In 1787, after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Benjamin Franklin was asked by a woman on the street outside Independence Hall, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Franklin answered, “A republic, if you can keep it.” That response has been on my mind a lot lately. The contingency of it. How fragile our experiment in self-government is. And, when viewed against the sweep of human history, how fleeting. Democracy may be our birthright as Americans, but it’s not something we can ever take for granted. Every generation has to fight for it, has to push us closer to that more perfect union. That time has come again.
Frankly, I’m surprised it has taken this long.
Six years ago some creative friends held a home art show. I was invited to participate, but lacked any works of artistic merit to present. So instead I whipped up some — let’s call it meta art? — in the form of an absurdly pretentious photo exhibit. The photos came from a then-recent trip to Scandinavia I had taken with my friend Kevin (and I’m sure he is going to be thrilled that I’m posting this…). The text was generated with the help of a site called the Arty Bollocks Generator. The outfit was assembled at Goodwill for a few bucks.
In honor of the sixth anniversary of the debut, here is my “art” reformatted to fit your screen…
And of their shadows deep
My work explores the relationship between new class identities and urban spaces.
With influences as diverse as Machiavelli and L Ron Hubbard, new insights are distilled from both mundane and transcendant textures.
Ever since I was a teenager I have been fascinated by the unrelenting divergence of meaning. What starts out as triumph soon becomes debased into a manifesto of temptation, leaving only a sense of nihilism and the possibility of a new reality.
As wavering replicas become frozen through emergent and personal practice, the viewer is left with a statement of the limits of our existance.
The subject strikes a defiant pose as oppressive shadows dominate his reality. He stands astride two worlds: modern concrete hosts oblivious passerby, while century-old iron symbolizes both the strength and strictures of the ruling order. Locks left by young lovers serve as a poignant reminder of what we have lost.
Lithograph – Date Unknown
A comically small beverage transport vehicle reveals what sale signs hide: a scarcity of basic necessities in this impoverished land. Note the subject’s suntering gait and open posture – he is clearly overjoyed to be able to at last obtain sweet sustenance. Shortly after this photo was taken, the beverage truck turned down an alley and sped away.
Daguerrotype – 2012
The subject’s half-smile and wide stance suggest he has found some measure of freedom at last, but the nature of his fragmented reality becomes clear on closer inspection. The building behind him is no more than a drawing, the crashed trolley car merely an artist’s illusion. His partially-closed hands suggest the beginnings of realization of his true predicament.
Lithograph – 2012
While the subject enjoys a brief moment of respite in this vacation snapshot, he does not sense the danger posed by the dark and creepy animals nearby. Raised tails and pointed ears suggest preparation for a mauling while our oblivious subject sits defenseless. This is the last recorded image of this unnamed citizen, his eventual fate remains a mystery.
Polaroid Snapshot – 2012
I keep reading more and more grim climate-related stories and wanting to post them here, but what’s the point? Curious, I searched this blog and discovered my first mention of climate change was in 2004, and my next was a yer later when the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush was reducing emission standards and claiming the the science was not settled.
Fourteen years on, history keeps repeating itself. Meanwhile, California suffers the largest wildfires in history. The world is experiencing an unprecedented global heatwave. And now discussion focuses on the idea that we may be entering a dreaded climate “feedback loop” with possible unchecked warming of 8 degrees and future sea level rise of 300 feet or more.
It’s a recipe for immense global suffering, massive loss of life, possibly the extinction of humanity. The only hope, if there is any chance left of fending off complete disaster, is a coming together of world governments to enact sweeping reforms. We seem further away from this today than ever before. But hey, San Francisco is banning plastic straws.
What is heartbreaking is how close we came 40 years ago to warding off the oncoming disaster. We will have plenty of time to reckon with our failures as a civilization while we become part of the waves of mass migration. But hey, at least Elon has his rockets, so maybe a few of us will end up on Mars!
The Maintex sales incentive trip for 2018 took place in May in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. I was previously in this region with my family back in 2007. That previous trip involved long car rides across the countryside and lots of sightseeing – this one was based at an all-inclusive resort and was focused primarily on relaxation. The area was beautiful, the resort sprawling, and the experience decidedly different.
Katy and I arrived early and partook in one of Costa Rica’s abundant combination “eco-tours”. Ours involving zip lining, horseback riding, and a lovely river tubing adventure. We were also served a delicious lunch, one of only two authentic meals we enjoyed on the trip. Over lunch we learned all about the business of HoneyBaked Ham™ from a fellow travel companion/franchisee.
When we arrived at the resort, we were offered bottomless drinks, abundant poolside sunbathing, and lots of different types of cuisine. As I’m genetically incapable of relaxing for very long, I quickly became antsy. This is reflected in my photos: there is not a single one of the room, the pool, or the resort grounds, except insofar as they were incidentally captured while pursuing pictures of the monkeys, lizards, and birds that roamed the area. Oops.
The resort is in an area designated as some sort of wilderness preserve, so I trekked out with a water bottle and the hotel-provided map in search of said wild places. It did not go well — if there was a park or preserve here, it does not seem to be functioning any longer.
The highlight of the trip was a group catamaran adventure out to a secluded bay for snorkeling and water activities.
I kayaked to a beach and collected shells while others in the party partook of fish sightseeing. On the way back we were joined by a pod of dolphins that delightfully played in our wake.
Another fun perk of the area was the strange anteater-type creatures that occasionally appeared in the morning in large herds right near our room.
Katy and I both mostly avoided sunburn through the use of copious amounts of sunscreen and our respective doofy hats. We also got to break out some “tropical chic” outfits for the group meals.
The locale was beautiful. The trip was fun, relaxing, and even included a touch of adventure. I guess I had better hit may sales goals this year so that we can go on next year’s trip to Barbados!
You can fact check and fact check and fact check these claims and it won’t matter that they are false. And the fact that nobody in this administration even bothers to coordinate their cover stories at this point reflects just how pointless it is to fact check them anyhow. It’s an interactive game of choose your own logic, law, facts, and victims, but every single version of this story ends with screaming children in cages, sleeping under foil blankets as strangers change their diapers.
— Dahlia Lithwick, "How the Trump administration is defending its indefensible child separation policy"
I am in debt, but I am not alone. Debt is a millstone that weighs down more than three-quarters of Americans. It can determine whether we are able to run for office, to launch a business, to quit a job we hate. But it should not—and cannot—be a disqualification for ambition.
— Stacy Abrams, Democratic candidate for governor of Georgia, who is facing controversy following the release of financial disclosures that show she holds $200,000 in unpaid taxes, student loans, and credit card debt.
“Come to think of it, a world with 10 babies on the Senate floor doesn’t sound so bad at all.”
This is not the first time that Tesla has been overbearing, defensive, and quick to blame the (dead) victim in incidents involving their Autopilot system. But they are being called on it, and this is not a good look for a company that claims to be developing the safest cars in the industry.
In January 2008, I adopted the best cat in the world. He was named Miso at the time, but his real name was Oscar. He had lived a few years with another family, but his forever home was with me.
I knew this girl, Meghan, who fell in love with Oscar. Eventually, she decided she liked me too. In April 2009, we went on our first date, but no one told me. I was going rock climbing in New Hampshire with some friends, and she came along, even though she was scared of heights.
Meghan introduced me to her large extended family, and taught me a different way of vacationing that involves staying in one place rather than being constantly on the move. I showed her the Western US and later took her out of the country for the first time.
In no time at all, Meghan moved in with me, displacing my long-suffering roommate Igor.
We were very different, but in some ways much the same. When we argued, Oscar would mediate. When we cuddled, he demanded to be nearby. When we came home from adventures, Oscar would be at the door to greet us and loudly complain that we had been away too long.
We got engaged on a ski slope. It was her birthday, December 21, 2010. I think Oscar was happy to finally have a mom.
In February, we bought a fixer-upper of a house in a small seaside town on Boston’s South Shore. Our wonderful friends came out to support us. They contributed hours of sweat (and occasionally blood), helping with demolition, carpet removal, garden maintenance, patching and painting, and lots of advice. We paid them back with pizza, lodging, and many trips to the beach.
Oscar, always an indoor cat, saw his opportunity with the move and engaged in several daring escape attempts. Whenever he would make it successfully past the front door, he was so overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the neighborhood that he would just freeze, allowing us to scoop him up and bring him back inside.
Then Meghan had the idea of getting him a leash. Oscar did not like the leash.
We spent the next six years turning that house into our dream home. It wasn’t always easy, and there were so many bumps along the way.
Meghan and I had planned to get married in September 2011, but it didn’t work out that way. The move and the home renovation were stressful, and they exposed fault lines that we did not know existed. Our families were wonderfully understanding, and we postponed the wedding.
We tried again, for realsies, in September 2013. We knew that not everything was perfect, but what relationship is? Committing fully to each other was the obvious and best path forward to achieving our dreams. Everyone we knew came out for the ceremony, which was officiated by a dear friend and mentor of mine from college. It was an amazing day.
The party was epic, despite some night-before misadventures with my groomsmen that are better left unexamined. As a prank, my friends turned our car into the “Oscar I” spaceship to carry us on our journey.
After the festivities we went back home, where we found that things were pretty much the same.
Through the lens of social media, everyone’s lives are perfect. Children are well-behaved, it never rains, and no one ever fights about money, or chores, or who should cook dinner. Everything always goes according to plan. And so it was, most of the time, for us, although occasionally the fault lines slipped through the carefully constructed veneer.
Real life is not a storybook, nor is it an Instagram feed. Our arguments and disagreements are no doubt much the same as anyone else’s. But we could never quite figure out how to move past them. The good times were so very good, but the bad times weighed heavily on us. How do you find a balance; what is the right ratio? What do you do when you disagree about important things, and can’t find a shared path forward?
We took some time apart. We discovered important truths about ourselves, and about each other. Oscar stayed with Meghan in Hull, I ventured out to California alone. We talked a lot about how to fix things, how to live our best lives individually and collectively.
We eventually, quietly, sadly, tiredly, decided on a path forward. Or should I say, two paths.
There are a thousand reasons things were not working, and also no reason at all. Sometimes that is just how it goes. Sometimes two mature adults who love each other very much come to the conclusion that what is best for both is to be apart.
It is the worst feeling in the world. But it is also a new beginning. And so we started that phase of our journey. We began to figure out how to disentangle our lives.
While Meghan and I were working out the minutia of bank accounts and mortgage payments, Oscar got sick. My wonderful little cat, my sounding board, my stalwart companion — cancer, they said. I had been away for an entire year.
Last week, our beloved fur ball died in Meghan’s arms, while I was three thousand miles away. He was 13 years old. And I was heartbroken.
Could there be a more poignant symbol of this closing chapter? Meghan loved Oscar before she loved me. He was with us through our entire journey together. He brought us both so much comfort and joy, even in the darkest times.
Losing a pet is a terrible thing. But this is fitting, somehow. It’s like the last piece of the puzzle. Now I have given up almost everything — my job, my house, my workshop, my garden, proximity to my friends, my neighbors, and my vast and wonderful second family. I have given up Meghan. And I have given up Oscar.
Maybe it is the closing of a chapter, or perhaps a whole book. But there is another chapter to be written, or a sequel. I still have my friends, wonderful and supportive even when far away. I have my family. I have an exciting new job full of possibility. I have an apartment now, and I have made it my own. I am meeting new people, and trying new activities, and embarking on new adventures.
Robert Frost says the only way out is through. Ursula LeGuin says that time is never wasted, even pain counts. I am not who I was ten years ago, none of us are. I have learned and grown so much. I am sad, so very sad, but I am excited as well. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store.
In August I started driving a Volvo XC60 with the latest generation of vehicle autonomy features. Since that time I have driven nearly 10,000 miles in the car, and the experience has been mostly positive. Early on there was one aberrant behavior where the vehicle, while running in its “Pilot Assist” mode, suddenly and inexplicably changed lanes and nearly caused a collision. I don’t know if the car lost its lane lock or it was attempting to swerve around a perceived but non-existent obstacle.
There was a second incident, also in Pilot Assist mode, when the vehicle (presumably) lost its lock on the car ahead and started accelerating. And on a few other occasions, the automatic collision braking system has kicked in when not needed.
Despite these hiccups, I have on the whole been mostly satisfied with both the vehicle and it’s built-in automation. What I miss the most is a way to interrogate the car’s computer systems to understand when and why the safety features engaged as well as view the video footage from each incident. This seems like an obvious and useful feature that I wish Volvo would include.
Today I was traveling down an open highway at close to the speed limit when a Prius going at least 30 mph slower suddenly changed lanes ahead of me. The other driver clearly had not looked before changing lanes or had not accurately judged the speed difference, because I had a very brief window to try to avoid a collision.
I slammed the brakes as soon as I saw what was happening, and narrowly avoided a crash. The car automatically pre-tensioned my seatbelt, pulling me back, and was presumably ready to activate the airbag. I believe it also assisted with automatic collision braking, although I’m not positive. The burst of adrenaline kept my heart racing for several minutes afterwards, and I missed my freeway exit.
I wonder how quickly the car saw what was happening and reacted, and how many tenths of a second later I did. I wish I could see that data and understand exactly what happened and when. I feel that this sort of collision data, as well as aggregate statistics, would be very useful in studying road safety, improving automation, and formulating policy. In the meantime, I’m happy to have come out of this incident unscathed, and I believe the advanced features of my car helped keep me safe.
There is nothing more quintessentially “American capitalism” in flavor than The Cheesecake Factory. Wealth run wild. Chaotic visual fantasies realized with no aesthetic discipline. An obsession with appearance of luxury. Gross excess that excels at feigning its quality. It feels like a relic of another era, one where such a vision was sold to the American public as a utopian concept. It, like the brief period of neoliberalistic prosperity that made it possible, is a fever dream made manifest. Enjoy it while you can.
In 2009 I posted part 1 and part 2 of my log of a family vacation in Italy. While looking for something else (Ben Folds concert location — long story), I discovered that I had composed but never published some additional entries. Part 3 (Florence) is barebones, part 4 (Cinque Terra) needs some revisions, but this final entry is basically complete. So here it is, better late than never. In keeping with my posting style of that time, it includes some Deep Thoughts at the end about Life, the Universe, and our place in it all.
There is nothing much to do at Lake Como in April. The lake, situated at the top of Italy, kisses Switzerland, and the region seems to be a popular vacation spot for the Swiss. This area is home to Bellagio and a gaggle of other small towns that are accessible by car or ferry boat.
One can visit the various towns, eat in them, shop a bit, maybe visit an old church or garden, wander along the waterfront, that sort of thing. I assume the big thing to do around here is use the lake, but now is not the season for that. No one is water skiing, para-sailing, swimming, or fishing. I know there is some climbing to be had around here, and perhaps some cliff jumping. At some point seaplane trips are on offer. And I am sure this area can be quite romantic for a young couple in love, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Our hotel was nice, the views were great, and…that’s it. I’ve got nothing. I’m not sure what to do with Lake Como. Bad planning on our part. Oh well. Here is a picture.
Anyway, Lake Como was the subdued end of our Italian vacation. We covered a good portion of the center and north of the country, and it was an amazing experience. I’ve learned some things about travel, and continue to be utterly ill at ease in places where I don’t speak the language. My natural inclination is to try and figure things out on my own, and this is hard enough in foreign environments without the language barrier. I always feel uncomfortable verging on foolish when I have to try and impose my English on locals and play the clueless tourist. Having a local guide or at least fluent speaker in my traveling party is a great help.
It is a hassle to plan foreign travel, but important to do so well in advance of arrival. I kept thinking that we’d get somewhere and it would be obvious where to go and what to do, but that is rarely the case. I guess I understand the market for travel books now. I also think it is important to spend three days in each major area, enough time so as to not feel rushed but not so long as to feel antsy.
I packed a backpack and a carry-on duffel for two weeks, and have decided that next time I will try to pack even lighter. Arriving in each new city, luggage is the biggest impediment to doing anything, and it always means finding a place to store it, or stopping at the local hotel or hostel to check-in before getting out and about. I haven’t paid enough attention to backpackers to see how they manage this particular problem.
My new little laptop, an MSI Wind, performed brilliantly, far better than the disastrous Asus Eee PC I took on my last trip. This little marvel has a good-sized and easy to use keyboard, a nice responsive trackpad, and a bright 10″ screen. The speakers and microphone suck, but you can’t have everything.
For this trip I activated the international roaming on my cell phone, and while the $1.29/minute was painful, it was darn convenient and super useful. In contrast, roaming wifi plans are pretty unreliable, since every hotspot has different policies and prices and roaming partners. Hopefully that stupidity will work itself out with time.
I’m sitting in the hotel on Lake Como, listening to American pop music on the PA and looking out at the lake. Mom, Dad, and Jessica took a taxi a couple of hours ago to the main train station in the town of Como to make their way home. As soon as I finish this entry I will catch a ferry to a different station in Como, then a couple of trains to the airport outside Milan, followed by a short-hop flight to Rome. A night wasted at a Rome airport hotel and then my international flight to Boston in the morning. Passport control, the T, and a bit of walking, and I will be home. I am looking forward to getting back, to settling into my routine, seeing my friends, playing with the cat, eating some familiar foods. I wish I could just snap my fingers and be there, but I guess the long journey home is what reminds you how far you have gone.
I’m not sure whether I’m looking forward to going back to work. I have blogged here occasionally and obliquely about problems at my job; they can be succinctly summarized as “small town vs. big city.” I like the people and the place, but I’m not sure I fit where I am. One night in Perugia I woke up suddenly at 3am with a fully-formed resumé in my head. I couldn’t go back to sleep, so I went out into the hallway and banged it out. I have no idea what I am going to do with it.
I’m not sure what this is that I am feeling, now, at the end of this trip. Spending two weeks and seeing only a tiny fraction of Italy reiterates to me just how vastly massive the world is. I still have no idea of my place in it. The ancient emperors of Rome built tributes to themselves that have lasted through the millennia, but what about all of the other people who lived in their empire? We don’t even know how or why Rome fell, much less how the “commoners” lived. We know none of their stories, have no idea their impact. Are we all little insignificant specks in the universe? A universe made infinitely more vast when space is multiplied by time. Start with millennia, and work your way up to cosmic timescales. Even the stars don’t matter.
So what do we do with our lives? Do we try to make things better, in the context of our morals and cultural beliefs? Do we strive for greatness, to be remembered in tiny snippets of history, or through our works? Do we work to pass on our legacy through our children? Or should we just look for happiness and enjoyment in the now? I haven’t any idea. All I know is, I’ve got to go outside and catch that boat pointed towards home. That is step one. After that, everything is fuzzy.
I saw the original production of Sleep No More in Boston twice, as well as the New York production. The show is immersive and charged and incredible, one of the most amazing theater experiences I have ever witnessed. I was pulled aside into private spaces by actors, given objects, told by actors to go places and to do things. In one scene, an actor handed me his clothing as he undressed. I never once, not for a second, would have considered touching the actors. There is immersive theater, and then there is assault. The line, actually, is pretty clear.
I guess it is not shocking how some audience members behave, because so many human beings are terrible. But it is absolutely shocking and abhorrent the way the show management treated these incidents, and the ways in which they allowed their actors and technical staff to be abused by patrons night after night. Even worse are their feeble but repeated denials of responsibility.
[T]his week, my advice regarding time would be (in this order):
- Try to restrict your caloric intake;
- Consider shifting some of your qubits into spin 1/2;
- Accept that we’re thrown into our circumstances, regardless of how shitty they may be, and greet whatever fate rises to meet you with resolute defiance.
— Tim Carmody, summarizing the latest in longevity research
Apologies in advance to the chemists in the room, because I'm going to butcher the science on this. But the lay explanation is fascinating.
Weight loss discussions typically focus on two pathways, or both in combination: caloric restriction (i.e. eating less) and exercise. In both cases, the goal is to "burn" more calories than we take in and, thus, remove excess fat. But what does this mean in practice? Calories are a measure of heat energy, so the term "burn" seems to make intuitive sense. But the theory of conservation of mass tells us that mass cannot be created or destroyed. We are not losing weight through heat.
If the common wisdom is a lie, the next idea is that we lose weight through digestive excretions, i.e. feces. But this, also, is incorrect, for somewhat obvious reasons. The digestive system is concerned with taking in fuel, breaking it down, using it, and getting rid of all the useless bits out the other side. Nowhere in that system is there any "burning" or converting of stored energy. In short, we don't lose weight through our poop.
Losing weight actually comes down to metabolizing triglycerides, the primary component of fat. Triglycerides are essentially a bunch of carbon and hydrogen with a bit of oxygen thrown in. This is basic chemistry, and I have forgotten most of my chemistry. But wait, carbon? Hydrogen?
So, it turns out that the vast majority of "burned" calories are expelled through breathing. Eighty-six percent, to be precise. How? Well, just how we were taught in elementary school — O2 in, CO2 out! Most of the remainder, i.e. those hydrogen atoms, leaves as water, H2O coming out of all the various places that we get rid of water, such as sweat, spit, tears, and urine.
Hearing this for the first time, it seems utterly crazy. But actually it makes a lot more sense than the idea that all that fat is being magically "burned" away.