Saturday, November 16, 2019

Watching Impeachment

The events surrounding Watergate were riveting in my youth. I grew up in a well-off suburban family where Dad went full-off the default Republican bandwagon, joined an organization called Common Cause and vocally supported busing that would include the suburbs. Those were tumultuous times, and Buffalo was an epicenter for aspects of those times.

I remember meeting my uncle at the Buffalo airport when he returned from Vietnam. He was a West Pointer some years ahead of William Taylor, who served in Vietnam in some very tough times. His older brother was also a West Pointer. I'm not certain what privilege they shared, but both were rather blond, handsome, and extremely upright.

I had the vaguest sense of these matters, even though I was politically active in my high school; that only meant that I was willing to speak out on some things about which I had marginal knowledge. I had a girlfriend whose parents were lefty intellectuals, and they were glued to what was happening on TV and so I had at least a clue. In my house, television "rotted the brain," in pure analogy to the way that soda pop rotted the gut. Both were banned in my house, and that was the extent of the reasons given.

But I do remember the helicopters lifting off from Saigon and I do remember Nixon's wave as he was boarding his departure helicopter; I remember stories from my uncle about fragging, and his scramble to toss a grenade out from the officers' mess; from my father about shitting on the beach in the Philippines as it was being strafed by the Japanese; finding a severed leg in an outhouse that stank worse than the outhouse would have; being evacuated for having wiped his ass with some kind of poison ivy which became a life-endangering and certainly debilitating injury. He was evacuated to Hawaii and then returned to the front.

Both Dad and uncles on the mastiff side were sober types, honorable to the point of fault, and both stopped talking about their experiences in their wars by the time I got old enough to understand them. It's as easy to imagine Dad staring down the strafing Japanese as it is to imagine my uncles' sacrifices. Dad would not commit the indignity of stopping mid-shit or leaving his ass un-wiped. He gave away his beer and cigarette rations to those he drove up to the hilltop to indulge in Filipino tent-cities of comfort women, keeping the truck running just in case. That image is indelibly seared into my brain; rows and rows of pup tents with candlelit glows from each, and lines of GIs outside them.

Anyhow, I did recognize both William Taylor and George Kent as members of my family. I differ starkly with their brand of patriotism, since they evidently still do believe in an American that never did really exist as far as I can tell. My America propped up dictators in South America and the Middle East and can't let go of constant vilification of China and Russia in just the way that my uncle never could let go of their dangers - or of Jane Fonda - even after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Deng Xiaoping.

The dangers of the strongman politics of Russia and China are real - don't get me wrong. But there may be a greater danger in turning those countries into some kind of meme while we ignore the dangers of strongman politics at home.

I started to think that maybe my Fox News uncle was right as I watched the opening of the public impeachment hearings yesterday.  During one of the breaks Reince Priebus was trotting out his arguments as to why the impeachment is a travesty. He seemed to be saying that Trump can't be impeached on the basis of any of his actions, and that the Democrats could only investigate his state of mind. My image was that we were conducting some kind of invasion of privacy, and that we have no right to investigate the President's thought processes or the secret processes of his (supposed) deliberation.

How ironic, right? Whatever is in his mind is surely a hot mess, and there ain't no deliberating there. Thank goodness the Democrats had the presence of collective mind to remind everyone that attempted murder is still a crime, even though the intended victim may not have died.

But Priebus did remind us all that Trump was elected precisely because he 'raised his middle finger to D.C.' So, is he like Ai Weiwei now? Has the presidency become performance art, and we are testing how far our cherished American freedoms can be stretched? Is Trump just glorying in the Buffalo-based exoneration of Larry Flynt? Even Howard Stern would be an improvement in the White House.

I'm guessing that the Republicans are making a different calculus than the one we think they make. They are more like highly paid football stars than anything else. Even football stars can be articulate when interviewed for the camera. Nobody would expect them to be making any real contributions to society in return for their pay and glory, though we do hold them to higher standards than we do our president.

But however he does his signalling, Trump has let those Republicans know that he will keep the oxygen sucked out from the news media to the extent that no attention will be paid to their looting of the republic. Those Republican political stars can carry that out in the name of those ideologies that they do seem truly to believe in; though who could really tell the states of their collective hive-mind?

There might be a kind of honor to that behavior, or there could be if they did hold actual ideological beliefs. We cheer our football stars, and at least in Buffalo sometimes honor them even more in the breach when they kick the ball wide right, say. I used to think that Lindsey Graham had some integrity. Now he's shown himself to be a looter like the rest of them, and shill to the power of money. I can only guess. Too bad, so sad.

We might wish that Bernie Sanders could be as good a stooge for the media to bring in socialism under the radar. But alas, his is a different brand of integrity. Imagine in this world of Googling if what you see were really what you get!

It was notable to me how few Republicans actually questioned the witnesses. Jim Jordan was pulled in for his attack-dog style of unabashed inquisition, lacking any rapport or history with the committee. Most Republican members seemed happy to "yield" their precious minutes to a very few attack dogs; were there even more than three on day one? The Democrats all seemed happy to have their own personal moment of vilification. Rhetorically at least, the contest was pure Democratic rout. But in this age of Twitter, rhetoric clearly counts for naught.

So why was I so rapt? I mean, I really want to know. I watch plenty of movies and fall asleep during some. I try to spend my days reading and writing, but that can be exhausting. I have sleep trouble and so I often black out during the day with a book or a computer in my hands. But yesterday I was glued to the screen. What was playing out there had the clear ring of history, and it was reminiscent of what was happening in my youth. Whither the republic?

Two events from my youth were far more important to me than Vietnam or Watergate. One was the death of Lake Erie above whose cliffs and clean broad beaches I was raised. The other was the discovery when I transitioned from bicycle to motorcycle that every hamlet in upstate New York was being homogenized by franchise chains. These two were the same thing in my mind, and I've been waiting for some grand awakening to that horror ever since. Now it seems that we've passed the point of no return.

The America I still do imagine distributes wealth and knowledge by distributing ownership and responsibility back to local shop-owners, manufacturers and job creators and away from  those sitting on top of the wealth pumps of technology. Yikes, I guess that makes me be leaning Right! WTF!

So, while it won't seem so from what I'm writing here, I wasn't taking sides in the hearings. I wasn't a spectator for the competitive sport of two-party politics. That's not what kept my attention. I kept trying to glimpse what country was in the making there, and how it might differ from the one we have. Last time, we got a dystopian America of greed. No matter how nice its been living on its inside as a white male, our impact on the planet has been decidedly disastrous. We deserve to be hated, and at least Trump has given us that.

The Democrats were fighting for what seemed for all the world to be a return to Republican values: Decent celebration of capitalism and a strong military. All the Republicans have left is the value of wealth for the few. It's hard to find vision anywhere.

After day two of the pubic inquiry there is some new hope, with Trump caught on a call saying just what the Democrats claimed he was saying behind closed doors. It's easier now to imagine Giuliani joining Roger Stone in jail, right alongside those he once put there (there is rough justice in that) and one begins to see an America post-Trump. Surely his behavior can't stand.

But what America do we wish to reinvent? Will it be the one represented by the true believers in patriotism who work the foreign services? They do sometimes seem more concerned about what Trump is doing to undermine our power than they do about what we might become.

There seem to be two classes of up and coming young people; the one is masculinist focused on the ejaculatory glory of bringing some technical unicorn to the magic billion-dollar mark. These are the dangerous class, the arrogant believers in a manifest destiny for technology no matter what it does to the social fabric. The other class is feminist and personified in A.O.C., perhaps. They might look askance, as I do, at military-style honor even while such behaviors run in my very own bloodline.

No coincidence that Trump chooses the day of his greatest embarrassment to exonerate several soldiers who have dishonored the military. Never even bothering to think about it, Trump accepts the conspiracy minded bloviation of Fox News as actual reality. He likes that plot line, I guess. I like it myself, but there has been zero evidence of any Rambo-style heroics from Trump, except perhaps on his own behalf. There is no honor of any sort at all there.

The dangers we face are not those personified by Trump but those arrayed behind his taking office. We have been in the throes of the rotted brains of TV addicts since the election of Howdy Doody Reagan at least. Channeling the voice of Walter Cronkite as William Taylor did plays only to us oldsters. If we don't take hold of our technologies for the public good, there can be no hope for either a return to the greatness we once thought our Republic to promise, nor to anything remotely representing of and by and for the people.

That makes me very very sad.

But! (he says with raised finger, and not the middle one)

As that cheerleader Steven Pinker might say, all of our dangerous technology has brought about positive change in the aggregate. It seems that the proliferation of images and massive trade and intercourse across the oceans might indeed have tempered our lust to create and then vilify some other. Our collective wanting on various Black Fridays and Singles Days is at the very least a vital force which might yet be diverted to something worthwhile.

I remain optimistic that this merely decades long fever will pass and a more healthy humanity will prevail. For the moment I am grateful for Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi.

Monday, November 11, 2019

F*ck STEM!

Even the mainstream media writes, f*ck so I guess I can too, right? As are a lot of people, or so I imagine, I am disgusted by this bandwagon promoting STEM for women. I happen to know people inside both academia and the domain described by ST*M who are nearly as disgusted as I am, but let's dissect this a bit, shall we?

First and quite obviously is the embedded pig-in-a-poke bargain that if girls - and later women - behave more like men do, then they will be able to share the C-ring more better. Plenty of people call that bullshit what it is, especially when the tech is being pandered to the underclass. As though there is something about the orthogonal logical thinking of STEM which can reveal the true meritocratic underpinnings of humanity which don't obey the laws of power.

Just be more like men, girls, just be more like men.

Next, of course, is the assumption that tech is our future. I just re-read Fowles The Magus, not really expecting much. Indeed it didn't disappoint, not being nearly so compelling as it was in my youth, but the one thing the author says that still resonates is that his worst nightmare was mankind knowing everything. Tech builds in that assumption, as in we can problem-solve to eternity.

I live in proximity to someone who rode the tech wave to wealth and who deploys logic like a weapon, as though he had no choice because the harm was built-in to the algorithm, with which no person of sound mind might disagree. Conveniently leaving go the choices made in the concoction of the algorithm in the first place. But if one has a powerful knack for logic, there's almost nothing any interlocutor might do to rescue himself from loss of any argument. Indeed you are smarter than I am and I can't find a way to prove that false. I lose energy for sparring at the very least.

There is a power-play indelible to the inner workings of the tech industry which still manages to be invisible on the outside. Well, it's familiar enough to anyone who suffers the fascism of corporate America inside the workplace, I guess. But it's more prevalent in patriarchal tech. The boss assumes the attitude of  'prove it to me,' leaving the penalties of being wrong to every underling.

I happen to be an extremely good problem solver, proven in various workplaces, but only recently have I discovered my own assumption that my abilities have been based on something like a command of logic. Not so! But who would ever dare to say "trust me" in the face of profit-line demands given the problem-solving methods I deploy. Let m explain:

I always work within the constraints of resources - time and money mostly - and never in the realm of what-if? Without practically limitless resources, 'what-if' is practically worthless. I have no infinity of choice, of tools, of top brands, of hiring. So I let my mind wander until, as happens often enough to make it a kind of wonder, a solution will show itself from my environment. This gives me a kind of joy, making good with found objects and emergent technique. I often kick myself for not seeing the obvious when I'm caught up in some logical trap of knowing where I should be looking. I'm always dazzled by the invisibility of what's staring me in the face.

This not-logic that I deploy, or if it is logic, then  it's the self-same apologetics our ego uses when it rationalizes choice that our mind already made for us. This is all apparently proven by neurological studies, which show our decisions made before we are conscious of them.

I know, of course, that my brain covers a lot more ground than my conscious mind does, and so letting go might simply be letting my brain do a better job of sorting before I get in my own way, as it were. But that's only a different way to say that my brain is closer to the ground in which I exist than my conscious self is.

I recently re-read Donna Haraway's Cyborg Manifesto and will have to read it many times more before I can understand it, because it still does seem to me to incorporate the nightmare of tech taking over the world. Like we should be able to make ourselves whatever we want to be in celebration of the mighty (conscious) individual so as never to be caught in what chance granted us. I get the celebration of difference, but tend more in the direction of social rather than individual solutions or resolutions. More tolerance and more mutual-aid trumps techno-triumph every time for me, but I guess I'm just old fashioned that way. I'll read it and her other stuff over and over until I get it, since I do recognize excitement there. But it remains harder for me to read than to read ancient Chinese.

Part of my excitement is that the manifesto comes from a woman, and I do suspect that she would agree with me about STEM. Even our economy depends as much or more on "creatives" than on logical problem-solvers, and I say that even as I hate the term "creative" as a noun almost worse than STEM. Yeah, sure as an afterthought one might insert an A to get STEaM, sneaking in something not quite orthogonal. But to me, who doesn't draw or sing or dance so good, the term "creative" is like a bludgeon about what I'm not. Just like car mechanics used to feel to many females of the species who wanted to get into it but were barred.

So the predominantly masculine nature of the tech workforce can't be fixed because baked into the workings of tech is a mindset that needs to be undermined, not celebrated. Not everything can be fixed. Sometimes one has to let go.

Hell, I'll go so far as to claim that letting go is communing with the future. That's how evolution works, where chance is chance until it makes us, and then there's some stubborn determiNancy to the process. We can't quite seem to embrace the notion that accident got us mankind, in the same way that we can't quite embrace the notion - we scintillate between the poles - that evolution is more powerful than our apparent and anxiety-provoking conviction that we've replaced evolution with conscious trans-human change. Some might even call it improvement. Progress. It's own kind of inevitable Manifest Destiny.

But that's all variations on projected immortality. No more can we celebrate our own demise than we can that of the species, and so we enact a kind of 'bring it on' mass suicide like a kid driving a Boxter into thin air, as just happens to have just happened.

Even though I problem-solve in the highly masculine domains of tech and machinery, I do believe I follow a feminine process. That might even be the cause of some embarrassment, and so I try to hide it by post-hoc logical rationalizations for my choices, in just the way that pride for my intelligence works. I do a pretty good imitation of a man most of the time. But I do have lots of pussy envy. I think it's the emotion thing.

But see, I've committed the very masculine act of putting emotion among the basic forces of physics, and still waste my life trying to get one single other human being to see it there. I come to that conclusion by way of physics, yes, but also by way of classical Chinese poetics and philosophy and apparently by way of stuff I've been stuck with since birth. As in there's something very wrong with that boy, maybe, although just as I fake being a man pretty well, I seem to fake intelligence. Sometimes people even mistake me for someone who knows what he's talking about, thought that's generally because of my strident efforts to pass. It sucks to be thought an idiot! And so I mostly remain silent to preserve a modicum of doubt. Except here in my innermost thoughts where I can be so invisible.

Very much unlike canonical scientific discoveries, mine is truly meaningless without being shared. Well, I suppose that's true of scientific discovery too, but the proof is always logical - and demonstrable! - and the discoveries - despite our canonical presumptions about individual genius - are always grounded in a shared understanding. An esoteric discourse. That guarantees that once explicated logically, there will be others to understand the discovery and make it real. (It is still terribly difficult for me to credit Einstein's discoveries with the short course from there - while Henry Adams was still alive, fer Chrissakes - to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Emotion has been eradicated for seeming ever from the cosmos, or so we desperately hope and sometimes even pray.

I'm either criminally lazy or just simply don't have the chops, but I can't seem to express what I'm talking about in a way that someone else might follow. I do have an easier time finding interlocutors in China, though I suspect that has more to do with the reading-in they must do to follow what I'm trying to say. A kind of generosity offered to a foreigner; one who they still feel holds some privilege over them and perhaps something like superior Yale-baked knowledge. Yale is a kind of mecca for educated Chinese. Go figure! I hated the place for its privileging of the privileged, mocked now in the fake news, even so.

But still, I find the language congenial enough that I'm making my attempt in Chinese, which is so deuced hard that the attempt may belie my worries about how lazy I might be. At the moment I'm hung up on translating a passage from The Story of the Stone. It's too damned hard for me! But fact is that Chinese - the literary tradition - doesn't bake in all of the pitfalls of English. I'm talking about individualism, Godism, objectivity, creation and creativity, beginnings and endings, a direction to history and lots more. It's just easier to talk about in Chinese, damn it!

We are living, I declare, in a default universe where our defaults are invisible because we have no way to get beyond them. We know science won't solve all our problems but it's our default. We know - even provably so - that logic can't get to the bottom of what causes people to agree or disagree, but it remains our default. Zuckerberg sits in the same seat as Truman did and Trump does and will feel just as detached from the enormity of his destructions. They are our defaults. The default ever shall be death; of at least this much I can be certain.

So how does recognition that emotion is a cosmic force change the default? Yes indeed that is my burden to tell, and I have no demonstrable experimental result to prove anything by our default methodologies.

So f*ck it! Right? Nah, it'll come to me, I know it will. Once upon a time . . .

. . . there was this emoton. It had no mass, no valence, no spin, indeed no measurable qualities at all, nor did it move, really. It was no gauge-boson, or at least not the ordinary kind. Indeed, it existed only in the mind. The cosmic mind, if you will, which is no-wise the same thing as the personalized mind of God. Both were there in the beginning, were there any beginning but for a story, and the exchange of emotons did indeed not so much cause a force as predict an impingement. We're still in the realm of mind here and not so much of matter. But the impingement is of thingy things, the forces among which are mediated by gauge bosons, I think maybe, and which are implicated in ways mostly physical until once gets into the realm of quanta where implication may stretch to eternity, or so we hope for the sake of our privacy, ironically enough. The Chinese got there first. Of course.

Meanwhile, until impingement, there may be no forces as bodies move toward or away from one another. Just prediction. In some mind or other. The motion indeed is no motion at all but emotion. Otherwise, there would be forces between them - those bodies - by very definition.

Gravity at the least would be there, which remains so elusive. For all that they might be real, gravitons feel as elusive as those emotons I speak of. They may only be inferred and their measurement as much an artifact of its construction as the detection of any apparatus. Or so it would seem to me. But what do I know? Not much! I seem to inhabit a discourse community of one, which is precisely as impossible as the detection of said emoton.

Which all naturally means that alien life, so called, has been with us all along. We just don't feel it. It is so very far away in space and therefore, by definition now, time. But, I do declare, there is a window into our futures just as there is a window - however unreliable - into our past by way of history and telescopic insights. It must be felt and can't be known and whether asteroid to destroy us in our climate-denial idiocy, or full embrace of cosmic love (I should say with), we would have to open ourselves to it and not hang on so much to what we are or want to be. As it was in the beginning. Amen. It is our holding on to what we are or project to be that is our undoing. Duh! For sure, money is no measure of the man. Money is the efficient cause of machine mind, emotion-free and not implicated in any crime. I'd better shut up right there. Sheesh. Watching too much Bill Gates and Jamie Dimon on TV. Simpletons.