what?”

“I didn’t mean too. When I get nervous I eat things. I put it in my mouth without even thinking.”

“Do you feel alright?”

My head ached and my face hurt a lot, but my nausea was settling down and the bleeding seemed to be bothering me less, though it was still flowing profusely and I was still spitting. But, I knew he was asking about the pill.

“It was like eating a whole meal.”

“You mean because of all the blood you swallowed?” Marco looked confused and a little worried. I could see he was thinking that punch knocked me loopy.

“No. The pill. It was like a meal in a pill.”

His eyes opened wide like he understood something. “I bet that’s exactly what it was. Jean sent it to us for the next supper club meeting. I bet that was going to be our meal.”

“It was intense. I didn’t know something like that was possible. It’s like a pill out of Willie Wonka.” The blacktop was starting to feel uncomfortable and I wondered if I should move.

“Yeah. Pretty wild. I wonder where she got them. Hey, do you think those guys maybe killed Jean?”

“Yeah. Maybe.” I needed to call Lambert. I also probably needed to call Chief Pollux. “Can you help me up?”

“You just lie there. You might be concussed. Let me get you some towels and put some pressure on that nose. It looks like he broke it. You look fucked up, Primo.” Marco left to get some towels and I idly wondered where my phone was.

Then I puked up what felt like a bucket of blood. There was some breakfast burrito in there, but no steak and potatoes. And, no key lime pie.

He came back with towels. I wiped my face, spit, and he handed me a towel full of ice I put on my forehead as close as I could get to my nose. The coolness felt good, but I couldn’t touch my nose or my cheeks.

“Wait a minute. You said us. You said Jean sent it to us.”

“Yeah, for the next supper club.”

“How did those guys know to come to you? How did they know you had the pill? Do you think they know who Jean sent the pills to?”

“I don’t see how.”

“Did she send an email about it? Maybe she had an address list at her home.”

“No, dude, she totally sent us an email. I bet you’re right. I need to let everybody know.”

“I need to call too. Do you see my phone?”

“Yeah. It’s here on the table.” Marco handed me my phone. “I’ll be right back.” He went to his food truck, I assume to start making calls. I wondered if I might be bleeding to death. There was a lot of blood still flowing from my face.

I didn’t know whether to call Lambert or the police first. I called Lambert.

“Start calling those people immediately. Text me the names. I’ll contact Captain Pollux and let him know about the assault.”

I did exactly as Lambert suggested. Marco and I didn’t reach everybody, but he at least left a message, or texted everyone in the supper club and managed to speak to two members.

I wanted to race to warn someone, but Marco closed up the food truck and drove me to the emergency room in his pick-up truck. I laid down in back, bleeding all over the bed of his truck. I was quite dizzy from all the blood loss, and my headache kept getting more and more intense.

#

As I was getting checked for a concussion Lambert texted me to let me know the police arrested the attackers.

#

The next day I was coping with a profound headache. Lambert took over the story. It turned out that a research scientist named Seema Surly had been killed at Drinkwater Labs the same night as Jean Ferrybridge, though no one discovered her body until the next night; the night I was hanging out in the hospital.

Surly’s killer was Drinkwater’s attorney. She was trying to steal the recipe for the meal-in-a-pill invention Surly created. Surly shared a batch of prototype pills with Ferrybridge and Ferrybridge’s supper club. That was the pill I ate when attacked at Ghostfood.

A few days later I was back at work with a healing nose and two glorious shiners. I was feeling really down about myself because the first big story I had to break I instead broke my nose. Lambert was the best, but I still felt gloomy.

As I brooded about what a loser I was I got a text from Marco: Meet me at the food truck when you get off work. I have a surprise.

After work I drove to Ghostfood thinking maybe he made me a special treat. Marco told me he was taking me somewhere and directed me to his truck. I sat in the front this time. He wouldn’t tell me where we were going. I wondered if Marco and I might be on our way to being friends. That would be nice. I’d never had many friends, but I’d never felt lonely until I moved to Abdera and away from Mom.

Eventually I realized we were driving to the Drinkwater estate. I realized it as we passed the open gates with DRINK on one gate and WATER on the other. My journalistic powers of super deduction at work.

“Why are we going to Drinkwater’s?”

“You’ll find out.”

I followed Marco through the front door and into a huge dining room. A group of people holding an assortment of wine and cocktail glasses mingled near a bar at one end of the room.

“Here he is! The man of the hour.” Harlen Drinkwater separated from the group and came to me and shook my hand. “Let me get you a drink.” I recognized Harlen from the news website. We wrote a lot about his charitable work, which always included pictures of him toasting or drinking.

I blushed, but it was probably impossible to tell given the state of my face.

“Thanks, but I didn’t really do anything.” I felt a little embarrassed to have all this attention on me.

“Nonsense. You broke the case wide open.” Like my nose, I thought. “If you hadn’t been at the food truck, only God knows what those creeps might have done to Marco. And, if you hadn’t eaten the pill, they might have stolen it and made their getaway. And, the two of you managed to contact everyone and get the police to understand the seriousness of the situation.”

“Okay. Thank you. Still, I feel like I was just doing my job.”

“Here’s to doing your job. Cheers!” Everyone lifted their glass and we drank a toast.

Drinkwater’s face turned serious. “This isn’t all a celebration, however. We lost two wonderful amazing people a few days ago. Both were important to me, but one especially was important to this group. Here’s to Jean.” We drank another toast.

Drinkwater gestured for us all to sit down at the dining room table at the other end of the room, and I took a seat next to Marco. Each of us had a silver service set in front of us with a gleaming lid covering a silver plate.

“Tonight’s dinner is in Jean’s memory. And tonight we also welcome, if he will have us, a new member to the supper club.” Drinkwater focused his attention on me. “Gomez Goldenham, on behalf of the supper club I’d like to ask you to join us as our newest member. I think you will find it a rewarding experience.”

I felt awkward and flattered. “Yes. That would be nice. I’d like that a lot.”

“Then welcome!” We drank another toast. “And now, tonight’s dinner.” Drinkwater gestured and we removed the silver covers from our plates. Sitting on the gleaming silver was a single pill. A pill like the one I ate at Ghostfood.

“What you see before you is the last batch of the Drinkwater Meal-in-a-Pill invented by Seema Surly. Seema was a brilliant scientist and a dear friend and I miss her deeply. Unfortunately when Seema died the secret of their production died with her. She wrote many notes, but she kept a few secrets locked away in her head. I don’t know yet if I’ll keep the labs working on unlocking those secrets, but even if I do there’s no guarantee anyone will ever match Seema’s singular genius. I admit I don’t know what we’re eating tonight. The pills have been distributed randomly. Please describe your sensations as we eat.

“Gomez, as our newest member and tonight’s guest of honor will you do us the honor of eating the first pill?”

I nodded silently and awkwardly popped the meal-in-a-pill in my mouth. This time I chewed slowly and enjoyed the strange sensation. I described everything I tasted to my new friends.

END

Tampa, FL

May 2019

AFTERWORD: As I started the current iteration of this blog at the beginning of 2019, I posted some fictional entries as if from a young man newly arrived in Abdera. Regular posting, as has been the case for nearly a decade now, became untenable as the semester got underway and sucked up all my time. However, I kept writing notes and ideas about that character, and he eventually became Gomez Goldenham, the protagonist of this story.

Initially this story had a lot more future food stuff. It was more of a quest/mystery where the protagonist had to go from person to person, place to place and getting his clue card stamped until he solved the mystery. In the end I ditched the mystery-solving and decided to write a story about meeting new friends.


Intellectual Humility

Brian Resnick at Vox just posted an essay about intellectual humility in the sciences. It’s something I think about a lot when it comes to education.

I used to, when I had a class with Veterans or non-traditional students, talk about the importance of intellectual humility and the real challenge of having the courage to change your mind. When you learn you literally change your brain. You literally change your mind. When you change your mind you are changing yourself. Changing yourself to be a different person can be scary and takes real courage. Without intellectual humility you’re never really going to learn anything, because you won’t be open to changing into a different version of yourself.

Then I talked to them about research on intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. If you’re intrinsically motivated to learn (because you are legit curious) it will stick with you a lot longer than if you are only motivated by grades or getting a diploma (extrinsic motivation).

I don’t do this anymore because there’s no time to focus on anything other than the practical basics of using the library resources.

One tool I use for my own intellectual humility is to assume, whether I believe it or not, but to assume for just a moment that the idea, belief, or conviction I’m hearing is held by somebody smart, honest, and sincere. Then I ask myself – How would a smart, honest, and sincere person come to that conclusion?

For some things, like climate change denial, I have a better understanding how people hold on to those beliefs, though I remain convinced they are wrong.

On other issues, like race, gender, and identity, I learned that there were significant elements of the discussion of which I was ignorant. Once I began addressing that ignorance I started to change my mind, and so changed myself.

I keep thinking about this exchange between Ezra Klein and Sam Harris:

Sam Harris
I get that, but not in precisely the ways you think you do. I’m in the, once again, having the bewildering experience of agreeing with virtually everything you said there, and yet it has basically no relevance to what I view as our underlying disagreement.

Ezra Klein
You have that bewildering experience because you don’t realize when you keep saying that everybody else is thinking tribally, but you’re not, that that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
Well, no, because I know I’m not thinking tribally —

Ezra Klein
Well, that is our disagreement.

Sam Harris
In this respect because, no, because I share your political biases there. I would line up with you completely. If I gave into my bias, my social bias I would become, I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to recognize that Nisbett and Turkheimer are reasoning better than anyone else in this field. I can’t tell you what a relief it would be to realize that Gould’s book, The Mismeasure of Man, was right on the money.

Ezra Klein
I don’t think it would be a relief to you at all. Because the thing that you said when you, I feel like now we’re just getting back to the beginning and we should let this go and I’ll let you get the last word after this, but right at the beginning of all this with Murray you said, you look at Murray and you see what happens to you. You were completely straightforward about that, that you look at what happens to him and you see what happens to you. I think the really.

Sam Harris
It’s not tribalism. This is an experience of talking about ideas in public.

Ezra Klein
We all have a lot of different identities we’re part of all times. I do, too. I have all kinds of identities that you can call forward. All of them can bias me simultaneous, and the questions, of course, are which dominate and how am I able to counterbalance them through my process of information gathering and adjudication of that information. I think that your core identity in this is as someone who feels you get treated unfairly by politically correct mobs and —

Sam Harris
That is not identity politics. That is my experience as a public intellectual trying to talk about ideas.

Ezra Klein
That is what folks from the dominant group get to do. They get to say, my thing isn’t identity politics, only yours is. I will tell you, Sam, when people who do not look like you hear you telling them that this is just identity politics, they don’t think, “God he’s right. That is just identity politics.” They think this is my experience and you don’t understand it. You just said it’s your experience and they don’t understand it.

Sam Harris
You think that’s Glenn Loury’s view of it, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s view of it, or Maajid Nawaz’s view of it?

Ezra Klein
I think that you have said publicly that you would not have a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates, because you think he just plays identity politics.

Sam Harris
Yes, I think he’s, it’s the same reason why I didn’t want to have a conversation with you, honestly, because I think that it doesn’t become fruitful. This is a postmortem on our collision, and I think it was useful to do, and I can only hope our audience sorts it out for themselves in ways that I think will be accurate.

This exchange, I think, gets at something important when it comes to our Current Situation. Harris’s inability to recognize that he is part of a tribe is something you see over and over once you start paying attention. White guys (and others whom the power structures favor) are incapable of seeing how the system privileges them and their ideas. And, until they are able to recognize their cognitive blindness, they’ll continue reinforcing societal structures that diminish their capacity for compassion and empathy.

It’s disconcerting to see a group of people I generally admire (like Bruce Sterling speaking to the Long Now Foundation) and realize it’s all white men. (Even worse, looking back over the history of speakers at the Long Now Foundation, they’ve all been white (with the exception of a lone Indian woman). What kind of future is the Long Now Foundation planning when they listen only to white people?)

One method I (a middle-aged cis white guy) use to interrogate my own privilege is reading (and listening to) people who don’t look like me. I’m intrinsically motivated to better understand the human experience. I’m always working to read more people of color, more women, more LBGTIQA+. I make an effort to read people from different nations, especially the global south. For most of my life I read mostly straight white men without even realizing what I was doing. Those were the easiest voices to locate, and I presumed that they were unbiased vessels transmitting a clearly accurate understanding of the issues.

They are not.

When I started reading outside that cluster of thinkers I realized that they really are part of a tribe. Sam Harris, no matter how much he denies it, is part of a tribe, but the bonds of that affiliation are still invisible to him.

Here’s hoping that in 2019 more privileged folks become aware of their invisible bonds and learn to break them. Learn, change your mind, grow your heart.

Resolutions

I love New Year’s resolutions. For much of my life I was indifferent to resolutions, but then I made the life-altering decision one year to resolve to eat more pie. Suddenly, a whole new world of resolving/self care opened up to me.

Last year’s resolution was to ask friends out for a beer more often. Be more social. Connect more IRL. That mostly went well. The stress of house buying/selling, dissatisfaction at work, international travel, and the flu disrupted it somewhat in the last few months, but it’s a resolution I look to continue in 2019.

Two years ago my resolution was to be more in tune with the moon. Just to be aware of when it’s full moon, what stage the moon is in, where and when it will be rising. That was a good one. I let it slip a little last year, but I still a lot more conscious of the phases of the moon than years past.

This year I resolve to be the Year of Baking. For what inscrutable purpose I’m not sure, but JB has started binge-watching the Great British Baking Show. Having this constantly on the periphery of my attention has inexplicably prompted an interest in baking. Within the last month I’ve already made a pizza crust, a carrot cake, and some chocolate chip cookies. Since I’ve already started I might as well commit. Next up will be a pie, followed soon by bread.

I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

Twenty Eighteen Twenty Nineteen

2018 started off strong in the writing department. I had a project and a clear vision. I finished a story and sent it off for consideration, and by the end of Spring I finished the first round of edits on a novel.

And then in Summer everything shut down. We started looking for (then buying) a house, then we prepared (and ultimately sold) our old house. So, Good News! We got a new house that we really liked and managed to pull off the buying and selling with nary a hitch. But, it occupied most of my cognitive, psychic, and emotional energy. Writing went out the window.

New years allow for new beginnings. It’s time to re-title the blog and consider how to use it to enrich my life.

This year’s theme is Abdera, Florida. Over the last few years I’ve set several stories in the fictional town of Abdera, Florida and early on realized it would serve well as the center of a fictional universe. So this year, as I work on honing the writing craft, I will include some pieces, vignettes, stories, etc. from and about Abdera, Florida, home of the modern-day Abderites.

So, Happy New Year! I hope 2019 exceeds all your positive expectations and we find some way to work together to create a better world for us all.

Happy Holidays 2018!

Happy Holidays!

The end of the calendar year is one of my favorite times of the year. One of the perks of work is that we get a big chunk of time off at the end of the year. I added some vacation days and so I have a two week break to reflect and rejuvenate.

Clearly, blogging was not a top priority during 2018. Between work, working on the novel, and general dismay at the news cycle, I didn’t have much to say, nor the desire to say much.

The novel went moderately well until the summer when we decided to start house-hunting. There’s plenty of chatter about the outrage du jour and I don’t have much to offer except that a lot of people are horrible, anti-social, narcissistic monsters. But, you already know that.

This week I’ll figure out what to do with this blog in 2019, and be ready to launch something new a week from now. Orrr, I suppose I might decide to put it on hiatus. I doubt that I’ll be able to conjure up extra time, so to keep blogging will require some adjustment of priorities.

For the time being I’m adjusting to the new house and some new routines and making plans for the future. I’ll see you again in 2019!

Mean Irma

When I was a kid my friends often started stories with the words Me and Name (Me and Jeff, Me and Charley, etc.). To my ears, because the words were run together and the ‘d’ was dropped, it always sounded like they were starting to tell a story about Mean Jeff or Mean Charley.

This is a story about Mean Irma.

I know enough about hurricanes that I did these two things in preparation. I cut back trees in the backyard in the spring. One was dying and leaning over the neighbors shed, so I hired some people to take it down so a storm wouldn’t. I check the NOAA National Hurricane Center every few days to see what is developing.

Here is what I did not do in preparation. I did not have plywood cut to fit my windows, so by the time it became clear the hurricane would definitely hit us I did not have suitably sized window protections. I did not have a cordless power drill for removing panels once the electricity was out, and I did not have suitable wood screws for putting up window protections.

The Wednesday before Irma plowed through Florida my work announced they were closing Thursday through Monday. At the time the projections showed Irma moving up the east coast of Florida. I had a great deal of confidence in this prediction, and didn’t worry too much about the ‘cone of uncertainty’ indicating the possibility of it shifting our way.

Thursday morning and Friday morning I visited the grocery store at 7am to gather supplies (nuts, dried fruit, beans, water, batteries, chips, cheese and crackers), and filled the car with gas. Mostly because I thought there was a real possibility of losing power for a day or two, but I still wasn’t particularly worried. During the day on Friday I brought in a lot of stuff from outside (chairs, garden stuff, little tables). Friday evening I felt prepared.

Saturday the projections showed the worst case scenario (for me). A high category storm moving up the west coast, heading right for Tampa. If it cruised up the coast without making landfall until it reached Tampa Bay, that could mean for some serious destruction.

JB and I began boarding up windows. She had been much more worried about the storm than I (in retrospect, rightly so), and had asked a friend to drop off her fencing that she had recently taken down. On Saturday we cut down the fencing and nailed it up over windows. We covered windows with shelving we didn’t use in our pantry, and with leftover flooring that’s been laying around for nearly ten years. JB disassembled her Ikea desk and we used her desktop to cover a front window. (Covering windows involved a tremendous amount of sawing wood down to size. Fortunately I have a circular saw and a suitable work bench.) When that was done we brought in all of our plants. We wanted to have as much done by dark on Saturday as possible, because it looked like Sunday would be a rainy day.

I barely slept Saturday night.

Sunday we stayed in touch with friends, monitored the storm, listened to stories of different shelters and traffic jams. I stayed off social media and commercial news. I texted with friends and watched NOAA and the Weather Underground.

Sunday afternoon I felt I had done everything I could to be prepared and turned on the television to watch NFL football to get my mind off worrying about the weather. All football pre-empted in the area. Nothing but Irma coverage on every local channel. I turned off the television, opened a book and lay on the couch to read.

I fell asleep.

JB woke me at 4:30 to say she was going to stay in a shelter. The anxiety and fear was making her sick. She didn’t want to go through this storm in this house. And, she had to make a decision soon, because curfew went into effect at 6pm and many shelters were already closed.

Right or wrong, for good or for ill, I did not share her anxiety and fear. We agreed I’d stay here with the dogs and she would head over to a nearby church that opened its doors to people in the neighborhood. It wasn’t an official shelter, just a church helping out its community.

As we went through the build-up to the storm JB checked in with me periodically to gauge my worry level. What influenced me to stay was the Hillsborough County disaster plan which urged you to take shelter in place if you were in a well-secured space; the fact that we are not in a flood zone, nor an evacuation zone; the history of our house making through storms for decades, and the likelihood of the storm diminishing as it approached. Plus, I had a bag ready and the car pulled up to the doorway if something catastrophic happened to our house and could make it to a near-by friend’s or a shelter within minutes if necessary. I felt prepared and ready to weather the storm.

At 8pm the gusts started, and the occasional branch hit the house. By 10pm there was a lot of debris hitting the house and the gusts were persistent and loud. I moved the couch to the center of the house and the dogs huddled next to me. I watched the laptop, my phone, and a non-news, non-weather channel on TV. The power went out about 11:15. By midnight the sound of gusting wind was strong and persistent, but the sound of stuff hitting the house was mostly gone since most of the debris had already been blown off the trees.

Part of what made the experience so alarming was the persistence of the winds and the length of time it covered. It went on and on and on.

That said, by midnight I was exhausted. The storm had diminished by the time it hit us. All the windows were covered. The dogs were snoozing (they hate thunder (of which there was none), but were indifferent to the wind). Shortly after midnight I fell asleep.

I awoke at 4am to silence. No wind. No rain. I peeked outside, then stepped outside. Only a light drizzle. I took a broom and swept off the deck by the back door. I pulled some branches away from the gateway to the back yard, then let the dogs out. It had been a long time since they had a chance to relieve themselves.

The house was already getting hot and stifling. I fell back asleep and awoke to JB getting home just before 8am.

The house came through intact. A friend had a spare cordless drill so I was able to get the boards down while JB slept that morning. We were without power until Wednesday morning. Others in the neighborhood didn’t get their’s back until Thursday or Friday. Some coworkers never lost power, some didn’t get it back until the weekend.

We spent a lot of time talking with our neighbors, which is the great silver lining of all this. Physically we’re all sound, but there’s a lot of psychological disruption that lingers for awhile. Most of the debris is cleaned up, but if you drive around the neighborhood there are huge, huge piles in front of nearly everyone’s house of branches, trees, and leaves. The clean-up will go on for some time.

I know better now what I need to do to be prepared. And I will be over the next couple of weeks. Kind of have to be because Mean Maria is building up steam out in the Atlantic and heading this way.

Why don’t we have colorful streets?

Why are all of our streets concrete gray or tarmac black or, occasionally, brick red?

I’d like to drive down streets that are rich saffron orange, or the kind of blue you only see in the middle of the Caribbean in the heart of a tropical winter. I want peach streets and viridian streets and pale pink streets with celery edges.