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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

Daniel Wallace: Mr Sebastian & the Negro Magician



All paths lead to the same goal: to convey to others what we are. --Pablo Neruda

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Things to leave behind



I was in Amman, Jordan, when I woke up to the news of our next president.

The day before, I’d been walking in the dust of the largest refugee camp in the Middle East. A hundred thousand people crammed into a small space in a vast desert. The collected refuse of somebody’s bombs. 

It was tempting to judge the relative merits of my pain against theirs, in order to size mine smaller. But contesting who’s got it worse doesn’t make you feel better. There was no contest, and I still felt shitty.

At some point, I saw that the refugees in the camp weren't a contrast, but an extension of us. I was looking into the Syrian face of what happens when a megalomaniac wields power by pitting the weak against the weaker. That’s not a contrast with us. It’s the logical extreme of Trump’s strategy: a stronger brew of the same poison.

We Americans have indulged in the ultimate luxury: the belief you can burn it all down, and you’ll still be all right. And, feeling righteously judgmental, from the dusty distance of the Jordanian desert, I dwelled on whether I had more contempt for Trump voters, or for those who didn’t get off their asses to vote at all. I didn’t have to choose. It’s dead easy to feel superior to both.

That superiority is as cheap as my grief is real. We (progressive) Americans are incensed that this human Molotov cocktail should be visited upon us without the popular vote. Less than 30% of Americans voted for the outrageous orange ogre. But less than 30% voted for Hillary, too.

So let’s deploy the mirror before the megaphone.

We failed.

(It may feel too soon to say that. We are wounded and grieving, still wailing from the blow. Isn't it inhumane to render a report card on the battered?  But our battering *was* the report card. My bruises will only heal by moving forward.) 

I don’t mean we lost. I mean we failed. We failed to energize the majority of Americans. What we proposed – our candidate, policy, message and image – did not inspire. It may have been righteous and just, it may have been love versus hate, it may have been thoughtful and smart and good in the depths of its soul. But it did not move us – Americans, as a people – to action.

We have to acknowledge the unsettling truth that more than 70% of our fellow citizens did not vote for our candidate or our ideas. The plurality voted for no-one at all.

To be clear: This is not a diatribe against the non-voting. This is about us. We failed to bring the country with us.

Democracy, after all, is a popularity contest. It is also noble and glorious and it has changed the world. But at core, it’s a popularity contest: the popularity of policies, ideas, candidates, images, messages.

While we are incensed and dispirited and butt-hurt and soul-sore about Trump’s win, we seem mostly to have missed that neither of the options presented to America was popular. Which, sadly, also means ours wasn’t popular.

In our pain, we don’t seem to be focused on the blunt truth of an overwhelming majority: all the people who didn’t come to the party we invited them to. We were left standing by a full punch-bowl with our dorky friends in a mostly empty room. The best people in the world, our beautiful, dorky friends. But it was a total bust of a party.

We have failed to inspire anyone other than ourselves. We can call it a movement, or we can call it a 26% minority. And, if we’re brutally, horrifically, crushingly honest, that number is soft. A bunch of people are in there with us only because they were repelled by the alternative. In the future, we won’t have the luxury of an opponent who’s a trash-fire insult to intelligence and decency.

So. Now. What?

Well, I’m still working through my disappointment and anxiety. But here’s what I’ve got so far: There are a few things I think I need to leave behind

My indignation.
I have felt very judge-y, this week. This moment seems to have invited us to judge everyone. We are indignant that more people should agree with us – and that those who don’t are assholes.

We are incensed that racists, sexists, xenophobes and climate deniers elected a racist, sexist, xenophobic climate denier. They are haters and buffoons.

We, by contrast, are lovers.

It doesn’t look like love, to me, when we cherry-pick the worst of Trump and apply it to those who voted for him. Yes, they were willing to back someone odious who represents things we can’t stomach. But that doesn’t automatically mean they are odious and support the things we can’t stomach. That’s flawed logic as well as flawed love.

We know that many who voted for Hillary did it begrudgingly, holding their noses as they punched the ballot. So why isn’t that as likely to be true about Trump voters?

Don’t mistake me. I see racism. I see misogyny. I see homophobia. I see intolerance and fear of every flavor and stripe. I see these things in America, and not just in the election.

But while I see those things, I don't presume that 26% of Americans voted Trump because they are those things. The people who dislike my candidate should not be reduced to the cartoon characteristics of their candidate.

The phrase “working-class white men” is already reductionist enough. It has become pundit short-hand for “poor white trash.” But the shoe doesn't fit. Trump voters were slightly better off than average. And talk to me about the black men and the Latino men who voted for Trump in greater numbers than for Mitt Romney.

By now, we are all tired of analyses trying to dissect “the Trump voter”.  I am ready to seek the humanity and the divine in the 70% of America that disagreed with me this week. I am not ready to presume I know them. And I should not be judging those I don’t know. I am not ready to write them off.

We don’t get to wave “Stronger Together” signs and wear “Love trumps hate” t-shirts while rejecting our fellow Americans as sexist, racist, homophobic fascists. Not without looking like hypocritical bigots ourselves. There are bad people out there. I just don’t see them everywhere. And I’m sure I need to work on myself.

My intellectual arrogance.
The stink of intellectual condescension has been wafting about a bit, this election.

Many of us – perhaps only semi-consciously – spent the campaign looking down on the under-educated, pitying them not having a clue what they were voting for. Our progressive friends dismissed Trump voters as ignorant. OK. How’s that high horse working out for us?

This election was the death of many things.

One, I believe, was our comfort in the fundamentals of the educated liberal consensus.

Dead is our underlying hypothesis that people are mostly rational actors. Dead is our implicitly Cartesian idea that people will think things through – based on principles and ideals and rights and economics – and vote based on their conclusions. Dead is the idea that better thinking, better policies and better philosophies will win in the end.

Of course, progressives know that you need to move people in their guts, not just their brains. We’re just not good enough at it. And we tend to think that what moves us will move the masses. We believe that our better ideas and good intentions can even move people enough to make them see past a weak candidate. Like Al Gore. Like John Kerry.

Like Hillary Clinton.

Don’t hate on me. We knew. We knew from 2008. And we knew from very, very early in this campaign that her like-ability numbers were little better than Trump’s.

As with Al Gore and John Kerry before her, Hillary was qualified and talented and tireless, outstanding in so many ways. And like them, she was a weak candidate. She didn’t spark a fire in most people’s hearts. Folks didn’t feel her in their guts.

People formally trained to value head-centered, deductive, rational analysis tipped to Hillary. College-educated voters weighed the pros and cons and backed her. But only just: not by overwhelming majorities. And many, many stayed home.

Rational solutions to rationally framed problems are essential. They just aren’t persuasive. Neuro-scientists have mountains of evidence that we first arrive at how we feel, and only then apply post-hoc rationales to fit. Everything else is just confirmation bias – the pervasive human drive to interpret all new evidence as proof of our pre-existing views.

Sure, we have to have better ideas. But we also have to make people give a shit about having ideas at all. Smart, on its own, doesn’t win. Few people judge a movie by how smart it is. They judge it by how it makes them feel and whether they want to tell their friends. We like action-adventures, horror films, rom-coms. All implausible, all emotionally invigorating.

When we compared the candidates’ like-ability numbers, we came to the wrong conclusion. Since neither candidate was liked, at least Clinton wasn’t at a disadvantage. Or so we thought. Our mistake was to confuse like-ability with charisma. Neither candidate was like-able. One had charisma.

He was a TV star the media loved to cover, who made people feel things. He got a dismissed class of people off the couch, and then played to the crowd.

Assume for a moment that progressives’ policies are perfect. Assume our message is competitive. Assume the imagery is appealing. That’s not nothing. It’s all hard and essential. And insufficient.

We must, must, must run candidates who intrinsically resonate with enough Americans to energize an election. We must seek them, we must develop them, we must prioritize them. We can never again be seduced by the wonk-appeal of the idea that a charisma deficit can be overcome by talent, depth, deservingness, strategy, organization or ground-game.

Our rightness doesn’t matter unless we can spark a fire in people who aren’t yet moved.

My cynicism.
For eight years, we excoriated the right wing because they had such deep contempt for Barrack Obama that they refused to accept him as their President, claimed he was the devil and called him names.

Now, look at us.

Mm-mmm. My people, my people.

Oh, I feel it, right enough. I am in a rage.

But our angers, theirs then and mine now, are no different. So, I refuse to be who they were. Where they went low, I mean to go high.

I will do so while taking great solace in this: Democracy worked. It didn’t work out the way I wanted, but it worked.

I began the election cycle as a Citizens United cynic. I would have told you Democracy had been ripped from the hands of the people, and placed in the moist laps of the moneyed.

I was wrong.  On the right, the rivers of super-PAC money rushed down a drainpipe. And on the left, while Bernie didn’t win, he emerged a power-broker and his movement pushed the Democratic platform farther to the left than it’s been in my life-time.

The hypothesis that billionaires and corporations could simply buy elections was disproved. (Trump, after all, didn’t spend his billions.) The quaint idea that pissed-off masses can rise up and rattle the halls of power turned out to be more than a populist fantasy. I may hate the outcome, but democracy, it turns out, still has some kick in her.

Unless someone can prove to me that Russians hacked the voting machines, I plan to double-down on democracy. That means accepting I lost, turning my rage into fuel, putting my helmet back on, and getting my ass out on the field. It’s not time to abandon the sport. It’s time to bring better game.

***

Enough.

There is rightful space for anger and fear and mourning, for our spirits to sob or wail or roar. I don’t know how long it'll be before I feel renewed.

In the meantime, I shall hold my grief. I shall sit with my anxieties. I shall comfort my friends. I shall keep my ideals. I shall stoke my passion for justice. I shall suit-up for the fight.


And I shall leave a few things behind.


Photo credit: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

On Booing Bernie

…or 5 things I’m trying to understand.

Bernie Sanders supporters booed Bernie Sanders on Monday. They didn’t boo with him; they booed him. Not even the man they revere was shielded from the shower of barely restrained disdain unleashed by never-Hillary progressives. All of a sudden, Bernie was somehow, simultaneously, messiah and apostate – Pilate and the Christ in a single corpus.



But even if they weren’t so publicly trying to find an elusive balancing point between adulation and aggrievement, I’d still be thinking about Bernie’s supporters, this week.

Most of the energy directed at Bernie die-hards has been vitriolic. Even among Democrats appealing for unity, there’s no shortage of glib condescension and name calling, painting Sanders hold-outs as mis-guided, stupid, or divorced from reality. That puts me off. Not only is it hypocritical, it’s unhelpful.

Besides, I’m rather inspired by them. After decades of complaining about political apathy – perhaps especially on the left – Americans are witnessing real passion in the Sandernistas.  I’m glad people are so engaged, feeling so strongly about charting the future course of our democracy. That doesn’t mean I agree with them.

I have enough friends in the Bernie-or-bust / never-Hillary camp that my social media feed runs a pretty good stream of anti-Hillary news and memes. And, I have to say I’m grateful to them for asserting their perspective so voluminously -- else I wouldn’t sense as clearly the distress so many folks in progressive circles are feeling.

These are people whose politics lean generally with mine. But the vehemence of their views about the Democratic nominee has put me in touch with something I either don’t understand, or, otherwise, find disheartening.

These are thoughtful people who know they have one of four choices in this Presidential election:

1. Vote for Trump
2. Vote for no-one, and sit out the election.
3. Vote for Hillary.
4. Vote for a third-party candidate.

The Bernie-or-bust folks won’t vote for Trump. No matter how they hate Hillary, they know the Tangerine Turd Trumpet is worse. 

Likewise, they’re passionate enough about politics – as conveyed on social media, at rallies and in Philadelphia – that they’re unlikely to stay home on election day. Abstinence is rarely the child of passion.

So, they’re left with two viable options: Vote for Hillary or vote for a third-party candidate. (The alternatives most often mentioned: Green Party candidate Jill Stein, and Libertarian Gary Johnson.)

To the folks who are going to hold their noses and vote for Hillary: I have deep empathy with how torn I imagine you feel. She’s not really the candidate I want, either.

To the folks intending to vote third-party: I’ve been keen to ask you about some things I don’t understand. That’s not veiled condescension. I genuinely don’t understand the thinking behind your choice. And I’d like to.

I’ve been trying to find a rationale that makes it a good idea. I’m struggling.

To vote for a third-party candidate in this election, you have to believe one of two things, either:

A. You believe a third-party candidate can win.
B. You believe that a third-party candidate can't win, but you're going to vote for one anyway.

If you believe a third-party candidate can win, your understanding of how the US electoral system works isn’t based on facts.  Indeed, it’s such a mathematical impossibility, that -- without wanting to be at all presumptive -- I don’t think very many people actually believe this.

So, that leaves only one option: Folks are considering voting for a third-party candidate they know can’t win.

Voting for someone who can’t win is a fascinating choice. And, again, I mean that genuinely. It’s been fascinating me since the primary battle was lost and “#feeltheBern” gave way to “#neverhillary” – a moment when the positive animus of engagement transmogrified into a blunt epithet of rejection.

So, trying to understand that choice, I've turned to the phrases I hear most often from Bernie-or-busters.

1. “I don’t want to vote for the lesser of two evils.”

This first reason to vote for someone who can’t win has immediate and strong appeal. It’s a statement of personal principle. And it’s intrinsically optimistic. The clear, though unstated, implication is that there’s a third option that isn’t evil. There’s a third option that’s good, and you’d definitely want to choose that, rather than choose the lesser of two evils. 

And, so long as you see a third-party candidate as that non-evil, good option, then this rationale says you should vote for them.  This framing sees the candidates as the options.

But we’ve already stipulated that no third-party candidate can win. So, while there are several input options – ie, the candidates – there are only two outcome options:

A. Trump wins.
B. Hillary wins.

So, the idea that there isn’t a third option is true. It’s perhaps regrettably true, but it’s true.

Beyond this logical problem, there are two further reasons I’m not persuaded by this seemingly optimistic appeal. First: It implicitly equates the badness of Trump and Clinton.  It does this by labelling them both “evil”, levelling the conceptual playing field. Whatever you think of Hillary, you’d have to be pretty extreme to put her in the same category as Trump.

Second: Choosing the lesser of two evils is often a terrific strategy – one that can create good outcomes. Indulge an analogy. Imagine you hate Brussel sprouts – I mean really detest them and find them inedible. In a situation where you’d otherwise starve, you’re given only two options for nourishment: Brussel sprouts and moose shit. Food you like is not an option. This is a time to eat Brussel sprouts, and live. Choosing the lesser of two evils is the only strategy that makes sense. It’s the same as choosing the better of two outcomes.

If you still bought into the “lesser of two evils” framing, however, you’d actually be voting for the least of three evils.

A. Trump wins outright.
B. Hillary wins outright.
C. Trump wins a three-way split. Trump still wins, but explicitly because progressives split the opposition.

2. “Don’t vote your fears.”

Another optimistic, principled exhortation that resonates deeply with me.  Even without Trump, you’d want to vote for your hopes, not for your fears. You could argue this is the perspective that defines us as progressives. We believe in making change to improve the world – to move toward something better. It’s the opposite of pandering to fear. It’s the opposite of “taking our country back”. To where? To when? From whom?

We like to think it’s the right wing that panders to fear. Progressives are about hope. When they go low, we go high. “Don’t vote your fears” challenges us to vote our hopes – even if it means voting for someone who can’t win.

Bernie supporters didn’t hope for Hillary. So, why would they vote for her? Because they’re afraid of a Trump presidency?  With that framing, voting for Hillary would be motivated by fear. And that could feel like a betrayal of a deep progressive value: hope.

But I don’t understand how the optimism of the aphorism trumps the tragedy of its implication. Our hopes and fears are inputs; they are stimuli. They shouldn’t be confused with outcomes.

Viewed through the lens of outcomes – especially binary outcomes -- voting your fears is a pretty good strategy. Indulge another analogy. You’re standing on a cliff edge. “Don’t vote your fears” is terrible advice. “Don’t worry about falling; believe you can fly!” No matter the appeal of flight, and no matter the real benefits of self-confidence, choosing life requires a healthy respect for gravity.

So, how do you “vote your hope” when you revile the candidate or the “corrupt Democratic machine”?  You vote for ideas. Issues. Platforms. Vote for the things that matter to you. Vote for the outcomes that matter to you. And then – and this is the essence of voting hope – vote for whomever has the best chance of making the greatest number of those things happen.

If my policy wish-list more tightly cleaved to the Greens or to the Libertarians, it would give me pause. But I think I’d still vote for the candidate who has the best chance of making something happen. For me, voting my hope means voting for the best chance of making something good happen.

3. “Vote your conscience. Vote with your heart.”

Having acknowledged the attraction of the first two appeals, I have to say that this is the one I understand the least.  Of course, I understand the powerful value of conscience and heart. I wish there were more of both in our practice of government and governing. But I also wish there were a truckload more reasoning and empirical evidence.

 “Vote with your heart” implies you should discount what your head is telling you. Isn’t the ideal to vote with both head and heart? 

“Vote your conscience,” in the voice of never-Hillary stalwarts, suggests there can be no conscientious vote for Hillary. But if the outcome of the election is mathematically binary – it’s either going to be Hillary or Trump – then how can there be a conscientious vote for anyone other than Hillary? We know the most vulnerable people in our society will suffer under Trump. Would you knowingly choose an outcome that hurts the most vulnerable people in society?

Heart and conscience are profound forces. I hope they steer us to use our incremental power for the benefit of the future of our nation.

4. “Don’t vote for a corrupt system.”

The most well-reasoned argument I’ve read in support of voting for a third-party candidate posed that the best way to make a statement was to cast a protest vote for a third party. Even a tiny up-tick in third-party voters will demonstrate the dissatisfaction in our democracy. Whether you think the parties are ethically bankrupt, or you think the two-party system itself needs to be torn down, it’s appealing to register that grievance in a way that undermines both the major parties and the system, itself.

A protest vote may get your voice heard. But I still don’t understand why you’d use your vote that way.  Firstly, it’s already been heard.  Both parties have faced insurgencies, this year. The parties are well aware that everyone’s pissed. Secondly – and especially given that the parties already know you’re pissed – you will have used your vote in a way that doesn’t change anything. So, you will have effectively voted for the status quo – the very thing the Bernie revolution railed against.

The extreme version of this one is to vote third-party in the hope that Trump wins. Because that’ll teach the Democrats a lesson – especially the DNC. The premise is that suffering four years under Trump is simply the price to pay for a better system in the long run. I don’t buy that the path to utopia runs through chaos. But even if there were a chance it might, how would this amount to something other than self-centredness?  The choice of individual suffering is yours to make, but are you so sure of this path that you would choose to vote for the suffering of others: of low-wage workers, Hispanics, Muslims, LGBTQ folks, …? That seems a very privileged position to take.


5. “She’s a liar. Lock her up.”

Okay. I completely buy that if both candidates are objectively unfit for office, it's tough to do anything but flee.

But what’s the specific claim about her that would make you conclude she's unfit for office? And, then, what’s the evidence that the claim is true? 

To be clear, I’m not suggesting there aren’t some really good answers to this question.  I just haven’t heard one, yet, that had strong evidentiary support. I'm an empiricist, which makes me expect evidence in all circumstances -- but especially when the claims double as right-wing sound-bites.

But the deeper point, for me, is – I’m being repetitive – about outcomes. There have been liars who’ve been good presidents (John F Kennedy). And terrible presidents who have been pillars of virtue (Jimmy Carter).

The few things I’m sure – from the evidence – Hillary’s lied about, neither disqualify her from office (in my view) nor qualify her for a jail sentence. They just haven't been things that would make me use my vote to keep a progressive agenda out of the White House. I'm open to new evidence.

If you view your vote as a tool, not as endorsement of an individual, how would you deploy that tool in this election? Can you dislike a candidate and still vote for them if they’re most likely to get good shit done? If so, then why not this candidate? And, if not, then it seems more like a personality contest than a process for influencing government.

***

You can tell I’m writing this more to work through my own shit than to attempt influencing anyone. For one thing, it’s five pages. No-one reads five pages anymore.

For another thing, it’s all deductive. The folks I’m talking about (or, ostensibly, to) are in a place that is more angry than analytical. I brought a logical argument to a funeral.

Passionate Bernie supporters are pissed. I understand wanting to punish someone. …or the whole system.  For having screwed your candidate. For having screwed you. For having sullied the one pure thing that’s touched our politics in recent memory.

I understand the anger.  What I can’t understand is the impulse to honour the anger with self-destruction. Yes, I know that self-destruction – the ball of righteous fire – is more pure than what feels like assimilation. Assimilation feels like shit.

Belief is pure. Fury is righteous. Anger is energizing.

But anger is only worth a damn if you can make something good come out of it. Otherwise it's just anger.

Don’t do what’s pure. Do what works. Make the world better. Protect it from evil.


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Taco contributing a bit of autumn colour




Sunday, June 07, 2015

Pensive among the poppies


Sunday, May 31, 2015

Red and green


Saturday, May 30, 2015

Taco: One year old













Sunday, April 26, 2015

Taco amongst the bluebells, at 11 months


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Almost summer means almost swimming!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Taco at 10 and a half months








Monday, March 23, 2015

Putting her foot down: Taco at 10 months


Sunday, February 08, 2015

Taco on a sunny winter day







Thursday, January 01, 2015

Taco stalking a New Year's Day tennis ball


Sunday, December 14, 2014

You coming or what?


Are you blind? It's right over THERE!


I got a stick! I got a stick! I got a stick!


Monday, December 08, 2014

Taco at almost 7 months


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nice day for chasing a ball








Sunday, November 09, 2014

Taco appears to be stumped


How to camouflage a taco


Sunday, October 05, 2014

Have expressed this exact thought so many times...



...but never this beautifully.

The photographer was set in his ways. A traditionalist, he did not have any faith in digital cameras, no matter how many millions of pixels they were capable of producing today. To him, half the pleasure of photography was working in a darkroom bringing pictures manually to life. He disliked the immediacy of digital cameras—the way you could see a shot seconds after taking it. At heart photography should have a certain degree of mystery in it, something ineffable and elusive, which was why he liked being in a darkroom developing pictures. It was a hands- on process you could not measure or ever replicate exactly. The photograph slowly emerging in its chemical bath was like a woman undressing in front of you—slowly slowly everything was revealed."

— Jonathan Carroll

Found here.  His blog and his tumblr are both intensely beautiful.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Taco: Less and less puppy. More and more dog.












Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Taco at 11 and 12 weeks

Train ride!!!

Watching a hawk.

Chillin' like a boss.


Grandmommy and Grand-dog.



Morning nap.