The loser’s standing small

29 11 2012

Shocking, I know, but I did not win the Powerball.

Guess I’ll have to find another second job in January after all.

Damn.

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I take my chances

28 11 2012

I will not win at Powerball tonight.

The jackpot is over 500 million dollars—over half a billion dollars—and inching even higher as those who usually don’t bother with the lousy odds join the regular assortment of dreamers and fools. And if no one wins tonight? Whoo-dog!

I was thinking of what I’d do with the winnings. This is something I do with disturbing regularity—think about cashing in on big money—so I have a general sense of “save some, spend some, give some away”, as well as a near-certainty that I wouldn’t renew my lease on my current apartment.

The cash payout for the current pot is estimated at 360.2 million, so after paying off my debts and buying myself a nice apartment in Brooklyn (yeah, I like Brooklyn, so why not stay?), I’d have a few bucks left over. Give some money to family, sure. Money to friends? I’d like to do that. And set up a foundation to give money to organizations which are doing good work: Planned Parenthood US & International, Médecins Sans Frontières, Oxfam, groups working in Iraq and Afghanistan, veterans organizations, and if there are any organizations helping kids with the transition out of foster care, I’d like to throw some bucks at them.

What else? Occupy Sandy, Red Hook Initiative, others helping folks recover from Hurricane Sandy. The Audre Lorde Project, a space for queer teens in Manhattan, took a hit and could use the help. And critters could always use a hand.

My alma maters: the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota. Money for undergrads at Madison, and for grads at Minnesota, and aid for mental health services for all students at both places.

Which reminds me: Dental care isn’t covered (why not?!) under the Affordable Care Act, and is usually expensive. If you’ve got a chipped or missing front tooth it can be damned difficult to find work, so I’d want some money to go toward any kind of low- or no-cost dental service.

But what do I know about money? I’d have to hire someone help me figure out how to dole out all of this money, as well as to set aside a few mil for myself. I’d like to travel, and maybe buy some property out west, and maybe in Québec. Huh, maybe B and her husband J could help me out with this. . . .

I told you I spent too much time thinking about all of this—all for something which will never, ever happen. It is foolish even to think about, much less spend money on.

You already know the punch line, don’t you? Yeah, I bought two tickets.





We might as well try: Can you hear me?

27 11 2012

I almost turned off the radio.

I’m not a big fan of This American Life as it is—I don’t hate it, but I don’t go out of my way to listen to it, either—but this story, ohhh, I couldn’t stand it:

The Dakota War of 1862, the lead-up to and aftermath which led to decimation of the Dakota nation and dispossession of their lands.

The entire episode is devoted to the war, how it’s taught in Minnesota today, what it means in Minnesota, and by extension, the United States, today. If you don’t know the history, listen to it; if you do know the history, listen to it.

I half-knew the story, and made myself listen all the way to the end because I thought, Goddammit, you can’t turn away. You can’t stop listening just because it’s hard.

I used to have such a strong stomach for atrocity. It sickened and horrified and angered me, but I was driven by the twin senses that if others could live through it, I could at least read what they lived through, as well as the notion that maybe, somehow, such witness could be turned to good use. If attention were paid to genocide and abuse and injustice, such attention might lead to survival and protection and justice.

There’s something to that, I’d guess: The whole world is watching! is meant both to exhilarate and to warn. Amnesty letter-writing campaigns have apparently altered the conditions or lengths of sentences for many political prisoners. Human rights activism from afar can embolden those near, and efforts to get the State Department or the president to express concerns about this person or that group can make a difference.

At some point, however, I lost my stomach for atrocity, and whether as cause or result of my turning away, lost the belief that witness—or, at any rate, my witness—mattered. I turned away.

I can beat myself over this. After all, there’s a self-absorption in turning-away, a kind of thinking that my despair is the point, but, honestly, there was a self-absorption in the attention as well, a kind of thinking that my involvement could lead to justice. Kantian abstractions might appeal on the page, but as a practical matter, motives for even the most altruistic act are often mixed.

No, the problem with the despair is less selfishness than the closing out of possibility: doing nothing leads to nothing. Writing letters or e-mails or making phone calls or even just paying attention might not accomplish anything, but is anything accomplished without action? To act may be to fail, but the possibility of failure is not its certainty.

If I accept that as a general matter, for others, then why not accept that for myself, as well? I may not be a Kantian, but there are worse standards than act as if your will were universal law. Or, to bring it down to this cracked earth, if others can do it, why shouldn’t I?

Can I do anything about the Dakota War of 1862? Almost nothing. But if I think it mattered, if I think it matters today, for who and how we are as an American people, then I can do the one thing that is available to me: I can pay attention.

I can listen.





Listen to the music: Just call me Joe

26 11 2012

Where’d Joseph Arthur go?

I coulda sworn I had a cd or two by the guy, but I look at my list of pop music and stolen pop music and he’s nowhere to be found.

Did I own him, then get rid of him? It’s just possible that before I left Somerville I sold or gave away some cds that I didn’t listen to, and thus removed him from my database, but.

But, goddammit: Did I really erase him from everything?

Dammit. Maybe he wasn’t stolen, maybe I bought him post-burglary, then got rid of him pre-Brooklyn, so there’s no record of him ever having graced my collection.

It’s not so much that I miss him—I remember a distinct “eh” upon listening to [pause while I look this up] Big City Secret—but that I’m unhappy that I’m messing with my own memory.

Shit, I do this with books, too: My database is only for current books, not every book I’ve ever owned.

That’s fine, actually, that I don’t obsessively track everything I’ve ever had (just the books and music I do have. . .), but, jeez, this is how I end up gaslighting myself.

Hmpf.





I want to ride my bicycle

25 11 2012

I hate writing, but I love having written.

I would never say that.

Having written is just fine—there is a satisfaction after finishing a long or difficult piece—but I don’t love it. And even with the satisfactions, there is also a kind of emptiness at the completion. I’m done is an occasion for melancholy and relief.

But writing? Hell yeah, I love writing. It’s even something beyond love: It’s as if I become who I am, that there is no distance between the being and the doing, that everything comes together in a moment of tumbling stillness. I disappear and am more there than I ever am, less a paradox than a transcendence, a clarity of purpose in which the purpose dissolves into itself.

Working out, on the other hand, yeah: I hate working out, but I love having worked out.

No, I don’t really hate working out, but I don’t really like it, either. I put up with it, because I don’t like what happens when I don’t. I want to be fit and reasonably trim and able to take care of myself, and so I work out. But the weightlifting and the bicycling and the stretching and all that?

Eh.

When I was younger I was fairly active, but I have no idea if I liked workouts or not. Maybe I did, or maybe I just didn’t think to ask whether or not I liked working out. I said I liked running, and, honestly, on my best days I still do like running, but did I really mean it? Did I really like lacing up the Brooks or Adidas or Saucony and wriggling into my jog bra and heading out to loop around the track or the neighborhood?

It’s possible, I guess, but this was probably a story I told myself as a way of crowbarring my sorry ass off the couch. I had an image of myself as more-or-less athletic, so I needed to say that I enjoyed partaking of athletic activities. Even if I didn’t.

Well, okay, I did like playing catch or shooting around, and I do enjoy taking bike rides with friends, but hauling myself on to my bike to lap around Prospect Park or over to the gym? Nope. Means to an end.

It’s good that I don’t hate weightlifting or biking, because I do like what they do for me: Nicer arms, stronger legs, increased endurance—and the sense that I’m not just a slug growing in Brooklyn.

But if I could accomplish all of that by napping? Oh, now that’s something I do enjoy.





You said you’d try to look for the end of the road

22 11 2012

It’s wicked, I know. I should stop, but I can’t.

I so enjoy reading GOP sob stories.

The flailing of arms, the casting of blame, the faux-introspection and real outrage: it’s just too delectable to be denied!

And no, I won’t be commenting on what went wrong, for precisely the reasons I mentioned earlier: I’m not a conservative, concern-trolling is annoying, and we leftists have our own messes to figure out.

These messes might explain why I am pretty much unrepentant in my snarfing down rightist blog post after rightist blog post: after all, any honest leftist of the past, pffft, four? five? six? decades has had to come to terms with some pretty nasty shit on our side of the ledger, and we still haven’t got it sorted.

Thus, it’s not so much that I’m unsympathetic—although I kinda am—as I am impatient with the bluster and bullshit and the apparent dedication to that same bluster and bullshit. I think something a former vice presidential candidate said about “lipstick on a pig” might just be applicable here.

Lemme put it this way: I started identifying as a feminist when I was in the eighth grade, and out of that grew an affinity for liberalism, then leftism, then socialism. And then at some point I had to come to terms with the fact that saying “the Soviets aren’t really socialists” wasn’t an honest response to repression in the old USSR and the Eastern bloc. If human rights and liberation were important to me—and they were and are important to me—I had to recognize that socialism as it was actually practiced in the world was not compatible with a free human life.

And then I had to choose.

I chose to hang on to the principles which led me both to liberationist politics and to socialism, and that meant I had to look honestly at those who claimed to liberate people under the banner of socialism—and criticize the shit out of them. There was no red flag large enough to wave away the barbed wire.

This wasn’t traumatic for me as I had never been invested in the myths of Soviet freedom or a Cuban paradise—not because I was so wise but because I came of political age in the 1980s and not the 1930s. The crisis of conscience wasn’t really so much a crisis as a click: Wellllll, shit.

The critical work is ongoing, while the constructive work is. . . lagging. I still call myself a socialist because I am persuaded by the left-critique of capitalism, but I am not at all convinced we have any replacement for capitalism. I am a kind of negative-socialist, seeking a positive program.

The elements of that program are there—a commitment to equality, to pluralism, to human being, among others—but do is there anything beyond welfare-state capitalism which might allow us to approach a fully human life? I think there must be, but I don’t know what it is.

So I’m a little impatient with Republicans who are gobsmacked by the 2012 results: You lost a fucking election, not a whole world.

You can wander around bellowing about the blindness of the electorate or the unfairness of change or the perils of pluralism or moochers and looters and other assorted layabouts, or you can put down the hanky and open your eyes and your ears and pay some damned attention to who and how your fellow Americans actually are, and go from there.

Your choice.





I’d burn up into a million pieces

19 11 2012

I’ve mentioned my nuclear nightmares, haven’t I?

I had them fairly regularly as a teen and young adult, and they still pop up occasionally, but for the most part they’ve slipped out of my unconscious and lodge mainly in a side aisle on the fifth floor of memory.

Then Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money linked to the fascinating NUKEMAP by Alex Wellerstein, and that memory box popped open.

It’s so easy to use! Simply drag the target to your preferred neighborhood or type in a city, select a nuke from a dropdown list, and fire away!

I’m mostly not worried about nukes in New York, but since I do occasionally wonder what would happen if a terrorist exploded one in Manhattan, I decided to detonate a relatively small and crude device (10kt) in the Financial District.

The effects would be felt up to Little Italy and Chinatown and would reach Governor’s Island and Brooklyn Heights, but that’s it.

Not until the bomb reaches 300 kilotons would it hit my neighborhood, and then only with thermal radiation (which, it must be said, could set off a firestorm).

The biggest bomb? A hundred megaton “Tsar Bomba”, the largest Soviet bomb designed (although never tested). That would take out all five boroughs, over half of Long Island, large chunks of New Jersey, and even a bit of Connecticut.

Why mention this, and with such good cheer? Honestly, it’s cool, in a ghastly sort of way.

And it’s so remote. I remember when it wasn’t, when I had a real, hmm, if not fear, then a kind of resignation, that the world would end in a hail of missiles; now, I am no longer resigned to that end (tho’ don’t worry: there are many ways for the world to end!), and the fear is tamed. The nukes are, if not in cages, at least no longer MADly menacing the landscape.

Of course, then I watched the clip of The Day After Farley posted, and my cheer drained away. Guess I’ll have to nuke another city to get my mojo back.